Thursday, April 12, 2012

Preventing Our Brothers, the Oppressors

By Amanda Quraishi

Justice is the foundation of the Muslim community and should be applied without prejudice. 

Narrated Anas: Allah's Apostle said, "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, "O Allah's Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" The Prophet said, "By preventing him from oppressing others."  - Sahih Bukhari

The above hadith (story from the Prophet Muhammd’s life) illustrates the essence of what it means to be a Muslim:  that is, societal justice in our communities is not contingent on clan, kinship, race or wealth.  These words, spoken to early Muslims, struck at the heart of the clan culture in which they lived---where family and political alliances were more important than anything else.   Standing up against your own brother if you see him oppressing another required both strength of character and faith that the principles of our religion are universally true:  Islam transcends all other ties.

Indeed, the principles of social justice upon which our religion is founded must first be applied within the Muslim community.  There is great hypocrisy in Muslims demanding justice in the world around them if we do not insist on first seeing justice done in our Ummah.

We rail against Muslims being oppressed around the world by non-Muslims, yet within the Ummah there are oppressions done by Muslims to Muslims that continue to be largely ignored, justified, or back-burnered in lieu of more popular activism in Palestine or western countries.

Take for example al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group which claims to be based on Islamic principles, and which was responsible for tens of thousands of women and children starving to death this year.

The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine, mostly Somalis. Ethiopia and Kenya were also affected but aid agencies were able to work more easily there than in war-ravaged Somalia.
More than half of those who died are believed to be children. The United Nations says 250,000 Somalis are still at risk of starvation and more than 13 million people need aid.

And then there is the systematic oppression of religious minorities in Pakistan—where Shias, Ahmadis and other minority Muslims as well as non-Muslims like Christians and Hindus are routinely oppressed, harassed and even murdered by so-called defenders of Islam:

“...according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), between 1987 and 2010, a total of 1,068 persons were charged under the blasphemy laws. In 2010, blasphemy complaints were registered with the police against 17 Christians, eight Muslims, five Ahmadis, and seven Hindus, according to the report.”

Of course, we would be remiss not to mention Saudi Arabia—the homeland of the Prophet himself—where the holiest sites in our religion reside.  Saudi Arabia regularly engages in oppression that has been well documented by independent organizations like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International:

“Trials are often unfair, with defendants often having little or no legal representation. There are frequent reports of torture and ill-treatment. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishments such as flogging are mandatory for some offenses.”

“The rights of refugees and asylum-seekers have been violated, with some held as virtual prisoners and others forcibly returned to countries where they are at risk for serious human rights violations. The rights of migrant workers are widely abused. Domestic workers, mostly women, have faced abusive conditions such as 18-hour working days and little or no pay. They have no protection under Saudi Arabian labor law.”

There are also well-documented policies in Muslim-majority countries which claim to be based on the religion of Islam, and which contradict both the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet when it comes to women’s rights to divorce, education, personal property, access to resources, and freedom to worship as equals with men.

This is not an attempt to browbeat Muslims or discredit the religion of Islam.  Rather, this is a call to action for Muslims around the world to defend the religion of Islam by standing up against oppression being done by our own ‘brothers and sisters’ of faith.  Sitting back and accepting this kind of oppression by Muslims without actively attempting to challenge or prevent it is in direct conflict with the teachings of our Prophet.   

Furthermore, the Qur’an itself states: “God does not change the condition of people until they change what is in themselves…” (ar-Ra’ad: 13:11) If we truly wish to gain justice for ourselves as a people—we must first demand justice and stand up to oppression being done by our brothers in faith. This is first and foremost how we defend our faith—against corruption from within.

It is not enough to simply refrain from oppressing others ourselves. If we are standing by and watching other Muslims act as oppressors while they defame the Religion of Peace with their actions we will be held accountable. While it may be difficult to challenge ethnic or economic privilege within the Muslim community, each of us stands alone before Allah on the Day of Judgment and there will be no one else to answer for us when we do.

We must be prepared to answer for our own actions—or lack thereof.

Image: from the Flickr photosteam of United Nations Photo.

Amanda Quraishi is a Muslim-American writer, blogger, interfaith activist and tech professional living in Austin, Texas. In 2003 she founded Central Texas Muslimaat to address the unique needs of central Texas Muslim women. Amanda represented Austin’s Muslim community as the youngest board member in iACT/AAIM’s history. She currently works for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, serves on the Board of Directors for Texas Impact, and as a fellow at the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute.

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