Islam is about empathy not violence

Even though the prevailing image in mainstream media is often that it is a religion of violence, many forget that since its inception Islam called for a system of social justice and responsibility for others. From early on in his life, the Prophet Muhammad was concerned about the state of the less fortunate. In Muhammad’s time, Qurayshi society, which once took care of its members, not only neglected the less fortunate, but did not even provide basic protection in a world that depended on tribal protection. Among the central principles reiterated time and again in the Qur’an is the responsibility to help the other.

Muslims are never to become complacent or assume that hardship can never affect them. In fact, a great responsibility is placed on a Muslim to work for social justice and to be at the forefront of alleviating social ills like poverty. This is one of the core messages of Islam that are too often neglected by many, including Muslims.

I feel it is important to reiterate this point in light of the earthquake in Haiti.

Several Islamic organizations have already called for Muslims around the world to help the disaster victims in Haiti, regardless of their faith. Many leaders have emphasized that this is not an option but central to the message of the Prophet. Ingrid Mattson, the current President of the Islamic Society of North America, has already circulated a message underscoring that a path to closeness to God is by helping the less fortunate.

She cites a sacred hadith, a hadith qudsi, a saying of the Prophet that was revealed to him by God, that says that on the Day of Judgment God will say, “O son of Adam, I fell ill and you did not visit me.” The person will say,” O Lord, how could I visit you when You are the Lord of the worlds?” He will say, “Did you know that so-and-so fell ill and you did not visit him? If you had visited him, you would have found Me with him.”  This hadith highlights that connection to God in Islam is linked to how you treat others.

Dr. Mattson called on imams in the Friday khutbah to remind their congregations of a collective obligation to help the needy, regardless of their faith, out of a commitment to a common humanity.  ISNA is not the only organization that has made such calls. In fact, Islamic Relief, a charity organization has said it will fly $1 million dollars of immediate aid to Haiti. Also, Muslim Aid, a UK-based charity has also launched an appeal to raise 250,000 pounds for aid for Haiti.

It is in these moments that a core message of Islam comes out. It is these calls, I think, that highlight that Muslims are called upon to be positive citizens of the world and that this is the true nature of Islam.

“… if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or to spread mischief in the land-it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind” –Qur’an, 5:32

Why do you think violence is emphasized over empathy in discussions about Islam? Please share your comments.

4 thoughts on “Islam is about empathy not violence

  1. Great Job, it is more than timely. We need to take this education and help all people to have ignorance, exploite people to gain power and use it to hate one, another. Your documentary breaks down the barriers that extremist like to use. I am looking for more education for all people who live in the US.

  2. I’ve sent the text below in the comment to a few people to make it widely distributed. I enclose it in whole because I believe it builds towards answering Reem’s question and the reasons why we have to ask it. Please, everyone, copy and paste and maybe modify as you see fit. Write it as from an anonymous muslimah. If you have reservations about publishing the piece, please publish an appeal of your own. This is all I can do.

    Haiti Appeals:
    Islamic Relief UK https://www.donate.bt.com/dec_form_haiti.html?p_form_id=ISR01
    Islamic Relief USA http://www.islamicreliefusa.org/emergencies/haiti-earthquake
    Other charities as listed by the Muslim Council of Britain: http://www.mcb.org.uk/media/presstext.php?ann_id=383

    For those of you who have donated to the Haiti emergency appeal, mashallah and jazakum allah. Inshall it will be a sadaqah that will bring you a lot of hasanat. The tragedy these people face is unimaginable: 200,000 is an estimated toll of death nevermind the injury and loss of resources in the destruction this earthquake has wrought.

    “…whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” S5:A32

    Thanks to the work of terrorists, our Islamic world is under close scrutiny. Haiti is no exception.
    The behaviour of predominantly Islamic countries has been criticised.
    http://www.therichmarksentinel.com/rs_articles_contributors.asp?conid=54&recid=1202
    http://arabic.cnn.com/2010/world/1/15/haiti.earthquack/ [English speakers, use translate.google.com]
    Why are these countries so slow to provide relief, to rush to aid these people? I do not know why and I cannot tell you. I only know that we also need to analyse and criticise this. We need to change this. It is a shame to our ummah. Those of you who are in a Western country and not in a muslim one as is ideal will know the various reasons why Islamic nations need critics and change.

    However, many of us, so many of us have provided aid. Through the Red Crescent and many other avenues. I thank you all; your contribution will not be invalidated because of others.

    “…whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” S5:A32

    Haiti is not where it ends, however. I do not know about you but I feel my safety decrease as I live in this Western nation. The suspicion of muslims rises. Anti-Islamic literature is available if not in the popular media, definitely on the Internet. Western muslims can denounce terrorism all they like. Noone is satisfied and the association remains as long as Saudi Arabia isn’t seen to take a widely published stance.

    Examples of Anti-Islamic sentiment and reasons for them in the UK alone:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1038953/One-British-Muslim-students-say-acceptable-kill-Islam.html
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2010/jan/12/religion-islam
    http://foomandoonian.posterous.com/britons-remain-tolerant-despite-terror-outrag [infographics available here, but you need to give your e-mail then unsubscribe: http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2009/12/07/9.html%5D

    We can cry all we like about ignorance and lack of tolerance. That will not solve the problem. That will treat non-muslims as an enemy when that is not our intent. The burden is on us to prove who we are. They do not believe what a muslim believes. They need gentle persuasion with respect meanwhile. We know that views and actions tolerated in Western countries — this very tolerance is what allows us the freedom to be openly muslim in the West — is not reciprocated in muslim countries. We are fortunate. We are being blessed with what some Islamic countries will never dream of granting. How long will that fortune last?

    We know terrorism is not the way. Any muslim knows this: comitting suicide, killing innocents and achieving nothing are all unIslamic actions in any shape or form.Suicide bombing is far from facing an opponent squarely in the battlefield and allowing them a chance to defend themselves or surrender. Islam understands the necessity for war but this is under strict codes of fair fighting: remember it is sunnah to not kill women, children or even cut trees. [ http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/11/09/libya.jihadi.code/index.html ] God watches us and our actions. The ends do not justify the means. We will only prevail if we follow God’s wishes and God’s way. The rapid spread of the Islamic Empire was not because we had better weapons, better tactics or bigger armies. It was because the people of these countries wanted muslims: they were seen as kinder and fairer rulers.

    If you have God by your side, you will prevail. We need to remember God in our hearts, our actions, our words. Forget the goals of the dunya, of this life. We will all die and there will be hisab, there will be judgement. God will ask us if we called as many people to Islam, if we tried to be a good example, if we followed the path of good deeds and belief in God. He will ask us if we kept our hearts soft and did not allow them to turn into stone.

    Islam used to be a religion that entered the heart of the masses thanks to the actions of muslims themselves. We would watch all our actions carefully. That is predominantly how we spread to the East. They saw our actions and saw rightness. With rapid access to the media and decline of true Islamic religosity, this has changed. Honour killings, terrorist acts and more that yes are done by a minority and endorsed by a yet more significant fraction that hopefully still forms a minority. The introduction many have to Islamic is one of horror: the World Trade center tragedy is imprinted upon their minds, with other incidences of breakouts of violence with the example of the cartoon incident in Denmark.

    With regards to donations, I remember it is preferred to do it anonymously so that showing off moral superiority does not become a goal and fill you with false pride. Yet with Haiti as with all else, we must demonstrate to critics what we are doing already out of pure humanitarianism. Anonymity is less of an option.

    Remember to take care of your fellow muslims, gently correct them if they are becoming unreasonable, full of hate and angry. Everything happens because of God’s will. Humans are not evil but lost. Forgiveness is a sadaqah also. We will use the ways of those who come before us and make our voices heard in Western nations by becoming part of them. The reason why any groups who are so influential in Western policy is because of their ties to business, science and their contributions to building Western nations. We will seek knowledge and seek to do good deeds. We will be the first to do good wherever the opportunity arises and since that is God’s way, with his will we will inshallah renew Islam in ourselves and build the foundation where respect for the Islamic religion does not need to be demanded but is granted by the evidence easily seen before every man.

  3. Give me a break, I would never donate to Haiti while so much aid is needed in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and on and on! When a American like me tries to donate they flag all the donors and shut down muslim charities. No one is going to tell me that I am funding terrorists by helping kids have meals during Ramadan and then tell me later that to be a nice person I need to reach in my pockets and help Haiti.

  4. In any religion it is easy for those who choose to find words to justfy their actions, after all the bible famously says ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ and also ‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.’ [Deuteronomy 7:1-2, in case you are interested !]