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.