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Pakistan: Responding to atrocity with wisdom

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The following is the Jumuah Khutbah of Imam Dr. Rashied Omar, as delivered at the Claremont Main Road Mosque on Friday the 19th December:

OPINION- The Gregorian year 2014 has been a grim and distressing one for Muslims at the global level. During the past year extremist Muslim groups such as Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have targeted Christians in Nigeria, Iraq and Syria for extermination because of their religious beliefs. If this was not enough, throughout 2014 we were confronted with painful reports of Muslims engaged in deadly conflict in different parts of the world.

In February 2014 the human rights group Amnesty International released a report claiming that the forced exodus of tens of thousands of Muslims from the Central African Republic (CAR) amounted to ethnic cleansing. Between 1 July 2014 and 26 August 2014, 2139 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by the Israeli military – 70% were civilians. And just when we thought that this “annus horribilis” for the Muslim ummah was over, we were greeted with the tragic news on Tuesday 16 December 2014, that members of the Tehrik-i-Pakistan Taliban (TTP) had forced their way into an Army Public School in Peshawar, and mercilessly killed at least 148 people, including 132 children.

It is distressing to know that on Tuesday 16 December 2014 so many mothers and fathers in the Pakistani city of Peshawar kissed their children and waved them off to school, as we all do every day, content that they would be safe, but that these 132 innocent children did not return to their parent’s arms at the end of the school day. There are no words to comfort the distraught parents of these innocent children. But we can pray for them and stand with them in solidarity, and we can work harder as a global family to fashion a more just world in which our children will be safer.

In order to provide some context to the horror of this latest atrocity I would like to put a face to the report about the brutal murder of one of the victims of last Tuesday’s attacks on the school in Peshawar. Tahira Kazi, a mother of three, was the popular principal of the Army Public School and College in Peshawar. She died after reportedly being set on fire by Taliban militants in front of her pupils. Her elder brother Kazi Karimullah, described the trauma of having to identify his sister’s body as follows:

“She had a smiling face. But I could not see her face for more than a second after she was killed. It was so horrible. It was burnt and I could not even imagine my sister in that shape. I could not dare to see her body more than once.”

All of these abhorrent events and more have evoked ubiquitous and sensationalist media exposure and have provoked unprecedented global outrage. How are we as conscientious Muslims supposed to respond to this persistent global reality of deadly conflict and violence which affects Muslims? In responding to this question, I would like to draw upon some suggestions made in an excellent opinion piece by Safiyya Surtee available on the Voice of the Cape’s website.

First and foremost, we need to respond to acts of barbarism, by reminding ourselves, and others, that we are compelled by our faith in, and commitment to Islam to protect, defend and preserve the sanctity of all human life. The safeguarding of human life is one of the supreme objectives of Islam (maqasid al-shari`ah). The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sacredness of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68). The most striking of these Qur’anic proclamations can be found in verse 32 of surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, in which God, (al-Muhyi al-Mumit), the Giver and Taker of Life, equates the unjust and wanton killing of one human being to that of the killing of all humankind:

If anyone kills a single human being without just cause it shall be as though he had killed all of humankind; Whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all humankind [Q5:32]

Therefore, it should be crystal clear that a conscientious Muslim is someone who is constantly moved by faith to sanctify, revere, and respect human life.

As conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens we cannot remain silent in the face of wanton loss of human life and we must not become weary of stating again and again, loudly and unequivocally, that acts of extremist violence are contrary to the teachings of Islam. The sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life.

The recent massacre of school children in Peshawar by the Pakistani Taliban is dishonourable and betrays any expression of faith in Islam. Words cannot express the ignominy and cruelty of such a cowardly massacre of innocent children and teachers while they are engaged in the most virtuous acts of teaching and learning at a school. This callous act of violence reflects the contempt which the perpetrators have for the education of children in this region. To witness the kind of depravity that targets innocent children shocks the conscience and should move us to deep reflection on the mindset and conditions that would dehumanize the perpetrators to commit such depravity and wanton atrocity. Nothing can justify such brutality and no grievance or cause can excuse such horror. In Islamic ethics the end does not justify the means and even in a legitimate war of self-defence the killing of children is categorically prohibited (haram).

Second, while we feel compelled by our commitment to social justice to condemn wanton acts of violence and brutality perpetrated either in the name of Islam or against Muslims, we must also be consistent in actively and sincerely joining real efforts for social justice wherever we are and whatever these issues may be, not just around issues that affect Muslims. We should for example, be equally outraged at the persistent scourge of gender violence in our country, at the escalating rates of crime and corruption and the ongoing failures of our education and health systems. As Safiyya Surtee suggests, our commitment to social justice and the wellbeing of all people speaks louder than any condemnation.

Third, the media coverage around Muslims implicated in extremist violence has had a very negative effect on the perception people have of Islam. During the past year some of my close colleagues in the interfaith movement have alerted me to this fact. In addition some Islamophobes have exploited this negative media image of Islam for their own anti-Islamic agendas. To mitigate these negative perceptions of Islam it behoves us to nurture and sustain meaningful interfaith dialogue and relationships. Here we should strive to build relationships based on respect, honour and getting to know one another beyond mere toleration. For example, we can all play a modest role in reaching out to our Christian friends and neighbours by extending our greetings and goodwill at this time of Christmas. At CMRM we have established a tradition of sending out a Christmas message to our fellow citizens and attending the Christmas Eve service at St. George’s Cathedral. Congregants are welcome to join us.

A paradigmatic Qur’anic verse that should inspire our relationships with those who do not share our faith commitment is verse 8 of Surah al-Mumtahina, chapter 60, in which Allah, the Lord of Compassion, proclaims:

Allah does not prohibit you from displaying kindness and justice to those who do not fight you for your faith nor drive you from your homes. For Allah loves those who are just and equitable [Q60:8]

Fourth, as people of faith we must not succumb to despair and hopelessness. Notwithstanding our present difficulties we need to keep the spirit of hope alive in the ummah. We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. There are many Qur’anic passages which exhort us in this regard, such as the well-known verses from Surah al-Inshirah, chapter 94 verses 5-8, in which Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:

Verily after difficulty there is ease. After difficulty there is ease. And when the difficulty is over still strive, and make your Lord the object of your striving [Q94:5-8]

Last, but not least, we should not underestimate the power of prayer and solidarity. We believe that prayer draws human attention to things that need our attention, and that God hears our prayers, which can work to change human events and history. At this time of anguish and distress our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the school children and teachers who were killed in Peshawar.

Please join me at this sacred hour of jumu`ah in making in a special prayer (du`a) for the victims and their families, for the people of Pakistan, and for all of us as we struggle to confront such incomprehensible and merciless violence:

(Ya Rabb al-Nas) Lord of all Humankind, 2014 has been year full of days of violence, hatred and inhumanity, days that crushed our spirits, that filled us with rage and pain, and a sense that the world is not a just place;

(Ya Rabb al-Qist) Lord of Justice, it is difficult to find words to supplicate with since our minds are so full of questions about the tragic death of innocents that we can barely think;

We pray for repose of the souls of all those who died violently: O God Pardon them, have Mercy on their Souls and Grant them the Abode of Paradise (al-jannah);

(Ya Rabb al-Rahmah) Lord of Compassion, console and comfort the hearts of the bereaved and heart-broken mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the victims;

(Ya Rabb al-Shifa’) Lord of Healing, heal the wounds of those who were maimed;

(Ya Rabb al Aman) Our Lord and Protector, we beseech you to protect our children. Be ever present with them, and keep them from danger and violence.

(Ya Rabb al-Quwwa) O One who is All-Powerful and Irresistible in Might, Guide the leaders of Pakistan and the rest of the world to use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world.

We pray for all who dedicate their lives to working towards breaking the cycle of violence in the world.

Allahumma anta al-Salam – O God Thou art peace
wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee,
fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace

We ask this in all of Your beautiful and holy names, Lord of all Humankind.

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1 comment

  1. imam dr rashied omar is one of the few who talks out consistently against these atrocities, one other who speaks out almost if not every week is maulana aftaab haider of ahlul bait islamic centre in de wet rd ottery, apologies to others who so but are unnamed here,

    the mjc uucsa etc only started to speak out about 3 months ago because previously the sided with the morphed taliban al qaeda fsa al nusra forms of isil isis and is,

    wisdom from pakistan though is in short supply, they together with tge saudis and usa were the creators and supporters of the taliban etc

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