Should we wish God to come to our aid when we are in need, we must come to the aid of our sisters and brothers when they are in need. This is a promise from the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be prayers and peace. “God comes to the aid of a person so long as he is helping his brother.”
The people of Flint, Michigan have long suffered at the hands of tyrants called “emergency managers” and it is incumbent upon the Muslim community to stand up, speak out, and support those who are oppressed. Michigan boasts one of the largest populations of Muslims in America and while the effort to support Flint has certainly begun, we must stand steadfast by our brothers and sisters. Our neighbors are being poisoned and we must do everything in our power to help.
In 2011, Michigan passed the Public Act 4, a bill which allowed Republican Governor Rick Snyder to appoint emergency managers to run financially- downtrodden cities. These unelected men and women worked with the most sweeping emergency management laws of any state. They broke union contracts, shut down fire and police departments, dissolved public schools systems, appointed city managers, and switched water systems without seeking the input of the people in their communities. They were simply doing the job they were appointed to do: Cut costs. Flint’s elected city council came to be nothing but a mere nuisance.
Flint, made world famous and wealthy by the auto industry, became synonymous with poverty and neglect after GM pulled out of the city. Magnificent, under-attended churches now line Flint’s main street, and are surrounded by boarded up storefronts, liquor stores, car-size pot holes and abandoned homes. A small but mighty revitalization effort rebuilt a thrice-weekly farmer’s market and a few restaurants and cafes to the area.
Umar ibn Al Khattab said “I fear that God will take me into account for a goat that might trip on the road that I have not paved.” Such conscientiousness does our community credit but let us not allow that legacy to only exist in past. We are vicegerents on this Earth as Muslims and it is our duty to serve in that capacity now.
Flint still boasts one of the highest murder and unemployment rates in the country and from 2013 to 2014, 52 percent of Michigan’s black community lived under emergency management, compared to 2 percent of its white residents. When we look at statistics like these we can better understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement of which Muslims should also be at the forefront. As one of the poorest cities in the nation, Flint’s poverty rate has swollen to over 40 percent, matching the rise in lead in the water—an obvious link.
Flint’s water crisis began in April 2014, when an emergency manager named Darnell Earley decided that Flint could “save money” by switching the city’s water supply from Detroit to the Flint River. Despite concerns about the river’s condition from decades of auto industry manufacturing waste, the switch was made, the water was treated, and officials marked the occasion with an official “toast” of Flint River water. The water was so contaminated that it needed a slew of additives and treatments to make it potable. These additives were so corrosive that they leached lead out of pipes and into the water that flowed into Flint homes.
The intent was to move from the Detroit water supplier to the Flint River for the short interim while a new privately owned water system was being built. A full year ago, in January 2015, Flint’s previous water supplier in Detroit offered to reconnect to Flint, even waiving the $4 million connection fee and significantly reducing costs to locals. The emergency manager at the time, Jerry Ambrose, declined the offer, even after multiple offers on strict order from Governor Snyder.
“This day shall We preserve your body O Pharaoh, that you may be a sign to those who come after you! But indeed, many among mankind are inconsiderate of Our Signs."(Qur'an, 10:93)
Are we inconsiderate of the signs? Can we not see the parallels between the people of Moses and the modern day Pharaohs in Armani suits claiming to be proponents of democracy and justice?
One would think that Michigan, surrounded by 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh water, would readily, easily, and affordably provide clean water to its citizens. However, to add insult to injury, Flint residents are not only drinking poisoned water, but they are paying some of the country’s highest prices for it. Their water bill is eight times higher than the national average, at around $150 a month.
This is not an unfamiliar story to Muslims. When the community of Muhammad, upon him be prayers and peace, first migrated to Madinah there was a shrewd business man who owned a well and sold water at extortionate prices. It was a great burden on the new immigrants in the Madinan community as they were still in the process of building their livelihood post-migration. Uthman bin Affan took it upon himself to negotiate and after much back and forth, convinced the business man to sell him half the well. Uthman paid an exorbitant amount of money for his share and even so he recommended that people come to the well on his days and fill up enough water to last two days, that way the burden of paying for water would be lifted off the community. Soon there wasn't anyone left in Madinah who was paying the tyrant for water. Everyone was filling up on Uthman's days. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said that Uthman had bought paradise with this direct civil action. He saw a problem and took care of it and bought paradise with his deed.
We are finally seeing this issue being highlighted as the major injustice it is and it comes with an onslaught of lies and cover-ups. City and state officials continually regurgitated the narrative that the water was safe to drink, even after residents were reporting significant declines in overall health, evidence of lead poisoning, hair loss and skin rashes. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) continually denied that anything was wrong with the water and repeated the refrain whenever questioned that the water was “within acceptable limits,” even though it had a foul odor, was a putrid color and was making people ill. This government organization which should have advocated on behalf of the people of Flint, stood by and watched people get sicker and sicker as they did nothing, even when presented with the opportunity to add chemicals to the water which would make it less corrosive to the pipes which leached lead into the water. They decided the water didn’t need it.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Hospital found that levels of bone and brain-damaging lead in the blood of Flint children were terrifyingly high. Virginia Tech professor Dr. Marc Edwards found that the water from Flint faucets contained 13,200 parts per billion (ppb) when the federal limit is only 15 ppb. Edwards said: "It was the injustice of it all and that the very agencies that are paid to protect these residents from lead in water, knew or should've known after June at the very latest of this year, that federal law was not being followed in Flint, and that these children and residents were not being protected. And the extent to which they went to cover this up exposes a new level of arrogance and uncaring that I have never encountered." These heroes were two key figures in challenging the narrative with hard and fast research that the state rejected over and over until the story finally broke out onto the national stage.
As a result of this disaster, at least 10 people have died and thousands upon thousands of Flint residents have illnesses and ailments related to the water crisis. The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be prayers and peace said, “All of you are shepherds and you are accountable for your flock.” This is our flock being poisoned by something so basic and necessary to life that the Qur'an even says God “made from water every living thing”(21:30). Water is an element so simple and so sacred that it is an integral part of our rituals. Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui encourages students to turn the faucet on so that just a tiny stream of water makes its way through. He calls the loud rushing of water “violent” and questions how we can come to a state of peace in making our ablution before prayer when there is such violence present. We know that Muhammad, upon him be prayers and peace, used only the equivalent of a cup to wash before prayer and the equivalent of 2-3 liters to bathe. He ﷺ went as far as to encourage us not to waste water when washing even in the abundant rapids of a flowing river. If he ﷺ had this attitude towards water conservation, and saw water as this sacred thing to be cherished, then what of our attitudes towards it?
So let us buy paradise like Uthman, and support our brothers and sisters in Flint. Let us come to the aid of those who need it while we re-new our intentions to honor water and the One who created it:
The effort to bring clean water to Flint in the manner of bottled water has seen great support. Every major American Muslim charitable and philanthropic organization has sent shipments of bottled water to the residents of Flint. An alternative that has not yet been implemented is the donation of industrial- scale water filtration systems that could be set up in multiple locations. 5 gallon jugs could be given away to residents and set up in their homes. Medical professionals could donate their time to setting up free clinics in Flint for those who have been impacted. We need task forces to collect support and begin the remediation of the Flint River. No body of water should be so abused by humans that we come to see it as poison. As vicegerents on this Earth, we must go beyond simply remedying the mess we have made and begin to love and protect our Earth. We all have a role in this no matter how big or small we see our voice or ability. We must lend our voices to speak out against this injustice and help in the effort to revitalize and heal the hurt in Flint. There is so much to do, but we know we are not burdened with more than we can bear. We are all helpers in the world and must rush to the aid of those who need our help.
A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth
A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save
anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself,
they run toward the screaming.
And they can’t be bought off.
If you were to ask them, “Why did you come
so quickly?” they would say, “Because I heard
Where the lowland is,
that’s where the water goes. All medicine wants
is pain to cure.
And don’t just ask for one mercy.
Let them flood in. Let the sky open under your feet.
Take the cotton out of your ears, the cotton
of consolations, so you can hear the music of merciful help.
Mona Haydar is a poet, activist practitioner of Permaculture, meditator, composting devotee, mountain girl, solar power lover and a tireless God-enthusiast. She studied at Ma'had Abu Noor in Damascus in addition to studying Shaf'i fiqh, tajweed and hadith with women teachers in Michigan. She practices a life of sacred activism, poetry, contemplation and advocacy for living gently upon the Earth. She teaches classes on mindfulness and Islamic spirituality, leads workshops on creative writing and performs her poetry. Her words have found homes in the hearts of seekers, wanderers, poets, artists, lovers and stewards of the Earth. She grew up in Flint, Michigan and has since lived in the mountains of Northern New Mexico and in the Redwood forest of Northern California with her husband and son. Mona and her husband, Sebastian set up a stand in Cambridge, Massachusetts with signs that read 'Talk to a Muslim' 'free coffee and donuts' 'free conversation' and 'Ask a Muslim' encouraging open and loving dialogue which garnered the attention of NPR, Al Jazeera, The Boston Globe among other media outlets. Currently she is working on her second collection of poems and her first work of nonfiction on Islamic Spirituality through the lens of other spiritual traditions. She is working towards her Masters in Divinity. Mona helps to grow a more universal love with her activism, writing, performing and teaching. www.monahaydar.com
By Mona Haydar , 26 Jan 2016