As I sit here writing these words, the screen blurs before my eyes from the unshed tears that cloud my vision. As I sit here writing these words, an entire generation is being obliterated. As I sit here writing these words, Syria is dying.
In the eerie stillness following Aleppo’s unheeded cries for help, a deafening quietude envelopes us as we look away in abject shame. Mentally, our pleas temporarily mask the guilt as we convince ourselves that we are not dead inside. We justify and excuse our ineptitude by quietly repeating just how much we feel and empathize, but alas our silence tells a different story. The hopelessness of the situation thousands of miles away makes us haltingly question whether we could have done anything more than change our profile pictures or update our statuses with well-intentioned posts and transient hashtags.
If we have learned anything from the inhumane tragedies that have swept our spaces in recent and not-so-recent history, it is that we are all tested. But these tests don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. The tragedy of institutional genocide happening in Syria and in many other countries today may be very different from the tests of someone far removed in a ‘safe’ country oceans away. The difference in these tests may sometimes make us feel that we can commiserate from a distance with the pain of others but we cannot really do anything about it. Do we really mean it then, when we cite the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ who reminds us that “The parable of believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of one body. When any limb aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever” [Muslim]?
Oh, ummah of Muhammad ﷺ where are our aches and pains? Have we been sleeping well at night? Have we truly felt a feverish stirring urging us to act against the injustices that are occurring in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters? What have we done to ease their pain and assuage their difficulties? What have we done to make a real difference?
These are the hard questions that we must ask ourselves and that we must hold each other accountable for. Oppression is very real and it is up to us to not only help the oppressed but also to help the oppressor by speaking out against the oppression and trying to stop it. This is not the time to put our battle gear down in defeat and only act as Internet warriors from behind the safety nets of our screens. We cannot afford to give into survivor’s guilt or become apathetic in thinking that there is nothing that we can do. There is plenty that we can do that goes beyond moving our fingers across a keyboard or sharing a status. Yes, monetary funds are always needed, but there is more, there is much, much more that can be done!
This past summer, I travelled to the border of Syria and spent time with the many orphans in refugee camps who were among those who had narrowly escaped the clutches of war. However, these children didn’t escape unscathed. From deep physical scars to even deeper psychological wounds, we met children with haunted eyes who could no longer speak because the trauma they experienced had robbed the words from their mouths and left a hollow void where laughter should have been. We worked with young boys who had both missing limbs and missing parents. We spoke to young girls who sacrificed their hopes of education and careers in exchange for early marriages to spouses who promised a future for their younger siblings even as they watched their own futures disappear. We spent time with children who clung tightly onto teddy bears and lingering hopes that they would soon go home—home to their families, to their friends, to their lace-covered bedrooms, to their video games and computers, to their schools and their sense of normalcy. How could we explain to them that the homes they dreamt of, the families they still called out to in their sleep, the friends they still remembered, were no longer there?
We are reminded in the Qur’an that our tests are all different and that we will never be burdened with a test that is greater than we can bear:
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. ‘Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.’" [2:286]
But in the face of such hardship, I shudder to think of how strong the heart must be to withstand tests such as the ones these children face each day. Along with that shudder though, comes a moment of elucidation. The test of Syria is not just a test for the children and the people of Syria. It is a test for us as well.
Yes, we are all tested in different ways. But that doesn’t mean that the differences in our tests should make us less empathetic to the plight of others. What happens, though, when empathy is not enough? What happens when what we say and what we post cannot save a city from burning nor innocent people from dying? What do we do with the knowledge that our brothers and sisters are in pain but we lack direction in how to proceed? This is where we stop. We pause. We reflect. And we ask ourselves what does this test mean for me? What gift have I been given that I can use to help those who are struggling? How can I help?
Syria has become a test that has tested the bonds of our ummah. It is a test that has tested the strength of our iman and belief in the power of collective dua’. It is a test that has tested our dedication to the service of others. It is a test that has tested each of us in different ways. How have you responded to this test?
The people of Syria may have lost their homes, their families, their country, but now Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) is bringing many of them to our doorsteps. Will we make room for them in our own homes? In our cities and in our towns? Will we welcome the refugees into our families and invite them to share in our lives? Can we help the refugees start again?
Ask yourself, what am I meant to take from this test? Then rise to the occasion. We may think that Syria needs us, but the reality is — we need Syria. This is one test we all must learn from and face together. Now is the time to find our inner strength and answer the call.
By Suzy Ismail , 25 Jan 2017