Since the catastrophic earthquake that claimed thousands of lives in Haiti, our thoughts and attention have been fixated on the latest news reports. In the midst of the images of starvation, malady, homelessness and hopelessness, our bodies have ached with sadness. The orphaned children of Haiti have, furthermore, seized the hearts and souls of people around the world. It has been immensely heartbreaking to see the look of despair and anguish on the Haitian faces. It has been equally devastating to learn that the country’s already high population of orphans has further skyrocketed after this natural disaster.
So, in the wake of this deadly disaster, where does Islam stand and what are the duties of Muslims at such a time? Islam teaches compassion, goodness, charity and selfless devotion. Muslims should help alleviate the suffering that afflicts all humans, regardless of culture, religion or race. Thus, it is a Muslim’s duty to help alleviate social ills for the love of God and out of a concern for humankind and the welfare of others. There should never be a sense of indifference, especially in calamities such as this one, because we all share a common humanity.
There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran and teachings of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) that dictate giving charity and helping the impoverished. The Almighty Creator emphasizes, “And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive, — (Saying), ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.’” (76:8-9) He also states, “If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (5:32)
In addition, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) added, “In the benevolence offered to every living creature, there is reward” (Al-Bukhari) and “The Muslim who plants something and birds or people or animals eat from it will have this act as an act of charity.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Thus, it is incumbent on Muslims to be concerned about the state of all living creatures, as well as helping the destitute and less fortunate.
Muslims worldwide have, indeed, expressed their deepest condolences and have empathized with Haitians. Many American Muslim communities and organizations such as The Islamic Society of North America have rallied support for Haiti. ISNA has collected and distributed donated funds to aid the people of Haiti. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, current president of ISNA, continues to encourage everyone to donate and volunteer for this humanitarian cause and reminds everyone, “The connection to God is linked to how you treat others.”
Moreover, large charities such as Islamic Relief USA to small mosques, as well as many Muslim majority countries, have been raising large sums of money on behalf of Haitians. Still other groups have converged on Haiti eager to help. The Zakat Foundation of America, for instance, has volunteers in Haiti distributing food, water and medical supplies. The Islamic Medical Association of North America also has a team of volunteer physicians operating in Haiti to assist victims of the earthquake, with additional physicians and supplies expected to continue to arrive (their Web sites are the following: http://www.zakat.org/ and http://www.imana-haiti.com/).
A volunteer on the IMANA relief team, interventional radiologist Dr. Javwaud Zafar, summarized the heartfelt experience best when he blogged:
“Just got back from Haiti … had an incredible experience … I actually miss it a lot … part of me wants to go back and stay for a longer period … was seeing 50-60 patients/day … practiced medicine/peds/ob (helped deliver a baby) did some some minor surgery, a few i&ds … overall the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in medicine … we should go back down there together .”
Islam truly embodies the heartfelt sympathy, earnest efforts, sincere assistance and devout vigor that are extended to Haitians from people all around the world. As humans, our hearts collectively ache for Haitians and for anyone who is suffering. We should all contribute in any way we can, continue to help victims of natural disasters, and rally support for any human being who needs it.
That is what the religion of Islam teaches, the beloved Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) exemplifies, and our hearts mandate. As the Prophet (pbuh) described, “the best of the people is he who benefits people.” (Bukhari). After all, we are indeed, one world, one society, and one mankind. The responsibility to help others and to make a positive difference in the world falls on each and every one of us.
Marwa Elkelani, who has her master’s degree in TESL/Linguistics from Oklahoma State University and teaches at the Intensive English Institute at the University of Maine, resides in Brewer with her husband and three young children.