It is now day 6 of the mounting conflict between Israel and the Gaza strip. Muslims familiar with the history and politics of the region naturally feel sympathetic for their brethren in Gaza. Amid the violence in Israel, a concurrent social media war has broken out on Facebook and Twitter between supporters of each side. This is not a critique of such discussions. In fact, in an era addicted to entertainment, consumerism and frivolity it is refreshing to see people discussing something of actual importance. In a way, social media has become one of the only legitimate public forums left open for us in the modern age and this is something we should neither forget, nor abuse.
Having said that, it is important for Muslims, no matter how angry we feel, to remain composed and remember our adab (manners) amid such discussions. Some important reminders, first to myself:
Anger is a dangerous emotion with destructive consequences. We must strive to control and contain our anger, even when it is justified. As the Prophet (sas) reminds us, “The strongest man is he who controls himself at the time of anger.” (Bukhari/Muslim). When we feel angry, we lose all defences against Shaytan. Our judgement becomes clouded and our response becomes inevitably tainted by ego. If you feel yourself growing helplessly enraged by the stories and images coming out of Gaza, follow the Prophetic advice by seeking refuge in Allah (swt), making wudu, or removing yourself from the situation until you calm down.
Remember, the Prophet (sas) forbade becoming furious, even in situations of war. Even at the height of battle, Muslims were commanded to retain their composure, being prohibited from the indiscriminate killing of women, children, the elderly and even plants and trees! This undoubtedly took a tremendous amount of discipline and self-control on the part of the early Muslims, especially since they were often facing armies who lacked similar regard. What helped them, and what we should similarly keep in mind, is that any anger we feel should be for the sake of Allah (swt). It is not the hatred of others that should motivate our response. It is our inherent love for peace and justice and the blatant breach of those principles in this situation that we find offensive. Everything you do, say or even feel will ultimately be judged against your intention.
Consider the following story about Ali (ra) during one of the early battles. Just as he pinned down a man from the opposing force to the ground and was about to kill him, the man spat at his face. Ali (ra) responded by letting the man go. When the perplexed man asked him why, Ali (ra) replied: “Due to this action of yours my nafs (ego) became involved and my intention did not remain purely for the sake of Allah.” Impressed by Ali (ra)’s sincerity, the man decided to become Muslim.
Our intentions are not the only thing we have to consider before engaging in online discussion. Before posting content, whether original or not, ask yourself: Is this true? Is it useful? How will others benefit from this information? How will I benefit? The ease and speed of online engagement does not preclude us from responsibility. First of all, when we compromise our manners or our morals to prove a point, we lose credibility and ultimately gain nothing, even if we were right. Second, and more importantly, just as Allah (swt) will ask us about every word we utter in person, we will similarly be asked about every picture, every video, every quote, every iota of commentary we share on Facebook and Twitter. Remember the Prophet (sas)’ advice:
“He who truly believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or keep silent.” (Bukhari/Muslim)
In a similar vein, we must also be careful of painting with too broad a brush. Not all Jews are evil. Not all Americans are evil. Not all Israelis are evil. Not all Muslims are free from blame. These statements may seem obvious but they are not always apparent in the way we share information. Conflicts such as the one in Israel are complex, include many actors with varying motivations and contain many shades of gray.
Rather than allowing this to muddle our sense of right and wrong, we can actually use this to our advantage. The situation in Israel will not change until there is a massive global shift in public perception. Right now, many people support the actions of the Israeli government because they believe that government is acting in self-defense. Due to our own actions, coupled with media bias, many in the international community have been hard-wired to view Muslims as violent, volatile and undeserving of sympathy. The only way to change the perception about the ongoing tension in this part of the world is to build coalitions. Many people, of all races, religions and political views fully understand the situation in Gaza and view the Israeli government as the aggressor. What are we doing to reach out to these people?
Our failure to build coalitions speaks to a larger problem in our communities: Muslims only seem to care about injustice when other Muslims are being killed. That is not our mandate as Allah (swt)’s vice-regents on earth. We care because innocent people are suffering. We care because we hate oppression at our very core; it goes against everything we believe in. Whenever innocent people suffer, wherever oppression is taking place, even when we ourselves are the perpetrators, Muslims should be the first to stand up and condemn it. Only then will we be taken seriously as the “people of justice” we always claim to be.
“O you who believe, be persistent in standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.” (Qur’an 5:8)
And though the situation may look hopeless today, don’t lose hope. We have the truth. We must keep sharing it: consistently, calmly, rationally and persistently. We must arm ourselves with facts and shield ourselves with firmness and prayer. Things will change. They always do.
It was less than a century ago that lynching black people was common throughout the American South, and today, the United States has a black president. It was less than a century ago that Jewish people suffered the Holocaust, and today the Jewish state is among the richest, most powerful in the world. It was less than thirty years ago that the South African majority was segregated and oppressed through the policies of Apartheid. Today, the same group that spearheaded what looked like an impossible resistance, is now the democratically-elected ruling political party. The point is, policies of oppression are never sustainable.
“Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish.” (Qur’an 17:81)
Let us put our hope and our trust in Allah (swt) and let us unabashedly use the one, most powerful weapon that is always at our disposal: prayer.
May Allah (swt) protect the people of Palestine, ease their suffering, and grant them faith, patience and strength from Himself. Oh Allah, change the situation in Palestine, weaken the oppressers and free the oppressed, surely You have power over all things. Ameen.