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For the past year, I had been reading and watching everything I could find about the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Nothing prepared me for how massive they were. They seemed to go on forever.

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The first camp I entered was the Ukhiya camp. It is not even the biggest one. As we walked around, I felt disoriented, as the sheer weight of human suffering and trauma was everywhere. There is nothing but hills and valleys of shacks hastily built to cope with the massive needs of over 700,000 individuals. I clutched my tasbih, seeking shelter in the remembrance of God as a coping mechanism.

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Everyone who shared their story with us had a horrific story to tell. Down at the bottom of this hill, across the sewage and garbage-filled rice paddies, were shelters filled with such stories. Brutal murder, villages completely erased from the Earth, systematic rape. Personal tales that correspond exactly to what every reputable news outlet and NGO on the planet has extensively documented.

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In those moments, there is no recourse other than du’a. To pray that after a life filled with suffering and brutality, loved ones can finally be reunited and experience peace and beauty that never ends. To believe in the Divine Promise that God will say:

يَا عِبَادِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَا أَنتُمْ تَحْزَنُونَ

My servants, there is no fear for you today, nor shall you grieve

In those moments, when I turned to my Lord, I asked for the resolution of that which seems impossible to resolve. I could not bring her husband back from the dead. I was unable to recreate his village that was burned to the ground. It is not possible to unrape thousands of girls. Only the Creator of all has that Power, as is reported from His Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم

then one of the people of Jannah who had experienced extreme misery in the life of this world will be dipped in Jannah. He will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any hardship?’ He will say: “By Allah, no, I never experienced any hardship.”

But when I turn to my rebellious self, and to our community that calls ourselves Muslims, I ask if we are doing enough for our Rohingya brothers and sisters. And my unequivocal answer is no, no, no. Absolutely not. Not even close.

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My idealism is rooted in an understanding of reality. I understand the politics and economics that lead to people living in shacks made of bamboo on eroding mud cliffs, with 9 people living in a space that could barely fit my kitchen table. If you feel you must understand that larger context as well, you can read this book and/or this book, both of which I have reviewed on Amazon. But if you, like most people, neither have the desire nor the time to do the research, then just trust me. There is one fundamental spiritual response to this situation after making du’a and believing in the Last Day – giving of our wealth and time to assist the Rohingya.

We must begin with our selves, our families, and the communities of which we are a part. It does not matter what kind of Muslim you are – what matters is that you want to help. I do not decide whether or not my charity or your charity is accepted in the Divine Realm – that is between each one of us and our All-Knowing Lord. What is in our realm of responsibility is trying to do something real to help others in need. After seeing the camps myself, I know that what the Rohingya need from the Ummah is billions of dollars. It is simply that massive. Because the needs are so extensive, people like you and I will never be able to give enough. But we still have to do something.

The great great grandson of our Noble Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, is reported to have said:

The most regretful of people on the Day of Judgment are those who prescribe justice, yet do the opposite.

Reflect on this story. Inside this bare-bones medical clinic, funded by Islamic Relief USA donations, is a young Bangladeshi doctor. Every morning, six days a week, she rises early to begin a two and a half hour journey to work here. All day long, in intense heat and humidity, she does what she can to help people, primarily women and children. I asked her why she does this, when she could be somewhere else making more money. She said that as long as it was economically possible for her to continue serving the Rohingya community, she would.

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She is a hero. In a world that does not care, she moved from Chittagong (a big city) to Cox’s Bazar (a town) to spend 5 hours a day traveling to and from a place that is the most tragic place I have ever been in my life. And in her patient answering of our questions I experienced a combination of dignity and humility that I have rarely seen.

Without funding, it will not be possible for her to continue her work. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of stories of similar nature. We feel a struggle in the moment we choose to give more charity than usual, and perhaps feel it occasionally later on when our balance is too low to afford something we want. But people like this doctor are there six days a week putting in the hours, working with the Rohingya while many of us have the privilege to forget that they are even there. May God bless us to assist her and those like her, so that we may walk with them as they walk paths like this to assist people we will probably never meet.

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There are only two experiences in my life that have felt like a preview of the Day of Judgement: The Day of ‘Arafah at Hajj, and visiting the Rohingya refugee camps. Both places make you realize your absolute neediness before Allah سبحانه و تعالى, confront your own shortcomings, and resolve to make the most out of the life we have been given. A year from now, will I still be alive? A year from now, will I have more to give the Rohingya or less? A year from now, what will be the situation of these people? I do not know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that I can write these words which do not do justice to what the Rohingya are going through, and remake a commitment to give money to help meet their needs, and turn to my Lord with tears in my eyes asking Him to do everything else I cannot.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

People, it is you who stand in need of God- God needs nothing and is worthy of all praise

 

***This post was originally created in August 2018, as a tool for the fundraising we did for Islamic Relief USA. I have re-edited it and reposted it to make it relevant outside of that original context, as the camps are still there and the needs of the people are ongoing.

Perhaps someone somewhere has explained this better than I can, but I wanted to share what I consider to be the supreme profundity of our simple dhikr: Subhan Allah Alhamdulillah La ilaha ill Allah Allahu akbar.

 

سبحان الله – Subhan Allah

Subhan Allah means that nothing is like Allah. Anything you see, hear, smell, taste, feel is different from Allah. Allah is transcendent above all of our embodied experience.

الحمد لله – Alhamdulillah

Alhamdulillah, on the other hand, is related to everything. Anything that you can conceptualize is from Allah, and thus all praise for everything in all existence belongs to Allah. There is no wanting something that is not, in the final analysis, wanting Allah, for that which is praiseworthy in that thing could not be there without Allah. Thus, Subhan Allah and Alhamdulillah are two sides of the same coin.

لا إله إلا الله – La ilaha ill Allah

If Subhan Allah was metaphorically like pushing Allah away from everything you can conceptualize, and Alhamdulillah was like bringing Allah as close as possible to everything, then La ilaha ill Allah is the stripping away of that distinction. Is there conceptualization without the Knower of everything sharing a drop of knowledge? Is there an existent world without the Living sharing a drop of life? Is there something to experience, and an experiencer to experience it, that is ever, for even a single moment, independent of Allah?

الله أكبر – Allahu akbar

Subhan Allah was based on the plain understanding that Allah is unlike the creation. Alhamdulillah flipped that observation on its head, and made the creation reveal the Creator at every moment. La ilaha ill Allah erased the distinction entirely. Allahu akbar brings us back into a relationship, where beyond every horizon there is something greater. Where the furthest limits of our imagination cannot reach. For no matter what I say, or do, or experience, or think, or imagine, or want…Allah is always greater than that.

So the next time you repeat these four phrases, try to remember that this simple dhikr is an expression of all that ever was, is, or will be.

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there is no me

it is a secret, writ large

there is no me

 

maybe if i die soon

these words will last for a hundred years more

the tragic end of a seeker

who still had so much more to explore

 

vanity. pure vanity.

 

for there is no me

 

a million years from now

if there are still humans in the universe

even these words will be gone

and were you there to see it

the only reason you would even know i had been there

is a distant memory

 

for i exist only in the Mind of God

in the Knowing of past-present-future

in the Garden-time and Fire-time

in the forever

in the always

 

and these eyes have already rotted in my grave

and these fingers are nothing but bones

and would you send me your salams

you would not hear my reply

 

unless God permitted it

 

for i am already gone

 

there is no me

there is only Mercy and Justice

there is only the Garden and the Fire

there are only the Friends and their supporters

and the Enemy and those who acted on the whispers

 

kun fa yakun

 

رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّا

end-of-time-3

fading days

the sun sits low in the west

and the shadows lengthen

yet our lips still hymn Your praise

for it is You who gave us life

and it is You who calls us home

The New York Times has reported how Facebook contributed to the genocidal assault by the Myanmar military that drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh a year ago. I visited the camps housing the refugees in August, and I think about the people I met all the time. Recently the Executive Director of BRAC, one of the most respected humanitarian organizations in the world, said that they don’t have enough funds to address the needs in the camps. Specifically he stated:

“Let me speak of our situation. We began work with a plan for 50 health centres. We later reduced this to 30. We are currently working to manage the costs for 11 clinics. We have even dipped into our own funds. We cannot halt this work.”

Specifically, the article states that through the end of 2018, BRAC needs $56.4 million but only $33.4 million has been raised. Facebook currently makes billions of dollars of profit every 3 months. I am writing this with the audacious goal of convincing Facebook’s leadership to fill the funding gap of BRAC for the end of 2018. Give BRAC $20,000,000 before the end of 2018, meant to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

$20,000,000 does not absolve Facebook of its responsibilities to the Rohingya people. But making a public donation to a humanitarian organization that is serving those whose lives were destroyed by the Myanmar military is a step in the right direction. But most importantly, it will make a real difference in the lives of people who desperately need the world to care. When I was there, I saw how much $500,000 or $1,000,000 can do for so many. If I had $20,000,000 to give to BRAC, I would. But I don’t.

Please share this widely. The only way we could ever convince Facebook to do this is if it gets enough traction. I know this is idealistic, but what else am I supposed to do? Sit back and forget about all the suffering people I have seen with my own eyes?! I will not. The Rohingya are still there in the camps, and in need of our assistance. I will keep trying, praying to the One who removes all obstacles for success in this small effort. بسم الله

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Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh, August 2018

may God send blessings and peace upon the Prophet Muhammad and his family

It is hard to explain the beauty of Azadari (recalling the injustices inflicted upon the family of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him). It is something that needs to be tasted to be understood. Unfortunately, there seem to be so many cultural and theological barriers to tasting the truths conveyed through the various mediums through which Azadari culture is expressed. I hope that this brief reflection can help break through those barriers, and convey to the reader some of what is felt in the heart.

A year ago, a young Pakistani-American poet named Aqeela Naqvi wrote an Azadari poem in memory of al-Qāsim b. al-Ḥasan, one of the great-grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad killed at Karbala. She entitled it “sweeter than honey,” a reference to God sending comfort in the midst of tragedy for those who die “in the way of God (fī sabīl Allāh).” A few years before that, Iranian artist Hassan Roholamin posted a painting he did of the same story and described it using the same words: “sweeter than honey.”

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Between text and image, a moment in historical and sacred time is shared with the world. One artist living in the United States, speaking in English. Another artist living in Iran, speaking through images. Both Azadari. Both exquisite.

These artistic renditions capture both the personal and communal tragedy of ‘Ashura. The love of an uncle for his nephew. The bitter pain of betrayal when Muslim soldiers kill a young Muslim man who is nothing less than the great-grandson of the man they claim to follow. And yet, the hope in God that shines through the darkness.

This art speaks directly to our times of confusion, when people ask how can Islam be beautiful when Muslims have done so much evil. But that question was asked long before “the West” started asking it, and the answer lies with people like al-Qāsim b. al-Ḥasan. Azadari is a light that was started by the family of the Prophet, and history has shown that nothing can extinguish it. And for hearts who have tasted that light, it is sweeter than honey.

 

sweeter than honey

by Aqeela Naqvi

the meeting of swords, the clashing of souls
brought by dawn after silence of night
thousands who fight for darkness to prevail—
less than one hundred warriors of the light

the tenth of Muharram on Karbala’s sands
a battle this morning has bloodily raged
a few hours the length of centuries seems
a grief by which young children are aged

from the first arrow released by the enemy
Imam Hussain’s companions for him have bled
while there is strength remaining in their bones
not a drop of the Prophet’s blood will be shed

men continue to leave, bodies continue to return
as a bloody scene in a weeping desert unfurls
until finally none of these brave souls remains
each companion valiantly departs from this world

yet still, Yazeed’s army continues to advance
Imam Hussain’s family now must enter the fray
brothers and nephews and sons never to return
on burning sands their bodies now lay

of Karbala’s youth there is a brave soul
who has come now to ask his Uncle a question
to take up his sword and to enter the battle
he has come to seek his Imam’s permission

how can Hussain look upon this young face
and let him go knowing the enemy’s plans
that they will not rest until piercing his skin
until his blood flows like rivers in the sands

he refuses but his nephew Qasim is insistent
he kisses his uncle’s hands with this request
to allow him to defend the message of Islam
until then the blood in his veins will not rest

his requests are delivered with such earnest
that Imam Hussain can deny him no longer
he kisses his face and allows him to leave
his face so much like the face of his brother

in youth, wealth or beauty or power or fame
anything we dream of our horizon may hold
our bones are now strong and our blood is fresh
thoughts of death come when we’re frail and old

when it comes to religion, we still have time
when we’re older we’ll learn more of Islam
when we’re older will come the light of our faith
when we’re older will we understand our Qur’an

right now all that matters is being young
all is enjoyment from each dusk to dawn
is that how it is? is this age and youth?
or have we understood living all wrong?

when we see Karbala, we see there are youth
many who are not quite much older than us
there is Qasim and there is Muhammad and Aun
who at such an age put in Allah their trust

youth who come to the aid of their Imam
with no thought to the length of their years
ready to stand for the purity of their beliefs
even if it means facing the enemy’s spears

Hazrat Qasim enters the battle with such valor
the cub no less than his father, the lion, Hassan
a young boy striking fear into soldier’s hearts
showing them how the battle of the soul is won

eager to defend Islam and his Imam Hussain
he does not hesitate in setting off on the plains
the enemy hopes to strike fear in his heart—
forgetting which bloodline runs through his veins

this is the son of Hamza and Haydar!
the son of Abu Talib and Hassan al-Mujtaba!
his is a lineage more radiant than the stars
this is the grandson of Muhammad al-Mustafa!

yet the cruelty of the charge, the cutting of his bones
the army surrounds him – imagine the scene
men racing forward on horses, and his spilling blood
amidst snarling wolves, a young child’s screams…

a soldier coming forward and striking his head
and Hazrat Qasim falling down on the plains
with wounds kissing his skin, this final farewell
“O dear Uncle, come to my aid!”

like a wild falcon, Hussain enters the battle
the enemy from his force scatters and flees
he cradles this young child’s head to his chest
as Qasim’s soul from this world slowly leaves

“By Allah! It is difficult for your Uncle
that he could not come to your aid…”
as he holds him in his arms, these tender words
the master of Martyrs to a young boy says…

in death, Hazrat Qasim’s face holds a smile
and in it the night’s memory comes to mind
an image of a young face in a tent full of men
who knew with dawn, all present would die

of the boy who realized his youth may be at stake
who tomorrow, may life for death have to barter
yet with passion in his voice he had asked his Imam
“Uncle, am I, too, included in the list of martyrs?”

Imam Hussain had responded, “O my dear son!
How do you consider death (in the way of Allah)?”
and Hazrat Qasim had smiled such a sweet smile
and in his answer, this shining lesson history saw

that the human’s true price is greater than this world
that the only thing worth it is eternity

that no oppressor or tyrant can shackle your soul
when God Himself has created you free

that to enter the fray with your honor and die on your feet
is better than living life on your knees

for such death dying for truth
can only be as he said:

for Qasim, such death,
sweeter than honey

the fire within

i lay the days and weeks and months ahead

at the feet of Imam al-Sajjad

and ask him to pray for me

so that i remember

and persist

and grow

and become sajjādī

such that the routine of life

and the power of tyrants

does nothing to dampen

the ḥusaynī fire within

baqi

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