Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Rohingya’ Category

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.

20180816_120825

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.

IMG-20180817-WA0001

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.

20180816_145208_HDR

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.

20180816_113940

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.

20180816_112538_HDR

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.

20180816_104847

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.

Read Full Post »

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

20180816_113122

Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh, August 2018

Read Full Post »

حسبنا الله و نعم الوكيل

In the fall of 1994, I left my parent’s home in Illinois to go to boarding school at Phillips Academy (often referred to as “Andover”) in Massachusetts. From that point up until I moved to our current apartment in Manhattan, I never lived in the same place for more than a couple years. But from December 2013 until August 2018, my wife and I (and subsequently our son) have had no other home except our place in Greenwich Village.

I write this in an empty apartment. The movers came the other day to take our stuff to Oakland, CA, where we will live at least for the next 2 years insha’Allah. My wife and son have gone to Cape Cod to vacation with her brothers. And I am about to board a plane to Bangladesh, to visit the Rohingya refugee camps outside Cox’s Bazar with my friend Khalid Latif. We will return to NYC for Eid, and then move out West.

I am leaving the first place that has truly felt like home in my adult life. It is impossible for me to describe the two-year process that led to this momentous change. There are clearly definable choices made for me, such as my wife’s rejection of my proposal that we move to Oman for a year so that I could become fluent in Arabic. There are structural issues, such as my realization that my career in higher education had to move outside the secular university (such as my past three employers – Dartmouth, Brown, and NYU). And there are audacious hopes, such as the belief that God is guiding me, and closed certain doors and opened others for reasons known only to God.

A friend’s blog said it better than I can, through quoting Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام:

“I attained realization of God, may He be glorified, by the dissolution of resolutions, and by the solution of complexities.”

My resolve has dissolved in the face of the much larger structural and historical complexities that I am a part of. I have inherited the story of “Muslims in the United States” and “Islam and Hinduism” and “the Rohingya Crisis” merely by the billion choices I have made in my life that led me to this moment in August 2018. All three of those phenomena existed before I was born, and I merely found my way to them as I freely explored this Universe to the extent that I have been able to. This is assuredly a matter of “destiny (qadr).” Yes, I chose my path, but my path has led me to confront my lack of agency in the face of realities beyond my ability to control. I may fly to Dhaka to continue working on behalf of my Rohingya brothers, I may move to California to study with Hindu scholars, my wife and I may buy a house together to continue building our American Muslim family, but what can I really accomplish in the long run? It is all so much bigger than me, and I am just one human being.

My friend writes:

Imam Ali (as) is talking about feeling of disorientation, of being pained and agitated – and yet moving. with grace that behind all these events is the face of God – shining beyond what feels like our faltering and collapsing. The trials Imam Ali (as) faced during his own life time were extremely difficult to digest – someone with fervor and love for Truth at heart, and yet a political and community leader that tried his best to preserve and unite the Muslim community, often despite himself. It takes an immensely liberated spirit to take on such roles, and basically – keep it together when so much around you falls apart. From losing your beloved role model, your wife, betrayals, violence and isolation and yet giving a helping hand and honoring unity above all else. Through all this, Imam Ali (as) says that it was through the adversities that he attained realization of God 

Is there any doubt that Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام would tackle these projects if he were here today? Of course he would yearn to liberate the Rohingya from their oppression, to respond to the theological challenges of Hinduism, and call to Islam throughout the United States. In addition, he would confront so many more problems that I cannot work on full-time: Yemen, Iraq, Palestinethe continued theological challenge of Christianity, and so on.

But whether one is Sunni or Shi’i, one accepts that one can never be as great as Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام, let alone the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم. I felt that so vividly after my first ziyara in Najaf. I remember it so clearly, as it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I did my ziyara, prayed two rak’ahs, and just broke down in uncontrollable tears. The entirety of what I knew of Imam ‘Ali’s life came flooding into my heart. All the trials and tribulations and hardships. His loyalty and steadfastness and determination to continue doing what needed to be done, no matter how hard. And I knew then, and I remember now, that if I gave every breath I have in the paths of righteousness, it will be but a drop from the ocean of Abu Turab عليه السلام.

And so I keep moving forward. Where I will die is known only to my Lord. But while I am still blessed with the ability to do so, I set out to work on the challenges I believe Allah wants me to address as best I can.

Just another servant of the servants of the servants of ‘Ali.

Meshed_ali_usnavy_(PD)

 

Read Full Post »

If God wants there to be a caliphate, then the Muslim Ummah is in a state of sin because it does not exist.

If God does not want there to be a caliphate, then the early Muslim community innovated something in the religion that was not part of it.

If God alone has the right to appoint the leader of the Muslim community, then that leader is the leader whether or not they are recognized by the Muslim community.

The leader has always been the axis of Muslim unity, the expression of Islam’s universal claims over the Earth, and the focal point of the prophetic legacy. As such, I renew my allegiance to Imam Mahdi. There is no one else who can lead a billion Muslims. There is no one else who can unite over 50 nations. There is no one else who can truly change history.

هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ

It is He who has sent His Apostle with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it prevail over all religions, though the polytheists should be averse. (9.33)

This has clearly not come to pass.

So when and how?

The only clear answer in our tradition I have ever found is Imam Mahdi. Left to our own devices, we are miserably failing. How many decent, good Muslims have been killed in violent conflicts over the last 10 years? How many decent, good Muslims are living in exile from their lands? How many decent, good Muslims have no recourse in this world to anything even resembling justice?

Muslim unity is a farce. Muslim power is gone. If a second-rate army, like that of Myanmar, wants to push a million of us out of our homes, then they face no resistance. If they want to gang rape hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim women, they face no resistance. If they want to burn masjids, they face no resistance.

Spiritually, it should make us sick to our stomachs. It should fill us with righteous anger. It should make us weep for the suffering of our sisters and our brothers, and our own shortcomings in assisting them. And it should drive us closer to Imam Mahdi, for only someone appointed by God can lead this Ummah.

In the meantime, there is more work to do than we have the power to accomplish. There is more injustice than we can ever hope to overcome. There is more struggle to undertake than we can bring our selves to endure.

اَللَّهُمَّ ٱكْشِفْ هٰذِهِ ٱلْغُمَّةَ عَنْ هٰذِهِ ٱلامَّةِ بِحُضُورِهِ

وَعَجِّلْ لَنَا ظُهُورَهُ

«إِنَّهُمْ يَرَوْنَهُ بَعِيداً وَنَرَاهُ قَرِيباً»

بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا ارْحَمَ ٱلرَّاحِمِينَ

O Allah, relieve this community from grief through presenting him

and expedite his advent for us:

“Surely, they think it to be far off, and We see it nigh.”

In the name of Your mercy; O most merciful of all those who show mercy.

638831main_globe_east_2048

Read Full Post »

THANK YOU!!!

I would like to thank the 32 donors who contributed a total of $10,548.47 to the Rohingya matching challenge! May Allah reward you all abundantly. I have completed my end of the bargain.Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 4.22.35 PM

 

Read Full Post »

I remember the days after the lunar month of Ramadan in the solar year 2013. My eyes were glued to my computer as I watched the massacre of civilians in Cairo. It was the moment I began to realize that something was horribly wrong with the Muslim community.

We do not choose the moments when God lifts the veils from our eyes. One could justly critique me for not realizing this sooner. I pray that God does not judge me for years spent in hopeful ignorance.

From that moment on, the best way to describe my spiritual state was repeated experiences of the tajalliyat (manifestations) of Justice. God is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy, but God is also al-‘Adl (Justice). God has created this entire world for everyone to enjoy, and God loves to shower blessings on the creation in this life and even more so in the next, but God has also created Hellfire for those who oppress others and oppress their own selves.

Many Muslims are vexed by the tide of social injustices in our time. They witness the repeated murders of black people in the United States without any real accountability for the murderers, the millions of Syrian refugees struggling to survive, the starvation of Yemen, the lynching of Muslims in India, the denial of the right to worship by Uyghurs in China, and so much more. It is hard for any Muslim to not have the veil ripped off from their eyes today.

But I believe that one situation in particular is the greatest sign of the current moral failing of the Ummah of Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. Keep in mind there are no incontrovertible proofs for this claim – at the end of the day, it is simply my reasoned opinion (ijtihad) in regards to complex matters of social justice. And in no way does it detract from the importance of everything else that is going on. But we need to have priorities, and above all we need to care about what is happening to the Rohingya people.

I have written about this issue here and here if you need more context.

Know this: were you to give everything you have to help the Rohingya, it would not be enough. You could be the most selfless and giving person in the world, and it would still be a drop in the ocean of righting the wrongs that the Rohingya have faced. There is nothing you can really do to solve this problem. It will only be solved in its fullness on the Day of Judgement.

But this is also true: God will ask you about what you did once you knew. Once you knew about all the gang rapes, all the slit throats, all the bullets holes in the forehead, all the burned villages, all the refugee camps, all the denial of aid, all the IDP prisons, all the sorrow, all the tears, all the pain, all the utter devastation. Once you saw evil manifest before your very eyes, did you doubt God’s Promise or did you doubt your own humanity?

One Rohingya told me, “They took everything from us, and then they tried to take Allah from us, and we would not let them.” Don’t worry about the faith of the Rohingya – what would crush your faith the Rohingya have endured 100 times over. Worry about your own standing before Allah and being asked about all the blessings you take for granted everyday.

What has happened to the Rohingya has only happened because we have let it happen. We have allowed and continue to allow so many to endure so much. So much. Truly unspeakable things.

And so, as a mean to motivate you and myself, I am pledging to donate up to $10,000 in matching funds for Khalid Latif’s fundraising campaign for the Rohingya. If all you can give is $5, then do so, and it will become $10. If you can give $100, then give $100 and it will become $200. Post a comment on this blog with your donation information, or send me a private message at rdavidcoolidge@gmail.com, and I will match the total up to $10,000 insha’Allah.

Why? Because let’s be real. You are not going to go the refugee camps in Bangladesh in person to help out. You are not going to go to Chicago to volunteer with the Rohingya Culture Center. You are not going to devote yourself to lobbying Congress or convincing multinational corporations to punish the Myanmar military for their crimes. There are people who do these things, but you are not them. The best you can do is give some money (when so much more than you could ever give is needed) and post this to Facebook.

And that is something real, and perhaps something that can save you from being judged justly. For if it is truly the case that there is so much you can’t do, than Allah will bless you in what you can do. You can make du’a. You can give a small amount of money. You can spread the word. Allah does not judge you for what is out of your control. You cannot liberate the Rohingya people from their oppressors. You cannot grant them citizenship with the wave of a hand. You cannot build them all sturdy dwellings to make it through the upcoming monsoons.

But you can do something, so do it.

If it is not this, then do something that you think is better.

May God save you and I from the Fire.

Bismillah.

judge-1

Read Full Post »

Spending a week and a half volunteering at the Rohingya Culture Center (RCC) in Chicago has changed my perspective.

It is as if I can imagine this entire Earth, with all of its abundance flowing from Divine Generosity.

“who made the earth a bed, and the sky a canopy; and it is He who sends down rain from above for the growth of every kind of food for your sustenance…” (2.22)

planet-1348079_1920

And from those free gifts, we build societies. Without land and air and water and crops, there would be no skyscrapers and smartphones and hospitals and universities. As Bataille showed so many years ago, it is not scarcity that drives us – it is expenditure of the surplus. We create more and more because our basic needs are met.

But these possibilities are not equally spread across the globe. Building a skyscraper in Chicago is easier to do than in many other places, because there is a concentration of wealth and talent. But what is harder to see is that Chicago is also a place where it is easier to connect people to basic needs. If you can build a skyscraper, the infrastructure already exists to help people in terms of school, health, and work.

I sat with Rohingya kids trying really hard to do their math homework, even though those of us who grew up here would consider the institutions they attend as “bad schools.” But guess what – it is either the best school they have ever gone to or the ONLY school they have ever been allowed to attend. I saw Rohingya elders sit patiently listening to someone translate for them a letter explaining their government-supported health benefits. I listened to Rohingya young adults talk about working at Dunkin Donuts or O’hare airport with pride, because as undocumented refugees in Malaysia their only option would have been the shadow economy. School, health, and work are all available to them, and thus they are now perhaps some of the most privileged Rohingya globally. And they channel that relative privilege into doing everything they can for their friends, family, and community in other countries who are in much worse circumstances.

And in doing so I realized that I had made a mistake in considering something specific like treatable glaucoma to be where I needed to focus my efforts. Rather, there is a more fundamental issue at stake. Will those with access to the global surplus make the effort to help those who are struggling with basic needs? Matters of inequality need to be understood globally, and take into account everything from ecological systems to international refugee politics.

Let us be clear. After seeing how Chicago is handling 1,500 Rohingya refugees who came through Malaysia, I can say with absolute confidence that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to welcome at least 10,000 of the more than 59,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia. Easily. And yet, the Crown Prince boasts about wanting to spend $500 billion to build a new economic hub on the Red Sea.

I literally could not dream up a more grotesque example of injustice in the Ummah, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya want a clean place to sleep, a simple meal a few times a day, an opportunity to work manual labor, a safe place to give their kids an elementary school education, and the ability to travel freely with a passport. The so-called “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” not only does not provide that because he’d prefer to build skyscrapers in the desert, but then grants citizenship to a robot just to rub it in their face.

It is so sick. So so sick. Like, I can’t even believe that it is true. Like, I am literally writing these words and asking myself if I am dreaming because how could that possibly be real. How could I possibly live in a world like this, and how could a person like this possibly be in control of the most sacred places of worship in my faith??!!

And so the truth of what I wrote on October 30th, 2017 is even more clear now:

Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have.

I cannot control the immigration policy of wealthy Muslim countries, but I can greet my Rohingya brothers and sisters in my hometown of Chicago as best I know how. My wife and I have donated money to the RCC and intend to give more insha’Allah. Over the last week and a half I got to know the board, the employees, the many volunteers, and most importantly, the kids. I truly hope that the little girls of the RCC like Lala and Zaynab, and the little boys like Yunus and Yusuf, will grow up safe in Chicago. They are far away from the horrific brutality of the Tatmadaw and the lack of welcome experienced by so many Rohingya around the world. May they always be protected, and may their lives be filled with Love and Light.

Insha’Allah, the RCC will bring great benefit to the Rohingya worldwide and also bring blessings to the city of Chicago. Almost every night, I came home before my parents went to sleep, and they asked me about it. Through me, they learned about the Rohingya and expressed their support and concern. If we had not had these exchanges, at best they would have read a newspaper article somewhere in between debates about the tax bill and the latest sports scores. But now their son knows one of those young Rohingya men from the articles, Abdul Samad, the youngest board member of the RCC. And so what was once just the name of an ethnic group from some faraway place is now transformed in our minds and hearts into real flesh and blood individuals who live only 25 minutes away from where I grew up skateboarding and playing in a band with Pete Wentz.

I feel like God had this all planned a long time ago. The Powerful (al-Qadir) created the conditions for me to make a choice, and The Witness (al-Shaheed) waited and watched as I figured it out over the last few months. As if it was stated, “I am going to turn the son of the former CEO of a Chicago-based investment bank into a Muslim in 1998, and then in 2012 I am going to start bringing Rohingya to Chicago, and then in 2017 I am going to make him aware of it and see what he chooses to do…”

“It is He who has made you successors on the earth, and raised some of you in rank above others so that He may test you in respect to what He has given you. Indeed your Lord is swift in retribution, and indeed He is all-forgiving, all-merciful.” (6.165)

I cannot force the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to use his privilege in the right way. All I can do is use my much lesser privilege as best I know how. Each individual has to figure out how they can spiritually respond to the realities of systemic injustice. At the end of the day, both the Crown Prince and myself ultimately owe our social position to our fathers, and have never once worried about our basic needs. We will be judged justly by the Just (al-‘Adl). For the fundamental global issue is the same, and we both are on the proverbial hot seat. It is in our best interest to constantly remember the prayer attributed to the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him and his family:

Praise is due to Allah Who has fed us, provided us drink, satisfied us and gave us protection. Many are those who have no one to provide for them, or give them shelter.

20180127_174229_HDR

The Board of the RCC (Allah grant them tawfiq and taysir, ameen!)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: