Event Review: “Syria and Rohingya: Of Truths, tales and tribulations”
Who: Dr Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Ustaz Irwan Hadi
Where: Madrasah Aljunied
When: 29th September 2012
By: AID for Humanity[/box_dark]
At seven forty five last Saturday night, a crowd boasting largely of tertiary students and a small eclectic mix of foreigners, locals, Muslims and non-Muslims both young and old, steadily trickled into Madrasah Aljunied’s auditorium. As with most events, the female crowd easily usurped the male by numbers. A pitter-pattering of applause (which grew progressively thunderous after each speech) filled the auditorium as brother, Muhammad Hamzah introduced the event, “Syria and Rohingya: Of truths, tales and tribulations” and the organisers’ three-prong objectives for the night – of knowing, thinking and praying.
- Know: Understanding the crises in Rohingya and Syria
- Think: Being Critical of the information portrayed in the media
- Pray: Isyak prayers in congregation followed by 2 rakaats of Hajat prayers.
[quote]“Ilm, knowledge is light and when it reaches the heart, it guides”[/quote]
In her introductory speech, the Project Director of the event, Shehzadee Abdul Rahman mentioned Allah, I Dua for Humanity’s (AID Humanity) raison d’etre; to raise awareness and to take action against humanitarian injustices around the world. She also addressed a ‘general ignorance’ that pervaded – a poor understanding of the situation in Syria and Myanmar, save for hearsay and information peppering Facebook. She however added that this did not hinder the committee’s “burning urgency to do something, anything, and to do it now”.
Shehzadee quipped candidly that the committee’s idealistic notion to save the planet was a matter of “macam faham” but in reality “tak sangat” – which loosely translates to “we think we understand, but in reality, not”- since they could not truly comprehend how to save the planet, nor why. She also spoke of how tertiary students have heart, but do not know to take it from there – which set the scaffold for the night’s event; to teach and learn about the true hardships people (not just the Ummah) are grappling with elsewhere in the world and at home.
[quote]“It is not enough for us to have big hearts, but rather we need pairs of strong hands”[/quote]
Professor Syed Khairuddin Aljunied
The first speaker of the night was Assistant Professor Syed Khairuddin Aljunied from the Malay Studies Department a NUS. His presentation entitled, “Syrian and Rohingyan Crises: Causes, complications and misconceptions”, centred around media effects and manufactured truths.
From the get go, Professor Khairuddin made clear that the issues he planned to focus on was not the forty thousand deaths in Syria, not the one million Syrians displaced in the Turkish-Syrian border, nor the eighty thousand displaced Rohingyans. Rather, he extrapolated that the very fact that these two crises, amoungst others that are inflicting the Ummah suggests that there is a larger issue that Muslims are facing.
Dr Khairuddin explained that most Muslims possess a skewed understanding of these conflicts due to “media effects and manufactured truths”. He elaborated that
- Muslims embroiled in these crises are presented by the media as inept and unable to manage themselves such that they resort to violence.
- The media then charts its audience’s understanding of this violence by relating it to Muslims’ disregard of basic “human rights”.
- Audiences are then subtly influenced to believe that there is a need for intervention from the “Enlightened” Superpowers such as the USA. We develop the idea that foreign intervention would help a country in spite of glaringly obvious examples that preach otherwise – the war on Iraq and Afghanistan #’nuffsaid
- The media then explains that these crises lay fertile ground for a hijacking by “Islamists”, “Muslim Fundamentalists” or “Muhajideens”, linking the crises back again to the need for foreign intervention since Muslims are unable to control themselves.
Professor Khairuddin then turned his attention to what he called “The less acknowledged truths”. He detailed that
- Post world war politics left Syria with a system that is determined by a strong sense of secularism which had caused a lot of unhappiness amongst the Muslims.
- In both Syria and Burma, the governments have amassed power for themselves as a corporation – exacerbating the state of their minorities.
- Oppression and routine violence dates back hundreds of years. Burma has been riddled with violence since the 19th Century and even the current rulers in Syria came into power by manner of a coup. When you have a violent government, you have violent citizens.
- The crises in Burma has to do with the desire to set up a nation-state, and during this process, the Rohingyans who live between the borders of Burma and Bangladesh are left stateless.
- Sponsorship of Autocratic Regimes (USA and RUSSIA): The only reason the ruling parties are in power is because of prior sponsorship from the “Superpowers”.
- Muslim leaders display a lack of moral courage. A clear example would be the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation suspension of Syria’s membership.
Professor Khairuddin proceeded to speak at lengths of the clear reaction from the global Muslim community which is especially prevalent online and explained how these reactions were not necessarily a good thing.
He elaborated that the current state of activism from the Ummah reflected a “Muslim-first bias” – that there was insufficient focus on helping non-muslims – what he labelled as “selective amnesia”. He also explained that Muslims’ reactions to these crises are ineffective as they are reactive and emotional rather than proactive and cognizant of how multi-faceted these issues are.
He concluded that local Muslims were coming together for global concerns when “Cik Jah and Encik Samad” are living in Singapore without a roof over their heads – basically telling us to take care of our own backyards before voyaging into others’.
Ustaz Irwan Hadi
The second speaker of the night was Ustaz Irwan Hadi: Head of Office of MUFTI in MUIS with his speech entitled “One Ummah; understanding our roles and duties towards our Musilm brothers”.
Ustaz took on a different approach to the topic at hand, focusing on explaining how important it is to make helping humanity an integral part of life, rather than a “one off” attempt.
“And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.”
-Al Quran 59:9
He began with a parable of the Ansars (“the helpers”) in Medina who had helped Rasulullah (pbuh) and the Muhajirun on their arrival in the blessed city following their Hijrah. He narrated a story of a man who had approached Rasulullah (pbuh) saying, “O prophet, poverty has struck me and I have no food for my family”. Rasulullah (pbuh) sent a messenger to check if any of his wives had food at home but found out there was none.
Rasulullah(pbuh) then turned to the Ansars. One of them asked his wife if they had any food left for the man. She replied that there was only their childrens’ supper left. To that, her husband responded, “Let us sleep early and let the man have the food”. It was after this incident that above verse was revealed.
[quote]“There is no Islam without humanity. Therefore the brotherhood of humanity must precede the brotherhood of Muslims. If we were to do otherwise, we are creating injustices towards Islam.”[/quote]
Ustaz advised the audience to turn to the Ansars and the Sahabah and to learn from the examples they had set for the Ummah. He explained that our willingness to go hungry by giving food to someone else, as the man had done in the parable, serves as a litmus test of our care and concern for others. He candidly referred to our hearts as a “heart-drive”, urging us to re-evaluate our goals and concerns.
Ustaz explained that as our heart fills more and more with the Dunya, it is our responsibility to update our “heart-drive” beyond our limited realities, by filling our hearts with people.
As Rasulullah (pbuh) had been sent as a Mercy to all the worlds, Ustaz stressed that it is our responsibility to further that mission that we have inherited from him by bringing blessings, joy, hope and happiness, to eradicate injustices all over the world and not just to the Ummah. Because Islam is not just for Muslims, rather it is for humanity.
Ustaz concluded by reiterating the importance of yearning for the Akhirah, and in doing so, updating our “heart disk” such that it is over-flowing with care, concern, love and empathy beyond our growing Dunia desires
[quote]“Make yourself indispensable”[/quote]
On a closing note, both Ustaz and Professor Khairuddin reified their points. Professor Khairuddin reminded the audience that a good initiative is one that is consistent and in order to push forth such initiatives, we must evaluate our capabilities and weaknesses before attempting to help. He added that we are living in a time where the Ummah lacks specialisation, where the leaders are “Jack of all trades but masters of none”. This is why it is important for Muslims to specialise early in life, making themselves indispensable to the community.
Drumming this point home, Professor Khairuddin reminded the audience that the Muslims were once so indispensable that they were responsible for Modernity. However, in the past thousand years, Muslims have lost their specialisation and their sense of purpose in this world.
Adding to Professor Khairuddin, Ustaz reminded the audience of the power of Dua. The Dua for a Muslim brother in his absence is readily accepted by Allah swt, and an angel is appointed to the supplicant, such that every time he supplicates for someone else, the angel says “Ameen, and for you too.” Ustaz concluded with a Hadith narrating that Rasulullah (pbuh) had said that “Dua is the only thing that can change qada’ and qadr (predestination)”. Now that my friends, is some serious power.
The audience still brimmed with hope and excitement as they filed out of the hall to pray Isyak in congregation (which was followed by the recitation of Qunut Nazilah and Hajat prayers to help those facing humanitarian injustices).
There was however a looming dissatisfaction with the lack of basic information about Syria and Rohingya at the end of the event. Some audience members who had attended the talk with the intention of understanding the crises better, found themselves rather lost in the avalanche of critique provided by Professor Khairuddin. In response to this, AID for humanity has begun posting bite-sized information in the form of links to articles on their Facebook Page. (http://www.facebook.com/AIDforhumanity)
As a closing note, let me surface a suggestion that Professor Khairuddin put forth – to write an open letter to Muslim leaders around the world. Not just calling them to take some form of action, rather, a letter detailing why it is their responsibility to take action and what exactly they can and should do to help our brothers and sisters in distress. Any takers?[divider]
Farah is an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, studying Communications and New Media. She aspires to be a change-maker, ground-breaker, time-shifting, paradise-seeker.