”And a man came running from the farthest part of the city”
In this verse of Surah Yasin, we are given a beautiful example of the qualities of the true believer, characteristics which we must adopt in our own lives today if we truly wish to call ourselves Believers. The reference is to the story of the people of an unnamed city to which Allah (swt) sent two messengers to teach them about Allah. When the people refused to accept the messengers and argued with them, Allah sent a third messenger to assist them. The people, in their arrogance and stubbornness, refused to accept what the messengers were saying and went further, threatening to stone them to death for what they were calling to.
It is at this critical point of the story when the messengers of Allah are being encountered by a vicious mob armed with rocks, threatening to kill them that the real hero of the story is mentioned. Allah describes how a man came running from the farthest part of the city to defend and protect the messengers from the harm of the people and to persuade them to accept the truth. The people refused to listen and killed him whereupon he became a martyr in the way of Allah.
So who was this man, why were his actions so pleasing to Allah, and why is he relevant to us today?
The great mufassir Ibn Kathir explains that this man was a leper with a very low standing in society. He was not a king or tribal leader, not a nobleman or even an ordinary man. He was despised in his society and had little or no influence upon it. Yet, because his actions were so beloved to Allah, he was blessed with the greatest reward such that his story has been and will continue to be recounted and recited by billions of people until the Day of Judgment.
This man, having listened to the messengers, accepted Islam and iman entered his heart. He professed with his tongue what was now in his heart and he was one of the Muslims. But once his faith had become firm in his heart, he was not content to rest while the beloved servants of Allah were being intimidated and abused. As a fellow believer, he could not remain aloof from the oppression his brothers were facing and so he came to assist and support them against the violent mob.
As a leper, it was highly unlikely that the people would actually listen to what he had to say. But he did not exploit this factor as an excuse to stay behind and abandon his fellow believers in their time of difficulty.
This wasn’t the only excuse he could have used to stay behind; for he had another. Where was this man when the messengers were being abused? Allah tells us that he was in the farthest part of the city. This man was nowhere close to the scene of the imminent crime. He could not have been any further away without leaving the city. Yet, this too did not stop him from expending full efforts to protect the believers in their time of difficulty.
As a result, he immediately departed from the farthest part of the city to where the action was happening, alone, unaccompanied, running…
This was a matter of life and death. The messengers of Allah, the believers were being hunted down by an angry and violent mob, armed with rocks. This was not a time to procrastinate. This was not a time to tend to his work or family. This was not a time to walk. The distance was far, the time was short, and the situation critical. Therefore, he ran. This lowly leper left from the outskirts of the city, and ran and ran until he arrived to support the best believers in their time of need against the oppressors. Had he not have run, maybe he would not have arrived in time and nobody would have ever known of him. Instead, he was blessed with martyrdom and his memory lives on and will continue to until the Day of Judgment.
So how is this story relevant to us today? Although we all recite these verses time and time again and read about this man’s heroics, unfortunately the spirit of his struggle and sacrifice has today been abandoned by all but a few.
We are living in an era in which the blood of a Muslim has lost all its value. Despite the Prophet Muhammad (saws) describing a single drop of this blood as dearer in the sight of Allah than the Ka’abah itself, today Muslim blood is being spilt by our enemies on a daily basis all over the world. Our brothers and sisters face daily intimidation, harassment, abuse and oppression. It is not just the men from this Ummah who are being systematically abused like this while we sit and watch in silence. Shamefully, our sisters are also being subjugated in this brutal ‘War on Terror’. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim women are languishing in dungeons throughout the Muslim world, not just in places such as Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, but also within prisons in places like Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Libya.
The plight of our beloved sister Aafia Siddiqui is symbolic of the humiliation that this Ummah is suffering today. Kidnapped with her three young children in her homeland by the Pakistani and American intelligence services, renditioned to a US military base in Afghanistan, and then subjected to half a decade of brutal torture, rape, abuse, and humiliation. Isolated from friends, family, her children and all that she was familiar with, Aafia was alone at the mercy of her captors. Imagine what thoughts must have been going through her mind when she was forced to walk naked over pages of her Qu’ran which guards had ripped up and strewn all over the floor. Imagine how helpless she must have felt, alone and scared, with no protector, no helper. How could the people of the world help however, when they did not even know who Aafia was or what had happened to her? After emerging from the darkness, Aafia was falsely accused of attempting to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan and sentenced to 86 years imprisonment in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in legal history. Shocking new evidence in the form of a secretly recorded audio conversation between a lawyer and the Superintendent of police for the Sindh Province, Imran Shaukat, dispels all US propaganda that Aafia was on the run as an al-Qaeda operative for five years before being arrested in 2008. In the conversation, Shaukut admits that he was the one who arrested Aafia and her children and handed them over to the ISI, which was the beginning of her terrifying ordeal.
Aafia was a mother, a wife, a sister. She had a brilliant mind and a beautiful heart. Before her trial began, she dedicated her life to assisting the oppressed. She used to teach Qu’ran to dyslexic children and teach new Muslims about Islam. She was one of those rare souls who was not content with her deeds but would struggle to find others whose lives she could make a difference in. It was this spirit which drove her to drop off copies of the Qu’ran and other Islamic literature to Muslim prisoners in America, where she was living. But Aafia’s struggle went much farther than the land she lived in. She could not bear to witness the plight of her brothers and sisters in Bosnia while they were being butchered and raped by Serb militias during the 1990s. Despite such a tragedy taking place in the Balkans, thousands of miles away from her, Aafia refused to remain silent. Once she became aware of the genocide being committed, she dedicated her time to educating others about the situation and raising money to assist her brothers and sisters. Like the man Allah mentions in Surah Yasin, distance was not an obstacle. Like the man in Surah Yasin, Aafia was not very well known at the time, although today, her name is remembered in the supplications of Muslims all over the world. Why? Due to the stance she took at a time when the masses were silent. Aafia came running.
Now that we have some idea of the type of individual Aafia was and how beloved she must be in the sight of Allah that He used her as a tool to spread His religion and aid the Believers, and that He has afflicted her with her current trial – a trial which is reserved for those He loves most – is it not incumbent upon us to come to her assistance? Should we not also be running from our homelands to assist our sister in her time of need? The Justice For Aafia Coalition (www.justiceforaafia.org) began with people running from the four corners of the world towards their sister in Islam, Aafia. Distance is not an excuse. Neither is pessimism. We must radically reform our mentality that only people in high positions in society can have any influence. The hero in Surah Yasin was a leper. Yet, he never justified inaction by reference to his position in society. He understood that his role was to convey the message. Each and every one of us has our role to play to assist Aafia Siddiqui. If you own a shop or a takeaway, put up a poster about Aafia, place a donation box and some leaflets on your counter; if you are a teacher, discuss the case with your students; if you are a lawyer, try to understand the legal problems with her case and explain it to others; if you are at university, organise a lecture; if you are at home, write a letter to your newspaper, to your representatives in government, to the ambassadors and politicians; if you are on your prayer mat, supplicate to Allah for her. There are hundreds of ways, big and small, to assist Aafia Siddiqui. You may not see the fruits of it in this life and you may not believe it is meaningful, but our duty is to convey the message, and leave the results to Allah. Whilst we cannot be sure whether the deed will prove beneficial to Aafia’s situation, we can be certain that it will be beneficial to us on the Day when we will be frantically searching for a good deed to save us from Hellfire.
The final lesson we can take from Aafia’s life is her courage to speak out irrespective of the consequences for her personally. Like the hero in Surah Yasin, Aafia courageously spoke out in defence of the oppressed believers, not fearing what may happen to her. Unfortunately, today, many of us have been paralyzed by our fear, leaving us timid, meek, and spiritless. So petrified have we become of “what if?” that we have abandoned one of the greatest duties in our religion, defending the oppressed. The least that can happen to us is that we are labeled as “extremists” or “terrorists”. The worst that can happen is that we die in the way of Allah like the man in Surah Yasin. He entered Paradise and his only regrets were that his people did not know that Allah had forgiven him and honoured him for his belief and his actions.
What regrets will we have when the Angel of Death comes to take our soul? Will we feel sorry for others or lament our own failure to have run to protect our oppressed sister?
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Fahad Ansari är en människorättsaktivist och jurist baserad i Storbritannien. Ovanstående artikel skrevs för det svenska forumet Ummah Observer 1 mars 2011, och publiceras med tillstånd.