Friday, March 27, 2015

Are we losing empathy as Muslims?

Yesterday, a friend related a touching account of how she was treated by two people at a community institution. After drawing up all the courage in the world, she decided she would request temporary assistance from them until her life returned to normality. She felt terrible continually asking her friends and some family members for assistance, over the last 6 months, and decided, this community institute might be able to help her.

I can only say I was disappointed, saddened and angry when she told me what she went through. Her situation is so familiar, we all know of someone going through this. From family to friends. She was retrenched two years ago, and had a several temporary assignments to keep afloat in the hope a permanent position would come through. Until 6 months ago, her last contract was not renewed. She is still struggling to find employment, and being a single parent to three school going children without any financial assistance from her ex-husband, she is now in dire straits.

It did not come as a surprise to me, on how she was treated, over the years I have heard of several incidents where people are treated badly from “respected people” in these institutes. A person might have been riding the “financially well-off wave” but sometimes the tide can change quickly. 

It takes a lot for a person to go cup-handed to another; to be treated with mistrust, judged and mocked; is not a good feeling. The banking and other institutions which two years ago, were falling over themselves to give her credit, have now turned their backs on her. When a fellow Muslim brother or sister needs our help, why do we belittle them? Some people are more privileged than others, (thank the Almighty, he has blessed you with this prosperity) but does your privilege give you the right to judge the next? 

It’s especially harder and more demeaning for women, whether she is single, divorced, or widowed, to ask for help. We tend to also learn who our true family and friends are during trying times as well. Some people distance themselves, some will even categorise a person as needy or undignified. When a fellow person needs our help, we should be running to do whatever we can because it is ultimately us helping ourselves. It’s clearly stated, take care of the widows, the orphans, those in need. 

Charity begins at home, and when a person approaches you, you are seen as a safe haven. 

Why then call ourselves brothers and sisters in ISLAM, if we are going to interrogate a brother or sister when they turn to you? 
What gives us the right to dehumanise another who is truly in need?

Most of us have been there, or are there currently or (God Forbid!) could possibly be there, we never know how the wheel turns. 

Have our hearts hardened so much that we fail to be empathetic? 

Why have we become so clouded by privilege that we cannot see that our blessings are not our work, but the Almighty’s? 

We make generalisations about people and their need for help. This is the elephant in the room. Our silence does not help the situation. Where is our faith when we can look down on someone, who genuinely has nowhere else to turn too? 

I have no intention of slandering anyone, but I am shocked, at how my friend was treated by certain individuals at this institute. 

She sobbed, and said she will never ask for any assistance from a “Muslim run institute again”. 

We need to draw awareness to a harsh reality which we have chosen to ignore. By neglecting this reality, we have put in place and solidified some of the wrong practices and behaviours that are happening around us on a daily basis. 

The saddest part of it all, she was asked humiliating questions: 

“Why did she leave her husband, she would not be in this situation, to ask for help?” 
She didn’t leave him, he deserted her, their kids; and went off to “find” himself with someone else 
“Does she not have family?” 
Yes she does, but her immediate family disowned her when she chose to follow Islam. She hasn’t seen or heard from them in ten years or more 
“Why doesn’t she work?” She is trying to get a permanent job. Lost count of how many applications she has sent off.
Finally there were personal suggestions made. Which I will not repeat? 

Our strength as an ummah should not lie with us wearing the blinkers and overlooking certain happenings but it should lie in addressing the problems and solving them. Islam teaches us to reach out to all and to never see ourselves in a better light than our fellow brothers and sisters. Stop guilt-tripping people who are going through a tough time. 

Your brothers and sisters in Islam should receive your utmost generosity when they approach you. Not everyone wants the keys to your safe, they could be asking for help in other forms perhaps a CV needs to be emailed, sadaqa comes in different forms, did you forget? How a person practices their deen is none of your business? 

If institutions are only accepting “Muslims” which they see as "pious" or "practicing" and "religious", by the length of your beard or your hijab, then we are advocating hypocrisy. It takes a lot of patience and persistence for someone to live during these tough economic times, especially as a single mother. 

Unfortunately not all women come from trust funds, not all women have someone or somewhere to go too; not all women get the support she needs. They have to survive, they have to run around the block 10 times in order to make ends meet, they do get a raw deal in life and claw daily in order to survive 

Its hard enough already without some men, looking at you with judging eyes. 

Imagine the awkwardness she felt just approaching the opposite gender to ask for help? 
Did you ever stop to wonder how much it took for her to approach you? 
There are plenty of women out there who have had such horrible experiences of humiliation and lack of empathy.

Furthermore when a Muslim woman genuinely asks for help that should never be interpreted as an open invitation to pursue her as well. It is not an invitation to shift a formal conversation to a personal one. 

May the Almighty always keep our hearts pure; filled with nur and love