In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.
Begin with appropriate hamd (praising and glorifying Allah) and salawat (sending blessings on His beloved Prophet (saw)).
In July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb militia lined up and killed over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. They then buried their bodies in mass graves and forcibly deported women and children. This act of genocide shocked the world. Every year the 11th July is marked as Srebrenica Memorial Day, an official designated day to remember the Srebrenica genocide. The international legal definition of ‘genocide’ is large scale killing with an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. In Srebrenica, it was the Bosnian Serb militia’s intent to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in the region; in Rwanda, it was marauding Hutu gangs’ intent to destroy the Tutsis; during the Holocaust, it was the Nazis intent to wipe out all the Jews from Europe.
The common element with all ethnic cleansing and genocide is deep intolerance and a horrific hatred. It is therefore befitting to remind ourselves of the Islamic teachings about harbouring hatred against individuals or a community.
Firstly, in Islam, there is absolutely NO hatred of others. Differentiation between peoples is either: that we are different races; or that we are different ethnicities; or different colours; or that we are different nationalities, i.e. coming from different countries; or that we follow different religions.
Apart from the last one, all other things are things you are born with, and over which you have no control. I cannot change my mother or father; I cannot change the colour of my skin. I cannot change my race or ethnicity. Neither can I change my country of birth or original nationality. Who caused me to be born in this particular family, with this particular ethnicity and colour and nationality? As Muslims, we believe it was an angel under the command of Allah who took my soul down and placed it in the growing foetus in my mother’s womb.
ا ً و﮳ ُ ُ ع ﮶ س ْ اُكم َ ﮲ ْل َ ع ﮳حَ َ و ٰ َى ﮶ ﮲ ُأ َ َذَكرٍ و ﮲ ِ ں ّ اُكم م َ ﮲ ﮴ْ َل َ َّا ح﮲ ﮲ ِ ٕا اس ُ َّ ﮲ ا ال ُّهَ ا أَ ﮵ َ ﮵ ٌ ﮳ِ ﮵ر َ ح﮲ ٌ ِل﮵م َ َ ع الّلَ ه َّ ِن ٕا ْ اُكم ﮴َ ﮴ْ ِه أَ الّلَ َ د ﮲ ِع ْ ُكم َ م َ ْكر أَ َّ ِن ُوا ٕا ﮲ َ ار َ ع ﮴َ َل ِل ِ ٔ ا َ ﮳ ﮴َ َ و O Mankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Quran, 49:13)
Indeed, Allah sent prophets to all nations that went before, to all ethnicities and colours. How can I therefore ever hate the creation of my Creator? How dare I even contemplating hating the judgement of my Lord? It is a major sin against the very essence of Allah to hate the creation of Allah for no reason except that they were born the way they were! If one truly loves Allah, then one must by the same token, love His Creation, with all it’s myriad of colours and races.
Secondly, we have mentioned that the religion one followed is a major choice or decision that a person makes. It is what we do have control over. Yet this choice itself is granted to mankind by Allah. He it is Who has given us the amazing freedom to decide what and what not to believe. And we are NOT permitted to violate that right of the indviduals. Indeed, in Makkah, the Prophet (saw) and the early Muslims fought hard for the freedom to believe, and not be persecuted for that belief.
The Qu’ran sums this up in the famous verse: ُ و ِت ﮲ اع َّ ﮳ِالط ْ ُ ر ﮲ ْك َ ﮵ ﮲ َ ں َ م ﮲ ِ ّ َ ﮵ى ﮲ ا ْلع َ ﮲ ِمں ُ ْ د ﮶ ُّ س الر َ ﮲ َّں ﮵ َ ﮴َّ ﮳ ﮴َ د ِ ﮲ ِ ﮵ں ّ ﮵ى الد ِ ﮲ َ اه َ ِ ْكر َلا ٕا ُ الّلَ ه َ ا و َلهَ َ ام ِ ص َ ﮲ ﮲ َلا ا ٰ ﮴َ ى ْ ﮶ ُ ِة ا ْلو َ و ْ ر ُ َك ﮳ِاْلع َ ْ س م ﮴َ ْ ِد اس ﮴َ َ ﮲ ِه ﮳ِالّلَ ﮲ ِمں ْ ؤ ُ ﮵ َ و ٌ ِل﮵م َ ع
ِم﮵ع َ س Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands clear from error: Whoever rejects falsehood and believes Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah Hears and Knows all things. (Qu’ran, al-Baqarah 2:256)
It is the general testimony to this important verse that (apart from rare tragic occasions of persecution) we see different faith communities from Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism etc. having lived in Muslim lands for up to 1,400 years with their places of worship being protected.
Thirdly, in Islam, racism and prejudice is a major sin. The people of Bosnia are famous for their hospitality, generosity and kindness towards each other, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. People of differing beliefs had co-existed for hundred years in relative peace, and it was only because of the manipulation of politicians stirring up hatred that this changed.
Look at the way the Prophet (saw) welcomed the many different sahaba into the brotherhood of Islam with an open heart. In fact, racism and prejudice was the first sin mentioned in the Qu’ran – the sin of Iblees, the Devil, when he said with utter contempt and scorn: ٍ ﮲ ِط﮵ں ﮲ ِمں ُ ه ﮴َ ﮴ْ َل َ َ ح﮲ َّارٍ و ﮲ ﮲ ﮵ى ِمں ِ ﮲ ﮴َ ﮴ْ َل َ ُ ح﮲ ه ْ ﮲ ِ ّ م ٌ ر ْ ﮵ َ ا ح﮲ َ ﮲ اَل أَ ﮴َ He (Iblees) said: I am better than he is: You have created me out of fire, whereas him You have created out of (mere) clay! (Quran 38:76)
All racism and prejudice comes from this evil arrogance of looking down on others. This disdain for others. And that is how people are demonised. That is how the Muslims were demonised in Srebrenica and the Jews were demonised by the Nazis. It is the first step to genocide – because it numbs the moral conscience when the killing starts. Hence we must remain steadfast against Iblee’s sins of prejudice.
Fourthly, injustice, oppression, and persecution are vile actions that are utterly condemned by Islam. There is never any excuse or justification for behaving unjustly towards others in Islam even if one feels aggrieved at injustices they may have experienced or not. The Qu’ran instructs Muslims to maintain justice in their dealings with others, even those they consider to be their enemies:
لا َ ِط و ْ ِ س ﮴ ﮳ِاْل َ اء َ ُ هَ د ﮶ ِه س ِلّلَ َ ﮲ ا ِم﮵ں َّ ﮴َو ُوا ﮲ ُكو وا ُ ﮲ َ آم َ ﮲ ِذ﮵ں ا اّلَ ُّهَ ا أَ ﮵ َ ﮵ ٰ َ ى ﮴ْ و ﮴َّ ِلل َ ب ُ ﮴ْر أَ َ و ِدُلوا هُ ْ ِدُلوا اع ْ ﮴َع أَّلا َ ٰ َلى َ ع ٍ م ْ ﮴َو ُ ٓن َ ﮲ َ ﮶ س ْ َّ ُكم ﮲ َ رِم ﮳حْ َ ﮵ َ ُلون َ م ْ ﮴َع ا َ ﮳ِم ٌ ﮳ِ ﮵ر َ َ ح﮲ الّلَ ه َّ ِن ٕا َ ﮴ُ وا الّل
ه ﮴َّ ا َ و O you who believe! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all fairness; and never let the hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of swerving from justice. Be just! This is the closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (Qu’ran, 5:8)
Fifthly, even if someone does harbour grievances or ill-feeling towards others, the Qu’ran asks us to demonstrate the principle of forgiveness over anger:
r anger: َ ﮲ ِ ﮵ں ﮲ ا َ ا ْلع َ َظ و ْ ﮵ َ ﮲ ا ْلع َ ﮲ ِ ِم﮵ں ﮲ ا ْل َط َ اِء و َّ َّ ر الص ﮲ َ اِء و َّ ر َّ ﮵ى الس ِ ﮲ َ ﮴ُ ون ِ ﮲ ﮲ ُ ﮵ َ ﮲ ِذ﮵ں اّلَ َ ﮲ ِ ﮵ں ﮲ ِس ُ حْ ا ْلم ِحب ُّ ُ ﮵ ُ الّلَ ه َ ِس و ا َّ ﮲ ال ِ ﮲ َ ں ع Those who give (to others) in plenty of time and in times of hardship, and control their anger, and forgive people. And God loves the doers of good (Quran. Surah Al-Imran)
od. (Qu’ran, Surah Al-Imran) The Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) mission was one of spreading love and peace and not inflicting harm or hatred. The Qu’ran describes him as ‘the mercy to the worlds’. All the battles that He (saw) went on, were a last resort, and were forced on Him (saw) because of the circumstances: either an enemy was attacking the fledgling Muslim community or one of the allied tribes had committed treason by supporting the enemy. Such was the commitment in Islam to avoid harm to people, that the Prophet (saw) defined what being a Muslim entailed:
being a Muslim entailed: ُ ه َ ﮲ أَ ِم ْ ﮲ َ ں م ُ ﮲ ِمں ْ ؤ ُ ا ْلم َ ِدِه و َ ﮵ َ ِ ِه و ﮲ ا َ ِلس ْ ﮲ ِمں اس ُ َّ ﮲ ال َ ِلم َ س ْ ﮲ َ ں م ُ ِلم ْ ُ س ا ْلم اس ُ َّ ﮲ ال ْ ِهم اِل َ و ْ أَم َ و ْ ِهم ِ ٔ ا َ َلى ِدم َ ع Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand mankind is safe and a believer is one in whom people place their trust in regard to their life and wealth (Sunan an-Nasa ‘I 4995).
It is important to remember the Mothers of Srebrenica, and how they seek out justice through the courts, and resist hating those who killed their families. They see hatred as weakness, and forgiveness as a sign of strength.
Sixthly, no one wants to be sworn at or called vile names or mistreated. Everyone wishes to be treated well and with dignity and respect. And the Prophet (saw) described one who truly believes as:
م ِس بْ نَ َ ِي َح ْم َزَة أ ب َ َع ْن أ َر ُسو ِل اللهَِّ صلى الله عليه و سلم َع ْن الَّنبِ ِّي صلى َح ُد ُك ْم َحَّتى يُ ِح َّب َ ا َل: ” َلا يُ ْؤ ِم ُن أ الله عليه و سلم قَ بُخَارِ ُّي [رقم:13،[ ب لِ َن ْف ِس ِه”. َر َوا ُه الْ ِلأَ ِخي ِه َما يُ ِح ُّ بُخَارِ ُّي]، [ َو ُم ْسِل ٌم [ َو ُم ْسِل ٌم [رقم:45َ ].[ر َوا ُه الْ Anas narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. (Hadith 13)
It is beautiful to note that Islam places so much emphasis on desiring the same things as one wants for oneself for the whole of humanity, irrespective of faith and background. Imam Nawawi commenting on this hadith states that ‘his brother’ includes all the human family as they are descendants of Adam (as). Of course, we know within Shariah that the male pronoun in our sacred texts i.e. ‘his’ and ‘he’ are generic and include both men and women.
Seventhly and lastly, it is important to remain vigilant and stand firm against those who would divide societies. It is always extremists who divide society into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ like the Bosnian Serb militias and the Nazis did. One must stand up to defend the rights of others if we see them being violated. One must also always seek to unite, rather than divide, and the only way to reconcile is to forgive, and release the harbouring of hatred towards each other. It is notable and praiseworthy that there has not been a single revenge attack in the Srebrenica area since the genocide.
The mass murder of Bosnian Muslims on the doorstep of Europe highlights that it could happen anywhere and to anyone. We and our families, our towns and our nations, will be safe if people are tolerant and understanding of one another. That is why it is critically important that we continue to remember those who were murdered and guard against the causes of such heinous crimes. Not only is it important that the victims of Srebrenica be remembered on the 11th July but also that we innoculate ourselves from indifference towards the suffering of anyone who is in peril across the world.
The Srebrenica Prayer
We pray to almighty God,
May grievance become hope
May revenge become justice
May mothers’ tears become prayers
That Srebrenica Never happens again
To no one and nowhere