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 Bosniak men and boys, and buried their bodies in mass graves, forcibly deported thousands of women and children, and committed rape on a vast scale. This act of genocide shocked the world.
Every year the 11th of July is marked as Srebrenica Memorial Day, an EU 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 every last Muslim from 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 Jews from Europe.
The common element with all ethnic cleansings and genocides 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 the others 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 the country of my 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.
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). (Qur’an, al-Hujurat 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 contemplate 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 its myriad of colours and races.
Secondly, we have mentioned that the religion one follows 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 individuals. Indeed in Makkah, the Prophet (saw) and the early Muslims fought hard for the freedom to believe, and not to be persecuted for that belief. The Qur’an sums this up in the famous verse:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: Whoever rejects falsehood and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah Hears and Knows all things. (Qur’an, al-Baqarah 2:256)
It is a 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 1400 years with their places of worship 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 and coexisted for hundreds of years in relative peace, and it was only because of manipulative 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 Qur’an – the sin of Iblees, the Devil, when he said with utter contempt and scorn:
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! (Qur’an, Sa’d 38:76)
All racism and prejudice comes from this evil arrogance of looking down on others. This disdain for others. And that is how peoples are demonised. That is how the Muslims were demonised in Srebrenica over the course of time and how the Jews were demonised by the Nazis over years. It is the first step to genocide – because it numbs the moral conscience when the killing starts. Hence we must remain steadfast against Iblees’s sin 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 Qur’an instructs Muslims to maintain justice in their dealings with others, even with those they consider to be enemies:
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. (Qur’an, Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:8)
Fifthly, even if someone does harbour grievances or ill-feeling towards others, the Qur’an asks us to demonstrate the principle of forgiveness over anger:
Those who give (to others) in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and control their anger, and forgive people. And God loves the doers of good. (Qur’an, Surah Ale-Imran, 3:134).
The Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) mission was one of spreading love and peace and not inflicting harm or inciting hatred. The Qur’an 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:
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. (Nasai and Ahmad)
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 to be 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:
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. (Bukhari)
It is beautiful to note that Islam places so much emphasis on desiring the same things as one desires 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 all 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 our 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 else. We and our families, our towns and our nations will be safe when all people and communities are tolerant and understanding of each other. 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 are not forgotten and that the 11th July commemorations continue, but we also need to inoculate ourselves against indifference to the suffering of anyone who is placed in peril anywhere in 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