It was absolutely harrowing and heart-wrenching seeing a young boy washed up dead on a Mediterranean beach, cradled in the arms of a Turkish policeman. There would not have been anyone with a shred of humanity who would not have been moved by that image.
We are told that it was the body of Syrian three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who drowned along with his five-year-old brother, their mother and eight others when an overloaded rubber dinghy taking them from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos capsized and sank.
According to the IOM, more than 2,500 migrants are reported to have died trying to reach Europe. 2,643 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2015.
Who are the refugees?
This crisis is a refugees crisis and a humanitarian crisis. It is about people who do not have a home to go to, rather than those who are fleeing poverty and looking for a better home. By the end of July, 62% of those who had reached Europe by boat this year were from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, according to figures compiled by the UN.
The conflict in Syria continues to be the by far the biggest driver of the migration. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.
There has been a public outcry of compassion after the publication of Aylan Kurdi’s image. There is increasing pressure on European governments to commit to taking more people fleeing conflict. We have already written about the moral responsibility of the West to accept refugees who are stranded at the door of Europe. However, at this critical juncture, we also need to reflect on the response of some Muslim governments to crises of refugees emerging from the Middle East.
Food Crisis during the time of the Sahaba
When there was food shortage in Madina during the Caliphate of sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), the leader of Muslims wrote to the provincial governors and reminded them of their moral, humanitarian and Islamic responsibility. Consequently, food-grains and other necessities of life came pouring in from other parts of the Muslim lands, including Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.
Because Muslims are well aware of this hadith: the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” [Bukhari]
In view of the resources at his disposal, the Muslim leader ‘Umar could have had any food he wanted, but he was adamant that as long as the famine lasted and there was food shortage, he would eat only what was available to an ordinary person. As a consequence of eating nutrition-less food, he lost weight and his skin colour and appearance changed but ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) may not have had full stomach but possessed a heart that was full of mercy and compassion, and in line with the Islamic spirit.
The response of ordinary Muslims to the refugee crisis has been phenomenal. Surrounding countries host the bulk of the Syrian refugee population. Some of the neighbouring countries – Lebanon, Jordan Turkey Iraq and Egypt – have shown remarkable spirit in taking, altogether, millions of refugees.
However, response of some Muslim governments in not accepting even one single refugee in their country has been appalling. The overall response of Muslim governments to help the refugees, and to bring an end to the conflict has also been dreadful.
Today, some of the Muslim countries are amongst the wealthiest countries in the world but compassion and mercy, which is the essence of Islam, is non-existent. Instead of simply sealing themselves off, affluent countries should be giving much more support to less affluent countries that are supporting large numbers of refugees.
The relative wealth and proximity of the states has led many to question whether these states have more of a “responsibility” than Europe towards Syrians and the emergence of ISIL in the country.
It is high time that affluent Muslim countries also do their share of the responsibility before it is too late.
By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of ImamsOnline.