Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Sanctity of Human Life

Our world today has unfortunately become accustomed to sights of death and destruction. TV stations and news sites have been broadcasting horrifying images from the bomb blasts in Boston. Among the 3 victims killed in the bomb blast was an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, who was waiting to see his father cross the finish line. Indeed, this is a terrible calamity.

The tragedy of this event, however, is part of a global phenomenon where we witness people failing to uphold the sanctity of human life.  In fact the Muslim Ummah witnesses the bloodshed of innocents on a routine basis, particularly in Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria:
·       In Pakistan, on Sunday, the day before the bombing in Boston, people were greeted with similar scenes of death and destruction. However, as reported by CBS, these deaths were caused by "suspected US drone" strikes. The strikes did not hit a military base, but were directed towards a house, which resulted in the death of 4 victims whose identities were not confirmed by Pakistani officials.
·       In Burma, last month (March 2013), there was a massacre committed by a Buddhist mob, in the Central Myanmar town of Meiktila. They had surrounded the Muslims who were forced to bow down to the young monks. Those who refused to bow down before the monks were beaten, stabbed or burnt alive. Out of the 100 Muslims there, 29 were murdered in this gruesome manner. 
·       In Afghanistan, on April 8th 2013, a week before the Boston bombing, many news outlets including the BBC and Al-Jazeerah reported the death of 11 Afghan children along with 1 woman in a NATO airstrike in the Shighal district of Kunar province.
·       In Iraq, on Monday April 15th, 50 people were killed and 300 were injured in 12 separate bombings.
·       In Syria, also on the Sunday before the Boston bombing, 25 people were killed in two separate airstrikes by the al-Assad regime. One airstrike hit the province of Haska, while the other targeted rebel held areas in Damascus.

When reflecting on these incidents, we must ask ourselves: why do those who lead the world today view life as so insignificant and worthless?

Islam: Innocent life is Sacred
Allah (swt) has clearly made the life of the human being sacred and has made it a tremendous crime to kill a person.  Allah (swt) revealed;

"If anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all of humankind."[TMQ 5:32]

According to this ayah, the killing of just one soul carries the sin of killing all of humanity. Those who commit such crimes will face a severe punishment by Allah (swt) on the Day of Judgment.  Ibn Katheer (rh), narrated how Uthman (ra) understood this ayah in his tafseer:  "I entered on `Uthman when he was under siege in his house and said, `I came to give you my support. Now, it is good to fight (defending you) O Leader of the Faithful!' He said, `O Abu Hurayrah! Does it please you that you kill all people, including me' I said, `No.' He said, `If you kill one man, it is as if you killed all people. Therefore, go back with my permission for you to leave. May you receive your reward and be saved from burden.' So I went back and did not fight.'''" It should be clear that this occurred while Uthman (ra) was the Khaleefah – the leader of the Muslim Ummah – and he knew his life was in danger.  Uthman (ra) – because he refused to fight – was martyred by those that had laid siege to his house.

We all need to put this incident in perspective. Could we imagine any leader of the world today – be it Obama (USA), Cameron (UK), Hollande (France), Putin (Russia) or anyone else – refusing to fight the people surrounding them because they held the sanctity of life to such high esteem? So high that they were willing to give up their own lives to uphold it?  Indeed, such is the power of the Islamic Aqeedah (belief) that it can raise people to such heights!

Liberal-Democracy: Innocent life is Cheap
In sharp contrast to Uthman (ra), liberal-democratic leaders from British PM Winston Churchill to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell have all gone on the record to express how cheap human life is to them. Winston Churchill said the following about using chemical warfare in Iraq in 1919: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas... I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes."  Colin Powell, regarding his war on Iraq a few decades later, when asked about the number of Iraqis killed, said, "It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in."

As if not satisfied with direct involvement in murder, liberal-democratic politicians eagerly support the tyrant rulers who spill the blood of innocents without hesitation. The former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about Bashar al-Assad in 2011, "Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's [referring to Bashar al-Assad] a reformer."  In 2009, Senator John Kerry and his wife had dinner with the murderous tyrant and his wife. Beyond this, it is well known that the US, UK and France support the tyrant rulers when they kill their populations – be it the Chilean dictator Augustus Pinochet who killed and oppressed thousands of his own people (he was openly supported by the US) or the Algerian dictatorship (supported by Europe) that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s when the country overwhelmingly voted for Islamic rule.

As we can see, this attitude that the liberal-democratic leadership has towards human beings transcends borders and transcends generations. It is firmly rooted in the belief that man lives on earth to do what he wants and humans are not accountable to Allah (swt), the Creator of all things. This belief leads to policies such as "the end justifies the means", which makes it acceptable to kill people anywhere in order to achieve the objectives of the elite. However, the liberal-democratic approach to foreign policy is best summarized by Lord Palmerston (an 18th century English Statesman) who said: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” The statement succinctly illustrates that the liberal-democratic philosophy does not care about human life, but merely values personal interests. And this is exactly why the politicians who uphold this belief are willing to go to war and use their drones and other instruments of death and slaughter. In fact, the US President Woodrow Wilson, who took America into World War I stated unequivocally: "Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?"

It is important to recognize the human cost of this ideology. As Muslims we know this by the countless images on the Internet of innocent men, women and children who die needlessly to fuel the industrial and commercial rivalries of today’s leading nations of the world. However, those who live in these leading nations, and are unaccustomed to these images, need to reflect on how the killing of innocent civilians affects the people who fight such wars on behalf of their governments. On the 10th anniversary of the war on Iraq, Tomas Young, a disabled Iraq war veteran, who spoke out against the war, decided to end his life. In his letter to former US President George Bush and former US Vice-President Dick Cheney explaining his decision to end his life, noted the following on the cost of killing innocent people: "I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief."

When we are struck by these horrifying deaths – regardless of where – it is important for us to reflect on the real causes of why people had died in such horrible ways. It is easy for the agenda-driven media and opportunistic politicians to blame this individual or that group in order to divert people from thinking about the root causes of this world-wide problem. Consequently, for all of us – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike – it is necessary to reflect deeply on the underlying belief that permeates the institutions that govern the world today and understand how this belief is ultimately the cause for the disdain for human life.

“O you who believe, answer the call of Allah and His messenger when He calls you to that which gives you life.”
[TMQ 8:24]

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