Ten faiths, one message…

Today – 27th January – is Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the barbaric massacre of millions of Jews (alongside other people classed as “undesirables” by Hitler), barely one century ago. As we are called to remember the genocide and we repeat: “Never again“, we must truly reflect. For the utterance of these two words have not stopped the violence, the prejudice, the bloodshed. War, torture, genocide…is carrying on as we speak.

In light of this, I’d like us on reflect on the following – especially as we remember the past and we envisage an unknown bleak future in the current socio-political climate and the fear rising from Trump’s new role as POTUS: we are the people. Humanity is one and we are responsible for the way we treat others and the way we respond to hate rhetoric. Regardless of our differences we must unite, remembering our similarities and enjoining in good. Are we all really that different?! No! Embrace your differences – it’s what makes you unique. The world would be so dull if we all came from one mono culture! However, at the same time: unite in solidarity.

With this in mind, I’d also like us to remember one thing in particular: The Golden Rule. The teaching of: treat others the way you wish to be treated! Whatever your faith, it’s there! And wouldn’t the world be a safer, happier, more tolerant place to be if we all remembered this “rule”? I’m convinced so! So here’s The Golden Rule according to the world’s 10 largest faith groups (listed in ascending order of population size). Enjoy!

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Shintoism

  • ~4 million followers worldwide (0.01% of the world’s population)

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Jainism

  • 4.5 million followers worldwide (0.06% of the world’s population)

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Confucianism

  • 7 million followers worldwide (0.1% of the world’s population)

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Bahá’í Faith

  • ~8 million followers worldwide (0.15% of the world’s population)

-And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.-NEW.jpg

Judaism

  • 20 million followers worldwide (0.3% of the world’s population)

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Sikhism

  • 30 million followers worldwide (0.4% of the world’s population)

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Buddhism

  • 400 million followers worldwide (7% of the world’s population)

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Hinduism

  • 1 billion followers worldwide (15% of the world’s population)

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Islam

  • 1.6 billion followers worldwide (23% of the world’s population)

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Christianity

  • 2.3 billion followers worldwide (32% of the world’s population)

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…………………………

So, there we have it: 10 faiths, one rule, one humanity. If we really want “never again” to mean something in terms of action, then we need to respect our differences yet remind ourselves that we all have the same obligations towards ourselves and our global brothers and sisters. Ask yourself this when you’re in a situation: Would I want this? How would I feel in such situation…?

Salam! Shalom! Peace! ♥

Sources and credits:

Statistics from: Waterlow, R. (2017) ‘Top 10 Largest Religions in the World‘, World’s Top Most

Original photographs:

Feature image: Leo Reynolds

All images are edited versions of photographs first published under a Creative Commons licence, unless otherwise stated (see credits). For terms of usage visit Flickr.

Photo editing and design: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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Daraya, Symbol of Non-Violent Revolution and Self-Determination, Falls to the Syrian Regime

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Daraya: “[…] peaceful protests were subjected to violent repression. Flowers were met with bullets, protesters were rounded up en masse and detained.” Photo credit: Non-violent protests with protesters holding roses in Baniyas, May 6th 2011 – Syrian Freedom (CC BY 2.0)

By Leila Al Shami

Four years following its liberation, the predominantly agricultural town of Daraya, strategically located near Syrian capital, Damascus, has fallen to the regime. A deal was reached to evacuate the 4,000-8,000 civilians remaining there, out of a pre-uprising population of 300,000. The local fighters who defended their town so courageously will go to Idlib and join the resistance there.

The Daraya residents being evacuated know that they may never return to their homes. Photos circulated on social media showed people gathered at the graves of loved ones to say goodbye. Fears abound of a plan to cleanse opposition strongholds permanently, and in previous evacuation deals—even those carried out under UN auspices—many were detained by the regime, never to be seen again.

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But Daraya’s residents are desperate. A few days ago a group of women published a open letter to the world. They described the horrific conditions in the town. A regime-imposed siege, ongoing for 1,368 days, had blocked the entry of food and medical supplies. People were starving. They described the daily regime assault which has seen over 9,000 barrel bombs dropped on the town, as well as internationally prohibited poisonous gas and napalm. The hospital had been targeted and was out of operation. Agricultural land, the sole source of food, had been deliberately burned and destroyed. The women called on the international community to take action to end the violence and lift the siege. This letter followed months of protests held by women and children with the same demands. The first, and only, aid convoy to reach the town entered in June 2016. It contained medicine, mosquito nets and baby formula, but no food. ‘We can’t take medicine on an empty stomach,’ read a banner at a protest soon after.

Those who leave Daraya leave as heroes. Daraya is an iconic town for Syrian revolutionaries. It’s been a centre for the development of the thought and practice of non-violent resistance and has inspired civil disobedience across the country. And despite the horrific repression inflicted on the town, it’s had remarkable success in practicing local, autonomous self-organization. Revolutionary activist Razan Zeitouneh, who was herself kidnapped in 2013, said: “Daraya was a star before the revolution and a star during. What the young men and women of the city built took immense efforts and resulted in a small exemplary model for the future of Syria, the one we dream of. The activism in the city never ceased to amaze us for a minute… In Daraya, the signs calling for co-existence continued to be held high even when the entire country was falling into despair following every new massacre.”

In 2011, when the uprising began, a local coordination committee quickly emerged to organize anti-regime protests. The committee emphasized the importance of non-violent struggle and handed out leaflets calling for a democratic Syria and for equality between all religious and ethnic groups. As church bells rang in solidarity, protesters marched holding flowers, and handed bottles of water to the security forces sent to shoot them. ‘The army and people are one,’ they chanted.

One of those involved with the local coordination committee was a 26-year-old tailor called Ghiyath Matar. He earned the nickname ‘Little Gandhi’ for his commitment to peaceful resistance. Ghiyath was arrested by security forces on September6, 2011. A few days later his mutilated corpse was returned to his family and pregnant wife. In one of his last Facebook posts, Ghiyath said: “We chose non-violence not from cowardice or weakness, but out of moral conviction; we don’t want to reach victory by having destroyed the country.”

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Daraya

The principles of non-violent resistance that influenced Daraya’s youth had a history in the town. Unusually for Syria, a police state that ruthlessly suppresses independent organization, a group of young men and women aged between 15 and 25 established the Daraya Youth Group in 1998. They had been studying Quran under the religious scholar Abdul Akram Al Saqqa. Al Saqqa promoted social and political freedom and encouraged free thinking amongst his students. Because of his liberal views he was controversial amongst the Syrian ulema (religious authorities). He called for women to choose their own husbands and argued that women’s education was more important than whether or not they wore the veil. He introduced students to the work of Jawdat Said, an Islamist scholar who promoted non-violent thought and practice through the Quranic traditions as well as the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Al Saqqa’s work attracted the attention of the authorities and he was imprisoned in 2003 and 2011, but under his mentorship, the Daraya Youth Group organized actions such as cleaning the streets of their town, boycotting American products, and risky campaigns against bribery and corruption. In 2002 they demonstrated against the Israeli invasion of Jenin refugee camp and in 2003 they organized protests without government permission against the US invasion of Iraq. This activity led to the arrest of 24 members of the group. A few were released soon after, but the majority were sentenced to between three and four years in prison.

The peaceful protests were subjected to violent repression. Flowers were met with bullets, protesters were rounded up en masse and detained. In August 2012, following intense shelling, Syrian army troops stormed the town and committed one of the regime’s worst massacres. Some 400 men, women and children lost their lives in execution-style killings. Those attempting to flee were hunted down and shot. The bodies of the dead littered the streets or were thrown into mass graves.

In a scene that would be endlessly repeated, some Western commentators sought to exonerate the regime from wrongdoing. The celebrated journalist Robert Fisk visited Daraya shortly after the massacre, embedded with regime troops. He reported that the situation was the result of a Free Army hostage-taking and a prisoner exchange gone wrong, quoting sources saying that victims were relatives of government employees. Daraya’s local coordination committee issued a strong condemnation of Fisk’s report. They had never heard of the prisoner exchange story, questioned whether interviewees would be free to speak the truth in the presence of regime soldiers, and criticized Fisk for not meeting with opposition activists. Meanwhile, the American war reporter Janine Di Giovani also entered Daraya—without regime support—a few days after the massacre, and gave a harrowing account in her excellent book ‘The Morning They Came for Us’.

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Daraya: the spirit of the Syrian revolution, and the heartbeat of every rebel

Daraya was liberated by local rebels in November 2012. As the state withdrew, residents set up a Local Council to run the town’s affairs. One of those involved was anarchist Omar Aziz, who encouraged revolutionary Syrians to organize their communities independently from the Assadist state, and work towards advancing a social revolution.

Despite enormous challenges, Daraya’s local council has had remarkable success. It has established numerous offices to provide services to civilians, including media services, legal services and public relations (they maintain an excellent website). A relief office runs a soup kitchen which began providing three meals a day, although this frequency was reduced due to the siege. The council also tried to build self-sufficiency, growing beans, spinach and wheat. A medical office supervises the field hospital which provides for the sick and wounded. A services office is responsible for opening alternative roads when the main ones are inaccessible due to airstrikes or collapsed buildings.

The local council also aimed to unify civil and military efforts. Daraya is one of the few communities where the local Free Army brigade is part of the council’s organizational structure and subject to civil administrative control. Revolutionary women set up the Enab Baladi magazine to discuss events happening in their community and Syria more broadly and promote civil disobedience. Activists built anunderground library so residents could continue their education.

The people of Daraya have paid a heavy price for their dream of freedom. For four years they defended their autonomy from the Assadist state and kept going despite the bombing, despite the starvation siege. Their struggle will continue to be remembered and honoured by Syrian revolutionaries everywhere.

Leila Al Shami is a British Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War” with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to “Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution”. A version of this story was originally published on her blog.

Credits:

Re-shared from Global Voices (26/08/2016)

Additional imagery taken from Leila’s original article and blog

Feature image: Poo.243 (Flickr)

The Islamic call for justice and peace (part 1): 30 citations from the Qur’an

When Muslims meet, they are obliged to great each other with the words “Assaalam aleykum” (peace be upon you). Such greeting is a reminder not simply of being a believer (Muslim) but of the essence of Islam itself through the blessings and duties that come with being a Muslim. Salam (peace) is the essence of Islam – peace in obeying God, being at peace with your spiritual needs and with family, friends, neighbours through mutual rights and responsibilities. In  obeying Allah’s command’s to give charity, be kindtruthful, forgiving, merciful, to avoid greed and not transgress limits and all that harms one’s soul and community, we can find peace. Alongside peace itself is justice when we are just towards others, Allah is just towards us. We live in a just society and we find peace. This is the essence of Islam.

I’d like to give a brief insight into the call for justice and peace within Islamic scripture. In this article, the focus is the primary textual source of Islam: the Qur’an. Here are 30 citations from the Qur’an which highlight the importance of and call for justice and peace.

  1. Indeed, those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish prayer and give zakah [obligatory charity] will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (2:2 77)

2. Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. (2:190)

3. And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption. (2: 205)

4. They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, “Whatever you spend on good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” (2: 215)

5. Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and kill the prophets without right and kill those who order justice from among the people – give them tidings of a painful punishment. (3:21)

6. Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Free of need and Forbearing. (2:263)

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Image credit: Ahmad Naufal

7. And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. (3: 104)

8. O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (4:135)

9. Allah will say, “This is the Day [of Judgement] when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness.” For them are gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment. (5:119)

10. And the weighing [of deeds] that Day will be the truth. So those whose scales are heavy – it is they who will be the successful. (7:8)

11. Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (16:90)

12. O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. (33:70)

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Image credit: Phalinn Ooi

13. And O my people, give full measure and weight in justice and do not deprive the people of their due and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption. (11:85)

14. O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do. (5:80)

15. They who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice– those will have security, and they are [rightly] guided. (6:82)

16. By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path. (5:16)

17. And do not make [your oath by] Allah an excuse against being righteous and fearing Allah and making peace among people. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (2: 224)

18. And Allah invites to the Home of Peace [Heaven]and guides whom He wills to a straight path (10:25)

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Image credit: Bryan se

19. And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace […] (25:63)

20. And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing. (8:61)

21. These are the verses of Allah . We recite them to you, [O Muhammad], in truth; and Allah wants no injustice to the worlds. (3:108)

22. But when He saves them, at once they commit injustice upon the earth without right. O mankind, your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do. (10:23)

23. And establish weight in justice and do not make deficient the balance. (55:9)

24. And among those We created is a community which guides by truth and thereby establishes justice. (7:181)

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Image credit: Nunzia Bushra

25. O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is  Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13)

26. It is that of which Allah gives good tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say, [O Muhammad], “I do not ask you for this message any payment [but] only good will through kinship.” And whoever commits a good deed – We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative. (42:23)

27. Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed. (18:7)

28. Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (2:177)

29. And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. (17:26)

30. Who spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good; […] (3:134)

So, once again – a short and sweet very brief insight into Islam but I hope to have highlighted the command to be just, to look after one another and to leave in peace.

Salam!

Credits/further information:

Feature image: doBot

Quranic citations: Sahih International translation of the Qur’an (see here)