Assessing the ummah: What we can learn from Gilad Shalit

Do we care as much?

As Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas more than five years ago, was finally released in a vast prisoner exchange, it made me think about the relentless pursuit of his release by Israel. Such a pursuit by one’s family is both natural and understandable. Yet, not only was his family behind him, but the entire nation of Israel was behind him. So many times, Israelis – from government on down – mentioned that they will never abandon one of their own. No matter how one feels about the Arab-Israeli conflict, it must be said that the tenacity of the Israeli people over Gilad Shalit is truly admirable. I even saw someone wearing a shirt saying “Free Gilad Shalit” during the 2011 Chicago Marathon this year. And it begs a very important question: do we as Muslims have this same tenacity over “our people”?

Sadly, the answer is “no.” In so many places around the world, Muslims are being slaughtered like animals, and the Muslim world hardly lifts a finger for their aid. Ideally, NATO warplanes should not have had to intervene in the Libyan civil war, because it should have been Muslims on the ground and in their air helping their own brothers and sisters defeat a maniacal and murderous madman. Rather than help the people of Bahrain gain more freedom for themselves, the Saudi government sent in its own troops to make sure the people’s voices were not heard at all. Yes, Muslims all over the world rightly decry the injustice being committed against the Palestinian people. Yet, when some Muslims commit the very same injustices against their own people, the cries of condemnation by other Muslims are sometimes not as fierce or loud.

When Muslims were being massacred by fellow Muslims in Darfur – the silence of the worldwide Muslim community was deafening. And now as the Arab Spring turns into the Arab Autumn and Winter, there does not seem to be a credible response of the Muslim world to the daily murder of people in Syria and other places. Gilad Shalit knew that, no matter what, the entire Israeli nation had his back. Does the Muslim world have the back of its own, as its Lord had commanded it to do? Sadly, the answer is “no.”

And what’s worse, the response of some Muslims to the slaughter of their fellow Muslims around the world is – in and of itself – horrific and barbaric. A newspaper publishes provocative cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), seeking to intentionally provoke Muslims, and some Muslims respond with violence and property damage: the very thing the publishers of the cartoons wanted to show the world. Elsewhere, pitiful bands of misguided “holy warriors” claim to be defending Muslims by committing mass murder and mayhem, causing much more damage and strife to the entire world Muslim community. With “friends” like these, as they say, who needs enemies? Again I ask the question: does the Muslim world have the back of its own, as its Lord commanded it to do? Sadly, the answer is “no.”

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was reported to have said, “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it, he has more of a right to it.” There is nothing wrong with learning from the good qualities of another people and seeking to make them our own.

Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, told NPR: “Israel is a democracy that has a citizens army. And when we send our sons and our daughters off to defend our country, they have to know that if they fall captive or, God forbid, anything worse happens to them, that the state will do everything in their power to get them back. And that is the source of our strength.” We would be all the stronger if we had that same sort of commitment to our own people as Israel had to Gilad Shalit.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is called God, Faith, and a Pen. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).


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