On tragedy, human nature and hope

Last week was a difficult one for America. There was the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, where 3 were killed and hundreds injured. The President and some members of Congress were mailed ricin-letters. A fertilizer plant in Texas exploded, killing dozens and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. And my home state was battered by heavy thunderstorms, causing Governor Quinn to declare a state of emergency.

On Friday, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a 19 year old American citizen of Chechen background, was apprehended after a gunfight and intense manhunt. All week, American Muslims (and those who can be mistaken for Muslim) were on heightened alert – several instances of hate crimes occurred, and the names of and pictures of two young men – one a Moroccan-American high school student and the other a missing Brown University student of Indian descent – were spread on the internet, mistakenly identified as the suspects that law enforcement was looking for. Heartbreaking, especially for the family of Sunil Tripathi, the missing student. Heeding the city-wide lockdown, the Islamic Society of Boston & Cultural Center cancelled the weekly Friday prayer. Muslim religious and lay leaders and organizations across the country issued condemnations of terrorism.

In Muslim understanding, all humans are born in the state of “fitrah,” an innate inclination toward goodness and compassion. As we grow older, some of us lean toward “ihsan,” manifesting our inner faith by promoting social justice, good deeds and action. God constantly begs us in the Quran to see his Signs. I believe that among His Signs are beautiful people – of all creeds and convictions – who do good, not seeking a heavenly reward, not because others are watching or tweeting their actions, but because their souls remain in a state of fitrah. Boston’s first responders were motivated by their fitrah to attend to the victims of the terrorist attacks. Religious leaders across the country were motivated by their fitrah to appeal for interfaith cooperation. Muslim leaders were motivated by their fitrah to re-emphasize to a skeptical public Islam’s exhortations to protect and respect the sanctity of human life and all of God’s creation.

There is a Prophetic narration where in the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) tells his Companions: “Help your Muslim brother if he is oppressed or if he is the oppressor. You help the oppressor by stopping him.”

Promoting good and preventing evil happens to be quite a good philosophy for anyone, whether you’re religious or not; Muslim or not. In the next few days, we will be overloaded with information about Chechnya, internet radicalization, immigration, surveillance, and terrorism. I’ll keep anchored in the knowledge that in the face of evil, there are always people who are helping. My heart is with the helpers.


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