Muharram, Hijrah and seeking refuge

With the upcoming celebration of Awal Muharram, it is important that we recall this event in a historic situation.

As a Muslim, we were told that the Hijra – the move from Mecca to Medina, was one that was ordained by God Himself in order to avoid religious persecution.

Religion teaches us that this was not the first exodus in the Abrahamic faith, as a similar fate took place between Moses and his people being expelled from Egypt by the Pharaoh.

Though to be frank, Muhammad did not have to wander the desert but started his community in Medina and united tribes, wrote a constitution and expanded the teachings of Islam from this city which became the first Islamic establishment.

If we were to relate that in current standing, Muhammad literally immigrated to a nation, set up a legal code and even became the chosen leader of the city state by allowing all to practise their faiths while also combining mosque and state into one central organisation.

He was also an illiterate migrant with no wealth of his own, and instead married into wealth. All he had was his reputation as an honest man and a hard worker who survived abuse for a different faith in his own homeland simply by the recognition of his uncle as a renowned trader.

And here was Medina, willing to accept him and his followers with open arms without a concern over their wealth, their faith, their education level, or even their culture brought about from a central city like Mecca. And obviously, nobody in Medina at that time feared they would lose their jobs, I personally hope.

The move of our Prophet from Mecca to Medina to avoid religious persecution, and he open acceptance of the people of Medina to accept him and his followers, are an important one to carry forward today, especially for the Muslim community. It is clear justification that we ourselves must practice the act of open borders when it comes to those fleeing violence and offer them a home.

It is a concept we have practised ourselves in the case of Bosnia, Syria, and hopefully we will extend it to those being persecuted in Myanmar.

But that being said, we should not limit it to just our brothers in religion, but extend it beyond that to the concept of a brotherhood of humankind. It would be shameful to expect us to only take in those who we deem worthy or unworthy, whereas even Christian majority nations have no such clause.

History tells us that migration is an integral part of nations when people are seeking better economic conditions and avoiding persecution.

You can take Muhammad moving to Medina, the Potato Famine causing an influx of Irish immigrants to America, or even the nations protecting fleeing Jews from the Nazis.

And quite honestly, we need humanity to step in before we put faith in God and miracles – and this is something that even our nation and people can do.

We must put stock that Malaysians, just like other people in developed nations, believe in caring for others and not just themselves. As much as we bicker internally over race, beliefs, politics and even class, there is no justification against saving a people – mainly women and children – facing genocidal slaughter in their own land.

We are not a nation of actuarial scientists that probe the cost of life and whether such an amount economically justifies letting people through our borders to avoid dying. Instead, what we must consider is how to make sure that those who do take refuge in our country can live their lives just as well as our own citizens.

We are not a rich nation per se, but I’ll be damned if we can’t even secure people from hunger, thirst, maiming, death from a bullet or even a machete. Personally, I wish we had done this sooner when Cambodia had their killing fields, Vietnam had their war and Indonesia started their communist purge or sectarian violence.

However, we must do this with proper policies and planning, to ensure that we make it a settled issue for times to come as well as to avoid bias in the future. To that end, I urge the politicians to start by coming up with a proper framework on the treatment of refugees and those seeking asylum.

Secondly, recognise the status of refugees and asylum seekers to allow them to seek a living here. And thirdly, in the long run, resolve all issues involving permanent residency and statelessness among our own Malaysians before subsequently looking for the same solution for refugees in Malaysia.

We may not be the richest nation, or the most peaceful, or the happiest, or even the ones with the greatest track record in ending corruption for that matter. But I do hope we can agree that we should at least be a humanitarian one that can support the right to live.

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