“But what can I do to help them?”
When we see suffering it is easy to forget some important truths and duties.
Crises like the ones our Uyghur brothers and sisters are going through are a test for three types of people at once: those committing the injustice, those on the immediate receiving end of it, and the onlookers—which is the majority of us. One of the most successful traps of shaytān is to lull us into a blissful ignorance, wishfully thinking that we will not be held responsible for oppression simply because we are not committing it directly ourselves. Injustice relies on spectators doing and saying nothing. Another trap is for us to comfort ourselves with the fallacy of not doing what we can, simply because we are unable to fix an injustice fully.
The scholars of Islamic legal theory and ethics have clarified these fallacies in a succinct maxim: al-maysūr lā yasqut bil-ma’sūr – the duty to do that which is doable is not lifted due to the presence of that which is not doable. This is similar to the principle: mā lā yudraku kuluhu lā yutraku julluhu – that which cannot be achieved completely must not be forsaken fully. These principles essentially warn us against the perfectionist fallacy; just because there are 1,000 things that are required to be done in order to “fix” a particular problem (be it the Uyghurs, Kashmir, Indian Muslim oppression, Syria, and so on) and we are able to only address 2 or 3 of those, we are not permitted to leave them, rather we are obligated to do what is in our ability and sphere of influence.
It is also important to remember our primary objective:
And when a community among them said, “Why do you advise [or warn] a people whom Allāh is [about] to destroy or to punish with a severe punishment?” they [the advisors] said, “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him.”
We are not in charge of the outcome, but our main concern should be doing whatever is in our ability and our sphere of influence, so that we may have an excuse before Allāh when He asks us what we did to help those being oppressed. It is not enough to say we did not do that which was out of our ability, but Allāh judges according to what percentage of our potential for activism we utilised.
So bearing that in mind, here are some things that we can and must definitely try and do in order to help our brothers and sisters suffering in other parts of the world.
I. Sincere Du’ā
This is something that every one of us can do, and it is the weapon of the believer. It is undoubtably confirmed as a means to an end, and anyone who belittles this important means indeed has traces of hypocrisy in their heart. Since Allāh is the Owner of everything, He is able to bring about any change He wills, but He is testing us which of us is going to put effort into the means for positive change—of which du’ā is an undeniable one.
This includes seeking out the times and situations where du’ā is most beloved to Allāh, and most likely to be accepted. For example, if you are an Imam you can carry out Qunūt al-Nāzila with your congregation, as per the sunnah of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). If you are not an Imam, then ask your local masjid or prayer rooms to do so. This article explains Qunūt al-Nāzila and its rulings in more detail.
II. Lobby your local politicians and government departments
Outside of election season is the real time to build those relationships with our elected officials and departments. Almost every one of us is able to send a simple message to our MP to issue a statement of condemnation of the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan. They can be easily contacted via www.theyworkforyou.com.
Furthermore, we can also send a message to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to issue a statement to make their condemnation clear and put pressure on the Chinese state. Their social media information can be found here.
The United Kingdom in particular is an important country on the world’s stage so those living here have a greater duty to lobby those working and speaking on our behalf to represent us.
Again – do not fall for the trap of shaytān to make you think this will ‘do nothing’ because our primary concern is not the material outcome but lifting the obligation to use any means at our disposal to make a change.
III. Encourage public figures to issue a statement
It may come as a surprise to some, but statements of condemnation of perpetrators and support for victims, from politicians, governments and even celebrities do make an impact. Look at the example of Arsenal Football Club midfielder Mesut Ozil’s condemnation of the silence over the treatment of Uyghurs in East Turkestan by the Chinese state.
This simple act has led to a furious reaction by the Chinese state, including reportedly cancelling the broadcasting of Arsenal matches costing millions, removing him from their version of the Pro Evolution Soccer game, accusing him of being misled by ‘fake news’, and removing his fan club from Chinese search engines.
This was just one man – don’t tell me our voices cannot make an impact.
This also includes identifying celebrities to raise awareness and issue messages of support. Apartheid was dismantled in South Africa because the country was treated like a pariah.
IV. Raise general awareness yourself
Each one of us has the blessing/curse of a mobile phone and an online persona on social media platforms whether we know it or not. The democratisation of the news agenda by social media has made it such that ordinary people such as you and I, can be involved in making something become too loud for the traditional brokers of knowledge and power to ignore it. There have been many examples of this.
How do we exercise this power? Share this and any other news or calls to action about an important issue to your networks, and encourage them to spread awareness. When you come across an important narrative, piece of news, or call to action on a social media platform, chances are that its algorithms are testing its ‘engagement’ potential, to increase ‘time spent on site’—the single metric all advertising-run apps or sites are geared to maximise. This means that if you just scroll past it, the algorithm will not show that thing to more people. But if you stop on it, click the link, engage with it (like, comment, share), then the algorithm will show that same post on the timelines of a larger and larger number of people. This is one way we can ALL help something go viral.
Feeling too negative?
And do not think “What is the point of sharing negativity and bad news?!” Making inkār (condemnation) of a munkar is in and of itself an act of worship, and sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zones in order to speak out even if it brings us moral anxiety or temporary sadness. It is of course counterproductive to focus on that and ignore everything else that we can practically do, but it is just as counterproductive to ignore this act as well.
Part of this is also following and signal-boosting key activists and NGOs on the ground that are doing the hard work of reporting what is happening, sometimes at risk to their own lives. Look for advocacy groups for particular causes, such as Stand With Kashmir, Americans With Kashmir, Talk to East Turkestan, and CAGE in the UK for example.
V. Send messages of support to those affected by injustices
Never underestimate the power of moral support. Even Allāh (subhānahu wa tal’ālā) gave moral support to His beloved Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘walayhi wa sallam) when he was being attacked:
“Nūn. By the pen and what they inscribe,
You are not, [O Muhammad], by the favour of your Lord, a madman.
And indeed, for you is a reward uninterrupted.
And indeed, you are of a great moral character.”
Find people on social media platforms and also physically through friends and relatives, and send messages of support to them letting them know that their brothers and sisters are thinking of them, making du’ā for them, and doing all that they can to help them. One of the most poisonous feelings fostered by Muslims suffering far away is the feeling that the Ummah has forsaken them—let them know this is not the case.
Find reputable registered charities that are carrying out work to help alleviate the suffering of those facing injustices. We all talk the talk but let us put our money where our mouths are.
We need to increase our financial muscle. Make the intention that a portion of your wealth (other than zakāt) will be used to aid the Muslims in East Turkestan, for example. Research ways to do so; charities which launch legal challenges for instance, and carry out important systemic and institutional work. Help the creation and funding of think tanks and lobbies to carry out this work.
VII. Find out about and organise BDS action
Hit them where it hurts – economics. Boycott, Divestment & Sanction is a tried and tested method of putting pressure on perpetrators of injustice.
Lobby influential companies that have large deals with China—a list of those companies operating in “Xinjiang province” (East Turkestan) can be found here. It has been reported recently that giant corporations like Apple, Coca Cola and Nike have been lobbying against a bill in the US known as the H.R.6210 – Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The planned law will establish an unprecedented set of restrictions, including the prohibition of certain exports from the region, as well as a duty on corporations to ensure they are not aiding these violations. More information, including a list of the companies that can be lobbied, can be found here.
Each and every one of us can @ these companies on Twitter for example and ask them if they are in support of Chinese concentration camps in the areas they do business. If enough people do this it becomes too loud and embarrassing to avoid.
VIII. Write to media outlets to cover these stories
Ask the major newspapers and sites to cover what is happening to Uyghurs right now. For example, here are the email addresses of editors of top newspapers in the US: https://publicize.co/databases/list-of-top-100-newspaper-contact-information/ and in the UK: https://media.info/uk/newspapers.
IX. Create the next generation of major change tomorrow today
Salāh al-Dīn Ayyūbī did not wake up one day and decide to liberate al-Quds (Jerusalem). He was the culmination of generations educated and nurtured to have a vision for great change. We must prepare our next generation to lead the change that will happen tomorrow.
Embed in their hearts the love for the Dīn, love for justice, being concerned with what is happening around the world, so they are prepared to take their position as leaders of mankind once again. This requires them to be raised with a leadership mindset and not feel disempowered by the challenges we see but empowered to think creatively for leading change in tomorrow’s world.
X. Be creative
Create plays or short films to highlight important historical or current affairs. Create and publish stories and other creative content to highlight what is going on and how people can help. Everyone is given to different skills and thinks creatively in different ways – whether it is writing articles, stories, poems, drawing pictures, paintings, or sculpting, or whatever talent you have – use it to help others.
Gene Sharpe is an expert on non-violent action, and has created a list of 207 ways to “get rid of a dictator”, for example. You can find it here: http://www.citizenshandbook.org/get_rid_of_a_dictator.html. How can you materialise some of these for the issues facing the Ummah today?
This is a dynamic list
Share your ideas below for practical steps we can take to: (i) have a justification before Allāh if we are asked what we did within our ability and sphere of influence; and (ii) help alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters.
 Al-Qur’ān 7:164
 Al-Qur’ān 68:1-4
Salman studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in Islamic society da’wah and activism, and general Muslim community projects. He is the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.