I never thought that being born and raised in the U.S. had much of an effect on my understanding of the world. After all, I’m Muslim, a minority, a history major – I know with some detail what’s happening with our brothers and sisters in many place across the globe – I’m ‘aware’ and ‘informed’. But it wasn’t until I came to the Middle East that I realized that I’ve been in somewhat of a protective bubble called “living in America”. While I knew what was going on in the world while living in the U.S., while it made me angry, broke my heart, brought me to tears… somewhere inside there was the feeling that these things were happening in a far distant place, remote and unreachable.
For the Syrians, the oppression of their brothers and sisters in Palestine, Iraq, and now most recently in Lebanon, are not distant realities, that swim in an orbit of an individual’s awareness about world politics and affairs; but they are occurrences that happen right next door. (Literally; Syria borders Iraq on it’s eastern edge and Lebanon and Palestine on it’s western.) The children crying on television, the men killed, the women wailing… they are just like them – in fact they *are* them, the only difference being man-made borders drawn by outsiders. It is actually just like the hadeeth of Rasulullah (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) says, “The ummah is like one body; if one part of it is injured, the whole body feels its pain. ” Somehow in the U.S., I feel like we are disconnected from this body; we watch it suffer with concern and sadness, but we don’t really feel the pain.
I don’t know… perhaps there is some hidden hikmah in this – that with some emotional distance from the suffering, with a general sense of safety and well-being, we can forge ahead with a cool-headed sense of purpose and intent and help out the cause of the ummah. But sometimes ease is a harder challenge than difficulty. It’s certainly easier to get lost along the way.
Syria has become the refuge for many types of people in the foregoing years; the Kurds and the Palestinians, the Iraqis after America’s invasion, and now the Lebanese. The number of Lebanese pouring into Syria is close to 200,000. There presence is most apparent in the streets that are more crowded and the markets that are more full… but the Lebanese are similar to the Syrians in their dress and physical appearance, so it’s hard to tell who’s who. At the masajid the imams are encouraging people to donate for their assistance, medical aid and temporary housing, and there is a general feeling of support and compassion towards them, while many Syrian are volunteering in whatever capacity they can to help out.
The last few weeks have been quite nerve-wracking; the original sense of shock at Israel’s aggression (Did they really bomb Beirut?!?? — Many of the Western students studying here in Syria would go to Beirut for the weekend when they missed home – Beirut was a small taste of the U.S./U.K. in the Middle East — modern streets and shops, American food and restaurants; everything written in English, etc) and then, coupled with outrage and frustration, a sense of fear about the aggression expanding into Syria. (What if they bomb here? Will we be able to get out? How can we leave so many innocent people that we know behind, to suffer at their hands?) Watching the news very carefully; talking with other students about their ‘plan of action’ if anything were to happen; concerned calls from families back home, urging us to leave as soon as possible; and so on.
Only Allah (swt) knows what the future holds for Shaam, this region, and for us… all I know is, I have never thought so much about the shortness of my life, how abrupt its ending could be, and the importance of making use of my time before it’s all over. We forget sometimes that this is hayaat ad-dunyaa, and there are no guarantees.