Responding to the unthinkable

An op-ed in today’s Boston Globe led me to the book Responsa to the Holocaust. This book is going on my summer reading list. The level of commitment to God in the face of such horror amazes me. Dealing with crisis as a religious person is difficult enough; as a community I cannot comprehend it.

If I were to look at the Muslim community, our response to the Bosnian genocide was inexcusable; we let our co-religionists get slaughtered, profiting off of the sale of arms. In reconstruction, we continue to let the Bosnian be victims of our own ignorance and stupidity. In fact, we are active agents in victimizing them. (1, 2, 3, 4).

One of the other stories that I can think of, and one that apparently has stuck with me more than I realized according to Sam I Am, concerns Imam Husayn, the Beloved of the Beloved of God. The story is told in Killing Flies, an essay in Conference of the Books. In it, shortly after hearing the news, a man asks Ibn Umar if it is permissible to kill flies on hajj. Abou Fadl’s response is far better than anything I could say:

The issue is not whether the man had the right to ask about killing flies. Rather, the issue is this man’s psychology and his sense of priorities.

While we as Muslims have not been faced with an event as horrid as the Holocaust, specific ethnic communities have been the victims of genocidal campaigns. We have not responded well, and I fear that is reflective of the fact that we have forgotten not only the soul of Islam, but our own souls as well.

Lest all seem hopeless, Ghost Dog reminded me of the Muslim response to the genocides of Rwanda. From the NY Times of April 7, 2004:

During the mass killing of Tutsi, militias had the place surrounded, but Hutu Muslims did not cooperate with the Hutu killers. They said they felt far more connected through religion than through ethnicity, and Muslim Tutsi were spared.

“Nobody died in a mosque,” said Ramadhani Rugema, executive secretary of the Muslim Association of Rwanda. “No Muslim wanted any other Muslim to die. We stood up to the militias. And we helped many non-Muslims get away.”

Mr. Rugema, a Tutsi, said he owed his life to a Muslim stranger who hid him in his home when members of the Interahamwe militia were pursuing him.

I hope the ummah can recover that soul before it’s gone forever.