A Belated Muslim Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur

Imam A. Rasheid Omar, 2/7/2005

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
A Belated Muslim Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur

Imam A. Rashied Omar

We are indeed living in stressful times. Never before in our contemporary history have faith and commitment of Muslims for a more peaceful, just and humane world been more tested as it is has been during recent times.

Besides the many human tragedies that continue to plague our world, like the ongoing violence in Iraq and the Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank, we have been made aware for months now that the predominantly Muslim population of the Darfur region of the Western Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.1

According to Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that up to 30,000 people have been killed and over 1 million people have been displaced from their homes at the hands of marauding gangs of militiamen calling themselves the "Janjawid."2

Based on numerous eyewitness accounts, Amnesty International reports that "men have been killed inside mosques, women raped in front of their husbands and old women killed when their homes have been set alight - all acts designed to humiliate and destroy the fabric of community life, over and beyond the individual atrocity".3

The Islamic Center of Southern California in a press release claims that during the course of the violence and destruction in Darfur over forty mosques have been destroyed and countless Qurans desecrated.4 I have been able to independently verify this claim in a personal interview with a member of our masjid congregation who is from Darfur. He told me that the central masjid in the historic village of Tina, where his grandfather had been the Imam for over 30 years, has completely vanished from the earth along with the village and all of its inhabitants. This was the result of one of the bombing campaigns executed by the Sudanese air force.5

It is crystal clear now that the situation in Darfur, Sudan has reached horrific proportions and Muslims can no longer deny or turn a blind eye to this ongoing human suffering.6

In this khutbha/sermon I would like to share some guidelines as to how we should be responding to the current crisis in Darfur, Sudan. For the purpose of the Friday sermon is to provide weekly religious guidance on current events, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has exhorted that:

Din/Religion is providing Good Counsel and Advice/Nasiha.

It is fitting to begin by placing my advice/nasiha within the broad theological and jurisprudential framework of Islam. First and foremost, the Glorious Quran in Surah-al-Hujarat, Chapter 49, Verse 10 enjoins us to make peace and reconciliation/sulh between two conflicting parties.

The Believers are but a single Brotherhood/ Sisterhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and observe your duty to Allah that ye may receive Mercy.

It is instructive to note that the Quranic exhortation to promote peace and reconciliation in the above verse is in the imperative form. This gives the injunction a greater sense of urgency.

Second, in his famous farewell sermon at 'Arafat on his final pilgrimage/al-khutbat-al-wida, just before his death, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) summed up the essence of the social message of the Islam as anti-racism when he proclaimed:

"All human beings are descendent from the prototype Adam, and Adam has been created from the earth. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is there superiority for a white person over a black person, nor for a black person over a white person, except the superiority gained through God-consciousness/taqwa. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one with the most righteous conduct/taqwa."

This famous prophetic tradition/hadith is further reinforced by a verse in the Glorious Quran in Surah al-Rum, Chapter 30, Verse 22 in which differences in languages and pigmentations of skin among human beings are described as signs of the existence of God, which need to be celebrated.

And of the Signs of Allah, is the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the variations of your languages and skin color

Third, Islam has made the alleviation of human suffering through acts of charity/zakat, one of the five pillars/arkan al-Islam on which it is built. This is established on a prophetic tradition/hadith reported on the authority of Ibn Umar, the son of Umar bin al-Khattab, May Allah be pleased with both, who said: I heard the messenger of Allah say:

"Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, performing the prayers, paying the zakat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadan." (the tradition was related by Bukhari and Muslim)

The categories of zakat recipients have been clearly outlined by Allah, the Sublime, in Chapter 9, verse 60, of the Glorious Quran as follows;

Alms are for the poor and needy, for its administration, for the promotion of goodwill towards Islam, for liberation struggles, for debtors, for all beneficial causes, and for refugees.

Fourth, the Islamic concept of peace does not merely aspire for a cessation of war, known in the literature as negative peace. The Islamic concept of peace is a positive one that seeks to build long-year sustainable relationships and reconciliation based on justice known in the Quran as adl and qist. This is clearly enunciated in the following verse from the Glorious Quran:

If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make peace between them; but if one of them transgressors beyond all bounds against the other, then fight you all against the transgressor until it complies with the command of Allah; but if it complies then make peace between them with JUSTICE and be FAIR; for Allah loves those who are fair and just (Surah-al-Hujurat, Chapter 49, Verse 9).

How then can we operationalize these guiding Islamic principles?

Using the Islamic principles outlined above as their beacon, I would like to propose four strategies that may be useful in helping Muslims respond to the current crisis in the Darfur. First, as Muslims and members of the larger human family, we should add our voices to the calls on the Sudanese Government to establish an immediate cessation of hostilities by; (a) disarming and disbanding the Janjawid militia operating in Darfur; (b) ensuring full access for humanitarian efforts to assist and repatriate the displaced people of Darfur and (c) ensuring full access for international human rights monitors. In this regard it is encouraging to note that the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in a press statement has called on the Sudanese president, Omar el-Bashir to ensure the safety and security of all of citizens.7 I hasten to add that it is my considered view that the humanitarian operation in Darfur should be done under the official auspices of the United Nations and led by the African Union. It would be strategically unwise and wholly unhelpful for any United Nations resolutions including any humanitarian operation in Darfur to be led the United States or Great Britain.8

Second, we should raise funds to support the Darfur relief efforts. This is a critical juncture in which Muslims should arise to their Islamic responsibility and fulfill the third and most neglected pillar of Islam by discharging their zakat/charities generously. In this regard I have been encouraged by the efforts of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago who has established a special Darfur Relief Fund* for pooling tax-deductible, charitable donations in support of these refugees.9 I urge you to support this and other similar efforts generously.10

Third, in light of the recent claim by Human Rights Watch that it has obtained official Sudanese government documents that "illustrate the involvement, at the highest levels, of the state bureaucracy in the recruitment and arming of militia and the authorization of their activities that have resulted in crimes against humanity and war crimes", we should call for the United Nations to establish a high-level Darfur investigative tribunal to look into these allegations. If sufficient evidence exist the Sudanese government officials and the Janjawid militia as well as members of the opposition who are guilty of human atrocities should be prosecuted for war crimes in the international criminal court. The Sudanese government supported by the international community should also be persuaded to provide restitution to the victims and survivors of the Darfur carnage.11

Last but not least, while it would be simplistic to attribute the carnage in Darfur purely to motives of racism as has been implied in much of the media reporting of Arabs against Africans, we need to acknowledge that Northern Sudanese, who ironically themselves have African roots often display paternalistic attitudes towards their fellow compatriots residing in the Southern and Western Sudan. It is well known that the northern Sudanese have all sorts of disparaging Arabic names for their compatriots in the West. They are often called Qabail Zurqa, meaning the black tribes. This is again is ironic since the Arabic word Sudan itself historically refers to the lands inhabited by black skinned people. To acknowledge that Muslims are sometimes racist is never easy. Most of us can easily recognize racism in others, but deny that it exists within our ranks. We need to purify and heal our souls and rid our communities from the scourge of racism through a vigorous education campaign. But the first stage of purification of our souls (tazkiyat-un-nafs) and reform of our community/islah al- ummah is acknowledgement.

In conclusion, we pray that Allah, the Most Compassionate, strengthens us all to live up to His noble Guidance. We offer our condolences and sincere prayers to the thousands of innocent victims of the carnage in Darfur.

" In Allah is the best consolation against any calamity, a substitute for every loss, and a replacement for anything that is sorely missed. Trust Allah, seek His aid, and be hopeful of His mercy. The one who is really deprived is the one who is deprived of the reward from Allah for his misfortune." (Musnad of As-Shafi')

Dua/Prayer for the People of Darfur, Sudan

O Allah, thou art Peace and Peace emanates from thee Allow us to live and to subsist in Peace. O Most Merciful of those who show Mercy.

O Compassionate One, O Companion to every lonesome one, we implore you to comfort the hearts of the people of Darfur with your magnificence.

Lord of all Humankind, from what we have witnessed, grant us the grace to have a greater understanding and empathy for the suffering of innocent victims of the war in the Sudan, no matter their, ethnicity, color or religion.

All-wise and All-mighty God, Grant the leaders of the Sudan wisdom and guide them to use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world.


[1] It is intriguing to note that many of the reports on the Darfur crisis neglect to mention that fact that the victimized tribes of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa are predominantly Muslims. Even more curious is the obvious error in an otherwise excellent account of the Darfur crisis by David Nally. In it he claims that Darfur rebellion which broke out in February 2003, took place in regions dominated by Christians and Animists. See: A Call for Sudan: Our Geographical Blindspot by David Nally (July 17 / 18, 2004). See: http://www.counterpunch.org

[2] The Arabic word Janjawid, literally means, horsemen, but for the terrorized Fur tribe it means Satans on horseback or camel. For a detailed account of Human Rights Watch Report See: Darfur Destroyed: http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0504/

[3] For Amnesty International Report on the widespread use of Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur; See http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/sudan/document.do?id=23FE42969B6C168A80256EC900529ED0

[4] See Islamic Center of Southern California press release Crisis in Darfur -Sudan (July 20, 2004): http://www.islamctr.org/darfur.asp

[5] Interview with Ahmad Zahgawi - July 22, 2004.

[6] It is interesting to note that prominent Muslim organizations and leaders in the Muslim World have been relatively quiet about the ongoing suffering in Darfur. This feeble Muslim response to the suffering of the people is shameful indeed. In a devastating critique of this Muslim Silence a South African newspaper editorial pertinently asks; So Where is the Muslim Outrage. See: Mail and guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa) July 23-29, 2004.

[7] See press statement on the ISNA website: ISNA calls for Peace in the Sudan (July 04, 2004). http://www.isna.net/news/miniheadlines.asp?dismode=article&artid=351

[8] One of the arguments used by Muslim apologists is that the humanitarian situation in Darfur is being exaggerated by the Western Media, as part of a strategy by the United States and Great Britain to take the heat off Iraq and alternatively this is the preliminaries for another blatant invasion of Sudan in the same way that they did in Iraq. For such a view, See: Al-Jazeera Open Editorials July 2004, Even CNN and BBC Beating the Drums of a New War: Now on Sudan This Time, Ghulam Muhammed. See: http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion editorials/2004 opinions/July/21o/Even CNN and BBC Beating Drums of a New War, on Sudan This Time By Ghulam Muhammed.htm

[9] Chicagoland Muslims Address Human Tragedy in Darfur, Sudan. See: http://www.ciogc.org/

[10] The large numbers of non-Muslims organizations who have already responded with relief efforts to the plight of the Darfur refugees have been humbling. Among the organizations that have been active in providing relief in the crisis-struck region, is Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders).

[11] For an powerful Muslim call for Justice in Darfur See End to the Agony, Stop the War Criminals Justice for Darfur, by Ahmed Nassef. In Muslim AwakeUp an online Muslim magazine (July 20, 2004).

For Human Rights Watch Claims of Sudanese Government Complicity with the Janjawid, See: http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0504/7.htm#_Toc71531704

A. Rashied Omar is an Imam from South Africa and Coordinator of the Kroc Institutes Program in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. This article is the Jumuah Khutbah/Friday Congregational Sermon delivered at Islamic Society of Michiana (South Bend, Indiana) on 23rd July 2004/5th Jamad al-Thani 1425In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace.