July 17, 2003

Remembering Holly

 

 Recently, Toronto was shaken by the violent and brutal murder of 10 year-old
Holly Jones. The youngster, who left her home to ensure that a friend safely
returned home, never made it to the safety of her own home and family. One cannot
even begin to imagine the pain and torture that her parents had to endure in
the hours before the dismembered parts of her body were recovered from Lake
Ontario.

As a community, in times of such crises, we need to sit back and critically
reflect on our roles and responsibilities within our society. Personally, it
was a time of crucial questioning because an innocent and very vulnerable member
of our society was killed: What will we say to Allah? How have we contributed
to this? Or, what did we do in our society to keep her safe? Have we invested
time in our home community and society here?

As a fairly young and emerging community there are many obstacles that we need
to overcome collectively. However, instead of devoting our precious time and
energy to these obstacles, we are spending our time on frivolous issues such
as deciding whether or not we should be rotating our finger in tashahud.

When we do work together (after much arguing over who should be in charge etc),
we often clamour about our rights that are being denied. And while no one is
denying the importance of such work, it seems that we spend less time engaging
in dialogue about our responsibilities as Muslims within society. Many in our
community have fallen victim to the erroneous notion that Muslims should only
work and care for the members of our own community. We have ignored the fact
that Islam was not sent just for Muslims but for all of humanity. We have a
responsibility towards society for which we will be held accountable before
Allah.

Instead, we have become content with the ghettoisation of our community within
the wider society by cloistering ourselves into small communes and ignoring
our responsibilities. Like an ostrich it would appear that we think if we bury
our heads in the sand, it means that there is no problem. Holly could have well
been a child from our community but that should not matter, she was our child,
our responsibility, just as Farah Khan was our responsibility. Our community
faces many similar challenges that we see around us. We are only deluding ourselves
if we think issues of murder, rape, drugs, suicide, abuse among many others
do not exist.

It seems to have escaped many of our leaders that the only way to effect change
is by systemically advocating for it and by calling for justice for all oppressed
people within our society. Unfortunately for many, we are not in the forefront
of dealing with such critical issues however, we give many a flowery khutbah
on dawah. There is a disconnect between the perceptions of dawah in our mosques
and the reality of the way we approach our duty in society.

We indulge ourselves in the great methodology and wisdom of our forebearers
and then we go home to our houses and to the routines of work and family ignoring
our higher duties.

As a community it is critical that we revisit the seerah and the examples of
all the prophets before who called to all people in their communities. “Ya
Qawmi” (Oh my people) was the call of all the prophets. They spent much
of their time calling to Allah, doing good in their communities and being merciful
to those around them.

Collectively, we need to acknowledge that Allah put us here to bring a message
and to look after the weak and oppressed in society. We should be at the forefront
in dealing with issues of poverty, violence against women, abuse, housing, peace,
rights of the First Nations people and all other social justice issues, too
numerous to mention. Inevitably when we deal with such issues within a wider
societal framework, we will also meet the needs of our own community. But more
fundamentally, we will be fulfilling our duty to Allah.

While these are general sentiments it is not meant to paint a sweeping image
of our entire community. There are individuals and some organizations that are
very much involved in the wider societal framework. However there needs to be
a conscious shift in the focus of our community leaders as they try to determine
what our priorities should be and how to meet the needs of our community and
to also look at that within the context of how we serve the society.

Here in Ontario, we have a government that secretly allocated half of it’s
annual budget to be spent without bringing it to the legislature, a government
that claims it supports law and order but will not spend $$$ on the Don Jail
to keep criminals inside. Instead they are being let out onto the streets because
there is not enough space in the jail to keep them. And to top that off, our
jails are no longer reformative (one can question if they really ever were)
but punitive. In essence we are hardening our criminals and putting them back
out.

Islam began with a handful of committed individuals who understood the purpose
of life on this planet. Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) was even concerned
about a goat that would stumble and fall and feared that he would be accountable
to Allah because he did not pave it’s path. When one stops to consider that
we are a community of approximately 600 000 in Canada, half of which is located
in the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding region. One can only imagine the
impact we would have if we seriously contemplated and fulfilled our roles as
Muslims in our society.

If the Prophet (peace be upon him) were with us, what would he be doing? How
would he be involved with the communities around him? Would he be concerned
with building masjid after masjid? I think not.

So tonight as we go to the comfort of our beds, we should think of little
Holly and the anguish her parents must be feeling and think about our own accountability.
And how our actions can have effects that we may not realise, whether they be
personal or political actions.

May Allah grant her parents patience and guidance through this ordeal and give
us the focus we need to transform the society in which we live to one that would
protect the vulnerable and provide justice for all.

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