Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page. To follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
It's shocking to me how many people have no idea what is happening in Somalia right now. Famine, drought and conflict have put almost 3.6 million people at risk of starvation. In the last month alone, 29,000 children have died and according to U.N. Under Secretary General Valerie Amos, and it is projected that up to 600,000 children may die. The Food and Agriculture Organization, also part of the U.N., stated that the famine will probably last until the end of the year and spread across most of the Southern part of Somalia in the next month or so.
Adnan Ansari, the current Vice President of Programs for Islamic Relief USA, wrote in a first-hand account,
"Mogadishu is also officially declared to have catastrophic famine conditions. With the majority of the children being malnourished, the ribs on every child's chest can be counted. Smiles are rare; sighs and wails are commonly heard. People looked at us without any expectation. It seems as though people know that they will have to survive on their own or welcome death early as the only way out.
As a father closed the eyes of his two-year old child while she seemed to take her last breath, we tried to convince him to take her to the hospital. He insisted to let the suffering end. Even though we took the child to the clinic, only a few more breaths had remained--two hours later we found that the body was being prepared for burial."
(Read the full text of his account here.)
So how is it that the world has not noticed? And why is it so difficult for us to give?
It's really hard to find people who are genuinely selfless these days. Our giving unfortunately becomes conditional. We find it hard to move beyond socially constructed differences. I can't get over your skin color being different from mine, or our languages not being the same, or that we practice a different faith. How many of us give just for the sake of giving? How many of us give in a way that our goal isn't to make ourselves feel good, but rather to make someone else feel good?
In the Islamic tradition, an instance comes about where a gift of a goat is sent to the house of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He immediately begins to distribute the meat from the goat to men and women in his community who are in need. It's not as if this man has lavish banquets and an abundance of food in his home. In some narrations, it is said that that days would go by without a fire being lit in his home because there was nothing to cook on the fire. He himself was someone that did not have that much, which makes it so much more amazing that he was willing to give it away before taking any for himself. He continues to give of this goat until his wife says to him that there is nothing left of it but it's neck. His response to her? All of it is left except it's neck.
He did not see the world in terms of what he was giving up but rather he saw it in terms of what others were gaining. We need to start seeing the world in this way.
How much have any of us given to the people of Somalia who are most definitely in need of our help and support? How much have any of us given to anyone in the last day, week, month, or even year of our lives?
I can't imagine what it would feel like to watch a child die in front of my eyes because they didn't have any food to eat or water to drink. And I can't imagine how I or anyone else can believe that I am a good person, knowing fully that as I write this and as you read this, young children are in fact dying for that very reason and we as a global community are doing virtually nothing about it.
These people have no water to drink. Imagine if that was our reality. What's even more remarkable is that many of them who are Muslim are still fasting because that is how important their Islam is to them.
For those who are interested in donating, you can do so through Islamic Relief USA which has consistently received a four star rating from Charity Navigator for many years. In the spirit of Ramadan, some Muslims are hosting fundraising events in their local communities. Follow suit and organize something yourself. Encourage your friends, communities, and leaders to raise awareness and money for this cause. And at the very least please keep the people of Somalia and East Africa in your prayers. That, at least, won't cost any of us anything.