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Ramadan Reflection Day 13: Syria On My Mind -- Curing the Illness of Indifference

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Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, 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, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

I had lunch one day (before Ramadan, of course) with a pastor of a local church in the weeks immediately following Hurricane Sandy. For those unfamiliar, Sandy had hit last October, 2012, and left much of New York City devastated. We were discussing some of what we saw and experienced in the aftermath and she told me of one of her congregants, an elderly woman in her 80s, who lived a few blocks away from where were eating. She lived on one of the upper floors of the building by herself and as her neighbors all left one after the next, no one realized that she might need help getting out herself. So she ended up staying with no electricity and whatever food she had at home.

She had opened a window and her front door to create a draft and one day, as she was trying to find batteries on a shelf for her flashlight, she stumbled off the chair she was standing on and fell backwards into the hallway. The draft from the window caused the door to shut behind her and she was now locked out of her apartment in the dark and everyone else had already left. So she took a seat on the floor but because of her age was unable to get back up on her own. She sat there in the dark for more than two days before someone found her. Two days with no food or water. Two days with no light or electricity. Two days with no bathroom or shower. Two days with no one to speak to. Two days where no one thought, "Let me be the one to walk through this building and make sure no one was left behind." This really happened, and it happened to thousands of people while hundreds of thousands knew and did nothing about it.

For the last two years, the people of Syria have found themselves in a civil conflict that has left closed to 100,000 dead, half of whom are civilians, meaning innocent women, children, the elderly, and all other non-combatants. The United Nations estimated 4,250,000 Syrians have been internally displaced, meaning they have been evicted from their homes, neighborhoods, and cities and essentially are living homeless within their home countries without infrastructure and with no place to go. Another 1,800,000 have fled the country as refugees. The UNHCR reports, "By the end of the year [2013] it is estimated that half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country, many of whom will be displaced from their homes." This is really happening, and it's affecting millions of lives, while hundreds of millions know and we aren't really doing anything about it.

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." ~ Elie Wiesel

Indifference is one of the ugliest characteristics a person can posses. It's one thing to be ignorant or uninformed, but to know that someone is going through a problem that you can help out with and yet you do nothing to assist - it's really just disgusting. I constantly find myself wondering how we end up that way -- self-absorbed, self-centered, chasing after things that will only bring self-benefit, and embodying selfishness in every sense of the word.

One of the many accounts shared via Islamic Relief USA:

"Abdel Rahim and Heyleh left Syria with their five children after their home was destroyed.

They have taken shelter in an old chemical-filled leather factory in Lebanon, sleeping in storage closets. The factory is next to what is known as Jabal az-Zabaalah, or the Mountain of Trash. It's a mountain of waste that pollutes the entire area with contaminated water and disease.

"You leave your country, and outside of it you have nothing to your name--no home, no work, no nothing....We are Syrians, we are hardworking people. We are hospitable and welcoming people. But this situation is so difficult. I have children ..., " said Abdel Rahim.

And the children are sick. Living amid the chemicals and pollution, they have chronic diarrhea and vomit daily.

Two of them--14-year-old Mustafa and 16-year-old Safaa--already were suffering from a blood disorder called Thalassemia. They need regular blood transfusions and medicine; without those, the teenagers can die.

The family cannot afford the hospital care the children need, and Abdel Rahim has just one dose of medication left each for Mustafa and Safaa. A three-day supply of the medication costs $100--money this refugee family simply does not have. And the quality of this last does is questionable--it is supposed to be refrigerated, but they have no way to keep it cool.

Without the health care he needs, Mustafa has become frail and his skin is yellow. He's very sick and needs help soon.

Adding to the complication, Abdel Rahim's oldest son is married, and his wife is due to give birth around the time of Eid. Abdel Rahim's wife Heyleh wishes for a blanket to place on the dirty factory floor when her daughter-in-law gives birth....."

Read the complete account and others on Islamic Relief USA's Syria Relief website.

Abdel Rahim just wants a blanket for his daughter-in-law - let's give him and the rest of people of Syria that and much more.

For the past two years, our Islamic Center at NYU working with Islamic Relief USA, a perennial four-star charity org. rated by Charity Navigator, has hosted a special dinner during Ramadan to raise funds for humanitarian aid. Each of the past years we've been able to raise $250,000, alhamdulillah, and this year we are hoping to raise whatever we can for the people of Syria on August 2nd. Whether you are in NYC or not, you can help out with the #ICNYU4Syria Campaign by sharing and making a contribution at our Team Fundraising Page http://bit.ly/ICNYU4Syria -- all donations are tax-deductible and for those of you who are Muslim, zakat-eligible as well.

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." ~ The Prophet Muhammad.

In his commentaries on this narration, Imam Nawawi, a well-known Muslim scholar from the 13th century, explains that the word "brother" is not in reference to your "brother in islam" but rather is in reference to your "brother in humanity." In the spirit of Ramadan, give of what you have and encourage others to give as well without condition on qualification.

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 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 who 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 there but its 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.

Don't look to see what you are losing but see what the other will gain. Organize small fundraisers at your own personal iftars and let the recognition of all that we have been given manifest itself in actions for those who don't have as much. But just give and keep on giving. And at the very least keep those who are less fortunate in your thoughts - that itself won't cost us anything.

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