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, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
It's really sad and surprising to me how the world is watching what is happening daily in Syria and not really doing anything about it.
For those who are unaware, more than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria and hundreds of thousands have become refugees, forced to flee from their homes since the uprisings started there in 2011. Headlines today tell us of the regime-based army positioning 20,000 soldiers around the city of Allepo, a city with a population of about 2.5 million, to what will be another inevitable massacre of civilians, young and old. "This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
What's important to understand is that it's not that people every day are dying -- they are being killed. I can't imagine what it would be like to not have access to clean water or food. Or what it would feel like to watch my child bleed slowly to death because she didn't have a proper bandage to stop the blood. 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 people are in fact dying for these very reasons and I somehow would not be compelled to do something.
They are being confined to their homes, prevented from access to medical supplies and care, and have shortages of food and drink. Those who are able to leave find themselves in harsh living conditions in refugee camps, where they also are in need of help.
Abed Ayoub, CEO of Islamic Relief USA, wrote in a first-hand account of a visit to the refugee camps
"Very simple things would make a huge difference in their lives, and they can't find them. You can imagine what life is like for them," Ayoub said. "It's extremely difficult, and they're living with barely any running water and only canned food."
For those who are injured, medical care is very limited. With few doctors in the camps, gunshot wounds and major burns are being treated with simple first aid until more complex treatments become available.
"In one case, a man was shot in the knee several times," Ayoub said. "There is no treatment for him except to stop the bleeding and bandage his leg. He doesn't have a wheelchair or crutches to help him heal, so other men must carry him around when he needs to move or use the restroom."
"... In another case, a child has a bullet in his skull, and without advanced medical care available, the bullet has to stay there. The boy has severe headaches and has lost some feeling in his arms, but removing the bullet in the camps' conditions may leave him permanently disabled or paralyzed."
"... Another man had one whole leg amputated and the other has now developed an infection. He had to cut off his own toe in the kitchen of his home to try and stop the spread of infection when his toe became blackened and the tissue died."
"So many people are being severely injured in the conflict and need more advanced medical attention than is available currently in the camps. They need doctors, they need medicines, they need simple items to help them recover. This is the information I brought to discussion with the officials I met with. We're trying to find ways to bring these refugees what they need as soon as possible."
(Read the full text of his account here)
As of recent, many different organizations have begun to work inside Syria. I've had the privilege of speaking at two separate fundraisers this Ramadan, proceeds of which will be going to people on the ground.
The first was hosted at the University of Maryland in conjunction with Muslims Without Borders. The audience of about 300, mostly college students, raised around $62,000 to go towards the purchase of medicinal gauze that helps stop bleeding, an item that is much-needed but hard to find in Syria these days.
The second was hosted last night at the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with Helping Hand USA. About 200 gathered, again mostly college students, and they raised around $35,000 to go towards food packets, blankets and clothing for the winter, and products specifically for babies and children that find themselves at tender ages in the middle of this chaos.
What was beautiful is that most of these young people who attended these two events weren't Syrian and a good number were not Muslim. They were of all races, ethnicity, and cultures. They did not put conditions on their giving and did not care if the hand that was reaching out to them matched their own in terms of skin color, ideological preference, religion or creed. It only mattered that they were people suffering, and no socially constructed difference could take precedence over our shared humanity.
Our Islamic Center at NYU will be hosting a similar program on August 10th. Last year we ran a similar fundraising iftar for the people of East Africa and were able to raise about $250,000, alhamdulillah. This year we are again working with Islamic Relief USA, which has consistently received a four star rating from Charity Navigator for many years. Proceeds from our event will be going to people in Syria. I would humbly request you all, if you have benefited in anyway from any of what I have written this month, to consider making a contribution to that cause. You can join in our effort by visiting our "Team Page" here -- all donations are tax-deductible and for those of you who are Muslim, zakat-eligible as well. We've raised more than $10,000 so far in the last few days and are hopeful in raising a good amount again this year.
It's also important to remember that our helping of the people of Syria doesn't mean that they are helpless. The people each day are still standing as strong as they can in the face of an oppressive regime. Their strength and determination to acquire a much-deserved freedom is limitless, and our sense of compassion has to be limitless as well. As observers we have a responsibility. Even if we are not the perpetrators of an action, knowing that is taking place and not doing something about it is not OK. In the spirit of Ramadan, many 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 Syria in your prayers. That, at least, won't cost any of us anything.
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