Where Do We Find Hope After Paris?

Friday, November 27, 2015 - 4:42am
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell

Where Do We Find Hope After Paris?

Friends keep asking me where we find hope in these turbulent times. We don’t. We don’t find hope. We generate it.

Hope is like sanctity and community. Hope doesn’t descend down to us from heaven. It rises to heaven from right here on Earth.

As Warsan Shire says, it hurts everywhere, everywhere. As Parker Palmer says, even the healers are wounded healers.

We need to have a national and global conversation about faith that prepares us to carry on the work of healing so that we can be prepared when these atrocities hit us. This is the new normal. There are going to be Paris attacks, Beirut attacks, Baghdad attacks, Nigeria attacks, and more in the months and years to come. The work of healing is needed now, more than ever.

The atrocities are “events.” The healing has to be an ongoing, everyday journey. This healing work actually has to come before the atrocities, through the atrocities, and after the atrocities.

We’ve entered this new era, and we have to be planning for healing just as carefully as others are planning for destruction.

We’re simply, by necessity, now in an era of global processes of healing. As others have said, we’re all wounded, so we’re wounded healers now.

Everyone hurts — though not all hurt in the same way. Everyone has a role in healing — though not everyone is ready to heal.

People are evacuated by bus near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris on November 14, 2015.

(Francois Guillot / Agence France-Presse / Getty ImagesAll rights reserved.)

I turn, as I do so often, to the very heart of our faith traditions for hope. I remember the Qur’an saying that the ease, the healing, comes not after the difficulty but with it.

We cannot wait to be wounded before we turn to heal. We have to anticipate the healing, generate the healing, raise up the healing.

I remember Rumi’s words:

The wound is where the light enters you.

I see wounds. I see the wounded. And I see the wounders (who often carry their own wounds).

In an age when violence is broadcast widely, 
when the quickest way to fame
    is to say something vacuous and pungent
How do we make the healing visible?   
How do we recover love 
            as a public virtue?

In the midst of this tragedy, I keep searching for hope,
still my own heart 
     to keep generating hope
For myself
For my children
For all of us

Where do we find hope?
              are invisible.   

Hope’s never linear, 
rarely public, 
usually tender 
    and private.  
Every now and then, 
       we see examples of hope that become visible.

I want to shine a light on these moments — to remember, to rejuvenate, to recall — when the goodness shines on through, and reminds us of the need to keep generating hope.

Let me share one such moment from Paris. The moment of light is from a husband, Antoine Leiris, whose wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was killed in the attacks. In his response, there is grace and dignity. It reminded me of Mamie Till, holding an open-casket funeral for her son Emmett, both for the world to see her suffering become public, and also to say that she had no time to hate, and would devote herself steadfast to seeking justice.

The husband released a statement to the ISIS terrorists: You have taken away the love of my life, a beautiful woman. You seek to get me to hate you, but I will not give you that satisfaction. I will not give you the satisfaction of having your hatred be mirrored in my heart. You, and your action, will not determine the kind of human being I will strive to be.

Here’s the transcript of the message from the husband, posted on Facebook. The original message was in French, here is an English translation:

"On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won't have my hatred.

I don't know who you are and I don't want to know — you are dead souls. If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.

So no, I don't give you the gift of hating you. You are asking for it but responding to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost.

I saw her this morning. Finally, after many nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.

Of course I'm devastated with grief, I admit this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will accompany us every day and that we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls to which you'll never have access.

We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.

I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either."

Here is what we often do not understand about the power of nonviolence in an uber-violent world. Nonviolence is not so much about “turning the other cheek” or responding to violence with a refusal to return violent action. That is simply the start. It is, simply, the minimum. It is actually more profound, as the widower husband says:

"So no, I don't give you the gift of hating you. You are asking for it but responding to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance that made you what you are."

Real nonviolence is the adamant insistence that we will choose to live a life of dignity, beauty, and meaning. That we will not get drowned in a whirlpool of hatred and violence.

The father ends by saying that he would say more, but that he has to go take care of his toddler, a toddler that now only has one parent to raise him.

Hélène Muyal-Leiris hold her young son, Melvil, months before she was killed in the Paris attacks.

(Antoine Leiris)

Yes, we have children to raise,
parents to love,
friends to hug,
neighbors to reach out to,
inner-cities to heal,
and refugees to shelter.

There is real work to be done, genuine healing, which we have to generate.

The truth is actually much harder, and more beautiful than a simple refusal to return violence for violence. That would be akin to cursing a dark night already devoid of stars.

To curse the darkness, to bring more anger and rage into this world, is to let the terrorists win. It is to let the terror inside our own hearts win.

Healing begins by a commitment to letting light shine. 
We have to generate this light, 
this hope
this healing
    and mirror it to each other. 

Let your light shine.
Let’s heal each other, 
fellow wounded healers.  

We are in this together.

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Omid Safi

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

Share Your Reflection



How do we heal? Throug our spiritual practices? Mine is a solitary one. Point me to the way to have a cultural, multi cultural spiritual practice. Where is the road map? If there is no road map how do we create one together?

I think, as was stated in the article, we don't find these things somewhere else, we generate them. I have no answer but to move in that direction, with these things in my heart and be an example. This, I think, is known and at the same time, unknown territory. To know what you need but to feel something like fear and self doubt holding us back in some way. What is it to generate healing without others, is it even possible?

"The wound is where the light enters." "Even the healers are wounded." What beautiful ,sad words but no matter the wounds we must always let the light enter us. To be able to see the light and the hope after such personal devastation made me feel hopeful myself. In the end we are doomed without it.

Every word you have written about 'healing' in this world of turmoil, and the video message you attached, brought tears into my eyes. I really want to shake the world people so hard so that they wake up to understand the real meaning of a peaceful co-existence on this planet..a message for which Allah (Swt) kept sending so many prophets and completing the great message for the entire humanity 'of peace & submission' through the latest & complete volume of 'The Book' ..
I pledge to be the part of this healing process till I live.


Thank you so much dear Jamila. It takes all of us!

I have been struggling for some time now. I look at the violence being perpetrated everyday, day in and day out and I think to myself; How does a person heal when the wounding never stops? Your piece has allowed me to feel the act of healing in a different way, through the heart and hope of others that we share this world with and live for. Yes, it feels right, Healing doesn't come after the difficulty but with it and, with hope, through it we emerge with something of hope and healing for those who witness. Thank you for your words.

Absolutely beautiful and inspiring. I think also to Charleston with the quiet hope that healing will actually begin across this land!

I am so grateful for your consistently pointing in this direction.

Beautiful, sane, thank you

What a beautiful, thoughtful, well written article. I support the message of love and hope, and I know in my heart that it will save us in the end. Thank you!

A powerful expression of light and love in the face of such personal atrocity. Courageous and 'peace-filled' beings like Antoine Leiris and the Emanuel Nine show us the way - the only way forward to ultimately overcome fear and darkness in our world.

I read your words because I want to believe that there lies a heart of love in the average Muslim for other expressions of religous faith. I have read the Koran as I have done psychotherapy with Muslims who have married Christians. In my limited experience I have found only rigid loyality to the way of Muhammad and belief that those who do not accept his way, an infidel. I pray for some semblance of understanding that could foster peace. A Mystic 's life is different than the average Muslim on the streets. I travel and what I see are large groups of Muslims that want to force their way of life on the culture of other nations, cities and towns.

So, with respect, I will buy your work and pray that I can find a a way to become open to the promise of love rather than exclusion.

Thank you for expanding my understanding and assisting me to see the light through my own and our own wounds.

A moment of light from Jerusalem: Sarah Techiya Litman and Ariel Beigel married in Jerusalem on Thursday night, having invited the entire world to their wedding, which was postponed after Palestinians murdered the bride’s father and brother. The couple had said they hoped “multitudes will come to make us happy.”

Thank you for this beautiful touching exceptional testimony

Someone said: Sooner or later the world breaks everyone.... and then some become stronger at the broken places.