The Shoes

Saturday, September 12, 2015 - 6:10 am

The Shoes

It was the shoes
that broke your heart.

The sweet boy, chubby in the flesh
was laying down on the beach
Face in the waves

He almost looked like he was sleeping
Almost….
Except that this sleep
Had no awakening.

It was the world’s conscience that seems to be asleep
with little sign of awakening.

You couldn’t see the boy’s face.
Aylan is his name.
Aylan was his name.
Aylan was the name his momma called him.

You couldn’t see Aylan’s face,
But you saw the shoes that a parent,
Had lovingly put on him earlier that day.

Aylan was dead, his family fleeing the Turkish coast of Bodrum, trying to get to the island of Kos in Greece, and from Greece to mainland Europe. Fleeing their ancestral homeland of centuries, hoping beyond hope to find life, safety, security.

Many of the recent refugees flee Syria. There are now more Syrians as refugees and internally displaced people than there are Syrians living in their own homes.

Syrian refugee camp, Karkosik Erbil. (Mustafa Khayat / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).)

In the last few years, Syria, that cradle of human civilization, with ancient Damascus and magnificent Aleppo, has witnessed the largest refugee crisis in the world. 250,000 killed. Millions of refugees. In four short years, the utter destruction of Syria has led to double the number of the largest previous refugee crisis, that of the Palestinians after the expulsion of half of their indigenous population upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

A human rights organization presented a scroll containing the names of all the known refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean over the last 20 years. The scroll is over 17,000 names long.

So many Aylans.
So many shoes.

Where to start?

Do we start with the responsibility of the European countries, many of which were complicit in the colonialism and the support for dictatorial Middle Eastern regimes that led to the devastation of the African and Middle Eastern countries? Do we start with the devastating hypocrisy of many Muslim regimes who have done next to nothing to take in the refugees? Do we start with the corruption of Muslim rulers, who rent out the totality of Four Seasons hotels and get gold decorations everywhere — instead of rescuing the innocents?

(Mustafa Khayat / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).)

I wonder if they are reading the same Qur’an I am. Not only are Muslims to identify with the experience of the Prophet and his community, who were made to leave behind their homeland of Mecca for Medina, but they’re to take care of refugees even if the refugees are from another faith community.

And if anyone of the disbelievers seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the word of God, and then escort him to where he will be secure. (Surah 9:6)

Do we start with the hypocrisy of certain Europeans who wish to pause to decide who among the dying deserves to be saved, and who should be left to drown? Such as the Hungarian prime minister who advocated taking in Christian (but not Muslim) refugees? Or German evangelists who see in the plight of the refugees an opportunity to convert the (mostly) Muslim refugees to Christianity?

As for the Christians and Jews in Europe who are turning a callous heart towards the suffering of the refugees, I simply wonder if they are reading the same scripture they claim to espouse. In the Hebrew Bible, we are told to connect the treatment of the stranger to that of our own past as strangers:

Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

How powerful it is if we come to translate the word “stranger” as refugee…

Hundreds of Syrian refugees wait for the next train in Vienna, Austria. (Josh Zakary / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).)

Leviticus tells us to go beyond not merely oppressing the refugee, and rise to the majestic height of love:

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

Or do we speak about the geopolitical game of death that has some supporting the bloodthirsty Bashar al-Assad (Iran, Russia, etc.) and others supporting ISIS (Saudi Arabia)?

This is what the hometown of the precious martyred child, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed on the Turkish coast and broke the world’s heart looks like now. This is Kobani/Kobane. There are many towns like this in Syria, in Gaza, and elsewhere.

But it is also urgent to address the reason why Kobani and Gaza look as they do. Without addressing the root causes of the war, of the conflict, of the powers (both Western and Muslim) that perpetuate the conditions of these wars, we will be faced with millions of more refugees, and more Aylan Kurdis to bury.

So whether the regimes making this destruction are from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Iran, no solution is complete without addressing those factors.

What does faith have to say at a time like this?
Where do we hear the voice of God?

Before rushing to any answer, let us sit with the ache, the breaking, and the broken.
Let us sit with those who suffer, and remember that God is with the long-suffering.

God does not merely come to the broken-hearted.
God is already with them.

The question as always, is not where is God,
but rather where is humanity?

Where are we?
Where am I?
What are we doing?

A missionary in training from Madison, Wisconsin washes the face of a young Syrian refugee in Turkey. (YWAM Madison / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).)

The Qur’an confronts the moral imagination of its audience, asking:

“For what sin was the child killed?” (Surah 81:9)

This is a question that humanity as a whole has to be asking itself, about each and every one of the refugees whose bodies are washing up on the shore of Europe and Turkey.

Yes, if have hearts that feel, our hearts have to break.
But that breaking also has to be a breaking open.
That breaking has to lead us to direct action.

Yes, there is immediate, direct, urgent work that needs to be done for the refugees who are fleeing these towns because of the war and because of the lack of economic opportunities. That time is now. Please support Oxfam America, or any of the other organizations doing meaningful work on the ground, such as these.

It is not hopeless. One of the most powerful images of the refugees was that of a father clutching his little child. The look of agony on his face was one that haunts every parent, every human being with a heart. And yet, that family survived. The next picture shows them in safety.

Something can be done to alleviate the suffering, one family at a time.
Do it for Aylan.
Do it for what’s left of humanity inside us.

Laith Majid, a Syrian refugee, cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to the Greek island of Kos. (Daniel Etter / New York Times / Redux / eyevine.)

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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 TimesNewsweekWashington 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.

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