“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform.”
Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian Prime Minister.
Prior to Ramadhan 2016, my heart was in a constant state of unrest. The so called thrill a nation got by killing another was beyond my comprehension. Yes, as individuals we are faced with different challenges on this journey of life. And amidst the chaos that reined in my mind, my heart went out to the people in the Land of Shaam. Having witnessed the brusque brutality and evil perpetrations first hand on a recent trip to Palestine, initiated a cause for concern in me. For many, like you and me, The Month of the Qur’an was indeed a month of blessings and mercy. Where peace reigned and lavish meals graced our homes. Thanks to Allah (SWT), I do not condemn. However, did we spare a moment, nay, a du’a for all the unrest in this turbulent world? Did we sit and ponder how another casualty of war was going to spend his/her Ramadhan?
Syria! My responsibility
This is the fact of the matter. And I fervently pray that I, together with you, begin to realise the truth contained within those three words.
One sister took on this shared responsibility and the arduous journey to the Holy Lands. Growing up in a predominantly white community, Maseeha spent her prime years completing her equivalent of GCSE’s and is an Aalimah quite fluent in the Arabic language. Further more, she completed memorising the Qur’an. Speaking to her, what really pulled at my heartstrings was that the truth was out there, bared, yet, as an ummah we generally only involve ourselves in the initial hype of donating a few quid here and then…?
Maseeha’s story began when a delegation of Syrian ulemah visited the school she was working at as a teacher in 2013-2014, somewhere in the heart of South Africa, a country new to democracy. Getting a first hand account of the situation on ground, of a desperate need of teachers, ulemah, medical personnel etcetera, arose a need in Maseeha to make a difference. After consulting with her parents about her firm decision to travel to Syria she took a step in completing ‘half her deen’, marriage. Having a partner who already had an established presence in this field made a huge difference. Her husband is a brother, who is an active member behind the scenes of Live Updates from Syria, a frontline aid organisation working on the ground in Syria venturing where many others fear to go.
In between breaking her iftar on a lovely cool Ramadhan evening, I asked a question asked more often than not, “What were your initial impressions?” For Maseeha, like many others, she had gone with the idea that the whole of the country was basically at war twenty four seven, with people living deep in the mountains and in refugee camps. Yes, to some extent this is true, but certain areas are relatively safe than the regime-controlled areas as the war unfolds. And yet the Syrian people’s resilience is astounding. Take for example, the young man whose entire business was bombed to smithereens in Idlib City a day before Ramadhan, yet a fortnight later, he was back in the marketplace, restocked with his business blooming.
As we continue chatting, to my bewilderment, I hear a little baby crying in the background. Surprisingly enough, it was none other than Maseeha’s three month old baby boy. My mind started running a marathon. She hadn’t moved out of Syria so had she given birth in those tumultuous settings? And to my utter amazement, yes, alhamdulillah this beautiful baby had graced the world in peaceful surroundings with the most gentle and helpful of medical personnel. “How did your parents feel about this, especially mum?” “Yes, they worried like any other parents,” she answered. Being far away from your daughter with just the most basic of medical supplies available in appalling conditions would render sleepless nights. But the amount of sabr that Allah had placed in the heart of her mother was phenomenal. Three months down the line and this little babe continues striving in a land so blessed.
Ramadhan in Syria
With the background noise of cutlery clattering I get to the vital part of this interview. Ramadhan in Syria. Like many Middle Eastern countries, shops and marketplaces keep bustling right up until iftar. Ramadhan being in summer is a challenge of its own. And as such, cold drinks are sold at a rapid rate. This is now a true luxury for many Syrians. However, due to the intense heat within the tents in the refugee camps the fast can become quite unbearable. But after every difficulty, ease transcends. So together, the Live Updates team go into the field and personally partake in ice distributions. What about food you may be thinking? Alhamdullilah, the Month of Mercy always humbles each one of us in our individual capacities by whatever means. Together with other organisations, the likes of One Ummah, Aid Convoy, One Nation and Team Syria, food distribution parcels take care in breaking the fasts and filling the bellies of so many people. Smaller organisations also aid in distribution of winter parcels during the harsh winter months.“Nonetheless the atmosphere is one of happiness and joy,” Maseeha insists.
Hustling through the evening people prepare for taraweeh as iftar draws to a close. As per norm, you would think one Juz a night would be read through 20 units of prayer. But there’s a lot we take for granted. Unfortunately, due to not having many huffaadh a lot of masajid do not complete one whole juz every night. However the last third of Ramadhan always heralds Qiyaamul Layl even in war zones. Indeed, Ramadhan is a month of Mercy.
What the future looks like
In stark contrasts, hope continues to flare under bleak and unbelievable circumstances. Still, things are becoming difficult as days go by. Two nights ago the Live Updates shop was bombed as Maseeha was moving to a much safer area. Relatively safe areas can become disaster zones overnight. This is the reality of the Syrian people. “What next?” I asked. “No, I’m not going back home,” she quickly answered enthusiastically. Until she is able and capable of assisting in every way possible she will not be uprooting. The crux of the matter revolves around making a difference. Alhamdulillah, this young Muslimah is a source of inspiration and motivation to make a world a better place just by being in it. Relief work is taxing and can take its toll on the strongest of people. But Allah pieces them together whenever they crumble.
A woman on the front lines
Every woman plays a pivotal role in the community she resides in. Statistics show that a larger part of the male population have been killed/martyred in this ongoing war leaving women and children behind. A considerable amount of women and children have also been bombed to death. Currently the ratio is that a lot more women than men are alive.
Where does a woman come in though? Looking at basic hygiene necessities for example, it is much easier for womenfolk to approach a woman rather than a man. Items like sanitary pads are a luxury for some. Maseeha and her colleagues play a vital role in sending out messages to organisations as to what aid is really needed on the ground.
Similarly, education is a rarity in Syria. Alhamdulillah, having previously taught in Pretoria, Maseeha is a true gem when it comes to helping in educating innocent children of war. A basic human right which easily falls to the wayside.
Understandably, both the victim and the person offering relief aid fall prey to the trauma involved in countries torn by ongoing wars and disasters. Having continuous family support is quite imperative. “We are a source of peace and comfort for each other,” she says when I asked how they deal with seeing so much trauma. Finding strength in each other they continue to strive to make this world a better place alongside many others. Tears roll down my cheeks as she recounts the helplessness her husband faced having only basic first aid training when a bomb blew in front of his eyes. What can you do with a heart lying on the ground to your right whilst a man rushes towards you with his one arm clutched in his other she asks? And as such counselling is always welcome she reiterates.
In a world full of stereotypes, this twenty-six-year-old niqabi, I can proudly say, is a humanitarian journalist reporting from the front lines and making a huge impact, giving her best with no ulterior motives. A dream come true for her, as many think that a niqabi and a journalist could never be strung together. Yet when Allah chooses no one can oppose.
On a lighter note
“Do you miss your mascara?” I asked as we shared a laugh. Fortunately for Maseeha, whilst growing up she was not a “trendy teenager”. Her sense of fashion was uniquely her own, filled with brightly coloured hues and a good sense of humour. And so no, it doesn’t bother her at all whether she’s made up or not. What she misses is the opportunity to continue to learn in an academic setting as she grows, as such opportunities are next to nothing in Syria.
A message from Maseeha to the world
Be grateful wherever you are in the world. Because the smallest of things that you take for granted, other people yearn for, for basic survival. Water, electricity, food, a place to call home. And if you can’t aid financially or in kind make du’a. Make du’a daily. “Du’a is a weapon of a believer.” (Muhammed)
Live Updates has been running for about three years now. Initiated by a husband and wife team, it has rapidly grown, connecting charities with people directly in the midst of war unlike those refugees on the border who are easily accessible. They are a link between those that can’t enter Syria and those that are in need of help.
Ummu Mo Rayyaan, is a young Muslimah student currently in transit. Being a wanderlust at heart, she appreciates travelling whenever Allah presents an opportunity with particular focus on the Palestinian plight. A freelance writer, she hopes and prays to fulfil her dream of becoming a published author.