You’re out on a beautiful day at the park with your perfectly healthy spouse and children. You’re driving to work in your new car, traffic is moving smoothly, you’ve just had a wholesome breakfast and you’re feeling fantastic. You’re unwinding with your friends at a chic restaurant, discussing wedding preparations, phones, workplace politics and high-school days as the waiter serves the next round of expensive food. And in all of these moments, you randomly scroll through your newsfeed and suddenly see something that sucks away your happiness. Your heart winces for a second knowing there’s a horrible parallel reality playing out that very moment somewhere else in the world: children are bleeding and crying out for their parents in hospitals, refugees are stranded at borders after days of deathly journeys to safety, innocent people are being detained and held captive for years with no charge, famines and bombs are killing scores of people in conflict zones, floods and earthquakes are wreaking havoc in already impoverished areas, infants and girls are getting abducted and raped, the world is turning upside down and all you want is for all of it to just STOP.
You feel angry, enraged and powerless every time you see an image of a suffering that is too out of your reach to change. You feel guilty just living the normal, safe, healthy life you live. Many times you feel indifferent because there really is nothing you can do. And then you feel ashamed for being so heartless. There is only one question screaming inside all of our heads: what can we do to make it all stop? There has to be something, anything we can do. We just want somebody to spell it out. List it out. Shout it out.
No, I don’t want to say “make dua” and just change the subject. Yes, dua is and always will be the greatest form of help we can offer. But as Allah [swt] says in the Qur’an, we were given our lives to do – to act in the best of ways:
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]
To understand what you can and must do, first and foremost:
Recognize and take advantage of your privileges
If you’re not worrying about where your next meal will come from, if you have a bed to sleep on and a bathroom to use, if you have clothes to cover you in different seasons, and if you have even just one person in the entire world who cares for you, you are extremely privileged. But of course we know that. Tell me more, you’re thinking.
Your safe geographical location is a privilege. Your being employed is a privilege. Your spouse is a privilege. Your voice, sight, hearing, knowledge is a privilege. Your parents and siblings being with you is a privilege. Your daily food is a privilege. Your source of clean drinking water is a privilege. Your education is a privilege. Your fully functioning body is a privilege. And your vehicle, bank balance, passport, phone, computer, furniture, social status, degree, extended family, comfortable house, social circle, connections, influence, weekly entertainment and eating out are a luxury. An opulent indulgence. A surreal dream for majority of the planet. There is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything you have. Repeat this to yourself: there is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything I have. Try imagining yourself with absolutely nothing of what you own and possess: there are people living with that much of nothing.
So value and be grateful for every, single thing you have. If you’re employed, don’t take your job for granted. Use your position to be of benefit for those who are struggling for a source of sustenance. Become a breadwinner for strangers who have no means to earn for themselves: widows, orphans, refugees, the displaced, the disabled, the abandoned. Look for them and you will find them. Today you are safe, healthy, influential, talented and independent – use these privileges to do anything you can to provide a dignified life for those who need it. Look for organizations that are creating homes for refugees and orphans, or providing medical aid or education, or providing shelter for victims of war or abuse, or caring for abandoned children and old people – and commit a monthly amount to them. How much you give doesn’t matter. Just give. And keep giving whatever you can.
Share your meals with the less-privileged in your own area. There is hardly a city in the world where there is no one in need of food. Commit to give a wholesome, home-cooked meal once a week to a garbage collector, an immigrant with no family, a struggling single mother, your domestic help, or even the cleaner/tea-boy at your workplace.
Similarly, give a ride to someone in your car. Pick up a set of clothes for someone who could use them when you go shopping for yourself. Invite someone with no friends or family and make them remember what home feels like. Use your gadgets, your network and your social media presence to be of benefit.
Be kinder to those around you and in your care. Everyone, including yourself, is in need of each others’ mercy. The hallmark of our beloved Prophet’s [saw] character was his mercy, above all else. His concerned, caring heart was declared a mercy upon the worlds and his greatest distinction. There is nothing better, nothing more honorable and nothing more beneficial than choosing to be merciful like the greatest man [saw] was.
Inculcate mercy in yourself: mercy is empathy, kindness, care, forbearance, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, graciousness and tolerance. Mercy is holding back when you want to unleash your anger on someone who upset you on the road, at work or at home. Mercy is looking the other way when someone working for you messed up or didn’t do a proper job once or twice. Mercy is knowing that someone is having a rough day and choosing to give them a break. Mercy (upon yourself!) is avoiding senseless arguments at home, at work or online that are clearly going nowhere. Mercy is taking care: of your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, and even the birds and animals around you.
Think of the worst person you know today. Try imagining them as children. Every tyrant, every oppressor, every aggressor, every thug and every murderer was once an innocent, unblemished child. Just imagine that. We become our worst selves when we consistently and continuously choose aggression over mercy. What world do we expect to live in when everyone is choosing to forego mercy in their individual interactions and lives?
Be merciful. Teach and inculcate mercy in others. The whole world is affected by how merciful you choose to be.
Make an incredible dua
As you sit safely in your house on your prayer-mat after salah, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same peace and security to those who are in danger at that very moment. As you look at the rooms and facilities in your house, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same ease and comfort to those who are living in tents and on streets at that very moment. As you wear your clothes and put on your shoes, make dua to Allah [swt] to grant the same and more to those who don’t have them. As you sit at the desk of your stable job, ask Allah [swt] to grant a means of sustenance to everyone who is desperate at that very moment. As you cook your food, ask Allah [swt] to provide for those who are hungry from where they least expect, because He [swt] is capable of doing all things. Ask Allah [swt] to grant everything you have and even more to those who are in need of the blessings you got without asking. Make a dua in your ease for those in difficulty atleast once a day. The most incredible thing about making such a dua is that it will certainly be answered:
“The supplication of a Muslim for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Every time he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says: ‘Ameen! May it be for you, too’.” [Muslim]
It doesn’t stop at being answered though, even though that’s all you want: an angel – an angel makes dua for you to have the same!
Making dua for the good of others is a sign of mercy blooming in your heart. That is why an angel makes the same dua for you the moment you have made it. The reward for good, whether that good is a feeling, a word or an action, is only good. As Allah [swt] says in one of the most beautiful verses of the surah (so aptly) titled “The Most Merciful”:
“Is the reward for good [anything] but good?” [Qur’an: Chapter 55, Verse 60]