Migrants are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships off the coast of Libya in this handout picture released by the Italian Marina Militare on May 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Collective conscience of the leaders of ummah taking a nap

We lament the un-Islamic culture of western societies but they are the ones who answer when refugees knock in despair

Tariq T Shah May 17, 2023

He name was Achraf Ameer, 27-years-old from Morocco. His lifeless body had drifted in the Mediterranean Sea for weeks. After being washed ashore, it laid faceless and nameless, most of the summer of 2021 in a freezer of an Andalusian morgue. He was a poor mechanic from Tangier, the place of grand summer palaces of the royals of Morocco, the scions of Alawi dynasty who have ruled since 1631.

The city’s governor, Tariq bin Ziyad, invaded Spain in the year 711 across the same shores which despairing Achraf wished to cross to earn a decent living which his motherland was unable to provide.

With so many bodies washing ashore, Martin Zamora turned the grim task of conveying the bodies to their families for Muslim burials into a business in Jabal-al-Tariq (Gibraltar).

“You find a family, you get the father and mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back.”

On April 25, 2023, two boats sank off the coasts of Libya. By the time I had started writing this article, at least 57 bodies had washed ashore. Many more were expected to be cast out. The poor souls were from Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt. Eleven bodies had washed ashore one day before. Forty-six bodies came ashore five days earlier. International Organisation for Migration has reported that 441 people have died while attempting to cross Central Mediterranean from North Africa since January 2023. Many of the unfortunate go unaccounted. But does it make any difference?

On February 23, 2023, another boat full of migrants capsized on the eastern coast of Calabria, Italy. Among the bodies cast ashore was that of Shahida Raza, a gifted athlete who represented Pakistan in football, hockey, and martial arts in several international competitions. Another body was of a one-year-old and one of a seven-year-old. Again, most of the victims were from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria.

According to an Italian doctor’s account:

“When we got to the point of the shipwreck, we saw corpses floating everywhere and we rescued two men who were holding up a child. Sadly, the little one was dead.”

The sea was still giving us the bodies, lamented the town’s mayor. Have the Muslim ummah reached a point where even the seas are not prepared to accept them?

Hardly a week passes by when a boat does not sink or is wrecked, and migrants drown to lie at the bottom of the seas in everlasting obscurity. Only a few fortunate ones are saved by coast guards.

Many more perish en route to western countries through the land corridors. Several end up in prisons and must post monetary bonds as there are none who will guarantee their appearance for their upcoming hearings.

Although the victims belong to various nationalities, most are citizens of Muslim countries. These desperate souls and their star-crossed families spend thousands of dollars which they ill afford by selling the few possessions to their name, to escape the bleak future and intolerable suffocation of their homelands. They undertake perilous journeys without knowing if they will ever again see their loved ones.

They leave behind grieving parents and/or devastated wives who are condemned to take care of the elderly parents, family members and the young children. Or in the case of Shahida, the talented Pakistani female athlete, God knows who will look after her autistic three-year-old son.

No one with a heart in the right place can deny that Ukrainians deserve support from every nation. Nor anyone begrudges the ease with which they are granted refuge. Every desperate and persecuted person deserves a safe heaven. We all share common humanity and call this planet home.

Ukrainians seeking refuge have faced no difficulty in western counties. They were welcomed and allowed to stay and work without being shunted to Rwanda or being kept as prisoners on the island of Nauru in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean. They did not have to go through vetting procedures, standard for the refugee claimants.

We moan and lament the un-Islamic culture of the western societies but they are the ones who answer when refugees knock in despair and hopelessness. In August 2015, the then German chancellor, Angela Merkel, agreed to take in over one million refugees mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing the risk of negative public opinion. Thousands were accepted by Canada, Sweden and other European nations. Ultimately, these migrants become useful and productive members of their adopted societies.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the open arms policies of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan which have hosted refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It is worth noting that given the chance, these guests would like to move to western countries.

The most endowed amongst the Muslim nations remain indifferent to the plight of their coreligionists. The wealthiest Muslim nations compete to construct the tallest towers, grandest palaces, solicit the most expensive athletes and host most extravagant events. They prey on the despondency and hopelessness of most vincible coreligionists. Look no further than conflicts that have been raging in Syria, Yemen and now in Sudan.

Our leaders lack the capacity for statesmanship and the understanding of the statecraft. In contrast, the West is helping its societies in the form of European Union and contributing to uplifting the most unfortunate among them.

Vision and courage are needed to uplift the societies. Alas both are missing. Who knows how long we must wait for leaders of the Muslim ummah to wake up from their long slumber.

Tariq T Shah

The writer is a Barrister in Toronto, Canada. 

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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