Life Lessons from Refugees Pt.2 – Student Talk

The following is Part 2 of the transcript of a ‘Student Talk’ delivered by Damir Rafi at the AMSA Student Retreat 2016. For Part 1 click here.

Whilst spending time with these asylum seekers and refugees, I noticed that despite their sufferings and hardships, the kindness that they possessed was extraordinary. I felt almost embarrassed, with my cushy Western life that I did not earn, as the asylum seekers took an interest in my own life and helped me extensively with the research I was doing.

More than that, I saw lights of kindness shining in the eyes of the staff at the charity foundation. These were people who are paid little, rewarded little, having to go far above and beyond their job description to help the asylum seekers and refugees. These are people who keep going despite being blamed by the asylum seekers for the problems they encounter – not out of malice, but simply because they are unaware of the system and the hoops that the staff have to go through to accomplish anything. They are people who I have seen refunding refugees’ travel costs out of their own pocket. They are people who work long hours doing a job that is distinctly unglamorous, helping people who are the most downtrodden and least ‘fashionable’ in society.

Unfortunately nowadays we live in an ultra-materialistic, hyper-consumerist world in which, for too many people, the only things with value are those that we can materially benefit from, rather than things that will spiritually enhance us, such as the simple act of helping others who need it. We, as a society decide which human lives are valuable and which are not based on our own conceptions of worldly beauty and elegance, forgetting that we all share the same DNA. As the Qur’an asks the reader:

‘What is the matter with you that you help not one another?’ [Holy Qur’an, 37:26]

Refugees are nameless, faceless, as we hear about them in the news – all too easy for us a society to turn our backs and shut our eyes. These weeks I spent reminded me of the very human problems that we as a global community face.

In this difficult age it is often hard for people in general to not think solely about themselves and their families. The middle and upper classes of society, conditioned into thinking that personal material wealth is the hallmark of success, fear losing that wealth too much to help others, whereas the poor sections of society spend their time trying to themselves survive, and emulate the rich where they can. Those I worked alongside for that period however, exhibited none of those fears. Whether consciously or not, they were following the teachings of Islam.

The Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, was the Leader of Mankind, not because of any illuminating staff, which he possessed, but because of his pure human qualities. He taught us that kindness and sacrifice for the sake of those less fortunate is not a barrier to success, but the necessary factor that leads one to true salvation. Once a poor villager was selling merchandise in the street, and the Holy Prophet (sa) saw him from behind. He approached him and playfully put his arms around him and covered his eyes. The villager was unable to see who it was that was behind him, but when he turned around and saw it was the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, his eyes beamed joyfully. ‘I am a worthless commodity,’ the villager said, to which the Prophet replied: ‘in the estimation of God you are not a bad bargain, you are highly regarded.’

Today some media organisations, publications and individuals mock the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, not realising that demonstrating just this one character trait of his, concern for the poor, to just a thousandth of the degree that the Prophet did, would save millions of lives worldwide. Our Prophet covered the eyes of a poor man out of love for him, whereas we cover our own eyes to stop ourselves noticing the suffering of refugees today.

In the estimation of God you are not a bad bargain, you are highly regarded.

Due to the technology of this age there are many in this age who do their best to become adored – dancers and sportsmen, models and actors, magicians and entertainers – but such powers, though useful, can never truly lead to a lasting greatness that is of value, or even a true contentment within oneself or others. Indeed, Islam tells us that those who dedicate all their time to these pursuits are not superheroes, but spiritually bereft. The Qur’an says:

‘Say, ‘Shall I tell you of those who are the greatest losers in respect of their works? Those whose labour is all lost in the life of this world, and they think that they are doing good works.’’ 
[Holy Qur’an, 18:104-105]

In other words, they think they possess a light, but ultimately that light soon extinguishes, turning into darkness.

So what is the value of religion in all this? Living in an age in which many people in the world are either outwardly atheists or have lost a true connection with God has resulted in corruption, economic inequality and war. Why? Because in a godless world, morality is one choice of many. A godless person could equally make their life’s purpose about personal gain, at the expense of others. The refugee workers I spent time with made their lives about helping others, but a whole society could never be filled with such selfless people if they have no reason to be so. A true belief in a beneficent, merciful God, and a love and fear of that God, inspires compassion to mankind, even in times of self-deprivation. The time I spent reminded me of the bar that I, and in in fact all Ahmadi Muslims, must try and reach, for if those without God in their lives can be so compassionate, imagine the level that we as individuals should be reaching.

For powers like those of the refugees and refugee workers, and those, to a much greater degree, of the Holy Prophet and his companions, peace be on them all – powers of kindness – are those that are the greatest. The time I spent with refugees reminded me the true superpower is not the light at the end of a staff, but the light of compassion, even in the darkest of times.

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