SHAFAQNA – We asked Sayyid Mohammad, a dentist who dedicates a lot of his time to volunteer for the charity organisation A World Without Barriers a few questions about his experiences in Iraq and fundraising for the charity. Below are his beautiful, inspirational thoughts:
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
All Praise belongs to Allah, who is the master of all the worlds and created the best of role models, the Ahlul-Bayt, to guide and support his creation.
When working within healthcare as a livelihood you have to make a decision about your moral/ethical code, do you value or prioritise the people you provide a service for as more or less important than you and when you treat them, do you put their best interests first and act to protect them or not. The best clinicians, nurses and support staff know that there is a burden of responsibility on those who take on the knowledge and skills of healthcare and that burden doesn’t finish at the end of the shift or outside of the clinic, one should always be ready to discharge their oath to serve those in need in any and all situations where help is applicable. The ideal attitude is that of selflessness or altruism, by the internal development of a matured moral-ethical code. In order for others to trust their bodies, health and lives with a clinician they must first be worthy of trust.
Like many parts of the NHS, dentistry over the past 10 years has had to accommodate for commercialisation, privatisation and the heavy influence of capitalism. The range, depth and quality of treatments available in NHS dentistry has become ever more restricted in the primary care setting (standard local dentist) and waiting lists for NHS Specialists and Dental Hospitals have grown to unprecedented levels. At the heart of this is de-skilling; dentists are being rewarded for volume of patients seen rather than the quality of work delivered. This very unethical professional contract, was brought in to try and cap rising financial costs from NHS dentistry driven by unethical unnecessary over-treatment of patients. The consequences of these changes are those same unethical dentists now under-treating patients in response to a lack of financial incentive and the quality of the dentistry is poorer. At the heart of these problems is a poor/absent moral-ethical code, living life without guidance and direction is destructive, but since life is experiential, and you grow in relation to the number and intensity of positive and negative experiences, unless you have the opportunity to live through the ‘correct’ situations you won’t be able to grow.
Living in countries/areas of affluence, most people don’t get the opportunity to see, talk with and experience hopeless poverty, destitution and desperation. As such individuals with highly specialised professions, often linked with a high level of financial reimbursement, can become isolated in the social culture of their working environment. When working in a strict NHS sub-system with peers of poor morality and vastly un-appreciating patients, it is very easy to become complacent, morally stagnant and eventually unethical.
By travelling with others who have dedicated their life to serving humanity into a pressured environment, you help to bring balance to your life. It is in our most difficult moments that our true self becomes visible; our patience, resolve and determination to a cause are shown. It is in those stressful situations that those with blinding akhlaq and immeasurable humility start to affect us, we start to reflect on our own weakness and deficiencies and for those with sufficient maturity, they resolve to change forever. Imam Ali (as) spent a lot of time and regularly advised the Muslim community to sit, talk with and eat with the poorest and neediest in society, this is because it helps to provide a powerful counter narrative to monocentric selfishness and reminds us to be grateful and hard-working for our blessings and bounties. It is through this cycle of watching and learning from others that Islamic teachings have been passed down from the Prophetic era to today and is why we all need to be taught by word and action the true Prophetic behaviour that will heal the world and bring unity, peace and tranquillity to all, regardless of faith and creed. This kind of
teaching needs to be witnessed in action, against the arrogance, greed and selfishness of our own selves in order for it to pierce and enter our hearts.
When working in a country like Iraq, which humanity and the global stage has predominantly forgotten, there are so many vast problems. The first challenge is to try to remain determined and motivated when trying to work, as the social infrastructure is so weak that change, no matter how essential and beneficial, is restricted and often the temptation is to go down to the immoral level of those in wider power to try and drive change, the danger is that the original pure intention can become diluted and the whole project become derailed. Secondly, it is understanding the mind-set of those in need and generating a community specific action plan, that takes into account the social difficulties, poverty and education levels, in order to develop projects that will actually help the society, not create a cycle of continual need through reliance on tertiary sector charities/organisations. Thirdly, the biggest challenge is to not become a humanitarian tourist, we live in a global world where the voices of the oppressed and needy are transmitted faster and further than ever before. For those in the ‘west’ with a disposable income, the temptation to go out to disaster areas, crisis situations and third world countries has never been so easy. The difficulties with this mind-set is that, while well intentioned, they often fail to work within structures and processes, instead try to accomplish their own internal aims of ‘humanitarianism’ at all costs; since they don’t come back, they can then cause more problems than they fix and can damage the reputation of the organisation(s) through which they are volunteering.
The path to having a relationship with the AhlulBayt (as) is found through hard-work and sacrifice. لَن تَنَالُواْ الْبِرَّ حَتَّى تُنفِقُواْ مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ وَمَا تُنفِقُواْ مِن شَيْءٍ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ (Quran 3:92 – By no means shall you attain to righteousness until you spend (benevolently) out of what you love; and whatever thing you spend, Allah surely knows it), when we give up the things that matter most to us for Allah, we start to access a level of spirituality and foster a relationship with those closest to Allah. When you sacrifice your hard-earned money, your limited holiday time, lose sleep and push yourself physically to travel 3000 miles to serve orphans, widows and the destitute, Allah is not unwary of such difficulties. He will reward such travellers with immeasurable bounty and blessings, physically and spiritually, in this world and next. It is in these situations (so-called ‘working ziyarat’) when you visit the AhlulBayt (as) and present your legitimate requests that they will be granted. To visit the AhlulBayt (as) and pledge alliance to those divine flag-bearers of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), is to say you will learn their actions and follow in the divine ‘Sunnah’ of the greatest to all humanity, Prophet Muhammad. By doing this we will realign to the straight-path and reconnect to the divine and strengthen our faith, god-consciousness and resolve to continue serving the All-Mighty, such a reconnection then becomes a blanket of comfort to inspire and support us when we are back in our ‘normal’ lives. This resolve and divine empowerment affects us and that first step drives us to do more, at home and abroad, and as the rewards multiply, the cycle continues until the very core of ourselves pulse and beat with the pleasure of divine.
The youngest members of our society are the most important part, they are the ones with the greatest energy, highest potential and will be the future masters and leaders in the society. As such anybody who wants to drive social change at the global level, needs to harness the power of young people and use that to shape the future. As previously mentioned, the global shift to capitalism and commercialisation is making more and more young people become unsatisfied and consumerist, this attitude is in opposition to the values of the righteous, e.g. humility, humbleness and contentment. As such if we want to drive the global debate towards serving humanity, removing corruption and developing self-sacrifice and altruism, we need to create experiences for young people to grow and mature through, not simply tell them in a paternalistic manner. One such way is
the Orphan pen-pal scheme, it aims to get young mouldable minds to think about and talk with orphans, exposing them to an alternative narrative of happiness and satisfaction, to informally develop them through exposure to those less fortunate than themselves. One such letter that was sent by an 8-year old said ‘I left my city in the North of Iraq, it is called Talaafar… I am an orphan who has lost her father. I have two brothers and my mother, who is trying to be a father and mother to us at the same time. … We have no home, we live in a refugee camp …We are only able to shower once a week … We are terrified and scared from the current situation because we do not have the simplest necessities of life and a safe place to sleep or play. I want to say thank you for everything you gave us. Thank you for your help and your compassion’. It is these powerful messages that help to shape the future of all young people. The project is open to all young people from 6-16, it is best organised between school groups, youth groups or classes to allow ease of logistics between collection and delivery of letters, for more information email email@example.com
Over the course of the past two decades the debate on Islam has revolved about extremism and the centring of the illegitimate right-wing ideologies within it. The uptake of this ideology has proven popular by troubled and misguided individuals that had previously led a lifestyle unfavourable to spirituality and Islam. In an effort to readdress this imbalance they have come across illegitimate teachings that harbour a false attitude of violent sacrifice against people who disagree with their extremist ideology. The teachings of the AhlulBayt show us the true Prophetic narrative about spiritual purification; one such narration comes from Prophet Muhammad (SAWS),
“If anyone from you becomes the guardian of an orphan and deals kindly with them, and he fulfils these actions satisfactorily, and he strokes the head of the orphan with sympathy, then Allah necessarily writes good deeds equivalent to the hair covered by his hand and forgives sins equal to the number of hair, and raises his position in grades equal to the hair of the orphan’s head.” Greater Sins – Volume 1 (Sayyid Abdul Husayn Dastghaib Shirazi)
If someone seeks to improve their spiritual status, gain forgiveness for their sins and improve their place in the afterlife, they should see that looking after and protecting the most vulnerable in society is that pathway and there is not one more valuable than the orphan community. The orphans deserve to be honoured as if they are our own children or better.