"People are asking why are other Muslims getting killed, how come no one does anything about that?"
You might think this question was in reference to the devastating earthquake that struck parts of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan on Saturday. You might think it was a young Muslim man who asked this question as he heard that the death toll from the 7.6 magnitude quake had killed more than 18,000 in 24 hours alone.
But you would be wrong.
I found the question in a news story that was published just a few days after the July 7 London bombings. Shamin Khan, a 24-year-old student of Pakistani origin who asked the above question, had condemned the London bombings, and violence in general, but told The Washington Post that Muslims were daily being oppressed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and killed in Iraq, and were understandably angry.
I have been thinking about Shamin Khan. How has he reacted to the devastating earthquake in the country of his parents’ birth? Countless news stories in the aftermath of the London bombings recounted the anger and alienation of British Muslims, particularly those of Pakistani descent. But their anger was mostly directed at the West and the “traditional enemies” of Muslims – the United States and Israel.
Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the four suicide attackers who bombed the London Underground on July 7, was also a Briton of Pakistani descent. In his farewell tape, which he recorded in English, he warned westerners of more attacks.
"Until we feel security, you will be our targets," he said in the tape. "Until you will stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight."
By “my people”, Khan was referring again to Muslims in Iraq and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Is this anger of the young Muslims of Britain ever channeled into helping Muslims who are not victims of the “Great Satan” or the “Zionist entity”?
The earthquake in Pakistan will be the litmus test.
I am prepared to swallow my words and dedicate an entire column to the wisdom of the imams of Britain if I hear that they showed their congregants not videos of the latest battle from Iraq or the latest humiliation from Palestine but of the suffering of the villagers in Pakistan’s northwestern district of Mansehra for example.
The police chief of that district, Ataullah Khan Wazir, told the Associated Press that authorities there pulled the bodies of 250 students from the wreckage of one girls” school in the village of Ghari Habibibullah. Dozens of children were feared killed in other schools.
Mansehra should be familiar to those connected to the militant circles. According to the Associated Press, it was believed to be a hotbed of Islamic militant activity during the time the Taliban religious militia ruled neighboring Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda operatives trained suicide squads at a camp there, Afghan and Pakistani officials told The Associated Press in 2002.
We heard in the aftermath of the London bombings of the many young men of Pakistani ancestry who return to Britain full of religious zeal after spending time at madrassas in Pakistan. Will those young men be moved to return to Pakistan, not to fuel up on militancy at the madrassas but to rebuild the villages flattened by the earthquake?
Will whoever sent Assif Muhammad Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif to carry out a suicide attack in Israel in 2003 send other British men of Pakistani descent to Pakistan to help the earthquake victims or don’t they count because they weren’t killed by Israel?
Let us hope that those radical imams who fuel Muslim anger learn to fuel Muslim charity. They could start by encouraging not jihad for Kashmir – another name that appears again and again on militant hotspots of anger – but help. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir. The earthquake did not recognize their border dispute and did not discriminate, killing people on both sides.
Pakistani officials said that by Sunday at least 17,000 had been killed and more than 40,000 injured in Pakistani Kashmir, where the quake was centered. The toll will no doubt be much higher by the time you read this.
At least 215 Pakistani soldiers died in Pakistan”s portion of Kashmir and at least 39 soldiers were killed on the India side of the border.
The other challenge – not just for militants but Muslims everywhere – is how to explain an earthquake that struck a predominantly Muslim country during the month of Ramadan.
Unfortunately, too many Muslims gloated at the devastation and death brought to the United States by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. How will those who too easily shouted “God’s punishment” explain Saturday’s earthquake?
We don’t know why hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters happen. They just do. What is more important is how we react to them. The test is not to try to guess God’s will but to practice the charity and the mercy that would please God.
During this month of Ramadan, in which charity is a close cousin of self control, let us hope that the dead and wounded of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are foremost on our minds.