By Mariem Masmoudi
Saying this has been a most difficult and painful year understates the devastation the world has witnessed in recent weeks and months. On June 26, my homeland of Tunisia yet again bore the brunt of rising extremism and violent terrorism in a bloody attack on vacationers in the city of Sousse, a mere 87 miles from the capital city of Tunis. Though our country is located near troubled regions, violence of this nature is an entirely new phenomenon to the Tunisian people and has cut most painfully into our collective consciousness. My people and I experienced the full range of sorrow and grief as we followed the news on Friday:
· Shock and utter dismay as we came to terms with the gut-wrenching radio transmissions and repeating video footage.
· Solemnity and woe, as we prayed and prayed for our 39 murdered guests and countrymen, and their families, killed by the worst example of human existence.
· Deep frustration and anger, at the self-evident failure of the struggling security apparatus and lack of proper emergency response mechanisms.
· The most profound frustration with the inhuman, soulless, and malicious perversion of our Islamic faith that, for that statistically insignificant yet unfortunately present group of people whose hatred continues to stir in the dark, empty voids where their hearts ought to be.
What makes this brutality even more difficult to swallow is its timing, on the holiest day of the Islamic week and in the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. During this month, for the past 1,436 years, Muslims around the world have striven to hone their spirituality, increase in good and charitable acts, exercise greater patience and sacrifice, and seek to manifest Divine love to all of creation. At sundown every day, Muslims break their fasts with family and loved ones, celebrate health and life, and turn their attention to the less fortunate among us. At sunrise, in the bustling streets of nearly every city of the world, Muslims give their time, energy, and wealth to serve the greater good, to pick their fallen sisters and brothers up, and to encourage each another to do good for goodness’ sake.
It is not only outrageous to conceive of taking a life in this particular month, it is inconceivable that a Muslim would kill so unjustly in any month, at any time. Human life, from the Islamic perspective, as it is indeed for most other religions, is unequivocally and irrevocably sacrosanct. In the Holy Qur’an, Muslims are told in no uncertain terms that “whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he killed all of humanity; and whosoever saves an innocent life, it is as if he saved all of humanity.” Muslims are taught to follow the Prophetic Tradition and “love for your brother what you would love for yourself,” to serve and protect one another with kindness, love, and mercy. The Prophet Muhammad, even in times when war was declared a necessary evil, forbade killing any and all non-combatants, young children, women and the elderly, and even prohibited cutting down trees and other natural life. What, then, can we say for the murder of 39 innocents, 39 fathers and mothers and siblings and cousins and neighbors and friends, on a beautiful sandy beach in Tunisia?
What happened yesterday in Sousse, in February in Bardo, what happened and continues to happen from Somalia and Syria to Ferguson and Charleston and all over the world, the violence and bloodshed, the blatant disregard for the sanctity of life, the disgusting barbarism we’ve witnessed in the acts of ISIS monsters and others like them from all walks of life, is enough to stop us dead in our tracks and make us weep for mankind. Our hearts are heavy, our souls immensely burdened with the weight of this loss. All this heartache ought to make a heart burst, to cease and desist.
But it does not.
As Muslims, as Tunisians, as human beings, we will always continue to fight violence and extremism with strength and resilience, put out the flames of hatred and malice with goodness, love, and solidarity. This sad and sunken feeling in our hearts is how we know that we are still alive, that hope is still alive, and that our better days can and surely must be just over the horizon. I pray for peace and blessings to fall upon the souls of my murdered brothers and sisters, for strength and patience for their loved ones to endure this untimely and devastating loss, and for my people — and all people everywhere — to be enveloped and inspired by the light and love already dwelling in our hearts as we march onward, stronger than ever, toward a better and more compassionate world.
Mariem Masmoudi is a Tunisian American based in Washington D.C. and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Islamic Studies at Columbia University, where she is specializing in Islamic political thought, democracy studies, and the power of secular statecraft.
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