Hope Realized in People: Muslim Action on Humanitarian Crisis

By: Anwar Khan

March 2, 2020

Finding Hope in Humanitarian Crisis

As a Muslim and as a person of faith, I must believe there is always hope. Humanity has faced crises before our generation and era, and the next generation will most certainly see their own unique challenges. I learned a long time ago that my job is not to rise every morning to save the world, nor is it anyone else’s. But when we are given the gift of life here on earth, we are entrusted to make the world better. You don’t know how inseparable hope, patience, and change are until you see people suffering in the worst of conditions in the darkest days of their lives be assisted by strangers. I use strangers here intentionally, to identify what the nature of humanitarian work really is. Many times, we are arriving to the communities and doorsteps of people we may not know at all, with one thought in mind. That idea is we hope that serving them at these trying times reminds them that we don’t have to have deep bonds to care for one another. We just need to have a deep reservoir of love for humanity.

I was praying two years ago at the Srebrenica Memorial for the victims of the Bosnian genocide. The ground where I stood and asked for continued protection over the people happened to be the same place where I stood in 1995. I was a younger man then, and seeing the effects of genocide forever shaped how I would respond to the outcries from families and children caught in a whirlwind of pain. While we were there, I met a husband and wife who were orphans that fled during the genocide. They were fortunate enough to have returned to their homeland, but the only shelter they could acquire was a cow stable. Islamic Relief USA built them a house. As a pleasant surprise, they also had little children with them. I knew we had not only saved them, but we preserved the future.

It is nearly impossible to survive in this work, and to advocate for the infrastructure to sustain it, without accounting for human realities at play. Returning to Srebrenica was one of the many moving experiences where I witnessed the impact of our work firsthand within the faces of parents who survived genocide and their babies who prayerfully will never experience it. 

If there is an area that needs our concern moving forward into the next frontier of humanitarian aid, it lies among our aid workers. Driven by passion and perseverance, they answer the bell every time there is a crisis. No doubt it has taken a grave toll. Many of my colleagues don’t cope well with the cycles of human suffering they see. Because of that they burn out. Some never return. In the worst instances, aid workers refuse care, out of a feeling that because of what they witness daily in the lives of others being so acute, they shouldn’t preserve their wellbeing. But if we are broken ourselves, how could we possibly help others? 

Finding hope for those serving on the frontlines and policymakers will always bring me back to places like Syria, Somalia, and where it began for me in Srebrenica. Perhaps it is due to the time that has passed since their struggle there. I referred to hope being linked to patience in the beginning. Only in patience can we appreciate the time it takes for lives to change.

I met another 25-year-old man there who was gracious enough to share his story. He began by saying his mother smuggled him out of the war zone when he was only 2 years old. He said that despite everything it took to survive, he’d now become a successful engineer. He is also now a donor, and has gone from receiving humanitarian aid to giving humanitarian aid. These are the people, the lives we assist. Helping those who go on to help others is the ultimate outcome of choosing to act in humanitarian crises.

I am constantly inspired to move forward no matter how muddy the conflicts of the crises we serve in are. Personal losses have guided my spirit against the winds of apathy. My father passed away in my arms when I was 13. Racism was a daily diet for myself and others in Birmingham, England. Poverty seemed to be a fact of life. But I remained compelled to push on. Helping orphans, widows, elders, refugees, and those whom society often forgets is due to the love that grew from my experiences. This is the sort of love that a spouse shares in the care of their partner who is under the weight of terminal illness. We humanitarians care for others, many we don’t know, not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do. We will overcome many crises because hope is realized in people, change comes from selflessness, and triumph happens when the impossible is met with love.

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