The article below originally appeared on The Washington Post On Faith website by Akbar Ahmed.
Compassion in Taliban territory
If you were a Swati and lived in that idyllic land and were suddenly forced to leave your home to seek shelter outside the district ,and then saw the destruction of your beloved home first by the violence of the Taliban and then the violence of the Pakistan army in their attempt to defeat the Taliban, you would be either dismayed or angry. You would argue that neither Swatis nor Pakistanis were involved in the events on 9/11 but the unfolding developments since that tragic day have directly or indirectly shattered your life.
I have just received a letter from Swat written by Zebunissa Jilani, my sister-in-law. Last year, she organized a trip to work among Swat refugees with my wife Zeenat, and their respective daughters, Zahra and Nafees after they opened the Swat Relief Initiative specifically to help refugees.
The girls did exemplary work among the refugees including the distribution of desperately needed medical supplies and equipment. But they observed the dire condition of the Swati population living in tents and makeshift accommodation in the Frontier Province. This was Taliban territory and the Taliban were targeting their families having killed several cousins. While the women were seen as a threat by the Taliban, for the ordinary Swati refugees they were a ray of hope. As they belonged to the royal family of Swat, their presence in the midst of the dire poverty and chaos allowed the people to rally around their own heritage and traditions.
These women were driven by the idea that charity and compassion are more powerful than the hatred and anger that had devastated Swat. While charity and compassion are seen as quintessentially Christian values that have driven millions of Christians to acts of kindness, these same virtues are at the core of Islam also. The Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet emphasize charity and compassion again and again. In Islam, God’s two greatest attributes are compassion and mercy and the Prophet clearly said that mercy must always trump anger.
These women had unknowingly introduced a new method of fighting the men of violence in their region. They were using the power of their own religion, Islam, in their acts of charity and above all giving people hope of an alternative vision of humanity to the violence that has prevailed.
This summer Zebu, tireless and courageous in her desire to help the population has gone to Swat by herself. She has left her comfortable suburban life and family in Princeton to work in the sweltering heat and challenging conditions of Swat. From her vantage point, she is able to give an unvarnished picture of what is actually going on there that should concern all of us. In her letter she writes: Continue reading