By: Iftikhar Ashraf
Kashmir is no stranger to natural disasters and from time to time it has had to face the wrath of Mother Nature, be it through earthquakes or floods.
Some years back Kashmir (both Indian Occupied and Pakistan Occupied; henceforth Kashmir will refer to Indian Occupied Kashmir) was devastated by a powerful earthquake which razed to ground cities, towns, and villages, killing thousands of people. A couple of days back another natural disaster, a flood, came to pay a visit, the worst in six decades.
Though both these disasters were natural, human interference played an amplifying role. Had the people stayed within their limits, the damage caused could have been less.
On the evening of September 2nd, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed torrential rains which turned into a flood-like situation as soon as September 3rd. The situation became dire on September 4th; many localities in south Kashmir as well as in the capital city of Srinagar were submerged and needed to be evacuated. By the evening of the 4th circumstances became even worse, leading to loss of life and property in many areas of Kashmir and Jammu. On the 5th, the situation had gotten out of hand; the administration was groping in the dark trying to take charge and praying to Allah for ease. Two of the Valley’s major hospitals had to be evacuated and the Valley’s land connectivity with the rest of the world was washed away (the Jammu Srinagar and Srinagar Muzaffarabad Highways had been closed), many far flung areas were cut off from the rest of Valley.
The rains briefly stopped on the afternoon of September 5th but destruction continued. Landslides became more frequent, killing people and destroying property; the overflowing rivers and streams continued to flood residential areas (rains have resumed since then). Most of the Valley is now also facing a drinking water shortage, as around 500 water supply schemes (stations) have been damaged. Phone connectivity and electricity supply are either shut down or, in areas not as badly hit (mostly North Kashmir), erratic. Radio has proven to be a blessing in these testing times. Since September 4th, Radio Kashmir Srinagar has been running special live programs sharing information about floods, and is acting as a bridge between the people and the authorities.
Calamities do tend to bring the best out in people – with the administration finding it hard to cope with the situation, the people, especially the youth, have taken it upon themselves to provide help wherever needed. Youngsters have used social media to spread information about the flood, coordinated rescue missions, and even provided food to the needy. Some have even kept their cars available for the public, free of cost, for any emergency.
Three days of rains is not unprecedented in Kashmir, it rains and snows here heavily. So then what was different about these rains, that they were able cause havoc and destroy most of the crops (fruits, vegetables, and paddy).
Firstly, it doesn’t usually rain this much in the months of July and August and secondly, the water retaining capacity of the land has greatly been reduced due to deforestation. This time, the majority of damage was done by fast running streams, coming downhill from deforested hills, like Sukh-Nag and Rambyar. The streams were flowing with such ferocity that they uprooted massive walnut and chinar trees along their path! Besides this, what complicated things even more, is the reduced area of water bodies to hold the rain water. Almost all the water bodies be it Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake or Wular Lake, have been encroached upon, and some are even on the verge of extinction.
One might think that these are local issues of Kashmir and do not have any immediate or far-reaching effects, but that is not the case. Whenever the Jehlum, Chinab, or Tawi rivers are flooded, these waters are not restricted to the geographical boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir. They continue to cause destruction far beyond geographical boundaries, effecting millions of lives. These rivers, when flooded, have caused massive damage in Azad Kashmir and even the Punjab province of Pakistan. So it is imperative that people of the region collectively put pressure on the Indian government to take concrete and sustainable steps to safeguard the fragile environment of the region. The Indian government is putting the Valley at risk of a Kedarnath, Uttarakhand-like crisis – the town suffered extensive destruction during June 2013 from flash floods at a time when thousands of pilgrims were there visiting the Kedarnath Temple. Yet, the government continues to promote unrestricted religious pilgrimages or yatras (people think it is being done to strengthen their occupation) without proper safeguards in place. Studies have shown that the annual Amarnath Yatra has pushed the fragile ecology of the area to the brink. Environmentalists are concerned that the number of people making the pilgrimage is having a negative impact on the area’s ecology and support government regulated limits on the number of pilgrims.
What Can You Do
In addition to contacting the Indian Government, immediate financial assistance is needed in the region. Donations can be made to any international organization that is working in the region. Please avoid donating money to individuals who come to mosques or on the street, unless you are sure about the person. In the past decade people have been collecting money in many European countries in our name, but that money never reaches the people! If you want to donate money, it is your responsibility to verify that the money reaches the people on whose name it has been collected. To the international organizations who are still deciding whether to come to our rescue or not, I would like to tell them that the situation is beyond the local authorities grasp; there is a shortage of boats, tents, and drinking water. There is a need to take steps to stop the spread of water-borne diseases. Above all, we need your prayers.
Iftikhar Ashraf is a Management Professional and Freelance Writer from the town of Sopore in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. He currently works for the Ride A Cycle Foundation. He wrote this amidst power and internet outages due to the floods. His blog can be found here.
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.
It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.
Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.
In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.
Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.
Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.
Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.
Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead
Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.
Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.
However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.
Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.
#MyFastMySriLanka Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.
Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.
It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.
I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.
I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.
I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.
Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah
My Heart Shook In New Zealand
One would imagine that a person would be dead-tired and ready to crash in his bed after a grueling, 36-hour journey from Christchurch, New Zealand to Washington, DC. And I will admit, that was the way I felt. Yet somehow, all my somnolence vanished as soon as my head rested on my pillow and I closed my eyes to rest. A wave of recollections fell over me: memories of the survivors, the emotions they expressed, and their feelings of an uncertain future as they planned their lives after the loss of their family members. These feelings instantly took away all the desire to get rest and sleep. I sit upright now and begin writing this reflection of a once in a lifetime experience- a voyage of grief and hope to Aotearoa- land of the white cloud as the indigenous people call New Zealand.
With lost baggage, long flights and too many connections, at times it seemed unlikely that my eldest son Moaz and I would make it to Jumm’ah and Janazah prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. But Allah accepted our prayers so that we could fulfill the guidelines set by our beloved, the Prophet Muhammad . We were able to fulfill one of the rights of a Muslim over the others; that when he is sick visit him, and when she dies, offer her funeral and be part of her burial.
Hagley Cricket Ground was supposed to have a cricket test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand that Friday. Commentators reckon that it would have been the final day of that test match. But the 22nd of March 2019, brought a much bigger crowd to this world-famous cricket ground than what anyone would have seen on the final day of that test match.
Officials and security directed us towards the VIP area as they wanted to pay respect to the guests who traveled all the way from the USA, Canada, and Australia. The environment of love, solidarity, and respect, coupled with the hijab-clad women standing in solidarity with Muslims in that enormous crowd, created an impact which cannot be articulated by mere words. Every single uniformed female officer was carrying their firearm while donning a hijab; creating a welcoming gesture in a rather somber and gloomy atmosphere.
I do not have the words to thank the leadership of Charity Australia and the Islamic Forum of Australian Muslims (IFAM) for providing us with logistics, facilitating meeting the families of the “shuhudaa” (martyrs) and arranging to visit those injured in the tragedy. ICNA, Helping Hand, and Charity Australia banners highlighting the slogans of “American Muslims stand in solidarity with Victims of Christchurch New Zealand” were the center of attention for thousands of local New Zealanders gathered in solidarity that day. Their hugs, sincere prayers and tearful eyes were the greatest gift that I want to share with everyone reading these reflections.
Right after Jumm’ah, the majority of the crowd attended the collective Janazah prayer of 27 of the martyrs. In those emotional moments, I met with the most courageous woman on earth, the wife of 51-year-old Shaheed Naeem and the mother of 21-year-old Talha Naeem, the two spirited souls who gave their lives to save others in the mosque that day. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She mentioned that her husband, Naeem, was a person who lived the life of a man of service, always ready to help others. She described Talha as an angel who was too pious and too noble to be away from Jannah too long. We heard similar feelings from Naeem’s mother (grandmother of Talha) the next day when we visited their home.
The visit to the home of New Zealand’s national soccer team player, Atta Elayyan (33), was not only emotional but also deeply inspiring. Atta lost his life and his father (the founder of Al-Noor Masjid) was severely injured during this brutal and hateful attack. There were several scholars from the United States, including Sheikh Omer Suleiman, in the visit to Atta’s home. We could offer nothing to console the brave mother of this shaheed, who greeted us with words of courage and wisdom. We had no words to accompany the tears in our eyes, except prayers for the most noble young man who helped so many in coming close to Allah .
Our visits to Al-Noor Masjid and the Linwood Islamic Center were also filled with memories of love, harmony, and reverence. There was a continuous influx of hundreds of visitors, not only from New Zealand, but also from different countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Fiji, and Canada. Thousands and thousands of flower bouquets and other items of love were left by these visitors. I was really thrilled to see that local Muslims left many Qur’ans and flyers with basic concepts of Islam and addressing the common misconceptions about Islam for those visiting. I witnessed many people visiting these mosques were taking those Qur’ans and other books with them in order to learn more about Islam.
We also met Mr. Aziz, the unsung hero who repeatedly attacked the killer with different objects including an empty gun —which the killer had discarded. The terrorist fired on Aziz multiple times, but Allah not only saved him, but he also forced the killer to flee from the Linwood Islamic Center. Mr. Aziz was one of the reasons why the number of casualties in this mosque was only seven, compared to the 43 martyrs in Masjid Al-Noor. We also met certain individuals whom Allah saved miraculously. A young man showed his trousers fenestrated with holes of bullets but had no signs of injury. The husband and wife who entered the premises of the mosque and only to be showered with a burst of 26 bullets while in their car, leaving it completely destroyed. Yet Allah saved both of them while they took shelter in their vehicle.
The visit to the hospital’s ICU was simply heartbreaking but at the same time increased our resolve and commitment to help these families as much as possible. We encountered a Turkish brother who was in a coma for nine days and met his elderly parents, who spoke to us in the very little English they knew. The only thing which we could understand from their hushed voices was the request for du’a and tears of helplessness in their eyes. The 71-year-old father of a local Pakistani from Hafizabad, who had arrived two weeks ago to visit his son, was now on a ventilator fighting for his life. As a physician who has worked in ICU settings for a long time, I simply did not have enough medical reasoning which could have provided him any words of hope!! Similarly, I was not able to provide any glimmer of hope to a brother from Bangladesh whose wife will never be able to walk again and will be paralyzed for the rest of her life.
While I saw hope and felt resilience from every victim in that hospital, this hospital visit was brutally heartbreaking.
Lastly, I cannot imagine the pain, agony, and helplessness that the father of Mucad Ibrahim must feel after losing his 3-year-old son in his own arms. I gave him the longest hug possible, as he taught the whole world the meaning of Beautiful Sabr (Patience).
After seeing the devastation caused by the terrorist attack, and the work that must still be done to heal the community, Helping Hand USA, ICNA Relief Canada, and Charity Australia have formed an organization called the “Christchurch Family Support Network”. The operations have already begun, and our team is on the ground. The first group of mental health professionals with a background in Islamic Integrated counseling are set to leave to provide victims and their families immediate psychological assistance.
We ask Allah to accept our work, bring healing to the community, protect our brothers and sisters, and accept the shuhadaa’ in the highest level of Paradise.
Because Muslims Matter | Honoring The Martyrs Of #Christchurch
As the days go by, it is easy to forget the names and faces of the people who passed away. The horror of the act eclipses their memories. We do not want that to happen to our brothers and sisters in New Zealand.
اللهُـمِّ اغْفِـرْ لِحَيِّـنا وَمَيِّتِـنا وَشـاهِدِنا ، وَغائِبِـنا ، وَصَغيـرِنا وَكَبيـرِنا ، وَذَكَـرِنا وَأُنْثـانا. اللهُـمِّ مَنْ أَحْيَيْـتَهُ مِنّا فَأَحْيِـهِ عَلى الإِسْلام ،وَمَنْ تَوَفَّـيْتَهُ مِنّا فَتَوَفَّـهُ عَلى الإِيـمان ، اللهُـمِّ لا تَحْـرِمْنـا أَجْـرَه ، وَلا تُضِـلَّنا بَعْـدَه
Allaahum-maghfir lihayyinaa, wa mayyitinaa, wa shaahidinaa, wa ghaa’ibinaa, wa sagheerinaa wa kabeerinaa, wa thakarinaa wa ‘unthaanaa..
O Allah forgive our living and our dead, those who are with us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our menfolk and our womenfolk…