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How Did Prophet Muhammad Deal with Refugees?

How Did Prophet Muhammad Deal with Refugees?
By his actions Prophet Muhammad established a golden rule for the treatment of refugees.

Islam is often described as a religion that was revealed for all people, in all places, for all time.

The Quran, and the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad, referred to here as the Sunnah, are all that is required for the modern person to live a life in touch with God and devoted to His service.

Many people recognize the universal truth of Islam; others, however, wonder how guidance revealed in the 7th Century of the Common Era can be relevant today. The guidance is relevant because since the dawn of time, people have not really changed.

No matter what their language, religion, customs, race, or environment, human beings across the globe and across time have the same feelings. Happiness or sadness; hope or despair; trust or caution; pride or shame: these feelings are common to all of them.

The causes for these feelings may differ and the challenges they face may also differ but the nature of the human being remains unchanged.

When God sent down the Quran, He filled it with advice and reminders that would be equally useful for all time periods.

Because Prophet Muhammad’s behavior is an explanation of Quran, his Sunnah is also a source of guidance. His way of dealing with problems and circumstances is equally valid today as it was when he was amongst his followers.

Above all else, Prophet Muhammad taught us to love and obey God and he pointed out on numerous occasions that individual rights although important are not as important as a stable and moral society.

Today we have what is known as a global society and the issues we face are frequently on a global scale. Things like climate change, refugees, and the devastation caused by war and conflict cause concern across the world.

One global crisis that is on such a huge scale it will likely define our era, is the ever-increasing struggle to accommodate the needs of refugees.

A refugee is generally defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. [1]

In 2014, global displacement reached historic levels: 59.5 million people were forced to flee their homes. [2]

Since then, the numbers have continued to grow. The concept of refugees as people fleeing persecution is central to efforts to aid and protect them, but given the dimensions of the problem it will come as no surprise to learn that governments and global bodies are engaged in ongoing discussions and arguments that do not solve the growing predicament.

The Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad deal extensively with the refugees, addressing issues of social justice and Quran specifically says:

And if anyone of the disbelievers seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the word of God, and then escort him to where he will be secure. (Quran 9:6)

This indicates that Islamic behavior should address the issues of vulnerability, fear, and displacement without regard to race or religion.

Prophet Abraham and his family were forced to migrate and were supported by God in their endeavor (Quran 21: 71).

After being harassed by the Egyptians, Moses fled to Midian where he was provided with housing, employment and other amenities (Quran28: 20-28).

Many generations later, Prophet Muhammad instructed some members of his fledgling community to migrate to Abyssinia after they suffered ongoing oppression and torture. A few years later Prophet Muhammad himself was a refugee, when he, along with the majority of his followers, fled Makkah and sought refuge in Madinah.

This is the most important migration in the history of Islam and because of its significance it marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Upon reaching Madinah, the Prophet was deeply aware of the destitution and hardship experienced by the Makkan refugees, they had fled from intolerable conditions to find themselves in a strange place bereft of income, land and personal belongings.

There is a very old Arabic proverb that addresses the plight of a stranger in a strange land:

“The stranger is blind even if he has eyes.”

This indicates the vulnerability of a stranger and suggests that a stranger needs help and guidance. The people of Madinah embodied the Islamic model of refugee protection contained in the Quran and the Sunnah.

According to traditions and sources from the time Prophet Muhammad named one resident of Madinah (later known as the helpers), and one immigrant, and declared them brothers or sisters. It was through this declaration of brotherhood that Prophet Muhammad successfully solved two major problems that immigrants, in any era face, housing and food. He asked the helpers to share their houses with their brothers, and they did. They also shared their food and livelihood.

This helped the vulnerable refugees to establish themselves. It meant that those who left everything behind did not face the future alone but faced it with an already established family. By his actions Prophet Muhammad established a golden rule for the treatment of refugees.

The United Nations Refugee Convention that took place some 66 years ago relied heavily, albeit possibly unknowingly, on Prophet Muhammad’s way of treating and integrating refugees and migrants into the host community.

It guarantees the social and economic rights that refugees need to be able to get back on their feet after being driven from their own communities, for example, the rights to access education, to seek work and to start businesses.

While refugees have been on the minds of the world’s top leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs and executives, collaboration has not been high on the agenda.

While many European and Western countries are concerned about how to stem the flow to their respective countries, other places, such as Turkey and Canada, are more focused on how to integrate refugees into society.

In an article in the New York Times the Turkish city of Gaziantep is described as an example of how to treat refugees humanely. “A beautiful city on the Syrian-Turkish border, Gaziantep is said to house 600,000 Syrians, approximately 40,000 of which live in the city’s five camps, which are administered by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. The rest live in the city itself.”

Refugees in Turkey are allowed to work, they have access to healthcare and education and the government is committed to creating a pathway to Turkish citizenship. [3]

Canada has been viewed as a global leader with respect to refugee protection. In 2015 ordinary people hit the headlines when they essentially adopted thousands of Syrian families, and donated a year of their time and money to guide them into new lives just as many other countries shunned them.

While the outcomes of Canada’s open handed program has yet to be seen, Canada is indeed honoring its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

Quite simply, the guidance Prophet Muhammad gave his followers and indeed all of humankind is as applicable today as it was 1400 years ago. Both the Quran and the Sunnah stress the concepts of mercy and compassion.

And in addition to these themes running through Islam, Prophet Muhammad spoke constantly and consistently to his companions about the benefits and the necessity of helping those in need. He said:

“Whoever grants respite to someone in difficulty or alleviates him, God will shade him on the Day of Resurrection when there is no shade but His.”[4]

And:

“There is no leader who closes the door to someone in need, one suffering in poverty, except that God closes the gates of the heavens for him when he is suffering in poverty”.

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[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/refugee

[2] https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/4350_top_10_global_facts_about_refugees

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/27/opinion/turkey-syrian-refugees.html

[4] At Tirmidhi

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About Aisha Stacey

Aisha Stacey is the mother of three adult children. She embraced Islam in 2002 and spent the next five years in Doha, Qatar studying Islam and working at the Fanar Cultural Centre. In 2006 Aisha returned to university for a second time and completed at Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Certificate in Writing. Aisha is also a published writer in both internet and print media and in 2009 -10 she was the Queensland editor at a national Australian Islamic newspaper ~ Crescent Times.

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