October 16 was named, by someone, somewhere, “World Hunger Day.” My Twitter feed was filled with calls to sign petitions and send messages to lawmakers. As I read various blog posts discussing the subject from different angles- though not a single one was actually written by anyone who had known more than a few hours of hunger when on some fad diet or other- I was struck once again by the disparity between words and actions, between rich and poor, and between the assistance offered and that which is really needed.
My family has known hunger, but even so we have been blessed to never feel the gut wrenching pain of true hunger that caused some of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allaah’s praise and salutations be upon him, to tie stones against their stomachs to try to alleviate the feeling. We have never felt the hunger felt by the children that paw through the garbage in Sana’a, licking out tuna cans and rejoicing over a half-eaten piece of chicken or bread that some more fortunate person tossed aside without a second thought. We have never felt the hunger that must have been felt by the little girl who came to our door in Shihr one hot afternoon, begging for water, then asking if we had any vegetables or bread. As we filled a bottle with water for her, she sat on the step, eating a carrot with the eagerness that other children would show over a chocolate chip cookie. We never even felt the hunger that the students in Damaaj must have felt during the Shi’ite blockade of the village, when my son told me they would have a piece of bread for the whole family, and perhaps a few raisins as a treat. This, for a whole day. And during this blockade Western “aid” agencies were making noise about the condition of the Shi’ites, while remaining silent about those they were oppressing. And after the blockade was finally lifted, it was largely the aid of their Muslim brothers and sisters in Yemen, some of them who could hardly feed themselves, that came rolling in on the trucks with food for the villagers and students.
This is what I think of when I read about these Western movements and their petitions and calls to action. What do they really know about the needs and desires of the people they are trying to help? How much do they understand about the rich and vibrant cultures in these countries, based upon belief systems and traditions that run stronger in the veins of the people than their own blood? From the ease and comfort of their air conditioned homes, with a click of the mouse they feel they have helped alleviate hunger in the world, when they have not only never known hunger; they have never looked true hunger in the face. They expect the people who are receiving their charity to shower them with praise and gratitude, and don’t understand when this isn’t forthcoming. They don’t look at the result of what they have done, or question whether it has been done in the right way, with respect and honor for the beliefs and traditions of the people they are trying to help.
Alhamdulillah, things have eased for my son and the other students in his village. But for Yemen as a whole, hunger is an everyday fact of life, faced head on, no turning away or changing the channel with the flick of a wrist. Forty-four percent of the population- ten million people- do not have enough food to eat. One third of the population lives in hunger, a figure beaten only by Afghanistan. The situation has been heightened by the revolution, which has caused unrest, turbulence, and increased poverty, just as the scholars warned the people about when the so-called Arab spring began.
In Islaam, giving charity has a very high reward. Many verses of Qur’aan mention this, including the one in which Allaah says, “Believe in Allaah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and spend of that which He has made you trustees. And such of you as believe and spend (in Allaah’s way), theirs will be a great reward” [al-Hadeed 57:7]
There are also many ahaadeeth, or narrations, from the Messenger of Allaah concerning this, such as, the narration from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) in which he reported that the Messenger of Allaah (may Allaah’s praise and salutations be upon him) said, “Allaah said, ‘Spend, Oh son of Aadam, and I shall spend on you.’” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5073; Muslim, 993.
The faces of hunger are too many to be counted in one day, not even one so optimistically called “World Hunger Day.” Reducing the real pain and suffering of the hungry people in the world to a catch phrase, a series of blog posts urging petition signings, gives a false sense of action and change and demeans the very people- the grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, children and babies- they claim to want to help.
In this, as in everything, the guidelines are clear, laid out by the Lord of the Worlds. If only the people would listen, and take heed.