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Knowing Hunger

Today, 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 a year ago, 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.

Real Hunger is No Game

Reply to KhadijahCancel reply

9 comments

Holly on October 17, 2012 2:59 pm

SubhanAllah…. I ‘knew’ it was bad but not how bad. May Allah improve things for them, make it easy, and soften our hearts and made us better ameen.

Thank you for posting this, I really needed to read this.

Abu Humairah on October 18, 2012 9:50 pm

I have heard people talk about how poor they are or used to be with statements like “there’s nothing in the refrigerator but milk and tuna”, “we used to have only rice and chicken for five days” etc. I agree, these people don’t really know what it is to be poor or hungry. It always saddens me to see the level at which people waste food here, it just tears my heart apart and sometimes it makes me overfeed because I can’t stand the thought that whatever I leave on my plate (in restaurants) will be thrown into trash, and it is very likely that the person carrying out this act knows people who’ll benefit from it.

I pray that Allah helps us come to our senses and cut the waste.

Khadijah on October 20, 2012 4:46 pm

Mash’Allaah, this is true. It is frustrating in a way, because you want to advise them to be incredibly thankful for what they have because it is so much more than others have! I remember my Indonesian neighbor- she and her family were very poor, as were we, but during Ramadhaan we would always send each other just a little of whatever we had, and it built the bonds between us into something very strong, mash’Allaah. Sheikh Bin Baaz and Sheikh Muqbil (and other than them, but these are the two I know off the top of my head) both said that it is haram to throw away food. They say to give it to the needy rather than waste it. We only cook what we can eat in one meal, alhamdulillah, and we all share plates, which seems to help a lot, alhamdulillah. This complaining, and this waste of food, both stem from ungratefulness in so many cases, and Allaah knows best.
And Ameen, to your du’a.

Umm Khadeejah on October 20, 2012 12:05 pm

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah Ukhty-l-Qayyimah

How can we combat hunger individually, on a personal level? Whad advice or suggestions can you give us?

Khadijah on October 20, 2012 4:42 pm

Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullah
Mash’Allaah, there are many ways we can do this. One of the best is to be aware of what is going on in your community. Often people are too shy to ask for help, but it can be clear that they need it if you really look. Have people over to eat- Sheikh Bin Baaz, rahimahuAllaah, used to invite people to his house to eat after Fajr on a regular basis, alhamdulillah. Also, there are people with connections to students of knowledge in many different places in the world. See if you can help one, or a family, on a regular basis. You would be amazed what even fifty dollars a month can do to help them, alhamdulillah, or less- whatever one is able to give. In this way you know where your money is going, and that it is being spent in a good way. These are just a few ideas, mash’Allaah, but there are so many many ways to help, alhamdulillah!

Umm Khadeejah on October 22, 2012 2:25 pm

Baarakallahu feekum!!

mib on November 1, 2012 7:20 am

AS SALAAM ALAIKUM,
This article is so morally inspiring that it brought tears to my eyes and it conveys the truth so beautifully. MASHAALLAH, you are gifted with words.

umm qaasim on December 19, 2012 5:15 am

as salaamu alaikum ,thank you for giving ppl insight through ur writing ,so touching to read masha Allah.May Allah guide the ppl to giving the aide in the correct mannner ameen.

IBNABBAS on August 1, 2013 12:22 am

Assalamu Alaikum

What is the situation in Yemen with regards to seeking ilm for foreigners ?

Thanks,
ibn Abbas