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The Islamic Response to Standing Rock

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Water is life. This mantra has inspired millions nationwide to support the people of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As a Muslim, I cannot help but support our Native American sisters and brothers as a matter of human rights, as a matter of upholding justice, and as a matter of our Islamic obligations. Fortunately, Muslims across America have actively worked to provide their support in various means—by providing food and water, supplies, money for legal expenses, or writing to Congress. But we have a long way to go. And with a new administration coming in just a few weeks—we need to re-double our efforts. Some remain on edge, or unsure why any of this is relevant to Islam or to Muslims? Many have posited that the Qur’an forbids creating disorder in the Earth, or that we must obey those in authority among us. I believe these teachings are critical—but misapplied here. Standing up for water for Standing Rock is not just something activists do—it should be something anyone committed to human rights should do. When it comes to water, Muslims are commanded to ensure no one is denied this basic human right. For example, the Qur’an 20:119-120 declares, “‘It is provided for thee that you shall not hunger therein, nor shall you be naked. And that you shall not thirst therein, nor shall you be exposed to the sun.’” This commandment obliges the governing authority to make food, shelter, clothing, and water a fundamental human right of all people. But surely there are exceptions, right? On the contrary, and more than mere theory, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, exemplified this teaching in even the most extreme and volatile circumstances. Consider this. After withstanding persecution in Mecca for a dozen years – three years of which he and his companions suffered a brutal boycott of food, water, shelter, and clothing – the Muslims peacefully fled to Medina for safety and freedom. The Meccans, not content on merely exiling Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims, soon launched a full-fledged attack on the Muslims in Medina to literally wipe them off the face of the Earth. The first battle took place at Badr—a valley on the outskirts of Medina. The Prophet and his army of 313 ill equipped men, women, and children and two horses stood before a well-equipped army of 1000 warriors and 100 horses. The Muslims, however, had one advantage. They set up their camp in a manner that ensured access to the only water wells in the area. Mere hours before the battle began in the blistering Arab desert, several Meccan soldiers cautiously approached the water wells to fill their water pouches. If ever the Muslims needed a tactical advantage against an army triple their size, this was it. But something strange happened. Upon learning of the Meccan soldiers in search of water, Prophet Muhammad ordered the Muslims to make way for them, permit them to fill their water pouches to their satisfaction, and ensure their safe return to the Meccan camp. The Muslims complied, and the Meccans returned unharmed. Thus, the Muslims exemplified the Qur’anic teaching to create not disorder, and to obey those in authority. Prophet Muhammad’s unmatched example of compassion, human rights, and justice is the model to which every Muslim is obliged. That justice necessarily extends to all humanity, or it is not justice at all. Indeed, on the importance of water Prophet Muhammad further added, “The best charity is giving water to drink.” While the United States Army has declined an easement to complete the North Dakota Access Pipeline, the fight for water at Standing Rock isn’t over. Questions remain. Why was the pipeline rerouted from a largely white populated area to instead travel through sacred Native American land and water? Why is clean and safe water not a priority when the effected populations are people of color? After all, nearly a year after the discovery of poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, its largely of color residents still don’t have clean water. Perhaps most pertinent, will the new administration recognize water rights for Standing Rock? We don’t know, and this is why it is so crucial that all Americans remain united in supporting Standing Rock peacefully, legally, but relentlessly. The thirst for justice is incomplete until we recognize that water rights are human rights, and human rights are water rights. Americans of all stripes, and Muslim Americans in particular should take note. If Prophet Muhammad obliged us to protect the right to water even to those attempting to kill us, then most certainly, we can stand up for the right to water for those who are and have been killed for centuries. Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ