The images and videos of the Turkey/Syria earthquakes bring memories from my childhood during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s. Surrounded by shells, destroyed buildings, and military checkpoints, I doubt that any child under such circumstances may have lived a “normal” life. For some reason, however, I feel that Allah has protected me from the emotional trauma of living in shelters and running for our lives. Looking back to that time, I can only summarize such “divine vaccination” in one simple word: SERVICE!
Spending hours and weekends in serving at the Ibad Al Rahman boy scouts was my way of coping with the feelings of helplessness and negativity that plagued my generation. Every war and every conflict and every calamity were in essence an opportunity to help, to serve, to improve, and to get better.
I know it sounds weird, but back in the day, it was easier to cope with such calamities and build a “CAN-DO” attitude, with a bias to action: Those who knew about tragic events were normally in the local proximity of the action. They would rush into the affected area, help directly or indirectly in saving lives, bringing food, consoling the survivors, etc. Such actions that are deeply embedded in our basic human instincts, and of course highly rewarded and encouraged in Islamic teachings, are safety mechanisms for both the giver and the receiver of such service. The Quran references such impact in Surah Tawba:
خذ من أموالهم صدقة تطهرهم و تزكيهم بها و صل عليهم إن صلاتك سكن لهم و الله سميع عليم
Take from their wealth ˹O Prophet˺ charity to purify and bless them, and pray for them—surely your prayer is a source of comfort for them. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. [9:103]
Said differently, the quest to provide material help for the needy is in its essence a spiritual quest for our own spiritual purification.
Fast forward to the 21st century: we have the blessing and the curse of an overconnected world. We are overly exposed to everything and anything that goes around us, including news and disasters; clearly, this takes a toll on our mental health if we don’t try to compensate for that exposure with action.
The irony is that making an impact has never been easier, especially if done the right way. Take donation for example (just because this is the most obvious example): the effort taken to donate, share a link, or present it to the right audience in creative ways has never been that easy (relatively speaking)!
To add to the mix: we are immersed in a culture of instant gratification, which has unfortunately found its way to our definition and metrics of community service. So, the person who donates $1, $1000, or even $1M cannot really grasp the impact of their donation. These are the rules of this game of impact: regardless of where you are in the food chain: you won’t have the capacity to appreciate the true value of your contribution.
Below are some discussion starters that I have stumbled upon for years. Each one has its own details, so I will try to follow up this post-turned to an article with more details inshaAllah.
Short Term Actions:
1- Donate to an effective* and trustworthy** charity
2- Become a campaign creator on Launchgood
3- Look into corporates to Maximize company match
4- Research material on “the question of suffering” to protect people’s faith (including your own) –
Medium Term Actions:
5- Learn and improve skills related to digital marketing, storytelling, and public relations.
6- Save for your next “voluntourism” trip. (basically plan your next vacation and tourism around dedicating some days to volunteering)
7- Brainstorm ways to add transparency and a “spiritual reward system” to the online donation ecosystem.
8- Build an online community of givers and connect them with effective local groups working in troubled areas.
9- Research “80,000 hours” website, book, and webpage and expose yourself to their key ideas: Long-termism, Effective Altruism, and social impact.
10- Volunteer for a nonprofit, serve on their board, and get a first hand experience of the different stages of relief work (beyond fundraising)
Long Term Actions:
10- Draft a career plan to increase your career capital.
11- Increase your skills in advocacy.
12- Explain the situation and the need to 10 younger children.
13- Help in strengthening Institution building in our community.
Feel free to comment with your thoughts, add to the list (will live update), and help drive the discussion on effective altruism in our worldwide Muslim communityز
Moreover, feel free to private message me if you’re interested in being part of a long term plan