On 30th November 2013, the world received shocking news: Fast & Furious actor, Paul Walker, passed away in a car crash together with his friend, Roger Rodas.
Paul Walker and Roger Rodas both died in a car crash when their Porsche crashed into a pole and combust into flames. They were on their way back to a charity event when it happened, and apparently the accident happened so close to the event site that friends and family ran to try and save them. One of those people was Roger Rodas’ 8 year old son, who ran to the wreckage and tried to help get his father out of the car.
A friend of Paul Walker, Antonio Holmes told The Santa Clarita Valley Signal: “We all heard from our location [the accident]. It’s a little difficult to know what it was. Someone called it in and said it was a vehicle fire. We all ran around and jumped in cars and grabbed fire extinguishers and immediately went to the vehicle. It was engulfed in flames. There was nothing. They were trapped. Employees, friends of the shop. We tried. We tried. We went through fire extinguishers.”
Paul’s co-star, Tyrese Gibson, showed such remorse when he turned up at the crash site. He said nothing to anyone, cried and left, bringing along with him a piece of the wreckage. He had posted several pictures on Instagram of him and Paul, including a video of them celebrating his 40th birthday. “My heart is hurting so bad. No one can make me believe this is real. Father God, I pray that you send clarity over this because I just don’t understand. My heart hurts. It’s broken. No one can convince me that this is real. Prayer warriors, please pray real hard for his only child, his daughter and family. My God. My God. I can’t believe I’m writing this.” Tyrese wrote this as one of the captions of his pictures.
Besides his role in the Fast & Furious films, Paul Walker was also widely known for his charity work. He was the founder of Reach Out Worldwide, where Roger Rodas worked together with him.
Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW) – consisting of skilled volunteers – is a non-profit registered 501(c)3 organization. While part of a relief team responding to the massive earthquakes that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010; Actor/Producer Paul Walker saw a gap between the availability of skilled resources and the requirement for such personnel in post-disaster situations. Following the trip he contacted a group of his friends to assist him in forming ROWW with the purpose of filling this unmet need.
ROWW is a network of committed professionals with first responder skill-set (including project management, logistics, heavy equipment operation, EMT, paramedic, firefighting, and healthcare, etc). The volunteers provide their expertise when disasters strike and augment local resources with the goal of accelerating relief efforts on a worldwide basis. ROWW has developed Standard Operating Procedures that facilitate arriving quickly, clearing access, providing basic necessities and medical assistance to ease the survivors’ pain and bringing hope in the bleakest of circumstances.
ROWW operates on the philosophy that by making a difference in just one person’s life, the world has been changed for the better.
This was one of the comments that was written on the BBC website regarding Paul Walker and Roger Rodas’ tragic death.
The news had saddened friends, family and fans alike. It was truly something that no one had expected. Being someone with a family myself, the news broke my heart, knowing that somewhere out there, a father had lost a son, a wife had lost a husband, a child has lost his/her father and people had lost their friend. Putting myself in the shoes of someone who has just lost a loved one, I can never fathom the pain they must be going through. My heart breaks every time.
Yet, in Malaysia, this is what I have to read every single time a famous person or a non-Muslim passes away.
Whenever a celebrity passes away, some Muslim Malaysians take it upon themselves to be self-righteous and remind everyone else that “Hey! You should not be sad because this person died! You should be sad because our Muslim brothers and sisters are suffering in Syria and Palestine!” Or maybe they might even say something along the lines of “One person dies, everyone cries. Millions die, no one cries.”
What infuriates and saddens me most about moments like these is because they fail to realize that celebrities who pass away are more than just celebrities. They are a whole being. They have a family, as with the rest of us. They have done good deeds, bad deeds. They have lived, they have learned, they have loved. But some people look at them as mere public figures that will be disposed of only when the time has come.
And today, I am writing to tell you why I feel these comparisons are senseless, mindless, illogical and insensitive.
Compare and Contrast
If you compare something, you are listing down the ways they are alike. If you contrast something, you are listing down ways they are different. Before you choose to compare a celebrity’s death to a mass killing, think about whether it is logical to do so.
A celebrity’s death and a mass killing is a lot like an apple and a bunch of grapes respectively. They’re both fruits, but in fact, still very different from each other. As in this example, Paul Walker was a famous actor who the world had their eyes on. Everywhere he went, everything he did, the paparazzi and journalists would be following and writing it down. He was one person, making it easy to keep track. He was part of the entertainment industry, in which almost everyone pays attention to, whereas killings in Syria and Palestine are a more political issue, where even though people still mourned and prayed for their safety, politics is something not many people are interested in, especially teenagers and kids. Naturally, public-friendly news (meaning news that the majority of the public would pay attention to) would receive more coverage than those that cater to a certain crowd. It is a lot like comparing mainstream music to underground music. It just doesn’t make sense.
But something about both that coincides is that they were all a soul once. Paul Walker, regardless of fame or fortune, was a soul. The innocent who got massacred in Syria and Palestine, they were all souls. A death is a death, and every soul deserves to be respected, no matter where he or she came from. Every soul is sacred, and is a God-given sanctity to human beings. Also, just because you don’t see people talk about it, it does not mean no one cares. Which brings me to my next point…
A friend of mine told me, “Media bias is the backbone of indifference.” Most of the media these days consist of popular culture media, which covers entertainment, sports and the like. The reason why a lot of news sites cover celebrity death over political issues is because, not only do these reporters want to attract the young crowd, but it is also because of mainstream bias, in which there is “a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone.”
Not only does this apply to news sites, but mainstream bias applies to even real-life situations. The people that you follow on Twitter or are friends with on Facebook influences the type of news you are exposed to. Only ignorant people say that no one cares about Syria and Palestine, because this just means that their social circle is not wide enough, or maybe they are friends with the wrong people but they don’t realize it.
On Twitter, you find many of the people that are fans of bands, or hardcore followers of television series. This makes them exposed to mainstream news, regarding music, celebrities and such, thus following them would mean flooding your timeline with news of pop culture. But on Twitter, you can also find journalists, reporters, writers, news broadcasting accounts that cover political issues that may touch on Syria and Palestine. Who you follow would change what you read. On one side of Twitter, someone who follows predominantly news Twitter accounts might say “No one on my timeline is talking about Paul Walker’s death,” while on the other side of Twitter, someone who follows predominantly pop culture-based teenagers might say “Everyone only cares about Paul Walker.”
Another thing these people have to realize is that the reason why they always emphasize on Syria and Palestine is because that is the only tragic news that they know. And the bitter irony is that, they only bring up matters in regards to Syria and Palestine only when a famous person dies, but not during any other time. They blame media for being biased when these teenagers talk about Syria and Palestine only because the media presents news coverage on it. Usually, it is because they saw it somewhere, not because they read it up themselves. They upload photos of injured Syrians and Palestinians, attempting to put you on a guilt trip, but they rarely even know the news and updates regarding it.
Most of them will try to come across as “humane”, when in reality, if they really were; they would mourn the loss of anyone in this world, non-Muslims and celebrities included. Also, they touch on Syria and Palestine, but I have never seen one instance where a Malaysian Muslim mentioned slavery in Africa or the Taliban attacks. And one thing I can assure you, this is because slavery and the Taliban rarely get news coverage among the youngsters, especially in Malaysia. They don’t care as long as no one is talking about it, so how is that “humanity” in the least?
You follow Twitter accounts like E! Online, Celebritain, CelebGossip and not BBC, Al-Jazeera and such, and then you complain that no one cares about Syria and Palestine? Ridiculous.
One of the most offensive thing you can say regarding someone who has passed is that they don’t deserve the right to be mourned because they are not an adherent to your religion, as in this case, making them a non-Muslim. I have seen many tweets saying “He/she is not a Muslim, so why are you sad?”
Only people who do not have non-Muslim family or friends will ever say things like that. No one will know the true pain of losing someone who you hold dear, until they experience it themselves. I have had non-Muslim friends who have passed away, and yes, I did mourn their passing. But no one would ever dare tell me to stop mourning at that time because it was someone I knew personally. So, what makes them think that telling someone to stop being sad over a celebrity’s passing, because they are a non-Muslim, is any better? More than anything, it is distorting the true message of Islam.
In one of my previous articles, Religious tolerance in the way of Prophet Muhammad, I had mentioned several ways in which the Prophet (PBUH) showed kindness to the people around him, regardless of their religion or race. Recall a story whereby a funeral procession of a Jew passed by the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions, and the Prophet (PBUH) stood up. When he was asked about it, he later answered “Was he not a human being?”
I find it appalling that many Malaysian Muslims feel the need to only respect other Muslims, even if the non-Muslim was a kind soul during his life. How is this following after the Prophet’s (PBUH) example of gentleness, kindness, acceptance and tolerance? Did our Prophet (PBUH) teach us that we needed to only respect other Muslims, and we have the right to condemn every other person to Hell? Of course not! This is a complete misrepresentation of Islam and the message of our Prophet (PBUH).
Another thing that I have never agreed with is the way Malaysian Muslims tweeted “Please pray for the Muslims in Syria and Palestine”. Trust me, I absolutely understand their point. But I do not agree with the way it is being said mainly because Syria and Palestine, although a nation predominantly occupied with Muslims, also consists of other religions as well. To pray only for the safekeeping of your own religion is selfish, and to wish Hell for everyone else who is not Muslim, gives the wrong impression to people about Islam. It gives them the distorted and tainted truth about our beautiful religion.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you. The womb is derived from the Merciful, so whoever keeps relations with his family then Allah will keep relations with him, and whoever abandons his family then Allah will abandon him.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1924)
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” Surat Al-Anbiya [21:107]
We have read many passages, books and articles that show examples of the Prophet’s (PBUH) unrivaled kindness to other beings, animals included. The Prophet (PBUH) has also shown such forgiveness and patience towards those who were against him, and also those who had brutally killed the Prophet’s (PBUH) beloved uncle, Hamza ibn ‘Abdul-Muttalib. Despite the many exemplary acts of the Prophet (PBUH), many Muslims take it upon themselves to condemn someone to their own Hell for the mere reason that they may not see things from the same point of view. This does not only apply to condemning non-Muslims, but sometimes even our own brothers and sisters in Islam as well. If the Prophet (PBUH) was really our role model, why is it hard for Muslims to take after his kindness and gentleness?
God has decreed many verses of mercy in the Qur’an, but the truth of the matter is, many Muslims still don’t understand the true capacity of God’s mercy. In fact, God’s mercy is indescribable, and bountiful, and no amount of mercy on earth could accumulate up to it. Why?
Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “Verily Allah created mercy. The day He created it, He made it into one hundred parts. He withheld with Him ninety-nine parts, and sent its one part to all His creatures. Had the non-believer known of all the mercy which is in the Hands of Allah, he would not lose hope of entering Paradise, and had the believer known of all the punishment which is present with Allah, he would not consider himself safe from the Hell-Fire.” (Book #76, Hadith #476)
From here, we understand that God has divided his mercy into one hundred parts, but only gave one part of it to this world for us to show mercy to each other in different ways, for example, in a way a mother would care for her child, while the rest of the ninety-nine parts were God’s mercy. If we allow this fact to sink in, we would come to the realization that the mercy that we feel on this earth (if we ever did) is actually extremely insignificant in comparison to God’s mercy. God is, ultimately, the most Merciful of all. The Prophet’s (PBUH) mercy goes unrivaled; yet, it is also insignificant in comparison to God’s mercy.
It is ironic how the same Muslims who try to propagate Islam as a religion of peace, are the same ones who misinterpret God’s mercy and would rather advertise His punishments instead. They also use verses from the Qur’an and hadith to support their claims of Islam punishing and leaving no mercy for the “disbelievers”, turning Islam into an ideology instead of a theology. And the funny thing is, they always emphasize on verses of punishment or “ways to treat a Kafirun”, but never about kindness, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, honesty and righteousness, even though virtuous verses like that are found more in the Qur’an.
It makes one uncomfortable to think that a person who was a good father, son, husband, who had served humanity, helped the poor, donated to charity and fed the hungry would be doomed to eternal Hell for the sole reason that he was not a Muslim, whereas a person who is the total opposite of this good samaritan would be granted Paradise only for being a Muslim. Some non-Muslims I know are also in fact nicer human beings than the many Muslims I interact with, unfortunately. Yet, any self-righteous person would smirk at this thought because he would think he has secured himself a place in Heaven only because he was lucky enough to be born into Islam.
Many people would quote An-Nisa [4:48] as a reason why non-Muslims would be doomed to Hell:
“Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.”
They use the above verse to condemn all non-Muslims to their own Hell, talking about how only Muslims are reserved a place in Paradise, but fail to realize that the line right after, An-Nisa [4:49] says:
“Have you not seen those who claim themselves to be pure? Rather, Allah purifies whom He wills, and injustice is not done to them, [even] as much as a thread [inside a date seed].”
While shirk is an unforgivable sin, a polytheist or non-Muslim could still be “purified” by God if He wills it. The verse is to remind everyone, especially those who feel the need to sentence people as they see fit, that it is only up to God’s absolute judgment and no one else’s.
“Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him.” Surat An-Najm [53:32]
God is All-Knowing, so how conceited would we be to proclaim ourselves as more pure or better than anyone else? As much as we think we know ourselves, God knows us better. And for how much we think we know about someone else, God certainly knows better too. What many people fail to realize is that the way we perceive Islam as the true religion, the same thing goes for Christians regarding Christianity, Jews regarding Judaism and so on. Each soul on this earth is striving for a purpose, and for whatever purpose it may be, it is ultimately up to God to judge. I will never understand Muslims who show intolerance to other religions, yet use “Islam is a religion of peace” to rebut all the bad stigmas that people associate with Islam.
This also applies to the people who say that we cannot say “rest in peace” to deceased non-Muslims because there is no peace for someone who died in a state of disbelief, and that we are “forbidden to pray for a non-Muslim”. Not only is this a warped version of the truth, but it makes Islam sound like an exclusive club rather than a way of life. Also, only in Malaysia does “rest in peace” actually mean a prayer, when in fact it is a sympathetic saying to show remorse or condolences, and also a way of showing respect to the deceased person.
When I say “rest in peace” to someone, I truly wish their grave goes unrazed or undisturbed, and that their body will be laid to rest with no difficulties. It’s also comforting for the person’s family members to know that you care about their loss. It is sad to know that when a Muslim dies, his friends of other faiths have no second thoughts about wishing him to rest in peace, yet when it comes to Muslims, they have to think twice because they have been indoctrinated to believe we’re more superior than the rest and are the only ones to touch Paradise.
Truly, belief in God goes beyond just saying it. Belief in God includes belief in his absolute judgment and divine mercy, that all deeds or sins or intentions are for Him and only Him to judge, and that only God knows best. God is not petty like human beings. As a Muslim, our purpose in this world is to be good, do good, and spread good. The Prophet (PBUH) never made anyone embrace Islam through coercion or force, but rather through his acts of kindness.
“It’s really comforting to know that judgement will ultimately be with God and no one else. I really believe that the Day of Judgement will be full of surprises when it comes to who gets saved.” – Mohamed Ghilan
How can we ask for God’s mercy upon us, when we’re unwilling to be merciful with our own kind? So whenever someone tells me that I should not respect or mourn the death of a non-Muslim, my only response would be “Was he not a soul?”
2 December 2013