Turkey/Syria Earthquake: Donations Today, Khilafah Tomorrow?
At the beginning of this month, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Northern Syria. The world watched as tens of thousands were encased in rubble, as relief and rescue efforts began. At the end of the destruction, more that 300,000 apartments were destroyed, more than 100,000 people were injured, and just over 40,000 people lost their lives.
A natural disaster of this magnitude causes the Ummah to open their hearts and wallets to help out in whatever way they can. But faced with this level of tragedy, what can we learn about our attitude towards calamities, and what we owe each other?
The Mettle of the Ummah
We are not an Ummah that is put off by difficulty. We understand that times of difficulty are in their origin a test from our Creator, who has promised to try us with loss of our wealth, property, and even lives, to see how we respond. If we turn to Allah (swt) in such dark times, we will be of those who are in His guidance and mercy:
“Who, when faced with a disaster, say, ‘Surely to Allah we belong, and to Him we will all return.’ They are the ones who will receive Allah’s blessings and mercy. And it is they who are rightly guided.” [TMQ 2:156-57]
And we have seen so much goodness from our brothers and sister in Turkey. From their constant invoking of Allah (swt) and remembering him as they make their rescue efforts, to their effort to adhere to Divine Law even in the most difficult circumstances, such as the sister who was concerned about having her hijab in place before being pulled from the rubble, or the brother who asked for water upon being rescues so he could make wudu and pray.
We also pray that those who lost their lives in this calamity are accepted as shuhuda. Our Beloved Prophet (saw) informed us:
“… The martyrs are of five kinds: the one who dies of plague, one who dies of stomach disease, one who drowns, one who dies under debris, and one who dies in the way of Allah Almighty.” [Bukhari and Muslim].”
However, while patience in the face of calamity is part of the character of a believer, so is a desire to assess a situation to prevent unnecessary suffering. We are commanded by RasulAllah (saw) not to be indifferent to misery and injustice:
“Whoever witnesses something evil, let him change it with his hand, and if he is unable then with his tongue, and if he is unable then with his heart, but that is the weakest form of faith.” [Muslim]
A Man-Made Calamity?
But what can be done about an earthquake? It is a natural disaster. While there is no easy answer to how to handle tremors of the magnitude experienced in Turkey and Syria, it should be noted that earthquakes are a known threat in Turkey. From the time of the Ottoman Caliphate, architects and builders have used the means at their disposal to try to secure their buildings from the likelihood of an earthquake.
In the wake of 40,000 dead, it is essential for us to ask: was there anything that the government should have been doing to ensure something like this wouldn’t happen?
The reality is that engineers and architects in Turkey had been warning the government that many of the buildings were not being built to safety code. The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) reported that they had warned the government repeatedly of a lack of surveying and inspections being performed by municipalities regarding earthquake preparedness.
What is more, the government actually provided building amnesties to builders so they could get houses built without facing any penalty for not following the building codes. President Erdogan repeatedly boasted about getting so many apartments built in a short time as a result of these amnesties while campaigning during the 2019 election.
The consequence of prioritizing the profits of builders over the safety of everyday people is that the very areas where these amnesties were provided are the centers of massive death tolls in Turkey, the Kahramanmaraş, Maltya and Hatay provinces.
Even the governments own Disaster and Emergency management agency (AFAD), which reports to the interior minister, admitted in 2022 that the Kahramanmaraş province was not ready for an earthquake.
The reality is that while earthquakes are unpredictable and difficult to recover from when they happen, the government ultimately bears the responsibility for being careless about people’s safety, while making it easier for irresponsible builders to ignore it. This is well summarized by President Erdogan himself, who said in 2013, in reference to the 1999 Marmara earthquake: “Buildings kill, not earthquakes. We need to learn to live with earthquakes and take measures accordingly.”
It goes without saying that Bashar Al Assad, the butcher of his own people, has not provide proper care or protection to the people of Northern Syria, many of them rebels who have fled his campaign of brutal violence. The fact that many were huddled in Northern Syria, in homes that were not prepared for an earthquake is a direct result of his savagery, and the blood of those who perished is on his hands and the hands of his regime.
The Rot at the Foundation
The reality is that this is not a Turkish problem. There is nothing unique about Turkeys government, leadership, or bureaucracy that makes it prone to the mismanagement seen here.
Rather, the problem is that the Capitalist ideology, which has been imposed upon the Muslim world by the global powers, is committed to prioritizing the interest of the economic elite over the common people’s wellbeing. This is because Capitalism is an ideology that leads to self-interest and individualism, which means those individuals that have the most wealth, connections or ability are the ones who can fund political campaigns, lobby bureaucrats and buy off politicians to write the rules and regulations that benefit them.
This explains why the United States, the global champion of the Capitalist system, can have a train carrying toxic and explosive chemicals derail in Ohio, causing immeasurable damage to the wildlife, water, atmosphere and people of the state. Railroad executives convinced the government to not have any requirements to have an electronic braking system on the train, and even stopped it from being classified as a train carrying hazardous material so limits could be put on its speed or manpower requirements. It is one of more than a dozen train accidents that have happened in the US since January. It is in the interest of the railroad executives to have the cheapest trains going at the highest speeds with the least number of employees, and the government is willing to side with the executives over the safety of the average US citizen.
Just as you cannot build a home on a shaky foundation, you cannot build a system of life on an ideology that ignores the revealed guidance of the Creator and follows the whims and desires of powerful men and women instead.
A Way Forward
As we make dua and spend our funds to help the people of Turkey and Syria, it is crucial that we also recognize that unless we are willing to commit ourselves to the intellectual struggle of rooting out the Capitalist ideology from the Muslim lands, these kinds of calamities will keep happening.
Whether they be floods in Pakistan’s Punjab province, heat waves in Karachi, traffic accidents in Dhaka, or a port explosion in Beirut. It is only a matter of time till the Capitalist system causes yet another catastrophe. And this is not even mentioning the deep economic instability, endemic poverty, and social collapse that comes with this man-made ideology.
Is it not time for the Muslims, as part of our belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw) to replace this wicked rule of men with the system of Islam? Do we not want to be counted as believers, when our Creator tells us:
“By your Lord, they will not be true believers until they let you decide between them in all matters of dispute and find no resistance in their souls to your decisions, accepting them totally.” [TMQ 4:65]
These matters of dispute include all kind of issues, from the personal and familial, to the economic and political as well. Islam provides guidance in all these aspects of life.
In the Islamic political system, the Khilafah, it is the responsibility of the leader to look after the affairs of the people and protect them from the aggression of both outside enemies, but even the greed of their own people. As this relates to real estate construction, this means enacting safety codes that ensure the well-being of people who will live in them as well as enforcing those safety codes through inspections and legal enforcement. The Prophet (saw) taught us:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
It is crucial that we learn about the Islamic vision for society, and then work collectively to expose the hollowness of the Capitalist system and the need to replace it with Islam in the Muslim lands. It is the only foundation on which we can feel secure for ourselves, our families, and the Ummah at large.
“Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near.” [TMQ 2:214]