What's the bigger evil? The evil intentions of the oppressors or the deliberate silence of those who can but choose to not act? As believers, it is important to remember Islam is not a religion that seeks to fulfill a person only spiritually. Can a man claim he is among God's pious followers if he finds himself engulfed in apathy towards other humans?
In recent weeks, the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida has sparked outrage across the United States. Yet the question remains: how many Muslim groups have spoken out against the killing of an unarmed teenager? How many have called for at least an investigation into the killing? While it is important for community organizations to be dedicated to the population they service, it is also important for them to speak out when a crime against justice is taking place. Muslim, non-Muslim, male, female, young, old, Arab, Hispanic, African-American, or Caucasian – when a person's right to exist, to worship, or to be a free member of a society is discriminated against or taken away, we should all be offended. We cannot selectively choose what offends us and what does not.
In contrast, the recent killing of Shaima alAwadi in California has united organizations across many different demographics to condemn the brutal killing of a mother of five in what authorities believe was a hate crime. It truly makes a great statement when non-Muslim organizations condemn the killing of a Muslim woman and call for her killer to be brought to justice, while our own community organizations and laymen focus only on cases with Muslims. The voices of Shaima alAwadi and others like her are voices lost in the media circus surrounding race, religion, and stereotypes. Imagine just how many other individuals and communities have had to suffer from discrimination and oppression, and the world was never made aware? If we wish for others to become aware of our cases and suffering, we must make a substantial effort – as individuals, groups, and organizations – to support the oppressed no matter where or who they may be.
Neglecting to help the oppressed is considered a greater sin in Islam. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said, "He is not a believer who despite being capable avoids helping his brother in need; God also leaves him on his own and does not help him in this world nor the hereafter." (Bihar al-Anwar) In the book Greater Sins, the author mentions, "Helping the oppressed is obligatory. This does not mean that it is obligatory only to help the oppressed believers. The commands of helping the oppressed in the light of Qur'an and traditions are only conditional as far as the capability of the helper is concerned. Even if the oppressed people are not Shias and they belong to other sects of Muslims, it is still obligatory to help them. Even if a non-offensive infidel is being oppressed, the command of enjoining good and forbidding evil dictates that he should be helped and the evil must be eradicated."
We must think of the qualities and characteristics of the Prophets, Imams, and scholars whom we emulate. Would they sit by idly as another human being was oppressed? Would they allow a person's race to disqualify them from justice? How is it that we claim to follow such esteemed figures while ignoring oppression and injustice at the micro and macro level? Before all else, Islam is a religion of mercy and compassion, and we must not only speak of such ideals; rather, it is our obligation to live by them each and every day.
Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) said, "The sin which results in the descending of calamities is when one does not respond to the call for help of the helpless people." (Mani al-Akhbar)
Then the Imam supplicated to God, "O Allah! I plead for forgiveness for the time when someone is oppressed in my presence and I do not help him. I seek refuge in You for not helping an oppressed and a needy person."