Among the headlines over the past week were the forest fires that have been raging across parts of Israel and Palestine. Having been hit by two months of continuous drought, the region had been susceptible to the spread of such fires. Close to 100,000 people have had to evacuate their homes from the Israeli city of Haifa, with areas around Jerusalem also being in flames. As with any incident that happens within a conflict, heavily politicized claims have been made about the fires and who is responsible for them.
The notorious Israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennet, who just a few weeks ago claimed that “the Era of the Palestinian state is over”, tweeted, “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”, without any hint of irony. To have an agent of an occupation saying that of the people whose land is being occupied is quite farcical.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas replied that, “What is burning are our trees and our land of historical Palestine,”. 12 people have been arrested in connection with suspicion of involvement in starting the fires, while the militant group, Ma’sadat al-Mujahideen have claimed responsibility for the fires. While these claims should not be dismissed outright, it is worth noting that militant groups such as this often overstate their involvement in events, in an attempt to appear more capable than they are.
Palestinian Firefighters to Help
On a more positive note, Israel has accepted the help of the Palestinian Authority, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, in their offers to assist in managing the blazes. The Palestinian authority have now sent 4 ground teams into Israel to this effect. Several news outlets have noted the volume of Arabic speaking tweeters who have expressed glee at the fires at the expense of Israel, with others questioning the logic of the Palestinian Authority helping put out the blazes. Yes, Israel is a brutal occupier of the Palestinian land and people, in a way that has destroyed livelihoods, communities, families and individuals. There are not enough adjectives to describe the crimes that have become part of the daily experience of Palestinians living at the “mercy” of their oppressors.
Saladin Al Ayyoubi
However, I think it is a crucial moment to reflect on the example of one of our greatest leaders, Saladin Al Ayyoubi. The 12th century Kurdish general is among the elite Muslim military leaders, perhaps rivaled only by the Prophet himself, Khalid Ibn al Walid and Muhammad Al Fatih. Saladin grew up under the shadow of occupying Crusader armies who had sacked Jerusalem in 1099, carrying out a brutal slaughter of the city’s Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Some sources reported that 10,000 Muslims were slaughtered in Al Aqsa Mosque alone, while many Jews were burnt alive in the city’s main synagogue. Reports conflict about whether or not Arab Christians were also murdered.
Famously, there was no blood shed when Saladin reconquered the city in 1187. Crusader attempts to recapture the city were headed by Richard the 1st of England (Aka Richard the Lionheart). Despite the animosity between the two civilizations, locked in battle for the Holy Land, and despite Richard himself having led the slaughter of 3,000 Muslim men, women and children when his army captured Acre in Northern Palestine, Saladin remained true to his elevated morals. When Richard fell sick with Malaria, Saladin sent his own personal physicians to assist in his recovery, as well as sending ice and fruits, deemed necessary to control his fever and fight the illness.
There is a class about Saladin’s conduct that earned him the respect of Muslims, Christians and Jews. He was by no means weak; his re-conquest of Jerusalem, as well as his ability to unite a large proportion of the fractured Muslim world under one banner pays testament to his strength. His piety and his strength were not tempering one another, rather, they fuelled each other. He was a man that was focused on his goal, free from the chains of a desire for revenge or decision making that was made cloudy by the red-mist of anger. By this, he paid great tribute to the Sunnah by embodying a portion of the Prophet’s characteristics. Are we rising to the challenge of the Sunnah? Or are we allowing our lower self to dictate how we react to what we see and hear around us? Maybe it is no coincidence that the man who treated even his sworn enemies with dignity and care, was also the man who brought peace to a fractured Muslim world and to Muslim lands.