Sunday, February 08, 2004

Our Servants and the Absence of Justice

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

In our neighborhood, a housemaid fell and broke her back as she was escaping from her sponsor. As I read the story, I thought of many similar tragedies and wondered why?
While I know that many of these people escape in the hope of better pay and freer choices, I suspect most are just desperate souls who want to escape unbearable abuses. A Saudi woman friend once told me that while she was in a restaurant, she noticed a table with two women. One was eating from a large plate while the other had no plate and was eating nothing. When the one who was not eating left the table for a few minutes, my friend’s curiosity overcame her and she asked if the woman were fasting or perhaps sick. The woman who was eating answered. “She is only the maid. I am not going to feed her in an expensive restaurant.”
If this story is sickening, what about the really awful ones? Beating, imprisonment, overworking, even rape. Many maids are denied their month-long vacation every two years, their weekly day off and their monthly pay. Living conditions are sometimes both unhealthy and inhumane.
A housemaid who almost died in her attempt to escape explained that she had come to this country for two reasons: to make money for her mother and children and to perform Haj. In more than two years, she had not achieved either; she wasn’t paid her salary and so couldn’t call her family, had gone nowhere or seen anything except the road from the airport to her sponsor’s house. Risking death for freedom, therefore, was not a bad option!
Another maid died because food ran out and she couldn’t escape from the house while the family was vacationing somewhere else.
I shiver when I hear these tragic tales, not just because they are horrible, or because we are supposed to be hospitable Arabs and decent Muslims or for the bad image they gave us all, but most importantly, because of what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warned against. That God supports the just non-Muslim over the unjust Muslim, that silence towards injustice is a crime, and that God may punish a whole nation for tolerating the crimes of some.
As a Muslim, I am required to right wrongs as much as I can — with my hand, if possible; with my tongue if I can’t or with my heart, if that’s all I can do.
I urge that we treat our servants with kindness, compassion and mercy, as our Prophet did, and to interfere if others don’t. I demand more rigorous rules and regulations, and the mechanisms to assure just and efficient implementation.
And I pray, that we always remember what the Prophet said: Allah helps those who help the underprivileged. A woman will go to Hell for killing a cat and a man will go to Paradise for feeding a dog.

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