Watch Zakat Foundation of America’s video from this event.
In 17th century Morocco, an influential scholar by the name of Imam Muhammad al-Dar’i composed a powerful supplication that empowers Muslims even today. During his era, al-Dar’i was responding to the deplorable conditions in which Muslims lived: poverty, war, and occupation was rampant. The Prayer of the Oppressed is essentially a plea to God, requesting divine mercy and the restoration of social justice for persecuted communities.
Oppression can take place in many forms. It can occur in the homelands of our forefathers or in our very own cities and neighborhoods. The question then is how can communities collectively come together to combat oppression? What is our strongest line of defense against persecution?
As a response to the escalating gun violence on the streets of Chicago, Zakat Foundation of America and Sirat Chicago came together to organize a communal recitation of the infamous supplication. The event took place at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park, a religious institution with a history of interfaith dialogue and social justice. Families and students alike gathered on a snowy afternoon in the beautiful space of the church to listen to the Arabic prayer and read the English translation.
Before the recitation began, a few speakers took to the podium to briefly discuss contemporary issues facing the community today. Sister Saadia Shah from Sirat Chicago recounted the tragic story of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who was killed in a crossfire. The shooting took place at a public park just a mile from President Obama’s Chicago residence, the same park where Shah visits with her children.
Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is an assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies at Purdue University as well as the author of Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip-Hop in the United States. Dr. Su’ad touched upon oppressive social structures that keep poverty concentrated on the city’s West and South sides. Her talk was complemented by the next and final speaker, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement who gave a presentation on state violence unfolding in Chicago today. The event was covered by the Hyde Park Herald as well as DNAInfo Chicago and Fox 32 in Chicago.
All these issues are interconnected in the larger scope of systematic oppression. Those resisting oppressive powers can often feel helpless against institutions where social, political, and economic persecution is so deeply embedded. However, as history has shown us, even the strongest tyrants have been taken down by communities with sincere faith, unity, and resilience.
As Imam Muhammad al-Dar’i suggested hundreds of years ago, the first and best line of defense can be sincere prayer to the One who maintains the most power.
“O You, whose mercy is a refuge for all those
In dire need who flee to You to lose their woes,
O Master of reprieve, whose pardon is so near,
You answer all in need; they know that You do hear!”