Dismal plight of migrant workers despite Arab uprisings
We can evaluate how far Muslims have strayed from the moral principles of Islam by comparing the treatment of migrant workers with how the Messenger of Allah (saws) treated Zayd bin Harith.
January 25, 2013, 19:50 EST
While the uprisings in the Arab countries gave some voice to the oppressed masses, the rights of the Asian migrant workers continue to be ignored by the forces claiming to fight for justice and dignity. The oppression and unjust treatment of Asian domestic and non-domestic workers in the Arab world is a reality that can be witnessed the moment one arrives in any Arab country be it Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
The overwhelming majority of Asian migrant workers in Arab countries face semi-slavery working conditions and racism. Mistreatment of Asian guest workers has been documented by many international and local human rights organizations.
In October 2012, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East Executive Director for Human Rights Watch said one migrant worker dies every week due to abuse and mistreatment. A report published in January 2013 states that migrant workers in Qatar earn $300 a month, however, according to the report published by the Guardian newspaper in December 2012 many migrant workers earn only $31 a week. There are 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar, making up 94% of the country’s entire labour force and 70% of the population.
Even though most severe abuses against migrant workers take place in countries whose regimes are allied with the US, the situation in all Arab countries is appalling. In March 2012 a video was recorded on the street in Beirut as an Ethiopian maid was being beaten and dragged into a car by a man who ran the agency that employed her. Even though dozens of people witnessed the abuse, no one interfered to protect the poor woman. A few days later the Ethiopian lady committed suicide.
We can evaluate how far Muslims have strayed from the moral principles of Islam by comparing the treatment of migrant workers with how the Messenger of Allah (saws) treated a slave given to him by his wife that the noble Messenger then adopted as his son. That slave/adopted son was Zayd ibn Haritha. When his father ultimately discovered where Zayd was, he came to the noble Messenger (saws) and offered to pay a ransom to rescue his son. The noble Messenger (saws) told him there was no need for ransom; he suggested let Zayd make the decision; if he wanted to leave, he was free to do so. If he wanted to stay, he should be allowed as well. Zayd’s father agreed and was astonished to find that Zayd wanted to stay with the noble Messenger of Allah (saws) because he was so well treated.
In this month of Rabi al-Awwal, Muslims organize elaborate programs to highlight the various qualities of the noble Messenger (saws). Some Muslims organize programs of naat and nasheed recitals to express their love for the beloved Messenger of Allah (saws). Is this all that is required of Muslims? Are we not required to emulate the example of the noble Messenger (saws) who has been described by Allah in the noble Qur’an as the best of exemplars (33:21)? When Imam Ali used to walk in the street with his domestic worker, Qambar, people often thought Imam Ali was the servant because of the good quality clothes Imam Ali provided to his servant.
While we cannot expect the so-called Muslim rulers that align themselves with Zionist Israel and the US to live up to the Prophet’s lofty moral standards, leaders of Islamic movements in the Arab world must make the rights of migrant Asian workers a part of their struggle in their respective societies.
The treatment of financially less fortunate people is not only a command of Allah repeatedly emphasized in the Qur’an, it is also an opportunity to bring together the Muslim Ummah and strengthen the global Islamic movement, as most of the migrant workers are Muslim. The rights of migrant workers of all races and religions must become an integral part of the struggle for justice and dignity in the Arab countries. Ignoring their plight will provide ammunition to imperialist powers to discredit the global Islamic movement.