وَإِنِ اسْتَنْصَرُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ فَعَلَيْكُمُ النَّصْرُ
If they seek your help in religion then it is your duty to help
(Sūratul Anfāl, No.8, Āyat 72)
Assisting the oppressed for whoever is able to, is a responsibility established in the fitrat or inner instinct of the human being, in the aql (human intellect), and in the Sharī’ah or code of laws. The oppressed or mazlūm is one whose rights have been taken away. Islam emphasizes on: distancing from any type of oppression, a complete lack of cooperation with the oppressor, and assisting the oppressed. The one who is oppressed must stand up for his rights, speak out, and seek assistance. The rest of the believers must listen and respond to the plea for help.
The above verse is part of a verse outlining the bonds that exist in a believing community. Believers support and strengthen each other so there is justice and progress in the community. According to this verse all groups of believers are friends and protectors of one another. When one group needs help then the rest are duty bound to respond. They cannot ignore the need for assistance. The exception given at the end of the verse is if helping them would break earlier agreements with a group of people.
Hadith on helping the oppressed are of different types;
1) Hadith that consider it an obligatory religious duty. Imam Ali (a) on accepting the caliphate of the Muslim Ummah after the murder of ‘Uthman said: Behold, by Him who split the grain and created living beings, if people had not come to me, and supporters had not exhausted the argument, and if there had been no pledge of Allah with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cast the rope of Caliphate on its own shoulders. (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 3). Imam Zaynul ‘Ābidīn (a) in his supplication to seek pardon from Allah says: O God, I ask pardon from You for the person wronged in my presence whom I did not help . . . (Sahīfa Sajjādiyya, Du‘ā 38, Passage 1).
2) Hadith that consider helping the oppressed as one of the most noble deeds of Islam. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: No believer assists an oppressed believer except that it is better for him than fasting for a month and I’tikaf in Masjid al-Harām. And no believer helps a believer when he is able to, except that Allah will help him in this world and in the Hereafter, and no believer abandons and humiliates a believer while he is able to help him except that Allah will humiliate him in the world and in the Hereafter (Bihārul Anwār, v. 20, p. 75).
3) Hadith that condemn those who are slack in helping the oppressed. An emphatic Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) says: Whoever wakes up in the morning and is not concerned about the affairs of Muslims is not a Muslim. He also says: Whoever hears a Muslim call out to other Muslims and does not answer him is not a Muslim.
The world today is full of oppressed people pleading for help. From the waves of refugees flooding the world to the people oppressed on their own lands for decades, there seems to be a continuous flow of people weighed down under tyranny of all sorts.. Helping them can take many forms. It could start with awareness of their plight, praying for them, conversations and discussions about them – both in personal and communal gatherings, speaking up and spreading the word, standing up in solidarity with them, helping them financially and physically if possible . . . and more. Apathy to their plight is not an option. It does not a befit a believer who loves God to ignore the cries of God’s servants. Assisting them is assisting God.
On this last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, as we begin to bid farewell to this blessed month, let us remind ourselves of this important duty along with all the other duties of fasting and prayers. Many Muslims have declared this holy day, as the day of solidarity with the oppressed. Remember this verse and do your part. That is your role in the global Ummah moving towards God.
Sources: Imam Ali bin Abu Talib, Nahjul Balāgha; Imam Zaynul ‘Ābidīn (a), Sahīfa Sajjādiyya; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne