The history of Islam tells us of the well-known story of Talha Ibn Obaidullah, a wealthy businessman and an early convert to Islam, known for his kindness, his generosity and his bravery. At a time when Islam, and religion as a whole, was being attacked by an Arab society steeped in barbarism, Talha was among those who fought alongside the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), to save Arabia from tyranny and to enable freedom of conscience for all individuals. His fearlessness in battle was so remarkable that he would shield the Prophet from arrows with his own body, such that his arm became heavily wounded and crippled, and would carry the Prophet on his back to ease his hardship. For Talha knew that the Prophet who he was protecting was the one who preached peace and tolerance and compassion, the one who gave his soul for the sake of humanity, the mercy for all of mankind.
Today, as a Muslim living in the West, I feel fortunate, for it is no longer my life or my limbs that I must give to save the lives of others. What is required, however, is my blood. Around 1 in 7 people entering hospital require a blood transfusion, a procedure which relies on the donation of others. Each time a person gives blood they save up to three lives, yet the tragedy remains that the rate of both blood and organ donations by ethnic minorities in the UK stands significantly lower than that of the White population. A recent telegraph article told the heartbreaking story of Aneesa Hussain, a teenage girl diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, distraught by the fact that she could not be treated due to the lack of suitable transplant matches because of the lack of donation by those from her ethnic background. Unfortunately such stories are not uncommon. As well as the evident humanitarian benefits, evidence suggests that donating blood is beneficial for the health of the donors themselves. Currently, around 4% of the UK population donate, and as mentioned this figure is significantly lower amongst ethnic minorities, leading to a shortage, especially of the B negative subtype, which is causing vast problems for those such as Aneesa, who are requiring blood.
This is a complex issue, and must be addressed on a collective level rather than on an individual one. It is difficult to fully understand why ethnic minority donor rates are so low, but addressing the potential ideological explanations is necessary to attempt to solve the problem. Aneesa was let down by the Pakistani community, perhaps in part due to the religious perceptions surrounding donations. Islam gives extraordinary value to human life, to such an extent that the Quran teaches that ‘Whosoever killed a person…it shall be as if he had killed the whole of mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.’ (5:33). Thus the importance that is given to protecting and helping others in Islam is emphasised so ardently that saving a single individual through our efforts is regarded as equivalent to saving everyone. By denying help to Aneesa and those like her through donation, innocent young lives are being ruined by a collective failing on the part of those who could have saved them.
Thankfully though, a light and a hope exists, for through the blood donations of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association in the UK, 2500 pints of blood were donated in 2013 alone – the equivalent of saving 7500 lives. This has been a collective effort by the Community, spanning not only the UK but also other countries such as the United States, where such blood drives have reached even greater proportions in recent years. Ahmadi Muslim youths have worked tirelessly in recent years, both in donating blood and in raising awareness of the importance of doing so, seeking to collaborate with NGOs who share similar goals. The hope for the future is that all ethnic minority communities can follow in these footsteps, and that each of us individually can become the Talha of this age, giving a part of our own selves to save the lives of others.
Written & Provided to The National Diversity Awards by Damir Rafi