By Naeem Biag, ICNA President
I write from the Istanbul airport as I wait for my next flight. The WiFi connection is unstable and I am disconnected from the digital world. This is a good thing because it has given me the opportunity to observe my surroundings. Istanbul airport is continuously bustling with people and the international terminal looks like a small world in itself. People of all colors and ethnicities walk around, lost and confused.
I have heard stories about the abuse of foreign maids, often from the Philippines, working in Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, in the little time I spent at the airport, I witnessed two episodes that brought those stories to life.
The first I witnessed as I waited to pass through the metal detector. A Muslim brother, his wife, and three kids cut quickly in front of me and threw their stuff on the scanner belt on top of my own bags. A hijab-clad Filipina maid accompanied them. She took the baby out of the stroller, the mother slammed the stroller closed, and the husband slammed it on the belt.
We passed through the metal detector but the baggage belt got stuck. The stroller has popped open inside the scanner. After a small struggle by security personnel, the belt began to move again but one of the stroller wheels came off.
The husband yelled at his wife who pointed her finger toward the maid. She then lifted her hand to strike her, but stopped in realization that she was in public. The poor maid cowed, frightened, and started to quickly lift the luggage with her frail arms. At that moment I swore that if the couple yelled at this Filipina again or touched her, I would start my jihad against this abuse and oppression.
I wished for an Abu Bakr, radi Allahu ‘anhu, may Allah be pleased with him, to come and buy the lady her freedom.
A short while later I was chatting with a fellow traveler when I noticed an Arab family having lunch. The woman said something and suddenly, a tiny maid appeared, obeyed her master’s wish, and melted away. It was as if she didn’t exist except to serve them.
It is reported that once Umar radi Allahu ‘anhu, may Allah be pleased with him, saw a few nobles eating while their servants sat on the side. He reprimanded them and told them to provide their servants the same food and place they enjoyed.
This Labor Day, I witnessed a form of modern slavery. It is crucial for us to create awareness about these voiceless and marginalized people, and start a jihad for their rights and dignity.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It serves as both a reminder of one of the most traumatizing occurrences to unfold on American soil and as a testimony to the resilience of every community living here in America.