Finding purpose: a call to act on #RightsNow!

By Hamzah Latif, Field Organizer Amnesty International

Ramadan has always been a time for great reflection. The very purpose of fasting is to slow the pace of an ordinarily frightfully rapid schedule, full of work and personal travel, zoom calls, movies and brunch plans, enough to create opportunities to nurture your spiritual needs, centering yourself while forging empathy for the community around you.

1.8 billion Muslims around the world fast from dawn until dusk, which sometimes extends up to 17-hour days, refraining from eating and drinking any type of food in accordance with our faith guidelines. These guidelines enumerated in our religious teachings are not limited to dietary restrictions but extend into a heightened sense of awareness of our impact on our community and the folks that live within it.

Often, the impact of fasting is hastily summarized as an occasion to build compassion for the less fortunate and the hungry, but an academic and more practical understanding of fasting reveals that this is a time for us to take a step back and examine the basic needs that we take for granted. Some examples of this are access to food, a steady job, the safety of our home and access to essential healthcare in the event that it’s needed.

12 Ramadan’s ago, while I was a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I happened to come across a student group run event focusing on the rights of the refugees in Darfur. This event was put together in collaboration with the Muslim Students Association and the Amnesty International student group. The premise of the event was for faculty members, staff and students to come together, fast during the day and share a meal at sunset, while highlighting the human rights violations in Darfur.

While seated and enjoying my first morsels of nourishment and a much-needed cup of coffee after my 16-hour fast, an undeniable connection was forged in my mind between fasting, as a religious tenet, and tending to the needs of our community, extending beyond access to food, water and shelter.

Once this concept established itself, that human rights were a part of fostering the need of the community, I was eager to plug into a framework that allowed me to advocate for the rights of others that I, my whole life, unconsciously enjoyed. I was introduced to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expanded my view of what human rights even entailed. I started to rethink the right to privacy or the freedom to move from country to country without penalization and having the right to seek a safe space to live, seek shelter and establish residency. I had never before considered such simple needs as human rights.

Now, as we enter into our second month of shelter in place, we are witnessing how this pandemic disproportionality affects communities most at risk. Amnesty International’s RightsNow! campaign demands the US Government protect all people right now. You can read all about this campaign online, including the 10 Point Plan for President Trump and Congress in the coronavirus response here! It is crucial to amplify our commitment to organizing for human rights at a time like this when violations are exponentially layering upon themselves due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

48,000 folks are being separated from their families and being placed in detention facilities, further endangering their mental and physical health. There have been several reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in ICE facilities with no response plan. A 1 year old who was held in detention was moved to a hospital on a respirator and sent right back to the detention facility, where she had contracted the virus to begin with. Currently, there are 55 detainees, who have been cleared of charges although they continue to be detained in Guantánamo Bay. These individuals are being held in close quarters and are at higher risk of contracting the virus. These circumstances demonstrate that the pandemic is affecting everyone, but marginalized communities continuing to get hit the hardest.

Addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 has to include recovery plan that includes everyone, not just those that are fortunate enough to have access to good healthcare prior to the virus outbreak. With 22 million people unemployed, it is imperative that we seek universal healthcare, so access to medical coverage is not contingent on employment.

This is the time to address and protect workers’ rights and unions across the country that are deemed essential, yet do not enjoy the basic privileges of fair wages and safe work environments.

We must protect members of our community from governments using this time of crisis to violate privacy, civic and political rights.

COVID-19 is exacerbating the homegrown public health crisis that is gun violence in the U.S. Communities that already feel the impact of gun violence the most are being affected disproportionately by the pandemic, and the organizations designed to stop gun violence before it happens are critically endangered at a time when they are needed most.

We must act as a safety net for these vulnerable populations. Ensuring that the impact of COVID-19 is managed with compassion empathy and equity across different sectors of our community. Making sure that a functioning and dependable healthcare option is available for all and workers feel protected at a time like this. Action needs to be taken to release people at risk and immigration detention and no one should be locked up so late for seeking safety let alone during a health crisis.

With about 10 days left in Ramadan and us being physically distant we need to do our part, uniting under the banner of human rights, serving our community and using our privilege to educate, mobilize, protest, and motivate others around us that there is work to be done.

Click here to learn what you can do now to address the human rights concerns that are being seen as a result of COVID-19.

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