November 14, 2013 by Muslim Padre
“I don’t know where this idea came about that the Red Poppy glorifies war. It is for the remembrance of those who didn’t make it. There is no glory in war, I don’t know which soldier believes that after witnessing it.”
As I listened to this soldier, who has seen the devastation of war first hand, who has suffered injury on many levels, I finally understood the sense of remembrance that we should all have on the 11th of November. As a Muslim, I am challenged frequently by my community to explain my reasons as to why I wear the poppy. “Is not wearing the poppy a symbol of aggression?!”, “how could you support an army that kills Muslims!”
You see, when a soldier dies, a ripple is felt. They leave behind family, friends, parents. They leave behind unfinished goals and aspirations. Their death is a frequent reminder of the fragility of life and the realities of war as John McCrae famously said in his poem In Flander’s Field:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Every community has a custom of remembrance. In the Muslim tradition, this is infused in our daily rituals. Death, forgiveness, mercy and the afterlife are all encapsulated in the opening chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha. Countries in the Muslim world have days set out to commemorate various battles in recent history. Even more profound, the Shia community commemorates Muharram wherein the battle of Karbala took place.
The fact that Remembrance Day exists should not be a surprise to anyone. Witnessing a soldier cry on this day is a human response to the loss of a comrade and to the painful memories of war that they had witnessed. There is no laughter, no battle cries, no boasting, just silence coupled with the shedding of tears. As Muslims we have an added dimension to knowing death, which is to reflect on our eternal abode for we know very well that this is the only thing guaranteed to us as the the Almighty says, “When their specified time arrives, they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they bring it forward,” (16:61)
Muslims of all people, in this current age, with all the wars and popular revolutions, should be the most attuned to the devastation of war, but it seems that we have become shallow in our reflection of it. Every Jumu’a we hear the Khateeb saying “Give victory to the Mujahideen”, “Give us victory over the disbelievers”. On Eid, a day of celebration we add to the Takbeer, sadaqa wa’dah (He has fulfilled His Promise), wa nasara abda (and made Victorious His servant|), wa a’azza jundahu (and made Mighty His soldiers), wa hazamal-ahzaaba wahdah (and defeated the confederates). I wonder sometimes though, is it only victory we remember? Do we lament the human cost of war, for whatever purpose it had been waged and to whoever suffered, be it Muslims or not? Do we invoke Salam in our discourse? Clearly we must, otherwise we risk falling into a form of idealism that makes war holy.
While Remembrance Day has its specific historical origins, I was reminded by my mentor, “nobody has a monopoly over what Remembrance Day means”. For me, a military chaplain, I could only hope that with all the tears and brokenness I have seen, that others could appreciate that Remembrance Day is not to glorify war, but a hope for a peace that is so frequently lost.