What makes Titan Sub victims’ lives more valuable than refugees drowned at sea?

Titan submersible. Image: OceanGate

Maria Akbar contrasts the round-the-clock media reporting of the tragic deaths of five wealthy individuals in the Titan Submersible to the scant attention given to the deaths of over 300 mainly Muslim migrants in a boat disaster off the Greek coast.

Tragically it has been reported by the U.S Coast Guard that all five passengers on board the Titan submersible that went missing, are dead.

On board was the CEO of the submersible company itself, Stockton Rush; a British father and son, Shahzada Dawood and Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a former French Navy Diver.

The search for the crew was a multinational effort, using sophisticated technology to put the utmost effort into finding and saving these five valuable lives. But ultimately a debris field was found revealing that there must have been a catastrophic implosion inside the vessel leading to loss of life.

The live reporting over the past few days from news outlets such as Sky and BBC on the “Titan Sub” undoubtedly shows the dedication, care, and concern that we hold for some people. There has been update after update, with the case being followed very closely. The media has made a mention of each of these individuals, their pictures, their interests and hobbies. As well as this, the rescue efforts were huge. And since the news of the tragic loss of life, there have been ongoing efforts in investigating what went wrong and why.

In Islam we believe, as the Quran tells us in Surah Al Ma’idah (Verse 32), that whoever saves a life it is as though he had saved all mankind, and therefore it is comforting to know that so much effort was put into trying to save these lives as every life is valuable.

But amidst the Titan Sub tragedy, there was also news of a “Greek boat disaster” where a boat full of migrants capsized due to being overloaded. One article on the BBC mentioned that there could have been up to 750 people on board, and the UN mentioned that there are up to 500 people still missing.

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As well as this there have been reports of more than 30 migrants drowning after the sinking of their boat in the Canary Islands. More so, the UN reports that since 2014 more than 26,000 people have died or gone missing in total in desperate attempts to migrate by sea.

I cannot help but notice the stark contrast in the reporting of these cases. A mere mention on the news outlets of hundreds of migrants being capsized at sea is reported as just another article; versus trending live reporting, with regular updates, as well as  huge rescue efforts on the ground and ongoing investigations into the circumstances that led to the tragedy.

What makes the two cases different?

What is it exactly that makes these two cases different and subsequently more or less deserving of help from the public? This is something we must ask ourselves as we cannot ignore the discrepancy.

So on the one hand we have the Titan Submersible, a recreational activity undertaken by five extremely wealthy people, who sadly lost their lives. And on the other hand, we have boats full of hundreds of migrants fleeing poverty, in the hope of a better life elsewhere.

Islam demands equality in treatment for all people and therefore they were all deserving of the same aid in my view.

Shahzada Dawood and Suleman Dawood

However, the migrants who lost their lives at sea did not get the same treatment by any means. These people, in desperation, were seeking a better life and in that hope they boarded a ship that they probably knew was overloaded. But they saw a glimmer of hope from their current situation, so they risked and subsequently lost their lives.

Nobody knows who they were, what they looked like, their occupations or family backgrounds. And just like that, they vanished into the sea. Where was the rescue effort Where was the care and concern for these people? Where is the investigation into the safety of the overloaded boats they had boarded?

They too were human. They too had a life, a family, a story. Yet for some reason, they are just reported as a mere number of people who capsized in a boat. Sadly, it doesn’t even make breaking news. There is no rescue effort or follow-up investigation.

The hypocrisy disgusts me. What makes one life more valuable than the other? One life worth saving over the other? Dare I say, the underlying factor is wealth. Clearly, the reason the five who died tragically on the Titan Sub had the international effort was because they were wealthy. On the other hand, the thousands of migrants who drowned at sea were poor.

So there we have it – wealth. That is the standard that the value of one’s life is measured against in the West evidently. Wealth appears to give power and status.

Everyone deserves equal treatment 

However in Islam, no one is superior to another. As mentioned in the last sermon delivered by the Prophet (saw) on the ninth of Dhul Hijjah: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a White has no superiority over a Black nor a Black has any superiority over a White except by piety and good action.”

In Islam, we do not view wealth as currency. In fact, it is mentioned in a hadith that true wealth is wealth of the heart. Islam does not elevate or make any individual superior to another due to wealth. On the contrary, it is mentioned in ahadith that the majority of people in Paradise will be the poor and that the poor people will enter paradise before the wealthy.

Desperate migrants. Editorial credit: Sean Aidan Calderbank / Shutterstock.com

Islam demands good treatment to the poor. It is narrated in a hadith that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “He who sleeps on a full stomach whilst his neighbour goes hungry is not one of us.” So a Muslim must have empathy for the suffering of others.

The fact is as individuals in the West, we make up part of the top 1% who own over half of the world’s wealth. We therefore have a duty to help those living in poverty through the means we have been given by Allah SWT.

We may not be able to physically help when tragic events like boats capsize. But we can support financially. We can donate money to charities on the ground. And if we could help improve their circumstances on the ground, this could reduce the need for people having to go to such desperate lengths to seek a better life.

We must all do what is within our means as these tragedies cannot continue. Without a doubt, every single life is valuable.

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