On February 1st, news rapidly spread over social media of a 5-year-old boy trapped within a well in the remote and rural Moroccan village of Ighran. The child, Rayan, had reportedly been helping his father repair the well before he slipped and fell over 100 feet. Local authorities were able to identify that Rayan was alive and breathing at the bottom. However, the difficulty of the rescue mission quickly became more apparent.
With limited time to rescue Rayan, the first responders began to dig deep trenches around the well using excavators to rescue the toddler since the well itself was too narrow to reach Rayan directly. With the danger of landslides and the presence of boulders, the operation continued for multiple days and nights. As pictures of a scared and trapped Rayan began to circulate on social media, the hashtag #SaveRayan went viral. Not only did the constant updates from the local operation site captivate Moroccans and Arabs alike, but also most of the Western world.
For four laborious days and nights, the rescue efforts continued and escalated as unexpected barriers delayed the operation. Along with hundreds of villagers watching the rescue attempt in real-time, the whole world was on edge, glued to social media and their TVs for hopeful updates. Finally, on the fourth day, news broke that the rescuers were within centimeters of reaching little Rayan. Yet, just as they were in proximity to Rayan, reports across the internet claimed that Rayan had passed away. It was not clear if Rayan had passed soon after being recovered or had passed away within the well immediately before his rescue.
As news continued to come from the village, it was revealed that Rayan had passed away before his body was recovered; an outpour of condolences and collective sadness flooded social media. The tragedy of Rayan itself is extremely sad and depressing, however, there are some important lessons and notes to take away from it.
The way the tragedy unfolded and captivated the entire Muslim world is significant to reflect on. This event was unique in that we have not seen the Ummah come together in support and remembrance of Allah through dua at this level for such a long time. Perhaps it was the idea of Rayan’s innocence and youth or the sad reality that even with the advancements of modern technology we could not save poor Rayan.
Regardless, the tragedy of little Rayan has shown us the power that social media has. It can be used effectively to unite Muslims across the globe, most of whom who share no connection or similarities with each other besides Islam. This realization is inspiring; however, it is concerning as well because it took Rayan’s death for us to open our eyes and understand the unity that can still be harnessed among what seems to be a very polarized Ummah. Millions of our brothers and sisters are in concentration camps in China, freezing to death in refugee camps across Europe, starving in Yemen, oppressed in Palestine, and overall in dire need of our help. Just like we did for Rayan, we need to reunite again for our Muslim brothers and sisters.
It’s important to not discredit the amazing work we can do through social media, but now it’s time for every single one of us to take bigger and more meaningful steps beyond reposting infographics and Instagram stories. We need to take more action so that the knowledge we spread on social media is translated into actual change. To do this we need to expand our advocacy beyond our lives on social media. You need to stand behind your words and initiate these tough conversations in person, off of the internet. The tragedy of Rayan should be an inspiration for us to do more to unite the Ummah; it should not have taken the sad and preventable death of Rayan for us to realize the potential our ummah has to unite together. However, for some people, like myself, it was this tragedy that catalyzed this realization. As Muslims, we must remember that Allah’s mercy expands beyond what we might think of as a straightforward and direct act of forgiveness of our sins. Maybe the tragedy of Rayan was meant to be more than a tragedy: perhaps a form of guidance from Allah highlighting the broken state and more so the potential of the Ummah, which we must act upon.