Today is the end of a pretty trying week. Violence, death, and hate continue to plague our world and especially our country. This weekend is no different- a number of “anti-Muslim” rallies and protests have been planned across the country, forcing mosques and even schools to be wary of threats. This is frankly ignorance and hate- but many interfaith activists won’t stand for it. Across the country, they have also been planning- dialogues, service projects, and even “mosque tours”. Despite the frustration I feel knowing ignorance still permeates, I want to humbly do my own part as an interfaith activist to affirm that Islam, and Muslims, are forces for good in the world. As is my custom, I want to focus on a positive way to engage this situation- so here are 4 aspects I appreciate and admire about Islam and Muslims, given my own experience and relationships:
- The Ummah
Ummah means community, and can refer to a local community of Muslims or the global community, sometimes called ummah wahida. Anywhere I have traveled in the world, Muslims have treated me as they treat each other- like family. In Turkey, I have experienced first-hand a friend of a cousin of a father (and so on) invite me into their home, feed me delicious food, and fuss over me with no hesitation, and they do this for anyone willing to be company. This is true in the United States too- at iftar or the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan, my friends who have fasted all day offer each other dates (traditional bites to break fast) first, before feeding themselves. It really is like a global family, knowing that of course there are many differences. Salat, the five daily prayers, also have a communal aspect, one that reminds me of my own Buddhist sangha. Both prayer and meditation can be individual, but praying and meditation with others often enhances the experience.
- Scholarship and Commitment to Faith
It can be very difficult to remain faithful while studying or working- especially if the study focuses on the faith you practice. At the University of Chicago, many of my Muslim friends expressed this difficulty yet still found a way to adhere to their faith and excel in their studies. I found that studying Islam and the Muslim experience was most powerful for me when my classmates were Muslims who sought to learn more about their own faith, historically, literally, and anthropologically. Further, many Muslims take education very seriously, committing years of their lives to studying medicine, law, or public policy- subjects that allow them to improve our communities. Faith definitely fuels this passion for scholarship and community building, one that offers a model for other people of faith or no faith.
- Young Muslim Activists
An argument that frustrates me deeply is the “if Muslims are so great, why don’t they speak up and say ‘we are not like [insert extremist group here].'” The truth is, Muslims do speak out, often quite eloquently, about their desire and work toward peace and why they condemn these groups. Even more powerfully, so many young activists model the values in Islam that completely defy extremism and violence. One of my Muslim classmates raised over $100,000 last year for AME churches in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Just this past week at Northeastern University, Muslim students organized “Islamic Charity Week” and hosted an event every day that raised both funds for non-profit organizations and awareness about important issues. You don’t have to look very far to find young Muslims doing awesome work around the world, and I’m proud to call a couple of them my friends.
- Approaches to Interfaith Work
A large part of my network both professionally and personally are people involved in the interfaith movement. Muslims are very passionate about interfaith work, especially when people come together to perform service. My friend Sarrah, once the president of USC’s Interfaith Council and now a medical student at Harvard, so beautifully states that illness does not choose who it affects based on religion or faith, so why should we choose whom we serve based on this? Islam is about serving humanity and making the world better. Without Muslims, the interfaith movement, especially the youth, would not be nearly as strong.
There are a million more elements of Islam that I admire, so until next time, Salam Aleikum (peace be upon you!).