Taking an alternative path with the Faiths Act Fellowship
Growing up in a small, homogenous town called Darien, Connecticut, I never felt comfortable exploring or sharing my faith with those around me. Different was bad, and all I thirsted for was to fit in – to be popular, to be accepted, to be one of “them”.
Back in fourth grade, I had already learned and perfected the practice of othering: separating people into categories of “us” and “them” by learning what I could from TV, my friends, and the local mall, using those factors to define what was cool and rank myself accordingly. Polo shirts and sambas were cool, religion and desi food was not. Gossip and crushes on boys were halal to talk about with friends, but discussing culture, belief, and background was equal to social suicide in my mind.
As hard as I tried to shed the characteristics that made me different, when the September 11th attacks took place, those unsightly identity labels, whether I wanted them to or not, were pasted onto me. I was a mummy wrapped in yellow caution tape, blindfolded and lost, with no idea in which direction to go.
Slowly but surely, with college, came maturity, open-minded friends, and some necessary identity exploration. In those four years of critical personal development, I found a sense of self, a sense of purpose, and magically enough, faith. Embraced by the Muslim Students' Association and taking an introduction to Islam course, my heart was comforted to learn all the beliefs I had in justice, compassion, equality, and service were at the base of Islam, contrary to what had been portrayed on news headlines and magazine covers over the past ten years.
My faith teaches me that I am never alone, with love from and of the divine always around me. It humbles me, teaching me to remember my roots and heritage, yet also that we, as human beings, are entirely equal in the eyes of God and the status attributed to people based on money, education, nationality, fame or family name means nothing. If blessed with more, with better circumstances, with more opportunities, there is a greater responsibility to do what you can to make use of them and give back to the world. For me, Islam is a call to serve - to take care of myself, my family, my community, my country, my world – to show my appreciation for the blessing that is life by doing whatever I can, whenever I can, to help others and breathe love into the lives around me.
When I look at the current state of the United States, it breaks my heart. Levels of unemployment and crime, amounts of abuse and neglect in and out of homes - the fear, distrust, and disappointment many feel on the daily.
I love my country, I love the American people, and when I look back on the past few years and read about Quran burnings or anti-Muslim rallies, it does hurt. It hurts because I love my religion and have been so touched, positively, by its teachings and I wish others could see the goodness within Islam that is so apparent to me, not just the way some use and abuse it for their own motives. It also hurts, because it makes clear the condition of the American people, reminding me of how desperation and tough times often lead us to want to divide ourselves from others, wanting to point fingers, wanting to find someone to blame.
Faiths Act, for me, shows an alternative path we can take. Instead of dividing ourselves and further ostracising members of our community, we can work together to find solutions, lend a hand to those in need, and work our way into a better future for our world.