They say turning 30 is a milestone. As much as I’m an advocate on living out the quality in life, I’m not going to dismiss the importance of what turning 30 means. But rather than share every bit of what I’ve learned in the past 29 years, I wanted to pen what I chose to do on my birthday. Normally, I keep my deeds between God and I, but it was a person I met that day whose response compelled me to share this story.
After Friday prayer ended, I heaved the last bundle of rolled-up prayer mats outside into storage. With the sun beating down mercilessly, I wiped the sweat off my brow as I headed to my car. A verse from the Qur’an offered in the sermon echoed in my mind: “Thus, We have made you a justly balanced community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.” (2:143). Balance. Moderation. The Middle Path. These were prescriptions that the Prophet ﷺ lived and advocated throughout his life. So when I entered the garage to my home to escape the heat, I spotted an empty cooler yearning to be filled. Within 8 minutes, it contained a pound of ice, a handful of water bottles, and little storage bags of cut apple slices. “Maybe there’s people in D.C. that are in need,” I said to myself as I drove to find out. No matter the place, the world is forever in need of those that can give their presence and time. But little did I know that the opportunity to give isn’t measured by the distance traveled but by throwing away the ruler. And when I did, a park near my home became a beacon that innately drew me in.
Carrying the cooler in hand, the park was filled with parents, kids, and soccer teams practicing under the blazing sun. To each adult I passed, I introduced myself, and asked if they’d like some cold water to drink or some fresh apple slices to eat. Some were eager to take up my offer while others declined respectfully. Either way, I carried on with a full cooler only to find a pair of soccer team managers observing the kids practicing with their coach. After introducing myself to them, they took some water to drink and curiously asked why I was doing this. “I’m just a neighbor that lives a few streets away,” I said. “It’s my birthday and I just wanted to give back to my community. Would it be alright to give some to the kids?” “Absolutely!” they replied, “But only if they can meet you to know what it means to be kind.” When it was time for a break, the kids rushed towards me carrying wide smiles along the way. I asked every single one of them their names before giving them what was in the cooler. “I love apples!” one excitedly shared. They didn’t let me go without singing “Happy Birthday.” How could I take away their desire to give? And that’s when one of the managers decided to share something personal with me. “For you to do this on your day while you could have been with your family has changed my view on how to give. You’ve forever inspired me today. Thank you for teaching the kids and all of us a valuable lesson in giving back to the community,” she said.
I don’t know what it means to be 30, but I hope my age never lets me forget the meaning of a balanced community. It’s about embracing all those people near you outside your home regardless of the label they choose. We consume all sorts of media and get ingrained with stereotypes without actually getting out there and knowing one another. If you want to give, just give. The color of their skin, what they believe in, or who they support politically shouldn’t be the filter to your giving. How else can we change the world if we don’t start changing our own.
Heavy thoughts weighed on my mind as I drove to Friday prayer in the afternoon. But if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be much of a thinker. From family matters, to distant friends, to career challenges, and to an uncertain future, they’re not just fleeting thoughts that are undeserving. They’re the gateways to understanding my own humanity. Each serves as its own unique start to a conversation I have with the Unseen. So as I sat within the congregation to listen to the sermon, I allowed the history and tradition of my faith to renew the silver lining to my experiences. I was reminded by Imam Zia that even when investing in family, friends, career, and future, never forget to invest in yourself by investing in the service of what’s good. Maybe that’s why God says, “Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Qur’an 55:60).
When prayer ended, I continued to offer my own careful whispers to Him for further guidance and clarity. As I lifted my eyelids, a brother whom I never met approached me with a giving smile. You could almost feel the light that emanated from his sincerity. He wanted to thank me and said I was a valuable part of the community. As gracious as I was taken aback, I asked what I did to deserve such kindness. He said the words I shared with the MakeSpace community during Ramadan about the strength in vulnerability still resonated with him, from the story of embracing my father without words as he prayed in weeping remembrance of his own father that passed away to the story of my grandmother renewing my courage in the present as she faced her own decaying future. The brother assured me he wanted to share this sentiment sooner, but I told him he couldn’t have shared it at a better time. Maybe that’s why God says, “Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Qur’an 55:60).
I couldn’t believe it. The sudden downpour was unforgiving late one night. Yet, all I yearned to remember was how God is Most Forgiving. Even in the midst of an unexpected storm we can rediscover an innate sense of awareness, consciousness, and hope. These were the nexus of ideas that I’ve struggled to bring alongside my journey through this month of Ramadan. It’s been personally challenging, but even more so globally. But through the claps of thunder and the piercing flashes of light, I realized I was given a choice. Life is full of them. I could remain at home, comfortable in the confines of a man-cave I’ve grown attached to while studying for boards. Or I could choose to drive through the storm to fulfill a commitment I made in the last 10 days: to try, to be present, to be vulnerable.
How else could I have assured the Sikh brother working the late night shift at 7/11 that “If anyone troubles you, know that I’m here for you.” How else could I have stood long in prayer at the mosque in the darkest of hours just to seek wellness for our world and all those that encompass its shared seas. How else could I live up to the compassion my faith stands on despite fanatics and bigots that desperately attempt to uproot it through their own merciless hypocrisy.
I can never be aware of the privilege I live without knowing of those that struggle to live. I can never be conscious of the air that I breathe without knowing of those that breathe through debris. I can never hope for a better tomorrow without knowing of those that were robbed of their present today.
Istanbul. Baghdad. Dhaka. Medina. Hate crimes in Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Orlando. In these cities and more, I couldn’t believe it. The sudden downpour was unforgiving. Yet, all I yearned to remember was how God is Most Forgiving. Despite the hate that may wait in the world beyond my front door, I choose to drive through the storm. I won’t allow my label to make me unable to actively embrace those that live differently than I. That’s the legacy of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, to not just offer thoughts and prayers but to live them through choices and actions. Choose to drive through the storm. What you’ll learn along the way you can never learn in the comfort of your home.
So as you leave your home, celebrate Eid not in fear but with gratitude. Honor those no longer with us during Eid by fully enjoying what they were intently preparing for. Look and feel your best from head to toe unapologetically. Enjoy your sweets no matter how sweet you may be. And tell your family you love them no matter how late you arrive for morning prayer.
When I learned about what happened in Orlando days ago, I had just finished my morning prayer to start another day of fasting in this month of Ramadan. In it, I whispered to God to grant His peace and love for the LGBT and Latino communities and their families who’ve suffered at the hands of senseless violence and hate. They are as American as I. That’s what my nation tells me. If they hurt, so do I. That’s what my faith tells me. Yet, every late-night talk show host could tell you that the outline to this story is disappointingly familiar. You wake up to see the horrific news. You offer your thoughts and prayers to the victims. If you’re brown, you linger at the thought of the suspect remotely sharing any label you wear. Regardless of that, you still condemn their actions even though any sane human being wouldn’t need to. Yet, it’s never enough for some. Politicians play identity politics with the labels involved hoping to score points at the expense of lives lost. Mental illness and/or terrorism are perceived less as causes due to behavior but more as symptoms due to one’s appearance. Yet, if there’s a common thread that links either–the availability of guns to those that shouldn’t have access to them–it gets buried beneath the polarized language and sweeping broad-brushed remarks that span the 24-hour news cycle. Eventually, time goes on without any effective change. People move on accepting the worst as routine. Yet, what’s most telling is that we continue to feel shocked when it happens again.
But through all the thoughtless and uninformed noise, there are those that are conscious of what really matters. They are the ones that relay love through their actions at the face of the unfathomable. They wait in line for hours outside in the scorching heat just to donate blood to the victims, revealing an antiquated health policy restricting certain members of the LGBT community from donating themselves. They regard the victims as human beings with worth whose community deserves to be valued and recognized like any other. They decide to raise the awareness of the LGBT community by embracing those who identify as such within their own community in hopes to bridge a better understanding. They champion for sensible gun reform because it could save tears from being shed by a mother for her fallen child. They strive to live up to their thoughts and prayers using the universal ideals founded within the core of their beliefs by questioning the compassion within themselves. They are the diverse existence of every label that definitively makes America great. They are LGBT. They are black. They are white. They are brown. They are Muslims. They are Christians. They are Jews. They are Hindus. They are Sikhs. They are Buddhists. They are Americans. They are us. Let us continue to be the diverse family we were meant to be, insha’Allah.
His story is one that legends foretold
His speech is poetry so carefully bold
His love for people grew despite the bout
His fight in the ring could not be without
It is no wonder what he meant to me
May peace be with you, Muhammad Ali
His black skin he lived unapologetically
His name he chose to embrace its history
His Muslim faith he proclaimed without shame
His worth he believed no matter the fame
It is no wonder what he meant to me
May peace be with you, Muhammad Ali
His stand against war served the value of peace
His illness a strength for humility to never cease
His vision a challenge to even out the odds
His soul knew greatness by trusting in God
It is no wonder what he meant to me
Live on with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali