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Archive for the ‘Rohingya’ Category

This post originally appeared in 2015 in The Muslim Observer. It has been slightly modified herein.

American life is defined by the intersection of three institutional sectors: public, private, and non-profit. Public denotes governmental institutions, like the IRS through which we pay for federal institutions like the National Park Service. The private sector is dominated by for-profit corporations, such as Apple, which manufactured the laptop through which I am writing this post. Non-profits, the smallest sector of the three, consist of a whole range of entities, such as hospitals, universities, and religious organizations.

It is within this context that the Qur’anic teachings regarding charitable giving are implemented for Muslims in the United States. The root n-f-q, indicating spending, is used dozens of times in the Qur’an. For example, verse 254 of Surah al-Baqara states: “You who believe, give from what We have provided for you, before the Day comes when there is no bargaining, no friendship, and no intercession. It is the disbelievers who are wrong.”

The same verb is also found in the hadith literature, such as this hadith related in Muslim’s Sahih: “Of the dinar you spend as a contribution in Allah’s path, or to set free a slave, or as a sadaqa given to a needy, or to support your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spent on your family.” This hadith gives us a broad understanding of charitable giving in Islam. Buying a laptop from Apple for your child who is going off to college can be an act of worship, even though it has nothing to do with the non-profit sector. But for many Muslims in America, there is also the desire to effect social change through charitable giving. In fact, it is the socio-economic lifeblood of the American Muslim community, and the causes for which we give are myriad. There are approximately 6 broad categories of giving:

  • Islamic centers
  • Islamic schools
  • Development organizations (e.g. Islamic Relief USA)
  • Da’wah
  • Islamic Education for adults
  • Community advocacy organizations (e.g. CAIR)

We find ourselves donating to these organizations in a variety of settings. Sometimes it is at fundraising dinner. At other times, we might have some zakat or khums to pay, and write a check to the appropriate organization(s). On occasion, we may be moved by media coverage to donate to help those suffering in our country or around the world. In all situations, the socio-political reality is the same. We write a check/use our credit card/pull cash out of our wallet, and it goes into the bank account of a registered non-profit, and they send us a receipt and use the funds for whatever purpose they were designated.

But behind that material facade is something deeper, and ultimately more important. It is the internal spiritual attitude of the person giving the money, and their ascent towards sincerity (ikhlas). It is the metaphysics of charitable giving.

We can see this process in the Qur’an, which lays out at least three different attitudes towards charitable giving. In the case of the three sections that will be quoted, the immediate context is feeding the hungry. In the context of Islam in the United States, it is most likely that such an act would be accomplished by making a donation to organization that feeds the hungry in either the USA or another country,

At the lowest level is the attitude of those who mock faith openly. Verse 47 of Surah Ya Sin states: “and when they are told, ‘Give to others out of what God has provided for you,’ the disbelievers say to the believers, ‘Why should we feed those that God could feed if He wanted? You must be deeply misguided.’” Not only does a person at this level not give, they blame God for the misery that inspires people of faith to give. They twist the concept of an All-Powerful Deity to become an excuse for their own selfishness. The average Muslim is not so bold as to speak this way, but it is possible that this may be what they think in their hearts. In a very subtle way, they may whisper to themselves, “Why do I have to give up this money I have been saving for something I want?! If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He just feed them?!” In light of the massive scale of need amongst Syrians, Yemenis, and the Rohingya – in addition to many other worthy causes worldwide and at home – the possibility of slipping into this type of thinking is very real, even for someone who outwardly identifies as a Muslim and donates to Muslim community institutions. Right now, our world needs billions and billions of dollars to help people facing real difficulties. What that means for any individual is that even if we gave all the surplus we have, there will still be a need. In such a reality, it is very possible to slip into this type of thinking, and may God protect us from it, ameen.

At a better level are those described in Surah al-Ma’un: “[Prophet], have you considered the person who denies the Judgement? It is he who pushes aside the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy. So woe to those who pray but are heedless of their prayer; those who are all show and forbid common kindnesses.” At this level, a person is a part of the Muslim community, most notably through attendance at communal worship. But their religiosity does not deeply effect them at the level of concern for humanity. There is a disconnect between their performance of religion, and the way they treat other human beings. At this level, one is not necessarily actively opposed to charitable giving, as in the case of the first level. Rather, one is veiled from such concerns by an obsession with the outward trappings of religiosity. One has left the utter contempt for religion characterized by the first level, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But while doing so, one has strayed by failing to see that Islam has two essential elements: worship of the Creator and service to the creation.

The first and second levels highlight the struggle between the inward and the outward. But the third and higher level is when the two become integrated. Verses 8-11 of Surah al-Insan states: “They give food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, though they love it themselves, saying, ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone: We seek neither recompense nor thanks from you. We fear the Day of our Lord––a woefully grim Day.’ So God will save them from the woes of that Day, [and] give them radiance and gladness.” At this level, the one we should all aspire towards, giving is completely detached from any hope of worldly reward or benefit. It is only for God, whether it be $1 dollar or $1,000,000 dollars. No need to sit on a board of directors. No need to even receive a thank you card. This transforms charitable giving into a transcendental search for the Divine Pleasure (ridwan). It becomes a very tangible way in which a human being expresses their hope and fear in God alone, for Allah does not announce from the Heavens that He has accepted this effort. As we learn from another hadith: “Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, ‘And what have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.”

Giving is only the first step. Giving with sincerity is the more elusive goal. One never knows whether or not Allah has accepted one’s charitable giving. But we must still strive to purify ourselves of any ulterior motive, recognizing that whatever we have given was first given to us from al-Razzaq, and only One can reward us beyond our imaginations. The metaphysics of charitable giving is to take the most worldly thing possible – money – and turn it into an expression of our realization of the Oneness of God. Only then will be capable of realizing the promise in the Qur’an: “Those who spend their wealth in God’s cause are like grains of corn that produce seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains. God gives multiple increase to whoever He wishes: He is limitless and all knowing.”

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We were sitting in the New York University prayer room, overlooking Washington Square Park.

Across from the fountain and arch, there are large apartment buildings that we could see from our 5th floor view.

Our teacher that day, Shaykh Khalil, had a message for us that I will never forget.

“One of the mercies that we do not always perceive is the mercy of the veil.”

What was he getting at?

“There are so many thing happening around us all the time, and we do not even know, but Allah knows. You see that apartment building across the park? Perhaps someone is being raped in there right now. Perhaps a child is being abused. Perhaps a murder is taking place. And we are veiled from all of it.”

I felt my heart sink. It was true. In a city like New York, beneath the veneer of nice restaurants and quirky street performers lay something sinister. One could feel it.

“But Allah does not ask you to confront all of it. Because you can’t handle it.”

***

I think about that day a lot. The cruelty of the world overwhelms me, what little of it I can comprehend. I have witnessed things that have changed me forever. But I still have hope in eternal meanings that help me to reconcile it all.

I don’t know what the future holds. Like many, I am sometimes filled with anxiety and worry. But I am thankful for the fact that Allah is gentle with me. I am still a recipient of the mercy of the veil.

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don’t give money to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

don’t give money so that people can have latrines

don’t give money so that people can eat rice

don’t give money for anything

especially not schools with a basic education

or trauma care for women who were gang raped

it’s not important

you’ll never meet these people

and they’ll never call you out

for forgetting about them

or siding with their oppressors

no one is going to say you are a bad person

if you just pass this off to the government of Bangladesh

so don’t waste your money

on people who don’t matter

According to the UN, it requires app. $900 million to run the refugee camps in 2019. Less than $400 million has been raised.

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“A conscious glance at what happens in the wider world around us calls us to believe in life after death. There are many people who live with us, who live and die as good people – in their hearts and actions – and who spare no effort in offering humanitarian aid to other people like themselves, without desiring any reward or gratitude in return. They worship their Lord, remember him night and day, and yet you find them oppressed and defeated, their lives harsh, their sorrows many, their difficulties never-ending.

Additionally, you find others enjoy wealth and power beyond imagination, and yet – contrary to what you might expect – they continue to oppress and exploit others, violating every sacred thing, commit every sin, and most of them dying without ever receiving their just desserts in this world.

Many of the first group are the best people imaginable, like the prophets, the righteous, and the lovers of truth. They number thousands upon thousands. Many of the second group sink ever deeper into evil deeds; they kill millions and commit crimes against humanity.

But Allah is the All-wise, and we see the effects of His wisdom in the heavens and the earth. He did not create anything without purpose, nor did he need any amusement or diversion – He is exalted above that! Allah is the All-powerful, and we find the signs of His power in us and all around us without limit. How can He not recompense these two groups of people? Did He create this second group without purpose? Did He create them so that the strong could oppress the weak for no reason? Or did he wish to cause harm to the harmless thereby? Or is He incapable of rewarding the good and punishing the wicked for their deeds? The answer to all of these questions is no.

Allah is the All-wise and the All-needless, who is glorified above creating anything without purpose, glorified above being incapable of recompensing them, or resurrecting them when He created them the first time!

All the signs we see in the universe guide us to the fact that everything in it is at our disposal (or is created for our sake). Whether it is the sun, the moon, or the stars; they work day and night to perpetuate life. Everything the universe contains is at our disposal by virtue of the intellect, power, and freedom with which Allah endowed us. If everything is there for us, then for what are we here? Were we created merely to enjoy this world? Who amongst us can find true happiness in this world, whether they are young or old, master or servant, leader or follower? There is no one in this world who can taste true happiness – so why are we here?

There can only be two possible answers to this question:

The first is that Allah wanted to play, so He made us for His amusement. But this does not accord with the signs of His wisdom that we see throughout the universe, or that to which our intellects guide us regarding our Lord’s perfection – He is perfect without flaw!

The second is that we were created for another world, and whatever good we find in this world is meant to guide us to something better and more perfect than it in the Hereafter, while whatever is evil here is supposed to serve as an example of something worse and longer-lasting than itself in the Hereafter. We taste both of these experiences in different times, and then learn from His messengers how we can attain the first and avoid the latter.

This is the reason why everything exists.”

– Grand Āyatullah Sayyid M. Taqī al-Ḥusaynī al-Modarresī, The Laws of Islam, pp. 42-3

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For the past year, I had been reading and watching everything I could find about the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Nothing prepared me for how massive they were. They seemed to go on forever.

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The first camp I entered was the Ukhiya camp. It is not even the biggest one. As we walked around, I felt disoriented, as the sheer weight of human suffering and trauma was everywhere. There is nothing but hills and valleys of shacks hastily built to cope with the massive needs of over 700,000 individuals. I clutched my tasbih, seeking shelter in the remembrance of God as a coping mechanism.

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Everyone who shared their story with us had a horrific story to tell. Down at the bottom of this hill, across the sewage and garbage-filled rice paddies, were shelters filled with such stories. Brutal murder, villages completely erased from the Earth, systematic rape. Personal tales that correspond exactly to what every reputable news outlet and NGO on the planet has extensively documented.

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In those moments, there is no recourse other than du’a. To pray that after a life filled with suffering and brutality, loved ones can finally be reunited and experience peace and beauty that never ends. To believe in the Divine Promise that God will say:

يَا عِبَادِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَا أَنتُمْ تَحْزَنُونَ

My servants, there is no fear for you today, nor shall you grieve

In those moments, when I turned to my Lord, I asked for the resolution of that which seems impossible to resolve. I could not bring her husband back from the dead. I was unable to recreate his village that was burned to the ground. It is not possible to unrape thousands of girls. Only the Creator of all has that Power, as is reported from His Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم

then one of the people of Jannah who had experienced extreme misery in the life of this world will be dipped in Jannah. He will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any hardship?’ He will say: “By Allah, no, I never experienced any hardship.”

But when I turn to my rebellious self, and to our community that calls ourselves Muslims, I ask if we are doing enough for our Rohingya brothers and sisters. And my unequivocal answer is no, no, no. Absolutely not. Not even close.

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My idealism is rooted in an understanding of reality. I understand the politics and economics that lead to people living in shacks made of bamboo on eroding mud cliffs, with 9 people living in a space that could barely fit my kitchen table. If you feel you must understand that larger context as well, you can read this book and/or this book, both of which I have reviewed on Amazon. But if you, like most people, neither have the desire nor the time to do the research, then just trust me. There is one fundamental spiritual response to this situation after making du’a and believing in the Last Day – giving of our wealth and time to assist the Rohingya.

We must begin with our selves, our families, and the communities of which we are a part. It does not matter what kind of Muslim you are – what matters is that you want to help. I do not decide whether or not my charity or your charity is accepted in the Divine Realm – that is between each one of us and our All-Knowing Lord. What is in our realm of responsibility is trying to do something real to help others in need. After seeing the camps myself, I know that what the Rohingya need from the Ummah is billions of dollars. It is simply that massive. Because the needs are so extensive, people like you and I will never be able to give enough. But we still have to do something.

The great great grandson of our Noble Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, is reported to have said:

The most regretful of people on the Day of Judgment are those who prescribe justice, yet do the opposite.

Reflect on this story. Inside this bare-bones medical clinic, funded by Islamic Relief USA donations, is a young Bangladeshi doctor. Every morning, six days a week, she rises early to begin a two and a half hour journey to work here. All day long, in intense heat and humidity, she does what she can to help people, primarily women and children. I asked her why she does this, when she could be somewhere else making more money. She said that as long as it was economically possible for her to continue serving the Rohingya community, she would.

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She is a hero. In a world that does not care, she moved from Chittagong (a big city) to Cox’s Bazar (a town) to spend 5 hours a day traveling to and from a place that is the most tragic place I have ever been in my life. And in her patient answering of our questions I experienced a combination of dignity and humility that I have rarely seen.

Without funding, it will not be possible for her to continue her work. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of stories of similar nature. We feel a struggle in the moment we choose to give more charity than usual, and perhaps feel it occasionally later on when our balance is too low to afford something we want. But people like this doctor are there six days a week putting in the hours, working with the Rohingya while many of us have the privilege to forget that they are even there. May God bless us to assist her and those like her, so that we may walk with them as they walk paths like this to assist people we will probably never meet.

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There are only two experiences in my life that have felt like a preview of the Day of Judgement: The Day of ‘Arafah at Hajj, and visiting the Rohingya refugee camps. Both places make you realize your absolute neediness before Allah سبحانه و تعالى, confront your own shortcomings, and resolve to make the most out of the life we have been given. A year from now, will I still be alive? A year from now, will I have more to give the Rohingya or less? A year from now, what will be the situation of these people? I do not know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that I can write these words which do not do justice to what the Rohingya are going through, and remake a commitment to give money to help meet their needs, and turn to my Lord with tears in my eyes asking Him to do everything else I cannot.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

People, it is you who stand in need of God- God needs nothing and is worthy of all praise

 

***This post was originally created in August 2018, as a tool for the fundraising we did for Islamic Relief USA. I have re-edited it and reposted it to make it relevant outside of that original context, as the camps are still there and the needs of the people are ongoing.

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حسبنا الله و نعم الوكيل

In the fall of 1994, I left my parent’s home in Illinois to go to boarding school at Phillips Academy (often referred to as “Andover”) in Massachusetts. From that point up until I moved to our current apartment in Manhattan, I never lived in the same place for more than a couple years. But from December 2013 until August 2018, my wife and I (and subsequently our son) have had no other home except our place in Greenwich Village.

I write this in an empty apartment. The movers came the other day to take our stuff to Oakland, CA, where we will live at least for the next 2 years insha’Allah. My wife and son have gone to Cape Cod to vacation with her brothers. And I am about to board a plane to Bangladesh, to visit the Rohingya refugee camps outside Cox’s Bazar with my friend Khalid Latif. We will return to NYC for Eid, and then move out West.

I am leaving the first place that has truly felt like home in my adult life. It is impossible for me to describe the two-year process that led to this momentous change. There are clearly definable choices made for me, such as my wife’s rejection of my proposal that we move to Oman for a year so that I could become fluent in Arabic. There are structural issues, such as my realization that my career in higher education had to move outside the secular university (such as my past three employers – Dartmouth, Brown, and NYU). And there are audacious hopes, such as the belief that God is guiding me, and closed certain doors and opened others for reasons known only to God.

A friend’s blog said it better than I can, through quoting Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام:

“I attained realization of God, may He be glorified, by the dissolution of resolutions, and by the solution of complexities.”

My resolve has dissolved in the face of the much larger structural and historical complexities that I am a part of. I have inherited the story of “Muslims in the United States” and “Islam and Hinduism” and “the Rohingya Crisis” merely by the billion choices I have made in my life that led me to this moment in August 2018. All three of those phenomena existed before I was born, and I merely found my way to them as I freely explored this Universe to the extent that I have been able to. This is assuredly a matter of “destiny (qadr).” Yes, I chose my path, but my path has led me to confront my lack of agency in the face of realities beyond my ability to control. I may fly to Dhaka to continue working on behalf of my Rohingya brothers, I may move to California to study with Hindu scholars, my wife and I may buy a house together to continue building our American Muslim family, but what can I really accomplish in the long run? It is all so much bigger than me, and I am just one human being.

My friend writes:

Imam Ali (as) is talking about feeling of disorientation, of being pained and agitated – and yet moving. with grace that behind all these events is the face of God – shining beyond what feels like our faltering and collapsing. The trials Imam Ali (as) faced during his own life time were extremely difficult to digest – someone with fervor and love for Truth at heart, and yet a political and community leader that tried his best to preserve and unite the Muslim community, often despite himself. It takes an immensely liberated spirit to take on such roles, and basically – keep it together when so much around you falls apart. From losing your beloved role model, your wife, betrayals, violence and isolation and yet giving a helping hand and honoring unity above all else. Through all this, Imam Ali (as) says that it was through the adversities that he attained realization of God 

Is there any doubt that Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام would tackle these projects if he were here today? Of course he would yearn to liberate the Rohingya from their oppression, to respond to the theological challenges of Hinduism, and call to Islam throughout the United States. In addition, he would confront so many more problems that I cannot work on full-time: Yemen, Iraq, Palestinethe continued theological challenge of Christianity, and so on.

But whether one is Sunni or Shi’i, one accepts that one can never be as great as Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام, let alone the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم. I felt that so vividly after my first ziyara in Najaf. I remember it so clearly, as it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I did my ziyara, prayed two rak’ahs, and just broke down in uncontrollable tears. The entirety of what I knew of Imam ‘Ali’s life came flooding into my heart. All the trials and tribulations and hardships. His loyalty and steadfastness and determination to continue doing what needed to be done, no matter how hard. And I knew then, and I remember now, that if I gave every breath I have in the paths of righteousness, it will be but a drop from the ocean of Abu Turab عليه السلام.

And so I keep moving forward. Where I will die is known only to my Lord. But while I am still blessed with the ability to do so, I set out to work on the challenges I believe Allah wants me to address as best I can.

Just another servant of the servants of the servants of ‘Ali.

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If God wants there to be a caliphate, then the Muslim Ummah is in a state of sin because it does not exist.

If God does not want there to be a caliphate, then the early Muslim community innovated something in the religion that was not part of it.

If God alone has the right to appoint the leader of the Muslim community, then that leader is the leader whether or not they are recognized by the Muslim community.

The leader has always been the axis of Muslim unity, the expression of Islam’s universal claims over the Earth, and the focal point of the prophetic legacy. As such, I renew my allegiance to Imam Mahdi. There is no one else who can lead a billion Muslims. There is no one else who can unite over 50 nations. There is no one else who can truly change history.

هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ

It is He who has sent His Apostle with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it prevail over all religions, though the polytheists should be averse. (9.33)

This has clearly not come to pass.

So when and how?

The only clear answer in our tradition I have ever found is Imam Mahdi. Left to our own devices, we are miserably failing. How many decent, good Muslims have been killed in violent conflicts over the last 10 years? How many decent, good Muslims are living in exile from their lands? How many decent, good Muslims have no recourse in this world to anything even resembling justice?

Muslim unity is a farce. Muslim power is gone. If a second-rate army, like that of Myanmar, wants to push a million of us out of our homes, then they face no resistance. If they want to gang rape hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim women, they face no resistance. If they want to burn masjids, they face no resistance.

Spiritually, it should make us sick to our stomachs. It should fill us with righteous anger. It should make us weep for the suffering of our sisters and our brothers, and our own shortcomings in assisting them. And it should drive us closer to Imam Mahdi, for only someone appointed by God can lead this Ummah.

In the meantime, there is more work to do than we have the power to accomplish. There is more injustice than we can ever hope to overcome. There is more struggle to undertake than we can bring our selves to endure.

اَللَّهُمَّ ٱكْشِفْ هٰذِهِ ٱلْغُمَّةَ عَنْ هٰذِهِ ٱلامَّةِ بِحُضُورِهِ

وَعَجِّلْ لَنَا ظُهُورَهُ

«إِنَّهُمْ يَرَوْنَهُ بَعِيداً وَنَرَاهُ قَرِيباً»

بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا ارْحَمَ ٱلرَّاحِمِينَ

O Allah, relieve this community from grief through presenting him

and expedite his advent for us:

“Surely, they think it to be far off, and We see it nigh.”

In the name of Your mercy; O most merciful of all those who show mercy.

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Spending a week and a half volunteering at the Rohingya Culture Center (RCC) in Chicago has changed my perspective.

It is as if I can imagine this entire Earth, with all of its abundance flowing from Divine Generosity.

“who made the earth a bed, and the sky a canopy; and it is He who sends down rain from above for the growth of every kind of food for your sustenance…” (2.22)

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And from those free gifts, we build societies. Without land and air and water and crops, there would be no skyscrapers and smartphones and hospitals and universities. As Bataille showed so many years ago, it is not scarcity that drives us – it is expenditure of the surplus. We create more and more because our basic needs are met.

But these possibilities are not equally spread across the globe. Building a skyscraper in Chicago is easier to do than in many other places, because there is a concentration of wealth and talent. But what is harder to see is that Chicago is also a place where it is easier to connect people to basic needs. If you can build a skyscraper, the infrastructure already exists to help people in terms of school, health, and work.

I sat with Rohingya kids trying really hard to do their math homework, even though those of us who grew up here would consider the institutions they attend as “bad schools.” But guess what – it is either the best school they have ever gone to or the ONLY school they have ever been allowed to attend. I saw Rohingya elders sit patiently listening to someone translate for them a letter explaining their government-supported health benefits. I listened to Rohingya young adults talk about working at Dunkin Donuts or O’hare airport with pride, because as undocumented refugees in Malaysia their only option would have been the shadow economy. School, health, and work are all available to them, and thus they are now perhaps some of the most privileged Rohingya globally. And they channel that relative privilege into doing everything they can for their friends, family, and community in other countries who are in much worse circumstances.

And in doing so I realized that I had made a mistake in considering something specific like treatable glaucoma to be where I needed to focus my efforts. Rather, there is a more fundamental issue at stake. Will those with access to the global surplus make the effort to help those who are struggling with basic needs? Matters of inequality need to be understood globally, and take into account everything from ecological systems to international refugee politics.

Let us be clear. After seeing how Chicago is handling 1,500 Rohingya refugees who came through Malaysia, I can say with absolute confidence that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to welcome at least 10,000 of the more than 59,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia. Easily. And yet, the Crown Prince boasts about wanting to spend $500 billion to build a new economic hub on the Red Sea.

I literally could not dream up a more grotesque example of injustice in the Ummah, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya want a clean place to sleep, a simple meal a few times a day, an opportunity to work manual labor, a safe place to give their kids an elementary school education, and the ability to travel freely with a passport. The so-called “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” not only does not provide that because he’d prefer to build skyscrapers in the desert, but then grants citizenship to a robot just to rub it in their face.

It is so sick. So so sick. Like, I can’t even believe that it is true. Like, I am literally writing these words and asking myself if I am dreaming because how could that possibly be real. How could I possibly live in a world like this, and how could a person like this possibly be in control of the most sacred places of worship in my faith??!!

And so the truth of what I wrote on October 30th, 2017 is even more clear now:

Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have.

I cannot control the immigration policy of wealthy Muslim countries, but I can greet my Rohingya brothers and sisters in my hometown of Chicago as best I know how. My wife and I have donated money to the RCC and intend to give more insha’Allah. Over the last week and a half I got to know the board, the employees, the many volunteers, and most importantly, the kids. I truly hope that the little girls of the RCC like Lala and Zaynab, and the little boys like Yunus and Yusuf, will grow up safe in Chicago. They are far away from the horrific brutality of the Tatmadaw and the lack of welcome experienced by so many Rohingya around the world. May they always be protected, and may their lives be filled with Love and Light.

Insha’Allah, the RCC will bring great benefit to the Rohingya worldwide and also bring blessings to the city of Chicago. Almost every night, I came home before my parents went to sleep, and they asked me about it. Through me, they learned about the Rohingya and expressed their support and concern. If we had not had these exchanges, at best they would have read a newspaper article somewhere in between debates about the tax bill and the latest sports scores. But now their son knows one of those young Rohingya men from the articles, Abdul Samad, the youngest board member of the RCC. And so what was once just the name of an ethnic group from some faraway place is now transformed in our minds and hearts into real flesh and blood individuals who live only 25 minutes away from where I grew up skateboarding and playing in a band with Pete Wentz.

I feel like God had this all planned a long time ago. The Powerful (al-Qadir) created the conditions for me to make a choice, and The Witness (al-Shaheed) waited and watched as I figured it out over the last few months. As if it was stated, “I am going to turn the son of the former CEO of a Chicago-based investment bank into a Muslim in 1998, and then in 2012 I am going to start bringing Rohingya to Chicago, and then in 2017 I am going to make him aware of it and see what he chooses to do…”

“It is He who has made you successors on the earth, and raised some of you in rank above others so that He may test you in respect to what He has given you. Indeed your Lord is swift in retribution, and indeed He is all-forgiving, all-merciful.” (6.165)

I cannot force the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to use his privilege in the right way. All I can do is use my much lesser privilege as best I know how. Each individual has to figure out how they can spiritually respond to the realities of systemic injustice. At the end of the day, both the Crown Prince and myself ultimately owe our social position to our fathers, and have never once worried about our basic needs. We will be judged justly by the Just (al-‘Adl). For the fundamental global issue is the same, and we both are on the proverbial hot seat. It is in our best interest to constantly remember the prayer attributed to the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him and his family:

Praise is due to Allah Who has fed us, provided us drink, satisfied us and gave us protection. Many are those who have no one to provide for them, or give them shelter.

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The Board of the RCC (Allah grant them tawfiq and taysir, ameen!)

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there was once a woman named Zaynab

who was more important to God than i will ever be

and she witnessed things far worse than i have ever known

and yet she said

ما رأيت إلا جميلا

 

there is a Love that never ends

يا ودود

there is a Light that always shines

يا نور

beyond the sadness and darkness

 

the angels knew we were rapists and killers

but they couldn’t see the secret within

that could know all the Names

 

how do you know Love

how do you know Light

how can a woman see mutilated bodies

and say

ما رأيت إلا جميلا

 

“…The fact is that it is not the eyes that turn blind, but what turns blind are the hearts contained in the chests”

 

there are times when what my heart sees is more real than what is before my eyes

 

i asked the young Rohingya girl what her name was

“Zaynab,” she said

and she told me that her Play-Doh

was rice and some aloo and an onion

but all i could see

was Beauty

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God and Chicago

Driving around Chicago the other day and lost in my mind, I was struck by how the geography of this city is a living witness to my spiritual journey. For every doctrinaire pilgrimage to Makkah or desperate searching for a Western-toilet in Varanasi, there is a building in Chicagoland (the local term for the Chicago metropolitan area) where I have experienced global religious traditions. Baha’i, Gaudiya Vaishnava, Protestant, Catholic, Sunni, Shi’i, Thai Buddhist, and more all have a place here. Over the years, I have been blessed to encounter many of the hundreds of sacred spaces found in my hometown.

I am incapable of recounting every place and every meaningful moment, but here is a map of the ones that come to mind:

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There is Kenilworth Union Church, just down the street from my parents’ house. I was raised in this Protestant space, and it is where I formally rejected Confirmation when I was in junior high.

ISCKON Chicago on Lunt Avenue is where I first bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the moment that launched me on the path of asking the deepest questions I know how to ask.

Islamic Foundation of Villa Park is the only mosque my parents’ have visited in the United States, once for my mother-in-law’s janazah (God have mercy on her), and another for an interfaith speech I delivered.

I spent 9 days studying at Baitul Ilm, a mosque in Streamwood, and try to go there when I can.

I helped (along with many others) establish Ta’leef Chicago on the Near South Side, and it is probably the space where I see the most people I know personally.

There are so many other places – these are just a few to sketch my path. But what really matters is that the Lord of Humanity, the King of Humanity, the God of Humanity” watches over it all. The Creator (al-Khaliq) who made Lake Michigan to provide us fresh water. The Just (al-‘Adl) who will judge past generations for what they did to the Natives who first lived here. The Benefactor (al-Nafi’) who brought 1500 Rohingya to the Devon area so that they can begin again.

I have exerted myself as much as I know how. I have traveled around the world to the best places I could find. And on this day, after all is said and done, I am writing this in the bedroom that has been mine since I was 1 year old. How did it ever turn out this way? Human beings plan, and God plans, and God is the best of planners.

May God grant to all the souls of Chicagoland good in this world, good in the next, and protection from the punishment of the Fire, ameen.

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