Big responsibilities, small acts of faith

Big responsibilities, small acts of faith

Writings of Ottawa MAC Youth Workers

« From Jeffrey to Light: One Man’s Inspirational Journey

Big responsibilities, small acts of faith

Ive never been one for sound bites. These little excerpts, intended to widen our worldview in a matter of seconds, actually narrow our outlooks and frames of reference.

As a Muslim, I feel inundated by sound bites from both sides of the fence. Islam is the fastest growing religion and a religion of peace. Alternatively, I hear the terms Islamofascist, East vs. West — the list goes on and on.

In recent years, the medias fixation on Muslims and Islam has made me feel a greater sense of responsibility. Thus, in my mind, our 1.1 billion-strong community has been whittled down to just one: me.

As what some may call a visible minority, I believe my interactions with individuals are more than mere exchanges. Like it or not, when I turn away after a communication with somebody, they may subconsciously judge all Muslims by what I have said or done, or how I acted.

Was I quiet? Well, all Muslim women are passive. Was I rude? She must be an ungrateful immigrant. Did you see me walking behind a man? It must be her overbearing husband.

Its not about doing Islamic damage control or putting on a face to the world. Instead, its about understanding that my appearance represents the other to some.

This isnt a guess or paranoia on my part — it comes from years of being asked the same recurring question: Where are you from?

Many are surprised to find out that I am indeed Canadian and have no accent. Even though I find the question a strange one, given our enthusiasm for multiculturalism, Im always happy to answer and happy we live in a society where we feel comfortable to ask.

This is the responsibility the physical and tangible Islam (wearing the hijab) brings to my life.

However, the more important responsibility is one that no one can see: the spiritual. This brings me to another sound bite — Islam is a way of life.

I sometimes wonder if people really understand what this means. Yes, Muslims pray five times a day, but the way of life is everything you do in between those five prayers.

For example, did I pray and then earn a living doing a dishonourable service? Did I pray and then lie to my mom? Did I pray and then lose my patience with a sales associate? Did I pray and then show up late to an event?

The average person has no idea how detailed the religion of Islam is. This may be why its so difficult to discuss Islam as it relates to different parts of your life.

The fact is Islam doesnt just influence your life — it is your life.

I think a lot of people view Islam as something rigid. However, my experience has been that it is quite fluid. When I see someone volunteering at the food bank, thats an Islamic act. When I see someone helping another on the bus, thats an Islamic act. When I see friends who love and protect one other, thats an Islamic act.

The Five Pillars of Islam — believing in one God, praying, paying alms, fasting and pilgrimage — are the foundation of the religion. But as with the foundation of a house, its how you accessorize it that makes it yours.

So how have I personalized my religion? I guess I can sum it up in one sentence: I try to love things that God loves and stay away from things He dislikes.

In my personal life, I look for friends who live Islamically. This does not necessitate that they be Muslim, just that they add decency to my life and the world around them.

In my professional life, I look for jobs that allow me to interact with a variety of individuals and feed me with conscience, not a fat paycheque because its much more important for me to be a contributor than a consumer.

For me, these are all important steps I take to avoid waking up one morning and asking myself: where did my faith go?

I can tell you first-hand that being yelled at — Go back home! — while walking on the street, or being told the same by an anonymous caller who has found your home number, can really shake you up.

But instead of falling to my knees and looking to the sky, Im able to look to my left and to my right and see my faith smiling back at me in all directions and in all forms.

Because, as Im sure weve all experienced in life, very rarely is it the loudest who has the most valuable thing to say. Ive found the same to be true for myself as a Muslim — its the small consistent acts that keep my faith strong.

Lena Hassan is a third-generation Canadian who was born in London, Ont., and currently lives in Ottawa. She completed three years at the University of Western Ontario in political science.


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