Volunteering for iftar and tarawih services last weekend for the @ICNYU last weekend was in of itself such a humbling and warming experience. The people, the support, and the lessons I received from there definitely inspired, renewed, and pushed me in a positive way to continue my non-Muslim fasting and volunteer services for this weekend. Needless to say, I had been anxiously looking forward to this weekend and this one in particular may have been a prominently pivotal moment in my life.
My good high school friend had invited a few of his friends over to New Jersey and New York City from California, and having lived out in NYC they insisted I be their tour guide on Saturday, especially for the MTA subways. And who could blame them?: the map itself is quite intimidating and definitely has the potential to be unforgiving at the same time.
(Full Map Here)
So seeing how they have never been to New York City, I decided to walk and guide them throughout all of Midtown and even lower Manhattan while fasting at the same time to show them this great city…quite the challenge, to say the least. Thankfully it wasn’t 100°F (or ~38°C) as it had been the two weekends before, but even walking around for six hours in 85°F (or ~29°C) while fasting was quite difficult. Again, dedication and perseverance kicked in when I purchased a bottle of water and was extremely tempted to take a sip. Additionally, something else I’ve learned while fasting: just step back for a second and put your situation into a different perspective. In this society and culture today with what we have, it is so easy to give into your inner demands and even greed as the options are readily available for you, which I can foresee will always be a detrimental fault. In the end I decided to only swish around the water in my mouth and spit it out three times throughout the few hours I was guiding them to get rid of that nasty taste/feeling in my mouth. It was definitely a struggle, but it has made me so much stronger. As such, by the third and fourth hours, I was already exhausted, hungry, and thirsty and unfortunately my attitude reflected that despite my efforts to be otherwise…
Having already spent a few days prior to this weekend with those friends, I already was aware of the fact that they themselves aren’t the most aware of the realities outside their little fantasy-filled bubbles. They are your typical Americans: self-indulged with no interest other than themselves and super conscious of how others perceive them thanks to the corporate-controlled media’s emphasis on placing a higher value on materialistic and artificial “things” to enhance one’s happiness as opposed to finding happiness with one’s own self. As @mmerzax said in our brief conversation: “Things will always come and go – by relying on them so will your happiness…”
So speaking of stepping back from one’s own situation and trying to view it from “outside the box,” while riding on the 6 line of the subway, when they realized I was very brief in speech and almost monotone throughout the day, one of them had the audacity to try talking behind my back to the other Californian friend saying how I was giving them attitude, that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or even asking the others what my problem was instead of directly addressing me. That really struck a few chords in me. Firstly, perhaps it was just them, or maybe it is this entire Western society and the culture within it, but it seems that any awareness outside from one’s own private and selfish interests does not exist. Do not be so quick to judge as you may not have any sense of an idea what is going on in that other person’s life. Granted, I wasn’t and am not struggling to survive in my life and am truly thankful that I’m not, but I can honestly say I’ll be damned if I were so quick to judge as they were. Just be aware of your surroundings and others as they may be dealing with something you would never have even begun to fathom. Secondly, if you have a problem, confront it face-to-face: if you’re going to disrespect me, do it to my face and not to my back so we can see eye-to-eye.
Finally getting away from them, I arrived at the Islamic Center and once again cleared the floor, unrolled the prayer rugs with care, and set up the utensils and napkins. My friend from last week Vincent (who I mistook for Victor in Weekend #2 – my apologies!) also showed up and gave me a book that he promised for me last week to which I definitely look forward to reading in the near future so long as I can finish my other 3 books I’m currently reading…lol:
I had also met up with a few other of my brothers from last week and we began catching up. As we talked, adhan was recited and we all received a date with a glass of water. YES YES YES 😀 Surprisingly after eating the date slowly and finishing my glass of water, I was quite content. This again just reflects how little we actually need, and even though what we just received there was relatively small, it’s a great deal more than others might not even be receiving around the world at this same exact time. Thankful and grateful as I am, I ate the date and drank my water with content.
For the rest of the night, I sat out on the salah and quietly observed once more. As soon as they were done, I headed straight back to the kitchen to prepare serving up my native sustenance: Chinese food 😀 It’s truly a great feeling and an honor to provide and give food during this great holy month of Ramadan. Once we finished eating, I noticed a table off to the side with a bunch of t-shirts and hats and decided to take a look. My man nicknamed “XL” was promoting and selling his clothing and accessories company “Inshallah Co” in conjunction with the Islamic Center and I must say, he had quite the selection (by the way, I suggest you check it out; he ships internationally as well! – http://inshallahclothing.com/):
Everything was $15 USD each and $5 of each transaction would go directly to aid Somalia. To my surprise, a lot of people including Vincent purchased a shirt or two. It’s for a great cause and I got a cool t-shirt out of it…which if you stand back for a second and think about it, it sounds really sad. In this day and age, it seems as though nothing comes for free. True generosity has become so heavily lost in translation thanks to the culture we have created in which we are only motivated to do something so long as we receive something personally beneficial to it, and that’s typically some type of monetary or materialistic reimbursement. The saying goes, “There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch,” and now more than ever that idiom unfortunately possesses a great deal of truth. True kindness is like a spy: a dime a dozen.
For the rest of the night, I quietly observed the isha prayer and tarawih which were interesting because I believe before tarawih started, one of the imams held a brief group discussion, a sort of reflection based upon the Qur’an and of course Islam. In short, he emphasized these five points upon which I was able to reflect while he was speaking (felt almost like a lecture at school which is pretty awesome lol):
- The phrase “Allah (SWT) is (most) merciful,” and that we must still take that very seriously along with all other important aspects of our lives. Just because Allah (SWT) is most merciful does not mean that one should abuse that in going about doing whatever we wish in life and reassuring oneself that Allah (SWT) would forgive any and all negative actions. Exploitation is terribly selfish.
- Allah (SWT) is most merciful AND powerful in punishment. In this sense, it translated to me that once again there exists a balance for everyone and everything in life.
- There exist consequences for everything and we are all held accountable and responsible for our actions.
- Know with whom you are dealing. Don’t take serious matters lightly and vise versa. Again, another balance in life one should attempt to maintain.
- Try not to over-theorize/conceptualize things. We need to learn to appreciate everyone and everything for what they truly are, which relates back to the principle to NEVER forget from where you came – as it will always follow you wherever you go.
The imam (and I apologize for not getting his name) also talked about the non-Muslim and the non-believers…which echoed the same sort of “attitude,” if you will, that Christians possess…and it pushed me away at first. Even now while writing this, I’m not quite sure what to think of that, because to me it came off as a sort of “With-Me-Or-Against-Me” mentality of which I really am not fond. A brother and Muslim-revert Nick tried explaining that it wasn’t so much non-Muslims that this statement targets, but it is those who do not believe in a higher authority/figure/being or a God. While this is comforting, hopefully I can find another explanation or two to this in the near future as I am sure there are many, as it bothers me…
I did, however, find his passion very admirable which should not to be mistaken for a form of extremism. One aspect that may easily frighten and even turn away a newcomer is the intense passion that not just the imam possesses when he speaks or recites, but also many other Muslims possess. I can definitely see how all this may be intimidating for someone who might potentially have any interest in it especially while living in the post-9/11 era in New York City in which there already exists such a huge amount of blatantly blind naiveté that is continuously perpetrated by the corporate-controlled media from the entertainment to the news industry. This statement is even applicable to many countries and nations outside the United States and is further exemplified by the Oslo Massacre in Norway for one that occurred on 22 July 2011. As an explosion rocked downtown, Sky News “reported” the incident and at the very end mentioned how: “Norway has experienced problems with several homegrown terror plots linked to al Qaeda…” – see for yourself here:
Now just to be fair, it doesn’t blatantly or directly say that Middle Eastern terrorists committed this heinous act…but did they really have to put that at the end of the article? No, of course not, but it definitely got the hype going until we all discovered it was a “Christian fundamentalist” *cough* terrorist *cough* who did all of this. Racist media at its best trying to do whatever it takes to increase the hype to sell as much of their crap as they can…but it’s exactly this type of ignorance I want to expose and of which I want to raise awareness. Hopefully this blog post and the rest of my blog can achieve this one way, shape or form.
Another topic which caught my attention was #2 on the list above: rewards and punishments. Now to me, not all of life should be translated as such because this idea is a bit too clear cut, black-and-white for the many shades of gray life possesses for each and all of us. To some sense, it reiterates the fundraising lesson I drew: if everything is about rewards and punishments, then there will be no incentive to do anything out of one’s own will or kindness; but then again, there are consequences and results for every action done that is set into motion by a previous decision which was ultimately initiated or inspired by reason. So while I agree with this sentiment, at the same time I would be cautious…
Tarawih was and is just absolutely beautiful. The solemnly modest mood, dedication, and passion that everyone possesses while participating in tarawih is just phenomenal. This night I was able to sit through its entirety and even now a few days later I’m still amazed. I really must thank the @ICNYU and the great brothers and sisters who warmly welcome me and allow me to experience all of this myself.
While waiting in the subway station for my train, I was approached by Noor Elashi, a Palestinian-American who noticed how I sat through the adhans, iftar, maghrib, isha, and tarawih. We began discussing my experiences and observations I had drawn as a non-Muslim and quickly moved to talks of Palestine…in my following blog posts, I have a feeling I’ll detail my now activist future…
Sunday was not a bad day as far as the non-Muslim fasting was concerned. Thankfully I didn’t have to be a tour guide and was more relaxed (no, really, I’m truly thankful for that lol). Iftar once again consisted of lasagna, both meat and spinach, with garlic rolls, fruit salad, and a regular tossed salad. Again, the highlight would definitely have to been the dates and water 😀 If I had the chance to volunteer to set up and serve iftar or even just food every day, I would.
After watching salah, isha, and tarawih for a few days now, I seriously considered participating in it. My first thoughts, however, were that I should not participate in it because: 1) I’m not Muslim; 2) I didn’t know the official stances/gestures I had to make; 3) I had no idea what to say. I had begun talking with another Muslim brother Monzu and another imam and they insisted for me to actually take part in it. The way the imam put it, “If we didn’t make you feel comfortable or welcomed, then we’re not doing our duties.” Monzu then reassured me that following along isn’t that difficult and he’d answer any questions. The following day, he gave me this link and I intend to memorize it all – http://islam1.org/how_to_pray/salah.htm
After adhan was recited, we all lined up shoulder-to-shoulder (something to which Americans are not accustomed, as we hold our personal space with high value) and I actually began going through the entire salah with everyone else, from the Takbiratul Ihram to the sujood. At the time and even currently, I have no idea what needed or what needs to be recited, but I instead slipped into a slight trance. Everyone and everything was surreal…to observe from the side is one experience, but to actually take part in the actual prayers is something entirely different. The spirituality within me and everyone else resonated throughout the room and I myself could say that I really picked it up even though I had never really considered myself a spiritual person from the beginning lol.
I believe the way everyone at the Islamic Center at New York University warmly welcomed my presence and wanted to include me in all their activities, even during their holy month of Ramadan despite the fact that I’m non-Muslim is just truly and uniquely incredible. Surprisingly most, if not all, of them had an easy-going attitude about them once approached, and the way all their activities are established from the kitchen duties to sitting with one another at the dining mats and prayer rugs, as well as how new people come in everyday, all allow for everyone to not just enjoy this amazing month of Ramadan but to really be embraced by a friendly and hospitable community, culture and religion contrary to the ignorant and racist stigmas the media and the general populace propagate onto one another. As a random side-note, I can honestly say I was more comfortable taking part in everything at the Islamic Center at New York University than freshman orientation for my university…LOL.
There is only one more week/weekend left of Ramadan and I’m saying Ramadan Mubarak to all and hope everyone has a blessed and wonderful Eid! I would like to thank you all for reading this little non-Muslim fasting Ramadan “memoir” – it has opened my eyes to newer and greater aspects and perspectives in life. My reflections, abilities to make them, and all the connections as such have been able to expand and develop in ways I never would have though imaginable prior to any of this. I would also like to thank all of my supporters, both from the online community and the community at the Islamic Center at New York University, who have constantly encouraged me and offered me help to be as comfortable and informed as possible – none of this would have been possible without ALL of you! Once more, Ramadan Mubarak and Eid Mubarak to all 😀