[Acknowledgement for this post must go to Somayya, without whose generosity and understanding I would not have made it to yesterday’s program, who has successfully put me on several guilt trips over the past week and who has, yes, been quite justified in doing so, but who (I hope) understood why I had to be here and not there – and who loves me anyway, which is always more than I ever deserve.]
Friday, 10 October 2003: Unity Halaqa at Zaytuna Institute
[Subhanâ€™Allah, Zaytuna is such a beautiful place. Somehow, I always feel that the time spent there cleanses my heart and soul. And whoâ€™s to say it doesnâ€™t? The soothing environment, the interactions with other Muslims seeking the same sense of peace, our sheer proximity to such a wonderful resource for knowledge, are all instrumental in furthering and strengthening imaan.]
The lecture began. Calmed by the sea of strange faces and familiar smiles, the intimate sense of brotherhood and the cushioned seats, we were all listening intently, some of us busily scribbling away in notebooks or on hastily-gathered sheaves of paper, others simply leaning forward on the edges of their seats with hands clasped and brows furrowed. Absorption and fascination were evident on every face as he expounded on the Arabic concept of futuwwa, or chivalry. The virtue that is usually associated with youth, he informed us. That spirit of courage and self-sacrifice, the willingness to forego oneâ€™s needs to help someone else, the bravery required to stand up and challenge.
A few minutes into the speech, I felt a hesitant hand on my shoulder and turned to see the lady beside me – a middle-aged Pakistani woman seated next to a young girl I took to be her daughter – wearing an expression of bafflement as she gestured toward the front and whispered, “Who is he?”
“Thatâ€™s Imam Zaid Shakir,” I explained. “Ahh, shukriyya,” she said, showing no evident signs of recognition even upon hearing his name. She simply nodded politely, and turned back to face the front of the room. I watched her profile for a moment, admittedly surprised that she didnâ€™t know who he was. And then I was ashamed of myself for being surprised. After all, there was a time, not so long ago, when I myself hadnâ€™t known who Imam Zaid Shakir was, either. I have only hazy memories of hearing him for the first time at the 2001 Zaytuna Conference. Then I heard him speak once more during the beginning of this year, and again at our event just a few weeks ago. And last night.
And yet? “Oh, look, thereâ€™s Imam Zaid,” we say casually. And, “Yeah, Shaykh Hamzaâ€™s gonna be there.” And, “Oh, hey, did you make it to Ustadh Suhaibâ€™s lecture the other night?” As if weâ€™re on a first-name basis with our Bay Area scholars. Shameless name-droppers, all of us.
Last night, thinking about the lady and my own reaction to her question, I was reminded once more of brother Ali Shayanâ€™s observation that we have a tendency to take our access to such scholars, and their presence in our community, for granted.
Following some convoluted train of thought I donâ€™t recall, I reflected on those who consistently participate in halaqas and masjid- or Islamic center-related events, who belong to MSAs, who help organize fundraisers/conferences/lectures, who travel to speak to fellow believers, who take part in rallies and demonstrations, who stumble and sometimes even fall yet remember to turn to Him during their times of need, who take active roles, who volunteer or intern, who profess to be practicing believers, who seek knowledge for His sake alone…
And I wondered â€“ Are we doing enough?
– To get the word out, to teach others what we have learned, to refer them to someone else who knows more, to pass on knowledge we ourselves possess, to be active participants in society, to make our votes count, to speak out, to share, to listen, to implement what we know and to teach others how to do the same, to challenge, to smile confidently and fearlessly in the face of suspicious frowns, to disprove stereotypes, to speak the truth, to protest, to demonstrate by personal example, to practice what we preach, to take a stand, to tear down walls, to be assertive, to refuse to blend in, to show compassion, to work for what we believe in, to willingly step forward –
What are we doing? What am I doing?