ASB Update: Shamole Ahmed and Farhan Iqbal, 2013 Site Leaders

The MSA-ers on Spring Break in Virginia kept themselves busy getting to know the area and working with Feeding America, but every now and then they took the time to share stories and musings about what they’ve been up to. In our final 2013 MSA ASB post, Shamole Ahmed and Farhan Iqbal, our two site leaders, share some closing thoughts about the trip.

As you’ve probably heard by now, this year’s Muslim Students’ Association’s ASB was an amazing experience. Besides being able to enjoy the Southern hospitality provided by the Grandin Court Baptist Church, we got to work with Feeding America in their Southwest Virginia center, where we cleaned, sorted, and packaged food to be distributed to food banks nearby.

Others have already mentioned many amazing parts of our trip together. We would like to recap some of it, adding our own perspective about our work, our journey, and most importantly, the people we were with.

It didn’t take longer than the car ride down to Roanoke, Virginia, for many of us to get well acquainted with each other. While some of us may have known each other before the trip, most of us didn’t really know each other. The car ride down was a good opportunity for all of us to have to interact with each other more.

The first thing we did upon arrival was to attend a church service, which Sarah Khan recapped. For many of us, it was our first time attending a religious service of a different faith. It was eye opening for many of us, and we highly encourage people to go out and attend services of a different faith. Whether it be at a church, synagogue, temple, or another house of worship, you will likely learn something new and have a good experience.

What we got out of the service was complemented by the hospitality that the members of the Grandin Court Baptist Church (GCBC) displayed. Some of our ASB-ers agreed that never in our lives had we been treated so well by people who 1) weren’t family and 2) didn’t even know us. As the other blog posts mention, we found baked goods in the kitchen for us every day after work, and the church members even cooked us dinner one night. However, it wasn’t the tangibility of their kindness that shone through. It was the fact that they wanted to sit down and get to know us as individuals; that they took the time out of their day to come chat with us on a regular basis – different people on different days, just checking in to see how we were doing. It was as if we had left our pampered lives in Ann Arbor to be even more pampered in Roanoke. They spoiled us–that’s for sure. And we did nothing to deserve that level of hospitality.

As our work week began, we started to appreciate the size of our group. The 14 of us  were able to develop a somewhat substantial connection with everyone else. We tried our best to keep ourselves all together, and we felt the benefits. We were always in the same places, doing the same thing, eating the same food, and so on. It made us feel this sense of brosterhood that would probably not have existed had we separated for anything. The most beneficial part of being together, though, was definitely the ability to pray five times a day together. Prayer in groups is beautiful, and it is even more beautiful when it is with such an awesome group of people. Alhamdulillah.

Our work itself was indirectly rewarding. We had cleaned, sorted, and packaged food to be distributed to food banks in the Southwest Virginia area. It was somewhat tedious, but I think most of us got through it by reminding each other about the impact we would be making. Ideally, we wanted to see our work benefiting someone directly, but this was definitely affecting a larger group of people, which is what matters more than our own personal selfishness of physically seeing the rewards of our efforts.

Overall, the bonds we made with each other by cooking together, praying together, and, well, doing everything else together, are bonds we hope will only strengthen as time goes on. We enjoyed being able to get away from Ann Arbor, and we encourage everyone to capitalize on this opportunity in the future, whether it be through the Muslim Students’ Association or going on one of Ginsberg’s separate ASB trips.

ASB Update: Nour Soubani

The MSA-ers on Spring Break in Virginia have been busy getting to know the area and working with Feeding America, but every now and then they take the time to share stories and musings about what they’ve been up to. Nour Soubani, one of the ASB-ers this year, recaps the team’s week in Virginia in this reflection for Friday, March 8th.

For the fourth day in a row, we rush to get out of bed, get dressed, make our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and load into the cars to pull into Feeding America at 9 AM.

Although it was the same routine—wiping cans, packing boxes, checking expiration dates—a certain anxiety came over us as we realized it was our last day.  After half a day of work, we drove to a nearby mosque for Friday prayer. At a masjid we’ve never been to, surrounded by people we’ve never met, we had an experience that brought us back to the universality of our rituals; the Friday prayer was for the most part what we were used to, just in a completely different community.

After prayer, we headed back to Feeding America for our final hour and half of work. We cleaned up the warehouse and met with James, who had a surprise for us. He had been on the radio that morning and talked about our group—about meeting us and befriending us and how he had seen that as a blessing from God. As we listened to the recording, it was bittersweet; it was the end of a short-lived relationship, but the relationship was one that had affected all of us and taught us about having faith and compassion, even with a group of complete strangers. Robert and Jessica, who both also work at Feeding America, joined us for a final round of pictures and thank-yous and goodbyes.

ASB

Done with our work, we went back to the church, changed, and drove downtown for dinner. It was quaint, reminiscent of the streets of Ann Arbor. We settled on Indian cuisine, and as we waited for our food in the warm and dimly lit restaurant, there was a different atmosphere this time than for our first meal together. Everyone knew each other now, and there was never a moment of silence. We were content, enjoying each other’s presence and talking about movies, food, friends, and the past week’s experiences. After dinner, we walked around, got coffee and tea, and headed back to the church to have our final reflection and get ready for Saturday’s trip. During the reflection we talked about struggles with faith, about when it’s hard to stay connected to Allah (SWT), and about striving to handle these times of weakness and make our relationships with Allah (SWT) a consistent part of our lives. At the end of a week of service, the reflection was a way to come back to the ultimate goal: pleasing Allah (SWT) and helping each other to come closer to Him.

This trip was one week, one week that—throughout the rest of the year—would go by unnoticed in the same routine of school, work, friends, family. But this week was special; it was life-changing because of the relationships we built, the generosity we experienced, the conversations we had. It was a time to leave behind the stress and worries of our everyday lives and focus on the things we usually neglect: our spirituality, serving others, talking to people and learning from them, developing goals and worldviews. It was truly a blessing to be a part of this group and learn the lessons we learned, and—returning home—I hope that we can emulate some of these lessons in order to serve our communities through our experiences this past week.

ASB Update: Mahnoor Asghar

The MSA-ers on Spring Break in Virginia have been busy getting to know the area and working with Feeding America, but every now and then they take the time to share stories and musings about what they’ve been up to. Mahnoor Asghar, one of the ASB-ers this year, reflects on her experience with Feeding America and Grandin Court Baptist Church from Wednesday.

Salaams lovely brothers and sisters,

Today [ed: Wednesday] was our second full day of service at Feeding America, how exciting! We were all feeling enthusiastic, especially since we knew what to expect after our first day. During our break, we discussed our intentions and how important it was to refresh them constantly, instead of getting lost in the routine of the work or the conversations we had with each other while sorting food. We reflected on our experiences while snacking and enjoying each other’s company, making our breaks just as essential to our trip as the actual service work, albeit in a different capacity.

The highlight of our day was definitely dinner. The food, a hearty meal of salad and lasagna prepared for us by the Grandin Court Baptist Church, was fantastic, but the company was even better. We dined with several members of the church community, including Pastor Kevin and his wife, Reverend Brandon, Reverend Melissa, and Patti. We took the dinner as an opportunity to get to know each other–the interfaith dialogue was refreshing! It was fascinating to see how both our faiths have overarching themes of God-consciousness and self-improvement. We discussed some of the sectarian differences and traditions in both Islam and Christianity and how it’s a bit unfortunate that religion can be so divisive when it is meant to be a great unifier. However, it was encouraging to see that this was one challenge we have in common and that we can hopefully overcome together.

During dinner, our church hosts kept expressing their appreciation of us spending our spring breaks doing service in their community. Honestly, we are undeserving of their praise. It’s complete coincidence that we are packaging the food instead of receiving the packages; the status we are born into in society is arbitrary, and we can only take responsibility for how we spend our time and wealth.  If anything, the GCBC deserves praise for their hospitality. Everyone here has been so considerate and there have been multiple occasions when we’ve walked into the kitchen to find it stocked with snacks and baked goods for us. To be honest, I think we were all a little taken aback by our hosts’ genuine kindness and conscientiousness; their generosity is unexpected and their open-mindedness inspiring. We should do our best to implement such a welcoming environment into our own communities!

While we might call this a service trip, I think we all gain just as much as, if not more than, we give. Holistically, our trip consists of so much more than just the hours we spend sorting food in a warehouse. It is defined by the people we meet, from James, our incredibly enthusiastic quality control manager, to Dr. Kevin, the eloquent pastor of the GCBC. It is defined by the relationships we build with communities and organizations like our host church and the local businesses we visit. It is defined by the companionship and camaraderie with our fellow ASB members, which is strengthened by our daily reflections and nightly games of Taboo. Perhaps most of all, it is defined by our intentions to grow closer to Allah by serving a community and by our goal of carrying these sentiments of service and compassion back to our home communities after our trip comes to an end. Until then, we look forward to the rest of our time in Roanoke, Virginia!

ASB Update: Reham Khan

The MSA-ers on Spring Break in Virginia have been busy getting to know the area and working with Feeding America, but every now and then they take the time to share stories and musings about what they’ve been up to. Reham Khan, one of the ASB-ers this year, recalls the team’s first day of volunteer work with Feeding America.

Salaam Everyone!

Today [ed: Tuesday], after a day spent settling into the picturesque city of Roanoke we made our journey to the nearby town of Salem where our partner organization, Feeding America, is located. We began our day early at 9 AM when we met James, who showed us the ropes and got us hyped for a busy day of work. I have to say that James is by far one of the most genuinely enthusiastic individuals that I have met. His energy was infectious and the smile on his face alone was enough to show how much pride he took in his work at the distribution center. That heightened the group’s morale and made us all look forward to our first day.

As a group we spent the day sorting and packaging food products that were to be distributed to those in need in Southwest Virginia. Before coming to our worksite and even during our breaks we reflected on the importance of why we were here in the first place. The opportunity to serve those less fortunate was humbling even if we weren’t interacting with the people receiving the food products firsthand. Truthfully speaking, the first few hours of work were especially difficult. Many of us were asked to check expiration dates on food products and throw them away. Within a short time we had filled several boxes with food that was going to be thrown out. I felt conflicted seeing how much was being wasted but at the same time knowing that there had to be a level of quality control with the process–after all, this would eventually be part of a meal on someone’s dinner plate. And with that in mind we sought to renew our intentions to help others for the sake of Allah (swt) for our remaining days in Virginia.

By the end of our shift, many of us were exhausted thanks to late nights playing Cranium but we were treated to a fantastic fajita dinner by Tuesday’s group. If we thought the church couldn’t be any more hospitable than they already were, we were wrong. That night we got back to our rooms only to find space heaters and extra blankets for our use. We went to bed that night being grateful for our gracious hosts and anticipating what the next day would bring!

ASB Update: Kareem Hakim

The MSA-ers on Spring Break in Virginia have been busy getting to know the area and working with Feeding America, but every now and then they take the time to share stories and musings about what they’ve been up to. Kareem Hakim, one of the ASB-ers this year, shares what it was like to explore Roanoke with the help of a tour guide.

Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim

Asalaamu alaikum,

Before we began our service for the Roanoke community with Feeding America, our group spent some time reflecting about what we are grateful for. Two of our ASB-ers led a nighttime dialogue in which we tried putting into perspective the way we perceive what we have been blessed with.

The day had been an engaging and active one, highlighted by a tour of the city and our first team-cooked dinner. The tour, led by a couple members of our hosts from the Grandin Court Baptist Church, took us around Salem and the greater Roanoke area, and gave us a better sense of the community we would be serving. The city was full of color and life, and we learned of its rich history and tight-knit community. At multiple points throughout our tour, I was in awe of the sites I witnessed, and was blown away by the beauty of the area. Our tour guide was actually a realtor in the city. The tour, at least for me, was pretty much a pitch to move to Roanoke, and by the end of it I was sold. I could see that same enamoration with Roanoke in the rest of the group, all of whom enjoyed seeing the town and were eager to learn more. The tour wrapped up with a trip to the mountains to see the breathtaking view near the Roanoke Star. The scene was peaceful and almost surreal, and if we could have we probably would’ve spent the remainder of our day there. However, we had other activities to attend to, and so our stay at the top was short-lived.

Later that day, our first group of cooks took over the kitchen and made a delectable stir-fry meal for all 14 of us. The scene was one of camaraderie and great teamwork, and this initiative to have us participants cook our own meals has been a humbling and beneficial experience. Not to mention the food was amazing!

We used the day’s experiences to reflect on the many blessings we have in our daily lives, and the importance of being grateful for what we have been given, most of which we didn’t earn but instead were given. We grew more aware of the amount of privilege and blessing we have. We have supportive families who raised us and provide for us, we’re able to partake in this ASB without any financial or physical restrictions, and we have access to something as miniscule as hot water to shower with on a daily basis (just not in Roanoke). For me, the trip around the city made me extremely aware of how blessed I am to be able-bodied and have control over all my senses and bodily functions. Taking in the sights and sounds of the city was amazing, and it made me cognizant of the fact of how deprived and dejected I would feel if I was deficient in even one of my senses. We made sure to reinforce this reflection with dhikr, thanking Allah (swt) for allowing us to partake in this wonderful trip thus far and providing for us in so many aspects of our daily lives, many of which we fail to recognize in the craziness of our routines.

InshAllah we all can continue to remember all the blessings, undeserved, that we have been allotted by God, and we can use them as motivation to serve His creation and remember Him throughout our lives. And we ask Allah (swt) to accept the service we are doing in Virginia this week for His sake, and to enter all of us, those on the trip and those not able to attend, into the highest of Heavens without judgment. Please remember us in your prayers, and enjoy the rest of your spring break!