Community Reflection: Reviving Our Spirits

The Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention in Toronto, Canada draws thousands of Muslims every year, including some Michigan MSA-ers. The convention was most recently held from the 21st to the 23rd of December 2012. Nour Soubani, LSA sophomore, writes below on her experience that weekend.

As I sat outside the lecture hall waiting for the first session to start, I watched a middle-aged women, her head covered with a colorful scarf, corralling her three young children inside, all the while speaking to them in fluent French.

For me, this epitomized the experience of the 11th Annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention in Toronto. 25,000 people—men and women, children and teenagers, elderly and infants—from all over the world, representing all different cultures, languages, interests, and stories, gathered for those three days in what was truly a revival of the Islamic spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood for the sake of Allah (SWT).

The weekend started with a Friday sermon given by Imam Zaid Shakir. Through an analysis of the hadith describing those who will be shaded by the shade of Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgment, Imam Zaid clarified the purpose of the convention and the ultimate goal of the global Muslim community: to achieve an Ummah that promotes the seven types of people who will be shaded—just rulers, youth who grow up in the worship of Allah, men and women whose hearts are attached to the mosques, who love each other for Allah’s sake, who fear Allah in their actions, who give charity and hide it, and who shed tears in their private remembrance of the Creator.

And with this, three days of wisdom and motivation and knowledge ensued. Scholars from all over the globe—Professor Tariq Ramadan, Dr. Tawfique Chowdhury, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, Shaykh Sulaiman Mulla, Dr. Amr Khaled—all spoke on diverse aspects of building a community based on pleasing Allah (SWT). We learned about the importance of sincerity in our intentions, about the relevance of the Quran as a light in our lives, about the essential love for our brothers and sisters in Islam, and about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as our greatest example of character.

Inside the lecture hall, our minds worked, our collective motivation skyrocketed, our passions sparked. But outside of it, our hearts opened. Whether it was after prayer, having a conversation with someone you just happened to stand next to, or exchanging smiles and friendly words with the vendors in the bazaar, or sitting and sharing a meal with complete strangers in the dining area, the connections built with other Muslims were invaluable.  It didn’t matter that we would probably never meet again or even remember each other’s names. What mattered was that we share faith; we share a love for this faith and for all those who claim it, and for its last Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him. What mattered was that although I did not talk to, or even understand, the mother speaking in French with her children on that first day, nor did I see her again throughout the convention, she holds a place in my heart, and I am certain that I hold a place in hers.

So yes, I learned a lot. Yes, I heard verses from the Quran and listened to hadith and stories from the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions. And yes, I took notes on great milestones in Islamic history. But my takeaway from the weekend was not facts, or quotes, or even knowledge; rather, it was energy. It was an urgent desire to devote myself in the service of this great religion and its followers, and to work towards the maintenance of a bond that is billions strong, all based on the striking acceptance of one merciful God, and to be involved in the building of a community whose members will all be shaded under the magnificent shade of Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgment.

Community Reflection: Volunteering at Community Kitchen

MSA works with several service-oriented organizations to provide members with an outlet for their desire to do good. One such organization is Food Gatherers. Here, an anonymous MSA-er reflects on time spent at the Community Kitchen and the Islamic imperative to serve our neighbors regularly.

UPDATE 11/14/2012: Many thanks to Food Gatherers for sharing this as a guest post! Click here to check out the post and explore the Food Gatherers blog.

As the leaves begin to change color and sweater-weather descends upon us, the workload piles up and we’re reminded of why we’re here: school is in full swing. The amount of hours spent socializing decreases while the amount of hours spent slaving over that engineering project or research paper increases dramatically. We find ourselves struggling to call our parents each day or to make time for our religious obligations. On top of all of that, we still have to find time for extracurricular activities to make sure our graduate school applications aren’t lacking. All of these things, the quintessential components of student life, have one thing in common: we do them mainly for our own benefit.

How often do we stop and consider the conditions of those around us outside of our families and friends? We often don’t realize how blessed we are to attend this university, to have clothes on our backs each day, and to not have to worry about whether we will be able to eat dinner on any given night. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many others. What’s worse is that this isn’t just referring to people far detached from us whom we see on television or read about online; this is in our backyard. Here in Washtenaw County, one in seven adults deals with hunger on a daily basis, and one in six children also faces that same challenge each day. The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us that “He who sleeps on a full stomach whilst his neighbor goes hungry is not one of us.” We must honestly ask ourselves what we are doing to alleviate the problem of hunger for our neighbors. As college students, we can’t readily donate money to help end this problem, but we can certainly donate our time. The Community Service Committee (CSC) recently partnered with Food Gatherers to serve food at the local community kitchen in the Robert J. Delonis Center on a biweekly basis. The kitchen, a fifteen-minute walk from campus, provides twenty free meals a week to the needy. I was fortunate enough to go on one of the most recent volunteering trips.

Most of our group met at the cube and walked together to the community kitchen. I joined them on the way to the Delonis Center because I was starving and stopped to indulge in a Chipotle burrito. Upon arriving, we walked back to the kitchen and met with Scott, the kitchen coordinator, who informed us of our jobs. I, along with another volunteer, would be serving drinks. As we washed our hands and donned the aprons we would wear for the next few hours, the cafeteria filled with hungry clients. Soon enough, it was 5:30pm and the long line began to form in front of the juice and water coolers. “What would you like to drink, sir/madam?” I repeated to each person who walked to the coolers. Over the next few hours, we served scores of people from nearly every background imaginable. There was Julius, a middle-aged man whose face lit up when he was handed his favorite fruit punch drink, and Richard, who was thrilled to learn he was allowed two cups of juice. Despite their divergent life experiences, the clients all had one thing in common: they were immensely thankful to all the volunteers who cooked and served them food. One man thanked me more than five times for volunteering; I later found out he hadn’t eaten in over three days. And there I was earlier “starving” despite my hearty breakfast and mid-afternoon snack.

6:30pm approached and “last call” was announced. Those still eating forked down the last few chunks they could. They knew this food might have to last for the next few days. The serving line closed and we rolled the coolers back into the kitchen and began to clean the kitchen in preparation for the next day. Eventually, we returned our aprons, said our goodbyes to the other volunteers, and made our way back to campus.

On the walk back, we each reflected on our positive experience. “That was really a lot of fun,” one of us mentioned and another chimed in, “I can’t wait to be back!” In the short two and a half hours we spent working in the kitchen, we saw a side of Ann Arbor that students don’t often see. By conversing with the people in the cafeteria, we realized that they were not very different from us. They cried when they were sad, they laughed when they heard a joke, and their faces radiated joy after they ate a fresh, hot meal. We might not have completely changed the course of anybody’s life, but the smiles we saw assured us that what we did was meaningful.

I urge you all to devote at least some time to a volunteer organization on a regular basis, whether it is serving food to the needy or tutoring children. “The deeds which Allah loves the most are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari & Muslim). May you reap the rewards in this world and in the hereafter.

Have a reflection of your own? Post it in the comments, or send it in if you’d like.