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: 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!

ASB Update: Sarah 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. Sarah Khan, one of the ASB-ers this year, reflects on her experience since arriving on Saturday, March 2nd.

Grandin Court Baptist Church introduced us to the true meaning of Southern Hospitality. With their homemade treats and accommodating facilities, the people there have been nothing short of amazing in their generosity and kindness. We were fortunate enough to be invited to Sunday service, and for many of us it was the first time we’ve been able to sit in on a service. It was a new experience that I found enjoyable. In the church we had complete strangers coming up and personally welcoming us. This treatment reminded us of the importance of being kind and of how as a Muslim community we need to welcome and encourage others outside the community to join us, whether socially or in worship.

The service itself was interesting; we constantly outline the differences between our religions, when in fact there are tenets that hold true in many religions. The sermon was about outer and inner cleanliness and how our status is not an excuse to treat others poorly, themes that as a Muslim I know well. The service was filled with singing and music–a unique experience for me, yet one I enjoyed. There was a genuine sense of community and family within the church, and even as a visitor from Michigan, I still felt accepted into the community. The Grandin Court Baptist Church deserves a great big thank you for giving us an incredible experience and hospitality.