I am not what a lot of people would normally think of when they hear the word ‘Muslim'.
I don't wear what is commonly referred to as the hijab. But I pray five times a day. I don't restrict myself to zabiha/halal meat (the Muslim version of Kosher). But I've never eaten pork or tried alcohol in my life. I can't fast from food and water during the month of Ramadan because I have Type1 Diabetes. But I give way more than the required 2.5% of my savings in charity.
For the past five years, during the month of Ramadan, I've helped organize an event to feed the homeless in Santa Ana, now coined "Iftar with the Homeless." Iftar is the breaking of the fast. At sunset everyday, Muslims break their fast, traditionally with a date and water before saying the evening prayer and then celebrating with dinner. But at the Iftar with the Homeless, the idea is that while we fast, we will share our Iftar with those who feel the pangs of hunger everyday. We have Muslim girl scout troops with parents who want their children to understand the concept of charity from an early age assemble hygiene kits for us. We have generous donors and more volunteers than we really need show up for the event.
The spirit of Ramadan is beautiful. The spiritual cleansing of keeping away from our physical needs during the day is something all Muslims look forward to all year. It allows us to focus on prayer, on charity, on being kind, and on the fact that we are blessed enough to know that at sunset we will have food and water, whereas so many poverty-stricken do not have that luxury.
I was raised to understand that I could just as easily have been born a beggar on the streets of my home in Pakistan. But the more you are given, the more responsibility you have. I will be asked what I did with the resources Allah gave me in this world. And I want to be able to say that I used them for good, that I helped others, and that I was kind and generous with what was never really mine to begin with.
I struggle with writing these words, because in Islam when you do good deeds, you are not supposed to let your left hand know what your right hand does. In other words, we do it for God and not for the world, or our community or neighbors to know. But I also struggle with the portrayal of Muslims in the media. I struggle with the prevalent assumption that any crazy brown man is a terrorist, but a crazy white man is just a troubled soul. I don't want you to know about my good deeds, but I do want you to know that the majority of Muslims in the world are more like me than they are like the crazy brown man you heard about on the news.