Empowering people through education and engagement

In 2022 Let’s Recommit to Serve

Azher Quader
Community Builders Council (CBC)
Jan 3, 2022

New years are usually ushered in with gatherings of friends or family over food and
fun, talking about resolutions old and new, events and vacations along with hopes and
plans for the coming year. 2021 was however very different, when most of us stayed
home through the year and worked remotely, rarely travelled beyond a few miles, kept
to ourselves, worrying generally about all that was going on in our lives, the schedule of
our vaccinations and boosters, exposures to infections, covid testing and trying to make
sense of changing guidelines from the CDC every other day and all that was happening
with our school systems as well while the kids were driving us crazy.

Though some in the world would rather sing and dance as a new year rolls in while
bidding farewell to the old one, we must pause to take a moment and reflect upon our
present condition, of where we are, where we have been and where we are going.
It is a good exercise for all of us to undertake. I try to do this every year and feel that if
nothing else it helps me get a little better perspective and clarity in my mind regarding
the way forward which obviously is what this effort should point to.
I hope in the days that follow some of you would devote some time to reflect and
express your thoughts as well.

Let us start with where we have been first. Surely, we have been through some pretty
rough times. Without question we must be grateful that we are still living today, while
many have departed from this world in the aftermath of this brutal pandemic, called
COVID 19. Tragically many of us have suffered losses within our families too.

With over 800k dead and counting, America accounts for 20% of the world’s total dead
from the pandemic, while our population is less than 4% of the world’s total. This is a
dark stain on our reputation in the world. We have to ponder on how we achieved this
dubious distinction in-spite of being the most medically advanced and the richest
country in the world? Obviously, the dead are silent and cannot ask but we can and
should ask some uncomfortable questions of ourselves and our leaders.

For the longest time some of us have articulated our belief that our healthcare system is
in very bad shape, that among other factors, issues relating to affordable access, social
determinants for health in marginalized communities and lack of preventive care are
long standing problems which continue to be ignored and must be addressed to
improve outcomes and reduce costs. The pandemic simply has brought to light what we
knew would happen if the system was challenged.

Next, we must recognize that the fruits of “freedom” we so dearly cherish will not be
ours to enjoy for too long without sharing our plans and concerns with others around the
globe. The idea of a global village is more real today than any other time in the past. If
there is one simple truth the pandemic has taught us, it is about our vulnerabilities
against future threats of similar kinds to our freedoms and even survival, which cannot
be stopped by any border patrols or any constructed walls we imagine to protect us.
The past narrative of isolation, self-interest and national security will need to be
rethought and replaced with a culture of international cooperation and greater sharing of
our resources globally. The idea of America First would need to be toned down. A new
culture of global interest and shared values would need to emerge as the new norm.

Closely behind readdressing our protections for freedom, is a serious look at the form
and function of our “democracy”.

Governance through “mutual consultation” of the people is the life blood of democracy.
Our democracy no longer reflects the will of the people. Senator Manchin’s shameless
refusal to support the trillion dollar Build Back Better proposal in the senate recently, in spite of overwhelming evidence that it would improve the financial lives of people on
Medicare and families with children in his state, is a low point in the practice of
American democracy. We really don’t have democracy in America any more, for our
politicians respond to the interests of their donors and ignore the needs of their
constituents. The will of the people has no echoes in the halls of Congress today. Our
claim to have spent trillions in promoting democracy in foreign lands, rings hollow when
the kind of democracy we follow at home is seriously compromised. We need urgent
reforms to our campaign finance laws if we are to ever claim authenticity in our practice
of democracy. Only when our political system changes will we be able to function as a
just society. Till that happens our struggles for racial, economic and social justice in
America will remain an unrealized dream.

From the drum beat of fake news, to the denial of electoral results and the assault on
the nation’s capital in an attempt to nullify a confirmed election result, from the sex
scandals of the rich and famous to the widespread adulterous lifestyles of the more
common, from the greed and gamblings of Wall Street to the financial bail outs of our
Big Banks when their bad decisions led to the collapse of our economy, and not a
single bank leader went to prison, our culture of corruption is unquestionably going
down a slippery slope.

And there is more to reflect upon.

When a sitting president is twice impeached by the House of Representatives for gross
misconduct, but the Senate chooses to look the other way in the pursuit of partisan
politics, when 20 million people from mostly marginalized communities cannot buy
health insurance because it is unaffordable, when the price of a college degree comes
with the staggering burden of tuition debt that takes a lifetime to pay back, when a
hundred souls are lost each day to the tragedy of gun violence and we cannot let go of
our passion to possess weapons of war in our homes on the grounds of an archaic
constitutional right, when black lives are lost at the hands of police just as often today
as they were perhaps in the days when cell phones did not exist, when struggling
workers are denied a living wage and a right to unionize while their billionaire
owners go burning their billions to experience the joy and excitement of a few moments
in outer space, we have to acknowledge we have some serious problems, and sadly
we are not doing anything about them either.

So what can we do, we may ask.

Let us talk about what we Muslims, a handful in a country with over 320 million people
can do. Yes, we can, but first we must “build our capacity” and become “proactive,
productive and powerful” individuals. Not the reactive, incessantly complaining people,
always blaming the other, content to sit on the sidelines as spectators that we sadly are.
My wake up call came many years ago when I realized what a self-centered self-righteous, complacent indifferent person I had become in the pursuit of my American
dream The person who helped me wake up was Steven Covey, through his best-selling
book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”.

It is a good read for starting in my opinion, for anyone interested. It covers the basics of
a disciplined life, living on principles and not on personal desires and reactions to the
ever-changing news of the day. It talks about a lot of the usual basic stuff: mission,
goals and time management. It provides valuable insights into the development of
habits and discusses ways of engagement that target win/win outcomes. All these of
course being valuable skills both in the workplace and at home to have.

Next, we “build character”, working through such critical character traits as integrity,
compassion, courage, commitment, patience and humility. These of course are the
foundational values of our faith and we get them from the teachings of Quran and the
Sunna of the Prophet (pbuh).
Finally, when we are sufficiently equipped with these critical life skills and acquire the
character to deal with any and all challenges and adversities, we may encounter, with
courage and patience, then we commit ourselves to “act” and engage with the problems
of the society we live in.

It is at this point when we are ready and willing to engage with the issues of the day,
that the guidance in the Quran becomes so important in deciding what is right and what
is wrong, what needs to be supported and what shunned. What indeed is the essence
of piety and the righteous life.

If we are to ever beat Islamophobia in America, there is no easy path but to serve its
people. Those who are struggling in poverty and their needs are unmet, those who are
insecure and need security, those who are hungry and need to be fed, those who are ill
and need to be cared for, those who are homeless and need to be housed. None of this
can happen with only ritual practices we like to pursue inside the carpeted comfort of
our marbled sacred spaces.

The Quran does not mix words and we don’t need a scholar to make us understand
them. If only we care to read it and bother to follow it, the life changing message is
there to inspire us. Just these four verses should be enough to make us think.

On Piety:
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true]
righteousness is [in] one who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and
the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the
traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer
and gives zakah (obligatory charity); [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise;
and [those who] are patient in poverty and ailment and during battle. Those are the
ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.”
(Quran 2:177)

On One Master to Serve always:
You alone we serve (naabudu , from ibadah= servitude/service) and You alone we seek
for help
(Quran 1:5)

On Destiny:
Allah will not change the condition of a people, Until they change what is within
themselves (“nafs” in Arabic) (Quran 13:11)

On Allah’s Promise:
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in
exchange] for that they will have Paradise. “
(Quran 9:111).

Clearly these verses are asking for engagement, for sacrifices and for change.
Change is not easy. But change is essential if outcomes are to be different. Change
does not mean more praying and more fasting but going beyond praying and fasting. It
means organizing, collaborating with people we do not know, people who speak a
different language perhaps, follow a different faith. None of that should matter when our
purpose is to better the lives of His creation. It. should not matter if they are Christians
or Jews or Hindus or atheists. It should not matter if they are black or brown or white, if
they are gay or straight, they are all deserving of our respect and our service. The
bounties of God are open to all, the air we breathe, the sun that shines, and the rain that
falls. Just as He gives to them all freely, so should we.

This work is not complicated. It does not require a stash of money. But it requires
commitment, it requires compassion and it requires character. As a community of faith,
those should never be in short supply with us. With the pandemic raging still, 2022
promises to be no less challenging than 2021. The pain and suffering people endure
from the challenges of hunger, health and housing will remain and are real. Let us
commit to doing what we can to make a difference, pursuing the guidance of the Quran.

“Mita de apni hasti ko agar kuch martaba chaahe
Ke daana khaak mei milkar gul o gulzaar hota hai”

— Iqbal

Eliminate all personal desires of your soul if you wish to achieve a higher station in this
life or after
Like the seed which mixes with the soil and loses itself in it to produce a beautiful garden

Wishing you a blessed and safe year.

Azher Quader is a writer, thinker and community worker. He is founder president of
Community Builders Council (www.cbc7.org ) and Compassionate Care Network
(www.ccnamerica.com). He can be reached at azherquader@yahoo.com.

Jan 3, 2022

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