Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page. To follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
Last night, the Islamic Center at NYU hosted a special fundraising iftar dinner for the people of East Africa, proceeds of which went to Islamic Relief. For those of you who are unaware of the famine that has afflicted that region, I had written about it earlier in a blog post entitled, "A Prayer for Somalia."
We were able to raise $215,000 last night towards the cause from an audience that was much larger than the 300 that attended the dinner. It was remarkable to see how much effort went into the evening by all members of our community and the unique methods by which they raised awareness. Bake sales were hosted at mosques throughout the city, social media campaigns were started with individuals committing to donating $1 to East Africa for every person who liked their facebook status or retweeted their tweets, small donation bins were set up in restaurants and street carts throughout NYC, and we were able to raise awareness as well as a good amount of money for the people of East Africa.
After the event was done and we had cleaned up and finished our prayers for the evening, I returned to my apartment and sat down to check my cell phone and email. The most recent text message I had was from one of our recent alums and a good friend, Arshiya Kherani. It read "Everything pulled together really well tonight Khalid. So many people will survive because of what we raised today." I don't think she realized how profound her words were. I couldn't stop crying after I read it and am still tearing up as I think about it.
Funds weren't raised last night to provide clothing, shelter or textbooks. We were raising funds so that people could live.
So many of us believe that our individual impact in this world is minimal and therefore we don't really do as much as are capable of. We only see our efforts as being worthwhile when they are done on a massive scale or we just assume that someone else will take care of it. Imagine a mother in Somalia right now who has only enough food for one of her children and she has to decide which one to feed and which one to see suffer. Your giving helps her child not just to eat, but to live. You might not be able to do that for 1000 children, but the one that you can do it for definitely will feel the benefit of your efforts. That is still worth a lot.
A story that I love to tell involves a young man who was an author. To get inspiration for his work, this young man would go out into nature so that he could reflect better. One day, he was walking down the beach and as he walked he saw a figure in the distance that looked like it was dancing. He became intrigued and started walking towards it and as he got closer he saw that it was a young boy who was throwing something into the water. When he got even closer, he saw that on the shoreline there were thousands of starfish that were washed up and the young boy was throwing them back into the water.
"What are you doing?" the author asks of the boy.
"I am throwing the fish back into the water."
"Why are you doing that?"
"They washed up on the shore with the tide and if I don't, they will lose all of their water and then die."
The young man then looks up and down the shore and sees starfish upon starfish. "There are so many of them," he says. "There is no way that you will be able to throw all of them back into the water. What is the point of what you are doing? What difference will it make?"
The boy looks at the young man, then at the ground, picks up one of the fish, throws it into the water and says, "It made a difference to that one."
"...And whoever saved one, it is as if he saved mankind entirely..." the Holy Qur'an, 5:32
In Islam we have a value that is called Ihsan, which is derived from a root that denotes beauty, and can be translated with that understanding in a lot of different ways. Its definition is given to us by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, when he says "(Ihsan) is to worship Allah as if you can see Him. Because you understand although you cannot see Him, that He can see you." This is to motivate us to strive to do our best no matter what the situation is and not be lax in doing so. To honor the rights that the rest of creation has over us by reminding us that even if no other eyes are on us, the eyes of the Divine are always there. To beautify and perfect our actions and decisions, from the inward and outward, and perform each to the best of our ability. Islam does not teach us to take a quantified approach to our faith, rather it teaches us to take a qualified approach. It's not about how much you do, but how you do what you do. Either way, we just have to do something.
We can all do our part in making the world a little better for someone. It might not be everyone, but if I can have an impact on even one life, on one heart, it still makes a difference.