Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, 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, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Last night, we, at the Islamic Center at NYU, hosted "Hungry For Mercy," our 3rd annual humanitarian aid fundraising iftar dinner. Proceeds from this year's dinner went to Islamic Relief USA's efforts in Syria. For those of you who are unaware of the two-year conflict that has taken more than 100,000 lives, made refugees of close to 2,000,000, and internally displaced more that 4,250,000, I wrote about it in an earlier post entitled "Syria On My Mind -- Curing the Illness of Indifference."
We were able to raise $185,000 towards our cause and plan to keep the effort going until the end of Ramadan. Our contributions came from an audience that was much larger than the 350 who attended our dinner last night. 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 every night at our iftar dinners, social media campaigns were started with individuals committing to donating $1 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 Syria.
You can join the #ICNYU4Syria Campaign by making a contribution online at bit.ly/ICNYU4Syria.
As we planned for this dinner, the Islamic Relief staff asked me if we wanted to invite anyone well-known to headline. The draw for many at times is not always the cause, but the cause becomes drawn to by the people in the room. I said no, there wasn't anyone in particular. Really, the people who I hoped would accept our invitation to attend were the ones who ended up filling the seats and helping out -- the amazing men and women that I am blessed to be around every day that make our community what it is. Even our speakers ended up being people mostly from our community. We had no celebrities or famous personalities or well-known activists. We simply had our own speak to us, and the sincerity of their voices and the power of their experiences was enough to bring out the best. Everyone did their part and came together to help us reach our goal. I didn't expect anything less and am so proud of each one who attended, volunteered and spoke. They all did an amazing job, mashallah.
What's more remarkable to me is that most of those who gave will probably never meet those who they gave to. The motivation wasn't because of kinship rooted in socially constructed value, shared culture or common heritage. People gave and did so without condition or qualification. They gave simply because it was the right thing to do. And when they did it in an organized way, their individual gifts had that much more of an impact. The first step in that process was a recognition as individuals that they had something to offer, and the second part was actually then offering it.
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 looked up and down the shore and saw starfish upon starfish. "There are so many of them," he said. "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 looked at the young man, then at the ground, picked up one of the fish, threw it into the water and said, "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
We can all do our part in making the world a little better for someone. Let today be the first day of many in which you try to do so. It might not impact everyone, but if it can have an impact on even one life, on one heart, there is still value in it and it still makes a difference.