It was one of those Saturdays that bring to mind John Mayer’s song, “Georgia.” The crisp, bright fall morning that seems to last all afternoon, but I was stuck inside my gloom. The night before, the Lebanon and Paris attacks had happened and in an instant I became a possible target of hate in my own hometown. As I ignored the stares of random strangers and walked toward Manhattan Penthouse, I realized how abnormal my life is. Living with constant rejection, paranoia, fear and expecting to pay the price for someone else’s crimes have become second nature to me. I can’t help but wonder “Am I living it right?”
I arrived at the conference, grabbed my name tag, greeted familiar faces and went on to take a seat. “As’salaamu alaykum,” said the person sitting next to me, “I really like your title.” “Oh,” I chuckled, “I feel it’s a bit presumptuous to call myself a social entrepreneur just yet. I’m still fighting the odds of becoming one, but I guess you can’t put that down as a job title.” The conference began and my thoughts just drifted. I felt a lump in my throat sitting among young Muslim elite wondering what might be coming our way. What if I get killed today on my way home, have I lived the way I was supposed to? I needed someone to say something meaningful to anchor my thoughts and stop me from drowning.
“What matters most in one’s last dying moments?” The words of Muhammed Badi caught my attention. “For my father, it was being with his wife, children and close friends.” Badi reflected back on his experience of getting his father’s body ready for burial and realizing how empty-handed one leaves despite their struggles, companionships or possessions. I could tell the extreme sorrow of losing his father left him shuffling through life searching for meaning and wondering if he’s living it right. Luckily, he found some solace in his realization that above and beyond accomplishments and comforts of life, one should strive to live by core personal values on a daily basis. Otherwise, life is rather wasted.
Hearing those words, I strangely felt at peace because unbeknownst to Badi, he had just defined “privileged life” in the truest sense. A life that has very little to do with money, status or power; nevertheless, we still struggle with it. It is high time to fight for our identity, and more importantly our soul, despite what looms over us. And I believe, it is through a life lived with integrity and empathy that we truly uncover the essence of Islam and understand what we were meant to be in the grander scheme of things. We need to begin this journey by deeply connecting with the one who started it all. He was an orphan and His essence still resonates among the orphans. Yet we don’t engage nearly enough with them to understand this essence. Their unique stories never seep into our daily or even weekly conversations. And this is beyond sad.
As we better ourselves and hopefully take the path of leading a truly privileged life, I pray that we earnestly look after our forgotten children in our own neighborhoods. Let’s make sure that they, too, can one day lead a dignified and privileged life. Ameen.
Social entrepreneur, creator of Mentor Me New York program for Muslim orphan, foster and at-risk kids and president of American Muslim Health Professionals NY chapter