Over the course of Ramadan this year, I found myself often deep in thought, worried about both my soul and temporal being. In particular, I worry that over the past decade of my political activism, my lack of akhlaq (manners) and adab (respect) when dealing with those with whom I disagreed has done more harm than good. Moreover, in the temerity of my youth, I often said and acted on impulse. While I thought I was doing the right thing, the truth is likely more complicated and filled with nuances. As I approach 30, and both my life and work are about to experience both public and private changes, the only responsible course of action for me is to take personal responsibility, and offer heartfelt apology for any wrongful harm and offense I might have caused many fellow activists and community organizers along the way. I am sorry for whenever I have lacked both the humility and disposition one needs to be a community leader.
In particular, my words and actions in my youth often carried a stinging causticity when the matter of intra-Muslim community affairs arose, both in domestic matters and foreign policy. This rash behavior on my part was in part because of the staggering lack of mentors and community leadership available to guide millennial Muslims belonging to the post-9/11 generation. The vacuum of moral and ethical guides who could connect to young people seeking to make a difference in our world has led to many people I grew up with to leave our faithful community. In my case, I rebelled against established norms and behaviors because I could not readily express my views in a mannerly way, nor could I tackle or grasp the complexity of my personal insecurities and challenges to self-esteem. My behavior as a young person trying to get attention for his efforts to the right thing might be understandable, but my methods and lack of grace are disappointing. I therefore again, seek the forgiveness of anyone I personally wronged, and am happy to speak to individuals tête-à-tête.
The Eid Holiday Matter
However, there are times when my words and actions have been stubborn, yet morally and ethically correct in every way. Several years ago, an effort was made by largely Sunni community leaders living outside Montgomery County to lobby Montgomery County's Board of Education to declare Eid al Adha, the holiday following the Hajj, to be on a certain preset date, and grant that day as a school holiday. The argument was presented in a strange way: since Jewish students received off on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in Montgomery County, so should Muslim students for Eid al Adha. The argument was populist enough for one or two members of the BOE to back the idea and call out other members of the BOE for opposing religious inclusion. The advocates of the plan pointed to other counties in Maryland with large Muslim populations establishing the holiday as the reason why Montgomery County Public Schools should follow suit. Given that nearly none of the leaders of this movement were from Montgomery County, school officials sought my advice and guidance given my activism in the Muslim community. I offered my advice: the school system cannot be seen as interfering with first amendment freedoms.
Montgomery County's Muslim community is vast and diverse. It is home to an estimated 100,000 Muslims, hailing from over 60 countries, speaking dozens of languages and sub-dialects, and belonging to four sects, eight religious schools of law, and several Sufi orders. No one agrees on the date of either Eid holiday. How are we supposed to ask the county's public school system to declare a singular date off when Muslims haven't had a conversation themselves about when Eid is? No other jurisdiction in the state has such diversity and complexity within their Muslim community. I urged caution on the basis of insisting that until Muslims have a civil discussion internally about Eid in our county, heeding the advice of people who aren't even stakeholders in our schools would likely be a bad idea. While there was some support among Sunni Muslims of Arab and Pakistani heritage for the astronomical date of Eid proposed by the holiday advocates, they were dwarfed by the questions raised by religious scholars inside and outside the county of every imaginable Islamic tradition. While I personally follow the astronomic date, the idea of excluding our Jafa'ri, Bohri, Ismaili, Zaydi Shiite communities (all of whom have religious centers in the county), as well as our Salafi & Ibadi communities struck me as wrong and irresponsible. The public school system opted to remove all religious holidays from the calendar on the advice of legal counsel that a first amendment legal challenge would be imminent, costly, and they would lose should the BOE add any holiday. Public Policy is nuanced.
The Elephant In The Room
It is definitely convenient that I choose to apologize publicly for wrongdoings after it is announced that I am contemplating running for office in a minority-majority jurisdiction where countless Muslims happen to live. In an era 1,400 years removed from the spiritual revelations that induce me to make right my past wrongs, skepticism of my words is to be expected. The decision to put to record is a matter of spirituality: atonement must be done for me to have a shot at avoiding what the Qu'ran dubs "a painful chastisement" in the next life. Moreover, I have made no final decision about running for office. Doing the right thing though, isn't dependent on people watching or politics.
I close with the following: regardless of my wrongs, I forgive anyone who's wronged me as well. Life is too short for us to continue to harbor grudges, and I sincerely hope that those of us who have parted ways less than amicably will find a way to form friendships in the coming years. Peace be with you.