Sorting Out this Travel Experience from Central America

Why am I going on this trip to Central America? I keep asking myself this question over and over again. I promised to be reflective, as an act of worship as much as an act of internal probing about this trip. I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to justify this trip in anyway. As a human, and as a Muslim, I believe our policies and actions have to be centered around the human. But theres a fine line there, something to do with enabling and handouts and teaching people to fish.

Regardless traveling has allowed for deep reflection. I just didn’t get lost in the experience. I wasn’t a tourist trying to run away from reality. As a fellow delegate, Sarah, stated on the trip, someone pays for the dream that we try to live out as a reality.  Also, traveling, while it has become easier and safer, is still fraught with insane uncertainty, I mean I travelled to the most dangerous places on the planet, like San Pedro Sula (number 1), San Salvador (number 13) and Guatemala City (number 25) according to Business Insider. Its one of the reasons why the Prophet Muhammad stated that a prayer by a traveller, with good intentions and earnestly asked, is accepted by God. But even the idea of travel is something Muslims are encouraged to pray about, its a major decision. Yes, reliance on God through prayer is a recurring issue for Muslims.

Every Muslim invokes the same language and thought in their prayers before a major decision: God, if this is good for me in this world and the next, then facilitate this for me; but if not, please do not facilitate this for me. Thats why when the barriers to this trip were removed it seemed like I had nothing to do but listen to God’s invite and go (though I wish God had invited me to go on Hajj, but maybe this is the path toward that). However, I was wrecked with uncertainty and doubt about the purpose of the trip. Its why I discussed this feeling with Rev. Blackmon at the Millennial Leadership Program this summer. And she had some brilliant advice to give.

Part of the internal process also was grappling with this idea of why a Muslim [me] is going on this trip? Followed by the idea about how this is a Muslim issue? Its party this idea of figuring out how to market for my fundraising, but also to figure out my place on this delegation. (But isn’t migration a Muslim issue? Look at the current summer of Syrian Refugees flowing into Europe, or the Rohingya fleeing genocide in Myanmar.)

But here’s the thing- we don’t need to justify this trip to sell it beyond the fact that the Prophet was sent to be a mercy for mankind, and its my responsibility to find how to serve that role of mercy. If we need to find historical justification, then the Prophet was a refugee. He lived a period of his life in a refugee camp, when the Quryash elders forced the rest of Mecca to boycott the Muslims. He went from place to place, people to people looking for generosity and refuge, thats how the Prophet ended up in Taif. His people were persecuted by gangs opposed to ideas and willing to perpetuate their reality through violence. His people sought refuge with Christian communities in Ethiopia and were granted this opportunity. This is the Prophetic tradition Muslims are beholden to.

The other thing is this- I too come from a family who immigrated to the United States through a visa lottery system. I saw my parents go through the struggle of adjusting their immigration status; of leaving behind their lives to begin to make a path for their children’s future. I never questioned my status in the US, but at the same time I grew up feeling like I was an outsider: like at home I spoke Urdu and while at school my life was lived in translating from Urdu to English.

I am intimate with the reality of living life as an immigrant, as well as the reality of the refugee experience. My grandparents were refugees of the partition of India and Pakistan, who grew up as outsiders in their own land because of the brutal colonial policies, and who left behind their lives in search of safety and possibilities free of discrimination and threat due to their religion.

My friend Sheikh Jamaal Diwan, who is with the Safa Center, responded to this idea of “How is this a Muslim issue?” by reiterating this idea of the “Muslim experience” connected to the larger [North] American experience on his Facebook post:

This is a Muslim issue. Our issues as a community are rooted in how to develop a sustainable existence in this country. This trip is part of an interfaith tradition of witnessing to injustices and gaining a deeper perspective on how they affect us and our families at home. The issues they will be exploring on this trip are directly connected to local issues of economic justice and immigration that are very much tied into the Muslim experience as well as the experience of many other noble and good people.

Sh. Jamaal mentions that in his post about “interfaith tradition of witnessing to injustice.” We lack the symbiosis of ideas and practice that other faith communities have developed in the US. This will hurt us moving forward, especially if we want to build our strength as a civically engaged community. So maybe this is my role in this trip from a Muslim community perspective?

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