Interfaith, a wonderful term that brings only happiness to my mind. So many days spent sitting and planning out events at the local coffee shop (shout out to The Lost Bean in Tustin, CA. which was one of the first small businesses to support “interfaith work”) and attending many meetings at various houses of worship. We worked year after year to promote one another. To get to know each other, to promote peace, and community building. I sat in living rooms, hearing different faith perspectives from many voices, from the young up to the old and wise. Each time it was refreshing to see the dedication and respect the participants had.
But, after 10 years of advocating for interfaith work, my light dimmed. For me in particular, Islamaphobia was on the rise. Terrorist attacks were plentiful, and I was out of excuses. How many times could I say “this isn’t Islam. These aren’t Muslims, this is not what the religion teaches, I would not be a part of a religion that promoted violence.” I was getting tired of showing up, explaining, defending, and leaving wondering if I made a difference or if another terrorist attack would simply negate everything I just said? Eventually, I retreated into the cocoon of motherhood, and building my career. My days of community service within the interfaith context were done. I had no more mojo, encouragement or inspiration. I really didn’t. I was just done. My last speaking engagement was over a year ago to a group of Catholic moms, such a great talk but I didn’t feel the urge to go back and talk more. It’s like a flower that wilted. Petals fell off, and nothing was left to blossom.
The thought of stopping my efforts completely, made me sad. But to tell you the truth, being a mother of two children, 5 years old and 2 years old, along with a family business and my own career kept me busier than I would have liked over the last few years. The thought of going to another interfaith meeting, taking time away from my kids, or from myself just didn’t appeal to me. Now, my youngest is almost 3 and I feel I have better work- life, mom- life, me- life balance, and I feel empty. I’m a gal that loves to have “projects in the pipeline”, balls in the air (albeit as long as I can juggle them successfully), and the fact that all my community service opportunities shut down makes me feel selfish and empty.
So today, I’ve decided to get back in the game. However this time, I’m reinventing my mission. I don’t want to promote interfaith but I want to be “interfaith.” I just want to show up where I’m needed and serve the way I have been taught to serve, the way my faith, Islam, has taught me. What I’m saying is, if the local church needs me, I’m there. If the school needs me, I’m there. If the hospital needs me I’m there. During this (still) busy season in my life, I really can only dedicate about 2-3 hours per month (not much, but I’m starting somewhere), and I won’t be reaching out to interfaith circles only. I want to open myself up to the world. Even when that means helping those who are different from me. Whether they have different beliefs, or different causes, as long as something good is being done, I would like to help. I hope in a way, my earlier love and passion in life, interfaith work, will somehow be implemented even if I say nothing about it. I don’t feel the urge to hold up the Islam banner, and just dedicate my free time to promote Islam or interfaith and be that Muslim representation. I just don’t. I’m at a stage in my relationship with my Muslim community and with my faith, that I believe we all have a social responsibility to our community at large, and in a way, we need to get out and support our local churches, synagogues, temples, schools, hospitals, museums, parks, and more. Even if the community doesn’t reciprocate and support us back that, to me, is OK.
That might take away some from our work within our own community and mosques, but and I say this with humility and caution, we owe it to our country and our community at large to venture out so that non-Muslims will really get to know us. I just don’t think in this day and age, the minimal community contact approach (I’m not saying this is being practiced, it’s just my perspective on community service and how to allocate one’s time, in particular a Muslim’s time) will get our next generation of American born Muslims very far, if we as their parents and grandparents don’t venture out and give our time to causes other than our own cause. This is my simple humble opinion, because I’ve tried, I’ve tried so hard to represent and cheer for my Muslim community within an interfaith context and it was a great run, but we need to do more, the world moves fast and we need to move faster this is all I’m saying, and I’m mostly talking to myself here but if this inspires any one else, then wonderful, I’m so happy to share these thoughts. So, my new plan of action as a mom to two second generation American Muslim kids, who will most likely learn about Islam in depth later in their lives rather than earlier in their lives, is to just be a citizen of the world, promote the faith through action and less verbal communication. Getting out there into the world and being with other people and caring about what they care, putting their concerns before yours, might be the best approach and only way we can delete Islamaphobia from our rhetoric, one significant and unbiased charitable act at a time.
Valentina Khan, JD, MA is the Managing Director for Investors Philanthropic. She was born & raised in Orange County, California. She grew up in North Tustin, a supportive and kind town to which she attributes her love for diversity & doing community work. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California Bachelor of Arts, received her Juris Doctorate at Taft Law School, & continued her education with a Masters of Arts degree from Claremont School of Theology. She is the visionary and co-founder of I Am Jerusalem, & was a contributing member to the Interfaith Youth Council of Orange County, both of which are non-profit organizations that focus on building bridges of understanding, compassion, and friendship within the interfaith communities. Valentina is the creator & teacher of Dance Barre ® a fun ballet barre fitness method, a yoga enthusiast, and lover of fashion and travel. She speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Farsi, Urdu, and (semi-fluency) French.
7 thoughts on “When “Interfaith” Started Losing its Luster for Me by Valentina Khan”
A great post! I think you have really got the right idea.The best way for others to get to know us is by seeing us out and about doing in our communities.You do what you can,when you can.
“Getting out there into the world and being with other people and caring about what they care, putting their concerns before yours, might be the best approach and only way we can delete Islamaphobia from our rhetoric, one significant and unbiased charitable act at a time.”
I think these days this is about the most important thing we can do….One thing though, that I have learned as an educator is that if people DON’T want to open their hearts then NOTHING we can say makes a difference.
So please do what you can and let go of the outcome (the toughest thing in the world).
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Good luck being there for anyone who needs to hear what you have to say. Being fully present is sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone. Bright blessings!
I love this! You and I look at interfaith as a very similar effort, just putting ourselves out there for those who need it. I hope you find great reward in what you do in those “small” hours every week (though, to clarify, I truly believe in the adage that every little bit adds up). Good luck!!!
Thanks, Valentina, for this important post. And I absolutely love and understand where you say: I don’t want to promote interfaith but I want to be “interfaith.”
I’ve always enjoyed Emily Dickinson’s depth of spirituality, which arises in her heart from all kinds of inspiration and sources. I would call it interfaith, because there is no one faith we could attach it to, in fact it seems open to all faiths. Thus Dickinson writes the following (composed ca. 1862), and says with joy:
Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?
Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!
My darling daughter you brought tears to my eyes with your soulful post ! Keep up the great humanitarian work .always your proud dad
You have a beautiful heart and soul. Love your perspective and am so proud of you. Keep up the good job, you are literally a super-woman, amazing mom, compassionate philanthropist and of course a role model.