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.