Jummah Reflection: On Community
Jummah Mubarak, Shabbat Shalom & TGIF.
We like to romanticize the idea of the lone wolf hero or the independent self-made person who ‘makes it’ on their own. Countless stories and movies have been made about being The One who saves the day but is in no way bound by the people they are saving.
The truth, however, is that we are innately creatures of community. This is what it means to be a human being. It is virtually impossible for us to thrive and succeed without belonging to a community that is tied to our deepest sense of self-identity; and just as importantly — a community to which we feel like we are able to make a substantial contribution.
Because they are essential to our development and success, our communities have power over us. Whether we like it or not.
The choices we make, the way we dress and speak and interact — and sometimes even things we have no choice over like our skin color, family history or the class we’ve been born into — are all used by our community to judge us and deem us ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’ to lead or succeed.
Perhaps in a perfect world, we’d be judged by our merits and our work only. But that’s not the reality now, nor has it ever been.
So now, what do we do when we see the limits of our own people and what they are willing to accept? When we see people inside our community being marginalized because they don’t embody an ‘ideal’ that doesn’t reflect who they inherently are, or will ever be?
What is our obligation when we witness the valuable hard work and passion of those who want to contribute and lead being sidelined and sabotaged because someone doesn’t fit neatly within the community’s cultural criteria for what a leader should look like?
How do we actively change and evolve a community’s ideals and standards to ensure we are making the best use of everyone’s gifts and contributions? How can we make sure our community, in it’s attempt to preserve itself, doesn’t destroy or treat as dispensable some members because they don’t ‘fit in’?
And in the case of a religious community, how do we make sure that we prioritize each person’s need to individually connect to God as part of a whole – without forcing them to practice and present in ways that betray who they uniquely are?
As someone who has come to Islam on a winding, rocky road that doesn’t translate nicely to a perfect ‘convert story’. As a member of the majority ethnic group outside my faith community, but an ethnic minority within; and as a person who fiercely insists on claiming a relationship with Allah (SWT) that is not limited by others’ culture, ethnicity, politics or practice — these are the things I’m thinking about today.