Here comes 2018! It signals the birth of another year of new opportunities.  It’s a time to reflect on the previous year, and a chance to try to change course, if need be, and to improve ourselves with new resolutions and resolve.

Last year challenged my normally optimistic outlook, which makes me worry what the new year will bring.  The polarization here at home and around the world leaves many of us fearful for the future.  For me, some of my fellow citizens question my faith and my patriotism in the country that I grew up in.

I believe in and love the United States of America because of its democracy and diversity.  I respect my fellow citizens and I know I have a right to be here as much as they do.  I have met so many positive people of all different faiths and persuasions and I’ve seen many efforts for peace and goodwill here and across the world.  I know that many of us are seeking a peaceful and brighter future that includes all of us.

As I look towards the new year, its new beginning calls out for change and a more optimistic future.  I refuse to be afraid of the hate that comes from some groups.  I refuse to let others impose self-doubt upon me; I am more resilient than that.   But how do I reach a place of calm within myself when there are so many others around me either in pain or causing pain?  What can unite us to help each other rather than divide us and makes us hurt or cower from one another?

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.”  In other words, for those who choose to hate the “other,” their hate actually comes from fearing the “other,” which echoes F.D.R.’s statement, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I fear the fear that prevents us from daring to seek change for the betterment of all.  I fear the fear that can inspire either self-doubt or self-aggrandizement, which in either case makes us resort to isolation from others whom we don’t know, and perhaps even come to hate.

When hate takes hold, it’s very difficult to see the humanity of the other person.  I remain dumbfounded at those who cannot see that all people are created equal.  How can anyone say that a baby from one sex, race, or country is any better than a baby from another?  How does the flesh and blood of one human being differ from that of another?  How can the life of one person be worth more than the life of another?

Like many people, when I am fearful or have doubts, I look toward the teachings of my faith for clarity.  I want to point out here that my Muslim faith is not so different from other faiths.  I know it’s often seen as improper to mention religious beliefs publicly, but I feel I must because my faith is being questioned and even feared. I hope I can show that while we may start out on different paths and use different “road maps,” our journey and final destination is the same, as we are guided by the same moral compass.  Please know that my intention is not to convert anyone’s faith, but to solidify faith in our common humanity.

I learned through the story of Creation that all people are to be equally valued.  The Muslim story of Creation is similar to that of the other two Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity.  Muslims believe that God created the first human, Adam, (peace be upon him), out of clay; God blew part of His soul into Adam to create the human soul and bring Adam to life.   How can we belittle one another when we know that each of us has a soul within us that reflects the beauty and miracle of all Creation?

God asked His Creation to prostrate to Adam as a sign of welcoming, honoring, and respecting this new creature.  However, Iblees, (a “jinn,” who becomes “Shaytan” or Satan when he falls out of Paradise) refused.  Iblees, who was made of fire, said that he was superior to Adam because Adam was made of clay.

Iblees’ unwillingness to accept another who is different from him is the first instance where a difference is made into a flaw by negative feelings of superiority.  When “otherness” creeps in, the “other” becomes less than us.  And so, begins the calling out, “I’m better than you, and I’ll prove it.” Many of humanity’s problems stem from listening to that negative voice.

We behave like Iblees when we compete to prove our superiority over others because we are insecure in ourselves and have ill will towards them.  The wishing for another person’s demise, solely because they’re different makes us focus on negative thoughts of isolation, self-aggrandizement, insults, and even violence against others, rather than positive thoughts of collaboration, uplifting of others, helping, and equally valuing them in the same way that we value ourselves.    God tells us in the Qur’an, “And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend (41:34).”

God created the angels (made of light) and the jinn (made of fire) before He created humans, but as part of His Creation we all have a purpose regardless of when we were created.  God created Satan as a challenge to humankind.  God made Satan and allows him to try to continue to distract us and weaken us, as a challenge for us to thwart Satan’s whisperings by mastering ourselves through self-control to find our better selves.

Human beings were made to live on earth to learn about God’s Creation and from that know and worship God.  Thus, humans have a purpose, a value, and an obligation to all of Creation.  Therefore, we should have no self-doubt.  We are part of Creation, and our mandate is to: discover, take care, create, and innovate for the good of all, not to oppress, neglect, destroy, and alienate for our own selfish ends.   Not only is our environment part of Creation, but so are all fellow humans, which makes it imperative for each of us to respect and protect our humanity and one another.  In so doing we learn that we are inextricably connected to one another and to the highest source, our Creator.

God also tells us in the Qur’an, “We have created you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another” (Qur’an, 49:13). In other words, God wants us to interact in intercultural exchange for the growth and benefit of everyone.    No race or culture is better than the other.  Each race and culture offers its own unique way of being and glorifying God and His Creation.   In learning about each other’s traditions, we can admire the beauty in our differences, appreciate the similarities, and enhance and enrich our own human experience.

Not only does the Qur’an have many quotes telling us of the equality between people.  The prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him), also teaches us to appreciate one another, regardless of ethnicities or faiths.  In the Prophet Muhammad’s farewell sermon, he said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also, a white person has no superiority over a black person, nor a black person has any superiority over a white person, except by piety and good action.” So, it is through our actions that we must improve ourselves, only competing against our own selves for our own betterment which not only benefits us, but benefits society as a whole.

The Qur’anic story of Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) and the forbidden fruit highlights the equality of men and women.  We are told that they both were tempted by the whisperings of Satan. The Qur’an does not say that Adam’s wife was weaker and tempted Adam to eat from the tree.  Both, the first man and the first woman were tempted by the devil’s goading, and they each made their own choice to disobey.  They both repented and God forgave them both.   Man and woman are equal in their value, responsibilities, and choices.

The Qur’an tells us that while the punishment was for Adam and Eve to leave Paradise, we, as their descendants are not being punished for their sins.  In Islam, every human being is born innocent with no sins (it’s only when we reach adolescence that our choices are judged as good deeds or sins and begin to be counted).   Adam and Eve and their descendants were meant to come to earth, as God tells Adam and Eve and their descendants, “On earth will be a dwelling place for you and an enjoyment, for a time.  Therein you shall live and therein you shall die, and from it you shall be brought out (resurrected)” (7:24–25). The challenges we face on earth are meant to teach us something about ourselves and it is why we must continue to do good deeds on earth to earn our way back to heaven.

The story of the descent from Paradise to earth tells us that God values Adam and Eve equally as their own separate thinking entities, as every man and every woman are as well.  The Qur’an has many other passages that specifically state the equality of men and women. One short passage is where God says, “I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other” (3:195).  As men and women, we must unite to labor in God’s way and get through the struggles of life, rather than harm or belittle one another and alienate each other to each other’s harm or downfall.

I believe there are a lot of sources for good.  I respect the faith traditions of others and through interfaith dialogues I have come to realize that we all have similar beliefs even if our scriptures are different.  I hope that by presenting some of my beliefs, you can relate them to some from your own belief system.  Ultimately, we want our same basic needs to be met; i.e., security, nourishment, clothing, shelter, community, education, etc.  Whether you believe in an afterlife or not; whether you believe in one God or more or in none at all; whether you just don’t know if there’s a higher power or just don’t care to know, the Golden Rule is usually what it boils down to.  We should want for others what we want for ourselves.

In looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, what I wish for myself, I wish for everyone.  I hope to be confident enough to do what I need to do for the best outcome for myself, my family, my community, and the world at large.  I will conquer fear by looking it squarely in the eyes and telling it that I will not allow it to rule over me.  I will not cower, but instead I will get out of my comfort zone and rise high and resolve to find solutions to conflicts around me and within me. I have to let my actions be guided by a moral compass that points to what’s best for me and my fellow human beings.

I have to continue to improve myself against any self-doubt or misguided notions.  I must remember that God has faith in me and He does not challenge anyone with more than what they can handle.  Self-doubt is negativity from within.  External negativity can only be combatted if our inner strength has a strong foundation.

My faith calls this internal struggle, the “major jihad” (the “minor jihad” is fighting in self-defense only if one is being attacked and persecuted).  The major jihad is the struggle to improve ourselves, so we can ultimately walk in God’s way in service to others, improving the world around us.  The major jihad takes into account the challenges of free will that each individual faces in their own personal life journey.  The significance of that struggle is confronting our fears and having faith that with hard work and perseverance, we can overcome anything to be able to meet our full potential that our Creator intended for us to achieve.

My purpose in life is not to live in fear or accept hate, but to bring love and light to dark places.  It’s to look others in the eye and say I am just like you and I also appreciate our differences.  I am here for you, and we can find solutions to our problems together or reach out to someone else to help us.  In helping others, I am helping myself.  The new year brings me hope, and one more year of wisdom.

We need to prove that we are as good as were made to be.  We need to prove the devil is wrong.  We are all children of the first man and the first woman.  How can we continue to hate or fear one another?  Just as God said “Be” and we became, then I say, “I am” and no more.  I’m neither left leaning nor right leaning, I’m just here…with you, walking the high road together.  I wish us both self-confidence and security in knowing that we are good enough, and we can handle whatever challenges may be presented to us in the years ahead.