By Faryal Khatri
Every year as part of the Giving Tuesday campaign, a competition called #MyGivingStory encourages individuals to share stories of their favorite nonprofits in order to win up to $10,000 for that organization. This year, first-year master’s student Faryal Khatri, Communications Coordinator at the Islamic Society of North America, shared her own #MyGivingStory to give back to an organization important to her – the Yaqeen Institute.
My sixth-grade homeroom teacher, who also happened to be the school principal, pulled me aside to talk about what happened yesterday. Yesterday was a day that will never be forgotten. Yesterday was September 11, 2001.
He continued to explain that investigations were underway, but it is evident the attack was carried out by the Muslim community and warned me there would be a possibility of internment camps similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
I left without saying a word and silently walked to social studies class. Without knowing what had just happened, my teacher pulled me aside to explain that what had happened was not my fault nor was my community or faith at fault. His compassion and understanding returned life into my numb and shocked body.
When I walked into the classroom, my classmates embraced me and ensured me they knew what was said about my faith was not true and that they will not allow anyone to bully me. They kept their promise.
But I always had several questions that circled in my mind. Why did the principal and my teacher have such different reactions and conversations with me? What can I do to ensure another student is not pulled aside and told the same things the principal told me? How can we support each other as a human family rather than falling into the trap of divisiveness? How can I empower myself with the knowledge to reclaim the narrative of my community?
The answer I found was developing religious literacy through dialogue and bridge building through interfaith and community service. That answer became the reason I give my time, treasure, and talent to interfaith and faith-based advocacy based on the 3 E’s – educate, empower, and engage.
Educate to improve religious literacy and understanding. Empower to advocate for each other to establish a just society. Engage in meaningful conversations that foster relationships and build bridges.
I’m sharing #MyGivingStory in support of Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, whose mission is to “address relevant topics head-on with the help of the foremost experts in this space … (and) to actively participate in the current day discourse touching on all topics that are related to establishing conviction in the hearts and minds of Muslims, and battling the false notions that underlie Islamophobia and extremism. … We believe that telling our own story is the only way to counter the narrative that has been forced upon our community.”
Yaqeen has empowered me by equipping me with research-based publications I can learn from and reference people to learn more about difficult topics such as Islam’s perspective on abortion, feminism, and evolution. Yaqeen has helped me to develop religious literacy and build bridges to strengthen my city’s communities.