2015 was a stressful year for me as a Muslim American. In fact, most Muslims in Houston and around the country were worried and on edge. We felt severe backlash after terrorist attacks in Paris and California. We saw several states refuse safe haven to Syrian refugees. We witnessed hateful rhetoric from Donald Trump and so many others who made us question our place in our country. But 2016 has dawned with a new hope for a better tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to an incredible year with some positive vibes and resolutions. We want to promote peace, love and kindness in 2016 and I have come up with ways for all of us to achieve that, no matter what faith you are.
New Year’s Resolutions for Everyone to Try to Promote Peace, Love and Kindness in 2016
1. Be a friendly neighbor. The one thing I find sad about life in America is that many people don’t know their neighbors very well. In the Islamic tradition, a neighbor has tremendous significance in community life, and I would like to see us all have better, stronger relationships with our neighbors. Find out who lives on your street or apartment complex, get to know them, ask them if they need help. It could be as simple as sharing your next batch of cookies, striking up a conversation in the driveway, or mowing the lawn, but there are countless ways to get friendly. That way, when you need someone yourself, you’ll be surrounded by friends, not strangers.
2. Volunteer, preferably as a family. This seems elementary, but it’s surprising how many people don’t volunteer in their community. You may be too busy, or not organized enough, or you may just not know what your community needs are. Ask your kids’ school, your neighborhood association, or a local non-profit how you can help out. But most important is to volunteer as a family because that allows your children to take an interest in important issues. I found immense gratification when I began including my two kids in simple projects such as collecting toys for sick cancer patients, or making quilts for the wheelchair bound. These are the best lessons I can teach them, and the best legacy I can leave behind.
3. Learn about another culture. There was a time when we used to call America a melting pot. That’s still true, even though today we tend to stay separated within our own tribes, so to speak. It’s not enough to eat a foreign cuisine; you need to dig deeper, see closer. To make the world a better place, you need to start with yourself, and knowing about different peoples and ideas is essential to making that a reality. Thankfully in Houston, there are countless events and spaces where you could learn about other cultures. When we do this, we understand others better, we stop being judgmental, and ultimately we see the beauty of other viewpoints and perspectives.
4. Visit a place of worship. I feel that these days the need of the hour is to get to know our brothers and sisters of faith, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu or anything else. Media loves to stereotype us, but if we are to live in harmony, we must break through those stereotypes and get some facts. I urge everyone to take a tour of a place of worship; most are open to visitors and welcome questions. Even better, if you are with a class or church group, coordinate a tour so that everyone can benefit. Think of it as a field trip with long-lasting benefits.
5. Participate in interfaith and intra-faith dialogue. Learning about someone different from yourself isn’t going to help much unless we take a step further and start a conversation. You have questions about Islam? Don’t take Trump’s word for it, ask a Muslim. You don’t know what’s the difference between Sikhs and Hindus? Ask a Sikh or a Hindu. There are many interfaith programs around Houston, starting from Interfaith Ministries and Spring Interfaith Dialogue Council to my own Women’s Voices monthly discussion group at the Barbara Bush public library. If you can’t find anything nearby, start your own group. It’s as simple as 1-2-3, but if you need help, please contact me using the info below and I’ll help you set it up. In fact, it will be my absolute pleasure to do so!
Happy New Year! May we turn negative rhetoric into positive vibes and, even more, positive actions and start to practice kindness in 2016. Let’s meet our neighbors, get talking, ask questions and work hard to improve our community. All faiths, as well as people of no faith, working together to make our future better: that’s the American way. Insh’Allah, God willing.