Service, Social Media, and the Self – Part 1

Towards the end of October, I posted a call to action from a sermon I delivered, to help us think about gratitude and our obligations to one another. Here is an edited version of that sermon.

Today’s wa’ez is brought to you by the number “5” and the letter “P.” I fondly remember the show Sesame Street from my childhood, since I was at least 5. It’s amazing how much of who we are is defined from when we were children.

I grew up in a community that emphasized service, in any capacity. The people I grew up with were first-generation immigrants, trying to make a life for themselves and their religious community in a society that didn’t know who they were. They worked at their jobs, then they worked at building institutions. They physically built spaces, and they built the organizational structures to create a community. In the same day, one person could be drafting a national religious education curriculum, and then go vacuum the prayer hall to get it ready for people to worship.

In my own life, I’ve been blessed for opportunities of service that go from the local to the international. That’s not a #HumbleBrag, but a humbling experience. I’ve had a joy in each opportunity, but the fondest memories I have are from when I was young. I was a Boy Scout and young volunteer, responsible for the physical spaces where we prayed.

In those capacities, I made friends and worked in a community. I saw the immediate impact of what I was doing, and people said “thank you.” Because the service I could do was physically helping people, others with different skills could work on building the community, and they created space for other young people to get involved.

No one treated one type of service as better than any other. By knowing your community intimately, you can serve them better at the macro level. You solve the biggest puzzles by touching all the pieces.

From these experiences, I learned five things about service:

  1. Every type of service is important.
  2. I will be called to the service that I need to do.
  3. There is no service that I am too good to perform.
  4. I started my service in my jama’at khana (space of worship), and I should always do service in my jama’at khana.
  5. Service deepens my faith.

This idea of service deepening my faith is something I’ve grown into. We often hear that we serve because of our faith. And that is true. However, there are no one way streets in life. Anything that we do affects us. Instead of saying “we serve because of our faith,” suggesting that faith is the cause of our service, we should say it in a way that also includes our engagement with faith.

There are certain truths we hold to be self-evident as Ismaili Muslims. God exists. God guides us. The Qur’an is the revealed word of God to Prophet Muhammad. On God’s command, Prophet Muhammad named Imam Ali as the leader of the community. We serve because we love God, the Prophet, and the Imams.

Service is ibadat (worship). It should be a time to reflect, to be intentional, and to be mindful. If I hammer, because I can, then I am doing something. If I hammer, to listen for the Divine in the rhythm, as Rumi heard, then I am building. If I hammer, thinking of the vision of the Imam and struggling to fulfill it, then I create.

When we take out tasbih (prayer beads) on the bus, it’s not meant to substitute for our regular prayers, but to complement it; to increase our taqwa, or God-consciousness. Faith seeks to reproduce itself through action.

Our service is a way to continue to improve our taqwa. To do the action without any thought is not khidmat, but aml, work.

I can build a house for a homeless person. That person now has a house. I can build a house, and realize that because I am listening for the Divine, I am not alone. I build a set of houses so that the person is not alone either. I can build a house, and struggle with the Imam’s vision of bettering the material condition of people, and build more houses, and then seek to change the structures that make homelessness possible and acceptable.

My five learnings about service as ibadat are:

  1. I serve because my faith tells me to, and I am faithful because I serve.
  2. I remember I serve not for my benefit, but to fulfill a Divine ethical commandment.
  3. I have to think about what I can do to create lasting structural changes.
  4. I am part of a vision that is beyond anything I can do myself.
  5. I serve for the sake of others, to build community.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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