A Muslim Answers the Question: “What Can We Do About It?”

During the last hour of 2020, my 14-year-old, Adam, asked flatly, “Why do we do New Year’s Eve. Isn’t it just like any other day? What is the point?” 

I smiled, but I didn’t answer right away. It was such an Adam question—and it was a fair one.  

We were preparing for a quiet night in, just my husband, our three sons, and me, all already in pajamas. We were tired from the long day and from the weight of the year, but it felt important to stay up and officially say goodbye to 2020 together. Our 10-year-old, Musa, was joyfully arranging an assortment of sparkling juices, desserts, and a jar of sprinkles. 

Adam looked at me for a response. 

“That’s a good question,” I finally said. For our Muslim family, January 1 is not a holy day, as it is for many of our Catholic family members. But it is an opportunity to pause, reflect on the past year, and show gratitude for it. Yes, to his point, we can and should do this throughout the year. But, I told him, what’s special about New Year’s Eve is that we reflect together—not just in our home but with a broader community that includes our family and neighbors and people around the world. 

My answer was enough to get us to midnight, but his words stayed with me. After a year full of heartache, loss, and plain confusion, I’ve gotten used to fielding a lot of my sons’ questions. When are we going back to school? When can I hang out with my friends? Why won’t people wear masks? How many people have died? When will this pandemic end? When will police stop killing Black people? Why is our president lying? Why is this election even a contest?  

And, perhaps the most important question: What can we do about it? 

My other full-time job, besides parenting and improvising answers, is at the Pillars Fund, where we are backing a movement of Muslim leaders, community-based organizations, and creatives who are helping us reimagine and transform society—and helping me answer my kids’ questions. 

In 2020, Pillars grantee partners immediately responded to the pandemic and the heightened attention to racial injustice, all while continuing their work to promote a complete Census count, boost electoral participation, and ensure a free and fair election. As a sense of upheaval and uncertainty follows us into 2021, their work constantly reminds me that transformation doesn’t hinge on any single issue campaign, Election Day, or even the inauguration. In the end, we may choose different solutions to our shared challenges, but our grantee partners show us what commitments we can make to each other on the path to redemption. 

First, we must honestly reflect, not only on the challenges of last year but on the long, complicated story of the United States. In 2021, one collaboration I’m excited about is with the Muslim Wellness Foundation and Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which are exploring the connection between Black Christians and Black MuslimsWe have so much to learn from Black faith leaders, who have a long tradition of pushing us beyond comfortable conversations about inclusion or triumph and who call us to truly confront what is still broken before we can heal. 

Second, we have to set our intentions. For Muslims, as for many people, the practice of setting intentions is paramount. Understanding why we do what we do can not only help us find direction but, amid generations of struggle, it can stave off burnout. Khalid Alexander, the founder of San Diego-based Pillars of the Community, starts his work by asking “What have we done, as Muslims, for the larger communities we’re a part of?” He continues: “There are very few times that we see tangible wins in this work. … I believe, at the end of the day, whatever Allah wants to happen, regardless of what we do, is going to happen. It’s the effort itself that we will be accountable for.” Understanding what motivates us can help us get closer to a common purpose. 

Third, we need to bear witness. When our leaders uphold racism and economic injustice —or when violent white supremacists storm the Capitol— I cannot look my children in the eyes and say, “This is not who America really is.” It may not be all of who we are, but the challenge is that this is us and we have to stop saying that it is not. If I want them to trust me, I have to tell them the truth. As we see injustice persist, interfaith collaborators have a duty to name it and then do everything we can to change it. We also need to bear witness to the joy and goodness that happens all around us every day. At Pillars, we are working with an amazing collective of storytellers and creatives who understand that telling our shared stories in more nuanced ways can help us get to a more equitable and just society. 

We all know that 2021 is not a magic reset button, and I fully expect to be grappling with tough questions with my family and my Pillars community. Whether it is once a year, week to week, or breath to breath, marking the passage of time is an opportunity for redemption. It’s an opportunity we should not waste. 

Kalia Abiade is the managing director for strategy and partnerships at the Pillars Fund.  

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.