I came to this country as an immigrant, not unlike the ancestors of many in the Jewish community who arrived here around the turn of the 20th Century. One of the greatest families in my extended family, who had been living in the United States for more than 20 years, helped us with the immigration process.
My family emigrated to St. Louis from Pakistan when I was 10 years old. My uncle and aunt hoped what would be best for our future and brought us to the United States – a land of opportunity and freedom. A lot of thanks go to my aunt and uncle. But the timing of our arrival in America made our experience difficult.
We are Muslim and we came here less than six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
My first few years in St. Louis were focused on learning English and adjusting to life in a new country. By the time I was in high school, I noticed that people were trying to pull away from me because my name and the color of my skin identified me as different. People I knew at school blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Muslims in general.
To please my American friends, I spent my first few years in high school assimilating and pulling away from Islam. Then, after attending a program in Chicago with my brother and father focused on spreading the word of Islam, I realized I had to be true to who I was and what I believed. I knew I had to talk to others about my religion. I had to show them that Muslims are not all terrorists. I wanted them to know that the Muslim faith teaches the importance of helping others in need and that it teaches other values similar to the tenets of other faiths. Islam has turned on a light in my heart to do good things for other people when they need help and it made me realize that I should put others first before myself.
When I learned earlier this year about a project focused on Jews and Muslims volunteering together on Christmas Day I had to get involved. I am a member of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, one of the co-sponsors of this event (along with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the National Council of Jewish Women).
It excited me to know that I would get to meet others of different faiths and help plan a day of community service over the holiday season. As part of the planning committee for this project, I have made many friends in the Jewish community. By working together to identify 21 community service sites, we have gotten to know each other and have strengthened our bonds. I personally have come a long way from the days when I was afraid to identify myself as Muslim. I now know I can embrace my faith and also reach out to others in the region who may not look like me or practice the same religion as me, but who share my values. This is what is needed the most in western society: working side-by-side, holding hands together to make the world a better and understanding place.
On behalf of the planning committee of the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service, I invite you to come to one of the three on-site projects that are still open for volunteers on Christmas Day (the remaining sites are now closed).
Get to know your Muslim neighbors and help make the world a better place.
Abbas Ali is a member of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and a pre-med student at St. Louis Community College-Meramec. He is a planning committee member for the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service (see event details below).
About the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service – Dec. 25
The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC), the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section (NCJW) are sponsoring the first ever St. Louis area-wide “Jewish and Muslim Day of Service” on Sunday, Dec. 25 at 21 area agencies (three sites are still open for volunteers).
Jewish and Muslim volunteers will be working side-by-side. The event begins at 9 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur with a volunteer welcome breakfast, followed by service projects at the various sites from 10 a.m. to noon. The program includes a toiletry donation drive with six drop off points: B’nai Amoona, Central Reform Congregation, Shaare Emeth, Daar Ul Islam Mosque, JCC Early Childhood Center-Creve Coeur and Temple Emanuel.
For a list of supporting organizations or to sign up online, visit www.stljewishmuslimdayofservice.org or contact the JCRC’s Gail Wechsler at 314-442-3894.