15 June

The Other Side Of Ali: What It Means To Be A Muslim

by Jon Katz
What It Means To Be A Muslim on Eid, a joyous holiday

Ali and I are friends, we have a deep friendship, we call one another “brother,” a term of great endearment and honor to each of us. Ali is a devout Muslim, and today, he is celebrating Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, Eid one of the most important and joyous holidays in the Muslim calendar.

I texted Ali this morning, and wished him “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Eid.”

As usual, Ali is surrounded by adoring children, he is the Pied Piper of the refugee world. Children know where to find love. This photograph shows the other side of Ali, a person of great faith, for whom religion is not an occasional practice, but an integral part of his life.

Although he would balk at the description, I believe Ali is a Great Teacher. He teaches the soccer team to be  honest, to study hard, to be kind to one another and to their families, to practice, and live decent lives. He teaches them to obey laws and be faithful in their daily lives.

Ali has taught me a great deal as well. I have known Muslim people in my life, but never as well  as I have come to know Ali. We talk every day and our love for one another inspires and informs our work. We share the joy of doing good.

I would be so proud to have him as  a son, and perhaps, in some ways I do have him as a son. He comes to me for advice sometimes, and I am happy to give it to him. I teach him also, he respects older people, he believes we have something pass along.

My story with Ali is the story of how life can be if we talk to each other and listen to each other. I went to a refugee center in Albany and was told they didn’t want me taking photos there, I didn’t feel welcome, and they clearly didn’t trust me. As I was leaving, this large tall very black man came up to me, and asked if he could help.

I told him what I was doing there, and he said of course I could take pictures and showed me around and introduced me to everyone and asked how he could help.

We loved each other right away, two kindred spirits on the same road. We just started working together to help the soccer kids and the refugees and immigrants in trouble. I think the Gods guided us to one another, and so does he.

I wrote to him this morning to say I am grateful to see first hand the beauty and compassion of the Muslim faith, something few Americans have had the chance to see and know. He wrote back, “I’m so grateful to have a Jew brother.” I smiled.”

Ali has taught me that the stereotype of the Muslim faith as shown to us in the media, and by some of our cruel and ignorant political leaders is false. Ali talks about his faith every day, and I see it in practice every day.

For Ali,  being a Muslim is about family and love. He cares for the children, especially those in need. He cares for their mothers, many of whom who have lost their husbands and families and  struggle in America to raise their children alone. He believes in giving charity to anyone in need, whether they are strangers or not. He does not judge or ask  questions of anyone.

He is scrupulously honest, he does not ever lie or hide from the truth. He has a passionate sense of community. He is profoundly tolerant of other people and other faiths, I was born Jewish and Ali has embraced me as a member of his family and someone he trusts, and with whom he can work, even in the difficult situations we face. We have total faith in one another.

Ali celebrating the end of Eid

I am struck watching the pain in Ali’s face when we hear the stories of the refugees, he finds cruelty and murder unfathomable. He is always worried about me, whether I’m carrying something, or have to walk too far, or am spending too much money. He loves the sanctity of marriage, but overflows with empathy and compassion. If I am attacked, he roars like a lion. He is a Defender Of  Good.

This is not the Muslim faith we see on television, that the politicians distort and exploit for their own gain. This is very real, and I am a witness to it, a thousand times and more. It is such a gift to know him, and also to be given a window into this mystical and beautiful world. I can tell you from the heart that what you are seeing is lies, and ugly lies.

Ali teaches me what faith really means, it is easy to spout conventional wisdoms and lecture from pulpits. Ali’s faith is his life, he is a magic wand touch touches the lives of so many people, including mine. Eid Mubarak, Ali.

On this joyous day of Eid, Ali, I wish you and your family and the members of the Muslim  faith  all the happiness in the world. And thanks for your friendship, brother.

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