God, privilege and thankfulness

5 mins read

The hardest thing for me to grasp in my religious questioning, even today, is the idea of inferiority, smallness and lack of control. As I grew up, I would proudly hoist up my accomplishments with pride. My mother would remind me to say “Alhamdulillah,” or “Praise be to God,” after what I thought was a triumph. In fact, I knew I was supposed to say this, as it has been programmed into me since I was a child. There was a problem. A problem in sheer and intentional ignorance that I consistently feared to even think about. Why was the praise to God? It was my accomplishment. I stayed up. I worked. Why was I supposed to act like I had done nothing? It sounds selfish even writing this, but it was a matter of logic as much as ego. Oddly enough, it was Swarthmore, that made me realize why the praise for me personally is to God.

I am intrigued, I would say troubled, but this implies a sort of judgement that I have no right to pass, by the culture of entitlement that we live in. A culture where awards, credit, grades (more specifically grade inflation) and trophies are the norm (I am thankful for this last one as the YMCA allowed my unathletic self to proudly display a full trophy shelf). A lot of this may be due to our culture of independence: a culture that is, in reality, paradoxical. We clamor for independence yet need the public validation of our peers. This is why I drive around with my Swarthmore bumper sticker hoping someone will stop and tell me that Swarthmore is, indeed, a good school. But unfortunately this culture that I have allowed myself to live in hides me from fully realizing one idea — privilege.

This is one idea commonly, but not thoroughly, used in modern culture. You often hear that you should not waste food because there are children starving in the world, but this is used more as a half-hearted parenting technique than an attempt to grasp privilege. But Swarthmore has allowed me to explore this concept. Despite our ignorance of class issues, Swarthmore has forced me to accept privilege as an important reality. I, both as a student and a friend, am constantly forced to realize that the world has given me inherent advantages that have allowed me to me to achieve what I have. This was a moment of shameful realization for me. Who did I think I was? Why have I allowed myself to worship this culture of hyper self-awareness? Why do I wake up each morning trying to make the world “Remember the Name” when in reality it is my position in life that has been my greatest asset?

But recently, this has led me to a greater realization. This is why for me, Praise is to God. God in Islam is the assigner of roles, or otherwise the assigner of privilege. Why I have the role I have is a question of great mystery for me. Why God can let millions suffer through starvation, homelessness, and hate I do not know and may never understand. However, I do know that my position on earth cannot be about me. It has to be about an “us.” I have to see my position not as a fortunate occurrence but rather a responsibility, as a resource not simply for my future but for others’, the less privileged but also the more privileged. If this is in the form of a smile, I can Alhamdulillah do this. If it something greater, I must try.

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