Before I dive in, I want to tell you about what the Ummah is. It is essentially the entire Muslim community. In Islam, we are all one big global community, calling peers brothers and sisters and elders aunties and uncles. We have a miniature Davis ummah that I have become extremely fond of. It is a tight knit community of people sharing beliefs, being kind to one another, supporting each other, creating a positive peaceful environment. You all know about our We All Have A Heritage campaign, or have at least heard about it. Learning your heritage can be a way to understand your history and find where your true home is; what your community is. What I’m sharing with you today is my journey to discovering a community of my own, and the importance of not only finding a community, but finding one that gives you good guidance, room for growth, positive support, and has strong bonds. Not having one can be damaging to a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health, and I will be using my own experience as an example.
I personally have never had a community before. I was ostracized in my family my whole life, my Dad abandoned me at a young age, and later in life my mom was not present either. I never had a group of friends at school, no social network, just me and my brother. I lost him after a while too. Having a community is vital to a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Without a community you can feel lost; depressed. It is where we derive our sense of self from; where we define our identities and figure out our place in the world. Like I said before, I have never had a community like that. I always felt unwanted wherever I was, even at home with my family. Being at UC Davis for my first year of college I was feeling more unwanted and useless than ever. I had mental breakdowns every few days, severe panic attacks at least twice a week, and I wanted to end it all. I couldn’t find peace in anything. Life was chaos. Being so alone, not having anyone that understood me or anyone to relate to or get guidance from was extremely difficult.
Now, I cannot stress enough the importance of mental health in this situation. I did not know who I was or what I wanted to do because I had no community to guide me, no one to support me, at least not one that matched my morals and ideas about life. Discovering Islam, the Davis ummah, was huge. Being exposed to and welcomed by the Muslim community was an indescribably wonderful feeling. They made me feel so welcome, comfortable, and happy that I knew I wanted to be a permanent member of this ummah. Months before I even converted to Islam, I experienced the sincere kindness of the Davis Muslim ummah. I would go into to the mosque (masjid) with my roommate to be greeted with smiling faces and “As-salaam alaykum!” (meaning “the peace be upon you”). I truly have to thank my old roommate for putting me on this path in life, without her I never would have found my community and sense of self. At the mosque, people I had never met before would be friendly, asking how I was doing and offering food or drinks in between prayers. Despite not being Muslim at the time, they let me know I could rely on them for anything, that if I ever needed help or support they would be there for me. After teaching me about Islam and answering any questions I had, I decided to take my shahada.
A shahada is a declaration of faith in the oneness of God (Allah) and Muhamad being His final prophet. I officially converted to Islam, and over these past few months I have learned what it means to be Muslim just by observing what other people do for the community, participating in projects and clubs and doing whatever they can to improve the condition of life for other people. There are events that the sisters hold every week, usually Thursdays, for bonding experiences.
One of my favorites was at the start of November. We all met up at the mosque for morning fajr prayer, which was at 6am. Praying together in Islam is important, because it allows you to bond together as a community and also has religious significance. After praying, we sat in a circle and talked about what we wanted to do. We realized there was an older Auntie in the mosque still praying, and didn’t want to disturb her, so we left to Philz Coffee. Everyone carpooled to the café downtown, once there we all sat around a large table. One girl bought two dozen donuts for everyone to share, and then we got to talking. We took turns sharing any reflections or realizations we had over the past week. I learned a lot about the other girls, and they helped put school into perspective. We discussed mental health, how time feels like it has been speeding up and we have no time to do the things we want to do. How we need to center ourselves and refocus on what truly matters in life. Through discussions like these and experiences at the mosque, they helped me discover who I was, who I wanted to be. They helped guide me onto the right path and get in control of my life. After becoming acquainted with the community I was able to establish myself within it, and now I am part of a lot of projects like Community Kitchen Project, where we help provide affordable halal meals each week, and Dawah Community Service, where I can contribute to feeding the homeless and answer people’s questions about Islam. In finding my community, I found myself, came to understand what I was meant to do, and can now use my newfound knowledge to pursue my passions in life; which is to teach young children.
So, to really drive home what I’m trying to say, I’ll sum it all up right now. Your community can be familial, cultural, social, whatever you want it to be or whatever you find yourself in. It is extremely important to have one for your own health and to give yourself the opportunity to grow as a person. I encourage you all to try learning about another community and see what you discover. You can learn about different types of social networks or ways of living and maybe be inspired for your own life. See what you can do to help yourself improve life and help others.
By T. L. Kirschenmann