Azfar Rizvi, The Circle

For my inaugural ‘Circle’ post, I wanted to write about contemporary North American Muslim community in general, and in particular how Canadians are negotiating with rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics. I was travelling across DC working with grassroots community youth, and it provided me a unique insight into the wonderful interfaith work these groups were doing.

I felt it was prudent to reflect on what I had witnessed during my tour, and I wrote that post over a cup of tea and samoosaz. The next morning, the sad and heartbreaking debacle in Manchester beckoned me back to reality. It dawned on me that my self-congratulatory words can wait. In the aftermath, I was at a public town hall, and everyone could sense the tension in the air, you could cut it with a knife. Not again, I mumbled to myself. And then I decided to write something on a completely different tangent.

As Ramadan bears upon us, we witness Muslims around the world scramble to arrange their affairs to prepare for the cleanse-sprint. The 30-day boot camp begins where we all strive to reach the epitome of piety- only to revert back to the same rat race in the weeks after. As I shared a meal with friends at an interfaith event last week, I was made painfully aware of how pervasive the Ramadan guilt can be for an often-ignored intersection of our community. Ramadan is easy for those who can take the liberty of strongly identifying with many of the Islamic rituals and the way of life. However it is not the same for all of us. Especially for our convert brothers and sisters, the unwell, the challenged or simply those are still navigating through this wonderful 1400 year-old blueprint of life … slowly working on strengthening their relationship with Islam.

After that dinner, the host had graciously planned a fireside chat between myself, and a few younger members of the attending congregations. What was scheduled to be a short 30 min powwow ended up being a two-hour organic and emotional conversation about family, culture, traditions, and values. What emerged was a set of rigid orthodox interpretations within the Abrahamic faiths, and an expectation of following of precedent. It was clear that the youth was frustrated and fatigued by the ritualism crisscrossing across all the major faith denominations in the form of tradition, culture and imposed rites of passages. While dogma was frowned upon, the love for faith and loyalty still reined supreme during the conversation, I loved it.

Fear about peer pressure, the whispers around good vs. evil, the shame and trauma around gender identity, and all that is embedded behind the taboo of mental health. I found out this is not unique to Islam; it is an intrafaith and an interfaith phenomenon. Whether it takes the form of being forcefully associated with the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church because one is a Christian. Or being called a towelhead or a raghead for plain modesty – we all have our battles. What happened however was beautiful: for the first time, many of the young people there saw each other as partners in a journey of self discovery and transformation. They all experienced the understanding and compassion flow from one to another. It was evident that the message of love involved embracing diversity, and the transcendence of self. This chance meeting was a unique experience for many of the attendees. All thanks to a handful of leaders who requested anonymity, and yet supported this wonderful initiative.

The common denominator being the realization that we couldn’t alienate our coming generations, only gently guide them to our Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples and other places of solitude. Guide them with the right impetus – that being compassion can and should be the core human value.

So while the world’s affairs may seem ominous, there is hope.  For Muslim, while in the past few days, you might have read your fair share of ‘How to be a good Muslim this Ramadan’ or ‘The complete idiot’s guide to Ramadan’, I ask that you let these few words usher the beginning of a new year for you. This Ramadan, we can reject this fear narrative for the benefit of friends, our neighbors and ourselves. We can refuse to hate, and acknowledge the trauma we all share. There is no ‘other’ but echoes of our own self.  We all want the same things: love, family, parenthood. We long for a better half. For someone of us, we find that half in a person, for others it translates into a passion. For me, it is strawberry ice cream!

As long as we acknowledge each other’s lived experiences, we can rein supreme throughout – not just this Ramadan. Or during any of the other hundreds of festivals around the world celebrating new beginnings, Rizq, longing … encourage the followers to express gratitude. And this expression of gratitude, at least in Islam is not meant to be ritualistic. It has to be spiritual first for it to stand the test of time. Only then, in case of Ramadan, will it journey beyond the 30 days and permeate in our lives. This cleansing, this reinvigoration, this audit of ourselves must be internalized first. Nay it should only be internalized. It is between no one but a Muslim and The Creator about how virtuous a follower is. The same goes for our capacity of compassion for our fellow beings. It should not be out of compulsion, rather of necessity to embrace the broader community not as ‘others’ but as an echo of our own longing for completeness.

We should not consume hate,; rather let love, compassion and benevolence consume us. After all,  ‘Compassion’ is the most frequently used word in Quran, the Muslim Holy book. 113 Quranic chapters begin with the verse ‘In the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful’.

Rumi, arguably the great of all Sufi writer, reminds us of the importance of love, compassion and understanding. He talks about transcendence, and we marvel at the veracity of his words.

Come so we may speak to each other from spirit to spirit, talk to each other in a way hidden from eyes and ears.

 Let us laugh without lips and teeth just as the rose garden.

 Let us discourse without lips and mouth just as the thought.

 Let us tell the secret of the world completely with our mouth closed as the level of ‘Aql-al-Awwal (the First Intellect) and in the awareness of God’s existence.

 Nobody talks to himself with a loud voice. Since we are all one, let us call out to each other from our heats without mouths or lips

 Let us give up conversation made with our tongues and vibrate our hearts.  (Divani-i Kabir)

What is Compassion? Compassion Capital

Posted by Azfar Rizvi on Sunday, May 21, 2017


Let this Ramadan be a catalyst for social change and transformation at least within your immediate circle. Reach out and be a reason for someone to smile and have a better day. Because we all know how the littlest of our actions can prove to be our salvation.

So this Ramadan, I celebrate my coming-out party & I implore you to try to do the same. I am convinced: my Allah does not live in the mosque, he lives in the hearts of his creation. And I will gladly take that route, as I know that is the path that leads straight to Him.