Labeling Myself ‘Muslim’ For What It Really Matters

Published on 02/29/2016 on the Huffington Post.

Wars, killing, genocide in the name of religion have never really been in our control, i.e. you and me, everyday individuals, who live our life in simple ways believing in love and respect for all, but what about things that are in our control? Things such as: Righteousness, Justice and Well-doing? “For religion standeth in righteousness, justice, and well-doing.” – Latimer (c. 1485-1555).

I work as the National Program Director of a volunteer based non-profit called Hunger Van | Muslims Against Hunger, whose founder is Zamir Hassan. Zamir is retired but has been working tirelessly as champion for interfaith feeding events for the hungry and homeless for over 10 years now.

We at Muslims Against Hunger want everyone to understand, learn and acknowledge that ‘Hunger has no religion’ and our goal is to engage communities through service.

I have always believed through my up bringing that religion shouldn’t be a factor in terms of whom we are helping, but a practical question often begged to differ: ‘If hunger has no religion what does religion have to do with feeding the hungry’? Why do so many non-profits constantly coin themselves as a religious group against a social injustice?

At Muslims Against Hunger we do not hand out any practical teachings about Islam except promoting the act of charity and yet we pride ourselves in being called ‘Muslims Against Hunger’. Our projects, on interfaith feeding, have grown so big that we even have a branch called ‘Faiths Against Hunger’. Religion somehow seems to overshadow our genuine will to do good in this world.

I do believe that having an ethical perimeter and a moral compass are inherent and there really should be no need for religion in that. So what makes religion so vital from an already moral standpoint?

All major religions force us to focus on issues that we forgo in our everyday lives. They teach us to pause, go beyond our daily interactions, and look at the injustice and suffering in the world, constantly commanding us to do something about it.

As a Muslim I am forced to reckon with the 5 pillars of faith, one of which is Charity (Zakah), on a daily basis. I am also commanded to be righteous, just and work on the well doing of the world.

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Qur’an, 5:48)

“God commands justice and fair dealing…” (Qur’an 16:90)

Justice is a common theme found in most religions:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

Justice or being just is a moral virtue, an equal distribution of sorts, and or understanding it as evenhandedness. In Jewish traditions, Tzedek or justice is more than a legal system, it is ‘tempered by compassion’.

And I honestly believe that even though compassion is something we are born with it is in constant need of nurturing.

I personally love and live by this quote, often attributed to Mother Teresa: “The problem with this world is that we draw the circle of family too small”. We easily forget the person panhandling for food or the homeless person shivering on the sidewalk as we rush to work. We forget about compassion! And religion is here to remind us, to not forget our humanity in this busy world of being just humans.

If someone is able to do this without the help of religion, I think that it is completely fine as long as they have a way to nurture compassion, a method to keep this constant reminder in their heart.

As human beings we must all value and know what compassion is worth, and we must be willing to spend time working on it, any which way. And as a Muslim if I am able to remind myself or even one person of our necessary commitment towards righteousness, justice, and well-doing I guess it is worth putting it in my title.

– Falak Zaffer Ghatala, American Muslim (Muslims Against Hunger)


This year has taught us a lot. Different lessons from different individuals, but what it should have taught humanity is that it is lacking in compassion and empathy. We are more troubled everyday by the demise of innocent people and yet we cannot do anything but sympathize and move on. Let’s try to teach our children to build better communities and to be able to permeate in societies as bearers of righteous deeds who stand up against evil. We can all be super heroes who fight crime, may it be verbally, judicially, spiritually or empathetically. Let’s learn to respect another human being as much as we respect our own selves. And yes, let’s learn to respect ourselves. Do not think you are above someone because you are more knowledgeable or have a certain standing in society or have sinned less or differently than others. All of us will end to dust so learn to respect the time we have. Go beyond your family today and show the world that humanity is universal. Spend a dime in someone else’s name, give to those who are less fortunate, feed someone who may need a bite to survive, or just help your neighbor shovel the snow. Stand up for the weak and strengthen your self, help a kid with a low self-esteem, and educate the uneducated. There are many within our own community who cannot read, help spread the wealth of knowledge. It is the MOST important asset you can give to someone. Learn to be aware of the people around you don’t be blinded by your love for someone if someone needs help… accept it, and get them the help they need. Do not wait for them to commit a crime to understand the seriousness of their mental and emotional health. Be there for your children, for your family, for your fellow human being and also for your fellow living beings. You are lucky enough to be guarded, blessed, and living, do something to make it worthwhile. May God bless you and hope you have a safe, prosperous and compassionate year ahead, insha’Allah.

When the Best of us…Fail!


He sits there at the signal with his raggedy boots
His torn gloves reveal his crumpled finger nails
Hoping to find someone who’d be kind enough today
To lend him a helping hand or a warm piece of bread
Trying to find comfort on his old wheelchair
Placing his head on his hand for support
He doesn’t ask for money but sits with a cup
Not spending much of his energy needlessly begging
He has less of it and needs to savor every bit
Before he clogs on the floor in the freezing rain
I pass by him every day feeling guilty
And with every pass I feel my sin rising
I do nothing but lower the volume of my blasting radio
I feel sorry but bring him no joy
As soon as I make my turn my memory fades
Leaving no trace of his face behind
But still the lack of my generosity
Haunts my need of self surviving lust
The old man sits and questions me every day
Even though it’s only for a minute
His existence propels me to gravity
I realize therein what goodness is worth
Deep down somewhere I never seem to forget
Is his life only worth my one minute a day?
Is God judging me every time I do nothing?
Turning my face away as I drive by in my brand new car
Warm and cuddled in my brand new fleece
With brand new Timbs that warm up my feet
Is guilt the only thing I can afford?
For the man who sits in hope every day
What if it was God testing me in his frayed apparel?
Giving me a chance that I miss to take
One minute of my day could mean so much more
If only I’d give this old man something more than remorse.

~ Falak, 17th December 2007.