Last Saturday, I walked through the gates and into the dirt of the Five Pillar Farm in Livermore,
California, headed to visit my late father Mahboob Khan. He began residence there on April 16,
1999, one of the first few dozen buried at the secluded, serene, hillside Muslim cemetery. The years passed and more neighbors joined him, the graveyard no longer sparse and instead dense with the reminders of our mortality.
On this particular afternoon, as I meandered to my father’s resting place, I came upon the timeless abode of my friend Tariq’s father, then my friend Ali’s dad, followed by Hameed’s “abba.” I glanced through the remaining grounds and caught glimpses of the graves of the fathers of so many other friends and community members. These men once stood shoulder to shoulder in prayer at our mosque. Now, they lay close to one another in this field of oft forgotten loved ones.
I stopped to pray upon these pioneers and soldiers. These men, including my father, dedicated their minutes and hours to protecting and preserving their faith and families while building, literally and figuratively, the mosques, schools and institutions that weave the Muslim American community fabric. As I walked away, I felt relief. These royal men could rest after restless lives of service, worship and benevolence. Late night meetings, long hours of prayer, exhausting road and plane trips, countless dollars spent in charity. Their obligations done.
As I settled into my car, I sensed a responsibility, imposed on my friends and I, to get to work. Our fathers’ shifts done, ours getting started. The tombstones of my dad and his companions stood as reminders of the duties laid at our feet to fulfill our fathers’ legacies.
Over the past 16 years, I would often shrink under the pressure and obligation to fill my father’s shoes. I felt burdened by the onus on my shoulders. I, like the Prophet Jonah (Yunus in the Holy Quran), sometimes ran from God’s mission for me to serve, lead and build because it was too overwhelming. I created excuses to avoid my calling. Not enough time. Too busy with work, leisure, friends, family, career ambitions. Not qualified, religious or old enough. I sensed similar apprehensions and hesitations within my friends as we’d dip our toes in the waters of service and leadership without ever fully diving in.
As I reflect now, though, I remember that my father and his compatriots weren’t sinless or superheroes either. They were mortals and flawed but nevertheless driven, selfless and committed. They struggled in their own ways but sacrificed themselves, leisure and money to establish the infrastructure of the American Muslim community. In turn, I’ve come to acknowledge my imperfections and inadequacies. I accept fatigue and the need to say no to avoid spreading myself too thin. I embrace these challenges, will dedicate myself to overcoming them, but will not collapse beneath or hide behind them. I urge my peers to come to similar epiphanies for themselves.
My friends and I will struggle. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll get preoccupied and tired. We’ll need a mental health day or vacation once in awhile. All of that is okay. These limitations don’t make us less capable or imperfect; they are human and and shall enable us to serve and lead in an authentic, honest way.
We have so much to offer our communities given our education, ability to speak the language of our nation, and unique experience growing up Muslim in America. Our communities crave our commitment, experience and presence. No more excuses or waiting for tomorrow. My toddler son and the grandchildren of our fathers demand more of us and we can give it. Honoring our fathers requires that we give of ourselves to perpetuate, fortify and inspire Muslim American institutions. Volunteerism. Leadership. Philanthropy. Scholarship. Creativity. Faith. Time for the princes to follow in the kings’ steps while they sleep.
Editor’s Note: Sajid A. Khan is a Public Defender in San Jose, CA. He has a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Hastings. When not advocating for justice, Sajid enjoys playing basketball, football and baseball, and is a huge fan of Cal football and A’s baseball. He lives in San Jose, Ca with his wife and son. Reach him via email at email@example.com or Twitter @thesajidakhan. The views expressed here are his own.