A young boy walks into a candy store, but this is no regular candy store. No, regular is a term fit for that which prohibits excitement. This store sells only the finest and most exotic candies from around the globe, it’s like a world tour in a wrapper. A quick pinch to ensure that he isn’t dreaming and the boy proceeds to fill his basket with every edible vacation his allowance can afford him. Woah, his eyes suddenly widen as he finds a Syrian chocolate bar from back home. Home, the term seems so paradoxical. How can one miss a place they so desperately escaped? But you see, no one leaves home unless home contradicts survival. No one leaves home unless home begs them to, hoping that one day it can tell them it’s safe to return. Overwhelmed with emotions, he gently places the chocolate bar in his basket as it may one day be all that’s left of a home that no longer is.
The little boy’s despondency is soon met with discontent as the store owner regrettably informs him that the city has just placed a temporary ban on all candy sales from this particular store due to the fear that one of the foreign candies is to blame for the recent food poisoning outbreak. Although the little boy does not understand how such an unfounded fear could lead to such an unwarranted response, he reluctantly puts the candy back. It’s ironic really, even the sweetest things that managed to escape home are seen as no less dangerous.
As he steps outside, he finds his headscarved mother being yelled at by a disgruntled man in the parking lot to “go back home”. A simple parking dispute and nothing more, right? The mother tells the little boy to not mind the man, as he walks away to a nearby gun store with a sign that reads “very fine guns for very fine people”. The boy can’t help but wonder though, in what nightmare is one told to return to the same monsters they escaped? A quick pinch in an attempt to awaken from this terror and he asks his mom if they can go ho---he pauses mid-sentence. Home. This is home now. There is no going back.
On their walk home, they find a long line of people in front of the town’s ice cream store. To their surprise, the store is open even though their ice cream recently lead to the death of many people in the city. Shocked, the mother asks the store owner if he’s taken any measures to ensure that this preventable loss of life never happens again, to which he replies, “yes, we offer our thoughts and prayers”. No ice cream ban, no screenings at the door, no tapping into the store owner’s phone, and no chants for him to go back to where he came from. This ice cream has caused far more harm in the city than the candy store yet it isn’t seen as a danger to society.
Unfortunately, refugees have become that candy store. We are that society.
There is a unique pain that only refugees are capable of experiencing which is being lost. Lost between a place they were forced to flee and one insisting that they go back. Lost between being frightened and feared. Lost between the very shores they risked their lives to split. Lost like seeds being carried by the wind, hoping to find a less hostile soil to grow.
I could talk about how more Americans die each year from toddlers than refugees each decade, how it is unfactual to equate Islam with terrorism, or how you have much more to fear as an American than refugees, but candy advertisers don’t talk about the negative aspects of other candy companies in an effort to promote theirs. They simply talk about the sweetness and happiness they have to offer. And that is what this chapter of our journey is about.
Ahlam - Entrepreneur - Michigan
And We certainly gave David from Us bounty. [We said], "O mountains, repeat [Our] praises with him, and the birds [as well]." And We made pliable for him iron - Qur’an Chapter 34 / Verse 10
“The day I left Damascus, Syria while not knowing when I would go back, I felt like a grain of sand in a world ready to swallow me whole. It was in this moment that I remembered this verse from the Qur’an and I felt God was speaking to me. I then realized that God is the only one who can give your eyes light to guide you when all you see is darkness and loneliness; God is the only one who can soften the hearts of the people for you. He’s the only one who can give you what you want whenever he desires.”
Adam - Graduate Student - New York
And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way. - Qur’an Chapter 2 / Verse 186
“This verse means a lot to me because in the Qur'an every time Allah mentions a "specific matter," it follows by Allah telling Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) to deliver the response. However in this verse Allah says "if they ask about me, I am indeed near" Allah removed Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) as the middle messenger between God and us as an indication that when making duaa or any sort of prayer, we don't need to go to a middle man, we can just raise our hands and ask Allah. This is really important to me, because duaa (prayer) is a vital part of Islam, and I feel at ease knowing that I can go straight to Allah without a human connection like a sheikh, a father, or any religious leader.”
Sadiya - College Student - California
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware - Qur’an Chapter 49 / Verse 13
“This is a special ayah (verse) of mine. I chose this verse because even within my own community, racism still shows its face. I am an African-Arab born Muslim woman from California and if I choose to marry a white revert, all I should be hearing is people being happy and congratulating me. And If I choose to hangout with a Palestinian Muslim for example, I should not have to feel judged by their family members when I enter their home. Islam discourages people from feeling like they are better than someone else. We were all created the same way by the same creator and for people to belittle one another because of their ethnicity, nationality, country, etc is just ridiculous. How can I pray next to you in public if you hate me in secret. Allah has created us all equal. I was meant to be the woman with many ethnicities so that I can teach my brothers and sisters about me and my cultures and vice versa. Islam is against racism and if we take the time to read it and analyze it with an open heart and mind we can all be not just better Muslims, but better human beings.”
Nooran - College Student - New Hampshire
And Yunus (Jonah), when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree anything upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, "There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers. - Qur’an Chapter 21 / Verse 87
“I think it's the story and context of that verse that makes it my favorite. It is a prayer said by the Prophet Yunus (Jonah), who is swallowed by a whale and seems in a hopeless situation stuck in its belly. He makes this prayer when he realizes he has disobeyed God, and continues to repeat it so often that all the fish in the sea can hear him reciting it. God spares Yunus and he is spit out by the whale. This verse teaches me two very important things that I try to apply to my daily life. The first is that when a situation seems hopeless, put all your faith in God and rely on Him to make things better. The second is that self critique is necessary even in hard times. The Prophet Yunus could not understand why God was doing this to him until he reflected and realized that he had been of the wrong doers. In that very same way, we should strive to always reflect and better ourselves even in the hardest of times instead of being frustrated or angry at God.”
Salma - College Student - Connecticut
Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. - Qur’an Chapter 5 / Verse 32
“As a Syrian this verse is very relevant to me since it has become the motto for self sacrifice in order to save others. The White Helmets, an organization of volunteer rescue workers in Syria, risk their lives everyday to save people caught in the crossfire and buried under rubble. This verse serves as a constant reminder to myself to be kind, give charity, and respect others because as Muslims Allah (swt) asked us to respect the sanctity of life and limit the harm and damage we cause. As a pre-med student it also motivates me to push through the obstacles I face in order to gain the knowledge I need to save lives and heal others in the future.”
Shifat – Software Engineer – New York
Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter; and Allah knows, while you do not know- Qur’an Chapter 24 / Verse 19
“Allah teaches us to never be okay with spreading rumors or slander anyone under any circumstances. The reputation and character of the believers is so important to Allah that creating a positive and supportive community is a must within Islam.”
Zarin - College Student - South Dakota
And a sign for them is the night. We remove from it [the light of] day, so they are [left] in darkness. And the sun runs [on course] toward its stopping point. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing. And (as for) the moon, We have ordained for it stages till it becomes again as an old dry palm branch. It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, but each, in an orbit, is swimming. - Qur’an Chapter 36 / Verses 37-40
“The reason I love these verses so much is that they are almost a reiteration of the age-old saying, an my personal favorite calming mechanism, that Allah does everything for a reason. If we ever look up to the sky to ask why the sun acts the way it does and why the moon acts the way it does, we can see that He has created a relationship between the two celestial bodies so that they work in harmony and makes sure that neither overpowers the other. It is also a beautiful image and representation and model of how we as humans should work, in harmony, never overtaking each other to benefit and "over show" our power, but to work together and cooperate in peace as well as we can.”
Buthiana - Interfaith Community Organizer - Oklahoma
And He found you lost and guided you - Qur’an Chapter 93 / Verse 7
“Throughout my life, there have been plenty of ups and downs. But perhaps the lowest points of all were the days that Islam was barely a part of my life. However, like Allah (swt) says in this verse, “And He found me lost and guided you.” God brought me closer to Islam and strengthened my faith in a way that no one else could have done for me. Anytime I feel down or encounter some sort of worldly hurdle, this verse is a stark reminder that there was once a time in my life where I was in such incomprehensible darkness and yet Allah (swt) didn't forget about me. He didn't leave me or give up on me the way most people did or would have. He is the only unwavering support that I can depend on and put my trust in. And so this verse plays a huge role in uplifting my spirits and getting me through day to day life.“
That young boy never got that piece of candy, but he would go on to change the world. His name was Steve Jobs and, more likely than not, you are reading this very piece off of a device that is the product of this Syrian refugee son. In another world, that young boy would be named Albert Einstein and he would go on to revolutionize the field of physics and the world altogether. That mother never got justice for the racist misogyny she faced in that parking lot, but she would go on to become the first female Secretary of State for the United States. Her name was Madeleine Albright and she paved the way for women in politics. In another world, she would be named Anne Frank and would go on to write the most powerful memoir of the holocaust, a tragedy that was fueled by the same hatred that sadly exists in today’s world.
Jesus once said in Matthew 25:35, “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Scholars in the Christian faith interpret the latter part of this verse to mean that neglecting a stranger in need is literally equivalent to neglecting Jesus himself. The only question that remains then is can one turn away a refugee in need and still claim to be a true follower of Jesus? I’ll leave the answer to you.
This concludes chapter two of this series. If you benefited from this piece, I kindly ask you to share it with those whom you believe will benefit as well.
This photo series is in collaboration with photographer Carlos Khalil Guzman, a native New Yorker who started this project two years ago as a way of capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States and bringing to light the beauty and truthfulness of Islam while countering Islamophobia. His simple yet sophisticated style derives from the idea that our planet itself is a work of art and that photography is only an instrument that enables him to capture her beauty. You can check out his portfolio here.