Written by Saadia Ahmad
Sycamore House Service Corps member
I recall experiencing a great deal of powerlessness during my last semester at Providence College, sending one job application after another to what seemed to be a vortex of no return. Sharing my frustrations and anxieties with a past professor and dear mentor of mine still today, he asked, “do you know the best way to deal with feeling like you have no control?” I shook my head no, and he answered, “Remember that you never really had any.”
There’s a fair amount of wisdom in that. Each of the major world religions reminds its followers of this powerlessness, in one way or another. Christianity emphasizes the importance and necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, as only the Messiah possesses the power to redeem humankind from sin. My own religion, Islam, agrees with this tenant in a different way by emphasizing the idea of Qadr as one of the six major beliefs of Islam. It is an Arabic term that roughly translates to God possessing ultimate power and decree over good and evil.
I suspect, though, that neither of these beliefs intend to suggest that we not put forth the best of ourselves towards our goals, our hopes, our relationships, and all else that means the most to us. Nor is it an excuse to stop trying – even as we know that perfection in any form is impossible – for anything less than our absolute best leaves us all the further away from the ideal. Rather, my understanding of both religions urges me to strive towards a balance between the power of my own efforts and the power of God.
The ongoing jihad (an Arabic term referring to the inner struggles within oneself, similar to the Christian concept of “carrying one’s Cross”) to realize this balance defines much of my experiences thus far at my work site and in my intentional community, two central elements of the Episcopal Service Corps. I often grapple with the reality that my own efforts can only extend so far in improving and addressing the circumstances and challenges of both.
Distinct and diverse in detail, the human experience of powerlessness nonetheless transcends such demographical differences as religion, ethnicity, and upbringing. It pervades into our responsibilities at work, our relationships with others, and into the depths of our hearts known only by ourselves – and sometimes only by Him. Perhaps we are brought into such situations and states of powerlessness so that we may turn with our whole hearts to Al-Qadir, the All-Powerful. Who else possesses the power to bring about a transformation of our present into something awaiting us far beyond what we can imagine?
My Alma mater challenges us to “transform yourself, transform society.” It begins with accepting the invitation extended to us, each one uniquely suited for our individual strengths, passions, and His will for our lives. For me, this took the form of accepting an invitation extended by my college’s chaplain to attend a Roman Catholic worship service at the very outset of my freshman year, when I introduced myself as a Muslim interested in sharing my faith tradition and learning about another. That acceptance transformed my entire being and shifted the direction of my life. By immersing myself into another religion, I realized a new depth in my Islamic faith that was previously inaccessible when limited to just my own. This gave rise to a passion for interfaith dialogue and cooperation and explains why and how I am here today, writing these words as an Episcopal Service Corps member pursuing this line of work in the Office of Religious Life at Dickinson College.
All that we need to do is respond to the invitation He extends to us, as we can and as we are now, and trust that it is enough. He promises to take care of the rest.