• I am so proud of everyone that came to the Next Step meeting today! Alhamduhlilah it went well!

The wisest route is often times the quietest route.

We’ve stopped asking what’s the benefit and started asking whats the harm.

Empowering youth doesn’t come from events or programs. Leadership is taught by example and by giving opportunities. 

Submission for Writing competition at Showdown:

(Theme: What’s your color?)

The stars shined down upon him as he stood on a bridge overlooking the Potomac. Cool air wafted up from the river chilling his dark brown skin. Goosebumps stayed risen, frozen in place. He folded his hands, shifting his six foot frame and casting a fearsome shadow in the pale moonlight. His tie flapped in the wind as his suit coat dangled. He watched the small waves merge over the deep, dark abyss.

Darkness. This was his world now. His shoulders sank in weariness, a tiredness far past physical exhaustion. He was worn out, down to his bones in need of sleep. A perpetual sleep he wanted from which to never awaken.

How did he get here? What turns had life made for him to reach this place? How lost had he become to no longer find rhyme or reason in life’s fruition? What was his plan and mission?

Asad shut his eyes to the questions seeking solace in memories of a day long begotten. It was always the last day he saw his father to which he returned.

The sun was shining bright cascading warmth throughout Asad’s then tiny body. He was barely eight years old, clinging to his father’s hand as they passed through the markets. Prices and deals rang through the air.

When they passed by the toy stalls, Asad loved to stop and play while his father spoke with the merchant. There were no other children around, so he listened to his father speak as he played.

“How can they allow this?” his father demanded.

“No one’s going to stand up to him,” shrugged the merchant. “He’s the king, what can they do?”

“They can dethrone him! They can threaten to seize control of the state, they can do so much, but they do so little!” He exclaimed.

“Ya Ustadh, their hearts are filled only with greed. They won’t do anything.”

“Is this what we’ve come?”

Asad looked up at his father. It was a common argument he’d heard his father have recently. The king was waging wars upon his own nation and none of the neighboring countries were willing to help. They were left to fight their own battle, but at the time, it meant little to Asad.

His father looked down at him and said, “What are we teaching them? To live and die at a tyrant’s hand?”

“You must be careful, Monam. You know what they think of you.”

“They can think what they want, I’m just a poor farmer, what will they want of me?”

“They know how we feel for you, Ustadh. If there’s any to lead us, it’s you. Khair, leave it, these words aren’t meant for the young,” the merchant spoke. He lifted a small  wooden lion off his table and handed it to Asad. “Take this and remember the peace while it is still here.”

Asad clung to the lion as his father moved them through the market. One of his favorite games was to stare up at the clouds and find shapes to call out to his father, but today he wasn’t interested. They moved away from the shops and towards the arts district. His father was a beautiful painter. Sometimes Asad would sit and watch his father for hours as he painted what their farm looked like.

As they entered the arts district, his father stopped behind a new artist. It was a young man, maybe 16 or 17. He was drawing a farm, but there were no animals. There were fields and barns, rivers, the sun, but there were no animals. Then the man began painting furiously in reds. Lines criss crossing this way and that, his hands moving in a blur.

When he finished, the man’s face was covered in tears. Asad couldn’t tell why he had ruined the fields with all the red paint. He looked up at his father for an explanation, but his father was crying too. Asad looked away, not wanting his father to see that he didn’t know what had happened.

After a few more minutes of watching, they moved on towards the edge of the market and sat to eat.

“Abba?”

“Yes,” his father answered.

“Why were you crying?” his father stared at a speck on the ground. Asad knew a lecture was coming whenever his father’s gaze became focused.

“You know Asad, this world, our lives are blank canvasses. We choose to paint them, either in beauty or misery, but our actions are always the colors. What we do is our color, but always remember, you’re painting with the colors of Allah, so paint carefully. Do you understand?

He didn’t, not at the time. It wasn’t until years of reliving the memory,  that Asad was finally able to understand it. Even that painting  made sense after time. It was bereft of animals and covered in red to show the absence of life they were undergoing and the fields of blood that were remaining. His father was teaching him them that his every action would color his life, but he hadn’t understood was how that color would seep into everyone else’s.

His father spotted someone down the road and jumped up to catch him.

As the man turned the corner, an explosion went off knocking them to the ground. Asad’s ears were ringing, but all he could hear were screams. Dust choked him, clawing at his lungs as he spat. He felt his father lift him off the ground and rush away from the site.

They sped around a corner and his father laid Asad down as he squatted and watched. Gunshots sounded off in the distance as Asad watched the bloody men and women rush.

“Abba, what’s happening?” he asked.

“Shh, stay quiet,” his father warned.

Soldiers began pouring into the market creating more chaos.

“Come!” yelled his father.

They both turned and ran down the road. Tears flooded Asad’s eyes blurring his vision as he sought to keep up with his father.

“Abba!” he yelled.

His father lifted him up and ran faster turning and scrambling down alleys.

When they finally reached home, his father ran to embrace his mother. Asad went to his older sister and she wiped the dust off his face.

“What happened?” she asked him.

“I don’t know,” he cried. “There were men and guns and —”

Another explosion went off shaking the house.

“We have to go now,” his father exclaimed.

“Come out, Monam!” someone yelled from outside. Asad had never heard his father’s name uttered with such disrespect.  His father moved towards the door.

“Don’t go!” his mother whispered. “They’ll kill you.”

His father turned and looked at his family.

“I have to while it’s still my decision to make. No one will decide this end for me.”

He grabbed Asad by the shoulders and said, “You have to do this now, Asad. You have to take care of everyone. I raised you as Asadullah, Allah’s lion, now it’s time for you to be one.”

Asad cried in his father’s face, not understanding what was going on.

Compassion crept into his father’s voice as he hugged Asad.

“You have to paint this family’s future now, my son. The colors are in your hands. What will your color be?”

His father stepped outside and Asad watched from the window. They beat his father and knocked him to the ground. They kept beating on him until he moved no more.

Asad opened his eyes returning him to the bridge.

His father’s question echoed back to him, “What will your color be?”

“I’m sorry, abba,” he called to the wind.

Asad took off his coat and the lion fell onto the bridge. He bent to lift it when he heard footsteps approach.

“Why do you always come here?” she asked. “Why in this darkness?”

“To paint the light of Allah, I have to let out my darkness here.”

“How do you do it? With everything that happened, how can you fill so many lives with so much color?”

“Someone painted my canvas dark once, but my father showed me that no matter who tries to paint our canvasses, we let them dry. It’s never too late to repaint.”

“Abba!” his son, Laith yelled running to him.

Asad threw laith onto his shoulders and listened for his father’s words again.

What will your color be?

Before iron could become sword, it needed to pass through flames and have its impurity hammered out. 

Sometimes maybe Allah swt wants to remind you where to seek strength, so he gives you a reason to need it. 

Leadership is putting your personal feelings aside and showing up to help even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

When I’m stressed out, I go out back with a pocket knife and star widdlin round a fire.

Basically, I become a redneck.

It’s one of those days where your shoulders just don’t want to rise and every smile is forced, alhamdulillah.