By: Alicia Garza | @AliciaoftheUDK
Sara Anees is a muslim senior from Wichita.
Q: What do you believe are the most important aspects about your religion?
A: Well, according to the Koran, there’s five pillars of Islam, and those are like the pillars that you are supposed to adhere to in order to be considered a devout, practicing muslim. And those are like praying every day, 5 times a day. The declaration of faith is the first pillar. Fasting during the month of Ramadan. Giving charity, based on the conditions that are set forth in the Koran. Then there’s making the pilgrimage- so going to Mecca and performing the Hajj. I remember them in order, and whenever I go out of order, it always kind of messes me up. The five pillars of Islam that are written down and recorded in doctrine are of course very important. I would say that as a practicing muslim that I think the most important value that you can demonstrate is just ultimately your intentions and being not necessarily perfect all the time, like according to the written word, but having good intentions and being as true to your beliefs as possible.
Q: Do you follow all of those?
A: Well, I haven’t gone to Mecca before, just because I haven’t had the opportunity to do so, and that’s one of the conditions. Like if you’re unable to do so, if you’re unable to make certain conditions up- like of the five pillars- it’s not being held against you. If you’re too sick to fast from sunrise to sunset, then you’re not expected to, and in that case it’s recommended that you cook for someone else so that they have a meal when they’re finished with their fast.
Q: Do you plan to visit Mecca in your future?
A: If I could, that would be really awesome. I think it would be really exciting, I’ve always been interested in going to places with historical significance. Something beyond America, like I’ve never been outside of the country. So I would like to go travel and find what’s out there in the big world.
Q: How long have you been Muslim?
A: I was brought up into the faith, but like anyone, I would say I definitely had my own spiritual journey where I’ve questioned a lot of the things I’ve been taught. And I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing because I think that through questions I’ve been able to receive a more enriching experience with my faith, and I think that I’ve learned a lot more because I’ve had to question things. Especially growing up in an area where Islam isn’t that prominent of a faith, and growing up in America where a lot of the cultural norms are not necessarily… it’s very different. My father is Pakistani, and my mom is American so those two cultures are very different, and I’ve had to learn to see both and appreciate the good from both.
Q: How does being Muslim play into your daily life?
A: I would say my practice of Islam influences the choices I make each day. I think the most rewarding experience that I have gained by practicing Islam was a realization inspired by the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, muslims do not eat or drink anything from Sunrise to Sunset for about 30 days. Forgoing meals and water proved challenging, and I often thought during the day, “I am so hungry. Why can’t I eat?...Oh right. Fasting.” Each time I felt hungry, I started thinking about the privilege that I have which added to my appreciation and gratitude for life. I thought more about how I could help others, my consumption habits, and how I could be less wasteful. I learned self-control. In the last week of Ramadan I caught myself hesitating to drink Iftar, which is the time to break fast. As I raised a cold glass of water to my lips, I noticed that the question “Why am I not eating or drinking?” evolved, becoming the corollary, “Why am I eating and drinking?” I thought “Do I really need to eat this?” throughout each meal, and I appreciated foods that I never liked before. These questions provided a great deal of perspective on how I want to live each day. I don’t think I could have learned the same life lessons in any other way, which makes this a very special experience for me.
Q: What do you want the University to know about your faith?
A: I guess I’m lucky in that KU is kind of a haven for exploration and learning all kinds of different things, and meeting all kinds of different people because our university is about flagship. We have a lot of different people from a lot of different places, and that’s really awesome. So I feel like the people who go here are especially open-minded in learning about my faith and my culture which is awesome, and actually one of the reason that I chose KU. But I guess, if I had to say something that I would like...I just appreciate KU in that everyone is so accepting and excited to learn about things that other people that I’ve met aren’t interested in at all. To KU, I would say thanks, for being interested in me as a person and for being interested in the things that I hold dear. I think Islam gets a pretty bad rap in the media about being a terrifying or hostile faith, it’s not supposed to be a vindictive faith — I don’t know why our media is so Anti-Islamic but I would say that intent is the most important thing- and anyone who has good intentions and considers being a good person important, I think that is the most appreciated value in Islam. I think it’s the foundational element that it takes to be a Muslim.