I have friends that left to go study abroad and didn’t visit their family’s back home until the end of their studies. For some, that only meant a year or two, but for others it meant 10 years. I’m not entirely sure my mother would forgive me if I decided to spend 10 years away from her. We’ve reached the 10-month mark and I’m already visiting home because she misses me too much. It’s been an interesting experience visiting home after living abroad for the last 10 months. It’s beautiful when you see the surprised looks and happiness from community members that sent you off months ago, and the look of amazement when you can hold a full conversation with an Arabic speaker.

My biggest eye-opener was that nothing has changed in my community. Some students go abroad to study and feel a sense of responsibility to their community. They may feel that there is so much that needs their attention and they should do their best to help even while doing their studies abroad, sometimes this feeling of responsibility makes them return prematurely. I remember watching from Egypt as a gunman claiming to allegiance to fringe militant groups killed countless and injured many others in a club minutes from my family’s home. It only became harder every time I heard a speech from the political candidates and the United States’s soon to be President. All of which caused me to feel that I should be there, helping, supporting, and advising.

I also remember when I told a friend how I felt, and how I really wished I was home helping. “Who are you?” is all he said. He was 100% correct, who am I? Here I am, this young man attempting to study the Islamic sciences, memorizing texts, learning Arabic and feeling as though all of that gives me the credentials to save the world and a community. In earnest, I didn’t understand the wisdom in his statement until I came back this past month. Absolutely nothing has changed, the same Imams that were knowledgeable and great at empowering the community were still empowering, the same community members that focused on breaking others down were still doing so, maybe there were new people in the communities but the actions were the same.

It was a wake up call, a reminder that my job right now is to grow, and by doing so I can effect change in the future. If I become too focused on a community before I’m ready then I can ruin myself. Right now is my time to spend studying and becoming strong in my own faith then I’ll be able to serve. One must put the life jacket on themselves before anyone else.

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