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CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR A YOUNG MUSLIM ACHIEVER
By Khalida “Toni” Leviste*
( *Equestrian World Champion and Asian Games multiple medalist. She is the daughter of Jose Antonio Leviste, himself a Muslim, former Governor of Batangas and currently Honorary Consul General of the State of Palestine to the Philippines. The following is the complete text of a speech she delivered before a Muslim audience sometime last year, 2008). Assalamualaikum, my brothers and sisters in faith. Bismilla i Rahman i Rhahim.
Commissioner Taha Basman, thank you for encouraging the promotion of moderate Islamic insights, especially in today’s chaotic world- of violence and destruction. We long for peace. But before we can achieve any sense of peace, there must be first understanding, first amongst fellow Muslims, then by other faiths.
Please allow me also to take this opportunity to thank the Center for Moderate Muslims (CMM) for the Ten Outstanding Muslim Youth award I received last year. I am humbled by this honor and only hope and pray that I can live up to this title, with Allah’s grace. Insha Allah Alhamdulillah!
To our special guests, Muslim leaders all, thank you for your insights and wisdom. From your words today, I have grown richer and stronger in my faith.
This day reminds me of a passage I read in “The Life of Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and his Moral teaching,” compiled by Ustadz Ilyas Ismael:
When asked what is better, knowledge or wealth, Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam who lived with the Prophet replied:
1. You are to guard your wealth, but knowledge guards you. So knowledge is better.
2. Knowledge is better because it increases with distribution, while wealth decreases by that act.
3. Knowledge is better because it cannot be stolen, while wealth can be stolen.
4. Knowledge is better because it is boundless while wealth is limited and you must keep account of it.
5. Knowledge is better because knowledge illuminates the mind, while wealth is apt to blacken it.
6. Knowledge is better because knowledge induced the humanity in our Prophet in saying to God: “We
worship Thee as we are thy servants.”
The Prophet himself was a great lover of knowledge, that he frequently prayed Allah for it, and advised others to pray in the same way. Hence today, our collective prayers are answered. We are gathered here to listen, to share, and to learn. Mashallah.
It was seven years ago when I first sensed the calling unto Islam. Although I was baptized as a Roman Catholic, the more I read about Islam, the more I felt that I am Muslim in my heart. I believed in one God. I am obedient to one God. I prayed and worshipped one God. I am a Muslim.
My official reversion to Islam, though was in 2004. Or “balik-Islam” as we say here in the Philippines. Naturally, many of my friends, even family were concerned and curious as to why I decided to turn to Islam, in my heart I say: “Whoever Allah chooses to guide, He leads to Islam, the one true religion…”
But to those concerned, I gently try to explain that my reversion to Islam was a deliberate one. My father himself is “balik-Islam.” But I also took the initiative to study and read Islamic teachings and books, and listened to Islamic scholars. And my conclusion was: the simplicity and discipline of Islam brings me closer to God- praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan are only some aspect of Islam that helps me think about God every moment of the day, to give thanks and ask forgiveness, as well as strengthens my will, my fortitude.
Furthermore, with no human intermediary, say a priest or one superior in faith, I feel a more personal relationship with God. I am accountable for all my actions and all my deeds, may it be good or bad, is between Allah and me. Allah who is All-Knowing, All-Merciful, knows what is in my heart, my niyyat. This is Islam. It is not terrorism as illustrated and depicted by some sectors of society today. Islam means peace. And this is one challenge we face in the growing suspicion towards Muslims, due to world events and bad press.
I dare not misrepresent myself a scholarly Muslim. I have a lot more to learn from reading and from you, my brothers and sisters, and certainly a long way to go before I am confident to perform Da’wah through teaching. But a brother in faith, Doctor Sherjan Khalim once told me that the best Da’wah is through example, by living out the Muslim faith, and showing others what a good Muslim is.
Allah explained in Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 117 the characteristics of a good Muslim:
1. One that has strong belief in Allah, the day of Judgment, the Angels, the Holy Book Qur’an and the Prophet.
2. Willingness to give part of his/her wealth to the orphans, the poor, the travelers, and the slaves.
3. Performing obligatory prayers five times a day.
4. Giving alms (zakat) to the poor and the needy.
5. Fulfilling his/her covenants when they are made.
6. Having patience in facing difficulties during extreme poverty, sickness and doing battles.
It is simple. But as we all know, not necessarily easy. Yet I believe there is even more to life than striving to be a good Muslim. It is BECOMING an EXCELLENT MUSLIM… brother, daughter, father, teacher, athlete, student, friend… being. We should strive to be excellent creatures of Allah. The life we are given may be a gift from God but what we make in our lives is OUR gift to God.
During a recent youth activity I helped facilitate amongst 50 plus out-of-school youth, public and private high school kids, I challenged them to do only one thing: I challenged them to dream. As I would challenge the Muslim youth of today.
We each have one voice. May it be roar or whisper… no one voice, no one dream is more important than another’s, at least not in God’s eyes, which is the only one that matters. Whatever our stature in life, rich or poor, weak or strong, educated or illiterate we each have a purpose, a mission to be fulfilled. And it is not live and die, without making a difference in this world…our mission is to give glory to God every moment we can… To leave this world a little bit better than how we found it.
This is why God plants seed of dreams in our hearts.
Like a seedling of an acacia tree that can grow to a hundred feet with branches spread out towards the heavens, our dreams, once planted in our hearts and in our minds, had been placed there by Allah for a reason. It is up to us to heed that call, to take action.
The most important lesson I have learned as an athlete is that with hard work, dedication, discipline and determination, and God’s blessings through prayer, any goal can be achieved… the seed will grow like the acacia tree, cultivated by the hand of a farmer and nurtured by nature’s bounty of sunshine and rain, will grow manifest the splendor of God.
“ So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then we summon the will… and with God’s grace, they soon become inevitable.”
I dare the Muslim Youth today to dream… to make a statement… to put a stamp in the world that you had LIVED and LABORED and DREAMED… all in the name of Allah. When we stand in the direction of Allah, Allah will provide for all. As written in Surah 17 verse 30: “Verily thy Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom he pleaseth.”
Let no one say to you, you are not enough because you belong to a marginalized sector of society… let no one say to you, you cannot achieve, you cannot become or you cannot dream. Heed the call…have courage amidst difficulties. Both obstacles and adversaries are there to make us stronger and wiser. Be thankful for them.. Rise to the challenge my brothers and sisters and dare to dream. Allah will provide.
[ I respect all ideas and views regardless of faith. I also believe that we worship the same God, but because of culture and linguistics differences, we may worship Him differently. Yet I know that we can live peacefully in co-existence as long as we have that respect for another. This article is published to show that we can all live in harmony together with esteem for each other.-ed]