Building Community

George Mahbud Crawford at his shopThis past week a friend of mine passed away. George Mahbud Crawford was not just a friend of mine, nor just a friend of many friends of mine, nor just of our entire community, but of many, known and unknown, and of a web of communities spanning many walks of life, many faiths, many lifestyles and many lives. He gave of himself generously and not only of his time and wealth but also of his heart. The huge heart of this man could embrace so many so fully, without any thought of recompense or need of recognition. There are so many stories of examples of this remarkable life. As for me, I had not seen Mahbud for a while, but before that he would come to the book store where I worked, and we would talk. It was always on a slow day, he would wander in, for a nice afternoon talk on one subject or another, usually spiritual, always enjoyable, or to bring me a book he knew I would like, or to buy a gift for a friend.

Yesterday my wife and I went to his memorial service. And at this service Mahbud was able to teach one last lesson for me, and hopefully for the others attending. As I sat there and listened to his many friends and family members recounting their stories of his life I began to look around at the people attending. I realized that I knew many of those present. These are the people who are in my everyday life. Some more often than others, but we all share time in our lives. And I began to realize that this coming together at these times is a community building and strengthening.

Too many times I hear from people that they do not think “ceremonies” are worthwhile. I think for quite a few years this has led to the dwindling of traditional events in our lives. Certainly the “rights of passage” for boys and girls into adulthood had all but disappeared in our society. But ceremonies are important. It is at these types of events that the members of a community, whatever the size, connect, share common feelings, create bonds, speak and listen to each other, and nurture that community. At yesterday’s memorial it was a sharing of sorrow over the loss of a beloved community member. That sorrow was expressed in our telling of our memories of him and how much he will be missed. Each of us exposing just that part of ourselves to create this shared space of remembrance. The ceremony allows the freedom of expression which might, at other times, not be so safe. But there, in the accommodation of the memorial ceremony, we were free to express and could experience the heart felt reflections of the others.

This is the heart of community, and the memorial served to remind me that it is here, in this sharing of the joys and sorrows of life together, in these ceremonies, that the heart of community grows strong. Without these times of coming together we loose those ties that bond us, human to human.

Just the same, we need special times of “ceremony” to bond with Allah (swt). We take time out of our daily lives to do wudhu and pray salaat. We spend a month of our time in special remembrance during Ramadhan, we help the needy with Zakat, and, insha’allah, we visit at his call in Mecca. These and other times out of our ordinary life are spent in special bonding with our creator, at his bidding. And our heart grows stronger in faith because of that sharing. Our mind becomes more clear, our actions more refined and our ties with each other as believers become an umbrella of protection from misguidance. We need community with Allah (swt) and with fellow believers. The way to both of these is through gathering, and growing community. There is a special bond that is built up between us and between each of us and our maker in that.

Thank you Mahbud for this one more lesson.

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