Isra Omar is a Somalian American graduate of DePaul University, Chicago. In her heartfelt narrative, she shares how her grandfather’s story of opening his mind, heart, and soul to higher knowledge has been pivotal towards her own growth.

 

A Somali proverb: The absence of knowledge is the absence of light.

Everyone has a light that shines during times of distress. That light was my grandfather. Not only was he a parental figure, but he was my friend.

My grandfather was well educated. He was an advocate of it because he understood the benefit of what it could do. His parents died at a very young age, and was raised by his sisters. He grew up as an orphan which came with a stream of financial challenges. Yet, those challenges did not deter him from seeking education… not just academic education, but to learn and to be open to knowledge. He later became a government official, and used his position to help others.

My grandfather was a devout Muslim. He would complete reading the entire Quran once a month. He built a mosque in his home country. He loved praying and would tell me to never let go of the rope of Allah. In other words, never miss your prayers. Not only was my grandfather devoted to praying, he valued giving back to his community. He advocated for the poor and constantly reminding me of giving back to others. He was an inspiration to me because he strived to be a better Muslim without sacrificing his passion for knowledge. Unfortunately, very few religious people believe that in order to be spiritually connected with Islam. You have to isolate yourself from society. But my grandfather valued integration of Islam and knowledge because our beloved prophet (PBUH) said that “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”

I am carrying on my grandfather’s legacy now. This is my story.

My passion is to help others. I enjoy connecting with people and sharing my experiences. My passion for community service began in high school. I was a youth intern at ONE (organization of the north east) and one of the projects that we worked was how to decrease the dropout rate of high school students in CPS. I strived to be active in high school and that continued when I joined the MSA at DePaul. Luckily, after I completed my bachelors, I got a job offer from Merit School of Music. Merit is a non for profit with the mission of transforming the lives of Chicago area youth by providing the highest quality of music education. I currently work for the accounting department. I never had a passion for music, but what makes my job worthwhile is the amount of kids we have been able to help. Despite the limited resources and tough economy, we are able to transform the lives of so many underprivileged youth.

My story was to show the power of carrying on the torch. We live in a complex world that puzzles me because you don’t think that what you are doing is enough. A verse in the Quran serves as a reminder for optimism: don’t despair, Allah is with us. As a devout Muslim and an American, it is important for me to link my faith with values such as equality and human rights.

The greatest gift my grandfather left me is that you don’t have to sacrifice religion to be successful and vice versa. The two can be mutually inclusive and should be.

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