SCARBOROUGH — When one goes on long-distance runs, there is a time when the rhythm of your breath, the capacity you feel in your lungs and the cadence of your strides converge to a still point. You are present. You are running, the thoughts in your head are absent and the molecules of your surroundings reveal their spin. And when that moment arrives, I pray.

I recite the first chapter from the Quran, mouthing the words; the syllables match my breath, my stride. The chapter Surat al-Fatihah is for trying to seek the truth, for guidance and for the mercy of God. “Guide us in the right path: the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings, those who have not incurred Thy wrath, and those who have not gone astray.” I recite the seven verses three times. Each time, I ask for love and grace. I ask for the wisdom to navigate. I ask for blessings.

Once I have finished the recitation, as I am running, I recite the chapter Surat al-Ikhlas: a declaration of God’s absolute unity; the burning away of all that separates us from the One. Four short verses. Three times again. There is a teaching that if one recites this chapter three times with the purest of intentions, it is as if you are reading the entire Quran. So I try to be pure. I think of those who have passed who are part of me: my father, my mother-in-law, Luiz, Shawn, Bart, Humaira. I think of my family, keeping their image in my mind as I ask for blessings. I try to have the purest of intentions. And I am sure I fail all the time.

This entire cycle passes quickly … maybe a couple of minutes. If the sun is rising at the same time, maybe three minutes. If it is more, there is some revelation I am not worthy of.

Very recently, when I was running, I cried as I was reciting the prayers. I cried. I cried. I cried. But I kept on running. It is hard to keep on running as one is crying. You can’t really see straight, you are sniffling, your breath is all out of sorts as your lungs are confused, your cadence is absent as your body is simply focused on keeping you up straight and not worried about the elegance of the act of running. But I ran.

I cried because I was thinking of those who died in Christchurch. Several were from Pakistan. Born and raised in Pakistan, I am Pakistani. They died praying in a mosque. I used to go to the mosque and large prayer gathering with my father. Where we greeted everyone with the word “Bhai” (brother). Where you were with those you loved. Where there was always the still point.

When there is the Muslim call to prayer, the azaan, one stops. The world stops rotating. Things become whole. Ever so momentarily, we become complete.

I didn’t stop running as I was praying, because I was thinking that I don’t hear the azaan since my brothers and sisters were killed. This disassociation. This separation. This reduction.

I am not suggesting we all need to run and pray. Or that we should cry. Or that we should stop. What I am asking for is that you, your family, your loved ones, your neighbors and your elected officials absolutely and utterly reject the principle of destruction of the “other.” Whether it be anti-immigrant, white supremacist or nihilistic nationalist populist bile, such inhumanity belongs in the deep crevasses of history.

The economic divide and distrust in the social contract are the existential crises of our republic, where we all have a shared responsibility to reject the extremism of wealth, power and religion. It is our moral, ethical and legal obligation to intentionally talk about this without this rancid toxic inclination toward opinionation, oversimplification and reaction. There is a reason we need to operate in the savannah of complexity and nuance. It is called life.

So, allow for conversation, compromise and action. Commune. Believe. Do. Trust. Love.

I will also.

And if you want to run and pray at the same time, for them and for us, I will be right by your side.


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