Let me guess; a flu-like illness inflicted you or someone you know in the past three weeks, regardless of your faith background.
What else would you expect? CDC is now reporting widespread influenza (flu) activity in over 41 states. Unfortunately, thousands will succumb to this deadly virus.
Being an infectious disease specialist, I have passionately provided free flu shots for over a decade. Mosques, churches, homeless shelters, private schools, you name it. For many, the sweetness of “free” mitigates the soreness of the needle.
My philanthropic passion stems from my faith: Islam. Our Muslim youth group has cleaned over 50 highways nationwide under the “Adopt-a-Highway” program, raised over 2,000 units of blood, fed over 60,000 people, and logged over 30,000 man-hours in community service. So when people ask us: where are the moderate Muslims? We say: Where have you been?
Just as raising 2,000 units of blood could potentially save 6,000 American lives, providing free flu shots could also prevent thousands of lives. Remember, flu’s annual death toll ranges between 3,000 - 49,000 people, depending upon the viral strain.
I was once invited by a friend to perform vaccinations after a Christian worship service. But for inexplicable reasons, the pastor, though he was aware of the plan to vaccinate, never shared that information with the congregation. His explanation to me afterwards made little sense and once he started inquiring about my faith background, I think his motivation emerged. He wasn’t comfortable with me, a Muslim, in his church. He said he’d call me. He never did.
The American in me thought of my non-Muslim friends who have supported me in this growing Islamophobic atmosphere. I thought of my secretary who prayed for my safe return when I was leaving for a vacation in Pakistan. I thought of my Christian friend who traveled with me to Wisconsin to attend a Muslim youth retreat. I thought of pastors who have invited me to talk to their congregations to build interfaith harmony! Aren’t most Americans magnanimous people?
And the Muslim in me - who simply wanted to help the needy - was not dejected either. Prophet Muhammad taught, “Deeds are judged by motives.” In Islam, intentions are rewarded even more than the actions. Cleaning dishes in a soup kitchen is worthless if the intention is a photo-op.
So after waiting for a couple of weeks to hear from the pastor, I moved on. The ruthless flu virus was not going to screen Americans for their faith before attacking. I gave the flu shots to the worshippers at Bait-ur-Rehman mosque located in Silver Spring, MD. Free of charge. Free of expectation. Free of faith.
Charity begins at home. But that’s not where it should end. Thus, I will continue to reach out to soup kitchens, churches, and synagogues only as a part of my civic duty.
It’s probably late to get a flu shot this year but if your congregation is interested in faith neutral, free flu shots next year, please let me know. Supplies are limited.
Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of Muslimerican.com. He can be reached at email@example.com; you can follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.