Winter 2017: “Your Sacred Place” Powerful Voice Winner Saef-Aldeen Elbgal

Read Saef's essay, "Standing Up for My Mosque," about the precious guidance he receives from the Oakland Islamic Center—and his plans to protect it.

Saef-Aldeen Elbgal, a ninth grade student of Jessica Hom at Aspire College Preparatory Academy in Richmond, California, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre.”

In this story, founder and director of Sacred Stone Camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard describes how her identity, history and survival are intrinsically connected to the land—and water—that is being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. To protect this place, Allard says they have no choice but to stand up. 

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if a place that defines you was threatened to be destroyed or taken away. What would you do? Would you fight to save it?

Standing Up for My Mosque

As a Muslim, mosques are a very important part of my life. Mosques are where we worship and practice our religion freely. Of all the mosques I’ve been to, the one that defines me most is the Oakland Islamic Center, located in Oakland, California.

The Oakland Islamic Center has helped me find out many things about my religion and my culture, and has given me proper guidance for the life I wish to live. This mosque is where I have met companions who I’ve learned to trust. It’s where I have met people my age who come from families similar to mine, and whom I can relate to on many levels. Omar is one of my friends at the mosque. Our families both come from the same village in Yemen. We talk about how people at school treat us as Muslims, our Yemeni heritage, and what it is like being an English-speaking child in an Arabic-speaking family.

Most importantly, the Oakland Islamic Center is where I have heard stories and seen things that have taught me what is right and wrong. It is a place where I, and many other Muslims, seek forgiveness and guidance. I have seen so many people cry in mosques, begging God for forgiveness and mercy. I have seen grown men weep like babies. I have seen dead bodies in the back, being cleaned for the Prayer of the Dead. I have seen people convert to a new path of life, and become more humble.

I would feel more upset than nervous if the Oakland Islamic Center was threatened. If the government tried to close down a mosque or tried to prevent one from being built, then I would call on other Muslims—people who stand up for their religion, who do not let “The Man” with power oppress them, and who wish to one day tell their kids, “I stood up for what I believe in.” I would disturb the peace and protest on the streets. I would ask non-Muslims to unite with us, too.

But if those who threatened the mosque were not official authorities or the government—well, I would get physical. I’m talking about those anti-religious nuts who want to wipe out someone’s faith, like Craig Stephen Hicks, the Chapel Hill Shooter. In 2015, he killed three unarmed Muslims in their apartment, supposedly because they parked in his parking spot, though many people feel it was a hate crime. If people like Hicks approached us in the mosque and tried to break the beautiful chandeliers, vandalize the majestic Arabic calligraphy, or destroy the Qurans and other books, I would physically pull them apart, throw rocks at them, or punch and kick them until they left. You might think I’m exaggerating. Well, actually, I’m not. I would fight.

I would fight because we live in America, where people from different races, religions, and sexualities unite to build the most powerful country on the face of the Earth. Many other countries, like Yemen, don’t allow freedom of speech. They try to tell people what to believe and what to do. I have heard of and seen many people in Yemen get punished for speaking out or teaching another faith to others. The poor schools, which are the most common schools, teach students to hate non-believers of Islam. As a matter of fact, that is what caused the Yemeni war between the two Muslim groups, the Houthis and the Sunnis.

Unlike Yemen, the U.S allows its citizens to be free. I am willing to protect my mosque, even if I get arrested. It isn’t fair that we can’t exercise our First Amendment right just because some people think certain religions, like Islam, shouldn’t be allowed in this country. I do not want the removal of my beloved mosque to be a symbol of the weakening of Islam. More importantly, the weakening of this country.

In “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre,” LaDonna Brave Bull Allard states: “Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. The way to learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history.” Allard is trying to tell people that Native Americans need their land to feel pride in who they are. That pride inspires Native American protesters and motivates them to stop the “Black Snake” from destroying their lands. Their children need to know what their ancestors believed in, who their enemies were, and what they accomplished.

Allard’s quote demonstrates the importance of maintaining a sacred place. A sacred place teaches a generation about what their ancestors protected and fought for. This relates to the mosque because mosques tell the next generation of world leaders what people in the past and present have worked hard to attain. I hope that the information and lessons we give our children will motivate them to continue what their ancestors started long ago.

In a mosque, young Muslims learn about their religion and how it can benefit them throughout their lives. The Mosque also teaches us not to be greedy, and to follow the Prophet Muhammad’s lessons of humility and kindness. America is stronger because of its mosques, and I will fight to keep it that way.

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