The Power of Dua

by Amna Mirza

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It was 5:45 a.m.; I was struggling to get out of my warm bed, but the dings from my phone started barging into my day. It’s my usual (bad habit) routine to check my phone for messages while half-asleep. With one hand on my phone and one hand gripping my toothbrush, I start swiping through my notifications. This particular morning, my Executive Director, Khalil Demir, sent me a Teams message; he doesn’t normally do that this early, so I quickly opened his message while brushing away. The message was just a link with the words, “We must pay her debt.”

Working at a Zakat Foundation of America, a humanitarian aid organization, the message didn’t strike me as odd. He could be talking about one of our beneficiaries in our livelihoods programs, or he could be referring to a staffer who needs help — he is a humanitarian after all. I clicked on the link as I rinsed away.

I can close my eyes today, months later, and remember the details in the picture: a little girl with disheveled hair, her face covered in dirt, poor living conditions, a mother holding a toddler in the distance. The link opened the Wall Street Journal article, As Afghanistan Sinks Into Destitution, Some Sell Children to Survive. I was paralyzed. I stopped whatever I was doing and leaned on the edge of my sink and read every word Saeed Shah wrote. My heart racing, I started crying uncontrollably right there in my bathroom at 6 a.m. A $550 debt that couldn’t be repaid in cash would be forgiven by selling a 3-year-old girl into a life of servitude. It’s amazing how in a matter of seconds I could feel so many different emotions. Even more amazing is how those emotions started manifesting as the sweat in my palms, the dryness of my mouth, the guilt in my heart. What kind of world do we live in? How can a 3-year-old child be sold to pay back a debt? Where was our humanity?

The hardest part of my job as Chief Marketing Officer is to select content to help our storytelling. I dig through hundreds of pictures, hours of video footage, and dozens of beneficiary testimonials to pick the one I think will inspire someone most to support; to give $50 to sponsor an orphan, or $7 to send a warm blanket to refugees. The eyes I have seen in our content haunt me. I’ve shed many tears over the years — trust me, there is no shortage of painful content from around the world, but for some reason this image and this story stayed with me. I could not move forward.

As a mother, I ask myself more often than not, “What if it were my girls in that situation?” 

“What if my girls were in a refugee camp sleeping on the cold ground?” 

“What if I had no choice but to sell my child in order to live?” 

Impossible scenarios to think through let alone live through. It would be naïve of me to think I actually had anything to do with the matter — that somehow, because of my choices, my girls would never be in those situations. The fact of the matter is situations like the one in the article have little to do with choice and everything to do with kismet, nothing but destiny. I am not any better than Saleha, the mother in the article. It’s destiny that differentiates us, not piety, or deservedness. So how, then, can we find peace in our lives when we know there are countless Salehas? How can we change destinies? 

Of all the heartbreaking stories in the world, why did Saleha’s story come to me, and why did I feel so deeply connected to this woman whom I’ve never met?  We don’t share any bonds and yet there she was, taking over my thoughts. Why? Because of the power of dua.

The power of dua changes destinies (Tirmidhi). Dua is the essence of worship. It flows from our inner beings, from the deepest part of our hearts, directly to God. We believe this as Muslims. We believe prayer is worship. What, then, is stronger than a mother’s prayer for her child? The power of dua transcended thousands of miles, crossing oceans and continents into my heart. Saleha’s duas made their way to me. I’m not at all trying to say I was the answer to her prayer, God forbid. But I do believe that when we open ourselves up to connecting with our Creator and understand that we have a duty on this earth to help one another, to love one another, to do good — the cries and injustices from afar are hard to ignore. Saleha prayed for help. I know her nights and days were spent crying and worrying, begging for her destiny to change. Dua was her only weapon. Her duas led Mr. Shah to find her — to share her story. Her duas made their way to countless strangers who helped change her destiny. Through a crowdsourcing fundraiser campaign on FundRazr, perfect strangers donated over $65K to Saleha, repaying her $550 debt, saving her daughter, and helping her build a future. The funds will also be used to help others in similar situations.

I don’t accept that me coming to learn of Saleha was a coincidence. Many might. Many have tried to convince me it was a coincidence. Many say given the line of work I’m in, I was bound to find Saleha and be compelled to help. To them, I say, in sha Allah, God willing, I never stop being moved to do goodness, whatever the reason may be. May the power of dua make its way to you every day, and may it compel you to do good.

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