Healing the heart.
Thirty years ago, Wajdi Said co-founded the Muslim Educational Trust.
Said, originally from Yemen, came to the United States in the 1980s intending to attend medical school. His mother always told him he would be a healer — and while he planned to become a doctor, he ended up healing people in a very different way.
Tigard-based MET was the natural outgrowth of a more informal group called United Muslim Aid, an effort by Said and like-minded partners in Oregon’s Muslim community to assist victims of strife and famine and support refugees from places like Afghanistan and Albania. MET officially incorporated as a nonprofit group in 1993, moving to Tigard in 1999.
The group has taken on a broader focus over time. It now operates two small Islamic schools, was a founding member of the Interfaith Council of Greater Portland, and even stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic as a vaccination site and food box distribution center. It regularly hosts community events at its community center in Tigard, which opened in 2015.
All the while, Said believes it has stayed true to its purpose.
“We are embodying the Prophet’s mission of creating justice and peace,” Said explained, “and the power of forgiveness, the power of gratitude, the power of gratefulness.”
Said firmly believes that faith is a force for good in the world. Those who seek to justify violence or hate in the name of religion are wrong — sick, even, he says.
He feels much the same about his adoptive country.
“America is great, and there is room for improvement within America,” Said said.
Said wants MET to be part of that improvement — the healing, as he puts it.
MET regularly collaborates with interfaith leaders. It also trained more than 300 workers to help conduct the 2020 Census, registers people to vote, provides a halal food pantry for needy families, and even partners with local governments to distribute rental assistance checks for tenants struggling to pay their bills. It even has a partnership with the Tigard Police Department to build bridges between law enforcement and Tigard’s immigrant community.
Muslims are not the only people MET serves, either. Said says MET’s programs and services are “open to all,” and all are welcome at its community events.
MET even kept its community center open during the pandemic, with social distancing measures in place and mandatory masking and handwashing — Said still prefers to wear a mask in group settings, including MET’s events — to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
Said often puts in long hours at MET. He says he enjoys it there, seeing the regulars, hosting dignitaries and community leaders, and promoting peace, love and understanding. He enjoys doing whatever he can to heal relationships and open minds.
“If there is a way to help others, it makes me closer to God,” Said explained.
Said has faced Islamophobia at times in the United States. He acknowledges it, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He has a saying about turning a minus, something bad or even terrible that has happened, into a plus: something positive to build on.
“The Quran tells us, ‘And if the ignorant curse you, you tell them, “Peace be upon you.”’ You don’t return a curse with a curse,” Said said. “It’s very hard, but we have to do it.”
He told a story about something that happened right outside the community center in Tigard.
“This one time, one person, they honked at me. And I smiled and I greeted them,” Said said. “They came after me to the property and started cursing more. So, after they calmed down … I told him, ‘Are you done?’ He said yes. I said, ‘What did you gain, though? Your blood pressure went up, I’m sure. I could reciprocate what you say, but that’s what my mother told me, to turn a minus into a plus. So be kind and be respectful.’”
He added, “Believe it or not, within one hour, he came (back) and said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Said isn’t the first faith leader to preach a doctrine of radical kindness. He greatly admires civil rights leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired the Beloved Community Coalition — one of several interfaith groups where MET participates.
And for Said, it is a truly sacred obligation.
“You have to love your fellow human beings,” he said.