Human rights lawyer Rashid serves his community through his actions.
STAFFORD – When human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid ran for Congress in Virginia’s District 1, the slogan he chose – Compassion through Action – wasn’t just a catchy phrase.
Nor was the saying something he came up with solely for the campaign. It’s a lifestyle Rashid practices daily, based off of principles he learned as a child.
“This is how I’ve tried to live my life. This is how I was raised, that my faith as a Muslim teaches me that my primary responsibility is to serve humanity, without discrimination, without distinction, to serve all humanity,” Rashid said. “And to do so not because I want something in return, but to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”
Compassion through Action centers around a set of ideals found in everyday decent humanity, as well as various religions. It’s the act of helping others not for personal gain, but through an honest desire to make a positive difference.
“The basic principle is that if you have compassion for your neighbor, for your community, for those who are struggling and suffering, then you have to take action,” Rashid said. “You have to actually serve your community. It’s a concept that is [found] throughout scripture.”
Rashid alluded to James 2:26 in the Bible, which states that faith without works is dead.
“This is really kind of the core of how we build a society, how we build a community, how we organize,” Rashid said. “It’s a call to folks to really care for one another and not just with words, but to take meaningful action to alleviate the struggling and suffering of others.”
A Genuine Mission
When he announced his candidacy, Rashid also propelled his Compassion through Action ideals into the next step. Compassion through Action now serves the Stafford area as a program, not just a saying.
“When I ran for office, I ran on my values. Again, the value of serving humanity was at the forefront of it,” Rashid said. “It wasn’t a difficult thing for me to kind of adopt because it’s what I’ve been doing my entire life, my entire career as a human rights lawyer.”
As the slogan and program simultaneously picked up speed, Rashid stressed the sincerity of the movement.
“We made sure that when we talked to voters and talked to constituents, they understood that we’re coming at this from a truly genuine, sincere, grounded perspective of being there to serve our community – not because we’re out for some kind of personal gain,” Rashid said.
Rashid Has A Desire to Help
As the message spread throughout the community, so did the requests for assistance and the desire from people to help.
Rashid created an online platform for the Compassion through Action program on his campaign website, which connected the two groups.
First, people filled out their contact information through an online form. At the end of the form, they stated whether they needed assistance or hoped to be of service.
When a request came through the online system, real people – not bots – sorted through the forms.
“It’s really not an automated process,” Rashid said. “It actually is a very manual process because we want to try to provide individualized support.”
They paired each individual with the best, most relevant assistance available.
“It became like a matchmaking thing, where we were able to match people who were struggling with those who were able to provide support,” Rashid said. “That way, neighbors were able to help others directly.”
Not for the Fame
During the campaign season, Compassion through Action provided food, water and face masks to struggling individuals. Particularly, the program aided homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters so that they would not have to spend their own dollars to get the needed resources.
Even after the campaign ended, the program didn’t stop.
“This part is key because when we talk about organizing, organizing can’t just be tied to political campaigns. It really has to be tied to the needs of a community,” Rashid said. “One of the promises I made when I was running for Congress was that win or lose, I’m going to stay involved in community organizing. And that’s really what this is about, ultimately, is staying involved in the community, making sure I’m there to serve the community. I wasn’t running because I wanted a title. I ran because I wanted to serve. And you don’t need a title to serve. And that’s what I’m trying to show here.”
Helping another individual through Compassion through Action doesn’t require copious amounts of time or money. Some gestures simply require a nod of the head or a tilt of the lips.
“Even a smile is charity,” Rashid said.
Ideas on Rashid’s website include physically giving things like water, food and basic supplies, or simply dialing up an individual for a phone chat on a lonely day.
“Especially during a pandemic when a lot of folks are alone, they’re isolated. Loneliness especially, for our senior citizens, is a real epidemic. It’s a real issue. And so the idea here is making sure we recognize the humanity in one another,” Rashid said. “And making sure we’re our brother’s keeper, our sister’s keeper. We’re looking out for one another. What I really want to emphasize is that you do this not because you want something in return. You do this because it’s the right thing to do. And when you look out for other people and look out for their rights and look out for their needs, without regard to your own, then life is funny. Because it comes back to you 10-fold. It will come back to you as well. And that’s what we’re kind of fostering here in our community.”
While the focus centered around the District 1 area during the campaign, Rashid noted that in the past, and hopefully in the future, Compassion through Action will broaden its range.
“We’ve had folks that needed food around the country and we’ve found ways to get them food,” Rashid said. “We’ve found ways to get them support.”
While Compassion through Action might not solve world hunger, Rashid’s program solves what it can, when it can and where it can.
“I think the idea is that starfish analogy, right? You’re not going to save every starfish on the beach, but if you can work on one at a time, you’ve made a difference for that one person,” Rashid said. “And that’s really the goal here. If folks are looking for support, we’re going to activate it really aggressively, very soon.”
“I think I’m pursuing this for the same reason my parents raised me to be focused on servicing humanity. The end goal, I think in everything I do, in advocacy and policy, is being able to create the conditions of justice and peace in our community. And that sounds really grand and high level. And it is. I admit it,” Rashid said. “But the point is that we need to start creating more dialogue, more compassion, so that we can shift the narrative for the next generation.”
The human rights lawyer expressed that shifts take time, but are worth the wait.
“It doesn’t happen over a year or five years or 10 years. It’s a generational shift. But unless we work with the mindset that that’s where we want to go, we have no hope of getting there,” Rashis said. “So really, it’s that mindset that I’m trying to create, that we need to fight for justice. We need to lead with compassion and empathy.”
Rashid expressed hope that if people practiced those ideals consistently, they could work together and collaborate effectively.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]