Aiham Korbage grew up in a very close-knit Muslim community in Syria. “When I came to the U.S. at the age of thirteen,” he says, “it was really hard for me because not only were we separated physically from the bigger family… I felt like I got swept away by the values of hyper-individuality [and] capitalism.”
After re-appraising his life a few years ago, however, Aiham began attending a Quaker meeting in Boston. Sitting in silence, waiting for that of God in everyone, he’s rediscovered what it feels like to be part of something bigger than oneself. “We can all be ministers to one another,” he reflects, “but… none of us can do it alone. We are all blessed with gifts from God—with spiritual gifts, with talents, with knowing God at all—and so we have to work together.”
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I grew up in the Muslim tradition; I grew up in Syria. I came to the U.S. when I was 13 and started high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My first introduction to Quakers was when I attended Haverford College. But ever since the 2016 election and my own personal move back towards community and in the last two years in my working and worshiping with the Quakers, I felt that the Quakers have taken me and delivered me back to my faith.
Reconnecting with Community Through Quaker Meeting
My name is Aiham Korbage. I use he/him pronouns. I currently live in Lowell, Massachusetts, and I attend Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting in Boston.
So like I said, I grew up in Syria and it was a very community-based culture, and so when I came to the U.S. at the age of thirteen it was really hard for me because not only were we separated physically from the bigger family, it’s– I found myself in this hyper-individualistic culture. And for a while, particularly medical school and residency, I felt like I got swept away by the values of hyper-individuality, capitalism. It wasn’t until the 2016 election and other events in my life that made me really question a lot of the values by which I was living and I found myself going to back to political activism, finding real joy and meaning not just in the work but also in the relationships, and that lead me back to Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting, which was actually just across the Boston Common where I had been living for five years, and I didn’t even know that it existed.
Balancing Individuality and Community
Going back to Quaker meeting and sitting in silence, waiting for that of God in everyone reminded me what a beautiful balance it is to honor the individual because we can all be ministers to one another, but also the beauty of doing all this work together; that none of us can do it alone, that we are all blessed with gifts from God — with spiritual gifts, with talents, with knowing God at all, and so we have to work together. We have to worship together, and in that work and in that breaking the bread beautiful things are possible, and that process and those experiences made me feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves and that our first duties are to each other; that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. And so in the last two years it’s really felt like rediscovering this treasure that I had inherited from my grandmother, from my mom, from my culture, from my own Muslim faith, and Quakers have helped me reconnect with that in such a beautiful way.
- 1) Does Quakerism encourage both individualism and collectivism? If so, how? If not, does it value one over the other? Why?
- 2) Aiham believes that, “our first duties are to each other; that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers.” What are some examples of when you saw this in action within your community?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.