Creating Our Own Lives

Sarah Khasawinah

Active Freedom

Last Updated

July 15, 2016

Original Air Date

July 15, 2016

“When I’m running, I feel like I’m actively expressing gratitude.” Sarah Khasawinah works in the Senate to improve policies for older Americans. Her work requires focus and discipline, something that she also finds in her spiritual practice of running.


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Sarah Khasawinah is a Health and Policy Fellow with the American Political Science Association. She was born in Chicago, and raised in Missouri.


SARAH KHASAWINAH: My name is Sarah Khasawinah. I am 27 years old. And I was born in Chicago, raised in Missouri, and went to school along the East Coast. And now I live just outside of Washington, D.C.

In elementary school, we had running as an exercise in school. And I never finished in the first half of the class, in fact, I always finished in the last half of the class. And at that point thought I probably wasn’t very good at running. And I’ll focus instead on school, because school is something I could study hard and do well. I rediscovered running again later in high school because I was doing a program that required us to do action hours. And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild if I signed up for the cross country team?’ Because in my head I had never run more than a mile, and I wasn’t even sure if I could run more than a mile. So three miles just seemed like a journey.

I almost always came in last on my team, not usually last in the whole meet, but definitely in the back of the pack. [laughs]. And one time during a really, really particularly hot day, I was way in the back of the pack, and the referee, I think, thought everybody was gone, and when he saw me, he was like, ‘Oh, well, have a nice day.’ [laughs]. I was like, ‘I am.’ And that I think may have been one of the turning points where I realized running is something that I enjoy. I enjoy the journey, and I’m having a nice day every time I’m running.

My faith makes me disciplined. I pray five times a day. Year round, I’m basically waking up somewhere between 5:00 to 6:00 in the morning. So, I’m awake, and when I wake up, I do the ablution ritual to wash up and get ready for prayer. And then I pray. And then I’m up, my mind and my body are awake. So, the next best thing to do is run. So I think that from the discipline aspect of my faith, faith improves my running, and running improves my faith. It gives me an opportunity to meditate and to reflect, and think about verses from The Qur’an, and to actively practice gratitude, which is a big component of Islam.

In the Qur’an multiple times, God puts thankfulness up there after believing in God, and being thankful is constantly one of the most important things. And when I’m running, I feel like I’m actively expressing that gratitude, first of all, by being able to use my limbs and the faculties that God gave me to run. And also I’m outside, and when my strides are comfortable, and I feel like nobody’s looking sometimes I’ll sort of spread my arms out and just think, ‘Thank you, God, this is beautiful.’

The point in which I think a run begins to feel truly spiritual is after that first hour when I think about verses from he Qur’an about how God takes barren fields and blesses them with rain, and brings them back to life. And in the Qur’an that analogy is often used to compare how humans are, the cycle of life. And how we will be brought back to life. So then I begin to think about my own mortality. And that’s an often reoccurring thought for me on runs. After I’ve emptied my brain of all of the regular things that I need to think about, and to clear my mind and it just happens organically. Without even thinking about it. And there’s a little period in between usually where I’m just thinking of nothing. And at that point I feel like I’m just receiving what’s around me.


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