Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Eternally and Everlastingly Loving and Caring

While it really doesn’t make it any better, knowing something about why the monster Omar Mateen did what he did is still important. And as investigators continue their search for answers, one thing seems to be becoming increasingly clear: 

…intelligence officials and investigators say they’re “becoming increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little — or maybe nothing — to do with ISIS.

That’s according Dina Temple-Raston, reporter for NPR. Speaking on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, she told host Scott Simon:

He was bullied as a kid in school. He had well-documented behavioral problems. He was aggressive toward other kids. As he got older, things didn’t get much better. He took steroids, he jumped from job to job, he had a history of domestic violence. And all these things together fit into a mass shooter’s profile.

The fact that he called several people claiming allegiance to ISIS may be because, as the NPR piece states, he wanted to “garner more publicity for his deadly attack.”

What’s more, the attack may be related to his confused sexuality. Temple-Raston added that investigators are leaning towards this narrative:

Mateen may have had some problems with his sexuality, maybe even had some latent attraction to men. And he lashed out at the gay community as a result.

Other published reports suggest the same thing: 

“This is a hard one to disentangle, but there are three strands,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The dominant strand is that he hates gays. Then, there is his personal rage. He doesn’t like his life at all.

“The third strand is Islamist ideology, which is the weakest of the three,” said Potok, whose Alabama-based organization tracks extremists. “It’s almost like an afterthought.”

The FBI initially touted the theory that U.S.-born Mateen was motivated by his support of the notorious Islamic State, which as part of its radical ideology has expressed a visceral hatred for gays. But the portrait has turned far more complicated in the course of a week, with experts now saying Mateen appeared to be driven by a dangerous mix of bigotry, self-loathing and, perhaps, mental illness.

The investigation, of course, is ongoing. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this crime had nothing to do with terrorism and ISIS. Omar Mateen fit the typical profile of a mass shooter, and this time, he happened to be Muslim. 

Does this make what happened any better? Any less tragic? Does this make it hurt any less?

Absolutely not. 


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

In my column reacting to the horrific Orlando shooting, I wrote:

It is not important that the site of the massacre, Pulse, was a “gay nightclub.”

What I meant was that all life is sacred, and that the sexual orientation of the victims was immaterial. They were fellow Americans who were gunned down and senselessly murdered. I then came across this article by Tim Teeman, senior editor and writer at the Daily Beast:

Please, no more ‘thoughts and prayers,’ unless they come with a vocal recognition of this as an attack against LGBT people in an LGBT bar.

Please, no more talk of the Pulse as a ‘nightclub’ without the word ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ attached to it.

Please, no more talk on this being an “attack on all of us” unless LGBT people are accorded the same rights as everyone else.

Wow. I have a little better understanding now. It is important to mention that Pulse is a gay nightclub because, as Mr. Teeman puts it:

Pulse was a club where LGBT people went to feel comfortable and have a good time; LGBT clubs exist because gay people need places to congregate because they were not welcome or comfortable elsewhere. They should be a ‘safe space,’ a retreat, breathing space, refuge, dance paradise, fun house–not somewhere to be hurt or murdered.

And to have this place savagely attacked like it was makes it even more tragic than it already is.

To me, the fact that the victims of the massacre were, and are, gay is immaterial. Like I said, they were my fellow Americans – my brothers and sisters – who were viciously murdered. I still believe that the attack on Pulse is an attack on all of us. But, Tim Teeman is absolutely right when he writes:

Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people.

Yes it was, Mr. Teeman. As a Muslim, as an American, and as a fellow human being, I am disgusted to the core because of it. Thank you, Sir, for your insight.



In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I wanted to – and planned on – writing about the fast of Ramadan, and how it brings freedom to the soul. I wanted to write about the discipline the fast inspires, and the spiritual renewal that Ramadan brings each year we are blessed to observe it. I can’t do that, however. Not after the outrage and horror of Orlando.

At least 50 people were savagely murdered at a nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, who was shot and killed by police, has been identified as Omar Mateen, who was from Fort Pierce, Florida. Another 53 were injured, and I pray for their survival and full physical recovery from this tragedy. I do not know if they will ever fully get over what just happened emotionally.

It is not important that the site of the massacre, Pulse, was a “gay nightclub.” It is not important that the shooter apparently pledged allegiance to the savages of ISIS. Does it really matter? Does the sexual orientation of the victims make any difference? Does the ethnicity or religious background of the shooter make any difference? No, it does not. Hate is hate, evil is evil; no matter the criminal, no matter the victim. This shooting attack is an an attack on all of us, and I am sickened to my very core.

The coming days and weeks will be very difficult. They will be difficult for the families of those who lost their lives, who will struggle with the pain of the loss of those whom they loved. They will be difficult for the victims who are blessed to still be alive, who will be picking up the pieces of their shattered lives. They will be difficult for the great city of Orlando, which will be mourning the terrible tragedy of this horrific attack. They will be difficult for all Americans, and especially of those in the LGBT community, who will – rightfully so – take this attack in Orlando personally.

I stand with you in solidarity, in brotherhood, in peace, in friendship, and – most importantly – in love. As President Obama said in his remarks to the nation:

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts—friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

The President also made this prayer:

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love.

Amen, Mr. President. Amen.



In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring 

Our world is just a little bit darker today. Our world is just a little bit dimmer. Our world has lost a true Hero. Our world has lost Muhammed Ali.

He was so much more than just an accomplished boxer. He was so much more than a talented athlete. He was our conscience, the conscience of a nation that needed his voice more than it knew. 

We still need that voice today. Speaking at a rally in Louisville about his decision to resist the draft, Ali said (courtesy of Dave Zirin of the Nation):

I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. 

His stand did cost him dearly. But he didn’t care. He chose his integrity over his title, and his bravery was an inspiration for generations to come. I know that I could not be as brave as he was. He puts me to shame, and makes me admire him even more. 

What’s more – and what must be remembered again and again – was that Muhammad Ali was an American Muslim. Not only does that further demonstrate the fact that America has always been great, but it should serve as an inspiration for American Muslims in our day and age. 

Today, so many people – including candidates for President of the United States –  want to otherize us and our community. They want to demonize us for the sins of our criminals.  They want to marginalize us and make us feel like outsiders in our own land. 

But just like Muhammad Ali, we must never internalize these sentiments. He was confident in his faith and his Americanness to stand for what he believed in. So must it be with us. 

“The Greatest of All Time” has finally gone back to the truly Greatest, the Lord of our world and all other worlds. I am confident that he is boxing right now in Heaven, “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee” as never before. Rest in strength and might, Sweet Prince, and may the grace and mercy of our Lord envelope you for eternity. 


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I first learned of this news while reading a tweet from writer and activist Mona Eltahawy.

A private hospital in Egypt has been shut down after a 17-year-old girl died from complications of female genital mutilation:

Suez governor Ahmed Al-Hitamy shut down a private hospital in the city after a young girl died on Sunday while undergoing a female genital mutilation (FGM) procedure, which is illegal according to Egyptian law.

Mayar Mohamed, 17, went to the hospital with her twin sister to undergo the surgery. Her sister survived, but Mayar suffered from complications during the procedure, which caused severe bleeding that eventually led to her death.

As I was reading this, all I could say to myself was a common Arabic Muslim phrase used to express shock: “La Hawla Wa La Quwwata Illa Billah,” or “There is no power or movement except with God.”

The statistics surrounding this barbaric practice in Egypt (the country of my ancestry) are astounding:

Egypt was among the countries that witnessed a fast decline in the prevalence of FGM rates from 1987 to 2015. According to a UNICEF report, it ranked sixth among countries that practice FGM worldwide, with an overall percentage of 85% among girls and women aged between 15 to 49 years old.

A government survey released earlier in August 2015 showed that 61% of girls between 15 to 17 years of age underwent FGM during 2014, compared to 74% during 2008.

While it is heartening that the numbers are decreasing, even one girl is way too many. As a father of four daughters, I am sickened and outraged.

Contrary to what some may say, this practice is not about Islam. It is a cultural practice that transcends religion and has affected millions of women and girls around the world. As a physician, I can say with utmost honesty and sincerity that this barbaric procedure has absolutely no health benefits whatsoever. It is truly mutilation, nothing less. As a Muslim trying to live a righteous life, that some would justify it using Islam offends me even more.

In fact, it is Islam that motivates me to speak out against this barbarism. It calls to mind this verse of the Qur’an, which condemns female infanticide:

And they ascribe daughters unto God, Who is limitless in His glory – whereas for themselves [they would choose, if they could, only] what they desire for: for, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received [and debating within himself]: “Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it], or shall he bury it in the dust? Evil indeed is whatever they decide!” (16:57-59)

I am sure that the parents subjecting their daughters to this horrific practice do not mean to hurt them. They just do not know any better. That is why, along with government and health officials, NGOs, and activists, religious leaders need to be more forceful in their condemnation of this practice and education of the people that there is nothing sacred about this practice at all.

All of us, for the sake of God and these girls, must say in one loud voice:

Leave. Our. Girls. Alone


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I saw a similar article come through on my smartphone, and my disbelief prompted me to look up the story:

Iran and Saudi Arabia have failed to resolve a row over the Hajj pilgrimage and Iranian citizens will not travel to Mecca this year, Tehran says.

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati blamed “obstacles raised by the Saudis”. Saudi Arabia blamed “unacceptable” Iranian conditions.

Of course, I do not know the details of the negotiations. And it is no secret that Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds over larger geopolitical issues in the Middle East. Nevertheless, politics should never get in the way of Hajj.

The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that every able-bodied Muslim should make to the holy city of Mecca. For every Muslim, it is the trip of a lifetime. Many people save up for their entire lives to make the journey. For me, it was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had, and the memories are as fresh as they were back in 2003, when I made the Hajj.

Thus, I understand the likely devastation that the Iranians who were slated this year to make the Hajj feel at this moment. I would feel the exact same way if I was not allowed to visit the holiest place on earth because of, in all reality, a political dispute.

While the comparisons are not equal, it does remind me of when the pagans of Mecca prevented the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from making a minor pilgrimage to Mecca during his life. In fact, the treaty that resulted from this dispute, and its breach by the pagan Meccans, eventually led to the conquest of Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying the Saudis are like the Pagan Meccans. What I am saying, however, is that Iran and Saudi Arabia should think about the pilgrims, not politics. They need to sit down again and resolve their differences. We are talking about preventing believers from visiting the House of God. No dispute, no disagreement, no misunderstanding is worth it. Politics should never get in the way of Hajj. I pray the Iranians and Saudis come to their senses.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring 

During our vacation in Paris last summer, there were some things about French life and culture that I found refreshing: the slower pace of life, the insistence on taking time out to enjoy a simple meal, the lack of cell phones when people sat and dined together. I believe we should do more of the same here in America.

One thing about France I found particularly interesting was their concept of laicite. Officially, it is separation of religion from government, in which, of course, I also believe. In practice, however, it is much more than that: it is a seemingly militant form of secularism that has been used by some to persecute some French minorities, especially its Muslims. 

Under the guise of laicite, some Muslim schoolgirls have been harassed for wearing skirts that were deemed “too long,” and some schools stopped offering non-pork meal options for their Muslim and Jewish students because “being French” includes eating pork.

I hope this never comes to our shores. The fact that I do not eat pork or drink alcohol, as a Muslim, does not make me any less American. There is nothing inherent in “Americanness” that forces me or anyone else to compromise our religious belief or moral standards. The French would do well to learn this from us Americans. 

This Fall, in what all indicators point to being a brutal election, what it means to be a “true American” will likely come up as an issue. And there will be some in our country who will point to this person or that, or this faith or that, as not being “sufficiently American.” We must resist this as a people.

The Muslim woman who wears a headscarf as a symbol of her devotion to God; or the immigrant who comes to our country to forge a better life; or the refugee fleeing terror and tyranny to start over in America are all fiercely American stories. And each of those stories adds to the beautiful cacophony that is America and has always made America great, since its very beginnings.

It is this greatness, and all those who died to preserve and protect it, that we come together as a people and celebrate this coming Memorial Day. Those fellow Americans who have chosen to serve sacrifice so much, some even their very lives, to make sure that I can live in this country free and fully American, safe from harassment because of my ancestry, or diet choice, or religious faith. On behalf of my family – and all other families across our country – I cannot thank them enough.

This country is so blessed: it is blessed with wealth; it is blessed with beauty; it is blessed with a wholesome goodness in its people; it is blessed with freedom. And this freedom extends to allow me to be true to my spiritual self and still feel fully American. This is partly why the savages around the world hate us, and it is largely why America has always been great. 


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

My friend and former Al Jazeera America co-host Wajahat Ali penned a hilarious piece in the New York Times explaining the Arabic word “Inshallah,” or “God-willing,” in the wake of the news that a college student was escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane for saying this word on his cell phone. Ali wrote:

Inshallah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning.

If you are a parent, you can employ inshallah to either defer or subtly crush the desires of young children.

Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?”

Father: “Yes. Inshallah.”

Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbor’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Yet, there is another slightly more serious side to Inshallah, but it is not scary in the least. Apart from the funny ways we Muslims use “Inshallah” today, as highlighted by Wajahat Ali, there is a spiritual basis to its widespread use, and it stems from this verse in the Quran: 

And say not of anything, “Surely I shall do it tomorrow”…save that God wills. And remember thy Lord when thous dost forget and say, “It may be that my Lord will guide me nearer than this to rectitude.” (18:23-24)

The story behind this verse is that the pagan Meccans came to the Prophet Muhammad with a set of questions to answer. He initially told them, “I will tell you tomorrow,” believing that God will send him revelation answering the questions. No revelation came for fifteen days, and the Meccans began to mock the Prophet (pbuh). Then, the verses answering their questions were revealed, along with the above verses reminding the Prophet to always invoke the remembrance of God. 

The message is simple: nothing happens in our lives without the will of God. We live and breathe the will of God, and whatever we want to do is always subservient to the Will of God. The Qur’an expressly says this in two places: 

But you cannot will it unless God, the Lord of all the worlds, wills… (76:30, 81:29). 

It is a constant reminder of the presence of God in our lives. It is a constant reminder that God is our Master, and whatever He wills is the ultimate mover and shaker in all of existence. And so, before I say I want to do anything, I always add “Inshallah” because, truly, if God doesn’t will it, then it will not happen. Now this does not mean that we as human beings do not have free will. Islam does not say that at all. Nevertheless, “Inshallah” reminds me to never forget God in all aspects of my life. 

And there is an exact Biblical corollary to this: “Thy Will Be Done.” Jesus Christ (pbuh) taught his disciples to say “Inshallah” in the Lord’s Prayer: 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Moreover, Jesus Christ (pbuh) also said something similar to “Inshallah” when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt….He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:39,42)

Thus, there is no reason to be afraid of “Inshallah.” It is a living legacy of two Prophets and two religious traditions, and it highlights how much we have in common rather than in distinction. In this day and age, we cannot let fear get the best of us. It will only lead us down the dark path of hatred and division.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I have always admired Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. I have always enjoyed his performances. Now, with the National Geographic series that he hosts, “The Story of God,” viewers get to accompany him on an amazing journey exploring faith from a variety of perspectives. And I argue that “The Story of God” is the best performance of Mr. Freeman’s storied career.

Thus far, Freeman has explored the Afterlife and Creation, criss-crossing the world in search for answers to many different questions, meeting interesting people along the way and allowing us, the viewers, to learn new things as well. Freeman explores various beliefs about the Apocalypse this coming Sunday, April 17. 

The thing that struck me right away about “The Story of God” was how well-made it was, how good the re-enactments were, and how expert the filming was. What’s more, I truly feel that I am accompanying Freeman along his journey, rather than being lectured to as a viewer, like many documentary films come across.

Although he deals with Islam a good deal in the series, given the negative press about Islam and Muslims today, I wish more was devoted to Islam and proper Islamic belief. That said, I did appreciate his statement that, after dealing with Muslims themselves, he understands that Islam wants people to live together in peace. And I agree with him when he said that, given all the negative media, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Still, thus far, the series is quite excellent, and it has given me a firsthand look at the practices and beliefs of other faiths, and it has taught me new things about Christianity and Judaism that I previously did not know or appreciate. What’s more, I also enjoy Freeman’s exploring the beliefs of the Mayans and ancient Egyptians, but not making it dry and boring like many previous shows about those civilizations have been. Kudos to both Freeman and National Geographic.

What I like most of all about this series is its showcase of the very many different beliefs of human beings. Yet, as Mr. Freeman himself said at the end of the episode on Creation, those differences should not divide us, but rather, it should unite us.

In a world where too many people, in the name of belief and religion, create havoc and destruction, we need a series like “The Story of God” to teach us about the faith and practices of others. And when we learn more about each other, we will be able to resist to those forces of savagery, in any faith, that seek to tear us apart.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

My wife and kids always keep me up to date on the latest hit songs. And it is no different with Lukas Graham’s hit “7 Years,” which is now #2 on the Billboard list in the U.S. As I listen to this very catchy song, I am immediately transported to when I was “20-years-old,” as Graham reminisces about his youth and childhood.

And immediately, my late daughter comes into my mind’s eye. I was, in fact, 22-years-old when she came into the life my wife (who was 20 at the time) and me. Before she was born, I was scared of having kids, scared of the responsibility of having to raise a child in this world. Yet, before I knew it, she came into our lives, and it was the most beautiful thing ever to grace our world.

I knew love before she was born: the love of my parents; the love of my grandparents; the love of my siblings and cousins; the love of my beautiful wife. Yet, I never knew pure Divine love until she came into my life.

She made everything beautiful; she brought everything joy. I still remember how she would ruffle all my notes I was studying for my medical school exams as I held her in my lap. I never knew I could love someone like I loved my baby, and I never knew the kind of love she would give me until she came into my life.

Then, I was 28-years-old, and she was diagnosed with her crippling disease, A-T. Immediately, I knew what was in store, but I shut that out of my mind. I made a conscious decision to live in the moment, enjoy each day with her, and not worry about what the future would bring. And each day was as beautiful as they could be, and the love she showed me was indescribable.

Then, I was 34-years-old when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Everything changed, and my wife and I went through the “new normal” of having a child with cancer: the chemotherapy, and the hospitals, and the doctor visits, and the complications.

I didn’t reach 35 before my Beloved called her back to His Garden.

And now, I am 41-years-old, and the pain of her loss still reverberates in my heart and in my soul. I am 41-years-old, and my heart still aches with pain whenever I think of her and how I can’t be with her anymore. I am 41-years-old, and the grief still bores deep within me, and it is ready to come out on a moment’s notice, such as when I heard this song.

And if God wills, “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old.” Yet, I know that my heart will not be ever be whole, even at that time. “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old,” and I will not stop thinking about her and how she showed me what love is all about. “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old,” and while I hope I will not “think the world is cold” and the children I have now will “warm me” and “hold me,” my heart will always be sobbing over the loss of my child all those years before.

I commend Lukas Graham for such an amazing song, one that is so relatable to so many people, including me. While the song made me sad, it also helped me bear the grief that has welled up and needed to come out at this time. And for that, my Beloved, I am eternally grateful.

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