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Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God, The Extremely and Endlessly Loving and Caring

Here we go again. It appears that tropical storm Maria is likely to become a hurricane and ravage the very same islands which her cousin Irma attacked just a few weeks before. And the very same islands, which already lost dozens of lives from Irma, are at risk of further damage and loss of life. It is still too early to know if Maria will threaten the mainland United States.

No one ever wants to face a hurricane, or any other natural disaster. I would not wish it on anyone, and the images of the devastation wrought by Irma and Harvey were terribly heartbreaking. At the same time, these disasters present humanity with a choice: do we let our altruism shine, or do we look the other way with callous disregard?

Herein lies the “opportunity” of a hurricane, and thankfully, humanity has shown itself to be able to rise to the challenge.

The stories of people helping each other in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma abound. In Houston, when other houses of worship were closed, the mosques of Greater Houston opened up their doorsfor the victims of Harvey. The same goes for Hurricane Irma, where Muslim groups were among many who helped tend to those affected by the storm. In Atlanta, a number of mosques served as shelters for those fleeing the wrath of Irma.

We live in a time where there is war being waged across the world. There is a full-on ethnic-cleansing campaign of Muslims in Myanmar. And, unfortunately, extremist savages continue to attack innocent civilians. All this makes it easy to become pessimistic about the fate of humanity.

The Quran tells the story of the angels who asked God, when He announced he was creating our father Adam, why he would make someone who:

will spread corruption on [the earth] and shed blood? (2:30)

Unfortunately, throughout human history, we have been true to this prediction of the angels.

Yet, situations like the hurricanes of late summer 2017 show ourselves, and our Creator, the beautiful potential of humanity. The numerous stories of people putting themselves at risk to help complete strangers is truly heartwarming. And it reminds me that, if we simply resist the selfish part of our nature, we can rise to the occasion and become better than even the angels.

In the Name of God, The Eternally and Extremely Loving and Caring.

“Really???!! That’s awesome!!! It’s going to be amazing!!!”

That is, universally, my reaction when someone – himself giddy with excitement – tells me that he is going on the Hajj. As you may remember, the Hajj is the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must do if she is physically and financially able to do so. It is a series of rituals that re-enact the ancient story of Abraham, Ishmael, and Hagar.

My wife and I had the honor of performing the pilgrimage more than 14 years ago, and the memories are still fresh in our minds. It was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had, and its lessons have had a profound effect on me ever since.

As I write this, millions upon millions of pilgrims from all over the world are descending upon the holy precincts of Mecca, looking forward to having their own profound spiritual experiences. Many tears are being shed, and so many are exclaiming – at the top of their lungs – “Here I am, O Lord!”

The Hajj is the culmination of what can be described as the Muslim “high holy days.” They are the first 10 days of the last month in the Islamic calendar. It is a time of tremendous blessing, and Muslims are encouraged to increase their spiritual activity and connection with God. In fact, it is recommended that Muslims fast these 10 days.

At the very least, Muslims are encouraged to fast the ninth day of this month (which is Thursday August 31), corresponding to the highlight of the Hajj itself: standing on the plain of Arafat. Here, pilgrims stand alone before their Lord, beseeching His grace and His mercy. They lay bare all that they have done, and they come to His door looking for atonement. And, when the sun sets, every pilgrim is forgiven: all of their sins are erased, and they are born anew.

For me, it was the most powerful and the most beautiful part of the entire pilgrimage experience. I came away with a brand new friendship with God that I never had before. And I have leaned on that friendship so many times since. I would not have survived without it.

For those not on the pilgrimage, the tenth day of this month is a festival, called Eid-al-Adha, or “Festival of the Sacrifice.” This will occur on Friday September 1. During this Festival, the second major Muslim holiday, families get together and celebrate by performing special prayers in the morning and then a variety of fun activities afterward. Muslims are also encouraged to sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat to the poor. Here in America, most people (including me) pay a charity to do so on their behalf.

This whole beautiful time is why I am so excited for anyone who goes on the Hajj. I remember how wonderful the experience was, and I’m so happy that they are going to experience the very same thing. These Muslim “high holy days” are some of the best of the entire year, and everyone – whether they are there in Mecca or not – can bask in the warmth of their blessings.

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

August 21, 2017 is a special day: a good deal of the United States will witness a total solar eclipse. It hasn’t happened in decades, and it won’t happen again in decades. Unfortunately, I have to work at the time, but I pray I will still be able to witness the special event.

Throughout history, both solar and lunar eclipses have been met with awe, trepidation, and amazement. I imagine the same will be with this current solar eclipse.

All across the country, there will be solar eclipse viewing parties galore, and I saw signs in St. Louis a week ago warning of the heavy traffic. Muslims will no doubt be a part of those gatherings.

Many American Muslims will mark the eclipse with a special ritual prayer. It hearkens back to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself, who marked a solar eclipse during his life with this ritual prayer.

In fact, the eclipse happened to occur the same day his son had died, and many of his companions remarked that the eclipse was in response to this event. The Prophet, however, denied the eclipse had anything to do with this terribly sad event:

“The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of God; they do not eclipse because of the death of someone, and so when an eclipse occurs, pray and invoke God until the eclipse is over.” (Bukhari)

Still, many Muslims will follow the tradition of the Prophet by performing this special ritual prayer on August 21. It is nice opportunity to commemorate a celestial event with a beautiful way to adore the Maker of said celestial event.

However you choose to mark this special heavenly occasion, it is something that will be an amazing sight to see and an amazing thing to remember for years to come. Let us try not to miss it.

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

Racial hatred is a fire, and we saw the results of such hatred this past weekend, when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr rammed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring dozens of others. It was a heinous terrorist attack on American soil.

Killing another human being is no small thing, and thus the amount of hatred – the amount of fire – in one's heart must be tremendous to carry out such a terrible deed. And the reason I call it a fire is because the first to exhibit racial hatred was Satan, who was created from fire itself according to the Quran:

God said: "What has kept you from prostrating yourself [to Adam] when I commanded you?" [Satan] answered: "I am better than he: You created me from fire, whereas You created him out of clay."

According to the story in the Quran, after God created Adam, he commanded all of the Angels and Satan to prostrate themselves to him. All followed the command of God, except Satan, who refused out of arrogance. Yet, it wasn't just any type of arrogance; it was the arrogance of racial hatred.

Satan was the first racist, and scores of human beings have followed in his evil footsteps.

Thus, we must recognize that to hate someone for the color of his skin, or the sound of his native language, or the place of his origin is nothing short of Satanic, and we must always be on guard against such tendencies. If we let this fire take root in our heart, it is liable to consume our entire soul.

And to protect ourselves from the fires of racial hatred, we must always remember that we are all one, and no one is better than another. We must pour this water of humility whenever Satan tries to spark the fires of racial hatred in our hearts.

For me, as a Muslim, I must remember the word of God that says:

People! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:13)

I must remember the word of my beloved Messenger who said:

All of you are from Adam, and Adam was from dust.

I must constantly keep these noble words reverberating in my heart, so that Satan will have no ability to kindle the fires of racial hatred in my heart. Every religious tradition has similar beliefs and directives, and each of us must turn to the Beloved Lord for help and protection against the fires of racial hatred.

What we saw this past weekend, culminating in an horrific act of terrorism that took the life of an innocent American citizen, was the result of the fires of racial hatred burning out of control. We must always be on guard against such animus and rage, and we must work just as hard to fight the fires of racial hatred with the cooling waters of God's Love. And, in the end, Love will win out.

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

The situation was ripe for disaster, and indeed, disaster struck.

A 20-year-old man intentionally rammed his car into a throng of anti-racist protesters, killing one and injuring dozens of others. This happened amidst a rally by White Supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia where hundreds of counter protesters also showed up to voice their opposition.

While scenes like these have occurred in multiple places around the world, it is shocking to see the same happen here in the United States. I am deeply pained by what happened, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and all of the Commonwealth of Virginia tonight.

This latest attack comes in the wake of a bomb attack at a suburban Minneapolis mosque, which occurred on August 6, 2017. Suspects are still at large in that attack.

The President issued a statement in response to today's attack:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.

Yet, what should have the President called this terrible event?

Terrorism, plain and simple.

There are some who have done just that, including former homeland security adviser for George W. Bush, Frances Townsend:

https://twitter.com/frantownsend/status/896497039558799360

But more need to do the same.

What happened in Charlottesville and Minneapolis was terrorism. People may be splitting hairs about the dictionary definition of the word "terrorism," but it is as clear as day: the people behind these heinous acts of violence were seeking to terrorize their victims. It is wanton violence against the innocent. That's terrorism.

Let's think about this for a moment: had this murderer in Virginia been a Muslim; if there had been Muslims who firebombed a church, do you think there would have been this extended debate being played out now on cable news about whether or not this is terrorism? Absolutely not.

Well, we need to call a spade a spade. For far too long, the word "terrorism" has been associated only with violence against the innocent by Muslims. And make no mistake about it, what happened at Westminster Bridge, as an example, was a clear act of terrorism.

But so was what happened in Minneapolis last week and Charlottesville today. The double standard has to stop.

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


Let me say this up front: extremist savages have no regard for the sacred: An ISIS suicide bomber attacked the holy city of the Prophet Muhammad, Medina, in 2016. This year, Saudi authorities foiled an attack on the holy city of Mecca. And most recently, gunmen killed two Israeli policeman before being killed themselves in a gun battle in the Temple Mount.

This has set off a crisis in the Holy City, where Friday prayers were canceled, and now a tense standoff exists after metal detectors were installed at the Aqsa Mosque compound, which threatens to kill off the already dying Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

So, yes, I get it: extremists don’t care about sacred places, and they will kill wherever they can get away with it. Still, this latest standoff in Jerusalem has deeply saddened me, and it makes me ask: why can’t we let sacred places just be sacred? Indeed, the Temple Mount has seen its share of violence before, and there have been both Muslims and Jews who have been victims of the violence. But, why does this have to be so?

A Very Special Place

The Temple Mount, or Al Haram Al Sharif, as it is known to Muslims, is a very special place and is sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. At that place stood the Temple of Solomon, dedicated to the worship of the One True God. At that place, King David ruled with glory and was given the beautiful Psalms. At that place, Jesus Christ ministered and performed miracles as the Messiah. And at that place, the Prophet Muhammad stood in prayer to God leading all other Prophets. 

It is indeed a very special place, and as a Muslim, all of these Kings and Prophets are special to me. 

And I am not blind to the fact that there still exists an intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I am not blind to the fact that there still exists a military occupation. Still, why can’t the Holy Places be somewhere Jews and Muslims can go to worship without harassment? Why can’t the Temple Mount be somewhere gunmen can’t attack, or security forces can’t fire tear gas and shoot rubber bullets?

Even in pagan Arabia, the Holy Sanctuary of Mecca was a place where war could not take place. Despite its being defiled with idols and idol worship, bitter enemies could stand next to each and worship in peace. You couldn’t even pick a leaf off a tree or hunt an animal within the confines of the Holy Sanctuary. These rules exist to this day, which is why an attack in Mecca by ISIS would be such a repugnant thing to Muslims the world over.

Why can’t the same thing – despite the ongoing conflict – exist today? Jews who visit the Temple Mount should not be harassed when going to pray at the Western Wall. Muslims wanting to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque should not have to be subjected to “security measures” and random closures of the mosque on Fridays to all men younger than 50. The word “Jerusalem” means the “City or Abode of Peace.” It needs to become one again today.

Am I being naive? Perhaps. But, it really disturbs me when I see the Holy Lands – whether in Mecca, Medina, or Jerusalem – defiled by the blood of the innocent. God blessed those lands, and the places of worship dedicated there are supposed to be places where God’s children can come – in full peace and security – and praise God’s name and worship Him freely.

It was like that in Jerusalem at one time before. I pray to the Most Beautiful Beloved Lord that it becomes like that again.

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

Photo by Reem Abdelhafez

On July 2, my wife and were blessed to witness a truly extraordinary event: the wedding of our friends’ children. While the venue was beautiful, and the hall packed with numerous dear friends, that’s not what made it extraordinary.

The parents of the bride were Americans of Mexican and Indian descent. The parents of the groom were Americans of Syrian and European descent. As we walked into the beautifully laid out landscape for the ceremony, a Mexican Mariachi band serenaded us.

The attendees were immigrants and American-born. They were native Arabic, Urdu, and English speakers. Their ancestries hailed from all over the world. They were Muslim, and they were Christian. And they all came together to witness a Muslim wedding ceremony.

The ceremony itself was a thing of beauty. Two young people exchanging vows of love and making promises of commitment. The sermon, conducted by an African-American Imam, talked about the love and mercy, from the Heavens above, that God places between husband and wife. And the ceremony finished just in time before the pouring rain came down.

But that rain also brought a beautiful rainbow, a perfect finish to a perfect Islamic wedding ceremony and a sign of Divine pleasure. After dinner and prayer came the speeches by the father of the bride and the father of the groom. They were both heartfelt and heartwarming. The emotion was palpable, and it was an honor for my wife and I to be among the hundreds who got to listen to those beautiful words of peace, love, and friendship.

And no wedding is complete without music and dancing, and we were all pleasantly surprised by an Arab music group performing live “Dabke” music. I joined in with the group, jumping and stomping my feet, and shared in the joy of all who were there. The wedding was truly one of the best I have attended in a very long time.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence, it is natural to reflect over what our nation is, who our people are, and what kind of nation we want to be. There are some who are trying to define our nation narrowly, in terms of ethnic and religious make up.

Yet what I witnessed on July 2, in the far Southern suburbs of Chicago, is the truth about America: e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” While we differed in skin tone and language, heritage and religion, we all came together as one – during a holiday weekend – to celebrate the marriage of two young American Muslims, who are embarking on a new journey of life together.

That is what makes America already great. That is what America always has been. That America is the one towards which we should always be striving.

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

Independence.

This is what we are celebrating as a country on July 4: our independence from the British Empire in 1776. And it was good that we became independent from the Crown: we were able to chart our own destiny in history and make one of the greatest, if not the greatest, country the world has ever seen.

Along the same lines, if we can be independent from most people and things, it would be laudable. If we do not need other people or things for our livelihoods, our shelter, our sustenance, our stability, our happiness, and our inner peace, that would be amazing. It is likely what most people are trying to achieve in their lives: independence from everyone and everything.

Yet, there is One from Whom we cannot be independent, even if we think it to be so: the Lord our God.

We depend on God for the very air we breathe; the water we drink; the food we eat; and the life we live. We depend on God for the safety we enjoy, the love we get from those close to us, the happiness we enjoy with friends and family, and the smiles brought to our lives from every day situations.

I know there are plenty who don’t believe in God and disagree with my contention. I respect their stance and beliefs. But, as a believer in God, I truly believe in our utter dependence on God. And the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can avail ourselves of His Power and Grace.

God is so very close to us, as the Quran says:

And if My servants as you about Me, behold I am near: I respond to the call of the caller whenever he or she calls unto Me. Let them, then, respond to Me and believe in Me so that they might follow the right way (2: 186)

The Quran also says:

Now, verily, it is We who have created the human being, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein (50:16).

Thus, it would behoove us to strengthen our bonds with Him and take advantage of a friendship that can never disappoint. The Lord has the dominion of the heavens and the earth in His hands, and thus it is common sense to me, as a believer, to avail myself of that dominion and seek whatever I need from Him directly.

And the most beautiful thing is, the more we ask of Him, the more He loves it. And the more we are grateful for His bounty, the more He will give us:

And [remember the time] when your Lord made [this promise] known: “If you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly give you more and more…” (14:7)

Yes, we are celebrating our independence on July 4, and one of the greatest things about America is her “fierce independence” and that of her people. And most time, true independence is laudable. But total dependence on God is neither a flaw nor a weakness. It is, rather, the greatest thing we can achieve in this worldly life.

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

Ramadan ended on June 25, and I cannot lie, it is very cool to be able to drink coffee in the morning again, and drink coffee in the afternoon when the sun is still out, and eat dinner and still have several more hours of daylight to enjoy, and, and, and. While the fast of Ramadan was about piety, reflection, humility, discipline, connection to God, spiritual purification, recitation of the Qur’an, among many other things, it was also about gratitude:

God desires that you complete the number of days required and that you declare His perfection for His having guided you aright and that you render your thanks unto Him. (2:185).

Gratitude.

As soon as I sipped my Venti Cinnamon Dolce Breve Mocha on June 25, the day of Eid, I was extremely grateful. Grateful that I no longer had to fast, but also grateful that I was blessed to finish the month and partake in its (truly) difficult ritual. And now, with the fast and its difficulty still fresh in my mind, I am grateful for every cup of coffee that I can have with the sun still shining brightly.

The challenge will be staying grateful for every cup of coffee that I have when the sun is still shining brightly for the rest of the year. For, that is the point: we have to guard against taking the blessings we enjoy for granted. We have to remain grateful for everything with which the Lord blesses us, and that gratitude should move us to worship Him, get closer to Him, and help those who are not as fortunate as we.

And do you know what the best part is? That gratitude protects us from the punishment of God:

What purpose does God have in punishing you if you are grateful and believe? And God has always been ever responsive to gratitude (literally: thankful) and all-knowing (4:147)

Our gratitude should be the main driver of our worship of God, not the fear of His punishment, even though His punishment is severe and must be feared. And in response to that grateful worship, our Lord is thankful in return. That is part of what the fast of Ramadan teaches us, and it further confirms the truth that our God, the One Whom we worship and adore, is truly an Awesome, Beautiful, and Beloved God.

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

We are in the final week of Ramadan, and I won’t lie: it’s been hard. The days have been long, the nights have been short, and the weather has been hot.

For me, it’s not the hunger or thirst (yes, I can’t even have water). Rather, it’s the sleep deprivation.

By the time I’m done eating and enjoying being able to eat again, it’s 10 pm. Then I still must do some night vigil prayers before going to bed for work. So, naturally, I’m getting less sleep. During “regular” days, I drink coffee to make up for it. Can’t do that now. And so, I am frequently dragging, especially in the mid to late afternoon when there is still a good 3-4 hours left before sunset.

Yup, it’s been hard.

But, you know what? That very moment when I break my fast; the very moment I put that date or piece of candy or drink that glass of milk, the feeling is amazing. Not just because I can now eat and drink again. But because of the sense of accomplishment: I did it. I fasted 17 hours today and made it safe and sound.

Now, of course, those who are sick or physically unable to fast are exempt. But for those of us blessed with the physical ability to fast and choose to do so, the sense of happiness at the end of the fast is truly indescribable. It is as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was reported to have said:

“The fasting person has two occasions of joy: one when we breaks his fast, and the other when he meets his Lord.”

During Friday prayers two weeks ago, I heard an amazing thing about the fast: it’s a marathon, and it is incumbent upon us to finish the race. I can relate to that because I ran the 2010 Chicago Marathon in honor of my late daughter. At the end of the race, I was exhausted: my legs were killing me; I couldn’t sit down from the pain; my feet were on fire. But, it was one of the happiest moments of my entire life.

The same is with the fast: throughout the day, I am tired, fatigued, and many times, cranky. But, when it’s all over, and I can eat again, it is an amazing feeling. The Qur’an talks about this:

 “…He [God] desires that you complete the number of days required and that you extol God for His having guided you aright and that you render your thanks unto Him.” (2:185)

When it’s all said and done this coming Sunday, there is such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and happiness  – not just that the fast is over, but that I was blessed to be able to complete another year of fasting for the sake of the Lord. And then, I look up to the sky in eternal gratitude for this blessing.

So, yup, it’s been hard, there is no doubt about that. But – in the end – I believe it is totally worth the pain.