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Common Word, Common Lord

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

There is no question that Jerusalem is at the center of Jewish spiritual life and consciousness. It is not a matter of “if,” but “when,” that Jerusalem will one day be officially recognized by the world as the capital of Israel. Political reality dictates this.

Political reality also dictates that Jerusalem is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state, and while some are trying to erase Arab presence in Jerusalem, this city is inextricably tied to Palestinian life and consciousness as well. Add to that the fact that all three Abrahamic faiths lay claim to Jerusalem on a spiritual level, and it is no surprise that the issue of Jerusalem is so contentious.

Yet, why does Jerusalem have to be a “zero sum” city?

As a Muslim, Jerusalem is very precious to me. In this city, the great Kings and Prophets David and Solomon – two of my absolute favorites – reigned in greatness and basked in God’s glory. In this city, Jesus Christ walked and preached and performed miracles by God’s permission and grace. And, in this city, my beloved Prophet Muhammad prayed to God along with David and Solomon and Jesus and all the other Prophets, may God’s peace and blessings be upon all of them.

I would never deny that Jerusalem is “for the Jews,” just as I would never deny that Jerusalem is also “for the Christians and Muslims” as well. Jerusalem can be a city for all. Jerusalem must be a city for all. And the conflict that Jerusalem suffers is so painful for me to see, because its holy soil should never be tainted by the blood of innocents.

The picture above is from Jerusalem, and it was carved by the Ottomans. Many thanks to writer Mustafa Aykol for posting the photo on Twitter. It reads, “There is nothing worthy of worship but God, and Abraham is the friend of God.”

It is Abraham that brings all of us – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – together as our father. It is Abraham, and his staunch and undying belief in the One True God, that has given birth to all of our faiths. It is Abraham who should make us see that we have more in common than we have in distinction.

And it should be the memory of the beloved Abraham which should remind us what Jerusalem actually means: “an abode of peace.” If everyone in the Holy Land finds the courage to make it so, by the will of God, it will become exactly that.

In the Name of God: The Everlastingly Loving and Caring

But even by recent standards in Egypt,” said The NY Times in a recent article, “where militants have blown up Christian worshipers as they knelt at church pews and gunned down pilgrims in buses, the attack on Friday was unusually ruthless.

The article was referring to the Nov 24 attack by militant savages, who gunned down over 300 worshipers, including children, at a Sufi mosque in the Sinai. As an American Muslim of Egyptian descent, it disgusted me to the core.

And so did the attacks on Christians in their churches by similar militant savages.

Yet, why was the attack “unusually ruthless”?

Is attacking Christians “usual” in Egypt? Is ISIS killing Christians in a church “usual ruthlessness” by “Egyptian standards”? Again, as someone who is of Egyptian ancestry, who still has family in Egypt, there is nothing “usual” about killing Christians or Muslims in their places of worship.

Killing anyone in Egypt is totally unusual and completely unbecoming of the beautiful people of Egypt that I know and love.

The bottom line is this: the savages behind this latest attack, just like the ones behind the previous ones, are just that, savages. Our Prophet called them the “dogs of Hellfire.” They are ruthless all the time, and it should come as no surprise that they would attack a mosque in Egypt.

We can never come to think that killings just as the one at the Sufi mosque are “usual.” They are not, and they never will be.

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

The almost daily revelations of truly horrific allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, and even sexual assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein are breathtaking in their scope. I applaud each and every one of the women for coming forward. May the Lord give them strength and comfort and healing.

As a father of four daughters, I would not wish this type of abuse on anyone else’s child. Yet, this repeated pattern of abuse speaks to an underlying arrogance and delusion of invincibility that should serve as a cautionary tale for all: The Lord suffers no rivals whatsoever.

Power is in God’s hands alone. He gives it to whoever He wills and wants. And it is a trust from God bestowed on that person. Anyone who abuses this power will be taken to task.

Scripture says:

Oh no! The human being becomes rebellious when he sees himself as self-sufficient (96:6-7)

Whenever anyone does what Mr. Weinstein is accused of doing, he clearly believes that he can get away with it. He fears no consequences, and sees the world is at his feet. Yet, the very next verse says:

There is no doubt [however] that to your Lord will be the ultimate return (96:8)

There will be a reckoning. This arrogance will be met with the reality that the Lord suffers no rivals.

Some may be exposed in humiliating fashion in this life, like Harvey Weinstein and others. At least Mr. Weinstein has a chance to redeem himself. Yet all those who get away with it in this world will surely face humiliation and justice in the next. And at that point, it will be too late to make amends.

I do not write this to wag a self-righteous finger at Mr. Weinstein and bask in my “holiness.” No. This serves as a reminder to me and all others who may be given authority on this earth: tread lightly with any power given to you. It is a trust, and if that power goes to your head, you would be well-served to remember: the Lord suffers absolutely no rival.

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

I sat next to a physician colleague from Texas last week at a leadership development conference in Seattle. As part of the discussion in the course, I mentioned that I was an ordained minister. He came to me later and told me that he was a Christian, and he latched on to those words, which I said truly in passing.

While I admit that I was a little scared to say it, I did tell him that I am Muslim, and I got ordained so I can legally officiate marriages here in the State of Illinois. There is no formal clergy in Islam, and thus I needed some sort of ordination so that the marriage license can attain legitimacy.

I also mentioned to him that my ordination was nothing compared to truly ordained ministers, who spend years in study and learning to earn official degrees, such as a Masters or Doctorate in Divinity. I am nothing compared to them, and I will never pretend to be like they.

We then started talking about how blessed we are to be physicians. I shared with him that, in the Islamic tradition, saving one life is like “saving all of humanity.” To be able to do this on a daily basis, be an agent of God’s healing power, is a gift for which I can never truly thank God enough. I also said that the only way I can begin to approach true gratitude is to show up every day at work and be the best physician I can be.

He then said this to me: “Then, we are brothers.”

I took this very simple statement to great heart, and I made a connection with him from that moment that lasts to this day.

Our country needs more moments such as these, between people of every faith community, every ethnic origin, and every race. Division is so easy to foment; making a Villian out of every other person is something for which our brains have been hard-wired for eons. The “fight or flight” response is so innate in our nature, and it is very easy to fall back on this response whenever we feel fear.

And most horrifically, this fear and hatred can lead to mass murder, as we all have shockingly witnessed in Las Vegas.

But, we are human beings. We are capable of greatness beyond fear and hatred. We have the potential to be greater than even the Angels, who worship God constantly and perfectly in His Holy Presence.

The leadership development course taught me that, to be an excellent communicator, I need to resist this “fight or flight” response and truly work at trying to understand the view of the other person with whom I am engaged in conversation. The course continually encouraged me to remember the humanity of other, even if we do not like or even respect him.

This is truly Prophetic wisdom and teaching. I absolutely loved the course, and I am so very grateful I took it. The lessons learned in these two short days were extremely valuable, and I am trying to implement these lessons in my personal and professional life. I pray to the Lord that I am successful in doing so.

Yet, you know what the best part of the two days was in Seattle? It was meeting my brother from Texas.

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

When you meet him, you are immediately struck by his humility, his kindness, and his awe-inspiring intelligence. Yet, you do not realize that you are standing next to a giant. A true giant, in every sense of the word.

Such was Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who passed away and was laid to rest last week after a long battle with cancer.

I knew him as a member of the Chicago-area American Egyptian community, and he was nothing but kind, warm, and gentle. His impact on me has been profound, and it was such an honor to be counted among many of those who knew him.

His impact on the world, however, will last millennia, if not for eternity. He taught law at DePaul University here in Chicago for over 40 years. More than this, though, he was truly the father of the International Criminal Court and of international human rights in general.

Almost single-handedly, he led the effort to investigate the tens of thousands of war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and it was his effort that led to the prosecution of dozens of war criminals, including Slobodan Milosevic himself.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune:

“Cherif was a dreamer, but a practical dreamer,” said Doug Cassel, who co-founded DePaul University‘s International Human Rights Law Institute with Bassiouni in 1990. “He believed sooner or later the time would come when the world would see the wisdom of what he was advocating and he was right. He was advocating the use of international criminal law and international criminal courts to deter and punish the worst abuses against human rights.”

During his tenure, he investigated war crimes in Bosnia, worked behind the scenes for Middle East peace, monitored human rights in Afghanistan and helped craft Iraq’s new constitution after setting up the tribunal that tried the country’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Humanity will forever be indebted to him, and we pray for the salvation of his soul and for the comfort of his loving family.

And while it should not matter, in this day and age and in this toxic climate, it must be mentioned: Cherif Bassiouni was a Muslim. Just before he died, he wrote that his life was:

dedicated to the following three values represented by the following three quotes:

“If you see wrong, you must right it: with your hand if you can, or with your words, or with your stare, or with your heart, and that is the weakest of faith.” – Prophet Muhammad

“If you want peace, work for justice.” – Pope Paul IV

“The world rests on three pillars; on truth, on justice and on peace.” – Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel

While there are those who make lucrative livelihoods out of demonizing Islam and Muslims, trying very hard to marginalize us and our community, there are countless American Muslims who quietly live their lives serving others, contributing to the current and continued greatness of this country.

Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni was one of the American Muslim community’s best and most shining examples. May our Precious Beloved Lord bring him eternal rest and peace.

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.