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

The Trump Administration has created a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services. This office was set up to hear complaints from medical professionals who have felt pressured to provide medical services that conflict with their religious beliefs. Roger Severino, head of civil-rights enforcement at HHS, said in an article in the Atlantic: “the state should not force people to go against their integrated view of humanity.”

This was met by considerable alarm by many civil-rights advocates. The very article title in the Atlantic read: “When the Religious Doctor Refuses to Treat You.” The article cited some horror stories:

One 2000 case involved a New Jersey labor-and-delivery nurse named Yvonne Shelton, whose Pentecostal faith meant, to her, that she could not participate “directly or indirectly in ending a life․” In 1995, Shelton’s hospital admitted a patient who was “standing in a pool of blood” and diagnosed with placenta previa. The doctor ordered an emergency C-section, and Shelton was told to scrub in to assist. But when she learned the procedure would terminate the pregnancy, Shelton refused to participate, delaying the procedure by 30 minutes, the hospital claimed. Shelton was fired after refusing another job within the same hospital.

[…]

In 2015, a lesbian couple in Michigan had a pediatrician decline to care for their six-day-old infant, Bay, because, as the doctor later explained to the couple, “after much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients.”

Now, I am a religious doctor. My faith is very important to me, and it gives me the strength to tend to very sick people in the ICU. At the same time, I can honestly say that there has never come a time when being a doctor has conflicted with my convictions. Though I am a religious doctor, I would never refuse to treat someone. Never.

Of course, it is not right to compel a healthcare provider to perform a medical procedure – such as an elective abortion – against their will. At the same time, we need to be very careful not to take this “conscientious objection” too far.

For instance, it would be absolutely wrong for me – as both a doctor and a Muslim, frankly – to refuse treatment to someone who contracted HIV from IV drug abuse because Islam prohibits drugs. That would be unconscionable. No matter how someone may have gotten sick, my job as a doctor is to take care of them. Period.

Being blessed to be a doctor or nurse – or any other health-related occupation – is something that can never be taken for granted. People place their complete trust in us – total strangers – to take care of them and be a force of God’s Healing power. We must take great care in focusing on the work to make them well. Period.

Imposing our own moral judgments and religious beliefs on the healthcare of others – even in times of life and death – is a dangerous slippery slope. I, for one, refuse to take this path.

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

The furor over the President’s detestable comments about Haitians and African countries continues. And it should. Such comments are not becoming of a high school student, much less the President of the United States.

His denial that he ever said such a thing only makes the situation worse, and it is baffling how so many politicians in his Party are deafeningly silent in response to what he said.

And what our President should realize is that we in the West owe a lot to those “s***hole countries” in Africa.

The President is a businessman, and he has inked many, many deals in his professional career. Those deals were signed on paper. And while paper – as we know it today – was first invented in China, it’s ancient precursor, papyrus, was widely used in Egypt well before paper was invented. And, of course, Egypt is one of those “s***hole countries” in Africa about which the President spoke.

His business deals – worth all those millions – needed a lot of mathematics, right? Well, guess what? Mathematics were invented in Africa, where all those “s***hole countries” are found.

While the President’s latest physical showed him to be in great health, if he were to ever need surgery, he would need to thank the ancient Egyptians for that as well. That is because the earliest known surgery was performed in Egypt in 2750 BC. That’s way before surgery came to Norway, and once again, Egypt is in Africa – where all those “s***hole countries” are located – according to Mr. Trump.

The oldest existing university in the world is not Harvard, not Yale, not even Oxford. No, it is the University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD. This University is in Fez, Morocco. That’s in Africa, by the way, where all those “s***hole countries” are located.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, humanity itself first came from Africa. As reported in The NY Times:

“We did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa,” said Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of two new studies on the fossils, published in the journal Nature. “We evolved on the African continent.”

This is only a small list of all the contributions that Africa has made to the history of the world, to the history of the West. We in the West owe a great deal to Africa and all of her “s***hole countries.”

If only our President knew this; if only our President understood the history of the world; if only our President knew the truth of things, maybe he wouldn’t have said the vile things he said. If only…

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

All throughout my life – in various months of the year, in various mosques across the world – I have heard, in beautiful and melodious Arabic, the story of Christmas:

AND CALL to mind, through this divine writ, Mary. Lo! She withdrew from her family to an eastern place and kept herself in seclusion from them, whereupon We sent unto her Our angel of revelation, who appeared to her in the shape of a well-made human being. She exclaimed: “Verily, ‘I seek refuge from thee with the Most Gracious! [Approach me not] if thou art conscious of Him!” [The angel] answered: “I’ am but a messenger of thy Lord, [who says,] `I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'” Said she: “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me? – for, never have I been unchaste?” [The angel] answered: “Thus it is; [but] thy Sustainer says, `This is easy for Me; and [thou shalt have a son,] so that We might make him a symbol unto mankind and an act of grace from US. And it was a thing decreed [by God].

At one time, I did not understand the Arabic being recited. As I became older, however, God opened up to me the doors of Arabic understanding, and my admiration and love for the passages in the Qur’an about the birth of Christ only grew in strength. The verse quoted above is only a small part of a longer passage that details the birth of Christ and the scandal it engendered among the people at the time. And that passage also includes the miracle of a newborn Jesus speaking to the people in defense of his mother:

[But] he [Jesus] said: “Behold, I am a servant of God. He has vouchsafed unto me revelation and made me a prophet, and made me blessed wherever I may be; and He has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live, and [has endowed me with] piety towards my mother; and He has not made me haughty or bereft of grace. “Hence, peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and [will be upon me] on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!”

These verses occur in the 19th chapter of the Qur’an, aptly named “Mary,” and it isn’t the only place in which the story of the birth of Christ is recounted. There are dozens of verses in the Quran that speak about the miracles of Jesus (5:110), the Last Supper (5:113-115), among many others. His mother, the Virgin Mary, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Christ, in fact, is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than the Prophet Muhammad himself.

If only more people knew this truth about Islam and its deep love and honor for Jesus Christ. If only more people knew that belief in, and love for, Jesus Christ and his mother is an essential aspect of Islamic faith. If only more people knew that no devout Muslim would dare attack and malign Jesus Christ or his mother as some purported followers of Christ have done with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them both).

In our world today, in which the rhetoric against Islam and Muslims is so toxic – frequently for craven political or financial gain – Christians and Muslims need to come together on areas in which they agree: a common love for Jesus Christ. Ideally, Christians, Muslims, and Jews should be the closest of religious communities, for they have so much in common as the living spiritual children of Abraham.

Yes, there are savages (“barbarian” is too nice a word) who claim to act in Islam’s name that commit horrific crimes against Christians. These satanic monsters betray both the letter and spirit of Islam, which teaches deep love for Jesus Christ and respect and honor for his followers.

Peace was upon me on the day when I was born,” the infant Jesus says in the Qur’an.

As we approach December 25, the day Christians celebrate this momentous occasion, I pray that this very same peace reigns over our world and over all of us who live on it. I pray that this very same peace reigns over all communities of faith, so that the forces of hatred and division do not win the day. And I pray that this very same peace reigns over our country in the months and years ahead, and that we emerge an even greater people than we already are.

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

I know people mean well. I realize they don’t know whether or not I celebrate Christmas and do not want to offend me. I figure that they believe “Happy Holidays” is safe and encompasses all faiths – or no faith at all. I get it.

As a Muslim at Christmas, however, it’s still a little annoying.

Now, as a Muslim, do I celebrate Christmas as a religious festival of the birth of the Son of God? No. That does not mean that I don’t try to spread cheer and joy with others during this time of year.

My family and I send Christmas cards to our friends and neighbors, and we love receiving them in return. We give gifts to our friends, neighbors, and our children’s teachers. And we appreciate receiving them as well.

And we enjoy telling everyone “Merry Christmas” (although I like better the “Happy Christmas” greeting our British cousins give each other).

There was one time in my life – while I was suffering from the fires of fanatic stupidity – when I believed it was “forbidden” to say “Merry Christmas” to others, that doing so would betray my Muslim identity and faith. Then, I grew up.

Now I understand that there is nothing wrong – as a Muslim – with saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone I meet. There is nothing in that statement – “Merry Christmas” – that betrays my Muslim identity and faith. In fact, saying “Merry Christmas” is wholly consistent with my Muslim faith.

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Spread Peace to one another.” Saying “Merry Christmas” is nothing if not spreading peace. It is being a good neighbor, a good friend, a good colleague, and a good citizen. Islam demands that I be all of those people, and so what could possibly wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”?

“Happy Holidays” just doesn’t do it for me. It’s so vanilla and devoid of meaning. Yes, in this time of year, there are multiple holidays bunched together in very close proximity. Thus saying “Happy Holidays” conveys three greetings at once: “Happy Thanksgiving,” and “Merry Christmas, and “Happy New Year.”

Still, to me at least, it does not seem heartfelt. When I say “Merry (or Happy) Christmas,” I am saying: “I pray you and yours have happiness and joy this Christmas.” It is a sincere prayer to God for peace for you. What could possibly be wrong with this?

“Happy Holidays” feels to me like “Salamu alaikum” in the Muslim world. When I was there in 2006, everyone said “Salamu alaikum,” which means “Peace be with you.” But it had no meaning. It felt like “hey,” or “yo,” and it betrayed what it really means to pray for peace for someone else.

Of course, I do not doubt anyone’s sincerity when they say “Happy Holidays” at all. Like I said in the beginning, I know they mean well. For this Muslim, however, during this time of year, I like to say “Merry Christmas.” It just feels right to me, and it’s a small way that I can help spread peace in a world that is tragically devoid of it.

From my family to you and yours, a very Merry and Happy Christmas.

I’d be honored if you joined me on Twitter @GodFaithPen and on Medium.

In the Name of God, The Everlastingly Loving and Caring

As is so typical in our day and age, controversies die with the next news cycle. It seems like an age ago that our President was under fire – rightfully sofor retweeting anti-Muslim videos from a British nationalist group.

One of these videos depicts a Muslim man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, implying that Muslims somehow hate the Virgin Mary and all of Christianity. This is completely untrue. Islam has such high regard for both Jesus and Mary.

The Virgin Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Quran. She is the only woman to have an entire chapter – Chapter 19 – named after her. The story of her birth is recounted in beautiful eloquence in the Quran:

“A woman of (the House of Imran) prayed: ‘O my sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow (the child) that is in my womb to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!’ But when she had given birth to the child, she said: ‘O my sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female’ – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to – ‘and the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.’” (3:35-36)

The Quran details how she took a special secluded place in the Temple where she worshiped God devoutly:

“And mention Mary in the Book: when she withdrew from her people to a place in the East and secluded herself from them…” (19:16-17).

It was there that the Angel Gabriel appeared to her to give her the good news of the birth of her son, Jesus:

“…We sent her Our spirit, which appeared to her just like a man. She said, ‘I take refuge from you with the Benevolent One, if you are conscientious.’ He said, ‘I am only a messenger from your Lord, to give you a sinless son.’” (16:17-19)

Moreover, God singles out the Virgin Mary as the ideal example of the believer:

“And God cites as an example of those who believed…Mary, the daughter of Imran. She maintained her chastity, then we blew into her from Our spirit. She believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures; she was obedient.” (66:11-12)

So, the Virgin Mary is very special in Islam. Therefore, while it is true that we Muslims do not believe in making statutes of any sacred figure, destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary is absolutely unacceptable. Period.

In fact, our Scripture specifically tells us not to insult others’ religious beliefs:

[Believers], do not revile those they call on beside God in case they, in their hostility and ignorance, revile God. To each community We make their own actions seem alluring, but in the end they will return to their Lord and He will inform them of all they did (6:108)

Therefore, that Muslim man in that video was betraying his faith by destroying that statue, which is insulting to so many Christians around the world who – like we Muslims – share in the honor and veneration of the mother of Christ.

In the end, it makes me very sad that there is a perception that Islam somehow denigrates Christianity or teaches Muslims to hate Christians. This is so untrue. In fact, the Quran says that Christians are the ones closest in love to Muslims:

…you are sure to find that the closest in affection towards the believers are those who say, ‘We are Christians,’… (5:82)

Our common love for Jesus and his mother should be that bond that brings Muslims and Christians together. Our common belief in the sanctity and beauty of the Virgin Mary should be that bond that should remove animosity between us. Our common worship of God, the Lord of all, should be enough to prevent anyone from tearing us apart.

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.