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Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Mericful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

At the end of Ramadan, I make this prayer unto the Lord:

Beautiful, Beloved Lord our God on High!
Hallowed be Thy Name in the Heavens and the Earth!
Good is all that You do each and every second in our lives.
Limitless are You in Thy Glory, Beautiful Lord on High!

You have blessed us with another month of Ramadan, O Lord
You have given us the chance to purify ourselves and our souls
Beautiful Lord, Beautiful God, we have tried our best to live up to You!
Yet, sadly, Lord we can never do Your Grace its due justice.

And so, our Beautiful Lord our God, please bless us

Bless us as Your month of Grace comes to a close
Bless us as we eat and drink while yet the sun shines
Bless us as our normal daily routines come roaring back to life
Bless us as we try to learn the lessons of the fast we just completed.

Beautiful Lord, Beautiful God on High!

Thank You for all Your Beauty and Your Grace!
Thank You for all the times we happily broke our fasts with food and drink!
Thank You for all the plenty with which You have blessed us!
Thank You for all the bounty You have provided for us to give in charity!

Lord our God, let us be a force for good in this world!
Let us shake off the covetousness of our souls so that we can help those in need!
Let us learn the lessons of this past Ramadan so that we are better because of it!
Lord our God, do not let the only thing with which we come back from Ramadan be hunger and thirst.

And most important of all, our Beautiful, Beloved Lord our God: Forgive us.
Forgive us when we frowned at having to fast until late in the night
Forgive us when we cringed at the heat of the sun and shuddered at not being able to drink
Forgive us when we sighed and gasped out of weakness throughout those long days of summer
Forgive us for not praying and reciting and magnifying Your Name more than what we did this year.

It is only because of You that we have any good in our lives.
It is only because of You that we can be a force for good in this world.
It is only because of You that we can even fast in the first instance.

And so, Beautiful Lord our God, thank you.
And please bless each and every one of us perpetually until that glorious Day when we will meet You once again.

In Your Most Holy Name, O Lord. Amen.

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Lord

One of the major focuses of Ramadan – aside from fasting and the Qur’an – is prayer. Every night, Muslims are encouraged to stand and perform night vigil prayers for extra devotion to God. This is in addition to the five daily ritual prayers, which continue each day, throughout the year. It is a very nice aspect to Ramadan, and it is a ritual practice I wish I can continue after Ramadan is over. Yet, whether the prayer is one of the obligatory or devotional ones, one thing about the ritual prayer that is so amazing is its ability to bring people together.

Recently, my brother-in-law and I engaged in a profound – and frequently heated – discussion at a family gathering. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a penchant for such…”passionate” debates. No surprise, the discussion was about the two “nuclear” topics: religion and politics. Yet, after it was all over, he and I both stood next to each other as we prayed the sunset ritual prayer together.

At that moment, we stood –  shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers –  in the Divine Presence with as much humility as we can muster. Gone was the heated exchange and (as for my part) animosity that we may have had during our argument. During that sacred time, we stood and bowed and praised God together, in perfect harmony.

That is one of the greatest aspects of the ritual prayer, especially when it is done in congregation. Whatever our differences outside of the ritual prayer, when we pray together, we all stand as one – brothers and sisters together – before our Creator in His Beautiful Presence. In all likelihood, that is one of the benefits of congregational ritual prayer: to help bring the believers together and remind them – despite all that may make us different – we are still one community of brothers and sisters all living life in the worship of our Beloved Lord.

Our world would be a much better place if we would remember more often the ritual prayer and how – with all the diversity of the individuals – we as people can still come together and worship God in peace and harmony. Would that we would take that open reminder to the remaining aspects of our lives.

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Good and Merciful

Make no mistake about it: it is hard. Very hard.

Ramadan is in full swing. Because of Islam’s sacred lunar calendar, the month of fasting will be during the summer for the next decade, and this means that Muslims must fast from about 3:30 AM until 8:30 PM. Normally, I love the long days of summer, despite their heat. Even after coming home at 6PM from a long day’s work, I still have two and a half hours of daylight during which I can play and frolic with my family.

I love the warm weather, though I can do without the oppressive heat and humidity. It is nice not to have to wear heavy jackets everywhere; not having to drive through snow, and slush, and ice, and salt; to walk out a feel the nice, warm breeze on your face.

Yet, all those great things about the summertime suddenly became dreadful on July 10, the day Ramadan began. Fasting, you see, means forgoing food and drink (even water) from dawn to sunset. Now, after I get home at 6PM, I can’t have dinner…for two and a half hours! If I “play and frolic” in that nice, warm sun while fasting, I can get even more thirsty and hungry than I already am. Gone are the days of playing golf early in the morning, before my kids wake up, because it will make me even more thirsty during the day. The lunches that are served at work are now a distant memory. No more 3PM cup of coffee, which has become one of my favorite pastimes.

Make no mistake about it: Ramadan in July is hard. Very hard.

Yet I do it anyway because…because simply I love God so much. For my entire life, He has been so good to me; He has showered His love over me and has granted me comfort with it. He has blessed me with many great things, and He has always shown me a Beautiful Face, despite the ugliness that I frequently show in return.

Thus, when He asks me to get a little hungry and thirsty for Him, how can I say “no”?

Now, of course, if one is ill or cannot physically perform the fast, he or she does not have to do so and can either make up the day later or feed a hungry person instead. Pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt from fasting.

For those who can and do fast, however, Ramadan accomplishes many things: it allows one to contemplate over the blessings of food and drink, blessings which many people are not fortunate enough to have at will. It allows one to fix his or her character flaws, for when one is fasting, he or she must behave in a moral manner as well. It allows one to re-connect with the Divine and His Word, for each night in Ramadan, Muslims gather together to pray special night vigil prayers. It is a month of tremendous spirituality, tremendous discipline, tremendous faith, and tremendous blessing, and tremendous mercy.

But, being in July, it is one of tremendous physical hardship. Yet, whenever the heat of the day gets searing; whenever the throat becomes parched; whenever the pangs of hunger becomes unbearable, it is important to remember that it is the Beloved who has asked for this outward act of piety. Because He loves us so much and envelops us with His love each and every day, we willingly forgo food and drink in the long days of July. How can we say “no”?

In the Name of the Infinitely Good and Merciful Lord Our God

I am an American, whose ancestry hails from Egypt. I have quite a bit of family that still lives there. Both my and my wife’s parents frequently go back and visit, and my mother – in fact – is vacationing in Egypt right now. Thus, it is with great interest that I have been watching and following the events in Egypt over the past two years. Truly, I can’t avoid it, for the topic of Egyptian politics always comes up at family gatherings!

Yet, over the past several weeks and months, the things which I have been reading and watching have given me great pause…and cause for great dread. On June 30, mass protests are planned to demand for the ouster of Egypt’s President, Mohammed Morsi, and his Islamist government. Counter-rallies are also planned. Both sides are gearing up for confrontation.

Already, there are numerous reports of clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi activists.  One side calls the other “infidels”; the other side retorts by calling them “occupiers.” Tension is very thick in the air.

Thus, I can only do what I can: I appeal, in the Most Holy Name of God, to both sides to follow the better angels of their nature and reject violence.

No, I do not live in Egypt; I am not suffering through the struggles of an economy in shambles, a lack of public safety, a lack of political and social stability. I do not know what it is like to live as an average Egyptian. I pray that things in Egypt get better for everyone, so that every single person can live and thrive in peace and dignity. Yet, the stage is set for a particularly bloody Sunday, and thus I appeal to both sides to embrace peace.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the beloved, has said:

Spread peace, feed the hungry, keep up family ties, pray when others are sleeping, and you will enter Paradise safe and secure.

Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), the beloved, also has said:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

The common thread in both of these great messages and Messengers is the exhortation to peace, and so I urge both sides to follow it.

Violence will not solve anything: it will only cause more pain and suffering. Every person killed is someone’s son or daughter; or brother or sister; or father or mother. Their deaths will only add to the suffering of a nation that has already suffered so much for so long. Every major religion and every major philosophy agrees that the sanctity of human life is paramount. Thus, I urge everyone in Egypt to remember this on June 30.

I have visited Egypt on numerous occasions and am in frequent contact with friends and family there. These divisions are an aberration. Egyptians do not do this. I pray everyone involved in this difficult time in Egypt’s political history to err on the side of peace.

Murder is not Godly; murder is not holy; murder is ugly and evil, Satanic in its underpinnings. Resist and come together as one people, trying to make its country better.

Beloved, Beautiful Lord: Protect Your people in Egypt and send down Your Peace so that brother does not kill brother, and sister does not kill sister. Beloved, Beautiful Lord: Send down Your Peace on every nation on this earth, so that the tyranny and stain of violence can be purged from the face of the earth. May Your Peace reign supreme forever and ever, Beloved Lord On High.

In Your Most Holy Name I ask this, Amen.

In the Name of the God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

In the May 22/29 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, there was a quite significant article published that piqued my interest as a critical care specialist. It was a randomized trial which compared early vs. late placement of a tracheostomy tube.

Many times, patients are admitted to the ICU with severe illnesses that require long stints on the ventilator, or breathing machine. Quite commonly, critical care physicians make a clinical judgment as to who will likely need long-term ventilator support. In these patients, a surgical procedure called a “tracheostomy” is performed.

This is a procedure where a small incision is made in the neck and a plastic tube is then inserted into the trachea, or windpipe. The ventilator can then be connected to that plastic tube. It is much more comfortable, and it allows for easy disconnection from the ventilator without worrying about respiratory compromise.

It has long been debated among us critical care physicians whether placing such a tube early on in the course of a prolonged critical illness is beneficial. Studies have been done trying to answer this question, and it still has remained unclear. This most recent article seemed to give an answer…and it was one that surprised me.

The study authors, based in the UK, concluded thus:

For patients breathing with the aid of mechanical ventilation treated in adult critical care units in the United Kingdom, tracheostomy within 4 days of critical care admission was not associated with an improvement in 30-day mortality or other important secondary outcomes. The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

This means that they found very little benefit to placing a trachesotomy tube early on in a patient’s critical illness. Yet, the key phrase – from a spiritual perspective – was the last sentence: “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

That’s doctorspeak for: “We doctors are not God.”

For many reading this, this clearly goes without saying. Yet, there are some in my field that think otherwise. We must always remind ourselves – and science has proven this – that we are not omniscient or omnipotent. That’s why I am reticent to answer questions such as, “How long do I have to live, doctor?” or “How long do you think it will take for me to get better?”

I have no idea.

Now, my experience and scientific research can allow me to make an educated guess. But, it is just that: a guess. The medical field, especially critical care medicine, has kept me honest. There have been many a patient who, when I first examined them, I was certain were going to die and subsequently lived and walked out of the ICU.

And, unfortunately, there have been patients who I thought would do well and did not. So, when I’m asked a question that causes me to speculate about the future, I give a cautious, measured answer because – and I have to be honest with myself and the patient – I simply do not know for certain.

I tell the questioner: “You know, that’s a difficult question to answer,” but I try to give my best guess. And in my experience, I have found that patients and their families appreciate the honesty. I remember once when, before even a diagnosis was made, an ER physician told a patient who had a spot in his lung: “You have six months to live.”

As a result, he was clearly dejected by the time I saw him. I said, “Hold on…we haven’t even made a diagnosis.” And he went on to live many months after that initial meeting. I will never do something like that because there is no way I could know something like that for certain.

Bottom line, just as the study says, “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.” In fact, you can insert any outcome into that statement and be telling the truth. We can try to guess, but we can never know anything for certain because…we are not God.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

The attack at the Boston Marathon is truly personal for me. I was blessed to finish the 2010 Chicago Marathon, in honor of my daughter who died from cancer the year before. I remember the sheer elation, despite being in tremendous pain, of being able to finish the race and cross the finish line in regulation. That medal is one my most prized material possessions.

Thus, whenever I see, or hear about, or read about any marathon, my heart is warm with joy. To learn that someone maimed and murdered innocent people who came out to cheer on complete strangers running a race, it has left a deep, searing hole in my heart.

Whoever is behind the attack – whether it be followers of a twisted mutation of a great revealed religion; or anti-government extremists; or bloodthirsty murderers – the result is the same: innocent life was taken in a most senseless and barbaric manner.

And so I send out my prayers to Boston: that the Precious Beloved shield this great and beautiful city (which I was blessed to visit 2 years ago) from any more vicious attacks; that the Precious Beloved send down His Undying Mercy to those victims who have suffered injury or loss from this tragedy; that He grace every single community with safety and protection from all who seek to cause harm; that He protect us from the fires of hatred, that are already burning, which led to this attack, and those fires of hatred that may rise up as a result of this attack as well.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with the city of Boston and her beautiful, glorious people during this dark time of pain and loss.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with us all as we mourn this horrific and terrible tragedy.

Although I know that I could never qualify to run a Boston Marathon, on this day, I am proud to say that I am a Boston Marathoner.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This Sunday, billions of Christians around the world will celebrate what is the most important holiday of the Christian spiritual calendar: Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the central theological tenet of the Christian faith. As a Muslim, I will not be participating in Easter commemorations, per se. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the day means absolutely nothing to me.

Muslims also believe in and revere Jesus Christ. Not as God or God Incarnate, but he still plays a very important theological role in Islam. Yet, more than that, as a Muslim, I can see past the differences in belief between my Christian sisters and brothers and me and focus on the overarching theme: the victory over hatred and evil. And why did he win? Because right is might.

Jesus’ preaching raised the ire of many an enemy, and they sought to silence his – according to them – “dangerous ideas” by crucifying him. Yet, Jesus was doing nothing wrong. He was following God’s will and teaching what God commanded him to do. Moreover, what he taught was not dangerous at all: it called for a greater adoration for God and the attainment of a higher spiritual level. And when his enemies raised their objections, Jesus did not stop. He continued doing what he was commanded to do, because what he was doing was right in every way.

Thus, when they sought to kill him, he ultimately won by being resurrected after death (according to Christians) or raised up before crucifixion (according to Muslims). Still, the theme is the same: right is might.

This same theme applies, in fact, to all of the Prophets’ stories, including the Prophet Muhammad. In each instance, they did what God commanded them to do, despite the ire of their enemies. And all of them, to a tee, were saved by God when their enemies tried to destroy them and their missions. It is as God has decreed:

“God has thus ordained: ‘My apostles and I shall most certainly prevail.’ Verily, God is powerful [and] almighty.” (58:21)

That is because right is might, and God is always on the side of right. So many times in this world, it seems that might is right. Yet, the story of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and others shows that the reality is just the opposite. And the lesson we, their followers, should learn is that we must always strive to stay on the path of what is right, as best as humanly possible. It is not always easy to do, and there are many times where we will fail in that task. But, we must try the best we can.

And when we do, I know that God will be there to help us.

A most blessed Easter to all my Christian sisters and brothers and their families.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful

I join the rest of the world – Catholic and non-Catholic – Christian and non-Christian – in congratulating the Catholic Church on electing their new Pontiff, Pope Francis I. May the Lord our God guide him to all that is right and good in all of his actions. I congratulate my fellow Americans who are Catholic on the election of their new Pope, and I pray for them the very best.

It is quite interesting that the new Pope is a Jesuit, and that this new Pope took on the name of the head of another Catholic Order, the Franciscans. I pray that this sense of unity and tolerance permeates all communities of faith in the days, weeks, and years to come. I was honored to witness his announcement, and I was happy that a Jesuit became Pope. I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, and I was amazed by how wonderful of teachers they are. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the men who take on the tremendous challenge of being members of the Society of Jesus.

As a Muslim, who worships the very same Lord our God, who venerates and honors our Master Jesus Christ, and who loves and honors his mother, I pray that this same sense of tolerance that the new Pope has shown spreads between our two faith communities. We may differ in our theologies, but we are still brothers and sisters in Adam, upon whom be peace. We may differ in how we worship, but we still – nevertheless – call upon the very same Deity as our Lord and Sustainer. We may look at Christ in very different ways, but we still both love and honor him nonetheless.

Indeed, I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, but I still would be blessed to be a member of the “Society of Jesus,” by which I mean a world society in which the principles of Jesus Christ – and all of God’s Prophets – are followed and implemented. Indeed, Christ’s principles are the very same of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the Sermon on the Mount could have just as easily been given by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as it was by Christ (pbuh).

I pray that – with the election of a new Pope, Francis I – our two faith communities come together and work for the common good; to champion the rights of the less fortunate, as Cardinal Bergoglio was known to do; to work together to bring peace, prosperity, health, and wealth – both material and spiritual – to all of the world’s people. I echo the words of God, as revealed in the Qur’an, to the new Pope on this day of his election:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works. Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

Congratulations to all of the world’s Catholics on the election of their new Pope. God be with him, and you, and with us all. Amen.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Given that is the time of year for love, sort of, I had blogged about a particular song, “Lullabies” by singer/songwriter Yuna (a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf, by the way). I wrote about how the song reminds me of someone who wanted to “go away” with the Lord but then decided not to, only to regret the decision later.  I had concluded that:

we should never let go of the Beloved, who is truly our “First Love.” He loved us first, and one of the greatest manifestations of this Divine Love is that He gave us life when we were dead. Thus, we cannot help but love Him in return. And we must love Him first, for He loved us first. Thus, He is always our “First Love.” And we should never let Him go.

Yet, say – for whatever reason – someone does let go of his “First Love”? Say, for whatever reason, someone forsakes the path of God and takes his own? Say, for whatever reason, someone decides not to walk with God, but rather walk with someone or something else? Does God go anywhere?

Absolutely not.

The Lord always remains there, waiting patiently for the person to come back to Him. That is part of His Beauty; that is part of His Mercy; that is part of His Grace. So, even though I see that song’s narrator as lamenting the decision to forsake the Lord and His path, and as the song says:

Like lullabies you are,
Forever in my mind.
I see you in all,
The pieces in my life.
Though you weren’t mine,
you were my first love.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t come back. Yes, I said we should never let Him go in the first place. Nevertheless, for those who have – for whatever reason – they can always come back. The Lord will not go anywhere. He will always be there. His love will always endure, always be strong, always be there to comfort and soothe.

That is why He is such an Awesome God. That is why He is so worthy of worship. That is why He is so Wonderful a Master. His Name be praised for ever and ever, Amen.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

No, it’s not the “Muslim Christmas.” I have never put lights on my house, placed a tree in the family room, and exchanged gifts. Nevertheless, it is a very happy day for me and Muslims all around the world: the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, or Maulid un Nabi, as it is known in Arabic.

In the Islamic calendar, it is the 12th day of the month of Rabi al Awal, and it will occur later this month. Now, the puritans, literalists, and fundamentalists insist that celebrating this day is “innovation,” or bida’h. They rail against Muslims commemorating this day, because the “Prophet never celebrated his birthday.”

Indeed, it is not recorded that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ever celebrated his birthday, that’s true. Yet, as a Muslim, how can I not be happy about the Prophet’s birthday? On that day, the Lord manifested His love for me in one of the most profound ways: sending me my guide in my life. On that day, the Lord blessed me with sending me His Emissary, to show me how to life my life in the best way possible. On that day, the Lord sent into the world His Last Messenger to take me out of the darkness into the light.

How can I not celebrate that? How can I not be happy about that?

All around the world, Muslims show their joy and happiness over the Prophet’ s birth in a variety of ways: some sing songs about him; others pass out candy and treats: in fact, in Egypt (from where my ancestors hail), there is a specific candy called “the Maulid candy.” And, yes, many hang lights in their houses and mosques.

In the Chicago area, there have been numerous celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday in which Muslims got together, shared sweets, and sang songs and read poetry commemorating and remembering the Prophet Muhammad. I attended one of these, and it was one of the most uplifting experiences I have had. I left with such an invigorated love for the Prophet Muhammad.

How can this be wrong?

In fact, it is this love for the Prophet that led me to publish my book of poetry, Noble Brother. In it, I tell the Prophet’s story entirely in poetry. I wanted to share how his life and ministry has shaped me, but in an entirely different way. And in it, I wrote about the day he was born:

A sacred union was ordained from Above
Two souls joined in dignity and love
A child was conceived by the blessed pair
But father passed away before he could see his heir

The burden was light for now widowed mother
Who has to carry child without comfort of father
A voice came to her in the dark of the night
Showing her palaces from afar with a glorious light

The light emanates from her womb which holds
A special child, about whom tales will be told
And the voice instructs her to ask the Only
To seek refuge in Him from both envier and envy

The glorious day comes and the star is shone
A glorious blessing from the Lord of the Throne
“He has come!” declares the follower from before
And expectations are high from places galore

Nobleman become father lifts up the child in glee
And declares to the world that “Praised is he.”
And now the time has come for all of the world
To worship the One and Only, our Most Precious Lord.

It is almost as if I cannot help but be happy about that day: for, on that day, the spiritual journey that led me to this place in my life took its first step: the birth of the man who would bring me my faith; the birth of the man who would show me how to truly live; the birth of the man who would show me my God.

No, the Mawlid is not an “official religious festival,” per se. Yet, still, that day is so important for Muslims all over the world, for their beloved Prophet was born on that day. How can celebrating this day be wrong?