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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

An Immaculate Event For This Muslim

She was alone, as she was wont to do, worshiping in the Eastern part of the Temple when a stranger entered into her presence. Startled, she immediately did what she knew best: turn to her Lord for protection.

“I seek refuge from you,” she told the stranger, “with the Most Gracious. Approach me not if you are conscious of Him!”

Yet, this was no brigand or criminal. He was a Holy Messenger, sent from the One on High, and he sought to assuage her fear: “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, who says: ‘I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'”

She was shocked at this news.

“How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, and I have not been an unchaste woman?” she asked in terror.

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The Angel, again, sought to assuage her fear: “Thus it is, but your Lord says: ‘This is easy for Me! You shall have a son so that We might make him a symbol for humanity and an act of grace from Us. And it was a thing decreed by God.'”

And thus, as everyone knows, Mary became with the child Jesus.

This story that I quoted here is not found in the Bible. I took it from the Qur’an: Chapter 19, verses 16-21. In fact, the story of the birth of Christ is all over the Qur’an, as is the birth of Mary herself:

When a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Lord! Behold, to You do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, You alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!”

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But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Lord! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.”

And thereupon her Lord accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth… (3:35-37)

In fact, it is this event that Catholics the world over commemorate in their Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. When I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, I would get that day off, and it was always welcome. But, I had always thought that it was a day commemorating the conception of Christ. I was surprised – pleasantly – that it was about the Virgin Mary.

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She, and her magnificent son, have always been highly honored and revered in Islam. I have grown up holding Jesus (and his mother) in the highest regard, as a mighty and magnificent Prophet and the Messiah sent to the Children of Israel. In fact, the Qur’an points to the Virgin Mary as the archetype of the believer, whether male or female:

And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Lord’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)

No, as Muslims, we do not worship them as divine beings. That does not mean, however, that we hold them in contempt or would even fathom maligning them as, sadly, some followers Christ have done with our Prophet Muhammad.

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The bottom line is this: Muslims, Christians, and Jews have so much more in common than in distinction. We worship the self-same God of Abraham; we revere all of His Prophets; we are all called to work together for the common good of our world.

Is it not high time that we, the Children of Abraham, forgo differences in belief and come together as servants of, not only our Lord, but all of humanity?

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A Thanksgiving Prayer for Peace

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

I can only share in a tiny amount of the elation of the people of Israel and Palestine over the cease-fire that was negotiated today. That both Israelis and Palestinians can breathe a little sigh of relief that no more rockets and bombs will rain down upon them is a very good thing. Yet, sadly, we have seen this before. We have seen the crying faces of parents, children, and loved ones before. We have heard the screams of innocent people many times before. When will it end? When will the leaders of both sides gather the courage to finally forge a lasting peace so that both Palestinians and Israelis can look toward a future full of hope?

A cynic (or realist) will say that this day is still a long way off. Yet, with God all things are possible. Thus, during this season of giving thanks, I raise my hands up in prayer:

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Precious Beloved and Beautiful Lord our God!
Beautiful Holy One on High in Whose Hand lies all of our souls!
All Praise and Thanks go to You, Mighty King of Kings!
Lord! Precious Beloved! I thank Thee for the cessation of violence in the Holy Land.

Lord, I look at the crying faces of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters and my heart cries out.
Lord, the cry of the child is no less heartbreaking whether it was Israeli or Palestinian.
Lord, the pain of the parent is no less horrific if it was Muslim, Christian, or Jew.

And so, my Beautiful Majestic Lord, please bring peace to the Holy Land!
Bring peace to the land which You have blessed for all time!
Bring peace to the place upon which Your Prophets and Messengers have tread!
Silence the guns of hatred and the rockets of malice for all time, O Lord!

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Politicians and leaders do not have the courage to bring peace
So, Lord, give them that courage they so sorely lack!
Precious Beloved, let the smiles of children reign supreme in the Holy Land!
Let the laughter of children be the only noise that disturbs the silence of Peace!

Lord our God, both sides in this conflict raise their hands to You in prayer!
So, Bring the children of Abraham together in peace as the brothers and sisters they were meant to be
Bring an end to the violence and let the Holy Land be a place of safety and sanctuary
Let not the Holy Land ever be a place where the thud of bombs and rockets are commonplace

Let the Holy Land be a place of peace and solace
Let the Holy Land ring with the praises of Your Holy Name
Let the Holy Land be a place where we can all be one in Your Love

In Your Most Holy Name I do ask these things. Amen.

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Go Out And Vote

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

I am tired of the election season. As I write this, a political campaign ad is playing on the TV. It is the same one I have seen time, after time, after time, after time, after time. I think half of our recycling bin is political campaign flyers. I don’t think I can take much more of this…

Still, despite my weary fatigue of politics, I voted early last Thursday. I took my daughter with me as well. There was no way I could not vote. In fact, I believe it is my sacred, religious duty to vote.

Islam demands excellence of me in every aspect of my life: excellence in my spiritual life; excellence in my social life; excellence in my family life; and excellence in my civic life. The Quran tells me that: “You are indeed the best community brought forth for [the good] of humanity: you enjoin the doing of good, forbid the doing of evil, and you believe in God.” (3:110)

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That means that I must do as much as I can to promote the common good, and this has to include voting in every single election. Ideally, I should hold public office to try to help promote the common good myself. But, I am not cut out for politics; I am not cut out for a life in public service; I love being a doctor too much to leave it aside for a political career.

But I can vote, and thus I must do so in each and every election. It is the very least I can do for my country. My faith demands nothing less of me.

So, go out on November 6 and vote. Make your voice be heard.

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Day of Emotion, Day of Grace

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Today is a most special day of the Hajj, the day of Arafat. It is said that, on this plain, Adam and Eve were first reunited after their expulsion from the garden. Standing on the plain of Arafat is the most important part of the Hajj. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was reported to have said that, “Hajj is the day of Arafat.”

On the plain of Arafat, pilgrims spend the entire day in prayer, meditation, and reflection. Then, from about late afternoon until the sun sets, pilgrims begin to beseech their Lord for forgiveness for all of their sins. It is a dress rehearsal for Judgment Day, when everyone will stand, alone, before their Creator and be called to account for their actions.

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I remember this day as if it was yesterday. We stayed in a big, carpeted, and air conditioned place. It was sort of like a large warehouse, but it was actually quite comfortable. Food, drink, and tea was served throughout the day. From the morning through the afternoon, we spent the day praying, reading Scripture, and quietly reflecting. After the late afternoon prayer, however, the real emotion of Arafat came at me in full force.

A number of the pilgrims in our group got together and made a communal prayer to God for His grace and forgiveness. I preferred to be alone, all alone, with my God to talk with and beseech Him for His mercy. I could not stop the tears from falling. I thought about all the things I had done wrong; all the sins I committed; all the times I fell short of the Lord’s standards; and all I could do was weep.

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The Plain of Arafat

I thought about how Beautiful the Lord had been to me, and how ugly I had been in return to Him. I thought about how Merciful He had been to me, and how ungrateful I had been through my sins. I thought about how Perfect He is, and how flawed and broken I was. And all I could was weep.

I bowed my head to the ground and begged my Creator to look past everything that I done wrong and take me in as I am: weak and flawed. I bowed my head to the ground and laid all my faults and shortcoming before the Foot of the Lord. I bowed my head to the ground and made no excuses for what I had done in the past. And I appealed to the Lord for His undying Mercy and Grace, for that was all I could do, and that was all I had left to do.

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And as the sun set, elation set in because, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us, all of our sins would be forgiven. We would be born anew. In fact, the first sin one can commit after the day of Arafat would be to think that God did not forgive you for your sins. The power and emotion of that moment would stay with me forever. I felt totally rejuvenated, and my bond with God became even stronger.

When I first went to Mecca, I was quickly overwhelmed by the Awesome Power of God, fully symbolized by the Ka’aba. Yet, that feeling went away quickly, and He became a near and dear Friend and Companion. This strengthened to the greatest degree after Arafat, and I have leaned on that Friend and Companion ever so much  from that day forward.

I will never forget that day on the plain of Arafat: it was a day of powerful emotion and a day of powerful grace.

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