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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Not Worth It At All

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

It has been sought out for time immemorial: the key to long life. Legends have spoken about a Fountain of Youth, but such a fountain has been elusive. More recently, however, there has been talk about calorie restriction as the key to living longer. Studies have been conducted, and there was some promise:

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The idea that a low-calorie diet would extend life originated in the 1930s with a study of laboratory rats. But it was not until the 1980s that the theory took off. Scientists reported that in species as diverse as yeast, flies, worms and mice, eating less meant living longer. And, in mice at least, a low-calorie diet also meant less cancer. It was not known whether the same thing would hold true in humans, and no one expected such a study would ever be done. It would take decades to get an answer, to say nothing of the expense and difficulty of getting people to be randomly assigned to starve themselves or not.

Researchers concluded the best way to test the hypothesis would be through the monkey studies at the University of Wisconsin and the National Institute on Aging, although the animals would have to be followed for decades.

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Now, the major study that was started in 1987 has been completed, and the results are in: calorie restriction did not prolong life. The results of the study were published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature:

For 25 years, the rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males’ weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would, too. Some scientists, anticipating such benefits, began severely restricting their own diets.

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The results of this major, long-awaited study, which began in 1987, are finally in. But it did not bring the vindication calorie restriction enthusiasts had anticipated. It turns out the skinny monkeys did not live any longer than those kept at more normal weights. Some lab test results improved, but only in monkeys put on the diet when they were old. The causes of death — cancer, heart disease — were the same in both the underfed and the normally fed monkeys.

Lab test results showed lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar in the male monkeys that started eating 30 percent fewer calories in old age, but not in the females. Males and females that were put on the diet when they were old had lower levels of triglycerides, which are linked to heart disease risk. Monkeys put on the diet when they were young or middle-aged did not get the same benefits, though they had less cancer. But the bottom line was that the monkeys that ate less did not live any longer than those that ate normally.

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When I first heard of the idea that practically starving oneself may be the key to living a long life, I said to myself: Why? Why would I want to deprive myself of one of the greatest things God has given us (especially after Ramadan) – food and drink – in order to live longer on this earth? Especially on this earth?

Now, I don’t believe in living one’s life with a death wish. I have lived through some very dark days, but I never considered suicide. God forbid. But, that doesn’t mean that I would go to extremes  – like starving myself – to live longer. Life and death are in God’s hands, not ours.

Of course, I know – as a doctor – that if someone lives a very unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, eating an unhealty diet, drinking to excess, etc.), it is likely that this person would live a shorter life than the average lifespan of an American. Yet, for that person, his or her lifespan is his or her lifespan.

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If it is in God’s plan for that person to live 80 years, despite being totally unhealthy, then that person will live to be 80 years old. Conversely, even if someone lives the most healthy life possible, if it is God’s will that he will die at age 24, like my cousin, then that is the life that he will live.

I often joke by saying this: “I would rather die six months earlier than I would normally have and eat my ________.” And I would fill in that blank with a variety of things: Taco Bell (yes, Taco Bell), chocolate cake, cheesecake, frozen custard, etc. That point is: we should live a life of moderation.

Live as healthy as possible, because it will make it more likely that we will avoid the scourge of disease. Yet, it is ok to enjoy an indulgence (by this I mean desserts or potato chips…) every once in a while, to make life fun and lively. But, I don’t think we should go to extremes (like starving ourselves) in order to live longer. That’s because I believe there is a life and a world after this one.

And in that life, I will be with my Beloved forever. Starving myself to stay here longer is just not worth it.

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An End of Ramadan Prayer

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

“We made it.”

Those were the first words of my Friday sermon yesterday. At long last – very, very long last – the month of Ramadan ends today. And although I did enjoy the prayers and the special time I had with the Book of God, the fasting did take its toll. And thus, I make this prayer as the hours slip away towards the end of the month:

Precious, Beautiful, Beloved Lord my God!
Precious, Beautiful Beloved One in Whose Hands rests my soul!
Precious, Beautiful Beloved One Without Whose Grace I would be dead and gone!
Lord, I have tried my best to be faithful to Your call to fast the days of Ramadan.

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I know that I should have been so full of glee for the opportunity to fast.
But, as only You would know best, I did have some dread out of my own weakness.
And so, Precious Beloved Lord, please forgive me for that weakness in my soul.

Precious Beloved! Forgive me for all the times that I grimaced in discomfort for having to fast.
Forgive me for all the times that I did not fast with a complete and total smile on my face.
Forgive me for all the times that I yearned for the month of fasting to finish and finish quickly.

Precious Beloved Lord! Please accept my fast, even though it is defiled by my human weakness.
Please accept my reading of your Holy Word so that I pass the time remembering You in Your Majestic Glory.
Please accept the times I prayed the night vigil for Your sake, trying to get closer to Your Alighted Face.
Please accept my acts of kindness, forgiveness, and forbearance during this month and for the rest of the year.

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Precious Beloved Lord! Please take me into Your Presence when my time has come.
Please accept me as I am: weak and pathetic, unworthy of all the bounty which You have bestowed upon me.
Lord, please, do not stop the blessings you have sent my way. Nay, Beloved, increase those blessings day by day.
Please extend the glorious blessings that this month of Ramadan has throughout the rest of my days
And, please, Lord save me from Your terrible punishment both here on earth and in the hereafter.

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

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A Ramadan Prayer for My Sikh Brothers and Sisters

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

In the wake of this horrible tragedy in Wisconsin (and also the burning of a mosque to the ground in Missouri), all I can do is offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims’ families and the entire Sikh community in Wisconsin. My heart ached in pain when I saw what this barbarian did to innocent people who peacefully gathered to do nothing more than glorify our Lord in worship.

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And I also offer this prayer:

Lord God, Beloved Lord of the Heavens and the Earth

Hear my prayer, Beloved King of Kings

Send down Your mercy and grace upon the Sikhs in Wisconsin 

Shower them with Your soothing comfort to ease their pain

Protect them and every community of faith from the attacks of the wicked 

Help bring all communities of faith together in brother- and sisterhood

Stand with us as we stand with them in this moment of pain and tragedy.

In Your Most Holy Name I ask this of You, Beloved. Amen.

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Gems of the Qur’an: True Piety

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

As the month of Ramadan progresses, I am trying to read the Qur’an as part of the spiritual regimen that this month brings. And as I re-engage with the Qur’an, I came across this gem:

True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he himself may cherish it – upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.

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There is a little background on this: ever since the ministry of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) began, the Muslims had been praying in the direction of Jerusalem. Soon after the Prophet emigrated to Medina, however, there was an order from God (in the Qur’an) to change the direction of prayer to Mecca. This caused “scandal” among some non-Muslim factions in Medina at the time. This verse above was God’s response.

When I read this verse, it makes me think that we should avoid an excessive emphasis on ritual at the expense of larger moral and ethical conduct. In his explanation of this verse, Muhammad Asad wrote:

Thus, the Qur’an stresses the principle that mere compliance with outward forms does not fulfill the requirements of piety.

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In my mind, these “forms” include things to wear, the type of socks someone should wear, the length of a beard, etc. And so many people place so much emphasis on outward forms and neglect the importance of inward purity and moral conduct. Now, don’t get me wrong: ritual practice is very important. Just because the Qur’an says that “true piety does not consist with turning your faces towards the east or west,” it does not mean that ritual prayer is no longer important. On the contrary, the Qur’an stresses multiple times on the importance of establishing the ritual prayer and other outward forms of worship, such as fasting.

In addition, there is nothing wrong if someone, seeking to emulate the Prophet out of love, wears a long beard or wears garb like the Prophet used to wear. But, it makes no sense for someone to wear a long beard, like the Prophet did, and then lie and cheat his customers when he works in his shop. It makes no sense for someone to wear leather socks, like the Prophet did, and then abuse his wife and children in a horrific manner.

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What is outrageous to me is the pictures of the barbarian terrorists that are caught: they wear long beards because the Prophet did. But, does it ever occur to them that the Prophet forbade the killing and maiming of innocent people? Does it ever occur to them that the Prophet would abhor the murder they commit in his name? Does it ever occur to them that killing and murder is the antithesis of the true piety that they try to convey by their wearing a long beard? Truly outrageous.

The Qur’an is full of these gems: these short passages with tremendously profound meaning. This is one of the nice things about Ramadan (even if it is in the LONG, LONG, LONG days of summer). I get a change to re-acquaint myself with the Qur’an. And I am never disappointed.

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