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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

There is an ongoing legislative hysteria in dozens of states about the threat of “Sharia law,” and how Muslims are somehow seeking to supplant the Constitution with “Sharia law.” I try not to laugh because the premise is so absurd. Still, it is a fear on the part of some people, and this fear is capitalized upon by some who want to marginalize the Muslim community from American civic and political life.

And, of course, these people will point to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Nigerian Boko Haram as “proof” that this is what Sharia is all about: violence, murder, barbarity, and terror. Nothing could be further from the truth, but this doesn’t matter to (1) those terrorists who truly believe that Islam calls for murder and violence, and (2) those who want to smear Islam with the actions of criminals.

Further, whenever terrorist groups like Boko Haram cause violence and mayhem, it is all over the news and the radar of the Islamophobes. Yet, what is not widely known is the interfaith effort to combat Muslim-Christian violence in Nigeria. In May, a high-level interreligious delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (RABIIT) visited Nigeria to assess the violence there between Christians and Muslims. On July 12, they issued their report. The delegation highlighted several causes underlying the violence, and it seeks constructive ways both Christians and Muslims can work together to fight this violence.

Here is two interpretations of Sharia side by side: one seeks destruction, and the other seeks peace and reconciliation. Some claim the former is the “true Sharia.” I strongly beg to differ. True Sharia seeks peace, preserves life, and seeks reconciliation. True Sharia works to bridge the interfaith gap and seek common ground.

Boko Haram is not Sharia. Bombs and suicide vests are not Sharia. These things are murder and evil, the very antithesis of Sharia. Part of the problem, however, is that no one likes to report when Christians and Muslims work together for peace. They only like to report when they fight one another.

In this holy month of Ramadan, I pray more people get to know the true Sharia: Christians and Muslims working together for peace.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

There is so much that fellow Americans do not know about Islam. In fact, a recent poll stated that almost 60% of Americans say they do not even know a Muslim. Yet, there is so much more to Islam than its tenets and the Muslims who follow the faith to varying degrees, although getting to know that is quite important. There is a rich history of culture and art, despite the contention and perception that Islam is hostile to art and culture.

Enter the award-winning nonprofit Unity Productions Foundation. It is set to release a new film, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible Worldthat will bring the immense legacy of art and architecture that Islam has left the world to glorious life. It will broadcast nationally on PBS on July 6th at 9:oo PM EST as part of the new PBS Arts Summer Festival, a multi-part weekly series that will take viewers across the country and around the world.

The film is narrated by actor Susan Sarandon, and it will take viewers across fourteen centuries of history and nine countries to showcase Islamic art and architecture. From the Taj Mahal to Arabic calligraphy, Islamic Art will show in stunning beauty the rich and diverse nature of Islam and its cultures, and it will showcase the past and continued contribution of Islamic culture to society and world civilization.

I believe all viewers, Muslim and non-Muslims alike, will be pleasantly surprised with what our film uncovers,” states Alex Kronemer, Executive Producer of the film. “As a window into an often misunderstood culture, this film has the ability to be a real catalyst for understanding and perhaps offer a new perspective on Islam’s values, culture and lasting legacy,” says Kronemer. Michael Wolfe, the film’s other Executive Producer, says: “Never before have viewers had the opportunity to explore such richness of Islamic art and history with commentary from some of the world’s most renowned experts who have the ability to explain just why these works are so important.” 

Both Wolfe and Kronemer are personal friends, and I am in awe at their amazing work in the field of television and film. This film is the ninth by UPF, which was founded in 1999 to create peace through media. UPF produces documentary films for both television and online broadcast as well as theatrical release, and it implements long-term educational campaigns aimed at increasing understanding between people of different faiths and cultures, especially between Muslims and other faiths. More information is at www.upf.tv.

Don’t miss this incredible film about Islamic art and culture. You will not be disappointed. For more information about the film, visit: www.islamicart.tv

 

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

As I read the Qur’an in English, which is my native language, I have repeatedly come across gems of verses; verses that I had heretofore never understood properly whenever I read them in Arabic. This passage, from Chapter 24, is one of these gems:

IN THE HOUSES [of worship] which God has allowed to be raised so that His name be remembered in them, there [are such as] extol His limitless glory at morn and evening – people whom neither [worldly] commerce nor striving after gain can divert from the remembrance of God, and from con­stancy in prayer, and from charity: [people] who are filled with fear [at the thought] of the Day On which all hearts and eyes will be convulsed, [and who only hope] that God may reward them in accordance with the best that they ever did, and give them, out of His bounty, more [than they deserve]: for, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning. (24:36-38)

Notice that the verse begins with: “In the Houses [of worship] which God has allowed to be raised…” It is general term, much broader than “church” or “mosque” or “synagogue.”

Yet, more importantly, this passage outlines the purpose of these houses of worship: first, to have a sanctuary wherein the Name of the Precious Beloved Lord can always be remembered and glorified. Additionally, however, these houses of worship are to contain people who:  (1) extol God’s limitless Glory, (2) remember God despite the distractions of earthly life, (3) are constant in prayer, (4) are mindful of their actions because they will be called to account for them,  and (5) do good works seeking the Grace and Mercy of an Infinitely Merciful Creator.

In fact, it is through the remembrance and extolling of God’s Name and Glory that such people will be produced. It is through the connection to the Glorious Lord Supreme, both within and without these houses of worship, that such people come forth into the world. It is out of love of this Precious God that such people, who are graced by going to His houses, exist and work in this earth.

What is sad, however, is that – as the passage suggests – such people will be a minority of those who frequent the Houses of God. Herein lies the Divine Gauntlet: our challenge, as Servants of the Beloved, is to be one among that minority. Our challenge is to remember God often, and as a consequence of that remembrance, set out to do good in this world, for the benefit of all of God’s people.

What’s more, those people of God’s Houses should seek each other out, regardless of confession, and work together to do said good on this earth for the benefit of God’s people. They should, in fact, as the Qur’an suggests, “vie with one another in doing good works.” It may not be easy to do such a thing, but it is absolutely necessary.

So many in today’s world, including many who frequent the Houses of God, seek to destroy and divide along faith lines. They seek to use the Houses of God to foment hatred of the other; to demonize the other; to dehumanize the inhabitants of other Houses of God. This constitutes nothing less than the abuse of the House of the Lord, and they must be stopped.

God’s House should always be a place of peace, love, and tranquility; not hatred, division, and demonization. And it is incumbent upon the true servants of the Beloved to make sure all Houses of God forever remain places of peace. Again, it may not be an easy thing to do, but it is absolutely necessary.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

When one is blessed with children, it is natural for a father – like me – to think about what he needs to do to be the best father possible. It is natural to ask oneself: how should I act with my children? How can I impart the best example? Should be the “law and order” Dad? Or, do I be the “fun” Dad? Is there a balance? 

There are a number of sources for tips on fatherhood: numerous books, websites, blogs, and the like. Yet, we can also find wonderful examples of how to be a father from Scripture: specifically, in the interactions between Prophets and their sons.

For example, there is the Prophet Noah and his son. When the flood waters covered the earth, and Noah’s son was not among the believers on the Ark, the Prophet Noah called out to him:

So [Noah]  said [unto his followers]: “Embark in this [ship]! In the name of God be its run and its riding at anchor! Behold, my. Sustainer is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!” And it moved on with them into waves that were like mountains. At that [moment] Noah cried out to a son of his, who had kept himself aloof [from the others]: “O my dear son!  Embark with us, and remain not with those who deny the truth!”

[But the son] answered: “I shall betake myself to a mountain that will protect me from the waters.” Said [Noah]: “Today there is no protection [for anyone] from God’s judgment, save [for] those who have earned [His] mercy!” And a wave rose up between them, and [the son] was among those who were drowned. (11:41-43)

This greatly pained Prophet Noah. I totally understand his feeling. His pain was so much so that he approached the Lord about this because God has promised the Prophet Noah that He would save his family:

And Noah called out to his Sustainer, and said: “O my Sustainer! Verily, my son was of my family; and, verily, Thy promise always comes true, and Thou art the most just of all judges!”

[God] answered: “O Noah, behold, he was not of thy family, for, verily, he was unrighteous in his conduct. And thou shalt not ask of Me anything whereof thou canst not have any knowledge: thus, behold, do I admonish thee lest thou become one of those who are unaware [of what is right].”

Said [Noah]: “O my Sustainer! Verily, I seek refuge with Thee from [ever again] asking of Thee anything whereof I cannot have any knowledge! For unless Thou grant me forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy upon me, I shall be among the lost!”

This story teaches me about compassion for our children, even those who may treat us badly. Of course, if any of my children are rebellious, it would break my heart, and I pray that my children are never rebellious. But, just as Noah reached out to his son despite his not being on the Ark, we should always try to reach out to our children with compassion.

Then there is Abraham and his son Ishmael. After decades of having no children, the Lord blessed him with a child:

[And Abraham prayed:] “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me the gift of [a son who shall be] one of the righteous!” Whereupon We gave him the glad tiding of a boy-child gentle [like himself]. (37:100)

Then, many years later, the Lord had a very difficult (to say the least) request:

And [one day,] when [the child] had become old enough to share in his [father’s] endeavours, the latter said: “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee: consider, then, what would be thy view!” [Ishmael] answered: “O my father! Do as thou art bidden: thou wilt find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity!” (37:101-102)

Now, this story doesn’t teach me that it is OK to want to sacrifice my son for the sake of God. Far from it. It does, however, teach me that there is nothing wrong with asking our children for their advice or opinions. They may, in fact, have quite valuable input. I mean, the Prophet Abraham knew that his dream was God’s command, and he could have simply forced his son to submit, seeing that he is a Prophet. But he didn’t: He asked his son for his opinion and advice. It is a great lesson in humility.

Another lesson in humility is the story of King David and his son King Solomon, both Prophets in Islamic belief:

AND [remember] David and Solomon – [how it was] when both of them gave judgment concerning the field into which some people’s sheep had strayed by night and pastured therein, and [how] We bore witness to their judgment: or, [though] We made Solomon understand the case [more profoundly] yet We vouchsafed unto both of them sound judgment and knowledge [of right and wrong]. And We caused the mountains to join David in extolling Our limitless glory, and likewise the birds: for We are able to do [all things]. (21:78-79)

According to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, as mentioned by Muhammad Asad, this is the background of these verses:

According to this story, a flock of sheep strayed at night into a neighbouring field and destroyed its crop. The case was brought before King David for judicial decision. On finding that the incident was due to the negligence of the owner of the sheep, David awarded the whole flock – the value of which corresponded roughly to the extent of the damage – as an indemnity to the owner of the field. David’s young son, Solomon, regarded this judgment as too severe, inasmuch as the sheep represented the defendant’s capital, whereas the damage was of a transitory nature, involving no more than the loss of one years crop, i.e., of income.

He therefore suggested to his father that the judgment should be altered: the owner of the field should have the temporary possession and usufruct of the sheep (milk, wool, newborn lambs, etc.), while their owner should tend the damaged field until it was restored to its former productivity, whereupon both the field and the flock of sheep should revert to their erstwhile owners; in this way the plaintiff would be fully compensated for his loss without depriving the defendant of his substance. David realized that his son’s solution of the case was better than his own, and passed judgment accordingly.

Even though King David was both King and Prophet, again, he was humble enough to see that his son’s judgment was more sound and more just, and he ruled accordingly. Again, we may be parents; we may have had more experience, but sometimes our children may have opinions or suggestions that are better or more appropriate. We should take wisdom from wherever we find it, even if it is from our own children.

Thus, as I mark Father’s Day this year, I recount the stories of these other fathers – these Prophets of God – and their stories teach me about compassion and humility, kindness and wisdom. I know that I will make mistakes as a father – I am only human being, but I pray that I can learn from my mistakes and try the best I can to be a father like unto these noble men of God.

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

ON June 1, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our son, Zacharia Hesham Hassaballa. It was a very happy day for the both of us. I pray that the Precious Beloved protects him, blesses him, and makes him a force for good in both our family and this world. His official due date was today – which is bittersweet because, this is also the anniversary of the death of our eldest child, Bayan. Indeed, his coming has made June a little less dark; his coming has made June is little more bearable, as my wife said to me.

It is customary, in Arabian tradition, to nickname a man as “Abu —-,” or “Father of —-,” after the name of either his first-born son or his only son. If one doesn’t have any sons, then he is named after his first-born daughter. Thus, heretofore, I would be known among my Arab friends as “Abu Bayan.” The same goes for my wife. But, as if on cue, after our son was born, with all the congratulations I received, many a person would say, “Congratulations, ‘Abu Zacharia,'” or “Father of Zacharia.” When I heard this, I would smile and say, “Thanks.” But, in my mind and my heart, I will forever be known as “Abu Bayan,” or “Bayan’s Dad.”

Three years ago, when our Angel flew back to her Lord, it was a beautiful sunny day like today. Three years ago, despite the warmth and glow of the sun, our whole world was darkened and overturned. Three years ago, our lives changed and we will never be the same again. From that day forward, three years ago, I was forever “Abu Bayan.”

She was so very, very precious to me. Her sweetness would warm even the coldest and darkest heart. Her love would envelope you and make you feel at peace. Her smile would light up the entire room. It killed me to see her suffer through the crippling effects of Ataxia-Telangiectasia, but despite her disability, she always remained happy and cheery. And I was forever honored to be called “Abu Bayan.”

Cancer really took its toll on both her body and spirit. Even when she was suffering, she never wanted us to feel sad or hurt. Once, we were out with family, and on the way home, she wanted to ride with her aunt. She made absolutely sure that we were not saddened by her decision. That’s just how beautiful her soul and being was. And that is why I revel in forever being “Abu Bayan.”

Ever since that day, my heart has screamed in pain and anguish over her loss. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t have a pain that can sometimes seize my very breath. Yes, my face may have a smile, but if you could see my heart – and my wife is the exact same – it would be broken in terror and anguish. Losing a child is the absolute worst thing anyone can go through, and I pray that no one else has to go through such a terrible occurrence. But, it happened. All I can do is pray to the Lord for His comfort and strength.

And I am grateful to the Precious Beloved for His giving me such a beautiful daughter as Bayan; I am grateful to Him for His making me “Abu Bayan.”

I love each and every one of my children. They are all a beautiful, tremendous gift from the Lord above. I don’t mean to diminish any one of them by expressing this feeling. And, of course, I won’t chastise anyone for calling me – with good intentions, I know – “Abu Zacharia.” But, I know – and now I tell the world – that in my heart I will forever be “Abu Bayan.” I could not have it any other way.

Lord, I really, really miss my beautiful Angel Bayan. Grant me strength and comfort to endure the pain of her loss.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

With so much talk and banter about “Sharia law” and how Muslims in America are trying to supplant the U.S. Constitution with Islamic law, I came across this passage of the Qur’an that is relevant to this silly discussion. Let me say again that Muslims are not trying to supplant US law with Sharia. In fact, Sharia law dictates that we follow US law as US citizens.

But, underlying the claim that Muslims are somehow trying to “take over” America, is a false assertion that Islam must dominate all other faiths, that Islam sees no room for a multifaith society and world. Nothing could be further from the truth:

UNTO every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship, which they ought to observe. Hence, [O believer,] do not let those [who follow ways other than thine] draw thee into disputes on this score, but summon [them all] unto thy Sustainer: for, behold, thou art indeed on the right way.  And if they [try to] argue with thee, say [only]: “God knows best what you are doing.” [For, indeed,] God will judge between you [all] on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which you were wont to differ. (22:67-69)

This is very similar to this passage:

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. Vie, 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)

In fact, the Qur’an itself tells us that most will not believe in it:

And so, be not in doubt about this [revelation]: behold, it is the truth from thy Sustainer, even though most people will not believe in it. (11:17)

In this, behold, there is a message [unto humanity], even though most of them will not believe [in it.] (26:8)

Yet – however strongly thou may desire it – most people will not believe [in this revelation] (12:103)

But, it does not say, “kill them all,” as some would have you believe. It says: “in the end, God will judge between all of you over what you were wont to differ.” Further, it says that we should compete with each other in doing good works on earth (5:48), and that we should not get into disputes with those who follow other faiths and ways of life (22:67). Islam teaches to live and let live.

Do some Muslims preach otherwise? Yes. Do some Muslims practice otherwise? Yes. Does it make it right? No. Does it mean that their actions reflect the truth? No.

In fact, those that seek to kill and destroy all those of other faiths – or even Muslims who don’t ascribe to their own wicked beliefs – are criminals and are defying all that Islam teaches and stands for. Their crimes cannot be projected upon the whole body of Muslims worldwide.

The heart of the matter is this: it is a reality that there will be different faiths and faith groups; it is, in fact, part of God’s plan. And the Muslim response to this should be: “vie with one another in doing good works”; work together to make God’s earth that much greener, that much safer, that much more peaceful. Those that seek otherwise twist God’s words and defame His way.

 

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

I first learned about the law – that passed the Kuwaiti parliament – on a ChicagoNow blog post entitled “Kuwait theocracy declares Islam is weak.” The law calls for the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, his wives or relatives. Apparently, this was in response to the arrest of a Shi’ite Muslim who allegedly insulted the Prophet and his wife on Twitter (he denied doing so and claims his account was hacked). The law now goes before the Emir, who has to approve it for it to take effect.

This law is similar to other so-called “anti-blasphemy” laws that have passed in other Muslim countries. The irony of these laws is this: they are – in and of themselves – quite blasphemous.

If you pass a law that imposes the death penalty on those who insult God, or Islam, or the Prophet Muhammad, you imply that God is unable to defend Himself, that He needs us to defend His honor, or His dignity, or His majesty, or His magnificence.

How absurd.

Now, of course, I do not like it when God is cursed or mocked, or when the Prophet is maligned or attacked. Far from it. Having said that, however, I do not believe that anyone who does such a thing should be killed. God forbid!

The Quran talks about the mockery of God’s signs and messages, and nowhere does it say “kill those who engage in such behavior.” Nowhere:

And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God’s messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things – or else, verily, you will become like them. Behold, together with those who deny the truth, God will gather in hell the hypocrites (4:140)

Also read:

NOW, whenever thou meet such as indulge in [blasphemous] talk about Our messages, turn thy back upon them until they begin to talk of other things and if Satan should ever cause thee to forget [thyself], remain not, after recollection, in the company of such evildoing folk (6:68)

No death penalty; no killing; no taking of life. I mean, for God’s sake, Satan himself defied and rebelled against God, and the Lord gave him respite until Judgment Day. In fact, Satan’s discourse was quite disrespectful:

[Whereupon Satan] said: “Now that Thou hast thwarted me,” I shall most certainly lie in ambush for them all along Thy straight way (7:16).

What audacity to speak in this manner with the Lord Supreme. Still, He gave him respite. So, why – as awful as this is to me as a devout Muslim – are these Muslims so quick to condemn to death those that curse God, or the Prophet?

The Quran is full of verses that respond to the attacks and mockery leveled against the Prophet Muhammad, but none of these responses say, “Kill them”:

And yet, they [who deny the truth] say: “O thou unto whom this reminder has [allegedly] been bestowed from on high: verily, thou art mad! Why dost thou not bring before us angels, if thou art a man of truth? [Yet] We never send down angels otherwise than in accordance with the [demands of] truth; and [were the angels to appear now,] lo! they [who reject this divine writ] would have no further respite! (15:6-8)

Verily, thus shall We deal with all who were lost in sin: for, behold, whenever they were told, “There is no deity save God,” they would glory in their arrogance and would say, “Shall we, then, give up our deities at the bidding of a mad poet?” Nay, but he [whom you call a mad poet] has brought the truth; and he confirms the truth of [what the earlier of God’s] message-bearers [have taught] Behold, you will indeed taste grievous suffering [in the life to come] although you shall not be requited for aught but what you were wont to do. (37:34-39)

EXHORT, then, [O Prophet, all men:] for, by thy Sustainer’s grace, thou art neither a soothsayer nor a madman. Or do they say, “[He is but] a poet – let us wait what time will do unto him”? Say thou: “Wait, [then,] hopefully; behold, I, too, shall hopefully wait with you!” Is it their minds that bid them [to take] this [attitude] – or are they [simply] people filled with overweening arrogance? (52:29-32)

Thou art not, by thy Sustainer’s grace, a madman! (68:2)

For, this fellow-man of yours is not a madman: (81:22)

Yes, God may punish those who mock Him, or His messages, or His messengers on Judgment Day, but no where in these verses does it say “kill them now.” So, by what authority do these so-called “defenders of the faith” call for the murder of so-called “blasphemers.” They have none, and they distort the holy Word of God when they do thus.

In the beginning of the ChicagoNow blog post, it read: “Any belief that cannot withstand scrutiny isn’t worth having. Anyone who is secure in their beliefs does not run away from criticism, they welcome it.” The author, James Kirk Wall, could not have been more correct.

“Truth,” it has been said, “does not fear investigation.” God, Almighty and Powerful, is not threatened by the attacks and mockery of those who don’t believe in Him. God does not need us to defend Him. It is just as He said in a Sacred Prophetic Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad:

O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and will not attain benefitting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, [both the human and spiritual beings of you] to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, [both the human and spiritual beings of you] to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything.

No, I don’t like it when someone mocks God, or belief in Him, or when someone attacks the Prophet or his family. But, I will never call for their murder. God can take care of Himself.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

This is the first of several Friday sermons that I have given that I will write up and post here. 

 

The Test of the Beautiful 

In the seventh verse of the eighteenth chapter of the Quran, it states:

Behold, We have willed that all beauty on earth be a means by which we put humanity to a test, [showing] which of them are best in conduct.

Thus, everything that is beautiful on this earth is test for us, to see how we respond to this thing of beauty. If that thing of beauty is another human being, that is a test for us: do we respond to that beautiful person – man or woman – in the proper way? Do we lower our gaze when he or she walks by? Or, do we gawk and objectify said person?

If we want to pursue a relationship with that person, do we go about that in the proper manner? Do we pursue the path of marriage? Or, do we simply satisfy our lust with that person in a manner that the Lord does not want?

If that thing of beauty is a natural resource: a river, an ocean, a tree, a mountain, a stream, or a rain forest; do we do our utmost to protect said natural beauty? Do we respect the earth and try to preserve her as much as we can for all of posterity? Or, do we exploit without end and care less for those who come after us?

Indeed, the Lord says:

[And remember that] it is God who has created the heavens and the earth, and who sends down water from the sky and thereby brings forth [all manner] of fruits for your sustenance; and who has made ships subservient to. you, so that they may sail through the sea at His behest; and has made the rivers subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you; and has made the sun and the moon, both of them constant upon their courses, subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you; and has made the night and the day subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you. (14:32-33)

Yet, we must learn how to benefit from the earth as much as we can, all the while protecting it from willful harm and neglect.

If that thing of beauty is a spouse, do we treat that spouse with love, mercy, and respect? Do we honor God by honoring that spouse? Or, do we abuse and neglect him or her? Do we cheat on that spouse, not caring about the damage such an action would cause? Do we see that spouse as a gift from God that should be cherished? Or, do we see that spouse as a slave to be worked for our benefit?

The Lord has answered such questions:

And among His wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think! (30:21)

Our spouses are “wonders” from God, and in them we find tranquility and peace, love and mercy. Treat them with kindness we must.

If that thing of beauty is a child, do we honor that child with a good home? A good upbringing? Or, do we neglect that child and abuse him or her? Do we love that child with all our hearts? Care for the child? Protect that child from harm and evil? Or, do we look the other when evil strikes? Indeed, there are few things that are more beautiful than a child, and if we are blessed to have one, then we must do our best to show our gratitude to the Lord by raising our children to be upright citizens of the world, who are both good to God and good to His people.

If that thing of beauty is family, or friends, or neighbors, do we treat them with kindness and respect? Or do we mistreat and abuse them? Do we help them in their times of need? Do we support them when they need us, even if it is helping them put away their groceries? Do we treat them as we would treat ourselves? Indeed, we must.

Yet, as with everything on this earth, these things of beauty will not be here forever. The Lord says in the next verse:

And, verily, [in time] We shall reduce all that is on [the earth] to barren dust! (18:8)

What is the implication of this? Should our response be, “Why bother, if all will become ‘dust in the wind'”? No. Since our time is limited, we must do the best we can to make the best of all the things of beauty with which we are blessed. We should try to spend every day to the fullest in doing good on earth: doing good by our family, our friends, our neighbors, our spouses, our children, and our planet.

And you know what the best thing is? When we do these things, we are necessarily doing good by the Lord, Who is the Most Beautiful of all that is beautiful in the heavens and the earth. The only difference is: this Thing of Beauty will endure and never go away. And that can only be a beautiful thing.

In the Name of the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful Precious Beloved

On the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, news surfaced of the arrest of 5 men accused of plotting to blow up a bridge over the Cuyahoga river in Ohio. When I heard on the radio that there was “no link to international terrorism,” I immediately thought to myself: they must be non-Muslims. Sure enough, I was right: they were five white guys who were self-described “anarchists.”

Further, since these guys were not Muslim, I wondered whether anyone, either in law enforcement or the media, would call them what they really were: terrorists. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, who announced the indictments, said: “This indictment in this case alleges that the defendants took specific and defined actions to further a terrorist plot.”

The head of the FBI in northern Ohio, Stephen D. Anthony, said that the work of law enforcement showed them “to be vigilant in its efforts to detect and disrupt any terrorism threat, domestic or international.”

Several news reports had “terror” in their headlines:

Chicago Tribune: 5 arrested in alleged terrorist plot to blow up Cleveland-area bridge.

ONNtv: Informant revealed in alleged bridge terror plot.

NECN.com: 5 men charged in Cleveland terror plot.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer: A homegrown terror plot foiled.

This is quite heartening to see, because it signals – I hope – an increasing understanding that terrorism has no faith, no ethnicity, no language, no culture. All terrorists – no matter what their faith or motivation – are our enemies, not just the ones who claim to be Muslim.

As Marquette University (my alma mater) political science professor Risa Brooks wrote:

focusing our attention on domestic terrorism of all types and not just that generated by Muslim Americans can help heal the social rifts generated by 9/11. Singling out Muslim militants when we talk about terrorism in the U.S. adds to the mutual alienation of Muslims and Americans of other backgrounds. By unifying in opposition to extremism of all types, we demonstrate to ourselves and to our terrorist adversaries abroad that we remain true to American values and principles.

Amen to that.