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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

A Tale of Two “Sharia”s

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Majesty of Islamic Art

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.

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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.” 

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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

 

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The Divine Gauntlet

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Prophetic Models of Fatherhood

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:

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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)

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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].”

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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:

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[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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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