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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

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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Forever “Abu Bayan” (Bayan’s Dad)

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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The Heart of the Matter

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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

 

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