Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

This Does Nothing to Promote Understanding

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I was totally taken aback by this news article:

Crosses in every room at Washingon D.C.’s Catholic University of America are a human rights violation that prevent Muslim students from praying. That’s the complaint to the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights filed by a professor from rival George Washington University across town. GWU Law School Professor John Banzhaf takes the Catholic institution to task for acting “probably with malice” against Muslim students in a 60-page complaint that cites ”offensive” Catholic imagery all over the Catholic school, which he says hinder Muslims from praying.

The first reaction that came to mind is: really?

The article elaborates further about the allegations:

He alleges that the university, “does not provide space – as other universities do – for the many daily prayers Muslim students must make, forcing them instead to find temporarily empty classrooms where they are often surrounded by Catholic symbols which are incongruous to their religion,” according to the Tower, Catholic University’s student newspaper.

Come on.

I attended Marquette University, and there were crosses everywhere…and I was never offended. Yes, the University was kind enough to offer us a space for our Friday prayers, but even if there wasn’t, we would have made do. And if there was a cross in the room, we would have prayed anyway. Currently, I practice in a Catholic hospital, and there are crosses hanging in every single room of the hospital. I am not the least offended. In fact, I have even prayed in the chapel of the hospital, with life-size Jesus’ hanging on crosses. No big deal.

For us as Muslims, the entire earth has been made a place of prayer for us…as long as it is clean and sanitary. If the time for prayer comes, and I happen to be in a Catholic church or chapel, with crosses everywhere, I simply face Mecca and pray. The cross does not diminish my prayer, and I am not offended by the symbol at all. And I think that the majority of Muslims feel the same way that I do.

God only knows what the real motivations of this lawsuit are. But, even if we disagree about the nature of Jesus and what happened at the time of his death/disappearance, if a Catholic university wants to hang crosses everywhere, that is its right. There could be crosses all over the place, and it should not offend Muslims in the least. If you don’t like the crosses, then don’t go to that university. You have no right to force the university to take down the crosses.

This sort of suit does nothing to help promote interfaith harmony and understanding. In a time when there are so many forces in our country that are trying to divide us on so many different lines, we should be working as faith communities to come together. The last thing we need is a silly lawsuit about crosses in a Catholic university.

The Power of Peaceful Dialogue

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful 

I recently received an email with the subject, “An Honest Question.” It read:

Dr. Hassaballa:

I have discovered your blog, and greatly appreciate what you say.  You seem very thoughtful, and I particularly applaud your condemnations of violence — even if your choice of words sometimes leaves me wondering exactly what you mean, or how complete the condemnation really is.  In any event, I have a well-meaning question (an honest one, no setup intended) about how far your view of egalitarianism between Christians and Muslims actually extends. 

In the current world political climate, I can envision a time when Muslims, through proselytizing or otherwise, might gain majorities in one or more of the current Western democracies.  In the event Muslims were to gain control of the American government — far-fetched, perhaps, but not an impossibility — how would my rights and freedoms as a Christian be affected?  For example, would a Muslim-controlled government preserve and ensure fully equal rights — of all kinds, including all religious expression, evangelization, activity, and speech — for Muslims and non-Muslims alike?  Or should the Christians expect some form of dhimmitude to be implemented, even if the majority views the resulting stratification as benevolent and merciful (which, I imagine, the impacted minority would not)?  In a related vien, would a Muslim-controlled government preserve and further the elevated position (i.e., with sharia clearly subordinated) of the current U.S. Constitution?

I agree that parts of the Qur’an seem to urge benevolence or mercy toward Christians — although other provisions seem to urge something quite different, and harmonizing the conflicting provisions is difficult at best.  What I don’t see anywhere, however, is a clear assurance of either (a) full equality for Christians,  or (b) at least a dhimmitude-like benevolence toward people not “of the book” (e.g., atheists) under any Qur’an-based Islamic rule.  That lack of clarity, plus history (at least since the 1300s or so), makes me think that that a Muslim rule would assure neither of these states; that Christians would find themselves as second-class citizens with fewer-than-equal rights; and that complete unbelievers, or apostate Muslims, should, perhaps, be concerned for their freedom or lives.   Am I wrong on any of this?  If so, please show me, if you can find the time. 

He then ended the message with: “I don’t want to fight, and am not interested in a debate, by email or otherwise.  I have no axe to grind.  I only seek truth and clarity, for my own information and use (and, perhaps, some peace of mind).”

To be honest, I was surprised by his question. I was not angry by any means, but just surprised at the fact that he would think that we Muslims have some sort of “hidden agenda.” But, I sensed that he was truly sincere in his questioning, and I truly appreciated that.

This was my response:

I appreciate your questions. I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits. First, I am surprised by your wonder about my condemnations of violence. When I say “innocent” I mean just that: all non-combatants. I do not parse my words or mean something I don’t say. No “hidden meaning.” I have heard this before…and I am still surprised when people think that my definition of innocent is something other than innocent. I just want that to be clear.


As far as your question about Muslims in power…I don’t think that situation will ever occur. As an American, the law I follow is the U.S. Constitution. I am not waiting to supplant that law with “Sharia.” That is simply a fallacy that Islamophobes want you to believe. In fact, let me tell you this: America, the current Constitutional system, is the most “Islamic” government on the earth today. America follows Islam’s principles more than any other Muslim country on earth. I truly believe that. 

That is why I am so blessed to be an American Muslim. In a truly Islamic system, citizens are citizens, irrespective of their religion. Islam upholds freedom of religion and consciousness. In fact, I have learned that some classical Scholars consider the building of Churches in a Muslim country to be part of the maintenance of the earth. The way Islam has been presented by various so-called “Muslim” governments is quite distorted. 

Anyway, this is a very long and broad topic, but I just want to tell you…the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are nothing to fear. They care about and love this country as much as everyone else. 

Sorry it took me so long to respond…
Yours in His love, 
Hesham Hassaballa
He then replied:
Thank you for such a thoughtful, kind response.  I am glad that folks like you care enough to write, and email, about these very important issues.  I also respect your faith and obvious commitment to a way of peace. Thanks again.

He then gave me permission to write about it here. The most important point about this situation is the fact that we both reached out to each other to attain mutual understanding. He took the time to write to me and ask a sincere question on his part, and I took the time to respond to his question. And at the end, we both came away closer together, as both people of faith and brothers in country.

And herein lies the power: peaceful dialogue to understand one another. It is very likely that neither of us shall change our faith tradition, but the point of our discussion is not to convert, but to understand, to reach out to one another and learn about the feelings of the other. And both of us are all the stronger because of it.

I could imagine someone responding to such a question from a reader with disdain and anger, or simply ignore it altogether. But, then nothing good comes out of it. Indeed, there are some who reach out to me for no other purpose than to attack me and my faith. My only response to them is “Peace,” as the Qur’an commands:

“For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the ignorant address them, reply with [words of] peace;” (25:63)

But for anyone who asks a sincere question, seeking only to gain understanding and mutual peace, my inbox is always open. And we will both be better because of it. I am truly grateful to the Precious Beloved for this man’s question, and if I am ever questioned again, I pray that the Lord grants me the wisdom to answer in the best possible manner.

May the Libyan People Be Free

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

At long last, the battle for Libya appears to have been won. Today, Libyan dictator Moammar Ghaddafi was captured and killed, to the jubilation of Libyans everywhere. This man brutalized his people for so many years, and finally, they are free of his brutality.

I will not ask God to forgive this man – may the Lord deal with him as he deserves.

But, I will pray for the freedom and safety of the Libyan people. I pray that they live together in peace and brotherhood/sisterhood. I pray that prosperity finally be showered over their land. I pray that they are safe from any other extremist or barbarian that may want to prey upon them. May the Libyan people be free forever, and may no other brutal man terrorize them again.

Please See It For What It Is

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The sectarian violence that has gripped the land of my ancestors, Egypt, has been truly sickening to watch. The attacks on Christians and Christian churches in the past weeks are horrific, and they must be condemned. Not that my condemnation necessarily means much, but at least I – an American Muslim of Egyptian descent – have spoken out against it before God.

This internecine violence the world is currently witnessing is a totally new phenomenon in Egypt. Many of my relatives have grown up in Egypt and they all told me that this Muslim-Christian thing had never existed until after the Revolution. Egyptians always lived together in peace, not caring who is Christian and who is Muslim. One of my patients is an Egyptian Coptic Christian, and she just came back from Egypt, where she stayed at her Muslim friends’ homes and broke the Ramadan fast with them. This is the true spirit of the Egyptian people.

No doubt, there are some in each community who desires to see violence against the other. But, they are a tiny minority. Their rhetoric of violence and exclusion must also be condemned. But, what I can see – and it is clear as day - is that this interreligious violence is being  stoked by nefarious elements within society. And what I urge Egyptians – Christians and Muslims – to see through the aims of those who want Christians and Muslims to attack each other and resist it.

The governing Council must do everything within its power to protect all Egyptian citizens – Christians and Muslims alike. They must do everything within its power – within the rule of law – to stop those who want to attack fellow Egyptians simply because are Christians. Yet, more than this, I urge Egyptians – those with my very same ancestry – to remember who they are: Egyptians, citizens of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.

This sort of violence is a stain upon our heritage as people of Egyptian descent.  This violence is beneath both Egypt and her people. The Egyptian people are better than this, and I urge them to remember this fact. And for those Muslims who think that Christians are to be attacked, I remind them that this is totally against everything for which Islam stands. Moreover, it is a direct affront to the directives of our beloved Prophet:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them.

Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet.

Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected.

They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

Please see this for what it is: evil people trying to destroy all the good which the Revolution has brought by stoking violence between people who are actually brothers and sisters. Do not let the evil ones win.

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