Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Ashura: The “Muslim Passover”

In the Name of God: the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

Happy New Year. The Islamic New Year, that is. And the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic year is a very special. It is called Ashura, and this year, it falls on Monday, November 3. For Shia Muslims, it is a day of painful commemoration of the murder of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). No doubt, although I am a Sunni Muslim, the murder of Hussein is also very painful for me, but I don’t commemorate it the way some Shia Muslims do.

Rather, following the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I will spend the day in fasting:

The Prophet came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They replied, “This is a good day, the day on which God rescued the Children of Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted this day.” The Prophet said, “We have more claim over Moses than you.” So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast (on that day). (Bukhari)

Narrated Ibn Abbas: I never saw the Prophet seeking to fast on a day more (preferable to him) than this day, the day of ‘Ashura’, or this month, i.e. the month of Ramadan. (Bukhari)

The day of Ashura was considered as a feast day by the Jews. So the Prophet ordered, “I recommend you (Muslims) to fast on this day.” (Bukhari)

Now, fasting is difficult for me in general, and fasting outside of the month of Ramadan is even more difficult. But I plan to fast on Monday anyway, because the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recommended it, and it commemorates a very special moment in our sacred history: the freeing of the Children of Israel from the brutal bondage in Egypt.

This should come as no surprise that Muslims, millions of Muslims all over the world, are forgoing food and drink in commemoration of the Exodus out of Egypt. The story of Moses figures very prominently in the Qur’an. The Prophet Moses (pbuh) is mentioned more by name than any other Prophet, much more than the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself.

The Qur’an tells of two miracles – Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing when he places it under his arm – that God permitted as proof of Moses’ prophethood. It also describes the plagues unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and refusal to set the Hebrews free (7:133). It also relates the story of the golden calf and Moses’ anger with his people at their worshiping it as a god besides the Lord (20:85-97).

My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice (2:50, 26:52-68). Furthermore, the Qur’an tells a story about Moses that I do not think is in the Bible: his encounter with the “Servant of God” in the desert of Sinai, who taught Moses an important lesson about the knowledge of God (18:60-82).

It is truly remarkable that the followers of one major religion, Islam, fast to commemorate the central figure of another major religion, Judaism. The fact that the followers of Islam and Judaism in the Holy Land continue to fight – while worshiping the same God and honoring the same Prophet (i.e., Moses) – ceaselessly baffles me. But the fact remains: one of the religious rituals of Muslims is fasting to commemorate the Exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt; a “Muslim Passover,” if you will.

This is true Islam, not the barbarism of KIL (aka, “ISIS”). This is the essence of what Islam is all about, even though Muslims around the world hold troubling (and largely un-Islamic) views about many different things. Loving God with all your heart; worshiping Him and doing good to all His creation because of that love; and, yes, fasting a day in celebration of the Exodus: that is Islam. My only hope and prayer is that more people come to see this reality.

And so, Monday, I will likely not stop for a cup of coffee on my way to work: all for the sake of God and His Prophet Moses (and Muhammad). My only saving grace is…the day will be an hour shorter. It is probably the only time I will appreciate the short days of winter.

 

I Pray A Happier New Year Will Come

In the Name of God: the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Precious Beloved

Tomorrow is the first day of the Islamic New Year, 1436. Indeed, it is part of human nature that – when such time-based transitions occur – a pause to reflect over what has transpired generally happens. Clearly, Islamic year 1435 has been quite challenging.

War has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world, with so many innocent people – Muslim and non-Muslim – dying senseless deaths. What is just as bad, if not worse, are the “holy warriors” that wreak havoc, death, and destruction in the name of the faith that Muslims, including this one, hold so dearly. Whether it be Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Boko Haram, or KIL (aka, ISIS), there are too many horrific things that are done in the name of Islam.

I pray that the evil of these barbarians comes to an end in 1436. It goes without saying that extremism is bred in the swamps of injustice, and thus I pray that more of these swamps will be drained  in the coming year of 1436. I pray that the Syrian civil war, which helped KIL (aka ISIS) grow in power, comes to an end in 1436. I pray that peace between Israel and Palestine, elusive for far too long, can be finally achieved in 1436. I pray that the fires of hatred between Sunni and Shia, which are stoked by some solely for power and influence, can be snuffed out and extinguished in 1436.

I pray that the horror of Ebola in West Africa can be brought under control in 1436. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that, if not taken care of quickly and aggressively, Ebola infection runs of risk of becoming endemic – meaning permanently present – in the human populations of West Africa. This is quite frightening and must be avoided at all costs. I pray for comfort for the families of the victims of this terrible disease, and I also pray that a cure and/or effective treatment can be found in 1436.

I pray that the fires of division and hatred in this country are extinguished in 1436. So many times, the actions of a few are projected upon the whole. Yes, a handful of converts to Islam have committed grave crimes. But that does not mean converting to Islam will make one violent. There are thousands – if not millions – of converts to Islam who have been transformed into good, upright, beautiful people by their conversion. Their stories are the true stories of Islam, but unfortunately, most of the time, the true stories of Islam are simply not reported.

I pray that mass shootings, such as the one that took place today, come to an end in 1436. I have a daughter in High School. I could not imagine having to worry about her safety if a gunman started shooting at her high school. I pray for the families of the victims of this tragedy, for I know all too well the horror of losing a child.

There is so much evil in our world – coming from every space and every direction – that it is easy to let oneself be overwhelming and smothered by it all. But, we must not let that happen. Yes, there is bad, but there is so much more good. Let us focus on that and keep our spirits high. God is in charge, and in that fact, we should all rejoice.

Are my prayers all pipe dreams? Some may think so. But, with God all is possible. Like I said, He is in charge, and in that fact, we should all rejoice. And I have one last prayer: that one and all – Muslim and not – have a safe, and blessed, and prosperous, and happy Islamic Year 1436.

Bill Maher and Sam Harris Just Don’t Get That, Truly, Islam Is Not The Problem: Take Apostasy For Example

In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

So much ink has been spilled about the now famous debate about Islam on Bill Maher’s show between bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck. As I read and watch and hear the back and forth, I’m exasperated at what is lost in the debate. Lost in this debate is the fact that, despite what various polls show – and there is a lot of nuance in those polls – many, if not all, of the alleged “Islamic beliefs” that horrify the likes of Maher and Harris are simply based on a total misreading of Islam and the Qur’an. Whenever I hear claims like “Islam demands the murder of apostates…” or “Islam claims the infidel must be killed…“, I simply shake my head in disbelief because, it is simply not true. And I go to the very scriptures themselves to back this claim up.

As an example, one of those “Islamic beliefs” that is mentioned time and again is the supposed death penalty for apostates, i.e., those who leave the faith of Islam. Now, polls, such as the Pew poll of Muslim attitudes, show that sometimes 80% of Muslims in this country or that believe that “Islam demands the death penalty for apostates.” Yet, Islamic Scripture completely rejects this belief, no matter how many Muslims believe it.

In fact, I have had this very discussion with a number of Muslims, and I simply cannot understand from where they get the notion that apostates are to be murdered. It is not because I am naive (although some may think so); it is not because I am lying (although some may claim so). Rather, it is because the Scripture is explicitly clear over the issue of freedom of faith.

Here are the scores of verses in the Qur’an that explicitly uphold freedom of faith:

There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error… (2:256)

Say [O Muhammad], ‘The truth is from your Lord:’ Let him who wills believe it, and let him who wills, reject (it). (18:29)

If it had been your Lord’s will, they all would have believed – all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)

Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright? (13:31)

And [because He is your Creator], it rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright. (16:9)

It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but God sets on the right path whom He pleases. (2:272)

But would you, perhaps, torment yourself to death with grief over them if they are not willing to believe in this message? (18:6)

God wants us to come to Him willingly. God wants us to follow His path by our choice, not under pain of death. The Qur’an says as much:

O you who have attained to faith! Respond to the call of God and the Apostle when he calls you unto that which will give you life…(8:24)

And If My servants ask you [O Muhammad] about Me, behold, I am near. I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me. Let them, then respond unto Me and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way (2:186)

Right and wrong do not make any sense if there is not total freedom of will. Reward and punishment do not make sense if there is not total freedom of will. Hence, the Qur’an does not proscribe a punishment for those who leave the faith.

Yet, more than just this, the Qur’an specifically speaks about apostasy,  and no where is there mention that the one who leaves is to be harmed in any way:

… [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth – these it is whose works will go for naught in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide. (2:217)

Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. (3:90)

O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith, God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him – humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing. (5:54)

Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters unbelief – except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith – but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from God, and theirs will be a dreadful penalty. This because they love the life of this world better than the hereafter: and God will not guide those who reject faith. (16:106-107)

Now, no doubt, the text is harsh against those who leave the faith. The text threatens these people with eternal punishment. Indeed, the verses in the Qur’an that speak harshly about apostasy are akin to this Biblical verse:

Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deut. 6:14-15)

Harshness towards apostasy seems to be an Abrahamic religious thing. But, again, the Qur’an does not say the apostate is to be killed. The fate of the apostate is left up to God in the Hereafter. There is no punishment whatsoever to be meted by anyone in this world.

Why, the Qur’an even speaks about “serial apostasy”:

Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way. (4:137)

No where does it mention that a hair is to be touched on this person’s head, let alone killed. Given all this Scriptural evidence, I simply do not understand how anyone can claim the Qur’an demands death for the apostate.

In fact, diversity of faith is part of God’s plan for this earth. And the Qur’an itself says so:

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… (5:48)

For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)

Moreover, one of the reasons that armed conflict is sanctioned in Islam is to protect religious freedom:

If God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed. (22:40)

A more detailed analysis and explanation - citing Islamic sources including Prophetic tradition – of apostasy and Islam is available for those who want to read more. It is beyond the scope of this post here.

And it must be said: there is one Scripture that calls for the death penalty for apostates. The Bible (emphasis added):

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 13:6-10).

Bottom line is this: Freedom of faith is paramount in Islam. Period. Freedom of faith is fundamental to the very essence of Islam itself. Period. No doubt, the belief that apostates must be put to death is prevalent among a distressingly large number of Muslims. But, Islam has nothing to do with this. Bill Maher and Sam Harris are simply wrong about this issue.

May The Hajj Be Safe From the Evil of KIL (aka, ISIS)

In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

This is a special time of year for Muslims all over the world. As I write this, millions of Muslims from around the world are descending upon the holy city of Mecca to begin what will likely be the most powerful spiritual experience of their lifetimes. The annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is set to begin tomorrow. The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and series of rituals that every Muslim – if physically and financially able – must perform.

I was blessed to perform the Hajj in 2003, and it was as if it was yesterday. The lessons and experiences I had during that time will always be with me, and no matter where I am, the holy places always call me back to them.

Unfortunately, however, this year there seems to be extra concern over the threats of an attack by the barbarians of KIL (aka, ISIS):

Each year, as the crowds of millions of Muslims who come to Mecca for the hajj continue to grow, Saudi Arabian authorities have stepped up safety and security measures. There is a long list of troubles they hope to avoid: crime, fire, stampedes, the spread of infectious disease.

But this year, Saudi officials are on alert against a new threat: Islamic State militants and offshoot groups inspired by them.

Indeed, attacks by extremists are nothing new:

“Judging from its published statements and videos and its penchant for revolting acts of violence, I would not be surprised at all if ISIS tried to disrupt the hajj in some fashion,” said Fahad Nazer, a terrorism analyst with the Virginia-based contractor JTG Inc. and a former political analyst at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. “After all, a group with very similar extremist views did lay siege to the Grand Mosque in 1979, shortly after the end of the hajj season that year.”

The 1979 incident, where hundreds of militants led by Saudi national Juhayman al-Otaybi seized Mecca’s Masjid Al-Haram, also known as the Grand Mosque, for two weeks, was the most dramatic case of violence around the time of the hajj. But it was far from the most recent. In 1987, a riot caused by a clash between anti-American Iranian demonstrators and Saudi security forces led to more than 400 deaths, while two bombs set off in 1989 killed one pilgrim and injured 16. Saudis beheaded 16 Kuwaiti Shias for the crime.

Still, for the barbarians of KIL to try to do anything to disrupt the Hajj would be a new low. The whole area surrounding the holy shrine at Mecca is considered a haram, or sacred sanctuary. No living thing is supposed to be harmed within its boundaries. This law dates back to the Patriarch Abraham himself. The pagan enemies of the Prophet Muhammad dared not violate this sanctity.

Yet, would I be surprised if KIL tried to commit acts of violence during this or any subsequent Hajj? Not really. These criminals have shown themselves to have little regard for basic human decency, let alone the sanctity of life. But it will only increase my already strong revulsion for them and their ilk. Every sacred space – no matter where the place and the faith – should be a place of peace and sanctity.

I pray that the Lord God protects His house – and the guests blessed to visit it – from the bloody hands of these monsters. And I pray that every pilgrim is blessed with the most powerful spiritual experience in their life, and that they come back from Mecca with both their faith and their spirituality renewed and recharged.

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