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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

If They Only Knew…

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

Clearly, those Christian “patriots” who want to silence TLC’s “All-American Muslim” series have no idea what is in our scripture and our faith about Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Clearly, these people have no idea about Islam in general. Otherwise, they would not try to bully advertisers into dumping “All-American Muslim” for a truly silly reason: that the Muslims on “All-American Muslim” are “too ordinary.”

No, my house is not decked out with lights or a Christmas tree. Yet, I still love Jesus so very much. As this poem I penned attests:

 

What was it like, when you stood there alone?
Praying in the East, on you His Light ever shone?

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What was it like, when the angel came before thee?
Frightening you greatly, shattering your tranquility?

What was it like, when you were told the news:
That unto you was born the Messiah of the Jews?

Did you not know, that you were more than worthy?
That God chose you above all, that He favored you greatly?

Did you not know, that before you came to be,
The Lord already declared that magnificent were thee?

What was it like, when the Spirit was blown:
When our master was conceived, a miracle to be shown?

What was it like, as you left in fear?
Afraid of the slander that may be placed in the ear?

How did it feel, when the pangs came in earnest?
Did you feel deserted, that the Lord had no interest?

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What did it sound like, when our master to you spoke?
How soothing was his voice, covering you like a cloak?

How sweet was the fruit that fell from the tree?
Did it comfort your mind, fill you with tranquility?

How sharp were the stares when, with him, you arrived?
Did their shock give you pain, that they would think you would connive?

How powerful was his voice, when he proclaimed the truth?
Were they amazed by his grace, as he shattered the lies of the uncouth?

O Blessed Mother, upon you I perpetually pray for peace.
And also upon your son, I pray blessings cover him as a fleece.

And if, O Blessed Soul, I get a chance to kiss your hand,
It would be the most honored place I could ever stand!

 

 

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A Special Day I Don’t Celebrate

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Today was always a special day for me, ever since my university days. For three years of my life, I would have this day off, in fact. I would do nothing special on this day, but it was still nice not to have to attend any classes. Before I attended Marquette University, I had no idea that this special day even existed. Nevertheless, ever since that time, there is a special place in my heart for this day: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Now, naturally, I had thought this day was about Christ (pbuh). Yet, I was surprised to learn that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was not about Christ, but rather his mother, Mary (pbuh). Her story is especially beautiful, as it is recounted in Scripture:

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when a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!” But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and the male is not like the female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed. And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth…

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It may surprise you that this story is not from the Bible, but rather the Qur’an (3:35-37). Indeed, the story of Jesus and his mother (peace be upon them) is in several places in the Qur’an, and the Virgin Mary, in fact, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. She is also the only woman to have an entire chapter of the Qur’an named after her.

That is why this day, December 8, is special for me. No, it is not a religious holiday for me. It is not a “Holy Day of Obligation” for me as a Muslim. Yet, that does not mean that the subject of this day, the Holy Virgin, is not very special to me. Indeed she is. In fact, the Qur’an sets up the example of the Virgin Mary as the model of what a true believer should be:

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And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran,// who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb],// and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer’s words – and [thus,] of His revelations// – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)

Indeed, I will be truly successful if I am just a fraction as good as the Virgin Mary. What’s more, in the verses I quoted above from Chapter 3, there is an alternative interpretation of the literal phrase, “and the male is not like the female.” According to the classical commentator Zamakshari, whose interpretation I share, this phrase actually means:

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The male [child] which she had prayed for could not have been like the female which she was granted” – which implies that Mary’s excellence would go far beyond any hopes which her mother had ever entertained.

I like this meaning much more. I have said before, and I say again, that I pray the Lord God on High that I may enter His garden and be admitted into the company of the Prophets. And then, I hope to seek out the Virgin Mary, greet her emphatically, and kiss her hand. It would be the best gift the Lord could ever bestow.

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“Er…Happy Holidays!”

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

During these days, many of my patients, as they are leaving, tell me: “Er…Happy Holidays!” I know they mean well: they don’t want to offend me by saying “Merry Christmas.” But, I’m here to tell you: I would not be offended if you say to me: “Merry Christmas.”

I mean, that is a very nice thing to wish me: happiness on Christmas Day. No, I don’t celebrate Christmas…but that doesn’t mean that you can’t wish me happiness on Christmas Day. I would welcome such a wish, because, Christmas Day for me is so boring.

Nothing is open…nothing! A couple of years ago, I had to work on Christmas night, and I was looking for something to eat: nothing but the Muslim-owned Mediterranean restaurant was open. But, I didn’t want that food: I wanted Chinese food. But, all the Chinese restaurants were closed! I was totally devastated.

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If the wishes of my patients for a “Merry Christmas” came true for me, I would find all restaurants open for business on Christmas night only for me, and if I go to any of them, they will give me food for free in gratitude for coming in on Christmas night. So, please, wish me a Merry Christmas, for God’s sake!

I see no problem for me as a Muslim wishing my Christian friends and neighbors “Merry Christmas” during Christmas season. The same goes for my Jewish friends and neighbors during Rosh Hashana. Once I told a patient, whom I knew to be Jewish, “Happy New Year.” She was quite surprised, and she said, “Happy New Year to you, too?” (Asking if I was Jewish). I said, “No, but I know it’s Rosh Hashana.” I knew she appreciated it, and that made me very happy.

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We should do more of this sort of thing. If we each wish our neighbors a “Merry Christmas” during the Christmas season; a “Happy New Year” during Rosh Hashana; a “Happy Kwanzaa” during Kwanzaa; a “Happy Divali” during Divali; the bonds of our brotherhood and sisterhood will be all the stronger. The barriers of hate and fear will be destroyed. And our country will all the better for it.

So, to one and all, I say to you: Have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous, Happy New Year.

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Let’s Remember Each Other This Thanksgiving

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! May everyone enjoy this day with their families. I am not going to go into the issue of whether Muslims should or should not celebrate Thanksgiving. For me, I have come to the conclusion that this cultural tradition does not contradict the principles of my faith.

Now, I may not sit and have a traditional American turkey dinner, but that is because I am first-generation American of Egyptian descent. Quite likely, I will have dinner with some Egyptian dishes (and probably turkey, also). Still, what is wrong with getting together on Thanksgiving? Nothing, as far as I am concerned.

Yet, let us all remember that, especially during these difficult times in our country’s history, there are a lot of people who are suffering. There are a lot of people who are out of work. There are a lot of people who will not get to enjoy a turkey dinner with “all the ‘fixins.” Yes, we should be thankful if we are not in their lot.

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But, that cannot be the end of it. We have to try to help them. That is the essence of what it means to be truly thankful. Scripture says to us:

And [remember the time] when your Sustainer made [this promise] known: ‘If you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly give you more and more;but if you are ungrateful, verily, My chastisement will be severe indeed!” (14:7)

What better way to be grateful to the Lord than helping those who are less fortunate? Here in Chicago, a group of friends of mine – Muslims – have a turkey drive (http://www.sabeelpantry.org/turkeydrive.htm), during which they distribute 750 turkeys to needy families on the South Side of Chicago. I try to contribute something every single year. It is the very least I can do, in gratitude for the tremendous blessings I have been given.

I pray that everyone in our country, and in our world, can be thankful for something this Thanksgiving season. And I pray that each of us can try to help out those who need such help. That is the spirit of Thanksgiving. That is the true essence of what it means to be thankful.

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