Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Ramadan Realities

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

This was my guest post on the Beliefnet blog, City of Brass.

As Ramadan approached, I had no small amount of dread. Fasting, of all the ritual practices of Islam, is the most difficult for me to do. I am not happy to admit this, but this is one of my (many) human weaknesses. Add to that the long, hot days of summer, and you get dread on my face and in my soul. In fact, I addressed this fear in a poetic letter to my soul just before the month began.

Now, Ramadan is here in full force, and I will just have to suck it up and fast. It is strongly recommended to eat a pre-dawn meal/snack called suhoor, and it is for good reason, too, especially in the long days of summer. But, I usually do not do so: I don’t feel well afterwards, and it makes the entire rest of the day even more difficult. I remember once during Residency, I ate gyros for suhoor, and I regretted it SO much. I had horrific heartburn the entire first half of the day, and I could not take anything to make it better. Never again, I said to myself. Mostly, my suhoor is a large heaping of water to help keep me as hydrated as possible for the coming day of fasting.

Yet, no matter how much water I will drink before the time to stop eating and drinking, it is inevitable that I will get thirsty as the day wears on. So, I change some of my routine: I stop working out in the morning throughout Ramadan. I could – theoretically – get up at 3 AM and hit the elliptical…but that is madness. I need sleep more than I need exercise, especially during Ramadan, when I stay up a little later to pray special prayers. So, no exercise for me. Last year, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I also skipped my Ramadan runs. And, I was still able to finish the race with a time of 5:37, thanks be to God.

Also, I frequently have “Ramadan stashes” in my lab coat pocket for after sunset: it might be a small pack of M&Ms, or – like yesterday – a piece of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, or a small chocolate bar. The Prophet (pbuh) used to break his fast with dates, and I definitely do that as well. Yet, I take it to the next level: I make a date/milk delight: I soak dates in an ice cold cup of milk for several hours before sunset. Many times, I will also add some walnuts. It is AWESOME. Things such as these makes sunset something to which I look forward, and it makes breaking my fast all the sweeter, both literally and figuratively.

One good thing about fasting during the summer is that there is a lot of time for spiritual reflection and recitation/reading of the Qur’an. And that is the whole point of the fast of Ramadan: to take away food and drink for just enough so that you can think “upward,” and reflect over the enormous blessing of having food and drink every single day and not even thinking about it. Thus, I should be motivated to help the poor and hungry who – many times – do not have even one square meal a day. And suprisingly, many said people are right here in the United States.

And, Lord, are there blessings in Ramadan. Everything seems to go much more smoothly during Ramadan. In fact, many of the most important things in my life have happened during Ramadan. My medical school interview was during Ramadan: I was accepted three months later. I had a very important high school track meet during Ramadan also. My coach told me that, in order for our team to win first place, I had to throw the shot put 42 feet at least: my distance was 42 feet and six inches. Just yesterday, coming home from vacation, the airport security experience was the easiest ever. Yes, I have to not have my coffee in the morning, but there are so many good things that come with the month of fasting.

All in all, Ramadan is a very good thing, but it is not without hardship and dread on my part. All I can do is fast to the best of my ability, try to clean up some of the bad habits I have learned throughout the year, polish my spirituality and improve my ritual practice, and pray that the Precious Beloved Lord accepts my efforts. Knowing how Beautiful He is, I am confident He will do just that.

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/2011/08/ramadan-realities.html#ixzz1UY3P8qHX

First Day and I’m Still Okay

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It was no secret that I approached the month of Ramadan with a large amount of fear and dread (along with shame). Now that Ramadan will be in the summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) for the next six to ten years, I am scared about the very long, very hot days and fasting. Normally, I like summer…when I’m fasting during it, however, it is a little tough. Thus, I was scared.

Well, it is now Ramadan 2, and I’m still here. I made it! Yeah, it was a little hard to wait until 8:11 PM to eat and drink. But, after all was said and done, it was not that bad. Now, I did have the option of breaking my fast yesterday as I was traveling. But, I decided (with much goading and encouragement from my wife) to fast anyway.

Yeah, I could have really used a cup of coffee in the airport; yeah, it was hard smelling those french fries that someone had bought and not be able to eat them; yeah, it was sad to not get to drink a can of diet soda on the plane. But, nothing happened. I was just fine. And I hope and pray that the Lord has blessed me tremendously for my fast.

Indeed, there are still long days of fasting ahead. Indeed, the heat of August will likely be oppressive. But, this is my time to show the Lord (and the world at large) that I love Him so much that I am willing to not eat and drink throughout the long days of August. No, He doesn’t need my fasts; He needs nothing at all.

But, I am still happy to do it anyway – even if I may not have a smile on my face at 6 PM with more than 2 hours left to eat.

Kareem Salama: (Muslim) Rock At Its Finest

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

“Hesham’s iPod” is an occasional post about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists.

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Every once in a while, a popular musical group comes out with a heartfelt song full of wonderful, inspiring messages. One such example is “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. When I hear songs like this, I think to myself: Why don’t more musicians sing more songs like this? Well, folks, we have such a musician: American (Muslim) country singer Kareem Salama.

I have been a fan of Kareem Salama ever since he burst on the scene a few years ago. His first album, Generous Peace, was great, with many wonderful, heartfelt tracks. My absolute favorite on that album is “Lady Mary,” which is about the Virgin Mary. It almost always makes me cry. Salama’s newest album, “City of Lights,” is even better.

This album is intended to be much more “mainstream” than “country,” so to speak, and it is. That is especially true for the first track, “Makes Me Crazy.” But what strikes me most about this album is the varied subject matter of his songs, and how each of them is truly uplifting and spiritually fulfilling. Take this line from the track “Heavenly Dreams”:

Some of us do believe/God gave us heavenly dreams

Those two lines of verse are so profound that I can write so much about it (which I plan to do). The love songs on his album – “We Could Be Friends,” “Beat In My Heart,” and others – are so pure and meaningful. Salama proves that one can sing about love and not have to go after our base nature. That is one of his strongest suits.

Yet, hands down, the runaway hit on this album is the rock re-make of “Baby, I’m a Soldier.” He originally released the song on his first album and that version was very nice. But this version is AWESOME.

The song is about war and the experience of soldiers. It tells the amazing story of two soldiers on either side of a conflict, and the amazing thing that happens when they meet each other in battle. It is such an uplifting story, and everyone – especially our elected leaders – should listen to this song and learn from its many lessons (I will write about this one, too).

The bridge of this song is fantastic: he keeps the listener on edge, endlessly wondering about what thing “shocked” both soldiers. While waiting for the answer, the listener is treated with the best bit of electric guitar I have ever heard. It moves me so much, and I have listened to this specific part of the song over and over again without tiring. I was never really a rock/country fan, but Kareem Salama has made me a convert. Moreover, he is blazing the trail of (Muslim) rock/country, and I am forever grateful for it.

If you haven’t already noticed, I placed the word “Muslim” in parenthesis because, the fact that he is Muslim is wholly parenthetical. If you listen to the album without knowing the name of the singer, you would think it is an average rock/country album. The fact that Kareem is Muslim is irrelevant. I actually performed this “experiment,” if you will, with my neighbor, and he was shocked when I told him the singer is Muslim.

But that is the whole point: one can sing “Muslim rock” without once saying “Allah,” or “Islam,” or “Muhammad.” What I love most about Kareem Salama’s work is that he is not a singer who says “Allah” in a cowboy hat. He infuses his music with Islamic themes and spirituality, and the listener does not know it. And that is also the whole point: Islamic themes are universal and in common with the themes of all faiths and traditions, and Kareem weaves them in masterfully.

I will say again what I said with Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen: Go get this album. You will not regret it.

 

The Rap Album That Made Me Cry

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I am reviving my “Hesham’s iPod” series, which is an occasional about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists. 

I have been listening to rap music ever since my teenage years. Indeed, I do admit that some of it was not very pious or religious, and for that, I ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And Let me insert here that the rap music of then was much better than that of today. I miss the “good old days” of hip hop, quite honestly. But, still, there has never been a rap album that has made me cry.

Until now.

Native Deen, the premier Muslim hip-hop band, just released their new album “The Remedy.” By far, this is their best album yet. I do like and enjoy listening to all of their songs, but on the previous two albums, “Deen You Know” and “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” there were some songs that were nice, but really didn’t move me. The tears, however, stream frequently as I listened to this album.

It is clear – as it should be – that the music of Native Deen has evolved. On the first album, much of the songs talked about Islam, and the Prophets, and such, but the flavor of the songs were very much flat. It also seemed a little “adolescent.” It got better with “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” with more than one inspiring and uplifting song, such as “Life’s Worth” and “Rain Song.” No track on that album, however, compared with “Zamilooni,” which featured South African Muslim singer Zain Bhikha. That song, about the Prophet’s love for his wife Khadjiah, was the best they had at that point.

That is, until they released “The Remedy.” As with every album, they always begin with a song singing God’s praises and thanks, and the song, “Bismillah” is hip, fresh, and makes you move. I am almost moved to tears by “Mercy to Mankind,” which reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Packed At All,” which talks about preparing for Judgment Day, is quite inspirational as well.

The tears really start, however, at “My Faith, My Voice.” This song talks about not allowing the Islam-bashers and Islamophobes direct the discourse about Islam and Muslims. The lyrics of the song speak for the millions of Muslims all over the world, who have to shudder every time a Muslim commits a crime:

There’s a lunatic, goes on a rampage/Using violence, and I’m outraged/This is senseless, and it’s gruesome/Please don’t let this be a Muslim

How many times have we Muslims all said that? But they always remind us that the discourse belongs to us Muslim, not the haters:

I know what they call us/They’ll try to blame all us/But I know how the Prophet lived/And I know what he taught us/This is my faith, my voice

I can’t help but cry. It uplifts me and keeps me strong: no matter what they say about us, Islam is my faith, and my voice is what counts.

Once this song is through, the next is the title track of the album,”The Remedy.” I thought it would be a typical song about how Islam is the remedy to all of our problems, a sort of “Islam is the solution” mantra put to rap. How wrong I was.

The entire song is nothing but repetition of God’s names and the shahadah, or testimony of faith. And the rhythm of the song is so awesome, that you can’t help but bop your head. But, the sounds of their voices go straight to my heart and make me reach out to the Lord in humility and love. And the tears stream. I have listened to this track a bunch of times, and it is – far and away – the best of the whole album.

This latest Native Deen album has a little of everything for everyone. There is a song about the Companion Bilal, the first Muezzin, or “caller to the prayer,” called “Ahad,” and it also made cry, reminding me of the strength and fortitude of that great companion, who was tortured for his conversion to Islam. Native Deen has also continued in the tradition of Muslim holiday songs with “Ramadan is Here,” and this will instantly become a classic. I will definitely play this one for my kids once Ramadan starts in a few weeks, God willing.

Another tear jerker is “I am Near,” a song with great rhythm and sound along with beautiful supplications to the Lord. The boys of Native Deen also constantly remind us of the poor and needy around the world with songs like “Hungry Ones,” and “Gaza,” which is a homage to the people of Palestine. I really can’t say enough about this album, and Native Deen has truly outdone itself, making an album that appeals both to Muslim children and youth, along with their parents. My daughters and I just finished listening to the album, and we all enjoyed doing so.

Now, it is no secret that the primary audience of Native Deen is Muslims. Yet, that does not mean that this album is not good for people of all faiths. It is, at its core, a great, modern hip hop album, and one that is pure to boot. The beats and the rhythms are fantastic. But, this album also lets listeners in on the internal conversations of the American Muslim community. You want to know what Muslims are saying to each other? Don’t listen to the Islamophobes, who are – by and large – lying to your face. Listen to Native Deen.

Bottom line: Go out and buy this album. You will not regret it.

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