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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

The Arafat Moment We Each Need to Have

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful 

Today, the over 2 million pilgrims are now standing upon the plain of Arafat, fulfilling the most essential and important ritual of the Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every able-bodied Muslim must perform once in his or her lifetime. I was blessed to perform the pilgrimage in 2003, and it was the most powerful experience of my entire life. I recount the pilgrimage in a diary here.

On Arafat, it is said, Adam and Eve were first reunited after their expulsion from the Garden. In this vast and flat plain, pilgrims stand before the Lord and beseech Him for forgiveness and mercy. I still remember this day as if it was yesterday. I could not stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks: I was in total awe of the Power and Majesty of the Lord and ashamed and horrified by the sins that I brought with me to that holy place. And the emotion of standing there before God – like I will on Judgment Day – was completely overwhelming.

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Not only is the experience of Arafat humbling, but it is also cleansing, because after the sun sets, all of the pilgrim’s sins are forgiven. At that moment, the pilgrim is born anew. It is a promise from the Lord.

Yet, even after we go to the Hajj and stand on Arafat, we can still have our own Arafat moments wherever we may be. We don’t have to be on Arafat to stand before the Lord and ask His forgiveness. We don’t have to be on Arafat to beseech our Lord’s Beauty and Mercy. We don’t have to be on Arafat to tremble in our shame and humility before the Lord. Wherever we may be, the Shining, Beautiful Face of our Lord is always there. All we have to do is look and seek its radiant light.

And so, let us pledge to have our Arafat moments every single day.

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Today, I am fasting, which is something Muslims who are not on the Hajj are encouraged to do, in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who are at Arafat today. I am very happy to do so, because of the beauty of the experience I had at Arafat. Every single day we live and breathe on this earth, we commit sins – despite the love of the Lord flowing upon us as a river of life-giving water. But, our own plains of Arafat are always there, and we can go there and ask His pardon at any time. So, let us do it. We will be all the better because of it.

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I Have Changed My Mind: I Am Trick-or-Treating This Year

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

In 2002, I penned an article on this website about my belief about Halloween. At that time, I said that I will not participate in the activities surrounding Halloween:

Halloween is upon us, and scores of children dressed up as everything imaginable will soon hit the streets, going door-to-door for candy. This year my five-year-old daughter is old enough to go. Alas, I will not let her. This is not because I am afraid for her safety, or I do not want her to eat her body weight in candy (though these are legitimate concerns). My decision is based on Islamic principles.

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Islam accepts the cultural traditions of a people as long as those traditions agree with Islamic values. Thus, blue jeans, baseball caps, hot dogs, and other quintessential American items are wholeheartedly accepted by Islam. I am perplexed when some American Muslims wear Arab dress and pass this off as “Islamic” attire. Nonsense. A pair of jeans and a T-shirt is as Islamic as it gets. A similar argument can be made about such holidays as Mother’s or Father’s Day. Honoring our parents is so strongly stressed in Islam; Muslims should have no problem commemorating such holidays.

And this is why I will not send my daughter trick or treating this year or any other year. Halloween honors Celtic and Roman gods. Islam is strictly monotheistic, and anything having to do with the worship of any other god besides the Most Holy One is out of the question.

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Well, many things have happened to me since I typed those words: I have gotten a bit older, I have had more children, and my views on Halloween itself have softened quite a bit. In fact, for the past several years now, I have been trick-or-treating with my kids in the neighborhood, and we have been passing out candy to the children who come to our door.

First of all, not answering the door so as to “not participate” is really not neighborly at all. I did that one year, and it felt terrible. If I am truly to be godly, which I always strive to be, I must be a good neighbor. But, then I started to reflect over Halloween itself. Yes, it may have once been a Roman/Celtic festival…but in America today, it is a day when people have fun by dressing in costume and passing out candy to children. There is nothing religious to it at all, and that is why I will be walking around the block and saying, “Trick or Treat.”

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No, I am not going to start celebrating Christmas, even though it can be argued that it has lost all religious significance. But, Halloween is really a cultural thing here in America, and I now feel that there is nothing wrong with taking part. Indeed, some may claim that I have “flip-flopped” or “sold out” be “more American.” I reject that completely.

I am an American: 100%. I am not ashamed of this at all. As an American, I participate in various cultural traditions if I want, such as Fourth of July or Memorial Day celebrations. One of these cultural traditions is Halloween, and because it is fun for both me and my children, I am going to participate. Nothing gruesome or grizzly…just nice, clean fun. This year, I am going as a Jedi Knight, one of the things I have always dreamed of being.

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When I look back at what I wrote, I chuckle a bit, because I see the writing of a devout, but perhaps naive, former version of me. I have not lost any of my zeal for the Lord or, I hope, any of my devotion to Him. But, I have taken the advice of many of the commentators who chimed in on my article: “lighten up.” Indeed, I have done just that.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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