Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Ramadan And The World Cup: There Ought To Be No Controversy At All

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

Although the number of Muslim football players participating in this year’s FIFA World Cup has dwindled considerably, there are still a number of players who are slated to play this weekend in the Quarterfinal matches. A number of them have already indicated that they will not be observing the fast of Ramadan, due to health reasons.

As a physician, I completely understand this stance. It is quite dangerous to play a fast-paced football game without the ability to hydrate oneself (if the game is before sunset). A couple of years ago, I simply played golf (riding in a cart, no less!)  in a hospital outing on a very hot day and nearly collapsed after six holes. I vowed never to do that again, and that sort of “physical activity” pales in comparison to a football game in the World Cup.

And the players have received scholarly support from Al Azhar University in Cairo, one of the oldest Sunni Islamic institutions in the world:

[German player Mesmut Ozil] has been backed by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, who reached an agreement with the German FA in 2010. The Central Council had asked for an expert opinion by the Islamic Al-Azhar academy in Cairo, which came to the conclusion that fast-breaking is allowed for professional footballers.

Of course, for some Muslims, this may be seen as controversial, as the fast of Ramadan is one of the most important rituals in Islamic practice. Yet, there really should be no controversy at all. The Qur’an gives Muslims “an out,” so to speak, with respect to the fast of Ramadan:

 Whoever of you is ill or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days… (2:184)

In other words, if you are traveling, you are exempt from the fast of Ramadan, although you must make up the days at a later time (before the next Ramadan).

Thus, there should be no controversy about whether a player should fast while playing a game in the heat and humidity of Brazil. Since they are traveling, they are allowed to break the fast. It is true that whether or not a person chooses to fast is personal, and it should not be the subject of international media attention. Nevertheless, the Muslim players should have no anxiety about not fasting during the World Cup at all. They are traveling.

Of course, the fast of Ramadan is more than just abstaining from food and drink: it is also about upright moral conduct, self-reflection, self-discipline, charity and concern for the poor. I would hope and pray that the players keep this in mind as they rest and recuperate before the games tomorrow and Saturday, even if they are not fasting.

It would be great, in fact, if they would all get together to pray the nightly Taraweeh vigil, as a show of religious solidarity and keeping in the spirit of this blessed month. It would go a long way to show that, even if they are on opposing teams during the World Cup, they are still brothers in faith and can stand side-by-side in prayer to God. We will have to see, I guess.

But, they don’t have to fast, regardless of the medical reasons, because the Qur’an allows travelers to break their fast. And they can make up those days missed in the winter…when the day is much shorter.

A most Blessed and Happy Ramadan to all!

Ramadan in Summer: No Less Dread, But Fasting In June and July Is The Very Least I Can Do

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

I cannot lie: I have no small amount of dread at the coming of the month of Ramadan, which starts June 28. Due to the lunar nature of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan this year (and for the next ten years) will fall during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that fasting will last from approximately 3:30 AM until 8:30 PM, with frequently hot weather to boot. It is by no means an easy task, especially since fasting includes abstinence from even water. I pray the Lord that He makes the fast easy for all those who choose to do so, including this poor soul.

But I cannot lie and say I’m excited about fasting in June and July. In truth, I should be very excited: there is so much blessing and reward in this month. Islamic tradition states that the gates of Paradise are open, and the gates of Hell are closed; demons and devils are chained up; the reward for righteous deeds are multiplied many times over in Ramadan; during this blessed month, the Qur’an was revealed so that I can live a life in the light of God’s guidance and mercy.

But I cannot lie and say I’m excited about fasting in June and July.

During Ramadan, Muslims’ homes and their houses of worship are alive with people, and worship, and prayer, and the recitation of scripture. It is a wondrous time of fellowship and piety. Frequently, Muslims will get together to break the fast, and it is nice to get to see people you may not necessarily get a chance to see during the year. It is also a wonderful time of charity and concern for the other, especially since the fast of the day reminds you of those less fortunate, who frequently go hungry out of need and not choice. And with so many crises in the Muslim world today, concern for the less fortunate is particularly acute.

But I cannot lie and say I’m excited about fasting in June and July.

Yet, my God, look at me! All this whining about fasting during – yes – a very long day! Of course, if there one cannot fast due to a medical reason, then the fast is no longer obligatory on that person. In addition, pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt from fasting, but they must make up the days later.

Still, every time Ramadan comes for the last few years, my face strains from the dread of knowing that I can’t drink my cup of coffee on my way to work…for a month. I can’t have that coveted 3PM cup of coffee that is just enough to keep me going until the end of my shift…for a month. I can’t have that occasional iced coffee (that is only 99 cents now) on the way home from work because, even after I leave from a long day at the hospital, there is still well over three hours before the sun will set…for a month.

My God! I am such a whiny wimp. Summer fasting is the very least that I can do for sake of my Beloved.

Now, of course, if Ramadan was not in the summer, I seriously doubt I would voluntarily fast (which would truly be magnanimous) on a long and hot July day. There are many Muslims who do just that, and my the Lord bless them tremendously. But, now, Ramadan is in the summer. Thus, if I am able to do so, I see fasting as the very least I can do in gratitude for all that the Beloved has done for me.

There is not a day that goes by during which I am not making mistakes; not falling short of what God wants of me; not succumbing to my weaknesses as a human being. Yet, despite the ugliness of my sins, the Lord shows me the Beauty of His Grace. Despite the horrible face I show Him, He continually shows me His Beautiful Countenance.

Thus, when the time comes for Ramadan, I should shut up and fast. It is time for me to show my gratitude in a way that I would not normally do: not eat or drink for 17 hours in the summer. It is time for me to step up for God because so many, many, many times, God has stepped up for me.

No, it is not going to be easy, and I cannot say that I will be fasting with a smile on my face. But, what keeps me from going into a full-on panic is the fact that – for every single moment of this man’s life – the Lord continually graces me with His Love, His Grace, His Beauty, and His Mercy. And I’ve done nothing – and can never do anything – for God to deserve this Grace.

So, when Ramadan starts this weekend, I plan to shut up and fast. It is the very least I can do.

‘Islamic Jew-Hatred’: It’s NOT in the Quran

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

Pamella Geller has put up bus ads in Washington, D.C. that say:

Islamic Jew-hatred: It’s in the Quran. Two-thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries. Stop racism. End all aid to Islamic countries.

Her contention is flat-out wrong.

The Quran is full of positive references to the Children of Israel and Jewish history. Many of the Jewish Prophets, in fact, are mentioned more by name than the Prophet Muhammad himself (peace be upon them all). Here is what the Quran says about the Torah, the Jewish Scripture:

It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong). (3:3)

It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light…And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God (5:44,46)

Does this sound like “Islamic Jew-Hatred” to you?

Here is but a small bit of what the Quran says about the Jewish Prophets:

Say ye: “We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them, and to Him have we submitted ourselves. (2:136)

Behold, we have inspired thee [O Prophet] just as we inspired Noah and all the prophets after him – as We inspired Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, including Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon; and as We vouchsafed unto David a book of divine wisdom (4:163)

And We bestowed upon him [Abraham] Isaac and Jacob, and We guided each of them as We had guided Noah aforetime. And out of his offspring, [We bestowed prophethood upon] David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron: for thus do We reward the doers of good. And upon Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elijah: ever one of them was of the righteous; and [upon] Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot: every one of them did We favor above other people (6: 84-86).

Does this sound like “Islamic Jew-Hatred” to you?

Now, indeed, there are seemingly tough verses in the Quran about the children of Israel:

Those of the children of Israel who were bent on denying the truth have [already] been cursed by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary; this because they rebelled [against God] and persisted in transgressing the bounds of what is right. (5:78)

There a few points here: first, the verse does not say that “all Jews are cursed.” The verse says that those children of Israel who did wrong were cursed by David and Jesus. And here is the scriptural evidence for this:

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:33-35)

The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. (Psalm 78:31-33)

Moreover, there are some verses in the Quran that are oft-quoted by those who claim “Islamic Jew-Hatred” which seem to call Jews “apes” and “pigs and monkeys”:

And well you knew those among you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath. We said to them ‘Be ye apes, despised and rejected.’ (2:65)

And ask them about that town which stood by the sea: how its people would profane the Sabbath whenever their fish came to them, breaking the water’s surface, on a day on which they ought to have kept Sabbath – because they would not come to them on other than Sabbath-days!…And then, when they disdainfully persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said unto them: ‘Be as apes despicable!’ (7:163-166)

Say: ‘Shall I tell you who, in the sight of God, deserves a yet worse retribution than these? They whom God has rejected and whom He has condemned, and whom He has turned into apes and swine because they worshiped the powers of evil: these are yet worse in station and father astray from the right path [than the mockers].” (5:60)

 

Indeed, some Muslims have claimed that Jews are “pigs and monkeys,” apparently based on these verses. As horrible as their claim is, their use of the Quran is completely incorrect.

As the verses clearly show, the Quran is not saying “Jews are apes and monkeys.” In fact, there is no verse in the Quran – none – that says “Jews are apes and monkeys.” The verses above speak about the Sabbath Breakers: it was they who were turned into apes because they broke the law of the Sabbath. Commentator Muhammad Asad (a Jew who converted to Islam) explains this story:

Under Mosaic Law, they were obliged to refrain from all work – and, therefore, also from fishing – on Sabbath-days, with the result that the fish were more plentiful and would come closer to the shore on those days: and the inhabitants of the town took this as an excuse to break the Sabbath-law.

In fact, according to Asad, the term “be ye apes” may only be metaphorical and not literal:

As for the substance of God’s decree, “Be as apes despicable”, the famous tabii [student of the Prophet’s (pbuh) Companions] Mujahid explains it thus: ‘(Only) their hearts were transformed, that is, they were not (really) transformed into apes: this is but a metaphor (mathal) coined by God with regard to them, similar to the metaphor of ‘the ass carrying books’ (62:5)”…A similar explanation is given by Raghib. It should be borne in mind that the expression “like an ape” is often used in classical Arabic to describe a person who is unable to restrain his gross appetites or passions.

The point is: there is no basis for the claim that “Islamic Jew-Hatred” is in the Quran. In fact, there is no such thing as “Islamic Jew-Hatred.” Islam does not command Muslims to hate anyone, Jewish or otherwise.

Now, are there Muslims who hate Jews? Most definitely. Are there Muslims who cite the Quran as their basis for hating Jews? Most definitely. Are they correct in their interpretation? Most definitely not. Don’t put your filthy words in God’s Holy Mouth.

 

 

 

“Your Love is Too High to Bring Me Down”

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

Pharrell Williams’ smash hit “Happy” has set off a worldwide phenomenon, bringing Pharrell Williams himself to tears. This phenomenon has touched the Muslim community around the world as well, staring with Muslims in Britain, who made a video of themselves dancing and laughing to the song. Following in their lead, Muslims around the world have made similar videos, including the Gaza Strip, Saudi Arabia, and even in my home of Chicago.

The controversy over these videos notwithstanding, the song itself has a fantastic message. There is one verse of the song, in particular, that is most telling to me from a spiritual perspective:

Your love is too high to bring me down

When I heard these words, I immediately thought of God’s love. Indeed, His love is most definitely “too high to bring me down.” In fact, it is too high to bring anyone down. And when we are enveloped in God’s love, we cannot help but be happy. 

His love is so soothing, so comforting,  so liberating, that it cannot help but make one happy. And that happiness is a deep-seated, warming happiness that nourishes the soul. It is a happiness that kings and princes would give up all their power and riches to get.

Living in God’s love is the only way to go. I was raised to fear God. Indeed, God’s punishment is something to be feared. His wrath is something to be feared. His chastisement is something to be feared.

But, as His Word says, “He has willed for Himself [the rule of] Mercy.” His Mercy overpowers His wrath, and thus – while keeping in mind His punishment – the main focus for our lives should be to live in His love.

I mean, it was His love that gave us life in the first place. What have we done to God or for God to deserve the gift of life? We were nothing before God breathed into us of His spirit and gave us life. Was it not out of love that God gave us life? Indeed it was.

And so, because God loved us first by giving us life, then our entire lives should be dedicated to loving God back by being faithful servants to His will. Every act of kindness we do to another creature is because we love the Creator of that creature. Every good deed we do to our fellow humanity is because we love the Creator of that human being. Every thing we do to make our world a better place is becuase we love the Creator of this world.

And when we do our best to love our God back, He showers us with even more love, and grace, and mercy, and blessing. And we become happy.

And so, God’s love is indeed “too high to bring me down,” and because of that great, all-enveloping love, we cannot help but feel happy. May we all live full, happy lives in the love of the Beloved Lord our God. Amen.

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