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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

She Would Have Been Eighteen Today

In the Name Of God: The Infinitely Merciful And Compassionate Beloved Lord

She would have been eighteen-years-old today. Eighteen. It is hard for me to even fathom what that would have been like. Today would have been her first day of adulthood; the first day of the rest of her life; her first day of being the woman she always wanted to be, the woman I had always hoped she would be.

Yet, sadly, it will never come to pass.

I always wonder what kind of woman she would have been. What kind of adult would she have been? Would she have wanted to become a doctor like me? An interior designer like her mother? A lawyer? A writer? An artist? What would she have done to make her mother and me so very proud?

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Sadly, we will never come to know.

There is one thing, however, I do know: she would have been a most beautiful eighteen-year-old. Not only did the Lord grace her with physical beauty, but she also had a profound beauty of her soul. There was not a person who interacted with her that did not immediately love her; did not immediately fall in love with her beautiful spirit; did not immediately fall in love with her gorgeous smile.

She was something truly special, and although I am so very grateful for every waking moment we had with her, it is killing me that I will never know what kind of woman she would have become. It is killing me that I will never watch her graduate from high school or college; never walk her down the aisle at her wedding; never see the beautiful grandchildren she would have had. I know that her passing was the will of my Beloved, but it does not cease to hurt all the same.

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She would have been eighteen today, and although my heart cries out that I can’t celebrate her birthday with her here on earth, I know that they are throwing her an amazing party in Heaven: with Angels all decked out in pink like she loves.

Lord, Beloved Lord, please tell my Booboo that I wish her — with all my heart — a very Happy Eighteenth Birthday. Lord, Beloved Lord, please tell my Booboo to have an extra piece of heavenly cake for her father who loves her so very much. Lord, Beloved Lord, please tell my Booboo that her Baba misses her…so very much.

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“Christmas in the Qur’an”

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

In my last post, we discussed how Jesus Christ is part of my life, even if I am not celebrating the religious festival marking his birth.  Yet, the verses in the Qur’an regarding the birth of Jesus Christ were only quickly mentioned. Here they are in detail.

Chapter 3, verses 45-49:

Lo! The angels said: “O Mary! Behold, God sends thee the glad tiding, through a word from Him, [of a son] who shall become known as the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, of great honor in this world and in the life to come, and [shall be] of those who are drawn near unto God. And he shall speak unto men in his cradle, and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous.

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Said she: “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?” [The angel] answered: “Thus it is: God creates what He wills when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, ‘Be’ – and it is. And he will impart unto thy son revelation, and wisdom, and the Torah, and the Gospel, and [will make him] an apostle unto the children of Israel .”

Yet, by far, the most eloquent verses regarding Jesus’ birth come in Chapter 19, verses 16-33:

AND CALL to mind, through this divine writ, Mary. Lo! She withdrew from her family to an eastern place and kept herself in seclusion from them,  whereupon We sent unto her Our angel of revelation, who appeared to her in the shape of a well-made human being. She exclaimed: “Verily, ‘I seek refuge from thee with the Most Gracious! [Approach me not] if thou art conscious of Him!” [The angel] answered: “I’ am but a messenger of thy Lord, [who says,] `I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'” Said she: “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me? – for, never have I been unchaste?” [The angel] answered: “Thus it is; [but] thy Sustainer says, `This is easy for Me; and [thou shalt have a son,] so that We might make him a symbol unto mankind and an act of grace from US. And it was a thing decreed [by God]:

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and in time she conceived him, and then she withdrew with him to a far-off place. And [when] the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree, she exclaimed: “Oh, would that I had died before this, and had become a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” Thereupon [a voice] called out to her from beneath that [palm-tree]: “Grieve not! Thy Sustainer has provided a rivulet [running] beneath thee; and shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards thee: it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon thee. Eat, then, and drink, and let thine eye be gladdened! And if thou should see any human being, convey this unto him: `Behold, abstinence from speech have I vowed unto the Most Gracious; hence, I may not speak today to any mortal.

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And in time she returned to her people, carrying the child with her. They said: “O Mary! Thou hast indeed done an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother unchaste!” Thereupon she pointed to him. They exclaimed: “How can we talk to one who [as yet] is a little boy in the cradle?”

[But] he [Jesus] said: “Behold, I am a servant of God. He has vouchsafed unto me revelation and made me a prophet, and made me blessed wherever I may be; and He has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live, and [has endowed me with] piety towards my mother; and He has not made me haughty or bereft of grace. “Hence, peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and [will be upon me] on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!”

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These are the verses about Jesus with which I was raised. These are the verses I have read countless times, in all parts of the year. Theses are the verses which, along with other Prophetic traditions, have made me love, revere, and honor Jesus Christ in my life. They are indeed beautiful, recounting a beautiful and special event in the history of humanity, for both Christians and Muslims alike.

And just as Jesus Christ himself said – “Peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and [will be upon me] on the day of my death and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!” – thus, O Lord, I pray that this very same peace reign over our world and over all of us who live on it. Amen.

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Though Not Technically Celebrating Christmas, Jesus Is Still On My Mind As A Muslim

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

I must admit: at this time of year, sometimes it feels lonely. Practically the whole country is gearing up for the Christmas holiday, which is less than two weeks away. And while technically I do not celebrate the religious festival that is Christmas, it would be nice to feel included. I mean, some people are even afraid of saying, “Merry Christmas,” fearing that it would “offend” me. Nothing is farther from the truth. What is more nice than wishing me a happy day on December 25?

Still, as a Muslim, the religious celebration of Christmas is not one of my religious holidays. Yet, that does not mean that Jesus Christ is not on my mind. Far from it. Christ, in fact, is all over my Scripture. There are dozens of verses in the Quran that speak about Jesus, including his birth (3:45-49), his miracles (5:110), the Last Supper (5:113-115), among many others. Chapter 19 of the Quran is named “Mary,” after his mother, who I revere and honor just the same.

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Jesus, as the Quran says, “shall be of the righteous” (3:46). “Peace be upon me the day I was born,” says Jesus in the Quran, “and [will be upon me] on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!” (19:33). The Quran also calls upon its readers to remember “she who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people” (21:91), referring to Mary and Jesus. Many will be surprised to know that Jesus Christ is mentioned by name in the Qur’an many more times than the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace and blessings be upon them both.

Yet, more than Jesus (and Muhammad, of course), many of the Prophets of God are part and parcel of my daily life.

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Every day I utter the prayer of Moses, as recounted in the Quran, when he was charged by God to take the Children of Israel out of slavery:

O my Lord! Open up my heart to [Thy Light]; And make my task easy for me; And loosen the knot from my tongue, so that they might fully understand my speech. (20:25-28)

It brings me comfort as I start my day at the hospital.

I utter the same prayer as Joseph, after he was reunited with his family in Egypt after all those years:

Originator of the heavens and the earth! You are near to me in this world and in the life to come. Let me die as one who has surrendered himself to You, and make me one with the righteous. (12:101)

I even turn the praise of God by Jesus Christ, as mentioned in the Quran, into a prayer:

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Behold, I am a servant of God. He has vouchsafed unto me revelation and made me a Prophet. And [He has] made me blessed wherever I may be…” (19:30-31).

Thus, there is hardly a day that goes by that I do not ask the Lord: “Make me blessed wherever I may be.”

This is one of the most beautiful things, as far as I am concerned, about being a Muslim: not only am I directly connected to the Lord our God, my Creator and Sustainer, but also to His many Prophets that He sent throughout the millennia, including Jesus Christ. I follow their footsteps as I take this journey back towards to the Lord our God, hoping and praying that I do as good a job as possible. I follow a tradition, starting with my Creator, that dates back to the very beginning of history itself.

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That is why I am so utterly outraged at the rabid barbarians – “extremists” is too kind a word – of groups such as Boko Haram, the Taliban, and KIL (a.k.a., “ISIS”). They have resurrected centuries old barbarism – one that Islam came to eradicate – and cloak it with the garbs of faith and righteousness. In the process, they defile Islam with their filth. I hate them, and I pray that they be destroyed once and for all.

But, as far as Christmas Day is concerned, it is likely that I will not be exchanging gifts with my friends and family or having a formal Christmas dinner. Yet, do not think for one second that Jesus Christ will not be on my mind.

A very Merry Christmas to one and all!

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“No Male Could Ever Be Like This Female”

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

Throughout my childhood, I have grown up listening to this story being recited out loud:

When the wife of ‘Imran said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And God was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of God ].”

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So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from God . Indeed, God provides for whom He wills without account.”

This is not from the Bible, but the Qur’an (verses 35-37 of Chapter 3). It is the story of the birth of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ (peace be upon them both). This event is what is celebrated by the Catholic Church on December 8: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, I would get the day off from school (always a welcome occurrence). I always thought it was the conception of Jesus. Only recently, however, did I learn that it was actually the conception of Mary. Yet, this fact only made me happier, for Mary is very special to me as a Muslim.

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This should come as no surprise. The Mother of Christ is highly regarded and praised in the Qur’an:

And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. (3:42)

The Qur’an mentions that the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus are a sign of God’s grace:

And [remember] she who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and caused her, together with her son, to be a symbol [of Our Grace] unto all people (21:91).

In fact, the Qur’an makes the Virgin Mary an example of the ideal believer:

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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 Lord’s words – and [thus,] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)

Moreover, in 3:35-37, most translators of the Qur’an interpret the saying of Mary’s mother, when she was born, that “the male is not like the female,” as it is stated above. Yet, there is another interpretation which I like better: “no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female.” When the mother of Mary had dedicated the child in her womb to God’s service, she thought it was going to be a male child. When Mary was born, this was not possible at the time. But God is saying in the Qur’an that no male child could ever be like this amazing female child, Mary.

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How true a statement that is. What an amazing reward it would be for me to be able to greet the Virgin Mary, kiss her hand, and express to her the love I have for her in my heart. What an amazing reward it would be for me to dwell in Paradise with the Virgin Mary and be in her company. What an amazing reward it would be for me to be able to enjoy her company in highest of Gardens.

Precious Beloved Lord, please make this dream of mine a reality. Amen.

 

 

 

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Running For My Angel (And Chocolate) And Being Grateful The Whole…Painful…Way

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

On November 9, I was blessed to run in the annual Hot Chocolate 5K run in Chicago. It is a fun, relaxed race that takes you through the heart of Downtown Chicago, and my wife, daughter, and I ran the race in honor of our Angel, who passed away in 2009 from cancer. Thanks be to God, I finished the race (the 5K one…not the 15K), and I thoroughly enjoyed the hot chocolate waiting for me at the end of the race.

And throughout the race – and reflecting afterwards – I could not help but be grateful.

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I was grateful to have the day off from work, so I could enjoy running a fun 5K with my wife and daughter. I was grateful to even have a job, something which many fellow Americans still do not have. I was grateful to God to be given the strength to run in the first place, as there are so many others who are afflicted with physical impairments that would make running such a race, even as short as a 5K, nearly impossible.

I was grateful for the great city of Chicago through which I ran, with all of its wonderful people, and architecture, and culture, and activities. I was grateful for such a fun day in the city after the race, hanging out with my sister and her family who live not that far from the finish line. I was grateful for the safety I felt running through the city, because such safety – as too many know far too well – is something that is not always had in many cities in our world today. Such safety, in fact, is elusive in the very same city of Chicago, not that far away from where the race was run.

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I was grateful for the plenty with which I have been blessed by God, so that I could spend the money for the entrance fee into the race. Although our economy is much better, there are still so many people who still struggle to make ends meet each and every day. Indeed, my left knee began to hurt not that far into the race, but I was grateful not to have suffered a more severe injury, one that could have landed me in the hospital or on an operating table.

I was – and still am – grateful for the wonderful memories of that day, and the fun I had running with my wife and daughter in the city of Chicago, which I love so dearly. There were a number of Syrian-Americans who were running that day, raising both money and awareness for the terrible tragedy in that country. That made me grateful that our country – although afflicted by forces that seek to tear it apart – is not in the midst of a civil war like that of Syria; grateful that our government – although far from perfect – is not bombing us in our cities like the horrific government of Syria does to its own people each and every day.

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I could go on and on about all the things for which I am grateful, simply by reflecting over running a 5K race on a cold, autumn day in Chicago, IL.

There is so much tragedy in our world, and there are so many that suffer terrible things each and every day. I pray for them, that their suffering is relieved, and that they are given a better day soon. Yet, as we all gather together and commemorate Thanksgiving, let us all go through such an exercise: to take one event in our lives and reflect over the things surrounding that event for which we are grateful.

I pray that such an exercise will make us increase our gratitude toward our Beloved, Who has blessed us with so much which we take for granted. And I pray that such gratitude will increase us in righteousness and perhaps motivate us further to help those who are in need. For that is the true fruit of gratitude.

May you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving. Amen.

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Fellow Muslims: Please Say Funeral Prayers For Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig

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

The barbarians of KIL (aka ISIS) have done it again: the U.S. has confirmed the beheading of Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, an American who went to Syria to help the victims of the civil war and was then captured by KIL. Here is some background about Kassig from the New York Times:

An Indianapolis native, Mr. Kassig turned to humanitarian work after a tour as an Army Ranger in Iraq in 2007. He was certified as an emergency technician, and by 2012 he returned to the battlefield, this time helping bandage the victims of Syria’s civil war who were flooding into Lebanon. He moved to Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, where he founded a small aid group and initially used his savings to buy supplies, like diapers, which he distributed to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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In the summer of 2013, he relocated to Gaziantep in southern Turkey, roughly an hour from the border, and began making regular trips into Syria to offer medical care to the wounded.

He disappeared on Oct. 1, 2013, when the ambulance he and a colleague were driving was stopped at a checkpoint on the road to Deir al-Zour, Syria. He was transferred late last year to a prison beneath the basement of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo, and then to a network of jails in Raqqa, the capital of the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, where he became one of at least 23 Western hostages held by the group.

It seems that something must have went wrong with the execution, as it was not shown in full barbarity as the other beheadings of Western hostages. Some suggest that he may have fought his captors. Whatever the case may be, Abdul-Rahman Kassig is the latest victim in the KIL’s reign of horror in Iraq and Syria.

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My heart, my thoughts, and my prayers go out to the Kassig family. As a parent who has lost his own child, I know all too well the horror and pain of such a loss. I pray that our Beloved showers his family with the strength, love, can comfort that only He can provide.

And I ask my fellow Muslims – in America and beyond – to all say Islamic funeral prayers for him. I don’t think these evil people gave him the decency of a proper burial, let alone an Islamic funeral prayer service (Mr. Kassig converted to Islam during his captivity). Thus, as his brothers and sisters all across the world, let us do it. Let us raise our hands in prayer to the Lord for his forgiveness; that whatever suffering he may have endured elevate his status in Paradise; that he be given the status of a martyr, which he clearly is.

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Peter Kassig’s adopted Islamic first name, Abdul-Rahman, means, “Servant of the Most Merciful.” And his actions of late truly showed it: he sacrificed a comfortable life in America to go to one of the most dangerous places on earth to help complete strangers; to help ease their suffering in the midst of a barbaric conflict:

Kassig was kidnapped delivering medical aid to people affected by the civil war in Syria. He had been a soldier, a Ranger in Iraq, then a college student, and, very briefly, a husband. (The marriage ended in divorce.) Along the way, the Army trained him as a medic, and he took classes to learn to be an emergency medical technician. On a vacation to Lebanon, where he encountered Syrian refugees, he realized that his medical knowledge was an asset, a gift he could hand to desperate people. Just before he was supposed to go home, he had, as he wrote in an e-mail to family and friends, “the best conversation that I have ever had with my mom. From 4,000 miles away in a shelled out parking lot in Beirut I told her about what I had been involved in over the last week.” He had found his “calling”:

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Yesterday my life was laid out on a table in front of me. With only hours left before my scheduled flight back to the United States, I watched people dying right in front of me. I had seen it before and I had walked away before.… I’m just not going to turn my back this time, it’s as simple as that.

“My whole life has led me to this point in time,” he wrote. He stayed, and bandaged wounds, cared for people in clinics, and, just generally, helped.

Our Lord’s Mercy shown bright and clear through both his words and the help he tried to give to those in need. And his actions are in stark and vivid contrast to those of his killers, who claim to be acting in the name of God but do everything but. There will be a Day of Reckoning; they will have to answer to the Lord for the death of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, as well as all the others they have killed. There will be a Day of Reckoning, and of this fact the barbarians of KIL should be terrified.

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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:

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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)

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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