Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Why This Muslim Appreciates Ash Wednesday

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

The most important period of the Christian calendar has now begun: Lent, which began with the Imposition of the Ashes on Ash Wednesday. All throughout the world, Christians had the mark of the cross placed on their forehead with this passage of scripture read:

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return (Genesis 3:19)

While not partaking in this religious ceremony and season, I can – as a devout Muslim – nonetheless appreciate the message. The Qur’an has the very same passage, in fact. It is in the 20th chapter, in the midst of a dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh (emphasis added):

Said [Pharaoh]: “And what of all the past generations?”[Moses] answered: “Knowledge thereof rests with my Lord [alone, and is laid down] in His decree; my Lord does not err, and neither does He forget.” He it is who has made the earth a cradle for you, and has traced out for you ways [of livelihood] thereon, and [who] sends down waters from the sky: and by this means We bring forth various kinds of plants. Eat, [then, of this produce of the soil,] and pasture your cattle [thereon]. In all this, behold, there are messages indeed for those who are endowed with reason: out of this [earth] have We created you, and into it shall We return you, and out of it shall We bring you forth once again. (20:51-55)

To me, this shows even further that our traditions are so very similar; much more similar, in fact, than they are different. Of course, our differences over the nature of Jesus Christ are huge, but that does not mean that we cannot see past our differences and focus on what we believe in common.

Both of our traditions worship the God of Abraham; both of our traditions love and honor Jesus Christ; both of our traditions teach that we shall be resurrected from dust to face judgment for our actions.  Both of our traditions include periods of fasting and reflection: the Christians have Lent, and we Muslims have Ramadan (which will start June 27 this year). Both Lent and Ramadan include rituals of sacrifice on the part of the believer in order to attain a greater spiritual strength and closeness to God.

That’s why this Muslim can appreciate Ash Wednesday while not partaking in its rituals. Would that more Muslims and Christians around the world learn to appreciate each other’s traditions and see them for their commonalities. Our world would be a much better place.

What “Allahu Akbar” Really Means

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

It is a very common Islamophobe claim that the phrase, “Allahu Akbar” is the “Muslim battle cry.” They base this claim on the fact that many Muslim extremists yell out “Allahu Akbar” before their acts of barbarism. Indeed, that does happen. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the word “Allahu Akbar” means “God is the Greatest.” It was not the “Muslim battle cry” at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), although it is almost certain that many Muslims have used the phrase in that manner. In fact, in many of the protests of the Arab Spring, the peaceful, unarmed protesters yelled out that very phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” while being shot at by security forces.

Yet, “Allahu Akbar” is more than just a phrase; it is a way of life. It means that God is Greater than anything else on earth: whether it be a vicious tyrant shooting and killing his own people or from one’s own evil whims and temptations.

Before the Muslim enters the ritual prayer, she must utter “Allahu Akbar” out loud. Once she does that, she enters into the Divine Presence. That is because, at that moment, she leaves the entire world behind in order to offer the ritual prayer. Thus, “God is the Greatest.” In the course of a day, Muslims will utter this phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” at least seventeen times, one for each ritual prayer cycle. Yet, there are many Muslims who utter with their mouths “God is the Greatest,” and their actions belie those sacred words.

Take the barbarian extremists who kill in the name of God. If they yell “God is the Greatest” in celebration of an attack that kills innocent human beings, they lie in the worst manner. Their act of murder precisely declares that God is not the greatest to them. For, if God was truly the greatest, they would not harm any innocent life. If a Muslim merchant prays five times a day and utters “Allahu Akbar” seventeen times, yet cheats his customers, then God is truly not the greatest to that merchant. If a Muslim citizen cheats on his income tax return, then God is truly not the greatest to that citizen.

In fact, the ritual acts of worship are connected directly to the character of the believer. Take this Prophetic report (reported in Muslim):

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, asked, “Do you know who the bankrupt are?” They said, “The one without money or goods is bankrupt.” So the Prophet said, “The bankrupt are those from my nation who come on the Day of Resurrection with prayer, fasting, and charity, but comes also insulting, slandering, consuming wealth, shedding blood, and beating others. They will each be given from his good deeds; if his good deeds run out before the score is settled, their bad deeds will be cast upon him, then he will be thrown into the Hellfire.

All those good works, done in gratitude to God for His undying and unending love for us, will mean nothing on Judgment Day if they are not accompanied by good character. For, if God was truly the greatest to someone, then he would not treat God’s creations – humanity, animals, and the natural world – with contempt and brutality. It can be difficult sometimes, to do the right thing. Yet, that is the true meaning of Jihad: the struggle to overcome our own temptations and whims in order to do what God wants of us. But we do that precisely because “Allahu Akbar”: God is the Greatest.

 

 

Learning to Walk with King Solomon in the New Year

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

At first blush, it may seem strange that I would want to walk with King Solomon. The picture painted of him by many is unflattering to say the least. Yet, Muslim belief about him is that he was a pious Prophet of God and a mighty King. And the statements about him in the Quran teach me a lot of how I should conduct my life as a physician:

And indeed, We granted [true] knowledge unto David and Solomon [as well]; and both were wont to say: All praise is due to God, who has [thus] favoured us above many of His believing servants!” And [in this insight] Solomon was [truly] David’s heir; and he would say: “O you people! We have been taught the speech of birds, and have been given [in abundance] of all [good] things: this, behold, is indeed a manifest favour [from God]!”

And [one day] there were assembled before Solomon his hosts of invisible beings, and of men, and of birds; and then they were led forth in orderly ranks till, when they came upon a valley [full] of ants, an ant exclaimed: “O you ants! Get into your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you without [even] being aware [of you]!”

Thereupon [Solomon] smiled joyously at her words, and said: “O my Sustainer! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine with which Thou hast graced me and my parents, and that I may do what is right [in a manner] that will please Thee; and include me, by Thy grace, among Thy righteous servants!” (27:15-19)

King Solomon was granted powers that no one else in history had: power to understand the speech of the birds; power over invisible beings to fight in his army and do his will; his kingdom was like none other in history. And when the Lord gave him the ability to hear the speech of ants living in the valley through which he was passing with his army, he responded with total humility, saying: “O my Lord! Inspired me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine…”

This teaches me a lot, as a physician. By the grace of our Lord, a physician working in critical care like myself can do a lot of good: with the click of a mouse, a treatment plan can be enacted that most times takes someone from the brink of death and makes them better. When this happens day in and day out, it is easy for someone to become deluded into arrogance, to think that life and death is in her or her hands.

Here is where King Solomon’s prayer comes in: “O my Lord! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Yours with which You have graced me…” When I am successful, then I should be grateful to the Lord for His grace: the grace of medical knowledge imparted to me; the grace of knowing which treatment to use at which time; the grace of having a clear mind to make the right diagnosis at the right time to help my patients.

And although it is thankfully rare, sometimes, despite everything the medical team does, a patient does not do well. This makes me even more humble, keeps me more honest, because I realize that, despite what many people may say, life and death are not in my hands. I simply do my best, work as hard as I can to help – by the grace of God – the patient feel better. The fact that we – as well as most doctors across the country – are successful at helping our patients feel better and be cured of disease is a tremendous blessing and grace of God, and it is one that I must never take for granted.

It is a constant struggle to maintain humility as a physician, to not let the great work we do in helping people feel better delude me into thinking that I am more than what I truly am: a servant of God doing his best to serve His children by making them – by His grace and power – feel better and live healthier. May the Lord God inspire me to forever be grateful for the blessings with which He has graced me. Amen.

Celebrating the Prophet’s Birth

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

I must admit: sometimes, I feel left out. As a Muslim living in a majority Christian country – where most everyone is celebrating Christmas while I am not – it can sometimes feel lonely at this time of year. Thus, it is natural that we Muslims would look forward to the Mawlid un-Nabi, which is Arabic for “The Prophet’s Birthday.”

Most Muslims believe the Prophet was born on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ Al Awwal, which this year falls on January 13. And it is likely that most Muslims will be celebrating that day across the world. Although in many ways quite different, the Mawlid can be thought of the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, and it is a very festive and happy day for Muslims the world over.

Of course, celebrating it is not without controversy. There are those in the Muslim community that denounce the Mawlid as an “innovation” in the faith. But my feeling is: Chill. Out. What’s wrong with celebrating the day that literally changed the course of world history, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad?

I cannot say that it is a religious obligation to celebrate his birthday; our tradition does not recount any such obligation. But it is obligatory to love the Prophet more than we love ourselves, and celebrating his birthday is one way we can manifest this love.

I cannot say that there is a specific religious reward for commemorating the Mawlid; our tradition does not recount such a reward. But, again, as it is part of our faith to love and honor the Prophet, I cannot see how God would punish us for celebrating the day He sent us our guide for how to live a holy and honorable life. If anything, I would expect the Lord our God to reward us for honoring the Prophet by celebrating his birth.

Some of the Mawlid’s detractors may point to instances where Muslims may commit evil acts during a Mawlid celebration here or there. That doesn’t mean, then, that the whole concept of celebrating the Mawlid is wrong. Again, it is part of our faith to love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) dearly, and thus, it is natural that we will celebrate the day the Lord sent him into this world.

The Prophet Muhammad, as we Muslims believe, was the best human to ever walk this earth. The sweetness of his character, the beauty of his appearance, the warmth of his smile, the softness of his touch, and the nobility of his being was nothing short of extraordinary. He showed us how to live a life of moral purity and closeness to God. Without his ever coming into being, we would have no knowledge of how God wanted us to live our lives.

But, he did come into being, and for that fact, we are all extremely happy and glad. Thus, we celebrate the anniversary of his birth. Moreover, as a father of four children who did not get to open presents under a Christmas tree on December 25, it is nice to be able to bring them joy on a holiday all our own.

Indeed, Jesus Christ is special to us as Muslims. But, as Muslims, we follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. And if I can take the opportunity to bring joy to my children over the birth of the Prophet, it cannot be but a good thing.

In my book, Noble Brother, in which I tell his story entirely in poetry, I write about his coming:

Hope was at hand, a new dawn was near
And all was not lost to terror and fear
For due to the prayer of the Patriarch clear
The Noble Brother will soon appear

Because of that day, I have been saved, and thus I cannot help but be happy when it comes around each year. And at the Mawlids I have been to, it was a truly powerful experience. Poems, and lectures, and songs were sung about the Prophet and his life, and it filled my heart, and soul, and spirit with a warmth that was truly indescribable. It increased my love for the Prophet ever more, and it made me long to, one day, see and be with him in the company of the Righteous. Lord my God, please let that come to pass.

Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, in a couple of years, the Mawlid will fall right around Christmas. I predict it will be a great time. For once, both Muslims and Christians may be putting up lights on their homes to celebrate a very special day in their respective traditions. And perhaps, when that day comes, this Muslim can feel a little less left out and lonely at Christmas.

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