Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

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.

A Grieving Father’s Prayer

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

On June 7, 2009, my eldest daughter lost her battle with lymphoma. Today is her 17th birthday.

 

My Lord my God, my Savior and Grace,
The One Who has the Most Beautiful Face

‘Twas seventeen years since You graced my life
And gave a daughter to a husband and wife

And we watched her grow under Your Love and Grace
Countless times would she put a smile on face

Yet, by Your Will, our time with her was cut short
And terrible grief has gripped this man and consort

But I’ve tried to be strong for all those around
To help soften blow, shield fall to the ground

But it’s hard, my Lord, to be strong all the time
And so, my Lord, be my Strength and Rock Divine

I try to hide my pain and grief
So I can be strong and give relief

I struggle to shield my face from tears
No grief do I carry, it may seem to peers

But it’s hard, my Lord, to be strong all the time
And so, my Lord, be my Strength and Rock Divine

My heart, my Lord, it always aches in distress
For, my Lord, I can no longer have her caress

But crumble I cannot, for I must live on
And be a Rock; for on me, they depend upon

But it’s hard, my Lord, to be strong all the time
And so, my Lord, be my Strength and Rock Divine

Sometimes, my Lord, I want in horror to scream
And let loose such tears that face will gleam

But I can’t, my Lord, for it will not be right
To take away from those around a day so bright

But it’s hard, my Lord, to be strong all the time
And so, my Lord, be my Strength and Rock Divine

I’m trying my best to be as strong as I can
But it’s hard, O Lord, with a loss so grand

Forgive this soul if this complaint is wrong
But it’s hard, sometimes, to be ever so strong

And so, my Lord, be my Strength and Rock Divine
And let Your Love and Grace be forever mine.

A Christmas Message of Peace From A Muslim

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

As is the case every year, Christmas Day is just another calendar day for me. In fact, I will be working in the hospital on Christmas Day this year, one of 11 shifts I am scheduled to work until the end of the year. Yet, that does not mean that Jesus is not in my heart. Christ, in fact, is a major part of Islamic belief. 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, and many verses speak very highly of Jesus Christ.

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.

Still, despite all this love and devotion for Jesus Christ, Muslims – including this one – do not typically celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. You know, it is funny: when I say “Merry Christmas” to someone, I usually get widened eyes of surprise. He or she does not expect a Muslim to say something like that to them. Likewise, so many people – who know I am Muslim – will say, “Happy Holidays” to me – thinking that I would get offended if they said to me, “Merry Christmas.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I say, “Merry Christmas” to my Christian friends and colleagues, I mean it sincerely: I pray that they have a very happy time on Christmas, that special day when they get together with friends and family to celebrate the birth of Christ. And when it is said to me, it is also a very nice wish: that I have a happy time on Christmas Day. There is nothing over which to be offended. Nothing whatsoever.

The birth of Christ was a very momentous occasion in the religious history of the world, and it makes me, as a Muslim, just as happy as my Christian brothers and sisters. And so, during this Christmas season, I say to one and all: A Very Merry Christmas. From the bottom of my heart, I send a message of peace, love, brotherhood, and sisterhood to all my Christian sisters and brothers. May the grace of our Lord, Hallowed be His Name, be with us all, and may He bring all of us – Christian and Muslim – closer together as common worshippers of the Lord our God and lovers of Jesus Christ and his mother.

Lord our God hear this prayer, which I make in Your Most Holy Name. Amen.

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