Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring







Let us leave aside several facts:

1. African-American Muslims have been an integral part of the civil rights struggle in America for decades. A substantial portion of the slaves brought to America were Muslim, and thus, Black History is American Muslim history. 

2. The Quran exhorts the believer to stand up for justice, even if it means bearing witness against his or her own family or community:

O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do! (4:135)

O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any-one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (5:8)

3.  The Quran also holds Muslims to a high standard: “Enjoining the good and forbidding evil”:

You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God… (3:110)

4. It is part of our faith as Muslims to stand up for those who are oppressed, no matter who they are. 

5.  Scores of African-Americans (Muslims among them) fought, marched, protested, bled, and even died to give me the privilege to live where I live, work where I work, and vote where I vote. Black History Month commemorates and honors their most important part of our American history. As an American Muslim, I am forever indebted to their sacrifice. 

Let us leave all that aside, as important as that is, for just a moment.

If for no other reason, we American Muslims have to show up and take our place at the vanguard of those fighting for the rights of others, because so many fellow Americans showed up and stood up for us, including African-Americans.

Look at the thousands upon thousands of ordinary Americans who showed up at airports all across our country to object to the Muslim ban. Look at the thousands upon thousands of ordinary Americans who showed up to mosques and show their support. Look at the thousands upon thousands of ordinary Americans who letting this Administration know that discrimination is not who we are as a nation and a people.

It is so very heartening, and I am so very grateful to God for such beautiful neighbors.

Now, this is not to say that American Muslims have not fought for the rights of others. On the contrary, Muslims have been among the leaders of the fight for social justice.

Nevertheless, from this point and forever forward, American Muslims cannot shirk their responsibility to stand up for the rights of all who are oppressed; from this point and forever forward, American Muslims must see the struggles of others as their struggles; from this point and forever forward, an affront to justice against anyone else must be an affront to them personally.

We are already seeing heartening signs of this in the Trump Administration, and it must continue and strengthen over time. If the exhortations of the Qur’an to stand up for justice are not enough, then the extraordinary support that ordinary Americans have shown their Muslim neighbors must motivate American Muslims to stand up for their neighbors who are oppressed. Failure to do so would be a travesty of ingratitude.

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

“Islam is not a religion of peace — Islam is a religion of submission.”

Thus said Steve Bannon, top strategist for President Trump, on a radio show. As the New York Times reported in a recent article entitled, “Trump Pushes Dark View of Islam to Center of US Policy-Making”:

“The hateful ideology of radical Islam,” [President Trump] told supporters, must not be “allowed to reside or spread within our own communities.” Mr. Trump was echoing a strain of anti-Islamic theorizing familiar to anyone who has been immersed in security and counterterrorism debates over the last 20 years. He has embraced a deeply suspicious view of Islam that several of his aides have promoted, notably retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, now his national security adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist.

Out of this view came the recent executive order banning the entry of anyone from 7 Muslim-majority countries into the United States, popularly known as the “Muslim ban.” Other things may follow, and there is no small amount of fear that more draconian measures aimed at the Muslim community are coming in the months and years ahead. 

May God protect us all. 

But, is there something we can do? Is there is something we can do to combat this “dark view of Islam”?

Yes, there is. We can teach. 

We can teach, with patience and love, about our faith. We can teach, with calm and clarity, about how, yes Islam is a “religion of submission,” but not submission to “Sharia law.” But, rather, submission to the will of God. It echoes this verse from the Bible:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

We can teach, and this is what I am setting out to do. I will teach my fellow Americans, members of my American family, the truth about my faith. And I pray my words can bring some semblance of light in these increasingly dark times. Amen. 

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border.

Thus said President Trump in the wake of the furor over the so-called “Muslim ban,” the Executive Order signed by the President suspending the entry of refugees, especially from Syria, and blocking the entry of visitors from 7 Muslim-majority nations: Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen.

Let me say this: I completely agree with his statement. We absolutely have to protect our citizens and our borders from everyone – Muslim or not – who seeks to do our people and our country harm. We have to know who is coming into our country and what they intend to do. That’s just common sense. No one would disagree with this.
The issue is this: banning everyone from Iraq – or Iran, or Yemen, or Somalia –  because there are some Iraqis – or Iranians, or Yemenis, or Somalis – who are terrorists smacks of discrimination. It demonizes the whole for the sins of the few. No community deserves this. What’s more, it will probably do more damage than good, as one case in point illustrates:

U.S. diplomats in Baghdad complained the ban would keep a top Iraqi general in the ISIS fight from visiting family in the U.S., stop General Electric from hosting Iraqi delegates in the U.S. as part of a $2 billion energy deal, and send the wrong signal to some 62,000 applicants being considered for relocation for aiding the U.S. during the war. That was among the possible fallout of the new policy, listed in a letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal, sent Saturday from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to the State Department.

Yet, there is something else. Shutting the door on visitors from only Muslim countries – again, because some Muslims in those countries are terrorists – is simply un-American. It is not who we are as a people. It is not who we are as a country. Yes, there are Muslims who hate us. But we are better than they. Our values are better than their sick, twisted ideology. As our former First Lady said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Now, while I believe that our country is a beautiful secular republic wherein people of all faiths, or no faith, can live and work together in peace and brotherhood, let us grant the contention of some that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian values.

This ban on refugees, therefore, is wholly un-Christian.

Here are just some of the Biblical verses that talk about the stranger and refugees (thanks to United Church of Christ for this list):


Exodus 22:21 – Moses gives God’s law:  “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 1:16 – “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”

Jeremiah 7:5-7 – “If you do not oppress the alien…then I will dwell with you in this place…”

Jeremiah 22:3-5 – Do no wrong or violence to the alien.

Matthew 5:10-11 –“Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Luke 4:16-21 – “…Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.”

Romans 12:13 – “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…”  We love because God first loved us.”


The Islamic tradition has a very similar exhortation to protect the stranger. Whichever way we look at it, this ban on refugees and visitors from some Muslim countries – the list of which will likely grow over time – betrays our true values as Americans and believers in the One God of Abraham. I pray that our leaders are given the wisdom to see the error of this decision.

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

It is no secret that the result of the election was not one for which I was hoping. That said, I am not going to go as far – with all due respect and admiration – to say that Donald J. Trump is not a legitimate President. He is our President, and he was chosen by our people to lead our country. And so, as he is set to take office on January 20, I offer this prayer, imagining what I would say if I was asked to pray at the Inauguration:

Inaguration Photo

Precious Beloved Lord our God:

By Your Eternal Grace and Mercy and Love do we all stand here today

By Your Eternal Grace and Mercy and Love does our democracy flourish

Whereas in so many other places in our world, with people just as honorable as we, there are “Presidents for life,” or “Presidents for one billion years,” or election results with 99.9% of the vote going to one candidate, we stand here today – in Your Grace and Mercy and Love – witnessing, yet again in our nation’s history, the peaceful transition of power.

This is a Grace that cannot be understated, and for this, our Lord, we thank You tremendously.

And so, Precious Beloved, as the new Administration takes the reins of our most beautiful nation, I ask that you bless all of those standing here.

Endow our leaders with wisdom and forbearance; endow them with grace and poise; endow them with the ability to always see each other as brothers and sisters, even if they vehemently disagree.

Bless our leaders with the vision and foresight to do what is right for all of us. Let them always remember that right is might, and not the other way around. Let them always remember that the power they wield is a trust from You, and Lord always keep in their mind’s eye that this power should never be abused.

Beloved Lord, there is much division in our country today. Beloved Lord, there is much that tears apart at our fabric as a nation and a people. Please, O Lord, heal us of rancor toward our American brothers and sisters. Protect us from never seeing the humanity of the other, despite our disagreements. Keep away from us the Evil Whisperer, whose very aim is to destroy our unity by making hatred reign supreme among us.

And finally, O Lord, please let us never forget that we, despite all that makes us different, are still one American family, shining ever so brightly under You, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In Your Most Holy Name do I ask these things. Amen.

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

All throughout my life – in various months of the year, in various mosques across the world – I have heard, in beautiful and melodious Arabic, the story of Christmas:

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].

At one time, I did not understand the Arabic being recited. As I became older, however, God opened up to me the doors of Arabic understanding, and my admiration and love for the passages in the Qur’an about the birth of Christ only grew in strength. The verse quoted above is only a small part of a longer passage that details the birth of Christ and the scandal it engendered among the people at the time. And that passage also includes the miracle of a newborn Jesus speaking to the people in defense of his mother: 

[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]!”

These verses occur in the 19th chapter of the Qur’an, aptly named “Mary,” and it isn’t the only place in which the story of the birth of Christ is recounted. There are dozens of verses in the Quran that speak about the miracles of Jesus (5:110), the Last Supper (5:113-115), among many others. His mother, the Virgin Mary, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Christ, in fact, is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than the Prophet Muhammad himself. 

If only more people knew this truth about Islam and its deep love and honor for Jesus Christ. If only more people knew that belief in, and love for, Jesus Christ and his mother is an essential aspect of Islamic faith. If only more people knew that no devout Muslim would dare attack and malign Jesus Christ or his mother as some purported followers of Christ have done with the Prophet Muhammad. 

In the aftermath of a brutal election, in which the rhetoric against Islam and Muslims was so toxic solely for craven political gain, Christians and Muslims need to come together on areas in which they agree: a common love for Jesus Christ. Ideally, Christians, Muslims, and Jews should be the closest of religious communities, for they have so much in common as the living spiritual children of Abraham. 

Yes, there are savages (“barbarian” is too nice a word) who claim to act in Islam’s name that commit horrific crimes against Christians, including the recent attacks in Cairo and Berlin. These satanic monsters betray both the letter and spirit of Islam, which teaches deep love for Jesus Christ and respect and honor for his followers. 

Peace was upon me on the day when I was born,” the infant Jesus says in the Qur’an. As we approach December 25, the day Christians celebrate this momentous occasion, I pray that this very same peace reigns over our world and over all of us who live on it. I pray that this very same peace reigns over all communities of faith, so that the forces of hatred and division do not win the day. And I pray that this very same peace reigns over our country in the months and years ahead, and that we emerge an even greater people than we already are. 

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring


Beautiful Beloved Lord my God,

You know, better than anyone in this universe, how I would quickly gloss over the horrific images coming out of Syria and Aleppo

You know, better than anyone in this universe, how I would try to always put the thoughts of what’s happening there out of my mind

And You know, better than anyone in this universe, that it was because I was ashamed; ashamed at my inability to do anything to help them

There is plenty of blame to go around for the carnage in Syria.

We, the entire human community, failed the innocents in Syria

Yet, worse yet, we – the Muslim community – failed the innocents of Syria even more

You told us that they are our sisters and brothers; You told us that You made their lives sacred

Yet, the Muslim world failed them. And it failed them miserably.

What’s worse, as You know, Muslims were actively involved in the carnage.

Savages – posing as Your “warriors” – committed horrific atrocities in Your name

And others – who claim to rule by Your law – fuel the fires of conflict on both sides

The shame of this horrible war is too ugly to bear, O Beautiful Lord, and there is nothing left to say.

Except, O Lord, I am sorry.

Forgive me for my inability to help.

Forgive me for my indifference.

Forgive me for not doing more to help the innocents who suffered so much.

Please, O Lord, do not judge me harshly for my failures.

Please, O Lord, look upon me with Grace, Mercy, and Love, despite my weakness

Please, O Lord, accept me into Your Presence despite the ugliness of my conduct on earth

And please, O Lord, shower Your Grace, Your Mercy, and Your Comfort on all those who are suffering, not only in Syria, but all over the world.

Please, O Lord, grace us with Your Mercy, otherwise we will all be forever lost.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring


My Lord, truly I dedicate to Thee what is in my belly, in consecration. So accept it from me. Truly Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.

The woman was thinking she was going to have a boy, and thus she wanted to dedicate him to service, as a Priest, in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lord, however, had other plans because, lo and behold, the child was a girl:

And when she bore her, she said, “My Lord, I have borne a female…and I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in Thee, and for her progeny, from Satan the outcast.”

At that time, women were not allowed to be Priests in the Temple. Yet, that did not stop this little girl from becoming one of the greatest women human history has ever seen, the Virgin Mary:

So her Lord accepted her with a beautiful acceptance, and made her to grow in a beautiful way, and placed her under the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah entered upon her in the sanctuary he found provision with her. He said, “Mary, whence comes this unto thee?” She said, “It is from God. Truly God provides for whomsoever He will without reckoning.”

These are verses 35-38 of the third chapter of the Quran. As can be seen, they detail in great beauty the birth of the Virgin Mary, one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of humanity.

Elsewhere in the Quran, it is said:

And [remember] when the angels said, “O Mary, truly God has chosen thee and purified thee, and has chosen thee above the women of the worlds. O Mary! Be devoutly obedient to thy Lord, prostrate, and bow with those who bow.” (3:43-44)

What’s more, Mary the mother of Christ is hailed as an exemplary believer:

And God sets forth as an example for those who believe…Mary, the daughter of ʿ Imrān, who preserved her chastity. Then We breathed therein of Our Spirit, and she confirmed the Words of her Lord and His Books; and she was among the devoutly obedient.” (66:11-12)

Given all this, I often scratch my head in puzzlement when I hear Christian missionaries claim that they want to “bring Jesus to Muslims.” The truth is we Muslims have had Jesus – and his mother – all along. In fact, the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Quran is none other than the Virgin Mary, whose namesake is given to chapter 19.

Yet, there is something I left out in the first passage from the Quran above. Right after the mother of Mary said, “My Lord, I have borne a female,” God interjects in the verse:

and God knows best what she bore, and the male is not like the female,

What this means is this: no male child could ever be like this female child Mary. If this child had been born a boy, like his mother thought, he would never have become as amazing, as extraordinary, as truly awe-inspiring as this female child Mary.

As Catholics the world over celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, which commemorates the birth of the Virgin Mary, let this Muslim declare to one and all, far and wide, my love for the Virgin Mary. Let this Muslim declare to one and all, far and wide, my admiration for the strength and power of this amazing mother. Let this Muslim declare to one and all, far and wide, my desire to meet her one day in the Lord’s Garden and kiss her hand.

And let this Muslim extend his hand to one and all, far and wide, in brotherhood to all those who share the love of the mother of Christ in his or her heart.

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

Out in northwest North Dakota, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline, rural Mountrail County backed Donald Trump, as did all but two of North Dakota’s 53 counties. And the city of Ross, population 97, voted a bit more heavily for Trump than the rest of the county and the rest of the state.

That’s notable because of the place Ross holds in the history of Islam in America.

It was in this farm town that in 1929 the first mosque purposely constructed as such in the United States was established.

Thus began the column by John Nichols, the national-affairs correspondent for the Nation. I’ve been a huge fan of his work for a long time, especially because of columns like this one. I have already learned a lot from him, and this column is no different.

I have always known that Islam’s history in the United States dates back to before its independence, but I did not know – until John Nichols educated me – that the oldest mosque in America was in Ross, North Dakota.

I doubt that Donald Trump knows there is a Ross, North Dakota, let alone that Muslim immigrants constructed a mosque there before he was born. I doubt that his aides know that Muslims were living and worshiping in the United States before the founders drafted a Constitution that guarded against religious tests and then added an amendment designed to preserve freedom of religion in a country where Thomas Jefferson believed that a mantle of protection should extend to “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

But this history needs to be recalled, and respected, as President-elect Donald Trump begins to fill his administration with men like his incoming National Security Adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who has claimed that “fear of Muslims is rational.”

The emphasis was mine. Yet, I cannot agree with him more: “this history needs to be recalled, and respected…”

There are those in our country that seek to “otherize” Islam and Muslims; they seek to make Islam “foreign”; they even cast doubt on whether Islam is a religion. This is wrong, and it tears at the fabric of our unity as a people.

Thank you, John Nichols, for this wonderful piece and reminder of the beautiful and vibrant history of American faith, which includes Islam.

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

With the election of Donald Trump and the fear that comes with his picks to essential law enforcement and Homeland Security posts, it is important to highlight the truth about American Islam and Muslims. While there are some in our country who seek to incite fear of Muslims in order to marginalize them, ordinary American Muslims are hard at work making their country a better place:

For 16 years, the Chicago Muslim community has distributed free Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families on the South Side. But this holiday season, the group more than tripled the number of free birds from last year to 5,000 and expanded the project to eight elementary schools in three neighborhoods.

Dr. Sofia Shakir, an organizer of the annual turkey drive, said while plans to expand the effort had been underway for almost a year, it was serendipitous that it all came together after what she considered a discouraging presidential campaign — and now amid fears of being viewed as un-American by the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

The organizers of this annual drive – to which I have been honored and blessed to contribute for several years – are my good friends, and their work on behalf of the community is truly awe-inspiring. It truly puts me to shame.

Shakir and her husband, Dr. Jihad Shoshara, called the turkey drive a homecoming of sorts. As a student at the University of Chicago, Shakir tutored children after school in Woodlawn. Shoshara attended Chicago public schools. “The turkey drive is a small way in which I feel that I can give back,” he said.

“We are all part of the same,” Shakir said. “We’re not helping others. We’re helping our own.”


Shoshara said the project puts into practice Muslim teachings and fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam called zakat, or charity. For guidance, he looks to the Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to have said: “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry.”

But it’s about more than feeding the hungry, Shoshara said. It’s about giving families a way to make a meal and do something for their children.

“If you can have the turkey in your own home and celebrate like everyone else in America, that gives them a sense of dignity,” Shoshara said.

This is the truth of Islam and Muslims. Yes, there are some who are savage murderers. But, they are a tiny minority and are rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims all across the words.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims – inspired by their faith – are quietly working to make this world, their world, a better place for all, this annual Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive being only one example. This kind of story does not garner headline coverage – it does not bleed or explode. But it reflects the truth about American Islam and Muslims, and more people need to know this truth.

Join me on Twitter (@GodFaithPen).

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

It’s about time. 

In the wake of the unprecedented election of Donald Trump and his worrying appointments of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim ideologues, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have come together. 

On November 14, both organizations announced the formation of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. As news reports said, 

Though Jewish and Muslim groups have cooperated before, the size and influence of these two particular groups — and the prominence of the people who have joined the council — marks a milestone in Jewish-Muslim relations. 

“Our council is coming at the right time,” said Eftakhar Alam, senior coordinator at ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances. 

“We have to show the administration that as American Muslims and Jews — people of the faiths of Abraham — we are uniting to help the administration navigate in the proper constitutional manner, to uphold freedom of religion and constitutional rights for all American citizens.”

Robert Silverman, AJC Director of Muslim-Jewish relations, also said:

“The Council’s formation shows that American Muslim and Jewish leadership are now working together, focused on domestic developments. This is a first and is good news for the entire country.”

This is truly heartening and one of – I pray – will be many silver linings of the election of Donald Trump. Our two communities are natural allies: we worship the same God of Abraham; we both seek to follow in Abraham’s enormous footsteps; we are both patriotic American communities of faith which desire the best for our country. 

This is in line with the letter and spirit of the Qur’an, which says:

…help one another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness, and do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity… (5:2)

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. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (5:48)

“Compete, then, with one another in doing good works.”

This is what I have always hoped for the American Jewish and Muslim communities. There are so many things that can separate us, and it is easy to let those forces tear us apart. 

But, really, we need to work together for the common good: not just the good of our two faith communities, but for the common good of all Americans, either of faith or no faith. We are all one American family. We need each other, now more than ever before. 

Join me on Twitter (@GodFaithPen).