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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

There Should Be No ‘Starving Faithful’ If Religion Is Done Correctly

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

I thought, for certain, that Hozier would win “Song of the Year” at the Grammy Awards last night for “Take Me To Church.” Not that I’m disappointed about Sam Smith – whose music I enjoy – but “Church’s” fame continues to be strong. Although Hozier claimed in an interview that the song is not meant to be against religion, there is a lot of stinging criticism of religion upon first glance:

My lover’s got humor
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshiped her sooner

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If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week

‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’

The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Obviously, I don’t like the concept of “worshiping in the bedroom,” but the sarcasm against religion is unmistakable. When reflecting over the lyrics of the song, however, this main thought came to my mind: religion should never leave anyone “starving,” which he claims in the second stanza:

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What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful

Religion, when done correctly, should be completely fulfilling – for both body and soul. At its essence, religion is the personal relationship with the Creator. It is the framework for interaction with the One Who – out of His profound Love for us – gave us life when we were dead. And this “life” is not only physical, biological life, but also spiritual life. I was never truly alive until I connected with my Lord and followed His path and lived in His love.

Therefore, such a relationship with God can never leave someone wanting.  If, however, such a relationship with God does leave someone – purportedly faithful – still “starving,” then there is something wrong with the framework.

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I can hear retorts that the savages – “barbarian” is too kind a word – of KIL (aka ISIS) sure look like they are fulfilled, like they are not “starving faithful” by any measure. I completely disagree. Look at the fruits of their works: mayhem; murder; pillage; rape; destruction. They are widely condemned by the Muslim world and are even a laughing stock.

What they do is not spiritual fulfillment; it is criminal barbarity. What they do does not feed the soul; it fulfills the basest of human urges. What they do is not the glorification of the Lord; it defies His every word and law to the hilt. Scripture does not support their actions; it will actually be a witness against them.

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No. When religion is done right, it brings about peace, love, justice, brotherhood, sisterhood, safety and security. When religion is done right, the soul is uplifted to the highest of heights, giving the believer an inner peace that is truly indescribable. When religion is done right, there is no “fresh poison each week,” but rather the very cure to what ails the heart and soul of the human seeker.

Too many times, unfortunately, religion has been done wrong in our world. Too many times, so much evil has been committed in the name of God that many have dismissed religion as a force for evil, as “Take Me To Church” seems to imply. Yet, this has been the case because religion has been done wrong. And it is our job – those of faith – to work as hard as we can to make sure it is done right.

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A Welcome Addition: Women-Only Mosque Opens in Downtown L.A.

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

It always did pain me. In many mosques – too many, actually – the space for women is woefully inadequate (if not downright gross). Of course, I never saw these spaces for myself, but I learned from my own family and from my reading of some Muslim women’s experiences. Hence my complete delight at the opening of a Women-Only mosque in Downtown L.A.:

In what may have been a unique moment in America, more than 100 women gathered Friday at the interfaith Pico-Union Project. While many mosques continue to follow a tradition of separating women from male congregants, the downtown Los Angeles mosque forbids men from attending.

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Female-only mosques may exist in China, Chile and India, but Muslim leaders say this could be the first in the U.S.

The inaugural prayer Friday marked the launch of the Women’s Mosque of America, a nonprofit that hopes to create a space where Muslim women can “bring their whole self,” learn more about their faith and foster bonds of sisterhood.

Of course, I believe all mosques should have inviting spaces for both men and women. I believe that Muslim women should be made to feel welcome and part of the community as a whole. In no way, shape, or form can a community prosper if its women are suppressed or mistreated. The first Friday prayer at this mosque brought some of its congregants to tears:

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Because many spaces for women in many mosques are not as appealing or accessible as the areas for men, an open environment is integral for growth, said Sana Muttalib, co-president of the women’s mosque. Often, women are forced to enter through side or back doors to reach their segregated areas, she explained.

In most mosques, women are hard-pressed to find the opportunity to ask the imam questions after prayer. But on Friday, a female speaker (or khateeba) addressed women’s issues and held a discussion circle after the prayer service.

Many women expressed their gratitude at the chance to share their thoughts. Some cried and called the experience liberating.

On the one hand, it is sad that some of my Muslim sisters had to go to such a length as opening a Women-Only mosque to get a spiritually fulfilling experience. At the time of the Prophet (pbuh), such was not the case. Although they did pray separately (women behind the men), there was no barrier like there is in many mosques today. In fact, tradition states that the women would complain to the Prophet (pbuh) about the men encroaching upon their space in the mosque.

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Still, such a mosque is a most welcome addition to the family of mosques in America. I pray for its tremendous success, and it would bring me no small amount of joy if more such mosques dot the American Muslim religious landscape in the near future. All of us – men and women – are the beloved children of God. Each of us deserves a sacred space in which to connect to Him.

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The Protesters in Texas Would Have Learned So Much If They Just Spoke to the Muslims Across the Street

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

I watched with dismay a video of the hundreds of protesters that gathered outside a conference of Muslims entitled, “Stand With the Prophet Against Terror and Hate” in Texas this past weekend. Whenever fellow Americans gather to “protest” the presence of Muslims – who are also Americans like them – it is quite hurtful. Yet, what I found fascinating – all the while truly sad – was that there was a counter-protest of Muslims just across the street. And I wonder about the great things that could have happened if the protesters had simply walked across the street and talked to their fellow Americans who are Muslim.

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One of the many signs carried by protesters read: “No Allah in America.” I found that quite odd because, Allah – which is to say, “God” – is everywhere, including America. Now, I assume this person holding the sign is a Christian. I wonder at his amazement if he learned that, in the many churches in America which cater to Arab faithful, God is called “Allah.” I wonder at his amazement when he learns that Jesus Christ himself called God by the name “Allah”:

Beyond this fact, however, is that “Allah” is also the name that Jesus Christ called God. “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of “Elohim,” which is Hebrew for God. The “im” is a plural appendage of respect, and so the wordis “Eloh,” which is very similar to “Allah.” In addition, the Aramaic word for God is “Alaha,” and Aramaic was the language which Jesus himself spoke. Moreover, the word “Allah” is found in the English version of the Bible which we read today. In Matthew 27:46 we read: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” The word “Eloi” is the Aramaic form of the Arabic “Allah.”

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He could have learned this if he just walked across the street and talked with his fellow Americans who were Muslim. Many of the protesters would have likely been quite surprised at how similar they are to American Muslims; how American Muslims believe in and worship the very same God as they; how American Muslims honor and revere the very same Prophets as they, including Jesus Christ; how American Muslims have the same aspirations and dreams as they; how American Muslims love and believe in this amazing place called America, just like they do.

They would have learned all this if they simply crossed the street and joined their fellow Americans in dialogue. Although it could not be seen, there was a huge wall between the protest and the counter-protest. But that wall would have come crashing down if the “patriots” protesting against Islam would have crossed the street.

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I know this to be true because of a personal experience I recently had. I was at a gathering of one of my neighbors when another guest walked up to my wife and me and asked, “You guys are Muslim, right?” Nervously, we both answered, “Yes.” He then proceeded to ask us what was the matter with “the Muslims.” He wasn’t particularly mean-spirited, but he was sincerely wondering based on the snippets he sees all over the media.

Frankly, given the horrific press Islam and Muslims get on a regular basis, I don’t necessarily blame him for the question. But, what I appreciated was that he came up to us and asked the question, all the while qualifying it by saying, “I see that you guys are here and having a good time.” And after my wife and I calmly explained to him that what he sees is not the reality, he hugged the both of us, in true sincerity.

That is the sort of dialogue that needs to happen more and more, all across our country. When we learn about one another, we will realize that we are much more similar than we are different. And the forces of hate and discord that seek to keep us divided will fail miserably.

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An Important Story That Was Not As Prominent In The Charlie Hebdo Saga

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

There has been so much talk about Muslims and Islam in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This talk will most certainly continue. Yet, I wanted to highlight a very important story that may have gotten lost in the wake of the attack and subsequent show of support in France:

Lassana Bathily, a young Muslim deli clerk who was working at Hyper Cacher store in Paris during Friday’s deadly hostage-taking, is being hailed as a hero. People in Paris and around the world took to social media to sing Bathily’s praises and credit him for saving six people’s lives by hiding them in a walk-in freezer. Bathily, 24, hid the customers when gunman Amedy Coulibaly, 32, stormed the market on Friday, took 15 people hostage and murdered four more. “I turned off the light. I turned off the freezer. Once we were inside, I closed the door, and I told them, ‘Stay here, stay calm. I’m going out,’ the Mali-born Parisian told BFMTV.

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Although he was initially handcuffed by police when he went out to tell them about the gunman, it was his information to the police that led to the end of the siege. This man, Lassana Bathily, represents the truth about Islam and Muslims. This man, along with Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabat, tells the real story of how Muslims contribute to the greatness of each society in which they live.

Yes, I did tweet “Je Suis Charlie” in the immediate aftermath of the attack, out of sheer repugnance for the crime. But, I am disgusted by their cartoons, all the while condemning the violent response to it. In reality, “Je Suis Ahmed” and “Je Suis Lassana.” That is to say, “I am Ahmed” and “I am Lassana.”

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