Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

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.

Thanksgiving Reminds Us to Give Thanks Every Day

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

This time of year is always special: it is a time when we all pause and spend time with our friends and families and give thanks to the Lord for His bounty and blessings. Although there are some in the Muslim fold that object to “celebrating” this holiday as a “bid’ah” or religious innovation, I reject this contention. As eloquently elucidated by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd Allah, Islam accepts the cultural traditions of a people as long as it is in accord with Islamic principles.

There are few things that are more in harmony with Islamic principles than giving thanks to the Lord our God.

The Qur’an is full of references of the importance of being thankful to God for all His bounties, and this passage is but one example:

Have you ever considered the water which you drink? Is it you who cause it to come down from the clouds – or are We the cause of its descent? [It comes down sweet - but] were it Our will, We could make it burningly salty and bitter: why, then, do you not give thanks [unto Us]? (56:68-70).

In fact, the very name “kafir” in the Qur’an, which most think of as “infidel,” in fact means “ungrateful.” Thus, giving thanks to God is one of the most important duties upon a Muslim in his and her life.

Yet, apart from this special day when we all reflect over the things for which we are thankful, it is a potent reminder that our job is not done when Black Friday approaches. Thanking God must be a part of our daily lives, not just on Thanksgiving. And it is much more than simply saying, “Thanks, Lord!” a thousand times a day, which would not be wrong in and of itself.

Still, gratitude is best manifested in action, not words. If we are thankful for the bounties which we are given, then we must use those bounties to help others who may be deprived of those bounties. Every year, in my hometown Chicago, Muslim activists have been donating Thanksgiving turkeys since 2001. This year, by the grace of God, well over 1,000 turkeys were donated to families in need on the South Side of Chicago. This is what gratitude is all about.

Those who have been given knowledge must spread and share this knowledge with those around them, in gratitude to God for such a tremendous gift. Those who have been given wealth must share that wealth in charity, in gratitude to God for such a wonderful gift. Whatever gift we have been given, in addition to physically thanking God for it, we must also use that gift to help those of God’s children who are in need.

That is what gratitude is all about. That is what Thanksgiving should inspire us to do every single day in our lives.

And, yet, we must also never forget to physically say “Thank You”: first and foremost to God, for He is most deserving of our thanks. But, as importantly, to others as well. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said:

He who does not thank people, does not thank God. (Bukhari, Muslim)

I understand this to mean that, if one does not thank others for their contributions and efforts and help, then he is not truly grateful to God. And being grateful to God is a must.

And so, we must continually say “Thank You”: to our spouses for all their hard work and love and grace; to our co-workers for their work and fellowship; to our parents for all their sacrifice for our sake; to our friends and neighbors for their being in our lives. It is the right thing to do, and it is the way to be truly grateful.

This morning, while I was getting coffee before work, I saw another customer in US Army fatigues with his daughter, getting coffee and breakfast. As I left, I stopped and said, “Thank you for your service. Happy Thanksgiving.” He expressed his appreciation and shook my hand. I may not always agree with the policies of those who send him around the world, but I am grateful for his service on my behalf nonetheless.

It felt great to do so, and I am grateful that I could muster the courage to thank him. But, that’s the beauty of gratitude: it makes one feel great, and it inspires her to continue being grateful, in both word and deed. That is what gratitude is all about. That is what our Beloved Lord wants of us.

A very Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to you all! Amen.

 

The Quran’s Warning Against Self-Righteousness

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

I was in college, and my friend and I were sitting in the prayer room at Marquette University talking when a sister came into the room to offer her prayers. Once she was done, my friend had made a suggestion to her that she should wear the hijab (she took it off as soon as she was done with the prayer).

Angrily speaking to him – but loud enough so that she could hear - I said that she knows she has to, and that it was bad that she didn’t. The sister, for her part, didn’t say anything and left the room after saying “Khuda Hafiz,” or “May God protect you.” After she left, my friend rebuked me for being so harsh, and I told him that I didn’t care. In my mind, I was being “harsh for God.”

There are few things for which I have more remorse and regret than how I acted that day, and I pray to the Lord that He forgives my stupidity.

How could it be that I neglected to follow the Qur’an warning against the very way I had acted that day? The Qur’an says:

Is it not time that the hearts of all who have attained to faith should feel humble at the remembrance of God and of the truth that has been bestowed [on them] from on high?…” (57:16)

What was wrong with me that I treated a sister in faith with such poor regard? Who was I to judge her choice about the hijab? What in God’s most Holy Name was I thinking?

I wasn’t thinking…in fact, I was being stupid. Even though I had read that verse of the Qur’an so many times, I had no idea what it meant, and I completely neglected its wisdom.

The truth is, with increasing faith, we should be even more humble and compassionate, not less. The Qur’an asks each believer to reflect over himself and herself; to check the condition of their heart and faith. Are they more humble with the remembrance of God? Or are they smug, arrogant, and self-righteous? If we are the latter, then we must check the condition of our faith, for true righteousness has no room for self-righteousness.

If there is any person on earth that should have been self-righteous, it was the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He saw the Archangel Gabriel in his true form; he received direct revelation from God in an instant; he even ascended to Heaven and talked to the Lord directly!

Yet, the Prophet was never – ever – arrogant or self-righteous. He never made his companions and comtemporaries feel inferior, even though – in all reality – they were inferior to him in faith.

If the Prophet was never arrogant or self-righteous, then who the hell are we to be so? Who the hell was I to be so rough and harsh with that sister so many years ago?

It is akin to having a patient come to me with lung disease – from years of smoking – and I look down on her with disdain and disgust. If I, or any other doctor, ever did that, we would not be doctors for very long. On the contrary, I must have compassion and caring for anyone who comes into my office (or now, ICU) seeking medical care. They have put their trust in me to help them feel better, and – by the grace of God – I must do my best to treat them properly and show them compassion and empathy.

The exact same goes for all who come into the houses of God seeking spiritual solace.

They may not be Angels; they may have done many things wrong in their lives. But, they must never be met with arrogance or self-righteousness. They must be greeted with love, mercy, and brotherhood/sisterhood. The House of God is one of peace and love, and there is no place there for smugness and arrogance. Would that the many “believers” who fill its walls take heed of the Quran’s warning.

I so wish that I could meet that sister once again and apologize to her. If that sister happens to be reading this: please, sister, accept my sincerest apology for the way I acted. May the Lord bless you with all that is good in this life and the next, Amen.

And Lord, please, protect this soul from ever becoming arrogant and self-righteous again. Please increase me in humility and compassion. And, most important of all: accept me into Your fold and shower me with Your grace, Your blessing, and Your mercy. For, without those things; without You, O Lord,  I am truly nothing.

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A Truly Amazing Qur’anic Verse

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

The perception of the Qur’an – and by extension all of Islam – is that it is a book of violence and intolerance. Indeed, there is no shortage of verses in the Qur’an that are tough in nature and talk about war and violence. Yet, the book consists of over 6,000 verses; the ones that are tough are a very small minority. Still, despite this fact, there are a number of Muslim preachers that like to stress on God’s Might and punishment. In fact, many times, that is the only image of God that they conjure in the minds of the faithful. And for sure, the many detractors of Islam stress that this is the only image of God that is valid in Islam at all.

Yes, the Qur’an does contain many verses with the threat of punishment for this wrong or that. Yet, that is neither the essence of the book nor the essence of God in Islam. And I came across a truly amazing verse that confirmed for me what I already knew about the Precious Beloved Lord our God:

Why would God cause you to suffer [for your past sins] if you are grateful and attain to belief? Verily God is Appreciative and All-Knowing (4:147)

It can also be translated as:

What can God gain by your punishment if you are grateful and attain to belief…

Leaving aside the fact that God in the Qur’an – in more than one place – is described as being “Appreciative” (that will be for another post), this verse left me truly speechless.

What would God gain by your punishment?

When one reads verses of Scripture – be they from the Qur’an or the Bible – that describe the torment of what is called “Hell,” it is by necessity tough and difficult. If one only stresses the verses that describe God as “stern in punishment” – which He, of course, is – and one only quotes passages of Scripture that describe the torment of “Hell,” it can be made to seem that God is only waiting for us to make a mistake so He can punish us severely.

Yet nothing can be farther from the truth, and the verse confirms this.

Why would God cause you to suffer [for your past sins] if you are grateful and attain to belief?

Notice how gratitude comes before belief in God which, as some of the classical commentators note, is not accidental. When one reflects over the great boon and blessing that is life itself; free will and human intellect; the great bounty of the earth and its riches, one comes to the conclusion that there must be a Giver of all this bounty. And thus, out of gratitude to the Giver, one comes to believe in Him. And when one believes in Him, again out of gratitude, one follows His way.

Of course, this is all from the perspective of faith. The natural corollary to this is: what if one does not believe? What happens to the one who does not believe in God? Does God wish for them to suffer? Does God save His torment for those people?

To this, I have no answer. I do not know the fate of those who profess no belief in God at all. Why, I do not know my own fate! It is not my place to condemn them to God’s punishment. My charge – as a believer and servant of God – to be good to all of His children, even if those children choose not to believe in Him. In the end, God will judge us all.

Yet, for those who do believe in God, this verse gives us tremendous hope and solace. God is not waiting for us to sin so that He can strike us down with His punishment. As long as we are grateful to the Lord for His bounty and – because of this gratitude – do the best we can to live our lives in accordance with His will, what purpose would God have in punishing us? The answer lies in the question itself: there is no purpose at all.

And that is a very comforting thought indeed.

 

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