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

Last week, two Muslim women wearing headscarves in France were refused service by a restaurateur, claiming that “All Muslims are terrorists”:

A French restaurateur appeared to be refusing to serve women wearing the hijab on Saturday night in a video that has been widely circulated online.

“We don’t want to be served by racists, sir,” one woman can be heard saying in the video, which was captured by someone sitting at the table and does not show any faces. 

“Racists don’t plant bombs and don’t kill people,” the owner of Le Cénacle restaurant, which is in Tremblay-en-France, responded.

“Because we planted bombs, sir?” she asked.

“I don’t want people like you here,” he said. “Get out. Terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists.”

It was caught on video, which became widespread.

The man later apologized the next day, claiming he succumbed to fear: 

A handful of people gathered outside of the restaurant Sunday to demand an explanation from the owner. He came out and apologized several times.

“I’d like to apologize to the entire Muslim community,” he said in a video captured by newspaper Le Parisien. “I freaked out; I’m scared of everything that’s happening these days.”

While his actions were detestable, his admission is the whole point: he succumbed to fear. I applaud him for his candor and his apology. 

Which brings me to another point: looking at the video, it would be easy for someone to use the video and argue that the French people are racist. He could point to that video, and the recent bans on so-called “Burkinis,” and argue that French people hate Muslims. 

Such an argument would be wrong. 

When my wife and I visited Paris last summer, we were only shown the utmost respect, hospitality, kindness, and generosity by the French people. I immediately fell in love, both with the people and the culture. After I came back, I embarked on learning the French language (j’aime bien parler français!). Videos such as the one I saw do not dissuade me from my experience. I know the truth is not the video I saw. 

The same is true with Muslims. Yes, there are savage criminals who kill in the name of Islam. But they are not the truth; they do not represent the whole; they do not tell the story of those women in France who were refused service because of their faith. 

The French are not racist, I know that to be true. You should also know that the meme, “All Muslims are terrorists and all terrorists are Muslims” is not true as well. 

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

I truly enjoy watching the Olympics, especially the Summer Olympics and its multitude of events, because of the amazing athletic ability of the athletes. The feats that these women and men achieve is truly awe-inspiring. And when they win Gold, Silver, or Bronze, it is wonderful to watch them accept their medal, many times with tears in their eyes. I share in their happiness, especially the American athletes. 

This year has featured American Muslim athletes who have won medals: Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first to complete in hijab) winning the Bronze medal in team saber competition, and Dalilah Muhammad winning the Gold in the women’s 400m hurdles. In a time of anti-Muslim sentiment, they have made our entire community proud and helped us raise our heads up high. I thank God for them and their amazing accomplishments. 

Yet, that is not the highlight of the games for me. What I love best about the Olympics is the sportsmanship between the athletes. During the competition, they are fiercely against each other. They will do whatever they can, even diving forward on the ground, to win. 

After the competition is over, however, they all shake each other’s hands in congratulations. They likely all know each other from other competitions. But still, once the race is over, they are all friends and colleagues. While there are a few unfortunate exceptions, this is the general rule at the games. 

This represents the best of humanity. Yes, we are different races, different faiths, different cultures, but we can all come together – every two years – and compete in a spirit of fairness and common brotherhood and sisterhood. 

This is, in fact, what God had intended for us:

To each of you We have prescribed a law and a way; Had God so willed, He would Have made you one nation [united in faith]. But [He willed otherwise in order] to test you in what He had given you. So race to [all that is good]. To God is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you were wont to differ (5:48)

It is so heartening to see this manifested in beautiful glory during the Olympics. And, as the Summer Olympics wind down, it is heartbreaking to realize that, in a few days time, it is likely our kind will go back to the hatred and division at which we are so effective (Election 2016 case in point). 

Is it naive of me to think that, perhaps, we can learn from the spirit of the Olympics and be better as a people? As a country? As a human race? 

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

Writer Kamel Daoud noted an interesting observation about Paradise in the modern Muslim mind in a recent New York Times opinion piece:

Paradise as a goal for the individual or the group has gradually replaced the dreams of development, stability and wealth promised by postwar decolonization in the so-called Arab world. These days, one imagines happy tomorrows only after death, not before.

He goes on the argue that this “Muslim Utopia” may be part of the reason there is rampant stagnation in the Arab and larger Muslim majority world.

He makes a valid point.

Yet the Quran’s vivid descriptions of Paradise – with gardens underneath which rivers flow, vessels of wine, robes of silk, bracelets of gold, and (yes) beautiful women as spouses and beautiful men, in fact, as servants and attendants – are only promised to the believer who restrains himself and herself in this world:

But unto him who shall have stood in fear of his Lord’s Presence and held back his inner self from base desires, Paradise will truly be his goal (79:40-41).

Still, with all these sensual delights awaiting the righteous believer, one would think that the Quran would encourage a hastened death. Indeed, that is precisely what the savage jihadist believes: by killing himself and scores of innocent people with a suicide bomb, he will earn a quick path to his garden and all those “houris,” or beautiful women, who will welcome him with open arms of sensuality.

He is wrong. Dead wrong. The Quran is stern against suicide:

and do not kill yourselves, for indeed God is a dispenser of grace unto you (4:29).

Moreover, there is a substantial portion of the Quran that speaks about earthly life, including marriage and divorce, dietary laws, international relations, rules of war, and (yes) corporal punishments. If the only goal is the Afterlife without any care about life on earth, why would the Quran address these issues?

Yet, even in the verses that speak about the Afterlife, they are linked to one’s conduct here on earth:

Woe unto the defrauders, who, when they take measure from people, demand [it] in full, and when they measure for them or weigh for them, they stint. Do they not think that they will be resurrected unto a tremendous day?  A day when humanity shall stand before the Lord of the worlds? (83:1-6)

The Quran teaches the believer to pray for goodness in this life and the next:

O our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the life to come, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire (2:201).

In fact, the longest verse of the entire Quran, spanning more than a page of Arabic text, details the procedure for credit transactions:

O you who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing… (2:282)

The Quran’s attitude about earthly life and the afterlife is one of balance, and it is summarized in this verse speaking about the Biblical Korah, who lived at the time of Moses:

…his people said unto him: ‘Exult not [in your wealth], for God does not love those who exult [in things vain]! Seek instead, by means of what God has granted you, [the good of the life to come], without forgetting, withal, your own rightful share in this world… (28:76-77).

The Quran says that human beings were put on this earth to strive, to toil, to patiently live in obedient worship of God, and after they die in His service,
“the Angels will come unto them from every gate [and will say] ‘Peace be unto you, because you have persevered!‘” (13:23-24)

Peace be unto you, because you have persevered,” the Qur’an says, and not because you killed yourself in an act of cowardly murder.

This “jihadist fantasy,” to coin Daoud’s term, that Paradise is just a suicide bomb away is unsubstantiated by any reading of the Quranic text and is an egregious distortion and defilement of Islamic belief and tradition. And, tragically, it has been used to dupe too many young, ignorant Muslims into becoming savage murderers.

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

It does not diminish its terror; it does not diminish its horror; it does not diminish its savagery. Still, it is important to know why someone commits a crime. With respect to the horrific shooting in Munich, Germany, it appears that it had nothing to do with terrorism or religious extremism:

The gunman who killed nine people in a rampage in Munich on Friday was obsessed with mass shootings and appeared to have planned the attack for a year, officials said.

“He appears to have planned this act since last summer,” Robert Heimberger, president of the Bavarian state criminal police office, said at a press conference Sunday.
“He completely occupied himself with this act of rampage.”
Police have not named the attacker, but said he was an 18-year-old with dual German and Iranian nationality who was born and raised in Munich. Neighbors told CNN Saturday that the teen who lived in an apartment searched by police was Ali Sonboly, a name reported by German media outlets.
Police had said Saturday that the attacker was a mentally troubled individual who had extensively researched rampage killings, and had no apparent links to terror groups and no political motive.
On Sunday, investigators revealed he had left behind a long written statement on his computer, which was still being analyzed. They also said they had found photographs on his camera showing he had also visited the German town of Winnenden, the site of a deadly 2009 school shooting.
Earlier, officials said they had found in the gunman’s belongings numerous documents on mass killings, including a book entitled “Rampage in My Mind — Why Students Kill.”
Officials also believe there likely was significance in the timing of the attack, which came five years to the day since Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, many of them attendees at a youth camp.
Again, it does not make the crime any less heinous. But it does prove the – seemingly obvious – point that someone can be a criminal of Muslim background and NOT be a terrorist. Yes, there have been a slew of terrorist attacks by “lone wolf” Muslim attackers (the vast majority of whose victims are…other Muslims). At the same time, just because someone is of Muslim background and commits a crime, it does not make him an automatic terrorist. We must continue to resist this generalization, for the better of all of us in this world.

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

In the aftermath of the horrific attack in Nice, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a truly outrageous statement:

Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported.

He made these comments to Fox’s Sean Hannity. Now, I do not know what Mr. Gingrich believes “Sharia” is, but as it is understood by billions of Muslims, “Sharia” is the “way to God” in Arabic, and it is the individual and collective effort by Muslims to determine the will of God in their lives.

While most Americans may think of beheadings, amputations, and stoning as the essence of Sharia, for the vast, vast majority of Muslims, Sharia is encompassed by moral and ethical teachings, spiritual practices and rituals, and instructions on personal conduct, such as diet and hygiene. This is not to say that there isn’t corporal punishment in Sharia – there is – but it is the tiniest part of the body of Sharia as a whole, and it has been misunderstood and misapplied by many Muslims in our world today.

As shocking as that statement by Mr. Gingrich is, it still left me with a number of questions. For instance, if I don’t eat pork as a Muslim (just like Jews and even Jesus Christ himself), will Newt Gingrich deport me? After all, refraining from eating that delictable piece of pepperoni pizza (because it has pork) is a part of the Sharia.

If I don’t drink alcohol, also part of the Sharia, will Newt Gingrich deport me?

The Sharia is very big on absolute respect and honor for one’s parents. Thus, if I kiss my parents’ hands in public out of respect – which I am blessed to say that I still do at age 42 – will ICE officers come knocking at my door?

What if I am driving on the highway and refrain from speeding because obeying the laws of the land is obligated by the Sharia on me as a Muslim, will I soon see Federal agents on my tail to deport me?

What if I consistently come to work on time, or treat my wife with the dignity and honor she deserves, or work day and night to provide for my family, or vote in every election as an engaged citizen should do, or pick up a wayward piece of garbage I see on the street, or move a nail out of the sidewalk so no one will walk or drive over it, or treat my neighbors with courtesy and respect? All of these things are mandated upon me by the Sharia.

Will Newt Gingrich, then, deport me?

And, by the way, I was born and raised in greater Chicago area. This country is my country, and it is the only country I have ever known. I love this country to death. To where, exactly, would Newt Gingrich deport me?

Such rhetoric by Newt Gingrich and others of his ilk is alarming, counterproductive, and most of all, un-American. As a Statesman and former Speaker of the House (third in line for the Presidency), I would have thought Mr. Gingrich would know better. Apparently, I was wrong.

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

“You know they hate you, right?”

That’s what was repeatedly told to me as I cheered the French national team in their doomed bid to win the 2016 Euro Cup final against Portugal on July 10, 2016. They were referring to the generalized notion among many Muslims that the French hate Islam and all Muslims. Now, judging by the news reports about the discrimination of Muslims in France, I can see how this perception can take root. I resisted this, however.

“They never hated me,” I said.

Indeed, when my wife and I traveled to Paris in the summer of 2015, I was only treated with kindness, respect, and honor. I left France an immediate Francophile, and I have embarked on learning the French language and have a special place in my heart for Paris in particular and France in general.

That does not mean that I am not pained by the discrimination that French Muslims do face. It is a major problem that needs to be addressed. At the same time, however, I refuse to blanket all the French people as “racist” because of what I read in the news.

We all need to do more of this.

I hate it when all Muslims are tarred with the stain of the crimes of the savages acting in our name. I resent when fellow American Muslims are looked at with suspicion because of what is in the news. I am sick and tired of Muslims having to bear the brunt of backlash – including my own family – whenever a Muslim criminal does anything anywhere.

Well, as the Prophet (pbuh) said, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” If I resent that being done to me, then I cannot do the same to others. That is true for the French, or African-Americans, or Jews, or the police, or anyone else.

I was horrified by the death of Philando Castile. At the same time, however, I refuse to paint all police as racist. I was horrified by the attacks on the Dallas police officers (and those in Baton Rouge) who, as shooting survivor and Imam Omar Suleiman said, “[The hearts of the Dallas Police] were with us for that demonstration. They get it.”

It’s hard. It goes against our natural tendency as human beings. Indeed, it is a jihad, or struggle. But, it is one that is vital to our country, as the current hateful rhetoric of this Presidential campaign bitterly shows us. The words of Imam Suleiman ring so true:

I truly do believe that as a country, this is a pivotal moment in the history of country. Are we going to be a pluralistic, tolerant, accepting nation that is guided by a unifying principle that everyone has the right to live with the same level of dignity, and be treated equally by the law, and be free to worship in a way that they please, and live their lives in the way that they please? Are we going to be united by that principal?

We have to be united by that principal. Else, the very nature of who we are as a people, as a country, hangs in the balance.

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

The headline of the article caused me a double-take: “A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam. Then the Death Threats Began.” Then I began to read about this cleric in Saudi Arabia who has caused shockwaves in the ultra-conservative Arabian kingdom:

For most of his adult life, Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi worked among the bearded enforcers of Saudi Arabia. He was a dedicated employee of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — known abroad as the religious police — serving with the front-line troops protecting the Islamic kingdom from Westernization, secularism and anything but the most conservative Islamic practices.

[…]

For years, Mr. Ghamdi stuck with the program and was eventually put in charge of the Commission for the region of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Then he had a reckoning and began to question the rules. So he turned to the Quran and the stories of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, considered the exemplars of Islamic conduct. What he found was striking and life altering: There had been plenty of mixing among the first generation of Muslims, and no one had seemed to mind.

So he spoke out. In articles and television appearances, he argued that much of what Saudis practiced as religion was in fact Arabian cultural practices that had been mixed up with their faith.

There was no need to close shops for prayer, he said, nor to bar women from driving, as Saudi Arabia does. At the time of the Prophet, women rode around on camels, which he said was far more provocative than veiled women piloting S.U.V.s.

[…]

Mr. Ghamdi’s colleagues at work refused to speak to him. Angry calls poured into his cellphone and anonymous death threats hit him on Twitter. Prominent sheikhs took to the airwaves to denounce him as an ignorant upstart who should be punished, tried — and even tortured.

The reaction to him was very upsetting. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, but it is quite another to call for someone’s harm; especially if he or she is challenging the confabulation of cultural practice with religious doctrine. Too many people – abroad and at home – cannot disagree without being violently disagreeable.

Yet, Mr. Ghamdi’s challenge of the religiosity of cultural practices is wildly overdue, and rather than be ostracized, he should be commended. The article seems to hint at why the reaction to him was so ferocious:

It was like a bomb inside the kingdom’s religious establishment, threatening the social order that granted prominence to the sheikhs and made them the arbiters of right and wrong in all aspects of life. He threatened their control.

If this is truly the case, this is even more enraging. Only God is in control, and while religious scholars do deserve respect for the knowledge they have, they are not God or His Messenger. Their words should not be taken as divine law. Ever.

Now, of course, the reforms Mr. Ghamdi is calling for are likely still too conservative for many Muslims who clamor for reform in the faith. Still, in a country like Saudi Arabia, it is a big and important step. I commend Mr. Ghamdi for his courage to speak out and purge our faith from the baggage of cultural practice, and I pray he is given the respect, safety, and audience that he deserves.

 

 

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

While it really doesn’t make it any better, knowing something about why the monster Omar Mateen did what he did is still important. And as investigators continue their search for answers, one thing seems to be becoming increasingly clear: 

…intelligence officials and investigators say they’re “becoming increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little — or maybe nothing — to do with ISIS.

That’s according Dina Temple-Raston, reporter for NPR. Speaking on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, she told host Scott Simon:

He was bullied as a kid in school. He had well-documented behavioral problems. He was aggressive toward other kids. As he got older, things didn’t get much better. He took steroids, he jumped from job to job, he had a history of domestic violence. And all these things together fit into a mass shooter’s profile.

The fact that he called several people claiming allegiance to ISIS may be because, as the NPR piece states, he wanted to “garner more publicity for his deadly attack.”

What’s more, the attack may be related to his confused sexuality. Temple-Raston added that investigators are leaning towards this narrative:

Mateen may have had some problems with his sexuality, maybe even had some latent attraction to men. And he lashed out at the gay community as a result.

Other published reports suggest the same thing: 

“This is a hard one to disentangle, but there are three strands,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The dominant strand is that he hates gays. Then, there is his personal rage. He doesn’t like his life at all.

“The third strand is Islamist ideology, which is the weakest of the three,” said Potok, whose Alabama-based organization tracks extremists. “It’s almost like an afterthought.”

The FBI initially touted the theory that U.S.-born Mateen was motivated by his support of the notorious Islamic State, which as part of its radical ideology has expressed a visceral hatred for gays. But the portrait has turned far more complicated in the course of a week, with experts now saying Mateen appeared to be driven by a dangerous mix of bigotry, self-loathing and, perhaps, mental illness.

The investigation, of course, is ongoing. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this crime had nothing to do with terrorism and ISIS. Omar Mateen fit the typical profile of a mass shooter, and this time, he happened to be Muslim. 

Does this make what happened any better? Any less tragic? Does this make it hurt any less?

Absolutely not. 

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

In my column reacting to the horrific Orlando shooting, I wrote:

It is not important that the site of the massacre, Pulse, was a “gay nightclub.”

What I meant was that all life is sacred, and that the sexual orientation of the victims was immaterial. They were fellow Americans who were gunned down and senselessly murdered. I then came across this article by Tim Teeman, senior editor and writer at the Daily Beast:

Please, no more ‘thoughts and prayers,’ unless they come with a vocal recognition of this as an attack against LGBT people in an LGBT bar.

Please, no more talk of the Pulse as a ‘nightclub’ without the word ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ attached to it.

Please, no more talk on this being an “attack on all of us” unless LGBT people are accorded the same rights as everyone else.

Wow. I have a little better understanding now. It is important to mention that Pulse is a gay nightclub because, as Mr. Teeman puts it:

Pulse was a club where LGBT people went to feel comfortable and have a good time; LGBT clubs exist because gay people need places to congregate because they were not welcome or comfortable elsewhere. They should be a ‘safe space,’ a retreat, breathing space, refuge, dance paradise, fun house–not somewhere to be hurt or murdered.

And to have this place savagely attacked like it was makes it even more tragic than it already is.

To me, the fact that the victims of the massacre were, and are, gay is immaterial. Like I said, they were my fellow Americans – my brothers and sisters – who were viciously murdered. I still believe that the attack on Pulse is an attack on all of us. But, Tim Teeman is absolutely right when he writes:

Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people.

Yes it was, Mr. Teeman. As a Muslim, as an American, and as a fellow human being, I am disgusted to the core because of it. Thank you, Sir, for your insight.

 

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

I wanted to – and planned on – writing about the fast of Ramadan, and how it brings freedom to the soul. I wanted to write about the discipline the fast inspires, and the spiritual renewal that Ramadan brings each year we are blessed to observe it. I can’t do that, however. Not after the outrage and horror of Orlando.

At least 50 people were savagely murdered at a nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, who was shot and killed by police, has been identified as Omar Mateen, who was from Fort Pierce, Florida. Another 53 were injured, and I pray for their survival and full physical recovery from this tragedy. I do not know if they will ever fully get over what just happened emotionally.

It is not important that the site of the massacre, Pulse, was a “gay nightclub.” It is not important that the shooter apparently pledged allegiance to the savages of ISIS. Does it really matter? Does the sexual orientation of the victims make any difference? Does the ethnicity or religious background of the shooter make any difference? No, it does not. Hate is hate, evil is evil; no matter the criminal, no matter the victim. This shooting attack is an an attack on all of us, and I am sickened to my very core.

The coming days and weeks will be very difficult. They will be difficult for the families of those who lost their lives, who will struggle with the pain of the loss of those whom they loved. They will be difficult for the victims who are blessed to still be alive, who will be picking up the pieces of their shattered lives. They will be difficult for the great city of Orlando, which will be mourning the terrible tragedy of this horrific attack. They will be difficult for all Americans, and especially of those in the LGBT community, who will – rightfully so – take this attack in Orlando personally.

I stand with you in solidarity, in brotherhood, in peace, in friendship, and – most importantly – in love. As President Obama said in his remarks to the nation:

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts—friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

The President also made this prayer:

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love.

Amen, Mr. President. Amen.

 

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