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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.

 

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

Our world is just a little bit darker today. Our world is just a little bit dimmer. Our world has lost a true Hero. Our world has lost Muhammed Ali.

He was so much more than just an accomplished boxer. He was so much more than a talented athlete. He was our conscience, the conscience of a nation that needed his voice more than it knew. 

We still need that voice today. Speaking at a rally in Louisville about his decision to resist the draft, Ali said (courtesy of Dave Zirin of the Nation):

I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. 

His stand did cost him dearly. But he didn’t care. He chose his integrity over his title, and his bravery was an inspiration for generations to come. I know that I could not be as brave as he was. He puts me to shame, and makes me admire him even more. 

What’s more – and what must be remembered again and again – was that Muhammad Ali was an American Muslim. Not only does that further demonstrate the fact that America has always been great, but it should serve as an inspiration for American Muslims in our day and age. 

Today, so many people – including candidates for President of the United States –  want to otherize us and our community. They want to demonize us for the sins of our criminals.  They want to marginalize us and make us feel like outsiders in our own land. 

But just like Muhammad Ali, we must never internalize these sentiments. He was confident in his faith and his Americanness to stand for what he believed in. So must it be with us. 

“The Greatest of All Time” has finally gone back to the truly Greatest, the Lord of our world and all other worlds. I am confident that he is boxing right now in Heaven, “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee” as never before. Rest in strength and might, Sweet Prince, and may the grace and mercy of our Lord envelope you for eternity. 

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

I first learned of this news while reading a tweet from writer and activist Mona Eltahawy.

A private hospital in Egypt has been shut down after a 17-year-old girl died from complications of female genital mutilation:

Suez governor Ahmed Al-Hitamy shut down a private hospital in the city after a young girl died on Sunday while undergoing a female genital mutilation (FGM) procedure, which is illegal according to Egyptian law.

Mayar Mohamed, 17, went to the hospital with her twin sister to undergo the surgery. Her sister survived, but Mayar suffered from complications during the procedure, which caused severe bleeding that eventually led to her death.

As I was reading this, all I could say to myself was a common Arabic Muslim phrase used to express shock: “La Hawla Wa La Quwwata Illa Billah,” or “There is no power or movement except with God.”

The statistics surrounding this barbaric practice in Egypt (the country of my ancestry) are astounding:

Egypt was among the countries that witnessed a fast decline in the prevalence of FGM rates from 1987 to 2015. According to a UNICEF report, it ranked sixth among countries that practice FGM worldwide, with an overall percentage of 85% among girls and women aged between 15 to 49 years old.

A government survey released earlier in August 2015 showed that 61% of girls between 15 to 17 years of age underwent FGM during 2014, compared to 74% during 2008.

While it is heartening that the numbers are decreasing, even one girl is way too many. As a father of four daughters, I am sickened and outraged.

Contrary to what some may say, this practice is not about Islam. It is a cultural practice that transcends religion and has affected millions of women and girls around the world. As a physician, I can say with utmost honesty and sincerity that this barbaric procedure has absolutely no health benefits whatsoever. It is truly mutilation, nothing less. As a Muslim trying to live a righteous life, that some would justify it using Islam offends me even more.

In fact, it is Islam that motivates me to speak out against this barbarism. It calls to mind this verse of the Qur’an, which condemns female infanticide:

And they ascribe daughters unto God, Who is limitless in His glory – whereas for themselves [they would choose, if they could, only] what they desire for: for, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received [and debating within himself]: “Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it], or shall he bury it in the dust? Evil indeed is whatever they decide!” (16:57-59)

I am sure that the parents subjecting their daughters to this horrific practice do not mean to hurt them. They just do not know any better. That is why, along with government and health officials, NGOs, and activists, religious leaders need to be more forceful in their condemnation of this practice and education of the people that there is nothing sacred about this practice at all.

All of us, for the sake of God and these girls, must say in one loud voice:

Leave. Our. Girls. Alone

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

I saw a similar article come through on my smartphone, and my disbelief prompted me to look up the story:

Iran and Saudi Arabia have failed to resolve a row over the Hajj pilgrimage and Iranian citizens will not travel to Mecca this year, Tehran says.

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati blamed “obstacles raised by the Saudis”. Saudi Arabia blamed “unacceptable” Iranian conditions.

Of course, I do not know the details of the negotiations. And it is no secret that Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds over larger geopolitical issues in the Middle East. Nevertheless, politics should never get in the way of Hajj.

The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that every able-bodied Muslim should make to the holy city of Mecca. For every Muslim, it is the trip of a lifetime. Many people save up for their entire lives to make the journey. For me, it was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had, and the memories are as fresh as they were back in 2003, when I made the Hajj.

Thus, I understand the likely devastation that the Iranians who were slated this year to make the Hajj feel at this moment. I would feel the exact same way if I was not allowed to visit the holiest place on earth because of, in all reality, a political dispute.

While the comparisons are not equal, it does remind me of when the pagans of Mecca prevented the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from making a minor pilgrimage to Mecca during his life. In fact, the treaty that resulted from this dispute, and its breach by the pagan Meccans, eventually led to the conquest of Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying the Saudis are like the Pagan Meccans. What I am saying, however, is that Iran and Saudi Arabia should think about the pilgrims, not politics. They need to sit down again and resolve their differences. We are talking about preventing believers from visiting the House of God. No dispute, no disagreement, no misunderstanding is worth it. Politics should never get in the way of Hajj. I pray the Iranians and Saudis come to their senses.

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

During our vacation in Paris last summer, there were some things about French life and culture that I found refreshing: the slower pace of life, the insistence on taking time out to enjoy a simple meal, the lack of cell phones when people sat and dined together. I believe we should do more of the same here in America.

One thing about France I found particularly interesting was their concept of laicite. Officially, it is separation of religion from government, in which, of course, I also believe. In practice, however, it is much more than that: it is a seemingly militant form of secularism that has been used by some to persecute some French minorities, especially its Muslims. 

Under the guise of laicite, some Muslim schoolgirls have been harassed for wearing skirts that were deemed “too long,” and some schools stopped offering non-pork meal options for their Muslim and Jewish students because “being French” includes eating pork.

I hope this never comes to our shores. The fact that I do not eat pork or drink alcohol, as a Muslim, does not make me any less American. There is nothing inherent in “Americanness” that forces me or anyone else to compromise our religious belief or moral standards. The French would do well to learn this from us Americans. 

This Fall, in what all indicators point to being a brutal election, what it means to be a “true American” will likely come up as an issue. And there will be some in our country who will point to this person or that, or this faith or that, as not being “sufficiently American.” We must resist this as a people.

The Muslim woman who wears a headscarf as a symbol of her devotion to God; or the immigrant who comes to our country to forge a better life; or the refugee fleeing terror and tyranny to start over in America are all fiercely American stories. And each of those stories adds to the beautiful cacophony that is America and has always made America great, since its very beginnings.

It is this greatness, and all those who died to preserve and protect it, that we come together as a people and celebrate this coming Memorial Day. Those fellow Americans who have chosen to serve sacrifice so much, some even their very lives, to make sure that I can live in this country free and fully American, safe from harassment because of my ancestry, or diet choice, or religious faith. On behalf of my family – and all other families across our country – I cannot thank them enough.

This country is so blessed: it is blessed with wealth; it is blessed with beauty; it is blessed with a wholesome goodness in its people; it is blessed with freedom. And this freedom extends to allow me to be true to my spiritual self and still feel fully American. This is partly why the savages around the world hate us, and it is largely why America has always been great. 

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