Between God’s Love And Mercy


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

This was first published in The Muslim Observer.

Although it is true that God’s Mercy is balanced by God’s Justice, it is still very important to remember the very first thing God highlighted when introducing us to Himself:

All praise and thanks is simultaneously and perpetually due to God, the Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Loving and Caring. (1:1-2)

God could have used anything to describe Himself in the Fatihah. Yet, He purposefully used these two beautiful words: Al Rahman, Al Raheem. Because of these two attributes of God, we get food to eat and water to drink. We get the warmth of the Sun, the cool breath of the breeze, the soft feel of grass on our bare feet.

Because God is Al Rahman and Al Raheem, we wake up each day and live our lives to the fullest. We stand breathless at the majesty of the blue ocean, its waves gently breaking on the soft sand. We marvel at the unlimited expanse of the Universe, wondering about other worlds that have yet to be discovered.

It is impossible to avoid living and breathing God’s attributes of Al Rahman, Al Raheem.

Thus, the most natural response to all this goodness is gratitude. When one realizes how much she benefits from the goodness of God’s Love and Caring, she cannot help but be grateful. In fact, one can look at the first two verses of Al Fatihah in that manner: “All praise and thanks is due to God” [because He is] The Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Loving and Caring.”

And out of this gratitude come our ritual worship and good works. The Prophet (pubh) said this to his wife A’isha, saying that he stood in prayer until his feet swelled because he wanted to be a “grateful servant.”

We pray five times a day because it reminds us of Him, the One to Whom we are so grateful. We refrain from doing what He prohibited, because we are so grateful to Him for all His wondrous gifts. We spend out of the wealth with which He blessed us, because we are so grateful for His blessing us with that wealth in the first place. And it can go on and on.

In fact, when one is grateful, then God has no need for punishing that person. He said it himself in the Qur’an:

What purpose does God fulfill in punishing you if you are grateful and believe, seeing that God is always responsive to gratitude (or, Grateful) and all knowing? (4:147)

The order of the words in the verse is not an accident: God purposefully put gratitude before belief, further indicating that our belief (and subsequent actions) directly come out of our gratitude. When one is grateful to his Lord, then doing what He asks is not a burden. And when one is grateful to her Lord, her love for Him will only grow and blossom.

That is why, truly, “All Praise and Thanks is simultaneously and perpetually due to God.” And we praise and thank Him always because we are so grateful to Him for all that He has done; we are so grateful for His being Al Rahman, Al Raheem.

In The Cradle of God’s Mercy


In the Name of God: The Extremely, Eternally, Infinitely, and Perpetually Mericful 

This was first published in The Muslim Observer 

Photo credit: photodune

By Hesham Hassaballa

For many years, I have written and preached about the fact that the love of God can be read in and inferred from many verses in the Qur’an. Yet, after I was exposed to the classes at Bayyinah Institute, I realized that – despite my being a native Arabic speaker – I really did not understand the book of God. For all these years, I was staring at the love of God in the Qur’an and had absolutely no idea.

In the first chapter of the Qur’an, Al Fatihah (“The Opening”), God introduces Himself to the world:

“All Praise and Thanks belong to God, The Lord and Master of all nations of people
The Extremely, Eternally, Perpetually? and Infinitely Merciful
Master and King of the Day of Judgment”

This chapter was the first one revealed in totality to the Prophet, and in it, God describes Himself in terms of love and mercy. The root of the words, Al Rahman and Al Raheem, is “rhm,” which denotes love, care, and mercy. From it comes the word for mother’s womb, which is the ultimate manifestation of love and care.

And the words themselves are deeply profound in meaning. Al Rahman has three elements of mercy: first, it is extreme in nature; second, it is immediate; and third, it is temporary, meaning that something can take it away. Al Raheem has two qualities: first, it is eternal and perpetual; and second, it is not necessarily occurring right at this second.

Thus, with the two being paired together, it has the meaning which is roughly translated at “The Extremely, Eternally, Perpetually and Infinitely Merciful.” His Mercy is extreme and occurs right at this second, when we need it most, and it is there perpetually and eternally when we need it later.

And within those two words are God’s love for us. For more than two decades of my life, I was reciting in the prayer these words and had no idea that God was telling me, directly, that He loves me. For too many times in my life, I have had preachers and Imams focus on God’s wrath, and punishment, and anger, and power.

Indeed, He has all of these things. And we all pray that He never shows us those things. Yet, when He chose to introduce Himself to the world, and introduce Himself to those who seek guidance in His Word, He chose to focus on His love and mercy; His beauty and goodness; His care and benevolence. Out of all His infinite qualities, He chose to tell us that He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem.

Now, of course, whenever one has a benevolent master, employer, or manager, those in his responsibility are liable to take advantage of this benevolence. There is a risk that, knowing that our God is a loving and merciful Lord, we may take advantage of this fact and willfully sin against Him saying, “He is Merciful.” That is why He said that He is “Master and King of the Day of Judgment.” There will be a day when we will face Him and be taken to account for all that we have done.

Yet, still, despite this, the first thing He said about Himself is that He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem. This means that His mercy is extreme, immediate, eternal, and perpetual. And this is because He loves us more than we will ever know. I never knew that this amazing chapter told me this from the very beginning. And I am so very grateful to my Lord that I now do.

The Muslim Observer: Believing in Islam in an Era of Difficulty


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

This was first published in the Muslim Observer


The news about Islam and Muslims these days is distressing, if not wholly depressing. No matter how much ordinary Muslims contribute to the well-being of the societies in which they live, especially in the West, we are always having to bear the burden of the psychopaths that do terrible evil in the name of our faith. I leave aside the fact that no other religious group has to contend with this double-standard. Nevertheless, the constant negative press about our religion does take its toll.

For some, especially in the Middle East, it has driven out of the faith completely and turned them to atheism. To me this simply adds to my rage and hatred against the savages of ISIS and their ilk. Yet, has it affected my faith? Has the constant negative press about Islam made me think about leaving?

I must admit, having my faith and its Prophet maligned and attacked day after day after day has given me pangs of pain. And it is true that, despite the fact that I am a Muslim is well known to all, I almost never volunteer to strangers that I am a Muslim. Still, there is no way I could ever leave the faith of Islam, the barbarity of ISIS notwithstanding. But there is a story behind this apparent strength of faith.

In college, I had a major crisis of faith. I doubted everything about Islam and the truth of its message. Even though I read the Quran frequently, it didn’t assuage any of my growing doubts. In fact, one day I actually uttered words of disbelief, and then instantly paused in complete shock.

I couldn’t believe what I had just said, and I immediately uttered the Shahadah, or Islamic testimony of faith. From that point on, my life and writing has reflected my continuous search for the Straight Path and the study of its demands.

And I have never regretted my choice to re-affirm my faith in Islam. There are so many things I love about Islam. What I love the most is the direct relationship with my Lord and Creator. He is right here, whenever I need Him. He is closer to me than my jugular vein. In that I feel comfort, and because of that I am saved.

The story of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as well is so inspiring. Everything about his story makes me love him more and more. Everything that he went through, all the suffering he endured, just so that I can believe in God shows that this man was truly the greatest man that walked this earth. And it shows that there is no way he can be a charlatan seeking worldly fame.

All that said, however, if any fluttering occurs in my heart, it is extinguished by the Qur’an. This book is truly a living miracle. It’s words, it’s power, it’s message, it’s beauty: without a doubt this book is the very Word of God. And when it infuses my ears, it calms my heart of whatever doubt my try to sneak in.

In addition, there are Prophetic traditions that give me hope and keep me going in these dark times. In one of these, the Prophet said:

“Ahead of you there lie days of patience, during which being patient will be like grasping a hot coal. The one who does good deeds then will have a reward like that of fifty men who do such deeds. – And someone else added – They said: O Messenger of Allaah, the reward of fifty of them? He said: “The reward of fifty of you.”

In another saying, the Prophet said, “Islam started as something strange and will become something strange once more. So glad tidings to the strangers.” We are definitely living in these times. And the fact that the Prophet gave us glad tidings of an immense reward, that of fifty Companions, gives me peace of mind and heart.

These are indeed “days of patience,” as the beloved Prophet (pbuh) told us. As Imam Zaid Shakir said, we cannot control what the barbarians who claim to be Muslim do around the world. We cannot let their barbarity affect our faith. What we can control is our own actions. We must remain steadfast. And if we do, tremendous reward and ultimate success awaits.

I Stand With The Victims of Sexual Abuse


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

I am very proud to add my name as a signatory to the letter below. My heart cries out in anguish and terrible anger at the alleged abuse by a Chicago-area Imam.

Dear Muslim Sisters and Brothers:

In light of recent sexual assault allegations in Chicago, we submit the following.

As scholars and religious leaders, we write to address the very grave matter of sexual abuse and criminal, predatory behavior perpetrated by religious leaders within our community.  We must bear witness to the spiritual and legal teachings of our faith. We must denounce this heinous form of oppression and violation. In our traditions, we have higher objectives that require us to protect lives and children.  We must turn our hands against the perpetrators. We must hold the criminals to account before God and the American judicial system. We must work for the healing of the survivors, their families, and loved ones. And, we must put in place new checks and balances to protect current and future generations from such appalling, and soul-tearing violation.

It is important to note at the outset that this is not merely a legal issue.  It is about the rescue and rehabilitation of souls that have been violated in the worst imaginable way.  Their trust has been betrayed. Their bodies and souls have been violated. And, because these crimes have been perpetrated by religious leaders, their relationship with their faith and with God has been poisoned.  The scars of sexual violence are life-long. The survivors must bear them for the rest of their lives.

This letter, then, first and foremost, is written in a spirit of loving support and prayerful solidarity with the survivors. Second, it calls for a community-wide revolution in the way we respond to this evil within our communities.

In this spirit, then, we humbly offer a few points.

1. As Muslims and people of faith, we must stand for justice.

O you believers! Hold up justice, as witnesses to God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, regardless of whether he be rich or poor. God is a better Protector to both (than you). [Surah al-Nisa 4:135]

Thus, regardless of what our families or the community might say, regardless of the position or status of the perpetrator, we must stand together as witnesses before God.  To do otherwise is to ignore God’s clear teaching as well as betray the victims.

2.  Seek immediate help.

If you know or are a victim of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault, seek immediate help. We often think that sexual violence is only rape. For further examples, please check here.

If you do not know how or where to seek help, begin with a trusted family member or friend or teacher, who can help you access the professional resources that exist for victims within and beyond the community.  Qualified and compassionate people are waiting to help, and so we have both a personal and collective obligation to ensure that the victims get help, immediately.

Even if the incident(s) you experienced were from long ago, seek help. The effects of such trauma are long lasting.

3. Inform law enforcement.

We must never hesitate to inform law enforcement when a crime has been committed, especially one of such a heinous and serious nature.  Officers are given special training for the care, interviewing, and protection of victims of sexual violence. They have strict rules for confidentiality.  The police have the power to intervene so that the victim will be protected from further abuse.  Law enforcement must be part of our community’s collective strategy for combatting this criminal behavior within our mosques, schools, and families.

Even if the abuse and violation occurred a long time ago, law enforcement should be informed immediately, as there may still be time for investigation, prosecution, and protection for both the survivor(s). We must also protect others who are in danger of being violated by the sexual predator. For the importance of consulting local law on such matters, please check here.

4. Support the victim.

As believing women and men, we must stand together for the sanctity and beauty and innocence of the victims. The prominence, fame, or power of the perpetrator should not affect our support for the victim.  God says very clearly that His covenant does not include oppressors [Surah al-Baqarah 2:124]. Our compassionate focus must be on the victims of oppression.

If you have been affected or have a family member who was affected by sexual violence, we urge you to stand with and for the survivor. We urge you to seek help by way of professional counseling and legal intervention. We urge you to cling to hope; for all things, including healing, are possible with God.  The perpetrators should seek their own repentance with Allah, but we must support the victim.

5. Do not blame or shame the victim.

Allah does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And ever is Allah Hearing and Knowing. [Surah al-Nisa 4:148]

We must support and protect the victims.  It is unacceptable to blame, shame, or silence the victims. As mentioned in the above ayah, Allah does allow victims to make public mention of evil.

We must protect the victim and pursue justice. It is never the victim’s fault for getting abused. There is nothing s/he could have done to invite such behavior, as sexual violence is a matter of the perpetrator abusing his/her power against another.

Victim blaming is one of the main reasons survivors do not come forward and seek justice. Community silence allows abusers to continue their crimes in their homes and communities.  Let us not be responsible for silencing those who have been oppressed.

Sending sincere prayers of God’s peace, mercy and blessings to one and all.

Nuance For Everything Else Except Islam


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

In the wake of the horrific murders of the three young American Muslim college students in North Carolina, there was much said about the fact that the killer – Craig Stephen Hicks – was an atheist who railed against religion on his social media sites.

Thus, many people sought out the response of famed “New Atheist” Sam Harris, who has been a frequent critic of Islam and its doctrines. He published his response in the Washington Post, and I reproduce it here in its entirety:

There is a huge difference between legitimate criticism of bad ideas and bigotry against specific groups of people (which, in the worst case, can result in hate crimes). It is one thing to believe that specific doctrines within Islam (or any system of thought) are unfounded, harmful, and in need of public criticism; it is another thing entirely to hate Muslims (or Arabs, immigrants, etc.) as people.

For instance, I am currently writing a book wit Muslim friend, Maajid Nawaz, who I consider a true hero (Islam and the Future of Tolerance). In this book, I tell Maajid why I think many of the doctrines of Islam are dangerous and irredeemable, while he argues that the tradition has found ways to circumvent the very issues I raise. The result isn’t bigotry; it isn’t even socially awkward. We are simply two friends having a civil conversation on a very important topic.

If a person considers his atheism (a lack of belief in God) or secularism (a commitment to keeping religion out of public policy) a basis for hating whole groups of people, he is either deeply confused about what it means to think critically or suffering from some psychological disorder.

 

Of course, he condemned – and rightly so – bigotry against Muslims. Yet, when it came to Islam, there was a heretofore unseen nuance (emphasis added by me): “It is one thing to believe that specific doctrines within Islam (or any system of thought) are unfounded, harmful, and in need of public criticism…

I found that quite interesting because, here is what he said about Islam on that now famous Bill Maher episode: “Islam at the moment is the mother lode of bad ideas.” Other quotes, taken from Dr. Muqtedar Khan’s excellent piece in The Islamic Monthly, include:

Islam is all fringe and no center.

The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a dangerous fantasy.

 

Here, he is not talking about “specific doctrines within Islam,” but all of Islam. Again, in his forthcoming book Islam and the Future of Tolerance, he will discuss with Maajid Nawaz his problems with “many of the doctrines of Islam.” Again, more nuanced. But this nuance is lost when he says, “Islam is…the mother lode of bad ideas.”

This is leaving aside entirely the point of whether what he says about Islam is actually true. He bases many of his claims on a superficial reading of Islamic sources and opinion polls taken in the Muslim world. This is exactly akin to pointing to the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church and then saying, “Christianity is terribly intolerant.” Or, pointing to the actions of Craig Stephen Hicks and saying, “Atheism is a murderous ideology.”

Sadly, however, this is par for the course when it comes to attacking Islam and Muslims. As Dr. Khan wrote:

New Atheists construct their arguments about Islam and Muslims based on horrible things happening in some parts of the Arab World and Pakistan, and generalize it to all Muslims and attribute it to Islam. Female genital mutilation is rampant in Egypt; it must be because of Islam, they argue, since most Egyptians are Muslims. But they ignore the fact that more than a billion Muslims elsewhere — Turkey, Iran, South Asia, East Asia — do not practice it.

 

Such actions are not befitting a scholar and intellectual with the stature of Sam Harris.

Chicago Imam Charged With Sexual Abuse: Shock, Disillusionment, But Mostly Rage


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

I had heard rumblings and whispers about the alleged abuse by prominent Chicago Imam Abdullah Saleem. Well, it is all out in the open:

On Tuesday, two days after turning himself into Elgin police, Saleem was charged with one count of criminal sexual abuse of a woman. She and three other women also filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and battery. The other women say they were minors when the abuse took place. Saleem was also charged with aggravated battery.

The criminal complaint is infuriating. Apparently, there have been multiple instances of abuse dating back decades. Eman Aly, a Counselor, has been assisting the victims with their coming forward. She said, “Based on the victims we spoke to, this has been happening since the early 80s.”

I must confess I was shocked. I know this Imam; I have prayed behind him; I have listened to his Friday sermons; I have heard him recite the Qur’an. That such allegations could be credible completely blew my mind.

What if they are false? That is not likely, as this tweet from Abdul Malik Mujahid states:

Here are more details:

Almost ten years ago we are told that he admitted to sexual misbehavior in a mediation requested by a victim’s family and accepted a volunteer withdrawal from being Imam in his own masjid. In this recent case he accepted the mediation of Imam Omar Muzaffar when an employee complained of sexual assault. He signed the mediation document of admission and apology before backing off which caused the accuser to go public.

Here is where my disillusionment comes in. Almost ten years ago? And nothing was done? No one went to the authorities? How can this be?

Moreover, how can this man do such a thing? He teaches the Qur’an; he leads people in prayer; he knows the Word of God by heart. How can he do such a thing? How can he be a monster in Maulana’s clothing, to paraphrase Abdul Malik Mujahid’s words?

Disillusionment, however, is quickly replaced by rage. Rage at what has happened. Rage at the fact that a man to whom the entire community looked up could betray it so horrifically by abusing children. Children!

There is also rage at the fact that, according to the complaint, a teacher at the school in Elgin allegedly told one of the victims, “old people do things like that, so just forget it.” This attitude – to keep such things “hush-hush” – is completely unacceptable; completely unconscionable; completely un-Islamic. Never mind the fact that it is illegal…

I completely understand that there is a lot of discomfort in the community for having these allegations out in the open. There is already tremendous pressure on American Muslims these days due to happenings overseas and the actions of a tiny fringe of criminals who act in Islam’s name. The last thing we need is news about our own Imams being pedophiles.

I asked Ms. Aly the question of, “Why now?” She answered:

I wonder why now myself. When I was gathering information before, when I was working on this alone, many times people would say we heard things or we knew. And I was baffled, because my first thought was, why didn’t you do anything?
Someone told me that maybe now is just the right time, and we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Things fell into place in [a] way that couldn’t have been written…it’s just so validating, because even though we were moving against the current with the community, knots were undone.
And this was the Gordian knot. And with God’s help we cut right through it, and hopefully no one will suffer at the hands of this man.

But, the Qur’an demands that we stand up for justice, even if it is against our own selves:

O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinfolk. 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 it you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do. (4:135)

The Prophet (pbuh) said that we must support our brother or sister, whether he or she is the oppressor or the oppressed. When asked how we can help an oppressor, it is by stopping him or her from committing oppression. Thus, by coming forward, these brave sisters and brother are working to stop future Imam Saleems from hurting other people.

May God Almighty – The Beautiful, Precious, Beloved Lord – protect our children from any and all sexual predators, whatever garb they may wear. May God Almighty – The Beautiful, Precious, Beloved Lord – protect our community from this ever happening again. May God Almighty – The Beautiful, Precious, Beloved Lord – bring comfort to all victims of sexual abuse and violence and justice to those who prey on them.

In Your Most Holy Name do I ask this, O Lord. Amen.

Russell Brand Excellently Highlights The Double Standard Over Chapel Hill Shootings


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

Russell Brand excellently outlines the double standard with respect to the media coverage of the shootings in Chapel Hill and Copenhagen. It’s a great video and worth your time.