Dr. Hassaballa Featured in PRI’s “The World”

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

By the grace of God, I was featured on PRI’s “The World” show today, discussing the Muslim condemnation of ISIS. It is a great honor for me, as I am a big fan of the show. I discussed how ISIS’ invoking God to justify their savagery is blasphemy:

The fact that ISIS kills in the name of Islam is what disturbs Hesham Hassaballa the most. He’s a physician from Chicago who blogs at BeliefNet. In Hassaballa’s view, the extremists of ISIS are committing the sin of blasphemy.

“We live in a time when religious faith may not be important to many people. It still is to me. It’s still a very precious gem and jewel that I hold onto very strongly. So, if someone, some savage, tries to take that precious thing and defile it with murder … barbarism … coldhearted bloodthirstiness, that’s offensive,” Hassaballa says.

“I’m not going to fight [ISIS] on the battlefield, but what I can do is speak out against them in the strongest manner possible.”

May God rid us of the scourge of these savages once and for all. Amen.

The Refugee Crisis and the Rejection of ISIS 

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

ISIS and many Islamophobes have surprisingly found a common ground: they agree that ISIS’ interpretation and practice of Islam represents “true” Islam. Both push this narrative in their literature and other forms of propaganda, and there is evidence this viewpoint has gained some traction in the U.S. According to a study published in February, 27% of Americans believe ISIS represents true Islamic society.

It would be nice if we heard from more in the Muslim world coming out and condemning what the Islamic State is doing,” Fox and ABC contributor Laura Ingraham said on her show in August. “You’re not hearing enough of those voices, if any. I mean, where are those people?”

Talk show hosts keep asking why moderate Muslims don’t speak out against terrorism, but they seem to ignore the vociferous, unequivocal condemnations of ISIS by Islamic scholars and Muslim activists worldwide. Numerous parodies of ISIS all across the Muslim world show a clear rejection of the brand of Islam practiced by the group, revealing that ISIS and its ilk are a laughing stock to most Muslims.

There is, however, another proof of the overwhelming rejection of ISIS that has not gained much attention from media analysts and pundits…

Read the rest here. 

Let’s Start the New Year With Excellence

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

“Can the reward for excellence be anything but excellence?” 

Such is the rhetorical question asked by God in surah Al Rahman (55:60). It comes after a beautiful passage describing the richness of the reward of paradise, with its gardens, and waterfalls, and fruits, and spouses, and unimaginable splendor. While God knows best, I suspect that He placed the question there as a motivator for us: that if we do good, God will reward us with good in return. 

And so, in this Islamic New Year that started this month, we should each ask ourselves the question: is it too much to demand excellence of ourselves? Is it too much to demand that we conduct ourselves in the most excellent manner? 

Is it too much to demand of ourselves to be the best employees possible; to come to work on time and do as excellent a job as we can; and to not cheat or steal? If we are employers ourselves, is it too much to demand of ourselves to treat our employees as the dignified human beings they are; to not cheat them out of their fair wages; and to not cheat our customers by selling them substandard goods at premium prices? 

Is it too much to demand of ourselves to be the best citizens possible; to not cheat the government out of its fair share of taxes; to not lie on immigration or customs forms; and to truly uphold the laws of our country? It is too much to demand of ourselves to be the best neighbors possible; to treat our neighbors with kindness and compassion; and to not block their driveway or the entrance to their business simply because it will save us 10 feet of walking to the mosque on Friday? 

Is it too much to demand of ourselves to be the best Muslims possible; to commit ourselves to not only the letter of our faith, but its spirit as well; to treat each other with brotherhood and sisterhood; and to greet each other with a smile on our face? 

Is it too much to demand of the so-called “Muslim World” to start acting like true Muslims; to stop fighting and killing each other over power politics; to take in more Syrian refugees – who are their brothers and sisters in faith – and not wait for the West to come to the rescue? 

Is it too much to ask? I think not. 

Now, I do not mean to say that Muslims in general are bad employees, or bad employers, or bad citizens, or bad believers. Not in the least. But we all know of examples of Muslims who have fallen short of the Divine standards of excellence outlined in our faith. Not only do these “bad apples” tarnish the image of our faith, but they also run the risk of making the rest of us cynical and conclude that demanding excellence of ourselves is a “pipe dream.” 

But it is not a “pipe dream.” It is our job as Muslims, in fact, to do our best to remain steadfast to that Divine standard of excellence, and not because it is good “public relations” or even good “da’wah.” Rather, it is because our Lord demands excellence of us; our faith demands excellence of us; our Messenger (pbuh) demanded excellence of us. And as the verse in surah Al Rahman promises us, we shall be handsomely rewarded for it. 

“Believers Are Nothing But Brothers (And Sisters)”: Ashura Should Bring Us Together

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

Thinking and praying for you during this sad time. Imam Hussein was and still is beloved to all of us. May Allah bless us with the character and beauty of Ahl-ul-Bayt. Amen.

This is the text I sent to my Shi’i Muslim brother (and neighbor) on Ashura. Thanks be to God, I mustered enough courage to fast the day, which is typically very difficult for me outside of the month of Ramadan. I pray that God accepted my fast.

But, even though it was quite likely that my Shi’i brother and I were commemorating Ashura differently (as I am Sunni), I wanted to make sure I reached out to him, because I know this is a sad day for he and his family.

Too many times, all over the world, we hear and see of attacks by Muslim savages against their own Muslim brothers who are Shi’i. These savages do not even spare mosques, and there have been numerous attacks on Shi’i mosques. This is completely unacceptable, and it is a direct violation of the clear commandments of the Qur’an:

And do not take any human being’s life – [the life] which has God has willed to be sacred – otherwise than in [the pursuit] of justice. (17:33)

All believers are brothers (and sisters). Hence, [whenever they are at odds] make peace between your brothers and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy (49:10).

These directives can’t be more clear, and the fact that there are people who can so blatantly attack innocent people, not sparing their houses of worship, continues to baffle me, whatever the faith of the perpetrator and victim.

Such horrors should never, ever come to our shores here in America. Such division should never, ever rear its ugly head here. Yes, our theologies may be different; yes, we may disagree on various rulings of Islamic law; yes, our political theories may also be radically different. Those differences, however, should never, ever lead to division, rancor, or even violence. Never.

No matter how Sunni and Shi’i differ, we share one thing: “There is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger.” This phrase, this statement is worth more than all that this earth has to offer.

The Prophet (pbuh) said repeatedly one day, “To where will you go from La Ilaha Illa Allah on the Day of Resurrection?” That should always remain in the forefront of our minds: the Shi’i are our brothers in faith, and – as the Qur’an says – we must make peace with them at all times.

Indeed, these principles have been abandoned in so many parts of the Muslim world. But, we cannot abandon them here. We cannot let the stupid conflicts over there come and defile our communities over here. We must be better than that, in gratitude to God for the tremendous gift of being American Muslims with the freedom to worship God as He should be worshiped.

It did not take long for my Shi’i brother to respond to my Ashura text:

Ameen. Thank you for sharing your sentiments, means a great deal.

And the warmth in heart soared when I learned that such a small gesture meant so much to him, and I am grateful to God that He inspired me to reach out on Ashura.

I pray that our Ummah is spared from the ugliness of sectarian rancor and violence. I pray that our Ummah can see lasting peace and prosperity in our lifetimes. And I pray that, whatever we did on Ashura, God showered us with His infinite and everlasting Love, Care, and Grace. Amen.

“Homeland” Graffiti Stunt Highlights Show’s Responsibility To Be Accurate

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

We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as ‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.

Thus spake Alex Gansa, co-creator of Showtime’s hit series “Homeland,” in response to the revelation that Arabic graffiti that appeared on a recent episode actually bashed the show. The graffiti artists put messages such as: “Homeland is racist”; “There is no Homeland”; and “Homeland is not a series.”

The artists, Arabian Street Artists, detail why they did what they did:

The series has garnered the reputation of being the most bigoted show on television for its inaccurate, undifferentiated and highly biased depiction of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Afghans, as well as its gross misrepresentations of the cities of Beirut, Islamabad- and the so-called Muslim world in general. For four seasons, and entering its fifth, “Homeland” has maintained the dichotomy of the photogenic, mainly white, mostly American protector versus the evil and backwards Muslim threat.

I must say that I’m very impressed with this act of “artistic sabotage.” But, it raises a larger point: despite being fictional, television series – especially popular ones like “Homeland” – do have a responsibility to be accurate to the facts.

This is especially true when it comes to the Arab and Muslim world. The misinformation about Islam and Muslims – even in the digital and social media age of 2015 – is overwhelming. So many people get their information from “news” outlets like Fox News and shows like “Homeland.” Thus, like it or not, these shows must stay accurate to the facts.

Yes, there are bad Arab and Muslim guys out there. I am not saying that this should be whitewashed. But to continue perpetuating the very worst of stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims is wrong, because it only continues mistrust and misinformation.

A promotional poster for “Homeland.” (jim Fiscus/Showtime)

Such mistrust and misinformation leads to real-life consequences, such as the recent “Global Rally for Humanity,” which fizzled across the country, thank God. While I am not saying that “Homeland” led to such anti-Muslim hate, but any perpetuation of misinformation is wrong, no matter who or what the subject matter is.

When I was writing my first medical thriller, “Code Blue,” I had to make sure that my medical facts were accurate, because it is my responsibility not only as an author, but as a doctor as well. I do not want to perpetuate medical misinformation because readers would naturally assume that, as a doctor, the medical facts I was discussing in the book would be actual facts.

Despite being extremely connected, the amount of ignorance and misinformation in our time is as widespread as ever, especially when it comes to Arabs, Islam, and Muslims. Shows such as “Homeland” need to understand their power as a force for good or bad.

You can still have an award-winning show but not say that Al Qaeda – a Sunni extremist group of savages – is actually an Iranian venture, which is Shi’ite. You can still have an award-winning show and not make the viewers come away with the impression that all Arabs and Muslims are nefarious, scheming devils.

I am awed by the courage of these artists, which started a very important and necessary conversation about art and its responsibility to the truth. And I pray that meaningful positive change can come about as a result.

The Curious Illogic With Respect to Islam

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

This first appeared in The Muslim Observer

I can almost guarantee that most, if not all, Muslims across the country held their collective breath in the hours before the gunman in the horrific UCC shooting was formally announced as Chris Harper-Mercer. I can almost guarantee that there was universal fear that the gunman would turn out to be Muslim. I know I had that fear, as did members of my family.

Yet, why is this so? Why should the American Muslim community have to fear whenever anyone who is Muslim or identified with being a Muslim commits a crime in America? It is because logic goes out the window when it comes to Muslims and Islam.

The fact that the Oregon shooter Chris Harper-Mercer was a white male who disliked organized religion would never cause people to call for all white males, or all those who dislike religion, to be profiled and otherwise scrutinized. No one would dare suggest scrutinizing all legal gun owners simply because Harper-Mercer was also a legal gun owner. Yet, had he been Muslim, there would have been loud howls for Muslims to be profiled, scrutinized, or worse.

When a police officer is killed in an ambush-style attack, there are some who want to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for such an attack, with vociferous (and rightful) objections to such associations. When a police officer is accused or convicted of misconduct, police officers nationwide insist that the few bad apples should never tarnish the reputation of police officers in general, who risk their lives to protect the public. I agree wholeheartedly with this point.

Earlier this year, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin of Florida wrote “Don’t blame ‘pious Jews’” for the attacks on Shira Banki and Ali Saad Dawabsheh in Israel and the West Bank. He’s absolutely right. And I am on record saying that people should never smear every Catholic priest with the sins of the very few who have sexually abused children in the past.

Yet, when it comes to Muslims, such logic is completely discarded. Whenever any Muslim does anything wrong anywhere the world, Islam itself is to blame. All across social media are tweets and posts such as, “Muslim father kills daughter…” or “Muslim fighter beheads Christian…” and the like. And immediately, all Muslims are smeared; all Muslims have to bear the burden of the sins of criminals.

No politician would dare say Christianity or Judaism is “not consistent with the Constitution.” Yet, Dr. Ben Carson said Islam is just that, and his Party’s base seemed to reward him for it. Again, and again, and again, the logic of smearing the whole with the sins of the few applies to no other group…except Muslims.

Yet, beyond just fallacious logic, such associations of Islam and Muslims with only the crimes committed in their name has real-life implications for innocent, everyday Muslim citizens. There have been attacks on mosques and individual Muslims. Even non-Muslims – who simply “look Muslim” – are not spared from hate. American Muslim parents have to pause and wonder whether or not they should name their children with overtly Muslim names. And now, the latest fad is having armed “patriots” protesting against and insulting Islam and Muslims at mosques across the country.

All this because many, too many, associate the sins of a few Muslims somewhere with every Muslim everywhere. This logic makes absolutely no sense, and this double standard has to be called out every single time. The sins of the few can never be used to smear the whole. This is true when it comes to while males, and police officers, and Catholic priests, and anyone else. And it is also true when it comes to Muslims as well.

Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Heart-Wrenching: The Muslim Observer

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

This article first appeared in the Muslim Observer

Almost every day, it seems, news continues to pour out of Europe detailing the crisis regarding the thousands of migrants and refugees – most from Muslim countries – who are trying to escape to Europe. Their stories are heart-wrenching; the pictures and images are horrific. Over and over again, they keep saying that they are “escaping death and will not go back to it.”

Yet, as I watch with horror as these people risk their lives to get to Europe and then only find a Europe that clearly does not want them, I keep asking myself, “Why is this happening? How can the Muslim World have let it come to this?”

As the migrant crisis continues to worsen, there have been greater calls for the West to increase its response to address the crisis. Indeed, such calls are proper and warranted. Yet, this question keeps nagging at my soul: “Why is everyone waiting for the West to respond? Isn’t this a duty for the Muslim World to take up?”

I put this very question to Dr. Zaher Sahloul, past President of the Syrian American Medical Society and prominent American Muslim activist who has helped victims of the Syrian conflict.

“Yes, the Muslim “world” or Muslim majority countries, should accept more Syrian refugees and that include, not only the Gulf States, but Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and North African countries,” said Sahloul. “OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) should have a quote similar to what [the] EU has done.

However, he also added,

“But, whether we like it or not, the Western countries and the U.S. are more equipped to receive large influx of refugees. They treat refugees as equal members of the society, compared to Muslim countries that treat them as second or third class citizens with no rights or protection.”

He makes a valid point. He also said, “The American Jewish community advocated and absorbed 350,000 Soviet Jews between 1989-2006. Why can’t we do the same?” Again, a valid point. But the fact that it is a valid point is part of the tragedy of the situation.

The Qur’an says,

“All believers are but brothers (and sisters to one another). Hence, [when­ever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.” (49:10)

Have we done this in the case of Syria? Have we acted like brothers and sisters to one another? Or, have different Muslim factions (and nations) sided against one another and sought to massacre the other, creating the refugee crisis in the process?

How could there be Muslims who knowingly kill innocent non-Muslims, which they know is completely against the word of God? Worse, how can there be Muslims who knowingly kill other innocent Muslims, which they also know is completely against the word of God?

Now, I am not talking about the savages of ISIS. They must be fought relentlessly, and the entire world – most especially the Muslim world – must not stop until they are eliminated. But, the suffering that the Syrian conflict has caused – and continues to cause – is being goaded on by many in the Muslim world, and it baffles the mind that this can be so.

And on top of this madness, tens of thousands of innocent Muslims – fleeing death and devastation – risk their lives to go to an unwelcome Europe while the Muslim world watches in deafening silence. How can this be? What has become of the Ummah of Muhammad?

Do the words of the Qur’an mean anything to us? Do we truly believe they are the words of God, Whom we claim to worship besides none other? Or, are they simply a nicety to be read out during Friday sermons, but then forgotten when it does not suit geopolitical or economic interest? Is it too much to ask that the Muslim world start to act Muslim? It really should not be.