A Muslim Changes His Mind About Halloween


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

My entire life has been an evolution of belief, opinion and thought. A big part of that has been my religious interpretation. My committment to my Islamic faith has never waivered. Indeed, I did have a crisis of faith during my university years, but my devotion to the Lord has never weakened. But, I have changed considerably over the past decade.

In 2002, I penned a piece for Beliefnet about my belief regarding Halloween. At that time, I wrote – and truly believed – that I should not participate in Halloween because of its origins:

“And this is why I will not send my daughter trick or treating this year or any other year. Halloween honors Celtic and Roman gods. Islam is strictly monotheistic, and anything having to do with the worship of any other god besides the Most Holy One is out of the question…While it’s true that Halloween is not, as I once thought, based on devil worship, it nevertheless mixes Celtic, Roman, and Catholic influences. The Celts, inhabitants of Great Britain and Northern France, celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1, which marked the end of the “season of the sun” and the beginning of the “season of darkness and cold.” On Oct. 31, the cooking fires would be extinguished after all the crops were harvested and stored. The Celtic priests would light new fires and offer sacrifices to the gods.”

Now, I still believe now what I did then – that Islam accepts the cultural traditions of a people so long as those traditions do not contradict the principles of Islam. And yes, festivals that honor other gods beside the Lord our God will not be celebrated by me.

But, I have a confession to make: For the past several years, I have personally gone trick-or-treating with my children and have passed out candy to the kids who come to my door. Now, years ago trick-or-treaters would come to my door, and I would not answer them. I would pretend not to be home in order to “not participate” in Halloween. But I realized that this practice, in trying to be devout to the Lord, was really not very neighborly at all, and it is very important to be neighborly if I am to be godly.

I also really started to think about Halloween itself. It is really is a cultural tradition. Yes, many centuries ago, it was a Celtic/Roman festival. Now, however, it is an annual thing that Americans do to have some fun while wearing costumes and collecting candy. There is nothing religious at all about Halloween. True, I don’t like the gruesomeness that some people put into Halloween, and I would never decorate my house or anything like that. But, I see no harm in having my kids dress up in costumes and going out and get some candy from their neighbors.

Have I flip-flopped? Perhaps I am vulnerable to this criticism. Have I sold out my religion in order to look nice for the neighbors? Some may say that about me, but I don’t want everyone to look at the Muslim house and think, “There is the miserly guy who doesn’t want to give our kids candy.” And, most importantly in the years since I penned that Beliefnet piece, I have aged and have had more children. As my children have grown up as Americans, I have had to really think about what parts of the culture in which they can participate.

For instance, we will not, one day, start celebrating Christmas, even though it can be argued that Christmas has lost all its religiosity as of late. No matter what, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. As a Muslim, I will not participate in this tradition. I have nothing against this holiday and those who celebrate it, but I will not partake in the “fun” aspects of it. The same goes with Easter, Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana. Again, I have nothing against those holidays and those who celebrate them, but as a Muslim, I will not celebrate them.

But, when it comes to Halloween, it really is not a religious festival at all. And so I see no harm in doing it with my children. I did the same when I was a kid, and nothing bad happened to me. A number of commenters told me to “lighten up” after reading my piece in 2002. With time, aging, reflection and study, indeed I have done just that.

This first appeared on Patheos

Persistent Double Standard


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

My article about the “Sharia Within” was published in a Virginia newspaper. Yet, I am always mystified by the response of some – but no doubt on the minds of many – who object to what I write about Sharia and Islam in general. This response is typical:

Shariah law is not the equal of Christian morals but is the exact opposite. Christians believe in loving your neighbor whatever his belief, color, or status.

Jesus said, in effect, if they don’t accept you, shake the dust off your feet and move on. Shariah law says, in effect, if they don’t accept you, punish them, tax them, isolate them, or kill them.

In the op-ed, Muhammad reads a bedtime story to his 4-year-old daughter. How idyllic. What the writer didn’t say is that if his 4-year-old daughter grows up to be a young lady and has an affair with some man before marriage, then he would be justified in killing her to protect the family honor. Shariah law.

If Muhammad’s son, whom he was playing catch with, grows up and leaves the Muslim faith to become a Christian, then he should also be killed. Shariah law again.

If anyone prints anything bad or critical of the Quran or Mohammad, even in a cartoon, he should be killed. Shariah law again.

In the U.S., it is permissible to burn or deface any book, Bible, flag, or any other religious or patriotic article. But don’t touch the Quran (Shariah law). If you do, you might get killed.

The Muslim religion with its Shariah law is like a giant worldwide protection racket. Comply with its rules, or you could get killed.

A Quran was burned by a Florida pastor a short time ago. Riots followed in a foreign country, and eight people were killed. The only way to confront this worldwide protection racket called Islam is by direct confrontation. Wake up, Americans.

Now the first sentence of his response is not true. In fact, the people at Loonwatch had a great article about the Ten Commandments and their proscribed punishments. Yet, beyond that small issue, the objections this reader had to my article really had nothing to do with Islam itself, but rather the misapplication of Islam by some of its adherents.

For instance: “In the op-ed, Muhammad reads a bedtime story to his 4-year-old daughter. How idyllic. What the writer didn’t say is that if his 4-year-old daughter grows up to be a young lady and has an affair with some man before marriage, then he would be justified in killing her to protect the family honor. Shariah law.”

Wrong. There is absolutely no justification for so-called “honor killings” in Islam. This is a barbaric cultural practice that is clothed with Islam by those who commit it. I have written extensively about this here and here. I have also condemned all violence against the innocent, without qualification or equivocation, all in the name of Islam.

The writer says: “If Muhammad’s son, whom he was playing catch with, grows up and leaves the Muslim faith to become a Christian, then he should also be killed. Shariah law again.”

Wrong. There is nothing in Islam that says people who leave the faith are killed. I have also written about this as well. There is total freedom of conscience and religion in Islam, and I uphold this principle as well.

The writer says: “If anyone prints anything bad or critical of the Quran or Mohammad, even in a cartoon, he should be killed. Shariah law again.

Wrong. Those are the words and actions of ignorant Muslims who think they “defend” the Prophet or Islam with their barbarity but actually defame them both. The Prophet was constantly mocked and attacked, even by his own family, and he never called for violent retribution in response.

When it comes to Islam, whenever a Muslim does something criminal and says, “Islam says I should do so,” so many just accept it and project that criminality onto the entire faith. It is exactly akin to calling Catholicism a “pedophile religion” because of the actions of Catholic priests who have molested children. I would never do so, because I know the actions of those few priests do not speak for the entire faith or its adherents. I went to Marquette University, and I worked with and learned under a number of priests. They were nothing but upright, wonderful people. I know that the actions of a few rogue priests is not the truth about Catholicism or all Catholic priests.

Would that the same standard be applied to Islam.

Good Riddance


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

Good riddance. At long last, the criminal murderer Osama bin Laden has been killed by American Special Forces. As the news percolated throughout the world, the myriad of emotions made it difficult to say just one thing about the killing of this man.

Then I started to think about all the horrific things done in this man’s name; all the barbarism that has been inspired by this “holy warrior”; all the strife that has befallen the hundreds of millions of innocent Muslims because of the criminal barbarity that this man has called for in the past.

Consequently, the words flowed out of my mouth: good riddance.

I received a message from someone who had mentioned his killing and said “May God have mercy upon him.” I had a hard time with that. This man didn’t show any mercy to anyone on earth that didn’t fit his ultra-narrow definition of “believer.” Thus, I can’t bring myself to ask God to have mercy upon him.

That is not to say that God cannot have mercy upon him. I am no one to predict or put words in God’s mouth. But I will not be someone who will beseech God to forgive Osama bin Laden. God will deal with him as he deserves. And God is a Lord of justice: bin Laden will get exactly what he deserved.

Even though it has been almost ten years since the horrific attacks of Sept 11, I am thankful that our country never gave up the chase; I am grateful that our President, our Commander-in-Chief, never gave up the fight to find that monster and bring him to justice. Indeed, his killing will not put a stop to the terrorist threat against our nation; it was naive to think otherwise. Nevertheless, it brings our whole country enormous satisfaction that we did finally get him.

Although this operation was a “kill” operation from the very beginning, I do admit that it would have been nice to actually capture bin Laden and bring to trial as the criminal that he was: in shackles and wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. That image would have been quite powerful indeed.

But I will gladly take his elimination from this earth. We are all better without him, and it brings to mind this verse of the Quran:

“And we have become certain that we will never be able to
thwart or escape from God on earth.” (72:12)

No, we are not God; but He did extend His long arm of
Justice through us. And may Osama bin Laden get
exactly what he deserved.

Passover and Eternal Hope


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

The Passover time is also quite special for me as an American Muslim. This is not because the story of the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt is a happy one for me, as well, despite the fact that I am of Egyptian ancestry. It is not because my absolute favorite movie of all times, The Ten Commandments, plays on television once again. These are all true.

Yet, when Passover comes, it reminds me of the Exodus saga and that hope always springs eternal, no matter how hard having that hope may seem. The slavery of the Hebrews was an established institution of Egyptian life and society – despite all the benefits brought by their ancestor Joseph – and to abolish such a thing would have seemed unthinkable.

Yet, here came Moses – sent by the Lord – to tell one of the most powerful leaders on Earth to “let my people go.” Undeterred by the mockery sent his way, Moses threw down his staff and raised up his glowing hand, as commanded by God, to show them the truth of his message. When Pharaoh was able to “reproduce” his miracle with a simple magician’s trick, Moses became scared. But, Scripture tells me what happened next:

And in his heart Moses became apprehensive. [But] We said: “Fear not! Verily, it is thou who shalt prevail! And [now] throw that [staff] which is in thy right hand -it shall swallow up all that they have wrought: [for] they have wrought only a sorcerer’s artifice, and the sorcerer can never come to any good, whatever he may aim at!” (20:67-69)

Although apprehensive, the Lord taught him never to lose hope, and he ultimately prevailed. As the story goes, when Moses’ miracle exposed the magicians’ trick as just that, the magicians all believed in Moses and fell prostrate in worship for the Lord our God, defying Pharaoh and his threats of violence against them.

As each plague befell the Egyptians for their arrogant intransigence, and their oppression of the Hebrews increased in guile and brutality, the people of Moses began to lose hope. But, as the Scripture says, Moses strengthened them and told them never to lose hope:

[And] Moses said unto his people: “Turn unto God for aid, and have patience in adversity. Verily, all the earth belongs to God: He gives it as a heritage – to such as He wills of His servants; and the future belongs to the God-conscious!”
[But the children of Israel ] said: “We have suffered hurt ere thou camest to us and since thou hast come to us!„ [Moses] replied: “It may well be that your Sustainer will destroy your foe and make you inherit the earth: and thereupon he will behold how you act.” (7:128-129)

When Moses and his people were trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s horde, coming to destroy them all, the people again lost hope. Moses, however, did not falter:

And so [the Egyptians] caught up with them at sunrise; and as soon as the two hosts came in sight of one another, the followers of Moses exclaimed: “Behold, we shall certainly be overtaken [and defeated]!” He replied: Nay indeed! My Sustainer is with me, [and] He will guide me!” Thereupon We inspired Moses thus: Strike the sea with thy staff!”- whereupon it parted, and each part appeared like a mountain vast. And We caused the pursuers to draw near unto that place: and We saved Moses and all who were with him (26:60-65)

At the end this passage of Scripture is this message: ” In this [story] behold, there is a message [unto all people], even though most of them will not believe [in it]” (26:67). And among the many messages is that hope must always spring eternal.

All of these lessons, all of these passages, all of these insights come to me, not from the Old Testament, but from the Quran. The story of Moses is mentioned dozens upon dozens of times in the Quran. The story of the Exodus is recounted several times, in fact. Moses is mentioned more by name in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself. This may come as a surprise to many, but the truth is that Moses (and Jesus) figure prominently in Muslim belief and scripture. Even though I may not hold a Seder in my home, it does not mean that the story behind the Seder is not near and dear to my heart.

And the lessons of the story of Moses and Pharaoh are applicable today: in the midst of such immensely difficult times for all communities in America, we should never lose hope. Whether it is the American Muslim community, which faces suspicion and hostility based on the actions of a tiny fraction of extremists; or the Gulf Coast community, still reeling from the BP oil spill that occurred one year ago; or the countless “Main Streets,” which still suffer under the weight of the Great Recession: the story of Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt reminds us that hope must always spring eternal.

Things will get better, and, God willing, we will eventually make it to the Promised Land. We just have to work our hardest – and work together – to reach it.

Passover and Eternal Hope


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

The Passover time is also quite special for me as an American Muslim. This is not because the story of the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt is a happy one for me, as well, despite the fact that I am of Egyptian ancestry. It is not because my absolute favorite movie of all times, The Ten Commandments, plays on television once again. These are all true.

Yet, when Passover comes, it reminds me of the Exodus saga and that hope always springs eternal, no matter how hard having that hope may seem. The slavery of the Hebrews was an established institution of Egyptian life and society – despite all the benefits brought by their ancestor Joseph – and to abolish such a thing would have seemed unthinkable.

Yet, here came Moses – sent by the Lord – to tell one of the most powerful leaders on Earth to “let my people go.” Undeterred by the mockery sent his way, Moses threw down his staff and raised up his glowing hand, as commanded by God, to show them the truth of his message. When Pharaoh was able to “reproduce” his miracle with a simple magician’s trick, Moses became scared. But, Scripture tells me what happened next:

And in his heart Moses became apprehensive. [But] We said: “Fear not! Verily, it is thou who shalt prevail! And [now] throw that [staff] which is in thy right hand -it shall swallow up all that they have wrought: [for] they have wrought only a sorcerer’s artifice, and the sorcerer can never come to any good, whatever he may aim at!” (20:67-69)

Although apprehensive, the Lord taught him never to lose hope, and he ultimately prevailed. As the story goes, when Moses’ miracle exposed the magicians’ trick as just that, the magicians all believed in Moses and fell prostrate in worship for the Lord our God, defying Pharaoh and his threats of violence against them.

As each plague befell the Egyptians for their arrogant intransigence, and their oppression of the Hebrews increased in guile and brutality, the people of Moses began to lose hope. But, as the Scripture says, Moses strengthened them and told them never to lose hope:

[And] Moses said unto his people: “Turn unto God for aid, and have patience in adversity. Verily, all the earth belongs to God: He gives it as a heritage – to such as He wills of His servants; and the future belongs to the God-conscious!”
[But the children of Israel ] said: “We have suffered hurt ere thou camest to us and since thou hast come to us!„ [Moses] replied: “It may well be that your Sustainer will destroy your foe and make you inherit the earth: and thereupon he will behold how you act.” (7:128-129)

When Moses and his people were trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s horde, coming to destroy them all, the people again lost hope. Moses, however, did not falter:

And so [the Egyptians] caught up with them at sunrise; and as soon as the two hosts came in sight of one another, the followers of Moses exclaimed: “Behold, we shall certainly be overtaken [and defeated]!” He replied: Nay indeed! My Sustainer is with me, [and] He will guide me!” Thereupon We inspired Moses thus: Strike the sea with thy staff!”- whereupon it parted, and each part appeared like a mountain vast. And We caused the pursuers to draw near unto that place: and We saved Moses and all who were with him (26:60-65)

At the end this passage of Scripture is this message: ” In this [story] behold, there is a message [unto all people], even though most of them will not believe [in it]” (26:67). And among the many messages is that hope must always spring eternal.

All of these lessons, all of these passages, all of these insights come to me, not from the Old Testament, but from the Quran. The story of Moses is mentioned dozens upon dozens of times in the Quran. The story of the Exodus is recounted several times, in fact. Moses is mentioned more by name in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself. This may come as a surprise to many, but the truth is that Moses (and Jesus) figure prominently in Muslim belief and scripture. Even though I may not hold a Seder in my home, it does not mean that the story behind the Seder is not near and dear to my heart.

And the lessons of the story of Moses and Pharaoh are applicable today: in the midst of such immensely difficult times for all communities in America, we should never lose hope. Whether it is the American Muslim community, which faces suspicion and hostility based on the actions of a tiny fraction of extremists; or the Gulf Coast community, still reeling from the BP oil spill that occurred one year ago; or the countless “Main Streets,” which still suffer under the weight of the Great Recession: the story of Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt reminds us that hope must always spring eternal.

Things will get better, and, God willing, we will eventually make it to the Promised Land. We just have to work our hardest – and work together – to reach it.

A Muslim At Passover


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

Every year, I look forward to the Passover holiday. As a devout Muslim, I do not celebrate the holiday, but, I know that it is the time for the annual broadcast of my absolute favorite film of all time, “The Ten Commandments,” directed by Cecil DeMille and starring Charlton Heston. First released in 1956, it has become an instant classic, being shown every year around the time of Easter. I try not to miss the film each and every year.

I have seen the ruins of ancient Egypt firsthand, and they are already breathtaking. When I watch the film, it gives me an intriguing sense of what Egypt in antiquity must have looked like, and it makes it truly enjoyable for me. Yet, what brings me back to the film almost each and every year is the story of Moses that is told in the film. It is one of my favorite stories of the Prophets of all time. Throughout the entire film, I am rooting for the Hebrews, even though I am of Egyptian ancestry. I have total disdain for the Egyptian taskmasters cracking their whips at their Hebrew slaves, and I spend the beginning of the film hoping with equal fervor for the coming of the Deliverer.

When Moses finally speaks to and is commissioned by God, I get very excited because now, finally, Moses will confront Pharaoh and set the Hebrews free. Every time Pharaoh hardens his heart against Moses, God sends a plague and I smile with glee. Yet, far and away, my favorite part of the film is the splitting of the Red Sea. I have to fight myself from leaping out of my seat and yelling to the television screen, “You go God!” Now, there are things depicted in the film about the Prophet Moses with which I disagree, and I am a little uncomfortable, given my Islamic sensibilities, with any Prophet being depicted by an actor. Still, I thoroughly enjoy watching the Egyptians getting their butts kicked by God and His Prophet Moses.

This should come as absolutely no surprise that a Muslim, of Egyptian ancestry, roots for the Hebrews in “The Ten Commandments.” In fact, my first published work was an essay about the film in the book Taking Back Islam. Moses figures very prominently in Muslim belief. He is one of the five mightiest Prophets of God, along with Abraham, Noah, Jesus, and Muhammad. There are more than 70 passages — many encompassing quite a few verses — that speak of Moses.

Moses is described in the Qur’an as “the chosen of God” (7:144), “sincere” (19:51), and “honorable” (33:69). The story of how he came to be raised in the House of Pharaoh, and his confrontation with Pharaoh after he is commissioned as prophet is also detailed in the Muslim scripture. In Islamic tradition, God had originally commanded 50 prayers to be performed per day, and it was Moses who continually beseeched the Prophet Muhammad to ask God for less until it became five. Moses is near and dear to my heart, and that is why I try to watch “The Ten Commandments” every year it is rebroadcast.

There are many in our country – and our world – that seek to divide us along any number of lines: ethnic, racial, and perhaps most dangerously, religious. Extremists on every side do the spectactular, seeking fame and wreaking destruction. Their version of the truth is hardly so, and it distorts the true nature of things: that the Lord wanted us to know one another and, in the words of the Quran, “strive (as if in a race) towards doing good.” Just because I am not holding a Seder in my home, it does not mean the story behind the Seder is not close to my heart. Let us pivot off of what we have in common and work together for the common good. The Lord is the ultimate Judge, and knowing Him, that will not be a bad thing at all.

The End of My Ramadan Winning Streak


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

The fast of Ramadan has been a part of my life for a very long time. It is a truly blessed time, when people get together, break their fast together, and worship and pray together. It is a month of spiritual renewal and spiritual re-birth. It is a month of physical cleansing, and a chance to break clean from the shackles of earthly life that can turn people away from the Face of the Precious Beloved.

Yes, Ramadan is all these things.

But, it is also a month during which many good things have happened to me. As far back as Field Day in Fifth Grade, I have had a “winning streak” of sorts during Ramadan. During said Field Day, I was fasting that day, and I won First Place in every single event. I still remember getting all those blue ribbons.

Later, during my Sophomore year in high school, a very important track meet happened to fall during Ramadan. I was on the varsity shot put team, and the pressure was on me to perform my best that day. Our team had always won this meet, and it was up to me to throw the shot at least 42 feet for our team to win. Despite my fasting, I threw it 42 feet, 6 inches.

My medical school interview was during Ramadan, and I had many things going against my being accepted. Nevertheless, I was accepted three months later. I took my Internal Medicine board exam during Ramadan, and I scored very highly on the test. So, I have only had good things associated with Ramadan, even if I am deprived of my precious cup of coffee in the  morning.

Thus, it was only natural that I thought last Wednesday’s hospital golf outing would be a glowing success, seeing that it also fell during Ramadan. Sadly, however, it was not to be the case.

True, I have not had the chance to play a lot of golf this year. True, I have not been able to practice the lessons my golf instructor had taught me. True, I am a doctor and not a professional golfer. But, come on, this is Ramadan: miracles happen during this month.

No such miracles occurred on the golf course. From the very first tee shot (which skipped into the creek to the left), the outing was an unmitigated disaster. Most of my tee shots hooked to the right, and when I tried to compensate for it by aiming to the left, the golf ball would go straight and end up in the bushes/trees/rough/sand. My chips became chunks, with the golf ball going only a few feet in front of me. And don’t ask me about my putting.The rules said that if I had not finished before 8 strokes, that I should put an “8″ on the score card and move on. I think I lost count of the number of snowmen I had.

One would think that, given the holiness of Ramadan, that my Precious Beloved’s creation would help out…like the trees. Absolutely not. Whenever I would try to shoot through the trees or even next to the trees, they would either kick my golf ball down to the ground or make the ball ricochet to some far off place. It was as if they said to me, “No you didn’t!”

“But,” I would say in anguish, “this is Ramadan! We worship the same God!”

They were not sympathetic.

And, Oh my God, it was hot that day. I mean, I was riding in the golf cart! Still, I was very thirsty at the end of the day. Furthermore, I had to watch the person driving the “drink cart” drive right past me MULTIPLE times, all as my golf-mates were able to quench their thirsts. I would not even try to look at the “drink cart,” so as I am not tempted to ask for a Diet Coke.

Yup, my Ramadan winning streak is over.  I guess this means that my golf game is so bad, that not even the month of Ramadan – with all its blessings, peace, love, mercy, and reward – is enough to fix it.

Good God.