Chicago Tribune: Religion encourages restraint, not revenge

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

This first appeared in The Seeker, the Chicago Tribune’s religion blog

It is completely understandable – knowing how horrifically brutal the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhaffi was – that the people who captured him wanted to brutalize him back. The Libyan people have been terrorized by this man for more than four decades, and it was no surprise that his capturers terrorized him as well. Yet, many people are asking, especially after watching the disturbing videos of his capture, whether he should have been treated the way he was.

I was discussing this very thing with a dear friend and colleague – an Arab Christian – who said that, no matter what, no one should be treated the way he was, especially after his death. With all my hatred for what he did in his life, I could not help but agree with him…and think of this verse of the Qur’an:

“Never let your hatred of a people move you to commit injustice…” (5:8)

It is in situations like these in which the true test lies: when such a brutal man as Gadhaffi is captured, do we brutalize and terrorize him as well? Or, do we arrest and try him?

The same question can be asked of Osama bin Laden: our soldiers could have easily arrested him and brought him to Guanatanmo Bay, for instance. Rather, they shot him dead, and again, I completely understand the feeling and motivation for doing so.

I shed no tear over his death; I had no twinge of sadness. That man was the inspiration for the barbaric murder of thousands of innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, from before September 11. Yet, would it have been better to try bin Laden and treat him as the pathetic criminal that he was?

I am not saying that killing these two men is necessarily an injustice. But, as a person of faith, I think that one of religion’s main purposes is to temper the very natural urge for brutal revenge that comes in up in situations such as these. That is the essence of verse 5:8; that is the essence of Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek.”

It is a very difficult thing to do – restrain one’s passions – but that is the challenge that the Lord places before us. It is easy to stoop to the level of the barbarian in revenge. But that is not the type of people we should be.

Chicago Tribune: President’s Faith Should Not Matter

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

Once again, the separation of church and state becomes blurred as another presidential election looms. As former governors Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman enter the Republican presidential race, the issue of their faith – Mormonism – once again enters into the fray.

The Gallup organization released a poll of Americans’ views on the faith of a President and found that 22% of Americans would not be willing for vote for a Mormon. Other findings show that 49% would not vote for an atheist; 7% would not vote for a Catholic, and 9% would not vote for a Jew.

There was no mention of how many would not vote for a Muslim, but I suspect the number would be disturbingly high.

Now, some of those numbers are a lot better: according to the study: “in 1959, the year before John F. Kennedy won election as the nation’s first Catholic president, 25% of Americans — including 22% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans, and 18% of independents — said they would not vote for a Catholic.”

Still, the question I have is: who cares? Who cares about the religion or faith tradition of a particular Presidential candidate?

During the 2008 election, a widely used “smear” against President Obama was that he was a “secret Muslim.” It was so pervasive that the Obama campaign was compelled to debunk that rumor by insisting that he was a committed Christian (for which he was also taken to task because of his former pastor).

Jon Huntsman has seen it fit to distance himself from his Mormon faith, seeing that it may not be very popular among Republican primary voters.

Yet, again, who cares? Why is the faith of the candidate even important?

Of course, many people’s faith and faith traditions shape their philosophies and worldviews, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most faith traditions have very good principles and values, and thus being shaped by one faith or another should not be a problem.

The criterion by which someone vying for public office should be judged is how well he or she will do the job they are elected to do, not the particular faith tradition they happen to follow, and that includes no faith tradition at all.

It is completely immaterial that Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is Jewish; what matters is how well he serves the City and her people.

If a Muslim ever were to run for president, his or her faith should not matter at all, and it is wrong to “smear” someone – like President Obama – with the rumor that he is a Muslim or any other faith tradition.

The framers of our Constitution separated church and state for a good reason, and someone’s faith should not be part of the calculus of what makes an “acceptable” candidate for public office. That is what makes our country as great as it is.

Chicago Tribune: Did Congressman Weiner Cheat?

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on the Chicago Tribune religion blog.


Now that Rep. Anthony Weiner has resigned his seat in Congress, after previously taking a temporary leave of absence, the question remains: did he cheat?

I never really understood his answers when the scandal first surfaced: if he was hacked, why didn’t he report it to the authorities? How could he not know if that was actually a picture of his underpants? His announcement on June 6 made everything clear.

He actually sent the lewd picture of himself to a woman that was not his wife. And because he was so embarrassed that it came out, he initially lied to everyone about it.

Indeed, there was no – as far as we know – physical, intimate contact with any of the women with which he had these virtual inappropriate relationships. Yet, clearly, it was infidelity.

He failed in his loyalty to his wife by sending another woman a picture of his private parts. There should be no equivocation about it.

Ultimately, this issue is between him, his wife, and his God. His constituents will ultimately decide whether they trust him to continue to represent them in the U.S. House.

But, make no mistake about it: what he did was cheating. Period.

Dwell on Love, Not Hell: Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful 

This was published in The Seeker.

In his new book, Love Wins, Evangelical pastor Rob Bell posits that there may be a place in heaven for “every person who ever lived,” and that there may not be a Hell at all. The response of conservative Christians has been ferocious. But upon this fact, I am banking everything.

When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell,” unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the evangelical community.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell’s book is “theologically disastrous.

Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way.” In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book.

Indeed, Jon Meacham wrote in this week’s Time magazine: “From a traditionalist perspective, though, to take away hell is to leave the church without its most powerful sanction.”

Lord knows that I have heard sermon after sermon about the torment of Hell that is in store for those who do not believe. And it is true that the Qur’an speaks vividly of the torment of Hell, with numerous highly descriptive verses, for those who “reject the truth.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not want to be one of those who will be punished in the torment of Hell. And I believe and fully acknowledge the severity of God’s punishment. Yet, the Qur’an has an enduring principle: “[God] has inscribed upon Himself [the rule of] mercy.” (6:12) In another verse, God says: “O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Do not despair from the mercy of God. For God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (39:53).

Upon this fact, I am banking everything. There was a time in my life when I gave fiery sermons about God’s eternal torment in Hell. I will never do so again. I focus all my energies upon the Beauty, Grace, Mercy, and Love of the Lord – and not His torment and punishment. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said:

Indeed, God has one hundred (portions of) mercy; one portion causes compassion between creation. Ninety-nine are reserved for the Day of Judgment.

The ultimate Judge is God Himself. It is He Who will determine the fate of every creation, no matter what people who claim to “speak in His Name” may say. Just because God has prepared a horrific torment that is eternal, it does not obligate Him to apply it. It would not surprise me one bit if He saved all of humanity on Judgment Day, and I believe that we will all be enormously surprised by the Grace of the Lord our God on that Day.

We humans love to mete out God’s punishment, torment, and condemnation upon this person or that. The good news is, the supposed Source of that torment and punishment is much more merciful and beautiful than we give Him credit for. And believe you me, that will be a very, very good thing indeed.

Religion Shapes How You Read, Misread News

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published in the Chicago Tribune’s blog, The Seeker.

Whether religion is rising or falling, a study set to be published in the Journal of Christianity and Psychology concludes that religious experiences affect the way individuals consume news about religion. I found this to be especially true when it comes to consuming news stories about Islam. No matter how much I write to the contrary, showing fact after fact about Islam and Muslims, it does not matter.

Michael Kitchens, assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College, hypothesized that participants who had self-described “high comfort with their religion and low reported strain” are more likely to subconsciously gravitate toward positive news about Christianity. Those with “low comfort and high strain” were more likely to read stories biased against Christianity.

“Those that favor negative news about Christianity report high strain and low comfort with their religion. This is not surprising, except that this group is overwhelmingly biased toward this kind of news,” said Kitchens. “The general consensus is that we look at information that confirms our own belief. We want to consume news stories that affirm our beliefs and we’ll ignore the ones that don’t.”

Those who are convinced Islam is “violent” and “evil” are not moved. They will either dismiss the piece as “political correctness,” or worse, accuse me and my fellow Muslim writers of “lying” under the guise of “taqiyya,” or “dissimulation,” a wholly misunderstood concept in Islamic jurisprudence.

At times, it gets a bit exhausting having to write the same things over and over, defending Islam and Muslims from the same, centuries-old accusations and claims.

Yet, I will not stop. The truth is the truth, and as Biblical scripture says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

This is also in the Prophetic tradition: they were steadfast in the face of relentless abuse and accusations of lying. According to the Quran, Noah preached to his people for 950 years, and he did not waver. Thus, who am I to give up because of a few commentators who accuse me of “lying”?

Moreover, writing to explain, teach, and share the Muslim experience is, in and of itself, a positive exercise. It is part of my duty to reach out to my fellow Americans (and fellow citizens of the world) and show them the truth about my faith. It is part of the way I try to be a good neighbor, a good citizen, and a good Muslim.

And if I can only reach one person – even after decades of writing – I am satisfied. As God said to Abraham (in Islamic tradition): “Your job is to call out, and My job is to disseminate it.”

In Japan, Only Relief Efforts Matter: Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

As I watched the utter devastation of the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and the enormity of its power, I was humbled to the core. When a natural disaster can move the entire Japanese mainland by 8 feet and tilt the earth’s own axis, I know that I am truly the least significant power in the realm of the universe.

Now, there is no way on this earth that I am calling the Japanese earthquake “God’s punishment.” Who am I to condemn the (likely) tens of thousands of people dead or injured to the punishment of God? What have they done? What do I know of it? And how do I know the mind of God to be able to say such a thing? Yet, there are many who are quick to do so, some being so-called “men of God.”

When these people call out a natural disaster and pin it to some sin that someone, somewhere has committed, it is almost as if he or she rejoices in the suffering of others. Never would I want a terrible natural disaster, such as the Japan earthquake/tsunami, to befall others. If it is terrible for them, it would be equally terrible for me, and as my Prophet Muhammad told me: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

It is this sort of lack of compassion that we must all guard against. If we have no compassion for the suffering of others, it is truly poisonous to both heart and soul. In my sermons, I constantly tell the faithful that no matter what the faith tradition of the afflicted, it is our duty to help all those in need. It is the responsibility of the faith community, and it is one that is an honor to take up.

Disasters such as these inevitably raise the question of why such things occur. What was the sin of these people to have such a disaster befall them? What was the sin of the people of the Gulf Coast to have them be afflicted by Hurricane Katrina? What was the sin of the people of Pakistan to deserve the terrible flooding they endured last year? The questions are endless, and the answers are unknown.

Rather than focus on who deserves what type of punishment, the job for us now is to do everything we can to help them get back on their feet. And for me, that includes praying for their safety, security, and shelter to the Beautiful, Merciful God I worship each day.

Rahm’s Religion is Irrelevant: Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s religion blog, The Seeker.

Last week, Chicago made history in several senses: it was the first time in about two decades that a Daley was not on the ballot for Mayor of Chicago. In addition, it was the first time that a man of the Jewish faith was elected to the highest office in the city. This is indeed significant, given the historic discrimination and racism that has been directed – and is still directed – at Americans of the Jewish faith. It is as significant as the small numbers of American Muslims who have also been elected to municipal offices across the country as well.

Yet, at the end of the day, Rahm Emanuel’s faith is irrelevant.

The basis upon which he should be judged is his effectiveness as mayor of the City of Chicago, not his religious conviction. Indeed, it is nice to know that America has come a long way since the days of “religious tests,” even if unwritten, for those who seek to serve in public office. Yet, one’s religious faith should not enter into the calculus for how good a leader will or will not be.

This is especially true when it comes to President Obama, under whom Mayor-Elect Emanuel worked for two years. Despite the repeated assertions that he is a Christian, there is a persistent belief among many in our society that he is secretly Muslim. Yet, why does that matter? What if he were a Muslim? Does that make him inherently unfit for office? Does that disqualify him for public service? Does it even matter what faith President Obama claims to follow? It does not.

It remains to be seen how Chicago’s new mayor will perform in office, especially with the myriad of challenges he faces. Yet, one thing is certain, Rahm Emanuel’s religious faith has no bearing on his job as mayor. Whatever God he worships is entirely his business alone.

Chicago Tribune: We can’t turn on American family after Tucson, terrorism

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s Religion Blog, The Seeker

I truly was shocked beyond words when I learned that a member of Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot outside a grocery store in her district by a gunman. And I became horrified when I found out that six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, along with more than a dozen wounded. As a father who has lost his own child, I know all too well the terror of having to bury your own baby in the ground, and my heart and prayers go out to all of the victims’ families that they may be comforted by the Holy Comforter On High.

It has disturbed me truly beyond description that the environment in our country has become such that a member of Congress can be gunned down in her own district. Of course, it is always possible that a gunman may open fire in any public place in our country; it is part of the risk of living in an free, open society. Nevertheless, it angered me deeply that someone did this, and justice – along with common decency – demands that he be held accountable for his actions. That he was stopped because he paused to reload his weapon of mass destruction adds to the sheer devilry of his actions, and if convicted, he must pay a heavy price.

Yet, as the shock and horror of what happened slowly subsides, and the fog of melancholy slowly lifts, the calls for civility, compassion, and mercy come into sharper focus. The President, in his moving remarks in the Tuscon memorial service, said, “at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” More importantly, he reminds us: “what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do.”

We must take this message to heart. As many in the punditocracy are trying to deride the idea that the crimes of one man should not be cause for blame against an entire segment of the population, let us apply this truth to all segments of our society. Indeed, it is easy to succumb to the devils of our nature and react with rage at those whom we feel are “responsible” for a tragedy such as this. Indeed, it is easy to react with hostility and hatred and demonization.
But, being upright citizens of God sometimes calls for doing things that may be difficult. Being upright citizens of God sometimes calls for what the Qur’an says: “But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better and lo! he between whom and thyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend!” (41:34)

Indeed, all Americans who call themselves Conservatives are not to blame for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner. They do not deserve to be demonized or terrorized for his actions. They are our brothers and sisters, part of our American family. Along the same lines, that woman who is wearing a Muslim headscarf, shopping for groceries or taking a walk in her neighborhood, is not to blame for the actions of a criminal acting in the name of her faith. Her house of worship does not deserve to be desecrated or attacked for the actions of terrorist criminals. That woman in a headscarf is also our sister, part and parcel of the American family as well.

Usually, people in this country come together in the wake of tragedy, and it is part of the beauty that is these United States. The challenge is whether we can stay together as a people as the memories of this tragic incident fade in the coming months and years. Never did I feel more at home as an American as I did after the horror of September 11. Now, however, there are those in my country, even members of my Congress, who intimate that I am not an American because I am Muslim.

These forces of division must not be allowed to win, because, as the President said, “for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” I will never forget the scores of fellow Americans who formed human shields around mosques in the wake of 9/11, just as Egyptian Muslims did the same for their Christian brethren last week. Let us continue to form human shields against all those who seek to divide our people along artificial lines of demarcation, whatever they may be. Our people will be all the better for it.

Religious Knowledge Comes From Getting to Know Others

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published in the Chicago Tribune religion blog, The Seeker, today.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, detailing Americans’ knowledge about religion. And it does not look pretty.

According to the survey:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity.

Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

As an American Muslim, this places fellow Americans’ still significant ignorance about Islam in perspective. According to another Pew survey, 65% of Americans know either “some” or “not very much” about Islam.

One in four Americans know “nothing at all” about my faith. Yet, as the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey points out, many Americans do not know much about their own faiths, either. Thus, it is not surprising that most Americans know little about Islam.

What does this mean?

We need to start learning about each other! No, I do not mean mandatory “World Religion” classes. The best way we can learn about each other, including each other’s faiths, is by engaging each other as citizens. That means getting to know our neighbors; getting involved in our schools; attending local block parties and ice cream socials; playing golf, or tennis, or softball, or football with each other; attending each other’s children’s birthday parties.

Inevitably, we will learn about each other’s faiths (or lack thereof). We will learn about each other’s likes and dislikes. We will learn about each other’s worries and anxieties. We will look out for each other’s well being. And we will come together as a people and stare down the faces of hatred and division, to the betterment of all.

Chicago Tribune, Hesham A. Hassaballa: Bus ad campaign mocks people of faith

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s website on June 15.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has embarked on an ad campaign on buses throughout Chicago. The main featured ad is one which says, “Sleep in on Sundays” in Gothic lettering.

No, the ads are not as hateful as some of the anti-Islam bus ads that are cropping up in various cities. Still, the implication of the ads is that those who do subscribe to a faith tradition are somehow not “free thinkers.” I object to this characterization.

Commenting about the ad campaign, FFRF co-president Dan Barker said:

“Obviously, there are many reasons to reject religion, most of them intellectual. But face it — one of the immediate benefits of quitting church, besides getting a 10 percent raise because you can stop tithing, is getting to sleep in on Sundays! What the world really needs is a good night’s sleep.”

The tone of the ads, as admitted by the group itself, is irreverent. To me, it is also somewhat mocking of those of us who are people of faith. The first two sentences of the press release encompass this attitude:

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation started informing Chicagoans this week with ads on city buses that it’s OK to sleep in on Sundays. Yes, City of the Big Shoulders, religion is not your cross to bear (and yes, Illinois native son Carl Sandburg was a freethinker).”

There will be other signs featuring quotes from Sandburg and other famous writers and intellectuals, such as this quote from biologist Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”): “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”


Faith is extremely important in my life; I do believe in a Supreme Creator from Whom everything in this universe emanates. But, I don’t believe that I am, therefore, not a “free thinker.” Just because I have faith, that does not mean that I am prisoner to “magical thinking.”

This world is intensely tangible and empirical. To fully experience the world is to touch, feel, see, hear, and smell the world in all its brilliance and ugliness. To me, the challenge of faith is not to believe in “Mother Goose,” but to believe in something that is explicitly not tangible, something that cannot be seen, heard, smelt, or felt and subsequently connect that belief to this tactile world. It is a challenge that I have happily taken up. In fact, I believe that when we look deeply into this world, we will find clear evidence of the existence of the Divine.

Yet, there are many who have chosen not to take up this challenge or have even dismissed this challenge as a false choice. That is fine with me. Their lack of faith does not threaten my faith in God, and my faith in God should not threaten their “freedom from faith.” We should be able to live together in peace. Tragically, however, many people who claim to be “people of faith” have not adopted a “live and let live” attitude. Unspeakable horrors, in fact, have been committed against scores of people who have been deemed to be “infidels” by the so-called “religious” of all faiths. It is a stain and fact that cannot be denied.

But that does not mean, then, that the problem is faith itself. Countless acts of kindness, altruism, and generosity have been committed by scores of people because of their faith in God. Actress Katharine Hepburn once said, “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe that there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.” Yet, I am motivated to do the exactly same thing – be kind to others – precisely because I believe in God. So, faith can go both ways.

The thing we should all learn from these ads is that there should be civility between people of faith and people of no faith. No one should demonize the other (without getting into who started the demonizing). Moreover, we should work together for the common good of all and put the respective motivations for doing so aside. They really do not matter.