May His Comfort Reign

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

I was standing in my  mother’s kitchen when I first heard the news: Whitney Houston, a singer to whom I grew up listening, had died at the age of 48. Since then, and in full from at the Grammy Awards, people and celebrities all across the country have sent in their condolences and prayers. I add my voice to that chorus:

May His comfort reign supreme over Whitney Houston’s family, especially her daughter. As a father who lost his child, I know full well the pain and suffering that loss of a dear loved one can bring. Ever since that horrific day, whenever I learn of the death of anyone, my heart twinges with pains of empathy. And my empathy extends to the Houston family.

As I reflect upon her death, it is amazing how much the country is affected whenever a celebrity dies. Although Whitney Houston did die at a young age, still, as my wife pointed out to me, it seems like celebrities are not subject to laws of God; it seems that they will always be with us to grace us with their talent. As we can see, it is sadly not true. Celebrities, like the rest of us, are human beings: they live, they die; they eat, they sleep; and they are plagued with the same things with which we all are.

Still, whenever one dies – anyone, really, – my response will be the same: may His comfort reign over all those touched by her death. For the truly greatest comfort comes from the Precious Beloved Lord alone. Amen.
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Santorum and the God of Abraham

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

It seems that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential run is running out of steam. According to the Huffington Post, Santorum is “taking a pause from Florida campaigning just days before the Tuesday primary that even he expects to deal him a third consecutive loss.” Yet, despite the fact that he is likely not going to become President of the United States, there is something he said while campaigning in South Carolina that intrigued (and amused) me.

At a town hall meeting before the South Carolina vote, Santorum asked a crowd: “Where do you think this concept of equality comes from? It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions…It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that’s where it comes from.” He meant that, if people want equality, then they must live by God’s rules since the concept of equality “doesn’t come from Islam” but from “the God of Abraham.” This begs the question: which rules are God’s rules and who is say what those rules are? But, I digress…

Still, his statement was quite telling because it is painfully obvious that Santorum has absolutely no idea that the God of Islam is the very same God of Abraham. Islam has always maintained that Muslims worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the Hebrew Prophets. In fact, Islam is nothing less than the religion of Abraham himself, as outlined numerous times in the Quran: “And lastly, we have inspired thee [O Muhammad, with this message,] “Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught besides God.” (16:123).
Yes, many Muslims call God by His Arabic name “Allah,” but so do Arab Christians. In fact, open up an Arabic Bible, and the name for God is none other than “Allah.” Why, even Jesus Christ himself called God “Allah.” If someone wants to become “Leader of the Free World,” I would expect that he or she would know that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. That’s pretty basic information.

I take Mr. Santorum at his word that he loves and worships the God of Abraham. So do I. That should be our point of reference; that should be our point of convergence. No, we don’t worship the same way, but that is totally irrelevant. The fact that we both call upon the God of Abraham makes us brothers, and as brothers, it should move to bring us together to help make our country better. Presumably, that is why is running for President: to make our country better. So why the divisiveness over the God of Abraham, Who should always be a force for unity and brotherhood.

The same should go for all Americans of faith (and it should extend to those who do not profess an “official faith” or any faith at all). Our common love and worship of the God of Abraham should bring us together. It is what the Lord our God wanted for us. Why not heed Him?

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A New Year’s Prayer

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

As the year of 2011 comes to a close, there are so many things over which we can reflect. As I look to the next year, I turn my eyes skyward and beseech the Lord our God for many things, some which I will share here:

Precious Beloved Lord, to You belongs all the praise in the Heavens and Earth. To You belongs the Majesty of the Universe. To You belongs the sovereignty and power over everything. I cannot truly praise You as You deserve to be praised, and so I praise You as You have praised Yourself. Lord our God, hear my prayer. 

As You continue Your life-giving love and life over us in 2012, I pray that You continue to bless us with health, sustenance, ease, and happiness. As the next year begins, I pray that You send Your comfort to all those who have lost loved ones. I ask that You bring jobs to the jobless. I ask that You bring shelter to the homeless. I ask that You bring hope to the hopeless. Lord our God, hear my prayer.  

As the days, weeks, and months of 2012 pass, I pray that violence against the innocent ends. I pray that Your protection be extended to everyone on the earth. I pray that You frustrate and foil the Satanic machinations of all those who seek to kill, maim, and mar this world with senseless violence. I pray that You frustrate all the plans of those who seek to murder others and think You told them to do so. For there can be no evil that is truly done in Your Name. Lord our God, hear my prayer. 

Precious Beloved, as the 2012 Presidential Election truly heats up, I know that Islam and Muslims will, once again, come to the fore. There will be those who try to cast fear and division about the “secret Muslim agenda.” There will be those who will speak about the “threat” of “Sharia law” to United States. There will be those who want to marginalize the Muslim community from all aspects of American life. I pray that You frustrate these plans.

Moreover, I ask that You frustrate all plans to divide on the basis of religion. The agenda of all people of faith – whatever faith they may be – is to do Your work on this earth; to spread peace and mutual respect; to work together to make this world better for all. Lord please stop the forces of division and hatred in our world. You are the only One to do it the best. Lord our God, hear my prayer. 

Most of all, Precious Beloved Lord, I ask for Your unending blessings and grace. Extend Your blessings over me, and my family, and my practice of medicine, and my writing, and everything else that I do. I ask that You pour Your blessings over me as a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a cousin, and a human citizen.

Yet, as Your Noble Messenger told me, I cannot truly believe until I wish for others what I wish for myself. Therefore, please extend Your blessings upon everyone else in the exact same manner above. Your blessings, and mercy, and grace, and love, and beauty are infinite and endless, and so shine their light upon us all. Lord our God, hear my prayer. 

All of this do I ask in Your Most Holy Name, Lord, and thus – Lord our God – hear my prayer. And may the New Year of every single person on earth be blessed, healthy, happy, and prosperous.

Lord our God, hear my prayer. 
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“Change the Voices in Your Head”

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

When I first reflected on Pink’s hit song “Perfect,” I talked about how it would be when we stand before The Perfect, our Precious Beloved to Whom we shall all return. As I have listened to the song again and again, this passage continues to strike a deep chord with me:

You’re so mean
When you talk
About yourself
You are wrong
Change the voices
In your head
Make them like you

“Change the voices/In your head/Make them like you/Instead.” Very powerful words, because – as we all know – those “voices in your head” can be particularly harsh and vicious. They can be much worse than the myriad of voices from without that relentlessly criticize us. Yet, why should we “change the voices” in our head that attack us so incessantly?

Because we have a God that loves us.

How can you listen to “the voices/In your head” when the Lord our God declares His love for you? How can you heed the voices who attack you incessantly when our Precious Beloved says that you are special? How can you believe “the voices in your head” when His Voice says, “I love you”?

Whatever “the voices in your head” say: “you’re too fat,” “you’re not good enough,” “you’re too ugly,” “you’re not smart enough,” “you’re pathetic”…it should never matter when The One tells you, “I love you.” And in that Love, we should all rejoice.

That should go even more when it comes to the other voices – those outside of your head – who don’t like you. Whatever those voices say, you should say: “Who cares! I have a God that loves me.” Who cares what the voices of all those other people say about you, because your God, your Lord, your Sustainer loves you. And in that Love, we should all rejoice.

Knowing and living the fact that we have a God – a truly awesome God – who loves us gives us tremendous strength, power, and dignity. We can always walk with our head up high – not in arrogance – but in the calming truth that the One On High loves us. The power of that love is palpable to all…which is possibly the reason that some may lash out with their voices in hatred. But that should never matter to us, because we know that God loves us.

“Change the voices/in your head/make them like you/instead.” It is exactly like Pink says in the next part of the song:

So complicated, look how big you’ll make it
Filled with so much hatred, such a tired game
It’s enough, I’ve done all I can think
I’ve chased down all my demons, see you do the same

It is truly, “such a tired game.” Stop hating yourself; stop listening to “the voices in your head” and “make them like you instead.” That is because you have a God – a truly awesome God – who loves you. And in that Love, we should all rejoice.

Giving Thanks Through Action

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

Life throws so many curves and gives us anxiety after anxiety. Although challenges are part of the human condition, it is—nevertheless—quite exasperating. Sadly, I hear so many stories of those who are down on their luck, who have lost jobs, who have no economic security, who live in war zones, and who are threatened each and every day. Then, I look at my worries and feel a bit ashamed at my anxieties.

And immediately, I thank the Lord God for His tremendous blessings.

But, that can’t be enough. I can’t be happy for myself upon the back of other’s misfortunes. There has to be more that I can do, that I must do. That is the essence of Thanksgiving. I am putting aside the nice, little (and largely false) children’s story of why we celebrate Thanksgiving here in America. It is the theme and purpose of the holiday that is most important.

Giving thanks is more than lip service. Giving thanks to the Lord is action; it is doing what you can to help those who are less fortunate than we are. In our society, in our world today, a culture of extreme selfishness has taken hold, and I have not been immune to that tendency. But, if one is to be truly thankful, then one must help those who cannot help themselves.

Here in Chicago, there is a turkey drive run by some Muslim friends of mine, where they are trying to raise money to distribute 750 turkeys to Chicagoans in need on the south side of the city. As it says on their website, “The likeness of those who spend their wealth in Allah’s ways [for good deeds] is as the likeness of a grain which grows seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He wills. Allah is all-embracing and all knowing” (Quran 2:261). Spending our wealth for those in need only will increase our blessings, insha’Allah. I try to contribute what I can; it is the very least I can do to help this Thanksgiving. We must all try to help others, each one of us who can.

That is what it means to be truly grateful. That is the true essence of Thanksgiving.

This first appeared on Patheos, where I have started a new column, “An American Islam.”

The Arafat Moments We Can Have Every Day

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

Today, the over 2 million pilgrims are now standing upon the plain of Arafat, fulfilling the most essential and important ritual of the Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every able-bodied Muslim must perform once in his or her lifetime. I was blessed to perform the pilgrimage in 2003, and it was the most powerful experience of my entire life. I recount the pilgrimage in a diary here.

On Arafat, it is said, Adam and Eve were first reunited after their expulsion from the Garden. In this vast and flat plain, pilgrims stand before the Lord and beseech Him for forgiveness and mercy. I still remember this day as if it was yesterday. I could not stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks: I was in total awe of the Power and Majesty of the Lord and ashamed and horrified by the sins that I brought with me to that holy place. And the emotion of standing there before God – like I will on Judgment Day – was completely overwhelming.

Not only is the experience of Arafat humbling, but it is also cleansing, because after the sun sets, all of the pilgrim’s sins are forgiven. At that moment, the pilgrim is born anew. It is a promise from the Lord.

Yet, even after we go to the Hajj and stand on Arafat, we can still have our own Arafat moments wherever we may be. We don’t have to be on Arafat to stand before the Lord and ask His forgiveness. We don’t have to be on Arafat to beseech our Lord’s Beauty and Mercy. We don’t have to be on Arafat to tremble in our shame and humility before the Lord. Wherever we may be, the Shining, Beautiful Face of our Lord is always there. All we have to do is look and seek its radiant light.

And so, let us pledge to have our Arafat moments every single day.

Today, I am fasting, which is something Muslims who are not on the Hajj are encouraged to do, in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who are at Arafat today. I am very happy to do so, because of the beauty of the experience I had at Arafat. Every single day we live and breathe on this earth, we commit sins – despite the love of the Lord flowing upon us as a river of life-giving water. But, our own plains of Arafat are always there, and we can go there and ask His pardon at any time. So, let us do it. We will be all the better because of it.

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The Best “Dream Lover” We Could Ever Have

In the Name of Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

Many years ago, Mariah Carey sang about her “Dream Lover,” the man who will love her forever:

I need a lover to give me
The kind of love that will last always
I need somebody uplifting
To take me away babe…oh yeah yeah

I want a lover who knows me yeah
Who understands how I feel inside
Someone to comfort and hold me

Through the long lonely nights
Till the dawn
Why don’t you take me away

She asks her “Dream Lover” to:

…come rescue me
Take me up take me down
Take me anywhere you want to baby now
I need you so desperately
Won’t you please come around
‘Cause I wanna share forever with you baby

This “lover of her dreams” should not be like this:

I don’t want another pretender
To disillusion me one more time
Whispering words of forever
Playin with my mind

I need someone to hold on to
The kind of love that won’t fly away
I just want someone to belong to
Of my life
So come and take me away

She infers that such a person is rare and few and far in between. Yet, all of us have such a “Dream Lover.” All of us have a “lover to give [us]/The kind of love that will last always.” All of us have a “lover who knows [us]/Who understands how [we] free inside/Someone [who comforts and holds us]/Through the long, lonely nights/Till the dawn.”

This “lover” is not a lover in the romantic sense of the word. This “lover” is Someone Who, as the literal definition of the word says, simply loves us: the Precious Beloved Lord our God.

The Lord our God, our Beautiful Precious Beloved, loves us unendingly. He gave us life when we were dead. He gave us sight when we were blind. He gave us hearing when we were deaf. He gave us strength when we were weak.

Every time we bask in the warmth of the sun, we bask in the light of His love. Every time we take in the beautiful eyes of our spouses, we take in the beauty of His love. Every time we melt at the smiles of our children, we melt in the heat of God’s love.

Only the Lord our God knows us the best and understands how we feel at all times. Our Precious Beloved Lord is not a “pretender/To disillusion [us] one more time/Whispering words of forever/Playin with [our minds].” This lover’s love “won’t fly away” and will be there forever and ever. There is no comfort like that of the Precious Beloved, and we should seek that comfort as much as we can.

In every way you look, the Precious Beloved Lord is the best “Dream Lover” we could ever have.