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. 

Charleston Attack Was Nothing Less Than Satanic

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

This was first published in the Muslim Observer.

There was a deep pit in my stomach when I learned of the horrific terrorist attack on the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. I took the attack personally, even though I am neither African-American nor Christian. When anyone attacks a house of worship with such brutality, then all people of faith should take offense. After all, the Qur’an says:

“For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed [before now].” (22:40)

A house of worship is sacred ground, and no matter the faith, it should not be the subject of vicious violence such as we witnessed.

It is clear that this young man was filled with racist rage, and what he did was an act of terrorism. Yet, more than just this, what Dylann Roof is accused of doing was satanic in nature. Not because of how evil it was, although that is indeed true. Rather, it is satanic because it was Satan himself who introduced us to the whole notion of racism.

In the Qur’an, which we commemorate by our fasts and vigils in this month of Ramadan, God ordered the angels to bow in prostration to our father Adam. Satan arrogantly refused:

“[And God] said: ‘What has kept you from prostrating yourself when I commanded you?’ Answered [Satan]: ‘I am better than he: You have created me out of fire, whereas him You have created out of clay.’” (7:12)

“Said He: ‘O [Satan]! What has kept you from prostrating yourself before that [being] which I have created with My hands? Are you too proud [to bow down before another created being], or are you of those who think [only] of themselves as high?’ Answered [Satan]: ‘I am better than he: Thou hast created me out of fire, whereas him You have created out of clay.’” (38:75-76)

“AND LO! We said unto the angels, ‘Prostrate yourselves before Adam’-whereupon they all prostrated themselves, save [Satan]. Said he: ‘Shall I prostrate myself before one whom You have created out of clay?’” (17:61)

It was Satan who was the first racist. Satan refused to bow to Adam because he felt superior to him, since Satan was created out of fire and Adam out of clay. This is racism, plain and simple.

And the human race has been plagued with the scourge of racism ever since. Satan has whispered to countless people throughout the ages that they are better than others because of the color of their skin, or the tongue they speak, or the land from which they hail. So much evil has been wrought because of racism: Slavery, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, among many, many others. Rivers of blood have been spilled throughout our history because of the stain of racism.

Yet, all of us are from Adam, and Adam was from dust, as our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us. The Qur’an tells us that no one of us is better than another, except in piety and God-consciousness. You would think that people of faith, especially those of the Abrahamic tradition, would understand this the best and be saved from the effects of racism.

Yet, sadly, the virus of racism has infected many communities of faith, even in the Muslim community as well. But it is never too late. God Himself said in the Qur’an,

“(And yet), behold, you [Satan] shall have no power over [such of] My servants [as place their trust in Me]: for none is as worthy of trust as your Lord.” (17:65)

We are never doomed to fall victim to the whispers of Satan. We can resist whatever feelings of racial or ethnic superiority that may come into our hearts. Although too many have fallen – and will continue to fall –  into Satan’s trap of racist hatred, we should at least recognize from where this ugliness came in the first instance. Maybe this will help us rid whatever feelings may stray into our hearts and prevent those feelings from turning into any vile action.

Islam Teaches Patience In The Face of Bigotry

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

This was first published in the Muslim Observer.

I had no idea that this gathering about drawing the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) even existed. That is, until news of the shootings surfaced. Now, authorities have identified the gunmen, Elton Simpson and his roommate Nadir Soofi. These “holy warriors” were killed by police as soon as they opened fire as the event was ending.

What continues to boggle the mind about the criminals who undertake such actions to “defend the Prophet (pbuh)” is how brazenly they neglect the Qur’an. This is not the first – and most certainly will not be the last – time that the Prophet (pbuh) has been insulted. In fact, because of an act such as this shooting, it will guarantee that other such events mocking the Prophet (pbuh) will be held in the future.

But, again, what does the Qur’an say about facing the mockery of the Prophet (pbuh)? Plenty, actually:

“And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God’s messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things – or else, verily, you will become like them. Behold, together with those who deny the truth God will gather in hell the hypocrites.” (4:140)

“Now, whenever thou meet such as indulge in [blasphemous] talk about Our messages, turn thy back upon them until they begin to talk of other things and if Satan should ever cause thee to forget [thyself], remain not, after recollection, in the company of such evildoing folk.” (6:68)

Two revelations, revealed years apart, saying the same thing: walk away from those who mock the signs of God. Nowhere does it say that these people should be attacked, harmed, or killed.
People will mock the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), just like other Prophets were mocked before. The Qur’an says so, in fact, multiple times:

“Mocked were (many) apostles before thee; but their scoffers were hemmed in by the thing that they mocked.” (6:10)

“Mocked were (many) apostles before thee: but I granted respite to the unbelievers, and finally I punished them: Then how (terrible) was my requital!” (13:32)

“Mocked were (many) apostle before thee; But their scoffers were hemmed in by the thing that they mocked.” (21:41)

Again, God said that He took care of those who mocked His Messengers, and no where does it say attack and kill those that mock. This is a satanic delusion of some criminals who are Muslim and think they are doing “good.” They are not doing good, but a tremendous evil.

What’s more, the Qur’an comforted the Prophet (pbuh) with regards to the mockery he faced:

“And well do We know that thy bosom is constricted by the [blasphemous] things that they say.” (15:97)

And what does the next verse say to do? Kill them? Attack them? Absolutely not:

“But extol thou thy Sustainer’s limitless glory and praise Him, and be of those who prostrate themselves [before Him] in adoration, and worship thy Lord till death comes to thee.” (15:98-99)

The Qur’an is clear: leave those who mock and malign, and God will take care of them, just like He has in the past.

That is why it is quite clear that people such as Simpson and Soofi have absolutely no knowledge of Islam and the Qur’an. If they did, they would have known better not to engage in acts of criminality that will only do harm to Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the larger Muslim community, which will certainly face an unjust and unjustifiable backlash.

Criminals such as Simpson and Soofi, like the criminals behind the attach on Charlie Hebdo, do not represent Islam, and they do not defend the Prophet in the way he should be defended, no matter how much those who hate Islam may say so.

Thank God that Simpson and Soofi were stopped before they could commit worse crimes, and may God protect us all from criminal deviants such as these from ever striking again.

“Go And Cling To Her Feet, Because Paradise Is There”

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

The title of this post is the response of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to a man who expressed a desire to perform jihad in the path of God. It is likely that this man was thinking about a military battle. The Prophet (pbuh) instead asked him, “Is your mother alive?” When the man replied in the affirmative, the Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Go and cling to her feet, because Paradise is there.”

The duty we have to our parents in general, but to our mothers in particular, is enormous in Islam. The Qur’an is full of references to the duty we have to our parents:

For your Lord has ordained that you shall worship none but Him. And do good unto [your] parents. Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in your care, never say [even] “Ugh” to them or scold them, but [always] speak unto them with reverent speech and spread over them humbly the wings of your tenderness, and say: “O my Lord! Bestow Your grace upon them, even as they cherished and reared me when I was a child!” (17:23-24)Now [among the best of righteous deeds which] We have enjoined upon humanity [is] goodness towards parents…(29:8)

AND WORSHIP God [alone], and do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him. And do good unto your parents…(4:36)

Say: “Come, let me convey unto you what God has [really] forbidden to you: “Do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him; and [do not offend against but, rather,] do good unto your parents…(6:151)

Read more:  http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonwordcommonlord#ixzz3ZeQrXItA

In The Cradle of God’s Mercy

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

This was first published in The Muslim Observer 

Photo credit: photodune

By Hesham Hassaballa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness, Not Death, For Hamza Kashgari

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

This was published on altmuslim

The ultimate fate of Saudi blogger, poet and writer Hamza Kashgari is still unknown. The 23-year-old, who formerly worked for the Saudi Arabia newspaper Al Bilad, recently tweeted some critical comments about the Prophet Muhammad (saw), which left conservative Saudi clerics crying blasphemy and calling for his blood. Kashgari’s cause has been taken up by Muslims around the world, many who say the call for his execution goes against the Prophet’s emphasis on love and forgiveness.

On the Prophet’s birthday (which fell on Feb. 12), Kashgari tweeted these statements, in 140 character increments, of course:

On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you. On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more. On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.

Because of those tweets, conservative clerics are clamoring for his death. I, and many others, spoke out against his execution, citing the fact that there is no evidence in the Qu’ran that calls for the death penalty for apostasy. But what’s more sorrowful is that in the heated rhetoric surrounding this young man’s tweets, lost is the substance of what he wrote. No one, it seems, focused on this statement: “I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.” That, I think, is the key: He did not understand many aspects of the Prophet, his life and ministry.

Well, especially if that is the case, then the response should be compassion and education, not death and destruction. And, even if he had completely denied the prophet hood of Muhammad, he shouldn’t be executed. His faith, or lack thereof, is his choice. Kashgari, like all of us, will be judged by God, and it is not our place to play God’s role.

Maybe, despite his having been born and raised on the same piece of earth as the Prophet, Kashgari really did not know the Prophet Muhammad’s story, his life and his ministry. Maybe he did not really know the beauty of his character, the sanctity of his method or the magnanimity of his conduct. Maybe he did not really know how much his contemporaries loved him, how much his family adored him and how his followers were devastated when he was gone. Maybe Hamza Kashgari just does not understand, as seems to be from his tweets.

The Prophet’s story and life is indeed inspirational, as young Hamza himself said. Prophet Muhammad’s life has inspired me so much that I was blessed to publish his story entirely in poetry. And, if those who call for this blogger’s death truly love the Prophet, then they should follow his example and have compassion for the man. Those who are against him should lead by the example of the Prophet and set the blogger free.

The Prophet’s life is full of stories of how he forgave his worst enemies. Time and again, he refrained from taking personal revenge against anyone who slighted him, attacked him or even tried to kill him. His own uncle, Abu Lahab, would follow the Prophet wherever he went and tell people, “Don’t listen to him! He is a madman.” The Prophet did not even try to stop him. And when he marched triumphantly in Makkah, where I am sure many of Hamza Kashgari’s detractors now live, he told the Quraish tribe — his most bitter and brutal of enemies — “Go now and be free, I forgive you.”

Where has that spirit of forgiveness and compassion gone? Where has that kindness and generosity gone in the land of the Prophet (pbuh)? Why this rush for blood and death? This is reminiscent of the reaction to the silly Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). If one really loves the Prophet, then he will react in the way the Prophet would react: with kindness and generosity. Listen to the word of God:

 ”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)”

Yes, the tweet may have been imprudent and disrespectful. But, is killing him the answer? Is calling for his death going to make him come back to the faith and love the Prophet even more? Absolutely not. Our faith is all about love and compassion for all, to spread the light of God’s love to the rest of the world through our actions and thoughts. Why is it that, so many times, our people completely fail to see this?

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?

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/commonwordcommonlord/2012/01/santorum-and-the-god-of-abraham.html#ixzz1khkCcRlH