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

Not Fasting…And Miserable (With Update)


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

This was published yesterday on my Beliefnet blog, Common Word, Common Lord

It is no secret that I have approached this year’s Ramadan fast with an enormous amount of dread. I worried about the hot weather, the long days, the difficulty of having to forgo the things I love to do – eat and drink – for an extended period of time. And as the month started, the fast was – admittedly – quite difficult. But, I did it anyway, because it is one of the things I do for my Lord.

Over the last six weeks, I have been battling a knee injury that I must have sustained while jogging. I suffered through the pain, thinking that it will eventually go away, especially since I am not exercising during Ramadan. The pain, however, did not get better. It has, in fact, gotten worse. So much so, that I went to the Emergency Department yesterday to get it evaluated. I could barely walk into the ED yesterday.

Thank God, everything checked out OK, but I was still in pain, and so – thank God – my Orthopedic Surgeon could see me right away. He injected my knee, which gave me some relief, and I got an MRI which showed some soft tissue inflammation. My surgeon told me that I have to rest and ice the knee as well as take round -the-clock anti-inflammatory medicines.

And this meant having to break my fast to take the medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And my family really pushed me to not fast as well, seeing that my health is of utmost importance (and they are right). And so, today I am not fasting, and I may not fast the next few days either, as I nurse the knee back to health.

You would think that, given all the dread I have about fasting in August, I would be happy to be able to drink and eat during the daylight hours, if even for a short time. You would think that I would be excited to have water and yogurt and maybe even coffee again. You would think that I would be happy that I am not fasting for these few days.

You would be totally wrong. I feel absolutely miserable.

Leave aside the fact that any sudden jolt, and my knee pain becomes excruciating. I feel terrible that I am not fasting. This is not because I have no right to break my fast or am ashamed at doing so. On the contrary, the Quran directs that I should not fast if my health commands that I do not. But, I still feel totally abnormal that I am not fasting.

Not because everyone around me is fasting, and I am not. My colleagues are almost all not Muslim, and so my eating and drinking would not be out of the ordinary at all. Some, many in fact, do not even know that this is Ramadan. Yet, still, I feel weird and uncomfortable. I feel totally out of my norm not fasting during Ramadan. It is almost like my soul is yearning again to fast, even though sunset is almost at 8 PM.

I am completely surprised by this feeling. Yet, I totally can’t help it. Yes, I get tired while fasting; yes, I get thirsty; yes, I feel sleepy, sometimes. But my soul is invigorated while I fast, and now that I am not fasting, I can totally feel the difference.

God willing, my knee will get better soon, and I can resume my fasts. And whatever days I miss, I will have to make up later (probably in the short days of winter!). Yet, still – in a strange sort of way – I miss fasting, even though it is still August. Even though I can’t eat or drink until late, when I fast, my soul basks in the light of God’s Grace and Mercy, and I don’t like not being able to feel that any more.

Update: I talked to my own doctor, and he gave me a different medicine that allows me to fast. It feels wonderful. Indeed, I am thirsty right now as I write this, and I am tired because I had to get up and eat something so I can take the medicine, but I still feel fantastic. There is something to this fasting, and it is truly awesome.

Must the World End? (Part II)


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on my Beliefnet blog, “Common Word, Common Lord.”

Last time, I posed the question that – if we believe that there will be a Last Day, that the world must end so that all the injustice we see will be accounted for and judged, should we just live our lives and not do anything about the wrong we see around us?

Absolutely not. In fact, we must seek to make the world as best of a place possible, even with its inevitable End, because on that Last Day, “[on that Day] every human being will come to know what he has prepared [for himself].” Our response to the cruelty of our world will also come into play on the Last Day. I

If we had the ability to help the victims of the flood along the Mississippi river, but neglected to do so saying, we will be held to account. If we had the ability to prevent a crime against an innocent person, but neglected to do so, we will be held to account. If we had the ability to speak out against injustice, but neglected to do so, we will be held to account.

Doing nothing and saying: “Well, there is going to be a Last Day” is not an excuse, and we will be held to account because of it.

No, we cannot control when a hurricaine, or tornado, or earthquake, or flood will strike a certain place. And such occurrences are not “punishment” for this deed or that. But, we can control our response to such disasters, and our response will be judged by the Most Just King on the Last Day, which will inevitably come one day (and it was not May 21, 2011).

The terrible injustice that abounds our world has caused many to lose faith, and indeed, it is a difficult test. I myself have suffered through the loss of my child to cancer, and it was – and still is – the worst thing I have ever, ever experienced. I struggle through the pain every single day of my life.

But, I know that I will see her again – and hold her again in my arms – on that Last Day that will definitely come one day. And in that thought, I find some comfort and solace. Some may see this as delusion, but it does not affect my belief in the least. In the end, we will see who is the one that is ultimately right, and I believe it will be me

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/commonwordcommonlord/#ixzz1NHu6KYUe

Must The World End?


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published on my new Beliefnet blog, “Common Word, Common Lord”

Now that the world has not ended, and we have survived the coming of the Rapture, and Mr. Camping has once again been discredited, a question arose in my mind: must there be an end to the world? Must there be a Rapture? Or a Judgment Day? Or a Final Reckoning?

Indeed, most, if not all, religious traditions talk about an end to the world, where all will come again before God for judgment and reckoning. The Qur’an is full of vivid references to the Day of Judgment, such as this:

O men! Be conscious of your Sustainer: for, verily the violent convulsion of the Last Hour will be an awesome thing! On the Day when you behold it, every woman that feeds a child at her breast will utterly forget her nursling, and every woman heavy with child will bring forth her burden [before her time]; and it will seem to thee that all mankind is drunk, although they will not be drunk – but vehement will be [their dread of] God’s chastisement. (22:1-2)

Here is another example:

WHEN THE SUN is shrouded in darkness, and when the stars lose their light, and when the mountains are made to vanish, and when she-camels big with young, about to give birth, are left untended, and when all beasts are gathered together, and when the seas boil over, and when all human beings are coupled [with their deeds], and when the girl-child that was buried alive is made to ask, for what crime she had been slain, and when the scrolls [of men's deeds] are unfolded, and when heaven is laid bare, and when the blazing fire [of hell] is kindled bright, and when paradise is brought into view: [on that Day] every human being will come to know what he has prepared [for himself]. (81:1-14)

Why?

Why must there be a day when the “seas will boil over”? Why must there be a day when the earthquake “will be an awesome thing”? Why must there be an hour when “Heaven and earth shall pass away” (Matthew 24:35)?

The Qur’anic passages give the answer: “[on that Day] every human being will come to know what he has prepared [for himself].” On that Day, the cruelty of this world will be reconciled; the iniquity of many shall be recompensed; the deeds of the wicked shall be called to account. On that Day, all will be made whole, and everyone will answer for what he or she have wrought.

In fact, it is the cruelty of our world that – in my mind – necessitates a Last Day. All over our world, it seems that good people are punished and made to suffer while truly wicked people are left to roam free. Parents – who try to be good people and live good lives – suffer from watching their children battle cancer and other horrific diseases. Parents – who try to be good people and live good lives – watch their children die before their eyes. Natural disasters wipe out entire cities – taking thousands of people with them – seemingly without rhyme or reason.

If our world was “it,” and there was no Last Day, no Judgment, no Hour, it would not make any sense at all. Yet, along with the belief in an All-Powerful, All-Beautiful, All-Merciful God comes the belief in a Last Day, when all will be made whole. And this Last Day will be the beginning of a new era where everything will finally be right, and whole, and proper. No more cruelty; no more injustice; no more unbalance. That is why this world must end, although no one knows when this end will be, despite the predictions of many to the contrary.

Yet, with the belief and knowledge that the world will end, does this mean that we should just remain passive and do nothing to effect change? If the Lord our God is in charge – which he is – then should we just live our lives with no concern for what is happening around us?

To Be Continued…
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/commonwordcommonlord/2011/05/must-the-world-end.html

God’s Light Cannot Be Extinguished


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

The death of Osama bin Laden is indeed a notable event: the symbol of Al Qaeda and the most prominent proponent of modern “jihadist” philosophy and thought, was killed by American Special Forces in Pakistan on May 1. His killing has been met with jubilation all across America, in both government and among the general populace. Among Muslims, news of his killing has elicited a myriad of responses, most of which was relief and a desire to move forward in a “post-bin Laden” world.

Is this the end of Al Qaeda? Perhaps. Is this the end of the terrorist threat against America and the West? Hardly, and it is naive for anyone to think so. Yet, the killing of Bin Laden is the exclamation point at the end of a steady decline of his philosophy and methodology of change.

Bin Laden’s heresy is but the latest in a series of “blips” in the historical trajectory of Islam and its core message of faith, justice, compassion, and mercy. Indeed, the blips can be the source of much strife, trial, and tribulation, but they are not threats to the core of Islam. The people behind these aberrancies embody this verse of the Qur’an:

They aim to extinguish God’s light with their utterances; but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth (61:8)

The Kharijites were the first of these “blips” in the history of Islam. First appearing in the 7th Century, they emerged in response to the civil war between Imam Ali (r) and Mua’wiah (r). They became a force of dissension and rebellion, and many Muslims were killed because of their aberrant theology. These were the first to declare that anyone who does not follow their way to be a “kafir,” or “unbeliever” in their mind, who deserves death. The Kharijites ultimately assassinated Imam Ali (r) himself.

They sought “to extinguish God’s light with their utterances,” But their aberrancy died away, for “God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness.” The core of Islam remained intact, and the Muslim nation continued to do great things in human history.

Then came the Hashashin, or Assassins, who terrorized the Muslim populace for many years. They worked for Crusader and Muslim alike, doing whatever was necessary for their own wordly gain. They were one of the earliest terrorists to spread suffering among the Muslims. It is even believed that the Assassins attempted to kill Saladin himself.

Once again, these killers aimed to “extinguish God’s light with their utterances,” but their aberrancy also died away, for “God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness.” Islam was not destroyed by them, and its core message remained alive and well, giving nourishment to millions upon millions of people.

And now we saw Bin Laden, emboldened by the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, who thought he could be a new force for change in the Muslim world. After being spurned and rejected, he turned violent, becoming a neo-Kharijite and declaring war on innocent people. In his name, thousands upon thousands of people – who did nothing wrong – were maimed and murdered. Legendary Muslim filmmaker Mustafa Akkad was one of those victims, among scores of others.

He aimed “to extinguish God’s light” with his rambling utterances, “but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness…” The entire world saw the fruit of his beliefs, and it was nothing but terror, and darkness, and evil. He brought nothing good, and as the Qur’an says:

In this way does God set forth the parable of truth and falsehood: for, as far as the scum is concerned, it passes away as [does all] dross; but that which is of benefit to man abides on earth. In this way does God set forth the parables (13:17)

The scum of his violent theology has indeed passed away, and that which is benefit to man – the light of God’s truth embodied in the core of Islamic teaching – continues to abide on earth. And one can see how his scum philosophy has passed away: for his heretical beliefs have been largely ignored and spurned by the overwhelming majority of Muslims all across the world. In each and every street uprising, whether in Tunisia, or Egypt, or Yemen, or Syria, Muslims have said “NO” to Bin Laden and his theology.

This is because “God has willed to spread his light in all its fullness…”

Now there are those that want you to believe that these aberrations, these “blips” in the history of Islam, are the essence of the faith. They want you to believe that the terror and violence and intolerance that marked the Kharijites, or the Assassins, or the modern neo-Kharijite barbarians of Bin Laden’s ilk, is based in and comes from Islam. They lie in the worst possible manner.

All the violence and evil that comes from “Islamic terror” is inimical and antithetical to everything for which Islam stands. Terror in the name of Islam is the exception, not the rule, and the events of the last six months has borne this out in full display for everyone to see. As Michael Shank recently wrote in the Nation:

What is happening in the streets of Cairo and Sanaa and Damascus is not the work of Gene Sharp or Gandhi. As Americans angle to amplify nonviolent Muslim voices, a good start would be to give credit where credit is due: The seeds sprouting this Arab Spring are native born.

It very well may be that Muslims will face another aberrancy that will wreak havoc among their ranks, although I pray this does not come to pass. I pray that justice, freedom, and dignity embrace all peoples – Muslim or otherwise – and that peace will reign supreme. Yet, if such an aberrancy rears its ugly head, it too will pass, and the core of Islam will remain unscathed. That is because:

“God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.”

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.