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: Muslims Promote Ramadan, not Whole Foods

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

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


Initially, I was very disappointed in Whole Foods for apparently “caving” to the screams of a small number of bloggers and choosing not to “promote” Ramadan. Yet, neither Whole Foods, nor any other corporation needs to “promote” Ramadan. Ramadan is not a product in need of a nationwide marketing campaign.

In an e-mail, Whole Foods had this to say:

“There has been a little controversy surrounding the introduction of our Halal certified “Saffron Road” frozen products. While there has been some positive response from our Muslim customers there have been some negative comments from some other customers. While we want to continue with the program, it is probably best that we don’t specifically call out or “promote” Ramadan…we should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered “Celebrating or promoting” Ramadan.

It later reversed course, insisting that it will continue the Halal marketing campaign:

Kate here from Whole Foods. To set the record straight, Whole Foods Market is NOT cancelling our current halal promotion, which is centered around the timeframe of Ramadan. We invite shoppers seeking out not just halal certified products, but products that also meet our high quality standards to try Saffron Road and other regional offerings in our stores.

We never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs at all. We have 12 different operating regions and your reacted by sending out directions to promote Halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments and after viewing signage made by one individual at a store that didn’t point to these products.

We’re excited to be offering high quality halal products for our shoppers and we stand behind them and our promotion of them, just like we do with other seasonal and holiday products.

Nevertheless, they still will not “promote” Ramadan.

Ramadan is the most important spiritual month for Muslims the entire world over, during which the faithful attempt to improve their lives through fasting, meditation, prayer, and charity. Through abstaining from food and drink during the long, hot summer days of August, spending hours in prayer and the reading of scripture, and giving in charity to those who are less fortunate, Muslims all across our country are highlighting what Ramadan is all about.

Placing or taking down signage that says “Ramadan” in some Whole Foods store somewhere will neither enhance nor diminish the importance of the month. Ramadan – as with Passover, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter – lives in the hearts and lives of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who celebrate and honor those times of the year.

Whole Foods can breathe a sigh of relief.

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.

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.

Dr. Hassaballa in the Chicago Tribune: Taxi ads capitalize on crime to bash Islam

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

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

Imagine an ad on a Chicago taxicab or bus that has a picture of a child. On top of the picture is this statement: “Victim of Priest Sexual Abuse”, and below is a website: When you visit this site, you realize that it has nothing to do with priest sexual abuse, but it is an attack site on Catholic Christianity.

How would Catholics feel about this? What would the Catholic Church say? I suspect that there would be a huge outcry against such an ad. Yet such an ad about Islam has hit the Chicago taxi cabs, and there has not been any peep of protest, from either Muslims or non-Muslims. Perhaps this is intentional, not wanting to give the group behind the ad – Stop the Islamicization of America – any attention at all.

Nevertheless, the ads are wholly disingenuous. They capitalize on a truly horrific crime, so-called “Honor Killings,” to attack the religion of Islam by repeating the multiply-debunked myth that Islam calls for the murder of those who leave the faith. Islam does not endorse the death penalty for anyone who leaves its fold. Indeed, hundreds of Muslim scholars, thinkers, academics, and writers – among which I am honored to be counted – have affirmed this fact.

Honor killings are a truly repugnant stain on the human fabric, and they must be eradicated. And, sadly, many honor killings do occur in Muslim majority nations. Yet, as mentioned by the United Nations:

According to a 2002 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, “honour killings” take place in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and other Mediterranean and Gulf countries. It also occurs in countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom within immigrant communities. It is not only in Islamic countries or communities that this act of violence is prevalent. Brazil is cited as a case in point, where killing is justified to defend the honour of the husband in the case of a wife’s adultery [29].

In addition, Human Rights Watch recently issued this statement:

The Indian government should urgently investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recent spurt in reported “honor” killings, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also strengthen laws that protect against kinship, religion-based, and caste-based violence, and take appropriate action against local leaders who endorse or tolerate such crimes…

So, contrary to what SIOA intimates with these taxi ads, “honor killings” are a problem that cross ethnic and religious lines.

Nevertheless, It is astonishing that this ad uses the legitimate problem of “honor killings,” against which I have been vocal, to try to attack Islam and create a wedge with which they can divide Americans on religious lines. Now, SIOA has the right to say whatever they want to say about Islam; they have the right to hate Islam outright. But, it is my hope and prayer that fellow Americans can see through this ad campaign and reject the messages of division and intolerance that they espouse.

Devotion to God Demands the Golden Rule

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

Strapping a bomb to one’s chest and killing himself and scores of innocent people along with him can no way be a true fulfillment of God’s love. If anyone claims thus, it is a result of sick and twisted thinking and reasoning; the result of a diseased and satanic heart. Devotion to God does not trump the Golden Rule; devotion to God necessitates the Golden Rule…

Read the rest of the post here.

Eid, Best Buy, and Ignorance

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

This is my post on The Seeker blog about Eid Al Adha.

Best Buy brouhaha highlighted ignorance

I could not believe my eyes when I saw it: Best Buy had printed in its weekly ad “Happy Eid Al Adha.” My heart was so very warmed, and it made me so very happy that Best Buy acknowledged the upcoming Muslim holiday. (And, it made me determined to make my next purchase there…) Of course, there were scattered angry online protests, with one person commenting that Eid Al Adha is a “Muslim goat throat slitting festivity.” This statement exposes the enormous ignorance about this major Muslim holiday.

Eid Al Adha, which is November 27, marks the end of the Hajj, or once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca which every able bodied Muslim must perform. The Hajj is a live re-enactment of the story of the Patriarch Abraham. After being childless for many years, Abraham was finally given a son. Soon after the child (Ishmael in Muslim tradition) was born, God commanded Abraham to leave him and his mother in the barren desert plain of Paran, which is modern day Mecca. Alarmed, his wife questioned him as to why he would abandon them, with little food and water, in the middle of the desert. He didn’t answer and kept walking. She then asked him, “Has God commanded thus?” He answered, “Yes.” She then said, “Then He will not lead us astray.”

Soon, however, the small amount of food and water ran out, and the young Ishmael began to cry. Frantic, his mother ran between two small hills seven times looking for any sign of food, drink, or civilization. When her search proved fruitless, she went back to her son, resigned to the terror of his imminent death. To her glee, a spring had burst forth at the young babe’s feet, which was dug by the Archangel Gabriel himself. Mother and child were saved.

Many years later, when that son became old enough, the Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice that son for Him. The Patriarch told his son of his vision, and his son told him, “Father, do as you are commanded.” On the appointed day, the Devil tried to dissuade Abraham, and he stoned the devil seven times. When the Patriarch finally put knife to skin, it would not cut, and a voice called to him, “Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision.” The Patriarch then offered an animal instead of his son.

All of the rituals of the Hajj – the running between two mountains, the stoning of the pillars representing the Devil, and so on – hearken back to this ancient dramatic story. On Eid Al Adha, all Muslims sacrifice an animal in commemoration of Abraham and his inspiring test of faith. The meat is largely distributed to the poor to help feed them.

In fact, this story of sacrifice is mentioned in the Book of Genesis (22:1-19), and the whole issue of sacrifice to God is steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Throughout the Old Testament, the sacrifice of an animal to the Lord our God is a recurrent theme, and according to Christian theology, Jesus Christ is the Lamb who is sent to be sacrificed for the sins of humanity. Thus, Muslims are doing nothing new. Eid Al Adha is definitely not some barbaric blood sacrifice ritual as some are wont to believe.

Upon reflection, it is rather amazing, isn’t it, that one of the major, if not the major, Muslim festivals is about Abraham, a Prophet who is sacred and revered by both Judaism and Christianity? If we all took the time to learn about our respective traditions, we would realize that we are more similar than we are different, and our world would be a much better place because of it.