Election 2012: A Rough Ride for American Muslims

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

This was published on my Patheos column.

The 2012 election year has finally come, and as already seen in Iowa, the presidential campaign is in full swing. On the Democratic side, there is no contest (but lots of concerns). But the Republican primary process has already given us a chilling glimpse into what is to come for American Muslims. Our faith and our status as Americans look to become an important part of the election.

Former Senator Rick Santorum, thrust into the spotlight by his surprise finish in Iowa, was asked in a debate about who should be profiled in this country: “Well, the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. If you look at—I mean, obviously, it was—obviously, Muslims would be—would be someone you’d look at, absolutely. Those are the folks who are—the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes, as we’ve—by and large, as well as younger males.” And that’s just one example of what some Republican candidates are inferring and saying about Muslims. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Newt Gingrich and his incessant claims about the “threat” of “Sharia law” to our country.

These criticisms will only intensify as the months pass on the way to the November elections. Islam will be demonized, and Muslims will be more and more “otherized” and scapegoated. Just recently, state Rep. Judy Manning (R-GA) said of Mitt Romney, “I think Mitt Romney is a nice man, but I’m afraid of his Mormon faith. It’s better than a Muslim.”

Yup . . . hold on to your seats, folks, it’s going to be a rough ride for American Muslims.

I never cease to be baffled by comments like these. The truth about Islam and Muslims is so different than what is presented in the media to the minds of many Americans. The season of Jesus and his birth has just finished. Don’t our fellow Christian Americans realize how much Muslims love Jesus? Don’t they know how much of the Quran extols the virtues of Christ? Don’t they know the number of times Jesus (and his mother Mary) is mentioned in the Quran? I penned a piece about the Virgin Mary last December and gave it to a devout Catholic colleague. She was stunned at the beauty of the Quranic description of the both the birth of Mary and her son, Jesus. My brother-in-law gave it to his co-worker, and the reaction was the same.

It seems like our fellow Americans do not know how much our faith honors all of the Abrahamic prophets. Whether it is Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Jacob, David, or Solomon, they are all revered, and respected, and honored in our faith. It seems incredulous that I must re-state the fact that we Muslims worship the same God of the other Abrahamic faiths. “Allah” is simply the Arabic version of “God.” And, if Jesus were alive today, he would also call God “Allah.” Moreover, open up an Arabic Bible, the word for “God” is none other than “Allah.”

Most American Muslims are just like most other Americans: patriotic, country-loving citizens who work hard every single day to contribute to the greatness of this country. As the TLC show “All-American Muslim” showed, we are normal people like everyone else. We are teachers, doctors, lawyers, football coaches, police officers, firefighters, and nurses. One of my closest friends, whom I consider to be a brother, was on the ground on 9/11 as a first-responder helping the injured on that horrible day.

Now, that fact doesn’t sit well with some Americans, as the Lowe’s advertising controversy with “All-American Muslim” showed. They would like to have everyone believe that the actions of criminals acting in Islam’s name speak for the whole of Islam and Muslims. But that doesn’t change the truth: Muslims are not the monsters that some make us out to be. Islam is the not the “evil” that some make it out to be.

And, to be fair, there are some in the GOP who have acknowledged as much. The most shining example is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (another Republican), who defended his appointment of a Muslim judge and called the hysteria about Sharia law “crap.” And New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another politician (not a Republican) who has refused to join in the demonization of Muslims for political gain.

Since the forces of division will not stop trying to demonize Islam and Muslims, we must not stop telling the truth about our faith and our people. The election season may be rough for American Muslims, but in the end, all will be right and good. The forces of hatred will not win. That is because our country is a great nation, and our people are a great people.


Your Personal Hijrah This Year

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

Happy New Year…times two.

Not only am I talking about 2012, but I’m also talking about the Islamic New Year, which occurred on November 26. The Islamic New Year marks the Hijrah, or the migration of Muslims from Mecca to Yathrib, a city 250 miles to the North, which occurred 1433 years ago. (This is 1433 by the Islamic calendar.)

The nascent Muslim community in Mecca was so oppressed, so harassed for its faith that its members were forced to migrate to Yathrib, later called Medina. It was a very difficult thing to do for the Muslims, including the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who reportedly said, “O Mecca! I know you are the most blessed of the land of God. If your people did not force me to leave I would never have left you.” (Ibn Kathir, Vol. 2, p.285)

The Quran extols the virtues of the emigrants in many places: “Those who have been driven from their homelands and their possessions, seeking favor with God and [His] goodly acceptance, and who aid [the cause of] God and His Apostle: it is they, they who are true to their word!” (Surah Al-Hashr, The Gathering; 59:8)

Indeed, it takes a lot of courage and conviction to leave everything behind and go to a completely alien environment for the sake of God. The Lord comforted the emigrants in the Quranic scripture by telling them, “He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth Many a refuge, wide and spacious: Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah. And Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah An-Nisaa, The Women; 4:100)

And, there is another interpretation of the Arabic word hijrah in the Quran, brought forth by Muhammad Asad, which says that:

the term hijrah (lit., “exodus”), derived from the verb hajara (“he migrated”), is used in the Quran in two senses: One of them is historical, denoting the exodus of the Prophet and his Companions from Mecca to Medina, while the other has a moral connotation—namely, man’s “exodus” from evil toward God—and does not necessarily imply the leaving of one’s homeland in the physical sense.

The above passage [from Surah An-Nisaa] refers to this wider, moral and ethical meaning of the term hijrah—just as the preceding passage in the same surah (verses 95-96) refers to “striving hard in God’s cause” (jihad) in the widest sense of the term, embracing both physical and moral efforts and the sacrifice, if need be, of one’s possessions and even one’s life. While the physical exodus from Mecca to Medina ceased to be obligatory for the believers after the conquest of Mecca in the year 8 H. [hijrah], the spiritual exodus from the domain of evil to that of righteousness continues to be a fundamental demand of Islam.

Thus, each one of us needs to make such a “migration”; each one of us needs to “forsake the domain of evil,” in Asad’s words, and seek out the domain of righteousness, which is the domain of God. And just as the original migration was difficult for those early Muslims, so too may be this migration from the domain of evil to the domain of righteousness be for all Muslims. It may be quite a lonely journey.

Enter Asad’s interpretation of verse 100 in Surah An-Nisaa, which in transliteration reads

Wa many-yuhaajir fee sabeelil-laahi yajid fil-ard muraaghaman kaseeranw-wa sa’ah; wa many-yakhruj mim baytihee muhaajiran-ilal-laahi wa Rasoolihee summa yudrikhul-mawtu faqad waqa’a ajruhoo ‘alal-laah; wa kaanal-laahu Ghafoorar-Raheem.

And he explains this interpretation thus:

The word muraagham is derived from the noun raagham (“dust”) and is connected with the idiomatic expression raghima anfuhu, “his nose was made to cleave to dust”; for example he became humbled and forced to do something against his will. Thus, muraagham denotes “a road by the taking of which one leaves one’s people against their will. “(Zamakhshari)

It being understood that this separation from one’s familiar environment involves what is described as muraaghamah, the “breaking off (from another)” or the “cutting off from friendly or living communion” (see Lane III, 1113). All this can best be rendered, in the above context, as “a lonely road”—a metaphor of that heartbreaking loneliness that almost always accompanies the first steps of one who sets forth on his “exodus from evil unto God.”

But, it is worth it, so worth it, because at the end of that (perhaps quite lonely) journey is the smiling face of the Lord and a “life abundant.” This life is abundant in God’s blessing, grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy. At the end of that journey, that hijrah, is a place from which you never want to leave. And thus, each of us has to make the choice to forsake our own domains of evil and migrate to the domain of God.

The beauty is, once we start down that path, we will find the Lord running toward us, and even though the start of the journey may be a “lonely road,” we will quickly be accompanied by our Precious Beloved, and we will be relieved, comforted, and blessed with a “life abundant.” Happy New Year, indeed.

This first appeared in my column on Patheos.

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.”