Tag Archives: Christianity

No Matter What They Say

 

Was the murderer – who brutally killed 84 people, injuring hundreds more in Nice, France, a practicing Muslim? Or, was he, as reports indicate, a depressed, lonely man with mental health problems, a propensity for using drugs and alcohol, and a criminal history – the very antithesis of a practicing Muslim? The answers to these questions don’t seem to matter to everyone. Several politicians, TV personalities and pundits, set out to form public sentiment surrounding the attack within the very first hours after it occurred. Before any details were available, the branding of this attack as a radical “Islamic” terror attack had already begun.

I heard the terms “Islamic terrorism” and “radical Islamic terrorism” repeated over and over again. I heard people insist that these attacks won’t stop until we “call it what it really is” and dutifully attach the word “Islam” to every single terror instigating crime we witness. High profile people such as Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich– and a slew of far right-wing politicians and networks framed this attack as a sign of a clash of civilizations – clear as day – a war between Islam and the west. Gingrich went so far as to say, “Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of Muslim background and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization.”

I believe in Shariah, which is the same thing as believing in Islam.

Do they know that being kind to your family is part of the Shariah, along with prayer, charity, being honest, oh – and don’t forget – obeying the laws of the land in which we live? Do they care? For American Muslims, being good citizens is literally mandated by the Shariah. I don’t know where Mr Gingrich would like to send me. My great grandparents were born here in the USA. There are American Muslims whose ancestry dates way further back in America than mine – some can trace back centuries, some all the way to the Mayflower, and some American Muslims trace their heritage straight back to the Native Americans. If the Native Americans who are now Muslims could be deported back in time… that would be interesting, because there’d be no sign of Gingrich’s ancestors or Trump’s on American soil.

Imagine, all this vitriol, all this certainty, all this “educating” went on before any information whatsoever, aside from the rising death toll, had been uncovered. Clearly, this notion of testing and deporting Muslims isn’t tenable – but what all these hateful statements did, was perpetuate the notion that Muslims are foreign – period. This divisive view of our world – us vs. them; paints a black and white, and very frightening picture for vulnerable Americans. The more people see a polarized world, the more they feel obliged and compelled to take a side.

They are training us to instinctively see all horrific incidents as being tied to Islam. Whether they really are or not is beside the point. This helps to advance the positions and agendas of powerful politicians and corporations – but tears our society apart, and that does matter.

SMH and Complain?

I can get upset and shake my finger at this irresponsible use of fame and ability to reach millions of people’s brains. I can fight every troll on the Internet and argue about just how anti-Islam these crimes really are. Yes, the facts prove the islamophobes and everyone else trying to force a war down our throats, utterly wrong – but the truth alone cannot alter the toxic atmosphere being systematically created. So what’s a Muslim to do?

The Heat is On

One of the effects of being constantly suspect is that the one under suspicion begins to feel guilty – even if he or she is totally innocent. Dalia Mogahed explained how she felt after 9/11 saying,  “Not only had my country been attacked, but in a flash, somebody else’s actions had turned me from a citizen to a suspect… for the first time in my life, [I was] afraid for anyone to know I was a Muslim.”

This is reinforced by a few, very loud voices claiming that we are all suspect. After the Nice attacks, Kelvin Mackenzie, a columnist from the UK’s Sun newspaper wrote a controversial column questioning why a “young woman wearing a hijab” had been allowed to report on the attack in Nice. He was appalled that the reporter, Fatima Manji was visibly Muslim. He asked. “Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?”

Avoiding the Herd Mentality

More than 1/3 of the dead, killed by the attacker in Nice, were Muslims. If it’s offensive for a Muslim to report the attack on television, is it also offensive for us to mourn our dead? We have to reject this idea and think critically: Is it wrong for white Christians to report news about attacks committed by white Christians? To suggest so is clearly, easily and immediately recognized as preposterous.

In the face of this monumental and growing problem, I refuse to allow others to determine how I feel about myself. We have to be the leaders of our own thoughts – to employ reasoning, and thoughtfully listen and consider the facts and points of view before settling on our position. The Quran differentiates between those who think rationally and those who are unthinking and sheep-like, following the rest without intelligent thought: “Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are more astray in [their] way.” (Quran 25:44)

Fighting Doubts

The Prophet Muhammad said, “The people will see a time of patience in which someone adhering to his religion will be as if he were grasping a hot coal.” (Tirmidhi)

Yeah, Islam is kind of like a hot coal right now. This is certainly one of those times. In light of this terrorism epidemic and the mounting negative public opinion towards Islam and Muslims, some of us may feel like giving up. It’s exhausting constantly being under scrutiny, guilt-tripped, cursed at, ridiculed, and hated. Maybe this would all be easier if we just took our headscarves off, shaved our beards and changed our names to Moe.

The thing is, the solution is in the same statement – the crux of the issue, is that we Muslims adhere to our faith. By doing so, we will become better people, who manifest the best of character and manners, we will increase in patience and follow this guidance: “Repel [evil] by that which is better; and thereupon the one who between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” (Quran 41:34)

Why should I?

“Do you think that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? … Yes! Certainly, the Help of God is near!” (Quran 2:214)

The truth is – according to Islam, all of this life is intended to be a test. If it weren’t this, it would be something else. So, as a Muslim, I remember the advice of Prophet Jacob to his sons, “Despair not of relief from God. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from God except the disbelieving people.” (Quran 12:87)

This is how we avoid despair and strive to become even better people. These difficulties can be good for us. They remind us to get back to the basics, to assess our lives, and reorient our priorities. We remember that we can’t achieve any success without the aid of the Owner of the heavens and the Earth. The answers lie in the Quran and in our prayers – in our Islam

So, I encourage my fellow Muslims to spend less time obsessing over the latest news and step away from the bickering and argumentation – To look into the eyes of our loved ones – To take a moment to step outdoors and observe the beauty of God’s signs in His creation – To help one another more, give back to our communities. And most of all, to spend more time with the Quran. Turn off the TV. Sign out of Facebook and Twitter. Open the Quran, read it and understand it.

“So be patient.  Indeed, the promise of God is truth. And ask forgiveness for your sin and exalt with praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.

Indeed, those who dispute concerning God’s signs without authority having come to them – there is not within their hearts except pride, [the extent of] which they cannot reach. So seek refuge in God. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (Quran 40:55-56)

 

In this book, I find solace, I find hope, I find peace. No matter what they say.

My Husband’s Standard for the Treatment of Women

The owner of the company was a man, maybe in his fifties; white hair, but still youthful. He came over to give us an estimate for some work we need done. He seemed nice enough. He smiled, greeted our children, and appeared to have our best interests in mind.

While we were walking him through the job, his cell phone began ringing.

“Probably my wife.” He said, slightly shaking his head as he silenced the phone.

Within several minutes the phone rang twice more. We assured him we didn’t mind if he answered the call.

“Hello? I’m still on a job estimate.” He paused and listened.

His lips tightened and his voice hardened. “I told you, they’re in the back.” he said, somewhat exasperated.

He wrapped up the call. To me, he had not done anything out of the ordinary. He completed the rest of the estimate kindly and left.

But, as I would learn later, my husband was disturbed by what he witnessed.

In fact, my husband chose another company, in spite of getting the lowest estimate from this man, simply because he didn’t like the way he had spoken to his wife.

My husband grew up in a Muslim family. When he reached college, his interest in Islam and religions intensified. He began studying Islam as well as Christianity and comparative religion. After completing his bachelor’s, he travelled overseas to study Islam and the Arabic language. While away, he benefitted from many scholars of Islam. Upon returning, he has been dedicated to teaching Islam to Muslims, founding several institutions to that end.

His days and nights are usually spent studying, teaching or working for Islam.

He’s also gentle and even tempered.

I often insist on asking him, “Are you mad?” and he always responds, “Do I ever get mad?”

The truth is, my husband implements the teachings of Islam and follows the prophet Muhammad who was asked repeatedly by a man for advice and responded each time simply, “Do not get angry.” (Narrated in Sahih Bukhari)

This is the power of Islam, to overcome even strong emotions such as anger. In fact, as indicated in the advice of the prophet Muhammad above, Islam has the power to prevent those emotions from boiling up in the first place. When it is the guidance for everyday life, the results are beautiful.

I’m so fortunate and grateful to have a companion who is concerned with living in a way pleasing to his Maker, and that my Creator has guided His creation to “Be kind to women.” as explained and emphasised by His last messenger, Muhammad.

I’m a Muslim, but I Never Miss Christmas

The holiday season has a certain something that brings joy to people of all ages. The excitement of gifts and gift giving, great food and delicacies that only appear once a year, family gatherings, shopping, decorating; the list goes on and on.

It’s many people’s favorite time of year. It used to be mine too.

I know most people are really living it up and enjoying themselves this time of year. Some may be wondering, “Don’t you miss Christmas?”

My sister said to me recently, while she was in the midst of decorating bliss, “I don’t know how you don’t do this, it’s so much fun!”

If you take a look at the things that really give meaning to Christmas, we can find similarities in Islam, but 365 days out of the year.

Here are just a few examples:

1. Gift giving. Giving, sharing and showing care are all great things. The prophet Muhammad said, “Give gifts.” Because they increase the love between people. No special occasion needed.

2. Charity. Charity is an integral part of Islam. Once  every year Muslims must pay an amount from their saved wealth, and charity is encouraged every day, by both the Quran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. We should always try give something, even if it as little as a smile. We are taught that we are not truly believers, if we do not love for our fellow human being what we love for ourselves. That throws covetousness out the window and makes us want to raise others up, as we would like to be helped, especially in times of need.

3. Family. Family is the most important structure in society. Islam has all sorts of ways of helping families stay together and encourages giving your company primarily to your family, especially parents. Eating together, consulting one another, and being there for each other in all circumstances, are all values we are taught in the Quran and by the prophet Muhammad.

4. Jesus. Muslims love Jesus. In the Quran, the story of Jesus begins even before his mother Mary was born. We see God’s wisdom in choosing the best of women, Mary, who was utterly devoted to the worship of the Creator, and who was a perfect vessel to carry and rear the very special Jesus Christ. We believe in Jesus’ virgin birth and in the many miracles Jesus did by God’s will. His story and the story of his mother in the Quran, bring tears to our eyes and move our hearts every time we read them. The chapter named Mary in the Quran, is beyond beautiful. Whenever I read it, I just wish I could share it with my Christian friends and family. We love Jesus so much, but we don’t worship him, we follow him: Jesus did not decorate trees, nor did he teach children about an omnipotent man with flying reindeer who lives in the North Pole. He did not tell anyone to celebrate his birthday. He did not celebrate Christmas, so neither do we.

5. Fun. To some of you, Muslims might seem a bit boring. Most of us are not found out and about, seeking thrills all too often. The reason for that though, is that we feel very satisfied. We know what our purpose is and strive to stay on track towards successfully completing our goal. So on the one hand, we are already quite content and don’t feel the need to go out seeking pleasure and happiness. (Although, there is nothing wrong with having some good clean fun!)  And on the other hand, we are busy trying to please our Maker. We’d rather not waste time away from remembering Him. Worshipping Him. In Islam, worship is very comprehensive, so everything that God is pleased with, can be an act of worship. A smile can be an act of worship. Intimacy with one’s spouse is also an act of worship in Islam, because it is enjoying that pleasure in the right way, in a marriage, as opposed to in extramarital relationships. So, for Muslims, worship is also fun!

Islam has all the best parts of life built in.

That’s why, I never miss Christmas.

They’re speaking Muslim!

One reason Islam might seem unfamiliar is due to the preference and tendency of Muslims to use Arabic words and phrases- even amidst an otherwise English conversation.

If you were standing in line near me at the grocery store let’s say, and my cell phone rang, you’d probably hear me answer it and say, “assalamu alaykum! How are you?”

When my friend asks me how I’m doing, I’ll probably answer, “alhumdu lillah! I’m fine!”

Then I might let them know I’m busy and say, “I’ll call you back, insha Allah.”

So why does someone like me, who only speaks English need to mix Arabic and English when I speak?

Good Question.

Well, I don’t have to and I’m not trying to alienate you. There are reasons I choose to, though.

If I am speaking to a person who is not Muslim I will most often either translate those very same phrases or I leave them out altogether. (I still say them in my mind though!)

Some things just sound weird in English to me. I love the meanings of them, but that’s because I understand those meanings through the perspective given in the teachings of Islam.

Imagine if every time I met you, I was like, “peace be upon you.” or “May peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of God.”

It’s not a part of our social culture, therefore it is strange to our ears.

The only familiarity American Christians might have with this greeting is from church, when the priest says to the congregation, at a ritual aspect of his sermon,  “Peace be with you” and the people respond in unison, “and also with you”.

The meaning is lovely if you think about it, but when when I had to say it in church, it felt unnatural for me. Many other sayings and actions especially of the priests and clergy just didn’t resonate with me and felt strange at the time. It made me feel uncomfortable. I think it was really because those concepts were so divorced from the speech and meanings of everyday life.

We weren’t taught much about the practicality of religion and the origins of such phrases; causing them to feel alien and artificial – it was never common practice to greet one another in that way.

In Islam, everything we do has a clear reason and/or proof behind it. So we know exactly why we say “peace be upon you” when we meet one another, we also can learn the in-depth precise meaning of the word “peace” which is “salam” in arabic.

The meanings of “salam” and “peace” can actually have slight differences. Arabic words tend to be rich with meaning, so when I say “salam” that is more clear and accurate as opposed to saying peace. Make sense?

So, for example, this particular greeting, “peace be upon you” is actually as old as humanity. There’s a good reason priests say it in their sermons, and you’ll find orthodox Jews and the Jews who live in Israel all greet one another saying “shalom” which means salam, which means of course, peace.

It was the greeting taught to Adam as soon as he was given life and it has remained a part of God’s guidance ever since then. For most (Non-Muslim) English speakers it has been lost and we are no longer familiar with it, outside of church.

The meaning is extraordinarily beautiful and it needs to really be said and practiced with sincerity in order to be fully appreciated. When you meet someone or address someone with “peace be upon you”, you are beginning by saying a prayer for them and their general wellbeing. You are also indicating and reminding yourself that your dealings with that person are peaceful and that you wish good for them, not harm.

How you proceed after that should be in line with that intention, if you are conscious of what you have said and you meant it.

It’s lovely; anyone who believes in God might appreciate a prayer like that being made for them as a greeting, but functionally, in English at least, it is awkward. That’s why I say it in Arabic to my Muslim friends and that’s why I don’t even say it when I’m not speaking to a Muslim person.

So let’s take another example, the word God. In a previous post I explained the meaning of the word “Allah” and that it is interchangeable- to a degree- with the word “God”.

But god is different in that it can be changed to be plural: gods.

It can refer to something entirely other than the Creator of all that exists: “He made wealth his god.”

There is no scripture stating that God’s name is… God.

So it doesn’t feel right to me. The meaning is there; enough to use the word God to serve a purpose of communication, but if I am speaking to another Muslim, of course I will choose to use the name Allah.

Linguistically, you can’t say “He made wealth his Allah.” You would say instead, “He made wealth his ilah.”

Ilah (ee-lah) is something worshipped, very similar in meaning to the word god.

God (Allah) chose Arabic for His final revelation to mankind. Once you get a little familiar with Arabic, it becomes clear why. It’s extraordinarily expressive and rich with meaning, and in spite of what one might think, it’s actually very easy to learn.

In Islam, there is a big focus on remembering God. We have things to say and do all throughout every day to keep our Maker and our purpose in our minds at all times. 

We have been instructed in the Quran, for example, never to say we will do something in the future, except if we add to it, “insha Allah“. (Quran 18:24)

Insha Allah means: if God wills, or God willing. That’s a phrase many people still use today, especially practicing Jews. So unless I am speaking to a Muslim person, I will say “God willing.”

But if you and I are talking and I say, “I am traveling tomorrow, God willing.” Is it immediately clear to you what I mean by that?

Finally, I will explain one final saying that I mentioned in the beginning of this post because it is very common: alhumdulillah (al-hum-do-leel-lah)

Now if I were to translate this into english it’s not even really possible with a couple of words. When we say alhumdu lillah, we are praising God, ascribing perfection to Him, and indicating that He is most worthy and deserving of praise and gratitude. Not only that, but also that He is The Owner of praise and perfection.

So imagine if you ask me how I am doing, and I say, “I am well, All thanks and praise are due to God and He is most deserving of it. The perfect, The Owner of praise.”

I think in our culture, in our English language, it seems a bit much. I don’t expect anyone who’s not a Muslim to get it.

So that’s why we use Arabic.  I hope I haven’t bored you with lots of technical talk, but I do want to open doors of understanding.

If you keep this in mind, at least you may not feel so uncomfortable if you happen to be on line in the grocery store, next to a Muslim who gets a phone call.

Islam: A Way Of Life

The word Islam is not just the name of a religion: It is a state of being and a way of life.

If you think about most other religions you know of, you will find that the name “Islam” is quite unique.

For example: Christianity is named after Christ. Judaism is named after the tribe of Judah. Hinduism is a word related to location.

Islam describes the state of being it entails. It can be translated as “surrender” or “submission” but really the arabic word Islam is too rich to translate into a single word.

Islam comes from a root word that denotes both peace and submission or surrender. In our context it means submission and surrender to God and His Will. It implies that one does so peacefully, in a peaceful state, as well as indicating that peace is attained through this submission.

A Muslim is one who does Islam. It’s the active form of the word. It could be translated as “one who submits to God” or “Submitter”.

So really when we say Muslim that’s what it means, we are just speaking arabic. Really in english I’m a submitter, but the word Muslim is common enough that I will continue to use it for my purposes here.

What we believe in Islam, is that God created the first humans, Adam and Eve. They were placed in paradise; The Garden of Eden. They were given a test: Everything in paradise was for them except one small thing. A single tree was forbidden to them.

Well, of course they made the mistake and disobeyed God, but that was merely the precursor for life on Earth. That mistake set the ball rolling, so to speak.

Adam and Eve were sent down to Earth where they were to live, reproduce, and die. But God did not leave them alone.

In their remorse over their disobedience, God Himself taught them how to ask forgiveness. He also promised not to leave them without guidance and told them:

“when guidance comes from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, they will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:38)

All that was setting the stage for a greater test: life on Earth.

Adam received revelation from God, and he submitted to that guidance and followed it. He was a submitter. He was a Muslim.

After Adam, God bestowed the prophethood on many, many more throughout the ages. Some of the names of God’s prophets and Messengers are mentioned in the Quran. Some of them are : Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Lot, Aaron, Moses, Solomon, David, Jonah, Jesus the Messiah.

Sound Familiar?

We are taught all of them were given guidance from God. Some were given revelation, such as the Torah which was given to Moses and the Gospel given to Jesus.

All of them taught people to follow God’s Guidance-to submit to it.

That’s Islam.

Every one of them was a Muslim and no one can say they weren’t – because a Muslim is simply one who submits themselves to God. One who follows God’s guidance for success in life.

So we are just continuing along the path set for us from the beginning. God promised to send us guidance. He gave us the solace of knowing that if we are to follow His guidance, we won’t have any fear, we won’t live in grief.

And that is truly the gift of Islam.

Is That an Arab?

Last night, while walking from my car to a shopping center, I passed by a vehicle with its windows open.

I heard someone say loudly,

“What’s that? Is that an ARAB?”

Who… me?

Sorry, “Muslim” and “Arab” are not synonymous.

Actually Muslims are found all over the world. From China, Russia, and Indonesia to many parts of Africa and Europe, to both North and South America.

Muhammad, the prophet who was given the Quran was a descendent of the prophet Ishmael who was the son of Abraham – he was an Arab.

Jesus and many of the prophets we know of, were from what we now call the Middle East as well… And nobody seems to think all Christians are Semitic or Middle Eastern… Go figure!

The Quran makes it very clear that it is a message for mankind:

This (Quran) is but a reminder for all people. (38:87)

Muhammad is addressed in the Quran: And We (God) have not sent you except comprehensively to mankind as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. But most of the people do not know. (Quran 34:28)

That’s why people from all over have accepted it as their life’s guidance.

I learned about Islam independent of any people. I didn’t know any Muslims.

For me, it was clearly a universal message.

It not only speaks to individuals regardless of their background but it is also timeless. I didn’t get the feeling that it was irrelevant or outdated.

Aspects of the quran describe our modern world and it provides comforting advice that is perfectly on point.

So for me and many other Americans like me, it was a natural choice.

And when we chose to be Muslims, we didn’t change our ethnicity, or race, or nationality, or culture. Just like the first Indonesians who embraced Islam, or the first Bosnians.

In America, the Muslims are the most diverse faith group. When I go to a mosque I sit amongst people of many shades and diverse backgrounds.

Islam, in practice, eliminates racism and nationalism. It teaches us to focus on our humanity and to rejoice in our differences.

To get to know one another.

So one doesn’t need to be Arab to be Muslim, and no one should assume that every Muslim they see is an immigrant either!

I’ll leave you with the following verse:

O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into nations and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, and breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Quran 49:13)

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What in the World is Halal Food Anyway?

Have you heard that Muslims eat “Halal” food?

Maybe you’ve seen the Halal Food carts in NYC, or have heard about the controversy in the UK over halal meats being sold in ordinary supermarkets.

What is your reaction when you hear about “Muslim dietary laws” or when you hear or see the word “halal”?

The Arabic word “halal” simply means “permissible”, so it applies to anything and everything permissible, whether it be food, actions or anything else.

Interestingly, when it comes to food, the food of the “people of the book” is also halal (permissible) for Muslims.

Who are the people of the book?

The Jews and Christians!

So why is the food of the Jews and Christians halal for Muslims?

Because they both followed the instructions of God’s prophets on how to slaughter, as well as what foods are good to eat and what foods to stay away from.

So what God has made permissible before, in terms of food, is still permissible today.

So I can eat Kosher meat and that is halal for me. The Christian’s food should also be halal, but today Christians, (at least the majority in the US) do not continue to follow the laws in the bible.

Deuteronomy 14:8 and several other biblical verses, forbid the eating of pork for example, so if the Christians were to continue to follow the law, as Jesus said to do as reported in the bible of today:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” – Matthew 5:17

Then the food including the meat of the Christians would be perfectly halal for me.

So although it may seem strange that there are restrictions on what Muslims eat, similar guidelines exist in the traditions of the Jews and Christians as well.

I won’t go into too much detail in this post, but generally the reasons things are permitted are because they are beneficial for us, and things that are not are usually harmful or potentially harmful in some way.

When it comes to animals for example, they are beings with souls. We aren’t taught by our creator to just go ahead and kill them any old way. There are guidelines and methods to follow to ensure the life is treated with respect. We can not take a life without permission. In this case, permission is given so long as certain criteria are met.

We do it invoking the name of God; feeling the gravity of that act… not doing it frivolously, but only for the purpose of nourishment and sustenance.

In the authentic teachings of Islam it is even discouraged to sharpen a knife in the animal’s sight. Nor should one animal be slaughtered in front of another.

The Prophet muhammad is reported to have said, “If you must slaughter, slaughter in the best possible manner, sharpen your knife every time before you slaughter but not in front of the animal to be slaughtered. Do not slaughter an animal in the presence of other animal, and feed and rest the animal before slaughter.”
When Prophet Muhammad was asked by his Companions whether kindness to animals would be rewarded in the life hereafter, he replied, “Yes, there is a meritorious reward for kindness to every living creature” (Al-Bukhari).

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