Currently in the media there is a story about a 17-year-old Muslim girl who made the decision to leave the religion of her parents and convert to Christianity. This is not an unheard of thing, as people worldwide constantly make a conscious decision to change their religious belief to one religion, or another, for various reasons.
I often wonder if I had grown up in a society like Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, would I have made a conscious decision to change my religion. What if I had grown up in a society where honor killing was the norm? How about living in a society where killing off Native Americans from the land and enslaving Africans was considered a religious duty to irradiate, or educate, barbaric people?
As I read the Quran and Bible, I see that killing unless in self defense is wrong, I find that enslavement is evil, and both books teach the irradiation of slavery.
What if I was growing up as a teen in a society trying to discover who I am while my parents, friends, and internet acquaintances were all pulling me in different directions? What type of decisions would I make, and would they be the best for me?
I am reminded of a verse from the Quran. “Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)
I thought to myself, what an exciting and humane belief, that people from various beliefs and traditions will populate heaven. That people won’t be held accountable for what they don't know, and have not understood. God is fair!
As such, people who work righteousness and refrain from killing, nor enslave, nor prey upon the delicate sensitivities of other parent's children, no matter what their religion, will attain a reward from their lord.
It saddens me that we still live in a world where people believe that they are in a religious conflict with people of faiths that differ from their own beliefs.
I believe all god-conscious and religious people should seek out, and invite people of other faiths to their table, and learn about them without casting the proverbial first stone.
The Quran has 112 chapters of various length and subject matter. One particular chapter is titled Al-Rahman (the Most Gracious). This is one of the 99 names for God. It tells us about the graciousness, thus, giving nature of God. It asks us to look at our lives and realize that we have been given a great gift that overshadows every obstacle we have met; this gift is life and existence.
Chapter 55, Al-Rahman, asks one question throughout, which summarizes and challenges us in all of our endeavors and sorrows. That question is, "which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" (Quran 55:18)
It is a question that puts everything into perspective. Yet it can bring anger to people who feel as if the weight of the world is crushing them; people who have lost loved ones and friends. Yet the question persists, "which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" (Quran 55:18)
Chapter 55, Al-Rahman, draws our attention to the life that surrounds us. The majesty, wonder and splendor of the world; it also draws attention to our own souls. It is a reminder of our connection to the world and all living things. "Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" (Quran 55:18)
In life, it seems not all get an equal share. We sometimes lose faith and focus because we feel that Joe or Jane down the street, at work, or on television don’t have to go through what we go through. We sometimes wonder why some lives are cut short, and the non-deserving live forever. Yet all are given an opportunity, and time, to learn about the favors of their Lord.
For God is the lord of the east as well as the west. He is lord over the materialist as well as the god-conscious person. True life is with God, where those who have passed before us reside. We are just passing through this sphere of existence in preparation for the next. As the Quran states, this world is temporary, but the hereafter is everlasting. "Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" (Quran 55:18)
We have a Lord, a God, who is without selfishness motives, without an ax to grind. He sustains His creation and does not agonize over those without faith or appreciation. He is not an angry god. He is simply Ever-Living, and reunites us to Him at our death in order to bestow more of His Graciousness and Love upon us.
Ramadan 09 is now over. Yet many lessons have been learned. Patience is one of them. In Islam patience is called sabr. It is from the root word sabara which carries the meaning to bind, endure patiently, and steadily adhere to reason and command.
As such, the Muslim mind becomes a patiently calculating series of thought processes devoted to all that is good. However, this drive of processes is controlled and managed by the heart. Thus we strive to be the warmest, friendliest, and most useful of people.
Another lesson learned from Ramadan is forgiveness. In Islam we not only seek forgiveness of God and others we have wronged, but we also seek forgiveness of self.
However, self pity can oftentimes stand in our way. Self pity is one of the weaknesses that our own lower self uses to keep us down. I am reminded of a dialogue between God and Satan after Satan failed to bow to man in obedience to God. God ejected him from the company of the righteous and thus said Satan, “… "Because thou hast thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way: "Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude (for thy mercies)." (Quran 7:16-17)
We can see that Satan intends to assault us from every direction. Also in the Quran he is called the whisperer. This lets us know that he will attack us at anytime, at anyplace, from our most fortified position to our weakest attribute with a simple suggestion that can grow within us like a weed.
It is through Self pity and despair that the Whisperer reminds us of all our past faults and failures. It is here that we are reminded of our cruelty and shameful deeds. As such, we create a bubble around our own selves that prevent us from rising above the shameful self and we forever remain what we believe we are: failures.
We become worst than what we were; maybe not to others but to our own selves. For we have failed to practice self forgiveness. We have failed to forgive ourselves and move on. The consequences of this failure are that we continue to fail at every endeavor we pursue and blame others for that failure.
It is easy to blame God and other people that we imagine are holding us back; here our spiritual development comes to a grinding halt. We lament at what others possess and despair at our failures. Satan has won!
Self forgiveness is a necessary component to spiritual growth. With it we are armed against the negative forces that surround us and within our own souls. We do not forget what we have done lest we repeat our offenses. But we earnestly repent of the things we have done and move on. We do acts of charity and make amends to those we have harmed. We begin to see things in a better more positive light.
And when the whisperer whispers, we can smile and say “your guilt trips no longer work on me. I am indeed free of your games. Free of your accusations. For I have forgiven myself, repented to my Lord and I am pursuing my goals realizing that it is never too late.”
Our spiritual progress begins anew, as we fight the most difficult of spiritual battles, which we in Islam call Jihad Akhbar (the great struggle over self).
The Month of Ramadan is more than halfway complete. Nineteen days have passed, which means that we are well into the second set of ten days. During the second ten days of Ramadan two Attributes of God become the most important to the Muslim: Al-Ghafoor (The Forgiver) and Al-Ghaffaar (The Forgiving); these are two of the Ninety-nine Names of God by which we become familiar with His Attributes.
The root of Al-Ghafoor and Al-Ghaffaar is Ghafara. Ghafara means to cover, conceal, hide, forgive and protect. As such, these two words express two forms of forgiveness inherit in the Attributes of God. First, they carry the meaning of protecting the human being from committing a sin. Secondly, they carry the meaning of protecting the human from punishment for sins.
Forgiveness for ones sins is sought at the very presence of God through a specific prayer that is conducted called Taubah. During this prayer, that consist of two Raka (a series of standing, bowing and prostrating while reciting verses from the Quran), the believer sincerely repents to God and asks that past sins be forgiven, and that protection be given to prevent one from committing such sins in the future.
God is the one who protects the believer from committing sins, protects from the punishment and protects the believer from her/his own self from committing more sins. In acknowledgement of God’s Attributes, we endeavor to emulate them and apply them in our daily life.
We seek the forgiveness of God and also those people we have wronged. We approach them to make amends and sacrifice our pride along the way. It is the selfish side of the nafs (self, soul) which can lead us to eventually cause such harm to someone else and, thus, stand in need of having to seek the forgiveness of those harmed.
When this occurs, Islam teaches us that if two or more people have a problem then they should resolve it within three days. The one who initiates clemency will be the one most rewarded by God for seeking peace and forgiveness. The initiator of reconciliation receives the most spiritual blessings and rewards from God.
In this way, not only have we been seeking the forgiveness of others but also by being the first to approach the person wronged and who may have wronged us, we also seek to forgive.
In retrospect, the second ten days of Ramadan helps us to focus on aspects of forgiveness. Thus, the Muslim strives to be God Conscious as well as conscious of the needs of loved ones and neighbors. As such, the most spiritual among us are not to be found in a cave or some far away sanctuary. In contrast, Islam teaches that the most spiritual and God Conscious of Muslims are found in the very mist of community life working to achieve its greater goals.
The month of Ramadan is the month of fasting and is divided into three parts. The first part, or first ten days, of Ramadan is set aside for seeking God’s Mercy.
Mercy in Islam starts with the words Rahman and Rahim. They are both defined as mercy. The words Rahman and Rahim come from the root word RHM; which means to love, have tenderness, sympathy, forgiveness, and show goodness towards people. Therefore mercy in Islam is simply the spreading of kindness and goodwill (in all its forms) throughout one’s community.
Mercy flows from God in abundance during Ramadan and impacts those who are striving to please God. God knows that this is a trying time for the Muslim as she/he embarks on this journey of the fast that takes place once a year. As such, the Muslim who sets forth to fast will find that the first ten days are the most difficult. The desire to eat, drank, and engage in sexual activity has a tendency to impact the person fasting more than anything. Hunger pains, and a dry throat from thirst are enough to test a person’s patience and self control. Add to it the craving for nicotine, plus that annoying caffeine headache, and the ingredients for failure become pronounced. If not for the mercy from God surely failure would be imminent.
God’s mercy is not a supernatural act; instead it is a natural occurrence. For God’s Mercy shows itself in the most natural of ways; it is partly the resolve and ability for self control inherent in all people. Such self control allows the Muslim to learn through fasting how to be patient, live a healthy life, and practice being merciful to others.
Living a merciful life has its side effects. Such side effects include but are not
Having goodwill towards neighbors. Such good will shows itself as the Muslim invites members of his or her community to participate in the iftar meal. This meal is a late dinner meal consumed after sunset to break the fast.
Having kindness towards co-workers. This is demonstrated by Muslims volunteering to aid another co-worker in difficult tasks, creating an atmosphere of cohesiveness, and working together to accomplish goals.
Having kindness towards family. This is demonstrated by endeavoring to forgive minor indiscretions caused by children and spouses. In the home where tempers can flare during fasting among family members, learning self restraint and being more receptive to family member’s feelings is important.
In Islam, mercy to one’s self is a necessary component to understanding the concept of Mercy. The Muslim cannot truly aid and help others if she/he has not learned to be merciful to her/his own soul. This mercy to self may take the form of being more positive in one’s outlook on life or as equally important forgiving oneself for past mistakes. This is a psycho/spiritual barrier that may be difficult to achieve. A person may feel the need to hang on to past indiscretions. But we must remember that when we repent to God, his mercy forgives all our sins.
We must act the same as God by forgiving ourselves and moving forward to help others not make the same mistakes we made in our past. Our indiscretions at times may prove to be our best asset in learning mercy; and using that knowledge to be merciful to our own selves and others.
The story of Yusuf (Joseph), and his dealings with his master’s wife in Egypt, is a powerful spiritual lesson. It begins with the treachery of his brothers as he is sold into slavery and finds himself in the care of his master’s wife.
“The man in Egypt who bought him [Yusuf], said to his wife: 'Make his stay (among us) honorable...' ... When Joseph attained His full manhood, We gave him power and knowledge: thus do We reward those who do right. But she in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his (true) self: she fastened the doors, and said: 'Now come, thou (dear one)!' He said: 'Allah forbid! Truly (thy husband) is my lord! He made my sojourn agreeable! Truly to no good come those who do wrong!' And (with passion) did she desire him, and he would have desired her, but that he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus (did We order) that We might turn away from him (all) evil and shameful deeds: for he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified. So they both raced each other to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back..." (Quran12: 22-25)
In the above verses the word for seduction in Arabic is Rawada, and the root of the word is Rada; which carries the meaning “to seek," and “ask for a thing gently." This implies a graceful subtlety patient seduction. One that did not merely begin at the time she called him forth. It was over a period of time where she could watch the near irresistible desire for the company of a woman to fully develop and manifest within Yusuf.
The verse further states that she sought to seduce Yusuf from his self. In Arabic the word for self is Nafs. Its root is nafasa which means to be precious, the inner self, the soul. To Yusuf the soul was the most precious part of his being. He knows it is the one thing that must be cleansed and kept pure in order to prepare it to be in service to his Lord (God).
Thus, as the verse continues he would have desired her as she desired him. But he understood the importance of resistance and had the will power to resist something that was near irresistible to him. Because the seduction was not just in his flesh but also existed more importantly within his inner self or soul.
It must be remembered here that no attempt is ever made in the Quran to demonize one gender in favor of another. Here, Yusuf and the Egyptian woman are symbols for our personal development.
However, not to digress, the story symbolizes one important aspect in spiritual growth; Islam teaches that the entire person must submit to God. This submission creates a desire more irresistible then the pleasures of the flesh. It creates a desire in the heart of the believer to please God.
Having an uncontrollable desire to be pleasing to God is the beginning of the development of Love for God. Islam is no longer for show, no longer for ritualistic appeasement. Islam becomes the very thing that catapults a person into loving devotion to God.
The Heart becomes the throne on which God sits and directs the life of the believer.
The Quran (holy book of Islam) has many verses that give us a certain perspective on life. Some verses tell us about the rules and regulations of living, and some tell us about the beauty of studying the inner world of self.
“… These are the symbols (or Verses) of the perspicuous Book. We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that ye may learn wisdom. We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this Qur'an: before this, thou too were among those who knew it not.” (Quran 12: 1-3)
So much has been related about the rules and regulations of the Quran that few people know of the beauty of the inner studies that can be conducted in Islam.
The above verses from The Holy Quran are a good example of how we can learn from its beauty and allow it to enter the heart. It is a transformative study that teaches a person about the inner self.
I believe that the words of the Quran have particular meaning that speaks on many levels. These words are harmoniously strung together into sentences and phrases that create a desire to delve into ones very soul. The Quran is a book that speaks on a multitude of levels which takes the form of stories.
Stories were used in the past by ancients to teach their people life lessons. As such a tried method of teaching a group of people is to give them something that speaks on many levels. That way the most spiritually aware to the most materialistic minded person can benefit from what is given.
The Quran says it was sent down that we may learn wisdom. Wisdom is quite simply the learning of something that was before unknown to a person and applying that information in such a way that it is beneficial to oneself, those around that person, and if one is in such a position the world at large.
In the Quran, the most beautiful of stories is related to us. Beauty has many meanings. It can be said that true beauty is the gaining of something useful that can bring joy and happiness to a person or people.
Something useful is something uplifting. Such is the nature of true belief; it brings harmony to self, community and the world.
It is always saddening to hear of a US Soldier being abducted by terrorist. As a father of a US Soldier and a Muslim it is difficult to read the headlines of such a horrible event.
My son just enlisted in the Army last month with my blessing. From an early age I knew that he would eventually find his way to some sort of combat training. It is because of him that I would play Civilization III for hours per his ceaseless recommendations.
Now that he is in the US Army I find myself concerned about his safety. However I am secure in the fact that I know he is doing the right thing. His presence in the military as a Muslim shows a desire to represent what true Islam is about. That Muslims, who truly practice Islam, are on the side of the righteous and believe in protecting our country.
We, as Muslims, show through our presence and contribution to the country in which we live, that we are a valuable component to the community where we take up residence.
Islam teaches its adherents to love and cherish life. It teaches us to respect the beliefs of others as the Quran states, “Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, - any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)
As I have matured over the years as a Muslim it has become apparent to me that what divides us is not our religious beliefs, it is whether we believe in the unity of humankind, or control and separation.
Humanity should work together for the benefit of and the advancement of all people and the protection of the weak and oppressed.
I was charged with the great task of the defending the weak and oppressed during my military years. Bowe Bergdahl has also accepted this great task. I pray that God brings him home safe to his loving parents. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.