Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy New Islamic Year

Since Prophet Mohammad started receiving revelations of the Quran in 609, he started forming a community of believers around him in Makkah, his birth city. However, the tribe of Quraysh in Makkah would not easily give up on the idol beliefs of their ancestors, hence, they opposed Mohammad and the believers in every possible way. After enduring 13 years of oppression and prejudice, Mohammad and the believers migrated in 622 to a nearby city, Madina, where they established the first official Muslim statehood. Madinians welcomed the Muslims into their homes, and their children went out chanting to Mohammad "the full moon has risen over us." Thus began the Muslim calendar with the commemoration of the Great Migration.

The calendar follows the lunar cycle, and therefore is ten days shorter than the Western Gregorian calendar. Today, for example, is December 15, 2009, which coincides on the Islamic calendar with the 28th day of the month of Thull-Hijja, the last year of the 1430 Hijri. The last few days of the year 1429 Hijri also fell in the year of 2009 A.D. (last January,) and the first day of the year of 1431 Hijri will still be in the year of 2009 A.D. (December 18.) The year 2009 is the only year that will witness three consecutive Hijri years in many years to come.

So how do Muslims celebrate their New Year? Or do they celebrate it in the first place? Do they celebrate the Western New Year at all? Diversity is the main characteristic of the 1.5 billion Muslims living today. Islamic tradition does not commercialize religious days; hence we don't get a big sort of New Year's Eve party at the turn of our Islamic year. It is enough to exchange wishful thoughts amongst us and tell our children the story of their prophet and his migration. From country to country, traditions are so diverse that some may show different kinds of celebration with special desserts, candy, or the like. But the Prophet and his followers or companions did not make of the Islamic year a major celebration, for they only celebrated the two feasts of Eid ul Fitr (right after Ramadan,) and Eid ul Adha (during the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet

Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet is a 2002 documentary (back then Muslims were 20 percent of world population compared to 25 percent today,) produced by Alexander Kronemer and Michael Wolfe, and directed by Michael Schwarz. (Watch the 2 hr movie for free: compliments of freedocumentaries.org)

The documentary features contemporary Americans talking about Muhammad and Islam. Listen to what Karen Armstrong, author of Mohammed: A Prophet For Our Time, says about Mohammad as having brought for 23 years a "new beacon for the world."

The love of Muhammad that unites Muslims together is "the source of how to behave, of how to be a constructive citizen" among other values that Muslims aspire to from the teachings of their prophet, says Michael Wolfe, author of Hadj and Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith.

He is the messenger of God's complete religion, the loving father, the compassionate husband, the caring friend and tutor, and the merciful human who transcends in wholesome virtues to help humanity get back on the straight path: the path of testifiying to the One God. He is the teacher, not any teacher, but THE teacher. One cannot understand how this man continues to influence the lives of the 1.57 billion Muslims 1430 years after he received revelations without examining all the previous traits of his personality.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Muhammad is his name

CNN released on October 12, 2009 a new study by the Pew forum on religion and public life showing that nearly 1 out of 4 people in the world is Muslim. The study says there are 1.57 billion Muslims globally now. As the fasted growing religion at the present time, and the second largest religion ( after Christianity to which 2.25 billion adhere,) Islam has roots in the bedrocks of the human civilization since the seventh century.

Back to Arabia, the setting where Abraham and his blessed family exalted in the worship of the One God; the time is 610 A.D. (See http://dinamalki.blogspot.com/2009/09/they-say-isaac-we-say-ishmael.html) Mecca was an inernational parlor at the time due to the commercial activities and the pilgrimage in the area. Many centuries after Abraham died, Arabia returned to polytheism, and the Ka'ba became home to 360 statutes representing different gods and an altar site to polytheist pilgrims. The tribe of Quraish was then the dominant ruler of Mecca and the most revered.

A grandson of Quraish's leader, Muhammad the son of Abdullah was an orphan who worked in trade caravans first with his uncle then with one of Quraish's wealthiest women, Khadijah. After she noticed his honesty and dedication, Khadijah, a fourty year old, proposed marriage to the twenty five year old Muhammad. When he turned fourty, he received God's revelation, the Quran, through archangel Gabrial. The first words were "read, read in the name of your lord who created."

Thus the message of Islam brought back monotheism to Arabia and eventually to the rest of the world. Soon, Muhammad started a long journey of compassionate teaching, various hardship, and constant thriving for the word of God. Before you find out his story from the mouth of a Muslim, check what other non-Muslims said about him.

Sir George Bernard Shaw in the “Genuine of Islam,” Vol. 1. Nr. 8, 1936:
“I believe that if a man like him (Mohammad) were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesized about the faith of Mohammad that it would be acceptable to Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”

Michel Hart in “The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History,” New York, 1978:
“My choice of Mohammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level…It is probable that the relative influence of Mohammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity…It is this unparallel combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Mohammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.”

Mahatma Ghandi, statement published in “Young India,” 1924:
“I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind… I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place of Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion for his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

They say Isaac, we say Ishmael

Each one of us has faced some tribulation at some point in our life: poverty, starvation, illness, fear, or distress are all things we hate to experience and when we do, we pray that they vanish fast. One can even face death and believe this is the ultimate of trials. Not so for Abraham who saw a vision in his dream that he was sacrificing his own son, Ishmael (Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac.) He then understood that it was a divine command and he knew he must carry it out. The Quran tells us how the father approached his son: “Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: ‘O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!’ (The son) said: ‘O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!’" (37:102)

Both father and son exhibiliriated true submission in their quick obedience to the command of God and His will. It was only then, at this moment of extreme and unquestioned submission, that God spared the blessed family. “So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice.) We called out to him ‘O Abraham!’ ‘Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!’ - thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial.” (37:103-106)

Every year, millions of Muslims commemorate this divine test during the rituals of Hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia.) A fourty feet masonic cubic structure, the Ka'ba stands in the center of worship, attracting pilgrims since the father of Abrahamic faiths built it with his son Ishmael in accordance with God's commandments. The Ka'ba is also the direction to which today's 1.4 billion Muslims pray five times a day after Mohammad became the seal of the prophets, 1430 years ago. United in worship, the community of Muslims that come from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds stands under One God, breathes one faith, and follows one light. This is the beauty of Islam.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

There is a woman behind every great man: Hajar's story

Prophet Ibraheem's (Abraham) life was full of trials and tribulations that tested his faith and submission. He lived a long life and had no children until his good wife Sarah, was was sterile, offered Abraham her maid, Hajar, as a second wife to beget him a son. Hajar begot Ismail, and later, Sarah, at the age of ninety, begot Isaac, according to the Muslim sources from the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. The biggest test of Abraham's faith has yet to come.

While Hajar was still nursing Ismail, Abraham received a command from God to take his wife and son to a far away land, called Makkah. The family traveled beyond a valley and through desert until they reached a barren and remote land. Abraham left his wife a few dates and some water, and then departed under the scorching sun of the Arabian desert. Hajar jogged after her husband calling him to come back. She hollered: "O Ibrahim! Where are you going and leaving us in this valley that does not have any inhabitants or anything else?" He did not look back, so she repeated her question a few more times. She then asked him, "did Allah command you to do this?" Ibraheem replied: "Yes." She said, "then certainly, He will not abandon us."

Enventually, the water ran out, Hajar's milk dried, and baby Ismail started to starve. The merciful mother could not take her son's cries, so she climbed the biggest hill nearby, mount Safa. She looked down at the valley beneath her and found no signs of life. She went down and walked till the next hill, Marwa mount, and did the same. She repeated this several times until she suddenly heard a voice. She looked down, and a stream of water miraculously burst through the sand.

Muslim tradition explains that the archangel Gabriel had hit the land with his wing and thereby caused the holy stream to appear. The stream, known as Zamzam, has not dried to this day. When Abraham later received the command to build the house of God, Ka'ba, he and Ismail built it next to Zamzam stream. Hundreds of years later, when prophet Mohammad (an Arab and a descendant of Abraham) received God's revelations in 610, his followers, the Muslims, soon received the command to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime.

Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that two to three million Muslims perform every year in Makkah in that same place where Abraham and his family were tested, commemorates the story of a great man and his wife who submitted to the will of God despite all odds. Among other rituals, Muslims walk up and down the two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times to remember the persistence of Hajar and glorify the mercy of God.

Makkah has been the lighthouse of billions of Muslims throughout 1430 years across every corner of the earth. Seeking a journey of soul purification, pilgrims beg God for salvation and forgiveness in a lively land that once was arid and remote but lived up to one man's and one woman's submission to their creator.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Abraham: the path where three monotheistic voices meet

The path where the three great monotheistic religions meet is Abraham, the biblical patriarch. Muslims, who call him Ibraheem in Arabic, consider him the father of all prophets. The Quran mentions him 63 times in 24 of its 114 chapters (second most mentioned prophet after Moses.) Ibraheem is also known as the friend of God, or "Khaleel Allah." He has discovered monotheism through his personal quest of the Divine, without any messenger's guidance. His passion for God made him eschew all idolatry that was a traditional heritage of his father and society. He determined to leave behind all preconception and prejudgment to explore his true Creator. Similarly, Christians and Jews share the same reverence for Ibraheem or Abraham as the Genesis states that in exchange for his recognition of "Yahweh" as his God, God promised Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through his offspring.

Practicing the virtues attributed to Abraham are highlighted in Genesis and in the Quran. For example, in John, 8, the Jews say (33): "We are the seed of Abraham," and Jesus (peace upon him) replies (39): "If ye be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham." The Quran commends Ibraheem's attributes of patience, submission, and covenant fulfillment: "For, behold, Abraham was most clement, most tender-hearted, intent upon turning to God again and again." (Chapter 11, verse 75) It commands Mohammad (peace upon him) and his followers to take Ibraheem as a model based on the virtues he possessed: "Verily, Abraham was a man who combined within himself all virtues, devoutly obeying God's will, turning away from all that is false, and not being of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God: [for he was always] grateful for the blessings granted by Him who had elected him and guided him onto a straight way." (Chapter 16, verses 120-1) "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 beside God. (16:123)

Islam preconditions the faith of any Muslim with belief in the religion of Ibraheem: "Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Ibraheem, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered." (2:136) This may come as a surprise to many non-Muslims but the fact that Muslims must believe in all prophets and their true revelations is a must in their doctrinal beliefs. Perhaps this is where the path where the three Abrahamic religions meet: Abraham is one revelation with one conversation with one God, the God of Abraham. One revelation, in three voices, has more in common than they think they know. This is the crossroad where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam meet. It should be a unifying factor against diversity and enmity; under One God.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ambassador Exchange

Does it really matter what royalties and celebrities say? As far as I know, people can say anything they wish to, but they’d better live up to it. On the other hand, I would look for inspiration in any uplifting quote I can put my fingers on. So here is my little vision of “global ambassador exchange…”

Dallas, Texas has been a lighthouse since the T. V. series “Dallas” sent its ambassadors, JR and his gang, to homes across the globe. Dallas still lives up to its spirit: it has welcomed other international ambassadors like Queen Noor of Jordan who came to speak at the Genesis Women’s shelter’s Mother’s Day luncheon earlier this month. This weekend, King Tut (exhibit) leaves Dallas to San Francisco where he will be residing until March 2010.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Middle East starting with Jordan, then the Holy Lands. Get the picture? The world is witnessing some ambassadorial exchange. Did I mention the Egyptian president will be visiting the US this month? Oh, and President Obama will be visiting Egypt June 4 before he heads to Europe? So what do all these celebrities have in common? Many things, but what interests me personally is their attempt to spread understanding under the umbrella of international communication.

Some say their missions are geared towards peace. Queen Noor says peace starts at home. The Pope is promoting peace (this is not the time to open old wounds about what he had previously said, for the record.) Others are planning to build a bridge of communications. President Obama has started his share, one brick at a time. Our former Dallas mayor, Ron Kirk, is the new U.S. Trade Representative and he is talking globalization. On a Fox 4 interview on May 16, 2009, he said that it was important to understand and visit the world outside the U.S. The excursion, he said, will make us interface with people with different cultures, faiths, and languages.

So what is globalization? (I’m borrowing some old prose from the internet.) Globalization is reading this blog using America’s Bill Gates technology which he got from the Japanese, through a computer that uses Philippine-made chips, Korean-made monitors, assembled by Bangladeshi workers at a Singapore plant, transported by trucks driven by Indians, and sold to you by a Chinese who drives a German car with a Dutch engine. The list goes on…

In other words, we no longer live like hermit crabs. We live in an open world that makes us interact with one another despite our diversities. And yes, as the previous Dallas mayor mentioned, the sooner we learn to understand each other the happier we will be. This applies to every community in my opinion. It is an all-inclusive package: borders are two-way streets; as citizens go out, foreigners come in (with a bundle of cultural and religious diversity.)

Our world is fertile ground for common understanding. Monotheistic faiths share more in common than people imagine. The Pope has spoken the truth when he said during his visit to the Holy Lands: “here the paths of the three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us of what they have in common.”Our next excursion will uncover these commonalities.