I am an American Muslim. When I took my citizenship oath, I asked myself: are the American ideals contradictory to my belief? I think not. In fact, Islam liberates me from all false gods, as America – in principle – grants people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The founding fathers said that these rights are not gifts from government but from the creator himself. So, I am an American who believes in god, the one god, the creator (the same one the founding fathers refer to) and sustainer of life, the most compassionate and merciful. When the question involves sin and sinners, mercy is Allah’s overriding character. America is my home, and the home of my two children. They also believe Allah is the creator, the one and only god (Quran:112-1). Mohammad, Jesus and Abraham are his messengers, none of whom claimed to be god, but all of whom had revelations from god. In my life, as well as other Muslim’s lives, Allah is most visible in the universe because his presence is overwhelming and cannot be denied. I see Allah in a baby’s birth, in an elderly passing away, surrounded by family, in acts of human kindness that come with suffering from war disease and poverty, in a school of fish so harmonious, in a flock of birds so perfectly flying in tandem (Quran: 67-19) and changing directions; both the school of fish and the flock of birds look like beautiful, well rehearsed ballet dancers. But Allah is the most invisible as well. That is, despite his overwhelming presence, you cannot contain him in a laboratory of science; you cannot talk to him or see him directly. Allah is everywhere, yet you cannot pinpoint him. But wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah (Quran: 2-142) God has sent us many messages through selected human beings: Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad and thousands of others the Quran did not reveal their names and stories. God’s words can be found in the scriptures and also seen and heard in cloud formations, ocean waves and mountain summits all over the universe around us. When I watch Hollywood productions about Jesus and Moses, I am reminded that Allah rescued Moses and the Israelites and freed them from bondage in Egypt, away from the tyranny of the Pharaoh. Allah saved Jesus from the crucifix. But many followers of Jesus were tortured and crucified for decades after Jesus left the earth. He will return to remind us once more of the fundamentals he himself once taught: peace, love and forgiveness. I grew up with the Quran. My father read it to me when I was little. I know it relatively well, but it may be difficult to read for some because they try, like any other book, to read it in a day or a week or two. That does not work. The Quran is a book of universal signs (Arabic: Ayat), signals, and treasures of wisdom. Read a paragraph or two every day. The Quran was revealed over 23 years of Mohammad’s life, because it answered questions about life as it happens in the Arabian desert, day after day, little by little. For twenty three years, the Quran provided a context for the passages of a book that would be read by billions for centuries. It would not be easy to comprehend, to read in just a few days. It is a book that takes a serious look at life and history. Even though Islam grants us freedom of choice and urges us to think for ourselves, it is a very specific book about what to do in important matters that will remain critical in human history, among them government, war, race and gender relations, banking, and poverty. I give my friends copies of the Quran, but tell them to pace themselves while reading it. I tell them that the Quran was revealed, in Arabic, to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. English and other translations will suffice but they are just that: somebody’s translations. Some are better than others but none capture the beauty and the eloquence of the original Arabic text. That is partially why all Muslims read their prayers in Arabic, although only 10 or 15% are Arabic-speakers. We do not want to lose the Arabic text over the hundreds of years and multiple generations of translations. When I got married, my wife introduced me to camping. Camping near the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, or lake Champlain in Vermont was when I began to understand, for the first time, many of the universal signs in the Quran I thought I knew. There are chapters and paragraphs on fish in the ocean, bird formations, ant colonies, beehives and spider webs. The Quran is a substantial book. It mentions about everything in life, from men and women, marriage and divorce to business and trade, poverty and wealth. The Quran also talks about government and people, tyranny and oppression, leadership and democracy (Shura-chapter 42). As a Muslim, I know the history of Islam. However there are people in my life I consider to be significant: Khadija: Mohammad’s first wife and the woman he loved the most. If she lived with us today, she would be called progressive. She had her own successful large scale export-import business. She hired Mohammad, and then she – the boss - proposed to him. So much for the stereotypical submissive Arab woman! Mohammad was devastated when she died and married Aisha only after Khadija’s death. Mohammad never forgot Khadija for the rest of his life to the extent that Aisha expressed jealousy of her. Aisha was Jealous of a dead woman because Mohammad never stopped talking about her. Aisha is another outstanding character. She was a legal authority with recognized scholarship to the extent that Mohammad ordered his friends to study with her. She led a political rebellion after his death against the established authority, or Khalifa. In a well-documented rebellion, Aisha led the rebels into the seat of government in Iraq. Ali, the fourth caliph, could not silence her. Both opponents and their supporters respected her so much that they called her “our mother Aisha- the mother of the believers. I think the educated elite in the west should begin looking beyond the Hijab’s false symbolism that they created. The intellectuals and the media have manufactured this stereotype of millions of Muslim women being forced into it, when the reality is that Hijab is a sign of dignity, respect and expression of how Islam holds women in high regard. Hundreds of millions of Muslim women choose Hijab when they go out each morning, and in many cases, against the will of their husbands and the government. Another great inspiration in my life comes from Hussein, the grandson of Mohammad. He taught us something about courage, nobility, and selflessness when one stands up to tyranny. He answered the call to lead when people asked him to take a stand. He was killed in a brutal massacre by the illegitimate government along with his family – the women, kids all witnessing his murder. His place in Islam, especially in Shia Islam, is very much comparable to the place of Jesus in Christianity: The ultimate sacrifice, the principled and noble choices, taking a stand against the powerful establishment, making a sacrifice the world will forever remember. Hussein still inspires passion for justice, charisma and determination that is rare in human history. Islam liberates us from many false gods: people in power, material possessions, power, sex, and greed. Happiness comes from being with god, being in synch with the universe: the mercy and the beauty. But Islam is not passive and should not be confined to mosques. Muslims are called upon to take a stand for the oppressed, the weak and the poor, not to accept oppression or tyranny or injustice they are told to fight for their rights. Every legitimate act in support of social justice is considered worship. Every word you say to defend the weak, the poor and the oppressed is jihad. Jihad is a fundamental principle – a concept so demonized by well-intended and ill-intended people in today’s world. My father took me to Sufi circles of meditation in Cairo. They are magical, mysterious, and mystical. Sufi Islam is the spiritual, mystical face of Islam. You love Allah and the universe, and serve people, humbly and selflessly. Sufis saw the world as a magnificent art exhibit. The best love poems were written by Sufis. Beautiful music, songs, spiritual dances still take place in India and Pakistan. Sufis practiced meditation and love. They traveled to see the world and serve others in need. In the US, I miss that aspect of Islam. I think people in the US are hungry for spiritualism after being bombarded with materialistic messages for a long time. Islam commands me to be gentle with women. Taliban and the Media have partnered together to persuade the world otherwise. Mohammad said that he best among us are those most gentle with their women. When Aisha was asked how this man behaved at home, she said he was doing everything she did in the house - cooking and cleaning and taking care of children. Mohammad died in her lap. Her narration of that moment is truly moving. I worry about the world. I worry about Muslims. Many of them are so emotional, so easily led, so uneducated, that their leaders take advantage of them and exploit them. Islam is at a very low point in its 1500-year history, suffering from all kinds of political, social and economic ills- tyranny, oppression torture, human rights abuse, and abuse towards women, racism and anti-Semitism. All exist in Muslim societies. But we cannot forget that they exist everywhere as well, in some places more than others. What bothers me most is that Islam is misunderstood by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Thank you, for giving me the opportunity to communicate what I know and hold dearly about my faith.
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