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Recently on Twitter, someone asked, “what is the first thing you do in the morning?” An odd question, but I thought so interesting. I cannot answer the question in the 140 characters that Twitter demands. That first waking moment defines me not only for the day, but for eternity. It is who I am from before creation, when God asked “Am I not your Lord?” and we answered “Yes, we bear witness.” (Qur’an 7:172).

I begin reciting the first chapter of the Qur’an, al-Fatiha, the Opening. The seven lines that compromise this chapter are universally known amongst Muslims. It is the longest sustained prayer of the Qur’an, beginning liturgical and extra-liturgical prayers. The seven lines are:

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
All praise to the Lord of the worlds
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
The Lord of the Day of Judgement
You alone we worship. You alone we seek for help.
Guide us to the right path, the path of the blessed ones,
not the path of the lost ones, nor the path of the cursed ones.

I am reminded of God’s generosity, compassion, and forgiving nature. However, that mercy is not license, but is coupled to personal responsibility, for God also judges. We are entrusted with an intellect, to be able to tell right from wrong, and to act for the good. We pray that we be guided to do the right thing. People have erred in the past, they err now, and they will err in the future. We are not perfect.

I emphasize the unicity (tawhid) of God. The Muslim declaration of faith comes after the recitation of al-Fatiha: “There is no deity but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God; Ali is the friend of God.” We know of God’s message because of the Messenger, Muhammad, and we are guided by the Prophet’s family descended from Fatima and Ali. The continual guidance is something that we are thankful for, so the salwat, a prayer for the Prophet and his family commanded in the Qur’an (33:56), ends the morning “spiritual stretch:” “O God! Bestow peace on Muhammad and the family of Muhammad.”

This rhythm is mine. It is not formal, but it reminds of my relationship with my Lord. The power of the Arabic words resonates in mind, body, and spirit. It does not matter when I rise, this is what I do. In the middle of the night, after a nap, from good night’s sleep, from a restless sleep, the name of God is there. When my children come into my bed in the middle of the night, they come to me to hear the “bismillah” first, “in the name of God,” before going to their mother for comfort. They know then they are safe and everything is normal.

Of course, if God is First and Last, how does one end the day, but in the same way? The rhythm of the day is punctuated by these two moments, but in the middle, God is never forgotten.