Archive for category Films

Chicago Blizzard of 2011

I am not going to apply a hyperbolic nickname like “Snowpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon” to the blizzard which has just his Chicagoland, but I will say this is the biggest snow disaster I have seen in my life. I have lived in Chicagoland for all of my twenty eight years.

It has shut down nearly everything. Private schools, public schools, and universities are closed today. It does not take a whole lot to shut down a suburban private school but CPS (Chicago Public Schools) only closes when public transportation in Chicago shuts down. CPS is closed today for the first time since 1999. Shops and restaurants are closed. Courts in Cook, DuPage,  and Will County are closed. The only facilities I know to be open are hospitals, police stations, fire departments, and homeless shelters.

The estimated tally for inches of snow in Downers Grove is 23. Some of my readers may reside outside the snow-exporting states, so they may have a hard time comprehending what nearly two feet of snow looks like. It’s sort of like a freezer that hasn’t been defrosted for ten years. Except it’s your house and your driveway. Three people are at home today at my house and we have all been on snow duty. It’s nearly 2 p.m. as I write this and we can’t even get one car out of the driveway. Though it’s not much of a loss because our street is unplowed and even if it were clear, as mentioned before, just about everything is closed.

This is one for the record books to be sure. Perhaps someday I will tell my grandchildren about the Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011. The news stations say this is the worst blizzard since 1967, though my mother, an Illinois resident since 1976, insists that the 1979 Blizzard was worse.

I suppose this is an appropriate time for religious reflection. It is amazing that Allah has endowed this planet and its surrounding atmosphere with the power to produce precipitation (the power to produce precipitation; try saying it five times fast) of this magnitude. But I already credit Allah with creating the entire universe ex nihilo so the fact that he can muster two feet of snow doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t elready know. I am grateful that Allah has decided in His Mercy to spare myself and my family from the potential calamities that such a storm could have brought. Alhamdulillah. (All praise is to Allah).

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Make a Play: The Trailer for “Fordson”

Imagine an old Arab woman. A black veil obscures her wispy white hair. She has a fist in the air. She is chanting loudly. Zoom out and you notice with surprise that the woman is not praying, nor is she protesting. She is on the bleachers cheering at a high school football game. This is just one of the powerful images of a new documentary called “Fordson.” The film tells the story of Fordson High, a school in Dearborn, Michigan with a large population of Muslim students. The players on the football team endure not only the tremendous physical challenges of their sport, but the added challenges of fasting during Ramadan and the bigoted reaction to American Muslims on the anniversary of 9-11. Watch this trailer. Tell your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers about it. It’s a story that cries out to be told.

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Abraham/Ibraheem

(34) And when Abraham said: My Lord! Make safe this territory, and preserve me and my sons from serving idols. (35) My Lord! Lo! they have led many of mankind astray. But whoso followeth me, he verily is of me. And whoso disobeyeth me – Still Thou art Forgiving, Merciful. (36) Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto Thy holy House, our Lord! that they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful. (37) Our Lord! Lo! Thou knowest that which we hide and that which we proclaim. Nothing in the earth or in the heaven is hidden from Allah. (38) Praise be to Allah Who hath given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac! Lo! my Lord is indeed the Hearer of Prayer. (39) My Lord! Make me to establish proper worship, and some of my posterity (also); our Lord! and accept my prayer. (40) Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and believers on the day when the account is cast.

Prophet Ibraheem (A) also known as Abraham and Abram, was a father. He was the father of Ismail (A) and Ishaq (A).  Ismail was an ancestor of Prophet Muhammad (S). Ishaq (A) was the ancestor of many prophets including Yaqub (A), Yusuf (A), Musa (A), and Isa (A).

This passage of the Quran from a chapter named for Ibraheem (A) is a beautiful prayer expressing the prophet’s hopes and dreams for the future. He asks first for safety, reflecting his role as a caring father. He implores Allah to protect his family from idol worship. Ibraheem (A) was the son of an idol maker, so he knew the dangers of idol worship, which the Quran calls shirk.

He expresses concern about the settling of his family in Arabia, the land of the Kaaba, which he built with his older son, Ismail (A).  He knows that it is rough territory. Yet he believes that Allah (SWT) can provide with no limits.

He thanks Allah (SWT)  for giving him his two sons. He testifies that Allah (SWT) is the “Hearer of Prayer.” Knowing that he has prayed to Allah (SWT) and that He has answered him time and again, he expresses his deep gratitude to his Creator. How many of us remember the prayers Allah has answered when we ask Him for something new?

He closes with a sentence that is succinct yet all-encompassing.  In conclusion, he says, “Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and believers on the day when the account is cast.” He looks to the present, asking for his own forgiveness. He looks to the past, asking for forgiveness for his parents. His father made idols, but Ibraheem (A) still holds on to the hope that Allah (SWT) will pardon him. Then he looks to the future, asking for forgiveness for the believers that will come after him, a group that, Inshallah, includes us.

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The Deep Ocean

The Deep Ocean

Not with my hands, but with my soul

Not to her grave, but to her soul.

The fragility of her tiny hands

The deep ocean of her soul

The wrinkles on her face

Told the story of her soul

She did not worry about our careers

But was concerned about our souls

The problems the world faced

She saw answers in our souls

Allah put an end to her pain

Returning her to the form of a pure soul

6/12/2010

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Zaynab Speaks

[This is a unique post in honor of a special day, Ashura. Muslims commemorate Ashura on the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. On this day, the Children of Israel escaped the oppression of Pharaoh (possible Ramses II)’s Egypt. Jews fasted on this day since the time of Prophet Moses (A). Muslims fasted on this day as well, even before they began fasting in Ramadan. A generation after Prophet Muhammad (S)’s death, his beloved grandson, Husayn (R), fought valiantly against the army of Yazid Bin Mu’awiyah, on Ashura in Karbala, in what is now Iraq. (The Arabic “Bin” means “son of” so Yazid Bin Mu’awiyah was Yazid, son of Mu’awiyah.) He became a martyr and Yazid imprisoned the women and children of his family, of the Prophet’s family.]

In the Darbar (Court) of Yazid Bin Mu’awiyah
Lady Zaynab [(R)] Speaks in the Court of Yazid

After the massacre of Imam Husayn bin ‘Ali [(R)] and his companions at Karbala, the forces of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah took the children and women of Husayn’s caravan as prisoners. They were taken from Karbala to Kufa and from Kufa to Damascus, the capital and stronghold of Umayyid power.

In Damascus, the women and children were presented into the court (darbar) of Yazid. Yazid had assembled all the dignitaries and officers of his capital for that occasion. When the prisoners where brought in, they saw that Imam Husayn’s head was at the foot of Yazid’s [throne]. Yazid was joyfully reciting some poems in which he openly rejected the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and called on his ancestors (who were killed by the Muslim army in the battle of Badr) to witness the revenge which he had extracted from the family of the Prophet.

It was under such an emotionally charged circumstances that Zaynab bin Ali [(R)], the courageous daughter of a courageous father, stood up and gave a very moving speech in response to Yazid’s statements.

In the name of Allah the, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Universe,
Allah’s blessings be on His Messenger’s Family altogether.

Allah says: “Then the end of those who do evil deeds is that they reject the verses of Allah and ridicule them”. (Quran 30:10)

Oh Yazid! Do you think that by making us prisoners in such a way that we are being taken from one place to another in humiliation – do you think that by this you have humiliated us in the sight of Allah and have earned respect for yourself?!

This apparent success of yours is the result of [the] grandeur of your might and [the] lofty status for which you are proud. . . . You feel that you have conquered the whole world and your affairs are [organized] and that our domain is now under you control. . . . And are you forgetting that Allah has said:

“Surely those who have bought unbelief at the price of faith shall do no harm at all to Allah, and they shall have a painful chastisement”. (Quran 3:177)

Then Zaynab reminds Yazid that his grandmother and other relatives came into the fold of Islam only after the fall of Mecca at the hands of the Muslims. Since Mecca was taken without any war or bloodshed, legally the entire inhabitant could have been made the slaves of the Prophet. But the Prophet, out of his mercy, declared to the people of Mecca that ‘I release you from the bonds of slavery, you are free.’ In other words, Zaynab wanted Yazid to remember that his ancestors were the ‘freed slaves’ of her grandfather. Look at the courage of Zaynab! Standing as a prisoner in the court of Yazid, she does not hesitate to remind him of his reality.

Is it justice, O son of the freed slaves!, that you provide your ladies and slave-girls with hijab, whereas the daughters of the Messenger of God are held prisoners? You have insulted them by taking away the covers; you have exposed their faces to the enemies — from one city to another. Everyone irrespective of his high or low status stares at their faces. These ladies do not have their [gentlemen] or protectors with them.

Then Zaynab reminds the audience of the origins of Yazid: his grandmother, Hind (the wife of Abu Sufyan), had ordered her slave after the battle of Uhud to cut open the chest of Hamzah, the Prophet’s uncle, and chewed upon his liver to ‘quench’ her anger for death of her father and brother who were killed in Badr.

But, of course, how can we expect protection from him whose mouth spits out the heart of the pious people, whose flesh has grown from the blood of martyrs? And why should he not hate us who is jealous of us and shamefully say: ‘I wish my ancestors had seen me today; they would congratulate me and pray that my hand would never be weak’. He is saying this while, he is hurting [with his cane] the teeth of Husayn, the leader of the Youths of Paradise.

Why should he not say these things — he who has cursed his feelings and sores by spilling the blood of Muhammad’s family, the stars of the family of ‘Abdul Muttalib.

You call your ancestors hoping that they will answer you. You will be put together with them and then you will regret and say had my tongue become dumb so that I would not have said what I said.

O Allah! Give us our right, and avenge those who have oppressed us; and send your anger upon those that spilled our blood and killed our protectors

By Allah! O Yazid, by killing ‘Husayn you have not torn but your own skin and you have not cut but your own flesh. You will be brought to the Prophet with the crimes of spilling the blood of his children and humiliating his family.

“The oppressors will know when the time changes [against them].

(Taken from Pakistan News (Chicago) Jan. 17 to Jan. 23, 2008, Compiled by Mehdi Ali Mirza, Karbala map from Wikipedia)

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Live Like a Traveler

“Live Like We’re Dying” is the latest single by Kris Allen, the reigning American Idol. It’s not a bad song. It’s even mathematically correct, which is rare for a pop song, because it says “We only got 86 400 seconds in a day.” Geek that I am, I took out a calculator and multiplied 60 by 60 by 24, and it came out to exactly 86,400.

I don’t know if you felt this way, but when I first heard the song, I thought to myself, “Haven’t I heard this before?” Which is weird because it’s a brand-new single, released this year. It turns out that Tim McGraw has a recent song with a very similar title, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Also, Lenka has a song called, “Live Like You’re Dying” I don’t think I’ve heard the Lenka song, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the Tim McGraw one.

But this is not about pop music. It’s about an idea. There is this idea in our culture that if you think you’re going to die, you should live your life to the fullest, meaning you should travel to exotic places, eat rich food, jump out of a plane, etc.

But it takes just a little thinking to realize that this is a fantasy. This is not the way most people die – in any culture. First, most people don’t have any certainty about when they will die. Second, even people with a high certainty that they will die soon, as in a few months, don’t live their last days this way. Living one’s life to the fullest, in the sense of taking a fancy vacation or buying a Harley requires two things that people who are dying typically don’t have. These two things are health and wealth.

Prophet Muhammad (S) told Ibn Umar to “live in this world like a stranger, or a traveler.” A traveler leaves home with what he or she will need for the journey. The word “need” here is crucial and it’s different from “want.” One may want to bring along one’s collection of neckties, but most can meet their needs with just one or two. The true test of a need is the “sine qua non” test. The Latin phrase “sine qua non” means “without which, [there is] nothing.” Our needs are the things we cannot do without, like water, medicine, and clothing.

But how does one apply this analogy to life? If life is a journey, where are we going? Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are all going to the world of the Hereafter, of Heaven or of Hell. We cannot bring our bodies or our wealth into the next world, but we can bring our deeds.

The best deeds are not huge acts of generosity but small acts of good done daily. Reading a few verses of the Quran before bed, listening to one’s parents, calling one’s siblings, and perhaps writing in a blog to inspire others to do good.

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Domestic Violence Khutba

Today I had the rare treat of listening to a khutba (sermon) delivered by a good friend of mine, Dr. Kamran Riaz. We were classmates at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2003. (He graduated early.) I arrived at the masjid, the Downtown Islamic Center, a couple minutes before he did. As is my routine, I offered two raka of salat (cycles of prayer) and started reading Quran. I did not see him enter but he saw me. I did not know he was scheduled to speak today but I was glad when I discovered it.

He began the khutba with a verse of the Quran, “We have honored the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special [favors], above a great part of our creation (17:70).”  He spoke of how all people descend from a common father, the Prophet Adam, or Adham, alaihis salaam. Unlike Christians and Jews who call themselves “Children of God,” Muslims call themselves “Children of Adam.”

Kamran went on to discuss the sacredness of life in Islam. Though Muslims have strayed far from it, and to their detriment, Classical Islam emphasized respect for all life. Islamic law commands that Muslims wage war only on combatants, sparing women, children, animals, and plants. Even in cases that allow using violence, Islam sets guidelines. Another guideline is to avoid striking the face. Also, Islamic dietary laws place strict conditions on the slaughtering of animals to promote humane treatment of living things. It is true that other religions have categorically forbidden the eating of meat. Yet some religions place no restrictions at all on diet. In this matter, as in many others, Islam represents a middle path, making concessions to human nature, while respecting the sanctity of life.

Part of the beauty of human life is the family unit. Allah has created us within families. Though Kamran did not mention it, some organisms lack the familial structure that humans have. For example, Allah could have made us asexual like the Komodo dragon, a lizard that lays eggs which mature without fertilization. Yet by requiring that humans be born of a fused egg and sperm, Allah has united male and female into family units.

But how do we repay the favor of Allah? Instead of cherishing our families like we should, we turn our families into dysfunctional and abusive collectives. Kamran argued that some men are as gentle as lambs at work, but as ferocious as lions at home.

Thus we have a need to tackle the issue of domestic violence. For too long, the Muslim-American community has treated domestic violence as a taboo topic. But with men abusing women, women abusing men, parents abusing children, and children abusing elders, the problem is crying out for a solution. This is everybody’s problem. No race, no culture, no nationality, no gender, and no class can honestly claim that domestic violence does not affect them. The situation in which a female beats a male is no laughing matter. The home must be a violence-free zone.

A unique asset that Muslims possess in the struggle against domestic violence is the Prophetic Example. As Kamran reminded me today, “Prophet Muhammad (S) was not sent except as a Mercy to Mankind.” Historians can call him a prophet, a mystic, a general, a speaker, a teacher, or a reformer. Yet Muslims know that the fundamental objective of the mission of Prophet Muhammad was to spread the mercy of God. His companions watched his every move and remembered for generations his shining example. No one ever saw Muhammad (S) strike a woman, a child, or a slave. In fact, a slave who had served him since childhood said that he treated him with the utmost manners. When Muhammad (S) was upset with his slave, all he would do was say, “Why did you do such-and-such?” Immediately the slave would feel so ashamed that he would do whatever was asked of him. Neither would he raise his voice nor raise his hand.

Like all married men, Prophet Muhammad (S) had disagreements. Surah Tahreem touches on an incident of marital discord in which two of his wives conspired against a third. But unlike modern Muslims who turn to violence to solve problems, Muhammad (S) looked to Allah for answers. This is the type of noble patience that we should all strive to emulate.

Another bit of practical advice that comes from the Traditions of the Prophet is that one should strive to control one’s anger. Some people actually believe it is healthy to scream and curse at one’s spouse because “you need to let it out.” This is not the Islamic way. When one allows one’s anger to be in control, one opens the door to violence and misery. The Prophet (S) said to counter anger with relaxation. If one is angry and standing, one should sit down. If one is sitting down, one should lie down. Interestingly, the advice of W. Doyle Gentry, editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, echoes Muhammad (S), advising angry people to find a quiet space, close their eyes, and imagine a positive experience (http://bit.ly/1xDuWb). We cannot avoid getting angry, but with patience and wisdom, we can avoid domestic violence.

(Just to be perfectly clear, the text above is not the text of Kamran’s khutba, except where explicitly indicated otherwise. This is my commentary on the topic that Kamran discussed, domestic violence.)

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