Archive for category Islam

Wine in the Poetry of Rumi

Everyone has an alcohol problem. Because of the nature of humans and the nature of alcohol, it is bound to be a problem. People love to indulge to excess and alcohol is destructive in excess. Societies that have developed cultures that reject alcohol likely have the smallest alcohol problem. Societies that drink in moderation have moderate alcohol problems. Societies with rampant binge drinking have the most significant alcohol problem.

You might argue that the failure of prohibition refutes my argument. In reality, it serves as an illustration of the argument. It is only when a society’s “culture” rejects alcohol that the society can progress beyond it. In prohibition, a minority political movement inspired the government to legislatively ban alcohol. Yet mainstream culture at the time still embraced alcohol as a necessary part of life so a binge society binged even more in the face of a statutory prohibition.

The Sufi poet Rumi used wine as a metaphor in his work. The intoxication of wine can represent the ecstasy of uniting with God. The fermentation of the grape reflects the development of the soul. Grape juice is cheap; good wine tends to be expensive. The unrefined soul has much less value than the soul refined by discipline and contemplation.

Rumi wrote:

“You only need smell the wine
For vision to flame from each void–
Such flames from wine’s aroma!
Imagine if you were the wine.”

This makes me think of a “contact high.” A contact high occurs when a non-user of drugs feels light-headed or even intoxicated because of the smell or smoke of a drug. I believe Rumi  is talking about the ecstasy of union with the Divine. Just being near the people who have immersed themselves in God makes a person feel some of the intensity of that experience.

One of the Noble Companions of Prophet Muhammad (S), Hanzala (R), said that when he was in the company of the Prophet, he felt his faith soar. He disliked being away from him because he felt his faith plummet.


Rumi waxes eloquently about the glory of God. He says the prince and the wise man are veils. Furthermore, the “wine of love” removes these veils. He invites people to drink with both eyes and “both heads.” These two heads may be the physical head of the body and the metaphysical head of the soul.

Does Rumi’s work glorify wine? It depends on whether you interpret him literally or figuratively.  He certainly describes wine, intoxication, and fermentation in glowing words and phrases. But if the wine is always a metaphor, he is not telling people to drink, but rather encouraging them to get closer to God.


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Feeding People

Abdul Qadir Jilani – “My way is simply feeding people.”

If you don’t know Jilani, ask your auntie.


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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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Rally for Peace in Iraq

A rally for peace in Iraq should be a perfect place for a Muslim.  Muslims believe in peace. Muslims have been protesting war in Iraq since the beginning of the first Gulf War.

But if Al-Qaeda kills 58 Christians in an Iraqi church, the situation changes.

There was a sizeable, heated rally today in Chicago in response to the massacre of parishioners at Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church on 10/31/2010.  I went to show that Muslims do not support terrorism.

I carried a sign that said, “An Attack on Your Church Is An Attack on My Mosque.” I could divide the reactions I encountered into three groups. One group was puzzled. They figured from my sign and my beard that I’m Muslim. They couldn’t understand why a Muslim would be at this rally. The second group was grateful. People thanked me for being there. The third group was angry.

Liberal artisan that I am, I can see validity in all three perspectives. If you do not know very much about Muslims, you might be puzzled to see them at a rally for peace. But if you know most Muslims love peace and justice, you will welcome them when they stand up for peace. However, if you see all Muslims as part of one terrorist conspiracy, then you might harbor some hatred for them.

No one likes to be hated. It’s definitely not much fun, unless I guess, you happen to be the devil.  It’s especially weird to be hated at an event where people are shouting, “Stop the killing! Stop the hate!” But it builds character and I could use some more.


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Religion and the Chilean Miners

Asad: How do I get more hits for my blog?

MT: Write stuff that people want to read.


Nelly Bugueno, mother of trapped miner Victor Zamora, said: “It’s like he is being reborn. There were 34 miners down there – the 33 were there with the spirit of God.”

To Christians, obvious parallels between the story of the miners and the Resurrection of Christ must be apparent. Christianity teaches that Christ was enclosed in a tomb in a cave and then reemerged three days later.

To Muslims, there may be parallels between the story of the miners and the Companions of the Cave. The Companions of the Cave feared that their society would turn them away from Allah so they sought refuge in a cave. Allah allowed them to sleep for 309 years and then reanimated them. This reminds us of Allah’s power over life and death. It also reminds us that our experience of time is subjective as the Companions of the Cave thought they had only slept for a day or less, when in fact, many decades had gone by.

There is also a story of Prophet Muhammad, (pbuh), hiding in a cave with his courageous companion, Abu Bakr (R) while their enemies among the nonbelievers chased them.

When he saw the enemy at a very close distance, Abu Bakr (R) whispered to the Prophet [pbuh]: “What, if they were to look through the crevice and detect us?” The Prophet [pbuh] in his God-inspired calm replied:

“Silence Abu Bakr! What do you think of those two with whom the Third is Allâh.”[Bukhari 1/516; Mukhtasar Seerat Ar-Rasool p.168]

We all have times in our lives when we realize that we are truly helpless, that we are lost, and that hope is fading away. These are times when we need to turn to Allah. I do not mean that we should ignore Allah in times of prosperity. Far from it, as prosperity too is a test of faith. But when we feel alone, afraid, and abject, we need to recognize that Allah is the One, the Tremendous, and He who is able to do all things.

May Allah guide us to the straight path and give us the wisdom to seek His help. May Allah cure the ill, comfort the grieving, and reunite those who feel the pain of separation. May Allah give us long lives in which we worship Him, praise Him, and inspire others to embrace the religion of Islam.  May He take our souls when we are filled with faith and raise us up to the highest heights of Paradise.

P.S. Thanks first to Allah and then to all my readers for allowing me to surpass 50,000 hits. Keep reading, commenting, and subscribing.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Takabbur (Arrogance)?

I need to begin this post with some disclaimers. I cannot claim to have purified my own heart of arrogance. I am struggling with it, but I want to help others who are struggling with it. Beware the person who claims to be humble because that very act is an act of pride.

First, why should anyone be concerned with arrogance? Isn’t a little pride a good thing?

Allah, Subhana wa Ta’ala, (Glorified and Most High) says in The Holy Quran, “And do not turn your cheek away from people, and do not walk on the earth haughtily. Surely, Allah does not like anyone who is arrogant, proud;” (31:18).

If you want to turn Allah against you, be arrogant. Now what did Rasululah (S) say about arrogance?

” ’Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood (R) said that the Prophet (S) said,

“No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.”

Related by Muslim (no. 131)

So if you want to go to Hell, put pride in your heart and look down on people. Note the distinction between loving goodness and having pride. Allah does not ask us to roll around in the mud and stop combing our hair.

What does pride do? Pride makes us think we are great and others are small. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf presents evidence that Allah will punish the arrogant by turning them into atoms and then letting everyone else trample them. This reverses their perception that they were big and others were small. The Shaykh goes on to remind his audience, “We are all little people.”

Pride is at the heart of bigotry. The person who thinks he is superior and another is inferior has arrogance within. Thinking your race, your language, your family is better than others is arrogance.

What are the remedies for takabbur (arrogance)?

One is dhikr, remembrance of Allah. Say Astaghfirullah (Forgive me, Allah), Alhamdulillah (All praise to Allah), Subhanallah (Glory to Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), La ilaha il Allah (There is no god but Allah), or some other dhikr. Reminding our hearts that Allah is the source of all goodness will purge them of pride.

Another is durood, invoking blessings upon Rasululah. Reciting the ending of the prayer, “Allahuma salla allahu Muhammad . . .” is one way to do this. As we praise the Prophet (S), we should seek to make ourselves more like him.

Next, we should seek out people who are truly humble. We should spend time in their company. We should strive to emulate them.

Finally, we should turn away from people and actions that are full of pride. We know people and places that are only about showing off. We will receive reward for avoiding these people and places.


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Conjecture About Words

Lately I’ve been listening to quite a few sets of lectures on CD. The last one I finished was “Religion, Violence & the Modern World (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf) UK Tour 2004.” In this set of lectures, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talks a great deal about history, education, and language as they relate to dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s a great series and I highly recommend it. Available here:

Sometimes, like many other great orators, Shaykh Hamza goes off on tangents. He particularly seems to enjoy talking about words. In this, he is a kindred spirit to me. He engages in some conjecture about the origin of words.

“Conjecture” itself is a word worth talking about. Speakers often use it derisively or dismissively. “He has wonderful ideas, but they are mere conjecture.” The Quran itself at one point insults conjecture, saying, “Surely those who believe not in the Hereafter name the angels with female names. And they have no knowledge of it. They follow but conjecture, and surely conjecture avails naught against Truth.” (53:27-28, trans. Muhammad Ali). Allah criticizes people who base their religion on ideas they have made up themselves. But conjecture isn’t always bad. Conjecture allows one to put forth ideas so that they can later be refined and also so they can be studied with research. Conjecture is a big part of the Scientific Method – it’s the part that allows people to come up with hypotheses. In fact, quite often people who say they have “theories” about something are really engaging in conjecture. A theory, by definition, has the weight of research and/or experimentation behind it. Conjecture can just be an idea that came to you in your sleep.

I will share with you some conjecture about four words in the English language – bug, icky, macabre, and shirk. The first two hypotheses come from Shaykh Hamza while the third and fourth are my own.

Shaykh Hamza opines that “bug” comes from an Arabic word, “buq,” meaning “pest.” Normally, the q sound in Arabic is like a k from the back of the throat. But in Yemen, people pronounce the q or qaf like an English hard g. So there is an Arabic word that sounds like “bug” and means “pest.” I’m convinced, are you? Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says for the etymology (origin) of bug, “origin unknown.”

He also suggests, this time a bit more facetiously, that “icky” comes from the Arabic “iqi.” Now this is a little nutty, but I am not making this up, “iqi” has two meanings in Arabic, one is “pure gold,” and the other is  “meconium (the first stool that a newborn baby makes).” He explains that in Arabic, wealth is associated with feces. To prove his point, he says that the word for “miser” (as in a person who hoards wealth) comes from the word for “constipated.” Use your imagination. Webster says the etymology of icky is “perhaps baby talk alteration of sticky,” which I read as, “We don’t have a clue.”

Macabre is not exactly a common English word, but it is slightly elegant. Can’t you see the Frenchness of it? Macabre refers to something related to death or something horrific. The “Saw” film franchise comes to mind. Webster says the word comes from “danse de Macabre,” a medieval French dance of death. But I feel they have stopped short here. Where did the name for the dance come from? Wikipedia is helpful and explains that it is a dance that originated in Europe around the time of the Black Death. The same article suggests, as I have long believed, that macabre comes from the Arabic “al maqabira,” as in the second ayah of Surah Takathur “hatta zurtumu almaqabira,” (“Until you visit the graves.”).

Finally, the word “shirk” is sort of a case of the right hand not talking to the left. When I say shirk to most Muslims, they know what I’m talking about. Shirk is idol-worship, or more technically, associating partners with Allah. But there is also an English word “shirk,” meaning, “to evade the performance of an obligation” (Incidentally, the Webster site is a gold mine for students, teachers and word-lovers of all stripes.) Speakers of English say “shirk” and speakers of Arabic say “shirk,” but no one seems to see the connection. You might have heard someone speaking of “shirking his duties.” There is a common thread between the English and Arabic words “shirk” beyond their common phonetics. When a person commits shirk, he or she evades obligations to Allah. Webster again gives the vapid etymology, “origin unknown.”

Shaykh Hamza and I agree on the reason for these seemingly simple unsolved mysteries. English etymologists and lexicographers (experts on word origins and dictionary-writers) typically don’t study Arabic. Indeed, in most American universities, if a student wants to understand the origins of English, the faculty will advise him or her to study Latin, Greek, German, and Old English. Arabic is not on that list. Speaking of lists, there is a long list of Arabic words that come from English, excluding the ones I have just mentioned. The list includes: alcohol, candy, check, cotton, giraffe, hazard, kismet, and many more ( Yet Europeans studied Arabic for centuries as the best thinkers in a diverse array of subjects wrote in Arabic. Also, as my mother is fond of saying, the Mediterranean is just a pond. Links between England, Spain, France, Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt have been strong for a long, long time.

To make a long story short, Mr. Webster, I say to you, Assalam Alaikum.

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