TIME global health

Photos: How Muslim Families Around the World Break the Ramadan Fast

From Istanbul to Sydney to Beijing, here's what Muslim families are eating to break the fast

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 24: The Social Qur’an

Faith is incomplete without a radical commitment to social justice.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

In the late 19th to early 20th century there emerged an influential intellectual Christian movement that preached, what became known as, the “Social Gospel.” In summary, the movement sought to apply Christian ethics, taken from the Gospel, to social problems such as poverty and war. It was and remains a progressive movement essentially rooted in the Gospel’s radical social justice message.

Interestingly, around the same period, there also emerged movements within Islam that sought to do something very similar – apply Islamic ethics, taken from the Qur’an, to the myriad of social problems Muslim societies were facing. This movement attempted to advocate and argue for human freedom from tyrannical governments, economic fairness, and so on. Unfortunately, when some of these movements went from standing up against unjust political authority to wanting to become the political authority itself, the movements were quickly and brutally suppressed and fractured – sometimes leading to the formation of radical political organizations that responded to the suppression with calls to militancy.

Today, this much maligned and far too easily discredited movement is known in the West as “Islamism” and their followers are called “Islamists.” It has become a bad word from the halls of government to the world of academia. If you want to malign or discredit a Muslim public intellectual or activist, all you have to do is call them an Islamist. Sadly, many radical proponents of the Christian Social Gospel message have met a similar end.

In the Muslim World the movement is received with much more nuance. There are, of course, the violent extremists who have the loudest bullhorn on the block because of their tactics – “what bleeds leads” as they say in journalism. Every major study has shown that these violent groups are largely rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. But, some of the most effective grassroots movements in the Muslim World today are informed and inspired, at least to some degree, by the social justice message of the Qur’an as articulated by the likes of Hassan al-Banna (d.1949) in Egypt and Abul Ala Mawdudi (d.1979) in Pakistan. The attraction is not so much in the wholesale revolutionary message, necessarily, but simply in the positive concern for addressing social injustices with something that sounds and feels authentic to the Muslim imagination – as opposed to something that sounds and feels like a Western colonialist import or plot.

While there was something certainly brewing in the waters in the late 19th – early 20th century in terms of socio-political movements rooted in the Qur’anic social justice message, these movements were largely revivalist movements that were inspired by much earlier periods in Muslim history including many Sufi Orders that were committed to serving the most marginalized in society and affecting grassroots change. Indeed, it would be hard not to read the Prophet Muhammad’s biography and the story of his mission as a radical movement for social justice. The intellectuals behind the Social Gospel would see the life and mission of Jesus in a similar way.

So, in brief, what is the Social Qur’an – if we can borrow terminology from the Social Gospel movement? It is a message that calls on believers to stand up for justice and bear witness to the truth “even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives” (4:135) and warns believers to never allow “hatred of others to lead you away from justice” (5:8). It is a teaching that commands believers throughout the Qur’an to “be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong” (3:104). It is an urging to follow a higher ethical plane that “Is to free the slave, to feed at a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those believe and urge one another to steadfastness [in doing good] and compassion” (90:13—17). It is prescribing as a pillar of Islam the institutionalization of almsgiving for the poor and needy (9:60) and an ethic of charity that affirms and restores the dignity of socially neglected people (2:261—274). It is encouraging the “fair and kind” treatment of women (4:19—21). And, it is pushing people to defend the oppressed even if it means putting their own lives at risk (4:74—76). This is just a brief glimpse into the social justice message of the Qur’an.

The Social Qur’an is also a message that prohibits usurious loans that enslave people and entire communities to a lifetime of debt (2:275—281). It strongly condemns people “who give short measure” in their business dealings (83:1—6); exploit the orphans (4:10); “act like tyrants” (26:130); set out to “spread corruption” in the world (2:203), to give just a few examples. Social crimes such as sex slavery (24:33), female infanticide (81:8—9), and so on are spoken against in the strongest language.

So, this is a brief summary of what the Social Qur’an looks like. It is a message and teaching for the socially conscientious people to root their social justice work in a God-centric and spiritually focused way. And, it is a lesson to those who strive to be mindful of God that faith is incomplete without a radical commitment to social justice.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 23: Togetherness

Boarding House Cares For The Elderly During Ramadam Period
Elderly men talk to each other as they take a break at a boarding school that cares for the elderly during Ramadan in Central Java, Indonesia on July 15, 2014. Ulet Ifansasti—Getty Images

Unity does not mean uniformity

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

In Muslim societies just about everywhere there is a lot of call and cry for unity these days in every sector of society – from the street vendors in the marketplace to the religious preachers on the pulpit. This phenomenon is quite understandable as many Muslims are experiencing crises after crises of political instability, wars, and other forms of strife. Even Muslims who are living in relatively stable and safe contexts experience these crises second hand through news outlets, social media, and reports from family and friends. The proposed solution out of this messy cycle always seems to be unity – only if Muslims would work together and not against each other we would solve all our problems, so goes the argument.

But, too often the problem with these calls for unity is that they – consciously or subconsciously – come with the expectation of uniformity. When religious folks are asked how unity can be gained in their estimation, the most likely answer will be, “by following the Qur’an and Sunnah [prophetic traditions].” Well, that sounds great until you address the million-dollar question – whose understanding and interpretation of Qur’an and Sunnah?

You see, from the very early period of Islamic history, Muslims figured out the hard way that people by their nature tend to disagree and these disagreements can even lead to violence between the most well-intentioned people. So, as Islamic thought and civilization matured there was a calming embrace of pluralism among Muslims so that just in Sunni Islam, for example, there came to be the formation of and tolerance for at least four schools of practice and at least two schools of theology and several schools of spiritual attainment. These schools learned to live side-by-side with tension, yes, but also mutual respect. An entire scholarly discourse was created on the ethics of disagreement to help keep the peace. The more successful Muslim empires figured out institutionalized systems to allow different schools to coexist in society.

But, with the collapse of Islam’s last empire after World War I much of the Muslim World descended into a state of chaos and internal tensions began exploding out of control. The longing since then of many Muslims has been a return to a romanticized past when Muslims were largely united under one or more empires. The popular memory of this period was that Muslims were the leaders of the world when they were united in this way, and now they are a humiliated and easily trampled upon people. This sentiment for reunification and bringing back the glory days is what has, partly, given rise to rather silly but dangerous groups that insist on a single understanding of Islam.

Muslims need to seriously reevaluate and reconsider the whole notion of what unity means and entails for our age. If it means uniformity then we will continue down a long and difficult road. But, if we can re-envision a unity for our times that does not insist on absolute uniformity and conformity then there may be reason for hope.

Ramadan is a marvelous season for us to imagine what this different type of unity might look like. In this month Muslims of different persuasions find a way, more often than in any other month, to break bread together, pray together, laugh and cry together. The act of sitting together over a meal or praying shoulder-to-shoulder or exchanging stories in an intimate setting is what breaks the cycle of mistrust and misunderstandings.

As the Muslim chaplain at Princeton University, I have witnessed this firsthand. Our breaking of the fast table every evening looks like a gathering of the United Nations. South and Central Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Americans enjoy each other’s company with some meeting each other for the very first time. Sunnis and Shias and Sufis pray together before sharing a meal. The insistence is not on uniformity, it is on friendship.

As such, I would like to suggest that we as a community move from a desire for unity to a desire for togetherness – a state of being close to one another as opposed to a state of being necessarily joined together as a whole under a single school of thought or organization. The togetherness model requires a strong civil society that is bottom up rather than an enforced uniformity that is top down.

As the Qur’an beautifully says, “O humankind, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you races and tribes for you to get to know each other…” (49:13). Getting to “know each other” is what is at the heart of the togetherness ethos. Muslim commentators and sages have explained that this means, at its deepest and most desired level, an intimate friendship and love between people who are different. When our sense of relationship is based on friendship and closeness in the togetherness paradigm, then fear mongering and hatred and discord – all of which we have come to hate – can and will be overcome.

So, here’s hoping and praying that just as this month of Ramadan has brought so many together, that we can find a way to embrace togetherness as our ethos for moving forward.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 22: A Prayer for Palestine

Israel launches ground operation in Gaza
Palestinians inspect damage of an apartment building after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Friday, July 18, 2014. Momen Faiz—NurPhoto/Corbis

May God forgive us for our evils here on earth

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Throughout the last several days, my heart and mind have been overwhelmed thinking about the innocent lives lost and in harms way as Israel intensifies its military campaign in the Gaza Strip. I’m not a politician or a historian – I am just a simple human being who is aching, like millions of others, from all of the reports of death and mayhem that are emerging out of Palestine.

The tragic stories really hit home when journalists broke the story of four first-cousin children who were playing soccer near the beach when an Israeli missile dropped, killing the four children instantaneously. The photographs of the dead children and their frantic parents just broke my heart. I thought of all the children in my own life beginning with my nephew, and how terrible it must feel to lose them, especially in such a way. As of Friday, July 18, forty-five children have lost their lives in just this latest military campaign. I say not “Palestinian children” for children do not belong to anyone people; they are our collective hope for the future and God-given responsibility to protect. Forty-five precious and beautiful souls gone forever – may they rest in peace.

Israel will point the finger at Hamas arguing that they hide out in civilian areas and that the Israeli army has no other option but to accept mass casualties as part of “collateral damage.” Anyone who has seen a map of Gaza will wonder how innocent civilians and militants would live in clearly demarcated spaces in such a tiny land. Palestinians will argue that the Israeli army is targeting innocents and their operation amounts to nothing other than collective punishment.

What’s lost in the crossfire of words is the reality of suffering on the ground – the sheer pain of lives lost, limbs cut, hope fading, and anger building. It is a suffering that goes beyond the most recent military campaign, and is the day-to-day life under occupation.

In praying for Palestine and reflecting on their plight, I do not wish to undermine the suffering of Israelis who have also lost and also suffered and also experienced much pain over the last 64 years including the abduction and murder of three Israeli youth a few weeks ago.

My intention is just to consider and internalize for a moment – beginning with myself – the tragedy taking place before us. I would like to think that we can take a step back, take a deep breath, rediscover the well of tears that have run dry out of apathy, and lift our hands in prayer for those whose lives were cut too short by war.

“May innocent children, women, and men who are victims of our collective evil rest in peace as they return to the One who is all-loving, most kind. May they experience an eternal life of bliss where they will never again have to hear another explosion or experience another painful wound. May their loved ones who are left behind find the inner peace and fortitude to live on. May God forgive us for our evils here on earth and for our lack of compassion, courage, and wisdom in these times. May God grant us strength and patience and show us the enlightened way of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence. Amen.”

TIME faith

Obama’s Executive Order to Protect Gay Workers Will Have No Religious Exemption

US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on July 17, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

Not all faith leaders are upset

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order Monday that will ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees and contractors–and it will not include an exemption for religious organizations.

The order ensures that federal employees and contractors, who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation, will formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity. It will affect some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers total, or about a fifth of the country’s work force, according to the Associated Press.

“At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination,” said a White House official. “Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.”

When the upcoming order was first announced on June 30–the last day of LGBT Pride month and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the Hobby Lobby decision–a handful of Christian leaders including pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter wrote Obama a letter asking him to exempt religious organizations. They soon received pushback–more than 100 faith leaders wrote Obama last week asking that he not include an exemption. That group, which included Christian, Muslim, Jewish and interfaith leaders, said such an exemption would only open a “Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, wrote in an op-ed for TIME that asking for such an exemption was “theologically indefensible.” Former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who had originally signed the letter asking for a religious exemption along with Warren and Hunter, apologized last week, calling her initial decision to sign the request “an error in judgement,” and asked that her name be removed.

Obama’s executive order does not add exemptions for religious organizations beyond President George W. Bush’s 2002 order, which allowed religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when hiring. Religious organizations are still allowed, under the First Amendment, to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.

TIME faith

Wife of Wiccan Priest Recounts Religious Discrimination

Blake Kirk was uninvited from giving the invocation at a city council meeting in Huntsville, Ala. after it was learned that he's a clergyman of the Wiccan faith. Here, his wife speaks out


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I think most of us start out in our interfaith work with the expectation that our work will proceed smoothly and that we will find tolerance and acceptance in our relations with those of other faiths. And for the most part that is probably the case. At least those with whom we work are willing to respect those of other faiths than their own, and even offer their cooperation and support in projects that are aimed at improving their communities.

But sometimes our best intentions go awry and we find ourselves in confrontational situations where the concept of interfaith and respect for the religious rights of others breaks down. What one decides to do in that situation may have a lasting impact and needs to be approached thoughtfully and as calmly as possible.

Such a situation has arisen in my own life and the life of my husband. As I have mentioned in the past, Blake and I have been members of our local interfaith group here in Huntsville for several years. In 2012, as a result of a legal case in Georgia, the City of Huntsville requested that the Interfaith Mission Service maintain a roster of faith leaders from across the community to give invocations prior to the beginning of meetings of the City Council. It was understood then, or should have been understood, that such a roster would include faith groups other than Christians or even other Abrahamic faiths in order to be in accord with the ruling of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pelphrey v Cobb County, GA.

In January of this year my husband (he was listed at that time as a representative of the earth based religious community) gave the invocation before the City Council saying: “O gentle Goddess and loving God, we pray tonight that You will bless this Council with wisdom and judgment so that they may make sound decisions for the governance of our city. And further, we pray that You will visit upon these chambers an atmosphere of comity and peace, so that all who are here tonight to make their views known may do so in an air of civility and respect, without needless rancor or hostility. These things we ask of You as children do of their loving parents, trusting that You will give unto us those gifts that we truly need. Amen.” There were no repercussions as a result of this appearance and we were pleased that all had gone so well.

On June 26th he was again scheduled to give the invocation. He was contacted by the secretary for the City Council to get the information to fill out the agenda. And of course he indicated at that time that he was a priest of the Oak, Ash, and Thorn Tradition of Wicca. The next day he was contacted and told that his services were no longer desired and he was told it was because there were “concerns” about his religion. And at that point the City of Huntsville had crossed the line into religious discrimination which is not permitted under the Constitution or under case determinations by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which covers Alabama. Unfortunately for the City of Huntsville, a reporter got wind of the situation and the story was broken by our local news service, picked up by the Associated Press newsfeed and it went viral.

We were subsequently contacted by both Lady Liberty League and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State offering their support in fighting what they considered a clear-cut case of religious discrimination.

So at this point we had some serious thinking to do about how we wanted to proceed. While we are definitely not in the broom closet, (I’m not even certain that the broom closet survived the explosion of the news media frenzy!), we are generally private about our beliefs and practices. It had never been our intention for our beliefs to become a divisive issue in our community. My husband’s delivery of the invocation was simply to help take part in the business of the governance of the city and to represent one of the many groups of individuals here in Huntsville. And to be truthful, the idea of going through the confrontational business of forcing the City to abide by the law, whether through negotiation or legal action was not something we wished to do.


At some point one needs to decide whether or not something is worth fighting for and whether you can afford the consequences of that fight. As Martin Luther said in his famous speech; “I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other…” My husband and I decided that this was a battle worth waging and that, like Luther, we could not back down and go against our own conscience in this case.

On May 16th here in Wild Garden I wrote about how a threat to one group or one person constitutes a threat to us all. In that piece I quoted Martin Niemoller when he wrote during the dark days of Nazi Germany:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

How ironic that a mere month later we were faced with Niemoller’s dilemma. My husband and I looked in our hearts and we decided that we were prepared to speak out and called upon by our Gods to speak out, not just for ourselves, but to preserve the Constitutional rights of all Americans. As the poet, John Donne, wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

We don’t know where our stance will take us. We hope that we can resolve this amicably with the City of Huntsville. If we must we will engage in litigation to assure our legal rights to religious freedom under the 1st and 14th Amendment of the Constitution. What we do know is that we are in this fight now and we will not give up until it is over. Our Gods will accept no less.

What I hope is that my recounting of our story will help those considering entering the interfaith world to understand is that it is not always uplifting, accepting, or fun. Sometimes it is hard emotionally and spiritually. So I suggest that each of you search your hearts and talk to your Gods about what you are going to do and where you will take your stand…because you can do no other.

Carol Kirk is a retired nurse and a Vietnam war veteran.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Religion

Let’s Treat Children at the Border as Christ Would

This is a moral moment for America and what it means to be an American. And for the church, it is a moment to make clear what it means to be a Christian.

Unaccompanied children are fleeing the escalating violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and presenting themselves at the U.S. border–hoping to find safety from daily fears for their lives in these Central American countries. More than 50,000 have already come and their presence is now creating a political crisis in the United States.

The media has shown alarming pictures of hateful crowds of Americans blocking and threatening buses of young children being processed under U. S. laws. Imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of young children, all alone in a foreign culture, being screamed at by adults they don’t know in a language they don’t understand. Imagine the pain and fear of those families who tearfully sent their own children away from home to protect their lives.

Sadly, it’s not hard to imagine how our polarized political system is turning this complicated humanitarian disaster into another political and ideological war. What’s most reprehensible is how these children are being punished, instead of the politicians who refuse to fix our own broken immigration system which makes difficult situations like this even harder to solve.

So let’s ask how God might see this, and what our faith requires of us—questions hardly ever asked in Washington DC.

First, this is a deeply moral issue and problem. This is not just another political occasion to use for ideological agendas once again. Such political maneuvering at the expense of vulnerable children is morally inexcusable.

Second, these children are indeed “the strangers” among us, and how we treat them is how we treat Christ himself.

Third, the primary question we must ask is what would be best for such vulnerable children, not how this can be used to stoke the political and racial fears underneath the surface of American politics. The right thing to do for these kids is a matter too complicated for simplistic political answers and should generate a bi-partisan, civil, and compassionate conversation among political leaders. We must do our utmost to keep these children safe. Neither quickly returning them to terrible violence, nor encouraging more children to put themselves in the dangerous hands of despicable smugglers—will protect the children. This requires time, patience, compassion, clear messaging, and careful discernment. Politically motivated quick fixes will not suffice and are morally indefensible.

What about some deeper reflection on how the lucrative drug market in the United States has generated the violent cartels that now threaten the daily lives of children in these countries? What about reviewing our own history and policies in relationship to formerly dictatorial and currently corrupt governments in these Central American countries? How could making practical and effective investments in the development of these countries make us all safer? Those are the kinds of questions politicians too often put aside in favor of calculating their immediate political self-interest and gain from a crisis like this. Where is the governing here, instead of the constant pursuit of winning?

This contemporary moral crisis and the political failure of politicians to fix our broken immigration system and the procedures around humanitarian disasters like this may now require the moral intervention of the faith community. Led by our Hispanic brothers and sisters who know the language and culture of these children, we must support the direct involvement of churches in the caring for and processing of these unaccompanied children.

While we can support the timely processing of these children and the resources necessary to do that, we must oppose expediting the deportation of these children for political reasons. And we must publically oppose and obstruct any political motivated policies that would do that to these children—because they are our children too.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these.” Matthew 19:14.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 21: Prayer, Beyond Ritual  

Indonesian Muslims Celebrate The Fasting Month Of Ramadan
Muslims pray before breaking of the fast during Ramadan on July 13, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Robertus Pudyanto—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

There is probably no time when Muslims pray as much as they do during the blessed month of Ramadan. This is saying a lot for folks who pray five times a day as part of their daily schedule. Every night, throughout Muslims lands and wherever Muslims live, the Mosques are filled with devout and able worshipers who spend at least a portion of their usual sleeping hours to turn to God, attempting to reap all the blessings they can from the holy month. As the month comes to a close, this worship becomes more intense.

Prayer in the Islamic tradition is a prescribed ritual with set times and motions. The life of prayer is given such importance that when the Prophet Muhammad was on his deathbed, one of the last pieces of advice for his community was, “Prayer, prayer, prayer.” The Prophet also described prayer as “the key to paradise.” One of the most common prescriptions for believers in the Qur’an is to institute and be constant in prayer.

Yet, the challenge with prayer is that it can easily become routine and unfocused when it is taken as mere ritual without proper contemplation. In reality, every step of the Muslim prayer – from preparing to pray to concluding the prayer – is full of rich meanings that bring the ritual to life.

A Muslim prepares for his or her prayer with a pre-ritual washing that is meant as much for approaching God in a physically clean state as it is a means for spiritual purification. The washing involves washing the hands, rinsing the mouth, sniffing water up the nose canal, washing the face, washing the arms up to the elbows, wiping the head and neck and ears with wet hands and, finally, washing the feet up to the ankles. Sounds complicated, but it’s easy to get the hang of it after a while. With every limb that is washed, there is spiritual purification and rejuvenation, with water acting as that very real and symbolic purifying agent for dirt and wrongdoings. The washing points to the importance of purifying one’s heart in the journey to God.

After the wash, a Muslim finds a quiet and clean space to pray and faces toward Mecca. Contrary to popular belief, Mecca is the direction of Muslim prayer, not because it is the birth place of the Prophet Muhammad, but rather because it connects worshippers to the ancient footsteps and path of Prophet Abraham – known as the spiritual forefather of the faithful – and his devout family. It is Abraham and his family’s monotheism, trust in God and willingness to sacrifice that led them to the barren deserted land of Mecca where God would bring forth a water spring from the earth for a desperate mother – Lady Hagar – and her babe – Prophet Ishmael – when they were seemingly abandoned and on the brink of losing all hope. This water spring became the source of life and community and an opportunity to impart monotheistic teachings. Years later, Abraham returns to visit his wife and son, and together they build a temple for the worship of God intended for all people (Qur’an 2:125—129). This turning to the ancient temple, known as the kabba, is an act of uniting people toward a common direction and purpose – celebrating the Oneness of God.

Facing the kabba, the Muslim then lifts his or her hands in an upward motion with palms facing outward. It is, among other things, an inauguration of the prayer and a symbolic act of taking everything of worldliness that is before them between their hands and putting it behind them as they turn their attention solely to God.

This is followed by a period of standing in which the opening chapter of the Qur’an and any other Qur’anic passage is recited – either silently or melodically. Standing is the first meditative posture of the prayer. In this posture the mind is over the heart as the words of the Qur’an are being deeply contemplated. Standing is also a preparation for the day of resurrection in which all will have to stand accountable before God.

After standing, the next meditative posture is bowing – a universal symbol of deep respect and honor – to the One most worthy of awe. In this posture, words of divine glorification are sung within the heart. The bowing is also meant to instill, even outside of prayer, a deep respect for the ever living presence of God in our lives, for “God is with you wherever you may be,” says the Qur’an (57:4). In this position, the heart and mind are aligned in their devotion.

After briefly moving back into the standing position, the devotee falls with a state of loving surrender into a state of prostration whereby their hands, knees, feet, forehead and nose are all laid on the earth. It is an act of complete devotion that is meant to instill a life of devotedness to the only One worthy of such dedication. In this position, the heart is over the mind as all doubts are overwhelmed with an inner peace. The worshiper briefly sits after prostration only to fall right back into prostration a second time – like a lover re-embracing their beloved after separation.

When this cycle of standing, bowing and prostrating has been completed at least twice, the devotee moves to the final part of the prayer – the meditative posture of calmly sitting. In this posture, a heavenly moment is recalled when the Prophet journeyed to the high heavens to visit all of the previous prophets and ultimately a special meeting with God. There the Prophet testified that there is “No god but God,” and God testified that “Muhammad is the servant and messenger of God.” The two testimonies join together to form the devout Muslim’s creed and consciousness. Peace is, then, sent upon all of the righteous servants, upon Muhammad and the followers of Muhammad, and upon Abraham and the followers of Abraham.

Finally, after receiving this peace from the Source of Peace, the Muslim turns his or her head to right and to the left, to the East and to the West, and prays in both directions: “May the peace and blessings of God be upon you.” Thus, the spiritual seeker is directed to spread peace and to be among the peacemakers. The prayer concludes with the worshipper embracing a profoundly ethical mission in the world.

In this way, prayer goes beyond mere ritual – it becomes the source of internal and external transformation, and the necessary component in living the life of a spiritually vibrant and ethically upright human being.

TIME Religion

Just Because You’re Mad at Obama Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Dinner at His House

The White House Iftar boycott is a fruitless debate


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The other day in clinic when I asked a patient of mine what he did for work, he said, “Doc, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m a retired deputy Sheriff from LA.” I inquired about his hesitation. He noted how the department had deteriorated in morale and discipline, adding that once he was so proud to be a part of the department that if the Sheriff called him for duty, he could not say “no.” It’s much like if the President of United States calls one to serve our country, he said. How can one say “no?”

It is his latter comment that has stuck with me. Time and again, I’m intrigued by the respect, trust and prestige the office of POTUS carries in the minds of Americans, despite the contemporary vitriol and polarizing environment surrounding the office. When a national tragedy occurs, the President consoles the American people. And, when the President addresses the nation, it brings much needed healing and comfort, as seen in the aftermath of recent mass shootings and terror incidents.

It is for this reason, I contend, that when the President invites one for Iftar (the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan), one responds gracefully and strives to attend. It is precisely the respect for this office and what it symbolizes – not necessarily the one who holds the office – that inspires citizens.

Therefore, if one wishes to boycott such an event in hopes of achieving a policy objective, I would direct that individual’s energies toward the ballot box. Imagine if 90 percent of American Muslims began casting votes; we would then be having a different conversation altogether.

On Monday, hours before the White House Iftar, a boycott petition was circulated and generated an unusual buzz, especially on social media, that was captured by the Huffington Post and Politico. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s position, in favor of the boycott, was also released before the Iftar. The reaction was hardly surprising, as it came on the eve of a barbaric and brutal assault on the innocent women and children of Gaza. The loss of civilian life clearly outweighed any chronic grievances the Muslim community held, ranging from surveillance to Guantanamo Bay, which despite being constantly brought up directly with the President at these Iftarsin the past, had not received much consideration at all.

At the Iftar, POTUS’s remarks included an emphasis on the right of Israel to defend itself while stating, in passing, a request to also protect civilian life –- confirming the sentiments of boycott proponents. Furthermore, the news of 18 family members who were killed in an aerial bombing of Gaza that broke earlier pointed to the extreme gravity of the situation. We, as Americans, cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering endured by the Gaza victims and their loved ones.

And so, in the midst of such pain and injustice, it is completely understandable that an individual might not feel comfortable smiling for the cameras on the White House red carpet. So if one rather busied onself with humanitarian efforts, aid delivery and advocacy on the Gaza situation and decided to politely decline the invitation with an appropriate accompanying message, it would be completely reasonable and justified. Such a response would be graceful and have impact. The decision of each guest whether or not to attend is, of course, a personal choice. But regardless of the decision, the act should be done with purpose, dignity and grace.

The arguments that I have seen from both sides of the debate merit consideration, minus the rare instances of calling theIftar participants sellouts (irrelevant in this case, since most attendees are from the diplomatic corps anyway; usually few American Muslims are invited). The event itself is symbolic in nature but does speak volumes about American Muslim contributions and the recognition of those contributions by the highest office of the land. And that is something that should not be dismantled but, instead, strengthened.

In drawing lessons from Islamic history, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was invited to meet an elite group from a powerful tribe in Medina (Banu Nadhir) that was initially an ally but had begun to turn against him. He accepted the invitation at the expense of risk to his life. What followed suit is a matter of controversy. Nevertheless, the lesson derived here is the emphasis on attempting at dialogue and setting things right on part of the prophet (pbuh).

Did Musa (Moses) walk into Pharaoh’s palace uninvited? Certainly not, he was invited and he went forth with an ultimatum and a challenge. In the White House Iftar story, there is neither a Moses nor a Pharaoh, but only a challenge. And that challenge is for us to deliver results for the sake of all those who are suffering from inequities . And once again, it all starts at the ballot box.

Rather than boycotting the Iftar to show disapproval of the White House’s response to the situation in Gaza, this opportunity should be optimized, to make the Muslim presence felt and our voices heard.

Many of you may have heard of Tarek Abu Khdeir, a teenager from Florida who was nearly beaten to death by earlier this month. Two IDF soldiers beat him to unconsciousness after which he was imprisoned without medical care. Tariq’s teenage cousin Muhammed was burned to death on July 2.

I believe one useful petition to circulate next year would be to urge the White House to invite Tarek and his family to participate in the Iftar, perhaps even reward him for his courage and determination.

Dr. Faisal Qazi is the co-Founder of MiNDS, a community development foundation local to Southern California and VP of the Whitestone Foundation – a national American Muslim community-building project. He serves as a member of City of Fullerton’s Community Development Commission.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 20: The Night of Glory

Pakistani Muslims offer a special evening prayer "Taraweeh' on the first night of the holy month of Ramadan at the grand Faisal Mosque in Islamabad on July 10, 2013. AAMIR QURESHI—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

As we approach the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims wait in high anticipation of what can be translated as The Night of Glory (laylatul qadr). It is a brilliant night that is described in the Qur’an in the following way:

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

We sent [the Qur’an] down on the Night of Glory.

What will explain to you what that Night of Glory is?

The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months.

On that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every affair.

Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.

(Chapter 97, Abdul Haleem’s translation)

The Night of Glory is the night in which the Prophet Muhammad began receiving revelation from God through the archangel Gabriel while he was meditating in the Cave of Hira on top of the Mountain of Light near the outskirts of Mecca, according to Muslim belief. It is that night in history when Muhammad went from being a simple man among his people to becoming the messenger of God. Not only did that night transform Muhammad the man into Muhammad the Prophet, but it also marked the beginning of the transformation of many parts of the world – beginning with the Arabian Peninsula and stretching as far as China within less than a century – as the new civilization of faith spread from coast to coast and continent to continent.

The first words that the Prophet received from God on that night, now some 1,448 years ago, are words that continue to inspire and guide more than 1.6 billion people worldwide. Chapter 96 of the Qur’an contains these verses: “Read! In the name of your Lord who created: He created the human being from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, who taught the human being what he did not know” (96:1—5).

Receiving these divine words shook the Prophet to his core as he experienced the unexpected power of the glorious night and the command of an outer force. Afraid and befuddled, the Prophet ran home to the warm embrace of his beloved wife, Khadijah, who covered his trembling body with a blanket and reassured his anxious soul. Khadija suggested visiting her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who was a Christian sage and scholar, to interpret the experience. Waraqa listened carefully to the Prophet’s experience and declared: “This was the same one [archangel Gabriel] who keeps the secrets, whom God had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live [to see the day] when your people will drive you out.” The Prophet, startled and surprised, asked, “Will they [really] drive me out?” Waraqa nodded affirmatively and said, “Anyone who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be driven out then I will support you.”

So, the Night of Glory commemorates the advent of the Prophet, the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, and the centrality of God and knowledge in Islam. But, as Chapter 97 of the Qur’an indicates, the Night of Glory continues to visit every year with great spiritual gifts. In this night, it is believed, the doors of forgiveness are opened to all who ask, the decree of God is reconsidered and determined for every human soul, and salvation is brought closer for anyone who seeks it. As such, it is a night full of praying, seeking and acting goodly.

One of the great mysteries is that no one knows for certain which night in the blessed nights of Ramadan the Night of Glory falls on. It is anticipated during the last 10 nights. And, some say that it falls on one of the odd nights of the last 10 nights. God knows best – our task is to seek it; God’s grace is to grant it!

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