Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas and Ashura

"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings with toys at Christmas, why are we not grateful to God for filling our stocking with legs?" G K Chesterton

And today, many are not even grateful for their gifts from others, but instead evaluate and compare those gifts against some sense of entitlement. But what are we truly entitled to in this world? Has God promised us even another breath? And even if He did, is it because we are entitled to that breath, or because it is a gift?

While I have not been making the longer drive to the north Denver area for Muharram services, I of course have not failed to notice that it is Muharram, and that Christmas and Ashura are two days apart this year. I know many far surpass me in their piety and their religious observance, but for whatever reasons I have needed seclusion and do not feel up to the nearly four-hour daily commute going to Denver would entail.

I have written about Muharram and what it means to us, what it enjoins on us, etc., many times. And I still feel I don't know hardly anything about that topic. I cannot weigh or measure the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (as), and therefore I cannot weigh or measure my debt. But I feel I have a great debt, for my personal benefit at the price of that sacrifice is potentially exceedingly great. The least I can do is acknowledge the debt and to try not to waste the gift of sacrifice for truth.

Many Christians believe that al-Masih, Jesus Christ (as), made a great sacrifice for humanity, but now they acknowledge his birth, albeit in largely pre-Christian traditions, consumerism, and more consumerism. While Muslims do not believe Jesus (as) was crucified, we do believe he lived his life in complete submission to God, annihilating his own personal will and whims within the will of God. He was and remains a supreme, immaculate instrument of God, like Imam Husain (as), and all the Imams and Prophets (sa). We are all indebted to him, as well, for his struggle in the way of truth.

Every godly person who struggles for truth and preserves a measure of it does a noble thing, a thing that may help countless others. What is Christmas Spirit? What are the lessons of Karbala? Isn't there a call to self-sacrifice, to become more than a taker, a user? I go to work and listen to teenagers speak day after day and go home and hear more people speak on television or Internet, and most of us are all about ourselves. We feel entitled. We feel we know more than others. We feel we should be special. We feel we should have easy lives and abundance. If some misfortune befalls us, we feel personally affronted or wronged. If all we are is a sea of people, each obsessed with himself, what a waste! Is there no more point to life than personal gratification? Who cares if I am gratified or he is gratified or she is? Especially when most gratification comes with a cost, paid by others.

I don't know what self-sacrifice for truth, for right, looks like for you or me, but we've seen it in our prophets and guides. But one thing I understand is that we should be grateful. To God. To our families. To the Prophets (sa). To the Imams (sa). To Jesus (as), to Imam Husain (as). To people who smile at us, to people who try to teach us, to people who pick up our garbage, to people who try to cure us,to almost anyone we meet.

In wishing all who would want it a Merry Christmas, what I really wish is well-being, peace, guidance, and appreciation. And in condoling the mourners over the disgusting murder of holy and sincere servants of God, what I really wish is for none of us to oppress another, to cause another to shed tears, or to take another for granted.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Family Tree Photos

I posted some of the photos of my ancestors on Facebook - go over and have a look if you like! I have more of some people on - if you want to view those, you'd have to let me know and I could add you to my profile.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Belted Kingfisher

Mom, dad and I saw a neat bird yesterday - the belted kingfisher. It was perched on a wire over Fountain Creek on Nevada Ave. in downtown Colorado Springs.

Eid Ghadeer Mubarak

Eid Ghadeer

As a revert to Islam, Eid Ghadeer is the one Eid that always has made the most sense to me and been the most significant in my worldview. Part of me has found Eid ul Fitr tempered by the loss of the holy days of the month of Ramadhan, and Eid ul Adha significant if you or a loved one is performing the hajj, but otherwise less so. But the Eid al-Ghadeer has always been special to me because it is a celebration of the culmination of Islam - a celebration of the very events that first enabled me to know the status of Imam ‘Ali (as) and the crucial role of Ahlulbayt (as) in the preservation of the True Religion so that I, in 1994, had the blessed chance to discover true Islam for myself. It is only because of Ahlulbayt (as) that I had that chance – without them, the True Religion would have long ago been lost in corruption and time.

I remember feeling exhausted after becoming Muslim. I had spent a year in intensive research, questioning the entire framework of my existence, engaging in deep self-evaluation so that in the end I had turned my life upside down and accepted all the conflict and challenges that would bring my way. But I had yet to scratch the surface of Islamic knowledge and had so far yet to go. I had become aware of the sects and divisions between Muslims, much to my sadness. As a Christian, I had been dismayed by all the man-made churches, none of them holding God’s Truth more than any other. I regretted that I might again find nothing in Islam that provided complete access to Reality.

But then, I read about Ghadeer Khum. The more I read, the lighter my burden became. Here was what I had known must exist – the evidence that God had protected His message from corruption. Every time a revelation from God has come down, man has corrupted it. But the Qur’an has survived because God has protected it, and in Ghadeer Khum I found the means. I felt tears of deep joy and gratitude to find the protectors of the Qur’an, the ones who have lived the real Islam; for without them, I would have no chance of ever finding the truth, I would have remained a deprived wayfarer, unsatisfied with the religions of man’s making.

If I had not been blessed to know about Ghadeer and appreciate the status and role of Ahlulbayt (as), I would have been left very disappointed after my struggle to find the Truth. While I would have gained the clarity of Tawhid that is in Islam, I would yet know I was stuck in a quagmire of man-made distortions that rip apart the Truth and replace it with ignorance and oppression.

In the Qur’an it is written, "And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God's favor on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brethren; and you were on the brink of the Pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make His Signs clear to you, that you may be guided." (3:103)
Numerous hadith inform us that the Rope is none other than the blessed Ahlulbayt (as).

I feel this ayah resonating deep in the very fiber of my existence. Without the rope, I would have nothing to hold to, no hope for access to God’s Truth. It is a great favor from God for which I owe immeasurable gratitude that I was able to find this rope and try with my best effort to cling to it. I cling to this rope with the love of Ahlulbayt (as) who made my journey to Islam possible, and who have provided me the means to hope for progress on the journey of Truth and salvation from the Fire of Hell. For without Ahlulbayt (as), I could only be on the brink of the Pit of Fire, but by clinging to their Rope I might be pulled away from it.

The Ahlulbayt (as) have given me, and have given all of us, the chance to realize our potentials, the ability to hope, and the opportunity for the complete peace that can only be found in one who has glimpsed the Truth. Therefore, the Eid of Ghadeer is the most joyous and meaningful Eid to me, It is the Eid of hope and opportunity for all of us. May Allah swt bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad with His greatest blessings and grant them the most fulfilling peace, and may more and more of humanity come to realize the great gift given to all of us when Allah swt perfected religion by securing the role of Ahlulbayt (as).

originally written for Islamic Insights last year