Last week, I returned from an 11-day journey through Turkey with 29 other Muslims, Christians, Jews, and a Buddhist. Many of our friends and relatives worried about our safety while traveling in that part of the world, in fact one potential pilgrim cancelled out of family fears. We experienced no threats or security issues whatsoever.
We travelled across central Turkey, from Kayseri to Cappadocia, Konya, Ephesus, and Izmir via motor coach, and then flew into Istanbul for the last four days. We toured Rumi’s sanctuaries, the first century Roman ruins, the secret underground churches and homes of early Christians, the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia Museum, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaan Mosque, Neve Shalom Synagogue, and we cruised the Bosphorus Sea between Asia and Europe. We visited six different Turkish homes for dinners and conversations. It was a wonderful journey with extraordinary sights and hospitality. Yet, that was not our primary purpose or objective.
World Pilgrims is designed to facilitate the journey across the chasms of our faiths, cultures, and ethnic differences and diversities. We encourage cross faith dialogue and understanding by first enabling friendships.
Everyday, each of us enjoyed a different partner of another faith. Each time we changed hotels, we changed roommates. This causes the most anxiety for those who haven’t experienced a pilgrimage, but everyone agrees afterwards that sharing rooms was both a bonding and liberating highlight of the journey.
The real pilgrimage is to one another. In forging friendships, we break down barriers, clean-up biases, correct misinformation, and most importantly, we build trust and relationships across faith lines.
We introduce pilgrims to the best practices of interfaith exchange, such as: be a listener first, no proselytizing, no hidden agendas, be secure in one’s own faith identity and yet open enough to give thought to different paradigms and perspectives.
Interfaith is more than dialogue. It is encounter and engagement, while never leaving your beliefs, experiences, or differences behind. It is about building bridges, finding doors, and opening windows to allow the light, inspiration, and wisdom of the other to interact with our’s.
We work across faiths seeking to transform despair into hope, fear into trust, hate into compassion, falsehood into truth, and war into peace.
We believe the axiom that “you can know a good in common that you can’t know alone” is also applicable to our religions, especially as we engage the global and international challenges of our world. Religious diversity is a given today, but interfaith collaboration and cooperation are not; they are achievements requiring a conscious and concerted effort.
Thirty of us returned from Turkey convinced that Mark Twain was right when he penned “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” May each of you also travel towards “the other” for the benefit of your faith, your soul, and our world.
submitted by Plemon T. El-Amin
“And do not say of those who are slain in the way of God, ‘They are dead.’ No, they are living, though you cannot see them.”(2:154)
On the “Day of the Dead” (A holiday focusing on the gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died), I can not help but wonder where my late loved-ones are. I have no reason to believe that they are living among us. But, correct me if I am wrong, there is also no reason in the Quran to believe that they are currently in heaven or hell. So where are they? Well, here is what we know (believe):
1) God took them.
“God removes the souls at the time of death. And those who did not die, He removes their soul during sleep. He then keeps those that death has chosen, and He sends the others back for a time to be announced. Indeed in this are signs for those who reflect.” (39:42)
2) Wherever they are, they will think that they were there for a lot less time than they actually are. Since they can remember this experience, they must be presently be conscious, right?
“In whispers will they consult each other, ‘Yet they will stay no longer than ten.’ (20:103)
“We know best what they will say, when their leader best in conduct says, ‘You stayed not longer than a day.’ ” (20:104)
3) They ask, “When is the Day of Accountability and Justice?” (51:12)
I have not seen a time-based answer for this question in the Quran. We know that it will be a day that all kinds of incredible things will occur, but no we have no reason to believe that Judgement Day has come (or gone) for those who have died.
4) Perhaps they are on a different “earth” accumulating more good deeds?
“One day the earth will be changed to a different earth, and so will the heavens, and the people will be brought out before God, the One, the Irresistible.” (14:48)
“Do not think of those who are slain in God’s way as dead, no they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Guardian Evolver.” (3:169)
submitted by Bilal
I found this verse a few weeks after I wrote this post:
“And indeed the Hour will come. There can be no doubt about it, or about the fact that God will raise up all who are in the graves.” (22:7)
I would guess that the word “grave” in this represents death itself instead of a whole in the ground.
God-willing, this Sunday I’m traveling with 30 other Atlantans to Turkey as part of a World Pilgrims experience. We have organized these adventures for the past 12 years throughout Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Canada, and even to the Grand Canyon. The objective has very little to do with sightseeing, even though fascinating destinations greatly enhance the experience, but our real interest is immersing people of different religions together as roommates, bus partners, and constant companions for 10-11 days, discussing their backgrounds, families, interests, careers, aspirations, worries, concerns, beliefs, and religions.
This Pilgrimage experience creates real friendships across faith lines, as over 400 Atlantan Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists will attest, and it enables them to navigate the multi-faith world we all live in with greater respect and appreciation for ‘the Other’. For many of those who return, they stay engaged in interfaith activities and exchanges. They recognize that, although tolerance is a public necessity, to build real and sustaining relationships we must go deeper. We must invest in trust, understanding, collaborations, and active engagements across the lines of religious and cultural differences.
Why Turkey or anywhere in that neighborhood at this time? A reasonable question, considering all the regional issues, the worst being the so-called Isil, which is perpetrating Islam while engaging in the most un-Islamic and inhumane acts of aggression. This will be my 5th World Pilgrimage to Turkey, and something has been going on in the region on every occasion, yet we have been completely unexposed and secure on every venture. Part of our American challenge is overcoming our demeaning and derogatory disregard for other nations, particularly non- European countries. Turkey commands respect on every front, but as World Pilgrims we frequent Turkey because of their rich religious history and their present day pluralistic commitment to a cultural matrix of diversity and interaction. There are few places in the world that can rival Istanbul for its energy, history, modernity, diversity, and its security.
This is a religious trip. This is a faith journey. Prophet Muhammed said first and foremost in all affairs, “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.” We have been assured and reassured by Turkish officials, dignitaries, authorities, and everyday citizens on the ground, that our travels to Rumi’s Konya, Cappadocia, Ephesus, and Istanbul, will be quite safe. So our camel is tied, and now we trust that the God, of each of us and all of us, will bless our pilgrimage experience, once again, to be life-changing and expanding for each of these pilgrims seeking to know more about the other, and inadvertently discovering so much more about their own selves.
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
“…It is not righteous to enter your houses from the back. But it is righteous to be one who is conscious of God, and to enter houses through there proper doors, and to be aware of God, that you may flourish.” (2:189)
While visiting a Muslim house of worship in the deep south with an African American Imam and congregation, it saddened and upset me to see that the women’s entrance was the back door.
We have crossed the midway point of the 30 day fast of Ramadan. I’m reminded of the two swimmers who challenged each other to an endurance race across a huge lake. Well past the halfway point, one said to the other, “I’m tired, you win, I’m going back.” The other laughed and said, “It’s too late to turn back now, the end is closer than the beginning.”
The end of Ramadan is in sight, and the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr awaits us. We’ll start that morning with the various communities coming together for a congregational prayer, then we begin a 3 day celebration (eid) of buffets, banquets, brunches, picnics, and gift giving. The fast and the celebration are about the renewal of the human spirit, returning to and reinvigorating the best of the human nature (fitr).
I have no thoughts of turning back. My five senses have been restored and reawakened. My taste buds are alive, my sense of smell is sharp, my hearing is more acute, my sight is more perceptive, and I’m more sensitive to touch. But beyond the flesh senses, my taste has become much more refined. The everyday onslaught of vulgarity, profanity, and ridiculousness is no longer digestible.
Fasting has sharpened my sense of intuition and perceptibility. I can smell and anticipate what’s coming, both good and bad. I can discern through the noise and clamour of conversations and hear what really matters.
Both my vision and insight are more focused. I’m more sensitive and more empathetic. My soul has been touched and stirred, my spirit is refreshed and responsive.
Fasting reminds us of who we really are or who we can and should be. We are so much more than flesh, appetites, urges, habits, and circumstances. Sometimes we just need to be still, at times , we all just need to step outside of the daily routine, to actually step outside of ourselves, and take a real hard and serious look, and see the gifts, smell the potential, taste the dignity, heed to the wisdom, and touch the beauty and santity of the life that is ours.
Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) advised us of another five. He said:
“Make use of five before five prevent you:
1) Your youth before old age incapacitates you;
2) Your health before sickness visits you;
3) Your wealth before poverty strikes you;
4) Your leisure before business occupies you; and
5) Your life before death overtakes you.”
Submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
“God does not love that misfortune be broadcasted except where a wrong has occurred, for God is He who hears and knows all things.” (Quran 4:148)
NPR News- by Jon Hamilton
If you’re feeling stressed these days, the news media may be partly to blame.
At least that’s the suggestion of a national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The survey of more than 2,500 Americans found that about 1 in 4 said they had experienced a “great deal” of stress in the previous month. And these stressed-out people said one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress was watching, reading or listening to the news. (read/listen to entire story)
“Those who listen to the word, and follow the best of it. Those are the ones that God has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.” 39:18
Question #1: If we are to listen to the word and follow the best,
then what are we to do with the rest?
“As for those that divide their religion and break up into sects, you are not responsible for any of their internal strife. Their affair is with God. In the end, He will tell them the truth of all that they did.” 6:159
The word translated as “sect” in the verse above is “Shia” in Arabic, so that should be a read flag for Muslims calling themselves Shia. However, we should not want name ourselves Sunni either because Sunni is also a sect. So perhaps non-denominational Muslims is a good way to identify ourselves (if asked).
“And indeed this community of yours is a single community, and I am your Lord. Therefore fear Me and no other. 23:52
But the people cut off the events of unity between them into sects. Each group rejoices in that which is with it. 23:53
But leave them in their confused ignorance for now. 23:52″
submitted by Bilal
The month of Ramadan begins next week for the 1.5 billion Muslims throughout the world. One-fifth of the planet’s population will recalibrate and re-focus their lives for 29-30 days of fasting from food and drink, and hopefully from obscenities, abuses, extremes, hates, aggressions, wrongs, and indecencies. We fast from the food and drink from dawn to sunset, but for all of these corrupted behaviors, the fast is 24/7.
Hopefully, we will experience relief from the extremes and abuses in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other States where God-Consciousness has been pushed to the side by hate, revenge, ignorance, narrowness, sectarianism, nationalism, sexism, envy, jealousy, immorality, indecency, and inhumanity. None of this is Islamic and no conscientious Muslim can support, justify, or participate in such despicable behavior as murdering innocent civilians, kidnapping young girls or students, or hating another simply because they are religiously, culturally, or racially different.
The Muslim world craves relief from this callousness fed and directed from within. Ramadan brings a sudden end to the abuses and aggressions. It revives the conscience. It exposes the criminal and the crimes. It awakens the best of ourselves and decimates the excuses and justifications for wrong.
If one can fast from food, drink, and sex for 16 hours every day, and give up sleep for hours of prayer each night, for 29 or 30 days, we should become immune to the beckoning and influences of corruption throughout the year. If I can withhold the natural necessities that sustain me, and survive and thrive, certainly I should be able to resist the unnatural and inhuman overtures of wickedness. Every Muslim has this opportunity and obligation during this month.
May Ramadan bring relief from atrocious and misguided behaviors of any who claim to be Muslim, and may these 29-30 days of fasting, restraint, prayer, reflection, and God-Consciousness give us the strength, and inspire others, to live the entire year upon the best and highest principles of human decency, compassion, regardfulness, and peace for the benefit of humanity.
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
“… If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave is enough… (Quran 4:92)
“Believers are those who believe in God and His messenger…” (Quran 24:62)
“Why did the believers, men and women, when you heard of the affair, not put the best light on it in their own minds and say, “This charge is an obvious lie”? 24:12
The current wars between Sunnis and Shiites might decrease if both considered the other believers. Verse 4:92 reveals the possibility that believers can be on both sides of a war. 24:62 explains how this is possible by broadening the definition of believer. And 24:12 is a proof that religious perfection is not a prerequisite to be considered a believer. So with this, I believe that both Sunni and Shiites should be considered believers even when they are at war.
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
- Abraham Lincoln
submitted by Bilal
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
Earlier this month, I spent a week in Munich, Germany with 40 faith leaders of seven different religions, who serve on the Board of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an international interfaith organization whose tagline is ‘Sharing Wisdom, Fostering Peace’. This gathering convenes every other year, in various regions of the world, to discuss and originate papers which provide theory and research to broaden and advance interfaith dialogue. This year in Munich, just down the road from the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp of Dachau, the theme was ‘Memory and Hope’.
How do people in general, and religious people in particular, move forward out from under the traumas, persecutions,oppressions, and even genocides that are engraved in our collective and individual memories and identities? And how much more difficult and painful is it when those atrocities were couched in or motivated by religious hatred? In the deep and dense gloom of Dachau, where 30,000 Jews were crammed into a prison camp built for 3000, where even today it is recollected as one of the “better death camps” because they worked people to death instead of gassing them, how do we find hope surrounded by painful, agonizing memories that don’t just stay in their era, but are an active and integral part of the present?
Memories are an asset and a burden. As an asset, memory recalls and preserves what is most important in our religious, spiritual, and everyday lives. As a burden, it recalls trauma, tension, hostility, violence, and oppression, which implants negativity, resentment, or hatred of “the other”.
The interfaith discourse and dialogue was quite reflective:
- a Jewish insight offered that memory was malleable, and is transformed in light of the present.
- a Christian furthered the point by emphasizing that memory is an active process, and that remembering was neither neutral or objective.
- a Muslim participant was concerned about corrupted memory and how true memory was mired in human reality.
- a Hindu position was our problems were due to ignorance and the lost of unity with the Divine.
- a Jain attendee stated that negating the existence and legitimacy of others is negating the existence and legitimacy of oneself.
- a Sikh perspective presented service as a way to purify memory. He saw memories as lessons, so learn the lesson, then let go of the memory.
-a Buddhist insight prescribed the past as limited but the present as fully open.
It was the idea of the malleability of memory that facilitated the group’s transition into hope. We agreed that hope is affirmed in our recognition that our memories are not fixed, but always open to interpretation, restatement, and to new perspectives. Hope is affirmed in our ability to move beyond trauma, past pain, and beyond conflict. Hope lies in the capacity to reframe and revisit our collective memories and our mechanisms of human behavior. Hopes lies in gestures, rituals, and processes of transformation, repentance and reconciliation. Hope lies in our capacity to change and in the liberation of memory.
“And his people came rushing towards him, and they had been long in the habit of practicing abominations. He said, ‘O my people, here are my daughters. They are more pure for you. Now be regardful of God, and cover me not with shame around my guests. Is there not among you a single right-minded person?’ ” 11:78
“They said, ‘ “You know well we have no need of your daughters. Indeed you know quite well what we want.’ “
The verses above could just as well be referring to sexists as to homosexuals, because gay men and male chauvinists have a lot in common. Both practices are an abomination that discriminate against and devalue women. And both groups of men pass over qualified women choosing instead less qualified men. And since many male chauvinists hate homosexual men, perhaps they will learn to hate themselves and change.
submitted by Bilal
“When you read the Quran, seek God’s protection from Satan the rejected enemy”. 16:98
To: Brunei And Other Backward Shariah Law States
From: Bilal Muhammad
Subject: Criticism Of Your Shariah Law
“We send down in the Quran, that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe. To the unjust, it causes nothing but loss.” (17:82)
Sorry guys but I need to inform you that you’re doing this Shariah law thing way wrong. Yes, you were suppose to believe in the entire Quran (3:7) but were only suppose to apply the best of it (39:18). Believing in the whole Quran means believing that the parts that are not the best, are designed to misguide the hypocrites and expose the posers (14:27). Don’t be that guy.
“It is He who sent down to you the Book. In it are verses of obvious wisdom. These verses are the mother of the Book. Still there are other verses containing esoteric wisdom. Those in whose hearts is deviation, they only follow the esoteric verses, seeking disharmony and seeking its hidden meaning. But none has the understanding of their interpretations except God and those well-grounded in the knowledge. They say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from the presence of our Guardian Evolver.” But none will remember this, except the possessors of insight and a penetrating intellect.”
Those who listen to the word, and follow the best of it. Those are the ones that God has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding. 39:18
God will establish in strength those who believe with the word that stands firm, in the present and in the hereafter, but God will leave to stray those who do wrong. God does what He wills. 14:27
“No kind of calamity can occur except by the permission of God, and if anyone believes in God, God guides their heart, for God knows all things 64:11
We live in a time that places information at our fingertips. Whatever important, obscure, unusual, and even asinine fact that we may need or want, is no further than our always available smart phone or companion apparatus. There are still a few of us who peruse the daily newspaper, but even for us diehards, it’s akin to reading yesterday’s news because, whether we like it or not, the network surrounds, informs, and updates us perpetually, as well.
It can be quite delusive. We come to believe we can know everything, that nothing is beyond our search or google, and that I hold in the palm of my hand every answer to every question that can be asked. And then a real life mystery and tragedy like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 occurs. For over a month and a half, the greatest minds, technologies, and governments, have not been able to locate a huge aircraft with 239 people aboard. It confounds and confronts us at the same time. It imposes upon us pause. The thought crosses our minds, ‘perhaps there is more to this earth, these seas, these skies, and this life than what I know or even can know’.
Faith is an interesting phenomena. It originates in the dark. It is tied up in the unknown. Most think of faith as being in opposition, or at least, estranged from intellect. Yet, every effort to know starts out of not knowing. It is the darkness that proceeds the light. It is the darkness that kindles the desire and the need to know. We search because we believe we will find Flight 370. We search because we feel an obligation to the 239 souls and their families. We search because ‘the not knowing’ drives us.
And yet, in our exhausting search, the obvious seems to allude us. This earth, these seas, the skies, are not our design. We are not their maker or their master. In fact, we are a participatory partner within and of this creation. The universe invites us, engages us, inspires us, and enlightens us, by the Grace of God, Who Knows what we know, what we don’t know, what we have yet come to know, and what we cannot know.
It is that faith that enlarges the heart, sharpens the mind, guides the life, and brings light out of darkness and doubt, if we but knew.
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
“Nor say of anything, ‘I will be sure to do so and so tomorrow,
“Without adding, ‘God willing’. And call your Lord to mind when you forget and say, ‘I hope that my Lord will guide me even closer than this to the right way.’ ” (18:23-18:24)
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin
For the past year, besides enjoying a somewhat elusive retirement, five grandchildren, World Pilgrims, and my blog partners at Higher Ground, I have also been involved with a wonderful initiative called One Region. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta provided matching funds and it’s expertise to partner with a donor that was interested in increasing interfaith and cross-cultural relationships, with an emphasis on the engagement of Muslim Americans.
The primary vision is to enable Metro Atlanta Muslims to fully embrace their civic rights, opportunities, and responsibilities, while increasing and deepening the interactions and relationships with neighbors, local governments, educational and cultural institutions, and faith communities. The four basic strategies and tactics are:
Community Building through Arts, Culture, and Public Dialogue
Leadership Development through Youth Engagement
Civic Engagement via Education and Training, and
Capacity Building through Sponsorships and Grants
The Community Foundation has involved it’s Neighborhood Fund to expand the reach and benefits of One Region into the interfaith, cross-cultural, and immigrant communities. It’s Council of Advisers includes members of the non-profit, faith, civic, corporate, public, and grassroots sectors.
In the past year, One Region has helped sponsor “Muslim Day in Grant Park”, the Georgia Humanities Council’s “Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys”, “Soccer in the Streets” in Clarkston, “The Islamophobia Conference on Muslim Women”,”Atlanta Celebrates Photography”, and the theatrical performances of “The Guys”, “Third Country”, “Harabel”, and “The Best of Enemies”. We have partnered with The Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Islamic Speakers Bureau, Families First, Welcoming America, the 5th Annual Neighborhood Summit, Dekalb Library, Azizah Magazine, Higher Ground, and Eboo Patel.
What is most exciting to me, One Region has a youth competition that begins April 1st called “Ideas Challenge”. We ask college, high school, and middle school aged young people this question: “How would you use $5,000 to bridge cultures and faiths in your community?”. The 3 young people with the best ideas and plans to help their Metro Atlanta community or neighborhood become more inclusive will not only receive a $500 cash prize, but we will partner them with a non-profit and $5000 to bring their idea into reality!
Insha-Allah (God Willing), One Region will fill a void and help everyone it touches to deeply appreciate and benefit from the beauty and richness of diversity. To view the rest of our story, go to oneregionatlanta.org.
“Say, ‘I do not find in the message I received by inspiration anything forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it is animals found dead, or blood poured out, or the flesh of swine, for it is an abomination, or what is unclean, or that on which a name has been invoked other than God.’ But if a person is forced by necessity, with neither outright rejecting, nor transgressing due limits, your Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Mercifully Redeeming.” 6:145
Pigs are currently thought to be the best candidates for organ donation. The risk of cross-species disease transmission is decreased because of their increased phylogenetic distance from humans. They are readily available, their organs are anatomically comparable in size, and new infectious agents are less likely since they have been in close contact with humans through domestication for many generations. Current experiments in xenotransplantation most often use pigs as the donor, and baboons as human models. (read more).
“Nor can a soul die except by God’s permission, the term being fixed as by writing. If any desire a reward in this life, We will give it to them, and if any desire a reward in the hereafter, We will give it to them, and swiftly will We reward those who serve us with gratitude.” 3:145
Coroner: Man’s return from death a ‘miracle’*
Howard and Byron Porter from Porter & Sons Funeral Home in Lexington, Mississippi, drove to Williams’ home to collect the body for funeral preparations. Howard checked Williams’ pulse about 9 p.m. and pronounced him dead.
“There was no pulse. He was lifeless,” Howard said.
The coroner completed his paperwork, placed Williams in a body bag and transported him to the funeral home, he said. There, something strange happened: The body bag moved. Read More on CNN
*I just hope it was not gross oversight
submitted by Bilal
“No, We gave the good things of this life to these people and their fathers, until the period grew long for them. Do they not see that We gradually reduce the land in their control from its outlying borders? Is it then they that will win?” 21:44
While reading the verse above it came to mind that 15 new countries* became independent with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Do the corrupt from the ruling elite not see that their land is gradually being reduced out of their control from its outlying borders?
“And blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).
“Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the reminder, ‘My servants the righteous will inherit the earth.’ ” (Quran 21:105)
*The 15 new countries
submitted by Bilal