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somewhere someone

somewhere in Manila

someone feels trapped

please make a way out for them

يا فتاح

 

somewhere in Dhaka

someone can find no one to help

please assist them

يا نافع

 

somewhere in Moscow

someone has no love

please love them

يا ودود

 

somewhere in Kinshasa

someone needs money

please enrich them

يا غني

 

somewhere in London

someone is afraid

please comfort them

يا سلام

 

somewhere in Caracas

someone has nothing to eat

please feed them

يا رزاق

 

somewhere in Chicago

someone doesn’t know what to do

please guide them

يا هادي

 

here in Oakland

this someone feels powerless to help the world

please accept his prayers

يا مجيب

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My favorite gospel is the Gospel of Matthew. I think it is beautifully composed and spiritually moving. Of course, I do not believe that Jesus, upon him peace, was God incarnate. I can appreciate the Jesus of Matthew without confessing the doctrine of the Trinity.

I still cherish the copy of the Bible I was gifted by my childhood church in 1988. In honor of the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, upon him peace, I wanted to share with you selections from the famous Sermon on the Mount. It is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, as rendered in this particular Bible (RSV), and it is full of wisdom for Muslims.

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Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Bless are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you…

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished…

…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell…

…Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who is in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…

…And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…

…Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

For the past year, I had been reading and watching everything I could find about the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Nothing prepared me for how massive they were. They seemed to go on forever.

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The first camp I entered was the Ukhiya camp. It is not even the biggest one. As we walked around, I felt disoriented, as the sheer weight of human suffering and trauma was everywhere. There is nothing but hills and valleys of shacks hastily built to cope with the massive needs of over 700,000 individuals. I clutched my tasbih, seeking shelter in the remembrance of God as a coping mechanism.

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Everyone who shared their story with us had a horrific story to tell. Down at the bottom of this hill, across the sewage and garbage-filled rice paddies, were shelters filled with such stories. Brutal murder, villages completely erased from the Earth, systematic rape. Personal tales that correspond exactly to what every reputable news outlet and NGO on the planet has extensively documented.

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In those moments, there is no recourse other than du’a. To pray that after a life filled with suffering and brutality, loved ones can finally be reunited and experience peace and beauty that never ends. To believe in the Divine Promise that God will say:

يَا عِبَادِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَا أَنتُمْ تَحْزَنُونَ

My servants, there is no fear for you today, nor shall you grieve

In those moments, when I turned to my Lord, I asked for the resolution of that which seems impossible to resolve. I could not bring her husband back from the dead. I was unable to recreate his village that was burned to the ground. It is not possible to unrape thousands of girls. Only the Creator of all has that Power, as is reported from His Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم

then one of the people of Jannah who had experienced extreme misery in the life of this world will be dipped in Jannah. He will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any hardship?’ He will say: “By Allah, no, I never experienced any hardship.”

But when I turn to my rebellious self, and to our community that calls ourselves Muslims, I ask if we are doing enough for our Rohingya brothers and sisters. And my unequivocal answer is no, no, no. Absolutely not. Not even close.

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My idealism is rooted in an understanding of reality. I understand the politics and economics that lead to people living in shacks made of bamboo on eroding mud cliffs, with 9 people living in a space that could barely fit my kitchen table. If you feel you must understand that larger context as well, you can read this book and/or this book, both of which I have reviewed on Amazon. But if you, like most people, neither have the desire nor the time to do the research, then just trust me. There is one fundamental spiritual response to this situation after making du’a and believing in the Last Day – giving of our wealth and time to assist the Rohingya.

We must begin with our selves, our families, and the communities of which we are a part. It does not matter what kind of Muslim you are – what matters is that you want to help. I do not decide whether or not my charity or your charity is accepted in the Divine Realm – that is between each one of us and our All-Knowing Lord. What is in our realm of responsibility is trying to do something real to help others in need. After seeing the camps myself, I know that what the Rohingya need from the Ummah is billions of dollars. It is simply that massive. Because the needs are so extensive, people like you and I will never be able to give enough. But we still have to do something.

The great great grandson of our Noble Messenger صلى الله عليه و آله و سلم, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, is reported to have said:

The most regretful of people on the Day of Judgment are those who prescribe justice, yet do the opposite.

Reflect on this story. Inside this bare-bones medical clinic, funded by Islamic Relief USA donations, is a young Bangladeshi doctor. Every morning, six days a week, she rises early to begin a two and a half hour journey to work here. All day long, in intense heat and humidity, she does what she can to help people, primarily women and children. I asked her why she does this, when she could be somewhere else making more money. She said that as long as it was economically possible for her to continue serving the Rohingya community, she would.

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She is a hero. In a world that does not care, she moved from Chittagong (a big city) to Cox’s Bazar (a town) to spend 5 hours a day traveling to and from a place that is the most tragic place I have ever been in my life. And in her patient answering of our questions I experienced a combination of dignity and humility that I have rarely seen.

Without funding, it will not be possible for her to continue her work. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of stories of similar nature. We feel a struggle in the moment we choose to give more charity than usual, and perhaps feel it occasionally later on when our balance is too low to afford something we want. But people like this doctor are there six days a week putting in the hours, working with the Rohingya while many of us have the privilege to forget that they are even there. May God bless us to assist her and those like her, so that we may walk with them as they walk paths like this to assist people we will probably never meet.

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There are only two experiences in my life that have felt like a preview of the Day of Judgement: The Day of ‘Arafah at Hajj, and visiting the Rohingya refugee camps. Both places make you realize your absolute neediness before Allah سبحانه و تعالى, confront your own shortcomings, and resolve to make the most out of the life we have been given. A year from now, will I still be alive? A year from now, will I have more to give the Rohingya or less? A year from now, what will be the situation of these people? I do not know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that I can write these words which do not do justice to what the Rohingya are going through, and remake a commitment to give money to help meet their needs, and turn to my Lord with tears in my eyes asking Him to do everything else I cannot.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

People, it is you who stand in need of God- God needs nothing and is worthy of all praise

 

***This post was originally created in August 2018, as a tool for the fundraising we did for Islamic Relief USA. I have re-edited it and reposted it to make it relevant outside of that original context, as the camps are still there and the needs of the people are ongoing.

Perhaps someone somewhere has explained this better than I can, but I wanted to share what I consider to be the supreme profundity of our simple dhikr: Subhan Allah Alhamdulillah La ilaha ill Allah Allahu akbar.

 

سبحان الله – Subhan Allah

Subhan Allah means that nothing is like Allah. Anything you see, hear, smell, taste, feel is different from Allah. Allah is transcendent above all of our embodied experience.

الحمد لله – Alhamdulillah

Alhamdulillah, on the other hand, is related to everything. Anything that you can conceptualize is from Allah, and thus all praise for everything in all existence belongs to Allah. There is no wanting something that is not, in the final analysis, wanting Allah, for that which is praiseworthy in that thing could not be there without Allah. Thus, Subhan Allah and Alhamdulillah are two sides of the same coin.

لا إله إلا الله – La ilaha ill Allah

If Subhan Allah was metaphorically like pushing Allah away from everything you can conceptualize, and Alhamdulillah was like bringing Allah as close as possible to everything, then La ilaha ill Allah is the stripping away of that distinction. Is there conceptualization without the Knower of everything sharing a drop of knowledge? Is there an existent world without the Living sharing a drop of life? Is there something to experience, and an experiencer to experience it, that is ever, for even a single moment, independent of Allah?

الله أكبر – Allahu akbar

Subhan Allah was based on the plain understanding that Allah is unlike the creation. Alhamdulillah flipped that observation on its head, and made the creation reveal the Creator at every moment. La ilaha ill Allah erased the distinction entirely. Allahu akbar brings us back into a relationship, where beyond every horizon there is something greater. Where the furthest limits of our imagination cannot reach. For no matter what I say, or do, or experience, or think, or imagine, or want…Allah is always greater than that.

So the next time you repeat these four phrases, try to remember that this simple dhikr is an expression of all that ever was, is, or will be.

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there is no me

it is a secret, writ large

there is no me

 

maybe if i die soon

these words will last for a hundred years more

the tragic end of a seeker

who still had so much more to explore

 

vanity. pure vanity.

 

for there is no me

 

a million years from now

if there are still humans in the universe

even these words will be gone

and were you there to see it

the only reason you would even know i had been there

is a distant memory

 

for i exist only in the Mind of God

in the Knowing of past-present-future

in the Garden-time and Fire-time

in the forever

in the always

 

and these eyes have already rotted in my grave

and these fingers are nothing but bones

and would you send me your salams

you would not hear my reply

 

unless God permitted it

 

for i am already gone

 

there is no me

there is only Mercy and Justice

there is only the Garden and the Fire

there are only the Friends and their supporters

and the Enemy and those who acted on the whispers

 

kun fa yakun

 

رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّا

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fading days

the sun sits low in the west

and the shadows lengthen

yet our lips still hymn Your praise

for it is You who gave us life

and it is You who calls us home

The New York Times has reported how Facebook contributed to the genocidal assault by the Myanmar military that drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh a year ago. I visited the camps housing the refugees in August, and I think about the people I met all the time. Recently the Executive Director of BRAC, one of the most respected humanitarian organizations in the world, said that they don’t have enough funds to address the needs in the camps. Specifically he stated:

“Let me speak of our situation. We began work with a plan for 50 health centres. We later reduced this to 30. We are currently working to manage the costs for 11 clinics. We have even dipped into our own funds. We cannot halt this work.”

Specifically, the article states that through the end of 2018, BRAC needs $56.4 million but only $33.4 million has been raised. Facebook currently makes billions of dollars of profit every 3 months. I am writing this with the audacious goal of convincing Facebook’s leadership to fill the funding gap of BRAC for the end of 2018. Give BRAC $20,000,000 before the end of 2018, meant to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

$20,000,000 does not absolve Facebook of its responsibilities to the Rohingya people. But making a public donation to a humanitarian organization that is serving those whose lives were destroyed by the Myanmar military is a step in the right direction. But most importantly, it will make a real difference in the lives of people who desperately need the world to care. When I was there, I saw how much $500,000 or $1,000,000 can do for so many. If I had $20,000,000 to give to BRAC, I would. But I don’t.

Please share this widely. The only way we could ever convince Facebook to do this is if it gets enough traction. I know this is idealistic, but what else am I supposed to do? Sit back and forget about all the suffering people I have seen with my own eyes?! I will not. The Rohingya are still there in the camps, and in need of our assistance. I will keep trying, praying to the One who removes all obstacles for success in this small effort. بسم الله

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Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh, August 2018

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