Archive for January, 2016

In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, The Mercy Giving
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all realms
And may blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah and his family

How likely is it that an Ivy League student who is the son of a former CEO of an investment bank converts to Islam and studies regularly in an inner-city masjid with an African-American Imam who studied Islam for many years in Karachi, Pakistan? Not likely, but that is what happened.

Imam Abdul Hameed was my first teacher of Islam, and my first role model of a good Muslim. He was the Imam of Masjid al-Kareem in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as the state’s only full-time Muslim prison chaplain. He taught me how to read the Qur’anic text, the foundations of Arabic, basic fiqh of purity and prayer, and much more. He passed away on July 25th, 2015.

This short work is meant to benefit him in the barzakh – the intermediate stage of existence between the life we are living in now and the Day of Judgement. From hadith we learn that those in the barzakh can still benefit spiritually from the actions of those who are still on Earth. The spread of beneficial knowledge is specifically mentioned in that regard. Because Imam Abdul Hameed was my first teacher and role model, it is not far-fetched to think that this post can be beneficial knowledge that he has spread, since everything I learned subsequently rested on the foundation that he laid, by Allah’s permission.

But even more than that, I have chosen what I have chosen because before I left to attend his janaza, I thought, “I want to read a book that will be true to what he taught me in word and deed, so that his teaching can extend beyond his death.” And the book that came to my mind was a short collection of hadith entitled “The Reality of Worldly Life.” All of the hadith mentioned here are from that book, which was published in Pakistan, where Imam Abdul Hameed had studied for many years.

Up until his death, Imam Abdul Hameed was always there for me when I needed him to be, starting from my very first few days as a Muslim. I want to be there for him now. May the Most Generous Lord, who rewards us for the little that we do, accept this as a sadaqa jariya that benefits Imam Abdul Hameed from now until the Day he is raised again, ameen. Ya Jami’ (The One who brings together), You brought us together, and You caused us to part, and so bring us together again in the company of the one whose teachings we studied and implemented together, may Your blessings and peace be upon him and his family, ameen.

R. David Coolidge and Imam Abdul Hameed at Masjid al-Kareem (2013)




“The successful person is the one who enters Islam, is given that which is sufficient, and is content with that which s/he has been given.”


Imam Abdul Hameed was a simple man. He prayed, read Qur’an, taught the inmates at the prison, led the Friday congregation at Masjid al-Kareem, and served the Muslims of Rhode Island. He lived in various small apartments with his wife and two sons. He always seemed to me to be perfectly content with his role in the world.

I, on the other hand, had an upbringing that was characterized by wealth, and an overabundance of opportunities. What do I want to do with my life? Who am I? What is my identity? How do I make sense out of the complexity of the Islamic tradition? So many questions, many born of a privileged lifestyle, and not a lot of action.

When I reflect on why Allah decreed Imam Abdul Hameed to be my first teacher, and I think this hadith gets right to it. With what he was given, he was content, because he was simply interested in striving to be a good Muslim. Every memory I have of him is filled with dhikr and obedience to the shari’ah. When I was graduating from Brown University, one of the most elite higher education institutions in the world, I would daydream about staying in Providence and worshipping my Lord under the leadership of Imam Abdul Hameed. That did not work out, and I subsequently learned that I have to follow my own path. I cannot be Imam Abdul Hameed, for I am not a black man from Brooklyn who studied for many years in a Deobandi madrasa in Pakistan and led an inner-city masjid. I am a white man who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago who got an MA in Islamic Studies and was a chaplain at Ivy League universities. But Imam Abdul Hameed’s example was universal – worship your Lord the best you can with what you have been given, and leave the rest up to Allah.


What Really Matters

“Three things follow a dead body to the grave: two go away, and one stays. One’s family, wealth, and actions follow; family and wealth go away, but the actions stay.”


I attended Imam Abdul Hameed’s janaza prayer and burial. It was a beautiful experience. Hundreds of people who had been positively impacted by him were there, making du’a. His actions and words guided so many people, including myself. Indeed, the gathering was a witness to all the good he did.

He did not have a large family, nor abundant wealth, but that did not hinder his success. How much fasting he did! How much recitation of Qur’an he did! How many people he taught to pray! It is hard for me to imagine him receiving anything but enormous blessings from Allah. Compared to him, many of the elites of our country are truly impoverished and without opportunity.


True Freedom

“Son of Adam! Free yourself for My worship, and I will fill your heart with freedom from want, and protect you from poverty. If you do not, I will keep you busy working and not protect you from poverty.”


When I think of Imam Abdul Hameed, I think of him sitting in the masjid, reading Qur’an before the prayer. I think of him showing me Nayl al-Awtar by Imam al-Shawkani from off his bookshelf. I think of him making du’a regularly to be saved from the punishment of the grave. I think of him as a man at ease in the constant worship of his Lord. He had no need for anything else, other than what he needed to take care of his family and improve the community.



“All spending on the sustenance of one’s life is like spending in the way of Allah, except building things in which there is no good”


I think Imam Abdul Hameed put more effort into maintaining, improving and expanding Masjid al-Kareem than he did his own personal comforts. He had a palpable happiness when we talked about all the improvements that they were able to make, and never expressed to me discomfort due to the endless need to fundraise. All he wanted was for people to give so that everyone could benefit. And we did benefit, enormously.


The Fullness of Love

“Be unattached to the world, and Allah will love you. Be unattached to what people have, and people will love you.”


Imam Abdul Hameed was beloved by many, and I think it was because he was free from needing others to be something for him. He wanted them to give to the masjid, to contribute to the community, and encouraged them to follow Islam. But if they didn’t, he was still there in the masjid, doing what he did. People came and went, and sometimes we would reminisce about a brother who was around for a while, and then disappeared. But it didn’t bother him. He led by example, and it was up to everyone’s conscience to decide if they were going to follow or not.

He didn’t like it when people fought with each other, and we had many conversations about this. He wanted to bring people to together, but didn’t want to force it either. He once remarked to me that he believed that being involved in the affairs of the community, despite the drama that it entails, was more beloved to Allah than isolating himself for spiritual reasons. This conversation happened at a time of particularly intense intra-community drama. So it was no wonder to me how so many people were there to pray over him and lower him into his grave.

We often think about our love for Allah, but this hadith talks about Allah’s love for us. Imam Abdul Hameed’s only concern was living and teaching Islam. He once spoke fondly of being in Makkah when he was younger and sleeping on rooftops under the stars. This world was not his home – it was just a place he was passing through on the way to what he really wanted. May Allah grant it to him by His Mercy, ameen!

The grave of Imam Abdul Hameed, 2015



Read Full Post »

bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem

Dear Messenger of Allah,

al-salam ‘alaykum wa rahma Allah. May Allah send blessings and peace upon you and your family.

Perhaps you already know everything I am about to say. Perhaps Allah has informed you of my situation, and you are already making du’a on my behalf. But I want to talk to you directly, and so I am writing you this letter. I hope that it reaches you, with Allah’s permission.

I believe in you, even though I have never met you. For over 17 years, I have called myself a “Muslim” because I believe that you and your followers called yourselves Muslims. In Ramadan, I fast because I believe that you told us that God wanted us to do it. Every day I pray facing the Ka’ba in Makkah because I believe you told us that doing so would connect us to the Truth. My parents think it is all a bit strange, and mostly a waste of time and energy, but they ultimately respect my decision. Please pray to Allah to grant them faith. It seems impossible to me – that they would believe in you the way that I do – but I know that Allah can do all things, and guides whomsoever Allah wills. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed with a Muslim wife, Sumaiya, and we have a son Zayn. My intention is for us to raise him up as a great follower of you, insha’Allah. Please make du’a that we are granted tawfiq as Muslim parents.

I know that you are aware that there is a lot that the Muslims who are living now disagree about, and they often kill each other because of those disagreements. I hate this, Messenger of Allah, I really do. I don’t want to kill any human being without right. How could I want that, when you taught us so emphatically that a life can only be taken “rightfully (illa bi’l-haqq)”?! Yet today, I fear for my life in the company of many Muslims – indeed, I am sure that there are many who would judge me worthy of death for simply writing this letter to you! Even when I visit you in Madinah, they stare at us as if we are hovering between faith and disbelief. They are just waiting to pounce on us for calling out to you. At the head of them is the group that calls themselves “the Islamic State.” I believe that you want us to fight them. It is not just my understanding, it is the understanding of two of the most respected living scholars of your message, both of whom are from your descendants: Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi of Syria, and Ayatollah al-Sistani of Iraq.

Ya Rasul Allah, this is my belief. I do not want to fight other Muslims, but in my heart of hearts, I believe ISIS must be fought in accordance with the Qur’anic command: “fight the one which aggresses until it returns to Allah’s command.” When I look at the example of the one whom you and Khadija helped raise, Ali b. Abi Talib, I see that he fought the Khawarij even though they were Muslim. It is his example that helps me see your teachings in the midst of confusion. I know of not one example where ‘Ali did something to displease you, and so it is inconceivable to me that he would displease you by laying waste to the rebels of Nahrawan.

I try to focus on you, may Allah grant you and your family blessings and peace. You are the one who changed my life, ya Habeeb Allah! You are the one who made a critical intervention in human history that led to me fasting and praying 1400 years later in a country called the United States, ya Mustafa! But I also cannot see you without also seeing your family, may blessings and peace be upon you and your family. If there is any statement that is attributed to you that I believe with absolute certainty you said, it is hadith al-thaqalayn.

“O people! Indeed, I have left among you, that which if you hold fast to it, you shall not go astray: the book of Allah and my family, the people of my house.”

This hadith is agreed upon by both the Sunni and the Shi’i hadith scholars. As such, it is not a surprise to me that both Sunni and Shi’i ‘ulama who are descended from you through ‘Ali and Fatima agree that ISIS should be fought. It is not a coincidence to me that an ‘alim from my country must rely upon a statement attributed to ‘Ali to enlighten us regarding the “Crisis of ISIS.” And we know from ISIS’ behavior already that they would love to destroy the maqam of ‘Ali in Najaf and that of your grandson in Karbala, and spill the blood of whoever makes ziyara there. And yet, many who claim to represent your teachings hesitate or remain silent about the fight against ISIS. This makes no sense to me, and seems like a grave injustice masquerading as a false claim of mercy.

This weighs on me, my master, and that is why I am writing to you. I understand intellectually many of the differences in usul al-fiqh, ‘ulum al-hadith, and tafsir that undergird the differing perspectives of those who interpret your teachings. And I understand a lot of the historical, cultural, and political reasons Muslims have split apart into competing traditions. But none of that seems like a justification at this point. Do those who do not advocate fighting think ISIS is just going to lay down their arms? I am simply trying to follow you so that the Lord who sent you will love me and forgive me my sins. I am nothing but a Muslim who is interested in what will benefit me in this world and the next, wherever it is found. But in doing so, I believe in a position that others turn away from. And so I appeal directly to you, out of the fear that I would be spilling blood unjustly. Usually, I find solace in matters that virtually your entire Ummah agrees upon, such as Husayn being one of the masters of Heaven. But in this case, there is real dissension in the Ummah. From what I understand, there are those who believe we must fight (such as al-Yaqoubi and al-Sistani), those who believe in pacifism until the time of al-Mahdi (such as the Ba ‘Alawi sayyids), those who are not pacifists but do not publicly advocate for this particular fight (many Sunni ‘ulama), and those who are actually attracted to the evil of ISIS. I am firmly with the first group, believing that if you were here, you would mobilize your entire Ummah to crush ISIS.

Please pray for my forgiveness, O Messenger of Allah, and ask your Lord to guide me to being a true follower of you, inwardly and outwardly, publicly and privately, in knowledge, deed, and state. If I have erred in my understanding of what it means to obey you, then correct me through the means that Allah has put at your disposal. It is upon Allah that I rely in all of my affairs, but Allah has turned the direction of my heart in your direction, teaching me that obedience to you is the same as obedience to Allah. And how can I obey you if I do not know you? How can I know you if I cannot communicate with you? How badly I want you to come and sit with me and console me in this time of fitna! But our Lord has decreed that I would live in a time when you were not here in the flesh to settle the differences between the Muslims – a time when everyone would invoke your name on behalf of their opinion, including me – and I cannot but embrace our Lord’s decree. You are our leader – the one who was sent to bring us out of darknesses into Light! – and so I sit at home with my family, praying for victory over ISIS, believing that you have commanded it, upon orders from the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.

one of your billions of followers,

R. David Coolidge

2nd Rabi’ al-Thani, 1437

New York City


Read Full Post »


I don’t want these realizations to fade:

  • How many have served and suffered for ‘Ali and Husayn?! What have you done in comparison? Nothing. And yet you expect to be given ma’rifah of these exalted souls. Work harder.
  • How many sins were written for you in 2015?! Were the Judge to take you to task for your record in the past year, it would be a scary trial. Remember that in 2016 anytime you are about to sin.
  • 2016 is capital. Every breath is a coin to spend for the sake of the One. Rejoice at this opportunity that exists for the next 365 days, should you be blessed to live until 2017.
  • When you feel your fortitude fading, read this again.
  • When you feel uninspired, look at the picture below.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: