God and Chicago

Driving around Chicago the other day and lost in my mind, I was struck by how the geography of this city is a living witness to my spiritual journey. For every doctrinaire pilgrimage to Makkah or desperate searching for a Western-toilet in Varanasi, there is a building in Chicagoland (the local term for the Chicago metropolitan area) where I have experienced global religious traditions. Baha’i, Gaudiya Vaishnava, Protestant, Catholic, Sunni, Shi’i, Thai Buddhist, and more all have a place here. Over the years, I have been blessed to encounter many of the hundreds of sacred spaces found in my hometown.

I am incapable of recounting every place and every meaningful moment, but here is a map of the ones that come to mind:

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There is Kenilworth Union Church, just down the street from my parents’ house. I was raised in this Protestant space, and it is where I formally rejected Confirmation when I was in junior high.

ISCKON Chicago on Lunt Avenue is where I first bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the moment that launched me on the path of asking the deepest questions I know how to ask.

Islamic Foundation of Villa Park is the only mosque my parents’ have visited in the United States, once for my mother-in-law’s janazah (God have mercy on her), and another for an interfaith speech I delivered.

I spent 9 days studying at Baitul Ilm, a mosque in Streamwood, and try to go there when I can.

I helped (along with many others) establish Ta’leef Chicago on the Near South Side, and it is probably the space where I see the most people I know personally.

There are so many other places – these are just a few to sketch my path. But what really matters is that the Lord of Humanity, the King of Humanity, the God of Humanity” watches over it all. The Creator (al-Khaliq) who made Lake Michigan to provide us fresh water. The Just (al-‘Adl) who will judge past generations for what they did to the Natives who first lived here. The Benefactor (al-Nafi’) who brought 1500 Rohingya to the Devon area so that they can begin again.

I have exerted myself as much as I know how. I have traveled around the world to the best places I could find. And on this day, after all is said and done, I am writing this in the bedroom that has been mine since I was 1 year old. How did it ever turn out this way? Human beings plan, and God plans, and God is the best of planners.

May God grant to all the souls of Chicagoland good in this world, good in the next, and protection from the punishment of the Fire, ameen.



I am sitting after prayer, wanting to reflect in writing. No need for polished prose or an attempt at well-constructed arguments. Just thoughts.

I feel more balanced right now than I have since August. Yesterday I was reminded of something very very deep in my relationship with God, something that I will never be able to fully convey to others. But that is how it should be – the intimacy (uns) of the bed is not meant for the chatter of the street.

And this morning I spent time centering my process of rectification (islah), both in terms of God’s Rights (huquq Allah) and the rights of God’s servants (huquq al-‘ibad). I know what I need to do and am doing it, and insha’Allah it will lead me to what I should do next.

In a conversation once with Michael Dann, he surmised that the following section of a verse in the Qur’an was a good summation of Islamic spirituality:

وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ اللَّهُ

Be aware of God such that it positively impacts your behavior, and God will teach you

I think that was a wise observation, masha’Allah, and pretty much sums up how I approach this process.

So then I had some space to just unwind. I read about the Korean War and Augustine. I looked up information about Vietnam, and wondered what it would be like to travel there. I didn’t realize that Vietnam is the 14th most populous country in the world, and has over 90,000,000 souls. Subhan Allah. May God grant them all good in this world, good in the Hereafter, and save them from the punishment of the Fire, ameen. I don’t know if I’ll ever met any of them, but I would like to insha’Allah.

I am truly grateful to be alive, and ask God for well-being (‘afiya) in my religion (din), my worldly life (dunya), and after death (‘akhira), ameen.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

right now

right now

three billion souls are speaking to God

one invokes the name of Jesus

upon him peace

dreaming of Rome

another imagines Krishna in his mind

as she speaks her need

longing for Vrindavan

still another looks at his palms outstretched

as he invokes the Creator

yearning for the Kabah


an inhabitant of Earth


a sacred soul


believing they are heard


i worship the God Who Hears what i type

as well as the secret whispers within

Who Sees between the atoms of my liver

beyond the reach of scientific minds

Who Speaks to me through Arabic words

بَلَىٰ قَادِرِينَ عَلَىٰ أَن نُّسَوِّيَ بَنَانَهُ


the Lord of my fingerprints

in whose Hand is the cosmos

and everything beyond


love of perfection

Written for the 2nd Annual ICNYU Grand Mawlid


بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد

السلام عليك يا رسول الله

my dear beloved Prophet

ّI was asked to write something for your birthday

how can a man like me speak about a man like you

the day you were born the heavens rejoiced

‘here is the greatest of creation

the culmination of all prophetic realities

after whom there will be no other’

whereas the day our mothers bore us

was just a day amidst other days


it is my honor to speak to you

to address you as our Prophet

may blessings and peace be upon you and your family

even though we have never seen you

for the last time we gathered here

one of your servants spoke of love

a love that comes spontaneously

because of the perfection of the beloved

and for a moment

he asked us to imagine that you walked into the room


my Lord!


all my life would not be equal

to the first moment my eyes were graced with beholding you


yā Rasūl Allāh

yā Ḥabīb Allāh

yā Muḥammad al-Muṣṭafā


I pray that blessings be showered upon you and your family

to the number of all things that Allah has created

from the first moment that time began throughout all contingent eternity

in every moment that you are denigrated by those who do not believe in you

and every moment you are disrespected by those who are not humble before you

and every moment you are forgotten by those who obey you

and in every moment of reverence filling the hearts of those who love you


our Prophet

pray for our forgiveness!

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ جَاءُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا اللَّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُوا اللَّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا

We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave. Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful.

we are all in need of forgiveness

every single one of us!

and sin is nothing other than falling short of your perfection

as a worshipper of God

and a servant to God’s creation

and so who better to lift us up towards a higher state

than you


from sin to obedience

from obedience to cautiousness

from cautiousness to detachment

from detachment to never forgetting our Lord


steps and stairs and stations

pathways of ascent

to drops from oceans

gathered in you


your perfection is not increased by our obedience

it was there before we were born

and will remain after we are buried in the ground

so come to us

in our graves

if the darkness of our hearts should make us fear there

then by the light of your presence give us hope

for every prayer we make in New York City

every fast we undertake during 2017

every American dollar we give as zakat, khums, and sadaqa

every turning away from something haram

every attempt to understand and act upon ethical ideals

every whispered prayer of longing hope to our Creator

is nothing but us collectively expressing

that we want to be like you


and so we gather to remember you

to talk to you

to speak about you

and to imagine what it would be like

if you walked in the door

and the tears began to pour

and our hearts burst inside our chests

as we became lost in a love

greater than what we feel for our parents

our spouses

our children

and even our own selves

اللهم صل على محمد وآل محمد



When We let people taste [Our] mercy after a distress that has befallen them, behold, they scheme against Our signs! Say, ‘Allah is more swift at devising.’ Indeed Our messengers write down what you scheme.

It is He who carries you across land and sea. When you are in the ships, and they sail with them with a favourable wind, rejoicing in it, there comes upon them a tempestuous wind and waves assail them from every side, and they think that they are besieged, they invoke Allah putting exclusive faith in Him, ‘If You deliver us from this, we will surely be among the grateful.’

But when He delivers them, behold, they commit violations on the earth unduly! O mankind! Your violations are only to your own detriment. [These are] the wares of the life of this world; then to Us will be your return, whereat We will inform you concerning what you used to do.

The parable of the life of this world is that of water which We send down from the sky. It mingles with the earth’s vegetation from which humans and cattle eat. When the earth puts on its luster and is adorned, and its inhabitants think they have power over it, Our edict comes to it, by night or day, whereat We turn it into a mown field, as if it did not flourish the day before. Thus do We elaborate the signs for a people who reflect.

Allah invites to the abode of peace, and He guides whomever He wishes to a straight path.

– Verses 21-5 of Surah Yunus translated by Ali Quli Qara’i


The following du’a from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya has become one of the defining texts of my faith over the last year. It expresses better than anything else I know a fundamental spiritual truth that helps us to understand the world and the God Who created it. Essentially, it is about the limits of thankfulness (shukr). On a day when Americans are supposed to be in a state of thanksgiving, I thought it would be beneficial to share it.


The English translation by Dr. William Chittick is as follows:

O God, 
no one reaches a limit in thanking Thee 
without acquiring that of Thy beneficence 
which enjoins upon him thanksgiving, 

nor does anyone reach a degree in obeying Thee, 
even if he strives, 
without falling short of what Thou deservest 
because of Thy bounty. 

The most thankful of Thy servants 
has not the capacity to thank Thee, 
and the most worshipful of them 
falls short of obeying Thee. 

To none of them is due 
Thy forgiveness through what he himself describes 
or Thy good pleasure for his own merit. 

When Thou forgivest someone,
it is through Thy graciousness, 
and when Thou art pleased with someone, 
it is through Thy bounty. 

Thou showest gratitude 
for the paltry for which Thou showest gratitude 
and Thou rewardest 
the small act in which Thou art obeyed, 
so that it looks as if Thy servants’ thanksgiving 
for which Thou hast made their pledge their reward 
and made great their repayment 
is an affair from which they could have held back without Thee, 
and since Thou wilt recompense them, 
and who cause is not in Thy hand, 
and then Thou wilt repay them.

Nay, my God, Thou hadst power over their affair 
before they had power to worship Thee, 
and Thou hadst prepared their reward 
before they began to obey Thee; 
and that because Thy wont is bestowal of bounty, 
Thy custom beneficence, 
Thy way pardon. 

So all creatures confess 
that Thou wrong not him whom Thou punishest 
and bear witness 
that Thou bestowest bounty upon him whom Thou pardonest. 
Each admits that he has fallen short of what Thou meritest. 

Had Satan not misled them from Thy obedience, 
no disobeyer would have disobeyed Thee,
and had he not shown falsehood to them in the likeness of truth 
no strayer would have gone astray from Thy path. 

So glory be to Thee! 
How manifest is Thy generosity 
in dealing with him who obeys or disobeys Thee! 
Thou showest gratitude to the obedient 
for that which Thou undertakest for him, 
and Thou grantest a reply to the disobedient 
in that within which Thou art able to hurry him. 

Thou givest to each of them 
that which is not his due, 
and Thou bestowest bounty upon each 
in that wherein his works fall short. 

Wert Thou to counterbalance for the obedient servant
that which Thou Thyself hadst undertaken, 
he would be on the point of losing Thy reward 
and seeing the end of Thy favor, 
but through Thy generosity Thou hast repaid him 
for a short, perishing term 
with a long, everlasting term, 
and for a near, vanishing limit 
with an extended, abiding limit. 

Then Thou dost not visit him with a settling of accounts 
for Thy provision through which he gained strength to obey Thee, 
nor dost Thou force him to make reckonings 
for the organs he employed 
to find the means to Thy forgiveness. 
Wert Thou to do that to him,
it would take away 
everything for which he had worked 
and all where he had exerted himself 
as repayment for the smallest of Thy benefits 
and kindnesses, 
and he would remain a bride before Thee 
for Thy other favors. 
So how can he deserve something of Thy reward? 
Indeed, how? 

This, my God, is the state of him who obeys Thee 
and the path of him who worships Thee. 
But as for him who disobeys Thy command 
and goes against Thy prohibition, 
Thou dost not hurry him to Thy vengeance, 
so that he may seek to replace 
his state in disobeying Thee
with the state of turning back to obey Thee, 
although he deserved from the time he set out to disobey Thee 
every punishment which Thou hast prepared 
for all Thy creatures. 

Through each chastisement 
which Thou hast kept back from him 
and each penalty of Thy vengeance and Thy punishment 
which Thou hast delayed from him, 
Thou hast avoided from Thy right 
and shown good pleasure 
in place of what Thou hast made obligatory. 

So who is more generous, my God, than Thou? 
And who is more wretched than he who perishes 
in spite of Thee? 
Indeed, who?
Thou art too blessed to be described 
by any but beneficence 
and too generous for any but justice 
to be feared from Thee! 
There is no dread that Thou wilt be unjust 
toward him who disobeys Thee, 
nor any fear of Thy neglecting to reward 
him who satisfies Thee. 

So bless Muhammad and his household , 
give me my hope, 
and increase me in that of Thy guidance 
through which I may be successful in my works! 
Surely Thou art All-kind, Generous.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

The Goal

On your birthday, you are reminded of your years and why you have done what you have done.

The goal is clear: Paradise.

The means to the goal: striving to know the best inward states and outward actions at any given moment, embodying them, and if best, teaching that to others.

“The best remembrance of Allah is when a person is faced with something forbidden (which he has the ability to perform), however because of the remembrance of Allah, he prevents himself from falling into sin.”

– Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام (as quoted in Weapon of the Believer: A Manual of Daily Prayers & Supplications, trans. by Saleem Bhimji, p. 82)

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