I am afraid to write these words. Words mean very little. Realities are what matter. I know I can write the words, but can I live the reality?

According to the world population clock, there are currently over 7.5 billion human souls in bodies on Earth. That number increases every day. The world population is divided up amongst the 193 member nations of the UN. Almost 1.4 billions souls in the People’s Republic of China. A little over 323 million in my own country, the United States of America.

And yet, there are approximately 10,000,000 who are not given a home within this system.

I would not have faced this reality without the current media coverage about the genocide of the Rohingya. Where are hundreds of thousands of people going to go after being gang raped, watching their family members shot before their eyes, and losing everything as the Burmese military burns entire villages to the ground? The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, The Kingdom of Thailand, and The Federation of Malaysia – three nearby nations with significant Rohingya refugee populations – have not offered to make them citizens. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not offered them asylum, even as they vie to be “leaders” of the Muslim world.

Alhamdulillah, for all of my country’s flaws, over 5000 have been welcomed here. They have even established a small community organization in Chicago, my hometown, where they are mobilizing on behalf of those abroad. Insha’Allah, more of them will come in the years ahead. It is my duty to be of service to them in whatever way I can. Those who have made it here are best poised to help their friends and relatives, whom they will never forget for the rest of their lives, long after the world forgets them. I cannot change the world, but I can intend to change my self for the sake of Allah by committing to assist them.

It is reported in Sunni hadith collections that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family, said:

ازْهَدْ فِي الدُّنْيَا يُحِبَّك اللهُ، وَازْهَدْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ النَّاسِ يُحِبَّك النَّاسُ

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

And it is reported in Shi’i sources something similar:

إِرْغَبْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ يُحِبُّكَ اللٌّهُ، وَ ازْهَدْ مَا فِي أَيْدِي النَّاسِ يُحِبُّكَ النَّاسُ

Actively seek that which is in the presence of Allah so that Allah will love you; keep away from that which is in the hands of the people so that the people will have love for you.

The word that is translated as “being unattached” or “keeping away from” is zuhd (زهد). Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have. The Qur’an speaks directly of this spiritual challenge in Surah al-Balad:

فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ

فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ

أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ

يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ

أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ

Yet he has not embarked upon the uphill task. And what will show you what is the uphill task? [It is] the freeing of a slave, or feeding [the needy] on a day of starvation, or an orphan among relatives, or a needy man in desolation,

If it is a “day of starvation,” most likely you are hungry too. It is not easy to share what you have in such a situation. But that is what we must do. It is not a false ideal – it is a Qur’anic description of the righteous.

I have met no scholar nor activist nor mystic yet who is more worthy of the decent life they are already living than the Rohingya that are mentioned in the news stories. This includes myself – God may ask me at any moment about the luxury that I drown in every day. The only way forward is to do something – to recognize that whoever you are, God may ask you about the Rohingya and what you did once you knew. As Imam Khalid Latif said the other night at NYU after returning from Bangladesh, “The world is killing these people. We are killing these people.” I know Khalid personally, and I know that he traveled halfway across the world to raise money for relief aid because it deeply pains him that this tragedy can happen. Ali Yusufali from the Orlando area has been there multiple times, and his organization Comfort Aid International is taking responsibility for 100 orphans for the next two years in addition to providing emergency aid. I learned that an old friend, Dr. Imran Akbar, has already been working with the Rohingya in Chicago, and even traveled to Bangladesh to set up a medical clinic and connect with some of the relatives there of those who have made it to Chicago.

This is the inspiration we all need – to know that serving other people that you never knew before on the other side of the world is not only possible, but something we must do. To use one’s privileges in the service of others, as opposed to the service of one’s self. To give up our worries about what my job will be, who my spouse will be, who my friends are, where will live, and every other manifestation of the ego that keeps us from reaching states and stations more like our spiritual exemplars, upon them peace. Could we imagine Musa, upon him peace, going on with his life while this is happening? Could we imagine ‘Isa, upon him peace, saying that it was acceptable to just give a few dollars and then go back to thinking that the world is okay?

Sure, we all want things. I want so much, I could live “a thousand lives” on this Earth before getting bored. I even dream about lives in space. But maybe in a world where a storefront community center is trying to stop the genocide of hundreds of thousands, we need to stop thinking about what we want and instead reorient our lives to think about what we can give. That is how we might attain something of zuhd, as an attempt at an adequate response to a world that abandons so many.

The Generous has granted us so much. The Earth is full of land and resources. But our short-sighted selfishness has turned it into a nightmare for millions.

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions and He will make them taste the consequences of some of their own actions so that they may turn back

Knowing what is happening is a catalyst for repentance. If it hurts you to look at the pictures and hear the stories of the Rohingya, then imagine how much harder it is to endure what is actually happening. Consider Rajuma. The journalist who interviewed her stated, “So I started thinking: If we don’t cover this, that’s even worse. That would be a further injustice, a further insult to the Rohingya’s humanity. It would be like telling Rajuma that the world couldn’t be bothered about what she suffered.” And this was how he described his encounter with her:

But as she reached the end of her horrible testimony, Rajuma broke down.

“I can’t explain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me ma.”

She hunched over on a plastic stool in another family’s hut, covered her mouth with a red veil and started sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.

Every thing I have ever learned in my life about empathy, both personally and professionally as a chaplain, is being put to the test. Every word I have written on this blog is coming to the fore.  The sincerity of my search to be on the side of the Just and Merciful is on the line, and my standing before the Judge is right before my eyes. But the whole point is that it is not about me. It is about Rajuma. It is about Nasir. It is about the tens of thousands of Rohingya living in Karachi without official recognition. It is about all the unique souls with a name and story, most of which I will never know.

But I want to know. And I want to help. I am taking steps, and maybe these words are just a small step that will lead to something greater. Maybe I will be able to live these realities as opposed to just talking about them. So that maybe, just maybe, the Divine Justice that is in wait for allowing this corruption to flourish will spare me because I “turned back.” And perhaps, the Guide will connect me with those about whom these verses were revealed:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا

إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا

إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِن رَّبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوسًا قَمْطَرِيرًا

فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا

They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks. Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful.’ So Allah saved them from the ills of that day, and granted them freshness and joy.


zakat of knowledge

I have tried to carve out time in the last 3 years to study, in order to move forward towards God with greater clarity. Simultaneously, I have played a far less active role in the American Muslim community during that time. So in order to fulfill my obligation to give out of what Allah has given to me, I am going to share some of the best things I have read. Of course, every text is open to criticism, with the exception of the Qur’an. But I can only give you what I know – perhaps there are better things to read, but I have not read them yet! One must pay the zakat due on the knowledge one has been given, but those with less on the bookshelf (such as myself) can only pay a little.

A contemporary reworking of the classic genre of “The Lives of the Prophets (qisas al-anbiya).” Takes into account concerns such as evolution and our lack of knowledge regarding prehistory. Well-written and engaging, with full citations for those interested in checking the sources upon which the narrative is based.

Arastu, Shaykh Rizwan; God’s Emissaries: Adam to Jesus (I.M.A.M.: 2014)



An academic study of the contours of Christianity before the advent of Islam. Provides insight into the faith worlds of those who tried to follow the teachings of Jesus, upon him peace.

Kelly, Joseph F.; The World of the Early Christians (The Liturgical Press: 1997)



A translation of the Qur’an that breaks both the Arabic and English into parallel phrases, allowing the reader familiar with Arabic to easily compare the translation with the original text.

Qarai, Ali Quli; The Qur’an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation, 2nd ed. (ICAS Press: 2005)



Prayers attributed to the Prophet’s great grandson, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. If the Qur’an teaches one how to listen to God, this text teaches one how to talk to God.

‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn, Imam Zayn al-‘Ābidīn; The Psalms of Islam: al-Ṣaḥīfat al-Kāmilat al-Sajjādiyya, trans. by W. C. Chittick (Muhammadi Trust: 1988)



Historical overview of the events of Karbala and their universal significance in world history. Text is neither overly academic nor overly devotional.

Naqvi, ‘Allamah ‘Ali Naqi; The Martyr for Mankind (Shahid-e-Insaniyyat): An Abridgement, trans. by S. ‘Ali Akthar (Muhammadi Trust: 1986)



Section of a longer theological treatise that tries to analyze the way God will judge people’s good deeds vis-a-vis the beliefs they hold. Takes into account atheism, other religions, and divisions within Islam. Author’s approach is compassionate yet precise, while acknowledging the inherent pitfalls of any such analysis. The whole book is valuable, but this final section is particularly noteworthy.

Mutahhari, Murtada; Divine Justice, trans. by S.H. ‘Ābidī, M. Alīdīnā, and S.A. Mīrzā (Kitab al-Islamiyyah: n.d.) pp. 260-350



A contemporary articulation of the shari’ah meant to be practiced on a daily basis, with reflections on the meanings and wisdoms of the outward rules. There are more lengthy books in Arabic that explain the author’s perspectives in greater detail.

al-Modarresī, Grand Āyatullāh Sayyid M. Taqī al-Ḥusaynī; The Laws of Islam (Enlight Press: n.d.)


A journalistic analysis of how we determine price for various tangible (homes) and intangible (faith) goods. Easy to read, yet based on scholarly academic research documented in the endnotes. Provides numerous insights into human behaviors and why the capitalist economy functions the way it does. Particularly insightful (and scary) chapter on the economics of climate change.

Porter, Eduardo; The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do (Portfolio: 2011)


ربنا زدنا علما

و نعوذ بك من علم لا ينفع

اللهم لا علم لنا إلا ما علمتنا إنك أنت العليم الحكيم

Our Lord, increase us in knowledge!

And we seek refuge in You from a knowledge the brings no benefit!

O Allah! There is no knowledge except what You have taught us! Truly You are the All-Knowing, All-Wise

Laylat ‘Ashura

on this night

standing before the tent of Zaynab

was the only place to be

so i beseech You

Creator of New York City

Sweller of the Atlantic Ocean

Lord of Jupiter and Mars

to place me in the service of Your beloveds

in whatever land You wish

in whatever time You desire

there is no god but You

لبيك يا حسين


when i was young

and the world was new

i was filled with joy

at everything i could do


the spring brought rain

and in summer felt sun

i could dance, i could laugh

i could swim, i could run


but at times i would feel

a piercing cold wind blow

and wonder in my heart

about those below


i approached an adult

with a question in my heart

“what happens when we die?”

and the fear began to start


they said they did not know

and about this we do not think

there is so much to enjoy

to eat, to touch, to drink


but as the years passed

that fear began to creep

in the darkness of the night

when you cannot sleep


the blinding of the I

the ending of the me

the world will go on

and nowhere i shall be


but then there came a man

whose name was al-Mustafa

who said in death is life

nothing to fear at all


only One should be feared

who gave you life at first

who satisfies your hunger

and takes away your thirst


if you walk in His way

you will never be alone

even in your grave

angels will come to bring you home


and for years I walked with Him

and He blessed me with a son

hoping to see him safe

until my life is done


but then the One he told me

about the son of al-Husayn

and learned that I know nothing

of tragedy and pain


in ancient sands, under burning skies

death was all around

body upon bloody body

sinking into the ground


if i had looked when i was young

only despair would i have seen

unable to bear history’s oppression

what could this possibly mean


but for the sake of Truth and Justice

this precious one did die

lying in his father’s lap

looking into the sky


“my grandfather is coming

to quench my bitter thirst

come join us soon, my father

as I take the journey first”


to a place beyond sadness

where dreams are reality

manifest by the One who made us

and everything you see


the One who crafted imagination

and the heights of the human soul

from nothing came all of this

and everything we know


But ‘Ali al-Akbar could see

something that we cannot

a sacred drop from Heaven’s rain

that brings forth tears that do not stop


for the love of al-Mustafa

with trust in the All-Mighty One

Husayn let his oldest son die

certain that Heaven he had won


for this life will end, there is no doubt

and we will all face the final test

but can we watch our little one die

the one we had held to our chest


can we let go of our hopes and dreams

and still know that Allah is there

can we undergo life’s crushing trials

and still believe He cares


well I say to the world and all who will hear

Husayn faced more than we know

yet he never backed down and never gave up

for he knew where we all will go


it is better to live a moment for God

than to spend a lifetime clinging to Earth

better to know one’s precious soul

the source of the human’s worth


better to fear Justice’s wrath

and hope in Mercy’s embrace

to let go of our tight grasp upon this life

and seek out our Master’s face


to seek for the beauty of a boy who stood tall

and made his grandfather proud

the reflection of the greatest of Allah’s creation

whose battle cry he shouted out loud


“Do you know who I am, by the Ka’ba’s Lord

I am the son of Husayn and ‘Ali

I will strike you down with the sharpest of swords

so come face this young Hashimi!”


and with that I lost the fear of my youth

a poison that destroys any heart

for the call of Husayn is that we cannot die

even if our body is torn apart


the One who made the man you see

from a single drop of fluid despised

will create me again and make me stand

under dark and foreboding skies


the pregnant will forget the child she has

the friend will turn into foe

and the result of our lives will be revealed

the truth of existence we will know


we will see it all with our very eyes

the veil will finally be gone

and on the Day we face that test

our tears will help us along


these tears we shed are not in vain

they are our soul longing to be free

yearning for our everlasting home

where with our Imam we can be


by the Grace and Mercy of the One

Each of us has a choice

and the best advice I can give to you

is listen for ‘Ali al-Akbar’s voice


listen to him calling you

repeating, “there is nothing to fear”

for my father and I are waiting for you

and the end of the journey is near



trying to speak to God

Last night, I felt so close to God that I felt like I was not real – a fading shadow, soon gone from the world. For hours, I was trying to put into words what I was feeling, but nothing felt adequate. Then I read the words attributed to Imam al-Sajjad, upon him peace, and they expressed it better than I ever could.


O God,

if You will

You will pardon us through Your bounty

and if You will,

You will chastise us through Your justice.

So make our ways smooth to Your pardon through Your kindness

and grant us sanctuary from Your chastisement through Your forbearance,

for none of us has the endurance for Your justice

and none of us can reach deliverance without Your pardon!

O Richest of the rich!

Here we are, Your servants, before You.

I am the neediest of the needy toward You,

so redress our neediness through Your plenty

and cut us not off from our hopes through Your withholding,

lest You make wretched him who seeks felicity through You

and deprive him who seeks help from Your bounty!

Then to whom would we return after You?

Where would we go from Your gate?

Glory be to You!

We are the distressed,

the response to whom You have made incumbent,

the people from whom You have promised to remove evil

That thing most resembling Your will

and that affair most worthy for You in Your mightiness

is showing mercy to him who asks You for mercy

and helping him who seeks help from You.

So show mercy upon our pleading with You

and free us from need when we throw ourselves before You!

O God,

Satan will gloat over us if we follow him in disobeying You,

so bless Muhammad and his Household

and let him not gloat over us after we have renounced him for You

and beseeched You against him!


[modified translation of du’a #10 from al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya]


What were you thinking

my Imam

upon you peace

when you last looked at the House of God


Did you think of your forefather Abraham

hands worn from work

looking at the completed structure

praying for the future


Did you think of your great grandfather Abu Talib

sweating under the blazing sun

boycotted while the Banu Umayya

relaxed in its shade


Did you think of your grandfather

the blessed Messenger of God

blessings and peace upon him and his family

making tawaf in his farewell pilgrimage

and wonder how things had come to this


Did you think of your father ‘Ali

born inside its sacred walls

murdered in a mihrab

in faraway Kufa


Was the House of God

my Imam

a reminder of your family

of what had passed

and what was yet to come


Did you leave that blessed place

– even though you had more right to it than anyone –

because of the God who made it sacred

knowing that those who pursued you

had no shame


What was in your mind and heart

my Master

as time’s unfolding

and the plotting of men

drew you away

from a place you loved

and that loved you too


And as you began your journey

did you think of your son

who would one day return

and inspire the poet to speak:

This is the son of Husayn and the grandson of Fatima, the daughter of the Apostle, through whom the darkness dispersed

This is he whose ability the valley (of Mecca) recognizes, He is known by the (Sacred) House and the Holy sanctuary, and the lands outside the sanctuary

and know with certainty

that even should your body be desecrated

to protect the purity of this House

God would always preserve what you stood for

echoing the words of your great-great-grandfather across time:

“this House has a Lord Who will defend it”



so many years I have wondered

what it means to be a Muslim

after the burial of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

I have listened and listened

to every voice tell me what it might be

and I have found that there is nothing as clear

as sacrificing one’s life

to defend the grandson of the Messenger of God

blessings and peace be upon him and his family

and the fact that so few

made that decision

makes all the difference


I listened to the Sunni khateeb

remind us not to be selfish

not to make our Salat nor our Hajj

about me, me, me

but instead turn outwards

and connect our worship of God

to our love for God’s creatures

and I finally realized

that opening my heart

to the tears and the blood and the centuries of burdens

was a way to make my worship

more acceptable to God

for what is more selfish

than forgetting


the next time I go to the Ka’ba

if God so wills

I will bring with me for the first time

the memories of al-Sajjad

the confinement of al-Naqi

the loneliness of al-Zahra

and so much more

that I never brought before

when it was just

me, me, me


you do not need to travel

to the east nor the west

to find Truth and Justice

you need only turn your attention

to Karbala’s burning sands

and listen to the story

of a few heroes

who lived Islam


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