The rain continues to pour, and we're expecting two more days of it. How frightening and difficult it has been travelling back and forth to Philly over the past couple of days.
اللهم حوالينا و لا علينا اللهم على الاكام و الظراب و بطون الاودية و منابت الشجر
O Allah, let the rain fall around us and not upon us, O Allah (let it fall) on the pastures, hills, valleys and the roots of trees.
I distinctly recall the heavy rain that fell at the time of my father's death in September, seven years ago. Just days ago my paternal grandmother passed away, and yet again the rain is falling, even more heavily than before. Tonight my mom and I rode back from Philadelphia together, and had the chance to talk. We could also say that the circumstances forced us to continue a conversation that we cannot ignore, the elephant in the backseat, if you please.
Sadly, my mother does not feel that she can be happy in life if her children are not Orthodox. I can only imagine how difficult it is for a parent to find that their children, who they raised with love and devotion, do not meet their expectations. The truth is that I am most grateful for every sacrifice that my mother has made throughout my entire life in order to care for me. I could not have asked for a better mother. Even now that she is disappointed in me, she still shows me love and affection, the kind of loyalty only a mother can demonstrate. With all of my heart I do not want to hurt her - I wish that I she would not feel as if she has failed as a mother, simply because my faith has grown beyond Christianity into Islam.
I tried to articulate how ironic it is to me that the Islam that she disdains has challenged me to respect and honor her. I listen patiently and with sincere respect to her convictions: She believes wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ is the son of God who gave his life as a sacrifice for humanity, was crucified and resurrected in order to overcome death and offer salvation to the world. I know this set of beliefs through and through. I am not asking and will not ask her to change her beliefs, and still I am happy to attend the Orthodox Liturgy with her. But I tried to convey my current state.
At this point and time in my life, I cannot conceive of a loving God who allows his prophet, let alone his own son, to be humiliated and violently murdered. I question why our omnipotent God would have to depend on his son, or any other, in order to forgive the sins of humanity. My sense in Islam is that from the beginning of time, Allah has been fully capable of forgiving human beings individually and collectively:
To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. Then He will forgive whom He wills and punish whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent. Surah al-Baqarah 2:284
Maybe I am wrong. I cannot be so proud as to assert that I have found absolute truth in Islam. Of course I believe that Islam is a totally valid faith, but still, in humility I recognise that I am on a spiritual journey, being led by the grace of God. Therefore, I asked my mother to continue praying for me, however she wishes. As part of the recitation of Al-Fatihah (see Right) 17 times daily throughout the 5 daily prayers, I pray that Allah will guide me to the Straight path. If I am asking and she is asking, I can only trust that if my belief in Islam is some mistake, that God will lead me out of it.
Meanwhile, I believe that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) as the honored prophet of Allah constantly redirects the attention of his followers to God the Father. In John 14:28 Jesus says You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. I admit that Matthew, Mark, and Luke more consistently represent Jesus as a humble character who is the Son of Man. John is an exception to nearly every rule of the Gospels, and has a stronger agenda than the others to suggest that Jesus is a divine figure. When I read the Gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I find countless examples of Jesus calling his followers to worship and submit to God alone. Jesus did not ask to be worshipped. He said that it is God in heaven who forgives (Mark 11:25), God in heaven who answers prayer (Matthew 7:11), God in heaven who is perfect and worthy to be worshipped (Matthew 5:48). Even more, it is Satan who attempts to bow down and worship Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus' adamant response in Matthew 4:10 is Away with you, Satan! for it is written,"Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his followers to pray as follows:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. - Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV
It should be noted that at the moment Jesus instructs his disciples on how to pray, he includes no instruction for prayers to be directed to him, nor instruction for worship of anyone but the one God in heaven. Below is the Lord's Prayer from Matthew again, with an English translation of Al-Fatihah running parallel. Al-Fatihah is the first Surah of Al-Quran and the Surah (verse) that is recited by Muslims before every rakat (prostration) during the 5 daily prayers. The consistency between the instruction of how to pray between the two prophets of God, Jesus and Muhammed (peace be upon him) are striking and most likely, not coincidental.
|Photo property of AHMED ALMAHBUB|