Greetings of Peace, Shalom, Namaste, Salaam!
It is time, this holiday season, to savor the sweetness of those who work steadfastly for peace and fellowship. This past summer, when the voices of hateful intolerance reached a fever pitch, Rev. Michael Yoshi, Pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda California, a trailblazer in interfaith affairs, invited Muslim guests to his Sunday Worship Service. Guests in attendance included the staff and students of the Ilm Tree School in Lafayette California and Saeed Malik author of â€œA perspective on the Signs of Al Quran: through the prism of the heart.â€ Michael “s spiritually uplifting service was followed by a book-reading and book-signing by Saeed and concluded with an endearing family-style lunch in the Churchâ€™s community room.
Saeed Malikâ€™s speech with excerpts from his book (in blue) follow:
“In the Name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
Good Morning! I am deeply touched by the honor you bestow on me!
I met your Pastor for lunch last week and asked him three questions regarding my talk here:
1) How much time did I have?
2) Need I wear a tie?
3) Did he have any suggestions as to my talk?
Your Pastor and you gave me a generous 15 minutes. He revealed that doesnâ€™t wear a tie himself; and he offered, as answer to my third question, that he trusted the Holy Spirit. The last answer is vintage Michael Yoshi. May God be pleased with our efforts today.
Thank you, too, for allowing me to share my book with you. My book is not an attempt to promote my faith but a sincere attempt to make people, both Muslims and Non-Muslims, better understand my perspective on my faith.
First a back drop for this book from the very first page of the book itself. It speaks of our times:
â€”In the backdrop of the age of information and the age of disinformation;
The age of reason and the age of disregard;
The age of science and the age of sound-bites;
The age of disbelief and the age of fanaticism;
The age of connectivity and the age of disconnection;
The age of satiation and the age of emptiness;
The age of mega-cities and the age of lonelinessâ€”The age on the brink.
You and I seek God in our separate ways but we all seek God. We have dogmatic differences, but Dogma is not the concern of a spiritual seeker. We are all children of the same God. I cannot be a good Muslim without first being a good human being. I cannot present one face to God and another to you. So let me try to connect with you so that I can connect with God with and through you.
You may want to ask me, who or what is a Muslim. Because I am not a perfect Muslim, let me tell you what a Muslim aspires to be. I will therfore start with the section called â€˜Islamâ€ to recall the words of a Muslim 14 centuries ago, persecuted in his homeland; seeking asylum with a Christian King:
What is the message of this last creed? This question was asked by the Negus (king) of Abyssinia of a group of Muslims seeking asylum in his Christian kingdom. The prophetâ€™s cousin, Jafar, son of Abu Talib spoke on behalf of these 80 Muslimsâ€”adults and some children fleeing the unbearable persecution by the Quraish of Mecca.
Martin Lings describes this exchange as follows:
When they all assembled, the Negus spoke to them and said: â€œWhat is the religion wherein ye have become separate from your people, though ye have not entered my religion nor that of the folk that surround us?â€ And Jafar answered saying: â€œO King, we were a people steeped in ignorance, worshipping idols, eating unsacrificed carrion, committing abominations, and the strong would devour the weak. Thus we were, until God sent us a Messenger from out of our midst, one whose lineage we knew, and his veracity and his worthiness of trust and his integrity. He called us unto God, that we testify to His Oneness and worship Him and renounce what we and our fathers had worshipped in the way of stones and idols; and he commanded us to speak truly, to fulfill our promises, to respect the ties of kinship and the rights of our neighbors, and to refrain from crimes and from bloodshed. So we worship God alone, setting naught beside Him, counting as forbidden what He hath forbidden and as licit what He hath allowed.â€
The Path to God has remained unchanged
Scripture does not change; human practice of scripture changes. The â€œmoney changersâ€, whose tables Jesus would overturn, personified deviance from scripture. Jesus came to realign Judaism. Jesus had no quarrel with the message brought by Moses. He came to reinforce it. The chain of prophets is one. Muhammad is a link and the last link in the chain. Muhammad came to reinforce the message of Jesus and Moses and Abraham and Noah and Adam.
God hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel (Al Quran 3:3)
One of the biggest dogmas that divide the three monotheistic religions is related to Mary and her son Jesus. So what does the Quran say about Mary, mother of Jesus? The Negus too was curious. Jafar would then recite from the chapter of the Quran named after Mary, including this reference to her:
Reflect on the record of Mary.
She withdrew from her family, into a solitary retreat to an eastern abode.
We then sent to her Our Spirit in the form of a perfect man.
She said: â€œMay the Source of Mercy protect me from you, be you conscious of Himâ€.
Replied (the Spirit) â€œI am but a messenger from your Sustainer, to bestow upon you a pure and perfect son.â€
Said she: â€œHow can I have a son when no man has ever touched me and I am not unchasteâ€.
Said (the Spirit): â€œThus it isâ€
And your Lord Says, â€œIt is easy for Me. We intend to make him a sign for mankind and mercy from Us.
This act has been ordainedâ€ (Al Quran 19:16-21)
It has been said that upon hearing the Quranic recitation, the Negus welled up with tears, drew a line on the floor with his regal staff and said â€œBetween your religion and ours there is no more difference than this lineâ€.
The Quran holds Mary and Jesus in profound reverence, as amongst the closest to God. Mary, the blessed virgin is ranked highest amongst women, by God:
And Lo! The angels said: â€œO Mary Behold, God has elected you, and made you pure,
and has chosen you to be foremost amongst all women.â€ (Al Quran 3:42)
Her son, Godâ€™s chosen messenger, was given â€œclear signsâ€ and â€œstrengthened with the holy Spirit.â€ This baby spoke the word of God right from the cradle:
Lo the angels said:
â€œO Mary! Behold, God sends thee glad tiding, through a word from Him,
[of a son] who shall become known as Christ Jesus, son of Mary; of great honor in this world and in the life to come and [shall be] of those who are drawn near to God. And he shall speak unto men in his cradle, and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous.â€ (Al Quran 3:45-46)
The myopia of time
Our temporal existence is trapped in the illusion of space and time. We determine spatial co-ordinates by referencing the stars, because they are transfixed in the sky. Are they? No! The stars are not stationary. The stars too are moving! They appear stationary to us out of their sheer distance from us.
How big is the Universe and how far can we â€œseeâ€? That depends upon where one is in time! Time, and not space, defines for us the physical boundaries of the universe. We only see the light that has traveled to us and light from outer distances has simply not had the time to reach us. Closer to us, lightning and thunder originate at the same place and the same moment in time, however we will experience the lightning first and the thunder later. What is a serial experience to us is a concurrent event. The stars we observe in the night sky may not even be there today and what we observe is their state eons ago; the past ushers itself into the present. Time itself is illusory or as science calls it, relative. In a spiritual sense the past, the present, and the future are not serial but the same moment in timelessness. We cannot fathom this concept and we are not designed to.
On a spiritual plane the just and pious action is rewarded the moment it is willed. The â€œwhenâ€ and â€œhowâ€ and â€œwhereâ€ are a mystery to us. God never fails to respond to the sincere caller in a manner and time deemed most wise by Divine Wisdom.
A prayer is not a pill that provides relief as soon as it is popped. It is more like a seed. A seed must wait to germinate and the tree must wait to bear its fruit. Faith challenges us to be patient and hopeful, an effort that by itself is both genuinely liberating and intrinsically spiritual. Faith is to know with certainty that just and earnest prayers are always heard and just and earnest intentions and actions always find repose in the Truth and that Truth shall prevail.
The measure of the fullness of time, relative to our serial experience, and the measure of the fulfillment contemplated in the Divine response, is fully and solely with God. It is not only outside the scope of our knowledge but beyond our capacity to measure, much less to expect. What better illustration of this than in the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus. The apparent triumph of his oppressors at the moment of his crucifixion was the illusion of its time. For ever it will be Jesus who, by the Divine Will, prevailed:
And the unbelievers schemed (against) Jesus
But God brought their scheming to naught
For God is above all schemers (Al Quran 3:54)
God is Al Muqaddim, the One who determines the sequence and precedence of objects and events and beings. The Truth is that each new cycle of revelation is meant to open new doors. Spiritual doors do not close, they lead to new vistas. Sincerity is an unfolding quest. To love Muhammad is to love Jesus and Moses too. Rumi reminds us all:
There are those who accept the law of Moses and not the grace and love of Jesus,
like the Jewish King who killed Christians.
This is not right. Moses is inside the soul of Jesus, as Jesus is in the soul of Moses.
One era belonged to one; then it was the otherâ€™s turn, but they are one being
True blindness is of the heart
Insight and understanding do not die when the lights are turned off or when the skies are darkened by the thunderous clouds. They live and thrive in a seeking heart, standing sitting and lying down. Spiritual blindness is not the unfortunate loss of eye-sight; it is instead an insidious disease of the heart:
For indeed it is not their eyes that grow blind,
but it is the hearts, which are in their bosoms, that grow blind. (Al Quran 22:46)
Faith replaces doubt, yet it does not enter through the door of mental reasoning or logic alone. It seeks the heart because it must reside in the heart. The mind seeks to breakdown mysteries into discrete components and acceptable causes and effects. It analyzes by disintegration. It must test and verify. It is therefore limited by what it knows, or by the extent of its knowledge base. There is no knowledge-base beyond death. The mind must therefore relegate spiritualism to the realm of metaphysics. It is relieved to give the realm a name that sounds â€œscientificâ€, thereby hoping to one day unlock the mysteries of this realm. It must not submit so it relegates. The heart seeking to contemplate a mystery as a whole is willing and capable of accepting, embracing and submitting to the Unknown. The heart cannot be coerced; it must want and it must be willing.
When the Quran says, â€œWherever you turn is the face of Godâ€ and then adds,
â€œNo vision can comprehend God; God comprehends all visionsâ€ it is clearly speaking to the heart.
Accountability to God entails more than mere ritual practice of religion. A soul untouched and unmoved by the physical and emotional needs of others less fortunate than himself, though often seen on his or her prayer mat, is merely a religious exhibitionist. One cannot aspire towards God without reaching out to fellow human beings. A heart that cannot feel the pain of others, seeks God in vain. True worship of God, demands as well as fosters, compassion, love and caring towards our fellow human beings. God has made us neighbors of each other so that we may discover that true wealthâ€”ours to keepâ€”is gained by giving, sharing and reaching-out to others. A person has not attained faith until he or she has made room in his or her heart for others.
The tender sapling of spirituality is fed and nurtured with courteous deeds motivated by compassion, kindness, and sharingâ€”all the little things that constitute good-neighborliness. The Quran recalls the Arabic word â€œMaâ€™oonâ€, connoting the daily ration of general necessities and niceties like salt and sugar, in the beautiful short chapter called by the same name to remind us allâ€”aspirants to Divine Blessingsâ€”of the insidiousness that comes from a sanctimonious attitude towards the practice of religion. We cannot grow spiritually by rote recitals or robotic rituals. To grow spiritually, we must learn not to withhold our active and consistent participation in the care and well-being of others:
Have you observed he who is in denial of Faith
It is he who pushes away the orphan
And participates not in the feeding of the needy
Woeful are they in prayer
They who in their prayers are detached
They who make a display of it
Though they withhold even small neighborly assistance and courtesies (Al Quran 107:1-7)
I stand witness that today you offered me more that just Maâ€™oon. May God bless you, protect you and deepen your Faith. May God be pleased with our effort to reach out to each other.
Salaam Oâ€™ Alikum ”
Book CoverThe struggle of the soul
All Sincere Paths lead to God
The heart is the seat of â€œknowingâ€
Spirituality is internal. Religion tends to be external
The myopia of time
The prison of dogma
Submission to God is emancipation
Death is end of time, not being.
True blindness is of the heart
False assumptions negate sound logic
Pursuit of beautyâ€”the journey without bounds
Mary, the foremost amongst women
Justice and Equity are Divine Pathways
Life is Sacrosanct
God ranks by heart not nationality
The heart does not yield to force
The triggers of War
The triggers of Peace
â€œEye for an eyeâ€ squanders the opportunity to wash away ones own sins
Judgment is by God
A relationship without â€œIâ€, â€œmeâ€ and â€œmineâ€
God is both personal and universal
Pathways to Truth
The Most Beautiful Rosary
Empowerment of the heart
 Al Quran 2:253 and 2:87