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Eid al-Fitr 1438 (2017)

Al-Hamdulillah, God blessed us with the opportunity to experience another Ramadan. This was a really special year and its memories will last a lifetime. I would also like to express my thanks, on behalf of Middle Ground, to the LA Times’ Frank Shyong for the nice write up on Eid. Also thanks to Ifran Khan for the great photos:

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Ma sha’Allah!! They crushing it!! #BlackOutEid #MiddleGroundEid #MiddleGroundFamily #EidMubarak

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid

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#EidMubarak

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Love this family: #EidMubarak #MiddleGroundEid

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#madamebutterfly #EidMubarak #MiddleGroundEid

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#MiddleGroundEid #EidMubarak #madamebutterfly

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#EidMubarak #MiddleGroundEid #MiddleGroundFamily

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#EidMubarak

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#EidMubarak

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#EidMubarak

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#brothersinfaith #EidMubarak

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#chess #brothersinfaith #EidMubarak

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#EidMubarak #brothersinfaith #chess

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#EidMubarak

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#EidMubarak #bffs

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#EidMubarak #fathersanddaughters #muslimdads #blackfathers

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كل عام وأنتم بخير وعيدكم سعيد

“May every year find you well and may you have a blessed Eid.”

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The Night Worth A Thousand Months

إِنّا أَنزَلناهُ في لَيلَةِ القَدرِ

وَما أَدراكَ ما لَيلَةُ القَدرِ

“We sent it down on the Laylah al-Qadr. And how will you know Laylah al-Qadr?”
Qur’an, 97: 1-2

Qadr – what does it mean? Is it “measurement”? Is it “power” (qudrah)? Is it “worth” or “rank”? Certainly one of its qualities is,

خَيرٌ مِن أَلفِ شَهرٍ

“[It’s worth is] better than a thousand nights!”
Qur’an, 97: 3

So let me ask you: If it is the night of measurement, of power, or worth, than ask yourself, “What is my self-worth?” “What am I worth?” “What is my soul worth?” Can our souls be bought for a few dollars? A few million? Can they be measured by brand names? How powerful is our soul? Is it weak? Is it strong?

Seek those answers in the Night Worth A Thousand Months.

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The Tyranny of Liberalism

“Liberals welcome believers insofar as religion can be deployed in service of liberal causes, to be sure. But any expression of theological or moral judgment is met with hostility.” — Sohrab Ahmari, Liberalism: Believers Need Not Apply

In recent comments made by Bernie Sanders, progressives, an extension of modern liberalism, have revealed their true colors: complete hostility towards any tradition or moral system that does not espouse total relativism. The above quote from Ahmari’s timely article lays bare the Left’s attitude: either you’re with us (meaning you buy into our relativism hook, line, and sinker) or you’re against us. For communities of faith, this is a lot more serious than what might appear at first blush. Certainty the Muslim community is being heavily courted to adopt these totalizing, morally-relativist positions. But the question remains: can there be an Islam if we cannot maintain the right to believe in the exclusivity of Islam? Can any faith survive this hostile environment?

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Middle Ground Open House

We want to thank everyone who came out for our really amazing Open House. We could not have asked for better support or a bigger crowd! Also a big thanks to Super Smash Buns for dishing up some amazing food and keeping everyone fed and happy. Enjoy some shots and zany videos and stay tuned for me!

The food is here!

@supersmashbuns #mgmcopenhouse

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  Look at our Middle Ground kids!   

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Myself, Shaykh Chef Yasin and brother Jamaal anxiously await the food (video)!

#mgmcopenhouse #shaykhchef @supersmashbuns in the house!

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  Middle Ground reporter, Imam Marc Manley, getting the scoop (video):  

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Do we need a special occasion? Yes (video)!

#mgmcopenhouse

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  Welcoming our visitors (video).  

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Getting a selfie with the Super Smash Buns crew. These guys are incredible!

#shaykhchef #mgmcopenhouse @supersmashbuns in effect son!

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  There’s just one question: beef or chicken (video)?  

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Super Smash Buns delivers food big as your heart but meant for your heart.

@supersmashbuns #shaykhchef #mgmcopenhouse

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  Don’t mess with the Imam’s burger, yo (video)!  

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We here at Middle Ground are all about serious business (video)!

#mgmcopenhouse @supersmashbuns

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  A beautiful day with beautiful people and beautiful food. Did I mention beautiful?  

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The Middle Ground News Crew goes behind the scenes (video):

#mgmcopenhouse #shaykhchef @supersmashbuns

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  After Paul Bunyan took his shahadah, he takes a moment to enjoy a halal burger (video)!  

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More photos (slide show):

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Establishing Deep Roots

In a phone conversation today with Dr. Sherman Jackson we exchanged thoughts on Andalus (Muslim Spain) and that despite its architectural beauty, it was unable to firmly establish roots such that, when the tide of adversity came at them, they were washed away. This is in comparison to the Muslims in the former Soviet Republic, who also faced tremendous brutality, but once that tide washed back out, the Muslims came back and their identity was still intact. Reposted here from the article originally entitled, Muslim-Americans and the Need to Establish Deep Roots.

Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part I):

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Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part II): A video posted by Marc Manley (@sonofpierre) on

Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part III):

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Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part IV): A video posted by Marc Manley (@sonofpierre) on

Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part V):

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Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part VI): A video posted by Marc Manley (@sonofpierre) on

Muslim-Americans and deep roots (part VII):

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Food for thought.

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Perceptions

Perceptions are so important and yet, are also so fallible. Are we seeing “what is”, or can our perceptions be fooled? This question arose recently in the bi-weekly class I teach, Understanding Islam.

One young man asked what should he think of when it comes to “dark thoughts”: The kind you have when you are alone and feel that “the walls are closing in”; or that “God is punishing me.” Such are good and common questions.

If we turn our attention back to the initial premise (perceptions), we might glean some insights to help us understand what is going on.

Take these few “facts” of “reality”: We are currently rotating at a speed of approximately 1,000 mph (the speed at which the circumference of the earth spins). Can you feel it?

Even more astounding, as was pointed out in a previous post, whilst spinning like a mad top, we are actually hurtling through the cosmos at a staggering 490,000 mph! The thought of such blinding speed makes me reach for my seat belt.

While all of the above “facts” are verifiable through certain means, nonetheless, our perceptions are often what govern what we take as reality. Even at the moment of writing this article I feel none of the truly awesome forces at work everyday upon myself. Yet, perceptions or not, reality remains “fixed”: we are hurtling at speeds beyond comprehension.

If we examine the first question: “the walls are closing in”, we will find, upon calm examination, that indeed (earthquakes aside) no walls are falling in upon us. It is quite the opposite: the walls have not moved at all; only our perceptions of them changed.

As to the second question, feeling that “God is punishing me”, let us look to some examples that discuss God’s punishment.

God says in the Qur’an:

“We will give them a taste of lesser punishment before the greater punishment, so that hopefully they will turn back.” [al-Sajdah: 21]

وَلَنُذيقَنَّهُم مِنَ العَذابِ الأَدنىٰ دونَ العَذابِ الأَكبَرِ لَعَلَّهُم يَرجِعونَ

“Those are the people who trade the Next World for this world. The punishment will not be lightened for them. They will not be helped.” [al-Baqarah: 86]

أُولٰئِكَ الَّذينَ اشتَرَوُا الحَياةَ الدُّنيا بِالآخِرَةِ ۖ فَلا يُخَفَّفُ عَنهُمُ العَذابُ وَلا هُم يُنصَرونَ

Now, let us look to the hadith literature:

Related by Abu Hurayrah, “I heard Messenger of God (ﷺ) saying, ‘When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: ‘Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath’. [Agreed Upon, narrated from Riyadh al-Salihin, hadith #: 419]

لما خلق الله الخلق، كتب في كتاب، فهو عنده فوق العرش‏:‏ إن رحمتي تغلب غضبي

Related by Abu Musa, “The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “This people of mine (Ummah) is one to which mercy is shown. It will have no punishment in the Next Life, but its punishment in this world will be trials, earthquakes and being killed.” [Sahih, narrated from Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith #: 4278]

أُمَّتِي هَذِهِ أُمَّةٌ مَرْحُومَةٌ لَيْسَ عَلَيْهَا عَذَابٌ فِي الآخِرَةِ عَذَابُهَا فِي الدُّنْيَا الْفِتَنُ وَالزَّلاَزِلُ وَالْقَتْلُ

Related by Bahr bin Marrar, vis-a-vie his grandfather Abu Bakrah, “The Messenger of God passed by two graves (ﷺ) and said: “They are being punished but they are not being punished for anything major. One of them is being punished because of urine, and the other is being punished because of backbiting.” [Sahih, narrated from Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 1, Hadith 349]

إِنَّهُمَا لَيُعَذَّبَانِ وَمَا يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي كَبِيرٍ أَمَّا أَحَدُهُمَا فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْبَوْلِ وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْغِيبَةِ

As we begin to analyze the above statements from the Qur’an and Sunnah, we can see that punishment is real. However, punishment seems to have a number of caveats:

Punishment, by God, is severe, thus, those who are punished know it. It is not a matter of “feeling”. Punishment, as it relates to this life, can also be a mercy, as it allows us to taste what would potentially be our ultimate fate, encouraging us to rethink our lives and “turn back”, as in the verse from surah al-Sajdah.

Clearly God is Merciful, as is stated in the Hadith Qudsi as well as numerous verses from the Qur’an, in that “God’s mercy proceeding His wrath”. So what is left for us to think? Are our perceptions merely twisted? Are we not being punished? One aspect that can help us ascertain our plight is to examine our deeds and actions.

If we are indeed harboring feelings of remoteness, this may be as result of (a) acts we’ve committed that have pushed us away from God and God’s pleasure and/or (b) our perception (mentioned above), influenced by the whispering of Shaytan as well as our souls.

If we read the story of Cain and Abel, we see that it was Cain’s nafs (his soul) that coerced him into slaying his brother:

“So his lower self persuaded him to kill his brother, and he killed him and became one of the lost.” [al-Ma’idah: 30]

فَطَوَّعَت لَهُ نَفسُهُ قَتلَ أَخيهِ فَقَتَلَهُ فَأَصبَحَ مِنَ الخاسِرينَ

طَوَّعَ (the verb at the beginning of the verse above) means “to subjugate” (s.o., or s.th.) into obedience. It is not true obedience. In a sense we can act for our true selves or against. This is confirmed in modern studies on neurology and behavior, what Kelly McGonigal says in her book The Willpower Instinct:

“the promise of reward is so powerful that we continue to pursue things that don’t make us happy”.

Our nafs can, if not disciplined, override our senses and alter our perception of reality, even our actions. This can lead us to a skewed perception of reality. Ironically, we make think ourselves distant when in fact we are close to God:

“We created man and We know what his own self whispers to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” [Qaf: 16]

وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسانَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ

In the end, we must strive to be honest with ourselves and ultimately, with God. Are the walls closing in? Is God punishing us? The answer to these questions may lie in straddling a line between hoping for God’s mercy – in that it is always near – and being honest enough to access our actions and correct them in accordance with His laws. And we seek protection from the accursed Shaytan.

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Omnipotence For Dummies

The following is an account from one of the many counseling sessions I do in my role as imam. In this session we discussed some questions regarding qadr (often translated/understood as “predestination” but whose root is much closer to “measuring”) and God’s omnipotence, particularly in the face of human tragedy. The results from the session were found to be useful for this particular person and per their suggestion and permission. This article was originally posted on Marc Manley Dot Com as Qadr For Dummies.

Omnipotence as we often imagine it, as fragile and limited beings, is akin to a driver who has a stifling set of hands on the wheel and as thus, doesn’t let anyone else drive or participate.

Let us imagine another type of omnipotence: your child (4-years old) invites friends over to your house to play. In the process of playing they make a mess, spill pop (soda for Midwesterners), drop food on the floor, maybe even break a plate. Oh, and they also get into a fight. But is any of this out of your jurisdiction or control as a parent? No. Why? Because you have the power to clean it up and resolve their disputes. Likewise, even in the face of terrible tragedy, God has the capacity to take account (qadr) and to set affairs straight: reward or punishment as well as mete out justice and give recompense.

It is strange sometimes that we are unwilling to apply the same findings about the natural laws of the universe to other problem sets. Perhaps this is the failed results of attempting to divide life into sacred and profane realms. For instance we find all objects have mass, density, and gravitational pull. The larger, more dense an object is, the greater its gravitational pull. Likewise, the gravity of a group of 4-year olds playing, making a mess, breaking a plate and bickering over toys is trivial. But in the minds of those children, it is grave indeed. Thus, a parent is the suitable judge to arbitrate and adjudicate this scenario. Scaled up, one may understand who God is, what life is all about, how to process and compartmentalize life’s joys and sorrows, and ultimately know that nothing is outside of God’s capacity to arbitrate and adjudicate. As God says in the Qur’an, chapter 57, verses 1-2:

سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ وَهُوَ العَزيزُ الحَكيمُ

لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ يُحيي وَيُميتُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلىٰ كُلِّ شَيءٍ قَديرٌ

“Whatever is within the heavens and the earth reflects the glory of God, and He is the Powerful and the Wise. [1] To Him belongs the control of the heavens and the earth. He alone grants life, He alone grants death, for He has power [qadr/qadir] over all things. [2]