As you read this column I am celebrating. I have joined my brothers and sisters in the ‘Umma, the global community of Muslims, to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, the Blessed Holiday, which commemorates Ramadan’s end. Muslim families along our Seacoast, as around the globe, are gathering, after a month of fasting, prayer and charity, to pray, feast and give thanks to God.
Over the past 30 days many Muslims have read the Qur’an in its entirety. Each evening during Tarawih prayers, which are unique to Ramadan, a community reads together one-thirtieth of the Qur’an.
On the last night, as we read Suras, chapters, that were getting shorter and shorter in length, our gathering grew more hushed as the realization grew among us that as we listened to the final sura, Al Nas (114/Mankind), the month was coming to a close. The final suras were very familiar to me, as they were the first chapters I attempted to memorize when I became a Muslim. Al Nas, the last chapter, was my first.
We had come together during Ramadan to eat, pray and share community.
Together, we teachers, writers, doctors, mechanics and students had come together to share our devotion of the Beloved and to recommit to attempting, in our humble way, to fulfill God’s injunctions for universal peace and social justice. We ate together, prayed together and sometimes we spent the whole night, in sleeping bags that we had brought from home, together so we could communally start the new day of fasting as an August dawn brightened New Hampshire skies.
In such a time as we face in our lives, Sura Al Nas was both an awakening and a warning. As Muhammad Asad notes in his Qur’an commentary, “It refers to the mysterious forces of nature to which man’s psyche is exposed and which sometimes make it difficult for us to discern between right and wrong” and of —¦the temptations to evil emanating from the blindness of our own hearts, from our gross appetites, and from the erroneous notions and false values that may have been handed down to us by our predecessors”
These forces challenge us to discern between right and wrong. If we fail to recognize those challenges and respond forcefully we remain blind, and we put our communities at risk.
Today, there are forces gathered, both in public and hiding in the shadows, who celebrate ignorance, division and bigotry. These forces celebrate neither religion nor the greatness of our country and they work in darkness, sowing fear and ignorance to divide our country — to set American against American.
For both our spiritual lives and in order to fulfill the aspirations we have for America’s greatness, let us push back against erroneous notions and false values.
William Sloane Coffin, once chaplain of Yale University and later Senior Minister at the Riverside Church in New York City, wrote, “Love measures our stature; the more we love, the bigger we are. There is no smaller package in all the world than that of a man wrapped up in himself.”
Let us push back with love.
Let us push back against the blind who pretend to have vision. Push back against the desires of the gross appetites, against the bigots who, out of fear, live in a poverty of spiritual despair. In the ignorance of their companionship they challenge us to live in daylight and warmth.
The opposite of love is fear, not hate.
Do not let them reduce you to hate. That is their battlefield, where they join forces to challenge the greatness of America in order to reduce it to a corrupt vision of privilege and power, of exclusion and submission.
In a thoughtful consideration of the line, “Give us this day our daily bread,” William Sloane Coffin wrote, “How (Jesus) would scorn an economic theory that says we must heap more on the platters of the rich, for only so will more crumbs fall to the poor …; Never in recent history have we had so blatant a plutocracy: a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy.”
The opposite of poverty is justice, not wealth. In a country as rich and powerful as we are, poverty is not a station of birth to which someone is consigned for life. It is a social injustice against which we must stand.
Justice is protecting the power of enfranchisement for minorities and the poor without paying a poll tax. Justice is education and health care. Justice is the freedom to move off the plantation without having to get permission from the land-owners.
There are two battles raging today:
In my community it’s the right to worship as we wish without stigmatization.
In my community it’s the right of all to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; without justice, none of those are possible.
Having adopted William Sloane Coffin for the inspiration for this column I will close by quoting him, “The way we are cutting taxes for the wealthy and social programs for the poor, you’d think the greedy were needy and the needy were greedy.”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald