Hamza Yusuf, Jonathan Brown, Yahya Rhodus | Value of Liberal Arts Education | ADAMS Center

As the Friday evening rush hour set in around the DC beltway, I and hundreds of other Muslims battled through traffic, which more than doubled my travel time to get to the ADAMS Center mosque in Virginia. I arrived before the event and helped a parent carry in some boxes of Girl Scout cookies before making my way toward the gymnasium/multipurpose event room.

Before I even took off my shoes, I met an old acquaintance who said that the room was full and that we might as well make our way upstairs to the overflow space in the musalla. For a moment I considered trying to squeeze my way in but instead reluctantly decided to go upstairs knowing that the experience would be inferior. And it was, although, I give the organizers props for trying.

A television monitor, a bit on the small side, had been setup with close circuit feed to the program downstairs in the gym. The camera appeared as if it were placed on the furthest possible wall at the highest possible angle so we couldn’t really make out any of the main speakers. Some extra speakers had been brought in to amplify the sound so at least we were able to hear if not see.

Dr. Jonathan Brown, a hadith scholar at Georgetown University, opened by highlighting some of the pitfalls he sees in many western universities, which he described as having “sterile” and “amoral” environments. In such settings, moral thinking based in religion is often seen as an impediment to progress and enlightenment. According to Brown, most academics are afraid to weigh in on the political and moral issues of the day fearing a backlash or being accused of trying to “force” their personal convictions on others.

For a Muslim student raised in environment of black-and-white morality and where a spirit of inquisitiveness is not encouraged, a college environment, which does not nurture their faith can lead them to question everything they believe or had been taught to believe. According to Dr. Brown, this is one reason many colleges began as religious institutions that had a strong moral framework.

Dr. Brown hopes that the Muslim community can pool its resources to create more institutions like Zaytuna College that can build up and pass on wisdom for future generations of American Muslims. Through these institutions, the Muslim community can show the rest of society the values contained within the Islamic tradition.

Yahya Rhodus began his talk by translating some lines of poetry: “Make knowledge an excuse and don’t make other things an excuse for knowledge. And know for certain that knowledge and worship are the means of felicity and salvation. And that is what will remain for you in the next world so purify and cling to that.”

Today, many young Muslims feel at a loss spiritually and are not sure how to respond effectively to the changing circumstances we find ourselves in. Rhodus emphasized that having a holistic knowledge of the religion is key to navigating our situation as American Muslims. Knowledge can help the believer understand the context of generalized Prophetic principles, which remain constant, in light of the underlying changing circumstances of today.

Hamza Yusuf praised the ADAMS Center as a model American Muslim community but cautioned the audience not to become complacent by mentioning a narration from Abdullah Ibn Umar: When a believer is praised, he works harder, because he knows it [the praise] is always more than he deserves but when a hypocrite is praised he become lazy because he is pleased that people think good things about him.

Yusuf then reminded the audience that the religion of Islam is based on knowledge. The revelation of Quran began with the word Iqra, which means to read or recite and that this knowledge is a gift given from Allah. Knowledge can raise a people and communities in ranks but only if we remain humble.

In some narrations of the famous hadith “Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim,” Yusuf explained that some scholars added the words “wal muslima” so that everyone would know that learning is obligatory for both men and women.

Continue reading “Hamza Yusuf, Jonathan Brown, Yahya Rhodus | Value of Liberal Arts Education | ADAMS Center”

Yesterday, I Wept at the Courthouse

Yesterday, I wept at the courthouse. Not because I had to miss class to contest a speeding ticket nor because my officer decided to show up nor because I feared my auto insurance rates would go up. Even though, I had secretly hoped the officer wouldn’t show up, I’m glad he did, otherwise I would not have wept nor learned a lesson.

I would not have wept because my case would have been dismissed early on and I’d have left the courtroom before any of the trials took place. So I stayed and during the first trial, I wept as did many in the courtroom that morning for the loss of man I didn’t know.

Seated around the prosecutor’s table was the dead man’s wife and son. He has other children too and young grandchildren, the youngest, the one he never met, born last December, carries his name. His wife wrote a letter to the judge detailing how the loss of her husband of forty years, her high school sweetheart, and business partner had affected her. She said she felt as if she were missing half of herself.

Her son began to read from the letter until overcome with emotion he handed the letter to the prosecutor to finish reading for him. Also seated around the prosecutor’s table were the court’s translator and the two Latino men who had worked with the woman’s husband and were with him that fatal day.

At the other end of the courtroom was the defendant, a man perhaps in his late forties or early fifties, a retired military veteran and firefighter. His hair was closely cropped and his face red with the emotion of a man trying to hold back tears. While it was easy to feel empathy for those sitting around the prosecutor’s table, I didn’t know what to feel for this other man. But even for him, I can only feel empathy for a man forced to carry his burden.

One rainy day, three men stopped their van on the side of the road to adjust their windshield wipers. Two were outside and one stayed inside the van. Without warning, their van was struck by another vehicle at speed. The power of the impact forced the now deceased man’s head through to the outside of the van. His companions also sustained serious injuries. They have had multiple surgeries since the accident and may suffer some permanently disability. Neither, both manual laborers has worked since the accident. One of them has a wife and two small daughters and worries how he will be able to support them.

The sorrowful man behind the defense table offered the excuse of being distracted as he looked into his driver’s side mirror. Continue reading “Yesterday, I Wept at the Courthouse”

What All American Muslim Women Eat | Burgers, Fries, & Milkshakes

Burger 7 (not my tray)

We don’t always eat like a “heart attack on a plate” but last week, nearly a dozen friends and I descended on the semi-halal (it’s complicated) Burger 7 restaurant in Falls Church, Va. There was an All American Muslim convert moment when, of course, another convert and I were the first ones to arrive (early).

A colleague of mine had recommended that I try the fried egg topping on my burger so with some nagging trepidation I ordered it. And to my surprise it was rather flavorful and delicious.

I’ve never thought milkshakes and burgers go well together but they seem much more appealing when all the other drinks on the menu are alcoholic or caffeinated. So most of us ordered milkshakes to go with our meal. The laughter and good conversation were plentiful  and we lingered for a couple of hours until nearly closing time.

This week after attending an event at Newseum near Capitol Hill in D.C., some friends and I wanted to grab a bite to eat for dinner. At 10pm, our options were pretty limited but one friend who used to work in the area directed us to the Good Stuff Eatery on Pennsylvania Avenue, which thankfully is open until 11pm.

Not only did we get amazing nighttime views of D.C. including the Supreme Court, Washington Monument, and Capitol Building but we also had some more tasty burgers, fries, and milkshakes.

The politically savvy menu includes items like the Michelle Melt Free Range Turkey Burger, the Prez Obama Burger, and the Vegetarians Are People Too ‘Shroom Burger. I ordered the veggie burger and we shared a side of Village Fries topped with thyme, rosemary, and sea salt. The beer and soda beverages just aren’t my thing so we each choose a milkshake from the dozen or so specialty ones listed.

No night in D.C. would be complete without a parking story. After we left the Newseum, we debated whether or not I had to move my car after the three-hour time limit expired. I thought I did but since the parking sign only indicated parking instructions until 10pm, we decided to risk it and leave my car parked on the street until after we ate. When we returned, I was greeted with a pink parking citation on my windshield.

Eid al-Fitr 2011 | A Convert’s Eid | Fun with Friends

Early on the morning of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of the month of Ramadan, I was awakened by the increase in light emanating from outside my bedroom window. It took a few minutes for me to realize that the power, which had been knocked out by the heavy winds and rain of Hurricane Irene had been restored.

Deprivation and loss brings about a new sense of humility and thankfulness. The electricity restoration was one of the best Eid gifts I’ve ever received. I’m thankful first and foremost to God and then also to Pepco, our utility company.

I arrived early to the Eid prayer but was a little disappointed that on such a beautiful day, we would be praying inside on an indoor track at the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex rather than on the grass next to FedEx Field. I suppose plannng considerations around Hurricane Irene may have forced a change of venue.

The indoor track before the crowds arrived

Later, as the crowds begin to arrive

The Men

The Women

Continue reading “Eid al-Fitr 2011 | A Convert’s Eid | Fun with Friends”

Ramadan in DC | Hurricane Irene’s Aftermath

Annapolis, Maryland

What a week, this Ramadan came in gently like lamb and appears to be going out with a vengeance like a lion. The death toll stands at twenty-two. Thankfully, I’m okay but like many in the DC area, we’re still without power.

Cell phone service is spotty so you might not be able to reach me. Text is good, trying to conserve my battery for as long as I can. No word or estimate yet from the power company on when power might be restored.

Many iftars at mosques and tarawih and qiyam prayers across the DC metro region were cancelled last night in advance of Hurricane Irene.

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RamadaninDC | DC Earthquake Reminds Me of What’s Important

Tuesday afternoon, I was in a training for my work on trauma-informed care when the earthquake that rocked much of the East coast struck. We had just finished a warm up ice breaker activity when I heard my supervisor shout, “Everybody outside!” Then came the gasps and shouts of surprise.

I hesitated for a moment wondering if this was yet another ice breaker activity but when I felt the ground shaking and saw our office building shaking violently, I knew we were experiencing an earthquake. The metallic roof made a sickening creaking sound and we made a somewhat orderly beeline toward the exit doors.

While outside, the shaking continued for few a little longer. People were trying to call their loved ones but with the phone lines jammed no one could get through. I was trying tweet the experience from my phone and after a few connection timeouts, I was able to post my tweets.


Some of my colleagues were quite shaken up and immediately left to go home. Others waited to return to the training but it was re-scheduled for another day. I set out for home and there was an unusual amount of traffic on the road. Seeing the traffic, so common to the DC area, was comforting.

Glad to see my exit on the parkway

I tried listening to NPR and the local news station for updates about the quake but I found the latter to be more fear-inducing than reassuring. And the nuclear power plants may have to go off-line, and the Washington Monument may be damaged, the Pentagon has been evacuated, oil prices may go up, people are in the streets…

Feeling more distressed than before I turned off the radio and turned on one of my Quran mix CDs. I recited aloud with Tawfeeq As-Sayegh even though my windows were down and traffic had on some parts of the beltway and BW parkway slowed to a crawl. At other times, I might lower the volume and recite more quietly but that day I thought about how fleeting life can be and were I pass away I’d rather be engaged in an act of worship reciting the Quran than in mindlessly listening to radio news.

Railroad Crossing Malfunction

And while the traffic was comforting, it was also very nice to arrive quickly at my exit so I could leave the traffic behind. As I neared home, I approached a railroad crossing that had the gates down and the red lights flashing. But no train appeared to be coming so the cars were cautiously dashing through a few at a time. When my turn came, I looked both ways and also made a dash for it.

Each year the month of Ramadan helps remind us of what’s important in life as we increase in acts of worship, give in charity, and train ourselves to be disciplined in doing good and abstaining from our selfish desires.

I’m humbled by witnessing natural disasters and other calamities, they give me pause and are a cause for reflection. In a world with so many possible distractions, a moment’s reflection is a precious gift, far too few of us are blessed with.

Ramadan at the Airport | Muslims at Their Best

When I worked at BWI airport, my shifts often began in the early morning, before the time for fajr prayer. Throughout most of the year, I would pray tahajjud (night prayer) after I arrived at the airport at one of the empty and carpeted gates.

For the early morning fajr prayer, I would retreat to the airport meditation room, one of the few places where the ubiquitous announcements in English and Spanish, “Attention all passengers. Please do not leave any items or baggage unattended. Unattended items will be removed by security…,” were muted. I always prayed alone.

But in Ramadan, the meditation room came alive with many of the Muslims who worked throughout the airport at the Hudson News newsstands, restaurants, for the airlines, taxi and limo drivers, and for TSA. I remember one day, I stayed late working overtime, and at sunset I went to the meditation room to break my fast and pray.

A Muslim woman, who appeared to be of Ethiopian descent, was sitting on the floor eating some food. She didn’t wear hijab so I didn’t know if she was Muslim but she offered me the salams, a warm smile, and her apple. I only had a few dates, which I belatedly offered to her. Her warmth and simple but profound act of generosity still makes my eyes moist. May Allah reward her with an abundance of good. We should never belittle any act, I was still a relatively new Muslim at that time, and her kindness towards me helped strengthen me in my faith.

I loved the experience of praying fajr in the meditation room during Ramadan because the Muslims took over, not that there were really too many others there in those early hours before the airport opened. We’d rearrange the chairs and pray, both men and women, in congregation sometimes as many as ten of us. The feeling and sense of community, absent during much of the year was palpable.

Last year during Ramadan, I had to pick up a friend from BWI airport around time for breaking the fast. As I waited by the checked baggage area, Muslims who worked at the airport kept coming up to me to tell me that a group of them were gathering on the upper level by the large crab sculpture to pray and break their fast together and that I was welcome to join and share the food with them.

These were given to me by a Muslim limo driver at the airport to break my fast

I saw a couple of Muslim limo drivers holding white name card signs waiting for their passengers to arrive. One of these drivers bought me some cookies and a bottle of lemonade from the newsstand to use to break my fast. Again, belatedly, I brought out my dates from my purse to offer to the drivers.

Over the years, I’ve met many Muslims working in the local DC regional airports always ready to help me find the chapel or meditation room and share their food or prayer mat with me. I didn’t always know their names and we didn’t always exchange salams or speak but God knows their names. I pray they will be rewarded for showing me the love and character of a Muslim, magnified by their generosity in the month of Ramadan.