Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mercy (continued)

Dear Readers,
Please add your comments to Grace’s response below. We hope this new format of posting
each writer’s response separately will enable you to join our conversation more easily. My response will appear next Wednesday. Until then, we look forward to hearing from you, Tziporah

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (The Gospel of Matthew 5:7)

I am grateful, Yasmina, for your words about the Prophet Mohammed, for I agree that misconceptions about him, his teachings, and his followers can only lead to fears and misgivings that create barriers where bridges are needed. Mohammed’s teachings about women will surely surprise many Christians, including some who fail to see that even the Apostle Paul (who is commonly viewed as misogynistic) admonished husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) The concept of mercy lies, too, at the very heart of Christian teaching. For example, in the beloved Parable of the Good Samaritan, one’s neighbor is defined as “the one who showed mercy.” (The Gospel of Luke 10:37) Similarly, this biblical verse virtually mirrors the Hadith you cite: “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others.” (James 2:13a) Our three religious traditions are different from one another in particularity. Yet, whether it is through Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed that our gaze is directed to God, we come to discover a universal truth that love of God and the manifestation of God’s love for us is not complete until we can express that love for one another, for all people everywhere, and, as Mohammed emphasized, for all of God’s creation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Dear Readers, please join our conversation by commenting on Yasmina's explanation of this verse of Quran, written in honor of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed [Peace and Blessings be upon him]. Tziporah & Grace will be responding in the coming weeks.

We sent thee [O Muhammad] not but as a Mercy to all creatures.” (al-Anbiya 21:107)

Not bound by time, not limited to a group, not restricted to humans; this short verse describes the prophet of Islam [Peace and Blessings be upon him] as a Mercy that is manifested in the Book he was given and in his example, which Muslims seek to emulate.  The occasion of his day of birth more than 1,400 years ago is an opportunity to contemplate the meanings of that mercy.  Misunderstood by many today, his teachings challenged the modes of conduct fourteen centuries ago; but the issues he condemned and the actions he praised are still relevant today. Among these issues are the treatment of women and stewardship of the environment. From the beginning, he stressed to the men of his time that “The best among you is the one who is best to his wife1 and reinforced the need for stewardship of the earth through the teachings of the Quran. When asked, “Messenger of God, will we have a reward on account of animals? He answered: “There is a reward on account of every living thing.”2 Most of all, his emphasis was on the importance of good character, clearly indicating that dealing with people in an honorable manner is a means for acquiring the Mercy of God: “God will not show mercy to a person who does not show mercy to other people.”3

1 Muslim: Hadith 3466
2 Bukhari: Hadith 378
3 Bukhari: Hadith 375

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The New Year

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (Psalms 37:7)

Having just celebrated New Year’s Day on the Gregorian calendar, I am mindful of the variety of New Year’s observances in different cultures and religious traditions. Most mark the New Year in a particularly momentous way, whether solemn or festive. Interestingly, this is not the case for Christians who follow the liturgical Church calendar of the West and observe the religious New Year on the first Sunday of Advent, four weeks prior to Christmas. Neither a fast day nor a feast day, the first Sunday of Advent introduces a new cycle of readings from Scripture, ensuring that the complete Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospels, will be read in weekly worship over the course of three years. At Advent, church vestments mark the New Year with the color blue; one of four candles on an Advent wreath may be lit during the worship service, and hymns anticipating the coming of Christ, such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” are sung. No fireworks on this day; not even great ceremony. The New Year comes quietly, as pondering hearts open to prepare Him room.

What special meanings and rituals are associated with the New Year in your faith tradition?

The New Hijri Year[1] also comes quietly with no celebrations or rituals associated with it. As a matter of fact, the concept of the Hijri calendar was introduced years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him]. However, the end of one year and the beginning of another one remind Muslims that they should treat every day as an opportunity for reviewing their words and actions. It is also an occasion to remember that time is a gift one should treat with wise care, as illustrated by the Hadith: “Take advantage of five matters before the passing of five others; your youth before become old; your health before you become sick; your wealth before you become poor; your free time before you get preoccupied, and your life before your death.”[2] This is an appeal to us to take action and give thanks as long as we still can. For this reason, turning the page on another calendar year is seen not as a cause for celebration, but more as a chance for contemplation followed by righteous action.

Both the verse in Psalms and the Hadith evoke the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Like the Hijri calendar, the Jewish calendar we now follow is a later calculation of the early rabbis (1st century BCE-1st century CE), who also instituted many of the rituals of Rosh Hashanah—especially those involving reflection on one’s behavior and repentance of one’s sins during the previous year. Throughout the centuries, complex liturgical poems were added to the public prayers. Many of these poems describe the martyrs of previous generations, while others remind us that our lives hang in the balance as God judges our deeds. One example contains the haunting refrain, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed;” this refers to the fate of all those who will die in the coming year.  The month leading up to Rosh Hashanah through the ten days following it are known as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which end with a full day of fasting and repentance on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  At this time of the New Year, we wait in stillness for God’s decree.

[1] The first year of the Hijri calendar is the year the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon Him] and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina. It corresponds to 622 CE in the Gregorian calendar.

[2] Narrated by Ibn Abbas in Musnad Imam Ahmad