Was he? I thought. In all honesty I didn’t know.I’ve grown as a faithful adherent to my religion. A religion I strongly believed in despite the surmounting ignorance surrounding it. I began to question how any religious person, not just myself, would advocate for homosexuality. Is it not shunned on by all of the major religions?Before people criticize my friend or me in a rage of fury, you can’t necessarily blame anyone. We’ve been taught that homosexuality is a sin. Unfortunately, it has also become a politicized sin. Just like some sectors of Christianity and Judaism, it is seen in Islam that homosexuality is not essentially the greatest key into heaven.Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Mauritania and Yemen, five Islamic nations, carry out the death penalty as a punishment for same-sex intercourse, and there are numerous passages in the Quran expressing disdain against homosexuality. That same disparagement can be found in the Torah/Old Testament, Bible and the list goes on. “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20:13).That pretty much excludes their chances of heaven, does it not?According to a report by ABC News, nine out of 10 people believe in heaven; meaning, a majority of individuals today believe that there’s an afterlife their destined to inhabit. All of the major religions believe in a place of reward for the good, and for the devoted. A place so wonderful it’s filled, in most cases, with all of our desires.But what happens to everyone else? Someone who presumably has done “good” most of his life will simply be denied from the golden gate of tranquility because of his nature; because of what he is?You might at this point think of me as a simply confused religious teenager. But I’m not trying to denounce Islam or any religion. In all honesty, I’m trying to strengthen my faith. Think about it. Really. Who goes into heaven? Just because I’m a Muslim, are Christians and Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and any other adherents not granted access into serenity, and vice versa?How can a world filled with so many different minds, different beliefs and most importantly humans of different religions come to the notion of a unanimous right and wrong? A key into the one place we all strive to get into?But I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re so caught up in trying to enter heaven and find the formula as to who will enter, but in the end, who are we to know?In Islam, we are taught tolerance — tolerance toward other religion and beliefs. The same ideas of tolerance can be found in Christianity, Judaism and other religions. What I have come to learn is that in order to become truly tolerant of the other beliefs and ideals around us, we must simply stop questioning the actions of others.People become so easily caught up in lives other than their own that they forget to simply focus on the inevitable — themselves. Protests held outside funerals of fallen soldiers dishonoring them because of their sexuality, and riots in front of abortion clinics, make me question who we are to pressure others into what we see is right. Most importantly, who are we to scrutinize the passageway into Heaven?All we can do is believe what is right. Not what we’re told, not what we’re coerced to believe. No. I suppose if we simply follow whichever beliefs we view to be true, and do what we believe is good, we shouldn’t worry.We can take it from Frank Ocean himself, who started this predicament, if you say. A week after his famed revelation, he simply tweeted, “Life is something else.” And as I grow older, and come to finishing this article, I’m slowly coming to the realization that it truly really is, Mr. Ocean, it truly is.

As Ramadan sets in, Muslims in
This Ramadan is unique in comparison to the Ramadans that came before it just as today is unique in comparison to each yesterday that we have lived and every tomorrow that we will see.
As in years past, Muslims all over the world, myself included, will abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual activity from sunrise until sunset for a month. The rituals and actions that render my fast to be valid will stay the same.What will make this Ramadan different is my being different. While taking a moment to think about how much my life has changed this past year, I also should take a moment to think about how I have changed in the past year. Where has my growth been, where have I digressed, and how have I stayed the same?Much of time we forget in our undertaking of journeys that how we reach our destination is just as important as the destination itself. In pursuit of our goals and objectives, worldly, material or otherwise, we often leave this behind. Our focus lies mostly on the external, and, as such, we prevent ourselves from seeing the remarkable people and places around us, because we fail to reach the potential within us.O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain consciousnessThe potential of knowing myself more intimately is at its highest during Ramadan. What indicates that I have yielded the consciousness that fasting has the potential of nurturing is that I do something with the knowledge that I have acquired.What good is knowing of my weaknesses if I don’t strive to challenge them? What good is knowing of my strengths if I don’t try to enhance them? Sustaining in action what I have learned of myself becomes one of the hardest challenges.Even if I’m bringing nothing else from the last year of my life, what am I bringing from the last Ramadan of my life to this one? Whether you are fasting this year or not, be sure that as you move forward in your lives, to always take time to look back. Understand who you are by remembering where it is that you have come from, and allow for that remembrance and understanding to help define where it is that you will be.I look forward to sharing once again reflections daily during this month of Ramadan. Although my days may be similar to those of a year ago, I pray that I have grown enough as a person that my thoughts and reflections on those days are different.A quote that I shared last year that my wife had heard from a female Islamic scholar named Fariha Fatima is worth mentioning here again, mostly as a reminder to how those who are fasting can deepen the experience from the very first day:
There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us. Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower. Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. fast from our bad habits and our reactions. Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior. Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah. Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee, are fighting for the right to celebrate as faithful Muslims. Yesterday, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Becket’s brief requested that the Islamic Center be permitted to use its newly built mosque in time for Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast each day from dawn till sunset.Within a few hours of filing the brief, the judge granted the restraining order — good news for Murfreesboro Muslims, who commence their Ramadan observations on Thursday.The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been part of the Murfreesboro community for over 30 years. In 2010, the Islamic Center began building a new mosque to accommodate its growing congregation. Its efforts were met with a hostile reception by a small group of local residents, who filed suit in Rutherford County Chancery Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt construction of the new mosque. Among other things, the suit made the baseless claim that the county’s zoning law denied plaintiffs due process by failing “to provide a hearing to examine the multiple uses of the ICM site and the risk of actions promoting Jihad and terrorism.”
But in a novel twist, the plaintiffs also made the claim that Islam, the world’s second largest religion, is in fact, not a religion, and thus undeserving of First Amendment religious freedom protections.
The argument went like this: because Islam is not a religion but a political ideology and the mosque would be used for political not religious assembly, the mosque is not subject to the same zoning treatment as churches.
The move against the mosque is part of the larger anti-sharia movement in the state and across the nation, with a prominent leader of the movement, Frank Gaffney, introduced as an “Islam expert” at trial. The anti-sharia and anti-mosque protests culminated in numerous acts of anti-Muslim animus during the course of the mosque construction. For example, a large construction vehicle at the construction site was intentionally set on fire. There was even a bomb threat, which resulted in a federal indictment.
So the Muslim community found itself, on the eve of its most holy religious period, a collection of so-called political jihadis facing a violent and politically-oriented attack.As a Muslim and Catholic, we stand together in denouncing the hostility towards this Muslim community and the effort to turn our court system into an accomplice. And while there is well-grounded concern in this nation about national security threats posed by terrorism, decades-old faithful communities seeking to celebrate their religious holidays in peace are the wrong target.But most importantly, seeking to undermine the religious rights of a group through dirty hat tricks is something that should be cause for concern for all people of faith. Because when any group, be it private citizens or our own government, succeeds in redrawing the lines as to what constitutes a religion or religious activity for political motives, religious freedom in this nation regresses for all.This was at root in the landmark Supreme Court case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC in which a small Lutheran Church in Michigan clung to its right to hire and fire employees based on core religious tenets, despite the governments’ argument that a religious group should be treated no differently in employment matters than any other group. This would be a dramatic change to the posture of church state relations, essentially placing the government in the role of appointing and terminating ministers, and the argument was swiftly labeled as “amazing” and “shocking” by both wings of the highest Court.It is also the issue at stake in the national struggle over the HHS mandate which in less than two weeks will begin requiring certain religious employers to violate their consciences and provide services in their healthcare plans which they find gravely immoral, simply because they are, by the government’s standards, not religious enough.
The Murfreesboro mosque case exemplifies how the winds can blow when one group who cares little for the religious freedom of another takes action.As a Muslim and a Catholic, we stood together behind Hosanna-Tabor and the essential role the ministerial exception plays in our legal system. We stood together against the HHS mandate, despite the narrative that opposition to the mandate constituted a “war on women.” And we stand together now. Because no religion is an island. When the rights of one faith are abridged, the rights of all faiths are threatened. All faiths have the right to worship God in freedom and in peace, and with dignity.The church building that housed the faith community where I grew up sat immediately adjacent to my high school. Only the church’s parking lot separated the two, making it a convenient alternative to the busy main road traffic for many parents and carpools depositing students on weekday mornings.On my first day of high school, however, the lot sat empty. Chains barricaded the driveway at the entrance. There were certain types of people, I learned, that a few members of our congregation didn’t want hanging out on “our private property.”But not everyone was excluded. As we drove up to the church, a few men who had volunteered their time at 7:00 AM that Monday morning recognized us as church members and unhooked the chains that barricaded the parking lot entrance to let us through. Outsiders, however, were not welcome.At a national gathering of college presidents, faculty, staff, campus ministers and students for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge this week in Washington D.C., my thoughts returned to that morning. Leaders from all over the country gathered at Howard University in the heart of our nation’s capital because of chains like those: barricades that keep one type of person in — and another type of person out.readmore


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