Eid Mubarak!!!!

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Pilgrims on Mt. Arafat at dawn, above.

Hajj is the ultimate lifetime journey. The sheer numbers of pilgrims who make this journey each year is unlike anything else.

Each ritual has a deeper meaning than its mere performance. All pilgrims are equal in the Hajj regardless to ethnicity or race or nationality or “school” of Islamic practice. They wear special clothing to emphasize this, as simple as possible.

A picture of Makkah from about 1700. The Ka’aba itself looks the same! But look at how the city has changed.

The same rituals are performed as they were during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad. Below, a picture from around 1940.

And below this, a modern photo of the same ritual, throwing stones at a rock representing Satan.

More people, more urgency to get enough space to do the ritual. Sometimes gets out of hand. And other rocks are much larger to accommodate more people.

The front of the Ka’aba from up close, with its beautiful cover and calligraphy.

Remembering Arafat, the high point of the Hajj, we return to the Ka’aba to circle it seven times.

And have a blessed Eid!

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What Does “Islam” Mean?

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It’s a common statement, used to counter non-Muslims’ erroneous idea that Islam is a warlike religion, that “Islam Means Peace.” Others, including many scholars and translators, assert that “Islam means submission——to submit to Allah.” But do either of these words convey the meaning of Islam in Arabic as used in the Quran? An examination of the possible translations for a Quranic word can often lead to a better understanding of Islam and/or the Quran and its message. And so I will introduce what I believe to be another possible interpretation/ translation of the word “Islam” in English, which is the word “surrender.”
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Ramadan: Purification and Emptying Out

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As this most sacred of months, Ramadan, continues, we think about what its true meaning is. It’s about more than fasting from food and drink, because one must also abstain from bad behaviors, such as lying, slander or profanity, and obviously from committing any crimes, or from acting with cruelty to others such as bullying or mocking others, in person or online, openly or in secret. Not only must one abstain from sexual activity of any kind (and one considers that for Muslims this will be marital, lawful), but refrain oneself from any sexual thoughts or innuendos or behaviors that approach this area, including viewing sexually explicit materials online or elsewhere. Even excess anger is prohibited. One strives, in other words, to be a truly good person, thinking about it, being aware of Allah. So it is a kind of emptying out of those things of this world that lead us away from thikr Allah, actively remembering Allah and calling upon Him and invoking His name while alert. It is a kind of purification of the heart. We also strive to be compassionate and kind and thoughtful to others. So it is an emptying out of the selfish part, our tendency to be driven and moved by our selfish desires.
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Meaning vs Meaninglessness: How Islam Connects Us to Meaning

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The mathematical constants of our universe and their evidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life has been considered proof that the most reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe is not random events or necessity but design. And design means, essentially, God. Christians have taken this up and added further embellishments to support beliefs unrelated to the physics. The Quran however teaches that God “has no similitude”, the meaning of God defined as unlike anything or anyone else. This is the one fact that is revealed in the “fine-tuning” discovery. Truth-seekers would do well to consider that such a God would also communicate with the life God created: with divine revelation such as the Quran. 
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Quranic Architecture in Islam, Nature, and Ourselves

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One need only to see an aerial view of the Ka’aba in Makkah with Muslim pilgrims circling the central shrine in tawaf to recall how central the circle is in Islam. This is in effect the center of the Islamic world, and in a form of worship, the pilgrims or Hojjaj must circle it, thus also participating in the making of a circle. Now we recall that the architecture of the Quran is also circle-based, one could even say in three dimensions as in the shell of a chambered nautilus. But the scope of this discussion is so far reaching, the symbolism contained in Quranic architecture so profound, it may be more enlightening to include more graphics to do justice to the idea of dynamic symmetry in relationship to cycles, returning (to our Creator Allah), the creation, the divine Message itself, and last but not least (as you shall see in the Quran), us. Continue reading

The Quran’s Guidance on Truth, Lies, and Faith 

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The Quran frequently refers to issues relating to Truth and lies; distinguishing between them is critical, in many ways the defining point of guidance. In fact, faith itself is predicated on that distinction, the purpose of the Quran and other divine revelations being to guide us to the truth and, as a part of that guidance, to help us recognize and avoid falsehood.

From Al-Nisa’ 4:105:

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَآ إِلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ بِٱلْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ بِمَآ أَرَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَلَا تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيمًا

We have sent down to you the Book with the Truth that you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you, and do not be an advocate for the treacherous.

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Ramadan and Taqwa: The Purpose Of Fasting

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We all know Ramadan as a sacred month of fasting and worship, of purification, of compassion and contrition. Looking at the meaning of the word “sacred” in English, it is not an exact translation of the Arabic word haram, which means “prohibited” or “protected by prohibitions” in a sense, but also it means “sacred” in the sense of being reverenced, which brings us to another word, taqwa. This word is mentioned frequently in varying grammatical forms, sometimes translated as “fear of God,” or “reverence.” I like the word “reverence,” because although there’s an element of fear and respect in reverence, it is of a particular kind, a willing attitude of one who appreciates the value and power and importance of that which is revered. It acts as fear of God in causing one to avoid doing anything that would incur God’s wrath, so it is a directed fear, and that involves the mind. The Quran also uses the word taqwa in the sense of “beware” or “be aware,” invoking mindfulness, whereas fear itself, expressed in a very different Arabic word khauf, is an emotional reaction that does not involve thinking or the mind. Continue reading