Ninety-Nine

By Shukry Cattan.  He has spent over a decade working in the Los Angeles nonprofit sector in the areas of direct service and development.  As a child of Palestinian immigrants, he strongly supports the rights of refugees and undocumented families who are seeking to improve their lives in the United States.

Each day I take the morning train to Los Angeles, thumbing through small prayer beads made of acorn. Reciting the ninety-nine names of God, I am reminded of the complex nature of the Supreme Being that governs our reality. Ar Rahman (The All Merciful), Ar Rahim (The Most Merciful) and Al Ghaffaar (The Ever Forgiving) are just a few attributes that influence my work and daily interactions with people. I often feel the concepts of mercy and forgiveness are lacking in our actions towards creating a more loving and accepting society. Although I have stopped reading headlines and articles that suggest the world is filled with hate and violence, I am not naïve to the fact that humanity has become less humane.

I did not grow up with Islam as a child; both my parents were not religious and came from different faiths. My father was a Sunni Muslim and my mother was an Orthodox Christian, a marriage that their families refused to acknowledge but a holy union that taught me the importance of taking the best from two worlds. The themes of justice, love and beauty were predominate in both religions and God was always the great teacher my parents encouraged me to believe in. Whether the words of wisdom came through a Messiah or prophet, the greatness of their work and actions came from a single source. Allah, the one and only God, is an Arabic word used by Arabic speaking Christians and Muslims. In fact, there is no single word that can capture the nature of this great being. God is defined by many words, all of which that play an important role with connecting people to this awesome power.

I am humbled each time I use my prayer beads or mas’baha, reminded of how close God is to every person and how each of the attributes I recite is what connects us together as human beings. Islam has recently taken a larger presence in my life, complementing and reaffirming the teachings of Jesus. During these times of great hostility towards Muslims and misunderstanding of Islam, I find it important to be refueled by my faith. Islam provides me with a space for self-care, teaching me the importance of remembering the true nature of God and promoting collective prayer with other Muslims. The first Muslims created an umma, or community, that lived by the teachings of the Qur’an and the sayings of the prophet Mohammad, Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Salam. As I have seen in my parent’s willingness to respect each other’s faith, I believe a modern day umma could integrate all the various forms of faith that follow a loving and merciful deity. A collective return to this single powerful source and a willingness to create deep solidarity for each other’s faith might address the global divisions we see today. Islam could foster community-care, a place for people to spiritually connect without any judgement and encourage individuals to continue their struggles for justice.

Both attempted bans by the Trump administration against Muslim people are born out of enmity for a faith that is not understood or defined by people ignorant to the merciful nature of their own faith. I meditate and pray every day for all ninety-nine glorious names of Allah to guide and influence the actions of advocates, religious figures and elected officials. A few of these attributes shined during the protests at airports across the United States, demanding we welcome all people to this country. That mercy towards others is what we need in our communities today and the willingness to forgive could bring about a society built on justice, love and beauty.

Shukry has a BA from UCLA in History and serves on several boards that foster strong interfaith relationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews.  You can read Shukry’s earlier piece on Law@theMargins on Palestinian Solidarity here.

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