The Call to Sacrifice: An Invitation to Community

This year Muslims at DePaul and around the world celebrated our most important holiday of the year, Eid-ul-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, on July 20.(1) This holiday comes at the end of the Hajj Pilgrimage season. It commemorates the sacrifices made by the Prophet Abraham and his family, especially his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar, recognized as the founders of the holy city of Mecca.(2)

An insight into our human experience found both in spiritual traditions and in human psychology is the value of sacrifice in nurturing love. It creates powerful relationships and builds real community. This can be seen in the relationship between the human and God, but also in relationships amongst people. During the Hajj Pilgrimage rituals and Eid celebrations, as Muslims we remind ourselves about how Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael drew closer to God through the sacrifices they made for God. We encourage ourselves to follow a similar path. In our Vincentian tradition, the importance of sacrifice is linked closely to the Vincentian virtue of mortification. It is sometimes described as giving up something we value for the sake of something more valuable.(3)

I was moved by a powerful conversation related to this theme between journalist Ezra Klein and child psychologist Alison Gopnik.(4) They discussed the question of why parents care and sacrifice so much for their children. A common answer might be that parents do so because they love them. Of course, this isn’t wrong, but Gopnik suggests that we look at it the other way around. It could be said that parents love their children because of all they have sacrificed and done to care for them. We see this not only in interpersonal relationships but in people’s relationships with projects or achievements. For example, we might feel that a DePaul degree is especially precious when it results from a great deal of sacrifice, not only by the student but by the family and their broader community. We also may feel that our DePaul community itself is most precious to those who have sacrificed and cared most for it, and not just to those who have concretely benefitted most from it.

Considered this way, the invitation to sacrifice for each other is a valuable opportunity to build community. In reflecting on our lives we realize that whenever we truly work for something we believe in or make the effort to care for others, that although we speak of sacrifice, in the end we gain much more than anything we give up. In fact, we often do not feel that whatever we sacrificed is “lost” to us at all. Those who have experienced this learn that a community created by shared sacrifice is not a burden on some but a gift to all. However, when based in an institution, the sacred potential of such community must be protected by those who have power or authority. This must be done to ensure that the community lives up to the hope and trust people are placing in it, and to make sure that none are oppressed or taken advantage of.

Does this idea of sacrifice making relationships more meaningful and communities stronger resonate with your experience? In this respect, are family or other personal relationships different from how you see the role of your workplace in your life?

Some people may have experienced personal disappointment or even abuse resulting from invitations to sacrifice. As alluded to above, the invitation to sacrifice undoubtedly involves vulnerability. How would you describe the difference between healthy, more meaningful sacrifices made for the sake of individuals, institutions, or communities from those which are unhealthy and can lead to abuse?


1) As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the days on which holidays are observed on the solar calendar shift from year to year.

2) See Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., “The Gift of DePaul’s Muslim Community,” 20 July 2021, at: DePaul University Newsline

3) See Tom Judge, “What Beautiful Opportunities…”, 27 January 2020, at: Mission Monday on mortification

4) See “This changed how I think about love,” Vox Conversations podcast, at: How I think about love

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission & Ministry

 

 

Ramadan and the Vincentian Question: Guidance and Inspiration in Times of Challenge

Muhammad ibn Abdullah(1) was a man living in seventh-century Arabia. Coming from a prominent clan and tribe, he traced his own lineage to the Prophet Abraham through Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (ar. Haajar). That family history was a source of collective pride for the people of Mecca, where Muhammad lived and where a house of worship built by Abraham and Ishmael served as a place of pilgrimage for tribes from throughout the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, substantive connection with Abraham’s guidance seemed to be lost to most Arabs, except for a few Jewish tribes and scattered individuals who claimed to be followers of Jesus or of a general Abrahamic monotheism. Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother when he was just six years old, and he was raised as an orphan by his uncle. Despite his noble lineage in a society wherein lineage was greatly valued, these circumstances meant Muhammad lived a humble life.

Muhammad’s experience as an orphan left him sensitive to the plight of the vulnerable in society. He felt his society did not live up to the chivalric values it claimed to hold dear and which it celebrated in its self-image and poetry. This was especially true when it came to those who were marginalized, which often included women as well as those who were enslaved or without tribal connections. Muhammad felt a call to do something and yearned for specific guidance from the Creator. He began to spend periods of time in meditation and prayer in solitude in a cave outside of the city. It was while engaged in this practice, in the lunar month of Ramadan, that the Prophet Muhammad received the first of what he understood to be revelations from God, which we call the Qur’an.

Muslim communities worldwide, including thousands of DePaul students, faculty, staff, and alumni, will begin observance of the month of Ramadan with the sighting of the crescent moon this week.(2) Muslims will commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an by fasting from dawn to sunset each day for the next lunar month while also engaging in special night prayers and acts of charity. These spiritual practices serve to develop spiritual discipline, generosity, compassion, and connection to the Most Merciful. Ramadan is filled with many different practices and traditions which make it an eagerly anticipated and joyously welcomed time in Muslim communities. Of course, as was the case last year, this year’s observance will be limited by precautions due to the pandemic. Despite that caution and uncertainty however, there is also a hopefulness this year that better times are coming.

Madame de Gondi once asked Vincent de Paul what has come to be known as the Vincentian question “What must be done?”(3) to confront the widespread material and spiritual poverty of seventeenth-century France. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad sensed that profound change was needed to address the social and spiritual challenges of seventh-century Arabia. Today, we as a DePaul community must ask the same question in facing the challenges of twenty-first-century Chicago. The spiritual practices of Ramadan serve to remind us that the guidance and inspiration we need to address the most profound challenges can come from being open to signs from the transcendent, being spiritually in touch with ourselves, and being socially connected as a community.

What spiritual and social challenges do you see as most pressing from your vantage point in twenty-first-century Chicago? What spiritual and social practices help you to remain committed to addressing them in your life and work?


1) Commonly referred to as the Prophet Muhammad. This of course spoils our narrative as neither he nor others thought of him in that way when our story begins. It is considered proper etiquette for Muslims to say the Arabic formula ﷺ often translated as “Peace be upon him” after the names of prophets and other sacred figures. I will not write the formula in this reflection, but I encourage those who wish to follow this practice to do so as you read.

2) It is expected that the moon may be visible on the night of Monday, April 12, which would make Tuesday, April 13, the first day of fasting.

3) For a discussion of the Vincentian Question see Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Podcast: “The Vincentian Question,” 2 December 2015. At: https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2015/12/02/the-vincentian-question-2/

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

Pilgrimage through the Pandemic

“Go, therefore, Mademoiselle, go in the name of Our Lord. I pray that His Divine Goodness may accompany you, be your consolation along the way, your shade against the heat of the sun, your shelter in rain and cold, your soft bed in your weariness, your strength in your toil, and, finally, that He may bring you back in perfect health and filled with good works.”1

Over the past week, Muslims around the world observed Eid al Adha. This greatest holiday on the Muslim calendar comes at the end of the season of the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca, and it commemorates the sacrifices made by Prophet Abraham and his family (peace be upon them) for the sake of the One God. Of course, this year both the Hajj and Eid celebrations were nothing like they usually are. Hajj, usually attended by millions from around the world, was limited to a symbolic select few already present in Saudi Arabia. The normal mass prayers and other celebrations held by Muslims throughout the Chicagoland area could not be held. This continues to be a time of hardship and trial, and we know that many people in our own country and throughout the world are enduring great hardships.

When it became clear that Hajj could not take place as usual, one question that arose was what does this mean for Muslims as it is so important to our practice of the faith? Indeed, it is well known as one of the “pillars” of Islam. Not being able to observe Hajj and commemorate the sacrifices of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael is a great sadness. However, it caused me to reflect that the vast majority of Muslims, today and throughout history, have not been able to make Hajj. Global travel is a privilege limited to a select few. I have never been to Mecca and intended to go this year for the first time myself. Yet, Hajj is part of the spiritual imagination of every Muslim. We tell stories about it, we learn about it, we donate funds to help others go, we honor those who have attended and celebrate their return, we ask them what they learned, and we dream about it. We seek to learn lessons from it, whether we can physically go or not. Much as we also seek to learn lessons which come from shared sacrifice and assisting the vulnerable, those lessons found in our own day to day experiences and challenges, as well as those found in the people around us.

Vincent de Paul spent a great deal of his life organizing and sending missionaries on journeys intended to be in the service of God and the poor. In his brief essay, “Vincent the Traveler,” Jack Melito, C.M., observes that Vincent’s zeal drove him to want to go wherever was necessary to advance his mission. Yet, while he did often travel in his early life, Vincent spent his later years mainly confined to Paris. However, while “his body stayed at home…his zeal roamed.”2 Vincent vicariously traveled these missions through those he sent on them, and through the letters and communications shared with them.

Whatever our circumstances, in what ways can we view the hardships and challenges we face at this time as opportunities to learn and transform? In what ways can we try to balance our willingness to make sacrifices with our hope to return “in perfect health and filled with good works”? How might we better see this difficult time as one challenging part of life’s long journey or pilgrimage?


1) Letter 39, To Saint Louise, 6 May 1629, CCD, 1:64-65.

2) Jack Melito, C.M., Saint Vincent de Paul: Windows on His Vision (Chicago: Vincentian Studies Institute, 1999), 17. Free to download: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/8/

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Muslim Chaplain, Mission & Ministry

 

The Beauty of a Higher Purpose

Virtue is so beautiful and amiable that they will be compelled to love it in you, if you practice it well.1

In the remarkable short letter from which this quote was taken, Vincent responds to news that several of the missionaries would be travelling on a ship with “some heretics.” After briefly expressing his distress at what they may have to “endure from them,” Vincent spends the rest of the letter reminding them that this is God’s plan. He encourages them to use their best manners and “be careful to avoid every sort of dispute and contention.”2 Vincent expresses hope that an example of beautiful character will be “helpful” to all.

Muslims are now entering into the final week of the observance of Ramadan. Ramadan is normally a month filled with fasting, prayer, and charity; it has been this year as well, although in all other ways it has been different with mosques closed and social activity curtailed by the pandemic. In a traditional saying of the Prophet Muhammad (which he sources to John the Baptist) it is said, “the similitude of the fasting person is that of someone who is carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people—all of them marveling at its fragrance (although they can’t see what has created it).”3

The experience of long days of fasting and nights of sporadic sleep risks making one impatient or hard to be around. However, we find that when undertaken with intention and perseverance, a connection to a higher purpose along with increased gratitude and vulnerability reveals a beauty in the fasting person that is attractive to those around them even if they don’t know the source of it. Such a state also increases generosity that rains upon us all, even upon those who may be seen as heretics in a particular time or place.

During times of difficulty and anxiety like those we are living now, it is tempting to be less patient, less compassionate, more selfish, or even divisive with each other, particularly with those who hold differing worldviews.

What are some practices or exercises you can engage in to remain grounded in a sense of higher purpose? Is there a foundational belief or perspective which enables virtue to emanate from you, such that its beauty and fragrance is enjoyed by and helpful to all whom you encounter?

 


1) 3032, To Philippe Patte, In Nantes, [November or December 1659], CCD, 8:209.

2) Ibid.

3) Jami at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Amthal (Chapter of Parables), Book 44, Hadith 3102. See: http://sunnah.com/urn/630960

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan
Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain
Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care
Division of Mission and Ministry

Vinny Prize 2018 Second Place – The Third Pillar of Islam

2nd Place Vinny Prize : Akram Shibly

The Third Pillar of Islam: How a Mosque Transformed a Community through Kindness

Six years ago, a vacant Catholic church in a low-income Buffalo, New York neighborhood was purchased by a Muslim community and turned into a mosque. The location was specifically chosen in order to serve surrounding families facing poverty. This film provides an example of how Islam’s third pillar of charity has transformed the area both by decreasing crime and creating a warm and welcoming community center for families.

“Healing Grief, Inspiring Hope: the Prophetic Practices of Ramadan”

iman iftar photo

This is the khutbah (sermon) I delivered for the Eid ul Fitr prayers marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan at the University of Chicago on June 25, 2017.

In it, I try to examine the reality of grief and trauma as pervasive aspects of the human experience and how true prophetic religion does not seek to cover up or pretend away such realities but rather acknowledges them directly. It also provides individual and communal practices for healing such grief and trauma, while at the same time always inspiring hope in a reality greater than what we can perceive in the moment. Examples of this prophetic methodology are mentioned from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!). The worship practices of the month of Ramadan can be some of the best examples of these practices in our community and we should build on that model and work to create real and healthy communities throughout the year.

I welcome feedback and please share with others if you think the message is important.

Peace and Blessings,

Abdul-Malik

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Solidarity with Muslims at DePaul

Abdul-Malik Ryan serves as Assistant Director of the Office of Religious Diversity and DePaul’s Muslim Chaplain. In this role he serves as Advisor to UMMA and the Interfaith Scholars student groups.

Recent days have been trying for many different people in our country and around the world, among them the Muslim community which has been targeted through both inflammatory rhetoric and government policies that have caused suffering and created fear for many in American Muslim communities.  At the same time, we have also seen an outpouring of action from Muslims and from others acting in solidarity which has given us hope and determination to continue to struggle for dignity for all communities.

Many people have been asking, “What can I do?” For those looking to show solidarity with the Muslim community at DePaul, we would like to extend a special invitation to participate in Fast a Thon on February 16.

Fast a Thon is an annual program organized by DePaul’s UMMA (United Muslims Moving Ahead) student group which invites people of all faiths or none to join us in experiencing fasting, community, and service together on the same day.  We recognize that everyone is busy and has many different commitments on their time, so we have created several different ways in which people can participate in this effort.

1) People are invited to pledge to fast (as best they are able) on February 16.  Simply go to this link and enter your name and email and you will get a reminder the day before with some suggested guidelines around fasting.  This will include an invitation to wear green on that day in a display of solidarity with the Muslim community.   

2) People are also invited to attend our iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner on February 16 at 5 PM in Cortelyou Commons.  The breaking of the fast (at sunset) will be at 5:27 PM that day.  We will share a delicious meal as a community, reflect together on the experience of fasting, and be entertained by a unique comedian Jeremy McLellan. McLellan is a Christian who has caught on with Muslim and other audiences for his unique take on issues like immigration, race, religion, Islamophobia, politics and disabilities – he celebrates diversity and critiques bigotry through his comedy.  Please RSVP for the dinner here if you know you can commit. An RSVP is necessary to ensure we have space (and food) for you at the dinner.

3) Finally, Fast a Thon will raise money as a community for a great cause.  As part of this Fast a Thon, UMMA is collaborating with Zakat Foundation, an international humanitarian relief organization, to raise money to support education for Syrian refugees, the youngest and most innocent victims of the world’s greatest contemporary humanitarian crisis.  People can donate through this link, by bringing a donation on the day of the Fast a Thon, or visiting the Muslim Life Center in Lincoln Park Student Center room 329 at any time leading up to the dinner.  Please look out for Fast a Thon tabling in the Student Center and spread the word about ways to get involved.  If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Abdul-Malik Ryan