Ahmed Ragab, Richard T. Watson Associate Professor of Science and Religion at HDS, delivered the following remarks at Morning Prayers in Harvard's Memorial Church on November 27, 2018.
From the Quran:
Lord, open my breast, said Moses,
and do Thou ease for me my task.
Unloose the knot upon my tongue,
that they may understand my words.
Appoint for me of my folk a familiar,
Aaron, my brother;
by him confirm my strength,
and associate him with me in my task.
So shall we glorify Thee,
and remember Thee abundantly.
Said He, Thou art granted, Moses, thy petition.
My grandfather was a janitor. In the afternoons, and in the summer, he worked as a farmer—because one job wasn’t enough to put food on the table. He was a tough man. He didn’t laugh much, he worked hard, and his sweat seemed to have carved tracks down his face.
On days like this one, he would have saved little money to buy me and his other grandkids little candy horses to celebrate the birth of the prophet. He would hug us and recite a prayer—a simple prayer—may God grant you what you deserve.
My grandfather and grandmother put three daughters in college—my mother one of them. I am here today because of their sweat, tears, and blood.
I’m reminded of my grandparents when I see a woman holding her kids and running away from gas cannisters in Tijuana. She looks like them: she too works hard so that God may give her kids what they deserve. She has their skin color, the tracks of sweat and tears on their faces, and the eyes full of determination to make tomorrow a better day.
In the year of sorrow, the prophet lost his uncle, who raised him, and his wife. He went to preach in a town of his kin, but was stoned, and chased away. Thirsty, hungry and tired, he sat in the shade of a tree. He said a simple prayer:
To You, my Lord,
I complain of my weakness,
lack of resource and the humiliation I am made to receive.
Most Compassionate and Merciful!
You are the Lord of the weak,
and you are my Lord.
To whom do You entrust me?
To a stranger who receives me with hostility?
Or to an enemy You have granted power over me?
So long as you have no wrath at me,
I do not care.
I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled,
and every affair of this world and the next is set right,
lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me.
I desire Your pleasure until You are pleased.
There is no power and no might except by You.
I saw the photos of this woman and her children two days ago. I filed it in a place in my soul where I keep the images of little kids that looked like my daughter, crying for their parents in concentration camps, where I keep the names of parents of my students who were banned from seeing their children graduate and the kids shot by the police, and the pictures of their parents grieving the smiles they will never see again. I file them with the pictures of my friends and students threatened to be wiped from existence by an administration trying to redefine what it means to be human. I file them all alongside a small prayer: that God might grant us what we deserve.
O Lord of the weak, and my Lord.
To whom do You entrust us?
And be thou patient under the judgment of thy Lord;
surely thou art before Our eyes.
I lose my faith and I find it.
I try to hold to it but I cannot.
I lose God in the crowds of black, brown and queer bodies—marginalized, banned, blocked and murdered.
And then I find God in the eyes of this woman running from a gas cannister with her kids.
Cesar Chavez once said:
You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.
You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.
You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.
We have seen the future, and the future is ours.
We endure! We hold our souls up to God and we say a simple prayer: may we be granted what we deserve!
We hold our hearts to our kin and say a simple prayer: may you give us what we deserve!
We hold our hearts to the souls of the ancestors and we say a simple prayer: may we be granted what we deserve.
Let us pray (from the Quran)
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth;
the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp
(the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star)
kindled from a Blessed Tree,
an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West
whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it;
Light upon Light
Our Lord, grant us Thy forgiveness; unto Thee is the homecoming.
God charges no soul save to its capacity;
standing to its account is what it has earned,
and against its account what it has merited.
Our Lord, take us not to task if we forget, or make mistake.
Our Lord; charge us not with a load such as Thou didst lay upon those before us.
Our Lord, do Thou not burden us beyond what we have the strength to bear.
And pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us.