A Prayer from Central America

I carried a prayer with me during my travels throughout Central America this summer. One of the teachings of the Prophet is that the prayers of a traveler are accepted, if their trip is with good intentions. I realize that the prayer has taken on a new dimension after my travels. Reflecting on how my understanding has developed, I wanted to share the prayer.

But first, prayer, or supplication, in Arabic is referred to as Dua’ (pronounced Doo ah). The actual prayer Muslims perform are the five prayers, which involves physical movement. So this prayer is more of a supplication.

Anyway, I learned this particular prayer during college when I was plagued with worry over debt. Later, it was the prayer I recited repeatedly while faced with doubt over life decisions. I’ve carried it with me over time in relation to the events happening in my life. If I am overly worried about something, or the idea of taking out loans for education.

Because it was so simple and relatable to my lived experiences, I always viewed the prayer from that personal perspective, compartmentalized to specific problems. But in Central America this individual perspective of the prayer changed to something substantive.

Evolution of Understanding

“اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ الْهَمِّ وَالْحُزْنِ وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ”

By Your Mercy, Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief; from helplessness and laziness; from cowardice and stinginess; and from overpowering of debt and the oppression of other humans.

The prayer is memorialized advice by the Prophet in Saheeh Bukhari, a collection of sayings and teachings gathered by Imam Bukhari. Muslims learn that the prayer was consistently read by the Prophet and that he encouraged his companions to keep it on the tips of their tongues at all times.

According to the Prophet worry, grief, helplessness, laziness, cowardice, stinginess, debt and oppression were things to seek refuge from, and that Allah was the best place to get refuge. Each one is paired, conjoined together- like worry AND grief. I always saw this pairing as a poetic style of Arabic, the words rhymed when paired together.

On the trip to Central America, I began to see how there was a much deeper sense of meaning in the pairings. For example, all of these things affect a persons psychological well being but also are directly tied to their spiritual well being too. When I look at the pairings in the duah, I notice that the pairings are similar- one is a rational existence item, the other is one that deals with the spiritual aspect of a person. To me this pairing then can be understood as the rational and spiritual realms of ones self, and these two things together can wear down a person psychologically and spiritually.

In Honduras I heard stories of people worrying about their next meal, having gone three days without eating a tortilla (with salt and lime not even beans!). This is a sort of situation that leads to grief about one’s circumstances and existence. The same is true about cowardice and stinginess. The people in Honduras fighting against mining interests were some of the bravest people I heard from, willing to put down their lives to keep their land and customs. They also the most generous in providing us with what little they had. These people were driven by a deep rooted faith. I was mesmerized by that.

The Prophet warned Muslims that “Iman wears out in one’s heart” meaning that having faith, belief, in the heart is not a static affair. There are things, internal and external, that act eat away at faith, over time or at the point of contact, that drastically reduce the potency of our faith. Or as the hadith continues the simile “just as the dress wears out (becomes thin)” so does the iman in our heart. When we look at corrosive factors, there are things that are more abrasive, and wear down on our iman, meaning that not all iman abrasives are equal in their affect.

The understanding really drove home the point how faith is an action. Our faith is acted upon by external factors. When we are faced with temporal problems, we also face spiritual existential crises. These attacks come in pairs. I always thought that the prayer was good for just particular problems I faced in my daily life- grief, worry, debt. But these things roll out in pairs, when we have fears of debt, there is always the coupling of oppression from other humans (or human institutions). That reality is incredibly true of Central America.

When Rev. Blackmon said go looking for the Divine in Central America, I didn’t really know what exactly that entailed. But it has manifested itself in this new understanding of the prayer, and I see where people draw from the deep reservoirs of hope and faith. I am eternally grateful for this.

-Affad Shaikh


PEP deports people like Pastor Max: Testifying at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors

Today I gave testimony at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee regarding their consideration of the proposed Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), a federal program which calls for collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE.  You can read about this programhere: http://www.ilrc.org/files/documents/pep_fact_sheet_final_ilrc.pdf


Here’s what I said:


My name is Debra Avery. I’m the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Oakland at 27th and Broadway. I’m here to urge you not to support PEP which is a reformulated collaborative program putting Alameda County law enforcement not just in communication with but in collaboration with ICE.

I have just returned from traveling with a delegation of faith leaders. We went to Honduras and Guatemala to learn about root causes of migration. While in Honduras, we met Pastor Max Villatoro who was deported in March when ICE agents determined that he was a priority for deportation due to his criminal record. Here is his record: He was convicted in 1998 of drunken driving and pled guilty in 1999 to record tampering, because he purchased a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license so he could work.

Max and family

On March 3, Pastor Max was picked up in a sweep of immigrants that ICE had determined to be a threat to public safety. Though his “criminal” cases were closed appropriately, it I didn’t matter. Though he has lived in Iowa for 20 years, though he went to college and seminary, though he became a licensed Mennonite pastor, though he got married and has four United States citizen children in Iowa, none of this mattered. With no explanation, no due process, he was deported and his four children are now left without a father – not only an important source of love and care but also the primary contributor to the family’s finances.

People like Pastor Max and his family are the ones who are affected by programs like PEP. It will be pastors, gardeners, child care providers – our neighbors – who will be targeted, apprehended, and put on the deportation path. As a pastor, I grieve with the family of Kate Steinle and understand that the isolated incident of her tragic and unjust death is forming the foundation for this renewed effort. But I ask you not to use her tragedy to introduce a program which will serve to perpetuate even more injustice on the whole community of immigrants who are our friends, family members, and neighbors.

-Rev. Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church Oakland

Crossing the Mediterranean, Crossing Mexico

The world has been touched by the image of little Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed ashore the Mediterranean Sea this week as his family attempted to reach Greece.  His mother and 5 year old brother also drowned, adding to the more than 2600 migrants who have died out of 300,000 who have attempted to cross by sea to get to Europe this year.

A completely preventable death if migrants were allowed safe passage so they wouldn’t have to come such dangerous ways.  After all, the thousands of dollars migrants pay smugglers is many more times the cost of a one-way plane ticket.  Aylan’s family was hoping to eventually get to family members in Canada who could offer protection and safety from the bombs barraging their village.

I recently  returned from Honduras and Guatemala where we met people like Aylan’s father, family members who have lost loved ones due to unsympathetic and restrictive immigration and asylum laws

DisaparacidosWe met Honduran mothers  whose children have tragically died on the migrant trail heading for the United States. Even worse for some who have been waiting years, they are not even sure what fate has befallen them and so count them among los disaparecidos/las disaparacidas (the disappeared).

“Mexico takes our children. Like the Mediterranean Sea takes other children,” they told us.

700 cases from Honduras alone.  The mothers all can recite the exact date their children left, the last time they heard their voices en route on the phone.  They have photographs of each one.  All young faces, in their teens and twenties.  Some left with toddlers, like Aylan, in their arms.

Many also were potential asylum seekers fleeing violence seeking a lifeline in another place, another country.  Others seeking a way to make a living to contribute to and support their families. Killed either in Mexico by organized crime, migration authorities or security forces that prey upon migrants; or dying of thirst crossing the Sonoran desert trying to avoid US Border Patrol.

Also preventable deaths.  The whole length of Mexico has been turned into a dangerous border.

Immigration doesn’t have to be difficult if we allowed safe passage and had immigration laws that put human life at its center.

Perhaps, looking at the crisis in Europe, we have become desensitized to the image of migrants dying crossing our own southern border.  We might forget the avertable deaths of migrants that take place closer to home because of US immigration laws.

And why not?  We are seeing less of it, because Mexico is doing our proxy immigration enforcement.  To the tune of $86 billion dollars a year, the US is  paying the Mexican government to crack down hard on migrants coming through Mexico, conduct mass detentions and deportations, set up more road blocks and even build 12 permanent naval bases to prevent migrants from getting even close to our US borders.  All reliant on Mexican security forces with a track record of abuses, disappearances and impunity.

We are making migration even more dangerous and more expensive for those who see no options for their human survival. As the US and Mexico have shut down the land route through Mexico, some may already have to start coming via maritime routes along the Pacific.

It won’t be long before we too might tragically find a toddler washed up on our shores.

-Rev. Deborah Lee

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights

**Nearly 50 years ago, in 1966,  my mother fled her country of birth, Indonesia, at the beginning of massacres and a genocide that left between 1-3  million people dead. She went to a lifeline, an uncle in Ohio who could offer some temporary safety and protection.   How many of our families have a similar story in our history?  Who among us wouldn’t do the same, if we could muster the courage and resourcefulness to flee for safety?

Sharing the Immigrant Story

 Numerous humanitarian crises in Central America and Mexico, war and violence in the Middle East, indigenous oppression and land theft across the global south – these are the reasons people move. No one wants to leave their homeland, but if they don’t, there’s a good chance they will not only suffer enormous deprivations, but are at risk of losing their lives altogether. Immigrants would rather risk death on the road, imprisonment and detention upon arrival, discrimination and social violence in their new home and will even sell themselves and their families to try to find what amounts to a marginally better life. Before Anglo-Europeans like me think this is not our problem, not our shared story, we need to take a look at our own families’ immigration stories. We are not indigenous to this land. We came here from somewhere else. My own family came in the 19th century. They were small farmers and day laborers who had little plots of land in northeast Holland and Germany. Blight and the inability to compete with the burgeoning U.S. grain industry created the need to find a better life. This is the story my whole family shares with campesinos who are displaced by global market forces to which they have no access and with which it is impossible to compete.

-Rev. Debra Avery

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