21 December 2006

Food for thought

I often make fun of the eating habits of the Hem┼činli people who reside in Artvin Province, Turkey—the group to which my wife belongs—but I am only joking. I make fun of their taste for Black Sea Cabbage, for every meal seems to involve this pale-leafed brassica, and I am often heard running off a list part truthful, part made up. Boiled cabbage, cabbage dolma, cabbage kofta, cabbage soup, cabbage fried with onion, pickled cabbage… It’s a variation on the old yarn about the Englishman’s love for the potato: baked potato, boiled potato, roast potato, mashed potato, potato chips, potato waffles and potato crisps. It is only jest, though, for I have a lot of respect for those who have managed to maintain their traditional diet, warding off the endless possibilities of consumerism. Cabbage and Hamsi—the prince of all fish known to Turks—is my staple diet whenever I go to stay in our village in that forested valley several miles inland from Hopa. Meat is not eaten all that much and I have a feeling that this is how it should be.

They say that the traditional English dish is ‘meat and two veg’, but in fact the meat element only has a history spanning a few hundred years. Cabbage was probably a staple of the English diet for epochs as well. Unbearable to us in our modern age, I appreciate, given our love of meat and variety. Not only are we used to great choice on the culinary front, but we have also come to expect it. Demand it even. We live in a society which has made food one great plank of consumerism and sadly—it seems—British Muslims have fallen for this modern sunnah , adopting the norms that surround us without question.

Vegetarian Muslims are sometimes lambasted by the majority for their abstention from the consumption of meat—some zealous individuals even go as far as to say that not eating meat is haram. Yet it seems to me that vegetarians are much closer to the sunnah of our religion than most of us. In the olden days, wealthy Muslims used to eat meat once a week, often on Fridays, while poor Muslims would consume it on the Eids. Most of the meals that the Prophet ate, did not have meat in them, peace be upon him. My friend who eats meat very rarely is simply following the model of the best of us.

I suspect the reason why some Muslims react so strongly to people who eat little meat has less to do with a concern for the prohibitions of our religion and more to do with the desires of our tongues and stomachs. Count the fried chicken shops along the length of the Uxbridge Road from Shepherd’s Bush in London to Uxbridge out west: these mostly Muslim-run establishments tell us of an insatiable demand. The delightful spread of the generous host for his guests is almost always a lavish stream of birianis and curries, chicken, lamb and mountains of meat-laced rice. The daily filling and emptying of the counters in the halal butchers tells us that we are a people who really do ‘do meat’.

But maybe we should control ourselves. Maybe we should ‘do meat’ a little less. Consider the words of Umar as recorded in the Muwatta: ‘Beware of meat, because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine.’ Well we see this all around us. The trouble is, our problem today is not just the addiction: what are we going to say about the way our food was farmed, the way the animals were slaughtered, the way it was cleaned, the way it was sold and the way we eat it? Consider the vast acreage of refrigerated units in our supermarkets always fully stocked with plump chickens: now and then, when I really think about it, I find it quite abhorrent. But I guess the small counter of my local halal butcher is not much different. Why abhorrent? I am not a vegetarian; it is just this insatiable demand of ours. I visited a commercial slaughterhouse one Eid and was horrified by the production line they had going there, but that’s how it has to be in a culture that demands meat as much as ours. When I was studying Geography and Development Studies a decade back, one of our lecturers—an expert in water politics—predicted that the next war in the Middle East would be over water. He may not have predicted the intervention of a non-regional army seeking out WMD or oil, but he made a strong case nevertheless. Much of it comes down to our demand for meat: the production of the tons of grain required to rear animals is dependent on the availability of adequate water supplies after all.

In our household, our consumption of meat has lessened slightly. Some days we eat wholly vegetarian dishes, some days an egg quiche, some days some trout or sea fish and, yes, sometimes some lamb or chicken. I started eating very little meat after my visit to the abattoir and suggested we became vegetarian. Over time, the meat returned in larger and larger quantities, until our next attempt to re-evaluate our habits. Latterly, our desire has been to find a supplier of meat that takes the welfare of animals seriously, that slaughters on the small scale, taking the kind of care that is impossible in a production line situation. While we bought our milk and fish from a dedicated supplier, we could never buy their organic meat because it is not halal. So we just found ourselves eating less meat instead.

Fortunately times changes, with a few Muslims now going into small scale farming as a result of their concern about the food we eat. No one else is doing it, they reason, and somebody has to, so it might as well be them. Their meat is obviously more expensive that the supermarket or butcher’s alternative, but if you only intend to eat it a couple of times a week, it needn’t be of concern. There has always been wisdom in the saying that we are what we eat, whether we like it or not. If we care about our spiritual wellbeing, we have to realise that our religion has a lot to say about the food we eat. And if we are sincere, we have to act on it.

In any case: in my humble opinion, Hem┼činli dolma is far tastier than its vine leaf equivalent. Yes, cabbage turns out to be far more appealing than I ever thought possible.

20 December 2006

What Can Be Believed?

Some say Muslims don't believe in freedom of speech and expression. Some say they are uncivilized and supporters of "terrorists". Some say Muslims are the Other. Some say let's lock up the Roma People in the Beltzec death camps because they don't belong. Some say it's all about manifest destiny and we are there to win. Some say it's all a big mistake, that they've come down to take our temples and churches and mosques and we've got to make a stand, a tired stand against these nomads. And I hear them...the leaders holler about their kind and their blood and their race under a shower of confetti. The dictators of the East and West don't understand now.

I say, don't be absurd. Look at your image in the mirror. Is it defined by the dehumanization of the Other? Is your image so frail that it can only exist by your screwed up patriotism. I say, some Muslims are indeed wild but just like the killers of Haditha -- not more. I say, some Muslims are indeed ignorant but just like the politicians in Washington -- not more. You talk of "Enlightenment" and throw heavy words like "civilization" and "freedom" into the faces of poor people while shooting them down. What with the beast and what with the armour!

You say it is all a plan to "Talibanize" the virginal West by the "new-caught sullen peoples, half devil and half child" (Kipling). You say I am not living up to the Bill of Rights because that's when the majority bites. You say I am an anti-American hoodlum who'd like to strap a bomb and go up in a "blaze of glory". I say I am afraid to die and afraid to kill; I may die but I won't kill. I say, everyone has a right to life like you and yours. And I won't stand still until your tanks and guns fall. You play your national anthems, and I mean all the nations, and while you play your anthems and you hang your flags, East and West, I'm left to think what with the pride...the pride that oozes from the wounds of your victims.

And I ask, what can be believed. That I am to conclude like Goethe that patriotism "ruins history", but what nation is free when her sisters lie confined. And I have been and I have seen the blood on her sleeves. Isn't it time we had a universal expression of solidarity that is kind and true? How about One God? One humanity will follow.

14 December 2006

18 October 2006

A Comment

"This country has gone over the top with political correctness. We as a society feel that Muslims have to have attention otherwise we are not being fair to them. Muslims have protested outsite churches making remarks about Jesus. Could a Christian abuse Muhammed outside a Mosque, without being arrested? NO" - Mr Holden, Northern Ireland

I can assure you that no Muslim would make offensive remarks about Jesus, as he is held in extremely high regard by the Islamic faith. Muslims love Jesus, in the same way that they love Abraham, Moses, Noah and others. Muslims also hold his mother Mary very dear indeed, believing that she was the most pious and noble of all women in the world, through every age.

I would suggest one of two things therefore: either the people you witnessed protesting outside churches making remarks about Jesus were not Muslims or they did not make remarks about Jesus. In the case of Christians abusing Muhammad, however, this is in fact a common occurrence. Indeed this occurs on a weekly basis at Speakers' Corner in Central London, without any intervention from the authorities at all.

You may find that Muslims themselves would much prefer to receive as little attention as possible, having made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to British society for many years. Many of the country's leading doctors are Muslim after all, specialising in vital areas such as CHD, neurology and cancer. Just a thought.

16 October 2006

Yellow Skin and Slanted Eyes

This is a very interesting bit of news, with undertones of classic Orientalism, from Haaretz which reports the words of the Israel ambassador to Australia:

The Foreign Ministry on Friday condemned remarks by the Israeli ambassador to Australia in which he told Haaretz that the two countries are white sisters amid "the yellow race" of Asia.

"If the article is accurate, this is a grave and unacceptable remark," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it will not return to business as usual if an internal examination confirms that the ambassador, Naftali Tamir, in fact made the comments attributed to him.

Tamir said that due to what he characterized as the racial similarities between Israel and Australia, the two countries should work together to enhance ties with other Asian countries.

"Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia," Tamir said in an interview with Haaretz during a visit to Israel this week. "We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not - we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side."
Racism in my view is the never-ending fulmination of the most evil. It is that sin coupled with extreme disobedience for which Iblis was/is punished by Allah:

And surely, We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being), then We told the angels, "Prostrate to Adam", and they prostrated, except Iblis (Satan), he refused to be of those who prostrate. (Allah) said: "What prevented you (O Iblis) that you did not prostrate, when I commanded you?" Iblis said: "I am better than him (Adam), You created me from fire, and him You created from clay." S. 7:11-12

Even though Iblis refused to obey his Creator, Allah the Lord of the Worlds, the reason he gave seems to be more convincing (if we're to take the line of racists) than theirs within the human race. I wonder what some of them would say if Allah had made them djinns among men. Whether it's Irshad Manji bad-mouthing and demonizing the Palestinians and clicking photographs with two smiling children from the same camp to show her "humanity", the little ones having no idea what she conceals in real and how she advocates their present state; or George Bush saying that Iraqis are "tolerating the violence" (655000 dead!) in their bloody war for freedom which the so-called liberators said they would get. Never mind the fact that the first place the US military captured in Baghdad was the Oil Ministry. Never mind dead bodies found drifiting in the Tigris everyday. Who are they? What are their names? Did they have families? Were they happy when they last left home? Was there a real need to go out? Did they have aspirations, dreams and a simple imagination? Did they think of the fleeting pleasure on the faces of their grandparents when they were young?

14 October 2006

Fate


Let me be a man of wisdom
And investigate the issues of fate
What is the fate of the onlooker?
That Time has yet to decide
But the Omnipotent One
Has decreed our path
Time is a sense of Man
Fate is concealed in the mists
Of which God alone has the knowledge

19 September 2006

The Discovery in the Dark

- My Path to Realization -

From beneath the phantom’s veil
The clouds passes and bursts
Dew of the morning is dried
When the yawning of the sun
Is repressed and cloven
Lead us, Allah, from darkness to light
Lead these lambs to green pastures

But now I’ve to walk on this path
When I discovered the Word in the dark
Lo! It lay in my heart under serene armour
The Qur’an is what’s in the wind
That inspires those who think
Not a mortal rhyme in a time
All that is extended by mankind isn’t true
How I wooed the flowers and friends
To please them despite my solitude!

When the world screeched on my back
I had to leave the heartbreaking past
I prayed in the dark, holding the spirit within
To my bosom; teardrops in my eyes
My voice was Silence of the meek
Still a child, and wild in the feet
I first read on the Greek Myths
And puzzled saints who thought they knew
But all their philosophy on life and death
Could not seduce a young critical mind
Of mine for I was simply on the hunt for Truth

Born into this universe of subliminal beauty
How painless it is to love Allah
And how agonizing to be shut into a trap
Of pleasures and bars and criss-cross guitars

When I’m clothed in silk
And pushed into darkness:
This is the trap
When I’m slumbering on flowers
And down pours the rain:
This is the trap
When I taste the honey
And it stings my heart:
This is the trap

As I sat in the blue, bitter and unhappy
About the things I related to you
I opened this book that had the Mark of Heaven
Ah, the words of Allah, no vanguard or saint
But the Lord of the Worlds, Who fashioned
The busy consciousness within me
Do I have to declare this love of Faith?
Yes, as the unspoken universe unfolds before me
Gently dragging me out of the dark

14 September 2006

Q / (1 + exp(a (t – year)))

At work I am involved in the local implementation of a complex government-driven national computer programme. In my particular region, every surgery and health centre has been kitted out with the latest technology, delivering over 300 new PCs, 50 printers and 20 servers. The aim of the national programme is to connect thirty-thousand doctors to three hundred hospitals for the benefit of patients. The goal is to create an efficient patient-centred health service, wherein high quality information is shared effectively between different teams and organisations.

Without a doubt, these are all very admirable aspirations, but there is a question which keeps on recurring in my mind… “What happens when the oil runs out?”

I’m not being funny — although whenever I ask this question at work, I find myself the immediate target of mockery. “What, this computer runs on oil, does it?” a colleague asked me sarcastically, prompting those around us to snigger at my ridiculous statements. I am the irritating voice in the office who must always inject a historical or futuristic reference whenever some piece of technology is not working exactly as it should. I have the misfortune to sit beside the noisy, clunky photocopier and am thus the first recipient of the expletives when the paper jams again. “I hate this thing,” is a frequent refrain; “This Bloody Machine” another. As I sidle across to assist the huffing and puffing victims of copier fart, I cannot help asking — as I retrieve the crumpled rogue sheet from flap five — how we got by in the olden days, why everything is such a hurry. The last time I told a colleague who was lamenting how long it was taking for the machine to wake up from its power-saving slumber that at least waiting on a monk with a quill could have been worse, the “you’re an idiot” glare was useful confirmation that my “it’s not that bad” optimism is getting on everyone’s nerves. Still, whenever there is a problem with the computer network and patience begins to fray, I continue to ask what we are going to do when the oil runs out.

No, I’m not being funny. I’m serious. “What, this computer runs on oil, does it?”

Well yes, in a way. The American Chemical Society (http://acswebcontent.acs.org) estimates that the construction of a single 32MB DRAM chip uses 1.5kg of fossil fuels in addition to 32kg of water, while the production of one gram of microchips consumes 630g of fossil fuels. Most of the keyboard, mouse, CPU case and monitor is made from plastic, which is a polymer derived from oil. It is estimated that the construction of the average desktop computer consumes ten times its weight in fossil fuels, while the US Environmental Literacy Council (http://www.enviroliteracy.org) states that the energy used in producing ten computers is enough to produce a car, largely due to the purity and sophistication of materials required to produce microchips. All electrical devices make use of silver, copper, and/or platinum, each of which is extracted, transported, and fashioned using oil-powered machinery. The production of one ton of copper requires the equivalent of 17.8 barrels of oil, while the energy cost component of aluminium is twenty times higher. In other words, the production of computers is an extremely energy-intensive operation throughout the cycle.

Take yourself off to the website of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (http://www.peakoil.net) and sober up. While I am sure that everybody is aware that oil is finite resource, what this means hasn’t really hit home yet. Every time we hear that production is peaking we learn that a new oil field has been discovered and so we relax; it seems the oil will just run and run. Last time I was in Turkey I met a BP engineer heading off to Trabzon. My wife laughed: there’s no oil down there. “Oh yes there is,” he replied with a smile, on route to his connecting flight. Out on a rig in the Black Sea, off the northern Turkish coast, they are drilling for more black gold. Why don’t the scaremongers just quieten down? Probably because they are right. We don’t know when the oil will run dry — in 1956, Marion King Hubbert incorrectly forecasted that world oil production would peak at some point between 1993 and 2000 — but we can be certain that it will. Hubbert was correct in his prediction that US oil production would peak in the early 1970s.

Some reports now suggest that the peak of oil production — which coincides with 50% depletion of our oil endowment — has been superseded and we will therefore begin to see production levels drop my 3% each year. Thus oil production in 2020 is likely to be equal to that in 1980, although demand for oil will significantly outpace production due to population growth and more widespread industrialisation. As CEO of Halliburton in 1999, Dick Cheney stated that, “there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.” Andrew Gould, CEO of the oil services firm Schlumberger noted: “An accurate average decline rate is hard to estimate, but an overall figure of 8% is not an unreasonable assumption.”

Those who only consider the implications of a decline in the production of oil in light of our transportation and energy needs, must awake to the realisation that petrochemicals are actually key components in a vast array of applications, from the production of medicines to the distribution of water, and from the creation of plastics to the production of food. Indeed, in the case of the latter it is estimated that industrialised societies use 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten. In addition to the energy used in farming, transportation and packaging of the food we eat, oil is the building block of many related resources. Pesticides are made from oil, for example, while fertilizers are made from ammonia, which is derived from natural gas.

We are running, but where are we going? The growth in the popularity of consumer electronics in recent years has brought with it an acceptance of planned obsolescence and the perpetual upgrade, without any real appreciation of the implications. Last year’s status symbol was the Apple iPod, this year’s the Sony Walkman phone, next year’s the portable PlayStation? We move from hyper-threading chips to dual-core offerings within a matter of months. The traditional conservative approach towards electronic equipment (such as the Hi-Fi and TV) that anticipated longevity has largely been superseded by the idea that a product will need to be perpetually upgraded (mobile phones, computers, PDAs, MP3 players). Computers are vulnerable to this idea on two fronts: aging hardware and new versions of software. Indeed, the two link together in a perfect marriage: as computers get more powerful, so does the software, the next generation requiring ever greater hardware specifications. The result, unfortunately, is the creation of huge volumes of waste and consumption of limited resources. We know that much of this is unnecessary, but we just accept it as a fact of life. It is said that most of the consumer-level problems with computer software are not inherent in the technology. Rather, they are the consequences of user-hostile business models, which see the perpetual upgrade as its primary source of revenue.

But where are we heading? The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (http://www.millenniumassessment.org), which was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over four years, concluded that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations. The way in which society obtains its resources is said to have caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth, and it is believed that this will compromise efforts to address hunger, poverty and improve healthcare. Its authors say the pressure for resources has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth; fisheries and fresh water, for example, are now well beyond levels that can sustain current demands. Thus the report suggests that society must alter its consumption patterns and promote better education, new technologies and higher prices for exploiting ecosystems.

We can communicate across continents in an instant for free, sharing files, sounds and video at ease. We can calculate financial forecasts faster than ever before using metre-wide spreadsheets with thousands of entries. We can share our thoughts with strangers in far-off lands. Our Doctors can view digital X-Rays on their computer as soon as a fracture has been photographed in a hospital twenty miles away. Software logarithms can now identify cancers within a CAT scan without human intervention. Technology is shrinking the world and allegedly speeding life up. Ears plugged into the iPod, eyes fixed on the computer screen, we are racing onwards as never before. But where are we going and what are we doing? My question is serious: what will we do when the oil runs out?

Those who are studying peak oil are not speaking about the last drop, only the downward slope of the bell curve. When demand outstrips supply, they say, the economy as we know it will probably collapse. And what will we do when that happens? How will we live?

Slow down. Learn how to live. Learn how to survive as those before us did. As another writer noted recently, some of us don’t know how determine when it is time to pray because we have become dependent on computer generated timetables. Some of us don’t know how to determine whether Ramadan has arrived because we are dependent on someone telling us on the phone. We have entered the on-demand age of e-Government, e-Banking, e-Commerce and e-Support, and we are apparently more connected than ever before. But do we know how to cook “real food”, or grow some vegetables, or conserve water and heat? Do we know how to conduct business? Do we know how to survive in the post-oil age?

It is possible that this apocalyptic vision is an exaggeration of our future reality – a dystrophic apparition more akin to that old film entitled Mad Max. I have read that scientist are developing new plastics based on polymers derived from corn and that theoretically circuit boards could be printed on sheets of lasagne pasta. Perhaps by the time oil is seriously on the decline, we will have developed efficient renewable sources of energy, or Mr Blair’s nuclear programme will be well under way. Perhaps today’s silicon based computer chips will have been replaced by organic processors. Perhaps the future will be rosy and my concern is misplaced. Perhaps.

But as we march onwards at an ever increasing pace, and I am invited to upgrade my computer and mobile telephone, to buy an MP3 player and download the latest version of Microsoft Windows, that question just returns. Our resources are finite: about this there can be no doubt. Isn’t it better that we slow down and question where we’re going? That we ask now, before it is too late? I think I can get by without an iPod. What about you?

12 September 2006

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20 August 2006

Only You

In the world to come, I shall not be asked, 'Why were you not Moses?' I shall be asked, 'Why were you not Zusya?'

- Rabbi Zusya

Mother of the Heart

I was walking down the garden path
When insecurity knocked in my heart
Workman’s hands grinding the door
And I sat on the heath watching them dance
The flowers gamboled in the breeze
And tossed their heads about
But no ray of sunshine visited me
All the hills I ever climbed
Were hidden in the spirals of yonder
When in the twilight I saw an ambassador
Allah hath sent down me a mother
But I still shook when the wind blew
And it crossed my heart through
Like a spear of love in the route
I would walk mother to the valley
Where she could gather all the flowers
But I read in my dream she hated flowers
In the blackness of the night, I set forth
Under the eyes of the shining stars
To dispose the flowers in the river
I heard mother’s voice on a hill
And she told me to bring home the flowers
That she would still love me
And not to follow dreams unseeingly
I rested on a rock and tears rose in my eyes
If only mother knew how much I loved her
That I would walk into ten thousand valleys
And bring to her all the flowers

17 August 2006

Dear Concerned (Part 3)

Sin, repentance and reform

When you spoke of sin and the fact that we are all sinners, I feel I have to add something to this. Christians believe that Jesus was sent for the sinners. Muslims also believe this and that Muhammad was also sent for the sinful. In this much we agree, but upon taking this further, we part. For the Christian, it seems to me, this is the end of it: you’re a sinner, there’s nothing you can do about it, so rejoice in the fact that you have been granted salvation from the consequence of your sins. As I read it, for the Muslim, this is just the beginning. Yes, we are sinful, but the point is that we can change. The difference is that for the Muslim there is an acceptance that righteousness is within human potential. Of course we will all commit sins from time to time, and it is for this reason that God taught us to repent. In the Qur’an, this becomes patently clear. After a mention of the consequence for those people who commit the gravest sins, we read, “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them God will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is God Forgiving and Merciful.”

Islam is a religion of reform, as I know very well. I know that it is hard for anyone in my family to see that I have changed in any way for the better by my association with Islam. That is because what was, and to some extent still is, my biggest problem relates to the matters of the heart – those hidden things, deep inside, such as insincerity in intention, dishonesty and other things I need not mention here. For many other people, though, the reform may be mainly in the actions, and I know of people who having once indulged in all sorts of dubious activities are now the most kind, generous, charitable, well-mannered and sincere people you could ever wish to meet. When we sin, we should turn to God in sincere repentance, and never become complacent with our sin, for that is a trick of the devil who wishes to convince us that we will never be good enough to worship God as He asks us to.

Making people unhappy by my belief

Now, finally, coming to an end of my marathon effort, let me address the last things you wrote to me with regards to my religion. You wrote that you believe “that God is always sad when we do anything which displeases Him and I feel that He must be very sad to see how deeply unhappy you are making your parents…” In Islam, respect of and obedience to our parents is commanded to every believer. He is told not even to say “hmmth” to his parents. This applies to all spheres of life and in all circumstances, except one. The one exception is where obeying one’s mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, means disobeying the Creator. Obedience to God always come first. I do not actually always manage that; sometimes I compromise, against my better judgement, and do things which displease my Lord, simply because I do not wish to offend my parents.

I cannot escape from the fact that my belief in Islam as the one and only way causes deep unhappiness to all close to me who do not share this belief. I cannot ignore that fact and nor do I ignore it. I know that every one only wants what is best for me. Of course I know that. But as I have now explained, I hope satisfactorily, my belief in Islam is one which I hold sincerely. It is not something which I can turn on and turn off like a light bulb. People may assume that because of this I do not care about my family, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just as you pray that I may be guided to what you consider to be the truth, I also pray for everyone that they may be guided. On both sides, we believe that we have a hold of the truth, and on both sides we fear that our loved ones will die without a hold of that truth. Unfortunately, this is just one of the things which comes with the territory of believing there to be a definitive truth and a reason for our existence.

The nature of guidance

On the question of guidance, I hope that we can acknowledge that we all need to seek this treasure. As I have already written, this request for guidance is part of the Muslim’s “worship” prayer. Of course, being sincere must accompany these words, but I hope that you can see what an important part of my life, as a Muslim, seeking guidance is. I believe that this is something to reflect upon. There is another aspect which I feel we should consider about what we mean by guidance. A Muslim’s actions are based upon knowledge founded on the teachings of a Prophet sent by God. The Muslim believes that God sent Prophets in order to teach mankind the Straight Path and the way to worship Him. This, for the Muslim, is guidance.

I do not know of any comparable approach in Christianity. The “taught” guidance familiar to the Prophets is replaced in Christianity, it seems to me, by what people “think” is right. I do not wish to cause any offence by mentioning these things. Rather, I am simply suggesting that there is a need to define what we mean by guidance. From my own perspective, I find the idea of guidance without a basis in knowledge rather problematic. For example, a few centuries ago no practising Christian would have dared take interest on a loan, for it was considered a grave sin. Today, however, the majority of practising Christians freely invest in interest in one way or another. Now, the problem with regard to guidance, as I see it, is, who is guided? Are modern Christians now guided closer to the truth? If so, does that not mean that the previous sixteen centuries worth of Christians were misguided? Or vice versa? The same could be said about the establishment of Protestantism breaking from Roman Catholicism. Of course, it is possible to argue that only belief in the crucifixion is a salvation issue and that all these other points are side issues. As it now stands, however, from a personal point of view I am not sure that I would be able to decipher what is guidance and what is not, for, unlike in the supplication for seeking guidance I mentioned before, the issue to be guided upon has not been defined.

Let us continue to pray with true sincerity that we, each and every one of us, may be guided to follow the right path, particularly at this stage in our lives (the life of the present, before the awesome Day of Judgement) when our whole future is at stake. I know those were words which were meant only for me, but if finding the truth and acting upon it is genuinely our aim, I know that you won’t be offended. I have written all of this; this long, long letter; in the hope that you will better understand what I believe and why I cannot now abandon it, purely to make life easier for myself with respect to my family and my career.

13 August 2006

Dear Concerned (part 2)

Moving on, I would like to address the question of prayer. I think I may have confused you by talking about one type of prayer previously and then giving you a tape about a different form later. A distinction needs to be drawn, therefore, between the five obligatory daily prayers (salah) which are an act of worship, and supplication – prayers of asking. The tape referred to the latter type. I think previously I tried to explain that the five daily prayers were comparable to your attendance of church on a Sunday. If you think about that, you will think of your singing hymns in worship, your utterance of the creed, your prayers of forgiveness and, of course, your prayers of asking. In the Church of England, as in most other denominations, you follow a set structure as to how you perform these rituals. Every individual obviously has their own reason for attending church on a Sunday, but I would guess that most practising Christians consider it a duty and feel that it refreshes their faith and reminds them of something greater.

I would like to suggest that you consider my five daily prayers in this context. Perhaps you could imagine that they are little church services. Let me tell you what they entail so that you can see what I mean. When the time comes to pray, I will stand in a room facing in the direction of a building which the Prophet Abraham built with his son Ismail for the worship of God. This should not be very strange, for in the Church of England, you all face eastwards in church. Next, having made the intention to pray, I will raise my hands up to my ears and say, “God is the Greatest”. Then I will place my right hand over my left arm on my navel and say, “O God, glory and praise are for You, and blessed is Your name, and exalted is Your Majesty; there is no god but You.”

Then I will recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, the translation of which is, “All praise is for God, the Lord of the worlds, the most Merciful, the most Kind; Master of the day of Judgement. You alone we worship; and You alone we ask for help. Guide us along the straight path – the path of those whom You have favoured and not of those who earn Your anger or of those who go astray.” Then I will recite another chapter of the Qur’an, then bow down saying again, “God is the Greatest.”

While bowing, I will say at least three times, “Glory to my Lord, the Great.” Then I will stand up straight again, saying “God hears those who praise Him” and “Our Lord, praise be to You.” Then I will prostrate on the ground with the words, “God is the Greatest,” and says three times, “Glory to my Lord, the Highest.” Then I will sit up, then prostrates again with the same words, and then stands to follow the same structure again, reciting a different chapter of the Qur’an after reciting the first as before.

This time, after the second prostration, I will sit and say, “All prayer is for God and worship and goodness. Peace be upon the Prophet and the Mercy of God and His Blessings. Peace be on us and on the righteous servants of God. I bear witness that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.” Then, depending upon which prayer it is, I may repeat this process again or end. Within this prayer, other prayers may be made, i.e. of the asking variety, but basically it is a prayer of worship.

So I hope that you can now see what I mean in my comparison with the Christian attendance of church. The purpose of the salah prayer is to remind us of our Creator and our purpose in life, and to cleanse us of our sins. You might consider it the way the Prophet explained it: if you were to take a bath five times a day, would you not be very clean? So think of the prayer as a bath in relation to our sins.

Now, as to your worry that praying these five prayers while working might prove detrimental to my career, there are one or two other things to note. First of all, I would not be praying all five during office hours. The first prayer is at dawn before the sun rises, the second is at midday and therefore can be performed during my lunch hour, and the last prayer is at night. So that leaves me with only two to pray during office time. Now, consider that it is a legal requirement that employees are given the right to VDU (screen) breaks if they are working on computers, to avoid eye strain. So while my boss might take a walk up the corridor, I could go and pray.

Other employees are allowed to take smoking breaks. Some take coffee breaks. This prayer actually takes no longer than ten minutes to perform. You might also consider that in the summer months, I could only be praying the midday prayer at work, for the day is longer, the mid-afternoon prayer falling later, the sunset prayer perhaps at eight or nine in the evening. So, I have to ask, is it really such a problem? The answer, of course, is no. Islam is a middle course, going to neither the extremes of ease or of hardship.

As to prayers of asking – supplication – it is true to say that we could pray whilst washing up or mowing the lawn and that it might be accepted if we are sincere, but we might expect that a prayer for which we made a great deal of effort would be more pleasing to our Creator. Think of the account in Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus is said to fall on his face and pray that God will take the “cup” away from him. Clearly there must be benefit in prostrating during prayer or else he would not have done this. Prostrating, taking upon a position of utmost humility before God, was the practice of all the Prophets and you will find that amongst some of the “orthodox” churches, some Christians pray in this manner to this day. This said, Muslims do make their supplications in different ways. Some will raise the palms of their hands up towards the ceiling, while kneeling down, and ask God for that which is on their mind.

With regards to the words of the prayer from which you quoted, this is one which Muslims are encouraged to use when forming any decision or choosing the proper course. The Prophet instructed his followers to pray for guidance in all their concerns. There is a story I would like to tell you in connection to this. During the summer before I went to Stirling, I had my ups and downs; my periods of strength in faith and my periods of weakness. Now, there was one period, just after I had listened to that tape in fact, when I decided to pray this prayer – for the first time. I had not heard from Stirling about whether I would receive a place or not, and I had no idea what to do next. So that night I prayed two units of the voluntary “worship” prayer and then I uttered those words,
“O Allah, I seek Your counsel by Your knowledge and by Your power I seek strength and I ask You from Your immense favour, for verily You are able while I am not and verily You know while I do not and You are the Knower of the unseen. O Allah, if You know this affair, that I should go to Stirling to study Publishing Studies, to be good for me in relation to my religion, my life, and end, then decree and facilitate it for me, and bless me with it, and if You know this affair to be ill for me towards my religion, my life, and end, then remove it from me and remove me from it, and decree for me what is good wherever it be and make me satisfied with such.”
When I awoke in the morning, barely sparing a thought about the words I had uttered the night before, I went downstairs and saw that the post had come. When I picked the envelopes up from the mat, I discovered a letter from the University of Stirling and in it I found that they had offered me a place. So now, whenever a matter arises for me, I do pray for guidance using these words, and I feel, for example, that I can rest assured if I don’t get a job from a certain interview when I have prayed in this manner.

On some of the other things you said about your belief in God and the way He answers our prayers, I can either quite agree with you because I believe the same or I can empathise with it because I felt that way during my “searching” period. Where you wrote, “My belief is quiet and personal. I believe there is one God who knows everything about me, my thoughts, my actions, my hopes and fears…” it brings a smile to my face, because this is how I was in my agnostic phase. And, of course, it is also true of my belief today, but the difference is that at that point, that was all there was to it.

Dig Here!

Robert Fisk writes in a recent article entitled "If You Want the Roots of Terror, Try Here":

So I sat on the carpet in my living room and watched all these heavily armed chaps at Heathrow protecting the British people from annihilation and then on came President George Bush to tell us that we were all fighting "Islamic fascism". There were more thumps in the darkness across Beirut where an awful lot of people are suffering from terror - although I can assure George W that while the pilots of the aircraft dropping bombs across the city in which I have lived for 30 years may or may not be fascists, they are definitely not Islamic.

And there, of course, was the same old problem. To protect the British people - and the American people - from "Islamic terror", we must have lots and lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers and plainclothes police and endless departments of anti-terrorism, homeland security and other more sordid folk like the American torturers - some of them sadistic women - at Abu Ghraib and Baghram and Guantanamo. Yet the only way to protect ourselves from the real violence which may - and probably will - be visited upon us, is to deal, morally, with courage and with justice, with the tragedy of Lebanon and "Palestine" and Iraq and Afghanistan. And this we will not do.
Of course, it is up to us to draw the conclusions. Methinks he has hit the bull's eye. Let's also look at Juan Cole's previous reaction to this bit of hate speech i.e. the phrase "Islamo-fascism" or "Islamic fascism":
It is hard to see the difference between the bigotry of anti-Semitism as an evil and the bigotry that [Michael] Medved displays toward Islam. It is more offensive than I can say for him to use the word “Islamo-fascist.” Islam is a sacred term to 1.3 billion people in the world. It enshrines their highest ideals. To combine it with the word “fascist” in one phrase is a desecration and a form of hate speech. Are there Muslims who are fascists? Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since “Islam” has to do with the highest ideals of the religion. In the same way, there have been lots of Christian fascists, but to speak of Christo-Fascism is just offensive.

Don't Be Brutal, Brother!

When I read this (whence it doesn't matter), I felt my heart sink:

A Christian stone mason received critical injuries, including dislocation of his after he was seen drinking water from a public facility, by a Muslim man on June 6 (Tuesday) just outside the eastern city of Lahore, the Pakistan Christian Post (PCP) has reported.

Nasir Ashraf, the Christian mason was working at the construction site of a school. The trouble for him began while he was returning to the site. Confronting him with anger the Muslim man asked him as to why he drank water from the public facility by using a glass that was placed at the water tank.

“Why did you drink water from this glass since you are a Christian?” the PCP quoted the Muslim man as asking Nasir.

“The man accused the mason of polluting the glass and proceeded to destroy it. The Muslim man then summoned a crowd by shouting, “This Christian polluted our glass,” and encouraged them to beat him up,” the PCP report said.

“The crowd began beating Nasir, eventually pushing him off a ledge. The fall dislocated his shoulder, broke his collarbone in two places and knocked him unconscious,” it said.
Yes, we have to work for the human rights of non-Muslim minorities along with those of Muslims, and educate those who have been misguided. "Untouchability" is a racist casteism concept. Let's live together and join hands. No one is "dirty". Whether it be a Muslim, a Christian , a Jew, a Hindu -- there is only one God and one humanity. And by undermining this, we are destroying the inner universal beauty that links us. Let's drink from each other's cups more often.

11 August 2006

The Separation of Lovers

The following is a moving excerpt from the article "Crimes in Iraq: Lest We Forget Thirteen Years of Sanctions" by Felicity Arbuthnot:

Then there was Jassim. In the same ward as Ezra, he lay with his huge eyes and glossy hair, listlessly viewing the barren ward. He had been selling cigarettes on the streets of Basra to support his family until he became ill. “This is Felicity and she writes for a living,” said Dr.Haddad. Jassim was transformed; he glowed and showed me the poems he spent his days writing, when he still had the energy. He collected phrases, too, to incorporate where he thought appropriate. I told him all writers collect words and phrases, they are our tools. He glowed again, delighting that he was being understood and that his instincts were guiding him correctly along his passionate path. “I asked death, ‘What is greater than you?’ Death replied, ‘Separation of lovers is greater than me,’” was one of his collected phrases. He was 13."

One of his poems was called “The Identity Card.” In translation, it reads:

The name is love,
The class is mindless,
The school is suffering,
The governorate is sadness,
The city is sighing,
The street is misery,
The home number is one thousand sighs.

He watched my face for reaction. Lost for words, eventually I said, “Jassim, if you can write like this at thirteen, think what you will do at twenty.” I asked him if I could incorporate his poem in articles from that visit and said I would send them back to him, so he would see it in print. Some weeks later, I did just that and sent cuttings back to him with a friend and imagined him glowing again. He had fought and fought, but lost his battle just before my friend arrived. He never saw his poem in print and became just another statistic in the “collateral damage” of sanctions by the most inhuman regime ever overseen by the United Nations, which arguably condemned the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child - the most widely signed convention in history - to the dust, to the mass of graves of Iraq's children, resulting from the embargo years.

06 August 2006

Indigenous Middle Eastern Jews Condemn Israel

Middle Eastern Jews are one of the noblest peoples and the most nuanced in their thinking. This is in stark contrast to even the majority of the American public who have been brainwashed by their media, and as a recent poll suggests support Israeli brutalities in Lebanon. But let's briefly look at the overview of the World War 4 Report on this:

"Indigenous Middle Eastern Jewry, from Lebanon, Morocco, and Iran, have issued recent condemnations of the Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Palestine."

Click here to read the full account.

04 August 2006

The Devil's Wine

I am not that well
And I might die soon...
Often treading the darkness
So strange this night
The Devil’s wine is keeping me low
An athirst for sin, however wasteful
Take me home in a whirlwind
Dim the flight of yesternight
That spoilt a mother’s child
I am going to be up for Peace
None of Lucifer’s resources
Beginning of a realization
The Curtain is drawn
My spirit grows
The bony Oars of Time
Will push me nearer the Lord
And bring me life

02 August 2006

Dear Concerned...

Why I believe what I do and the nature of this belief

I GATHERED gathered the impression from some of the things which you wrote in your letter, that you view my choice of Islam as my religion as just that: a choice from amongst a multitude of choices, as though I were looking for a coat in the winter sales. You advised me, “At this stage in your life I do not feel that changing to this form of religion is good, right and proper ‘for you, your livelihood and for the consequences of your affairs’…”

I have to put this point across clearly and, perhaps, forcefully, because it is fundamental to understanding everything else about my belief. Islam is my religion because I believe that it is the right path, the truth, or whatever you may wish to call it, and because I believe it to be the only Way. At origin, this statement is exactly the same as what you are saying when you tell me that my family pray that I may be guided. On both sides, we believe that we have a hold of the truth and, on both sides, we are deeply hurt and we despair at the other’s rejection of that truth. I cannot, therefore, reject what I believe simply because of a perception that it might get in the way. I believe it to be the truth and, thus, I act accordingly.

A friend once said to me, when I told him what I believed, “…whatever makes you happy.” Since then, I have come to realise that many people perceive that my belief is founded upon this principle; but it is not. My criteria for taking Islam as my path was one alone: “Is it the true way?” Having concluded that it is, everything follows on from this point. Where I might choose one coat over another because I prefer the colour, this is not in any way how it was when I came to believe in Islam.


My responsibilities in this life

Now, a second element which I would like to touch upon relates to my responsibilities in this life. You wrote, “At this stage in your life I do not feel that changing to this form of religion is good…” and later, “we are all praying for you [for guidance]… particularly at this stage in your life when your whole future is at stake.” My response is to ask when a good stage would be, for throughout our lives we may meet a thousand different stages. After getting a job, would the question then become getting a mortgage or a promotion? It could never end. Of all the unknown areas of our futures, however, there is one more pressing than any other, and that is death. We do not know when that will come to us. It may come in old age, but there are plenty of precedents for it to occur in our youth. I have a friend who was knocked off his bike by a van; he survived, but the doctors thought he never would. I knew somebody at Stirling whose twenty year-old friend returned home one evening feeling a little dizzy and within hours he was no longer alive. It is because I do not know when death will come to me that I feel that I must act at “this stage” in my life and, to pass your words back to you, because my “whole future is at stake” (i.e. in the life to come).

For a Muslim, the hereafter is not an added extra, tagged onto the end of life to take away the sorrow of death. Rather, it is the very aim of our life in this world. The life of this world is a passing stage, a period of preparation which determines whether we succeed or fail. In simple language the life of this world is an examination and the hereafter is the qualification. If we pass our driving test, we may drive a car and if not, we may not. This may be a difficult idea to grasp, because in the teachings of Paul is the idea that mankind must be saved from sin. A person is not, therefore, tested by his response to sin; the ability to sin or to turn from sin is not considered as a means by which we are judged.

Nevertheless, because the Muslim believes that this life has been given to us in order that we may determine our own outcome for the hereafter through the application of freewill (unlike other created things which innately submit to the laws of God), he believes that he must strive throughout this period of his creation to please God by adhering to His Law. Of course I am aware that such adherence may create difficulties for me from time to time, but I accept this because of the reasons I have so far mentioned. I am reminded of a verse in the Qur’an, the translation of which is: “And We shall certainly test you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives and fruit, but give glad tidings to the patient, who, when they are struck by disaster, say, ‘We belong to God and to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones who have upon them blessings from their Lord and mercy. And those are the ones who are guided.”

Another verse will surely sum up what I am trying to explain: “Blessed is He in whose hand is Dominion, and He has power over all things – the One who has created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deeds.” I hope that this helps you to understand the reason why I cannot delay my acting upon what I consider to be the truth.

There is one more thing which I would like to mention in this regard. Beyond these reasons, which derive directly from the teachings of Islam, I also have a very personal objection to the idea that I shouldn’t let my religion get in the way. I object to the treatment of God’s Law as an irritant which gets in the way of our “lives”; this is not the excuse, upon which Christian doctrine is founded, that Paul gave for its abandonment. Up until the appearance of Jesus, who adhered to the Law himself, Christians consider that the Law was not only valid, but also a fundamental aspect of belief. This being the case, I cannot understand how my adherence to the Law should be brought into question for any other reason than it being no longer necessary due to the idea of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. So far, however, this reason has not been given; only the fact that it may negatively affect my career prospects.

01 August 2006

Who Speaks for Me?

The politicians of my nation? The well-meaning feminists and leftists who want to "save" me? My family and friends who are "concerned" about so-called Islamists? My husband, my son, my brother, my father; whatever male family member is available?

I cannot be asked to speak for anyone else's experience or needs. If you want to know how a migrant worker feels, please, ask a few migrant workers. If you want to know why black men feel systematically disenfranchised, please, go meet with some of the boys on the corner and ask them. If you want to know how a Saudi woman feels about not being able to drive, or how an Afghan woman feels about the burqa, go to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and engage in dialogue with the women living it.

If you want to know what an American Muslim woman thinks, ask me. Don't ask my husband, my non-Muslim mother, my employer, or some Christian theologian. Ask me. I am only one, and my words do not represent every other American Muslim woman, but they do represent me. And I can speak for myself, thank you very much.

25 July 2006

And This Way...

Please go to http://julywar.epetitions.net and sign the Save the Lebanese Civilians Petition and forward this invitation to your friends.

Message from "Save The Lebanese Civilians":
Lebanese civilians have been under the constant attack of the state of Israel for several days. The State of Israel, in disregard to international law and the Geneva Convention, is launching a maritime and air siege targeting the entire population of the country. Innocent civilians are being collectively punished in Lebanon by the state of Israel in deliberate acts of terrorism as described in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

24 July 2006

Another Way You Can Help Lebanon & Palestine

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Rahiim

CAIR ACTION ALERT #495
AMERICANS URGED TO HELP EASE SUFFERING IN LEBANON, PALESTINE

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 7/24/06) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on Americans of all faiths to collect humanitarian relief supplies for delivery to Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. CAIR is urging that the collection of relief aid be carried out following regular congregational prayers this week in American mosques, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship.

Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), a 501(c)(3) organization that is registered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has agreed to receive the humanitarian supplies and deliver them those in need. CAIR is asking that actual relief supplies be gathered because of the severe restrictions currently placed on financial aid by the U.S. government.

"A strong humanitarian response by the American people will send a powerful message of hope and support to the Lebanese and Palestinian men, women and children caught up in the current humanitarian disaster," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.

IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUESTED: CAIR is asking religious leaders of all faiths to announce this important humanitarian effort and to aid in collecting and sending the supplies to LIFE.

1. FILL A BOX with JUST ONE of the following items. (By only placing only one type of item into the box, you aid the collection effort and speed delivery by saving time spent sorting items in the warehouse): diapers, water purification tablets (can be obtained at most camping stores), flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, powdered milk, lentils.

* Food should be mailed in small boxes, no larger than 16"×12"×12."
* Diapers should be mailed in medium-sized boxes, no larger than 24"×18"×18."
* The maximum weight of each box should not exceed 40 pounds.
* Each box should contain only ONE TYPE of the relief supplies listed above. (Example: a box of lentils)
* No pork or alcohol products will be accepted.

2. MAIL THE BOX TO:LIFE for Relief & DevelopmentLebanon/Palestine Relief Effort17300 W. 10 Mile Road, Southfield, MI 48075Tel: (248) 424-7493, Toll Free: 1-800-827-3543, Fax: (248) 424-8325, E-Mail: life@lifeusa.org

PLEASE ANNOUNCE, POST AND DISTRIBUTE

CAIR Council on American-Islamic Relations 453 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.Washington, D.C. 20003 Tel: 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726Fax: 202-488-0833 E-mail: http://us.f343.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=cair@cair-net.org URL: http://www.cair-net.org/

This United Nation

Islamic Relief has launched an emergency appeal for €4 million to intervene in the Middle East crisis. An initial €1 million has been allocated to support the victims of the conflict in Lebanon and Palestine.

In Lebanon, Islamic Relief's operation is based in Saida, the largest city in the south of the country, where we work through the Islamic Welfare Association (ISWA).

An emergency humanitarian operation is underway and there is an urgent need for food, potable water, blankets, mattresses and medicine.

In the next few days, Islamic Relief will be sending 4,000 jerry cans, 2,000 family hygiene kits, and 10,000 sleeping mats from Dubai.

In Palestine, Islamic Relief staff in Gaza are distributing 13,000 food parcels to the poorest families.

You can help by making an Online Donation or telephoning:

UK : + 44 121 622 0622
USA : +1 818 238 95 20
France : +33 149 171717
Germany : + 49 221 722 0799
Holland : + 31 206 160 022
Belgium : + 32 22 198 184
Switzerland : +41 227 320 273
Italy : + 39 34 703 41183
Worldwide: +44 121 622 0622

http://www.islamic-relief.com/submenu/Appeal/palestine.htm

20 July 2006

Civil War Spreads Across Iraq

"A civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims is spreading rapidly through central Iraq, with each community seeking revenge for the latest massacre. Yesterday a suicide bomber driving a van packed with explosives blew himself up outside the golden-domed mosque in Kufa, killing at least 59 and injuring more than 130 Shia.

"In the past 10 days, while the world has been absorbed by the war in Lebanon, sectarian massacres have started to take place on an almost daily basis, leading observers to fear a level of killing approaching that of Rwanda immediately before the genocide of 1994. On a single spot on the west bank of the Tigris river in north Baghdad, between 10 and 12 bodies have been drifting ashore every day."

Click here or here to read the full report by Patrick Cockburn.

13 July 2006

Last Taboo

"The extermination of the Native Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima attacked, the national flag (of the US) publicly committed to flames. But the systematic continuity of Israel’s 52-year oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear." (Edward Said)

Recommended Reading:

09 July 2006

To speak the same language
is kinship and affinity,
yet a person stuck with those
he can't confide in
is trapped like a prisoner
enchained by lack of understanding.

It is, indeed, ironic:
There are many people
from India and Turkey
who speak the same language,
while there are countless Turks
who really can't understand one another.

The universal language is authentic sight.

To be one in heart is surely superior
to only speaking the same words.

-- Rumi

04 July 2006

To the Sea

When I was studying in Scotland six years ago, I lived in Broomhall Castle on the side of the Ochil Hills in Menstrie. At weekends I used to climb over the fence behind that sandstone building and ascend the vast hills on foot. High up there were great views of Stirling and the Firth of Forth. Once over the hill, I would trample down into the valley and follow the rivers and streams as far as I could. I learnt a lot from those rivers. Sometimes I would encounter a stream that was nothing but a dribble through the grass, sometimes a bubbling brook. Every beck was fed by scores of tiny tributaries, and every small river by dozens of streams. In one afternoon I would pass hundreds of watery veins across the fields and rocks, feeding one new watercourse after another. I would ponder on those waterways dribbling down the higher ground at their source, for on my way I had passed the rushing torrent heading out of the valley, carving its way between the huge boulders. Across the lowland, through the village, this wide river joined another, that one joining another and on and on, until it joined the magnificent shining Firth of Forth far in the distance. One particular afternoon, while heading onwards further than before, I understood the parable in that magnificent landscape. We are not required to be mighty rivers to get our life’s work done. Each of us can contribute to a wider goal by performing even the smallest deed. Some of us are the tiny tributaries feeding the larger streams. Some are energetic brooks feeding the rivers. Some are cascading rivers swelling the wide, deep estuaries. All of us have a role and however insignificant it may seem at the time, it will always makes a huge difference in the end. The signs of creation if only we took heed; a lesson from my aimless meanders in Clackmannanshire’s hills.

26 June 2006

Making caricatures of us all

January ended with the news that a tanker loaded with ten thousand tonnes of phosphoric acid had sunk off the French coast, threatening to leak eighty tonnes of fuel oil into the English Channel. It had all the makings of a major news story. As the British Press focused on the House of Commons vote over the controversial religious hatred bill, news that Danish firms were seeking an end to a boycott of their goods was receiving scant attention. By the end of the week everything had changed; the tanker was long forgotten and one story was dominating the headlines.

I have to admit that by the evening of 2 February I was pretty angry. Collecting my wife from the station, having just turned off the Six O’Clock News, I was foaming all the way home about the way Muslims have to react so stupidly every time a red flag is waved in front of us. Just after I became Muslim seven and a half years ago, another convert told me that the action we had taken was a bit like jumping on board a sinking ship. That day reminded me of his analogy. Disconnecting from the mainstream media and plugging into the Internet provided some relief however; I suddenly noticed that amidst the commentary from the Muslims of cyberspace it was actually very hard to find people saying anything stupid after all. All I could see were the silent images in the online press.

The cartoons in question were first published four months previously in Denmark, apparently to test the boundaries of freedom of expression. Perhaps Denmark had already established these boundaries when its Supreme Court ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to sack a young Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to work. Of course, we can’t say this; it’s changing the subject. No, the newspaper in question, Jyllands Posten, consulted the Danish theologian Professor Tim Jensen before publishing the cartoons. He responded with the advice that the cartoons should not be published, pointing out that “It will offend Muslims and only cause pointless provocation.” So the newspaper went ahead and published them anyway.

On 20 October 2005, the BBC reported that ambassadors of ten Muslim countries had complained to the Danish prime minister about the newspaper's cartoons. Then the story disappeared for three months, only to reappear when Arla Foods announced it would have one hundred redundancies after its sales in the Middle East fell to zero. In this bizarre twist to the usual sanctions regime, Danish companies were pleading for a food-for-oil programme. Thus the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, chipped in to criticise the papers that re-ran the cartoons. Why did they re-run the cartoons? Did they, too, need to establish the boundaries? Were they still in doubt? Of course not. Nothing stirs fame like controversy. So away they waved with the red flag.

Throughout the day on 2 February, the media was stirring the story. When I returned to my car in the evening, the presenters on the evening news seemed to be continuing from where I had left them in the morning. The package was introduced in sombre mood on the midday television news; we listened as the reporter told us that another clash of cultures, like that seen with the Satanic Verses, “was developing fast”. Then, turning to the other camera with a smile, the presenter told us how to contribute to the debate online. While the sales of Lurpak continued to plummet, a self-righteous media began to fight back, chanting death to the enemies who have no respect for pointless provocation. Calls to boycott Middle Eastern goods quickly faded, however, when it was realised that the only Middle Eastern goods available were oil and stale baklava.

Apparently there had been a massive wave of protest across the Middle East, although at that stage nobody had managed to capture the thronging crowds on camera. A world shortage in wide-angle lenses meant that every photographer was forced to go for the up-close-and-personal look. Still, that would soon change once the word got about. One of the protests involved a group of men pouring lighter fluid over a Danish flag which appeared to be made of tissue paper before setting it alight. I should think, were it not for its obligatory incineration, Danes would be touched by the affection with which the protesters had recreated their national flag; one protester had clearly spent hours on his neatly crayoned standard. Elsewhere, men whose convictions were so strong that they had to hide their faces beneath scarves briefly surrounded the EU offices in Gaza and fired bullets into the air, gaining prime time airing on the television news. But rolling into a town just outside London, a camera crew filmed men walking out of a mosque looking scarily unperturbed. Even the non-Muslim asked for his opinion on the street seemed oblivious to the media frenzy unveiling around him. Unprepared, he stuttered something about nothing and shrugged his shoulders.

Personally I believe there must be better ways to honour our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, than to violently demand a non-Muslim newspaper observes Islamic principles of not depicting the Prophets. Islam has always prohibited this because it wanted to prevent its followers from taking them as objects of worship down the line. That’s not unreasonable, if you think of the way Iconography has been used in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity. But would we not be better off honouring Muhammed, peace be upon him, by living as he lived, trying to curb our anger and observing patience? But then again, by and large that was what the Muslims representing themselves have been saying. Indeed there were no ritual bonfires of tubs of Lurpak in the car park at my mosque after Jummah prayer the following week, although I gather a convicted drug dealer thought it would be a good idea to turn up in London dressed as a suicide bomber.

On the other hand, the media was making much of the democratic right to cause offence in the civilised countries of Western Europe today. Unlike those ignorant, backward Muslims over there with their quaint ways and failure to appreciate satire, Denmark is a land of enlightened souls doing nothing but exploring their boundaries. Yes indeed, Denmark is such a pleasant civilised land that a radio station in Copenhagen had to have its broadcasting licence taken away in August last year after calling for the extermination of Muslims. Whilst exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression, Kaj Wilhelmsen told listeners to Radio Holger: “There are only two possible reactions if you want to stop this bomb terrorism – either you expel all Muslims from Western Europe so they cannot plant bombs, or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims which would mean killing a substantial part of Muslim immigrants.” As Queen Margrethe of Denmark is quoted as saying in her autobiography, it is time to take the challenge of Islam seriously: “We have let this issue float around for too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.” You see: we in the civilized West are much too tolerant to behave like those flag-made-of-tissue-burning, sanction-wielding brutes over there.

20 June 2006

Welcome to the New Iraq

I am quoting from a very interesting post by Riverbend the famous Iraqi blogger entitled "Viva Muqtada..." on a silly, ignorant and disparaging fatwa Muqtada al-Sadr has issued against football. I mean, all the things that are occurring in Iraq like the erosion of women's rights and the banning of sports and all tell us what Iraq is turning into. Anyway, this is the quotation:
As it turns out, Muqtada has a fatwa against football (soccer). I downloaded it and this is a translation of what he says when someone asks him for a fatwa on football and the World Cup:

“In reality, my father's position on this topic isn't deficient... Not only my father but Sharia also prohibits such activities which keep the followers too occupied for worshiping, keep people from remembering [to worship]. Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God. That is one thing. The second thing, which is more important, we find that the West and especially Israel, habeebi the Jews, did you see them playing soccer? Did you see them playing games like Arabs play? They let us keep busy with soccer and other things and they've left it. Have you heard that the Israeli team, curse them, got the World Cup? Or even America? Only other games... They've kept us occuppied with them- singing, and soccer, and smoking, stuff like that, satellites used for things which are blasphemous while they occuppy themselves with science etc. Why habeebi? Are they better than us- no we're better than them.”

Important note: Islamic Sharia does not prohibit soccer/football or sports- it’s only prohibited by the version of Sharia in Muqtada’s dark little head. I wonder what he thinks of tennis, swimming and yoga…

I listened to the fatwa, with him getting emotional about playing football, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Foreign occupation and being a part of a puppet government- those things are ok. Football, however, will be the end of civilization as we know it, according to Muqtada. It’s amusing- they look nothing alike- yet he reminds me so much of Bush. He can barely string two sentences together properly and yet, millions of people consider his word law. So when Bush raves about the new ‘fledgling Iraqi government’ ‘freely elected’ into power, you can take a look at Muqtada and see one of the fledglings. He is currently one of the most powerful men in the country for his followers.

So this is democracy. This is one of the great minds of Bush’s democratic Iraq.
Why didn't George Bush and his minions just ask the professors and intellectuals in the United States like Noam Chomsky and Edward Said about a thing called "reality" before leaping into Iraq? Freedom and democracy were never the vocabulary but the media of the mission. The largesse was delivered to the people of Iraq through cluster bombs and napalm. The poor of this world weep while the fat cats in ties and coats chuckle at the sight of the riches gushing from the anvils. The blood is never seen.

15 June 2006

In the interest of the people

Long before the Make Poverty History campaign caught the public imagination—its huge momentum so famously derailed by four bombs on the London transport system last July—another global movement was calling for the cancellation of the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. At the turn of the millennium Africa was said to be paying $200 million every week just to service its debts. ‘The debts are unjust, unpayable and are killing too many people,’ lamented Jubilee 2000, ‘The cards are stacked against the poor. We’ve got to change the system, to put an end to this injustice.’ Thus, in over 120 countries, trade unions, charities, religious groups and community organisations came together with a unified retort; a call that the debt be dropped.

There is no doubt that this is a noble cause. It is claimed that Benin used over 50% of the money saved through debt relief to fund health care, while Tanzania was able to abolish primary school fees which led to an increase in attendance of over 60%. Our noble Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Your smile for your brother is charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is charity.’ Thus the work of Jubilee 2000 was indeed commendable. But for those of us familiar with religious law it does seem that we are missing something. While calling for the cancellation of existing debts, there is a much larger injustice about which we have fallen silent.

Low income countries pay around $2.30 to service their debts for every $1 they receive in grant aid. In her well known book, A Fate Worse Than Debt, Susan George called interest rates the ‘bane of Third World debtors’ existence.’ Interest lies at the heart of the matter. The first loans to Africa, Asia and South America came from the World Bank and foreign governments, targeted at development projects and the expansion of capital goods imports. Such loans were tied to relatively low interest rates. It is ironic that the newly oil-rich Muslim countries of the Middle East should be responsible, even if indirectly, for much of today’s crisis.

In the 1970s, commercial banks inexperienced in dealing with poor countries found themselves holding excess capital from OPEC’s oil price partnership and thus provided variable-rate loans based on market rates. Interest rates followed market fluctuations and, largely as a result of the U.S. Federal Reserve tightening monetary policy against inflation in the 1980s, they quickly rose from negative to positive levels. Consequently, as debt repayments suffered, the commercial banks withdrew from further lending to protect their own interests. The result of continued high interest rates, combined with a decline in commercial bank lending, was the paradox that the recipient countries were paying out more finance servicing payments than they received as borrowing.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign as it is now known is demanding an end to the injustice of what has been termed the Third World Debt Crisis. Admirable, indeed, but is it not time that we addressed the issue at the heart of this crisis? The movement’s name derives from the Hebrew Bible, for the jubilee was a time when debts would be forgiven. In The Times in 1998, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Hume, wrote, ‘the prospect of reducing the burden of debt has profound theological resonance.’ A step further could have equally heartfelt significance, for in this crisis there is an inkling of an issue that was always treated with due concern through the ages by Church theologians.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have much in common. One example is a prohibition on the consumption or charge of interest. Traditionally in all three faiths to make a transaction involving interest was considered a major sin. The law in the Pentateuch states that an Israelite may not exact interest from his poor brother on a loan given to him (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36). In the Psalms it is written that one who does not put his money out to usury will remain unshaken (15:5). In Ezekiel, a righteous man is one who ‘never lends either at discount or at interest, but shuns injustice and deals fairly between one person and another’ (18:8); a loan in interest, meanwhile, is considered amongst a list of abominations (18:13).

Similarly, Christians made reference to the Gospel of Luke which advises believers to lend without expecting a return (6:35). The Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV of 1745 states, ‘The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract.’ He goes on, ‘One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully…’

As for us Muslims, the Qur’an states, ‘Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the devil by his touch has driven to madness. That is because they say: Trade is like usury, but God has permitted trade and forbidden usury …’ (2:275). Our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, confirmed this when he said, ‘A dirham which a man knowingly receives in usury is more serious a sin than thirty-six acts of adultery.’

It should not then be difficult to appreciate how a disassociation from interest would have the greatest theological resonance. Yet in reality we find quite the contrary, for most people are ignorant of this tradition. Although a distinction between usury and interest was rejected by both Luther and Melancthon, Calvin’s separation of the two gradually gained acceptance amongst both Protestants and Catholics. Thus today, in a global economy based on interest, few would even give the matter a second thought. Indeed this is surely the time that our beloved Prophet Muhammad spoke of when he said, ‘A time is certainly coming to mankind when only the receiver of usury will remain and if he does not receive it, some of its smoke will reach him.’

It is time that we stopped skirting around the issue. It is not just the debts which are unjust, unpayable and which are killing too many people, as the Drop the Debt campaign argued. All of us would do well to support this admirable and worthwhile campaign, but we should recognise that it is only part of the solution. If we—believers of the Abrahamic faiths—really want to change the system we may have to concede that it is time to stick Calvin’s separation back together again and that maybe, just maybe, the ancients had it right after all.

14 June 2006

Home Lies in the Heart

As mother sits in the chair and watches
The fat motes frisking on the window-sill
A fresh teardrop leaves her cheek
And the sun is growing by the Hour
Eating the shadows in the souk
The children scream at the butcher shop
The cow’s eyes are still unsure
The sands blow against the pyramid
But nothing is more enigmatic to Cairo
Than mother’s tears for her child
A sweet child she raised on her own
To which country shall the child go
May Allah always keep her nigh
And may her world be filled with bliss
Yes, mother knows that the ships don’t sail
If they’re anchored in her heart
Don’t they know where home lies
It’s a tender garden deep indoors!
It’s a playhouse where the children play
Even if they go away…nay
The dings of the bells remain!
The sun sets and the buildings disgorge men
The adhan lifts the melancholy from her heart
Kneeling on the prayer-rug, mother sways
To every line, beside which the Qur’an lays
Later, she raises her head to see her child
Grown up, ready to take the road to South Africa
What happy adventures to unfold!
And mother skips like a child herself
Clasping her daughter in her arms
Sighing as the memories tumble
But they are there for us to remember
They are figments of time to reach for
Sketches in the grotto of the heart
And the planets move together in love
Heralding a new phase, a social evolution
Not to fear because it’s of the seasons!
The mild will never have to part
As home lies deep in the heart
Where dreams grow out like vines
And encircle, sprawl and sing
To the chimes of a gentle pious soul
And mother doesn’t have to shed tears
But smile as the breeze blows in her heart

09 June 2006

Will we not believe?

According to contemporary scientists, it is thought that the universe came into being around 13.7 billion years ago. The basic characteristics of the very early universe have been described in the big bang theory, but much of the detail of that staggering event remains the realm of hypothesis. High energy physics has been used to describe the evolution of the universe in the period that followed, explaining how the first protons, electrons and neutrons formed. They talk of the formation of the first nuclei, then the formation of atoms and of neutral hydrogen. A third period describes the formation of structure: matter coming together to form stars, quasars, galaxies, galaxy clusters and super clusters. I find this structural period fascinating.

Some of the most beautiful images I know are those showing deep space as generated by the Hubble Space Telescope. The spectacular images of vast nebulae always warm my soul, reminding me of the grandeur of our Creator, putting everything into perspective. One of the most exciting developments of recent times was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, which was derived from data accumulated between September 2003 and January 2004. Although this has been described as covering a small region of space, it is estimated to contain ten thousand galaxies. As the deepest image of the universe ever taken using the visible spectrum, it takes us back in time more than 13 billion years, showing us how the universe looked in the early Stelliferous age.

While the images of deep space in themselves are always heartwarming, their significance is also profoundly felt when one considers the words of the Qur’an about Allah’s creation. Sura 41, ayat 11, fails to provide us with the wooly, open description that the post-enlightenment age has taught us to expect from Scripture. Far from it: the panoramic photograph of the centre of the Orion Nebulae could be used to illustrate this verse. In his Oxford University Press translation of the Qur’an, the non-Muslim Arthur J. Arberry translated it as follows in 1964:

Then He lifted Himself to heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, "Come willingly, or unwillingly!" They said, "We come willingly."
This need not come as a surprise for the Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God. Of course the Creator can describe His creation in truthful terms. From His Throne, He is witness to all things, from the formation of stars in towers of smoke 57 trillion miles high to the battle of the tiniest ant in my garden. For the disbeliever who considers the Qur’an to be the fourteen hundred year old work of man, however, it could be nothing but a miracle: it would even have been so had it originated in 1964, twenty-nine years before Hubble was operational. Allah is magnificent.

One of my favorite websites on the Internet is http://hubblesite.org. For me it is a reminder of what we really mean when we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great. In these days of conflict, it is wonderful to remind ourselves of these things. If we set our short lives beside the fourteen billion years of Allah’s creation, it helps put everything into perspective. It reminds us of our place. It reminds us of why we are here and our part in this great scheme. It is right that we reflect upon such matters, because it is what Allah asked of those us who were not brought up as Muslims. This is how that same Arabist translated sura 21, ayat 30 in his rendering, The Koran Interpreted:

Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?
For my part, I have beheld and thus I am one who witnesses that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone without partner and that Muhammad is his Messenger. Allah is magnificent. If you have access to the Internet, at home or at your local library, I would advise you to visit that website and reflect: it is well worth it. These are the phenomenal signs of your Lord.

07 June 2006

Gratitude: How to Increase It

Being grateful seems in short supply these days. Allah has blessed us with so much, and yet too often we spend all our time complaining or wanting more instead of appreciating what we already have.

The gift of Islam, joining this deen and ummah, is the greatest gift Allah has given us. When we talk about “born” Muslims versus “convert” Muslims, we often use the term “revert” to refer to converts who have actively chosen Islam as their life’s path. But in fact, the word revert should be used for all Muslims because even if one is born and raised in an Islamic home, at some point in that person’s life they must make a conscious decision to choose Islam as their way of life, to give up and stifle their ego and baser desires, and to live to serve Allah.

If we are grateful to Allah for this gift, we must obey Him, practice the Five Pillars and make effort to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (salalahi alahi wa salaam) in every possible way. His first gift to us was life itself. Man is created to worship Allah and bow in Islam to Him. This is the sign of gratitude.

Beyond this, Allah gives us everything we have. He gives us sustenance and answers our prayers. And He gives us hardships to test us and to help us to grow and draw closer to Him.

And He giveth you of all that ye ask for. But if ye count the
favours of Allah, never will ye be able to number them. Verily,
man is given up to injustice and ingratitude. (Qur’an Surah
Ibrahim,
#14, Ayat #34)

Yet how many of us only turn to Allah when we want something, and then neglect to even make a du’a of thanksgiving to Him upon receiving our wish? How many of us forget to make salat or to give in charity when things are going our way, but when times are rough suddenly give a little to charity, betting on the hadith that says that everything we give will come back to us in greater quantities?

To be ungrateful for the many blessings from Allah is indeed a grave error. But it is a correctable error with effort on our part.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to increase your levels of gratitude:

1) Meditate on all the things that you have. Do not focus on what you do not have, or on what someone else has that you wish for. Think only of the many things you do have; loving family members, a roof over your head, food in your refrigerator, etc. All the “little” things that we tend to take for granted but could not survive without, Allah has provided to us.

2) Meditate on the abstract gifts that Allah has provided for you. Talents and skills, good health, etc. are also gifts from Allah and everyone has been given some.

3) Meditate on the situations of others than yourself. No matter how badly you feel about your own situation, there are millions of people around the world in a far more desperate plight than your own. How blessed are you? What do you see another going without, while you carelessly squander your portion of it?

4) Start a Gratitude Journal. On a regular basis, sit down and write out the things you have to be grateful for and re-read previous entries. If you catch yourself being negative, grasping, or selfish, this is the perfect time to sit down and think of something you can and should be grateful to have. Make du’a to Allah to thank Him for everything you have written down.

5) Make sincere du’a for others who are struggling. Do this because it is the right thing to do, do this solely for the Pleasure of Allah. If when you see another in need you make a heartfelt plea to Allah for their benefit, you will also benefit from it. You will be reminded at this time of what you have to be grateful to Allah for, and Allah will hear your du’a for another, and inshaAllah you will also receive similar blessing as you have wished upon another.