Thursday, December 22, 2011

Character Development by Collective/Public Organizational Activities

STANWOOD COBB was a Harvard educated historian who lived and taught in Istanbul, Turkey nearly a century ago. In 1914 he published a book, based on his experiences in the Orient. In his book “Islamic Contribution to Civilization”, he writes:
“As I moved among the common people I was particularly struck with their serenity and calm at all times. Along the quai of the Bosphorus, for example, one had an opportunity to see the difference in temperament which set the Muslim trader apart from his competitors. While others were always on the watch for customers, shouting loudly and waving as they saw potential patronage, and often jumping out of their boats in order to induce trade, the Muslim sat in lordly calm, waiting in peace for whatever customer Allah willed to send him. Actually, this attitude was more persuasive to us than the hurry-scurry of the Greek and Armenian boatmen, whom we brushed aside in order to reach the boat of a Turk.

This Muslim attitude of immense calm in the midst of the life of commerce was even more noticeable in the Istanbul bazaars. There many of the rug merchants sat in front of their bazaars in order to entice passers-by. But the Turkish rug dealers sat calmly on a platform in the rear of their bazaars, not deigning to move until you had found a rug you were interested in and asked them its price. It was the custom of the Turk to name a price about twenty-five per cent more than normal, and come down to normal in the course of that bargaining which then was an indispensable element of commercial life in the East. On the other hand, it was the custom of many other rug merchants to name to greenhorns a price three or four times greater than normal. American tourists, having been told that one should always bargain, would take delight in bringing the price down to half the original amount demanded and go away proud of their bargaining skill -- not knowing that they had paid in the end twice the normal value.

The Turks were not only honest as merchants, but they were also honest as servants. It was a common saying among the American missionaries that if one by accident lost an article in a Turkish village, nine times out of ten it would be returned. This was hardly true in other Eastern villages. Common pilfering seems to have been stamped out early in the history of Islam by the very stringent rules enforced against it. I was amazed in a Turkish town, to see a haberdashery stall open to the sidewalk left entirely unguarded on a Friday while the proprietor was attending mosque service.”

My speech is about Building Islamic Attitude, Knowledge and Skills, with emphasis on Character Development by Collective/Public Organizational Activities. How to do this?
There is an African idiom: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ It is absolutely true. You cannot expect to raise a good child without contribution from every major element within a society. It all starts with the family, the parents. It is no wonder that our Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “A father cannot give his son anything better than refined manners and fine education.” [al-Hakem]

In the classical work “Bahr al-Fava'id” it is written, “Know that the well-being of children is due to their parents, and their perdition is also due to their parents... The Prophet (S) said, "God curse the father whose child is disobedient," that is, may God's curse be upon that father whose sons are disrespectful.” Also:

“It is related in the [Prophetic] Traditions that on the Morrow of Judgment sons will grasp their father's skirts, and wives the skirts of their husbands, saying, "Lord God, they did not teach us the rules of the Law; therefore we are bound for Hell-fire out of ignorance." For people are destined for Paradise through knowledge and for Hell-fire through ignorance.” - [Bahr al-Fava'id]

As we consider educating our Muslims, we must make sure that they understand why they were created by Allah (SWT). The Qur’an says: “Had it not been for My worship, I would not have created Jinn and man.” As we can see, Ibadah or worship in Islam is not limited to prayer alone, but is a 24/7/365 affair. It is meant to raise God-consciousness, so that a person is aware that even if he or she does not see Allah, He sees him/her.

Let me relate a story from Tadhkirat al-Auliya of Farid al-Din Attar (R):
A certain shaykh [Junayd al-Baghdadi (R)] favored one of his disciples over others because of the latter’s God-consciousness. Other disciples obviously were jealous about the Shaykh’s favoritism.

One day to prove the point, the Shaykh gave each disciple a fowl to kill it in a place where no one could see him. All the disciples returned after killing their fowls, except the favored disciple. The shaykh inquired why he had returned with the live fowl.

The disciple replied, “I could not find a place where Allah would not see me.”
His God-consciousness did not allow him to be heedless of Allah’s presence.
The shaykh then told his other disciples: “Now you know this youth’s real rank; he has attained to the constant remembrance of Allah.” [Devotional Stories: H. Siddiqui]
Our Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “Avoiding sinful acts is the mother of worship (Ummul ibadat).” [Al-Munabbihat]

Knowledge is essential for character building. A Tradition says: it is only the erudite ones who can truly worship Allah in the right way. Imam Abu Hanifa (R) said, “Worshipping without knowledge is like building on dung.” [Islamic Wisdom: Habib Siddiqui]

Muhammad said, “An 'Aalim (learned person) is superior to a worshipper as the full moon is superior to all the stars. The ulama (scholars) are heirs of the prophets and the prophets do not leave any inheritance in the shape of dirhams and dinars (wealth), but they do leave knowledge as their legacy. As such a person who acquires knowledge acquires his full share.” [Abu Dawud and Tirmizi: Abu Darda (RA)]

Hassan al-Basri (R) said, “The ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr.” [Kashf al-Khafa’: Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (R)]

It is this importance of knowledge which made the Muslim Arabs, the followers of Muhammad (S), to become the torchbearers or vanguards of knowledge in an age of darkness radiating light in all directions. They created an Islamic civilization, driven by inquiry and invention, which was to become the envy of the rest of the world for nearly a millennium.

It is this spirit, the unquenched thirst for knowledge, which made Abu Rayhan al-Biruni to ask a question on inheritance law or some other related issue while he was lying on his deathbed. (Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was a great scientist, physicist, astronomer, sociologist, linguist, historian and mathematician whose true worth may never be known. He is considered the father of unified field theory by Nobel Laureate - late Professor Abdus Salam. He lived nearly a thousand years ago and was a contemporary of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Sultan Mahmoud of Ghazni.)

The jurisprudent was quite amazed that a dying man should show interest in such matters.

Abu Rayhan said, “I should like to ask you: which is better, to die with knowledge or to die without it?”

The man said, “Of course, it is better to know and then die.”

Abu Rayhan said, “That is why I asked my first question.”

Shortly after the jurisprudent had reached his home, the cries of lamentation told him that Abu Rayhan had died. (Murtaza Motahari: Spiritual Discourses)

Unfortunately, the same Islam that was responsible for founding the groundwork for Islamic Civilization, which was to initiate the European Renaissance, is now looked upon as a regressive force in today’s world. By many of our own so-called Muslims, Islam is not looked upon as a comprehensive way of life. By vast majority of our people, Islam, like Christianity, is viewed as a casual thing – a Friday affair that is limited to prayer (salat), fasting (saum), zakat and performing hajj (but the spirit is missing). Islam is often mixed with local non-Islamic culture (identity crisis).

The Muslim world is now a backward nation that is behind every other nation in every human index. It has, sadly, become a society that is at ease with crimes and corruption. Most of its governments are corrupt. Worse yet, they are often repressive governments, which are at war with their own people. They have created a society of sycophants or clients, and not of meritocracy where competency rules. The end result is a Muslim world of zeros!

As to how to build Islamic attitude, knowledge and skills, with emphasis on character development by collective/public organizational activities, let me share something that may help. Here in the USA and Canada, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) has been --
- organizing Jum’aa prayer in US and Canada University campuses
- organizing daily prayers in musallas near the campus
- organizing weekly halaqa
- discussing Qur’an and Sunnah
- discussing issues of relevance
- promoting a Muslim identity in a non-Muslim country
- teaching etiquette and manners
- listening to stories from those who converted to Islam
- encouraging group activities that foster brotherhood
- going together and performing community service
- show that Muslims are people who care about others

This type of activities has allowed many Muslims – indigenous and immigrants alike -- to become role models for the society at large. No wonder, their interaction with the local community has helped to curb negative stereotypes against Islam and Muslims.
I believe that our young students here in IIUC can draw some inspirations from these foreign Muslims who are living outside Dar-as-Islam.

Our Prophet (S) said, “As you are, so will you have your leaders.”

My hope is that one day each one of our Muslim nation states will have representative leadership that is honest, just and mindful of their obligations, i.e., enlightened and benevolent leadership that promote meritocracy and competence. And that in not too distant a future, we shall be able to reclaim our lost heritage and become once again the torchbearers of progress and enlightenment in our world that still needs a life-saving deen. And Islam is that deen!

[Speech given at IICU, December 22, 2011]

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Build Islamic Attitude, Knowledge and Skills?

THE seventh century which saw the rise of Islam also saw Christian Europe enter the Dark Ages. In the western Europe the invading Goths had almost obliterated the culture and technology of the Romans. In the Eastern Roman Empire, centering in Constantinople, the Church had all but suppressed Greek science and philosophy. India was languishing in a period of stagnation; and China, while blossoming richly in the arts, was almost wholly devoid of science.

It was during this period of decline and stagnation that Muslim Arabs, the followers of Muhammad (S), became the torchbearers or vanguards of knowledge in our world. They created an Islamic civilization, driven by inquiry and invention, which was to become the envy of the rest of the world for nearly a millennium.

It is this spirit, the unquenched thirst for knowledge, which made Abu Rayhan al-Biruni to ask a question on inheritance law or some other related issue while he was lying on his deathbed. (Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was a great scientist, physicist, astronomer, sociologist, linguist, historian and mathematician whose true worth may never be known. He is considered the father of unified field theory by Nobel Laureate - late Professor Abdus Salam. He lived nearly a thousand years ago and was a contemporary of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Sultan Mahmoud of Ghazni.)

The jurisprudent was quite amazed that a dying man should show interest in such matters.
Abu Rayhan said, “I should like to ask you: which is better, to die with knowledge or to die without it?”
The man said, “Of course, it is better to know and then die.”
Abu Rayhan said, “That is why I asked my first question.”
Shortly after the jurisprudent had reached his home, the cries of lamentation told him that Abu Rayhan had died. (Murtaza Motahari: Spiritual Discourses)

Speaking about the Islamic civilization, Carli Fiorina, the former (highly talented and visionary) CEO of Hewlett Packard, said, “Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration. Its writers created thousands of stories; stories of courage, romance and magic. When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others. While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I'm talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent. Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.”

Truly, there is a hardly a field that is not indebted to these pioneering children of Islam. Here below is a short list (by no means a comprehensive one) of Muslim scientists from the 8th to the 14th century CE:
• 701 (died) C.E. - Khalid Ibn Yazeed - Alchemy
• 721-803 - Jabir Ibn Haiyan (Geber) - Alchemy (Great Muslim Alchemist)
• 740 - Al-Asma’i - Zoology, Botany, Animal Husbandry
• 780 - Al-Khwarizmi (Algorizm) – Mathematics (Algebra, Calculus) - Astronomy
• 776-868 - ‘Amr ibn Bahr al-Jajiz – Zoology
• 787 - Al Balkhi, Ja'far Ibn Muhammas (Albumasar) - Astronomy
• 796 (died) - Al-Fazari, Ibrahim Ibn Habib - Astronomy
• 800 - Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi - (Alkindus) – Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Optics
• 815 - Al-Dinawari, Abu-Hanifa Ahmed Ibn Dawood - Mathematics, Linguistics
• 816 - Al Balkhi – Geography (World Map)
• 836 - Thabit Ibn Qurrah (Thebit) - Astronomy, Mechanics, Geometry, Anatomy
• 838-870 - Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari - Medicine, Mathematics
• 852 - Al Battani Abu Abdillah - Mathematics, Astronomy, Engineering
• 857 - Ibn Masawaih You'hanna-Medicine
• 858-929 - Abu Abdullah Al-Battani (Albategnius) - Astronomy, Mathematics
• 860 - Al-Farghani, Abu al-`Abbas (Al-Fraganus) - Astronomy, Civil Engineering
• 864-930 - Al-Razi (Rhazes) - Medicine, Ophthalmology, Chemistry
• 873 (died) - Al-Kindi – Physics, Optics, Metallurgy, Oceanography, Philosophy
• 888 (died) – ‘Abbas ibn Firnas – Mechanics, Planetarium, Artificial Crystals
• 900 (died) - Abu Hamed Al-ustrulabi - Astronomy
• 903-986 - Al-Sufi (Azophi) - Astronomy
• 908 - Thabit Ibn Qurrah-Medicine, Engineering
• 912 (died) - Al-Tamimi Muhammad Ibn Amyal (Attmimi) - Alchemy
• 923 (died) - Al-Nirizi, AlFadl Ibn Ahmed (Altibrizi) - Mathematics, Astronomy
• 930 - Ibn Miskawayh, Ahmed Abu-Ali-Medicine, Alchemy
• 932 - Ahmed Al-Tabari - Medicine
• 934 - al Istakhr II – Geography (World Map)
• 936-1013 - Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahravi (Albucasis) - Surgery, Medicine
• 940-997 – Abu Wafa Muhammad Al-Buzjani - Mathematics, Astronomy, Geometry
• 943 - Ibn Hawqal – Geography (World Map)
• 950 - Al Majrett'ti Abu-al Qasim - Astronomy, Alchemy, Mathematics
• 958 (died) – Abul Hasan Ali al-Mas’udi – Geography, History
• 960 (died) - Ibn Wahshiyh, Abu Baker - Alchemy, Botany
• 965-1040 - Ibn Al-Haitham (Alhazen) - Physics, Optics, Mathematics
• 973-1048 - Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni - Astronomy, Mathematics, History, Linguistics
• 976 - Ibn Abil Ashath - Medicine
• 980-1037 - Ibn Sina (Avicenna) - Medicine, Philosophy, Mathematics, Astronomy
• 983 - Ikhwan A-Safa (Assafa) - (Group of Muslim Scientists)
• 1001 - Ibn Wardi – Geography (World Map)
• 1008 (died) - Ibn Yunus - Astronomy, Mathematics
• 1019 - Al-Hasib Alkarji - Mathematics
• 1029-1087 - Al-Zarqali (Arzachel) - Astronomy (Invented Astrolabe)
• 1044 - Omar Al-Khayyam - Mathematics, Astronomy, Poetry
• 1060 (died) - Ali Ibn Ridwan Abu'Hassan Ali - Medicine
• 1077 - Ibn Abi-Sadia Abul Qasim - Medicine
• 1090-1161 - Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) - Surgery, Medicine
• 1095 - Ibn Bajah, Mohammed Ibn Yahya (Avenpace) - Astronomy, Medicine
• 1097 - Ibn Al-Baitar Diauddin (Bitar) - Botany, Medicine, Pharmacology
• 1099 - Al-Idrisi (Dreses) - Geography, Zoology, World Map (First Globe)
• 1110-1185 - Ibn Tufayl, Abubacer Al-Qaysi - Philosophy, Medicine
• 1120 (died) -Al-Tuhra-ee, Al-Husain Ibn Ali - Alchemy, Poem
• 1128 - Ibn Rushd (Averroe's) - Philosophy, Medicine, Astronomy
• 1135 - Ibn Maymun, Musa (Maimonides) - Medicine, Philosophy
• 1140 - Al-Badee Al-Ustralabi - Astronomy, Mathematics
• 1155 (died) - Abdel-al Rahman Al Khazin-Astronomy
• 1162 - Al Baghdadi, Abdel-Lateef Muwaffaq - Medicine, Geography
• 1165 - Ibn A-Rumiyyah Abul'Abbas (Annabati) - Botany
• 1173 - Rasheed Al-Deen Al-Suri - Botany
• 1180 - Al-Samawal - Algebra
• 1184 - Al-Tifashi, Shihabud-Deen (Attifashi) - Metallurgy, Stones
• 1201-1274 - Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi - Astronomy, Non-Euclidean Geometry
• 1203 - Ibn Abi-Usaibi'ah, Muwaffaq Al-Din - Medicine
• 1204 (died) - Al-Bitruji (Alpetragius) - Astronomy
• 1213-1288 - Ibn Al-Nafis Damishqui - Anatomy
• 1236 - Kutb Aldeen Al-Shirazi - Astronomy, Geography
• 1248 (died) - Ibn Al-Baitar - Pharmacy, Botany
• 1258 - Ibn Al-Banna (Al Murrakishi), Azdi - Medicine, Mathematics
• 1262 (died) - Al-Hassan Al-Murarakishi - Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography
• 1270 - Abu al-Fath Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini – Physics, Astronomy
• 1273-1331 - Al-Fida (Abdulfeda) - Astronomy, Geography
• 1306 - Ibn Al-Shater Al Dimashqi - Astronomy, Mathematics
• 1320 (died)-Al Farisi Kamalud-deen Abul-Hassan - Astronomy, Physics
• 1341 (died) - Al-Jildaki, Muhammad Ibn Aidamer - Alchemy
• 1351 - Ibn Al-Majdi, Abu Abbas Ibn Tanbugha - Mathematics, Astronomy
• 1359 - Ibn Al-Magdi, Shihab-Udden Ibn Tanbugha - Mathematic, Astronomy
• 1375 (died) - Ibn Shatir – Astronomy
• 1393-1449 – Ulugh Beg – Astronomy
• 1424 - Ghiyath al-Din al Kashani – Numerical Analysis, Computation
(References: Hamed Abdel-Reheem Ead, Professor of Chemistry at Faculty of Science, University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and Director of Science Heritage Center, http://www.frcu.eun.eg/www/universities/html/shc/index.htm; See also the books: 100 Muslim Scientists by Abdur Rahman Sharif, Al-Khoui Pub., N.Y; Muslim Contribution to Science by Muhammad R. Mirza and Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1986.)

With such a train of Muslim scholars, it is not difficult to understand why George Sarton said, "The main task of mankind was accomplished by Muslims. The greatest philosopher Al-Farabi was a Muslim; the greatest mathematicians Abul Kamil and Ibrahim Ibn Sinan were Muslims; the greatest geographer and encyclopaedist Al-Masudi was a Muslim; the greatest historian, Al-Tabari was still a Muslim." The Oxford History of Technology sums it up as follows: "There are few major technological innovations between 500 A.D. and 1500 that do not show some traces of the Islamic culture."

History before Islam was a jumble of conjectures, myths and rumors. It was left to the Muslim historians who introduced for the first time the method of matn and sanad tracing the authenticity and integrity of the transmitted reports back to eyewitness accounts. According to the historian Henry Thomas Buckle ‘this practice was not adopted in Europe before 1597 AD.’ Another method: that of historical research and criticism - originated with the celebrated historian Ibn Khaldun. The author of Kashfuz Zunun gives a list of 1300 history books written in Arabic during the first few centuries of Islam. That is no small contribution!

The rise of Muslim rule was dramatic. So also was its decline to the point where in 1492 the Caliph Abdullah abandoned Granada to the conquering Spaniards, "weeping like a woman for what he could not defend like a man."

For the next five centuries while the Islamic civilization declined – politically, economically, socially and culturally, it set all Christendom aglow. Thus, while it has been a dawning of Christian West, it has been a period of doom and gloom for Muslims. It is no wonder that Muslims have become a nation of zeros. When’s the last time you have heard of a Muslim winning the Nobel Prize in science or medicine? How about scientific publications? Unfortunately, you won’t find too many Muslim names in scientific and engineering journals either. Why such a paucity? What excuses do we have?

Some years ago a published UN report on Arab development noted that the Arab world comprising of 22 countries had translated about 330 books annually. That is a pitiful number, only a fifth of the number of the books that (tiny) Greece (alone) translates in a year! (Spain translates an average of 100,000 books annually.) Why such an allergy or aversion from those whose forefathers did not mind translating older works successfully to regain the heritage of antiquity, analyzing, collating, correcting and supplementing substantially the material that was beneficial to mankind? Why is the literacy rate low among Muslims when the first revealed message in the Qur’an is ‘Iqra (meaning: Read)?

How do we get out of this predicament?

Solutions to our present-day predicament:
We must look into our past to search for solutions to our current predicament. How did those desert Arabs of Muhammad’s (S) time, one of the most unlettered people on earth, technologically far inferior to their counterparts in Persia and Byzantine, once become the proud ancestors of Islamic civilization dominating for centuries half the known world? What characteristics defined them? What attitudes did they have? What did they learn and what skills did they acquire?

Before Islam, these desert Arabs were the ignored bunch in history left to live a life of ignominy. The cultural transformation in those desert Arabs was brought about by one man – the most remarkable figure in history - Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam. The first word of his prophecy was – Iqra. As he preached pure monotheism in Allah, breaking all artificial barriers between men, he taught his people religious ethics and morality -- to shun falsehood, to be just, to do what is virtuous (ma’ruf) and forbid what is evil (munqar). He taught them accountability for their deeds. He taught them how to live a wholesome noble life, and how to die nobly. Thus, like a good teacher, he molded their character.

The influence of the religion which Muhammad (S) preached to his people did not diminish after his death in 612 CE (11 A.H). On the contrary, it increased year by year through the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam. Though caliphs came and went, though military commanders were capable or inept, the power of the Qur’an kept the Muslims true to their course and maintained that spirit of unity for which Muhammad (S) had laid the foundations. Racial energies which had been wasted in internecine warfare were turned into channels which led to prosperity and progress.

As the Islamic empire expanded, conquering newer territories, the Muslim rulers offered better social and economic conditions than those which prevailed. In accordance with the teachings of Muhammad (S), the armies of Islam were careful to abuse neither the countryside nor its inhabitants. In fact, the orders later given by the Caliphs Abu Bakr and Ali (RA) regarding merciful treatment of non-combatants were the first humanitarian steps taken in the history of warfare. Arab rule introduced a more stable situation than any previously known in the Middle East. The condition of the peasants was improved by means of new and more democratic land division and less stringent taxation. Many of the conquered peoples enlisted in the armies of Islam, becoming even Muslims to further advance their social standing. Within a few decades from the death of its Prophet (S), the Arab nation ruled from the gates of India to the Straits of Gibraltar. [6]

As noted by historian Stanwood Cobb, this seeming miracle was the result of various factors, some of which have already been discussed. ‘But more than anything else, it was due to the religious zeal which possessed the Muslims.’
The dawn of Islamic culture and technology broke first in the newly founded city of Baghdad, which became the model of an urban civilization that began to spread throughout the Muslim world. Its location on the banks of the Tigris was ideal for Islam's capital city. Profiting by the peace and protection of Islam, merchants traveled safely between India and Egypt, making Baghdad an unrivaled commercial hub. The city grew rapidly. A new and wealthy class of merchants, some of whom attained huge fortunes, came into existence. Their prosperity soon seeped down to even the humblest citizens. The "Kadi", or judge, was available to the lowliest citizen, as in fact even the caliph was at times. A new taxation system, more equitable than that under Roman rule, helped to stabilize the economy. A general exuberance and atmosphere of adventure pervaded the life of Baghdad, which soon came to be known as the land of opportunity, much like what is today promoted in places like the New York City. It was a city that integrated people of all races, creating synergy for greater good for all. Its caliphs were zealous patrons of education and invited scholars from all parts of the world. ‘Persians, Greeks and Armenians jostled elbows with Arabs. Christians and Jews were as welcome as Muslims. These scholars were kept busy translating and codifying works of science from the Greek and Aramaic languages. Their emoluments were generous and their prestige great.’ [6]

Baghdad became the focal center of the world's learning. Its caliphs built modern universities, attracting the most brilliant minds, who would later become the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of that Islamic civilization. They erected observatories, thus enabling Muslim mathematicians to correctly estimate the circumference of the globe as 25,000 miles. As these Muslim scientists and engineers resurrected the forgotten or neglected sciences, they also expanded them.

Those caliphs were a perfect example of practicability. Their zeal for abstract learning did not lessen their concern for the welfare of the humble peasant, the "man with the hoe", upon whose shoulders has always rested fundamentally the burden of civilization. For they fully realized the importance of the soil and its tillage both as a source of state income and as a means of prosperity and happiness to the masses. Scientific horticulture became a flourishing and progressive practice in all the Muslim caliphates. The whole known world was scoured for new varieties of plants, and the art of irrigation was intelligently utilized to increase production.

In the words of Stanwood Cobb, “Prosperity and culture were not peculiar to the wealthy class alone. For this rapidly growing Islamic civilization was built upon the broad foundations of the welfare of the common people, in accordance with the precepts of the Islamic brotherhood founded by Muhammad (S), upheld by the Koran [Qur’an], and practiced by all the early caliphs. Probably never in previous centuries had the well-being of the masses been so deeply and intelligently considered as it was in all these Islamic caliphates. The new socio-economic pattern in religious and political life gave a dynamic unity to all phases of Muslim activity. The extraordinary rise of the Arabic-Islamic culture cannot be viewed separately from this factor of unity which, beginning on the spiritual plane, reached down to dominate all aspects of secular life.” He continues, “All of these factors combined to create a seemingly more harmonious and universally prosperous economic pattern than had existed before the coming of Islam. A proof of the satisfactory condition of the masses during the first few centuries of Islamic rule is that practically all of the Middle East and Persia, ninety percent of the population of Christian Egypt, and all the peoples of North Africa became Muslims. This they did of their own choice, for conversion was never forced upon the conquered.”

The cultural progress of Baghdad was copied into all other major Muslim cities. In all these Islamic centers libraries and universities were founded, and schools for the common people were established. Learning and scholarship were highly honored. The new common language enabled scholars to move from court to court in search of career opportunities. Thus a constant exchange of ideas stimulated the focal centers of Muslim culture; scientific advances and discoveries were quickly spread from caliphate to caliphate.

The end result was a glorious Islamic civilization that we are so proud of. Throughout the Islamic Empire education, art and science were unified by a common faith, a common language and common customs. Muslim scholars could travel freely between Bukhara and Xinjiang in the east to Cordova in the west. The extent of this Islamic civilization, as well as the progress and achievements of its component parts proved an inspiration to Muslim scholarship and creative arts.

As Baghdad had been the first of many such Islamic centers to arise in glory, so it was the first to fall into that decay. As in the case of Rome, the corruptions of luxury and the selfish grasping of power by rival political elements contributed to her decline. The justice which had characterized the rule of the early caliphs yielded to an inequitable system of taxation and to corrupt government.

As we search answers to our predicament, so must we retrace our roots and dig those values that were responsible for our glorious past and discard or weed out all those that are harmful. History can again make us wise if we know how to read its truths. If we are to learn from Arnold Toynbee [7], here are some lessons from the Islamic civilization:

1. Peace is a necessity for cultural advance.
2. The prosperity of all peoples springs from the soil. Thus, serious attention must be given to agriculture.
3. The spirit of √©lan or confidence (the ‘can do’ attitude) under which science can flourish. It is always in periods of enthusiasm and zeal that civilization advances most rapidly.
4. Devotion of the people to a common language and religion.
5. Lastly, the establishment of civilizations requires unifying forces. The more unifying the force, the more stable the civilization.
----=----

So where shall we start? What is our game plan? In the following I propose 3 items for transforming our pathetic state.

1. Seeking knowledge
The main reason behind the success of early Muslims rested in their seeking knowledge where it was evident and also from places where it was hidden. In this regard, the attitude that they instilled was a never satiated thirst, which followed the Prophetic Traditions: “A Muslim is never satiated in his quest for good (knowledge) till it ends in paradise.” [Tirmizi: narrated by Abu Sa'eed al-Khudri (RA)] “One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by Allah thereby.” [Muslim: Abu Hurayrah (RA)] “To seek knowledge for one hour at night is better than keeping it (night) awake.” [Darimi: Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA)]

They did not shy away from translating and learning from others in the best of the Prophetic Traditions: “The word of wisdom is [like] the lost property of a wise man. So wherever he finds it, he is entitled to it.” [Tirmizi: Abu Hurayrah (RA)]
When others were hesitant to do experiments to check their hypotheses, they courageously filled the vacuum. In that they were true to the Prophetic dictate: “Knowledge is a treasure house whose keys are queries.” [Mishkat and Abu Na’im: Ali (RA)]

At a personal level, all Muslims must act upon the celebrated hadith of our Prophet Muhammad (S): “The search of knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim.” [1]
He (S) also said, “A learned person is superior to a worshipper as the full moon is superior to all the stars. The scholars are heirs of the prophets and the prophets do not leave any inheritance in the shape of dirhams and dinars, but they do leave knowledge as their legacy. As such a person who acquires knowledge acquires his full share.” [Abu Dawud and Tirmizi] [2]

Sadly, today’s Muslims seek wealth more than they know how to even spend it. In spite of all the wealth that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on us, we have failed to create a single respectable institution of higher learning. Ali (RA) was once asked what was better: wealth or knowledge. He said, “Knowledge is superior to wealth for ten reasons:
• (i) Knowledge is the legacy of the prophets. Wealth is the inheritance of the Pharaohs. Therefore, knowledge is better than wealth.
• (ii) You are to guard your wealth but knowledge guards you. So knowledge is better.
• (iii) A man of wealth has many enemies while a man of knowledge has many friends. Hence knowledge is better.
• (iv) Knowledge is better because it increases with distribution, while wealth decreases by that act.
• (v) Knowledge is better because a learned man is apt to be generous while a wealthy person is apt to be miserly.
• (vi) Knowledge is better because it cannot be stolen while wealth can be stolen.
• (vii) Knowledge is better because time cannot harm knowledge, but wealth rusts in course of time and wears away.
• (viii) Knowledge is better because it is boundless while wealth is limited and you can keep account of it.
• (ix) Knowledge is better because it illuminates the mind while wealth is apt to blacken it.
• (x) Knowledge is better because knowledge induced the humanity in our Prophet to say to Allah, "We worship Thee as we are Your servant," while wealth engendered in Pharaoh and Nimrod the vanity which made them claim Godhead.” [3]

What wisdom! Yet today our people are dispassionate about seeking knowledge. Why? Do they know what Imam Ibn Hazm (R) - the great Spanish Muslim theologian, jurist and poet - said? He said, “If knowledge had no other merit than to make the ignorant fear and respect you, and scholars love and honor you, this would be good enough reason to seek after it… If ignorance had no other fault than to make the ignorant man jealous of knowledgeable men and jubilant at seeing more people like himself, this by itself would be reason enough to oblige us to feel it… If knowledge and the action of devoting oneself to it had no purpose except to free the man who seeks it from the exhausting anxieties and many worries which afflict the mind, that alone would certainly be enough to drive us to seek knowledge.” [4]

I only wish that his remarks would wake our people to seeking and mastering knowledge.

Muslims should also ponder over the statement made by Mu’adh ibn Jabal (RA): “Acquire knowledge for the pleasure of Allah, for learning engenders piety, reverence for one’s Lord and fear of wrongdoing. Seeking knowledge for Allah’s pleasure is an act of worship, studying it is a celebration of God’s glory (lit. Zikr), searching for it is a rewarding struggle (lit. Jihad), teaching it to someone who realizes its worth is a charity (lit. Sadaqa), and applying it in one’s home strengthens family unity and kinship. … Knowledge is a comforting friend in times of loneliness. It is the best companion to a traveler. It is the innermost friend who speaks to you in your privacy. Knowledge is your most effective sword against your foe, and finally, it is your most dignifying raiment in the company of your close comrades.” [Hilyat’ul Awliya Wa Tabaqat’ul Asfiya]

Similarly, Sharafuddin Maneri (R) said, “Knowledge is the fountainhead of all happiness, just as ignorance is the starting point of all wretchedness. Salvation comes from knowledge, destruction from ignorance.” [Maktubat-i Sadi]

The next question we must ask is – what kind of knowledge should we seek? Is it only science/ engineering/ medicine/ technology – in which we lag badly? Or, is it in the area of social sciences? What kinds of skills should we develop? Is it desirable to have a brilliant and yet a Godless psychopath behind a nuclear button? I fear not. We must ensure that our educational system allows for grooming of a conscious human being first before turning him/her into a scientific genius. Scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs must be dictated by Islamic ethics and morality.
As such, we must ensure that our children are raised properly and that they learn from role models of piety, honesty, self-sacrifice and generosity.

2. Quality of leadership and Government patronage:
The quality of leadership on the top matters. In the early days of Islam, Muslim rulers were not only the great patrons of learning they were great scholars themselves. They surrounded themselves with learned men: philosophers, legal experts, traditionalists, theologians, lexicographers, annalists, poets, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, architects and doctors. Scholars held high ranks in their courts.

We must ensure that we have responsive governments that are honest, just and mindful of their obligations, and are held accountable for their deeds. They must ensure good governance, safety of prosperity of our people. They must promote meritocracy and not sycophancy.

Like agriculture, education sector should be prioritized high in the budget so that we can build world-class institutions of higher learning.
Many a times our students can’t apply the skills/knowledge that they learned in schools. The brightest minds naturally are draining out of their respective countries, only to settle (with very few exceptions) in more prosperous western countries, where they can apply their talents and skills appositely. Unless we can stop this ‘brain-drain’ phenomenon we will never be able to catch up with more developed and prosperous nations. The post-World War II technological success and ensuing prosperity in the USA owes mostly to its brilliant immigrant scientists and engineers.

Let me again quote here from Carli Fiorina, who said, “Leaders like Suleiman [the magnificent] contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership. And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population - that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. This kind of enlightened leadership - leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage - led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.”

Would our leaders take heed and amend their actions? If they can’t attract their expatriates to return, let alone outsiders, can they at least stop brain-drain phenomena by retaining the best? Are they committed to creating a society which gravitates good ones, and filters out the bad ones?

While our governments surely have an obligation towards patronizing academic institutions from primary to tertiary levels, our wealthy ones should not be oblivious of their own duties towards creating prestigious private institutions like the Stanford University. There, too, quality of education must take precedence over profit motivation. In today’s America, outside UC Berkeley, all the top 10 schools are private universities. We need our Warren Buffets and Bill Gates to step forward to pay their dues to our societies which have enriched them.

3. Going beyond the expected:
As I hinted above, Muslims are far behind in every field of learning. Simply going with the flow or doing just the bare minimum is simply not sufficient to close this widening gap, especially in the area of technology. If they are going at a speed of a bike, we must try to go at a speed of a motor car; if they are going at a speed of motor car, we must try to go at a speed of an airplane to close this gap. Simply speaking, our strategy ought to be - going beyond the normal call of duty, doing extra things. To elucidate this point, let me here close with a story from our Prophet’s time.

Talha bin 'Ubaidullah narrated that a man from Najd with unkempt hair came to Allah's Apostle and we heard his loud voice but could not understand what he was saying, till he came near and then we came to know that he was asking about Islam. Allah's Apostle said, "You have to offer prayers perfectly five times in a day and night (24 hours)." The man asked, "Is there any more (praying)?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, but if you want to offer the Nawafil prayers (you can)." Allah's Apostle further said to him: "You have to observe fasts during the month of Ramad, an." The man asked, "Is there any more fasting?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, but if you want to observe the Nawafil fasts (you can.)" Then Allah's Apostle further said to him, "You have to pay the Zakat (obligatory charity)." The man asked, "Is there any thing other than the Zakat for me to pay?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, unless you want to give alms of your own." And then that man retreated saying, "By Allah! I will neither do less nor more than this." Allah's Apostle said, "If what he said is true, then he will be successful (i.e. he will be granted Paradise)."

Here in this hadith lies the formula for rejuvenating the Muslim nation. May we be guided to reclaim our lost heritage! [8]

Notes:
]1]. See hadith collections by Imams Ibn Majah and Baihaqi.
[2]. Consult this author’s books – Islamic Wisdom and Wisdom of Mankind – for many such hadiths and sayings of learned men of Islam.
[3]. Hilyat’ul Awliya wa Tabaqatul Asfiya by Imam Abu Na’im al-Asfahani (R).
[4]. Imam Ibn Hajm, “Al-Akhlaq wa’l Siyar" – Morality and Behaviour, published in "In Pursuit of Virtue" by M. Abu Laylah, Ta-Ha Publishers 1990.
[5]. ibid.
[6] Stanwood Cobb, Islamic Contributions to Civilization (1963).
[7] Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, Oxford.
[8] Habib Siddiqui, Seeking Knowledge: Our National Imperative, Muslim World Almanac (2008), http://www.mathaba.net/0_index.shtml?x=596589.
Bibliography:
World Book Encyclopedia
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Chronology of Science & Discovery - by Isaac Asimov
Introduction to the History of Science - by George Sarton
History of the intellectual development of Europe - by John William Draper
The making of humanity - by Robert Briffault
Decline and Fall of Roman Empire - by Edward Gibbon
Legacy of Islam - by Sir Thomas W. Arnold and Alfred Guillaume
The Miracle of Islamic Science - by Dr. K Ajram
The Arabian Connection: A Consiparcy Against Humanity - by Kasem Khaleel
Muslim History: 570-1950 C.E. - by Akram Zahoor

Monday, November 21, 2011

Two must-read articles in the New York Times

Two highly informative articles can be viewed in the New York Times. One is about how China can defeat America, written by one of the most prominent intellectuals of China: Yan Xuetong, the author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power,” who is a professor of political science and dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University. The other is about Obama's Torture policy by Eric Lewis who is a partner at Lewis Baach PLLC in Washington.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/21/opinion/how-china-can-defeat-america.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/21/tortures-future/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha211

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All those Republican Candidates – can they be taken seriously?

The American public likes to be entertained and this is the time of the year, thanks to the presidential hopefuls, when they are getting more than their share of entertainment. Just watch the Republican debates on the TV, or listen to their silly talks on the radio, or read their comments or views on a plethora of issues, you are sure to get plenty of entertainment. Sometimes they appear too stupid and vague to be taken seriously for such a lofty position. Consider, for instance, Herman Cain, the black Republican candidate. On his recent campaign stop in Miami, Cain took some time to try some Latino cuisine, and offend a few Latinos along the way. After biting into a croqueta at Miami's famed Versailles Cafe, Cain asks, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?" Cuban, as many know, is not a language. In Spanish, however, delicious is delicioso.

Sometimes these presidential candidates are stumbling and mumbling Jacks like any other Joe, Dick and Harry. Sometimes they are full of hypocrisy and hyperbole.

Mindful of the low favorable rating for the current Congress (9%) among the American voters, all of these Republican candidates would have us believe that they are outsiders to politics at the Capitol Hill and, if elected to the highest position, would reduce the national debt by shutting down huge parts of the government. None of them, outside Ron Paul, of course, wants to reduce the size of the ever-expanding Department of Homeland Security, let alone the Department of Defense. That would make them appear unpatriotic! Rick Perry wants to close two or possibly three departments; Michele Bachmann would close the E.P.A. and repeal its regulations; and Matt Romney would scrap a health care system virtually identical to the one he created in Massachusetts. But the worst of these candidates – the most deceptive of the bunch -- is Newt Gingrich who epitomizes hypocrisy. He is an immoral and unscrupulous person who pretends to be the elderly Republican statesman with ‘brains’. He has benefited lavishly from the very spendthrift cronyism that he attacks.

In recent months Gingrich has been harshly critical of those who have worked with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. For instance, in an October debate of the Republican presidential candidates, he suggested that Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) should be jailed for his association with “a lobbyist who was close to Freddie Mac.” Interestingly, for roughly six years, Newt Gingrich worked closely with high-level officials at the government-sponsored mortgage company Freddie Mac. As a highly paid consultant, he coached them on how to win over the conservative politicians, who consider their company an anathema, spoke to their political action committee and offered general advice as they worked to stave off various threats to Freddie Mac’s survival. As recently reported in the Bloomberg News he earned $1.6 million to $1.8 million, in an on-and-off relationship from 1999 to 2008, with the mortgage company that has since been taken over by the federal government. The payments were far more than had previously been known, or previously acknowledged by Gingrich.

When Gingrich was questioned, he tried to play down the report, saying that he did not know exactly how much he was paid, and that Freddie Mac was but one company that enlisted his firm, the Gingrich Group. When asked about a $300,000-per-year, two-year contract in 2006 and 2007, Mr. Gingrich said he had acted as an “historian.” The real reason he was hired, as company officials make clear, was to act as a liaison to conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Freddie wasn’t spending $25,000 to $35,000 a month for years to have somebody give them history lessons on what would have happened in 1945 if Japan had won,” one former official said.

It is very typical of Newt Gingrich to pretend that he despises lobbying groups whom he calls “the Washington culture of consultants” while simultaneously enriching himself by trading on his influence in Washington. As a matter of fact, he has been one of its better-paid members. Last Friday, The Washington Post reported that one of his think tanks collected $37 million over the last eight years from health care companies and insurers that wanted to be close to a prominent Republican.

In recent weeks the Republican candidates are giving us some ideas as to where they stand on a plethora of issues. In an interview on November 13 with ‘Meet the Press’ David Gregory, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) repeated her claim that the Iraq should pay America for the ‘privilege’ of having their nation invaded and occupied for most of the last decade — and then doubled down by calling for Iraq to pay millions of dollars for each American killed in that country. She said: "It’s over 800 billion dollars that we have expended [in Iraq]. I believe that Iraq should pay us back for the money that we spent, and I believe that Iraq should pay the families that lost a loved one several million dollars per life, I think at minimum."

Has Bachmann lost her mind? Is she aware that Iraq did not ask to be invaded by the United States, and that the Iraqi people have wanted American forces out of their country for a very long time. Estimates on the number of Iraqi civilian casualties due to our presence in Iraq vary depending on who is counting. According to local Iraqis, the total death is in excess of one million. Whatever the number is there is little question that tens of thousands more Iraqis would still be alive today if not for Bush’s criminal decision to invade their country.

So who should compensate whom? As noted by many commentators, Bachmann is a sick old lady behaving like a hawk knowing that she has no chance of becoming the frontrunner within the conservative Republican voters. It is all about trying to become relevant again in the poll. Funny that she talks about compensation for the death of American soldiers while suffering from a selective amnesia about the Iraqi victims! How about the death of those one million Iraqis? What would be a fair price for the USA to pay the family members of those unarmed Iraqi civilian victims killed in the war?

The USA, if Bachmann wants to be fair, using her formula, will have to pay 200 times the sum that she is demanding of Iraq. How about paying $160 trillion to Iraq to compensate for killing its 1 million plus civilians? Is Bachmann willing to write that cheque for the USA? If not, she should shut up!

With two prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American economy is in the ruins. But don’t tell this to these Republican presidential hopefuls. Outside Ron Paul and John Huntsman, Jr., they all want to engage the economically-weak nation into yet another war – this time with Iran.

We thought that our politicians had learned something worthy from what went wrong with Bush Jr.'s presidency – the war crimes, the tortures, the abuses and the culture of deception, which put the entire nation look so bad in the eyes of people of the rest of the world. Each of these amnesic and brain-dead Republican politicians, minus Ron Paul and John Huntsman, are trying to prove that they have learned very little from the moral calamities of the administration of George W. Bush.

In a recent TV debate in South Carolina, Herman Cain (a sexual pervert who as executive of a pizza chain was accused of groping women) and Michele Bachmann said they would approve water-boarding of prisoners to extract information. When probed, they denied, of course, that water-boarding is torture, even though it has been classified as such since the Spanish Inquisition. On the other hand, Representative Ron Paul, probably the best of the bunch, said water-boarding is not only torture, it is illegal, immoral, uncivilized and has no practical advantages. Former Governor and diplomat Jon Huntsman Jr. eloquently pointed out that water-boarding and other forms of torture diminish the nation’s standing in the world.

It is worth noting here that Senator John McCain who ran against Obama in 2008, and himself a victim of torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, and surely a real moral authority on the issue, has always maintained that “Water-boarding is torture.” But none of the prudent comments are going to put a damper on the sick minds of his party candidates. Outside Ron Paul and John Huntsman Jr., and of course Cain and Bachmann, the rest don’t seem to have the backbone to even voice an opinion on the subject. They are unaware that water-boarding is banned by the United States Army Field Manual. They also chooses to ignore the testimony of top military officers like General David Petraeus (who now runs the C.I.A.) that such forms of torture are not only useless for gathering reliable intelligence but are detrimental to the security of American forces and the nation’s reputation.

Mitt Romney is a great disappointment in Republican politics. He has no moral compass, and appears and sounds more like a short-sighted career politician than a serious statesman ready to lead a nation. Recently, he claimed that if he were elected president Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, and that if Obama were reelected Iran will have one. He wants to drop bomb on Iran and/or encourage Israel, the rogue state, to do the ultimate crime that would surely trigger a massive war in the entire region. He forgets that Iran is not either Afghanistan or Iraq. Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, approves clandestine missions to kill Iranian scientists.

As empty as Mr. Romney’s remarks were about Iran, his refusal to renounce water-boarding is disturbing, and inexcusable. People deserve better from presidential candidates, and not some theatrics and idiotic behavior.

Funny that these warmongers and morally bankrupt politicians talk about American exceptionalism! Is water-boarding a symbol of American exceptionalism and is it going to raise our moral standing in the world? Is it a value that we can all cherish and export? If these rogue politicians believe that their arrogance, irrational behavior and stupidity are the traits of American exceptionalism then we are better off without them. They deserve themselves and not us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Arab League Must Bring Down the Assad Regime

As usual the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad has made a travesty of its promises. It was only a week ago before Eid-ul-Adha that the tyrannical regime had promised to abide by an Arab League proposal to halt all violence, release all detainees, withdraw all armed elements from populated areas and allow unfettered access to journalists and to Arab League monitors. But the violence in Syria has not stopped. More than 60 people have been killed by military and security forces, including at least 19 on Sunday that marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, Assad’s security forces shot dead 25 people, including two children, across Syria on Wednesday. The network provided some details of Wednesday's violence: in Homs, Haitham Al-Bawab, kidnapped from work Tuesday, was found with obvious torture marks; in Daraa-Jasim, pharmacist Basil Ibrahim Al-Qowaider was arrested for aiding the wounded; and near Idlib, Abdo Akram Shaqouqa, born in 1988, was killed by two bullets in the chest and neck. The day before, another 18 people were killed, the network said.

The United Nations estimates that more than 3,500 Syrians have been killed since the government crackdown on protesters started in mid-March. And yet, the Arab League and the UN are doing nothing to stop the Syrian monster.

Last Saturday the Arab League held meeting in its Cairo Headquarters. While dozens of protesters chanted and carried placards reading "Freedom for the Syrian people" demanding Bashar al-Assad's removal, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria in four days and warned the regime could face sanctions if it does not end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters. Eighteen countries agreed to the suspension, which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday in a significant escalation of international pressure on the Syrian government. Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against it, and Iraq abstained. The anti-Syria protesters were joined by demonstrators from Yemen, protesting violent government crackdowns in their country.
Explaining the Arab League decision, Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said that the 22-member league will monitor the situation and revisit the decision in a meeting on Wednesday in the Moroccan capital Rabat. "This decision reflects a lack of foreign intervention," he said. "The Arab League has been calling on Syria to stop the violence for four months and it hasn't happened."

So, why give Assad’s pariah regime additional time to kill more people and prevent biting actions from being implemented? Bin Jassim suggested that Arab League members withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus but left that up to the individual countries. The fact is such political gestures or threats won’t put a dent in Syrian regime’s tyrannical character.

The reluctance of the Arab League to impose sanctions against one of its rogue member is simply inexcusable. It is foolish to assume that the Syrian regime would all on a sudden change its repressive ways and honor its promises. Like Israel, the other pariah state in the region, the Syrian Ba’athist regime has learned the time-buying tactics rather too well to its advantage. It won’t bring about the desired fundamental change demanded by its people.

What is needed are biting sanctions against the regime, including war crime charges filed at the International Criminal Court against the members of the Assad’s government, followed immediately by military actions, if push comes to shove, that would allow regime change to take place, thus creating the environment for the formation of a representative government. With all those killings, Assad has lost all credibility to rule Syria any more. He must be brought down one way or another.
The reluctance of the Arab League to punish the Assad regime unearths the fact – an ugly one -- that in spite of the popular changes brought into Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in recent months, there are still too many of those anti-people regimes that make up the League’s roster. Punishing one of their fellow buddies for crimes against people is like throwing rocks in one’s own house of glasses!

But whether they like to punish Assad or not, the leaders of the Arab League ought to know that the old days of doing business with foreign patrons protecting them are now gone. If the puppet Mubarak could not be protected by his powerful masters – the USA, Israel and the EU -- what is the likelihood of survival of criminal regimes like those of Assad that is guilty of committing war crimes against its civilians? The Arab masses of the 2011 are different. They are not afraid to die for more noble causes.

As I noted many times before, the UN Security Council and the NATO are unreliable and hypocritical when it comes to the Muslim world and cannot be trusted with anything. They don’t have any moral compass to guide their actions and come to the aid of anyone unless they can profit from their involvement. In all fairness, Gaddafi was a saint compared to both Hafez Assad (now dead) and Bashar Assad, and yet, there seems to be a different litmus test for toppling the younger tyrant ruling Syria. The western reluctance can be explained by one word – oil; Syria is not Libya with billions of barrels oil reserves; every other excuse is superficial. It is not surprising, therefore, that the NATO has ruled out the kind of military intervention that helped topple Gaddafi. The economic sanctions from the western countries have not been severe enough to collapse the Syrian economy. And as noted elsewhere, such sanctions will not lead to the collapse of an unpopular regime.

The Syrian people will need more than empty sound bytes and sanctions to topple their ruthless regime. They need moral and material support to bring about the desired change, much like what has happened with Libya.

When the Arab League foreign ministers meet again on Wednesday, they should eject Syria and urge the United Nations Security Council to condemn Bashar Assad and impose international sanctions against the regime. They must come to the aid of ordinary Syrian people and the Syrian opposition the same way that they came to the aid of the Libyan people. Anything short of this would be viewed as treason by the Arab people -- much like what their protesters chanted in last Saturday’s meeting "Arab leaders are garbage". If these leaders desire respect, they must earn it by not only coming to the aid of the Syrian people but must also do what is right for their own people. They must reflect on the fact that they would die one day and have to account for all their worldly deeds, including their failure to come to the aid of the oppressed people. Let them be guided by the Prophet Muhammad’s (S) teachings rather than short-term worldly benefits that push one to an eternal life of damnation.

On its part, the Syrian opposition needs to translate its campaign into a coherent vision of governance after Assad and what that will mean for their people – the majority Sunnis and other minorities (including the Nusayris).

If the United States and Europe are serious about genuine freedom, they should help topple the Assad regime. At a minimum, they should push the UN Security Council to bring about war crime charges against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the north, has an important role, too. Mindful of Syria’s harmful potential influence to exploit the Kurdish problem, the Turkish government, thus far, has avoided confrontation with the Syrian regime. But it should know that it is in Turkey’s best interest and the interest of the region to ratchet up economic and political pressure so that change happens sooner, before violence spreads.
A regime change in Syria is a much desired one not only for its people but the entire region. The world community has a moral duty to help the Syrian people in their struggle for human rights.

A regime that has no moral qualms about killing unarmed Muslim worshippers – old and young - on the Day of Eid (when violence is considered absolutely haram or forbidden) has no credibility to rule over its Muslim population. It must be brought down. The Arab League cannot, therefore, shy away from its historical role, nor can others who care about life, liberty and dignity.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Comments on Biblical Controversy with the Qur’anic Narrative on Abraham's Son who was meant for sacrifice

According to Islamic Traditions, it was Isma'il (AS), the first son of Ibrahim (AS), who was meant for sacrifice and not Ishaq (Isaac) (AS). The Biblical narratives differ with the Qur’anic version suggesting, instead, that it was Isaac – the second son of Ibrahim (AS), born through Sarah, who was meant for the sacrifice. Genesis (chapter 22) says: "Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…" The problem with this verse is that Isaac was not Abraham's only son. Before Isaac was born, there was Ishmael. Is it possible some zealous scribe had replaced the word Ishmael with Isaac into the verse?

Since the Qur’anic story about sacrifice did not specifically mention Isma’il (AS) by name, some Jews and Christians have suggested that the lad meant for sacrifice was Isaac. However, if one follows the sequence of verses it becomes clear that Ishaq (AS) was not meant in the Qur’anic story. In regard to the verse, "So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son," Imam Ibn Kathir (R) states in his tafsir (exegesis): "And this son is Isma’il (AS) for he is the first son whose good news was brought to Ibrahim (AS). He is older than Ishaq (AS), according to both Muslims and the Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book – Jews and Christians). It is even said in their Scripture that Isma’il (AS) was born when Ibrahim was 86 years old and Ishaq (AS) was born when Ibrahim (AS) was 99. Moreover, their scripture states that Allah ordered Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his only son and in another version his firstborn. And, at this spot, they inserted falsely the name of Ishaq (AS) against the text of their very Scripture. The reason they inserted Ishaq (AS) is that he is their father whereas Isma’il (AS) is the father of the Arabs. They added Ishaq (AS) out of envy and brushed away ‘only son’ by saying that Isma’il (AS) and his mother had already been to Makkah. This is a fanciful explanation since we never say ‘only son’ except to a person who has no more than one son. Moreover, the firstborn has got a special place [in the heart of his father] that is not given to the following children and the order to sacrifice him is, therefore, a greater test… Moreover, God's Book (the Qur’an) is a witness, and points to the fact that it is Isma’il (AS) because it said that the son who was patient and that he is the sacrificed. Only afterwards, He (Allah) said: ‘And We gave him the good news of Ishaq, a prophet, one of the Righteous’ (37:112) and when the Angels brought the good news of Ishaq to Ibrahim they said: ‘Fear not,’ and they gave him the ‘glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge.’ And [Allah] the Most High said: ‘We gave her [Sarah] glad tidings of Ishaq, and after him, of Yaqub (Jacob)" (11:71) -- meaning that in the lifetime of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac will beget a child that he will call Yaqub implying that Ishaq will have a progeny. We have already explained why it is not possible that Ishaq be sacrificed while still a child, i.e., because God promised them [Ibrahim and Sarah] that he [Ishaq] will have a progeny. On the other hand, Isma’il was described as forbearing and he fits that description."

As can be seen from above narrative, Imam Ibn Kathir nullifies the Judeo-Christian argument by simply making the point that Ibrahim (AS) was given the good news about the birth of Ishaq (AS) who would go on to father Yaqub (AS). Thus, it was not Ishaq (AS), but Isma’il (AS) who was meant for sacrifice.

Eid-ul-Ad’ha and the Merit of Hajj

The 10th day of Dhu’l Hijjah in the Muslim calendar is the day of Hajj - Eid al-Ad'ha or Yawm al-Nahr -- when the pilgrims in Makkah sacrifice halal animals following one of the oldest traditions of mankind, dating back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) Alayhis Salam (meaning: peace be upon him).

In an earlier article ‘The Soul of Hajj’ I mentioned about the rituals of the hajj and how it is tied up with the events in Ibrahim’s (AS) life. He was childless with his first wife Sarah. Then he took Hagar (Hajera) as his second wife. Through her, he became father of Isma’il (Ishmael) (AS) at a very advanced age. Soon after the child was born, he was commanded by Allah to settle the infant with his mother Hajera in the valley of Makkah. After some years, as the Qur’an says, “And when his son was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what thinkest thou?” (37:102)

To this question, Isma’il (AS), then only a young boy, replied, “O my father! Do that which you are commanded. Allah willing, you shall find me of the steadfast." (37:102)
What a remarkable reply from the son of Ibrahim (AS)! Like the Rock of Gibraltar, Isma’il (AS) said that he was ready to be sacrificed. It is probably this characteristic which earned him the title ‘the forbearing son’ (Ghulamin Halim) in the Qur’an. The Qur’an continues the story, “Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face, We called unto him: O Abraham: You have already fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim." (37:103-107)
Ibrahim (AS) didn’t have to sacrifice his son. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice a ram, which had been sent to him, as ransom for Isma’il (AS). Unlike the false-gods of polytheism, Allah, the One True God, is not bloodthirsty. He just wanted to check where Ibrahim (AS) stood in relation to his uncompromising devotion to and love for Allah; was he capable of overcoming his personal feelings of love and compassion for his son to please Allah. A lesson was taught by Allah – from now on there would be no human sacrifice in the altar of God. Sacrifice of a halal (e.g., camel, cow, lamb, and goat) animal for eating and distributing among the poor is a sufficient substitute.

Hajj (Pilgrimage) is one of the pillars of Islam. According to Imam al-Ghazali Rahmatullah alayh (May Allah have mercy on him), one of the greatest savants in Islam, hajj is the act of worship of a lifetime, the seal of all that is commanded, the perfection of Islam and the completion of religion. Concerning it the Prophet Muhammad Sallal-lahu alayhi wa sal-lam (meaning: the blessing of God and peace be upon him) said, "Whoever dies without, having performed the Pilgrimage let him die, if he wish, either a Jew or a Christian." It is quite obvious that Hajj has an exalted status with¬out which religion is lacking in perfection.

There are numerous merits of hajj. Allah said [to Ibrahim (AS)], "And proclaim unto mankind the Pil¬grimage. They will come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel, coming by every distant tract" (Qur’an 22:27). Qatada (R), one of the pious Muslims of the first century of Islam, said, "When Allah the Most High commanded Ibrahim (AS) to proclaim unto man¬kind the Pilgrimage, he proclaimed, ‘O People, God the Most High has built a House; go to it on Pilgrimage.’ God the Most High said, ‘That they may witness [its] benefits for them’ [Qur’an 22:28].” It was [once] said, "The business is during the season [of Pilgrimage], and the reward is in the hereafter."

The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever per¬forms Pilgrimage to the House without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as [he was] on the day his mother bore him." And the Prophet (S) also said, "Satan has never been seen as to be more mean, or humiliated, or miserable or vexed than on the day of ‘Arafat." That is solely because of what he sees of the revelation of the mercy and forbearance of God toward grave sins. Thus it is said, "There are some sins which are expiated, only by the standing on Mount ‘Arafat." Imam Jafar al-Sadiq Ibn Muhammad (R) has attributed this saying to Muhammad (S).

The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever sets out on the Greater or Lesser Pilgrimage and dies [before completing the Pilgrimage], will until the Day of Resurrection be awarded with the award of a pilgrim. And whoever dies in one of the two shrines will not be exposed [to Judgment] or made to give an account. To him it will be said, "Enter into Paradise," And the Prophet (S) said, "One Pilgrimage which is accepted [in the sight of God] is better than the whole world and what is in it; a Pilgrimage which is accepted [in God's sight] has no reward but Paradise."

And Muhammad (S) also said, "Those who go on the Greater or lesser Pilgrimage are a delegation of God Almighty and His visitors. If they ask [something] of Him, He grants [it] to them; if they beg His forgiveness, He forgives them; if they voice their supplication, it is granted to them; and if they intercede [on behalf of anyone], their intercession is granted." A saying of the Prophet (S) transmitted by members of his household declares: "The most sinful man is the one who, though standing on 'Arafat, thought that God has not forgiven him."

Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (Radi Allahu Anhu: May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (S) ¬said, "Everyday one hundred and twenty mercies descend on this House [the Ka'ba]; of these, sixty are for those who circumambulate [it], forty for those who [merely] pray [before it], and twenty for those who [merely] gaze [at it]." In another Prophetic tradition, it says: "Circumambulate the House often for it is among the most important things that you will find on your record on the Day of Resurrection, and [it is, moreover,] the most delightful deed you will find."

One of the early pious Muslims said, "If the day of 'Arafat coin¬cides with Friday, all the people [who have stood] at 'Arafat are pardoned [of their sins]. Such [a day] is the most excellent of days in this [earth¬ly] life; it was on such [a day] that the Prophet (S) performed his farewell pilgrimage, and he was stan¬ding [at 'Arafat] when the, [following] words of God Almighty were revealed [to Him]: "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion." [Qur’an 5: 4] The people of the Book said, "Had this verse been revealed to us, we would have made it a feast day." 'Umar (RA) said, "I testify that it was revealed to the Apostle of God [Muhammad (S)] on a day of two feasts: the Day of 'Arafat and the Day of Gathering [i.e. Friday], when he was standing at 'Arafat." The Prophet (S) said, "O God, forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness."

`Ali Ibn Muwaffaq (R) is reported to have said, "I performed the Pilgrimage one year, and when it was the night of 'Arafat I slept in the Mosque of al-Khaif at Mina. I saw in dream as though two angels clothed in green came down from the sky. Then one of them called to the other, 'O slave of God’, and he [the other Angel] replied, ‘Here I am [Lab¬bayka], O slave of God'. The former continued, 'Do you know how many performed pilgrimage to the house of our Lord the Most High this year?' ‘I do not know’, he [the second Angel] answered. 'Six hundred thousand have performed the pilgrimage to the House of our Lord', the other said, ‘but do you know how many of them were accepted?' He said, 'No.’ ‘Six persons’, the other replied. Then they ascended into the air and disappeared from me, and I woke up in fright. I was very much distressed and my condition great¬ly disturbed. Then I said [to myself], ‘If the pilgrimage of [only] six persons has been accepted where am I among the six?’ Then, after I had left ‘Arafat I stayed for a while at Mash’ar al-Haram, and I began to meditate upon the multitude of people [who attended that year's pilgrim¬age as compared to] the small number whom were accepted. I fell asleep, and all of a sudden there were [before me] the two figures having des¬cended [again] in their [same] form. And one of them called the other repeating the same words [as before]. Then he said, 'Do you know what decision has our Lord made this night?’ ‘No’, the other said. He said, 'He has given everyone of the six a hundred thousand.' Then, I woke up with such rejoicing as cannot be described."

May Allah allow us to perform Hajj, the largest annual gathering of people on Earth, and chant: Labayk Allahuma Labayk. Labayk. La shareeka laka Labayk. Innal hamda wan-nimata laka wal mulk. La shareeka Lak (meaning: Here I am at your service, Oh Lord, here I am - here I am. No partner do You have. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the favor are Yours, and the dominion. No partner do You have.)
Happy Eid. Eid Mubarak.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adibashi and Adhibashi Issue of Bangladesh

Like many countries of our world, especially in South and South-east Asia, Bangladesh has her share of ethnic minorities. There are some 14 ethnic minorities that live in Bangladesh. They are known as Chakma, Marma (Mogh), Larma, Jummas, Tippra, Murong, Panko, Kyong, Mro, Tangchangya, Bomang, Lushai, Kuki, Khumi etc.

In recent years some foreign NGOs and their local agents have been involved in anti-Bangladesh campaigns that are aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the country. Since 1975, the Indian government has been playing a very dubious role by aiding some of the secessionist movements inside Bangladesh, a process which never stopped even in good times with more friendlier governments. Regretably, their anti-Bangladesh campaigns are also aided by paid local agents inside Bangladesh.

As reported in a prominent daily of Dhaka on March 20, 2010, Subir Bnowmick, BBC representative of Kolkata, India, wrote in his book titled ‘Troubled Periphery Crisis of Indian North East’ that India is interested to separate the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) from Bangladesh. It is worthmentioning here that CHT borders both India and Burma and is home to many ethnic minorities. Captain Sachin Karmaker, International Secretary of Minority Congress Party, wrote a letter to the Director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America on July 27, 2007 to help them to establishing a separate homeland for ethnic minorities in the CHT, as reported on August 25, 2009.

None of these is a good news for Bangladesh and its 150 million people who enjoy equal status irrespective of their ethnic, religious and tribal origins. There are protected quotas for these ethnic minorities to ensure that even when they don't qualify on competive tests, jobs or positions, a segment of these ethnic minorities are represented.

As I and other more renowned researchers have long shown through our meticulous research works on minority issues of the region, the settlement of the tribal people of the CHT was rather a recent development, dating back only a couple of centuries ago. Marmas or Arakanese Moghs, e.g., came to the CHT in 1784 when Arakan was conquered by Burman king Bodaw Paya. At that time, two thirds of the Arakanese population (approx. 200,000), both Rohingya Muslims/Hindus and Rakhine Maghs (Buddhists) of Arakan fled to Chittagong and its hilly districts. While a section of these peoples (mostly Rakhines) would later return to Arakan after the British East India Company had conquered the territory in 1826 after the first Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), a vast majority continued to live inside Chittagong Division of British Bengal. Chakmas were a nomadic people that moved to and from between the porous borders. There is no record of their presence before the late 17th century when one of their chieftains (Shermonta Khan), being defeated by an Arakanese king, fled Arakan and took refuge in the CHT. Bomang tribe also settled in the CHT during the seventeenth century. Murong, Mro, Kyong, Panko and Kukhi came here about 200 to 300 years ago.

Similar is the case of settlements of some tribal people such as Khasia and Monipuri who live in Sylhet, Garo living in Mymensingh, Santals, Orang and Mundas living in northern districts of Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra and Rangpur. They are not aboriginals. They came here about 100 to 200 years ago during the British regime to work at tea gardens and cultivation. Santals came from Choto Nagpur of India for ‘indigo’ cultivation during the British era.

Lest I be misunderstood, the aboriginals are the groups of human race “who have been residing in a place from time immemorial… they are the true sons of the soil…" (Morgan, An introduction to Anthropology, 1972). As recently reiterated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the tribal people of the CHT are not indigenous people, nor are the other minority ethnic groups now living inside Bangladesh. They are not aborigines or Adibashis under any pretext. Unlike Burma, Bangladesh's consitituion guarantees equal rights to all its people - indigenous or not. As citizens of the country, a Chakma or a Marma has as much rights as any Bangali (Bengali). So, all the fuss about adibashi and adhibashi is disingenuous and is aimed at creating a rift between all those that call Bangladesh their home.

As also noted in a recent posting in the Weekly Holiday by A.M.K. Chowdhury, all the tribal people living in the CHT came from Tibbet, Arakan and Myanmar. They cannot be recognized as indigenous people. They are ethnic minorities by any definition.

I fully endorses Bangladesh Government's position on the ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. I also strongly condemn the divisive policy of the Indian government and their paid agents, and foreign and local NGOs who are trying to undermine the sovereignty of Bangladesh.

Rohingya - Rakhine -- Debate or Dialogue between thinking persons?

From the responses we have seen thus far, it is quite obvious that the extreme racists and bigots within the Rakhine Buddhist community are running out of wits after my recent posting of the Rohingya Identity and Demography in the British Era. There I showed that the Rohingya people, far from the Rakhine unsubstantiated claims, are an indigenous group of the Arakan State of Burma who had settled there from time immemorial, and hundreds of years before the ancestors of today's Rakhines settled. Having analyzed the demographic data of the English colonial period, I also pointed out that the so-called influx to Arakan during the British era actually had more to do with the Rakhine population than any other ethnic/religious group, and that the growth within the Rohingya Muslim community was a natural one.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed time and again, the racists within the Burmese and Arakanese Rakhine communities are uncomfortable to consider any other possibility beyond their own myths which challenge such absurd chauvinism. Prejudice dies hard!

Consider, e.g., the case of racist Aye Chan who says he is 'tired of arguing' with us. His entire thesis is built around showing that nowhere within the British records the name Rohingya appeared, and as such, by default, Rohingya is a dead horse. He is unwilling to accept the characterization of Rohingyas under Muslim/Mohamadan/Musulman categories. Were the Rakhines categorized as Rakhines by the British? Are Aye Chan and his ilk aware of the two books written by British army officers: (i) BURMESE OUTPOST by Anthony Irwin, published by Collins in 1945, and (ii) DEFEAT INTO VICTORY by Field Marshal Viscount Slim (considered one of the best books written by a military general on World War II) published in 1956? In these two books the authors mentioned Muslims of Arakan as ‘Mussulman Arakanese’ or 'Araknese Mohammedans' or simply as 'Arakanese' and the Buddhists as ‘Maughs’. [See below for actual citations from these books.]
(As can be seen even the name Rakhine did not appear in those books to describe the Maghs of Arakan.)

Unless, one is willing to accept that colonizers had their own ways of and rationalization for categorizing people, which may not totally agree with those of the colonized, there is little one can do to educate that moron. Look at the Spanish Conquistadors that came to colonize the Philippines where they came across indigenous Muslims who practiced Islam, similar to the practice of the Spanish (Moor) Muslims. To these new invaders, thus, the Filipino Muslims came to be named as Moors and later Moro Muslims. In the Dutch colonization of South Africa, the Indian community was put under the category of 'colored' people. They were not called Indian South Africans. Here in the USA, while there is no record of African-American heritage (as to where they were plucked out of), we may know a White person with his precise European heritage. Thus, governors Cuomo (father and son) of New York State of the USA are known as Italian-Americans. Within the conquered people in the USA and Canada, the natives were called Red Indians and later Native Indians, while those people never called themselves as such and were actually divided on many matters, language, religion, etc. Does such categorization by the English/French colonizers change the mere fact that Cherokees lived in the Americas before the Europeans subdued them? If today, the Cherokees would rather like to self-identify by their heritage - the Cherokee name - who can deny that right to them? Only an utterly extreme racist with no brains, and full of hatred and chauvinism, would deny that right.

And there are plenty of such examples in our world that we can cite about the Rohingya case. Will that educate a half-educated person when he refuses to grow up as a thinking man?

And still within many good hearted and well-meaning Rohingya Diaspora there is a call for having a debate with such obscene racists within the Rakhine commmunity. Here below I share my views on the question of a debate:

1. I prefer dialogue or discussion than a debate unless the latter can be held under a neutral venue and moderated/administered by an unbiased person. Still, since debate has everything to do with winning, even by ridiculing the other side's shallow (?) views, at the end it leaves behind a bad taste amongst the participants and their respective adherents, further widening the gap between the opposing parties. Hardly, debate has brought differing peoples together for a common cause. As such, if the objective is to let the other party know where each party stands, a discussion/sharing of info/dialogue is often a more prudent approach. In these days of information superhighway we can achieve this without a confrontational debate by sharing our writings/postings, and asking/answering probing or poignant questions/points for elaboration. So, e.g., when Aye Chan says "we are lying about Rohingya", we want to ask "show us where we lied" (just as Dr Bahar had done in his note to Aye Chan). Such a dialogue with an opposing side can be more fruitful than wasting people's time and money to organize a debate with a racist. If still money and time are no problems a better way to spend such would be to hold our own seminars to educate folks on the either side to learn/share without allowing racists like Aye Chan to get a free ride at our cost. As I stated before, if he is all serious about a debate with us, let him organize it (without spending our money), and we shall be glad to take him up anywhere in the globe (of course, outside Burma). He cannot have a free ride at our cost!

2. A frame of reference is very important for any such info sharing including a debate. Without such, the exercise may become a mindless one. If, e.g., demography in the post-1826 era is the issue, let's make it clear in the beginning and that way the history of who came earlier to Arakan is not a debating issue to bite upon. As the tens of articles and books have been written, including those by Syed Ashraf Alam, AFK Jilani, BaShin, Nurul Islam - UK and Ctg., Abid Bahar and many others - if anyone is interested to learn the truth on the Rohingya issues of our time there are plenty to educate oneself with. On the other hand, if one is close-minded, no words of mouth in a debate/discussion/dialogue would do any good as it has failed to even educate one from written words. At the most they can create doubt and that too, only under non-threatening environment possible outside a debate.

3. The more important question, therefore, is - what we gain and what we lose from such an interaction with a known racist like Aye Chan? If it is a zero-sum activity, we should shun any such temptation. Do we really expect Aye Chan to all on a sudden change his mind by participating in a debate with us, something that he could have been enlightened on his own through our writings? I seriously doubt that possibility.

4. What is value-adding for our purpose? Can we find moderate elements within the Rakhaing to accept or consider our side of the history, and share our findings so that he/she can start the groundwork within his/her community for a paradigm shift away from racism and hatred toward inclusion and acceptance? If we don't have any moderate Rakhine intellectual or politician or opinion maker, we would better serve the cause of the Rohingya by reaching out to moderate Burmans who can start that process of reconciliation or paradigm shift. If that also looks rather bleak, we may have to do what other such threatened minorities in the world have done, which would include knocking on the doors of power brokers in the global scene. For that we can study the history of newly emerged countries like East Timor and South Sudan, as a starting point. How lucky we shall be there, given the fact that what was possible for those territories may not excite xian overlords of our time when it comes to Arakan, that is closer to the Chinese domain of influence? Allah knows the best! But it is the last option we shall be left with minus the two earlier options.

Our best approach, IMHO, is to reach out to democratic minded Burmese that are open-minded and are willing to giving it a try towards federalism and democracy, which are based on universal values and laws. The inclusion of Rohingya in Burma would be a win-win formula for the divided country, while the exclusion can only make it worse - not only morally but also economically. Our time served there to promote the Rohingya cause would be more fruitful than wasting time with Aye Chan. Who is Aye Chan anyway? He is a dishonest academic, a provocateur and a charlatan trying to masquerade as an intellectual for his racist extremist section of the people. Even if he were to accept Rohingya citizenship does he have any influence to repeal the racist 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma? I don't think so. Guys like him are used as pimps and prostitutes by illiberal undemocratic regimes to further their draconian measures, and then left to their repulsive, evil, pitiful selves.

5. What we truly need from our leadership is a strategy to repeal that Citizenship Law that is hemmed with short-term tactical moves that would InshaAllah allow the Rohingya people of Burma to live as a free people that is equal with other citizens of Burma. Inclusion not rejection. May Allah help us all in that endeavor.

End Notes:
1. Slim writes -
In page 147:
"......this exodus was followed by a bitter internecine struggle for land and power between the Arakanese and Maugh, two sections of the population. The Maughs got the worst of it and many were driven across the Naf River to take shelter in territory still held by us, there to make yet another refugee problem. Faction fights among the victorious Arakanese then became the order of the day, until the Japanese, pushing up to Buthidaung, resorted some sort of uneasy peace."

In page 148:

".....It later extended its activities to include minor raiding operations, and frequently fought successful actions with Japanese patrols and detachments, but in July 1942 an attempt to bolster up the Arakanese in our area by issuing fire arms of various sorts was judged premature and abandoned."

In page 238;

"....The porters of this column were Araknese Mohammedans and Maughs. All droped their loads and the Arakanese made off into the jungles, but the Maughs, two hundreds of them, prefered wisely to be captured rather than have their throats cut by the local Arakanese as they attempted to escape. "

2. BURMESE OUTPOST: Author Anthony Irwin writes (for example)

In page 11 PREFATORY DICTIONARY
Maughs .. Arakanese Buddhists who inhabit the Southern half of Arakan and some extent Kaladan. (This is a definition the of the word Mugh given by him.)

In Pages 22-23
"...As the area then occupied by us was almost entirely Mussulman country, it was from the followers of Mohammed that we drew most of our "Scouts" and Agents. The Arakan before the war had been occupied over its entire length by both Mussulman and Maughs. Then in 1941 the two sects set to and fought. The result of this "war" was roughly that the Maugh took over the Southern half of the country and the Mussulman the Northern.......". "The immediate result to us was that it seperated the two peoples into two distinct araes of influence, and it is on these areas that we have to base our whole system of intelligence, and the Jap likewise, for the uses or tries to use the aughs in the same way as we use the Mussulmen, but fortunately not to the same effect. Added to the fact that the Mussulmen are the most trustworthy and in my opinion the more courageous, is the point that at the moment the Jap has had to fight in an area the Northern section of which is entirely Moslem."

"....I sometimes wonder if any other people in like circumstances can tell the same story of loyalty and patience as can these Mussulman Arakanese."

In page 65:
Abdul Salaam, Mussulman Arakanese headman.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Col. Gaddafi’s Death – lessons for dictators?

Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi died on October 20 on the way to a hospital in Misrata. An autopsy determined that he had bullet wounds to his chest and head. Apparently, he was killed by a Libyan captor with the rebel forces that had toppled his regime. It was not the kind of death he imagined to embrace during the 42 years of his rule before the revolution. Surely, he was a marked man since the days of President Reagan. He had too many foes – mostly foreign – who hated him for a plethora of reasons. But never before the Libyan Revolution had he any inkling that one day his fellow countryman would be his executioner shooting the final bullet to end his life.

It was a sad demise of one of the most enduring rulers of our time who refused to call it quits. Gaddafi was captured alive hiding in a drainpipe outside his hometown of Sirte. He was roughed up, bruised, taunted and hounded before his death. It was not a pleasant picture, all captured by cell phone videos, to see him dragged out by his hair while he pleaded not to shoot him.

Like too many of his predecessors who had refused to read the writings on the walls, Gaddafi was defiant to his brutal end. When he fled Tripoli, he threatened to turn his country into a ‘volcano of lava and flame.’ He called the rebels ‘rats.’ Never did he know that he would end up hiding like a rat holed up in a drainpipe before being captured by the rebels.

When Gaddafi captured power in September of 1969 through a military coup by deposing King Idris – an ascetic, benevolent and reluctant ruler -- he promised deliverance. He had Allah’s gift, the sweet oil, the best quality crude oil containing the least amount of sulfur – buried under the sand, to honor that promise. He nationalized oil wealth and sent students abroad for higher education, and we are told that he provided -- free education, housing and healthcare to his people plus interest-free loans, free energy bills and $50,000 housing money for newly wed couples – benefits which are unheard of in our time in any country (including Saudi Arabia). In an age when the capitalist governments in Europe, North America and Israel were strengthening the dictatorial regimes and racist colonizing enterprises throughout the world, his was a dissenting voice. Actually, more than a voice! He was the greatest benefactor to Nelson Mandela’s ANC (in apartheid South Africa) and many such liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He supported the rights of the Native Americans, obviously causing much ire and tension with Washington. He wanted an Africa that is free from the tyranny of the West so that its people would attain self-sufficiency without western exploitation, interference and influence. He wanted an African Union that would be at least as strong economically as the EU, the USA and Canada are, away from the dictates and curses of the loans borrowed from the World Bank and the IMF.

And yet, something definitely went wrong. Vilification from the West was the least of Gaddafi’s troubles. He came to be seen by many within his own people, not just the dissident voices in the West, as a Utopian leader who had failed his people in meeting their true aspirations to live and prosper in a free Libya. They despised his (and his sons’) spendthrift attitude with national wealth, the lavish lifestyle of his children, the lavish parties where he (and his sons) gave away exotic gifts, jewelries and valuables worth millions of dollars to visiting dignitaries like Condi Rice while they felt such could have been spent wisely for more worthy causes within the country. In his long rule, in essence, they have become sorry spectators to their own destiny. To them the government handouts and free-this-and-that were not as important as some other unmet needs. They wanted a more participative and representative government of, by and for all people - democracy. They felt that he had hacked away the old social order (let alone the political order), annulled their rights to private property and, worst of all, had created a police state that was full of informers, cronies and sycophants. They felt terrorized by their own government. Libya, to them, had transformed itself into a big prison, where their ‘Brother Leader’ had become a dictator with dynastic aspirations for his sons. They wanted freedom of expression so that their unheard or muffled voices could be heard. They craved for freedom to organize and replacement of the imposed mumbo-jumbo system of government, or lack thereof, which was modeled after his Green Book.

While Gaddafi’s ill-spent money could flatter and shut the mouths of greedy western politicians and create a messiah persona in much of sub-Saharan Africa, his misfortune kicked in after the success of the revolution, the so-called Arab Spring, in the next-door Tunisia and Egypt. With the fall of those two tyrants, the Libyan people felt destiny was in their hands to change the course of history in their own country. They conquered fear and rose up in rebellion. The city of Ben Ghazi fell first and the rest is history!

It is said that the death of a democratic leader is a fanfare when he dies in power and a private matter long after his retirement, but the death of a tyrant is always a political act that reflects the character of his power. If a tyrant dies peacefully in his bed in the full resplendence of his rule, his death is a theater of that power; it is his greatest achievement. If a tyrant is executed while crying for mercy in the dust, then that, too, is a reflection of the nature of a fallen regime and the reaction of an oppressed people. To many of his victims inside Libya, Gaddafi was a tyrant, let alone a dictator, who deserved what he got and to many of his admirers outside, he was the last revolutionary who stood up against the bullies and exploits of the West and died a martyr.
Gaddafi should have resigned soon after the protests had begun. But like all dictators, instead of relenting power, he chose the barrels of rifles and guns to decide the fate of his regime. And in all likelihood, he could have survived like the murderous regime in Bahrain, if he had BIG friends in the West and the Arab League. He even used the bogeyman of Islam to neutralize his western foes that have been second-guessing the Arab Spring at every turn, including the on-going revolution in Syria, let alone the failed one in Bahrain. And sure enough, the Obama Administration was reluctant to get involved (at least in the early phase of the revolution). However, the Arab League was a different matter. It despised his personality and thus decried his threat of bloodbath and welcomed a military operation to protect the besieged people of Libya. The NATO forces, long viewed in that part of the world as morally bankrupt and utterly opportunistic, aided the rebel forces by dropping bombs after a measured calculation, and a right one, which I must add, that they have more to gain than lose by supporting the rebel forces.

As the regime crumbled and one city after another fell to the victorious rebel forces, including Tripoli, it was a question of time when and where Gaddafi would be found. After all, he had all the chances to negotiate his surrender or flee the country like Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia. But he refused to do either, and would rather die a ‘martyr.’ He chose his own fate knowingly! And that final curtain on Gaddafi was unceremoniously drawn when he was captured in his hometown and shot to death. He is now buried in an unmarked grave in the Sahara desert. What a gory and tragic end!

I wish the rebels who captured Gaddafi had acted like Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladin the Great) and not Julius Caesar. While Saladin (May Allah be pleased with him) showed magnanimity to his vanquished enemies – the Crusaders in 1187 CE when he had liberated Jerusalem, Caesar, conqueror of the Gauls in the Siege of Alesia, lost the moral benefit of his victory by humiliating his foe Vercingetorix by showing him off like a winning trophy before having him strangled in 46 BCE. The National Transitional Council, mindful of international outcry, has stated that any violation of human rights will be investigated and that whoever is responsible for Gaddafi's killing will be judged and given a fair trial.

As noted recently in the New York Times, the guns in Libya have barely quieted, but a new invasion force is already plotting its own landing on the shores of Libya. They are the western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities. They are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners. We should not be surprised! But Libyans should be smart enough to not let their hard earned revolution hijacked by these new invaders.