Monday, October 29, 2012

Hajj – The Muslim Pilgrimage

In the last few days millions of Muslims visited the holy city of Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia for performing their hajj or pilgrimage -- the world's largest annual gathering event. 

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in lifetime. It falls on the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah. The pilgrimage ends after Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which this year was celebrated on Friday. This reminds me of my own hajj in December of 2006. That year the Eid al-Adha also fell on Friday, the day of Muslim congregation or Jumu’ah.

The performance of hajj is a simultaneous show or exhibit of many things.  It is a show of creation.  It is a show of history.  It is a show of unity.  It is a show of Islamic ideology.  It is a show of Ummah, the community of Muslims.  It is beneficial to mankind because it transcends all man-made divisions and brings them closer to each other. That is why, it is said in the Qur’an: “And proclaim unto mankind the hajj. …. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.” (22:27-8)

Just as in any other good show or movie or theatre-play, the following conditions prevail in hajj.  Allah is the stage Manager.  The theme portrayed is the actions of these main characters – Adam, Haw’a (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham), Hajar (Hagar), Isma’il (Ishma’el), and Shaytan (Satan).  The main scenes are – Masjid al-Haram, ‘Arafat, Mas’a (space between the mountains – Safa and Marwa), Mash’ar (area between ‘Arafat and Mina) and Mina.  Important symbols are – Ka’ba, Safa, Marwa, day, night, sunshine, sunset, idols and rituals of sacrifice.  The dress and make-up are – ‘Ihram, halq and taqseer (part of ceremonies of hajj involving cutting of hair and nails, afterward).  Lastly, the player of the show is – YOU – the Hajji.  You are the main feature of the performance.  The role of Adam, Ibrahim, Isma’il and Hajar in confrontation between Allah and Satan is all played by you.  As a result, you are the hero of the show!!
The rites of hajj are five – (1) ‘Ihram, (2) waiting at ‘Arafat, (3) Tawaf of the Ka’ba, (4) sa’iy or running between the Safa and the Marwa and (5) cutting or trimming of hair.  Others are not pillars, although some may require kaffara or penalty, if not done.  The person who puts on the ‘Ihram or cloth for either ‘Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) or hajj (greater pilgrimage) is called a Muhrim.

There are ten etiquettes of hajj.  These are:
1.      Requite all wrongdoings and satisfy all adversaries.
2.      Make provision for hajj from one’s lawful wealth.
3.      Learn the pillars of hajj and its ceremonies.
4.      Be kind and forbearing with others, lest the reward be nullified.
5.      Observe the obligations of prayers and its statutes.
6.      Be open-handed, maintain the poor and spend as much as he/she is able to.
7.      At the station of ‘Arafat, remember the Day of Judgment (Yawmil Qiamat).
8.      Should not miss visitation of the Prophet’s (S) grave in Madinah.
9.      After return from hajj, one should turn toward Akhirat (Hereafter).
10.  One should remember his parents and other close relatives who have passed away with pious prayers and make-up for them if they could not fulfill their obligations for hajj.

The steps of hajj are the following:
1.      Miqat – putting on ‘Ihram at designated places with wadhu
The show of hajj begins with Miqat.  At this point, the participant must change his/her clothes.  Clothes show individuality, status, preference and distinction.  They create superficial barriers that separate man from man.  The concept of “I” (and not “We”) emerges which gives birth to discrimination.  At Miqat the pilgrim assumes his/her original shape as a “man” or “woman”, just one of “children of Adam” who will die one day.  The cloth of ‘Ihram is, therefore, the anti-thesis to that “individualism”; it is the kafan (or burial shroud).  He/she wears the kafan, the two pieces of cloth, just like everyone else.  He/she joins the mass, the multitude and becomes nothing or just a drop of water in the ocean that has no special identity of its own.  An atmosphere of genuine unity prevails everywhere.  It is a human show of Islamic unity; it is a show of universal brotherhood.  The bodies were left in Miqat and the souls are motivated here.  This is the beginning of the pilgrim’s journey, his/her voyage to nothingness.  There is no sex, no perfume, no shoes, no sewn clothes and head covers for men, no face mask, no cutting of hair or nails, i.e., absolutely no signs of aristocracy or distinction.  In the state of Muhrim, he/she doesn’t even look in a mirror to see his/her own image.  The pilgrim does neither hunt any animal, nor uproots any plant.  So he/she kills the tendencies of aggression by being peaceful to nature.  He/she ceases to remain or behave as somebody. 

Hajj is a movement to returning to Allah, just as Allah says in the Qur’an: Wa ilal-lahil maseer (24:42), meaning, “Unto Allah is the journeying.”  All the selfish egos must be buried at Miqat.  It is like witnessing one’s own dead body and visiting one’s own grave.   By sacrificing his/her individuality, the pilgrim focuses on reality, the basic purpose for which he/she was created - that being a slave unto Allah.  Just as a person would be buried in two pieces of cloth, leaving behind all wealth and worldly belongings, here in Miqat the pilgrim practices a dress rehearsal for that inevitable event. 

After putting on the ‘Ihram, the pilgrim proclaims: “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik, Labbaik La Sharika laka labbaik. Innal hamda, wal-niy’mata laka wal mulk, La Sharika laka labbaik ….” (Meaning: Here I am, O Lord, here I am. You indeed have no partner. Here I am. No doubt, all praise and bounties are Yours, and so is the absolute domain. You indeed have no partners. Here I am.”)

2.      It is preferable to enter Makkah during the daytime:
The pilgrim’s heart pounds with each step taken towards the Ka’ba.  The weight of being close to Allah’s house seems to get heavier and heavier.  He/she is endowed with a mixed feeling of love and fear.  Love -- because he/she has waited this long to get here.  Fear -- because he/she doesn’t know whether he/she can endure the strain of rituals of hajj, fulfill his/her duty unto Allah and be born again as an innocent human being. 

3.      Making du’a (supplication) for Ka’ba upon seeing it:
The Ka’ba is mentioned in the Qur’an as the Baital Haram – the Sacred House - appointed by Allah (Qur’an 5:97).  This is the first house of worship on the face of the globe.  It is to this house that Muslims face while praying.   It is also the direction in which his/her face would be turned when he/she is buried as dead.  It is the center of existence, faith, love, unity and life.  It has its own history.  It is called Baitil Masabatal-lin-nass wa amana, i.e., the House of resort for mankind and a sanctuary (Qur’an 2:125).

Ka’ba is also called Baitul Atiq – the Ancient House – in the Qur’an (22:29).  In the same Surah, al-Hajj, there is a hint for the wise that it existed before the time of Ibrahim (AS) [Tafsir Ma’reful Qur’an by Mowlana Mufti Muhammad Shafi].  Ibrahim (AS) did not build it; he simply reconstructed it on the same spot of foundation after it got damaged during the deluge or great flood of Prophet Nuh (Noah).  It is also called the first sanctuary on earth appointed for mankind, a blessed place and a guidance for mankind (Qur’an 3:96). 

Ibrahim (AS) prayed for its security and blessings.  Allah instructed him how to make Tawaf around this House.  In Surah al-Hajj (22:26-28), Muslims are told by Allah that He instructed Ibrahim (AS) four things.  These are that (1) he should not ascribe any partner with Allah, (2) he should purify Allah’s House for those who make Tawaf around the House and those who stand, bow and prostrate for salat, (3) he should proclaim unto mankind the hajj so that they come unto the House with whatever conveyance they have, and witness things that are of benefit to them (4) sacrifice the beast of cattle on appointed days and then eat the meat thereof and feed therewith the poor unfortunate.  Ibrahim (AS) taught these rituals of hajj to his son, Isma’il (AS), who in turn, taught to his children; and, the practice continued uninterrupted for millennia.

4.      Performing Tawaf (circumambulation) of Ka’ba seven times (unless it is time for a regular prayer led by an Imam, which one must join in):
The pilgrim remembers that the Ka’ba is the center of this earth.  Just as planets of our solar system orbit around the sun, the pilgrim orbits around the world’s sun, the Ka’ba, and becomes part of a universal system.  He/she demonstrates his/her love for Allah by making Tawaf around His house.  Tawaf should be started from the corner stone – the Black stone, Hajr al-Aswad - with Ka’ba on the left.  This is where the pilgrim makes a contract to join all the tribes of the earth, and becomes like a drop of water entering the ocean. The moment of truth has come and he/she must select his/her path, distinct from those who had rejected their Creator.  Three of the seven Tawafs must be at a faster pace than normal walking.  The pilgrim should try to touch the stone with his/her hand, and put his/her forehead on it and then kiss it.  By touching the stone, the pilgrim shows his/her allegiance to his/her Creator, who had sent this very stone from the heaven, so that He could know love for Him. 

By touching the stone, the pilgrim cuts off all forms of allegiance to anything other than Allah. He/she becomes free again from servitude of others and this world.  If it is not possible to touch the stone with a stick one can kiss the tip of the stick.  If that is not possible either because of too many people around it, then one can make a flying kiss to it.  During the Tawaf, men should put the Ihram on in such a way as to bare their right shoulder (‘ibtida). 

During Tawaf, the pilgrim becomes part of the cosmos.  He/she forgets about him/herself.  He/she is in love with the symbol of unity and servitude to Allah.  He/she sees nothing but His symbols, the Ka’ba and the Black Stone, Hajr al-Aswad.  By denying him/herself he/she has become a lover of Him just like Hajar who migrated to this land, barren and rugged, without vegetation, without any forms of subsistence, but with complete reliance in Her Lord, Allah Subhana Wa ta’Ala (SWT).  He/she remembers that Allah did not neglect either her or her infant son Ishmail.  He brought out the Zamzam well and let people settle there, making it the most important place in the Arab peninsula. 

The pilgrim remembers that some rituals of hajj are, in reality, a memory of Hajar.  Hijrah or migration is what Hajar did.  Any migration like hers is a move toward civilization. During Tawaf, everyone encircles the Ka’ba collectively.  The movement is of one unit and there is no individual identification of men or women, black or white, red or yellow.  The movement has transformed one person into the totality of a “people.”  All of the “I’s” have transformed into “We,” establishing the universality of ummah with the goal of approaching Allah. Likewise, all selfishness and self-centeredness must go and transform into self-denial or ummah-centered activities.  Allah’s way is the way of the people.  In other words, to approach Allah, one must first approach people.  That is why, individual activities in Islam are less meritorious than collective actions.  As the pilgrim makes the Tawaf around the Ka’ba, he/she must move anti-clock-wise outward from the inner circle, as if he/she is a planet in an expanding universe. He/she steps out of the Tawaf cycle at the same place he/she started after completion of the seven orbits.  This is just like being resurrected from the same spot where one would be buried.

5.      After Tawaf, performing two rakah of prayer behind Maqam-e Ibrahim in which one prays Surah al-Kafirun in the first rakat and Surah al-Ikhlas in the second: 
Maqam is a very blessed place for praying (Qur’an 2:125).  It is the nearest point to Allah.  As a matter of fact, there is no place in this entire earth where one gets more reward than this place for praying.  The stone has the footprint of Ibrahim (alayhis salam), the rebel against the established despot of his time, Namrud (Nimrod).  He stood over this stone to lay the corner stone - Hajr al-Aswad and to re-construct the Ka’ba and to pray (Quran 2:125).  Thus, at this place, the pilgrim reminds him/herself about where he/she is standing. 

The reconstruction of Ka’ba began after Ibrahim (AS) was saved from the fire of Namrud, and Isma’il (AS) saved from being slaughtered.  [Ibrahim (AS) was thrown into the fire for his sound belief in monotheism, but Allah saved him by transforming the same fire to become a very comforting wind for His friend (Qur’an 21:69).]  So, by the time Ibrahim (AS) was commissioned to reconstruct the Ka’ba in order that this house could be purified for hajj of all people, both he and his son were more resolutely resigned and dedicated to the will of Allah than ever before.  By standing on the same stone, you vow to become like Ibrahim Hanifah wa Khalil-Allah, the upright friend of Allah, who was uncompromising in his conviction for Tawhid (monotheism).  In Maqam, symbolically, the pilgrim shakes hands with Ibrahim (AS) by pledging the same dedication to Allah – i.e., to be like Ibrahim and Isma’il (AS), his son. 

6.      Running between the mountains -  Safa and Marwah - seven times, starting with the Safa and ending with the Marwa:
This is called the Sa’iy. Literally it means search, a movement with an aim.  It is depicted by running and hurrying.  Here the pilgrim acts like Hajar, the mother of infant Isma’il.  She had no food, no water, no shelter, neither for herself nor for her child, but only uncompromising, relentless faith that the God of Ibrahim (AS) would not leave her and her only son without sustenance.  Here the pilgrim remembers that when Ibrahim (AS) left her and their only son, Isma’il (AS) near the valley of Makkah, Hajar asked him: “O Ibrahim, where are you leaving us, while there is no habitation of men nor any provision for food and drink? Who is going to look after us?”  Ibrahim (AS) replied, “Ilal-lah (to Allah’s protection only).” She said, “Raditu billah (I am fully satisfied with Allah?” She also asked, “Have you done this to fulfill Allah’s command?”  When Ibrahim (AS) confirmed that by saying, “Yes,” she simply said, “Well in that case, we have no fear, for Allah will not let us die without providing any provision [i.e., He will definitely provide for us in the middle of this desolate, barren desert].” [Bukhari]  The pilgrim similarly remembers the power of trusting in Allah. 

Away from the view of his wife and son, Ibrahim (AS) prayed, “Our Lord: Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto Thy Holy House (Ka’ba), Our Lord! that they may establish proper worship.  So, incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and You provide them with fruits in order that they may be thankful.” (Qur’an 14: 37).  Soon, however, Hajar’s water and food were all gone, there was no milk or water or any food either for herself or for her child.  She started looking out for water, running to the top of the hill, Safa.  No, there is no water anywhere.  Then she comes down and looks at her infant to check if he is fine.  She then goes to the top of the other hill, Marwah, and takes a deep long look to fetch water.  She was searching water, why?  Because water is needed for physical salvation, for life to continue.  So, should man work for livelihood, trusting in Allah.  She searches again and again.  After running seven times between these two hills, she comes down from Marwah to see the condition of her infant son.  She hears the sound of a gushing water coming from near her son and is surprised to see an angel (Jibril AS) dig a well near the heel of her infant son.  The gushing water from the well was making all that sound.  She quickly puts a barrier around it so that water could be stored and that it did not overflow. And this well came to be known as the Zamzam.  Muhammad (S) said, “May Allah bless the mother of Isma’il (AS).  If she had not put that barrier around the Zamzam, instead of a well, the gushing water would have continued to flow like a spring [and flooded the entire valley].”  It was a gift from Allah to the mother and son, and all those who came later.  It is a mineral water rich with nutritional and medicinal power to cure man of many diseases.   The Safa and the Marwah, thus, became among the signs, indications of Allah (Qur’an 2:158).

7.      On the seventh day of Dhul-Hijjah, after the Zuhr prayer, Imam explains the meaning of hajj and exhorts people to go to the valley of Mina (nearly six miles north of Makkah) next morning after Fajr prayer.

8.      Visiting and staying at Mina on the eighth day (after arriving there in the morning) till the next Fajr (dawn prayer).

9.      Going to ‘Arafat after sun has risen on the ninth day, stopping on the way at Namirah and listening to khutbah before Zuhr (mid-day prayer).

10.  Proceeding to ‘Arafat (five miles further north) and seek Allah’s forgiveness there till Maghrib (prayer after sunset):
‘Arafat literally means knowledge and science.  ‘Arafat represents the beginning of man’s creation, that of our forefather Adam.  It was shaytan who misled our forefather by whispering to him saying: “O Adam! Shall I show you the tree of immortality and power that wastes not away?” (Qur’an 20:120)  He caused the downfall of Adam and Haw’a (Eve).  For years, they were separated from each other having descended at different places.  It was in ‘Arafat that they met again.  It was in a small rocky hill of Jabal al-Rahma in the center of ‘Arafat that their sins were forgiven by Allah.  So, here in ‘Arafat, the pilgrim acts like Adam (AS) or Haw’a and seeks forgiveness for him/her and his/her loved ones.

11.  After sunset proceeding slowly to Muzdalifah (halfway between ‘Arafat and Mina) without praying Maghrib (Qur’an 2:198).  However, according to the Imams Abu Hanifah and Sufyan al-Thawri (R) it is permissible to pray Maghrib before reaching Muzdalifah. Once in Muzdalifah, the pilgrim prays both Maghrib and ‘Isha prayers together.

12.  Spending the night before Eid in Muzdalifah, praying the Fajr prayer early (on the tenth day), and collecting pebbles there (70 per person):
Muzdalifah is part of Mash’ar-ul-Haram.  The Prophet Muhammad (S) prayed for long duration here. The pilgrim must be in Mash’ar by the nightfall (while he/she was at ‘Arafat during the day).  Darkness engulfs him/her in Mash’ar. ‘Arafat is knowledge; it requires daylight for clear vision.  Mash’ar literally means consciousness and understanding, which blossom at night through deep reflection or meditation.  So, Mash’ar is the stage of insight while ‘Arafat was the stage of experience.  Intuition needs no light.  It can see in the darkness.  It is the stage between knowledge and love, or ‘Arafat and Mina. 

Here the pilgrim reflects upon him/herself and strengthens his/her spirit.  He/she questions: am I in the right way?  Am I ready to fight against Satan or his insinuations? 

In Makkah, during tawaf the pilgrim had joined the crowd and became part of them.  Here he/she is alone, despite being within a crowd.  Here he/she is for him/herself only.  Therefore, he/she confesses his/her sins to Allah.   And this night is a good cover for confessions and tears.   He/she takes preparation for tomorrow by getting ready tonight.  There is a great battle in which he/she will have to participate tomorrow.  So, he/she collects his/her weaponry – the pebbles - before the day breaks.  The pebbles will be used against his/her enemy.  He/she has to act like Ibrahim (AS) here just as he fought against the insinuations of Satan on his way to sacrifice his beloved son, Isma’il (AS). 

13.  After praying Fajr, going back to Mina and throwing seven stones at Jamrat-ul Aqabah, reciting Takbir each time.  The remainder 63 stones should be thrown over the next three days of Ayyam al-Tashriq (11th, 12th and 13th of Dhul Hijjah) at a rate of 21 stones per day.  Every day, the pilgrim must throw the first 7 stones at Jamarah near Mina, and the last seven at Jamarat al-Aqabah, located closer to Makkah:
The tenth day has arrived.  This is the day for sacrifice of animal.  The pilgrim is armed with weapons to fight Satan, the enemy of his/her forefather (Adam), the devil (Satan) who tried to confuse Ibrahim (AS). 

Mina literally means love.  Ibrahim (AS) felt too much love for his only son, Isma’il (AS).  And Allah wanted to test how great or how real his love was for Him.  Ibrahim (AS) saw a vision of sacrificing his most beloved son.  That was the command from Allah to test Ibrahim (AS) of his love and devotion.  Can Ibrahim (AS) pass this test?  He ponders on this unusual, rather cruel, test.  He has grown old and he has no other offspring.  In his very old age, Allah has listened to his prayer and has blessed him with this son through his second wife, Hajar.  Out of his gratefulness for answering to his prayer, he has named his son, Isma’il (meaning: God listened [to my prayer]).  Yet, he was asked to settle them in the valley of Makkah when the child was still an infant.  And now that the lad has become old enough to walk, Allah wants him to sacrifice that son to prove that his true love is only for Allah.  The pilgrim should ponder on this for a moment.  Does he/she get a chill in his/her back? Satan tries to create doubt in his mind: O Ibrahim, are you sure you want to sacrifice your son, your true love, your joy, the meaning of your existence, the fruit of your life; who would there be after you to worship your Lord; don’t you have heart, any soft feelings toward your son?  Ibrahim (AS) is momentarily confused.  Should he or shouldn’t he carry out Allah’s command, “you must sacrifice your son?”  Is he dreaming or is it the reality?  No, there is no confusion what he saw in his vision is crystal clear: God truly wants him to sacrifice his beloved Isma’il.  He wins over Satan, the sneaking whisperer.  But then Satan returns and tries to digress him from his task.  Ibrahim (AS) wins over again.  But Satan does not give up that easily, he tries to create confusion for the third time.  Ibrahim (AS) wins over Satan’s temptations yet for the third time.  He is mentally all prepared to carry out the task.  His choice is obvious – absolute obedience and devotion to Allah, Isma’il must be sacrificed.  He wanted to share the message with his lad. Thus, he talks to his young lad, Isma’il (AS), of his dream and asks his opinion.  And what does this “gentle” son (whom the Qur’an calls Ghulamin Halim) reply?  He calmly says: “O my father! Do that which you are commanded.  Allah willing, you shall find me of the steadfast.”  (Qur’an 37:102)  He answers like the rock of Gibraltar, the worthy son of Ibrahim (AS), the upright!

So, here in Mina, the pilgrim must act like Ibrahim (AS), the soldier of Tawhid (monotheism), ready to defeat, subdue or shoot down his/her real enemy, the Satan within him/her representing his/her personal egos, desires, cravings, and preferences.  These “other” things, the “idols”, were distracting him/her from the true worship of God.  But here in Mina, he/she is now ready to fight against these taghoots (demi-gods) to show his/her true devotion and obedience to Allah. The pilgrim must fight Satan just as Ibrahim (AS) had fought against him.  To mimic that event, he/she throws stones at Satan at the three Jamarats. 

14.  Qurbani or sacrificing an animal, saying only Bismillah:
When both the father and the son - Ibrahim and Isma’il (AS) - had surrendered to Allah and Ibrahim (AS) had flung Isma’il (AS) down upon his face and was about to put the knife on his son’s neck, Allah called Ibrahim (AS): “O Ibrahim! You have already fulfilled the vision.”  (Qur’an 37:104-5) Ibrahim (AS) doesn’t have to sacrifice his son.  Instead, he should sacrifice this ram, which has 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 his devotion and love, whether he was capable of overcoming his personal feeling of love 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 (lawful) animal whose meat one can eat and distribute among the poor is a sufficient substitute.  The pilgrim must ponder again.  What was Ibrahim (AS) asked to sacrifice?  It was nothing short of the most beloved thing/entity among his possession.  But when he was ready, his Isma’il was returned unto him, unscathed and unharmed.  And he was made a model for humanity: “And We left for him [Ibrahim (AS)] among the later folk (the salutation): Peace be unto Ibrahim.  Thus do we reward the good.”  (Qur’an 37:108-9)

If the pilgrim loves something more than he/she loves Allah, then that thing has become his/her idol and he/she must be ready to sacrifice that.  Is he/she ready to slaughter his/her worldly desires, worldly love, his/her Isma’il in Mina in order that he/she be free from all attachments save those of Allah?  If he/she is, then he/she must slaughter a goat, sheep, ram, cow or camel as a ransom towards his/her Isma’il.  As Dr. Shariati rightly puts it, “To offer a sheep instead of Isma’il is a “sacrifice”, but to sacrifice a sheep just for the sake of sacrifice is “butchery”!” (Hajj by Dr. Ali Shariati) For surely Allah says, “Their flesh and their blood do not reach Allah, but the devotion from you reaches Him.” (Qur’an 22:37)

15.  Men should shave their head or trim their hair, at least, one-quarter of head.  Women should not shave their head, but only trim slightly at the end of the lock of a hair.
After the Qurbani (sacrifice) of the animal, the pilgrim has almost completed the basic requirements of hajj, so he/she can make an end of his/her unkemptness (Qur’an 22:29).  He/she has defeated Satan but he/she may not have succeeded in completely killing it.  He/she may have defeated him outside but he comes back inside of him/her.  So, the pilgrim should stay the next three days in Mina and continue with his/her battling of the Satan at Jamarat

16.  After shaving or trimming the hair, the pilgrim should go to Makkah and make the Tawaf of visitation and run seven times between the Safa and the Marwa.  Then one’s hajj is complete and one can come out of ‘Ihram. [Or, he/she may return to Mina to complete the 3 days of Ayyam al-Tashriq and then return to Ka’ba for  the last Tawaf-ul Wadaa’ on the 13th day, before leaving for home or Madinah.]
This is the later tawaf of the Ka’ba (Qur’an 22:29), performed after the pilgrim returns from Mina.  In Mina, he/she has defeated Satan and renewed his/her ties with Allah by following the footsteps of Ibrahim (AS).  When he/she first approached Ka’ba he/she had not, by then, purified him/herself.  He/she was still impure and unconscious.  In ‘Arafat he/she gained consciousness.  In Mina he/she purified him/herself.  So, this is appropriate that he/she do the tawaf and sa’iy in the purified state before he/she returns home.  During the rituals of hajj he/she played the roles of Ibrahim (AS) and Hajar.  The pilgrim must remember not to replace his/her role-playing to something else when he/she returns.  Like Hajar, he/she must always trust in Allah.  Like Ibrahim (AS), he/she must fight the fire of Nimrod, i.e., oppression.  Like Ibrahim (AS), he/she must be prepared to sacrifice his/her Isma’il, i.e., love or desires, for the sake of his/her faith. That is the essence of hajj. The pilgrim returns to Allah the way He wanted him/her to be: a slave totally dedicated to his/her Master.

I would like to close this discussion on hajj by quoting from the Kashf al-Mahjub of Ali bin Uthman al-Jullabi al Hujwiri (R).  A certain man came to Junayd [al-Baghdadi] (R).  Junayd asked him whence he came.  He replied: “I have been to hajj.”  Junayd (R) said: “From the time when you first journeyed from your home have you also journeyed away from all sins?”  He said, “No.”  “Then,” said Junayd (R), “you have made no journey.  At every stage where you halted for the night did you traverse a station on the way to Allah?”  He said: “No.”  “Then,” said Junayd (R), “you have not trodden the road stage by stage.  When you put on the Ihram (pilgrim’s garb) at the proper place did you discard the attributes of humanity as you cast off your ordinary clothes?”  “No.”  “Then you have not put on the Ihram.  When you stood on ‘Arafat did you stand one instant in contemplation of Allah?”  “No.” “Then you have not stood on ‘Arafat.  When you went to Muzdalifa and achieved your desire did you renounce all sensual desires?”  “No.”  “Then you have not gone to Muzdalifa.  When you circumambulated the Ka’ba did you behold the immaterial beauty of Allah in the abode of purification?”  “No.”  “Then you have not circumambulated the Ka’ba.  When you ran between Safa and Marwa did you attain to the rank of safa (purity) and muruwwat (virtue)?” “No.”  “Then you have not run.  When you came to Mina did all your wishes cease?”  “No.”  “Then you have not yet visited Mina.  When you reached the slaughter place and offered sacrifice did you sacrifice the objects of sensual desire?”  “No.”  “Then you have not sacrificed.  When you threw the stones did you throw away whatever sensual thoughts were accompanying you?”  “No.”  “Then you have not yet thrown the stones, and you have not yet performed the pilgrimage.  Return and perform the pilgrimage in the manner which I have described in order that you may arrive at the station of Ibrahim (AS).”

Muhammad (S) taught the rituals of hajj to his ‘ummah so that Muslims can observe its proper sanctity.   He said, “The person who has performed hajj for Allah and saved himself or herself from all lewd and sinful deeds, he or she returns after hajj as a newly born innocent child who was delivered that day.” (Bukhari and Muslim: Abu Hurayrah (RA). 

May Allah give us the tawfiq to follow the dictates of hajj, as stated above, so that this duty is acceptable unto Him. 

[For further reading: see Dr. Ali Shariati’s – the Hajj.]

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dr. Nora Rowley's radio interview on the latest extermination campaign against the Rohingyas of Myanmar

Dr. Nora Rowley, a well-informed human rights activist who worked inside the Arakan state of Mynamar (Burma) as a  physician, was recently interviwed on the radio in Chicago about the Rakhine/Burmese genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas of Myanmar, who are described as the world's most persectued people. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

Please, share this link with other interested folks.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Buddhist Terrorism – no longer a myth

Last week the Myanmar Post on its front page reported about a meeting of Karen Religious Protection Organization that was held on October 14 in Mae Baung Monastery, Pha-an. The meeting was attended by more than 100 Buddhists including the Chief Administrators from all the nine quarters except the two from the Pha-an Township.

Under ordinary circumstances such meetings should not have raised eyebrows of anyone except that the meeting highlighted what is wrong with the Burmese society these days. The so-called Protection Organization announced four sets of Rules epitomizing intolerance against the Muslims of Myanmar. Zwe Kapin Taung Abbot U Widaza announced the four rules: (1) Prohibiting selling and renting of Buddhist-owned houses, land, farming land, and orchard to Muslims of Myanmar; (2) Prohibiting Buddhist women to marry with Muslims; (3) Buddhists should patronize the Buddhist shops only; (4) Prohibiting Buddhists from allowing themselves to use their names from buying or renting Buddhist-owned houses, land, farming land, and orchard for Muslims. It was also announced that anyone who would disobey the above rules would be punished severely.

These Rules were distributed in the entire Pha-an town the next day after the meeting. It is worth noting here that just before that meeting Karen Prime Minister U Zaw Min had visited the Zwe Kapin Taung Abbot U Widaza. Copies of the Rules were sent to the Karen Prime Minister, Karen State Parliament Chairmen, Karen State Security and Border Affairs Ministry and other Government Officials. The publication of such bigotry-ridden announcement in the front page of a newspaper clearly shows that the so-called reform government of Thein Sein is not serious about peaceful coexistence of all religious communities, esp. when it comes to the Muslim community. Its kowtowing with the chauvinist and terrorist Buddhist monks only proves its hideous character.

Thanks to the smiling image of the Dalai Lama, for decades the West took little notice of Buddhist terrorism that has terrorized millions of people in the South and Southeast Asia where a sizable Buddhist population lives. This, in spite of the fact that half the Cham Muslim population in Cambodia was massacred, and half the Rohingya Muslims had to flee from their ancestral homes in Arakan (Rakhine) state of Myanmar for horrendous crimes of the Buddhist government and population against them. The Khmer Rouge, which killed millions, in Cambodia wanted a Buddhist state, with Norodom Sihanouk as the vicegerent of God and Buddha. Buddhist monks were also accused of inciting violence against Tamil Hindus and Muslims in Sri Lanka. In Thailand, violence against the Thai Muslims by Buddhist vigilantes is a recurring event. Nor should one forget the horrendous crimes of the Buddhist Japanese Army in places like Malaysia and Burma during Second World War against the Muslim populations there [note: Emperor Hirohito considered himself the head of all Buddhists and Taoists]. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims died because of policies that led to mass starvation in the occupied territories.

[The interested readers may like to read the book – Buddhist Warfare, co-edited by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, Oxford University Press (2009), which examines Buddhist military action in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.]

As I have noted earlier, ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, in particular, and religious persecution and intolerance against the Muslims of Burma, in general, have become a national project that is participated by all Buddhists inside Myanmar. So, the latest news above about the Karen Buddhists should not come as a surprise. During the military rule of the SPDC, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) – a government ally - was known for its unfathomable hate crimes and persecution of non-Buddhists, esp. Muslims.

In its May 2002 report, the Karen Human Rights Group had reported that when the DKBA formed [in 1994-95] they came and destroyed all the Muslim homes in the Papun district of the Karen State. They then forced Muslims to pay for and construct new Buddhist homes in places that once belonged to Muslims. The DKBA committed similar types of destructions of homes and mosques almost everywhere inside the Karen state.

A Muslim male from the Pa’an district was heard complaining, "When we built our mosque it was 50 or 60 feet [long]. It was very large. It was very big and had two floors. They [the DKBA] destroyed it. We felt very sorry when they destroyed our big worshipping place. They carried concrete and sand when they passed us sitting in front of our houses and swore, 'Ma Aye Loh Ka La' ['Indian mother f__ers']. They swore like that. They [DKBA soldiers] didn't put their clothes on when the [Muslim] women went to carry water from the well. They made a lot of problems. They told us, 'You don't have a country. You can't stay here; go to the Ka La country.'" He continued, "They built one pagoda in the middle of the village. They destroyed the mosque first and built a pagoda in place of the mosque. They destroyed it with a bulldozer and built a pagoda instead. They told us, 'You have to worship our god first.' Then our mosque teacher told them, 'It doesn't concern us.' The religions are opposite. Then they said, 'You can't stay.' … They built a Buddhist pagoda. That pagoda wasn't our affair, but they forced us to carry bricks and sand for it. They made offerings to the Buddha and they ordered us to go and build it ourselves. We then told them that it did not concern us Muslims. They said, 'No, you can't stay.' Then they asked for money for a donation at that very hour and second [immediately]. … They asked for 200,000 Kyat at four o'clock. They were going to kill us if we didn't give it. There was one monk who said he had a sword, and that if he took it out he couldn't put it back until he had killed someone. We were afraid of that. The village is a poor people's village. We asked around here and there to find enough money until we got 200,000 Kyat, and we sent it to them."

Another Muslim man was heard saying, "On Monday, April 10th 2000, in the evening, there were 500 Muslim houses in T'Kweh Po village to the east of the Salween River. It is to the east and south of Myaing Gyi Ngu [DKBA headquarters]. There is a DKBA camp beside it. They stay there. … They drove the religious scholars out of the mosque. They ploughed and destroyed the mosque with a big bulldozer. A lot of men, women and children were really upset and crying at that time. Then the DKBA leader Lieutenant Pya pointed a gun at the villagers' heads and said, 'Tomorrow you have to leave this village. I don't want to see your faces here tomorrow. This place is not Ka La [Indian] country. The Ka La can't stay here. The God that you worship is in my hand. You should learn that I am the God that you worship.' They also ordered the villagers to be vegetarian and to make worship shelves [Buddhist home altars]. The last thing they said was, 'Are you going to make worship shelves or will you leave this village?' They demanded for the last time, 'If you don't want to leave this village and if you want to stay in this village you have to make a worship shelf and eat as vegetarians.' They forced them like that. The villagers couldn't abandon their religion, so they left the village and went to stay in another place. … They forced the Muslims from that village to build a pagoda. They forced them to carry sand and rocks and other things. They only forced the Muslims to do it. After they finished they asked, 'Are you going to stay in this village and make offerings to the Buddha and eat as vegetarians?' They asked them to do that. Then the villagers pleaded, 'Don't make us do that kind of thing and don't make us worship like that.' Then they [the DKBA officer] said, 'You have requested to worship your religion freely so your religion is in my hands. You should know that your Allah is just me.' So the villagers felt upset and left the village."

Another Muslim was heard saying in 2001, "There is nothing in our village. The [DKBA] Army has built a barrack and an Army camp. They built their monastery. They took the land and the flat fields and now they work them for food. We had land and a flat field. We didn't even have time to go and take the sugar cane and the paddy. They took it all. … There is a mosque in Shwegun village. The mosque is in front of the monastery. There are about 100 Muslim houses in front of the mosque. Those 100 houses were destroyed by a bulldozer. They couldn't take all of their things. They couldn't even take their pots and cups. They [DKBA] built a road there after they destroyed the houses. They hit and punched the people who went to go and take their pots and cups. They destroyed all the houses, pots and cups with a bulldozer and made their road. There were two Muslim schools which were also destroyed. … They could have made the road 100 feet wide, but they ploughed down everything, made the road in the middle and now they keep the area around it clear. They don't allow people to make houses beside the road. They only did that to the place where the Muslim people live. They didn't do it in any other places. This was in Shwegun at a place where there was no road. … Now they have to stay in other people's houses. Some of them have made tents to stay in behind the road. They moved there and stay there. They went to stay beside other people's houses. Some people who had money went to buy land outside [the village]. Some of them moved to Pa'an. The people without money just stayed like that. If they had relatives they just shared their rooms and lived with each other."

Those Muslims in the Karen state of Burma (now Myanmar) faced hate crimes, religious persecution and coercion on a daily basis. They are fined 5,000 Kyat if they are caught eating meat, and 10,000 or 50,000 Kyat for each goat or cow they are caught slaughtering. They have been forbidden in some areas from even raising animals. Muslims are also fined for fishing. In one instance a Muslim man from T'Kweh Po village was fined by a monk who caught him fishing and then forced to worship the monk.

The KHRG Report quoted a Muslim saying, “We couldn't find and catch fish in the river. We couldn't breed chickens. We couldn't raise animals. The DKBA forbade us. We couldn't breed anything… We could only raise cows. It was because they [the DKBA] are vegetarian. For example, we went around to find fish in the nighttime and caught some fish. Their monk also went around by himself and if he could catch us he would hit us, punch us and order us to worship him. He didn't look whether it was a man or a woman. He hit us and punched us and ordered us to worship him. We told him we are not his concern, our religion is Islam. Our Islam says that even if they hit us and kill us, we will worship only Islam. They hit us. For example, if we go and find fish and they catch us with one fish, they fine us 5,000 Kyat. We have to give it. They would have killed us if we didn't give it. We couldn't bear this anymore so we came to this side [to the refugee camp]."

Another Muslim was heard saying, "The other thing was that they forced the Muslims who stayed there [T'Kweh Po village] to become vegetarian. Since that time [in 2000], if they saw any people eating animals or if they saw anyone kill a cow, they fined them 100,000 Kyat. They fined anyone who killed a goat 50,000 Kyat. They threatened us. They are going to fine the Muslim people for every animal they eat. There are some villagers who face that kind of problem. There was one Muslim man who went to find fish. A monk arrested him and ordered him to worship him. He was fined 30,000 Kyat because he wouldn't worship the monk." [Note: Islam prohibits a Muslim from worshipping anyone but God the Almighty (Allah).]

The SPDC government was well aware of such regular incidents of violence and persecution of the vulnerable Muslims in the Karen state because most of such crimes were committed in front of their officers. They never punished those DKBA criminals who terrorized Muslim lives, nor did they punish the Buddhist monks for their bigotry. As a matter of fact, just as in the neighboring Thailand, Buddhist soldiers routinely carry out their duties undercover, as fully ordained monks armed with guns.

The Buddhist monks inside Myanmar have long been known for their sheer bigotry against the non-Buddhists. In Toungoo on May 16, 2001, a Muslim mosque teacher had his eyes cut out after he refused to worship the monks. He later died. On the same day a Muslim family was burned to death when their house was set on fire by the mob. As we have recently witnessed during lynching death of the ten Tablighi Muslims on June 3 of this year, the police simply stood by and did not held back the Buddhist mob.

The KHRG Report of 2002 also quoted a Muslim living in the Pegu Division, "The monks. They came in the daytime and entered the mosques and destroyed them. But the people [Muslims] there didn't do anything against them to make them do it. We felt hurt. We felt hurt by the government. Why? Because the government is the administration, so why can't they control this kind of problem?”

While a new government has come to power, claiming disingenuously to be reform minded to fool the world community, nothing has changed when it comes to hate crimes and religious persecution of the non-Buddhists inside Myanmar. The Buddhist-majority country of Myanmar continues to epitomize racism and bigotry. In this, it has no match in our time!

In recent months, since the massacre of Muslims in Arakan state of Myanmar, thousands of Buddhist monks have been seen marching in Myanmar's major cities demanding forced eviction of Muslims from this Buddhist majority country. Their monasteries were not only used during the pogrom to store arms and ammunitions to kill Rohingya Muslims and burn their homes, they were even seen leading such raids. They have stopped humanitarian aids to reach Muslim victims of the latest pogrom. They have advised fellow Buddhists not to sell any food items so as to starve the Rohingya people to death. By condoning terrorism against others and participating in such acts, they have become terrorists themselves. Through such acts of intolerance, bigotry and hateful incitement, they have essentially soiled their religion.

Myanmar government wants to keep the Arakan state sealed from the outside world so that its latest genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas can be hidden from public scrutiny. The lucky few foreign journalists who had visited the troubled area in recent weeks were closely monitored and couldn’t conduct their investigations of the latest pogrom freely. Nor does the regime want the presence of international NGOs and human rights groups to provide humanitarian aids to reach the Rohingya victims or monitor the region. Instead, it is stage managing protests by racist monks and their partners in crime – the marauding blood-thirsty Buddhists both inside and outside Arakan - against efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), world's largest Islamic body, to help Rohingya Muslims.

The monks denounced plans by the 57-member organization to set up a liaison office in northwest Rakhine state. Just hours after the monks dispersed, President Thein Sein's office announced it would not permit an OIC representation in Myanmar. "The government will not allow the opening of an OIC office as it is not in accordance with the desire of people," said a statement posted on its website.

The monks were joined by ordinary citizens in Yangon and Mandalay. Some carried placards with the words "get out OIC", and "no OIC" and said they would hold demonstrations until the government agreed to their demands.

There is little doubt that the entire Buddhist population is playing its criminal role as active participants in this latest campaign to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya Muslims. In a report in August, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had found evidence of "state-sponsored persecution and discrimination" against the Rohingyas in the weeks after the violence. The latest announcement from Thein Sein’s office gives further credence to the government cover-ups and its evil plan.

It is high time that the U.N. takes a serious look at what is going on inside Myanmar and stops the criminal regime and its partners for crimes against humanity. Silence of the UN on this matter would be a grave sin and is simply criminal.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Price of Hatred

In our time there is no denying of the enormous influence of the social media employing web- and mobile-based technologies to support interactive dialogue and communication between organizations, communities and individuals. Thus, mass communication which was once a very expensive avenue to propagate one’s views is now almost a free item.  Social media are also unregulated in most parts of our world, thus, allowing every John or Jane Doe to express and share his or her views on any matter big or small whether or not he or she is qualified or knowledgeable on such matters. It is, therefore, possible that while expressing one’s unfiltered views others can feel abused, demeaned and hurt. And consequently, those feeling hurt, demeaned or abused can react either proportionately or disproportionately, which can turn into violence.

Consider, e.g., the latest case involving the posting of highly inflammatory and offensive pictures in the Facebook by someone named Uttam Barua, a Buddhist in Bangladesh. Consequently, angry mob have ransacked some monasteries. There are rumors that Barua may have been a foreign agent working for the Myanmar regime to incite such violence. 

In repressive and authoritarian societies where the government controls most outlets of social media, its views define the narratives on most matters. For years, thus, in places like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria it was always those governments that had a tight control on what needed to be fed and consumed for their public. But with the social media like the Internet and Facebook, which could not be controlled by the governments, the general public was no longer willing to digest government narratives on any matter of importance unquestioning. By offering an alternative source of communication, the social media have triggered something like a revolution of the mind, thus, freeing hundreds of millions of people around our globe. Thus, one after another yesterday’s despots were overthrown yielding place to the newly elected democratic leaders. Probably, one of the days not too far from today, other despots like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad would also be removed.

Social media can, however, as already hinted above, be abused spreading lies and deceptions, promoting hatred and intolerance. And we have been witnessing many such abuses of freedom of expression in many western liberal democracies, especially in its treatment of Islam and Muslims in the post-9/11 era.

According to the U.S. government accounts, the tragic event of 9/11 was brought about by terrorists that were linked with OBL’s al-Qaeda. [Note: there are many credible engineering experts who doubt the government narrative on this tragedy.] In spite of Bush Jr.’s announcement that the religion of Islam had nothing to do with this tragedy, it was no less of a person than his own attorney general who would later go on to say that ‘Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for Him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends His son to die for you.’ John Ashcroft is an evangelical Christian and his bias is understandable, although he later indicated that his remarks to Christian columnist Cal Thomas did not “accurately reflect what I believe I said."

Sadly, Ashcroft was not the lone Republican politician in this media campaign against Islam and its adherents. Others like Giuliani, Gingrich, Palin, King and Bachmann joined the hate campaign. Many of these promoters of hatred are individuals with very flawed moral fiber and their views on Islam revealed far more about their own evil selves than anything else. And then there were others -- intimately tied up with the Zionists on the contentious Palestine-Israel debate -- who for their own religious or political beliefs or inclinations jumped on the wagon of intolerance. They became the mouthpieces for the land-grabbing Zionists in Israel. Nine-Eleven for them was a Reichstag Fire moment to launch an all out war against the Muslim world so that not only could Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestine with settlements and dehumanization of the Palestinian people be sanctified the entire Muslim world would be brought down to their knees as a subjugated people. They even planned for redrawing the map of the Muslim world. However, with the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq going wrong, dragging valuable American resources and killing thousands of soldiers, their evil plan had to be shelved.

The intellectual leadership for Islamophobia and intolerance of anything Islamic was provided by some pen-pushing frauds and charlatans who mastered the art of cherry-picking Qur’anic verses out of context to suit their ludicrous theories about Islam. Thus, came disingenuous and greedy guys like Ibn Warraq and others, who basically repackaged the centuries-old missionary polemical writings against Islam to justify Islamophobia and bigotry against Islam. With material support provided by powerful pro-Israeli Americans and Europeans, virtually anyone (or so it seemed) who could ridicule Islam soon became a media celebrity. In the post-9/11 era of Islamophobia, they were to become the new faces of ‘experts’ on Islam. Interestingly, many of these ‘experts’ (including some with Arabic sounding names like Irshad Manji and Ibn Warraq, and other Christian and Jewish zealots like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, respectively) hardly know the language of the Qur’an. But who dare question their expertise on Qur’an and Islam or the Muslim world when they are promoted as experts in media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s TV channels, tabloids, newspapers and magazines, and have powerful advocates like Daniel Pipes and Ann Coulter!

But probably nothing was more sinister in this scheme of things Islamophobic than the Jerusalem Summit, a think tank that was sponsored by Michael Cherney Foundation, which provided the first venue for anti-Muslim zealots (including Hindu and other extremists from countries with records of deep intolerance against their Muslim minorities) around the world to unite on a common agenda in Jerusalem in 2003. The ideology of the Summit was summed up by its four-point declaration: radical Islam is a threat to civilization, the United Nations is a failure, Israel is in need of defense and the war on terrorism is a righteous cause.

Lost in that mendacious campaign are the facts that it is Israel which with its racist Likudnik Zionist leaders is a threat to every Arab neighbor and the entire region, and it is the Palestinians, Iranians and other Arabs who live in the Middle East that need protection against Israeli terrorism, and that when it comes to extremism – no religion has a monopoly there. All the extremists – religious and non-religious alike – are a threat to civilization, and they are the ones who need to be defeated. That is, secular fundamentalists in France and other parts of Europe and the Americas are no better than the Muslim Talibans of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Hindu extremists in India, or the Buddhist extremists in Myanmar and Cambodia, or the Christian extremists in the Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Serbia, or the Christian/Jewish Zionist extremists in much of the western world. As a matter of fact because of the support that many of these non-Muslim extremists (e.g., the likes of Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani of India; Gingrich and Bachmann in the USA, and so on and so forth) enjoy from the government apparatus in their respective countries they are seemingly more dangerous than most Muslim extremists who don’t enjoy such support.

In essence, the neoconservative organizers and participants of the Jerusalem Summit wanted nothing short of a civilization war with the world of Islam. Fear of Islam and its people was exploited as one of the most surreptitious and invisible powers to denigrate the religion of nearly a quarter of humanity and encourage open promotion of intolerance and hatred against Muslims.

It is because of such a common agenda that the limit of freedom of expression to insult Islam is ever pushed to its newer heights where anything and everything to do with Islam is a fair game. Thus, the Danish Cartoons and the recently filmed ‘Innocence of Muslim’ are only part of this long list of hatred and intolerances hurled against the Muslim world. These are meant to provoke Muslims and ultimately bring about a clash of civilizations. They also have powerful backers with links to the citadels of power from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv to Washington D.C. Many of these provocateurs are also criminals who should have been locked up in the prison for the good of the society.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer, who initially went by the pseudonym “Sam Bacile,” is a California-based Coptic Christian who spent two days in jail and received three years of probation after being arrested for “intent to manufacture methamphetamine” in 1997, and was convicted on federal bank fraud charges in 2010. In recent days he has been arrested for parole violations. He is affiliated with Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, another Egyptian American Coptic Christian.  Abdelmasih owns the Media for Christ, a Christian nonprofit organization, based in Duarte, California, which took out a film permit for the production of Desert Warriors that was to later become the highly offensive video/movie ‘Innocence of Muslim.’ Abdelmasih also own The Way TV, a TV network established in 2005 that includes a talk show hosted by Steve Klein, who has said he was one of the consultants on Innocence of Muslims.

Klein is also allied with the National American Coptic Assembly, a radical Islamophobic group that is headed by Morris Sadek, an American Egyptian Copt. Sadek maintains links with Terry Jones (of the Burn the Qur’an controversy) who also promoted the film. Sadek is a supporter of Brigitte Gabriel’s (an extremist Maronite Christian) ACT! for America

Abdelmasih is no stranger to controversy and has spoken at anti-Muslim rallies organized by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group SIOA and has partnered in projects with Steve Klein and Gary Cass. He participated in the 2010 anti-mosque rally at Ground Zero, Manhattan, NY, that was sponsored by anti-Muslim bigots Geller and Spencer, and received media coverage at the event. He is described as a devout Christian who attends a Jews for Jesus worship service on weekdays and a regular church service on Sundays. He is also an active supporter of Israel and travels to Washington each July to work with a group led by evangelist John Hagee of CUFI to lobby Congress for support of Israel.

The published reports also show that Klein, Abdelmasih, and Gary Cass are partners in an anti-Muslim student outreach effort titled 911 Defend Our Students, which has included handing out fliers to students as they leave their schools.  

The interested readers may like to read articles compiled and posted by Sheila Musaji of The American Muslim  who has done an excellent job in identifying major players in the anti-Muslim film.

Suffice it to say that Justin Raimondo’s (of the speculation about an Israeli connection behind at least some of these anti-Muslim hate films cannot be overlooked.

These hatemongering provocateurs ought to know that like anything in our world there is always a limit to freedom. With freedom comes responsibility. When their fists hit someone’s nose it is an abuse of that freedom to stretch arms. Freedom cannot be a tool to promote hatred and intolerance against anyone, and much less against a religious community. Government cannot shy away from its responsibility to punish the abusers of such freedom that breed hatred and lead to violence, which can result in the deaths of innocent human beings.

In recent months, we have witnessed quite a few of such demonstrations of hatred against Muslims in the Internet, the Facebook and the YouTube. What is interesting is that some of these social media sites had clear guidelines against promoting intolerance. However, when it came to insulting Islam and Muslims, none of those guidelines seemed to matter, and those sites did not feel obligated to remove such offensive postings. What a double standard!

During the early days of latest extinction campaign against the Rohingyas of Myanmar, I was simply shocked to see an overabundance of highly inflammatory and offensive pictures and racist remarks posted by Rakhine and Burmese Buddhists that were sure to pain most Muslims. I pondered how could any person live with so much hatred against a fellow human being? After all, hatred is taught and no one is born hating anyone. Who have been teaching the Buddhist Rakhines and Burmese to hate non-Buddhists? As I know better, in societies where such evils are promoted, it is no longer an individual act but rather a national project in which others are willing partners in such crimes.

As I hinted earlier, authoritarian regimes use government controlled media to manufacture and spread their lies. They can act as the ultimate architect of genocide or crimes against humanity. For years, within what was Burma, and known these days by the name Myanmar, propagation of hatred against the Rohingyas, who are ethnically and religiously different than the majority Buddhists, has been part of the government campaign. Falsely depicted as outsiders, land- and job-stealers, the Rohingyas have been robbed of their citizenship in the land of their forefathers, and they have been dehumanized to such an extent that no one dare say anything to restore their legitimate rights in this Buddhist majority country. An open display of racism and bigotry thus became a norm rather than an exception.

The rape and grisly murder of a Buddhist woman was exploited as what had triggered the ‘race riot.’ However, as Dr. Maung Zarni, an expert on Myanmar, has recently mentioned there was no trace of rape on that murdered Rakhine woman – Thida Htwe; and that one of the so-called perpetrators of the crime Htet Htet (who was later declared dead in his prison cell) was a Buddhist. And yet, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information which micro-manages all official publications and broadcasts went on to characterize incorrectly the three perpetrators as ‘Muslims.’

The military regime has often been the greatest perpetrator of such hateful crimes and then blamed others to incite race riots. I won’t be surprised if we, one day, learn that the local government officials and security forces in the Rakhine state were the architects of this gruesome murder to incite Rakhine violence against unarmed Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.

As a result of this targeted pogrom, thousands of Muslim owned homes, businesses, shops, schools and mosques have been burned down and destroyed; nearly a hundred thousand of the Rohingyas continue to live without a shelter. No Muslims are now noticeable in places like Akyab, the capital city. As I write their historic Jam-e Mosque is torched by a Rakhine mob; and this, in spite of the government imposition of the Section 144, which bans all movements of 5 or more people in groups. While the Rakhines are allowed to roam around and burn Rohingya homes, all the homeless Rohingyas are caged in camps with no freedom to go out. Denied adequate food, many are starving to death as a result of this extinction campaign. As to the casualty, we may never know the number of deaths. Myanmar regime won’t share that information. None of the perpetrators of the ten Tablighi Muslims has yet been arrested while it is widely known that some 300 or so of the armed Rakhines attacked them in front of police and security forces. It is no accident that human rights activists have called the latest campaign as part of a wider ethnic cleansing campaign that started since the time of Ne Win in 1962.

Can the provocateurs of hatred and intolerance be taught to love their targets or objects of hatred? Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  I wish Mandela is right.

Hatred and intolerance are unacceptable. They are like cancers and need to be routed out one way or another. If unbridled freedom promotes such cancers, a society is probably better off controlling its deadly spread through painful radiation therapy before it is too late.