Monday, December 31, 2018

BBC latest report on the results from Bangladesh election

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured her third consecutive term with a landslide victory in Bangladesh's national election.
Her party and its allies won almost all of the 300 parliamentary seats contested, in its best ever result.
But the opposition alliance, which won just seven seats, condemned the vote as "farcical", marred by violence, intimidation and vote rigging claims.
Election authorities said there could be no re-run.
Although the election commission earlier said it had heard vote-rigging allegations from "across the country" and would investigate, the commissioner said voting had been held in a peaceful manner and hence there would be no new vote.
Bangladesh's parliament has 350 seats in total, 50 of which are reserved for women and allotted proportional to the overall vote.
"We urge the election commission to void this farcical result immediately," opposition leader Kamal Hossain said on Sunday.
"We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible."
At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between ruling party supporters and the opposition.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

BBC report on Bangladesh election

Bangladesh's opposition has condemned what it has called a "farcical" election and demanded a new vote.
PM Sheikh Hasina is heading for a fourth term with a huge majority that continues to grow as results come in.
But there have been claims of vote-rigging, and a BBC correspondent saw filled ballot boxes at a polling centre before polls opened.
"We urge the election commission to void this farcical result immediately," opposition leader Kamal Hossain said.
"We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible."
The Bangladesh Election Commission told Reuters news agency that it had heard vote-rigging allegations from "across the country" and would investigate.
At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between ruling party supporters and the opposition.

What are the allegations?

Sheikh Hasina's Awami League has run Bangladesh since 2009, but one of the leading opposition parties has accused it of using stuffed ballot boxes.
A spokesman for the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) alleged there were "irregularities" in 221 of the 300 seats being contested.
Soon before polls opened, a BBC correspondent saw filled ballot boxes at a polling centre in the port city of Chittagong. The presiding officer declined to comment.
Only ruling party polling agents were present at that and several other polling centres in the second-largest city of the country.
At least 28 candidates from the main opposition alliance withdrew before polling closed, alleging vote rigging and intimidation.
Activists, observers and the opposition party had warned that the vote would not be fair, but the governing party accused the opposition of peddling false claims.
Ms Hasina told the BBC on Friday: "On the one hand, they are placing allegations. On the other hand, they are attacking our party workers, leaders. That is the tragedy in this country."

'Too scared to speak out'

Yogita Limaye, BBC News, Dhaka
As we went from polling booth to polling booth, one pattern became clear. People who were supporters of Prime Minister Hasina's party were vocal, and happy to answer our questions on camera, about what issues they'd voted on. The others were mostly too scared to speak out.
One man told us that several members of his extended family found that their votes had already been cast when they went to the polling booth. He said he didn't think it was a fair election but didn't want to be identified
It wasn't hard to see why he felt intimidated. Outside every polling booth we went to, there were dozens of workers from the prime minister's party, listening intently when anyone was interviewed. No-one from the opposition parties was visible.
While the election commission has said it will investigate claims of vote-rigging, the organisation has itself been accused of bias by the opposition.
So far, the prime minister has not responded to these latest allegations but two days ago rejected claims the election was unfair.
It is widely anticipated that her party will win the polls, but it will be a controversial victory.
Presentational grey line

Why was this election important?

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation of more than 160 million people and faces issues ranging from possibly devastating climate change, Islamist militancy, endemic poverty and corruption.
The country has recently been in the international spotlight as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled there from neighbouring Myanmar.
The lead-up to the election saw violence between rival supporters and a crackdown on dissent by a government that critics say has only grown more authoritarian during its 10 years in power.

Who were the contenders?

Sheikh Hasina's long-term rival, Khaleda Zia, was sent to prison on corruption charges earlier this year and barred from competing in the vote, in a case which she claimed was politically motivated.
In Ms Zia's absence, Kamal Hossain, who was previously both an AL minister and Hasina ally, leads the main opposition grouping, the Jatiya Oikya Front, which includes Ms Zia's Bangladesh National Party (BNP).
However, the 81-year-old lawyer, who drew up the country's constitution, did not stand in the election.
The BNP boycotted the last vote in 2014, making Sunday's poll the first to involve all the major parties in 10 years.

The Guardina report on Bangladesh election

The leader of Bangladesh’s opposition alliance has described Sunday’s general election as farcical, saying any outcome would be rejected and demanding that a new vote be held.
At least 17 people were killed during voting in the country’s first contested elections in a decade. Dozens of candidates pulled out of the contest on the day, claiming the ruling Awami League had rigged the vote to secure a record third consecutive term for the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.
“We call upon the election commission to declare this farcical election void and demand a fresh election under a neutral government,” said Kamal Hossain, who coordinates an alliance of opposition parties that was hoping to unseat Hasina.
The opposition alliance would hold a meeting on Monday to decide its next move, Hossain said at a news conference a few hours after voting closed. Early results showed Hasina’s party heading for a large majority.
Members of opposing parties clashed throughout election day, which followed a violent seven-week campaign marred by attacks on candidates and journalists and the mass arrest of opposition activists.
At least eight people died in scuffles between party workers, and police shot another three, including an opposition activist who allegedly tried to attack a polling station in the southern town of Bashkhali. A member of an auxiliary security force was also killed by activists from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), police alleged.
Salahuddin Ahmed, a BNP candidate from Dhaka, was stabbed while he was moving around in his constituency. Police said the circumstances of the attack were not yet clear.
The electorate of more than 100 million voters, a third of them younger than 30, were asked to deliver its verdict on the decade-long rule of Hasina, 71, who has overseen record economic growth but undermined the country’s democratic institutions. The result is expected by Monday morning.
The capital Dhaka was largely deserted after many workers returned to their villages to cast their votes and vehicles were banned for everyone except journalists and election observers. About 600,000 security personnel were deployed across the country to maintain order.
Authorities shut down 3G and 4G phone services to contain the spread of what they called propaganda. Opposition activists said the measure also prevented them from reporting any irregularities in voting.
“I’m getting text messages of forged voting, illegal ballot staffing from this morning every single minute,” Hossain said earlier in the day. “This is an absolute disgrace to our democracy.”
The Guardian was denied access to three polling stations in Dhaka about 30 minutes after voting closed at 4pm, told by presiding officers that the ballots had already been counted.
Bangladesh’s election commission told Reuters it was investigating allegations of vote-rigging coming from across the country. “Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation,” said SM Asaduzzaman, a spokesman for the commission. “If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules.”
Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wazed, said the election had passed off largely peacefully except for a few isolated incidents. “Yet opposition increase false allegations of irregularities,” he wrote on Twitter. “Trying controversy as opinion polls show landslide for governing party.”
Opposition groups said the campaign leading up to Sunday had been the most repressed in the country’s 47-year history. They claim more than 8,200 people opposed to Hasina were arrested and more than 12,000 injured.
Hasina is already Bangladesh’s longest-serving prime minister. A credible win would indicate voters are willing to tolerate the erosion of public institutions and their civil rights in exchange for relative political stability and economic growth that has led to a tripling in the country’s annual GDP.
Hasina, most of whose family were killed in a military coup in 1974, has argued that human rights are a peripheral concern to most Bangladeshis and that rural people in particular are more concerned about food and jobs, which she says her government has delivered.
“I believe that people will cast their votes in favour of Awami League to continue the pace of development,” Hasina told reporters in Dhaka after casting her vote. She has said warnings of rampant human rights abuses issued by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are exaggerations intended to draw funding.
Shahedul Anam Khan, a retired brigadier general and opinion columnist, wrote: “Democracy and development [have been] made to appear mutually exclusive, with the ruling party members and MPs going to the extent of rooting for development at the cost of democracy.”
Despite healthy economic numbers, analysts say inequality has widened and labour surveys show 35% of people aged between 20 and 29 are not working or studying. The Centre for Policy Dialogue, a thinktank, says corruption during Hasina’s term has cost the country more than $2.5bn.
Opposition groups have formed an alliance headed by Hossain, 82, an Oxford-educated lawyer who helped write the constitution and was a close associate of Hasina’s father, Mujibur Rahman.
Hossain said Hasina had changed while in power. “The urge for power can make someone who’s human into something less than human,” he told the Associated Press in an interview.
He has had to distance himself from some elements of the coalition, including former members of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party banned from contesting the polls since 2013, after the high court declared its beliefs were contrary to the secularist principles of the constitution.
The BNP, the most powerful force in the coalition, was accused of perpetrating human rights abuses during its most recent five-year term in power, which ended in 2009. Rights groups, however, say Hasina’s clampdown on dissent has been more systematic and effective. The BNP’s leader, Khaleda Zia, is in prison after being convicted twice this year of corruption.
The BNP’s secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, said on Sunday that a win for the opposition was inevitable if the election was free and fair.

Al Jazeera report on Bangladesh Election

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League (AL) party won Sunday's parliamentary election, according to unofficial results reported by local media, after the main opposition alliance rejected the violence-marred polls.
Within hours of the counting of the votes, Bangladesh's ruling party surged ahead - an outcome the opposition alliance had feared.
In a hurriedly called news conference on Sunday night, the leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front - the main opposition alliance - dubbed the election "farcical".
READ MORE

Ten years of Sheikh Hasina: 'Development minus democracy'

"We reject the farcical election and want the election commission to hold a fresh election under a non-partisan administration," said Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old jurist who wrote the country's secular constitution.
According to unofficial results reported by local TV networks, the ruling party had won 281 seats. A party needs 151 seats to form a government.
The Bangladeshi Nationalist Party-led alliance (BNP) managed to win just six seats out of 300 up for grabs in the 350-member parliament, or Jatiya Sangshad. Fifty seats are reserved for women.
Out of the 27 results announced, the ruling Grand Alliance won 21 while one seat went to the opposition, according to the election commission. The final results are likely to be announced by the election commission on Monday.

Fourth term 

Hasina, who has headed the AL since 1981, went into the polls on the back of a decade of impressive GDP growth and booming garment exports. Bangladesh is the world's second-largest exporter of garments after China.
The 71-year-old leader is set for a record fourth term in office in the South Asian Muslim-majority nation of 160 million.
The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters.
Ali Riaz, professor at Illinois University
She has been applauded for hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh after fleeing a brutal military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar.
But critics have accused Hasina of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition. Her bitter political rival and leader of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, 73, is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.
Opposition alliance accused Hasina's party of using stuffed ballot boxes [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]
Voting in the capital, Dhaka, was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets, where most traffic was banned.
At least 17 people were killed across the country in clashes between members of rival parties on Sunday despite the deployment of around 600,000 security personnel to prevent violence.
More than 40 opposition candidates pulled out of the election after polls opened, citing vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, according to the Daily Star.
The opposition claimed thousands of its activists were arrested in the lead-up to the polls.
"We are getting disturbing reports outside Dhaka that overnight votes have been cast illegally," said Hossain of Jatiya Oikya Front.

'A travesty of an election'

Ali Riaz, professor at the department of politics and government at Illinois State University in the US, said: "It was a travesty of an election".
"What happened throughout the country, polling centre by centre, from driving out the polling agents to ballot stuffing, can't be called an election, let alone a credible election.
"The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters," Riaz told Al Jazeera over the phone.
READ MORE

Bangladesh elections 2018: What you need to know

The elections commission, which has yet to announce the voter turnout rate, said it would investigate allegations of vote rigging.
"Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation," SM Asaduzzaman, spokesperson for the elections commission told Reuters news agency. 

"If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules."
Later, the election commission suspended voting at 22 centres across the country.
Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, joint secretary-general of the BNP, the main party in the opposition alliance, called the election a "mockery".
But Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint secretary-general of the ruling party, said he was satisfied with Sunday's vote.
"We are happy with the way the vote turned out. I believe Awami League will gain an absolute victory," he said.
About 104 million people were registered to vote in the country's 11th general election.
Additional reporting by Saqib Sarker from Dhaka
SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

Being Mindful and Getting Focused in a Hyper-Connected World

By Habib Siddiqui

 
Today we live in a hyper-connected world where we are continuously distracted by our thoughts and technological comforts. It is rare for one to have their mind in the present 100% of the time. In fact, on average we spend 41% of our time with our mind lost in our thoughts – thinking about the future and the past – but rarely the current moment. Additionally, the social-feed gadgets we have – from our cell phones and computers to the television(s) we keep in our living rooms and bedrooms add to distract us from focusing on the present. Do you know that a single distraction can take more than 21 minutes to delink its effect from the immediate task at hand? This continuous bombardment of information or distraction hinders us from being productive and getting the most out of each moment.

How can we be more in control over our wandering minds and be focused? How can we become more mindful in all aspects of our lives - spiritual and temporal? That is where the practice of exercising mindfulness (or in the Islamic context - muraqabah) can help train our minds to become more disciplined and can thereby enhance our productivity whether it is with daily worship or other activities.

Mindfulness linguistically means “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something,” and more specifically, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.”

According to the American Psychological Association, numerous peer-reviewed studies show that mindfulness practices (such as relaxation or meditation) help to reduce stress, boost memory, enhance focus and concentration, decrease emotional reactivity, and improve personal relationships. Mindfulness practices also promote empathy and compassion [Justin Parrott, An Exercise in Islamic Meditation, Nov. 2017].

In Islam, the five compulsory daily prayers are meant for taking the time out from busy schedules, thus freeing the mind from worldliness and all its worries and concerns, thereby putting the trust in Allah (God) as the Rabb (Lord) that He would take care of his/her needs and problems. A Muslim in a state of muraqabah knows that Allah is Aware of him or her, both inwardly and outwardly. It is a complete state of vigilant self-awareness in one’s relationship with Allah in heart, mind, and body. The basis of muraqabah is our knowledge that Allah is always watching us at all time and, as a consequence, we develop greater attention and care for our own actions, thoughts, feelings, and inner states of being. As Allah says, “Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.” [Qur’an 2:235]

Imams Ibn Al-Qayyim and Al-Ghazali both have chapters in their books about the merits and realities of muraqabah, which is the realization of the supreme character trait, spiritual excellence (al-ihsan). As the Prophet (S) defined in the famous hadith of Gabriel, spiritual excellence “is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you.” [Bukhari]

The fruit of muraqabah, aside from the reward of eternal Paradise in the Hereafter, is a state of tranquil calm (al-sakinah) leading to contentment in this life.

The Virtue of Silence and Seclusion

A famous proverb says, “Silence is golden.” Silence (al-samt) is the preferred default state of being, according to the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (S), “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or remain silent.” [Bukhari]

Silence has an important effect on our hearts and character.

Silence is related to muraqabah in that observing silence in seclusion for a regular period of time cultivates presence, the mind’s quiet awareness of here and now. Abu Bakr al-Farisi was asked about the silence of one’s innermost being (samt al-sirr) and he said, “It is to abandon preoccupation with the past and the future.” [Al-Risālah Al-Qushayrīyah, 1:247.]  Only during silent reflection or mindfulness exercise can one be present in the moment without worrying about what is past or future or elsewhere in creation. It is an opportunity to nourish presence before Allah the same way we are required to be in ritual prayer. There is definitely an appropriate time to think about the past or the future—to learn from our mistakes, to plan action, to live daily life, and to reflect on our fate. However, the point of learning to be present in silence is to limit our thoughts on the past or future only to what is necessary and beneficial – otherwise we risk living excessively in a time other than the now.

In this regard, let us be reminded by some wise sayings:

The Messenger of Allah (S) advised Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA), “Young boy, let me teach you a few words and Allah, the Most Exalted, will bless you if you would live up to them. (1) Constantly be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him Omnipresent.  (2) Recognize Allah’s blessings when you are in comfort, and He will provide for you when you face hardships. (3) If you were to ask for anything, then ask only of Allah.  (4) If you needed a helper, seek only the help of Allah. (5) The divine pen of destiny has already dried up after it has written the divine decree confirming the divine primordial knowledge of what will happen. The world is an abode of affliction and trial, not a place of rest and repose.  Hence, even if the entire creation assembles to give you something that Allah did not allot for you, they cannot give it to you. (6) Similarly, even if the entire creation assembles to prevent you from receiving something that Allah has allotted for you they cannot withhold it from you. (7) Therefore, devote your deeds solely to Allah and offer them with contentment, full conformity and conviction. (8) Understand that there are ample benefits if you can exercise patience towards what you dislike. (9) Victory comes with perseverance in patience. (10) The gateway to safety and comfort is wide open during adversities.  (11) And finally, realize that ample access to happiness is present even during most difficulties. [Hilyat’ul Awliya Wa Tabaqat’ul Asfiya: Al-Zuhri (R)]

“Where is the room here for joy and gladness?

To be mindful of God in every condition is then the key to salvation.”

- Khwajah 'Abdallah Ansari (R) [Intimate Conversations with God (Munajat), tr. Wheeler M. Thackston, Paulist Press, NY (1978)]

Seclusion for worship is the close companion of silence. Seclusion, properly practiced, is ultimately a cure for bad feelings in the heart, as Ibn al-Qayyim said, “In the heart are disorders that cannot be remedied but by responding to Allah, in it is a desolate feeling that cannot be removed but by intimacy with Him in solitude (khalwah).” [Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah, Muḥammad ibn Abi Bakr. Madarij Al-Salikin Bayna Manazil Iyaka Na’budu Wa Iyaka Nasta’in]

Meditation in Islam

Meditation can be done in many ways and for many purposes. For some, it is simply a means of calming relaxation and stress relief, a way of slowing down their thoughts. Others meditate by intensely contemplating an idea or focusing their attention on God or something else.

Ibn Al-Qayyim has provided one of the best and most concise explanations of the many meanings of “meditation” in Islam. He states that an integral part of our preparation for the Hereafter is by “reflecting (tafakkur), remembering (tadhakkur), examining (nathr), meditating (ta’amul), contemplating (i’tibar), deliberating (tadabbur), and pondering (istibsar).” Each of these words represents different shades of mental activity that can be considered forms of meditation. There is considerable overlap in meaning among all of them, but there are subtle differences as well. Ibn Al-Qayyim continues:

It is called ‘reflection’ because in that is the utilization of thought and its procurement during it. It is called ‘remembrance’ because it is the fetching of knowledge which must be considered after being distracted or absent from it… It is called ‘meditation’ because it is repeatedly examining again and again until it becomes evident and uncovered in one’s heart. It is called ‘contemplation’—taking lessons—because one takes a lesson from it to apply elsewhere… It is called ‘deliberation’ because it is examining the conclusion of matters, their endings and consequences, and deliberating on them. [Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Miftāḥ Dār Al-Sa’ādah, 1:182]

All of these types of Islamic meditation involve some form of remembering or awareness of Allah, the purpose of which is to purify the heart of evil feelings and the mind from evil thoughts. Every human soul is like a mirror that is polished by mindfulness or tarnished by unmindfulness. A person cannot think about Allah and the world at the same time; it is one or the other. Too much unnecessary thought upon the world weakens our overall mindfulness.

Accordingly, we should make a quiet time for reflection upon Allah and the Hereafter every day, as a means of increasing our mindfulness of His presence, gratitude for His many favors, and to prepare for the life to come.

Reading the Qur’an itself, which has been named “the Remembrance” (Al-Dhikr), is one of the most powerful and rewarding forms of meditation. Imam Al-Ghazali recommends for us to engage in four distinct daily spiritual practices (al-watha’if al-arba’ah): supplication (dua’), remembrance (dhikr), recitation of the Qur’an (qira’at), and contemplation (fikr). [al-Ghazzālī, Iḥyā’ ’Ulūm Al-Dīn, 1:337]

Dhikr is certainly genuine mindfulness, because it is mindfulness of the Divine (Allah), who is the One, the True Reality.  It is through the struggle for abundant and plentiful dhikr that that heart or qalb gradually becomes fully involved in dhikr. Allah says: Truly, it is with Allah’s remembrance that hearts find their tranquillity (13:28)

As to dhikr, Imam Ghazzali advices that the worshiper should sit in seclusion, empty his/her heart of all concerns, and “not scatter his thoughts with the recitation of the Qur’an, nor pondering over its explanation, nor with books of hadith, nor anything else; rather, he/she strives to let no thought enter his mind besides Allah the Exalted.” The worshiper does so to instill “presence of the heart” until “his heart is diligent in remembrance.”  

Allah said, “We created man—We know what his soul whispers to him.” [Surat Qaf 50:16] Thoughts also originate from an external source, the whisperings (al-waswasah) of a devil or an angel.

The Prophet (S) recited the verse, “Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and commands you to do foul deeds; God promises you His forgiveness and abundance.” [Surat al-Baqarah 2:268]

Ali (RA) said, "I have selected twelve teachings from the Book of Allah, and I remind myself with these thrice every day.  These are: Allah says, 'O men:

(i) You should never fear either Satan or any ruler, as long as you live under My dominion.

(ii) You should never worry about your rizk (provisions) as long as you find My world full of such provisions. And truly My provisions never end.

(iii) Whenever you are in need, you will always find Me, because it is I who provide everything, material and spiritual.

(iv) I have befriended you.  So befriend Me.

(v) Do not be unmindful of Me as long as long as you have not crossed the bridge…’”

[For the entire quotation, read this author’s book: Wisdom of Mankind, available in amazon.com]

Justin Parrott suggests the steps below that one can follow towards ‘Mindfulness Exercise in Islam’.

1.      To begin, choose a time of the day when you can be in a quiet place alone. Some Muslims prefer the time before the dawn prayer (fajr) or another prayer, before or after work, at lunch break, or even before bed.

2.      Next, choose a posture that you find comfortable.

3.      Now, begin by focusing awareness on your natural breathing. Progressively relax the muscle tension throughout your body: your arms, your legs, your core, your jaw. You can close your eyes or simply lower them. As you start with relaxed breathing, feel for a sense of your state of heart and mind in this moment. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? Is your mind racing or calm? Try to settle your mind by bringing awareness to your natural, relaxed breathing, simply feeling the life and energy Allah gave you throughout your body. Feel a deep sense of gratitude to Allah for your breath, your living and being in this moment.

4.      As you settle into stillness within your inner space, begin to perceive the feeling of muraqabah with Allah. Know and feel that He is watching you, “He is with you wherever you are. [Sūrat al-Ḥadīd 57:4] He knows everything going on inside you right now and at all times. Focus on the feeling of muraqabah in this state of inner silence (samt al-sirr). Try to stop talking to yourself (hadith al-nafs) or pursuing trains of thought. Silence your inner dialogue as much as you can and simply focus on being present with Allah in the moment.

5.      When your mind starts to wander off—and it surely will—you want to bring your awareness back to the center of your being, and to your presence in this moment before Allah, by quietly reciting remembrances of Allah. “Two words are beloved to the Most Merciful, light on the tongue but heavy on the scale: Glory and praise to Allah (subhan Allahi wa bi hamdih), and glory to Allah Almighty (subhan Allahi al-‘Athim).” [Bukhari] And again, “The best remembrance is to declare there is no God but Allah (la ilhaha illa Allah), and the best supplication is to declare all praise is due to Allah (al-hamdulillah).” [Sunan al-Tirmizi]  Seeking the forgiveness of Allah (al-istighfar) was one of the Prophet’s (S) anchors, so nothing could be better. Your anchor could also be just one of the beautiful names of Allah that elicit remembrance and awareness in your heart, or you could use all of the above in combination.

6.      The best mindfulness exercise session is the one you completed, period. No matter how long your mind spent in unmindfulness, every time you brought it back to muraqabah it became stronger and stronger.

Fruits of Mindfulness Exercise


If you make this simple practice a regular habit, you will see positive results that accumulate over time. You will notice that having presence in prayer becomes easier and more natural than before. You will be able to better relieve stress and attain calming relaxation, better focus your attention when needed, have an easier time dealing with life’s difficult moments, and experience more compassion with others. Your anchor (remembrance or supplication) in the exercise can be used at any time to bring you back into a state of muraqabah, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

One of the most important results of the practice will be in the way we gain a measure of control over our thoughts and emotions. As we become more aware of our feelings, we become more aware of our negative triggers in order to avoid them, as well as putting a buffer zone between us and our feelings that gives us time to react in the right manner, such as remembering to seek refuge in Allah when angry instead of reflexively shouting at others or doing something rash that we will regret later.

Furthermore, we will inevitably experience desires and urges to commit sins. But the more mindful we become of our inner states, the better we will become at disassociating ourselves from our lower desires and instead acting upon our virtuous, higher desires. The habit of referring back to our anchor (remembrance or supplication) gives us just enough breathing room to confidently say “no” to the self’s or the devil’s evil suggestions.

Conclusion


Mindfulness in Islam (al-muraqabah) is a conscious state of comprehensive awareness of Allah and our inner states in relation to Him. In its complete form, it is the highest spiritual state attainable—the perfect realization of excellence in faith (al-ihsan). Modern science has demonstrated the efficacy of mindfulness exercises in procuring a number of health and wellness benefits, even in a non-religious context.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Muslim man: Yemeni Americans suing Trump

Muslim Ban: Meet the Yemeni Americans Suing Trump in an Attempt to Reunite with Loved Ones


This Week on CounterPunch Radio
Yanis Varoufakis

  • HOST: Eric Draitser
  • GUEST: Yanis Varoufakis
  • TOPICS: The state of global affairs.

Trump vs. Mattis: Beware When Men of War Come to the Rescue

By Robert Fisk
When a general popularly known as James “Mad Dog” Mattis abandons a really mad American president, you know something has fallen off the edge in Washington. Since the Roman empire, formerly loyal military chiefs have fled crackpot leaders, and Mattis’s retreat from the White House might have the smell of de Gaulle and Petain about it.
De Gaulle was confronted by an immensely powerful hero of the people – the Lion of Verdun – who was, in his dotage, about to shrug off the sacred alliance with Britain for Nazi collaboration (for which, I suppose, read Putin’s Russia). The decision was made to have nothing to do with Petain, or what Mattis now refers to as “malign actors”. De Gaulle would lead Free France instead.
Mattis has no such ambitions – not yet, at any rate – although there are plenty of Lavals and Weygands waiting to see if Trump chooses one of them for his next secretary of defence. Besides, history should not grant Trump and Mattis such an epic panorama.
After all, no Trump tweet could compare with Petain’s 1916 “We’ll get them!” (“on les aura”) slogan, and the dignified, cold and fastidious de Gaulle would never have lent himself to the rant Mattis embarked upon in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”
And Mattis was happy to “brawl” with the Iranians politically, though equally content to let the Saudis do the fighting for him – in Yemen, at least. In 2017, he chose Saudi Arabia to announce that “everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran.” He even thought that “Iran is not an enemy of Isis”, a statement that demonstrated either ignorance or falsehood. No wonder he later became enamoured of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
But now he has entered a new pantheon. Suddenly the man of war, the US marine general who found it “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot Afghan misogynists and liked “brawling”, has become a peacemaker. He was the restraining hand tugging at the sleeve of the insane Trump, the one man who could stop Nero burning Rome. He was “the sanest of Trump’s national security team”, according to Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. He was “an island of security”, announced Amos Harel in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
All this is part of the querulous school of journalism that believed – after Trump’s insanity was made manifest – that the military could control the man in the lunatic asylum. The idea was that while Trump might set light to the world, those trusty generals, veterans of America’s wars for democracy – Afghanistan and Iraq, to be sure – could protect us all from the ravings of a democratically elected president. It’s a grim and dangerous tale in which we have all colluded, especially the Arabs. Better a General Neguib or a Colonel Nasser than corrupt old King Farouk; much safer a Field Marshal Sissi than an unbalanced Muslim Brotherhood man like Mohamed Morsi; more secure (as it seemed in 1969) with a forward-looking Colonel Gaddafi than an effete King Idris.
For there is something both initially attractive and deeply immoral in the idea that the warlords can turn into saviours – this notion does apply to Petain too, of course – and that those who have shed blood must be uniquely gifted with the ability to make peace or produce a just society. Not for nothing, only three months ago, did Mattis publicise his constant reading of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. “The reason I kept a tattered copy in my rucksack to pull out at times,” he told US military cadets in Virginia, “was it allowed me to look at things with a little distance.” All Americans should read this book, was his message, “especially in Washington DC, with all the political ‘heave and ho’ that I try to keep the department of defence out of.”
But the real message was surely slightly different. The austere philosopher-emperor of second century Rome – who ruled when the empire covered more territory than ever before in its history – believed in a rather bleak world of duty and service and near-agnosticism; in reality far from Mattis’ Catholic upbringing. Marcus Aurelius spent much of his life waging war – including the Roman-Parthian conflict which destroyed Ctesiphon only a few miles from Baghdad – and his son was the blood-boltered Commodus (famously killed by Russell Crowe in Gladiator).
Generals always seem to keep “tattered” copies of the classics in their rucksacks, rather like First World War soldiers. Harold Macmillan lay wounded in a shell hole at Delville Wood, reading Aeschylus’s Prometheus for 12 hours. But Mattis?
His career, so far, seems to have a faint parallel with Ariel Sharon, the notoriously ruthless and vain Israeli general who, after being held “personally” responsible for failing to prevent the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies in 1982, was feted as a peacemaker when he died. Sharon – the “Bulldozer” or the “Butcher” depending on whether you listened to the Israelis or the Arabs – was the most important proponent of the Israeli colonisation project in the West Bank (which only speeded up after his withdrawal of Jewish colonies from Gaza) and ended his days after a stroke sent him into an eight-year coma.
But his death was greeted as that of a potential saviour. He helped to sabotage the 1993 Oslo “peace process”, yet on his death David Cameron was to speak of Sharon’s “brave” decision to achieve peace, while Bill and Hillary Clinton said that it had been “an honour to work with him”. John Kerry talked of how Sharon “sought to bend the course of history towards peace”. Sharon did not, so far as we know, read Marcus Aurelius. But, so we are told, he liked to listen to violin sonatas.
Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, started off in the west – and in its media – as a Palestinian super-terrorist leader in Beirut who, once he joined in the doomed charade of Oslo, became a peacemaker. He who had once drawn the sword, offered the world the gun or the olive branch, and was going to make the lion sit down with the lamb, etc. But once the Americans, especially Bill Clinton, had persuaded everyone that Arafat had rejected the final Camp David “peace offer”, Arafat became, yet again, a super-terrorist, or “Israel’s Bin Laden”. That was Sharon’s description.
And so the PLO leader, hated then loved then hated all over again, endured months under siege in his mock-capital of Ramallah, died in Paris and was refused burial in Jerusalem. Here was a man, surely, whose body must have been turning even before it was laid in his grave. Gaddafi had a similar track-record. A terrorist when he shipped weapons to the IRA, he was kissed by Tony Blair and became a peacemaker, then reverted to being a bloodthirsty tyrant, after which David Cameron and his chums decided to bomb him. He even wrote a preposterous pseudo-philosophical Green Book.
So with all these military folk see-sawing between war and peace, praised as defenders of Israel or “Palestine” or America or Arabism – after holding guns in their hands or olive leaves or copies of the Aurelius Meditations or listening to violin sonatas or reading their own turgid prose – it’s probably a good idea to hold off on generals for a while. We’ve had a flurry of them running for cover from Trump in the past two years, all keen on service and duty and supposedly “restraining” the crackpot-in-chief before they throw in their hand. In the real world, the politicians are supposed to restrain the generals. Not the other way round.

Elections Don’t Make Israel a Democracy


It’s official, Israel is racing towards early elections. But no one is talking about who can vote in them.
New elections were nearly called in November 2017 after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned in protest of Israel not going to war with Gaza and right-wing leader Naftali Bennett threatened to pull his party from the coalition if he was not given the defense portfolio. However, Netanyahu outfoxed Bennett by claiming that it was too dangerous a time to go to elections and retained the defense portfolio for himself (Netanyahu is now Israel’s prime minister, defence minister, and foreign minister), utilizing a slim 51% ruling majority.
Until last week it looked like the coalition would hold together with its small majority. But following the Knesset’s inability to reach agreement on a bill dealing with military conscription of the ultra-orthodox, and, much more importantly, leaked information that the ministry of justice was recommending Netanyahu’s indictment on charges of bribery, on Monday Netanyahu announced “It’s too difficult [to pass laws], we need elections.” With that, the Israeli national election is scheduled to take place on April 9.
Much of the already up and running election coverage is focused on the coming indictment of Netanyahu. Will he be able to stave off the attorney general until April? If he is reelected, will he try to get his coalition partners to pass a measure forbidding the prosecution of a sitting prime minister?
Other election issues under discussion are the certain increase we will see in pandering to settlers. Netanyahu has already begun that.
Absent entirely from the election conversation is the Palestinian population living under Israeli control without voting rights.
20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian. They can vote in all Israeli elections and have representation in Knesset. However, these Israeli Palestinians represent only about one third of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule and military occupation.
Though the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are the official governments of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, Israel is really in charge. Israel controls the borders, the currency, and the central bank. It collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), maintains the right to carry out military operations on Palestinian land, and controls the amount of freedom, or lack thereof, that Palestinians are granted.
Last year, Israel approved only 54% of the permits that residents of Gaza applied for to travel outside of Gaza for vital medical treatment. Reasons for denying people in Gaza necessary medical treatment are often absurd, such as denying travel because a relative at one time moved from Gaza to the West Bank without Israeli permission. Besides the right of travel, Israel regulates the fuel and building materials available to Gazans, and has at times even controlled the amount of food imports according to the number of calories Gazans should consume.
Israel controls not only the exterior borders of the West Bank but what goes on inside as well. While the Palestinian Authority manages such things as utilities and infrastructure, for much of the West Bank, Israel is the ultimate authority.  Israeli settler regional councils control 40% of West Bank land. Even in areas like Ramallah, supposedly under complete Palestinian Authority control, Israel reserves the right to enter the city at any time, to close streets and shops, burst into homes, and make warrantless arrests.
While the PA does maintain a judicial and penal system, one that itself is incredibly repressive, Palestinians are also subject to Israel’s military court system and such laws as Military Order 101, which bans peaceful protest. Though they are prosecuted in Israeli military courts and serve time in Israeli military prisons, Palestinians have no say over who is appointed to run the Israeli military, let alone the military courts.
Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 and formally, and illegally, annexed in 1980. Common sense might follow that Israel would have then absorbed the East Jerusalem Palestinians, now numbering around 370,000, and made them Israeli citizens.
Rather than holding citizenship, however, Jerusalem Palestinians hold the status of permanent residents, allowing them to vote in municipal, but not national, elections. While this may at first seem a move in the right direction, a closer look reveals careful manipulation of demographics to ensure an at least a 70% Jewish majority at all times. Through such policies as exorbitant taxation, requiring constant proof of residency, and denial of family unification, since 1967 Israel has managed to revoke the residency of 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites. Still nervous about the demographics Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset – a body East Jerusalem Palestinians have no representation in – are currently working on annexation of three large settlement blocks surrounding Jerusalem to bring 140,000 Jewish Israelis setters into the municipality, while displacing the current Palestinian population.
Israel has no intention of ending its military occupation. 2019 will mark 52 years of occupation, including 12 years of siege of Gaza, and 26 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords that were supposed to create a Palestinian state. 600,000 Israeli citizens now live in the approximately 200 illegal Israeli settlements that cover the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Even since the announcement of new elections, 2,200 more settlement units have been advanced. While the two-state solution continues to be debated, the one apartheid state without voting rights for all, is barreling ahead.
A look at who is and isn’t allowed to vote in Israel/Palestine reveals Israel’s motivations:
Number of Jewish Israelis living in Israel proper, and East Jerusalem, and West Bank settlements:
6.589 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics)
Number of Palestinian citizens of Israel (Palestinians who can vote in national elections):
1.5 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and Jerusalem Municipality)
Number of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza who cannot vote in Israeli national elections:
4.88 million (Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics)
As we continue to watch the indictment and campaigning dramas of Israel’s 2019 elections and we continue to hear the absurd label of Israel as a democratic state, let’s not forget that the right to vote is only granted to 60% of the total population and only one third of Palestinians who live under Israeli rule.
Ariel Gold is the national co-director for CODEPINK. Follow her on Twitter at @arielelysegold

Palestine slams Israel for destroying two-state solution

From Xinhua Agency
RAMALLAH, Dec. 27 (Xinhua) -- The Palestinian Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused Israel of destroying the two-state solution with continued settlement expansion.
The ministry made the comments in a statement in response to the Israeli government's approval of the construction of around 1,500 new settlement units in the West Bank.
Israel's escalation of settlement activity in the Palestinian territory has threatened the peace, and has become a "systematic approach" to destroy the two-state solution, said the ministry.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday that the Israeli Civil Administration has approved the construction of 1,450 settlement units in the West Bank, while at least 13 other new construction plans are pending.
Israeli settlement activity is considered as one of the thorniest issues that have hindered the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since 2014.
The two-state solution, supported by the United Nations, envisages that Israel and an independent state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, live side-by-side in peace and security.

Israel vows to block Palestinian bid to become full UN member

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Israel has vowed to work with the United States to block a bid by the Palestinians for full membership in the United Nations, a move that would confer international recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said Wednesday that he will submit a request next month to the Security Council for full UN membership, according to the official Wafa Palestinian news agency.
"We are preparing to stop the initiative," said Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon in a statement. "The Palestinians pay terrorists and encourage violence yet seek to become a member state of the United Nations."
Danon accused Palestinian leaders of engaging in "destructive policies that have encouraged recent terror attacks" and said he was gearing up to block the initiative "in cooperation with the United States delegation."
Any move by the Palestinians to seek full UN membership will face a veto from the United States at the Security Council, diplomats said.
Under UN rules the General Assembly must approve any request to become a UN member-state, but it must first be submitted to the Security Council.
To win the council's approval, the Palestinians would have to secure nine votes from the 15 members and no veto from any of the five permanent members: Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.
The Palestinian foreign minister said he plans to travel to New York next month to personally submit the request. It remains unclear whether the application would quickly be put to a vote at the Security Council.
- New council members back Palestine -
UN diplomats said the Palestinian move to seek full UN membership comes as South Africa and Indonesia, two strong supporters of the Palestinians, are set to take their seats as non-permanent Security Council members.
The council is tentatively scheduled to hold its monthly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on January 22.
The Palestinians were granted the status of UN non-member observer state in 2012, a decision taken by the General Assembly where no member-state holds veto power.
The United States voted against that resolution, in line with its long-standing view that there should be no international recognition for the Palestinians until progress is made in peace efforts with Israel.
That view has hardened under President Donald Trump's administration, which has cut off aid to the Palestinians and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, overriding Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.
Asked for a comment, the US mission to the United Nations said it was unable to respond due to the US government shutdown.
The Trump administration is preparing to roll out, possibly in early 2019, its much-awaited peace proposals for the Middle East -- although Israeli elections scheduled for April could once again delay that plan.
About 137 countries out the UN's 193 member-states recognize some form of Palestinian statehood.

Saudi reshuffle

Riyadh (AFP)
King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered a major government reshuffle Thursday, replacing the ministers of foreign affairs and information, a royal decree said.
The shake up comes as the kingdom grapples with international outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a scandal that has tipped Riyadh into one of its worst international crises.
Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister, will replace Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister, the decree said.
Jubeir was demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, it added.
Turki al-Shabanah was appointed as the new minister of information, replacing Awwad al-Awwad -- who was named as an advisor to the royal court.
Turki al-Sheikh, a close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was removed as the head of the kingdom's sports commission and named entertainment authority chief.
The fallout over Khashoggi's murder is widely seen as the kingdom's worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.
The critic's killing has tainted the image of 33-year-old Prince Mohammed -- the de facto ruler and heir apparent -- even though the kingdom strongly denies he was involved.
But so far it has not threatened to unseat the prince, who has effectively neutered his political rivals and tightened his grip on military and security agencies.
After the reshuffle, Prince Mohammed is set to maintain his political and security posts, including that of defence minster.

Iraqi MPs Demand Withdrawal of US Troops

Jason Ditz       
President Trump’s surprise visit to Iraq has brought the issue of a continued, long-term US military presence in the country back into focus, and Iraqi MPs have rallied in an unusual show of unity against the US troops.

MPs from both ruling and opposition blocs in parliament are united in calls for an extraordinary session to debate the matter, saying that the question of US violations of Iraqi sovereignty must be answered.

While a lot of the immediate backlash seems to be related to Trump cancelling his visit with the Iraqi PM over a disagreement on location, the ruling bloc and its leader Moqtada al-Sadr have long spoken out about the need for Iraq to get out from under the domination of foreign powers and seek a more independent future.

Qais Khazali, the head of the power Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, expressed confidence that parliament would vote to expel US forces from Iraq. Failing that, he warned, the militias would force them out “by other means.”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Trump’s Big Pullout


It is significant that US President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw his troops from Syria. The 14thDecember decision was followed immediately by another announcement by the President to pull out a sizeable number of soldiers from Afghanistan where the US has been involved in a war for the last 17 years — the longest war in its history.
Both the decisions, especially the one on Syria, have been condemned by a lot of US Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. They feel that the decisions undermine the US’s role as a global power. US allies such as Britain and France have also criticised the pull-outs. By getting out of Syria in particular, the US has made it easier for certain powers from within and without the region to exert even more influence over the politics of that country and that of its neighbours to the detriment of the West. Most of the international media argue that US success in fighting the terrorists in Syria which Trump cited as the reason for the withdrawal will be rendered meaningless in no time since terrorist cells are still alive and capable of striking at civilians. In the case of Afghanistan, the US cut-back, the media contends, will expedite the Taliban’s goal of gaining total control over the country.
Conventional wisdom suggests that whether or not the US is around the Taliban will emerge victorious sooner than later. If anything, the US military presence — a foreign power on Afghan soil — has enhanced the Taliban’s reputation as a resistance force among the ordinary people. The eventual total withdrawal of the 16,000 US soldiers will allow the Afghan people themselves to determine their future which will be influenced to some extent at least by Afghanistan’s important neighbours, Pakistan, Iran, China, India and Russia.
If we now turn to the situation in Syria, we would realise that the US role in combating terrorism was limited. The Syrian Army, with the backing of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian militias and the Russian military were primarily responsible for the defeat of the multitude of terrorist outfits in the country between 2012 and 2017. Indeed, there is more than enough evidence to show that some of the more prominent terrorist outfits were in different times and in different circumstances aided and abetted by institutions and organisations associated with the US, Britain and France and countries in the region such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. They provided financial assistance, military training and critical intelligence, apart from establishing regional and global networks to buttress the activities of the terrorists.
Viewed against this backdrop, the end of the US military operation in Syria may well accelerate efforts within the country to bring about much needed constitutional and political reforms which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had tried to initiate in 2001. In formulating these reforms, he will have to work closely with his allies, Iran and Russia. But at the end of the day it is the Syrian people themselves who will determine the destiny of their historically and culturally rich nation.
Suppressing the independence and sovereignty of the Syrian nation — and not combatting terrorism – was the real reason behind the active intervention and involvement of numerous actors from within and without the region in the 7 year Syrian conflict.  Simply put, the aim was to oust Bashar, the protector of Syrian sovereignty, to achieve regime change in pursuit of the US-Israeli agenda of perpetuating their hegemony. Trump realised even before he became President that he would not be able to achieve this. Hence, his troop withdrawal.
This should not give us the impression that Trump is in any way opposed to US-Israeli hegemony. His staunchly pro-Israel policy; his intimate relationship with the Saudi elite; his military support for the Saudi-led war on the people of Yemen; his aggressive stance against Venezuela and his lukewarm attitude towards Cuba; his perpetuation of sanctions against Russia stemming from US policy on Crimea and the Ukraine; and his trade war against China aimed at curbing its economic dynamism all seem to indicate that he believes in flexing US power on the global stage. Besides, under Trump US military expenditure has remained high at 610 billion dollars in 2017.
What are the real reasons then that persuaded Trump to act the way he did on Syria and Afghanistan?  In both countries the prospect of imminent defeat was a factor that influenced Trump’s decision. More than that was the financial cost of war in the two countries. It is estimated that the Syrian war would cost the US 15.3 billion dollars in 2019. The figures are even more staggering for Afghanistan. With 16,000 troops in the country, the war costs the US taxpayer 45 billion dollars a year. Between 2010 and 2012 when the US had 100,000 troops on the ground, the Afghan war cost a 100 billion a year.
Will some future analyst conclude that in withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, Donald Trump acted on his well-honed business instincts?