Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The $55 trillion question

From: http://www.cnn.com/

By Nicholas Varchaver, senior editor and Katie Benner, writer-reporter

As Congress wrestles with another bailout bill to try to contain the financial contagion, there's a potential killer bug out there whose next movement can't be predicted: the Credit Default Swap.
In just over a decade these privately traded derivatives contracts have ballooned from nothing into a $54.6 trillion market. CDS are the fastest-growing major type of financial derivatives. More important, they've played a critical role in the unfolding financial crisis. First, by ostensibly providing "insurance" on risky mortgage bonds, they encouraged and enabled reckless behavior during the housing bubble.
"If CDS had been taken out of play, companies would've said, 'I can't get this [risk] off my books,'" says Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor and former director of trading and markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. "If they couldn't keep passing the risk down the line, those guys would've been stopped in their tracks. The ultimate assurance for issuing all this stuff was, 'It's insured.'"
Second, terror at the potential for a financial Ebola virus radiating out from a failing institution and infecting dozens or hundreds of other companies - all linked to one another by CDS and other instruments - was a major reason that regulators stepped in to bail out Bear Stearns and buy out AIG (AIG, Fortune 500), whose calamitous descent itself was triggered by losses on its CDS contracts (see "Hank's Last Stand").
And the fear of a CDS catastrophe still haunts the markets. For starters, nobody knows how federal intervention might ripple through this chain of contracts. And meanwhile, as we'll see, two fundamental aspects of the CDS market - that it is unregulated, and that almost nothing is disclosed publicly - may be about to change. That adds even more uncertainty to the equation.
"The big problem is that here are all these public companies - banks and corporations - and no one really knows what exposure they've got from the CDS contracts," says Frank Partnoy, a law professor at the University of San Diego and former Morgan Stanley derivatives salesman who has been writing about the dangers of CDS and their ilk for a decade. "The really scary part is that we don't have a clue." Chris Wolf, a co-manager of Cogo Wolf, a hedge fund of funds, compares them to one of the great mysteries of astrophysics: "This has become essentially the dark matter of the financial universe."
AT FIRST GLANCE, credit default swaps don't look all that scary. A CDS is just a contract: The "buyer" plunks down something that resembles a premium, and the "seller" agrees to make a specific payment if a particular event, such as a bond default, occurs. Used soberly, CDS offer concrete benefits: If you're holding bonds and you're worried that the issuer won't be able to pay, buying CDS should cover your loss. "CDS serve a very useful function of allowing financial markets to efficiently transfer credit risk," argues Sunil Hirani, the CEO of Creditex, one of a handful of marketplaces that trade the contracts.
Because they're contracts rather than securities or insurance, CDS are easy to create: Often deals are done in a one-minute phone conversation or an instant message. Many technical aspects of CDS, such as the typical five-year term, have been standardized by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA). That only accelerates the process. You strike your deal, fill out some forms, and you've got yourself a $5 million - or a $100 million - contract.
And as long as someone is willing to take the other side of the proposition, a CDS can cover just about anything, making it the Wall Street equivalent of those notorious Lloyds of London policies covering Liberace's hands and other esoterica. It has even become possible to purchase a CDS that would pay out if the U.S. government defaults. (Trust us when we say that if the government goes under, trying to collect will be the least of your worries.)
You can guess how Wall Street cowboys responded to the opportunity to make deals that (1) can be struck in a minute, (2) require little or no cash upfront, and (3) can cover anything. Yee-haw! You can almost picture Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove climbing onto the H-bomb before it's released from the B-52. And indeed, the volume of CDS has exploded with nuclear force, nearly doubling every year since 2001 to reach a recent peak of $62 trillion at the end of 2007, before receding to $54.6 trillion as of June 30, according to ISDA.
Take that gargantuan number with a grain of salt. It refers to the face value of all outstanding contracts. But many players in the market hold offsetting positions. So if, in theory, every entity that owns CDS had to settle its contracts tomorrow and "netted" all its positions against each other, a much smaller amount of money would change hands. But even a tiny fraction of that $54.6 trillion would still be a daunting sum.
The credit freeze and then the Bear disaster explain the drop in outstanding CDS contracts during the first half of the year - and the market has only worsened since. CDS contracts on widely held debt, such as General Motors' (GM, Fortune 500), continue to be actively bought and sold. But traders say almost no new contracts are being written on any but the most liquid debt issues right now, in part because nobody wants to put money at risk and because nobody knows what Washington will do and how that will affect the market. ("There's nothing to do but watch Bernanke on TV," one trader told Fortune during the week when the Fed chairman was going before Congress to push the mortgage bailout.) So, after nearly a decade of exponential growth, the CDS market is poised for its first sustained contraction.
ONE REASON THE MARKET TOOK OFF is that you don't have to own a bond to buy a CDS on it - anyone can place a bet on whether a bond will fail. Indeed the majority of CDS now consists of bets on other people's debt. That's why it's possible for the market to be so big: The $54.6 trillion in CDS contracts completely dwarfs total corporate debt, which the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association puts at $6.2 trillion, and the $10 trillion it counts in all forms of asset-backed debt.
"It's sort of like I think you're a bad driver and you're going to crash your car," says Greenberger, formerly of the CFTC. "So I go to an insurance company and get collision insurance on your car because I think it'll crash and I'll collect on it." That's precisely what the biggest winners in the subprime debacle did. Hedge fund star John Paulson of Paulson & Co., for example, made $15 billion in 2007, largely by using CDS to bet that other investors' subprime mortgage bonds would default.
So what started out as a vehicle for hedging ended up giving investors a cheap, easy way to wager on almost any event in the credit markets. In effect, credit default swaps became the world's largest casino. As Christopher Whalen, a managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, observes, "To be generous, you could call it an unregulated, uncapitalized insurance market. But really, you would call it a gaming contract."
There is at least one key difference between casino gambling and CDS trading: Gambling has strict government regulation. The federal government has long shied away from any oversight of CDS. The CFTC floated the idea of taking an oversight role in the late '90s, only to find itself opposed by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and others. Then, in 2000, Congress, with the support of Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, passed a bill prohibiting all federal and most state regulation of CDS and other derivatives. In a press release at the time, co-sponsor Senator Phil Gramm - most recently in the news when he stepped down as John McCain's campaign co-chair this summer after calling people who talk about a recession "whiners" - crowed that the new law "protects financial institutions from over-regulation ... and it guarantees that the United States will maintain its global dominance of financial markets." (The authors of the legislation were so bent on warding off regulation that they had the bill specify that it would "supersede and preempt the application of any state or local law that prohibits gaming ...") Not everyone was as sanguine as Gramm. In 2003 Warren Buffett famously called derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction."
THERE'S ANOTHER BIG difference between trading CDS and casino gambling. When you put $10 on black 22, you're pretty sure the casino will pay off if you win. The CDS market offers no such assurance. One reason the market grew so quickly was that hedge funds poured in, sensing easy money. And not just big, well-established hedge funds but a lot of upstarts. So in some cases, giant financial institutions were counting on collecting money from institutions only slightly more solvent than your average minimart. The danger, of course, is that if a hedge fund suddenly has to pay off on a lot of CDS, it will simply go out of business. "People have been insuring risks that they can't insure," says Peter Schiff, the president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of Crash Proof, which predicted doom for Fannie and Freddie, among other things. "Let's say you're writing fire insurance policies, and every time you get the [premium], you spend it. You just assume that no houses are going to burn down. And all of a sudden there's a huge fire and they all burn down. What do you do? You just close up shop."
Derivatives, pg. 2

By Nicholas Varchaver, senior editor and Katie Benner, writer-reporter

This is not an academic concern. Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) and Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) are wrangling in court with a $50 million hedge fund located in the Channel Islands. The reason: A dispute over two $10 million credit default swaps covering some CDOs. The specifics of the spat aren't important. What's most revealing is that these massive banks put their faith in a Lilliputian fund (in an inaccessible jurisdiction) that was risking 40% of its capital for just two CDS. Can anyone imagine that Citi would, say, insure its headquarters building with a thinly capitalized, unregulated, offshore entity?
That's one element of what's known as "counterparty risk." Here's another: In many cases, you don't even know who has the other side of your bet. Parties to the contract can, and do, transfer their side of the contract to third parties. Investment firms assert that transfers are well documented (a claim that, like most in the world of CDS, is impossible to verify). But even if that's true, you're still left with the fact that a given company's risks are being dispersed in ways that they may not know about and can't control.
It doesn't help that CDS trading is a haphazard process. Most contracts are bought and sold over the phone or by instant message and settled manually. Settlement has been sloppy, confirms Jamie Cawley of IDX Capital, a firm that brokers trades between big banks. Pushed by New York Fed president Timothy Geithner, the players have been improving the process. But even as recently as a year ago, Cawley says, so many trades were sitting around unfulfilled that "there were $1 trillion worth of swaps that were unsettled among counterparties."
Trade settlement is not the only anachronistic aspect of CDS trading. Consider what will happen with CDS contracts relating to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two were placed in conservatorship on Sept. 7. But the value of many contracts won't be determined till Oct. 6, when an auction will set a cash price for Fannie and Freddie bonds. We'll spare you the technical reasons, but suffice it to ask: Can you imagine any other major market that would need a month to resolve something like this?
WITH WASHINGTON SUDDENLY in a frenzy of outrage over the financial markets, debating everything from the shape and extent of the mortgage plan to what should be done about short-selling, the future for CDS is very blurry. "The market is here to stay," asserts Cawley. The question is simply: What sorts of changes are in store? As this article was going to press, SEC chairman Christopher Cox asked the Senate to allow his agency to begin regulating CDS - mostly, it should be said, to rein in short-selling. And the SEC separately announced that it was expanding its investigation of market manipulation, which initially targeted the short-sellers, to CDS investors.
Under other circumstances, Cox's request might have been met with polite silence. But the convulsions over the mortgage bailout are so dramatic that they are reminiscent of the moment, soon after the Enron scandal, when Congress drafted the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. The desire to blame short-sellers may actually result in powers for Cox that, until very recently, he showed no signs of wanting. Should legislators wade into this issue, the measures most widely seen as necessary are straightforward: some form of centralized trading or clearing and some form of capital or reserve requirements. Meanwhile, New York State's insurance commissioner, Eric Dinallo, announced new regulations that would essentially treat sellers of some (but not all) CDS as insurance entities, thereby forcing them to set aside reserves and otherwise follow state insurance law - requirements that would probably drive many participants from the market. Whether CDS players will find a way to challenge the rules remains to be seen. (ISDA, the industry's trade group, has already gone on record in opposition to Cox's proposal.) If nothing else, the New York law may provide additional impetus for the feds to take action.
For now, the biggest impact could come from the Financial Accounting Standards Board. It is implementing a new rule in November that will require sellers of CDS and other credit derivatives to report detailed information, including their maximum payouts and reasons for entering the contracts, as well as assets that might allow them to offset any payouts. Anybody who has tried to parse CEO compensation in recent years knows that more disclosure doesn't guarantee clarity, but any increase in information in the CDS realm will be a benefit. Perhaps that would limit the baleful effect of CDS on (must we consider it?) the next disaster - or even help us prevent it.

The Bee in the Quran: a Little Wisodm

By: Maged Taman

16:68 And thy Lord inspired the bee, saying: Choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch; وَأَوْحَى رَبُّكَ إِلَى النَّحْلِ أَنِ اتَّخِذِي مِنَ الْجِبَالِ بُيُوتًا وَمِنَ الشَّجَرِ وَمِمَّا يَعْرِشُونَ (16:68)

16:69 Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). There cometh forth from their bellies a drink diverse of hues, wherein is healing for mankind. Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect. ثُمَّ كُلِي مِن كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ فَاسْلُكِي سُبُلَ رَبِّكِ ذُلُلاً يَخْرُجُ مِن بُطُونِهَا شَرَابٌ مُّخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ فِيهِ شِفَاء لِلنَّاسِ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ (16:69)

16:68 And thy Lord inspired the bee,: God inspiration can be by direct through the DNA in their brain that direct them to do that. Even if it is a learning process God facilitated the presence of this DNA to do its function.

saying: Choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch;: God say in Arabic atakhizi which is clearly indicate that he is talking to female bees. If he talk to male bee he would say atakhiz. The modern science proved that the female bee is the one who is producing the honey.

16:69 Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). : He order the bees to eat from all the fruits.

There cometh forth from their bellies a drink: after the bees eat the food it assimilate it in its abdomen which function as a chemistry laboratory to produce honey. The Quran mentioned right were the honey is produced in the abdomen not somewhere else in the body.

diverse of hues,: according to http://www.quranmiracles.com/ The colors of honey vary as stated in the Quran. They change according to the climate, season and weather conditions and the sources where nectar is obtained. The color of honey ranges from dark brown to green, among which the light yellow is preferred. In the honey industry, modern countries with developed techniques use a colorimeter to establish the exact description of honey’s color.

wherein is healing for mankind.: Honey has regenerative properties and used in medical field.

Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect.: the things you need to reflect here is the Quran got it right on: where the bees live, where it eat from, the female bee is the one that produce the honey, it is produced in its belly, the honey has different colors and it has healing properties. This simple sign of God shows how he direct one of his creation to its feeding and from it honey is produced to our feeding and health. That is why the Quranic verses are considered signs of God.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Holy Qur'an


The Qur'an (Arabic: القرآن ;al-kur'an, literally "the recitation"; also sometimes transliterated as Quran, Koran, or Alcoran) is the central religious text of Islam. We Muslims believe The Qur'an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind, consider the text in its original Arabic to be the literal word of Allah (God) revealed to Muhammad (pbuh) over a period of twenty-three years, and view The Qur'an as God's final revelation to humanity.

We regard The Qur'an as the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with those revealed to Adam in Suhufi Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham), Moses' The Tawrat (Torah), David's Zabur (Psalms), and Jesus' Injil (Gospel) ... May peace be upon them all. All those "books" are recognized in The Qur'an, and The Qur'anic text assumes familiarity with many events from Jewish and Christian scriptures, retelling some of these events in distinctive ways, and referring obliquely to others. It also offers detailed accounts of historical events; but The Qur'an's emphasis is typically on the moral significance of an event, rather than its narrative sequence.

The original usage of the word "kur`an" is in The Qur'an itself, where it occurs about 70 times assuming various meanings. It is a verbal noun (masdar مصدر ) of the Arabic verb "kara`a" (Arabic: قرأ), meaning "he read" or "he recited," and represents the Syriac equivalent "keryana" - which refers to "scripture reading" or "lesson." While most Western scholars consider the word to be derived from the Syriac, the majority of Muslim authorities hold the origin of the word is kara`a itself. Among the earliest meanings of the word Qur'an is the "act of reciting."

The term also has closely related synonyms which are employed throughout The Qur'an. Each of the synonyms possess their own distinct meaning, but their use may converge with that of kur`an in certain contexts. Such terms include "kitab" ("book"); "ayah" ("sign"); and "surah" ("scripture"). The latter two terms also denote units of revelation, where an āyah is loosely translated as a verse, and the word sūrah is a chapter . Other related words are: "thikr", meaning "remembrance," used to refer to The Qur'an in the sense of a reminder and warning; and "hikma", meaning "wisdom," sometimes referring to The Revelation or part of it.

The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters of varying lengths, each known as a sura. Each chapter possesses a title: usually a word mentioned within the chapter itself. In general the longer chapters appear earlier in The Qur'an, while the shorter ones appear later. As such, the arrangement is not connected to the sequence of revelation. Each chapter commences with the bismillahi ar-rahmani ar-rahim, an Arabic phrase meaning ("In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful"), with the exception of the ninth chapter. Amongst some of its physical attributes, The Qur'an comes in all types of designs & sizes and with all types of book covers that are often decorated with Islamic art, although the content is exactly the same.

To perform salah (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of The Qur'an (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha (the Opening), and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end of The Qur'an). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during his/her salah.
A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'an is called a qari' (قارئ) or hafith (حافظ), which translate as "reciter" or "protector (literally or figuritively as in one's own memory)," respectively. Muhammad (pbuh) is regarded as the first qari' and hafith since he was the first to recite The Qur'an and memorize it. Recitation (tilawa تلاوة) of The Qur'an is a fine art in the Muslim world.

A Mus'haf (Arabic: مصحف, pronounced "Mus-haf" not "Mu-sh-af") The word refers to a "codex" or a collection of sheets (Sahifa, see below). The Qur'an, which we believe to be revealed at various times and in various ways during the 23 year period, was collected into a codex under the third Caliph, Uthman ibnu Affan.
The Islamic Term "al-Qur'an" means "The recitation", denoting content. When referring to the material book, some use the term Mus'haf. The Qur'an refers to itself as Kitab, not as Mus'haf. Noting this, some scholars have argued that The Qur'an does not present itself as a "book", which implies it is finished and complete, so much as a "scripture", something written or communicated, which gives it more dynamism and life.

Translations of The Qur'an are regarded as interpretations in languages other than Arabic. Eventhough translating The Qur'an has been a difficult concept, both theologically and linguistically, The Qur'an has been translated into most languages. In Islam, The Qur'an is a revelation specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in the Arabic language. Translations into other languages are the work of humans and so no longer possess the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original. Since these translations subtly change the meaning, they are often called "interpretations." For instance, Pickthall called his translation The Meaning of the Glorious Koran rather than simply The Koran.

The task of translation is not an easy one; some native Arab-speakers will confirm that some Qur'anic passages are difficult to understand even in the original Arabic. A part of this is the innate difficulty of any translation; in Arabic, as in other languages, a single word can have a variety of meanings. There is always an element of human judgment involved in understanding and translating a text. This factor is made more complex by the fact that the usage of words has changed a great deal between classical and modern Arabic. As a result, even Qur'anic verses which seem perfectly clear to native speakers accustomed to modern vocabulary and usage may not represent the original meaning of the verse.

The original meaning of a Qur'anic passage will also be dependent on the historical circumstances of the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) life and early community in which it originated. Investigating that context usually requires a detailed knowledge of Hadith and Sirah/Sunnah, which are themselves vast and complex texts. This introduces an additional element of difficulty and consideration, which can not be eliminated by any linguistic rules of translation.

Among its many functions and influence on Muslims' daily lives, The Qur'an also provides stories and parables on how to be a good person, and therefore a good Muslim. It tells stories of the previous Prophets and the predicaments of the unbelievers and their disobedience & disbelief as an example to us so that we may learn from those before us. Of the parables, it gives us examples, comparisons and hypothetical images so that we might understand the message and act upon it.

The Qur'an is the flawless final revelation of God to humanity, valid until the day of the Resurrection. We believe that God revealed his final message to humanity through Muhammad (pbuh) via the angel Gabriel. Muhammad (pbuh) is considered to have been God's final Prophet, the "Seal of the Prophets". We Muslims hold that the message of Islam - submission to the will of The One God - is the same as the message preached by all the Messengers sent by God to humanity since Adam. Basically, Islam is the oldest of the monotheistic religions because it represents both the original and the final revelation of God to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (pbut) . Members of all sects of Islam believe that The Qur'an codifies the direct words of God.

According to the Sunnah, Muhammad (pbuh) began receiving revelations from God (Arabic: ألله Allah) from the age of 40, delivered through the angel Gabriel over the last 23 years of his life. The content of these revelations, known as The Qur'an, was memorized and recorded by his followers and compiled into a single volume shortly after his death. The Qur'an, along with the details of Muhammad’s (pbuh) life as recounted by his biographers and his contemporaries, forms the basis of Islamic theology. Within Islam, he is considered the last and most important Prophet of God. Muslims do not regard him as the founder of a new religion but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, Solomon, David, Moses, Jesus and other Prophets whose messages had become misinterpreted and/or corrupted over time.

The Qur'ān retells stories of many of the people and events recounted in Jewish and Christian sacred books (Tanakh, Bible) and devotional literature (Apocrypha, Midrash), although it differs in many details. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Heber, Shelah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jethro, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Aaron, Moses, Zechariah, Jesus, and John "the Baptist" are mentioned in The Qur'an as Prophets of God (see Prophets' Stories).

Muslims believe the common elements or resemblances between the Bible and other Jewish and Christian writings and Islamic dispensations is due to the common divine source, and that the Christian or Jewish texts were authentic divine revelations given to Prophets. According to The Qur'ān:"It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong)." [3:3]We believe that those texts were neglected and/or corrupted (tahrif) by the Jews and Christians.

Most Muslims treat paper copies of The Qur'an with veneration, ritually washing before reading The Qur'an. Worn out Qur'ans are not discarded as wastepaper, but are buried or burnt. Many Muslims memorize at least some portion of The Qur'an in the original Arabic, usually at least the verses needed to perform the prayers. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an earn the right to the title of Hafith (see above for a brief explanation).

Based on tradition and a literal interpretation of sura 56 (al-Waqi'a):77-79: “That this is indeed a Qur'ān Most Honourable, In a Book well-guarded, Which none shall touch but those who are clean.”, many scholars opine that a Muslim perform wudu (ablution or a ritual cleansing with water) before touching a copy of The Qur'ān, or mushaf.

Qur'an desecration means insulting The Qur'ān by defiling or dismembering it. Muslims must always treat the book with reverence, and are forbidden, for instance, to pulp, recycle, or simply discard worn-out copies of the text. Respect for the written text of The Qur'ān is an important element of religious faith by many Muslims. We believe that intentionally insulting The Qur'ān is a form of blasphemy. In Islam, blasphemy is considered a sin. In The Qur'an, Allah says “He forgives all sins, except disbelieving in God (blasphemy)”. In Islam if a person dies while in blasphemy, they will not enter heaven, except if said person repented before death.

٭ The Holy Qur'an
٭ The Amazing Qur’an
٭ Nine Great Benefits of Reciting The Qur’an
٭ What They Say About The Qur’an
٭ The Miracle and Challenge of The Qur’an

An Enemy becomes a Friend

From: www.islamreligion/com

By Abdul-Wahid Hamid

In the sixth year after the hijrah (the migration to Medina), the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, decided to expand the scope of his mission. He sent eight letters to rulers in the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding areas inviting them to Islam. One of these rulers was Thumamah ibn Uthal.
Thumamah ibn Uthal al-Haneefi was one of the most powerful Arab rulers in the pre-Islamic era. This is not surprising since he was a chieftain of the Banu Hanifah and one of the rulers of al-Yamamah whose word no one dared to challenge or disobey.
When Thumamah received the Prophet’s letter, he was consumed by anger and rejected it. He refused to listen to the invitation of Truth and goodness. More than that, he felt a strong desire to go and kill the Prophet and bury his mission with him.
Thumamah waited and waited for a convenient time to carry out his design against the Prophet until eventually forgetfulness caused him to lose interest. One of his uncles, however, reminded him of his plan, praising what he intended to do.
In the pursuit of his evil design against the Prophet, Thumamah met and killed a group of the Prophet’s companions. The Prophet thereupon declared him a wanted man who could lawfully be killed on sight.
Not long afterwards, Thumamah decided to perform umrah (the lesser pilgrimage). He wanted to perform Tawaf (circumambulation) around the Kaabah and sacrifice to the idols there (The people of Mecca, before becoming Muslims, placed hundreds of idols in the Kaaba). So he left al-Yamamah for Mecca. As he was passing near Medina, an incident took place which he had not anticipated.
Groups of Muslims were patrolling the districts of Medina and outlying areas on the lookout for any strangers or anyone intent on causing trouble. One of these groups came upon Thumamah and apprehended him, but they did not know who he was. They took him to Medina and tied him to one of the columns in the mosque. They waited for the Prophet himself to question the man and decide what should be done with him.
Just as he was about to enter the mosque, the Prophet saw Thumamah, so he asked his companions,
“Do you know whom you have taken?”
“No, messenger of God,” they replied.
“This is Thumamah ibn Uthal al-Haneefi,” he said. “You have done well in capturing him.”
The Prophet then returned home to his family and said,
“Get what food you can and send it to Thumamah ibn Uthal.”
He then ordered his camel to be milked in order to provide him with milk. All this was done before he met Thumamah or had spoken to him.”
The Prophet then approached Thumamah hoping to encourage him to become a Muslim.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” he asked.
“If you want to kill in reprisal,” Thumamah replied, “you can have someone of noble blood to kill. If, out of your bounty, you want to forgive, I shall be grateful. If you want money as ransom, I shall give you whatever amount you ask.”
The Prophet then left him for two days, but still personally sent him food and drink and milk from his camel. The Prophet then went back to him and asked,
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
Thumamah repeated what he had said a couple of days beforehand. The Prophet then left and came back to him the following day.
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
He asked again, and Thumamah repeated what he had said the previous day once more. Then the Prophet turned to his companions and said,
“Set him free.”
Thumamah left the mosque of the Prophet and rode out on the trail to Mecca until he came to a palm grove on the outskirts of Medina near al-Baqee (a place of luxuriant vegetation which later became a cemetery for many of the Prophet’s companions). He watered his camel and took a complete bath there. Then he made his way back to the Prophet’s mosque. There, he stood before a congregation of Muslims and said:
“I bear witness that there is no true god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and His messenger.”
He then went to the Prophet and said:
“O Muhammad, by God, there was never on this earth a face more detestable than yours. Now, yours is the dearest face of all to me. I have killed some of your men,” he continued, “I am at your mercy. What will you have done to me?”
“There is now no blame on you, Thumamah,” replied the Prophet. “Becoming a Muslim obliterates past actions and marks a new beginning.”

Consideration for Neighbours

From: http://www.islamreligion.com/

By: Aisha Stacey

Prophet Muhammad, may God shower him with His praises, is a man loved by all Muslims. He is honoured and respected by countless others and considered influential in both religious and secular matters. Mahatma Ghandi described him as scrupulous about pledges, intense in his devotion to his friends and followers, intrepid, fearless, and with absolute trust in God and in his own mission. Muslims all around the world consider him the example to follow in their worship of God and in their dealings with others.
The religion of Islam, as taught to us by Prophet Muhammad, urges kind and considerate treatment towards our neighbours. They deserve our respect and good treatment regardless of their religion, race or colour. In a saying narrated by Aisha[1], a wife of Prophet Muhammad, it is reported that the angel Gabriel insisted that Prophet Muhammad understand the importance of the good treatment of neighbours. Prophet Muhammad said that at one stage he thought the angel Gabriel would bestow inheritance rights on neighbours; such was his insistence on their kind and fair treatment.
Prophet Muhammad’s mission was simply to convey the message of God, who clearly commanded the good treatment of neighbours in the Quran.
“Worship God and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet)... Verily, God does not like such as are proud and boastful.” (Quran 4:36)
The men and women around Prophet Muhammad were constantly reminded of their obligations to God and to one another. Prophet Muhammad was often heard to exhort them to do good needs and to remember their obligations. He said, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him not harm or annoy his neighbour…” He also reminded, not only for his companions but for all of us to follow, that a believer in God does not allow his brother or sister to go hungry or live in unfortunate conditions. Today in a time when old people die alone and forgotten, and when our neighbours both near and far go hungry whilst we have food, we would do well to remember the examples set by our righteous predecessors.
Abu Dhar, one of the close companions, was told by Prophet Muhammad to add extra water to his broth in order to be able to offer some to his neighbours.[2] Another companion, Abdullah ibn Amr once asked his servant after slaughtering a sheep, “Did you give some to our Jewish neighbour?” A believer is encouraged to give gifts even if they are of little monetary value. The true value of the gift is the generous spirit with which it is given. The giving of gifts encourages friendship and mutual support. When the Prophet’s wife Aisha asked him about what neighbours to send her gifts, he replied, “To the one whose door is closest to yours”[3]. Although the closest neighbours are the ones we should be mindful of in the first instance, Islam urges us to take care of all our neighbours. It is a system that takes into consideration the needs and feelings of others in the greater community.
When one truly understands the teachings of Islam, he or she begins to see that if one member of a community suffers the whole community is in strife. After family, neighbours are the people that we depend on the most in times of strife and calamity, and in times of need. A bad relationship with neighbours can make life miserable. It is important that people who share a neighbourhood be able to trust and rely on each other, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. Neighbours must feel secure that both their honour and wealth are safe. Prophet Muhammad described a good neighbour as one of the joys in a Muslim’s life, he said, “Among the things that bring happiness to a believer in this life are a righteous neighbour, a spacious house and a good steed”.[4] A good neighbour is one who guarantees comfort, security and safety. For this reason it is important that one who believes in obeying God does not spare any effort in being considerate of and generous to the neighbours. Prophet Muhammad warned his companions against harming or upsetting the neighbours.
In a saying[5] that is as true today as it was 1500 years ago, Prophet Muhammad was asked about a certain woman who prayed and fasted more than was obligatory upon her, and gave generously in charity, but unfortunately, she did not refrain from speaking harshly to her neighbours. He described her as being one of the people of Hell who would be punished for this. In the same saying, he was asked about another woman who fulfilled only her obligatory duties and gave very little in charity, however her neighbours were safe from her harsh tongue and she offended no one. Prophet Muhammad described her as among the people of Paradise. The religion of Islam places great emphasis on the solidarity of families, neighbourhoods and the wider community.
Islam continuously advises the believers to be kind and considerate of neighbours. What happens however if one has a neighbour who behaves badly and does not show the respect inherent in the teachings of Islam? A Muslim is patient and tolerant and does not bare a grudge. A believer strives to mend the broken relationship through good morals and manners and a forgiving attitude in the hope that this will bring about great reward from God. A believer patiently bares the annoyances as much as he or she is able. If the situation becomes intolerable to publicise the bad behaviour may be a last resort.
The Prophet Muhammad once advised a man to gather his belongings in the middle of the road as an indication that he could no longer live beside his neighbour. The “bad neighbour” immediately apologised and begged his neighbour to return.[6] Nobody likes their bad behaviour to be made public and this is especially true of a Muslim, whose religion requires that he have the highest moral standards. Islam places great emphasis on the qualities of respect, tolerance and forgiveness, and these qualities shown to neighbours is a demonstration of the moral values and virtues inbuilt into the worship of the One True God.
[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[2] Saheeh Muslim
[3] Ibid.
[4] Reported with a Sahih isnad by al-Hakim.
[5] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[6] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Ibn Habban & Abu Dawood.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biological Evolution – An Islamic Perspective

From: http://www.islamreligion.com/

By IslamToday.com (edited by IslamReligion.com)

Many people wonder about the theory of biological evolution – the theory that living species on Earth today are descended from others in the past, and that the present diversity of living species we see is a result of descent with modification over the course of numerous generations.
Muslims also wonder about one of the main processes that evolutionary theory proposes to explain how evolution takes place – the process of natural selection. This is the idea that the individuals within a populations of living organism vary in their individual traits – they are not exactly alike – and that the organisms which are most successful at leaving descendants will pass on their unique traits to the next generation at the expense of the traits possessed by less successful organisms in the population, thereby contributing to a long-term gradual change in the suite of traits found within the population.

To start with, it is not our intention in this article to discuss the scientific implications of evolutionary theory. We wish to explore the issue from the perspective of Islamic teachings.
We must ask:
Does the theory of evolution – and likewise the theory of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution – conform to Islamic teachings or conflict with them?
Is a Muslim allowed to believe in evolution as a scientific theory as long as he or she accepts that God is behind it?
Is a Muslim allowed to believe in human evolution? If not, how can we explain the fossils of upright, bipedal, tool-using apes with large brains that have been discovered?

We wish to re-emphasize that our concern here is not with examining the scientific merits of the theory of evolution. What we want to know is what Islamic teachings have to say about the idea. Whether evolution is true or false scientifically is another matter altogether.
When we look at the sources of Islam – the Quran and Sunnah – we see that, with respect to human beings living on the Earth today, they are all descendants of Adam and Eve.
God also says:
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with God is the one who is the most God-fearing.” (Quran 49:13)

The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, identified the "male" mentioned in this verse as being Adam. He said:
“Human beings are the children of Adam and Adam was created from Earth. God says: ‘O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with God is the one who is the most God-fearing’.” (Al-Tirmidhî)
We also see that God created Adam directly without the agency of parents.
God says:
“The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’ and he was.” (Quran 3:59]
We also know that Eve was created from Adam without the agency of parents.
In the Quran, God states clearly:
“O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women.” (Quran 4:1)

Therefore, the Quran tells us that Adam and his wife were the father and mother of all human beings living on the Earth today. We know about this by way of direct revelation from God.
The direct creation of Adam (peace be upon him) can neither be confirmed nor denied by science in any way. This is because the creation of Adam (peace be upon him) was a unique and singular historical event. It is a matter of the Unseen and something that science does not have the power to confirm or deny. As a matter of the Unseen, we believe it because God informs us about it. We say the same for the miracles mentioned in the Quran. Miraculous events, by their very nature, do not conform to scientific laws and their occurrence can neither be confirmed nor denied by science.

What about other living things, besides the human beings living on the Earth today? What about plants, animals, fungi, and the like?
When we turn our attention to this question, we find that the Quran and Sunnah do not tell us much about the flora and fauna that was present on the Earth before or at the time of Adam and Eve’s arrived upon it. The sacred texts also do not tell us how long ago Adam and Eve arrived upon the Earth. Therefore, these are things we cannot ascertain from the sacred texts.
The only thing that the Quran and Sunnah require us to believe about the living things on Earth today is that God created them in whatever manner He decided to create them.
God says:
“God is the Creator of all things and over all things He has authority.” (Quran 39:62)
Indeed, God states specifically that He created all life forms:
“And We made from water all living things.” (Quran 21:30)

We know that “God does what He pleases.” God can create His creatures in any manner that He chooses.
Therefore, with respect to other living things, the Quran and Sunnah neither confirm nor deny the theory of biological evolution or the process referred to as natural selection. The question of evolution remains purely a matter of scientific enquiry. The theory of evolution must stand or fall on its own scientific merits – and that means the physical evidence that either confirms the theory or conflicts with it.

The role of science is only to observe and describe the patterns that God places in His creation. If scientific observation shows a pattern in the evolution of species over time that can be described as natural selection, this is not in itself unbelief. It is only unbelief for a person to think that this evolution took place on its own, and not as a creation of God. A Muslim who accepts evolution or natural selection as a valid scientific theory must know that the theory is merely an explanation of one of the many observed patterns in God’s creation.

As for the fossil remains of bipedal apes and the tools and artifacts associated with those remains, their existence poses no problem for Islamic teachings. There is nothing in the Quran and Sunnah that either affirms or denies that upright, brainy, tool using apes ever existed or evolved from other apelike ancestors. Such animals may very well have existed on Earth before Adam’s arrival upon it. All we can draw from the Quran and Sunnah is that even if those animals once existed, they were not the forefathers of Adam (peace be upon him).

Bridge Building Between Christians and Muslims

From: www.islamicity.com

By: Dr. Jamal Badawi


With nearly one billion followers each, Islam and Christianity are major religions that influence the thinking and values of over 40 percent of the World population. While there are theological differences, some of which might be significant, there are nonetheless other important areas of belief that are shared by both communities: belief in Allah, or God; belief in revelation, in prophets, in the Holy Books of Allah; in the life hereafter and in a divinely inspired moral code organizing and regulating human life during our earthly journey to eternity.

For the Muslim, constructive dialogue is not only permitted, it is commendable. In the Qur'an we read, 'Say, 'O people of the book' (a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians) 'come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.' If then they turn back say you 'Bear witness that we are Muslims.' (Bowing) to the will of God." (al-i-Imran;3:64)
The methodology of that dialogue is also explained in the Qur'an; "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation, and argue with them in ways that are best.' (al-Nahl; 16,125) A prerequisite for any constructive dialogue is that both communities should not learn about each other through sources that are unsympathetic, critical, or even hostile: they should rather try to formulate an honest idea as to how the other faith is seen in its own authentic scriptures and as practiced by those who are truly committed to it. This need is even more significant in the case of the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The average Christian has heard of or has read about Islam mostly through writers who have had colonial or missionary motives, which might have given a certain slant to their interpretation of Islam to the western mind. While I admit that my own practice of Islam is far from perfect, I at least speak from the vantage point of someone who wants to think of himself as a committed, practicing Muslim. Now I'd like to share with you five basic areas, consideration of which is imperative in any Christian-Muslim understanding: the meaning of the term "Islam"; the meaning of the term "Allah"; the nature of the human; the relationship between the human and Allah; the question of accountability, and finally, some conclusions pertaining to bridgebudding between Muslims and Christians.

Taking the term "Islam," it is important to emphasize that it is not derived from the name of any particular person, race, or locality. A Muslim considers the term used by some writers, "Mohammedanism," to be an offensive violation of the very spirit of Islamic teaching. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is not worshipped, nor is he regarded as either the founder of Islam or the author of its Holy Book, the Qur'an. The term "Islam" is given in more than one place in the Qur'an itself. It is derived from the Arabic root (SLM) which connotes "peace" or "submission." Indeed, the proper meaning of "Islam" is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer peace, by submission of oneself to the will of Allah. And when we say submit, we are talking about conscious, loving and trusting submission to the will of Allah, the acceptance of His grace and the following of His path. In that sense the Muslim regards the term Islam, not as an innovation that came in the 7th Century, Christian era, with the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, but as the basic mission of all the prophets throughout history. That universal mission was finally culminated and perfected in the last of these prophets, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them all.

The next essential concept that needs to be clarified is the term "Allah" What does it mean? It should be emphasized first that the term "Allah" has no connotation at all of a tribal god, an Arabian or even a Muslim god. The term "Allah' in Arabic simply means the One and Only True, Universal God of all. To think that Allah is different from God, with a capital 'G' is no more valid than saying the French Christians worship a different god because they call him "Dieu".
What are the basic attributes of Allah? The Qur'an mentions the "most beautiful names" (or attributes) of Allah. Instead of enumerating them all, let's examine a few. Some attributes emphasize the transcendence of Allah. The Qur'an repeatedly makes it clear that Allah is beyond our limited perception. "There is nothing whatever comparable unto Him." (al-Shura; 42:1 1) "No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision." (al-An'am; 6:103) A Muslim never thinks of God as having any particular image, whether physical, human, material or otherwise. Such attributes as "The Perfectly-Knowing," "The Eternal," "The Omnipotent," "The Omnipresent," "The Just," and "The Sovereign" also emphasize transcendence. But this does not mean in any way that for the Muslim Allah is a mere philosophical concept or a deity far removed. Indeed, alongside this emphasis on the transcendence of Allah, the Qur'an also talks about Allah as "personal" God who is close, easily approachable, Loving, Forgiving and Merciful. The very first passage in the Qur'an, which is repeated dozens of times, is -In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful . . . .' The Qur'an tells us that when Allah created the first human "He breathed into him something of His spirit," (al- Sajdah; 32:9) and that "Allah is closer to the human than his jugular vein." In another beautiful and moving passage we are told, "When my servants ask you (O Muhammad) concerning me, then surely I am near to them. I listen to every suppliant who calls on Me. Let them respond to My call and obey My command that they may be led aright."
For the Muslim, monotheism does not mean simply the unity of God, because there can be different persons in unity. Monotheism in Islam is the absolute Oneness and Uniqueness of Allah, which precludes the notion of persons sharing in Godhead. The opposite of monotheism in Islam is called in Arabic "shirk," association of others with Allah. This includes not only polytheism, but also dualism (believing in one God for good or light and another for evil or darkness). The concept of "shirk' also includes pantheism, the idea that God is in everything. All forms of God-incarnate philosophies are excluded by Islam's monotheism, as is blind obedience to dictators, to clergy, or to ones own whims and desires. These all are regarded as forms of "associating" others with Allah (shirk), whether by believing that such creatures of Allah possess divinity or by believing that they share the Divine Attributes of Allah. It should be added that, to the Muslim, monotheism is not simply a dogma. Islam's pure, pristine and strict monotheism is much more than a thought or a belief; it is something that deeply influences the Muslim's whole outlook on life.

We have talked about Allah. What about you and me? Who is the human being? Who are you and I? And why are we here on earth? The Qur'an teaches that we humans are created of three components. We are created from clay, representing the material or carnal element. We are endowed with intellect that is Allah-given to be used, not to be put on the shelf. Reason may be insufficient but it is not the antithesis of faith, either. And thirdly, we are endowed with the spirit of Allah, which was breathed into us (al-Sajdah; 32:7, al Baqarah; 2:31, al-Hijr; 15:29). The Muslim does not see human existence here on earth as punishment for eating from the forbidden tree. That event is regarded as an experiential lesson for Adam and Eve before they came to earth. The Qur'an teaches that even before the creation of the first human it was Allah's plan to establish human life and civilization on earth (al-Baqarah; 2:30). Thus, the Muslim does not view the human as all evil, nor as all good, but rather as responsible. It is stated in several places in the Qur'an that.Allah created the human to be His "khalifah", His trustee or vice- regent on earth. Humankind's basic trust, our responsibility, is to worship Allah. Worship for the Muslim is not only engaging in formal rituals, but it is any activity in accordance with the will of Allah for the benefit of oneself and of humanity at large. Thus the Muslim views the earth, its resources and ecology as a gift from Allah to humans to harness and use in fulfillment of the trust for which we shall all be held responsible. That is why the Qur'an speaks highly of learning. The first word revealed of the Qur'an was, "Recite," or "read." As long as they were true to their faith and to Qur'anic injunctions about learning, Muslims established a civilization that saw great advances in science and in the humanities. Not only did they preserve earlier scientific heritage but they also added to it and paved the way for European renaissance. When Muslims again become true to their faith such history is bound to repeat itself

We talked of Allah and of humankind. Now we must ask what is their basic relationship. The Qur'an teaches us that the human race is given an innate pure nature called "fitrah." Knowledge of Allah and innate spirituality are inherent in human existence, but this spirituality can betray us if it is not led in the right direction. To depend on a merely human feeling of the guiding Spirit is dangerous. Many groups, even cults, claim to be guided by the spirit or by God or by revelation, yet these groups hold divergent, even contradictory, beliefs. We find people behaving in contradictory ways who claim nonetheless that each is doing the will of God. "I feel," they say, "that the spirit guides and directs me.'
A credible source of revelation is imperative. Throughout history Allah has selected particular individuals to convey His message, to receive His revelation and to exemplify it for mankind. For some of these prophets, holy books or scriptures were given revealing Allah's commands and guidance. For most of you the names of these prophets found in the Qur'an will sound familiar: Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus, and, finally, the last prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon them all. These prophets carried the same basic message: "Not an apostle did We send before you without this inspiration sent by Us to him: that there is no god but I; therefore worship and serve Me." (al Anbiya; 21:25) Further, the Qur'an insists on calling all those prophets Muslims, because a Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah. Their followers are called Muslims as well. Thus it is an article of faith for a Muslim to believe in all these prophets. Indeed, Muslims are warned that anyone who accepts some prophets and rejects others, in fact rejects them all. For a Muslim, to believe in Moses while rejecting Jesus or Muhammad is against the very teaching of Moses. And to believe in Jesus but reject Moses or Muhammad is to violate what Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad stood for. For a Muslim to believe in Muhammad and reject either Moses or Jesus is to violate his own Holy Book. 'Those who deny Allah and His apostles, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His apostles, saying: 'We believe in some but reject others ' and (those who) wish to take a course midway. They are in truth (equally) unbelievers and We have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment." (Al-Nisa'; 4:150-151) Recognition of all prophets is an article of faith, not a mere social courtesy or diplomatic statement. I do hope that with open minds, open hearts and further careful, honest study there may be more such mutual recognition.

But why do Muslims in their testimony of faith say, "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger? Does that mean that they in fact reject other prophets? Indeed, the special role played by Muhammad as the seal and last of all the prophets puts the Muslim in the position whereby honoring Muhammad implies honoring those who came before him as well. Muslims are warned not to make fanatical or parochial distinctions between prophets (al- Baqarah; 2:285). But the Qur'an also says that Allah has favored some prophets with more significant gifts or roles than others (Al-Isra'; 17:55). All are brothers, although the only prophet with the universal mission to all humankind is Muhammad, peace be upon him (al- Furqaan; 25:1 1). The Muslim believes not only that Muhammad is a brother to Jesus, Moses, Abraham and other prophets, but the Qur'an states in clear terms that the advent of Muhammad was foretold by previous prophets, including Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them (al-Araf; 7:157, al-Saff; 61:6). Even the Bible in its present form clearly foretells the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (e.g. Genesis 21:13, 18, Deuteronomy 18:18 and 33:1-3, Isaiah 11:1-4, 21:13-17, 42:1-13 and others).
For the Muslim, the Qur'an contains the words of Allah directly and verbatim revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Many confuse the Qur'an with the 'Hadith,' or sayings, of the Prophet. The Hadith is quite separate from the Qur'an. The latter was dictated to Muhammad word for word through the Angel Gabriel and immediately memorized and put down in writing. It is important to emphasize that the Qur'an was neither written nor composed by Muhammad, peace be upon him. To hold such a view would contradict what the Qur'an says of itself and of Muhammad; that the prophet is not speaking on his own but only transmitting the revelation dictated to him by the Angel Gabriel. To suggest that the Qur'an borrowed from or copied from previous revelations, be it the Bible or otherwise, is, for a Muslim, an accusation of 'prophetic plagiarism," a contradiction in terms. The fact that there are similarities between the Qur'an and previous scriptures is simply explained by the fact that He Who spoke through those earlier prophets is He Who revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad, the one and only true God, Allah. However, the Qur'an is the last revealed Holy Book, which supersedes previous scriptures and the only one still available in the exact words and language uttered by Prophet Muhammad.

We have talked about Allah, about the human and about the relationship between them. What about accountability? How can we humans, from the Islamic perspective, overcome "sin"? The Qur'an teaches that life is a test, that earthly life is temporary (al-Mulk; 67:2). The Muslim believes that there is reward and punishment, that there is life hereafter and that reward or punishment do not necessarily wait until the day of Judgment, but start immediately after burial. The Muslim believes in resurrection, accountability, and the day of judgment.
For a Muslim, to demand perfection in order to gain salvation is not practical. It is demanding the impossible and is unjust. Islam teaches a person to be humble and to learn that we cannot achieve salvation by our own righteousness. The reconciliation of the "sinful" human with Allah is contingent on three elements: the most important is the Grace, Mercy, and Generosity of Allah. Then there are good deeds and correct belief. Correct belief and good deeds are prerequisites for God's Grace and Forgiveness and for rising above our common shortcomings. How can sin be washed away? The Qur'an gives the prescription: 'If anyone does evil or wrongs his own soul, but afterwards seeks Allah's forgiveness, he will find Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (al-Nisa'; 4:110) Another moving passage reads, "Those things that are good remove evil deeds." (Hud; 11:114) Islam teaches repentance, stopping evil ways, feeling sorry for what one has done, and determining to follow the path of Allah as much as humanly possible. The Muslim does not believe in the necessity of the shedding of blood, much less innocent blood, to wash away sins. He believes that Allah is not interested in blood or sacrifice, but in sincere repentance. The Qur'an puts it clearly: "But My Mercy extends to all things." (al-A'raf; 7:156)

How about the application? Are we just talking theology? Since the human is Allah's trustee, it would be inconsistent for a Muslim to separate the various aspects of life, the spiritual and the material, state and religion. We hear a lot about the "five pillars of Islam," but they are often presented as the whole of Islam, many times in a shallow way. They are not the whole of Islam any more than one can claim to have a functional house composed exclusively of five concrete pillars. You also need the ceiling, walls, tables, windows and other things. As the mathematicians put it, it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The five pillars of Islam (the testimony of faith, the five daily prayers, fasting, charity, pilgrimage) are presented by most writers as matters of formal ritual. Even the pillar that is liable to appear ritualistic, daily prayers, is a purely spiritual act involving much more than simply getting up and down. It has social and political lessons to teach the Muslim. What may appear as separate compartments of life simply does not exist for the Muslim. A Muslim does not say, 'This is business and this is moral." Moral, spiritual, economic, social and governmental are inter-related, because everything, including Caesar, belongs to Allah and to Allah alone.

In conclusion and against this background, what is the implication for the Muslims in their attitudes toward non-Muslims? To start with, and we must be frank about it, the Qur'an makes it incumbent on the Muslim to convey Allah's message in its final form, the Qur'an, to all humanity. We are not talking here about conversion. I do not like that word. Indeed, to turn to Islam, the religion of all the prophets in its final form, is not to turn one's back on the preceding Prophets. It is an augmentation, rather than a conversion, because it does not involve changing ones basic spiritual nature. In the Qur'an, pure human nature is a "Muslim nature," which knows its Lord and wishes to submit to Him. The Qur'an states, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." (al-Baqarah; 2:256) My substitute for the term "conversion' is "reversion," in the sense of a return to the pure monotheism in which we were all created. Thus the Muslim is taught to be tolerant toward others. Indeed, the Qur'an not only prohibits compulsion in religion, but it prohibits aggression as well, although it allows defense: "Fight it, the cause of Allah those who fight you, but commit no aggression; for Allah loves not transgressors." (al-Baqarah; 2:190)
In addition, we find that within this broad rule of dealing with non-Muslims "the People of the Book" is a special term accorded to Jews and Christians in the Qur'an. Why "People of the Book"? Because the Muslim makes a clear distinction between a polytheist or an atheist and those who follow the prophets who originally received revelations from Allah. Even though a Muslim might point out areas of theological difference, we still believe in the divine origin of those revelations in their "original" forms. How should a Muslim treat these "People of the Book"? Says the Qur'an: "Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for [your] Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those (others] who fight you for [your] Faith, and drive you out of your homes and support (others] in driving you out, from turning to them [for friendship and protection]. It is such as turn to them [in these circumstances], that do wrong.' (al-Mumtahinah; 60:8-9)
In the world today all believers in Allah are facing common dangers: atheism, materialism, secularism and moral decay. We must work together. Allah says in the Qur'an: "... If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single People, but His Plan is to test you in what He has given you. So strive as in a race in all virtues. The return of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.' (al-Ma'idah; 5:51)
I hope, feel, and trust that there is sufficient common ground for Muslims and Christians to meet, understand each other, join hands and move together in the Path of Truth, Peace, and Justice, the Path of Allah. Thank you very much for your patience and may peace be with you.

The following audio series of interviews by Dr. Jamal A. Badawi (Islamic Information Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation, Halifax, N.S., Canada) are available:

Series A: Monotheism (Tawheed)
Series B: Prophethood
Series C: Muhammad in The Bible
Series D: Muslim Beliefs
Series E: Pillars of Islam
Series F: Moral Teachings of Islam
Series G: Social System of Islam
Series H: Economic System of Islam
Series I: Political System of Islam
Series Ja: The Qur'an: Ultimate Miracle
Series Jb: The Qur'an: Its Authenticity and Its Sciences
Series K: Jesus: Beloved Messenger of Allah
Series L: Muhammad: The Last Messenger of Allah

Paul Newman, a Magnetic Titan of Hollywood, Is Dead at 83

From: http://www.nytimes.com/


The cause was cancer, said Jeff Sanderson of Chasen & Company, Mr. Newman’s publicists.
If Marlon Brando and James Dean defined the defiant American male as a sullen rebel, Paul Newman recreated him as a likable renegade, a strikingly handsome figure of animal high spirits and blue-eyed candor whose magnetism was almost impossible to resist, whether the character was Hud, Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy.
He acted in more than 65 movies over more than 50 years, drawing on a physical grace, unassuming intelligence and good humor that made it all seem effortless.
Yet he was also an ambitious, intellectual actor and a passionate student of his craft, and he achieved what most of his peers find impossible: remaining a major star into a craggy, charismatic old age even as he redefined himself as more than Hollywood star. He raced cars, opened summer camps for ailing children and became a nonprofit entrepreneur with a line of foods that put his picture on supermarket shelves around the world.
Mr. Newman made his Hollywood debut in the 1954 costume film “The Silver Chalice.” Stardom arrived a year and a half later, when he inherited from James Dean the role of the boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Mr. Dean had been killed in a car crash before the screenplay was finished.
It was a rapid rise for Mr. Newman, but being taken seriously as an actor took longer. He was almost undone by his star power, his classic good looks and, most of all, his brilliant blue eyes. “I picture my epitaph,” he once said. “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.”
Mr. Newman’s filmography was a cavalcade of flawed heroes and winning antiheroes stretching over decades. In 1958 he was a drifting confidence man determined to marry a Southern belle in an adaptation of “The Long, Hot Summer.” In 1982, in “The Verdict,” he was a washed-up alcoholic lawyer who finds a chance to redeem himself in a medical malpractice case.
And in 2002, at 77, having lost none of his charm, he was affably deadly as Tom Hanks’s gangster boss in “Road to Perdition.” It was his last onscreen role in a major theatrical release. (He supplied the voice of the veteran race car Doc in the Pixar animated film “Cars” in 2006.)
Few major American stars have chosen to play so many imperfect men.
As Hud Bannon in “Hud” (1963) Mr. Newman was a heel on the Texas range who wanted the good life and was willing to sell diseased cattle to get it. The character was intended to make the audience feel “loathing and disgust,” Mr. Newman told a reporter. Instead, he said, “we created a folk hero.”
As the self-destructive convict in “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) Mr. Newman was too rebellious to be broken by a brutal prison system. As Butch Cassidy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) he was the most amiable and antic of bank robbers, memorably paired with Robert Redford. And in “The Hustler” (1961) he was the small-time pool shark Fast Eddie, a role he recreated 25 years later, now as a well-heeled middle-aged liquor salesman, in “The Color of Money” (1986).
That performance, alongside Tom Cruise, brought Mr. Newman his sole Academy Award, for best actor, after he had been nominated for that prize six times. In all he received eight Oscar nominations for best actor and one for best supporting actor, in “Road to Perdition.” “Rachel, Rachel,” which he directed, was nominated for best picture.
“When a role is right for him, he’s peerless,” the film critic Pauline Kael wrote in 1977. “Newman is most comfortable in a role when it isn’t scaled heroically; even when he plays a bastard, he’s not a big bastard — only a callow, selfish one, like Hud. He can play what he’s not — a dumb lout. But you don’t believe it when he plays someone perverse or vicious, and the older he gets and the better you know him, the less you believe it. His likableness is infectious; nobody should ever be asked not to like Paul Newman.”
But the movies and the occasional stage role were never enough for him. He became a successful racecar driver, winning several Sports Car Club of America national driving titles. He even competed at Daytona in 1995 as a 70th birthday present to himself. In 1982, as a lark, he decided to sell a salad dressing he had created and bottled for friends at Christmas. Thus was born the Newman’s Own brand, an enterprise he started with his friend A. E. Hotchner, the writer. More than 25 years later the brand has expanded to include, among other foods, lemonade, popcorn, spaghetti sauce, pretzels, organic Fig Newmans and wine. (His daughter Nell Newman runs the company’s organic arm.) All its profits, of more than $200 million, have been donated to charity, the company says.
Much of the money was used to create a string of Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, named for the outlaw gang in “Butch Cassidy.” The camps provide free summer recreation for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. Mr. Newman was actively involved in the project, even choosing cowboy hats as gear so that children who had lost their hair because of chemotherapy could disguise their baldness.
Several years before the establishment of Newman’s Own, on Nov. 28, 1978, Scott Newman, the oldest of Mr. Newman’s six children and his only son, died at 28 of an overdose of alcohol and pills. His father’s monument to him was the Scott Newman Center, created to publicize the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It is headed by Susan Newman, the oldest of his five daughters.
Mr. Newman’s three younger daughters are the children of his 50-year second marriage, to the actress Joanne Woodward. Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward both were cast — she as an understudy — in the Broadway play “Picnic” in 1953. Starting with “The Long, Hot Summer” in 1958, they co-starred in 10 movies, including “From the Terrace” (1960), based on a John O’Hara novel about a driven executive and his unfaithful wife; “Harry & Son” (1984), which Mr. Newman also directed, produced and helped write; and “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” (1990), James Ivory’s version of a pair of Evan S. Connell novels, in which Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward played a conservative Midwestern couple coping with life’s changes.
When good roles for Ms. Woodward dwindled, Mr. Newman produced and directed “Rachel, Rachel” for her in 1968. Nominated for the best-picture Oscar, the film, a delicate story of a spinster schoolteacher tentatively hoping for love, brought Ms. Woodward her second of four best-actress Oscar nominations. (She won the award on her first nomination, for the 1957 film “The Three Faces of Eve,” and was nominated again for her roles in “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” and the 1973 movie “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.”)
Mr. Newman also directed his wife in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” (1972), “The Glass Menagerie” (1987) and the television movie “The Shadow Box” (1980). As a director his most ambitious film was “Sometimes a Great Notion” (1971), based on the Ken Kesey novel.
In an industry in which long marriages might be defined as those that last beyond the first year and the first infidelity, Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward’s was striking for its endurance. But they admitted that it was often turbulent. She loved opera and ballet. He liked playing practical jokes and racing cars. But as Mr. Newman told Playboy magazine, in an often-repeated quotation about marital fidelity, “I have steak at home; why go out for hamburger?”
Beginnings in Cleveland
Paul Leonard Newman was born on Jan. 26, 1925, in Cleveland. His mother, the former Teresa Fetzer, was a Roman Catholic who turned to Christian Science. His father, Arthur, who was Jewish, owned a thriving sporting goods store that enabled the family to settle in affluent Shaker Heights, Ohio, where Paul and his older brother, Arthur, grew up.
Teresa Newman, an avid theatergoer, steered her son toward acting as a child. In high school, besides playing football, he acted in school plays, graduating in 1943. After less than a year at Ohio University at Athens, he joined the Navy Air Corps to be a pilot. When a test showed he was colorblind, he was made an aircraft radio operator.
After the war Mr. Newman entered Kenyon College in Ohio on an athletic scholarship. He played football and acted in a dozen plays before graduating in 1949.
Arthur Newman, a strict and distant man, thought acting an impractical occupation, but, perhaps persuaded by his wife, he agreed to support his son for a year while Paul acted in small theater companies.
In May 1950 his father died, and Mr. Newman returned to Cleveland to run the sporting goods store. He brought with him a wife, Jacqueline Witte, an actress he had met in summer stock. But after 18 months Paul asked his brother to take over the business while he, his wife and their year-old son, Scott, headed for Yale University, where Mr. Newman intended to concentrate on directing.
He left Yale in the summer of 1952, perhaps because the money had run out and his wife was pregnant again. But almost immediately, the director Josh Logan and the playwright William Inge gave him a small role in “Picnic,” a play that was to run 14 months on Broadway. Soon he was playing the second male lead and understudying Ralph Meeker as the sexy drifter who roils the women in a Kansas town.
Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward were attracted to each other in rehearsals of “Picnic.” But he was a married man, and Ms. Woodward has insisted that they spent the next several years running away from each other.
In the early 1950s roles in live television came easily to both of them. Mr. Newman starred in segments of “You Are There,” “Goodyear Television Playhouse” and other shows.
He was also accepted as a student at the Actors Studio in New York, where he took lessons alongside James Dean, Geraldine Page, Marlon Brando and, eventually, Ms. Woodward.
Then Hollywood knocked. In 1954 Warner Brothers offered Mr. Newman $1,000 a week to star in “The Silver Chalice” as the Greek slave who creates the silver cup used at the Last Supper. Mr. Newman, who rarely watched his own films, once gave out pots, wooden spoons and whistles to a roomful of guests and forced them to sit through “The Silver Chalice,” which he called the worst movie ever made.
His antidote for that early Hollywood experience was to hurry back to Broadway. In Joseph Hayes’s play “The Desperate Hours,” he starred as an escaped convict who holds a family hostage. The play was a hit, and during its run, Jacqueline Newman gave birth to their third child.
On his nights off Mr. Newman acted on live television. In one production he had the title role in “The Death of Billy the Kid,” a psychological study of the outlaw written by Gore Vidal and directed by Arthur Penn for “Philco Playhouse”; in another, an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Battler,” he took over the lead role after James Dean, who had been scheduled to star, was killed on Sept. 30, 1955.
Mr. Penn, who directed “The Battler,” was later sure that Mr. Newman’s performance in that drama, as a disfigured prizefighter, won him the lead role in “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” again replacing Dean. When Mr. Penn adapted the Billy the Kid teleplay for his first Hollywood film, “The Left Handed Gun,” in 1958, he again cast Mr. Newman in the lead.
Even so, Mr. Newman was saddled for years with an image of being a “pretty boy” lightweight.
“Paul suffered a little bit from being so handsome — people doubted just how well he could act,” Mr. Penn told the authors of the 1988 book “Paul and Joanne.”
By 1957 Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward were discreetly living together in Hollywood; his wife had initially refused to give him a divorce. He later admitted that his drinking was out of control during this period.
With his divorce granted, Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward were married on Jan. 29, 1958, and went on to rear their three daughters far from Hollywood, in a farmhouse on 15 acres in Westport, Conn.
That same year Mr. Newman played Brick, the reluctant husband of Maggie the Cat, in the film version of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” earning his first Academy Award nomination, for best actor. In 1961, with “The Hustler,” he earned his second best-actor Oscar nomination. He had become more than a matinee idol.
Directed by Martin Ritt
Many of his meaty performances during the early ’60s came in movies directed by Martin Ritt, who had been a teaching assistant to Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio when Mr. Newman was a student. After directing “The Long, Hot Summer,” Mr. Ritt directed Mr. Newman in “Paris Blues” (1961), a story of expatriate musicians; “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man” (1962); “Hud” (1963), which brought Mr. Newman a third Oscar nomination; “The Outrage” (1964), with Mr. Newman as the bandit in a western based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”; and “Hombre” (1967), in which Mr. Newman played a white man, reared by Indians, struggling to live in a white world.
Among his other important films were Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain” (1966) and Jack Smight’s “Harper” (1966), in which he played Ross Macdonald’s private detective Lew Archer.
In 1968 — after he was cast as an ice-cold racecar driver in “Winning,” with Ms. Woodward playing his frustrated wife — Mr. Newman was sent to a racing school. In midlife racing became his obsession. A Web site — newman-haas.com — details his racing career, including his first race in 1972; his first professional victory, in 1982; and his co-ownership of the Newman/Haas Indy racing team, which won eight series championships.
A politically active liberal Democrat, Mr. Newman was a Eugene McCarthy delegate to the 1968 Democratic convention and appointed by President Jimmy Carter to a United Nations General Assembly session on disarmament. He expressed pride at being on President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies list.
When Mr. Newman turned 50, he settled into a new career as a character actor, playing the title role — “with just the right blend of craftiness and stupidity,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times — of Robert Altman’s “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” (1976); an unscrupulous hockey coach in George Roy Hill’s “Slap Shot” (1977); and the disintegrating lawyer in Sidney Lumet’s “Verdict.”
Most of Mr. Newman’s films were commercial hits, probably none more so than “The Sting” (1973), in which he teamed with Mr. Redford again to play a couple of con men, and “The Towering Inferno” (1974), in which he played an architect in an all-star cast that included Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.
After his fifth best-actor Oscar nomination, for his portrait of an innocent man discredited by the press in Sydney Pollack’s “Absence of Malice” (1981), and his sixth a year later, for “The Verdict,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1986 gave Mr. Newman the consolation prize of an honorary award. In a videotaped acceptance speech he said, “I am especially grateful that this did not come wrapped in a gift certificate to Forest Lawn.”
His best-actor Oscar, for “The Color of Money,” came the next year, and at the 1994 Oscars ceremony he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The year after that he earned his eighth nomination as best actor, for his curmudgeonly construction worker trying to come to terms with his failures in “Nobody’s Fool” (1994). In 2003 he was nominated as best supporting actor for his work in “Road to Perdition.” And in 2006 he took home both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing another rough-hewn old-timer, this one in the HBO mini-series “Empire Falls.”
Besides Ms. Woodward and his daughters Susan and Nell, he is survived by three other daughters, Stephanie, Melissa and Clea; two grandchildren; and his brother.
Mr. Newman returned to Broadway for the last time in 2002, as the Stage Manager in a lucrative revival of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” The performance was nominated for a Tony Award, though critics tended to find it modest. When the play was broadcast on PBS in 2003, he won an Emmy.
This year he had planned to direct “Of Mice and Men,” based on the John Steinbeck novel, in October at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. But in May he announced that he was stepping aside, citing his health.
Mr. Newman’s last screen credit was as the narrator of Bill Haney’s documentary “The Price of Sugar,” released this year. By then he had all but announced that he was through with acting.
“I’m not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to,” Mr. Newman said last year on the ABC program “Good Morning America.” “You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that’s pretty much a closed book for me.”
But he remained fulfilled by his charitable work, saying it was his greatest legacy, particularly in giving ailing children a camp at which to play.
“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Mr. Newman once told a reporter. “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”