Thursday, February 26, 2009

A planet at the brink?


By Michael T Klare

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow. As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.)

If the present economic disaster turns into what President Barack Obama has referred to as a "lost decade", the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals. Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police.
If you inserted orange pins at these locations - none as yet in the United States - your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you're a gambling man or woman, it's a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins. For the most part, such upheavals, even when violent, are likely to remain localized in nature, and disorganized enough that government forces will be able to bring them under control within days or weeks, even if - as with Athens for six days last December - urban paralysis sets in due to rioting, tear gas, and police cordons. That, at least, has been the case so far. It is entirely possible, however, that, as the economic crisis worsens, some of these incidents will metastasize into far more intense and long-lasting events: armed rebellions, military takeovers, civil conflicts, even economically fueled wars between states.

Every outbreak of violence has its own distinctive origins and characteristics. All, however, are driven by a similar combination of anxiety about the future and lack of confidence in the ability of established institutions to deal with the problems at hand. And just as the economic crisis has proven global in ways not seen before, so local incidents - especially given the almost instantaneous nature of modern communications - have a potential to spark others in far-off places, linked only in a virtual sense.

A pandemic of economically driven violence The riots that erupted in the spring of 2008 in response to rising food prices suggested the speed with which economically-related violence can spread. It is unlikely that Western news sources captured all such incidents, but among those recorded in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were riots in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. In Haiti, for example, thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and demanded food handouts, only to be repelled by government troops and United Nation (UN) peacekeepers. Other countries, including Pakistan and Thailand, quickly sought to deter such assaults by deploying troops at farms and warehouses throughout the country.

The riots only abated at summer's end when falling energy costs brought food prices crashing down as well. (The cost of food is now closely tied to the price of oil and natural gas because petrochemicals are so widely and heavily used in the cultivation of grains.) Ominously, however, this is sure to prove but a temporary respite, given the epic droughts now gripping breadbasket regions of the United States, Argentina, Australia, China, the Middle East, and Africa. Look for the prices of wheat, soybeans, and possibly rice to rise in the coming months - just when billions of people in the developing world are sure to see their already marginal incomes plunging due to the global economic collapse.

Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well. In India, for example, violent protests threatened stability in many key areas. Although usually described as ethnic, religious, or caste disputes, these outbursts were typically driven by economic anxiety and a pervasive feeling that someone else's group was faring better than yours - and at your expense. In April, for example, six days of intense rioting in Indian-controlled Kashmir were largely blamed on religious animosity between the majority Muslim population and the Hindu-dominated Indian government; equally important, however, was a deep resentment over what many Kashmiri Muslims experienced as discrimination in jobs, housing, and land use.

Then, in May, thousands of nomadic shepherds known as Gujjars shut down roads and trains leading to the city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, in a drive to be awarded special economic rights; more than 30 people were killed when the police fired into crowds. In October, economically-related violence erupted in Assam in the country's far northeast, where impoverished locals are resisting an influx of even poorer, mostly illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh. Economically driven clashes also erupted across much of eastern China in 2008.

Such events, labeled "mass incidents" by Chinese authorities, usually involve protests by workers over sudden plant shutdowns, lost pay, or illegal land seizures. More often than not, protestors demanded compensation from company managers or government authorities, only to be greeted by club-wielding police. Needless to say, the leaders of China's Communist Party have been reluctant to acknowledge such incidents. This January, however, the magazine Liaowang (Outlook Weekly) reported that layoffs and wage disputes had triggered a sharp increase in such "mass incidents," particularly along the country's eastern seaboard, where much of its manufacturing capacity is located. By December, the epicenter of such sporadic incidents of violence had moved from the developing world to Western Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Here, the protests have largely been driven by fears of prolonged unemployment, disgust at government malfeasance and ineptitude, and a sense that "the system," however defined, is incapable of satisfying the future aspirations of large groups of citizens. One of the earliest of this new wave of upheavals occurred in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 2008, after police shot and killed a 15-year-old schoolboy during an altercation in a crowded downtown neighborhood. As news of the killing spread throughout the city, hundreds of students and young people surged into the city center and engaged in pitched battles with riot police, throwing stones and firebombs. Although government officials later apologized for the killing and charged the police officer involved with manslaughter, riots broke out repeatedly in the following days in Athens and other Greek cities. Angry youths attacked the police - widely viewed as agents of the establishment - as well as luxury shops and hotels, some of which were set on fire. By one estimate, the six days of riots caused $1.3 billion in damage to businesses at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Russia also experienced a spate of violent protests in December, triggered by the imposition of high tariffs on imported automobiles. Instituted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to protect an endangered domestic auto industry (whose sales were expected to shrink by up to 50% in 2009), the tariffs were a blow to merchants in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok who benefited from a nationwide commerce in used Japanese vehicles. When local police refused to crack down on anti-tariff protests, the authorities were evidently worried enough to fly in units of special forces from Moscow, 3,700 miles away. In January, incidents of this sort seemed to be spreading through Eastern Europe. Between January 13th and 16th, anti-government protests involving violent clashes with the police erupted in the Latvian capital of Riga, the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, and the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

It is already essentially impossible to keep track of all such episodes, suggesting that we are on the verge of a global pandemic of economically driven violence. A perfect recipe for instabilityWhile most such incidents are triggered by an immediate event - a tariff, the closure of local factory, the announcement of government austerity measures - there are systemic factors at work as well. While economists now agree that we are in the midst of a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s, they generally assume that this downturn - like all others since World War II - will be followed in a year, or two, or three, by the beginning of a typical recovery.

There are good reasons to suspect that this might not be the case - that poorer countries (along with many people in the richer countries) will have to wait far longer for such a recovery, or may see none at all. Even in the United States, 54% of Americans now believe that "the worst" is "yet to come" and only 7% that the economy has "turned the corner", according to a recent Ipsos/McClatchy poll. A quarter of the population also think the crisis will last more than four years. Whether in the US, Russia, China, or Bangladesh, it is this underlying anxiety - this suspicion that things are far worse than just about anyone is saying - which is helping to fuel the global epidemic of violence. The World Bank's most recent status report, Global Economic Prospects 2009, fulfills those anxieties in two ways. It refuses to state the worst, even while managing to hint, in terms too clear to be ignored, at the prospect of a long-term, or even permanent, decline in economic conditions for many in the world. Nominally upbeat - as are so many media pundits - regarding the likelihood of an economic recovery in the not-too-distant future, the report remains full of warnings about the potential for lasting damage in the developing world if things don't go exactly right.

Two worries, in particular, dominate Global Economic Prospects 2009: that banks and corporations in the wealthier countries will cease making investments in the developing world, choking off whatever growth possibilities remain; and that food costs will rise uncomfortably, while the use of farmlands for increased biofuels production will result in diminished food availability to hundreds of millions. Despite its Pollyanna-ish passages on an economic rebound, the report does not mince words when discussing what the almost certain coming decline in First World investment in Third World countries would mean:

Should credit markets fail to respond to the robust policy interventions taken so far, the consequences for developing countries could be very serious. Such a scenario would be characterized by ... substantial disruption and turmoil, including bank failures and currency crises, in a wide range of developing countries. Sharply negative growth in a number of developing countries and all of the attendant repercussions, including increased poverty and unemployment, would be inevitable.In the autumn of 2008, when the report was written, this was considered a "worst-case scenario." Since then, the situation has obviously worsened radically, with financial analysts reporting a virtual freeze in worldwide investment. Equally troubling, newly industrialized countries that rely on exporting manufactured goods to richer countries for much of their national income have reported stomach-wrenching plunges in sales, producing massive plant closings and layoffs.

The World Bank's 2008 survey also contains troubling data about the future availability of food. Although insisting that the planet is capable of producing enough foodstuffs to meet the needs of a growing world population, its analysts were far less confident that sufficient food would be available at prices people could afford, especially once hydrocarbon prices begin to rise again. With ever more farmland being set aside for biofuels production and efforts to increase crop yields through the use of "miracle seeds" losing steam, the Bank's analysts balanced their generally hopeful outlook with a caveat: "If biofuels-related demand for crops is much stronger or productivity performance disappoints, future food supplies may be much more expensive than in the past." Combine these two World Bank findings - zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices - and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances which could spread like multiple brushfires in a drought.

Mapping a world at the brink Survey the present world, and it's all too easy to spot a plethora of potential sites for such multiple eruptions - or far worse. Take China. So far, the authorities have managed to control individual "mass incidents", preventing them from coalescing into something larger. But in a country with a more than 2,000 history of vast millenarian uprisings, the risk of such escalation has to be on the minds of every Chinese leader. On February 2, a top Chinese Party official, Chen Xiwen, announced that, in the last few months of 2008 alone, a staggering 20 million migrant workers, who left rural areas for the country's booming cities in recent years, had lost their jobs. Worse yet, they had little prospect of regaining them in 2009.

If many of these workers return to the countryside, they may find nothing there either, not even land to work. Under such circumstances, and with further millions likely to be shut out of coastal factories in the coming year, the prospect of mass unrest is high. No wonder the government announced a $585 billion stimulus plan aimed at generating rural employment and, at the same time, called on security forces to exercise discipline and restraint when dealing with protesters.

Many analysts now believe that, as exports continue to dry up, rising unemployment could lead to nationwide strikes and protests that might overwhelm ordinary police capabilities and require full-scale intervention by the military (as occurred in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989). Or take many of the Third World petro-states that experienced heady boosts in income when oil prices were high, allowing governments to buy off dissident groups or finance powerful internal security forces. With oil prices plunging from $147 per barrel of crude oil to less than $40 dollars, such countries, from Angola to shaky Iraq, now face severe instability.

Nigeria is a typical case in point: When oil prices were high, the central government in Abuja raked in billions every year, enough to enrich elites in key parts of the country and subsidize a large military establishment; now that prices are low, the government will have a hard time satisfying all these previously well-fed competing obligations, which means the risk of internal disequilibrium will escalate.

An insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, fueled by popular discontent with the failure of oil wealth to trickle down from the capital, is already gaining momentum and is likely to grow stronger as government revenues shrivel; other regions, equally disadvantaged by national revenue-sharing policies, will be open to disruptions of all sorts, including heightened levels of internecine warfare. Bolivia is another energy producer that seems poised at the brink of an escalation in economic violence. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it harbors substantial oil and natural gas reserves in its eastern, lowland regions.

A majority of the population - many of Indian descent - supports President Evo Morales, who seeks to exercise strong state control over the reserves and use the proceeds to uplift the nation's poor. But a majority of those in the eastern part of the country, largely controlled by a European-descended elite, resent central government interference and seek to control the reserves themselves. Their efforts to achieve greater autonomy have led to repeated clashes with government troops and, in deteriorating times, could set the stage for a full-scale civil war.

Given a global situation in which one startling, often unexpected development follows another, prediction is perilous. At a popular level, however, the basic picture is clear enough: continued economic decline combined with a pervasive sense that existing systems and institutions are incapable of setting things right is already producing a potentially lethal brew of anxiety, fear, and rage.

Popular explosions of one sort or another are inevitable. Some sense of this new reality appears to have percolated up to the highest reaches of the US intelligence community. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 12th, Admiral Dennis C Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, declared, "The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications ... Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period" - certain to be the case in the present situation.

Blair did not specify which countries he had in mind when he spoke of "regime-threatening instability" - a new term in the American intelligence lexicon, at least when associated with economic crises - but it is clear from his testimony that US officials are closely watching dozens of shaky nations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia. Now go back to that map on your wall with all those red and orange pins in it and proceed to color in appropriate countries in various shades of red and orange to indicate recent striking declines in gross national product and rises in unemployment rates. Without 16 intelligence agencies under you, you'll still have a pretty good idea of the places that Blair and his associates are eyeing in terms of instability as the future darkens on a planet at the brink.

Michael T Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books). (Copyright 2009 Michael T Klare.) (Used by permission Tomdispatch)

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Behave When Struck by Illness


How to Behave When Struck by Illness (part 1 of 2): Bearing Afflictions with Patience

By Aisha Stacey

Before talking about how a believer behaves when ill or injured it is important to understand just what Islam teaches us about the life of this world. Our existence here on earth is but a transient stop, on the way to our real life in the Hereafter. Paradise or Hell will be our permanent abode.

This world is a place of trial and testing. God created it for us, for our enjoyment, but it is a place of more than just worldly pleasures. It is here that we fulfil our true purpose; we live our lives based on the worship of God. We laugh, we play, we cry and we feel heartache and sorrow, but every condition and every emotion is from God. We react with patience and thankfulness and hope for eternal reward. We fear eternal punishment and know with certainty that God is the source of all mercy and all forgiveness.

“And this life of the world is only amusement and play! Verily, the home of the Hereafter, that is the life indeed (i.e. the eternal life that will never end), if they but knew.” (Quran 29:64)

God did not create us and then abandon us to the pleasures and trials of life; rather He sent Messengers and Prophets to teach us and books of revelation to guide us. He also provided us with countless blessings. Each blessing makes life wonderful and at times bearable. If we stop for a moment and contemplate our existence, the blessings of God become evident. Observe the rain falling outside, feel the tingle of the sunshine on your bare skin, touch your hand to your breast, and feel the strong rhythmic beating of your heart. These are blessings from God and we should be thankful for them, along with our homes, our children, and our health. God however tells us, that we will be tested, He says,
“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones.” (Quran 2:155)

God has advised us to bear our trials and tribulations patiently. However, this is difficult without understanding that everything that happens in this world happens by the permission of God. No leaf falls from a tree without God’s permission. No business crumbles, no car crashes, and no marriage ends without God’s permission. No illness or injury touches a human being without God’s permission. He has power over all things. God does what He does for reasons that are at times beyond our comprehension and for reasons that may or may not be apparent. However, God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy wants only what is best for us. Ultimately, what is best for us is eternal life in a place of eternal bliss, Paradise.
“Their Lord gives them glad tidings of a Mercy from Him, and that He is pleased (with them), and of Gardens (Paradise) for them wherein are everlasting delight.” (Quran 9:21)

In the face of every trial, a believer must be certain that God does not decree for him anything but good. The good may be among the pleasures of this world or it may be in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad said, “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is also good for him.”[1] God test us with the trials and tribulations of life, but from every test comes great reward. Through changing circumstances and trying times God tests our level of faith, ascertains our ability to be patient and wipes away some of our bad deeds or sins. God is all loving and all wise and knows us better than we know ourselves. We will not attain Paradise without His mercy and His mercy is manifest in the tests and trials of this life.

The life of this world is mere deception. There is nothing in it, not wealth, family, or health, which can benefit us in the hereafter. All that can benefit us are the good deeds that we were able to perform. Families are a trial, for God says that they can lead us astray, but equally they can lead us to Paradise. Wealth is a trial; coveting it can make us greedy and miserly, but distributing it and using it to benefit those in need can bring us closer to God. Health is also a trial. Good health can make us feel invincible and not in need of God, but bad health has a way of humbling us and forcing us to depend on God. How a believer reacts to the circumstances of life is very important.

What happens if the pleasures of this life suddenly become torments? How should one behave when struck by illness or injury? Of course, we accept our fate and try to bear the pain, sadness, or suffering patiently because we know with certainty that from this God will bring about much good. Prophet Muhammad said, “No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress – not even a thorn that pricks him – but God will expiate for some of his sins because of that.”[2]

However, we are imperfect human beings. We can read these words, we can even understand the sentiment, but behaving with acceptance is sometimes very difficult. It is much easier to bemoan and cry about our situation, but our Most Merciful God has given us clear guidelines and promised us two things. That if we worship Him and follow His guidance we will be rewarded with Paradise and that after hardship comes ease.
“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief.” (Quran 94:5)

A believer is obligated to look after his body and mind, therefore trying to maintain good health is essential. However, when struck by illness or injury, it is vital to follow God’s guidance. A believer must seek medical aid and do everything he can to bring about a cure or recovery, but at the same time he must seek help through prayer, remembrance of God and acts of worship. Islam is a holistic way of life, both physical and spiritual health go hand in hand. In part two we will examine in more detail the steps to take when struck by illness or injury.
[1] Saheeh Muslim
[2] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim

How to Behave When Struck by Illness (part 2 of 2): God’s Mercy has no Limits

In Part one we discussed bearing trials and tests with patience and understanding that nothing happens without the permission of God.
“And with Him are the keys of the Ghaib (all that is hidden), none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but He knows it.” (Quran 6:59)

When illness or injury strikes the reasons may not be apparent, or perhaps even be beyond our understanding. However God wants only good for humankind. We can therefore be sure that there is great wisdom behind the affliction and that it presents us with the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with God. As humans, of course we have free will and are free to choose our own course of action in any given situation, but the best reaction is patience and acceptance.

Prophet Muhammad taught us that we will be tested, according to our level of faith and that the very least good that will come from these tests will be purification from sins. He said, a man will be tested according to the level of his religious commitment, and the trials will keep affecting a slave of God until he is left walking on the face of the earth with no burden of sin whatsoever.[1]

When illness or injury over come us it is natural to be fearful. At times we can even feel resentful, wondering why God has allowed this to happen. We question and complain, but really this serves no purpose except to accentuate our sorrow or suffering. God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy has given us clear guidelines about how to behave when struck by illness or injury. If we follow these guidelines it is possible to bear afflictions with ease and even to be grateful. When struck by illness or injury, a believer puts his or her trust in God, expresses thankfulness for whatever condition God has decreed for him, and seeks medical aid.

Medical treatment is allowed in Islam and seeking medical aid does not negate or cancel out the idea of putting ones trust in God. Prophet Muhammad made this clear when he said, “When God created the disease, He also created the cure, so seek the cure.”[2] A believer may go to a doctor for the treatment of diseases and injuries. He may go to seek a diagnosis and a cure for diseases of the mind or emotional conditions. However there are some small stipulations, including that a cure cannot be sought in something that is forbidden, such as alcohol. Ultimately God does not put healing in something He has prohibited.

It is not permissible to seek a cure from soothsayers, fortunetellers and other charlatans of any sort. These people claim to have knowledge of the unseen, which is not possible and they are only trying to exhort money and lead people astray from the One True God. God has also forbidden the use of amulets and lucky charms to ward of illness and injury. All power and all strength come from God alone. To call on someone or something besides God to heal us or keep us safe is a very serious sin.

While seeking treatment or cure in this physical world it is important to also seek a cure through spiritual remedies. The first thing to do is to think positively about God, confirm your belief in Him, and contemplate His names and attributes. He is the Most Merciful, the Most Loving, and the Most Wise. We are advised to call on Him by the names that are most appropriate to our needs.
“And (all) the Most Beautiful Names belong to God so call on Him by them...” (Quran 7:80)

God has not abandoned us to the trials, tests and tribulations of this world, He has provided us with guidance and the most powerful weapons against torment and distress – Quran, words of remembrance and supplication, and prayer.[3] As we move further into the 21st century we have begun to rely on medical aid instead of authentic spiritual remedies, however using the two, hand in hand can often be very effective very quickly. Sometimes illnesses persist, sometimes injuries become chronic, but sometimes ill health can bring about great spiritual insight.

How often have we heard people with debilitating diseases or terrible disabilities thank God for their conditions, or speak of the way pain and suffering bought blessings and goodness into their lives? When we are feeling alone and distressed, God is our only handhold. When pain and suffering become unbearable, when there is nothing left but fear and misery, that is when we reach for the one thing that can bring about redemption – God. Complete and utter trust and total submission to the will of God brings about the joy and freedom that is known as the sweetness of faith. It is peace and tranquillity and it enables one to accept all the conditions this world brings, the good, the bad, the ugly, the painful, the distressing and the joyous.

Finally it is important to understand that illnesses and injuries can be God’s way of purifying us. As human beings we are not perfect, we make mistakes, do bad deeds, and even deliberately disobey God’s commandments.
“Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness.” (Quran 42:30)

God’s mercy should never be under estimated. He is waiting for us to call on Him for forgiveness. Prophet Mohammad reminded us that God is waiting for us to turn to Him. In the last part of the night, when darkness lies heavily across the land, God is waiting in the lowest heaven and cries out to His slaves. “Who is saying a prayer to Me that I may answer it? Who is asking something of Me that I may give it him? Who is asking forgiveness of Me that I may forgive him?”[4]

Often misfortune, pain, and suffering come about because of our own actions. We choose to commit sin, but God purifies us through loss of wealth, health or the things we love. Sometimes suffering now, in this world means that we will not suffer for all of eternity, sometimes all that pain and distress means that we will attain a higher station in Paradise.

God knows the wisdom behind why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people. He sees the big picture and we do not. The reality is that whatever circumstances cause us to turn to God are good. In times of crisis people become close to God, whereas in times of comfort we often forget from where the comfort originated. God is the Provider and He is the Most Generous. God wants to reward us with life everlasting and if pain and suffering can guarantee Paradise, then ill health and injuries are a blessing. Prophet Muhammad said, “If God wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.”[5]
When illness strikes, the best course of action is to thank God, try to be closer to Him, seek medical aid and count your blessings.
[1] Ibn Majah.
[2] Ahmad, classified as Saheeh by Sh Al Albani.
[3] For a full explanation of the healing power of Quran please see the article Health in Islam Part 2.
[4] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim, Malik, At Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud
[5] Saheeh Al-Bukhari.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Swelling ranks of US jobless yearn for health insurance


by Bryan Mitchell

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (AFP) – For many among the growing ranks of unemployed workers in the United States, the scariest part of losing their job is losing their health insurance.
Even before the current economic crisis, 45 million Americans were uninsured. That number is expected to rise to 54 million by 2019 if changes aren't made to the system, according to the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

One of the swelling ranks, Amy Newlin, has been getting by on her savings and unemployment benefits after she and her husband lost their jobs last fall.
But while they can cut back on dinners out, new clothes or other inessentials, the costs of treating her diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid difficulties have risen dramatically.
"I need insulin strips to test my blood, and medicine for my high blood pressure," Newlin told AFP.
"My insulin is 80 dollars a bottle without insurance and the strips are expensive, too. It's not easy to keep up."

The Indiana woman was one of dozens who attended a meeting Thursday for uninsured people to register for government-funded health care.
Health officials held the clinic in the basement of an elementary school to deal with a surging number of applicants as a flood of layoffs forced scores of area residents off their employer-provided plans and into the peril of being uninsured in America.

Newlin arrived prepared with a folder jammed with old pay stubs, her birth certificate and all the other necessary documents to ensure she would be signed up.
But even if she qualifies, it will be some time before she's insured and any serious illness or accident could still bankrupt her family.

Health care has long been a contentious issue in American social and political life.
High costs, the exclusion of patients with pre-existing conditions and bureaucratic snafus plague the private system, which is unattainable for a growing number of Americans.
The federal government manages two health care systems: Medicaid -- for the poor -- and Medicare -- for the elderly. They currently amount to 5 percent of America's gross domestic product.

But the costs will more than double to 12 percent by 2050, under the Congressional Budget Office's current estimates.
Indiana launched a plan at the start of 2008 to cover some -- the working poor, single parents, the moderately disabled -- who are not protected by Medicaid.
Residents aren't eligible until they've gone six months uninsured, and there's a small pay-in for participants, helping to hold down costs.

President Barack Obama made health care reform a central plank in his populist platform when he ran for the White House.
And the massive stimulus package he signed Tuesday included plans to help cover the cost of temporary coverage for scores of displaced workers and possibly extend Medicaid coverage to other uninsured Americans who would not normally be eligible.

Yet comprehensive reform has been hampered by the distraction and cost of the current economic crisis, along with the loss of Obama's first pick for health secretary, Tom Daschle, who withdrew from consideration amid questions about his tax history.

Washington's political wrangling is a far way from those gathered in the colorful basement cafeteria of Indiana's Fairfield Elementary School.
Newlin, for one, doesn't hold out much hope for the government to solve anything soon.
"I don't even know if they know where half that money is going," she said of the stimulus.
Jerome and Brenda Lewis, a couple in their mid-50s, have been without insurance since October when she lost her job -- and their coverage.

They are hopeful Obama will bring change and are thankful for the work of people who organized the clinic, but turn to a greater power for balance in these unsteady times.
"Right now, by the grace of God, everything is all right for us. We keep praying that everything will be all right," Jerome Lewis said.

Blogger comment:

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I will be glad to give to the American people Taman Health Plan for free. Condition one American politicians could not get any credit since they helped over decades to oppress my people in the Arab and Muslim countries. Though, at personal level many of them are good people. Condition 2 is to have my name in the plan. You know it and I know it that it is the best stimulus of the economy.

Why should I save America when I was persecuted and discriminated against because of my race, religion and talking against the tyrants and the American government that support them. The reason is there are a lot of good people I worked with them in America. I was hoping with the plan I can bargain to free my people.

However it looks that millions more will be suffering if I held the plan. If I am not able to help my people at least I can help a lot of Americans.

I really think the American politicians at least some of them work to the interest groups. I really do not think there will be a real change in America. My obligation now is to the people I see suffering every day in my clinic. I know that by heart. I can not afford to sop working one day myself. Most of doctors are not really rich in America the money in health care goes to the people around us the pharmaceuticals, insurance companies and political-medical industrial complex. More so the money is lost in the waste of the disorganised health care. See my plan in the web and you will know the difference. Taman Health Plan

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Faith and Action


By: Sadullah Khan

Faith provides the ideological foundation for human existence and the criterion through which to categorize good from bad, right from wrong and righteousness from impropriety.

Through faith we bind ourselves to a system of belief that impacts the personal, social, economic, religious and spiritual dimensions of our lives.

Faith offers a moral framework and an ethical standard for our behavior in this world.

In Islam, the belief is that God revealed the true path to humanity throughout history via the agency of prophets and messengers such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus with Muhammad being the final of these messengers (peace be upon all of them).

The term for "faith" in Islam is iemaan. Iemaan is considered as one component of an inextricable set; the other part being 'amal-us-saalihaat (good deeds). See Qur'an (98:8) (18:30)

The terms iemaan and 'amal-us-saalihaat are so often conjoined in the Qur'an that the reader is convinced they are intertwined. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said; " Faith and Good Action are partners. One is considered incomplete without the other."

The Qur'an considers life as a test of deeds (Qur'an 67:2) and in Islamic tradition all good deeds are considered 'ibaadah, a form of worship. Since human beings have been created primarily for 'ibaadah it is obvious that all actions of a believer must be of the highest ethical standard. From this we understand that worship is not limited to mere ritual but to all expressions of goodness and righteousness.

Actions must be inherently good not just apparently good. (Giving charity for show may appear good but the intention is to show off, whereas giving charity purely out of compassion is genuine.) The most famous Prophetic tradition in all of Islam therefore is: "Actions are by intentions and God rewards according to intention."

Good deeds in Islam are of such great significance that salvation is dependent on good actions that emanates from sincere intentions.

People will be held individually accountable in the hereafter for all their willful actions (ie. actions they did by choice not by force), and each will be receive retribution accordingly.
"Whosoever does righteous deeds, male or female, who have faith, to such God will grant a higher existence in the hereafter that is good and pure. They will be rewarded according to the best of their actions." (Qur'an 16:97)

Sadullah Khan is the Director of Islamic Center of Irvine. He has presented lectures on Islamic Civilization at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He is a frequent lecturer for the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). He is also an advisor to the Chancellor's Committee on Religion Ethics and Values at UCLA and serves as Director of Muslim Affairs at USC (University of Southern California).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life and Beyond according to the Quran


By: Muhammad Abdel Haleem

In the Quran life in this world is an inseparable part of a continuum, a unified whole - life, death, life - which gives our life a context and relevance. In this context, the life of the individual is made meaningful and enriched inasmuch as it is full of 'good works'. Life in this world leads to the afterlife, a belief which is fundamental in the Quran.

The afterlife is not treated in the Quran in a separate chapter, or as something on its own, for its own sake, but always in relation to life in this world.Linguistically it is not possible in the Quran to talk about this life without semantic reference to the next since every term used for each is comparative with the other. Thus: al'ula and al-akhira (the First and the Last life), al-dunya and al-akhira (the nearer and the further/latter life). Neither has a name specific to itself, or independent of the other. Consequently, the frequency of the terms in the Quran is the same, in the case of dunya and akhira- each appears 115 times.There is a reference, direct or indirect, to one aspect or another of the afterlife on almost every single page of the Quran.

This follows from the fact that belief in the afterlife is an article of faith which has a bearing on every aspect of the present life and manifests itself in the discussion of the creed, the rituals, the ethics and the laws of Islam. In discussing the afterlife, moreover, the Quran addresses both believers and non-believers. The plan of two worlds and the relationship between them has been, from the beginning, part of the divine scheme of things:
It is God who created you, then He provided sustenance for you, then He will cause you to die, then He will give life back to you. Quran 30:40
It is We who give life and make to die and to Us is the homecoming. Quran 50:43
He created death and life that He might try you according to which of you is best in works. Quran 67:2

According to the Quran, belief in the afterlife, which is an issue fundamental to the mission of Muhammad, was also central to the mission of all prophets before him. Belief in the afterlife is often referred to in conjunction with belief in God, as in the expression:
'If you believe in God and the Last Day'. Believers are frequently reminded in the Quran, 'Be mindful of God and know that you shall meet Him' (Quran 2:233) (used in this instance to urge fitting treatment of one's wife in intimate situations).
'To Him is the homecoming/ the return' (Quran 36:83; 40:3 and passim).

As a belief in the afterlife is so fundamental to Islam, it is only right that Muslims should regularly be reminded of it not only throughout the pages of the Quran but also in their daily life. Practicing Muslims in their five daily prayers repeat their praise of God at least seventeen times a day, 'The Master of the Day of Judgment' (Quran 1:4) .

Being inattentive to the afterlife (Quran 30:7) or to the prospect of coming to judgment (Quran 32:14) are signs of the unbeliever. All this heightens the believer's sense of responsibility for actions in this life. In fact the principles and details of religion are meant to be seen within the framework of the interdependence of this life and the afterlife and to color the Muslims' conception of life and the universe and have a bearing on their actions in this life.

Excerpted from "Understanding The Quran" by Muhammad Abdel Haleem

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heinz, Ex-Christian, UK


By Selma Cook

Abdul Hakeem Heinz was brought up in the south of London. He was first introduced to Islam at the tender age of seven when his mother embraced Islam.

Years later he traveled and lived in Egypt for a few years and further developed his knowledge and understanding of Islam as well as his skills in Arabic language.

He was just a young boy when his mother converted, and it was then that he and his brother and sister changed from going to church to practicing Islam. This was quite a shock for him at first because his comfort zone had been in the Christian concepts that he had previously been taught.

Initially, Islam was presented to him as a set of strict rules that had to be followed. He admits that at first he found it all a bit tough to deal with. At seven he was expected to pray and fast.

He also had to learn the Arabic language and he found himself praying and reading Quran but without understanding what he was saying and why he had to do all this.

However, the years passed and after some time, it all started to settle in and Islam became his way of life. As he looks back, he notes that as a teenager, it was natural that he would start to question what life is about.

As he passed through the turbulence of his teenage years, the meaning of the message of Islam started to touch his heart and became more and more acceptable to him. He also began to understand what Islam meant in his life and as he learned more, he perceived Islam as the correct way.

Heinz admits, “In my early teens, it was something to be ashamed of to be a Muslim. At school I was taught Islamic studies but I was also taught that it was just like Hinduism and Sikhism.”

It affected him that Islam and those who followed it were considered “different” from others. When he started secondary school, he did not want to be associated with Islam, but he kept it in his heart.

He explains his reaction, “It was because of the pressure from outside, but at the same time, I hadn't gone into Islam enough to justify my faith as I could have.” The public perception of Islam at that time affected how he presented himself as a Muslim. He wanted to be among the common crowd, which is a natural part of human nature. This perception did not change until he was about fourteen years old.

At this age, he changed in the way he practiced Islam and how he presented his religion to others. This happened after he traveled to Holland and Spain. His journey to Spain was especially significant as there he had the chance to interact more with practicing Muslims.

He comments, “There was a minority Muslim community where I was in Spain but they were respected and some of the youth of my age group were very interested in religion. This made me no longer feel ashamed. Young people were embracing Islam and this made me feel proud.”

When he returned to the UK from Spain, he was about fifteen. He went back to school, but the difference this time was that he was a Muslim from the inside! He was much more confident and so he started to talk about Islam more. Heinz says happily, “I could actually say 'I am Muslim'.”

Then attitudes towards Islam started to change among his peers at school. He relates, “At that time, being a Muslim was considered jazzy, snappy, and cool! This helped me become even more confident. One of the things that helped me through all these changes was my independence to know Almighty Allah.”

He admits reading when he was by himself and memorizing Quran. He also says that when he was a teenager, as a household his family members were Muslims, but Islam was not always being practiced properly.

Despite all this, there was something in his heart that was always drawn toward Almighty Allah and Islam. If he found life difficult or had problems, he would pray two units of Prayer and pour his heart out to Almighty Allah. He states, “I learned to submit myself to Allah.”“

Heinz believes that Muslims have to be sincere to Almighty Allah and recite Quran everyday. This is what helped him to pass through the difficult teenage years.

He noticed that as he became stronger, people changed their perceptions about him and started to respect him.

He says that if a person acts shyly, feels embarrassed and behaves apologetically, people will put him to one side. But if he does not really care about what people think, because he knows that he is on the truth, people will respect him because of the confidence he has.

Heinz says with surety, “People respect that kind of character. People respect you if you are yourself.”

He believes that we do not owe anything to our friends or the group we are with, and that we should just be ourselves. He advises new Muslims not to try to be like anyone else.

He is now twenty-three years old and believes that generally, in the West, people his age are struggling in terms of responsibility and knowing what is expected of them as adults. He finds that they are not sure because they do not belong to a certain culture, or their culture drives them to succumb to this world that is filled with commotion and strife.

He says that when he was seventeen years old and decided to practice Islam properly, that helped him to grow because Islam gave him a strict code of conduct. He followed what it says and tried to understand his role as a human being.

Slowly he came to know that he has responsibilities and will ultimately become a proper adult and a better person, more considerate and mindful of others. He says that without Islam he would have been lost.

He is grateful to Almighty Allah that He has brought him so far. With Islam, a person can stand out among their peers because Islam makes a person mature.

He says, “Gaining Islamic knowledge in today’s world is important and we cannot escape Satan as he wants to keep us away from where we should be.

“New Muslims want to get on the right path and it is important to keep good company because a person becomes what his group is. If the person around you will bring you down, you might have to cut relations with him.”

Heinz sees that his time in Egypt helped him to see how Muslims live and that it is great to feel that you belong to such a universal community. Apart from the knowledge of Arabic and Islam he obtained, Egypt also helped him to learn more about how to be a Muslim in everyday life.

He says that we learn from the people we mix with and that we should read Quran regularly and ask Almighty Allah to help us understand it properly. Everyone should find out what classes are happening in their area and attend them and spend time in the mosque. People can also go onto Islamic websites and be involved in the community around them.

He observes that in London there are a lot of places where a person can obtain knowledge and there are prominent speakers. He advises new Muslims to seek out such classes and lectures because not only will you gain knowledge, but you will also meet good people.

Looking to the future, Heinz says that he just makes supplications and hopes. He says, “I am more patient now because of the experiences I've had. I gained a lot of stability by having learned about the Companions and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).”

He sees that the best way to be a man and the best way to be a woman are by living according to the standards of Almighty Allah.

This article is based on an interview with Abdul Hakeem Heinz, from London.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

God is One

By: Maged Taman

The main message of the Quran is the oness of God. That is what he want us to primarily know. His oness came in many verses in the Quran and in most of them his oness followed by worshipping him. Here is some of the contexts of oness of God mentioned in the Quran:

1- The main message of the Hebrew prophets is the oness of God:

أَمْ كُنتُمْ شُهَدَاء إِذْ حَضَرَ يَعْقُوبَ الْمَوْتُ إِذْ قَالَ لِبَنِيهِ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن بَعْدِي قَالُواْ نَعْبُدُ إِلَـهَكَ وَإِلَـهَ آبَائِكَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَقَ إِلَـهًا وَاحِدًا وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ (2:133) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
2:133 (Picktall) Or were ye present when death came to Jacob, when he said unto his sons: What will ye worship after me? They said: We shall worship thy god, the god of thy fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, one god, and unto Him we have surrendered. - English

2- His oness is stressed and no God save him:

وَإِلَـهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ لاَّ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الرَّحْمَنُ الرَّحِيمُ (2:163) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
2:163 (Picktall) Your god is one god; there is no god save Him, the Beneficent, the Merciful. -

3- His oness is linked to his sovereignty:

اللّهُ لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلاَّ بِمَا شَاء وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَلاَ يَؤُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ (2:255) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
2:255 (Picktall) Allah! There is no god save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous

4- His oness is to be attested by all of us:

وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ (29:46) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
29:46 (Picktall) And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our god and your god is one, and unto Him we surrender.

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْحَقِّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ ثَلاَثَةٌ انتَهُواْ خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ إِنَّمَا اللّهُ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَكَفَى بِاللّهِ وَكِيلاً (4:171) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
4:171 (Picktall) O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "Three". Cease! (it is) better for you! Allah is only one god. Far is it removed from His transcendent majesty that he should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَـهٍ إِلاَّ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُواْ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (5:73) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
5:73 (Picktall) They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no god save the one god. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.

5- The best witness to the oness of God is he himself:

قُلْ أَيُّ شَيْءٍ أَكْبَرُ شَهَادةً قُلِ اللّهِ شَهِيدٌ بِيْنِي وَبَيْنَكُمْ وَأُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ هَذَا الْقُرْآنُ لأُنذِرَكُم بِهِ وَمَن بَلَغَ أَئِنَّكُمْ لَتَشْهَدُونَ أَنَّ مَعَ اللّهِ آلِهَةً أُخْرَى قُل لاَّ أَشْهَدُ قُلْ إِنَّمَا هُوَ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِنَّنِي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ (6:19) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
6:19 (Picktall) Say (O Muhammad) : What thing is of most weight in testimony? Say: Allah is witness between you and me. And this Qur'an hath been inspired in me, that I may warn therewith you and whomsoever it may reach. Do ye in truth bear witness that there are gods beside Allah? Say: I bear no such witness. Say: He is only one god. Lo! I am innocent of that which ye associate (with Him).

إِن نَّقُولُ إِلاَّ اعْتَرَاكَ بَعْضُ آلِهَتِنَا بِسُوَءٍ قَالَ إِنِّي أُشْهِدُ اللّهِ وَاشْهَدُواْ أَنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ (11:54) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
11:54 (Picktall) We say naught save that one of our gods hath possessed thee in an evil way. He said: I call Allah to witness, and do ye (too) bear witness, that I am innocent of (all) that ye ascribe as partners (to Allah)

هَـذَا بَلاَغٌ لِّلنَّاسِ وَلِيُنذَرُواْ بِهِ وَلِيَعْلَمُواْ أَنَّمَا هُوَ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَلِيَذَّكَّرَ أُوْلُواْ الأَلْبَابِ (14:52) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
14:52 (Picktall) This is a clear message for mankind in order that they may be warned thereby, and that they may know that He is only one god, and that men of understanding may take heed.

وَقَالَ اللّهُ لاَ تَتَّخِذُواْ إِلـهَيْنِ اثْنَيْنِ إِنَّمَا هُوَ إِلهٌ وَاحِدٌ فَإيَّايَ فَارْهَبُونِ (16:51) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
16:51 (Picktall) Allah hath said: Choose not two gods. There is only one god. So of Me, Me only, be in awe.

ذَلِكَ مِمَّا أَوْحَى إِلَيْكَ رَبُّكَ مِنَ الْحِكْمَةِ وَلاَ تَجْعَلْ مَعَ اللّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ فَتُلْقَى فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَلُومًا مَّدْحُورًا (17:39) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
17:39 (Picktall) This is (part) of that wisdom wherewith thy Lord hath inspired thee (O Muhammad). And set not up with Allah any other god, lest thou be cast into hell, reproved, abandoned.

6- If there in other than God it would be a distorted creation:

قُل لَّوْ كَانَ مَعَهُ آلِهَةٌ كَمَا يَقُولُونَ إِذًا لاَّبْتَغَوْاْ إِلَى ذِي الْعَرْشِ سَبِيلاً (17:42) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
17:42 (Picktall) Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): If there were other gods along with Him, as they say, then had they sought a way against the Lord of the Throne

(لَوْ كَانَ فِيهِمَا آلِهَةٌ إِلَّا اللَّهُ لَفَسَدَتَا فَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَرْشِ عَمَّا يَصِفُونَ (21:22) Baset - Hussari - Minshawi
21:22 (Picktall) If there were therein gods beside Allah, then verily both (the heavens and the earth) had been disordered. Glorified be Allah, the Lord of the Throne, from all that they ascribe (unto Him).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A marriage based on love, mercy and cooperation


By: E Mansor, F Eunos and O Sidek

"... He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts):..." (Quran 30:21)

Living in Tranquility with Love, Mercy and Mutual Cooperation and Consultation
A marital relationship is conducted based on love and mercy so as to achieve peace both within ourselves and with our partner. We should strive conscientiously to make our home a Darussalam (Abode of Peace). A peaceful and loving home is truly a pleasure to return to after a hard day's work. Imagine being greeted with a warm smile, a kiss and soothing words to ease your frazzled nerves. Even the most ordinary meal shared with your spouse becomes the highlight of the day if it is served with care and enjoyed in peaceful companionship.

Subsequently, having peace within the family will enable us to find Peace with our Creator.To facilitate the task of building a harmonious marriage, it is essential that both spouses adopt a forgiving and merciful attitude which will enable them to put aside each other's mistakes, focusing instead on their strengths and their efforts to change. Helping each other is a crucial step in actualizing our desire to have a tranquil home. We should adopt a charitable attitude by assisting to remove any difficulties that our partner may encounter and anticipate his or her needs, trying to fulfill them without being asked. Each partner should look forward to being of assistance to the other. Such an attitude will create the impression of putting our partner's needs beside our own, serving to express the love and concern that we have for one another.

One simple way to help one another is to try to make things easier for each other."Make things easy and convenient and do not make them harsh and difficult. Give cheers and glad tidings and do not create hatred..." (Hadith reported by Bukhari and Muslim)

Throughout our marriage we will be adjusting to each other's expectations and needs. This is to be expected because, as an individual develops and changes throughout their life, the dynamics of their relationship with their spouse will be affected. Adjustments will be most intensive during the early par: of the marriage. Thus, it is crucial that both parties adopt an attitude of making things easy for each other.

The Prophet's attitude of not causing inconvenience to others, and his charm and care in ensuring that his family members were not unnecessarily 'pressurized', is poignantly illustrated in the following hadith:"Jabir relates that the Holy Prophet once asked his household members for seasoning. They told him that there was nothing but vinegar. He called for it and started eating his food with it exclaiming: 'The best seasoning is vinegar; the best seasoning is vinegar'." (Hadith reported by Muslim)

When the marital relationship is conducted based on helping each other, the couple will develop mutual cooperation in their dealings. This could range from helping your partner when he or she is in financial need, to doing chores. The organization of the household, although seemingly mundane, can become a source of stress and inconvenience. A couple can actually quarrel over matters as simple as not putting the toothbrush in the right place! Therefore, we should never discount the importance of the management of our daily necessities. Although traditionally the wife is expected to manage the household, she may not be able to cope, especially if she is both working and having to care for the children. Not to offer help is like treading on thin ice.

Therefore, we are advised to manage our household based on mutual co-operation.The examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad demonstrate that he dealt with his wives most supportively. There are reports of the Prophet being self-sufficient by mending his own clothes and helping out with chores. All these were done with the clear understanding of mutually maintaining a home environment that would be conducive towards the attainment of peace.

Aswa Bin Yazid, one of the companions, inquired from Aishah, the Prophet's wife, as to what the Prophet did when he was inside the house:"She replied, 'He used to remain busy serving and helping the inmates of his house, and when the time for swalah (prayer) would come, he would go out for the same'." (Hadith reported by Bukhari)

The principle of consultation, which is used in Islam to conduct all affairs, be they private domestic matters, business matters or affairs of state, is derived from the following verse of the Qur'an: "Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance;" (Quran 42:38)

Husband and wife are each other's best companions and advisers, complementing one another in their various roles within the family. A wife who acts as an adviser to her husband shares her views when consulted by him. A husband can count on his wife's knowledge and expertise when he asks for them. By consulting one another or seeking each other's views we can better understand an issue or problem and will be better advised in generating a solution.Being able to conduct our family life with love, mercy and mutual cooperation and consultation will open the doors for the couple to develop tranquility within their home.

Source: "Tranquil Hearts" by Enon Mansor, Fatimah Eunos & Osman Sidek.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Learning form the story of - Magicians and Moses


By: Ibrahim N. Abusharif

Almost universally, the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is branded on human culture and memory. That epic face-off evokes familiar empathy for things like justice, struggle against apparent odds, and spectacular escape and triumph. If you're a reader of the Quran, you can't help but notice how the confrontation is told in several places and that the treatments offer subtle changes in emphasis and scope.

But consistently they feature two mortals of opposing archetypical mien meeting on ancient soil. One is a man of tremendous temporal authority, whose conspicuous quality is apparently incurable hubris, a narcissism that has become part of the national myth. The other is an Israelite Prophet confessing his fears and shortcomings. No polity or standing army behind him, he comes with only his brother, a warning and promise from above, and a special staff that challenges the Pharaonic serpent cult.The Moses-Pharaoh narrative is packed with nuance.

Take, for example, the sudden conversion of Pharaoh's Magicians in their contest with Moses . That stunning public announcement in favor of the God of Moses and Aaron provokes discussion about modern reactions to spiritual awakening and the deconstruction of a continuous sacred narrative.Moses is commanded by God to go to PharaohTo set it up, Moses receives the voice of God commanding him to go to Pharaoh, which he does, ultimately standing before Pharaoh and his courtiers, demanding the release of the Israelites from humiliating bondage. Moses tells Pharaoh that he has clear proofs from "your Lord," contravening Pharaoh's own declaration of himself being the lord most high. Pharaoh taunts Moses to show him these proofs. Moses throws down his staff which transforms into a slithering serpent. His courtiers move in and assure Pharaoh that this is some kind of sorcery.

They plot to give Moses and Aaron unmolested respite, so that the courtiers would gather the very best and brightest among Egypt's magicians to expose the "ensorcelled" trick of Moses' staff. Pharaoh assents and challenges Moses to a kind of dual set for a day of festival that had communal meaning to Pharaoh's Egypt. Prior to making their appearance before the multitudes, the Magicians eagerly ask Pharaoh what their boon would be if they prevail over Moses . Pharaoh guarantees that their place is secure with him, a proximity that comes with inducements and untold perks.Moses and the challenge of the magiciansWhen the big moment arrives, the Magicians offer Moses the option to cast first or last.

Moses demands that they throw first. The Magicians then throw their cords and staffs, and they appear to turn into serpents. The Magicians exult in their accomplishment and vow "by the might of Pharaoh" that they are the victors for having bewitched the eyes of the onlookers. Internally, Moses is strengthened by heavenly sakina that steadies his heart. He throws his staff, which not only becomes a serpent, but a serpent that gulps up the "machinations" of the magicians who suddenly are dumbfounded by what they had just seen. Aware that their "serpents" are well-done machinations that spellbind "the eyes" of the spectators, what they see in Moses' staff is something else altogether, a true break of the natural order. To boot, the miracle swallows their prefabricated magic, which they know, perhaps better than anyone, is impossible in the realm of magic and the occult.

Magicians realize the ultimate truth
It is here that the Magicians have an epiphany, in the older sense of the word: a sudden revelation or manifestation of the truth, which creates a pointed expansion of the mind. Uninterested in Pharaoh's disappointment and unmoved by the loss of their boon, the Magicians fall to their faces in prostration and declare their belief in the unseen Lord of the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron. Pharaoh is incensed that his prized Magicians would have a religious makeover without his permission. His threats are not subtle: torment, severed limbs on opposite sides, and crucifixion. He spins the embarrassing situation by claiming that the Magicians had been part of the Moses-Aaron axis the whole time, a sleeper-cell perhaps. Inspired by the inner roar of awakening, the Magicians are unimpressed with what Pharaoh may do to them. They restate their resolve and affirm that regardless of what they are forced to endure, they ultimately will return to God, a short journey obliged to all, the tormented and the tormentors alike.

The Magicians' spiritual makeover speaks to what we observe of our context today, specifically, the diminishing role of the "universal storyteller," a term coined by theologian and professor Robert W. Jenson, who correctly laments postmodern pressures to dismiss the notion of an unbroken sacred narrative that permeates the entirety of time. This sacred narrative is a continuous, supernal line of thought and perspective that answers unchanging questions of human origin, purpose, and post-soil existence. This narrative, moreover, is not squeamish about attaching values to human conduct; it stoutly raises issues about morality, ethics, and consequences, all associated with "teachings" that are universal and timeless.If we look at the Magicians again, these masters of the dark arts had a peculiar reaction to their defeat-a reaction outwardly inconsonant with their strutting just moments before. It's one thing to realize that what Moses threw down was truly otherworldly.

Responding is something else. The Magicians' hearts could have merely sunk at Moses' triumph; they could have despaired of their fate in the face of such humiliation; they could have tried to conjure up excuses to spare their lives or to save face. But what their realization unveiled was irrepressible, and their reaction to it was connected to the presence of a sacred narrative that survived Pharaonic pressure and cult.

Abrahamic message continues
For all the religio-babble and tyranny of Pharaoh, the Abrahamic message of monotheism did not lose traction. How it dodged dilution and meaninglessness in that Egyptian context is something to study, particularly as it relates to the presence of the Israelites, regardless of their station in Egypt. We do know that the Magicians boldly took refuge in the "Lord of Moses and Aaron," and you sense that the option to do so was available even in the political straits of ancient Egypt. Within a short span of time, the Magicians moved from Pharaoh's delight to his utter scorn; from the promise of a life of privilege to a sentence of crucifixion; from champions of the occult to devotees of the great Lord of the worlds, unseen and all-powerful.Thoughtful men and women representing various faith communities observe the modern dilution of all things sacred. The insistence that truth is closely attached to historical currents and, therefore, should be deconstructed and reinvented as the "times" and history change seriously threatens modern man's receptivity to divine signs and, yes, epiphanies. The raucous handling of the "past" tells the dull progression of humankind as measured by the tools we invent and irreverently denies the freshness and relevance of sacred beliefs established thousands of years ago.It's unlikely that there's ever been unanimity about these critical questions of human existence and purpose. Religious thoughts and philosophical paradigms have been numerous, diverse, and conflicting. But what has consistently poked out as essentially unchanged and remarkably relevant is the oneness of God and our return, as preserved by the gracious Abrahamic narrative, Israelite then Ishmaelite. It seems that the great challenge of this tradition is to reaffirm the continuous nature of the sacred narrative and reclaim its inarguable importance in human life.

Ibrahim N. Abusharif is a Chicago-area writer and editor of Starlatch Press. He also maintains a blog at He can be contacted via e-mail at

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Life of Remembrance *


By Khurram Murad

This series is a collection of inspirational advice in an attempt to set out the goal of the believer: Paradise, and the way to reach that ultimate goal. a verse of the Quran that I love very much, Allah, Most Gracious and Loving, commends:

{Remember Me and I shall remember you. Be grateful unto Me and deny Me not} (Al-Baqarah 2:152)

Can you imagine a more gratifying state than this, where, when you remember Allah, the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of the Universe, He remembers you in return? The same exhortation has been beautifully conveyed in a hadith qudsi (God speech but not exact literal words as the Quran):

I treat My servant as he hopes that I would treat him. I am with him whenever he remembers Me: if he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My ‘heart'; if he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a gathering far better than that gathering; if he draws near to Me a hand's span, I draw near to him an arm's length; if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running. (Muslim)

Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining and who reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth are highly commended in the Noble Quran. They are wise in that, they fill their hearts with the remembrance of God in every moment, in every circumstance and in every posture of their lives.

The exhortation to remember Allah at all times is a reflection of Allah's all-embracing and overwhelming love for us. The door to Allah is always open to us: [Remember Me and I will remember you.] (Al-Baqarah 2:152). We need only to find our way to and through that door.

The Significance of Dhikr

Regarding the significance of the remembrance of God, Allah says in the Quran the following:

{Remember Allah, for He has guided you.} (Al-Baqarah 2:198)

{O you who believe! Remember Allah often with much remembrance. And glorify Him morning and evening.} (Al-Ahzab 33: 41-42)

{And men who remember God much and women who remember –God has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.}(Al-Ahzab 33: 35)

Hadith literature is similarly replete with references to the remembrance of Allah:

The servant cannot perform a better deed which will save him from God's punishment than the remembrance of God. (Malik)

Whoever wishes to feast in the gardens of Paradise, let him remember God often. (At-Tirmidhi)

Indeed, with regard to dhikr, the Quran concludes:

{And the remembrance of Allah is the greatest deed, without doubt.}(Al-Ankabut
29: 45)

The significance of dhikr lies in the fact that it is God's own chosen and recommended mode by which the believers show gratitude for having been shown the straight path. In addition, it is indeed the surest way of attaining God's forgiveness and achieving the ultimate reward of Paradise.

The importance of dhikr then is not difficult to understand. It is dhikr that purifies your heart and makes it sound. And you can only attain salvation and true success by having a pure and sound heart.

The ‘heart' referred to here is not the pump in your breast that pushes blood around your body but rather the centre or locus of your personality which pumps out your desires and motivations and which makes you conduct yourself as you do.

It is this heart that lies at your centre and dictates your actions which is the key to your ultimate success. Thus, with reference to the Day of Judgment, the Quran declares:

{It will be a Day when neither wealth nor children shall profit, [and when] only he [will be saved] who comes before God with a sound heart [free of evil].}(Al-Shu`ara' 26:88-89)

This point is more elaborately made in a hadith in which the Prophet says:

Listen [to me] carefully. There is a lump of flesh in the body, if it is set right and made good, the entire body becomes good and healthy; but if it becomes diseased, the entire body becomes diseased. Remember well… it is the Heart. (Al-Bukhari)

If the heart is the key to ultimate salvation and success, it may, likewise, be the seat of much corruption and open doors to many evils. It may facilitate the corruption of political and economic activities and ultimately the social institutions of a society.

Where such a state prevails, the Quran suggests that it is because people, individually, have become diseased in their hearts. (Al-Baqara 2:10)

It is the heart, as the decider of our ultimate fate, that must then be the starting point of any tazkiya program to purify this heart and then summon it to the service of mankind.

Ibn al-Qayyim, one of the great scholars of Islam, states in his book, The Book of Remembrance ,

The heart which is devoid of the remembrance of Allah is a heart that is dead'; it is dead even and long before the body carrying the heart reaches its grave.
Indeed, this living body that carries the heart is the heart's grave.

Ibn al-Qayyim's statement is reminiscent of the hadith of the Prophet which states:

"The difference between someone who remembers his Lord and someone who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead." (Al-Bukhari)

The statement is also reminiscent of the following verse of the Quran: [Do not become like those who forget Allah and Allah makes them forget themselves. It is they who are truly deprived.] (Al-Hashr 59:19)

The purpose of tazkiya is to ensure that the heart never falls into a sorry state of being and that it is always alive with the remembrance of God. [Prosperous indeed is one who purifies himself and remembers the name of his Guardian-Lord, and prays [unto Him].](Al-A`la 87:14-15)

The Prophet further emphasized the importance of dhikr when he said to his Companions:

"Shall I not inform you of the best of your actions, the purest in the sight of your Lord, which raises your rank to the highest, which is better for you than spending gold and silver, better than meeting your enemy so that you strike at their necks and they strike at yours?" They replied: "Yes, indeed," and he said: "It is the remembrance of Allah." (At-Tirmidhi)

Strive then, to fill all your moments, all your thoughts and all your actions with His remembrance. Recite words of glorification and praise to punctuate all your actions and achievements.

* This article is excerpted from the author's book, In the Early Hours, first published by Islamic Foundation. It is republished here with kind permission.
Khurram Murad (1932-1996) studied civil engineering at the universities of Karachi, Pakistan and Minnesota, USA, and was actively involved in the Islamic movement and in the training of Islamic workers. Many of his books, both in English and in Urdu, are being published posthumously.

Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama



PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.
But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

One would have expected them to. Mr. Obama had substantial support among Egyptians — more than any other American presidential candidate that I can remember. I traveled to America several days before the election. The Egyptians I met in the United States told me — without exception — that they backed Mr. Obama. Many Egyptians I know went to his Web site and signed up as campaign supporters.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.
This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching. Here in Egypt, we don’t have previous or future presidents, only the present head of state who seized power through sham elections and keeps it by force, and who will probably remain in power until the end of his days. Accordingly, Egypt lacks a fair system that bases advancement on qualifications. Young people often get good jobs because they have connections. Ministers are not elected, but appointed by the president. Not surprisingly, this inequitable system often leads young people to frustration or religious extremism. Others flee the country at any cost, hoping to find justice elsewhere.

We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.) We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza. We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

But Mr. Obama has been silent. So his brilliantly written Inaugural Speech did not leave a big impression on Egyptians. We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.

Mr. Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya on Jan. 27 was an event that was widely portrayed in the Western news media as an olive branch to the Muslim world. But while most of my Egyptian friends knew about the interview, by then they were so frustrated by Mr. Obama’s silence that they weren’t particularly interested in watching it. I didn’t see it myself, but I went back and read the transcript. Again, his elegant words did not challenge America’s support of Israel, right or wrong, or its alliances with Arab dictators in the interest of pragmatism.

I then enlisted the help of my two teenage daughters, May and Nada, to guide me through the world of Egyptian blogs, where young Egyptian men and women can express themselves with relative freedom. There I found a combination of glowing enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, a comparison between the democratic system in America and the tyranny in Egypt, the expectation of a fairer American policy in the Middle East, and then severe disappointment after Mr. Obama’s failure to intercede in Gaza. I thus concluded that no matter how many envoys, speeches or interviews Mr. Obama offers to us, he will not win the hearts and minds of Egyptians until he takes up the injustice in the Middle East. I imagine the same holds true for much of the greater Muslim world.

Have Egyptians irreversibly gone off Mr. Obama? No. Egyptians still think that this one-of-a-kind American president can do great things. Young Egyptians’ admiration for America is offset by frustration with American foreign policy. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this came from one Egyptian blogger: “I love America. It’s the country of dreams ... but I wonder if I will ever be able someday to declare my love.”

Alaa Al Aswany is the author of “The Yacoubian Building” and “Chicago.” This article was translated by Geoff D. Porter from the Arabic.

Blogger comment:

We are stuffed with speeches. We want peace, justice and fairness to all people. Arabs/Muslims are very divided some thinks he is the real change others think he is a trick to marginalize the extremists. This is typical of the time of tribulation you do not know what is the real intentions from tactics. He promised one speech to the Arabs/Muslims for the first 100 days in a Muslim countries. It sounds like we will live, eat and drink speeches. The Muslim/Arabs economy will flourish and the tyrannical regimes will melt down.

Muslims and Arabs have to wake up our salvation is not from the west or extremists we should stand together and solve our problems if you are interested E-mail me. If you are afraid of the Arab tyrants just go back to bed and hide under the blanket.

To Aljezzira TV which is broadcasted from an Arab tyrannical country and have declined to interview me so I can initiate new movement of peace and justice I will see you in the day of judgement.

To the Arab/Muslims and particularly the coward Muslim scholars particularly in Egypt and the Imam of Al Azher God curse you. I have tried to contact them since 2004 and they turned me down since they get their orders not from God.

To the King of Saudi who is the servant of imperialism you will be turned into to hell in the day of judgment.

You may think I am just a guy full of anger, hate and envy. I really do not care what you think of me what I care is for justice and fairness to prevail.

The best Jihad is that of the word of the truth to an injust tyrant and I did that to many of them.