Muslim blogs

Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire: Trade Across an Inverted Imperial Divide

The Platform - Mon, 25/05/2015 - 00:12

Dynamic early interactions between western Europe and the Ottomans illustrate an age in which global power lay outside western hands

 

Our readings of history has tended to a Eurocentric direction that has failed to give attention to the rich heritage of engagement with non-western European lands, many of them more powerful than Europe, that has existed for centuries. This is particularly true with western European colonialism so fresh in our minds. It was only in 1947, less than 70 years ago, that Britain finally left India, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire. However, in the early modern period, between the late fifteenth century to the late eighteenth century, when western Europe was just beginning to increase travel around the world and long before a meaningful western European colonialism had come into being, the case was quite the reverse.

Traders, travellers and diplomats from western Europe often travelled to regions of the Middle East, Asia and beyond to seek a slice of the vast markets that contained rich products from spice to silk. These encounters were influenced by a very different balance of power; western Europeans were the weaker figures seeking economic benefit in these powerful empires and markets. This was especially seen in relation to the Islamic worlds whose empires, against a far weaker western Europe, were some of the most powerful in the world.

The leading empires of the Islamic worlds were the Turkish Ottoman Empire that stretched from Europe into the Middle East and North Africa, the Persian Safavid Empire in the Middle East, and the Indian Mughal Empire in Asia. These lands held the advantage in the world as powerful, wealthy and militarily advanced civilisations, far above western European domination. I use the phrase ‘western Europe’ intentionally in relation to the western region of the continent as opposed to the entire continent. The Ottomans too were European and present day Turkey remains part of the continent. While Turkey’s place in Europe is often debated, Turkey’s presence in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages, making such debates on its identity deeply ironic.

In the early modern world, the most powerful empire in Europe was that of the Turkish Ottomans. The Ottomans had established themselves on the European side of the Bosphorus strait since the late fourteenth century. Then, in 1453 Sultan Mehmed II led the Conquest of Constantinople, which extinguished the Byzantine Empire, and made Constantinople the new Ottoman capital. This heralded a new age in Ottoman expansion in Europe that would extend through central Europe until it reached the gates of Vienna. Sultan Suleiman I conquered the western Balkans and most of Hungary, and it would not be until the 1680s that the Ottomans suffered any permanent loss of land.

Educated western Europeans were awed by the Ottomans; in fact, it was they who gave Suleiman the title ‘the Magnificent’ rather than the Ottomans, who had named him ‘the Lawgiver’. The sixteenth century French jurist and historian, Jean Bodin, wrote, “It would be far more just to regard the Ottoman Sultan as the inheritor of the Roman Empire”. The famous early modern English historian, Richard Knolles, would comment on the impossibility of the task to “set downe the bounds and limits” upon the Ottomans who accept “no other limits than the uttermost bounds of the earth”. Furthermore, as the Ottomans gained control of Islam’s holiest sites of Makkah, Madina and Jerusalem, they formally claimed the title of ‘Khalif’, assuming for themselves leadership of the global Islamic community.

For the English, the Ottomans were the leading eastern object of both fear and fantasy, yet with flourishing trade and diplomatic relations it was the Ottomans that influenced England most significantly in this period. In 1580 William Harborne, the first official English Ambassador from the court of Queen Elizabeth I to the Ottomans, negotiated the first commercial treaty with Istanbul that led to the creation of The Levant Company. This company traded heavily across the Ottoman Empire and Mediterranean region. Of all western Europe, Britain enjoyed the most commercial activity with the Islamic worlds in the seventeenth century. Trade with the Ottomans alone accounted for a quarter of England’s overseas commercial activities.

Such was the importance of Ottoman trade to the English that when in the late sixteenth century an overzealous English gentleman, Sir Anthony Sherley, attempted to form an alliance with Persia against Ottoman expansion, a measure which threatened Ottoman trade, Queen Elizabeth’s wrath was so severe that she banned Sherley from ever returning to England. Meanwhile, Anthony’s brother Thomas, who fell afoul of the Turks and was imprisoned by them, would upon release and return to England in 1607 be arrested for interfering with the Levant trade.

Interestingly, even as England keenly traded in Ottoman goods, the Ottomans were often ambivalent about English goods, such that the English would often be forced to trade in gold or silver bullion rather than English products. This was true for other western European traders too and would cause a weakening outflow of capital in the absence of commodity export. While the Ottomans had desirable goods for the English and other western Europeans, the latter had little to offer in return which the Ottomans could not produce for themselves. It was the Ottomans who were developed and western Europe underdeveloped. However, the English did succeed in trading in arms with the Ottomans; English scrap metal from old church bells were among the items the Ottomans purchased to use in manufacturing arms. It is perhaps an irony that even as the Ottomans militarily threatened western European borders, the English provided the means to create the arms to do so.

That western Europe, and particularly the English under Queen Elizabeth I and later monarchs, continued to retain strong partnerships and trade agreements with the Ottomans, despite the military threat the latter posed, reflects on the interesting dynamics of the relationship. While foreign policy was at odds, in a world moving swiftly towards a globalised capitalist economy, profit won out and determined the terms of treaties and encounters. While the early modern period, where imperial power lay firmly outside western European hands, was far different to our modern times in geopolitical terms, in terms of international relations, however, it seems things were not so different.

Queen Elizabeth I recognised the importance of international trade and diplomatic alliances in an age of eastern political authority, shifting economies and increasing globalisation, and was conscious of the significance of the Ottoman Empire within that picture. This recognition allowed for a flourishing engagement with the Ottomans, casting strong western European relations with the Islamic worlds into a rich history spanning centuries.

Image from: http://www.getyourguide.com/istanbul-l56/full-day-private-ottoman-empire-tour-istanbul-t27321/

Categories: Muslim blogs

India’s Daughter: Why We Can’t Forget the Past

The Platform - Sat, 23/05/2015 - 20:21

India’s Daughter fails to recognise the impact of British colonialism on creating a broken India where rape is seen by some as a means of power

 

On 16 December 2012, Jyoti Singh, a 23 year-old medical student, was gang-raped and mutilated on a moving bus in Delhi. She spent two weeks in intensive care, receiving multiple major surgeries in an attempt to repair her horrific abdominal injuries. Unfortunately, after losing the battle, she died surrounded by her family on 29 December 2012.

Jyoti’s brutal rape and murder triggered a wave of mass protests in Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore and Mumbai, all calling for change to the previously blasé management of rape by the Indian authorities and more severe punishments for perpetrators. Following overwhelming pressure, the Indian government introduced several reforms, comprising a host of newly-defined crimes such as voyeurism, stalking and trafficking. Additionally, tougher punishments for convicted rapists have been imposed including the much-demanded death sentence in cases where the victim is killed or left in an unresponsive state. The new laws also call for better treatment of rape victims, introducing the provision of crisis centres for rape, and the presence of a female officer during the interviews of victims.

Israeli-born British filmmaker Leslee Udwin produced the documentary India’s Daughter, detailing Jyoti’s rape and murder, which aired on 4 March 2015 on BBC4. The documentary attracted international attention after it was banned in India by Narendra Modi’s government. Attempts were also made to prohibit its showing worldwide with multiple Indian government ministers expressing fears of civil unrest and one claiming it was part of a conspiracy to defame India. Furthermore, it received some negative feedback from western press, claiming it focused disproportionately on Jyoti’s story and none of the others.

As a testament to Udwin and her resourceful networking skills, the documentary caused international reverberations, largely due to its unrelenting exploration of the reality of rape culture. Leslee conducted face-to-face interviews with the men convicted on Jyoti’s rape, gaining incredibly rare and discomforting insight into this crime. One of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, a bus driver from one of Delhi’s slums, with his face blank and almost completely devoid of emotion, expressed: “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing the wrong things, wearing the wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good.” These thoughts were also echoed by the defence lawyer for the rapists, AP Singh, who said, “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities… I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight. This is my stand. I still today stand by that reply.”

India’s Daughter shed light on a startling reality that is, unfortunately, only too apparent to many Indian girls and women. This reality is a culture where women are taught not to expect any other outcome – that the danger of rape is a fact of life and not a choice made by those men in a relative position of power. And this, here, is the real crux of the issue. Power. The reality or illusion of it – you pick.

It was evident from Udwin’s documentary that the rapists all had at least one thing in common – they had all come from extremely poor backgrounds with very limited opportunities for anything different. This is combined with a culture where young boys and girls are nurtured to believe that females are the lesser sex. The wife of rapist Akshay Thakur, distressed at her husband’s impending death sentence, said, “A woman is protected by her husband. If he is dead, who will protect her and for whom will she live?”

When food, jobs, housing and education are non-existent or scarce at best, people are willing to grasp any sense of power they can, and where women and girls are taught to exist for the sake of men, the exertion of power over them becomes another part of life; a respite from the lack of control they ultimately have. And where isolation and lack of education are prominent, communities know no better, and a behaviour becomes indoctrinated as part of the culture.

I am neither justifying nor excusing the abhorrent and universally unacceptable actions of these men. However, the questions of survival and existence must be addressed. Nobody is born evil. We are all, however, products to varying degrees of our time, our place, our environment and our culture. You cannot be born evil, but you can be born hopeless.

In a special screening at London’s Frontline Club, another issue was raised by an audience member (albeit briefly), which was the impact of Britain’s colonial past, its influence on the conditions in India today and how much it can be blamed for horrifying crimes such as Jyoti’s murder becoming commonplace. Udwin, however, had a rather confusing pre-occupation with avoiding the colonialism discussion, with both herself and fellow panel member Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writer and broadcaster, describing it as an “evil that we did not need to relive”. I found this rather strange, considering Udwin’s Israeli heritage and her country’s on-going occupation and acquisition of Palestinian land, and formation of what can only be described as an apartheid state, as well as her South African upbringing actually during the era of apartheid, which, apparently less than 50 years after the establishment of a segregationist government, is no longer relevant either.

Our imperialist history is, sadly, far from being “an evil we do not need to relive”. (This is sickeningly rich coming from one whose native country is currently, actively committing the exact same acts. Both ladies have benefited from the privileged, free lifestyle that Britain has offered us all at the expense of robbing, pillaging and dismantling the social and economic infrastructures of the majority of Asian and African nations less than 200 years ago.) Having said that, we can comfort ourselves with the fact that our hearts have reached out to the thousands of women raped each year in these now impoverished, corrupted nations, or otherwise, we present to them the light of our civilised western ways of female empowerment (See: Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Beyoncé).

The fact is, India isn’t in the state it is in because of its overpopulation, lack of resources or lack of infrastructure. These are all relevant, but not the root cause. The 142 years of British colonisation of India can be argued to be almost exclusively responsible for the state of India today; a state in which the poor are literally innumerable, the percentage of females in secondary education is less than half, and where 50 per cent of the wealth is held by one per cent of its people.

Britain, as well as hijacking local trade and natural resources – commandeering both for exports for the empire – preferentially favoured certain groups within the native population, resulting in sectarian conflicts erupting in India as a result of careful social engineering by those who would stand to benefit the most. Multiple bloody conflicts followed, fought between Hindus and Muslims, which continued post-independence with three India-Pakistan wars, as well as the Indian Mutiny of 1857, where Muslims and Hindus came together to fight western occupation, only to be countered by a British-armed Sikh army.

In a country with 1.2 billion people, an estimated 20-50 per cent of whom are living below the poverty line (a definition of which is re-decided on a regular basis by the Indian government), the psychological effects of poverty on a significant proportion of the population are poignant. The human mind is finite and cannot be expected to cope indefinitely with a perpetual struggle to survive, and when faced with such futility, self-control can be lost in ways that none of us from secure and safe backgrounds could understand.

I don’t want Jyoti’s death to be overshadowed by the legacy of colonialism, but here we have proof of the effects of politics and global standpoints on the individual. Jyoti was horrifically murdered by a group of poverty-stricken, disenfranchised young men, who had nothing to hope for. Jyoti’s father had to work two low-paid jobs to educate her. The youngest of the group of rapists left home at the age of 11 to find work, his arrest was the first his mother had heard of him in years. This, in a country boasting a rapidly growing GDP but with the world’s biggest wealth disparity, clearly shows that something isn’t adding up.

Ultimately, only one thing can matter. This crime, this one horrific, fateful night, stole the life of Jyoti Singh and left behind a family broken and empty. It left behind parents and a fatherless son betrayed, distraught and confused at what one of their own were capable of. Our continuing global, capitalist trend is not without casualties; individuals who are counted as collateral when the wealth of the world is held in the hands of the few.

Image from: http://qz.com/357973/indias-attempt-to-censor-indias-daughter-may-have-done-more-damage-than-the-film-itself/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Forgive Us Brother Malcolm

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 20/05/2015 - 16:37

As you gaze upon us from the perch of wisdom bequeathed unto you by the ninety years that have passed since your birth, and you see us sometimes wallowing in our folly; forgive us Brother Malcolm.
You gave so much and taught so well, but, frequently, we have been unworthy recipients of your grace, unworthy students; forgive us Brother Malcolm.

You were engulfed in the jungle of racist oppression, beating back the thickets and the thorns, braving the vipers and other hazards, miraculously pulling yourself out of the quicksand, just to make a road for us to traverse; and yet, we sometimes refuse to even walk upon the trail you so boldly blazed. Forgive us Brother Malcolm.

You spoke so clearly, made it so plain, broke it all the way down, all the way down to the bone; yet our voices can be so weak that when the times call out, for help, for hope, for direction or love, oftentimes we refuse to even speak. Forgive us Brother Malcolm.

You loved us so much that you gave your life, so that we could live, you gave everything you had to give. You did not hesitate to make the supreme sacrifice, however, when our turn comes we think twice or thrice, calculating hustlers carefully rolling the dice and if the numbers don’t add up we shrivel like mice; callously ignoring your advice, that the price of freedom is death. Thus, here we are, Twenty-First Century slaves. Forgive us Brother Malcolm.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Editorial: The Labour Government That Never Was

The Platform - Mon, 18/05/2015 - 15:11

The Platform’s Political Editor on the outcome of the 2015 British Elections

 

Ed Miliband was to be the new British prime minister today, instead he is holidaying in Ibiza with his wife Justine. David Cameron has already completed naming his new cabinet sans the sacrificial lambs that are the Liberal Democrats, the party that lost approximately 70 per cent of their MPs elected in 2010. Among them, big beasts and much-needed progressive ideologues, such as Simon Hughes and Vince Cable, are the giants felled only by the suffocating embrace Nick Clegg received when he went into the coalition government in 2010. It is of little wonder that the master politician that is William Hague is said to have mentioned to his wife upon the end of coalition negotiations that he had just “destroyed the Lib Dems”.

Labour led the polls for the majority of the time since 2010 until the election in 2015. Right up to the eve of the elections the polls were in deadlock and Britain was to wake up to the prospect of another hung parliament on the 8th of May. But the polls were wrong – and colossally so. Many of us were too young to remember the 1992 elections. Back then the polls had predicted a Labour victory, but Neil Kinnock, the then Labour leader, managed emphatically to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and the benign sober figure of John Major was to form a cabinet.

Labour roared back to power five years later with a landslide, but the legacy of that victory is tarred by grim reminders of the Iraq war. Labour, meant to be the party of the working people, socialist at its core and egalitarian in its outlook, is ironically the party credited with the disasters of Iraq. One would think there are other parties who are ideologically better positioned to have been the initiators and proponents of such a war, but it was to be Labour’s Tony Blair who wore that mantle.

Labour will be back; my hunch, too, is that Labour will be back with renewed vigour in 2020. But if a lurch to the right is what is needed in order to win, then one must also entertain the prospect of a Labour leader more Tory than the Tories in power, which in all respects defeats the purpose. John Major is said to believe that Tony Blair was more right wing that he was, and William Hague, the then young opposition leader during Blair’s first term, struggled to dent Blair’s stride. Blair had the naturally Tory press supporting him. Indeed the vitriolic diatribes peddled by the Daily Mail and The Sun against the inability of a potential prime minister to gracefully eat a bacon sarnie is evidence of what lengths the right wing press would go, and in many ways, in this election, it was “The Sun wot won it”.

Boundary changes are up for review in 2018; the current electoral boundary settings have a bias towards Labour. But the Tories are certain to spend some time in gerrymandering to have this changed. And indeed they will succeed. But the 2020 elections will see Labour as the party of British cities. Labour may also have much groundwork done in London by Sadiq Khan, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, who may be the first mayor from a BAME community.

The Labour leadership elections are soon to be underway. With Chuka Umunna withdrawing from the elections, the race is likely to be between Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. Tony Blair may have stolen the limelight from Gordon Brown, but the current parliamentary Labour party still has Brown’s protégés at her helm.

Labour’s answer is not to move to the right; those who claim this fail to see that the SNP wiped Labour out in Scotland by positioning itself far more to the left of Labour. There was nothing left wing in Ed Miliband’s Labour, that is what The Sun wants you to believe. But Labour lost, and they haven’t won two elections now.  Labour has to reform, look deeply into its soul and aspire to stand up for those whom it seeks to represent, with considerations for all others. Working people would rather trust those who don’t pretend to speak for them, than those who claim to but don’t.

It is interesting also to note the apparent new political landscapes formed. From a UK wide non-entity in 2010, the SNP has emerged as a serious player to reckon with. Even though the SNP has no ideological inclination to contest and win seats south of Hadrians’ Wall, there will be many commentators who wonder what electoral prospects the SNP would have should they contest in the North of England. Labour now is at risk of losing working class northerners to both UKIP and the SNP in the hypothetical eventuality that the SNP contests in the North of England.

Realisation that the Lib Dems were indeed pivotal in blocking many intrinsically Tory ideas from becoming law, like the repealing of the Human Rights Act, has resulted in a surge in Lib Dem membership. The Lib Dems may redeem themselves come 2020. The fear peddled by the Tories of a Labour-SNP coalition may also have pushed southern Lib Dem voters to tactically vote Tory.

The political realities may be very different in 2020. The SNP may have not lived up to their sometimes idealistic rhetoric by not translating them into action, the Lib Dems may re-emerge as the third force in British politics and incumbency fatigue may set in and the electorate may want a change from Tory rule. All this spells tentative doom to the Tory leadership come 2020. One caveat in all this is that David Cameron has promised that this will be his last term as Tory leader. As was seen in 1992, when John Major revitalised a waning Tory party, change of hands in the Tory leadership may well revitalise the Conservatives towards the end of the term.

With another five years of Tory rule, and with no Lib Dems to block their stride, British communities will be hit with more austerity, tough and borderline xenophobia-induced immigration rules, a wasteful EU referendum in 2017, increased profit motives and privatisation sickening our beloved NHS and the looming prospect of rampant inequality. Ed Miliband said the right things (almost) and there was hope that a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, with the Greens and SNP pressurising them from the Left, could have made a progressive Britain. But that didn’t happen. The time now is not for despondency, but for a renewed hope in creating a united Britain that would quell the harmful desires of predatory capitalism and its pernicious effects on British communities.

Image from: Getty Images

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Elections: What it Means to Live in Conservative Britain

The Platform - Mon, 18/05/2015 - 13:55

A Tory government looks terrible for the disadvantaged, but all is not lost for Britain

 

Many were hoping to see an end to the austerity measures our country has faced for the last five years. While watching the election debates, I found myself mesmerised by the hope for the growth of progressive politics, cheering when the leaders of Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party spoke. It looked like a bright future for many in this country, especially those who have been hit hardest by the Liberal-Conservative coalition.

As a student, I will find myself nearly £20,000 in debt by the end of my education. Luckily for me, the Welsh Assembly fixed the tuition fees at £3,000 a year (not including living expenses). However, the same cannot be said for my fellow students in England. Some will find themselves in £30,000 worth of debt. Listening to the Greens and Plaid say “we will abolish tuition fees” made me believe that if Labour were forced into a coalition, students would really benefit. For the first time in the last five years, there was a ray of hope for students, for immigrants and for the poorest in this country.

Election night saw many staying up to watch as results came in. Then came the shock of the exit poll. I found myself hoping beyond hope that it was wrong. By 6am my dreams of a Britain free of austerity lay in tatters; a Conservative majority was established. To quote the film V for Vendetta: “I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.” I felt angry and betrayed. But even more so, I felt afraid.

We know what this Conservative government will bring with it, and the price we must pay for this outcome. The zero-hour contracts that see people completely at the mercy of their employers, will continue. In such forms of employment, employers can take away an employee’s job for no sensible reason. Without a job they find themselves on benefits, to then be demonised by society.

There are already calls to bring about a referendum on the EU. The fearmongering spread through the Murdoch media could lead to our departure from the EU. Cameron and his new Justice Secretary Michael Gove, the same man who was sacked as Education minister, have already planned to remove the Human Rights Act, to replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. This measure could mean we will see a restriction on basic Human Rights as incorporated in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Conservatives are extremely determined to “break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights” to not allow “British judges to be overruled in Europe”. This further means that any violations made in the British courts will be much harder to bring to the European courts.

This plan to attack our human rights ties closely with Theresa May’s plans to bring back the Snoopers’ Charter. This was a policy that she had previously tried to implement, but was prevented by the Liberal Democrats. Some may argue that if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide. As understandable as this argument may seem, however, how would you feel if I went searching through your private letters? Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights (the basis of our Human Rights Act) gives us our right to privacy. If this can be so easily removed, it begs the question: what other rights will be taken?

Theresa May wants to make the Snoopers’ Charter law as she believes it will be there to stop terrorism before it happens. She states, “The twisted narrative of Extremism cannot be ignored or wished away.” But, what comes under the “twisted narrative of extremism”? This is a very vague and rather terrifying statement; anything that is anti-government could be branded as such. It is vague statements like this that make us wonder when a Snoopers’ Charter becomes an excuse for locking up any ill-defined “radical” the government sees fit.

However, it’s not all bad news; certainly if you are a part of the wealthy top 10 per cent in this country, life is going to be great. You will get your tax cuts and you will still be able to dodge tax relatively easily. If you are a banker, you can still gamble with our money and never worry about the consequences. It is fair to say the Conservatives look after their own.

This country has voted for a party that believes the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. We have over the past five years seen private companies enter our National Health Service, a service created by and for the people. With private companies coming closer and closer to owning our NHS, how long will it be until we lose this brilliant and essential institution?  To quote Aneurin Bevan “Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.” We should let these words echo through the ages and pay heed.

This country may well have voted for Conservatives, arguably through an unfair voting system in which vote percentage does not fairly correspond to seats won. It is, however, not too late to change. Already thousands have taken to the streets nationwide to protest and protect the vulnerable in our communities. We lose billions thanks to tax-dodging tycoons in their glass towers, and reckless bankers who care only for their own wallets. Through the right taxes, there could be less need to cut essential services, like the fire services and the NHS. We could scrap spending billions on Trident and put that money into helping rehabilitate soldiers who have come back scarred and broken from their missions.

The Conservative government will tell you cuts to the public sector are essential. They will quote High School Musical again and say “we are all in this together”. We know that isn’t true. I highly doubt David Cameron and his friends have to use food banks to feed their children, or sink into depression like so many others who are forced into seeking benefits. The reason Mr Cameron cannot understand the needs of the average Briton is because he belongs to the 10 per cent. For his government, money is more valuable than lives.

Nonetheless, there is hope for the UK. From London to Cardiff, from Bristol to Sheffeild, people have been standing up in one voice to say no to the Tory policies put forward. In July the budget will be released with around £12 billion cut from the welfare bill. On June 20th thousands are protesting in London against these cuts. We can be the change we want to see. We can say no to austerity, we can say no to the loss of our NHS and we can say no to the loss of our human rights.

Image from: Getty Images

Categories: Muslim blogs

Dissecting the Future of the National Health Service

The Platform - Sat, 16/05/2015 - 12:59

With privatisation now a tangible reality, NHS employees fear how an already-strained service will change and diminish

 

In the aftermath of the general elections, in which 37 per cent of voters rejoice in their choice of a Conservative majority government, none are more dismayed at the Tory democratic coup than NHS employees. The NHS was a hot topic in the election lead-up, and yet it was ominously missing from David Cameron’s immediate winner’s speech. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Health was also excluded from the Conservative’s list of the top six priorities in their manifesto.

The left wing’s self-righteous anger, and the ensuing mockery, was inevitable. However, these elections have brought politics alive for the masses, for those who were previously apathetic. Britain’s dated electoral system, the personal focus of the debates, the skewed media representations, and the unabashed propaganda from Murdoch’s newspapers; some would say the dissent is justified in its self-righteousness.

But if anything, let the NHS staff play angry martyr. Why? Because we work 100-hour weeks at barely minimum wage per (uncharted) hour we work, only to be told it’s not enough. Because nobody shares the frustration more than us. The guilt we, who are at the forefront, feel as the A&E waiting times get longer and patients pile up in the corridor, is combined with an empathy that is usurped by anger, and a desire to do what’s best replaced by a desire to do what’s quickest. Nonetheless, the knowledge that we are working for an institution in which we believe wholeheartedly is the comforting impetus for most of us.

As a health system, the NHS is unique, and one of the most progressive initiatives in UK history. It is also one of the most socialist, making it almost a miracle that it stayed untarnished for so long. And yet now, the NHS is dying. This is no sudden death or recent development; this has been flowing in the undercurrent for years, a death from chronic disease. It’s clear however, that the acceleration of its demise in the last five years went hand-in-hand with government reforms and budget cuts as A&E departments closed across the country and we moved ever closer to a privatised health system. Once the ethos of the NHS falls, the passion of the workforce will also fall. Your employees, Mr Cameron, are exhausted. Strip them of their morale, and you are left with little more than a skeleton of the National Health Service that was the pride of this country for so many years.

As Aneurin Bevan turns in his grave, it is necessary to examine the facts behind the outcry. Let us return to the beginning. In 1948, Health Minister Bevan introduced a National Health Service, free at the point of entry, devoid of class, creed or financial warfare. His crucial and core principle was that care be given based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Funded by the taxpayer, it flourished into as much a social movement as it was a health system, with some of the best free-at-the-point-of-delivery medical treatment in the world.

Skip some 60 years, and the legacy is a health service with paradoxes at every turn. Hugely positive developments in terms of improved health awareness on a personal scale are marred by an increasing abuse of services due to the growing culture of medicalising any and every symptom. Left at the mercy of the abysmal Jeremy Hunt, there is also an £8 billion funding gap and a constant media rampage against patient care, often shifting the blame onto the employees rather than the overwhelming organisational, financial and bureaucratic problems.

There are several factors independent of government blame which are contributing to a floundering NHS; an ageing population has created huge stresses, particularly alongside altered public expectations and rising costs, as expensive treatment innovations expose a moral dilemma for health trusts, whose good intentions are scuppered by financial instability. But therein lies the first of the government’s failures. The NHS is chronically underfunded – we spend 9.1 per cent of GDP on healthcare, lower than the US, Holland, France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Norway and Finland to name but a few. This comes alongside predicted mounting strain on services; with £12 billion worth of proposed cuts to the welfare system, the stresses on the health system to pick up the slack in areas of care will rise.

The answer to this problem, according to Conservative proposals, is to encourage “the entrepreneurial spirit of public servants” by introducing a “right to mutualise” for public sector organisations, shifting ownership from government to staff. By proxy, this means to privatise. In 2010, less than 300 NHS officials worked for private firms with a purported community benefit; in 2015, this number stands at 14,000. Thus, we have the second failure – the destruction of the very principles upon which the NHS was founded. We are edging towards the NHS as a business, the patient as a consumer, and health as a commodity.

One overt contribution from the government has been in proposing a seven-day working week for GPs – a poorly thought-out alternative to the current emergency out of hours service – and in influencing training reforms for doctors in the form of the ‘Shape of Training Review’. These seek to shorten training programmes and broaden specialty bases in a manner which has raised serious concerns by the Royal Colleges and General Medical Council regarding the compatibility of the reforms with high quality patient care and safety. Yet there continues to be little consideration for the voice of such eminent organisations, let alone for those employed in the NHS themselves.

As humanity ebbs from a bankrupt health service, the poverty – and thus health quality – gap widens, and an unbridled Conservative government prepares to quietly push the NHS out of its priorities. The Health and Social Care Act of 2012, passed by the former coalition government, which the manifestos of the opposition parties professed they would repeal, is likely to be an abridged version of future bills to come, with a heavy prediction that the NHS will be sold, section by section, to private companies. Financially, that may be a necessity. But morally, socially and conceptually, the bell tolls for the NHS.

Image from: Getty Images

Categories: Muslim blogs

Observations from the Classroom: Moved, Humbled and Ashamed

The Platform - Thu, 14/05/2015 - 18:11

Being a teacher of English as a Foreign Language in Britain has been both alarming and humbling

 

I’ll begin with a disclaimer – I’m not a political expert, this is not a political article per se, it’s more a personal observation. There are many people of all shades on the political spectrum who can offer a better analysis of the political landscape facing us for the next five years of government than I can. However, I do feel that the keyword here is ‘personal’, as it’s that lack of understanding of the individual – their rights, freedoms, and uniqueness – that this piece is actually about. It’s actually a simple story, with a simple message. It’s conceivable that some would say it’s overly simplified, but that’s a risk I’ll have to take.

I’m actually a teacher. An EFL teacher to be precise – I teach English as a foreign language to adults at a large language school in Canterbury. I qualified as such in 2011, when after many years living and working in London in a variety of soulless sales and marketing jobs, I decided through a combination of personal issues and a general malaise, to retrain. To this end I took the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Training to Adults). I’d like to say I did so with idealistic motives, or to better myself in some way, but I didn’t, really. While I’d say that I’ve always had an interest in history, travel, and the way people and cultures interact, and I can’t ascribe any particularly altruistic motive to my change of career – I pursued teaching out of boredom more than anything else.

But during my training, and subsequently after taking up my current position (teaching at the school where I initially qualified), I discovered two wonderful things that had seemingly eluded me. Firstly, I was good at my job. I could communicate the nuance of English language in a way that was interesting and exciting to students. I could establish rapport with people. I gained and still gain a huge amount of personal satisfaction from seeing the light of understanding dawn in someone’s eyes. I make no apologies for the sentimental language I may be using here – it was truly a revelation, and did a great deal for my own self-worth and personal development.

The second, and I feel most vital thing I learned was something bittersweet, in the sense that its discovery forced me to face some serious questions with regard to the way both I, and the burgeoning socio–political climate of the UK as a whole, approach the concepts of integration, discrimination, and indeed the ‘hot topic’ buzzword that we’ve heard so much of late – immigration. That second thing was empathy, pure and simple.

Those readers of a certain age may recall a television programme called Mind Your Language – I mention it only in passing as a relic from the politically incorrect years of the 1970s. It was your typical tiresome, cliché-ridden fare, evidently crafted by bored ITV hacks to tick all the ‘comedic’ boxes. The principal character was an English Language teacher; therefore every foreign stereotype was fair game. You had the excessively loud and grandiose Italian, the dour and humourless German, the Japanese student who ended every sentence with “O”, the promiscuous French student, and the staple Indian housewife. All odious stuff, now rightly consigned to the depths of the media ocean.

Or so I thought. Because over the last five years, as I’ve developed my teaching techniques and my understanding of the differing requirements of students from very different cultures, I’ve witnessed a kind of paradigm shift in the political and public consciousness of the UK, thrown into even sharper relief by what I do for a living every day. From a personal standpoint, from being assailed by the constant hot air spewed by the likes of Nigel Farage and his UKIP cronies, or the more insidious dire warnings of terrorism and jihadists in our midst from the Conservative government, to then go into a classroom and teach lively, interested and open-minded students from such disparate places as Saudi Arabia, China, Korea, Libya, the Ukraine and all of the EU nations (as well as numerous other nationalities) presents a juxtaposition between the attitude of the UK and what I actually see on an individual basis in these post-9/11, post-Charlie-Hebdo times. Indeed it would be ironic if it wasn’t so oddly unsettling. It’s very difficult to lump every nation into one homogenised mass of stereotypes and generalisations (à la Mind Your Language) when you deal with their individual needs, aspirations, hopes and dreams every day. When you hear about their families, their children, their heartbreak at the issues within their own countries and their fears for the future.

I despair as I watch the inexorable rise of jingoistic sabre-rattling in the media, (the Daily Mail and its poster girl, Katie Hopkins spring immediately to mind), coupled with the plans afoot to increase powers of surveillance and draft a British Bill of Rights to replace the ECHR. Likewise, the continued existence of, and promotion on social media of, far-right hate groups such as Britain First and their ilk. The prospect of another five years of creeping paranoia and scatter-gun analyses of entire cultures and religions leaves me concerned and unnerved.

But all this is counterbalanced by the feelings I get within my classroom. When you see a room full of people working and interacting together, crossing the bounds of race, religion, and the crushing millstone of history in such a dynamic way, it’s hard not to be moved. If you’ve read this far, let me give you a few examples of what I have experienced – some positive, some negative.

When a Chinese student in his late teens effusively thanks you, and tells you that his future aspiration is to use his new-found skill in English, in time, to enter the Chinese diplomatic corps and attempt in some small way to foster better understanding between our two cultures, one can’t help but feel moved. When a Saudi Arabian woman whose language skills you have nurtured from Elementary to Advanced level over a period of two years brings her children to the school to meet you, who then smilingly introduce themselves first in Arabic and then in perfect English as a result of their mother passing on the language skills you have imparted to her, one cannot help but feel humbled.

Lastly, let me tell you about a quiet, studious Yemeni man. He is an official in the government of a country racked with internecine conflict and wholesale slaughter the like of which we in the UK could never, ever, begin to understand.  An intelligent and thoughtful man, his primary concern is the future of his family. Equally however, he fears that the religion to which he is so devoutly committed, together with the precepts of peace and understanding within it, are being twisted and bastardised by the rising tide of Islamophobia in the west and the fanatics who have bloodied and blackened its name. When he tells you that he is harangued publicly in the street on a daily basis by British ‘patriots’ calling him a member of ISIS, one cannot help but feel ashamed.

Well I don’t want to feel ashamed. I want to feel positive about the future. Maybe my classroom is a microcosm, and maybe microcosms don’t translate into the ‘bigger picture’ and I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do know that each and every one of the good people in my classroom are ‘the bigger picture’.

Thank you for listening.

Image from: http://pages.skytv.co.nz/programmes/mind-your-language

Categories: Muslim blogs

Saul Williams: Burning Boundaries and Spinning Song

The Platform - Thu, 14/05/2015 - 13:50

Poet and rap artist questions power and advocates for social change through music, literature, film and theatre

 

I first got into Saul Williams via Rage Against the Machine. An heir to the sonic barricades of Public Enemy, Saul Williams is another artist who masterfully takes on issues of social justice in a lyrical form, but with an urban voice and a little bass. I had the chance to see him open for The Mars Volta in 2003. As a solo spoken word poet opening for a guitar solo-loving experimental rock band, I’d heard rumours of “boos” in his direction on the tour. But I arrived late. And the venue staff seemed blown away. I knew I’d missed something special.

Musically, Saul doesn’t just avoid the self-absorbed consumerism that the mainstream music industry is devoured by. The issues that are present in his lyrics are the big hitters: violence, oppression, identity. Issues that, given the events in Baltimore and other US cities in the past few months, are still unfortunately universal for sections of the populace. As an author with several published books, Saul also has a leg-up when it comes to getting a story down in words. Several songs are versions of previously-written poems of varying styles. Rapid fire stanzas and call and response couplets contrast with the rhythm of a dream-like journey.

Reacting to the issues that face the black community in the United States (and the downtrodden worldwide), Saul has produced lyrics and public statements bemoaning the state of hip-hop, asserting that hip-hop was originally the invention of the oppressed and has mutated into name-checking Rolexes and criminal rap sheets. The idea being that not only are we physically gentrifying our cities by moving rich outsiders in, but also what was once “outsider art” – the aural resistance of the marginalised – is now being co-opted into the mainstream, wrapped in a prettier package (more palatable to those doing the gentrifying) and sold in a form that is easier to market. In essence, this is a red herring that distracts us from issues of more relevance than how many car brands can be crammed into a three-minute track.

Saul has always been one to take the opposite path when it comes to pigeon-holing. He created a first album that struggled for a release for being “insufficiently hip-hop” (though eventually Rick Rubin produced it) and a third album inspired by David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” (he certainly isn’t averse to a little facepaint and dressing like a 70s astral superman). Growing up in a rough part of upstate New York, rather than rapping about the “reality” of inner-city crime and getting rich (or dying trying), he chooses to rap about the likes of the reality of fighting on the frontline of the USA’s 21st-century oil wars. Issues of international conflict become local when it’s the young men from your neighbourhood in the trenches. Saul isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what hip-hop is, or what exactly he is as an artist.

After four years of living in Paris, Saul recently returned to New York to appear in Holler if Ya Hear Me on Broadway. In an industry where the highest grossing shows of 2014 were Wicked, The Lion King and The Book of Mormon, it was a brave move to take on the lead in a play about gun violence backed with music from Tupac Shakur. But Saul seems to revel in staying far from any comfort zone, bringing a new audience to the theatre and bringing new material to an old Broadway audience. The experiment may have failed, but it is not likely to be the last time a hip-hop musical is rolled out.

This summer sees the release of Martyr Loser King. Showing off his deep-rooted interest in Africa, the album was inspired by Saul’s trips through Senegal, as well as Reunion Island and Haiti, and tells the story of a hacker at an e-waste site in Burundi being tracked and watched by the CIA. With Burundi in the news at the time of writing, following a coup attempt to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza, Saul Williams proves he is an artist in touch with his time and in touch with the realities of the global community.

Saul Williams is the headline act at the British Library, London, on Friday 15th May. It’s a rare appearance by Saul in London, and one not to be missed. For information and tickets, please visit the British Library event page: LATE at the Library: Freedom of Expression featuring Saul Williams and Tongue Fu.

Photo Credits: Saul Williams, who will perform at a special Magna Carta Late at the Library

Categories: Muslim blogs

Defending The Honor of The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) ?

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 09/05/2015 - 01:04

If we lived in sane times, we would be searching for the particular psychosis that afflicted the wretched souls who attempted to shoot up the asinine “Draw Muhammad” gathering in Garland, Texas. Unfortunately, there are plenty of deluded Muslims who will declare the shooters were “defending the honor of the Prophet (peace upon him).” Only someone divorced from reality can see an act which would take the lives of innocent people as defending the honor of the Prophet (peace upon him)?

I ask anyone seeking their glorious three days of Tweeter or Face Book notoriety through a callous act of mass murder to ask themselves the following questions: 1) How can actions that make otherwise unconcerned people hate Islam and its Prophet (peace upon him) be considered in his defense? 2) How can actions that help to move a venomous anti-Muslim hate group from the lunatic fringe to the mainstream of American society be viewed as a defense of the Prophet (peace upon him)? 3) How can actions that help to prepare the psychological climate for a public endorsement of genocidal campaigns against Muslim populations, including the use of nuclear weapons and other means of mass destruction, which Muslim countries, to say nothing of Jihadi mass murderers, have no defense against, be considered defending the honor of the Prophet (peace upon him)?

It is interesting, as Dr. Sherman Jackson points out in his upcoming book on Egypt’s Gama’ah Islamiyya’s renunciation of mass murder mislabeled as “Jihad,” that the realization that they were turning people away from Islam was one of the keys to their rejection of indiscriminate violence. Perhaps no group claiming Islam has chased more people away from Islam, both Muslims and others, than the current array of “Jihadis.”

To any potential miscreant being lured by the failed movements, irrational ideas, and distortions of the Islamic message, which have collectively contributed to the mass death and destruction we see in many parts of the Muslim world, I offer the following advice, taken from an article I wrote a few years ago. It is in a question and answer format.

Question: What is a person who is fed up with America’s murder of innocent Muslims all over the world supposed to do?
Answer: This is a valid and important question. I will make a few recommendations here.

1. America’s foreign policy did not develop overnight, and it will not be changed overnight. It can be changed through hard work and effective alliances. Stupid acts of wild violence only make it more difficult to do that work. Also, realize that you did not create the confusion, weakness, political incompetence and internecine conflicts that prevail in some parts of the Muslim world and that YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR NOR CAPABLE OF FIXING IT. Oftentimes, we become stressed out over things beyond our control. Our Prophet (peace upon him) informed us, “From a person’s Islam being good is his leaving what does not concern him.” What we cannot control is not our concern. On the other hand there is much we are capable of doing here where we live yet we oftentimes neglect those things. We will even run from what we can effectively influence to become caught up in events that we have no ability to influence at all. This is a formula for frustration, ineffective and possibly counterproductive action.

2. Take advantage of the educational opportunities you have and train yourself to do something meaningful for the Muslims and humanity at large. Most people in the average Muslim society have no opportunity for higher education. Here in western societies we do have such opportunities. Instead of brooding about the situation of Muslims in various parts of the world, we should be educating ourselves to able to do something meaningful with our lives that can make a difference in theirs. It has been proven that knowledge indeed translates into power. We should be about the business of empowering ourselves to help others lead better lives, not plotting to their lives and ours even worse.

3. Contribute in a meaningful way to the discourse that is shaping how Americans view Islam. We should not assume that everyone in this country is inherently anti-Muslim. However, if we do not begin educating our fellow citizens about our religion, our community and the struggles of our people, an ever greater percentage of Americans will be prejudiced against Islam and we will have an extremely difficult time changing their attitudes. You can engage in research to help provide refutations of the slanderous and defamatory ideas that are being passed off as Muslim principles and beliefs. You can write or blog. You can teach people about Islam in both formal and informal settings. You can arrange for classes and seminars in public places such as libraries, community centers and similarly places. You can give private presentations in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. You can organize book clubs to read and discuss books that portray Islam accurately. If it seems like daunting work, it is, which is why so many run from it.

4. Learn a skill that is needed in the poor countries of the world and spend part of your time serving people in such places. Such skills may include medicine, nursing, computer science, sanitation engineering, environmental science, psychology (as the basis for therapeutic counseling for those who have only known war and destruction for the last thirty years). By serving in these areas you can contribute to the stability of societies that are damaged and dysfunctional after decades of unrelenting violence.

5. Help to serve the incarcerated, recent immigrants, poor, elderly and other populations whose lives are being ravaged by the corporate state. Building bridges with these populations will be a key to creating the kinds of coalitions that can push back in an effective way against the hegemonic materialistic machine that is attempting to actualize its control over all aspects of our lives. As the fiscal crisis of the state deepens there will be more and more people in need of various services. Muslims must step up to do our part in meeting those needs. This is one of the greatest things we can do to counter vociferous anti-Muslim propaganda.

6. Join the work of those organizations whose political vision aims to bring people together and to overcome the divisions and rifts that have separated them. Such work can take place within the context of the electoral political system and in the context of grassroots political education and organization. There are also many Muslim and other sympathetic advocacy groups that are springing up. Get involved with those groups and help to strengthen them both financially and in terms of their human resources.

7. Join the movement to help humanize Muslims to the mainstream society through arts and culture. This movement is powerful and is gaining momentum. The realms of effective communications in this regard include film, art, acceptable genres of music, poetry and many other vistas.

8. Get involved in the antiwar movement. Grassroots antiwar activism was instrumental in ending the Viet Nam War and it is the only thing that will end the so-called “War on Terror.” There are many organizations and online initiatives that need help to enhance their efficacy. Muslims should be involved with such groups in great numbers if we are sincere in our desire to end this current war, which is leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent people and the destruction of their societies.

These are just a few suggestions. If one were to busy himself with just a couple of them, one would be too busy living a purposeful life and would be far less likely to be overwhelmed by the alienation, meaninglessness and ennui that open the door to the delusional appeals of “Jihad.”


See more at: http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/articles/answers_to_would-be_mujahids

Categories: Muslim blogs

Brazilian Teachers: Enemies of the State

The Platform - Fri, 08/05/2015 - 23:02

Professionals working in the education sector are treated with contempt by the Brazilian authorities in a country where privatisation is on the increase

 

Rubber bullets and stun grenades were flying everywhere in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on the 29th of April, 2015. The target?

Teachers protesting against proposed changes to the state pension.

The events that left well over a 100 teachers injured as a result of clashes with police outside the Congress Building form part of a bigger picture of a government in crisis and general discontent among the population. Brazilian demonstrations have been a topic of international news since the country erupted in protest in 2013 when more than a million marched against excess spending on the World Cup and poor public services. This year international news has centred primarily on the Petrobras corruption case and economic inflation, which resulted in a number of street protests months after President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election.

Petrobras, Brazil’s oil producing giant, is an important contributor to the country’s GDP, and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party’s implication in the Petrobras kickback scheme has dramatically lowered her approval ratings. Together with the corruption scandals involving the Worker’s Party and economic crisis, tensions have been heightened by austerity measures, which include cutting pensions for teachers. The images of teachers bleeding or injured in Curitiba are only an illustration of the daily disrespect and neglect faced by professionals working in the educational sector.

Despite the well-known precarious working conditions and undervaluation of their profession in Brazilian society, there is still a discourse that accuses teachers of victimisation. Such dismissive remarks and the trashing of public education often interweave as they reduce teaching to a mechanical profession, thereby transforming education into a product. The association between education and product is not new in a country where privatisation in the educational sector perpetuates the social inequality that holds the country back. Those who cannot afford private education are left with little choice but to learn in an infrastructure characterised by lack of desks, chairs, supplies and safety. In this context, teachers, and the education system in general, are a threat to the functioning of a wider framework which relies on marginalisation to work.

While both national and international media reference Brazil’s natural resources and high potential for economic growth, they cannot hide the country’s educational gap which is clearly highlighted in international indices of educational efficacy, such as the ones published by the United Nations and its children’s charity UNICEF. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why Brazil’s history has been marked by so many swings between hopes and pessimism. The Viennesse writer Stefan Zweig moved to Brazil during the period of Nazism in Europe and called it “the country of the future”. This expression is now often extended to include “and always will be” in stiflingly sarcastic fashion.

Indeed, how can a country be booming while educators are transformed into state enemies and there are discourses that demonise teachers instead of highlighting their social role? Aiming rubber bullets and tear gas at teachers are examples of the distorted priorities of Brazilian authorities. Politicians appear too occupied with extricating their parties from the latest corruption scandal, or organising the next international mega-event, while the Brazilian educational system creates scenes that are reminiscent of warzones.

Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-32527969

Categories: Muslim blogs

Seven Reasons Not to Kill Yourself After the Night of the ‘Exit Poll’

The Platform - Fri, 08/05/2015 - 21:40

We’re all going to die anyway, let it happen naturally

 

The night has been a shocker. After the gasps around the exit polls that lasted for some time – and we can’t face the phrase ‘exit poll’ ANYMORE – this morning the nation awoke to what very few, including the Conservatives, expected. A narrow Tory majority forms government amid huge losses for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. UKIP did not get the glorious results it expected either. So much for hung parliament and weeks to months of colourful coalition speculation.

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and beer-swilling Nigel Farage have all announced their resignation from leadership of their respective parties. Yet, as shocking as the simultaneous triple leadership resignations of three lead parties is, after a night like the one we’ve just witnessed, it’s not entirely surprising.

Meanwhile the nation scratches its head over the poor forecasts and predictions that have governed much of the voting yesterday. Whether you are wallowing in misery as you try to fathom what happened to the electorate (we commiserate), or celebrating at the surprise win of your blue brethren (we’ll deal with you later), here are seven things we can be happy about:

 

1. Mhairi Black

The name on everyone’s lips this morning, Mhairi Black of Scottish National Party (SNP) has become the most celebrated winner of election night. The 20 years young Politics student from Glasgow University defeated Labour’s campaign organiser, Douglas Alexander (yes, you read that right), to sweep to victory at her constituency of Paisely and Renfrewshire South in Scotland. Black is the youngest MP since 1667 and, if you do the maths, that’s a pretty darn long time. And, by the way, her finals are next month.

The odds were stacked against Black as she battled against one of Labour’s best known politicians in Scotland who held an over 16,000 majority. But she did it, with 23,548 votes against Alexander’s 17,864. Although commiserations abound for the veteran Alexander, we must congratulate Black on her incredible win as she becomes Britain’s youngest Minister of Parliament for over 350 years and an inspiration for young people nationwide. Oh, and good luck with the dissertation!

 

2. SNP in Scotland

Scotland remains the source of good news. Consistently the only sensible voice in a chain of leadership debates, Nicola Sturgeon has proven her political mettle at the ballot. The SNP have swept to power in Labour’s heartland, wiping the reds across much of the country including from Glasgow itself. Even Sturgeon initially could not quite believe the impressive predictions of the exit polls, encouraging caution on her Twitter. As results came in, however, the SNP leader did not conceal her well-earned cheer. As Alex Salmond told the press, “there is a lion roaring in Scotland tonight”.

 

3. Lib Dems got their comeuppance

The broken promises of the Liberals did not go unpunished as Nick Clegg’s party earned a humiliatingly paltry eight seats. The Liberal Democrats leader has since announced his inevitable resignation as party chief and we await to see who takes his place. No doubt the Lib Dems’ backtracking on tuition fee promises while in coalition did them no favours, as it of course shouldn’t. Although we will not deny the one good thing that came of it: this epic Apology Song. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry…

 

4. Politics is not all about celebrity culture

For a moment we were despairing at The Platform HQ when #Milifandom kicked off. “Not in politics too!” we thought. “Spare national politics from being determined by mindless celebrity culture!”

Yet even as Ed Miliband conceded epic defeat this morning and announced his resignation to boot, and we won’t deny there were one or two misty eyes at The Platform’s Politics desk, Miliband’s loss reflects that celebrity culture does not a prime minister make. While many a young ‘un cheered on #Milifandom, Miliband’s defeat alongside the win of fresh-faced Mhairi Black has our fogey hearts at TP HQ feeling reassured that our fellow young Britons retain sensible political minds.

 

5. Farage lost South Thanet and is on his way out from UKIP leadership

There are those who take this piece of news with a little scepticism, which we do understand. Even as UKIP has not made the expected gains, it has nonetheless proven itself a formidable contender, coming second and third in a number of constituencies. Twelve per cent of the electorate voting for them is nothing to sneeze at, and we need to keep an eye on that point.

But in the desert of despair that we have woken up to, it is nonetheless a comforting fact that the guffawing, gaffe-ing, genial xenophobic-uncle-next-door has not only failed to secure the South Thanet seat he so coveted, but has announced his resignation from UKIP leadership. We hope the door doesn’t hit him on the way out.

 

6. Boris Johnson still looks like a fool

Please buy a comb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Scotland is only next door

Although Scotland’s days in the union are potentially very numbered now following the SNP’s successes, we aren’t so sure. The major influx of English refugees with affected Scottish accents we are predicting may indeed give them pause for thought. That – or they may just go ahead with it and build the highland equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

But while they remain in the union, remember: they’re only a short drive or flight away! Moving north has never looked more appealing, as the Loch Ness monster sings out to us with melodious roars. Scotland is now largely a lovely shade of yellow, with a parliament composed of those who have consistently remained sensible throughout the drama of the past few months. Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency may face a little overcrowding, but like a large party, the more the merrier.

Last one to leave England, hit the lights.

Image from: http://chrisspivey.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/boris-johnson-010.jpg

Categories: Muslim blogs

What They’re Not Telling You: Blaming Immigrants and Ignoring Foreign Policy

The Platform - Wed, 06/05/2015 - 15:08

What the three main political parties have decided not to discuss in their campaigns

 

Part Two: Reducing Immigration, Ignoring Foreign Policy and Developing Weapons

 

Reducing immigration

Since its founding in 1993, UKIP has blamed the country’s problems on immigrants and the European Union. Over the following 15 years, Labour and the Liberal Democrats repeatedly condemned UKIP’s incendiary approach, maintaining that immigration was a good thing for the country. The Conservatives held a more conservative line (of course), but were nervous of appearing hardline, as anti-immigration speeches often seemed to backfire against Tory leaders William Hague and Michael Howard.

It is now 2015 and all has changed. UKIP, although only likely to win between one and four seats, lead the agenda of the national debate on immigration. Miliband, Clegg and Cameron are not politicians in the mould of Thatcher, who stuck to her principles for better or for worse. They cannot afford to lose votes in this uniquely narrow election, and are chasing the anti-immigrant wave.

The tragedy of the situation is that the xenophobic story told to the public – that immigrants strain public services and housing, take jobs and undercut wages, and scrounge welfare benefits – is a lie. The opposite is true, concluded University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration last year. The study found that between 2001 and 2011 the net benefit of immigrants to the country was over £25bn. Meanwhile, the employment rate has never been higher.

This makes sense. The British public has many misconceptions about immigration – for example, a survey by the University of Oxford found that most respondents associated immigrants with asylum seekers, although in fact 96% of immigrants are not asylum seekers. Immigrants are demographically very different to the native population: they are on average younger, more likely to work, claim less benefits and council housing, and are the results of years of investment in education by another country. Britain receives “the right kind of immigrant”, wrote The Economist in January. It is a pity that they will be hit hard again after May 7th.

 

Renewing nuclear weapons

A majority of the British public believe that nuclear weapons are too expensive for governments to maintain, found a ComRes poll last year. The politicians are clearly not with them: the Conservatives and Labour both want to spend between £80bn and £100bn on renewing Britain’s nuclear weapons system, Trident. To put that in perspective, the Department for Education’s entire budget is £58bn. Nick Clegg, against the wishes of Liberal Democrat members, is also in favour of nuclear submarines, but wants to shave off £4bn with a smaller fleet.

It is increasingly obvious that Trident is not only horribly expensive, but that it has become strategically irrelevant since the end of the Cold War. Former army generals have for years expressed fierce opposition to the budget-guzzling nuclear programme, calling it “completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of the violence we currently face, or are likely to face”. Germany, Saudi Arabia and Japan do not need the ability to kill millions with a push of a button – why does Britain? The logic behind forking out for such weapons was old-fashioned 10 years ago – since the 1990s, threats to the British soldiers and citizens have exclusively come from conventional and guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks.

To their credit, the rise of the Scottish National Party has suddenly broken the absurd silence in Westminster on the topic. But their only hope of scrapping nuclear weapons – which the SNP calls a “status symbol” – lies with a bargain with the Labour government, and Ed Miliband has committed himself to Trident in recent weeks. Popular it may be, but it is certain that nuclear disarmament will again be dismissed by a majority of politicians for the next five years.

 

Unprincipled foreign policy

It is difficult to know where to start with Britain’s foreign policy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told our ambassadors to turn a blind eye to so many horrors that it is a wonder that they can find their way to work each morning. In 2014, David Cameron flip-flopped as the civilian death toll of Israel’s latest bloody operation in Gaza reached 1,492 according to the UN. His own senior Foreign Office minister, Baroness Warsi, was appalled and resigned, calling the UK’s stance “morally indefensible”. Ed Miliband was furious in his criticism of Cameron, apparently forgetting that he had been a Labour cabinet minister during a similar debacle in 2008-9 during which 1,391 Palestinians were killed.

This is not a specific point about Israel. Since the days of the British Empire, successive UK governments have set about making strategic alliances with some of the most authoritarian, violent and corrupt regimes in the world. That’s how British arms probably found their way into Saudi Arabian bombing raids on a Yemeni refugee camp among other targets just last month, killing at least 40 innocent civilians. And how the British High Commissioner in Bangladesh expressed disappointment with opposition parties for not taking part in rigged elections in Dhaka. And how David Cameron did not say a word as the leader of opposition in Malaysia was sentenced to prison on charges of sodomy this year.

Although they say otherwise, there is plenty of evidence that the three main parties are willing to side with authoritarian, violent or corrupt regimes when it suits them. It is nevertheless surprising that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have ignored almost all foreign policy issues this entire election, and it is a travesty that they have again left the electorate with no choice on foreign policy.

***

Contrary to its purpose, the UK general election has not allowed for a national debate on any of the above policies. There have been important differences on other issues – the economy, education and the European Union spring to mind immediately. But there is something deeply unsettling about a democratic system in which the public’s opinions can be so easily locked out by Westminster consensus. For that reason, I strongly recommend considering where you yourself stand on five key policies which will affect Britain’s future – pensions, the green belt, immigration, nuclear weapons and foreign policy – before your cast your vote tomorrow, May 7th.

In part one, the writer discusses pension increases and green belt restrictions

Image from: Newzoids http://www.radiotimes.com/uploads/images/Original/74517.jpg

Categories: Muslim blogs

What They’re Not Telling You: Terrible Policies the Three Main Parties Agree On

The Platform - Wed, 06/05/2015 - 01:30

Certain policies championed by the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats have potentially terrible consequences

 

Part One: Pension Increases and Green Belt Restrictions 

Dissatisfaction with the traditional parties has spiked in recent years, but there is little to show for it. Fringe groups on the left and right have risen across Europe, and the British public has not yet forgotten the parliamentary expenses scandal six years ago. Despite this, 83 per cent of voters still back the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, according to a survey last month by ICM/Guardian. Clearly, these three parties still dominate British politics.

Like mainstream parties in most democratic countries, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have many ideas in common. This has narrowed the debate in the run-up to the election. For example, it is almost guaranteed that the next UK government will reduce the national budget deficit, protect NHS spending and give Scotland more autonomy.

However, not all policies championed by parties from the Westminster establishment are quite so reasonable. The three main parties have chosen stances on certain issues which are short-termist, populist and damaging to the country – and the consensus between them means that these policies are going to be implemented from May.

Here are two of the four policies the country is sleepwalking into:

 

Pension increases

“Dignity and security in old age should be part of the promise we make to old people in our country,” vowed David Cameron on Radio 4 earlier this year. Who could argue against that? No-one, reasoned Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. Sure enough, when the manifestos were launched halfway through April, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats pledged to keep a “triple-lock” on state pension increases. This ensures that pensions will rise in line with prices, earnings or by two and a half per cent – whichever is highest. Labour followed suit with a slightly lower third “lock” of two per cent.

This pledge guarantees that however badly other welfare spending is slashed, pensioners will enjoy generous increases to their pay packets. Since 2010, this has translated to a five per cent real terms rise in basic state pension. During the same period, housing welfare support was slashed by 46 per cent and child benefit was frozen for three years. In February, The Economist lambasted the prime minister’s logic as “economically senseless and morally indefensible”. It is built on images of freezing pensioners unable to afford central heating – but this is a dishonest twist on the reality. Large sections of today’s recipients of the state pension are in fact wealthy, having benefited from free-spending Labour governments and eye-watering housing prices over the last two decades.

Eighty-three billion pounds was paid out on the basic state pension – two and a half times the amount of extra money needed by the NHS by 2020. In 2013, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith bizarrely asked rich pensioners to hand back benefits voluntarily. They, of course, did not. But no politician will choose a guaranteed vote-loser among the elderly, given that voter turnout is highest among the over 65. Pension increases are here to stay.

 

Green belt restrictions

The government announced late last year that it intended to “protect our precious green belt” with further constraints on development. It would have seemed like a spoof had it not been accompanied by an official press release from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Less than 10 per cent of Britain is developed. This is because the green belt is tightly wrapped around our cities, severely damaging the country’s ability to build new homes for its growing population. This has lit a rocket underneath the housing market in the last three decades, and has resulted in a farcical situation today. An alleyway in Battersea, London was sold last year for £260,000 – that’s an alleyway in Battersea, not Chelsea – and unless the green belt is loosened, prices will not stop spiraling out of control.

The green belt will not be loosened. Not in the next parliament, at least – the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (who have more support in rural areas) have both actively campaigned to stop housing being built on green belt land. The Labour Party has been more reticent on the issue, but Ed Miliband was also cornered into prioritising building in non-green belt land in April by The Daily Telegraph, which crowed that 2015 will be yet another election victory for the green belt.

The Telegraph and rural councils flood their websites with pictures of picturesque villages and beautiful meadows whenever they write about the green belt. But this is dishonest – Professor Paul Cheshire of the London School of Economics has pointed out that green belt land is mostly privately owned, intensively farmed land which leaves the environment worse off. The ugly truth is that homeowners in green belt areas benefit massively from distorted housing prices, and seek to protect this cartel. Unfortunately, politicians mimic the language of green belt campaigners and are “terrified of being accused of wanting to pave over the countryside”, as Labour MP David Lammy complained. A little political bravery would go a long way. Until there is some, the housing situation in Britain will become more and more desperate.

In part two, the writer discusses nuclear armament and foreign policy.

Image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9933445/Tories-Labour-and-Lib-Dems-set-out-rival-plans-for-press-regulation.html

Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 14:00

The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.

There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!

 

IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah

On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman

We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?

An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer

Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

How to understand rulings on photography, and why Hajj selfies can be a form of remembrance of good: worshiping Allah alone, visiting sacred places, love and fraternity, and acts of worship.

 

WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer

The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.

10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah

Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).

Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer

A detailed breakdown of why there is nothing in the scripture that would prohibit a modest woman of knowledge and character to preach to the masses.

 

CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer

Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.

American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Understanding which American customs are permissible or not, and why, including birthdays,  anniversaries, halloween, and more. A practical, most highly read article every year it is posted.

Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John Ederer

Can a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb

The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.

Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb

Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.

Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman

 

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan

Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.

10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah

There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.

Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan

Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?

How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi

He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).

 

QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)

How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by  by Marwa Abdalla

Is the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford

A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.

Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed

Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!

 

OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)

Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t.  I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah Alam

With Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author)

A key lesson learned after a very stressful and long job search experience:  there is growth in discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability. Why and how we should embrace discomfort.

Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki

Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.

 

CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman

Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.

 

KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki

Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.

Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)

Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.

Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.

 

LOVE,  RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi

The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.

When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)

As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.

The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi

Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one.  A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 24/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Tom Gill

I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.

It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:

Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.

It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.

Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.

Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.

Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.

Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.

Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.

Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.

“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 23/12/2014 - 19:20

 “Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.

Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.

We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.

As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.

We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.

And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.

How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.

This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).

I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.

Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).

I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.

We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.

We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.

And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 22/12/2014 - 14:00

Names of Allah Series:  Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIXPart XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII

Photo: Joel Tonyan

In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?

Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.

Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:

‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).

‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.

Al-Qahhar: The Dominator

Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;

“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)

Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.

Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.

This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.

Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:

“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)

On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names

1 – Balance fear and hope

Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).

2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”

3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin

To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:

“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)

These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.

Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.

4 – Do not oppress others

The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/12/2014 - 14:00

Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Alby Headrick

By Macksood A. Aftab

The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.

Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.

As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.

The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”

Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)

The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).

Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:

“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”

Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.

Causation, God & Science

Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.

Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.

Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”

David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.

On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.

Conflict Averted, Science Flourished

This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:

“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”

According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.

Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,

“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,

“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”

This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:

“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”

This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.

Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: mackaftab@post.harvard.edu.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 17/12/2014 - 14:00

Part I | Part II

In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.

Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”

We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.

Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)

To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:

“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)

Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.

This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.

And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:

“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)

Categories: Muslim blogs
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