Muslims’ Historic Presence at Democratic Convention

By Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan

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ISNA President Ingrid Mattson,
center

Imam Mardini (r) of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn Heights reads a prayer at the beginning of an interfaith ceremony that began the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Denver – 8/27/08 –American Muslims participated in two events that were historic at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) held in Denver, Colorado.

On Sunday, the DNC held its first “Interfaith Gathering” in which four community members played official roles in this opening event of the convention.  Imam Mohammad Mardini of Dearborn, Michigan gave one of the Abrahamic invocations, Fatema Biviji, who is also a National Democratic Delegate, read an English translation of selected verses from the Qur`an, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of ISNA, delivered a speech based upon the theme “Our Sacred Responsibility to Our World”, and Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali of Denver recited one of the closing litanies. 

The interfaith program was attended by many leading figures within the party including DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-NC) and Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. (D-CO).

Perhaps the most rousing moment of the program was the speech of Sr. Helen Prejean where she spoke about “Our Sacred Responsibility to Our Nation.”  Her speech touched upon her struggle to end the death penalty in America due to its “racist” application stating that murders only get the death penalty “when white people are killed, people don’t get the death penalty when black people are killed.” 

Prejean stated that America has lost her “moral authority” in the world.  She cited the recent examples of  when the Bush administration calls for China to have broader human rights or calling for Russia to withdraw from Georgia when America tortures Muslims in Gitmo Bay and launched illegal incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq.

During the interfaith event, there were a few moments of tension when three anti-abortionists yelled that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) a “killer of babies” and a “child murderer” for his pro-choice stance.  Also, one audience member exclaimed “Free Palestine” during a portion of a speech by Rabbi Steven Foster when he stated that the Torah and Talmud teach that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. After the program, protestors continued their anti-abortion protests while evangelicals held signs reading “God Hates Obama” and “God Hates You.”

The following day, the American Muslim Democratic Caucus (AM-DC) held its first caucus luncheon.  Prior to the program, the AM-DC held a press conference discussing the formulation of the AM-DC and the need for the caucus being accelerated due to the marginalization of Muslims from the political process since 9/11. 

Several speakers addressed the 200 some attendees including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), State Rep. Yusuf Abdus-Salaam (D-AL) and Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA).

Several Democratic Muslim delegates were also in attendance from several states ranging from California, Texas to Michigan.

The events of the first two days of the DNC holds promise as well as showing how far American Muslims have to go to become an organized political entity in the American political landscape.  Although Muslims were well represented in the official interfaith program, there was a lack of Muslim visibility regarding audience attendance.  The same holds true regarding Muslim presence as delegates on the convention floor.  The caucus meeting was good for a first year effort and will need to do more outreach from a broader spectrum to have more participation with varying perspectives for future events.  Despite these shortcomings, the “Interfaith Gathering” and the 1st AM-DC were overall successes and major steps towards political empowerment of the Muslim community on a broader scale.

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Afghanistan: Not a Good War

Courtesy Conn Hallinan

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An Afghan policeman is seen inside a destroyed house whom the Afghan government said was bombed by U.S.-led coalition forces on Friday in Azizabad district of Shindand, in Afghanistan August 23, 2008. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday condemned a U.S.-led coalition air strike his government says killed 76 civilians, most of them women and children.

REUTERS/Mohammad Shoiab

Every war has a story line. World War I was “the war to end all wars.” World War II was “the war to defeat fascism.”

Iraq was sold as a war to halt weapons of mass destruction; then to overthrow Saddam Hussein, then to build democracy. In the end it was a fabrication built on a falsehood and anchored in a fraud.

But Afghanistan is the “good war,” aimed at “those who attacked us,” in the words of columnist Frank Rich. It is “the war of necessity,” asserts the New York Times, to roll back the “power of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”

Barack Obama is making the distinction between the “bad war” in Iraq and the “good war” in Afghanistan a centerpiece of his run for the presidency. He proposes ending the war in Iraq and redeploying U.S. military forces in order “to finish the job in Afghanistan.”

Virtually no one in the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) calls for negotiating with the Taliban. Even the New York Times editorializes that those who want to talk “have deluded themselves.”

But the Taliban government did not attack the United States. Our old ally, Osama bin Laden, did. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not the same organization (if one can really call al-Qaeda an “organization”), and no one seems to be listening to the Afghans.

We should be.

What Afghans Say

A recent poll of Afghan sentiment found that, while the majority dislikes the Taliban, 74% want negotiations and 54% would support a coalition government that included the Taliban.

This poll reflects a deeply divided country where most people are sitting on the fence and waiting for the final outcome of the war. Forty percent think the current government of Hamid Karzai, allied with the United States and NATO, will prevail, 19% say the Taliban, and 40% say it is “too early to say.”

There is also strong ambivalence about the presence of foreign troops. Only 14% want them out now, but 52% want them out within three to five years. In short, the Afghans don’t want a war to the finish.

They also have a far more nuanced view of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While the majority oppose both groups –13% support the Taliban and 19% al-Qaeda – only 29% see the former organization as “a united political force.”

But that view doesn’t fit the West’s story line of the enemy as a tightly disciplined band of fanatics.

Whither the Taliban

In fact, the Taliban appears to be evolving from a creation of the U.S., Saudi Arabian, and Pakistani intelligence agencies during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union, to a polyglot collection of dedicated Islamists to nationalists. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar told the Agence France Presse early this year, “We’re fighting to free our country. We are not a threat to the world.”

Those are words that should give Obama, The New York Times, and NATO pause.

The initial invasion in 2001 was easy because the Taliban had alienated itself from the vast majority of Afghans. But the weight of occupation, and the rising number of civilian deaths, is shifting the resistance toward a war of national liberation.

No foreign power has ever won that battle in Afghanistan.

War Gone Bad

There is no mystery as to why things have gone increasingly badly for the United States and its allies.

As the United States steps up its air war, civilian casualties have climbed steadily over the past two years. Nearly 700 were killed in the first three months of 2008, a major increase over last year. In a recent incident, 47 members of a wedding party were killed in Helmand Province. In a society where clan, tribe, and blood feuds are a part of daily life, that single act sowed a generation of enmity.

Anatol Lieven, a professor of war at King’s College London, says that a major impetus behind the growing resistance is anger over the death of family members and neighbors.

Lieven says it is as if Afghanistan is “becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the U.S. and NATO breed the very terrorists they then track down.”
Once a population turns against an occupation (or just decides to stay neutral), there are few places in the world where an occupier can win. Afghanistan, with its enormous size and daunting geography, is certainly not one of them.

Writing in Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichter says that glancing at a map in the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) headquarters outside Kandahar could give one the impression that Afghanistan is under control. “Colorful little flags identify the NATO troops presence throughout the country,” Germans in the northeast, Americans in the east, Italians in the West, British and Canadians in the south, with flags from Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, Lithuania, Australia and Sweden scattered between.

“But the flags are an illusion,” he says.

The UN considers one third of the country “inaccessible,” and almost half, “high risk.” The number of roadside bombs has increased fivefold over 2004, and the number of armed attacks has jumped by a factor of 10. In the first three months of 2008, attacks around Kabul have surged by 70%. The current national government has little presence outside its capital. President Karzai is routinely referred to as “the mayor of Kabul.”

According to Der Spiegel, the Taliban are moving north toward Kunduz, just as they did in 1994 when they broke out of their base in Kandahar and started their drive to take over the country. The Asia Times says the insurgents’ strategy is to cut NATO’s supply lines from Pakistan and establish a “strategic corridor” from the border to Kabul.

The United States and NATO currently have about 60,000 troops in Afghanistan. But many NATO troops are primarily concerned with rebuilding and development – the story that was sold to the European public to get them to support the war – and only secondarily with war fighting.

The Afghan army adds about 70,000 to that number, but only two brigades and one headquarters unit are considered capable of operating on their own.

According to U.S. counter insurgency doctrine, however, Afghanistan would require at least 400,000 troops to even have a chance of “winning” the war. Adding another 10,000 U.S. troops will have virtually no effect.

Afghanistan and the Elections

As the situation continues to deteriorate, some voices, including those of the Karzai government and both U.S. presidential candidates, advocate expanding the war into Pakistan in a repeat of the invasions of Laos and Cambodia, when the Vietnam War began spinning out of control. Both those invasions were not only a disaster for the invaders. They also led directly to the genocide in Cambodia.

By any measure, a military “victory” in Afghanistan is simply not possible. The only viable alternative is to begin direct negotiations with the Taliban, and to draw in regional powers with a stake in the outcome: Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China, and India.

But to do so will require abandoning our “story” about the Afghan conflict as a “good war.” In this new millennium, there are no good wars.

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Dr. Mahin Khan Joins Oncology Group

By Ayub Khan, MMNS

CHAMBERSBURG,PA — Dr. Mahin H. Khan has joined Drs. Kevin Lorentsen, John Robinson and Michael Cashdollar at Summit Cancer and Hematology Services, Medical Oncology, an affiliate of Summit Health.

Khan will see patients at the John L. and Cora I. Grove Cancer Center, located inside the Summit Keystone Pavilion at 755 Norland Ave. He will also see patients at Waynesboro Hospital.

Khan received his medical degree from the University of Dhaka, where he was salutatorian of his class.

He completed his residency training in internal medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Khan completed his fellowship training in oncology and hematology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Khan presented a Continuing Medical Education presentation at Penn State Cancer Institute in 2006, titled Update on Glioblastoma Multiforme.

He also presented at the Cancer Institute in 2007 on Molecular and Cytogenetic Markers in CLL.

He recently was a co-investigator on a study of GM-CSF and ipilimumab for patients with malignant melanoma, also at Penn State Cancer Institute. He has a special interest in melanoma, GU malignancies, and lymphoma.

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Joe Biden and Zionism

Courtesy Yitzhak Benhorin

Barack Obama’s new running mate praises Israel In 2007 interview with ‘Shalom TV’

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US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and his vice presidential running mate Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) attend a campaign event at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, August 23, 2008.    

REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Biden, who was chosen by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to be his running mate in the upcoming US elections, has previously declared himself to be a Zionist. Calling Israel “the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East,” he also revealed a Jewish connection in an interview last year.

During the interview conducted by the Jewish ‘Shalom TV’ Biden said, “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” He also revealed that his son is married to a Jewish woman, of the Berger family from Delaware, and that he had participated in a Passover Seder at their house.

He added that “probably my most poignant Seder memory is not with the Bergers, but what happened right after I came back from meeting Golda Meir (in 1973). I had predicted that something was going on in Egypt. And I remember people talking about what it meant to them if Israel were actually defeated.”

Biden presented himself as a friend to Israel, which he referred to as the US’ greatest Middle East ally.

“Imagine our circumstance in the world were there no Israel. How many battleships would there be? How many troops would be stationed?” he asked.

He also called comments about Israel’s connection to the war in Iraq “insulting”, explaining that “if tomorrow, peace broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, does anybody think there wouldn’t be a full-blown war in Iraq?”

Regarding the terror attacks in Israel, Biden said the Sept. 11 attacks made American parents feel what Israeli parents have been feeling. “The difference between now and before 9/11,” he said, “is that many Americans can taste what it must feel like for every Israeli mother and father when they send their kid out to school with their lunch to put them on a bus, on a bicycle or to walk; and they pray to God that cell phone doesn’t ring.”

‘No pardon for Pollard’

Biden also commented on Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life in prison for espionage charges. “He has to serve his sentence. There’s a rationale, in my view, why Pollard should be given leniency. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘What happened did not happen and should be pardoned’,” he said.

“My worry is that, if I were president, to go and pardon Pollard would make a lie out of the notion that there are certain rules. You cannot give classified information, period. Even to a friend. If this were Great Britain, it would be the same thing.”

Biden is currently serving his sixth term in the US Senate, is of Irish descent, and was born in Pennsylvania. He became an attorney in 1969 and in 1972 was first elected to Senate. Just a short while later, his wife and one of his children were killed in a car accident. His two sons were injured but recovered fully.

Biden became a senator at the age of 30, which is the earliest age at which one can be elected to the Senate according to US law. He continues to reside in Delaware and makes the two-hour journey to Capitol Hill by train every morning.

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NSG Poses Nuclear Dilemma For India

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

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Activists from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) hold placards to protest against India’s possible civilian nuclear deal with the United States during a demonstration in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 20, 2008.

REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI: The political storm raised over importance of the controversial Indo-US civilian nuclear deal by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government appears to have fallen flat. The two-day meeting of 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) concluded without giving a green signal to end the 34-year old isolation of India in civil nuclear commerce (August 21-22). Informally, the NSG has agreed to meet again within a fortnight, but only to discuss a new text with inclusion of some suggestions and amendments made by several members at the Vienna meeting.

India has yet to categorically state its stand on whether it will accept the numerous suggestions and amendments, it is expected to by several NSG members. “We have to see what kind of amendments come. Then only we can decide. But we cannot accept prescriptive conditionalities,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. He had been briefed by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon about developments in Vienna, Mukherjee said on board, accompanying President Pratibha Patil on a two-day visit to West Bengal (August 23).

Though differences between India and NSG countries are said to have narrowed down considerably, the Vienna meeting was marked by more countries having raised objection than New Delhi had expected. Nearly half the NSG members had moved amendments and suggestions, pushing India towards nuclear non-proliferation in return for granting it the exemption sought by United States on its behalf. What was perhaps more alarming for India was the apparent decision of eight nations- Austria, Denmark, Finland Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden – to push amendments to the US draft.

As the US Congress adjourns on September 26, before elections in November, India and United States have very little time to agree on a new draft. Nevertheless, the US government still remains hopeful of presenting the 123 agreement to the Congress when it resumes its session on September 8. Hinting that US is not against some changes to secure the green signal from NSG, the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher said: “I don’t want to lie to you…I can’t really lie. There might be some changes that we could accept. But we are pushing for a clean text.” “The US and India will have to sit together and see what we can accommodate and what we can’t. We will have to talk to the other governments involved,” he said (August 22).

Some of the suggestions made at the NSG, viewed as “unpalatable” for India, are signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Against this backdrop, however hopeful United States may seem on pushing through the deal, prospects of India accepting suggested changes in the draft are dim. This is more so because issues raised in Vienna were more or less in line with US Hyde Act, which establishes conditions for American nuclear commerce, apparently expected to apply to Indo-US nuclear deal too. The “prescriptive conditions,” Mukherjee spoke of, include the Hyde Act, according to which the deal expires the moment India goes for another nuclear test, sources said.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) views the possible NSG nod to a US-sponsored draft as “another surrender (to US) in the offing.” After binding itself fully to Bush administration on the deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government would now “go forward to further compromise India’s interests,” the CPI-M said in a statement.  “The draft submitted by the US seeking a waiver on sanctions on nuclear trade for India from the NSG and the subsequent discussions make clear that the Hyde Act conditions will be built into this waiver,” the statement said. “All of these were to ensure that the NSG waiver conformed to the Hyde Act conditions. Whatever wording the US makes in a revised draft, as in the case of the 123 agreement and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards agreement, the NSG waiver too will be in conformity with the unacceptable conditionalities of the Hyde Act,” the statement said (August 23).

In a similar tone, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said: “The fiasco that happened at the NSG meet shows shoddy homework on the part of our government which had all the time in the world, that is the last three years, to work on the Nuclear Suppliers Group.” Blaming the Indian government for having been “ensnared” into a non-proliferation framework, Sinha said that US has been “continuously shifting the goalpost and tightening the grip over India to fall into the framework.” “Earlier also we warned the government about this,” Sinha said. The “ultimate shifting of the goalpost by the US,” is the Hyde Act, he said. “Our government took the plea that India was not bound by the Hyde Act, which was completely wrong,” Sinha pointed out.

Meanwhile, though Delhi and Washington are still engaged in trying to end isolation of India in civil nuclear commerce, India has begun saying that failure to get the NSG waiver for this is United States’ responsibility. As expressed by an Indian official: “There was an agreement in 2005 in which we both made certain commitments. We have delivered on all of ours. Now the Americans have to deliver the NSG-waiver, not us.”

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Land and Freedom–Kashmir

Courtesy Arundhati Roy, The Guardian

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A Muslim Kashmiri woman with a 40-day-old baby shouts pro-freedom slogans during a march to “Martyrs Graveyard” in Srinagar August 22, 2008. Tens of thousands of Muslims marched in Indian Kashmir’s main city on Friday, resuming some of the biggest protests in two decades against Indian rule. Hundreds of trucks and buses brought the protesters, many of them sitting on roofs and hanging out of windows, for an independence rally to be addressed by separatist leaders.

REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli 

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been “disappeared”, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

A sudden twist of fate, an ill-conceived move over the transfer of 100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into a barrel of petrol. Until 1989 the Amarnath pilgrimage used to attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamist militant uprising in the valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase exponentially. By 2008 more than 500,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave, in large groups, their passage often sponsored by Indian business houses. To many people in the valley this dramatic increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by an increasingly Hindu-fundamentalist Indian state. Rightly or wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge. It triggered an apprehension that it was the beginning of an elaborate plan to build Israeli-style settlements, and change the demography of the valley.

Days of massive protest forced the valley to shut down completely. Within hours the protests spread from the cities to villages. Young stone pelters took to the streets and faced armed police who fired straight at them, killing several. For people as well as the government, it resurrected memories of the uprising in the early 90s. Throughout the weeks of protest, hartal (strikes) and police firing, while the Hindutva publicity machine charged Kashmiris with committing every kind of communal excess, the 500,000 Amarnath pilgrims completed their pilgrimage, not just unhurt, but touched by the hospitality they had been shown by local people.

Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the response, the government revoked the land transfer. But by then the land-transfer had become what Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most senior and also the most overtly Islamist separatist leader, called a “non-issue.”

Massive protests against the revocation erupted in Jammu. There, too, the issue snowballed into something much bigger. Hindus began to raise issues of neglect and discrimination by the Indian state. (For some odd reason they blamed Kashmiris for that neglect.) The protests led to the blockading of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road-link between Kashmir and India. Truckloads of perishable fresh fruit and valley produce began to rot.

The blockade demonstrated in no uncertain terms to people in Kashmir that they lived on sufferance, and that if they didn’t behave themselves they could be put under siege, starved, deprived of essential commodities and medical supplies. 2008-08-22T133347Z_01_SRI18R_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-PROTESTS

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi, freedom? To threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political suicide.

Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?

There have been mass rallies in the past, but none in recent memory that have been so sustained and widespread. The mainstream political parties of Kashmir – National Conference and People’s Democratic party – appear dutifully for debates in New Delhi’s TV studios, but can’t muster the courage to appear on the streets of Kashmir. The armed militants who, through the worst years of repression were seen as the only ones carrying the torch of azadi forward, if they are around at all, seem content to take a back seat and let people do the fighting for a change.

The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at the rallies are not leaders so much as followers, being guided by the phenomenal spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that has exploded on Kashmir’s streets. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrel
s of soldiers’ machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! (We want freedom.) And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey jeevey Pakistan. (Long live Pakistan.)

That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm.

On August 15, India’s independence day, Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of Srinagar, was taken over by thousands of people who hoisted the Pakistani flag and wished each other “happy belated independence day” (Pakistan celebrates independence on August 14) and “happy slavery day”. Humour obviously, has survived India’s many torture centres and Abu Ghraibs in Kashmir.

2008-08-22T123509Z_01_SRI19_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-PROTESTS On August 16 more than 300,000 people marched to Pampore, to the village of the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was shot down in cold blood five days earlier.

On the night of August 17 the police sealed the city. Streets were barricaded, thousands of armed police manned the barriers. The roads leading into Srinagar were blocked. On the morning of August 18, people began pouring into Srinagar from villages and towns across the valley. In trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and on foot. Once again, barriers were broken and people reclaimed their city. The police were faced with a choice of either stepping aside or executing a massacre. They stepped aside. Not a single bullet was fired.

The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air. Everyone had a banner; houseboat owners, traders, students, lawyers, doctors. One said: “We are all prisoners, set us free.” Another said: “Democracy without freedom is demon-crazy.” Demon-crazy. That was a good one. Perhaps he was referring to the insanity that permits the world’s largest democracy to administer the world’s largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy.

There was a green flag on every lamp post, every roof, every bus stop and on the top of chinar trees. A big one fluttered outside the All India Radio building. Road signs were painted over. Rawalpindi they said. Or simply Pakistan. It would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan. Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support – cynical or otherwise – for what Kashmiris see as their freedom struggle, and the Indian state sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief. With saying and doing what galls India most of all. (It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a “freedom struggle” that wishes to distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and align itself with another that has, for the most part been ruled by military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart by its own ethnic war. These are important questions, but right now perhaps it’s more useful to wonder
what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people hate it so?)

Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry Pakistan se rishta kya? La illaha illallah. (What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah.) Azadi ka matlab kya? La illaha illallah. (What does freedom mean? There is no god but Allah.)

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard – if not impossible – to understand. I asked a young woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for her, as a woman. She shrugged and said “What kind of freedom do we have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?” Her reply silenced me.

Surrounded by a sea of green flags, it was impossible to doubt or ignore the deeply Islamic fervour of the uprising taking place around me. It was equally impossible to label it a vicious, terrorist jihad. For Kashmiris it was a catharsis. A historical moment in a long and complicated struggle for freedom with all the imperfections, cruelties and confusions that freedom struggles have. This one cannot by any means call itself pristine, and will always be stigmatised by, and will some day, I hope, have to account for, among other things, the brutal killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the early years of the uprising, culminating in the exodus of almost the entire Hindu community from the Kashmir valley.

As the crowd continued to swell I listened carefully to the slogans, because rhetoric of ten holds the key to all kinds of understanding. There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do (Oh oppressors, Oh wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir.) The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan. (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself – Pakistan.)

Why was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? I tried to work it out and settled on three reasons. First, because we all know that the first part of the slogan is the embarrassing and unadorned truth about India, the emerging superpower. Second, because all Indians who are not nanga or bhooka are and have been complicit in complex and historical ways with the elaborate cultural and economic systems that make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal. And third, because it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer, in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani began his address with a recitation from the Qur`an. He then said what he has said before, on hundreds of occasions. The only way for the struggle to succeed, he said, was to turn to the Qur`an for guidance. He said Islam would guide the struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan. He said minority communities would have full rights and their places of worship would be safe. Each point he made was applauded.

I imagined myself standing in the heart of a Hindu nationalist rally being addressed by the Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP) LK Advani. Replace the word Islam with the word Hindutva, replace the word Pakistan with Hindustan, replace the green flags with saffron ones and we would have the BJP’s nightmare vision of an ideal India.

Is that what we should accept as our future? Monolithic religious states handing down a complete social and moral code, “a complete way of life”? Millions of us in India reject the Hindutva project. Our rejection springs from love, from passion, from a kind of idealism, from having enormous emotional stakes in the society in which we live. What our neighbours do, how they choose to handle their affairs does not affect our argument, it only strengthens it.

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamist project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the world by Muslims, as Hindutva is contested by Hindus). Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of society they are fighting for.

Perhaps it is time to offer people something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those who wish to turn to the Qur`an for guidance will no doubt find guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Qur`an does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the “complete social and moral code”? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir’s thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa? Switzerland? Pakistan?

At a crucial time like this, few things are more important than dreams. A lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice will have consequences that do not bear thinking about. This is not the time for intellectual sloth or a reluctance to assess a situation clearly and honestly.

Already the spectre of partition has reared its head. Hindutva networks are alive with rumours about Hindus in the valley being attacked and forced to flee. In response, phone calls from Jammu reported that an armed Hindu militia was threatening a massacre and that Muslims from the two Hindu majority districts were preparing to flee. Memories of the bloodbath that ensued and claimed the lives of more than a million people when India and Pakistan were partitioned have come flooding back. That nightmare will haunt all of us forever.

However, none of these fears of what the future holds can justify the continued military occupation of a nation and a people. No more than the old colonial argument about how the natives were not ready for freedom justified the colonial project.

Of course there are many ways for the Indian state to continue to hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the people’s energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It could extinguish this non-violent uprising and re-invite armed militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half a million to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutritioned population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.

· Arundhati Roy, 2008. A longer version of this article will be available tomorrow at outlookindia.com.

Ramadan and ‘Eidul Fitr

Fiqh Council of North America Press Release

crescent-moon

FCNA Announcement for Ramadan 1429 And Eid Al-Fitr

Ramadan 1429: September 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Ramadan is on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 19:58 Universal Time (i.e., 3:58 pm EDT, and 12:58 pm PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, [the conjunction before sunset and moon setting after sunset in Makkah] first day of Ramadan is on Monday, September 1, 2008.

Eid al-Fitr 1429: October 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Shawwal is on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 8:12 GMT, 4:12 am EDT, 1:12 am PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, the first day of Shawwal is on Wednesday, October 1, 2008.

Extreme Sports and the Burj Dubai

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

burj dubai
Computer-generated image of the Burj Dubai.

The world has never seen anyone who can match the death-defying feats performed by Evel Knievel, the Greatest Stuntman to have ever lived. Although many have tried and succeeded with their own risky stunts, no one has ever dared go to the extreme heights Knievel went to in order to wow spectators and fans. That was until now.

We should have seen this one coming. Dubai undertakes constructing the tallest building in the World, Burj Dubai, which is still under construction and already stands at 630 meters tall and is expected to reach 900 meters by completion, which would make it twice the size of the New York Times building in the US State of New York. And before the plaster can even dry on the walls, the daredevils and extreme sport junkies have already begun to descend on this tiny Gulf nation. So far, two men have ‘base’ jumped from the Burj Dubai. Only one was successful. A British citizen jumped from the 150th floor landing on the ground as Dubai police waited to arrest him for trespassing. He faces up to a year in prison. Another man, a French citizen, did not even make it to the building as he was arrested when police spotted him with his ‘jump’ gear.

Now the world’s most infamous daredevil known as ‘Spiderman’, hailing from New York, has set his sites on the Burj Dubai. In a recent interview, Alain Roberts was quoted as saying that his plans for the future include scaling the monstrous building. Roberts has already been arrested numerous times for criminal trespass, endangerment and graffiti as he often spray paints a message once he scales a building. He has already scaled the current top three largest buildings in the world, so climbing the Burj Dubai will definitely be on the ‘To Do’ list of the seasoned adrenaline junkie. However, the climb will still be illegal. It remains to be seen just how Roberts not only plans on entering the country (authorities in Dubai have most likely already been alerted to his plan) but also his strategy for evading security at the Burj Dubai. If the attack on the World Trade Center taught us anything it is that tall buildings are targets for terrorism simply because of their iconic status and the number of people they can hold. And at the Burj Dubai security is already tight as a drum even though it is not yet complete. Perhaps ‘Spiderman’ will exchange his red-leotards in favor of a black ‘burqa’ for the Burj Dubai climb?

If Evel Knievel were still alive even he might marvel at the boldness of the latest stunts that use the World’s tallest structures as a base. However, when it comes to the mammoth Burj Dubai, daredevils might think twice about climbing, or even jumping, from the very top once completed. Architects have already anticipated that the top of the structure will sway a bit in the wind due to the sheer height of the building. It is estimated that the Burj Dubai will sway at least 1.5 meters, which could make even veteran daredevils lose their balance, or perhaps at least their lunch.

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Let ALLAH Surprise You

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin

I feel so blessed to know I am under the protection and grace of our Lord, ALLAH.  This is manifested in so many ways that He so graciously lets us realize.  When the angels visit us in the wombs of our mothers around the fourth month of conception, and deliver our souls, we are open to all sorts of miracles that may seem small or even insignificant, or not even realized at all.  Nevertheless, if you reflect on this wondrous creation, you realize that in order to make it all work, ALLAH has put together a perfectly timed operating order to keep it going.  The complexity of our bodies is a perfect testament to this.

ALLAH also sends us “small” surprises that if we recognize it, give us more reason to glorify His majesty.

For instance, how often do things happen in our lives that we just rack up to be coincidence?  A couple of “small” things happened in my life recently that really had me pondering and praising ALLAH.

First, I was at home one Friday preparing to go to Jumah prayers.  My business cards were on the table loose because I did not have a card case.  As a result, they would get bent at the corners from carrying them in pocket.  I said to my self, “I need to get a case for these cards so I can keep them in order.”  When I reached the masjid parking lot, a brother walked up to me and handed me a beautiful silver business card case.  He told me “I had this case and was thinking of who I could give it to and thought of you.”  I almost cried.  Here 15 minutes earlier I was thinking of needing a card case and as soon as I got to the parking lot ALLAH gave me one.  ALLAH certainly did surprise me on that occasion – and it was a most pleasant surprise.

Then, last week, I was at the masjid looking at the carpet at the entrance door. I was pacing the dimensions to get an approximate measurement of an area.  As I was pacing, a brother got came to the door with a tape measure in his hand and said “here brother.”  Now this brother drove up in a nice car and was not dressed like he was doing construction work, he had on a nice leisure suit.  So I asked him why he had the tape measure in his hand.  It turned out he was in construction and carries the tape measure most places he goes.  But to me, it was ALLAH sending to me exactly what I needed, at the exact time I needed it. 
I was checking it out because during the first two weeks of Ramadan, our masjid, The Muslim Center, is playing host to an Islamic exhibition on The History of Islam in Detroit.  This exhibit has been on a world tour and we are fortunate to host it at our masjid for two weeks.  If you would like more information on it go to the Muslim Center website at www.muslimcenter.net

I don’t want to sound spooky.  I just want to share some experiences that I feel are very significant.  ALLAH is real and will show Himself to us on numerous occasions…if we reflect on Him and let Him into our lives.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Purpose and Rewards of Marriage

By Elder George

I came across a news item this week that stated Scotland now has more marriage ceremonies conducted by the state than by religious institutions. This trend represents a natural outgrowth of Western thought, which does not understand the purpose of marriage. It considers marriage a legal vehicle to administer the convenience of living together for the purpose of satisfying personal desires. State conducted marriage ceremonies do not require any obligation to the rest of society or any societal obligation to the married people. It does not infer any sanctity on marriage and does not concern itself with its permanence.

The natural purpose of marriage is to ensure the propagation and preservation of the species including its spiritual growth. It is a communal activity attended by all members of the tribe, for their safety and preservation depend upon proper unions and their offspring. Native societies throughout the world conduct marriage ceremonies, which express the seriousness of the union. Marriage represents more than a utilitarian arrangement of the peoples, it also serves as a manifestation of spiritual understanding and activity. All religions sanctify marriage.

Even within materialistic Western society, religious sects can be found that place a big emphasis on marriage and family. An example is the Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch. All their marriage ceremonies are religious and are conducted in the home. Divorce is non-existent. This religious sect has resisted “modernization,” in many respects. They are organic farmers and shun the use of all chemicals. They do not use modern machinery but rely on horse-drawn farm equipment. Men work the fields and women nurture the family. They do not vaccinate their children and have never had a case of autism among them.

The population of the Amish has increased rapidly and they are purportedly the fastest growing religious sect in America. They have moved far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania and now have a presence in 28 states. A custom of the Amish is to leave the land to their heirs, but with so many heirs many Amish have moved on to where land is more readily available.

The Amish are but one example of those who have not prostituted the fundamentals of their faith for fame or fortune, and they have reaped great rewards. They have family, good health, and prosperity in the sense that their earthly needs are provided for. They do all of this without the intervention of the government. They do it without advanced education either, as Amish children do not receive formal education beyond the eighth grade; all further schooling comes from within the community.      

I did not write this article for the purpose of promoting the religion of the Amish but to show that there are those within the materialistic Western culture who have resisted modernization, maintained their faith, remained independent of the government, and prospered as a result.

Marriage is a spiritual undertaking supported by religious ritual and dogma. It is not a state institution. This is an important consideration for Muslims, for the pressure imposed by Western society on the entire Islamic community is to be more “modern” and “moderate.” Fundamental truths are neither modern nor ancient and their practice does not go out of style.

Elder George’s website is www.mensaction.net and he can be reached at 212-874-7900 ext. 1329.

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Evil in the Eyes of the Beholder

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Editor-in-chief of The Muslim Observer

A few weeks ago, responding to a question on what is evil, the Republican Presidential candidate once again demonstrated his unfitness for holding the highest office of the nation. He said “Islamic extremism” is an evil. If he had said extremism is an evil, one might have agreed with him. But associating only Islam with extremism is a politically prejudicial statement. What McCain is trying to say that Islam and Muslims cannot be trusted and they would constantly pose threats to the US interests globally.

During the last few decades we have seen many manifestations of evil in the world. For instance, the evil practiced by the Serbian forces against the Bosnian Muslims is a well known fact. However, few in the Muslim community held the Serbian church itself liable for this genocide, even though many Serbians committed these crimes in the context of religious hostilities that have existed between the two communities for centuries.

In the United States, during the last few decades, a number of medical professionals have been killed by those who are not in favor of abortion. Did anyone ever mention them as the manifestation of Christian intolerance or Christian extremism? What about the Jewish young man who killed the Prime Minister of Israel because of his engagement in a peace process? Did anyone talk about Jewish extremism?

Obviously, McCain is using this highly politically prejudicial language deliberately. He wants to appease that segment of American society that hates Islam. He feels that by creating fear in the minds of such people he could muster enough votes to get him elected for the office. He, however, does not recognize the damage he is causing to the nation and the relationship among various segments of American society.

The Muslim Republicans must challenge him on this issue. Fighting terrorism is not a Christian or Jewish or American or British agenda. It is an agenda that is important to Muslims as well. But fighting terrorism cannot be a blank slate to attack Islam and smear the Muslim community. There are enough Americans who do not like what McCain has been saying about Islam and Muslims. They will exercise their right to reject him at the appropriate time. However, in the meantime, Muslim voters must not feel shy of raising the issue in forums where Republicans are present. They have to speak up and challenge McCain for his bigotry.

We Muslims refuse to be a scapegoat for his electoral designs and desires. We should not let him define Islam and distort  its image, causing harm to American interests.

What appears at present is that McCain himself is showing extreme and warlike tendencies, to appeal to that portion of his political party which will accept such tendencies without thought.

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We’re Being Lied To

By Bob Wood, MMNS

We’re hearing lies again! It’s just as simple and nasty as that. Perhaps we should always hold that thought as the default assumption when listening to reporters in the financial media or someone employed by one of the big brokers. Paying heed to what they offer most likely goes against our own self interests and goes towards fulfilling theirs alone.

One reason often used as justification for buying stocks in one of the world’s most over-valued markets, the U.S domestic stock market, is the familiar refrain: ‘’stocks are cheap,’’ and that determination is based on whatever valuation metric seems to fit the day’s premise. Wall Street does a great job of at using metrics that favor its premise, regardless of whether valuations are truly cheap or mighty expensive.

Lately, we’ve been hearing that stocks are cheap based on forward-earnings estimates. Forward earning are just that –estimates, and we’ve been hearing that hoopla for the past few years. But then, what good would it do stock and mutual fund sellers to admit that stocks are expensive based on real-world ways of measuring them?

Stocks and funds must be marketed and sold, so, logically, advertising them as “cheap” works much better than admitting they are expensive now but might get even more pricy over time. So the master sales people simply begin with their premise and then work the statistics and other rationale to fit it. Thus, we hear again and again that stocks are cheap, based mainly, now, on those forward-earnings estimates.

One problem with using forward estimates is that you are investing based on someone else’s best guess as to how high earnings will go in the future. But how good has the Wall Street record been for predicting earnings in recent quarters? Let’s remember that those leading financial firms missed forecasting almost entirely the housing and mortgage market crises and the resulting hits to earnings.

How many of them anticipated the steep drop in earnings for big Dow components like G.M., Citigroup and AIG earlier this year, while continuing to promote those stocks based on forward earnings from last year or the year before? Those large companys’ earnings have been hit so badly that the Dow Jones Industrial Average no longer has a usable P/E multiple!

Perhaps the worst reason for using specious earnings estimates is extrapolating them into an average-forward earnings estimate. We now hear that the S&P 500 sells at a ‘’reasonable 15 times forward earnings and, while not exactly cheap, it’s not all that expensive either.’’

But we heard that last year, too, so wouldn’t you expect, with the market’s dropping since last October, the average P/E for those stocks would be about 13 or 14? However, in the latest edition of Barrons, the average P/E for the S&P 500 is listed at 25!

If these assertions about forward earnings estimates were right over the past few years, when are we going to see the markets sell at the average valuations we’ve been promised? How long can these promoters continue to tell us year after year that the market is cheap based on such flawed assumptions regarding corporate profits? Do they assume that investors will never catch on?

Another lie that is becoming embarrassingly hard to pitch is that the stock market is the way to get rich for anyone with available capital to deploy. Again and again, I ask people how many investors they know who became wealthy by investing in stocks. Each time, I get answers that Wall Street would not want to hear.

And now, with the implosion of the mortgage market and the ‘’financial innovations’’ that Alan Greenspan promoted so highly as Chairman of the Federal Reserve – when this current mess was constructed, even the brokers themselves are going bust! Remember the venerable Bear Stearns?

Have you looked at performance charts for other large financial firms like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and others? Not good! If those players can’t make money in the markets for themselves, how are they going to make money for their clients?

Some well regarded analysts are whispering that the basic business model for big brokers and investment banks is broken and that many of them will soon fail. Those who will survive are rapidly diluting the value of their shares held by investors by raising capital to offset billions of dollars in losses from their internal operations.

The staggering losses are being painfully endured by shareholders of the biggest and oldest financial firms in the country. Aren’t these the same financial leaders who would lead us down the royal road to stock market riches?

So far, these and other financial firms around the world have admitted to losing about $500 billion, with credible estimates from analysts like Nouriel Roubini suggesting that far greater losses are yet to come. And this does not include the billions of dollars in mortgage losses now being felt at Fannie and Freddie, the two largest buyers of those products!

How many times have you heard that stocks have never endured a 10-year period of losses in the modern history of our U.S. markets? Yet, we now can see that over the past 10 years, our markets have gone nowhere! And since most investors do not beat the market over time, what can be assumed about true investor performance over that time?

That the stock market has garnered investors nothing in the past 10 years shows only the nominal performance of the major averages. But with inflation rapidly accelerating, the loss in real terms flies in the face of those assertions that investors who hang in for the long haul will invariably be rewarded.

How many times in the past couple of years have we heard that we are nearing a bottom in housing problems, only to see further deterioration? Even leading home builders are saying they don’t foresee an end of their troubles any time soon.

How many times have we heard from leaders like Hank Paulson or Ben Bernanke that the subprime mortgage mess would be “contained” and do only minimal damage to the overall economy? How many times has Bernanke testified before a Congressional panel or committee, explaining that he sees inflation moderating in the coming fiscal quarters. Meanwhile, during the past week, we heard the highest inflation figures in the past 17 years!

How many times has President Bush told us what great work his administration is doing on fiscal policy and how the Federal budget deficit is on track to become balanced–with no deficit projected in another five years or so? But last month, the federal budget deficit hit an all-time high for one month, over $100 billion. Oh, and Congress raised the national debt ceiling, again, by a not-so-inconsequential amount, $800 billion. If Bush and team are doing such a wonderful job, why such massive borrowing?

We also heard in past years that the falling dollar was good since it boosts exports and helps bring down our messy trade deficits. But the dollar has been tanking for the past six years, and the trade deficit is still setting new records each year!

Are you getting my drift? We’re being led down the path to financial ruin, and all the while, our leaders in Washington and on Wall Street are telling us to expect nothing but good times ahead. The big brokers promise us expert advice on all things financial while they themselves are blowing up on whatever they’ve been selling.

And once again, investor losses are piling up, and we see this stacking up as the lost decade for investors. But then, when have investors profited over the long term in stocks? That ‘’stocks-for-the-long-run ‘’ premise may be the biggest lie of all.

Have a great week.
Bob

Bob Wood ChFC, CLU Yusuf Kadiwala. Registered Investment Advisors, KMA, Inc., invest@muslimobserver.com.

Muslim Sprinter Wins Olympic Sprint Dressed Head to Toe in a Hijab

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS Sprinters have long been squeezing their muscular frames into the most eye-wateringly skimpy, tight and revealing costumes imaginable. But one female athlete at this year’s Olympics is bucking the trend for bulging lycra and naked torsos.

In 2004, Bahrain’s Ruqaya Al Ghasara took part in the Olympics wearing hijab.

Al Ghasara won her heat of the women’s 200m sprint at the Bird’s Nest stadium – despite being clothed head to foot. Al Ghasara finished first followed by France’s Muriel Hurtis-Houairi and Sri Lanka’s Susanthika Jayasinghe.

Admittedly, Al Ghasara ‘s hijab is a rather sportier version of the traditional dress. Clinging to her body as she powers down the track the hijab completely covers her head, arms and legs.

Known as a Hijood – or hijab combined with a sports hood – the costume was specially designed for Al Ghasara by an Australian sports clothing company. It allows Muslim athletes to compete while still adhering to the strict modesty required of their faith.

Al Ghasara, who was the Bahrain flag-bearer at last week’s opening ceremony, said the Hijood has improved her performance. ‘It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” she said.

‘It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
‘I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.’

In 2004 Al Ghasara defied objections from fundamentalists in her village to take part in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, running in the 100 metres.? And in 2006 she won the women’s 200m final at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, making her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win a major international athletics gold medal.

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS

Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain celebrates winning her women’s 200m heat of the athletics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium August 19, 2008. Behind Al-Gassra are Oludamola Osayomi (L) of Nigeria and Aleksandra Fedoriva of Russia.     

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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Sailing to Gaza: Victory

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

More than 40 courageous humanitarians, inspired by the suffering and deprivation of the people in Gaza, sailed two ships into Gaza with no interference from Israeli authorities and effectively broke the siege that the Israeli government has imposed there.

The diverse international group of volunteers were greeted by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and thousands of cheering Palestinians.

Anticipation of the boats’ arrival had lent a celebratory air to the waiting crowd. Police had to control traffic and set up tents for people while they waited. Tears were interspersed among the cheers as the boats approached and the magnitude of the event began to dawn on the people. Balloons were given out, and children jumped into the water in their excitement. The FreeGaza people had been hampered by stormy seas and breakdowns in their electronic communications. Many had received anonymous threats, and the specter of an Israeli assault on their ships and persons was always imminent. Their intent had been to stay in 24/7 communication with the outside world, and they blamed the Israelis for jamming the equipment.

Mr. Haniyeh has invited Arab League leader Amr Moussa to visit Gaza. He has also called on Egypt to open the border for entry and exit from Rafah into Egypt.

A blockade of their vessels, the SS FreeGaza and the SS Liberty, by Israeli authorities had also been considered a possible response, and the ships carried enough supplies to idle for two weeks should they be unable to land. Greek and Cypriot authorities examined both ships and declared that they were free of weapons.

Israel relented but made it clear that the boats will be inspected before they are allowed to depart and that this is not a precedent for future similar missions. Each future mission will be judged by the Israelis based on individual circumstances.

The activists have brought toys, batteries for hearing aids (forbidden by the Israeli authorities because of supposed dual use), water filters (also forbidden by Israeli authorities) to supply Gaza residents with potable water, and some medicines.

One of the first activities of the volunteers has been to accompany Gaza fishermen to an area in the Mediterranean seven miles from shore. Fishing is one of the most popular occupations for Gaza residents, and the Oslo Accords gave them the right to fish up to 20 miles off shore. However, the Israeli Navy has interdicted fishing boats and generally harassed the fishermen, rendering that means of livelihood problematic at best.

Travellers include Greta Berlin, Mary Hughes, and Paul Larudee, all three activists in the International Solidarity Movement ( ISM); Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister and current Middle East envoy, Tony Blair; Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, and Anne Montgomery, a nun, the latter two in their eighties.

There was a sense that this is the beginning of the end of the blockade of Gaza. The volunteers bravely defied the Israeli government and, in effect, stared it down. The main stream media have begun to take notice. Every traveller will take back to his or her home an eye witness account of the Israeli siege of Gaza.

The trip has thus far also included a visit to a hospital in Gaza City which has seen the most damage from Israeli military aggression. A physician there told volunteer Mary Hughes that 50 children have died because Israel would not permit them to leave Gaza for Israel where medical treatment would have saved their lives. Hundreds of others have died because the Israelis have denied them life saving treatment. Babies have been born to mothers at checkpoints and died because Israeli soldiers would not permit them access through the checkpoints to hospitals. Babies in incubators and patients who require dialysis for kidney disease are at extremely high risk because Israel allows the hospital only a few hours of electricity a day, and these patients will be disconnected from life saving equipment for most of the day.

The travellers had lunch with Mr. Haniyeh and were presented with medals for their heroism. They visited homes where enthusiastic Palestinians greeted them with hugs and kisses. The presence of this international band gave them hope and a reason to be optimistic.

FreeGaza has defied the Israeli siege of Gaza, a small step toward eventual liberation, but a step that not only touches the residents of Gaza but the rest of the world. The volunteers have told their story through some media outlets. More will follow as the volunteers return and address wider audiences.

The freeGaza project was conceived two years ago and was often hampered by financial considerations. To learn more about the movement and to contribute funds – payment for the boats has not been completed – please visit: www.freeGaza.orf.

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Community News (V10-I36)

image001 Obituary: Jabir Muhammad, Manager of Muhammad Ali

CHICAGO-Jabir Herbert Muhammad, son of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and long time manager of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, died on Monday following heart surgery. He was 79.

Jabir Muhammad was born in Detroit and grew up in Chicago. He managed Ali’s boxing career from 1966 until 1981 and managed his post-fighting career for an additional 10 years.

Earlier Jabir Muhammad held several key positions in the Nation of Islam organization and served as an advisor to his father until his death. He successfully ran the groups business establishments including a bakery, restaurant, dry cleaning and other profitable enterprises.

As a manager of Muhammad Ali he reportedly promoted several million dollar purses for the latter. His funeral were held at Chicago’s Masjid al-Faatir.

The land for the mosque was donated by Jabir Ali which is believed to be the first freestanding mosque in Chicago.

“He was a man who loved his fellow man and he developed some very meaningful and positive relationships worldwide,” his son Elijah Muhammad III said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife, 14 children, and numerous grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Orland Park mosque plan approved

CHICAGO,IL-Orland Park village authorities unanimously approved the plans for a community building by the Orland Park mosque. The new three story building is intended to give more programming space to the members of the community.

The 19,000-square-foot building, expected to cost about $3.5 million, will house a multipurpose room with a warm-up kitchen, offices, classrooms for Islamic studies for children and a library.

The mosque, which opened two years ago, recently tripled the size of its parking lot to 375 spaces to accommodate its growth. Fundraising for the mosque is expected to start in Ramadan.

Christian-Muslim debate attracts a crowd of 3000

FORT MYERS,FL-A remarkably civil and dignified debate between an Imam and a Pastor attracted a crowd of 3000 in Florida. There were no conclusions reached at the debate but the two sides put forward their respective views.

“It went better than I expected,” Imam Mohamed Al-Darsani said after the two-hour debate. “We connected with people, we started a conversation and I hope we can keep that conversation going.”

The debate was scheduled after Al-Darsani saw one of Pastor Reza Safa’s programs on WRXY, a Christian TV station, and approached station manager Paul Lodato to ask for equal time.

Al-Darsani is the founder and imam of the Islamic Center for Peace in Fort Myers.

He regularly organizes interfaith programs at the center and with Christian churches and Jewish temples in this region.

A number of people who attended the debate appreciated the tenor of the debate and termed it educative.

Muslim savior is up for Liberty Medal

New York-A Muslim student who ran to aid of a group of Jewish subway riders has now been nominated for a Liberty Medal.

Last December, Walter Adler and his friends were attacked in a New York subway just for saying happy Hanukkah. Hearing the greeting a group of young thugs attacked Adler and three of his friends as others just watched. At this time Hassan Askari jumped to the aid of the victims.

He was also beaten up by the thugs and wound up with two black eyes.

Askari has now been nominated for a Liberty Courage Medal by both Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and, separately, by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). Askari has been hailed as a hero and was invited to President Bush’s State of the Union address last year.

Lecture series about Muslims in Delaware

The public is invited to attend “Let’s Talk About It,” a lecture series sponsored by New Castle County that kicks off  this week at the Woodlawn Library. The series will focus on being Muslim in Delaware and will feature speakers from the diverse, local Muslim community.

County officials said the goal of the series is to dispel stereotypes, heighten awareness and open a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“This is a great opportunity to discuss different perspectives and to ask questions about varied experiences to ideally result in a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds,” County Executive Chris Coons said. The county is sponsoring several lectures and book discussions on the topic over the next two months. The first  event will feature Adly Gorrafa, a native of Egypt and retired DuPont Co. engineer, who will discuss “The Basics of Islam.” For a complete listing of the programs, go to www.nccde.org and click on the link to “community services” on the left side of the screen.

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Houstonian Corner V10-I36

2008 - CAIR-Houston Annual Dinner - Ambasador Edward Peck - Attorney Neiyyar Izfar - Group Photo
2008 – CAIR-Houston Annual Dinner – Ambasador Edward Peck – Attorney Neiyyar Izfar – Group Photo.

 

Ambassador Peck At CAIR-Houston Annual Dinner

About $150,000 was raised at the Houston Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Houston) at a local hotel. Program started with recitation of Quran followed by President of CAIR-Houston Dr. Tarek Hussein welcoming everybody. Special Mayoral Proclamations were given by Bill White of Houston and James Thompson of Sugar Land. Congressional Proclamations came from Sheila Jackson Lee, Nick Lampson and AL Green.

Keynote speaker on the occasion was Former Ambassador Edward Peck. His speech was followed by Co-Founder of CAIR Nihad Awad giving accomplishments and explaining the reactive (like protesting in a civil manner against wrong policies) and pro-active (like educating the mass) work of CAIR (including Scholarship programs for Muslim Students in Journalism and Law.

Former Ambassador Edward Peck served as Chief of Mission in Baghdad (Iraq 1977 to 1980) in the Carter Administration and later on in the career became Ambassador in Mauritania. His topic of speech was: “American Muslims: Communicating Understanding”.

Edward Peck argued against invading Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion. He argued, in part, “When you take out Saddam Hussein, the key question you have to ask then is, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it’s probably going to be bad. And a lot of people are going to be very upset about that, because that really is not written into our role in this world is to decide who rules Iraq.” And this is exactly what happened.

Mr. Peck has been highly critical of U.S. policy toward Israel, arguing through the Council for the National Interest (CNI) in which he plays an active role, which the U.S. should be more even handed in its Middle East policy. He argues that while Hezbollah could be considered a terrorist organization, it is no more terrorist than Israel or the U.S. itself. He supports a dialogue with Hezbollah. He claims that in 2000, at the Camp David talks, Israel offered the Palestinians “12 little Bantustans.”

Edward Peck concluded his presentation with this: “In 1985, when I was the Deputy Director of the Reagan White House Task Force on Terrorism, they asked us — this is a Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism; I was the Deputy Director of the working group — they asked us to come up with a definition of terrorism that could be used throughout the government. We produced about six, and each and every case, they were rejected, because careful reading would indicate that our own country had been involved in some of those activities. After the task force concluded its work, Congress got into it, and you can Google into U.S. Code Title 18, Section 2331, and read the U.S. definition of terrorism. And one of them in here says — one of the terms, “international terrorism” means “activities that,” I quote, “appear to be intended to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” Yes, well, certainly, you can think of  a number of countries that have been involved in such activities. Ours is one of them. Israel is another. And so, the terrorist, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.”

Open House presentations ended with refreshments followed by Parents going to their children classes and talking with the teachers about the upcoming School Year. For more information about Iman Academy, one can visit http://www.imanacademy.org/

Iman Academy Schools Fulfilling the Pledges: Sheikh Hamed Ghazali

“As Superintendent three years ago, I together with my team announced that we will take Iman Academy with the Blessings of God to the next better stage: With the Grace of God, we have achieved that: Today Iman Academy is an Exemplary School; our Students to Teacher Ratio has improved; except for one teacher all others are either certified or in the process of getting the certification; we have Arts and PE Instructors and many other such achievements,” These were the words of Sheikh Hamed Ghazali, as he greeted all the parents to Open House at the beginning of the School Year 2008-09. One of the founding members Abdul Hameed Duamni also spoke on the occasion explaining how everyone at Iman Academy is diligently working to build the next generation: He requested everyone to help in the construction of new facilities.

Earlier Principal Ijaz welcomed everyone, which was followed by PowerPoint presentation by Assistant Principal Kashan Ishaq, who talked about building the character of students and importance of participation of all the teachers and parents in the process of educating and training of students.

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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood And the AKP in Turkey

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Washington DC–Ankara’s Justice and Development Party AKP) is struggling with Istanbul’s secularist establishment.  This Turkish Party may become a model for their neighboring Arab neighbors.  Although the current Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (by the way he is of Georgian descent), is a political moderate and an effective populist administrator, the Constitutional Court has endeavored to expel the “Islamist” government of Mr. Erdrogan for its religious overtones.  The Court thought that the Justice and Development Party (Adalelet ve Kalina Paristi) were challenging the Secularist Charter of the Turkish State. 

Fortunately for Erdogan, his Party took the popular vote in last year’s polls and thus nullified the censure of the Court!

Although a thoroughly successful politician, Recep Erdogan is a sincerely devout Muslim.  In 1968 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for his religion.

This report comes from a symposium held at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) here in the District of Columbia.  It was financed through two progressive Foundations:  The Century Foundation headquartered at this city on the Chesapeake and the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Berlin.

Instead of throwing the five “talking heads” into one article, my approach will be to take the comments of each to analyze individually into digestible shorter articles to be published over several months, and, in so doing, to ask various questions of the relationship of Democratization within the Arab Middle East in comparison to the Turkish experience – especially in regards to Islamization.  I shall be composing an extended piece over the next several months from the segments.  The first of the presenters I shall be discussing today is Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, a member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Speaking about Egypt and the Arab World, we can all learn a lot from the Turkish experience.  By accepting the presence of Secularism, Islam can avoid confrontation with Modernism.  The AKP, by many assumed to be an Islamist Party, (but coming from Ankara, it is Islamism “light”) did not feel they had to resort to violent struggle.  The AKP refused to bring their struggle to the streets as other Islamic Movements did in The Republic of Turkey and in the greater (Arabic) Middle East, but rather marched within the confines of the electoral process itself. 

When Prime Minister Tayyip Endrogan introduced himself internationally on his initial foreign journeys, first he went to Tehran and, then, to his second destination, Brussels.  Domestically, this pleased the domestic Camp that learned toward Thracia; and the other Camp which gazed Eastward from Anatolia in the aspiration of reviving the historically (Islamic) Center of Istanbul in the (Ottoman) Caliphate (of the Muslims) – that is, the Center of the Ummah!

The modern Republic of Istanbul is desperately under the revolver to recreate the required restructuring reforms to enter the European Union (E.U.).  Thus, El-Houdaiby, extending this beyond Europe, added the pressures in his native North African environment, also, affirmed that internal reform must “deal with corruption from within…and [also] from without to avoid [any] endangerment to the [security of the] State!”

In the Islamic State, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood advocates, he asserts that minorities should always be represented within the Commonwealth!  The Mullah, of course, has the spiritual status  over the politician!  This is significant amongst Islamic nations.  Even though most Turkic citizens are merely pious; and, therefore, by no means divinely inspired through their Islam.

Speaking about Egypt Ibrahim El-Houdaidy uttered, “[Turkey] can’t have the ideology of Cairo’s regime.  It is no more than authoritarian!”  Therefore, as an Islamist himself, he feels that the AKB are a much more responsive to the residents of their Commonweal.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a quite old (yet not a traditionally time-honored) organiztion.  Amazingly, Ibrahim asserts that it is a richly varied, diverse, disciplined and, unexpectedly, democratic theocratic political Party!  The Brotherhood being one of the older (inclined) Arab Islamic Movements, it can be measured on generational levels.  Every decade the dominant discourse seems to change, but the association retains the evolution and sequence of its historical its roots!  For these reason there is a lack of a dramatic conflict between generational gaps from its nativity until its political maturity of today.  El-Houdaiby feels the Alexandrine level of education within the contemporary realm has made the difference!  Curiously, Ibrahim Houdaiby makes the assertion that “No other group in [the Middle East] has the [same quality of] Democracy!” [Sic!]

Further, contemporary technology has given the Movement — and Egyptian citizens in general — the freedom of the press!  Blogging has provided an open safe space for public debates.  “Cyper Space has unlocked an opened discussion amongst an enlarged target audience within the homeland and the Diaspora.”      

As I mentioned earlier in this short study, I hope to go back to the other four commentators (Abdulhamit Bilici, Deputy-Editor-in Chief of the Zaman Daily; Abderazzk Makri, Movement for the Society of Peace in Algeria; Mohammed Yetim, Deputy Secretary for the General of the Party of Justice and Development in Morocco; and, finally, Geneive Abdo, Fellow at the Century Foundation and a Scholar on Contemporary Islam) to ask the question “Is Turkey’s Justice and Development Party [also] a Future Model for the Arab World [too]?” culled from this short  comparative symposium over the Middle East that took place in the American “Empire’s” Capital, over the upcoming months. 

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Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Nasar Mohammad ibn al- Farabi

By Syed Aslam

al-farabi2 Abu Nasar Mohammad ibn Al-Farabi, also known in Europe  as  Alpharabis was born in Wasij,  the province of Farab in Turkestan, in 872 CE. His father belonged to a noble family of Persian origin. He received his early education at Farab, Bukhara and higher education at Baghdad, where he studied  logic, philosophy, music, mathematics,  sciences and many other languages.. He was a pupil of the great translator and interpreter of Greek philosophy, Abu Bishr Matta of Baghdad. He traveled Ciro, Damascus, Harran and  finally to Aleppo. Here he became part of the literary circle in the court of Saif al-Daula Hamdani  the ruler of Syria. The king offered him  the position of a Judgeship which he accepted, but later on he took teaching and writing  as his main profession.  Close to end of his life  al-Farabi left the city he was teaching and wandered on his own in the countryside to reflect and to write, it was probably his desire  to reform his society that inclined him towards Sufism. His travels brought him to Egypt and finally to Damascus where he died  in year 890 CE.

Al-Farabi was a great Muslim philosopher, who also made considerable contributions in logic, music, psychology, sociology, mathematics and medicine. He was a prolific writer and as such he authored more than one hundred books and commentaries.  He was the first Muslim thinker to develop a non-Aristotelian logic which he divided in two categories first the “Idea” and second the “proof.” In his treatise, The Virtuous City  he has discussed in great detail the social psychology of the masses. It is the best source for al-Farabi’s political philosophy,  while this work embraces Platonic themes, it is in no way an Arabic clone of Plato’s Republic. Here he lays down in Platonic fashion the qualities necessary for the rulers.  He identifies four different types of corrupt city: these are the ignorant city, the dissolute city , the turncoat city  and the straying city  His ideal virtuous city  is that which wholeheartedly embraces the pursuit of goodness and happiness and where the virtues will clearly abound. The heart of al-Farabi’s political philosophy is the concept of happiness. The virtuous society, according him is a society  in which people cooperate to gain happiness.

Al-Farabi authored two voluminous books concerning the knowledge and intellect, Categories of Science and  Epistle on Intellect. The first work illustrates neatly al-Farabi’s beliefs both about what can be learned and the range of that knowledge. He divides his work into five major chapters: namely, science of language, science of logic, mathematical science, metaphysics and political science and concludes with  a sermon on the importance  of acquiring knowledge. It is the second book  which provides perhaps the most useful key to al-Farabi’s complex theories about the intellect. In this work he divides ‘intellect  into six major categories in an attempt to elaborate the various meanings of the Arabic word ‘aql. The first intellect  is discernment ; the individual who acts for the good of the people, is characterized by this faculty. The second  intellects is that which has been identified with common sense and the third  is natural perception.  The fourth  may be characterized as ‘conscience’:  which is a quality whereby good might be distinguished from evil. The fifth intellect is both the most difficult and the most important, it could be of four types, potential intellect, actual intellect, acquired intellect and  active intellect.  The sixth and last of the major intellects is Divine Reason or God himself, the source of all intellectual energy and power.

Al-Farabi undertook the meticulous study of ancient philosophy, particularly of Plato and Aristotle, absorbing the components of Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy, which he integrated into his own Islamic philosophy, whose chief source was the Qur`an and the various sciences of Qur`an.  He tried to understand the ideas of Plato and Aristotle and expressed in his book The gathering of the ideas of the two philosophers. The main aim of this work was to revive and reinvent the neo-Aristotelian tradition of Alexandria. It seems he succeeded and was honored by title of “the second master” of philosophy (Aristotle being the first). He wrote rich commentaries on Aristotle’s logic and physics  His synthesis of philosophy and Sufism paved the way for Ibn Sina to develop his philosophical thoughts. Al-Farabi loved music and wrote a book on it, titled; The Book of Music. He invented a number of musical instruments and his pure Arabian tone system is still used in the Arabian music. He has discussed the therapeutic effect of music on the soul in his treatise. In physics he carried out the first experiment concerning the existence of vacuum. He concluded that air’s volume can expand to fill the available space.     

Al-Farabi represents a turning-point in the history of Islamic philosophical thought, since he was the first Muslim thinker to use universal reason in his his philosophy. He lived in a historical period during which the central Khelafat was falling apart into small independent states.

He was very concerned to restore the unity of Islamic thought through logic within the Islamic culture.  He made the political science the core of his philosophy basing on the system of rule which governs the nature and on Qur`an. He believed that the aim of knowledge was the knowledge of God, his attributes and his laws permitting human beings to achieve highest level of wisdom and intellect. Education is one of the most important social phenomena in al-Farabi’s philosophical system.

It is concerned with the human soul and makes sure that the individual is prepared from an early age to become a member of society, to achieve his own level of perfection. Indeed, the whole activity of education, in his  view, is the acquisition of values, knowledge and practical skills by the individual.

The goal of education is to lead the individual to perfection since the human being was created for this purpose, and the goal of humanity’s existence in this world is to attain happiness, which is the highest perfection—the absolute good.

Al-Farabi’s concepts of essence and existence provided a base for the elaborated metaphysics of Ibn Sina and thence of Thomas Aquinas. 

The  comparisons between the tenfold hierarchy of intellection produced by al-Farabi and the similar hierarchy espoused by Ibn Sina, each of which gives a key role to the Tenth Intellect, shows that in matters of emanation and hierarchy Ibn Sina owes a considerable intellectual debt to his predecessor.

Al-Farabi influenced many other thinkers as well. A glance at the period between 870 CE and  1023 CE where four major Muslim thinkers were born and flourished during this period, were heavily influenced by al-Farabi.

aslamsyed1@yahoo.com 

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Allah Made Me Funny — The Movie

Press Release–Advertisement

Allah Made Me Funny-2CMYK-Max-Live-in-concert-movie 8-18-08 Once, on a trip to Spain, a tour guide told comedian Azhar Usman that Christians, Jews and Muslims lived there together in peace for centuries, as though this was an ancient circumstance now impossible to achieve.

“You been to Brooklyn?” quips Usman, co-founder of the “Allah Made Me Funny” comedy team. “They’re getting along there just fine. … You can find a halal hot dog on a kosher bun, if you look hard enough!”

Usman and his cohorts, Bryant “Preacher” Moss and Mohammed “Mo” Amer, are now exposing this and other truths about American Muslims in a new film, “Allah Made Me Funny,” by Unity Productions Foundation (Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Prince Among Slaves).

Constructed around the standup routines from the trios’ live show of the same name, “Allah …” spearheads the newest generation of comedy that is quintessentially American. Whether it’s inviting the audience to write the joke on airport security themselves, or sheepishly admitting that four wives would be three too many, the trio gets the audience laughing so hard, they’re neither afraid nor offended.

“The comics — one African American, one Arab American and one South Asian American — show the great diversity of Islam in America,” says Michael Wolfe, Co-Executive Producer at UPF. “They also show that Muslims have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves, standing on the shoulders of great comedians like Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld, who opened up worlds of American life to brand new audiences. These comedians take us on a journey in America: from growing up Muslim to marrying Muslim and living as a Muslim in after 9/11.”

The film allows humor to speak for itself, pausing between acts to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the comics’ family lives and the work that goes into their show, including the laughter in their homes and on the road. But it’s the comics themselves — and the personal experiences they shamelessly twist into standup fodder — who relate to viewers of all backgrounds, unifying through mirth.

Amer draws on his Palestinian background and his very Arab family to elicit laughs over everything from checkpoints to marital misunderstandings, while Usman recalls his American-Muslim childhood and plays off his own dubious, bushy-bearded appearance.

Moss offers yet another perspective as he illuminates the experience of being both black and Muslim in America with warmth and irreverence – whether it’s comparing Osama to Tupac or making light of his own conversion to Islam.

One of the tour’s co-founders, Moss explained “Allah Made Me Funny” as a safe venue to address such topics, using laughter to heal rifts and gain perspective on issues of which many audience members might be ignorant.

“This project … involves the courage to step out of the shadows of silence and fear and reach out and build bridges,” he says. “We’re building these bridges through humor and understanding to make that journey a little easier for all of us.”

So with UPF’s new film, viewers can lower their defenses, laugh out loud and learn that no matter what a person’s background or faith, everything is fair game in comedy.

“The time for breakout Muslim comedians is now,” said Alex Kronemer, co-executive producer with UPF. “With their fresh take on humor, the men of “Allah Made Me Funny” can connect with anyone who loves a laugh. Today, they’re the ideal trailblazers to defy prejudice and foster goodwill through comedy.”

“Allah Made Me Funny” will have a nationwide release at Landmark theaters October 3, 2008. For more information, visit www.allahmademefunny.com or contact Rabiah Ahmed at rabiah@mirzapr.com or 202-439-1441 for ticket sales and theater info.

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