New Muslim Obama Advisor: Dalia Mogahed

dalia-mogahed WASHINGTON: The first Muslim woman appointed to a position in President Barack Obama’s administration met with lawmakers and discussed her role on an interfaith advisory board the new administration hopes will broaden dialogue and understanding.

Dalia Mogahed’s dimpled smile shined from under her hijab, the Muslim headscarf, as she addressed senate staff and think tanks at a meeting organized by the Congressional Muslims Staffers Association to discuss American Muslim public opinion in the wake of a recent survey.

The Egyptian-born American who heads the Gallup American Center for Muslim Studies, a non-governmental research center providing data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world, became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House.

“I am very honored to be given this opportunity to serve my country in this way,” Mogahed, who will be Obama’s window into the Muslim American community, told media.

Last month, Obama signed an executive order setting up a new body at the White House called the “Office of Religious Partnerships” to support religious institutions and strengthen inter-faith dialogue and government ties. The advisory group, consisting of 25 religious and secular representatives, is to report to the president on the role religion can play in resolving social problems and addressing civil rights issues.

“The key idea of the council is to tap into the energy and wisdom of religious organizations and leaders who focus on faith groups to solve common problems,” explained Mugahed.

Mogahed will brief Obama on what Muslims want from the U.S. in a bid to create channels of communication and correct the erroneous image of Muslim Americans.

The advisory group will help define issues of concern to religious constituents including the effects of economic crisis on minority groups and the phenomenon of fatherless families. It will also seek to reduce the number of abortions and strengthen inter-faith relations between Muslims and Christians.

11-19

Swine Flu

WHO warns flu pandemic imminent

By Laura MacInnis and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that a global flu pandemic was imminent, raising its threat level as the swine flu virus spread and killed the first person outside of Mexico, a toddler in Texas.

“Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan told a news conference in Geneva.

“The biggest question is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start,” Chan said, but added the world “is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.”

Nearly a week after the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, first emerged in California and Texas and was found to have caused deaths in Mexico, Spain reported the first case in Europe of swine flu in a person who had not been to Mexico, illustrating the danger of person-to-person transmission.

Chan raised the WHO alert level to Phase 5, its second highest warning that a pandemic, or global outbreak of a serious new illness, is imminent.

The new alert a signal to governments and businesses to take action, and to pharmaceutical companies to ramp up antiviral drug production and capacity, she said.

Almost all cases outside of Mexico have had only light symptoms, and only a handful of cases have needed hospitalization.

But in Mexico, where up to 159 people have died from the virus and around 1,300 more are being tested for infection, people struggled with an emergency that has brought normal life virtually to a standstill over the past week.

“I’m depressed. I don’t understand where this came from, how it spreads, how long it will last or what it will to the economy,” an elderly woman named Licha said, sitting on a Mexico City park bench and wearing a surgical mask.

Germany and Austria reported cases of the illness, bringing the number of affected countries to 9.

U.S. officials said a 22-month-old boy had died in Texas — the first confirmed U.S. swine flu death — while on a family visit from Mexico. Officials warned more deaths could be expected as surveillance of the illness increases.

President Barack Obama, facing the sudden flu emergency along with his broader drive to pull the United States out of its deep recession, said the Texas death showed it was time to take “utmost precautions.”

About 30 U.S. Marines in southern California on the biggest military base in the United States were quarantined after one of them was confirmed to have contracted the illness.

Despite jitters, many global markets rose as traders sought hopeful signs through the gloom of the worldwide financial crisis.

“The market doesn’t seem to be affected by this too much,” said Cleveland Rueckert, market analyst at Birinyi Associates Inc. Stamford, Connecticut.

Mexico’s central bank warned that the outbreak could deepen the recession, hurting an economy that already shrank by as much as 8 percent in the first quarter.
France said it would seek a European Union ban on Thursday on flights to Mexico. Argentina and Cuba have stopped flights from Mexico, and Ecuador restricted charters to and from the country.

The EU, the United States and Canada have advised against non-essential travel to Mexico, a popular tourist destination, with many of the cases linked to travel there.

H1N1 swine flu is seen as the biggest risk since H5N1 avian flu re-emerged in 2003, killing 257 people of 421 infected in 15 countries. In 1968 a “Hong Kong” flu pandemic killed about 1 million people globally, and a 1957 pandemic killed about 2 million.

Around the world, governments have built up stockpiles of two antiviral drugs — Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline and Tamiflu, made by Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc..

Seasonal flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people in a normal year, including healthy children in rich countries.

Health agencies advise frequent hand-washing and covering sneezes and coughs to help stop the spread. Experts generally agree that face masks, especially the surgical masks seen on the streets of Mexico City, offer little protection.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox, Doina Chiacu and Will Dunham in Washington, Jason Lange, Catherine Bremer Alistair Bell and Helen Popper in Mexico City, Eric Burroughs and Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong; Writing by Andrew Quinn, editing by Anthony Boadle and Frances Kerry)

11-19

Obama Advisor: Dalia Mogahed

dalia-mogahed WASHINGTON: The first Muslim woman appointed to a position in President Barack Obama’s administration met with lawmakers and discussed her role on an interfaith advisory board the new administration hopes will broaden dialogue and understanding.

Dalia Mogahed’s dimpled smile shined from under her hijab, the Muslim headscarf, as she addressed senate staff and think tanks at a meeting organized by the Congressional Muslims Staffers Association to discuss American Muslim public opinion in the wake of a recent survey.

The Egyptian-born American who heads the Gallup American Center for Muslim Studies, a non-governmental research center providing data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world, became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House.

“I am very honored to be given this opportunity to serve my country in this way,” Mogahed, who will be Obama’s window into the Muslim American community, told media.

Last month, Obama signed an executive order setting up a new body at the White House called the “Office of Religious Partnerships” to support religious institutions and strengthen inter-faith dialogue and government ties. The advisory group, consisting of 25 religious and secular representatives, is to report to the president on the role religion can play in resolving social problems and addressing civil rights issues.

“The key idea of the council is to tap into the energy and wisdom of religious organisations and leaders who focus on faith groups to solve common problems,” explained Mugahed.

Mogahed will brief Obama on what Muslims want from the U.S. in a bid to create channels of communication and correct the erroneous image of Muslim Americans.

The advisory group will help define issues of concern to religious constituents including the effects of economic crisis on minority groups and the phenomenon of fatherless families. It will also seek to reduce the number of abortions and strengthen inter-faith relations between Muslims and Christians.

11-19

Standing By

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

2009-04-28T230806Z_01_WAS474_RTRMDNP_3_FLU

 

2009-04-28T145857Z_01_CA103_RTRMDNP_3_FLU-EGYPT It seems like only yesterday that the world, including the Middle East, was gearing up for an the Avian pandemic flu. The antiviral medications were stockpiled and the public was warned. However, the highly anticipated pandemic never came to fruition, until now.

Seemingly overnight, the so-called Swine Flu, which is a deadly cocktail of the avian, human and pig flu, has griped the world in terror and pushed Bird Flu out of the limelight.

What began as a disease affecting people in Mexico City has reached out across the globe with tourists to the popular travel destination exporting the illness to their own homelands.

As of this writing, the only deaths from Swine Flu have been in Mexico, where more than 159 people have died, and most recently the US State of Texas where a 23-month-old toddler succumbed to the disease. However, the death toll is expected to rise and the illness to spread, as countries like New Zealand, Scotland, Spain and Germany are reporting cases of human infections.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, the only country to have known cases of Swine Flu is Israel, where two men and a small child have been diagnosed with it and subsequently quarantined. Other countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have given the all clear to the World Health Organization (WHO) that zero cases of the Swine Flu have been detected. However, only time will tell if the Gulf region will be affected by the deadly contagion.

For the most part, Gulf residents are watching the disease unfold across their television screens, but most don’t expect it to reach their borders. “We don’t have pig farms here and Islam forbids eating pork,” rationalizes Amin Mohammad who is a Pakistani day laborer in Kuwait, “I don’t think we have much to worry about.” However, this type of mentality, which is abounding in local Arab newspapers and on Arab blogs, should give cause for alarm.

The Swine Flu is easily transmitted from human to human, so all it takes is for one infected person to pass it on to many. And while the Middle East is not a popular venue for raising pigs, there are countless pig farms in Egypt, which is too close for comfort as it shares a border with several Gulf countries.

The Middle East reaction to the Swine Flu has been watered down, to say the least, with an emergency meeting of Arab nations set almost 2 weeks away on May 10.

Arab leaders will meet to discuss how best to combat the illness should it force its way into Gulf territory. A few countries in the Middle East are mounting their own initiatives to ensure public safety. In Kuwait, for example, the government has stockpiles of Tamiflu and Relenza, which the government procured back when the Bird Flu was the primary threat.

The borders surrounding the State of Kuwait have also been secured, and checkpoints established to ensure the Swine Flu does not spillover from another Gulf State. However, the airport remains restriction-free, without even basic thermal testing to check if passengers arriving have a fever. Although the Ministry of Health has released a statement saying that an effective plan for quarantine has been developed in case someone is found to have the Swine Flu in Kuwait.

Contrastingly, the UAE has done little-to-nothing to prepare for an outbreak of the Swine Flu. Travel restrictions have not been placed on people arriving or departing the country. The only factor that the government is relying on is a stockpile of more than 3 million doses of Tamiflu. However, the government is currently discussing setting up a monitoring system to detect people infected with the Swine Flu.

Perhaps the country most capable of handling a Swine Flu outbreak is Egypt. According to the WHO, Egypt was so successful in combating the Bird Flu (which has claimed 26 lives over the past few years) within in its own borders that it can utilize the same model to combat the Swine Flu. Egyptian doctors have already been trained to recognize the symptoms of the Bird Flu, which is very similar to the Swine Flu. In addition, the Egyptian government has ordered the immediate culling of the country’s estimated 250,000 population of pigs.

As the disease spreads from border to border and gets closer and closer to the Gulf, residents can do little more than stand by and watch to see if the disease will take hold and, if so, what anyone can do about it.

11-19

Hassan Hathout

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

hassan hathout Always smiling, always optimistic, always cheerful, always humble, always first to greet and always first to seek Allah’s blessings for whomever he met, always ready to serve His cause no matter how seriously ill he was and always willing to contribute to the cause of Islam with all the resources that he had. That was Dr. Hassan hathout, a legendary figure in the 21st century Muslim community. I had heard of him in London, from Dr. Fathi Osman, the editor -in Chief of Arabia, the Islamic World Review, where I was working as a junior editor. Dr. Osman had introduced him as a leading Muslim intellectual of the past century, a freedom fighter, a human rights activist and a down to earth Islamic scholar. A few stories about Dr. Hassan Hathout that circulated in the Arabia’s office were quite amazing.

One such story was that he saved a Jewish soldier from near death in the battlefield in 1948 during the first war between the Arabs and the Israeli despite the fact that he was serving on the Palestinian side.

The story that he performed a critical surgery on his patient even after getting the news of then his only six year old daughter in a car accident in Scotland spoke of the high moral ethics he held supreme.

The story that he had decided to call off his successful medical practice in Kuwait to migrate to the USA to serve Islam was touching to those who were skeptical about the Muslim presence in the West.

I got the opportunity to meet Dr. Hassan Hathout in the summer of 1989 when I joined the Minaret magazine. He was larger than the life stories that I had heard about him. He was more humble than the standards of humility that people usually set for them and others. He was more pleasant than one can imagine the extent of pleasantries.

He was eager to pass on his legacy to the younger generations. Always looking for younger people who could dedicate them to serve Islam, he would hold special training sessions for them and invite them to his home to spend as much time as they could afford. He would not refuse speaking engagements in any gathering no matter how small or large was audience as long as it served the cause of Islam.

He was always optimistic about the future of Islam in America. He always exhorted his students to pay back to America what it had given to them in terms of freedom and equality. He always explained that the divine values coupled with the American commitment to freedom could create one of the best societies human civilization has ever witnessed. As a champion of non-violence, he would always emphasize on the necessity and usefulness of dialogue. He participated in the movement of a nuclear free world and was instrumental in bringing the Muslim community closer to the movement of world peace. During the first Iraq war, he was the first one in the country who had mobilized an interfaith community to stand for peace in one of the biggest interfaith gatherings that took place at the Islamic Enter of Southern California.  Even in the worst situation, when the tempers of people would be running high, he would always ask others to have patience and be ready to forgive and forget and move forward with the spirit of brotherhood.

He never showed anger to even those who had hurt him. He never showed any hatred to even those who could be termed as the open enemies of the cause he was espousing.

Dr. Hassan belonged to that generation of Muslim activists who had spent time with stalwarts like Hassan Banna Shaheed of Egypt and scholars like Hudhibi and others. He was tortured, imprisoned and persecuted for his beliefs, but he never wavered from his path wherever he went.

He was a fighter. When he confronted cancer, he fought like a general. Even in the midst of his painful treatment, he compiled his book, the Reading of Muslim Mind, one of the best selling Muslim book in America. He did not stop there. He wrote six more books during that period of serious illness.

He had become frail and weak. Yet, he would use every single ounce of his strength to either teach, or give lecture or to write an article or to advice those who would seek his advice.

He was one of those last living legends of Muslim leadership who silently served the cause without seeking any fame or popularity. He devoted his entire life, his resources and his work to the cause of Allah. What else can one expect from those who are described by Allah in the Quran as Muhsineen. indeed, Dr. Hassan Hathout was among Mohsineen.

We thank God for giving us Dr. Hathout. We thank Allah for inspiring him to be our teacher and guide. We thank Allah for all that Hassan Hathout  and his life was about. May Allah accept him among those who are the accepted ones.

11-19

The Taliban are Coming…Does it Matter?

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

2009-04-24T165122Z_01_AAL111_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-TALIBAN Bashir, a store owner in Lahore Liberty says that it’s not scary to him that Taliban are supposedly moving closer. He says, “We were happy when they came to Afghanistan and help take it away from non Muslims and when they were imposing themselves on our border we were not concerned as a public, but now it’s a problem?” He also added that just because they are physically close does not mean they have any power over the capital or can ever gain any power there. Bashir seems extremely confident about his view and he thinks that this is nothing to worry about at all. “This is just a way to get to our nuclear weapon by trying to scare us into thinking that the Taliban are after it, they are not”. When asked whose trick it might be, he just smiled and said, “Who do you think?”

A school teacher was a little more disturbed by the whole thing. She said that this can be a terrible thing. “I mean look at what they turned the Northern Areas into? We can’t sit around and let them turn our most developed city into ruins as well.” When asked why some people don’t seem disturbed by these new changes all she could say was, “I can’t even imagine why someone would not be worried.

A student from a leading university seems to think that it is all useless. He believes that it will all stay the way it is and that whether the Taliban are covering more ground or not doesn’t matter because things always stay the same in Pakistan. When I inquired why he has such a glum look on the situation and he answered, “just look around you will find that noting much changes in our country, it gets from bad to worse and then goes back to bad again, its like bad is the normal status around here”.

Most people were disturbed by the new events but they seemed un-moved. They seemed to think that it doesn’t matter. Even if the are around and closer things wont change much. “Yes, the Taliban have been killing and spreading terrorism”, one school principal explain, “However, at his time what difference does it make? It’s anyone’s game right now; everyone is treating this piece of land as his own back yard and doing as they please.”

When questioned about how much faith the public has in the Pakistan army there was also mixed emotions there as well. Rubina, a beautician says that our army has been good at keeping us safe but she wonders if it’s really fair to put them up against their own people. Sure the Taliban have create trouble for us but still it must be she believes it must be difficult to bring up arms against ones’ own countrymen.

Huma does not think that people who spread terrorism are anyone’s countrymen and the army should not even think twice about fighting against them. When I asked this university student how she would personally feel if someone she cares about, such as her brother or father, was in the same situation. She was not sure about that, “it wouldn’t feel like war, it would feel like killing I guess” she said of her own family members battling the Taliban.

These answered confused me so I took all of these and other answers similar to these to a psychiatrist and asked him what he thought of all this. There is so much confusion as to who we consider the bad guy that I wouldn’t know who to trust. Our specialist prefers not to be named but he did help clear things up a little bit. He clearly said that since these people look like us it is really hard to consider them as the evil ones. “If we think that they are evil who look just like us then that means anyone can be evil, it could be our neighbor, our best friend, that makes us insecure.” He also said that this is the dilemma our army is facing as well. We should not blame them for hesitating or even refusing to fight against their own people some times.

On the same token some times these feelings of bonding with our own people make us justify the wrongs that are committed by our own people. We are not able to admit that we have bad people among us and many times we end up blaming outside forces rather then tackling the real problem right at home. He does go on to add that this does not mean outside forces are not at play and are not responsible for the current situation, at least partly.

So, what is the solution? He was just as stumped as you and I. “I am still looking, in the mean time if you find a cure for pure hatred and terrorism make sure I am the first one you call.”

11-19

US-Israel Policy

By Roger Cohen

The sparring between the United States and Israel has begun, and that’s a good thing. Israel’s interests are not served by an uncritical American administration. The Jewish state emerged less secure and less loved from Washington’s post-9/11 Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy.

The criticism of the center-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come from an unlikely source: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s transitioned with aplomb from the calculation of her interests that she made as a senator from New York to a cool assessment of U.S. interests. These do not always coincide with Israel’s.

I hear that Clinton was shocked by what she saw on her visit last month to the West Bank. This is not surprising. The transition from Israel’s first-world hustle-bustle to the donkeys, carts and idle people beyond the separation wall is brutal. If Clinton cares about one thing, it’s human suffering.

In fact, you don’t so much drive into the Palestinian territories these days as sink into them. Everything, except the Jewish settlers’ cars on fenced settlers-only highways, slows down. The buzz of business gives way to the clunking of hammers.

The whole desolate West Bank scene is punctuated with garrison-like settlements on hilltops. If you’re looking for a primer on colonialism, this is not a bad place to start.

Most Israelis never see this, unless they’re in the army. Clinton witnessed it. She was, I understand, troubled by the humiliation around her.

Now, she has warned Netanyahu to get off “the sidelines” with respect to Palestinian peace efforts. Remember that the Israeli prime minister and his right-wing Likud party have still not accepted even the theory of a two-state solution.

In House testimony last week, Clinton said: “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-à-vis Iran, it can t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand.”

That was a direct rebuke to comments from Netanyahu aides who told the Washington Post Israel would not move on peace talks until it sees the United States check Iran’s nuclear program and rising regional influence.

Although I don’t agree with the forms of linkage being made by Netanyahu and Clinton between Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace — the issue is not how to threaten Iran but how to bring it inside the tent — I agree with both of them that a link exists. At Madrid, at Oslo and at Annapolis, over a 16-year span, attempts were made to advance peace while excluding Iran. That doesn’t work; it won’t work now.

The trick is to usher Israel-Palestine peace efforts and the quest for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement along in parallel.

That’s why it’s so important that Clinton told Netanyahu that he can’t slip away from working for peace — and that means stopping settlements now — by taking an Iran detour.

Clinton also indicated an important shift on Hamas, which the State Department calls a terrorist group. While stressing that no funds would flow to Hamas “or any entity controlled by it,” she argued for keeping American options open on a possible Palestinian unity government between the moderate Fatah and Hamas.

So long as a unity government meets three conditions — renounces violence, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and abides by past agreements — the United States would be prepared to deal with it, including on $900 million in proposed aid, Clinton indicated. Washington does business with a Lebanese government in which Hezbollah controls 11 of 30 seats, although Hezbollah is also deemed a terrorist group.

Such a changed U.S. policy makes a lot more sense than the previous one, which insisted on Hamas itself — rather than any Palestinian unity government — meeting the three conditions. No peace can be made by pretending Hamas does not exist, which is why advancing Palestinian unity must be a U.S. priority.
This sensible shift will anger Israel, although it deals indirectly with Hamas through Egypt. Israel’s de jure stand on Hamas — that it must recognize Israel before any talks begin — is wildly at odds with Israel’s de facto methodology since 1948.

So it’s a week in which I cheer Clinton, although her reference to “crippling sanctions” against Iran if the proposed rapprochement fails was a mistake. Sanctions haven’t worked and won’t.

Tehran will not come to the table if it sees Obama’s extended hand as just a deceptive prelude to “crippling” measures. My advice to Tehran: watch what Obama says. He’s driving Iran policy.

Obama’s doing it in a way that means the Israeli-American friction evident in Clinton’s remarks will be a theme of his first year in office. As Lee Hamilton, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, told me: “Initiatives are underway that show the United States is going to have some major differences with Israel.”

He also said Netanyahu is “a little more flexible than maybe he’s given credit for.”

Netanyahu as Begin the peacemaker? It’s not impossible. Nor is Obama to Tehran. Provided the president pushes on the two fronts at once.

11-19

America and Israel after Gaza

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

2009-04-29T133426Z_01_SJS06_RTRMDNP_3_PALESTINIANS-CLAY Following the late Gaza conflict, the mainstream American public’s love affair with Israel has been dented by their disproportional attack.  In a discussion your author had with the United Nations’ Rapporteur Richard Falk for the [Israeli] Occupied Territories (reported in these pages a few weeks past).  He accused the IDF (Israel Defense Force) of aggression that “Shocked the World.”  After his report was published, Secretary-General Moon, who had observed the same things after the withdrawal of the Israeli Army, appointed a legal delegation two weeks ago under the illustrious Judge Goldstone to examine the possibility of war crimes.

Crucial in American change of perceptions has been the plethora of foreign media in our market.  Amongst the most crucial has been the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), and Aljazeera (who had an embedded journalist within Gaza itself during the aggression) and Deutsche Velle plus internet sources.  They have brought the horror and the excessive brutality of this war before the U.S. viewer more than the pro-Israel biased parochial American media.

Without President Harry Truman, there would be no Israel today.  He pressured the British in 1948 to honor the then British Empire’s inequitable Balfour Declaration (oddly, Lord Balfour himself possessed the low-keyed anti-Semitism of the contemporary aristocracy) to establish a State for the Jews in the Middle East.  The first Prime Minister of the Israeli nation, David Ben-Gurion, stated in 1952,”… [A]…factor in our existence is American Jewry…”  In 1956 President Eisenhower was furious at Tel Aviv (along with the fading Colonial powers of Britain and France) for their invasion of the Sinai. He threatened the Israelis with expulsion of them from the United Nations.  As a result, they withdrew from the Suez.  After President Kennedy rose to power, he initiated a tilt towards Israel in his Middle East policy that continued into Lyndon Johnson Presidency.  During this period, America made a guarantee of the territorial integrity of the Israeli nation, but In 1975 Israel flouted Henry Kissinger (for President Ford’s) efforts to find a basis for peace with Egypt.

In 1977 President Carter created a policy for Palestinian self-determination.  Curiously, Ronald Reagan continued similarly, but he favored autonomy – not independence for the Palestinian Arabs.  In 1989, Secretary of State Baker made a speech before the conservative Jewish American PAC (Political Action Committee) AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) pronouncing a U.S. policy for Israel to forswear a goal of a greater Israel and to renounce their Settlement strategy and annexation. 

The Israeli government believed that Iraq was a worse threat to them than the Palestinians.  Therefore, they encouraged the 1990-1991 Gulf War.  In this War Israel became the greatest beneficiary.

The Clinton Administration leaned heavily toward their junior Middle Eastern partner.  Of course, the Bush, Jr. Presidency was a disaster as far as doing its part in bringing the two sides together in the Levant.  The IDF withdrew on the last Day of the Bush government from Gaza in fear of the wrath of an Obama regime.

One of the most controversial aspects of our “special” relationship with wealthy Israel is that it is the largest recipient of American foreign aid.  The amount given to the Israelis has increased exponentially since its Independence. 

After the 1973 War, grants were targeted toward the military unbalancing the fulcrum of influence within the region.  (Tel Aviv is the fifth largest nuclear command and control with no MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction] to counter it in the region.) 

This aid has encouraged controversy in North America and Europe, for it has been used to repress the Palestinians in their Occupied Territories, and to help finance West Jerusalem’s Settler Colonialism.

What is coming to light over the viciousness of Israel’s invasion of Gaza has reduced America’s infatuation with Israel, and has increased sympathy for the Palestinians. 

In a CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) poll in 1991, seventeen years before the most recent invasion of Gaza, 40% favored a Palestinian homeland, 31% opposed this and 29% had no opinion. 

In the Rassmussen poll taken during the action, there was a great divide amongst the American public that split along political loyalties. 

Democratic voters favored Israel’s assault by 31% while 55% opposed it.  Republicans, though, supported Tel Aviv by over 30%.  What is most telling is the Liberal American Jewish PAC, J-Street’s poll: 60 % of American Jewry opposes the Settlements; 76% favor an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; 69% would favor engagement with a Palestinian government that–even if it included Hamas while 41% of American Jews believe Gaza has not increased national security and 18% believed it was harmful.

In conclusion, your writer would like to go back to the U.N.’s Rapporteur Richard Falk:  “The outcome of many wars…was not determined on the battlefield, but…” in the public’s perception.

11-19

Appeal: to Rebuild Mosque in Kazakhstan

AssalaamO’Alaikum!

Last week I returned to Atlanta from my overseas trip. This included a visit to Kazakhstan, land of Ancient Bukhara. I was guest of Mr. Murat Telibekov on behalf of the Muslim Committee for Human Rights in Central Asia and the United Muslims of Kazakhstan. He also represents the Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan.

During the Russian occupation of this country, all places of worships have been destroyed except a few. Although officially Kazakhstan is 70% Muslim, but hardly will you see Islam practiced. The resurgence among the young could be felt, but resources and infrastructure are missing.

The Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan is planning to take advantage of the special relationship that their nation enjoys with America. They are appealing to US Muslims to donate a Masjid to them with all publicity and fanfare. This will have an impact on the psyche of young Kazakhs. It should open an avenue for reintroducing Islam to them.

On May 22, 2009, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, they want to have a ceremony for announcement “Kazakh-American Mosque.” They have invited Congressman Keith Ellison for this occasion. They have invited high officials from their own government as well as the US Embassy in Kazakhstan.

The locals have purchased land in Almaty for the Masjid. We need to raise $200,000 for the construction of the masjid. I am in the process of contacting the American Embassy in Kazakhstan as well as the State Department to how to transfer this fund when raised.

All advice and effort on fundraising will be appreciated.

Thank you.
Sincerely,
S. Hasan Kamal

3220 Chamblee Tucker Road
Atlanta, GA, USA 30341-4221
Tel. / Cell: 678-458-8682
Tel. / Fax: 770-454-8010
Email: hkamal@gbcwebsite.com 

11-19

Afghan Poets Tackle Scars of War

By Dawood Azami, BBC Pashto Service

Female poet Zarlasht Hafeez speaks of the “grief-stricken Pashtuns”

The violence in Afghanistan and the Pashtun-inhabited parts of Pakistan is making itself felt on the cultural and social life of the Pashtuns.

New themes and terms, such as suicide attack, missile and helicopter have entered Pashto literature, especially poetry, reflecting the destructive nature of the insurgency and counter-insurgency operations.

Pashtuns (also known as Pathans, Pakhtuns or Afghans) are increasingly writing poems about the “ill fate” of their nation and the new dynamics of violence in their homeland.

Young poets in Kabul, such as Muhammad Numan Dost, tell of mourning children lying on the graves of their dead parents after a suicide bomber “in exchange for heaven, cut to pieces a few lives now lying on the street”.

It is powerful language, and reflects a strong poetic tradition in a culture that is evolving with the times.

“Poets are inspired by what is happening in the outside world. Their imagination absorbs it,” says veteran Pashto poet in Peshawar, Rahmat Shah Sael.

“That is why Pashto poets are writing about violence in one way or another.”

Poetry has always been a powerful vehicle for expressing and preserving the national identity and cultural values of Pashtuns.

The Pashtun warrior poet, Khushhal Khan Khattak (1613 – 1689) and mystic Rahman Baba (1653-1711) are the two giants of Pashto poetry and literature and are still popular and a great source of inspiration.

Even today gatherings are held regularly throughout the region where poets present their work in front of a large audience.

Afghan tradition

Pashtuns are famous for their proud warrior tradition, but suicide attacks have never been part of it.

The phenomenon was imported by Arab fighters, particularly from Iraq, and is now being perfected in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ll ask you in the presence of God,
That in order to go to heaven
Why did you orphan my children?
Why did you widow a sick woman?
Why did you kill the son of an old lady?
Why did you kill the only brother of a weak girl?
Ahmad Fawad Lamay

The first suicide attack in Afghanistan, by Arabs, occurred in 2001 but the tactic remained rare until 2005.

The tactic targets officials and national and international security forces. However, their victims are overwhelmingly civilians.

Suicide attackers are often motivated by religious rewards and duty.

Most are young and uneducated and are said to be mobilised by grievances such as the occupation of Afghanistan, anger over civilian casualties and what they see as the affront to their honour and dignity.

They are reportedly brainwashed during their training and told they will go to heaven and enjoy eternal peace and pleasure.

This theme of violence is playing out in other genres in Pashto, such as short stories. But it is more visible in poetry.

“It is not the poets’ choice to write about war and violence, they are compelled to do so – to express their reaction and hatred to bloodshed,” says Darwesh Durrani, a popular Pashto poet and professor of literature in Quetta.

One young poet, Ahmad Fawad Lamay, has a poem called To A Suicide Attacker, in which a victim of a suicide attack challenges the bomber.

Then there is Zarlasht Hafeez, a female Pashto poet who has published a collection called Waiting for Peace. Her lines read:

“The sorrow and grief, these black evenings,
Eyes full of tears and times full of sadness,
These burnt hearts, the killing of youths,
These unfulfilled expectations and unmet hopes of brides,
With a hatred for war, I call time and again,
I wait for peace for the grief-stricken Pashtuns”

11-19

Secrets of the Hypocrites

 

Continuation of the book by Harun Yahya, The Secrets of the Hypocrites.

Satan Causes Them to Forget Allah

Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget the remembrance of Allah . . .

Al-Mujadala: 19

In order for someone to be a hypocrite, he must first and foremost live within a community of believers and on whom he seeks to inflict harm, either openly or in secret.

The hypocrite works his way into a group of believers, as can be seen from the way he manages to adapt to their way of living, albeit on a temporary basis. Together with them, he recalls Allah and learns to read His verses. Nonetheless, he has turned from belief to denial. The position of hypocrites is revealed in one verse, thus:

That is because they have believed and then returned to disbelief. So their hearts have been sealed up and they cannot understand.

Al-Munafiqun: 3

But if someone believes in the existence and oneness of Allah and obeys the Qur’an, how can he suddenly deviate into denial of Allah?

Naturally this does not happen instantaneously. The hearts of the hypocrites are more prone to denial than to belief. Inciting these people of weak faith is, once again, the work of satan, who sets various snares in order to influence them and distract them away from the true path and into his own. The greatest of these traps is causing people to forget Allah.

Seeking to make the hypocrite forget Allah, satan approaches him with various strategies. Yet from reading the verses of the Qur’an, the hypocrite should know these strategies very well. He is therefore willingly caught in satan’s snare because, as is revealed in the Qur’an, he has the sickness of rebelliousness in his heart. That affliction of the hypocrites is revealed in one verse, in these terms:

There is a sickness in their hearts and Allah has increased their sickness. They will have a painful punishment on account of their denial.

Al-Baqara: 10

At this point, however, what must never be forgotten is that satan can influence only the weak in faith. He can never ensnare true, sincere believers in any way. The difference between the deviants and sincere believers is related in another verse:

[Allah said:] “You have no authority over any of My servants except for the misled who follow you.”

Al-Hijr: 42

Satan, who constantly seeks to encourage the hypocrite toward arrogance, lack of submission and insincerity, will soon achieve his aim. The hypocrite, who has gone along with him unbelievably quickly out of the weakness of his faith, now stops even bothering to imitate the behavior of a true believer and starts displaying satanic behavior. He begins to display negative behavior towards believers, of a kind he had never exhibited before. For example, he flies into a sudden rage, panics, or behaves in a way that he thinks will harm believers. The influence of satan becomes especially apparent in times of difficulty or in the face of any damages he has suffered himself. The hypocrite who encounters a sudden unexpected difficulty fails to realize that this is taking place under the control of Allah, that he needs to be patient, and that Allah will hear his prayer. He starts to exhibit the exact opposite of the behavior any believer will display in times of difficulty. In the face of a test of his faith, the hypocrite displays a side of him never seen before. But this is the true face of the hypocrite, who has forgotten Allah and submitted to satan.

You see that it is by no means difficult for satan to turn a hypocrite away from the true path. In fact, satan merely calls people to the path of wickedness; it is the hypocrite himself who heeds that call and later fails to repent—and who does all this of his own free will:

He [satan] had no authority over them except to enable Us to know those who believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt about it. Your Lord is the Preserver of all things.

Saba’: 21

In the Hereafter, satan will slander those who followed after him and will declare, once again, that he never obliged them to do so, but that they followed him of their own desire:

When the affair is decided satan will say, “Allah made you a promise, a promise of truth, and I made you a promise but broke my promise. I had no authority over you, except that I called you and you responded to me. Do not, therefore, blame me but blame yourselves. I cannot come to your aid nor you to mine. I reject the way you associated me with Allah before.” The wrongdoers will have a painful punishment.

Ibrahim: 22

Satan Sows in Them the Seeds of Doubt

Anyone who believes in Allah with a sure and certain knowledge never doubts his faith for even a single moment, and seeks refuge in Allah against such a failing. The hypocrite, on the other hand, has doubts on the subject of faith. It is satan, of course, whom he has taken as his friend and in whose path he follows, who inspires these doubts in his heart.

[Satan said:] “I will lead them astray and fill them with false hopes. I will command them, and they will cut off cattle’s ears. I will command them, and they will change Allah’s creation.” Anyone who takes satan as his protector in place of Allah has clearly lost everything.

An-Nisa’: 119

As stated in this verse, satan seeks to instill in people doubts that are utterly hollow and ridiculous. However, those whose faith is weak regard these as extraordinarily important and adopt them with ease. Since they are far removed from the teachings of the Qur’an, they fail to display the kind of behavior it recommends in such situations:

If an evil impulse from satan provokes you, seek refuge in Allah. He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.

Al-A‘raf: 200

Therefore, while believers are victorious over satan, hypocrites are inevitably overcome by him.

Satan Deceives Them with Promises

He makes promises to them and fills them with false hopes. But what satan promises them is nothing but delusion.

An-Nisa’: 120

Satan makes people empty promises, all of them directed towards the transient life of this world. Satan, who is rather clever despite not having the sort of wisdom given as a blessing to believers, looks for the gaps in everyone’s armor. These weaknesses are the “idols” that an individual may prefer over the approval of Allah.

By “idols,” one must not think only of the stone images before which pagans bow down and worship. An idol in this sense can be any concept, ideal, or even human being that one chooses in preference to religion. It can be rank, wealth, fame or beauty, or any persons whose possession of those qualities magnifies them in one’s esteem—or any of the transitory baubles of the life in this world. Satan’s promises can come in still other varieties, but are still nothing more than empty promises. That is because all of them are transient. On the day that a person is resurrected, he will find that nothing and nobody he valued in this world remains alongside him.

For hypocrites, however, with their lack of depth of understanding, it is not difficult to be taken in by such empty promises. Blindly devoted to the attractions of this world, hypocrites imagine that satan’s promises will come true and that they will benefit from going along with him. In fact, however, satan’s promises are merely intended to lead a person to Hell. They are of no use in this world, and especially not in the Hereafter. In Surat al-Hashr we are told:

They are like satan when he says to a human being, “Disbelieve,” and then when he disbelieves, says, “I wash my hands of you. Truly I fear Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.” The final fate of both of them is that they will be timelessly, forever in the Fire. That is the repayment of the wrongdoers.

Al-Hashr: 16-17

The only community that is not taken in by satan’s promises, and does not go along with him, is that of the believers. They are not open to the deceptions satan constantly whispers. Since they evaluate all events within a framework of reason and conscience, they never put any trust in his baseless promises.

11-19

How to Clear the Mess

By Imran Khan

The reason why there is so much despondency in Pakistan is because there is no road map to get out of the so-called War on Terror – a nomenclature that even the Obama Administration has discarded as being a negative misnomer. To cure the patient the diagnosis has to be accurate, otherwise the wrong medicine can sometimes kill the patient. In order to find the cure, first six myths that have been spun around the US-led “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) have to be debunked.

2009-04-27T172912Z_01_AAL120_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-TALIBAN

Myth No. 1: This is Pakistan’s war

Since no Pakistani was involved in 9/11 and the CIA-trained Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan, how does it concern us? It is only when General Musharraf buckled under US pressure and sent our troops into Waziristan in late 2003-early 2004 that Pakistan became a war zone. It took another three years of the Pakistan army following the same senseless tactics as used by the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan (aerial bombardment) plus the slaughter at Lal Masjid, for the creation of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). If our security forces are being targeted today by the Taliban and their suicide bombers, it is because they are perceived to be proxies of the US army. Iran is=2 0ideologically opposed to both Al Qaeda and the Taliban yet why are its security forces not attacked by terrorists? The answer is because their President does not pretend to be a bulwark against Islamic extremism in return for US dollars and support.

Michael Scheuer (ex-CIA officer and author of the book Imperial Hubris), writing in The Washington Post in April 2007, cited Musharraf’s loyalty to the US even when it went against Pakistan’s national interests by giving two examples: the first was Musharraf helping the US in removing a pro-Pakistan Afghan government and replacing it with a pro-Indian one; and, the second, for sending Pakistani troops into the tribal areas and turning the tribesmen against the Pakistan army. To fully understand Musharraf’s treachery against Pakistan, it is important to know that almost a 100,000 troops were sent into the tribal areas to target around 1000 suspected Al-Qaeda members – thus earning the enmity of at least 1.5 million armed local tribals in the 7 tribal agencies of Pakistan.

The most shameful aspect of the lie that this is our war is that the government keeps begging the US for more dollars stating that the war is costing the country more than the money it is receiving from the US. If it is our war, then fighting it should not be dependent on funds and material flowing from the US. If it is our war, why do we have no control over it? If it is our war, then why is the US government asking us to do more?

Myth No. 2: This is a war against Islamic extremists is an ideological war against radical Islam

Was the meteoric rise of Taliban due to their religious ideology? Clearly not, because the Mujahideen were equally religious – Gulbadin Hekmatyar (supported by the ISI) was considered an Islamic fundamentalist. In fact, the reason the Taliban succeeded where the Mujahideen warlords failed, was because they established the rule of law – the Afghans had had enough of the power struggle between the warlord factions that had destroyed what remained of the country’s infrastructure and killed over 100,000 people.

If the Pushtuns of the tribal area wanted to adopt the Taliban religious ideology then surely they would have when the latter was in power in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001. Yet there was no Talibanisation in the tribal areas. Interestingly, the only part of Pakistan where the Taliban had an impact was in Swat where Sufi Mohammad started the Shariat Movement. The reason was that while there was rule of law (based on the traditional jirga system) in the tribal areas, the people of Swat had been deprived of easy access to justice ever since the traditional legal system premised on Qazi courts was replaced by Pakistani laws and judicial system, first introduced in 1974. The murder rate shot up from 10 per year in 1974 to almost 700 per year by 1977, when there was an uprising against the Pakistani justice system. The Taliban cashed in on this void of justice to=2 0rally the poorer sections of Swat society just as they had attracted the Afghans in a situation of political anarchy and lawlessness in Afghanistan. It is important to make this distinction because the strategy to bring peace must depend on knowing your enemy. Michael Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that the US is facing the same Pushtun insurgency that was faced by the Soviets in Afghanistan. According to him, as long as NATO is in Afghanistan, the Taliban will get a constant supply of men from the 15 million Pushtun population of Afghanistan and the 25 million Pushtuns of Pakistan. In other words, this Talibanisation is not so much religion-driven as politically-motivated. So the solution to the problem in the tribal belt today does not lie in religion and “moderate” Islam but in a political settlement.

Myth No. 3: If we keep fighting the US war, the super power will bail us out financially through aid packages.

Recently, the Government’s Adviser on Finance stated that the war on terror has cost Pakistan $35 billion while the country has received only $11 billion assistance from the US. I would go a step further and say that this aid is the biggest curse for the country. Not only is it “blood money” for our army killing our own people (there is no precedent for this) but also nothing has destroyed the self-esteem of this country as this one factor. Moreover, there is no e nd in sight as our cowardly and compromised leadership is ordered to “do more” for the payments made for their services. Above all, this aid and loans are like treating cancer with asprin. It enables the government to delay the much needed surgery of reforms (cutting expenditures and raising revenues); and meanwhile the cancer is spreading and might become terminal.

Myth No. 4: That the next terrorist attack on the US will come from the tribal areas.

First, there is an assumption, based purely on conjecture, that the Al Qaeda leadership is in the tribal areas. In fact, this leadership could well be in the 70 % of Afghan territory that the Taliban control. More importantly, given the growing radicalisation of the educated Muslim youth – in major part because of the continuing US partiality towards Israeli occupation of Palestinian land – why can it not follow that the next terrorist attack on the US could come either from the Middle East or from the marginalised and radicalised Muslims of Europe, motivated by perceived injustices to Islam and the Muslim World.

Myth No. 5: That the ISI is playing a double game and if Pakistan did more the war could be won.

If Talibanisation is growing in Pakistan because of the covert support of ISI in the tribal areas, then surely the growing Taliban control over Afghanistan (70 % of the territory) must be with NATO’s complicity? Surely a more rational understanding would be to see that th e strategy being employed is creating hatred against the US and its collaborators. Aerial bombardment and its devastating collateral damage is the biggest gift the US has given to the Taliban. According to official reports, out of the 60 drone attacks conducted between 14 January 2006-April 8 2009, only 10 were on target, killing 14 alleged Al Qaeda. In the process almost 800 Pakistani civilians have been killed, while many lost their homes and limbs.

Despite its military surge effort, the US will eventually pack up and leave like the Soviets, but the “do more” mantra could end up destroying the Pakistan army – especially the ISI which is being targeted specifically for the mess created by the Bush Administration in Afghanistan.

Myth No. 6: That Pakistan could be Talibanised with their version of Islam.

Both Musharraf and Zardari have contributed to this myth in order to get US backing and dollars. Firstly there is no such precedent in the 15-hundred years of Islamic history of a theocracy like that of the Taliban, outside of the recent Taliban period of rule in Afghanistan. However, as mentioned earlier, the Taliban’s ascendancy in Afghanistan was not a result of their religious ideology but their ability to establish order and security in a war-devastated and anarchic Afghanistan.

In Swat, the present mess has arisen because of poor governance issues. Also, it was the manner in which the government handled the situation – simply sending in the army rather than providing better governance – that created space for the Taliban. Just as in Balochistan (under Musharraf) when the army was sent in rather than the Baloch being given their economic and provincial rights, similarly the army in Swat aggravated the situation and the present mess was created.

What Pakistan has to worry about is the chaos and anarchy that are going to stem from the radicalisation of our people because of the failure of successive governments to govern effectively and justly. Karen Armstrong, in her book The Battle for God, gives details of fundamentalist movements that turned militant when they were repressed. Ideas should be fought with counter ideas and dialogue, not guns. Allama Iqbal was able to deal with fundamentalism through his knowledge and intellect. The slaughter of the fundamentalists of Lal Masjid did more to fan extremism and fanaticism than any other single event.

Pakistan is staring down an abyss today and needs to come up with a sovereign nationalist policy to deal with the situation. If we keep on following dictation from Washington, we are doomed. There are many groups operating in the country under the label of “Taliban”. Apart from the small core of religious extremists, the bulk of the fighting men are Pushtun nationalists. Then there are the fighters from the old Jihadi groups. Moreover, the Taliban are also successfully exploiting the class tensions by appealing to the have-nots. But the most damaging for Pakistan are those groups who20are being funded primarily from two external sources: first, by those who want to see Pakistan become a “failed state”; and, second, by those who wish to see the US bogged down in the Afghan quagmire.

What needs to be done: A 2-pronged strategy–focusing on a revised relationship with the US and a cohesive national policy based on domestic compulsions and ground realities.

President Obama, unlike President Bush, is intelligent and has integrity. A select delegation of local experts on the tribal area and Afghanistan should make him understand that the current strategy is a disaster for both Pakistan and the US; that Pakistan can no longer commit suicide by carrying on this endless war against its own people; that we will hold dialogue and win over the Pushtuns of the tribal area and make them deal with the real terrorists while the Pakistan army is gradually pulled out.

At the same time, Pakistan has to move itself to ending drone attacks if the US is not prepared to do so. Closure of the drone base within Pakistan is a necessary beginning as is the need to create space between ourselves and the US, which will alter the ground environment in favor of the Pakistani state. It will immediately get rid of the fanaticism that creates suicide bombers as no longer will they be seen to be on the path to martyrdom by bombing US collaborators. Within this environment a consensual national policy to combat extremism and militancy needs to be evolved centering on dialogue, negotiation and assertion of the writ of the state. Where force is required the state must rely on the paramilitary forces, not the army. Concomitantly, Pakistan needs serious reforms. First and foremost we have to give our people access to justice at the grassroots level – that is, revive the village jury/Panchayat system. Only then will we rid ourselves of the oppressive “thana-kutchery” culture which compels the poor to seek adjudication by the feudals, tribal leaders, tumandars and now by the Taliban also – thereby perpetuating oppression of the dispossessed, especially women.

Second, unless we end the system of parallel education in the country where the rich access private schools and a different examination system while the poor at best only have access to a deprived public school system with its outmoded syllabus and no access to employment. That is why the marginalised future generations are condemned to go to madrassahs which provide them with food for survival and exploit their pent up social anger. We need to bring all our educational institutions into the mainstream with one form of education syllabus and examination system for all – with madrassahs also coming under the same system even while they retain their religious education specialisation.

Third, the level of governance needs to be raised through making appointments on merit in contrast to the worst type of cronyism that is currently on show. Alongside this, a cutting of expenditures is required with the leadership and the elite leading by example through adoption of an austere lifestyle. Also, instead of seeking aid and loans to finance the luxurious lifestyle of the elite, the leadership should pay taxes, declare its assets and bring into the country all money kept in foreign banks abroad. All “benami” transactions, assets and bank accounts should be declared illegal. I believe we will suddenly discover that we are actually quite a self-sufficient country.

Fourth, the state has to widen its direct taxation net and cut down on indirect taxation where the poor subsidize the rich. If corruption and ineptitude are removed, it will be possible for the state to collect income tax more effectively.

A crucial requirement for moving towards stability would be the disarming of all militant groups–which will a real challenge for the leadership but here again, the political elite can lead by example and dismantle their show of guards and private forces. Finally, fundamentalism should be fought intellectually with sensitivity shown to the religious and heterogeneous roots of culture amongst the Pakistani masses. Solutions have to be evolved from within the nation through tolerance and understanding. Here, we must learn from the Shah of Iran’s attempts to enforce a pseudo-Western identity onto his people and its extreme backlash from Iranian society.

The threat of extremism is directly related to the performance of the state and its ability to deliver justice and welfare to its people.

11-19

Questions and Answers About Swine Flu

By The Associated Press

Mexico is contending with an outbreak of swine flu, suspected in the deaths of dozens of people and sickening perhaps 1,000. In the United States, at least eight cases have been confirmed with the infection, all of them in California and Texas; only one person was hospitalized. Here are some questions and answers about the illness:

Q. What is swine flu?

A. Swine flu is a respiratory illness in pigs caused by a virus. The swine flu virus routinely causes outbreaks in pigs but doesn’t usually kill many of them.

Q. Can people get swine flu?

A. Swine flu viruses don’t usually infect humans. There have been occasional cases, usually among people who’ve had direct contact with infected pigs, such as farm workers. “We’ve seen swine influenza in humans over the past several years, and in most cases, it’s come from direct pig contact. This seems to be different,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert with the University of Michigan.

Q. Can it spread among humans?

A. There have been cases of the virus spreading from human to human, probably in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing by infected people.

Q. What are the symptoms of swine flu?

A. The symptoms are similar to those of regular flu — fever, cough, fatigue, lack of appetite.

Q. Is the same swine flu virus making people sick in Mexico and the U.S.?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Mexican virus samples match the U.S. virus. The virus is a mix of human virus, bird virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.

Q. Are there drugs to treat swine flu in humans?

A. There are four different drugs approved in the U.S. to treat the flu, but the new virus has shown resistance to the two oldest. The CDC recommends the use of the flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

Q. Does a regular flu shot protect against swine flu?

A. The seasonal flu vaccine used in the U.S. this year won’t likely provide protection against the latest swine flu virus. There is a swine flu vaccine for pigs but not for humans.

Q. Should residents of California or Texas do anything special?

A. The CDC recommends routine precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases: wash your hands often, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay at home and limit contact with others.

Q. What about traveling to Mexico?

A. The CDC has not warned Americans against traveling to Mexico but advises that they be aware of the illnesses there and take precautions to protect against infections, like washing their hands.

11-19

The Looting of America

By Barry Grey

April 10, 2009 “WSWS” — The New York Times on Thursday published a front-page article that provides further insight into the economic and class interests that are being served by the Obama administration’s economic “recovery” policies.

Headlined “Small Investors May Be Enlisted in Bank Bailout,” the article outlines discussions between the administration and Wall Street investment firms on structuring the so-called “Public-Private Investment Program” announced last month in a manner that will allow people of modest means to invest in the scheme, whose purpose is to enable the banks to offload their toxic assets at public expense.

When the plan was announced March 23 by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, it sparked a wild rally on the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 497 points when it became clear that the government was offering to provide up to 95 percent of the capital, insure almost all potential losses and virtually guarantee large profits for hedge funds and other financial firms that agree to purchase the bad debts of the banks at inflated prices, with the taxpayers underwriting the windfall for Wall Street and assuming virtually all of the risk.

Thursday’s Times article indicates that opening the scheme up to small investors is seen as a way of providing a “democratic” gloss to what is, in reality, a brazen plan to plunder the public treasury for the benefit of the very bankers and speculators who are responsible for the financial crash. Evidently not seeing a contradiction, the article also makes clear that the bailout measures are being drawn up in the closest consultation with the Wall Street insiders who stand to profit from them.

“Some of the biggest investment managers in the United States,” the Times notes, “including BlackRock and PIMCO, have been consulting with the government on ways to rebuild the country’s broken financial markets.”

The article quotes Steven A. Baffico, an executive at BlackRock, as saying, “It’s giving the guy on Main Street an equal seat at the table next to the big guys.” This is true only in the sense that “Main Street” will be given the opportunity to absorb the bulk of any losses while the “big guys” cream off the best assets and pocket the profits.

There are political concerns behind this effort to create the appearance of offering the general public a cut in the winnings. Hedge fund managers are wary that when, as they anticipate, their partnership with the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) pays off with double-digit profits there will be a public outcry, similar to that which erupted over the AIG executive bonuses. This, they fear, might lead to limits on their compensation, higher taxes on their fortunes or similar intolerable infringements.

More important are definite commercial calculations. By opening up the scheme to the broad public, the private firms chosen by the Treasury to operate the plan stand to increase greatly their take from investor fees. As the Times puts it, “For the investment managers, the benefits are potentially large. These big firms can charge healthy fees to investors for taking part.”

There is one particularly remarkable passage in the Times account. “But the comparison one industry official uses to illustrate the mistake that America must avoid,” the newspaper writes, “is the large-scale privatization in Russia in the 1990s, which involved a transfer of entire industries to a few, well-connected oligarchs. That experience tarnished the idea of free-market capitalism in Russia and undermined its program to move toward a market economy.”

The many differences in political and historical circumstances aside, there is a very real parallel between the plundering of Soviet society by the former Stalinist bureaucrats and their domestic gangster and foreign imperialist allies and the current manner in which the economic crisis in the US is being seized upon by Wall Street and its political instrument, the Obama administration, to further enrich the American financial aristocracy. Indeed, the perpetrators are themselves quite conscious that they are engaged in a similar—although much bigger—looting operation.

The scale and character of the operation are further indicated by another New York Times article published this week. This one, authored by Times financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin and published on Tuesday, concerns the role of the FDIC in the new bailout scheme.

The article begins by noting that the FDIC was established 76 years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression, to provide a government guarantee, initially up to $5,000 and now up to $250,000, on the bank deposits of small savers. It describes the transformation of the FDIC, under the toxic asset disposal plan of the Obama administration, as follows:

“It’s going to be insuring 85 percent of the debt, provided by the Treasury, that private investors will use to subsidize their acquisition of toxic assets.”

In other words, the function of the FDIC is being transformed from guaranteeing the bank deposits of small savers to guaranteeing the investments of multimillionaire investment fund managers. And, as the article notes, this is occurring without a vote by Congress.

The FDIC will be insuring more than $1 trillion in new obligations incurred as the government covers the bad debts of the banks. However, the FDIC’s charter limits the obligations it can take on to $30 billion. The Times article quotes one “prominent securities lawyers” as saying, “They may not be breaking the letter of the law, but they’re sure disregarding its spirit.”

How does the government justify this breach? By calculating the obligations which the FDIC is assuming not at their monetary value, but at their value as “contingent liabilities.” That is, according to how much the FDIC expects to lose from its vast extension of credit to Wall Street firms (in the form of nonrecourse loans, i.e., loans in which the firms put up no collateral of their own, but only the supposed value of the toxic assets they are purchasing).

And what is the sum total of these “contingent liabilities”? Sorkin writes: “’We project no losses,’ Sheila Bair, the chairwoman, told me in an interview. Zero? Really? ‘Our accountants have signed off on no net losses,’ she said. (Well, that’s one way to stay under the borrowing cap).”

What is the significance of this astonishing reasoning? Simply this: The Obama administration, in order to protect the wealth and power of the financial elite, is facilitating and directly perpetrating on a colossal scale the same type of accounting fraud and reckless leveraging that led to the economic catastrophe in the first place.

Who is to pay the price for this looting operation? The answer can be seen in the Obama Auto Task Force’s demands for the liquidation of much of the US auto industry and the brutal downsizing of what remains, combined with the imposition of poverty-level wages on those workers who remain in the surviving plants and the gutting of the pensions and health benefits of retirees. It can be further seen in the administration’s pledge to slash social programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The administration’s “recovery” plan is a barely disguised scheme to preserve the fortunes of the financial aristocracy, whose interests it represents, by imposing poverty and social misery on the working class.

Barry Grey

11-19

Southeast Michigan News (V11-I19)

Announcement:  Pakistani Consular Services Available in Metro Detroit

The President of the Pakistan Association of America has invited the vice Consul General of Pakistan Consulate from New York to the Detroit area to perform consular services.

The vice consul general, Mr. Saqib Rauf, will come with a consular team from New York to Detroit to provide consular services (passport services, visas, national ID cards, etc.) this Saturday May 2nd. 

They will be at the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs (MCWS—Canton Mosque) from 10AM to 4PM.

MCWS; 40440 Palmer Rd., Canton, MI; 734-467-7704

Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center Collects Approximately $200,000 in Fundraiser

P4258105 Bloomfield Hills–April 25–The Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center and Professor Ramzi Mohammad did not disappoint this last weekend during their fundraiser. 
The affair was packed, with about 200 people attending a dinner with Middle Eastern food and silk-lined chairs, from 5:30 until maghrib salat to show the accomplishments of the BMUC and collect more money for its good work. There were displays of Qur`an reading by four children of the BMUC. 

Professor Ramzi Mohammad’s theme seemed to prove itself, “I know you are very generous people” he said to the audience as he cajoled them and energized them, making them smile and laugh as he encouraged them to give.

Also, all were invited to next week’s BMUC Open House, the weekend of May 2 and 3.

Dearborn Memorial Day Parade to Host Navy Seal

Dearborn’s 85th annual Memorial Day Parade pays respectful tribute to America’s fallen; Parade marshal is Medal of Honor recipient;

DEARBORN, Mich. –  Dearborn’s 85th annual Memorial Day Parade will pay tribute to America’s fallen. The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day:  Monday, May 25.

The Parade route is Michigan Avenue from Firestone to Schaefer in east Dearborn.

Dearborn residents reminded that May 4-8 are Public Service Days

Keep parked vehicles off street 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on your trash pickup day, regardless of when trash is picked up

DEARBORN, Mich. –  Dearborn residents are reminded that Monday, May 4, through Friday, May 8, are Public Service Days in Dearborn.

Residents must remove parked vehicles from the street from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on their trash pickup day during the week of May 4-8. Failure to do so could result in a ticket.

Please note that parked vehicles must be removed from the street during the entire time from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on your trash pickup day that week. Do not put parked vehicles back on the street until 4 p.m., even if your trash is picked up earlier than 4 p.m.

Also, please note that city ordinance prohibits residents from putting trash containers in the street at any time, including on your regular pickup day. All trash, yard waste and recycling must be placed on the easement. This is required on every trash pickup day, not just those that coincide with your neighborhood’s Public Service Days.

Public Service Days occur the first full week of the month and the third full week of the month.  The first full week has the first Monday of the month; the third full week is two weeks later.    

For more about Public Service Days, including a complete schedule, visit www.cityofdearborn.org or call 943.2886.

Governor Granholm Announces Appointments to Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission

In a recent announcement on the appointments to Asian American Affairs Commission Governor announced the appointment of about 20 people from Asian Pacific region that included the names of Sr. Mumtaz P. Haque of Troy, producer and host of the Manoranjan Radio Show, for a term expiring November 30, 2010 and Br.Ehsan Taqbeem of Rochester, president of the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee, is appointed for a term expiring November 30, 2009.  

11-19

Community News (V11-I19)

Randa Kuziez chosen for Tony Blair Faith Foundation fellowship

WASHINGTON D.C.– Randa Kuziez, one of the national vice presidents of the Muslim Students Association, has been selected as a fellow of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The former British prime minister started the foundation to raise awareness about efforts to fight malaria in Africa.

Kuziez will work with other another fellowship recipient to educate youth groups, reach out to religious communities, and develop programs to promote awareness of malaria’s toll in Africa, where it kills an estimated 1 million people a year, most of them children.

Last year, Kuziez had organized a fast-a-thon in the month of Ramadan that mobilized over 400 students of many faitsh and raised over $1000. The MSA is helping to coordinate fundraising for bednets within the Muslim community by encouraging all its chapters to raise funds for purchasing bed nets.

Samia Zahran runs for union president at Tufts

Samia Zahran, a senator at Tufts University’s student union, is now aiming for the top job by running for the president.

A sophmore she had served as a community representative on the Senate in her freshman year.

She had also worked with a number of student organizations including the MSA , Arab Student Association, Filipino Cultural Society, and the Pan-African Alliance.

Muslim teens grow in numbers in Canada

TORONTO — More teenagers in Canada identify themselves as Muslim than with the Anglican, Baptist and United churches combined, according to a recent survey.

The upswing in Islam — plus three other major non-Western religions — is largely due to immigration, said Reginald Bibby, the director of Project Kids Canada, which has tracked youth in an ongoing survey since 1984.

His research showed that the number of teens who identified themselves as members of “Other Faiths,” (including Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and aboriginal spirituality) grew to 16 percent last year, compared with 3 percent in 1984. Muslims accounted for 5 percent of that group.

During the same period, teens who claimed membership in Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant denominations dropped dramatically.

Anwer Khan appointed director at West Monroe Partners

CHICAGO, IL–West Monroe Partners, a full-service business and technology consultancy, today announced that Anwer Khan has joined the firm as a director in its Chicago office. Khan will lead the firm’s Chicago Healthcare practice, primarily focusing on health plans, insurers, and payers. He will have responsibility for practice strategy, solution development, client service, business development, and team management.

“Anwer Khan not only has a distinguished track record for client service and practice development; he is a recognized thought leader and innovator with respect to information management in the healthcare industry,” said Kevin McCarty, who leads West Monroe Partners’ Chicago office. “His industry knowledge and leadership are a welcome addition to our team and a source of tremendous experience for our clients to leverage.”

Khan joins West Monroe Partners from Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc. As a principal for Diamond’s Healthcare and Life Science vertical, he served as a trusted management and technology advisor to senior industry executives, managed all aspects of industry IT and business strategy projects, and developed viewpoints on topics ranging from IT financial management to healthcare and IT standards and legislation. Affiliated with a variety of industry and data management organizations, he is a frequently sought author and speaker.

Previously, Khan served as an associate partner and practice leader for IBM Global Services, where he ran the Healthcare and Life Science Business Intelligence practice. He also has several years of management experience in the healthcare industry for healthcare institutions and software and service organizations. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Clinical Psychology from Boston University, Certification in Economics and Accounting from Cornell University, and Master of Science in Health Care Management from Brandeis University.

Muslims join effort to end corruption in Illinois

CHICAGO, IL–Muslims in the Chicago area are taking part in a host of grassroots based community work ranging from immigration to corruption. Earlier this month Muslim leaders joined a number of faith leaders in their call to end corruption.

Mere steps from indicted former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s office, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Chicago with a simple message: “We’ve had enough!” Voters joined with civic and business leaders, religious and non-profit groups for a public CHANGE Illinois! rally calling for an end to corruption in Illinois politics.

“Corruption in Illinois has turned us from the land of Lincoln to a national laughingstock,” said Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of Target Area Development Corp. “We need to take special interest money out of Illinois politics — the people deserve to get their voices back.”

The rally, organized by CHANGE Illinois!, focused on the need to clean up Illinois politics now. Rally speakers drove home the need for political reform and urged the General Assembly to take action, including: Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of TARGET Area Development Corp.; Rami Nashashibi, Inner City Muslim Action Network, Executive Director; Merri Dee, AARP Illinois State President; Peter Bensinger, Chicago business leader and former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Enlace Chicago, Executive Director; and Rev. Philip Blackwell, Senior Minister of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.

Company which placed Islamic ads loses contract

An ad company which had sold spaces on buses for Islamic ads in Broward County had lost its contract with the city.

County commissioners dropped the firm in favor of a competitor that offered higher advertising revenue each year. The religious ads had provoked an angry response from some commissioners, but they said the change in companies was based solely on economics.

“They are not related,” Commissioner Ken Keechl said. “The incumbent firm has a minimum annual guarantee of revenue that was so low.”

11-19

Houstonian Corner (V11-I19)

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Meeting Houston Pakistani Community (D) Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Organized S.O.S. Meeting With Houstonian Pakistanis

HOUSTON – TX: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, founder of the Congressional Pakistani Caucus, held a Save Our Selves (S.O.S.) meeting with Pakistani Community Members and Leaders from the 18th Congressional District. Counsel General of Pakistan Aqil Nadeem was present. This meeting was mainly with regards to recent threat created by mainstream American media that Islamabad will soon be taken over by Talebans and predictions by several analysts that Pakistan may not survive.

Congresswoman informed around thirty Pakistanis that had gathered, about her recent trip to the region of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. She said President Asif Ali Zardari will soon be visiting USA and applaud the present democratic forces including Nawaz Sharif and his Brother Shahbaz Sharif for working towards making democracy strong in Pakistan. She said she met the two Sharif Brothers during her trip. She informed that Legislation on Reconstruction Zones (ROZ) in Pakistan (that will lessen Tariffs on Pakistani Goods sold in USA) and Kerry-Lugar Bill to provide billions of dollars assistance over the next five years for development projects.

Generally speaking Pakistanis expressed their concern on U.S. Policy in the War on Terror: Like the Drone Attacks in the Province of NWFP Pakistan; 20% minority people (Northern Alliance) government in Afghanistan over 80% Pushtoons; No Exit Strategy for Afghanistan; No willingness to talk to Talebans, who are not actual perpetrators of 9/11 where ALQuaida are the people to be implicated: Need to identify Talebans with whom talks can be held, like President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari has done in Swat; to understand Swat and Legislation of Swift Court System over there to provide justice; and so on.

Tariq Khan of Pakistan Chronicle made a point, which was accepted by Congresswoman. A five member committee was formed to study how much assistance is needed in Pakistan, as according to Tariq Khan, $1.50 Billion per year are not enough and that there should be strict procedures to oversee the accountability of the money be it given to Government of Pakistan or NGOs.

For more information and input in this process, one can dial 713.823.8821 and talk to Adeel Zeb at Congresswoman Jackson Lee’s Houston office.

HOUSTONIANS: Historic Live Performance Of Zain Bhika & Comedian Baba Ali – Special Treat For All Those Graduating

Baba Ali HOUSTON – TX: The famous Inspirational Songs (Nasheed) Presenter Zain Bhika of South Africa and Comedian Baba Ali are coming to Houston on Saturday, May 30th, 2009; 7pm.-12am. at Marriott Westchase Hotel. Boxed-Dinner will be served. Tickets are just $30/Person (Buy 4 or more tickets at $25/Person).

For more information, call ILyas Hasan Choudry at 832.275.0786 or visit www.HelpingHandOnline.Org

“Many youth are graduating during the last week of May 2009: As such Saturday May 30th will be like a Graduation Treat for those youth; their parents and family members. One will able to enjoy the Inspirational Evening Plus will become part of something greater, as all the proceeds from this program will go towards supporting the Worldwide Orphan Care and Sponsorship Projects of Helping Hand (USA). Normal and VIP tickets are available: They will go fast. As such purchase your tickets at the earliest on the website or call 832.275.0786”, informed Program Organizer ILyas Hasan Choudry.

11-19

Judical Hammer Demands Probe Into Modi’s Role in Gujarat Carnage

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Spelling political embarrassment for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the ongoing elections to Lok Sabha (Lower House) of the Parliament, the Supreme Court has directed a probe into role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and more than 50 others in the 2002 Gujarat-carnage targeting Muslims. The bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and A.K. Ganguly ordered the probe by Special Investigation Team (SIT), a panel headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director R.K. Raghavan to look into involvement of Modi, a minister in the state cabinet, three legislators in the Gujarat assembly, three activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and several bureaucrats and police officers. “SIT will inquire into the complaint made by the petitioner and file its report within three months,” the bench said.

The apex court ordered the probe in response to a plea filed by Zakia, wife of Congress legislator Iqbal Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the riots, and social activist Teesta Setalvad. “We hereby direct the special probe team to look into all allegations, particularly in the killing of an MP (Member of Parliament),” the bench said. The bench has also asked SIT to look into allegation that Modi government did not allow an FIR to be registered into Jafri’s killing.

Despite being a member of the sixth Lok Sabha, an active trade unionist and a key Congress leader in Gujarat, Jafri and his family members were not provided with needed security when communal fire engulfed the state. On February 28, 2002, when the mob of thousands of Hindu extremists attacked the Gulbarg society, where Jafri lived, despite his making repeated calls to senior officials and police, nobody came to help. Jafri was killed along with 19 of his relatives, while his wife survived.

In the plea, Zakia has accused Modi and 62 others for encouraging and helping the persons involved in the Gujarat carnage. Though Modi’s role and that of his associates belonging to the saffron brigade has been a well-known fact, the hard reality is that the judicial hammer so far has not turned against him. It is because of his role in the Gujarat-carnage, viewed as severe violations of religious freedom, Modi was refused visa to visit United States in 2005.

The Gujarat-carnage played a crucial role in helping return of Congress to head the United Progressive Alliance coalition government in 2004. The Congress leaders are certainly not unconscious of the fact that in 2004 elections, anti-incumbency factor played a crucial role in pushing the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) out of power. The Congress is hopeful that Gujarat-issue will prompt the voters to support it in the present elections. Not surprisingly, while addressing an election rally in Gujarat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly criticized NDA for the 2002-carnage. “Only NDA can give you politics of division. Gujarat is the state of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked for communal harmony throughout his life,” he said. “Those parties who fan communalism are insulting Mahatma Gandhi and Gujarat. During the NDA regime, due to few people, whatever happened in 2002 was against the historic tradition of your state. Politics of hate and division cannot take us forward. There is no other way than secularism for this country,” Singh said (April 26).  

The apex court’s directive putting Modi under the scanner has certainly provided Congress with more ammunition to fire at BJP. Welcoming it, Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily said: “Modi will have to step down for justice to be done.” “We are happy, it is one such case which has opened the eyes of the judiciary. The manner in which justice has been delayed is a matter of concern, and our judiciary will have to reckon that,” he said. To questions on why had Congress not done enough for the carnage victims and why had it not demanded Modi’s dismissal earlier, Moily replied: “We have a very limited role in this context since law and order is a state subject.” On Modi being BJP’s future candidate for the prime minister’s position, he said: “Modi doesn’t deserve to be the chief minister, let alone the prime minister.”

On its part, the BJP has blamed the Congress for deliberately raising 2002-riots during the election season. “It has become a convention during the last 10 years to raise the issue of Gujarat riots in and outside the court, particularly during the elections,” BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said. He also claimed: “The SIT appointed by the Supreme Court had submitted 10 reports, including on the Gulbarg Society (riots), and not a single one mentions Modi. Not even a whisper.”
Downplaying the apex court’s directive as a “routine” procedure, Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said: “The SIT has already given its report on the Gulbarg society massacre. Now the court has directed it to have a relook at it and see that nothing is left out. It seems to be a normal procedure.”  On Congress demanding Modi’s resignation, Vyas said: “The Congress has no moral right or authority to demand resignation of Chief Minister Modi.”

11-19

The Money that Prays

By Jeremy Harding

Editor’s note:  This article was written by a non-Muslim about Islamic finance.  This article is not particularly respectful towards Islam, but we have printed it intending to share information about Islamic finance.  The only change we have made is to add the salawat after references to Prophet (s).

sharia_finance_dollar Last September, as dust and debris from the tellers’ floors began raining onto the empty vaults below, a note of satisfaction was sounded by bankers in the Arab world. Financial institutions sticking to the tenets of Islam, they announced, were largely immune from the debt crisis. Devout Muslims may lend and borrow under certain conditions; they can even buy and sell debt in the form of ‘Islamic’ bonds, but most other kinds of debt trading are frowned on. Al Rajhi Bank, based in Saudi Arabia, and the Kuwait Finance House posted impressive profits in 2008. Both have come under some nervous scrutiny in 2009 but their ability to weather the recession that has set in behind the credit crunch is not at issue.

Unlike most banks in the Middle East, Al Rajhi Bank and KFH are ‘sharia-compliant’ businesses, which means simply that they try to abide by the evolving body of rules known as the sharia – ‘the path to the headwater’ – which govern the lives of Muslims. The sharia serves mostly as a guide to personal conduct, though some rules are drafted into the legal codes of majority-Muslim states. It’s founded, we’re always told, on revealed truth from the Koran and exemplary stories from the Hadith, the sayings and doings of the Prophet (s). But the real influence of the sharia lies in the way this material is constantly read and recast by modern Islamic scholars, reinventing old traditions or asserting new ones. Whatever they take it to be, growing numbers of Muslims are keen to stay on the path when it comes to banking and finance. The global Muslim population is upwards of 1.3 billion – roughly one in every five people on earth – and, with a religious revival of twenty or thirty years’ standing, the way of Islam is now a crowded thoroughfare. It is plied by a great diversity of travellers from different parts of the world; some have money to burn, others next to none, but anybody with a modicum of wealth is nowadays a potential opportunity for banks offering sharia-compliant retail services: current accounts, straightforward financing schemes and home-ownership plans.

The term ‘Islamic finance’ wrests a lot of activities down to a catch-all definition. The same is true, in the financial universe, of the words ‘sharia’ and ‘Islam’ itself. Sharia is not a single, coherent jurisprudence for Muslims; there are various schools of interpretation and marked disagreements within each of them. ‘Islam’, a broad term of convenience for most non-Muslims, is a power-point word in the City: it tells bankers and traders that every day for a few minutes they should shut out the din of the money that merely talks and tune in to the money that prays. But why bother, given that sharia-compliant finance is probably worth less than 1 per cent of the total value of the world’s stocks, bonds and bank deposits? This was reckoned at about $170 trillion in 2007; it’s much less than that now of course, but even so, with a value of around $700 billion, Islamic stocks, bonds and bank deposits remain a minority affair, just as Muslims remain a minority in global terms.

What fascinates the markets about Islamic finance, however, is its dramatic growth in recent years and confident predictions that it’s set to expand at 15 to 20 per cent every year. Its allure for moderately prosperous, pious Muslims – and quite a few non-Muslims recoiling from the debt crisis in anger and disgust – is different. They admire what they see as a promise to achieve stability and transparency, and a sense of proportion about money: look it in the eye, tell it you like it, but admit that you have lingering doubts about the transcendent value of paper. That’s an unsophisticated position, but since the credit crunch not many people trust the sophisticated keepers of the modern money culture; in this sense the rise of sharia-compliant products is also a challenge to the unofficial, polytheist faith of offshore Britannia: the worship of markets in general and financial markets in particular.

One of the central differences between the Islamic and conventional approaches to finance is that our own cults – which may well see a revision before the end of this crisis – ascribe supernatural powers to money. Cult specialists are at great pains to understand and control how it works, but admit that it does so in magical ways that go beyond the effects of human commerce (for the markets, too, have magical attributes, including innate goodness). Whatever we want from money, we suspect, as devotees, that in the end it will always behave as it sees fit. Our awe of it is a bit like a rapt meditation on the way the shower of gold behaves – shimmering and falling – when it cascades over Danaë in her cloister in Argos. In the story, it’s merely the form chosen by Zeus for her seduction, but in our meditation, there is no Olympian in disguise and no intention to seduce, just the metal shimmering and falling, in consummate self-expression, as deity and dogma. Islamic approaches – there are quite a few – are much closer to Nonconformist and Anglican traditions, where the divinity stands to the side of money, reminding the faithful that he is one thing and mammon another. Money, in this view, is an object of caution rather than superstition – and, in spite of its dangers, a useful tool for anyone who wants to build a respectable world, with God’s instructions pinned to the wall above the workbench.

Maybe this is why sharia-compliant products have been gaining popularity among British Muslims, even if they differ only slightly from conventional ones. Take the home-ownership scheme offered by HSBC’s sharia-compliant range, Amanah (amanah means ‘trust’ in the moral and legal sense). Muslims are forbidden to pay or receive interest and troubled by conventional lending, because it appears to put the burden of risk on the borrower not the lender: in the Islamic view, no transaction is ethical unless risk is fairly distributed between the parties. HSBC Amanah’s scheme is based on an Islamic contract known as ‘diminishing musharaka’ and it’s approved, like all HSBC Amanah’s services, by a board of sharia scholars. A would-be home-owner must put up 40 per cent of the cost price (much less before the credit crunch); the property is registered in a trust (amanah) as a jointly owned asset, with the bank’s majority ownership diminishing over an agreed period, as regular payments are made; the customer promises to buy the bank’s share, and the bank promises to sell it to the client. The property is envisaged as a set of units and the customer’s payments as twofold: one part is rental, for the right to live in it, another is a form of unit-acquisition. The trust keeps a tally of the bank’s diminishing ownership and the growing share to the customer. At term, the trust is dissolved and the home passes to the customer.

In the meantime, no interest has been charged. But the rental payments received by HSBC Amanah for its willingness to share a risk will have been reviewed – and therefore been subject to change, much like the interest charge on a variable-rate mortgage – at regular intervals. Indeed, rental charges are likely to track changes in a conventional interest rate, for instance Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate. In the eyes of some Muslims, the resemblance of the rental element to an interest charge casts doubt on the ‘Islamic’ nature of the scheme; others are happy to say that even when two things are alike, this does not make them identical. The questions of likeness and difference, and what constitutes real compliance, are hotly debated among Muslims throughout the world.

As regards risk-sharing, HSBC Amanah’s scheme seems little different from those of other lenders when customers fail to keep up payments (‘default’ is not a sharia-compliant word). The bank will pursue a customer if it thinks the reasons for the failure were ‘avoidable’, because this would constitute a breach of the promise to buy. But it claims not to handle a genuine misfortune the way conventional mortgage providers deal with a default. Both parties share any losses according to the proportionate ownership at the time. The bank can seize the contents of a customer’s current account to offset some of its own losses, but there the matter ends. No question of a debt-collecting agency taking up where the bank left off. Most mortgage companies in the US also draw a line under default, but among Islamic home-ownership providers in Britain this approach has encouraged prudence. Amjid Ali, who heads HSBC Amanah’s UK operation, told me that in the first five years of its sharia-compliant home-ownership scheme, he had processed applications to the value of £700 million, of which, after judicious sifting, more than half had come good. He knew of only one case that hadn’t worked out: the customer was given 18 months’ grace, at the end of which the house was sold. Devout Muslims who think the HSBC Amanah approach is uncomfortably close to the way a conventional default is handled must surely have had their views confirmed by the government’s insistence to mortgage lenders, since the recession set in, that patience with people in difficulty would put a floor under falling house prices and send out a ‘caring’ signal (reluctant bankers call it empathy). But perhaps the same Muslims derive a certain satisfaction from the fact that conventional mortgage lenders are beating a path to the headwater.

A home-buyer signing up to a diminishing musharaka would have to take out buildings insurance with a clause that covered the bank as well. But Islamic tradition is uneasy with conventional insurance. First, there’s contractual uncertainty (the devilish detail of insurance policies); second, a risk has been bought by another party, and this is scarcely ever acceptable; third, far from looking like circumspection, conventional insurance has every appearance of a punt, with croupier and client sizing up the odds – and gambling is forbidden. An Islamic option, now available in the UK, allows devout Muslims to subscribe regular payments to a managed mutual fund and think of the process as an exercise in solidarity.

This arrangement, known as takaful, was on offer from HSBC Amanah until the end of last year, when it realised that customers found the costs too high: ethical products, like principles, are more expensive, and less profitable, than off-the-shelf alternatives. Collective underwriting was the main feature of the retired model, shared with other takaful services clinging on in a difficult market. The sharia board instructed HSBC that if the fund was underspent by more than £25 per subscriber in a given year, members could have money back or make it over to the launch of a micro-credit scheme in Pakistan. Rising costs are the reality of most insurance, but for takaful members they are mitigated by the concept of ‘donation’; subscribers may be grudging or disgruntled, but tradition urges them to see the cost of mutuality as part of their obligation to share risk with their fellow members. If it seems unacceptably high, and there are enough takaful co-operatives around, they’re free to chase down a better option.

Takaful cover has its origins in Arab seafaring mutuals (not unlike the whaling mutuals, centuries later, of the Quaker communities in New Bedford and Nantucket). It is a small sector of the global insurance business, already thriving in Malaysia and said by its advocates to be growing throughout the world. In Britain, which prides itself on its multiculturalism and its financial services in almost equal measure, takaful has been endorsed by the minister for trade and investment, the Chartered Insurance Institute and the lord mayor of the City of London. Like all sharia-compliant products in the UK – and everywhere, as far as I know – it’s available to non-Muslims. One Muslim scholar told me that they already account for 16 to 20 per cent of the clientele for Islamic retail products in Britain. No need to recite the shahada if you want a sharia-compliant loan from the Islamic Bank of Britain, Lloyds TSB or a UK branch of the Arab Banking Corporation.

The idea of conventional insurance as a wager is taken seriously, and sometimes to extremes. Until he was denied the right to re-enter the UK in 2005, Omar Bakri Muhammad, the Syrian radical, was said to drive around uninsured on the grounds that a third-party policy with Kwik Fit or the AA was an abomination in the eyes of God. As a proselytiser for Hizb ut-Tahrir and later a star of Al-Muhajiroun, Bakri had a headstrong attachment to the sharia, even when he was a guest of the Home Office. Many British Muslims, pleased to see the back of him, thought that the danger he courted by refusing to take out cover was itself a gamble in which he wagered his faith against the laws of his host country. Perhaps, if he’d still been around, he’d have joined the first British sharia-compliant car insurance scheme, Salaam Halal Insurance, when it was launched last summer (call centres handle inquiries ‘in English, Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati or Urdu’).

It isn’t just in Britain, and it isn’t only in the retail banking sector, that sharia-compliance is catching on. The last ten years have also seen a surge in sharia-compliant securities available to corporate and institutional investors in many parts of the world who want to stick to the rules of the faith. It’s a new impulse: in the 1970s, when the oil-producing states were awash with money, there weren’t too many worries about petrodollars flooding into the purchase of US Treasury bonds, even though they bore interest, and there were few alternatives to conventional securities. This isn’t the case any longer. Malaysia is rich with opportunities for investors in compliant bonds; in Europe, the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt issued the first ‘Islamic’ government bond in 2004; the British Treasury has also looked into the possibility of issuing sharia-compliant bills. Meanwhile there’s no shortage of choice in equities. The Dow Jones Islamic Market (DJIM) started up in 1999: it now has dozens of indices and lists hundreds of companies whose products are approved by its board of sharia scholars.

Nation-states may decide to devalue their currencies or privatise their telecommunications, but the odds are against them adopting full sharia-compliance. A few years ago Sudan had a unitary sharia banking system, but since the peace deal between Khartoum and the non-Muslim SPLA in 2005, conventional banking has become the norm in southern Sudan. That leaves Iran as the only country that boasts a banking system operating fully on Islamic principles (the evils of interest, it argues, obtain only if the borrower and lender are wholly distinct, and since Iranian banks are nationalised, the country’s interbank lending rate is regarded as a family foible). All other Muslim-majority states have conventional or dual systems; in all cases, the central banks behave conventionally.

Conversion to sharia would be ruinous for a wealthy city-state like Dubai, thriving – until the crunch – on Western finance and the ‘conventional’ lifestyles of expatriates. At the end of last year, the monthly retail-purchase interest on a Platinum Visa card issued by the National Bank of Dubai was 2.99 per cent, while Dubai’s sovereign debt stood at 148 per cent of GDP – both well out of order for a conscientious Muslim. Dubai has been on the ropes since last September, but even in better times, the ruling family, like the government of Malaysia, had encouraged sharia-financing across a range of state-funded development projects. Gulf regimes are keenly aware of the changes in fashion that have driven demand for sharia-compliance.

So is the private sector. Many innovative sharia-compliant instruments have been theorised – and some of them applied – by companies whose interest in Islam is decidedly recent, among them Deutsche Bank as well as HSBC. Their idea is to access the large amounts of cash swilling around to no great avail in the Gulf: an ambition reciprocated by the owners of this money, who want to put it to work. The difference between now and 1973 is not one of quantity: liquidity in the Gulf has been high again, partly as a result of oil prices, partly because billions of dollars were repatriated from the West by worried owners after 9/11, but also because the Islamic revival has left many Muslims doubting the wisdom of conventional investment. The diffusion of sharia-compliant financial products has opened new routes for their money. For a while some of it headed towards Malaysia and, until the end of last year, plenty was creeping westward again. The appetite for world markets remains strong, but it now answers more closely to the will of God.

The prohibitions for Muslims are puzzling to the modern commercial mind. The first obstacle for a pious Muslim trading and banking in conventional economies is interest, the term I’ve been using for the Arabic riba, though its literal sense is closer to ‘excess’ and it is sometimes translated as ‘usury’. Often, in the Hadith and even more in recent proselytising on the internet, riba is said to be ‘eaten’. One of the objections to riba is its propensity to up-end the social order. A person who consumes riba bungles the proper management of need – his own and his debtor’s – whereupon the grand plan of give and take, sufficiency for rich and poor alike, begins to come apart. This, as Charles Tripp explains in Islam and the Moral Economy, is also a challenge to ‘the balance and proportion of God’s ordering of the universe’, which must be reflected in ‘human relations’. Islamic tradition warns that riba is likely to lead to injustice and exploitation.

There’s a categorical objection, too: that money may not be conjured up from money to generate like from like. The goods that served (we’re told) as currency in Islamic tradition – gold, silver, salt, grain and dates – can only be exchanged ‘hand to hand’, i.e. in a spot transaction, without deferment; and only at parity, one quantity for its exact equivalent, no more, no less. It’s not clear why you’d want to swap something – a gold weight, say – for its identical other, but the point here is probably that units of currency, unlike the shirt or the saddle for which they’re exchanged, must be beyond any cavilling with regard to value for the system to hold up: an Islamic marker set down 14 centuries ago against arbitrage. In a story told by Abu Said al Khudri, one of Muhammad’s younger companions, the Prophet (s) describes the transaction of a greater number of low-grade dates for a smaller number of quality dates as riba.

The most famous chapter and verse on riba is in sura 2 of the Koran. It warns that dealing in riba will bring on madness or ‘torment’ (via ‘Satan’s touch’), and that if you’re not prepared to waive a mark-up on a debt, war will be waged against you by God and the Prophet (s). One sharia-compliant banker I met last year told me that’s about as bad as it gets. There is also an injunction to forgive debt in a broader sense: ‘If the debtor is in difficulty, then delay things . . . Still, if you were to write it off as an act of charity, that would be better for you, if only you knew’ (the rules followed by HSBC Amanah try to catch something of this). The charging of riba, it follows, is always a missed opportunity to act generously, to give where a gift is in order, a gesture highly prized in Islamic tradition. In a faith embodied by a Prophet (s) who traded goods, and espoused by an impressive trading community for which, at its height, knowledge was a key commodity, believers are admonished not to confuse riba with trade. From the second sura, again: ‘God has allowed trade and forbidden usury.’

In Economics, Ethics and Religion (1997) Rodney Wilson went through the 6226 verses of the Koran and found that 1400 refer to ‘economic issues’. It follows that there is a vast body of scholarly opinion dealing with money. A fatwa about charging for debt, or any financial matter, issued by a group of experts such as the Fiqh Academy in Jeddah can carry great weight for certain Muslims, and less for others. In the sharia, like any code which hasn’t ossified, the element of interpretation is crucial and within each of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, there are divergent views, especially between conservatives and modernisers and especially about money. Yet not all the source material under interpretation is stable or straightforward. In the Hadith, for instance, it’s said that the Prophet (s) warned against 70 different forms of riba. These have decayed and combined under the pressures of modernity, but there’s still room for doubt. Modern nuance can be as puzzling to a non-Muslim (maybe even a Muslim) as the founding inventories: Wilson records a sharia ruling in the United Arab Emirates which found that simple interest was permissible and only compound interest forbidden.

Riba catches many non-Muslims out. After a long study of Islamic finance, the anthropologist Bill Maurer couldn’t settle on ‘interest’ as the perfect translation: it seemed clear at first but became streaky as he looked closer. ‘Usury’ is the obvious alternative, but are we to rely on the older sense of the term – any charge, however small, for the use of borrowed money – or on the way it’s understood today, as extortionate interest only? Wilson, a professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham who is intrigued by ‘the influences of religious belief on economic behaviour’, holds that riba is usury in the first sense. That’s the view of most practising Muslims; it seems to echo the meaning of the word in Deuteronomy, where Moses instructs the people of Israel not to lend to their own kith and kin at a rate: ‘Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury.’ Very close to ‘interest’ after all then.

Yet if, like Melanie Phillips, you believe Islamic banking in the UK merely hastens the day when a green flag is raised over Westminster, it’s important to think of ‘usury’ in the later sense, in order to insist that Muslim law is either deluded or deceitful: ‘The whole issue of sharia finance,’ Phillips wrote last year, ‘is based on a fabrication . . . sharia does not proscribe interest. It proscribes usury.’ Were riba just a term for exploitative lending, however, one or two countries might have shuffled nearer to a unitary sharia banking system. But the sharia has few attractions for exchequers and central banks in a modern economy, where the interest rate is a basic tool of monetary policy. The appeal of sharia-compliant banking and investing is in essence to the individual conscience.

The emphasis on risk-sharing in HSBC Amanah’s products – and all Islamic products – is related to the prohibition on interest: it’s obvious to the devout Muslim that collecting interest on a debt involves no risk worth the name; all that’s required, in this view, is for a creditor to sit back and wait. The exposure involved in the mere lending of money – self-evident to a non-Muslim – is an unticked box in Islamic tradition, while savings, for which non-Muslims see interest as a fair reward, give rise to worries about hoarding: money should be out there doing the work that enables trade to flourish. A Treasury expert would say Islamic tradition approves of narrow money; a historian would remember Bacon’s essay ‘Of Seditions and Troubles’ and his famous dictum that muck is ‘not good except it be spread’. (The essay goes on: ‘This is done chiefly by suppressing, or at the least keeping a strait hand upon the devouring trades of usury.’)

Risk-sharing, like generosity, puts human relations on an even keel in the Islamic view. A capitalist can weigh a risk but shouldn’t accept a promise from a partner to eliminate it: that would be ‘risk-transfer’, which denies the inherent truth of risk. (In the eyes of sharia scholars it also opens up a vista of potential exploitation, especially when risk is passed on in unknowable ways, say in the form of a mortgage-backed security with a dodgy rating.) No one must guarantee investors’ money, except against fraud.

Interest and risk-evasion are largely absent, Islamic investors believe, from the world of stocks and shares. To invest in a company is to sign up to joint ownership and collective risk, while ordinary shares pay dividends not interest. Even so, there are constraints. It is forbidden to invest in companies that have anything to do with gambling and you’re unlikely to find a business listed in the Dow Jones Islamic Markets indexes with more than a toehold in this area of the leisure industry. In sura 2 of the Koran, the evils of drinking and gambling are deemed to outweigh their benefits – though these are granted – and maisir (the drawing of arrows, like straws, to divine a course of action or simply to bet) is condemned in sura 5. There are other exclusions for devout shareholders. Clearly breweries and distilleries are off-limits, along with pork products. Pornography offends on three overlapping counts: shame, obscenity and baghi, loosely speaking, ‘transgression’, ‘injustice’ or ‘trespass’, anything intrusive then, from a misunderstanding of privacy to a foreign occupation. The DJIM indexes exclude most media businesses but also hotel chains, where minibars and adult channels lower the tone (basement gaming rooms too). Critically, daily trading in debt and riba makes almost all conventional financial institutions, including banks, unacceptable.

The way companies that survive this triage are run must next be examined closely. Sharia scholars are unlikely to approve of a firm whose clients owe it large amounts of money – ‘accounts receivable’ – or one that depends on high returns from interest. The bigger question, though, is a company’s financial structure – how much of its capital it has raised by borrowing and how much by selling its performance or potential in the form of share distributions. The DJIM board of sharia advisers screens out any company whose debt is higher than one third of its market capitalisation (a valuation based on the total number of shares issued times the prevailing share price).

Debt is a problem in its own right. Borrowing on a regular, matter-of-fact basis is open to question since sharia scholars are wary of conventional banking’s dependence on interbank borrowing. The ideal Islamic bank, Rodney Wilson told me, is financed entirely by its depositors’ money. In practice, there is plenty of imperfection, but a compliant bank will want to stay as close as possible to this model. Like riba, debt also raises fears about poverty and injustice (some Muslim NGOs are as evangelical about Third World debt as their Christian and secular counterparts). In the Hadith, debt presents a troubling face once the possibility of deferment arises, as it might with a debtor in difficulty. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to put off repayment? Does it matter whether the debtor is wealthy or poor? Bad faith is always threatening to break in on the relationship between a debtor and a creditor: a debtor says he can pay back a loan but how can he be sure? All this drags human relations into the realm of uncertainty – gharar – from which faith, the discourse of absolute certainty, was supposed to protect them. In commerce, gharar is best avoided. Whence the persistence of doubts about contracting for things that don’t (yet) exist: tradition might allow for a joiner taking orders on furniture he hadn’t yet made, but it disqualified the sale of a foal that was still in the body of the mare. Even the benign, textbook version of the forward contract – a farmer and a miller agreeing a grain price ahead of the harvest – brings a sense of uneasiness.

The concept of gharar doesn’t just apply to goods whose status is in doubt, but to bargains whose terms are ambiguous and contracting parties whose liability is vague. Though it’s often translated as ‘hazard’, it’s not the same as risk, which Muslim societies understand as well as anyone. Business risk is unavoidable and begins when a cargo plane taxis towards the runway. Gharar has more to do with the commercial imagination running ahead of itself: speculation still troubles Islamic scholars; many take a dim view not just of credit derivatives, the villains of the banking crisis, but of any instrument whose value is based on a contract for an underlying asset rather than the asset itself. This is changing, slowly, as a growing number of experts wrestle with intellectual tradition till they get to a place where derivatives, some in any case, appear acceptable. But no sharia adviser would approve of an Islamic financial institution bundling toxic mortgage debts into securities and packing them off to market, still less buying them up. To a conscientious Muslim, this is the perfect storm, in which opaque liabilities, the unknown nature of the underlying debt, fair-weather forecasts by ratings agencies, plus risk transfer and riba, conspire to wreck large parts of the fleet. Is there anyone clinging to the flotsam, post-9/15, who disagrees?

Non-Muslims will recognise the process of screening companies out of a portfolio: many charities and individuals have been doing it for years. The fashion in the West for Socially Responsible Investment (SRI), which gained ground in the 1980s and 90s, has become a model for Muslims. That’s the view of Mufti Barkatulla, a scholar trained in Uttar Pradesh, and now an adviser on several sharia boards in the UK, among them the Islamic Bank of Britain and Lloyds TSB. He points out that sharia scholars (including the ones who advise the DJIM) rule against investments in tobacco companies and arms manufacturers, even though Islam has no quarrel with either. The sharia is strictly speaking a matter of law, but sharia-compliance and SRI are, in Barkatulla’s sense of it, largely about the intimate decisions of prosperous individuals and the grandiose ‘ethical’ claims of big business. Sharia-compliance doesn’t have the boycott component that turns SRI from a sum of personal choices into a self-conscious movement. Opting away from a conventional current account is hardly the same as refusing to buy sugar grown by slaves, as the Quakers did in the 1790s, or divesting from companies with links to apartheid, as American universities did in the 1980s.

Even so, it’s sometimes seen as a front for Islamic supremacists scheming to overrun the West. The crusader-jihadist wars are a favourable habitat for this kind of idea, which feeds off suspicion and a regular diet of incidental detail. Eccentric Islamists announce that they hope to see Britain under a caliphate; angry groupuscules and male covens dabble in jihadist ideology and scour explosives websites; the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks aloud on Radio 4 about the sharia as ‘an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them’ and congratulates Muslims ‘on the faithful completion of Ramadan’ as though he were handing round the sherry on Easter Sunday. With all this and years of high-profile terrorist attacks, from New York to Lahore, plus two wars that have not gone well, a person in Birmingham seeking a fee-based home loan begins to look like the enemy.

Before the surge of Islamic banking, many devout Muslims shied away from banks: for the poorly educated, everything, even a non-interest-bearing current account, came under the general heading haram – ‘impermissible’. Banks dealt with interest, therefore Muslims shouldn’t deal with banks. Mufti Barkatulla told me he’d had to mediate in several cases where police raids had turned up large sums of money stashed in people’s homes. Sometimes, he remembered, people were holding £30,000 or more. To the police, this was deeply suspicious; in fact people were hoarding their way out of riba. One of the changes that sharia-compliant banking is bringing in Britain, Barkatulla believes, is that working-class Muslims, older ones especially, are at last shifting ‘from a cash-based to a cashless society’, as Muslim professionals and businessmen did years ago.

If Muslims can’t take part in a conventional economy without breaking the rules, at least they can compromise by keeping track of their infringements and ‘purifying’ the balance by charitable giving equivalent to the amounts in question. These self-administered transfusions are payable over and above the mandatory deduction, known as zakat, that devout Muslims must make and donate to charity in the space of a year. The most common zakat payment is 2.5 per cent per annum on cash, savings and investments less liabilities. (It can be a finicky piece of accounting; the ‘zakat calculator’ at http://www.ramadhanzone.com is worth a visit.) Unbelievers who worry that Muslims may not wish them well – a complicated piece of projection, but not wholly fantastic right now – should put a yellow highlight over the word zakat, and another over ‘purification’. Successful Muslims in the West remitting to the ‘poor’ and ‘needy’, as the rules require, are the worry here. Their money may well go to families of the unemployed in Bradford, NGOs in Kuala Lumpur or prosthetics clinics in Sarajevo, but it can also be headed in the direction of people under fire in the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir.

At the beginning of last year the Pakistani cleric Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani was a member of the sharia supervisory board at DJIM. A scholar, judge, financial expert and prolific writer, Usmani was also involved with a sharia-compliant mutual in Illinois which Dow had allowed to manage its ‘Islamic’ fund. But there were internet murmurings about Usmani and in the spring, the McCormick Foundation and the ultra-con Center for Security Policy held an anti-sharia finance workshop in Illinois where his published views about jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers came under scrutiny. Media attention now turned to the Illinois mutual. In 2007, somewhere in the sprawling paperwork for a federal ‘terror-funding’ trial in Dallas, it had been named by the government as an ‘un-indicted co-conspirator’ – one of about three hundred – with alleged links to the US Muslim Brotherhood. These, apparently, were forged via the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a US-based charity at the centre of the investigation. Usmani’s thoughts on the obligations of jihad – in the CPS presentation, they were non-ecumenical to say the least – have done sharia-compliant finance in the US very few favours; he’s no longer a DJIM adviser. As for the Illinois mutual, it’s had to call in the American Civil Liberties Union to help it restore its damaged reputation.

Last year, after a mistrial in 2007, a jury in Dallas found the HLF and five of its members guilty of funding Hamas to the tune of $12 million or more, even though the prosecution conceded that the money was spent on medical facilities and good works. But in the US, charitable gifts, purifications and zakat simply cannot go to Palestinians without donors risking a federal investigation. As David Feige explained in Slate after the mistrial, the HLF was accused of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation by helping it spread its ideology and recruit members. Translation: even those who support good works are guilty of terrorism if the good works make the terrorists look good.’

Governments may strive in their own jurisdictions to compound the hardships of the Palestinians; freedom-loving think tanks may vent their dismay (verging on disgust) about the rise of sharia-compliant mechanisms in the West; but it is too late to quarantine Islamic finance. Alongside the notional clash of civilisations and the real collisions, a very different encounter with Islam has taken place in the worlds of banking and finance. The constant exchange of money and ideas, the morphology of ingenious instruments that can accommodate a different philosophy of wealth-creation, the familiarity with Islamic tradition among conventional financiers and lawyers who draw them up – all this suggests a convergence both more real and less visible than anything that multiculturalism in the arts, the media or interfaith groups was meant to bring about. The old imperatives of trade and profit are at work here, but so is the recent radical style of the money culture itself.

The 1980s may have mourned the death of avant-gardes in the arts, but there was a thriving avant-garde in the City, which became a magnet for cadres of bright, ambitious, untried people with remote horizons, dealers sans frontières. By the end of the 1990s, this gilded bohemia had a good grasp of sharia-compliance and the breadth of modern, secular trading it could offer Muslims with qualms about the way their money had been doubled back in the 1970s. There were fortunes to be made, and an intellectual challenge in the air. The idea that Islamic finance was out to hobble Western values – ‘financial jihad’, as the Center for Security Policy calls it – was greeted with scepticism, even a subversive ‘So what?’ Radical innovation was the watchword and the search was on for complex products that could lock more and more transactions into a compliant framework. Since last September, the dangers of innovation have become clear and the ideal of reckless creativity has taken a hammering.

The world of sharia-compliant finance is largely unscathed: Islamic banks in the Middle and Far East have not followed the low collateral/high borrowing regimes favoured by their conventional competitors at home and abroad; Islamic principles have denied investors any real access to shares in the banking sector and thus any exposure to toxic debt. Yet there is still a hunger for access and experimentation – what Mufti Barkatulla describes, enthusiastially, as a willingness to take risks with interpretation itself; ‘sharia risk’, as he calls it – and a fascination with the sums of money that have been made on markets forbidden to Muslims. To that extent, convergence is still the order of the day, as sharia-compliancy wizards, Muslim and non-Muslim, seek to open up the trade in derivatives to the small but growing number of devout investors who can be persuaded to bid for a calf while the camel is still in labour.

Jeremy Harding is a contributing editor at the LRB. His versions of Rimbaud’s poetry are published by Penguin along with John Sturrock’s translation of the letters.

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