Monday, November 29, 2010
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.
Abdullah declared: "May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil. We have had correct relations over the years, but the bottom line is that they cannot be trusted." US diplomats recorded similar comments earlier this year from the United Arab Emirates, described as being "46 seconds from Iran as measured by the flight time of a ballistic missile". Abu Dhabi's crown prince and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, referred to Iran as an "existential threat" and was concerned about "getting caught in the crossfire if Iran is provoked by the US or Israel". In one earlier conversation Bin Zayed even suggested that the US should send in ground forces if air strikes were not enough to "take out" Iranian nuclear targets.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
By Lauren Booth
It is the most peculiar journey of my life. The carriage is warm and my fellow passengers unexpectedly welcoming. We are progressing rapidly and without delay. Rain, snow, rail unions, these things make no difference to the forward rush.
Yet I have no idea how I came to be on board nor, stranger still, quite where the train is heading, apart from this: the destination, wherever it might be, is the most important place I can imagine.
I know this all seems gloriously far-fetched, but really it is how I feel about my conversion, announced last week, to Islam.
'My father was an alcoholic so if I'm going to avoid the stuff what could be better?'
Although the means and mechanisms that brought me to this point remain mysterious, the decision will determine every aspect of my life to come as firmly as the twin rails beneath that exhilarating express.
Asked for a simple explanation of how I, an English hack journalist, a single working mother, signed up to the Western media's least-favourite religion, I suppose I would point to an intensely spiritual experience in an Iranian mosque just over a month ago.
But it makes more sense to go back to January 2005, when I arrived alone in the West Bank to cover the elections there for The Mail on Sunday. It is safe to say that before that visit I had never spent any time with Arabs, or Muslims.
More...'I would do anything for Cherie. Lauren? I don't even love her': Tony Booth reveals the diverse emotions he feels for two of his daughters
The whole experience was a shock, but not for the reasons I might have expected. So much of what we know about this part of the world and the people who follow Mohammed the Prophet is based on disturbing - some would say biased - news bulletins.
So, as I flew towards the Middle East, my mind was full of the usual 10pm buzzwords: radical extremists, fanatics, forced marriages, suicide bombers and jihad. Not much of a travel brochure.
My very first experience, though, could hardly have been more positive. I had arrived on the West Bank without a coat, as the Israeli airport authorities had kept my suitcase.
Walking around the centre of Ramallah, I was shivering, whereupon an old lady grabbed my hand.
Back in the day: Lauren and her father looking close before she her interest in Islam grew
Talking rapidly in Arabic, she took me into a house on a side street. Was I being kidnapped by a rather elderly terrorist? For several confusing minutes I watched her going through her daughter's wardrobe until she pulled out a coat, a hat and a scarf.
I was then taken back to the street where I had been walking, given a kiss and sent warmly on my way. There had been not a single comprehensible word exchanged between us.
It was an act of generosity I have never forgotten, and one which, in various guises, I have seen repeated a hundred times. Yet this warmth of spirit is so rarely represented in what we read and see in the news.
Over the course of the next three years I made numerous journeys to the occupied lands which were once historic Palestine. At first I went on assignments; as time went by, I started travelling in solidarity with charities and pro-Palestinian groups.
I felt challenged by the hardships suffered by Palestinians of all creeds. It is important to remember there have been Christians in the Holy Land for 2,000 years and that they too are suffering under Israel's illegal occupation.
Gradually I found expressions such as 'Mashallah!' (a phrase of gratitude meaning 'God has willed it') and 'Al Hamdillilah!' (akin to 'Hallelujah') creeping into my everyday speech. These are exclamations of delight derived from the 100 names of God, or Allah. Far from being nervous of Muslim groups, I started looking forward to meeting them. It was an opportunity to be with people of intelligence, wit and, above all else, kindness and generosity.
I'm going to take a break here to pray for ten minutes as it's 1.30pm. (There are five prayers each day, the times varying throughout the year depending on the rising and setting of the sun.)
I was in no doubt that I had embarked on a change of political understanding, one in which Palestinians became families rather than terror suspects, and Muslim cities communities rather than 'collateral damage'.
Tony Booth with the only daughter he is said he is proud of, Cherie Blair
But a religious journey? This would never have occurred to me. Although I have always liked to pray and, since childhood, have enjoyed the stories of Jesus and the more ancient prophets that I had picked up at school and at the Brownies, I was brought up in a very secular household.
It was probably an appreciation of Muslim culture, in particular that of Muslim women, that first drew me towards a broader appreciation of Islam.
How strange Muslim women seem to English eyes, all covered up from head to toe, sometimes walking behind their husbands (although this is far from universally the case), with their children around their long skirts.
By contrast, professional women in Europe are happy to make the most of their appearance. I, for example, have always been proud of my lovely blonde hair and,
yes, my cleavage.
It was common working practice to have this on display at all times because so much of what we sell these days has to do with our appearance.
Yet whenever I have been invited to broadcast on television, I have sat watching in wonder as the female presenters spend up to an hour on their hair and make- up, before giving the serious topics under discussion less than 15 minutes' attention. Is this liberation? I began to wonder just how much true respect girls and women get in our 'free' society.
In 2007 I went to Lebanon. I spent four days with female university students, all of whom wore the full hijab: belted shirts over dark trousers or jeans, with no hair on show. They were charming, independent and outspoken company. They were not at all the timid, soon-to-be-forced-into-marriage girls I would have imagined from what we often read in the West.
At one point they accompanied me to interview a sheikh who was also a commander with the Hezbollah militia. I was pleasantly surprised by his attitude to the girls. As Sheikh Nabil, in turban and brown flowing robes, talked intriguingly of a prisoner swap, they started butting in. They felt free to talk over him, to put a hand up for him to pause while they translated.
HOW WE BROKE THE STORY AND WHAT LAUREN'S CRITICS SAID
'There is quite a lot that could be said about anyone who converts to Islam in Iran under the impression that it is less inhumane than New Labour, but as a piece of theatre, Lauren Booth's conversion could hardly be beaten.'
Andrew Brown's blog,
'I can't help but feel a pang
of sorrow that an educated female from the free West, however well-intentioned, wants to embrace a religion whose hardline adherents appear to
have so little respect
Jan Moir, Daily Mail
'Can you really claim
to have converted to Islam when you've only read the first 60 pages
of the Koran? What if you don't like the ending?'
High Street Ken diary,
'A woman, choosing to
act as a front for a gang
of thugs who uphold the punishment of death by stoning for adulteresses.
This is surely Stockholm Syndrome gone gaga.'
Julie Burchill, The Independent
'It's baffling how a journalist could visit a country with
Iran's appalling human rights record and not be moved to report on the injustices
suffered by its people.'
'Could I start a fund for
a full veil?'
Janet Street-Porter, Daily Mail
In fact, the bossiness of Muslim women is something of a joke that rings true in so many homes in the community. You want to see men under the thumb? Look at many Muslim husbands more than other kinds.
Indeed, just yesterday, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia rang me and only half-jokingly introduced himself as 'my wife's husband'.
Something else was changing, too. The more time I spent in the Middle East, the more I asked to be taken into mosques. Just for touristy reasons, I told myself. In fact I found them fascinating.
Free of statues and with rugs instead of pews, I saw them rather like a big sitting room where children play, women feed their families pitta bread and milk and grandmothers sit and read the Koran in wheelchairs. They take their lives into their place of worship and bring their worship into their homes.
Then came the night in the Iranian city of Qom, beneath the golden dome of the shrine of Fatima Mesumah (the revered 'Learned Lady'). Like the other women pilgrims, I said Allah's name several times while holding on to the bars of Fatima's tomb.
When I sat down, a pulse of sheer spiritual joy shot through me. Not the joy that lifts you off the ground, but the joy that gives you complete peace and contentment. I sat for a long time. Young women gathered around me talking of the 'amazing thing happening to you'.
I knew then I was no longer a tourist in Islam but a traveller inside the Ummah, the community of Islam that links all believers.
At first I wanted the feeling to go, and for several reasons. Was I ready to convert? What on earth would friends and family think? Was I ready to moderate my behaviour in many ways?
And here's the really strange thing. I needn't have worried about any of these things, because somehow becoming a Muslim is really easy - although the practicalities are a very different matter, of course.
For a start, Islam demands a great deal of study, yet I am mother to two children and work full-time. You are expected to read the Koran from beginning to end, plus the thoughts and findings of imams and all manner of spiritually enlightened people. Most people would spend months, if not years of study before making their declaration.
People ask me how much of the Koran I've read, and my answer is that I've only covered 100 pages or so to date, and in translation. But before anyone sneers, the verses of the Koran should be read ten lines at a time, and they should be recited, considered and, if possible, committed to memory. It's not like OK! magazine.
This is a serious text that I am going to know for life. It would help to learn Arabic and I would like to, but that will also take time.
I have a relationship with a couple of mosques in North London, and I am hoping to make a routine of going at least once a week. I would never say, by the way, whether I will take a Sunni or a Shia path. For me, there is one Islam and one Allah.
Adopting modest dress, however, is rather less troublesome than you might think. Wearing a headscarf means I'm ready to go out more quickly than before. I was blushing the first time I wore it loosely over my hair just a few weeks ago.
Luckily it was cold outside, so few people paid attention. Going out in the sunshine was more of a challenge, but this is a tolerant country and no one has looked askance so far.
Change of lifestyle: Lauren enjoying a drink with Chris Evans at the 1998 Labour conference
A veil, by the way, is not for me, let alone something more substantial like a burka. I'm making no criticism of women who choose that level of modesty. But Islam has no expectation that I will adopt a more severe form of dress.
Predictably, some areas of the Press have had a field day with my conversion, unleashing a torrent of abuse that is not really aimed at me but a false idea of Islam.
But I have ignored the more negative comments. Some people don't understand spirituality and any discussion of it makes them frightened. It raises awkward questions about the meaning of their own lives and they lash out.
One of my concerns is professional. It is easy to get pigeonholed, particularly if I continue to wear a headscarf. In fact, based on the experience of other female converts, I'm wondering if I will be treated as though I have lost my mind.
I've been political all my life, and that will continue. I've been involved in pro-Palestinian activism for a number of years, and don't expect to stop. Yet Britain is a more tolerant country than, say, France or Germany.
I'm well aware that there are plenty of Muslim women who have great success on television and in the Press, and wear modest but decidedly Western dress.
This is hardly a choice for me, though. I am a newcomer, still getting to grips with the basic tenets. My relationship with Islam is different. I am in no position to say that some bits of my new-found faith suit me and that some bits I'll ignore.
There is a more profound uncertainty about the future, too. I feel changes going on in me every day - that I'm becoming a different person. I wonder where that will end up. Who will I be?
I am fortunate in that my most important relationships remain strong. The reaction from my non-Muslim friends has been more curious than hostile. 'Will it change you?' they ask. 'Can we still be your friend? Can we go out drinking?'
The answer to the first two of those questions is yes. The last is a big happy no.
As for my mother, I think she is happy if I'm happy. And if, coming from a background of my father's alcoholism, I'm going to avoid the stuff, then what could be better?
Growing up in an alcoholic household with a dad who was violent, has left a great gap in my life. It is a wound that will never heal and his remarks about me are very hurtful.
We haven't seen each other for years, so how can he know anything about me or have any valid views about my conversion? I just feel sorry for him. The rest of my family is very supportive.
My mum and I had a difficult relationship when I was growing up, but we have built bridges and she's a great support to me and the girls.
When I told her I had converted, she did say: 'Not to those nutters. I thought you said Buddhism!' But she understand now and accepts it.
And, as it happens, giving up alcohol was a breeze. In fact I can't imagine tasting alcohol ever again. I simply don't want to.
Wrapping up: Sister of Cherie Blair wears the traditional Hijab headwear since she has converted to Islam
This is not the time for me to be thinking about relationships with men, either. I'm recovering from the breakdown of my marriage and am now going through a divorce.
So I'm not looking and am under no pressure to look.
If, when the time came, I did consider remarrying, then, in accordance with my adopted faith, the husband would need to be Muslim.
I'm asked: 'Will my daughters be Muslim?' I don't know, that is up to them. You can't change someone's heart. But they're certainly not hostile and their reaction to my surprising conversion was perhaps the most telling of all.
I sat in the kitchen and called them in. 'Girls, I have some news for you,' I began. 'I am now a Muslim.' They went into a huddle, with the eldest, Alex, saying: 'We have some questions, we'll be right back.'
They made a list and returned. Alex cleared her throat. 'Will you drink alcohol any more?'
Answer: No. The response - a rather worrying 'Yay!'
'Will you smoke cigarettes any more?' Smoking isn't haram (forbidden) but it is harmful, so I answered: 'No.'
Again, this was met with puritanical approval. Their final question, though, took me aback. 'Will you have your breasts out in public now you are a Muslim?'
It seems they'd both been embarrassed by my plunging shirts and tops and had cringed on the school run at my pallid cleavage. Perhaps in hindsight I should have cringed as well.
'Now that I'm Muslim,' I said, 'I will never have my breasts out in public again.'
'We love Islam!' they cheered and went off to play. And I love Islam too.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The Person Performing Hajj, Umrah or Jihad
These three types of people have all left their homes solely for the sake of performing an act of worship to please Allah, and, thus, they are like Allah's guests. Therefore, as soon as they leave their homes, they are under the special protection and care of Allah.
The Prophet(saw) said:
"The person who is fighting in the way of Allah, and the person going for Hajj, and the person going for 'Umrah are (like) Allah's delegates. Their du'as are responded to, and their requests are given."
Such is the Mercy and Generosity of Allah that he considers these three people to be like His delegates, and treats them with the utmost kindness, granting their every request.
Allah(swt) knows the best
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FACEBOOK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I marked my one-year anniversary on Facebook by deactivating my account. I then sent a message to my inner circle to herald the event: “In keeping with what I imagine is good Facebook etiquette, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t ‘dropped’ you as a friend or anything juvenile like that, but I don’t want to be on Facebook anymore, so I have deactivated my account. It goes without saying, however, that I would be delighted to hear all your innermost thoughts, desires, hopes and dreams via the old fashioned mode of email, or via text; or, if we’re talking serious old-school, on the telephone.”
I never wanted to sign up in the first place. Facebook is the embodiment of all that I loathe. I did eventually, however, because I thought I was missing out on a cultural phenomenon. But once I’d experienced it and had the opportunity to reconnect with people whom I hadn’t been in touch with for ages, I was done. Or at least I thought I was until I discovered that I was the only one among certain circles of my friends not learning of major events happening in the lives of some of them, because Facebook was the only venue these people saw fit to impart such news. And so I reactivated my account (it all sprang back onto the screen as if I had never left – it hadn’t been deactivated so much as taken a long nap) but clicked every privacy setting I could get my fingertips on.
As far as I’m concerned, Facebook is a place where people sign up to have their privacy completely invaded. And it’s not enough to reveal every last aspect of your own life. It seems part of the deal is to reveal your mates’ stuff, too, whether they’re into that or not. With that in mind, I propose a sort of abridged Emily Post style guide to Facebook behaviour:
1. When someone’s family member dies, it’s not appropriate to post your condolences on his or her wall. The place where people write idiotic responses to other peoples’ status lines or suggest meeting up for a coffee or yoga class (see suggestion number 2) should not be the same place where you express your empathy about the loss of that person’s loved one. It’s classless, tactless and makes you look like you need everyone else to know how thoughtful you are. Like giving to charity, your message to that person should not be the subject of a public forum.
2. I don’t want all 378 of my “friends” and many of their friends, not to mention your friends, to know that we will be meeting for coffee tomorrow. I’m quite happy for just you and me to be privy to that scintillating nugget of information. Why do people want to make the most banal type of private arrangement a public event? Please will someone explain this to me.
3. Likewise, if I’ve had flu, I’d prefer you not enquire on my wall whether I’m feeling better. I’m delighted to receive your well wishes via email or text or private message on Facebook. I don’t necessarily want people I haven’t seen fit to tell to know about my health.
4. Relentless giving of virtual potted plants, strange looking furry creatures and invitations to find out which character in Sex and the City I’m most like, or which drink I would be were I to be an alcoholic beverage are bloody annoying and make me want to rethink our friendship. Let me state unequivocally that were I to resemble Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte or Samantha in any way, I would be reaching for a five-gallon jug of whichever drink I’d be were I to be an alcoholic beverage.
My feelings on Facebook were confirmed by watching The Social Network. The feature film based on the book written about the website’s start illustrates how a handful of brilliant young guys, with Mark Zuckerberg at the centre, created and built a business that eventually captured the imagination of the world. On a CNBC guest blog, Eduardo Saverin, who was Zuckerberg’s best friend at Harvard and his Facebook co-founder, said: “While watching the ‘Hollywood version’ of one’s college life is both humbling and entertaining, I hope that this film inspires countless others to create and take that leap to start a new business. With a little luck, you might even change the world.” That’s a lovely thought, but it’s highly unlikely. While those guys spent their spare time furiously focused on producing something original and innovative, the 500 million users of their product use it to spend much of their spare time gawping at other people’s drunken holiday snaps. A friend of mine seems to have no shortage of time to update her status, comment on other peoples’ status and post numerous pictures of her children, but never seems to have time to read a newspaper or fit in a dinner arrangement with real-life friends that’s been planned a month in advance.
There’s a fantastic Bill Gates story from when he was in high school, whether it’s apocryphal or not. His parents knock on his bedroom door and ask him what he’s doing in there all the time. “I’m thinking,” he says. “You should try it sometime”. Facebook is a wonderful tool for sucking away hours on utter mind rot. Zuckerberg has created a legacy but, in doing so, he has diminished the potential legacies of the 500 million people tapping into his.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
War on terror: the way forwardAtul Aneja
In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, the Obama administration should convince Muslims as well as the rest of the world that the war on terror is not a crusade against Islam.
Advocates of the global war on terror are congratulating one another on the successful interception of two parcel bombs, originating from Yemen and bound for two Jewish organisations in Chicago. A Qatar Airlines passenger flight first ferried one of the deadly packages to Doha, from where it transited to Dubai. Only a timely tip-off, apparently by the Saudi intelligence, enabled the authorities to locate the bomb inside a FedEx warehouse at the Dubai airport. The second parcel bomb booked by the logistics firm, UPS, was identified at the British East Midlands airport. The Yemeni and Saudi branches of the al-Qaeda, which have amalgamated into the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
Last year Nigerian bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who also spent time with the AQAP in Yemen, narrowly missed blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land at Detroit on Christmas Day.
While the two foiled plots out ofYemen are counted by many in the West as battles won, victory in the war on terror is nowhere on the horizon. On the contrary, the tactics in the counter-terror campaign are alienating and radicalising many Muslims across the globe, especially in West Asia and Europe. As a result, terrorism is expanding, not shrinking as envisaged by the architects of the war on terror unleashed with much fanfare and fury following the horrific 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Terrorism breeds on hatred of the American. Unless the animosity towards the U.S. is diminished, the threat of a grandiose and carefully planned terror strike that will sow fear and rage in the collective western psyche and further polarise a deeply divided globe cannot be ruled out. The failed attacks from Yemen should, therefore, be seen as a cause for deeper introspection. Unless the Americans work out and implement a concerted plan, founded on fairness and justice, it may only be a matter of time before terror strikes with deadly effect in some vulnerable corner of the western world.
After the eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush, whose deeply divisive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq witnessed a concurrent surge in Islamophobia in the West and Muslim radicalisation in large parts of the globe, Barack Obama had a golden opportunity to heal some of the wounds. After a bright start, when he stirringly sought to engage the Muslim world on the principles of mutual respect and equality during his famed Cairo University address, the young American President failed to undertake the promised course correction. With the charismatic aura of his first few months in office fading, President Obama's chances of reworking a harmonious relationship with West Asia have been diminishing precipitously. After the drubbing of his Democratic Party in this month's midterm elections, he is confronted by a Congress that is led by a resurgent Republican Party. The Republicans are bound to discourage him from reaching out to the region on terms which are less lop-sided in favour of Israel, the U.S.' core ally. Yet, if the war on terror is not to be lost, Mr. Obama may have no choice but boldly re-engaging with West Asia, irrespective of the sweeping resistance he encounters from mainstream Israel and its neoconservative and Christian-Right allies in the U.S., who are so inextricably tied to the highly partisan but emboldened Republican Party.
Faced with this formidable phalanx of resistance, what can President Obama do to win the war on terror? In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, his administration should convince the vast multitude of Muslims as well as the rest of the world that the war on terror is not a crusade against Islam. This will not be easy to accomplish, as the psyche of the people in the region is still traumatised by the images of torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and the horror stories emerging out of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Among the substantial steps President Obama can take to turn the tide of the war is fulfilling his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It will go a long way in taking some of the sting out of the virulent anti-Americanism that makes sizable sections of Muslim youth susceptible to the al-Qaeda's poisonous appeal.
Second, more evidence now emerges that the Predator drone strikes, expanded on a significant scale by President Obama, are proving counterproductive. The attacks, no doubt, are killing some terrorists but are also motivating far larger numbers to join the terrorist ranks. In a recent article published by the Inter-Press Service (IPS), investigative historian Gareth Porter points out that CIA officers involved in the agency's drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere “are privately expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency, because it is helping the al-Qaeda and its allies recruit.” The article quotes Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to the U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University, San Antonio, as saying that some of the “CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it [Predator strike] is doing more harm than good.”
Given this negative fallout, the Obama administration may find it prudent to restrict the drone attack programme. The U.S. could, instead, find the expansion of its diplomatic engagement in Afghanistan far more rewarding. Without abandoning Pakistan, Washington may make much headway in Afghanistan by drawing more prominently into the diplomatic domain regional players such as Iran, India, Russia and Central Asian countries so that a far larger section of the Afghan population is more significantly engaged.
Third, the Americans have no choice but to negotiate with Iran if they wish to experience lower levels of hostility in the region. Iran, soon after its revolution of 1979, has been engaged in an anti-American campaign. And with the substantial expansion of its influence in recent years from the Hindukush mountain ranges to the Mediterranean coast of Levant, its war of words with Washington has acquired new teeth.
The U.S.' coercive diplomacy, centred around the denial of petrol this year to Iran, has not worked well enough. By modifying their petrochemical plants, the Iranians have refined additional crude, which not only meets their domestic consumption requirements but also generates a surplus to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan, Iraq and Armenia. Except for the Israeli-Right that is currently in power, and its diehard defenders in the U.S., who believe that the destruction of the Iranian regime is a sacred messianic undertaking, there may not be many professional military officers in the Pentagon who would see a war against Iran, based on military air strikes, as a realistic option. The Iranian nuclear facilities, likely to be the prime targets, are too widely dispersed to be demolished by aerial strikes, however destructive the weaponry is. Besides, air attacks against Iran, and the retaliation that will follow are likely to push up oil prices to unprecedented levels; something which a recession-hit U.S. and its allied economies will find hard to endure.
Finally, the war on terror has a political front which needs to be tackled with far greater urgency and intensity than has been done by the Obama administration. The theft of occupied Palestinian land for frenzied Israeli construction has sharpened the agony of the Palestinians who have already been uprooted from their land by the pogroms unleashed by the Israeli military in 1948 and 1967. Like the previous U.S. governments, the inability or unwillingness of the Obama administration to confront Israel for its gross misdemeanours against Palestinians, the symbol of Arab hopes, aspirations, collective guilt and humiliations, is bound to remain an enduring source of animosity towards the U.S.
President Obama has shown that he has the intellectual measure of the impediments to the war on terror. It would, nevertheless, be surprising if he musters the courage to work robustly for the removal of these obstacles so that a region scarred by extreme violence and suffering can begin to witness the end of its prolonged nightmare.
Friday sermon stirs millions in Makkah
MAKKAH: About two million pilgrims listened with rapt attention to Imam Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais’ soul-stirring 40-minute sermon on Friday from the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The sermon was carried live on state television and many Arab, African and Asian television stations. On many occasions during the sermon the congregation was reduced to tears as the imam spoke about the tough times that Islam faces in these critical times.
Calling for the liberation of Palestine, Al-Sudais said now is the time for Palestinian factions to bury their differences.
“These differences have only added to the miseries of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. This inhuman blockade has made life hellish for them. Now is the time for Muslim countries to unify their ranks and liberate Palestinians from the shackles of this inhuman bondage,” he said. “All differences among regional countries should be and can be resolved in the true spirit of Islam. The best example of our unity is this congregation in which every Muslim from every corner is united through the love of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Holy Qur’an.”
Al-Sudais described Palestine as the single biggest problem confronting the nation of Islam.
“Every day brings a new form of misery for them,” he said, breaking down in tears. “O Allah, unite all Muslim nations.”
The congregation responded with a vociferous “Aameen.”
The imam repeatedly stressed the value of unity. “Our divisions have given our adversaries the ruse to exploit us. We are fragmented despite being in such a large number. Unity is the key to our well-being. The message of Haj is unity. Let us pray for the unification of Muslims throughout the planet.”
The imam also stressed the need for hope and optimism with trust in Allah at all times of adversity. He quoted the Holy Qur’an: “And never give up hope in God’s soothing mercy: Truly no one despairs of God’s soothing mercy except those who have no faith.”
Al-Sudais congratulated the pilgrims for undertaking the most important journey of their lives. “This was your lifelong dream. You always wanted to be here. You always wanted to carry out this important task of Haj. Well, here you are in the holy land. You are lucky. It is all due to the blessings of Allah the Almighty. I congratulate you.From here you should take the most important message of Islam and that is tawheed (the oneness of Allah).”
Referring to Iraq, he said the cycle of unending wars has destroyed that nation. “Again, it is the lack of unity and petty issues that have been responsible for the tragedy in Iraq,” he said.
Al-Sudais thanked the Saudi leadership, led by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, for landmark projects to provide ease and comfort to the pilgrims during the various rituals of Haj.
“The train services for pilgrims that go into operation this year are a remarkable achievement. May Allah protect this leadership, and may He grant them long life,” he said.
The Makkah Metro is ready to service pilgrims during this Haj. Saudi Arabia has poured billions of riyals into various infrastructure projects in Makkah, Mina and Arafat. The cost of such projects has never been passed onto the pilgrims.
Al-Sudais also paid rich tribute to all those Saudis who have dedicated themselves into the service of pilgrims. “You deserve congratulations for helping the guests of God. Allah has bestowed this rare honor on you to help the pilgrims, and you have not let the pilgrims down. May Allah keep you safe.”
“I've never experienced such calmness,” retired Nigerian military officer Salisu Ali said of Al-Sudais’ sermon. “I don’t speak Arabic nor do I understand it, but the verses that he was quoting from the Qur’an are all too familiar to us. And I could understand in what context he was quoting them. I couldn’t control my tears because everyone was crying. The sheikh moved us all.”
An aged Pakistani woman, Begum Jahanara Sarwat, said she never felt such peace.
“We keep hearing all these bad stories and depressing events," she said. "However, today I did not feel weak at all. Why should I? We are this many people,” she added as she gestured to the throng of faithful. “Is it possible for our enemies to destroy us? These are momentary setbacks, my son. Don’t lose hope. Allah se acche ki ummeed rakho (Expect good from Allah)."
Every corner of the Grand Mosque was filled by pilgrims as early as 10 a.m. even though the time for Friday prayer was scheduled for 12:05 p.m. The relatively hot weather did not deter the pilgrims from performing the prayer on roads and in alleyways surrounding the mosque.
The congregation thinned an hour after the prayer, and outside the mosque pigeons fluttered past the minarets and swooped down on any vacant space available in the mosque’s massive courtyard.
Spirituality combined with anxiety was evident on many pilgrims’ faces. With just 24 hours remaining before pilgrims begin the trek to the valley of Mina in the first leg of the five-day journey, the pilgrims’ minds are clearly focused on the rituals that they will perform in fulfillment of their obligations.
“We are a little anxious. Being in Makkah is an overwhelming experience," said Syed Abbas, an elderly Indian man making his first pilgrimage. "There are so many people here. We come from a small town. Even performing circumambulation or tawaf is a big task."
Friday, November 12, 2010
Etiquette of Eid
What are the Sunnahs and etiquettes that we should act in accordance with on the day of Eid?.
Praise be to Allaah.
The Sunnahs that the Muslim should observe on the day of Eid are as follows:
1 - Doing ghusl before going out to the prayer. It was narrated in a saheeh hadeeth in al-Muwatta' and elsewhere that 'Abd-Allaah ibn 'Umar used to do ghusl on the day of al-Fitr before going out to the prayer-place in the morning. Al-Muwatta' 428.
Al- Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said that the Muslims were unanimously agreed that it is mustahabb to do ghusl for Eid prayer. The reason why it is mustahabb is the same reason as that for doing ghusl before Jumu'ah and other public gatherings. Rather on Eid the reason is even stronger.
2 - Eating before going out to pray on Eid al-Fitr and after the prayer on Eid al-Adha: Part of the etiquette is not to go out to pray on Eid al-Fitr until one has eaten some dates, because of the hadeeth narrated by al-Bukhaari from Anas ibn Maalik, who said that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used not to go out on the morning of Eid al-Fitr until he had eaten some dates. of which he would eat an odd number. Al-Bukhaari, 953. It is mustahabb to eat before going out to emphasize the fact that it is forbidden to fast on that day and to demonstrate that the fast has ended. Ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) suggested that the reason for that was so as to ward off the possibility of adding to the fast, and to hasten to obey the command of Allaah. Al-Fath, 2/446 Whoever does not have any dates may break his fast with anything that is permissible. But on Eid al-Adha it is mustahabb not to eat anything until one comes back from the prayer, so he should eat from the udhiyah if he has offered a sacrifice. If he is not going to offer a sacrifice there is nothing wrong with eating before the prayer.
3 - Takbeer on the day of Eid
This is one of the greatest Sunnahs on the day of Eid because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): "(He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allaah [i.e. to say Takbeer (Allaahu Akbar: Allaah is the Most Great)] for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him"
It was narrated that al-Waleed ibn Muslim said: I asked al-Awzaa'i and Maalik ibn Anas about saying Takbeer out loud on the two Eids. They said, Yes, 'Abd-Allaah ibn 'Umar used to say it out loud on the day of al-Fitr until the imam came out (to lead the prayers). It was narrated in a saheeh report that 'Abd al-Rahmaan al-Sulami said, "They emphasized it more on the day of al-Fitr than the day of al-Adha.". Wakee' said, this refers to the takbeer. See Irwa' al-Ghaleel, 3/122/ Al-Daaraqutni and others narrated that on the morning of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Ibn 'Umar would strive hard in reciting takbeer until he came to the prayer place, then he would recite takbeer until the imam came out. Ibn Abi Shaybah narrated with a saheeh isnaad that al-Zuhri said: The people used to recite Takbeer on Eid when they came out of their houses until they came to the prayer place, and until the imam came out. When the imam came out they fell silent, and when he said takbeer they said takbeer. See Irwa' al-Ghaleel, 1/121 Saying takbeer when coming out of one's house to the prayer place and until the imam came out was something that was well known among the salaf (early generations). This has been narrated by a number of scholars such as Ibn Abi Shaybah, 'Abd a l-Razzaaq and al-Firyaabi in Ahkaam al-Eidayn from a group of the salaf. For example, Naafi' ibn Jubayr used to recite takbeer and was astonished that the people did not do so, and he said, "Why do you not recite takbeer?" Ibn Shihaab al-Zuhri (may Allaah have mercy on him) used to say, "The people used to recite takbeer from the time they came out of their houses until the imam came in." The time for takbeer on Eid al-Fitr starts from the night before Eid until the imam enters to lead the Eid prayer. In the case of Eid al-Adha, the takbeer begins on the first day of Dhu'l-Hijjah and lasts until sunset on the last of the days of tashreeq. Description of the takbeer: It was narrated in the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah with a saheeh isnaad from Ibn Mas'ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he used to recite takbeer during the days of tashreeq: Allaahu akbar, Allaahu akbar, laa ilaaha ill-Allaah, wa Allaahu akbar, Allaah akbar, wa Lillaah il-hamd (Allaah is Most Great, Allaah is most Great, there is no god but Allaah, Allaah is Most great, Allaah is most great, and to Allaah be praise). It was also narrated elsewhere by Ibn Abi Shaybah with the same isnaad, but with the phrase "Allaahu akbar" repeated three times. Al-Mahaamili narrated with a saheeh isnaad also from Ibn Mas'ood: "Allaahu akbaru kabeera, Allaahu akbaru kabeera, Allaahu akbar wa ajallu, Allaahu akbar wa Lillaah il-hamd (Allaah is Most Great indeed, Allaah is Most Great indeed, Allaah is most Great and Glorified, Allaah is Most Great and to Allaah be praise)." See al-Irwa', 3/126.
4 - Offering congratulations
The etiquette of Eid also includes the congratulations and good wishes exchanged by people, no matter what the wording, such as saying to one another Taqabbala Allaah minna wa minkum (May Allaah accept (good deeds) from us and from you" or "Eid mubaarak" and other permissible expressions of congratulations. It was narrated that Jubayr ibn Nufayr said: When the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) met one another on the day of Eid, they would say to one another, "May Allaah accept (good deeds) from us and from you." Ibn Hajar said, its isnaad is hasan. Al-Fath, 2/446. Offering congratulations was something that was well known among the Sahaabah, and scholars such as Imam Ahmad and others allowed it. There is evidence which suggests that it is prescribed to offer congratulations and good wishes on special occasions, and that the Sahaabah congratulated one another when good things happened, such as when Allaah accepted the repentance of a man, they went and congratulated him for that, and so on. Undoubtedly these congratulations are among the noble characteristics among the Muslims. The least that may be said concerning the subject of congratulations is that you should return the greetings of those who congratulate you on Eid, and keep quiet if others keep quiet, as Imam Ahmad (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: If anyone congratulates you, then respond, otherwise do not initiate it.
5 - Adorning oneself on the occasion of Eid. It was narrated that 'Abd-Allaah ibn 'Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said that 'Umar took a brocade cloak that was for sale in the market and brought it to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and said, "O Messenger of Allaah, buy this and adorn yourself with it for Eid and for receiving the delegations." The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to him, "Rather this is the dress of one who has no share (of piety or of reward in the Hereafter)." Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 948. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) agreed with 'Umar on the idea of adorning oneself for Eid, but he criticized him for choosing this cloak because it was made of silk. It was narrated that Jaabir (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had a cloak which he would wear on the two Eids and on Fridays. Saheeh Ibn Khuzaymah, 1756, Al-Bayhaqi narrated with a saheeh isnaad that Ibn 'Umar used to wear his best clothes on Eid. So a man should wear the best clothes that he has when going out for Eid. With regard to women, they should avoid adorning themselves when they go out for Eid, because they are forbidden to show off their adornments to non-mahram men.
6 - Going to the prayer by one route and returning by another. It was narrated that Jaabir ibn 'Abd-Allaah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: On the day of Eid, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to vary his route. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 986. It was said that the reason for that was so that the two routes would testify for him on the Day of Resurrection, for the earth will speak on the Day of Resurrection and say what was done on it, both good and bad. And it was said that it was in order to manifest the symbols of Islam on both routes, or to manifest the remembrance of Allaah (dhikr), and demonstrate the strength of the believers. And it was said that it was in order to attend to the people's needs, to answer their questions, teach them, set an example and give charity to the needy, or to visit his relatives and uphold the ties of kinship.
And Allaah knows best.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Kudos to Arundhati for speaking up against oppression. Also shows how fake these ‘Nationalists’ are.
Kashmir’s Fruits of Discord
A WEEK before he was elected in 2008, President Obama said that solving the dispute over Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination — which has led to three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 — would be among his “critical tasks.” His remarks were greeted with consternation in India, and he has said almost nothing about Kashmir since then.
But on Monday, during his visit here, he pleased his hosts immensely by saying the United States would not intervene in Kashmir and announcing his support for India’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. While he spoke eloquently about threats of terrorism, he kept quiet about human rights abuses in Kashmir.
Whether Mr. Obama decides to change his position on Kashmir again depends on several factors: how the war in Afghanistan is going, how much help the United States needs from Pakistan and whether the government of India goes aircraft shopping this winter. (An order for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, worth $5.8 billion, among other huge business deals in the pipeline, may ensure the president’s silence.) But neither Mr. Obama’s silence nor his intervention is likely to make the people in Kashmir drop the stones in their hands.
I was in Kashmir 10 days ago, in that beautiful valley on the Pakistani border, home to three great civilizations — Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist. It’s a valley of myth and history. Some believe that Jesus died there; others that Moses went there to find the lost tribe. Millions worship at the Hazratbal shrine, where a few days a year a hair of the Prophet Muhammad is displayed to believers.
Now Kashmir, caught between the influence of militant Islam from Pakistan and Afghanistan, America’s interests in the region and Indian nationalism (which is becoming increasingly aggressive and “Hinduized”), is considered a nuclear flash point. It is patrolled by more than half a million soldiers and has become the most highly militarized zone in the world.
The atmosphere on the highway between Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, and my destination, the little apple town of Shopian in the south, was tense. Groups of soldiers were deployed along the highway, in the orchards, in the fields, on the rooftops and outside shops in the little market squares. Despite months of curfew, the “stone pelters” calling for “azadi” (freedom), inspired by the Palestinian intifada, were out again. Some stretches of the highway were covered with so many of these stones that you needed an S.U.V. to drive over them.
Fortunately the friends I was with knew alternative routes down the back lanes and village roads. The “longcut” gave me the time to listen to their stories of this year’s uprising. The youngest, still a boy, told us that when three of his friends were arrested for throwing stones, the police pulled out their fingernails — every nail, on both hands.
For three years in a row now, Kashmiris have been in the streets, protesting what they see as India’s violent occupation. But the militant uprising against the Indian government that began with the support of Pakistan 20 years ago is in retreat. The Indian Army estimates that there are fewer than 500 militants operating in the Kashmir Valley today. The war has left 70,000 dead and tens of thousands debilitated by torture. Many, many thousands have “disappeared.” More than 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus have fled the valley. Though the number of militants has come down, the number of Indian soldiers deployed remains undiminished.
But India’s military domination ought not to be confused with a political victory. Ordinary people armed with nothing but their fury have risen up against the Indian security forces. A whole generation of young people who have grown up in a grid of checkpoints, bunkers, army camps and interrogation centers, whose childhood was spent witnessing “catch and kill” operations, whose imaginations are imbued with spies, informers, “unidentified gunmen,” intelligence operatives and rigged elections, has lost its patience as well as its fear. With an almost mad courage, Kashmir’s young have faced down armed soldiers and taken back their streets.
Since April, when the army killed three civilians and then passed them off as “terrorists,” masked stone throwers, most of them students, have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew and censorship. Just in the last few months, 111 people have been killed, most of them teenagers; more than 3,000 have been wounded and 1,000 arrested.
But still they come out, the young, and throw stones. They don’t seem to have leaders or belong to a political party. They represent themselves. And suddenly the second-largest standing army in the world doesn’t quite know what to do. The Indian government doesn’t know whom to negotiate with. And many Indians are slowly realizing they have been lied to for decades. The once solid consensus on Kashmir suddenly seems a little fragile.
I WAS in a bit of trouble the morning we drove to Shopian. A few days earlier, at a public meeting in Delhi, I said that Kashmir was disputed territory and, contrary to the Indian government’s claims, it couldn’t be called an “integral” part of India. Outraged politicians and news anchors demanded that I be arrested for sedition. The government, terrified of being seen as “soft,” issued threatening statements, and the situation escalated. Day after day, on prime-time news, I was being called a traitor, a white-collar terrorist and several other names reserved for insubordinate women. But sitting in that car on the road to Shopian, listening to my friends, I could not bring myself to regret what I had said in Delhi.
We were on our way to visit a man called Shakeel Ahmed Ahangar. The previous day he had come all the way to Srinagar, where I had been staying, to press me, with an urgency that was hard to ignore, to visit Shopian.
I first met Shakeel in June 2009, only a few weeks after the bodies of Nilofar, his 22-year-old wife, and Asiya, his 17-year-old sister, were found lying a thousand yards apart in a shallow stream in a high-security zone — a floodlit area between army and state police camps. The first postmortem report confirmed rape and murder. But then the system kicked in. New autopsy reports overturned the initial findings and, after the ugly business of exhuming the bodies, rape was ruled out. It was declared that in both cases the cause of death was drowning. Protests shut Shopian down for 47 days, and the valley was convulsed with anger for months. Eventually it looked as though the Indian government had managed to defuse the crisis. But the anger over the killings has magnified the intensity of this year’s uprising.
Shakeel wanted us to visit him in Shopian because he was being threatened by the police for speaking out, and hoped our visit would demonstrate that people even outside of Kashmir were looking out for him, that he was not alone.
It was apple season in Kashmir and as we approached Shopian we could see families in their orchards, busily packing apples into wooden crates in the slanting afternoon light. I worried that a couple of the little red-cheeked children who looked so much like apples themselves might be crated by mistake. The news of our visit had preceded us, and a small knot of people were waiting on the road.
Shakeel’s house is on the edge of the graveyard where his wife and sister are buried. It was dark by the time we arrived, and there was a power failure. We sat in a semicircle around a lantern and listened to him tell the story we all knew so well. Other people entered the room. Other terrible stories poured out, ones that are not in human rights reports, stories about what happens to women who live in remote villages where there are more soldiers than civilians. Shakeel’s young son tumbled around in the darkness, moving from lap to lap. “Soon he’ll be old enough to understand what happened to his mother,” Shakeel said more than once.
Just when we rose to leave, a messenger arrived to say that Shakeel’s father-in-law — Nilofar’s father — was expecting us at his home. We sent our regrets; it was late and if we stayed longer it would be unsafe for us to drive back.
Minutes after we said goodbye and crammed ourselves into the car, a friend’s phone rang. It was a journalist colleague of his with news for me: “The police are typing up the warrant. She’s going to be arrested tonight.” We drove in silence for a while, past truck after truck being loaded with apples. “It’s unlikely,” my friend said finally. “It’s just psy-ops.”
But then, as we picked up speed on the highway, we were overtaken by a car full of men waving us down. Two men on a motorcycle asked our driver to pull over. I steeled myself for what was coming. A man appeared at the car window. He had slanting emerald eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard that went halfway down his chest. He introduced himself as Abdul Hai, father of the murdered Nilofar.
“How could I let you go without your apples?” he said. The bikers started loading two crates of apples into the back of our car. Then Abdul Hai reached into the pockets of his worn brown cloak, and brought out an egg. He placed it in my palm and folded my fingers over it. And then he placed another in my other hand. The eggs were still warm. “God bless and keep you,” he said, and walked away into the dark. What greater reward could a writer want?
I wasn’t arrested that night. Instead, in what is becoming a common political strategy, officials outsourced their displeasure to the mob. A few days after I returned home, the women’s wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the right-wing Hindu nationalist opposition) staged a demonstration outside my house, calling for my arrest. Television vans arrived in advance to broadcast the event live. The murderous Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu group that, in 2002, spearheaded attacks against Muslims in Gujarat in which more than a thousand people were killed, have announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal, including by filing criminal charges against me in different courts across the country.
Indian nationalists and the government seem to believe that they can fortify their idea of a resurgent India with a combination of bullying and Boeing airplanes. But they don’t understand the subversive strength of warm, boiled eggs.
Arundhati Roy is the author of the novel “The God of Small Things” and, most recently, the essay collection “Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.”