Poem to Celebrate Eid Al-Ghadeer

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This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago to celebrate Eid Al-Ghadeer, which marks the occasion when Prophet Mohammed (peace be on him and his family) gathered all the Muslims who performed the pilgrimage with him in a place called Ghadeer Khum, and appointed Imam Ali (peace be on him) as his successor.

The occasion isn’t disputed by the various Muslim sects, but its significance and meaning is interpreted differently. The Shi’a, on one hand, believe it to be the appointement of Imam Ali as the successor to the Prophet, whereas Sunni Muslims generally regard it as an assertion of companionship.

Today is the anniversary of the occasion, so I thought I would share it on the blog :)

Celebrating Ghadeer

I begin in my Lord’s name
And without feeling guilt or shame
Raise my voice in His praise,
In remembrance of His days.

Best of all the days held dear
Is the blessed day of Ghadeer
And read this poem to celebrate
This joyous event and momentous date!

No other day is more renowned,
Ali was in the heavens crowned
Chosen by God to succeed
The holy Prophet, and to lead.

It’s a day when believers rejoice
God’s wisdom and His noble choice
To appoint a righteous, just Imam
For the sake of the Muslims and Islam.

When the Prophet, in the scorching heat
Waited for all Muslims to meet
In Ghadeer that it be shown
Who will succeed him, and be known:

“Whosoever takes me as his master,
Without Ali will face disaster.
God’s religion is now complete
And His favour will be your treat.”

The hypocrites were quick in their frowning
At Ali’s illustrious crowning
Why this delay? Why all this fuss?
Isn’t Ali just one of us?

I ask in return where have they been?
Do they know Ali, have they not seen?
He was the foremost in faith and deeds
Tending to all the Prophet’s needs.

He understood Islam as it should be
From sin and vice he was free
Without him Islam’s message is lost
Our prosperity will be the cost.

With these words I mark my stand,
And place my hand in Ali’s hand.

Defining the Meaningless

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In my last post, I gave an example of the use of meaningless words in political discourse. But this post is slightly more controversial. It touches on issues that many find too sensitive to talk about, and do not usually direct their focus towards, because they’re too afraid of what they will discover.

Using meaningless terms in politics is one thing, but basing one’s religious views on meaningless statements is far more damaging. The sad fact is, this is a very common practice, and one that goes completely unnoticed in our midst.

Before I present the “touchy” example I would like to talk about, let’s begin with a not-so-controversial example, so I can define what I mean when I say that words can be “meaningless.”

If I was to say: “I stand for justice,” you won’t find it difficult to understand the statement. You will know that by “justice” I mean being fair and respecting people’s rights. After all, that’s what justice means. You might, at first, think that my statement is clear and quite meaningful. But you’ll soon realise that you have no clue what I mean.

Why?

Because I haven’t told you what I believe “fairness” means, and what I think “people’s rights” are. The statement is meaningless because it can have opposite meanings. “Justice” is a term used by every political party to describe the policies it advocates. For capitalists, capitalism is just, and communism is unjust. For communists, capitalism is unjust, and communism is just. Each has his own definition of justice. In order to understand my statement, you’d have to know what I mean by justice, and how my worldview translates into practical policies.

It’s just as meaningless as saying: “I have opinions,” because you haven’t stated what your opinions are (unless you’re trying to distinguish yourself from chimps).

For a statement to be meaningful, its relation to reality must be clear. In our example of justice, it is important to associate the word with the principles and practices I support, so you can know whether you support my view of justice or not. Without this clarification, the word “justice” doesn’t have a clear reference.

So how does this tie in with religious views?

Take the following statement: “Islam is compatible with human nature.”

While Muslims the world over pride themselves on following the only religion that’s compatible with human nature, they overlook the fact that they don’t know what “human nature” is in the first place!

Many Muslims haven’t stopped to think what human nature means, while others have come to define human nature according to their understanding of Islam (when it should be the other way around)! Either of the two ways, you can replace “Islam” in the above statement with the name of any other religion you wish.

To make the statement meaningful: How would you define human nature? How did you come to define it this way? And in what ways is Islam compatible with human nature?

The Promise of Change

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Whenever I see the word “change” being used in a political campaign, I remember an incident my brother-in-law told me about:

He was once in a social gathering (i.e. a deewaniya) here in Kuwait, when a man running in a local election came in and was encouraging the attendees to vote for him. My brother-in-law recognized the man, and so he asked him: “In your campaign slogan, you say that you are working for change. What do you mean by that?”

The man replied: “Change is what people want.”

In other words, “change” is a buzz-word people want to hear, and this man doesn’t even know what it means, but used it anyway to win votes!

The odd thing is, even those who are mesmerized by the word “change” don’t know what it means! All they can associate with the word is relief from their existing problems.

However, change isn’t necessarily a good thing. It all depends on the direction this “change” will take us in.

I think, by now, you know why I’m making this point: many of Barack Obama’s supporters were mesmerized by his slogan: “Change We Can Believe In” (and other slogan variations, which were centered on the “change” theme) without really knowing what he means by this word, or what sort of policies he advocates.

Words such as: change, hope and justice are totally meaningless in political discourse because they could mean anything. The speaker means one thing (if he knows what it means in the first place, unlike our local politician I mentioned earlier) and the listeners understand it the way they want, and assume that this is what the speaker meant.

I don’t deny that Obama will bring about change, but I’m not too sure his supporters will be happy with the change he brings.

Frames of Reference

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Discussions often operate on the level of arguments, or statements. One party makes an assertion, and the other party dismisses it as “not making sense,” “being flawed,” or a number of other reasons for not accepting the assertion. What is often overlooked is the frame of reference used to justify that assertion.

In other words, the assertion makes sense, based on the assumptions of the speaker. It is part of a whole. In order to understand the part, we must see where it fits into the whole, determine where the fault lies in the entire outlook of the speaker (if one is to be found) and judge the part accordingly.

For example, suppose someone tells you he believes religion should bring happiness. For a religious person with a different understanding of religion, this idea might not make sense, because he thinks religion is about obedience to God, and doing the right thing. “Happiness” doesn’t have a place in religion (at least not in this life time). To resolve the misunderstanding, you wouldn’t go anywhere by repeating the same statement. The two have different frames of reference. The statement doesn’t make sense to the listener, because it doesn’t have a place in his frame. It’s not part of his “big picture.” He would have understood what is being meant by the statement, but doesn’t think it is a correct assertion.

Now, if the speaker moves up one level, and presents his frame of reference, or a part of it that places the statement in a more meaningful context, then the discussion can move forward:

“Religion doesn’t bring God any benefit, but is for the benefit of mankind.”

“God created human nature, and His religion is compatible with their nature.”

These statements, while not necessarily sufficient to convince someone that the initial statement is true, offer a wider scope – and reveal a greater part of the picture – to understand what the speaker’s opinion is based on.

There are two things that need to be done in order to have fruitful discussions:

1-Reveal the frame of reference to the point of commonality: Most beliefs share a common overall frame, then branch off when dealing with more specific issues. In order to resolve misunderstandings, and to have a discussion on the level that matters, you need to begin with the belief you have in common. This defines a common frame of reference for both parties to use.

2- Question the validity of your own frame of reference: Your personal frame of reference might not be a valid one. Assess whether the other party’s frame of reference is more realistic than your own. This presents the problem of judging your frame of reference by the standard of your own frame of reference (which is why all religions are correct according to their followers)! What is important here is the willingness to accept that your frame of reference can be wrong and should be questioned.

The Ethics of Death

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This post is not about whether it’s moral or immoral to die. I think we know the answer to that question!

It’s about how Muslim preachers remind people of their impending death in order to jolt them towards morality. The basis of the argument is that you will soon be held accountable by God, and you should, therefore, make sure you are prepared for judgment, and make use of your time on earth to improve the outcome of the life you’ll live beyond the grave.

How Morality is Understood

Muslims, in general, see morality as a list of actions that we must perform, and others that we must avoid, in order to be graded on the Day of Judgment. The value of morality is seen in the rewards we expect to receive in heaven, and the torments we wish to avoid in hell.

Many preachers usually counsel their fellow believers when facing difficulties to uphold Islamic ethics by pointing out that non-Muslims seek the pleasure of this world, whereas Muslims should seek the pleasure of the akhirah (the after-life, i.e. life after death). This argument is bizarrely used to explain the rationale behind Islamic practices: “Practice X doesn’t make sense in this world, but it makes sense from the point of view of the akhirah.

This approach can be and is being used to justify any practice, since the criteria of the “akhirah” is very vague. If you think you can blow yourself up in a crowded market and enter heaven, then you can easily justify burying young girls (the practice of pre-Islamic Arabia, which the Holy Koran vehemently condemns) and enter heaven as well. Both practices don’t make sense on earth, but they can equally be justified if you can assume that God has sanctioned them.

The idea that morality is only for the after-life is based on the following assumptions:

- That morality is something noble, and this world isn’t. Therefore, morality cannot be seen to serve a purpose on earth

- Morality isn’t a tangible subject. Therefore, it shouldn’t be measured by “worldly” instruments, such as reason, knowledge, science, philosophy, etc.

- Morals aren’t based on principles, but commandments. Therefore, the basis of morality is obedience in order to secure a better life after death..

The Collapse of Morality

The ethics of death separates morality from principles and principles from understanding. If you subscribe to the ethics of death, then you do not know why you observe the moral instructions that you observe, apart from the rewards or punishments you expect after you die. In other words, you cannot determine the consequences of your actions, or evaluate the consequences you experience on earth.

This understanding of morality doesn’t promote morality, but death. It asks you to shun this life and to work for the day you die. And if we wish to blame anyone for the collapse of morality, then we should turn our attention to these preachers, and the idea of morality they are promoting.

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