Friday, September 29, 2006

Muhammad's Sword

Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".

IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

These words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

IS THERE any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?



Fasting As A Natural Nutrition Therapy

n this month of Ramadan, Dr. Elson M. Haas, M.D., offers some very beneficial information about fasting. Dr. Haas has written many books addressing preventive and integrated medicines, natural nutrition therapies and detoxification (fasting). He also wrote one of the definitive books on natural nutrition and fasting, called Staying Healthy: A Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Dr. Haas is currently the Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin, with offices in San Rafael and San Jose, California.

In this article he discusses, the process and benefits of fasting, as well as its hazards.

Fasting is the single greatest natural healing therapy. It is nature's ancient, universal "remedy" for many problems. Animals instinctively fast when ill. When I first discovered fasting, 15 years ago, I felt as if it had saved my life and transformed my illnesses into health. My stagnant energies began flowing, and I became more creative and vitally alive. I still find fasting both a useful personal tool and an important therapy for many medical and life problems.

Of course, most of the problems for which I recommend fasting as treatment are ones that result from overnutrition rather than malnutrition. Dietary abuse problems, more common in the Western world than in Third World countries, generate many of the chronic degenerative diseases that I have written so much about; these include atherosclerosis, hypertension and heart disease, allergies, diabetes, and cancer. I believe that fasting is therapeutic and, more importantly, preventive for many of these conditions and more.

Fasting (cleansing, detoxification) is one part of the triology of nutrition; balancing and building (toning) are the others. I believe that fasting is the "missing link" in the Western diet. Most people overeat, eat too often, and eat a high-protein, high-fat, rich-food, building and congesting diet more consistently than they need. If we regularly eat a more balanced and well-combined diet, we will have less need for fasting and toning plans, although both would still be required at certain intervals throughout the year.

In a sense, detoxification is an important corrective and rejuvenative process in our cycle of nutrition. It is a time when we allow our cells and organs to breathe out, become current, and restore themselves. We do not necessarily need to fast to experience some cleansing, however. Minor shifts in the diet such as including more fluids, more raw foods, and fewer congesting foods will allow for better detoxification; for a carnivore, for example, a vegetarian or macrobiotic diet will be cleansing and purifying. The general process of detoxification is discussed thoroughly in the General Detoxification program; here we focus on fluid fasting - its history, therapeutic use, benefits, contraindications, and, of course, how to do it, along with other aspects of lifestyle that support fasting.

Fasting is a time-proven remedy. Its use goes back many thousands of years, really to the beginning of life forms. As a healing process and spiritual-religious process, it has continued to be more intelligently applied, we hope, in the last several thousand years.

Voluntary abstinence from food has been a tradition in most religions and is clearly a spiritual purification rite. Many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and the Eastern religions, have encouraged fasting for a variety of reasons, such as penitence, preparation for ceremony, purification, mourning, sacrifice and union with God, and the enhancement of knowledge and powers. From Moses, Elijah, and Daniel to Christ, the Bible is filled with fasters, who employed it to assist their purification and communion with God. Fasts as long as 40 days were employed to cleanse people of sins and the "devil."

Israel stealing Lebanon’s water and earth

"Israel is not pulling out, it is altering the border fence, stealing our water in Wazzani and our earth near Khiam. They are violating our airspace," he added.

UN Resolution 1701, which imposed a ceasefire that ended 34-days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah on August 14, calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from southern Lebanon, and the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to be backed by an equal number of UN peacekeepers.

Since the implementation of the truce, UNIFIL has been boosted to 5,000 forces and Lebanese forces have been deploying in the border area, in line with Resolution 1701 and Israel’s conditions for its full withdrawal.

But Israel halted its pullout, and UNIFIL officials say the Israeli army still occupies 10 positions in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli government claims that it delayed the full withdrawal, which was initially scheduled to be completed last Friday, because it hasn’t yet reached an agreement with UNIFIL on the rules of engagement for the peacekeepers and the Lebanese army in case of violations of the ceasefire.

"Lebanon keeps filing complaints to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). They are now in the dozens,

"UNIFIL are saying that they are investigating the matters… But experience tells us that the Israelis never do anything without being forced to do it. It will probably need Security Council action, or else if the situation persists, there will be a lot more problems later on,” he added.

UNIFIL officials said recent talks between Israeli and Lebanese military officials to set a deadline for the Israeli withdrawal were “inconclusive”.

“Nothing is planned for this week,” a UNIFIL official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Instead of withdrawing, Israeli occupation forces built a barbed-wire fence close to Israel's border with Lebanon. They also erected checkpoints in southern Lebanese villages to search cars and check passengers’ identities.

"The Israeli troops are erecting checkpoints, stopping people as well as Lebanese and foreign journalists," the top Lebanese military official told AFP.

"This is not acceptable, these are part of provocations and pressures by the Israelis to negotiate security measures and rules of engagement,

"Hezbollah is not out there with arms, the Israelis know that Hezbollah is committed to the terms of Resolution 1701,” he added.

The Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah agreed to abide by the UN-brokered truce but has refused to disarm until Israel ends its occupation of Lebanon and Lebanese troops take control over their country.

The Lebanese military official also said that the Israelis “are looking for justifications, they probably want to negotiate security arrangements or in the issue of the prisoners' exchange… But we will not compromise on anything outside the scope of Resolution 1701,”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that Israeli warplanes would continue to violate Lebanon’s airspace even after Israel completes its withdrawal from the war-torn country.

He told Channel 10 television the flights would continue until the release of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah fighters on July 12.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

12 Tips for Muslim Youth

Why should you, a young Muslim, be helping to bring your friends closer to Allah?

After all, you've got your own struggles to deal with: trying to explain why you pray to hostile teachers, Hijab discrimination, standing up in class when the professor attacks Islam, dealing with parents who think you've gone nuts because you're growing a beard, or all the other difficulties faced by a number of practicing Muslim youth?

Islam was never meant to be an individualistic faith, reserved for the "chosen few". Muslims have a duty to spread the Deen, and practicing Muslim youth, whether beginners, activists or leaders have a crucial role to play.

"Allah has put them in a position that perhaps no one else is in," notes Sheema Khan, former Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) advisor for eastern Canada. "They have the means to communicate with their peers, they have an understanding of what they're going through plus they have the guidance of Islam."

Who is your childhood friend, who would rather spend Fridays at MacDonald's than the Masjid, or your classmate who is Muslim in name and only knows that "Muslims don't eat pork" going to listen to: the nice Imam of the Masjid who would freak out if he saw the way they were dressed and talked or you who may have grown up with them, joked with them, or see them everyday in school?

The answer is obvious: you.

Don't panic. Here are some tips and advice which can help from other Muslims, many of whom have been there and done that:

Tip # 1 : Make Your Intention Sincere

All work we do should ideally be for the sake of Allah. That includes the task of bringing someone closer to Allah. That of course means this should not be connected to arrogance, thinking you're the teacher and everyone else should be lucky you've embarked on a crusade to save them. Guidance is from Allah. Make Dua and make sincere efforts and remember Allah can also misguide you if He wills (we seek refuge in Allah from that).

Tip # 2 : Practice What YOu Preach

Not practicing what you preach is wrong and you will lose the confidence of anyone, young or old, once they figure you out. Don't do it.

Tip # 3 : Use The Quran & Seerah (biography of the Prophet peace be upon him) As Dawa Guides

Read and understand those chapters of the Quran which talk about how the Prophets presented the message of Islam to their people. Read the Seerah (for some good Seerah books)to see especially how the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) brought Islam to so many different people, including young people.

As well, talk to Dawa workers, and check out manuals they may have written, like Yahiya Emerick's How to Tell Others About Islam.

Tip # 4 : Talk To People As If You Really Dont Know Them

Don't assume you know someone just by looking at them. You don't know that the Muslim girl in your homeroom who walks through the school's hallways as if they were fashion show catwalks (see Ambe Rehman's perspective on this) is not someone you can talk to about Allah because she looks like a snob. Or that the Muslim guy who you've never seen at Juma at your university is a "bad Muslim". Maybe he was never really taught Islam and has no idea what importance Friday prayers have in Islam, especially for Muslim men.

Tip # 5 : Smile

Did you know the Prophet was big on smiling? But many "practicing" Muslims seem to have "their faces on upside down" as one speaker once said-frowning and serious.

Smiling, being polite and kind are all part of the manners of the Prophet, which we must exercise in our daily lives. If we want to approach others with Islam, we have to make ourselves approachable. Smiling is key to this.

But note that being approachable does not mean being flirtations with the other gender. There are Islamic rules for how men and women should deal with each other which have to be respected. Dawa is no excuse to have long and private conversations and meetings with the other sex, for example. Set up a system where someone expressing an interest in Islam is referred to someone of the same sex.

Tip # 6 : Take The Initiative & Hang Out With Them

Take the first step and invite someone you may have spoken to a couple of times to sit at lunch together, to check out a hockey game or invite them over for Iftar in Ramadan. Also, share difficulties, sorrows and frustrations. Help with homework, be a shoulder to cry on when depression hits, or just plain listen when your friend is upset, discuss common problems and KEEP THEIR SECRETS. There are few things as annoying as a snitch and backstabber. But an important note: if the problem is of a serious nature,(i.e. your friend is thinking of committing suicide or is taking drugs), notify and consult an adult immediately.

Tip # 7 : Show Them Islam Is Relevent Today, Right Here, Right Now

Young people may think Islam is too "old fashioned" and not in tune with the modern age. Prove this wrong. Show how Islam is really about relating to Allah, which any human being can do, anywhere, anytime. Allah is always closer to you than your jugular vein and He hears and knows everything. Encourage friends to ask Allah's help during tests, exams, and in dealing with problems at home with parents and siblings. Also point out how Islam relates to teenagers: Islam gives you focus and an understanding of who you are and where you are going, which most of "teen culture" does not.

Tip # 8 : Get Them Involved In Volunteer Work With You

If you are already involved in the community, get your friend to help out. Ask them to make a flyer for one of your youth group's events or brainstorm for ideas about activities to hold this school year. This involvement makes them feel part of the Muslim community and deepens your friendship, since you are now working together on something beneficial for both of you. Make sure you thank them for their contribution.

Tip # 9 : Ask Them 4 Fundamental Questions

As your friendship develops, you will notice the topics you discuss may become more serious. You may be discussing, for instance, future goals and plans. Khan recommends four questions to ask that can steer the topic to Allah and Islam:

a. Where am I going in life and what would make me really happy deep down inside?
b. What do I believe?
c. Who should I be grateful to?
d. Did I get to where I am today without the help of anyone?
Tip # 10 : Emphasize Praying 5 Times A Day Before Any Other Aspect Of Islam

A person's main connection with Allah, on a daily basis, is through the prayer five times a day. Don't emphasize any other aspect of Islam until your friend starts making a real effort to pray five times a day. Emphasize the direct connection one has with Allah in prayer. If they are facing a problem, tell them to pray, and to ask Allah for help in Salah and outside this time. When possible, make it a point to pray together during your "hang out time". If your friend begins to pray, that is the first step to other aspects of Islam like giving up swearing, treating parents with respect or dressing Islamically.

Tip # 11 : Help Instill Confidence In Adults

Adults, like Bart Simpson's dad Homer, are considered bumbling idiots in the eyes of "teen culture". Your job as a young Muslim is to help turn the tables on this false and unIslamic belief. All you have to do is this: when a Muslim adult does something good (i.e. saving someone's life, donating money to a worthy cause, the Imam gives a good speech, taking good care of his/her family) bring it up in the course of your conversations with your friend and praise the adult in question. Doing this regularly may not only change your friend's perspective, but could lead to them seeing their own parents in a more respectful way.

Tip # 12 : Support Them Even When They Become More Practicing

Remember, just because a person starts practicing Islam more regularly, this does not mean everything will be okay from this point onwards. There will still be hard times, difficulties. There may be times when your friend may have doubts about his or her newfound practice of Islam. Be there to reassure them.

Courtesy of Islamzine

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