September 2012

Events in the Middle East continue to fester and flair with yet more deaths in Syria, rumors of the Kurds carving out an enclave for themselves in the ruins of Assad’s state, Kenyan troops cleansing the Al Shabab from their last stronghold in Somalia, cross firings between leaders of Iran, Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the anything but united UN, and the list goes on and on. But in America, now that the official NFL refs are back on the job, the media is gearing up for the first presidential debate between a sitting President that was once thought to be in electoral trouble and a Republican candidate who has been so inept that he may re-enact a Goldwater moment for the party of Lincoln (and now of Lincolns, Lexus and Jaguars).

I suspect quite a few voters will watch the debate, even those who have already made up their minds and voted early, and others will watch just to confirm how much they dislike one of the candidates. But for all the hoopla, these debates are so choreographed that winners and losers tend to be determined only in the eyes of the beholders. Romney could stick his foot, ankle, calf and knee in his mouth and Fox News will still declare him the winner. The MSNBC anchors will try to stifle their laughter, but they actually knew who would win before the show opened. And a show it will be. Think of it as the MLB home-run hitting context with the BP fastballs lain in there, right down the pike, not as a boxing match where someone might get bloodied and knocked out. Consider this: George W. Bush survived his debates and won re-election. Does anyone seriously think that Obama will forget who the leader of China is?

There are a number of questions that I suspect will not be asked, even though quite a few Americans may be mulling over them before they make a “legitimate” vote (I suppose in Todd Aiken’s view this would be a vote in which the voter has a built-in ability to reject liberals and shows an I.D. issued by the NRA). How about these?

• Governor Romney, if you are elected President and Jesus Christ comes back to earth before you take the oath of office, will you be disappointed? Will you urge the Republicans in Congress not to filibuster any of the programs for the poor that Jesus might want to introduce?

• President Obama, why won’t you admit your are a Muslim born in Kenya? If Governor Romney is elected President, will you agree to self deport yourself back to Africa and stop passing yourself off as a white guy?

• Governor Romney, given the rising costs of health care for the elderly, who are often given medical tests they really do not need, would you as president give a tax break to faith healers as an alternative to the E.R.?

• President Obama, you once wrote a book called “The Audacity of Hope.” Is it true that your are currently working on your next book and it will be called “The Audacity of Hype”?

• Governor Romney, if last time around the VP candidate Sarah Palin was a pit bull, do you think that Paul Ryan is a poodle or a Doberman? Has the campaign committee put him through a dog training school yet?

• President Obama, is there a room in the basement of the White House where Joe Biden can be sent and the key thrown away?

• Governor Romney, do you actually shop at Staples?

• President Obama, if you are not re-elected President, would you be willing to work at Staples for a minimum wage or would you prefer to take your chances in the NBA draft?

I have one more suggestion. Since there are three debates, could we remake “Survivor” and vote one of them (or both of them) off the stage at the end of the third debate?

In a previous post I continued a thread on a 19th century Bible Lands text by Rev. Frank S. DeHaas. Now it is on to Jerusalem, holiest of the holiest places for this Protestant pilgrim. Yet again he has a hard time seeing past the poverty and destruction. But then he is consoled by the fact that such ruin was all according to prophecy. Unfortunately for a century more than this book, facts are indeed stubborn things and the artifacts DeHaas thought so compelling turn out not to be very factual.


Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wave Hezbollah flags and shout slogans at a protest against a film made in the US that mocks the Prophet Mohammad, in southern Lebanon, Sept. 19, 2012. The Arabic on the headscarves read, “In your name prophet of God.” (photo by REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

by Alaa al-Aswany, Al-Monitor, September 19, 2012

Whether you are Muslim, Christian or follow any other religion, you have the right to practice your faith, and others must respect your religious convictions without anybody mocking or degrading your beliefs. Thus, every Muslim has the right to feel angry upon watching a pathetic and badly made movie that depicts their prophet in a shameful, deceitful and insulting manner. Muslims were also within their rights when they felt angered by the cartoons that mocked the Prophet that were published in Denmark a few years ago. Furthermore, they were right to be angered by the movie Fitna (strife) — a film produced by right-wing Dutchman Geert Wilders in 2006 — which derided the Muslim faith and considered it the source of all the world’s terrorism. In all of these instances, Muslims were justifiably angered, and they had the legitimate right to embark on a campaign aimed at convincing the world that they were entitled, as human beings, to see their religious beliefs respected without prejudice. But, unfortunately, and as a result of these campaigns, Muslims lost that aforementioned right, and themselves contributed in distorting the image of Islam and Muslims because they let their anger get the best of them by overlooking the following facts:

First: The nature of freedom of expression in the West (more…)

The offending photographs of Kate Middleton, left; an Islamic depiction of Muhammad by not showing his face, right

[Note: The following commentary has been posted to my column “Middle East Muddle” on the online website of Anthropology News, published by the American Anthropological Association. To read the entire commentary, click here. For more commentaries on “Middle East Muddle, click here.]

Two scandals have dominated the news, at least in Europe and America, over the week following the 9/11 anniversary. The first, which has yet to abate as I write this, is the widespread protests against a pathetic anti-Muslim film trailer trolled from Youtube, rhetorically warmed over in Arabic and promoted by extremist Muslims to stir up violence. The troll took a toll with the American ambassador and several other Americans killed in Libya, violent clashes in Egypt and in Yemen and a range of protests (many of which have remained peaceful) across Muslim communities. The second, which is equally absurd as a pretext, is the voyeuristic publishing by French, Irish and Italian tabloids of a long-distance photograph of the naked breasts of Kate Middleton, the newly wed wife of Britain’s Prince William. The paparazzi have once again harmed Britain’s royal family, first by chasing Princess Diana and now by turning a powerful lens on a private moment in a private home while Diana’s son vacationed in France. In both the body is all about politics…

For the entire commentary go to “Middle East Muddle” by clicking here.

Source of image

click here.]

The legal opinion of Qadi Shakir

Egyptian qadi Ahmad Muhammad Shakir (who was to become President of the Egyptian Supreme Court of the Shariah at the end of his career, and who remains to this day an author of reference in the field of hadith) (9), wrote a lengthy legal opinion in 1939 on the subject of the Islamic calendar, entitled : “The beginning of Arab months… is it legal to determine it using astronomical calculations?”. (2) According to him, the Messenger took into account the fact that the Muslim community of his time was “illiterate, not knowing how to write nor how to count”. So, he recommended to its members to observe the new moon to carry out their religious duties at the time of fasting and hajj. But the community evolved considerably over time, and some of its members even became experts in astronomy.

According to the principle of Muslim law which states that “a rule is no longer applicable, when the factor which justified its existence has disappeared”, the Messenger’s recommendation didn’t apply anymore to the Muslims, after they had learned to read and count and had ceased being illiterate. Therefore, according to Shakir, contemporary ulama’ commit an error of interpretation when they give to the Messenger’s hadith the same interpretation that applied at the time of Revelation, as if the hadith prescribed immutable rules. But, it has stopped being applicable to the Muslim community long ago, based on the principles of the shari’ah themselves. (more…)

[Note: This is a two-part article. After reading this you can proceed to Part two by clicking here.]

by Khalid Chraibi

Shortcomings of the Islamic calendar

A calendar associates a specific date with each day of any given week, month or year, to enable people to manage all their activities over an extended period of time. They must be able to anticipate, plan and organize in advance, using the information provided by the calendar, everything that they need to do. But, in Muslim societies, people wait to see, each country for itself, the appearance of the new moon at the end of each lunar month, before they declare the beginning of a new lunar month. As a result:
– the information in the Islamic calendar does not extend beyond the current month;
– and the data it shows each month differs from one Muslim country to another.
For instance, the first day of Ramadan 1427 corresponded to Saturday, September 23, 2006 in 20 countries ; Sunday, September 24 in 46 countries ; and Monday, September 25 in 5 countries. (1) This situation is in no way unusual, but can be observed every month.
Because of these shortcomings, after the major Muslim countries were occupied by foreign powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, Muslim people started using the Gregorian calendar to meet all their needs, and only care about determining Islamic dates on momentous Islamic religious occasions.

But, to this day, they regularly get puzzled at the inability of the Islamic calendar to predict precisely, well in advance, the day on which major Islamic events such as the first day of Ramadan, or eid al-fitr, or eid al-adha, or the first day of the new Islamic year are to take place. (more…)

The manipulated political fury expressed in religious rhetoric over a pathetically provocative anti-Islamic film trailer buried among the millions of needles in the haystack that is Youtube continues, now with a focus in Pakistan. It is not surprising that most Muslims should find the film’s absurd claims offensive. Yet, despite the media images of angry rock throwers holding signs in English, this does not drive the vast majority into the streets or trespassing into Western consulates. If all the cameras stopped rolling, the riots would stop cold. But, of course, now the cameras never stop and any bit of footage can appear on Youtube in a nanosecond. What should we do?

My friend Omid Safi posts on a commentary blog he calls “What Would Muhammad Do?” In his comments on this controversy, he notes that there is enough textual information to reconstruct what Muhammad did when he was insulted:

Yet we know that our Prophet himself was the target of repeated assaults and mockery, and even in his moment of triumph when he had the power to punish, he chose to forgive his enemies and set a higher moral example.

We invite Muslims from every country to raise their voice and be heard, and yet to do so in a way that honors the very example of the manners, the ethics, the path, and the being of the Prophet that we so adore.

There is no way, other than by religious faith in sacred writings, to know what the real Muhammad would do in the modern world, all those hadiths notwithstanding. So in effect Omid and everyone else must argue for what they would expect Muhammad to do if he did live today. But he doesn’t, and neither does Jesus or Moses or any of the revered prophets of the three major monotheisms. In a sense all of the commentary on the reaction to the film is WWWWMTD “what we would want Muhammad to do.”

WWMD is, of course, a take off on WWJD. Since J (as in Jesus) happens to be a revered prophet in Islam as well as Christianity, in principle a Muslim can accept that Muhammad and Jesus would do the same thing morally as guided prophets of the same God. (more…)

Image from Museum of Resistance in Lebanon; photograph by Estella Carpi

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: when the Apollonian cannot expect anything from the Dionysian

by Estella Carpi

While based in Lebanon, I personally find no way of getting out of the emotional whirlwind of suffering that the Syrian revolution, the merciless state repression and the subsequent armament of the revolutionaries have been giving rise to for 18 months. Without aiming at prematurely assessing the size of the emergency response to the “Syrian humanitarian crisis”, I would like to discuss here the Lebanese phenomenological approach to the current events by using the Syrian refugees’ lens.

Although used to regarding Syria as a model of stability and harmony, and as a place where people allegedly identify through the imposed order, the Lebanese suddenly find themselves taking care of the Syrian Leviathan. If Lebanon has always embodied the Dionysian, with its several war scars, social open wounds and its incontrollable emotionalities, Syria has always represented the rational, organized and balance-keeper Apollonian to the outsider’s eye. (more…)

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