Cart tugging across “the Empty Quarter”
The pinkish-orange sand dunes of Saudi Arabia: a beautiful part of our earth’s biodiversity–challenge any who seek to cross its barren stretches. British adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron seek to better the camel in the Arabian desert. “The locals we met were the kindest, friendliest and most welcoming, but they thought what we were doing was completely crazy.”
Humphreys and McCarron crossed “the empty quarter.” The Empty Quarter (in Arabic known as Rub’ al Khali) is the largest sand desert in the world. It encompasses just about all of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi).
The goal of the two men was to retrace the footsteps of a great British legend–Wilfred Thesiger, who had made two separate desert explorations in the 1940s charting vast tracts of the Empty Quarter.
Truth be told!
Just as I, these two adventurers came to Saudi Arabia having received dire warnings of terrorists and impending danger. And, just as I, Humphreys and McCarron found themselves safe–safer than some places we might be in our home countries.
“It was very safe,” Humphreys said. “Before I went a lot of people were thinking ’Oh you’re going to the Middle East. You’ll definitely be killed by Islamic terrorists!’ but it was so much safer than even the United Kingdom.”
Read more about these adventurers at: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/22/world/meast/modern-day-adventurers-desert-crossing/index.html?iref=allsearch
Or, watch this YouTube video describing their incredible desert adventure:
Sources: CNN, Wikipedia, YouTube, alastairhumphreys.com
I wish all who love and seek to honor Jesus a very merry Christmas!
While Jesus’ birth year is estimated among most modern historians to have actually been between 7 and 2 BC, the exact month and day of Jesus’ birth are unknown. Western Catholic and Protestant Christians have chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th while Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate January 7th as Jesus’ birthday.
But did you know that the same story about Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth is also told in the Qur’an?
In fact, there are two chapters of the Qur’an which tell the story of Mary’s life and Jesus’ birth. One chapter is entitled “Mary,” and the second is entitled “The Family Imran” (or “Mary’s Family”).
Here one reads about the birth of Jesus (also known in the Qur’an as “the Christ”–”the Messiah of God”). Here there is detail about the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. One reads the same story about Jesus’ virgin birth that is allso told in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In the Qur’an one reads, “”The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God…’ She said, ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He (the Archangel Gabriel) said, ‘Even so: God creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is’” (Qur’an / The Family of Imran 45-47).
During this season and the coming year 2014, may we all seek to honor Jesus’ words and teachings by loving God immensely and by loving others as much as we love ourselves!
(Last updated 11 December 2013…)
The difficult climb
As a dinner guest at the home of Dr. Safi and Eman Kaskas, I mentioned that I was interested in someday visiting the Cave of Hira, about 3 miles north of Mecca, a place known by Muslims as the place where the Prophet Mohammad received his first revelation of the holy Qur’an from God as delivered by the angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).
Another dinner guest, renowned Saudi poet and writer Nimah Nawwab, immediately phoned a friend, and early the next morning found Dr. Safi, Eman, Nimah, Hisham, the muadhan (‘caller to prayer”) Shafik Zubir from our local neighborhood mosque and me in an SUV bound for Jabal al Nour (the Mountain of Light).
The Cave of Hira is a cave just below the back side of the peak of the mountain. It is about 3 miles (4.9 km) northeast of the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. The cave itself is about 12 feet (3.7 m) in length and just over 5 feet (1.60 m) in width. One must climb 890 feet to the summit. That’s like climbing the stairs of a 90-story building—no small task for the older members of our adventurous troupe. I needed help and direction getting up much of the way and especially a lesson in contortion in order to squeeze through some of the smaller 8 to 10-inch crevices between the rocks surrounding the cave.
At 65 I found my legs and knees weaker. It was a difficult, difficult climb, but I was blessed to be able to complete it with the help of two men—one from Pakistan and the other from Kashmir.
The first revelations of the Qur’an
The oldest surviving biography of Prophet Muhammad is that of Ibn Hisham (833 CE), which is a freely edited version of Ibn Ishaq’s (ca. 704 – 767 CE). In this biography, Ibn Hisham tells us that before the revelation of the Qur’an Muhammad used to retreat for a month every year in a mountain called Hira in Mecca.
When the prophet would finish his seclusion he would return to circumbulate the Ka‘bah seven times before heading home.
One year, corresponding to 610 CE, the Prophet had retreated to Hira in the month of Ramadhan when he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who read to him the first verses of the Qur’an to be revealed. According to Ibn Hisham, Gabriel appeared to Mohammad in his sleep, carrying a book. He commanded him to “read.” Mohammad refused the order twice before finally asking what he was supposed to read. Gabriel replied with following verses of the Qur’an: ”Read in the name of your Lord who created, He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most honorable who teaches by the pen, He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). Mohammad then recited the verses in his sleep. When he woke up, he felt as if the words had been engraved on his heart. On his way down from the mountain, the Prophet heard a voice from heaven saying: “O Mohammad! You are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.”
Another perspective of the event
Imam Muhammad Al Bukhari (810-870 CE), whose compilation of sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad is highly regarded by Sunni Muslims, gives a slightly different account: The commencement of the divine inspiration to the Messenger of God was in the form of “good dreams which came true like bright day light.” It is then said that the prophet was endowed with a love of seclusion.
He would go to the Cave of Hira where he would worship God alone–continuously for many days before he would desire to see his family. He used to take with him a provision of food for the stay and then come back to his wife Khadija to take food for another stay, until suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the Cave of Hira.
According to Al Bukhari, Mohammad related, “The angel caught me forcefully and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ So he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ So he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said: ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is most honorable who teaches by the pen. He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96:1-5).
Al Bukhari says Mohammad returned greatly inspired “with his heart beating fast.” Then he went to his wife Khadija and said: “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him with a cloth until his fear subsided. The prophet then told her everything that had happened, saying, “I fear that something may happen to me.”
Khadija replied: “Never! God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your family, carry the weak, help the poor, serve your guests generously, and assist those afflicted by calamity.”
Although the overwhelming majority of scholars believe the verses of chapter 96 above are the first to have been revealed, some others have disagreed. For instance, in his famous exegesis of the Qur’an, At Tabari quotes some who insist that the first verses of chapter 74 were the first to be revealed.
However, in addition to his citation of those who argue that it was the verses of chapter 96, Al Bukhari also quotes a number of transmitters of prophetic sayings who claim that those verses of chapter 74 were revealed first: [The Messenger of God] said: “I went to stay in Hira. After finishing my stay, and while I was coming down, I was called upon. I looked right, left, in front, and behind, but could not see anyone. But when I raised my head I saw something. I then came to Kadhija and said: ‘Cover me, and pour cold water on me!’”He said: ‘They covered me and poured cold water on me.” He said: “Then the following verses were revealed: ‘O you who are clothed! Arise and warn! And your Lord do magnify’” (Qur’an 74:1-3).
In Al Bukhari’s renowned exegetical work, Al Qurtubi he adds another two opinions–one of which claims that chapter 1, known as Al Fatiha, was the first to be revealed, and the other claims it was verse 6.151.
Prophet Mohammad’s mountain retreat
Despite the conflicting accounts and the impossibility of finding out the exact details of the first revelation of the Qur’an, Muslim scholars and historians have not disputed the fact that the Prophet used to retreat to the Cave of Hira near the summit of the Mountain of Light for worship, and the overwhelming majority agree that it was during one of those seclusions that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed.
The books of Prophetic sayings also mention at least two instances after the revelation of the Qur’an in which the Prophet “climbed up to Hira.” In one instance he was with a group of his companions when the mountain shook.
Prophets found solace in caves
Many prophets from the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) fled into a desert wilderness or hid in caves for safety or respite–seeking peace, emotional healing and protection while being alone with God.
Moses, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostle John and many others found times in their lives where the road of life became so narrow that there was simply only room for God and them alone.
Indeed, obeying God is often difficult business, especially when you are confronted by an enemy that seeks to undo you emotionally and spiritually. In such times one embraces solitude in a desert or cave to be in solitude with the Almighty.
One reads in the Old Testament that “Ahab told (Queen) Jezebel everything (God’s prophet) Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the (queen’s false) prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). Further it is said that Elijah “was afraid and ran for his life.” It is said that Elijah was directed by the Archangel Gabriel to get up and eat a cake of bread that lay by the prophet’s head and to drink water. Later, Gabriel “came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8). There, exhausted and trembling in fear and depression, Elijah hid in a cave until the “still, small voice” of God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God eventually relieved the prophet of his horrid depression; strengthening him and giving him hope for the future.
The prophet David, likewise, cried out to God from the cave of Adullam when he was fleeing King Saul. One of his cries for help is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Psalms and is entitled “A Psalm From a Cave” (Psalm 57). He wrote:
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me— God sends forth his love and his faithfulness. I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts— men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet— I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path— but they have fallen into it themselves. My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”
It was in what today is known as the “Cave of the Apocalypse” that the Apostle John received God’s “Great Revelation.” It describes end-time events, beginning with the words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass: and signified, sending by his angel to his servant John… The things which must shortly come… and again it is said, ‘The time is at hand…’” (Revelation 1:1-3). The Revelation describes end-time apocalyptic events that will come to pass shortly before Jesus’ prophesied return. (Both Christians and Muslims believe in the imminent return of Jesus the Messiah.)
Sami Yusuf sings about the Cave of Hira
Muslims over the centuries continued to climb to the top of this high desert Mountain of Light to visit the cave where the Qur’an was first revealed.During Ramadan and during the holy days of the annual Hajj, as many as five thousand pilgrims per day make the climb to the Cave of Hira. We are fortunate on our journey as our trail is not crowded. Once we have made the steep climb to the cave we find time there alone to think about life and the significant event that took place in this mountaintop grotto. Our thoughts are filled with praise and prayer for our families, friends and the world today. There is so much human need, misunderstanding, distrust, conflict, greed and war. “How, God,” we ask, “can we make a difference?”
Below, contemporary Muslim singer Sami Yusuf echoes our thoughts about the Cave of Hira and the first revelations of the Qur’an which began there. Take a few minutes to listen to Yusuf’s inspiring song and be encouraged!
Sources: National Geographic, wikipedia.org, The Hajj School, mecca.net
Faith books and animal welfare
All the Abrahamic holy books, including the Torah, the Zabur (The Psalms), the major and minor prophecies, and the Christian New Testament, the Qur’an—all strongly enjoin men and women to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them.
At the time of the worldwide flood described in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an, why do you think it was important for God to save the animals of the world? It’s because God loves his creatures, and because they serve an important purpose in his creation. For example, without the pollination of bees, we would not have flowers, and a lot of our fruits and vegetables would also become extinct! When examining each animal, one finds that each one has purpose.
Animals praise their Creator
Did you know that animals also praise God? They were created with a sense of God, their Creator, and, yes, they honor, praise and worship God! It may not be in a language that you or I understand, but it is an important part of their service to God.
In the Qur’an we read, “Don’t you see that it is all creatures in the heavens and on the earth celebrate (praise) God–even the birds of the air with wings outstretched? Each one has its own way (language) of prayer and praise, and God knows well all that they do” (Qur’an 24:41).
In the Old Testament Psalms of David, we read, “Praise the Lord from the earth…you great sea creatures, you wild animals and all grazing livestock, small creatures and flying birds…” (Old Testament / Psalm 148:7, 10).
Kindness taught by faith leaders
We should note that King Solomon in the Old Testament book of Proverbs expressed concern for animals. He said, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (Old Testament / Proverbs 12:10).
Jesus spoke of God’s love and care for His creatures. He pointed to God as our example, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (New Testament / Matthew 6:26).
According to Prophet Mohammad, “Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself” (Wisdom of Prophet Mohammad in Muhammad Amin). He also said, ”Whoever tills a field, and birds and beasts eat from it, it is an act of charity” (Holy Prophet in Musnad of Ahmad),
One cannot write an article about faith and animals without mentioning Saint Francis of Assisi. He was a Roman Catholic friar and the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, birds, the environment, and Italy, and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies honoring animals around his feast day on October 4.
It was Saint Francis who penned the words to this great hymn sung today in so many houses of worship.
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Saint Francis’ devotion to God was expressed through his great love for all of God’s creation. He cared not only for the poor and sick; he preached sermons to animals, and praised all creatures as “brothers and sisters under God.”
Animals express emotion. Fear is an emotion that generally produces observable behavior in animals. A field mouse will flee from the shadow of a hawk flying overhead. And we all are familiar with the term “scaredy cat”!
Happiness can be discerned as one enters his home to be greeted by an excited, barking dog, with tail wagging uncontrollably! Our Schnauzer “Kenny” is one of the happiest dogs I know.
There are purring cats of all kinds, from house cats to huge lions, all purring out their feelings of contentment and happiness.
And we have all, at one time or another, observed animals whining or crying.
The Prophet Muhammad is said to have voiced his concern for a “crying camel.” According to Anas bin Malik, one of Muhammad’s close companions, the prophet came across a camel tied to a post. The animal looked desperately malnourished. As Muhammad approached, the camel began to relay emotions to the prophet. It was, according to bin Malik, as though the animal were saying, “My master overburdens me. I’m never given sufficient food or water. When I am weak and barely able to walk, he beats me. I can hardly bear this difficult life.”
Bin Malik said the Prophet searched out the owner, and exhorted him, “Don’t you fear God because of your poor treatment of this camel?” The prophet explained that God had given the camel into the man’s care, and he had a duty to treat the camel well.
Humbly the owner accepted Muhammad’s rebuke and immediately repented, declaring loudly before all who were present, “I have done wrong. May Allah have mercy on me.” He promised the prophet that he would extend greater care to all his camels.
The Abrahamic holy books decry animal cruelty. In the Jewish Talmud one reads that a great rabbi who was insensitive to the fear of a calf being led to slaughter was punished with years of pain.
Several commandments demonstrate concern for the physical or psychological suffering of animals. We may not plow a field using animals of different species, because this would be a hardship to the animals. We are required to relieve an animal of its burden, even if we do not know its owner, or even if it is ownerless.
We are not permitted to kill an animal in the same day as its young, and are specifically commanded to send away a mother bird when taking her eggs, because of the psychological distress this would cause the animal. In fact, the Talmud specifically says that a person who sends away the mother bird will be rewarded with long life, precisely the same reward that is given for honoring one’s mother and father. This should give some indication of the importance of this law.
Faith group positions today
The Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) have adopted a very strong statement on environmental stewardship. “We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over Nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life.” (Quaker Advices and Queries 42)
In Islam, mistreating an animal is considered a sin. The Qur’an and guidance from the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in hadith, give many examples and directives about how Muslims should humanely treat animals.
In the Jewish Torah, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals. The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you (Moses) are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.’” We also note that Rebekah was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife.
Animal abuse lingers
Unfortunately, around the world, some people do not always follow the rules! There are those humans who mistakenly believe that since human needs take priority, animal rights are not an urgent issue.
That has been the case throughout the ages. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote in 97 AD about the hideous acts committed against animals and humans in Roman arenas in his Antiquities of the Jews: “Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration.”
Judaism and Islam have both recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people. St. Francis concurred, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Modern psychology confirms this understanding, with many studies finding a relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult criminal violence.
Some people find excuses to inflict deliberate harm on certain animals, such as dogs and roosters. These actions fly in the face of Jewish, Christian and Islamic teachings, and the best way to combat such ignorance is through education and by good example. Individuals, houses of worship and governments have an important role to play in educating the public about the proper care of our animal friends.
Numerous organizations have been formed through the years to ensure animals’ rights and protection. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) are but a few. Such organizations are now found in every US state and in many foreign nations.
God’s heavenly pets!
God has awesome love and appreciation for his created animals. He even has animals around his throne in heaven! They are the “living creatures” we read about in the New Testament book of Revelation. The Greek word translated “living creatures” is zoon. It is the word from which the English word “zoo” is derived.
It is said that these heavenly animals were created for the express purpose of shouting out praises to God, saying, “Holy! Holy! Holy! The Lord God! The Almighty!”
Even though these creatures are highly intelligent and expressive, they’re still animals. That’s what the Bible calls them!
In writing this article I ran across this Muslim children’s song. Enjoy this music which celebrates God’s animals.
Postscript… And then came “Abra”!
After I posted the above article, I walked out my front door in Jeddah, and started singing loudly, “All creatures of our God and King! Life up your voice and with us sing!” As soon as those words came out of my mouth, an emaciated tiny, little kitten bounded across that busy street and fell down at my feet. It just lay their meowing! I leaned over, picked it up, and began looking for the mother. No other cats were in sight.
I took the kitten home. I mistakenly gave it solid food, and it got very sick. A veterinarian friend told me the kitten was only two weeks old, too young for solid food. I was told to give it only a powdered animal milk, which I mixed with water and dished out 4 times a day. The kitten came alive–running, jumping! I promtly named the kitten “Abra” (Arabic, meaning “dedicated to God.”
But then in typical human fashion I began grumbling to God, “Why did you give me this needy 3-week-old kitten to take care of when You know I have to leave for the US in a few days! What am I going to do with this kitten?”
I kept looking for someone in Saudi Arabia to take my kitten. No one was willing to do so because Saudis don’t let animals in their homes. So I kept praying. Just a few hours before I had to leave for the airport I still had no one who would care for this kitten. Three hours before I had to leave for the airport, I ran to a meeting nearby where I am editing a photo album about Mecca. Khalid, the owner of the company, asked me if I had everything in order for my trip. I told him about the kitten to which he replied, “That isn’t anything I can do. Animals are not permitted in my home.”
I responded in despair with these exact words: “Khalid, please pray that I can find someone who loves cats.” We continued with our business meeting. About 30 minutes later a gentleman, a copywrite eidtor by the name of Hafeez, walked into the meeting. We continued with our discussion about the book, and that Hafeez’ phone rang. It wasn’t a normal ringing sound. His phone was going, “Meow! Meow! Meow!” We all laughed, and then this man said, totally unaware of what I had said to my friend just a few minutes earlier, “I love cats so much!”
Khalid and I stared at each other in amazement. Here was the man God had picked to love and care for this tiny kitten! Hafeez gladly went home with me to take charge “Abra.” This three-week-old kitten is, indeed, a miracle kitten.
I received a message just today from Hafeez who assures me the kitten is doing well and is in good hands. He says, “Welcome back to Saudi Arabia, Uncle Sam! ‘Abra’ is the star of our house. My mother and my sisters fell in love with her, and they are feeding her gourmet food!”
Truly, if God cares so much in providing for this poor, homeless kitten; how much more must He care for us!
Praying to Abraham’s God
Last night I was invited by three Muslim friends to join them in the holy city of Mecca.
I took this photo (above left) of my Muslim brothers praying at the Kaaba (a worship place built by Prophet Abraham). It reminded me of another photo (above right) I had seen of Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (the foundation stones of the worship place built by Prophet Solomon).
These stone buildings are not objects of worship. They are merely places to focus one’s attention on the one and only God of the universe.
Both Jews and Arabs are genetically descendant from Prophet Abraham. They are “cousins.” They both pray to Abraham’s God.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer
As I joined hundreds of men and women in making the ritual tawaf (the prayerful circumambulation of the holy Kaaba), Scriptures came to mind reminding me that disagreements, no matter how difficult, must never lead to hatred. Hatred has no place in true faith.
While I praised God for his loving kindness, I tearfully prayed as the great Prophet and Messiah Jesus taught us to pray, “God, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The context of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, known to Christians as “the Lord’s Prayer,” outlines a heartfelt appeal to all of us (men and women) who make a public show of prayer. We are in essence told to humble ourselves in our relationships with others; seeking not to offend but rather to make amends.
Praise to the God of Abraham
In many Christian congregations (especially the Methodist), congregants stand and sing the hymn “The God of Abraham Praise.” This old hymn has an interesting background
One night in 1865, the English hymnist Thomas Olivers was attracted to a service in a London Jewish synagogue where he heard an inspiring soloist, Leoni, sing an ancient Hebrew melody. His baritone voice was filled with deeply profound emotion. Olivers was impressed and immediately was moved to write a hymn to the same tune. The result was the hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise.” This hymn is actually a paraphrase of an ancient Hebrew yigdal, or doxology:
The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
Jehovah, great I AM,
by earth and heaven confessed:
I bow and bless the sacred Name
for ever blessed.
Films you should see
There are a number of award-winning films that have been released during the past few years that help one to understand what’s behind the conflict between Israel and Palestine–the heart of the Middle East crisis.
Below you will see the closing scene from a great film Language of the Enemy (2008) about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its resulting calamity. In the film an American Jewish university student falls in love with a Palestinian doctor. The young man is tragically killed by Israeli soldiers. This scene depicts the heart-rending despair separating Jews and Arab Muslims. It ends with an agonizing cry “Abraham!” If you haven’t seen this movie, get a copy and watch it.
Unless we feel their pain we will never understand their suffering. Please join us in praying and working for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. Our collective hope and faith is in Abraham’s God
Leaders come to Al Makkiyah
One of the most interesting private residences in Saudi Arabia is the home of well-known architect and historian Dr. Sami Angawi. Al Makkiyah mansion attracts leaders and visitors from around the world.
Angawi is an expert in Islamic architecture and is also outspoken about his faith, Islam. The house serves as a meeting place for individuals and groups seeking to communicate Middle Eastern culture to peoples and groups on other continents. He believes, however, that extremists are attempting hijack Islam. He and other Muslim leaders hope to maintain Islam’s core roots—balanced and moderate and more tolerant of people’s differences.
Angawi is known for his activism–especially his strong views about historic preservation in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Many significant sites of Islam have been destroyed under direct orders from radical religious leaders in an effort, they claim, to prevent idolatry or because of what they consider to be,the veneration of gravesites or relics. (See my story “Grandmother Eve’s grave.”)
Public lectures and concerts
The Angawi house is a cultural haven in Jeddah where his family and friends regularly host lectures, concerts and timely discussions, often on a weekly basis.
The design of this residence combines modern construction techniques with traditional crafts such as Turkish mosaic and Moroccan zillij. Red Sea coral reef stone, desert sandstone, marbles and granite are utilized throughout the exterior and interior.
Old-style natural ventilation techniques minimize the need for air-conditioning even at the peak of hot Arabian summers. A computerized drip-watering system feeds thousands of hanging plants that are an integral feature of both the central internal courtyard and the exterior ground and roof gardens.
The Islamic principle of sitr (ensuring privacy for neighbors as well as inhabitants of the house) is accomplished by using traditional rawasheen bay windows and intricate hand-carved Hijazi woodwork over the openings.
Bridging nations and faiths
For decades Saudi Arabia has been generally considered a somewhat closed society, eager to protect its own traditions from external cultural influences.
While preservation of traditions is of great concern to Dr. Sami Angawi, his desire is balanced with a passion for building bridges between nations, cultures and faiths.
His architectural designs assert the importance of his HIjazi heritage with the common cultural heritage shared by both western and Islamic societies; believing that a “clash of civilizations” need not lead to misunderstanding, but rather friendship, trust and peace.
This concept of balance, known in Arabic as mizan, is the essence of Islamic tradition and of many of the world’s religious beliefs. The aspiration of Angawi to reflect this historic principle in his life and work is important. It has made him a leader in building bridges between the Middle East and the rest of the world. “More balance can be achieved through respect for the past,” Angawi says. “In our Al Makkiyah mansion, modernity and tradition, privacy and openness, stability and dynamism are equally represented to generate harmony.”
Hijazi culture influences the modern world
Angawi is the founder of the renowned Hajj Research Center in Mecca and also the Amar Center for Architectural Heritage. He has dedicated his life to preserving the history and architecture of Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina; encouraging dialogue about Islam and cross-cultural collaboration and understanding between institutions and universities worldwide.
Angawi’s Hijaz ancestry can be traced back to the Mecca region along the central Red Sea coast. It is his lineage, dating back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, that has formed his religious thought. “The Hijaz,” he says, “is the site of Islam’s holy places and the melting pot of the Muslim world. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world have traveled annually for centuries to the region, enriching it with their traditions and ideas.”
Respect and compassion
Angawi believes that respect, solidarity and compassion are human values and inspiring principles for every culture and all faiths. “Being aware of these intrinsic similarities and stressing them is the only antidote to fear, bigotry and ignorance.”
In a 2011 interview with Arab News, Angawi said, “Al Makkiah represents a seed. I wish that one day we could have thousands Al Makkiyahs and establish a ‘United Nations of people,’ regardless of their race, color or beliefs.”
When Arab News challenged his concept as being Utopian, Angawi said he finds inspiration in water. “It is a powerful element, stronger than rocks, steel and diamonds. If it doesn’t reach the sea, water changes its status and comes back in other forms to achieve the goal.”
Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute
Dr. Sami Angawi is now gathering an international board of intellectuals, activists and businessmen to create his legacy–an international institute offering degrees in Islamic history and science, the Al Makkiyah / Al Mediniyah Institute will provide courses in Islamic history, architecture and science.
The institute at Al Makkiyah will house Angawi’s more than 100 thousand photographs, drawings and writings about Islam and the two holy cities Mecca and Medina. The school will be a collaborative educational experience, providing American, Canadian and European students the opportunity to research Islam on location in the Hijaz–right where the faith has advanced over the past 1400 years.
Here’s a short video describing the Al Makkiyah mansion:
Sources: Arab News, wikipedia.com, Saudi Airlines, CNN, History of Architecture, BBC, Harun Yahya TV
Dream come true
Today my friend Aidarous Al Mashhour drove me to the Khalil Mosque here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After we prayed together at the mosque, Aidarous told the imam about my childhood dream—to climb to the top of a minaret.
The imam directed us to the caretaker of the mosque who was more than happy to unlock the door to the inner stairway of the minaret. After some ten minutes of climbing through very narrow openings I arrived at a balcony which encircles the upper section of the minaret. I was so happy to be able to look out over the city of Jeddah and to consider the hundreds of years of Islamic history that minaret represented..
The history of this marvelous structure
The minaret is one of the most distinctive features of a mosque. It’s history is interesting, not just to Muslims, but also in the annals of architecture.
Remarkably, there are very few references to the minaret in Arabic literature.
The name itself is somewhat strange, and in no way represents the purpose for which these towers are built. The word in Arabic means “an object that gives light” ((Arabic nur, meaning “light”; hence mi-nur-rat or minaret). So, from the name itself one could wrongly conclude the minaret to be a type of “light house” or tower with a light on top.
Some suggest that the minaret gets its name from the light that the muadhin (“caller to prayer”) would hold as he recited the adhan (call to prayer). Others indicate that in some of the oldest mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus, minarets doubled as illuminated watchtowers.
The earliest Islamic mosques had no minarets. The mosques built in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and Medina were very simple. There was nothing like a tower associated with these early houses of prayer and worship.
The call to prayer
The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. The adhan is, for sure, one of the most characteristic, powerfully evocative symbols of Islam. This Arabic call to prayer, dramatically intoned by a muadhin from high atop a lofty minaret—once heard—it can never be forgotten!
The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and is mentioned only once in the Qur’an, in connection with the Friday assembly:
“O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], leave your business and proceed to the remembrance of God. That is better for you, if you only knew” (Sura 62:9).
Muslim tradition explains how the adhan came to be used to announce the times of the five daily prayers.
After the emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina (known as the Hijra) a believer named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he tried to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer, as was the tradition of Christians living in Medina at that time. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and to cry:
God is the greatest! God is the greatest!
I testify that there is no god but God.
I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to salvation! Come to salvation!
God is the greatest! God is the greatest!
There is no god but God!
Bilal, Islam’s first “caller to prayer”
According to Ibn Ishaq, the eighth-century biographer of Prophet Mohammed, Ibn Zaid went to the Prophet with his story and Mohammed, having had a similar dream, agreed. He told Ibn Zaid to ask an Ethiopian believer named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer.
Early traditions indicate that Bilal made his call to prayer from the rooftop of the Prophet’s house, which doubled as a residence and a place for prayer and worship.
Indeed, no towers were used or mentioned. The ancient poet al Farazdak spoke of the adhan as being prounounced “on the wall of every city.” In the later hadiths it was said “the muadhin, if he is on the road, may make the call to prayer while riding; he need not halt.”
(Note: Below, I have put a short, stirring video of the call to prayer being made from the minarets of Jeddah. Listen to it.)
First mentions of minarets
The first time a minaret is referenced in connection with the mosque was in Medina–some 80 years after the Prophet Mohammed’s passing.
The massive minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is the oldest standing minaret. Its construction began during the early 8th century and was completed in 836 CE. Its imposing square-plan tower consists of three sections of decreasing size reaching 31.5 meters (103 feet). Considered as the prototype for minarets of the western Islamic world, it served as a model for many minarets to come.
Perhaps you heard recently about the 12th-century Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. It was a UN World Heritage Site. Sadly, its ancient minaret was completely obliterated a few months ago during a battle of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
The minaret’s design
Minarets basically consist of three parts: a base, shaft, and the tower gallery. For the base, the ground is excavated until a hard foundation is reached. Gravel and other supporting materials may be used as a foundation.
Minarets may generally tapered upward, square, cylindrical, or polygonal (faceted). Stairs circle the shaft in a counter-clockwise fashion, providing the necessary structural support to the decidedly elongated shaft.
The gallery is a balcony which encircles the upper sections from which the muadhin may give the call to prayer. It is usually covered by a roof-like canopy and adorned with ornamentation, such as decorative brick and tile work, cornices, arches and inscriptions, with the transition from the shaft to the gallery typically sporting muqarnas (collections of small corbels that form a transition from one plane to another). Formerly plain in style, a minaret’s place in time can be determined by its level of embellishment.
The symbolic moon
The crescent moon, sometimes combined with a star, often tops the minaret. This symbol was often used by the late Turkish Ottoman Empire; however, its not the official symbol of Islam.
In many nations; however, it remains a generally accepted symbol of Islam in much the same way the Star of David represents Judaism or as the cross is representative of Christianity.
The crescent moon points to God’s awesome creation. We read in the Qur’an, “Surely your Lord is none other than God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then ascended His Throne; Who causes the night to cover the day and then the day swiftly pursues the night; Who created the sun and the moon and the stars making them all subservient to His command. Lo! His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed is God, the Lord of the universe” (Qur’an 7:54-58). A similar sentiment is echoed by the prophet King David in the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-5).
The crescent moon is not, as some Islamophobic individuals continue to wrongly assert, a “secret Muslim moon god”! The Qur’an forbids the worship of idols of any kind. “And from among His signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Do not bow down (prostrate) to the sun nor to the moon, but only bow down (prostrate) to God Who created them, if you (really) worship Him” (Qur’an 41:37).
Watch this short BBC report on Jeddah’s mosques and the call to prayer:
Sources: The Oxford History, wikipedia.com , Saudi Aramco World, BBC, CNN, Architectural History
My visit to the pyramids of Giza
I recently fulfilled a lifetime dream of visiting the famous Pyramids of Giza, just to the south of Cairo, Egypt. These celebrated pyramids are among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the oldest built more than 4500 years ago! Modern scholars and archaeologists have long been curious about these ancient tombs of the pharaohs. Out of the three pyramids, the most famous is the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), which was built by Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 BC.
The Great Pyramid stands 137 meters (449 feet) high. Each side is oriented with one of the cardinal directions of the compass (north, south, east, and west). The Great Pyramid of Khufu is made up of two million blocks of limestone. Granite lines the entrances, the shafts and the chambers. The thousands of smooth white casing stones that beautified the sides of this pyramid, have long since been unfortunately removed, being used in other building projects.
I was pleasantly surprised when my Egyptian friends actually got permission for me to climb through the inner shafts of the Great Pyramid. This pyramid is equal in height to a modern 50-story skyscraper! For the better part of an hour, I was led upward through the narrow connecting shafts some 200 meters (656 feet) to the upper chamber of Khufu. Due to low ceilings in most of the shafts, one is forced to lean over while walking, literally crawling, in places, on hands and knees. It was a difficult climb, and I was drenched in sweat when I finally stood in the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu.
The Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) is situated to the southwest of the Pyramid of Khufu. Although it appears to be taller than the Great Pyramid, as it stands on higher ground, this pyramid is actually smaller than that of Khufu. This pyramid was built by Khufu’s son Khafre.
The third pyramid, the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus), which stands some 67m (220ft) high, was started by Khafre’s son Menkaure.
In front of the Great Pyramid stands the Sphinx, a statue of a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. The Sphinx, which stands 20 meters (66 feet) high, and measuring about 73.5 meters (241 feet) long, was carved over 4500 years ago out of sandstone.
Archaeologists and historians marvel
Can you imagine one of our modern skyscrapers weathering 4500 years of harsh climatic conditions? Just how were these pyramids built? How have they stood the test of time?
Today’s scientists, historians and civil engineers stand in awe of the pyramids. They are continually developing theories as to just how the ancient Egyptian peoples could have carved and moved these millions of huge stones hundreds of miles from the far south to their Giza location and then haven assembled them into the pyramids.
When I was in graduate school, I remember reading the 1970 best-selling book by Erich von Däniken‘s titled Chariots of the Gods. The book theorized extraterrestrials interacting with early human life, passing on high-tech scientific information to undeveloped human civilizations in various parts of the world—one being the ancient kingdoms of the Egyptian pharaohs. (This theory was subsequently debunked by University of South Carolina professor Dr. Clifford Wilson in his 1972 sequel entitled Crash Go the Chariots.)
One of the best construction explanations I’ve found was published in the March 2008 issue of Science Daily.
The legendary curse of the pharaohs
Just two days after climbing through the Great Pyramid’s inner, narrow shafts leading to Khufu’s burial chamber, I ended up in a Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, hospital with a high temperature, swollen glands diagnosed with some mysterious, unknown virus. I was mainlined with some pretty powerful antibiotics for five days and then released to continue my recuperation at home. I have now fully recovered, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the extraordinary rumors of pyramid curses that have circulated for centuries.
Movies and sensational Hollywood science fiction movies abound, encouraging the rumors—the classic being the 1944 horror film The Mummy’s Curse.
The idea of a mummy coming back to life from the dead, an essential part of many mummy curse legends, was developed in The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an early work combining science fiction and horror, written by Jane C. Loudon and published in 1827.
Two other stories subsequently discovered by S. J. Wolfe, Robert Singerman and Jasmine Day–The Mummy’s Soul (Anonymous 1862) and After Three Thousand Years by Jane G. Austin in 1868–have similar plots. In both, a female mummy takes supernatural revenge upon her male counterpart.
The belief in a curse was brought to many people’s attention due to the mysterious deaths of several members of archaeologist Howard Carter‘s team while they were excavating the tomb of Tutankhamun (more commonly known as King Tut). The tomb was located far to the south in the Valley of the Kings and was opened by Carter and George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon (Lord Carnarvon) in 1922.
The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted, working with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb, reported how Carter had sent a messenger on an errand to his house. When the man came near to Carter’s home he thought he heard a “faint, almost human cry.” On reaching the entrance he saw a cobra in a bird cage. (The cobra was the symbol of Egyptian monarchy.) Carter’s canary had died in the cobra’s mouth, and this fueled local rumors of a curse. An account of the incident was reported by the New York Times on 22 December 1922. The first of the “mysterious” deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon had been bitten by a mosquito, and later cut the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted.
Two weeks before Carnarvon died, Marie Corelli wrote an imaginative letter that was published in the New York World magazine, in which she quoted an obscure book that confidently asserted that “dire punishment” would follow any intrusion into a sealed tomb. A media frenzy followed, with reports that a curse had been found in the King’s tomb, though this was untrue.
The curse rumors were further fanned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. In a film he suggested that Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by “elementals” created by Tutankhamun’s priests to guard the royal tomb, and this further fueled public curse frenzy. .
A newspaper report printed following Carnarvon’s death is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.”
There is, though, a possible reasonable explanation for illness and even death resulting from noxious gases that are released when ancient tombs are opened. When Archaeologist Sami Gabra was working in tombs in the ibis-necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel, both he and his workers were seized by violent
headaches and shortness of breath. At first the workers feared of the ibis-headed god, Thoth. In reality, it was discovered that the cause was toxic vapors. When the tomb was fumigated, the crew returned to work..
Russians scale the Great Pyramid
A few months ago, Russian photographer Vadim Makhorov caused quite a stir when he published a set of stunning images captured from atop Egypt’s Great Pyramid. The photos, posted to Makhorov’s LiveJournal page, provide a rare view of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though they’ve fueled a fair bit of controversy, as well.
Once the pyramid complex had closed to tourists, Makhorov and his two friends, Vitaliy Raskalov and Marat Dupri, staked out for nearly five hours, hiding themselves from Egypt’s armed guards. (Now if only I had been there to scale the pyramid with these guys!)
When they were certain the coast was clear, they embarked on the 481-foot climb to the top of the pyramids, where they captured incredible panoramic shots of the Giza Necropolis,. They were able to keep totally out of sight of the guards below.
According to Raskalov, the trio would have faced between one and three years in jail, had they been caught. Said Makhorov, “We didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following our dream.”
Below are some of the photos Makhorov and his friends took.
Here’s an incredible video about the Great Pyramid of Giza:
Sources: Science Daily, The New York Times, New York World, Archaeology, The Pyramids of Egypt, BBC, The Verge, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Magazine, galactic-server.net, en.wikipedia.org
(last updated 6 July 2013, 12:00 noon)
The whole world is watching
Media around the world are broadcasting live from the streets of Egypt as that nation is once more in the midst of political upheaval. With much of the international network reporting; however, comes a lot of sensational misinformation.
I’ve just returned from Cairo. While there, I had incredible discussions with both Egyptians who support the Mohamed Morsi government and with the opposition who are claiming some of the “biggest street demonstrations in the history of mankind.”
In Tharir Square I found the Egyptian people more than willing to speak freely and openly—to express opposing views.
I sat down with two groups—members of the Muslim Brotherhood and also members of the the Tamarod, or liberal “Rebel” movement. All of this comes on the first anniversary of the birth of what was hoped to be a new democratic Egypt.
As I entered discussions with the rebels, I could feel the drama building up to a potential showdown in Egypt. Pro-Morsi adherents boast that Morsi was democratically elected. Opponents to the Morsi government say Morsi has not kept his promises to include minority political views in his government.
The Egyptian military has announced both sides must develop consensus for a inclusive plan to eliminate national unrest.
All agree that these continuing street battles are about freedom, democracy, transparency in government, about a sound economy that benefits all the Egyptian peoples.
What is clear is that happened last ear in Egypt is but the first stage of a new order that is sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. Citizens are expressing their opinions, and they will no longer be silent.
Add to the current chaos in Egypt our world economic turmoil and threats from the Egyptian army to “enforce the will of the people,” and the situation is volatile and could lead to violence.
Morsi had accepted the resignations of several cabinet ministers and has apologized for “mistakes” he had made during the first year of his administration—specifically for failing to include youth and other political minorities in his government.
To his credit, Morsi has repeatedly called for dialogue with opposition groups, but his administration says the opposition has declined.
Morsi has said, “We are changing Egypt for the better—through a free and democratic way.”
Cairo discussions with Muslim Brotherhood
I first met with members of the Freedom and Justice Party—the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Waleed Alsharif was quick to point out that his Muslim Brotherhood friends seek to represent the concerns of all Egyptians—including minorities like Christians and Jews.
I had not brought up the subject of religious minorities, but Waleed quickly brought it up.
“We love Christians and Jews,” Waleed pointed out. “The Quran commands that we show them respect and that we advocate for their concerns as well.”
I asked, “What should Morsi do differently to gain the support of other Egyptian minorities?”
Waleed responded, “Morsi must be quick to include peoples of different faiths, different political perspectives and ages.”
The opposition Tamarod
Throughout Cairo one views opposition posters and graffiti condemning Morsi. Most of the posters call for Morsi to immediately resign, clearing the way for new elections.
Oppositionist Sahad Saleh, of the Tamarod, is quick to boast of anti-Morsi groups having collected more than 22 million signatures on a petition calling for the beleaguered Egyptian president to step down.
“The opposition will help complete the revolution,” Sahad proudly says. “We have corrupt officials leading our country. They must go.”
When I asked him for specific examples of corruption, he rattled off quite a few accusations, but was unable to come up with specifics, although with any new government greed and corruption seems to find a way.
Sahad and other opposition leaders are also quick to state that Morsi is not experienced and has no ability to lead Egypt, but then who does have such experience in Egypt?
As has been pointed out in recent days, the Egyptian opposition includes a melee of fractious political groups—including some Islamists even more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood.
One year ago, “free and fair” elections held
There is room for debate as to whether the hastily called elections held just over a year ago were indeed free and fair, given the short period of time various political parties had to organize themselves and conduct legitimate election campaigns.
After just one year, it’s easy to point out the many failures of the Morsi government, but what nation on earth has had an easy time at establishing a democracy as well as writing a constitution and developing laws to assure that all peoples have equal access to government and the freedoms that are necessary to guaranteeing a better future?
After the American revolution, it took the United States several years to write its Constitution and Bill of Rights. And it has taken many more years, through various amendments to the US Constitution, to make certain that the values encouraged by America’s Founding Fathers were applied to all its citizens and minorities. After all, in the US African slaves would not be freed for another 90 years, and once freed, they would not have the same rights as other Americans for another 100 years when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was finally enacted. American women would not be able to vote until 1919.
More recently, the new governments of Central and Eastern Europe have not had an easy go at democracy. Since the fall of communism in 1989 and 1990, many of these governments, while having made significant progress at democratization, are still struggling to make a go of it.
With the breakup of the former Yugoslavia came years of war and revolution, horrific genocide and retribution.
Outright lies and false reporting
Some Islamophobic American radicals have had a heyday attacking the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups. Tabloid journalism and false reporting by some American extremists have been beyond belief.
Jay Sekulow who heads televangelist Pat Robertson’s Washington, DC, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has printed blatant lies about Egyptian “jihadists” said to be in control of Egypt’s future—sensational untruths. Sekulow claims Egyptian Christians are literally being burned on crosses in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (There is absolutely no evidence of such atrocities!)
Most recently, the ACLJ and a handful of radical US congressmen have put out several “action alerts” claiming “the Obama Administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood is out of control.”
I have on numerous occasions phoned the ACLJ office in Washington, DC, to point out that no Christians are being crucified in Cairo. I have repeatedly requested documentation for their unsubstantiated claims. They have provided none, but they persist with their disinformation quickly followed by the words “Contribute Now!”
It’s most disconcerting when a few religious extremists (be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish) re-write stories, manipulating “facts” to their own ends, in apparent attempts to hurt people who don’t believe exactly as they do.
Egyptian military intervenes
Last week the situation in Egypt is became critical. The Egyptian military high command said last Monday that “if the demands of the people are not met” within 48 hours, the military would intervene with a “roadmap” to end the standoff. This announcement, broadcast on TV, was applauded by millions of men and women rallying in Tahrir Square and across Egypt demanding that Morsi step down.
Morsi deposed; the world reacts
As expected, Morsi refused to give in to the demands of the military. He pointed out that it was impossible to solve all the economic and political challenges in a single year. He readily admitted that mistakes had been made. “What example,” he said, “does it set if a democratically elected government can be easily dismissed before its four-year term has been completed?”
But by Wednesday evening, Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi suspended the new constitution, dissolved parliament and ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood radio and TV stations and newspapers were shut down. It was announced that the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court would be the new “caretaker” leader of Egypt.
For now, Morsi remains under house arrest. He claims the military has orchestrated a coup. The military says its wasn’t a coup but simply the armed forces imposing the “will of the people,” and millions of Egyptians continue to declare their future as democracy continues to evolve, not a the ballot box but in the streets.
US President Barack Obama was quick to release a statement expressing caution and concern, saying, “As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law.”
Obama said the US would be closely monitoring the Egyptian situation. “I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process.”
UK Foreign Minister William Hague has said the UK “will work with the people in authority in Egypt” but condemned the ousting of its president as “a dangerous thing.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office a “major setback for democracy in Egypt,” and warned of repercussions for the entire region, as he emphasized the urgency that Egypt gets back to constitutional order as quickly as possible.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has sent a cable of congratulations to the interim president of Egypt Adli Mansour. In his message to Mansour, King Abdullah appealed to God to help him “shoulder the responsibility given to him and to achieve the hopes of his people.”
For now, millions of opponents to the Morsi government celebrate the military’s intervention, while supporters of Morsi are shocked and in disbelief at the quick fall of their democratically elected president.
Some elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are vowing revenge and martyrdom rather than accept Morsi’s ouster. Fareed Zakaria has given us this excellent comment about the Egyptian crisis.
But common among all the Arab Spring democracies is talk about pluralism and human rights. Various political parties are battling for consensus. For sure, democracies don’t just happen–they evolve.
Sources: on-site interviews, CNN, The Guardian, Arab News, Al Jazeera, BBC, Der Spiegel
A city terrorized
We’ve all been emotionally moved by the recent terrorist attack in Boston. Indeed, the whole world is sickened by the shocking Boston Marathon bombings which have resulted in the deaths of three people, the maiming and wounding of nearly 200 other men, women and children, the terrorizing of the entire city of Boston and the shooting death of a law enforcement officer.
Most of us have been glued to our TV sets and scouring the internet in search of news and the latest discoveries related to the attack.
There were the typical harsh pronouncements and misstatements that accompany such an event. Some journalists and politicians were quick to comment, making sensational, false statements and assertions.
At first, two Saudi students studying in Boston were arrested. Almost immediately, a FOX News commentator tweeted, “Muslims are evil! Kill them all!” He later deleted the comment when it was found the Saudi students were not involved.
Two brothers accused
The search for suspects eventually zoomed in on two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19.
An aunt said the Tsarnaev family is originally from the southern Russia region of Chechnya, but like other Chechens was forced to leave in 1944 during World War II and relocated to Kyrgyzstan. Chechnya, is a mostly Muslim republic in the North Caucasus, and was the scene of two bloody wars after the breakup of the Soviet Union, as separatists fought Russia for independence before prime minister Vladimir Putin crushed the rebellion in 1999.
Terrorism linked to Chechen fighters included a 2002 attack on a Moscow theater that killed 129 hostages, and the 2004 siege of a primary school in Beslan, near Chechnya, that killed more than 300, about half of them children.
The Tsarnaev family had set about building American lives after seeking political asylum in the US, but the two brothers are said to have been adrift after their parents returned to Russia.
After graduating Cambridge Ridge and Latin School, Dzhokhar enrolled as a nursing student at UMass Dartmouth, becoming an American citizen just last year on 9/11. All who knew him expressed absolute shock, saying he was your typical friendly, loveable American teenager.
Their road to terror?
Tamerlan had once embraced life in the US, even hoping to qualify as an Olympic boxer for his adopted country, but he became ostensibly unhappy in America. “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them,” he was quoted as saying in a photo caption that appeared in a Boston University student magazine in 2010.
It was during this period that Tamerlan is said to have self-identified as a Muslim. He is quoted as having said he did not drink or smoke: “God said no alcohol.”
A video believed posted on YouTube by Tamerlan, including links to radical Islamist material, told a darker story still, as did the fact that the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan, at the request of a Russian government, over suspected Islamist extremist views, but found nothing alarming.
According to acquaintances at a Boston mosque, Tamerlan was a loner with flashes of anger. People at a Boston mosque on Prospect Street, found him difficult.
Nichole Mossalam, who works for the Islamic Society of Boston, said Tamerlan, on at least one occasion, became outraged during a sermon. “He made a verbal outburst,” said Mossalam, after the person giving the Friday sermon compared Martin Luther King with the Prophet Mohammad.
Another scholar, Juan Cole, offers an intriguing theory of a broken family dynamic, focused around tensions between the two sons and their father. The parents of the two young men, who later returned to Russia, are in disbelief, saying their two sons were simply not capable of such carnage. (Loving, disbelieving parents are often wrong.) The father claims his sons have been framed by the FBI.
Other American relatives living in Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts have also expressed dismay, saying the two brothers never exhibited any signs of anti-America sentiment.
More recently, Tamerlan married. He and his wife Katherine have a young daughter. Katherine Tsarnaev says she has no knowledge of her husband’s terrorist activities. She is sure to be a key witness in the investigation and Dzhokhar’s eventual trial.
Tamerlan dead, Dzhokhar arrested
It’s difficult to understand how people become alienated from family—from other human beings. But that alienation, fueled by feelings of hatred, is a powerful incentive for evil, and in this case, Islamic radicalization.
Whatever finally emerges as the underlying cause which persuaded the two young men to launch their murderous attacks – a sense of alienation, jihadi motivation or just pure evil forged in the midst of the their fraternal relationship or a combination of all three; by last Friday night, Tamerlan would be dead and Dzhokhar surrounded by police in the town of Watertown.
Residents took to the streets with American flags to celebrate the news that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been captured. Dzhokhar is now in fair condition in a Boston hospital — said to be sedated.
US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham grabbed headlines with demands that Dzhokhar, an American citizen, be treated as a high-value suspect and tried as an “enemy combatant.” They wanted no public trial, but a speedy military tribunal. However, the White House insisted that will not be the case. White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under US law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions.”
Certainly, more will be revealed during the weeks and months ahead as national and international investigations continue.
Dzhokar’s Twitter account
The media have been picking through statements made by the two young men on their social media accounts. CNN, the BBC, FOX News have examined Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter account, reading what they can into this 19-year-old’s motives.
I, too, was drawn to Dzhokhar’s Twitter messages. I was surprised that no one had picked up on this almost self-fulfilling prophecy. Tweeting as “Jahar,” Dzhokhar sent out the following message on Monday, March 18:
Yes, Dzhokhar, people do come into our lives, some to help and love us, and others to hurt and leave us, but we don’t have to let hurts and disappointments determine our attitudes and future actions.
In some respects, we can all identify with life’s turmoil, hurts and desertions. Many of us have felt forlorn at one time or another. We can all point to many of life’s disappointments and tragedies, ones we’ve personally encountered. We may deem it all horribly unfair. We have become victims, alienated, identifying with the wrongful suffering of our own family or group–even irate with ethnic conflicts that occurred generations or even hundreds of years ago.
Today CNN reported that Dzhokhar began to speak from his hospital bed to police investigators. Dzhokhar is reported to have said there were no international groups involved and that his older brother organized the deadly terrorist attack “to defend Islam.”
(Ed. Note: Well, Dzhokhar, you haven’t defended Islam. You have defamed Islam through your murderous activities. ~ SS)
Thus far, Dzhokhar’s statements suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers were largely self-taught jihadists, having learned how to make a bomb online and by absorbing extremist ideology through the internet. But according to the Associated Press, a local Boston-area convert to Islam — a mysterious figure known only as “Misha.” Misha is said to have played a key role in Tamerlan’s radicalization, suggesting that while online tools may have allowed the brothers to carry out the operation, their radicalization may have occurred within their community in Boston.
Americans not the only victims of terrorism
While we are, indeed, concerned for the well-being of the hundreds of people affected by the Boston bombings, let us also remember that such events happen almost daily in many other nations around the world. We must not become immune to the bombings and mayhem experienced by other people due to terrorism and war. Nigerians, Malians, Somalians, Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians — the list goes on.
Wars and conflicts around the world breed violence and violence revenge—and even as we retaliate with navies, armies, missles and drones, innocent men, women and children are caught in the cross-fire.
According to Daniel Benjamin, counter-terrorism specialist, there were more than 10,000 terrorist attacks in some 70 nations, resulting in more than 12,500 deaths. Benjamin says, “The largest number of reported attacks occurred in South Asia and the Near East. More than 75 per cent of the world’s attacks and deaths occurred in these regions.”
Benjamin says, the victims of terrorist attacks remain overwhelmingly Muslim.
Overcoming evil with good
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges action on behalf of all victims of terror. He says, “Terrorism can affect anyone, anywhere. It targets all ethnic groups, religions, nationalities and civilizations. It attacks humanity itself.”
The US Department of Justice provides sound online help and counseling for victims of terrorism.
Within our Abrahamic faiths, let us learn to be champions of peace, both collectively and within our individual faith communities. As people of faith, let us make a difference in the way we respond to hurt, desertion and violence. We have a higher calling, not to respond hastily with screaming words, insults and false accusations.
We must realize that every person maimed or emotionally damaged by such conflicts is a potential recruit for terrorism. We have a higher calling; we are to be men and women of peace — encouragers of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Truly, no society on earth can exist without justice; however, we are to be known for compassionate justice, and whenever and wherever possible, reconciliation.
Muslims, Christians and Jews—we all have our noisy radicals that make the sensational headlines of nightly news and daily newspapers because of their hatred and killing. But the truth is, such terrorists and preachers of hate are few and far between. They do not represent the overwhelming majority of members within our faith groups. They are noisy, militant, mostly politically-motivated, ungodly minorities who have somehow become detached from the realities of the goodness and mercy of God.
Let us commit to overcoming their evil with good. Let’s find ways to give generously to help victims of terrorism around the world.
Since the Boston bombings, in just one week, more than 200 people around the world have died from terror attacks, and thousands have died from wars and political conflicts. In a Damascus, Syria, neighborhood, in just one day, more than 500 men, women and children were executed or killed in battle with Bashar al-Assad‘s forces. Most of the women and children were shot in the head at close range.
Martin’s dad responds to Dzhokhar’s capture
At the end of this Boston terror spree, young Martin’s dad responded to Dzhokhar’s arrest, “It worked, and tonight, our community is once again safe from these two men. None of this will bring our beloved Martin back or reverse the injuries these men inflicted on our family and nearly two hundred others. We continue to pray for healing and for comfort on the long road that lies ahead for every victim and their loved ones. Tonight our family applauds the entire law enforcement community for a job well done, and trust that our justice system will now do its job.”
Throughout the US, Muslims, Christians and Jews are also expressing solidarity with the people of Boston. Here’s a TV news story about a vigil held by the Council on Islamic American Relations in Arizona:
Sources: CNN, FOX News, NPR News, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker Magazine, BBC, Huffington Post, CBS News, Wikipedia.com, The Telegraph, The Examiner, Slate, AP