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Considering Islam, terrorism and war

ISIS fighters rally in Iraq as they advance towards Baghdad.

ISIS fighters rally in Iraq as they advance towards Baghdad. This extremist Sunni group has announced plans to rule the territory it has carved out of Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Sam Dammam

During the past two years Sam has traveled to remote areas of Saudi Arabia, speaking with desert  Bedouins, city dwellers and government leaders. He has gained a remarkable understanding of Islam and the Saudi culture. (Click photos to enlarge.)

(Article last updated 7 February 2015, 11:01 pm)

Recently I received several questions from American friends. They are questions that have also troubled me since moving to Saudi Arabia two-and-a-half years ago. The questions: “When will Sunni and Shia Muslims stop fighting each other?” and “How can Muslims commit such horrible atrocities?” and “Doesn’t the evil of terrorism discredit Islam?”

A view from the heart of Islam

I have lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for two-and-a-half years now. I’ve asked just about every difficult question that could possibly be asked, and I have actually been on the lookout for “extremists” to try to get a better understanding of what makes them think the way the do. So far I have found possibly one.

The Muslim brothers and sisters I have here are, for the most part, rational men and women who dislike bigotry, hatred and war. They simply want a nation that has a sound economy. They want good educations and prosperous futures for their children and grandchildren. However, they are quite concerned about how others outside the Kingdom view their Muslim faith.

As I answer the above questions, I do not intend in any way to excuse some of the obvious hatred and bigotry among peoples and groups who refer to themselves as Muslims. But in living here in the Mecca Region, the very heart of Islam, I have gained what I believe to be a valid perspective, having completed the grueling difficulties of Hajj with friends from our local neighborhood mosque, and having visited Mecca on many occasions and Medina once.

Also, millions of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world travel in and out of Jeddah every year on their way to Mecca, just 35 miles down the road. I mingle with them as they come and go. I have also developed friendships with some of the migrant workers resident in Saudi Arabia—most who are Muslim.

Lest we forget our own Western “Christian” wars

The American Civil War found brother against brother and Christian against Christian to end slavery.

The American Civil War found brother fighting against brother and Christian fighting against Christian in a war to end slavery.

While we are astounded at what we see every night on television, I can imagine that many Muslims of the 19th and 20th century must have asked these same questions when observing wars in the West.

One might consider the American Civil War, that pit Southern Christians who supported slavery against northern Christians who, for the most part, opposed slavery. More than 620,000 American combatants died, and there were more than 450,000 casualties among American civilian men, women and children.

In reference to that War Between the States, President Abraham Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.”

During the First World War and the Second World War “Christian nations” battled “Christian nations” for supremacy. It was a time when oligarchies made alliances with religious groups and political parties (fascism) for one political objective or another. Allied armies responded in force.

Even more recently we have had the Irish Republican Army (IRA) battling it out with the Presbyterian Orange Order of Northern Ireland. Countless kidnappings, murders, and bombings were carried out during the 1960s and 1970s. Homes were torched and innocent men, women and children were caught in the crossfire.

Today in South Sudan we find Christian militia battling Christian militia for power and control, and in the Central African Republic Chrisitan militias have taken up arms against Muslims. A UN report indicates the militias are guilty of ethnic cleansing.

Islam–divisions and factions

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ISIS and similar extremist groups are un-Islamic. They do not represent Islam any more than the KKK represents Christianity.

One cannot think simply of Islam as a united faith where all believers are in agreement. Islam has many divisions and factions.

Greater than eighty percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are said to be Sunni. Among Sunnis are thousands of offshoots.

In recent years, some self-proclaimed Sunni leaders, like those of ISIS (also known as IS, ISIL or Daesh), have managed to organize radical militias, enlisting soldiers while amassing funding by pillaging towns, cities, businesses and homes as they pass through.

ISIS has a radical agenda of organizing a caliphate (an Islamic state) from parts of Syria and Iraq. Their leaders have ordered Iraqi Christians living within their proposed state to convert to Islam, pay taxes or die.

To say that these fanatical Muslims who lob grenades at each other shouting “Allah akbar!” (“God is great!”) are representative of all Islam would be like saying the IRA is a bona fide movement of the Catholic Church.

I don’t know a lot about ISIS, but I can honestly say that some Islamic hate groups are to Islam what the National Socialist White People’s Party (NWSPP) and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) are to Christianity. Fortunately, most Americans are keenly aware that the NWSPP and KKK are certainly not “Christian” in the traditional sense, but both racist groups do claim to represent “white, Christian America.”

Islam and illiteracy

It is unfortunate that millions of Muslims today, especially those living in poorer nations, cannot read or write.

While education of both girls and boys is promoted throughout the Muslim world, some Muslim populations have fallen under the influence of radical Islamists who have political objectives that are extra-quranic. They forbid the education of girls and endorse only principled Islamic texts for educational purposes.

While many of those who are illiterate are able to recite long passages of the Qur’an, I was surprised to find that some have no idea what they are reciting. While the Arabic of the Qur’an is beautiful, flowing wonderfully with sounds and syllables, it is an ancient language that many who recite it don’t understand. It would be like a Catholic quoting from the Latin Vulgate Bible–not knowing the meaning or nuances of the Latin sentences and words.

It has been pointed out to me by men in my mosque that there are many who are born into Islam and refer to themselves as “Muslim,” but they actually have no idea what it means to truly be Muslim. They have little knowledge of who Mohammad was and the principles for which he stood.

War is hell, and horrible atrocities happen in all wars–even at the hands of western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, when radical Muslims who are politically motivated present themselves to be acting on behalf of God, the consequences can be disastrous. One man commanding a group of disenfranchised, uneducated, illiterate  followers can wreak havoc on a nation (eg Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, etc.).

The Sunni – Shia differences

Sunnis (about 80 per cent of Muslims) and Shiites (15- 20 per cent) have waged deadly sectarian wars.

Sunnis (about 80 per cent of Muslims) and Shiites (11 – 15 per cent) have waged deadly sectarian wars.

Now we come to the historic Sunni—Shia divide.

I do not pretend to know all there is to know about what caused the evolution of Shia Islam and the succeeding Sunni resentment that followed. I have met a few Shia Muslims and have spoken with my Sunni Muslim friends about the matter. It appears that the battle is over something that happened nearly 1400 years ago; a deviation from the original faith observed by the Prophet Mohammad.

The Sunni branch of Islam believes that the first four caliphs (Mohammed’s successors) rightfully took his place as the leaders of Islam. They recognize the heirs of the first four caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War.

Shia Islam, in contrast, teaches that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. Shiites seem to be more mystical in nature—some paying homage and praying to Ali and his descendants.

In some Shia homes in Iran, one will find “icons” honoring Ali. Shiites make pilgrimages to what is believed to be Ali’s gravesite in Iraq. Some speak of the miracles Ali has performed on their behalf.

Sunnis compare such behavior to idolatry, and they believe that any form of idolatry is anathema and worthy of “hell fire.” Indeed, the Qur’an says that no one should worship idols or pay homage to humans or other created entities. Even pictures of the Prophet Mohammed are forbidden.

I have visited Mohammed’s tomb at the Nabawī Mosque (also known as the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina. There are guards posted at Mohammad’s sepulcher to prevent Muslims from praying or paying homagevenerating the Prophet.

Protestant Reformation–wars and conflicts 

I find the Sunni-Shia divide to bear somewhat similarities to the great debate that took place between Protestants and Catholics during the great Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. Protestants separated from Roman Catholics, debating similar issues. Reformation leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and others sought to eliminate many of the corruptions and accesses that were then present within Roman Catholicism.

Luther ignited the Reformation by posting his “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That church held one of Europe’s largest collections of holy relics. These religious relics had been gathered by Frederick III of Saxony. At that time, pious veneration of relics were said by Rome to give relief from temporal punishment for sins in “purgatory.” By 1520, Frederick had over 19,000 relics, purportedly “including vials of the milk from the Virgin Mary, straws from the manger of Jesus’ birth and the body of one of the innocents massacred by King Herod.”

ISIS is now destroying Shia, Sunni and Sufi mosques around Mosul. In this photo posted on a militant website that frequently carries official statements from the Islamic State extremist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Shiite's Jawad Husseiniya mosque explodes in Tal Afar, Iraq.

ISIS is now destroying Shia, Sunni and Sufi shrines and mosques around Mosul. Iraq. In this photo posted on a militant website that frequently carries official ISIS statements, Shia’s Jawad Husseiniya mosque is demolished in Tal Afar.

As reformers allied themselves with kings and rulers vicious wars ensued between Catholics and Protestants. Horrible atrocities were committed. Many of the reformers were imprisoned, burned at the stake, beheaded, hanged or dismembered.

Conflicts between some Shia and Sunni Muslims continue today. ISIS is further advancing its radical religious agenda by destroying Shiite mosques and Islamic shrines around the ancient Iraqi city of Mosul, which they captured last month. Al Arabiya reported that the damage extends to at least four shrines to Sunni or Sufi figures, and six Shiite mosques in the northern province of Nineveh.

Pictures surfacing on social media showed the destruction, ISIS troops accomplished with explosives and bulldozers. They appeared on a militant website that was verified by the Associated Press as being an outlet  for official ISIS statements. The photos were posted under the headline, “Demolishing shrines and idols in the state of Nineveh.”

The vast majority of Shias and Sunnis live in friendship together side by side. They say it is security and stable economies their families need, not misguided extremists stirring up trouble.

I pray that peace and reconciliation between these two contending bodies of believers might be possible in the same way that eventual dialogue, appeasement and understanding have taken place between Protestants and Catholics during the past century. After all, Islam means to “voluntarily surrender” to the God of Abraham. It also implies “peace” and “safety.”

Current situation in Syria and Iraq

Millions of Syrian refugees have fled the civil war in search of safety, medical treatment, food and temporary housing.

Millions of Syrian refugees have fled the civil war in their homeland in search of safety, medical treatment, food and temporary housing.

I liken the present situation in Syria and Iraq to that of the former Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia had come into existence as a result of treaties at the end of the First World War. Serbia (which then included the present-day Republic of Macedonia), Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia were forcibly joined, and after the Second World War these Balkan states were brought under Josip Tito’s communist dictatorship as the Iron Curtain of atheistic socialism descended over Central Europe.

After Tito’s death in 1980 and the subsequent fall of communism in 1989, the nation of Yugoslavia descended into anarchy and civil war. Today, the former Yugoslavia has self-divided along religious beliefs and ethnicity.

Now there are predominantly Catholic Christian states, Orthodox Christian states and Muslim states. All are now living peaceably and have expanding economies.

Many of the Islamic states of the Middle East were also formed after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Their borders were drawn up by colonial powers (England and France). The secretive Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, defined their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East. Dictators were essentially appointed and supported by various foreign powers, including the United States.

What is now happening in Syria and Iraq is, I fear, inevitable. People yearn for freedom and stable economies–better futures. Today we are witnessing the breakup of these “forced” states along religious and ethnic lines. In the case of Syria and Iraq, Sunni, Shia and Kurds are vying to have dominant influence hoping to form their own independent states.

The challenge for Arab states

KSA Hotspots MapHow will these conflicts that currently surround the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman affect the stability of these nations?

As I write this article, CNN is broadcasting that that Al Qaeda and another group new to me is planning attacks on Arabian Peninsula airports and shopping malls.

There is growing concern about Islamic extremism here and elsewhere. As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago. Men and women living in Muslim states hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Last evening, Prince Turki al Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the US and former Saudi intelligence chief, was interviewed by CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. (See posted interview at the end of this article.)

Prince Turki believes ISIS is a threat to world peace. He argued that the the major powers must come together to confront ISIS.

“Look how many American young people, French, English and other misguided western youth are joining the ranks of ISIS,” he said. Prince Turki says this is a critical matter that needs to be dealt with by western governments as well as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states.

Prince Turki says the Muslim world basically wants to live in peace. He believes the kind of terrorist tactics being espoused by ISIS is foreign to the faith of Islam. He concluded his remarks on CNN about ISIS, “It’s a terrorist organization that has specialized in brutal killings, so it is a danger to the whole area and I think to the rest of the world.”

On August 7, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, said extremists are attempting to hi-jack Islam for their own evil use. He condemned Islamist extremists who he said have besmirched Islam by committing atrocities in the name of religion. The King’s comments were read August 7 on Saudi television, “It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion, killing people whose killing Allah has forbidden, and mutilating their bodies and feeling proud in publishing this.”

The ISIS call for a Sunni Islamic caliphate has little support outside the ranks of the organization. Muslim scholars and movements from across the Sunni Islamic spectrum have rejected the caliphate declared by the group, with the fighters receiving scathing criticism from mainstream Muslim leaders. Most recently the chief imam of Turkey has pronounced the ISIS caliphate as illegitimate.

Murder and wanton slaughter of the innocent prohibited

The Qur'an is clear on matters of war and condemns terrorism as worthy of hell.

The Qur’an is clear on matters of war and condemns suicide bombers as worthy of hell fire. The Qur’an provides rules for faith and practice for all Muslims.

All the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) agree that acts of aggressive behavior, especially when it involves murder and massacres of innocent men, women and children, are evil. There is no place within any of these faiths for suicide bombers and acts of aggression.

Abrahamic believers today are of one of two opinions. Some seek to avoid conflict and war all together, declaring themselves pacifists or conscientious objectors. They refuse to fight under any circumstances.

The overwhelming majority consider “just war” appropriate when confronting an agressive enemy that is invading, killing their fellow citizens, and destroying their cities, businesses, farmlands and homes.

In Islam, the Qur’an makes the  following clear:

Suicide is forbidden.  “O ye who believe!… [do not] kill yourselves, for truly God has been to you Most Merciful.  If any do that in rancour and injustice, soon shall We cast him into the Fire…” (Qur’an 4:29-30).

The taking of life is allowed only by way of justice (i.e. the death penalty for murder), but even then, forgiveness is encouraged.  “Nor take life – which God has made sacred – except for just cause…” (Qur’an 17:33).

In pre-Islamic Arabia, retaliation and mass murder was commonplace.  If someone was killed, the victim’s tribe would retaliate against the murderer’s entire tribe.  This practice was directly forbidden in the Qur’an (2:178-179). Following this statement of law, the Qur’an says, “After this, whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave chastisement” (Qur’an 2:178).

No matter what wrong we perceive as being done against us, we may not lash out against an entire population of people. The Qur’an admonishes those who oppress others and transgress beyond the bounds of what is right and just.  “The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice.  For such there will be a chastisement grievous (in the Hereafter)” (Qur’an 42:42).

Harming innocent bystanders, even in times of war, was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad.  This includes women, children, noncombatant bystanders–even animals, trees and crops.  Nothing is to be harmed unless the aggressor is actively engaged in an assault against Muslims.

Listen to this interview conducted from Jeddah last evening by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour with Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal.

Sources: CNN, CBS News, Arab News, wikipedia.org, Saudi Gazette, New York Times, The Huffington Post, Aljazeera Internatioanl News, National Post (Jordan), islamicity.com, answering-islam.org, Al Arabiya News

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July 2, 2014 Posted by | Human Rights, Islam, Religious Reconciliation, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Happy Ramadan, everybody!

Colorful lanterns are often light to celebrate the month of Ramadan.

During Ramadan lanterns and lamps of various kinds, hues and degrees of brightness are often strung in homes and businesses.

A time of rejoicing, fasting and prayer

From Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sam wishes all a very happy Ramadan!

From Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sam wishes all his friends around the world a very happy Ramadan! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Today, 29 June 2014, marks the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is the most important time of the year for Muslims worldwide.

This is my third year to join in the celebration of Ramadan in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, having moved to Jeddah in December 2011.

Ramadan is viewed by children as a wonderfully magical time. Neighborhood houses and businesses are often adorned with strings of colored, lighted lanterns. During Ramadan lanterns and lamps of various kinds, hues and degrees of brightness are often strung in homes and businesses. Many stories of their origins have been told. One legend has it that the Fatimid Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights, so he ordered all the sheikhs of mosques to hang Fawanees that could be illuminated by candles. As a result, the Fanoos became a custom that has never been abandoned.

Homes seem to be perfumed constantly with the mixed smells of food and burning incense—all serving as a constant reminder that this month is a very special time of the year.

The uninterrupted chanting of Qur’an verses emanating from nearby mosques indicate the absolute solemnity of Ramadan.

It is an intrinsically sacred time for all Muslims. It was during the month of Ramadan that the first revelations of the holy Qur’an were first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel.

The Qur’an is the holy book of Muslims, being recited daily year-round through prayers and worship. It is the basis for reflection in guiding the lives of Muslim men, women and children.

A time of renewal, drawing closer to God

During Ramadan, Muslims will fast and engage in extra prayers and worship, as a means of drawing nearer to God.

Ramadan is the ninth Islamic month. The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar calendar, and the lunar calendar which is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. It, therefore, takes 30 years for the calendar to rotate full cycle.

Fasting and prayer are from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, which presents greater challenges to Muslims living in the far northern regions where they are expected to stick to the rules, no matter how long the fasting period may be. Fasting in northern Canada or the Nordic states of Norway, Sweden, and Finland is especially difficult, but the blessings of fulfilling the fast are even greater.

The Prophet Muhammad taught that “whoever does not give up lying or cursing during Ramadan, God has no need for that person to give up his food or drink” – which emphasizes that Ramadan is not just about avoiding food or drink, but also working on who one purports to be as a person.

As a spiritual support to achieve one’s goal, Muslims will attend their mosques more often. In the evenings there will be a special extended prayer time.

A Muslim family breaks the fast at sundown with Iftar.

A Muslim family breaks the fast at sundown with Iftar.

A month of empathy and gratitude

Ramadan is known as the “month of empathy.” Ramadan is an exercise in empathy for the more than 2 billion people in the world who live in poverty, but it’s also a lesson in gratitude.

During this 30-day period Muslims put themselves in the shoes of people who are in dire straits—people who are suffering deprivation of all kinds: thirst, hunger, homelessness, sickness, pain, etc.

This month at Tuqwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as in all mosques around the world, the brothers and sisters gather five times a day for prayer, fellowship and encouragement while reflecting on the needs of others in their community and worldwide.

Collections are made for the poor. Individuals are encouraged to carry out distributions to the poor. It is common to find men, women and children on street corners distributing dates and water to passersby at sundown for the breaking of the fast.

The ultimate “anger management” course

Men and women seek to draw closer to God through prayer and reading the Qur'an.

Men and women seek to draw closer to God through increased prayer times and reading the Qur’an.

Along with learning and practicing empathy towards others, one is to learn patience.

For 30 consecutive days the faithful are put into a situation where they will face are going to be hungry, sugar levels are low, and the chances are that one is going to get a bit edgy and agitated, so either one develops a rather foul mood for the month of Ramadan or one deals with it successfully for 30 days.

Ramadan is likened by Dr Mansur Ali Jameel, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Center for the Study of Islam at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, as “the best possible anger management course.”

Muslims are advised to control and deny anger. If one feels anger rising within, one is encouraged to take refuge in God.

The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said, “If a man gets angry and says, ‘I seek refuge with God from the accursed Satan,’ his anger will go away.” Saying this, Muslims believe, will make it easier to control your anger, as it will remind you that it’s being increased by Satan’s whisperings and that he is rubbing his hands with glee at your rising temper!

Standing makes one feel strong, agressive and powerful and ready for fight. So if one gets angry while standing one is directed to follow the Prophet’s advice: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down” (Abu Dawud and Al Tirmidhi).

Remembering God and the coming judgment

Noor Khan helps load food bags for different charities that were picking up the donated food bags at the Al Hijra School in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The food and cash donations were collected by the local Muslim community.

Noor Khan helps load food bags for different Canadian charities. The food and cash donations were collected by the local Windsor, Ontario, Muslim community.

All the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) teach that there will most definitely be a final day when all humankind will stand before God in Judgment. Jesus spoke of the Judgment Day when he walked among men. He said “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of’ Judgment” (Matthew 12:36). We’re told in Hadith Jibra’il, that one is: “…to worship God as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet—truly He sees you” (Al-Bukhari).

Such God-consciousness (tuqwa) is a good practice for all who claim to believe in the God of Abraham!

One should strive to live each moment, fully aware of God’s presence, living in the knowledge that He is watching everything done by humankind—that someday there will be an accounting for one’s behavior here on earth.

Ramadan is a great time to demonstrate repentance, seeking renewal in one’s relationship with God, to gain forgiveness and peace through increased reverence and worship and to prepare oneself for that final, great Judgment Day.

A firm faith in God is the beginning of that journey—but it must be proved that it is a genuine faith that leads to changed behavior while reflecting on the needs of others and exercising self-restraint; engendering greater love, dedication and service to our almighty God.

Eid al Fitr celebrations

Ramadan ends with the festival Eid al Fitr, which in 2014 occurs on July 28. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.

A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques and community nonprofit organizations.

In many parts of the world Ramadan is celebrated with spiritual music. Enjoy this Ramadan song by contemporary Muslim recording artist Maher Zain:

Sources: Arab News, Saudi Gazette, ramadan2014.net, The Windsor Star, Time Magazine

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Archeology, Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scaling the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira

(Last updated 11 December 2013…)

The difficult climb

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur'an.

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur’an.

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.”

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas on their way up the Mountain of Light.

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas begin the arduous trek up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira. (Photo / Nimah Nawwab)

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

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira.

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira–once a place of sanctuary and meditation for the Prophet Mohammad.

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

December 5, 2013 Posted by | Mecca, The Quran, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

All creatures of our God and King! Alleluia!

Abrahamic faith leaders emphasized kindness to others and to God's creatures.

Abrahamic faith leaders emphasized kindness to others and to all God’s creatures.

Faith books and animal welfare

In Saudi Arabia, even the camels bow in prayer!

In Saudi Arabia, even the camels sometimes bow in prayer! (Click on photos to enlarge!)

All the Abrahamic holy books, including the Torah, the Zabur (The Psalms), the major and minor prophecies, the Christian New Testament and 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).

St Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals.

St Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals.

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 Muhammad, “Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself” (Wisdom of Prophet Muhammad 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,

Alleluia! Alleluia!

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.”

Animal emotions

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”!

Jana Shropshire with the family pet Schnauzer

Jana Shropshire with the family pet Schnauzer “Kenny.”

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.

Prairie dog

Prairie dogs come out of their holes early after sunrise to lift their paws in seeming praise and worship of their Creator.

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

Lions communicate with one another to keep social order. The dominant males are most apt to let a member of the pride know when he or she is out of order.

Lions communicate with one another to keep social order. The dominant males are most apt to let a member of the pride know when he or she is out of order.

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.

Poaching of endangered species and illegal markets for ivory, tiger oil, etc., breed corruption and lead to the extinction of certain animals like tigers, rhinos. and others.

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”!

Sam's tiny

Sam’s tiny “miracle kitten” named “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! Lift 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!

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Animal Rights, Interfaith | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jeddah’s awe-inspiring Al Makkiyah mansion

The Angawi mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for study and dialogue.

The Angawi family mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for friendship and learning.

Al Makkiyah Carter

Former US President Jimmy Carter and US consulate staff listen as Dr. Sami Angawi speaks about Islamic art, science and history at Al Makkiyah. (Click photos to enlarge.)

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.

Guests at Al Makkiyah llllllllllllllll lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

Al Makkiyah will serve as the main campus of the Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute for cross cultural studies.

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

Dr. Sami Angawi shows guests the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

Dr. Sami Angawi leads guests through the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

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

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Archeology, Human Rights, Jeddah History, Music, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sin, forgiveness and talk about “end times”

God’s awesome grace, mercy and forgiveness

Sam Muhammad Jeddah Red Sea

Sam with friend Muhammad al Jishi on the bank of the Red Sea. The two men often discuss the many theological commonalities of Islam and Christianity.

Last night I had an amazing discussion with my Palestinian friend Muhammad al Jishi. I had been studying the subject of “sin and its forgiveness” as understood by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

As I spoke of what I had found, Muhammed eagerly recited a prayer of the Prophet Mohammed that I had not heard. There are several references to the Prophet’s prayer in Islamic hadiths (sayings).

The prayer goes, “O God, I seek refuge with You from laziness (that comes) from geriatric old age, from being in debt, and from committing sins. O God! I seek refuge with You from the punishment of the Hell Fire, the afflictions of the grave, the punishment in the grave, and the evil of the affliction of poverty and from the evil of the affliction caused by Al Masih Ad-Dajjal. O God! Wash away my sins with the water of snow and hail, and cleanse my heart from the sins as a white garment is cleansed of filth, and let there be a far-away distance between me and my sins as You have set far away the East and the West from each other.”

As Muhammed recited this prayer, immediately two scripture passages from the Torah popped into my mind.  I had memorized them long ago. I quoted these verses to Muhammad. He, too, was amazed at the close similarities.

Here are the Torah passages: The first is a statement by the prophet Isaiah “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like (white) wool’” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV). And the second is a passage penned by the prophet King David,  “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions (sins) from us” (Psalm 103:7-12 NIV). In still another Psalm, David cries out to God, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7 NIV).

Now, higher textual critics might try to argue that the Prophet Muhammad had in some way come in contact with a copy of the Torah before he authored his prayer. But there is no evidence that the Prophet ever saw these verses, and it is well known that the Prophet Mohammad was illiterate–not able to either read or write.

My Palestinian friend’s explanation was excitedly clear, “See, Sam! The same God who revealed his words to the prophets David and Isaiah also revealed these same truths to Prophet Mohammad.”

The Antichrist appears

An archangel of God will sound a sudden trumpet call at the great resurrection.

An archangel of God will sound a sudden trumpet call to summon the great resurrection and calling the living and the dead to judgment.

There were four Arabic words in the prayer, however, that I didn’t clearly understand—the words “Al Masih ad-Dijjal.” I recognized al Masih as meaning “the Messiah,” but soon I would realize that when combined with ad Dijjal (“the false”), it would mean the “false Messiah.” I discovered that these words refer to the coming of the Antichrist.  In essence, the Prophet Muhammad is saying, “O God, save me from the evil of the affliction that will be caused by the Antichrist.”

Having grown up in evangelical Christian circles, I realize that Evangelicals and Muslims share a common belief in remarkably similar end-time scenarios. According to both faiths, the “end times” are quickly approaching, and soon all humankind will be held accountable.

Eschatology (from the Greek word eskatos which means last) in both Islam and Christianity speak of a coming  Day of Resurrection, also known by Christians as the Rapture.  There will be a sudden, loud trumpet call from the heavens, when the living and the dead will be gathered to face the al Qiyāmah or Great Judgment.

According to Islam, this will be the day that all humankind, past and present, are presented before the judgment seat of God to answer for their faith or unbelief in God and his revealed word. All men and women will be held accountable for those good and bad things done on earth against God and to others.

The time of the event is not specified, although there are major and minor signs which have been foretold to happen, that will bring about the end of time and judgment. There are many verses in the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament that contain information about this impending Day of Resurrection and/or Day of Judgment.

End times and the return of Messiah Jesus

Peace lion lamb

The prophet Isaiah describes a future time of peace on earth when “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). Some Christians believe this is a reference to the Millennium–1000 years  of peace to come.

Like Christianity, Islam not only teaches a resurrection of the dead and the Day of Judgment, it also speaks about a final tribulation and eternal division of the righteous and wicked. Islamic apocalyptic literature, as do Christian prophecies, describes a final battle between Satan and God as Armageddon, often known in Arabic as fitnah, malāhim (or ghaybah in Shī‘a Islam). And both Christianity and Islam teach that the righteous will be rewarded with the eternal pleasures of Jannah (paradise or heaven), while the unrighteous are punished forever in Jahannam (hell).

Much of the writing and teaching about the end times is apocalyptic, frightening and threatening. Many mainstream churches will tell you to not take these teachings literally.

A period of tribulation is also described in Qur’anic hadiths with various levels of ecclesiastical veracity, support and enlightenment. But, it’s true the hadiths describe the end times with more specificity than the Qur’an, freely warning of signs that will proceed the end of life as we know it.

The Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an all describe times of terrible corruption and chaos along with heavenly signs, wars and seismic activity. Messiah Jesus will return, will do battle with the Antichrist or Satan. and will triumph; leading to the liberation of many who have been incarcerated because of fighting against Antichrist. This is said to be followed by a time of serenity with all people living godly values, true to their faith.

This period of peace is referred to by many Christians as the Great Millennium—a thousand years of peace on earth where Christ will rule and every knee shall bow in obedience to him and God (Philippians 2:10).

While there are significant differences in the interpretation of revelation, even among Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox), I was surprised to learn that Muslims, too, eagerly anticipate the return of the Messiah Jesus and are commanded in the Qur’an to listen to his instruction and obey him. “When Jesus came with clear signs, he said: ‘Now have I come to you with wisdom, and in order to make clear to you some of the (points) on which you dispute: therefore fear God and obey me” (Qur’an 43:63).

Warning! 

Anyone who tells you they know who the Antichrist will be, beware! There are millions of fierce opinions out there, and people will fight at the drop of the hat to defend their personal interpretations of the holy books and beliefs. Eschatology easily turns into belligerent, antagonistic squabbling over who has the truth about the future.

In the meantime, I find it much safer to leave the guessing and theatrics to Hollywood or the tabloid news media!

Jesus himself warned us that many false “christs” will come, adding, “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24: 26 NIV).

Many have used the notion of the Antichrist to do harm or to pray down the wrath of God on another leader or their political opponents. Remember this bizarre indictment during the 2008 US presidential campaign?

References: Wikipedia, CNN, The Holy Qur’an Text and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Bible (New International Version)

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