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Muslim Refugees Face Love and Hate

Samuel Shropshire speaks at rally to welcome Muslim and Christian refugees in Bratislava, Slovakia. The rally was organized by Slovak Catholics and Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR).

Samuel Shropshire speaks at rally to welcome Syrian refugees to Bratislava, Slovakia. The rally was organized by Slovak Catholics and Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR). Working together we can accomplish great things for God and humanity.

Refugee Crisis and European Response

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHA German rescuer from the humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch holds a drowned migrant baby, off the Libyan cost May 27, 2016. The baby, who appears to be no more than a year old, was pulled from the sea after a wooden boat capsized last Friday. Mandatory Credit Christian Buettner/Eikon Nord GmbH Germany/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. TEMPLATE OUT.

A German rescuer from the humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch holds a drowned migrant baby, off the Libyan cost May 27, 2016. The baby, who appears to be no more than a year old, was pulled from the sea after a wooden boat capsized last Friday.  (Click photos to enlarge.) 

More than 1.3 million refugees had crossed into Europe by March, 2016. They came by land and sea. This influx of refugees sparked a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the millions of arrivals. It created division in the European Union over how to best deal with resettling people. While Sweden, Germany and Austria offered an immediate welcome, some nations gave way to right-wing extremists and racists, refusing to help.

While the vast majority of refugees arrived by sea, many chose to walk to freedom and safety, principally via Turkey to Greece and then Albania and northward! Most hoped to reach Western Europe to join relatives already resettled there.

Adding to the horror of the crisis was the number of deaths occurring at sea. Now, nearly two years into this crisis, refugee ships continue making the crossing, some sinking in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

And just this past week came a battered, blue-decked vessel that flipped over on Wednesday as terrified migrants plunged into the waters of the Mediterranean. The next day, a flimsy craft capsized with hundreds of people on board. And on Friday, still another boat sank into the deceptively placid waters.

Now another week and three sunken ships are again confronting Europe with the horrors of its refugee crisis, as desperate people trying to reach the Continent keep dying at sea. At least 700 people from the three boats are believed to have drowned, the United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday, in one of the deadliest weeks in the Mediterranean in recent memory.

Most, attempting to escape war, terrorism, poverty and starvation in their homelands, are desperate to reach Europe, Canada and America, where they believe a new and better life awaits them.

Fear and rejection

A rally organized by the Slovak group Stop Islamisation of Europe and backed by far-right politicians

A rally organized by the Slovak group Stop Islamisation of Europe and backed by far-right politicians shouts “Refugees go home!”

But what they face in the West, in some cases, is extreme opposition based on misguided fear, anger and racism.

Since April 2015, the European Union has struggled to cope with the crisis, increasing funding for border patrol operations in the Mediterranean, devising plans to fight migrant smuggling, launching Operation Sophia and proposing a new quota system to relocate and resettle asylum seekers among EU states.

Individual countries have at times reintroduced border controls within the Schengen Area, and rifts have emerged between countries willing to accept asylum seekers and others trying to block their arrival.

According to Eurostat, EU member states received over 1.2 million first time asylum applications in 2015, a number more than double that of the previous year. Four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Austria) received around two-thirds of the EU’s asylum applications in 2015, with Hungary, Sweden, and Austria being the top recipients of asylum applications per capita. The main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers, accounting for more than half of the total, were the war-torn nations of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of refugees. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, as well as abject poverty in Kosovo, are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.

According to the UN, there are more 60 million refugees in today’s world. And some nation’s are not at all friendly to these men, women and children who are seeking safety and a better life.

After Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, came out last year against taking in refugees, the great majority of which are Muslim, Cyprus and other nations have also sought to block refugees from entering their nations.

Hate and religious discrimination

Shropshire addresses crowd of several hundred Slovaks who came to support the refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dominik Smrek and Shropshire address crowd of several hundred Slovaks in Bratislava. They came to encourage support for the refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some have sought to reject refugees simply based on their religious beliefs.

“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians,” Cyprus’ Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos told state radio. “It’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico also complained about the flow of refugees, setting an arbitrary number of “200 Christians” to be received.

Fico has taken a hard stand from the beginning, echoing far-right Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński, Viktor Orbán and Czech President Miloš Zeman in an openly Islamophobic campaign against both the refugees and the EU’s attempt to redistribute the refugees.

Although the leader of a (nominally) center-left party, Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), Fico has a history of nationalist statements, mostly against Roma (so-called “Gypsies”), which have landed him in trouble with his European allies in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

Despite threats from S&D to censure him and his party, Fico doubled down by making various Islamophobic statements and threatening to take the EU to court over its refugee plan. He even went so far as to say that he wanted to put every Muslim in Slovakia under surveillance!

Slovakia’s most recent elections

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who railed against the refugees. His appeal to extremist groups in Slovakia failed to secure him a majority coalition in the Slovak parliament.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who railed against the refugees. His appeal to extremist groups in Slovakia failed to secure a majority coalition for him in the Slovak parliament.

These days we expect elections in East Central Europe to be bad news for liberal democracy. In 2014 Hungary re-elected its strongman Viktor Orbán, despite the fact that he had transformed his country into an narrow-minded democracy, and in 2015 Poland brought back Law and Justice (PiS), the party of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who has been praising Viktor Orbán’s “Budapest Model” since 2011.

Surprisingly, Fico’s courting of right-wing groups did not help him in the Slovak general elections. Based on the results Smer-SD was the big loser of the election, winning just 28.3 percent of the vote, a loss of 16.1 percent compared to 2012!

Clearly this is not because of a lack of support for Fico’s anti-immigration positions within the Slovak population. Even before the refugee crisis hit Europe, Slovaks were among the least positive towards foreign immigration within the EU, and, given the various mass demonstrations during 2015, that situation has not changed for the better.

But the demonstrations did not just bring people together to voice opposition to Muslim refugees, they also gave a platform to a variety of far-right activists and groups. The most visible was Marian Kotleba, former leader of Slovak Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi party that was disbanded by the Supreme Court.

Kotleba has since bounced back, founding the extreme right People’s Party of Slovakia (ĽSNS), and getting elected governor of the Banská Bystrica Region in 2013. Kotleba and ĽSNS were very active and visible in the anti-immigration demonstrations in Slovakia and were rewarded with 8.0 percent of the vote (an increase of 6.4 percent) in the 2016 national elections. Even more shocking, ĽSNS was the biggest party among first-time voters, attracting a staggering 22.7 percent among 18 to 21 year olds!

What then should be our response?

In such crises, it is understandable that citizens are concerned about a mass influx of foreigners—especially when it involves hundreds of thousands of men and women of different faiths and cultures. After all, settling refugees in our communities exhausts our own governments’ resources, making it difficult to meet the needs of our own citizens.

But we people of faith have a higher calling to resist extremist politics when it is in opposition to immediate human need for compassion. We Christians and Muslims must respond as we believe Jesus and Mohammad (PBUT) would respond, encouraging their followers to assist helpless pilgrims and sojourners. There is a very famous Arabic statement in this regard, “The foreigner is blind even if he has eyes,” which indicates the vulnerability of the stranger and suggests that the stranger needs help and guidance.

What is it like when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children flee war? Watch the video below, and learn from the masses of Syrian refugees who are now making their way to Europe under the most difficult of circumstances. Watch and pray! And please give so Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation can make a difference for Muslims around the world by encouraging an end to religious discrimination:  www.mvpr.org

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May 31, 2016 Posted by | Human Rights, Peace, Refugees, Religious Reconciliation, Terrorism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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

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

Ascending the minaret–a childhood dream

Minarets tower over the world's mosques as powerful symbols of Islam's daily calls to prayer.

Minarets tower over the world’s mosques as powerful symbols of Islam’s five daily calls to prayer.

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..

Sam stands atop Jeddah's Khlil Mosque minaret.

Sam stands atop Jeddah’s Khalil Mosque minaret. (Click photos to enlarge.)

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

Sam's friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Tuqwa Mosque near the Red Sea Promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Sam’s friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Taqwa Mosque near the Red Sea promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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!

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world's  tallest brick minaret.

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world’s tallest brick minaret.

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.

The tallest minaret, at 210 metres (689 ft), is located adjacent the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. The tallest brick minaret is the Qutub Minar in Delhi, India.

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.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

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

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Jeddah History, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boston bombings — an expat’s Middle East perspective

8-year-old Martin Richard killed in the Boston Marathon bombing, holding this sign has come to symbolize the tragedy worldwide. Martin’s dad ran in the marathon. Martin's mom and sister were also seriously injured.

8-year-old Martin Richard killed in the Boston Marathon bombing,  has come to symbolize the tragedy worldwide.  Martin’s mom and sister were also critically injured. His dad ran in the marathon.

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.

The brothers were from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya in southern Russia, and initial reports suggest they were adrift after their parents returned to Russia.

The brothers, Tamerlan (left), 26, and Dzhokhar, 19, were from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya in southern 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:

This message was tweeted by Dzhokar on March 18, 2013.

This message was tweeted by Dzhokar on March 18, 2013.

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.

Following the Boston attacks, photos showing Afghans holding a sign reading “To Boston from Kabul, with love” started spreading on social networks.

Following the Boston attacks, photos showing Afghans holding a sign reading “To Boston from Kabul, with love” started spreading on social networks.

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

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A day and a night in the desert with Bedouin friends

Sam (in white thawb), pictured here with (l-r) Majed Olayan, Majed Bandar and Fahad Olayan, is given expert Bedouin instruction in hunting desert quail with an heirloom 12-gauge, single-shot shotgun!

Sam (in white thobe), pictured here with (l-r) Majed Olayan, Majed Bandar and Fahad Olayan, is given expert Bedouin instruction in hunting desert quail with an heirloom 12-gauge, single-shot shotgun!

Back in the desert, hunting for quail

Abdullah Al Ghamdi picked me up yesterday afternoon, and we headed for a rendezvous with my Bedouin friends near the Red Sea coast town of Radigh–about 150 miles north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There we met up with the Olayan brothers Majed and Fahad and their friend Majed Bandar. Abdullah and I jumped into Fahad’s Toyota 4×4 Cruiser, and we drove out over and around the dunes into the Arabian desert.

It led to an afternoon hunting desert quail and remembering how God provided manna and quail to the Children of Israel as they grumbled their way through the Sinai wilderness for some 40 years. Alas, having shot no quail, we set our sights on a few plastic bottles for target practice, and then headed into a nearby town to purchase some fresh red sea fish from a local market. Then we enjoyed an evening of Bedouin music, fried fish, rice and fresh frothy camel milk from a camel that was standing a few steps away!

The majority of Bedouins in the past have traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle, spreading from the Persian Gulf all the way across northern Africa to the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, and from the borders of Turkey as far south as Yemen.

The word “bedouin” comes from the Arab word bedou, meaning “desert dweller.” Estimates today indicate nomadic Bedouins constitute about one-tenth of the population of the Middle East.

In my many meetings with Bedouins it has become all too apparent, that Bedouins regard themselves as the “true Arabs” and the “heirs of glory.” The family I visited yesterday were exultant when they showed me some of their 60 incredible camels and more than 1,000 very well shepherded goats.

I’m very grateful to my Bedouin friends for hosting me for one of the most incredible days of my life.

Bedouin families still enjoy desert life, herding goats and camels is often a very profitable livelihood.

Bedouin families still enjoy desert life. Herding goats and camels is often a very profitable livelihood.

Life in the desert

Bedouin life is generally pastoral-desert; herding camels, sheep, goats and occasionally, when the climate is not so harsh, cattle. Through the centuries they have migrated seasonally, depending on grazing conditions. In winter, when there is some rain, they migrate deeper into the desert. In the hot, dry summer time, they camp around secure water sources. Bedouins define themselves as members of tribes and families. People are divided into social classes, depending on ancestry and profession. Passing from one class to another is relatively feasible, but marriage between a man and a woman of different meets with difficulty. 

Traditionally, the Bedouin’s home, the tent, is divided into three sections by curtains: the men’s section, the family section and the kitchen. In the men’s area, guests are received around the hearth where the host prepares coffee over the fire. This is the center of Bedouin social life. Tea is served as a welcome drink; coffee is usually prepared after the meal and is the last drink before the guest leaves. The serving of food and drink represents the generous hospitality of the host. The men pass the evening trading news and discussing their animals. Separated by a curtain, the women gather in the family area and kitchen along with their small children to bake bread and prepare the main meal. A dinner of rice and chunks of mutton or lamb are usually then served to the gathered guests.

Women occupy a very important position in Bedouin society. Not only do they raise the children, they also share in herding the sheep, milking the animals, cooking, spinning yarn and making family clothes. Some even weave the heavy cloth that constitutes the tent.

The O... brothers sing typical Bedouin tunes using -------- instruments.

The Olayan brothers sing typical Bedouin tunes tapping out the beats on percussion instruments.

Around our fire last evening, the Olayan brothers recited ancient Bedouin poetry and sang, accompanied by traditional percussion drums and cymbals  Poetry has been a central cultural form of expression for the Bedouins since ancient times. In the early centuries of Islamic history, I’m told Bedouin poetry represented the ideal standard for other literary achievements, as well as for the refinement of the Arabic language.

To mark the end of the evening, Ali, our host, burned incense in a mabkhara (incense burner) passing it to each of his guests to inhale and fan their clothes.

The traditional Bedouin foods are fresh camel or goat milk and meat. Bedouins usually sell and barter their animals and meat in exchange for fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices  from other tribes or village markets.

Bedouin society has a strict code of honor which dictates proper behavior for all members, including children. Because of the demanding nature of the Bedouin lifestyle, children are expected to assume a considerable amount of responsibility in order to help their families survive. Although modernization has changed the Bedouin lifestyle somewhat, emphasis is placed on teaching children to carry on traditional ways of life. While the advancement of modern technology is not considered terribly important to children’s education, as we sat around the fire last evening, I did notice two of the younger boys were captivated by video games they were playing on their dad’s smart phone.

Faith among the Bedouins

Islam’s prophet Mohammed was born and raised in the Bedouin tribe of the Quraish during the 7th Century. The Qur’an, believed to be first revealed to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel, was soon after written and compiled in the Arabic language. The first converts to Islam came from the Bedouin tribes living in and around Mecca. Therefore, Islam is embedded and deeply rooted in Bedouin culture.

Although there are pockets of Christians in Middle East Bedouin tribes, especially in Palestine, by and large the word Bedouin is synonymous with being a follower of Islam or a “submitter” to God. Prayer is an integral part of Bedouin life. As there are no formal mosques in the desert, they pray where they are, performing the ritual washing, or with sand where water is not readily available. There they humbly bow their faces to the earth, facing Mecca, five times a day. 

Challenges of modern society

In modern Arab states and Israel, Bedouins are faced with many challenges in their lifestyle, as their traditional Islamic, tribal culture has begun to mix with western practices. Men are more likely to adjust and interact with the modern cultures, but in many places women are still bound by honor and tradition to mostly stay within the family dwelling. They have in the past lacked opportunity for education and advancement, but in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and other more advanced nations, times are changing.

As well, governments have a strong tendency to regulate Nomadic lifestyles since it is only then that taxation works. Providing services for the people also works best in an urban setting. Today, the Arab world has one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world.

As traditional Bedouin lifestyle become less and less attractive, in Saudi Arabia, especially on the steppes  many of these desert tribes live on, as tradition has a strong hold. But today, many Bedouins are now bowing to increasing pressure, opting to settle in urban areas. It was at a South Jeddah camel market last June that I met the Olayan brothers.

Today, it is not uncommon to see a young Bedouin family building a house and living in it while their parents pitch their tent in the rear garden, where they will live very happily until the end of their days.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to enjoy this short video of Jordanian Bedouin musicians!

Sources: The Olayan brothers, Wikipedia, YouTube, InterNations, Facts & Details

February 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment