Popcorn and Muslim flavors
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
I am a Muslim. Your hair should stand on end. You must look behind you, for I am going to change how you perceive some people around you. A quirky in-depth narrative of a Muslim engaging a non-Muslim has been missing in the literary genre, and I plan to make you read in a page-turning fashion.
I am a destroyer. What kind?
No, not that kind.
Rather a destroyer of preconceived ideas. I am a foot specialist, a humanitarian, an animal rights activist, an environmentalist, and––if the congregation is feeling emotionally braced for a short and sharp sermon ––allowed to function as an Imam. I have recently vacated the position of the president of ICONO, a non-profit organization, responsible for establishing a mosque in Sudbury with a team of fantastic colleagues. Now that the introduction is out of the way, I have some interesting things to tell you. Though I am addressing non-Muslims, a number of Muslims wanted me to clear the fog for some of us as well. “Certainly, I can try. But the fog is thicker for some” I said. “Can I bring a foghorn for such cases?” As I waited for the answer, the people had started to run. Maybe they did not like the question, I said to myself. Nope. It was something a chap did.
This chap, a suicide bomber, detonated a powerful vest explosive strapped to the chest. More innocent people injured; the media go into frenzy. Politicians once again promise retribution, thumping their chests with such vigor that even forest gorillas, miles away, probably paused from their own chest-beating to listen enviously to the awesome thuds. You also want to know––Grrr! Yes, you do! ––what lunacy would make someone go absolutely bonkers.
Muslims earnestly hope the bomber was not someone who belongs to their community, no matter how deranged, for the event will paint all Muslims in a poor light.
When besieged with such negative rhetoric, one does not pause to think that there are 1.8 billion Muslims, about a quarter of the world’s population, living in peace. Such hasty rhetoric also allows politically motivated divisive elements within society to emerge from dark closets, blinking their eyes at the light since not seeing things clearly is preferable, clutching paint brushes to paint all Muslims with one color, often grayish tones and blotches aplenty due to haste.
Atrocities in which innocent people are targeted make headlines: confusion, frustration, anger, and disbelief dominate our discussions. People would be hard-pressed not to ask: Is this Islam? How are Muslims going to explain themselves this time? Major media outlets, quick to seize on the opportunity, often fail to report with balance, and, wittingly or unwittingly, perpetuate further division among people.
That said, one would think that Islam has nothing to offer the “civilized” world in terms of human rights, animal rights, and the environment. Tragically, one tends to believe that one knows the religion of Islam based simply on observing some Muslims one has had contact with, or by reading about Muslims in major media outlets. After all, isn’t Islam to be judged by those who profess to be Muslims?
You could be wrong. I will get into that soon enough if you hang on tight. The answers are going to surprise you.
Sparks and energy
Muslims, together with members of other faiths and non-faiths, have the potential to once again kindle the world with renewed oomph. Sparks and energy, just what we need again. But energy and sparks of the other kind; the positive kind that brings people together and not blow them apart. There are challenges facing mankind—from human rights, animal rights, and what should be collective environmental obligations that we are not taking seriously enough—and often these are of our own making; what our hands have wrought.
We have already deforested vast regions of the Earth’s surface––the planet’s lungs—and we are not stopping. We are continuing to pollute the air, spewing toxins into the atmosphere and then take stop-gap measures such as banning car use when we can no longer breathe safe air in our major cities. We have nearly decimated the fish population and we continue to bottom trawl, taking everything in, with little regard for sustainability. There are millions of species of plants and animals at risk, and we are busy fighting with each other. The Quran says, “And the earth, He (God) has assigned it to all living creatures” (Quran 55:10).
Muslims, during the initial six centuries of Prophet Mohammed’s coming, did not limit the Quran merely to ritual worship, but also used it as a guide for scientific research, things that today concur accurately with exhaustive scientific research.
The early Muslims used Prophet Mohammed’s directives and counsel to forge ahead establishing a vast empire, yearning to learn from the people they interacted with. They learnt and they taught. They opened up vistas of new research. Many current scientific principles were introduced, bolstered, and institutionalized by Muslims.
The formula is to understand each other. If we deprecate a people, in this case Muslims, then it becomes hard if not impossible to work constructively for the common good. Muslims make up a whopping 23 percent of the world’s population. We can use them. If we can motivate Muslims to do their part in protecting the parts of the Earth, we all benefit as we live on this single planet. There are large swathes of forests—the Earth’s lungs as they absorb carbon dioxide and provide oxygen—being clear-cut for palm plantations. Many of these forests lie in Muslim countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia. We have wildlife trade in exotic species—or their parts—being trafficked from or passing through Muslim countries. Let me give you some specific examples. The species under threat include the pangolin or the tiger populations being decimated in Muslim countries to supply markets elsewhere; deforestation in places such as Borneo (thus decimating Orangutan population to near extinction) for palm oil production to supply consumers in the West; or ivory and rhino horns from African countries passing through ports located in Muslim countries en route to consumers in such countries as China or Vietnam.
Animals have a right to live on this planet just as humans do. This amazing globe will no longer be amazing if we prioritize only the human species. The world is a lonely place if we place humans on a pedestal without regard for other species unless these other life forms are exploitable. Humans, more humans, and billions more humans can get quite boring. No wonder most of us resent formal, mundane, and insincere meetings with small talk. That is because the meeting often comes with a large complement of hypocritical humans. You want to trade? Give me a panda munching on a bamboo stick or a cheetah chasing its morning breakfast and I will give you my ticket to the convention with a plethora of tight-collar humans to feast your eyes upon.
If people from different countries and organizations can come together—regardless of faith, color, ethnicity, or who wears what head cover—then we can make a huge overall difference to all who inhabit this amazing globe.
Where do we start? We cannot start when we do not yet understand the positive potential trapped within a large segment of people—the Muslims in this case—and continue demonizing them; the loss will not be only a “Muslim-loss,” but collective mankind’s loss since we are all in this together, inhabiting the same planet with its finite resources of air, water, wild animal populations that are on the decline, and oceans and seas being cleared of marine life. We need Muslims to play their part in safeguarding our natural resources.
I also want to introduce you to Prophet Mohammed briefly, for unless we know him, we cannot appreciate his concern for mankind, for animal welfare, and the environment. If we can use his counsel and instructions to motivate Muslims once again––knowing that Muslims will generally be more conducive to accepting messages that have religious connotations––the faster and better the results. Yes, we need to know what Prophet Mohammed was all about, and you will be stunned at what I am going to tell you. Stunned because the unsavory cookie baked by bigots is going to crumble. Some people, in their ignorance, blame Prophet Mohammed for disgraceful acts carried out by some Muslims. This would be like laying blame on the noble character of Jesus for a vile sexual act perpetrated by a priest upon a child under his care. If we cannot blame Jesus, then we equally cannot blame Prophet Mohammed.
What this book will do: it will tell you some fascinating stories and anecdotes which have deep meaning for the astute observer––gems that one can extract without having to go to Aladdin’s Cave and muttering some silly incantations to open a rusty door. This narrative incorporates bits of human absurdity to arouse the senses and perk the wit. We all need that, besides coffee. We also need some answers––yes, we do! –– on what Muslims are all about since we are not even sure if they are coming or going.
I want like to tell you about devilish political games being played—not that you do not already know the insidious nature of those games and who is benefiting from our silence—but present it from the Muslim perspective.
Lastly, I want to tell you about how important God is in the Muslim psyche, and why it is important for us to know so we can interact with them more effectively. You may think I know all the answers about Muslims, and you will be surprised how much I do know.
Why, oh why…?
At the beginning of this chapter I said someone nutty detonated a suicide bomb and killed innocent people. Of course, you may assume I have the answer to why this person did what he did. I have the answer.
I do not know.
I have been unable to wrap my head around such a thing that muddles the mind. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to hurt innocent people going about their activities, minding their own business. Most Muslims I talk to are increasingly frustrated as to why anyone, from any religious faith, would target innocent people.
But I have a fair idea as to why some so-called “Muslims” would hurt innocent people. A report by both the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) and a detailed study by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) will allay much of the confusion that leaves people shaking their heads, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The studies report that more than half of extremist violent terrorist acts perpetrated in Europe were carried out by so-called “Muslims” with previous criminal records seeking quick “redemption” for past wrongs, often becoming easy prey for extremist recruiters.[i] The study of the lives of these violent extremists reveals some common patterns: these “Muslims” live outside the dictates of Islam, which enjoins regular charity, honest work ethics, and regular prayer. Such extremists, if you were to look closely, were often involved in the consumption of strong intoxicants or drugs, gambling, lewdness, or had previous criminal records. In other words, they were not “practicing Muslims”—Muslims who are required to adhere to strict guidelines on compassion and civic behavior.
As I will explain later in this book, since we all share space with Muslims—and since they are our neighbors, professionals, and a large part of the labor force occupying the various strata of a dynamic society with its complex intertwined sharing of goods and services—it is imperative that Muslims be taught the basic tenets of Islam.
My ears just popped because someone created a vacuum by sucking all the air.
Ah! I see why. The sudden intake of breath and a look of surprise are to be expected, and you will not be the only one registering bewilderment, “Really? Teach Islam to Muslims?” Please stay calm and deflate those lungs before something pops inside. I will explain.
A reasonably Quran-educated Muslim becomes a critical thinker and is able to interpret the contexts in which verses are given in the Quran. Unfortunately, not all Muslims know the dictates by which the Quran asks them to govern themselves. Dictates of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness; steadfastness in times of adversity; charity and social responsibility—all these are too often ignored by the uneducated “Muslim” when emotionally aroused.
Following the core principles of Islam would make it extremely difficult for Muslims to commit crimes, or fall prey to the extremist ideologies of the unscrupulous, who would find these principled Muslims very hard to convince to harm innocent others.
“Properly Islam-educated” Muslims would be able to counter and resist crude interpretative tactics (taken out of context by demagogues to achieve nefarious ends) by employing sound knowledge. These Quran-educated Muslims would create stability among their own communities and generate positive energy to the whole of society.
Good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with what is good. Then you will find your erstwhile enemy like a close affectionate friend. (Quran 41:34)
In this book, I will highlight and integrate matters that are of both a religious and non-religious nature to make clear our common aspirations. We all have so much in common. Even on the religious platform, we have much in common. Did you know that the “Ten Commandments” apply to all Muslims? Did you know that there is a whole chapter in the Quran with the title “Mary”, or that Muslims love and revere Jesus, and that Allah (God) affirms in the Quran that Jesus is of “Virgin Birth” and he is “held in honor in this world and the hereafter”?
Credit will be given where credit is due; non-Muslim countries are at the moment on the forefront of environmental advocacy and instituting laws for the welfare of animals. But did you know that Prophet Mohammed, 1,400 years ago, established the first powerful directives for the care of animals and the planet? More of that later, so keep those socks on.
The Islamic Empire (and other civilizations preceding it, for we are going to be objective and give credit freely, back-and-forth) produced many scientists, philosophers, and thinkers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037, Persian philosopher known for his contribution to medicine and philosophy), Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126–1198, known for commentaries on Aristotle’s and Plato’s works), Mohammed ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (Algoritmi or Algaurizin, 780–850, who helped introduce Hindu-Arabic numerals and algebra concepts into European mathematics), and many others.[ii],3
The scientific establishment, on the whole, has been a little stingy in giving credit to Muslim scientists, not realizing that we are a single humanity, occupying a single planet.
One can always blame the ancient lamp
You may look at me and ask, with some confusion, “Why was I kept in the dark about the various contributions Muslims made to our shared civilization?” My answer to you is, “Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with it. Maybe some people had some foggy ideas that giving credit to Muslims would undermine their own institutions. Maybe they childishly thought giving credit to Muslims would give some legitimacy to a religious faith they would rather see subverted. Maybe they preferred to peer at Muslims in a dim light or the ancient oil lamp did not work.”
Various caliphates (such as the Mughal in India, Ummayad in Syria and Spain, Abbasid in Iraq, and Ottoman in Turkey) of the Islamic Empire built great cultural and economic powerhouses, with remarkable progress in the sciences, literature, medicine, and philosophy. Like many past civilizations, they reached a peak and then slowly started to decline, with greedy despots in different regions fighting to remain in power. Thus, weakened from within, the final collapse came with the advent of the Western colonialists.
Alas! Where is it today, “the tolerant and inquiring Muslim mind”? Presently much of this “Muslim mind” is numb, what with newer despots in Muslim majority countries keeping the human and physical resources of the country “busy” (I use this lightly) in their greed for power and a grandiose lifestyle.
Only when the inquiring mind is free from constant turmoil—free from the worry of what next will fall from the sky, or if the security at the airport will give him a hard time for growing a beard that makes him look like that guy in the “Wanted” picture stuck on the walls all over the city––does it have an opportunity to engage in the pursuit of the arts and sciences.
The only “arts” and sciences a Muslim can conjure up today when he wakes up is to decide if he should artfully camouflage-paint a hard-hat so that he can blend in with the terrain (with military drone planes buzzing overhead in such places as Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia) or come up with a scientifically designed bouncy trampoline accurately calibrated to send explosives that are falling from the sky back to the very politicians who authorize extrajudicial killings via drones. When Muslims were tolerant with an inquiring and open mind, they developed scientific principles that are still used to this day.
Since I do not want to be blamed for going too deep too fast when discussing scientific principles, I will start you off at the shallow, easy end. If you give me Einstein’s theory of relativity, prod me with E=mc2 on the side of the belly when I’ve just had lunch, I will look muddled and unhappy. Even on relatively good days, I would have a blank expression if you brought up the theory of relativity and asked me to relate something on it. I have nothing to do with brainy chaps who confound simple folks with brainy things.
The other way to put this to you is: if you were to ask me to jump into the deep end of the pool when I had just came in from our Northern winter cold, and I had been taking swimming lessons last week and the swimming instructor had finally raised his hands in exasperation, I would say to you, “Wait a bit first. Please let us take things slowly.” Then I would toddle over to the shallow end, dip my toe into the water to test the temperature, go into the water slowly, and swim gingerly to the deep end while holding onto a big rubber duck.
Prudence dictates that deep and immersive scientific principles, like the novice asked to jump into the deep end of the pool, must be introduced slowly.
Therefore, the more immersive core explanations on scientific principles mentioned in the Quran will be dealt with in a later chapter. If you are the scientific type, too bad. You just have to wait patiently.
For now, this way here, please. Dip into the shallow end of the pool. Let me introduce you to the state of affairs in Muslim countries. Let me tell you about the insidious power of the dollar and the bizarre connection it has with the oil. This powerful dollar-oil combo is often at the heart of fueling—fueling?—conflicts around the world.
But first let me share a little on some everyday contributions we use today that were introduced or bolstered by Muslims in history so that you do not give dark suspicious glances at every person sporting a beard. Here we go.
Hot place, here I come!
Winter was cold and tickets to a hot place were cheap. You probably did not know that when choosing a hot place, you do not go to the Middle East. Too late; better make the best of it. It is hot, yes. Extremely hot. Now you were wishing you were home crunching ice and sitting in an igloo. You have been walking in the desert to observe a little history of the place but all you have seen so far are camels and miles and miles of sand.
The sun is getting to you and you are now starting to talk to yourself. It can happen to the best of us. “The author wanted to talk about Muslim contributions to science, human rights, and the arts—in history. In history? Why did he say “history”? What of the present-day Muslims?” you ask yourself, a tad too loudly.
“Many of the present-day Muslims, especially those in some Arab countries are presently relaxing in their air-conditioned homes busy drinking coffee and eating dates as they give directions to poorly paid maids from Bangladesh and the Philippines on what type of make-up to put on their camels for the upcoming beauty contest.” The voice seems to come from the heavens and you nearly jump out of your skin. You look up.
It is not a voice from heaven. The voice is piped down by an exhausted maid from the Philippines standing on a ladder applying mascara to the eyelashes of an unhappy camel.
“Why are you up there on that wobbly ladder? It seems you do not want to be up there. Come down. It is not safe. If you don’t like your employer, why don’t you go home?” you ask.
“I can’t. I have not been paid in months and I can’t go home even if I borrowed some money from someone else,” the maid discloses sadly. “I am held virtually a prisoner what with my passport held as ransom by my boss. That is what their government tacitly allows them to do. My boss making sure I am overworked while he sits drinking coffee in his air-conditioned tent pitched in the desert. Many present-day Muslims are perfecting the art of not practicing what they preach. They do not have any time for science as they have tons of money.”
“How about Muslims in poor South Asian countries, such as Afghanistan? Are they making any new discoveries in science or the arts?” you query, steadying the ladder as it is wobbling. The camel is not taking kindly to this affront. It does not fancy its eyelashes being subjected to thick layers of paint.
“Not at the moment. They are busy scanning the skies for drones sent in by the U.S.,” replies the maid. Even though she is overworked, she maintains her civility. You admire her resilience and you wish she could be accorded the same worker rights as are accorded to all foreign domestic workers in most Western countries. She looks down from her precarious perch. She has a kind face. She is flushed and sweating. “They do not therefore have time to start thinking of inventions and optics and embryology and academia that the author of this book is soon going to subject you to. Please be patient. Relax, drink some water and breathe, for you are beginning to go red. You may suffer heatstroke in this confounded heat.”
“Thanks for your concern. I think you should come down from the ladder and get into the shade,” you empathize, concerned for her health. “I read something about the rights of workers in Islam. It said somewhere that the Prophet of Islam counseled people to pay the wages of workers even before their sweat dries. He advised people to allow their workers to sit with the owners at meal times and eat with them, to share their meals. He, himself—I mean the Prophet—used to help his wives with household chores though he was busy administering a vast nation.”
“I know,” the maid nods, and as she does, the ladder starts to wobble again. You quickly hold it steady. The maid smiles to indicate her thanks. “There is much beauty in what the Prophet advised and practiced to educate his companions. His companions applied his teachings well, and Islam spread like wildfire. The first and second generations of Muslims also applied his instructions properly after he died. Islam was indeed a breath of fresh air in a dark world at that time. Then a slow decay set in over the centuries within the Muslim world, soon to be overtaken by the Industrial Revolution in the West culminating with the West colonizing many countries—both Muslim and non-Muslim nations were subdued for resource theft—essentially under the barrel of the gun. This clinched the fall of the vast Muslim empire.”
“You seem to know your history well.”
“A little,” she humbly replies. “Progress through Science and the Arts seems to have been bogged down in many of the Arab states. Maybe it is the oil that has created a huge bog. Science and the arts appear to have been drowned in this bog. Indeed, stagnation of mind and physique has become the wealthy oil nation’s lot. The country’s original inhabitants are getting rusty, as if the very oil they produce is not able to lubricate their affairs. They think development is to build tall buildings with foreign labor. That is the extent of many of the Arab oligarch’s foresight. If all the foreign workers were to leave, these guys here would not even know how to boil coffee. Let me get back to work. My boss is not a very tolerant person.”
“I understand,” you respond. “I hope that a few Muslim minds set upon introspection and reform will once again breathe new life into a beautiful religion. These Muslim chaps need to read the Quran and follow the examples of their Prophet to reignite the true legacy of Islam. I can see sparks here and there, especially from the Muslims in the West. Islam may yet spring forth with a renewed renaissance.”
“I hope so too,” says the maid. “It has become rather confusing that on the one hand Muslims say their religion is good, but some of them practice its very opposite. I hope someone can reconcile this obvious dichotomy. Maybe history will give us a brief insight as to what they were and what they left behind. It is time for some iced coffee. Please help yourself from the little Thermos I have under that tree.”
Kahve, coffee, and cough drops
Did Muslims in history contribute to major scientific advances, and do they have any important scientific findings in their Book? But let us not start with deep and complex things. Do you remember me saying something about deep ends of the swimming pool and shallow ends? Do you remember about me holding on to a rubber duck so as not to sink? Okay, good. Let us start at the shallow and easy end:
Fred and Ibrahim, two friends, meet up. Fred worked in the banking sector as a cashier in one of the local banks before it was shut down and the operations moved to a bigger bank at the City Centre. Having lost his job, he took up taxi driving, loving his new career as he could take a break anytime he wanted. Ibrahim also worked as a taxi driver, having taken up the new job when he was laid off as a history teacher in a public school. The small elementary school he worked at closed down and the students were made to move to a bigger school which housed both elementary and high school. It appeared to be the trend now: smaller enterprises being absorbed into mega-projects in a bid to save money.
Fred, who cares not a hoot about complex scientific findings in religious texts, is listening to Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been talking about scientific achievements by Muslims in history. Fred shrugs his shoulders, “Who cares? I am just going to eat a three-course meal that I paid for with a good old cheque, have coffee after, take a shower with my sweet-smelling soap, brush my teeth, and go to sleep. You guys can bicker about Muslim inventions and the origins of things because I have nothing to do with it!”
Ibrahim is not offended by Fred’s remark, knowing that his friend has an abrupt straightforward way of talking. Ibrahim continues. “Not so fast, my friend. I think you should skip much of your plan if you are really averse to accepting anything that Muslims have done. The things you plan to do before you jump into bed have some sort of origin with Muslims: the three-course meal, cheque, coffee, soap, and toothbrush, or brushing on a regular basis.”
“You are pulling my leg!” retorts Fred, raising his leg and jokingly tugging at his own trouser leg for emphasis, nearly falling backwards. Bring Fred to a party and he will soon have a bevy of enthusiastic listeners surrounding him, amused at his antics, entranced with his vivid imagination and eccentric intelligence.
“I mean it,” asserts Ibrahim, undeterred. “Now let us see. Did you know that the three-course meal that you are going to eat—soup first, main meal second, and dessert third—was introduced centuries ago by a Muslim person called Ziryab in Muslim Cordoba, Spain? This man Ziryab also created a new type of deodorant to get rid of bad odors and also promoted morning and evening baths, emphasizing the maintenance of personal hygiene. Ziryab is also thought to have invented the early toothpaste, which he popularized throughout Islamic Iberia. The exact ingredients of this toothpaste are not currently known, but it was reported to have been both medicinal and pleasant to taste.”[iii]
Fred is not to be put off. “I thought colonialists taught the world how to dine when they invaded the nether regions with disciplined hordes sent to maraud and plunder only a few here and a few there, stealing only tiny continents. They obviously discovered these places. It seems the natives living in these lands had no clue they were on some solid land to be discovered by foreigners. Read it in the history books. It says some colonialist adventurers discovered those places.”
“Are you sure they were tiny continents? Did you say discover?” Ibrahim asks, amused at Fred’s choice of words.
“Well, some were a little bit big like America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand,” admits Fred. “But surely a fellow called Vasco did lose his way and did discover America. His rusty compass must not have been working due to the salty air of the sea. He must have jumped down from his creaky ship and kissed the sand for having landed on terra firma. He must have called it terra firma since he was Scottish or German. Of course, he must have quickly spluttered the sand out of his mouth since kissing the sand is going to do things to his mouth and lips that he does not like. He probably fell asleep on the shore after his tiring journey. Imagine his fright when he woke up from his nap at the shore and found himself surrounded by natives peering down at him. I think his name was Vasco-something. I am not good at history but I can tell you he must have discovered America. He probably shouted at the poor natives while brandishing his ancient rusty pistol, ‘You live in America and I have discovered it for you. I have a pistol (which I hope still works), so don’t argue.’”
Ibrahim is fascinated by Fred’s visual explanations. “I think history is not your strong point. Vasco da Gama was Portuguese and he did not discover America. And the phrase “terra firma” has nothing to do with the Scots or the Germans. It is thought that Columbus, an Italian, is the one who discovered America, though that is under some dispute. Regardless, you can’t really discover any place for a people who are already living there. Anyway, did you know that the cheque-system was invented by Muslims?”
“No,” answers Fred.
“They called it saqq, a written vow to pay a set amount to avoid carrying money across dangerous places,” Ibrahim continues. A cheque or saqq made out in a place like Baghdad could be cashed by a Muslim doing business in faraway China.[iv] There was no need to jingle coins and draw the attention of highway marauders as the chap slowly made his way to China. If caught, the robber would probably look at the piece of paper written in some mangled Arabic script, and finding nothing of value on the Arab chap and wishing he not starve, would probably give him some of his own coins, a piece of moldy bread and send him on his way.”
Fred is still unconvinced about the origin of the cheque. “I thought it was our banking system that introduced cheques so that we could charge hefty interest to keep our people in check. I thought the cheque was to keep people in check. And I am sure interest is quite interesting in that it serves the interest of the bankers. Come to think of it, I think compounded interest must be the reason folks like me get a compounded headache. I know you Muslims have been directed by your religion not to have an interest system because you believe it exploits vulnerable people. That is why your banks cannot repossess houses and become richer every year, but ours do. You guys say you have to give some of your wealth to the poor. How much do you give?”
“We give 2.5 percent of any accumulated savings that has been with the person for a twelve-month period,” says Ibrahim.
“Okay,” Fred nods in assent. “You guys give 2.5 percent of mandatory charity every year to the less fortunate. I see a problem here. How can you give to the poor when you do not let people stay too poor? A guy goes out looking for the poor and comes back exhausted with blisters on his feet ’cos he can’t find any. That is not very smart, is it? Making people exhausted and giving them painful blisters. How can you give to the poor with that kind of a system? Of course, most Muslim countries do not follow that system now, and your people are now far worse off than we are. You should have stuck to the old system of social justice that your Prophet taught you.”
“I wish we had,” agrees Ibrahim.
“You wanted progress and some of your Muslim countries got involved in the interest system, but see where that has gotten you. Look at what the interest system has done to poor countries. They are in a vicious cycle of paying interest on compounding interest without paying a cent off the original principal.”
“The interest system has been a curse for poor countries. It is sad what’s happening to them,” Ibrahim admits. “It is slavery in disguise. The only difference is that the Master and Slave are separated by greater distances.”
“Our banks, corporations, and governments have made the interest system a big part of our economy, even if it is done on the backs of the poor in the world,” Fred continues. “I do not agree with all that they do, but I am a part of the system. We also gave ourselves the power to devalue currencies, especially if it is a foreign country. We have installed despotic leaders in your countries who do our bidding. Our printed paper issued by our banks is better than your printed paper even if you put multicolored hues on them. We buy the trees from you, make paper money from them, and sell it back to you guys by putting fancy symbols on them, such as the dollar-sign or the pound-sign.”
“What are you saying about printed paper? I think you are now starting to spout gibberish. Would you enlighten me?” Ibrahim is trying to keep up with Fred who is trying to make himself understood by hand gestures as if drawing a rectangular piece of paper and making a symbol of what is supposed to be a dollar sign in the air.
“I am saying that gold is no longer the gold standard,” explains Fred. “It disappeared like the old genie in Aladdin’s lamp as in your Arabian fairy tales. Our currency is not backed by any gold reserve in any Fort Knox where the value on our printed paper depended on the amount of gold reserves we had. Previously, any person with some dollars could come to the U.S. and exchange the paper dollar to get an equivalent amount of gold from our reserves. That meant we could only print a set number of papers and put the exact value on these papers based on our gold reserves. Then we cleverly de-linked it. Nixon untied that pegging of the paper-dollar to gold. We can now print papers galore and make money from thin air while you sell off all your oil, until one day you realize you have been seeing mirages just the way you do in the desert. You have been duped.”
“Eh? I still do not get it.” Ibrahim is trying not to scratch his turbaned head. He does not want to make it obvious that he does not understand the point this chap is trying to make. They were talking about currencies and the chap has gone off on a tangent talking about printed paper and gold.
“You Muslim guys have been duped with the biggest hoax of the century,” Fred continues. “Did you know we own most of the oil in your Muslim countries? We put some despots in your countries and cajoled them or twisted their arms till they uttered some expletives in Arabic that even a big man with muscles and a strong disposition would blush at, and they quickly agreed to sell oil only in U.S. dollars on the world market. This way we can now print dollar bills on a whim and the world has to come to us to buy dollar bills before they can buy your oil. Of course, it’s not as simple as firing up the printer, as there are certain formulas that go into the dollar equation, the world forced into reluctant complicity. But you have to agree that the dollar has taken monopoly over all other currencies. The Arab oligarchs got hoodwinked while they were ogling at fancy ladies in our casinos. Then these autocratic oligarchs hoodwinked you all. We become filthy rich and you become filthier. You know how?”
“How?” Ibrahim asks.
“We become filthy rich and hand out cents to Muslim countries for every barrel of oil and your workers become filthier extracting the muck from the ground!” answers Fred. “The world has, quite aptly, given our paper the name petrodollar. We do not even have to dig on our lands for oil. We let you do the digging. In your own lands at that! We print numbers on paper and put a fancy symbol like the dollar sign before the number. Ink is cheap. We force poor countries to sell coffee and bananas at ridiculously cheap prices in order that they can buy our printed paper before they can buy your oil which they desperately need to run their tractors to plant bananas and coffee. If they go to an Arab country to buy oil with their local currency, they may well be told, ‘La, la!’ La means no in Arabic. It does not have to do with a music skit.”
“I know. I do know a little Arabic,” Ibrahim retorts with a huff. He does not like being thought of as a buffoon.
Fred continues, ignoring Ibrahim’s discomfort. “‘La, la!’ they would say. ‘We only sell oil in dollars on the world market. Please go buy some dollars with your devalued currency, courtesy of the World Bank and IMF, and then come buy our oil. You know what happened to Iraq, Libya, and Venezuela when they started to think of selling oil in other currencies, right? They were made to think again. See, Ibrahim? Your folks have been duped into selling oil in dollars only. Once the oil is gone up in smoke, literally, so will the protection the West has been offering their puppets in Gulf countries.”
Fred pauses long enough for Ibrahim to interject. “Interesting about Iraq and how the Bush-Blair duo made corky stories about hidden weapons of mass destruction. Mass lies, more like. There must be a connection with oil and petrodollar and sinister games being played. It looks like the wealth from oil-producing countries will not be used for the citizens of the country the oil is extracted from. Most is already possessed by people sitting far away in other countries.”
“See what I mean, Ibrahim? It is as if the oil is coming out of our lands!” Fred is feeling sorry for Ibrahim as he sees him wincing at the injustice, but Fred feels it is his duty to educate his friend, and to do it in a way that strikes a chord. “Have you tried a banana with a cup of black coffee? The bitter and sweet combination tastes really good. They taste even better if our corporations get them at dirt cheap prices just by handing out small amounts of printed paper to some poor African and South American countries for their bananas and coffee. The value you guys place on our bills is only in your heads, ’cos if you look at it, your paper and our paper are not much different after all. The real value is in the oil, but we make the world believe it’s in the printed paper we call dollars.”
“It does seem like we have been fooled,” Ibrahim admits.
“Yes, you guys have been bamboozled. Our banks are smarter too. We even use banks against our own people. Our banks demand surety and they can repossess houses so that we can go on the street close by and give to the homeless poor without exhausting ourselves walking long distances. We engage in a win–win system and get cheap labor as you guys flood our streets, willing to do menial jobs that we do not like to do. The despots in your Muslim countries are doing a fine job for us. You should never read a book called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, ’cos it may give you ideas.”[v]
“I see the way you explain social finance is somewhat different from what most people chomping on bananas would want to think deeply about,” Ibrahim remarks, marveling at the passion with which Fred makes his argument. “You do make some interesting points. I think I am going to read that book, now that you have mentioned it. I am not going to talk to you any more about banks and financial systems—systems that keep poor nations in perpetual poverty. We should leave this discussion for another day. Anyway, did you know that coffee was an Arab invention brought from Yemen to medieval Europe?[vi] They called it qahwa and many Sufis used it to keep themselves awake for prolonged ritual worship. You should read its etymology from qahwa to Turkish kahve to today’s coffee. I don’t know why they changed the word qahwa to coffee, but so be it.”
“I did not change the word, I swear.” Fred is feeling some guilt.
“It’s a small thing, really. Don’t worry about it,” Ibrahim tries to reassure Fred. “It is perfectly okay. I know it is hard for an Englishman to pronounce qahwa with its ‘q.’ So, please feel free to use the word coffee, because if you tried asking for qahwa from an Arab, and started with, ‘Qa … ka … qaka …,’ he would probably give you a cough drop thinking you are suffering from some throat ailment. Don’t worry about changing Arabic words to Latinized versions. I personally prefer the word ‘coffee’ to qahwa.”
“Do you? That is good.” Fred is starting to like the polite Muslim fellow even more. “I like the word coffee and also the taste of coffee”
Ibrahim continues, “Did you know that the type of hard sweet-smelling toilet soap you are about to use today was a Muslim invention in which they used alkali and oils and thyme and other fragrant essential oils to make it lather and smell good? They called it sabun, which became savon and now soap. They used soap not only to be hygienic but also for therapeutic purposes, as some oils warded off certain ailments. You should thank al-Razi and al-Zahrawi for the soap you will use today. Both played a part in soap recipes and healing ingredients incorporated in them.”
“Who?” asks Fred. “Too many Als. Al-this and al-that. Why not just say Allan or Alice? Isn’t this chap Zahrawi some kind of ancient doctor? I read something about him in university”
“Wow! Yes! You have an awesome memory!” Ibrahim is impressed. “This chap Zahrawi is also known as ‘the father of modern surgery’ for his thirty-volume encyclopedia of medical practices. His medical principles and surgical tool designs were so significant that we still use many of those principles to this day, as well as almost identical tool designs in modern surgical practice.[vii] Alkali plays an important role in the manufacture of soap. In fact, the word alkali took its origin from the Arabic word al-qaliy.[viii] Did you know that ‘Al’ in Arabic means ‘The’? In fact, many English words with an ‘Al’ take their origin from the Arabic language, such as algebra, alchemy, and algorithm.”[ix]
“Okay, okay. Stop, for heaven’s sake. I was never good at chemistry and math,” Fred interjects quickly. “I assure you I will whisper a little ‘thank you’ to whoever thought of putting special oils in soap. I like a nice smelling soap too. If the soap has health benefits, then the better the soap, I say.”
“I agree. Soap is such a good thing. Besides soap, did you know that practicing Muslims wash and rinse the exposed parts of the body like hands and face and mouth and nostrils five times a day before prayers, important hygiene rituals to prevent infections and something to consider in these difficult times when we are facing this Covid-19 virus and other infectious disease problems? In fact, now that we are facing this pandemic, Prophet Mohammed said something very interesting about such a plague”
“Oh, did he? What did he say?” Fred is interested to know what could have been said more than a thousand years ago.
“The Prophet said that that if one hears of an outbreak of plaque in a region, then one should not enter it. And if the plaque breaks out in a place while you are in it, not to leave that place. If you read the article which appeared in Newsweek of March in this very year 2020, by Craig Considine, a professor and scholar at Rice University, on this advice given by the Prophet, you will see what I mean.”
“Wow! That is amazing!” Fred exclaims. “This is the exact prescription for twenty-first century quarantine practice”
“Didn’t you say you would brush your teeth before going to sleep?” asks Ibrahim. “It is indeed a wonderful idea for keeping teeth in good order. Did you know that brushing teeth was popularized by Muslims? In fact, the Prophet instructed its daily use, and encouraged its use several times a day before prayers. The Muslims of the time used branches from certain trees, or roots from certain plants, which produce brush-like bristles at the end of the stick when chewed. They called it siwak. Some Muslims still brush their teeth with these biodegradable plant materials ritually five times daily, before prayers. Muslims began following this oral-hygiene practice more than a thousand years ago, following the example and direction of their Prophet who strongly recommended its daily use.”
Fred interjects, his vivid imagination conjuring what it must have been like a thousand years ago, “I guess when troops were drawn up in battle formation and the ancient Persian army or the Roman army peered at their Muslim opponents apparently gnashing their teeth on some sticks—not knowing that they were simply brushing their teeth—they probably quivered with fear, their armored legs making odd clanging sounds across the battlefield. They must have felt they were done for, facing as they did a Muslim enemy prepared not only to fight with swords but ‘tooth-and-nail’ as well”![x]
“Ha, ha!” laughs Ibrahim. “You are not only very imaginative, but also very funny!”
“Clanging sounds made by the armor of a whole army, as their knees shook, must have made a quite a din,” continues Fred, in good humor, his imagination running wild. “I am glad I was not there. If I had fallen in that armor, I would have had a hard time getting up, with my bad knees and all. I would have kept very still, hoping that nobody noticed I was still alive and peering through the armor.”
To a passer-by, Fred and Ibrahim would appear to be having a verbal duel. The fact is, these two friends engage in this kind of a friendly tit-for-tat vocal match every time they meet. Had the passer-by lingered a bit more, he would have heard this, “I feel like it’s time for some caffeine. Come with me, Fred, I will treat you to a nice cup of coffee,” Ibrahim points to a coffee shop owned by a Turkish fellow. “You said you like Mocha bean coffee. I will get you some Turkish delights to go with the coffee. Oh, by the way, did you know that the Mocha bean actually originates from a port city in Yemen called Mocha?”[xi]
Overcoming the hunkered-down worldview
Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, gender-bias, preying upon the weak, and oppression in its many guises are wrong. Co-existence and peace despite our differences are right.
Right. Got that.
Muslims must engage with non-Muslims and the world they live in with positive energy, sound reason, and intelligence. An intellectual discourse obviously involves the non-Muslims according Muslims a level playing field—and vice versa, depending on who is the “host” or “home team”—with wisdom acting as the referee.
Right. Got that too. But aren’t we looking for a “winner”?
Not exactly; the winner is not one party emerging victorious over the other. The parties on opposing sides have been trying to win something, and yet have not been able to pin down what exactly it is they are fighting for because egos and prejudices have gotten in the way. It is so obvious and it has been staring them in the face all the time. What is that thing, then?
Let us suppose an event like the Oscars is being hosted; but it is not really the Oscars, as the people don’t have fancy hairstyles and wearing uncomfortable starchy clothes but instead are sitting in a haphazard fashion with torn shirts and bruises. The audience is made up of members of different faiths. The passionate faithful have been having a go at each other and are catching their breath before someone repeats, “My religion is the correct one,” and then someone replies, “No, it is not!” and another free-for-all battering erupts.
The host comes onto the platform. An envelope is passed to him. The audience holds its collective breath as the host peers through a black eye to take the envelope. They want to know who the winner is after all the fights, black eyes, free-for-all brawls, and knock-out punches. They have all been searching for something, and today they are going to find out what that something is before they kill each other.
The host gingerly tears open the envelope with broken fingers, peers from one eye, and reads, “… and the winner is … Truth.” In the audience, a big man with a tattoo and a missing tooth nudges a tiny but vicious-looking companion in the next seat with his elbow. He whispers through the gap in his incisors, “Who is that? Did he say ‘truth’?” The small man (fondling a tooth in his pocket and hoping he is not discovered to have done this to the big man’s jaw) whispers back, “I think that is what he said. But I do not see a person with a hat that says ‘truth’ printed on it. Let us wait and see what he means.”
Actually, they heard it correctly. Yes, the winner is Truth. It matters not who presented it accurately. Upon accepting the Truth, both parties will benefit. Truth trumps all. Sorry, I can see your reaction. I agree, let us leave Trump out of this. Let me rephrase it. Truth conquers all. Accept the Truth even if it comes from the mouth of babes, so a wise person would say.
Therefore, let us engage. I present my point of view, and you present yours, and we agree to disagree if all else fails. If Truth still wishes to remain enigmatic as we go through the process of unearthing its precise nature, we remain committed to hear out the other.
So, if you are ready to hear me out, then this is what I have to say: When we look at the combined number of the various Quranic references and the validity of each, then it becomes hard to refute the Quran’s concurrence with established scientific fact. The Quran often makes reference to a subject, and, as if knowing that we would have questions about its abstruse nature, exhorts us to verify its pronouncements with those who have an in-depth knowledge of the matter being discussed: “So ask the People of Knowledge if you do not know” (Quran 21:7). We often find that the highest authority on the subject has the humility to acknowledge the profoundness of the particular verse referred to them, its various nuances, and can readily appreciate its alignment with the sciences.
Let us take the example of the Quran verse (21:30) that states, “Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?” For the chronic cynic who is ready to refute this particular verse—because it happens to be from the Quran, and everything Quranic must be opposed—the task is to look hard under every rock under every continent to undermine the verse, trying to collect dry living materials and desiccated worms, making loud noises to appease his discomfiture. The noises are generally louder if he happens to have followers who have previously looked up to him as a leader of sorts. This person will still try to delve into a subject matter that does not fall within his area of “expertise,” but he does it anyway, and you will often find him lacing his arguments with mockery if he is cornered with a sound rebuttal.
This “expert” is like the person who demands an apple, and when he is given the apple, tries to find a mark on the apple so that he can deny that it is a good apple, or end up saying with a smirk, “See that mark? Now what do you have to say about that?”
He came with the intention of being negative and raising a ruckus. I say to him, “Look and you should indeed look, so that you are satisfied. But do it with objectivity, for the apple is wholesome and good, despite your squinting efforts to find fault.” If the same verse had been in his own religious book, you would not have seen him looking for a desiccated worm and checking to see if it could produce desiccated worm-babies. He would be busy holding conferences extolling the virtues of verses from his book that have scientific validity.
This chap should be challenging for a place in the Olympic long-jump final, given his ability to jump from one side to the other when verses are switched from one book to the other: all one has to do is put this chap’s religious book to the other side of the gap and then watch him spring! Someone needs to pat this emotionally-charged chap on the shoulder and whisper in his ear that dialogue is not a simplistic hunkered-down worldview: “My religion is right, so yours must be wrong.”
Dialogue and bridge-building require a more mature approach, and would go like this: “You make some interesting points. I have read the Quran briefly, but I did not really think deeply about the verse regarding the heavens and the Earth being one unit and that God, or some Powerful Force, clove it asunder, and how it may correlate with the Big Bang Theory. I have something very interesting to show you from my book too. Here, look at this …”
The problem is, mature dialogue and bridge-building do not sell papers. Sensationalism—and fear—that sells papers. Better if we can add an exotic flavor to make it sharper on the senses.
Nowadays, if we wanted to sell more popcorn at the cinema, the way to do it would be to offer sharper tasting flavors than mere salted popcorn. So far, so good, it is starting to make sense. But how do we sell more papers? You can’t really put flavors on papers and expect people to crumple it up and pop the wad into the mouth. It is a dilemma, no?
Let me introduce you to “Muslim-flavored” papers.
The editor and Muslim-flavored papers
As we all know, bad news, crime, and violence promotes greater public interest and results in sudden surges of newspaper sales, increased advertising revenue for the shareholders, happier fish-and-chip sellers who recycle the local paper’s gossip as wrapping for your takeaways, and editors who can once again afford to put expensive sharp-tasting jam on their toast.
Pass by the local newspaper company when recent events in the papers have not piqued your interest and peep in through the keyhole when no one is looking. If you are lucky, you may see the editor calling a staff meeting with some pink layoff slips in hand.
“Muslims have been awfully quiet for too long and paper sales have gone down, y’know.” The editor is looking at the crime story writer as if he is responsible for the shrinking revenues. There is silence in the boardroom. Everyone is gazing at the crime story reporter. Surely it must be his fault? People are going to lose their jobs because the imbecile did not do his properly.
“Don’t look at me as if I have done something criminal. I write crime, not make crime!” the crime story reporter retorts. He is determined to defend himself. “I have been going to the court house daily trying to find juicy bits but nothing seems to sell, even if it is a major crime. Give me a Muslim who stole a banana for his sick grandma and I can make it sound like he was brandishing the banana like a pistol at shopkeepers, demanding they give up buying pork, and then watch how our paper sales go up. But nothing of that sort is happening. I suggest we wait a bit before handing out those pink slips. Something is bound to happen soon.”
The editor is getting impatient. His morning breakfasts since last week did not have his favorite exotic sharp-tasting passion-fruit jam on the toast. He could not afford it. Plain butter on toast made him grumpy: “Okay. I am willing to wait a few more weeks. I know those darned Muslims have been quiet for too long. Just keep your eyes open.”
A week later, the editor calls another staff meeting with a wide grin. He motions the crime reporter to take the floor. “Someone did something awful last night. Our paper said a hard-of-hearing elderly gentleman with a hearing-aid heard something. He could not be sure what it was as the battery in his hearing machine had died down. He heard a person shouting in some exotic language like Arabic.” There is a sudden hush in the room. The crime reporter continues, “The elderly gentleman, who must remain anonymous for his safety, was only a mile away from the area where the crime occurred. Our paper sales rocketed. Our revenues are up.” There is a general sigh of relief and some applause.
The editor stands up and continues, “This thing happened in the nick of time. I was getting tired of applying only butter to my toast. No pink slips for a while. There is coffee on the table. Feel free. Try the passion-fruit jam beside the toast. You will understand why I spread jam thickly on my toast. It makes reading the morning paper more fun with some exotic-tasting foreign-sounding jam on the toast. It is like the “Muslim-flavored” paper. It really arouses the senses.”
The crime reporter is first at the table to savor the exotic taste. “Hmm. I agree. This foreign stuff is really good! What would we do without Muslims, eh?”
Give me a crime committed by a person with an exotic name. Sprinkle an ethnicity that one knows only little about. Pour into that mixture a religious background that is somewhat different from the predominant faith. If you can add a color to the batter, the better.
Hands down: Muslims make the best exotic flavor in the papers.
Millions of regular Muslim folks going to work, schooling their children, eating stale pickles with their left-over burgers, paying bills and taxes, are certainly not going to grab your attention, and if you suddenly found your attention starting to drift as you went through this stale statement, the point is made. Do not put the book down yet, though—there is much that will amaze you about Islam that you did not know.
Since good news does not sell, then we have a duty to look beyond the sensational splashy headlines. No section of a people should be demonized wholesale. Sincere members of all faith communities who engage in good works should be acknowledged.
Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all other faith and non-faith members should acknowledge each other whenever any person does deeds of goodness. For instance, how many of us know that a recent U.K. survey of charitable giving found Muslims topping the list ahead of any other major religious or non-religious group, with seven out of ten Muslims contributing to charities?[xii]
Muslims are taught that to display generosity in order to gain attention diminishes the purity of the deed, and so much of the goodness remains unknown to the human populace; as for the good deeds that are obvious, well, most of the media are unfortunately not too keen to print or broadcast those kinds of stories.
But bad news, like nasty weeds, spreads and chokes fruitful dialogue and cooperation, the media acting quickly to provide shovelfuls of fertilizer. This is especially true when crimes are committed by those thought to be Muslims, or profess to be so, regardless of whether they are practicing Muslims or not.
Just bearing a Muslim-sounding name is often enough to warrant condemnation. That is a bit unfair. Where do we begin?
Why not begin at a place that should be common but is not that common any longer?
Common sense not so common
We are losing touch with basic human goodness and wholesome natural ethical norms. Here is an example of what I mean. To distract one of my wittier patients as I was about to perform surgery on her foot with a local anesthetic, the patient and I were discussing recent events making news in the local papers at the time. As she knows that I generally advocate for animal rights and have animal photos of my African safaris displayed in the clinic, she brought up the subject of an activist who was mentioned in the papers.
This activist was charged with criminal mischief by police and the media had picked up this juicy story. Her crime? Providing drinking water in scorching heat to quench the thirst of pigs destined for slaughter crammed into a stifling metal vehicle. While the truck was briefly parked, the kind lady quickly went to give water to the thirsty pigs through vents in the side of the truck.[xiii] My patient made a very succinct remark that I tend to recall whenever I see things that should be obvious, yet which appear to be elusive to some. “Common sense, it seems, is not so common after all!”
Visibly relaxed after the surgery and while I was dressing the foot, the patient started concocting a hypothetical scenario of a lady being charged with the potential crime of giving water to thirsty pigs. I joined in. The following conversation is a gist of the scenario we made up, and which provided us with a good laugh at human absurdity.
“Sergeant, sir, we have received a complaint of a lady giving water to thirsty pigs being driven a very long distance in a huge truck. She was giving water to very thirsty pigs in this terrible heat,” the confused voice of the policeman crackles over the phone. “What should I do?”
“Charge the driver.”
“No, sir. It is the driver lodging the complaint,” explains the cop.
“What! Really? Okay then. Charge the owner of the business for keeping pigs thirsty.”
“No, sir. The driver wants me to charge the lady.”
“What! You can’t do that. You can’t charge a lady for doing a civic duty out of compassion,” retorts the sergeant.
“Sir, the driver is adamant. He wants a charge laid.”
“Hmm. I don’t know what to do really. He should get chickens if he wants things laid. Ha! Ha!”
“Was that supposed to be a joke, sir?” The cop is unimpressed.
“Sorry sir. Very funny, sir. Your own, sir?”
“My very own. I like humor.” The cop rolls his eyes on the other end of the line. The sergeant obviously did not get the sarcasm. The serjeant continues, “but let us get serious. Let me think. Aah! I got it! Charge the pigs for being thirsty, locking themselves up in the truck, being pig-headed, and refusing to walk to a nearby stream to drink water in this heat!” says the sergeant smugly, feeling pleased with himself, and hangs up the phone.
The amazing thing is that in the real scenario, the driver goes scot-free, nothing really happens to the business owner, and the pigs get denied even basic compassion in their final moments so that humans can smugly prop themselves up at the top of the food chain and line their guts with pepperoni. All this while the lady gets charged with a criminal offence! We can certainly make heads roll.
When members of the human race charge a lady for kindness and then take her through the rigors of court proceedings—and for what? Providing water to thirsty animals that are going to soon meet with slaughter—one has to ask what gives us the right to place ourselves above the animals when comparing animals and humans? Who are the animals? Are they outside the truck or inside?
It is time someone invented a “common-sense pill” That person could become very rich.
First, give a ton of free pills to those who kill innocent people. This includes the sole individual and those who hide behind a façade of government writ.
When the end does not justify the means
Killing innocents is wrong. Powerful bombs with shrapnel flying in every direction and leaving huge craters do not distinguish which woman or child to spare. Once any government starts to work outside a fair judicial process, just because people seem to be different and are living in another land, it will not be long before others start doing the same thing.
The other excuse—that civilians get in the way of bombs being thrown from the air and thus constitute mere “collateral damage”—is abhorrent, disguised to justify an evil practice in which innocent men, women, and children are disfigured, maimed, or killed.
Collateral damage is a guise to justify the murder of civilians, so let us call it what it is. One cannot accuse the other of moral betrayal and then employ means that defy the very essence of morality. Would the same politicians’ term it “collateral damage” to their electorate if the bombs were thrown upon the innocent in their own lands? You would find their wordsmiths scurrying to consult their dictionaries, trying to outdo each other in how best to condemn such atrocities. (“Stop watching cartoons on your cell phone, dear Minister. What if someone saw you? The media is outside waiting for a speech. We must condemn such wanton and cowardly acts that occurred near us. For heaven’s sake do not say ‘mere collateral.’ Does ‘despicable murder of innocent civilians’ sound okay?”)
Sane people, and we all hope to be among them, will respect each other, and whenever disagreements arise, will conduct themselves with civility and settle arguments with tact, wisdom, and peaceful dialogue. These qualities when combined with the requisites of perseverance and firmness will bring about lasting change. This is not the same as turning the other cheek. The “standing up” to what is abhorrent is an obligation for those who profess to be on a higher moral platform.
If you insult or punch the bully in a reciprocal exchange, then what is the difference between you and him? A good example to illustrate this case is an event that brought the phrase “Is it okay to punch a Nazi?” into mainstream discussion and vigorous moral debate—not in a university philosophy class, but rather, and surprisingly, on the internet.[xiv]
This happened soon after an alt-right activist was punched in the face during Trump’s presidential inauguration, a punch that was caught on camera. The man who was punched was Richard Spencer, a white nationalist. This occurred as he was giving an interview in Washington, D.C.
When two opposing parties engage in somewhat similar abusive or violent confrontation, it detracts from the real issue at hand. The conversation now shifts from the issue being discussed to the distractive event. The public and the media now focus their attention on the event that occurred, while the more serious issue, in this case that of xenophobia and racism, is sidelined.
So far, so good. Peace-loving folks must always engage with those who are intolerant and spew vile divisive rhetoric with peaceful gestures. Offer them flowers. Omelets made from organic eggs. Or so, the alt-chaps and the neo-Nazi chaps should continue to fancifully think.
Wrong, about the flowers.
Where is the chap who threw the punch? His name should be sent to the “Noble” Peace Prize Committee, for “noble” gestures. I just hope the punch was a soft one for symbolism.
And who remembers the egg-boy?16 He is the courageous Australian boy tackled to the ground, not by one man, but by a bunch of big men probably scared out of their wits that they were not going to be enough. The egg boy’s name too should be forwarded to the Nobel “Piece” Prize Committee so they could give him a “piece” of pie for next time, and some eggs as well, to pop on intolerant heads.
Folks should stand up to those who insult them—with patience, fortitude, and civility, for lasting and positive effects. If all this fails, an egg (not an expensive organic egg, but one which has gone off) should be enough.
Someone who believes he or she is a “goody-goody” person may raise a finger and ask, “Should we not all stay quiet, and stay away from all conflicts?” I would hold the raised finger and gently turn it in the direction of the following quote:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Fight with the pencil and the brain, not the sword. No, no. Please do not wield the sharp pencil. I only used it to denote the pen. Oh dear, some people. In verse 16:125, the Quran exhorts Muslims to always be respectful in their discourse:
Invite [all] to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.
In the wake of the Trump election, there has been a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. I am not blaming Trump per se, or maybe I am but it doesn’t matter; it has nevertheless given some demagogues the courage to vent their racist views.
When a mosque was burnt to the ground in Texas soon after Trump signed the anti-immigration bill targeting many Muslim majority countries, a nearby Jewish synagogue offered the keys to their own place of worship so Muslims could continue to pray. Many Christians also offered help with generosity and a GoFundMe campaign raised large sums to help rebuild the mosque.
Not long afterwards, when several Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in parts of the U.S., many Muslims and Christians were quick to contribute funds to help with repairs. Muslim and non-Muslims were putting into practice, consciously or otherwise, a verse from the Quran which states, “Believers, be steadfast for the cause of God and just in bearing witness. Let not a group’s hostility to you cause you to deviate from justice. Be just, for it is closer to piety. Have fear of God; God is Well Aware of what you do” (Quran, 5:8).
If this coming-together of humanity is not beautiful, I do not know what is!
When the heinous Quebec City mosque attack took place on January 29, 2017, in which six Muslim men died and many more Muslims were injured by being shot from point-blank range by the lone gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student from a local university, CBC Sudbury called my home as we have been known to speak for the Muslim community in Sudbury. The CBC presenter told my wife that he could not get hold of any spokesperson or imam or representative by calling the two mosques in the area and the reason for trying to get hold of me.
I made myself available, cancelled my other engagements, and awaited the CBC call. However, later my wife got a call to say that the CBC in Sudbury was finally able to get hold of an imam and so they would not be calling me. Where did they get hold of the imam? In the city of Timmins, many miles away from Sudbury. Is this an isolated incident where someone is trying to get answers on the belief-system of Muslims or what their thoughts are? I wish it were, but time and again we hear that much of Islam is unknown to people unless they are determined to make the effort to conduct independent research. Muslims need to be proactive. They must engage proactively by providing sound education on their faith knowing that there will always be more people willing to listen to peaceful dialogue than those being swayed by violent confrontation. That fateful day, many Non-Muslims were trying to help Muslims. Muslims must also rise up to help any segment of a population undergoing oppression, at any time, and in any part of the world. That is how we build strong societies.
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.
It’s not our job to play judge and jury, to determine who is worthy of our kindness and who is not. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even—or rather, especially—when we’d prefer not to be.
The idea of maintaining balance and acceptance of the other despite differences appears to be on the wane. There are many people abandoning religion altogether or, when times are hard, adopting religious extremism. We see more of that in Europe with the far right and the far left, and though religion is not obvious in this shift, if you were to dig deep enough, you would find some aspects of religion at the core: rejection with passion or acceptance with passion. Abandonment of religion is therefore not a purely Muslim phenomenon; we see it in cultures all around us.
Religious extremism too is not confined to Muslims. History is replete with religious extremism across all major religions. However, Islam has been handicapped by some of the cultural baggage or regional practices that some Muslims adhere to without knowledge of their faith or scriptural sanction such as female genital mutilation and education denied to girls. Then there are those “Muslims” who commit atrocities that have been expressly forbidden in Islam such as attacking places of worship, or harming or killing any innocent person. There is no exception to this rule, no matter the depth of grievance; the rule being so strict that one cannot retaliate in like manner even if the enemy had resorted to such acts.
We must learn to question objectively whether a crime has been sanctioned by religion, and if it has not, then, for heaven’s sake, keep religion out of the picture. Thus, a person such as Timothy McVeigh—who was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured over 600—though born a Catholic, is not representative of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Similarly, the tragic injustices done to the Native American people or to the indigenous races of Australia and New Zealand (not mere states taken away from them, but whole continents) cannot be blamed on the teachings of Christ (church leaders need to acknowledge historical injustices where many verses from the Bible were taken out of context and misused to advance a particular political or social agenda).
Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist act in Norway, where he was convicted of killing 77 people, is not considered a religious terrorist act. The media suddenly got it selectively correct on this occasion. Yes, Breivik is a Christian, the media would say, but let us be sensible, shall we? Since he is not a Muslim, let us leave religion out of the picture. The media would also quickly point out that the same criterion of the “separation of perpetrator and religion” be applied in the case of Stephen Paddock, who killed about 58 people and left 500 people injured in Las Vegas. He is not a Muslim, so he is not going to attract the lurid headlines that link a particular religion to a crime committed.
Can we then, dear media, apply the same standard to a person when he happens to be a so-called Muslim?
“No, certainly not,” the media may counter with a raised eyebrow at our audacity (and a wink at the marketing department. A wink you are certain you saw)—sensible enough to see sensationalism, increased paper sales to a dazed public, and some extra bucks in the bank to buy camouflage glasses that should effectively hide the next wink.
But surely Muslims must be the ones committing the worst atrocities, no?
Nope. Not even by the length of the turban cloth
Some of the worst atrocities in the world, such as the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Inquisition have been committed by adherents of religions other than Islam. Compare the number of Muslim countries possessing nuclear weapons with the non-Muslim nuclear powers. While you compare, just hope that the one with the authority to press the red button is not itching, as this may annihilate millions and cause universal catastrophe that will impact you and the coming generations in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine.
The retort “I have a bigger button,” in reference to North Korea is naïve and regressive. Then there are many leaders who have cleverly manipulated the police force and army to see that they carry out their orders against taxpayers who are really the ones funding the food on their very tables. These despots use the country’s forces as if they are meant to serve only their families and friends. Bad retorts give them bad ideas. This type of message should not be coming from what is supposedly the world’s greatest “democracy.” Do big buttons translate to big weapons? Can one not use a small button to do the same? I am just asking. Maybe it’s an itch.
And if a guy is itching, please give him some balm so that he will not itch.
Words are powerful and can have repercussions. Those in power need to use them wisely. Because the media has been so helpful (not), many people think that it is “those Mozlems” who need to be blamed for what ails the Earth (and the stomach ache from eating too much popcorn at the cinema).
How quickly we forget that the worst atrocities the world has ever seen were instigated or caused by adherents of ideologies or religions other than Islam: the First World War—approximately 17 million dead; not to be outdone with such paltry takings, non-Muslims unleashed the Second World War, with approximately 50 to 55 million dead; the War in Iraq , alleged to have produced approximately 12 million dead, was justified by what turned out to be phony allegations of the possession of nuclear weapons by the BB duo team, Bush–Blair and their entourage; the Nagasaki atomic bomb, 200,000 dead; the War in Cambodia, 3 million dead; Il Duce (“The Leader”) Mussolini, 400,000 dead; Chairman Mao Tse Tung dishing out wanton killings instead of wontons (with a dash of soy sauce), with approximately 14 million dead; good old “Uncle Joe” Stalin, dishing out death instead of borsht, 20 million dead and millions more slowly starved to death. Yes, that was what they were called endearingly—Uncle Joe, Chairman Mao, and The Leader.
When the actions of Hitler and a long list of non-Muslim demagogues are compared to atrocities committed by Muslims, the Muslims fail by a long stretch, huffing, puffing, and limping at the end of the line.
The Gold Cup, the Silver Cup, and the Bronze would be won by a non-Muslim. The Muslim would be lucky to get a coal brick chucked at his turbaned head to try and catch up. Rather the coal brick than all the cups, say I.
Keep the cups.
Unfortunately, religion has too often been taken out of context, used and manipulated to monopolize power and subdue and terrorize people. Here then is a mind-blowing statistic that many people are not aware of: according to a FBI database, the majority of terrorist acts in the U.S. were committed by non-Muslims (1980 to 2005 statistics).17 A 2017 report in the Independent states, “Most of the designated terrorist groups in the US are right-wing extremists, not Muslim, according to a new report.”18
I plan to turn preconceived notions on their heads to clear some fog, as I stated earlier. It is not necessarily a “feel-good” book. I concede you will like some of it and hate me for some of it. Now is the chance to keep the book down and go sulk quietly. But if you do, you will miss some funny bits, especially the last chapter––the dessert––which tells you about some wacky “Muslim” despots in deserts. For now, however, we need to get pretty serious about our planet.
A radical change needs to happen to how we perceive life on Earth. Like the Titanic, the Earth-ship is convulsing with its last shudder before it goes down and us with it—and yet we sit smug and complacent. At least the Titanic had horns to warn people, and some people did escape the tragedy. In our case, there are no life rafts to take us to safety. None. There is no shore. The Earth is our entire lifeline. It sinks, we sink.
We thought the extinction of the Dodo bird was a tragedy. The UN now reports there are one million species at risk of extinction,19 and we are still twiddling our fingers. We cannot sustain wasteful lifestyles forever—and though we know it—we are not speaking out with enough alarm. Our silence is deafening.
We have an obligation to every living creature on Earth. There is way too much killing going on. We throw bombs. We are killing each other, and as we do so, the explosives spew more toxins into the air. They die now, we die slowly later. We need to restrain our politicians from carrying out things we find abhorrent. They entice us with “we are here to protect you” and “military-industrial progress,” making us participants in allowing the production of lethal weapons by the billions, often at the bidding of a few perverse warmongers who in turn sell it to despots to subdue their citizens and others. They say that they are doing all these “good” things on our behalf. They lie, and they want us to be part of the lie. They soil their hands and then soil us.
Environmental degradation is going on full steam ahead; the Earth-ship is on collision course. We need to alter our trajectory radically. Our politicians are blasé, their hands on the helm, or shrugging their shoulders as the elections are drawing ever nearer.
Animals too are undergoing great suffering due to human apathy and greed. Let us try to put ourselves into their shoes, or hoofs, or flippers. Animals, being subservient to our powerful minds and ingenuity, are unable to complain and respond to the harshness they are often made to endure. The absence of speech in animals should not equate to the absence of common sense in humans who claim some kind of superiority. True compassion would be to put ourselves in their hooves, so to speak, and have a sense of empathy. Was Prophet Mohammed empathetic to their needs? We shall examine this to show you what kind of person he was.
There are many good books, both from Muslims and non-Muslims, on animal welfare in Islam, but they are often too scholarly to engage many readers in this current fast-paced dynamic and fluid internet age. I plan to make this book an amazing, easy read, to keep you turning its pages. You will know so much about Islam you did not know before; we can use this information to forge closer ties among us and to care for this Earth-ship that is convulsing, taking in toxic water of our own making.
We need everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims; the animal under duress cares not whether it was a Muslim or a non-Muslim who came to its aid.
Neuroscience research indicates that on average our digitalized generation has an attention span shorter than that of the goldfish.20 This book is an attempt at a compromise: to find a way to engage the reader in the subtleties of the harsh realities now facing the Earth, to relate historical information to current challenges and to deal with serious issues from a vantage point that we all may be able to relate to via an engaging read.
Leave the goldfish alone and do not stare at it to prove this theory. It is circling, yes, I know. I mean, really, what else is it supposed to do? We would lose our attention span too if we kept circling all day.
[i] http://icsr.info/2016/10/new-icsr-report-criminal-pasts-terrorist-futures-european-jihadists-new-crime-terror-nexus/; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/salman-abedi-manchester-attacker-isis-terrorist-europe-islamist-suicide-bomber-arena-explosion-a7753541.html.
[v] John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The Shocking Story of How America Really Took Over the World (London: Ebury Press, 2006).
[vii] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/pdf/1001-muslim-inventions-ed-guide.pdf; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Zahrawi; https://knowingthetruth.wordpress.com/tag/3-course-meal/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_ibn_Zakariya_al-Razi.
[xi] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-islamic-inventors-changed-the-world-6106905.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coffee; http://www.iupui.edu/~msaiupui/quran_modernscience.htm.
[xiii] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/anita-krajnc-trial-1.3733001; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-woman-charged-after-giving-water-to-pigs-headed-to-slaughter/article27079761/.
[xiv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/01/23/a-step-by-step-guide-to-a-meme-about-punching-a-nazi-in-the-face/?utm_term=.3b9a8fcd6ecf; http://www.irishnews.com/magazine/2017/01/23/news/we-asked-a-philosopher-if-it-s-okay-to-punch-nazis-in-the-face-901772/, and http://www.newsweek.com/richard-spencer-punch-nazi-ethicists-547277.
16 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/03/25/australias-egg-boy-says-he-united-people-scientists-may-have-cracked-why/?utm_term=.178e70daf35a; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/world/australia/egg-boy-interview-christchurch.html.