Professor Jackie Ying


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A Life of Passion, Commitment and Hard Work: Professor Jackie Ying

Jackie Y. Ying is someone whose life defies expectations and stereotypes at every turn. In the largely male-dominated field of scientific research with few prominent Asians or Muslims, Professor Ying is a female, Chinese-Muslim whose work in the field of nanotechnology has earned her accolade after accolade throughout her career, earning her the position of Executive Director of the Institute and Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) under Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) in 2003 and a spot in the list of the 500 Most Influential Muslims, published annually by Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC).

Her Work and Achievements

At age 36, Professor Ying became the youngest full Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two years later became the youngest member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the world’s oldest academy for medicine and natural sciences. In 2008, she earned a place as one of only eight women in a list of 100 Engineers of the Modern Era, compiled by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, honouring individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of engineering.

In 2003, she was handpicked by Philip Yeo, then Chairman of A*Star, to head the newly-formed IBN, where she still serves as Executive-Director. Her laboratory’s research in the field of nanotechnology has applications in biomedical sciences and the environment among others, with research including the creation of an artificial kidney, advanced solar cells and carbon sequestration. Professor Ying is also the Editor-in-Chief of Nano Today, a journal ranked 2nd in the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI) Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Professor Ying has 290 articles and 120 patents to her name, and presented more than 330 lectures at international conferences.

Her Life

Despite her prominence in her field and having been interviewed by the media both in Singapore and abroad, Professor Jackie Ying has been tight-lipped about her personal life, never divulging much information about her family, or her conversion to Islam several years ago.

Born in Taiwan, at age 7 Professor Ying came to Singapore, where her father was a lecturer of Chinese Literature at Nanyang University (the current Nanyang Technological University). Her passion for science developed during her teenage years spent both in Singapore, where she studied at Raffles Girls School, and New York, when her teachers instilled in her a love for chemistry.

Mentor and Role Model

Her desire to pass on her passion for science to the younger generation is apparent. Professor Ying credits her mentors at the chemical engineering department at MIT with providing her with invaluable advice and support, and she intends to cultivate this culture of mentorship to the next generation of scientists here in Singapore.

In 2003, IBN established the Youth Research Programme, to give secondary and tertiary level students the chance to experience life in the world of biomedical research through attachments, workshops and lab visits. The Youth Research Programme allows the institute to identify young talents and every year, 200 students are mentored by a researcher under the programme, with many keeping in touch with their mentors.

Professor Ying has spoken at Transformations, a forum organised by Mendaki on individual, familial, organisational and societal change, and the Young Muslims Scientist Seminar, organised by The W.R.I.T.E. Club, an initiative under Masjid Al-Istiqamah. She has also spoken at Creating a Nanotechnology Toolbox, a talk organised by the National University of Singapore Muslim Society (NUSMS), on nanotechnology as well as her experience in the field of research as a Muslim academic.

Professor Ying is also one of the mentors under Mendaki’s Project Protégé, mentoring and inspiring Muslim youth wanting to go into the field of science, and giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a research project carried out at her laboratory.

Passion and Hard Work

All of the above is just scratching at the surface of Professor Jackie Y. Ying’s life and work. With Professor Ying herself acknowledging that she puts in 70-80 hours a week at what she does, she is a living testament to the need to have both passion and a commitment to hard work when pursuing one’s goals. Professor Ying is an inspiration, not just to women or Muslims, but all people regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or nationality.

In defence of Erdogan


Eric S. Margolis

WESTERN politicians and media have been scolding Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan over anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara.

What began as a local protest over the foolish plan to raze trees in Gezi Park near Istanbul’s bustling Taksim Square quickly exploded into major protests thanks to the ham-handed response of Istanbul police, who tear-gassed and beat demonstrators. Turkish police have never been famed for gentleness.

Erdogan’s curt dismissal of the crowd as “looters” further inflamed the situation. In the West, Erdogan was accused of growing authoritarianism and trying to remake Turkey into an Islamic state.

Even the normally sensible Economist magazine accused Turkey’s leader of trying to become a new Ottoman sultan.

What hypocrisy. These were the same western newspapers and politicians who ardently backed Turkey’s former governments that were little more than sock puppets for the military. The very same opinion-makers lauded Egypt’s brutal dictator, Hosni Mubarak, as a “statesman”.

So-called NGOs like Freedom House and Amnesty International, cat’s paws for western governments, attacked Erdogan.

The demonstrators in Turkey’s cities were mostly young, secular and indulging in a springtime flash riot, facilitated by new social media and support from abroad.

Many were rightly angered by Erdogan’s wrong-headed decision to take a lead role in trying to overthrow Syria’s government, a key trading partner for Turkey.

Others, by his plans to limit public drinking and the eternal dispute over women’s head scarves.

What we have been witnessing is an attempt by anti-Erdogan secularists and far rightists, joined by members of Turkey’s long quiescent far left, to achieve what they could not do at the ballot box: ousting Erdogan’s moderate Islamic AK party from power.

These are the same forces who made a terrible mess of Turkey when they were in power from the 1940′s until the 1990′s: coups, riots, murders, regular financial crisis, and brutal human rights violations.

The United States and its media have turned against Erdogan primarily because of his clashes with Israel. Pro-Israel groups in the US are now taking the lead in calling for Erdogan’s ouster. Washington’s conservatives see him as too independent and unreliable.

Over the last decade, Erdogan transformed battered, bankrupt Turkey into an economic powerhouse by imposing sound finances and releasing the pent up power of the commercial class that had long been stifled by the cartels and monopolies of the secular leadership for whom the 1930′s anti-Islamic dictator, Kemal Ataturk, remains a state deity.

Ataturk was a great national hero who saved Turkey from being carved up by the western powers, Greece, and the Soviet Union. But he proved a destructive political leader, tearing up Turkey’s historical roots and religion and replacing them with a vague form of 1930′s state fascism.

Erdogan has indeed grown mildly imperious; success and the lack of any real political opposition has gone to his head. But he is not yet a new sultan and shows few signs of trying to become one.

He has brought real democracy to Turkey, financial stability, and brought it close to European social and legal standards.
Syria aside, Erdogan has made great strides in restoring Turkey’s regional leadership and power.

As Turks used to say, “Turkey is the centre of everything.” Erdogan remains the Middle East’s most popular leader.

Turkey’s able president, Abdullah Gul, who may become a rival of Erdogan in elections, has helped calm the waters. Gul remains the good cop while Erdogan the bad.

Remember, in the last election, Erdogan won a landslide in Turkey’s fractured political system, taking almost 50% of the vote in a poll with an over 80% turnout.

Recent demonstrations have sent Turkey’s stock and bond markets into a tailspin, threatening a financial crisis after a decade of calm and steady growth.

Erdogan is on the edge of achieving a real peace with Turkey’s rebellious Kurds – the most important advance in modern Turkish history. One suspects Turkey’s generals, some of them itching to stage a coup, and their foreign allies, are trying to derail Kurdish peace talks by encouraging the demonstrations.

It took the AK Party a decade to defang the generals and push them out of politics. Are Turkey’s pashas trying to stage a comeback?

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The youngest Arab doctor


Graduating from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), 20-year-old Iqbal El-Assaad is possibly the youngest Arab doctor ever.

Mohammed Yahia

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Iqbal El-Assaad is the youngest medical doctor to graduate from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) in its ten-year history. When Iqbal was a toddler, she learnt algebra by watching her older siblings study. Before El-Assaad’s fifth birthday, her favourite pastimes were reading books and solving mathematical problems.

Following her graduation, Nature Middle East spoke to Iqbal about what it’s like to be a 20-year old medical doctor and hear what she plans for the future.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

I made the decision to be a doctor myself when I was 12 years old. Growing up as a Palestinian living in Lebanon, I saw much suffering among my people since the Palestinians in Lebanon did not have health insurance.

My family and I visited the camps and saw how harsh the conditions there were. I saw many parents who see their children suffering but they can’t help them because they don’t have the money to do that. These visits to the camps made me feel that it is my responsibility to study medicine and try to help these people. Many of them cannot even afford the medication they need.

What role did your family play in your decision to pursue medical school?

I am the youngest among my siblings and my father first noticed when I was two-and-a-half years old that I was keen to learn when he was teaching my brothers. For my dad, education is always number one – especially for a girl. He always said that the boys will eventually find work but education is a girl’s weapon in the future. We grew up on this idea and my dad always encouraged me that if I have a dream I want to pursue, my parents would always help me.

I went to a private school in Lebanon that was based on the Lebanese curriculum, not an American school. After paying my tuition for the first two years, the principal of the school gave me a full scholarship. I used to skip grades and I was always the youngest person in my class.

I graduated from high school when I was 12 and Khaled Abany, who was then the education minister in Lebanon, honoured me as the youngest student to ever finish high school. I told him that I dreamt of being a doctor and he promised to try to secure a scholarship for me. The next day he contacted Sheikha Mozah [the Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development] and she promised me a full scholarship to study at WCMC-Q.

Was it challenging being the youngest student in college?

The toughest time was when I first arrived in Qatar. I felt a lot of pressure because Qatar Foundation had given me the full scholarship without any tests. So I wanted to prove myself and prove that I was up to the trust people put in me.

The Lebanese education system prepares you very well for college so in terms of science and maths I found I was very well prepared.

I grew up with students who were always older than me so I am used to dealing with older people and I am mature enough to work with them. I always liked to study with friends in school and that carried on in college. This interaction has helped improve my way of thinking so that eventually people don’t even notice there is an age difference.

What is your next step now after graduation?

I am leaving soon for a three-year residency at the Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. After that I want to apply for a fellowship in paediatric cardiology, which will take three more years. I then want to come back to the Middle East and work between Qatar and Lebanon – to pay Qatar back. They have been sponsoring me for the past six years. I also want to go back to Lebanon to help my Palestinian people because they are the main inspiration for me to be a doctor and I would like to fulfil my childhood dream to make a difference to their lives.

Why paediatrics?

I can’t say exactly why, but I just love it. In our third year in college I found I was really happy to be able to help little kids. I also see the hardship of Palestinian children living in camps in Lebanon and that is part of the reason why I want to pursue paediatrics

Are you interested in doing any research?

I definitely want to pursue research. I did research during the summer of my second year and I fell in love with it. I even published at that time and was involved in two other studies. I really like the idea of discovering something new.

I hope in the future I can join an academic health centre where I can treat patients and also work in research.

What advice would you have to young people who would pursue medicine?

The only advice I would have is for students to study hard and make use of the opportunities in Qatar. Having world-class universities here in the Middle East is beyond imagination. This is the most important stage in their lives and they have to work for it.

For premed students, enjoy your lives now! It is a good time especially if you have good friends and it is not really too hard so you can get the best of both worlds.

Source : http://www.nature.com

Polemics of polygamy


By Prof Datuk Dr Zaleha Kamaruddin, the Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia

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Although permitted in the Quran, there are two different views on the practice, men are generally in agreement but most women are not in favour of it.

POLYGAMY remains a controversial issue not only in Malaysia but many Muslim countries around the world. It has been the subject of many debates but is actually far from settled (Latest: newly-formed polygamy club propagated by Ikhwan).

According to a Malaysian anthropologist, Prof Azizah Kassim, whenever the issue of polygamy is debated in Malaysia, the conclusion that can be made is that men are positive while most women abhor it.

Why have such polemics occurred, and what are the causes behind these conflicts, especially in a situation where, despite its legal validity, polygamy has been largely perceived by many as a practice which fails to protect the rights of women?

Writings relating to the legal position of polygamy show that there is an agreement among Muslim jurists (classical and modern) that this practice is permitted in the Quran.

However, during the late 19th century, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, a reformer who was the Grand Mufti of Egypt, in his Tafsir al-Manar questioned the practice of polygamy in a modern society.

He mentioned that polygamy might have once been useful and practical in early Muslim society but it could no longer be viewed in the same light in today’s society where it has, more often than not, been misused and has caused much pain and suffering among women.

His views are shared by many other jurists and thinkers, such as Rashid Redha, Muham-mad al Ghazali and Azizah al-Hibry.

On the other hand, there have also been writers and jurists who vehemently oppose any form of limitation on a practice which has clearly been permitted in the Quran.

Sheikh Muhammad Shaltut, Abu Zahrah, Aisha Abdul-Rahman, Zainab al-Ghazali, Mustafa al-Siba’i and Sheikh Abul-A’la al-Mawdudi are of the view that those who try to reinterpret the Quran in relation to polygamy are actually going against the very teachings of Islam.

Although there are two different views on polygamy, many Muslim countries today acknowledge the fact that polygamy can be abused, and have made improvements to the laws to curb such exploitation.

In Malaysia, steps have been taken to include the incorporation of specific provisions controlling the practice of polygamy through the Islamic Family Law Enactments of each state.

Latest research conducted by Dr Raihanah Abdullah has shown that the main cause for abuse in relation to polygamy in Malaysia stems from the lack of understanding on the concept and execution of justice. This has led to a prolonged antagonism and has caused various reactions from the public, especially women’s organisations.

The National Council for Women’s Organi-sations says it is not seeking to abolish polygamy, but opposes the way in which polygamy is being practised.

Issues of enforcement including finding better solutions to ensure justice and welfare for the wives and children need to be addressed.

Researchers have shown that one solution to the problems brought about by polygamy would be strict compliance with the conditions of polygamy based on the true teachings of Islam.

It is the absence of such realisation that has led to various difficulties associated with polygamy.

From the legal perspective, in order to rectify the situation, there is a need to consolidate the laws and to formulate a uniform approach to polygamy. Discrepancies in the law have allowed men, as Gavin Jones puts it: “…to ‘shop around’ and find another state where his application will succeed”.

Although the Government has made efforts to achieve uniformity in the laws for all Malaysian states, unfortunately, the aim was not achieved as when it was finally enforced, the states had discretionally amended several matters in the provisions of the law.

Researchers have shown that lighter penalties and limited jurisdiction between states also contribute to the inability to put a stop to the contravention of these laws.

The imposition of a minimum fine of RM1,000 and mandatory imprisonment ranging from as short as one month to a year should be imposed on offenders.

However, this view has also been objected to. It is argued that mandatory imprisonment would not solve the problem but instead aggravate it, as these men would not be able to maintain their families while serving prison time.

Aside from that, a more detailed review in deciding polygamy applications should also be made.

Judges should also play a more proactive role in ensuring that an applicant is truly capable of being fair before allowing his application. The views of existing wives should also be taken into consideration.

Besides educating the existing wife on her rights in a polygamous union, she should also be facilitated in making claims for maintenance against her husband should he fail to provide for her.

This should be done without the wife having to file an application for maintenance but be ordered by the judge during her husband’s application for polygamy.

A review of the law on the amount of maintenance – which had been abolished earlier – should be reintroduced.

There should also be provisions to prohibit husbands from changing the economic status of the existing wife and children.

There is also a need to expedite enforcement of other rights as well, such as claims for jointly acquired property.

It would be extremely unfair for the wife, who has worked equally hard as her husband, to suddenly share not only her husband, but also their property, with another woman.

These proposals are being looked into by the relevant authorities and some have been included among the amendments to the Islamic Family Law Bill said to be soon tabled in Parliament.

However, one should remember that the law has limitations, especially in matters relating to the heart.

CPA Australia – Accommodating Islamic finance critical to Australia’s economic future


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Australian tax laws should be amended to attract Islamic finance and other forms of alternative finance to benefit the economy, says CPA Australia.

In a submission to the Board of Taxation, CPA Australia says Islamic Finance will ultimately boost the Australian economy and help establish Australia as a financial services hub in the Asia-Pacific region.

Paul Drum, head of business and investment policy, CPA Australia, said attracting capital and investment through Islamic finance is a huge opportunity for Australia and would ultimately be good for economic growth.

‘Australia has emerged from the global financial crisis with strong economic position and a good regulatory regime. With our geographic position we are well placed to attract this increasingly significant component of global finance, and we need to take advantage of that,’ he said.

‘As a net importer of capital it is essential that we establish the right framework to attract and maintain a wide range of capital and financial products. Achieving this will be key to addressing many of our key economic issues including the funding of major infrastructure projects.’

Islamic finance is based on the principles of Islamic law (Shariah) which prohibits earning interest and instead focuses on profit sharing based on the buying and selling of tangible assets such as property.

‘Islamic finance offers huge potential for Australia’s financial services sector, but tax laws will need to be amended to accommodate other forms of alternative finance.

‘Some of Australia’s tax laws have a very specific legal based application which can exclude forms of alternative finance. Taking a broader economic and macro approach to policy in this area will be more beneficial and provide better long term benefits for Australia. It’s also more consistent with how tax law has developed in other areas such as taxation of financial arrangements.’

The CPA Australia submission also suggests Australia could adopt a similar approach to the United Kingdom, where only minor legal and regulatory reforms were required.

‘To achieve all of this will require significant work to align the accounting and tax treatment of Islamic and other alternative financial products. This must be a priority and CPA Australia looks forward to contributing to this process.’

Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion


By Imran Khan, Pakistan politician

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My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan.

Despite gaining independence, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.

I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal -the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies.

Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.

To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached.Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals. I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight. Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.

While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions – two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?

It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates.Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more.

Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.

Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000 and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.

There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: ‘There are signs for people of understanding. ‘ One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what ‘discovering the truth’ meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says ‘Those who believe and do good deeds.’ In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov wielding fanatic.

I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, ‘Oppression is worse than killing.’ In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace. Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is ‘no compulsion in religion.’ However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.

The Qur’an calls Muslims ‘the middle nation’, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam.But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.

The race to score A’s and its implications


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The yearly examination results announcement season is here again and as usual the nation celebrates the achievements of top scorers not realizing that Malaysians’ preoccupation with “scoring” in school examinations does no one any favours.

For the high-achieving students themselves, it instills the perception that straight A’s are the be-all and end-all of school life.

Co-curricular activities and simply socialising with friends – so important in developing a child’s social skills – may thereby be neglected. Moreover, the pressure to keep on getting top marks could prove overbearing, and if the student should fare less well in a subsequent exam, there might be adverse effects on his or her emotional health sometimes resulting in depression or even suicides.

On their part, the non-top-scorers may feel as if they are left by the wayside amid the glorification of good grades, and end up having a sense of low self-worth and an inferiority complex.

Nor is society as a whole best served by the race for A’s. The prevailing exam culture has fostered a dependence on uncritical rote learning which will not help the cause of promoting creativity and innovation in the long run. And as has been well documented, many leading lights in business, the arts and science, such as Albert Einstein, James Cameron and Steve Jobs, were in fact dropouts.

The examination-based education system can in fact stifle creativity, original and critical thinking as such different modes of thought usually give us varied answers.

All this is not, of course, to celebrate mediocrity; on the contrary, we should always strive to improve ourselves and pursue high achievement. At the same time, we must also recognise that achievement comes in myriad forms, not just a string of A’s on the exam results slip.

While some people may be academically inclined, others may be good with their hands, have innate artistic abilities, be natural people persons … and the list goes on. Although these life skills do not feature in our examinations, they are often more important than academic skills because working life demands these communication, interpersonal, leadership and other qualities, often more than the technical skills. 

Rethink of our priorities may thus be in order. Instead of emphasising A’s at all costs, let us work towards an education system that nurtures well-rounded individuals and offers each student the opportunity to be the best they can be — now that would be something we can really be proud off.

The celebration of academic achievements through news reports should be stopped as it only serves to strengthen our preoccupation with academic achievements. We are producing skewed students who know a lot about examination-taking but lack other real life skills.

Islam & Science -The road to renewal


After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world

Picture No. 10662330

THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

Many blame Islam’s supposed innate hostility to science. Some universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi government supports books for Islamic schools such as “The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur’an: The Facts That Can’t Be Denied By Science” suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.

Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a course on science and world affairs, including Islam’s relationship with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most progressive universities. Students were keen, but Mr Hoodbhoy’s contract was not renewed when it ran out in December; for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the decision had nothing to do with the course content.)

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.

The long view

The caricature of Islam’s endemic backwardness is easily dispelled. Between the eighth and the 13th centuries, while Europe stumbled through the dark ages, science thrived in Muslim lands. The Abbasid caliphs showered money on learning. The 11th century “Canon of Medicine” by Avicenna (pictured, with modern equipment he would have relished) was a standard medical text in Europe for hundreds of years. In the ninth century Muhammad al-Khwarizmi laid down the principles of algebra, a word derived from the name of his book, “Kitab al-Jabr”. Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham transformed the study of light and optics. Abu Raihan al-Biruni, a Persian, calculated the earth’s circumference to within 1%. And Muslim scholars did much to preserve the intellectual heritage of ancient Greece; centuries later it helped spark Europe’s scientific revolution.

Not only were science and Islam compatible, but religion could even spur scientific innovation. Accurately calculating the beginning of Ramadan (determined by the sighting of the new moon) motivated astronomers. The Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) exhort believers to seek knowledge, “even as far as China”.

These scholars’ achievements are increasingly celebrated. Tens of thousands flocked to “1001 Inventions”, a touring exhibition about the golden age of Islamic science, in the Qatari capital, Doha, in the autumn. More importantly, however, rulers are realising the economic value of scientific research and have started to splurge accordingly. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which opened in 2009, has a $20 billion endowment that even rich American universities would envy.

Foreigners are already on their way there. Jean Fréchet, who heads research, is a French chemist tipped to win a Nobel prize. The Saudi newcomer boasts research collaborations with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and with Imperial College, London. The rulers of neighbouring Qatar are bumping up research spending from 0.8% to a planned 2.8% of GDP: depending on growth, that could reach $5 billion a year. Research spending in Turkey increased by over 10% each year between 2005 and 2010, by which year its cash outlays were twice Norway’s.

The tide of money is bearing a fleet of results. In the 2000 to 2009 period Turkey’s output of scientific papers rose from barely 5,000 to 22,000; with less cash, Iran’s went up 1,300, to nearly 15,000. Quantity does not imply quality, but the papers are getting better, too. Scientific journals, and not just the few based in the Islamic world, are citing these papers more frequently. A study in 2011 by Thomson Reuters, an information firm, shows that in the early 1990s other publishers cited scientific papers from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (the most prolific Muslim countries) four times less often than the global average. By 2009 it was only half as often. In the category of best-regarded mathematics papers, Iran now performs well above average, with 1.7% of its papers among the most-cited 1%, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia also doing well. Turkey scores highly on engineering.

Science and technology-related subjects, with their clear practical benefits, do best. Engineering dominates, with agricultural sciences not far behind. Medicine and chemistry are also popular. Value for money matters. Fazeel Mehmood Khan, who recently returned to Pakistan after doing a PhD in Germany on astrophysics and now works at the Government College University in Lahore, was told by his university’s vice-chancellor to stop chasing wild ideas (black holes, in his case) and do something useful.

Science is even crossing the region’s deepest divide. In 2000 SESAME, an international physics laboratory with the Middle East’s first particle accelerator, was set up in Jordan. It is modelled on CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, which was created to bring together scientists from wartime foes. At SESAME Israeli boffins work with colleagues from places such as Iran and the Palestinian territories.

By the book

Science of the kind practised at SESAME throws up few challenges to Muslim doctrine (and in many cases is so abstruse that religious censors would struggle to understand it). But biology—especially with an evolutionary angle—is different. Many Muslims are troubled by the notion that humans share a common ancestor with apes. Research published in 2008 by Salman Hameed of Hampshire College in Massachusetts, a Pakistani astronomer who now studies Muslim attitudes to science, found that fewer than 20% in Indonesia, Malaysia or Pakistan believed in Darwin’s theories. In Egypt it was just 8%.

Yasir Qadhi, an American chemical engineer turned cleric (who has studied in both the United States and Saudi Arabia), wrestled with this issue at a London conference on Islam and evolution this month. He had no objection to applying evolutionary theory to other lifeforms. But he insisted that Adam and Eve did not have parents and did not evolve from other species. Any alternative argument is “scripturally indefensible,” he said. Some, especially in the diaspora, conflate human evolution with atheism: rejecting it becomes a defining part of being a Muslim. (Some Christians take a similar approach to the Bible.)

Though such disbelief may be couched in religious terms, culture and politics play a bigger role, says Mr Hameed. Poor school education in many countries leaves minds open to misapprehension. A growing Islamic creationist movement is at work too. A controversial Turkish preacher who goes by the name of Harun Yahya is in the forefront. His website spews pamphlets and books decrying Darwin. Unlike his American counterparts, however, he concedes that the universe is billions of years old (not 6,000 years).

But the barrier is not insuperable. Plenty of Muslim biologists have managed to reconcile their faith and their work. Fatimah Jackson, a biological anthropologist who converted to Islam, quotes Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of genetics, saying that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Science describes how things change; Islam, in a larger sense, explains why, she says.

Others take a similar line. “The Koran is not a science textbook,” says Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist. “It provides people with guidelines as to how they should live their lives.” Interpretations of it, she argues, can evolve with new scientific discoveries. Koranic verses about the creation of man, for example, can now be read as providing support for evolution.

Other parts of the life sciences, often tricky for Christians, have proved unproblematic for Muslims. In America researchers wanting to use embryonic stem cells (which, as their name suggests, must be taken from human embryos, usually spares left over from fertility treatments) have had to battle pro-life Christian conservatives and a federal ban on funding for their field. But according to Islam, the soul does not enter the fetus until between 40 and 120 days after conception—so scientists at the Royan Institute in Iran are able to carry out stem-cell research without attracting censure.

But the kind of freedom that science demands is still rare in the Muslim world. With the rise of political Islam, including dogmatic Salafists who espouse a radical version of Islam, in such important countries as Egypt, some fear that it could be eroded further still. Others, however, remain hopeful. Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s president, is a former professor of engineering at Zagazig University, near Cairo. He has a PhD in materials science from the University of Southern California (his dissertation was entitled “High-Temperature Electrical Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O{-3}”). He has promised that his government will spend more on research.

Released from the restrictive control of the former regimes, scientists in Arab countries see a chance for progress. Scientists in Tunisia say they are already seeing promising reforms in the way university posts are filled. People are being elected, rather than appointed by the regime. The political storms shaking the Middle East could promote not only democracy, but revive scientific freethinking, too.

http://www.economist.com/news/international/21570677-after-centuries-stagnation-science-making-comeback-islamic-world-road

Fact and Evidence in Islam


Islam is a religion established by reason and evidence, and the supreme bases of its teachings are the Quran and the Sunnah. Islam does not exist without reason, and any utterance beyond reason is unworthy of association with it. Islam is the religion of Allah the Creator, the Omniscient. It is therefore impossible to find in its teachings anything that opposes truth, evidence and fact. If an opinion produced in the name of Islam fails the test of reason and evidence established in the Quran and Sunnah, then such an opinion cannot be said to derive from the teachings of Islam even though the one who makes that opinion assumes a religious title or dresses in a manner that reflects piety.

Similarly, any view must be excluded from Islam if it contradicts demonstrable truth or scientific certainty, or if it is prejudicial to the good of common humanity. A prominent scholar of Islam, al-Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah (d. 751H), said:

Indeed for the shariah of Islam, its construction and foundations are built on all wisdom and goodness for humanity in this world and the Hereafter. The shariah of Islam is all about justice, goodness and wisdom. Therefore, if any aspect that departs from justice into vindictiveness, from blessing into curse, from goodness into evil, from wisdom into foolishness, then it is not from the shariah of Islam even though it is interpreted as such. (I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in, Beirut: Dar al-Jail, 3/3.)

Facts not Personalities

Whichever observation about Islam that conflicts with the Quran and Sunnah, or which contradicts the fundamentals of human welfare established by shariah must be rejected without consideration of who makes that observation. Therefore, the opinions of even a mufti, a respected teacher or an ustaz or maulana (religious teacher) can be accepted or rejected on this basis.

The opinion of any individual —even the most respected Islamic scholar— may be questioned if it does not concur with evidence provided in the Quran and Sunnah. No one is maksum (infallible) other than the Prophets of Allah. The religious opinions of the esteemed, or of an ustaz, should not be swallowed without proper chewing. Allah proclaims in Surah al-Isra, verse 36:

“And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).”

Imam al-Shatibi (d. 790H) said:

Thus, it is compulsory for us to follow the one that was guarded from making mistakes (that is, the Prophet Muhammad pbuh) and to stop from following whoever is not being shielded from mistakes whenever there may be doubt. Moreover, we should consider whatever comes from all imams (scholars) side by side with the Quran and the Sunnah. Whatsoever is accepted by both (Quran and Sunnah), we consequently accept, and whatsoever is rejected by both we consequently abandon. (Al-I’tisam, Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, p. 165.)

Respect and the observation of good manners when dealing with ulama (the Muslim clergy) are commanded by the nas (Scripture) of Islam, but this has never stopped a person presenting intelligent criticisms, or prevented his questioning the opinions of ulama, even though he maintains the disciplines of religion. This is a principle of truth that has long been practised by all established Muslim scholars.

Consider al-Hafizd al-Zahabi (d. 748H), the celebrated historian and biographer of distinguished members of the mediaeval Muslim community. In one of these biographies, Imam al-Zahabi praised the great scholar Waki’ Ibn al-Jarrah thus: “He was between the sea of knowledge and the imams (scholars) of huffaz (hadith).” Later, Al-Zahabi recorded the words of Yahya bin Aktham: “I befriended Waki’ at his home and also when he travelled. He fasted al-dahr (every day) and finished reciting the Quran in one night.”

Al-Zahabi commented on Waki’s achievements thus:

This is an amazing ibadah (act of worship) but for it to be practised by an imam (scholar) amongst the imams of hadith, then that is not normal. Indeed it was sahih (authentic) that the Prophet pbuh prohibited daily fasting and reciting the Quran (until completion) in fewer than three days. The religion is simple. Adhering to the Sunnah is more imperative. May Allah bless Waki’. Where can we find an individual as great as he? Nevertheless, he frequently drank nabiz (date wine) that could be intoxicating if consumed a lot. He made his own judgment with regards to drinking it (he does not consider it as prohibited so long as it does not intoxicate). Should he forsake it (the drink) on the ground of devoutness, that would be much better for him. This is because whoever avoids elements of doubt, thus his religion and dignity will be saved.

Indeed, it is sahih that nabiz is forbidden and prohibited, but this is not the place to deliberate it. For every person, each of his opinions can be accepted or abandoned (except for the Prophet pbuh). Take not as an example the wrong deeds of an alim (knowledgeable person). (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala, Beirut: Muassasah al-Risalah, 9/142-144.)

Waki’ was an established ulama, but an academic fault must be acknowledged as such and judged accordingly. It is clear that, while we are enjoined to respect others, especially religious teachers, respect should not impede our speaking the truth while always maintaining the discipline and manners taught by Islam.

Reject Unproven Views

I discuss this subject because there those in our community who will not dare question those regarded as ustaz, even though what an ustaz claims may be utterly groundless. It is as if such an ustaz has somehow obtained an infallible licence to say anything in the name of religion without presenting reason or evidence. Worse, some religious teachers in the old days warned their students that “whoever asks a lot of questions shows that his faith is weak.”

It is unsurprising, therefore, that some states in Malaysia have issued a number of strange fatwa, such as prohibiting the sale cows to Chinese, or that budu (pickled fish) is impure when spilled on clothing but is pure when consumed. However odd these edicts might be, no one has dared question the grounds on which these fatwa were issued for fear of being labelled “weak in faith”.

There is a religious speaker who goes about our country saying that, according to Islam, the remedy for AIDS is 100 lashes of a cane on one’s back. He claims that this is a genuine “cure” based on the teachings of Islam and is derived from research based on both the Quran and science. One wonders which scientist gave him that information; but on the strength of this claim alone, the speaker has received a number of invitations to provide religious enlightenment in a similar vein—and there are those who have received him well. I wish to pose some questions: since not all those with AIDS have been involved in immoral sexual activities, is it therefore “right” to whip everyone? Is having AIDS sufficient justification in the eyes of the shariah to subject a person to 100 lashes? Such ideas are clearly mistaken; but unfortunately there are mosques, even in Kuala Lumpur, that extend speaking invitations to those who champion such views. I am perplexed when I come upon people who are seemingly highly educated and trained to make best use of their minds—but when confronted by matters of religion, they prefer to abandon their education in favour of a silence that makes it seem as if Islam opposes logic and the intellect.

There was another religious speaker who claimed that he buried the body of a rich man, which later transformed into a supernatural entity without anyone knowing a thing. What is fascinating is that in a country based on the rule and application of law, no one looked into the matter of a missing person until the one who buried him told this astonishing story. Whatever the case, the story involved a celebrity and this in turn affected the religious beliefs of many. It was a baseless claim that should not have been made, but unfortunately there were many who believed it.

We have also heard about a certain individual who declared another an apostate; and later did the same thing to the students of a college on no greater merit than some news reports, the truth of which could not be ascertained. An allegation of apostasy—if it is at all true—is very serious and requires careful scrutiny, that is, iqamah al-hujjah (the construction of proof). Apostasy cannot be declared haphazardly, but there were many who accepted these allegations without further thought and in the name of religion, and regrettably the allegations were made by one learned in religion.This attitude extends even to matter of sin.

Exploitation

In some Malaysian states there are religious groups that impose various types of “taxes” on bereaved families, and sometimes these taxes amount to thousands of ringgit. Many rituals associated with the religion are performed and the corresponding bills will then be charged to families of the deceased. For this reason some grin widely upon hearing news of death, and even recitations and forms of solat (prayer) that were not taught by the Prophet pbuh are included in the list of costs incurred. The community dares not ask if religion is really so cruel that even distressed families deserving of support should be burdened further by these “costs”. Or is Islam so materialistically driven that only those with the largest purses can be assured of the absolution of sin and the attainment of reward in the Hereafter? If this is the case, then the Gates of Heaven will open only for those with the means to pay these “agents of Allah” here and now on this transitory earth. Does this truly represent the beauty of Islam that commands believers to perform good deeds and not depend on others?

My point is that it is the community’s right to ask questions in any discussion of religion. Neither an ustaz nor a respected teacher is God’s appointed agent, unlike the Prophets of Allah, such that their declarations are binding even if they lack nas. Islam is not man’s ultimate justification to do as he pleases—it is, instead, a religion built on reason and evidence. If each of us asks the ustaz for the causes of and reasons behind every one of his religious opinions, then we should, by doing so, help realise the principles of Islam and thus improve intellectual discussion in our own community.

We must guard against the complacent satisfaction of merely memorising religious opinions without thinking about them analytically and rationally. One of the foremost scholars of our own times, Prof Muhammad Qutb, said:

From another point of view, Islamic scholarship is bound to the way it was studied around five centuries ago. There was (then) the influence of Greek thought from ilm al-kalam (Scholastic theology) that was futile and unrewarding. More than that, the speculative excesses of ilm al-kalam diverted the study of faith towards matters that overloaded the mind to no purpose. It took the concept of faith away from that which provides the essence of life, and turned it towards mere philosophical disputation without direction or benefit. Religious students devolved from thinkers into mere memorisers: a student could appear learned simply on the strength of how many texts, lectures and footnotes he managed to memorise. However, he could not think for himself or even think independently. Consequently, the authenticity of knowledge was lost to the ulama and they turned to taklid and simply quoted from others. Scholarship was impaired further by a third factor, namely the obsessive devotion towards a certain mazhab, which affected all students. Everyone fixated on the mazhab that he grew up in. He turned his ultimate religious duty into an effort to prove that his mazhab and sheikh (teacher) were superior to any other…” (Waqi’una al-Mu’asir, p. 176.)

The practice of blind taklid was never taught by any imam of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah (the Sunni community as a whole). On the contrary, imams have demanded that each person must strive to build his or her own intellectual ability. We read the following mentioned by a student of Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam al-Muzani (d. 264H):

“I have summarised all of this from the knowledge of al-Imam al-Shafi’i and from the meaning of what he taught in order to impart it to whoever wants it, along with notice of his prohibition of taklid (of his opinions) or of those of others, so that the reader will himself consider the evidence for the sake of his religion, and so as to be the more circumspect about it”. (Waliyy Allah al-Dahlawi, Al-Insaf fi Bayan Asbab al-Ikhtilaf, p. 100.)

If this form of learning should flourish, Islam will no longer be considered exclusivist such that only a privileged few may reflect upon it while the rest must follow blindly. Indeed, we are commanded to respect rigorous study and never to accept blind taklid. The development of the Muslim community will not take place as long as the intellectual competence of our religious leaders fails to meet the academic standards of an increasingly competitive world. The Muslim community must rally to support the advancement of tajdid (revitalisation) that began decades ago and which is still in progress.

Source : http://drmaza.com/home/?p=1855

Why were we Created?


Human-Anatomy-Pictures

All praise is due to Allâh and may His peace and blessings be upon his last Messenger sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam and on all those who follow the path of righteousness until the last day.

We have to answer the most fundamental question that every human being asks himself at some point in his or her lifetime. Not just Muslims, but every single human being.

“Why was I created? Why am I here? What am I doing in this world? Why did God create me?”

These questions, are questions which each and everyone of us reflects on at some point during their life. We have some answers, which are given generally, but usually these answers don’t satisfy us, they seem somewhat simplistic. We still wonder. “Why me? Why here?” I know all of you, generally speaking, in the back of your mind, you are saying “to worship Allâh, khallas (finish), what more is there to say? Why do we need to have a big long talk on why we were created, when we all know it is to worship Allâh?” But wait, if this is presented to a non-Muslim, the next logical question would be  “why does Allâh want us to worship Him?” and then your stuck.

It means, in our own minds it is not really clear to us. Why did Allâh create us to worship Him?

The question, why did Allâh create us, for some people, and we have to deal with those people around us, who don’t consider there to be any purpose in man’s creation because he is just a product of evolution that the forces of nature have produced him, and just as we don’t have apes, dogs or cows thinking about why they are here, then we don’t really have to think about it either. Of course that being the basis of the philosophy of western society, that man is without purpose, then the whole issue of government, morality etc has no basis in Revelation, there is no guidance there. The product of this is of course the corruption that we are living in.

For a Muslim, when we go in to this topic, we have to find our understanding in divine revelation and not human speculation. Because human speculation has no bounds, we can imagine all kinds of things, and is any of you have studied philosophy of religion, you can see how many opinions exist about the creation of man and existence. Because of the variety of philosophies, which are out there, no one can say this one is correct or that one is incorrect, because there is no guidance behind it. No divine revelation. It is only from divine revelation that we can determine the reality of our creation, because it is Allâh who has created us and he knows the purpose of our creation. We can hardly understand ourselves, much less try to understand the essence of things.  So it is for Allâh to inform us through the revelation in the Qur’ân and the Sunnah which was brought by his last Messenger sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the Messengers before. Now if we are to look, initially into revelation, to determine why was man   created, there is a deeper question that we should be asking before that. “Why did God create?” Before we even get to man, why did god create, because man is not the greatest act of creation that we should be so focused on why man. No, because Allâh says:

“The creation of the Heavens and the Earth is indeed greater then the creation of mankind; yet, most of mankind know not.” [Sûrah Ghâfir, verse 57]

Man is not the greatest act of creation, this universe is far more complex and far more magnificent then man. So the issue of creation should then go to why create? As opposed to simply why create man?

Fundamentally, we can say that the creation is the natural consequence of the attribute of creator. Allâh is the creator. That is one of his attributes. That is what he has informed us. That being his attribute, the creator, the natural consequence or the product of this attribute is his creation.

A painter, if we are to draw a similitude on a lower level, who tells you that he is a painter, if you ask him where are his paintings and he replies I don’t have any. What kind of painter is this? The concept of a painter who doesn’t paint, there is some thing not quite gelling together here, of course Allâh is beyond this. But if we are to understand on the simplest level, the two go together. The perfection of a painter lies in his paintings. His quality and his ability to paint, is manifest in his paintings. And Allâh, beyond all that, as creator, this quality of creation is manifest in the creation itself. Allâh didn’t create out of a need. No, the fact that he is the creator, is manifest in the creation.

Furthermore, consider the act of creation, this act, with regards to Allâh is unique. Though we use the term i.e. So and so created a table etc, actually it is in a limited sense. Human beings don’t really create, they manipulate, because they can only “create” what already exists. When we make a chair or a table, we didn’t create the wood, we had to take it from a tree, we didn’t create the metal, which makes the screws etc, we had to melt down rocks and take the metal out. So we are not creating from nothing. We are manipulating things which Allâh has already created in to different shapes and forms which are useful to us. We call it “creation” but the real act of creation, is creation from nothing, and this is unique to Allâh alone.

This is a concept, which many people in ignorance, because they couldn’t grasp the idea of creation from nothingness, it lead them to conclude that the world is Allâh. Those who say “inside of each and every atom is Allâh.” And you have people, who call themselves Muslims saying this. Non-Muslims have said this before and there are Muslims who claim this. That Allâh is inside each and everything, because Allâh is the reality and everything else is fake in their interpretation.  That means then, that the creation is Allâh, and Allâh is the creation. Very, very dangerous concept, which leads some of those who make this claim to say that you don’t have to worship outside of yourself. Ibn Arabi, was famous for this statement, he is considered to be one of the saints, amongst the so called Sûfî religion. Ibn Arabi said “There is no need to worship one outside yourself, you are Allâh. It is sufficient to worship yourself.” This is Shirk.

This concept of Allâh being within his creation, no distinction the creation and Allâh, it leads them to this shirk. Because they are unable to accept the uniqueness of Allâh’s creation, they compare the act of creation by Allâh to human creation. That is, just as we manipulate, Allâh took pieces of himself and made the earth and the universe. Others will say that all human beings have inside of themselves Allâh, that there is a part of Allâh inside each and everyone of us. The whole essence, the purpose of life is for us to realize that we have part of Allâh inside of ourselves, remove the material blocks which keep us from Allâh and again become one with Allâh in what they call “fana”.  This is again a teaching of the Sûfî religion.

Becoming one with Allâh, returning back to Allâh in this sense. But this is in fact part of the teachings of shirk. Shaytân (Satan) has deluded man into this imagination. It is part of the belief of the Hindus. Nirvana, the concept that when you die, you are reborn again, and you move up in stages, each time, if you are a good boy or good girl, you go up higher and higher, until you get to the top. You know you have reached the peak, because when you die the next time you become one with the universal soul, Nirvana. That is the end of rebirth. So your whole purpose is to return and become one with God again. This is all, as I said, a product of the inability to understand the concept of creation from nothingness, which is unique to Allâh. Allâh says:

“There is nothing like him, and he is the hearer and seer of all.”

So when we try to interpret Allâh’s creation like the way we create, then we have made Him like his creation and it leads us ultimately to those aspects of shirk which I have mentioned. This is quite common amongst the Muslim world today, because when you look into the various branches of the Sûfî religion, where they have prescribed various acts of purification, they call it dhikr, exercises to torture the body through spinning and dancing. What is the purpose of this? They will tell you, to liberate the soul from this earthly body and to achieve that state of “fana” or “itihâd”, a variety of names they have for it.

It is this concept, which lead al-Hallaj, many centuries ago, when he was promoting this idea, and he was put before a panel of judges questioning these concepts, which he was expressing. When they asked him to recant, to take this stuff back, he stood up, opened up his cloak and said “There is nothing inside this cloak except Allâh”. So they executed him. And of course, those in the Sûfî religion, they have stories that when they cut his head off, it rolled around saying “Allâh, Allâh, Allâhu Akbar etc”. It might have, that is Shaytân may have entered and said these things, as happened with the calf of the Isrealites, when the Prophet Mûsa (Moses) let Egypt and the people, after crossing the red sea, had a desire to have a god that they could see, so they made a golden calf which they began to worship. This calf was saying “moo” like the calves do. This is what convinced them that this was the real thing. We know it wasn’t the calf saying this. The evil jinn can enter the in to physical entities, make sounds and give these impressions. So there is no problem for us to say ok, maybe when they cut of al-Hallaj’s head that it said these things, because this was part of a test. If we are clear in terms of creator and creation, this is no problem for us.

Allâh is the creator and everything besides Him is His creation, which He created from nothing. It is not Him, nor is He it. This is the pure concept as taught by the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, his companions, and the early generations of righteous scholars, the students of the companions and those who came after them. The best of generations. That is how they understood this matter. There was no confusion in their minds. It wasn’t until Islâm spread to areas like Egypt, India and Persia, areas where the Christians had already gotten into deep philosophies, trying to explain how Jesus was a man and god at the same time. When they came in to Islâm they brought it with them. This is the reality. It is not something we should necessarily condemn them for or feel is unusual. It is natural, when a person reverts to Islâm, that they will carry with them what they believed before. What has been clarified for them, of the basic principles, they accept, and they reject things, which obviously contradict. But it doesn’t mean that every last thought that they have, and everything that was wrong in their philosophies, ideology and concepts will be erased. They will carry these things in with them. This is why in the later part of the Prophet’s sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam life, prior to his death, when he was coming back from one of the battles, his companions asked him to set aside a tree for them, that they could hang their weapons on, like the way the pagans would hang their weapons on trees, believing that when they hung the weapons, it became super-powerful, as if some power was coming from the tree, that their shields would now block steel and their swords would cut through the enemy. Some of the companions who had newly accepted Islâm, asked the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam to designate one for them, a special one, an Islamic one. They understood that what the pagans had, this was wrong. These were the companions of the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam and he had to clarify it for them. He said:

You are like the companions of Mûsâ who asked to have the calf built.

And he clarified for them that all of this is shirk and there is no place for it in Islâm. So if it could happen to some of the companions, then we cannot blame the generations who have come after them, who come into Islâm and carry with them some of their old ideas. What it is for us to do is to clarify.

So what we have in front of us then, is that Allâh created this universe out of nothing, and everything that is in it was created. For example:

“Allâh created all things, and he is the agent, upon which, all things depend.” [Sûrah 39, verse 62]

This is the reality. This is stressed for us, in order for us to realize that ultimately, all good, all evil, that takes place in the world, only takes place by the permission of Allâh. Therefore we should not seek any other channels to protect ourselves from evil, or to gather for ourselves good, as people commonly do today. They will go to fortunetellers, this is big business today, all the magazines have various forms of fortunetellers like dial a horoscope etc. in a society that has lost touch with Allâh, this is what is open to them. Allâh has stressed for us that no calamity will befall us except by Allâh’s permission;

“Nothing is taking place in this world except by the permission of Allâh.”

And the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam further emphasized this principle by saying;

“If the whole of mankind gathered to do some thing to help us, they could help in anything which Allâh had not already written for us. And if the whole of mankind gathered together to harm us, then they would not be able to harm with anything which Allâh had not already written for us.”

Therefore what is required of us is to depend on Allâh, put our trust in Allâh. This is what we have to draw out of this attribute of Allâh being the creator. This creation exists because of that attribute. Its practical significance to us lies in putting our trust in Allâh.

There is another aspect, besides the fact that the creation exists because Allâh is the creator. We can also see from what the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam has informed us, that in the creation there is manifestation of Allâh’s attributes of mercy, forgiveness, kindness etc etc. Allâh created man in paradise, they disobeyed Allâh, but Allâh had taught them how to repent, how to turn back to him and seek his forgiveness, then he would forgive them. Having done that, they were forgiven, Adam became the first prophet, and mankind was absolved of that sin. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of human existence. Human beings are given a consciousness of Allâh. When Allâh created all human beings, as he states in the Qur’ân, he took from Âdam (Adam) all of his descendents, and made them all bear witness that Allâh is their Lord. So we are all born with that consciousness. He has also given us a consciousness of what is right and what is wrong.

“We have inspired each and every soul to an awareness of corruption and righteousness.”

Allâh gave revelation through his commandments, not to eat of the tree. However, human beings forget. And when they forget Allâh then they fall into sin. We can absolve ourselves of that sin by means of repentance, and Allâh forgives us when we repent sincerely. The Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said;

“The one who repents is like the one without sin.”

“If you did not commit sins and turn to Allâh seeking his forgiveness, then he would replace you with another people who would sin, ask Allâh’s forgiveness and he would forgive them.”

So in our sinning and asking Allâh’s forgiveness, the attribute of Allâh’s mercy and forgiveness becomes manifest. Allâh knew what we were going to do before he created us, he knew that he was creating a species who would sin. If he didn’t wan t them to sin, if it was not his intention to permit them to sin, then he could have created angels, more angels. But the had already created angels, so he chose to create a being, that would disobey his commandments through forgetfulness or just simple disobedience, but would turn back to him in repentance, and his attribute of forgiveness would become manifest. Similarly, his mercy;

The Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is quoted as saying that when Allâh created the universe, He made an obligation on Himself, recorded in a document, kept by Him, that “My mercy precedes my wrath.” He sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam also was reported as saying;

“Allâh created mercy with a hundred parts. One of which was sent down upon the jinn and human beings and other living creatures. It is out of this one part that they love each other, show kindness to one another, and even the animals treat their offspring with affection. Allâh has reserved the remaining ninety-nine parts for his true worshippers on the Day of Judgment.”

This is the mercy of Allâh manifest in his creation. What is also manifest in creation, in the act of creation, the creation of man, is his attribute of justice, fairness, which comes out as the judgment at the end of this world. I am sure we have all read the ahadîth in which the Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“Allâh created some people for hell and some people for paradise.”

For allot of people, this is something very heavy. And the companions, they asked the prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam then what is the point in doing good deeds? If Allâh created some for heaven and some for hell then what is the pin in doing anything? It has already been decided. The Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“Each one of you will find it easy to do what he was created for.”

So if you choose the evil way, you find it easy and you carry on in that way, then that was what you were created for. But ultimately it is your choice. You choose hell. The fact hat Allâh has recorded, before anything was created, who would be in hell and who would be in heaven does not change the fact that it is we who choose. The judgment is only to manifest to those who go to hell, that they deserve to be in hell. It is only for them basically. Because if Allâh created you, and put you in paradise, with all that is in paradise, and you see those people in hell suffering, are you going to ask Allâh, why did you put me in paradise? No. your going to say “all praise be to Allâh!” you don’t want to question or to wonder, all you will be is ecstatic that you are of those in paradise. So the judgment is not for you, it is for those who are going to hell. If you happen to be amongst those who were created for and put in hell, you would say, why me? Why did you put me in hell? And Allâh would say; because you would have done so and so in your life. But you would say; no, no I wouldn’t. If  you give me a chance I would do good deeds. You would not give up arguing.

So Allâh has allowed us to live out our lives. So when we stand before him, our book of deeds is spread before us, we know without a shadow of a doubt, that we chose hell. That Allâh’s judgment is just. There is no injustice in it, in any way shape or form. Allâh says he oppresses no one. We will know that we chose hell.

And the only thing that remains for us, and I pray that it is not in fact us, who are going to hell, is to beg Allâh for another chance. Allâh says;

“If you cold only see when the sinners will bow their heads before their lord, saying; O Lord, we have now seen and heard, so send us back and we will do righteous deeds. Verily, we now believe with certainty.”

This is the only response, which will be left for them. Or as Allâh said;

“And those whose light scales of good deeds, they ruined themselves and they will be in hell eternally. The fire will burn their faces, and they will grin with disfigured lips, I will say to them; Were My Verses not recited to you, and you rejected them? They will reply; Our Lord, our misery overcame us and we were a people astray. Our Lord, bring us out of this, and if we ever return we will truly be unjust.”

When we die, there remains behind us a barrier, the Barzakh, none of us will come back, it is a one-way ticket. Those poor individuals who think they will get another chance, this is the new age religion, they think it is new, but it is just plain old Hindu delusion, that when you die, you get another chance to come back again. The effects of this actually, among Hindus, where I am in the UAE, there are a lot of Hindus here, everyday in the news paper you read about a Hindu man or woman who ties a rope to a ceiling fan, which is found in many of the homes, put it around their neck, kicked away the chair and passed out of this world. Suicide is common amongst them. Why? Because they think they have another chance. It will be a rude awakening for them when they meet the angel of death and find themselves in the next life, realizing that there is no coming back.

In the creation of man is manifest the grace of Allâh. This is a particular point which all of us should reflect on and be thankful to Allâh for. His grace, and Christians, they like to refer to us Muslims as those who don’t believe in the grace of God, we are those who look at God’s judgment and it is just about deeds, you do good then you go to heaven, you do bad and you go to hell, that is it, no grace there at all. For them the grace of God is there for all those who accept that he became a man, and was crucified by man, to provide salvation for human beings who’s sins had become so great that they could not remove that sin through any act themselves. So it was with the spilling of the “Blood of God” that we could be absolved of our sins. For them, if you accept that God spilt his blood for mankind’s salvation, then you have earned the grace of God. Does not matter what you do as long as you have accepted this belief in the grace of God.

Muslims also believe in the grace of God. Actually it plays a major and significant role. Often it is not stressed but it is important for us to realize how the grace of Allâh is manifest in our creation. The Prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said;

“Observe moderation, but if you fail, try to do as much as you can moderately and be happy. For none of you will enter Paradise only because of his deeds.”

Of course when the companions heard that they said;

“O messenger of Allâh, not even you? And the prophet sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, not even me. Were it not that Allâh wrapped me in his mercy. And bear in mind that the deed most loved by Allâh is one done constantly even if it is small”

What does this mean? It means that God’s grace is manifest in our lives in that were He to call us to account, one good deed, one evil deed, equal to each other, then we would not enter paradise, not even the prophets of Allâh. But Allâh through his grace and mercy has multiplied the value of the good deeds. Allâh says;

“Whoever brings a good deed, shall the value of ten like it. And whoever brings an evil deed will be punished with one like it. And they will not be wronged.” [Sûrah Âl-'Imrân, verse 160]

This is Allâh’s grace. Good deeds erase evil deeds. One good deed will erase at least ten evil deeds. Allâh’s grace is not arbitrary, simply because you say I believe you have his grace, no matter what you do, no. The more good you do, the more of his grace is manifest in you. If you chose evil and reject the good, then you don’t receive His grace, it doesn’t matter what you say. If you say, I am a Muslim, I believe, but really you don’t believe, it is just some words you are saying, them you will not be subject to the grace of Allâh.

So the creation is a manifestation of Allâh’s attribute of being the creator. In the creation of man within the scheme of things, there is manifest Allâh’s attribute of mercy, his attribute of justice and this is the reason for the creation of man from the point of view of Allâh. From human perspective, why did God create man in terms of for what purpose? Then this is the one we all know and are familiar with;

“We did not create the jinn and men except to worship us” [Sûrah adh-Dhariyyat, verse 56)

So relative to Allâh, we were created in a means or a way in which Allâh has chosen to manifest his attributes of creation, mercy, grace etc and he could have chosen another one. But relative to us as human beings, we know that our purpose is to worship Allâh. As we said, Allâh does not need our worship, a Allâh didn’t need to create. When he created us to worship him, he didn’t create us, out of a need for our worship, because Allâh has no needs. In a famous hadîth qudsî in which Allâh says;

If all of you, jinn and mankind, were to worship like the most righteous amongst you, it would not increase the dominion of Allâh in any way shape or form. And if all of us, jinn and mankind …

Therefore when we look for the purpose of worship, we have to look into man. Allâh created us to worship him, because we need to worship him. It is something he has given us as a means of benefiting ourselves. We are the ones who benefit from it. Worship has been established, fundamentally for the growth, the spiritual growth of man. This growth takes place through the remembrance of Allâh. When you look at all the different aspects of worship, you will see the core of it is focused on the remembrance of Allâh.

“Establish the prayer for My remembrance.”

This is the essence for the consciousness of God. Allâh says that he has:

“…prescribed for us fasting, as he prescribed it for those before us, so that we may fear him.”

Worship is there for us to remember Allâh. And it is in the remembrance of Allâh, that we achieve that consciousness. Because it is when we forget Allâh, that Shaytân causes us to disobey Allâh and fall into sin. So it is only in His remembrance that we can attain salvation. All of the various acts of worship from saying “Bismillâh” when we eat is to help us remember Allâh in order to grow spiritually.

Allâh has said that he has created us to test us, to see which of us is best in deeds. He is not testing us to know, in the sense that he doesn’t  already know, but this world is a test for us in order again that we can grow spiritually.

We cannot develop this spiritual characteristic of generosity unless some of us have more then others and then we are required to give of the wealth we have. When we give, we grow. Similarly, if we were not in a position where others had more then us then we wouldn’t have the ability to develop the higher spiritual quality of contentment, patience, satisfaction in what Allâh has given us.

So it is all there in order to bring out the higher spiritual qualities, which enable us to attain the state, which makes us suitable and eligible to return to paradise. The paradise from which we were created, we were created in paradise and for paradise. Through our choices we have left, in this life, a field of testing, where we can grow to a state where we deserve paradise.

The purpose of this life is the worship of Allâh, this life is a test. A test for us, will we worship Allâh, or will we forget Him. This is where our focus has to begin.

Author : Dr Bilal Philips