Solo Muslimah woman rider through Central Asia


Introducing a great travel blog from Malaysian woman who rides through 5 dangerous country in the world. Without fear (maybe less fear), she rides with small capacity bikes, Yahama FZ150i through out Central Asia.

Introducing Ms. Anita Yusuf who just receive Malaysian Book of Record for Solo Woman biker to Central Asia.

 http://anitayusof00.blogspot.com

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.

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.

Islam & Science -The road to renewal


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

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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

Banking on the ummah – Malaysia leads the charge in Islamic finance


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OF MALAYSIA’S claims to fame, leadership in financial services is not an obvious one. Yet in some ways the country is the world’s most important Islamic-finance centre. Just over a fifth of the country’s banking system, by assets, is sharia-compliant; the average for Muslim countries is more like 12%, and often a lot less. Malaysia dominates the global market for sukuk, or Islamic bonds. The country issued the world’s first sovereign sukuk in 2002; in the first three quarters of 2012 it was responsible for almost three-quarters of total global issuance (see chart). Malaysia is also home to the Islamic Financial Services Board, an international standard-setting body.

These are big achievements for a relatively small country of just 30m people, of whom only about 60% are Muslim. In neighbouring Indonesia, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, only about 4% of the financial sector is sharia-compliant. Although the much richer Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have bigger Islamic banks, it is Malaysia, argues Iqbal Khan of Dubai’s Fajr Capital investment fund, that is the centre “for thought leadership in Islamic finance”.

How did the country carve out this niche? Malaysia’s Muslim heritage, outward-looking nature and links with financial hubs like Britain and Singapore made the place a natural candidate to bridge the worlds of religion and capitalism. The central bank, the Bank Negara Malaysia, is also supportive.

Two institutions in particular, both set up by the central bank, have contributed to Malaysia’s pre-eminence in the field. The first is the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF). Established in 2005 and boasting about 2,000 students, INCEIF is the world’s leading university for the study of Islamic finance. The International Sharia Research Academy, housed within INCEIF, brings together scholars to produce an internationally acceptable rule-book for Islamic finance.

The second institution is the Islamic Banking and Finance Institute of Malaysia (IBFIM). It concentrates on vocational training, offering a variety of certificates in Islamic finance. IBFIM also acts as a consultancy to banks and firms that want to become sharia-compliant.

Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the head of the central bank, says that these bodies are the “pipeline to provide the banks with talent”. And not just in Malaysia. There are currently students from 80 countries at INCEIF; and IBFIM has taught people from Afghanistan, Nigeria, Palestine and elsewhere.

All of which gives Malaysia greater status within the ummah, the global Islamic community, important to a country that often feels on the periphery of the Muslim world. There are more tangible benefits, too. The Islamic subsidiary of Maybank, a big local lender, already accounts for about half of the group’s customers and is expanding abroad: it set up a subsidiary in Singapore 18 months ago and has also moved into Indonesia.

Ms Zeti argues that sharia-compliant banks are inherently more stable than conventional peers. Speculation is forbidden, and because charging interest is prohibited under sharia law, returns are based on profit-sharing. Perhaps. Islamic finance is hardly foolproof: Dubai’s debt crisis in 2009 showed that sukuk can help to inflate debt to unsustainable levels. But whatever its pros and cons, Malaysia will provide much of the evidence either way.

Source : http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21569050-malaysia-leads-charge-islamic-finance-banking-ummah

Malaysia hailed as most vital Islamic-finance hub


Islamic Finance

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is the world’s most important Islamic-finance centre, although the richer Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have bigger Islamic banks and Indonesia the largest Muslim population, influential financial news magazine The Economist says.

Malaysia also dominates the global market for sukuk, or Islamic bonds, the magazine said in an article headlined Banking on the ummah:Malaysia leads the charge in Islamic finance, in its latest issue on Jan 5.

“Leadership in financial services is not an obvious one. Yet, in some ways the country is the world’s most important Islamic-finance centre,” said the magazine.

“Just over a fifth of the country’s banking system, by assets, is Syariah-compliant; the average for Muslim countries is more like 12%, and often a lot less,” it added.

On the Islamic bonds, the magazine said the country issued the world’s first sovereign sukuk in 2002 and in the first three quarters of 2012, it was responsible for almost three-quarter of total global issuance.

It said Malaysia was home to the Islamic Financial Services Board, an international standard-setting body.

“These are big achievements for a relatively small country of just 30 million people, of whom only about 60% are Muslims.

“In neighbouring Indonesia, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, only about 4% of the financial sector is Syariah-compliant.

“Although the much richer Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have bigger Islamic banks, it is Malaysia that is the centre for thought leadership in Islamic finance,” said the magazine, quoting Dubai’s Fajr Capital investment fund founder and CEO Iqbal Khan.

The magazine said Malaysia’s Muslim heritage, outward-looking nature and links with financial hubs like Britain and Singapore made the place a natural candidate to bridge the worlds of religion and capitalism. The central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, is also supportive.

It said two institutions in particular the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) and the Islamic Banking and Finance Institute of Malaysia (IBFIM), both set up by the central bank have contributed to Malaysia’s pre-eminence in the field.

INCEIF, set up in 2005 and boasting about 2,000 students, is the world’s leading university for the study of Islamic finance.

The International Syariah Research Academy, housed within INCEIF, brings together scholars to produce an internationally acceptable rule-book for Islamic finance.

The IBFIM concentrates on vocational training, offering a variety of certificates in Islamic finance as well as acts as a consultancy to banks and firms that want to become syariah-compliant.

Bank Negara head Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Ungku Aziz was quoted by the magazine as saying that these bodies were the “pipeline to provide the banks with talent” and not just in Malaysia.

“All these give Malaysia greater status within the ummah and the global Islamic community,” she said, adding that they were important to a country that often felt on the periphery of the Muslim world.

Dr Zeti argues that Syariah-compliant banks are inherently more stable than conventional peers.

“Speculation is forbidden and, because charging interest is prohibited under syariah law, returns are based on profit-sharing,” she said.

Source : The Star

The history of Vatican


A resignation of Pope Benedict have ignite my curiosity about Catholic Churches.

Vatican

Though the Vatican is a famous icon for Christianity, its name existed long before the advent of the religion. The name was first given to one of the hills on the side of the Tiber River, which is opposite to the Seven Hills of Rome.  

The city of the Vatican is a sovereign city-state located entirely within the boundaries of Rome. It is believed to be situated on the spot where St. Peter, a prominent figure in the history of Christianity, was martyred and buried around 2000 years ago. In 324 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine, built the first papal church called the Constantinian Basilica over St. Peter’s tomb.

Till recently, St. Peter’s was the largest church that was ever built and is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Christendom.   The Vatican City expands over around 0.44 square kilometers and with a population of around 800 people, which makes it the smallest independent country in the world.

The Vatican territory includes important sites, such as St. Peter’s Square built between 1656 and 1667, the Apostolic Palace, which is the official residence of the Pope, the Sistine Chapel, which is very famous for its architecture that resembles King Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament and was decorated by talented renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Raphael.

The “Voluntary Prisoner”

The Vatican City, which is the home of the Roman Catholic Church, is the only city that survived from the Papal States, which had been ruled for over a thousand years by religious papacy. The idea behind papal independence was to assure the complete freedom of the pope away from Roman princes and emperors. 

Pope who is the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide is considered for Catholics as St. Peter’s successor. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ named Peter as the “shepherd” or the “rock” of the church. Though Peter was never named a pope as the title came into existence much later, for Catholics he is considered to be the “first pope.” The analogy comes from the fact that the pope is the head of bishops as was Peter the head of apostles.

The pope had territorial control over some states in central Italy between the years 756 and 1870, and the Vatican was the capital of the Papal States. During the fights for the unification of Italy from 1860 to 1870, Italy gained back a lot of the papal territories, and Rome was established as the national capital of Italy. When the Italian armies were at the gate of Rome on the morning of September 20, 1870, Pope Pius IX was facing a hard choice. He ordered his soldiers neither to fight nor to resist the Italian forces as he realized that it was a lost war, and he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

Pope Pius IX did not want to surrender the city before it was attacked, as he was afraid that the world would recognize this act as a voluntary act of renunciation of his rights. He wanted to make it clear that he was forced to give up his temporal power, and that his sovereignty was breached by force.

In 1871, a law was issued to confine the territories of the papacy to only include the Vatican, the Lateran Palace, and the villa of Castel Gandolfo on the shore of Lake Albano. The government also granted the Pontiff a handsome amount of money as compensation for the lost revenue over seized territories. Though Pope Pius IX was adamant on revoking the law and constantly refused to abide by it, the Italian government thought they were extremely generous toward “Italy’s distinguished guests.”   Pope Pius IX refused to accept the government’s grant of money, and declared that this agreement was unilateral and did not represent the consensus of the two parties, so it should be considered null and void. He maintained his position of refusing to recognize the lawful and the rightful possession of Rome by the Italian government and refused to set foot on the soil of the seized territory, as this would mean that he accepted the Italian sovereignty.

Therefore, the pope declared himself as a “voluntary prisoner” in his Vatican Palace, yet he continued his duties and temporal power in a symbolic way.

Mussolini & the “Roman Question”

One of the proposals that were offered to Pope Benedict XV to solve the heated situation was to grant the pope full and unrestricted sovereignty over the Vatican, but the pope said that the Vatican is a palace not a territory. For the papal palace, it seemed absurd to grant the pope full sovereignty, yet he cannot exercise it anywhere. 

Long before Mussolini came to power as the head of the Fascist Party, he used to speak publicly about the importance of restoring the relationship with the Catholic Church. He asserted in Parliament that it is absurd for Italy to be in enmity with a church that 95 percent of its citizens were regarded as divinely authorized.

So, right after he seized power, Mussolini did not hesitate to state at every occasion how important the Papal Church is, and how appreciative he is to the role that religion plays in the national life. His determination to restore good relations with the pope did not stop at the level of positive speeches and words of appreciation. He actually walked the talk by restoring the crucifix in the classrooms, which was long removed by previous governments. Also, he made it mandatory in the curriculum in public schools to study religion after it was only supplementary. He also increased the allowance and the stipend paid by government to the parish priests.

While Mussolini promised not to interfere with the religious practices of other cults or religions, he declared and affirmed Catholicism to be the national faith of Italy.

Though Mussolini showed signs of good faith to reach some sort of reconciliation with the Holy See, the road was not paved, and it was not an easy ride. The greatest difficulty that faced the new Fascist government was the question of the position of the Vatican within the new Italian state and the division of authority.

It is well-known that both the Fascist government and the Vatican are at opposite poles. The pope stated numerously his dissatisfaction with the Fascist ideology of monopolizing the individuals by making their whole existence for the benefit of the state. The Church believes on the other hand that the individual exists for the glory of God.

For the next three years, Mussolini was negotiating secretly with the Vatican, and then he announced that there is an informal understanding that was reached between the state and the Vatican on points of dispute. Mussolini used to call the Vatican situation as the “Roman Question.”

The Missions of the Holy See

The Holy See was the name given to the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy See diplomatic history began long before its independence. Since the medieval times, the Episcopal Church of Rome is considered to be an independent sovereign entity. Even when Italy took most of the Papal States in 1870, the Holy See maintained sending and receiving diplomatic missions.

In 1929, a political treaty was signed between the Holy See and Italy, according to which full sovereignty was granted to the Holy See in the Vatican City.

The Italian government had its own ulterior motives when it decided to solve the Roman question once and for all. Millions of Catholics around the globe will not be educated anymore by their priests that Italy is a “despoiler of the church.”

Missionary schools in the Near East might place extra importance on teaching Italian as an important language along with its history and literature. More importantly as some historians state, the political benefits of being the protector of Christianity in places like Syria and Palestine, which is a political advantage that France enjoyed, and now Italy can join in as well.   Though the pope’s liberty and independence are confined to such small piece of land in the Vatican, for the Catholics, his spiritual leadership in the Catholic World is universal with no boundaries set to confine it.

Egypt’s Scholars Elect New Mufti


Egypt Elects New Mufti For First Time

CAIRO – Muslim scholars have chosen a professor of Islamic jurisprudence to become Egypt’s new Mufti, the first time the top religious leader be elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

“Dr Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, professor of Islamic law in Tanta University, got the highest number of votes and the matter has been sent to the president to issue his decision,” Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Abdel Karim, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence, was elected on Monday by the newly-formed council of senior scholars.

A panel of Muslim scholars took the decision after “detailed study of the applicants based on scientific legal standards, the adoption of Al-Azhar’s moderate agenda and an estimation of their psychological and moral suitability”, the statement said.

Abdul-Karim will replace Ali Gomaa, who served under Mubarak.

The new mufti is the first ever elected Mufti since the 1952 revolution.

In the past, the position was traditionally filled by top scholars from Al-Azhar, who were generally staunch backers of whoever ruled the country.

“This is the first time Azhar clerics choose an Azhar scholar in balloting,” said Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb.

“This is a new tradition we hope will continue.”

Al-Azhar has sought to position itself as a moderate force above the political fray.

No Brotherhood

The new mufti’s election came amid media reports that Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Rahman al-Bar had been among the candidates, but he did not make it to a short list of three scholars.

“It seems some council members were sensitive to the strong public resistance to Bar’s nomination, which led them to change their mind,” an official in the mufti’s office told Reuters.

The new mufti, Abdel Karim, is not known to hold any political affiliations.

The runner-up, Attiya al-Sayyid Fayad, has written commentaries for the Brotherhood’s website and was reported to have been a member of the Islamist group on whose ticket President Mohamed won the presidential election in June.

Abdel-Karim will be the country’s 19th Grand Mufti since 1895.

The Grand Mufti has a variety of tasks in Egypt. He reviews and ratifies death sentences issued by courts.

He is also responsible for announcing the dates of the months based on a lunar calendar, which in turn determines when the important Muslim fasting month begins.

In response to citizens’ requests, he issues religious edicts, known as fatwas, and he gives opinions over government policies.