Saturday, July 27, 2013

Double points during Ramadan!

Those fellas at iERA (Islamic Education and Research Academy) are getting really excited again.
Here's their latest hyperbolic announcement in an email sent to their followers entitled "Double Up!":
I'm sure many of us are now gearing up for the last part of Ramadan; focusing on how to maximise on our good deeds through making additional salaah, reading Qur'an and making du'a. Dawah may be going further away from our minds as we aim to focus on our personal ibaadah. Are we right in thinking about dawah like this? Can dawah offer us the chance of really maximising our rewards? Well, actually, it really can.

Let's look at this closer. The goal of dawah is to invite people to the worship of Allah ﷻ. If through your efforts, whether through passing knowledge or giving saqadah (in charity), someone is guided to Islam, you would share in the reward of every good deed they did. YES.

This means that every time they PRAY, they FAST, read the QUR'AN, you will gain a similar reward - isn't this AMAZING? But wait. It gets better.

If they have children, who also do good deeds, you also share in their reward. And if they have children who do good deeds, you again share, generation after generation. This is a real MERCY from Allah ﷻ.

If that wasn't enough, then in Ramadan, all our good deeds are multiplied. So how much more ajr (reward) can we attain? Allah ﷻ knows best, all we can do is make our actions sincerely for him.
Double points at Islam this week everyone! But hurry - offer* ends soon!

*Terms and conditions apply. Applicants must be prepared to leave their common sense at home.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ramadan - when fasting goes bad...

When Ramadan falls during a hot summer in northern Europe, Muslims here suffer more than their brothers and sisters nearer the equator; the day-light lasts longer (4am to 10 pm in mid-summer) and the infrastructure, buildings, habits and customs in our northern climes are not designed for coping with endless days of sunshine and sweltering, oppressive heat. Meanwhile, the nannyish nagging of the "elf 'n' safety" tzars to keep drinking fluids to fend off dehydration may provoke irritation and mockery among the general population, but how much more annoying must it be to be told how dangerous not drinking in the heat is when you know the next opportunity to quench your thirst is ten or more hours away.

But is not eating or drinking for such long periods in such extreme heat actually dangerous? My Muslim friend tells me that fasting is good for the body. I agree. Recent research confirms the age-old wisdom of fasting for health reasons. Fasting plays a role in most, if not all religions; as a way of purifying the mind and body I can see the benefits and have even tried the 5-2 fast myself. However, the Muslim fast is different in both type and duration from other fasts, whether religiously motivated or not, and there is a growing body of both clinical and anecdotal evidence which suggests that Ramadan can have harmful effects.

A study by Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Salameh at Soroka University medical centre in 2010, for example, found migraine attacks were three times more likely during the month of fasting. Not surprising given the following list of possible effects of dehydration: Asthma, Allergies, Heartburn, Migraines, Constipation, Obesity, Fibromyalgia; High Blood Pressure, Lower Back Pain, Type II Diabetes. 

Nutritionist, Anwan Gunawan, a Muslim herself, lists the effects not of dehydration caused by the fast, but ironically of over-eating during Ramadan: "They don't eat at daytime, but they eat a lot in the evening. So, it's not good, it's not healthy. And you can see after the Ramadan, people get fat, get sick."

And it's not only the detrimental physical effects of such extreme fasting that can be seen. Mood and concentration can also be badly affected by the strains put on the body during Ramadan. Anyone who has stayed in an Islamic city during the fast will attest to the dangers of driving just before Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast. Annabel Kantaria writing in the Telegraph says the following about being out on the roads during Ramadan:
It’s no secret that, during Ramadan, the number of road traffic accidents increases dramatically. Twenty per cent of all traffic accidents in Oman last year took place during the Holy month alone and, this year, Dubai Police have revealed that they were called to 3,605 traffic accidents in the first 10 days of Ramadan.One of the most dangerous times of the day is just before people rush home for Iftar, the sunset meal at which the daily fast is broken. Hungry, tired and dehydrated, some drive recklessly, overtaking, undertaking and racing through red lights in their hurry to get home. This year, nearly 20 accidents a day have occurred in that crazy period just before 7pm, which the police have now dubbed the “Ramadan rush hour”.But, while there’s obviously a certain risk to driving after fasting all day, Dubai-based psychologist Dr Annie Crookes tells The National that the cause of the bad driving is likely to be more psychological than physical.Research has found that fasting has an impact on reaction times and spatial perception, but Dr Crookes says it’s still no excuse for some of the crazy driving seen during the Ramadan rush.
She also reports how the Emirates Driving Institute warns that drivers who have been fasting all day will likely have headaches, feel faint, be impatient and lack concentration – issues that Dubai Police are trying to pre-empt by giving out free Iftar meals at major road junctions in busy parts of the city. (Given that our local taxis are driven almost exclusively by Muslims, it does make you wonder...)

When rush hour meant the odd extra camel in the desert, the daily commute was a wander to the local market, sunrise to sunset was a predictable 12 hours whatever time of year,  and jobs where functioning at a level less than 100% presents a danger not just to you but to the public were unheard of - then I can perhaps understand how Ramadan might have helped a community to focus on spirituality. 

In our modern 24-7 high-speed world where those fasting must work and function in societies ill-suited to such practices, Ramadan presents a challenge not only to those who are happy to partake but also to those who must live and work alongside fasting Muslims.

Did Allah foresee such difficulties, I wonder? I'll leave you with the story of an airline pilot as told on a professional airline pilots forum:

I once flew with a muslim capt a long time ago during ramadan and we had a very long and interesting discussion about his beliefs etc as he was fasting and very devout.He was also a very good pilot and an excellent guy I might add except he didn't drink beer!!He did acknowledge the problem of those less inclined to do the right thing during the year and making up for it while flying an aircraft during Ramadan.It was almost an 8 hour sector and he had eaten breakfast before dawn in dubai I would guess about 5 am.By the time we were on descent later in the day about 4 30 pm Dubai time or just after dark where we were, he was no longer in my opinion fit to be sitting in the front seat of a very large aircraft.He must have been very dehydrated as he didn't even have any water.The amount of things he missed on descent was quite disturbing.After we landed he raced off to get a feed at the airport cafe and then felt human once more.We then went out on the overnight and had a nice night and he obviously had his energy back. I would imagine he was at the same level of competence as someone who had a some alcohol in his system while flying.Of course my point is that EK would sack you immediately for having alcohol in your system if you are caught and yet condone an unsafe situation due to fasting.I would imagine every muslim according to the Quran also has an obligation to safeguard life particularly during ramadan.Is there not a way for our muslim colleagues to aide by their faith considering they are travelling and still operate safely as the situation where both flight crew are seriously fasting is fraught with danger.I think we all have a moral as well as legal responsibility to operate the aircraft safely and owe the passengers a duty of care.It will be no use explaining to the families of 400 people "but he was fasting" if it leads to a tragedy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Honey, miracles and Islam

Mrs Spinoza and I have just started keeping bees. And by just, I mean a box of ten thousand and a queen was delivered yesterday afternoon and are happily flying off all over collecting nectar and pollen as I type. Which got me to thinking about the various claims made about bees and honey in the Qur'an, and how determined a certain sort of Muslim - like my convert friend - is to maintain that the holy book of Islam was the first to tell mankind about the wonderful properties of honey and how this is yet another example of miraculous knowledge imparted to us by Allah via his prophet.
"Your Lord revealed to the bees: "Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow." From inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect"  (16: 68)
(وأوحى ربك إلى النحل أن اتخذي من الجبال بيوتاً ومن الشجر، ومما يعرشون، ثم كلي من كل الثمرات فاسلكي سبل ربك ذللا ، يخرج من بطونها شراب مختلف ألوانه فيه شفاء للناس، إن في ذلك لآية لقوم يتفكرون) النحل
There are two aspects to this claim to miraculous knowledge which bothers me. i. knowledge of the many different properties of honey was widespread at the time of Muhammad ii. there are obvious factual errors in the verse which any child with a basic understanding of biology can point out.

i. Unique miraculous knowledge?
It is plainly ridiculous to suggest, as the miracle seekers do, that the verse in the Qur'an was first mankind was aware of the medicinal/curative properties of honey. As early as 4,000 BC honey was being used in Ayurveda medicine in India. In fact over 600 remedies using honey have been noted in ayervedic medicine- a little more impressive than the odd story of Muhammad suggesting a follower with a dodgy tum drink honey.... And what are we to make of the ancient Egyptian papyri which famously (although the fact seems to have escaped the miracle seekers) show how honey was used in the their medicinal compounds. In fact, of the 900 medical remedies known from ancient Egypt, more than 500 used honey in some form or other; the bee even became a symbol of the pharaohs! We might even, if we wished to labour the point, note how the ancient Greeks and Romans were accustomed  to using honey in medicine hundreds of years before Muhammad ever thought to mention it. Hardly miraculous knowledge then.

ii. Factual errors
One doesn't need to be a beekeeper or indeed any kind of expert to see the embarrassing factual error in the verse above. But just in case there are any miracle seekers reading this who are a little hard of reasoning, let me spell it out: BEES DO NOT MAKE HONEY FROM EATING FRUIT. Bees make honey from nectar. Nectar is not a fruit, does not resemble a fruit and contains complex sugars not available in fruit. Nectar for honey comes from FLOWERS. Ironically, some plants do have extra-floral nectaries (bits of the plant which are not flowers that produce nectar) and some of those extra-floral nectaries can be fruits, but rather awkwardly for Muhammad and the miracle seekers they are defensive or aggressive in nature and would more than likely kill any bee trying to eat it so that it could be consumed by the plant...oops.
""Ah - but Muammad's followers were simple folk and the verse is obviously not meant to be read so literally. Eat from every kind of fruit obviously means from every fruit-bearing plant"
So how difficult would it have been for God to have said, Visit every sort of flower? Would that really have confused His simple followers so much?

So in summary we have a verse which reveals nothing not known before in all the major civilisations which preceded Islam and which contains a glaring factual error.

Many Muslim miracle sites reassure anxious questioners who have spotted the factual error in the verse by rather superciliously explaining that bees do eat fruit.
Bassam Zawadi at ahlalhdeeth says this:
bees do eat fruits. Here is a picture of a bee feeding on a grape you can read about the picture here
I'm sure bees do eat fruit, Bassam. But that's not the point, is it? The point is that the verse surely is utterly meaningless unless God is telling the bees how to make honey. And however much you may wish it was the case, bees don't generally do that by eating fruit. So why should God tell bees to eat fruit? If anything, God is actually advising the bees to become annoying and costly little critters by eating what man eats and farms instead of visiting flowers and performing the vital function of pollination.
Thanks, God.

Unless - and I know this is a wild suggestion - Muhammad saw bees eating dates and grapes (as they do in that part of the world to gain moisture) and assumed that was how they made honey...Now there's a thought.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Egypt and The Muslim Brotherhood

I am told by my Muslim convert friend that Islam provides everything a state needs to establish  fair governance and an equitable distribution of resources. The laws and advice contained in the Qur'an and ahadith, if strictly adhered to, will inevitably and inexorably lead to the best society of which humans are capable.
However, ask any Muslim why the world's current Islamic states appear to be much less desirable places to live than their liberal, secular, democratic counterparts and you will usually get one of two answers which can be summarised as follows: 
i. The West's interference in Muslim lands has made it impossible for nascent Islamic nations to find a secure place in the world. Imperialist realpolitik has meant support for regimes that terrorise their own populations whilst supporting Western interests; and Western interests are almost always diametrically opposed to Islamist interests. Thus supposedly Islamic nations have been such in name only: Libya and Egypt being two obvious examples. 
ii. Even in those countries where one cannot claim Western interference, there isn't a truly Islamic theocracy; ask a Western Muslim what he or she thinks of Saudi, for example, and you'll get the picture...
Any liberal with a conscience will have sympathy with the first argument, and this goes some way to explain the left's knee-jerk support of Islamist demands, even when they seem to fly in the face of the liberal shibboleths of free speech and gay rights (to name but two...). And one would be hard pressed to argue with the second argument.
But what we are seeing in Egypt and elsewhere now, promises to give Muslims a chance to see their Islamic utopia  become a reality. 
For an experiment is taking place which might just give Islam its first chance since the so-called "Golden Age" to show what it's capable of.  "The whole point of Egypt's revolution for the Muslim Brotherhood is to usher in the utopia that the full application of sharia would ostensibly bring" as The Economist magazine has it this week, and if the Muslim Brotherhood can succeed in creating a constitution wholly reliant upon sharia then we shall be able to judge Islam
This is, however, a two edged sword. There can be no more excuses. And so we watch the debates rage:
Al-Azhar University, a revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim teaching in Cairo, has come out strongly against any change [to the wording of the current constitution]. “The ‘principles’ of Islamic sharia is an inclusive term that reflects the consensus of Muslim clerics,” says one of the university’s scholars on the constitution-drafting body. “Scholars differ over the text for ‘rules of Islamic sharia’because these change all the time, while the constitution should express fixed principles.”Al-Azhar (pictured above) has even blocked a push by Salafists, a puritan strand of Islam that won a quarter of votes in last year’s parliamentary elections, to enshrine al-Azhar itself as the sole authority for interpreting sharia.[...] Historians, meanwhile, note that in past ages, as well as in countries such as Saudi Arabia today, the relatively thin body of accepted sharia laws has in practice needed bolstering by secular rules." 
Hang on - what's this? Sharia needs bolstering by secular rules? But I thought Islam was a complete and perfect set of instructions for a society? Isn't the whole point of Islam that there is no division between religion and state?
So once again, are we to be denied the chance to see a truly Islamic society flowering? Will what many regard as Egypt's inevitable failure be blamed,not upon the barbaric and outmoded laws and rules that the Qur'an dictates, but upon the exigencies of secular administration?
Whatever happens, it's going to be an interesting experiment. Watch this space...

And so, after just nine months the people of Egypt have shown what they think of governance which lends more weight to worrying about laws prescribed and actions proscribed by sharia than to ensuring the economy functions. Just about time for the MB to start blaming the Jews, I should think...