Sunday, August 15, 2010

Secret Investment with Long and Short Term Gains for Muslims

I can use this money to take my family for a much-deserved holiday or use as down payment for a nice car or contribute to college fund for my kids or add to my retirement savings. All these kind thoughts have tormented me in the last few days. I have gone thru this painful assessment whenever I have to make a donation to a charity. I also, research to death about the organization to which I intend to donate and always look for their shortcomings and failures rather than their successes and wonderful work they have done. In fact I am looking for a way out for not making a donation.

I believe one of the reasons for my shortcomings is the way we are brought up in our countries of origin in the Middle East and East Asia. In these countries there is no tradition to donate to charitable organizations. There is a mistrust of charitable organizations and rightfully so based on their record. Most of the organizations in our countries of origin are either corrupt or use the money to advance their personal agenda. Therefore, instead of developing and nourishing charitable organizations, vast majority of the populace use private means to hand out charity. This practice has continued in our adopted countries in the West. This is why the Zakat contributions to Muslim charitable organizations are dismal. Everyone either uses private means to dispense charity. There are a handful of Muslim charities among the thousands of charities listed on the United Way Campaign. In addition, those charities that are listed give up because lack of participation and donations.

Parental influence and their practical demonstration of giving charity has a strong influence of how their offspring behave later. Recently, I met some one who told me that the reasons he started helping in construction or maintenance of mosques was the memory of his father walking door to door in the streets of an affluent neighborhood of Karachi to collect funds for a new mosque construction. He remembered how the dogs and security guards chased his father out of different houses but he persevered. The mosque his father helped build is now a vibrant institution. He wanted to emulate his father and was able to resist all the resistance and criticism of his fellow Muslims and local governments and organizations in doing so.

Private means to distribute charity is an age-old tradition among the Muslims based on the examples prophet Mohammad pbuh and the four Caliphs after him. However, I do not believe that these traditions or Quran have any advice against giving out charity to organizations. In fact, in early history of Islam, Zakat organizations were organized and sponsored by the state. The Quran states, “Those who spend their possessions (for the sake of God) by night and day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer, (2-274),”

Another bad habit I have when I donate clothing and furniture for charity is that I only donate it when it is in a bad shape. One local Muslim aid organization told me that they have to dump a large proportion of clothes that they receive because they are usually unwashed, dirty, and cannot be worn. This adds to the organizations expenses instead of help they request.

Having gone over different aspects of giving charity, I want to share how I overcome my fears and thoughts to write out that check. I have had first hand experience of what God has promised in Quran, which states, “Satan threatens you with prospect of poverty and bids you to be niggardly, whereas god promises His forgiveness and bounty, and God is infinite, all knowing (2-268). I remember that after my sizable contribution to charity, I got more money than I contributed from a source of which I had never thought of or contemplated. This reinforced my belief in what Quaran states, “The parable of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grain; for God grants manifold increase unto, whom He wills, and God is infinite, all knowing (2-261).” Of course, I am not a saint, and some time I fail but I am still trying to overcome the fear of poverty and desire to spend the money on expensive holidays and things.

The best part of writing that check is the great relief and happiness you get afterwards which is hard to describe. I hope this personal narrative helps some one like me to overcome the fear of giving and may Allah forgives me to be so open about it. I hope my intentions are correct. If it helps some one, please pray for me in this month of Ramadan. I still believe that charity is the best-kept secret for long term and short term gains which we under utilize.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tibet Tootpaste and Root Canal

Last week I went to the dentist to get a root canal for one my tooth. It cost me more than $1000.0 or about one lakh Pakistani Rupees. This does not include the crown for the tooth which will cost another $800.00. This is still cheap because the dentist who is a fellow Pakistani with a degree in dentistry from Punjab University gave me a discount.

On the way back from the dentist, I started reminiscing about the first toot paste, and how valuable, it was to me. More than 50 years ago, when I was in the elementary school, I got my own Tibet toothpaste. I still remember saving money for it and going frequently to the general store to check the prices of the toothpaste. The Tibet toothpaste was the cheapest because it was made in Pakistan while the Kolynos toothpaste was foreign made cost more than twice the Tibet toothpaste. Finally, I had saved up about three rupees and went to different stores to check prices and found the best deal. I proudly brought my toothpaste and used it instead of the tooth powder or Churan or powdered charcoal to clean my teeth.

Of course my teeth survived well even after the bad dental care during childhood because we did not have access to candies, sweets, and cakes as the Americans kids do these days. They end up costing their parents a lot of money with dentists and orthodontists. However, the neglect for the teeth finally catch up with me when I was in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 1968. The throbbing pain necessitated that I visit an Arab dentist.

I still shudder when I remember how this Arab dentist treated me. He had a drill just like the electric drill I bought from Home Depot to drill holes in the wall and wood. It was menacing and bulky. He drilled several of my tooth to fill cavities which brought timely relief. Of course it did not last long because a few months after the pain reappeared while I was a student in England. I and the dentist took full advantage of my student status and National Health Service to remove the cavities filled by the Arab dentist and insert new material. The dentist also removed my wisdom teeth; however, he was unsuccessful in removing one of badly placed molar and broke it. He left the broken piece under the gums and said that it will be OK for the next 20 years.

Having realized the importance of healthy teeth, I tried to keep hygiene thereafter. This ended when playing racquetball at a remote campsite, I broke my front tooth by hit from my own racket. Of course, every one in the camp thought, including my wife and kids, thought that I had a fight in the bar. It took several days to find a Korean dentist in the nearest town 60 miles away and travel there to get tooth fixed using special crazy glue type of adhesive and adding additional material. Of course, the repaired tooth has broken two times since then in the last 15 years. The last time the dentist told me that if it breaks again, I will need root canal and crown job.

The recent need for the root canal started while I was in Phoenix on a business trip. The pain started again. I remembered the words of one of niece's husband that our Sheikh family is so large that wherever you go in the world in different continents, you can find a relative. Therefore, I looked up for one of my distant relatives Dr. Shafi who is a dentist and practice in Phoenix area. However, with the pressure of time and not to embarrass myself in visiting his surgery in time of need, I flew back home to Washington DC area.

Once in my own home town, I used all the connections to get treatment fast. I called up the young dentist Saba Elahi who is a relative and whom I have seen grow up as a child. She was busy but checked me out during her lunch hour. She provide temporary relief and medicine. Thereafter another dentist Noor Imtiaz took over and did the root canal on an accelerated schedule.

This brings me back to the cost of my Tibet toothpaste and root canal treatment. The cost of the root canal is about 100,000 times more than the toothpaste. How the age and time leaves you with stories you want to tell but no one wants to listen; therefore, you put them on your blog.

Body Language

Last weekend, I attended the marriage and Valima ceremeonies of the son of a dear friend. My friend's son and his bride are very pious and subscribe to the Salafi school. Therefore, the gathering during the both ceremonies was divided into male and female sections which were completely separated (sealed) from each other.

Both ceremonies main event was a speech by an Imam. I was lucky to be in the male section, because the poor women could only hear his voice. As is the case in such gatherings, the women did not pay much attention to the speech and carried on with their own conversations about clothes, jewelery, and kids. This bothered the groom's sister, who asked the Imam to announce that women should be silent and attentive to his words of wisdom.

There is ammple scientific research and data that has determined that words only count 7 percent of the total communication. The remaining 93 percent of the message is the non verbal and involves body language, eye contact, and delivery. In addition, research has shown that no human being has attention span for a speech of more than 20 minutes. Therefore, I wondered if the reason for the women for not paying attention was lack of visual contact and access to body language. In addition, the same Imam on both days went on for about 40 minutes and were holding the guests from the festive and expensive dinner at a world class hotel until 10:00 PM. I could see that most of the persons in the male section had tuned out the message from the Imam and were looking at their watches or fiddling with their cell phones.

This made me wonder who is responsible for such an ineffective communication on such a special and festive occasion. I know that some persons will blame me for this write-up but we have to own our problems and deficiencies before we can solve the Muslim communities deep rooted problems. We cannot continue with a similar approach in our religious institutions and let the young men and women walk away from real Islam. The first an easiest solution is for the speaker be asked to view his video taped presentation. In addition. even in separate gatherings there should be video transmitted by a large TV from the mens section to the women section.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shariah, Fiqh, and Fatwah

Talibans and Al-Qaida and their supporters talk about implementing Shariah law.  Therefore, I looked up Shariah's definition in Jasser Auda's book, "Maqasid Al-Shariah As Philosophy of Islamic Law, A System's Approach."  Mr. Auda is a contemporary Islamic scholar who has a Ph.D. in System Analysis from University of Waterloo, Masters in Islamic Jurisprudence from Islamic University in Michigan, and Ph.D. in Religion and Islamic Studies from University of Wales, U.K.  He is well versed both in science and religion, a rare commodity these days in the age of secular Muslims and Mullas of Islamic world.  Mr. Auda quotes Ibn al-Qayyim, a noted Islamic scholar of 14th century (d 1347 CE) as follows:

"Shari'ah is based on wisdom and achieving people's welfare in this life and the afterlife.  Shariah is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good.  Thus any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to the Shariah, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation."

Mr. Auda also defines the terms Shariah, Fiqh, and Fatwah which are commonly misunderstood as follows:

1. Shariah
The revelation that Prophet Mohammad (SAAS) had received and made practicing it the message and mission of his life, i.e. the Quran and Prophet tradition.
2. Fiqh
The huge collection of judicial opinions that were given by various jurists from various schools of thought, in regards to the application of shariah to their various real life situations throughout the past 14 centuries.
3. Fatwa
The application of shariah or fiqh to Muslims' real life today.

Fiqh cannot be considered Islamic law in all instances, because each scholar did judicial reasoning for their own environments and times.  Fatwa cannot be always considered as Islamic law.  If the fatwa is copied verbatim from some classic book in the Islamic law, then it is quite possibly flawed because it is quite probably addressing a different world with different circumstances.  If the fatwa is allowing people to commit an act of injustice, discrimination, harm, or immorality, even if it were to be based on interpretation, then it is also wrong and un-Islamic.

Based on the above discussion by Mr. Auda, I believe that some of the Fatwas issued by so called Imams or Mullas may not be acceptable.  Case in point, the treatment of women and not allowing them to study or justification for suicide bombings by innocent youth convinced by their Imams Fatwas.    

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mosques and Bathrooms

Over the years I have visited mosques in Makkah, Medina, Riyadh, Pakistan, England, Spain, and USA.  Invariably, I found the cleanliness of the bathrooms much to be desired.  Now I make sure that I do not have to use the bathroom in a mosque.  If I am traveling, I may even stop at McDonald or Starbucks to do the wadu or use the toilet facilities before I go to the mosque.

It is so discouraging to see Muslims dressed in their best clothes come to the mosque and then how they treat the bathrooms and wadu areas.  They leave water all over including the toilet seats and wadu area seats.  They litter the place with toilet papers, coffee cups, stones etc.  Some of these things block the toilets which eventually cause huge disruption and inconvenience to the organizers.

I always wonder why the mosque establishments and Imams do not come and address this issue in their speeches and comments.  We always talk that Islam teaches you be clean and their are laws and regulations specified in the Quran about cleanliness,  I do not why we do not practice them when it comes to the bathrooms.  At times, I am tempted to post a rude note in the mosque which says, "Please clean the bathroom area after you finished unless your mother is going to come afterwards to clean it."   In Pakistan, I will modify the note to say, "please clean after yourself unless you have arranged for your christian maid to clean after you."

The worst experience about bathrooms I have encountered is when I fly into Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.  The plane bathrooms are usually in a terrible shape and not accessible.  The dirty water from the bathroom flows out of the bathroom on to the plane seating area.  I learned my lesson the first time I went for Umrah flying from Cairo to Jeddah.  There was no way I could go the bathroom and change clothes and wear Ihram.  I now tell everyone to wear Ihram before you board the plane when traveling to Saudi Arabia.

I believe, we need to have a training for bathroom use every few months in each mosque.  In addition, in Pakistan, every one who is flying out of country first time should be asked to take one day course on things to watch for overseas.  When I lived in Korea some 20 years back, the government will not issue a passport until the applicant has taken such a course.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What They Do NoT Preach in the Mosque

"If you avoid the great sins, which you have been enjoined to shun, We shall efface your (minor) bad deeds, and shall cause you to enter an abode of glory." Chapter 4, Verse 31. Then how come preachers in the mosque talk about things length of the pant should be above the ankles, which step should be placed first when you enter in the mosque, type of haircuts, length of beard, timing for Iftaar and Sehar etc.

These preachers do not tell their so called devout merchants and businessmen that: "O You who have attained the faith| Do not devour one another's possessions wrongfully -not even by way of trade based on mutual agreement." Chapter 4, Verse 29. These merchants and businessmen in Pakistan inflate the prices of commodities required by common man during Ramadan and charge ridiculous profits of 100 to 300 percent. The same merchants in USA sell halal meat products at the double the price of non-zebiiyah products at the super market. I know from experience that it does not cost 100 percent more to procure zebiyah meat. Costco Warehouse profit margin is uniform 12 percent.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Town Hall Meeting with Pakistani Ambassador, Hussain Haqqani

On June 20, 2009, I attended a town hall meeting addressed by Mr. Hussain Haqqani, the Pakistan's Ambassador to USA. The meeting was arranged by Pakistani Diaspora living in Washington DC metro area. Since it was the first time a Pakistani Ambassador in USA was coming out of his cocoon in the last 15 years to meet Pakistani expatriates, I decided to go and listen to his words of wisdom.

Before going to the event, I decided to check Mr. Haqqani's bio on the internet. I found out that before his appointment he was an associate professor at Boston University and has been a TV show host, author, and columnist. However, the item that caught my eye was that he was a minister or ambassador when Mr. Nawaz Sharif of Muslim Leaugue and Ms Benazir Bhutto of People Party was prime minsiters of Pakistan. This is an incredible since both parties have completely different agenda. Obviously, this raises questions about his integrity and in Pakistani terms he can be considered a great Chamcha or Lota.

I was presently surprised by his speech at town hall meeting. He seems like a person with good analaytical and verbal communication skills. His central theme revolved around three points. Pakistan needs to fight terrorism, allow democracy to flourish even though some of the current leaders may be corrupt, and educate the 58 percent of the kids who go to school and the remaining 42 percent who do not to a suitable curriculum whic does not brainwash them about hate and extermism.

His speech was followed by question and answer session. As expected from the Pakistani expatriate audience who belong to the so called educated upper middle class, the questions were about how to tackle Talibans and Al Qaida, corruption and accountability, and leadership of the two main political parties which does not change. Mr. Haqqani was very eloquent in his answers. He stated you can make changes by working within the system. However, I was surprised that there was no discussion about the econmic disparity between the rich and poor. While the avreage sons and daughters of the army generals, corrupt breaucrats, and feudal elites go and study in elite private schools and then sent overseas to USA or UK universities spending $50,000.00 per year, the average Pakistani kid in the village can only to the Madrassas run by Talibans or their supporters. Unless this inequity is addressed, Pakistan will never wipe out the Talibans or Al Qaida. The Madarrassas will keep producing more Talibans. With the current president of Pakistan net worth of one billion dolars without ever having worked in his life, the leader of opposition net worth of $700 million, and average net worth of an army general in excess of 8 million dollars, it is apparent to me that the gross ineqity of wealth is the root cause of Talibanisation of Pakistan and it will unfortunately continue towards a violent revolution. I am afraid that Mr. Haqqani either does not understand it or intentionally dismiss this thought because in response to a question he stated that inflation of 20 percent during the last year is of no consequence.