Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Atlantic Slave Trade

Assalaam alaykum,

Please listen to the following excerpts (Parts 3 to 8) from Week 10 (966 to 1099 AH) of the series 13 Centuries of Islamic History, in which Al-Hajj Abu Ja'far Al-Hanbali discusses the differences between slavery in Islam and slavery as understood and practiced by Europeans and Americans. You will also learn about how the Europeans (and later to be known  as "Americans") decimated the native populations of North and South America, some of whom were Muslim.

Note: Parts 5 and 6 include the introduction of tobacco and smoking into the Muslim world, and how no fewer than eighty-nine fatwas emerged at the time condemning it and deeming it absolutely impermissible.

In part 3, the discussion starts at 10:26.

For further reading on the topic, the following books are recommended:

1) The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz Del Castillo
2) Comanches: The History of a People by T.R. Fehrenbach
3) Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies & Sparked the American Revolution by Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen.
4) The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815 by Robert J. Allison.
5) A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present by Ward Churchill

And with Allah alone is every success.

Assalaam alaykum,


Sunday, 20 March 2011

An Utter Waste of Time and Money

Book Review: How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition by Neil Postman and Steve Powers (Penguin Books, London, 2008)

Blurb: ‘In 1992, renowned media theorist Neil Postman, author of the controversial bestseller Amusing Ourselves to Death, and Steve Powers, an acclaimed broadcast journalist, delivered an eye-opening message: anyone relying exclusively on their television for accurate news is getting a vastly distorted picture of the world. Instead of the vital information the viewing public needs, TV news shows pump out pseudo-news filled with entertainment and celebrity fodder in order to attract cash-cow advertisers. Today, this message is still appallingly true.’

The authors:

Neil Postman (1931-2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its program in media ecology. He wrote nineteen books, including Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly. In 1986, he won the George Orwell Award for clarity in language.

Steve Powers is a journalist with more than forty-five years’ experience in radio and television news, including as a newscaster for the New York Times radio network, an anchor/reporter for Fox Television News in New York, a correspondent for the ABC Information Radio Network, and the host of a top-rated morning talk show. He has received an Emmy, a Clio, and a New York Press Club Deadline Award. Powers earned his Ph.D. in media studies from New York University in 1987 and was an associate professor of communications at St. John’s University in New York.

When discussing the ills of television, the ultimate excuse that the owner of a television will give is that they are using it for the ‘news’; in order to keep in touch with ‘current affairs’, but does television actually do an adequate job? This is the question that Postman and Powers manage to answer very decisively, and the answer is a resounding ‘no’.

It should be noted that the authors exclusively focus on TV news as it is in the United States, but the reader should be able to see parallels with other news networks, such as the BBC and the two major stations that have received acclaim recently, namely Al-Jazeera and Russia Today. While the two latter stations do provide the ‘other’ side of the story, the fact that the medium is still television should not be forgotten.  What is the point of television? In the first chapter we have the answer: ‘In fact, the reason popular TV series get on the air and stay there is that they can deliver the right audience for a sponsor, an audience that sees commercials and buys products or ideas. There is no escaping that fact: the whole point of television in America is to get you to watch so that programmers, performers and others can rake in the money.’[1] As they go on to explain, news shows are cheaper to produce than slick Hollywood dramas and laugh-track comedies, and this is why more news shows are being presented now than ever before.

In the second chapter, the authors ask the question: what is news? ‘The law, [Justice Oliver Wendell] Holmes said, is what the courts say it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. In similar fashion, we might say that the news is what news directors and journalists say it is. In other words, when you turn on your television set to watch a network or local news show, whatever is on is, by definition, the news.’ This issue is very similar to the question: what is history?[2] In the same way that a historian decides what events are worth writing about, and which facts concerning that event should be included, the journalist decides which events are newsworthy, which facts from those events should be included and so forth. This is an inevitable situation, as the journalist, like the historian, cannot be expected to cover every single detail and to do so exhaustively. However, just as it is better to read more than one account of an historical event, it is better not to rely on one journalist, or one news network, for one’s news. Furthermore, a historian can cram far more information into a book, or article even, than a journalist can cram into a thirty-second or maybe two-minute news slot. The authors give this example, ‘Let us suppose that a fourteen-year-old Palestinian boy hurls a Molotov cocktail at two eighteen-year-old Israeli soldiers. The explosion knocks one of the soldiers down and damages his left eye. The other soldier, terrified, fires a shot that kills the Palestinian instantly. The injured soldier eventually loses his sight in the damaged eye. What details should be included in reporting this event? Is the age of the Palestinian relevant? Are the ages of the Israeli soldiers relevant? Is the injury to the soldier relevant? Was the act of the Palestinian provoked by the mere presence of the Israeli soldiers? Was the act therefore justified? Is shooting justified? Is the state of mind of the shooter relevant?’

In the same chapter, the authors go on to discuss who owns news networks and how this will obviously affect what ‘news’ is presented, with General Electric owning NBC given as an example. This is followed by a discussion on the psychological effects of television. ‘Studies conducted by Professor George Gerbner and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that people who are heavy television viewers, including viewers of television news shows, believe their communities are much more dangerous than do light television viewers.’ One early twentieth century journalist, called Lincoln Steffens, proved that he could create a “crime wave” by writing about all the crimes that normally occur in a large city during the course of a month.

The book then goes on to discuss the various means used by news shows, and their networks, to make sure you ‘stay tuned’, such as the short blurbs that appear before a show starts, which are actually called “teases”. Their purpose is to grab your attention and keep you watching, and once the show has started you forget why you’re actually watching it. You also have “bumpers” before commercial breaks, telling you what’s ‘coming up’ so that you don’t stray towards another channel during the interval. Then there is the crafting of the news show; how it is presented to you and how it is supposed to make you feel:

‘So there you are, ready to watch the news presented by a high-priced anchor[3], and on comes the show, complete with a fancy opening and music that sounds as though it was composed for a Hollywood epic. The host appears: an anchor god or goddess sculpted on Mount Arbitron – at least the best of them. But even the worst looks authoritative. Of course, the anchor has had plenty of help from plenty of craftspeople in creating the illusion of calm omniscience. After all, it’s not all hair spray. That glittering, well-coiffed, commanding presence has been placed in a setting that has been designed, built, and painted to make him or her look as wonderful as possible. Consultants have been used to make sure the lights are fine-tuned to highlight hair and fill in wrinkles. Colour experts have complemented the star’s complexion with favourable background hues. Short anchors sit on raised seats to look taller. Makeup has been applied to create just the right look: accenting cheekbones, covering baldness, enlarging small eyes, hiding blemishes, perhaps obscuring a double chin.’

In the sixth chapter, entitled ‘The News Director’, the authors restate a point that Postman made in Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is the importance of image, or the importance of the ‘photo op’:

‘The photo op is, obviously, a particularly important source of news for television. In America, politicians are known by their image on television. As a consequence, politicians like to do things that show them in a positive light: visiting a hospital, welcoming a visitor from another country, observing the aftermath of a train wreck, and so on. News directors accommodate the visual needs of politicians because television needs pictures. There is not much television news to be made of a congressman’s twenty-two page-position paper on the decline of education in a particular city. But a photo op of the congressman inspecting a decaying building is useful.’

Chapter 8 discusses the bias of pictures and language, but more importantly the use of music and sounds:

‘The music is crucial, for it equates the news with various forms of drama and ritual – the opera, for example, or a wedding procession – in which musical themes underscore the meaning of the event. Music takes us immediately into the realm of the symbolic, a world that is not to be taken literally. After all, when events unfold in the real world, they do so without musical accompaniment. More symbolism follows. The sound of Teletype machines can sometimes be heard in the studio, not because it is impossible to screen this noise out, but because the sound is a kind of music in itself. It tells us that data is pouring in from all corners of the globe, a sensation reinforced by the world map in the background (or clocks noting the time on different continents).’ This is done even though Teletype machines were replaced by silent computer terminals years ago. Viewers will also often see news workers scurrying around in the background, answering phones and taking notes, even though it would be easy to build a set in which they weren’t seen. In short, all of this is meant to give the viewer the impression that, despite the hectic pace and volume of world events, the news team, and particularly the anchor, are in full control, making sense of the events for you and presenting them in a calm and collected manner.  

Is this problematic? The authors give us the answer:

‘The fact that television news is principally made up of moving pictures prevents it from offering lengthy, coherent explanations of events. A television news show reveals the world as a series of unrelated, fragmentary moments. It does not, and cannot be expected to, offer a sense of coherence or meaning. What does this suggest to a TV viewer? That the viewer must come with a prepared mind: information, opinions, a sense of proportion, an articulate value system. To the viewer lacking such mental equipment, a news program is only a kind of rousing light show. Here a falling building, there a five-alarm fire, everywhere the world as an object, much without meaning, connections, or continuity.’

Chapter 9 deals with the commercial, ‘the backbone, the heart, the fuel, the DNA (choose whatever metaphor you wish) of non-public television in America.’ As mentioned before, the whole point of these news shows is to get the viewer tuned in, and to remain tuned in, in order to watch the commercials. If you watch as much TV as the average American, you may watch over thirty-nine thousand minutes of commercials in one year.

The psychological harm of commercials cannot he understated: ‘But commercials are also about the serious manipulation of our social and psychic lives. There are, in fact, some critics who say that commercials are a new, albeit degraded, means of religious expression in that most of them take the form of parables, teaching people what the good life consists of. It is a claim not to be easily dismissed.’

The authors give an example of a typical mouthwash commercial, in which a woman’s first date with a man doesn’t go as well as planned. She thus consults her friend, who tells her that the problem is her bad breath. Her current mouthwash doesn’t last long enough, but if she were to use (enter brand name here) her potential boyfriend would fall head over heels in love with her. She therefore follows her friend’s advice and the story has a happy ending, but what lessons are actually being conveyed in such a commercial? The message is that there are quick-fix solutions to all of life’s problems: ‘whatever problem you face (lack of self-esteem, lack of good taste, lack of attractiveness, lack of social acceptance), it can be solved, solved fast, and solved through a drug, a detergent, a machine, or a salable technique. You are, in fact, helpless unless you know about the product that can remake you and set you on the road to paradise. You must, in short, become a born-again consumer, redeem yourself, and find peace.’

This is largely what American culture and civilization is all about; advertising fuels a capitalist economy. ‘For a market economy to work, the population must be made to believe that it is in need of continuous improvement. If you are quite satisfied with your teeth, your hair, your 2003 Honda, and your weight, you will not be an avid consumer. You will be especially worthless to the economy if your mind is preoccupied with worldly events. If you are not an avid consumer, the engine of the economy slows and then stalls. Therefore, the thematic thrust of advertising is to take your mind off earthquakes, the homeless, and other irrelevancies and to get you to think about your inadequate self and how you can get better.’

Chapter 10 discusses television in the courtroom, and to what extent the ‘public’ has the right to know about court proceedings. Because television gives the ‘public’ this access, does this mean that it should? The response is as follows:

‘First, what’s wrong with turning back the clock if the clock is wrong? We need not be slaves to our technologies. Every technological advance has its advantages and disadvantages. It is our job to control the uses of technology so that what is best about our culture can be preserved. Second, television does not turn trials into a public event but into a public spectacle. Let’s be honest about this: what the public is shown is intended only to entertain them, even titillate them. TV stations are not, in fact, interested in showing trials but only in showing fragments of “sexy” trials, those that involve murder, rape, kidnapping, and other horrifying crimes…’

‘As for the courtroom being a semipublic space, that’s exactly what it should be. Its rules have been worked out over centuries. The procedures are not perfect, but they are determined to give everyone a fair shake, and there is no good reason to alter them. And keep this in mind: reading about a trial and seeing it on television are two quite different experiences. A man who is found not guilty ordinarily may resume his life. A man who is found not guilty but who has been seen on television during his trial may find it impossible to resume his life. Audiences may even forget if he was found guilty or not. In any case, he becomes notorious in one way or another, which is to say, he is tried twice: once in the courts and a second time in the court of public exposure.’

Of course, the sharʿī principle of preserving people’s honour is discarded. Someone may be found innocent but they now have a tarnished reputation, and this obviously makes things difficult for them in their personal and professional lives.

Before concluding this review, a note should be made about how television affects children, and this is what the authors do in the eleventh chapter. By the end of high school, the average American will have spent 30% of their waking hours in front of a television, including approximately 13,000 killings, 200,000 violent episodes and 650,000 commercials, most of those being for fast food, beverages and sweets. Research has led to the following conclusions:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that too much TV can make children fat since TV viewing is a sedentary activity.
  • ‘According to a 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, watching television more than two hours a day early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence. The research showed that there was a 40 percent increase in attention problems among heavy TV viewers in both boys and girls.’
  • The National Institute of Mental Health supported a study by Robert Kubey of Rutgers and Mihaly Csikszentmihayli (pronounced Schwartz) of the University of Chicago. ‘Their research spanned thirteen years and involved 1,200 subjects in nine different studies. Their conclusion: television makes people passive, tense, and unable to concentrate; more skill and concentration are required in the act of eating than in watching television; although people assume that TV watching offers relaxation and escape, it actually leaves people in worse moods than they were in before watching television.’
  • Regarding television and violence, ‘the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that TV violence “promotes a proclivity in violence and a passive response to its practice….Kids who view violent events, such as kidnapping or murder are more likely to believe the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.
The authors also comment on the problem of “information glut”, i.e. there is so much information available, coming from all directions, that we are no longer able to decide what it all means. We become information junkies, addicted to more and more news, but we do not have a clue as to what to do with it. 

In the final two chapters the authors give their advice as to what we can do about the problems of television, and television news in particular, and as Muslims we can take some of these on board and add to them:

 1)  In terms of commercial TV news stations, and I would include the BBC in this, Muslims should absolutely avoid appearing on them. These people are looking for sensation and for ratings, at best, and at worst they are looking to paint an unsavoury picture of Muslims and Islam. The truth, of any event, is the least of their concerns. Live radio, on local stations, can be far more effective as there are fewer advertisements and statements cannot be edited or cut and pasted and put together afterward. There is also a lot more time to get a point across.
2)   In terms of getting information about current affairs, go on the internet and check out different sites. Read articles, and especially articles that attempt to analyse events. To deepen your understanding, look at how different media outlets report on events, such as the BBC vs. Al-Jazeera, or CNN vs. Russia Today, or the Daily Telegraph vs. the Guardian. Sticking to just one news source is pure folly. All media outlets have political and commercial interests.
3)   Get your children to read more, or read stories to them. This allows their imaginations to develop, in addition to their general language skills, such as speaking, listening, and grammar. Memorizing parts of the Qurʾān, along with some of the basics of creed and fiqh, should be part of their daily schedule. If you feel that you as a parent are too busy to give them that time, get audio recordings of the Qurʾān, or stories, for them to listen to. This will not only make your children more intelligent and sagacious, but also happier and more content, as the abovementioned research has shown.

And with Allah alone is every success!

How to Watch TV News is available from Penguin Books as well as Amazon US and Amazon UK.

[1] While networks like the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Russia Today are not entirely dependent on commercial sponsors, they still have a lot in common with their American counterparts.
[2] The Historian’s Craft by Marc Bloch is an excellent book that deals with this topic.
[3] Who, most likely, will be more of a qualified anchor than a qualified journalist, as is explained in the same chapter.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Allah is the Walī of Those who Believe: Sheikh Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān Al-Būṭī on Current Events

All praise is due to Allah[1], praise that complies with His blessings and compensates His abundance. Our Lord, for You is all praise as befits the majesty of Your countenance and the might of Your authority. O Allah, I cannot sufficiently enumerate praises upon You; You are as You have praised Yourself. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah alone and He has no partner, and I bear witness that Muḥammad is His slave and Messenger and His sincere and intimate friend, the best prophet that Allah sent to the entire world as a herald of glad tidings and admonition. O Allah, pray upon, give peace and give blessings upon our Sayyid[2] Muḥammad and upon the family of our Sayyid Muḥammad, prayers and peace that last inseparably until the Day of Judgement. I advise you and my sinning self to have fearful awareness of Allah the Exalted.
To proceed, dear slaves of Allah:
Recently, an āya from Allah’s Book, Mighty and Majestic caught my attention and held it for a long time, and it stirred up overflowing feelings of security, tranquillity, pride and joy, and it is the statement of Allah, the Glorified and Exalted:
“Allah is the Protector (Walī) of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light. But those who disbelieve have false gods as protectors. They take them from the light into the darkness.” [Al-Baqara 2:257]
Then, more feelings of joy entered my thoughts when I came across the other āya that confirms and increases the meaning of this āya that caught my attention, and it is the one in which Allah says:
“This is because Allah is the Protector of those who believe and because those who disbelieve have no protector.” [Muḥammad 47:11]
Therefore, I am Allah’s pampered slave, living under His shade. I am His slave, safe under His guardianship and care, because I am from amongst those who believe in Him and know Him as One, Unique, Eternal Lord. From Him is the beginning and to Him is the end. I certainly haven’t been abandoned in the earth. I am not an orphan nor have I been orphaned in the deserts of the world. Psychological problems will never ensnare me. The maladies of depression will never ensnare me. The traps of transgressors and the forces of evil will never catch me, because I am shaded by Allah’s protection, because I am from those of whom Allah has said:
“This is because Allah is the Protector of those who believe.” [Muḥammad 47:11]
Indeed – dear brothers – indeed overflowing joy entered my being and a spirit of pride overwhelmed my feelings. Me! Who am I?  I am Allah’s pampered slave, as I’ve told you, under His shade, and I believe that these feelings that entered my being when this āya in the Book of Allah, Mighty and Majestic, caught my attention, must inevitably enter the thoughts of each one of you. Each of you must be struck by this āya and made to reflect on it:
“Allah is the Protector (Walī) of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light.” [Al-Baqara 2:257]
This overflowing joy will undoubtedly enter you. You will inevitably feel the tranquillity that you have certainly not been abandoned in the earth. You are not orphans and you haven’t been orphaned in the deserts of the world. Indeed, neither psychological problems nor maladies of depression will ever ensnare you. Various psychological problems will never lead you to drugs and intoxicants, and other such things, because you are living under the shade of Allah’s protection. You are living under the shade of Allah’s guardianship:
“This is because Allah is the Protector of those who believe and because those who disbelieve have no protector.” [Muḥammad 47:11]
Once this joy has entered your being, each one of you must rejoice and recite this verse that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has taught us when He addressed us, informing us:
“My Protector is Allah, who sent down the Book. He takes care of the righteous.” [Al-ʾAʿrāf 7:196]
Yes, yes my Lord:
“My Protector is Allah, who sent down the Book. He takes care of the righteous.” [Al-ʾAʿrāf 7:196]
Indeed I believe that these feelings should enter the thoughts of all Muslims. They should enter the being of the entire Islamic world, embodied by its people and its leaders, as long as we have been honoured by true faith in Allah, as long as we have been honoured by knowing that we are His owned slaves and that we are connected to this protection – His protection of us and His guardianship over us – that is because He is the Creator of the entire universe. That is because He is the administrator of the entire world. These feelings must enter the being of the entire Islamic world, wherever it is, and be embodied – as I have said – by its people and its leaders.
I am amazed, dear slaves of Allah, I am amazed at those who know Allah and know how they are under Allah’s protection and know how they are under Allah’s guardianship, yet they insist on falling down from the throne of Allah’s protection over them and submitting to the transgressors and the forces of evil, and then making themselves enslaved prisoners before them, enslaved prisoners of the transgressors. I am amazed at those who exchange Allah’s protection for the protection of the transgressors from amongst Allah’s slaves, Mighty and Majestic.
These forces of evil, which kick the Muslims around, left and right, right and left, play about with them as if they were playing with a ball; they proclaim democracy[3] and they call to it, and they threaten those who haven’t enjoined it upon themselves, and they do this as long as it is the vessel that they are able to ride in order to realise their interests, as long as it is the trustworthy servant that the forces of evil are able to herd towards their benefits and their stolen goods, for when the forces of evil see that democracy only serves its adherents and that democracy only guides its adherents towards the truth and they cling to it, and they turn away from falsehood and reject it,[4] see then how quickly the forces of evil turn and call for despotism and for the protection of despots, until the very last drop. Indeed it is not democracy or despotism, but rather special interests that the forces evil desire to make use of. The forces of evil desire to ride us like a vessel in order to realise their benefits and achieve their goals.
I am amazed at those who exchange Allah’s protection and shade and insist on falling from the throne of this divine protection, and then surrender to the prison of these transgressors, or surrender to the forces of evil, dear slaves of Allah.
As for us, we are Allah’s believing slaves, we believe in Him. We are His slaves who know Him as One Lord Who has no partner and we know that we are His slaves. We have pledged ourselves to Him to be upon that way that He has commanded us to be upon, with our utmost effort. We pledged ourselves to Him to turn away from everything that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has warned us against, with our utmost effort.
Therefore, our Protector is Allah, Glorified and Exalted. This is our identity, dear slaves of Allah. This is our reality. We will never fall down from the throne of Allah’s protection over us. We will never turn our faces towards any direction in the world that entices us towards it for its own interests and its own benefits, desiring to control us and our rights. How? How can we exchange felicity for wretchedness? How can we leave the felicity that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has assuaged us with and let ourselves drool at wretchedness? Who would drool at the wretchedness that is enticing him for its own purposes, dear slaves of Allah!
This is a summary, which I have mentioned to you, of the revelation of joy that entered my being, and I am saying the truth: when I recently came across this beloved āya, which is so dear to us:
“Allah is the Protector (Walī) of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light.” [Al-Baqara 2:257]
Indeed I say to you in truth, bring glad tidings, and I say to myself: as long as we live within Allah’s shade, Mighty and Majestic, as long as we are proud of Allah’s protection over us, as long as we are truthful in our pledge to Allah, Mighty and Majestic, that we will never take anyone besides Him as a protector, then I give myself and you the glad tidings that security will never desert us, that tranquillity will remain inseparable from us and that the joy of felicity will remain within us. Who is it that doubts that when Allah’s protection, Glorified and Exalted, follows an Ummah, then this Ummah will achieve every kind of felicity?
Dear slaves of Allah, the last thing that I want to say to you is an answer to a question that may have entered the thoughts of many of you: do you think that these tribulations that keep coming from all around us, from the east of the earth and the west, will any of it reach us? I give you this answer: Have you heard the speech of Allah, Glorified and Exalted? Indeed, He responds to you, and it’s as if it were revealed yesterday. Indeed it is the answer that is contained within this good news for you:
“Those who believe and do not mix their faith with any wrongdoing, they are the ones who are safe; it is they who are guided.” [Al-Anʿām 6:82]
Have you heard? Have you reflected on this speech?
“Those who believe and do not mix their faith with any wrongdoing, they are the ones who are safe; it is they who are guided.”
Indeed I declare, in my name, in your name, in the name of our Ummah here in our Shām, that we are believers in Allah. We are confident that we will adhere to the covenant of Allah, Mighty and Majestic, as far as we are able. Therefore, security and safety will be our ally. Security and safety will never desert us. This is glad tidings from the Lord of all Creation to us.
“Those who believe and do not mix their faith with any wrongdoing, they are the ones who are safe; it is they who are guided.”
O Allah, indeed we call on You as our witness, that we are believers in You, so make all of us, O Allah – leaders and people – O Allah, make all of us from amongst “Those who believe and do not mix their faith with any wrongdoing” so that we can be safe and secure in this life and the next.
I say this statement of mine and I seek forgiveness from Allah the Most Great.

[1] tn: This Khutbah was given on February 25th, 2011.
[2] tn: This word means master and is only used for human beings.
[3] tn: For more information on democracy, please have a look at this article which explains Plato’s position on democracy.  Plato, one of the fathers of western civilisation, enumerated five types of government, from the most desirable to the least desirable:

  • Aristocracy  this is the best form of government, according to Plato, in which the ruler is a philosopher, someone whose soul has been educated through the contemplation of arts and the exercise of the intellect. Having studied philosophy, this ruler would know the true virtues and, therefore, he would be able to lead people towards wellness and prosperity. Since the ruler would be virtuous, he would not want to deceive and abuse the citizens;
  • Timocracy  this is the form of government ruled by warriors in which all the political decisions aim to bring military power and status. Timocrats may seek virtues just as the aristocrats, but they also pursue power, which can lead them to wars and combats. Timocracy, according to Plato, is a kind of government that arises when aristocracy starts to degenerate;
  • Oligarchy  this is the system of government that establishes a division between the rich and the poor. The rich ones, which are fewer, rule and the poor must subject. This, according to Plato, is a problem because rich people are not necessarily virtuous, and when the power is in the hands of non-virtuous people, the rich will attempt to become richer and the poor might become even poorer due to bad policy, generating revolutions;
  • Democracy  democracy is the child of oligarchy. Since people cannot agree with the rich ruling and deceiving the poor, people start to believe that if they could choose the ruler, their interest would prevail. The poor are greater in numbers so they elect one of them to be in charge. However, since the masses aren't educated to become virtuous or to exercise the intellect, they are not apt to make political decisions that prioritize their real needs;
  • Tyranny democracy naturally degenerates into tyranny and society becomes a total chaos in which there's no rule, no priorities and no laws. Whoever is stronger takes charge and does as he pleases. Nobody is able to remove a tyrant man from the power, as there's no law to be obeyed.

You will notice that democracy lies between oligarchy and tyranny, and it is effectively the oligarchy remaining firmly in control while giving the masses the impression that they have freedom of choice. In reality, they are easily taken advantage of because they are poorly educated; which would include being intellectually dependent and therefore incapable of making proper, meaningful decisions that would benefit them. Please see the post “Western Mass Education” for further details. For an article about how this does indeed work today, please read this article, in which the author says:

As Plato and Aristotle observed, the system allows the rich and powerful to manipulate the ill-informed and to influence policy to further their personal interests.

As for tyranny, what Plato says is more or less a description of how Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came into power in Germany. Norman Davies, in his seminal work Europe: A History, states:

‘Hitler’s democratic triumph exposed the true nature of democracy. Democracy has few values of its own: it is as good, or as bad, as the principles of the people who operate it. In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government; in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals. In Germany in 1933-44 it produced a Nazi government because the prevailing culture of Germany’s voters did not give priority to the exclusion of gangsters.’ (p.969)

Allah the Exalted has said: “Allah never changes a people's state until they change what is in themselves.” [Ar-Raʿd 13:11] 

The Messenger of Allah, may Allah's prayers and peace be upon him, said: “As you are, you will be ruled over.” (كما تكونوا يولى عليكم), as mentioned by Imam As-Suyūṭī in Al-Jāmiʿ As-aghīr.

For more details on authority and ruling in Islam, please see the series 13 Centuries of Islamic History.

[4] tn: i.e. allowing people to govern themselves, in whatever form of government,  may not suit their interests.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Reciting the Qurʾān for the Deceased

Question: Does the reward of the Fātiḥa and reciting other parts of the Qurʾān reach the deceased after they have died or after have they have been buried in their graves or any other place?

Answer: [Sheikh Wahba Az-Zuḥaylī:] There are two conflicting opinions on this matter that have been mentioned by As-Sanʿānī in his book Bushra Al-Kaʾīb bi Liqāʾ al-Ḥabīb.

The first opinion, which is the dominant [mashūr] opinion of the madhabs of Mālik and Ash-Shāfiʿī, is that it does not reach.

The second opinion, which is the madhab of Imam Aḥmad and the majority of the salaf and the four madhabs, including the later Mālikīs and Shāfiʿīs, is that the reward does reach. Imām Abū Ḥanīfa said: ‘The deceased receives everything from ṣadaqa and whatever else.’ He also said: ‘Read “Āyat al-Kursī” three times and “Qul huwa Allahu aḥad” and say: “O Allah, indeed the bounty [faḍl] is for the people of the graves.”’

As-Sanʿānī mentioned the proofs for the second opinion, who say that the deceased benefit from what the living do for them, from the Book, the Sunnah, the Consensus [ijmāʾ] and the principles of the Revealed Law.

As for the Book, it is His, the Exalted’s, statement: “Those who come after them say: ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith.” [Al-Ḥashr 59:10] Allah praised them because they sought forgiveness for the believers who came before them, and this proves that the deceased benefit from the living seeking forgiveness. The deceased benefitting from supplication [duʾā] is also proved by the Consensus of the Ummah regarding supplicating for them in the janāza prayer.

The aḥādīth have confirmed that he, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, supplicated in the janāza prayer for whoever sent prayers on him, and he said: ‘O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, excuse him and pardon him.’[1]

Consensus has been made stating that it is permissible for a debt to be discharged on behalf of a deceased person by anyone, close or far, and that if the deceased owes a debt to a living person, that person can waive it and no longer make any claim to it, just as he would with a living person.  Consensus has also been made stating that the reward of fasting (voluntary or obligatory) reaching the deceased being confirmed in the Sunnah is proof that the reward of all other actions reaches them. The texts have confirmed that the reward reaches the deceased for three kinds of worship, physical (i.e. fasting), financial (giving charity on behalf of the dead) and both the physical and financial together (through performing the Hajj on behalf of a deceased person or someone who is chronically ill and unable to move).[2]

Ibn Taymiyah[3] said: ‘Indeed the deceased benefit from the recitation of Qurʾān, as they benefit from financial worship such as charity (ṣadaqa) and other things.’ Likewise, An-Nawawī said in Al-Majmūʿ[4]: ‘The reward for reciting the Qurʾān reaches the deceased.’

In conclusion, the relied-upon (muʿtamad) position of the four madhabs is that the reward for reciting the Qurʾān reaches the deceased if the living dedicate it to them.

[Translated from Fatāwā Muʿāṣira by Sheikh Wahba Az-Zuhaylī, p. 273-274 (Dar Al-Fikr, Damascus, 2003)]

[1] Narrated by Al-Bukhārī in Al-Adab as well as Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, At-Tirmidhī and An-Nisāʾī from Abū Hurayra. 
[2] Translator’s note (tn): The Imam is mentioning this statement because this is what everyone is agreed upon. This issue also includes other actions, such as reciting the Qur’an and so forth, as there are famous positions from Shāfiʿī Imams stating that such things do not reach the dead and are not to be done. It is this position that Salafiyyah adopts as if there were no other position , when in fact there is a difference of opinion.
[3] tn: i.e. Taqī ud-Dīn Ahmad ibn Taymiyah.
[4] tn: This is Imām An-Nawawī’s 27-volume fiqh book, which is the ultimate reference work for the Shafiʿī school.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Who Is Ibn Taymiyyah?

Assalaam alaykum,

Imam Taqi u-Deen Ibn Taymiyyah is one of the most divisive figures in Islamic history, with some claiming him to be the Sheikh of Islam while there are others who claim that he exited Islam. Alhamdulillah, in these three shorts videos, Al-Hajj Abu Ja'far Al-Hanbali tells us where the truth of the matter lies by explaining Ibn Taymiyah's family background, his scholarship, his creedal positions, his fatawa, his tasawwuf, and so forth.

In the first video the discussion starts at 8:40, although before that there is a beneficial discussion on Imam an-Nawawi and other great scholars who died in that time period.



Note: These videos are taken from the series 13 Centuries of Islamic History(Week 7, parts 5, 6 and 7), courtesy of the Reasons for Faith Channel.