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In the Name of God بسم الله
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By Muntazir e Mahdi in Bayaan e Muntazirکتنوں کو تم اس فانی جہاں میں سختیاں دو گے؟
کتنوں کو تم اس زندگی سے جلد جدا کرو گے؟
اے ظالموں سنو، تمہارے تو وارث بھی نہیں
مظلوم کے وارثوں کو تم تو جانتے تک بھی نہیں
اگر جان لو انہیں تو تم کچھ نہ سہہ سکو گے
ہاں اب منتظر سے دُور ہمارا دَور بھی نہیں
By Muntazir e Mahdi in Bayaan e Muntazirسیاہ پوش، سفید عمل، سپاہِ الٰہی
مقامِ حق، تو سودا دنیاوی تنہائی
گریہِ شاہ پیشِ نظرِ اُلٹ، مگر حملہ
تو حاضر شاہِ فردوس اور استقبالِ غازی
آنسو و لہو باہم عطا سرِ مصلّیٰ
اطمینان تآ اختتام، کہ راہ ہے نورانی
ظالم کی صدا صرف پھونک، نہ سدا
شرط کہ وقت نہ بعدِ روزِ کمائی
واسطہِ عظیم، مصروفِ سجدہِ دعا
حاجتِ منتظر ہو قبول بارگاہِ الٰہی
By Ali in ShiaChat.com Blog[This will be a series of blog entries on the history of ShiaChat.com; how it was founded, major ups and down, politics and issues behind running such a site and of course, the drama! I will also provide some feedback on development efforts, new features and future goals and objectives]
Part 1 - The IRC (#Shia) Days!
Sit children, gather around and let me speak to you of tales of times before there was ever high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi, YouTube or Facebook; a time when the Internet was a much different place and 15 yearold me was still trying to make sense of it all.
In the 90s, the Internet was a very different place; no social media, no video streaming and downloading an image used to take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on how fast your 14.4k monster-sized dial-up modem was. Of course you also had to be lucky enough for your mom to have the common courtesy not to disconnect you when you’re in the middle of a session; that is if you were privileged enough to have Internet at home and not have to spend hours at school or libraries, or looking for AOL discs with 30 hour free trials..(Breathe... breathe... breathe) - I digress.
Back in 1998 when Google was still a little computer sitting in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s basement, I was engaged in endless debates with our Sunni brothers on an IRC channel called #Shia. (Ok, a side note here for all you little pups. This is not read as Hashtag Shia, the correct way of reading this is “Channel Shia”. The “Hashtag” was a much cooler thing back in the day than the way you young’uns use it today).
For those of you who don’t know what IRC was (or is... as it still exists), it stands for Internet Relay Chat, which are servers available that you could host chat rooms in and connect through a client. It was like the Wild West where anyone can go and “found” their own channel (chat room), become an operator and reign down their god-like dictator powers upon the minions that were to join as a member of their chat room. Luckily, #Shia had already been established for a few years before by a couple of brothers I met from Toronto, Canada (Hussain A. and Mohammed H.). Young and eager, I quickly rose up the ranks to become a moderator (@Ali) and the chatroom quickly became an important part of my adolescent years. I learned everything I knew from that channel and met some of the most incredible people. Needless to say, I spent hours and dedicated a good portion of my life on the chatroom; of course, the alternate was school and work but that was just boring to a 15-year-old.
In the 90’s, creating a website was just starting to be cool so I volunteered to create a website for #Shia to advertise our services, who we are, what we do as well as have a list of moderators and administrators that have volunteered to maintain #Shia. As a result, #Shia’s first website was hosted on a friend’s server under the URL http://786-110.co.uk/shia/ - yes, ShiaChat.com as a domain did not exist yet – was too expensive for my taste so we piggybacked on one of our member’s servers and domain name.
The channel quickly became popular, so popular that we sometimes outnumbered our nemesis, #Islam. As a result, our moderator team was growing as well and we needed a website with an application that would help us manage our chatroom in a more efficient style. Being a global channel, it was very hard to do “shift transfers” and knowledge transfers between moderators as the typical nature of a chatroom is the fact that when a word is typed, its posted and its gone after a few seconds – this quickly became a pain point for us trying to maintain a list of offenders to keep an eye out for and have it all maintained in a historical, easily accessible way.
A thought occurred to me. Why not start a “forum” for the moderators to use? The concept of “forums” or discussion boards was new to the Internet – it was the seed of what we call social media today. The concept of having a chat-style discussion be forever hosted online and be available for everyone to view and respond to at any time from anywhere was extremely well welcomed by the Internet users. I don’t recall what software or service I initially used to set that forum up, but I did – with absolutely no knowledge that the forum I just set up was a tiny little acorn that would one day be the oak tree that is ShiaChat.com.
[More to follow, Part 2..]
So who here is still around from the good old #Shia IRC days?
By starlight in Light BeamsI will start by giving a very simplified functional subdivision of the human Central Nervous System. Based on function, human brain can be divided into three areas
1. Brain stem: Brain stem is an upward continuation of spine. It is concerned with functions like controlling heart rate, regulation of blood pressure, breathing and some digestive functions to name just a few. Some of these are vital functions so an injury to brainstem could mean immediate death. That is why special care is taken to stabilize the neck in road traffic accidents.
2. Limbic System: This is a group of structures in our brain which together are involved in controlling behavior and emotions- Anger, pleasure, fear and punishment, reward, rage, curiosity, hunger, satiety, sexual drive, motivation and passivity. All of these come from the limbic system.
3. Cerebral Cortex: This is what we call the higher brain in laymen terms. It performs the ‘executive functions’. The prefrontal cortex(PFC) occupies the anterior portion of the frontal lobes and is thought to be one of the most complex anatomical and functional structures of the mammalian brain.
All living creatures have some system for maintain vital body functions like breathing in place of brainstem. All vertebrates possess a limbic system so dogs, cats and other animals are able to feel and express emotions. Amongst vertebrates the only classes to possess the characteristic cerebral cortex are mammals (and some reptiles, lolz, so the conspiracy theories about the world being controlled by an elite group of reptiles could turn out to be true) Amongst the mammals Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) bestowed the humans with the most highly developed cerebral cortex of all its creations on earth. When I say highly developed I don’t mean size or surface area relative to body, I mean functionally development and intellectual capabilities. Humans are probably intellectually highest of all the earthly species created by Allah. It is because of this highly developed cortex that humans sit at the top of the hierarchy and have been called ‘Vicegerents of Allah’ on earth. Of course, not any two footed being in human form can be the vicegerent of Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). He also has to manifest divine attributes in both his private and social life.
So our cerebral cortex is capable of ‘higher mental functions’ like thinking, abstraction, planning, decision making and controlling the limbic system! This last function is probably its most important function.
The brainstem functions are not under our conscious control. Obviously we cannot tell our bodies increase or decrease the heart rate or blood pressure. Higher mental functions are almost always voluntary.
The limbic system sits on the the borderline between brain stem and cerebral cortex both structurally and functionally (the word limbic means borderline in latin) What does this mean? This means that we can choose to exercise control over our behavior and emotions using the executive powers of cerebral cortex or we can let the limbic system run loose and let it do whatever it wants in which case a human would be expressing a range of unbridled emotions anger, curiosity, sexual drive etc
Let’s look at some differences in capabilities of humans vs animals which are manifested by virtue of an intellectual cortex and are important from a religious perspective.
Animals are incapable of learning about haram and halal. That’s why Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) didn’t make it obligatory on them to respect these boundaries. It is the cerebral cortex and its associated areas which give the humans the capability learn this and differentiate between the two in various life situations. But if the humans choose not to utilize the cerebral cortex for this purpose and let their limbic system(emotions) take over, they lose the differentiation and in those instances they are acting like animals. This can easily be observed in the most primal of behaviours like consuming food and copulating and also in advanced actions like earning rizq through unlawful means. Animals cannot be taught moral and ethics. If your pet dog steals a piece of meat you can arouse feelings of fear and punishment in it but you cannot teach him why stealing is wrong. This is again due to the absence of the cerebral cortex that humans possess and probably this is the reason why animals won’t get punished for misconducts in the akhirah like humans. Animals cannot differentiate between tahara and nijasat. Again this is something which is a function of cerebral cortex. Physical purity is something which is very crucial in Islamic faith. The principles of mahram/namehram can only be comprehended by humans. Looking at the above we can see how intellect elevates humans from the level of animals to vicegerents of Allah. Maybe this is why most of things that are counted as sins in islam are in principle limbic system(emotions) overriding the cortex(intellect)
Anger- limbic system taking charge, Zina and haram lust – limbic system taking over humans, Consuming haram food and even stuffing yourself with halal food- limbic system satiety centre gone out of control, Curiosity- Even though the mechanism behind curiosity isn’t very well understood because it is difficult to differentiate curiosity from information seeking but what research has discovered so far is that a part of the limbic cortex is involved in both regulation and reward that is associated with curiosity(1). In Surah Hujraat (49:12) Allah forbids us from spying and ‘Tajassus’ but if limbic system is not controlled the person could be snooping around other people’s affairs, just like an animal would sniffs and examines any object in vicinity. Gambling – During gambling intellectual areas of the brain like prefrontal cortex show less activity than limbic areas depicting a link between gambling and limbic system(2) What’s interesting is that in an animal study conducted on gambling ,some species of animal demonstrated the same choices and psychological behavior as pathological gamblers. So, when Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) made gambling haram it was probably to not let humans reduce themselves to animals. Drinking –Alcohol impairs functioning on the prefrontal cortex, disrupts normal pattern of neuronal activity required for decision making and thinking and hence leads to limbic system taking over. This is manifested a as lack of inhibition in people commonly observed in people who has ingested alcohol.(3) If we look at Jihad bil nafs in medical terms it’s just a battle between limbic system and cerebral cortex.
Looking at the lives of Ahlulbayt (عليه السلام) we won’t find any instance where we see limbic system ruling over them. There is a famous incident where in the battle of Khandaq, where Imam Ali(عليه السلام) was on Amr bin abde Wud’s chest and about to kill him but then he abused Imam Ali(عليه السلام). At this Imam Ali (عليه السلام) moved from Amr’s chest and walked away. After the battle was over people asked Imam Ali(عليه السلام) the reason why he had spared Amr’s life when he had first overpowered him. At this he replied,” When I had floored him, he abused me, as a result of which I was overcome by rage. I feared that if I were to kill him in that state of anger, it would be for pacifying my anger. So I stepped away from him till my fury subsided when I returned to sever his head from his body only for the happiness of Allah and in obedience to Him.” (Manaqib Al Abi Talib by Ibn Shahrashub)
In Sahifa e Sajjadiya, Imam Sajjad (عليه السلام) has described three types of worshippers
i. Those who worship Allah because of fear of hell
ii. Those who worship Allah to get to Jannah
iii. Those who worship Allah because they find Allah worthy of worship.
He(عليه السلام) says the third is the highest form of worship. Why? Because the first two are worship of punishment and reward (limbic system worships) while the third is the worship of intellect (Prefrontal cortex).
So if we learn to control our limbic systems through reflection and worship gradually, we gain power over our nafs and then no amount of worldly temptation and desires can then take us away from out true purpose, that is submission to Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى).
(2) https://neuroanthropology.net/2009/05/23/gambling-and-compulsion-play-at-your-own-risk/#:~:text=For gamblers%2C the gambling references,high” from an emotional response.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSince the inception of Islam, there had been various sects competing for prominence; many had died out, and the two major ones were Twelver Shia and the Sunni fiqh.
Then suddenly from the start of the 19th century to the end of that century, we have the emergence of Ahmadiyya, the renewal of Ismailism and the creation of a new faith entirely, Baha ism. Go back a hundred years, and we can add Wahhabism to this list.
That's an unusually fertile period of spiritual spontaneity by any measure. Or is the explanation for such flowering of faith more mundane and that it was perhaps guided by vested foreign interests or indeed even stimulated by them? Because what marks out that period, from the ones that preceded it was the growing recognition by countries from outside the middle eastern region that it was an important geographical location in itself and also for its proximity to the wealth of India. That latter point is important because there is little disagreement that British foreign policy towards the middle east paid due cognisance to the views and interests of the Government of India - of course that is a pre-independence Government, so wholly controlled by Britain.
Abdul Wahhab developed what is commonly referred to as an austere interpretation of Islam, one that denounces the rituals and beliefs that he felt had accreted over the centuries. There is a rich vein of (conspiracy) theories, easily found on the internet, that in his travel to Iraq in the early 18th century he could have come across British agents (specifically a 'Mr Hempher'). Certainly, the British East India company had been well established at that time, and a British consulate had become established in Iraq in 1802. Less widely commented is the fact that the famous Danish/German explorer Carsten Niebuhr travelled to Arabia in 1761.
But leaving conspiracy theories aside, it's possible to develop an argument about foreign involvement based on ideas that are far less controversial. Britain may not have been a midwife to Wahhabism, but I think people of all geo-political persuasions would agree that Britain was a helpful nanny.
The person with whom the British did have extensive dealings, was Ibn Saud, who had entered into a pact with Abdul Wahhab in 1744. According to British sources it was he who persistently approached Britain for support and was generally rebuffed. Saud was a political leader who continued to promote the Wahhabi philosophy after the death of its founder. Saud was no cleric. But he was shrewd enough to mould the ideology as the basis for providing a motivation for conquest and a glue that would hold his fighters together. British records show that he took responsibility for hiring and firing clerics based on his political agenda.
My source for this and some other information about Wahhabism that is presented here is a Ph.D. dissertation submitted to King's College London in 2002 by Hassan Syed Abedin, titled, "Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and the great game in Arabia, 1896-1946".
Ibn Saud (who would in due course be given the British title 'Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire') was ultimately successful in his goal of receiving support from Britain in 1914 when Britain needed to have someone distracting the Ottomans so that they could devote fewer resources to World War I taking place in Europe.
Prior to that it's argued that Ibn Saud had spent considerable efforts in achieving a status similar to the one held by Mubarak Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait. This ideal status would have meant that Sauds and their territories would have been subjects of the Ottoman empire, but who would be given the protection of the British.
This version of events does not look very good for Ibn Saud, presenting him as someone who is willing to do business with non-Muslims in order to undermine a Muslim ruler and he'd serve a useful role in helping Britain with the following objective:
Crewe private telegram to Hardinge, Viceroy of India, November 12,1914, cited in Busch Britain, India and the Arabs: 1914-1921, p. 62.
Further, east we find the rise of the modern-day Nizari Ismailis, whose Aga Khan in the mid 19th century created a new role for himself in providing services to the British Empire (Aga Khan I would receive an annual British pension of £20,000 per year). Mihir Bose (a noted writer on the subject) says that the Aga Khan had to plead his case for some time before the British took him seriously, since they wanted to be sure that they were backing a local ally who'd present them with better value than the alternatives. His grandson Aga Khan III would be bestowed the title of 'Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India'. Their esoteric faith was totally at odds with the one promulgated by Wahhab, but regardless of that difference served a useful purpose.
Regardless of the support he gave, the British were aware of the hypocrisy of his religious position:
Sir Charles Napier to Governor-General of India, Earl of Ellenborough, 1843
The period around the 1840s is interesting for the following reason, as the following letter from makes clear:
Purohit, T. (2012) The Aga Khan Case (religion and identity in colonial India). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
The writer of the letter is Major Henry Rawlinson, the military officer who worked for the commission in Persia from 1834 to 1838 and subsequently served as political agent in Qandahar. So the British were interested in there being dislocation in Iran at around this time, because of a perceived threat to their interests in Afghanistan.
Which makes the genesis and development of the third religion covered here, all the more interesting.
At roughly the same period, the mid-nineteenth century we also see the rise of the Bahai faith in Iran. Mirza Ali Mohammad was born in 1820 and was executed in 1850. A focus of his attention was economic inequality in Iran. There were clear political implications as noted by the middle eastern commentator Juan Cole:
The socio-economic aspect of the Bab's teachings are also explained here:
Mansoor Moaddel (1986) The Shi'i Ulama and the State in Iran. Theory and Society, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Jul., 1986), pp. 519-556. This extract: p526.
This socio-religio-poliitcal impact of a new faith did not go unnoticed by the colonial powers of the time and gained ground as a result of their support as a means of destabilising the Qajar dynasty.
Shahvar, S. (2018) ‘Oppression of Religious Minority Groups in Times of Great Upheaval in Late Qajar Iran: The 1892 Persecution of Jews and Baha’is of Jewish Origin in Hamadan Based on Two Newly Discovered Letters’, The Jewish quarterly review. University of Pennsylvania Press, 108(2), pp. 225–251.
Going further east we find the third innovation in the Muslim religion towards the end of the 19th century and one that would lead to charges of being the creation of a new religion entirely. The Ahmadis would destabilise Muslims in the Indian sub-continent.Their support for the British in India is expressed in their texts:
There is a reason for this approach, unlike the established religions of the Indian sub-continent the leader of this new religion needed legitimacy. By acquiescing to the needs of the invaders he sought to achieve that. For the established religions doing the same would have been challenging because they would have lost the legitimacy of their many existing followers, the new religion with far fewer followers had much less to lose in this respect, but potentially a great deal more to gain. This logic is mirrored throughout the business world. Existing businesses often do not want to change, because they risk losing their existing customers, who may not find such a change attractive, new firms however have no existing customers to upset. The same applies in the field of ideology, if you want radical change - start afresh.
By starlight in Light BeamsYesterday I ordered an outfit from an online store. I don't know what made me do it when I have been trying to pare down my worldly possessions to bare essential and I know I already have too many clothes. Maybe it was the combined effect of slashed price and the excited ''Yesssssssss, get it" from my best friend. That was morning. By evening I had begun to get a steady stream of messages, 'Dr.B passed away' , Dr. M and his wife and parents have tested positive, 'My cousin and her two sons tested positive', 'my Uncle and his house help's results came back positive' and then this morning someone else I knew died. All of this made me feel very low and that started a string of negative thoughts, one of which was,'Why did you order those clothes?You are never going to wear them at home and work might not happen for another three months and who knows you might be dead by that time so the package is going to arrive and lie there unopened for months at best. You must be out of your mind ordering clothes and back up of moisturiser and those dozens pens and notebooks that you might not live long enough to use'.
What followed was "enough of this blasted(french) Corona and lockdown" and a feeling of regret about wasting time and money over those things. But only moments later as I gained some clarity what dawned on me is this is actually how our relationship with material things should be, not just when a deadly pandemic is staring us down in our faces. Corona or no corona I do not know if I am going to be alive the next morning or the next minute so the wiser thing would be to not waste time on worldly things until and unless it's absolutely essential. There are far better things to do with the resources Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) gave us.
The problem is that while we all know and admit that death is inevitable and come anytime, most of us just confess it with the tongue and do not really reflect on it enough to bring about a change in ourselves. Our lifestyles have become so deviated from the fitrah that materialism and consumer culture is considered normal. This pandemic has been a blessing is so many ways one of them is that Allah has given us a chance to reset the compass of our lives back to fitrah. Let's hope we are able to do that.
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