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In the Name of God بسم الله

Zainuu

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The first month of Islamic calendar (the most 'violent religion' in the eyes of some people) starts with love. Love for the master of martyrs. Love for mothers and motherhood of Karbala. Love for brothers and brotherhood in Karbala. Love for Namaz. Love for the greatest sacrifice for the sake of humanity ever done in the history of mankind. 


It doesn't start with fancy wishes, roses and hearts. It doesn't start with celebrations, singing songs, dancing in happiness. It doesn't start with tours and trips. Neither it starts with any form of celebration in Islamic context nor does it start with anything remotely related to celebration. It starts with the moon sighting and tears. It starts with the slaps on faces and beating of chests. It starts with thirst and imagination of thirst. It starts with unity and imagination of unity. It starts with a sign of muslims reaffirming to their faith and when one reaffirms to something, at that moment he or she follows that with true heart. So, this is the time when faith is at it's peak. It starts with sacrifice and eagerness for sacrifice. It starts with a new season of Islam where the spirits are going to change their levels. If they ignore this time, their faith will degrade. If they utilize these moments their faith will upgrade. The new year of muslims starts with a welcome note to the most crucial and magnificent reality which is truth/Haq. This welcome note is emotional but it's essence is a call to faith. It starts with the Adhaan of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) to the call of help (Halmin Nasirin Yan Suruna) by Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). This is the peak of the beauty of Islam.


Muharram starts with the arrival of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) in the desert of Karbala, a hot place near the banks of Euphrates river or one of it's canals. Imam is met by the first group from the Army of Yazeed led by Hur. I would only emphasize on necessary history as each and every point of history is just out of scope. Hur and his men are badly thirsty. Not only they but even their horses. But as I said, Muharram starts with a welcome note. Here is the first welcome note of mercy, love and humanity. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)  provides them with water (as much as they want to drink). This was a message, a welcome note towards mercy and guidance of Allah to the bewildered. 


Hur kept on noticing this. But as he was an employee of Yazid along with others, He did what he was asked by Ibn Ziyad. He stopped Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) from going to Kufa and removed their camps from the banks of Euphrates and didn't allow them any further access to water. He asked Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) about the objective of going to Kufa. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) replied that they don't want war and have come for the guidance of the Kufans who have called him. Again, this was the Jihad of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) — Love, mercy and guidance of people towards Allah and Islam — and resisting the tyrants and evil in this way. 


Hur — who caused all the initial trouble and because of whom the children of Husayn (عليه السلام) stayed away from water — found himself guilty. This was the real sword of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) that was struck on Hur and started to show it's impact since he met Imam and kept on growing until it became unbearable on the night before 10th of Muharram (Ashura). Here is a message. As, the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) has said that the greatest jihad is jihad-un-Nafs (Jihad with the self). The real battle that Hur fought in Karbala was against his own self. He fought against his desires on the night of Ashura. His weapon was the voices of thirsty children in the camp of Husayn (عليه السلام). His weapon was the mercy Imam showed to him. But what was he confronting. Hur was confronting an employee of Yazid in his self. An employee that said that 'somehow Yazid is your Emir and you have to follow his order.' The cancer of neutrality penetrated in his self which said 'What do you have to do with politics. You have a family and friends. Think about them. Stay out of this hassle. You are a soldier of an Army and a commander. Do your duty. Yazid is a drunkard, who cares? Husayn is the son of Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) , but who cares?' All these fearful, short-visioned, selfish and self-centered arguments were surrounding Hur and making him stay on the side of Yazid.


This is a big lesson. Every soldier in the Army of Yazid was facing an enemy like this within their soul. Every human being on earth, more or less, faces this enemy. We might say a thousand words of truth, we might agree with everything right but our ill-self always confronts us with these arguments and stops us from understanding Haq. Hur had enough weapons. He successfully broke this siege and killed his enemy and with purity, humility, recognizing the truth with the eyes of heart went this time towards the rightful leader of the Ummah. He didn't go to Husayn to sympathise the children. He didn't go their to advice Husayn (عليه السلام). He didn't actually go to Husayn (عليه السلام). He travelled towards freedom. From a fake tyrant to the rightful leader. From a payed employee of Yazid to a self-seeking slave of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). From ignorance and arrogance to awareness and humbleness. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) accepted him and all people along with him. He himself became the 'leader of mujahids' in my eyes. It's better to call Hur (رضي الله عنه) Imam ul Mujahid (lesder of the Jihadis) because jihad was done by everyone in Karbala, but he provoked others too (atleast thirty people came to the camp of Imam Husayn from the other side). And he had a very less amount of time to decide on his fate. He certainly fought the most fierce battle against his nafs (self). 


Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) was calling and testing. He was testing his companions and calling his enemies. These calls happened in many ways. With speeches and with actions. One of the ways among all these (for me) was even the Adhaan recited by Hazrat Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) in the morning and everytime when it was the prayer time. Who matched the face of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)? Their were many good voices in Karbala. Many great scholarly people were their.  Each one of them was capable of reciting Adhan. Glittering beautiful faces as well as wonderful voices. So, why only Hazrat Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه)? Because the face of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) was like Prophet Muhammed (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). They were so similar that Imam Husayn used to say, "When I want to see my grand father. I see Ali Akber." Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) made Ali Akber's presence a reminder for the enemies that they are not fighting Husayn (عليه السلام) but rather they are fighting the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) himself. Adhan of Ali Akber (رضي الله عنه) was a signal to remind the calls of Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) towards faith. This holds a lesson for us that faith should be above everything. Call of every wali/guide/Imam towards Islam is a call of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)  himself. Imamat is not an inch separate from Prophethood. As said by Dr. Ali Shariati, "Islam without Justice and Imamat is an Islam without Islam". Each and every call to prayer had two indicators. One was the visual indicator. Other was the vocal indicator. Call by the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) towards Salaat. Call towards peace, justice and Islam: 'Hayya Ala Khairil Amal - Come towards the Good'. This was the mission of Husayn (عليه السلام) and the objective of Karbala.


As I acclaimed, the master of martyrs was testing his companions again and again. Checking their faith and strengthening it minute by minute. At more than one moment, Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) asked his companions to leave him. More than once he told them about their fate if they stay with him. More than once, he told the purpose of his journey. Such that each and everyone of them became clear about it. Answers to these statements from the companions were mind blowing. This is what Imam said :
"It is a fact that I am not aware of any companions more faithful and honest than my companions and any relatives more righteous and kind than my relatives. May Allah grant all of you a good reward. I think that the day of our fighting with this army has arrived. I permit all of you to go away. You are free to depart without any restriction and should take advantage of the darkness of night."
I won't go in detail. But he gave them the certificate of Jannah. He even endorsed their piety. He declared them as the best companions. He even told them how to escape. But except a very few, none of them moved. How can they even leave? How can they love life or death or even Jannah with a thought that they left their Imam to get slaughtered in the hands of beasts? Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) was testing them. He was trying to debug even a single confusion in their heart. He was trying to eliminate even the thought of Jannah from their mind so that they only think of sacrifice for Allah. What a spirit! What can we say! Ask yourself what Imam Husayn(عليه السلام) asked to his companions in Karbala each and every time.


Will you leave your Imam while difficulties have surrounded him? Will you leave him if he grants you Jannah? Will you leave him if he himself asks you to leave? What does wisdom say? Ask yourself. Are you so firm in faith that whatever might happen, you are standing behind your Imam (عليه السلام) and doing your duty? Ask yourself. Are you an employee of Allah, who is paid with happiness, security, health and wealth and promise of Jannah so that he can forget his divine duty if all his payments are delivered irrespective of his stances?  Or are you a slave of only Allah and follower of only his leaders and commanders appointed on you such that even if they themselves ask you to leave for your lives, you will not. What if, Allah is asking blood from you? Are you ready? Who can be more free in this world then the companions of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)? Take a lesson here. Follow Islam irrespective of anything. We get into doubt: Our prayers are not accepted, our desires are not fulfilled, calamities keep on falling on us etc. Is this our vision of life? No. Our only mission and purpose of life is to obey Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). Stay where he wants us to stay and refrain from something which Allah has asked us to refrain from. Allah will test you to see how much firm you are in following his commandments. 


We see warriors, with all capabilities to break the largest armies in a battle alone, shying and controlling themselves in Karbala. Sayyed ush Shuhada (Imam al Husayn (AS)) stopped Abbas at every step from battling with the enemy. He even brought Hazrat Zaynab (SA) at one point for the same purpose. I won't mention the reason why Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) stopped Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه). But how difficult it would be for a warrior like Abbas (رضي الله عنه) to control himself from attacking the enemy. How difficult it would be to obey the master of Martyrs (عليه السلام) and understand the fate at this moment. More difficult then understanding was accepting. Acceptance and understanding that made Abbas a Saqqa (water carrier) from an Alamdaar (flag-bearer). This was the time when Al Abbas (رضي الله عنه) became the symbol of patience. He changed his being and kept down his sword to obey his mawla and his brother. This proves how critical and crucial weapon is patience and endurance. How important it is to remain patient in order to sustain yourself on the path of Allah. The will of Allah can be for us or against us. We should put our heads down in front of Allah's will.  Ghazi Abbas (رضي الله عنه) teaches us how to contemplate on what Allah wants from us and then not only refraining from our own will but submitting to Allah's will in the best of ways. How he managed to take a broken spear on the battle ground while he had a sword with him? How he managed to only try to bring water to the camps and not breaking the other enemy fronts? How he managed to protect the water and gave his hands in doing so? What patience a person needs to refrain from drinking a drop of water even after his lips are dry and throat dying from thirst. This patience led Al Abbas (رضي الله عنه) to become the symbol of loyalty (Sarkaar-e-Wafa) in the history of mankind. Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه) was not even an infallible but still he made himself so strong that whatever his brother and leader demanded from him he delivered. Only one thing that remained was water. Which led Abbas to such a level of regret and emotion that he denied his body to be taken to the camps. If we can't learn patience, perseverence, submission and loyalty from Hazrat Abbas (رضي الله عنه). This history is useless and just as important as a novel.


Karbala startles us at every step. Their was even a child as young as 6 months. When Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) called for help, no one was their to answer except a 6 months old Ali al Asghar (رضي الله عنه). He fell on ground after this call. He was taken to ask for water by Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). Imam knew that he will be martyred. But another reality of Karbala is a father taking his own son to sacrifice for Allah and become an example in history. Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) never needed help so what was the reason of this call? It was nothing but a reminder to everyone. Imam (عليه السلام) warned humanity that 'don't let a time come upon your leader when no one will accompany or support him'. Imam was calling people to Islam, to guidance. But only a 6 months old could understand. It is a call that echoes in our ears every year to move towards Karbala and to move towards religion and guidance. Not only Ali al Asgher answered but his mother answered it. All the woman answered it. Bibi Umm Rabab (SA) became a symbol of motherhood in Karbala. This is how a mother should be. Woman should teach their children to become the pure and free servant of Allah because this is the greatest honor and they should be so strong and firm that if Allah asks them their dearest sons for sacrifice, they should deliver and content themselves with patience and thankfulness towards Allah. If mothers become like mothers of Karbala, every child will become a servant of Allah and fighter of Islam which would pave the way towards an ideal Islamic society. 


At the end, before his sorrowful martyrdom, Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) addressed the faithless and inhumane army of Yazid. He introduced himself not as a warrior but as a divinely appointed Imam, who has got the highest honors in the eyes of Allah. He was introducing himself like this in order to guide them so that they refrain from what they are about to do and understand the path of Allah. So that they understand that what all rewards they will recieve after this act will be nothing in comparison to what they will loose. Their was a lot of wisdom and beauty in each word but cursed were those who were blinded by the pleasures of this world. 


Imam said: "Even if you don't believe in religion, atleast be free in this world." Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) wanted people to become free from everything, even their soul and then choose according to reason because truth cannot be imposed. It is not necessary to deceive someone to follow the truth. If we remove all the veils of falsehood, evil and deception, the only thing left will be truth. Freedom is not to remove your hijab or even wear it to make people admire you. Freedom is not to pray because your parents will kick you or Allah will send you to hell. Choose religion not because you are born in such a family but because you are a human being and Allah has given you the right to think, contemplate and ask the best for yourself independent of anything. Choose anything in life on the basis of free will that only submits to Allah (the absolute). This is the perception Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) wanted us to work upon. Karbala if followed and read in a right way should change a person.  If it doesn't then the message is not delivered. It was a battle between free will and imposed will. Battle between freedom seeking revolutionaries and employees of evil. A battle between 'I stand with Husayn and condemn Yazid and I know what I'm doing' vs 'Husayn is good and Yazid is bad but we are employees of Yazid so do the duty.' It shows that evil is everything except truth and not even the companions of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) are immune from it. Even taking neutral grounds is a sign of ignorance and part of evil. 


This takes us to the Zaynabi revolution. The start of the new year. The pledge and commitment to change our 'self'. The pledge to fight the evil within us to a level that only Allah's manifestation remains. Azadaari (mourning for Imam Husayn (AS)) is resistance. It is not a mere custom in which some people come, cry, beat their chests and go away as if nothing happened. It is not a majlis that starts with lamentation and comes to end with gheebah (backbiting). It is not a show-off place where you show the standards of food you serve in the form of tabarruk. It is not a place to compete that who will gather the maximum audience and who will provide the best in tabarruk. Neither it is about how many slogans of 'Yaa Ali' will be raised or how many people will faint during Masaaib (sorrowful happenings in Karbala). Tears are natural and not man-made. Only that person can cry on Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) who has the maarefat (wisdom) of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). The people who do all that I said above except azadaari are making fun of Hazrat Zainab (عليه السلام) and her revolution. They are equivalent to those Kufans and Syrians who mocked and taunted the Ahl Haram when they were taken captive and dragged in the streets of Kufa and Damascus. Shame on such people and shame on the show-off they do in the name of Mourning. Shame on those who do politics in the name of azadari. Shame on those reciters and orators who do business in the name of Azadaari. This is the worst of insults that AhlulBayt (عليه السلام) have to bear. We sell our souls so cheap that we fight on some bits of food that we recieve after majlis. We are making a joke of ourselves and also a joke of our religion and our Imam. Azadaari is a custom of purity started by the Great Sister of Al Husayn (عليه السلام) and Imam Sajjad (عليه السلام) as a form of resistance to tyranny and cruelity. A person who is a true azadaar of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) and has percieved his revolutionary message will not sit down until he purifies himself and brings society towards Islam. He will not settle unless he becomes a pain in the gut for the tyrannic rulers. Who is the real mourner of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام)? The one who brought down the forts of oppressors and stood for the oppressed. As an example, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah is the true mourner. His army are the true mourners of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام). It is not possible that a mourner beats his chest, cries on Imam of the oppressed but remains quiet in supporting 'The Husayn' of this time. It is impossible for a mourner of Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) to curse Yazid while stay quiet on the crimes committed by 'The Yazid' of the time or be supportive of it. Azadaari is not a dead custom and Imam Husayn (عليه السلام) is not a dead hero. It is indeed a living revolution that flows in our body and pumps through our hearts in the form of martyrs of Karbala and becomes manifest when we stand for justice and haq in the present time. 
Our duty is to take the message of Husayn (عليه السلام) and implement it on our own lives. Our duty is to be kind, humble, firm, down-to-earth, tough in front of the world, soft in front of Allah. Our duty is to put up sacrifices in the path of Allah whenever needed. Our duty is to unite and set aside our differences. We should unite under the banner of Allah the great. This is what Azadaari teaches us. This is what Karbala teaches us. When only a few people who stood as one in front of the most powerful enemy of the time and defeated him, why can't we? When people celebrate new year, they take pledges. We have the most appealing history remembered just on the start of the year. We should also take a pledge.

Commit yourself: you will practice taqwa, pray on time, practice patience and base your life on knowledge and faith.

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    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         8
      Note: I'll be updating the initial entry with additional points over time, as discussions elsewhere on Shiachat help me to flesh out the original arguments.
       
      Summary
      In this essay I discuss why the theory behind 'Do your own research' (DYOR) does not live up to reality and the negative consequences that this can have for those who follow it.
      What I will also do is to examine how the whole notion of informed decision making fits within a broader ideological framework and why some groups of people favour it.
      My conclusion will be that in the case of covid, owners of capital whose prosperity depends on commercial economic activity, rely on individuals exercising DYOR and thereby making choices that sustain economic activity but which have poor health outcomes for those individuals.
       
      The popularity of 'do your own research' (DYOR)
      This is a phrase that we are increasingly hearing. It sounds good, since it refers to going out and gathering information in order to make informed decisions. Making sense of information and data, drawing inferences from it and then acting upon them are all activities that should be encouraged. But that conclusion misses a broader set of issues. What are those issues? Here is a hint:
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/17/quacks-cashed-in-world-quick-fix-covid-ivermectin-social-media-conspiracy-theories
      On the one hand you have public health officials, ostensibly driven by the need to protect the health of the public, who recommend government diktat. On the other hand we have politicians from a political party that favours business challenging these recommendations. In addition the lawmakers recommend alternatives to lockdowns that require consumers to make their own 'informed' choices.
      This leads to the ideological context of DYOR.
       
      Do your own research and the wider ideology
      The debate between personal liberty and the role of the State is an old one. Here is an extract from John Stuart Mills' essay 'On Liberty' written in 1859:
      John Stuart Mill. On Liberty (Kindle Locations 7017-7020). Kindle Edition. 
      So Mill does recognise the occasional need for the freedom's of individuals to be curtailed, but he places a condition on this - the need to prevent harm to others.
      And as we have seen nearly 150 years later the DYOR agenda that is being promoted is very one much one that suggests that covid is not harmful, that (lockdowns and social distancing measures that would affect economic activity) don't reduce the harm and indeed various easily obtainable drugs (that would allow us to carry on as normal) can reduce the harm.
      In summary the DYOR promoters seek to diminish the health impact of Covid, because if they were to admit it, the role of the State to interfere with personal liberty would have to be accepted. Instead of the latter the DYOR promoters want people to make their own risk assessments and then act on them as a result of personal choice. However as we'll see later this is not a long term solution.
       
      Why is DYOR promoted?
      The reason why some groups in society promote DYOR is because it sounds good in principle, but it does not work in practice. If it did work in practice, the people who promote it would no longer do so! This sounds counter-intuitive, (why should someone promote something that does not work) but there is a logic behind it. 
      Based on the view of the economist Oliver Williamson ordinary people are notoriously bad at gathering information, analysing it and then making use of it, something he refers to as bounded rationality. This is why people continue to smoke after the link with cancer has been proven and why the cigarette industry is happy to go along with whatever restrictions are placed on it (except for outright bans). This is why firms that sell fatty and sugary foods are happy to place information on their packaging (the more complicated the better) rather than have taxes imposed or even outright bans.
      Some politicians and businesses encourage people to 'do their own research' because they know that most of the time people will get it wrong. The same groups support models of behaviour change that say to people you are ultimately free to make informed choices from an array of products and services that vary in terms of how good or bad they are for you. 
      However the experience over time has been that when faced with such choices people will invariably make poor ones, which injure their health but which are profitable to the promoters. 
      An illustration of this perspective in action is provided in the following thread on Shiachat. A poster wrote about a medical problem that they were facing and another poster provided a link to a series of YouTube videos that recommended a remedy. However the author of those videos is not a medical doctor and indeed has a commercial angle to their video channel. In response to my hiding those videos I received the following reply:
      This sums up the thinking that I am referring to above. This is the belief that adults should be free to make up their own minds based on the free flow of information and anything that restricts the latter is bad and counts as 'censorship'. The same view disregards the fact that the information could be biased and delivered by someone whose motivation is not benevolent. This view also disregards the fact that many people will not drill deep enough to find out that it is biased!
       
      What happens when people do their own research?
      When anti-vaxxers for example tell others to do their own 'research', they are either being naive or deliberately taking advantage of others. Because what do you research? What papers do you read and do you trust what they have to say?
      People tend to read what is understandable to them and for most people that will be the polemic in a blog rather than scientific papers.
      Reading the latter requires a certain minimum education and indeed patience and time, that most people do not have. So they end up reading material published by conspiracy theorists which is easy to read, but which glosses over technical issues and may just even be wrong. The following quotation is from a scientist who says that his work has been misused by conspiracy theorists and he explains why:
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/07/virologist-work-anti-vaxxers-covid
       
      So why do people fall for the DYOR baloney?
      Because it makes them feel powerful. Following a comment below I feel I should clarify what I mean by 'powerful', since it's possible to misconstrue what I mean. My usage of the term is closer to what social psychologists may refer to as 'behavioural control'. This term is used to reflect situations such as for example being able to cook with healthier ingredients because someone has taught you how to do so.
      The conspiracy theorists however subvert what is good and noble into something wholly unethical. They encourage people to believe that they have behavioural control by making simple what is complex, by misinforming, using anecdotes where statistics would be more relevant and so on. And the reason for doing this is to make their message easier to understand, more interesting to watch, share and more likely to elicit an emotional reaction.
      This is not dissimilar to the recent growth in investing apps, which have drawn the following criticism (emphasis is mine):
      https://www.ft.com/content/96af6536-6e5e-4a32-b08b-f6bf87aa4d5e
      The above context is wholly different to dealing with a pandemic, but what is common to both is people offering us a false illusion of having control over our destiny.
      Having processed YouTube videos people feel that they have done their 'research' and that they can now make an informed choice. The choice making seems more 'rational' and in a cultural and educational environment where we have been brought up to celebrate rationality this seems like a good thing, in and of itself.  
      So in comparison to following government edicts to wear face masks, the 'own research' crowd watch some videos and consciously choose not to do so on the basis of information that they have gathered. They are therefore exercising behavioural control over their lives in a manner that they could not previously. And when challenged they can cite 'evidence' that supports their position - further enhancing their behavioural control.
      The reality is of course, that wearing a mask costs very little in terms of money and behaviour change. There are many benefits to others in addition to any to the wearer. But the anti-maskers are told that wearing a mask is some kind of subjugation to government control. Choosing not to wear a mask because someone tells you that you'll breathe more CO2 as a result, sounds like an informed decision that gives you control over your own life.
       
      God, nihilism and the human condition
      This new section was inspired by the following post:
      At one extreme then, the individual can feel that there is so much in the way of different perspectives, error on all sides etc. that we simply cannot identify what is the right course of healthy behaviour and what is not. In my opinion that reflects a worldview which questions God's benevolence.
      In my opinion the theist would always believe that God provides us with the critical faculties that enable us to follow the right course of action. The human condition in my view is one where we have to endeavour to find what that right course of action is - and it takes cognitive effort and it requires us not to give in to emotion or laziness.
      And just as the above increasingly become more challenging in a more technologically advanced world, so the tools that we have available to help us increase in their sophistication and effectiveness.
      Technology allows us to keep a record of who said what and when. In the case of covid-19 we know who downplayed the seriousness of the virus from the start (likely because of their need to protect their economic interests) and we also know who recommended an abundance of caution because they knew that in the long-run a healthy population will be better off economically. Those people who took the virus seriously encourage mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinating.
      That information can be used to follow individuals on social media, who have the medical expertise and benevolence to support your interests. Once you follow a reliable expert you can:
      See who else they follow And you can then also follow the health experts they follow  
      Conclusion
      Few if any people are capable of 'doing their own research'. Ultimately it becomes a matter of choosing who you decide to believe. And in that regard it becomes a matter of assessing someone's character, their education, and their track record. People who believe in the concept of taqlid know exactly what the issues are here.
      postcript
      1. See the following blog entry I had made for a further explanation about why people can make poor choices:
      https://www.shiachat.com/forum/blogs/entry/579-how-unscrupulous-people-take-advantage/
      2. I am attaching a copy of a paper titled, 'Why is changing health behaviour so difficult', published in the academic journal Public Health. The paper identifies some common mistakes public policy officials make when designing behaviour modification programmes. 
      Why is changing health behaviour so difficult.pdf
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         0
      Summary
      When you are in a weak position, all the choices you have are bad ones.
      Introduction
      I've always thought that since British Mandate the Palestinians have been in a no win position. If they accepted the offers the Israelis gave them there would have been an incentive for the Israelis to take more land (if the Pals don't mind yielding some they might not mind yielding more) and if the Pals had resisted that would also have given the Israelis a pretext to take more land (for defensive purposes), the latter has proven to be the case.
      In short whatever the Pals decided did not matter, the Israelis' dominant position ensured that they could respond in a manner that was advantageous to them. The same applies to Native American Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries, whether their response to European settlers was to fight make treaties the outcome would always be the same, their lands would be taken. In both cases there was such an asymmetry between the two parties that there was nothing the colonised could do that would change the outcome.
      In the examples that follow I look at some contemporary examples that illustrate a different dynamic. In these instances non-Western powers have presented the West with situations where however the West responds will lead to an outcome for the West that it does not want.
      Huawei - China
      Turning now to a totally different situation, the following piece in the FT neatly summarises how I feel about the situation between the U.S. government and Huawei. In the 21st century, it is beginning to look as if the Chinese have the best cards. for example Huawei makes good and cost-effective telecoms infrastructure.
      Western countries may have security concerns, but if they ban Huawei, they could end up with a poorer solution. Other countries that have no such qualms could benefit from the cost advantages that Huawei equipment offers. But if Western countries accept Huawei they risk entrenching the advantages that the Chinese have, as well as the claimed security risks.
      Sanctions have been a preferred Western method of taking action against countries that have fallen out of favour. But this tool only works where you have something the other person wants, when the situation is reversed - you can end up damaging yourself.
      https://www.ft.com/content/8fc63610-88fe-11e9-b861-54ee436f9768
      SWIFT - Russia
      This example arose during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. The West wanted to sanction Russia by imposing economic sanctions including barring Russian entities from access to western financial systems. But this was not straightforward:
      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/feb/24/what-is-swift-international-payments-network-russia-sanction
      Sic transit gloria mundi (so passes worldly glory)
      In a previous FT story about the same subject I posted a comment that this situation is similar to the British attempts to stop Indian technological development by banning the Indians from making their own steam engines, at the start of the 20th century. The British may have delayed Indian development by some decades, but that's all they were able to do. Whether the British took no action to stop Indian technological development or whether they proactively tried to hinder it, ultimately they would lose. 
      There are now far too many Indians with every increasing levels of capability to stop the juggernaut.
      Conclusion
      In the context of China, I think the U.S. government feels a threat to its economic/technological dominance. And the sanctions are its attempt to fight back. But whether the U.S. decides to fight or not, I think in the longer term that dominance will have to be compromised. Huawei and the Chinese are now too far along the technological path of development and they are far further ahead than the India of the early 20th century. 
      The U.S. is now in a similar technological position that the Palestinians have been in terms of geography. Whatever option the US chooses, it will ultimately 'lose'. Loss in this context is not necessarily ceding technological leadership to the Chinese, but it may well involve acknowledging their superiority in certain areas. Other countries like Russia also may be able to work their way around sanctions for example, so western attempts to control their behaviour will have limited success.
      In the context of Russia it seems that there is too much at stake economically for sanctions to be effective, the sanctioners stand to lose as much as the sanctioned.
       
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         2
      Summary
      Delayed gratification is associated with better long-term outcomes for individuals. Time spent in prayer and other religious rituals are means by which individuals delay the gratification of enjoying worldly experiences and they are an investment in the gratification of rewards to be gained in the afterlife. Moreover time spent in these activities changes what counts as gratification for participants.
      How delayed gratification works 
      One of the ideas that helps explain the economic outperformance of some social and ethnic groups is their ability to practice ‘delayed gratification’. The term accurately sums up the idea of ‘delaying the experience of happiness’.
      This seems counterintuitive, why delay what you could have right now? Surely there is some loss involved in putting off gratification, you may not be around to enjoy it and there could be other uncertainties as well.
      The notion of delayed gratification assumes that if we put off the experience of happiness when we do receive it, the experience will be greater and longer lasting than if we had sought to experience the happiness earlier on.
      Why is this the case? The most obvious example is the delayed gratification occasioned by spending time as a school pupil studying in order to get better grades while that time could have been spent playing or watching television. Later on it’s the same studious group who are at university living in relative penury, while their peers are earning and spending money.
      However, most studies show that although graduates start earning later than non-graduates, once they do so their lifetime earnings are much higher than non-graduates. And it’s not just income, there are a number of other measures such as health going in the same direction.
      The cookie experiment
      All this goes back to the experiments conducted by Walter Mischel in 1970, who offered kids a cookie which they could eat immediately or they could have two if they waited till he came back from an errand. The high delay kids, who waited for the second cookie, did better at school and achieved various other positive life outcomes that the low delay kids did not.
      I’d go on to argue that the process of delaying can change an individual. The kids who are willing to wait for the second cookie will likely prefer the low fat, low sugar offering compared to the tasty version.
      I think this is because when the high delay kids are provided with information about harms and benefits they're better able to make the right choices. As they come across more information these people change what they consider constitutes happiness. This second order effect is important, because it has a qualitative impact not only on lifestyles and employment opportunities of these individuals but also the thought processes of the children of the high delay kids. High delay can be taught and learned.
      So delaying gratification enables the acquisition of quantitatively more happiness, and qualitatively more sustainable happiness.
      Up to this point our discussion has been in terms of purely material gains or losses. You do not have to be a believer in any religion to understand the foregoing argument, there are ample studies involving experiments (often with marshmallows) to back up the idea.
      Religious applications
      The question then, is whether the same principles can be applied in a religious context?
      The theist argument would likely be that religious practice such as prayer, the acquisition of religious knowledge and spiritual experience are all activities that take place at the expense of acquiring immediate material happiness, will likely have a higher pay-off in any after-life.
      However, anyone can understand the cause and effect relationship between, for example, the higher pay-offs associated with education and delayed gratification, because there is ample proof for this. But no one has come back from any after life, so is it the case that all we have to go on is faith?
      I don’t think so.
      One of the ways by which people can improve their self-discipline to improve their ability to delay gratification is to undertake some other task that takes their mind away from whatever gratification they are seeking to delay.
      That’s what the religious activities do. They train us to exercise restraint. They are the wait for the second cookie. If we see prayer and duas etc. as taking time away from the joys of worldly activities, that’s because they are supposed to.
      I also think the second order effects that I talked about regarding the impact of education on gratification also have a parallel with religion.
      Time spent on worship and spiritual activities, I think changes what people consider appropriate sources of gratification. They actually change what we do in this life, we consider whether the ingredients of the cookie are halal or haram.
      The Muslims who avoid weed cookies don’t need to rely on faith to understand the benefits of delayed gratification, they can see it for themselves.
      Notes:
      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201207/the-power-delaying-gratification
      http://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification
      http://ww2.prospects.ac.uk/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Labour_market_information/Graduate_Market_Trends/Beyond_the_financial_benefits_of_a_degree__Autumn_05_/p!eXeLcmm
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10246785/Graduate-premium-no-matter-what-you-study.html
       
       
       
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         3
      A common Islamophobic complaint is that while Muslims may lobby for rights in Western countries, this is hardly reciprocated in the Middle East. Specifically, attention is drawn to Saudi Arabia where the rights of Christians and Jews appear to be the most restricted. 
      It's worth, therefore, to consider what the situation was like before the arrival of the house of Saud on the scene and the impact of its installation (helped by Wstern powers) on non-Muslims in the Arabian peninsula. The following extracts are taken from the notes of a European traveller. 
      Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East, M. Niebuhr (captain of engineers in the service of the King of Denmark). English translation 1792.
      So, there were Jews in Medina in 1792 and they clearly enjoyed autonomy.
      So Jews also had positions of influence.
       
      The differences in tax rates may offend contemporary sensitivities, but they were clearly no different to the way minorities were treated in many other countries of the time.
      What may merit further investigation is whether the Jews (and Christians) in Arabia suffered the pogroms that were periodically inflicted on the Jews of Europe in that period.
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         0
      Summary
      This post is about the reasons why there is so much imperative in the Qur'an on sellers not taking advantage of their customers. The point being elaborated here is that it can be easy for sellers to take advantage of their buyers. The Qur'an uses a specific context (weights and measures) but this notion can be extended to other areas of the transaction.
      We can lump together all sorts of decisions that we make everyday. These can be decisions about what products and services to buy and they can be decisions about whether or not to wear masks or get vaccinated. They can also be decisions about haram and halal behaviours. Many (but not all) decisions are underpinned by the information that we have to go on.
      But not all information is the same. I distinguish between different types of information that buyers can use why they may have preference for some types of information which is why it becomes easier for sellers to take advantage of them. I draw out implications for different groups of people.
       
      The background
      The starting point is the Qur'anic injunction (in various places) about the requirements of transactions and commerce.

       
       
       

       
       

       
       

       
       
      Here is some commentary from 'The Study Qur'an', I have previously noted the need to use this resource with discernment, but on this topic it seems to be ok. 
       
      Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Dagli, Caner K.; Dakake, Maria Massi; Lumbard, Joseph E.B.; Rustom, Mohammed. The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (p. 438). HarperOne. Kindle Edition. 
      Predictive value
      The information that we receive about products and services (and indeed about any life decisions) can be divided into two types, that which has high predictive value or low predictive value. The former helps better predict how a product will perform, how a virus works or what the world will be like and information of low predictive value does not do so. It's better for us clearly to rely on information that has high predictive value.
      But there is a problem, not all information is equally easy to understand and use. We all know this to be the case from personal experience. Some information is easy to understand and remember, other information we may find impossible to understand, perhaps because it is too technically complex and we do not have sufficient education. This is why we split information into that with which we have high confidence and that with which we have low confidence.
      If you want a more graphic illustration of what I am talking about watch this 1.5 minute video:
       
      Morgan Spurlock provides a humorous insight into how the fast food industry 'deceives' its customers. This screengrab from the trailer gives some indication as to how it does this. Each of the labels below carries a 'meaning' for us as consumers, in each instance I think we can agree that these are positive meanings. What Spurlock does in his engaging film is to show how in reality the meanings can be far different to what we think they mean (free range) or in the case of 100% natural the word has no meaning at all, but it still feels good.. 

       
      Confidence value
      The problem we have in making sense of the world around us is that information which can better predict how products or even events and pandemics will pan out (it has high confidence value) may actually be hard to understand and evaluate (it has low confidence value). This is shown in the top right hand box below.
       
      The human condition
      An aspect of the human condition is that sometimes we can be a little lazy in our efforts to engage with information that helps us to see how things will be because it is intellectually more challenging.
       
      The challenge
      This leads us down the dangerous path of following information that is easy to understand (has high confidence value), but which has low predictive value (won't really tell us what the future will be like). This is shown in the bottom left hand box in the diagram below.
      Unscrupulous people will give us the latter in abundance and we will enjoy a false sense of security, but will ultimately arrive at a destination that is considerably different to what we expected. This applies both to the products and services that we buy and the ethical and moral decisions that we make and indeed the health and lifestyle choices that we follow.
       
      The diagram
      The diagram below illustrates that thought leaders within society are needed to show us those things which are easy to use and can accurately tell us about reality and they're needed to explain to us those things which inform us about reality and which are hard to use. Certainly one thing which we need from societies leaders is the ability to protect us from those things which we think will help guide us and/or inform us about the way the world really is, but which in reality will not do so.
       

       
      Illustrative examples
      This example shows how the above can work in practice:
      https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/11/know-what-you-eat-health-halo
      Here's another example, from the same article above:
      Both of these examples show how consumers can make decisions off very limited amounts of information that do not fully reflect what it is that they are buying and the more important issue here is that marketers can take full advantage of this in terms of how they label products and how they photograph and present them. 
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