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In the Name of God بسم الله
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By Hameedeh in Think PositiveTwo years ago I became a minimalist. I'm not talking about music, sculpture or painting, but minimalism in my life. I read about creating a minimalist home, but I did not buy the book:
So, I am thrifty and I buy very little. Whenever I am shopping and see a dozen things I want to own, I question myself. Do I have storage space for this? Is this really necessary? Will I really love it or is it just something that I never had before and always wanted to have one? Just wanting to possess something is not a good reason to buy it. Could I take a photo of it and just look at it, without spending my money? This must be a good reason to join Pinterest, to have all the things you want to look at, but never need to buy, store or move them.
As you have seen, my ShiaChat blog is minimalist by nature. I usually say very little, because if there is one thing that I know, it is that I recognize great writing when I see it, but I am not a good writer. I hope to become a better writer some day, and in the meantime, I invite you to my tumblr. Please, if you can, start at the last page which shows my first post (a prayer for the safety of 12th Imam AJ) and then scroll your way up, and over to previous pages in chronological order, the way my brain was working.
♥ May your days be sunny, your nights restful, and your heart satisfied with the blessings that Allah has given you. Think Positive. ♥
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaSummary
The theory that the pyramids were built or had their construction guided by extraterrestrials is challenged by the existence of mistakes in the construction of some of them.
But I think the Egyptians were privy to Divine Guidance, which in itself is interesting because the evidence of a Pharoah moving from polytheism to monotheism supports Qur'anic teaching as I understand it.
The bent pyramid at Dahshur
There is a populist theory that the pyramids must have had an alien inspiration. This is because of the range of innovations that they represent and knowledge across multiple disciplines and their orientation towards certain constellations.
My problem with this theory is the bent pyramid at Dahshur. It's bent, because they got the maths wrong (see the picture I took a few years ago below). It's weird that aliens who managed to get to this planet but then got their measurements for a stone structure wrong. Seems pretty clear to me that the pyramids we see represent the refinement and development of Egyptian technology, rather than discrete alien intervention. Also supporting my contention is a landscape literally littered with smaller pyramids, these people were learning, developing and increasing the scale of their creations as they grew more confident.
If not aliens then who?
My understanding of the Qur'anic references to Pharaoh is that they provide an example of a powerful leader, with immense resources, who was nevertheless brought down by divine intervention. The Pharaohs were representatives of a culture with a level of scientific, organisational, military and communications capability unknown at that time and for a long time yet to come.
Indeed the very existence of mistakes in their work and subsequent improvements demonstrates that they had the capability to learn. Nevertheless the fact that the Pharoah of the time of Moses was brought down by believers in Allah who were weaker in numbers and military strength, is a sign to subsequent rulers around the world about how weak their position can be.
And importantly the Qur'an tells us that the evidence of such civilisations is there for us to observe in order for us to better understand the message that is being conveyed to us:
A final thought
Were the ancient Egyptians privy to Divine guidance? I think there is evidence in the Qur'an that they may have been. Here are some references to Allah communicating with other cultures.
And indeed there is material in the historical record that at least one Pharoah (Akhenaten) tried to promulgate a faith that had similarities to monotheism. The initiative did not last very long and in the reign of the next Pharoah (Tutankhamun) the Egyptians reverted to polytheism. I use the phrase similarities to monotheism because although he removed references to the pantheon of deities that the Egyptians previously worshipped, his new religion nevertheless involved worship of the sun.
The following extract is from a book published within the last few years that addresses head on the issue of monotheism and Akhenaten's rule.
Hoffmeier, J.K., 2015. Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism. Oxford University Press.
Perhaps Akhenaten was amongst the many Prophets that we believe have been sent by God at different times and places to different cultures? I am speculating here, but perhaps the message was corrupted? Still, I would like to believe that the archaeological evidence of Akhenaten's rule supports the idea that Allah's message was not restricted to just the children of Abraham.
By Qa'im in Imamologyبسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A famous eschatological expression is that the Sun will rise from the West ( طلوع الشمس من المغرب من المحتوم ). In Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad (s) says, "When three things appear, a person's faith will not avail him if he had not believed before or did not earn goodness from his faith: (1) The rising of the Sun from its setting place, (2) The Dajjal, and (3) The Beast of the Earth." (ثلاث إذا خرجن لا ينفع نفسا إيمانها لم تكن آمنت من قبل أو كسبت في إيمانها خيرا: طلوع الشمس من مغربها، و الدجال ودابة الأرض ).
In my reading of the hadith literature, there is a strong indication that this Sun is not the star that our Earth rotates around, but actually a man. The Sun is a luminous golden object that brings light, clarity, guidance, warmth, and the growth of our crops. A narration about the Mahdi says, "The one whom Jesus the son of Mary will pray behind is the twelfth from the progeny, the ninth from the loins of al-Husayn b. `Ali [a]. He is the Sun that will rise from its setting place." ( إن الذي يصلي عيسى بن مريم خلفه هو الثاني عشر من العترة ، التاسع من ولد الحسين بن علي عليهما السلام وهو الشمس الطالعة من مغربها ).
A careful study of the Quran will show that light represents the religion (61:8, which Allah will always preserve) and guidance (2:257). 33:46 describes the Prophet as "an illuminated lamp" (siraj, a word also used for "Sun"), and 5:15 describes him as a "light". In one hadith, the Imam as-Sadiq describes the Prophet as the Sun in Surat ash-Shams ( الشمس رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله به أوضح الله عز وجل للناس دينهم ), and in another hadith, the "day" in 92:2 that follows the night is the Mahdi who will arise after oppression ( والنهار إذا تجلى قال: النهار هو القائم منا أهل البيت إذا قام غلب دولة الباطل ). The Mahdi's occultation is compared to that of the Sun behind the clouds ( وأما وجه الانتفاع بي في غيبتي فكالانتفاع بالشمس إذا غيبتها عن الابصار السحاب ).
These comparisons between the Mahdi and the Sun is a similitude to the Prophet. The Mahdi is the most similar man to the Prophet, because he is like him in form and in character ( أشبه الناس بي خلقا وخلقا ), and he will openly declare and explain the religion to the world. The Mahdi will take his example until Islam becomes dominant, manifest, clear, and overspreading ( بسيرة ما سار به رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله حتى يظهر الاسلام ). 39:69 says that the "Earth will shine with the light of its Lord", and the hadiths indicate that it will shine by the light of the Mahdi's coming ( وأشرقت الارض بنور ربها " قال رب الارض يعني إمام الارض، ).
This begs the question: if the Mahdi is the Sun, what does it mean to rise from its place of setting? Rather than saying that there would be a change of the Earth's axis, we should consider the root of the word gharb (غرب). It has come to mean "set", but in its most basic sense, it means "to become a stranger, odd, obscure, difficult to comprehend, and to go away and depart". This is because the Sun passes above us, then becomes "estranged" from us and leaves us, setting in the West. A stranger in Arabic is a ghareeb. This brings us to the Prophetic hadith, "Islam began as a stranger, and it shall return as a stranger, so blessed are the strangers" ( إن الاسلام بدا غريبا وسيعود كما بدا فطوبى للغربا ). Just as the Prophet came by himself to an adverse society, Islam would return in the Mahdi, who would be estranged from his community and coming with a call that most people will not be familiar with. It is said that, by the time of his coming, the religion of Islam will be barely recognizable from the principles taught by our Prophet, so much so that it will be as though the Mahdi is bringing a new religion. Imam `Ali said that the Qa'im would recommence Islam just as the Prophet did ( إذا قام القائم عليه السلام استأنف دعاء جديدا كما دعا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله ), and Imam Ja`far repeated the same idea ( يستأنف الداعي منا دعاء جديدا كما دعا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله ).
Just as the Mahdi faded into obscurity, he would return out of that obscurity. He is currently in the clouds, which is to say that the occultation has surrounded him in opaque confusion, but that his affect on the Earth is still present. His companions will also be strangers who are not recognized ( إذا يستغني الناس عن ضوء الشمس ونور القمر ويجتزون بنور الامام ), and they are gathered with him like cirrus clouds ( فيظهر في ثلاثمائة وثلاثة عشر رجلا عدة أهل بدر على غير ميعاد قزعا كقزع الخريف رهبان بالليل أسد بالنهار ). "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26) When he returns, "mankind shall have no need of the light of the Sun and the light of the Moon, and they shall pass by the light of the Imam." ( إذا يستغني الناس عن ضوء الشمس ونور القمر ويجتزون بنور الامام ). Meaning, they will be able to go directly to the Imam for guidance, and we will no longer need to seek out other sources of light.
May Allah hasten his luminous coming.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaNote: 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.
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:
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:
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):
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
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.
1. See the following blog entry I had made for a further explanation about why people can make poor choices:
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 ContemporaniaSummary
When you are in a weak position, all the choices you have are bad ones.
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.
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:
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.
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 ContemporaniaSummary
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.
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.
By Haji 2003 in ContemporaniaA 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.
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