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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Gift Anyone Dreads To Receive

"For as long as man breathes, the conquest for answers to life's questions continues, and there is an awful lot of answers to face."

Arguably, Eid Al Fitr is the most appropriate time of the year for Muslim communities around the world to celebrate with families and friends.  The celebration would be incomplete without gift-giving  to loved ones and friends, being generous and performing good deeds as the most natural things a Muslim is expected or required  to do. Eid Al Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan when all adult and able-bodied Muslims are required to fast from dusk till dawn. They also believe that a good deed performed in Ramadan earned them ten or hundred times more reward than an ordinary good deed done in any time of the year, hence they come in abundance.

While most Muslims have the right attitude toward the significance of Eid, sadly there are some who believe the opposite. Just last week, a twin suicide bombing happened in a military academy in Algeria that left 16 students and 2 civilians dead. Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) immediately admitted responsibility, and proudly announced that it is their  gift for Eid to the mothers and wives who had lost their sons and husbands in the carnage. The bombings coincided with the time when people in the academy were gathered for the iftar or breaking of fast. The leader of Al Qaida offshoot who took responsibility for the gruesome killings, even congratulated the mothers of the victims for their sons' lives who will be rewarded in "heaven" for their "martyrdom".

In Egypt, a recently released senior leader of the Egyptian Islamic jihad terrorist group Sheikh Adel Shehato, announced that Christian churches in Egypt and others that exist in Islamic countries may need to be blown up and Christians exterminated to allow the advance of Islamic law, or Shariah. He confidently says that his principles are guided by Shariah and that he is not bound by the laws of men or any constitution, but by the "divine law" that says, if Christians don't want to convert to Islam they have to pay what they call a jizya tax, or else they are compelled to exterminate them. He further stressed that the Shariah is not based on logic but by the law of god. 

His take on democracy:
"As Muslims, we must believe that the Quran is our constitution, and that it is impossible for us to institute a Western democratic regime. I oppose democracy because it is not the faith of the Muslims...According to Islam, it is forbidden for people to rule and to legislate laws, as Allah alone is ruler. Allah did not hand down the term [democracy] as a form of rule, and it is completely absent from the Arab and Islamic lexicon."

And on a worldwide Islamic kingdom he envisions:
"Of course we will launch a campaign of Islamic conquest throughout the world. All The Muslims in the world who wish to see the Shariah implemented worldwide will join the Egyptian army in order to form Islamic battalions, whose task will be to bring about the victory. There are Muslims and there are infidels. We will have ambassadors in every country. We want to call all other countries to join Islam, and that will be the task of the ambassadors. If [they] refuse, there will be war."

His pronouncements were quite scary if we were to analyze them, and who would not? The man believes he is following the precepts of his god and in fact he is doing him great service by advancing the cause of Islam. He even believes that true Muslims should not make friends with Christians for it is the commandments of Allah. He would further say that he knows everything what the Quran instructs all Muslims to do in order to please god. Well, these are words coming from a terrorist - a sworn murderer of anyone labeled as infidel. And yes, I was convinced that this does not constitute the true Islam, knowing fully well that Islam is a "Religion of Peace". In fact, this slogan is uniquely endemic to Islam just like "Connecting People" is to Nokia, and "Just Do It" is to Nike.

As though I was poised to discredit the words of the terrorist on my own lame arguments, my curiosity led me to search through Bing and cringed at what  probably one of the most liberating and shocking revelations I have never imagined. Still not convinced, I went on rummaging at my old clothes where the small English Quran  given to me by our company accountant was neatly buried that I almost forgot I hid one there. Perhaps just the second time I laid my fingers on that gift to me, I felt awkward and awesome I had to read it leftward. And there I found the truth that would support the claims of the man, whom many of us would want to call insane and hateful. If  indeed he believes he is actually following what  his religion preaches, then I have every reason to believe that this man knows what he is talking about.

The following are verses I copied from the holy Quran that are worthy to ponder upon. If this is actually what gave birth to unheard of hatred in the world, I hope that all religions can still co-exist without lives being wasted for religions' sake. 

"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9: 121)

"Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with  them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

"Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9: 27)

"Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36)
"Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5: 51)

"Slay them wherever you find them...Idolatry is worse than carnage...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (Surah 2: 190)

To them, the Bible may be the book of the infidels and the enemies, yet these are what it says pertaining to one's enemy and to people who do harm to them :

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. - (Matthew 5:44)

"But I tell you who hear me; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. - (Luke 6: 27-36)

This post would have not led to what you may call a discourse, a debate or what, for it was never my aim to talk about religions. I just found it necessary not to ignore elements of great importance, to be able to perhaps find answers to a polarizing 'truth' why there is enmity towards one another. The articles that I stumbled upon that I thought betrayed logic and defied human compassion, on murdered peaceful sons as gifts for orphaned mothers in Eid - just does not sink in well with my psyche, or maybe I just need to accept the plain truth as it is? As the saying goes, "You should know the truth and the truth will set you free". For as long as man breathes, the conquest for answers to life's questions continues, and there is an awful lot of answers to face. It only boils down to whichever man decides to embrace.

Still the second day of Eid, I prefer to dwell on tradition that this holiday is meant to be joyful for a variety of reasons. Having a longer rest after a month-long of exhausting work is one. After all, I still believe the real God of the universe is a merciful and gracious God who created humans for His glory and that He loves them so much more than anything. Surely, it is comforting to know that the God that I've known personally is rich in compassion and slow to anger. If anything, this divine truth is more liberating as opposed to the anxieties of war, famine, natural disasters, human greed and all these hatred the world is known to offer. Eid Mubarak to all!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

At The Threshold

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive..." - 2 Timothy 3:1,2

Historical accounts would tell, today marks the first time New York City - the mega city that it is -is closed for a reason - a hurricane - unprecedented in magnitude that is expected to wreak havoc on the city. Airports have been shutdown,  public transit system halted, businesses that make the city the world's financial capital spontaneously stopped operation, and regrettably, the US Open which I have been earnestly waiting to watch live on television, understandably had to bow down to Irene the hurricane. Sixty five million people are said to be  living on the harm's way, with an unprecedented massive evacuation that has been taking place already.

While Irene takes landfall on North Carolina for her expected pummeling spree all over East Coast of the Atlantic, Mina on the other hand has already started her orgy of destruction on Northern Luzon. Landslides that caused deaths this early has been reported already and the death toll of course is expected to rise.

Yesterday,  Al Jazeera was beaming graphic images from Tripoli with the city literally chokes on stench coming from dead bodies that litter around the city. Dead bodies on top of another become a mundane scenario that serves as backdrop for fleeing little children gripping the hands of their parents in search for refuge as the city has turned into an apocalyptic war zone. Even a dying boy who lies unattended in a hospital bed for lack of medics and equipments, proudly displays a V-sign. Several other injured from the battle have managed to drag themselves into hospital corridors as blood splatter all over the aisle until they reached a doctor-less emergency room till rigor mortis sets in their bodies.

In Syria, tens if not scores are reported to be dead everyday due to a government-sanctioned killings of civilian protesters who have grown weary of a corrupt and repressive government of Bashar Assad. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced to the neighboring Turkey in the north, some, even old men die of their injuries upon reaching the border as government soldiers go on their shooting spree of the fleeing civilians. Assad would not back down from his murderous rampage of the civilian population he labels as terrorists.

Just weeks ago, rioting took place in the cities of England where young men went on looting businesses and setting fire to establishments and offices, passersby even robbed and mugged for no reason at all. What makes it incomprehensible is that, this normally does not happen in rich and highly-civilized countries like the UK. No matter what prompted this unheard of violence, no rationale can ever justify this reprehensible act that has put the country's reputation in murky water. It was just that simple, thousands of rioters felt obligated to join the bandwagon of violence forgetting their basic humanity attributed with reason.

At the Horn of Africa, where aid agencies astoundingly announced that famine brought about by drought could cause millions of deaths especially children, aids of food and medicines are being routinely ransacked and plundered by Muslim militias so that they themselves benefit from them and the needy goes on to die from deprivation. International agencies feel crippled and helpless knowing that very little aid reaches the needy because of these Muslim militias that feel empowered and divinely ordained to rob at gunpoint the very basic needs intended for the needy.

Yesterday, Al Qaeda militants had bombed the UN building in Abuja, Nigeria initially killing 18 people. All fatalities were civilians who had spent most of their lives helping other people in need. UN Sec. Gen Ban Ki Moon said, the building housed 26 different aid agencies tasked to distribute aids and medicines to the unfortunate people of the continent. They just died that easy. 

A day before yesterday, 53 people were killed in a casino in the city of Monterrey in Mexico, when drug syndicates set fire to the building where the victims were trapped and  burned alive. The president of Mexico has decreed  four days of mourning for the victims. So many lives lost inexplicably when evil doers are on the prowl.

At a glance of the news, our reaction comes naturally - to cringe for wasted lives due to violence birthed by man's loss of rationality. But somehow we feel immune to the things that have become a way of life for  most of us. Hardly these things strike a surprise. Maybe this is how our planet concurs to Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory. Certainly, these do not stop us to go on with our lives, and understandably, some would even trivialize these as much as we treat it like things of the ordinary. But what if these were the precursor of greater/terrible things to come? What if these were warnings that we failed to heed?

From nature's fury to man-made disasters, every phenomenon seems to be an indicator that the world has reached  greater lengths ominously forewarned in the Bible. In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle Paul says that this world is ruled by wicked spiritual forces, they are the rulers of this dark age. And yes, many would scoff at the truth, just like in the days of Noah. But the Bible clearly warns, " But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Matthew 24: 3-14
As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, "Tell us when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?" Jesus said to them in reply, "See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Messiah," and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and report of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains. Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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