February 25, 2011


Karmakin, on the About "magic underwear" diary, wrote:

A good example is our cultural use of "god-fearing" as meaning a upstanding individual. (Ugly term really if you think about it)...

Now my purpose in writing this essay is not to call Karmakin out, but to give my reasons as to why "God-fearing" is, at least to me, a beautiful term.

One of the problems with the English language is that, although it is an extremely flexible language, it occasionally suffers from a blurriness of expression. The classic example is that of "hot." For example, your friend is eating Mexican food and he or she says the food is "hot." "Hot hot or spicy hot?" you might ask. But if you spoke Bahasa Melayu, the Malay language, the friend would have originally said that the food was either panas (of a hot temperature) or padas (spicy hot). There would have been no linguistic confusion to begin with.

Arabic has a similar differentiation with regard to the word "fear." In Arabic, the word for what could be considered normal "fear," the "emotion caused by [an] actual or perceived danger or threat" (per Wiktionary), comes from the root خ و ف (khā wāw fā). The word for "fear" that comes from this root is "khawf." (The only other primary word that comes from this root that is used in the Qur'an is "threaten.") An example of a Qur'anic verse that uses "khawf" is 2:62:

Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

The Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sabians and any others who meet the conditions listed in this verse would not fear the potential physical torment of hell because, insha'allah, they would be going to jannah (heaven) instead.

However, when the Qur'an talks about "fearing Allah (swt)," the root normally used is و ق ي (wāw qāf yā). The most prominent word that comes from this root is taqwa; however, the meaning of taqwa is somewhat more complex than simply "fear" in the sense of "extreme veneration or awe." According to the Quranic Arabic Corpus, a fantastic concordance of the Qur'an produced by the University of Leeds (UK), taqwa has a number of meanings, including "protect," "righteous" and "righteousness," "save," "piety," "God-conscious" and, of course, "fear."

But the word taqwa, even among Muslims, can be difficult to fully comprehend. A number of people over the centuries have tried to define or describe taqwa. Yusuf Ali (1872-1953), an Indian translator of the Qur'an into English, wrote that the fear with regard to the fear of Allah (swt) should be "the reverence which is akin to love, for it fears to do anything which is not pleasing to the object of love" (footnote 427 to verse 3:102).

Ali ibn Abi Talib (c. 598 - 661 CE), the fourth Caliph of the Muslim empire, defined taqwa as being "the fear of Jaleel (Allah), acting upon the tanzeel (Quran), being content with qaleel (little), and preparing for the day of raheel (journeying from this world)."

The Sufi Shaykh Hafiz Ghulam Habib (1904-1989) defined taqwa as "the shunning of everything and anything that causes a deficiency in one’s relationship with Allah."

However, the description I like the best comes from the following hadith:

Hadrat Umar ibn Khattab (R.A) once asked Hadrat Ibn Ka’ab (R.A) the definition of taqwa. In reply Hadrat Ibn Ka’ab asked, “Have you ever had to traverse a thorny path?” Hadrat Umar replied in the affirmative and Hadrat Ka’ab continued, “How do you do so?”

Hadrat Umar said that he would carefully walk through after first having collected all loose and flowing clothing in his hands so nothing gets caught in the thorns hence injuring him. Hadrat Ka’ab said, “This is the definition of taqwa, to protect oneself from sin through life’s dangerous journey so that one can successfully complete the journey unscathed by sin.”

So, for me, a God-fearing person is truly an upstanding individual. And there's nothing "ugly" about that.

February 19, 2011


I posted this on my Facebook page, which has already infuriated one woman I know who's a Republican... so it must be good. :) (Actually, I know it is. ;) ) From WTF Is It Now?!?:

February 17, 2011

Why Aren't Democrats Doing Health Care?

Last week, I published a comment about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) that discussed the MB's social services to Egyptians and wondered why the Democratic Party in the United States wasn't doing something similar:

I see groups like the MB, CAIR, MAS, etc., as organizations working for the greater good of humanity. The Democratic party in the US could learn a thing or two from the MB and their feet-on-the-ground social services. (Americans need health care? Why haven't the Democrats started up free or low-cost clinics for these people? Don't they think these people won't remember on election day?)

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from the Muslim American Society (MAS) featuring an article in the Gainesville Sun that was originally published on February 9th. The article is about a free medical clinic that the Gainesville Muslim community is setting up (opening on the 26th) that will provide primary and preventative medicine, insha'allah, to adults and children, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. The clinic is being run by volunteers and paid for through donations.

Now, rhetorical questions I would ask of my fellow Democrats are: Do you think this clinic will become popular with the local community? Do you think the Muslim community in Gainesville will benefit from a PR-perspective by opening this clinic? Do you think the Democratic Party, which is much better funded than a small group of Muslims, would benefit with electoral support if they were to help fund/run these types of clinics nationwide? (Even if these clinics were not run or funded directly by the DNC, they could be run through a foundation created by the DNC, as Singapore's dominant political party, the People's Action Party (PAP), does with their charitable foundation.)

February 13, 2011

After Egypt, Who's Next?

Two weeks ago, I had posted on my Facebook wall a link to Dr. James Hamilton's blog post, Geopolitical Unrest and World Oil Markets. In that post Dr. Hamilton (of the University of California, San Diego) showed that there is a possible inverse relationship between a country's oil production and that country's political instability. Meaning, those countries with low levels of oil production were among the first to revolt, whereas countries with high oil production have shown greater stability. The implication is that the lack of petrodollars had not provided enough of a political safety net for the governments to cover their weak economies.

Hamilton's brief analysis covers (in the order of increasing oil production as a percentage of the world total) Lebanon (0.0%), Tunisia (0.1%), Yemen (0.3%), Sudan (0.6%), Egypt (0.8%), Libya (2.1%), Algeria (2.5%), Iraq (2.7%), Iran (4.9%), and Saudi Arabia (11.7%).

Now, if Hamilton's thesis is correct, then Egypt appears to be the last of the "low-hanging fruit" to have undergone political unrest. Theoretically, then, Libya and/or Algeria should be the next to revolt.

The potential problem with this analysis is that it doesn't explain all of the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa or the lack thereof. For example, Lebanon and Sudan have had long-standing government instability; that they should be undergoing problems now (such as the collapse of the government in Lebanon or the recent referendum in Sudan to split the country into two) are not terribly surprising given these countries' histories.

Likewise, I suspect that some countries that should have gone into turmoil may have had their chance but won't either because their societies are too stable (Morocco? Oman?) or because the state's security apparatus is too strong (Syria?).

What the professor also didn't mention was that Iran, which is second only to Saudi Arabia in oil production, already had its instability in the Green Movement protests of June 2009 that were quashed. I'm not expecting another major uprising in Iran (a la Tahrir Square) anytime soon.

What I think the protests really point out is that standards of living matter. Even more so than a lack of democracy, the economic corruption that pervades certain countries' economies is ultimately the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak. I say this with not only the Arab revolts currently going on in mind, but also the dissolution of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe in 1989, which underwent similar revolutions for similar reasons. Republicans in the United States, who seem hell bent on trying to lower American standards of living, should take note of the potential consequences for their actions.

February 11, 2011

Are Muslims Sexually Repressed?

The original question asked was:

Are American (or even non-Muslim Asian) cultures really more sexually repressed than Islamic cultures?

And I answered:

I'm not convinced that Islamic cultures (or, at the very least, Islamic culture here in SE Asia) are as sexually repressed as you might think. All these kids aren't delivered by stork, ya know! ;) However, Muslims generally believe that private matters between husband and wife stay within the family and are not discussed with others. And I think that this lack of discussion outside the family may be creating a perception among non-Muslims that Muslims are sexually repressed when we're not. (And the same reasoning may explain other groups, such as American conservative protestants who also have a perception of being sexually repressed.)

To which the followup question was:

How so -- isn't Islam pretty unequivocal about condemning homosexuality and sex outside of marriage?

Islam also requires a strict code of modest dress, and sex segregation is part of many Muslim cultures.

What definition of "sexual repression" are you using?

And my response is:

I don't view any of these things as being indicative of "sexual repression." Homosexuality and sex outside of marriage is forbidden especially so as to prevent the spread of various diseases; likewise, sex outside of marriage is forbidden so as to give any resulting child from any sexual activity the chance to grow up within a nuclear family, supported by both parents both emotionally and financially. As for gender segregation, this is done only to prevent improper behavior between the sexes.

The thing about "modest dress" and, indeed, the entire notion of "sexual repression" among Muslims is that what non-Muslims see is merely our public face, what we Muslims want you to see. What you don't see is the private face of Muslim life away from non-Muslims. The dress codes for both men and women are indeed about modesty, piety and avoiding improper behavior, but that has nothing to do with Muslim family life, when the hijab comes off. For me, sexual repression is about the fundamental attitudes people have toward sexual behavior: procreation only vs. procreation and pleasure vs. pleasure only. Islam definitely encourages the middle view: procreation and pleasure. We love to have sex for the pleasurable and loving experience, but we also love kids (and I think the demographic statistics bear that latter statement out; certainly the Christians are worried about Muslim birth rates).

So I would say, don't confuse what you see with reality. :) By this I mean, seek to understand the reasoning behind what the Qur'an and Sunnah command, whether that thing is allowed or forbidden. The biggest problem Islamophobes have in understanding Islam and Muslim culture is that they take almost everything at face value and react off of what they see. But they have little to no understanding of the deeper meanings or reasonings behind our concepts and behaviors. These people the Qur'an compares with the "lolling dog" (7:176) or cattle (7:179, 25:44, 47:12). The Qur'an really does expect Muslims to understand the deeper meanings, not just what lies on the surface.

February 4, 2011

Tropical Cyclone Yasi

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft captured this infrared image of Tropical Cyclone Yasi at 11:11 p.m. EST February 2, 2011 (04:11 UTC). Yasi has moved further inland and is gradually weakening. At 10 p.m. EST Feb. 2, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 60 knots (111 kilometers per hour, or about 70 miles per hour, equivalent to a strong tropical storm. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, despite crossing Australia's Great Dividing Range, the system has maintained clear organization, as seen in the AIRS image. The AIRS data show that the storm's cloud tops have warmed substantially and there has been a significant decrease in convection. The storm will continue on its course until dissipation deep in the Australian interior.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Note: For earlier satellite images (similar to the one above), see PIA13834: Monster Cyclone Yasi Eyes Australia in NASA Image and PIA13836: Yasi's Fury Rakes Northeastern Australia.