Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Paradox of Union and Separation


Today, January 28, 2015, was supposed to be one of the brightest days for one of our high school colleagues as it is his wedding day, but sad to say, it turned out to be one of the gloomiest days for him and his family as his beloved father passed away last night (January 27).

This melodramatic incident unambiguously speaks about an often neglected slice of life – that our life is nothing but a paradox of union and separation. The birth of a baby is obviously a panorama of union and a joyous addition to a family. Yet, we rarely realize that it is also a moment of separation for him from the world of the womb to which he was too much accustomed for a period of nine months or so. Death of a senior family member is obviously a source of grief and sorrow as it signals his departure from our realm of corporeality. Yet, it hardly dawns upon us that it is also his rendezvous with his long-deceased loved ones, say, his parents and grandparents.

Every moment of ours is a moment of union and separation. As a pre-school pupil goes to school for the first time, she actually bids goodbye to her familiar playmates in the neighborhood, and at the same time, it is saying ‘hello’ to classmates and schoolmates. As the Grade 6 pupils melodiously sing their graduation song, the song is actually a hymn of separation and union – separation with elementary classmates and friends, and an impending meeting with new classmates and buddies in high school. As the high school graduates throw their togas’ caps, they know pretty well that it is a gesture of bidding farewell to the memorable high school life. At the same time, it is an opening vista to a universe of friends and colleagues in the university. This double-bladed sword of life (union and separation), a person continues to carry, as she obtains her bachelor’s degree, enters the corporate world, gets married, begets members of a football team, becomes old, retires from work, and finally soars high into the sphere of eternity and her Beloved’s Domain.

In short, as the sun sets in the west, it is actually a sneaky goodbye kiss to one’s day and a most exciting embrace to another day with the breaking of the smiling dawn.

Given this life’s paradox of union and separation, Ernesto, your batchmates sincerely congratulate you on your wedding day today!

Let the caravan move on after every momentary sojourn.

Categories: Philosophy | Leave a comment

The Modern Poet’s Burden


Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister of Adolf Hitler, once said, “A lie, if it is repeated a hundred times, becomes the gospel truth.”

The World of Propaganda

When the people of Sham received the news that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib was fatally wounded by Ibn Muljim in the mihrab (niche) of the Kufah Mosque, they could hardly believe that Abu Turab (‘Ali ibn Abi Talib’s epithet) would visit a mosque and much less that he knows how to pray! These they were saying about a person who would spend the whole night privately conversing with His Lord, entreating, imploring and beseeching Him in utmost humility and abjectness. Lady Zaynab bint ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib – that articulate voice of ‘Ashura – had to swim against the tide of ‘truth,’ ‘justice’ and ‘movement’ in inverted commas in order to hoist the true banner of the truth of Muhammad truth, the justice of ‘Ali and the movement of Husayn. Regrettably, the minbar (pulpit) – that sacred Prophetic platform for the conveyance of the Divine revelation and dissemination of socio-political instructions – was not spared from the blemish of black propaganda. As can be recalled in history, it was in the very minbar that the foremost defender and believer of the faith and scribe of the revelation would be cursed every Friday prayer throughout the then Muslim world from Sahara Desert in the west to the Ganges River in the east. This malpractice would continue for more than a generation until it was finally ended by Umayyad caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Yes, whether we like it or not, we are living in a world of propaganda. Look around us – billboards, tarpaulins, graffiti, monuments, and simple signboards. These are all tools of propaganda. Yes, ours is a sphere of incessant struggle; ours is a stadium of perennial competition of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Yes, ours is a world of media spinning and manipulation.

The ‘Poets’

In Arabia during the time of the Prophetic mission, this role being played by the mass media, as we know it today, was played by the poets or shu‘arā’. At the very beginning of ‘The Message’ film, poets could be seen in a poetry-arena vying one another in impressing more the tribal and clan chiefs and prominent figures with their words of flattery and eulogy. On various occasions – marriage ceremony, war declaration and burial procession – poets would compose rhymes and elegies to incite emotions and move people. Innermost feelings were also expressed in poetry. For instance, Abu Talib’s unflinching allegiance to the Faith of his forefathers Ibrahim and Isma‘il as well as his unwavering support to the mission of his nephew Muhammad could be gleaned from his poetical verses. In the same manner, Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah’s skepticism and mockery of the Prophetic mission and the sending down of revelation could also be found in his couplets, as recorded in history.

The Poets in the Scripture

Given this pivotal role of the poets at that time, it is not surprising that Chapter 26 of the Qur’an is known as Sūrat al-Shu‘arā’ (or, Chapter: The Poets). Interestingly enough, out of 227 or 228 verses of the Chapter, the poets were the topic in only the last seven verses, yet the sūrah is still called Sūrat al-Shu‘arā’. Without quoting anymore in this marginalia the Arabic text, an English rendition of the said verses is as follows: Shall I inform you (of him) upon whom the satans descend? They descend upon every lying, sinful one. They incline their ears, and most of them are liars. And as to the poets, those who go astray follow them. Do you not see that they wander about bewildered in every valley? And that they say that which they do not do, except those who believe and do good and remember God much, and defend themselves after they are oppressed; and they who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back. (Q 26:221-227) The following points can be inferred from this passage: * That the majority of poets were condemned for being liars and sinners; * That these poets were followed by the misguided ones; * That these poets had no specific agenda of their own – they wander about bewildered in every valley; * That these poets say in their poetry what they themselves do not do; * That there is also a group of poets not included in the categorical condemnation – those possessing such qualities as (1) belief in God, (2) doing of good, (3) constant remembrance of God, and (4) defending the rights of the oppressed.

The Poets’ Burden

In today’s setting, this exceptional group of poets may be represented by a very few media people and journalists who are neither submissive to the selfish interests of the corporate media nor included in the payroll of politicians and power-holders. This is while the rest of the media people, with due respect to those who are not guilty, are a showcase of those characteristics of the poets for which they are categorically condemned by the Scripture – being liars, sinners, followed by deviants, paying lip service and having no wholesome agenda. As such, the burden of the upright ‘poets’ of today is to possess those four exceptional qualities – (1) belief in God, (2) doing of good, (3) constant remembrance of God, and (4) defending the rights of the oppressed – while upholding the ideals of journalism – honestly and fearlessly relating the events to the people.

Media 2.0 as the Modern Poets’ Arena

This burden of the upright journalists is compounded by the nature of the new playing field. Not too long ago, the study of media would deal with the post-Gutenbergian mass communication through a small number of key forms like the printed books, newspapers, cinema, radio, and television. It was characterized by the writer or reporter shaping the ideas and opinions of the recipient or reader about the events. This is what mass communications students call ‘Media Studies 1.0’. With the advent of the computer technology and the paving of the information superhighway, there is now a murky distinction between the news producer and receiver.  Gone are the days when the news production owners had the sole monopoly of the creation and production of the events’ narratives. Through social networking sites, for instance, the ‘conventional’ news receiver could easily react to the news, thereby shaping the opinion of other ‘receivers’. Most often, the news of an event would shape the trend and even the outcome of that event. (For instance, a septuagenarian wife reported in the news that her fellow septuagenarian husband was missing. After sometime, the missing old man was found through the voluntary efforts of young netizens who had helped in locating him throughout Metro Manila and the surrounding towns.) This ambiguity concerning the producer-versus-receiver and event-versus-news divide is dubbed ‘Media Studies 2.0’. In fact, some media scholars and practitioners are now talking about Media Studies 3.0. For the meantime, it is not our concern to delve into this matter.

The Challenge Facing the Upright Modern Poets

After stating the nature of the media, its crucial role and the present playing field of the players, let us lay down the aspects of the challenge facing ideal journalists or what we may label as ‘upright modern poets’. The challenge facing them is to narrate the true account of events in the most convincing manner. Unless the concerned netizens tell their own story, others will do so on their behalf – but in the most unjust and unfair way possible. This is our own version of the “Publish or perish” dictum.

Categories: Current Events, Information Technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

More on Being a Resident Stranger

 Abrahams Journey to Egypt 1024

Early morning yesterday – that is, only a few hours after reposting the other night an old piece entitled “On Being a Resident Stranger” originally written on February 9, 2009 – I was reading an article “Reading the Qur’an as a Resident Alien” by His Reverence Whitney Bodman of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Texas) published in The Muslim World Journal (volume 99, October 2009).

It is interesting to know from this journal article about a concept similar to that of the ethical-mystical ghurbah espoused in “On Being a Resident Stranger”. Rev. Bodman talks about the concept of gēr (‘resident aliens’) in Hebrew which refers to the sojourners of the Old Testament. Accordingly, like Abraham sojourning in Egypt (Genesis 12:10), the gēr is both resident and alien.

For further information, one may refer to the article on ‘Sojourner’ in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) VI, 103-4.

Categories: Ethics and Mysticism, History | 2 Comments

On Being a Resident Stranger


Written: February 1, 2009

After yet another post-‘Ashura commemoration program held recently at the research institute with which I am currently connected, my daughter handed to me an LBC package. “Yes, Mustafa has sent them as he promised,” I whispered to myself while reading the sender’s address.

A few days earlier, I had received a text message from my Batangeño friend asking for my postal address as he has a gift for me. As I found out, the brotherly present consists of DVD films about Saint Mary, the Holy Messiah and the Companions of the Cave [ashab al-kahf] from an Islamic perspective. In his subsequent text message, I learnt that Mustafa offered similar items to his Christian relatives and friends as Christmas gift.

What I had initially thought to be only 2-minute examination of the DVDs’ quality turned into over 2 hours of watching the “Companions of the Cave” film. Dubbed in English, the Iranian-produced movie is about seven young Unitarian Christians in Asia Minor during the Roman rule sometime in 300 CE. In order to preserve their faith, the seven youth escaped from the tyranny of the pagan Roman ruler and took shelter in a cave. As part of God’s plan and sign of His omnipotence, they were made to sleep inside the cave for generations. When they woke up and went out of the cave, they realized that they stayed there for a long period of three centuries!

As mentioned in Surah 18 of the Qur’an, the Seven Sleepers found out that their town turned into a bustling city no more ruled by polytheists but by those who professed to believe in God and His Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. Yet, unexpected by the people who were anxiously waiting for them at the cave’s opening, the Companions of the Cave preferred to remain inside where they passed away while in a state of prostration in prayer.

A recurring theme in this story is what is called ghurbah in ethics and mysticism. The Arabic word ghurbah denotes ‘remoteness’ and ‘distance’ and its derivative gharib means ‘stranger’, ‘alien’ or anything which is far in relation to something else. This remoteness or farness may not only be physical but also spiritual, intellectual or emotional.

In spite of being Romans of noble ruling class, the seven believing youth were strangers in their hometown where worship of the Roman gods was then prevalent. That’s why they escaped from this state of ‘strangeness’ and sought refuge in a cave where they felt being ‘home’. Yes, when they came out of the cave, Roman paganism was no more yet they were still strangers!

Before, they were alien to the open polytheism practiced in society. The second time around, they were stranger to the hidden polytheism of ‘believers’ in the forms of hypocrisy, worship of deities and materialism. Likewise, the people were also foreign to them. Finally leaving the cave, a sixth generation grandson of the chief of Seven Sleepers told his granddaughter, “Let’s go my daughter; we are strangers to them.”

This state of ghurbah is a recurring theme throughout the annals of history. Thousands welcomed Muslim ibn ‘Aqil on his arrival in Kufah. The following day, they would scatter on seeing him and walk away as if they had never known him!

After the event in Karbala, the enchained womenfolk and children of Imam Husayn’s (‘a) camp were ‘strangers’ to the Muslim masses. So was the message of ‘Ashura to them. Even today, Imam Husayn is such a gharib to the followers of his grandfather Muhammad (s). Every year, local Muslims would welcome Muharram with the beating of drums in weddings and other joyous occasions.

Palestinians of Gaza are worse than strangers as they stand amidst the rubbles of their homes, looking for the remains of their loved ones. Much worse strangers than them are the Arab rulers who are abandoning them at the mercy of their ‘cousins’. Equally alien to ‘decent living’ are the internally displaced people in Maguindanao and other places. Indeed, much alien to humanitarianism are those who have a hand in their ordeals by omission or commission.

And everyone is a gharib in his or her own watan (hometown). Stranger is the husband whose wife does not partake in the love of the Holy Household (‘a). Stranger is the parent whose child adopts a lifestyle repugnant to modesty and decency. Stranger is the wife who wakes up alone for the dawn prayer as the husband is in slumber. Stranger at home is the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) follower whose siblings are Yazid-lovers. Stranger is the learned in the company of ignoramuses. Stranger is the pious in a holier-than-thou assembly.

In closing, let me wrap up this marginalia with a couplet from Hafiz:

I belong to my Beloved’s town, not to the land of strangers.

O Lord, unite me with Your friends!

I belong to my Beloved’s town, not to the land of strangers.

O Lord, unite me with Your friends!

Categories: History, Throwback | Leave a comment

Demanding More than Condemnation


On the month of the wiladah (birth) of Prophet Muhammad – Rabi‘ al-Awwal – the third month in the Islamic lunar calendar, it’s quite appalling to hear the news of the Charlie Hebdo incident that resulted in the death of 12 people and wounding of 10 others.

For me, two issues are mainly involved here, viz. (1) the horrendous crimes committed and (2) freedom of expression. In this space, let me just deal with the first issue.

According to a news feed, one suspect allegedly declared that what he was doing was a reaction to the said Paris-based satirical magazine’s persistent practice of making cartoons lampooning Muhammad.

Be that as it may, the question is: Is the alleged punishment undertaken commensurate to the alleged crimes committed? In other words, does it warrant a death sentence? Does it call for sheer vigilantism without any regard to the due process of law?

Condemnation, yes, it must be in the strongest terms possible. But, is condemnation just enough? Of course, something must be done more than this.

Of a surety, similar awful incidents will happen again and again unless the wrong notion that almost every Muslim has the blanket authority to issue a religious edict (fatwa), justifying a particular punishment for a particular alleged crime.

The Amman Message or Amman Accord, which started as a detailed statement released by King Abdullah of Jordan in Ramadan 1425 AH (November 2004) and followed by convening in July 2005 of an international conference of 200 of the world’s leading Muslim scholars (‘ulama) from 50 countries, is worthy of our attention.

A relevant point highlighted in Amman Message is that acknowledgement of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madhahib) within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas. In other words, only a high-ranking scholar worth his title has the authority to issue religious edict. As such, not any Abu Bakr, ‘Umar or ‘Uthman is religiously qualified to do so.

The said document is reportedly the largest contemporary ijma (consensus) in the Muslim world. From July 2005 to July 2006, it has already earned 552 endorsements from 84 countries including those of King Abdullah al-Saud and 14 other personalities from Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Tantawi of Egypt, Sheikh Qaradawi of Qatar, Ayatullah Sistani of Iraq, and Ayatullah Khamene’i of Iran.

Can you guess the number of prominent Muslim entities from the Philippines that have endorsed the document? Zero, unfortunately.

Is it not high time now for entities such as NCMF, ARMM, MILF, MNLF, and the like to consider endorsing the Amman Message?

Categories: Current Events | Leave a comment

The Cosmetics and the Acid Test

Gaza child 2011

Written: January 5, 2009

On my return home last October from abroad where I attended an international conference and spent the whole month of Ramadan, my wife and I were treated by a longtime friend and brother-in-faith at a favorite Thai restaurant somewhere in Makati City.

No sooner that Tom Yam Goong was served than my former classmate started a casual tête-à-tête, “You know, I regularly monitor the US presidential race. I would hardly miss watching Obama’s speeches and interviews. I also read news reports of his election campaigns and debates. I like his ideas. With him, I hope for a change for the better. I really like to see him campaigning along with his ­hijab-wearing sister.”

“How about you, do you also monitor him?” he asked me. “I don’t have much time for it!” I replied. “As a student of International Relations, do you think this attitude of yours is good?” he asked again. “Of course, I read news reports and analyses of the presidential race, but I do not expect any fundamental change even if Obama wins the election—and I think he’ll make it,” I clarified.

When he asked me why I said so, I stressed that winning presidential election in the United States involves a lot of money. No one could take a seat in the White House without the blessing of financial groups and institutions. So, the person of the US president is not a decisive factor for global change, and no change in the US foreign policy in the Middle East, for example, can be expected.

As my family proceeded to Mindanao—to Cotabato City, to be specific—I noticed that the same positive expectation from Obama was expressed in local radio programs in Maguindanaon vernacular. A radio host and commentator was even daydreaming that Barack is a Muslim!

It was with such atmosphere of optimism for Obama that a lady ambassador of “goodwill and humanitarianism” paid a visit to evacuees and internally displaced people in Maguindanao and promised them so-and-so million US dollar amount of aid for rehabilitation, without them knowing that the superpower state Her Excellency represents is responsible for the ignominy that is Guantanamo Bay, the havoc that is Afghanistan, the quagmire that is Iraq, and perhaps, the terror that is 9/11.

Last December 28, while sipping a cup of tea with chamomile in the early morning, I heard over the radio that Tel Aviv began massive aerial and naval strikes in Gaza Strip. The ground invasion also commenced last Saturday (January 3). As of press time, at least 531 Palestinians have been killed and over 2,600 others are wounded. And the death toll is rising.

As usual, all attempts at the UN Security Council—the latest of which was yesterday—to call for immediate ceasefire have been vetoed by the United States. Where and how is Obama, the expected catalyst of global change? Still a silent spectator. Anytime now, expect him to express a word of support for the onslaught. Make no mistake about it—the least thing that can be expected from him is a word of condemnation or even a veneer of neutrality.

To put a brief marginalia to this episode, Obama is mere cosmetics while Gaza is the acid test.

Categories: Middle East, Throwback | Leave a comment

Short but Worthwhile Visit

2015-01-04 BahayMaria3

CCSPC Batch ’89 (Day and Night Classes) colleagues’ short visit to ‘Bahay Maria’ last January 4 was worthy of reflection for many reasons:

1. It’s a first-time experience for many, if not most of us, to visit such a noble place. Contrary to the common notion that it’s a home for the aged, it’s actually more than that; it’s a home for the abandoned ones regardless of age and religious affiliation.

2. It’s an unintended reminiscence of our deceased fathers and mothers and longing for even a minute to render service to them more and express our love.

3. It’s a realization that we must be very grateful for what we have – the family. The residents of Bahay Maria are those who are already abandoned by, and detached to, their respective families. Although they have found a new home, it cannot be denied that wounds are still there. Even if the wounds are healed in the course of time, definitely the scars remain.

4. It’s also a reminder or wakeup call for all of us to try our best to keep the foundation of our respective families formidable and resilient to withstand amidst the storms of trials and tribulations.

5. It’s a good opportunity to share blessings as well as to acquire the blessings of sharing.

Categories: Community Service | Leave a comment

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