Current Events

Revisiting the ‘Verticalization’ of Eschatology

Mahdawiyyah

MAKATI CITY (3 June) – Exactly eight years ago, while waiting for half a dozen professors constituting the defense panel to finish reading the last draft of my dissertation, I had embarked on the translation into English of a Persian book on the mystical subtleties of supplication (du’a’).

For two straight days, however, I had to set aside the Persian treatise and a couple of Persian-English dictionaries so as to meet the deadline for the submission of full paper for an annual international conference on Mahdism or Messianism.

I wrote a paper on the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem in Islamic Messianism, which I had sent on the last hour via email to the conference secretariat.

As in previous years, this international assembly which was held at OIC Summit Conference Hall in the northern part of Tehran was expectedly flocked by participants of diverse religious affiliations—Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians of various sects and denominations, and of course, Muslims belonging to different madhahib (schools of thought).

Twenty years ago, while we were sitting in front of a college in MSU-Main Campus, a Seventh-Day Adventist friend of mine from Bukidnon told me, “Everything can serve any purpose. You see, if I position this horizontally (referring to a blue ballpen he was holding), it serves as a bridge, but if I put it this way (that is, vertically), it becomes a wall.”

Accordingly, ‘horizontal’ God is He who is viewed as the Creator and Lord of the universe and all mankind. This Supreme Being becomes ‘vertical’ when He is thought to have certain few ‘favorites’ at the expense of a ‘damned’ majority.

Religions also function as a bridge if the common elements among them such as spirituality, moral principles and a notion of Judgment Day are more emphasized. This function was illustrated by la convivencia (‘coexistence’ or ‘living together’) put into practice in Toledo in particular during the Moorish rule of Spain. As a microcosm of the atmosphere of religious tolerance then prevalent in the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims were working together in the city’s libraries, translating books from Arabic into Castilian Spanish and then into Latin.

On the contrary, there is no more need of embellishing this column with accounts of religions in ‘vertical’ position as human history is drenched enough with innocent blood spilled in their name.

Eschatology is no exception to this horizontal-vertical binary.

Etymologically derived from the Latin eschatos (‘last’ or ‘farthest’), eschatology refers to the branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or the ultimate destiny of mankind. One of its important subjects is the idea of a ‘savior’ to come at the end of time. This awaited savior is known by various names and titles—Saoshyant, Messiah, Christ (in his Second Coming), and Mahdi, among many others.

Neither is Filipino folklore devoid of it. Legend tells us that Bernardo Carpio who is confined in a cave in Mt. Tapusi in Montalban Mountains (or Mt. San Mateo in Rizal) or trapped within two clashing mountains for a long time will one day come out to redeem the Philippines. (Apo Ferdie, as I was told by a Marcos loyalist when I was 12 during the 1985 Snap Election, was the personification of Bernardo! Remember the catchphrase, “This nation can be great again!”)

Sociologically, human society in whatever appearance it takes—race, nation, class or religious order—upholds this concept. As argued by Dr. ‘Ali Shari‘ati, a contemporary Iranian sociologist and historian, all known communities, without exception, display two common characteristics. First, every community holds that in the distant past it had a ‘golden age’ during which there was justice, peace, tranquility, and love, and that this golden age came to an end at some point in time and was followed by corruption, darkness and injustice. Secondly, they believe in a great and liberating upheaval in the future and a return to the golden age—the age of victory of justice, equality and brotherhood.

These beliefs obviously serve as a bridge as they give a sense of hope, determination and common universal vision and purpose for all peoples of diverse cultural currents and religious persuasions.

This is the ‘horizontal’ side of the story.

Its ‘vertical’ side is now spectacularly moving toward its catastrophic climax as suggested by the carnage of civilians perpetrated daily by ‘Islamist puritans’ in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, certain messianic extremists in Iraq are reportedly as zealous in resisting foreign occupiers as in engaging in intra- and inter-sectarian frenzy of reprisals, executions and vandalism.

Meanwhile, televangelists and other ‘new armies of God’ are passionate enough in freeing the genie of apocalyptic prophecies (e.g. Daniel 9, Ezekiel 38, Revelation 16:14-16) out of the bottle and wish for their governments to unleash trigger-happy dogs of war in the Middle East, thereby heralding the ‘coming of the Lord’.

An equally smart version of ‘vertical’ eschatology is the espousal of God’s alleged consignment of a piece of land to His selected ‘darlings’ to the detriment of the ‘outcasts’ and ‘bastards’.

In this critical moment when eschatology is extensively fielded via satellite and in the cyberspace as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), a universal campaign to stop its ‘verticalization’ is an indubitable recipe for planetary survival.

The annual worldwide gathering on Messianism/Mahdism is a seminal stride, though a limited one, in a long gradual process of forging a ‘Non-Proliferation Treaty’ specifically covering this more devastating type of WMD.

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The ‘Amman Message’: A Primer

The Amman Message

MAKATI CITY (3 June) – Immediately after the first round of Pakighinabi (Conversation) Series on the significance of the ‘Amman Message’ in interfaith and intra-faith dialogues (http://www.addu.edu.ph/blog/2015/04/29/the-significance-of-the-amman-message-by-dr-mansoor-limba) at the Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City, on April 22, 2015, and another presentation (The Role of Religious Organizations in the Promotion of Mutual Understanding and Harmony: The Case of ‘Amman Message’) at an international interreligious conference on the approach of Islam and Christianity towards religious extremism and violence (http://www.ust.edu.ph/news/international-conference-on-interreligious-dialogue) held at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, on April 29-30, 2015, the need for an introductory reading material on the said document was expressed by some attendants to both forums. This primer is a personal response to the said request.

Q: What is the ‘Amman Message’?

A: The ‘Amman Message’ started as a detailed statement released on the eve of the 27th of Ramadan 1425 AH / 9th November 2004 by H.M. King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Q: What does the ‘Amman Message’ significantly contain?

A: The ‘Amman Message’ significantly contains three (3) questions posed to 24 of the most senior Muslim scholars from around the world (including Shaykh al-Azhar of Egypt, Ayatullah Sistani of Iran and Shaykh Qaradawi of Qatar): (1) Who is a Muslim? (2) Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir)? (3) Who has the right to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)?

Q: What relevant event happened subsequent to the issuance of the detailed statement?

A: In order to cement further the religious-legal authority of the answers to the said three fundamental questions, King Abdullah II convened in July 2005 an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Muslim scholars (‘ulama) from 50 countries.

Q: What were the points highlighted in the said conference?

A: Three (3) points were highlighted in the said conference, namely: (1) Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (madhahib) of Muslim jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali), the two Shi‘ah schools of Muslim jurisprudence (Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Muslim jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Muslim jurisprudence, is a Muslim. (2) There exists more in common between the various schools of Muslim jurisprudence than there is difference between them. (3) Acknowledgement of the schools of Muslim jurisprudence (madhahib) within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas.

Q: In short, what is the significance of the ‘Amman Message’ in intra-faith dialogue or the relationship among Muslims?

A: The said document is reportedly the largest contemporary ijma (consensus) in the Muslim world. From July 2005 to July 2006, it had already earned 552 endorsements from 84 countries including those of the late King Abdullah al-Saud and 14 other personalities from Saudi Arabia, Al-Azhar University Rector (mufti) Sheikh Tantawi of Egypt, Sheikh Qaradawi of Qatar, Ayatullah Sistani of Iraq, and Imam Khamene’i of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As of June 1, 2015, there are 68,975 online endorsements since March 1, 2007.

Q: What are other efforts along this line of the ‘Amman Message’?

A: In contemporary time, there have been many intra-faith efforts by Muslim scholars, some of which are the correspondences (al-muraja‘at) between Sheikh Salim Bisri of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and Sayyid Sharafuddin Musawi of Lebanon; the exchanges between Sheikh Mahmud Shaltut of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and Sayyid Husayn Burujerdi of Iran; the opening of Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib fi’l-Islam (Forum for Proximity of the Schools of Thought in Islam) in Egypt; re-opening of Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib fi’l-Islam in Tehran; the declaration of 12th to 17th of the Islamic lunar month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal as International Islamic Unity Week; and the annual International Islamic Unity Conference every month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, among others.  

Q: In short, what is the significance of ‘Amman Message’ in interfaith dialogue or the relationship of Muslims with followers of other religions?

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

Amman Message’ website further elaborates, thus: “The safeguarding of the legal methodologies of Islam (the madhahib) necessarily means inherently preserving traditional Islam’s internal ‘checks and balances’. It thus assures balanced Islamic solutions for essential issues like human rights; women’s rights; freedom of religion; legitimate jihad; good citizenship of Muslims in non-Muslim countries, and just and democratic government. It also exposes the illegitimate opinions of radical fundamentalists and terrorists from the point of view of true Islam.”

Q: Given this intra-faith and interfaith significance of the ‘Amman Message,’ how can one endorse the document?

A: It is very easy. The endorsement can be done online. Just visit ‘Amman Message’ website at http://www.ammanmessage.com.

Q: How long will online endorsement take?

A: It will only take one to three minutes to fill up the following information: full name; email (required); country (required); date of birth (required); title; position; organization; whether Muslim or not; whether Muslim scholar (‘alim) or not; and gender.

Q: May a non-Muslim endorse the ‘Amman Message’?

A: The fact that one of the pieces of information asked in the online endorsement box is whether the endorser is a Muslim or not logically follows that a non-Muslim may endorse the ‘Amman Message’ considering its practical importance and benefits to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Q: How can one invite a friend to join the online endorsement?

A: The website provides a Tell a Friend Script (http://ammanmessage.com/tellafriend/index.php) which will only take a minute to fill up.

Q: How many and who are the prominent Muslim entities from the Philippines that have already endorsed the ‘Amman Message’?

A: Based on the information provided in the ‘Amman Message’ website (http://ammanmessage.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17&Itemid=31) as of June 1, 2015, there is no prominent Muslim entity yet from the Philippines that has endorsed the ‘Amman Message’.

 

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Paying Respects to a Cultural Bridge

Makati City (Mindanews / 30 May) – Recently, wings of circumstances inadvertently brought me along with a small band of dedicated field educators to the inauguration of the unprecedentedly culturally sensitive T’boli Senior High School program in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Thereafter, we proceeded to the nearby Sitio Tukolefa, Barangay Lamdalag.

T'boli Senior High School          Department of Education Secretary

In particular, we went to the Manlilikha ng Bayan Center to pay respects to the late Lang S. Dulay, the T’nalak Master Weaver and National Living Treasure Awardee, who passed away exactly a month ago.

Lang Dulay

Starting with the pounding and stripping of the abaca stems to produce fibers and make them even thinner by coaxing, to the manual dying of the strands and meticulously arranging them on a bamboo frame, and to the month-long backbreaking weaving process, T’nalak fabric is indeed a product of love and passion.

T’nalak is undoubtedly woven by the passionate hands of a fervent lover who is captivated by the charming countenance of beauty, enamored by the enticing glances of arts, and enthralled Lang Dulayby the warm embrace of craftsmanship. It is a lasting canvas of Beauty, the Beautiful and the Beautiful-lover.

Lang Dulay is the Dreamer of not only the more than a hundred T’nalak designs, but also of the more important design to preserve her people’s ethnic identity and to pass on the cultural heritage to the generations to come.

She is an eloquent interlocutor with her people about the simultaneous processes of globalization and localization, of homogenization and heterogenization, of fusion and fragmentation. As she weaves, she is most expressively dialoguing, engaging in the perennial dialogue between the logos of tradition and that of post-modernity; between the logos of preservation and that of adaptation; between the logos of isolation and that of integration.

Gawad ng Manlilikha ng BayanLike a translator who serves as a cultural bridge between the original (text) language and the target (translation) language, the late Master Weaver is a cultural bridge between historical past and the fast-changing future of the T’boli tribe.

As a cultural bridge, her litany is weaving; her voice is her nimble hands; her slogan is silence and concentration; her banner is the roll of T’nalak; and her hymn is the praise for immortality and transcendence.

After bidding farewell to the Center’s attendants before noontime as I had to catch my flight from Metro Manila via Davao City, an adjacent old mosque caught my attention. I asked permission from a young man sitting in front of a small store for me to take a picture of the aging house of worship. And I learned from Faisal Dulay, a Sitio Tukolefa MosqueMuslim great grandchild of the late Dreamweaver and T’boli icon, that their clan members, numbering around two hundred, who peacefully live side by side in Sitio Tukolefa are followers of different faiths – Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.

As I was on board the aircraft, I had one more realization: Lang Dulay’s bamboo-built Center is also a school of a parallel living tradition – the ideal tradition of religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.

MindaNewsMINDANEWS>MINDAVIEWS>MARGINALIA: http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2015/05/30/marginalia-paying-respects-to-a-cultural-bridge

 

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My Tehran Diary

MyTehranDiary

The present book is a collection of 11 short essays on various subjects I had written when I was still a postgraduate student of International Relations at the University of Tehran. Three of these essays – “Remembering Hafiz,” “He Whose Crime was Justice” and “Who is Papanok?” – were published in Mindanews.com, an online news magazine based in Davao City, Philippines. In the eleventh essay entitled “Tale of a Long Tunnel,” I gave a brief account of my experiences while pursuing my graduate and postgraduate studies. It was penned soon after my dissertation defense and I was then about to return back home (Philippines).

Table of Contents
Preface
Chapter 1 – Remembering Hafiz
Chapter 2 – He Whose Crime was Justice
Chapter 3 – Shall the Cyberpower of Quds Day Whither Away?
Chapter 4 – Who is Papanok?
Chapter 5 – On the ‘Verticalization’ of Eschatology
Chapter 6 – The Politics of Hermeneutics or the Hermeneutics of Politics?
Chapter 7 – What Autumn Means to Me
Chapter 8 – Right to Have a Good Name
Chapter 9 – Personally Experiencing Existentialism 1
Chapter 10 – Personally Experiencing Existentialism 2
Chapter 11 – Tale of a Long Tunnel
About the Author
Other Books by Mansoor Limba
Connect with Mansoor Limba

Author: Mansoor Limba
Title: MY TEHRAN DIARY
Published: 2015
Words: 10,670
Language: English
ISBN: 9781310878060
Available formats: epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, html, and Kindle
Price: US$2.99

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/545988

MyTehranDiaryAmazon

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Quotes from “Visualize Your Destination!”

The following are quotes from “Visualize Your Destination!” – a recently delivered commencement exercises message of inspiration:

Visualize1

Visualize2

Visualize3 Visualize4

Visualize5

Visualize6

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The Case of ‘Amman Message’

USTPresentation

Presentation: THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS IN THE PROMOTION OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING AND HARMONY: THE CASE OF ‘AMMAN MESSAGE

USTConfab

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE(Theme: “The Approach of Islam and Christianity Towards Religious Extremism and Violence”), BGPOP, University of Santo Tomas, Manila, April 29-30, 2015.

USTConfabInterview

The following were among the issues raised after the paper presentation on the second day of the conference: (1) the word ‘infidel’ in [some English translations of] the Qur’an; (2) ritual impurity (najasah) in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh); (3) settlement of the ‘shared values’ on human rights, freedom and liberty, gender equality, freedom of expression, the sacred and the profane, etc.; (4) Is the current happening in the Middle East a product of post-intra-faith dialogues among the Muslims?

USTInterfaithConfab

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‘Amman Message’ and ‘A Common Word’

Amman Message - Davao

During the open forum, since many issues were raised – salvation for non-Muslims in Islam, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the nature and scope of ‘fatwa’, what an individual Muslim could believe and act upon without necessitating an issuance of ‘fatwa’ from a higher authority, ‘intellectual oppression’ (‘zulm al-‘aqli’) in political jurisprudence (‘fiqh al-siyasi’), the meaning of ‘God as unfathomable’, bottom-up or top-to-bottom approach to combat religious violence, the problem of mid-level Muslim scholars issuing ‘fatwa’, and Muslim unity in an environment of sectarian violence, among many others – I failed to clarify the following two points:

Amman Message’ refers to the initiative which initially started as a detailed statement released in Ramadan 1425 AH / November 2004 by the King of Jordan and followed by the convening of an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Muslim scholars from 50 countries. It is intra-faith in focus. See http://ammanmessage.com.

A Common Word’ (in Arabic, ‘Kalimatun Sawa’un’) refers to the initial letter or document on the common platform between the Jews, Christians and Muslims dated October 2007 (1428 AH) issued by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought of Jordan, which was positively responded by the original 138 signatories. It is interfaith in focus. See http://www.acommonword.com.

The term ‘A Common Word’ is taken from Qur’an 3:64: “Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).”

AmmanMessage-Davao2

Thanks to FB for having this opportunity to clarify.

AmmanMessage

(Text of the Presentation: http://www.addu.edu.ph/…/significance-amman-message-dr-mans…)

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The Politics of Hermeneutics or the Hermeneutics of Politics?

hermenuetics1 

When I was translating into English a book on the untold story of freedom a decade ago, I encountered for the first time a hermeneutically enigmatic couplet of the great Persian poet-mystic Jalaluddin al-Rumi whose 800th birth anniversary was commemorated by UNESCO on September 2007 and whose magnun opus, Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi (Spiritual Couplets) was first translated into English in full by Reynold A. Nicholson in 1925-40.

Rumi sings, thus:

That one is ‘shir’ [milk, or lion] in the ‘badiyeh’ [cup, or jungle]. And the other one is ‘shir’ in the ‘badiyeh’. That one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human eats). And the other one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human drinks). 

The word “shir” means “milk,” as well as “lion”. “Badiyeh” also denotes two meanings: the first one is “desert” and the other is “cup” or “vessel”. In this couplet, it is not exactly clear which one is “lion” and which one is “milk”. Badiyeh is equally not clear which one means “desert” and which one means “vessel” or “cup”.

This Rumian style is inherited by Maguindanaons, though in a simpler but somehow blunt fashion.

When a curious child would ask about the identity of something an adult Maguindanaon is holding, it is not uncommon for the latter to say, “Ut_n na midsa.”  Usually, the former would demand clarification, “What is midsa?” but receive only one-word reply, “midsa.” So, he would suppose that midsa is a kind of animal, but years later, he will realize that midsa means ‘one who asks’ and therefore referring to himself!

In interfaith circles, ‘dialogue’ could mean different things. In mid-1980s Durban-based Ahmed Deedat took issue with the Holy See for evincing his willingness to have ‘dialogue’ with Muslims when, accordingly, he meant something else, and therefore, challenged him to a ‘dialogue’ in St. Peter’s Basilica without realizing perhaps his own use of the same word (dialogue) that also means something else, i.e. ‘debate’—and possibly an acrimonious one. In 2000 two medical doctors, Dr. William Campbell and Dr. Zakir Naik, engaged in a religious ‘dialogue’ which every neophyte member of a university debating team can easily identify as actually a debate.

During the Cold War era, the ‘subversive’ or even ‘activist’ (read ‘communist’) was the favorite villain in the ‘free world’. Shortly after the dismemberment of the strongest bastion of communism in the world, the ‘subversive’ or ‘activist’ was soon replaced by the ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ or ‘extremist’.

After the 9/11, it is the time for hunting down ‘terrorists’. It is interesting to note that Jason Burke dedicated his informative book on Al-Qa‘ida—his first written book—on the victims of both ‘terror’ and the ‘war on terror’.

Since the occupation of the war-rampaged Iraq in 2003, this politics of hermeneutics or hermeneutics of politics—depending on one’s reading—has its own version: the hermeneutics of rafidah with the aim of throwing two birds with a single stone.

Literally means ‘one who rejects’, rafidah (plural rawafid) is translated as ‘heretic’ and its derivative modifier rafidi as ‘sectarian’. For centuries and especially more recently, it is increasingly used as a pejorative designation for a Muslim sectarian group demographically the majority in Iraq since its British-midwifed birth in 1920. Until the fall of the Ba‘ath regime in 2003, however, this majority had been persecuted and politically disenfranchised.

How to convey a sectarian message totally comprehensible to adherents and at the same time capable of fending off outsiders’ accusation of the message’s advocacy of sectarian-based civil war and division of the ummah?

The solution lies in playing with the ambiguity of the word rafidah.

Vitriolic verdicts on the urgency of killing rawafid channeled through audiotapes distributed within the flock of votaries and downloadable at insurgent websites are coupled with everyday carnage of civilians in public places such as markets and houses of worship.

Condemnation of these mass murders is immediately deflected by claiming that the targets are only the “collaborators working with the Crusaders”. Granting that police stations, military outposts and political figures are legitimate targets, why market-goers and worshippers are daily victims?

If ever pounded with this question, rafidah-manipulators argue that voters are responsible for the actions of leaders they elected: “[T]hey are not ordinary people… for they have become the soldiers of the infidel occupier… Did not al-Ja‘fari, al-Hakim and others come to power through their votes?”

Given this line of argument, one may wonder how and at which voting precinct the dome and two minarets in Samarra cast their votes for which they were condemned to destruction for two counts.

Hence, the use of such word is truly a powerful bomb that must be detonated. In postmodernist parlance, this textual interplay at work requires either deconstruction or double reading, or both.

For Derrida and Foucault wannabes, this is a golden opportunity to test the validity of these twin tools. I just hope they would not discover and thereafter conclude that ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ themselves also require deconstruction and double reading.

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Is ‘Gems Sigay’ a Kaleidoscope, Rainbow or Mosaic?

Gems

Kaleidoscope. Rainbow. Mosaic. These are three words which are commonly used to describe a high school reunion’s reorganization, and its subsequent gatherings and activities.

Kaleidoscope refers to a tube-shaped optical instrument that is rotated to produce a succession of symmetrical designs by means of mirrors reflecting the constantly changing patterns made by small objects. It depicts a high school reunion group that constantly changes its colors of activities. At one time, it is all about wining and dining, while at another time, it is purely community service and civic action.

Rainbow, as we all know, is a bow or arc of prismatic colors appearing in the sky opposite the sun and caused by the refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in drops of rain. A high school reunion is said to be a rainbow if its planned activities are too high and too big to be implemented or realized. And after a long period, they will just remain as ‘planned’ activities.

Mosaic, meanwhile, is used to describe the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. This word portrays a high school reunion which determines a set of diverse activities and then takes small, yet constant, steps toward their realization.

Today, exactly three months (or a quarter year) after the first ever reunion 25 years after graduation in high school, it is worthwhile for CCSPC Batch ’89 (Gems Sigay) to assess the identity it tends to assume – a kaleidoscope, rainbow or mosaic?

Immediately after the reunion day, the following steps in building our Contact Directory have been proposed: (1) Maintenance of FB Group Page, (2) Listing of mobile contacts, (3) Grouping according to fields of endeavor or line agencies, and (4) Grouping according to locations. (It’s part of commitment to the first step that this nondescript has to join the FB community.)

The following guiding principles have also been suggested: (1) Managing the Batch shall be a microcosm of our ability to duly serve (a) others (batch mates), (b) our alma mater, and (c) the community; (2) Batch ’89 shall be a marketplace of different and differing ideas; (3) Transparency shall be observed in financial matters and motives; (4) Reunion shall be an avenue for community service and giving back of blessings; and (5) To aim big while doing the doable things no matter how small they may be.

With these proposed steps in building our Contact Directory and guiding principles, the scene of actions in the past three months is dominated by the following activities, among others: charity works, luncheon meetings, homecoming parties, reaching out to a sick batch mate, wedding events, funeral services, entrepreneurship seminars, birthday greetings, etc.

The coming months, until the next reunion, will determine if we could maintain this mosaic of small, yet diverse, activities and programs. We hope we can – and we will!

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The Modern Poet’s Burden

journalists

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.

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