Blogroll lost!

Well, I was playing around with the theme of my blog and was trying this new one out and realized that for some reason, all the blogs on my blogroll are now gone.  Ahhh.  I haven’t been on here in a long time so I don’t even really remember offhand who I was following!  So – if you’d like me to follow you, please comment here and I’ll check you out!  Thanks all. 🙂

Update: it seems that my blogroll is still there in my settings, but it is not visible for some reason.  Anyway if you want me to follow you, let me know.  And in the meantime I’ll try to figure out how to get my links and blogroll to show.

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Breaking the Silence

Hello all, and sincere apologies for my very long silence.  The past few years have been extremely stressful and exhausting.  My job has kept me overworked, underpaid, mentally exhausted, and completely burned out.  That combined with issues in my personal life, I have had no energy to even think about anything else.  My hope is to brush off the layers of dust that have collected on my blog and begin updating it with all the various thoughts and reflections that have passed through my mind all throughout this time.  So much has happened, so many realizations – it will be hard to go back and track everything, but at least there is a plethora of material to draw from!

I’m finally enjoying a break between semesters for the first time since taking my job – we’ve had to work through all the breaks previously.  We’ve been granted faculty status (finally) and now have a real vacation.  This is the first time I’ve had more than a few days off at a time, and is the first time I haven’t had to worry and stress over lesson planning, grading, and work-related issues since I took this job!  I hardly know what to do with myself.  Thus far I’ve been too worn out, both physically and mentally, to do anything but lay around.  Hopefully my brain and vigor for life will begin to come back.

Anyway, I’ve got a few posts in mind, so be on the lookout for those coming soon!

Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season… Right?

I have to admit that Christmas has always been my most favorite time of year.  Growing up, I always had a running countdown of the days left until Christmas – in fact, my countdown started even before my mom put up the handmade advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree, on which we would hang one bell for each day that passed.  On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would stay up all night, eagerly anticipating Christmas morning – when we could wait no longer, we would rush into our parents’ room and terrorize them until they got up (5 am isn’t early for Christmas, is it?).  And yes, even now, I still enjoy the festivity of the season, with all the bright lights and beautiful colors and music, and the overall bustle and thrill of anticipation that seems to run through nearly everyone.

Of course, Christmas these days seems to be carried out to the extreme – people rushing from one place to another, spending too much money, desperately searching for discounts, feeling overwhelmed and stressed with all the parties, performances, traveling, and various obligations we have this time of year.  Amidst it all, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and get swept away by the tide of commercialism, consumerism, and decadence, causing many religious observers of the holiday to feel obligated to bring things back into perspective by echoing the well-known phrase: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t even have Christmas if it weren’t for the birth of Jesus….  right…?

My investigation into the history of Christmas began by accident back when I was in college (and still a Christian).  My friend and I were musing over the purpose of Christmas trees, since it seemed unlikely evergreens would be that common in Palestine during the time of Jesus.  I decided to look it up on the Internet, and immediately saw that indeed, the Christmas tree was of pagan origin.  I didn’t feel too good about that, so I stopped any further searching as I didn’t want to know what else might have pagan origins as well!  Of course though, over time, my curiosity got the better of me and I did begin to look into the origins of Christmas, which became easier to face as I had begun having doubts about Christianity anyway at that point.

So is Jesus the reason for the season?  Well, although it sounds nice and feels good to say, unfortunately, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  In reality, Jesus is more of an afterthought, added to the holiday several centuries later.  The real reason for the season comes not from one sole source, but from a variety of other religions and traditions, the majority stemming from pre-Christian ancient Roman religious practices.  For instance:

Christmas day (Dec. 25th):

In ancient Babylon, this day was a celebration of the son of Isis, during which people would have a feast, throw wild parties, and engage in gluttonous drinking and eating.

Later, in pre-Christian Rome, the holiday, termed Saturnalia, was celebrated in honor of the god Saturn.  This was a time of hedonistic debauchery, celebrated with large feasts, drunkenness, and even orgies.

Another pre-Christian Roman religion was that of Mithra, the sun (or “son”) of God (in fact, much of Paul’s teachings about Jesus are exactly the same as the teachings of this religion).  December 25th was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra.

Christmas caroling:

In celebration of Saturnalia, some ancient Roman people (known as Mummers) would dress up in costumes and travel from house to house, entertaining people with songs and dances.  Incidently, when Christianity came on the scene, caroling was actually banned by the church.

Christmas trees:

Trees were worshipped by the ancient Druids in Northern Europe, and during the winter, people would often bring evergreen trees (and sometimes decorate the trees) inside to remind themselves of the hope of the new life to come in the springtime.  Early Christians abhorred the practice, and believed it to be blasphemy.

Gift-giving

Even giving family and loved ones gifts on Christmas has pagan roots – during the celebrations of the god Isis, people would commonly give each other gifts.  For Saturnalia, the rich often gave to the poor and less well-off people around them.   Gift-giving was also banned by the early church.

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus comes from 4th century bishop, St. Nicholas, who was known for giving gifts to others secretly.  When the church realized the difficulty of preventing people from celebrating the traditions of the popular culture around them, they allowed gift-giving on the rationale that St. Nicholas, a Christian, had done it.  The mythical figure of Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas, and in the 1800s, American cartoonist Thomas Nast began drawing yearly pictures of him (initially in religious robes), which thus began the transformation into the bearded, plump, short man in a red suit that we are familiar with today.   Ironically, the only originally Christian Christmas tradition just so happens to be Santa Claus, whom many modern-day Christians now bemoan and even refuse to include in their Christmas celebrations.

Jesus

Jesus was later added into the well-established tradition of Christmas celebrations about 300 years after his death, as church leaders decided that it was too difficult to fight against the tide of Roman culture, and determined instead that it would be better to add a Christian element to the mix to better attract non-Christian Romans to the religion with the promise of allowing them to retain their popular religious traditions.  In reality, however, Biblical historians believe Jesus to have been born sometime in September, nowhere near the date of December 25th.

The Real Reason for the Season

So, the real reason for the Christmas season is exactly what we see today (minus Santa Claus and the actual name, which stems from “Christ-mass”).  Overindulgence, gluttony, excess spending and the materialistic emphasis on gift-giving (or rather, gift-getting), wild parties, drunkenness, and debauchery.  Excess and frivolty is the reason for the season.

If Christians want to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then they should celebrate it in September, but should take care to remember that there should be no caroling, no Christmas trees, or presents (unless you’re Catholic, in which case Santa Claus and gift-giving is allowed as per St. Nicholas).

The fact that so many Christians ignore the history of the development of their OWN religion and religious holidays is astounding.  Admittedly, I was once one of them, and in retrospect, I know exactly why I chose to remain blissfully ignorant.  The truth will force one to face the reality of one’s beliefs, much of which is based on mere fantasy and fairytales.  Logic and fact should therefore be avoided at all costs in order to avoid shattering the fragile glass house constituting one’s beliefs.

In the end, celebrating Christmas for what it truly is – a purely cultural holiday – is certainly not something horrific or satanic.  Rather, Christmas is a cultural tradition deeply embedded in Western societies, with a rich and diverse history extending back thousands of years.  It is doubtful that modern Westerners worship Christmas trees, Saturn, or Mithra, nor do they sing songs to Roman deities or engage in mass orgies (well, the majority probably doesn’t anyway).  On the contrary, it is a wonderful holiday during which people gather together with family, give each other presents as a sign of our appreciation and love for one another, and make unforgettable, warm memories that will stay with us to the end of our lives.  Certainly, there is nothing un-Islamic or un-Christian about that.

So, to that end – Merry Christmas everyone!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

http://www.essortment.com/all/christmaspagan_rece.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

A Day of Thankfulness

I thank God for this precious gift of life, for the beauty and wonder of His majestic creation around me, and for the sustaining bond of family and loved ones, in spite of all their flaws.

I thank God for rending the veil of ignorance and blindness from my eyes, and allowing me to see the truth plainly and clearly, no matter how painful the truth is.  I am eternally thankful to God for guiding me to the right path, and for giving me the tools to find the truth in all things.

I am grateful for all the hardship and difficulty I face, as only through trial can I struggle and grow into a better person.

“God’s blessings are numerous, and my tongue is too weak to count them.  His favors are abundant and my understanding falls short of grasping them… I thank God for giving me the ability to thank Him – even my thanking requires thanksgiving” (Imam Ali ibn Hussein, from Sahife Sajjadiya).

I pray that on this day of thankfulness, we will reach out to those less fortunate than us, and share the overflowing blessings that have been undeservedly bestowed on us.  Look around at those near you; if everyone helped those in their close circles, no need for charity would ever exist.  “If any one of you finds your near ones in want or starvation, he should not desist in helping them” (Imam Ali, from Nahjul Balagha).

To my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving! 

Abortion: The Islamic View

Growing up as an Evangelical Christian, abortion was always something denigrated and preached heavily against as it constitutes the murdering of innocent children.  I have participated in Pro-Life rallies and protests, holding signs and shouting with everyone else.  I believed very earnestly that the mother made the choice to have sex – it was not the choice or the fault of the unborn child, who does have a soul (as David (as) says in Psalms that God knew us while we were still in the womb, and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”).

Yet this narrow view of abortion only accounts for some of the reasons why women choose to have abortions: some have abortions to save the mother’s life, or because the mother was raped (which was certainly not a choice on the mother’s part!), and so on.  Some of these women are in fact married and are not engaging in pre- or extra-marital sex, which may be shocking for some to realize (something never ever talked about at any of the churches and protests I went to!).

Upon converting to Islam, I automatically assumed these same beliefs held true for Muslims as well: no abortion whatsoever.  Yet, I was very surprised to learn that actually, Islam takes a contextual, realistic view of abortion, unlike the black and white stance of Christians.

In fact, the Quran even weighs in on the ever-contested debate of when (or if) a human fetus has a soul: derived from Surah Mo’mineen, Islamic jurists have ruled that abortion before the 4th month is permissible IF the mother’s life is in danger.

Why favor the mother’s life  over the baby’s life?  Well, Islam follows the principle of choosing “the lesser of two evils.”  When you’re faced with only two choices, both of which are bad, you have to go with the ‘least’ bad.  In the case of a pregnant woman whose life is in danger, saving her life is better because she may have other children dependent on her, a family, a spouse, relatives, loved ones.  She is already well-established and known in this world, so to lose her would cause a great deal more heartache and trauma than that of the unborn, still unknown baby.  Plus, if we favor the baby’s life over the mother’s, then who will care for the baby?  The baby will be an orphan, and runs a very high risk of having a difficult life.

Some Islamic jurists have even ruled that abortion to save the mother’s life can take place at any time during the pregnancy, even after the 4 month time frame.  In fact, I’ve been told that this is the case in Saudi Arabia: a pregnant woman can go to a hospital and have an abortion upon discovering that her life is in danger, at any time during the pregnancy.

I’ve also read that some jurists have stated that a woman who has been raped may also abort the baby, although not everyone agrees, as opponents believe that baby falls into the same category as a baby with defects or handicaps (for which abortion is not allowed).

The issue of abortion is yet another clear example of the Islamic emphasis on logic and reason working in harmony with faith.  It is not a stark black and white issue; rather, just like all else in life, it is an issue that requires context and logic.  Religion should not stand in opposition to logic and intellect – God is the Creator of reason, so most certainly, His religion would not oppose His natural system.  SubhanAllah (glory to God).

American Domestic Terrorism

Although Western media has programmed us all to automatically associate terrorism with Islam, terrorism is certainly not under sole proprietorship of extremist so-called ‘Muslims’.  In fact, Christian terrorism is alive and well in the US to this day, in the form of several different organizations.  The abortion clinic bombings and murders of doctors and staff (one such murder occurred just last year: Dr. Tiller was gunned down while he was in church, of all places) are good examples of present-day Christian extremism.

I recently watched a documentary chronicling one Christian extremist group closely involved with many of the bombings and murders that took place in the 1990s.  It’s very interesting to see how they justify killing others for the sake of God, and even how they apply a great deal of psychological pressure one young member in particular to engage in violence.

I’ll post it here so you can watch it for yourselves:

How to Successfully Support Israel

I came across this article in another blog site and found it too well-written to pass up.  Written by Gabriel Ash, it comes from a blog entitled “Jews Sans Fronteires.”

How to make the case for Israel and win

To the benefit of the many not-very-bright zionist wannabe apologists who read this blog assiduously, I decided to offer a clear and simple method of arguing the case for Israel. This clear and simple method has been distilled from a life spent listening to and reading Zionist propaganda. It is easy to follow and results are guaranteed or your money back.

So don’t hesitate! Take advantage NOW of this revolutionary rhetorical system that will make YOU a great apologist for Israel in less time than it takes to shoot a Palestinian toddler in the eye.

Ready? 1..2..3..GO!

You need to understand just one principle:

The case for Israel is made of four propositions that should always be presented in the correct escalating order.


  • We rock
  • They suck
  • You suck
  • Everything sucks
  • That’s it. Now you know everything that it took me a lifetime to learn. The rest is details; filling in the dotted lines.

    You begin by saying how great Israel is. Israel want peace; Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East; the desert blooms; kibutz; Israelis invented antibiotics, the wheel, the E minor scale; thanks to the occupation Palestinians no longer live in caves; Israel liberates Arab women; Israel has the most moral army in the world, etc.

    This will win over 50% of your listeners immediately. Don’t worry about the factual content. This is about brand identity, not writing a PhD. Do you really think BP is ‘beyond petroleum’?

    Then you go into the second point: They suck. Here you talk about the legal system of Saudi Arabia, gay rights in Iran, slave trade in the Sudan, Mohammad Atta, the burqa, Palestinians dancing after 9/11, Arafat’s facial hair, etc.

    There is only one additional principle you need to understand here. It will separate you from the amateurs. You need to know your audience. If you’ve got a crowd already disposed to racist logic, go for it with everything you have. But if you get a liberal crowd, you need to sugar coat the racism a bit. Focus on women rights, human rights, religious tolerance, “clash of civilizations”, terrorism, they teach their children to hate, etc. Deep down your audience WANTS to enjoy racism and feel superior. They just need the proper encouragement so they can keep their sophisticated self-image. Give them what they crave and they’ll adore you! But be careful not to ‘mix n match,’ because it will cost you credibility.

    When you’re done, there will always be dead-enders insisting that abuse of gays in Iran does not justify ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Take a deep breath, and pull the doomsday weapon: You suck!

    You’re a Jew-hater, Arab-lover, anti-Semite, you’re a pinko, a commie, a dreamer, a naive, a self-hater, you have issues, your mother worked for the Nazis, Prince Bandar buys you cookies, you forgot you were responsible for the holocaust, etc. The more the merrier. By the time you end this barrage, only a handful would be left standing. For mopping them up, you use the ultimate postmodern wisdom: Everything sucks.

    War, genocide, racism, oppression are everywhere. From the Roma in Italy to the Native-Americans in the U.S., the weak are victimized. Why pick on Israel? It’s the way of the world. Look! Right is only in question between equals in power; the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Ethics, schmethics. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Eat, drink! Carpe diem! The Palestinians would throw us into the sea if they could. Ha ha!

    Trust me, that’s as far as words can go. If you followed this method faithfully, you’ve done your work. You should leave the few who are still unconvinced to the forces of order.

    Congratulations!
    You are now ready to
    apologize for Israel like a pro.