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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Discourse 327. Exit Gaddafy, Exit Controversy!

Discourse 327.
Exit Gaddafy, Exit Controversy!
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The reign of Gaddafi in Libya is practically over. Yesterday, opposition forces stormed his compound but could not find him. Tripoli has finally fallen. Though Gaddafi is yet to be seen, it is unlikely that he will make a come back. Like others before him, the end of his regime has come. And times have been so generous to him. For 42 years he reigned over the land of Libya, its resources and the minds of its people.
 
Opinion is divided on his exit, just as it is divided on his personality. Is it a loss or a relief? Is Gaddafi a hero or a villain?
 
To Afro-centric scholars, to proprietors of African unity, to blind opponents of the West among Muslims, Arabs and socialists, the exit of Gaddafi is a great loss for many strong reasons.
 
The Russians, Chinese and socialist regimes in Latin America like Yugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and socialists around the world the fall of Gaddafi is a great loss to the left. The capitalist West has again conspired to overthrow another champion of the people and social justice. To compound their sorrow, Gaddafi has not allowed the emergence of another socialist leader after him. Throughout his tenure, he remained the invincible leader that directed the affairs of his country. The forces that overthrew him are therefore unlikely to completely maintain his socialist principles. Like Egypt after Nasser, Libya in the long run is most likely going to belong to the West, almost forever, with its loyalty and transactions probably dictated by the quartet of America, Britain, France and Italy.
 
To Afrocentric scholars and Pan-Africanists, Africa has lost a brother, a big brother, someone who stood by its freedom fighters for the past four decades. His stamp is there on the historical narration of African independence struggles: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, to count the ones I personally witnessed. He has stood by many African leaders who recognized his leadership regardless of their character from Idi Amin to Charles Taylor. He has donated generously to many continental endeavours, like the African communications satellite that he almost single-handedly financed to block the exploitation of African countries by Europe.  Finally, he represented the last advocate of African unity with his dream of United States of Africa project which other African leaders found too impractical to invest in.
 
To many Africans who live under corrupt regimes, Gaddafi would be just the leader they are looking for in their present state of poverty and regime corruption. His country has the highest per capita income in Africa, meaning, on the average, his citizens are the richest on the continent. He accorded Libyans housing, food and decent material living far better than the dream of many Africans. He did not keep a foreign account where he will stash any ill-gotten wealth. (Of course, as an absolute dictator, he did not need one) His government, he said, is for the Libyan people: a Jamahiriyya. Such Africans would wonder why Libyans would overthrow such a benevolent leader, until they read the End of History and learn about thymos.
 
Gaddafi has sympathizers also among Arab nationalists. After the death of his mentor, the Egyptian socialist dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Gaddafi would carry the baton of Arab Nationalism and unity for at least the next three decades. As Nasser tried to unsuccessfully forge unity between Egypt and some Arab states like Syria and Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s, Gaddafi also tried to unite Libya with Sadat’s Egypt, Numeiri’s Sudan, Bouguiba’s Algeria and Hasan’s Morroco. Each effort was met with failure. He renounced the treaty with Israel and even expelled over 30,000 Palestinians when the PLO, an organization he generously financed, harboured and trained, signed the Oslow Accord. You can say, with little fear of contradiction, that he was the last truly Arab nationalist leader.
 
To many Muslims, his ouster by a combined power of NATO and rebel forces is enough to earn him their sympathy either as a result of religious affinity or the rational calculation that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He is a victim of Western conspiracy, they would say, a claim they share with his socialist supporters.
 
Now, who would be celebrating the fall of Gaddafi and for what reasons?
 
The jubilations in Libya clearly indicate the large number of its citizens is not missing Gaddafi. His supporters did not come out in large numbers to defend him as he predicted and he had to hire mercenaries from Europe and Sub-Saharan African to do the dirty job of suppressing the opposition in his usually brutal way. Even the army he has built has melted away. The air of freedom, such opponents of his regime expect, will soon start to breeze over Libya as soon as the new government stabilizes.
 
There are groups within Libya that are welcoming the exit of Gaddafi.  The Berbers and Islamist movements are surely the two that will not miss him. They bore the brunt of his tyranny more than any other. The Berbers can now continue their struggle for the restoration of their language just as the Islamists who are conspicuous in the rebellion will seek the liberty to pursue their cause. They would only pray that secularist forces do not shortchange them as it happened in the Algerian revolution.
 
This is not to mention the Libyan Diaspora that consists of a variety of its academics, intelligentsia, civil rights activists and political opponents of Gaddafi. The days they were targets of assassination by Gaddafi’s revolutionary committee across the world are certainly over. Those who are still alive can stay peacefully overseas or return home to partake in the building of new Libya.
 
The Muslim credentials of Gaddafi are suspect to many Islamist. He brutally suppressed them, as Nasser did to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He gave unqualified support to the war against terror. He supported the Serbs in the Bosnian conflict against Bosnian Muslims. He is also accused of assassinating the Iraqi opposition scholar, Musa Baqir Sadar, who disappeared after leaving Lebanon en route Libya over two decades ago. Clearly, Gaddafi is not a favourite of Muslim regimes and organizations, except those that patronize him for material purposes.
 
Gaddafi is also not a hero to many Africans. Thousands of families in Chad, Uganda, Liberia and Sudan will celebrate his downfall. The war he waged in these countries or the support he gave to their despots did cause substantial loss of lives. The opponents of dictators like Idi Amin, Mangestu, Charles Taylor or of genocidal groups like the the Janjawid would hardly forgive him. Then there are also African immigrants – from Mali, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, etc – who were often deported unceremoniously without any right to their possessions. Many African leaders may also feel relieved of the burden of handling Gaddafi’s vituperations or unrestrained statements regarding their internal affairs, like how he often proposes the separation of Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South.
 
Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia have already expressed their happiness over his overthrow. Their official papers carry titles like “Gaddafi: The Exit of a Tyrant”. He has been a pebble in their shoes. He is to them a live specimen of the socialist contagion that overthrew their counterparts in Iraq and Egypt. He was also the member of the anti-West group in OPEC, along with Venezuela and Iran.
 
Finally and surely, the West will feel relieved of a person whom it has charged of financing many terrorist groups and activities; who is behind the bombings of civilians in Berlin and Lockerbie; who has limited its access to Libyan oil; and who is a long standing enemy whose friendship it cautiously embraced recently.
 
Gaddafi has therefore been a controversial figure and so is his exit. Whatever is your opinion about him, the reality is that his regime is gone. He might try to regroup his loyalists and constitute a security challenge to the new government, as did Saddam before his capture. Or he may be caught and handed over, as would be the fate of his son – Saif al-Islam, to The Hague to face war crime charges.
 
Amidst the sorrow of his loss and the jubilations of his exit in different camps, the future of Libya remains unclear until it is certain. My pessimism arises from the experience of many countries after the departure of their dictators. Somalia after Barre is a classical case. Others are Yugoslavia after Milosovic and Zaire after Mobuto. The key to averting such catastrophes is how the new government would handle the interest of the diverse groups in the country. If it lives to its dream of building a free, independent, transparent, prosperous and all-inclusive Libya, very few Libyans will care to remember the benevolent Gaddafi. The alternative is bloodshed, like Iraq and Afghanistan, which we hope will be avoided at all cost.
 
The West has certainly helped to avert bloodshed in Benghazi and tremendously assisted the rebels in overthrowing Gaddafi. As I have always maintained, it does not need to apologize for aiding the overthrow of leaders who are brutal to their people. However, I am still skeptical if it will be fully compensated by the Libyans immediately. Beyond access to oil – that too at reasonable price – a puppet regime is very unlikely. Though they may have been tired with the Gaddafi’s Libyans may not be in haste to abandon his egalitarian principles.
 
Exit the republican, Arab, Socialist, Islamist, African Gaddafi.  Exit controversy.
 
Abuja
24 August 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Discourse 109 Farewell Ramadan

Discourse 109

Farewell Ramadan

I present my readers with a special edition of our discourse; a barka da sallah of three articles presented in one straight edition. The marathon essay is a farewell to Ramadan. The month visits us annually, as part of the twelve months in the Islamic calendar, months that were ordained by God “the day He created the heavens and the earth.”  (9:36) Although it is not part of the “sacred four” (viz. Zul qida, Zul Hajj, Muharram and Rajab), it is by no means less important than any of them. That is because each time it visits us, it comes with offers that no other month will present us with.

I do not intend to belittle other months, as we said earlier, they were created by God, and behind each of His creation is a purpose (3:191; 38:27). But consider that one form of the gifts of Ramadan alone – a night most probably in the last one third of its tenure – “is better than a thousand months.” (97:3)

​Like small kids used to a generous visitor, we lament that it will not be here with us longer than the ordained 29 or 30 days. Much as that lamentation is obvious, we are nevertheless glad that its grants are durable enough to last its absence. It is in this regard, of gratitude and remembrance, I felt compelled to bid it farewell by recounting the opportunities it offered for making us better human beings and better Muslims, annually. I hope the little that I hereby committed on paper will be a reminder to my readers such that they will make the best use of the gifts that Ramadan gave them and, hopefully also, they will eagerly await its return next year.

Fasting

The most obvious gift Ramadan is associated with is fasting. Fasting means abstinence from what is lawful. Even outside the sphere of religion, people do fast for one reason or another to maintain the strength of their body, its shape or voice. Aqqad once wrote in second volume of his Islamiyyat, saying, “we have seen all sorts of fasting these days, done for the sake of the body, and none for the sake of the soul.”

In religion, fasting has been a long tradition. The Virgin Mary was commanded tell the Israelites when she returned to the city with her baby: “So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if you dost see any man, say, “I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.” (19:26)

In the book of Ezekiel, as indicated in the Islamiyyat, we have seen how he fasted by abstaining from some types of food while eating others. Daniel also who abstained from any delicious food, meat and wine for three weeks, something practiced by some Christians to this day.  For voluntary fasting, the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) has recommended the fasting of David (Blessings be upon him), as he advised Abdullah bin Amr bin al-‘As: “fast for a day and eat for a day, that was the fasting of David and it is the best.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Before it was raised to the status of obligation, the Prophet used to fast as a necessary part of his spiritual training, once he secludes himself in the cave of Hira. He continued with this practice after receiving the Message. Unlike prayer that was prescribed in Mecca before the establishment of the Islamic state, fasting was prescribed in Medina when some degree of personal stability and social liberty was attained, “for thy Lord is indeed full of kindness and mercy (16:47); and He “has not imposed any difficulties on you in religion.” (22:78) That is also why he waived the immediate obligation on the sick and the traveller, and quickly added, “God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties” (2:185)

Fasting in Islam is not abstention from meat or delicious food only. Rather, it is a complete abstinence from the necessities of life – food, drink and sex – from dawn to dusk. In the temperate regions and at high latitudes this may sometimes be easy for it does not exceed three to six hours. But in the tropics and in the desert regions – like Sahara or Arabian deserts – the days may be very long, at least 12 hours and the quest for water and food could be severe. Now would this not be interpreted as “difficulty”?

No. The fact is that fasting is essential for the fulfilment of the most important identity of man: self-discipline. This is the virtue upon which the entire concept of religion and the success of man in life are based. If man is to lead a life different from that of animals he must show discretion on how he indulges in the permissible. As he strives to achieve any goal, spiritual or material, his body must be under the command of his soul. And watch him, whenever he declines, his soul must be definitely under the command of his body.

The best way to reduce the influence of the body on the soul is to deny the former what it needs best. That food and sex, the strongest motivations in the animal kingdom, were selected was to differentiate us from animals that have no goal beyond eating and propagating their species.

The point is that if a person can deny his self the indulgence in what is lawful during Ramadan, then he can, if he chooses to, tame his desire for the unlawful throughout the year. Having control over the desires of the body will accord him the spiritual position that is necessary for the fulfilment of his obligations to God. He thus attains the position of Taqwa (self-restraint), the most fundamental character of the faithful, his ultimate goal on earth and his only currency or qualification for felicity in the Hereafter.
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (2:183)

No other regulation can offer us this opportunity apart from fasting. In Islam fasting is not a recommendation but an obligation. If one would break it unlawfully for a day during Ramadan, he must compensate that single day with feeding sixty people or freeing a slave or fasting all day for sixty consecutive days in other months!

In according Ramadan fasting the position of obligation, God has saved us the trouble of negligence. It means that a billion people will undergo a turn around maintenance (TAM) every year, at the same time and without suffering from trouble of making up their minds one billion times on when to observe it individually. I did not understand the magnitude of this grace until I compared it with the TAM of our refineries. Successive governments, well aware of its need in the survival of the refineries suffered from the bug of indecision and neglected them until they broke down. Many of us would have suffered from this bug regarding fasting were it not for God’s intervention. Think of it, how difficult would it have been if fasting was made obligatory but the choice of the 29 or 30 days were left to the individual, to be observed anytime during the year, separately or consecutively? To grasp the difficulty, just remember how cumbersome it is to decide when to repay some fasting that you missed for one reason or another.

In addition, the dose was also prescribed, a month or what the Qur’an calls “a fixed number of days” (1:185). Here also, we were saved the trouble of consulting one spiritual leader or another on when to observe it and for how many days. And so on. The more we ponder over the Qur’an, the more we recognise that God has in the best way fulfilled the two most basic conditions of legislation: wisdom and knowledge. That is why God deserves our thanks for making it obligatory every year, as he clearly stated in the Qur’an: “He wants you to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (2:185)

Now doing it in congregation is another mercy from God. The Prophet was reported saying that “togetherness is mercy, and separation is torment.” That is why in Islam, congregation in worship is preferred over individual performance. Here, I beg to disagree with “show-off test” of our learned and most respected Sheikh, Abdulkadir Jilani (May God grant him mercy). In his book, al-Ghunyah, which has received the recommendation of even non-sufis like our late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmood Gumi (May God grant him mercy), he stated that, “if a servant finds it difficult to do in private the worship he does in public, then it is an indication of riya (show off).” The act of worship, in my humble view, becomes easier as a result of the blessing that God placed in the congregation as reported from the Prophet, not as a result of hypocrisy. But God knows best.

Now, having sacrificed our primary motivations, fasting takes us closer to God. At least in a year, for thirty days we share a common feeling of belonging to a congregation whose only goal is the satisfaction of God and getting closer to him through fasting, prayer and different forms of worship. The soul, debased of the primordial need of food and sex, transcends ordinary position and walks an extra mile in the spiritual sojourn that takes it ever closer to God. The movement is massive, just as the congregation: a billion people, sharing the same philosophy and culture doing the same thing for a month. It is also most assuring because as we try to move closer to the target, the target itself moves closer to us at a rate, according to a hadith, that is at least double our pace.

That is why God said, in the segment regarding fasting: “When my servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth Me: Let them also, with a will, listen to My call and believe Me: that they may walk in the right way.” (2:186)

​I am not attempting to exhaustively expound the rationale behind fasting. I cannot. The late Sayyid Qutb was correct when, in his Fi Zilal, he refused to discuss at length the wisdom behind fasting, saying, “the horizon of human knowledge is limited; it does not have the capacity to encompass, nor to discover, the Wisdom of God …” Our intention rather was to capture, albeit in a glimpse, something of the importance of fasting during Ramadan and narrate it, within the short space available, to a generation given to discourse and reason.
​Through the fasting of Ramadan, in a nutshell, an avenue is created that allows us to transcend the animal level of eating and propagation to that of proximity with the Highest Assembly in a constant preparation for a struggle to remain on the path of God. No wonder therefore, it was prescribed the very year that the Muslims were to fight their first and most decisive battle in their history: Badr.

Revelation

The second gift of Ramadan is the Holy Qur’an, the primary text of Islam. It is not possible to exhaustively list down the teachings of the Qur’an. We will therefore restrict ourselves here to its peculiarities.

First, a peculiarity which Muslims in particular must note about the Qur’an, is that it is meant to be a guide (2:2) for them. It is thus a divine manual meant to be consulted, read, understood and applied in everyday life. In other words, unlike the books that other religions use today, the Qur’an is a book of practice. It has no ‘old testament’ that is discarded as irrelevant for today, nor a ‘new’ one that is modified according to exigencies of times. Thus anyone accepting Islam is discarding all sources of legislation and adopting only that which agrees with the Qur’an. Obedience to its commandments is obligatory, as much as possible.
This explains why Qur’an alone has the capacity to furnish humanity with a divine guidance upon which they will base their everyday life. The followers of other religions have long ago denied the relevance of their books as their sole source of legislation. Today we see them depending on human reason alone which cannot be separated from whims and which is limited in scope by the limitations of our faculties to encompass the entirety of knowledge and wisdom.
Secondly, the source of the Qur’an is another peculiarity that makes it distinct from books of other religions. Its origin is 100% divine. The Qur’an has never claimed to be the only revealed book though. On the contrary, it acknowledges the revelation of others before it: like the Psalms of David (17:55), the Law (Torah) of Moses (2:53); the Gospel (Injil,, not the present day Bible) of Jesus (5:46), etc. In fact there was no nation except a messenger was sent to it (16:36), from among its people who would convey and explain the Message of God to them (14:4) and who will serve as a witness in the Hereafter that the Message has reached them (16:89). And no nation was ever destroyed except a book was sent to it (15:4).

The Qur’an has gone further to acknowledge the noble message of these books: the Law of Moses for example is described as “guidance and light” (5:44) or “guide and mercy” (46:12) and the Gospel of Jesus as “therein was guidance and light and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” (5:49) Belief in the divine origin of earlier revealed books is a pillar of the Islamic faith (2:136).

Notwithstanding the above facts, the difference between the previous books and the Qur’an is that, in their present form, the former are not completely divine. There have been adulterations, contents that clearly originated from people recounting their experience, as expressed in the differences between the numerous versions of what is supposedly the same text.

The purity of the Qur’an on the other hand arose from the promise of God to protect it from adulteration (15:9) through memorization (29:49), an act He deliberately made easy (54:17; 22; 32; 40). No other book is so protected such that “no falsehood can approach it from before or behind it.” (41:42)

Thirdly, the Qur’an is the universality of its message. It is sent to the entire mankind, living in all ages since its revelation (21:107; 33:28). Contrarily, other revelations and Messengers were sent only to their tribe. For example, Moses (61:5) and The Law given to him (32:23) were only sent to the Children of Israel. This is why even today Judaism is the exclusive preserve of the Jewish race. Jesus too was sent to the Israelites (61:6) and the Gospel with which he was sent was a confirmation of The Law (5:49) and relief from its rigour (3:50). As was reported in the Bible, he once refused to heal a gentile woman, explaining that he was not sent except to the lost sheep of the Israel. That is why Christianity did not spread among the gentiles, until the conversion of Paul, decades after the death of Christ.
The Holy Prophet of Islam and the Qur’an are the property of the entire mankind  (7:158). Only in the solvent of Islam can we find the practical dissolution of differences due to race, class, gender and political boundaries. In a single declaration, the root of humanity was traced to one source, Adam (4:1); the phenotypic and linguistic differences being purely for identification purposes while “the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most Righteous of you.” (49:13). Righteousness therefore becomes the primary qualification and yardstick of difference between people. Therefore, no one should be segregated against except who chooses to abandon the path of virtue.

That is why Islam has the fastest growth rate ever recorded in the history of mankind. Even today, it has widely been acknowledged as the fastest growing religion. The reason behind this is that God has in it struck a balance between fundamental principles that can stand the test of time on the one hand and flexible details that will suit various cultures, peoples and environments. The concepts of human purpose, reward and punishment, equality of human race, freedom of the human species, social justice and so on form the basis for the unity of mankind. They do not change. On the other hand however, under its flexibility, peoples are allowed to differ in their traditions like dress, food and even in details of marriage and forms of government.

Fourthly, concomitant with the universality of the Qur’an is the comprehensiveness of its legislation – the shariah. It covers both the secular and the religious in a way no religion could claim to accomplish. In it, there is nothing like giving “to Caesar what is to Caesar, and to God what is to God.” All belongs to God. It means that legislations have to meet the basic guidelines provided by the Qur’an without violating any of the provisions.

What is astonishing however is how Islam also recognizes the relevance of human reason and made allowance for its accommodation within the paradigm of divine legislation. In the West, divinity and reason are often regarded as mutually exclusive given the experience of Europe under domination of the Church and its attempt to subdue the Renaissance.

Contrarily, the Qur’an calls mankind to reason. A practical demonstration of that is that acceptance of its message should be based on conviction, not compulsion. (2:256) After conviction and acceptance, the Qur’an exhorts people to knowledge (96:1,3) and contemplation (34:46) as its message is meant for people who know (41:3) and for the purpose of reasoning (43:3). Through contemplation over its verses, human reason is guided and accorded an infinite scope. In as much as faith is required in following the arguments of the Qur’an (27:86), reasoning (30:28) and knowledge (29:32) are also necessary.

Thus the Truth of revelation serves as a light for human reason in the darkness of human ignorance while at the same time preventing it from straying away in the wilderness of ignorance of the past and the uncertainties of future. The Qur’an lucidly puts this in form of a question: “Can he who was dead, to whom We gave life, and a Light whereby he can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness from which he can never come out?” (6:122).

​Another aspect of the comprehensiveness of the Qur’an is how it makes man an integral part of the universe with guidelines and goals that run in harmony with those of other creations. Man is no longer alone living in wilderness, wondering whether there is any creation living elsewhere or not. He is not the species that destroys the environment for his mere luxury; neither is he the inventor of weapons of “mass destruction.” This peculiarity of the teachings of the Qur’an has made Islamic civilization distinct. The harmony, though, is not surprising because God in Islam, “is the Lord of all creations” (1:2), and “It is He Who is God in heaven and God on earth and He is full of Wisdom and Knowledge.” (43:84).

​Fifthly and finally, the Qur’an brought to humanity a true message of liberation from all forces of subjugation. In ideology it freed it from doctrines that are based on class interest or bias, hate or affinity, as exemplified recently by communism and ethnocentric creeds like Caste System, Nazism, Apartheid and, of recent especially, ethnic cleansing. Nothing like this was ever witnessed under Muslim civilization in various part of the planet. It also liberated mankind from spiritual exploitation by other people in the name of idolatry or priesthood. Finally, it liberated it from class domination. The rich, the leader and the commoners share the same law. Unlike in other civilizations, like the Roman civilization, there is no law for the Romans and another for other peoples under the empire; there is also no law for England and another for the colonies; or as we are witnessing in the aftermath of September 11, a law for American citizens and another for foreigners.

The kalimah, the epitome of Tauheed (monotheism) with which we are admitted into the fold of Islam, is a declaration of equality between all humans and that only God deserves obedience. By policies such as abolition of usury (interest), the establishment of Zakat, fair wages and gradual phasing out of slavery, distributive inheritance based on divinely fixed ratios, not on the wish of the deceased, etc, the means of economic exploitation and amassing wealth by the individual to the detriment of the society were blocked.

Under its creed of liberation, it fought many battles in order to break the backbone of human subjugation. This earned it numerous enemies, past and present. This is the challenge that the Qur’an put before People of the Book – Jews and Christians and which they could not meet: “Say: “O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God…” (3:64). When they refused and resorted to conspiracies against Islam, eight years later God accused them of polytheism: “They take their priests and their authorities to be their lords in derogation of God, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no God but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). Fain would they extinguish God’s Light with their mouth, but God will not allow but that His Light should be perfected…” (9:31)

The peculiarities of the Qur’an in terms of its effect on our lives are too many to be exhausted here. Let us make do with the five discussed above.

Now for the Qur’an, containing all the above peculiarities, to be revealed in Ramadan is a special status accorded to the month. Every year it comes round to remind us of its teaching. No wonder therefore that the Qur’an is most read during the month either as personal recitation, or as in commentary session or during the taraweeh or Qiyam. I used to ask why, not until I realized that God chose Ramadan for its revelation and the Prophet himself used to revise it before Gabriel every year during Ramadan. Every year therefore Ramadan offers us the opportunity to learn more about the Qur’an, check the strength of our memorization of its text, in addition to the abundant reward of recitation. This is a gift that no other month has given us and which no other religion can provide its adherents.

Victory

​On the 17th of Ramadan, the first year of Hijrah, the month presented another gift to Muslims that was decisive to the establishment of Islam. That was the day the famous Battle of Badr took place.

Badr was a turning point in the history of Islam. In the preceding thirteen years Muslims have suffered persecution in the hands of the Arab autocracy in Mecca. They have been tortured, exiled and killed. They were economically boycotted and when they fled to Medina their wealth was plundered. Many times the faithful were eager to retaliate. But God knew their position and, for the long-term strategy of the Message and the spiritual training they were undergoing, they were denied any permission to revenge throughout those thirteen years but to concentrate on prayers and Charity (4:77)

After their migration to Medina, permission was granted for the sake of defence and for the larger objectives of liberation of mankind and freedom of religion: “To those whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; - and verily, God is Most Powerful fro their aid; (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, - (for no cause) except that they say, “Our Lord is God.” Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated…” (22:39-40).

Badr was to be the first major encounter between Muslims and their opponents. Details of the battle is given in chapter eight of the Qur’an called al-Anfal.

God has promised Muslims a choice, in compensation for their looted wealth in Mecca, between a caravan of 40 unarmed unbelievers returning from Syria and the booty of a battle with 1000 men from Mecca: “Behold, God promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours but God willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut the roots of the unbelievers; that He might justify Truth and prove Falsehood false, distasteful thou it be to those in guilt.” (8:7-8)

The Muslims thus came out with only 313 soldiers, lightly armed, and nothing else but their faith. On the other hand, the Meccans gathered an army of a thousand soldiers and over 100 horses. They left their homes “insolently and to be seen of men, and to hinder (men) from the path of God.” (8:47) They were allured by Satan who assured them, saying, “No one among men can overcome you this day, while I am near you.” (8:48)

The Prophet sought the help of God and he promptly got it: “a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks” (8:10), a light sleep that gave them calm and a rain that purified them from the stains of Satan and gave them anchorage (8:11).

The decisive victory of Badr demystified the Arab aristocracy and opened the route to other victories culminating during the lifetime of the Prophet with the Conquest of Mecca. Within a decade Arabian idolatrous nobility was crushed forever, sinking along with it the influence and conspiracies of Jews and Christians in the peninsula together with their monopoly over revelation, literacy, knowledge and weapon industry. The Prophet was ordered to announce the flight of falsehood: “And say: “The Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by it nature) bound to perish.” (17:81)

After his lifetime, his noble Companions conquered distant nations like Egypt, the Byzantine Rome, Persia, Central Asia and North Africa. God thus has fulfilled the promise He earlier made to the faithful: “God has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted those before them; that he will establish in authority their religion – the one which he has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived) to one of security and peace…” (24:55). Whatever followed to date is our making.
This gift of Ramadan will never be forgotten. It remains indelible in our minds that whenever we hold fast to God by obeying His commands He will come to our aid. Without attaining this level of faith, we should expect nothing. Ramadan comes every year to remind us of this fact.

The Night of Power

​The fourth gift of Ramadan is a special night called lailat al-Qadr. (“The Night of Power”). The night is “better than a thousand nights.” (97:2). This is a bonanza. Spending the night in worship will be rewarded with the reward of 1000 months. This is exclusively accorded, going some reported traditions, to the nation of Islam.

​The Qur’an has conclusively fixed it in Ramadan while the most authentic of traditions have placed it among the odd days of the last one-third of the month. This is the reason why Muslims intensify worship during the nights of the last ten days. Some would travel for the lesser hajj and multiply the 1000 months with another factor of 1000 for praying in the Sacred Mosque or of 500 for praying in the Prophet’s mosque at Medina. Let’s look at the arithmetic. 1000 months x 1000 = 1,000,000 months! Dadi kashe ni. Come again: that is over 83,333 years. And God will multiply further to whomever He wishes.

​The Prophet used to stand in midnight prayers (Qiyam) especially during the last one third of the night since the beginning of revelation. Whenever Ramadan came, he intensified the night prayer particularly in the last one third of the month in order to ‘catch’ the lailatul Qadr.
​The I’itikaf, or resort in the Mosque, is also most commonly observed during Ramadan and particularly during the last ten days. Here, the entire world, together with its profit and loss, family and friends, business and office, is abandoned and sacrificed for worship of the Creator of the Earth to Whom we shall all return. The body and the soul take a leave from the agonies of the prevailing capitalist order that results in nothing but anxiety, high blood pressure and bad blood.

​This indeed is a period that could be used to purge our souls and bodies from exalting the worldly at the expense of the Hereafter. A person that spends this time as recommended will definitely emerge with a soul free from stains of Satan. It is intended that this experience will likely linger throughout the year to be expressed in the improvement of his relationship with God and other fellow beings.

Charity

​Charity during Ramadan is highly recommended. Islam lays a lot of emphasis on the society to take care of its needy. A form of charity, Zakat al-fitr – per capita Zakat – is given out to the poor by every family head for each member of the family. Though not obligatory as the Zakat of wealth, people practice Zakat al-fitr almost unfailingly. This means that at the rate of four rations of staple food per head, millions of tonnes are exchanged worldwide between the rich and the poor without any official protocol of the UNHCR or poverty alleviation officials. All this takes place within few hours in the morning of the Sallah Day.

Then comes the last offer, Eid el-Fitr or what we commonly call Sallah. It is a celebration that takes place at the end of the Ramadan. Muslims congregate on the Eid ground, wearing their newest dresses. They would pray to God, expressing their gratitude for witnessing Ramadan with the hope that their worship has been accepted by Allah and that they will live long enough to witness another occasion next year – Allah maimaita mana.

​The feeling on the Sallah day is that of intense happiness. It is one of the two summits observed by Muslims throughout the world. The smaller ones are the daily congregations at daily prayers. They offer the opportunity for people in the same neighbourhood to meet five times a day, pray together, greet and ask about the condition of one another. If there is a problem with anyone, it is noted by his absence. At a higher level, a weekly congregation takes place on Friday afternoon, drawing Muslims from many neighbourhoods, villages and settlements. Here also, God has created an opportunity for interaction and expression of solidarity in faith.

Then comes the Eids, when Muslims from many jurisdictions of Friday congregations converge in one place twice in a year, remind themselves of their obligations to God after thanking Him for His guidance and His blessings that included Ramadan. These summits all finally culminate in a grand one, the Arafat, when during Hajj Muslims from various parts of the world congregate in one place to observe the rituals of hajj and discuss matters of common concern regarding their faith and in the spirit of universal brotherhood. But Hajj is meant for those who are able in terms of wealth, health and security, at least once in a lifetime. Those of us that cannot make it are annually offered the opportunity to observe another submit here at home, called Eid el-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice – a day after the Arafat.. This is the festival done in commemoration of the sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham – the father of Monotheism. The same way he was ready to sacrifice his only son then – the most precious of his possessions – in obedience to the command of God, Muslims are supposed, by the animals they sacrifice that day, to sacrifice also all their desires that stand between them and piety.

That has been Ramadan, a period that embodies other fundamental obligations in Islam: by it faith is strengthened, prayers are intensified, charity is given and a summit that culminates in Hajj is observed. It is a month that we always wish would return and find us among the living.

Application

In the concluding part of our lengthy discourse on Ramadan, I would like to briefly examine the extent to which we conform to its teaching.

​First, the fasting. It is intended to equip us for the remaining year with self-restraint. The logic is, as we said earlier, if we could sacrifice the lawful – that is food, drink and sex – we can easily sacrifice the unlawful in terms of food, drink, sex and of course many other things.

To what extent have we achieved this? I am afraid to say that we are good at observing the abstention in the fasting, but little have we benefited from its lesson. If we had, we would have solved most of the problems facing our society. Most prominent among these problems of looting the public treasury which is constantly undertaken by the leadership with active participation of the followers. What is surprising is that both sides do fast during Ramadan but even during Ramadan not a single kobo, where possible, is saved from the wrath of these kleptomaniacs.

The problems of alcohol, adultery, theft, slander and so on would also have vanished if Ramadan were taken seriously. But as soon as it leaves, these bad habits return, in many cases right on the Sallah day, to rule over our minds for the rest of the year. Thus we could hardly be said to have achieved the objective of self-restraint.

The Qur’an, the second lesson of Ramadan, is studied and recited more often during the month – in prayers and other forms of worship – than in any other month. Agreed. But the purpose of the Qur’an is guidance. Have we made it our guide in our private and public affairs? How much of self-restraint have we achieved that will prevent us meting injustice to ourselves as well as to others? How much have strived to fulfil the promise that we will extend its message to others? Etc.

​The fact remains that we have little to show in this regard also. Few Muslims today pay attention to a real study of the Qur’an. Fewer still would ever study it cover to cover even once during our lifetime, in spite of the abundance of translations both in English and Hausa. Most of us are content with the bits we would capture from the radio during commentary sessions (tafsir) that disappear immediately after Ramadan. How then could we make it our guide or realize its peculiarities?

If we had made the Qur’an our guide in life, we would have seen thousands everyday converting to Islam to benefit from its universal message of brotherhood and peace; we would not have been preoccupied with the world and given material wealth the ultimate position in our hearts. We would have stood by the truth wherever it is and we would not have had problems especially in politics. Unfortunately, we have made truth our worst friend.

The cry for shariah and the claim of its implementation would have yielded concrete dividends in terms of our welfare, accountability and development for other states to follow. The difference would have been clear. So far, it is difficult, using the scale of development, to distinguish between the two. What we have seen so far, good or bad, is not remarkable enough to be associated with shariah. We hope more attention will be paid to this.

​As for victory, we have little to claim with our fate decided elsewhere. Our leaders remain puppets of forces that are always ready to capitalize on our poverty, ignorance and indolence. If we had met the conditions that made early Muslims eligible for the help of God in Badr and many other instances in our history, the situation would have been different. God has pledged his help to the faithful. Now, do we think it is a coincidence that when He came to narrate the events of Badr, He started and ended the chapter with the definition of the ‘truly faithful’? I have not seen a single verse in the Quran where God promised Muslims any aid, but only the faithful when he said: “And it was due from us to aid those who believed.” (30:47) The difference between the two is that ‘Muslim’ is a derived from claim (and it includes hypocrites) while ‘ the faithful’ or ‘the believer’ is derived from a conviction translated into practice and acknowledged by God. Which one are we? Who would dare an answer?

​The lailat al-Qadr approaches and the wealthy among us have made it fashionable to travel for ‘Umrah – the lesser hajj. It is now the fastest growing industry in the Muslim sector of the economy. Notwithstanding the magnitude of reward earlier computed for any worship done during the blessed night, we would wish that the journey were undertaken with genuinely acquired funds and after making sure that no stomach was left hungry here in Nigeria. Otherwise, we will hasten to advise, saying: “God is pure and does not accept anything except what is pure.”
We will remind also our brothers that there is a better way of using their surplus wealth: it should be spent in line with God’s instructions: “They ask thee how much they are going to spend; say: “What is beyond your need.” (2:219) Is it a coincidence that this instruction and the one discouraging Muslims from alcohol and gambling came in the same verse? No. The Quran ask us to think, concluding the verse by saying: “Thus God maketh plain to you (His) revelations, that haply ye may reflect.” Now, who then deserve our surplus wealth – or to use the term of the Quran, “what is beyond our need?” God said: “Whatever ye spend that is good is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, - God knoweth it well.” (2:215)

​Space will not allow us to narrate what happened to Abdullah bin Mubarak who used to perform ‘Umrah yearly for over 60 years. On one occasion, he gave whatever he saved for the Umrah as charity to a family that was in dire need of food.

Someone once visited his sheikh to tell him he is going for ‘Umrah. The sheikh asked him how much it would cost him. He replied: “70 dinars.” The sheikh asked further: “Don’t you have the poor in your town on whom you can spend this amount.”  He said, “Sir, yes, but I still want to perform the ‘Umrah…” The sheikh retorted: “A wealth that is not lawfully acquired will always refuse to be used except in what the heart desires.” That is why I intentionally italicised ‘that is good’ in the above verse.

​We would have served Islam and this country a better cause if, even for a year, we will agree to sacrifice our ‘Umrah and use the millions of dollars to be realized there from in solving just one of our problems here in Nigeria in line with the recommendation of the verse 2:215 quoted above. We would have sent foreign aid and our poverty alleviation to hell. Otherwise, once ignorance and poverty abound, I cannot see a better way of dispensing of “what is beyond our need” and is “that is good.” But, perhaps, our case is no different from that of the student and his sheikh that we narrated above.

​There has been a revolution in activity during the last ten days of Ramadan in Nigeria, especially during the last ten years. The Qiyam – where the entire Quran is recited in ten nights during prayer – is spreading like wildfire. The culture of resort to a mosque for at least a night – I’itikaf – is also becoming widespread during the last ten days of Ramadan. This is undoubtedly impressive. Nigerians have always had good records when it comes to rituals. We only wait to see how these prayers will be permitted to translate into the social piety that our society is direly in thirst of, for “prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And God knows the (deeds) that ye do.” (29:45)

​We will also pray that as we are prompt in observing the per capita charity – Zakat el-Fitr – we will endeavour to pay the obligatory charity on our wealth whenever it is due. If we had done that beggars would not have filled our streets and a welfare system would have been evolved thereby that will become the envy of other people. However, perhaps because the wealth is largely not ‘that is good’, it does not make itself amenable to charity. It prefers to yield eagerly to women, alcohol, gambling, cars and tourism – in any form it could take – to the east or to the west.

​At the end I am not sure what Ramadan will be conveying to God regarding the account of our duties, especially with the above dismal evaluation of our collective performance. I am not also sure, when it returns next year whether it will find us in a better condition of faith than how it left us exactly a week ago.

​All said however, our fate is in our hands. God is ever willing to forgive and assist whoever strives in His path, during Ramadan or anytime thereafter.

Finally, our last prayers: May Ramadan return and meet us among the living, in a better condition of faith and resolve. We are grateful to God for whatever He blessed us with during Ramadan and throughout the year as well. May His Peace and Blessings be on his noble Messenger, Muhammad, on his family and relations, his companions and on whoever followed their guidance until the Day of Judgement!

​Allah holla en mauri. Aamina.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Short Essay 17. The Return of My Darling, MTN

The Return of My Darling, MTN
 
My readers have to contend with a very bad habit in me. I am quick in praise as I am quick in blame.
 
Few weeks ago, in Dumping My Darling, MTN (http://fridaydiscourse.blogspot.com/2011/07/short-essay-16-dumping-darling-MTN.HTML), I declared war on the largest GSM carrier on the African continent because of the high tariff it was charging of N35/min over the low cost of N12 – N15/min that other networks are charging on some of their bundles. It did not take time after the publication that I learnt from insider sources that MTN was already considering reviewing its rates downwards. I thought it would take a long time. But, happily, it did not.
 
Yesterday, the “180” Customer Service girl called me again announcing a new pre-paid bundle launched by the company – the MTN SUPER SAVER! It promises customers of charges as low as 17k/sec or N10.2/min on-net after attaining the initial 5 minutes or 300 seconds of call during the day. The 1st minute is charged at 58k/sec; while the initial 2nd – 5th minutes go at 20k/sec on-net. Off-net calls are charged at 25k/sec after the initial 5 minutes. The 1st minute is charged at 58k/sec as on-net; then 2nd to 5th minutes are charged at 30k/sec.
 
To migrate to the new bundle, the 180 girl said, all you need to do is to write 408 in SMS and send it to 131 and, behold, the new tariff will start. She also promised me that there are no hidden charges. I said, “Fine, I will try it. Thank you ma.”
 
This morning I set out to test the bundle with my calculator in hand. As my calls started, I noticed another innovation. MTN has pre-empted the Freedom of Information Act and my calculator. As enjoyed by customers in many countries around the globe, MTN has installed a meter that alerts me on the cost of my last call and my remaining balance. I wonder why we did not ask for this long ago. It kept alerting me of how many more seconds remained before I start enjoying the 17k/sec tariff. As soon as I reached it, the tariff started. Some calls cost N5, others N8, N10, N15, etc. A long 5 minutes call that I placed to a friend inquiring about an inverter cost just about N50.00. As soon as I got the alert, I could not help exclaiming, “Yes. My darling is back!”
 
Personally, I feel very comfortable with this rate. It is a giant step to ease the suffering of our pockets. And I hope it lasts. MTN has earlier withdrawn the Extra-Connect and Extra-cool bundles and replaced them with the higher ones like PayGo. If it realizes that the present rate will earn the company less than a third of what they used to harvest from me, it may be tempted to introduce a bundle of a higher tariff, taking another stream of protests and migration before it bows again.
 
However, for the majority of the 40 million MTN customers who call for less than 5 minutes a day, the new bundle may not be as merciful to them as it is to me and other long callers, though the 25k/sec is still better than – in fact only a half of – the previous MTN PayGo tariff. For anyone calling for not more than a minute in a day, his rate still remains at N34/min. Here, MTN has still some distance to trek.
 
In any case, the market is there to check the company for us. MTN Super Saver will compel other carriers to return to the drawing board, looking for ways to bring down their rates lower than that of MTN, perhaps to something like N5 or N7/min. Then we will return to shout at MTN again, “You leech! You thief!!! You … Bring down your tariff to N5 or N7/min as others are doing, otherwise we will migrate to other carriers. Then MTN, after a long pause, would return it to N3 or N4/sec. I do not know how low would giants continue to bow before the Adam Smith, 200 years after his death.
 
I will urge my readers who are on MTN pre-paid to immediately send 408 to 131 to avoid further loss of their hard earned money. If you are on post-paid, however, you do not need to bother. As one of my readers said in the comments on the previous article, you have been enjoying N12/min tariff long ago. Now it is our turn to smile.

Meanwhile, I will hold a party for my returnee darling, MTN, today. Unfortunately, MTN has created a dilemma in my heart. Should I divorce my second wife – whom I married after my divorce with MTN – or keep her?
 
I need your advice.
 
Abuja,
21 August 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Discourse 326. World Bank MD on Islamic Finance

Dear Reader,

This is a Powerpoint presentation on Islamic finance which Mahmoud Mohieldin, the Managing Director of The World Bank presented recently in the UK. It may serve to educate laymen like me in Nigeria – both Muslims and Christians – on Islamic finance and its position in the world today, given the ongoing debate on Islamic banking in the country. In addition, the presentation is simple, devoid of excess academic references and terms. Through knowledge and understanding, I think, the prejudice and sentiments in innocent minds could be mitigated.

The document reached me in a powerpoint format which I was unable to com vert to Word. So I just typed it in a Word Document format to enable me post it on my blog. Therefore, any editing error is mine and regretted. The limited features of the blog did not permit for placement of bulleting. I beg the understanding of my readers until i graduate into a full website, which i am about to.

I also presumed the permission of the Managing Director to publicly circulate it on the Internet.


ON RISK SHARING AND ISLAMIC FINANCE: IMPLICATIONS FOR FINANCIAL STABILITY
By Mohmoud Mohieldin, Managing Director, The World Bank (July 6th 2011)


1. The Growth of Islamic Finance

Since the early 1970s, global Shariah-compliant financial assets have grown at about 10% annually.
Shariah compliant assets were estimated by IFSB to be around US $1 trillion in 2010, (Islamic Finance and Global Stability, April 2010, Islamic Finance Stability Board and Islamic Development Bank) representing almost 0.5% of Global Financial Assets that totaled to around US$ 228 trillion. (Global Financial Stability Report, April 2010, International Monetary Fund.)
Islamic finance industry’s profits totaled USD 15 billion and is expected to more than double to USD32 billion over the next 5 years.
Islamic banks deposits ratio to total deposits widely varies between countries (March 2011: Indonesia, 3%; UAE, 11%; Malaysia, 19%), some studies suggested that it will account for up to a range of 40-50% of total deposits in countries with majority Muslim populations within 8 to 10 years.

2. How Is Islamic Finance Different from Conventional Finance?

Conventional Financial institutions operate within a system based on debt and transfer of risk
This raises the probability of disconnecting financial instruments from their underlying assets
Some of the financial tools created to share risk actually resulted in a concentration and intensification of risk
In contrast, Islamic finance emphasizes asset-backing for transaction and is anchored on the principle of risk sharing
Shariah principles ensure a direct link between financial transactions and real sector activities
Shariah principles also prohibit Gharar, the use of excessive leverage and avoids forms of controversial and complex securitization
The analytical conceptualization which has developed since the 1980s, has established that the Islamic financial system has several advantages over the conventional one, mainly:
It is more equitable as it established a direct relationship between lenders and borrowers through which they share the outcome of the ‘partnership, be it profit or loss.
There is a close and direct relationship between the return on savings and investment.
The Islamic system offers a flexible adjustment mechanism in the case of unanticipated shocks.
It ensures that the real values of assets and liabilities will be equal at all points in time.
The rate of return is determined by the real sector, and not by the financial sector.
It protects the exchange/transaction role of a banking system by limiting the risk on deposit balances.

3. Performance of Islamic Finance During the Global Financial Crisis

The recent Global Financial Crisis underscored the dangers of debt-based financial transactions and the speculative use of financial instruments.
Irrational lending practices, high levels of leverage, and the so-called “atomization” of risk through imprudent securitization undermined the very foundations of financial systems in advanced countries.
The crisis generated significant adverse effects:
Global economic slowdown with many advanced countries experiencing recessions and sharp increases in unemployment.
Emerging and developing countries also suffered a shard fall in expert volumes, a deceleration in GDP growth, increased unemployment and a rise in poverty level s in the low-income and middle-income countries.
A recent World Bank policy research working paper emphasized that the global financial crisis has not only shed doubts on the proper functioning of conventional “western” banking, but has also increased the attention on Islamic banking. Academics and policy makers alike point to the advantages of Shariah compliant financial products, as the mismatch of short-term, on-sight demandable deposits contracts with long-term uncertain loan contracts is mitigated with equity elements. In addition, Shariah-compliant products are very attractive for segments of the population that demand financial services that are consistent with their religious beliefs. However, little academic evidence exists on the functioning of Islamic banks, as of yet.
Islamic banks escaped the direct impact of the crisis, as they were not exposed to sub-prime and toxic assets.
A recent IMF Working Paper found that the business model of Islamic banks helped them to mitigate the impact of the crisis.
As Islamic banking services are more connected to the real sector, initially performed well during the crisis yet were severely hit by the second round effects: increased losses threatened the viability of some Islamic financial institutions and some Sukuk issuers defaulted.

4. Some Reflections on the Global Financial Crisis… Seeking Islamic Finance Solutions?

“Western policymakers and economists often portray Islamic financial systems, with their emphasis on shared risk and responsibility in lending as less efficient than western systems that put no strictures on debt. Yet, one can equally argue that Western financial intermediation is far too skewed towards debt, and as a consequence generate unnecessary risk.” (Kenneth Rogoff, Banque de France Conference, Paris, March 2011)
In an attempt to identify a better link between credit-expansion and GDP growth, some macro-prudential measures have been developed:
Credit-GDP-gaps, play a key role in distinguishing between “due and undue” momentum in financial cycles and thereby function as a trigger for many countercyclical measures (including capital buffers).
Setting economically meaningful trigger points is however far from obvious, considering cross-country heterogeneity.
The BIS has found that lower and upper thresholds of 2% and 10% for credit-to-GDP gaps do a reasonable job in anticipating excessive credit growth.
“Yet perhaps scholars who argue that Islamic financial systems’ prohibition on interest generates massive inefficiencies ought to be looking at these systems for positive ideas that Western policymakers might adopt. … In the meantime, the IMF and the G-20 can help by finding better ways to assess the vulnerability of each country’s financial structure – no easy task, given governments’ immense cleverness when it comes to cooking their books. Policymakers can also help find ways to reduce barriers to the development of stock markets, and to advance ideas for new kinds of state-contingent bonds, such as the GDP-linked bond that Yale’s Robert Shiller has proposed. (Shiller bonds, in theory, pay more when a country’s economy is growing and less when it is in recession,)(Kenneth Rugoff, Project Syndicate, March 2011)
“The Islamic financial system has so far been able to gain a very small share of the global financial market and, even if it operates perfectly as desired by the Shariah, it may not be able to create a significant impact on the international financial system in the near future.”
However, he emphasized that the only option for further development of Islamic Financial Services is to explain the system rationally and implement it seriously and sincerely to enhance effectiveness and promote financial health and stability. (Umer Chapra, Octoner 2008)

5. Risk Sharing in Islamic Finance

Risk-sharing characteristics of Islamic finance an also foster financial stability.
By design, Islamic financial instruments do not rely on interest rate-based debt contracts.
Mudaraba (profit sharing) and Musharakah (joint venture) emphasize equitable risk allocation among different parties.
Musharakah in particular ensures that the impact of an adverse development is spread among the participants.
Takaful also has the potential to spread risk among a large number of participants.
Sukuk (certificates of ownership) use the concept of joint ownership of an asset by several financiers, making it more like equity-type financing as opposed to a bond which is a debt instrument.
Reliance on equity and equity-type financing arrangements helps to restrain excessive leveraging
The close linkage between the amount of financing and an underlying asset also helps to limit leverage
The sharing of risk and reward (Al Ghonm bel Ghorm) implies that long-term targets become more important and excessive short-term risk taking is discouraged.
Financial institutions are more like business partners with their clients and have stronger incentives to evaluate financing requests carefully and exercise prudence in extending such financing.
As “business partners”, financial institutions are also more likely to assist borrowers in working through bad times, thus reducing the pressures to sell assets at “fire-scale” prices.
This protects the system against a general fall in asset prices and reduces the probability of cascading defaults.
The sharing of losses also reduces the probability of contagion to the rest of the financial system.
Nonetheless, imprudent behavior by some market participants cannot be completely ruled out.
Strong supervisory oversight therefore is required to ensure proper used o frisk-sharing instruments
Financial institutions also need to enhance their capacity to assess clients through ex-ante screening in terms of ability to manage the project and business, and follow that with ex-post monitoring.

6. Outstanding Issues in Islamic Finance

Need to address the currently favorable tax treatment of debt in many countries, which puts equity and profit/loss sharing arrangements at a disadvantage and encourages leverage
High concentration in banking business, small size and institutional fragmentation.
Islamic capital markets are still relatively young, small and underdeveloped.
Other non bank financial instruments: mortgage, takaful, leasing, microfinance are still very much underdeveloped
Inadequacy of exit rules relating to bankruptcy and insolvency of Islamic financial institutions and sukuk defaults.
Concerns about liquidity risk management.
Weaknesses in corporate governance in some Islamic financial institutions.
Need for more qualified management: the proper mix of skill and conviction.
Limited application: still in transition?
Compliance with Basel III … and consistency with global norms?

7. World Bank’s Engagement with Islamic Finance
Established the Islamic Finance Working Group in 2009 and has been re-launched as the Islamic Economics and Finance Working Group (IEFWG) in 2011. The IEFWG adopts a strategy structured around four pillars
Capacity building and knowledge management
Advocacy to influence policy directions, regulations and standards as well as the development of new products.
Diagonostic and analytical work on Islamic finance
Technical assistance on issues relating to legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks
The Bank has established close working relations with bodies such as the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), Accounting and Auditing Organizaiton for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB)
In addition to activities at the global level, the Bank has been active in providing country-level support for Islamic banking
Islamic microfinance in Sudan
Investment guarantees by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) to cover Islamic financing structures in Djibouti and Indonesia.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Discourse 325. Al-Mustapha and the Mysterious Deaths

Discourse 325
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Hamza al-Mustapha and the Mysterious Deaths

I had my suspicion right from the beginning regarding the deaths of the three biggest politicians in the Nigerian political landscape of the 1990s – Maj. General Shehu Yar’adua (rtd), General Sani Abacha and Chief Mashood Abiola. The ‘big three’ died mysteriously and suddenly within the spate of exactly seven months.

It all started on December 8, 1997 when Shehu Musa Yar’adua died in prison where he was serving a life sentence for his involvement coup plot. The then government said that his death was natural while the opposition claimed that he was killed by the agents of the then President, General Sani Abacha. Shehu was the politician to beat in the country. He had the strongest political structure that cut across the country’s regional, ethnic and religious divides. Though I was not surprised of his involvement in a coup plot given his notoriety as a power schemer, however, I doubted the opposition’s claim that Abacha assassinated him. If Abacha had wanted to get rid of him, I thought, the President had enough alibi in Shehu’s conviction as a coup plotter. Two, Nigerians will attest that Abacha was not a coward by any measure. Three, the opposition to date has not presented any credible evidence to substantiate its claim other than speculation. Four, the person who was alleged to have administered him the lethal injection was never convicted even after the demise of his supposed sponsor. He is still a free person. Incredible. One.

Then exactly six months later, on June 8, 1998, the country was told that the night before, President Abacha has died of cardiac arrest which was caused by eating a poisoned apple served him by an Indian lady. Of course that was not a natural death. Mysteriously, the Indian lady was never arrested or convicted. Nothing about her was heard again. And surprisingly too, the death was never investigated by his successors. The body was rushed to his hometown of Kano and immediately burial without any autopsy conducted. His wife, Hajiya Maryam, was to later look at Jerry Useni in his face and tell him, “You killed my husband.” Two.

Then almost exactly a month later, on Tuesday, July 7, 1998, Chief Abiola, the widely acclaimed winner of the cancelled June 12, 1993 presidential election was announced dead. The cancellation of that election had for years generated heat in the polity. After declaring himself President, Abiola was imprisoned in 1994 by the President Abacha. He died just after being released from prison by the successor of Abacha, President Abdulsalami Abubakar. Before he could even return to his family, he was invited to the State House for a meeting with US delegation where he suddenly died after being served with a tea. That is all Nigerians knew. They cried foul. But the government, together with US officials, said it was a natural death caused by cardiac arrest, again. The family protested, demanded for an autopsy by overseas doctors to which the government yielded. But nothing came out of it. The family went silent on the matter. Surprising too was the sudden silence of protest voices from the champions of Abiola’s mandate, who had accused him of cowardice. Three.

Nigerians, gullible as ever, ascribed the serial deaths to God, whom they accuse of every death. However, I did not see the hands of God here, even then. Without the benefit of hindsight, anyone who reads the scenario would be compelled to arrive at the same conclusion. Those behind it were careful in concealing the truth from Nigerians by virtue of their high positions in the land.

Until now, perhaps.

The bombshells dropped by Hamza al-Mustapha in a Lagos High Court in the past three days are likely to give the world a glimpse into the myth behind these deaths. He is one person whose footprints were not washed away by the waters of the conspiracy.

Al-Mustapha, as he is popularly known, was arguably the second most powerful person in the country during the period of Abacha presidency. His claim that he ‘helped’ Abdulsalami to become the President after Abacha’s death can hardly be disputed because he was in a position to do so, being in control of the security of the Presidency and given the fact that Abacha loyalists were heading major military command positions in the country. Naively, instead of staging a coup, he acceded to installing Abdulsalami and remained in the country.

Abiding by the tradition of power, few months later, President Abdulsalami arrested Al-Mustapha, who was later accused, among other things, of assassinating Kudirat Abiola, the wife of Chief Abiola, on 4 June 1996. Since 1998, Al-Mustapha has been in custody where, he believes, successive administrations have tried to keep him at bay by frustrating any progress in his trial. As it is turning out now, after thirteen years, he has decided to fight back using the arsenal of information he has as a former security chief.

Al-Mustapha has also told the court that large sum of money - $200m, 75 Sterling Pounds and N500m – was used to buy the silence political leaders of Chief Abiola’s from ethnic group – the Yoruba. The money was withdrawn on the directive of the President Abdulsalami from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Two days ago, he tendered to the court a document signed by Abdulsalami to support his claim. He also submitted a tape – to be played today in the court – showing the Yoruba leaders’ visit to the Presidency, into which, according to Al-Mustapha, they went looking angry but from which they came out smiling.

It is difficult to dispute Al-Mustapha on his claims. Using money to settle people is a common practice in managing security matters in Nigeria. An ambiguous vote called “security vote” exists in every government in the federation, whether local, state or federal. So Al-Mustapha is not at all sounding Greek to the ears of Nigerians. The truth-value of his statement is very high. It can be proved otherwise only if the money can be traced to the Liberian peace keeping mission it was officially meant for.

Opinion leaders from the Southwest have challenged Al-Mustapha to mention the names of the beneficiaries. We do not know how much is in the video right now. However, I do not expect to see the distribution of the monies there physically. Nigerians are discrete in deals like this. We await the speculations, denials and counter-denials that would follow.

It will also be difficult to deny the claim that his continuous incarceration is a instigated by fear. If he has such implicating evidences, his imprisonment is a natural, if not a merciful, consequence in the game of power. He is lucky to be alive, so far. Abidina Coumassie, the publisher that was to publish the evidence earlier was not that lucky. He was poisoned to death, according to Al-Mustapha. If there were any evidence to prove his guilt, as many commentators have argued, successive regimes would not have wasted time to convict him.
In any case, if the hand behind the scenes is obscure, the beneficiary of these assassinations is known – former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He would not have been president were any of the ‘big three’ living – Shehu Yar’adua, Abacha or Abiola. He was lucky that the mysterious hand that has worked throughout his life, saving him from death in different coups and shoving him into power, has remained until now. Let us have a look at the skill of this mysterious hand.

Obasanjo, then in his twenties, had just returned from a military training course in India. According to him, he was sharing bed with Nzeogwu when the latter plotted and executed the January 15, 1966 coup in which many prominent northern political leaders including Prime Minister Balewa, the Premiers of northern and southern regions – Ahmadu Bello and Samuel Akintola – were gruesomely murdered along with many northern military officers. Immediately after the coup, Obasanjo ran to Maiduguri, for safety, and hid in the house of Alhaji Maidaribe. He later claimed that he did not know anything about the coup.

Then in 1975 Obasanjo, along with General Murtala Mohammed, TY Danjuma and other officers toppled the Gowon regime. Obasanjo became the Deputy Head of State. However, only six month into the regime, Murtala, the Head of State, was assassinated in a coup attempt. Obasanjo, again, disappeared, this time briefly. After resurfacing, he ‘reluctantly’ accepted to become the Head of State. It is widely believed in Nigeria that the CIA had a hand in the assassination of General Murtala (www.dawodu.com/cia1.html http://www.dawodu.com/cia1.html, www.naijapals.com/modules/naijapals/politics/the-cia-in-nigeria http://www.naijapals.com/modules/naijapals/politics/the-cia-in-nigeria, www.pointblanknews.com/authbioofabiola.html http://www.pointblanknews.com/authbioofabiola.html). Allegations have also been made by a tabloid in the UK, according to an edition of Hassan Sani Kontagora’s Hotlline magazine over a decade ago, that Obasanjo had a hand in the assassination. (Unfortunately, I am not able to quickly lay my hands on the reference but I will give its citation on this blog as soon as I access it)

After handing over power to civilian president in 1978, Obasanjo retired from the military and enjoyed the position of an ‘elder statesman’. He was involved in many international initiatives on the African continent. One of them, according to www.nigeriatoday.com http://www.nigeriatoday.com, is “Founder and Chairman of Africa Leadership Forum and Chairman, Board of Directors, Africa Leadership Foundation, Inc, New York.” He held those positions until 1999 when he became President of Nigeria, covering the time when the deaths of the ‘big three’ took place between 1997 and 1998. I cannot substantiate the widely held belief that the CIA funds the foundation. However, a visit to the official site of the foundation – www.africaleadership.org/partnership.html http://www.africaleadership.org/partnership.html - reveals that it is funded by UNDP, USAID, The World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, The Mac Arthur Foundation, and 13 other strong international partners.
And in 1995, he was convicted by a military tribunal in the coup plot against the Abacha government, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment until President Abdulsalami Abubakar freed him after Abacha’s death in 1997.

Immediately he was released, he was sold the idea of running for the Presidency. He showed some reluctance, if I will recall well, and pleaded for time to make consultations. Finally, after Abiola was done, he had no difficulty accepting the offer.

He became the President in 1999. Nigerians will recall how every step was taken to ensure he became the President, including the prevention of anyone from the northern part of the country from contesting in all the three registered political parties. Thus, Abdulsalami administration nurtured his journey from prison to the Presidency. Always a lucky guy!
As President, Obasanjo ensured that Hamza Al-Mustapha remained in prison. Pleas made to his successor, Umaru Yar’adua, to release him were rejected, presumably either for what Al-Mustapha knows or because the late President was still nursing the belief that the Major, when he was the Chief of Staff to Abacha, had a hand in the death of his elder brother, Shehu Yar’adua.

To complete the work of that mysterious hand, President Yar’adua also died of cardiac arrest, opening the gate of opportunity for his successor, who was appointed to the Vice Presidency by Obasanjo, to become the President. It is clear this hand has been helping Obasanjo either through coups or cardiac arrests. Mhm. Na wa!

I am not sure whether Al-Mustapha’s bombshell can conclusively demolish the mountain of obscurity regarding the role of prominent officials in the deaths of the ‘big three’ of Nigeria’s 1990s and the political imbroglio that characterized those seven months. However, one thing is certain: either he remains alive in prison or his revelations will instigate yet another ‘mysterious’ death which Nigerians will not find hard to fathom.

Criminals usually forget something behind that implicates them. Major Hamza Al-Mustapha may just be one such thing.

4 July 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dr. Ahmad Gumi on Umra

DUTIES THAT ARE BETTER THAN UMRA
By Dr. Ahmad Gummi

Dr. Ahmad Gummi made the following brief comment in an internet forum regarding our misplaced obsession with Umrah and I feel compelled to bring it to the notice of my readers:
“Assalamu Alaikum, Brothers and Sisters.
“May Allah free us from His Chastisement and bless our efforts in this blessed month of Ramadan.

“In as much as there is a general excitement among the rich Muslims to go on Umra during the fasting period, we need to note that the extra virtue of Umrah in Ramadan is contestable among the scholars because the hadith in question was narrated to apply to specific people at a specific time (Ibn Kathir). Also, the practical sunnah of the Prophet and the salaf did not promote it.

"However, the ibadat whose extra virtues are not contestable are:

1. Feeding the poor (remember that Somalians are dying of hunger).

2. Treating the sick (remember that treatable communicable diseases are the number one killer diseases in Africa

3. Promoting education (remember that the number one malady of the Ummah is ignorance)
Calling to Islam (remember that the image of true Islam needs to be corrected)

4. Solving these issues requires money and spending generously on them is BETTER and more VIRTUOUS than to spend on umra in Ramadan or the voluntary hajj.

My Comment:

Despite the incessant calls for spending on the above issues in place of Umrah, Nigerian Muslim elites continue to undertake the Umrah annually. Just some few hours ago, the BBC announced that British citizens have raised $68million (N11 billion) for victims of famine in Somalia, coming second only to the US which raised a slightly higher amount. How much has the Muslim World raised, apart from the anticipated donation from Saudi Arabia? How can we Muslims claim a better moral pedestal than the West?

Where are the Muslim charity groups, including the Red Crescent? We only hear about Oxfam and other charities from the very West that al-Shabab is preventing from reaching the affected areas.

If it were only for our dismal effort, the affected populations in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and now Uganda would be wiped out. There is an ever ready alibi for our inaction: "It is God who caused the draught and the deaths. If he did not wish it, it would not have happened." Of what benefit would it be to God if He sees infants dying? There is something missing in us. The earlier we start looking for it the better. Can we ever wake up and believe in our capacity to improve on our condition without resorting to blaming God?
I have long ago reached the conclusion that the problem is in our brains. Consider this arithmetic:

If the umrah going Muslims among Nigerians would agree to spend the cost of their umrah on education, many schools would have been built across the country. Not less than N2billion is spent annually, which is enough to build 10 hospitals or 200 primary schools annually. That is 200 hospitals or 2,000 schools – modern or Qur’anic – across the nation in just ten years!
In our weird thinking, we feel spending these colossal amounts in quest for a reward on an act of worship whose virtue is even contestable among the scholars is better than using them to solve our social problems. Mhm.

Unless the Muslim World subscribes to rational thinking, it must abandon any hope of solving its problems of poverty, ignorance, disease and backwardness. However, it is not that we are incapable of rational thinking, we are afraid of it.

May God reward Dr. Ahmad Gummi for his nasiha.

2 August 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Discourse 324 Environmental Wahala

Discourse 324
By
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

ENVIRONMENTAL WAHALA

First the story. Gatanan gatananku.

The day was Saturday, 30 July 2011, the time 9.14am. My journey from Abuja to Kano was abruptly stopped at Sabuwar Gayan, some 5 kilometers to the old Kaduna tollgate. On enquiry, I learnt that it was due to the monthly Environmental Sanitation Day, when Nigerians are expected to stay home and clean their surroundings for three hours before they are allowed to resume their daily activities at 10.00am. I was not alone at the Federal Highway. Possibly, thousands of vehicles filled the dual carriage way over a distance of five kilometers between the village and the tollgate. And before the road was opened, hundreds more lined up behind me. We were not in our homes so we had nothing to clean. We remained idle until 10.00am.
As I waited, my mind started to think of the fate of my journey. I reached the conclusion that it will be a difficult one, full of hazards and delays. First of all, as soon as the road is opened, I thought, all the thousands of vehicles, including tankers, lorries and trailers, would jam the road in our bid to reach our destinations quickly. The journey of the 230 kilometers ahead of me will definitely be slow, at snail speed. It may take four hours, or more. My car is likely to be brushed or crushed. Some accidents would take place, no doubt. I hope would be spared.

Where I dreaded most were the cities of Kaduna and Kano. Their township routes will be jammed by metropolitan users at junctions, roundabouts and checking points. For some reasons, it may remain so for most part of the day unless there is a divine intervention. There would be no traffic lights to regulate the flood of vehicles. In the few places they are installed in Kano, they would most likely be dysfunctional due to power failure. It was here I started to probe into the dilemma of the traffic police. I prayed that he would promptly report to his duty post ion order to bring some succour to road users.

‘Yellow fever’, as the traffic police is popularly known for his distinctive yellow shirt, is also not likely to be at his duty post if we consider the odds against him. He would also leave his home at 10.00am along with other residents. He will follow the same congested routes to his divisional headquarters or police station to report for duty. Then he will set out for his duty point. He would equally be a victim of the traffic jam as would other road users. Then when he reaches the point of duty, he will be greeted by hundreds of vehicles on every side of the road, driven by very impatient owners who would already be at each other’s throat. They would expect ‘yellow fever’ to play his wand and uncoil the jammed roads immediately. It would not be for just an hour or two. He would remain there until late afternoon hours. It is usually his worst day of the month. When he considers all these difficulties, ‘yellow fever’ is more likely to abscond duty after reporting to his station, leaving us – the road users – to our fate.

I counted the number of jammed locations ahead of me. They would be not less than 15 before I could reach the venue of the meeting at Malam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano. It took a full hour to reach the tollgate, that was just 5km ahead, then another hour to reach NTI, outside Kaduna through the Unguwar Muazu – Mando bye-pass. Then it took me another hour to cover the 70 kilometers distance to Zaria. By the time I reached Kano, it was already after 2.00pm. Then just as I thought I was at the gate of the hospital and done with the environmental wahala, I wasted another hour at the Gyadi-Gyadi roundabout, right there, just 40 meters to the gate of the hospital, arriving at the venue after 3.00pm.

All the fears I had came true, unfortunately. I noticed two accidents. There could be plenty across the country. The traffic police was not there except for the two I sighted: one at Dutsinma Road junction, Tudun Wada, Kaduna; the other appeared after forty-five minutes of my stay at the Gyadi-Gyadi roundabout in Kano. The rest have absconded, as I earlier predicted.
Then just as I was leaving Kano for Bauchi, I met another traffic jam at Maiduguri Road roundabout by the NNPC mega-station at 5.30pm. The situation looked hopeless. I thought it will be 8.00pm before I could extricate myself from the mess. Finally, I decided to ‘be like the Romans’. I broke the traffic rule and switched over to the opposite lane, along with many trucks and cars, and narrowly escaped being squeezed by a trailer at a point.

Now comes the analysis.

My question now is: Why should Nigerians suffer so much in a democratic dispensation in order to comply with a 1984 military decree, when there was no constitution to guarantee us the freedom of movement? My experience, harsh as it was, does not compare in any way to that of ordinary Nigerians. I was driving a new air-conditioned car, loaded with music and compartments for drinks and so on. Most Nigerians travel by public transport in vehicles as old as 20 to 30 years, without air-conditioners, overloaded, in the hot atmosphere of the savannah. Imagine how passengers in a bus would wait for an hour at Gyadi-Gyadi at 2.00pm when the hot sun of Kano is at its zenith. I was also lucky to be driving on the smooth Abuja-Kano expressway, thanks to a better FERMA. Those who were driving along Kontagora – Ilorin, Shendam – Ibbi and other terrible roads must have been meted with worse penalties.

In spite of my penchant for rule of law and discipline, I still think that in a democratic era there is the need for authorities to device better means of achieving clean environment than resorting to the draconian Environmental Sanitation Day which nails Nigerians to their homes for three hours, rewards them with untold hardship, and wastes at least 210 million economic hours if it were still implemented across the country. Our engineers, lawyers and health workers in the democratic dispensation of the 21st century should show better ingenuity than plagiarizing the draconian rules of 1984. We need innovative and civilized means of making people compliant with sanitation guidelines 7 days a week. That is what is practiced in the rest of the world.

Kano in particular needs to be more proactive on this because of its large population and its present appalling sanitary condition. The state is lucky to have a dynamic governor that has proved to possess the guts of taking bull by the horn. Apart from the gargantuan task of inventing an effective waste disposal system, the culture of waste management must be imbued in people through enforcing whatever measures are found necessary. A situation where gastroenteritis, cholera and other avoidable hygiene-related epidemics is common should not be tolerated.

However, if the environmental sanitation day has to stay for a superior wisdom than mine, I plead with the state governments to take appropriate measures to reduce our sufferings in its aftermath. In Kano, I have seen the need for flyovers at many locations. I know they are expensive but I cannot imagine what the traffic of Lagos would have been without them. Kano doesn’t have any yet, except for the one presently constructed on the western bye-pass at Na’ibawa. Kwankwaso should start with some, his successors can continue.

But before the arrival of flyovers, let there be traffic lights at every junction that is prone to jams in our major cities. There are some in Kano, but almost none in Bauchi or Jos, for example. This is simple even if it would mean the installation of 6KVA gasoline generators at the junctions – crude as it sounds – to ensure that the traffic lights are functional for the required hours of the day; that is if a central control system is not feasible, or solar batteries and inverters cannot be sustained as a result of vandalization. Let the experts on transport and logistics think of anything suitable. The bottom line is at this age, Nigeria deserves to have traffic lights in our major towns despite our routine power outages. We had them 30 years ago. Let the governments employ the Obaman dictum: Yes, we can!

And before the arrival of the traffic lights, let our public works and the police departments ensure that traffic police punctually arrive at the junctions on the miserable days of Environmental Sanitation. In fact, they should be at there before the end of the sanitation hours to ensure an orderly flow of traffic once the road is open and remain there for as long as necessary.

That is my own story of our monthly environmental wahala. I hope the relevant departments of government have listened attentively. People scheduling national meetings should find better days to fix such meetings to avoid subjecting others to unnecessary hardship.

Meanwhile, I have learnt to avoid Abuja, Kaduna and Kano on every last Saturday of the month, whenever I can, until the Day is cancelled. You better do also.

Kurungus.

1 August 2011