Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Islam and Economics

I want to briefly devote a blog to economics and Islam. I have personally undergone a difficult financial period during the past year due to the sluggish economy and was reflecting on how Islam protects our economic freedom and sanity. I want to illustrate an important point with a simple economic paradigm - that of the farmer and the masses. To a large extent, a landowner or farmer can be seen as the first economic agent of modern civilization since industrialization is a product of agrarianism. Let's examine these concepts closely. Let us take the simple organizational model of the family farm. Here, a farmer who owns a piece of land is able to utilize simple or advanced farming methods to cultivate the land and produce crops that sell on the market. He might own farm tools such as wheelbarrows and plows, pitchforks and spades. He might also raise livestock and employ traditional or natural methods of farming and irrigation. The farmer is ultimately responsible for his farm and his machines, methods and know-how are essential for his continued productivity. The tools also depreciate in value as they are used over time. There is a unique balance that must be met for this type of economic activity to occur. Quality agriculture is almost always based on fairness and shared work ethics. The ability of the farmer's methods and machines to produce economic benefit is also an appreciable asset. The spade, one concludes, has investment potential and has depreciation value. Thus, the use of these tools must promote fair economic practices or they would be ill-used. Thus the farmer must maintain a unique agricultural balance to be profitable. The entire operation of the ideal farm is an economic greenhouse of sorts that sustains itself through a self-sufficient process. In reality, the farm benefits others who depend on the agricultural production. Thus, the farm supports civic and community life through the provision of food supplies to the masses. The masses must therefore be able to acquire the food at reasonable rates and apply it for their own sustenance or other needs. Thus, the farm is an essential component to the dynamism of civil life. For the farm to continue to operate in a proper way it must be supported by the masses, who in turn need to be highly sophisticated economic consumers. If this does not occur, the entire economic balance of the farm and the community it serves is threatened. This is where Islam can be most effective. Why - because its central tenets encourage good economic practices that support the natural order of economic conditions. It asks the masses to build homes, roads, mosques and schools to create thriving economic conditions that ultimately support and uphold agricultural efforts. Both are symbiotic and complementary. Ultimately, the burden is on the economic agents to fulfill their duties. Islam teaches us to be fair and fearful of God - and that is the ultimate check on our actions - thus, the farmer who is righteous will reap an abundant harvest and the public who buys his goods will also be well served if they are mindful of their roles and duties. Thus, the economy will thrive and individuals will prosper, civic life will flourish, peace and prosperity will spread and natural economic progress will be preserved. The farmer and the masses are a good basis for any discussion on Islam and economics.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Biology and Time

I'd like to follow-up my previous blog that addressed the topic of faith and time and the need for worship with a current blog on biology and time. Biology and time are important concepts and again share a symbiotic relationship. While time exists irrespective of biological beings, biology is a time sensitive matter. Why is that the case? We measure human and animal years in terms of time and over time, biology dramatically changes from the time we are born to the time that we die. Biology is an interesting concept and advances in science help us to prolong our physical states and increase our time on the planet. The planet too ages as we learn from scientific data and carbon dating, but does time age? Thus our relationship to overall time itself, is irrespective of our existence. Does science conflict with destiny? The answer is plainly no since science is a measurement of our collective human progress and is the result of our collective destiny. Why does time seem to evoke such wonder and awe for human beings. Animals and other biological organisms seem to accept life and death despite scientific intervention. One can contend that all is the result of divine destiny since biological inference doesn't preclude biology itself and only offers a vague objective view of the world around us. When we measure time, we learn that human beings as biological creatures have an average life span that they use to fulfill existential obligations like shopping, eating and working. However, when human beings utilize their free will for ill purposes, they undermine the value of time for the worship of God, which is our ultimate goal. While science prolongs our time, crime and other random occurrences can abruptly and arbitrarily end someone's life without a sufficient justification for time - though one can contend that all is the will of God. However, while we exercise free will, we acknowledge that crime and violence are a fundamental misuse of our time as it relates to universal laws. Time is the great onlooker that never lifts or rears its head to acknowledge our woes and suffering. Therefore, human beings must rely on each other. They must help each other cross the bridge of time that they traverse on their own two feet and worship in a collective manner to seek the favor of God. It is in our nature to accept the finite value of biological time when we are born and seek the infinite value of God's blessings. How do we cope as biological beings when faced with the uncertain and unpredictable nature of time and space and use our willpower to achieve good. Religion seems to be the key to unravel our worst fears. Every action that we take in this world is also inextricably bound to the dimensions of time and we must pursue our worldly goals in a way that does not obstruct our faith. We are able to love, pray, worship and care for one another not that this is a futile destiny but that this is our biological, human obligation. Time seems to stand outside of our ourselves and we seem to stand inside of time. What we endure as biological beings should not defile our souls nor our transcedence when we have carried out the will of God. We must heed the solemn words of Shakespeare when he writes:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death, —
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, — puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know naught of?

And like Othello too, we must obey time and let time not slip but to seize the moment like a sharp sword and carry out God's will so that God will slightly reach out his hand. Our life is meaningless without sufficient adulation and praise for God.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Am In Love . . .

Such powerful words. I was wondering the other day how unfortunate we are if we cannot be in the state where we can say "I am in love". Love seems to me one of the highest virtues and when one reflects on history, we find that love has been a guiding force for much of our culture, art, and human progress and development. In Islam, sufis are often in this state of mind because they strive to be in love with the Beloved, which is God. Love is a fundamental aspect of Catholicism, Judaism and other religions. It seems to me that love is an underlying component for our salvation as mankind. When we can be in love, fall in love, be loved, stay in love, and say that we are in love, we can achieve greatness, transcendence and inner peace and harmony. Of course, the absence of love shows in the world but we must not let that deter us from pursuing this consummate state and thereby, relieve our personal tension, prejudice, conflict or disinterest. We must pursue such a state vigorously and thoughtfully so that we can be productive, caring, blessed and elevated in the eyes of the supreme being. There can be no greater feeling than when we can reach out to someone and say "I am in love". No questions asked. Why - because love is consummate; it is eternal and everlasting. It is our sole trace on a distant, forbidden planet where we can only depend on ourselves. When we can reside in a world where we can overhear these words spoke often - I am in love - while sitting at a cafe, restaurant, park, train, bus or our homes, our ears are still wanting and we have yet to hear the flute of heaven impart its sweet sound. I am in love - a wonderful phrase that not only creates bliss among us and for those that are mutually loved, but honors all humanity. Whether you are in love or not in love, there is a special power when you say, I am in love. Let that not be confused with any distorted view of how we must show our love . . . all that's needed is to speak these words from the heart and to let others do the same. One thinks why the pursuit of love is not an inalienable right in our Constitution. While that might not be the case, it is an unconditional, penultimate birthright for each and every one of us that should not be muted by our uncertainty. My new film Love Happens is devoted to my own enduring faith in love.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hope Is Lost . . .

Hope is one of the greatest virtues and stands together with love. Hope is lost when the agents of hopelessness exact upon the world a heavy toll. The pavilion of hope under which all humanity stands is riddled and compromised when any of the following occurs:

1. When a mother cannot care for her young and a child starves out of wantonness.
2. When wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few who dictate how that wealth should be administered based on personal whim rather than servitude to God.
3. When men are murdered and criminality and economic hardship plague the land.
4. When children fail in schools and education fails to advance and edify them in the proper way.
5. When men do not worship or pray to a unified God.
6. When language becomes an impediment to communication and we cannot embrace one another as brothers and sisters.
7. When history fails to teach us how to live our lives and rectify our actions.
8. When imperialism of any stripe sweeps across the globe and war is declared on innocent civilians who cannot defend themselves.
9. When centuries-old culture is trampled under the feet of imperialist aggression and political skulduggery.
10. When moral leadership is scarce in the world and the light that gloweth in the bosom of our hearts no longer inflames our soul.

That is when hope is lost and we cease to be children of God and the world is no longer is our refuge.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Caliphate System of Government

With voter registration currently underway in New York and the general election only days away, I wanted to briefly discuss a form of government that is not widely known today but was highly effective during a period in history known as the golden of Islam - I am referring to the Islamic Caliphate, a form of government based on absolute rule. In theory, the Caliphate system could potentially govern diverse masses across several nations and perhaps, the entire world. This is very akin to monarchies in Europe where kings and queens reign with a mighty scepter over the land but their power and influence too has diminished over time but should be respected for its historic integrity. Why is democracy so vastly different from glorified forms of government? Perhaps, it caters mostly to majority rule - but we know that majority rule is never always right. My film version of An Enemy of the People, addresses this topic quite convincingly. Dr. Stockmann is singled out for his views and rises as a hero in the story and opposes the town government over a water purification act. It is a perfect context for a discussion on majority rule and governance and how one man can stand up for the truth despite overwhelming opposition. Thus, it gives credence to more monarchical, religio-centered forms of government and also, alludes loosely to the Caliphate system discussed here. We vote today for our elected officials who are appointed to oversee matters of social importance both large and small. But the most fascinating part of the Caliphate system to me is undivided allegiance to a single man - a man chosen by God to rule the earth as his divine birthright. This is unthinkable for many of us today. How can a single man be expected to hold so much power. Well, in the Islamic world - government is more symbolic and in many ways prior to the Balfour Treaty that broke up the last known Caliphate, again a single man controlled a vast Islamic region. We can also discuss how power corrupts and the Machievellian view of government. It's important to know that a Caliphate does not necessarily denote a hierarchy. There are many flaws to the Caliphate such as overcentralization and mismanagement and other abuses that I have closely studied as an educator. Further, the breakup of the last known Ottoman Caliphate was a historic moment in the long, gloried history of Islam, where societies thrived under the flag of a supreme Vicegerent. Allegiance to the Caliphate has lived on and we can still recognize its vestiges throughout the Islamic world or whenever we see someone wearing a fez. To a large extent, my book The Shadow of God, is mostly inspired by my intense fascination with the Caliphate system - a chosen ruler by the will of God to rule the earth holds for me a profound and special intrigue. We wonder now how democracy has evolved over time and how it compares to other forms of goverment. We shun dictatorships, Communism and military rule and praise democracy above all. But to be truly democratic, one must always know the history of governance that has preceded it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Faith, Time and The Will of God

Faith and time are very important concepts and go hand in hand. They also guide our existence. Why is time so important? In a three-dimensional world, a one-dimensional, biological being is subservient only to time. We live and we die and in between, we can only have faith. When time ceases to exist, so will humankind and the world. This is not doomsday reckoning - it is simply an acknowledgement. God knows no time. He sees the entire parade as a whole, while the onlooker can only see a single float at a time. Thus, while the parade of our lives passes by, so too we perish with the passage of time. While we walk great distances, we are also standing still, forever at the mercy of the gravitational pull of a planet that is our only salvation. Why? Time is the key - worship and the will of God govern us to pay homage to time and ultimately, God who creates something from nothing. Time knows no bounds. Every strand, string, molecule or atom is subject to the grand design that only points to a higher being that calls us to worship him with our will and freedom. We do not control time, only ourselves - it guides us only because we control our faith. Our faith is our key to everlasting life. Our worship is intended to unlock the mysteries of faith so we can step into a divine realm and live as noble, God-fearing creatures. Once we enter that realm, we also receive divine love and time does not bear such a heavy yoke and the light of God touches our souls and we see more clearly and live our lives in a blessed, eternal way. The light of dreams and the reins of time, and the blessing of God are near to us as is the shoes on our feet and all that is needed is to reach for our toes in an act of submission. Worship and life everlasting is granted - idleness leads to more disbelief and we drift further from God. So let us embrace time with open arms and welcome the opportunity to use that time in the worship of God alone - that is the only way, the way of the good shepherd, the way of the carpenter, the way of the fisherman, the way of the slave, the way of the master, the way of the prophet and the way of the far wanderer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Renaissance in America

In a nation that is reeling from natural disaster and war, I think it is very timely to consider dialogue on promoting an American Renaissance. What is an American Renaissance, you ask? Wasn't the Rennaissance a period of artistic and cultural rebirth in Europe during the middle ages? How can we adopt such a cultural movement in America and how does the word renaissance apply to us? America is a perfect place for such a movement. Why - because of its rich history and overall good standing in the world. We can do much today to build on the historical infrastructure in place in America today to produce substantial artistic and cultural progress throughout the nation. To do this, we need to examine several major historical points. Let's go over them:

1. The Culture of Migration - America is a country that is built on migration - as is the continent. We should reflect on the culture of migration to provide more insight into our way of life today and how we can go about becoming better people. The Jewish migration is especially unique - Jewish culture did much to enrich the current cultural and artistic fabric of America and produced some of its leading figures. Since many Jews sought asylum in America, we must define the experience in historical terms. Irish, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern are all part of the same fold. How can we gather all the historical patchwork of these bygone generations to knit America a new cultural quilt that is worthy of a renaissance standard. To this extent, we might also devote a special section on American anthropology.

2. Slavery and African-American Equality - we need to examine this closely. African Americans are the backbone of our common heritage, culture and history. How can we look at America and fully ascertain the advances of African-Americans and create a new appreciation for African American art, culture and history and the enormous contribution of blacks to democracy that shines like a beacon throughout the world.

3. Native American Culture - nothing fascinated me more than Native American culture in the United States. These are indigenous people and we must preserve their heritage in its totality. The simplicity, the plainness, the creativity, the common sense, the bravery, the pride, the mystery and the pragmatism of the native tribes has long inspired me and will continue to inspire future generations. This important aspect of American history should not be neglected with the passage of time but celebrated in a way that not only considers the American view but offers a more holistic anthropological perspective.

4. The Legal System of the United States - the legal system of the United States, and the stature of the Supreme Court and for which it stands, is admired throughout the world. We need to study the legal system in a holistic way? What has transpired in the last 300 years or so? How can the system of jurisprudence in America advance human progress and produce more justified and justifiable laws that can be corroborated with the laws of other nations. Perhaps, we may be inclined to consider a jury that is full of Twelve Happy Men rather than Angry. How can we sum up the important legal precedents that have shaped much of our life here in these great states - should we should establish specialized schools that can gather this information so that our legal concepts continue to develop in a way that is worthy of a Renaissance seal. I hope so.

5. Literature in America - the history of literature in America is vast. Why can't we establish schools that study the history of literature and produce informed, positive inquiry on the value of literature to human progress. Who are the great writers, playwrights, novelists and poets and how have they advanced American values in their work that can now be passed onto future generations in a concise way. How can this bring us closer to higher knowledge, being and ultimately, God? This work is greatly needed.

6. Education in America - I formerly studied at Teachers College, Columbia University. I relished the opportunity to study at such a reputable institution. Why - because the entire college was devoted to one goal - promoting education and was founded by such Newtonian giants as Dewey and Butler. Why is their work important to us today? How can we preserve their legacy and build on their achievements? Who are their progenitors and how can we better define our long-term commitment to education. We must turn the soil once more to till the ground.

7. Religion in America - what has been the advances of religion in America? How has tolerance increased throughout the years? How can Christians, Jews and Muslims and peoples of other faiths gain mutual understanding and importantly, embrace one another in a positive way. How can this lead to a religious Renaissance?

8. Science, Math and Engineering in America - we were the first to land on the moon. America has boasted some of the leading scientific inventions by prominent thinkers such as Einstein and Edison. How can we build on the scientific advances of this country and bring this knowledge across the globe - how can we teach green building initiatives to other nations and allow them to embrace and utilize that knowledge to advance their societies in the ways they see fit. We must reflect on past scientific progress and assess how science, religion and culture can coexist and establish a proposed commission that can define science in transcendental terms to universalize, restore and unify our existential dreams.

9. Agriculture in America - how has American agriculture transformed human society in our time? How can we study agricultural advances and develop ways of assessing the impact of current agricultural methods that include farming and mass production. Since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, can we produce an updated study on our commmitment to agriculture - and emulate the ways of the wise farmer. This should help us to better quantify and account for food production in the United States much in the same way as oil production in Arabia and help America feed the world.

10. Technology - technology is a great part of our lives. Technology governs much of our existence and daily work. How can we use technology better and utilize technology in the most beneficial way and preserve also, the value of the technological content that is transmitted through these means. We must not let technology override our desire to harness technology for the overall good. We don't necessarily want a society that resembles the war-torn overture to the movie Terminator. Let's use technology wisely and perhaps then, history will be kind to our renaissance effort.

Let us reflect on these ideas and keep these goals in mind as we move forward to renew America during a time of crisis. Let us also remember the agents of the former Renaissance who brought us so much art, culture and humanity to form a new Renaissance that embodies that same spirit. I hope the people of America will take heed.