Friday, March 23, 2018

Post 69--Ugly Beauty--Whims of the Dictator

Our world and our individual lives are full of contradictions as this post will remind you if you did not already know.  It is a story of ugly beauty, of oppressive beauty, but also kind of fascinating. I could not put it away because of these contradictions.  But it also made me disgusted with the way a stupid dictator can waste the wealth of a people on his own selfish whim. I use a strong word--"stupid," for that is what it is. He runs a good chance of being pulled down from his perch in total ignominy and shame. Even if he dies on his throne, his reputation in history will be worse than mud, let alone his eternal destiny.  Jesus strongly condemns oppressors.

Apart from his own fate, the totally unnecessary suffering such a dictator inflicts on his people  amounts to a crime to humanity. 

I am referring to Fjola Helgadottir's story of her journey through Turkmenistan that I pass on to you below.  It is a fascinating country and journey, with unusually beautiful and expensive buildings that cannot help but impress you.  However, when you think about the oppressive part of the story, the selfish use of power, then it all becomes downright ugly.  

Now when you pick up a world atlas to find out about the state of the country's people, it looks pretty good. My atlas tells me that the country has a literacy rate of 99%, the same as Canada, my adopted country; the USA, my neighbouring country; and the Netherlands, my birth country. The same atlas claims a calory consumption of 2754 kilocalories, an average intake, judging from the 24 countries listed on the two adjacent pages in the atlas. That's surprisingly high and would seem to indicate that, in spite of the totally arbitrary personalized dictatorship under which the people live, they are doing fairly well. The thing is, of course, can you trust such stats?  I, for one, doubt them. You can't trust anything that comes out of a dictator's sleeve.

But the situation described in Helgadottir's story below reminds me of the Olympic saga.  That's a strictly elite sports event for which people spend years of energy and, yes, tons of other people's money, for their own glory. Whether they win or lose makes no difference to the course of world history, even though the media reports keep proclaiming that history is being made. Except for the participants and their organizers, no one's life is improved by it. In fact, poor people are often chased out of their neighbourhoods and the latter demolished to be replaced by glitter and gold. Vancouver and its province British Columbia, the scene of the 2010 Winter Olympics where I live, was and is becoming a city and even province impossible to live in because of the obscenely high prices of property and houses, and all this while there is said to be no or hardly any money for or solution to the housing shortage. I could wander around in the city during the event and taste the Olympic ambiance, but I could not afford a ticket to the events. Was it an event of beauty?  Really?  I leave it to you along with the dictators of this world.  

I place this post on this Christian-Muslim blog, because Turkmenistan is a Muslim-majority country. Muslim theologians claim that Islam pushes justice and compassion. Their dictator is probably a Muslim, but he seems to know little about Islam and seems hardly motivated by it. When Muslims makes these grandiose claims for their religion, they need to explain how such situations arise. Does Islam have no defense against this or protection of the poor?  I realize, of course, that "Christians" have similar situations to account for. 

Here's Helgadottir. Enjoy--if you can.....


Fjola Helgadottir:
Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2018
          "At the whim of a dictator in fascinating Turkmenistan."
The Province of February 28, 2018
          "Turkmenistan has an eccentric and narcissistic president and it shows."

Most people have never heard of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and cannot point it out on a map. People often say it is like a mix of Las Vegas and Pyongyang. The city looks like a cartoon fairyland, with huge structures of marble and gold everywhere you look, and each skyscraper is more luxurious than the last.
We visited Turkmenistan as part of our honeymoon trip from Sydney (Australia) to Oxford (England). We had not heard of many of the countries before our departure, and spent time trying to remember the names of all the different “stans”. We entered Turkmenistan’s border town, Konye-Urgench, after travelling across Uzbekistan. To get around in Central Asia is tricky. One of the main methods of transport is going to a hub, finding a car that is going your direction, and waiting 1-5 hours until it fills with people. Add a few chickens, a couple babies and at least 2 people on laps and then it leaves for your destination.
After travelling in this area of the world for about a month we got good at making local friends without any language in common. Most people speak their native language with Russian as their second language. While driving across Uzbekistan the young man next to us showed us an seemingly endless album of pictures of himself posing in different military outfits with guns. The car overheated several times and we had to stop and wait for it to cool down. At one point a cushy air-conditioned tourist bus drove by, and we questioned our decision to travel independently.

We met our guide Oleg in Konye-Urgench. He was Russian, a no nonsense guy, and we had full confidence that he would be able to handle whatever Turkmenistan would throw at us. First, he drove us to a market so we could buy the local currency, the Manat. Exchanging money in banks in Turkmenistan is too costly so everyone goes to markets for money exchange. Then we drove south through sandy dunes for hours, with camels dotting the landscape. Finally, we reached the gas crater in the middle of the Karakum desert.
Standing next to the crater was one of the most bizarre sights in our lives, with nothing around in the middle of the grey desert and the bright flames lighting up a massive orange hole in the ground. I woke up with a strong headache after a night camping next to the crater for the night. I claimed it was the gas. My husband suspected it had more to do with the shots of vodka we had the night before. Regardless, we had a great night with Irish Rudi, Italian Alessandro, and our guide telling us scary stories of people disappearing into the flames. On our drive to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital city, Oleg said, here used to be a village. The Turkmenbashi didn’t like the looks of it, so he decided to tear it down. After making it to Asghabat in one piece we wandered around the city.

I’m sure many dictators in the world would love to build a city like Ashgabat, but Turkmenistan is unique in that it has (a) a spectacularly eccentric and narcissistic president, and (b) enormous oil revenues that allow him (and his predecessor) to indulge in all these ridiculous vanity projects. For example, many of the buildings in the city house useless ministries for this and that. There is the Ministry of Horses (horse features are cut into its marble), the Ministry of Carpets (with carpet pattern decoration on the front), the Ministry of Communication (looks like a big phone), the Ministry of Knowledge (shaped like a book).
The city is full of gold statues of the former president (Turkmenbashi which means leader of Turkmen). These are being slowly removed by the new president in exchange for things more relevant to himself. Turkmenbashi was pretty crazy. He changed the names of some months and days to names of his family members. If that wasn’t enough, he even changed the Turkmen word for bread to the name of his mother! Another quick one – he was trying to quit smoking, so he banned smoking in any place where he might accidentally see another person smoking – even outside in the entire country! You can’t even smoke in the middle of the desert! Basically, Turkmenbashi banned things on a whim, and when he died in 2006 the new president (his former dentist!) reversed some of the more outlandish laws, the new president doesn’t seem to be much better. He is continuing the endless building spree, while spending little money on things like education.

On every street corner there are a few young men in uniforms whose only job is to make sure nobody walks in front of public buildings or palaces, because this looks shabby (there are underpasses provided). Also, tourists have been arrested for taking pictures of the president’s palace. All traffic stops in the morning when the president wants to use the roads to get to work, and people are supposed to hide behind parked cars if the presidential convoy passes by.
We accidentally visited Asghabat’s latest hotel, when we were looking for a toilet. The hotel had only been open for a few weeks, so they had plenty of staff ready and eager to serve. In fact, they had just returned from France, where they learned the art of hospitality. They call the hotel Seven Stars. It featured showers that emulated rain, and the most luxurious toilets we’ve ever seen. The only problem was the complete lack of guests. Turkmenistan is sometimes called the world’s second most isolated country (after North Korea), so we wondered how they plan to fill up all 299 rooms (actually less because the president has reserved a whole floor for himself).
We had been warned to not speak about our tour guide in our hotel room as this could get him in trouble. It is common knowledge that hotel rooms are bugged. This was a slightly chilling feeling. We flew out of Ashgabat to Azerbaijan, in a completely empty Lufthansa plane, with mixed emotions. One the one hand we felt a sense of relief that we were no longer under observation, but absolutely fascinated by what we had just experienced.

What you need to know:
-Turkmenistan is located north of Iran and south of Uzbekistan.
– Getting there is the biggest challenge; start applying for a tourist visa now! We used this service:
– The second challenge is staying away from the secret police.
-Independent travelling is not allowed. So for excursions outside of Ashgabat, you need a guide. However, travel agencies are able to set you up with other travellers to share the cost.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Post 68--Turkey and Militants vs Christians in Syria

Turkey is member of NATO. I've never been at ease about that, because it is a Muslim country. Muslim countries generally are suspicious of Western countries--and for good reason. But for the West to figure they can count on Turkey to defend Western interests is downright silly. Now I realize, of course, that the reason for this alliance was the Cold War. The West tried to use Turkey in its ring around the Soviet Union. 

Fast forward. The Cold War is history, but now we have a vastly more complicated situation in the Middle East with Islam largely in chaos and threatening the West.  And while this was developing--or deteriorating!--the EU seriously considered allowing Turkey to join it.  I cannot imagine Western foolishness to even consider it.  But, then, Western nations have long been dumb and stupid when it comes to the Muslim world. So, I guess it's no surprise. By now, however, this issue has fizzled out and Turkey is now showing that it is, after all is said and done, a Muslim nation and cannot be counted on to support Western alliances like NATO and EU.  It has its own interests, Muslim interests, nationalist interests. 

With that as background, I invited you to read the sad report by Elizabeth Kendal. If you've been following this blog, you've met her before. She is a good and reliable reporter who tells it as it is. Well, as it is, this report is pretty sad for Christians in the Syrian chaos, what with Turkey now playing footsie with Islamic terrorists and even using them. The leopard is showing its true colour--and so are the USA and the UN!


Turkey in Syria: Afrin Falls; Christians Imperilled 
Yesterday, 11:04 PM

Friday, March 9, 2018

Post 67--An Islamic MishMash

Once in a while it's fun to just read a mishmash of things, of a random number of subjects that may not even have any connection with each other. Something like reading a bunch of short little articles in a newspaper.  Well, that's what you're getting today--a random Friday Nasiha of March 9, 2018, issue no. 989.  All random Muslim articles. Interesting. Informative.  Just read them. Ponder them. Enjoy them even.  And move on. 

 March 9, 2018 - Jumada al-Thani 21, 1439
Friday Nasiha: Issue 989
Living The Quran
Rejected Repentance
Al-e-Imran (The House of Imran) Sura 3: Verse 216
"But those who disbelieve after having believed, and then increase in their unbelief - their repentance shall not be accepted. They are the ones utterly astray. As to those who disbelieve, and die while they are disbelievers, there shall not be accepted from any of them even the earth full of gold, though they should offer it in ransom. For them, there shall be a painful punishment, and they shall have no helpers."
These verses refer to the people whose repentance shall not be accepted. They are the ones who were guilty of all the above-mentioned crimes: they believed and then went back and disbelieved, and then went on adding layers upon layers of disbelief. When their final moment came, they professed repentance verbally, without making amends for their crimes, nor openly confessing their concealment of the truth before the Prophet and the believers. Also, they did not spend in the cause of Allah and in support of the Prophet in order to wipe off their sins. They died, in the words of the Quran, falsely hoping that "Allah shall forgive us - sa-yughfiru lana". The Quran clearly warns all such people who thus delude themselves that their verbal repentance is no real repentance, nor will Allah accept it from them.
Similar is the case of those people who recognised the truth and believed in it and then reverted to kufr or unbelief and died in this state. Such people, even if they were to offer the earth full of gold in ransom to save themselves from the chastisement, it shall not be accepted from them. The style used here is meant to emphasise the impossibility of their salvation in the hereafter, for surely no one will possess anything in the hereafter to be able to offer it to anyone else, nor is the life hereafter a place for wheeling and dealing. The conclusion - Wa ma la-hum min nasirin - and they shall have no helpers - lays bare the false hopes of those who expected to be saved by the intercession of their forefathers on their behalf.
Compiled From:
"Pondering Over The Qur'an: Surah Ali Imran" - Amin Ahsan Islahi
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Understanding the Prophet's Life (peace be upon him)
God's Power
The cause of covetousness, according to Sidi Ahmad al-Zarruq, is heedlessness (ghafla). A person permits himself to forget that blessings are from God alone. No good or harm can come to one except by God's leave. This level of heedlessness is not a casual lapse of memory. People can become so terribly preoccupied with seeking things from other people, they become heedless of God's power and ownership. When this happens, a person opens his or her heart to all kinds of spiritual diseases. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Know that if an entire nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if [an entire nation] were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God had already prescribed for you." [Tirmidhi]
When the topic of God's power is discussed, questions often arise about those who hold rancor in their hearts to the degree that they wish harm to come to others. There is real concern about the affliction these people can cause. It is necessary to remember that when a person is straight with God—observant of His commands, avoiding what He has prohibited, and going beyond the mere obligations and remembering Him often through litanies, voluntary acts of worship, and generosity in charity—the evil prayers of others will not prevail.
Compiled From:
"Purification of the Heart" - Hamza Yusuf
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Blindspot!Spurious Hadiths
Scholars who spent a great deal of their lives with the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) developed a sense which they could use instantly in detecting error. Their example was like that of a man who lived with a beloved friend for scores of years, knew him very well in every situation and so could easily say which statement belonged to him and which not. Similarly, a literary critic who studies a poet for a long time and becomes fully acquainted with his style can, on the basis of his perception and personal experience, easily detect a poem which does not belong to the poet. However, Muhaddithin (hadith scholars) did not depend solely on personal experience as it may be counted a form subjective criticism. In short, if a hadith was not transmitted by any trustworthy scholar, and there was a liar or a person accused of lying in the chain of transmission it was said to have been fabricated by that person.
However, scholars laid down certain rules according to which one could reach conclusions about the spuriousness or genuineness of hadith even without going into detailed study of isnad (chain of narration). Here is a summary of the method described by Ibn al-Qayyim.
Ibn al-Qayyim's description of general rules about rejections of hadith are as follows:
1. If the hadith contains an exaggerated statement that the Prophet could not have made. For example, a false hadith attributed to the Prophet that when one pronounces 'La ilaha ill Allah' God creates from this sentence a bird with seventy thousand tongues.
2. Experiment rejects it.
3. Ridiculous kind of attribution.
4. Contradicts a well known Sunna.
5. Attributes a statement to the Prophet which was supposed to have been made in the presence of a thousand Companions but all of them supposedly concealed it.
6. The statement has no resemblance to other statements of the Prophet.
7. Sounds like the saying of mystics or medical practitioners.
8. Contradicts the clear and obvious meanings of the Quran.
9. Inadequate in its style.
Besides these rules, the entire system of isnad was applied to detect fabrication.
Compiled From:
"Studies in Early Hadith Literatures" - Mustafa al-Azami, pp. 71, 72
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Maintainer's Message
Parenting in the Digital World
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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Post 66--SAS Seasonal Affective Disorder

I feel a little lethargic today and wonder why. Perhaps because I had a rough day yesterday, but it could also be SAS--Seasonal Affective Disorder. That's a fancy term for a not uncommon condition that sort of takes the life out of you. Wintertime is especially the time for it, the time when there is little sun and light in general. I don't usually think of myself as having it, but our oldest son in California is definitely afflicted by it.  That's a major reason he lives in that state of for-ever-sunlight.  

I am forwarding an article explaining this condition that is published by the Muslim ministry called "Sound Vision: Helping Tomorrow's Muslims Today." The website is found down below. Give it a read if you think you might be affected.  

And thanks to author Meha Ahmad.  You've done us all a favour with this article. It is clear and to the point.

How to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

During the winter, we are slaves to the cold. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and most likely you may not get as much out of your days as you did during the summer months.
As winter rolls on, millions of people experience some range of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood condition that is otherwise known as “the winter blues.” A person will have normal mental health throughout the year, but experience slight or moderate symptoms of depression. Luckily, you can change your situation.

The Cause

While the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is yet to be determined, SAD is believed to be related to light. And in winter, the daylight is significantly reduced, disrupting your body’s internal clock (which can lead to depression).
SAD can also be caused by the pineal gland—a gland that depends on sunrises and sunsets and helps us develop a daily rhythm—secreting too much melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood.
Serotonin levels also change during the winter, often dropping when exposure to sunlight is reduced. A reduced amount of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, can also lead to depression and contribute to SAD.


The symptoms of SAD may vary. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Depression
  • Listlessness, lack of energy
  • Morning sickness
  • Cravings for junk food, sugars, carbohydrates; weight gain
  • Consistently oversleeping and difficulty waking up
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities; social withdrawal
  • Difficulty maintaining focus

How To Fight SAD: Six Winter Blues Busters

1. Resist hitting the snooze button.

We get it, it’s cold and gloomy outside. Your blanket is warm, and the floor is cold, so you think the logical answer is to stay in bed and sleep in. But we’re telling you: RESIST. Starting your day at your normal schedule is the first step to fighting SAD.

2. Exercise.

You’ve heard that working out gets endorphins—that hormone that gives you a rush, like a “runner’s high”—right? Well, this is especially helpful when fighting off the winter blues. Cardio and strength training will get your blood flowing, help you be more alert and feel more productive throughout your days.

3. Eat healthy.

This tip works year-round, but you don’t want to forget it during the winter. Winter may cause your serotonin levels to drop, causing your body to crave junk food, high in carbohydrates and sugars (desserts, junk food, soda) because they raise serotonin levels. But what you should really be eating instead are foods higher in protein and fiber. Know the cravings for what they are and opt for healthy choices instead. It will help you fight off lethargy.

4. Take your vitamins.

Have you considered taking multivitamins? Every day, take one that contains Vitamin D—a  bone-strengthening vitamin that your body usually makes when exposed to sunlight. But with less daylight available in the winter, turn to a multivitamin for your energy.

5. Embrace the season.

Many of us do not look forward to the winter season; it’s cold, damp, and dark outside, leading many to dread it. But embrace it instead! Take up a winter-related activity—skiing, sledding, winter hiking, ice skating, snowball fights, making snowmen, etc.—that will help you look forward to the season rather than shrink away from it and go into hibernation.

6. Get more sun.

Light therapy is doctor recommended for fighting SAD. The change in light exposure will stimulate a change in the levels of chemicals and hormones, particularly serotonin, that affect your mood. Exposure to bright artificial light improves SAD symptoms, but nothing beats the real thing. In fact, did you know that an hour of aerobic exercise outside has the same therapeutic effects as 2 ½ hours of artificial light exposure indoors?
Going outside first thing in the morning, or even just pulling back the curtains and letting the sunlight stream in will greatly combat seasonal affective disorder. Taking a brisk early morning walk is a triple hit: you’ll get exercise, expose yourself to the sunlight (lightening your mood) and help your body manufacture Vitamin D.