The start of 2020 witnessed a spike in US aggression towards Iran, followed by dangerous retaliation and fallout, including the accidental striking of a Ukrainian airliner over Tehran. Below are my comments I delivered to KPRC/NBC, the Houston Chronicle and KHOU.
I had the pleasure of delivering a talk on “Islamic diversity & communities of the Qur’an” at the Jalsa Salana: The 70th Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, 2018. You can watch the VIDEO here.
The Communities of the Qur’an project teaches us—indeed it has taught me!—much about the nuances of local Muslim and non-Muslim receptions of this important scripture, which is a noble cause in and of itself. However, it also teaches that the Muslims are caught between the push of diversity and the pull of consensus. Its different and vibrant communities do not even agree about the very nature of the Qur’an—a text shared and loved by all parties. If you are wondering what exactly I am talking about, then you will have to read the book!
May 14, 2018 saw the move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sparking massive protests in Gaza. Israeli forces massacred approximately 60 Palestinian civilians. My feedback on this horrific incident was first broadcast by VIDEO on KHOU 11, later picked up by CBS affiliates.
Is sabotaging international agreements the “art of the deal?”
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would not “recertify” the Iran Nuclear Deal — fancy lingo for the U.S. government undercutting an international contract. Trump further designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist” group and authorized new sanctionsagainst them. Somewhere in the middle of this, the U.S. Congress is to decide the fate of the now-damaged deal with Iran.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is an Obama era policy limiting Iran’s nuclear program from ever including nuclear weapons, in exchange for much needed sanctions relief. Since the deal first took effect in July 2015, Iran has kept its end of the bargain and complied with the terms. One year into the deal, in 2016, analysts at the Brookings Institution concluded the JCPOA to be a “net positive” among supporters or a “new normal” compromise among detractors.
Houston Arab Americans Aid Victims of Hurricane Harvey
POSTED ON: SEP 6, 2017
By: Emran El-Badawi/Contributing Writer
The now infamous Hurricane Harvey walloped southeast Texas between August 25-29, 2017. After more than one hundred tornadoes, flash flood warnings, and incessant rain, Houston was inundated with as much rain in 4 days as it usually sees during a whole year. The “biblical” storm waters and “record breaking” floods destroyed countless homes, displaced thousands and will cost our nation hundreds of billions of dollars—surpassing the damage caused by hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But Houston is not your average American city. At just over 2 million people, it stands as the fourth largest US city, with a metro area encompassing over six million people. Houston is also the most ethnically diverse city in the US, with the nation’s largest oil refineries and petrochemical plants, and one of the nation’s most active seaports.
So what happens when the largest deluge in American history meets its most cosmopolitan town? The answer can be summed up in one word: community. Almost overnight the city of Houston converged into a single community of human beings, with the sole mission of saving lives and helping those displaced. The outpouring of boat rescuers, first responders, volunteers, and material support for hurricane survivors was unprecedented.
Various communities, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, immigrant, native-born, Republican, Democrat, LGBT, Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian, Asian, Arab American, women and men of every of every stripe, seamlessly converged into one family. In the wake of tragedy, diversity became the city’s salvation—or as they say in H-Town #HoustonStrong!
The Houston Arab American community was, like all others in the city, impacted by the hurricane in some way. Among the 60 plus fatalities is an Arab family who drowned trying to escape flood waters. Numerous members of the community saw their homes flooded and are in recovery mode. Numerous others played an active role in humanitarian efforts throughout the region.
Ahmed Abuelaish and Mohamed Kholief, drove all the way from Denver where they live to the Houston suburbs of Richmond and Katy where they have relatives, buying a boat along the way in Forth Worth. Everyday during torrential downpours and deadly floods and for several days after, the pair rescued families stranded in their flooded homes by boat.
For many this was a time when the common bond of humanity surpassed all religious barriers. Salma Taher and her husband Yehia Omar dedicated their time to volunteer at the West University Church of Christ.
Several Arab American homes opened their doors to friends or neighbors who lost their homes. Farah Killidar of Houston, a single parent and professional, took in three families and turned what could have been one of life’s most frightening and gloomy experiences into a slumber party for kids. In the hard hit suburb of Katy, Wael Abou Amin and his wife May Gaafar shared their dry home with families whose homes had lost power, buying extra mattresses when necessary.
The torrential downpours barely subsided in time for the holy day of Eid Al-Adha on August 31. The spirit of the Muslim holiday was felt throughout the Houston metro area as countless Muslims rushed to volunteer their labor and resources at shelters and damaged homes. Several major Houston mosques and Islamic centers served as official city shelters, as did numerous churches, schools, community centers and businesses.
At the city’s two largest storm shelters, the George R. Brown Center and NRG Stadium, Arab-Americans joined their neighbors and friends to volunteer. The sheer size of the humanitarian effort and the thousands of people streaming in for aid, made the experience a bit chaotic at times. The initial outpouring of support, especially Wednesday and Thursday, produced more volunteers and donations than the GRB, NRG or even the American Red Cross could handle. However, given the magnitude of this national disaster, it was a good problem to have.
None of this stopped Michael Fares and Jess Lane from helping out. Michael teaches Arabic full time at the University of Houston (UH); and Jess graduated from UH not long ago. The couple donated their translation skills, raised funds and transported food and hygiene supplies at local schools, yoga studios and churches.
Back at UH various student groups and initiatives were out gutting homes and clearing debris. Among them were Saudi students from Hand by Hand who teamed up with Habitat for Humanity in the suburb of Meyerland.
The hurricane relief effort pushed Houston small businesses and nonprofits into overdrive. The rain had barely stopped falling and flood waters were still rising on Tuesday when Maysa Zaza, a caseworker at Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, began making food stops. Traveling in a large white van, they almost did not make it. A one hour trip now took over six hours and there were no streets to speak of, just dangerous and possibly contaminated waterways. Maysa and the two brave volunteers sent aid to Houston area refugees, disabled people and even the homeless.
The founders of Promoting Eastern Artisan Collaborative Effort (PEACE), Drs. Rand Omran and Salwan Toumajian, reported that a number of their artists lost their home or property to floodwaters. In addition to raising funds and providing urgently needed supplies to support them, Rand helped provide a fully functional “flood recovery financial aid” online portal for Arabic speakers across the region.
At the Bougainvilleas Event Venue and Café Caspian, business owners Badra Salameh Andrews, Massoud (Max) Bastankhah and Zack Bastankhah used their commercial scale kitchens to cook and supply food for hundreds of veterans combating PTSD at Camp Hope, as well as area refugee communities.
In a similar vein members of the Ramallah Social Club in the suburb of Missouri City, Wafa Baba and Claudia Baba, supplied hundreds of sandwiches to Houston area first responders on account of risking their lives to save others.
Rasha Shammaa of West Houston, teamed up with Kat Creech who set up “Recovery Houston.” The organization collects hardware supplies and creates teams of volunteers to go throughout the Houston metro region gutting homes and clearing debris, every day since Saturday.
The stories of Houston’s sons and daughters, Arab-Americans included, saving lives and rebuilding the city are too many to recount. Leaders and members of virtually every organization, contributed in cash or kind. The Arab American Cultural And Community Center, Egyptian American Society of Houston, Syrian American Club of Houston, Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, and countless others.
West Houston remains under temporary evacuation until today. Excess floodwaters are still being drained into the Buffalo Bayou, flooding that part of the city. Most schools remain closed. The full extent of the damage will not be appreciated until all floodwaters have receded in the coming months; and a full scale recovery will take years.
In America’s most diverse city; after one of our nation’s most devastating natural disasters, I asked my fellow Arab Americans what part of this tragedy and humanitarian blessing stuck with them the most. What images and sounds are burned into their memory? I was taken aback by two answers. “Fear,” says Maysa Zaza with Alliance, “especially if you’re a refugee and don’t speak the language.” I asked her to explain further, she replies “if you don’t know English you don’t understand the TV and radio warnings, so you don’t know where to go.” The other answer came from Michael Fares. He stopped at La Tapatia restaurant to get a bite to eat last Thursday after a long day of volunteering. “There were about 30 members of the Mexican Red Cross sitting across from us,” and the staff were rushing to serve them. Those men and women risked their lives to save the lives of Houstonians thanks to an open border with Mexico, not a border wall.
The sun now shines over Houston. The city walks upon the long road to recovery after hurricane Harvey. The diversity of its citizens and the goodwill of its businesses serve as an example to all America that building bridges—the kinds made of concrete as well as goodwill to all humankind—makes us a stronger nation.
Arab America Contributing Writer, Dr. Emran El-Badawi, is program director and associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Houston. He has contributed to Forbes, The Christian Science Monitor and made dozens of national as well as international media appearances, including for The New York Times, Al-Jazeera and Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne (ARTE). He can be found on Twitter: @EmranE
The U.S. missile strikes against an airport military facility near Homs, Syria, has opened a new chapter in Syria’s bloody six-year civil war. A key question, even as the political and military fallout is still settling, is how dangerous this escalation will become.
The war already has claimed as many as 500,000 lives, and more than 12 million Syrians have lost their homes. The refugee crisis continues, along with the rise of terrorism and populism worldwide.
President Donald Trump ordered the airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on April 3, an attack which claimed almost 100 lives, many of them children, and in which the Assad government and its Russian allies are implicated. Other reports, including from within the United Nations, claim it is likely opposition fighters in Idlib committed the atrocity, and so the blame game goes on as it has since the start of this conflict.
A number of concerns arise from these new developments. First, after six years of carnage, the Syrian people are increasingly the target of local and foreign governments in their own country. There seems to be no diplomatic or military solution that favors the Syrian people. Public discussion and analysis of the airstrikes and chemical attack are almost exclusively about assessing the merits or faults of Trump’s intervention, what Putin’s response will be, or to what extent the Assad government will be weakened.
At no point has there been substantive discussion or debate on how to throw all our weight behind diplomacy, twisting arms and non-lethal economic retaliation.
Second, how dangerous is this escalation? Will Putin tell Assad to take one for the team and bring down the conflict a couple of notches? Or will Russia come into direct conflict with the United States? The latter looms larger as the Russians have suspended the 2015 agreement “de-conflicting” Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Syria (whose originally stated enemy was ISIS).
Third, how much of this is a distraction from the altogether unstable Trump administration? With the sacking of Michael Flynn and the removal of chief advisor Steve Bannon from a coveted seat on the National Security Council and chief of staff Reince Priebus on apparently shaky ground, Trump can benefit from less attention on his unsteady first months in office. Or is this a distraction from the death toll in Mosul, where U.S. air strikes killed as many as 200 Iraqi civilians on March 24?
The GOP are, as expected, eager for war, as they were under George W. Bush and the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Also, much of the media is spending its time juxtaposing the “action” of Trump’s airstrikes, versus the “inaction” of Obama’s attempt to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons. History teaches that either path – direct military engagement of Assad, or turning a blind eye – has large human and material costs.
The airstrikes come a week after Trump said removing Assad was no longer a priority. Supporters of the Syrian government claim the chemical was an act of sabotage by the opposition to frame Assad. The opposition claims that Assad was emboldened to get away with murder after Trump’s statements.
That doesn’t necessarily hold. Assad has been massacring the civilian population for years, before world’s own eyes. He could have been assassinated numerous times, but he was not. As in the chemical attack of 2013, it seems unclear to me why a brutal dictator already getting away with murder would need to switch from conventional weapons to chemical weapons. However, the fog of war is thick, and the patience of men has worn thin.
A last-ditch effort at diplomacy after the Syrian government and the Russians re-conquered Aleppo from opposition fighters in 2016 (and Homs in 2015) was squandered. This new round of airstrikes pushes the dream of a diplomatic solution even further afield. The U.S. is getting dragged into perpetual war in the Middle East once again, with no military strategy or intent for diplomacy.
My fear is that we as citizens of the most powerful country in the world are becoming inculcated in or addicted to war. Despite most Americans losing any desire for war after Iraq renewed threats of global terrorism and the rise of populism are once again feeding the Narrative of War. In this respect, the Trump Administration is merely following the unofficial handbook of American foreign policy, namely airstrikes and – if the political will permits – ground invasion. The Trump Administration does not appear to possess sophistication or imaginative capability to bring about a diplomatic solution.
Does this mean the only way to effect change on the world stage is through brute force? If we buy into this outmoded narrative – again – then the spread of global warfare and terrorism will become stronger and more inevitable.
Let us not forget one final mantra, perpetual war is good for perpetual business. Raytheon, producer of the Tomahawk missiles used to attack Syria, has seen its stock soar on the market. This is good for Trump, who owns Raytheon stocks, and all the other and other wealthy movers and shakers in the business of making war. This is to say nothing of energy and development contracts–the ‘spoils of war.’
In recent years, instability in the Middle East and deteriorating relations between Putin and Obama have made conflicts around the world a zero sum game. In the end, the U.S. or Russia and their so called allies will need to give up influence, cede territory and stop destroying sovereign nations if Syria is to have a future and the world a chance to stabilize. The sooner we all learn this the better.
Program Director and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies
University of Houston
FEBRUARY 17, 2017
Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,
America’s native son, James Baldwin, warned us that to describe people as terrorists “is to dismiss their claim to human attention: we are not compelled to think of them at all anymore, except as the vermin that must be destroyed” (The Evidence of Things Not Seen). Your policies against Muslim immigrants and refugees under the pretext of terrorism reopen a dark page in our nation’s history.
America was founded as a nation of immigrants, and Muslims have been part of the American story since the very beginning. Millions of Muslims were among the African slaves who suffered grave injustice and built this nation on their backs. George Washington’s letter to his “great and magnanimous friend” Sultan Muhammad Ibn Abdullah of Morocco and Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an show that America’s founding fathers recognized Islam’s importance for international diplomacy and personal philosophy.
Some two centuries later, however, our current leaders have alienated, even dehumanized, their fellow Muslim citizens, with episodes of racism on the rise on your watch.
Scripture teaches us that long ago, different peoples settled in the land of Egypt as they searched for economic opportunity and an honorable life. Like America, Egypt was once a great nation of immigrants and natives, slaves and masters. Its ruler, Pharaoh, was considered a god: a narcissist and a dictator of the masses. When a young foreign slave named Joseph arrived in Egypt, the Qur’an teaches that his master commanded, “Make his stay honorable. He may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son. And thus We settled Joseph in that land” (12:21).
America is fundamentally a nation of immigrants, a home blessed with honorable sons and daughters, like Joseph, who go on to do great things for their adopted nation. The future of America depends in large part on how your administration treats its Muslim citizens, residents and immigrants alike. Leaders come and go; but diversity and pluralism are here to stay. Like the ancients awaiting a sign from the heavens, we the people endure. We take heart in the words of the Qur’an: “Be witnesses of justice, and let not the hatred of a people prevent you from being just” (5:8).
Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies
University of Houston
Christmas 2016 for the western churches is upon us. Nobody will dispute that 2016 was itself a trying year. A host of global problems have polarized human beings based on race, religion, ethnicity and other traits. The rise in right wing, fundamentalist, even racist rhetoric and identity politics have made this year especially divisive. To the Christians of America and Europe I say, you will find the culture and language of Christ in your Muslim brothers and sisters. So stop listening to the media and politicians and visit your local mosque. I assure you they will welcome you.To the Muslims globally I say, the Qur’an was originally written for a Christian and Jewish audience. So stop listening to clerics and try reading the text critically by yourself.
Christians and Muslims share a great deal–beyond their own humanity–not least because Aramaic and Arabic are sister languages that share a single cultural and religious sphere in the Middle East have been. To really understand the depth and complexity of this relationship requires one to learn difficult (but beautiful!) languages, read ancient manuscripts as well as tons of literature, history, social studies in other foreign languages. This is why, as we welcome the challenges of 2017, education matters; knowledge, research and digitization matters; humanities and social sciences matter; reading bokks matters; learning languages matters– facts matter. The “truth” (small “t”) is always complex. So don’t buy “us versus them” just because it’s simple!
To sample this complexity, consider the most commonly read Christian prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) and the most commonly read Muslim prayer (the Fatihah / Qur’an’s introduction) from my book The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions. Footnotes have been removes, and you have my apologies if some of the type or transliteration do not come through. Put on your thinking caps and enjoy!
* Excerpts Begins (footnotes removed) *
The impact that the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer had on the language, form and content of liturgical prayers in the Arabic Qur’ān was profound. The text of the Lord’s Prayer reads,
Our Father who is in Heaven (abūn d-ba-šmayā),
Sanctified is Your name (nētqdaš šmāk).
Your kingdom come (tītē malkūtāk)
Your will be done (nēhwē s.ēbyānāk)
As in Heaven so [too] on earth(aykanā d-ba-šmayā āp b-ar‘ā).
Give us the bread that we need this day (hab lan lah. mā d-sūnqānan yawmānā).
And forgive us our debts (wa šbūq lan hawbayn)
Just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-hayābayn).
And do not enter us into temptation (w lā ta‘aln l-nēsyūnā)
But deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā);
Because to you belong the kingdom, the power and glory (met.ūl d-dīlāk hī malkūtā w haylā w tēšbūh. tā) forever and ever (l-‘ālam ‘ālmīn).
(Matthew 6:9–13: cf. Luke 11:2–4; Diatessaron 9:31–36; Didache 8)
Beginning with the most important qur’ānic example that was inspired by or re- articulated certain dimensions of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer, let us consider “the Opening” (al-fātihah; seventh century CE). The liturgical prayer that begins the Qur’ān serves as the first Surah and is, furthermore, unparalleled in literary and religious importance within all Islamic literature. As Sperl demonstrates, it is a prayer that comes from a long tradition of ancient and late antique Near Eastern liturgical style prayers, going back through the Gloria of the Roman mass (fourth century CE), the Lord’s Prayer (first century), the Shemoneh ‘Esreh of Rabbinic liturgy (first century CE?), and related to the Babylonian prayer to the moon god, Sin (first millennium BCE). It should be added that the Zoroastrian liturgies— especially the Avestan Gahs—and the supplications of Gēnzā Rbā R1:1:1–27 are too a foundational contribution to this prayer tradition. At any rate, the text of the fātihah, including the basmalah, follows:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Benevolent (b-ism allāh al-rah. mān al-rah. īm)
Glory belongs to God, Lord of the worlds (al-hamd li al-allāh rabb al-‘ālamīn)
The Merciful, the Benevolent (al-rah. mān al-rah. īm)
King of the Day of Judgment (malik yawm al-dīn)122
You do we serve (iyyāk na‘bud)
And you do we ask for help (wa iyyāk nasta‘īn)
Guide us to the straight path (ihdinā al-sirāt. al-mustaqīm)
The path of those whom You have favored (sirāt. al-ladhīn an‘amt alayhim)
Not those who incur anger (ghayr al-maghd. ūb ‘alayhim)
Sperl convincingly relates the syntactic, rhetorical and symmetrical parallel- ism found in the Arabic fātihah to the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer. He notes that the underlying structure of the Lord’s Prayer, like the fātihah—including the basmalah—is divided symmetrically into two halves “juxtaposing the human and divine sphere.” Thus, according to Sperl’s distribution of the lines (see earlier), the first five lines of both the Lord’s Prayer and the fātihah concern God (glory and exaltation) and the latter five concern humankind (asking God for help). Without sharing Sperl’s belief that the original language of the Lord’s Prayer, which is “lost,” is of secondary importance, and without repeating the details of his otherwise valuable literary analysis, new insights follow making use of the Aramaic text of the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on the Arabic fātihah’s dogmatic re- articulation thereof.
A report going back to ‘Alī b. Abī T. ālib alleges that Waraqah—whose knowledge of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer may be assumed—gave Muhamamad the courage to receive the revelation of the first four lines of the fātihah. Concerning the text of the fātihah more specifically, the initial part of the basmalah, which states “in the name of God” (b-ism allāh; see also Q 27:30), begins the fātihah while invoking the phrase “sanctified is Your name” (nētqdaš šmāk) in the Lord’s Prayer, where Arabic i–s–m corresponds to Aramaic š–m. So too is the verse “King of the Day of Judgment” (malik yawm al-dīn) a re-articulation of “Your kingdom come” (tītē malkūtāk)—possibly mediated through Syriac homilies like that of Narsai—where the components of kingdom (see Chapter 5) and apocalypse (see Chapter 6) are juxtaposed. Thus, “King” (malik) invokes “kingdom” (malkūtā), and the phrase “the Day of Judgment” (yawm al-dīn) corresponds to the Aramaic feminine singular imperative verb “Come” (tītē). Other pairs that function as conceptual parallels include: the verbal clauses “guide us” (ihdinā) and “deliver us” (fas.ān); the construct “those who incur anger” (al-maghd. ūb ‘alayhim) and the noun with the first person plural suffix “our debters” (hayābayn); and finally, the nouns “the lost” (al-dāllīn) and “temptation” (nēsyūnā).
The rhyme at the end of the fātih. ah’s verses (not lines) is the one most commonly found in the Qur’ān, īn/īm. According to Sperl’s 10 line schema, the rhyme at the end of the fātihah’s lines is īn/īm (A), except for line 5 which ends in “we worship” (na‘bud; B) and lines 8 and 9 which end in the phrase “upon them” (‘alayhim; C), producing a rhyme scheme of A-A-A-A-B-A-A-C-C-A. Similarly, according to Sperl’s schema, the rhyme scheme of the Aramaic text is stronger than that of the Greek. The rhyme of the former consists of: the emphatic nominal singular article ā (A); the masculine singular possessive suffix ak (B); and the masculaine plural emphatic case plus first person plural possessive suffix ayn (C). This produces a rhyme scheme of A-B-B-B-A-A-A-C-C-A-A. Although the fātihah and Lord’s Prayer share neither rhyme morpheme nor rhyme scheme the occurrence of the stanzas C-C before a return to stanza A at the end may demonstrate the remnants of a shared liturgical substrate. Although Sperl never suggests it, rhyme is an integral phonetic component of the style employed in both the fātihah and Lord’s Prayer. Finally, like their Christian counterparts who chant the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer to this day, faithful Muslim worshippers chant the fātihah as an Arabic hymn and conclude it with the standard Judeo-Christian statement, āmīn (Aramaic āmēn).
The Lord’s Prayer not only affected the form and content of the fātihah but likely informed—along with Hebrew Scripture and Rabbinic commentary—a number of other liturgical prayers in the Qur’ān known for their profound literary and rhythmic qualities. As an invocation, “Our Father who is in Heaven (abūn d-ba-šmayā)” is used very much like the basmalah (Q 1:1; 27:30). As an exalta- tion of God’s name in the Spirit of Hebrew Scripture (1 Chronicles 16:35; 29:13; Psalms 44:8; Joel 2:26; and so on), “Sanctified is Your name (nētqdaš šmāk),” likely had some influence on the qur’ānic phrase, “so glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great One (fa sabbih. b-ism rabbik al-‘az.īm)” (Q 56:74, 96; 69:52).
The verbal clause in line 3 of the Lord’s Prayer stating, “Your kingdom come (tītē malkūtāk)” is adapted in the qur’ānic formula used in prayers, “Our Lord, bring us . . .!” (rabbanā [wa] ātinā . . .) demanding of God’s promise (Q 3:194) and mercy (Q 18:10; cf. Q 11:63; see further Q 9:75; 27:16). In this case the Aramaic verb tītēis the D stem of the third person feminine imperfect of the root ā–t–y, meaning “to come;” and the Arabic verb ātinā is the G stem of the masculine singular imperative of “to bring” (that is, causative, “to make come”) of the same root preserved in Arabic, ’–t–ā.
The use of the command in line 6 of the Lord’s Prayer, “give us” (hab lan) matches the following qur’ānic prayers, “Our Lord, do not shake our hearts after having guided us; and give us (hab lanā), from Your mercy! Indeed, you are the Giver (al-wahhāb);” (Q 3:8); as well as, “And those who say give us (hab lanā) from our spouses and offspring a soothness [for our] eyes, and make us for the virtuous a guide” (Q 25:74).
The Arabic formula hab lanāis philologically and syntactically identical to its Aramaic counterpart hab lan: masculine singular imperative of the root w–h–b/y– h–b meaning “to give,” and the preposition li/la meaning “to” attached to the first person plural possessive suffix n/nā respectively. It follows, therefore, that the qur’ānic use of w–h–b is most likely derived from Aramaic.
Lines 7–8 of the Lord’s Prayer state, “and forgive us our debts (wa šbūq lan
hawbayn), just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-
hayābayn).” That the Qur’ān inherited the idea of “sin as debt” (Aramaic h. ūbā, Arabic h. ūb) made famous by the Aramaic Gospel Traditions is clear (Q 4:2). More significantly, these lines—which encapsulate the spirit of Judeo-Christian
brotherhood and forgiveness taught in the Gospels—are fitted to the circumstances of Muhammad’s community as they pray, Lord, forgive us (rabb ighfir lanā) and our brethren who preceded us in faith (wa li ikhwāninā al-dhīnā sabaqūnā bi al-īmān); and do not create in our hearts animosity (ghill) towards those who believe. Our Lord, you are the Compassionate, the Benevolent. (Q 59:10)
The syntax of formulae asking forgiveness for oneself in Arabic and Aramaic is the same: imperative plus preposition li/la plus pronominal suffix [plus ours sins/debts].
So the syntax of “forgive [for] us our debts” (wa šbūq lan hawbayn) is pre- served in “forgive us our sins” (ighfir lanā dhunūbanā) found in the Qur’ān (Q 3:16; 3:147; 3:193; cf. Q 12:97), where the imperative “forgive” (ighfir) parallels “forgive” (šbūq) and “our sins” (dhunūbunā) parallels “our debts” (hawbayn). In relation to this, as line 8 of the Lord’s Prayer—“just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-hayābayn)”—attempts to bridge the gap between Jesus’s socially disparate community by asking for mutual forgiveness among a community of “debters,” so too does Q 59:10 ask—as a compliment to the Gospels—that there not be mutual “animosity” (ghill) among the community of “brethren” and “believers.” Moreover, Muhammad saw the spirit of brother- hood and forgiveness demonstrated in the Hebrew Scriptures and Gospel Traditions as an example for his community to follow (Q 48:29).
The translation for the word nēsyūnāin line 9 of the Lord’s Prayer “And do not enter us into temptation (w lā ta‘aln l-nēsyūnā),” is rendered alternately by the NRSV as “trial.” The faithful pray in the Qur’ān for protection against both “temptation” (from n-s-ā) and “trial” (fitnah), which are further expounded upon in Chapter 4. Thus, it states,
Our Lord, do not hold us accountable if we are tempted or mistaken (lā tu’ākhidhnā in nasīnā aw akht.a’nā)
Our Lord, nor place upon us a burden as you placed on those before us
Our Lord, nor burden us with what we cannot withstand And pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us.
You are our Lord, so give us victory over the rebellious folk (al-qawm al-kāfirīn).
As well as, “Our Lord, do not make us a trial for those who rebelled (lā taj‘alnā fitnah li al-ladhīnā kafarū), and forgive us Lord. Indeed, you are the Mighty, the Wise” (Q 60:5; Cf. 10:85).
As suggested earlier, the conditional clause “if we are tempted” (in nasīnā; Q 2:286) and the noun for “trial” (fitnah; Q 60:5) are an Arabic verbal re-wording and calque—respectively—of the Aramaic word for “temptation, trial” (nēsyūnā). What firmly establishes the connection between these qur’ānic prayers and line 9 of the Lord’s Prayer are the identical syntax of the negative imperatives directed towards God, “do not hold us accountable” (lā tu’ākhidhnā) and “do not make us” (lā taj‘alnā), which mirror “do not enter us” (lā ta‘aln).
As for “the rebellious folk” (al-qawm al-kāfirūn) or “those who rebelled” (al- ladhīnā kafarū) from whom the faithful flock seek refuge in the Qur’ān, they represent one manifestation of “the evil one” (bīšā) found in line 10 of the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, line 10 which reads “but deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā),” is dogmatically re-articulated in a number of qur’ānic prayers. For example, Moses’ people pray,
Upon God have we placed our trust. Our Lord, do not make us a trial for the evil folk (lā taj‘alnā fitnah li al-qawm al-z.ālimīn); and deliver us—by your mercy—from the rebellious folk (wa najjinā bi rah. matik min al-qawm al-kāfirīn).
(Q 10:85–86: cf. 66:11)
Similarly, after Moses has killed an Egyptian he flees the city “fearfully looking about” and praying, “Our Lord, deliver me from the evil folk” (najjinī min al- qawm al-z.ālimīn; Q 28:21; cf. Q 23:28; see also 7:89; 26:169). The liturgical prayer formula found in the Qur’ān, “deliver us/me from the rebellious/evil folk” (najjinā/īmin al-qawm al-kāfirīn/al-z.ālimīn) reflects the syntax and meaning of “deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā)” found in line 10 of the Lord’s Prayer. The verb najjinā/ī is a calque for fas.ān. Furthermore, the evil or oppressive folk (al-qawm al-kāfirīn/al-z.ālimīn) play the role of the perennial adversary/ adversaries faced by the prophets and their righteous entourage throughout the Qur’ān—the same role played by “the evil one” (bīšā) in the Aramaic Gospels (Matthew 5:37; John 17:15; and so on).
“How did renewed autocracy in Egypt and civil war in Syria impact liberals differently? What lessons can be learned about the nature of liberalism in the greater Arab context from this comparative survey? This chapter seeks to answer these questions, first by following the reaction of liberals to the so-called Arab Spring, comparing a handful of intellectuals and academics in Egypt as well as Syria. The chapter goes on to focus on two of the most prominent liberals in each context, namely Gaber Asfour and Burhan Ghalioun. In each case, the role played by the armed forces vis-à-vis the public was critical to their rapid accession to power, and equally rapid fall….”
I had the pleasure of sitting and talking with Arab Voices radio talk show host Said Fattouh last month. We discussed, among other things, the U.S. election results, populism, immigration, globalization; Trump’s impact on minority groups in the US; Muslims, Arabs, South Asians in America (contributions and challenges) and Middle East policy. You can hear the full show at the link below.
The people have spoken. And they elected Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. Despite winning the popular vote Hillary Clinton lost a much anticipated historic election. Adding insult to injury the Republicans now have full control over Congress as well, and will likely bring about a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. As regressive and disturbing as this may all seem, let us not forget that The pendulum swings widely between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican almost every election cycle. Its a hard pill to swallow, but life goes on.
But this is bigger than the FBI’s meddling or losing on account Clinton’s e-mail scandal, and maybe even bigger than the Democratic National Committee sabotaging Bernie Sander’s candidacy. As the DNC, liberals and the indeed the world come to terms with this seismic step backwards in American politics, I offer these preliminary thoughts.
On November 9, 2016 the US caught up — as it were — to the tidal wave of anti-globalization, anti-immigration and white (often Christian) nationalism that has swept through other democracies. The example of Brexit in the United Kingdom, the rise of Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France, the resurgence of NeoNazi groups in Germany, prime minister Victor Orban’s promotion of “Christian identity” in Hungary and even the Likud renewed nationalism in Israel — all suggest a global phenomenon. The reason’s for ‘global anti-globalization’ are many — the Euro-crisis, bank bailouts, collapsing oil prices, class warfare, perpetual war, the Arab Spring, ISIS, and on and on.
In the US the success of the nation’s first African American president stoked deep seated obstructionism — even racism — within the Republican party leadership, who tried to sabotage his presidency for eight years. Since 9/11 2001 the GOP has moved further and further to the right, reinforcing anti-globalization through its invasion of Iraq, courting the Tea Party, “birther” movement” and culminating in Trump’s hate speech. Much of the GOP animosity was directed against Obama’s African race and Muslim ancestry. Furthermore, America has lost most of its manufacturing jobs (some outsourced; others outmoded) and its growing Latino population will be the majority by 2044. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Trump called for building a wall across the Mexican border and banning Muslims from entering the the country?
As the renowned social scientist Zygmunt Bauman expressed about the world’s historical direction, there is a “crisis of humanity” and ‘no one is in charge.’ Across the world people have seen their standard of living decline, or worse they have suffered revolution, war and displacement unseen before World War II. History also teaches us that economic protest can, and frequently does, manifest itself in the form of nationalist xenophobia . The demographics of the world are changing. In other words predatory neoliberalism, ongoing wars in the Middle East and the global refugee and immigration crises are not the only change at hand. In the case of the US there are more and more brown and black people thriving — legally — around a slowly dwindling caucasian population. There is no going back; and the changing face of America and the world is unfolding before our eyes. Trump’s win is merely delaying the inevitable.
On racism I leave you with the words of Van Jones.
There are serious — even disastrous — prospects of this Trump presidency — losing face before the world, dismantling healthcare for the poor and cutting taxes for the rich, and emboldening white supremacy. However, just as the media was correct to chasten Trump for calling democratic elections “rigged,” we have little choice but to accept the result of such and election, meticulously hold Trump accountable and live to fight another day.
Change is inevitable. This is a rancorous wake up call to change our polity. Will Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein or another third party candidate have a chance in 2020? Will the two party system ever open up? Will our leaders stop pandering to money and start serving the people? Will old white men stop trying to forcibly control or demonize women, LGBTs, African Americans, Latinos and non-white immigrants? Will the US invest in itself and stop (over)policing the world? These are not supposed to be partisan issues. One can only hope that Trump and his GOP appointees will cause the least damage.
“We have a case of oil addiction in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is dangerous.” So says Muhammad ibn Salman Al-Saud, deputy crown prince and minister of defense in his highly publicized April 25, 2015 interview with Al-Arabiyya. He continued, “We should treat oil as an investment, not a primary or absolute commodity.”
This is precisely the impulse behind the “Saudi Vision 2030.” The plan was crafted by Prince Muhammad – a young but shrewd visionary in his own right – and its aim is to wean the world’s largest oil exporter of its ‘dangerous addiction’ by 2030.
The 15-year plan comes at a time of historic economic and political instability. Since June 2014 oil prices that typically had been over $100 per barrel fell to below $50 and have not recovered. Going from “hero to zero” cut over 350 thousand energy sector jobs in just one year – 120,000 jobs in the U.S. alone – and starved the Venezuelan economy, literally. Meanwhile much of the Middle East still suffers from war, popular demonstrations and renewed government crackdowns since the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2010/2011.
The Impact of Oil on MENA Societies
Studying the Saudi 2030 Oil Plan, its political context in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and the global energy market became part of my mission as a researcher and educator at the University of Houston. I piloted an interdisciplinary course last summer for UH Energy and the C.T. Bauer College of Business on “Oil, Religion and the Middle East.” In this course, students of engineering, political science and the humanities came together to discuss the impact of oil on MENA societies. We examined in detail:
1. The “oil curse” and the phenomenon of the “rentier state”
2. How the oil and gas sector shapes cultural and social norms
3. Initiatives promoting transparency, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental sustainability.
And what does religion have to do with oil in this region? Everything. Or as Prince Muhammad summarizes, “Our constitution has become scripture, tradition and oil!”
King Salman Al-Saud remains the “custodian of the two holy mosques.” His Kingdom is simultaneously the most powerful member state of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
In other words, Saudi Arabia controls global oil as much as it does modern Islam. Therein lies the gravity of this economic plan.
Vision 2030: Growth, Diversification and Investment
Currently Saudi Arabia remains the largest global exporter of oil at about 360 million barrels per year; it is home to the largest proven oil reserves at almost 260-270 billion barrels (18 percent of global reserves). So how does the leader of the pack quit at the top of his game? Among the plan’s details are three sweeping economic changes:
Selling 5 percent of government-run Saudi Aramco in the largest IPO in history
Reducing government subsidies and introducing taxes for the first time
Establishing a $2 trillion national investment fund
Valued at several trillion dollars Saudi Aramco remains the largest corporate entity in the world – state-run or otherwise. Aramco’s precise value is a state secret, which is a problem for any investor. So the plan calls for increased transparency. The size and importance of the company mean the Saudis are unlikely to give up the strategic value of oil itself. They might instead turn over logistics or petrochemicals to the private sector.
For an investment deal this big there are skeptics as well as optimists– and justifiably so. In sum, a successful IPO is critical to the plan’s execution … and its credibility.
Reducing government subsidies is a must. Since its founding almost a century ago the Saudi welfare state has given generous lifelong subsidies to its citizens. There are no taxes to speak of, and immigrant workers make up 30 percent of the general population. Government hand outs and foreign labor are part of Saudi culture. This might explain why the government has begun to tax immigrant workers but not Saudi citizens – a highly problematic start. How will imposing income, property or utility taxes affect the demographics of the kingdom? What ripple effects will this have on GDP, labor laws, political reform? Only time will tell.
When it comes to his investment, Prince Muhammad is on more solid ground. He claims the “Saudi mindset is a financial mindset” – and he is right. The Saudi central bank holds $117 Billion in US treasury bonds – surprisingly low given its sheer wealth. On the private sector front, the billionaire Al-Waleed ibn Talal, a member of the Al-Saud royal family, has bailed out everyone from CitiGroup to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. This is to say nothing of domestic Saudi investment in infrastructure, healthcare and retail – which are all state of the art. In this vein a $2 trillion investment fund may have a chance of diverting resources from oil towards realizing the prince’s dream to make Saudi Arabia a “global investment powerhouse.”
The plan also calls for diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy – currently 90 percent oil driven. What other industries can flourish in the desert? The plan aims to spur growth in natural gas, real estate, mining, tourism and other sectors. The plan also calls for creating jobs for both men and women, improving people’s quality of life and – given the government’s religious mandate – improving the country’s morals while empowering its global Islamic prestige. Overall, the stated goals of Vision 2030 are ambitious bordering on inconceivable. But they are steps in the right direction.
For energy economists and historians – even the skeptics among them – the 2030 Saudi Oil Plan is long overdue. It represents a milestone in global energy and geopolitics: using oil wealth to divest from oil. It also comes in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol of 2005, Paris Agreement of 2015, China’s “five year plan” to reduce air pollution and other concrete efforts by the world’s largest economies to cut emissions in response to climate change. By framing the plan as a “vision” and underscoring large government projects, the Saudis are doing business the “Arab way.” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s “New Suez Canal” has been the region’s most recent marvel, although revenues have been too low to help Egypt’s struggling economy. But the Saudis are thinking much bigger than the Egyptians anyway. It was Prince Muhammad ibn Rashid Al-Maktoum’s 2004 economic development plan, “My Vision,” that transformed Dubai into the opulent global city-state it is today. (The Saudis and Emiratis are also competing for who can build the tallest building in the world – an entirely different matter!)
Saudi Arabia is also fighting a number of foreign as well as domestic battles. Quarrels over succession within the Al-Saud family have persisted for years; Saudi women are increasingly active in their fight for equality and the nation’s youth are increasingly marginalized and open to radical influences. The kingdom is mired in wars in both Yemen and Syria, draining a record $100 billion out of the Saudi economy between 2015 and 2016 alone.
In both wars its arch nemesis is Iran, with whom U.S. president Barack Obama has made a deal. To complicate matters further, today’s record low oil prices are the result of economic warfare between Saudi crude and U.S. shale. In this context, Vision 2030 means the Saudis are desperately getting rid of a depreciating commodity – some analysts say bursting the “oil bubble” – and adjusting their economy for a future where oil may be overtaken by alternative fuel sources. That, however, is a subject for another day.
Dr. Emran El-Badawi is Program Director and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, University of Houston. His research examines liberalism, Islamism and the impact of oil and gas on MENA societies. His work includes advising government, legal and business communities on Middle East related projects.
UH Energy is the University of Houston’s hub for energy education, research and technology incubation, working to shape the energy future and forge new business approaches in the energy industry.
Woran glauben Muslime? Ähnlich wie im Christentum drücken sie das in kurzen, prägnanten Glaubensbekenntnissen aus. Das bekannteste ist die Schahada. Sie lautet: “Es gibt keinen Gott außer Gott und Mohammed ist der Gesandte Gottes.” Es gibt aber noch mehr Glaubensbekenntnisse im Islam.
Von Dr. Emran El-Badawi, Universität Houston, Texas, USA
“Der Gesandte glaubt an das, was ihm von seinem Herrn herabgesandt, und auch die Gläubigen: Ein jeder glaubt an Gott und seine Engel, seine Bücher und seine Gesandten – wir unterscheiden zwischen keinem seiner Gesandten! Sie sprechen: ‚Wir hören und gehorchen! Vergib uns, unser Herr!‘ Und: ‚Zu dir hin ist das Ziel.‘”
Auf diesen Koranabschnitt bezieht sich das, was hier das Glaubensbekenntnis des Gesandten genannt wird.
In der späteren islamischen Tradition erklärt das Hadith-Schrifttum, also die Bücher zu den Überlieferungen Mohammeds, die doktrinären Elemente dieses Verses zu den Grundsätzen des Glaubens – arabisch: arkân al-îmân.
Das sind Gott, die Engel, die Heiligen Schriften, die Gesandten und die Vorherbestimmung. Offenkundig gibt es eine Entwicklung vom “urmuslimischen” Glauben auf Basis des Korans hin zu einem feststehenden Gebilde des “muslimischen” Glaubens auf Basis des Hadith.
Jahrhunderte nach der Offenbarung entstand die Auslegungsliteratur zum Koran. Sie liefert wertvolle kleine Hinweise auf den intertextuellen und historischen Hintergrund von Sure 2 Vers 285. Aber sie erläutert wenig zu den rechtlichen, philologischen und hagiographischen Details.
Dieser Vers ist einer von mehreren Glaubensbekenntnissen im Koran. Um die Doktrin zu bekräftigen, benutzt er die klar umrissene Terminologie der christlichen Glaubensbekenntnisse – und zwar so, wie sie am Vorabend des Islams vorgetragen wurden; oder allgemeiner gesprochen, wie sie in der Spätantike etwa vom 2. bis 7. Jahrhundert kursierten. Hören wir Auszüge aus dem Nicäanischen Glaubensbekenntnis:
“Wir glauben an den einen Gott,
den Vater, den Allmächtigen,
der alles geschaffen hat, Himmel und Erde,
die sichtbare und die unsichtbare Welt.
Und an den einen Herrn Jesus Christus,
Gottes eingeborenen Sohn,
aus dem Vater geboren vor aller Zeit:
Wir glauben an den Heiligen Geist,
der Herr ist und lebendig macht,
Wir bekennen die eine Taufe zur Vergebung der Sünden.
Wir erwarten die Auferstehung der Toten
und das Leben der kommenden Welt.
Ähnlich klingt das heute verbreitetere apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis. So wie das Glaubensbekenntnis des Gesandten bezeugen das nicäanische und apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis erstens den Glauben an Gott, zweitens den Glauben an die Vergebung der Sünden und drittens den Glauben an die Auferstehung und das Leben nach dem Tod.
Wenig überraschend widerspricht das Bekenntnis des Gesandten in Bezug auf Jesus Christus und den Heiligen Geist. Die Menschwerdung Gottes und die Trinitätslehre werden zurückgewiesen. Ganz eindeutig heißt es: “Wir unterscheiden zwischen keinem seiner Gesandten!”
Ferner werden das nicäanische wie das apostolische Bekenntnis als Akt einer gemeinschaftlichen Rede verkündet. Es heißt: “WIR glauben an….” Darin spiegeln sich die Ursprünge in den Konzilen und Synoden der Ostkirchen wider.
Dieser Brauch wird im Bekenntnis des Gesandten und dessen Abwandlungen bewahrt. Hier heißt es: “WIR” beziehungsweise “ALLE glauben an….” Gelehrte argumentierten, bestimmte Koran-Passagen seien in Form theologischer Glaubensbekenntnisse ausgedrückt worden, um die christlichen Bekenntnisse, wo sie Trinität und Menschwerdung umfassen, zu widerlegen. Es kann gut sein, dass die vier Verse aus Sure 112 mit Namen “Das reine Gottesbekenntnis” eine solche “Widerlegung” darstellen.
Wohingegen einige längere und diskursivere Koran-Passagen ebenfalls in Form theologischer Bekenntnisse in den Suren 2, 3 und 4 gut als Bestätigung der Doktrin dienen können. Wie in dieser Sendung gezeigt, ist der erläuterte Vers eine dieser Bestätigungen.
Emran El-Badawi ist Programmdirektor der Middle Eastern Studies und lehrt als Associate Professor. (prov.)
Die Audio-Version musste aus Gründen der Sendezeit leicht gekürzt werden.