Saturday, September 22, 2018

Following from Behind: A New US in a New Middle East

The 15 July Martyrs Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

By Professor Emeritus, American University School of International Service (Source: The Conversation)
You may not have noticed it – the chair that wasn’t there.
The seven-year long Syrian civil war is ending with a government victory, aided by Russia and Iran. Talks to end to the war are accelerating.
Who is at the table in those talks? Russia, Turkey and Iran. Noticeably, not the United States.
The missing U.S. was starkly obvious from recent photos of the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Syria negotiating the next steps.
Yet despite the major military presence of the U.S. in the region and a legacy of deep involvement in the Middle East, the U.S. is not among the faces of those who are determining Syria’s fate.
As a scholar and practitioner of foreign affairs, I believe that nowhere is the erosion of U.S. global power more evident than in the upheavals in the Middle East.
The power shifts are not temporary. The old order, in which the U.S. was the most influential force in the region, cannot be rebuilt, and the U.S. is going to have to adjust to this diminished status.

The region remembers

The decline of the U.S. as the regional balancer, some argue, is the result of President Barack Obama’s decision not to enforce his red line in Syria after President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in 2013.
Others say it is President Donald Trump’s fault for taking sides in some of the region’s central conflicts.
Both are wrong.
Obama’s leverage in Syria was always weak unless he was willing to deploy U.S. ground forces.
A one-off U.S. missile strike on Syria in 2013, after Assad attacked his citizens with chemical weapons would have had no more effect on the outcome of the war than the Trump administration’s strike after a similar incident in 2017.
And Trump’s policies simply accelerate the rebalancing already well under way.
It’s time for realism. Power has shifted in part as a direct result of U.S. policies and actions that for at least 50 years supported autocrats and undermined democratic efforts in the Middle East. Those actions are long remembered in the region.
The U.S was not alone in supporting autocrats. The United Kingdom and France joined the U.S. in supporting strongmen in the region for decades and fiercely opposed anti-colonial nationalists like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. The U.S. and U.K. joined to overthrow the democratic, reformist government of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. The region remembers how the CIA helped overthrow him and put in place Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was heavily dependent on the U.S. as leader of the country.

The best-laid plans

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was facilitated by U.S. planning for a regional military role that had been underway for some time. That newly assumed role, intended to restore order or overthrow regimes, led to military actions that had negative consequences for U.S. standing in the region.
As a foreign policy scholar, I visited the Tampa, Florida, headquarters of the Joint Rapid Deployment Task Force in the early 1980s for an unclassified briefing. I learned about the planned network of bases, landing and overflight rights, storage facilities and military exercises that would make U.S. intervention in the region possible.
Through these plans, Spain, Libya, Egypt and countries in the Gulf region would allow U.S. fighters and bombers to fly to the heart of the Middle East. They would provide storage locations for American military equipment, fuel for American operations and joint exercises that would enable them to operate with U.S. forces.
Using this network, the U.S. military was able to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. This intervention included the first ever U.S. military deployment in the region. The network also paved the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which overthrew Saddam’s regime, unraveling the regional balance of power. This intervention and the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia provided a propaganda godsend to al-Qaida, the Islamic terrorist organization first led by Osama bin Laden.
The 2003 invasion, regime change and disastrous occupation opened a Pandora’s box of troubles, destroying U.S. credibility and any capability it had to stuff the troubles back into the box.
The subsequent chaos from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon had many parents, including national, religious and ethnic forces repressed by authoritarian leaders.
But the massive strategic blunder of invading Iraq and the declaration of a “Global War on Terror,” gave Iran and al-Qaida huge incentives to expand operations, rebalancing power in the region.
Removing Moammar Gadhafi in Libya spread the chaos further. No amount of reconstruction strategy and funding after he left could prevent it. The parallel effort to bring democracy to the Middle East revealed the ineptitude and ignorance of U.S. policy. The region remembers.
Trump administration policy has further distanced the U.S. from a leading role.
  • Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement has not changed Iranian policies or actions; it has only reinforced the extremists.
  • Proposing a U.S.-Israel-Saudi Arabia-Gulf states alliance to confront Iran exacerbates the Arab-Persian confrontation and elevates Saudi Arabia and Israel as regional powers.
  • Picking fights with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has alienated the Turks.
Trump’s policies are an “accelerant,” hastening the decline of U.S. credibility across the Middle East and stimulating further rebalancing.

Who’s in charge?

The old regional order is dying fast. The rising powers are Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia.
Only the Saudis and Israelis are close to the U.S. and it seems they, not Trump, are driving U.S. policy. Iran is not contained. Its influence in the region was clearly enhanced by the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Iran’s extension of political and military power across Syria to Lebanon and Hamas, partly a defensive response to the U.S., has made it a player.
Turkey, supposedly a U.S. ally, has clearly moved away, taking an independent stance on Syria, building friendly relations with Russia, and exploring stronger security ties with China.
Russia has long been a player in Syria. Despite the overall decline of Russian power since the USSR disappeared, Putin plays a weak hand well, expanding Russia’s influence more broadly in the region.

US continued interest

In my view, the U.S. will not roll back these changes, though it still has a stake in the region.
Terror attacks are a threat to the U.S. and others. The use of force to eliminate terrorist organizations by the U.S. has increased, rather than diminished this threat. An uninterrupted flow of Middle Eastern oil continues to be an important goal, and it is a shared interest of producers and consumers around the globe. Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is critical, which is why others support the Iran nuclear agreement.
Trump’s confrontational strategy is a counterproductive approach to promoting these interests. The only way back to the table, I believe, is for the U.S. to step back to a more neutral position, shrink its military presence, engage all the parties – including Iran – and commit to multilateral approaches.
Peace will not come soon to the Middle East. U.S. influence demands a dramatic change in attitude and approach. Power has shifted and other parties now have the biggest stake and role in the outcome.
The ConversationRead the original article.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Weekly Headlines - 21 Sep 2018

Headlines of note compiled by for 21 Sep 2018. Click on a headline to read more.
Jordan Times >> The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC) and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development on Thursday finalized an agreement to reschedule Jordan’s debts to the fund.
The Independent >> French president Emmanuel Macron has branded the leaders of the campaign for Brexit “liars”, in an extraordinary attack at the close of the Salzburg summit. The stance is another blow to Theresa May, given that the EU’s rejection of her Chequers plan which makes a “blind Brexit” seem inevitable.
Reuters >> At least 136 bodies have been retrieved after a ferry sank on Lake Victoria, Tanzania's top police official Simon Sirro said on Friday, and scores more were still feared missing as rescuers searched for survivors on the morning after the disaster..
AFP >> Cyprus and Egypt Wednesday signed an agreement paving the way for the Mediterranean’s first subsea pipeline to carry Cypriot natural gas to the Arab country for re-export to Europe.
Reuters >> The United States is getting "very, very close" to having to move forward on its trade deal with Mexico without Canada, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on Friday.
Reuters >> John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones, the company said on Wednesday.
Reuters >> South Korean President Moon Jae-in climbed Mount Paektu in North Korea with its leader Kim Jong-un. After the two leaders pledged new steps aimed at salvaging nuclear talks on Wednesday, Moon and Kim ended their historic three-day summit by climbing the symbolic mountain on the Chinese border together.
AFP >> Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands on Thursday called on Israel to reverse its decision to demolish a Palestinian village in the West Bank. They warned that the demolition of the village of Khan Al Ahmar "would severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution".   
AFP >> The UN judge responsible for preparing war crimes charges against individuals over the Syrian conflict said Thursday her office plans to open at least two cases by year's end.
Reuters >> Washington's Gulf Arab allies should be included in proposed treaty negotiations with Iran over its ballistic missile program and regional behavior, a senior Emiriati official said on Thursday after U.S. special envoy for Iran, said on Wednesday the United States is seeking to negotiate such a treaty with Iran.
AFP >> Turkey, which was last month buffeted by its worst currency crisis in recent years, Thursday forecast sharply lower growth coupled with persistently high inflation in its new medium-term economic program.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Changes at

Alhamdulillah. has had an overhaul for the new year. All essential information related to classes is now on the main page, the blog has been redone, and the previous student area learning management system (LMS) has been upgraded with a better one (in my view).

Student accounts have been migrated but students logging into the new system for the first time will be required reset their passwords (using one's existing user name and email address).

Additionally live sessions are now conducted using Zoom.

The migration process is slow due to other commitments and still in progress so if any issues are encountered please let me know.

We ask Allah for acceptance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ashura and the family

By Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam (SourceDarul Iftaa)
Many ‘Ulama encourage the giving of gifts, charity, and spending on one’s family on the day of Ashura. That is as a purely optional virtue in addition to prescribed fasting. What follows is a brief look at some of the narrations upon which those recommendations are based.
There are two types of narrations related regarding these matters. The first concerning the virtue of giving general charity on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), and the second concerning the virtue of spending specifically on one’s family on this day.
As far as general charity is concerned, it has been reported from the Companion Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Whoever fasts on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), it is as though he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity on this day, it is like the charity of an entire year.” (Recorded by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his Lata’if al-Ma’arif from Abu Musa al-Madini)
As for spending and being generous on one’s family, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have said, “One who generously spends on his family on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), Allah will be generous on him for the entire year.”(Recorded by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his Lata’if al-Ma’arif from Tabarani in his al-Awsat and Al-Bayhaqi in his Shu’ab al-Iman)
These and other narrations indicate that one should be generous on one’s family and dependants and spend more on them by providing more food and other items on this day as compared to other days. One may give cash, food and drink, or any other item of gift.
Although some scholars consider these narrations to be weak (dha’if), others like Imam Bayhaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable. Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali relates from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Allah have mercy on him) that he did consider some basis for them. He also quotes Sufyan ibn Uyayna (Allah have mercy on him) as saying, “I have practiced this [spending on the family] for fifty or sixty years, and have found nothing but good in it.” (Lata’if al-Ma’arif P 64)
Moreover, scholars have generally agreed on the permissibility of acting upon weak narrations for virtuous actions, as long as they are not fabricated (mawdu’).
As such, in conclusion, it would be virtuous and rewarding to spend more on one’s family on the 10th of Muharram. One may provide more food and drink or any other item. However, this practice should not be considered as firmly established from the Sunna, and thus, one should avoid attaching extra significance to it.
And Allah knows best.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Benefits of Tamarind

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD (Source: Authority Nutrition) Note: Not only is tamarind referred to as "date of India", as mentioned in the article, but the origin of the English term "tamarind" is actually Arabic تمر هندي or tamr hindi which means "Indian date".

Tamarind is a type of tropical fruit.
It’s used in many dishes around the world, and may even have medicinal properties.
This article tells you everything you need to know about tamarind, including what it is, how it benefits health and how to use it.

What Is Tamarind?

Tamarind is a hardwood tree known scientifically as Tamarindus indica.
It’s native to Africa but also grows in India, Pakistan and many other tropical regions.
The tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pulp.
The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. As it ripens, the juicy pulp becomes paste-like and more sweet-sour.
Interestingly, tamarind is sometimes referred to as the “date of India.”
This is what it looks like:
Bottom Line: Tamarind is a tropical tree that grows in several regions around the world. It produces pods filled with paste-like, sweet-sour fruit.

How Is It Used?

This fruit has many uses. It’s used for cooking, health and household purposes.

Cooking Uses

Tamarind pulp is widely used for cooking in South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Middle East and the Caribbean. The seeds and leaves are also edible.
It is used in sauces, marinades, chutneys, drinks and desserts. It’s also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire sauce.

Medicinal Uses

Tamarind has played an important role in traditional medicine.
In beverage form, it was commonly used to treat diarrhea, constipation, fever and peptic ulcers. The bark and leaves were also used to promote wound healing.
Modern researchers are now studying this plant for potential medicinal uses.
The polyphenols in tamarind have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These can protect against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
The seed extract may also help lower blood sugar, while the pulp extract may help you lose body weight and reverse fatty liver disease (1).

Home Uses

Tamarind pulp can also be used as a metal polish. It contains tartaric acid, which helps remove tarnish from copper and bronze.
Bottom Line: Tamarind is used as a flavoring in many dishes. It also has medicinal properties and can be used as a tarnish remover.

It Is High in Nutrients

Tamarind is high in many nutrients. A single cup (120 grams) of the pulp contains (2):
  • Magnesium: 28% of the RDI.
  • Potassium: 22% of the RDI.
  • Iron: 19% of the RDI.
  • Calcium: 9% of the RDI.
  • Phosphorus: 14% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 34% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 12% of the RDI.
  • Trace amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), copper and selenium.
It also contains 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. This comes with a total of 287 calories, almost all of which are from sugar.
In fact, a single cup of tamarind contains 69 grams of carbs in the form of sugar, which is equivalent to 17.5 teaspoons of sugar.
Despite its sugar content, tamarind pulp is considered a fruit, not an added sugar — the kind that’s linked to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (3).
However, the high amount of calories may be a problem for people who are trying to control calorie intake.
Tamarind also contains polyphenols, which are naturally occurring plant compounds that have health benefits. Many of them act as antioxidants in the body (1).
Bottom Line: Tamarind contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids and beneficial plant compounds. It also has a lot of sugar, so it is high in calories.

Different Forms of Tamarind

Tamarind is available in prepared forms, such as candy and sweetened syrup.
You can also find the pure fruit in three main forms:
  • Raw pods: These pods are the least processed form of tamarind. They’re still intact and can be easily opened to remove the pulp.
  • Pressed block: To make these, the shell and seeds are removed and the pulp is compressed into a block. These blocks are one step away from raw tamarind.
  • Concentrate: Tamarind concentrate is pulp that has been boiled down. Preservatives may also be added.
Bottom Line: Pure tamarind comes in three main forms: raw pods, pressed blocks and concentrate. It’s also available as candy and syrup.

Its Antioxidants May Boost Heart Health

This fruit may boost heart health in several ways.
It contains polyphenols like flavonoids, which are plant compounds that help regulate cholesterol.
One study in hamsters with high cholesterol found that tamarind fruit extract lowered total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides (4).
The antioxidants in this fruit can help reduce oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol, which is a key driver of heart disease (1).
Bottom Line: Tamarind pulp contains plant compounds that may protect against heart disease and oxidative damage.

It’s High in Beneficial Magnesium

Tamarind is also relatively high in magnesium.
One ounce (28 grams), or a little less than 1/4 cup of pulp, delivers 6% of the RDI (2).
Magnesium has many health benefits and plays a role in more than 600 body functions. It can also help lower blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects.
However, 48% of people in the US do not get enough magnesium (5).
Bottom Line: Tamarind contains a good amount of magnesium, an important mineral that plays a role in over 600 functions in the body.

It May Have Anti-fungal, Antiviral and Antibacterial Effects

Tamarind extract contains natural compounds that have antimicrobial effects (6).
In fact, studies show that this plant may have anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial activity.
It has also been used in traditional medicine to treat diseases like malaria (1).
A compound called lupeol is credited with tamarind’s antibacterial effects (1).
Because antibiotic resistance is increasing these days, researchers are particularly interested in using medicinal plants to fight bacteria (1).
Bottom Line: Several studies show that tamarind can combat many different microbes. It may help kill bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Tamarind Candy May Have Unsafe Levels of Lead

Lead exposure is dangerous, especially for children and pregnant women. It can damage the kidneys and nervous system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited tamarind candy as a cause of lead poisoning in several cases in 1999. It is still considered a potential source of lead exposure for children (7).
Although it has fewer calories and less sugar than many other types of candy, it’s still candy, making it the least healthy form of tamarind.
Bottom Line: Tamarind candy may contain unsafe amounts of lead. For that reason, children and pregnant women should avoid it.

How to Eat Tamarind

You can enjoy this fruit in several ways.
One is to simply eat the fruit from the raw pods, as shown in this video.
You can also use tamarind paste in cooking. You can either prepare it from the pods or purchase it as a block.
The paste is often mixed with sugar to make candy. Tamarind can also be used to make condiments like chutney.
Additionally, you can use the frozen, unsweetened pulp or sweetened tamarind syrup for cooking.
You may also use this fruit to add a sour note to savory dishes, instead of lemon.
Bottom Line: There are several ways to enjoy tamarind. It can be used in sweet and savory dishes, or eaten straight from the pod.

Take Home Message

Tamarind is a popular sweet and sour fruit used worldwide. Although it has many beneficial nutrients, it’s also very high in sugar.
The healthiest way to eat this fruit is either raw or as an ingredient in savory dishes.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Night Vigil on Blessed Nights: Some Suggestions

By Moulana Muhammad bin Haroon (Source: Al-Miftah)

Our Beloved Prophet (Allah’s peace be upon him) has mentioned:
“Indeed your Rabb (Lord) has reserved certain special moments in time (in which His mercy is especially abundant). Be sure to avail yourselves for these opportunities.” (Majma’uz Zawaid)
We are usually aware of the significant occasions that present themselves each year. The crucial thing is how do we “avail ourselves” and maximise our benefit from these blessed nights?
Here under is a suggested format for “What to do on Blessed nights?”
  1. Offer ‘Isha and Fajr Salah in congregation.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah’s peace be upon him) said:
“One who performs ‘Isha in congregation gets the reward of spending half the night in worship. And he who follows that up with the Fajr salah in congregation, will be as if he has stayed up all night in ‘ibadah.”
(Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abi Dawud)
  1. Sleep in the state of wudu
Hafiz Ibn Hajar (Allah have mercy on him) has mentioned a reliable narration that states: “The soul of one who sleeps with wudu makes sajdah (prostrates) at the ‘Arsh of Allah.” (Fathul Bari)
Imagine our souls making sajdah at the throne of our Creator on a night like Laylatul Qadr!
  1. Abstain from sin
It’s not logical to fill the bucket when it has a hole…
One should specifically free the heart of any ill-feelings or malice towards fellow Muslims. (See here for “how to clean the heart” of such ailments)
  1. Clear your heart from ill-feelings towards fellow Muslims.
The ‘Ulama state that those who harbour ill-feelings are deprived of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness on occasions like these.
A Hadith in Sahih Ibn Hibban, mentions of four people that will be deprived on auspicious nights:
a) An Alcoholic.
b) One who disobeys his parents.
c) One who severe family ties
d) One who harbours ill-feelings in his heart for others.
  1. Salatut Tasbih
This is very strongly recommended due to its huge reward. See here for a detailed article on it’s authenticity, and here for the format of Salatut Tasbih.
  1. Tawbah
Since the purpose of the turning to Allah on these nights is precisely to attain forgiveness from Allah, this act is a fundamental on such occasions.
The procedure for Tawbah is:
a. Perform two rak’ats of Salah. (Optional)
b. Stop the sin that one is repenting from.
c. Regret the sin from the bottom of your heart.
d. Make a determined pledge with Allah never to repeat that sin. Besides the two rakats of Salah, the remainder are all fundamental.
Furthermore, if the sin involved usurping the right of the next person, one needs to ask him/her for forgiveness too. Without this we are not guaranteed forgiveness.
If that person has passed away, we could make du’a for him and repay the debt (if any) to his heirs.
  1. Dhikr
There are many forms of Dhikrullah – remembrance of Allah. I would suggest the following:
A hundred times “La ilah illallah”
A hundred times repeating the name of “Allah”
And a hundred times:
“Subhanallahi wabihamdihi subhanallahil ‘Azim”
The reason for the third one is the following:
The Messenger of Allah (Allah’s peace be upon him) said:
1. “He who recites this one hundred times will have all his sins forgiven even if it be equal to the foam of the ocean” (Sahih Bukhari)
2. “These words are beloved to Allah Ta’ala, easy on the tongue and weighty on the scales (of deeds on Qiyamah)” (Sahih Bukhari)
Furthermore, this is the form of Dhikr that the entire creation is engaged in. (Al-Quran, Surah:17 ayah:44)
  1. Salawat on The Messenger of Allah (Allah’s peace be upon him)
If it was not for our beloved Prophet (Allah’s peace be upon him) we would not have these Blessed occasions. Therefore we cannot afford moments like these to pass without remembering him. In Fact by doing so we ourselves benefit.
One Hadith states:
“He who sends salutations upon me once, Allah Ta’ala sends ten salutations upon him.”
  1. Tilawat (Recital) of Quran
This is considered the best form of Dhikr. One could recite even a quarter juz or just the masnun Surahs that are to be recited every night. Like Surahs Waqi’ah, Mulk, Sajdah, Yasin etc.
  1. Du’a
“Du’a is the essence of Worship” and hence cannot be omitted when we engage in worship.
More so on occasions when Almighty Allah accepts du’as such as on the night of Qadr. One should spend a lengthy duration in begging from Allah, as we are all in need of it.
In light of the current world crisis, do remember our oppressed brethren around the globe.
On the night of Qadr the following du’a should also be repeated as taught by The Messenger of Allah (Allah’s peace be upon him) to his beloved wife Sayyidah ‘Aishah (Allah be pleased with her):
اللهم إِنَّكَ عَفُوٌّ تُحِبُّ العَفْوُ فَاعْفُ عَنِّيْ
“Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbul ‘afwa fa’fu ‘Anni”
O Allah! You are indeed Most Forgiving, so forgive me.
Note 1: The above can all be achieved in about 1 hour.
Salatut Tasbih: 20 mins
Tawbah: can be incorporated in the du’a
Zikr: 10 mins
Salawat: 5 mins
Tilawat: 15 mins
Du’a and Tawbah: 10 mins
However if one is short on time for whatever reason, my suggestion would be to at least do the first four and the last one. That would be:
a) ‘Isha and Fajr with Jamat
b) Sleep with wudu
c) Abstain from sin
d) Clean the heart
e) Du’a
Note 2: The night commences at Maghrib, not after ‘Isha or after Tarawih or at Sehri time. Therefore one can and should commence ‘ibadah from Maghrib, although it is indeed best to do so at the last part of the night.
Note 3: These are mere suggestions intended to make it easy for people. One may engage in whatever form of ‘ibadah one is comfortable with.
May Allah Ta’ala grant us all complete forgiveness and steadfastness on guidance. Amin.
Please do remember the writer in your supplication as well.

Download the e-book of the above, here.