Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ramadan 2010 - on The Big Picture

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih on The Big Picture
This is the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims who observe a whole month of fasting during the daylight hours, bringing them closer to God.

The Big Picture is a website that publishes news stories in photographs. I wanted to share with you this post from The Big Picture that shows some remarkable and moving photos of Muslims around the world taken during this Ramadan season. It's well worth your time.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"There Is No Ground Zero Mosque"

Eloquent. Intelligent. Passionate. Keith Olbermann hits a homerun with his Special Comment in support of religious freedom called "There is No Ground Zero Mosque," which aired on Monday, August 23, 2010, on his MSNBC show Countdown.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's Time

"The American ideal is not that we all agree with each other, or even like each other, every minute of the day. It is rather that we will respect each other's rights, especially the right to be different, and that, at the end of the day, we will understand that we are one people, one country, and one community, and that our well-being is inextricably bound up with the well-being of each and every one of our fellow citizens." C. Everett Koop, former US Surgeon General.

In a week or so, Ramadan will be ending. Ramadan is the month during each year when all Muslims fast from sun up until sundown in an effort to grow closer to God, to cleanse the body, and to gain compassion for those who suffer from hunger and who are less fortunate. Because the Islamic calendar is actually based on the moon's cycles, it is 11-12 days shorter than the regular twelve-month calendar year of the West. This means that Ramadan begins that many days earlier each year, so it never falls only during one particular month or season of the year, like many Western holidays do, such as Christmas or Halloween.

There are only two official Islamic holidays, and the one that marks the end of Ramadan is called Eid al-Fitr. It is usually a time when Muslims go their mosques to attend services, for families visiting and sharing meals together, for new clothes and maybe gifts for the children, although nothing way overboard along the scales of some people's idea of Christmas gift giving. This year the end of Ramadan happens to fall around September 11th. Eid al-Fitr is not the type of celebration where there is dancing in the streets, swinging from chandeliers, or fireworks or things like that - Muslims are more reserved or low key, and they just don't "celebrate" in many of the ways that Westerners do when one thinks of celebrations. But because the end of Ramadan coincides with September 11th this year, many Muslims - especially American Muslims - are facing a dilemma because they are fearful that some Americans will misinterpret their Muslim holiday celebration as a celebration of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001.

With Islamophobia reaching new heights recently, inflamed by the animosity created by protesters of the proposed "Ground Zero Mosque," American Muslims have a right to be concerned. I hope that's not the case. What we need to do is to stop buying into the rhetoric and lies spread by those hate mongers on TV and in politics who perpetuate the fear of diversity and fan the flames of hate. Does America really want to define itself as a country of religious intolerance, where right-wing Christian nut jobs defiantly plan to burn Korans on 9/11? I mean, how disrespectful and malicious can some people be? It's time for Americans to remember that their country was founded centuries ago by people who were SEEKing religious freedom, and that all religions should be tolerated. It's time for Americans to stop blaming all Muslims and Islam for what happened on 9/11 nine years ago and to try to understand that those 19 twisted young men responsible for it acted without the support or approval of the vast majority of Muslims. It's time for healing, for peace, for understanding, for compassion. It is time.

Click here to read an in-depth article on this same topic written by Rachel Zoll, a Religion Writer for AP.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gotta Love Jon Stewart!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) skewers FOX News in a segment called The Parent Company Trap. "Fox News is either evil or stupid for not mentioning that Alwaleed bin Talal is FOX News Corp.'s largest shareholder." Aired Monday, August 23, 2010.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All in a Day's Work

"Tighter Measures Urged Against Runaway Laborers" reads the headline of a recent Arab News article. The article elaborates about how runaway construction workers in Saudi Arabia have become quite a problem in getting construction jobs finished. Legal construction workers here are generally paid about 50 Saudi Riyals (about $12.50 US) for a day's work, whereas illegal runaway construction workers can make about 200 SR per day (about $50 US). Most of the money earned by foreign laborers in Saudi Arabia is wired to the workers' homelands and is not spent in Saudi Arabia and therefore doesn't contribute to its economy. Saudi men generally would never work as hard laborers, even though many Saudi men are currently unemployed - but many jobs are considered beneath a Saudi man's status, so foreign workers by the millions are brought to the country to perform these menial tasks. All of these workers, including many foreign women workers hired as domestic help, must have a legal sponsor.

Historically, Saudi employers have a reputation for mistreating, underpaying, and overworking unskilled foreign workers. Working conditions for many foreign workers have often been described as modern day slavery and their living conditions can also be deplorable. And sadly, there is little, if any, legal recourse or government protection for mistreated workers. White collar professionals, on the other hand, are generally treated quite well and have a totally different experience compared to those unskilled laborers from poorer countries. But even among the professionals, there can be marked discrepancies in wages and treatment depending on what country an employee is from. A professional engineer from the USA, for example, might be hired at a much higher salary and with better fringe benefits when compared to maybe an Indian national with the same education and experience.

I can't really speak from my personal experience on this subject, and fortunately the minimal number of housemaids and drivers I have come in contact with appear to be happy in their positions and have been treated well. However I have received several emails imploring me to speak up about this topic.

Another recent news story pertaining to controversial employment issues in Saudi Arabia also prompted the writing of this post as well. Despite the King of Saudi Arabia recently banning the issuance of "fatwas" (religious rulings) by religious sheikhs without first getting approval from the King's advisory panel called the Shoura Council, it seems Saudi Arabia has its own religious maverick who is openly defying this order. Sheikh Al Ahmed has called for a boycott of the large and popular supermarket chain called HyperPanda for its new experimental initiative of hiring Saudi female cashiers. He has even claimed that it is a Western plot to destroy good Muslim morals. In Saudi Arabia, women are generally restricted to work in mainly the education and medical fields, with few exceptions. Now mind you, Sheikh Al Ahmed only has the welfare of the poor women in mind - he's concerned that women working as cashiers in a public supermarket puts them in harm's way because they will come in contact with horny men customers who are unable to control themselves. (Okay, so I put this into my own words, but this is basically the reason.) What I don't understand is: When Saudi men travel to other places around the world, they are expected to behave themselves and follow the laws of the country. But when they are in their own country, they are NOT expected to be able to control themselves around women or follow the laws of their own land? And in addition, as good Muslims, aren't they supposed to treat women with respect and dignity?

To HyperPanda's credit, an executive of the company blew off the Sheikh's threats and they plan to continue their new program. And by the way, HyperPanda has implemented certain conditions for the hiring of these women cashiers: they must be Saudi women aged 28 or older; they must be in financial need, be divorced or widowed; and they must dress according to a dress code. HyperPanda should be commended and supported for what they are doing!

You can read more about this subject: about Sheikh Al Ahmed's background and record on women's issues on Saudi Woman's blog post about it, and on Qusay's blog, an interesting article about the unique challenges facing Saudi Arabia's new Minister of Labor.

UPDATE: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! News Headline on 8/26/2010 - Saudi Cleric Slammed Over Fatwa on Women Cashiers

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breastfeeding in Saudi Arabia: A Fading Art

I was shocked when I first learned that a large percentage of women in Saudi Arabia do not breastfeed their infants - especially in view of the fact that Islam is very clear in encouraging breastfeeding until a child is two years of age. You might be puzzled like I was at how a country so steeped in culture and traditions like Saudi Arabia could reject this most primal mothering instinct and rebuff the health benefits afforded by this natural and nurturing bodily function related to motherhood.

So what exactly happened in Saudi Arabia to cause this surprising phenomenon? The answer is really very simple - capitalism, propaganda, and greed defeated mother nature. Several decades ago when the big oil boom exploded in KSA in the 1970s, foreign baby formula manufacturers discovered a huge previously untapped marketplace in this desert kingdom. Convincing the powers-that-be of the "redeeming qualities" of breast milk substitution, these purveyors of infant formula launched a relentless brainwashing campaign in Saudi Arabia to convince mothers that their own bodies' milk wasn't adequate for their babies and that processed canned or powdered artificial baby formula was superior. And the women believed them. The result was an unprecedented decline in the percentage of nursing mothers and a frightening increase in the number of infant deaths and children's health problems in the ensuing decades.

Dr. Modia Batterjee and her mother Anne became alarmed at the grim statistics and sprang into action. They opened up the non-profit Al Bidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women’s Awareness Center in Jeddah - a place which educates, supports, and encourages Saudi women to return to breastfeeding their children. Dr. Batterjee has also recently published a book, A Fading Art: Understanding Breast-Feeding in the Middle East.

Breastfeeding has numerous advantages. Not only is breastfeeding much more economical than buying infant formula, but it is far more healthy for both mother and child. Dr. Batterjee says in her book, "Breastfeeding is critical for child survival, and according to medical research, no better way exists to secure the best start in life... Breastfeeding presents the perfect nourishment for all infants because it contains all the nutrients, antibodies, immune factors, and antioxidants infants require to thrive." Artificial infant formula does not.

A staggering statistic from a 2005 UNICEF report on indicates that a whopping 60% of Muslim children worldwide die before reaching their first birthdays, due to malnutrition and disease. This tragic result is directly related to the decline in mothers who breastfeed their children.

In explaining how she and her daughter came to promote breastfeeding within the Kingdom, Anne wrote in the Beginning of her daughter's book, "In April 1994, an article in the local paper caught my eye. A prominent OB-GYN had written an article about the sad state of affairs of breastfeeding in Saudi Arabia. I was shocked to see that he felt that less than 20 per cent of his patients breastfeed at all, but I knew he was right."

I am proud to say that I myself was quoted in Dr. Batterjee's book as well:

"I personally find it fascinating that it was so easy for Saudi society to jump on the infant formula bandwagon. Sadly, they abandoned the best and most natural form of feeding their babies without even looking back. Every single day I hear the excuse about how slowly things must change here because people need time to get used to the change, for example, the idea of women driving, or of other social reforms. Why is it that infant formula was so readily accepted when there is so much information available about how much better, in so many ways, breastfeeding is for babies and their mothers? I just don't get it! Every single species of mammals on Earth breastfeeds their babies - yet Saudis are so easily convinced that it isn't enough, isn't good enough, and that formula is better? How in the world do they think that civilization ever managed to survive in the thousands of years prior to the introduction of infant formula? It just makes no sense!"

So exactly why were Saudi women so quick to make the switch from feeding their newborns the best possible nourishment of their own milk to the artificial imitation of it? Did Saudi culture and social pressures play a role? Most definitely YES. Could the fact that Saudi hospital policy dictates that all mothers of newborns are not allowed to be released from the hospital after giving birth until the baby is able to drink formula from a bottle have anything to do with it? A resounding YES. Are Saudi women perhaps too pampered, or lazy, or do they view breastfeeding as an inconvenient chore instead of as a loving gift of health and bonding from mother to child? Sadly, maybe some do. Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: unless Saudi women take this part of motherhood seriously and breastfeeding returns to its rightful place in Saudi Arabia, the disastrous effects will be long-lasting and devastating.

Dr. Batterjee's book, A Fading Art, is available at the Al Bidayah Center in Jeddah, Jarir Bookstore, and also on Amazon.com.

For more information, please see this recent article in the Arab News on The Issue of Breastfeeding, which features Dr. Batterjee and her book and brings the problems facing Saudi Arabia to light because of the decline in breastfeeding.

You can also find out more on the Al Bidayah Center Facebook Group page and the Al Bidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women's Awareness Center

Thursday, August 5, 2010

FW: Fwd:

just don't understand people who just indiscriminately forward emails that are jokes, or chain letters, or hoaxes without giving a thought to the people on their list who might not appreciate, and in fact might be offended, by some of the subject matter in the emails. Personally I have always been very selective about any email that I choose to forward - selective about its content, and selective about whom I think might appreciate receiving that particular content. In all honesty, it has to be a really special email to merit my decision to forward it on to anyone at all. AND, if there is any doubt at all about the authenticity of the email, before I send it on, I would check it out on Snopes.com or on UrbanLegends.about.com or any other similar website which devotes itself to debunking hoax emails and urban legends.

A few years ago, a person kept forwarding me emails that were of questionable taste, but I finally had to put a stop to it when he forwarded me an email with a link to a website that was supposed to be funny - it had a cartoon with military guys blowing the heads off of Arabs. Yeah, real funny. I tried to be as diplomatic as I possibly could when I replied back to him - and everyone else that he had sent the email out to - saying that I found it offensive, especially since my husband is an Arab. I politely requested that he not send me any more emails like that.

I realize that there are some people who don't really think about the material they are forwarding on to others - but why don't they? Wouldn't that be the thoughtful and considerate thing to do? Gee, I would like to think that most of my friends are thoughtful and considerate. Why do some people feel the need to just automatically forward emails on to everyone on their list without giving it any thought at all?

A few days ago I got a forwarded email from a guy I went to school with many decades ago. He knows that my husband is a Muslim and that I live in Saudi Arabia now. The email from him contained a series of photos of a young Muslim boy in Iran supposedly being punished for stealing a loaf of bread. The punishment? A car tire was to run over the boy's arm, rendering the boy's arm useless for the rest of his life. The email contained derogatory remarks about Islam, which were also written in Hebrew. Hello? That alone struck me as a glaring clue to the fact that it was a hoax. I just simply Googled the scenario and immediately came up with an article explaining that the people in the photo were actually street performers - that the boy had not stolen a loaf of bread and was not being punished. The boy was part of a performance. And the final photo of the series which shows that the boy was apparently fine afterwards was of course left out of the email. While using a child in such a way and putting him in harm's way as part of a show may not be such a brilliant idea, spreading lies about the scenario and blaming it on Islam's barbaric punishment of a hungry child is even worse.

When I wrote back to my friend - and everyone else on his list that he had also sent it out to - I explained that it was a hoax, and I asked him to please stop spreading untrue hatemail about Islam. I also supplied the link on Hoax-Slayer.com that came up on Google which debunked this hoax.

This was his exact response back to me: "Looks like I hit a nerve... to which I unfortunately have to reply, Everything I ever needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11." Sounds like one of those quotes that he heard someone else say and liked the way it sounded, so now he uses it.

But the truth is, the man really didn't care that he was spreading lies about Islam. He was more interested in perpetuating hatred toward Muslims. It didn't matter to him that what was in the email wasn't true. Unfortunately his attitude is probably not as rare as I would hope.

Please think before you forward emails indiscriminately. Thank you.