Thursday, May 26, 2011

Drugs and Medicines in Historical Context

The Muslim Observer

Did you know that George Washington used to grow marijuana on the White House lawn? America’s first president often spoke fondly of “female plants,” pointing obviously to marijuana’s medicinal uses. Benjamin Franklin, who avoided alcohol, was an ardent marijuana smoker. Did you know that up until World War II, American farmers could pay their taxes with hemp? Hemp, the mother of marijuana, is a native plant of every continent, and has been used during all periods of history to create rope, paper, cloth, oil, fuel, fiber, and medicine. Avicenna, the medieval Arab author of medicinal textbooks recommended marijuana, the hemp flower, for stomach ailments and many other health problems.

American, European, Asian and Arab-Islamic civilizations combined efforts during the 19th century to upgrade the standard of using drugs. The American Indians introduced the idea of smoking tobacco in a pipe to the world. Until then, Muslims had been using medicinal plants including hashish and opium by cooking them in food. The Arabs were so inspired by the New World to invent the water pipe. Using American tobacco, the Orient supplied the herbs, and a new world culture, a new economy began.

What does Islam say about drugs? According to hadith, if a person is ill, there is no sin on him whether he takes medicine to feel better, or if he chooses not to do so. During the 4th Caliphate, Muslims were introduced to drugs in the far regions of the expanding Islamic empire. But because of the deep fear of the sin of misinterpreting or over-interpreting scripture, there was no punishment for any medicinal plant other than fermented alcoholic beverages. Muslim governments never even destroyed vineyards. Even while wine is haram, grapes are not haram. Plants are protected by God.

Obviously, we have to give the Muslims credit for this. The use of the syrup from the poppy flower could kill a person’s pain making an amputation without huge physical trauma possible. Smoking marijuana could give a person dying from cancer the strength to write a book about his life. There is nothing more precious in this world than the ability to physically kill pain or nausea. God gave these things to us. Sometimes we can copy these medicinal effects in pill form. But the fact is, human beings want and require medicine. God gave us plants to reduce suffering. It is a crime against God to make a plant illegal. These plants save lives. These plants save the quality of people’s lives as well.

During World War II, the US used hemp fuel for their airplanes and tanks. Henry Ford actually created a car that was made entirely of cellulite from the hemp plant as well as ran on hemp fuel. It is an amazing idea, that American farmers could actually attain financial security growing the fuel that runs our cars! However, after the oil companies won the war, plant-based fuel became obsolete. The reason was because of Lobbyists.

Around the world today, you will still find many countries such as Canada, Indonesia and Malaysia growing hemp for industrial purposes such as oil or textiles. And it is an unspoken fact that marijuana is the top cash crop in the United States, year after year. People might pay up to $90 for 1/8 of an ounce of these flower buds. That is way more than any farmer could ever hope to get from parsley or chives.

When the Roman Emperor offered Maria and her sister to the Prophet Mohammed (s) as gifts, also included in the gift was some medicine. The hadith does not say what kind of medicine but it was probably opium or hashish given the time period. The Prophet Mohammed (s) returned the drugs and kept the girls. He freed from slavery and married Maria the Copt, who became his youngest wife, and he married her sister to one of his companions. This is the only hadith translated into English that specifically mentions drugs. In this hadith, the Prophet (s) said, “My Sunna is the best medicine.”

In a true Islamic society based on historical norms, drugs would not be illegal. They would be used for positive purposes. We would not distinguish between herbal vs. chemical versions of a medicine. People should be allowed to have access to whatever drugs make them feel better. This is a human right. Modern laws making all drugs illegal are neither halal nor beneficial to society. God gave us so many plants to help alleviate our suffering. It would be a rejection of His Mercy not to fully explore the medicinal properties of all the plants we have on earth.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parenting in America

The Muslim Observer

There is a lot of uncertainty within the Muslim community about how to raise righteous children, given all the choices available within American society. How do we raise children who are honest, responsible, well mannered, never use bad language, are faithful friends, get good grades, and are not only polite but helpful with authority? Is it possible to raise children without any emotional problems and without any interest in drugs or alcohol or sex?

Sometimes immigrant parents try to be too strict, and then when that doesn’t work out, they simply give up and let their children be free like an adults. But did they even try to give clear guidance?

Children learn mostly through observation. The most important time to give a child a sense of moral responsibility is before the age of 5. After that, it’s all talk.

The “attachment parenting” philosophy of parenting gives babies their full Islamic rights. Two years or more of breastfeeding, and sleeping with the mother until weaning time. It is a huge personal sacrifice for the adults involved, but this will give children the foundation of confidence. No matter what else we did wrong, we can know that our children had plenty of skin contact with their mother at the most important time in their lives. They never have to doubt whether or not they are loved.

Skin contact with the mother at an early age will help prevent promiscuity in preteens and teens. I believe that most young (and older) people who irresponsibly search for a “friend” to give them comfort were denied a sense of comfort within their home life. If their parents’ love was conditional, they will search for unconditional love anywhere they hope they can find it. But if they don’t have a healthy example, they will likely never find true love.

Feelings do matter. If we cross the boundary of respect with our children (yelling at them), it is vital to always apologize and make friends again. It is emotional abuse to let children go to sleep feeling hurt and angry. Never expect them to just cheer up and accept abuse. Never call names.

Some children have strong fears of death due to emotional isolation and deep thinking. It is scary to imagine not existing anymore. Studying religion can just make them even more afraid of death and hell. Yet, it is so easy to help a child overcome this fear. If a child is having panic attacks, give him a hug!!! There is only one cure for fear. LOVE.

Truth matters. Never lie to your children. Don’t promise them things you don’t deliver, and that includes threats. Don’t make empty threats. When you promise something good, do it. If you cannot do it, apologize and explain. Be consistent. Don’t create surprises.

If we don’t give our children clear rules, it will be hard for them to take us seriously. We cannot leave our children alone to deal with this total emotional crisis of living in this world! If the child is seriously confused and then breaks the rule, he won’t understand the punishment. After that, we still have to protect the child in every way! We have to talk to our children about how to behave appropriately, and why.

If you want your children to be different from most children, never allow any TV station in your home. They will be exposed to TV programs at other people’s homes and this will help them keep in touch with what other people are thinking, but if they are not exposed to the continuous advertising and moral corruption of the TV at home, they will possess freedom of thought. They won’t have this need to be “sexy” or buy certain things, that young people usually learn they need to attain in order to be acceptable to society.

Above all, be home. Make huge personal sacrifices in order to be at home despite all odds. Being home makes a huge difference in children’s lives. If you are simply there, but teach them that you are not always available to serve them, they will have to learn how to cook and clean in reasonable amounts in order to help you get your work done. Any work they do adds to the strength of their family and home. This gives them a sense of accomplishment. The family must operate as a team effort!

This is so much more important than making huge demands on children that are often not moral or practical demands. Many parents waste huge amounts of money and energy forcing their children to learn how to ice skate (for example) instead of giving them the choice about whether or not they even want to ice skate.

Structured activities are not always necessary. Children really need time to do whatever they want to do. One must to steer them away from computer games and cartoons, of course; but once we deny them those options, they start being creative. They start making things with Lego’s or planting seeds in the garden or reading books. Sometimes they choose to do chores for small amounts of money.

Children suffer a lot when their parents are always driving them from this place to that place for all these structured activities. They need time to be left alone to do what they want in the home. Many children become exhausted from all these activities that are based on giving parents more free time without them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Post-Mother's Day Musings

Spring comes with it the exorcism of demons. Singing out loud. Dancing in the kitchen. Cleaning out the house from dirt. Digging ourselves out from under the mess. Yes, it is important. If we don’t do it, nobody else will. Going for long walks. I love the community that has a spring festival. Let’s all put flowers in our hair and wave at our neighbors. Let the Dandelions Live! At least until my toddler gets to them. The young leaves are tasty, nutritious, and help with ailments such as arthritis. If you go to Europe they will serve you dandelion salad at the restaurant. Anyway, we all know that spring is a time to enjoy the sun, the rain, and the wind with those you love.

All I ever wanted for Mothers Day was for my children to clean their rooms and by God they did it. They even mopped the kitchen too. My daughter gave me a lipstick for a gift. I totally needed this, since my younger ones had destroyed any cosmetic item I had before their birth. Hallelujah! There is nothing better than children. I always wanted a houseful of them. They are baking brownies right now. Can I hear another Hallelujah? Well, let’s hope they clean up after themselves.

Given the amount of work that the younger generation requires, it seems to be a miracle that the human race survives. It is amazing, how women take this burden upon themselves, with or without the help of a husband. I mean, it’s wonderful if a man can come home from work and read his children a story, but we are talking about a half hour of teeth brushing, prayers, and water refills. What about the other 23 ½ hours? Either these children have a mother at home, or she paid for child care.

Caring for children is a full time job. A 24 hour a day job. Those of us who work day jobs realize that after we come home, at least 50% of that remaining time belongs to our children. There isn’t anyone else around to pick up our slack. We cannot call in sick just because we have the flu. If our child has a bad dream, throws up, or feels cold in the night, we wake up and we deal with it. Even after the child has long gone back to sleep, sometimes we lay awake, wondering about all the problems and uncertainties of life. Even the worrying is part of being a parent.

Mothers Day is a beautiful day, but we must also give strength to all who give strength to the Mother. Do these people even exist? What will it take for us to will them into existence? Ultimately, we are all talking about loyalty to Our Mother, the Earth. Can we make things right by her? Can we help each other not to harm others? Can we stop trying to define and control other people?

There are so many beautiful women raising families in our community. Some of them have emotional support; some don’t. Some of us are enjoying life, yet some of us are merely surviving. Within our circle of influence, is there more that we can do to help children feel welcome in the community? It is impossible to separate women from children. You cannot insult the mother, yet praise the child, without putting the child in an ethical dilemma. If there are shortcomings in the mother, usually she needs help. We have to find ways of strengthening women’s participation in the community while allowing her children to tag along. So many political causes require adult participation without children.

Except in rare cases, women are the primary caretakers of children, and in fact, of the entire family. How can we make this job easier for them? Because our communities need these giving people to contribute their creativity, not just their daily survival abilities. Can we create a world where these people with so much life experience can still contribute to the community? Can we create a forum where these people’s opinions are welcome and their advice is heeded?

Some of the women in our communities are so intelligent, so empathetic, so clearly able to see the future. We need to listen to them. We need to find a way to make them feel like their contribution is valuable. We need to care about how they feel. We need to take their advice.

The most important thing you can do to validate a woman is to respect her opinion. When you do that, she becomes energized. Once a woman becomes energized, there is no stopping her. She will lead the way. This spring, let us validate the women in our lives and give them the energy to continue the struggle.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Advice to My Daughter

The Muslim Observer
May 5, 2011

Recently, I found myself sewing an old purse that my best friend gave me when I was 15. I’m really glad I still have it. When I was in my twenties, I took up sewing to help myself quit smoking, to give my fingers something to do. Sewing is more difficult with small children, as they are very attracted to the thread and the needles. I had to put my creative life on hold for a while.

Still, I love being forty. I finally feel like I am pretty. I know it sounds dumb, but it means a lot to women. I told my ten year old daughter some advice that I wish someone had given me when I was young.

Save everything you purchase. When you are a teen or in your twenties, money seems plentiful because mother and father are paying all your basic expenses. You begin to collect things like clothes, purses, shoes, scarves, and hats. Winter boots, gloves, towels, sheets and blankets. Keep all of these things. Do not give them away. Never underestimate your future needs.

When people are young, it often seems like the comforts of daily life will last forever. Trust me, they will not. By the time you are forty, the used sofa you inherited from your uncle at age 20 will have taken the final assault from your latest toddler’s pee or kids jumping on it, and it will be on the curb. Then you will not have a sofa. So even now, when you are 20, you should realize that there will come a day when sofas do not grow on trees, believe it or not. Neither do paper towels, though they are indeed made of trees. But you still have to pay for them. It will be embarrassing if you are still “liberating” rolls of toilet paper from your parents’ bathroom or God forbid the chiropractor’s office at 40.

The clothes are important. I stopped growing when I was 15. Blame it on caffeine, but I can still wear clothes that I bought in the 1980s. God praise polyester. It will outlive the human race. When you wear vintage clothing, people assume you must be a poet. This comes with its own rewards. Never throw or give away a beautiful dress or a comfortable pair of pants.
There is nothing more important in America than a good haircut. Where social acceptance is concerned, you cannot show any weakness! The key to classic beauty is to have the most socially acceptable haircut at the most expensive price. I am not entirely sure why this is true, but this rule of thumb applies even if you wear hijab. Maybe even especially if you wear hijab.

One time, I was walking through Times Square and some people from MTV interviewed me, asking me what is my advice for the youth?

I said: Give people a chance to believe you are normal. Don’t wear trendy clothes that will look stupid in a few years. Wear classic styles, and t-shirts without slogans.”

The MTV journalist was baffled that I didn’t say, “Just be yourself.”

Yet I have learned the hard way that anybody hoping to succeed in high school should at least at first strive to appear normal. If you wear hijab, combine it with loose clothing. Otherwise you will look strange.

Don’t let people label you as ‘weird’ before they have even talked to you. You can express your individuality in so many other ways. Your clothes should communicate respect for yourself and others.

And never, ever kiss a boy unless you are ready to get married. Otherwise it’s a complete waste of time. Don’t bother “falling in love”

in high school because the statistical probability of you marrying your high school sweetheart in this day and age is practically zero. If there is someone you really like, and he is a truly worthy human being, maintain a friendship with his entire family until you are old enough to discuss marriage. The longer you stay away from romantic drama, the more time you will have to concentrate on your dreams without wasting precious energy healing from the emotional traumas that are inevitable in a love relationship.

If you choose a career and go forward on that path, even if you change your mind later, you will still be way ahead of those who had no goal.

Train for a job such as Beautician or Electrician while you are still in high school. This will enable you to earn a real income immediately upon graduation, which will help you pay for college. Anything you want to do in your life, such as travel the world to see the sights, learn how to shoot a bow and arrow, or volunteer for Food Not Bombs, do it now, before you have children. Your life will never be the same again after you have children, so if there is anything you long to do or see, now is the time to start planning. When you live spiritually, you will be surprised how little travel can cost. Start saving as soon as you are old enough to earn money doing teen jobs, then invest the money wisely. My mother told me when I was a girl, which fortified me against the anxiety of facing the unknown:

“Everywhere you go, God is there. Nothing can happen to you without God knowing.”

Hold on tight to your faith, because God guides those who listen to the best path. Your path might be a little bit different from someone else’s path. Listen to your heart, pray, and choose wisely.

Beyond that, I would say, keep your hair clean. You may have to shampoo more often, once you have reached a certain age. Keep your nose clean, especially if you are a tall person (short people can see straight up your nostrils)! Keep your bottom clean, of course. Keep your clothes on.

You will know when you cannot delay marriage any longer without becoming distracted. If you are still in college, do not let this prevent you from marriage. You will have an easier time concentrating on your homework and job if you have a stable married life than those young adults who are single. Just use birth control. When you are ready to have children, you will know it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Who Was Osama bin Laden?

Whoever the poor soul was, whom the US assassination team “buried at sea,” it most certainly was not Osama bin Laden. Still, now would not be a bad time to lay to rest our questions about the Grandfather of Islamic Internationalism. The FBI admits that they have no evidence that bin Laden had anything to do with the 9/11 attack. There is also no clear evidence that he was involved in earlier bombings in East Africa. He left Sudan because the US threatened to bomb if they did not expel him. Why were the Powers-That-Be so afraid of bin Laden? The US was afraid that he might unite more people around the world with his humanitarian projects and ability to internationalize causes by addressing "the Ummah." This was an entirely new approach to fundraising at that time. Osama was owner of a construction company. He rebuilt war torn and underdeveloped countries. He was in Sudan at his own expense, building infrastructure for the poor and oppressed, with government permission.

It is important to understand this great historical figure and his jihad mission. Osama bin Laden was a close associate and student of respected Palestinian theologian, Abdullah Azzam, who coined the term “al-Qaeda.” Azzam's work elaborated upon the ideas of Sayed Qutb, the Egyptian founder of modern Arab-Islamic political religious thought. Qutb is comparable to John Locke in Western political development. Both Azzam and Qutb were serious men of exceptional integrity and honor. Qutb predicted that the struggle between Islam and materialism would define the modern world. He embraced martyrdom in 1966 in rejection of Arab socialist politics. Drawing upon Qutb's ideas, Azzam preached mutual responsibility for each other among all Muslims worldwide. Azzam successfully organized an international volunteer effort to defend Afghanistan from the Soviet Union throughout the 1980s under the banner of Islam and with the US as an ally. He was killed in 1989.

The 1980s and 90s were a magical time for Muslims. Invigorated by this new philosophical international unity of Islamic causes, and with America's blessing, an international financial system of Islamic charity was created. All of us who were alive at that time remember how we cried for the Afghanis and opened our wallets, we cried for the Palestinians and opened our wallets. We cried for the Bosnians and opened our wallets. Some of our husbands even left us to become martyrs. The nationalist boundaries between Muslims were erased. Foreign Muslims and Black American Muslims were educating each other about politics and history. On an international scale, Muslims were competing with Jews over the international financial system and the outcome of world events. A true pan-Islamic internationalism was created. We were the kings and queens of the world, to quote the Titanic.

A new, multicultural Islamic culture was born in America. When Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, he left behind the hope of multicultural, international Muslim unity. As long as American Blacks remained isolated, they would still think like oppressed people. But when they went to Mecca and prayed side by side with a world community, they came in contact with all of human civilization. During the 1970s, Islam took a stronghold in America. Halal meat shops were opened, Islamic schools were created. As more foreign students came to America for education they mingled with each other and with the locals. African Americans adopted the Arabian style niqab and the Pakistani shalwar kameez. Pakistanis adopted the Arab style hijab and jilbab, while others adopted the Euro-Turk skirt with blazer look. Because Islam was such a fun social unifier in college, young people brought their enthusiasm to their cousins back home, who then started to cover more and pray more. We all wanted to make huge personal sacrifices to save the world.

To a large extent it was America's support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan that created the spiritual fire behind the Islamic Renaissance of the 1980s. In the Battle of Jaji in May 1987, Osama's Muhajideen army of only 50 members resisted 200 Soviet and Soviet-backed Afghan troops for one week, taking 12 losses. Under the watch of the Arab media, the Mujahideen protected their complex system of tunnels and caves near the Pakistani border, named al-Masada, from Soviet capture. Osama bin Laden became an internationally respected war hero, while the Afghan freedom fighters became revered in America as “the bravest men in the world,” according to former CIA agent and author, Eric Margolis. Every Muslim in the world, it seemed, wished they too could die for the sake of Allah. Every girl wished she could marry Osama bin Laden, even if he was already quite busy.

In 2001, the US used napalm and oxygen-sucking bombs to “smoke out” Osama's “Lion's Nest” of tunnels. They even sprayed acid from the sky to disfigure the faces of the martyrs afterward.

Hundreds of pilgrims visit Kandahar’s Arab cemetery daily, believing that the graves of those massacred in the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan possess miraculous healing powers.

2001 was not the end of the Muslims, but it was the end of a glorious era, where martyrs competed with one another for bravery and ordinary people competed with each other with charity. We were going to defeat evil in this world today, we thought. Now we know this is only the beginning of the struggle.