Saturday, December 9, 2006

51)One author and journalist's opinion.

Sikeena Karmali
Special to the Sun
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I wonder if Pope Benedict XVI was served a meal of paella during his trip to Spain in July.

The dish of rice, seafood and vegetables has its origins in 10th-century Andalusia. During the rule of the Caliphate of Cordoba, servants from the royal kitchen would set up a kind of soup kitchen outside the gates of the Alhambra palace and hand out "leftovers" -- rice, fish and vegetables all mixed together. Indeed, the word paella comes from the Arabic ba'ella, meaning leftovers.

This practice of feeding the hungry comes directly from the Prophet Mohammed who also gathered the poor outside his home and mosque in Medina and fed them at mealtimes. The tradition was carried on by his cousin Ali ibn Abu Talib and adopted by succeeding Muslim rulers.

In fact, social responsibility for the disenfranchised and dispossessed is a central tenet of Mohammed's teachings, forming one the five pillars of Islam in the form of zakat or charity. The Holy Koran says human beings have been given a cosmological station above the angels due to their unique gift of reason -- aql; this in turn enjoins them with the responsibility of being custodians of the Earth.

Mohammed, along with Jesus and Moses, preached humanism. He encouraged wealthy Muslim merchants to free their slaves, setting an example by appointing Bilaal --an Abyssinian slave, bought and freed by his uncle Abu Bakr, as the first muezzin, to chant the adhan and thereby call the faithful to prayer. He later became one of Mohammed's trusted companions, akin to one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, and was charged with the responsibility for the public treasury of the first Muslim community.

The early Muslim community reformed the social and legal status of women by granting to inherit property and to own it after they were married (something that only became legal in Europe in the 19th century), and the right to divorce and remarriage (something Catholicism still does not permit.) Muslim leaders demanded that Muslims girls be educated and spoke out against the then common practices of female infanticide and forced prostitution.

Pope Benedict must be grateful for his eyeglasses, which allow him to see and read his speeches. He might therefore benefit from a little scientific research to discover Ibn Al-Haytham -- known in Europe as Alhazen -- the father of modern optics. Haytham was a 10th-century mathematician and scientist from Basra, Iraq. He became a scholar of the Fatimid court in Egypt and was the first to describe in full detail the various parts of the eye and give a scientific explanation of the process of vision.

Should the Pope perhaps not be overly appreciative of the science of optometry, then surely he must acknowledge the science of medicine as a significant contribution to the human condition.

Who is the founder of modern medicine? Ibn Sina, known in Europe as Avicenna. He became a scientist under the auspices of the Samanid administration in Central Asia. In addition to 99 books about philosophy, medicine, geometry and astronomy, Ibn Sina also wrote 16 medical works. The most important of his books are the Kitab al-Shifa, the Book of Healing, and the Qanun al-Tibb, the Laws of Health, also known as the Canon of Medicine. Both are still widely used for reference at medical schools.

What is the oldest university in the world? Most Europeans will name the University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088. However, the University of Al-Azhar was founded in Cairo in 980 by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Mu'iz. Al-Azhar was a place of learning, a place of contemplation, of scientific enquiry and experiment, a hospital and a mosque. It was here that the likes of Ibn Haytahm studied and taught; here that the foundations of modern physics, astronomy, architectural engineering and mathematics were expounded; here that the canons of Greek Philosophy were guarded and translated into Arabic.

Perhaps if nothing else can move the Pope, the words of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, one of Islam's greatest poets, celebrated the world over by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, should induce him to reconsider his judgment of the Islamic civilization. Rumi, who was born in Balkh, Afghanistan, wrote the poem about Jesus whom Islam embraces as a Prophet of God.

Sikeena Karmali is the Burnaby-based author of A House by the Sea, 2003.

The Vancouver Sun 2006


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3