14 centuries ago
by Dr. M. Haris Z Deen
Tomorrow (Friday) the 12th of the Lunar month of Rabi-ul-Awwal, Muslims all over the world will be remembering the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace and blessings of God), it would be most relevant to remember what he advocated during a pandemic, like COVID-19 which the whole world is experiencing at this very moment in time.
When reflecting on the holy Prophet’s (PBUH), teachings it will be evident that Islam considers the life of all human beings as the most precious gift of God to be protected in all circumstance, thus the rationale of prohibition of suicide.
In this context, the Prophet of Islam strongly advised not only social but territorial distancing during a pandemic.
In a Hadith narrated by Abdurrahman bin Awf (May Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet (on whom be peace) is reported to have said “If you hear about an outbreak of plague in a land, do not go to it; but if the plague breaks out in a country where you are staying, do not run away from it” – (Sahih Al Bukhari). This Hadith supports the travel restrictions and quarantine impositions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) even went to the extent of commanding the faithful to conduct their obligatory prayers at home during such a period of emergency rather than congregating in mosques. This is confirmed by a narration by Nafi’ (may Allah ne pleased with him) that “Allah’s Messenger used to tell the Mueazzin to pronounce the Azaan and say, Al Salat Fi Buyoothikum (pray in your homes) in place of “Hayya’las Salah” (come for prayer) not only during a plague but also on rainy or very cold winter nights) – (Sahih Al Bukhari).
Thus, it can be seen that the Prophet of Islam’s teachings are practical and easily applicable in the face of prosperity or adversity. In this respect many non-Muslim thinkers have expressed that Muhammad’s teaching surpasses all others in respect of being applicable to all situations.
Sir George Bernard Shaw asserts:” I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phases of existence which can make itself appeal to everyone”. …. I have studied him -the wonderful man, and in my opinion, …, he must be called the saviour of humanity.” (1936 – The Genuine Islam Vol. 1 – No.8).
Bernard Shaw confirms inter alia that “Islam is the only religion which appears to possess that assimilating capability of the changing phases of existence which can make itself appeal to everyone”. By this dynamism, he concludes that the Prophet of Islam would succeed in solving the problems of the world in a way that would bring the much-needed peace and happiness.
It would be futile to write a piece remembering the birth of the Prophet without expressing some thoughts from the Quran and Ahadith on his life.
Muhammad In the Quran
God has put emphasis on the ordinary human nature of the prophet in the Qur’an thus “Muhammad is no more than a Messenger: Many were the Messengers that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those (who serve him) with gratitude”. (3:144).
And God commands his Messenger to declare his mission thus “Say; O’ men! I am sent unto you all as the Messenger of Allah to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; there is no god but He; it is He that gives both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, The unlettered Prophet, who believes in Allah and His Words. Follow him that you may be guided”. (7:158).
God continues further in Chapter 6 verse 50: “Say I tell you not that with me are the treasures of Allah, Nor do I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me…” and continues further thus: “Not for you, (but for Allah), is the decision: Whether he turn in mercy to them, or punish them, for they are indeed wrong doers”. (3:128).
The holy Prophet’s whole life had been based on establishing this doctrine of “Tawheed” one-ness and omnipotence of God and he ensured that all his companions adhered to this tenet at all times. This was beautifully demonstrated in the historic speech that Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) made when announcing the demise of the Prophet at the time even Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was sceptical and drew his sword to slay anyone who said that the prophet was dead. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was not to make a speech of praise of the Prophet (On whom be Peace) the first thing he wanted to do was to squash any belief that the Prophet was none other than a human being as reported by Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with her) as follows:
“Allah’s Apostle died while Abu Bakr was at a place called As-Sunah (Al-‘Aliya) ‘Umar stood up and said, “By Allah! Allah’s Apostle is not dead!” ‘Umar (later on) said, “By Allah! Nothing occurred to my mind except that.” He said, “Verily! Allah will resurrect him and he will cut the hands and legs of some men.” Then Abu Bakr came and uncovered the face of Allah’s Apostle, kissed him and said, “Let my mother and father be sacrificed for you, (O Allah’s Apostle), you are good in life and in death. By Allah in Whose Hands my life is, Allah will never make you taste death twice.” Then he went out and said, “O oath-taker! Don’t be hasty.” When Abu Bakr spoke, ‘Umar sat down. Abu Bakr praised and glorified Allah and said, No doubt! Whoever worshipped Muhammad, then Muhammad is dead, but whoever worshipped Allah, then Allah is Alive and shall never die.”
Then he recited Allah’s Statement.:– “(O Muhammad) Verily you will die, and they also will die.” (39.30) He also recited:–
“Muhammad is no more than an Apostle; and indeed many Apostles have passed away, before him, If he dies Or is killed, will you then Turn back on your heels? And he who turns back On his heels, not the least Harm will he do to Allah And Allah will give reward to those Who are grateful.” (3.144)
Bukhari Book 5 vol 57 Hadith 19
And on accepting his appointment as the first Caliph of Islam Abu Bakr made this beautiful speech
“O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me. Truthfulness is synonymous with fulfilling the trust, and lying is equivalent to treachery. The weak among you is deemed strong by me, until I return to them that which is rightfully theirs, Ins Sha Allah. And the strong among you is deemed weak by me, until I take from them what is rightfully (someone else’s), insha Allah. No group of people abandons military/armed struggle in the path of Allah, except that Allah makes them suffer humiliation. And evil / mischief does not become widespread among a people, except that Allah inflicts them with widespread calamity. Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. And if I disobey Allah and His Messenger, then I have no right to your obedience. Stand up now to pray, may Allah have mercy on you” [Al-Bidaayah wan-Nihaayah (6/305,306)]
In conclusion I cite a quotation from the book “Historie de la Turqui” – 1854 – Paris by philosopher Alphonse de LaMartaine as follows:
…. “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples, dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls. On the basis of a Book, every letter which has become law, he created a spiritual nationality which blended together peoples of every tongue and race. He has left the indelible characteristic of this Muslim nationality the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and Immaterial God. This avenging patriotism against the profanation of Heaven formed the virtue of the followers of Muhammad; the conquest of one-third the earth to the dogma was his miracle; or rather it was not the miracle of man but that of reason. The idea of the unity of God, proclaimed amidst the exhaustion of the fabulous theologies, was in itself such a miracle that upon it’s utterance from his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols and set on fire one-third of the world. His life, his meditations, his heroic revelling against the superstitions of his country, and his boldness in defying the furies of idolatry, his firmness in enduring them for fifteen years in Mecca, his acceptance of the role of public scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow countrymen. This dogma was twofold, the unity of God and the immateriality of God: the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with words. Philosopher, orator, Apostle, legislator, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?”
May the choicest blessings be showered upon Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions and all his dutiful followers.
Email: deenmohamed email@example.com
How Hamas built a force to attack Israel on 7 October
Five armed Palestinian groups joined Hamas in the deadly 7 October attack on Israel after training together in military-style exercises from 2020 onwards, BBC News analysis shows.
The groups carried out joint drills in Gaza which closely resembled the tactics used during the deadly assault – including at a site less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the barrier with Israel – and posted them on social media.
They practised hostage-taking, raiding compounds and breaching Israel’s defences during these exercises, the last of which was held just 25 days before the attack.
BBC Arabic and BBC Verify have collated evidence which shows how Hamas brought together Gaza’s factions to hone their combat methods – and ultimately execute a raid into Israel which has plunged the region into war.
‘A sign of unity’
On 29 December 2020, Hamas’s overall leader Ismail Haniyeh declared the first of four drills codenamed Strong Pillar a “strong message and a sign of unity” between Gaza’s various armed factions.
As the most powerful of Gaza’s armed groups, Hamas was the dominant force in a coalition which brought together 10 other Palestinian factions in a war games-style exercise overseen by a “joint operation room”.
Prior to 2018, Hamas had formally coordinated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Gaza’s second largest armed faction and – like Hamas – a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK and other countries.
Hamas had also fought alongside other groups in previous conflicts, but the 2020 drill was billed in propaganda as evidence a wider array of groups were being unified.
Hamas’s leader said the first drill reflected the “permanent readiness” of the armed factions.
The 2020 exercise was the first of four joint drills held over three years, each of which was documented in polished videos posted on public social media channels.
The BBC has visually identified 10 groups, including PIJ, by their distinctive headbands and emblems training alongside Hamas during the Strong Pillar drills in footage posted on the messaging app Telegram.
Following the 7 October attack, five of the groups went on to post videos claiming to show them taking part in the assault. Three others issued written statements on Telegram claiming to have participated.
The role of these groups has come into sharp focus as pressure builds on Hamas to find dozens of women and children believed to have been taken as captives from Israel into Gaza by other factions on 7 October. Three groups – PIJ, the Mujahideen Brigades and Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades – claim to have seized Israeli hostages on that day.
Efforts to extend the temporary truce in Gaza were said to be hinging on Hamas locating those hostages. The structure was set up in 2018 to coordinate Gaza’s armed factions under a central command.
While these groups are drawn from a broad ideological spectrum ranging from hard-line Islamist to relatively secular, all shared a willingness to use violence against Israel.
Hamas statements repeatedly stressed the theme of unity between Gaza’s disparate armed groups. The group suggested they were equal partners in the joint drills, whilst it continued to play a leading role in the plans to attack Israel. Footage from the first drill shows masked commanders in a bunker appearing to conduct the exercise, and begins with a volley of rocket fire.
It cuts to heavily armed fighters overrunning a mocked-up tank marked with an Israeli flag, detaining a crew member and dragging him away as a prisoner, as well as raiding buildings.
We know from videos and harrowing witness statements that both tactics were used to capture soldiers and target civilians on 7 October, when around 1,200 people were killed and an estimated 240 hostages were taken.
Telling the world
The second Strong Pillar drill was held almost exactly one year later.
Ayman Nofal, a commander in the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades – the official name for Hamas’s armed wing – said the aim of the exercise on 26 December 2021 was to “affirm the unity of the resistance factions”.
He said the drills would “tell the enemy that the walls and engineering measures on the borders of Gaza will not protect them”.
Another Hamas statement said the “joint military manoeuvres” were designed to “simulate the liberation of settlements near Gaza” – which is how the group refers to Israeli communities.
The exercise was repeated on 28 December 2022, and propaganda images of fighters practising clearing buildings and overrunning tanks in what appears to be a replica of a military base were published to mark the event.
The exercises were reported on in Israel, so it’s inconceivable they were not being closely monitored by the country’s extensive intelligence agencies.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have previously carried out air strikes to disrupt Hamas’s training activities. In April 2023, they bombed the site used for the first Strong Pillar drill.
Weeks before the attacks, female surveillance soldiers near the Gaza border reportedly warned of unusually high drone activity and that Hamas was training to take over observation posts with replicas of their positions.
But, according to reports in the Israeli media, they say they were ignored. Brigadier General Amir Avivi, a former IDF deputy commander in Gaza, told the BBC: “There was a lot of intelligence that they were doing this training – after all, the videos are public, and this was happening just hundreds of metres from the fence (with Israel).”
But he said while the military knew about the drills, they “didn’t see what they were training for”.
The IDF said they “eliminated” Nofal on 17 October 2023, the first senior Hamas military leader to be killed during the conflict.
Hiding in plain sight
Hamas went to great lengths to make sure the drills were realistic.
In 2022, fighters practised storming a mock Israeli military base built just 2.6km (1.6 miles) from the Erez crossing, a route between Gaza and Israel controlled by the IDF.
BBC Verify has pinpointed the site in the far north of Gaza, just 800m (0.5 miles) from the barrier, by matching geographic features seen in the training footage to aerial images of the area. As of November 2023, the site was still visible on Bing Maps.
The training camp was within 1.6km (1 mile) of an Israeli observation tower and an elevated observation box, elements in a security barrier Israel has spent hundreds of millions of dollars constructing.
The mock base is on land dug several metres below ground level, so it may not have been immediately visible to any nearby Israeli patrols – but the smoke rising from the explosions surely would have been, and the IDF is known to use aerial surveillance.
Hamas used this site to practise storming buildings, taking hostages at gunpoint and destroying security barriers.
BBC Verify has used publicly available information – including satellite imagery – to locate 14 training sites at nine different locations across Gaza.
They even trained twice at a site less than 1.6 km (1 mile) from the United Nations’ aid agency distribution centre, and which was visible in the background of an official video published by the agency in December 2022.
Land, sea and air
On 10 September 2023, the so-called joint committee room published images on its dedicated Telegram channel of men in military uniforms carrying out surveillance of military installations along the Gaza barrier.
Two days later, the fourth Strong Pillar military exercise was staged, and by 7 October, all the tactics that would be deployed in the unprecedented attack had been rehearsed.
Fighters were filmed riding in the same type of white Toyota pickup trucks which were seen roaming through southern Israel the following month.
The propaganda video shows gunmen raiding mock buildings and firing at dummy targets inside, as well as training to storm a beach using a boat and underwater divers. Israel has said it repelled attempted Hamas boat landings on its shores on 7 October.
However, Hamas did not publicise its training with motorcycles and paragliders as part of the Strong Pillar propaganda.
A training video posted by Hamas three days after 7 October shows fences and barriers being demolished to allow motorcycles to pass through, a tactic they used to reach communities in southern Israel. We have not identified similar earlier videos.
Footage of fighters using paragliding equipment was also not published until the 7 October attack was under way.
In a training video shared on the day of the attack, gunmen are seen landing in a mock kibbutz at an airstrip we have located to a site north of Rafah in southern Gaza.
BBC Verify established it was recorded some time before 25 August 2022, and was stored in a computer file titled Eagle Squadron, the name Hamas uses for its aerial division – suggesting the paragliders plan was in the works for over a year.
The element of surprise
Before 7 October, Hamas was thought to have about 30,000 fighters in the Gaza Strip, according to reports quoting IDF commanders. It was also thought that Hamas could draw on several thousands of fighters from smaller groups.
Hamas is by far the most powerful of the Palestinian armed groups, even without the support of other factions – suggesting its interest in galvanising the factions was driven by an attempt to secure broad support within Gaza at least as much as bolstering its own numbers.
The IDF has previously estimated 1,500 fighters joined the 7 October raids. The Times of Israel reported earlier this month the IDF now believes the number was closer to 3,000.
Whatever the true number, it means only a relatively small fraction of the total number of armed operatives in Gaza took part. It is not possible to verify precise numbers for how many fighters from smaller groups took part in the attack or the Strong Pillar drills.
While Hamas was building cross-faction support in the build-up to the attack, Hisham Jaber, a former Brigadier General in the Lebanese army who is now a security analyst at the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research, said he believed only Hamas was aware of the ultimate plan, and it was “probable they]asked other factions to join on the day”.
Andreas Krieg, a senior lecturer in security studies at Kings College London, told the BBC: “While there was centralised planning, execution was de-centralised, with each squad operationalising the plan as they saw fit.”
He said he had spoken to people inside Hamas who were surprised by the weakness of Israel’s defences, and assessed militants likely bypassed Israel’s surveillance technology by communicating offline.
Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Israel would have been aware of the joint training drills but “reached the wrong conclusion”, assessing they amounted to the “standard” activity of paramilitary groups in the Palestinian territories, rather than being “indicative of a looming large-scale attack”.
Asked about the issues raised in this article, the Israel Defense Forces said it was “currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organisation Hamas” and questions about any potential failures “will be looked into in a later stage”.
It could be several years until Israel formally reckons with whether it missed opportunities to prevent the 7 October massacre. The ramifications for its military, intelligence services and government could be seismic.
Rebuild trust with people to revive economy
by Jehan Perera
The government is facing an uphill task to rebuild the country which continues to be in a state of economic and moral decline which was evident in parliamentary proceedings last week. The initial hopes of a quick transition from the economic and moral decline that accompanied the pre-Aragalaya period ended with the accession of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the presidency. The President made skillful use of the security forces, in the first instance, and the parliamentary majority thereafter, to restore the old order, government rule and stabilise the economy, albeit at a much lower level of economic wellbeing. But this won for him and the government the support of those sections of the population who could still live their regular lives and the international community who did not want Sri Lanka to fall prey to rival powers.
The Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe has expressed confidence that Sri Lanka will receive the second tranche of the IMF loan before the end of the year. He has made this prediction despite the failure of the government to meet the basic IMF conditions, which include reducing the gap between revenues and expenditures. The ability to access IMF funds despite not conforming with its conditions is indicative of favoured status. The budget prepared by the government shows a widening of the chasm that are mitigated by optimistic predictions of increased tax revenues. The government has signally failed to deliver on the IMF’s “governance diagnostic” which highlighted the need for much greater efforts to tackle corruption and to be transparent in the signing of new contracts.
If social media reports and personal anecdotes are to be believed, corruption is thriving at all levels. Agreements with international companies continue to be entered into with little being known of the terms and conditions, and even the debt restructuring agreement with China continues to be a secret.
But there continues to be a belief amongst sections of the Sri Lankan population and international community alike that the present unsatisfactory governance needs to be tolerated until the country makes the transition to self-sustaining economic growth. There is concern that any change of government at the present time would jeopardise the economic stability that the country has achieved despite the unconvincing evidence to the contrary. The general population is expressing its lack of confidence in the future by fleeing abroad and giving votes of no-confidence in every public opinion poll they can.
Despite the government’s continued hold on undisputed power, and skillful use of its parliamentary majority and security forces to enforce governmental rule, it is not able to show that it has the backing of the majority of the general population. The government’s policies seem to have the support of the business and upper social classes whose position is that there is no better alternative at present, a view that is echoed in diplomatic circles. But this sentiment is not reflected in public opinion polls that equally consistently reveal that the government and its leadership get less than 20 percent of the support and even much less. This accounts for why the government has resolutely defied calls for the holding of local government and provincial council elections, the latter which are long overdue.
The President’s announcement that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held next year may be a recognition that the government has come to the realization that it cannot continue to justify holding on to power without obtaining a fresh people’s mandate. The proposed budget is an indication of the government’s preparation for those elections. There are efforts in it to provide benefits for different sections of the people, though whether these promises will materialize is another question due to paucity of resources. President Wickremesinghe has pledged to provide tens of thousands of farmer families with free hold title to the land they currently cultivate under state leases. The motivation to obtain the vote of people by providing them with economic benefits is one of the key features of the democratic process not only in Sri Lanka but worldwide.
However, the skillful use of state power to provide economic benefits, utilizing the parliamentary majority to come up with news laws and use of the security forces to enforce those laws are not the only ingredient for success in governance. The general population need to trust those who are in power. This trust comes from consistency in word and deed. One of the features of the present government is that deeds do not follow words. The exemplary anti-corruption legislation is being used to catch those at the lower levels of the hierarchy but those at the higher levels continue to escape. The recent Supreme Court decision that apportions blame for the economic crisis that plunged vast numbers of people into poverty has not been acted upon and there is no indication at the present time that it will be acted upon.
There are two other areas where the government needs to rebuild the trust of the people. First is to convince them that the burden of economic recovery will be apportioned justly and equitably. The restructuring of the EPF and ETF pension funds which affected the poorer sections of the people adversely while the sparing of the banking (and corporate) sector may have been motivated by the fear that the collapse of the banking sector was a real possibility. However, the evidence that is now coming out, as demonstrated in Parliament by the Opposition, that huge amounts of loans taken by companies have been absorbed by the banks is unconscionable. The government needs to promise that it will rectify this and other such inequities as soon as possible, including the tax holidays to favoured companies. The recent parliamentary debates have provided the opportunity for the Opposition to make presentations that highlight the need for consistency.
The second area that needs to be addressed is the ethnic conflict in the country. This is a problem that has receded into the background of the national discourse, due to the overwhelming nature of the economic crisis. However, one of the root causes of the country’s economic crisis is that huge amounts of resources were devoted to fighting a war that need not have taken place if there had been policies that promoted inter-ethnic justice and equity. The security forces continue to extract a large part of the budget. Sri Lanka is not a unique country when it comes to having different ethnic and religious communities. Other countries have them too, but most of those countries, especially those that are economically successful, have found ways to resolve their differences through dialogue and mutual accommodation that benefits the entire society. Provincial council elections have not been held for over five years.
There is a need to convince the ethnic and religious minorities that they are a part and parcel of the polity and treated as equal citizens. The provincial council elections cannot be postponed for another two years. There is no logical basis in the President stating they will be held in the year following the presidential and parliamentary elections. The wrong that was done to the Tamils of recent Indian origin at Independence has still not been rectified. They continue to be the poorest and most neglected community in the country. An issue that is scarring the Tamil and Muslim people at the present time is the takeover of grazing lands in the east by people from outside the area. The residents of those areas have no government to protect them. This is not the way to build trust that will unify the people with the government to uplift the economy.
Christmas and the New Year in the Seychelles…
Although the group Mirage has been relatively quiet, in the local showbiz scene, they will certainly be missed by music lovers, and their fans, during the festive period.
They leave on Sunday, the 3rd of December, for a month long stay in probably the smallest country in Africa – the Seychelles.
The group, comprising Donald Pieries (drums/vocals), Benjy Ranabahu (bass), Thushara Rajarathna (keyboards/vocals), Thilak Perera (guitar/vocals) and Dhanushka Uyanahewa (vocals), will be at the Hilton Seychelles for two major gigs – Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
They will also be entertaining guests throughout their stay at the Hilton.
The group’s male vocalist, the famous Manilal Perera, who is now very much a part of Mirage, is unable to make this trip due to prior commitments, in the local scene, as a solo artiste.
Dhanushka Uyanahewa, who is not a regular member of Mirage, replaces Manilal for this particular assignment.
Since this is their very first trip to the Seychelles, they say they are looking forward, with great excitement, to checking out that part of the world.
The Seychelles is known for its picturesque beaches, ecological diversity, dense tropical forests, and the bright blue ocean that surrounds it, all of which combine to make the archipelago world-famous.
Mirage will be back in early January, 2024, and then, a few weeks later, they will be off to Australia for a Valentine’s Day gig in Melbourne.
The band has been to Australia before but it will be the first time that the present lineup would be operating, Down Under, with Manilal Perera as their frontline vocalist.
Their female vocalist Dhanushka Uyanahewa, who will perform with Mirage in the Seychelles, will not be in the lineup to Australia.
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