News in brief: Tax on the Rich Rooted in Judeo-Christian-Islamic Principles
- Tax on the Rich Rooted in Judeo-Christian-Islamic Principles
President Obama proposes increasing the tax on the rich, going off the principle that "for whom much is given, much shall be required." So why are some conservatives not in agreement?
By Hesham A. Hassaballa, February 16, 2012
President Obama aims to live by the Christian principle that a person who is blessed with much must give back to the community. That seems to be the underlying sentiment of his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, where the President framed his tax policies within biblical principles: "But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that 'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.'"
Here, the president is quoting Luke 12:48: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Indeed, Jesus Christ did stress the importance of helping the poor, saying once: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Mt. 25:40)."
The President then added, "It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others." Here, he is absolutely correct: In Islam, there definitely is the principle that "unto whom much is given, much shall be required."
That is, in fact, is the entire purpose of zakah, which is the "fourth pillar" of Islam. Zakah is a wealth tax; Muslims must annually give 2.5 percent on unused wealth accumulated over the course of the year to the poor and needy. The word zakah, in fact, means "purifying dues," because such a tax "purifies" the person from greed and miserliness. (Interestingly, some professors and directors of economic think tanks have recently called for a similar type of tax.)
In the Quran, this concept is explicitly explained:
Verily, the human being is born with a restless disposition. [As a rule], whenever misfortune touches him, he is filled with self-pity; and whenever good fortune comes to him, he selfishly withholds it [from others]. Not so, however, those who consciously turn toward God in prayer. [And] who incessantly persevere in their prayer; and in whose possessions there is a due share, acknowledged [by them] for such as ask [for help] and such as are deprived [of what is good in life] (70:19-25).
Another passage in the Quran reads:
[But,] behold, the God-conscious will find themselves amid gardens and springs, enjoying all that their Sustainer will have granted them [because], verily, they were doers of good in the past: they would lie asleep during but a small part of the night and would pray for forgiveness from their innermost hearts; and [would assign] in all that they possessed a due share unto such as might ask [for help] and such as might suffer privation (51:15-19).
President Obama, in fact, is asking less of the rich than Jesus did. When a man came to Jesus asking how he can attain eternal life, he told him: "Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mk. 10:21) and "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mk. 10:23)
The President is only asking the rich to pay a few percentage points more than what they are paying now. In his latest budget, Obama proposed a 30 percent tax on those with incomes above $1,000,000. Conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition criticized this concept, saying that tying this tax policy to Jesus' teachings was "theologically threadbare and straining credulity." But it is Reed's response that strains credulity.
The wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes. The obligation of those who are doing well to help those that are less fortunate is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) traditions. This is because the ultimate source of this concept is the God of Abraham Himself who, despite the contention of some, is worshipped by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
You would think that this common belief in a common Lord would bring people together on an issue such as this. But, this is the 2012 election season. Very little, it seems, makes sense.
China says at least 12 killed in Xinjiang riot
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Feb 28, 2012 23:56 Updated: Mar 2, 2012 21:02
BEIJING: At least 12 people were killed in riots Tuesday near the Chinese city of Kashgar in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media reported.
No details were given about what might have set off the violence, although Xinjiang see periodic outbreaks of anti-government violence by restless members of the region's native Turkish Muslim Uighur ethnic group.
The Xinhua News Agency said rioters armed with knives attacked victims in Yecheng county outside the city starting at about 6 p.m. They killed 10 people and police shot two assailants to death, the report said.
The Xinhua report could not be independently confirmed. Chinese authorities maintain tight control over information and the circumstances surrounding such incidents are often murky.
Xinhua said police were chasing others involved in the attacks but did not say how many suspects there were.
The periodic attacks in the region occur despite a smothering security presence imposed following 2009 riots in the regional capital of Urumqi that pitted Uighurs against migrants from China's majority Han in which almost 200 people died.
Xinjiang saw more deadly violence last summer, when a group of Uighurs stormed a police station in the city of Hotan on July 18 and took hostages, killing four. Then, just days later on July 30 and 31, Uighurs in Kashgar hijacked a truck, set a restaurant on fire and stabbed people in the street.
Authorities said 14 of the attackers were shot by police in Hotan, and five assailants were killed in the violence in Kashgar.
China says those events were organized terror attacks, but an overseas Uighur rights group says they were anti-government riots carried out by angry citizens. Uighur activists and security analysts blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding frustration and anger among young Uighurs.
Chinese authorities have offered little evidence to back up their claims of outside involvement and rarely provide details on arrests or punishment of the suspects.
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Archaeologists strike gold in quest to find Queen of Sheba's wealth
A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba derived her fabled treasures
The Observer, Sunday 12 February 2012
A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.
Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory.
Louise Schofield, an archaeologist and former British Museum curator, who headed the excavation on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, said: "One of the things I've always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have the Queen of Sheba's mines is extraordinary."
An initial clue lay in a 20ft stone stele (or slab) carved with a sun and crescent moon, the "calling card of the land of Sheba", Schofield said. "I crawled beneath the stone – wary of a 9ft cobra I was warned lives here – and came face to face with an inscription in Sabaean, the language that the Queen of Sheba would have spoken."
On a mound nearby she found parts of columns and finely carved stone channels from a buried temple that appears to be dedicated to the moon god, the main deity of Sheba, an 8th century BC civilisation that lasted 1,000 years. It revealed a victory in a battle nearby, where Schofield excavated ancient bones.
Although local people still pan for gold in the river, they were unaware of the ancient mine. Its shaft is buried some 4ft down, in a hill above which vultures swoop. An ancient human skull is embedded in the entrance shaft, which bears Sabaean chiselling.
Sheba was a powerful incense-trading kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman empire. The queen is immortalised in Qur'an and the Bible, which describes her visit to Solomon "with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold and precious stones ... Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices."
Although little is known about her, the queen's image inspired medieval Christian mystical works in which she embodied divine wisdom, as well as Turkish and Persian paintings, Handel's oratorio Solomon, and Hollywood films. Her story is still told across Africa and Arabia, and the Ethiopian tales are immortalised in the holy book the Kebra Nagast.
Hers is said to be one of the world's oldest love stories. The Bible says she visited Solomon to test his wisdom by asking him several riddles. Legend has it that he wooed her, and that descendants of their child, Menelik – son of the wise – became the kings of Abyssinia.
Schofield will begin a full excavation Schofield said that as she stood on the ancient site, in a rocky landscape of cacti and acacia trees, it was easy to imagine the queen arriving on a camel, overseeing slaves and elephants dragging rocks from the mine.
once she has the funds and hopes to establish the precise size of the mine, whose entrance is blocked by boulders.
Tests by a gold prospector who alerted her to the mine show that it is extensive, with a proper shaft and tunnel big enough to walk along.
Nigeria recaptures prime suspect in Christmas church attack
Alleged Boko Haram member's escape a day after his original arrest last month led to the sacking of top police official
Nigeria's secret police have re-arrested an alleged Boko Haram member who escaped custody last month suspected of masterminding a church bombing on Christmas Day that killed at least 44 people.
Kabiru Sokoto's escape a day after his original arrest led to the sacking of the country's top police official. A presidential spokesman said members of the secret police had arrested Sokoto in Taraba state, which borders Cameroon.
A spokeswoman for the secret police agency declined to comment. Another security official said officers arrested Sokoto as he hid behind a clothes line. Sokoto would be flown back to the capital, Abuja, on an air force flight, the official said.
Police named Sokoto as the prime suspect in the bombing of St Theresa Catholic church in Madalla on 25 December. Worshippers were leaving the church after a morning service when a car bomb detonated near the front steps. Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the attack and separate strikes in two other Nigerian cities.
The radical Islamist sect, whose name means "western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is carrying out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict sharia law and to avenge Muslim killings in Nigeria. This year the sect has been blamed for at least 270 deaths, according to AP.
250m copies of Qur'an distributed
By ARAB NEWS
Published: Feb 10, 2012 02:59 Updated: Feb 10, 2012 02:59
RIYADH: The King Fahd Complex for Printing the Holy Qur’an distributed more than 250 million copies of the Holy Qur’an, translations and other religious books until January this year since its establishment 27 years ago, according to its report issued Thursday.
King Fahd launched the Holy Qur’an printing complex with the aim of preserving, printing and distributing sacred texts to the Muslims all over the world in Madinah in February 1985.
The complex has an annual production capacity of more than 10 million copies.
Its publications include complete mushafs (books which contain the text of the Holy Qur’an), parts of the holy text, audio recordings, translations and books on the Sunnah and biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
The report said the complex distributed 224,630 copies and translations of the Holy Qur’an in 21 languages during the Hijri month of Safar (Dec.26, 2011 to Jan.23, 2012), the Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The complex distributed 174,224 copies of the full text of Holy Qur’an and 9,760 copies of parts of the text, 2,570 copies of audio recordings of recitations, 30,960 translations in other languages and 7,116 copies of the various religious books over the first two months of the new Hijri year,” the statement said.
The copies were distributed through charitable societies, the Prince Sultan bin Salman Competition for the Memorization of Holy Qur’an for Children with Special Needs, National Guard’s guidance offices in different parts of the Kingdom, the religious affairs department of the Armed Forces, the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh, Sheikh Muhammad bin Saleh Al-Othaimin Charity Foundation and the Ministry of Economy and Planning in addition to the Cairo International Book Fair and the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Sacred Places and Affairs Ministry of Jordan. Each pilgrim is given a copy of the mushaf when returning after the Haj in line with an order of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
The complex is supervised by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance. Sheikh Saleh Al-Asheikh, minster of Islamic affairs, is the general supervisor and chief of the complex.
The complex also trains Saudis to work in different technical departments of the complex such as montage, printing, binding and maintenance.
The complex also has five manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an.
Maldives president quits after protests
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Last Modified: 07 Feb 2012 15:20
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The Rohingya: Myanmar's outcasts
Millions of residents of western Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and basic human rights. Will Suu Kyi help?
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2012 11:26
This article is the first in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences. Incorporating in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Ambassador Ahmed will ultimately argue that the inability for Muslim and non-Muslim states alike to either incorporate minority groups into a liberal and tolerant society or resolve the "centre vs periphery" conflict is emblematic of a systemic failure of the modern state - a breakdown which, more often than not, leads to widespread violence and destruction. The violence generated from these conflicts will become the focus, in the remainder of the 21st century, of all those dealing with issues of national integration, law and order, human rights and justice.
Washington, DC - The image of a smiling Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving flowers from her supporters is a powerful message of freedom and optimism in Myanmar, the symbol of democracy in a country which has known nothing but authoritarian oppression for decades.
Yet few ask one of the most pressing questions facing Daw Suu Kyi. How will she deal with the Rohingya?
"The Rohingya," you will ask. "Who are they?"
The Rohingya, whom the BBC calls "one of the world's most persecuted minority groups", are the little-publicised and largely forgotten Muslim people of the coastal Rakhine state of western Myanmar. Their historic lineage in Rakhine dates back centuries, as fishermen and farmers. Over the past three decades, the Rohingya have been systematically driven out of their homeland by Myanmar's military junta and subjected to widespread violence and the total negation of their rights and citizenship within Myanmar. They are a stateless Muslim minority.
The continued tragedy of the unrecognised Rohingya, both in Myanmar and as refugees abroad, casts a dark shadow over the bright hopes and prospects for democracy in a country plagued by violence and civil war. Suu Kyi is ideally placed to extend democratic reforms to all ethnic peoples, including the Rohingya, in a free Myanmar.
Though the Rohingya may be small in number at less than two million, the real lesson of the Arab Spring is that no notion of democracy can succeed without the inclusion of all people within a country's borders. Every member of society, regardless of race and religion, must be given their due rights as citizens.
While many ethnic minorities in Myanmar have been the victims of the central government's oppressive measures, the Rohingya stand apart in that their very existence is threatened. The Rohingya's plight abroad as refugees in places such as Bangladesh and Thailand has seen glimmers of the media spotlight, but less attention has been brought to the underlying cause of their flight: the violence and cultural oppression at home.
These policies were enacted by Myanmar's government to force the Rohingya outside of Myanmar as a result of their being Muslim and ethnically non-Myanma. The government erroneously labelled them as "illegal Bengali immigrants" in their efforts to eradicate the Rohingya culture.
Indonesia Shias under pressure
Renewed attacks on a religious school and homes lead community in East Java to ask for police protection.
Last Modified: 27 Jan 2012 07:28
Religious tensions in Indonesia have heated up once again after calls by some Sunni Muslim religious leaders to ban Shia Islam led to attacks on a religious school and the homes of the Shia community on Madura island in East Java.
Feeling their human-rights have been violated, the Shia population of Madura have asked for protection from Jakarta after Sunni leaders tried to persuade the Shias to abandon their faith or face further attacks.
So far the government has remained silent, seeing the attack in East Java as a local conflict.
Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen reports from East Java.
HRW calls on West to accept Islamist rise to power
By MAGGIE MICHAEL | AP
Published: Jan 23, 2012 00:38 Updated: Jan 23, 2012 20:33
CAIRO: The United States and other Western governments must accept the new reality that Islamists have emerged to fill the power vacuum in the Arab world after a wave of popular uprisings, Human Rights Watch said in its annual report Sunday.
The New York-based group also urged Islamist parties, which have emerged as the biggest winners in recent elections in Tunisia and Egypt and are expected to fare well in Libya, to respect the rights of women and religious minorities, saying they cannot “pick and choose” when it comes to human rights.
Islamist parties are “genuinely popular” in the Arab world, said HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, warning that “ignoring that popularity would violate democratic principles.”
“Being a political Islamic government should not be a reason to turn a government into a pariah,” Roth told reporters in Cairo, where the group released its annual report.
The Arab Spring revolts began in Tunisia in late 2010 and quickly spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, deposing or challenging authoritarian rulers as citizens who long seemed incapable or unwilling to rise against decades of repression took to the streets in a stunning awakening.
Since the collapse of the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia a year ago, Islamist groups once largely confined to the political sidelines, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have formed parties and contested parliamentary polls, winning the greatest share of seats.
Even the ultraconservative Salafis, who abstained from politics under Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak, have fared well, winning more than 20 percent of the vote in the country’s first post-uprising ballot.
Roth was cautious when asked about concerns about potential human rights violations under Islamist rule. He said that so far, Islamists have said “a lot of right things,” but said the true test will be how they deal with the full sweep of human rights once in power.
“These are the big questions,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has been most interested in political freedoms, but Roth noted that “it is very difficult to secure political freedom if you are not respecting religious and women rights.”
In some ways, the unexpected Arab uprisings have amounted to a slap to the United States and other Western governments, which had supported autocratic regimes that served as bulwarks against Islamists hostile to the West and appeared to offer stability in a volatile region.
“The West backed an array of autocrats as long as they, in turn, supported Western interests,” Roth said. “The West is still adjusting to this historic transformation.”
He added that the wave of uprisings “show that the forced silence of people living under autocrats should never have been mistaken for popular complacency.”
Roth acknowledged Western governments were re-evaluating their policies as new governments emerge in the region.
Western nations have been accused of being selective in supporting the protesters, with NATO airstrikes proving key to the ouster of slain Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Meanwhile, the West has stood largely on the sidelines amid continued crackdowns in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
“The people driving the Arab Spring deserve strong international support to realize their rights and to build genuine democracies,” Roth said in the group’s annual report, which covers some 90 countries. He added that the Arab world is in a “transformative moment,” and it will not be an easy one.
Human Rights Watch pointed to five main issues that dominated the relationship between Western governments and their Arab autocratic friends: the threat of political Islam, the fight against terrorism, support for Israel, protection of the oil flow and cooperation in stemming immigration.
Even after the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia were toppled, Western governments remained hesitant to lean too hard on other shaky authoritarian leaders, the group said. China and Russia acted “obstructionist,” using their veto power at the UN security council to halt pressure on Syria to stop killings of protesters.
The popular uprisings also have alarmed other repressive regimes such as China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan, where rulers were worried about facing similar fates.
“The worst response to the Arab Spring is the dictatorial world who are living in fear of the precedents set in this region,” Roth said. “China greatly deepened its repression in an effort to avoid jasmine rallies.”
The report called on Morocco to change repressive laws, end police violence and reform its judiciary. The chapter on Morocco focused on police harassment of pro-democracy demonstrators, lack of judicial independence and repression of separatist tendencies in the Western Sahara — a disputed territory held by the North African kingdom.
Outside the Arab world, the last year did not witness significant progress in countries with poor human rights records, including China and North Korea, according to the report.
Corruption, poverty and repression still prevail in Equatorial Guinea, the tiny, oil-rich nation off the western coast of Africa, which has been ruled by Africa’s longest-serving ruler, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the group said.
Eritrea continues to be governed by “one of the world’s most repressive governments,” and its citizens are subjected to torture, detentions and restrictions on freedom of speech, HRW said.
It also cited Colombia, saying armed conflict in the South American country has displaced millions while paramilitary groups with ties to the security apparatus are on the rise.
Cuba, HRW said, remains “the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”
The group also claimed that even member states of the European Union have violated human rights through restrictive asylum and migration policies.