Tuesday, July 28, 2009


There is no authentic hadith reported about the 15th night of Sha`ban. The hadiths reported about that night are classified by some scholars as hasan (a hadith which has one reporter in the chain of narrators whose identity is not well known, yet he is not accused of committing great mistakes or lying). Some other scholars have refused these hadiths, calling them unauthentic.
The hadiths considered as hasan are to the effect that it is recommendable to supplicate Almighty Allah during this night and ask Him for forgiveness. But there is no specific supplication reported to be said in this night. Hence, the supplications that some print and distribute among people in some Muslim countries as being recommendable on this night is not correct and has no basis in Shari`ah.

In his response to your question, Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, states:

There are three points to be discussed in handling the question in hand: The first point has to do with whether the 15th night of Sha`ban has a special significance; the second concentrates on whether the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) celebrated this night; the third tackles whether there are special acts to celebrate this night or special supplications to invoke Almighty Allah with.
First, there are some hadiths indicating that the 15th night of Sha`ban is significant. Some scholars classified some of these hadiths as authentic. On the other hand, some other scholars considered them as da`if (weak), yet they hold that these hadiths may be acted upon by him who seeks to get closer to Almighty Allah with additional acts of worship.
Of these hadiths is one that is reported by Imam Ahmad and At-Tabarani to the effect that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Almighty Allah descends to the lowest Heaven on the 15th night of Sha`ban and forgives such number of people that is more than the number of the hairs of the sheep of Banu Kalb (a tribe that has a great number of sheep).” But At-Tirmidhi said that Imam Al-Bukhari classified this hadith as weak.
It was also reported on this subject that `A’ishah, Mother of the Believers, said: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) offered the night vigil Prayer some night, and while he was praying, he prostrated so long that I thought he had passed away, but he lifted his head and finished the Prayer. Then he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “O `A’ishah (or O Humaira [as he would call her]), have you thought that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would not give you your right?” I said, “No, by Allah, Allah’s Messenger. But when you stayed prostrating so long, I thought you had passed away.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) then said, “Do you know what night this is?” I said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “This is the 15th night of Sha`ban. Almighty Allah turns towards His servants on the 15th of Sha`ban and forgives those who ask for His forgiveness, grants mercy to those who ask for it, and delays (punishing or bringing to account) the evil people.”
This hadith was reported by Al-Baihaqi on the authority of Al-`Ala’ ibn Al-Harith, one of the successors (At-Tabi`un), which means that this hadith is mursal (reported by a successor immediately on the authenticity of Mother of the Believers or the Prophet himself without having a Companion in between in the chain of reporters). Al-Baihaqi said this is a good mursal hadith.
Ibn Majah also reported with a weak chain of reporters on the authority of `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When the 15th night of Sha`ban comes, observe night vigil Prayer during it and fast the following day, for Almighty Allah descends after sunset on that night to the lowest Heaven and says, ‘Is there anyone who seeks My forgiveness and I forgive him (or her)? Is there anyone who is in need to ask Me and I provide for his (or her) needs. Is there anyone who is in pain and seeks My help and I help him (or her)? Is there…? Is there…?’ until the time of dawn.”
Based on these hadiths and others, it may be said that the 15th night of Sha`ban has a special significance. In fact, there is no religious text that stands against this, especially that the merit of the month of Sha`ban as a whole is established.
Usamah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with both of them) was reported to have said that he asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “I have not seen you observe additional fast during any month [other than Ramadan] as you do in Sha`ban?” He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “This is a month that people usually forget about between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which people’s deeds are presented to Allah, so I like that my deeds are presented while I am fasting.” (An-Nasa’i)
The second point to be dealt with is whether he (peace and blessings be upon him) celebrated this night. In this regard, it was established that the way he (peace and blessings be upon him) celebrated this month was by fasting during it.
As to whether the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) observed night vigil Prayer on this night, he (peace and blessings be upon him) would regularly observe night vigil Prayers during nights, and observing night vigil Prayer on this night is like doing so during the other nights.
Hence, observing night vigil Prayer on the 15th of Sha`ban may be recommended, as supported by the hadiths reported above, especially the one in which he (peace and blessings be upon him) advised his Companions to observe night vigil Prayer on it and the one reported by `A’ishah to the effect that he (peace and blessings be upon him) observed night vigil Prayer on it. Though these hadiths are weak, they are dependable in seeking to get close to Almighty Allah with additional acts of worship.
This indicates that he (peace and blessings be upon him) celebrated that night in this way individually, not in congregation with his Companions. Neither he (peace and blessings be upon him) nor his Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) would offer celebrations on this night as people do nowadays.
The celebrations seen nowadays on this night began in the era of the followers of the righteous predecessors. According to Al-Mawahib Al-Ladduniyyah, vol. 2, by Al-Qastalani, the successors in the Levant, such as Khalid ibn Mi`dan and Makhul would observe further additional acts of worship on the 15th night of Sha`ban, and, hence, people followed them in assuming special significance to this night. It was even said that those followers would follow Israelite reports concerning the merit of this night.
When this was circulated in the Muslim world, controversy aroused concerning the correctness of such a deed. The majority of scholars in Makkah and Madinah then, including `Ata’, Ibn Abi Mulkyah, the followers of Malik, and others, disapproved of such a deed, considering it an innovation in religion.
Al-Qastalani then said that there were two different views among the scholars of the Levant regarding how to celebrate this night. The first opinion says that it is recommendable that people congregate in mosques to offer night vigil Prayer as a way of celebrating it. Khalid ibn Mi`dan, Luqman ibn `Amir, and others would dress in their best clothes, wear kohl and perfume, and offer night vigil Prayer on this night. Ishaq ibn Rahawiyah was reported by Harb Al-Karamani to have approved of this opinion saying that observing night vigil Prayer in congregations in mosques on this night is not an innovation.
The second view is to the effect that it is reprehensible that people congregate in mosques especially on this night to offer night vigil Prayer and supplicate in groups, but it is not reprehensible that one offers night vigil Prayer on this night individually. This opinion was held by Al-Awza`i, the Imam of the scholars of the Levant.
Al-Qastalani also tackled in Al-Mawahib Al-Ludaniyah the opinions of Imam Ahmad on the issue. According to him, there is no specific view reported to have been held by Imam Ahmad with regard to celebrating the 15th night of Sha`ban. His opinions in this regard are concluded from the views attributed to him concerning observing night vigil Prayers on the nights of the two `Eids. He had two points of views in this regard. He was reported to have said that observing night vigil Prayers on the nights of the two `Eids is not recommendable, for neither the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) nor his Companions would do so. However, he was also reported to have considered observing night vigil Prayers on these nights as recommendable, for `Abdur-Rahman ibn Zaid ibn Al-Aswad, a successor, would do so. These views may apply also to the case of the 15th night of Sha`ban.
To sum up what Al-Qastalani said on the issue, scholars have differed concerning observing night vigil Prayer on the 15th night of Sha`ban in congregations in mosques: some are for and some are against. Hence, I see that since the issue is controversial, one may follow one of these opinions without showing extreme opposition against the other view.
However, some contemporary scholars see that the reason for celebrating the 15th night of Sha`ban is mainly to commemorate the change of the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah, not any other reason. But the date of this change is not certain to be Sha`ban 15; the exact date of this event is also controversial among scholars. Anyway, commemorating events also has the legal rulings pertaining to it. I see that there is nothing wrong in commemorating this special event so long as there is nothing wrong committed in this regard and it is done for Almighty Allah’s sake.
The third point to be discussed here has to do with whether there are special supplications to be offered on this night and whether it is lawful to observe the night vigil Prayer then with the intention of concentrating on asking Almighty Allah to prolong one’s life and enrich one.
Offering optional Prayer with the intention of doing so as a means of getting closer to Almighty Allah is wholeheartedly recommendable. Furthermore, it is an act of sunnah to offer supererogatory Prayers in the time between Maghrib and `Isha’ Prayers and after the `Isha’ Prayer. But offering an optional Prayer so that Almighty Allah may prolong one’s life and enrich one has no basis in Shari`ah.
An-Nawawi said in his book Al-Majmu`: Ar-Ragha’ib Prayer, i.e., a 12-rak`ah Prayer between Maghrib and `Isha’ Prayers said to be recommendable in the first Friday of Rajab, and the 100-rak`ah Prayer said to be recommendable on the 15th night of Sha`ban are innovations in religion. Their being mentioned in eminent books like Qut Al-Qulubby Abu Talib Al-Makki and Ihya’ `Ulum Ad-Din by Imam Al-Ghazali should not make people believe that they are really recommendable acts of sunnah. Besides, the hadith mentioning these Prayers is not an authentic one, and the eminent scholars who thought that these Prayers are recommendable are wrong in their judgment in this respect.
Moreover, Sheikh Abu Muhammad Abdur-Rahman ibn Isma`il Al-Maqdisi wrote a great book specially to refute these two hadiths (Al-Azhar Magazine, vol. 2, p. 515).
Concerning offering special supplications on this night, there is also no authentic hadith reported in this respect. What is reported in this regard is `A’ishah’s saying: “I heard him—the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)—saying: ‘O Allah! I seek refuge in Your pardon against Your punishment, I seek refuge in Your pleasure against Your displeasure, and I seek refuge in You against You (Your wrath). Whatever great praises I attribute to You, they cannot stand comparison with the praises You, Almighty, has attributed to Yourself’” (Al-Bayhaqi on the authority of Al-`Ala’ ibn Al-Harith).
The supplication circulated nowadays as recommendable to be offered on this night is: “O Allah, Who has favors unto His servants and no one is to have favor unto Him! O Allah, the Owner of majesty and honor. O Allah, the Owner of wealth and enrichment. There is no god but You, the Supporter of the refugees, the Helper of those who appeal for help, and Granter of security for panic-stricken. O Allah, if You had destined in the Preserved Tablet that I be unhappy, or deprived, or expelled, or poor, I beg Your Pardon, O Allah, to remove with Your grace my unhappiness or deprivation, or expulsion, or poverty.”
There are some other words that have been reported to be included in this supplication. These are “O my Lord! By Your greatest turning towards Your servants on the 15th night of Sha`ban, in which every wise command is decided and made clear, grant me such-and-such ...” This addition is made by Sheikh Ma’ Al-`Aynayn Ash-Shanqiti in his book Na`t Al-Bedayat.
This supplication was not reported to have been said by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It was, rather, reported to have been said by `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (may Allah be pleased with both of them). `Umar was one of the rightly–guided caliphs whose tradition the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Muslims to hold fast to. Besides, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Muslims in another hadith to follow in the footsteps of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Bakr As-Siddiq. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also ordered Muslims to follow the guidance of his Companions in general.
But we are not certain that this supplication was really said by `Umar and Ibn Mas`ud and that it was received with no opposition on part of the other Companions. We are also not certain of the authenticity of what Ibn `Umar and Ibn Mas`ud were reported to have said about the significance of this supplication, namely, “To any servant who offered this supplication Allah granted what he wanted.” (Ibn Abi Shaybah and Ibn Abi Ad-Dunyah)
Anyway, whatever supplication one offers, it should not contradict the beliefs and rulings we are ordered to abide by.
There are two points in this supplication discussed by scholars in detail. The first is regarding one’s asking Almighty Allah to remove one’s bad fortunes from the Preserved Tablet (a record that contains Almighty Allah’s established knowledge about His creation).
Explaining this part of the supplication, scholars said that what is written in the Preserved Tablet is what Almighty Allah has destined for His servants. This includes what is conditional on a certain supplication a servant offers or an act he accomplishes, and includes also what is not conditional, i.e., the decided-upon destinies. Hence, supplications and good deeds benefit one as far as the conditional destinies are concerned, while their effectiveness with regard to the unconditional destinies is manifested only in lessening the burden one may bear in this respect, as said in the supplication “O Allah! I do not ask You to change what You have already destined for me, but I beseech You to lessen its burden on me.” It was also reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Supplications have positive effects on what has already taken place and what has not yet.”
The Companions asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “For what should we work now, for that which has already been destined or that which is yet to come?” He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “For that which has already been destined.” The Companions said, “Why should we work then?” He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Carry on doing (good) deeds, for everybody will find it easy to do such deeds as will lead him to his destined place for which he has been created.”
In another version of this hadith, the Companions asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “Shall we not depend upon what has been written for us and give up deeds?” He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “He who is destined to be among the happy (in the Hereafter) will find it easy to do the deeds characteristic of such people, while he who is destined to be among the miserable ones will find it easy to do the deeds characteristic of such people. So carry on doing (good) deeds, for everybody will find it easy to do such deeds as will lead him to his destined place for which he has been created.” Then he (peace and blessings be upon him) recited Almighty Allah’s words: (As for him who giveth and is dutiful (toward Allah) and believeth in goodness, surely We will ease his way unto the state of ease. But as for him who hoardeth and deemeth himself independent,‏ and disbelieveth in goodness, surely We will ease his way unto adversity. His riches will not save him when he perisheth) (Al-Layl 92: 5-10).
However, according to Al-Alusi and Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, some scholars did not approve of this explanation of the possibility of removing something from the Preserved Tablet. They say that this may be done in the records that angels write concerning people’s deeds, not in the Preserved Tablet.
The second point discussed by scholars with regard to this supplication is concerning saying that the 15th night of Sha`ban is the night on which every wise command is decided and made clear, quoting this from a Qur’anic verse. This is not right. According to `Ikrimah, he who says so cannot be right at any rate, for the verse referred to here states clearly that the Qur’an was revealed in this night. It is established that the Qur’an was revealed in the Night of Qadr and this night is in the month of Ramadan, not Sha`ban.
There is also a da`if hadith to the effect that the time of death prescribed for one may be postponed from Sha`ban to another Sha`ban to the extent that one might marry and have a child, while his name had been among the dead in the Preserved Tablet (Al-Mawahib Al-Laduaniyyah, vol. 2, p. 260). Though this hadith is da`if, some scholars tried to reconcile between its meaning and the other religious texts that seem to contradict it, saying that what takes place in Sha`ban is copying what is in the Preserved Tablet into the records that angels write, [and therein may occur the change].
But I believe that there is no need for one to resort to such controversial supplications, as there are many other supplications from the Qur’an and the authentic hadiths that one may offer sincerely in one’s prayers.


La ilaha illallah Muhammadur rasulullah

Why am I Muslim? I first pondered over this question at the age of fifteen. Before that I rattled off the basic 'I'm Muslim because I believe in....' A Christian friend and I were speaking about religion, when she threw this at me. "You're Muslim because your parents are Muslim." I disagreed with her, but reflected deeply when I got home. Why was I a Muslim? Was I just following blindly without knowing why I believed as I did? Why did I believe Islam was the perfect religion, the true way of life?

Growing up, I thought it was almost heretical to ask questions. This was due to conditioning by my teachers and elders.Yet it's only when we know the wisdom behind the reasoning that we can understand and truly submit to the teachings of Islam in totality. To ask is to grow in knowledge.

There was never a doubt in my mind about my deen, I just needed to affirm my choice to be Muslim. Which I did. I'm not going to expand on my journey of introspection and understanding here though.

Two weeks ago I attended a da'wah course which had a huge impact on me. I've mentioned in a previous post 'If I were ever to fall for a non-Muslim guy, I'd walk away because it would be arrogant of me to ask him to convert, and also I wouldn't want a guy converting because of me, but because he truly wants to be Muslim'
Now I ask myself 'How is this being arrogant?' Do I not believe that Islam is sublime in its perfection?

Surah An Nisaa Verse 16:125 says "Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord kows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided."

What is the purpose of life? As a Muslim, it is to worship Allah. And it is every Muslim's duty to call people to Islam. Yet many feel they do not possess the skills to give da'wah, and that they are not strong enough in Iman. However, all one needs is belief in the five pillars of Islam, and the 6 pillars of Iman. Allah gives hidaayat (guidance) but there are two kinds. Hidaayat ul irshaad: to direct someone to the truth. This is the duty of Muslims. Hidaayat ul tawfiq: when Allah opens a person's heart to Islam.We can do da'wah in so many ways, be it directly or non-directly.

When people ask us questions about Islam, let's not be afraid to invite them to accept Islam. I think of my friends who've converted and their stories, and how some say they probably wouldn't have come to Islam if not for Muslims who invited them. One of the American ladies at halaqah once told us of an old woman who lived next to a young Muslim couple for a good few years. One day she angrily banged at their door, and when the husband opened, she asked 'Why didn't you tell me you're Muslim?' ' He was flustered, (being post 9/11) and replied 'Well I didn't think it was important' The old woman told him 'Why did you not want to share the truth with me? I only found out about Islam today, but today I am Muslim.' There are so many stories to relate. But this one plays on my mind...

Another story is the one the teacher of the course told. He was giving da'wah at a march in Washington by handing out pamphlets. "I passed by a big-built man wearing a sleeveless black shirt with black leather trousers, tattoos running from his neck to the breadth of his arms, wearing white contact lenses. And I thought he won't be interested in Islam. A few minutes later my friend called me. He had just given da'wah to that man who immediately took shahaadah. The man told us, "This morning I woke up wanting to search for the truth." Subhanallah!

When giving da'wah to Muslims (or non-Muslims) it's important not to use fear to admonish the people. It is related in Bukhari, 'Make things easy and do not make things difficult, give the good news and do not turn people away.'
Unfortunately, we are consantly preached to and from childhood taught to fear Allah, rather than to love Allah. 'Don't do that-you'll get ghunaa (sin). Make tawba tawba-and we'd tap one cheek then the other with our forefinger as we said 'tawba tawba astaghfirullah' How about we teach children not to commit wrong out of love for Allah?

I think MJ mentioned this after the ILM concert last year where Dawud Wharnsby performed and spoke so refreshingly on reforming Muslim youth. 'So what if he has an earring, or she doesn't wear hijab, or their hair is purple. Don't frown at them when they come to the masjid. Be glad they're there. Speak nicely to them and they'll respect you and will practice the deen' (Baba Ali has a great video 'Haraam'. Why do some people insist on making everything haraam thus turning people away from the practice of Islam)

The best da'wah I ever received was from my Portuguese convert friend Sonia. We returned home from Alexandria just before 11pm. It had been a long day as we left Cairo at 7am. I was tired & thought I'd pray qadhaa of Esha the next day. Sonia said smilingly 'But Beebs, it will only take a few minutes to make wudhu & about ten minutes to pray salaah. We'll pray together in jama'ah.You'll feel so much better, why put it off?' I complied, and Alhamdulillah have never felt lazy to pray salaah after that, or intentionally made salaah qadhaa (with the exception of Fajr as per post below which isn't intentional)

So from Dawud Wharnsby's nasheed 'Colours of Islam'
'Your paint will be Qur'an
Your brush will be Iman
So fill the world with colour
Every colour of islam'

Daughter of Holocaust Survivor on Gaza

The wonderful Sara Roy on the Gaza bloodbath

Israel's 'victories' in Gaza come at a steep price

January 02, 2009 Edition | csmonitor.com
By Sara Roy

The Jewish ethical tradition means embracing Palestinians, too.

Cambridge, Mass. - I hear the voices of my friends in Gaza as clearly as if we were still on the phone; their agony echoes inside me. They weep and moan over the death of their children, some, little girls like mine, taken, their bodies burned and destroyed so senselessly.

One Palestinian friend asked me, "Why did Israel attack when the children were leaving school and the women were in the markets?" There are reports that some parents cannot find their dead children and are desperately roaming overflowing hospitals.

As Jews celebrated the last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating our resurgence as a people, I asked myself: How am I to celebrate my Jewishness while Palestinians are being killed?

The religious scholar Marc Ellis challenges us further by asking whether the Jewish covenant with God is present or absent in the face of Jewish oppression of Palestinians? Is the Jewish ethical tradition still available to us? Is the promise of holiness � so central to our existence � now beyond our ability to reclaim?

The lucky ones in Gaza are locked in their homes living lives that have long been suspended � hungry, thirsty, and without light but their children are alive.

Since Nov. 4, when Israel effectively broke the truce with Hamas by attacking Gaza on a scale then unprecedented � a fact now buried with Gaza's dead � the violence has escalated as Hamas responded by sending hundreds of rockets into Israel to kill Israeli civilians. It is reported that Israel's strategy is to hit Hamas military targets, but explain that difference to my Palestinian friends who must bury their children.

On Nov. 5, Israel sealed all crossing points into Gaza, vastly reducing and at times denying food supplies, medicines, fuel, cooking gas, and parts for water and sanitation systems. A colleague of mine in Jerusalem said, "this siege is in a league of its own. The Israelis have not done something like this before."

During November, an average of 4.6 trucks of food per day entered Gaza from Israel compared with an average of 123 trucks per day in October. Spare parts for the repair and maintenance of water-related equipment have been denied entry for over a year. The World Health Organization just reported that half of Gaza's ambulances are now out of order.

According to the Associated Press, the three-day death toll rose to at least 370 by Tuesday morning, with some 1,400 wounded. The UN said at least 62 of the dead were civilians. A Palestinian health official said that at least 22 children under age 16 were killed and more than 235 children have been wounded.

In nearly 25 years of involvement with Gaza and Palestinians, I have not had to confront the horrific image of burned children � until today.

Yet for Palestinians it is more than an image, it is a reality, and because of that I fear something profound has changed that will not easily be undone. For how, in the context of Gaza today, does one speak of reconciliation as a path to liberation, of sympathy as a source of understanding? Where does one find or even begin to create a common field of human undertaking (to borrow from the late, acclaimed Palestinian scholar, Edward Said) so essential to coexistence?

It is one thing to take an individual's land, his home, his livelihood, to denigrate his claims, or ignore his emotions. It is another to destroy his child. What happens to a society where renewal is denied and all possibility has ended?

And what will happen to Jews as a people whether we live in Israel or not? Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone.

Our rejection of "the other" will undo us. We must incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history, because they are a part of that history. We must question our own narrative and the one we have given others, rather than continue to cherish beliefs and sentiments that betray the Jewish ethical tradition.

Jewish intellectuals oppose racism, repression, and injustice almost everywhere in the world and yet it is still unacceptable � indeed, for some, it's an act of heresy � to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor. This double standard must end.

Israel's victories are pyrrhic and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers. Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust?

As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane? How do we move beyond fear to envision something different, even if uncertain?

The answers will determine who we are and what, in the end, we become.

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, and the author, most recently, of "Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shaadi dreams of life in Europe

wake up to grey skies and a cold, rainy day on my second day in Lebanon. Sheikh Ghaleb Chehade, the director of the American-based Zakat Foundation in Lebanon, and his wife are taking me to Sidon, where the largest Palestinian refugee camp, `Ein Al-`Ein Al-Helwahh, is based. The drive from Beirut to Sidon is flanked by the ocean on one's right. At one point, the ocean meets the river,and the blue against brown is a mesmerizing sight. The only sign of destruction I see along the way is an overhead bridge which was bombed. It now simply hangs.
Sidon is a charming little town, dominated by an old Roman citadel. The fishermen's wharf is bustling and seaside restaurants are well-patronized. Just two roads up from this evocative scene, we reach a far more emotion-provoking habitat. Well-guarded checkpoints line the entrance. The road inside is covered with large potholes and ditches. Rubbish bins overflow with rotting garbage. Children run about, absorbed in their childhood games.

The tiny room-like houses have corrugated iron roofs. Corrugated iron forms walls between homes. We park the car on a main street. Sheikh Ghaleb says it's better for me to place my laptop in the car trunk, and not leave it on the backseat of the car. We first visit the home of Sajida, a woman who has lived here for 59 years.

We then make our way, passing through narrow alleys, to the home of Shaadi, a 26-year-old man. As we pass other homes in the alley, rain drips noticeably from broken roofs into homes. Shaadi's sister, Fatima, greets us at the entrance of their home, which has a flimsy door over which a curtain hangs. We step into a dark, cement-floored hall which is the kitchen. Four doors lead off from here to two bedrooms, one bathroom, and the lounge. Sheikh Ghaleb enters a room and we follow. Shaadi's mother is sick and is in bed. The rickety bed is the only piece of furniture in the room.

Fatima takes us into the lounge, which is proudly shown. A simple lounge suite displays itself. Pictures are pasted on the walls, and a cabinet holds mementoes. When Shaadi walks into this simply furnished sitting room, there is a palpable change of atmosphere. Shaadi exudes dignity — a dignity of pure honor. Fatima's demeanor changes too. She loosens her stiff expression, Shaadi's natural, warm smile being contagious. With his large frame, he could easily be threatening, but his physique makes one feel protected. He relaxes into a comfortable position, talking candidly about his life.

"I was born here. This is my home, my life", he remarks. `Ein Al-Helwah came into being over fifty years ago, in 1947, when an agreement was made between the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese government. It now houses over 100,000 people within the small space of 40,000 m.

The only life Shaadi has ever known has been fraught with tension and pain. Poverty is not an idealistic issue he'd like to combat. He lives in poverty and with a real sense of misplaced identity. Born in Lebanon, he is a Palestinian. Yet he is neither a Lebanese nor a Palestinian citizen. `Ein Al-Helwah is considered a temporary home by the authorities. But it is a permanent home for Shaadi. "The Palestinian Authority, at the time of the camp's conception, together with the Lebanese government, agreed that the Palestinian refugees should not be allowed to live in good homes and have good jobs, or they wouldn't return to Palestine," he explains. In his twenty six years, Shaadi has received a sub-standard education in the UN camp school, he has not been allowed to get a university education, he can work only in a job demanding not much skills, and he has to pass through a checkpoint each time he leaves or enters the camp. In this land in which he was born without choice, he lives an ugly, surreal existence. "Qadr Allah" [God's fate] is the simple, but potent response to how he feels about his life here.

The conversations Shaadi has with his friends are typical of any group of young male talks: politics, cars, life, work, and sports — with a distinct exception. Girls rarely feature in their discussions. At 26, Shaadi is neither married nor engaged. The same goes for many of his friends. In a society where most are married by 25, Shaadi and his friends are considered anomalies. "My parents are pressuring me to get married," he comments. "But I don't want to because I cannot give my wife the life I want her to have." The meager $150 salary he earns as a mechanic's apprentice goes to supporting his family. They are a family of five, and receive only $250 a month from the government. As for his friends who are married, the pressures they face are too much for Shaadi to risk in terms of the lifelong commitment. "I see what they experience. They are weakened by the humiliations life throws at them, and in trying to rise above these trials, in trying to be strong before their wives, their manhood is slowly eroded," he says frankly.

Shaadi has many hopes which are universal, of which the most important is to live a comfortable life in peace and freedom. But for now, he has an overwhelming dream. He dreams of living in Europe, either Germany or Belgium. He is not bitter about the life he leads here, but he yearns for a better existence. "I know that in Europe I can live a life of freedom and dignity," he enthuses. He's certain of this, and has no qualms about being an Arab in Europe, because he has a brother in Germany and a friend in Belgium. "They were fortunate to leave this behind, and are now living like human beings," he says. Shaadi wants to join his friend in Belgium, which he believes to be better than Germany. "I will not be abandoning my family. Instead, my leaving will help them as I will be able to send more money to support them."

Shaadi's eyes shine with spirit as he talks about Europe. As he talks, he has escaped to the world he dreams of. Shaadi talks of a life with dignity and freedom. What is clear to me, though, is that no matter where he may live, he will always have dignity.

If you would like to help Shaadi achieve his dream of going to Europe, or will be able to provide him with a job, please contact the writer.

Chilling at the University of South Lebanon

On the day before I leave Lebanon, I make a trip to the South. I have with me Tarek, a Lebanese man who works as a translator and fixer for journalists. He is my guide. Also with me is David, an Irish guy who is working on a unique documentary on the Middle East, and Steve, an Australian tourist.
We leave early, without eating. When we reach Tyre, we stop to have the most delicious fuul I have ever tasted. With our stomachs full, we proceed.

South Lebanon is a series of winding roads slicing gently through rocky mountainous terrain. Tarek takes shorter routes on gravel roads; we reach a dead end at one stage and have to make a tricky turn at the top of a mountain. The view is beautiful, and the high location is a perfect vantage point. Villages merge into one another, distinguished only by a change of name. We make our way to the home of Hassan, a boy of 13 who was injured by a cluster bomb. However, he is at the hospital so we continue to the nearby university.

The University of Lebanon (South) is located in serene surroundings. Its campus is made up of just a few buildings. Su`aad, a 19-year-old woman, dressed fashionably in jeans and a trendy shirt, walks out of the university grounds as we enter. She agrees to be interviewed and leads me to the cafeteria where she gathers a group of her peers. Students crowd the corridors, with clouds of smoke billowing up from the many cigarettes the young men are smoking. In the cafeteria, the obligatory shisha pipe takes pride of place at the table. It is like any ordinary university cafeteria, except for one difference: women and men choose to sit separately. For one to feel the pulse of any country or place, all one has to do is visit the local university. It vibrates with an energy unique to youth.

Mona and Hassan are both 20 years old. Mona is a sweet-looking woman with a husky voice that makes her sound far older than her years. Hassan has a tiny build – rare for a Lebanese male. His thin voice is almost squeaky, but his eager personality is contagious. Mahmood is 21 but appears older.4 He is nattily dressed in black tailored trousers, a lightweight striped sweater, and sharp black shoes. A striking ring completes his polished look. Rafah also appears to be older than her 18 years. With her spectacles and simple attire, she comes across as the stereotypical "brainy woman".

We make our way to an empty lecture room. Rafah and Hassan are studying pharmacy. The others are studying business science. I ask about the main issue affecting Lebanese youth and their answer is unanimous: unemployment. Newly qualified graduates can expect a starting salary of US$600; just US$150 more than the salary earned by an unskilled worker who receives benefits. Lebanon is a small country with a population of just four million people. It cannot provide enough jobs for graduates, and the government considers this the responsibility of the private sector.

Most Lebanese students apply for jobs both outside the country as well as within, and accept whichever they get first. The five students I spoke to say they don't want to leave Lebanon. I ask how they see themselves contributing to the economy of the country. They appear to be mystifiedWith unemployment a real threat, they cannot see themselves contributing without jobs. Rafah has an entrepreneur's mind. "It's up to us to open our own businesses so we can provide jobs both for ourselves and for others. If we don't, the government is not going to do anything," she says.

Hassan echoes her thoughts. "In the South, there are no big companies for us to find work in. If we want good jobs, we have to move to Beirut or overseas. That's why we should open our own businesses."

Beirut is the big, bad city. The mindsets of random youth I spoke to there differ vastly from those in the South, which in turn is completely different in itself because people there are Shiite. They differ, not in terms of ideology, but rather in regard to their values and morals.

The Western media has long been blamed for corrupting Arab and Eastern societies with the depraved value system it packages and sells, wrapped in glamour. In the South of Lebanon, a Hizbullah stronghold, these youth are not seduced by the false glitter of Western lifestyles. "In Beirut, you'll find most Muslim girls are not in hijab. They want to copy what they see on television, in terms of dress and behavior. But they don't realize it's an empty lifestyle," Mona explains. Su`aad, the only one of the three women not wearing hijab, adds: "And those who do wear the headscarf, dress inappropriately."

Mahmood enters the discussion. "What we should take, and will take, from the West is their knowledge of technology and science. The Arab and Muslim world should stop relying on the West for this. But we don't want to follow their lifestyle. Our lifestyle is the Islamic one. We are proud to follow this way of life," he says.

The conversation turns to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. A heated discussion ensues, and I'm unable to keep up as they switch from English to Arabic. I wait for Tarek to translate, and the answer I receive is disappointing. "This was the agreement made between the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese government when the camps were set up. There is nothing we can do." This is the sum answer of their discussion. I ask them if they truly believe they can do nothing, and sadly, they do.

Their identity is proudly Lebanese and they hope the world will recognize the true Lebanese identity, which is one of peace and love.

hidden wounds

A balmy breeze caresses our faces as we drive into the driveway of the Hamad family. Mrs Hamad is in her pyjamas, sweeping the verandah. A cigarette hangs from her mouth. Her son, Hussain was hurt by a cluster bomb- a legacy of the brutal Israeli war on Lebanon. He is at the hospital, and so we leave, to return later. On our return, Mrs Hamad is dressed, but the cigarette remains. Hussain is not yet back, but is expected shortly. We make ourselves comfortable on the verandah, enjoying the late afternoon sun on our faces. With the mountains encompassing us, we are enconsced in a valley in the South.

Hussain arrives with his father and sister. His elder brother and another sister join us, and we settle into a relaxed visiting atmosphere. Hassan is a shy thirteen year old boy with a cute face. His brother, Mohammed is two years older but looks younger. A few weeks before, Hassan took an ordinary foray into the family garden, only for his life to be irrevocably changed. He reached for an orange from a branch, but instead got the taste of a cluster bomb.

Hussain is reluctant to talk, but his brother coaxes him with a gentle smile. "I was alone at home when it happened", he says. "At first I didn't realize what had happened, then I felt pain. My stomach burst open, and my hand felt like it was going to fall off", he explains simply. Hussain casually supported his left arm and ruptured abdomen and rushed to the top of his driveway, where he called for his neighbour, who took him to the hospital.

The garden is enticing, with it's fruit trees and delightful view. It’s a place where one should feel secure But none of the children will now enter into it, although it has been thoroughly checked and found to be free of any other bombs. The whole area has been searched- no other cluster bombs fell in this region. Hussain's experience was a once-off.

It’s not just his intrinsic need for safety that’s been stolen-he’s been robbed of a part of his personality. A bubbly, outgoing boy before the incident, he is now withdrawn and quiet. The physical wounds will fade to scars, but the emotional ramifications will forever haunt him. “I feel like less of a person. I feel ugly”, he whimpers. Mrs Hamad looks over wistfully at her son. “Before this happened, he was so loving and easygoing”, she relates. “But now, he is so aggressive, and he doesn’t want to be held.” She impatiently brushes away tears from her eyes, as her husband reaches out to comfort her. The daughters are silent. Hussain lowers his head.

But every child, every person has been affected by this war. Mr Hamad says, “It is not just Hussain. I speak to my friends and they too complain their sons have become aggressive and emotionally unstable.”(Stats of children affected) It’s not just the parents of the buried children who have lost their kids, but all parents in this war where one hundred percent of children were affected.

I ask Hussain if he feels sympathy for an Israeli child who has been injured by a Cartouche rocket, and he is flabbergasted. "Of course!" exclaims Mohammed, unable to stay silent. "Pain is pain- we don't want others to suffer just because we suffer."

Mrs Hamad echoes this sentiment, “My heart cries out for an Israeli mother who has lost a child, or has an injured one. I know what she’s going through.”

Although young, the boys have strong political views. “Hizbullah is our party- if it weren’t for them, Israel would have destroyed Lebanon. The Lebanese government is doing a good job, but there is corruption and they are a weak international force.” They believe that Israel will strike again, and that they will see another war on their beloved homeland in their time. They don’t want another war, longing desperately for peace, but reality tells them war is inevitable.

“Dialogue can only prevent conflict, if both parties are willing to respect the rules of dialogue and engage in fair play”, comments the astute Mohammed. “If dialogue does not produce results, as in this case with Israel which is just a big bully, and knows America will defend it, then war is essential.”

“Another war will also occur unless Israel returns Sheb’aa farms”, adds Mr Hamad. I ask the boys if they will join Hizbullah, and fight for their country if war breaks out in later years. Mohammed is keen to join Hizbullah right away, but has to wait until he turns eighteen. Hussain is reluctant, but says it is his duty and he will do so. Mr Hamad looks extremely worried and says if there is threat of war again, he would pack up and leave the land to which he and his family were born. “I care more for my family’s protection”, he says, defending his position. “My sons are braver than my husband”, chuckles Mrs Hamad and we all laugh with her. The joke is appreciated by Mr Hamad who laughs uproariously. “I want to be a martyr”, quietly intones Muhammad. Silence descends. After a moment of reflection, Mr Hamad replies with brevity, “If my sons want to fight in jihad, then I will not stop them. I am proud of Muhammad.”
The daughters have been a silent witness thus far. The elder girl, Fatima, is at university and wants to be a television journalist. But she’s worried her hijab might prevent her from getting a job in television media. The younger sister, Ruwaida, has just completed school. She does not wear hijab, and is interested in discussing pop music, Hollywood stars and Western fashion with myself and my two companions- David from Ireland and Steve from Australia.

I ask them if they would fight if they have to. Fatima nods her affirmation, Ruwaida replies in the negative. Mr Hamad glances with shock at Fatima, but his look is laced with pride.

The interview is over, but our visit is not. We laugh and chat, and are served everything from the ubiquitious coffee, to fruit and sweets and chocolate. They urge us to remain for dinner, but with the sun preparing to rise on the other side of the Equator, we have to bid them farewell to drive to a deeper valley to meet with a Hizbullah fighter.

Coffee with Hizbullah

The mountainous terrain is not friendly to those who are not familiar to its roads. But the view it presents one with is a gift of sheer magnificence as though to make up for its hostile welcome. The sun is fading into the shadows as our car zooms its way up the rocky paths, zipping down winding roads, dizzying one into a breathless sense of directionless vertigo.

Travelling on this path, it is obvious why Israel is so desperate to maintain control of Shebaa farms (altitude ranges from 150m to 1880m above sea level and overlooks Israeli towns and settlements) and gain incursion into the South of Lebanon. With its vantage viewpoint over Israeli settlements, this is an area Israel does not just want, but strategically needs. Recently, in the July/Aug war on Lebanon, it made an attempt to capture this land, dropping bomb after bomb, which international human rights groups declared to be a violation of International Law. However, the modern weaponry of Israel against the outdated rockets of Hizbullah was not enough. The will of a people proved to be far stronger.

Hizbullah epitomizes this will. A resistance movement labeled by America and other countries as a terrorist organization, it refuses to disarm, proclaiming its legal right to resistance. The members of Hizbullah will not sacrifice their dignity and freedom at the bloodied hands of Israel.

As the moon rises in a ball of orange brilliance, it symbolizes the future of Hizbullah. With the icy country air inching its way into my bones, I shiver with anticipation. I am on my way to meet with a key figure in the Hizbullah leadership. The meeting was first scheduled for late afternoon. Then we received a call saying an interview would not be possible that day. My contact, however, is persistent, and eventually it is approved.

So in the stillness of night with only the lucid stars witness to our journey we arrived at the home of Hassan* and his wife Fatima*. I am told to wait in the car while my press card and passport are taken in for verification. During the war, a journalist alleged to be American, and was granted a high-profile interview. It turned out he was Israeli. After twenty minutes of waiting, I am called in.

I walk into a well-furnished lounge decorated in burnt orange and bronze. The rich colors, plush armchairs and soft cushions are warm and welcoming, but the house itself is cold. The floors are bare ceramic tiles, but my hosts are oblivious to the chill. A well-built man in his late twenties, Hassan is dressed casually in track pants and a sweatshirt, which suggest strong muscles underneath. Fatima is dressed in a fully encompassing black abaya (loose fitting cloak), Iranian style. Her headscarf is drawn to her chin, and she seems frail underneath. Hassan and my contact, Tarek, then engage in conversation, leaving myself and my other two companions, David from Ireland and Steve from Australia to chat amongst ourselves. Fatima offers us coffee, and the thick strong liquid, my third for the day, swims a viscous stream down my throat. But her lemon and poppy seed cake is simply divine. A quiet Fatima sits next to me smiling, but not talking. It is only when Tarek prompts me, that Fatima and I begin talking. Thankfully, she understands my amateurish Arabic, and we get along splendidly. Fatima, like other women of the South possesses a strength which her city counterparts lack. “If I had to fight for my religion and for my country, I would do so without hesitation”, she remarks strongly. I ask her what role the women played in the war. She replies that they played a supporting role, encouraging the men, and helping those who had lost loved ones and possessions. But they did not actively participate.

At this point, Hassan joins in our conversation. He joined Hizbullah from an early age. His keen acumen and wise understanding enabled him to rise fast within the leadership ranks. Hassan feels that while women are welcome to fight, this is not necessary as there are enough men available to do so. “We will not be weak and make our women fight our wars”, he exclaims. When that happens, it will be the biggest disgrace to Lebanese men.” “However”, he adds, “we will never prevent women from fighting if they so wish.”

The discussion deepens, but due to the presence of David and Steve, Hassan is reluctant to go into detail. And my grasp of Arabic can only take me so far. Tarek translates the less sensitive questions, but warns that not all my questions will be answered. Hassan is adamnant that Hizbullah will never disarm. “If we were to give up our weapons, Israel knows it will be able to invade Lebanon at any time. The Lebanese government is weak- the army even weaker”, he says. He is secure in his belief that Hizbullah is strong because they derive strength from their belief in Allah.

During the war, there were theories that Syria and Iran would join forces with Hizbullah and get involved too. This did not happen. With frustration growing on the situation in Palestine, many wonder why the Arab League does nothing, and look to Syria and Iran as being the only countries, together with Hizbullah, with the resilience to fight Israel. Hassan laughs when this scenario is presented, and remarks, “All we did was defend ourselves against Israel. This was our right and our duty.” He then asserts, “Why does the world expect this of us, together with Syria and Iran? This is impossible. The only way the Palestine conflict can be resolved is if the Arab League makes a concerted effort to do something. But they won’t.” It is argued that there were some Muslims who did not support Hizbullah in the July/August 2006 war simply because they are Shi’ites. Likewise, it is said that Hizbullah, and their Shia Syrian and Iranian comrades won’t fight for Palestinians because they are Sunni. Hassan, Fatima and Tarek are shocked at this hypothesis. “We are all Muslim!”, cries Fatima. “What does it matter if one is Shia or Sunni-we are all brothers and sisters in Islam!” exclaims Tarek.

Hassan’s tone is calm, “This is what the enemies of Islam, specifically the Israeli and American governments, are trying to achieve. They are sowing seeds of distrust between Muslims. Here in Lebanon, there is no difference between Shia and Sunni. We live together in peace. If we believe the lies of our enemies, then we have lost.”

According to him, the time has come for the Lebanese leadership to change. The war garnered support for Hizbullah from previous groups which were once openly hostile toward it. But Hizbullah does not want to be part of a corrupt government. They want a leadership which is honest, and based on Islamic values. This is something even some of its supporters can’t accept- Shariah law.

Hassan signals to Tarek that the interview is over, but I have one last question. What does it take to be a fighter for Hizbullah? “Firm belief and faith in Allah and his Prophet (may peace be upon him), strong morals, a clean heart and mind, knowledge that you are fighting not for personal glory, but for your religion, and to uphold the true principles of Jihad”, replies Hassan with quiet conviction.