Rajiv Shah for President of the United States

Global Security and Prosperity Through Cultural and Economic Exchange

BookCoverPreview (3)Shah’s career and his life’s work is focused on creating greater security and prosperity for America, our friends, and our allies. He has done it as administrator of USAID by partnering with governments and the private sector. As president he will use America’s significant diplomatic, military and development resources to continue this work.

At Georgetown on April 6, 2015, Shah made the following points (read or watch):

Visit the Rajiv Shah blog

Continue reading Rajiv Shah for President of the United States

Is the Quran literary fiction, non-fiction, both, or neither? 3:7

“It is He who sent down to you the Book. In it are verses of obvious wisdom. These verses are the mother of the Book. Still there are other verses containing esoteric wisdom. Those in whose hearts is deviation, they only follow the esoteric verses, seeking disharmony and seeking its hidden meaning. But none has the understanding of their interpretations except God and those well-grounded in the knowledge. They say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from the presence of our Guardian Evolver.” But none will remember this, except the possessors of insight and a penetrating intellect.” 3:7

Is the Quran literary fiction revealed by God, non-fiction revealed by God, both literary fiction and non-fiction revealed by God, neither, or do you not know?

I expect that most Muslims would answer that the Quran is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but instead it is scripture. However, by attempting to elevate the Quran by saying that it falls into neither group, instead of saying that it has elements of both, we take away its value as non-fiction– a work whose creator, in good faith, assumes responsibility for the truth or accuracy of the events, people, and/or information presented. And we take away its value as fiction– a work that offers deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.

I suspect that most non-Muslims would either answer that the Quran is scripture or it is fiction. These people either choose not to read it, read it for entertainment, or read it like literary fiction– to better understand the human condition. 

Continue reading Is the Quran literary fiction, non-fiction, both, or neither? 3:7

Strike at the necks of unbelievers? Quran 47:4

Therefore, when you meet the unbelievers in war, strike at their necks, then when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly. Afterwards is the time for either generosity or ransom, but not until the war lays down its burdens, but if it had been God’s will, He could certainly have taken retribution from them Himself. But He wills to challenge you with others, but those who are slain in the way of God, He will never let their deeds be lost. (Quran 47:4)

After reading verse 47:4 in context we see that it is not one of those verses followed up with another verse specifying when it should or should not be applied. And there is no reason to think that this verse can no longer be applied because of modern pluralistic societies or the use modern weapons. There are still plenty of “unbelievers” to pick a fight with, and all the best modern military forces are still trained in hand to hand combat with knives, so striking the neck can result in a quicker death which is ultimately better for both soldiers.

And another way to apply verse 47:4 literally, is to proactively start wars with those who do not believe like you and to behead them, right?

Wrong? Ok, good. So we all agree that just because a verse of Quran or a passage in Hadith can be applied literally does not mean that it should be applied literally.

Those who listen to the word, and adhere to the best of it. Those are the ones who God has guided, and those are the ones endowed with understanding. (Quran 39:18)

The desert Arabs say, ‘We believe.’ Say, ‘You have no faith, just say we have become muslim, because faith has not yet entered your hearts, but if you actually follow Allah and His messenger, He will not deprive you of any of your deeds, for God is Oft-Forgiving, Mercifully Redeeming.” (Quran 49:14)

(verify translations here)

We didn’t find the Night of Power, it found us. 2:185, 97:1-5

“Ramadan is the month the Quran was revealed as a guide to humanity, as proof, and as the guidance and the criterion.” 2:185

“We have indeed revealed it in the Night of Power. 

And what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? 

The Night of Power is as good as a thousand months. 

There comes down the angels and the spirit by God’s permission, for every will. 

Peace, until the rise of morn.” 97:1-5

Can something even as central to tradition as the belief in God ever be suspended? Should it ever be exchanged for something not necessarily better or worse, but different? Have you ever experienced a brief period when you no longer needed belief in God because God’s existence was in fact more real than your own?

Last night, I too had such a moment.

I didn’t seek the Night of Power according to tradition, but I sought such a moment throughout the year, yet didn’t received it until, in accordance to the Quran, I observed Ramadan. 

I often try to reproduce this brief Night of Power experience throughout the year but end up having to settle on simply praying for it. I believe they should not need to come too often because they are powerful enough to sustain belief for more than a thousand months– which of course is a lifetime.

Healthy food and Satan? 2:168

“O you people, eat of what is on the earth, permissible and healthy. And do not follow the footsteps of Satan, for he is to you a sworn enemy.” 2:168

Why does God connect healthy eating to Satan?

After deciding to harness the power of Ramadan to establishing healthy eating once and for all, I recalled the only health expert that Fareed Zakaria has ever had on his show– David Agus author of End of Illness. In this important book David Agus recommended what he considered the best book on healthy eating– In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

The book In Defense of Food explains many connections between food and Satan while explaining why Americans should –but don’t– simply eat the kinds of food mentioned in the Quran.

Ramadan: A time for cultural evolution and refinement, 49:13

“O humanity, We created you from a single male and female, and made you into communities and families, that you may know each other…” 49:13

Whether or not you are a Sunni Muslim, there is no better month than Ramadan to evolve our communities’ culture, and reestablish healthy family traditions.

For instance, the invaluable ritual of eating dinner as a family often frays throughout the year. The month of Ramadan is a great time to re-establish this age-old tradition.

Ramadan is also a wonderful month to get into the habit of eating dinner with other families as often a possible. This gives all of our families a chance to break out of the habit of eating the same types of meals with the same kinds people, and instead exposes us to new dishes, new people, and new ideas.

If you are single, then Ramadan and dinner, are terrific opportunities to reconnect with old friends (or foes).

Ramadan Mubarak from my family to yours.

Religion is serious but our application is often amusing, (Quran 6:32, 6:70)

“Leave those alone who take their religion to be play and entertainment– and are deceived by the life of the present.” 6:70

Some of the smartest, most successful people born to religious parents understandably, though mistakenly, do not take their religion seriously.

“What is the life of the present but play and entertainment*? Best is the home in the hereafter, for those who are righteous. Will you not then understand?” 6:32

Perhaps paradoxically, the verse above says the life of the present is play and entertainment. Perhaps this means take religion seriously but understand that because all humans are fallible, we should not take any of our understandings or proposed applications of that religion as seriously.

One things for sure, balancing fierce religious conviction with a sense of humor will do us all some good.

*Yes it actually says this (see Arabic in a word for word translation). No it is not talking specifically to unbelievers (see context).

Skipping prayer takes a neurological toll (find the time), 20:130

“Therefore be patient with what they say, and praise your Lord, before the rising of the Sun, and before its setting. Yes, praise for part of the hours of the night, and at the sides of the day. That you may have joy.” 20:130

In David Agus’s book, the End of Illness, he explains how finding time to pray (or any other down-time) “allows us to better learn information, and to come up with new ideas. At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists found that when their subjects have a new experience, such as exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when they take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience. The researchers suspect that the findings apply to how we learn as humans.

Down-time let’s the brain take a breather and go over experiences it had, solidify them, and turn them into permanent long-term memories. When the brain is constantly stimulated, we could be preventing this learning process. The moral of the story is that we all need to call a time-out, and more often than we probably wish given the volume of distractions we increasingly encountered throughout the day.”

Since obesity is a disease should obese believers fast? 2:184

“Abstain for a fixed number of days. But if any of you are sick, or on a journey, the prescribed number should be made up days later, for those who can do it, is an exchange of feeding one who needs food. But he who will give more of his own free will it is better for him. And it is better for you that you abstain, if you only knew.” 2:184

Since we do not have to fast if we are sick, and since disease is worse than mere sickness, then certainly we don’t have to fast if we have a disease.

Disease- a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

In 2013 the American Medical Association (the United State’s largest physician organization adopted policy that recognizes obesity as a disease requiring a range of medical interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.

The United States National Library of Medicine (the USNLM is operated by the United States federal government, and the world’s largest medical library) defines obesity as “having too much body fat” and explains that it occurs over time when you eat more calories than you use. According to the USNLM obesity means having too much body fat. It is different from being overweight, which means weighing too much. The weight may come from muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Both terms mean that a person’s weight is greater than what’s considered healthy for his or her height.

So, should the person who thinks that fasting will not advance their obesity treatment use the power of Ramadan to establish a healthy lifestyle?  

“Every one of you who are present during that month should spend it abstaining, but if anyone is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up days later. God intends good for you, He does not want to make it difficult for you, instead He wants for you to complete the prescribed period, and to praise Him, for He has guided you, so that you might be grateful.” 2:185

Following the Quran is following God and Prophet Muhammad, (3:32)

“Say, ‘Follow God and His messenger.’ But if they turn back, God does not love those who do not believe.'” 3:32

All of us who faithfully follow the words spoken by Muhammad the Prophet, which is called the Quran, are wisely placing our lives– both here and here-after, on the authority of Prophet Muhammad’s word and reputation (and the convincing content, obviously).

Interpreting the phrase ‘follow God and His messenger’ as follow the Quran and do what Muhammad the Prophet did, is an impossible, or at least impractical, interpretation; because it is impractical, if not impossible, to do everything exactly as  Muhammad the Prophet did them (and I think Muhammad the Prophet would be the first person to say that (and he probably did say that)).

Isn’t Jumuah on Monday this Ramadan? 62:9

“O you who believe, when the call is made for prayer on yawmi jumuah, hasten earnestly to the remembrance of God, and leave off business. That is best for you if you only knew.” 62:9

If we are using the lunar calendar to observe our month, weeks, and days of fasting, and since yawm al-jumuah (the day of gathering) is the sixth day of the week, then doesn’t the best day of Jumuah happen on Monday this Ramadan?

Ramadan 2015

1 Wednesday  June 17 (Day 1 of Ramadan)

2

3

4

5

6 Monday June 22

7

1 Day 8 of Ramadan

2

3

4

5

6 Monday June 29

7

1 Day 15 of Ramadan

2

3

4

5

6 Monday July 6

7 Day 21 of Ramadan

1

2

3

4

5

6 Monday July 13

7

1 Day 29 of Ramadan

2 Eid (possibly)

3 Friday July 17 (Eid)

4

5

6 Monday July 20

Only Ramadan can undoubtably decrease preventable deaths among some believers

“…and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread, then continue to fast until night.” 2:187

How might God prescribe a single fast to produce different results? How might God decrease preventable illnesses and deaths among relatively wealthy believers without excluding those who cannot afford healthy food? How might that fast address the needs  of those who are incredibly healthy and those who are not?

One way is for God tell us to fast but not exactly how to fast. To revealed figurative verses that serve as guidance for how to fast. For believers who are not in excellent health, perhaps the most obvious bit of guidance is that we should be religiously conscious of our eating and drinking from morning to night for one month out of the year– Ramadan.

One definition of fasting is: abstaining from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance. If believers can use the spiritual power of Ramadan to refrain from eating and drinking anything during the day, then certainly we can harness it to overpower all of our unhealthy eating and drinking habits and emerge from these 29 or 30 days with the habit of exercising, the ability to abstain from all foods and drinks that could lead to disease, and with the perfected routines needed to eat and drink healthily. 29 or 30 days of creating these habits can prevent many health-related illnesses and deaths– all while retaining the mental and spiritual benefits of fasting (e.g. reading more Quran, praying more, being more conscious of Allah, breaking bad habits, etc.). 

Ramadan is not only the best time to create and healthy lifestyle, but for some of us, it will be the only time.

“ …every one of you who are present during that month should spend it fasting and abstaining…God intends good for you, He does not want to make it difficult for you, instead He wants for you to complete the period, and to praise Him, for He has guided you, so you might be grateful.” 2:185

If our Sheikhs and Imams totally get Ramadan then why are some overweight?

“One day We will call together all human beings with their Imams. Those who are given their record in their right hand will read it, and will not be dealt with unjustly in the least.” 17:71

I think that there is more to Ramadan than any of us think. Since the Ramadan verses cannot be interpreted literally (e.g. there is no thread in the sky), it is best for each believer to constantly seek to interpret the verses in the way that best guides them to a healthier life– spiritually, mentally, and physically.

 

Is Ramadan’s night after Asr, Magrib, Isha or some other time? 2:187

“…continue to fast until night.” 2:187

Since God does not define night, but instead purposefully reveals a word (night) which humanity interprets as evening*, sunset to sunrise, and total darkness, then He is allowing each believer to decide when to stop fasting based on conditions that God placed in our control and those conditions that He placed out of our control.

*Evening – (figuratively) A concluding time period; a point in time near the end of something; the beginning of the end of something.

“ …every one of you who are present during that month should spend it fasting and abstaining…God intends good for you, He does not want to make it difficult for you, instead He wants for you to complete the period, and to praise Him, for He has guided you, so that you might be grateful.” 2:185

Should we eat and drink until sunrise? 2:185, 2:187

“…and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread, then continue to fast until night.” 2:187

Since there is no real thread in the sky we must interpret the white thread and black thread figuratively. God is effectively forcing us to use reasoning to decide when to stop eating and drinking. Below are two figurative definitions of thread that might help:

1. (literary) a thing resembling a thread in length or thinness, in particular.

“the river was a thread of silver below them”

2. a theme or characteristic, typically forming one of several, running throughout a situation or piece of writing.

“a common thread running through the scandals was the failure to conduct audits”

The most common figurative interpretation is the white light explanation which uses the first, literary definition to reason that we must stop eating before the beginning of dawn prayer (astronomical twilight). But, if the “white thread of dawn” is referring to the white bar of light that appears on the horizon at the beginning of astronomical twilight, then what is the “black thread” referring to? I do not think God would use a black thread to refer to the massive black dome of the sky.

Another interpretation uses the same literary definition to reason that we should stop eating before nautical twilight during the early part of dawn. This commentary asks us to see the sky as a piece of cloth weaved with a white thread of light and a black thread of darkness. Since after nautical twilight the sky no longer looks like this black and white cloth, this is a good time to start fasting.

But my favorite interpretation, so far, uses the second definition of thread: a theme or characteristic of a thing. The black and white, absolute, unambiguous threads and characteristics clearly associated with dawn is that it begins at astronomical twilight and ends before sunrise. The start time of this fast (sunriseis in harmony with the end time (sunset). Plus it gives us more time to hydrate after our early morning workout.

“ …every one of you who are present during that month should spend it fasting and abstaining…God intends good for you, He does not want to make it difficult for you, instead He wants for you to complete the period, and to praise Him, for He has guided you, so you might be grateful.” 2:185

Those same Ayahs can also prevent extremism

“He is the One who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and His throne was over the waters, so that He would make clear which of you is best in conduct…” 11:7

The meaning of life, or at least one meaning, is to make clear which of us is best in conduct, and so deserve to re-enter Paradise. There is enough wisdom and guidance in the Quran for aid fair-minded people on the journey home.

But by inserting a few strange verses, readers are prevented from thinking that their book, that their religion, and by extension, that they, are perfect.

This effectively shields its readers from the unquestioning faith that breeds extremism, breaks the peace, and brings on hell earth.

I assume that those who actually try to follow those strange verses literally, are either hell-bent, and/or do not, or simply cannot read the Quran. 

“Those who listen to the word, and adhere to the best of it. Those are the ones who God has guided, and those are the ones endowed with understanding.” 39:18

“And adhere to the best of what is revealed to you from your Guardian Evolver, before the penalty comes on you all of a sudden, while you perceive it not.” 39:55

Al-Islam is the best of every religion, Islam is something else (5:3)

“…This day have I complemented* your way of life for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Al-Islam** as your way of life…” 5:3

Only Muslims follow Islam, but not all Muslims. A good definition of Islam(s) can be found in a dictionary, encyclopedia, or book on world religions.

However, the religion mentioned in verse 5:3, written in Arabic as الْإِسْلَامَ and transliterated as Al-Islam, does not translate well. Some translate Al-Islam as Peace, the peace, the religion of submission, or the religion of peace. But none of these translations are convincing. I think God purposefully made this word difficult to translate and define so that our understanding of it could never become stagnate, but would instead continue to evolve. Here’s my understanding of the word Al-Islam; at least as of today.

Many modern people, religious or not, choose to learn from all religions and all books of scripture. This makes sense. But if as far as we know, the Quran is the latest book from God, that makes it the best reference point for these sort of seekers. Meaning, if any idea in any religion is mentioned in the Quran, then we should explore it, learn from it, and adhere the best of it. I think that this way of living is that ideal way of life revealed in 5:3 as الْإِسْلَامَ and transliterated as Al-Islam, for lack of an English translation.

“For every people is a messenger, and when their messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.” (Quran 10:47)

Continue reading Al-Islam is the best of every religion, Islam is something else (5:3)

Why is there science in the Quran (84:1)

I have often wondered what good there is in discovering science inside of the Quran, but only after it had already been discovered outside of the Quran.

Ideally believers would make a real world discovery after reading a verse. Or we would add to the science that comes from the discovery that the verse mentions. But gaining scientific literacy is also a good outcome from reading these scientific verses. As is increased faith in the Quran as being divinely inspired to Muhammad the Prophet.

But once we are thoroughly convinced that the Quran is from God and Muhammad is His messenger. And after we know which fields of science we should take an interest in, then what?

Well, again, contributing to that area of science would be great for those with the aptitude. But I also think relating the verse and the science to the meaning of life, or to everyday life, is something every believer can do. I have found, however, that this is easier to say than it is to do. Take Quran 84:1 for example. Steps 1 and 2 are pretty straight forward:

1st) The heavy lifting concerning the science behind the literal part of this verse is worked out by our scientists.

“The Big Rip is a cosmological hypothesis first published in 2003, about the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the matter of the universe, from stars and galaxies to atoms and subatomic particles, is progressively torn apart by the expansion of the universe at a certain time in the future.”

2nd) We read about the science, and write a better translation (as far as I know, the Quran 2015 translation, happened to be the first translation with the word rip in it, read other translations):

“When the universe is ripped apart.” 84:1

3rd) In this last step, we try to relate the verse to the meaning of life, or even everyday life. I sometimes wonder how the difficulty of the step compares to step 1 and the job of the scientist? In the A. Yusef Ali Commentary we can see that he was trying to get us started down this road. Concerning 84:1 he wrote:

“The passing away of this world of sense to make way for a new World of Reality is here indicated by two Facts, which are themselves Symbols for a complete revolution in our whole knowledge and experience. At the beginning of S. 82 and S. 81, other Symbols were used, to lead up to the arguments there advanced. Here the Symbols are: (1) the Sky being rent asunder and giving up its secrets, and (2) the Earth being flattened out from the globe it is, and giving up its secrets.”

Continue reading Why is there science in the Quran (84:1)

Hillary, Rajiv, David, and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:8-9)

“Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.'” (1 Samuel 17:8)

According to tradition, a Goliath (Hillary Clinton) must first make her announcement for battle before a David (I’m expecting Rajiv Shah) can be expected to accept the challenge. But the longer a Goliath waits to announce, the longer a David has to prepare.

“By God’s will they defeated them, and David slew Goliath. And God gave him power and wisdom, and taught him whatever he wished. And if God did not check one set of people by way of another, the earth would indeed be full of chaos. But God is full of bounty to all the systems of knowledge.” (Quran 2:251)