SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Storytelling is one of the major approaches used by the Qur'an to convey God's message. Since the Quran is meant for all ages until the Day of Judgment, the stories referenced in the Qur'an will continue to apply no matter how lifestyles change. Here we will focus on a very important story that brings together many different concepts: the story of the sons of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), Abel and Cain.
God tells the story of Abel and Cain in Sura al-Maa'ida (5:27-31).
Both Abel and Cain attempted to offer a sacrifice to God. Abel owned livestock, while Cain owned crops. Abel chose one of his best sheep and sacrificed it to God. Meanwhile, Cain chose his worst and spoiled crops and offered them to God. Each brought his sacrifice to a mountain. The sign of acceptance of the sacrifice was that a fire would come and burn it. The fire indeed came, ate up Abel's offering, and left Cain's. This made Cain envious of his brother, and he vowed to kill him. Narrations talk about how Satan was the one to teach Cain how to kill Abel. Cain took two stones and struck the head of Abel until he died. Cain did not know what to do with the body until God send along two crows. Cain observed as the two crows fought, and one killed the other. The living crow then buried the body of the dead crow. Cain imitated the crows and buried the body of his brother Abel. (Bihar al-Anwar)
Acceptance of our Deeds
The above story sheds light on various topics, three of which will be discussed: acceptance of our deeds, envy, and sources of knowledge.
Many Muslims abide by the teachings of Islam. However, just carrying out an act of worship does not mean that God will accept it. Not every prayer is accepted, and not every fast is valid. There is a set of conditions for each act of worship that needs to be fulfilled for God to accept that act. For example, a prayer without ablution is not accepted, even if all other conditions are fulfilled.
Through the story of Abel and Cain, God has given a measuring stick for acceptance of deeds. The reference point that differentiates the accepted deeds from the rejected ones is none other than Taqwa. The Qur'an says, "Indeed, God only accepts from those who are conscious of God." (5:27) The Arabic form of the verse uses the words innama, which helps communicate absolute restriction. That is, God-consciousness is the only attribute that can lead to acceptance of deeds, and without it, no deed can be accepted.
In the context of Abel and Cain's story, God-consciousness was shown in the choices each made for his sacrifice. Abel chose the best of his sheep. He chose the sheep that he depended on more. He chose the sheep that mattered to him more. On the other hands, Cain chose the crops that were spoiled. He chose the crops that he would not be using anyway. He chose the crops that he would eventually get rid of.
Abel's choice is a reflection of the level of understanding and God-consciousness that exists within him. Sacrificing his best sheep demonstrates that Abel had complete submission to God, and that all that he has was for God. How many of us today are willing to give away our new clothes in the way of God?
Looking at the life of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), we find similar examples. Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) gave out her wedding dress on her first day of marriage. When the Prophet asked, she quoted the following verse, "Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love." (3:92)
This is just an example of spending something materialistic, but of course, the Ahlul Bayt gave their own lives and more in the way of God, and that can only be achieved with a high level of God-consciousness.
The lack of God-consciousness was the major downfall of Cain, but it did not stop there. When good is absent, evil takes over. When Cain saw that his sacrifice was rejected, he became envious of his brother.
This is unfortunately a big problem today. Many of us today are envious of those who are successful. We are envious of those who have money. If we would be satisfied with what we have and wish that God gives us like others and better, then envy would not exist. However, the danger lies in wishing that other people lose what they have. That is envy, and it can lead to almost anything.
In the case of Cain, it led him to actually kill his brother. It is important to notice that Cain admitted the presence of God when he offered a sacrifice. He also knew that Abel was his brother. Did any of that restrain him from killing? No! That's how dangerous envy can be!
Sources of Knowledge
The journey of education is a never-ending one. The importance of acquiring knowledge is highly emphasized in Islam. A common pitfall in acquiring knowledge is bias towards the source of information. Many of us avoid listening to certain figures because we have a personal grudge against them. Others avoid reading a book because the author is someone we do not like.
In the story of Abel and Cain, we see that Cain learned the act of burial from a crow. This shows that learning is never restricted to certain figures, but even an animal can become a teacher at any moment.
Of course, in order to avoid clutter and all the misinformation we face, we need to be able to filter out good from bad. This is where the role of reason (Aql) becomes important. This can get tricky. However, if we seek the knowledge from God, the Prophet, and Ahlul Bayt through our righteous scholars, then we know it is from a pure source.
The story of Abel and Cain teaches us many things. It shows us where the position of Taqwa lies in the heart of a true believer. It shows that envy will lead to heinous acts. And importantly, it shows the importance of acquiring correct knowledge from any source. So let us engage in self-reflection, and if we find that we are falling behind in any of these three areas, we should start fixing ourselves immediately. Knowing where we stand is the first step, and only then we can proceed in the path towards God.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – If you want the beauty of winter without having to brave the bone-chilling temperatures blasting much of the United States this week, snuggle into a soft blanket, grab a warm beverage, and curl up with some of these natural frozen wonders.
Nieve penitente, or penitent snow, are collections of spires that resemble robed monks—or penitents. They are flattened columns of snow wider at the base than at the tip and can range in height from 3 to 20 feet (1 to 6 meters). The picture above shows the phenomenon in central Chile. (See pictures of the patterns in snow and ice.)
Nieve penitente tend to form in shallow valleys where the snow is deep and the sun doesn't shine at too steep an angle, said Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who studies ice crystal formation.
As the snow melts, dirt gets mixed in with the runoff and collects in little pools here and there, he said. Since the dirt is darker in color than the surrounding snow, the dirty areas melt faster "and you end up digging these pits," explained Libbrecht.
"They tend to form at high altitude," he said. But other than that, no one really knows the exact conditions that are needed to form penitent snow.
"They're fairly strong," Libbrecht said. "People have found [the spires] difficult to hike through."-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- There are stories that have enormous consequences on the lives of Americans but are regularly under-reported or misrepresented by the mainstream media.
Project Censored, the US media watchdog group, has released their annual report examining the shortcomings of reporting in 2012.
Amongst the key topics: the rising police state and the erosion of civil liberties, climate change and the destruction of oceans, and the rising disparity between the one percent and the 99 percent.
Project Censored argues that the lack of proper reporting on issues like these by the corporate media is leading to an erosion of democracy.
So what were the key stories ignored by the US mainstream media in 2012? www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - The event of 'Ashura' has been subject to tahrif (distortions) an instance of which is the concocted story of the wedding of Hadrat Qasim, a story which has not been mentioned in any reliable book of history not to mention the fact that such a thing is not rationally possible because, firstly, Qasim was not more than thirteen years old on the day of Ashura and he had not attained the age of puberty. Secondly, the wedding could not have taken place because Imam Hussein (as) and his companions were surrounded by their enemies and a pitched battle was going on. Moreover, Imam Hussein (as) attached great importance to fulfilling his divine duty against his cunning enemies such as the Banu Umayyads. Therefore, the story of the wedding of Qasim is a fabricated and unacceptable story according to Shia researchers. Below we will mention the viewpoints of some those researchers:
1. Hajji Mirza Husayn Nuri, the author of Mustadrak al-Wasail, writes in a famous work he has authored about the manners of the speakers or preachers who preach on the pulpits: “One of the derogatory and factitious reports which prominent scholars have not heeded or referred to is the story of Za’far the Jinn and the wedding of Qasim mentioned in a well-known book called Rawdat al-shuhada' by Mulla Husayn Kashifi. The wedding story has not been mentioned in any books before Rawdat al-shuhada from the time Shaykh Mufid until this book had been published. How could an event so great and a story so tangible be not observed by scholars over this period of time?\
2. The great narrator Shaykh Abbas Qummi has reiterated that the story of the wedding of Qasim in Karbala and the marriage of Fatima bint al-Hussein with him is not valid. In addition, Imam Hussein (as) had two daughters, one named Sakina (sa) and another Fatima (as). The first was married out to Abdullah who was martyred in Karbala and the second was married to Hasan Muthanna who was also present in Karbala.\
3. Martyr Ayatollah Qazi Tabatabai considers the story of the wedding of Qasim as invalid. He quotes Allamah Mamqani as having said in his Tanqih al-Maqal: Other researchers and I could not find anything in historical and biographical sources to confirm the authenticity of what has been alleged inTurayhi’s book about the story of the marriage of Qasim. It is very unlikely that such an incident should have taken place on the day of Ashura keeping in view the difficult and extremely dangerous conditions and the calamities that followed. It seems that a mistake has taken place in regards to the wedding of Qasim who had not reached the age of puberty by then. It is indeed the story of the wedding of Hasan Muthanna (the Second) that has become known in such a way on the tongues of people.\
4. Martyr Ayatollah Murteza Mutahhari says in this regard: “As you know, in the heat of the battle on the day of 'Ashura', the Imam offered his prayers hurriedly in the form of salat al-khawf \ and there was no respite even to offer full prayers. In fact, two of the companions of the Imam came to stand in front of him to shield the Imam (against the arrows) so that he may offer two rak'ahs of the salat al-khawf. The two of them fell from the injuries inflicted under the shower of the arrows. The enemy would not even give respite for offering prayers. Nevertheless, they have concocted a story that the Imam called for a wedding ceremony on this day, declaring, 'It is my wish to see one of my daughter wedded to Qasim.' Obviously, one cannot take one's wishes to one's grave. …. And this is said to have occurred at a time when there was hardly any respite even for offering prayers. They say that the Hadrat said, 'I want to wed my daughter to my nephew here and now, even if it is just an appearance of a wedding.' One of the things that was an inseparable part of our traditional ta'ziyahs was the wedding of Qasim, the boy bridegroom. Such an episode is not mentioned in any reliable book of history.”\
\ Lu’lu’ wa Marjan, Mirza Hussein Nuri, p. 193.
\ Muntaha al-Amal, Shaykh Abbas Qummi, vol.1, p. 70.
\ Research about the first Arba’ein of the Chief of Martyrs by Shahid Qazi.
\ The Shari'ah stipulates certain modifications in the obligatory salat, the daily ritual prayers, when offered in conditions of war and danger of the enemy's attack. The salat thus offered is referred to as salat al-khawf; (see the Quran, 4:101).
\ - Ashura: Misrepresentations and Distortions (Hamasa Hussaini), Murteza Mutahhari, vol.1, p. 27-28; See: Guli Zawareh, Ghulam Reza, Qasim bin Hasan (as), the Role Model for Adolescents, 209, May 1999.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Throughout our nation’s worst racial tensions, Birmingham Civil Rights attorney Arthur Davis Shores was a pioneer who dared to step into the white man’s courtroom, bravely representing civil rights cases for some 25 years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Birmingham in 1963 with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A quiet gentleman with a deep Christian faith, Shores worked tirelessly for equal rights. Shores was notably one of the attorneys who smuggled scraps of paper from Dr. King’s jail cell -- the now infamous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this excerpt from 'The Gentle Giant Of Dynamite Hill: The Untold Story of Arthur Shores and his Family’s Fight for Civil Rights,' his daughters Helen Shores Lee and Barbara S. Shores write of their father’s involvement in this historic moment in civil rights’ history.
On April 3, 1963, during the Selective Buying Campaign, the SCLC staged sit-ins inside several downtown whites-only lunch counters. Three days later, police arrested 45 protesters as they marched from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to Birmingham’s city jail. The next day, police arrested even more protesters, whom Daddy represented in court. The city charged $100 for each person’s bail, and Daddy, Mr. Gaston, and others raised much of the bail money so these protesters could leave jail and go home.
In light of the protests, Judge W. A. Jenkins Jr. ordered that the civil rights leaders, including Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth, organize no future protests in Birmingham.
On Good Friday, April 12, 1963, police arrested Dr. King and placed him in a Birmingham city jail cell in solitary confinement. The small cell held a metal-slatted cot with no mattress, a toilet and sink, and a mirror on the back wall. The cell had no overhead light or other light source. He spent most of his imprisonment in the dark. King later called those long hours and days in solitary confinement “the most frustrating and bewildering” he had ever lived.
On the second day of King’s confinement, Bull Connor in City Hall granted three attorneys permission to visit Dr. King. They were Norman Amaker from the NAACP, Orzell Billingsley, and our father. Perhaps one of them took Dr. King the ad that ran in the Birmingham News where eight local white ministers referred to King as a troublemaker. In any event, King read the ad and felt that he had to somehow respond to it.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Dr. King had no paper, so he wrote his response around the edges of the newspaper ad and on pieces of toilet paper in his cell. Later, Daddy or one of the other attorneys brought him a notepad. King could only work in the daytime when he had enough scant light to see. When he finished the response, our father and his other attorneys secretly slipped the assorted bits and pieces of the letter from King’s cell and into the hands of NAACP’s Wyatt Walker. Walker and his secretary, Willie Pearl Mackey, pieced together the scraps of paper, and Mackey typed out the rough draft of the letter.
Andrew Young recalled that Willie Pearl Mackey “had a terrible time reading Martin’s handwriting. Most of the letter was brought in installments delivered from the jail by our attorneys, Clarence Jones, Ozell Billingsley, and Arthur Shores, during their trips to jail to visit Martin.” When Mackey had finished typing the draft, one of King’s lawyers smuggled it back to Dr. King to edit and make corrections. Then one of the lawyers carried it back to Walker.
In his response, on April 16, 1963, Dr. King addressed directly the eight white pastors (“My dear fellow clergymen”) who had written the newspaper ad. Using passages and characters from the Bible, he eloquently explained his reasons for coming to Birmingham (because he found injustice in the city), and he outlined both the process and the goal of his visit and activities, carefully describing the four basic steps of his nonviolent campaign: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. He also called Birmingham the most segregated city in the United States and mentioned its ugly record of brutality, including the Negroes’ unjust treatment by courts and the unsolved bombings. He told the clergymen: “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
His response ran to more than 7,000 words in length. By May 13, 1963, the American Friends Service Committee (Quaker) had received permission from the SCLC to print the letter for wide dissemination and published 50,000 copies of the document in pamphlet form for national distribution. Other publications printed King’s Letter, including the Christian Century, the Saturday Evening Post, the Birmingham News and Atlantic Monthly, among others.
Half a Century Later
Almost a half-century later, theologians are still calling King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail “towering” and “magnificent.” In his letter,
King clearly cataloged the injustices faced by African Americans. He called “white moderates” to task and forcefully reminded them that justice delayed was justice denied. And most famously, citing Augustine, he claimed that “an unjust law is no law at all...” King had reason, justice, facts, and conviction on his side -- as well as the gospel. He did not need vitriol, and he did not employ it. —www.shafaqna.com/English