Why the Muslim Brotherhood got elected in Egypt:

A historical overview of Islamic nationalism

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

            The French must be flabbergasted by the election results of Egypt, where the people choose the Muslim Brotherhood over a secular party, for liberal fundamentalism lies at the core of French culture, while in Egypt, Islam seems more appealing. To understand why Egypt democratically elected a religious political group over a secular one, we must turn to current affairs and see how they have been influenced by the past.

            On September 11th, 2006, President George Bush spoke about the ongoing war between Islamic culture and Western culture saying, "This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations, in truth; it is a struggle for civilization. We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations." (Harper, 1)

            President Bush often said that Muslim nations should become democratic in order to enjoy the same happiness as Americans. What I wish to show is that the political history of democratic-nationalism occurred not only in the West but it also occurred the Muslim World. The dream of a democratic and just Muslim nation was prevented from becoming a reality by the lack of Western support for this cause and the constant interference of Western nations.

As tyrannical monarchs of Europe were being opposed by nationalist efforts after the execution of Napoleon, opposition groups arose in the Middle East against the tyrannical rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II. In 1899, Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, a Kurdish-Muslim from Allepo had similar views to that of the European political philosopher John Locke.  al-Kawakibi wrote, "If a tyrannical ruler treats his subjects as a cow to be milked, subjects have the right to revolt…The ruler is to serve the people and not vice versa. An intelligent society would know how to revolt against a tyrannical ruler, and the later, when he saw the oppressed people opposing him, would cease his evil actions." (Tauber, 192) al-Kawakibi also wrote that the political tyranny that existed in the Middle East stemmed from the use of religion by the corrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire. "While most religions tried to enslave the people to the holders of religious office who exploited them, the original Islam was built of political freedom standing between democracy and aristocracy." (Tauber, 192)

 ' Liberty , Fraternity and Equality,' the slogan of the French Revolution, has become codified in democratic constitutions throughout the World. Fundamentalist Islamic groups wish to create a nation of the Muslim Ummah with God as the only sovereign. According to some streams of Islam: Everyone is born Muslim but it is nurture that leads some off the righteous path.  The French slogan is put into action with the five main tenants of Islam.   Praying five times a day and taking part in Hajj, helps create a sense of brotherhood among Muslims, for rich or poor, black or white, woman or man, all turn towards Mecca praying to the same God. Fasting during Ramadan helps Muslims feel what it is like to be like their poor brothers, in a sense creating a fraternity. And the practice of Zakat compels Muslims to correct the problems of great economic differences between the poor and the rich in order to create economic equality and give liberty to all believers so that even the poorest person can strive to fulfill his or her dreams . (Kramer, 10)

Academics, both in the East and the West, often criticize the religion of Islam for the un-equal treatment of women. Muslim women in many Islamic nations are not treated as equals. Extremist organizations often forget that Prophet Mohammad let his wife, Isha, lead Muslim soldiers into battle and she was allowed to administer daily prayers for both men and women. (al-Atawneh lecture)   Muslim women were rulers of Muslim empires long before the rise of nationalism, such as Sultana Razia of India. Perhaps in the next American election, a woman might one day lead the United States of America as Muslim nations have in Jordan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to name a few.

The status of 'People of the Book' granted to Christians and Jews, allowed many non-Muslims to be in the highest posts in the Ottoman Empire. Muslim Emperor Akbar of India united the many religions of India to contribute to a common cause, but still allowed each group to maintain their own cultures, laws and customs. He gave the status of 'People of the Book' to various Hindu religions and during his reign one-third of the official administration was Hindu. And although Akbar banned the Hindu custom of Sati, being the practice of burning a window when her husband died, it could be argued that this was out of humane reasons rather than attempting to force Islamic beliefs on Hindus. (Chandra, 159). Concerning the Jews, many Jews escaped persecution by Christians in Europe and fled to the Ottoman Empire, where some received very high posts in the Ottoman Empire such Joseph Nasi who escaped persecution in Spain and became the Court Banker of Sultan Selim. (Goodwin, 160) In al-Kawakibi's book, he appealed to non-Muslim Arabs, calling them to forget the hatred of the past and unite with the Muslims in a joint struggle against tyranny. al-Kawakibi suggested that they achieve a non-religious national unity, writing "Let us take care of our lives in this world and let the religions rule in the next world." (Tauber, 192)

Although al-Kawakibi died before the creation of the United Nations, through a dialogue between an Islamic scholar from India and a Amir (Prince), al-Kawakibi suggested creating something similar to the modern United Nations but under a Caliph. In the dialogue, the Amir tells the scholar that 'religion is one thing and the government is another…the administration of religion and the administration of the government were never united in Islam, except during the periods of the Rashdi caliphs and the time of Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz.' Afterwards, the Caliphate was separated from the secular government. After hearing this, the Amir suggested the following plan: An Arab caliph of the Quaraysh descent (Mohammad's line) would be set up in Mecca, whose political authority would be limited to the Hijaz. He would work with an advisory council of 100 members from all the Islamic countries, which would be limited to the Hijaz and religious matters. The Caliph would have to give an oath of loyalty to the Islamic nation every three years and would disposed of if he intervened in the political or military force under his command. The Amir suggested that internal security in the Hijaz would be in the hands of a military force of two to three thousand Muslim soldiers from other states, under the command of a Muslim also from another state, and defending the advisory council.' (Tauber, 193) This plan seems like an Islamic version of the United Nations with a Peace keeping force, for it brings together Muslims from throughout the World to decide the fate of the Muslim World in political and religious affairs but restricts the power of the rulers.

To say that al-Kawakibi was original in his thinking would be a grave mistake, for not only Muslims were thinking like al-Kawakibi, but also Christians like Najib al-'Azuri from Syria. Azuri wrote that as European peoples were establishing nation-states, the Arabs should do the same. He wrote that there should be an Arab sultan in charge of political affairs in Damascus and an Islamic sultan in charge of the spiritual matters and religious laws of the Muslims. He wrote that this nation would extend from the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the Suez Canal and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Oman. Until his death, Azuri traveled throughout Europe trying to get financial and political support for his cause but to no avail for all his requests were denied. (Tauber, 194)

            Islamic scholar Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935) took the idea of establishing an Islamic nation to the next level, as he believed like al-Azuri but suggested that the establishment of this nation was the essential pre-requisite for the Renaissance of Islam. Like al-Azuri and al- Kawakibi, Rida wrote that there should be a separation of Church and State in the new Islamic nation but he went further in saying that the nation should be ruled by a President, a council of deputies elected by the people of the new nation, and a council of ministers chosen by the President from among the deputies. He wrote that the council of deputies would elect three members for the election of the Caliph for a five-year term. The Caliphs status would be similar to that of the Queen in England, who gives Royal Assent to laws decided by the council of ministers, and similar to a constitutional monarchy, the Caliphate would be bound by a constitution called the 'General Organic Law of the Arab Empire.' Rida wrote that the Caliphate would be based in Mecca, while the headquarters of the government would be in Damascus. (Tauber, 197)

            But if constitutional-democratic values existed in the Muslim World at the same time nationalist groups were overthrowing corrupt tyrannical monarchs in Europe, why did the Muslim world not evolve in a similar fashion to that of Western nations?

            This can be attributed to many reasons from within the Muslim culture and from outside but much has to do with the opposition of the West to a united Muslim nation, which if allowed to evolve would be a great economic and political challenge to West, as the Ottoman Empire was to the West during the Middle Ages. Examples of this can be seen in the Western support of the various monarchs and tyrants throughout the Middle East such as in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Syria, who greatly crushed any opposition groups to their rule. (Morris, 88)  A key example of the Western world preventing democracy evolving in the Middle East was the  American backed coup d'etat against the democratic government of Iran fueled by the Prime Minister of Iran wanting to nationalize the oil industry of his nation,. (Hassanpur lecture)

Now, centuries after the French Revolution, many Muslim groups like Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to do what Europeans managed to succeed in, establishing democratic nation states. Based on the teachings of Hassan Al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood wishes for a state where the people in charge are not corrupt, are not patsies of Christian rulers, and the Brotherhood wishes to build a nation of equality and spirituality, the Renaissance of Islam. (Brynjar, 79) In Renaissance Europe, Europeans revered the Golden years of Ancient Greece for the great innovations of philosophy, science, art, politics and economics. Many Muslims of today revere the two hundred years after the birth of Islam, where there were great innovations of philosophy, science, art, politics and economics throughout the Muslim World.

The violent revolutions to overthrow monarchs that emerged across Europe starting in 1848, brought European kings and queens to unite against a common enemy, nationalism. Similar to these revolutions, Muslims are facing much resistance in changing the status quo of trying to establish a large Muslim nation by overthrowing corrupt and totalitarian Middle Eastern rulers supported by the West. Sadly, some Muslim groups like Al-Qaeda use religious terminology to get soldiers to commit terrorist acts such as by targeting civilians using violent means and therefore branding the struggle for a united Muslim nation as a terrorist endeavour.

Before we go on, let us look at America as a religion. Over the last century, similar to the 'Ghazni' belief of Islam (Warriors of the faith), Americanism has given many people the option of 'the almighty American dollar or the sword,' and has been very efficient in getting people to want to join the American culture and support the US. Through the media, through education, through money and through force, America has convinced many people to give up their own cultures and take up American beliefs. Those who do not wish to accept Americans as their rulers are punished as we have seen in the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq in the 'War On Terrorism' and the continued sanctions against Iran.

Even the term 'terrorist' is a controversial point. Many leaders of the revolutions of Europe, as well as Anti-Colonial nationalist leaders were called terrorists by the European monarchs, but now they are revered as freedom fighters. To some Muslims, the members of the Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are freedom fighters, while Western nations have deemed these groups terrorist organizations.

            There is a war taking place right now, which President Bush once called a 'crusade,' between Islam and Christianity. This in a way can be deemed true, for many Muslims are wishing to rid their home nations of Western control in hopes of establishing a free Muslim nations. Many Western nations do not want to change the status quo of the World, where Caucasian-Christians are the heads of State for three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Although in theory, democracy allows any person to rise to the highest seat in the government, in reality, a majority of Western-democratic nations, have Caucasian-Christians as their Heads of State.

The Christian World experienced the Reformation and the Renaissance without outside influences forcing these beliefs on the Christian World, and the democratic values evolved from this throughout Europe. Now, the Western World is not allowing the Islamic World from doing the same. Mainly Christian-lead countries, such as Canada, the United States, England and France are forcing their beliefs and values on the Islamic World, for the preservation of Western security, for humane reasons or to open up Islamic economies in order to exploit them for profit. Regardless of the intentions, the Christian World received its own revelation of democratic freedoms on its own accord; the Islamic World should be allowed to do the same.  

Let us all hope that this transition within the Muslim World will take a more non-violent turn and that Western nations will not oppose this change if the goals and outcome lead to World Peace.




al-Atawneh, Mohammad. Professor of Islamic Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Lecture held in May of 2006.

Carrol, Terrance. "Islam and Political Community in the Arab World," in International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. New York: 1986, pg. 185-204.

Chandra, Satish. Medieval India: from Sultanate to the Mughals. Delhi: Har-anand Publications, 1999.

Brynjar, Lia. The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement 1928-1942 . London: Garnet,1998.

Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons. London: Random House Publishing, 1999.

Harper, Tim. "U.S. in `a struggle for civilization" in World Section of The Toronto Star. September 11, 2006.

Hassanpour, Amir. Professor of Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto in Canada . Lecture held in September of 2005.

Kramer, Martin. Islam Vs. Democracy: In principle, no contradiction. Practice is something different., 2006.

Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Random House Publishing, 1999.

Tauber, Eliezar. "Three Approaches, One Idea: Religion and State in the Thought of 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Najib 'Azuri and Rashid Rida" in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 21, No.2. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1994, pg. 190-198.


Meeting the Neighbours: Short Stories about Israeli experiences of Bedouin

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki
Much has been written about Bedouin culture and traditions, mostly written by foreigners of the culture. What I wish to bring to the table is something different, various Israeli experiences of Bedouin, both positive and negative in hopes of demonstrating the biases Israelis have of their neighbours based on experience and hearsay.
            As asked by those I have interviewed, I will use pseudonym names when speaking of the characters within this essay.
            There are four experiences that I wish to tell. The first experience is that of sexual harassment of two Israeli girls by two Bedouin men. We will then read about the experience of an Israeli student losing his car to Bedouin car thieves. The third Israeli experience of Bedouin concerns the practice of Bedouin collecting protection money from Israeli businesses. And the fourth experience is one of a romance between a Jewish-Israeli soldier and a Bedouin soldier. After reading of these experiences, we will analyze why these events took place and explain the problems Bedouin face in Israel. The opinions of those interviewed in this essay might not be complete truths, rather opinions based on hearsay experiences of Israelis, which caters to the opinions of Israelis concerning the Bedouin. As well, we must note that many Bedouin living in Israel are Israelis but to avoid confusion when we speak of Israelis we mean non-Arabs or Bedouin.
            Sadly, the first story is a negative experience of two Israelis who were sexually harassed by two Bedouin men. The author of this essay does not wish to convey that these actions are by any means attributed to the entire Bedouin community as a whole, it is but the actions of two men, yet this adds to the negative opinions about Bedouin by the two Israeli women who were attacked and the people they have told.
            At around eleven at night as Shiri was walking home from a party, she saw two men speaking Arabic in front of her building, who she claims were Bedouin. As she saw them, she quickly ran up the stairs to her room. The two men started calling after her and followed her up the stairs. Shiri fumbled with her keys but was too nervous to open the door. Instead, she ran up the stairs to her friend Anna's room and started to scream for Anna who was in her other friend's room. As Anna answered Shiri's screams by walking to her room, Anna saw the two men who were pursuing Shiri. The two men started making kissing noises at Anna and started following her as well. Anna ran to her room and quickly locked the door. The two men started banging on the door yelling at the girls to come out and not be afraid. Anna called the police.
In Schona Dalet, the neighbourhood of Anna and Shiri, police are often called to deal with problems of neighbourhood children causing trouble but the police usually take an hour or two to come once called. But Anna told the police that two Bedouin were harassing her, and within a few minutes, two plain-clothed detectives came to the building. The two men harassing Anna and Shiri, did not know the police were coming and were caught running down the stairs, after hearing the police siren. As the girls peered out the window onto the street, they saw the two harassers being severely beaten with clubs by the officers.  
After about half an hour, the two detectives came and spoke with the two terrified girls. They asked the girls what had happened, but the whole time the officers did not write anything down. They told Anna and Shiri that the two men would not be charged and therefore could not be held in jail because they did not break the law by chasing after the girls and making lode comments. The officers said that unless the girls press charges, the two men would be let out of the police station that night. The girls begged the officers to charge these men with something, but Anna and Shiri refused to give a statement in fear that if the Bedouin were charged, they would tell their friends who would come and set fire to Anna and Shiri's building or something much worse. Anna said that even the police are scared of the Bedouin because officers have been followed home and murdered by the Bedouin.
The next Israeli experience of Bedouin is that of biological engineering student from the University of Ben Gurion named Shay. He bought a jeep a few years ago and took care of this jeep as if it were a baby, washing it at least once a week, and although he did not have much money he usually filled his car with premium gas. In March of 2006, while Shay was sleeping, he heard his car alarm go off. He quickly peered out the window to see two men, who Shay said were Bedouin, trying to steal his car. Shay ran down the stairs and into the parking lot, only to see his jeep being driven off by car-thieves. Shay was devastated.
A few days later, Shay received a note in his mailbox telling him that he can get back his car for a fee and the note gave directions to where the car was being held. Since Shay did not have theft insurance on his car he decided to pay the ransom. The next day Shay got a ride from his friend to the area described in his letter. Although angry at the two thieves, he reluctantly paid them 3,000 NIS and got his car back.
The next incident concerns the centuries-old Bedouin practice of collecting protection money. In the past, in order to protect their flocks at night from thieves or wolves, Bedouin would turn to other Bedouin who would protect flocks. These protectors also went around to fellow Bedouin telling them if they pay a protection fee, then the protectors would not harm or steal a person's flocks, in other words extortion. In the modern age, where the land is now called Israel, this practice has continued.
A few years ago, as storeowner Avihi was locking up his store in Merkaz Gilat shopping centre for the night, he saw two men throwing something at a store in the shopping centre. He looked more closely and saw Bedouin men throwing Molotov bombs at the store. After the store was destroyed, the men got into their car and left. When the police came, Avihi overheard the owner of the store tell the officers that Bedouin had come to his store earlier that day asking for protection money. The storeowner refused and the destruction of his store was the result.
The final experience this author wishes to share is that of a romance between an Israeli soldier and a Bedouin tracker. This experience demonstrates not only that Israelis and Bedouin can respect each other but can also put aside their ethnic and religious differences in the name of love.
When Liat was eighteen-years-old, like most Israelis she joined the army. After being tested, she was put in the communications division and was placed in a small base on the outskirts of Mitzpe-Ramon in Southern Israel. Liat comes from an Ashkenazi family who are very fair in colour and therefore she rarely goes out in the sun in fear of getting skin cancer. Being born and raised in Haifa in Northern Israel, before the army she had never been to the South. But when she was placed in the South, she was more than happy, which she said is very uncommon for most girls in the army for they would hate to be put in this base for it was in the middle of the dessert, half an hours drive to the closest town. But for Liat it was the perfect place to be because for her it felt like a kibbutz because there were less than 50 people on base and the atmosphere was rather relaxed. She said that the base was surrounded by dessert and it had a beautiful sunset every night.
For two months, she had a strict training schedule learning about the different forms of communication that the base used to convey messages to the soldiers that were out capturing Egyptian drug dealers and potential terrorists. Although the base was small, being very shy from an early age, Liat's first few months were that of loneliness and awkwardness around other people.
Before the army, Liat had never met Bedouin before but only heard rumours about the criminal activities of the Bedouin. Having her office right next to the Bedouin trackers room, her misconceptions of Bedouin were quickly erased, as she befriended many Bedouin on her base.
Her first friend on the base was a young Bedouin tracker named Ali. He would come into her office quite often and talk to Liat about her strict vegetarian diet and how she must eat because she was starting to look very pale. After a while, he trusted her and told her that he had dropped out of school because the only high school near his village was far away, therefore this took away from his time tending to his family's flocks. He also complained that this high school only taught about Jewish history and the Jewish-Israeli perspective on everything. He told her that before the army he stole cars and broke into houses in order to get money and therefore school did not interest him much. Shortly after he got arrested for the fifth time, his father who already had fourteen other children disowned him. He told Liat that the army had saved him from a life of crime because it gave him a job that pays well so that he doesn't have to turn to crime. A few weeks later after Ramadan had ended, Ali was driving away from an Eid party that he had attended on base. He drove fast, hit a curb and as his car flipped over, Ali was thrown out of the car, hit his neck on a metal post and died. At the funeral in Ali's village, many of the Bedouin from the base started talking to Liat and after a little while became close friends with her.  
Liat said that her Bedouin friends liked her because she was different than normal Israeli female soldiers because she did not flirt with most men. She said that before the army she was very naïve about sex and had not even been kissed before she became a soldier.
After a few months of having troubles carrying vegetarian food from Haifa to her base, Liat became pretty sick because she refused to eat most of the food on the base. One day she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. After this, every week her Bedouin friends would drive her to the market in Mitzpe-Ramon so she could buy vegetarian food for the week. Liat said that her Bedouin friends would never let her pay for the food because they saw it as a dishonour to let a friend pay for anything if they were there. She said that this is a big part of being Bedouin, being overly hospitable. She also found out later that once a Bedouin man offers to pay for a girl, it means that he likes her and wants to take care of her. She said that this might have something to do with wanting sex, but with her friends it was more out of friendship than anything else.
A few months after Liat had arrived on base, there was a new base commander who was transferred from Gaza. Being new to the base, the commander did not understand the power relations between the 'Gashashim' (Bedouin tracking division) and the rest of the base. One day the base commander saw that the Gashashim had not started their duties yet, so he radioed to Liat to tell Ibrahim, the head Bedouin tracker, to get his butt to work. Uncommon to most bases, the Bedouin had set up a tent outside, where they would spend most of their days relaxing, like in like in their villages. Ibrahim was sitting there with a few of the elder trackers. After Liat had told Ibrahim what the commander had said, Ibrahim told Liat to say word for word to the commander "Tell your grandmother to get her butt to work."   After Liat conveyed the message to the commander, the commander finally understood the power relations on base and never told the Gashashim what to do again.
 Liat had never really been attracted to brown men before this, but there was something different about Ibrahim. This situation showed that he was not afraid of anyone, even the base commander. She found out later that Ibrahim was charming, charismatic, and kind-hearted but acted like a real man in every situation. As well, unlike her other Bedouin friends, Ibrahim had completed high school. According to Liat, for a Bedouin man going to school in the 1970s, this was very uncommon. Liat also caught the eye of Ibrahim. After a little while, Liat found out that Ibrahim had liked her since she arrived on base. He had sent his underlings to find out what Liat liked, where she was at all the times and he planned out a very complex method to win her over.
Eventually, Liat gave in to Ibrahim's charm and one day asked Ibrahim to bring her for a drive to Mitzpe-Ramon. He said that he would love to. They drove for about half an hour into the dessert and Ibrahim stopped the car. He asked Liat if he could kiss her. He told her if she does not like the kiss, to turn towards the moon and he will turn the other way and never talk about this again. He kissed her and she did not turn away. All of a sudden Ibrahim saw something and pulled away from the kiss. He quickly opened the door and started to run. A few minutes later he came back to the car grabbing two men. He told Liat that these men were drug dealers from Egypt. Liat and Ibrahim drove back to the base with the drug dealers in handcuffs.
Before the kiss, Ibrahim told Liat that he was married to one wife and said that he was going to divorce her. After, Ibrahim confessed that he had two wives and a few years earlier he had left his village to live with his Israeli girlfriend. After a five-year relationship with his Israeli girlfriend, he felt that he was dishonouring his family and moved back to his village to marry his second wife. Ibrahim was thirty-five at the time, while Liat was 20. But Liat did not care about the age difference for she was in love with Ibrahim.
After a three-month romance, Ibrahim stopped speaking to Liat. He said that he did not want her to get depressed over him like his previous Israeli girlfriend had been when they broke up. But Liat could not help it and for the next few months she couldn't bear to be without him.
Her other Bedouin friends continued to be talk to Liat every day. She learned that the reason why Bedouin are hired by the army as trackers is because for centuries Bedouin have tracked lost animals or predators. She also learned that many of the Bedouin were in fact working with the drug dealers. The trackers would allow certain dealers to be overlooked for a bribe but also for information about other dealers. Most drug smugglers that were caught would stay in an Israeli prison for a few days and then would get returned to Egypt, only to be back smuggling drugs a few weeks later.
After a year without Ibrahim, Liat left the army and went to South America . When she returned, she was still missing her love. Her good friend Mohammed tried to help the situation. He secretly planned a meeting between the two lovers. Mohammed drove Liat to Mitzpe-Ramon for a day trip, but on the way he turned in a different direction and Liat was not sure why. He said that he wanted to see a friend from the army. But in the end, it was a trick and Ibrahim was waiting for them. Leaving Liat and Ibrahim to talk, Mohammad went for a walk. Liat and Ibrahim reconciled and continued their relationship for another year.
One day, Ibrahim had a drinking session with his friends and then came over to Liat's apartment.   Liat saw that Ibrahim was drunk. He forced himself on Liat and tried to have sex with her. Liat refused but Ibrahim was more powerful. After this horrible and painful night, Liat stopped talking to Ibrahim but still longed to be with him. She would come home everyday from university and cry herself to sleep. After much convincing by her friends, she decided to go to therapy. The therapist told her that she was attracted to the criminal type and should avoid her urges to get back with Ibrahim. Without Liat's knowledge, her best friend Mohammed, the former best friend of Ibrahim, grabbed something of Liat's and went to a Darwashin (Bedouin Healer). He asked the Darwashin to make Liat feel better. Liat did not know about this but all of a sudden she came out of her cave and started loving life again. She could not stop smiling. Sadly, this only lasted for two weeks and then Liat was back to her depressed self.
Although Liat had a bad experience with Ibrahim, her best friends continue to be Bedouin. She said that she has had too many good experiences with Bedouin to let her judge the entire culture because of one bad incident. She hopes that all Israelis will spend time in the army with Bedouin in order to force the two cultures to not only accept each other as fellow citizens but embrace each others cultures and judge each other as individuals rather than pre-judge a person because of their ethnicity.
Now, we will give some context to these stories by trying to explain why these incidents happened based on the research of others.
Author Gideon M. Kressel suggests that the reason for high crime rates among the Bedouin can be attributed to the poor conditions the Bedouin have in the labour market. He said that in the 1960s and 1970s, the Israeli government hired Bedouin to build the infrastructure of Israel and Jewish-Israelis hired Bedouin to work in manual labour jobs such as in factories or farms. The Union of Workers protects any workers, Bedouin included, but Kressel suggests that nepotism exists in favour of Jewish-Israelis. [1] As Bedouin have little control over the economy, it is left up to Israeli-Jews who are in control, to decide the fate of Bedouin workers. Whenever there has been an influx of new Jewish immigrants, Bedouins lost their jobs to these newcomers. This puts many Bedouin in a dire situation where they cannot make enough money in their village and have no job security working for Israelis. [2]
Another reason why Bedouin are kept in lower living conditions can be linked to the need of cheap manual labour by Israelis. Although there is a minimum wage in Israel, many kibbutzes and factories have been caught paying their Bedouin workers lower wages than what is expected. As well, well-educated Bedouin compete with Israeli-Jews for better paying jobs in Israel. [3] 
Professor Aref Abu-Rabia suggests a reason why many Bedouin drop out of school is because of their family obligations. He wrote that Bedouin school children not only have the duty to do well in school but before, after and on weekends they have to take care of their families' flocks. This does not allow Bedouin students much time to do their homework.   In the case study he gives about the Basem family, he says that two family members had to drop out of school because "Identification with the flock was stronger than the urge to acquire education, although the family regarded education as an economic asset and a power resource which would be developed and exploited." [4] A reason Abu-Rabia gives for the high dropout rate of Bedouin girls is that there is a lack of schools just for girls. [5] In Israeli society, religious families have the option to send their girls to religious schools for only girls, but this does not exist for the Bedouin. All Bedouin students have to go to government schools, which are coed. This causes a problem for many Bedouin families, as keeping a girl's chastity is very important to Bedouin culture, and when a girl turns twelve, she is usually not allowed to associate with boys outside her family. As well, Abu-Rabia writes that many of the Bedouin who continue with their education into university, usually go to teacher's college. But he says that many Bedouin teachers are not able to teach about their own culture because they are never taught about it in school or they see the traditional culture as their parent's culture and the new modern culture is what Bedouin should strive towards. Abu-Rabia suggests that there should be a balance between the two concepts and that a new Bedouin curriculum should be created to encourage Bedouin children to study about their own culture. [6]
Although, almost all Bedouin are Muslim and in Islam everyone is equal before God, in Bedouin culture there exists a hierarchy among the families in the tribe. Since the creation of Israel, it has been easier for many Bedouin to leave the village and make money working for Israelis. Those Bedouin who might come from families lower in the Bedouin hierarchy, but make their money outside their tribe, upset the economic superiority of the higher-class Bedouin families by being able to buy more flocks or bigger houses then the old higher-class Bedouin.   By keeping Bedouin uneducated it not only stops educated Bedouin from stealing jobs from Israeli-Jews, it also benefits the elite of the Bedouin for maintaining their old power structure. [7]
Kressel also wrote "The changes in Bedouin consumption patterns and the higher prices for their labour are accredited to social contacts with people who maintain higher standards of living. Daily encounters with Jews and Arabs from the permanent settlements have brought about improvements in dietary and clothing habits and have promoted new health standards, pedagogic concerns and related issues which were previously non-existent." [8] This being said, before the creation of Israel Bedouins did not have a problem with diabetes, now they do. This can be attributed to switching from a nomadic lifestyle to a more settled lifestyle but can also be attributed to Bedouin eating Israeli foods. As well, living with and around Israelis, Bedouin see Israelis having nice things such as cars. Less fortunate Bedouin who do not come from wealthy families and cannot afford things like a nice car because they are too busy working for their obligations like tending to their families flock, might turn to stealing cars as a means of achieving their goals of having nice things, yet continuing to meet their family obligations.
This author of this essay does not wish to imply that Bedouins are not loyal to Israel, in fact many Bedouin are very loyal Israeli citizens and serve as excellent soldiers in the Israeli army, but as most books about the Bedouin demonstrate Bedouin have allegiances to not only the nation they live in but first to their families, then to their tribes and then to their clans. [9] To bring money to their families or tribes in illegal ways such as by stealing from Israelis or making deals with Egyptian drug dealers, these actions might be looked on as conflicting allegiances of Bedouin. In the past there has been a history of Bedouin tribal wars, theft within the tribe and even feuding among brothers, but this undermines their allegiance to the bigger body of the family, tribe or clan, similar to some Bedouins lack of allegiance to Israel.
Although this is a controversial subject, the author of this essay wishes to explain reasons why infidelity exists among the Bedouin. The author of this essay does not wish to criticize the Bedouin marriage practice as the divorce rate among Bedouin is much less than that in many Western countries. As well, growing up in the West, I understand that a man and a women might fall in love with each other and get married, but love can blind a person from seeing the truth about their mate, such as a wife or husband being an alcoholic.   By parents organizing a match for their son and daughter, the belief is that love will grow with time. This is very hard for many westerners to grasp, as they are brought up to believe that the only way to get married is to choose your own mate.
The reason this author gives for the infidelity among Bedouin is based on my Western upbringing. A man might love his wife, but if he is taught from a young age that the main purpose of marriage is to procreate, then his wife to him is but a baby-maker and caregiver, which takes away from the wife being treated as a sexual object. Living in Israel, it is not hard to see that Israeli women are much more sexually liberated than many Bedouin women, as Israelis wear far less clothing than Bedouin women and flaunt their sexuality in public. The reason for the infidelity of Bedouin men could be because of the cultural clash between sexual liberation and the modesty of Bedouin culture. Bedouin men might turn to Israeli women for a fun time, but return to their village to maintain Bedouin culture and progeny.  
Although, Israeli-Jews and Bedouin have very different cultures, they share one thing in common, the land of Israel. In the current situation they have to live together as neighbours, even though Israeli politicians like Avigdor Liberman want to return the Bedouin to the situation they were in before 1966, where the Bedouin were confined to concentrated areas within Israel. There are many Bedouin villages that are not recognized by the State of Israel, as they are considered squatting areas and the Bedouin within these villages do not pay taxes but also do not receive basic standards of living such as running water. [10] This situation furthers the bad blood between Bedouin and Israelis, and to further this there are many cases of the Israeli army going into Bedouin villages and kicking the Bedouin out of their homes. [11]
As the years pass of the Bedouin and Israelis living together, Israeli-Jews are gaining more and more control over Bedouin culture. Israel controls where Bedouin can live, can influence what Bedouin eat, the education of Bedouin children and Israel can dismantle the centuries-old hierarchy among the Bedouin by supporting one Bedouin family more than another. This conflict that exists between maintaining Bedouin culture and also modernizing, will plague Israel for many years if a solution is not found. Perhaps, Israel will take the route of the United Arab Emirates, whom has been able to modernize Bedouin culture by supporting age-old Bedouin practices of rearing animals but also financing the development of other industries in Bedouin locals. [12]
As we have seen with the various Israeli experiences of Bedouin mentioned above, there exists great negative stereotypes about the Bedouin culture based on the actions of a small percentage of the Bedouin population or by hearsay. In order to solve these problems, Bedouins and Israelis have to work together to first solve the problem of poverty and lack of education in many Bedouin villages but still maintain Bedouin culture and traditions. The problem though is that Israel is a Jewish State and the maintenance of the Jewishness of the nation overrides the desire to make the nation multicultural and respect the rights of other cultures within Israel's borders. Currently, Bedouin are given semi-autonomy to run the affairs of their people such as semi-allowance of the practice of polygamy, the partial acceptance of the Israeli government to overlook blood-revenge and the allowance of separate Bedouin legal courts.
To break down biases and stereotypes, interaction and dialogue must take place among Bedouin and Israelis, in hopes of creating a sense of equality. Bedouin are not guests of the Israeli-Jews but rather they are neighbours. "Thou shall not steal from thy neighbour," but also "Thou shall treat your neighbour as you wish to be treated yourself."


Abu-Rabia, Aref. "Education development among Bedouin tribes of the Negev desert" in Hagar's Well. Yeroham: bi-national conference on education of Holland and Israel , 1987.
Abu-Rabia, Aref. The Negev Bedouin and Livestock Rearing: Social, Economic and Political Aspects. Oxford: Berg Publishers Ltd., 1994.
Arouri, Amer. Palestinian Bedouins: Past, Present and Future. Jerusalem: Palestinian society for the protection of human rights and the environment, 2000.
Cordes, Rainer and Fred Scholz. Bedouins, Wealth and Change: A study of rural development in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. Tokyo: The United Nations University, 1980.
Kressel, Gideon. "Changes in employment and social accommodations of Bedouin settling in an Israeli town," in The Changing Bedouin, by Marx, Emanuel and Avshalom Shmueli e.d.. New Jersey: Transaction Books Inc., 1984.
Marx, Emanuel. Bedouin of the Negev . Manchester: The University of Manchester Press, 1967.
Katakura, Motoko. Bedouin Village . Tokyo : University of Japan Press, 1977.
The interviewees spoken about in this essay have been asked to remain anonymous but have accepted to be called upon if requested to confirm facts.

[1] Kressel, Gideon. "Changes in employment and social accommodations of Bedouin settling in an Israeli town," in The Changing Bedouin, Pg. 133.
[2] Ibid. Pg. 135.
[3] Ibid.  Pg. 150.
[4] Abu-Rabia, Aref. "Education development among Bedouin tribes of the Negev desert" in Hagar's Well. 1987, Pg.72.
[5] Ibid, Pg.125
[6] Ibid. Pg. 128
[7] Kressel, Gideon. "Changes in employment and social accommodations of Bedouin settling in an Israeli town," in The Changing Bedouin, Pg. 143.
[8] Ibid. Pg. 129
[9] Marx, Emanuel. Bedouin of the Negev, 1967, Pg. 63.
[10] Arouri, Amer. Palestinian Bedouins: Past, Present and Future, 2000, Pg. 59.
[11] Ibid. Pg. 43
[12] Cordes, Rainer and Fred Scholz. Bedouins, Wealth and Change: A study of rural development in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. 1980, Pg. 2

Fighting Terror with Charity: A Historical Overview of the Muslim Brotherhood

The “Islamic Brotherhood” (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) considered most prominent amongst modern Islamic organization. Give an overview of the history and religious perceptions of this organization. 

   In order to understand this current war of/on terror of the United States against Islamic Fundamentalists, we must turn back a century to understand how these fundamentalist groups arose and why they threaten the West.

   The concept of religious revivalism greatly took place in the Middle East at the end of the 19th century. As Europe and the West had been encouraged rather forcibly to accept the values of the secularism during the French revolution, the groups in the Middle East combated colonial encroachment of their land, by going the opposite way and turning towards religion. This is not to say that secularism did not exist in the Middle East during this time, as it did, but Islamic revivalism was a powerful force arising during the time of nationalist groups in the Middle East.

   A main group in this religious revivalism was the he Muslim Brotherhood. In this essay we will give a historical overview of the Brotherhood, focusing on the religious perceptions of this organization.

   Since 1928, the year the Muslim Brotherhood (الإخوان المسلمون) was founded, the tenants of freedom from oppression and a government of the people were at the organization’s base of thought. Started by a Muslim schoolteacher named Hassan Al-Banna, the Brotherhood started teaching Egyptians that Muslims lost their dignity when eight hundred years of Islamic supremacy over the region collapsed after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the once united Ummah was divided and exploited by Western powers. Al-Banna taught that the only way for Muslims to regain their dignity was to turn back the clock to the Middle Ages, when the Islam that Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) taught was pure before the Muslim people were ‘corrupted’ by Western influences. A Westerner must remember that when Europe was in the Dark Ages, the Middle East was celebrating the Golden years of Islam, where science, technology, literature and art were at its peak in the Islamic World. To add to this, according to leaders like Hassan Al-Banna, the Muslim World in the 20th century was in its own Dark Ages, and the Brotherhood wanted to bring about a Renaissance period that reveres the Golden years of Islam, similar to the way Renaissance Europe revered the Golden years of Greece.

   Along with six workers of the Suez Canal Company, Al-Banna started various Islamic schools, hospitals and pharmacies to help protect workers from the exploitation of the foreign companies ruling the Egyptian economy. The organization spread throughout the Middle East like a wildfire and by 1948, the Muslim Brotherhood was made up of over half a million people.

    Historian Nazih Ayubi explained that the political success of the Brotherhood can be attributed in part to the ban of most political parties during this time, socialists and rightists alike, in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. One of the only outlets for political opposition for change was religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which were tolerated in varying degrees. (Ayubi, 495) Ayubi also wrote that many Middle Easterners saw Socialism as a foreign ideology and that the Atheism of Communism went against Islam. For the majority of Muslims, the Brotherhood gave an outlet for political change that was not only a local ideology but an effort to unify Muslims through the Islamic belief system. The slogan of the Brotherhood shows this effort of unifying Muslims: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Struggle is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” (Brotherhood website)

   Since the birth of the Brotherhood, many of the Brotherhood leaders used non-violent methods to solve the problems of Egypt, such as by helping to create infrastructures in rural areas through various charities and helping children to read and write in a country that had an illiteracy rate of 80%. This in a way is similar to the approach the Jewish fundamentalist organization ‘Shas’ gained popularity in Israel among the working-class Israeli Mizrahim. Through both organizations’ social programs for the working-class citizens of their respective countries, with emphasis on religious education and morality, both Shas and the Brotherhood proved that the way to get support for their fundamentalist organizations was by helping and representing the under-privileged. Although not a Socialist party in the Western view, the Brotherhood has acted as a party that desired the creation of a welfare-socially conscious state, attempting to bridge the gaps between the various economic classes. This was shown in the Brotherhood’s call for state intervention in the Egyptian economy, nationalization of industries, laws to protect workers, an Islamic banking system that provides interest free loans (as riba-interest is harram), the creation of public housing, unemployment benefits and advocating for small farmers to own land. (Brynjar, 211) Al-Banna argued that Islam should be applied to the problems of the modern world and not just be confined to private life. (Brynjar, 224)

   The concept of jihad was and still is very strong in the Brotherhood, in the view that a Muslim must fight against the social evils of society to improve the condition for his/her fellow Muslim brothers and sisters and better the religion as a whole. In other words “Lead by example.” To rule, a group must first show a good example and then their followers will copy this example and be as moral and caring as their leaders have demonstrated.  If leaders are corrupt, the belief is that the citizens will follow this example as well.

         It is a common misconception that the Brotherhood was against everything Western. Al-Banna greatly supported teaching foreign languages in schools as he said, "We need to drink from the springs of foreign culture to extract what is indispensable for our Renaissance." The Brotherhood stood for riding Muslim lands of foreign occupation not riding the land of the benefits of Western knowledge. The main tenants stated in the American constitution said by Abraham Lincoln as “By the people and for the people” are shared by the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not only a coincidence for both the revolutionaries of America and the early leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood revered the same sources of political thought such as the writings of John Locke and Montesquieu, whom advocated revolt against tyrannical leaders to form a nation based on equality of men.

         Al-Banna tried to unite Muslims under the banner of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although he condemned some Sufi beliefs, he tried to bridge the gap between Sunnis and Shi'as and forced the members of his organization to refrain from imposing their vision of Islam on others. In 1934, Al-Banna stated in the General law of the Brotherhood that members who violate the principle of accepting different forms of Islam, such as by forcing women to veil themselves, would be expelled from the Brotherhood. (Brynjar, 82) In fact, many women of the organization choose to veil themselves in full covering, even their hands and feet, not because this existed in Islam previously but more as a protest to secularism and for unity with the Brotherhood. (Ayubi, 494)

   Although the Brotherhood have used non-violent methods to produce change, the Brotherhood became illegal in 1954, after members attempted to assassinate the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Many members of the Brotherhood were arrested and tortured, while many others went into hiding. The editor of the Brotherhood’s newspaper, Sayid Qutb, was one of the unlucky members to be tortured. After he was released, he published his book ‘Milestones,’ which stated that Western individualistic democracy created great social injustice and the Eastern Bloc’s Marxism went away from its original purposes and lead to an ideology of oppressive states. Qutb proclaimed that even Egyptians had gone astray and were in a state of ‘jahilyya’ (a period before the Prophet where Arabs worshipped false Gods). According to Jonathan Fine, research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, for Qutb the only way to correct the ills of the World was to prepare for a violent jihad to take away the sovereignty of people and give it to the proper ruler, God. (Fine, 6)

   The Egyptian government took this book as a threat to the regime, and to this day this book has been banned in all Middle Eastern countries but can still be found in the West. The Egyptian government believed that the Brotherhood wanted to overthrow the government and therefore arrested over 18,000 people and executed Qutb and two other members of the Brotherhood in August of 1966.

   A year later, Egypt joined in the war to take back the land of Palestine from the Israelis. Ayubi wrote that after the defeat of the Arab forces by Israel, many Arabs saw that the Jewish religion had beaten Islam because Muslims were not fighting for God but rather for the selfish pursuit of nationalism.  The way to get back Muslim dignity was to become more religious. (Ayubi, 490)

   The Muslim Brotherhood was greatly persecuted by Nasser during this time but when President Sadat took the reigns of the Egyptian government, he faced much opposition from the liberal left and saw Islamic revivalism taking place. He then turned towards the Brotherhood for a political base. He closed Nasser’s concentration camps, which held many members of the Brotherhood and gradually throughout the 1970s gave the Brotherhood more freedoms. The organization went from being an illegal party to being tolerated and even was allowed to publish a newspaper again. The Brotherhood pushed for the use of Shariah law in Egypt. And the government responded by starting a review of Egyptian law seeing how to harmonize it with Shariah.  (Wickham, 98) As well, when Egypt was suffering from defeatism after the 1967 war, Sadat’s government created many religious motifs around the 1973 war. After the ceasefire of the 1973 war, Egypt reported that the Arab world was victorious against Israel because God was on the Muslim side. (Meital lecture)

   Throughout the 1970s, many younger members of the Brotherhood interpreted Qutb’s writings as justification to revolt against governments that were not based on Islamic law and those who did not join the cause should be excommunicated from Islam. But the Brotherhood leadership disagreed with this and was more in favour of reforming Egypt gradually. (Brotherhood Website). Influenced by the writings of Qutb, but more so by the Islamic revolution in Iran, splinter groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad emerged using violent and radical methods to solve the problems of the Middle East such as by terrorist attacks on hotels and tourist areas. And in 1981, after Sadat had ordered the arrest of many opposition groups, including the Brotherhood, members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad assassinated the President. (Wickham, 114)

   After Sadat’s assassination, Hosni Mubarak took control of the Egyptian government and has ruled Egypt ever since. Over the past twenty-seven years, the Brotherhood has been tolerated in varying degrees but is still considered an illegal party by the government. The Brotherhood has taken upon a reformist approach to Egyptian society, aiming to establish an Islamic State by creating support from the bottom up. It still continues to fight for the lower-income Egyptians.

   Due to the Emergency laws still in place in Egypt from the times of Nasser, political opposition to the government still greatly limit the Brotherhood, whose members are often arrested by the political police. Since the Brotherhood has given great support to student groups throughout the life of the organization, many workers of the Egyptian bureaucracy, doctors, lawyers and teachers are members of the Brotherhood.

   Since 1984, the Brotherhood has joined the political arena, first with the Wafd party and in the next election as members of the Labour Party, who received more votes than any other opposition party because of the help of the Brotherhood. But throughout the 1990s, Mubarak increased persecution of the Brotherhood and in 1996 ordered the arrest of over a thousand members of the Brotherhood. (Wickham, 200)

   In 2000, the Brotherhood ran 76 candidates as independents in the Egyptian election and won 17 seats. According to political scientist Carrie Wickham, the Brotherhood's success in politics can be attributed to many voters’ perceptions of Brotherhood candidates as honest and having a sense of civic duty, in contrast to the prevalent corruption of the Mubarak government. (Wickham, 211)

    Recently, even Copts are encouraged to join the organization, an example set by Al-Banna who had two Copt assistants. And in recent years, the Brotherhood has pushed for greater democracy in Egypt, such as by joining the Egyptian Movement for Change in 2005 for a demonstration to increase democracy. And naturally, the Egyptian government cracked down on the Brotherhood again with 700 arrests of members of the Brotherhood in May of 2005. (Wickham, 220)

   Although we mainly spoke of the Brotherhood in Egypt we must mention that throughout this time in the Middle East, the Brotherhood continued to influence the politics in various countries through continued efforts to improve the lives of Muslims, through peaceful and violent means. The Brotherhood in practice fits well with the multicultural aspect of Islam, as there is no large force telling Muslims how they should act. Although the Brotherhood exists in many countries, their approaches to solving the problems of their specific areas differ, which is based on the needs of the local people and the restrictions they have by the local government.

      As we see, against the beliefs given to us by the popular media about the Muslim Brotherhood, this organization had peaceful roots but because of totalitarian acts against the Brotherhood, splinter groups arose and militarized the founding ideas of this organization.

      To this day, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a ‘terrorist organization’ by many nations. A group that helps at the grassroots level of society by helping the poor, thes governments who label this group as terrorists and persecutes its members,  are making this organization a martyr to those who are helped by this group and turning this group more towards violence than to peaceful means.

      The countries involved in this ‘War on Terror,’ must realize that for peace to arise from terror, one must understand why groups turn towards terror as a method of change. Fighting terror with terror only causes more hatred. 



Fine, Jonathan.  “Contrasting Secular and Religious Terrorism” in the Middle East Quarterly (web). Winter 2008.

International Crisis Group (ICG). Islamism in North Africa II: Egypt's Opportunity. Cairo/Brussels: International Crisis Group, April 2004.

Lia, Brynjar. The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement 1928-1942. London: Garnet Publishing. 1998.

Mitchell, Richard P.. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. London: Oxford University Press. 1969

Nazih M. N. Ayubi, “The Political Revival of Islam: The Case of Egypt” IJMIS, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Dec., 1980), 481-499.

Meital, Yoram. Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Lecture held in Cairo, Egypt in February of 2006.

Muslim Brotherhood Website. June 2006

Nathan J. Brown, “Sharia and State in the Modern Muslim Middle East” IJMIS, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Aug., 1997), 359-376.

Terrance G. Carroll, “Islam and Political Community in the Arab World” IJMIS, Vol. 18, No. 2 (May, 1986), 185-204.

Wickham, Carrie. Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism and Political Change in Egypt. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Eid 2004

Starving for Islam

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

My stomach grumbles. My head hurts. When will the sun set so I can fill my face with food?

It’s only day four of Ramadan and I wonder why I am fasting. I am not even Muslim, my Mom is Jewish and my Dad is Catholic.

Every November for the past 10 years my best friend, Tanvir Rahman, complains about not being able to eat from dawn till dusk. I used to think he was crazy, giving up food and drink for a month because a dead guy named Mohammad did it long ago. I would make fun of him by shoving a hot dog with the works into my mouth.

But while studying in Bombay, India two years ago, I saw many Muslims fasting during the day then come together for a communal feast at night. On closed off streets, as they broke their fast, I began to understand the importance of Ramadan or Ramzan as they call it in India.

Last year I fasted during Ramadan and the experience had an impact on how I viewed Muslims. However, living in a Judeo-Christian home, praying and fasting in isolation, I didn’t really get the full sense of the event.

This Ramadan, I stayed with Tanvir’s family, living as they do.

The whole family wakes before sunrise. And that’s early! At around 5 a.m. after many attempts by Tanvir’s mother to wake me up, I eventually stirred. I can’t remember the last time I was up that early.

Breakfast is curry and rice, which is supposed to hold us over for twelve hours until the sunsets. I usually skip breakfast to get a half an hour more of shuteye and eating so early made me feel a little queasy.

One of the main tenants of Islam is to pray five times a day but, if you live in a non-Muslim country, bosses and teachers do not make time for it. Still, during Ramadan, Muslims try their best to pray as much as they can. This means after our curry and rice, we left Tanvir’s warm and cozy home to trek through the cold to the mosque at 6 a.m..

Tanvir’s brother, Rezaur, taught me that before praying, one needs to cleanse with water. He said if you swear, fart, burp or lie, you are unclean and have to wash yourself again. After eating some spicy chicken curry at five in the morning, it is extremely hard for me to stay clean, if you follow. I just have to say that I feel sorry for those around me at the mosque.

Praying is actually the easiest thing about Ramadan because you are not doing it alone but in a long line with many other people, shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet. Everyone does the same thing at the same time, well at least tries to, as in my case. My knees aren’t that great and praying involves being on your knees for a long time.

It hurts my legs and they fall asleep. By the end of the prayer, as people start to leave, I’m still on the floor struggling to get up.

The first time I went to a mosque I was a little disappointed that men and women were separated. No hot girls in their Sunday’s best to check out when everyone else is praying. Now I actually have to pray because there is nothing to distract me. Damn.

Back at home I passed out on my bed to get a few hours of sleep before class. I can’t imagine going to class without food or water and lack of sleep. It’s bad enough that I already fall asleep during class without fasting. I hope no one gets upset that I drool and snore during lectures.

Around lunchtime, I walk to the prayer room at college, passing the cafeteria on the way. The food actually smells good, for a change. Everyone else is eating, oblivious. I am jealous. By around 2 p.m., my stomach starts to give, a headache grows and the smell of food becomes torture.

Fasting breaks my normal routine, which will help free my body from depending so much on food. Tanvir says that near the end of the month the headaches ease as your body sets a new routine.

My Mom told me to talk to a doctor before I started fasting because she worried that it would not be good for my body. But lucky or unlucky for me, the doctor said that fasting was actually good for my body.

He said that when the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and rejuvenate its energy. With fasting, as the body searches for food during the fast, it cleans out the stomach of old food particles stuck to your stomach walls. Also it is supposed to help with high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. My Mom is going to go crazy not be allowed to be a good Jewish mom and shove food down my throat whenever she can because I am doing something good for my body.

Giving up food during the day, I get a glimpse of what a homeless person goes through all day. At 2 p.m., when my stomach is growling, a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe looks tasty.

I sympathize with the poor, but get angry with peddlers because the last couple of times I have bought food for street people, they turned it down saying they were either vegetarian or vegans and asked for money.

At the mosque they told us during Ramadan to abstain from sexual activity. Even looking at the opposite sex is frowned upon Trust me, for a 21-year-old, this isn’t easy. Now I have to control not only my thoughts but also my natural instinct to look

Just as food around 2 p.m. starts to smell amazing, even foods I hate, now all women look better. I start to hope that all women wore hajabs, so that I can keep my eyes away from them.

What am I saying? In Western society we are told that the hajab is a sexist way to control women. The Imam, an Islamic teacher, told us that by wearing the hajab, a Muslim woman forces a man to see her for her mind and not just her body. But on television feminists say this is chauvinistic. What should I believe?

The Imam told us at Jumma, Friday’s prayer, that a way to control your natural instincts to look at females is to always look at a 45-degree angle downwards and five feet away. I just hope I do not bump into anything or anyone.

Living with a bunch of guys, swearing has become part of my normal vocabulary. This month, I’m not supposed to swear. Nor can I lie. This is not a good time for my sister to ask me she looks fat in her new outfit.

Finally, the moment I have been waiting for all day. Tanvir’s Mom says the best dishes are prepared during Ramadan. 6:29 and ten seconds, eleven seconds, twelve. Tanvir and I count down until suppertime 6:30 p.m..

Finally food!. I pop a date into my mouth, as Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) did when he broke his fast so many years ago and I chug down a glass of lemonade before loading a big plate of something like tempura, some fruits and other tasty looking foods.

But I can’t finish my plate. My stomach has shrunk over the day. There is so much food in front of me and I can’t eat it. AARRRRGGHH.

Well, at least I might lose a few extra pounds this month. But I am not fasting to look good, I am doing it for the same reason I will fast for Yom Kippur and Lent to develop self-control, to learn about what fellow Canadians have to go through every year and to better understand a religious practice. I will never understand Islam the way Tanvir and his family knows it, but I have shred part of their journey.

For more information about Toronto Muslim visit:

To learn how to pray and about Islam visit:

The science behind Ramadan and how its good for you to fast:

Canadian Muslim Prayer

    During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims try their best to pray five times a day at a mosque. Razaur Rahman, 16, a young Canadian Muslim from Bangladesh, prays next to fellow Muslims at the Islamic Education Centre on Bloor St. near Dufferin. Even though he is young, Islam is the most important thing in this Canadian’s life.


Canadian Muslim Teens Pray


According to ‘Sunna,’ the manner in which Muslims should guide their life according to Prophet Mohammad’s example, they should cover their heads when praying to God, to show respect.

Central Technical high school student, Farid Jolil,17, wears a Nike toque instead of the traditional Muslim prayer cap. He prays during his lunch hour with his friend Razaur Rahman during the month of Ramadan.



Canadian Muslim Fashion


The traditional clothing for Muslims across the world is white, long, baggy clothing called a kurta pajama. The kurta allows for free movement but also cools the body down in hot climates.
In the cold weather of Canada, young Muslims wear stylish bubble vests or jackets, which adds a Canadian flavour to the Muslim attire.



Canadian Muslim food

   During Ramadan, Muslims break their fast with a date, as Prophet Mohammad did after he received the Qur'an from Allah. It is a well-known fact throughout the Muslim world that after breaking their fast, Muslims usually feast on the best dishes of the community. In Arab countries, foods like shwarmas and falafels are made for the community feast, while in India curries are usually prepared.
  At the Islamic Education Centre in Toronto, young Mohammad Zamana, relishes halal pizza to break his fast.

Eid in Canada

   When Ramadan finally concludes, Muslims gather together to celebrate Eid. They usually gather at mosques during this holiday to first pray together, and then listen to a Sheik or spiritual leader advising them on how to act as a proper Muslims during the rest of the year.
     In Toronto this year, instead of gathering at a mosque, many Canadian Muslims celebrated Eid at the Canadian National Exhibition. Two years earlier this mass prayer was conducted at the Skydome.
   No matter how traditionalistic a religion might seem, when devotees live in a different culture for long enough, the religion adapts to the local culture. Although the initial message of the religion usually stays constant, the dogmatic practices adhere to the local customs. In Canada we can see this more than in other countries because of our diversity of cultures.


Implementing Islamic Economic Principles on Canadian Business

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki


Mohammad Rahman of Toronto, Canada, tried to use the Islamic financial option of ‘musharaka to buy a Country Style donut store in London, Ontario, Canada. He also used many traditional Muslim methods to run his business. Using this as a case study, we will examine the difficulties of applying Islamic methods of business in North America, focusing mainly on musharaka.

Mohammad Rahman, a Canadian citizen of 14 years, originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, wished to buy a "Country Style" donut store from a long time friend and former business partner, Nurul Islam. To purchase the donut store Rahman formed an Islamic musharaka agreement with his brother-in-law Anwar Haque.  Paying $50,000 of the $200,000 for the store, Haque owned 25% of the business, while Rahman paid the remaining $150,000 and therefore owned 75% of the store.

In the literal sense, musharaka means sharing. In Arabic, the root word of musharaka is ‘Shirakah’, meaning being a partner, which came from the term ‘shirk’ meaning being a partner with Allah.[1] In a practical sense musharaka means a joint profit-loss venture in which all partners share the profits according to the specific ratio of contribution decided upon before the business is started. But any loss in the business will be proportionate to the contribution of the various investors. According to the Hanafi jurist Quduri, musharaka is valid regardless of whether each partner’s investment is equal to that of the others.[2]

Musharaka works on a diminishing partnership system in which the business is broken up into shares and as the business makes profits, the original entrepreneur buys the shares away from the investors like an instalment plan.[3] An investor can also choose to hold the share, if stipulated in the contract, when the business is making profits for him, or he can sell his share to another person who is interested in buying a stock, if agreed upon by the other investors. When starting a musharaka, one must note that the more investors mean the creation of more shares, which alter power relations and decision making of the business.[4] 

Although the store was located in London, Ontario, 150 kilometres (three hours driving) away from his home in Toronto, after working for 14 years in odd jobs throughout Toronto as a janitor, parking attendant and short-order cook, Rahman longed for his own business. In Bangladesh, Rahman owned various businesses and taught economics at Dhaka University. Although he would not fully own this new business, Rahman would run the business with almost full control as manager.

Unlike ‘mudaraba,’ another Islamic financial approach, which is considered more a sleeping investment for the investor while the manager runs the business, in a musharaka agreement, a shared authority is given to the partners in areas of selling, buying, renting and hiring. This being said, the different Islamic schools have different views of this. The Hanafi School suggests that the manager of the business should have considerable latitude in running the business in any way he wishes, in order to make a profit. This school also says that a partner who is not a manager cannot give an item of the musharaka as collateral or as a pledge, but the manager has a right to do so. While the Shafi’i and the Hanabali schools suggest that any partner can conduct the affairs of the partnership to best serve the interests of the business.[5]

Rahman took out an interest-based loan from Canada Trust Bank to pay for his 75% of the share and the monthly expenditures. He did not want to bring any more partners into the business, as it might cause complications.

‘Riba,’ translated as usury or interest, is forbidden in Islam because during the times of Prophet Mohammed, many people saw their debts doubled and redoubled when they could not pay back their loan on time. This led to many people becoming slaves for their debts, thus the religion banned the practice of riba all together.[6]

Islamic economist, Rehan Huda, writes that of the 579,000 Muslims living in Canada, many either place their money in interest-based banks, which is questionable under Shariah guidelines forbidding riba, or they literally put their money 'under the mattress' to avoid dealing with Western financial services.[7]

This being said, Islamic financial institutions have grown tremendously over the last 20 years. In 1985, worldwide Islamic transactions were worth $5 billion; they now exceed $200 billion annually. In Canada several companies have started to provide Islamic mortgages and financial services. One emerging financial group is Ittihad Capital Corporation (ICC) of Calgary. “At ICC we are committed to supporting small and medium sized businesses and do not employ the use of leverage involving interest, do not earn from interest-bearing debt, and do not deal with unethical businesses such as gambling and adult- entertainment,” asserts Suhail Ahmad, Chief Operating Officer at ICC.[8]

Timur Kuran wrote, “There exists no example, modern or ancient, of a country that has done away with interest.” Faisal Kutty, a journalist focusing on Muslim affairs, says that even putting money in Islamic banks in Canada might go against Shariah (Muslim law).  The Bank Act of Canada forces banks to keep a share of its deposits as a primary reserve in the Bank of Canada, which incurs interest. "The act also restricts the type of activities and investments that a bank can participate in, and requires that depositors be given the option to have savings accounts, on which they must be given interest."[9] As well, a problem many Muslims face when working for non-Muslim companies in Canada has to do with unions. To work in many jobs in Canada, one is greatly encouraged to join the union in which the company or job is connected to. Some unions like the Teacher’s Federation of Ontario invests a teacher’s pension plan money into various financial options, such as the LCBO (liquor stores in Ontario), the Rogers’ Centre sports stadium that sells alcohol, or into accounts that accumulate interest. Shariah strictly forbids these options, but if a worker does not join the union, he or she could face being ostracized by fellow employees.

Although there are many Islamic banks that follow Shariah guidelines, after September 11th, many of these institutions have been under scrutiny by Western security forces, accused of funding terrorist activities. Thus many Muslim customers are taking their money out of Muslim-run banks and depositing it into banks like Citibank or HSBC, which offer Shariah guided accounts for its customers besides regular interest-based accounts. The collapse of Turkey’s Ilhas Finance in 2001 had a great effect on depositors’ faith in Islamic banks as Turkey has the Islamic World’s largest economy. With deposits over six billion dollars, This greatly increased Citigroup's Bahrain-based Citi Islamic subsidiary, as it now has over $6 billion dollars in deposits and has become the leader in Islamic banking throughout the Middle East. "Local Islamic banks lack sophistication," says Humayun Dar, an Islamic economist. "Customers are still more comfortable with an international name."[10]

When Rahman was initially inquiring about the business, Islam gave a net profit of $5000 a month. Islam also promised that he would buy $1000 worth of donuts a month for his Country Style shop ten kilometres away from Rahman’s, which is run by Islam's brother-in-law but owned in part by Islam. He promised this even though he could save money by making the donuts at his store. As Rahman and Islam had been friends for many years, Rahman trusted the net-profit estimate without going to the Country Style franchise office.

In Timur Kuran’s article “Islamic economics and the Islamic subeconomy,” he states that Islamization of business helps Muslims cope with the problem of trusting one’s partners. He writes that in this system, individuals do business within networks of people who know and trust each other. Doing business with one’s trusted colleagues, Kuran states, “reduces the cost of negotiating, drafting, monitoring, and enforcing agreements, relative to people who must constantly guard from being cheated.”[11]

 The concepts of Tawheed and Brotherhood play a large factor in Islamic economics. Tawheed literally means ‘unit’ explaining the context of how Islam teaches man how to relate and deal with other men in light of his relationship with God. This means that a Muslim not only has to worry about his own well being but also the well being of his fellow Muslims. “Unlike the incorrigibly selfish and acquisitive nature of homo econmicus of neoclassical economics, homo islamicus voluntarily forgoes temptations of immediate gain when by doing so he can protect and promote the interests of his fellows.”[12] To add to this, the idea of reciprocity also plays a major role in Islamic economics. As many Muslims choose to do business with friends or family, even though it might be more expensive in the short-run, in the long run the benefactor might return the favour in kind.[13]

Rahman took over ownership of the business in December of 2004. Within the first month, the Country Style head office told Rahman that he needed to buy new equipment, which Islam had been putting off buying when he owned the store. Haque could not afford to take out another loan to pay for the new equipment, so Rahman had to take out another interest-based loan of $50,000. This changed Rahman's plans considerably. He had originally wanted to hire just his oldest son and brother-in-law to run the business and finally have enough money to allow his wife to stay at home like she did before they moved to Canada, so she could take care of her two younger sons. But with the new costs for the equipment, he could not fulfil his wish and decided to hire not only his wife, but her sister along with having his two other sons and nephew work on weekends. By hiring his relatives, Rahman received their paycheques in the end to pay the bills for the restaurant and then paid them variable salaries according to the profits the store made. 

In Islamic economics, nothing prevents a person from becoming an entrepreneur and making great wealth. In fact Islam encourages this. It is written in the Qur’an that Allah owns all property, and the more a person accumulates the more Allah gets. But as we will see later, there are stipulations of what one must do with his obtained wealth.[14]

As Timur Kuran points out in his article “Economic justice in contemporary Islamic thought,” Islamic economists are in discrepancy about employees of an Islamic business earning variable or fixed salaries. By sharing the risk of a business between borrower and lender, the borrower has a heavy burden on his shoulders if the business fails. Paying based on variable salaries, the employees of a business take upon some of this risk by getting paid less during times of need but will get paid more in times of prosperity. But on the other side, opponents to variable salaries suggest, “a fall in a business’ revenues might so lower its employees’ wages that they would have trouble obtaining even the bare necessities of life.”[15]

Putting the economic aspects aside, one must remember that Islam affects every aspect of life.  The role of women in Islam is a very controversial topic for Westerners looking at Islam as well as for Muslims themselves. Bahira Sherif tried to define this controversy in her article “Gender Contradictions in Families: Official v. Practical Representations among Upper Middle-Class Muslim Egyptians.” She says that a Muslim woman’s traditional role in life is to stay at home and to take care of the children. In the Qur’an it says that a mother should be revered just under God as she is the upholder of the faith and teaches her children how to be good Muslims. If she is an inadequate mother, her children will take up bad habits and possibly turn against Islam. Muslim men are supposed to be the sole-bread winners in the family, while a woman’s role is to be pure and her life should surround her family and nothing else.[16] Of course there are counterpoints to this argument, such as in Falzlur Rahman's article "A Survey of the Modernization of Muslim Family Law." He states that there are two arguments about women working. The conservative argument is that although women can possess wealth and even earn money, she is not required to spend it on the household, as this is the role of the male, thus giving the man superiority over his family. While the liberal-modernist approach is that women should not only get educated but work and become economically independent so that she could contribute to the household as well, so that the spouses can come to enjoy equality. Rahman also suggests that women in the low-middle class bracket have been turning towards working since the 1940s because of economic constraints rather than a change in men’s view of women working.[17]

Besides the cost of the new equipment another problem Rahman faced was that there was no room for a stove that could be used just for non-pork items. Thus Rahman and his family could not eat anything cooked at the restaurant, besides the donuts cooked in a separate cooker, as the stove was contaminated with pork, which is harram (against God’s wishes). Rahman had originally wished to have such a stove so that his Muslim clients would be more at ease eating at his restaurant but with this change it was not possible. Rahman’s wife, Tahmina, and her sister faced another problem. They usually wore hijabs to cover their heads. As London, Ontario has always been a very conservative Anglo-Saxon area; the two women chose not to wear their hijabs in fear that they will face prejudice.

Some restaurants throughout Canada have been catering to the Muslim population by offering halal foods, and ensuring that pork products are either not cooked at the restaurant or are cooked with different utensils and on different stoves. One such chain of restaurants is ‘Popeye’s Chicken,’ which is often hired to cater for large Muslim events such as for the iftar (evening meal) during Ramadan, and often donates to these events for publicity. Eating according to Islam’s prescribed rules is important to many Muslims and to check out which restaurants a Muslim can eat at, many turn to[18]

The problem that many Muslims face in Canada is that they either work or own restaurants that they cannot eat in because of Islamic eating restrictions. The bigger problem is that those working in places that deal with pork and harram products such as gambling, alcohol or smoking products, are clearing going against Islamic law.[19]

The practice of Muslim women wearing hijabs in Western countries is another topic of great dispute among academics and among the Muslim community. Jen’Nan Ghazal Read and John Bartkowski’s article “To veil or no to veil?” discusses this controversy through a case study of 24 Muslim women in Austin, Texas, 12 who wear a hijab and 12 that do not. Many of those veiled said they did not only wear a veil to define themselves as Muslims but rather to follow the Muslim practice of taking sexuality out of public life. When a woman dawns a hijab, she is covering her sexuality, thus men will look at her for her mind instead of just for her body, giving her semi-emancipation. One of the respondents in the case study argued that a hijab “liberates them (women) from men’s untamed, potentially explosive sexuality and makes it possible for them to be in various sorts of public-sphere pursuits.”[20] Of the Muslim women who chose not to wear the veil, many said they did it because they did not want to be considered weird by other Americans who do not understand the purpose of the hijab. Another woman said, “The veil is definitely political. It is used by men to differentiate us from Westerners.” This being said, another de-veiled Muslim woman said “Being a good Muslim means believing in one God; no idolatry; following the five pillars of Islam; and believing in Mohammad.” She said that by taking off her veil it does not make her less of a Muslim.[21]

The other problem Rahman faced was that at the end of the day he had to throw out at least two garbage bags full of donuts. Rahman hated waste, so he wanted to donate the donuts to the poor. The problem was that the Country Style franchise office forbids any of its shops from giving away stale donuts, as the Country Style logo is “Always Fresh.” The franchise was worried that they would be sued if their donuts were not fresh and someone got food poisoning. Instead Rahman went to a local farm in London and worked out an arrangement with a farmer who would buy the donuts and use them to feed his animals, including pigs.

A large feature in Islamic economics is giving ‘zakat.’ This term literally means ‘purifier,’ and is one of the five pillars of Islam. It means giving to the poor, the handicapped, the unemployed and orphans, as well as prisoners, travelers with difficulty, and debtors whose debts are from legitimate activities. To calculate zakat, a Muslim totals up his entire wealth and then takes between 2.5% to 20% of that and gives it to those in need.[22] In some Muslim countries this is included in one’s taxes, but for those living in non-Islamic run countries, a good Muslim has to take this upon himself. Islamic scholar, Afzul-ur-Rahman, wrote “the very fact that zakat is paid to seek the pleasure of God is enough to encourage people to use their capital as far as possible for productive purposes, so that they may earn more wealth and pay more Zakat, thereby earning still greater pleasure of God.”[23] He said that zakat is a powerful tool in bringing an economy in line with the principle of equality.[24]

            An argument one can make for how zakat encourages wealth is that the more financial assets one has, the more zakat one must pay. But by investing the money in various businesses and joining partnerships, the assets are no longer in one's control and therefore cannot be taxed by zakat.

            In 2001, the Canadian government tried to pass the ‘Charities Registration Act,’ allowing the federal government the right to deny or revoke the charitable status of any Canadian non-governmental organization without due process. This act, connected with the security measures reacting to the September 11th attacks on the United States, targeted many Muslim charity groups in Canada, believing that many were funding terrorist activity. This act also allowed CSIS (Canada’s intelligence agency) to investigate who was donating to charity groups suspected of funding terrorism. In order to get an income tax credit for donating money, one must list the charitable organizations one has donated to on the income tax form. So a Muslim following one of the main pillars of Islam, zakat, and donating money to a charitable Islamic cause could be arrested by CSIS officers for funding terrorist activities.[25]

For two months Rahman made donuts for Islam, waiting for Islam to pay him. After the third month, Rahman went to Islam to ask about the payment for the donuts. Islam told Rahman that he owed money to the bank and could not pay. Rahman had been counting on his friend's payment in order to pay his own debts to the bank.


Somebody said to [the Prophet], “Why do you so frequently

seek refuge with Allah from being in debt?” The Prophet

(peace be upon him) replied, “A person in debt tells lies

whenever he speaks, and breaks promises whenever he makes

(them).” :Aisha, Hadith 1.795.[26]



As the initial months passed, Rahman was having trouble with his in-laws. His brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Anwar and Fatima Haque, did not speak English very well, and often took long breaks. Rahman had asked Haque to go to a training program at the Country-Style franchise office, but after the first day, he told Rahman that he did not want to go. The business was not doing well, but Haque still needed money to pay for his house in Toronto. He demanded more money from Rahman but there was nothing to give except for debt. The mounting frustration between Rahman and his in-laws came to a standoff in April of 2004. His in-laws left the business, and would be on bad terms with Rahman for another year and a half. Rahman wished to buy the rest of the musharaka shares from Haque but could not afford it at this time.

In the musharaka system, one must trust their partners, as any breech is difficult to punish. M.G-E. Abdallah in his article “Partnership Financing For Small Enterprise – Problems and Suggested Improvements,” suggests that some Islamic banks that offer musharaka agreements have taken measures to guarantee their investment. The measure taken by some banks is that the client (entrepreneur) gives a signed, undated cheque to the bank for the amount of money invested by the bank before the business starts, in case the client breeches the terms of the contract. This practice goes against the trust factor in Islamic finance, but it helps guarantee state that no partner should demand any guarantee from another. The Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi said “Each of them (partners) is a trusted person over what is entrusted to him. A stipulation in the contract that a trusted person provide a guarantee (daman) would be regarded as null and void.”[27]

According to the Hanafi and the Hanbali schools, the terms of the agreement and percentage of who owns what must clearly be defined in a contract before the business starts. These two schools state that fixing an amount of the profits for a partner goes against the practice of musharaka as this does not allow the partner from getting anything more than that stipulated therefore he would not be sharing equally in the profits if the business does well. The Shafi’i School states that the profit sharing ratio cannot be different from the capital contribution ratio, even if a partner works harder than another for the business.[28]

Due to this situation, Rahman lost some of his net-profits, as he had to incur the cost of hiring non-family to run the business. As well, Rahman had bought a house in Toronto five years early through a musharaka arrangement using the Islamic Housing Co-operation. He now owned 50% of the house and was paying $1000 a month to the Islamic Housing Co-operation for rent. In order to pay for this he rented out the top portion of the house, while his family lived in the bottom half. But with his oldest son and wife living in London with him, the responsibility of taking care of the tenants needs was left to Rahman’s two 14 and 17-year-old sons. The two boys busy with school did not have time for this and the aunt taking care of them did not speak much English and therefore could not help the situation.  Rahman's wife returned to Toronto to solve this problem but more importantly to be with her younger sons.  The sole responsibility for running the business was left to Rahman and his 21-year-old son, Tanvir.

Along with businesses, musharaka can also be applied to a type of housing mortgage. Under this mode, the housing co-operation or Islamic bank, and a Muslim desiring to buy a house, jointly purchase a house. The ownership of the house is split between the financial institution and the customer. After discovering what the going rate for rent is in the area, a type of rent agreement is drawn up. If the customer owns 10% of the house and the rent for similar houses in the area is $1000 a month, then the customer pays $900 a month to the financial organization and keeps the remaining 10%. Over a specified time period stated in the contract, the client purchases a greater percentage of the house from the financial institution and therefore owns more of the house and pays less for rent.[29]

            In a lecture about Islamic Economics, Dr. Zvi Barel of Ben Gurion University explained that this version of musharaka in purchasing a house is extremely risky for an Islamic financial institution as it is difficult to punish or evict a client who refuses to pay rent or buy more of his share. In an interest-based mortgage, if a person does not pay, the bank has a right to evict the client and sell the house. But in the case of this style of a musharaka agreement, an Islamic bank cannot evict the client, as the client co-owns the house. Instead Barel suggests that another version be used to deal with this problem. He said that a housing developer forms a musharaka with an Islamic bank or a housing cooperation, builds the house and then rents out the house to a potential client. The client then pays in an instalment plan to buy more of the house but the ownership is under the housing developer, so he can evict the tenant, as the tenant does not own the property.[30]

Rahman and his son Tanvir worked long hours, living far away from their family and friends living in Toronto.  In June of 2005, Rahman noticed that the net-profits were $2,000 lower than the estimate that Islam had quoted him, even after deducting the loss of his family working for the business. Rahman went to the Country Style franchise office and asked for the audit sheet of his store when Islam was owner of the store. There was a discrepancy in the sheet that Islam had given Rahman with that produced by the franchise. Islam had only made $3000 in net profits a month.

Rahman did not know what to do. If he confronted Islam, he would risk losing a long time friend, but also start a controversy between the Rahman family in Bangladesh and in Canada, with that of the Islam family. Rahman consulted his wife on the matter. She said that although Islam was a respected member of the Bangladeshi-Muslim community, if her husband didn’t confront Islam, he would be disrespected in society if anyone finds out.

In dealing with disputes Muslims can turn to three methods to solve their problems, which have been used since the time of Prophet Mohammad. These methods are: arbitration (tahkim); mediation (wasatah); and conciliation (sulh). In 1991, the provincial government of Ontario, created the Arbitration Act that allows religious groups to act as mediators in civil matters to free up the backlog in Ontario civil courts. In 2004, the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice said it wanted to set up its own faith-based arbitration panels under the Arbitration Act, based on Shariah law. This caused a great uproar among feminists throughout Canada, as they thought that the Shariah law applied to Canada would be the same as Shariah is practiced in Afghanistan, where women are stoned for not wearing a hijab. Anti-Shariah supporters formed a great coalition and finally made the government strike down the Arbitration Act, banning all religious courts even for Christians and Jews.  "There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians," said the Premiere of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty.[31]

Rahman eventually confronted Islam about the situation. Rahman afraid to anger his friend did not push the matter and eventually left Islam without an answer to his dilemma. He continued to run the store with his son, but Tanvir got tired of London, and wished to be with his fiancé who was in her final year of high school in Toronto.  So Tanvir also left, leaving his father to run the business alone.

“A common argument found in popular texts about Islamic economics is that it is unjust to make money without assuming risk.”[32] An example of making money without risk is depositing money in an interest-based bank, as one accumulates money without taking any risk. The investments bought with a client’s savings could end up going bad, and the banks loses money but the client using the bank would still gain a guaranteed increase with interest.

As Alexandra Hardie and M. Rabooy write in their article “Risk, Piety and the Islamic Investor,” the Muslim investor knows that he cannot tell the future and therefore should not worry about taking an educated risk. He should invest in something that will give him variable returns and not demand compensation for his risk. But to reduce the risk, a Muslim investor should diversify his assets in different areas and invest in various small businesses to help various entrepreneurs. This way he will not only benefit from any profits he makes but also solidify business relationships for future businesses he might wish to start in the future.[33]

In the end, everything that Rahman depended upon to cope with the large risk he was taking in starting his own business; such as hiring his family, by trusting his friend to give sound information on the business and keeping a promise to buy donuts monthly, all fell through. Rahman was left with unpaid loan payments and a lonely apartment to come back to every night as his entire family was now living in Toronto. In October of 2005, Rahman decided to cut his losses and sell the business.  It has been six-months since he put the business on the market and there has still been no serious offer. 

“Many Muslim immigrants greatly appreciate Canada's freedoms because they have come to Canada to escape racial or ideological intolerance, flee religious and political persecution or avoid famine and pestilence,” says Canadian federal politician, Itrath Syed.  The Muslim population has greatly increased since got its first mosque in 1938 and now makes up 1.9% of Canada’s 32.8 million people. This being said, as we have seen Muslims are still having difficulty following their customs in multicultural Canada. There might be a reason why the Canadian government is not so keen on encouraging Islamic economics. Timur Kuran suggests that the use of Islamic financial institutions causes social harm through its political effects. He writes “Islamic enterprises provide financial support to fundamentalist political parties that seek to restrict social, economic and cultural interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims.”[34]

    In the end, Canada must decide how it wishes to encourage multiculturalism. The options are either allow cultures to grow exclusive and independent of one another or restrict cultures from becoming communal in order that Canadians of all cultures will interact with one another in society, politics and economics.  Last year, Canadians saw this battle take place in schools where students were being taught about gay marriage. Muslim parents did not want their children to learn about such things, as they said it went against the Muslim religion. After much debate, the Ontario government decided that it was more important for Canadian students to learn about other lifestyles in Canada, in hopes of combating cultural biases that create hatred and bigotry through ignorance.  But the debate over cultural sovereignty is a far way from being solved. Canadians can only hope that the various cultural groups will continue to use non-violent methods to encourage cultural equality instead of taking the violent path that other multicultural nations of the past have taken, such as in the cases of Lebanon and former Yugoslavia. Hopefully Canada will choose the right path.



Abdallah, M.G-E.. “Partnership Financing For Small Enterprise – Problems and

Suggested Improvements,” in Partnership Financing For Small Enterprises, by Harper, M.. London: ITDG Publication, 1997. Pg. 58.

Ahmad, Suhail. “Islamic Finance in Canada,” in Inspire. Calgary: Muslim Youth Initiative, Summer 2005, pg. 11.

Archer, Simon and Karim Risaatabdel. Islamic Finance and Growth. London: EuroMoney Books and Aaoifi, 2002.

Barel, Zvi. Professor at Ben Gurion University. Lecture on Islamic Economics on Novermber 2, 2005.

Hardie, Alexandra and M. Rabooy. “Risk, Piety and the Islamic Investor,” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1. London: Taylor and Francis Ltd., 1991, Pg. 52-66.

Huda, Rehan. “Muslim financial services,” in Ottawa Muslim. Ottawa: Ottawa Muslim Network, November 29, 2004.

Issa Beekun, Rafik. “Islamic Business Ethics” in Islamist. Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, November 1, 1996.

Kuran, Timur. “The Economic System in Contemporary Islamic Thought: Interpretation and Assessment,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, May 1986, Pg.135-164.

Kuran, Timur. “On The Notion of Economic Justice in Islamic Thought,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, May 1989, Pg.171-191.

Kuran, Timur. “Islamic economics and the Islamic Subeconomy,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 9, No. 4. Nashville: American Economic Association, Autumn 1995. Pg. 155-173.

Kutty, Faisal. “Islamic Law meets Western Finance” in CA Magazine. Toronto: Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. September 1995, Pg. 5-6.

Kutty, Faisal. “Canadian Muslims Concerned About New Charity Law” in Washington report on the Middle East Affairs. Washington: American Educational Trust, Inc., May-June 2001, Pg. 1-3.

Leslie, Keith. “McGuinty rejects Ontario's use of Shariah law and all religious arbitrations,” in The Toronto Star. Toronto: Toronto Star, September 11, 2005, pg. A1.

Matthews, Owen. “How the West Came To Run Islamic Banks,” in Newsweek. New York: MSNBC, October 31, 2005, pg 1-2.

Rahman, Fazlur. “A Survey of Modernization of Muslim Family Law,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, July 1980, Pg. 451-465.

Read, Jen’Nan Ghazal and John Bartkowski. “To Veil or Not to Veil: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation among Muslim Women in Austin, Texas” in Gender and Society, Vol. 14, No. 3.  Albany: Sage Publications, June 2000, Pg. 395-417.

Saeed, Abdullah. Islamic Banking and Interest. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1996.

Sherrif, Bahira. “Gender Contradictions in Families: Official v. Practical Representations among Upper Middle-Class Muslim Egyptians,” in Anthropology Today, Vol. 15, No. 4. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, August 1999, Pg. 9-13.

Vogel, Frank and Samuel Hayes. Islamic law and finance: religion, risk and return. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1998.

Warde, I.. Islamic Finance in the Global Economy. Edinburgh: ­­­­­­Edinburgh University Press, 2000.



Case Study:  Mohammad Rahman, 49, Country Style donuts, 204 Hamilton Road, London, Ontario, Canada, N5Z 1R1

The author is a friend of the Rahman family.

[1] Vogel, Frank and Samuel Hayes. Islamic Law and Finance: Religion, Risk and Return. Pg. 175.

[2] Saeed, Abdullah. Islamic Banking and Interest. Pg. 60

[3] Warde, I.. Islamic Finance in the Global Economy. Pg. 137

[4] Saeed, Abdullah. Islamic Banking and Interest. Pg. 65

[5] Saeed, Abdullah. Islamic Banking and Interest. Pg. 61

[6] Kuran, Timur. “Islamic economics and the Islamic Subeconomy,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Pg.  156

[7] Huda, Rehan. “Muslim financial services,” in Ottawa Muslim. Pg. 2

[8] Ahmad, Suhail. “Islamic Finance in Canada,” in Inspire. Pg. 11.

[9] Kutty, Faisal. “Islamic Law meets Western Finance” in CA Magazine. Pg. 5.

[10] Matthews, Owen. “How the West Came To Run Islamic Banks,” in Newsweek. Pg 1

[11] Kuran, Timur. “Islamic economics and the Islamic Subeconomy,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Pg. 168

[12] Kuran, Timur. “The Economic System in Contemporary Islamic Thought: Interpretation and Assessment,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg.136

[13] ibid. Pg.138

[14] Dr. Zvi Barel lecture about Islamic Economics on November 2, 2005

[15] Kuran, Timur. “On The Notion of Economic Justice in Islamic Thought” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg.179.

[16] Sherrif, Bahira. “Gender Contradictions in Families: Official v. Practical Representations among Upper Middle-Class Muslim Egyptians,” in Anthropology Today. Pg. 11.

[17] Rahman, Fazlur. “A Survey of Modernization of Muslim Family Law,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg. 453.

[18] Interview with Mohammad Rahman

[19] Hardie, Alexandra and M. Rabooy. “Risk, Piety and the Islamic Investor,” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Pg. 55.

[20] Read, Jen’Nan Ghazal and John Bartkowski. “To Veil or Not to Veil: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation among Muslim Women in Austin, Texas” in Gender and Society. Pg. 404

[21] ibid. Pg. 409

[22] Kuran, Timur. “On The Notion of Economic Justice in Islamic Thought,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg. 173

[23] Kuran, Timur. “The Economic System in Contemporary Islamic Thought: Interpretation and Assessment,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg. 144

[24] Kuran, Timur. “On The Notion of Economic Justice in Islamic Thought,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies. Pg. 173

[25] Kutty, Faisal. “Canadian Muslims Concerned About New Charity Law” in Washington report on the Middle East Affairs. Pg. 1.

[26] Issa Beekun, Rafik. “Islamic Business Ethics” in Islamist. Pg. 11

[27] Saeed, Abdullah. Islamic Banking and Interest. Pg. 61

[28] ibid. Pg. 62

[29] Archer, Simon and Karim Risaatabdel. Islamic Finance and Growth. Pg. 48.

[30] Dr. Zvi Barel lecture about Islamic Economics on November 2, 2005

[31] Leslie, Keith. “McGuinty rejects Ontario's use of Shariah law and all religious arbitrations,” in The Toronto Star. Pg. A1.

[32] Kuran, Timur. “Islamic economics and the Islamic Subeconomy,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Pg. 157

[33] Hardie, Alexandra and M. Rabooy. “Risk, Piety and the Islamic Investor,” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Pg. 56

[34] Kuran, Timur. “Islamic economics and the Islamic Subeconomy,” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Pg. 169.

Different paths up Mount Moriah: A Comparison of Judaism, Christianity and Islam’s interpretations of the Akedah

By Jonathan Coutts-Zawadzki

There are different paths up the same mountain. Each traveler only has the perspective of the side he is climbing, but all paths reach the same tip.

As the mountain allegory cited above teaches us, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all received the same story of the ancient tale of Abraham obeying God by sacrificing his son. But each religion’s scholars interpreted the tale differently.

Being born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and having studied Islamic thought, the bias of this author is that all interpretations are equally important to fully understand the story. As the mountain allegory teach us, all three religions although different have fundmental similarities in the interpretations of the Akedah and by analyzing these interpretations we get to see the full picture and how it affects each community.

In the modern era, if a fire happens in the city, the different newspapers interview witnesses, who are usually different people who give their own perspective of the fire. To get a good understanding of the fire, one should read various newspapers to get different viewpoints about the incident. Reading different opinions, one will notice that some witnesses give similar accounts, therefore helping us differentiate from what is fact and what is opinion. This helps us to create a picture approximating the factual using a common series of events. First, let us see if the core of the Abraham episode is maintained in the tradition of the three religions. Then each religion will be discussed in turn.

Same story, Different Telling

In the Jewish version, the event is called the Akedah, translated as ‘the binding.’ This is the account in Genesis 22:1-19 of Abraham following God’s command to sacrifice (bind) his son, Isaac, on top of Mount Moriah. After binding his son to the altar and preparing to sacrifice him, an angel of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son. The angel tells Abraham that God is happy with his demonstration of obedience and that his descendents, through Isaac, have been selected as the ‘Chosen People’ of God.

In the Christian Bible, the story of Abraham does not change but the interpretation is different. The Christian reader has knowledge of a future sacrifice of a son made by a father, that of Jesus Christ by his Father, God Himself.

The Qur’anic version of this story is found in Surrah 37:102 but in a different form than the Judeo-Christian version. When the Qur’an describes previous prophets’ experiences, it does not give a story as does the Torah. Rather, it provides the reader with a fragmented synopsis of what happened before Mohammad. An important thing to note when reading the Islamic version is that the sacrificial son is not named, which means it could be Isaac, the son of Sarah or Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the slave woman. In both versions, in a dream, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. What makes the Qur’anic version different is that Abraham tells his son of the dream. The other difference is seen in the Hadith, which is a collection of the sayings and activities of Muhammad. This source says that when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son with a knife, the knife slipped three times. These differences are important to note when understanding how Muslims interpret the story.

Setting aside the differences in the versions of the Akedah, the core section of the story is: God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham obeyed. An event like a fire breaking out, affects people and communities differently. No one person has the same experience of the event. But newspapers cater to their community by providing it with the information that is important to them. Therefore, some aspects of the event will be given more emphasis in one newspapers, compared to the description given in another.

Seeing that the story is basically the same, one should make note of the differences in the story and emphasis given to different parts to understand how the story affected each group.

The Akedah through Jewish Eyes

Since the Jewish version was written before the Christian and Islamic accounts, it would be considered an earlier account in oral tradition. Let us first analyze different Jewish interpretations of the Akedah.

In Genesis 15:3, Abraham in his old age asks God for an heir. According to the Jewish interpretation, of Genesis 16:15, the son God first gives Abraham is Ishmael, through a slave girl, and the son is therefore not worthy of being considerd an heir. (Woolley, 144) But in Genesis 21:2, Abraham’s wish is actually granted, as Abraham’s first wife, Sara, bears Isaac. God promises that Abraham’s lineage will be strong, great in numbers and the covenant God made with him will be passed down to his descendents through Isaac. The descendents of course, are the Jewish people. After granting Abraham his wish of having a proper heir, in Genesis 22:1, God tests Abraham’s obedience by asking him to sacrifice his heir.

The main interpretation of many scholars such as Kessler is that God made the command for Abraham to sacrifice his son to "test Abraham’s soul and see whether such orders would find him obedient." ( Kessler, 38) Just as Adam, in Genesis, broke the covenant with God by failing the test by eating of the forbidden ‘Tree of Wisdom,’ Abraham is tested, and if he obeys will be considered worthy of reentering into a covenant with God.

Although this idea of ‘a test’ is held and also written in 22:1, other scholars such as Louis Jacobs wonder why God needs to test Abraham at all. Jacobs says that if God is all powerful couldn’t he just read Abraham’s soul and see that he will be obedient? But this is looking at this tale in the literal sense; rather, one should look at this piece as a parable with a moral. The moral being that if a person puts God above all else then they will be blessed. Jacobs says that God made a test case with the example of Abraham to show the limits one must go, to love and fear God. Jacobs says that Ramban, a 13th century Spanish Rabbi, states that God did know beforehand that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice his son, but in order to reward Abraham for his faithfulness, Abraham had to do the act as God commanded. (Jacobs, 25)

Was human sacrifice a prevalent practice during Abraham’s time? In Omri Boehm’s article ‘Child sacrifice, ethical responsibility and the existence of the people of Israel,’ he brings into the debate the notion that the Akedah acts as a protest against human sacrifice. He writes that this is the traditional scholarly approach to the Akedah and that by God stopping Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, God directed the descendents of Abraham to refrain from such cultic practices, and thereby separated the Abrahamic people from other religious groups. This follows along side Philo’s testimony concerning Phoenician child sacrifices of the time and the Akedah. But then Boehm refutes his own argument by indicating that child sacrifice was not an important feature during this time. Boehm quotes the scholar Sarna saying that Cain, Abel and Noah’s sacrifice were all animal sacrifices and not human and therefore child sacrifice was not a concern to Abraham. Sarna also looks at Isaac’s question "where is the sheep for the burnt offering?" showing that Isaac presumed it was supposed to be an animal sacrifice as well, adding to the lack of child sacrifice in common practice for the times. (Boehm, 146)

Sarna’s argument does not seem to hold ground though and goes against much of the biblical scholarly work. Many sources still say that child sacrifice did take place during Abraham’s time, such as Philo’s account where it suggests that Abraham functioned as a priest in returning to God the gift of his son. (Daly, 48) As well, Jeremiah 32:35 says "They offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, a thing which I did not lay on them nor did it ever come up to my heart that they could commit this abomination." This shows us that child sacrifice was taking place in the Near East around this time, and Jeremiah is not the only account of child sacrifice in the Bible and therefore refutes Sarna’s theory (Noort, 8)

In Edward Kessler’s book "Bound by the Bible," he mentions that Palestinian rabbis discussed in Midrash which son Abraham loved more. Kessler said that the rabbis came to the conclusion that Ishmael was loved more because he chose to be circumcised when he was thirteen, while Isaac was circumcised when he was only 8 days old, without agreeing to it. But they argue that when Isaac was older, "he cried out that he would give up his life if God commanded it." And that after these words God decided it was time for the test. (Kessler, 43)

Garcia Martinez in the book "The Sacrifice of Isaac," also agrees with these Rabbis in that Isaac consented to be sacrificed and thereby made him a martyr to his faith. (Martinez, 52) This interpretation makes it clear that Isaac’s offer to sacrifice his life as an adult was superior to Ishmael’s willingness to offer a few drops of blood at the age of thirteen for his circumcision. The rabbis emphasized Isaac’s superiority in order to explain why Isaac was chosen, rather than Ishmael, as the designated heir of Abraham. (Kessler, 43) We will see later on that this interpretation is also held by the Muslims.

One must remember that in the Jewish tradition, unlike the Christian versions, Isaac was not a child when the sacrifice took place; he was more like 37 biblical years old, which is about 18.5 in modern years. This was calculated by subtracting Sarah’s age when she gave birth to Isaac at the age of 90 to the age when she died at 127. (Hamilton, 100)

If Isaac was 37 years old, that would mean that he was old enough to take a leadership role among his people. As Abramovitch suggests "Isaac’s binding" is not so much a binding together of his arms and legs but rather a binding of Isaac to God. Abraham as spiritual leader found his heir in Isaac, an heir to pass on God’s covenant to. For Isaac, this ordeal of being sacrificed would be like an initiation into the relationship with the divine. For Abraham it is giving up Isaac to God and thereby letting Isaac carry on the spiritual revolution of his father. "For Abraham, the Akedah enacted the symbolic death of Isaac as merely a biological son but confirmed him in the role of the prophet-successor chosen by God to carry out their covenant." (Abramovitch, 123)

This interpretation gives yet another different perspective of the ‘Akedah’ as it places another layer of significance to the event. He further substantiates this interpretation by rewarding us that the‘Akedah’ was the last time in the Bible that Abraham had direct contact with God. "In doing so Abraham sacrificed his son, not as a burnt offering but as a prophet in the service of God." (Abramovitch, 124)

Just looking within Judaism, we get many different paths all leading up to the top of Mount Moriah. It is important to note that Jews, to this day commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice for God with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Ladin notes that on Passover, Jews sacrifice a lamb and share it with the community to celebrate God’s protection of the Jewish people, solidified by Isaac’s faithfulness to God to take his own life if God commanded. (Ladin, 132)

"The saving virtue of the Passover lamb proceeded from the merits of the first lamb, the son of Abraham, who offered himself upon the altar." ( Daly, 49)

The Christian view of the Binding

Let us now move on to the next path up Mount Moriah, Christianity, which has a different view of the meaning of Abraham’s test. Christian scholars regard that Abraham’s sacrifice as but a foretelling of a future sacrifice, that of God’s sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

The New Testament speaks little of physical sacrifices such as sacrificing an animal, but speaks more about the need for sacrifice in a metaphysical sense. A reason Robert Daly gives for Christianity not giving much importance to animal sacrifice is that the religion grew more on the nomistic line of Jewish religious thought, especially around the Pharisaic traditions with its emphasis on law, rather than the cultic line such as the prescriptions of the Sadducees, with their emphasis on ritual observance. (Daly, 53)

Traditionally, Christian scholars see Abraham’s test as being repeated again with Jesus of Nazareth. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s bidding and later God is prepared to sacrifice his only son to save humanity. . "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Both stories emphasize that if one has faith in God, one will be saved, as Isaac was when the angels stopped Abraham from killing his only son. Jesus although he died, was resurrected. "The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down on my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’ (John 10:17-18)

W.J. Van Bekkum gives an alternate opinion to the role of sacrifice in the Akedah in his article ‘The Aqedah and its interpretations in Midrash and Piyyut". He suggests that in the quote "he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering ‘instead of his son,’ the words ‘instead of’ play a key role in the passage. He says that in Midrash NumRabb 17:2, it is suggested that the ram was used not as a substitute for Isaac, but instead, as if it were Isaac. He says that Sages discussed in Midrash that Abraham said: "Lord of the universe! Regard the act as though the blood of Isaac were sprinkled before You." He took the ram and flayed it, saying "O consider the act as though I had flayed the skin of Isaac before You." He took the ram and dried its blood with salt saying: ‘O consider the act as though Isaac’s blood were being dried before you.’ He burnt the ram and said: ‘O consider the act as though Isaac’s ashes were being heaped up upon the altar.’" (Van Bekkum, 90) Many Christian theologians see this interpretation as being very similar to the mystery of transubstation in Catholicism where the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ when blessed by a priest.

G.J. Reinink in his article ‘Syriac Exegesis and anti-Islamic Apologetics,’ supports this idea of transubstation but concentrates on the literary meaning of the passage more than Van Bekkum did. Reinink states that the ram sacrificed instead of Isaac is symbolically of the flesh and that decays, Isaac is the Word of God, which remains. (Reinink, 114) The Christian then reads Romans 8:3, which says "Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh," and perhaps one will see that humans may be punished physically for their sins, as every man sins, but the soul and the word of God will remain.

This also adds to the idea of maintaining the covenant of God from generation to generation. In the Akedah, Abraham was very old when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. If Isaac was sacrificed, the covenant would have stopped with Isaac’s death, as there was no other legitimate heir for Abraham at the time. But God allowed Isaac to live so that his bloodline would carry on the covenant with God. Both the authors of Mark 14:24 and Matthew 26:28, quote Jesus as saying "My blood is the blood of the new covenant." This suggests that when Jesus died, the shedding of his blood would act as the seal of the new covenant between God and Man, and those who elect to accept the blood of Jesus, would in fact choose to be part of the ‘Chosen People’ of God and enter into the covenant, which would last forever.

Christian scholars tend to see similarities in word use and objects described in the New Testament and the Akedah. Reinink says that previous Christian theologians suggest that the cross Jesus carried on the way to his crucifixion just as Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice. Reinink also says that the two boys who came with Isaac and Abraham to Mount Moriah were like witnesses, just like the two thieves hanging on crosses next to Jesus during the Passion. (Reinink, 120)

Perhaps the authors of the Christian gospels selected their words and their imagery to make Jesus seem like the new Isaac, worthy of establishing the new covenant. Many scholars argue that that the title of "Beloved Son" conferred on Jesus at his Baptism, was influenced by the biblical description of Isaac as "your son, your only son, who you love, Isaac." (Kessler, 39) Another literal similarity Daly suggests is seen in John 1:29,"The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," which draws on Abraham addressing Isaac as "the lamb of the burnt offering" in Gen 22:8. (Daly, 52) In James Swetnam’s book "Jesus and Isaac" he makes many references to the Akedah in the Epistles such as "Raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" in Corinthians 15:4, which is very similar to Genesis 22:4 where it says ‘on the third day, Abraham came to the place for sacrificing Isaac.’ But one must also note that ‘the third day’ motif was a characteristic time in the Old Testament for it shows up 30 times when salvation is achieved or crisis is averted. (Daly, 51)

Howard Moltz adds more to the Christian interpretation of the Akedah by suggesting that Isaac was in fact sacrificed by Abraham. Moltz in his article ‘God and Abraham in the binding of Isaac,’ asks the question "Did Abraham actually sacrifice Isaac and therefore foreshadow the crucifixion?" Moltz suggests that Isaac was killed but God brought him back to life. (Moltz, 61) This leads us to read further into Abramovitch’s view that Isaac symbolically died with the sacrifice but then reborn the prophet-successor of Abraham. (Abramovitch, 123)

As shown, Christian scholars try to find as much similarities in the two narratives as they can to demonstrate that the Old Testament was merely a foreshadowing of the New Testament and that the selection of the Jews to be the ‘Chosen People’ was merely a precursor to the invitation to all the people of the world to become the new ‘Chosen People’ through their belief in the new Isaac, Jesus Christ, and the establishment of a new covenant with His newly ‘Chosen People,’ the Christian Church. Also similar to the Jews, Christians to this day celebrate a great sacrifice. For forty days during Lent, Christians try to control their physical desires by fasting and abstinence. Lent ends on Good Friday, which commemorates the day God sacrificed his only son for mankind’s sins. Two days later, people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of the new covenant on Easter Sunday.

Islam Submits to the Akedah

Now let us see what the third path up the mountain leads us to learn about Abraham’s great sacrifice. Islam means ‘submission.’ The religion bases its meaning on Abraham’s sacrifice. A good Muslim sacrifices all for the will of Allah (God), as Abraham once did long ago. (Combs-Schilling, 233)

As mentioned earlier, in the Qur’anic version, Abraham tells his son beforehand of the sacrifice. And the son’s reply is: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast." (Surrah, 37:102)

This version emphasizes that the son is willing to not only submit to Allah’s will, but he participates in his own murder. This is very similar to the interpretation made by Palestinian Rabbis mentioned earlier, as well as the writings of Josephus. (Nort, 52) This interpretation puts more emphasis on the faithfulness of the son, who, in the other two interpretations, acted rather passively. Here, the son takes the sacrifice in his own hands, and shows that he deserves the covenant of God, rather than just inherit the covenant from his father.

Another difference between the Qur’anic version and the two others is that the name of the son is not mentioned in the Qur’an. There are two main Muslim traditions regarding which son was sacrificed. One group agrees with the Jewish and Christian view that the son was Isaac, as Isaac is mentioned just after the passage about the sacrifice in Surah 37.112. The other group believes that the Jewish version was corrupted by the Jewish people by putting Isaac as the chosen son. This group believes that the son was actually the father of the Arab people, the founder of the Ka’ab and Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael. And that it was Ishmael rather than Isaac who received the covenant of God and passed it down to the Arab people rather than to the Jews. (Kuschel, 155)

But in both groups, Ishmael, father of the Arab people, still fufills an important role. Scholars such as Anton Wessels in his article "Can the children of Abraham be reconciled?" suggests that Isaac might have been the one sacrificed but Ishmael received God’s covenant and protection, as well. Hagar and Ishmael were abandoned in the dessert with little water, which is just as good as being sacrificed. Instead of allowing them to die, God saved Ishmael and Hagar by providing them with a well to drink from. (Wessels, 141) Therefore, not only was Isaac’s life spared, Ishmael’s life was as well, for he survived in the desert after being abandoned by Abraham and was protected by God. (Wessels 139) Edward Noort suggests that both narratives, of Hagar and Ishmael being expelled and of the sacrifice of Isaac, are but the same story. Noort says that in both situations (Gen 21:12 and 22:1.2) God steps in at the last moment and rescues the promise-bearing son and makes it clear that "the divine promise will only open the future after a deathly threat." (Noort, 5) Not only in the Qur’an but also in Genesis 21:12, it is said that God held a special place for Ishmael as well. "But also the son of the slave-woman – a nation I will make of him, for he too is your seed."

Another difference in interpretation of the story is seen in the Islamic Hadith, where it says that when Abraham took the knife to slit his son’s throat, the knife slipped from his hand. After three attempts to kill his son, and three failures, God tells Abraham not to kill his son because God believes in Abraham’s obedience. Islamic scholars like Combs-Schilling interprets this as Abraham, like man, does not control life or death, it is up to God to determine when a person shall live or die, no one else. (Combs-Shilling, 236)

Abraham’s sacrifice of his son is the model of the ritual sacrifice that takes place on the tenth day of Hajj for Muslims, which is prescribed in Surah 37:107 and 2:124. When pilgrims perform the sacrifices of animals such as camels, oxen, sheep and goats, not just individually but collectively, they are imitating what they understand to be Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice. Furthermore, as Kuschel suggests while performing the sacrifice, the Muslim is both physically and spiritually enacting what it means to believe like Abraham: "To abjure any idolatry and to respond to the one true God." (Kuschel, 156)

Like different newspapers of one city, each religion gives a similar report on the same event. But the event is perceived by different groups and through different eyes, and is coloured by their beliefs of what happened. One must note that the Akedah was passed down orally through different tribes for many generations. Both Isaac and Ishmael had 12 sons. They, in turn, formed their own tribes and passed down the oral tradition in their own way. The story itself was not written down to what we know it as today until around 400 B.C.E.. Therefore different parts could have been told or interpreted differently according to which tradition one was told. (Noort, 14) In looking back at how each religious group interpreted the Akedah we see great similarities, even though each gives its own particular group’s emphasis.

All three religions wish to show their connection to Abraham, as each wish to be deemed to be the ‘Chosen People of God." But unlike the Jews and the Christians, the Qur’an does not say that the Muslims are the only ‘Chosen people of God." Nowhere in the Qur’an is the Jewish or Christian claim of being the children of Abraham disputed. It is said that the religion of Abraham existed prior to Judaism and Christianity and is given a new form in Islam. (Kuschel, 201)

Both Judaism and Islam wish to show that the son, either Isaac or Ishmael, was worthy of receiving the covenant of God. Christianity uses the same motif in its version of the Akedah by showing that Jesus is worthy of receiving God’s new covenant for mankind.

As well, each religion wishes to show that the covenant will not only be passed down but also maintained through blood and faith. For the Jews it is Isaac’s people that will carry on the covenant as ‘the Chosen people." For the Muslims it is through Ishmael, who was also protected by God. And for the Christians, by receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, one can become one with Christ and an heir to the new covenant with God.

Jews, Christians and Muslims have much in common when it comes to religious practices, views and religious morals. Each tries to instill in its followers that there is some order to the world and that there is a Being that will protect mankind throughout time. And that through submission, obedience and sacrifice to God, one will continue to be protected and blessed as Abraham was when he received the covenant from God. To this day, each religion celebrates, first through sacrifice, and then festivities, Abraham’s faithfulness to God.

The covenant of Abraham is but a river flowing through the ages and Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the streams flowing out of the great river yet each emanates out of same source and is nourished by it.








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Spiritual Revolutionary. Maryland: University Press of America Inc., 1994.

Bechwith, Roger, ed. And Martin Selman, ed. Sacrifice in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995.

Boehm, Omri. "Child sacrifice, ethical responsibility and the existence of the people of Israel."Vetus Testamentum, 54 no 2 2004, p 145-156.

Combs-Shilling, M.E.. Sacred Performances: Islam, sexuality and sacrifice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Coogan, Michael, ed.. The new oxford annotated Bible, 3rd ed.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Daly, Robert. Christian Sacrifice: The Judeo-Christian Background Before Origen. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1978.

Daly, Robert. The origins of the Christian doctrine of sacrifice. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.

Fox, Everett, ed.. The five books of Moses. New York: Schoken Books, 1997.

Wessels, Anton. "Can the Children of Abraham be Reconciled: Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible and the Qur’an," in Gort, Jerald (eds) et al.. Religion Conflict and Reconciliation. New York: Rodopi B.V., 2002, p 134-144.

Hamilton, Victor, ed.. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Harrisville, Roy. The Figure of Abraham in the Epistles of St. Paul. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992.

Jacobs, Louis. The Jewish Religion: A Companion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kessler, Edward. Bound by the Bible: Jews, Christians and the sacrifice of Isaac. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Kuschel, Karl-Josef. Abraham: A symbol of Hope for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Munich: SCM Press Ltd., 1995.

Ladin, Jay. "Akedah 5760." Cross Currents, 50 no 1-2 Spr-Sum 2000, p 131-135.

Martinez, F. "The Sacrifice of Isaac in 4Q225," in Ed Noort, eds. et al. The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah and its interpretations. Leiden: Brill, 2002, p. 44-57.

Moltz, Howard. God and Abraham in the binding of Isaac. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no 96 D 2001, p 59-69.

Noort, Ed.. "Genesis 22: Human Sacrifice and Theology in the Hebrew Bible," in Ed Noort, (eds.) et al. The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah and its interpretations. Leiden: Brill, 2002, p. 1-20.

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Ramandan: a path to good health

-Printed in the Varsity newspaper on November27, 2003

On Oct. 27th, Muslims around the World started giving up food from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan. Although many take up this fast for religious reasons, along with it comes many physical, mental and social benefits.

To prepare for Ramadan, Muslims in the Scarborough area flocked to the Centennial College Residence on October 19th, to listen to Sheik Ahmad Kutty, a Muslim scholar. He informed them on how to prepare for this month of fasting.

"The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quaranic revelation began," Kutty said. "The Qur'an was revealed during this month, as a source of guidance with the clear criteria of distinguishing truth from untruth."

Professor Todd Lawson who teaches the Islamic religion and mystical Quranic exegesis at U of T and McGill, said that one of the pillars of Islam urges Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan. Their Prophet, Mohammed, cleansed himself for 30 days by fasting before Allah (God) gave him the first verse of the Qur'an.

"Fasting is ordered by God in the Qur'an and it is given as an example of proper pious behavior," Lawson said. "It is also the Sunna ("living example") of the Prophet Muhammad."

Kutty encourages Muslims to fast during this time to commemorate Mohammed receiving the Qur'an from Allah, and to cleanse their bodies of bad thoughts, and diseases, as well as encourage generosity, empathy and self-restraint.

Kutty said that many benefits come with fasting, especially to benefit one's health.

"When you reduce your consumption of food, you can also get rid of many causes and complications of diseases," he said.

Dr. Greg Wells, a sports physiologist and PhD. student in exercise and respiratory physiology at U of T, confirms this belief that fasting makes your body healthier.

"It gives your digestive tract a break," he said. "Your digestive system is constantly working all the time." He continued that: "There is quite a bit of left over waste products in your system that basically stay there forever. When you fast, it gives your body a chance to loosen those up and clean the walls of the system and eliminate some of the stuff that might not get a chance to be eliminated."