Sermon at a mosque after Christ Church attack

I attended the Jumm’ah prayers at the Masjid Al-Taqwa in Altadena. Here is an abridged version of the sermon. 

The Imam read out a message from a family in the neighborhood. They had left a card as well : “We stand with you on this sorrowful day, we hope you can find some peace.” – A Pasadena Jewish family.

“This is the result of the tireless efforts of local mosque. May God bless our mosque and may god bless our administrators, who connected with members of other faiths. This is who we are, we are a peaceful people. I will remind us, that the Prophet said that the parable of Muslims is to one another is that of a human body: when a part is sick, the whole body will feel the pain.”

“The shooters in Christ Church were not born to hate, they were taught to hate, just as all terrorists. To hate everyone else, than their color or ethnicity.”

We pray that the deceased are in the highest level of paradise. We ask God to bless those who are left behind. The Muslim community is in grief and in pain, we feel this for our brothers and sisters in that community. We must stand united, unshaken. We will fill our mosques, we will fill our homes with happiness and religion. WE will teach our youngesters what islam is  We teach Islam. We teach peace.

The hate of Islam is 1400 years old and will never go away, till end of days. As long as there is truth and falsehood, falsehood will try and cover the truth with darkness. Eventually, truth will prevail, as Allah has promised.

The final victory is for righteousness, Insha Allah.

No place for victimhood, we must act and not react. We must all manifest that in our interaction with our co-workers, on a small scale and a bigger scale. On a community level as well.

Hatred, violence, ugliness oppression and racism have no place in our lives. They do exist However. There is also beauty, belief, faith, generosity, courage, honor and many other wonderful things.

We as Muslims must embody them. Those characteristics that the Prophet taught us. Dear brothers and sisters, Muslims of old were tortured, from the Seerah, we have a lot of stories of Bilal, how he was tortured, in the middle of the desert – heat of mid-day. Stones were put on his chest just to make him disbelieve.

“Ahadun ahad, fardan samad.” That’s what we have to endure, brothers and sisters.

These people who love to hate, do not want to see the light. We have to rejoice that ‘Inna ma al usri Yusra. “ With every calamity there is ease.”

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In Surah Al Baqarah Allah says, that have you do you think that you enter Jannah without being tested? And without experiencing calamities before you? They were suffering from adversity and hurt and they were shaken until the prophet said “And those who believed him from out of frustration of human frustration. They said, when is Allah granting us victory?” Allah reassured them that victory will come.

     Surah Azhab , #53, “They came onto you from above and below you.”

Prophet Muhammad and his companions were tested severely. Ibn Ummar was tortured and the Prophet and his companions were weak. He had words telling them “Glad tidings to you, Yasar, definitely your abode is in Jannah. We ask Allah to grant them Jannah. Those who are in hospital, we ask Allah to grant them speedy recovery.”

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God has his own way to reveal things. I just wanted to mention to you, one story that a family, the father was Abu Hamza, from Syria fled in 2013 and were in refugee camps in Jordan; the Zaatari camp. They suffered a lot. Eight months ago, they were granted a refugee camp and were in Christ Church. The father and his two kids were in the mosque and they all died. Regardless of how we run away from our destiny, Allah has his plan. The plan for these people is to be in Jannah. We grant Allah to grant them peace and protection.

Mission impossible? – Part 1

The recent news of the John Allen Chau, the American missionary who was killed by tribals in India’s Andaman Islands prompted a lot of writing. Much ink has been spilled and many perspectives shared. One perspective suggests that since his actions – of wanting to spread Christianity- are part of the older narrative of wanting to ‘civilize’ the native, his actions are reprehensible. Another perspective – shared by his fellow missionaries is that he was just doing what he was supposed to do – spread the word of god. He died in his cause, as a martyr, according to them.

Which one is correct? Where does his ‘charitable’ act of trying to bring faith to a supposedly ‘godless’ people  fall? It depends, in my opinion, on where you stand. This is one of those questions that has more grey than black and white. While a commonsense explanation of his action would be that he should have left the poor tribals alone, to do what they have been doing, for ages; others might disagree.

For a bit of history on this phenomenon, have a look at this report, prepared in 1932, titled ‘Rethinking Missions,‘  a report prepared in the aftermath of similar situations that arose in the developing world.

As the report says in the foreward “One of the chief advantages enjoyed by this Commission has been the circumstance that it includes contrasting views in the interpretation of Christianity and therefore of Christian missions. With less of a gamut it would have been by so much less representative of the membership of American churches. These differences are to some extent differences of expression, to some extent differences of substance. Such differences are not unimportant.” The commission that prepared this report points out that missions as they exist may continue to exist, though some of them ‘deserve to perish. (p.6)’ They consider the value of missions to be important, given that they are driven by one’s desire to share one’s faith.

‘By what standards should missions be judged’ the authors ask, before answering it saying that ‘objective’ criterion is impossible.

The criterion for judging the success or failure of a mission cannot be solely determined by any one perspective.

What about those who are at the receiving end of these missions, one might ask? What if they don’t want these missions showing up, like the tribals, in India?

These are some big questions that one has to deal with.

 

 

Work – Do we need to redefine it?

I finished teaching Public Administration Theory class this week (for a 11 week term)and one of the themes in this course was ‘The Future of PA’. Given the talk of Artificial Intelligence and challenges of governance, I touched upon the issue of work and how that is likely to change, in the future.

With more productivity, less work and fewer jobs, perhaps there will be unemployment. There is also likely to be different kinds of (newer) jobs created, as a result of technological shifts.

What this means is that work as we may know may not exist. I don’t mean to exaggerate, but at its extreme, we may need to redefine how and what we mean by work. Of course, there will be teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, barbers, masseuse etc. but their work will most likely be aided by or in some case replaced by intelligent robots or technologies.15621

In a short book titled ‘Social policy and social justice,’ that I am reading, the authors make a case for expanding the definition of work to include non-labor market jobs such as caring for one’s parents, volunteering etc. as ‘work.’ There may be a greater demand for such jobs in the future, as populations age, life expectancy increases etc.

Thinking of work as only income producing activities is a limiting idea, they argue. In this ‘post work society’ we may need a different currency such as ‘civic money’ rather than just hard cash, as a means of exchange.

What do you think?

Government & the future of welfare in a world of AI

Earlier this year, PK Agarwal, a well-respected technocrat from California was a keynote speaker at the American Society for Public Administration’s conference. Among other issues, he talked about how the future of government will change. Using e-services as an example, he illustrated how customer centric work will be the norm in government agencies. He also hinted at the role of government as one becoming a facilitator of services.

While all of this is positive, what remains unclear is how work and the nature of governance related to it will be impacted. With technologies such as automation, machine learning and the like are likely to make millions unemployed, by replacing people with machines, this trend is likely to also create new jobs, perhaps by the millions too. What does this mean in terms of jobs, full-time, ‘good jobs,’ that pay beyond the minimum wage? What does it mean for the future of taxation – one of the major sources of government revenue?

Differing visions of the role of work

As Richard Hall says in his book ‘Sociology of Work,’ there is a paradigm shift in how technology is impacting work. “The dimensions of time and space are altered, least where information is concerned,” he reminds us. To this, we may add that there is also the element of shift of productivity, which increases enormously; thus freeing humans from working very hard or long. While this may be a positive, the obvious negative is the loss of work for humans, who may be replaced by machines for routine work.

Hall argues that robots will not entirely replace humans, there is also the question of affordability. “Robots can take over repetitive assembly work only if the assembly organization can afford to purchase them” (p.351). He suggests that if people can’t afford to buy them, then humans will still be at the core of the work, with robots working at the periphery.

The lesson from the Anatomy of Revolution, a classic book of history by Craig Brinton is that all the four major revolutions: American, French, English and Russian originated when people felt unfairly taxed. They revolted against what they felt was an unjust order. We must make sure that our societies donot end up that way!

UBI: Experiments in social equality?

There is a lot of debate about Universal Basic Income (UBI) and other forms of ‘welfare’ provision, around the world. The assumption is that with increased productivity, we can produce more with less resources and we may reach a point when there may be no need to work – with machines producing most of all we need. With minimal work, we may be able to enjoy life and what it has to offer – with a model of UBI that guarantees us all a basic income to live, comfortably.

One such model that is being experimented is that of ‘Direct Cash transfers,’ or giving of money directly to the poor, so they can use it for consumption or invest it in bettering their lives. Giving Directly, a nonprofit based in New York seems to be one of the major advocates of this approach, in addition to many academics, who have amassed data that points to the utility of such a system, for improving the quality of life of the poor.

However, not everyone is excited about UBI and direct cash transfers: visionaries such as Mohammed Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank has opposed this, saying such measures sap initiatives and can turn people dependent on the handouts. He seems unhappy with the current financial system, where the poor are underserved by banks, which were designed to serve the middle class and the rich.

With welfare being one of the tenets of the social contract, are we witnessing a configuration in terms of what welfare means, in 21st century America? While welfare has always had a slightly ‘market’ orientation in the US, unlike in Western Europe, which has been ‘state led’, this shift in the social contract is to be expected, with the government expecting people to defend themselves and figure out their lives (Spiker, 2017). While Spiker makes 26 arguments for welfare, listing them alphabetically from A-Z, other scholars and practitioners are not as enthusiastic.

However, with wage stagnation, increased income inequality and growing use of technology in our society, will such mechanisms as Direct Cash Transfers and UBI become a necessity? Only time will tell. But for sure, we know that if unaddressed, this situation could spiral out of control and perhaps lead to social unrest.

 

References

Agarwal, P.K. 2016. Rethinking government in the age of AI and bots. Accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgY_zVyDljs

Brinton, C. 1938. Anatomy of Revolution. Vintage Press.

Hall, R. Sociology of Work. 1994. Pine Forge Press.

Nelson. H. 2018. Nobel Prize winner wants two economic systems. Accessible at https://qz.com/1430076/nobel-winner-muhammad-yunus-wants-two-financial-systems-one-for-the-rich-and-one-for-the-poor/

Spiker, P. 2017. Arguments for Welfare. Rowman & Littlefield.

On social entrepreneurship…

A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone at a university, who runs an entrepreneurship center. During our conversation, I brought up social entrepreneurship, stewardship etc. ideas that are becoming mainstream.

He argued that there is no such distinctions are artificial. All entrepreneurship is about creating value and social change. So, by this logic, all forms of entrepreneurship should be seen as ‘social entrepreneurship.’

While I am still mulling this, months later, I am beginning to see how this might be wrong.

Entrepreneurs of course want to create value. And this value may not always be socially beneficial. Those who turn perishable commodities and other depleting resources – think fossil fuels etc. into profit are obviously only interested in profits and shareholder value.

What about tech geeks who claim to hold the moral high ground, as Silicon Valley folks are wont to. Even there, if the investments are from people who are not very ethical or are hurting freedoms, human rights or the environment; then how ‘socially responsible’ are they? Think of the recent debate about the Saudi investments in Silicon Valley.

While this debate rages on, I am still not too sure of the original argument that was made.

What do you think?

On Remittances…

Recently, I spoke at the local Rotary Club in the Oxnard area. I shared some data and a few insights, gained from my research on this phenomenon.

More than $466 billion were sent from countries around the world. This number, which the World Bank estimates to be a slight improvement over the previous year, is three times the size of international development aid.

In today’s world, where Western powers are becoming more inward looking and focused on their own national priorities, the appetite for helping others, who are poorer seems to be decreasing.

A lady at the event asked me “Isn’t this a net negative cash flow from the US?” referring to remittances flow from the US.

Perhaps so. But isn’t an entire chain of  Americans benefiting from the work of these migrants? Many migrants are creating new businesses, contributing to the economy, paying taxes and only THEN, are they sending money back to the countries of their origin. Even in this process, an entire chain of people are making money off these remittances – the banks, the money transfer companies involved and others who are in this business.

Besides, the goodwill that the US earns, by virtue of these migrants being able to live, work and improve the lives of those across the border is incalculable. The word I was thinking of was ‘Soft power.’

Remittances are indeed a form of soft-power for the US.

 

The New American Community?

I am working on a project, that could potentially become larger than what it is currently. The central idea is to map out how philanthropy is shaping community : An idea I have argued for, in my dissertation.

Given that the past year or so has been spectacularly chaotic, both socially and politically in the US; the idea that America is being reshaped fundamentally, is something worth exploring. Whether this is true is something I would like to examine.

Steve Almond in his provocative book Bad Stories argues that Trumpism is a “bad outcome arising directly from the bad stories we tell ourselves. To understand how we got here, we have to confront our cultural delusions: our obsession with entertainment, sports, and political parody, the degeneration of our free press into a for-profit industry, our enduring pathologies of race, class, immigration, and tribalism.”

What this means in other words is also that we have become a people who form communities around these bad stories and are excluding those who dont believe in our versions of reality. This is potentially dangerous, as a society.

I see this occurring in India as well, another country that is beset with right-wing ideologues, who want to make ‘India great again’ though in a slightly different form. They want to make ‘India Hindu again,’ harking back to an era of supposed purity where the undesirables : Muslims, Christians and the secularists were not around.

I wonder if this new idea of what America means will radically alter what America will become, both legally and socially. This project aims to dig deeper, using philanthropy as a lens. If you would like to talk – to be interviewed – or even just pass on an idea to me, feel free to get in touch!