Saturday, February 12, 2011

BE MY VALENTINE?


February 14th, they say, is the “Day of Love” – “Valentine’s Day” – in which millions of heart-shaped cards and boxes of chocolates are sent to lovers to symbolise the significance of the day. Even our schools are not immune – children are made to draw names from a box and exchange heart-shaped notes which ‘pair off’ the children and is said to be ‘all in fun.’ People of all ages are part of the fun. Everywhere you go or turn to, the words you hear are, “Be My Valentine.”
It is surprising that many Muslims and Christians nowadays do not question the origin of the customs they involve themselves in, and teachers are silent about what they are forced to teach in today’s schools. Do they have any choice? People do not want to ask questions but prefer to do what others are doing.
This column, today, is speaking not only from Islamic perspective but a multi-religious one. Muslims and Christians are part of the celebrants of this soul and heart affair. Yes, Valentine’s Day has to do with the human soul and heart – love. Both the Qur’an and the Bible have this to say: “…the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy…” (Yusuf, 12:53).The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins, even to give every man according to his wages, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Why are Muslims and Christians not asking questions regarding Valentine’s Day? Is there any basis for such celebrations in the Qur’an or the Bible? What is the origin of these customs and this unusual day? Why is the colour red used? What is the meaning of the heart shape?
The month of February, in the days of the Roman Empire, was the last and shortest month of the year. Originally, February had 30 days, but when Julius Caesar named the month of July after himself, he decided to make that month longer and shortened February to 29 days while making July a month of 31 days. Later when Augustus, also known as Octavius Caesar, came to power, he named the month of August after himself, and not be outdone he also subtracted a day from February and gave the month of August 31 days. And it remains that way to this day.
“The ancient Romans believed that every month had a spirit that gained in strength and reached its peak or apex of power in the middle or ides of the month. This was usually the 15th day, and it was a day when witches and augurs or soothsayers worked their magic. An augur was a person filled with a spirit of divination, and from the word augur we get the word “inaugurate” which means to “take omens”. Since February had been robbed by Caesars and had only 28 days, the ides of February became the 14th day of that month. Since the ides of a month was celebrated on the preceding eve, the month of February was unique, because it was the 13th day that became the eve of the Ides that month, and it became a very important pagan holiday in the Empire of Rome. The sacred day of February 14th was called “Lupercalia” or “day of the wolf.” This was a day that was sacred to the sexual frenzy of the goddess Juno. This day also honoured the Roman gods, Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary twin brothers, who supposedly founded Rome, Remus and Romulus. These two are said to have been suckled by wolves in a cave on Palatine Hill in Rome. The cave was called Lupercal and was the centre of the celebration on the eve of Lupercalia or February 14th. On this day, Lupercalia, which was later named Valentine’s Day, the Luperci or priests of Lupercus dressed in goatskins for a bloody ceremony. The priests, made red with sacrificial blood, would run around Palatine Hill in a wild frenzy while carving a goatskin thong called a “februa.” Women would sit all around the hill, as the bloody priests would strike them with the goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The young women would then gather in the city and their names were put in boxes. These “love notes” were called “billets.” The men of Rome would draw a billet, and the woman whose name was on it became his sexual lust partner with whom he would fornicate until the next Lupercalia or February 14th.
“Thus, February 14th became a day of unbridled sexual lust. The colour red was sacred to that day because of the blood and the “heart shape” that is popular to this day. The heart-shape was not a representation of the human heart, which looks like it. This shape represents the human female matrix or opening to the chamber of sacred copulation.”
                            Heart Shape, or Female Opening...?
Doubtless, Muslims and Christians should avoid Valentine’s Day celebration because it is evil. In the sight of God, it is still “Lupercalia”, the “Day of The Wolf.” Men become wolves, as they carry on the satanic rituals of fornication, which means sexual intercourse without marriage.
Let us ask ourselves, Muslims and Christians, if it is fitting that we be associated with this celebration of evil roots. Should we be doing what the heathen have done for so many years and try to justify it as love? The Qur’an and the Bible have the answer: “And those who do not witness falsehood, and if they pass by some evil play or evil talk, they pass by it with dignity.” (Al Furqaan, 25:72). “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2).
I was leaving the Millennium Park, Abuja on Sunday 7th February, 2010, after spending the evening relaxing with my wife, children and the family of a friend, when, before I could go into my car, a well-dressed gentleman approached me with a leaflet. ‘Good evening sir,’ he said handing me a leaflet, ‘we’d like to invite you to our programme.’
‘Thank you.’ I responded collecting the paper.
It was clear from his clerical dress that he is an evangelist. Reading through the leaflet I understood the invitation to be from the All Christian Fellowship Mission, to a “40 Days of Love Celebration” starting from 14th February 2010. ‘This must be a Valentine’s Day programme.’ I said.
‘No sir; it’s not.’ He answered
‘But why are you starting the event on the 14th of February?’ I enquired
‘I assure you sir; it’s nothing to do with Valentine...’
 ‘Look, my brother, I will not attend your programme; period!’ I snapped conclusively.
At home, after the Ishaa prayer, I realised that both I and the Millennium Park evangelist had made a mistake. I should have deciphered (and the evangelist should have explained to me) from the absence of any mention of Valentine on the leaflet that the All Christian Fellowship Mission had organised the event to take away the attention of its flock from the celebrations of Valentine. Though 40 days is rather too lengthy a period in contrast to 14th to 15th of February Valentine’s Day celebrations, All Christian Fellowship Mission deserves commendation for this welcome diversion.
This is a challenge to Muslim organisations to create their own version of days of love to divert the attention of their youth away from the satanic celebrations of Valentine. The Movement for Islamic Culture and Awareness (MICA) staged an event which they christened as Couples Night Out on the 13th of February, 2009 at the Chelsea Hotel, Abuja. Was the choice of the date a coincidence, or did MICA place it to clash with the Valentine’s activities? It would have made more sense, for obvious reasons, to include the youth rather than confine it to couples. The programme was well attended. The participants were Muslim couples; only Mr. and Mrs. –no children. A baby sitter was at hand to keep the young ones busy so that papa and mama could have some uninterrupted, quiet moments for the duration of the event – 7pm to 10pm. The setting was truly romantic; not more than two couples on each table decorated with perfumed flowers; the hall was incensed, dimly illuminated; a couple could only gaze at each other’s face by the faint lighting of the scented candles between them, hardly recognising the occupants of the table next to them. Couples were encouraged by the anchor of the programme to quietly move out of the hall for a short walk around the hotel garden and speak to themselves in a way they have not done for years. Take a sentimental journey in reminiscence of how you met with your spouse, the early reluctance in giving in, the language you used to win them over, and the realisation of genuine love evoked by that success. Think very deeply about what makes your spouse such a special person and just tell them. The programme had sessions for Ishaa prayers, dinner in open buffet, and time for surprises where, hitherto unknown-to-the-partner gift items were exchanged between couples.
Though some brethren were opposed to the above event seeing it as part of the celebrations of Valentine, programmes like these should be replicated and improved upon by Islamic bodies so that Muslim couples could call to mind the good old days. Eating out is not within the radar of some Muslim families. Attendance of such programmes should be expanded to include the youth for they are most vulnerable to the evils of the Valentine celebrations. Contention on the date could be averted by having a 3 day programme for instance, starting from 13th February through 15th. It could take the form of series of activities like lectures on Islamic themes, quiz and Qur’anic recitation competitions, sports and other indoor games. I do not see this as celebrating Valentine; it is rather a swerver of attention from the dangers of the evils of the time to something that is sure to be educative, entertaining, and rewarding. That is exactly what Islamic Vocation Courses (IVCs) aim to achieve. Such courses are usually organised to coincide with non-Islamic activities. The April IVC, for example, will keep Muslim students busy during the Easter festivities; while that of December through January screens our children from Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Valentine’s Day celebration is a pagan practice associated with idolatry and adultery. It is a day in which a lot of innocent girls are impregnated by wayward youths under the pretext of proving their love. Valentine’s Day breeds unwanted pregnancies and has probably done more to spread HIV AIDS than any other event in modern times. This evil day is alien to both our religions and cultures. If a Muslim takes part in any form of this celebration even by buying a card (let alone engaging in any carnal activity), they have sinned and committed an act of shirk (idolatry) which Allah does not forgive until the offender truly repents.

Friday, February 4, 2011

GET UP, STAND UP: STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS!

Bob Marley summoned, as it were, and the people of Tunisia and Egypt have answered. They revolted and spoke unequivocally in one voice: we are tired of this nonsense; get out! Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had respected the iron fist of people’s power. But haughty, deeply unpopular Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is still lukewarm. In their wake they still have the people of Syria, Jordan and Yemen warming up to kick out the despots ruling their lands.
The masses were able to see themselves as human beings with rights to free speech and assembly; defying police brutality and the intimidation of the oppressors who call themselves leaders. What was unthinkable of happening an hour ago was suddenly, not only possible, it was so common amidst the aggrieved multitude that even the protestors were marvelled at the feat. Calling the names of tyrants in the open and describing them with fitting, appropriate adjectives, without minding the presence of both uniformed and plain clothed security personnel. In Egypt for instance, you could not complain of apparent injustice even in private, for you don’t know whether or not your house was wired by the secret, undercover police. Then suddenly, an inspiration came from Tunisia with a clear import: popular uprising, persistent and determined confrontation with the instrument of oppression of the state will bring down froward potentates! Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights! Don’t give up the fight….
Unfortunately, members of the police force, who are said to be our friends, keeping law and order, are used in many places around the world to send terror into the hearts of common people who desire to express their rights to decent life and lawful assembly. In both Tunisia and Egypt we saw police brutality at its peak; unlawfully arresting, beating, detaining, running over unarmed civilians with police vans, and killing hundreds of protestors with live ammunition. Most of the bodies were riddled with bullets. I would prefer an enemy than have perpetrators of these crimes as friends!



                                                Police Brutality

The Egyptians chose a place in the heart of the capital for their demonstrations: Tahrir Square, Cairo (and in other places like Mahalla, Alexandria, Mansoura, Suez and Luxor). Tahrir actually means Liberation in Arabic. They have been gathering there every day in hundreds of thousands not minding the deafening sounds of helicopters and F15 military fighter jets hovering so low above them; a desperate attempt by Mubarak to scare them away from the Liberation Square. They did not budge! What started with hundreds of thousand protestors culminated into a real, genuine ‘Million Man March’; not the fake, made in Nigeria Million Man March orchestrated here by some rascals in government to fool us. No, that of Egypt was real; a spontaneous response of the oppressed. The protestors succeeded in exceeding their target of a million people to over two million.  They kept chanting the slogans and words of freedom, urging themselves on, telling the dictator to go. Placards in both Arabic and English read: Go Mubarak. You are done; just leave! No religious symbols displayed; no political differences pronounced; no party flags; only one flag was fluttering – the Egyptian National Flag - everybody was chanting in unison: down with Mubarak! Aljazeera satellite television reported that during the Friday prayers of 28th January, 2011 Egyptian Christians formed human barricade around Muslim congregations offering their salaah on the streets! Nothing truly unites like a common goal! They set aside petty tyranny and strife to face a common enemy that has subjugated and dehumanised them for about three decades.
America should come to terms with the reality of events in Cairo. The era of supporting despotic leaders in the region is over. The excuse that the stability of a region is worth sacrificing the people’s rights to a leader of their choice is not only dishonest and immoral, it is irresponsible! The events surrounding the Iranian revolution; the futility of relying on and supporting one person against an entire nation should be fresh on the mind of America. Urging Mubarak to reform, which he’s been averting for 30 years, calling on him to have ‘a peaceful dialogue’, is meaningless. (Secretary of State), Clinton’s call for the establishment of real ‘democracy’ and an ‘orderly transition’ in Egypt is laughable and has shown the double standard and hypocrisy in U.S foreign policy. Why has America been dealing with people like Mubarak if it knew all along that they were undemocratic? They invade one nation on the one excuse that it is a despotic and undemocratic regime only to court and befriend another with even worse credentials.
Obama could make America popular once more in the region by intervening, encouraging the coming into being of a new government through a free and fair election to be conducted by an interim authority. Sacking members of the old cabinet by Mubarak, changing them with another set of lackeys, , orchestrating clashes between sponsored pro-Mubarak supporters against anti-Mubarak protesters, and blocking internet access, shutting down satellite television and mobile telephone networks will not help his falling regime.  
Mubarak and despots of his ilk have not been serving their people. Why is America afraid of democracy in the region? Why is Israel supporting Mubarak and wanting to maintain the status quo? If the majority having its way is what democracy is all about, why is this fear of certain groups establishing governments in the region?
Algeria has been ruled by one party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), since independence. In June 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won by large margins in local elections. “The outcome was more a massive no-confidence vote against the corrupt, incompetent, and self-satisfied secular establishment than an endorsement of an Islamic republic.” In legislative elections in December 1991, the FIS wins again. They seem poised to win a runoff election one month later that would put them in power. But on January 11, 1992, the army stages a coup, with America’s covert support, overthrowing President Chadli Benjedid and cancelling the runoff elections. Within months, the FIS was banned, its local officials elected in 1990 were removed from office, and tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers imprisoned and often tortured.
Palestinians weren't happy "with the status quo" during the elections of 2006; thus they voted Hamas overwhelmingly. Hamas was the victorious party in the elections, defeating Fatah, the ruling secular party of Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas. The people of Palestine voted for Hamas because they were fed-up with the corruption and inefficiency of the PA. But America and Israel refused to recognise the Hamas government that came to power through the democratic process that they profess and trumpet. Their reasons? Hamas is a “terrorist”… ‘Islamist, anti-West, anti-Israel, anti-United States, terror-promoting’ organization! Now one would wonder; if the people of a sovereign state want a “terrorist” government, and vote for it democratically, what is anyone’s business with that?
Muslims and Christians in Nigeria could borrow a leaf from the unity of purpose exhibited by the Egyptians and the Tunisians. The warring factions in Jos, the Plateau State capital, should stop killing themselves; they should confront a chief security officer who is bent on fanning the embers of religious unrest for his personal gains. The real adversary of religious harmony is not your Muslim or Christian brethren, but your chief executive! Why will you then add to your sorrow by killing and maiming the innocent? The army should also clean its stables if the reports that soldiers are also exhibiting partisanship are anything to believe.
There is a relationship between Tunisia and Egypt – both are Arabic speaking, with Muslim majority, and have been under a dictatorship for long. There is also this submissiveness on the part of the Arab Muslim to legitimate or otherwise leaders. This docility emanated from the exhortations of Muslim scholars that are often times close to power. Rehearsing the oft-repeated hadeeth enjoining us not to confront our rulers provided they pray in our midst. The current happenings had sent clear challenge to such scholars to come up with an interpretation of that tradition in line with prevailing realities. I have seen many Muslim scholars among the protestors in the two uprisings under discussion. Also, women in full hijab have participated in the demonstrations.
The situation is the same in Nigeria. Like the Arabs, Nigerians have within their various ethnic groups this culture of respect and submission to authority. The Church and the Mosque have not helped matters either. The overseers of our congregations in these places of worship will admonish us to pray for the wellbeing of our leaders. They hardly preach against corrupt practices, graft or misrule. So, this omission and our inherent nature of respecting those among us in authority made us so docile that the intellectually challenged could lord it over us, steal our commonwealth and even vote on our behalf.
Is our condition in Nigeria, by the way, any better than that of the countries we are discussing in this piece? I think we are worse off. If these demonstrations were in Nigeria, Power Holding Company would have made sure that we remain in darkness acting on ‘orders from above’. People, whom we did not elect, parade themselves as our elected representatives, squander 25% of our annual budget under the pseudonym of emoluments and other allowances – (thanks to CBN Governor’s exposé); another set embezzles a whopping 50% as executive expenditure, whatever that means. As if that is not enough, this gang has now vowed to continue rigging elections and ruling us against our wish for the next 50 years so that we all can chant: ‘Power to the People’! They are not concerned, thus, with the state of our health facilities or the condition of our schools. Their tourism to other climes would take care of their medical needs, while their progenies study in famous institutions oversees. And some clergy, out of touch with current realities, would admonish good prayers and obedience to ‘constituted authority’. We hear and we disobey!
If we had but harkened to Bob Marley, (not to the track but the import of the lyrics), hardly would anyone be able to take us for a long ride. If we had marched peacefully but persistently to our own Tahrir Square after the robbery of our mandate in 2003 and 2007, this subsisting quagmire would have been averted.