Staying ahead via “unmanned” sector

According to a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “wisdom (knowledge) is the lost property of the believer; so let him claim it wherever he finds it.” (Tarmizi).

This injunction of the Prophet (pbuh) had energized the early Muslims in their quest for knowledge to travel to all corners of the world, acquiring wisdom and learning from others in all humility, and assimilating them into their own body of knowledge through the process reflection, deflection and digestion (what we would now call value-add) and soon thereafter, became the masters of knowledge and wisdom in a thriving and successful civilization.

Now fast-forward to the modern time and you’ll see the majority of Muslim countries have ignored this injunction at their own peril, and thus many remain backward and under-developed.

On the other hand, it is the non-Muslim countries that are generally acting like a believer by claiming wisdom and knowledge as their lost property wherever they find it.

One such country:  small and secular Singapore, which has no natural resources and whose spectacular success can be encapsulated in the following words:

Singapore is not and will never be ashamed to learn from anyone – be it the developed West, developing countries, backward Africa and even neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.

However, come implementation time, the city-state will never implement 100% what it has learnt from them. It will creatively adjust and modify what it has learnt to the Singapore context, and soon this borrowed idea which has been adjusted and modified to suit the local context becomes a uniquely Singaporean invention, which others are bound to imitate.

The unmanned cafe in Singapore – the subject of this article – is one such example, which I supposed was borrowed from the Japanese but without the robots!

Read on…

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Staying ahead via “unmanned” sector

 By Jamari Mohtar

Across the Straits

Focus Malaysia | August 19, 2017

 

ON my recent trip to Singapore, everyone I met with spoke of a café where you can partake delicious food without any chef or waiter to tend to your culinary needs.

My curiosity “bud”, just like my taste buds, went on overdrive, wondering what in heaven’s name were these Singaporeans talking about.

Much later did I realise that this talk-of-the-town stuff is not so much about eating but rather a big bread-and-butter issue that will have a long-term repercussion on the Singapore economy.

It is about the city-state coming out with a brilliant solution to an economic challenge that could impede the sustainability of its long-term growth. That solution involves creating an “unmanned” sector in its economy as a new engine of growth.

You won’t find this novel concept of unmanned sector in any standard textbook on economics. Nor would you find it in any country’s official economic report including Singapore’s. But the concept was often mentioned in recent speeches of its leaders such as during this year’s May Day Rally.

This concept of an unmanned sector in the economy arises out of the need to manage the twin challenge of a shrinking population growth and the import of foreign workers and talents.

The same challenge of a shrinking population growth is also faced by Japan, but the Japanese solves this problem with robots.

Everything in Japan now is about robot – from a hotel entirely manned by robots to a robotic domestic worker to assist in household chores, right to ahem, a robot that you can be “married” to because it can act and function like a spouse!

There is a good reason why Singapore is using robots sparingly though it is going big on robotics. This has to do with the secret recipe of the city-state’s success since the time of its founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

And this success can be encapsulated in the following words:

Singapore is not and will never be ashamed to learn from anyone – be it the developed West, developing countries, backward Africa and even neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.

However, come implementation time, the city-state will never implement 100% what it has learnt from them. It will creatively adjust and modify what it has learnt to the Singapore context, and this new thing soon becomes a uniquely Singaporean invention, which others are bound to imitate.

The unmanned cafe in Singapore is one such example, which I supposed was borrowed from the Japanese but without the robots!

Dubbed as VendCafe, it is a pilot project launched by the republic’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in August last year. A food and beverage (F&B) company, JR Vending is the operator of the unmanned café, with government agencies Spring Singapore and the Housing Development Board (HDB) jointly facilitating the project.

Located at the void deck of a HDB block in Sengkang, the VendCafe serves a variety of hot meals, snacks and beverages in bento-style containers from an array of six vending machines. These meals cost between S$3.50 and S$5.

Tharman, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, alluded to the manpower shortage in the F&B sector as the driving force behind the project.

“The F&B sector takes up almost 5% of our total workforce, and it’s still growing as a sector, but we can’t keep growing manpower, in particular foreign manpower. So we have to find ways of using technology without compromising consumers’ desire for taste, health, nutrition and convenience,” he was reported as saying.

The so-called Chef-In-Box machines dispense hot meals in under three minutes, offering Western and local dishes by using a technology that freezes the pre-cooked food and begins to heat it up when cash or cashless payment starts to roll in. The food has no preservatives or additives. There are a lot of behind the scene stages before the food is brought into the machine to ensure that tasty, healthy and nutritious food are served.

A second Chef-in-Box VendCafe was opened on June 13 at the Ang Mo Kio MRT Station – a first at an MRT station, which represents a new emphasis on crowded places and away from places that lack amenities like the first café in Sengkang. On June 22, a second VendCafe at an MRT station was opened at Lakeside – double the size of the first at Ang Mo Kio.

In a May Day Rally this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned other elements of an unmanned sector. These are:

  • Automated storage and caddy pick system at the new distribution centre of Singapore’s premier supermarket, NTUC FairPrice, where robots carry the pallets and deliver them to the bay. The pallets are then wrapped up automatically before going out of the warehouse.
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are being tested at the port terminals at Pasir Panjang. These AGVs move around in the container yard by themselves with no driver’s cabin and driver to collect containers. The crane picks up the container from the ship, lowers it carefully onto the AGV and off it goes. By the time the mega port in Tuas is built in 2021 where everything is consolidated there, the turnaround time will be even faster and more efficient with better versions of AGVs.
  • Unmanned checkout systems where nearly half of the outlets operated by the three major local supermarket chains have already introduced. These allow shoppers to complete the checkout procedure on their own, from scanning items to paying by credit card.

And on July 19, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has offered the Philippines the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones “to enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities” of the Philippine troops to dislodge Muslim militants still holding up in the southern city of Marawi after nearly three months of fighting.

But drone is not limited to the defence sector. Last October, a SingPost drone was used to deliver mail to Pulau Ubin. Meanwhile local dining establishment Timbre announced plans to deploy waiter drone at its restaurants.

All these efforts have contributed to a productivity growth of 1% last year compared to almost zero in the previous three years. This means the government’s strategy of growing the economy sustainably through better productivity growth rather than manpower growth is on track to succeed.

 

Jamari Mohtar is a veteran journalist who used to live and work in Singapore. Comments: editor@focusmalaysia.my

 

Welcome to the Post-Truth World Order!

I had to scratch my head going through the materials while doing research for my article on the rapid development in Pengerang for Focus Malaysia, which was published early this month.

Apart from the confusion between what is Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) and Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC), the question of whether the Saudi’s state-run oil and gas behemoth, Aramco will participate in the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project at the PIC added a further headache. And now my conclusion is the Rapid project in Pengerang will indeed be a rapid development, with or without the participation of Aramco.

To put the issue in perspective:

  • First, since late last year, we have had the morale boosting news that has further fuelled the sense of optimism in the oil and gas (O&G) sector in Malaysia that Petronas is set to make a final investment decision (FID) to bring in Aramco as its partner for the Rapid project, which is part of the PIC, which in turn is part of the bigger PIPC.
  • Next, in early January this year, came the comment from the Johor Petroleum Development Corporation (JPDC) CEO, Mohd Yazid Ja’afar, in my interview with him that ‘we were advised by Petronas that the Rapid project is progressing according to schedule and as of early January 2017, the progress update for PIC is at around 54% completion’.  I took this to mean there is really no problem for Petronas to complete the remaining 46% on schedule by early 2019, as it is not starting from scratch. And with the improved global oil prices expected this year, Petronas would have the wherewithal to finance the Rapid project on its own in the event that Aramco declines to participate in the planned partnership.
  • Then a week after the interview with Yazid, two seemingly contradictory news entered the fray – one from the Wall Street Journal quoting sources that Aramco has scrapped plan to partner Petronas in the Rapid project, and a Reuters’ report again quoting sources that Aramco has merely shelved the plan for the project.
  • In their response, both Petronas and Aramco said they would not comment on rumour or speculation, with the latter emphasising that it would continually evaluate new businesses.

Despite their response, post-truth phenomenon which one would normally associate with the Brexit vote and the Trump Administration started to pour in, which among other things, asserts without solid proof that Middle Eastern investors were losing confidence in Malaysia or Arab investors were fleeing the country or many other versions to that effect.

This has caught the ire of Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani who said the project was never led by the Saudis in the first place. He said Petronas had been executing it on its own “since Day One”.

“The funding of this project until its completion has always been based solely on Petronas’ own strength. The possibility of having Aramco as a partner to share the project was only an option. Since Petronas could not agree to some of the terms, the two parties decided to stop the negotiations and move on.”

He said Aramco and Petronas could “always revisit the negotiations” if they could come to an agreement at a later stage.

“Sometimes, in a negotiation or venture, we don’t get the terms that we want, and this is normal,” he said.

“We need to make sure that foreign investors coming into our country will create win-win situations for us and them. Things cannot be one sided.”

Taking into account that King Salman of Saudi Arabia will be visiting Malaysia soon, Johari’s explanation makes more sense. It is normal for a huge project like Rapid that takes the proposed form of an international joint venture (IJV) will have problems in negotiations, and normal too for Head of the respective governments in the IJV to help smoothen the problems.

Rapid momentum at the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC)

 Despite the challenging global economic climate and the controversy over attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) which have caused the big global boys to dither on final investment decisions, the Johor Petroleum Development Corporation (JPDC) tasked with developing the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex is optimistically on the ball to create momentum by wooing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to partake in the development of the Complex.

Normally, the strategy is to get the big players to come first and then the SMEs will follow suit in their supporting and complementing roles. However, different circumstances require different strategies and that is why while understandably waiting for the big boys to arrive at a final decision, the JPDC ingeniously decides to welcome the SMEs first.

These days, the head honcho of the JPDC – a federal agency created under the Prime Minister’s Department, with the main mandate to plan and develop strategies for downstream O&G development in Johor – doesn’t have the luxury to think about other matters.

His mind is singularly focused on coordinating and driving the execution of development projects to make the PIPC situated on the southeastern side of Johor, Malaysia’s premier downstream O&G hub in the region.

A veteran of O&G with 15 years of experience as an engineer in Shell, and now helming the JPDC as its Chief Executive since 2012, Mohd Yazid Ja’afar has his job cut out for him when he and his team have to ensure that PIPC’s refining activity is operationally ready by early 2019. This is the next key milestone after the commencement of storage and trading activities in PIPC in April 2014 that has marked the start of PIPC operations.

Flurry of optimism bodes well for the Oil & Gas sector

After being in the doldrums since global oil prices plummeted from a peak of around US$115 per barrel in mid June 2014 to US$68 six months later, and hit rock bottom at US$26 in February 2016, the O&G sector is now brimming with optimism in Malaysia.

Analysts say the government’s unwavering focus – in the face of a challenging global economic climate – on developing a world-class O&G hub at Pengerang in Johor, which is envisioned to be similar to the Amsterdam -Rotterdam – Antwerp (ARA) model that has areas of refining, storage and blending capacities as well as market access, is responsible for this flurry of optimism.

The idea of developing the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) as a driver of the country’s quest to be a regional O&G hub was conceived way back in 2007 during the heyday of rising oil prices.

The 20,000 acre PIPC was launched in 2012 amid much fanfare as part of the Economic Transformation Programme, making it the largest integrated greenfield development in a single location, equivalent to 3,500 football fields.

Pengerang was chosen due to its strategic location near shipping lanes, deep-water port facilities, large acreage and close proximity to regional demand centres.

Meanwhile, the Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) – part of PIPC covering an area of 6,242 acres – is a US$27-billion mega development that includes the Rapid project and six associated facilities.

It will complement the existing infrastructures, attract foreign companies to invest and invite potential collaborations with global partners in logistics and product distribution.

This is turn will spur the growth of Malaysia’s O&G downstream sector, thus pushing the nation into a new frontier of technology and economic development.

While development at the PIPC is within the purview of JPDC, PIC, on the other hand, is handled by the national oil company Petronas, being one of its key projects that would deliver future growth for itself and at the same time, complements the southern Johor economic corridor.

However, with the plummeting of global oil prices starting in the second half of 2014, many observers opined that countries like Malaysia, which are net exporters of oil and are very dependent on oil revenues to finance the growth of their economy, would be badly hurt.

Doomsayers were fast and furious in saying that with the upstream business of exploration and production (E&P) adversely affected with falling oil prices, the government and Petronas will be in dire strait to cough up the fund needed to develop the PIPC and PIC respectively. Reading their prognosis, it seems as if it is the end of the world for the O&G sector in Malaysia.

To the credit of the government and Petronas, they do not pay heed to this pessimism. On the contrary, they continue to strive and work hard to make the vision of a regional O&G downstream hub in Pengerang a reality by remaining steadfast in pursuing this vision and never once put a halt to the project, even when oil prices hit their bottom at US$26 per barrel in February 2016.

In an interview with FocusM, JPDC’s Chief Executive, Mohd Yazid Jaafar, says falling oil prices will definitely affect the upstream business associated with E&P, but it is actually a boon to the development of the downstream business.

“This is because the cost of developing and running refineries and petrochemical plants is much lower now. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the feedstock are cheaper too. Thus, the upside now is in the downstream sector.

“Moreover, projects such as the PIPC are the drivers behind decreasing federal dependencies on commodities, as we won’t be relying on locally produced crude oil. We’ll be importing (which is cheaper), adding value by processing the materials onsite, and basically moving Malaysia up the chain.” he adds.

The global oil market has been riding on a wave of euphoria after the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) announced on Nov 30 last year that it would cut production of crude oil by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) beginning Jan 2017 for a period of six months. On Dec 10, Opec managed to secure agreements from some non-Opec members including Russia to cut another 600,000 bpd, making a total cut of 1.8 millon bpd.

This cut would help to clear the long-standing glut of production and high inventory levels of crude oil globally and lift prices. But Opec warned that although the production cut would speed-up the re-balancing of the global oil market, it would not result in demand exceeding supply until the second half of this year.

But this is a good enough New Year present for the O&G sector in Malaysia, as it would mean oil prices will stabilize high enough to allow for the resumption of high E&P activity at the upstream level, spurring greater level of confidence and optimism in the industry.

 

p.s. So why do I give a heading of post-truth world order for this article? Post-truth politics/philosophy is now an emerging subject in political science and philosophy in some universities of the world. Its genesis began in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008 in which the divide between the have and the have-not was at its greatest and global household debt was at its highest due to the easy money policy brought about by quantitative easing (QE) of the US Fed that had driven interest rate to the lowest allowing people to borrow as if there is no tomorrow. All these caused dissatisfaction and deep seated grievances directed, whether rightly or wrongly, at the establishment. With social media rearing its ugly head, the situation is ripe for demagogues to exploit the social media and use it effectively by tapping into these deep-seated grievances. Thus, truth is no longer based on real objective facts but on who has the loudest voice in the social media. No wonder President Trump is the only US President who is very fond on the verge of addiction in using Twitter, Facebook etc in making his official pronouncements.

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JPDC WOOS SMEs TO PENGERANG PROJECT

Johor Petroleum Development Corp wants them to participate first before big boys come a-calling

By Jamari Mohtar

Focus Malaysia | February 4, 2017

 

DESPITE challenging times facing the oil and gas (O&G) industry, the Johor Petroleum Development Corp (JPDC) tasked to develop the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) is pushing ahead to woo small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop the mammoth complex.

Normally, the strategy is to get the big players to come aboard first, followed by SMEs in support and complement roles. However, different circumstances require different strategies, and that is why while waiting for the big boys to make their final investment decision, JPDC has rolled out the carpet to welcome the SMEs first.

These days, Mohd Yazid Ja’afar, CEO of JPDC – a federal agency created under the Prime Minister’s Department, with the main mandate to plan and develop strategies for downstream O&G development in Johor – doesn’t have the luxury to think about other matters.

His is focused on coordinating and driving the execution of development projects to make the PIPC situated on the southeastern side of Johor Malaysia’s premier downstream O&G hub in the region.

Helming the JPDC since 2012, Mohd Yazid Ja’afar has his job cut out for him, as he and his team have to ensure PIPC’s refining activity is operationally ready by early 2019. This is the next key milestone after the commencement of storage and trading activities in PIPC in April 2014.

Platform for SMEs

Mohd Yazid tells FocusM about anchoring development on SMEs and the people of Johor.

“We want SMEs to treat PIPC as a platform to provide them with opportunities to realise their own visions. Just discuss with us your plan and we will help you to realise your vision through three industrial parks that our investors are going to set up this year at PIPC,” he says.

Launched in 2012, the 20,000-acre PIPC is part of the Economic Transformation Programme, making it the largest integrated greenfield development in a single location, equivalent to 3,500 soccer fields.

The industrial parks, occupying a total of 2,879 acres would provide space for investors of future downstream and support services to operate. “Our approach is to dedicate certain area of the industrial park for a particular sector SME in the value chain to interact and do business with the providers of core activities of PIPC in an inclusive and integrated way,” adds Mohd Yazid.

They are:

  • Dialog-Sungai Rengit Industrial Estate operated by Dialog Group Bhd. This 333 acres industrial park can accommodate petroleum and chemical storage facilities & warehouses, petrochemical manufacturing industries, bottling and drumming plants, and open yard storages;
  • Spektrum Budi-Pengerang Maritime Industrial Park to be developed on 1,760 acres of reclaimed land for activities like fabrication yard, oil terminal, warehousing and light industries; and
  • JCorp-Pengerang Industrial Park operated by the state-owned enterprise Johor Corporation (JCorp) for the first phase of the development on 786 acres.

Work on phase 1 of the first two industrial parks will start this month and phase 2 in January next year. JCorp started the application process for the development of JCorp-PIP late last year.

JPDC is working with several state-owned enterprises such as Perbadanan Islam Johor Holdings (PIJH) to provide spaces for bumiputera incubators.

It is also collaborating with JCorp to develop an area in PIPC for SMEs and downstream industries in the O&G supply chain, including those in the petrochemicals.

The idea is to create an ecosystem for different industries to complement each other. To bring this idea to life, it is also working with providers of services like communications and information technology to provide the right support.

“The state government-linked companies (GLCs) are the best partners for PIPC at this stage but private players are more than welcome as well. JPDC has engaged with various manufacturing association and groups including the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) and we would like to urge private players to take advantage of the opportunities that such an ambitious project presents.

“For the GLCs, this project is a chance to help them monetise their land. All they need to do is develop the land and provide a space for the industries. For private players, PIPC offers an upside opportunity for them to come in as active participants along the value chain,” says Mohd Yazid.

With dedicated Government forums from both Federal and State to fast track development at the PIPC, the JPDC has been working hand in glove with the Johor state and federal authorities to provide the needed infrastructure for the people and workers at the PIPC.

These currently include the construction of a Taman Bayu Damai Police Station (to be completed in April this year), the new 4-lane dual carriageway ring road (end June 2017) and Health Clinic at Sungai Rengit (end Dec 2017). These are no ordinary public infrastructures but specialised ones to meet and adapt to the kind of dangers, mishaps or investigations that are unique to a mammoth, integrated complex such as PIPC.

The Johor Menteri Besar, Dato’ Mohamed Khaled Nordin recently launched the PBT Pengerang, the Pengerang local authority on Jan 16. This new local authority in Pengerang comprises people with the experience, expertise and track record of developing industrial park in Pasir Gudang that will help further improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of PIPC’s development and management.

“The Johor State government intends to position the development in Pengerang as the catalyst for growth for the east Johor corridor. It hopes to transform the area into an economic district of global importance. The strategies on SMEs and public infrastructures are part of the transformation effort,” says the Chief Executive.

Global players

So what about the participation of global players in the O&G industry? JPDC’s head honcho admits that SMEs wouldn’t come aboard without big-name global companies participating in the PIPC project.

“Our strategy is to ensure that there is the presence of Fortune 500 companies to anchor the development. Their presence will definitely create confidence not only to fellow Fortune 500 companies but also the local and international SMEs to set up base in PIPC. And we already have two,” says Mohd Yazid.

Petroliam Nasional Berhad has been anchoring the development of the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project since 2012.

The other big player is Royal Vopak of Netherlands which together with Dialog Group Bhd and Johor State Secretary Incorporated (SSI), had formed a consortium since 2012 to build the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal (PDT), which has been operating since 2014.

Mohd Yazid says JPDC has seen a lot of interest from local and foreign potential invstors.

“However, due to falling global oil prices and a slowdown in China’s economy, some of the potential investors are a wait-and-see stance before making their final decisions.”

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Rapid on track despite Aramco blow

THE Johor Petroleum Development Corp (JPDC) is confident the progress of the Refinery and Petroleum Integrated Development (Rapid) project in Pengerang Johor will not be affected, despite reports that Saudi Aramco had scrapped plans to partner Petronas in the project.

Speculation had been rife that Petrolium Nasional Bhd (Petronas) will offer a 50% stake to Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil and gas giant, Aramco in the US$27 bil (RM119.6 bil) Rapid project.

However, foreign news report a fortnight ago indicated the deal is dead in the water. Both quoting sources, The Wall Street Journal said Aramco had scrapped its plan to partner Petronas in the Rapid project, while a Reuters’ report said the Saudi company had merely shelved the plan.

Nevertheless, JPDC officials are optimistic that with improving global oil prices expected this year, Petronas would have the resources to finance the project on its own even if Aramco scraps the planned partnership.

“We were advised by Petronas that the Rapid project is progressing according to schedule and as of early January 2017, the progress update for PIC is at around 54% completion,” JPDC’s CEO Mohd Yazid Ja’afar tells FocusM.

This mirrors the national oil corporation’s statement that the project is going ahead. “Petronas would like to clarify that its Pengerang Integrated Complex project will continue to be the focus of its downstream growth agenda in the coming years,” it said in its statement to Reuters. However, the statement made no reference to Aramco.

Aramco said it would not respond to rumour or speculation on the matter, emphasising that it would continually evaluate new businesses. It’s possible move to suspend plan for the Malaysian venture comes at a time when Petronas is struggling with the depressed oil price. Early last year, Petronas announced it would cut spending by up to RM50 bil over the next four years.

Rapid is part of PIC, and both are within the much larger Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex.

 

The curious case of Donald Trump: Is polling a useless predictor of outcome?

By Jamari Mohtar | Nov 10, 2016

The reliability of political polling to predict the outcome of an election is put into question when despite and in spite of most polls predicting Hillary Clinton as the favourite to win, albeit in a close fight because all polls are within their margin of error, Donald Trump against all odds clinched the trophy of the presidency.

Before we come to the conclusion that polls are a useless predictor of outcome, let’s hear some quotable quotes on statistics:

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Mark Twain

 “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.”  George Bernard Shaw

 “Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.”  Fletcher Knebel

I like most the quote by Fletcher Knebel because it hinted at arriving at something with no concrete substance as the aim of statistics, and to wit, we are all indeed “smoked” by the polls that said Hillary Clinton has a 90% chance of winning the presidency on the eve of Election Day.

Ignoring historical precedent at one’s own peril

 There are more than one ways to predict the outcome of presidential election other than polls.

A few hours before the results of some exit polls were announced on Election Day, I told friends through one of my WhatsApp groups that Hillary Clinton might not be elected as President, if we go by historical precedent.

Since term limit was imposed in 1947 – curbing presidential term to no more than two terms (eight years) – there has never been an instance where a Democratic presidential nominee won an election after eight years of incumbency by a Democratic president.

That is why Clinton lost after eight years of a Democrat Obama; Al Gore too (2000 election) after eight years of a Democrat Bill Clinton; and finally Hubert Humphrey (1968) after eight years of Democrats John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Whereas Donald Trump has a greater chance to win because there is one instance of history in which a Republican nominee won the election after eight years of incumbency of a Republican presidency. Who was he? None other than the one term President HW Bush who won in the 1988 election after eight years of Republican Ronald Reagan.

I am an ardent fan of history (and of ‘isteri’ too) although I’m aware that students pooh-pooh the study of history, one reason being it does not make you fabulously wealthy as compared to the study of law or medicine although I have come across poor lawyers and poor medical doctors. But as the outcome of the recent US presidential election, the Brexit vote and in fact most significant global events – even significant event at the personal level – have shown, one ignores history at one’s own peril.

This peril of ignoring history is famously encapsulated in the adage that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Even the natural phenomena of life have a habit of repeating themselves such as the repetition in the observable change in the days following the nights, of being healthy followed by being sick, of birth and death, and the boom and bust of the economic/business cycles.

Nonetheless, I’m not that naïve to believe that historical precedent is the only thing that matters. My view of history is as follows:

History seldom moves in a linear fashion. And that is why we don’t see new changes or new things everyday. Instead it moves in gradual non-linear twists and turns, giving us glimpses of an approaching historically repeating event in the making, where we feel things on the surface are the same as of yesteryears, yet with some qualitative differences in their essence. Once we get to feel this sensation of the same yet different, there will be many more non-linear twists and turns for years, before the full force of the repetition occurs.

At times history does not repeat itself at all but propels forward with a quantum leap as if in a three dimensional setting that demolishes every known assumptions with the onset of new inventions and discoveries or simply paradigm shift, heralding the emergence of a brave new world instead of the repeated old world. This then becomes a new normal and ultimately a status quo normal when it keeps repeating time and again before another quantum leap occurs.

Statistical disinformation or the fallibility of statistics

Now, let’s come to the crunch. Are political polls really useless as a prediction of outcome? One cannot blame those who say they are when the example of the Brexit vote is still fresh in our mind. Despite the narrowing of margin in polls as voting drew near in June, the majority of the polls were still predicting the Remain in EU would win, albeit with a small margin.

And last year in Askenazi Israel, despite exit polls had forecast a dead heat, Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party still won a surprise victory over its main rival, the centre-left Zionist Union.

But if you understand statistics in the context of the probability theory, you’ll be humbled enough to know that a poll which said that Hillary Clinton has a 90% chance of winning the election does not mean it’s a sure 100% win and that the 10% chance of Clinton losing is something that can take place in the realm of reality. In this sense, there is really no big deal in blaming polls for the different outcome than what was expected, as long as the different outcome is not a regular feature of the US election polls.

The last time the polls were dead wrong was in 1948 when Harry Truman was predicted to have lost the election, with one newspaper having circulated an early edition the day after election, which showed Thomas Dewey to be the winner as its page one lead story. The editors had had a hell of time in withdrawing that early edition.

Hence, the utility of polls as a predictive tool lies not so much in its accurate predictive power of the outcome ALL THE TIME, but rather a prediction that is dead accurate MOST OF THE TIME – giving credence to the notion of the working in the real world of the principle of an exception to the rule.

We can’t even predict with dead accuracy what’s going to happen to us in the next few hours, and yet we don’t want to eat humble pie in accepting that our prediction – the prediction of mere mortals – might go wrong when it comes to election polls. That is indeed arrogance of the highest order!

Of course there is nothing wrong in doing a sort of post mortem to get the answer on why and where did the polls go wrong, especially after the humble pie has been eaten. The least that this will result is in the lessons learnt to ensure that there will be a less frequent occurrence of the principle of exception to the rule, which it is meant to be for otherwise we would be living in a world of chaos. And then He who is in Heaven will smile approvingly at our action to learn from past mistakes and to minimize the exceptions!

And that is why I’m deeply moved when an intelligent and scholarly man says, “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.” (Ahem, ahem…)

A ‘new’ normal?

 So what went wrong? I’m in no position to tell what went wrong scientifically though I took statistics at the undergraduate level but didn’t do well in that subject (actually within a certain margin of error, I did well in the exam, hehe). Based on news reports in the US, it is not so much statistical error that is at fault but systematic error.

Statistical error has to do with the methodology the pollsters used which will lead to among others, the questions of the representativeness of the sample (sampling error), the sample size so chosen (size error) and the degree of freedom assumed which will impact the level of confidence in prediction.

Experts have all been unanimous that the statistical errors were all within the threshold of acceptability statistically. Remember that statistics is not a science that is about 100% accuracy all the time and if you perceived it as such and refused to accept the existence of acceptable statistical errors, you (the layman) are exhibiting arrogance of the highest order.

So it is the systematic error that is in question which in layman term can be phrased this way: “Yes, the sampling method was right, the sample size was right but what are the questions that you asked the voters? Is it leading questions such that the result of the poll is what you (the pollster) want to hear rather than asking objective questions that beget objective answers?

The systematic error could also be explained in the way the final consumers of the poll (not the pollsters themselves but the media and Clinton’s campaign staff who commissioned the pollsters) spin the pollsters’ analysis in accordance with their own agenda of supporting Hillary at all cost whether consciously or not.

In this regard, Trump actually made sense when he alleged during campaigning that the election was rigged but he was far off the mark when he said that these people (the pollsters) were interviewing each other rather than random voters.

Perhaps he gave this stupid reason out of desperation because the analysis of his own pollsters had shown him that he had a good chance of winning in the battleground swing states.

But instead of seeing all these in term of polling errors, I’m of the view that the 2016 US election is a watershed election because it sees the emergence of a new normal as exemplified in Trump getting away unscathed for:

  • Not showing his tax returns;
  • Speaking outrageously against women, the Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, China and Mexico, etc;
  • Mimicking the gestures of the handicaps and his opponents; and
  • ‘Brawling’ with his fellow Republicans including Speaker Ryan

Seeing the above as a new normal also implied that perhaps the Muslims and others too should ultimately judge him based on the policies that he will finally implement as a President, rather than based on his speeches during the heat of the moment when campaigning.

The fact is for about three months after winning the election he is not the President of the USA, Obama is. President elect Trump will be just as lame-duck as the real President during these three months until his inauguration in late January, and due to this, it does not make sense to be emotional about him during this period.

So how do we predict the outcome of a Trump presidency under this new normal scenario? Is there any historical precedent? There is, actually.

When Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Josef Stalin as the Soviet leader in 1954, his outrageous behavior at the UN Assembly in 1960 by repeated banging of his shoe in protest at a speech by the Philippine delegate, Lorenzo Sumulong, had made him a Soviet leader with a relatively brief reign as compared to his predecessors who ruled until their deaths.

So in light of a new normal and a historical precedent, the relevant question to ask about Trump in relation to predicting the outcome of his presidency is not so much whether he will be a one term president; rather the question is will he serve the full duration of his first term?

Only time will tell whether the latter outcome will see the light of day! So far since winning the election, Trump’s actions and sayings are presidential.

A global federation of educators to bridge gap between theory & practice of Islamic Finance

Fatwa-Shopping

I am under the impression that fatwa-shopping refers to the e-fatwa that proliferates on the Internet where one can pick and choose the fatwa (religious edict of a Mufti) that is in alignment with one’s own view or interest.

This cherry picking of fatwa is often done to ‘whack’ the views of others that one differs from in matters of peripheral differences of opinion on some religious issues. Very often too, this pick-and-choose fatwa is used to reinforce one’s view in a controversial religious issue by exclaiming: “I told you so… this fatwa is proof that my position is right.”

But don’t be surprised that this phenomenon of fatwa-shopping may occur at the professional discipline of Islamic Finance.

The issue was first raised in 2009 when Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani of the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), a Bahrain-based regulatory institution that sets standards for the global Islamic Finance industry, said that 85% of sukuk, or Islamic bonds, were un-Islamic.

This was later reiterated by financial journalist John Foster, a former editor of Islamic Business & Finance magazine. Here’s his account:

“… this new generation of Islamic bankers had cut their teeth in the City and Wall Street, and were used to creating sophisticated financial products.

“They often bumped heads with the Sharia scholars who authorised their products as Sharia compliant.

“However, these bankers had a way of dealing with this, as one investment banker based in Dubai, working for a major Western financial organisation explains:

“We create the same type of products that we do for the conventional markets. We then phone up a Sharia scholar for a Fatwa [seal of approval, confirming the product is Shari’ah compliant].

 “If he doesn’t give it to us, we phone up another scholar, offer him a sum of money for his services and ask him for a Fatwa. We do this until we get Sharia compliance. Then we are free to distribute the product as Islamic.”

But I don’t think most Syariah scholar sitting on the Syariah Supervisory Board (SSB) of Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) are easily compromised though I’m very much surprised by the magnitude of sukuk that Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani claimed to be un-Islamic (read: non Syariah compliant).

Furthermore, there are genuine differences of opinion among the asatizah on some aspects of Fiqh Muamalat (Commercial and Transaction Laws in Islam).

In this regard, Malaysian small investors of Islamic financial products are fortunate because there is now the Ombudsman Financial Services (OFS), which began operation on Oct 1.

Bank Negara gave its seal of approval for the operationalization of the OFS to provide a fair and efficient avenue for financial consumers to resolve disputes against financial service providers.

This means consumers that have issue with the Syariah compliance of an Islamic financial product or service that they have bought may bring it up to the OFS, which is an independent redress mechanism with minimum formality for financial consumers to resolve disputes with financial service providers.

To those of my asatizah friends who happen to sit on SSB of IFIs, I hope you have the integrity to realise that religious injunctions are not for sale. My doa that you’ll be given the guidance by Allah to act in an honest, just and equitable manner, Aamiin.

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A global federation of educators to bridge gap between theory & practice of Islamic Finance

By Jamari Mohtar

Guest Writer

Focus Malaysia | Oct 22, 2016

 

KL Declaration calls for Centre for Islamic Economics IIUM to play key role as Secretariat to the proposed International Federation of Islamic Economics and Finance Educators (I-FIEFE)

I NODDED in full agreement when the Kuala Lumpur Declaration at the end of the 11th International Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance (ICIEF) held in the capital of Malaysia recently, made a clarion call for the setting up of an International Federation of Islamic Economics and Finance Educators (I-FIEFE) to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of Islamic Economics and Finance, and produce qualified manpower for the industry.

The KL Declaration also calls for the Centre for Islamic Economics, International Islamic University, Malaysia (IIUM) to play a key role as the Secretariat for I-FIEFE. The secretariat is expected to commence work immediately with support from all parties including the government of Malaysia as well as agencies such as the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI) of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group and to have visible and tangible output within one year.

It’s high time that the practitioners of Islamic Finance pay heed to the fundamentals of Islamic Economics as the foundation of their activities in providing Islamic financial services and products so that both theory and practice move in unison and in equilibrium in order that Islamic banking and finance serve the genuine needs of the ummah.

“This requires policy measures that are not only pro-growth but also will ensure the attainment of equity and the socio-economic progress of all segments in society,” says Professor Mohamed Aslam Haneef, chairman of the Conference, who read what become known as the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Oct 13, at the end of the three-day Conference.

Explaining on the theme of the Conference which is Rethinking Islamic Economics and Finance: Paving the Way Forward for Inclusive and Sustainable Development, Professor Aslam tells FocusM: “The rethinking theme is in response to the much muted unhappiness among academics and the common man who are increasingly critical of the present day practice of Islamic Banking and Finance (IBF).”

Professor Aslam who’s also IIUM’s Director, Centre for Islamic Economics also poses the question: “Do IFIs (Islamic financial institutions) play any developmental role and are helping to solve the major socio-economic problems of the ummah or just a bank for rich Muslims and corporations?

“For too long, IBF has become an ‘industry’ for the shareholders and moved away from it being a ‘movement’ with an ummatic vision. Yes, they are syariah-compliant but not necessarily ethically rich and concerned,” he sighs, reflecting a sense of disappointment at the way Islamic Economics and Finance have evolved since the inception of the first International Conference on Islamic Economics at Mecca 40 years ago which gave birth to the nascent discipline of Islamic Economics in the first instance, and IBF subsequently.

Among the priorities of the proposed I-FIEFE are:

  • Develop a global database of Islamic economics and finance education, which would cover programmes, curriculum and ‘talent’ development and is to be published as an ‘Islamic Economics and Finance Education’ report with the support of IRTI and other partners;
  • Holding international workshops/seminars and continuous education programmes for university lecturers to improve the standards of teaching and research in Islamic economics and finance, especially in the OIC-Member states; and
  • Conducting and coordinating greater research collaboration and academic/student exchange between member institutions.

The 11th Conference was held under the auspices of the IIUM, co organized with IRTI of the IDB Group, the International Association for Islamic Economics (IAIE) as well as the Ministry of Finance, Malaysia as a strategic partner.

Risk sharing to replace existing risk transfer/shifting system

In his keynote address at the Conference, Professor Abbas Mirakhor of the Malaysia-based International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) which is dubbed by analysts as the Global University of Islamic Finance, lamented at how a risk transfer or a risk shifting in the context of risk sharing in a debt based system often ends up with the taxpayers assuming the risk without their knowledge.

“Although the 2013 Declaration of the 9th Conference at Istanbul stipulated that the essence of Islamic Economics is risk-sharing, nonetheless a risk sharing arrangement that is the result of a risk transfer taking place without the knowledge of the one who now assumes the transferred risk on why the risk is shifted to him or her, is obviously haram.

“The party that is being subject to a risk transfer must be informed at the beginning, not at the end of the transaction that he is subjected to a risk transfer in order to make the transaction Syariah-compliant,” adds Professor Abbas.

Hearing Professor Abbas, my mind was transported back to the time some 30 years ago when I was among the pioneer batch students of Islamic Economics at the IIUM where I often wondered why my lecturers sanctioned the idea of a loss-offsetting reserve for a theoretical Islamic Bank where in good times, the investors/depositors were not given their maximum rate of return but instead that amount which was more or less equivalent to what an investor would earn in an interest based system.

The excess that was being withheld from the investor was placed in a loss-offsetting reserve so that the theoretical Islamic Bank in bad times can still dish out a rate of return which was more or less the equivalent of the interest rate earned by an investor/depositor in a conventional bank via drawing out funds from the loss-offsetting reserve. And the investors/depositors were not told of this mechanism in advance.

The rate of return by definition is a variable amount whose final value is dependent on the risk undertaken for a given period of time by the depositors/investors. Because of this variability in amount, a distinction is made between an ex-ante rate of return and ex-post rate of return in which the former refers to an estimated as opposed to actual average rate of return over the life of an investment, while the latter refers to a calculation of the actual rate of return over the life of an investment. In cases where there was uncertainty as to the rate of return before the investment was made, one calculates the ex-post rate of return after the completion of the investment to determine how closely the investment matched its estimates.

The rate of interest, on the other hand is a fixed amount that an investor/depositor is always entitled to, regardless of the risk undertaken. Making the rate of return riskless is tantamount to transforming it into an interest rate, for in economics, a riskless rate of return is another name for interest rate.

Granted that the first Islamic bank needed to use interest rate as a shadow rate of return for benchmarking purpose, otherwise its viability would be affected at its pioneering stage, it would be mind boggling that this need for a shadow rate of return based on the movement of interest rate is still justified after 30 years of Islamic banking, and with the mushrooming of Islamic banks the world over.

Continuing this practice goes against the grain of economic theory because in conventional economics, it is for the rate of interest to follow the rate of return instead of the other way round. For instance, when the rates of return are high, people will move their funds out of a debt system like banking to the equity system like the stock exchange, and this in turn will drive up the interest rate to stop the exodus of funds to the equity market. Conversely, when rates of return are falling, people will move their funds out of the equity market to the banking system. This exodus of funds into the banking system in turn will drive down the interest rates.

It is on this basis that Muslim economists are unanimous in declaring that interest rate is an institutional reality rather than an economic necessity! The rate of return, on the other hand, is both an economic necessity and an institutional reality.

No risk, no reward

The above discussion has ramification on the providers of Islamic financial services and products in that they have a duty to inform their clients on the risk profile of their products and services based on the maxims of “no risk, no reward” and “high risk, high reward”.

Risk here refers to the total or partial erosion of the initial capital of their clients while reward refers to the prospect of earning more than an average rate of return by their clients. It is impossible for all financial institutions (FIs) including Islamic ones to guarantee at the same time both the preservation of the original capital, along with earning a more than average rate of return.

This is the point that lay investors seldom realise and thus were easily taken in by the promise of such double guarantees by unscrupulous representatives of FIs, which were often the cause of global financial instability if this subtle “trickery” occurs on a massive scale.

That is why the Singapore’s Monetary Authority (MAS) has made it mandatory on FIs to rate their financial services and products based on the risk profile of their clients in order to educate them on the risky nature of all their products and services.

At one end of the spectrum are products that guarantee the preservation of the initial capital with a modest rate of return for risk-averse investors, while at the other end are the products meant for risk-taker investors that offer a more than average rate of return with no guarantee of preservation of the original capital. Hence, risks are known and shared equitably.

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Financial ombudsman scheme may mitigate fatwa-shopping in IBF

THE Ombudsman for Financial Services (OFS), which has commenced operations since October 1, as the operator of the financial ombudsman scheme, may put a damper to the phenomenon of fatwa-shopping in the Islamic Banking and Finance landscape in Malaysia, if the phenomenon indeed exists here.

Bank Negara gave its seal of approval for the operationalization of OFS beginning October 1 in a media statement on Sept 28. Its operationalization comes under the Financial Services Act 2013 and Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 to provide a fair and efficient avenue for financial consumers to resolve disputes against financial service providers.

The phenomenon of fatwa shopping arises because Syariah scholars sit on the Syariah Supervisory Board (SSB) of Islamic Financial Institutions (IFIs) where their decision on the syariah compliance of the Islamic financial products is very crucial to the offering of the products or services by the IFIs. Many of these scholars are highly regarded, with their opinions having the potential to move markets.

Hence, some analysts have raised some concerns that since syariah scholars are generally employed directly by the financial institutions, their independence can be compromised, since bank managers use their influence to gain more acceptable opinions. This has been commonly referred to as “fatwa-shopping” or “Shariah advisory à la carte”.

The issue was first raised in 2009 when Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani of the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), a Bahrain-based regulatory institution that sets standards for the global industry, said that 85% of Sukuk, or Islamic bonds, were un-Islamic.

With the operationalization of OFS in Malaysia, this phenomenon can be mitigated as consumers that have issue with the Syariah compliance of an Islamic financial product or service that they have bought may bring it up to the OFS. This is because OFS serves as an independent redress mechanism with minimum formality for financial consumers to resolve disputes with financial service providers.

But as pointed out by Associate Professor Dr Syed Musa from the IIUM’s Institute of Islamic Banking and Finance (IIiBF), the OFS is an alternative to, and not a replacement for legal actions taken in a court of law, and disputes filed must not exceed RM 250,000.

“The key is still the focus on effective Syariah/corporate governance mechanisms, transparency and product disclosure towards customer care and intimacy to mitigate the Syariah non-compliance risk, without unduly inhibiting the innovative spirit of the industry to come out quickly with various range of products to suit the customers’ varied needs,” he adds.

“The availability of this dispute resolution mechanism may also lower the cost of Islamic financial products since they are viewed as relatively costly vis-à-vis conventional financial products, albeit a perceived one, as brought up by one of the speakers in the Conference.”

Dr Syed Musa is referring to the 11th International Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance held in Kuala Lumpur from Oct 11 to 13. The relatively lower cost alluded by him could be the result of the harmonization process in which both the Islamic and conventional financial products come under the ambit of the OFS.

The services of the OFS are offered free of charge to financial consumers. It operates in accordance with the principles of independence, fairness and impartiality, accessibility, accountability, transparency and effectiveness. A retired Federal Court Judge, Tan Sri James Foong has been appointed as its Chairman.

Askenazic Jews – the descendants of Yajuj Wa Majuj (Gog and Magog)?

Basmala-the-Bismillah-phrase-Arabic-islamic-Calligraphy-10

 

 

 

Islamic Eschatology

My sensitivity, sympathy and empathy were often aroused each time I saw video clips on Facebook which showed the brutal treatment of the soldiers of the Zionist regime of Israel on UNARMED, HARMLESS and HELPLESS Palestinian kids, women and the elderly.

Social media like Facebook has done a great service in creating an awareness of such brutalities of the Zionist regime. And people from all over the world and all walks of life greeted this absurdity of the most powerful military in the region to brutalise the weakest sector of the Palestinian society with deep disgust, judging from the comments to the video clips. But what amazed me is the elegant silence of world leaders, supranational bodies such as the UN, OIC, IMF, World Bank and the mainstream media on such brutalities. Are they part of the conspiracy too – a brutal one at that? I don’t think so simply because I don’t believe in conspiracy theories until the facts are proven.

Just a stone’s throw away is another episode of brutality, this time in Syria, where all parties to the conflict – the Assad regime backed by Russia, the Mujahidin backed by the US and the devilish ISIS army of terror who some say is the creation of the Israeli Mossad, locked in a battle to conquer Syria – were guilty of the most horrendous brutality in modern time.

Why does it have to come to this? My mind toys with the idea that could all these happenings signify a prelude to heralding that phase of time called the End of History.

Of course, I’m not referring to the End of History as postulated by Francis Fukuyama who in 1989, seeing the imminent collapse of the Berlin Wall, wrote an essay on The End of History that proposed the advent of western liberal democracy as heralding the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government.

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,” said Fukuyama in his 1989 essay.

Oh, how off the mark Fukuyama was, as to this day Western liberal democracy is still not the norm in many parts of the world. It only gave President George W Bush an excuse to invade Iraq under the pretext of spreading democracy to the Iraqis, in addition to punishing Saddam Hussain for stockpiling non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

The End of History I have in mind is based on Islamic Eschatology in which the End of History will precede the End of Time. The End of History in Islamic Eschatology coincides with that time when the Truth (Haq) will vanquish Falsehood (Bathil) and reign supreme for a number of years. But before the Truth reigns supreme, the period preceding it will be filled with horrendous Falsehood, which will result in untold miseries and sufferings for humankind.

For the uninitiated, eschatology refers to the branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind. Specifically it is a set of belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind.

The End Time, which features prominently in the various eschatology of several world religions is a period in the future also known as end of days, last days, final days or eschaton.

From the Islamic perspective, eschatology or Ilmu Akhir Zaman is therefore the branch of Islamic scholarship that studies Yawm al-Qiyamah (the Day of Resurrection) or Yawm ad-Din (Day of Judgement). This is believed to be the final assessment of humanity by Allah, with annihilation of all life, resurrection and judgment.

But before this End of Time happens, falsehood in the form of wickedness, cruelties, betrayals and atrocities known as the Age of Great Temptations (The Age of Fitan) will mushroom on this Earth which will culminate in the End of History in which Falsehood will perish at the hands of Truth, and everlasting reign of peace and goodwill on Earth will prevail for some times. Finally, this too will come to an end with the End of Time.

So bear in mind the difference between the End of History and the End of Time.

One aspect of the eschatology of Islam that has riveted my mind is the coming of Yajuj wa Majuj (Gog and Magog) before the period of the End of History. They will work the worst kind of excesses and atrocities on the surface of the Earth. Who are these Gog and Magog? One interesting view has it that this could well be the Askenazic Jews who were instrumental in establishing the Zionist movement which led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

If this is true, no wonder they are so cruel, wicked and brutal. Read on…

p.s. There is at present a preponderance of the Askenazic over the Sephardic Jews. As late as 1960s the Sephardic Jews numbered only about 500,000, compared with the Ashkenazim of the same period estimated at approximately 12 million. Statistical figures for the contemporary demography of Ashkenazi Jews, oscillate between 10 million and 11.2 million, about 75% of Jews worldwide

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Askenazic Jews – the descendants of Yajuj Wa Majuj (Gog and Magog)?

By Jamari Mohtar | Aug 31, 2016

“There wasn’t one of them who had an ancestor who ever put a toe in the Holy Land. Not only in Old Testament history, but back to the beginning of time. Not one of them! And yet they come to the Christians and ask us to support their armed insurrections in Palestine by saying, “You want to help repatriate God’s Chosen People to their Promised Land, their ancestral home, don’t you? It’s your Christian duty. We gave you one of our boys as your Lord and Savior. You now go to church on Sunday, and you kneel and you worship a Jew, and we’re Jews.” But they are pagan Khazars who were converted just the same as the Irish were converted. It is as ridiculous to call them “people of the Holy Land…”

 – Benjamin Freedman, A Jewish Defector Warns America in a   speech at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 1961

The subject of Gog and Magog appears in the Quran in Surah Alkafh when Allah says:

“And they ask you (O Muhammad) about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say: “I will recite to you about him a report. Indeed, We established him upon the earth, and We endowed him with [the knowledge of] the right means to achieve anything [that he might set out to achieve]; and so he chose the right means [in whatever he did].”

[And he marched westwards] till, when he came to the setting of the sun, it appeared to him that it was setting (as if) in a dark, turbid sea; and near it he found a people. Allah said: “O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of goodness]. He answered: “As for him who does wrong, we will punish him. Then he will be returned to his Lord, and He will punish him with a terrible punishment. But as for him who believes and does righteous deeds, he will have a reward of Paradise, and we shall make binding on him [only] that which is easy to fulfill.”

[And then he marched eastwards] till, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found that it was rising on a people for whom We had provided no coverings against it: thus [We had made them, and thus he left them]; and We did encompass with Our knowledge all that he had in mind.

[And he marched on] till, when he reached [a pass] between the two mountain-barriers, he found beside them a people who could scarcely understand a word [of his language]. They said: “O Dhul-Qarnayn, indeed Gog and Magog are spoiling this land. May we, then, pay unto thee a tribute on the understanding that thou wilt erect a barrier between us and them?” He answered: “That wherein my Sustainer has so securely established me is better [than anything that you could give me]; hence, do but help me with [your labour’s] strength, [and] I shall erect a rampart between you and them!

“Bring me ingots of iron!” Then, after he had [piled up the iron and] filled the gap between the two mountain-sides, he said: “[Light a fire and] ply your bellows!” At length, when he had made it [glow like] fire, he commanded: “Bring me molten copper which I may pour upon it.” And thus [the rampart was built, and] their enemies were unable to scale it, and neither were they able to pierce it. Said [Dhul-Qarnayn]: “This is a mercy from my Sustainer! Yet when the time appointed by my Sustainer shall come, He will make this [rampart] level with the ground: and my Sustainer’s promise always comes true!” [Quran, Alkafh (18): 83-98].

Just a digression on the reason (asbabu nuzul) why the above verses was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When the Prophet (pbuh) began his mission in Mecca, which lasted for 13 years, the questions uppermost in the minds of the leaders of Mecca were, “Was Muhammad really a prophet? Or was he just a convincing fake? How could we find out?” They finally decided to consult the Jewish rabbis in Yathrib (Medina) about the problem, since Jews had had more dealings with prophets in the past and the rabbis were knowledgeable in the scriptures.

The rabbis advised the leaders of Mecca to ask Muhammad three questions. If he knew the answers to those questions, then he was truly a prophet. The first question was about some young men of long ago, who had left their people and had had a wondrous experience. The second question was about a traveler who had journeyed to the ends of the earth in the east and the west. The third question was about the Spirit, and what it was.

The leaders of Mecca hurriedly sent messengers to Muhammad (pbuh) to ask him the three questions. The Prophet (pbuh) told them to return the following day and he would have the answers for them. However, he failed to add, “in sha Allah,” that is, “if Allah wills.” By the next day he had not received any revelation to help him answer the questions, and he had to ask the messengers to return the following day. This was repeated for fifteen days, while the people of Mecca laughed at Muhammad’s inability to answer the three questions. Finally Jibril appeared to the Prophet (pbuh), and told him the three answers. He also explained the reason for the delay. In Surah Al-Kafh (18: 23-24) is the warning that one should not plan to do anything in the future, without saying, in sha Allah. All that we hope to do is only accomplished by the will of Allah.

The first question was about some young men who remained steadfast in their worship of one God, while the rest of their people turned to the worship of idols. No one is sure of the number of youth involved. That knowledge is Allah’s alone, although many scholars have disputed over the number. To escape persecution, the young men hid in a cave, where Allah caused them to fall asleep for about three hundred years (only Allah knows the exact length of time). They had a dog with them, and to anyone who happened to see them they would have appeared to be awake, and the person would have been filled with fear of them. When they finally awoke, it seemed to them as if only a short time had passed. It was when one of them was sent down to the town to buy food that they learned they had slept for centuries. The account of these sleepers is in the Quran, Surah Alkafh (18): 9-25.

The answer to the second question was about a great traveler identified as Dhul-Qarnayn, “the owner of two horns.” He had great power and had been given the ways and means to do all things. He traveled to the setting of the sun, which set in a murky pool. Nearby there lived a people over whom Dhul-Qarnayn had authority to punish or reward. He chose to punish those who did wrong and then send them back to Allah to be further punished. Those who believed in Allah and were righteous would be rewarded. Then he journeyed to the rising of the sun, where he found a people who had been provided with no protection against the sun. Those people he left completely alone.

As part of his answer to the second question, Muhammad (pbuh) gave information about a third journey, which Dhul-Qarnayn made. He traveled to a place between two mountains, where the people understood scarcely anything about Allah. They asked for his help in building a barrier between them and two beings called Yajuj and Majuj. In return for his assistance they promised to pay tribute to him. However he did not desire tribute. He replied that the power, which he received from Allah, was better than any tribute, which they could offer him. And so he helped them erect a barrier of iron and lead, which Yajooj and Majooj were powerless to climb over or dig through. But the Quran warns that on a day appointed by Allah, they would break out of their place of confinement and cause great destruction. This would be one of the signs that the Day of Judgment was near. The story of Dhul-Qarnayn can be found in the Quran Surah Al-Kafh (18): 83-98.

The third question, about the Spirit, had the shortest answer. The Quran Surah Al-Isra (17): 85 says that the Spirit comes by command of Allah, and that mankind does not have the knowledge to fully understand it. The Jews disputed that they had been given full knowledge in the Torah, but Allah tells us that their knowledge is very small, in comparison to Allah’s knowledge, which could not be recorded even if all the trees on earth were pens and all the seas were ink.

Despite Muhammad (pbuh) having answered all their questions successfully, the rabbis did not recognize him as a prophet, and the Meccan leaders did not follow the rabbis’ earlier advise to follow him as a prophet. But many other people were convinced and the number of believers increased. As the numbers of believers increased, the opposition felt increasingly threatened and resorted to persecution of the followers of Muhammad.

So back to the narrative on Dhul-Qarnayn and Gog Magog – who was Dhul- Qarnayn and who were Gog and Magog?

Some Muslim commentators opined that Dhul-Qarnayn was the Greek King, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, hence the name Iskandar (Alexander) Dhul-Qarnayn was bandied about. But the way the Quran described Dhul-Qarnayn left no doubt that he was a monotheist who was endowed by Allah with power, knowledge and wisdom while Alexander the Great was a Greek pagan believing in the existence of a multitude of Gods.

Perhaps some of the mufasirins (Quranic commentators) who believed that Dhul-Qarnayn was Alexander the Great was influenced by the legend popularized by Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus (born Joseph ben Matityahu) who flourished in the 1st century CE (Christian Era). According to that legend, Gog and Magog were locked up by Alexander the Great behind iron gates in the Caspian Mountains, generally identified with the Caucacus Mountains (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, and The Jewish War). This legend must have been current in contemporary Jewish circles by this period, and maybe the reason why the Jewish rabbis of Medina included it in one of the three questions to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the hope of getting more details on Gog and Magog.

A clear idea of who Dhul-Qarnayn was, was given by the great Muslim scholar Imam Ibn Kathir [born 1300 (701H), died 1373 (774H)] in his historical work, Al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (The Beginning and the End) when he said:

“At the time of Abraham (peace be on him), there was a king called Dhul-Qarnayn. He performed Tawaf around the Ka’bah with Abraham (peace be on him) when the latter first built it; he believed in Abraham and followed him. Dhul-Qarnayn was a good man and a great king. Allah gave him great power and he ruled the east and west. He held sway over all kings and countries, and travelled far and wide in both east and west.”

Ibn Kathir, when discussing the origins of Yajuj wa Ma’juj – the people who traditionally inhabited the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, which was where the Khazar Kingdom was originally situated – specifically states that “Gog and Magog are two groups of Turks, descended from Yafith (Japheth), the father of the Turks, one of the sons of Prophet Noah (alahi salam).”

Dhil-Qarnayn’s Iron Wall

Somewhere near Derbend in Central Asia, Hissar District, about 150 miles southeast of Bukhara, there is a very narrow defile, with overhanging rocks, on the main route between Turkestan and India: latitude 38 degrees North; longitude 67 degrees East.  It is now called in Turkish Buzghol-Khana (Goat-house), but was formerly known as the Iron Gate (Arabic, Bab  al Hadid; Persian, Dar-i-ahani; Chinese, T’i-men-kuan).

There is no iron gate there now, but there was one in the 7th century, when the Chinese traveller Hiouen Tsiang saw it on his journey to India.  He saw two folding gates cased with iron hung with bells.  Nearby is a lake named Iskandar Kul, connecting the locality with Alexandar the Great.  We know from history that Alexandar, after his conquest of Persia and before his journey to India, visited Sogdiana (Bukhara) and Maracanda (Samarqand).  We also know from Al Maqdis, the Arab traveller and geographer, who wrote about 375H (985-6 CE) that the Abbasid Caliph al Wathiq (842-846 CE) sent out a mission to Central Asia to report on this Iron Gate. They found the defile 150 yards wide: on two jambs, made with bricks of iron welded together with molten lead, were hung two huge gates, which were kept closed. Nothing could correspond more exactly with the description in the Quran, Surah Alkafh (18):95-96

The Khazars – the first wave of Gog and Magog post Dhul-Qarnayn era

We can safely assume that after the Iron Wall built by Dhul-Qarnayn was in placed, the whole area of Gog and Magog in Central Asia covering an immense land area of over a million square miles extending from western Hungary/Austria eastward to the Aural Sea, north to the Upper Volga, and its southern region extending to the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian seas were free from the machinations and chicaneries of Gog and Magog. The place was so peaceful that this paved the way for the Silk Route to be discovered which in turn encouraged trade among nations.

Now, fast forward from the time of Dhul-Qarnayn to the 7th century. Out of the blue, there lived at the place where Gog and Magog had been quarantined by Dhul-Qarnayn, the Khazars who were a semi nomadic Turkic warlike people, ruthlessly brutal and exclusively belligerent. They lived between 650 to 1048 CE in a region near the Caspian Sea. For some three centuries (650 – 965 CE) the Khazars dominated the vast area (800,000 square km) extending from the Volga-Don steppes to the eastern Crimea and the northern Caucasus. In fact, an embryonic state of Khazaria began to form sometime after 630 CE.

It was around this time that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) got an inkling that the Iron Wall built by Dhul-Qarnayn had been breached by Gog and Magog based on a Hadith narrated by Zainab bint Jahsh (r.a): “… once the Prophet (pbuh) awoke from such a sleep that his face was red and he said: ‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah. Woe to the Arabs, from the great evil that is approaching them. Today a gap as big as this has opened up in the wall of Yajuj and Majuj …’ and the Prophet (pbuh) indicated the size of the hole by forming a ring with his index finger and thumb.” (Bukhari)

According to Rutgers University Professor Peter Golden in his book, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis And State Formation in the Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East, published in 1992, an embryonic state of Khazaria began to form sometime after 630 CE, when it emerged from the breakdown of the larger Göktürk Qağanate. The tribes that were to comprise the Khazar empire were not an ethnic union, but a congeries of steppe nomads and peoples who came to be subordinated, and subscribed to a core Türkic leadership.

Earlier in 627 CE, the Roman Emperor Heraclius, formed a military alliance with the Khazars for the purpose of a final defeat of the Persians, marking the first time the Khazars were involved in an international relation with a superpower. Upon the first meeting of the Khazar King Ziebel with the Roman Emperor, the Khazars displayed, in full array, their skills at diplomatic flattery – skills that would serve them well and would not disappear with their kingdom. Gibbon recorded this in his Fall of the Roman Empire:

He “with his nobles dismounted from their horses,” says Gibbon, “…and fell prostrate on the ground, to adore the purple of the Caesar.” So enamored was the Byzantine Emperor with this display of obeisance that it eventually led to the offer, along with many riches, of the Caesar’s daughter Eudocia in marriage. That union never took place due to the death of Ziebel while Eudocia was en route to Khazaria. However, in 730 CE, a marriage between a Khazar princess and the heir to the Byzantine Roman Empire resulted in an offspring who was to rule Byzantium as Leo the Khazar. Thus the “King of the North” had skillfully managed to place himself on the throne of the Roman Empire.

Back to the 627 CE Byzantium-Kazar alliance, the Byzantium managed to be victorious in their final battle with the Persians despite a treachery from their ally, the Kazars, who left them at a crucial time during the battle. Although the Sassanids were defeated, it was the Muslims under Caliph Umar al-Khattab who finally finished off once and for all the Sassanian Empire.

It seemed that these traits of being ruthlessly brutal, exclusively belligerent and skillfully talented at flattery and treachery were so successfully passed on to their descendants when the latter managed to convince Britain not to surrender to Germany during World War I in 1916 because they (the descendants) will convince the US to enter the war on the side of the British… oops I’m jumping the gun, more on that later.

In the early part of the 7th century, Islam came northward through the same Kasbek Pass the Khazars had used, and began a long war with the Northern Kingdom. The major attempt of the Muslim armies to take control of the Transcaucasus came in 622 CE while Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was still leading Islam. The Muslim armies soon conquered Persia, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and surrounded the Byzantine heartland (present-day Turkey) in a deadly semi-circle, which extended from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus and the southern shores of the Caspian. This began a long series of incursions by both sides (Khazaria and Islam) that lasted for another thirty years. In 652 CE, Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (r.a.), sent a Muslim army led by Abdal-Rahman ibn-Rabiah to the Caucasus. This army was routed by the Khazars, with the death of four thousand Arab soldiers, including their commander.

Later, there was a brief period of Muslim incursion into Khazaria where Caliph Marwin II, in a surprise, two-pronged attack, drove the Khazars as far back in their own land as the Volga region. His only terms for peace were that the Kagan (King of Khazar) convert to Islam, with which the Khazar king complied, but apparently only long enough for the Muslim Caliph to withdraw back across the Caucasus. This incident preceded by only a few years the Khazar monarch’s conversion to Judaism. Most historians agree as to the motivation behind the Caliph’s withdrawal. The Muslim ruler apparently realised that, unlike the more civilised Persians, Armenians or Georgians, the barbaric Khazars could not be kept under military rule at such a distance.

This first wave of Gog and Magog which began after the Dhul-Qarnayn’s Iron Wall was breached, ended when the Asiatic Rus from Kiev ransacked Kazaria which by then had become a Jewish kingdom. The remnants of the Khazars fled to nearby Hungary, Southern Russia and Bulgaria where the second wave of Gog Magog appeared in European soils, wreaking havoc to Europe in the form of World War I and World War II.

According to Benjamin Freedman, himself a Jew and an apparent long-time associate and confidant of presidents and statesmen, in an address presented in 1961 at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., the Khazars were so belligerent and hostile that they were eventually run out of Asia and scattered amongst the nations of Eastern Europe. Heinrich von Neustadt, around 1300, wrote of them as the “terrifying people of Gog and Magog.”

More on the reasons for the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism, and at what stage of the Gog and Magog wave we are in now, in my next post. Stay tuned.

Wallahu’alam bi sawab

Combining the fast of Syawwal with other fasts

Fast-paced events in the capitals of the West

As I’m writing this, we are already entering the final week of Syawwal, the tenth month (the equivalent of October in the Gregorian calendar) of the lunar-based Hijri taqwim (Islamic calendar).

This time round, Syawwal seems to be a month full of fast-paced events taking place in the world. Early into Syawwal, as the ummah was celebrating Eidul Fitr to mark the end of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, we were greeted with an upset – Portugal claiming the crown of the Euro football championship for the first time by beating France, the favourite to win.

This was soon followed by another epochal event of Britain having a second woman prime minister since the 1980s with Theresa May holding the rein of power in Westminster, leading Britain into negotiations with the European Union (EU) in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Whether Theresa may (pun unintended) turn out to be another Iron Lady in the mould of the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher; or better still a newly minted Steel Lady; or worse a Wood Lady, and worst, a Plastic Lady bending to the will of the EU in the negotiations (from the perspective of Britons of course), only time will tell.

Not enough with these two exciting, and perhaps heart-rending Euro events (France in losing the trophy, and Britain in exiting EU), the month of Syawwal also saw high drama in Turkey about a fortnight ago when a putsch by some members of its military outside the chain of command to take over the country was outmanoeuvred by its President, Recep Taiyyip Erdogan in what analysts say was an epochal event – the utilisation of technology in the form of the app known as Facetime by Erdogan to rally the Turkish people to go out to the streets to defeat the “putschists”.

Turkey is still reeling from the aftermath of the failed coup – the massive arrests of those in the military, judiciary and police alleged to be involved in the coup, plus Erdogan’s declaration of a three-month emergency period have spurred a concern in the EU and the US of a retrogression from democracy. It is difficult to blame Erdogan in this regard when he was reportedly marked for death during the failed coup despite being a legitimate, democratically elected President of Turkey. And mind you, it is not as if the attempted coup was bloodless.

Moreover, at that critical time when the direction of where the wind was blowing as the coup was progressing was uncertain, the support of the US and EU can at best be described as lukewarm. In saying “we are monitoring the situation in Turkey”, instead of an unequivocal statement of support for a democratically elected Head of State and his government, the seed is sown for distrust and suspicion among friendly nations in international relations.

Perhaps what Obama, John Kerry and leaders of EU need is a crash course in PR 100 in International Relations because this is definitely not the way to treat one of your closest allies, however disagreeable you are with his domestic policies and leaning.

Remember, the world owes it to Turkey in the fight against the radical Isis or Deash, as it’s willing to let its Incirlik air base be used by US and Nato forces in the fight against Isis. Any actions or nuances that reflect the sense of ungratefulness towards Turkey could lead to a dramatic tragedy with the endgame of ‘biting the hands that feed you”.

And finally… the US Department of Justice (DoJ) media conference last week in which a complaint of a civil action in rem was filed by the US authorities to seize the assets in US allegedly bought by using the siphoned money from the Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund, 1MDB in what is dubbed as the biggest claim ever filed by Kari (the Kleptocracy Assets Recovery Initiatives… kari yang amat pedas dan tegas) to the tune of USD 1 billion.

This has riveted attention back to Malaysia, causing the ringgit to fall again to the 3.00 level against the Singapore dollar, after strengthening to a very good level of 2.94 in the week before the DoJ announcement.

All eyes are now on the DoJ for subsequent actions and follow through. But for most Malaysians, the burning and pertinent questions are: will justice ever be meted out to the perpetrators of, in the words of AG Loretta Lynch, “the international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB”, and most importantly of all is, when will we (the Malaysian people as a whole) ever get our looted money back!

The last question is a bit mind boggling… would it be conceivable for a new US Administration, say under Donald Trump, to return the money when the dust has settled. For all we know, he might have some side deals with the perpetrators before even the dust has settled, as the saying goes money makes the world go round and round… that by the way is a joke Mr Trump! Don’t get worked up as you have already achieved the extraordinary feat of being crowned as the Republican nominee for the coming November elections which was unthinkable a year ago…

What a month Syawwal turns out to be… God knows whether there will be more high dramas or the epochal ones (doesn’t matter lah drama swasta or drama awam…) on the world stage as Syawwal bids us goodbye. In the meantime, hope it is not too late to wish Eid Mubarak to all Muslims…

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Combining the fast of Syawwal with other fasts

By Jamari Mohtar | July 28, 2016

I am triggered to restart my blogging hobby when a dear friend asked me to find some ahadith soheh (authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w), as evident that it is perfectly okay to combine the six-day fast of Syawwal with other voluntary fasts encouraged by the Prophet (s.a.w).

Two voluntary fasts of the Prophet s.a.w (i.e. his Sunnah) in question are the fasting on each Monday and Thursday, and the 3-day fast on the 13th, 14th and 15th of each month of the Islamic calendar known as white day fasting (Ayyaum al Bead). The question here is whether while performing the six-day fast of Syawwal, one can also simultaneously combine it with these two voluntary fasts.

What happens here is let say one begins the Syawwal fast on 13 Syawwal which happened to be the Monday of 18 July, then one can also perform simultaneously the white day fast and the Monday fast, giving a phenomenon of 3-in-1 fast. All one has to do is to insert the three niyyah (intentions) of performing the three fasts before performing the first of the six-day fast of Syawwal.

But this 3-in-1 fast takes place only on the Monday of 13 Syawwal as the three-day white day fast ended on the Wednesday of 15 Syawwal. So from Tuesday to Wednesday (14 to 15 Syawwal), one will experience a 2-in-1 fast – Syawwal fast and the white day fast. However, the Thursday of 16 Syawwal is still a 2-in-1 fast – although the white day fast has ended, there is the sunnatic Thursday fast to replace it. By Friday 17 Syawwal, it’s back to a 1-in-1 fast of Syawwal.

It gets interesting here because it brings to mind a conversation of two years ago when an Ustaz told me one can also combine the Syawwal fast with a qada fast (making up of a missed fast of Ramadan on any day after Ramadan and before the onset of the next Ramadan, provided the reason for missing the fast is a legitimate one. Of course, one cannot fast on the few days designated by Islam as forbidden to fasting).

Although this is new to me at that time, it raises the spectre of a 4-in-1 fast on the Monday of 13 Syawwal, a 3-in-1 fast from the subsequent Tuesday to Thursday (14 to 16 Syawwal), and a 2-in-1 fast from Friday to Saturday, assuming the number of the qada (make-up) fast of Ramadan is six.

When I told the dear friend about this 4-in-1 fast, she cautioned me that although she has no problem with the 3-in-1 fast as her request is just a matter for her to be doubly sure that there is a hadith pertaining to it, she is not so sure whether the 4-in-1 fast is permissible since a number of asatizah had told her it is not, for one cannot combine a qada fast as it has to stand on its own.

Small mind

This is a classic case of one Ustaz says can and another says cannot, but it is alright because it is a discussion on issues of khilaf – periphery matters that have no repercussion on the fundamentals of the religion. It was discussion of this nature that had stimulated the minds and intellect of the Muslims of the past such that they inherited a dynamic and progressive civilization that held sway over a large swathe of lands stretching from China to Spain.

But a proviso though: Discussion on such issues must be conducted with an open mind by nipping at the bud the self-centred tendency to prove one is always right with a khilaf opinion, come what may; or having a personal agenda to label your adversary in discussion as deviant i.e. Syiah, Salafi, Wahabi, Sufi etc for holding a view contrary to yours. These are small-minded people whom you can see lurking in the social media with their favourite pastime of putting down others that differ from them on peripheral matters, despite being the adherents of the same religion.

The fact of the matter…

Now, here’s a blow-by blow the argument for combining fast (whether it’s a 2-in1, 3-in-1 or 4-in-1) as discussed by the classical fuqaha (jurists):

First the points of agreement

  • The Hadith “Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days from Syawwal, it is as if they fasted the entire year” is an authentic hadith.
  • The direct general meaning of the above Hadith is, if one fasts on any 6 days (even make-ups or qada) in Syawwal, one gets the reward of performing the sunna of fasting six days of Syawwal
  • It is not obligatory to perform one’s make-up fasts before performing voluntary fasts, though one should not perform the latter in a way that unduly delays the completion of one’s qada.  This depends on one’s circumstances and adeptness at fasting regularly.

Points of disagreement

  • An obligatory fast cannot be combined with voluntary fast because they are of a different genre. The obligatory fast must be completed first. A make-up fast is obligatory, so it has to be cleared first.
  • Although not obligatory, there is greater merit in completing the make-up (qada) fast of Ramadan before attempting the six-day fast of Syawwal.

As there is no need to belabour the point in matters that are in agreement, my focus is on the points of disagreement. As to the first point of disagreement, the issue is this: how can you focus on the voluntary stuff when your obligatory stuff is in abeyance. This is a valid point especially in the case of solat (prayer). Why would one need to focus consistently on performance of the voluntary night prayers and other nawafil prayers when he or she is in the habit of wilfully ignoring the performance of the five daily, obligatory prayers?

This is different from a situation in which one occasionally misses the five daily prayers (i.e. not habitual, after all to err is human) and tries to make up the missed obligatory prayers by performing as many nawafil prayers as possible and carry a huge expectation of hope against hope that the performance of these voluntary prayers will be accepted by Allah as a redemption for the occasional lapses in the obligatory prayer.

The situation is graver in the case of solat as compared to fasting because in an authentic Hadith, it is said that in the Day of Judgement, solat will be the first item in the agenda that is being scrutinised. If your five daily prayers are not in good stead by wilfully ignoring them in a habitual manner, Allah doesn’t even bother to look at your other good deeds.

But for other ibadah (rites of worship) other than solat, some jurists say that it is permissible to subsume the intention of a voluntary deed under an obligatory one, and as such, combining the make-up (qada) fast of Ramadan, which is obligatory with other voluntary fasts is acceptable.

In an attempt to reconcile this issue of obligatory vis-à-vis voluntary fast, some fuqaha opined that the reward is higher for one who completes the six day Syawwal fast after completing the qada fast compared to one who perform them before completing the latter fast.

But other jurists pointed out if this is the case, why would the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet s.a.w) who were the upholders of Sunnah were in the habit of delaying their make-up fast of Ramadan until near the end in Syaaban, the month just before the next Ramadan.

From an authentic Hadith of Aisyah and other Hadith of other Sahabahs, we know there was a “mad” rush to perform the qada fast of Ramadan in Syaaban and this gave rise to the misconception of the “special” virtue of fasting in the month of Syaaban which was further exacerbated by a number of weak and fabricated Ahadith extolling the special virtues of fasting in the month of Syaaban. The Sahabah in actual fact were fasting in Syaaban not so much because of the special virtue of Syaaban; they were merely rushing to meet a deadline of ‘paying’ back their missed Ramadan fast because the next Ramadan is around the corner!

This raises two interesting questions.

  • First, why would there be a “mad” rush among the Sahabahs to make up the qada fast of Ramadan in Syaaban if the qada fast can be combined with the 6-day fast of Syawwal? The assumption here is being the upholders of Sunnah, they must have already performed their six-day Syawwal fast (a Sunnah) while still owing the performance of their qada Ramadan fast.
  • Two, does it befit Sahabahs as the upholder of Prophet Sunnah to delay an obligatory matter till to the last minute?

As to the first question, the mad rush refers to those who missed their Ramadan fast for more than six days. Because the voluntary Syawwal fast is only six days, you can only combine this voluntary fast with the obligatory qada fast for a maximum of six days. If you missed the Ramadan fast for, say 14 days for whatever reasons allowed by the Syariah, then the mad rush in this case refers to making up the balance which is (14-6) 8 days in Shaaban.

On the second question, unlike solat which many Ahadith had admonished on the habit of delaying it to the last minute, as for e.g. performing the Zuhr prayer at 4.30pm when Asr is at 4.50pm, there is no such admonition for delaying the qada fast of Ramadan till the last minute. One can see it as Allah’s Mercy and Compassion to us. A period of 12 months is given to repay back what is owed to Him without any insistence to settle it immediately. A Generous, Merciful, Compassionate Allah indeed!

Err… perhaps it’s a “number game” actually…

The following is my own view on the issue. You can agree or disagree with it or even ignore it. No sweat because as I said earlier this is an issue that does not have any repercussion on the fundamentals of the faith.

In the Hadith above on the basis for performing the 6-day fast of Syawwal, the only number specified in the Hadith other than the six (days) is one (year). In the hadith below which is an authentic hadith, an additional number is given.

“Whoever fasts for six days after Eidul Fitr has completed the year: whoever does a good deed (hasanah) will have ten hasanah like it.”

Two other Ahadith clarify what hasanah means in relation to fasting:

“Allah has made for each hasanah ten like it, so a month is like fasting ten months, and fasting six days completes the year.”

“Fasting for the month of Ramadan brings the reward of ten like it, and fasting for six days brings the reward of two months, and that is the fasting of the whole year.”

The above Ahadith in essence are giving a mathematical formula on why the fast of Ramadan plus the six-day fast add up to one year i.e. 12 months. Here’s how it works:

Since one hasanah (good deeds) = 10 hasanahs,

Therefore, one month of fasting in Ramadan = 10 (1×10) months of fasting.

6 days of fasting in Syawwal = 60 (6×10) days.

As one month comprises 30 days, hence 60 days = 2 months.

Therefore total is 12 (10+2) months of fasting.

So the bottom line lies in getting the reward of a year long fast for fasting just 36 days. It doesn’t matter whether you complete the 36 days early or at the last minute in Syaaban, as long as it is done before the onset of next Ramadan, and six of the 36 days of fasting were done in Syawwal. Some may achieve this 36-day fast earlier say in Syawwal, some at the last minute in Syaaban and others in between Syawal and Syaaban. It doesn’t matter. As soon as the 36-day fast is completed, all will get the same reward of following the Sunnah of the Prophet. It is in this sense that it’s just a number game.

Wallahu a’lam bi sawab.

 

p.s. There is no need to get worked up on these differences of opinion. You can either accept the premise of this post that it is alright to combine obligatory fast with voluntary or even qada fast. Or you can  disagree with it and do such fasts separately. Nay, you can even agree with the main point of this article theoretically but in your daily life, you do not practise it because you observe the fasts separately.

p.p.s. I actually did not fulfil the request of my dear friend, as indeed there is no hadith, which explicitly say you can combine the various fasting simultaneously. It’s just a matter of interpretation of all the Ahadith concerned. The beauty of Islam lies in the creative way it encourages one to use and exercise the intellect to get a better understanding of religious principles and obligations via the use of ijtihad (logical reasoning) which will impact positively on our ability to problem-solve the daily difficulties in other aspects of our life – from the smallest “headache” to the biggest crisis of life. However, this permission to be creative does not apply to the fundamental aspects of religion.

Grexit’s limited impact on Asian economies

By Jamari Mohtar

Singapore Correspondent

Focus Malaysia | July 4, 2015

 

Emerging economies such as Malaysia and Indonesia most vulnerable while Singapore, China and India will remain unscathed

THE start of a phase in the eurozone economy known as the Greek exit or Grexit took place on June 30 when Athens was unable to repay €1.6 bil (RM6.65 bil) it owes the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The day before, global stock markets including those in the emerging economies were battered on the expectation that Greece will default.

Nobody can know for sure what the wider effect of Grexit might be on economic and financial confidence until it happens. However, analysts are unanimous that the immediate fallout will not be that great.

Will there be financial market contagion in Asia?

In theory at least, there shouldn’t be a repeat of the financial market contagion, which dogged earlier stages of the Eurozone crisis when Greece was similarly in danger of falling out of the euro.

Most analysts are in agreement that even if the exit is messy, it’s not entirely clear there will be a crash. A Greek default, they say, will cause some further short-term turmoil in markets, which are already 5% or more off their peaks of earlier this year.

The reason for this optimistic view is this time around, Europe and the US will be able to confront the risk of contagion with a strengthened policy toolkit, including new mechanisms to monitor and support banks, and a system of swap lines to inject liquidity. In Japan, the central bank is already pumping unprecedented monetary stimulus.

According to Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist at IHS Global Insight, the impact of a Greek default on Asia will depend on the extent of the contagion. If the EU is successful in ring-fencing Greece, then contagion to the rest of the Eurozone may be limited.

“While there is likely to be initial turbulence in global financial markets and a flight to safe haven currencies and assets, notably to the US dollar and US Treasuries, the contagion effects to Asia may be limited if the rest of the Eurozone is successfully ring-fenced from the Greek exit,” says Biswas.

Other analysts point out that Asia has bolstered its own defences since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 when central banks have adopted floating exchange rates and expanded their foreign exchange reserves to deal with market meltdowns. India central bank Governor Raghuram Rajan was reported to have built up a record stockpile of about US$355 bil of foreign exchange reserves.

The region’s buffers were further strengthened after the 2008 financial crisis when a number of central banks established temporary and permanent swap lines with the US Federal Reserve (Fed) to be used in the event of a liquidity crisis.

Also Asian banks have done much to boost their liquidity and capital positions since the last crisis, and these are reasons why the fallout from Grexit in Asia shouldn’t be as severe as that of a couple of years ago. Also, unlike in 2012-13, European governments now hold most of Greek sovereign debt.

A different story if Spain and Portugal also affected

However, one thing analysts seem to agree is that when Grexit affects the peripheral nations of Eurozone such as Spain and Portugal, all bets are off.

“In a more severe contagion scenario where vulnerable Eurozone countries such as Spain, Portugal and even Italy could be impacted by contagion and investor doubts about whether these countries might also eventually exit the Eurozone, the Euro could depreciate more sharply,” says IHS Global Insight’s Biswas.

In the case of a severe contagion, a flight to safe haven assets could hit Asian emerging market currencies, equity markets and local bond markets as investors re-balance their portfolios to the US dollar and US Treasuries.

“The impact of a Greek exit from the Eurozone with significant contagion effects would also hurt Asia, lowering GDP growth in the Asia-Pacific region by 0.3% in 2016. This is mainly due to the impact effects on trade and turbulence in financial markets,” adds Biswas.

Vulnerable Asian currencies

Some analysts agree that Malaysia and Indonesia are two emerging economies likely to be most affected in the event that the Grexit becomes a severe contagion.

A pullback by European banks from Asian markets remains a key risk. If European banks cut back on their exposure to Asia, then a sell-off in emerging market is a possibility.

According to Nomura’s economics team, the Bank for International Settlements’ consolidated banking statistics show that besides Asia’s two financial hubs – Hong Kong and Singapore – the economy most exposed to European bank claims on an immediate borrower and ultimate risk basis is Malaysia.

As of the end of last year, European banks had debt claims of 17.7% of Malaysia’s GDP, the highest in Asia compared to runner up South Korea, with only 8.7% of its GDP.

In addition, money has been leaving Malaysia – an oil exporter – this year even without the Grexit. Malaysia’s financing gap, defined as current account minus portfolio outflows (in equity and bond) runs a good 4.1% of its foreign exchange reserve.

Indonesia will be vulnerable too. Its financing gap is at 3.9% of its GDP. Both the rupiah and ringgit have been depreciating during the first half of this year due to some investor concerns about moderating economic growth and their current account positions.

Both countries also have a relatively high share of foreign ownership in their domestic stock market and local bond markets, making the rupiah and ringgit more vulnerable if global investors re-balance their portfolios to safe haven assets, notably to US dollar and US Treasuries.

But some Malaysian observers feel that the ringgit’s poor performance – the worst performing currency in the first half of this year – is inconsistent with the sound fundamentals of the Malaysian economy.

“We have had good Q1 GDP growth numbers, inflation rate, private and public debt and reserves. But why does the ringgit plunge badly?” ask Malaysian businessman, Dato Rais Hussain.

Singaporean property consultant, Edmund Teo says the direct impact of the Grexit on Asian emerging economies will be quite limited since exports exposure to Greece is relatively low, hovering around 2-3%.

“But we can have indirect effects on Asia including Malaysia through slower exports to Europe. Currency volatility and monetary policy issues can also influence the economies in this region,” adds Teo.

It seems that a messy resolution to the eurozone crisis, with Greece defaulting on its debts and tumbling out of the euro is not the only threat to instability in the world economy.

In general, analysts tell FocusM there are three other threats – a US recovery that will force the US Fed to raise interest rates, a renewed rebound in the oil price, prompted by growing geopolitical chaos in the Middle East, and a hard landing in China.

“The most likely bigger threat is an American boom, which through higher rates would in turn cause capital flight from the developing world and might therefore also trigger another emerging market crisis,” says Teo.

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When exactly will Grexit occur?

ON June 27 in the midst of negotiations, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surprised many when he announced a referendum set for July 5 for the Greek people to vote on whether they will agree to the bailout terms offered by eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Eurozone finance ministers then refused to extend the current bailout programme after it runs out on June 30, and Athens defaulted on the €1.6 bil (RM6.65 bil) it owed the IMF.

So effectively, the Greek exit (Grexit) from the euro began on July 1. However, that’s not the way Greece sees it. It says if the referendum on July 5 sees the Greek people giving a resounding yes to the bailout terms, then Grexit is deemed to have not occurred. On the other hand, if their vote is a resounding no, then Grexit effectively begins.

There are so many permutations, twists and turns in this Greek tragedy. Tsipras argues that saying no to the bailout terms is not tantamount to quitting the euro.

But it is hard to see the country surviving for long without a functioning banking system. And if the people say no, the most plausible way of reopening the banks would be to bring back the Greek currency, the drachma.

A key factor in the referendum will be what the electorate thinks they are voting for. If they believe saying no means quitting the euro, they will probably vote for a yes. But if they think they are just voting to reject the creditors’ proposals, they may well vote for a no.

But even if they say yes, it’s not certain Greece will avoid a return to the drachma. Without a new bailout deal, it won’t be able to repay the next instalment either, this time to the European Central Bank on July 20. It will then be hard to pretend the government isn’t bust.

And to complicate matters further, Greece has threatened to seek a court injunction against the EU institutions, both to block the country’s expulsion from the euro and to halt asphyxiation of the banking system.

“The Greek government will make use of all our legal rights,” said the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. “We are taking advice and will certainly consider an injunction at the European Court of Justice. The EU treaties make no provision for euro exit and we refuse to accept it. Our membership is not negotiable,“ he told the media.