The Quran on those who Exploit

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full – but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead [and called to account] on an awesome Day – the Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds? “(Quran 83: 1-6)

I have been thinking a lot about these verses, and wondering about production around the world. There is an expectation that when we buy commodities in North America, we pay the full price – no bargaining, no compromise. Companies make billions off of this. But how do they reward those who make their goods? They pay them meager wages, barely enough to live on. They often don’t even pay their North American workers enough or give them benefits (think Walmart). During the market crisis, heads of corporations paid themselves millions in bonuses, while the common citizen paid the price of their company bailouts.   God in the Quran addresses these sorts of people by the use of the word ‘wail’ ( وَيْلٌ), the definition meaning ‘woe unto you’ or ‘destruction, ruin, or doom unto you’ and they are later in the same chapter promised Hellfire. Exploitation, even on a small scale, is a very serious offense in the Quran. Are we a part of this? Do we even care?

I remember a few years ago MSA National was giving a scholarship to Muslim students from Chevron-Texaco. I wrote them a long letter explaining that it makes no sense for those who believe in Islam and its truth to accept money from a company that has raped (I didn’t use that word exactly) parts of Nigeria (along with other places in the world, but I used Nigeria as an example) and has put almost nothing back. How can we as Muslims be a part of that? The outer forms of worship (prayer, fasting, etc.) mean nothing when we’re accepting money stained with the blood of those who were exploited for oil.

I never received a response. This may be overly cynical to say, but I don’t think many Muslims care about exploitation as long as they don’t see it, don’t hear it, and don’t think about it. Looking Muslim and acting Muslim as well at following religious ritual is enough. This example was of a group simply accepting money from a major oil company, but many are directly involved in these dealings. Even on a small scale, cheating on business deals is a norm among many I’ve observed.

God curses those who exploit others, and those who are unfair in their business transactions. Ritual is not enough, if we do not make sure our actions are fair and just, we’ll be answerable to Him for what we’ve done to others.

Statement made by John Lewis on the Resignation of Mubarak

February 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the American Civil Rights Movement made this statement after hearing news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt:

“What we have witnessed in Egypt today is nothing short of a non-violent revolution. The peacefulness of this transition on the streets of Cairo is a testament to the people of Egypt–to the discipline of the protestors and the military–who resisted any temptation to descend into brutality.  They demonstrated so eloquently the power of peace to persistently broadcast their message of change.

 “As a nation and as a people, especially this nation which found its own beginnings in a revolutionary movement, we must always try to find ourselves on the just side of budding movements of non-violent change.  We must always give credence to any effort that leads to a more truly democratic world society that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.  We must always nurture and empower movements which respect freedom of the press, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, and the inalienable right to dissent.”

The Egyptian Revolution: The Fall of the Pharaoh February 11, 2011

February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Mabrook Ya Masr!

Congratualtions to the people of Egypt for achieving their aim of overthrowing their dictator Hosni Mubarak. After 18 long days of protest, you have shown the world that peaceful (peaceful on the side of pro-democracy protesters) protests, and a nation standing together united with one voice for a better future can change the face of a nation and make history. Others in the world promote war for the sake of such endeavors (toppling dictators) and have caused mass suffering and destruction, but we see today what a nation’s own citizens can do when they have the will and determination to take a principled and peaceful stand against injustice. Your bravery has inspired the world as we watched you stand, day after day, in the face of violence, arrest, and even death, for the sake of the rights we in the West take for granted.

We pray for you, and for a better future for Egypt. We pray for those who died.

May God bless all of your efforts.

Response to PM Stephen Harper’s Statement on Egypt

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the following statement on Feb 1st  on recent events in Egypt:

“Following President Mubarak’s announcement today that he will not seek re-election, Canada reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future.

“Canada supports universal values – including freedom, democracy and justice – and the right to the freedom of assembly, speech and information. As Egypt moves towards new leadership, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms – not a transition that leads to violence, instability and extremism.

“We commend the many groups, such as the Egyptian military, who have worked hard to support freedom of assembly and to minimize violence during recent demonstrations. We stand by the people of Egypt, young Egyptians in particular, for their steadfast support for the fundamental values that Canadians profoundly share with them.

“We also extend our condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured during recent events.

“We urge all parties in Egypt to renounce violence and allow peaceful and meaningful dialogue between the people and government to address political, economic and social concerns. This dialogue should lead to free and fair elections and a government that supports universal values.”

——

I sent a letter to the PM concerning his statement:

Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper,

While I applaud your support for the demands of the Egyptian people, I am greatly disappointed that the Canadian government has not expressed greater concern for the Egyptian government’s actions against its citizens.

Calling for an end to violence on both sides does not send the right message to Egypt, the world, and concerned Canadians. The Canadian government should be expressing outrage for the Egyptian government’s use of violence used against protesters, the loss of Egyptian lives, the shutting down of the internet, and the control of communication. We stand for the values of freedom of speech and assembly, and support the spread of democracy. We in the West supported these values when it came to the people of Tunisia. But when it comes to the dictator Mubarak, we are weak in sending the same message due to his support of Western interests in the Middle East.

People of the world perceive this hypocrisy in Western governments. Canada should be a leader in speaking up for Egyptian rights, and speaking against the repressive Mubarak regime.

_________

You can email the PM at: pm@pm.gc.ca

In Solidarity with the People of Egypt

February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

In honour of today’s (Feb 1st 2011) Million Person March in Egypt, I would like to express my support for the people of Egypt as they continue their struggle for the basic civil rights and freedoms they’ve long been deprived of.

Many of us here in the West look on in awe and admiration as a nation rises up after years of repression under a military dictatorship to claim justice, liberty, and democracy for their people. We should remember that we have the power to support them from where we are: they need our prayers, and for us to share information on their plight with those around us. They need us to pressure our governments to support this just cause, and for us to write to newspapers and media to address any misinformation and deliberate political spin that takes away from that cause for the sake of Western interests in the Middle East.

People of Egypt, may God bless you with the strength and courage to continue in your struggle.
May He aid you in these difficult times, and may He grant you success.
Ameen.

The Definition of a Sweatshop

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Definition of a Sweatshop” from the article “Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman

The term has been around since the 19th century. Definitions vary but essentially refer to workplaces where employees work for poor pay, few or no benefits, in unsafe, unfavorable, harsh, and/or hazardous environments, are treated inhumanely by employers, and are prevented from organizing for redress.

The term itself refers to the technique of “sweating” the maximum profit from each worker, a practice that thrived in the late 19th century.

Webster calls them “A shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions.”

According to the group Sweatshop Watch:

“A sweatshop is a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to:

— extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long hours;
— poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards;
— arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse, or
— fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union.”

It’s mainly a women’s rights issue as 90% of the workforce is female, between the ages of 15 – 25. But it’s also an environmental one as the global economy exacts a huge price through air pollution, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, ocean and fresh water contamination, and an overtaxed ecosystem producing unhealthy, unsafe living conditions globally.

According to the US Department of Labor, a sweatshop is a place of employment that violates two or more federal or state labor laws governing wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation or industry regulation.

To understand the practice, it’s essential to view it in a broader globalization context. In their book titled, “Globalization and Progressive Economic Policy, Dean Baker, Robert Pollin and Gerald Epstein present the opinions of 36 prominent economists, asking:

Does globalization cause inequality? Instability? Unemployment? Environmental degradation? Or is it an engine of prosperity and wealth for the vast majority of people everywhere? They conclude that it can work for good or ill depending on how much control governments, corporations, and individuals exert, but also say:

“….most discussions of globalization hold that the power of nation-states to influence economic activity is eroding as economies become more integrated, while the power of private businesses and market forces is correspondingly rising.”

In other words, the dog that once wagged the tail now is the tail, the result of eroded state sovereignty and powerful private institutions, producing a race to the bottom conducive to exploiting labor – most prominently in poor countries but also in developed ones.

___________________

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. 

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

 

Article 24 states:

“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

Source:

“Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman

http://www.a-w-i-p.com/index.php/2010/02/25/global-sweatshop-wage-slavery

Personal Responsibility

September 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been thinking about the motivations behind certain actions and their results or potential impact.  Though this may seem like a trivial example, when I recycle small items I wonder if I should even bother when the environment is being severely damaged by large polluters daily; what would my little piece of garbage matter when companies like BP have wreaked havoc on the planet?

The same sort of question could be asked about my desire to make ethical choices when I shop, purchasing fair trade products and trying to avoid sweatshop-made items. What would those small acts amount to in the face of such large corporations like Nike and the Gap who wield considerable power and influence all over the world? My purchasing power seems paltry in comparison – as does my small act of recycling – so why bother?

I have learned that if one wants to change the world, one must change herself first. Not only does it matter for the sake of being consistent and avoiding being hypocritical, but movements are based on collections of individuals who were faced with a decision, and made the change in their own lives.

The greatest motivating factor for me, however, is the knowledge that all I do is witnessed by the Judge of all things. God commands social justice and the care of all He created and I believe Muslims too often separate these ideas from popular understandings of religiosity. Ritual is only a part of being a good believer; care for others, animals, and our earth are also essential factors in what would constitute a good human being and a good Muslim.

I believe that when God commands goodness and forbids evil, social responsibility is a part of His command and we are personally responsible for what is in our power to do, and every action, small or large, counts. Many may simply interpret this as the imperative to care for the poor, but there are so many references in the Quran and Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) that forbid oppression and describe it, and those who perpetrate it, in the worst of terms. We who live in the wealthy nations are a part of systems that are directly or indirectly oppressing small nations and/or their citizens. Are we not responsible as Muslims to help those being oppressed? And will we not be questioned if we are in fact capable of making change for the better within those systems?

Not only do our actions in working for social justice matter in changing ourselves and our world, in helping us to be better human beings and Muslims, and in helping us to work against oppression, but we are also promised reward by the Most Merciful:

As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal – him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” (Quran 16:97)

God also motivates us to this good in the Quran by saying:

“Verily, [only] they who stand in reverent awe of their Sustainer, and who believe in their Sus­tainer’s messages, and who do not ascribe divinity to aught but their Sustainer, and who give whatever they [have to] give with their hearts trembling at the thought that unto their Sustainer they must return: it is they who vie with one another in doing good works, and it is they who outrun [all others] in attaining to them! And [withal] We do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth [about what men and women do and can do]; and none shall be wronged.” (Quran 23: 57-62)

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