Tag Archives community

Finally, a charity with a brain

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Houses of worship are important to any community. They build communities’ spirits and spirituality which makes their buildings hallowed halls, and hence, the human psyche and people’s need for immortality made their construction a sought after enterprise. This might also explain the quantity of these halls in almost all societies. In Bahrain for instance, even though it is a small geographic area, I would not be surprised if I learnt that there are hundreds of mosques and ma’atems. I suspect that it probably ranks very high in the ratio of actual worshipers to places of worship. Still, I have absolutely no problem with having them, if people want to build them for whatever motives – hidden or otherwise – then all power to them. At least they keep the construction industry busy!

There are other venues for charity though which should be encouraged, especially those which create sustainable opportunities for the lower income sector of the society; those, unfortunately are not given much attention, or if they are, then that attention in most cases is just transitory.

I believe that the best way to offer a helping hand to anyone is to ensure that help not only provide transitory relief, but sustainable windows of opportunities to the person or community. I believe the best way of ensuring this is to provide the person with education, be that academic or vocational, in order for that person to get and hold a job to better themselves and their family’s lot.

Fortunately for us here in Bahrain, although income taxation does not exist, people and families with money have always contributed in this stream, building houses, hospitals, clinics, university classes or buildings and even sponsoring university chairs and of course students. These are extremely worthy cases which should be recognised and encouraged. I just wonder had those people who chose to build religious buildings put their money in these kind of pursuits, how many families they might have saved and rescued from poverty or unemployment too?

I am especially heartened, then, to learn today that one of the leading investment banks in Bahrain, Ithmar, in cooperation with the newly rebranded Royal Charity Organisation is offering comprehensive educational sponsorships to Bahraini orphans. Six orphans every year are to be sponsored to attend private schools in Bahrain – which offer a much better educational standard than government schools – from 2nd through to 12th grades as well as ten orphans to be sponsored to attend university for undergraduate studies.

Just imagine the impact such a program will have on the students, their families and their community in the future. Especially when you consider the refusal of the bank to base its selection of students on anything but academic achievements. Imagine the transformation of the orphans’ future; one that goes probably from rather bleak for most of these orphaned kids through to that which might very probably be bright and full of promise.

Thank you Ithmar and RCO for thinking out of the box and providing these opportunities for our fellow citizens who by your actions now will have something to look forward to.

I hope that this action will provide the impetus for other banks and business families to follow suit. Maybe, they can learn a little from what the Al-A’ali foundation have done over the last few years in their own undergraduate sponsorship programs. They have certainly been the pioneer of selflessly opening the windows of opportunities to their fellow Bahrainis, as I am sure that other families surreptitiously do too.

It is things like these that make me a very proud Bahraini. It is things like these that engenders patriotism.

Well done!

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Bahraini security guard shot

In the early hours of this morning in Al-Bustan hotel in Manama a scuffle broke out between drunks, purportedly American, and hotel security guards. It is reported that one of the servicemen drew his pistol and shot the Bahraini night-shift guard Abbas Ali Salman Al-Shakhoori in the head.

Al-Shakhoori has been taken to Salmaniya Medical Centre where he has been declared brain-dead. He is said to be in a very critical condition and his doctors do not expect him to live beyond today. His family, friends and people from the village are now at Salmaniya hospital by his side and the situation is very tense.

I hope a full investigation is launched and the person responsible for the death of Al-Shakhoori – regardless of nationality or position – is apprehended and handed justice.

I hope too that this situation is handled calmly by the people and the government so that it doesn’t get politicised and blown out of proportion.

I wish to extend my deep condolences to the family and friends of Al-Shakhoori. May he rest in peace.

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Burial

Hoora Cemetery

We went to bury a relation yesterday. The old lady was ill for a long while unfortunately.

She was much loved by her children, relations and the community around her.

May she rest in peace now.

This is the "Shi’a" cemetery in Hoora, in the Bahraini capital Manama. Due to the copious rains we’ve had recently, even the cemetery got clothed in green and yellow all around, particularly the weed Senecio glaucus which is a nice change for this sad and normally drab place.

There are specific rights to the Muslim burials; chief amongst them is that the head of the deceased must be laid toward Mecca (the feet pointing away from it); hence you see all the graves are aligned in that direction (towards the West in Bahrain) the face, not the head, of the deceased must face Mecca. In Bahrain’s case, Mecca is to the West, so all graves are aligned North (head) to South (feet). The body is laid on its side so that the face faces the West (toward Mecca). The dead person must be washed in a specific way before burial, and then the body is laid in the ground shrouded in cloth.

The cleric then reads from the Quran and implores Allah to take mercy on the deceased then the grave is closed by heaping sand in.

After that the family line up under a specially constructed awning (it gets rather hot in this area, especially in summer) to receive the condolences.

They retire after that either to the condolence hall in their city or village where they continue to read from the Quran and receive condolences for 3 days.

On the afternoon on the third and final day they go back to the grave and read from the Quran and bid he deceased farewell and with that the official mourning ends.

Some people continue to visit the graves of the dead especially on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning to read from the Quran and continue to implore God to take care of their beloved.

Part of this process is a contentious point between various Muslim sects; what I described above is what the Shi’a do, the Sunna follow a slightly different route in the peripheral issues, but remain the same in the core.

The really beautiful thing about this particular funeral, is that it resolutely demonstrated the goodness of Bahrainis and that they do not care at all about sectarian differences.

Both Sunna and Shi’a stood behind the coffin and performed the "prayer of the dead" lead by a Shi’a cleric. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation of whether one would stand and perform his duty by praying for the dead person; they just stood there, some crossed their arms as they would in their prayers, while others let their arms hang to their sides normally. Both listened to the words intoned by the cleric, and all responded by repeating "Allah Akbar" at the appropriate times.

This typifies Bahrain, I think. We might bicker sometimes about peripheral issues, but when it comes to the real thing, to the core issues, we are united and don’t believe in differences between us. There are only a few who promote sectarian differences, but because of the central goodness of within us Bahrainis, we will most surely defeat them. This funeral demonstrated this completely.

The picture shows people just leaving the grave site after the burial formalities.

May Allah accept the soul of the dearly departed to His bosom. I ask you to think about this lady in your prayers.

edit: thanks to Ali for correcting me on this major slip! Sorry :blush:

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Ashura, time for the community

Shilla cooking

A traditional activity during the Muharram Ashura commemorations is that various communities in Bahrain do different things, all of which are helping each other, especially taking care of the less fortunate by giving alms and/or food. The food is cooked by various entities and distributed for free to everyone who wants it.

The "Ajam Bahrainis" – that is, Bahrainis of Iranian descent have traditionally taken their part in these important festivities and cooked a specialty meal called "Shilla" which is really a very thick vegetable and meat broth containing many types of vegetables, rice, pulses and other goodness.

These pictures were taken at our neighbour’s father’s house who have made it into a tradition to cook Shilla every 5th of Muharram every single year and donate it all to the community. The pots, if you’re interested, have a capacity of 850 kilograms of food, and they cook 3 of these huge pots every year!

To take part in cooking the meal is considered auspicious for as you are helping in feeding the people, then God will take care of you, and so will Imam Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson who was killed in the famous Battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq at the hands of Yazid, the 2nd Umayyad ruler.

Another tradition done at the same time is lighting "wishing candles" and placing them in the vicinity of these huge pots. You can also wish whatever your heart desires while stirring the pot or helping in preparing the meal. They say that this is a potent way to get your wish granted.

Regardless of the superstitious nature of the event, the good thing about the whole Ashura thing is the community nature of the event, not only in communal mourning, but in communal giving and communal sharing.

It is traditions like these which enriches Bahrain as it celebrates its diversity, even though it is only 700 square kilometers in size!

For more information about the Muharram Commemorations around the world, please visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_of_Muharram

update 17:53: links to Bahraini Muharram activities (pictures and video clips): http://www.al-imam.net/media and http://www.al-imam.net/gallery

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The Dome of Ma’atem Al-Ajam – Bahrain

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The Dome of Ma'atem Al-Ajam - Bahrain

The Dome of Ma’atem Al-Ajam – Bahrain, originally uploaded by malyousif.



Arif and I went to pay our respects to two separate families this morning to offer our condolences. The first is a old friend whose shop was right next to ours in the old souq and had his father pass away yesterday. That was in the old city in Ma’atem Madan.

Then we went to pay our respects in Ma’atem Al-Ajam, the dome and magnificent chandelier of which is shown in this picture, and offered our condolences to one of our neighbours whose uncle just passed away yesterday as well.

This is "Ma’atem Al-Ajam Al-Kabeer" or the Grand Persian Religious Hall, is one of the most beautifully attired halls in Bahrain. This is the picture of its dome with its huge chandelier.

I hope all of you do not suffer any bereavements my friends, and hope too that you have a wonderful, happy and peaceful Friday.

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BahrainBlogs.org retooled

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bahrainblogsaggregator.jpgI got rather frustrated with the amount of maintenance and manual updates I have had to do on BahrainBlogs.org running WordPress and a no longer maintained feed aggregator plugin that I had to find a radical solution to fix this mess. Thankfully, I fell upon a mention of an aggregator in progress how-to-install post on one of the Bahraini blogs (sorry I couldn’t remember which one at the moment) and that led me ultimately to Gergarius.

No sooner than looking at a couple of sample sites and perusing their wiki for a few minutes than I felt convinced that this is a better solution for our purpose than the WordPress + Plugin combo, and sure enough, after a painless install and configure process, and a faultless import of the full FeedBurner 106 blog OPML file, the site was up and running in less than 10 minutes!

REMEMBER: The aggregator’s address now is http://bahrainblogs.org/rss so please update your bookmarks! This is because I’m going to add a community blogging service on the root URL soon.

You have got to check the features and spend some time on it, I am sure you will love it. But let me know if you have any observations etc. I’m still learning about the system, so there might be changes here and there, or even scrap the whole thing and start all over again with another system!

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Very quickly

Over the last few days three things were brought to the fore in the local press after people continued to point fingers and talk about the situations in their majlises etc: one thing that has been talked about for years in Bahrain is the issue of naturalization, which is a very emotive subject with the opposition (read the majority of Bahrain) believing that the process is adopted purely to strengthen the hand of government by bringing in new naturalized citizens and use them to skew the electoral outcome and change the country’s demographic; the government on the other hand say that there are no such motives and they are granting citizenship only to those who qualify.

My say: we’re tired of this shit. It’s high time to establish an independent commission of enquiry with free access to all records and persons and then publish a report. If the government is found at fault, then amend/change the laws to ensure that it does not transgress it in the future. If on the other hand it finds that the public’s fears are unfounded, then the public should just shut up and let us get on with our lives.

the prime minister visiting needy families in MuharraqSecond thing: Muharraq, that island which defines Bahraini culture, politics and opposition throughout its ages, has once again rocked the boat.

It’s various “majlises” – community halls presided over by luminaries of neighbourhoods and used as simple devices to while away the time, plan political movements, and strengthen the community spirit and good neighbourliness – have decided that they have had enough with sectarian-motivated political movements and told all political societies in Muharraq that they couldn’t give a shit about them, especially the Asalah (Wahabi) and Minbar (Muslim Brotherhood) that they will not support them any more as their programs in the 2002 elections were far too sectarian and government-allied. The majlises will front and support their own candidates in opposition to these Islamist movements.

Then a tonne of bricks came tumbling on them, by way of our prime minister who defines their roles as:

Addressing the majlis owners, he stressed their role in diagnosing the citizens’ needs and referring them to government officials.

Mainly relegating their ancient role to that of triage rooms in hospitals; just conduits to the “real thing.” He also had this nugget of wisdom to dispense:

he warned against misusing the parliament to raise controversial issues which could only smear the legislative luster.

Sorry sir, I wholeheartedly disagree with your premises. I would rather our parliament raise these contentious issues and solve them, rather than leave them to fester and ultimately explode in our communities.

As to the majlises, they are regarded by the community as localised mini-parliaments to inculcate the spirit of democracy and solve local issues locally, rather than be a conduit to the government, which they certainly can do should they so wish. Majlises are excellent at fostering and enhancing the community spirit, as such, their activities should not be curtailed. And if you believe that you can, then allow me to tell you sir, that you are ill informed. Some of these majlises have been going since 1957, some might even have been established before that, so leave them alone, they’re doing a good job throughout the kingdom.

Third and final thing (I’ve got to get work done, after a wonderful 2-day weekend!): The dogs are out once again attacking “Haq’s” right to petition the UN to get involved in Bahrain’s political scene by sponsoring or aiding in correcting the 2002 constitution. They have collected 82,000 signatures in a petition calling for the restoration of the 1973 constitution, or proper amendment of the 2002 constitution. Faisal Foulath, famous Shura Council specialist in brainfarts, is calling the Haq movement liars and basically is being used to start another smear campaign against them.

The prime minister also obliquely mentioned them and lambasted them for their efforts in his visit to Muharraq (he was rather busy wasn’t he? Attacking 3 subjects in one, THIS is what I call efficient damage control!) in which he stated:

The Premier yesterday warned against raising controversial issues which may drive wedges in the community and serve narrow personal interests. “Democracy, openness and freedom of opinion should not be used as a pretext to violate the law, sow sectarian sedition, or falsify truths in international arenas, claiming internal liberties are curbed,”

Alrighty then… so he too found it distasteful that Haq went whining to the UN. But then, if the Royal Court would accept receiving popular petitions, they might not have resorted to such a measure.

Things are hotting up my friends! Elections must be really really close now. And my fellow Bahrainis would recognise this flurry of activities of promising more reforms, building more houses, visiting the poor and making them promises, and cleaning the roads and painting the curb-stones and the outpouring of wisdom by the tanker-load by senior officials in and out of government are just signs that we have gotten used to.

These cleanups remind me of the preparation for the GCC conference before they hit the island for a day or two, the whole island gets a face lift. Maybe having the elections every four years will now be regarded as a good thing if they’re going to clean up the place more often than the GCC shindigs.

Have an excellent Sunday my friends, the very first first day of the week in the history of Bahrain!

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33 days

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Okay, 1701 has been adopted. Fragile as it is, it is still generally holding, even with Hizballah and Israel exchanging fire again this morning (Hizballah has been reported to have fired up to 10 Katyusha rockets at Israeli positions within Southern Lebanon) and as people in their thousands have started the re-migration back to what is left of their villages and towns, some happy enough to sleep in the open on foam mattresses until they could probably rebuild their homes anew, they need our support more than ever.

Hizballah supporters celebrations in Bahrain and Lebanon

However that is not important at the moment. What is important is the overwhelming feeling of euphoria that the hitherto undefeated and much regarded Israeli army has been cowed, been made to suffer, had numerous armaments destroyed, and a few of its soldiers killed, injured or maimed. This euphoria is undiminished when one considers that Lebanon for the most part has been turned into a parking lot, hundreds killed, thousands injured, and more than a million made destitute.

Many towns and villages in Bahrain celebrated far into the night, the majority in cars going up and down avenues waving the now ubiquitous Hizballah flag from moving vehicles and on foot. Accompanied by low flying security helicopters keeping a keen watch on the goings on. None of these activities have been approved by the government of course, and if it would take the letter of the “associations” law recently passed by our esteemed parliament – probably the only such elected organ in the world which can be counted upon to restrict human rights and freedoms – all of those revelers would be in prison, and some, if the government chooses to apply the again recently anointed “Terrorism Law” would be hung and quartered.

I would hazard a guess that the celebrations would continue for some time to come, eclipsing all other news and happenings in the world, Darfur with its millions of displaced and tens of thousands killed, and Iraq which is averaging about one hundred killed a day in sectarian violence which is bordering on a declared civil war.

But, all celebrations end at some point, and people start asking questions. The hope is that those questions would lead to lasting resolutions within the communities themselves. The fall-out of this conflict I think will be huge and will affect the whole Middle East specifically and the world in general.

First and foremost is the shattered perception that the IDF cannot be defeated. That will have major repercussions in the coming years.

The other is the extraction of vengeance from those Arabs opposing this “Divine Victory” (which is what the name Nasrallah actually means!) so I expect some trouble in Saudi, Jordan and Egypt because of their stances. I wouldn’t be too surprised to end this decade with the removal of the Jordanian Abdulla and the Egyptian Hosni. As to Saudi, well, the guy is knocking on 80 so people will concentrate on whoever is supposed to be taking over the helm on his passing.

The unquestionable outcome of this war however, is the hugely enhanced standing of the Shi’a, and the unity of the Arabs and the Muslim world behind Nasrallah. I would bet my house at the moment that should Nasrallah stand for elections to choose the president of the whole Arab world today, he would win with a landslide.

What does the future hold for us in view of this conflict?

I don’t know, but I can tell you that the winds of change are blowing very hard across the whole area at the moment, and it will be very interesting times ahead.

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Shame on you!

It has been a long standing tradition in Bahrain, as is the case with the rest of the Gulf specifically, that whenever there is an occasion, whatever the occasion, big business and government agencies take out substantial and costly adverts in all the national papers lauding a personality, extending greetings or congratulating a royal personality. Needless to say that these campaigns are ludicrously expensive as a full page advert in a paper could cost BD2,000 (US$5,291) or more and half a page is half that amount.

Apart from that, they also take out huge hoardings and street signs doing the very same, and that exercise costs even more. It even feels that it is orchestrated by someone sitting in a dark “strategy” office thinking that doing things like these will ingratiate that royal to people’s hearts and minds. Well, if there is such an office, let me be the first to burst your bubble. IT DOESN’T WORK! Do I need to shout it louder to get through your thick skull?

This practice is time wasting and ugly. Especially at a time like this when over 1,000 human beings in Lebanon and Israel are killed, over 3,000 injured and over a million destitute, wouldn’t you think that these very same cash-flush companies give up that money wrongly spent to more deserving causes like Lebanon?

Okay, Lebanon is too far away or there are various programs underway to help them, fine, how about coming closer to home? What about those over 200 desperate souls made destitute and homeless because of that building’s fire? A building they were housed in without any regard to safety and even the most basic human decency? What about them that are now moved into an unprepared barracks to while away the heat of the day and night without proper shelter and food? What about the loans that they have taken just to be brought over here to eek out a living to send back to their own families? Aren’t they a more worthy cause then congratulating Shaikh Nasser in this way?

Okay, here’s another idea for you which I am sure Shaikh Nasser will appreciate: with all the money that has been squandered in the papers so far congratulating Shaikh Nasser, wouldn’t it have been better to pool all that money and build a homeless shelter and name it after Shaikh Nasser? Wouldn’t that be a more lasting gift to people who when entering that centre thank Nasser for all of eternity?

You should be ashamed of yourselves. You should be much better and bigger than kissing ass like this. Shaikh Nasser doesn’t need this, and no royal needs this either. So calculate how much you would have spent throughout the year on meaningless crap like these newspaper ads and build the centre and alleviate someone’s suffering.

Get on with it!

Congratulations Shaikh Nasser.

I hereby pledge BD100 to start the kitty to build a homeless centre in your name.

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