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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Short History of Hajj

Hajj literally means 'to set out for a place'. Islamically however it refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Makkah with the intention of performing certain religious rites in accordance with the method prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Hajj and its rites were first ordained by Allah in the time of the Prophet lbrahim [Abraham] and he was the one who was entrusted by Allah to build the Kaba - the House of Allah - along with his son Ismail [Ishmael] at Makkah. Allah described the Kaba and its building as follows:
"And remember when We showed Ibrahim the site of the [Sacred] House [saying]: Associate not anything [in worship with Me and purify My House for those who circumambulate it [i.e. perform tawaaf] and those who stand up for prayer and those who bow down and make prostration [in prayer etc.]."
[Surah Al-Hajj 22:26]

After building the Kaba, Prophet Ibrahim would come to Makkah to perform Hajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his son. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were changed. As idolatry spread throughout Arabia, the Kaba lost its purity and idols were placed inside it. Its walls became covered with poems and paintings, including one of Jesus and his mother Maryam and eventually over 360 idols came to be placed around the Kaba.
During the Hajj period itself, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Kaba was like a circus. Men and women would go round the Kaba naked, arguing that they should present themselves before Allah in the same condition they were born. Their prayer became devoid of all sincere remembrance of Allah and was instead reduced to a series of hand clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns. Even the talbiah [1] was distorted by them with the following additions: 'No one is Your partner except one who is permitted by you. You are his Master and the Master of what he possesses'.

Sacrifices were also made in the name of God. However, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured onto the walls of the Kaba and the flesh was hung from pillars around the Kaba, in the belief that Allah demanded the flesh and blood of these animals.
Singing, drinking, adultery and other acts of immorality was rife amongst the pilgrims and the poetry competitions, which were held, were a major part of the whole Hajj event. In these competitions, poets would praise the bravery and splendor of their own tribesmen and tell exaggerated tales of the cowardice and miserliness of other tribes. Competitions in generosity were also staged where the chief of each tribe would set up huge cauldrons and feed the pilgrims, only so that they could become well-known for their extreme generosity.

Thus the people had totally abandoned the teachings of their forefather and leader Prophet Ibrahim. The House that he had made pure for the worship of Allah alone, had been totally desecrated by the pagans and the rites which he had established were completely distorted by them. This sad state of affairs continued for nearly two and a half thousand years. But then after this long period, the time came for the supplication of Prophet Ibrahim to be answered:
"Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them your aayaat (verses) and instruct them in the book and the Wisdom and sanctify them. Verily you are the 'Azeezul-Hakeem [the All-Mighty, the All-Wise]."
[Surah Al-Baqarah 2:129]
Sure enough, a man by the name of Muhammad ibn 'Abdullaah was born in the very city that Prophet Ibrahim had made this supplication centuries earlier. For twenty-three years, Prophet Muhammad spread the message of Tawheed [true monotheism] - the same message that Prophet Ibrahim and all the other Prophets came with - and established the law of Allah upon the land. He expended every effort into making the word of Allah supreme and his victory over falsehood culminated in the smashing of the idols inside the Kaba which once again became the universal center for the worshippers of the one True God.

Not only did the Prophet rid the Kaba of all its impurities, but he also reinstated all the rites of Hajj which were established by Allah's Permission, in the time of Prophet Ibrahim. Specific injunctions in the Quran were revealed in order to eliminate all the false rites which had become rampant in the pre-Islamic period. All indecent and shameful acts were strictly banned in Allah's statement:
"There is to be no lewdness nor wrangles during Hajj."
[Surah al-Baqarah 2:197]

Competitions among poets in the exaltations of their forefathers and their tribesmen's achievements were all stopped. Instead, Allah told them:
"And when you have completed your rites [of Hajj] then remember Allah as you remember your forefathers; nay with a more vigorous remembrance."
[Surah al-Baqarah 2:200]

Competitions in generosity were also prohibited. Of course, the feeding of the poor pilgrims was still encouraged as this was done during the time of Prophet Ibrahim but Allah commanded that the slaughtering of the animals which was done for this purpose should be done seeking the pleasure of Allah rather than fame and the praise of the people. He said:
"So mention the name of Allah over these animals when they are drawn up in lines. Then, when they are drawn on their sides [after the slaughter], eat thereof and feed the beggar who does not ask, and the beggar who asks."
[Surah al-Hajj 22:36]

As for the deplorable practice of spattering blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Kaba and hanging their flesh on alters, then Allah clearly informed them that:
"It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is Taqwaa (piety) from you that reaches Him."
[Surah al-Hajj 22:37]

The Prophet also put a stop to the practice of circling the Kaba in a state of nudity and the argument that the pagans put forward to justify this ritual was sharply rebutted in Allah's question:
"Say: Who has forbidden the adornment [i.e. clothes] given by Allah which He has produced for His Slaves?"
[Surah al-A'raaf 7:32]
Another custom which was prohibited through the Quran was that of setting off for Hajj without taking any provisions for the journey. In the pre-Islamic period, some people who claimed to be mutawakkiloon (those having complete trust in Allah) would travel to perform Hajj begging for food through the whole journey. They considered this form of behavior a sign of piety and an indication of how much faith they had in Allah. However Allah told mankind that to have sufficient provisions for the journey was one of the preconditions for making Hajj. He said:
"And take a provision [with you] for the journey, but the best provision is at-Taqwaa (piety)."
[Surah al-Baqarah 2:197]

In this way, all the pre-Islamic practices, which were based on ignorance, were abolished and Hajj was once more made a model of piety, fear of Allah, purity, simplicity and austerity. Now, when the pilgrims reach the Kaba, they no longer find the carnivals and the frolic and frivolity that had once occupied the minds of the pilgrims there before. Now, there is the remembrance of Allah at every step and every action and every sacrifice was devoted to Him alone. It was this kind of Hajj that was worthy of the reward of paradise, as the Prophet said: "The reward for an accepted Hajj is nothing less than paradise."
May Allah grant us all the ability to visit His House and perform the Hajj in the manner of the Prophet Muhammad . Aameen.

1 Labbaik Allahumma labbaik... (Here I am present, O' God, I am present...) This is the chant which the pilgrims say when they are traveling for pilgrimage.

Source: Invitation to Islam, Issue 1, May 1997

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Halal potential still untapped

DESPITE the growing focus on halal production of goods locally, there is still a huge potential yet to be tapped.

With the global halal industry estimated at US$2.3 trillion (RM7 trillion), Halal Industry Development Corporation chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamil Bidin yesterday said more companies need to get involved and collaborate to capitalise in opportunities offered in the halal industry.

Currently, there is not enough raw materials made available to produce halal products, he said at the CNBC Summit.

Echoing this call, Nestle Malaysia Bhd managing director Peter Vogt said the dairy firm is facing issues acquiring raw materials, particularly those with a halal certification.

As the local halal industry is still being developed, he said the firm is still focused on ensuring it can have reliable halal-certified suppliers.

Jamil also said that despite the worldwide slowdown due to economic uncertainties, the domestic consumption this year remains promising.

He noted that with 1.8 billion Muslims globally, there is continuous demand for halal products but supply is limited, particularly in European countries and the Soviet Union.

He said Malaysia is acknowledged as the reference centre for halal certification as well as halal standard development and training. “This can be viewed as being a catalyst for big businesses.”

Also at the summit, Performance Management & Delivery Unit chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala said to help ease the economic challenge of Malaysian economy, Petronas is expected to build a RM60 billion refinery project.

(The Malay Mail / 04 Oct 2012)

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Bahrain major Islamic finance knowledge hub

MANAMA: Bahrain has been chosen as the Islamic finance knowledge hub by international business intelligence firm Thomson Reuters.

The hub will initially employ 21 Bahrainis, and this is expected to grow over time.

A two-year training period will also be provided to equip the individuals with the knowledge and skills required to become Islamic finance specialists, through a combination of in-class training and intensive mentoring and on-the-job training.
The Islamic finance hub will provide institutions focused on the sector with vital quality and breadth of timely information, with up-to-the-minute data and categorised content for each financial instrument, as well as in-depth analysis of markets and assets classes.
Coverage of all information and transaction requirements, from treasury and asset management to Sharia advisory and legal counsel, will be provided through dedicated communication, knowledge and transaction systems. This will allow the sharing of content and transactions with counterparties in addition to displaying prices and covering recent trends, coverage and analysis.
"The establishment of such a knowledge hub for providing potentially market moving information is vital for the growth and the cross-border expansion of the $1.2 trillion Islamic finance industry," said Thomson Reuters global head of Islamic finance Rushdi Siddiqui at the launch of the hub at the Capital Club yesterday.
"This will allow global and regional institutions to develop confidence in price discovery, pre-trade information and trade execution."
"In history the source of power was with money which was in the hands of the few. Today power is about information.
"Bahrain has been the locomotive that has driven the Islamic finance industry for 20 to 30 years and that is a journey that will continue. That is why we have come to Bahrain."
"Bahrain has been a pioneer in the Islamic finance sector, and the establishment of this knowledge hub by Thomson Reuters will both enhance the kingdom's position in the sector and in the global knowledge economy. We have always placed a great deal of emphasis on making sure we have a local workforce that has the skills needed by international businesses and this initiative will support the development of the next generation of highly-skilled Bahraini Islamic finance experts," said Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) acting chief executive Kamal Ahmed.
"Along with promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, encouraging and supporting foreign investments is among the key means in which Tamkeen is fostering the creation and development of enterprises," said Tamkeen chairman Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa.
"Working with the EDB, Tamkeen works to ensure that these investments create sustainable opportunities for local industries and Bahrainis alike."
(Gulf Daily News / 05 Oct 2012)

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Oman: Draft regulations for sukuk finalised

New draft regulations for the issuance of sukuk – the Islamic equivalent of bonds – have been finalised by the Capital Market Authority (CMA) ahead of their proposed publication for public consultation, it is learnt.

According to an expert familiar with preparations for the imminent promulgation of a legal framework for the introduction of Islamic Banking services in the Sultanate, the sukuk draft regulations are expected to be posted on the website of the CMA for public consultation.

 After weighing feedback from the industry, as well as the general public, the regulations will be enacted into law via a Royal Decree, said Khalid Yousaf, Director – Islamic Finance Advisory Services, KPMG Oman.

In comments to the Observer, Yousaf, whose lengthy career as a banking professional includes stints with a number of leading international Islamic financial institutions, described sukuk as the “mainstay” of Islamic Capital Markets.

“Sukuk provide opportunities to the asset holders to create liquidity for their investment blocked in the asset. At the same time, it offers investment opportunities to investors seeking investments in Sharia-compliant assets. Since sukuk are asset-backed or asset-based, unlike conventional bonds, they provide a secured form of investment for the investor. At the same time, the issuer has to have access to assets whose title can be transferred to the trustee looking after the interests of sukuk-holders.”

Importantly, sukuk also represent an important Islamic Capital Market instrument that enables the channelling of funds between investors and issuers, says Yousaf. “Being asset-backed or asset-based, sukuk are fully secured and provide a much better risk than clean or unsecured conventional bonds or similar instruments. Sukuk can also offer funding at cheaper rates than borrowing from banks. The issuer can also access a wider investor base, increase its market profile and have greater flexibility in the choice of currency and maturity of its obligations.”

According to the expert, sukuk holds particular appeal for infrastructure projects which have a medium-to-long term funding requirement. These projects being backed by strong assets, qualify for the issuance of sukuk.

For example, all major large-size sukuk issued in the UAE, Saudi, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia have been used to finance infrastructure projects like highways, airports, ports, free-zones and bridges. Investors like investing in infrastructure sukuk because of the stronger quality of assets, generally sovereign risk involved and higher yield, said Yousaf.

Given sukuk’s appeal as a source of infrastructure funding, the expert is also confident that the Omani government itself will take the sukuk route to finance its infrastructure projects. “Government and quasi-government institutions take the lead in Sukuk financing. Out of total Sukuk outstanding of $103 billion, $65 billion has been issued by Government institutions. Some governments like Bahrain, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and now Turkey (proposed) tap Sukuk to sap up liquidity from Islamic banking sector and for managing money supply in the country. With a commitment to $30 billion in infrastructure projects already, the government of Oman is very likely to issue sukuk to finance some if not all of their projects in future,” he said.

Demand for sukuk, says Yousaf, has “piggy-backed” the demand for Sharia-compliant assets in general. While Islamic Banking is awash with liquidity provided by depositors seeking Sharia-compliant products, finding a home for depositors’ funds has been a challenge.

“It takes a long time and a network of branches to build Retail, SME and Corporate asset portfolios. The banks need a safe investment during this period to park their liquidity and also manage their balance sheet more effectively.

(Oman Daily Observer / 06 Oct 2012)

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