A meeting with the author Ali Shakir about his book “A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century”

Yesterday, I had the luck of participating for the first time in my life in a book club. The name of this book club is “JCI Book Club – Amman” (You can read more details about the club and my experience in this post: Are there English Book Clubs in Amman? There is the JCI Amman Book Club and here is my Experience!). At my first participation, I had the luck that the club had a Mr. Ali Shakir to talk briefly about a book that he had recently published.

It was my first time ever to know of Mr. Shakir. Mr. Shakir is a New Zealander-Iraqi author. He recently published a book called: “A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century”. This book is the first book ever written by Mr. Shakir and the JCI Amman Book Club hosted him to talk about his book.

Book's Front Cover - A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century

Book’s Front Cover. Source: Book’s page at amazon.com.

Who is Ali Shakir and what is his book about? These questions are answered concisely and precisely at the back cover of the book:

The Book's Backcover - A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century

The Book’s Backcover. Source: Book’s page at amazon.com.

From the book’s back cover, I just want to highlight that Mr. Shakir lived most of his life in Iraq until 2006 when he moved to New Zealand.

During the entire event of JCI Book Club Amman, Mr. Shakir was very quiet. He spoke in a low voice, which he said he could not “increase”. Mr. Shakir introduced himself very briefly and talked in less than 10 minutes about his book. This was certainly not enough. I liked very much the “etymology” of his book’s title.

He told us that the main landmark in Baghdad is the Tigris river نهر دجلة. He explained that there are many bridges crossing this river to connect the parts of Baghdad at its both sides. When he used to live Iraq, he liked a lot to go above these bridges and watch the city of Baghdad. In his opinion, this gave him a very good view of the city of Baghdad at both sides of the river. He thinks that he could not have got this view were he not to stand on these bridges! In a similar fashion, I understood that he is now lost between his Muslim and Arab identity and western point of views. Therefore, he wrote this book to give a better view of the difficulties that he, along with other Iraqis and Muslims in general, are having (N.B. I am not sure how precise I remember his words).

Tigris River, Baghdad, Iraq.

Tigris River, Baghdad, Iraq. Source: A flickr account of James Gordon.

I do not know a lot of information about the author or about the book. Nonetheless, I sensed a tone of sadness in the voice of Mr. Shakir.  I sensed that he had a lot inside of him and he wanted to express it but could not. Could it be that this book was enough? Is there a story of suffering somewhere in the life of Mr. Shakir? This is why I quickly became very interested to read the book.

The floor was opened for discussion. One person asked about the source of Mr. Shakir’s information in the book and whether he depended on certain resources. Then a person asked a question that diverted the conversation to the situation of Iraq and Baghdad nowadays. Finally, I asked the last question 🙂 and gave my opinion regarding what Mr. Shakir had begun his brief talk by. Mr. Shakir had said that “he is against a writer speaking about his/her book” and that “a good book will speak about itself.” I told Mr. Shakir that I would have most probably not known about his book if he had not come to that event. I then told him that although communication skills are important, but that strong ideas can convey the greatest bulk of a person’s opinion. I finished my comment by saying, “If I were you and were invited into an event to discuss my book, I will go.”

Questions ended. Then, a young woman of JCI’s administrative people asked a very interesting question:

“If Mr. Ali Shakir’s book was available today at Book Readers, who will buy it?”

I raised my hand. It was not though a very high rise. The reason is not that I did not want to buy the book. I found the book very interesting. The reason is that I would have bought it not as paperback but as an e-version. I no longer prefer reading paperback books. I then thought very frightened, what if they told us that the book is available and they wanted to make it a surprise? I do not have enough money to buy it. Yes, I did not have more than JD 10 in my pocket. My salary as an intern in the ministry of health is only JD 96.5 ($136.26). “I want 10 people to raise their hands.” The young woman said again and then started counting those who had raised their hands. My hand was not lowered enough and I was counted among those “lucky” people who will have the chance to buy the book that night. However, not for very long: “Mr. Ali,” The young woman said. “We would like to inform you that a secret person has told us that he will buy 10 copies of your book and donate them.” Mr. Ali then immediately asked, again in low voice, “Who is this person?” The young woman refused to answer. Then the beautiful surprise came:

“We want to give these ten books to the ten people who raised their hands.”

I was very happy. This meant that I would have a free copy of Mr. Shakir’s book. What a very good surprise! I think it is the most expensive prize (if I can say) that I have ever won in my life! The paperback version of this book costs $15.19. I have never won a prize that is worth more than 15.19$. The person who decided to donate the books. I really respect him/her. It certainly shows that Mr. Shakir’s book had touched this person’s mind and/or heart!

The book will arrive at Book Readers in about two weeks. I am looking forward to reading it!

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”― Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong

Personal website of Bishop John Shelby Spong: here.
English Wikipedia page about Bishop John Shelby Spong: English.

“الله ليس مسيحي… الله ليس يهودي، أو مسلم، أو هندوسي، أو بوذي. كل هذه هي أنظمة بشرية إخترعها البشر محاولين مساعدتنا للسير في سر الله. أنا أكرم تقاليدي، وأسير حسب تقاليدي، ولكنني لا أعتقد أن تقاليدي تعرًف الله، أعتقد أنها فقط تشير إلى الله.” – الأسقف المتقاعد جون شلبي سبونج.

“الله ليس مسيحي… الله ليس يهودي، أو مسلم، أو هندوسي، أو بوذي. كل هذه هي أنظمة بشرية إخترعها البشر محاولين مساعدتنا للسير في سر الله. أنا أكرم تقاليدي، وأسير حسب تقاليدي، ولكنني لا أعتقد أن تقاليدي تعرًف الله، أعتقد أنها فقط تشير إلى الله.” – الأسقف المتقاعد جون شلبي سبونج.

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”― Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”― Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong

Source of Bishop John Shelby Spong’s photo:A flickr account of Scott Griesselvia this wikimedia page.
Video of Bishop John Shelby Spong saying the above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BkP9-HG8-I
Source of the English transcript:
http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/45659.John_Shelby_Spong
Arabic translation: Moa’bite.

Prof. Jean Decety in Amman and an interesting Lecture about the Neurobiological Mechanisms of Empathy and Caring for Others

I had the honor of attending a lecture by a French American Professor called Jean Decety from the University of Chicago. The lecture took place in the building of the Jordan Society of Scientific Research (JSSR) in Amman on Wednesday, 11/09/2013 (If you want to keep updated with the activities of the JSSR, here is a link to their facebook page). The title of the lecture of Prof. Decety was:

 الآليات العصبية الحيوية التي تشكل الأساس للتعاطف و الاهتمام بالآخرين لدى الإنسان 
Neurobiological Mechanisms of Empathy and Caring for Others

The topic of the lecture seemed strange to me. For minutes, I thought of not attending this lecture. Firstly, I could not imagine about what this lecture would be. Secondly, I did not know how important Prof. Decety is. Nonetheless, because I trusted my friend who recommended this lecture for me (Thank you Dr. Ali Alfar) and because I am interested in psychiatry my possible future specialty, then I googled the name of Prof. Decety. Quickly, I discovered that there is a detailed Wikipedia page about Prof. Decety. Can anyone have a detailed wikipedia page? I also found multiple articles mentioning him. Therefore, I decided quickly to attend because I thought that I would benefit something from this lecture no matter how boring the topic turned out to be.

A friend of mine and I decided to go to this lecture. My friend is also interested in psychiatry. We arrived a few minutes before the lecture started. Prof. Decety then arrived. From the first few minutes, I could deduce that he is a jolly person, funny, and to my relive, that I would not bored by the “weird” lecture that was to come.

The lecture started. A Dr. Rana Dajani introduced Prof. Decety. I understood that Dr. Dajani and Prof. Decety conducted are conducting researches together.

The lecture started with Prof. Decety talking a little bit about his family (From my short experience in attending conferences, this is something usual with western doctors). Prof. Decety explained briefly about the research center in which he works “The University of Chicago Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab (SCNL).” Prof. Decety is the head of this center. This information really impressed me because Prof. Decety is French. He had his Bachelor degree, three master degrees, and PhD in France [1]. Nonetheless, Prof. Decety’s un-American origin did not prevent the University of Chicago from appointing him as a head of a research center as important as the SCNL. What matters are qualifications! This reminded me of multiple articles that spoke about how the USA attracts scientists from all over the world. Why would not it? Is not the story of Prof. Decety an excellent example why this occurs?

As the topic of the lecture became more and more clear to me, I started enjoying the multiple researches about which Prof. Decety spoke. I was impressed a lot with a sentence that Prof. Decety used to describe himself: “I am an Evolutionary Psychologist.” I have never heard about a branch of science with that name. However, it was not hard for me to expect what this branch of study is about: Explaining pychology in view of evolution! [Here is a wikipedia article about Evolutionary Psychology]! This is very amazing! I love evolution and I think it is very logical to use it to explain biology. It turned out that it can also explain “psychology”… Those atheistic infidels!

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

From the very first minutes of the lecture, Prof. Decety mentioned the “taboo” of evolution. An attending student raised his hand and asked a question that initially appeared to be related to the lecture’s topic. Nonetheless, because I come from this society, I knew from the beginning that it was a matter of the speaker wanting to prove that evolution is wrong. The questions did not stop and were more and more indirectly revolving about the correctness of Evolution. It is really a pity that many of the people around me still discuss whether evolution is correct or not! The world is way ahead of us. I do not think that this should be a topic of discussion anymore. The debate increased and another student joined. It was then consuming a lot of time that Dr. Dajani finally intervened and said (something like): “The discussion is now about Evolution and it will not end! Evolution is compatible with religion. Some think that it is not. Here at the society we will have a lecture that shows the compatibility of evolution with religion. Let us continue the lecture.” The lecture finally resumed!

Religious explanations are so wide! I really do not understand how accepting evolution contradicts the belief in God! // Source: religifake.com

Religious explanations are so wide! I really do not understand how accepting evolution contradicts the belief in God! // Source: religifake.com

Prof. Decety then explained about multiple studies. Of interest, Prof. Decety talked about the findings that the hormone oxytocin increased empathy. Prof. Decety then suggested jokingly, but also, almost seriously as of someone really concerned:

"Some studies show that the hormone oxytocin increase empathy in human beings" Prof. Jean Decety, the University of Chicago.

“Some studies show that the hormone oxytocin increase empathy in human beings” Prof. Jean Decety, the University of Chicago.

I did not feel the time pass before the lecture ended. At his last slide, Prof. Decety had put the links of the facebook pages of his two lab: The SCNL and the Child Neuro Suite. He asked if we could like it (The link for the SCNL is here and the link to the Child Neuro Suite is here). Next, the audience asked some questions and Prof. Decety happily answered them.

Next, I smiled a lot when I saw Prof. Decety holding a camera. What made me smile was that Prof. Decety was more interested to take photos more than the audience members who wanted to be photographed with him. When I saw the situation like this, I happily asked my friend [Thank you Dr. Fadi Walid Farah] to take a photo of me with Prof. Decety. Here I am now publishing it proudly (I hope that Prof. Decety does not mind that).

Jameel Hijazeen with Prof. Jean Decety, Amman, Jordan, September, 2013

[1] Jean Decety, Wikipedia, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Decety

Religions divide us homo sapiens? Is there a solution?

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”
― John Shelby Spong

Source of the transcript: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/45659.John_Shelby_Spong

 

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”― Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong

“الله ليس مسيحي… الله ليس يهودي، أو مسلم، أو هندوسي، أو بوذي. كل هذه هي أنظمة بشرية إخترعها البشر محاولين مساعدتنا للسير في سر الله. أنا أكرم تقاليدي، وأسير حسب تقاليدي، ولكنني لا أعتقد أن تقاليدي تعرًف الله، أعتقد أنها فقط تشير إلى الله.” – الأسقف المتقاعد جون شلبي سبونج.

My Arab Brothers and Sisters: It is not shameful to be questioned, monitored, and inspected!

In undeveloped countries, I expect that corruption is something that is widespread. In Arab countries, for example, I think that a good factor that helps this phenomenon to take hold is not only governments… but the people themselves!

A few weeks ago, I took part in collecting some donations for Syrian refugees in Jordan. When a fifth-year friend of mine asked me to help and I agreed, he simply then asked me to go and collect money from the students. “How would you guarantee that I will not steal the money that will be given to me?” I asked. As a result, I refused to collect any penny without giving whoever donated money to me a “Cheque-like” paper indicating the sum of money that he gave to me. Do you think that doing this decreased my respect? Did I cast some doubt on my honesty by giving a physical evidence of what money was given to me?

In another related story. I and a group of my friends are doing a research together. One of my friends was upset by my “obsession” of documenting every decision we made in the research. In particular, he was upset by my asking him to send me emails confirming that I wrote their names correctly before sending them to our supervising doctor. “Isn’t reading the names over phone enough?” My friend must have thought angrily.

One time, I knew of the following opinion that a fellow Arab of mine had:

“We are Arabs and still believe in human honesty.”

Depending on honesty… How beautiful! Is depending on honesty better than documentation and accounting? No matter how time consuming and tedious these processes are?

If Arabs still believe in human honesty, then what about other nations who are not “Arabs”? Can we deduce from the above sentence that they no longer “believe” in human honesty?  As I heard and read about some of the negative views that Arabs have about the west, some Arabs seem to think that honesty is limited to them! Good ethics are only Arab’s and no one else.

How can we explain that western countries are developed although they are “not Arabs” and not “honest”? In one survey I once read about British people, “46% of them only believed in God”. So, how come that most people in the west are either atheists or believe in “wrong” religions, and still are developed? When it comes to sexual morality, I always hear and read Arabs criticizing the west in this aspect. Away from political issues, to describe Americans, the British, or even the Jews, as being “liars” or “thieves”… is something that I have NEVER ever heard or read! In fact, the situation can be summarized by this sentence a driver once told me:

“In the west, it is true that they drink alcohol and commit adultery, but they are honest. Unfortunately, we don’t have this in our society. To me, drink alcohol and commit adultery… But be HONEST”

How can we explain this: Atheists but honest? A university doctor who once taught me had this explanation:

“الكفار في أوروبا وأمريكا أمينين مش لأنهم أحسن منا. بس لأنه الواحد إذا سرق بدفع اللي فوق والي تحتيه… والمعلم بشرح وما بضيع ولا دقيقة، لأنه في كاميرا بالصف بتراقبه!”

“The infidels in Europe and the United States are not honest because they are better than us. They are honest, because if someone stole anything, he will pay everything that he has… The teacher explains and never wastes a minute, because there is a camera in the classroom watching him”

How can we explain this point of view? This Iraqi thinker said the following:

كلّما ازداد الإنسان غباوة .. ازداد يقيناً بأنه أفضل من  غيره في كل شيء - علي الوردي، عالم إجتماع ومؤرخ عراقي

“The more stupid a person becomes… The more he becomes certain that he is better than everyone else in everything”. Ali Al-Wardee, an Iraqi Sociologist and Historian.

For me, to be honest while no one is watching is certainly a beautiful thing. But can you guarantee that all people around you are honest like you are? If only 1 out of every 1,000,000 governmental employees is stealing money, is frequently absent from his job, or is not doing his job properly, how can we find that out? I don’t think that it would be a waste of time or money to try to document and investigate what everyone is doing. After all, not all people fear God and his punishment. As in the study mentioned above, some people don’t believe God exists in the first place. So, in an opinion that “might” be in agreement with that of that of the doctor who taught me, everyone should be watched and no one should be above questioning.

To sum it up, “honesty” is something “unseen” between a human being and his “personal” God. Documentation, accounting, surveillance, or whatever you like to call it, is something “seen” between human beings. And as they say, “seeing is believing”. If we are monitored, inspected, or are asked to document what we are doing, then I strongly believe that this is a stronger guarantee of “honesty” than assuming that all people around us are working to go to heaven!

Pop Benedict XVI Visits Jordan- Our Lady of Peace Center. Friday, May 10th, 2009

The first station in the historical visit of Pop Benedict to Jordan and the Holy Land was Our Lady of Peace Center. Moabite was there. He took the following pictures. My brother’s N70 2 MP camera seems well to my eyes. I hope that I will be able to buy a digital camera someday! When will this day come!

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