February 12, 2015
The Islamic Prophet is the most unpopular among the founders of religions. Mention Confucius, Buddha or Jesus in a conversation, and people listen. But evoke Muhammad with a non-Muslim, and the listener is dubious — and rightly so.
Too often, our televisions are filled with horrific images of acts carried out in the prophet's name that keep away even those who would otherwise be tempted to know him better.
My fellow Algerians demonstrated in the streets of Algiers to express their outrage at the Charlie Hebdo caricatures and to declare as martyrs the Kouachi brothers, who killed 12 people at the magazine's offices in Paris. But is there even a single verse in the Koran that calls for the death of anybody who insults the Prophet? No, there is not. No verse justifies the murder of a blasphemer, a heretic or an apostate. Not one.
Actually, Muslims don't draw their religion from the Koran, which they say is the word of God that Prophet Muhammed received from the Archangel Gabriel. We are floored when we see the manifestations of what Muslims call sharia, or Islamic law. Aghast, you discover what an awful mess Muslim scholars and theologists have inflicted upon this religion.
There are actually very few references to the Koran in sharia law. Instead, theologians rely on something else called the hadith, essentially words put in the Prophet's mouth.
Jihadists, for instance, boast that they'll conquer the world. The Koran doesn't announce these victories, only the hadith does. In the Koran, the Prophet says, "Say: I don't know the future, I don't know what will become of me or you." And yet, jihadists believe that the Prophet knew the future and that he even announced to them that they would conquer the world.
The false source
All the problems that Muslims are stuck with come from this thing we call the hadith. It didn't just appear out of nowhere. There are facts we need to know about Islam. First of all, the Prophet didn't name the Caliphs that succeeded him. Hadiths started to appear after Muhammad's death, under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), and were used for propaganda. But the Umayyads didn't set them down on paper. That was done by their successors.
The first theological text in the history of Islam is called al-Muwatta, written by imam Malik about a century and a half after the Prophet's death. It didn't contain a single verse from the Koran. It was commissioned by the second Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty (750-1517), al-Mansur, who, as an example of his customs, used to bury his opponents alive.
Al-Mansur also had Ibn Ishaq pen the first biography of Muhammad, on which all the following biographies were based. The portrait he drew of the Prophet was tailor-made for a bloodthirsty Caliph.
Jihad in the Koran has nothing to do with what was practiced after the Prophet's death in 632, and by the contemporary heirs of the first Caliphs. The famous conquests were the first great sin of Muslims. They ordained an offensive jihad, which the Koran forbids. During the first 13 years of his apostolate, the Prophet and the first converts were persecuted, but the Koran told them to be patient.
Later on came this verse: "Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression. God does not love the aggressors." The Koran wasn't asking the inhabitants of the Arabic peninsula to islamize the world but to islamize themselves, which means to pacify themselves and put an end to their culture of wars and raids. The Prophet only fought against those who fought him.
Photo: Sumaya Al-Hasan
"Fight them until there is no fitnah left in the religion," the Koran says. Fitnah means the persecution of others because of their faith. Thus, the only goal of armed should be to end religious persecution. During his life, the Prophet limited himself to defensive jihad. Indeed, he couldn't go against the words he said he received from God. And yet the hadith claims the Prophet said, "I was sent to fight until the people convert to Islam." Conveniently, this hadith appeared at a time when war and conquest were raging.
The biggest hoax in Islam rests in its very definition. When you ask a Muslim to define Islam, he will hastily reply that it is the five pillars. And he will say that this was the Prophet's definition. This is wrong.
A measure of justice
Sure, the pillars are Koranic instructions, but they're not an end in themselves. The pillars are only a means to reach a superior goal — the taqwa, or fear of God — which, when studied solely through the Koran's verses, means Muslims have an obligation to be in a permanent dynamic of peace with their neighbors, whoever they might be.
It's the Ulama, or Muslim scholars, who decided that the definition of Islam would limit itself to a profession of faith and four ritual practices. But the first compilations of hadiths contained far fewer than the ones that appeared later. Thus, the further we moved in time from the Prophet, the more hadiths were written to claim that he had said such-and-such things.
The hadith claiming that the Prophet said he was sent to fight the others until their submission is one to which jihadists frequently refer. They never question the texts they use to justify their actions. Nowadays, about 80% of the sermons in mosques are based on hadiths.
The Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly (who killed a policewoman and four hostages at a kosher supermarket) are not martyrs. The most charitable characterization of them is to say they were victims of what a wise contemporary Muslim would call a "sophisticated lie." Caliphs have tried to convince Muslims that the caliphate had a divine link to Islam. Again, this isn't true. Not a single verse in the Koran forces Muslims to be under the authority of a Caliph.
This great misunderstanding is what leads, for example, some rebel groups in Syria to name themselves after Caliph Yazid, who caused massive damage to the holy site in Mecca and slaughtered descendants of Muhammad 50 years after the Prophet's death. Some choose to see nothing else in the past besides the prestige of military victories, which turned bloodthirsty Caliphs into models that the morons of jihad now want to emulate. Osama bin Laden didn't consult the Koran to know if was permissible to have planes filled with innocent civilians hijacked and sent to crash into buildings also filled with innocent civilians. Osama bin Laden is a pure product of the compilations of hadiths.
The Koran rejects the very abominations that Muslims themselves have attributed to their Prophet. They are nothing but the fruit of the serfdom created by the bad faith of the Ulama.
European Muslims nowadays are causing extensive harm to their religion by failing to see beyond the right to wear the veil and to eat halal meat. There are values in the Koran that are more important than prayer, Ramadan and pilgrimage put together.
"God orders justice, good deeds," it says. Not many other verses are as solemn in formulating priorities. In the hadith compilations, there isn't a single chapter that mentions justice.
Judging solely by the words of the Koran, a country such as Norway is infinitely more Muslim than Saudi Arabia.
*Ali Malek is an Algerian-born writer. He is the author of a 2006 French novel entitled Une Terre Bénie de Dieu (A Land Blessed By God).
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
Yip Wing Sum
October 16, 2021
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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