SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Washington: There’s nothing like a political sex scandal to get Washington buzzing: While pundits debated the future of CIA Director David Petraeus, few concerned themselves with the fate of Paula Broadwell.
No surprise there: Powerful men can bounce back from even the most lurid affairs, but the Other Woman rarely survives the firestorm intact. Call it sexism, bad luck or lousy PR — these modern Hester Prynnes live on in Google forever.
Bill Clinton has never been more popular; Monica Lewinsky, despite a degree from the London School of Economics, has never managed to hold down a job. John Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, is even more despised than the ruined politician after writing a tell-all memoir. Megan Marshack, the former radio reporter who was with Nelson Rockfeller the night he died in 1979, hasn’t worked on-air for more than 30 years.
A rare exception to the rule: Donna Rice Hughes, who rebounded from her liaison with Senator Gary Hart into a happy and relatively public life. “I think it’s harder for the women,” she said. “They’re not as well known and get sensationalised.”
Rice Hughes was 29 in 1987 when her brief relationship with Hart — then the leading Democratic prospect for the 1988 presidential nomination — exploded into public view. Within days, her name and picture were everywhere, and she remained in the headlines for the next 18 months. “It took on a life of its own,” she said.
Now it seems there’s a sex scandal every few months; back then, there was no role model, no map of how to navigate a storm like this. Rice lost her commercial acting and pharmaceutical jobs. “I knew I wanted to take the high road,” she said. “I prayed continually that I would make wise choices and tried to take the long view. I really wanted the pain to count for something good.”
That meant not exploiting the situation for money (she passed on millions from Playboy and others), taking personal responsibility for her role in the affair, and asking for forgiveness from her family, friends and God. A “devastated” Rice went underground for seven years in which she renewed her Christian faith, married, moved to Washington and looked for a job. “People told me I’d never been taken seriously,” she said. But she was hired by the anti-pornography group Enough Is Enough, where she’s now president and an acknowledged expert on internet safety issues — she frequently testifies before Congress.
While Rice Hughes has thrived professionally, other upbeat endings for the Other Woman usually involved marriage. Argentine beauty Maria Belen Chapur is now engaged to former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, despite the fact their affair effectively ended his political career.
Suzy Wetlaufer, The former Harvard Business Review editor had an affair with departing GE head Jack Welch while writing a profile of him — and lost her job, but went on to marry and co-author books. And Broadwell? The first-time author is married with two small sons. She and her doctor husband celebrated her 40th birthday in Washington, But a party for friends was cancelled; she disabled her Facebook account just hours before the affair went public.
— Washington Post
Lust for power
An American woman with whom former US President Bill Clinton admitted to having had an “improper relationship” while she worked at the White House in 1995 and 1996. The affair and its repercussions (which included Clinton’s impeachment) became known as the Lewinsky scandal.
She was an aide to former vice-president Nelson Rockefeller and was with him when he died on January 26, 1979. She worked on Rockefeller’s vice-presidential staff. There was speculation in the press regarding the nature of the relationship between Rockefeller and Marshack.
An American actress and film producer. She is known for having had an affair and conceiving a child with 2004 Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee John Edwards. She is said to be the basis of a character in a Jay McInerney novel.
Suzy Welch, formerly Suzanne Wetlaufer, is a best-selling author and television commentator. In early 2002, she was forced to resign from the Harvard Business Review after admitting to an affair with the then-married Jack Welch, the former chief executive officer of General Electric.
Donna Rice Hughes
She is president and CEO of Enough Is Enough, a non-profit organisation. She became popular as the key figure in a widely-publicised 1987 political scandal that ended the second campaign for the Democratic Party nomination of Gary Hart amid allegations of marital infidelity.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Rob Dunn and his team of ecologists aren't your average navel gazers. They're professional navel gazers, thank you very much, and their new study details the microbial contents of 60 volunteers' belly buttons.
The upshot? Belly buttons, it turns out, are a lot like rain forests.
The whole thing started about two years ago. An undergrad's only-in-a-biology-lab idea—sampling colleague's navel bacteria for a holiday card—struck a chord with the North Carolina State University team, which had adopted a new focus on citizen science.
What better way to get the public interested in science than by showing them their skin's own thriving ecosystems? "And belly buttons are just ridiculous enough to appeal to almost everyone," Dunn added.
What's more, given the belly button's status as one of the body's most rarely scrubbed crannies, it offered researchers a chance to study as close to a pristine microbial landscape as is possible on the modern human.
So in early 2011 the team set up shop at the ScienceOnline science communicators' conference and at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The researchers handed out swabs to 60 intrigued, if grossed out, volunteers. Back to the lab, the scientists examined the genetic makeup of their bacterial loot.
The Belly Button Biodiversity project had officially begun.
Welcome to the Jungle
From 60 belly buttons, the team found 2,368 bacterial species, 1,458 of which may be new to science.
Some belly buttons harbored as few as 29 species and some as many as 107, although most had around 67. Ninety-two percent of the bacteria types showed up on fewer than 10 percent of subjects—in fact, most of the time, they appeared in only a single subject.
One science writer, for instance, apparently harbored a bacterium that had previously been found only in soil from Japan—where he has never been.
Another, more fragrant individual, who hadn't washed in several years, hosted two species of so-called extremophile bacteria that typically thrive in ice caps and thermal vents.
Despite the diversity, themes emerged.
Even though not a single strain showed up in each subject, eight species were present on more than 70 percent of the subjects. And whenever these species appeared, they did so in huge numbers.
"That makes the belly button a lot like rain forests," Dunn said. In any given forest, he explained, the spectrum of flora might vary, but an ecologist can count on a certain few dominant tree types.
"The idea that some aspects of our bodies are like a rain forest—to me it's quite beautiful," he added. "And it makes sense to me as an ecologist. I understand what steps to take next; I can see how that works."
Method to the Madness?
But predicting which species might like to call the human body home is only the first step. To make the knowledge useful, scientists need to know why these bacteria show up.
"We're all like the guys before Darwin who went out and brought this stuff on the ship and said, Check out this bird that's totally weird—this has got to be important!
"They were still so far from understanding the big picture," Dunn said. "That's where we are."
Hoping to answer those broader questions, Dunn's team is already working on several hundred more navels—soon to be 600. They'll use those new samples to start testing the correlation of the navel dwellers with everything from subjects' places of birth to the makeups of their immune systems.
Making connections such as these could help shed light on the ties between our bacterial hosts and their effects on health. Researchers believe that microbes—not just in the belly button but in every nook and cranny of the human body—are involved in everything from immune function to acne to skin softness. The potential boon to medicine is enormous but out of reach until scientists can clarify what the microbes are doing in the first place, and why they're there.
In the meantime, the lab has kicked off pilot studies for their next citizen-science spectacular: Armpit-pa-looza.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: National geographic
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Taken at face value, a Barack Obama presidency should be a big deal for Africa.
On Election Day I attended an all-nighter organized in Lagos by the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to celebrate America's democracy. Two large screens relayed CNN's coverage while a succession of speakers -- including a recently re-elected Nigerian governor -- took to the stage to reflect on America and its democratic ideals.
Outside the hall sat a mock polling booth, where guests filled a ballot paper and dropped it in a box, watched over by life-size cardboard cut-outs of the two contenders.
In the early hours of the morning the results were tallied and announced. Obama took 219 Nigerian votes, to Mitt Romney's 30.
A friend standing with me when the results were announced couldn't help wondering aloud who those 30 people were who had chosen Romney over Obama.
As I pointed out in a recent CNN piece, Nigerians, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, have an "instinctive fondness" for Mr. Obama, and for an obvious reason: he is a "son" of the continent -- his father was born in Kenya; his grandmother still lives there.
Just before I left the event, a friend observed that he still hadn't found a single Nigerian who could point to any reason why they were rooting for Obama, beyond his African roots.
That obsession with Obama appears to obscure the fact that his predecessor -- the white, Republican George W. Bush -- demonstrated a more obvious commitment to the continent during his first presidential term.
In 2003, a few months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush signed into law a bill establishing the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in fulfilment of a promise made during his State of the Union Address earlier that year.
Under the terms of the plan, Bush pledged $15 billion towards fighting HIV/AIDS. In 2008 he renewed the commitment for another five years.
Before him, President Bill Clinton -- honored by the Congressional Black Caucus, months after he left office, as America's "first Black President" -- created the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), a landmark piece of legislation that opened up American markets to African countries.
Obama, on the other hand, has demonstrated what has been interpreted as a studied detachment towards sub-Saharan Africa. His only visit in his first four years, to Ghana in 2009, lasted less than 24 hours.
Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, Director of the Lagos-based Centre for Public Policy Analysis, argues that Obama is in a "conflicted position" -- compelled to exercise caution in his engagement with Africa "for fear that such a position will become ammunition in the hands of the lunatic right, Tea Party types and those who insist he is not an American and is really a Muslim."
But if the affection of the continent towards Mr. Obama -- at an all time high in 2008 when he first took office -- has cooled in the last few years (ostensibly as a response to his perceived nonchalance), his re-election appears to have reawakened the enthusiasm.
"We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in a congratulatory message. From Nigeria came a message by a presidential spokesperson, saying "President Jonathan looks forward to continuing to build on Nigeria and Africa's developmental collaboration with the United States in the next four years."
With the pressure of re-election now gone, Smith says "the second term would be a more opportune time for Obama to work with Africa."
While Michelle Obama visited the continent in 2011, the least that many Africans will be expecting from Obama during his second term would be a powerfully symbolic visit of his own to Africa.
But that trip, if it ever happens, would be the easiest of the Africa-focused tasks in the Oval Office in-tray. And it would also do little to clarify the monumental complexity of dealing with a rapidly changing African landscape.
For one, there's China's aggressive engagement with the continent, which appears to be happening at the expense of countries like America.
In 2009, Obama's first year in office, China overtook America as Africa's largest trading partner. America's discomfiture with that state of affairs bubbled to the surface most recently last August, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Senegal, lamented that "the days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century."
There is also the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya is evidence of how much things have changed in the region in the last two years.
And then there is the rise of extremist Islam in West Africa. In January 2009, Hillary Clinton told a U.S. Senate committee that "combating al Qaeda's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa" would be a key part of America's Africa policy.
The years since then have seen the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, and of extremists in Northern Mali.
Last June, the White House unveiled a new sub-Saharan Africa strategy built around four "objectives": Democracy, Trade & Investment, Peace & Security, and Development. But it remains to be seen whether Obama will unveil an Africa project on a scale comparable to AGOA and PEPFAR.
Not that he is obliged to, anyway.
And with the American economy still in dire straits, and requiring full time attention, he is unlikely to get much backslapping at home for expending his energy on matters that have no direct bearing on America's near future.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Those who live at or visit high northern latitudes might at times experience colored lights shimmering across the night sky. This ethereal display is known as the aurora borealis, or northern lights. What causes these lights to appear?
The aurora often appears as curtains of lights, but they can also be arcs or spirals, often following lines of force in Earth’s magnetic field. Most are green in color but sometimes you’ll see a hint of pink, and strong displays might also have red, violet and white colors. The lights typically are seen in the far north – the nations bordering the Arctic Ocean – Canada and Alaska, Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Greenland and Russia. But strong displays of the lights can extend down into more southerly latitudes in the United States. And of course, the lights have a counterpart at Earth’s south polar regions.
Some Inuit believed that the spirits of their ancestors could be seen dancing in the flickering lights. In Norse mythology the aurora was a fire bridge to the sky built by the gods.
But science tells us that the aurora happens because of the sun.
Our sun is 93 million miles away. But its effects extend far beyond its visible surface. Great storms on the sun send gusts of charged solar particles hurtling across space. If Earth is in the path of the particle stream, our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere react.
When the charged particles from the sun strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, they excite those atoms, causing them to light up.
What does it mean for an atom to be excited? Atoms consist of a central nucleus and a surrounding cloud of electrons encircling the nucleus in an orbit. When charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, electrons move to higher-energy orbits, further away from the nucleus. Then when an electron moves back to a lower-energy orbit, it releases a particle of light or photon.
What happens in an aurora is similar to what happens in the neon lights we see on many business signs. Electricity is used to excite the atoms in the neon gas within the glass tubes of a neon sign. That’s why these signs give off their brilliant colors. The aurora works on the same principle – but at a far more vast scale.
The colors in the aurora were a source of awe and mystery throughout human history. But science says that different gases in Earth’s atmosphere give off different colors when they are excited. Oxygen gives off the green color of the aurora. Nitrogen causes blue or red colors.
So today the mystery of the aurora is not so mysterious to scientists. Yet people still travel thousands of miles to see the brilliant natural light shows in Earth’s atmosphere. And even though we know the scientific reason for the aurora, the dazzling natural light show can still fire our imaginations to visualize fire bridges, gods or dancing ghosts.
Bottom line: When charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light. This process creates the beautiful aurora, or northern lights.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Earth Sky
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) —A number of high-profile incidents in recent years have demonstrated that cyberbullying — through email, texts or social networking sites like Facebook — can lead to grave consequences if not handled properly.
On Oct. 10, a 15-year-old girl in Port Coquitlam, B.C., took her own life a few weeks after posting a YouTube video about the bullying she had experienced at school and online.
Two years ago, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University in New Jersey student jumped from a bridge after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him.
In 2008, a Missouri teenager hanged herself weeks before her 14th birthday after being the target of a hoax on MySpace.
Alexis Moore, author of A Parent’s Guide to Cyberstalking and Cyberbullying, says that stories like these happen far too often. She spoke with CBC News about what parents can do to navigate the dark world of online bullying.
Q: How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?
A: The first thing is understanding it’s just as serious as traditional bullying — without the black and blue marks, without your child coming home with their backpack ripped off their shoulder or something like that. Parents tend to think a little less about non-physical activity being this harmful.
That’s something that I try to educate and remind law enforcement and our public officials about: This is just as deadly and lethal an assault as your traditional battery. It’s using technology to harass and to manipulate and often destroy a child.
Q: How can parents approach the topic of cyberbullying with their children?
A: The best tools a person can use are just what’s out there already. Finding that avenue where there may be a cartoon or a show or an advertisement on TV or the radio [about cyberbullying]. It’s a great way to open up that conversation with your kids.
What I always say is, let them tell you. So [ask] open-ended questions and act stupid. Parents can become actors and actresses. "Tell me about cyberbullying. It was just on this radio ad. Is this something that goes on in your school?" It’s amazing how kids will tell you.
Q: Are there signs parents can watch for to recognize if their child is being bullied online?
A: The first one that most notice is they have an unusual response to technology. So, for example, if a youth is using a video game or has a computer or cell phone that they usually love and were always running to it, you will see a different reaction. A happy kid that used to be excited about using technology is now not excited. It may be subtle. They’ll have a different response to the technology because they know it’s now a weapon.
Another is personality changes. We often will just consider our child as a teenager having a bad day or just being cranky, not realizing that this is perhaps something more, and it may be due to cyberbullying. So I always say, look for those personality changes and please don’t write them off, because you can save a life.
Q: If a child is being bullied, what can he or she do to make it stop?
A: Speak out. Number one. And it’s so hard, because kids are trying to be macho and don’t want Mommy or Daddy a lot of the time to interfere, because that’s not cool. So we need to change that and say speaking out is number one.
Telling the teacher, telling a friend’s parents, telling your pastor at church, telling your mom or dad, anyone. They need to learn to speak out and tell as many people as possible, because unfortunately, today you may tell grandma [and] grandma may write it off, but the next person they tell hopefully won’t.
Q: What can parents do to help their children cope with cyberbullies? Do you recommend that parents intervene?
A: I do, and that’s where it gets tricky, because you don’t want to overreact as a parent. You don’t want to single your child out to be a crybaby, because that doesn’t help them, either. In fact, it can encourage more nonsense. But I think letting the school know that’s there a problem immediately is the best advice for everybody. And to talk to other parents about these circumstances and find out if they’ve had similar experiences.
And ensuring the child has emotional support and evaluation is critical. Because honestly, we’re not in their minds, we don’t know how serious this is until oftentimes it’s so far gone and the child has committed suicide. So, in my opinion, although a parent is good-hearted and a parent may be providing love and care and all the necessities of a good life, we’re not certain that that’s enough. In my opinion, opt for some professional help.
Q: Is there a way for kids to protect themselves from becoming targets of cyberbullying in the first place?
A: A lot of times it’s choosing your technological buddies wisely. A lot of anonymous friends and interacting online with strangers — you’re at a risk. That’s up to the parents to start educating them that there’s dangers online…because you really have no way of knowing who the folks are you’re interacting with.
Q: On the flipside, how can parents prevent their own children from becoming cyberbullies?
A: Reminding them, if I catch you bullying, you’re going to have hell to pay as well. Setting the ground rules, that just like anything else, if we catch you doing wrong, you’re going to be punished. And they need to know.
Taking it a step further, if we do indeed have a bully in the classroom or a bully online, there’s usually some catalyst for it, and unfortunately it could be a cry for help. It could be a child who’s being abused or neglected at home. So that is a big issue and a lot of times, people don’t even think of that. They’re just so quick to punish and want to hang the person. Remember, these are kids we’re talking about. They’re in need of guidance and support.
Q: Are there things that the community as a whole can do to help prevent cyberbullying?
A: Interact with each other. A lot parents are complaining right now to me saying, “Oh Alexis, I don’t have time.” And I say, “Do you have a phone? Do you have email? Of course you have time.”
You can join together as parents in a network and have everyone’s phone number and email in a group listserv and all you do is click a button and you can send out to your group of parents and educators that you have a problem. Communication is key.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — In his will to Imam Hasan (peace be upon him), Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said, "My son, know that you have been created for the next world and not for this world, and for annihilation and not for stay, for death and not for life; you are in a transient place, a place which is a path to the Hereafter... You are driving away a death from which no one can run away and which none of its seekers can miss. It has to be experienced, so beware lest it catches up with you while you are in a bad state." (Nahjul Balagha, Letter 31)
As the Holy Infallibles constantly reminded us, our departure from this world is imminent. It is but a transitory place, a mere passage to our permanent abode, while the Hereafter is for eternity – beginning with life in the grave, followed by the stage of Barzakh, continuing on until the Day of Judgment (Qiyamat), until we can finally enter Paradise and/or Hellfire.
Each of these phases of life has different effects, occurrences, and outcomes, all depending on our deeds and beliefs in this short and temporal world. Yet for most of us, the next world is too frightful to even think about, and such fear is often coupled with a general lack of awareness of what exactly we will encounter once the soul disconnects with the material body and enters a whole other dimension of life. The vital question we must ask is: Do we plan to take the life of the Hereafter as it comes when it is our turn to lie some six feet under the ground, or will we, as intelligent beings, acquaint ourselves with its reality before we get there?
Just as we care to make sure beforehand that we know exactly where we are going for any journey we embark upon, let us gain insight into the most important of all journeys that awaits us after we die. Indeed, along with increasing our remembrance of what the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) called "the demolisher of desires" (death), our Imams have directed us to be aware and reminisce over that which we will experience when we enter the next world, so that we may properly prepare and strengthen ourselves for it: "O son, increase your remembrance of death, of that which overcomes it, and of that which you will return to after death such that when it comes to you, you will have taken heed of it and strengthened yourself for it, and you will not let it overcome you by surprise so that it bewilders you." (Ibid.)
While this article will focus on life inside the grave, it will be followed shortly by an article on life in Barzakh, and a third one on the Day of Judgment and its aftermath.
Terror of the Grave
Imam Ali says, "O servants of Allah! The state in the grave of a person whose sins are not forgiven is more horrifying than death itself. Fear its (the grave's) narrowness, its squeezing, its imprisonment and its loneliness. Verily the grave calls out daily: 'I am the house of loneliness, the house of terror and worms.' The grave is like a garden of Paradise for a good-doer, while it is like a dungeon of hell for the evil-doer. Allah tells His enemies He will send ninety nine serpents in their graves that will tear their flesh and smash their bones, and this punishment will continue till the Day of Judgment. If one such serpent exhales towards this earth, all the plants and trees will be destroyed. O servants of Allah! Your souls are tender, and your bodies delicate; you cannot confront any ordinary serpent of this world, how then will you face them?"
The above tradition is enough to cause one to shudder, but let us not forget that for a good-doer, "the grave is like a garden of Paradise." In fact, the very first good news given to a true believer in the grave is: "The Most Merciful God has forgiven you and all those who participated in your burial."
Sayyed ibne Taoos relates from the Holy Prophet that he said the first night in the grave is the most fearful and difficult night for the dead person, and thus Sadqa should be given for his or her safety. If this is not possible, then two units of prayer should be recited: in the first unit, after Surah al-Fatiha, recite Surah Tawheed twice, and in the second unit after Surah al-Fatiha, recite Surah Takathur ten times. After finishing the prayer, the following du'a should be recited: Allaahumma sallay a'la Muhammadinw wa aale Muhammadin wab atha thawaabaha ilaa qabre dhaalikal mayyite [name of the deceased person]. Allah will immediately send one thousand angels to the grave of the dead person with attires of Paradise, and expand his grave until Qiyamat, while for the one who performs this Salat, Allah will offer him great rewards and exalt his position forty times.
The other Salat to be recited on the first night of burial is as follows: Two rak'at Salat such that in the first rak'at after Surah al-Hamd, recite once Ayatal Kursi, and in the second rak'at after Surah al-Hamd, recite ten times Surah al-Qadr. After finishing the Salat, say: Alla humma salli 'ala Muhammadin wa Ali Muhammad wab'ath thawabaha ila qabri [name of the deceased person].
Squeeze in the Grave (Fishare Qabr)
Shaikh Kulayni has narrated from Abu Baseer that he asked Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), "Is anybody spared from the squeezing in the grave?" The Imam replied: "May God save. Very few people escape from the pressure in the grave."
Allama Majlisi has mentioned in Bihar al-Anwar and Haqqul Yaqeen that all Muslims have the unanimously agreed belief that the squeezing in the grave and both rewards and punishments therein are true facts. He has shown through reliable traditions that it will be experienced by the same worldly body in which the deceased had lived, as will the questioning in the grave. Of course, this punishment is inflicted only on those who have earned it through their sins, and the degree of pressure will also depend on the severity if these sins.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy family) is reported to have said that the squeezing of the grave is the expiation of the sin of wasting and not appreciating the bounties granted by God. Some of the other reasons for this punishment include laziness in purifying oneself after urinating, creating mischief amongst the people, backbiting, bad behavior towards one's family members, and making false allegations.
Questioning in the Grave
Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi has stated in his book Manazelul Akhera that one of the principal factors of Shia Islam, belief in which is obligatory, is the questioning in the grave by the angels Munkar and Nakeer. The questions will pertain to one's beliefs (Aqaid) and deeds (Amaal), and will be put to every believer as well as non-believer; only infants, the mentally disabled, and those of lesser intellect are exempt from it. The two angels with voices like thunder and eyes like lightening will ask the following questions:
Who is your Lord?
Who is your Prophet?
What is your Religion?
Who is your Imam?
The person is also questioned about his prayers, his fasts, the Holy Pilgrimage (Hajj), Zakat, Khums and his love for the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). Imam Zainul Abedeen (peace be upon him) says that after the questioning about the beliefs of Islam, the person is questioned about how he spent his life, and also about the way he earned and spent his wealth.
If the deceased is able to give correct answers, a gate is opened near his head, and his grave is widened as far as he can see. The period of Barzakh (which will continue until the Day of Resurrection) passes with ease and the angels proclaim to him, "Sleep thou like a newly wedded bride." (Al-Kafi) However, if the deceased is unable to give correct replies, a door of the hell of Barzakh will open for him, and a breath from the breaths of hell will fill his entire grave.
The questioning in the grave will therefore be a cause of happiness for the believer, proclaiming an era of eternal happiness. He will confidently give testimony to the Oneness of the One God and the Messengership of His Beloved Messenger, see the beautiful faces of the angels, and smell the fragrance of the gardens of Paradise accompanying them. That is why such angels have been named "Mubashir and Basheer" (announcers of good tidings).
On the contrary, unbelievers in their grave will see the beginning of their pains and divine punishment, opening their eyes to the misfortune and torture that lies ahead of them. The very arrival of the angels will terrorize such deniers, and this is why these angels are named "Munkar and Nakeer" (the abhorring ones).
It is mentioned in Bihar al-Anwar that a man was questioned about his beliefs in the grave. He was able to successfully respond, until one question was put to him: "Do you remember that on such day you had seen a person was being oppressed but you did not go to help him? You saw that his honor was being trampled upon and his wealth taken. You were in a position to help him but you did not do so." The man was silent and unable to reply. Indeed, it is obligatory upon believers to help the oppressed, and as the man failed to fulfill this responsibility, the angels told him a punishment of a hundred lashes has been ordered for him. Then they inflicted the first lash which filled his entire grave with fire.
The story serves to remind us that containing true beliefs in the heart is not sufficient if deeds are lacking, and that we must not take lightly a single obligatory deed commanded by our Lord.
The Only Companion
"Until when death comes to one of them, he says: My Lord, send me back so that I may do some good I did not do (in the world). But Nay! These are mere words which he utters and behind them is a Barzakh until the Day of their Resurrection." (Qur'an 23:100)
We hear it time and again – after a person dies, his/her only companion will be his/her deeds. Shaikh Saduq has narrated from Qais bin Aasim that once he went to the Holy Prophet along with a group of people from the tribe of Tameem. He submitted, "O Messenger of God! Give us some admonition by which we may be benefitted, because most of the time we remain roaming in forests and deserts (and have few chances of visiting your honor)." The Holy Prophet gave them a number of admonitions, one of them being: "O Qais! It is necessary for you to have a companion to be buried in the grave. That companion will be alive whereas you will be dead. So if that companion is a nice and kind person, he will keep you in a respectable condition. If he is a bad person he will leave you there in your grave in total solitude, without any help or assistance. Also remember this companion will be necessarily with you in the grand gathering (Hashir) on the Day of Resurrection. You will be asked only about him, so it is very essential for you to select a good companion. If he is a good person he will make you happy, but if he is a corrupt fellow he will terribly frighten you. This companion is your aamal (deeds)."
Allama Majlisi in his Mahasin quotes Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq that when a believer dies, six figures enter his grave along with him. Out of these, one is more illuminated, pure, and fragrant than the others. One stands on the right side, the second on the left, the third in front, the fourth near the head, the fifth near the legs, and the one more illuminated shelters on the head. From whichever side the wrath of Allah comes, the figure on that side defends the body. The one who is more illuminated asks these other figures: "May Allah bless you all, who are you?" The one on the right side says, "I am the prayers (Salat) which he recited in his lifetime." The one on the left side says, "I am the charity which he gave while alive." The one standing in the front says, "I am his fasts he undertook." The one near the head says, "I am the Hajj and Umrah which he performed in his life." The one standing near the legs says, "I am the kindness which he performed with his brother believer." Then all these faces turn towards the more illuminated one and ask it as to who it is. He replies, "I am the love for the Ahlul Bayt which he carried in his heart." (Manazelul Akhera)
Some Beneficial Acts
Shaikh Sadooq stated whoever fasts for nine days in the month of Sha'ban, Munkar, and Nakeer will deal with him gently and courteously during questioning.
One of the benefits narrated by Imam Muhammad Baqir for a person who remains awake on the night of 23rd of the month of Ramadan and offers one hundred units of prayer is that Allah removes fear from his heart during the questioning, and a light shines forth from his grave which illuminates the whole world.
The Holy Prophet said applying dye has four benefits, one of which is that Munkar and Nakeer shy away from him in the grave.
A person who recites Surah Yaseen before going to bed and Salaatul Laylatul Raghaib (the first Thursday night of the month of Rajab), will be saved from the terror of the grave.
If a person fasts for twelve days in the month of Sha'ban, Allah will send 70,000 Angels daily to his grave.
If a person visits an ailing man, Allah appoints an Angel for him who accompanies him in his grave until Qiyamat.
Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi has listed some of the many Amaals that protect one from the squeeze in the grave:
Imam Ali says a person who recites Surah Nisa every Friday will remain safe from the squeeze in the grave.
It is narrated that if a person recites Surah Zukhruf, Allah will save him from the reptiles of the earth and the squeeze in the grave.
A person who recites Surah Qalam in obligatory or supererogatory prayers will remain safe from this punishment.
Imam Sadiq says if a person dies between the sunset of Thursday and the sunset of Friday, Allah will exempt him from this punishment.
Imam Ali al-Ridha (peace be upon him) says if a person gets up in the last part of the night and recites Salatul Layl, Allah will save him from the squeeze in the grave and grant him immunity from the fire of hell, and will increase his age and sustenance.
The Holy Prophet says if a person recites Surah Takathur before going to bed, Allah will grant him freedom from this punishment.
To put Jareedatayn (two wet sticks or panches) along with the dead body in the grave. It is narrated that so long as the sticks remain wet, the dead person is saved from chastisement.
A person who recites ten rak'at of Salat on the 1st of Rajab, such that in every rak'at after Surah al-Hamd he recites three times Surah Tawheed, he will be saved from the squeezing in the grave.
Reciting Surah Mulk on the grave is an act which saves the dead man from punishment in the grave. Allama Qutubuddin Rawandi relates from Ibn Abbas, who says that once a person pitched a tent on a ground not knowing that there was a grave beneath it. Thereafter he started reciting Surah Mulk. Suddenly he heard a voice saying that the Surah gives salvation. He related this incident to the Holy Prophet, who replied, "Verily, this Surah frees a person from the punishment in the grave". Shaikh Kulayni also narrates from Imam Baqir who said that the recitation of Surah Mulk saves one from the punishment in the grave.
To keep Khake Shifa (the mud of the grave of Imam Hussain) in the shroud (kafan), or to rub it on the parts of prostration (Sajda).
It is highly recommended to visit the shrines of the Ahlul Bayt and to recite their Ziyarats, especially the Ziyarat of Imam Ridha, after each prayer. Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi mentions in Manazelul Akhira that Haji Ali Baghdadi had the honor of meeting with Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Among other questions, he said to the Imam, "In the year 1269 AH, when we went for the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Ali al-Ridha, we met a nomadic Arab who was a native of Najaf. We invited him for a meal and asked him his views regarding the reward of the love of Imam Ridha. He replied, 'Paradise', and said, 'For the past 15 days, I have been from the wealth of Imam Ridha, do Munkir and Nakeer have the nerve to come near me? The food which I consumed from the table of Imam Ridha has turned into my flesh and blood." He asked Imam Mahdi whether his claim was true. Imam replied, "Yes, it is true. Imam Ridha himself will come and save him from the questioning in the grave. For verily, by Allah! My Grandfather is a Zamin (surety) Imam."— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Highly emphasized through numerous traditions, being the greatest of all manifestations of the principle of unity and the doctrine of Tawheed, and the one act of worship for which a complete chapter in the Holy Qur'an has been revealed, we all acknowledge that the performance of Hajj is an act of tremendous worth. However, as highly regarded and significant as we sincerely deem it to be, what is often overlooked is the importance of not delaying it. Continuously preoccupied and so immersed in daily rituals as we are – and often blinded by the glory of this world with everything it has to offer – it becomes all too easy to place this obligatory act of worship at the back of our minds, right there at the bottom on our list of life priorities.
Perhaps we feel we are "too young", or would like to wait until our parents have performed Hajj first. It may be that we feel our hard-earned savings would be better spent on a tour around the globe, another few visits back home, a lavish wedding, or something else equally luxurious. Yet we must stop and question: are such grounds justifiable to delay our duty to Allah? Is it really up to us to decide when we are obligated, or "ready", to perform Hajj?
Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi mentions in his book Greater Sins, "Hajj is from those obligatory duties that must be performed immediately, if it is possible to do so. Not only is failure to perform Hajj a greater sin, but postponing it is also a greater sin, even if it be for a year." It is therefore apparent that Hajj becomes obligatory in the year in which one is capable, and delaying it by even a single year after this amounts to a great sin – resulting in grave consequences to be faced in both worlds.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has advised, "By Allah, by Allah, keep the House of your Lord in mind. Do not disregard it as long as you remain alive, because surely if it is ignored, then He shall not look towards you with His Mercy." (Bihar al-Anwar)
It has also been narrated from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) that the one who dies without performing Hajj while being healthy and wealthy is like the one regarding whom Allah says, "We shall raise him blind in Qiyamat." Upon being asked whether that person will be actually blind in Qiyamat, the Imam replied, "Yes! Allah will blind him from seeing the path to Paradise" (Wasa'il al-Shia)
Let us not be from those who say they will perform Hajj the following year, every year, until they die, while they were blessed with perfect capability in their lifetime and nothing to prevent them from doing so. Traditions tell us such a person will be raised on the Day of Reckoning as a non-Muslim. (Wasa'il al-Shia)
While there is no given age in which to perform Hajj, it is always beneficial to accomplish it early on in life when there are minimal responsibilities and few/no major expenses to eat at our savings. Being young and fit is also a plus factor, as the journey will no doubt be strenuous and involve many struggles. Summer break right around the corner is thus a great opportunity to begin saving, or to speed it up if already started. As well, Shaikh Abbas Qummi narrates in Mafatih al-Jinan some specific recommended Ramadan du'as in order to help one develop the means to perform Hajj, such as Du'a Hajj, Allahumma Arzuqni Hajja, and Allahumma Hadha Shahr Ramadan. The recitation of Surah Hajj in the Holy Qur'an is also highly recommended and will, insha'Allah, pave the way for the one who wills to perform Hajj. Some scholars have also recommended the recitation of Istaghfar 1000 times in one sitting to help achieve this goal.
Let us not delay our duty to Allah, pay this rite of our religion its due importance, and watch Allah's Magnificence at play in our lives. Indeed, Imam Ali al-Ridha (peace be upon him) has said Hajj is made incumbent so that we may derive the spiritual and material benefits inherent in it (Wasa'il al-Shia), even if these may be beyond our scope and understanding. It has further been narrated from Imam Ridha that he said, "I have not seen a single thing which makes a person free from want (financially secure) quicker, nor which is more effective in removing poverty, than continuously performing the Hajj." (Bihar al-Anwar)— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Russia has taken ties with Iraq to a new level as it hosts Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, for the first time in almost four years.
It has just concluded a huge arms deal with Iraq that is potentially worth as much as $5bn, making Russia Iraq's biggest supplier of weapons after the US.
During his three-day visit, al-Maliki is also expected to discuss the worsening crisis in Syria.
Some see both Baghdad and Moscow as helping prop up Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, by strongly opposing outside intervention in the crisis.
Iraq has echoed Russia's call for a political solution to the conflict, and both countries reject any move aimed at regime change in Syria.
Al-Maliki has defended Iraq's right to buy arms from any source it chooses, saying: "As far as our arms purchasing policies are concerned, we do not ask for anyone's advice first. We do not intent to play the role of being someone's monopoly interests .… We have good relations with the United States and Iran. We do not want to live surrounded by constant conflict. We buy weapons based on the needs that we feel we have."
Iraq has now become the second-largest importer of Russian arms, after India.And in turn, after the US, Russia is the world's largest arms exporter. It supplies weaponry to 55 countries. Its total exports this year is worth $13.5bn, which is 19 per cent of the annual arms trade.
Syria has been the largest importer of Russian arms in the Middle East. Its arms imports increased 600 per cent between 2007 and 2011, with Russia supplying 78 per cent of these.
Russia has also become the main provider of arms to Iran, which has imported more than $500m of arms in the last three years despite being the target of an arms embargo.
So what is behind Iraq's arms deal with Russia? Are the motives behind the ?deal purely financial; and how will it impact the delicate balance of power in the region?— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Today, at 9:03 am EDT, SpaceX's Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station. The delivery is the first contracted resupply mission by the company under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract.
Space station crew members Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Sunita Williams of NASA used the ISS's robotic arm to capture Dragon just before 6 am, as the station orbited 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean, just west of Baja California.
And with that began "a new era of exploration for the United States," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden put it this morning, noting that contracts with private firms like SpaceX will allow the agency to concentrate on "deep space human missions back around the moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars."
So now that capture is complete, what's next for the station crew? Unloading the capsule's nearly 1,000 pounds of cargo (including a special treat for the ISS astronauts: some vanilla-chocolate swirl ice cream). If all goes according to plan, Dragon will spend 18 days attached to the station before returning to Earth.
Below are images of the capture, screen-capped from NASA TV's feed. Most offer shots taken from inside the ISS itself.
The Dragon capsule, attached by a robotic arm to the ISS (NASA TV)
A closer-up shot of the Dragon (NASA TV)
Sunita Williams controls the ISS's robotic arm from inside the ISS. (NASA TV)
The Dragon capsule, as seen from the computer screen in the ISS command center (NASA TV)
Another computer-screen shot of the Dragon capsule (NASA TV)
Berthed! (NASA TV)
A close-up shot of the Dragon connected to the Harmony node, the "utility hub" of the ISS (NASA TV)
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide (right) anchors the Dragon into the Harmony node as NASA astronaut Sunita Williams looks on. (NASA TV)
Sunita Williams prepares to take her turn in the hatch; note the amazing footwear. (NASA TV)
Daybreak (NASA TV)
SpaceX's Mission Control in Hawthorne, helping to orchestrate the berthing from the ground (NASA TV)— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: The Atlantic