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Issue 136 (Jul - Aug 2020)

Issue 136 (Jul - Aug 2020) 2020

Editorial (Issue 136): Achieving our Potential

We are all going on different journeys through life. They often relate to one another, such as the fact that we all struggle with difficulty and rejoice through happiness, but every person’s collective experience is completely unique. Each person has within them the ability to discover and achieve their potential. It is only then a matter of working hard to recognize and overcome our obstacles.

Editorial

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Facing Oneself - 4

Continued from the previous issue.

Such a saintly figure, Zayn al-Abidin always lowered his head humbly at the doorstep of Divine beneficence, the eye of his heart watchful at that ajar door while he expects that his care will be responded with care, he voices another petition while the rhythm of his heart beats with the name of God. He presents such compositions of loyalty and integrity to the Almighty that those closest to him listen with ears filled with admiration:

Lead Article, Highlights

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Music: A Universal Healing Language

The motion of the stars and celestial bodies result in inaudible sounds, reflecting the mathematical harmony of the macrocosm. In the animal kingdom, we see that music emerged long before humans did. Archaeologists have uncovered what they think were ancient flutes as old as 43,000 years and musical notations as old as 4,000 years. Music has always played a part in humankind’s development (Andrews 2018). There is not one place in the world that does not have some kind of musical culture. This scheme of cosmic music suggests that music is a universal language. However, many have questioned why, “as neither the enjoyment nor capacity of producing music notes are faculties of the least use to man… they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed (Darwin 1871).”

Health

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Sakinah and Shekinah: A Word Alive with God’s Presence

Sakinah is an important word and a very important concept in both Islamic and Jewish thought.

In Islamic thought, it refers to the tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind that results when a believer becomes totally aware of God's nearby presence. Although Sakinah dwells in the heart of one who is already a sensitive and faithful believer it now additionally comes to him or her directly from God's close presence and personal interest in order to confirm and strengthen that believer's faith.

Religion

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Cultivating a Limitless Mind in the Age of Growth Mindset

In her book titled Limitless Mind, Professor Jo Boaler discusses six keys of learning to create opportunities for students, adults, and workers to excel in areas they want to. This article will summarize one of the points in the first key: The Problems of Giftedness. She has conducted sixty-two interviews in six different countries with people from different walks of life. Dr. Boaler developed her “The Limitless Approach” to learning and education. The core principle of this approach is that anybody can learn any subject as long as they think positively about their talents and abilities, and put in a lot of effort and practice.

Education

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Kneeling

Some of us used to kneel
to pray, to share communion
to exchange vows, to grieve at a grave.
Even now,
when some of us have the chance or challenge
we kneel to weed a garden,
to examine a small flower along a path,
to play with a child,  to scrub a floor.
Kneeling has meant humbling ourselves
as a sign of a willingness
to use our hands and hearts to serve,
kneeling has meant humbling ourselves
in a posture of physical vulnerability
to indicate our willingness
to be emotionally and spiritually vulnerable
before the pains and angers of the world,
kneeling has meant humbling ourselves
to respect something greater than ourselves,
kneeling has meant humbling ourselves
to praise that which is worth praising,
May we not then kneel to mourn,
to honor those dishonored
by the rage,
the prejudice,
the accidents,
the negligence
of our imperfect world?

Poetry

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Nizamiye: Reviving the Role of the Masjid

Travelling North on the N1 between Pretoria and Johannesburg, the busiest motorway in South Africa, the familiar green and purple glow can be seen in the East as one approaches Midrand, a strategically situated midway between South Africa’s capital city and its financial hub. Now a landmark, it is perhaps the most striking and iconic feature in the Midrand skyline. Perched atop a hill, the majestic sight has become a calm, steadying presence for many.

Society

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Cyberbullying and Digital Citizenship

Schools are places of learning and development, but they are not free from conflicts. Acts of violence, bullying, and other incidents of conflicts occur at school campuses on a daily basis among students, which then also require teachers, administrations, and parents to get involved. Schools have been closed down due to government-imposed lockdowns because of the spread of the Coronavirus thus temporarily halting traditional bullying. However, cyberbullying still remains as a problem and it has been one of the growing issues among the latest generation of students [1]. An ease of access of smartphones and computers, along with an inadequate amount of widespread education on best Internet safety and social networking portal practices, has caused cyberbullying to also grow among young adults and adults.

Education

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Date: A Miraculous Fruit

The date is a fruit that is mentioned both in the Qur'an and the Bible, and is introduced as a symbol of fertility and vitality in the Old Testament. The New Testament mentions people going out with palm leaves to meet Jesus when he was entering Jerusalem (John 12:13), which is celebrated by Christians as Palm Sunday. Many verses in the Qur’an refer to dates while counting the blessings given to humankind: “And there are (among the produce that God brings forth as nourishment for you on the revived earth) the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes: you derive from them intoxicants and good, wholesome nourishment. Surely in this there is a sign for people who reason and understand” (16:67).

Botany

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Finding and Existence (Wujud)

Wujud (finding and existence) is not what is meant in Qur’anic statements like the following: They assuredly find that God is One Who truly returns the repentance of His servants with acceptance and extra reward, and All-Compassionate (especially toward His believing servants) (4:64); He will find God All-Forgiving, All Compassionate (especially towards His servants who seek forgiveness for their evils and sins) (4:110); and In the end he will find God and meet with Him, and He will pay him his account in full (24:39). These are, respectively, more concerned with how those who have sinned or lapsed somewhat into deviations on the way, beg God for forgiveness, and how the unbelievers will find God or how God will treat them. Rather, finding and existence denote the finding of Him with His truth beyond all concepts of modality, as referred to in, O son of Adam, seek Me that you may find Me,[1] and some allegorical sayings of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.

Islamic Sufism, Sufism, Emerald Hills of the Heart

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The Pinnacles

There is an extraordinary forest in the south-western part of Australia that often fascinates its visitors. Contrary to what we know and might assume, it is a forest consisting of not trees but sharp stone columns. The legendary Pinnacle Desert is home to these marvelous towers of stone, each with a look more fascinating than the other. An extensive stretch of this desert is located in Nambung National Park, 245 kilometers from the Perth city center.

Geology

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Freedom of Religion and Apostasy: Addressing Tensions Between Ethical and Legal Perspectives in Islam

Addressing Tensions Between Ethical and Legal Perspectives in Islam

The way we understand the state, religion, individual, and how they are related to one another is much different now than how we conceptualized them in premodern times. Today, political alliances are characterized much less in religious terms than they were before. While secular states allow members of all faiths, including Islam, to freely practice their religion, renunciation of one’s faith is no longer considered as renunciation of political authority [1].

Religion

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Big Dipper

It was a long, cool February night here in the bustling streets of Manila.

Once again, I looked up at the star-filled sky above me. I noticed something that looked like a big spoon but was larger and more distinct in size and brightness despite the presence of thousands; no, millions of stars above me.

The Big Dipper stared at me like a big ladle, ready to take me along on a journey towards destinations unknown.

For reasons that I cannot comprehend up to this very day, I cannot help but smile at the beauty of the constellation at night.

Most probably, it is because I had beautiful memories in life under the light of these stars.

The year is 2006.

I was lanky and tall for my age.

In addition, I was extremely curious about the world around me.

It is the final year of primary schooling at a public elementary school in Zamboanga City, a lively commercial center with an estimated population of more than a million people, give or take, at the western tip of Southern Philippines.

At the time, I never knew what a telescope looked like or what astronomy was all about. After all, our economic status did not provide us the means to buy astronomical equipment or to even buy materials for a full-fledged experiment.

Luckily, my science teachers held a camp in September of that year and they brought their precious telescopes with them.

Under a clear, picturesque sky and with a smooth, light breeze coming in from the sea, we peered upon the telescopes and identified different constellations as our teachers relayed their positions to us.

It was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about astronomy within that night alone, probably more than what I would have learned inside the classroom or by reading these constellations in books.

However, as with many things in this ephemeral world, life has its own way of stomping through the past and erasing it into oblivion.

As such, I forgot all of them as the years passed by, except for one.

It was the Big Dipper.

Looking at the Big Dipper gives me hope that I could chase my dreams and reach them no matter the odds that I face currently.

Yes, I do face many challenges of varying complexity and novelty, stretching my faculties to its full extent.

Sometimes, the going gets tough.

There are indeed times when I thought of lifting the white towel in order to just get away from all of it.

But as with many of the best things in life, hope is the torch that keeps me moving forward.

As far as this age is concerned, we are living in a state of a partial darkness where wars, dictatorships, deaths, and calamities have become commonplace to the point that they are turned from newsworthy phenomena into an integral part of life.

They have seeped into people’s psyches to the point that hopelessness about the prospect of having a constructive, productive, and inclusive future has become the norm instead of it being the exception.

In this age, hope is a highly-esteemed currency that is held preciously by people who know the value of it.

After all, wasn’t Hope the last thing to stay inside Pandora’s box after sickness, death, turmoil, famine and all the other evil qualities went out of it?

This shows that as long as hope is alive inside a person’s heart, the keys towards a brighter future are always open for exploration and completion.

As I look back towards the ground, I realize something.

At the end of the day, the Big Dipper reminds me about a truth regarding life.

No matter how harsh and cold the night may seem to be, sunlight always follows in its path, rising to the top and eradicating the darkness and fear that is present inside our hearts, minds, and lives.

Most importantly, even though the evenings may be dark, the stars are always there, piercing the veil of darkness and serving as a beacon of hope.

A hope which states that the best things in life always come in the best way possible, regardless of how bad it was in the past.

After having that long gaze, I continue my way home with a smile.

Because I know once again that the night is always the beginning to a brighter morning and that the stars are there to remind me of that fact.

With newly found strength, I trace my steps back home and get ready to face another day in the roads of this journey that is called “life.”

A Moment for Reflection

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The Orientalists – Part 2

In Xanadu: A Quest, William Dalrymple’s first book, is a work that amassed critical acclaim from the likes of Sir Alex Guinness (“The delightful, and funny, surprise mystery tour of the year”), and the doyen of modern travel literature Patrick Leigh Fermor (“…a most gifted book touched by the spirits of Kinglake, Robert Byron and Evelyn Waugh”), which must have made the twenty-two-year-old author’s head spin. It is by turns a very funny book. He changed his female traveling companion halfway but still managed to produce a work loaded with history and knowledge acquired when the author set off in the footsteps of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to the fabled city court of Kubla Khan in China. But those were early days and William Dalrymple has now become the chronicler of all things pertaining to the subcontinent of India, with doorstopper books to match. His Nine Lives is a personal favorite and amounts to research beyond the call of duty in which the writer sets off in search of the sacred in modern India. Again, marvelous writing as the author attaches himself to some of the adventurers within the life of the soul who have devoted their lives to extremes.

Perspectives

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“Peaceful Settlement is Better”

Question: “Peaceful settlement is better” (Nisa 4:128) reads a Qur’anic verse. What are the messages to be drawn from this verse?

Answer: The basic factor that lies in the basis of clashes and fights today is entanglement with oneself. Everybody is seeking to establish their own model of the individual, family, city, state, and world.  In a world where everybody runs after their own model and structure it is not possible to meet in the middle with a compromise.  Accordingly, when every intellectual, movement, and state envisions some ideas and systems of theirs, they take these as the sole criteria and expect others to comply with them too, it will obviously result in such a mess. Unfortunately, such a reality underlies behind the tensions, disorder, and confusion we experience today.

Questions & Answers

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Science Square (Issue 136)

Viruses Can Steal Our Genetic Code to Form New Genes

Ho JSY et al. Hybrid Gene Origination Creates Human-Virus Chimeric Proteins during Infection. Cell, June 2020;

Viruses have the ability to inflict their hosts with a multitude of dreadful, and often deadly, diseases. Humans have dealt with deadly viral diseases for millennia ranging from smallpox to the Spanish flu and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most fascinating features of these tiny, deadly organisms is that they cannot even build their own proteins. They depend entirely on their host to build their proteins for them. When a virus infects a host cell, it uses the cell’s transcription and translation machinery in order to produce its proteins and to generate copies of itself. A new paper describes a previously unknown mechanism that can occur during this process wherein viruses steal genetic signals from their hosts to expand their own genomes. This allows viruses to make hybrids of host mRNAs with their own genes thereby producing novel hybrid proteins named “UFO” (Upstream Frankenstein Open reading frame) proteins. As a proof-of-principle, scientists showed that at least 10% of influenza A viruses had these hybrid UFO proteins. Furthermore, UFO proteins can be detected by our immune systems and may even modulate virulence. Further studies are still needed to understand this novel class of proteins and the implications of their pervasive expression by many of the RNA viruses that cause epidemics and pandemics. UFO proteins can potentially alter the course of viral infections and could very well be positively exploited for new, and more effective, vaccines.

Superhuman Antibodies Can Protect Against COVID-19

Rogers TF et al.  Isolation of potent SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies and protection from disease in a small animal model. Science, June  2020.

Development of a treatment, or vaccine, for COVID-19 is currently the world's top public health priority. Globally, about 8 million people have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and more than 400,000 have died. The daily toll of new infections is still rising. Amid an international race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, researchers have discovered a subset of antibodies, in the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients, that provide powerful protection against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease. Researchers first took blood samples from patients who had recovered from mild-to-severe COVID-19. Then, they tested whether antibody-containing blood from these patients could bind to the virus and strongly block it from infecting test human cells that express ACE2, the receptor that SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect human cells. Initial experiments led to the isolation of 1000 distinct antibodies produced by immune cells, each of which showed a distinct anti-SARS-CoV-2 affinity. Among those antibodies, the team identified several antibodies that could successfully block the virus and protect hamsters against heavy viral exposure. These super-strength neutralizing antibodies are found to target spike proteins of the Coronavirus that are localized at the viral surface and are essential for the virus to attach itself to human cells. These antibodies effectively keep the virus from entering human cells and could essentially knock out the infection. Interestingly, while non-neutralizing Coronavirus antibodies are found in 75% of patients, neutralizing antibodies are only found in fewer than 5% of patients. The current strategy involves cloning the immune cells that produce these super antibodies in order to mass-produce them and reinject them into sick patients. Scientists predict that if further safety tests in animals and clinical trials in people go as expected, the antibodies could potentially be used in clinical settings as early as next January. This new study proposes a paradigm of swift reaction to an emergent and deadly viral pandemic and sets the stage for clinical trials and additional tests of the antibodies.

Living Environments Are the Key to Longevity

Bhardwaj R. et al. Environmental Correlates of Reaching a Centenarian Age: Analysis of 144,665 Deaths in Washington State for 2011−2015. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. April, 2020.

Growing evidence indicates that while good genes can help us live longer, they do not tell the full story when it comes to what it takes to live a long and healthy life. A new study found that where you live has a substantial impact on the likelihood that you will reach centenarian (100+ years old) age. Researchers examined the data of 145,000 Washington residents who died at the age of 75 or older between 2011-2015. Survival analysis derived from these data showed that neighborhood walkability, higher socioeconomic status, and a high percentage of working age populations were found to be positively correlated with reaching 100 years of age. One important indication from this study is that mixed-age communities where streets are more conducive for walking makes exercise more accessible for older adults and thus makes it easier for them to access medical care and grocery stores. Moreover, older adults are less likely to experience isolation, and receive important community support in these settings.  Past studies estimated that heritable factors only explain about roughly 20% to 35% of an individual's chances of reaching centenarian age. This study supports the idea that you can modify your susceptibility to different genetic diseases through your behavior. In other words, if you live in environments that support healthy aging, it will likely impact your ability to beat your genetic odds through lifestyle changes.

Science Square, Covid-19, Pandemic

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