Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sulaiman Al-Rajhi’s life a rags to riches story

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    Sulaiman Al-Rajhi’s life a rags to riches story

Muhammad Al-Harbi
Tuesday 29 May 2012

Saudi Arabia’s rags-to-riches billionaire Sulaiman Al-Rajhi is also a world-renowned philanthropist. He is the founder of Al-Rajhi Bank, the largest Islamic bank in the world, and one of the largest companies in Saudi Arabia. As of 2011, his wealth was estimated by Forbes to be $7.7 billion, making him the 120th richest person in the world. His flagship SAAR Foundation is a leading charity organization in the Kingdom. The Al-Rajhi family is considered as one of the Kingdom’s wealthiest non-royals, and among the world’s leading philanthropists.

Al-Rajhi is a billionaire who chose last year to become a poor man at his own will without having any cash or real estates or stocks that he owned earlier. He became penniless after transferring all his assets among his children and set aside the rest for endowments. In recognition of his outstanding work to serve Islam, including his role in establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank and his regular contribution toward humanitarian efforts to fight poverty, Al-Rajhi was chosen for this year’s prestigious King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam.

In an interview with Muhammad Al-Harbi of Al-Eqtisadiah business daily, Al-Rajhi speaks about how he was able to succeed in convincing chiefs of the leading central banks in the world, including that of the Bank of England, nearly 30 years ago that interest is forbidden in both Islam and Christianity, and that the Islamic banking is the most effective solution to activate Islamic financing in the world and make it a real boost to the global economy.
The story of Al-Rajhi is that of a man who made his fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination. Al-Rajhi threw away his huge wealth through two windows — distributed a major part of his inheritance among his children and transferred another portion to endowments, which are regarded as the largest endowment in the history of the Islamic world. He had to fight poverty and suffering during his childhood before becoming a billionaire through hard work and relentless efforts, and then leaving all his fortunes to become penniless again.

Al-Rajhi is still very active and hardworking even in his 80s with youthful spirits. He begins his work daily after morning prayers and is active until Isha prayers before going to bed early. He is now fully concentrated on running the endowment project under his SAAR Foundation, and traveling various regions of the Kingdom managing activities related with it. He always carries a pocket diary containing his daily programs and activities and he is accustomed to stick on to the schedule he had prepared well in advance.

Al-Rajhi scored excellent performance results in almost all businesses in which he carved out a niche for himself. In addition to establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank, he founded the largest poultry farm in the Middle East. The credit of activating the organic farming experiment in the Kingdom mainly goes to him through launching a number of farming projects, including Al-Laith shrimp farming. He also established real estate and other investment projects.

Sheikh Suleiman, have you become a poor man again?
Yes. Now I own only my dresses. I distributed my wealth among my children and set aside a portion for endowment to run charity projects. As far as I am concerned, this situation was not a strange one. My financial condition reached zero point two times in my life, and therefore I have had the feeling and understanding (about poverty) well. But now the feeling is accompanied by happiness, relaxation and the peace of mind. The zero phase in life this time is purely because of my own decision and choice.

Why did you choose this path?
All wealth belongs to Allah, and we are only those who are entrusted (by God) to take care of them. There were several reasons that prompted me to distribute the wealth and that resulted in performing this virtue. Most important among them is to foster brotherhood and love among my children and safeguard their harmonious relationship. This is more significant than any wealth in this life. I was also keen not to be instrumental in wasting the precious time of courts in case of any differences of opinion among them with regard to partition of inheritance. There are several examples that everybody could see when children entered in dispute over wealth and that led to the collapse of companies. Nation has lost many large companies and their wealth that we could have been saved if we tackled the matter in a right manner. Apart from this, every Muslim should work on some endowments that could benefit him in the life after death. Likewise, I prefer my children to work on developing wealth, which they inherit after my death, during my lifetime itself rather than I continue working to increase them.

Are you getting enough free time after the distribution of wealth?
As earlier I am still working on developing endowments. I will donate and give alms from it until Allah takes over this trusted deposit. I have worked out a meticulous scheme for this endowment and developed it with the support of specialist consultants and agencies. This idea struck me long before. Usually people in the Islamic world set aside one-third or one-fourth of their wealth for endowment and that will be effective only after their death. But in my case, I decided to implement this decision in my lifetime itself. So I invited my children to Makkah during the end of Ramadan and presented the idea in front of them. They readily agreed it and then I distributed my wealth among my children in addition to setting aside a part of it for endowment. I sought the help of consultants to facilitate the procedures for the distribution of all my assets including properties, real estates and stocks, and that was completed in a cordial atmosphere. All my children are now fully satisfied with my initiative and they are now working on these properties in my lifetime.

How much wealth you distributed among children and set aside for endowment?
He laughed without giving an answer.

How do you feel now about your projects?
I would like to point out that there were some factors that prompted me to make investments in certain specific areas. My experiment in money exchange was the temptation to set up a bank. The absence of any Islamic banking was also another factor in establishing Al-Rajhi Bank, which is now the world's biggest Islamic lender by market value. I began the experiment with opening an office in Britain where we introduced Islamic banking system at a greater level. The experiment was a success and it had received total backing of the Saudi Islamic scholars at that time. I still recall the application made for getting license for the bank was turned down in the beginning. This was because the concerned British officials did not have any idea about Islamic banking.

Therefore, I went to London and met with the manager of the Bank of England and two of his deputies. I told them that Muslims and Christians see interest as forbidden (haram), and the Muslim and Christian religious people are unwilling to make transactions with banks based on interest and instead prefer to keep their cash and other valuables in boxes at their homes. I tried to convince them that (if we establish Islamic banks) this money would be helpful to strengthen the world economy. These talks were helpful in convincing them and they agreed to open Islamic banks. Then I traveled widely throughout the world in the West and East, and met with the chiefs of central banks in various countries and explained to them about the salient features of the Islamic economy. We started working and achieved success through launching it in the Kingdom and implementing it in London.

When I returned to the Kingdom from London, I met the late Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Sheikh Abdullah bin Humaid, and informed them about the plan saying: 'We would reach, by the grace of Allah, the Islamic banking within a stipulated period of time.' They praised me for the initiative. We started aggressively implementing the project and that is in the form of Al-Rajhi Bank as you see now. Regarding Al-Watania Poultry, the idea of establishing such a venture struck me after my visit to a poultry project abroad. I saw that the way of slaughtering chicken was not proper. Then I decided to make investments in the field of poultry after considering it as a duty to my religion and nation. I started the project even though making investments in poultry involved high risks in those days. Now Al-Watania has become a mega Saudi project that is instrumental in achieving food security in many respects. The company enjoys a 40 percent market share in the Kingdom, and Al-Watania chickens are naturally fed and halal slaughtered in accordance with the Shariah principles.

What about your insistence on introducing organic farming through Al-Watania agricultural projects?
As you see, now I am 85 and still enjoy good health. If we pursue organic farming as our healthy food style, we can bring down cost of treatment to a great extent. We made several experiments in the field of organic farming. Our numerous experiments met with setbacks in the beginning. This prompted many engineers and workers to reach a conclusion that it is impossible to have organic farming and profit together. In the beginning, they were firm in their view that this would not at all be successful. But I insisted that it would work and continued compelling them to proceed with the venture. At one time, I took a firm position and told them either to do organic farming or quit. Now we are reaping the fruits of this lucrative business in line with my vision to provide only the healthiest, safest and most trustworthy food to consumers. Al-Watania Agricultural Company stopped using chemicals and artificial fertilizers and focused exclusively on organic methods such as the use of pest insect repellants and animal manure.

Your austerity and thriftiness on spending are well known. Please comment?
I am not a miser. But I am always vigilant against extravagance. I always try to impart this lesson to all those working with me whether it is in banking or poultry or other projects, and I am more concerned about it when it is coming to the case of my children. In the past, I never gave money to my children when they were young in return for nothing. When any one of them approached me to give them cash, I asked them to do some work in exchange for it. In our life, we practice some extravagance without being aware of it. But it affects our whole life, exhausting us and putting a burden on our country. For example, there is no logic in putting heavy curtain on our windows and then lighting lamps in daytime when we get sunlight free of cost while electric lamps are costly.

Despite all your wealth, why don't you still have a private aircraft?
Let me tell you that I have many planes but they belong to various airlines. I have ownership in all of them to the tune of the ticket fare that I pay for each travel. I always travel in economy class with the conviction that Allah bestowed us wealth not for showing arrogance or spend extravagantly but to deal with wealth as a trusted property.

What about the recreation and hobbies of Sheikh Al-Rajhi? How do you spend free time?
I have not any special recreations. However, I find happiness and enjoyment while making a trip to the desert. I never went out of the Kingdom on a tourism trip.

What about your will? What are its salient features?
Regarding my will related with wealth, I have already implemented it in my lifetime. As for the remaining aspect of my will, it is a public matter and also involves certain private matters, besides encouraging my children to maintain their kinship and always reminding them about the life after death.

How do you see your children's private investments? Are there any directives to them?
A number of them are doing an excellent work in accordance with their knowledge and experience. Most often, I try to guide them when I noticed anything undesirable even if it is in their private investments. Regarding my younger children, I always guide them, especially in the case of their investments. This is purely out of my keenness that they should be honest in their work as well as in spending wealth given by God as a trusted property. I am also eager to hear about my children that they are interacting with the society in the best possible manner, and that they are serving their religion and nation.
In what way you like to spend your time? What are the places that you like most?
I used to travel between Riyadh, Qassim, Al-Jouf, and Al-Laith to oversee my projects there. I always prefer to visit the farms in Qassim and Al-Jouf.

How could you preserve many old and precious things and antiques at Suleiman Al-Rajhi Museum?
A long time ago when I was in Jeddah, I was keen on preserving heritage pieces and gathered them together, especially those related with money exchange. There would be a history with every human being. The museum tells the story of money exchange. I particularly kept registers and cash boxes that were used when I started the money exchange business. The first cash box was made of wood, and there was a huge treasure box in which we kept our gold and silver. The artifacts kept at the museum tells the evolution of currency in the Kingdom through issuance of bank notes, as well as some currencies and coins that were in circulation among the Haj pilgrims. A major factor that prompted me to set up the museum was the visits made by a large number of officials from various countries to know more about these old coins and currencies. We have had to exhibit these rare collections in front of them to explain about our history and heritage, especially those related with money. I was keen to furnish the museum with historic and heritage pieces, especially with the same materials used for construction in the past. Hence, the roof of the museum was made of palm branches, and that was the case with the seating arrangements at the museum.

Al-Rajhi's punctuality
The interview also sheds light on many qualities of Al-Rajhi, including his punctuality. "In the beginning of my business career, I had appointments with several top European company executives and officials. I still remember that I reached late for such an appointment due to an unavoidable reason. My delay was only a few minutes but the official excused himself for the interview. Later, after expansion of the projects, the same official came late for an interview with me so I excused myself for the interview. I always carry a paper to note down the schedule of meetings and stick to the schedule at any cost."

Al-Rajhi continued: I am always keen to strictly adhere to the Islamic principles throughout my life. Once I received an invitation from an Arab government to attend an investment conference there. On the sidelines of the conference, I was invited to take part in a dinner reception. When I reached there, I found a recreational program, which is contrary to our religious customs and traditions, taking place. So I quit the place immediately and, Abdul Aziz Al-Ghorair from the UAE also joined me. Soon minister plenipotentiary rushed to us, and we explained to him that the function is against our Islamic tradition. So he informed us that the recreational party would be cancelled. When they canceled that party, we participated in the dinner.

Tackling crises
Al-Rajhi said: There was a huge fire that gutted down one of my factories managed by my son. When he came to inform me about it, I told him: Say praise be to God. I asked him not to submit any report about the losses to the authorities seeking compensation. In fact, the compensation is from Allah and it is essential for us to be satisfied with What Allah destined for us. Assam Al-Hodaithy, financial director of Al-Watania Poultry, said: "When the fire broke out at the factory, we decided not to hurt Sheikh Al-Rajhi by informing about it at that moment. Later, when we met him next morning, he told us to shift the factory to another place and remove the debris until completion of reconstruction." There was a similar fire at Al-Watania Poultry project in Egypt. The company incurred losses worth SR 10 million Egyptian pounds. When the concerned factory official contacted Al-Rajhi to inform about the fire, he was surprised to hear an instant reply from him: "AlHamdulillah."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Core conditioning — It’s not just about abs

Many of us have wished for flatter stomachs, a goal that seems more frustrating and elusive the older we get. You might have been tempted by infomercials for exercise devices or breathless magazine articles promising “flat abs” and tighter tummies “in just days.” Despite the hype, spot exercising abdominal muscles won’t get rid of fat. The only way to do that is to expend more calories than you take in. Working these muscles has its place, but the smart money these days is on strengthening a variety of trunk muscles, collectively known as “the core.”
Core conditioning improves posture, which contributes to a trimmer appearance (poor posture can give even a woman with well-toned abs a little “pot”). Moreover, developing core muscle strength can boost the effectiveness of workouts and reduce the risk of injuries that sideline our efforts to stay in shape.
Getting at the core
If you’ve ever had physical therapy to treat low back pain, you’re probably familiar with the concept of strengthening the core — the muscles in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis that lie roughly between the rib cage and the hips. The strength and coordination of these muscles is important not only for sports and fitness routines but also for daily life — for example, reaching up to a shelf, lifting a child, or sponging a spot off the floor.
The current drive behind core conditioning comes in part from studies conducted in the 1990s showing that before they move an arm or leg, people with healthy backs (in contrast with those suffering from low back pain) automatically contract their core muscles, especially the transverse abdominal muscles, which wrap from the sides of the lower back around to the front. Experts concluded that well-coordinated core muscle use stabilizes the spine and helps create a firm base of support for virtually all movement. The role of the core is also central to the Pilates method, a series of exercises developed during World War I to help rehabilitate soldiers returning from the war. Its founder, Joseph Pilates, referred to the core as the “powerhouse.”
These days, patients who are receiving physical therapy for chronic low back pain or injury are told to contract their core muscles before performing prescribed exercises. And Pilates exercises are increasingly incorporated into health club workouts, along with other approaches that engage the core, such as fitness (stability) balls, yoga, and tai chi.
Exercises that strengthen abdominal and other core muscles should be part of an overall fitness plan that includes regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. Guidelines also encourage us to get 20 to 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and that might be a good time to fit in a few exercises designed to work the core.
Sample core exercises
To be safe and effective, core muscle strengthening exercises require proper alignment and progression from one type of exercise to another — adjusted to your body and fitness level. So you may want to ask a physical therapist or exercise professional for help in planning a program for you. (If you haven’t been physically active or have back problems or some other medical condition, consult a clinician before embarking on any fitness program.)
You’ll probably start by learning how to “draw in” — the first step in performing all core exercises and a basic tool you can use in almost any physical activity you perform (including walking). Here’s what you do: Sitting, standing, or lying on your back, gently but firmly tighten the abdominal muscles, drawing the navel in toward the small of the back. The tailbone should be slightly tucked. (Some trainers prefer to call it “bracing” the muscles, as if you were preparing to take a punch in the stomach.) Practice holding this position for 10 seconds at a time while breathing normally (that’s the hard part!). Once you get the hang of drawing in, you can start doing some core exercises, progressing from those you do on a stable surface (the floor or a mat) to those performed on an unstable surface, like a stability ball.
Below are just a few exercises that can help strengthen core muscles. If you decide to try any of them, go slowly, work at your own pace, and don’t keep doing anything that causes pain. Concentrate on performing the exercises correctly, not on the number of repetitions or how quickly you can do them. And don’t forget to breathe!
Reverse crunch
Lie with your back pressed to the ground, your hands at your sides, your knees bent, and your feet off the floor (ankles crossed) so that your knees create a 90-degree angle. Tighten your abdominal muscles, and raise your hips toward your rib cage, curling your tailbone off the floor (see illustration). Hold for a second or two; then slowly lower your hips to the starting position. Work up to 12 to 16 repetitions. Note: Use your hands at first to help stabilize yourself, but rely on them less as you get stronger.
Arm and leg raise

Lie on your stomach with your arms above your head. Tighten your stomach muscles; then lift your right arm and left leg (see illustration). Hold for five seconds. Lower, and rest a moment; then repeat with the left arm and right leg. Work toward eight to 12 repetitions on each side. Note: Avoid arching your back (keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tucked). When you’re ready for more, try lifting the leg and arm on the same side.
Core Exercise3
Lie flat on the floor on your back. Place your fingertips at the back of your head. Tighten your abdominal muscles, bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle, and lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Turn your upper body to the left, bringing the right elbow toward the left knee and extending your right leg (see illustration). Switch sides, bringing the left elbow toward the right knee. Continue this pedaling motion, slowly, for a total of 12 to 16 repetitions. Rest and repeat. Note: Avoid pulling on the neck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Military Dictatorship has no place in Islam

by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat (1983)
In Islam even the rule of God's religion cannot be imposed by force. In a well-known verse of Surah al-Baqarah it is said:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion (la ikraha fi ad-din)." (2:256)
As a result of this principle, if there are non-Muslims in an Islamic society they cannot be forced to become Muslims or follow Islamic law. Only people who freely accept Islam are bound by its blessed and noble teachings. Now, therefore, if God's rule cannot be forcefully imposed on people by anyone, how can a Muslim dictator have the right to impose his rule by military might? 
In the exemplary period of the four rightly guided caliphs it was simply unthinkable that any individual, however good or great, would take over power by the use of military force. The four caliphs themselves were elected heads of state who enjoyed widespread support and respect. Hadrat Abu Bakr was elected in a free and open public gathering while Hadrat Omar, Uthman and Ali were elected by councils of trusted elders of the community. When the rightly guided caliph Amir Mu'awiyah nominated his son as the ruler, the Prophet's own grandson, Hadrat Imam Hussain, protested and as we all know gave his life rather than accept the rule of a man who, among other faults, did not come to power through proper means, i.e. through the election and support of the people.
This practice of the prophet's leading companions was in fact based on explicit guidance of the Holy Qur'an which requires that affairs of the Muslim community be run by public participation. In a chapter entitled Shura (consultation), the Holy Qur'an says of the Muslims that:
"...their affairs are run by mutual consultation." (42:38)
Even the Prophet Muhammad himself, who came in this world with an authority from God, is commanded in the Qur'an:
" take counsel with them (i.e. the people) in matters (of public concern)." (3:159)
It is clear from the above that in Islam, power primarily belongs to God and the people. even the Prophet's authority was derived from these two primary sources of power.When he spoke or acted as a messenger of God his authority was derived from God and when he spoke or acted as the head of the community his authority was derived from the people, by whose "counsel" he was bound. Since after the Prophet Muhammad died there is to be no other messenger or prophet of God, no one else will ever be able to speak or act with the authority of God and, therefore, from now on all Muslim rulers are as rulers (though not as individuals) completely bound by the counsel and will of the people. 
In conducting shura in a society, effort should be made to involve as many members of the society as means of communication allow at a given time. Also, shura should be used in reaching decisions in as many matters as possible.
The first matter to be decided by shura in an Islamic society is, of course, the question of who will govern the society. A government that comes to power without due shurahas no legitimacy in Islam, even though it conducts some shura in other matters. Consequently, the practice of Muslim dictators who first seize power by military force and then institute a "majlis-e-shura" or a controlled form of basic democracies through which only opinions favorable to the ruler are allowed to exist has absolutely no validity in Islam.
The views expressed above are not just the views of this insignificant writer. They are also the views of a majority of reputed Islamic scholars of all ages and places. Manlana A.A. Mawdudi (whose followers once unfortunately allied with a Pakistani military leader Zia's dictatorial rule) speaks for all these scholars when he writes:
"Every person in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of a khalifa of God and in this respect all people are equal. No one takes precedence over another or can deprive him of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be formed in accordance with the will of the people and the authority of the state will only be an accretion of the powers of the people delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government which will be run with their counsel and in accordance with their wishes. Whoever gains their confidence will undertake the duty and obligation of the caliphate on their behalf: and when he loses this confidence he will have to quit and bow before their will. In this regard the political system of Islam is a perfect form of democracy - as perfect as a democracy can ever be." (Islamic Way of Life, p.44)
Of course, an Islamic society differs from a Western democracy in the important respect that while in the latter people make their own laws and constitutions, in the former, laws and constitution are based on divine guidance. But this in no way means that the will and wishes of the people count any less in an Islamic society than in a Western democracy, since if the Islamic society is formed on the Qur'anic principle: "there is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), then it is only by the free choice and wishes of the people that the society will derive its laws and constitution from the guidance of God as given through His blessed messenger.
 Why some Muslims are not enthusiastic about democracy
Democracy is as much a requirement of Islamic teachings as prayer, zakat, abstinence from alcohol, usury, fornication, etc. Yet while every Muslim will agree that Islam enjoins prayer and zakat (welfare tax) and forbids alcohol, usury, fornication, etc., a great many Muslims would not say with the same categoricity that Islam requires a democratic system of government for a Muslim society. There are two reasons for this phenomenon.
First, democracy is a term most often used in the non-Muslim secularist West. For this reason, many Muslims have the impression that the idea of democracy is a peculiarly Western idea which is alien to Islam. But if, as we have shown above, Islam requires that the government of a Muslim country should have the confidence of the people and that its affairs should be run by public participation, then the idea of democracy is not at all alien to Islam but it is part and parcel. It is one of those ideas that happen to be present in both the Western tradition and Islam. If we do not like the term democracy, we can use some other term (such as shuriyyah or ummatism) but we cannot reject the democratic principle itself. Such a rejection would be tantamount to a rejection of an aspect of Islamic teachings.
Second, democracy is a very difficult system to preserve. Muslims could not preserve it beyond the time of the four rightly guided caliphs, after which the political power passed into the hands of autocratic rulers, sultans and kings. It then became dangerous to refer to the democratic principles of the Qur'an and to their practice by the leading companions of the Prophet. Ulama (Muslim scholars), therefore, spent more and more time talking about personal aspects of the Islamic religion - prayer, zakat, fasting, hajj, inheritance, etc., and avoided mentioning socio-political principles of Islam. As centuries passed under these conditions, people got used to having sultans, kings and dictators, so much so that now many of them are not even sure that dictatorship is totally un-Islamic.

Lesson from history
It is not only Islam that teaches us to adopt a democratic approach in running our affairs. History also teaches us the same lesson.
If we glance through past and recent history, it will become quickly obvious that more democratic nations, in which rights of the individual are better respected, prosper in the long run and become victorious over less democratic nations. Thus in the early days of Islam, Muslims respected the individual rights and enjoyed popular elected governments. As a result, they prospered and were victorious over autocratic Persian and Byzantine empires. In the colonial times, Western democracies prevailed over most of the Asian and African countries that were all ruled despots. More recently, democratic Britain and the U.S.A. won against Nazi Germany ruled by one man. India, with a stable democratic system, has defeated and dismembered Pakistan which has mostly been ruled by military dictators. Democratic Britain defeated military-ruled Argentina in the Falklands, despite the fact that Britain was many times further away from the battlefield than Argentina. Revolutionary Iran, governed by a popular leadership and an elected majlis, won extraordinary victories over Iraq's despotic ruler, Saddam Hussain. And, of course, democratic Israel has been inflicting for the past many decades humiliating defeats on the richer and more populous Arab countries ruled by dictators and kings. One could continue the list, but the examples cited should be enough to teach us that if Muslim societies are to become strong, independent and prosperous societies, then their people will have to dispose of the ruling dictators and kings and take control of their affairs in their own hands. If they do not do so, then further disintegration of the Ummah and more and more humiliation and defeats from our enemies are inevitable. God has placed the future of the Muslim Ummah in the hands of its peoples.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Happiest Countries in the World

May 22, 2012 by 247wallst
Source: 24/7 Wall St. Staff
For the second year in a row, 24/7 Wall St. examined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report on life satisfaction in the developed world. Economic prosperity, health and a strong social support network continue to correspond highly with happiness. Once again, the United States fails to make the top 10 happiest nations in the world, while countries like Australia, Israel and all of the Scandinavian nations do.

The OECD measured more than 30 sets of data in 11 different categories, including education, health and employment. The study also asked residents of each country to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, their general satisfaction with their lives. 24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 countries with the highest life satisfaction scores to find the strongest factors related to happiness.

Economic prosperity appears to be one of the strongest factors that relates to overall life satisfaction. Of the 10 countries with the highest levels of happiness, nine have personal incomes that are higher than the OECD average. Eight of them have among the highest disposable incomes among developed nations.

In addition, the overall regional economies of these 10 nations appear to be doing exceptionally well. Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product in these countries is either among the smallest in the developed world, or these nations are actually running a surplus. Norway, which has the second-highest satisfaction score, has a government surplus of 162.5% of its GDP.

Employment is one of the most obvious causes of satisfaction, according to Matthias Rumpf, OECD’s chief media officer, especially long-term employment and job stability. Of the 10 countries with the highest job satisfaction rates, nine are among the 15 with the lowest long-term unemployment rates — the percentage of the population that has been unemployed for more than a year. “Those who are unemployed are generally not very happy,” Rumpf says. And long-term unemployment is even worse, he explains. While being between jobs can affect a person, “the longer you are unemployed, the worse it gets.”

After economic stability, physical and social well-being are the largest determinants for happiness. When it comes to self-reported health, eight of the 10 countries have a higher rate of citizens reporting good health than the OECD average of 70%. All but one have a higher life expectancy than the OECD average of 79.8 years. When it comes to having a strong social support network, seven of the countries have among the largest percentage of residents reporting having a friend or relative they could rely on in a case of need.

Not surprisingly, having enough leisure time affects a person’s mental health and strongly impacts happiness. According to the report, while data is incomplete, the majority of the countries with a strong sense of well-being have more leisure time each day than the OECD average of 14.76 hours (this includes sleep). The citizens of Denmark, the happiest country, have the most leisure time available per day, at 16.06 hours.

The U.S. ranks 11th in life satisfaction, just missing the top 10. This suggests that while some of these categories may impact happiness, they do not guarantee it. Despite its above-average score, the U.S. has the highest rate of disposable income in the OECD and an extremely high rate of self-reported good health. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a particularly low life expectancy for developed nations, which at 78.7 years is worse than 26 other developed nations. The U.S. also has a low job security rate and a relatively high long-term unemployment rate.

Examining 34 separate member nations, a number of emerging economies, and two additional participating countries — Brazil and Russia — the OECD’s 2012 Better Life Index report measured more than 30 indices in 11 separate categories: housing, income, jobs, community, education, the environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 countries in which residents reported personal well-being at an average of 7.2 out of 10 or better.
These are the happiest countries in the world.

10. Sweden
> Life satisfaction score: 7.3 (5th)
> Employment rate: 73% (5th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 79% (9th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 1.28% (3rd lowest)
> Disposable income: $26,633 (11th highest)
> Educational attainment: 86% (9th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.5 years (7th highest)
In the OECD’s latest Better Life Index report, Sweden scores 7.3, the 10th-best score. Sweden has a life expectancy of 81.5 years, which is the seventh highest in the OECD. The country has extremely low pollution levels as well. According to the Better Life Index data, 97% of Swedes are satisfied with the quality of their drinking water — the second most among developed countries. The country also has the lowest levels of air pollution in the OECD. In the country, leisure is a priority for the working population as just 1.28% of Swedish employees work in excess of 50 hours per week. By comparison, 10.86% of U.S. employees work that much each week.

9. Canada
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 4th)
> Employment rate: 72% (7th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 88% (3rd highest)
> Employees working long hours: 3.91% (11th highest)
> Disposable income: $27,138 (8th highest)
> Educational attainment: 88% (5th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.8 years (13th highest)
Canada’s score of 7.4 has much to do with the success of its health care system, a socialized plan that provides coverage to all of its citizens. As many as 88% of Canadians report their health to be “good” or “very good,” which ranks third among all nations surveyed. Canada also ranks among the top 15 nations in life expectancy. Other factors that may be contributing to Canadians’ high life satisfaction level are education and employment levels. Some 88% of Canadians have at least a high school diploma — the fifth-highest rate among the nations the OECD reviewed. Also, 72% of working-age citizens are employed — the seventh-highest rate. By comparison, Italy — one of the poorer-performing countries in these categories — has a working-age employment rate of 57%, and only 54% of its population has at least a high school diploma.

8. Australia
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 4th)
> Employment rate: 72% (9th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 85% (5th highest)
> Employees working long hours:13.99% (4th highest)
> Disposable income: $26,927 (9th highest)
> Educational attainment: 71% (12th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 81.8 years (5th highest)
Of the countries with high life satisfaction, Australia’s citizens have comparatively little leisure time. They tend to work long hours, with nearly 14% of the population working 50 hours a week or more. Australians are healthier than most, with a life expectancy of 81.8 years — the fifth highest in the OECD. Additionally, 85% of Australians report their health to be either “good” or “very good.” The national economy has also fared well in recent years, with a post-financial crisis peak unemployment rate of only 5.7%. Presently, the Australian unemployment rate is 4.9%. Another sign of economic strength is the low government debt that stands only at 4.9% of GDP. Comparatively, the U.S. government debt represents 73.8% of GDP.

7. Finland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 4th)
> Employment rate: 68% (14th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 68% (15th lowest)
> Employees working long hours: 3.66% (8th highest)
> Disposable income: $24,958 (14th highest)
> Educational attainment: 82% (14th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.2 years (16th lowest)
According to OECD figures, the Finns value their free time. They devote 14.9 hours per day to leisure on average, the ninth highest among developed nations. Americans, on the other hand, rank 20th with only 14.27 hours of leisure time each day. Finland also has the eighth-lowest percentage of employees working more than 50 hours per week, at only 3.66%. When they are not working, many Finns like to indulge by taking a sauna — so many, in fact, that a country with a population of 5.3 million has 2 million saunas, much more than the number of cars in the country.

6. Israel
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 4th)
> Employment rate: 60% (11th lowest)
> Self-reported good health: 81% (7th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 18.92% (3rd highest)
> Disposable income: n/a
> Educational attainment: 82% (12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.7 years (6th highest)
Israelis have a life expectancy of 81.7 years — sixth highest among OECD nations. The country also has a low obesity rate of 13.8%, while 81% of those surveyed report their health to be “good” or “very good.” By comparison, Americans’ life expectancy is 78.7 years, and they also have a higher obesity rate of 33.8% among adults. Despite the constant security concerns in the country, the homicide rate in Israel is in line with the OECD’s average of 2.1 murders per 100,000 people. In addition, 70% of Israelis surveyed feel safe walking home at night. Although Israelis work long hours, with 18.92% working at least 50 hours a week, life satisfaction remains high.

5. Austria
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
> Employment rate: 72% (8th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 69% (17th lowest)
> Employees working long hours: 9.02% (10th highest)
> Disposable income: $27,541 (7th highest)
> Educational attainment: 82% (13th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.7 (22nd lowest)
Austria stands out in many economic categories. Ranking within the top 10 in both employment rate and disposable income, the Austrians have certainly had some measure of financial success. Disposable income, in particular, stands out as a strong factor in happiness for Austrians. The country’s average annual disposable income is $27,541, while OECD nations average $22,387. This disparity may be in part attributable to the number of citizens working in excess of 50 hours a week, which, at 9.02%, ranks 10th among OECD nations.

4. Switzerland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
> Employment rate: 79% (1st highest)
> Self-reported good health: 87% (4th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 5.87% (17th highest)
> Disposable income: $27,756 (5th most)
> Educational attainment: 87% (8th highest)
> Life expectancy: 82.6 (2nd highest)
The most salient statistic with respect to well-being for the fourth ranked country on the list is employment. Switzerland tops the list in terms of working age employment rate at a whopping 79%. Switzerland also cracks the top five in three other categories: disposable income ($27,756), self-reported good health (87%) and life expectancy (82.6 years). Given these stellar numbers, it is easy to see why, according to the U.S. Department of State, “Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices.” The Swiss also have very high rates of insurance coverage and computer and Internet usage.

3. Netherlands
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
> Employment rate: 75% (3rd highest)
> Self-reported good health: 77% (11th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 0.68% (2nd highest)
> Disposable income: $25,740 (13th highest)
> Educational attainment: 73% (15th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.8 (14th highest)
The Dutch government is heavily involved in internal economic affairs, playing a “significant role … pertaining to almost every aspect of economic activity,” according to the U.S. Department of State. Judging by Netherlands’ 75% employment rate — the third highest among those surveyed — this regulated, monitored economy has thrived in recent years. Of those employed, only 0.68% work longer than 50 hours a week — the second-lowest percentage among those surveyed. By contrast, 10.86% of U.S. workers eclipse the 50 hour mark. The Dutch also rank among the top 15 in self-reported good health, life expectancy and disposable income.

2. Norway
> Life satisfaction score: 7.6 (2nd)
> Employment rate: 75% (4th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 80% (8th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 2.66% (5th highest)
> Disposable income: $30,465 (5th highest)
> Educational attainment: 81% (15th highest)
> Life expectancy:81.2 (10th highest)
Of all the nations examined in the OECD’s report, Norway is among the most financially secure. Of working-age adults, 75% are employed — the fourth-best rate. Also, the average household disposable income is $30,645, the third highest among OECD nations. Norway also significantly outspends almost all other surveyed nations on health care, allocating $5,003 per person per year. This is well above the average for OECD nations of $3,060 per person per year. Norway also has one of the healthiest populations, with a life expectancy of 81.2 years and 80% claiming to be in “good” or “very good” health. Showcasing its economic strength, Norway is able to provide quality public health and education services while maintaining a budget surplus of 162.5% of GDP and an AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.

1. Denmark
> Life satisfaction score: 7.8 (1st)
> Employment rate: 73% (6th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 71% (17th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 1.92% (4th highest)
> Disposable income: $23,213 (15th lowest)
> Educational attainment: 76% (18th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.3 (11th lowest)
Denmark tops the OECD ranking as the country with the most satisfied citizens among the countries studied by the OECD. At first glance, the reason is not obvious. Denmark ranks no higher than fourth in any of the categories that appear to correlate strongly with overall satisfaction. Yet, in addition to the OECD, organizations such as the World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness have consistently put Denmark at the top of their list of the world’s happiest countries. A high employment rate of 73% and a low percentage of 1.92% of employees working long hours contribute to high satisfaction levels. But overall, it is hard to pin down why those Danes are so darn happy.
Michael B. Sauter

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nine Major Ways Criminals Use Facebook

This Friday, Facebook will go public in one of the most anticipated IPOs in history. With more than 900 million users, Mark Zuckerberg’s expanding social media empire has become a seemingly irreplaceable part of the online experience. Unfortunately, a byproduct of its success is that millions of Americans are far more exposed to a number of cyber crimes that also teem on the site.

To be sure, cyber crimes have been occurring for some time, but the presence of social media has made many crimes much easier to commit. In social networks people make “friends” without knowing the person and make personal information easily available. And none of the networks present more opportunity to criminals than Facebook and its hundreds of millions of users. With this in mind, 24/7 Wall St. looked at some of the most common ways criminals use Facebook.

Internet security analysts warn that Facebook is a hotbed for online crime. According to an infographic published earlier this year by ZoneAlarm, a leading Internet security software provider, “roughly 4 million Facebook users experience spam on a daily basis, 20% of Facebook users have been exposed to malware,” and Facebook receives 600,000 reports of hijacked log-ins every day.
Facebook knows that there is a problem. Earlier this year, the social media giant began working with the U.S. Attorney General’s office to try to combat linkjacking, a new form of account hacking and spam that is more or less unique to Facebook. Through various kinds of identity theft, linkjacking spammers send messages containing false ads or even viruses to the victims, pretending to be a Facebook friend.

Like linkjacking, malware represents yet another growing threat for Facebook users, Dr. Kent Seamons, assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Brigham Young University, told 24/7 Wall St. “Hackers get malware on your machine and get tens if not hundreds of thousands of these machines under their control and then they rent them out to spammers and others,” Seamons explains. Renting Facebook accounts to spammers is one of the many ways that thieves monetize the personal information they steal. These rented accounts can then be used to advertise products illicitly or to request money from unsuspecting friends.

Ultimately, all social media sites make it easier for criminals to deceive their victims. According to a study published in Communications of ACM, a journal for computing professionals, the percentage of students that responded to a phishing email increased from 16% to 72% when the email included relevant social information about the target. For example, scams that make it appear that a message comes from a friend of the target make it more likely that the target will respond.

These are the nine ways criminals use Facebook.

1. Hacking Accounts
When criminals hack a Facebook account, they typically use one of several available “brute force” tools, Grayson Milbourne, Webroot’s Manager of Threat Research for North America, told 24/7 Wall St. in an interview. These tools cycle through a common password dictionary, and try commonly used names and dates, opposite hundreds of thousands of different email IDs. Once hacked, an account can be commandeered and used as a platform to deliver spam, or — more commonly — sold. Clandestine hacker forums are crawling with ads offering Facebook account IDs and passwords in exchange for money. In the cyber world, information is a valuable thing.

2. Commandeering Accounts
A more direct form of identity theft, commandeering occurs when the criminal logs on to an existing user account using an illegally obtained ID and password. Once they are online, they have the victim’s entire friend list at their disposal and a trusted cyber-identity. The impostor can use this identity for a variety of confidence schemes, including the popular, London scam in which the fraudster claims to be stranded overseas and in need of money to make it home. The London scam has a far-higher success rate on Facebook — and specifically on commandeered accounts — because there is a baseline of trust between the users and those on their friends list.

3. Profile Cloning
Profile cloning is the act of using unprotected images and information to create a Facebook account with the same name and details of an existing user. The cloner will then send friend requests to all of the victim’s contacts. These contacts will likely accept the cloner as a friend since the request appears to be from someone they’re familiar with. Once accepted, the crook has access to the target’s personal information, which they can use to clone other profiles or to commit fraud. As Grayson Milbourne puts it, “Exploiting a person’s account and posturing as that person is just another clever mechanism to use to extract information.” Perhaps what’s scariest about this kind of crime is its simplicity. Hacking acumen is unnecessary to clone a profile; the criminal simply needs a registered account.

4. Cross-Platform Profile Cloning
Cross-platform profile cloning is when the cyber criminal obtains information and images from Facebook and uses them to create false profiles on another social-networking site, or vice versa. The principle is similar to profile cloning, but this kind of fraud can give Facebook users a false sense of security because their profile is often cloned to a social platform that they might not use. The result is that this kind of fraud may also take longer to notice and remedy.

5. Phishing
Phishing on Facebook involves a hacker posing as a respected individual or organization and asking for personal data, usually via a wall post or direct message. Once clicked, the link infects the users’ computers with malware or directs them to a website that offers a compelling reason to divulge sensitive information. A classic example would be a site that congratulates the victims for having won $1,000 and prompts them to fill out a form that asks for a credit card and Social Security number. Such information can be used to perpetrate monetary and identity fraud. Grayson Milbourne of Webroot, also explained that spearphishing is becoming increasingly common, a practice that uses the same basic idea but targets users through their individual interests.

6. Fake Facebook
A common form of phishing is the fake Facebook scam. The scammers direct users via some sort of clickable enticement, to a spurious Facebook log-in page designed to look like the real thing. When the victims enter their usernames and passwords, they are collected in a database, which the scammer often will sell. Once scammers have purchased a user’s information, they can take advantage of their assumed identity through apps like Facebook Marketplace and buy and sell a laundry list of goods and services. Posing as a reputable user lets the scammer capitalize on the trust that person has earned by selling fake goods and services or promoting brands they have been paid to advertise.

7. Affinity Fraud
In cases of affinity fraud, con artists assume the identity of individuals in order to earn the trust of those close to them. The criminal then exploits this trust by stealing money or information. Facebook facilitates this type of fraud because people on the site often end up having a number of “friends” they actually do not know personally and yet implicitly trust by dint of their Facebook connection. Criminals can infiltrate a person’s group of friends and then offer someone deals or investments that are part of a scheme. People can also assume an identity by infiltrating a person’s account and asking friends for money or sensitive information like a Social Security or credit card number.

8. Mining Unprotected Info
Few sites provide an easier source of basic personal information than Facebook. While it is possible to keep all personal information on Facebook private, users frequently reveal their emails, phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and other pieces of private data. As security experts and hackers know, this kind of information is often used as passwords or as answers to secret security questions. While the majority of unprotected information is mined for targeted advertising, it can be a means to more pernicious ends such as profile cloning and, ultimately, identity theft.

9. Spam
Not all spam — the mass sending of advertisements to users’ personal accounts — is against the law. However, the existence of Facebook and other social sites has allowed for a new kind of spam called clickjacking. The process of clickjacking, which is illegal, involves the hacking of a personal account using an advertisement for a viral video or article. Once the user clicks on this, the program sends an advertisement to the person’s friends through their account without their knowledge. This has become such an issue for the social media giant that earlier this year that the company has teamed up with the U.S. Attorney General to try to combat the issue.
-Michael B. Sauter, Adam Poltrack and Ashley C. Allen

Friday, May 11, 2012

How London really won the games

How London really won the games
Web Exclusive: The 2012 Olympic Games were never supposed to be in London. Michael Payne provides the inside story on how the bid was won

London entered the race to host the 2012 Olympic Games back in 2003. It was an outsider and stumbled through the early bid process. London trailed behind the favourite Paris, with Madrid, New York and Moscow all running hard.  London even struggled to find a CEO willing to take on the daunting task of leading the bid.  Perhaps surprisingly, no UK executive saw it as a particularly enticing career move, and eventually the American business woman, Barbara Cassani was persuaded to step forward. By the time the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had completed its initial evaluation of the technical files, London was ranked a distant third in the race and, by some, in an increasingly lacklustre fourth place.

If the technical challenges were not enough, the London bid received a potentially knock-out blow to any small chance it might have had when, on the eve of the Athens Games in 2004, the BBC’s Panorama programme ran an investigative exposé on the bidding process.  Undercover reporters were sent in as representatives of certain ‘business interests’ exploring what it would take to buy votes from IOC members and ‘their agents’ for London.  At the time, the IOC was only just recovering from the trauma of the Salt Lake City scandal, and the idea of facing seven years under the microscope of the UK media, was not a particularly attractive proposition for the IOC members London needed to persuade to vote for the city.

In the corridors of the Hilton Hotel – the main Olympic hotel that night -- Lord Coe, who had just taken over from Cassani, and IOC member Craig Reedie tried to put a brave face on the problem, but they both knew that it would take nothing short of a miracle to get back in the game.

The view from the mountain

I had watched London’s unimpressive campaign from the IOC where I was its broadcast rights and marketing director.  Then, in December 2004, having left the IOC, I caught up with Seb Coe.  I told him, simply, that in a straightforward technical race, London did not have a chance. Paris was pulling ahead, and was viewed by many in the Olympic establishment, as having a much better plan. Madrid remained a dark horse, but with the political support of the former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, was never to be underestimated.

Seb asked me outright what I thought it would take for London to win. I told him I had no instant answer, but it was clear London needed a new game plan, a big idea. I suggested that a few days in the Swiss Alps would be the perfect place to come up with such a plan. Fresh mountain air would lead to fresh thinking.  And so over New Year’s Eve, Seb spent three days trekking around the slopes (he does not ski) and sitting around the fire throwing ideas around.

Over glühwein and schnapps, Seb identified the biggest threat facing the Olympic and sports movement as the growing disenfranchisement of the younger generation.  This was the challenge which he thought London could take on.  He believed – and still does so -- – that London could offer ‘a global platform to allow the IOC to reconnect with the youth’.  I advised Seb to bounce the idea off a few IOC members and gauge their reaction. By the end of January, it was clear that this was the big idea, that just might be able to change the race to host the 2012 Games.

The race

Bidding for the Olympics is a race. You need to run so that you build momentum as you approach the finishing straight.  Seb, one of the greatest of British Olympians, knew all about race tactics and, as the vote approached, he used all of his finely tuned political skills to rebuild confidence in London’s proposition.

It wasn’t plain sailing.  At this point, London was still struggling to pull together all the necessary guarantees to present to the IOC, including key financial undertakings from the Government. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was not keen to sign off the guarantees. Indeed, he was only persuaded to do so on being told there was no chance of London winning, and the guarantees ever being called upon!

The host city is elected by IOC members at its annual general assembly. To win a city needs a simple majority. This can take multiple rounds of voting. The city with the least number of votes drops out until you are potentially down to just two cities.  At the IOC meeting in Singapore in 2005, the London vote counters calculated an array of different scenarios.  But, they knew that if they made it to the final against Paris, they would have a strong chance of winning. Paris by now had lost its front runner status.  But, if the final were against Madrid then it was unlikely London could meet the political might of the Latin block and lobby.

It was with trepidation that the London team watched the voting in the second round. Before the IOC President could announce the results, the Greek IOC member asked for voting to stop, as he had pressed the wrong button on the electronic voting device. The President refused to stop the voting.  This was as accidental as it was crucial.  Paris scraped through by two votes to the final.

It was claimed that the Greek member had mistakenly voted for Paris rather than Madrid. If his vote had been cast for Madrid, the Spanish capital would have tied equally with Paris, and forced a run off. Most commentators agree, that Madrid would have beaten Paris and gone through to the final against London and Madrid would have have emerged victorious.

Beyond Beijing

Since London’s election in 2005, the Olympic Movement has continued to go from strength to strength. Beijing 2008 proved to be the ‘coming out’ party that all expected of China, although only history will record in a twenty years of more, the true social and political impact that the Olympics had on the country and Chinese society.  The IOC has gone onto seek out new territories, with Sochi, Russia winning the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games; Rio de Janeiro claiming the 2016 Olympic Games, (the first time the Olympics heads to the South American continent); and Pyeongchang, Korea the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Broadcast rights have continued to grow, although with the emergence of social media, the IOC is once again being challenged to rethink its media business model. No-one is suggesting that the broadcast model is dead – far from it; if anything the rights fee model is stronger today than it has ever been, despite a challenging economic environment. But, the debate that began in the 1950s over the business model of broadcast rights, and continued in the 1990s with the internet, is now resurfacing with social media – how to monetise the opportunity, protect existing revenue sources, and find new ways to enhance the offering to Olympic partners.

Sponsorship has also continued to grow. London 2012 met its ambitious targets, fortunately getting out to market before the recession set in. However, the new territories of Russia and Brazil have continued to show the potential value of the Olympic brand, in developing markets, with local sponsorship programmes, setting new records, far exceeding the commitments of the international sponsors.

All of this adds lustre to the remarkable story of the transformation of the Olympic Movement.  With the cities already forming in line to compete to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the stakes and the interest in the Olympics has never been greater.  Faster, higher, stronger is the Olympic motto.  It has never been more powerful and necessary.

Michael Payne is the author of the bestseller, Olympic Turnaround. The ebook of Olympic Turnaround is now available on Kindle and a paperback edition is published by Infinite Ideas.  He will be speaking at the Global Leadership Summit at London Business School on 21 May 2012.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Dubai

Today, Dubai is known as a gleaming, glittering cosmopolitan oasis, crowned by the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. But it was not long ago that the city was as familiar with camels and dhows as it is now with Ferraris and indoor ski slopes.

The regional oil boom changed everything: As the Gulf states found themselves flush with trillions in petrodollars, the tiny emirate positioned itself as a financial entrepot and regional hub for construction and tourism.

While the global recession hit it hard, leading many to speculate about a "Dubai bubble," the emirate has rebounded nicely -- its economy is projected to grow by more than 4 percent this year after reinventing itself as a financial safe haven amid the Arab Spring, earning a spot on what the International Herald Tribune calls the New Silk Road.

The following pictures, taken in the late 1960s and early 1970s, show a society just on the cusp of the ambitious development that would soon be its hallmark. Above, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the consitutional monarch of Dubai, leads a camel riding party in his youth.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Saudi women: Pampered or oppressed?

Samar Badawi, pictured, served seven months in jail for refusing to return to her abusive father. She fell foul of Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws but was released after an online campaign. Samar Badawi, pictured, served seven months in jail for refusing to return to her abusive father. She fell foul of Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws but was released after an online campaign. 

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Samar Badawi, a 30-year-old mother of one, has served seven months in jail. Her crime? Disobeying her father.
Badawi, 30, fell foul of Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws, which require women to gain permission from their father, husband or even adult son for many daily activities.

In a case that was highlighted by Human Rights Watch, Badawi was physically abused by her father from the age of 14 after her mother died of cancer.
At the age of 25, she decided to "stand up for herself" and ran away to a women's shelter.

She was jailed for seven months after her father brought a "disobedience" case against her and she refused to return to his home.
Badawi was released last year after an online campaign, and eventually got a ruling to transfer her guardianship to her uncle.
She also successfully filed a suit against her father's refusal to allow her to marry.
"I went in a broken woman," she said. "I was very hurt when I went to prison. But I came out victorious and was very proud of myself that I was able to handle those seven months. It wasn't easy."
Badawi added: "When I was alone, I would remember the injustice, from my father, from the judge who was horrible to me.
"I would remember my son. I would remember how even society didn't spare me -- I was insulted a lot and despite the insults, I stayed quiet, I didn't respond. In these moments I would cry."
The problem is that there is no legal culture here

Samar Badawi
Despite her own trauma, Badawi does not call for a change in the law, but rather for better awareness.
"Our laws are fair, very fair," she said. "If not for the law, I would not have been able to escape the difficult situation I was in.

"The problem is that there is no legal culture here. Women here, from various backgrounds, aren't aware of their rights, there is no awareness.
"That's why I wish that law would be taught in schools from an early age."

Badawi was presented with an International Women of Courage award by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on March 8. Presented annually, the award recognizes women who have show exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights.
Women's rights is a hot issue in Saudi Arabia, and there is a surprising range of views, from both women and men.

Aside from the guardianship laws, women are not allowed to drive, an issue that grabbed headlines around the world last year when many women challenged the law by getting behind the wheel.
One of those was Najla Hariri, who drove her son to school one day after her driver failed to show up for work.

She continued to do so several times after that, but can no longer drive after she and her husband were both forced to sign legal pledges that she would not drive again.

"What is more upsetting to me than having to sign the pledge is that my 'guardian' was summoned," she said. "I reject the whole idea of his being my 'guardian' because I'm a 47-year-old woman, I should be my own guardian."
Bring me a poor woman who talks about these things and I'll say ok, maybe she needs this
Rawda Al Youssef
For Hariri, there is far more to campaign for than driving.

"Saudi women are facing many problems -- divorced women, women in judicial limbo, women who have been abused, issues with inheritance distribution -- we have many problems.
"So we started calling for the establishment of a 'personal status law' to protect these rights," she added.

Hariri said the rights she wants are those already given to women in the Quran and the Sunna, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.

But not everyone agrees. Rawda Al Youssef runs a campaign called "My Guardian Knows What's Best For Me" in favor of the controversial system.

She argues that Saudi women are lucky to be looked after and that guardianship reinforces the family as a foundation of society.

"The relationship between men and women inside the family is a complementary relationship and not an equal relationship," said Al Youssef. "The man serves the woman and supervises her affairs inside the home and outside the home."

For Al Youssef, women who campaign for more rights are a pampered minority with no real problems.
"Saudi women -- specifically those who are talking about women's rights -- these come from a social class that is well-off and pampered.

"Bring me a poor woman who talks about these things and I'll say ok, maybe she needs this, but those who talk about women's rights ... these are women who have everything they need and all they're missing is to be able to take their passport and travel as they want, or to drive a car.
"They didn't think about the needs of the poorer class."

While Al Youssef believes there is no appetite from either King Abdullah or society at large for greater women's rights, Samar Fatany is convinced of the opposite.

Fatany, a radio journalist and writer on women's issues who was one of the first women employed in government 30 years ago, believes change will be inevitable, though gradual.
"I think Saudi women really have a great opportunity and a window for change and progress that we really need to take advantage of," she said.

"I think King Abdullah has been a great supporter of women, he has been the champion of women and as a result the whole nation has changed and given great support to women."
Fatany added: "It takes an educated person to know a different way of life, that it doesn't have to be that way.

"If you are a person who is isolated and this is a lifestyle that you know, it doesn't occur to you that there's another way, that you don't have to accept that. This doesn't have to do with religion.
"It is not un-Islamic to drive, it's is not un-Islamic to work, it is not un-Islamic to demand for your rights."

Cleric Sheikh Adnan Bahareth, who insisted on being interviewed over the phone because he did not want to appear on camera with a woman, argued that Saudi women were lucky not to have to drive.
"Men are slaves for women today," he said.

Sheikh Bahareth said if women could drive: "It will add more tasks on a woman's shoulder. She will have to go to the souk on her own, she will have to get the food, she will have to drive the kids to and from school.
"We want to lessen these burdens on the women."

Imam Malik: A star among scholar

Malik bin Anas, known as Imam Malik, is a prominent name in Islamic history. He was not only a great scholar of Hadith, but also a jurist after whom was founded one of the four Islamic schools of Islamic jurisprudence: the Maliki school. 

He was 13 years younger to Imam Abu Hanifa and 103 years elder to Imam Bukhari. He compiled the first compendium of Hadith named Al-Muwatta. He was the most leading personality of his time in Madinah and was called Imam Darul Hijrah due to his remaining in Madinah the majority of his life.

He was born in Madinah to Anas ibn Malik and Aaliyah bint Shurayk Al-Azdiyya in 93 AH. His family was originally from the Al-Asbahi tribe of Yemen, but his great grandfather Abu 'Amir came to Madinah in 2 AH, embraced Islam and settled down there.

Born into a well-to-do family, Malik did not need to work for a living. He was highly attracted to the study of Islam, and ended up devoting his entire life to the study of Hadith and Fiqh.

Living in Madinah gave him access to some of the most learned minds of early Islam. He memorized the Holy Qur'an in his youth. He studied under various famous scholars like Hisham ibn Urwah, Ibn Shihab Al-Zuhri, Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq — one of the descendants of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Malik lived with the immediate descendants and the followers of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh). Imaam Zahabi said: "There remains no scholar in Madinah after the Tabi'een comparable to Imam Malik's knowledge, jurisprudence, eminence, and memorization." Thus, Imam Malik became the Imam of Madinah, and one of the most renowned scholars of Islam.

He learned Hadith from Abdur Rahman ibn Harmuz, Nafi ibn Zakwan and Yahya ibn Saeed.
Imam Malik said: "I did not start to give lecture in Fiqh and Hadith until I was declared eligible to do so by 70 teachers of Hadith and Fiqh."

Imam Malik believed that fatwa is a sensitive, precise and important action that can have far-reaching results, and was extremely careful about giving it to the extent that if he was not sure about a matter, he would not speak about it.

While narrating Hadith, he used to wear elegant and expensive clothing, usually wearing white and frequently changing them.

Imam Malik had great love and respect for Madinah. He remained in Hijaz throughout his life and never traveled outside. He went for Haj only once while fearing that he might die outside Madinah and be deprived of its blessings. Even when he attained old age and became very weak, he never rode on any mount in Madinah. He felt that it was against respect to ride on the very land where the Prophet (pbuh) is buried.

Imam Malik compiled Al-Muwatta in forty years. It is the first legal work to incorporate and join Hadith and Fiqh together and was received with wide praise. Imam Bukhari said that the soundest of all chains called the 'Golden Chain of Narrators' of Hadith transmission was "Malik, from Nafi, from Ibn Umar."

Imam Malik's teachings were not essentially different from those of Imam Abu Hanifa. His main sources were primarily the Holy Qur'an, and then the Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) of which he preferred those which had been collected and narrated by the scholars of Hadith of Madinah. Next, he would refer to Ijma' (consensus), and then Ta'amul i.e. customs of the people of Madinah such as practices of the Sahabah that represent the true spirit of Islam. Lastly, he relied on 'Qiyas' (analogy) and 'Istislah' (public interest).

It is reported that Imam Malik wrote 100,000 Hadiths by his hand. Imam Malik said: "I showed my book to 70 scholars of Madinah and every single one of them approved it, so I named it 'Muwatta' (The Approved One)."

It is the first Hadith work arranged into juristic sections and organized accordingly.
According to some of the great scholars of the past, Imam Malik was widely regarded as the scholar of Madinah. The Prophet (pbuh) had said: "Soon people will beat the flanks of camels seeking knowledge, and they shall not find a single person more knowledgeable than the erudite scholar of Madinah
. (Jami Al-Tirmidhi).

Imam Malik was held high in the eyes of other great scholars, such as, Imam Abu Hanifah, who said, "My eyes have never fallen on anyone faster in understanding, correct in answering, and examining as Imam Malik."

Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal said, "I have compared Imam Malik to Awza'i, Hammaad, Aal-Hakim, Thawri, Laith, in knowledge, but he is the leader in Hadith and Fiqh."

The number of Imam Malik's students was in the thousands. Qazi Iyadh has mentioned that over 1300 narrated Hadith for the great Imam.

Some of the most famous teachers whom he studied with were: Mohammed bin Shihaab Al-Zuhree; Ja'far ibn Mohammed Al-Sadiq; Nafi' ibn Sarjis Al-Daylami; Mohammed ibn Munkadir and Ayyoub Al-Sakhtiyani.

Imam Malik protected the Shariah and courageously upheld it. When the governor of Madinah demanded and forced people to take oath of allegiance to Khalifah Al-Mansour Abbasi, Imam Malik issued a fatwa that such an oath was not binding because it was given under coercion. He based this opinion on the Hadith: "The divorce of the coerced does not take effect." He gave unbiased decisions and never bowed to political authorities. He supported Muhammad Zakia Alawi by issuing a Fatwa against the Abbasid Caliph Mansoor, for which he was arrested and was publicly flogged seventy times by Ja'far, the brother of Caliph Mansoor. When Mansoor heard about this, he asked Imam Malik to visit Iraq and to forgive him for the incident. Later, Imam Malik forgave him because of the Caliph's relationship with the Prophet (pbuh).

Once Caliph Haroon Rasheed invited him to his court to read his Muwatta but he declined to go and politely advised that "my regards to the Caliph, knowledge should be visited and not that it should visit the people". Later the Caliph, with his sons, came to his mosque and attended the discourse like others.

The Imam died at the age of 86. He was buried in the famous cemetery of Madinah, Jannatul-Baqee, near his tutor Nafi' Maula Ibn Umar (R.A.). He had left behind three sons, Yayha, Muhammad and Hammad.

May Almighty Allah reward him for his great services to the Ummah Islamiah.

Monday, May 07, 2012

70, 000 Italians converted to Islam

Rome - According to Ucoi (the Union of Islamic communities in Italy) about 70,000 Italians converted to Islam, a real boom of conversions heightened by the crisis of values but also by the economic crisis in Italy, as Elzir Izzedine commented during the Youtube programme KlausCondicio, by the anchorman Klaus Davi, who is carrying out a report on the Italians espousing Islam. 

Ucoi made known a few data: 70 thousand Italians converted to Islam and what strikes most is the high number of Italians contacting Mosques to study Islam.

"It is an absolutely positive fact", Izzedine commented. "If you consider that there are already 150,000 Muslims with Italian citizenship and one million resident Muslims, you can understand that it is an unprecented boom"

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Arab unrest caused by "sin" - Saudi Grand Mufti

Saudi's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. (AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. (AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia's top religious official has blamed Muslim sinfulness for instability in the Middle East, where pro-democracy unrest has toppled four heads of state.

"The schism, instability, the malfunctioning of security and the breakdown of unity that Islamic countries are facing these days is a result of the sins of the public and their transgressions," Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by al-Watan newspaper.

In a Friday sermon, he accused "chaotic" people of wearing mask of "democracy and equality" for actions leading to injustice and instability within the umma, or Muslim nation.

Revolts that erupted last year have removed Arab autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and are still raging in Syria and Bahrain. They gave voice to millions of people who suffered decades of repression but have alarmed Gulf Arab rulers.

Ties between Riyadh and Cairo were strained by the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, a close Saudi ally, and by the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, an organisation viewed with suspicion by many Gulf governments.

On Friday an Egyptian delegation visited Saudi King Abdullah to smooth a spat caused by protests at the Saudi embassy in Cairo, which had led to the recall of the Saudi ambassador. The king later ordered the envoy back Cairo and the embassy said he would return on Saturday.

Last month, the grand mufti was criticised after international media quoted him as saying all churches in the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed, angering Christian bishops in Austria, Germany, and Russia. The comments could not be verified by Saudi officials.