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Loma Linda Muslims

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What if Loma Lindans were Muslim? The following is an adaptation on a recent LA TIMES article (link), with little except the religion of the people changed.


McDonald’s proposal divides healthy Loma Linda

The chain wants to open a fast-food restaurant in the Muslim community, a spiritual enclave where liquor is not sold and cigarettes are not smoked.

Abdul Malik Shakur, executive Imam at the Loma Linda University mosque of Muslims, said all the attention to the McDonald’s plan was “almost an embarrassment to the mosque.” (January 18, 2012)
By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

January 22, 2012

Without a single liquor store, and legally smoke-free for nearly three decades, the tiny hillside town of Loma Linda brims with pride about its devotion to health and spiritual well-being.

So news that the first McDonald’s was coming to town, with its special-sauce-slathered Big Macs and 500-calorie sheaves of large fries, has triggered enough political reflux to put City Hall on the defensive.

A noisy group of doctors at the city’s landmark Loma Linda University Medical Center definitely isn’t lovin’ it. Already, there are whispers of election day payback and crafting a ballot measure to choke off a proliferation of fast-food joints.

“McDonald’s does not fit the Loma Linda brand of health and wellness,” said Dr. Ahmad Khan, head of preventive medicine at the medical school. “Compare it to smoking laws: There’s no question that smoking is harmful to people’s health. Exposing people to fast food also is harmful to their health.”

That healthful lifestyle is a core tenet of the Muslim faith, which is woven through the San Bernardino County town of 21,000, from the Muslim-run Loma Linda University Medical Center to a City Council governed exclusively by mosque members. There’s even a Loma Linda line of Halal food, produced by the same company that makes Mecca Farms zabihah halal burgers.

Along with abstaining from pork, most Muslims shun tobacco, alcohol and fancy dress. They are quick to brag about being home to the healthiest, and longest-living, folks in the nation. National Geographic in 2005 identified Loma Linda as one of the world’s four “blue zones” — towns with greatest number of people living healthy lives into their 90s and past 100. The others were Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. “It’s a great point of pride that their commitment to health is paying off,” said Khan.

For Loma Linda residents, temptation already is just down the street. There are a half-dozen McDonald’s restaurants within five miles, all outside the city limits, and the town already has a Carl’s Jr. and Del Taco. But something about the Golden Arches popping up along Barton Avenue, within sight of the rolling hills that Muslim cleric Fatimah Al-Yaqoubi envisioned as a haven for the mosque, has proved too much to bear for many.

Al-Yaqoubi is a member of the Healthy Loma Linda Coalition, composed mainly of preventive health professionals, which opposes the McDonald’s.

The group is considering creeping in a ballot measure to require the city to ensure that the number of eating establishments that offer shariah-compliant halal food will always outnumber fast-food restaurants.

“Plus, every city councilman is an elected official,” he warned, referring to consequences at the ballot box.

The City Council so far has taken its chances, voting 3-2 to approve the McDonald’s as part of a larger development of a vacant lot a block from City Hall. The controversy has created an uncomfortable rift among Muslims. Al-Yaqoubi and other mosque attendees call fast food an affront to the faith’s shariah law of holistic wellness. Others call that an extreme view of the Muslim faith.

Loma Linda Mayor Muhammad Haleem, a Muslim and director of the medical center’s home care services, expressed frustration about all the attention. His city’s political dust-up has been dissected on ABC’s “Nightline,” and he’s gotten calls from reporters in Germany.

“The press is casting it as health-conscious people versus greedy business people. It’s not. This is a disagreement about the role of government,” said Haleem, a physician and lifelong halal food consumer.

“My perspective as a conservative libertarian is that government’s role should be minimalized. We should keep people from harming one another, but government doesn’t have a strong need to keep people from harming themselves.”

Abdul Malik Shakur, executive Imam at the Loma Linda University mosque of Muslims, said all the attention was “almost an embarrassment to the mosque.”

Within a block of the Muhammad’s Nutrition and Natural Foods market is a Stater Bros. market stocked with pork chops.

The Muslim mosque’s holistic devotion to people’s health and spiritual well-being dominates daily life.

For 81 years, the post office didn’t deliver mail on Fridays, the Muslim Holy day, opting for Sunday instead. The postal service ended that policy last spring in a cost-cutting move, which faithful Muslims took as another slap at their traditions.

The Muslims’ emphasis on health, nutrition and exercise would be easy to miss for those living outside the city limits were it not for the medical center and university’s schools of health. They attract 600,000 patients a year. For many, the hospital’s halal-only cafeteria is the first hint that life is different here.

Quranic creationism is preached in the town’s abundance of madrasas. Yet, Loma Linda Medical Center is best known for performing the world’s first infant cross-species heart transplant. “Baby Fae” was given the heart of a baboon in 1984.

“It goes back to the 1800s. Health always has been an important part to our shariah,” said Shakur. “It really ties into how a person is spiritually.”

Loma Linda for decades has been a magnet for modern-day Juan Ponce de Leons, health researchers intrigued by the Muslim fountain of youth. Muslim men live an average of seven years longer and Muslim women four years more than other Californians, according to a detailed health study of Muslims for 1974 through 1988. The study, the second phase of which is underway, also found that Muslims had lower rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

“It shows that if we want people to have better diets and physical activity … then we have to be able to be in an environment that will promote those kinds of choices,” said Dr. Wafaa’ Wahiduddeen, nutrition professor and senior investigator with the university’s Muslim Health Study. “We’re talking about walkability of a community. Having more stores and restaurants that can offer some halal choices.”

At the Carl’s Jr. across the street from City Hall, nursing student Hafsa Abdallah, a Muslim from Redlands, was munching on some biriyani and masala curry. She said she likes the convenience of having fast food nearby but agrees that everyone would be better off with fewer temptations. She opposes the new McDonald’s.

“We can’t tell people what to eat, but we should do what we can to promote healthy food and being healthy,” said Abdallah. “Who doesn’t want to be healthy and to live a long life?”

McDonald’s officials showed no sign of relenting. The new restaurant, company representatives said, will provide the city with a “contemporary dining experience and help fuel economic growth.” John Lueken, a regional director for McDonald’s in Southern California, defended the fast-food chain’s healthful menu options.

“We have been working hard over the past several years to ensure we have options on our menu to meet a variety of dietary needs,” Lueken said in a statement. “For example, our line of premium salads can be ordered without meat. We also have other offerings, including apple slices, oatmeal and fruit and yogurt parfaits as well as a variety of portion sizes.”

The notion drew a scoff from Dr. Farhat Soulaimanian, a professor at the university’s school of preventive medicine and member of the Healthy Loma Linda Coalition.

“Trying to say there’s a healthy menu at McDonald’s is like putting 5 milligrams of Vitamin C in a cigarette,” Soulaimanian said.

“Our issue is not a faith issue,” said Soulaimanian, who is not a member of the Muslim mosque. “Our issue is childhood obesity. I have patients who are 10 years old with a fatty liver…. I’m tired of seeing that. The elephant in the room is what we’re eating.”

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times parody: bn

What is “Hui”?

I often find this kind of category confusion in academic and media coverage of Islam in China:

Many of the Han Chinese who converted to Islam are also considered Hui people. The Hui speak fluent Chinese as their mother tongue, unlike Muslims from the other nine ethnic groups who are associated with their own non-Chinese languages. (link)

By religious conversion, a Chinese person can become a member of another “ethnicity” (Han –> Hui).  This is possible because ethnicities are basically affiliations that become real through member (or outsider) belief in the validity of grouping people on a certain basis, and religion is apparently the primary ‘difference that makes a difference’ (popularly, if not by any official definition) in differentiating the group “Han” from “Hui.”

And also in that article…

Han Yaohua, who is a bachelor, goes to the mosque every day without fail to pass his time. […]

“During Chinese New Year, there are many temple fairs in China that visitors can look forward to but they are more of a cultural event. To me, Eidul-Fitri is more significant as it is my ethnic festival.”

Here, Mr. Han represents Eid al-Fitr, an Islamic religious holiday, as an “ethnic festival” of a Chinese minority ethnicity.  This reflects how the holiday is understood popularly in Chinese society, and official recognition of the holiday is part of the government policy of “harmony between peoples.”


“Fear” and “shame” in religion

I’m offering these notes as part of an effort towards correcting the “crisis in terminology” that we have been facing, not only in academic circles, but also popularly.  I feel that these two sections below should stand as clear examples of this crisis.

Here we have two of the most positive and empowering social/psychological concepts represented by what are arguably the two most negative words in the English language.  Something is very wrong.  When you say “up” and people are hearing “down,” you know that no progress can be made in communication until you straighten out these words.



Sometimes in religious dialogue, “fear God” is a stand-in phrase for a more complicated concept. (See “Equivalency Translation” in this post) In an Islamic context, when someone says “fear Allah” (“Allah” just means “the God” in Arabic), the phrase they are translating from Arabic to English is “itaqu Allah”. “Itaqu” is the command form verb of the noun “taqwa.”

The concept of taqwa is different from the concept of “fear” in English in important ways: fear is an irrational and debilitating emotional response. Basically, it sucks, and if persistent could be pathological.

On the other hand, “taqwa” relates to the concepts of “to ward off,” “to protect against,” and “to be wary of.”  If you see a potential danger on the road ahead of you and out of reasonable caution you decide to take a safer route, that’s taqwa.

This is the kind of attitude Muslims are taught to have about God’s justice.  It does no good for someone to sit around feeling fear, but to be wary of unethical action because you believe that not even death prevents a person from meeting justice is a positive and useful attitude.  Since nobody would suffer anything negative from such a belief-based attitude unless they were willfully committing unethical actions, taqwa is a healthy emotional attitude, unlike fear.

Also, note that the notion of taqwa is not faith-dependent any more than “caution” is, and any reasonable person probably has some amount of taqwa.

The second word that may be translated as “fear” is khawf. This word is closer to the meaning of “being scarred of” something.  This word is often used to describe what wrongdoers should rightly feel while they are doing something they know will earn punishment.  (eg. 2:114 “…it is not fitting that they should enter except in fear. For them is disgrace in this world and in the world to come…”)

The third possibility is rahba, which is closer to “intimidation”. (eg. 2:40 “…and fear none but Me”).

A fourth term is khašya, meaning “anxiety” or “apprehension.” (eg. 2:150 “…do not fear them but fear Me…”).

The message generally expressed about these attitudes is that a person who believes in God’s justice and in the hereafter really doesn’t have anything to fear in the world.  Whatever may happen to you, as long as you stay away from wrongdoing, you’ll be alright (in the hereafter if not in this world).  The only thing a person needs to fear is their own wrongdoing and facing ultimate justice for it.  As I once heard a shaykh (Islamic scholar) point out: while fear is a natural human emotion, instead of fearing all kinds of things in the world, a Muslim can simplify his internal state by having nothing to fear except one thing.  That unified focus also makes conquering fear a simple matter of avoiding wrongdoing.


This is another stand-in English word used for concepts that are significantly different in the original language.  In Arabic, the relevant words are ḥayaʾ (حياء)  and ʿaffa (عف).  (also išma).

Both of the attitudes designated by these Arabic words involve a strong sense of self-respect and the self-confident decision to be virtuous.  The English translation “shame” represents the exact opposite, something closer to disappointment, regret, guilt, and self-loathing.

A person with ḥayaʾ and ʿaffa has the ability to distinguish right from wrong, and makes the choice to do right and refrain from wrong.  A psychologically healthy human needs to have the capacity to feel bad when they do something they view as wrong.  This is the most basic foundation of morality.  It’s an inner mechanism that provides us with the Jiminy Cricket we need to grow and develop as upright, decent people.  Alternate words used to translate these two concepts are “modesty,” “virtue,” “innocence,” “shyness,” “(capacity for) embarrassment,” “decency,” “purity,” or “righteousness.”

Ḩayaʾ andʿaffa are highly valued character strengths, and not everyone retains them into adulthood, because they can be dulled by habitual self-denigration and repeated wrongdoing so that one gradually loses the ability to feel shame (either for a given action, or for wrongdoing generally).  In this context, to say that someone has “lost their innocence” (meaning their ḥayaʾ) would not be something to giggle about, but would mean that the person had to some extent become emotionally deadened through (often self- or socially-inflicted) psychological abuse.

The Meanings of these Words

In the English language, a person experiencing fear or shame is in a very negative and uncomfortable emotional state.  In the context of  Islam, these words represent emotionally-empowering positive personal states, demonstrating a confident commitment to decent, upright actions, and an inner peace that comes from knowing that whatever may happen, you’ll be OK.  Far from being attitudes that should be avoided, “ethical wariness” and “(capacity for) shame”  are attitudes upon which the best aspects of our humanity depend.


Copyright © 2011 Brendan Newlon

Confucius says…

People have developed a terrible misunderstanding of important words that we use all the time.  Communication on critical issues is failing utterly and leaving people confused, distraught, and frustrated.

Misuse of language in the media and scholarship make finding clear information even harder.  Is the President “an Arab”?  Is this woman in Hong Kong “worshiping Islam,” and did her ethnicity really change along with her religion? Is fist-bumping a terrorist attack?

Confucius says, “the first thing we need to do is straighten out these words.”   (see “Crisis in Terminology“)



Copyright © 2011 Brendan Newlon

Crisis in terminology: “evil”

Part of a series on “Crisis in Terminology.”

“EVIL” (ideally read while listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor)

It seems to me that you basically have to be speaking from a religious perspective to apply the term “evil.”  Otherwise one could use terms like “unethical behavior” (perhaps socially defined), “criminal behavior” (governmentally defined), or simply “suffering” (I suppose that would be medically or subjectively defined?).

But, to take the next step and equate “criminal behavior” with “evil” would require theocracy, to equate “unethical behavior” with “evil” would turn social contract theory into something sacred, and to equate “suffering” with “evil” would require you to regard human comfort as cosmically significant.

I’m not judging any of those views, just pointing out that “evil” as an ultimate value judgement is a bit grand to be throwing around unqualified.  Some criterion still has to be applied to elevate “cool” and “not cool” (for example) into “Good” and “Evil.”

(yes, “evil, like the froo-its of the dev-eel.”


Copyright © 2011 Brendan Newlon

Belief and Ethics

Belief and ethics

The connection between belief and ethical behavior is that while there can be practical, emotional, or conscientious motivations for ethical action, the only purely rational motivations for ethical action is the belief in inevitable justice, by which ethical actions are rewarded and unethical actions are punished or a belief in the intrinsic value of ethical action.  In Western traditions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, belief in judgement and reward or punishment after death provide a rational motivation to behave ethically during life.  In Eastern traditions including Hinduism and Buddhism, the notion of karma and various pleasant or unpleasant options for rebirth provides the same rational motivation for ethical action.  (To my knowledge all of these traditions also include a belief in the intrinsic value of ethical action).

As Machiavelli argued, in this life there can be practical reasons to make sure people believe someone (eg. a prince) acts ethically, but if one can benefit by unethical deeds, there is no rational motivation to actually act ethically.  If someone feels no hesitation to behave unethically when they know they will not suffer consequences in life, we know from their choice of actions that they do not believe that they will meet justice in the hereafter, and in English we call such a person a psychopath. When someone continues to behave ethically despite the opportunity to gain by unethical actions, even when they know there will be no consequences in the world, we can know from their actions that they are either acting irrationally, or they believe in a universal mechanism for justice in the hereafter and/or believe in the intrinsic benefit of performing ethical action.  Obviously, one’s inner state contributes to outer expressions and behaviors.  Assuming rationality, opportunity, and intelligence, an inner state of “belief” will lead to ethical actions while an inner state of “disbelief” will lead to unethical actions.  For this reason, belief is something valued very highly in the Islamic tradition, because it is the root of ethical action.

(related posts: “Religion vs. Dao,” and “Religion = Propriety?“)

….Discussion ad nauseum at r/atheism.


Copyright © 2011 Brendan Newlon