Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas with an Arab twist

Many of us are celebrating Jesus Christ's birth today. As we continue with our festivities do we realize that many in the Arab world are also joining us in the festive spirit?
Yes, approximately 14million Christians across the Arab world join in the festivies thronging churches and other holy sites during Christmas.Let’s take a look at how Christmas is celebrated in a few Middle Eastern countries. Milad Majeed everyone!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lest we forget the Plight of The Assyrians

When we hear the word Assyrian, the first thing that comes to mind is a great civilization of a bygone era limited to the confines of a history book. The greatness of Ashurbanipal and other great Assyrian kings are a testament to this. The Assyrian Empire and most of its legacy is long gone but the sons of Assyria continue to live on the land of their forefathers. A question arises in our inquisitive minds ‘Who are the sons of Assyria?’

The Assyrians are the living legacy of the Assyrian Empire. They number approximately 3 million to 4 million in all (although some cite lower figures) and their numbers have fluctuated throughout history. In the present day Assyrian homeland (N.Iraq,Turkey,Syria and some parts of W.Iran)their numbers are thought to be around 1 million to 2 million.

It’s sad to note that they are a minority in their own homeland. Their numbers in Iran and Turkey have been significantly reduced as a result of massacres, the Islamic Revolution and War. The only safe homeland they had was Syria and Iraq. Then came the Iraq war in 2003.

Early successes came for the Americans but slowly violence and lawlessness crept in. People were kidnapped; brutally tortured and religious minorities were targeted. Assyrians who were chiefly Christians were targeted by militant groups. Churches were bombed, liquor shops were forced to shut down, kidnappings and killing caused a huge exodus of Assyrian Christians from the urban areas of Baghdad and Basra to Assyrian ancestral villages in northern Iraq.

Many others were left as refugees fleeing the violence to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan are Assyrian Christians.40%! That is almost 8 times more than the national average of Iraqi Assyrians!

Recently, the violence in Iraq has quelled quite dramatically but the violence against Assyrian Christians still continues. Early 2008, the Chaldean Archbishop, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped and killed by gunmen and his body was buried by the side of the road in a shallow grave.

In October 2008, a spite of killing in Mosul targeting minority Christians sparked an exodus of Christians fleeing to monasteries and ancestral villages in search of peace and safety. Fortunately with the help of Assyrian leaders, the Assyrians were able to organize themselves and form their own militia to protect themselves.

As we see this phenomenon unfold before our eyes the question arises, are we to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Assyrians? Are we willing to let the Seyfo massacre of 1915 to happen again? Are we willing to see more Assyrian blood shed just because they confess Jesus as Lord? Surely not!

So, come take action! Petition for more rights and political representation for this beleaguered minority .Organize demonstrations demanding Assyrian rights and through charitable organizations send much needed aid to displaced Assyrians.

So, come stand up for the Assyrians! You can make a difference! Let me end this article with a beautiful Syriac(Assyrian)hymn written by Mor Ephrem the Syrian.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A "warm" welcome for President Bush

This is Iraqi style of saying 'welcome'.Trust me, it is a really 'warm'welcome!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Journal from the Roof of Borneo

A surreal world lies high above the abode of the clouds.This windswept plateau,devoid of trees looks like a crown of stone adorning a large vegetated monolith.Towering 4095m into the sky,its majesty and splendour intrigues and captivates all who set their eyes on it.This large monolith is none other than Mt Kinabalu of Sabah.I will relate to you my journey to this highest peak of Malaysia.

27 NOVEMBER 2008
The euphoria and excitement started building up within me.How is the hike going to be?Am I going to reach the top?How long will it take to reach the peak?All these questions ran repeatedly through my mind.After an early morning brunch that day we headed for Penang International Airport, from where our flight to Sabah was leaving.The adventure had just begun.As I sat in the waiting room to board the plane,more and more questions began popping up in my mind

I relived myself by telling my heart that the excitement had just begun.The plane jouney was comfortable all the way through and we reached Kota Kinabalu before 1.00pm.After the necessary security checks and a sumptuous afternoon meal, we were ushered to the Kota Kinabalu bus station in a cab.Unlike us in West Malaysia, most people here travel to their destinations in van-like cabs especially if it is in the highland areas of Sabah.

Our destination was Mesilau, a small eco resort tucked away in the mountain forests not far away from the hustle and bustle of Kundasang,a frenetic Kadazan village located on the slopes of Mt Kinabalu.The van journey cost us Rm 32.00 to go to Kundasang before taking another van to Mesilau.

The journey through the rough topography of Sabah was an adventure by itself.Along the way churches dotted the hillside and at some places large crucifixes with the calvary scene could be scene.It shows that the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has even reached this hilly part of Sabah.Soon, we reached Kundasang and took another van to Mesilau.The ride cost us a whooping RM30.00 and at around 5.00pm that day we reached Mesilau

Mesilau was a serene and pristine area, an area where nature held its dominion and human presence was minimal.After a sublime dinner that day,we retired to the safety of our dormitory.We did some last minute packing before going to sleep early.

28 NOVEMBER 2008

This was the day of our trek.We woke up early that day and after making necessary preparations for the trek we headed to the park office to register.We were using the Mesilau trail, a longer and tougher trail up to Mt Kinabalu.We began at around 9.00am and after a briefing from our mountain guide,Mr Izan, a Kundasang local, we began our hike.

Our guide was a Kadazan.Its interesting to note that local Kadazans speak Malay with an Indonesian accent.The journey was easy at first but slowly as we kept going, it got tougher and tougher.Then after 1 Hour we reached a view point where we could see Mt Kinabalu in all its majesty and splendour.

When my eyes set upon this breathtaking sight,I was left in awe.Even now I can picture it vividly.We were standing on a ridge and between us and the Kinabalu massif was a gentle valley and the Kinabalu Massif seemed to reach the heavens.We took many photos and continued on.

Then the trail began descending to before ascending steeply after a large mountain stream.While hiking we bumped into a large group government servants who were also hiking Kinabalu.They were having a tough time negotiating the steep terrain.

At around 12.00pm we reached the Lampoyou shelter where we had our packed lunch.The journey continued along an even steeper path,aided only by the ubiquitous wooden steps which seemed endless.Later we reached a shed from where the trail was more leveled and easy.

I reached the juntion between the Timpohon trail and the Mesilau trail at around 3.00 pm. From there it was still uphill to Laban Rata,our accommodation for the day.We passed the Willosa Shelter,Paka shelter and Waras Hut before reaching Laban Rata.

It is also interesting to note that along the way we met a few “furry” friends. Forest Squirrels in Kinabalu were intrepid of humans and were not shy to approach humans for food.They looked so cute and adorable as the chewed into their food with their sharp teeth.

I reached Laban Rata at around 4.25pm followed by my father 15 minutes later.We rested a while had our dinner and prepared for the challenge of Kinabalu.
Kinabalu here we come!!

29 NOVEMBER 2008

We did not really sleep that night and we also had to wake up early.I was awake almost the whole night and was constantly checking my time so that we could wake up early and head for the summit.At 1.30am, we woke up and got ready.

By 2.30am we were already trekking up to the summit.It was a long tough journey up to the rock face.There ropes were attached to the rock face to assist climbers hike up.Our goal,the summit of Mt Kinabalu seemed so near yet so far. 1.5Hours later we reached the last checkpoint where we registered.From there the summit of Borneo was only 2 hours away!!This would be the last push to the top!From here the going got harder and harder.

Rough,cold winds blew in our direction zapping up all my energy.The experience was overwhelming for me.I could walk only a short distance before sitting down to soothe my exhausted legs.

At last after pushing myself to the limit,I reached the peak of Mt Kinabalu,Low’s Peak at 6.25am.Hallelujah!!Praise the Lord!At last my dream and aspiration has finally been achived.My father reached 5 minutes later.We went down happily knowing that we finally reached our goal.Our adventure was over.We reached down safely at Timpohon gate in Kinabalu Park at 3.00pm.The next day we took a plane to KL before boarding a bus back to Penang.