Aug 17, 2007

Work, Religion, Money, Psychics and Other Assorted Things

Murabaha; riba; gharar; arbun; wakil; sukuk; fiqh; salam; hadith; haram; musharaka. My new vocabulary.

Caught a plane on Tuesday night to Kuala Lumpur to attend a conference on
Islamic finance. In the past five years, Islamic finance has gained more and more prominence, as banks all over the world explore ways to tap into the great amount of wealth in the Middle East. Even DBS has moved (very seriously) into this area - hence we now have The Islamic Bank of Asia in Singapore.

Islamic finance, however, is a topic of which I have very little knowledge. And so, on the brief flight to KL, I found myself attempting to speed-read through an Islamic finance textbook. In the process, I became more intrigued by Islam, than by Islamic finance itself, and made a mental note to find out more about this religion.

Next morning, at the conference, I was one of the few non-Muslims in a predominantly Muslim audience. The conference speaker was a white man, with a very American accent. However, it quickly became apparent that he too was very Muslim. Abdulkader Thomas was his name, and as he went through the course, he spoke Arabic, wrote Arabic, quoted Islamic scholars, and referred often to the Quran and the life and times of the Prophet Mohammed.

Very curiously, at a certain time in the course, Abdulkader briefly alluded to having studied biblical Hebrew during university (could he have originally been Jewish?!), but I did not get any convenient chance to ask him about his unusual spiritual journey through life.

My personal mission was really to explore ways by which modern derivatives (famously described by Warren Buffett as "
financial weapons of mass destruction") might be integrated with Islamic finance, and thereby be made palatable to Islamic clients. But it quickly became clear to me that I was on a long trip into uncharted waters. Abdulkader made it quite clear that this was an area with more questions than answers.

I am either on the edge of the next hot innovation in the investment banking world, or at the entrance of a long winding passage leading to a dead end. The religious underpinnings of Islamic finance are, well, very Islamic, and if I don't learn to think more like a Muslim, I doubt if I will go very far with the creation of new Islamic financial products,

Caught some TV from my hotel room this week - watching mostly Discovery Channel documentaries - and there were two which interested me, in particular. The
first documentary was about João Teixeira de Faria, more popularly known as John of God, a faith healer in Brazil. This was the first time I'd heard of him, although apparently he has been doing his faith healing for decades and is already very well-known, receiving patients from many different countries.

The documentary showed, in rather graphic detail, John stabbing people with his unsterilised knife, slitting open their stomachs and back muscles etc, and pulling out their cancer tumours, cysts etc with his bare, exposed hands. As we would expect of faith healers, his patients experience no pain, and almost no bleeding, and apparently no post-operation infections either. Like
Jane Roberts, John of God is a channeller. He calls upon "spirits of the dead" to enter his body, and use him as a vehicle to carry out the operations - thereafter, John himself has no recollection of how happened.

The second Discovery documentary was entitled
Psychic Vietnam. This is about a Vietnamese government project to use a small number of psychics (tested and screened by government officials) to locate the remains of long-deceased, missing Vietnamese soldiers who had died during the Vietnamese war, 30 years ago. Here's a BBC commentary on the show. The actual documentary is quite interesting - it relates how the remains have been sent for DNA testing, and verified to be the remains of the person that the psychic says they are.

Visited the Kinojuniya bookstore at Suria KLCC and was pleasantly surprised to discover that its "Religion" section has much more variety than the one at Singapore's Kinokuniya, and this despite the fact that Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, while Singapore supposedly has more religious heterogenieity.

Two of my new acquisitions are "
A Course in Miracles" (this is no ordinary "Christian" book, do click on link to find out how it was allegedly written) as well as "The Life And Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi" - India's mysterious, and living, godman (did you know he has a temple in Singapore too, somewhere around Moulmein Road?).

All in all, a rather interesting trip to KL, yielding much serendipitious, varied fodder for my metaphysical grazing.


Anonymous said...

"John of God" has been exposed as a charlatan long ago. See

and the links therein.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


What I'd like to understand is how John's brainwaves accelerated to such abnormally high frequencies (as measured on the Harvard scientist's EEG machine) whenever a spirit entered him.

I would also like to understand how John's patients brainwave frequencies fell to such low frequencies (again, as measured on the Harvard scientist's EEG machine) as soon as he began his healing process.

I'd like to understand, as did the medical doctor who was understood, why John can take a knife and slash his patients, all the way through the muscle, and

(1) the patient does not bleed to death

(2) the patient does not bleed at all

(3) the patient does not even report pain.

These are just a few interesting things which Skepdic conveniently forgot to discuss. What - they didn't even tell you that Harvard scientists and medical doctors have been studying John of God?

Anonymous said...

Personal testimony from somebody who seeked help from "John of God".

I suppose you've never heard of James Randi, but here's what he has to say.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I'm actually quite familiar with Randi's work. I used to be a fan of his, until I discovered how he can be very selective about what he chooses to say or not say.

Well, I shall not go into that. Let's try to be very objective about this. Perhaps look at this way.

On one hand, we have a major, international documentary maker - Discovery Channel, no less. One the other hand, we have James Randi.

The programme, if you watch it, basically concludes that there is something extremely remarkable and miraculous about John of God; and this is the general opinion also of the various scientists and doctors featured on the show, who had personally travelled to Brazil to observe and study John of God at work. As John does his "healing", the Discovery Channel people are physically standing in the same room, filming, observing, interviewing John, interviewing his patients etc etc.

On the other hand, we have James Randi, who apparently has not personally ever seen John in action (but may nevertheless possibly be correct in his assessment of John, who knows), but clearly has spent quite a lot of time studying all sorts of apparently "strange" phenomena and has no doubt uncovered more than a few charlatans. James Randi confidently asserts that John is a quack, fraud, con man etc.

Because Discovery Channel's and James' versions are so extremely different, we logically must come to one of the following three conclusions:

(1) Discovery Channel is highly unreliable and unprofessional and to be totally disbelieved, while James Randi is correct.


(2) James Randi is highly unreliable and unprofessional and to be totally disbelieved, while Discovery Channel is correct.


(3) The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Take your pick. Personally, I have to say that the idea that Discovery Channel is highly unreliable & unprofessional,

and that the Discovery Channel directors, producers, camera-men and researchers who made the documentary either were extremely dishonest or completely duped by John of God,

seems quite unlikely to me.

expat@large said...

Mr Wang, you further diminish your already tenous grasp on credibility by talking this rubbish about faith healers.

"I'd like to understand, as did the medical doctor who was understood, why John can take a knife and slash his patients, all the way through the muscle,..."

The rather obvious answer is that -- he didn't. Sleight of hand, legerdemain, the guy is a trickster and a skillful magician is all. Substituion of tissues, palming pretend organs, fake skin, blood capsules, etc etc, it a fake.

And he suckers in the desperate and gullible as he seems to have done you.

Of course the patient doesn't report pain, because there is none because there is no cutting,




Or maybe David Copperfield DOES make elephants disappear?

Hey, maybe I can read your mind: you won't allow this comment.

BTW, when next I get around to playing with my html, you are so off my blog-roll... (how's that for nasty!)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

Regarding A Course in Miracles, I recommend you read Robert Perry's, Path of Light. This recommendation is based on my view that you will profit from first becoming oriented toward the Course by reading a brief volume that very well encapsulates the history and teachings of the Course, rather than delving into that huge volume containing the Text, The Workbook and Manual for Teachers right away.

I make this suggestion to you as a Course student for 12 years and believe it is the quickest way to get your mind around the belief system taught by the Course. Then if you find it may be your path, you can study it more deeply by digesting the text, practicing the workbook lessons and following the wisdom offered in the Manual for Teachers.

Let me tell you briefly why I settled on the Course as my path after decades of studying the whole of religion, spirituality and metaphysics.

First it is totally logical. It's assertions about the nature of man rings true in our own experience.

Second, it is totally practical. It emphasizes that our lives are directed by our beliefs and there are two opposed belief systems about what reality is, the one taught by the ego and the other taught by Christ (and in variations by all great mystics, e.g., Buddha). it's goal in the Text is to elucidate the two belief systems and it clearly demonstrates that our understanding of reality when seen through the ego's eyes simply does not work. We strive for peace and all we the end, is suffering. It describes the thought system based on man's holiness and shows how it works very effectively to get us what we must want, inner peace. Of course it addresses our obstinately holding on to the ego's thought system, even though we see clearly it does not work. And to make it really practical, it offers 365 specific lessons, one each day, for you to consider and meditate on that are designed to help you retrain your mind....or change your belief system....from following the ego's plan of action to following a way of life based on a higher spiritual reality.

The Course emphasizes that it is not the only path to God and that it is not for everyone. But it is a path that represents a course in spiritual becoming.....a method of learning to think from a spiritual perspective based on a belief system that is effective.... and that is not contaminated by religion. We are all aware there is a big difference in religion and spirituality. The Course is spiritual and not religious. There is no Church of A Course in Miracles, no catechism you must obey.

I encourage you to dig into the Course. I must warn you, it is only for the serious searcher....It is only for the person who is truly looking for his special, personal path to God. It is not for those who enjoy shot-gunning spiritual teachings, studying them all and practicing none.


ll said...

I see "Islamic financing" as a practical way for muslims to invest in financial products without contravening their religious principles. I think the concepts of "Islamic financing" are simple enough but I guess if you really want to truly understand them you will need some sort of insight into the religions itself.

My personal view is that we are not in the right part of the world to truly participate in "Islamic financing" - Malaysia is held up as the poster boy in SE Asia but in reality its interpretation of "Islamic financing'" is way too liberal for the likes of the Middle East.

In fact, ISDA is only working with the MIddle Eastern countries to come up with a form of the Master Agreement. The respected Shariah scholars and lawyers in private practice all hail from the Middle East. In fact, apart from the MIddle East, I think only the London market has a good understanding of that market.

Just like how the derivatives market in Asia took a long time to catch up with London, I expect the same to happen with "Islamic financing".

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi expat: well, thanks for reading my blog the past few years. Trust you'll understand that I have no interest or inclination in "defending" john of god; certainly I am not in current need of any miracle cure myself. Nevertheless, felt that I shd point out that he can't logically be dismissed as easily as you would like. Eg Discovery Channel did actually do a follow-up with one of John's patients (john had stabbed her through the back and pulled out three tumours) when she was back home in the US. She confirmed that her own doctors in the US had confirmed that the tumours were gone. She also confirmed that she had healed with no post-"surgery" infection. She also gave a rather graphic personal account of her experience (no pain, mind was clear and very conscious, but she could actually feel john's bare hand and fingers wriggling inside her body.

This particular surgery was also filmed (quite close up) as it happened. Of course, you might say that Discovery Channel producers are in cahoots with John and the featured patients and the harvard scientist etc etc, no end to conspiracy theories, LOL

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Thanks, Luc, for your detailed comment. I do not know yet whether ACIM is the path for me; intuition tells me that the current me is probably closer to an earlier you, still poking around and exploring a varied field of metaphysics, religion and spirituality. I didn't mention it, but another book I picked up on my KL trip was "the Seth Material" by jane roberts. One immediately sees the parallels in the respective descriptions of reality by seth, and in ACIM

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


I agree with you generally. Personally, I have been building credit derivative products on top of an underlying islamic instrument, and the product is then sold to non-islamic clients. Creating a pure islamic derivative product for sale to islamic clients will be much more challenging.

Anonymous said...

Singaporeans seem to have an enormous appetite for crap like "A Course in Miracles" and an inclination to believe in bogus paranormal phenomenon like the sort "John of God" performed.

The kind of education that one gets in Singapore tends to produce mindless people whose only ability is to score distinctions in exams. As a result, they fall prey easily to nonsense ranging from the PAP's propaganda to the sales pitch of the con man peddling cancer-curing magic stones.

It's somewhat disappointing to see that even mr wang, who clearly has a mind of his own, is really no exception. Just because one could debunk the government's disinformation doesn't mean that he will exhibit equally good judgment when it comes to the magic stones con man.

Anonymous said...

I guess the bottom line is that all Singaporeans really want to believe in some fairy tale. The difference is whether they believe in the state's fairy tale (PAP is God) or the church's fairy tale (Jesus is God).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Actually, Discovery Channel is an international network and ACIM would be considered heretical by many Christians. The reason why you won't find ACIM in a local bookstore is not that it's banned in singapore, but that it just won't sell here, LOL. if God is a disease, I should say that it's not particularly Singaporean, heheh.