Thursday, August 30, 2007

Patients Turn to No-Interest Loans for Health Care

From the NY Times.
Zero-interest financing, a familiar sales incentive at car dealerships and furniture stores, has found its way to another big-ticket consumer market: doctors’ and dentists’ offices.

For $3,500 laser eye surgery, $6,000 ceramic tooth implants or other procedures not typically covered by insurance, millions of consumers have arranged financing through more than 100,000 doctors and dentists that offer a year or more of interest-free monthly payments.

Of course, going into debt to pay for medical procedures is nothing new for many people. And this type of financing is still only a fraction of the nation’s $900 billion market for consumer revolving credit.

But as the price of health care continues to rise and big lenders pursue new areas for growth, this type of medical financing has become one of the fastest-growing parts of consumer credit, led by lending giants like Capital One and Citigroup and the CareCredit unit of General Electric.

Big insurers, too, are devising new financing plans with various payback options. Upstart players have also aggressively cut deals with doctors.

The room for expansion looks ample, as rising deductibles, co-payments and other costs may force more of the nation’s 250 million people with health insurance to finance out-of-pocket expenses for even basic medical care.

“As more and more of the costs of care are shifted to consumers, people are going to need more credit,” said Red Gillen, a senior analyst at Celent, an insurance and banking research firm. “They are still going to need health care.”

The zero-interest plans are not for everyone. In fact, they are available only to the creditworthy — meaning they offer no help to those among the nation’s 47 million uninsured who are in difficult financial situations.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

An ummah of...

I have always wondered, what exactly is an ummah? Is it a theoretical political construct, a spiritual community, or both? It seems that all too often we refer to the ummah as a national polity invoking the suffering of co-religionists in a political sense, especially with the ubiquitous violence plaguing so many Muslim societies and Muslim-majority countries. But what about spiritual suffering? Muslims are engaged socially, politically and culturally to stop injustice, but are they engaged spiritually as well to stave off the corrosive effects of materialism, logical positivism and empiricism, powerful intellectual currents that have transformed national economies but not souls.

I think the emphasis on the ummah as a national body is a bit overdone leading to a type of nationalist Islam that is more focused on political ills rather than spiritual diseases. I feel the suhba of many Muslims is filled with discussions of politics rather than spiritual states and refinement of the self. I think my spiritual journey and the journey of many others would be helped if politics was not always the main issue for our Muslim gatherings, but rather how to help ourselves become better people. We focus too much on saving the world rather than ourselves.

And I don't mean that to be selfish, but I genuinely believe that we can't change significantly what's out there until we change what is in our heart of hearts first. And it's not that our religious gatherings don't involve the invocation of God and His remembrance, but it seems a formality rather than a genuine commune with the truest Reality. I need to be surrounded by people who are intoxicated with God's love rather than the news. And don't get me wrong. Politics and social activism are needed. We must be engaged participants in our societies to change them for the better. But politics is an outward struggle. We need some inward struggle as well. There must be a balance struck between the inner and outward; a synthesis that draws on the material means (asbab) and the inner ocean of perfection, majesty and subtlety that is He and has no shores.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mosque in Plovdiv

Mosque in Plovdiv, originally uploaded by Leslie Strnadel.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

In search of Islam in America

From the Detroit Free Press

Often, the best way to learn about the mystery of faith is to hit the road and go see for yourself. That's a timeless spiritual truth and it's precisely what nine young Midwestern journalists, ages 12 to 18, did last week in their quest to explore Islam in the United States.

Five were from Indianapolis and four were from Marquette in northern Michigan. They met in the middle for several days of reporting in Wayne and Oakland counties.

"This is a good place, because you've got very tightly knit Muslim communities in Dearborn and then we also could talk to people who live more as a minority in other areas," Mallory St. Claire, 16, of Indianapolis told me during a visit to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

The team of nine fanned out, visiting Muslim centers in Detroit and several suburbs. They also interviewed people attending the Lebanese Festival in Birmingham on July 25. By the end of last week, their appraisal of Muslim-American life was remarkably savvy.

"Overall, this is a very friendly area, but I did find more people talking about discrimination here than I expected," said Amber Carter, 17, of Indianapolis.

The reporters are not Muslims and they tried to approach their journalistic challenge as objective, outside observers.