December 07, 2005

Faulty Plumbing

It has been almost two weeks since I had opinions lacking enough relevance to post on this site. This was the direct result of having too many relevant opinions and contributions towards the launch of the system my team at work had been working on for the last year; almost every night was a late night at the office, with a brief and unplanned trip to Toronto thrown in the middle to further exhaust me. Alhamdolillah, things have relaxed since then, such that I even see the light of day after leaving work.

During this time, a historic motion was passed in the Canadian Parliament, dissolving the existing minority government and forcing another election this coming January. The effective fall of the government was big news, even earning the Top Headline honour on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a mention on the Colbert Report; you know a Canadian news story is big when Americans acknowledge it. The election is in late January; the politicians are in campaign mode now.

I don't know who I'm going to vote for, if I vote at all. I won't dwell on specific issues at this time. My qualm right now is not with a specific party or issue, but with the inadequacies of the system altogether.

In almost every field of effort, the best in the field are the ones that move on from one level to the next. In academics, the best students are the ones who advance to the highest levels of education. In sports, the best players reach the professional leagues and represent their countries internationally. In business, the most effective entrepreneurs rise to the top of their profession and end up earning the most money. This is obvious and hardly worth a paragraphs worth of irrelevance.

However, politicians do not follow that trend somehow. Are the leaders of our political parties the best we have? I would hope not! There are very few who trust them, and just listening to them is often painful. Even worse is the political landscape in United States. I'm less bothered by the fact that Bush won their last election than the fact that the only two candidates for the president of the United States were both idiots. Surely, there must have been better people for that job? When politicians have such a huge responsibility to their constituents and the world in general, why are we leaving that responsibility to the gunk in our talent pool?

I already know the answer to these questions, but it still bothers me. It takes a lot of money to start a political party, to promote it, and to bring on the people who share your vision. I'm sure most of us can name at least a few people we know personally who would be very effective political leaders, but the financial barrier is overwhelming. As such, many talented people who could have otherwise been great leaders end up relegated to posting irrelevant opinions on a blog somewhere.

At the same time, there is much to be said about the effectiveness of grassroots, individual efforts. Maulana Ilyas rahmutallahi'alayh did not rely on political power to launch the most significant Islamic revival effort in the world. Gandhi did not need the support of powerful businessmen to fight back British rule. Tim Berners-Lee did not wait for wealthy venture capitalists for his vision of the World Wide Web to come forth. And community-driven open-source software like Firefox continue to chip away at commercial market dominance.

That talent pool is still rich in resources, but leaks with disunity. Unless we can channel those talents in the right places, the world will still be run by a bunch of drips.

November 25, 2005

So it's come to this:
An Irrelevant Opinions Clip Show

Today marks the first anniversary of Irrelevant Opinions! One year ago, I worried that as my University studies were coming to a close, so too would my University website, where I kept some of my writings and a lot of my rantings. As I intended to go for Hajj shortly afterwards, I also wanted a place to collect my experiences for later reference. Most importantly, I needed a way to revive my passion for writing which had wavered throughout the nearly five years of my Engineering studies.

I've never liked the word "blog"; I still don't believe that the idea is so novel that it warrants it's own word. Before blogs, many people were making personal websites on Geocities or whatever, often writing about their experiences; we just called those "personal websites". With the increasing simplicity of on-line publishing tools, everyone jumped on the blogwagon. Eventually, I reluctantly joined them too, albeit much later. Recognizing the vapid nature of most blogs, I decided to call it Irrelevant Opinions, intended to house everything from stories to essays to software reviews. I had hoped that this would be the #1 site on the internet for people in search of irrelevant opinions. For months, this blog never came up on Google search results for 'Irrelevant Opinions', but now, one year later, it makes the first page.

So in the spirit of tired sitcoms that have run out of ideas, let's take a look back at the highlights of the year - arguably the best year of my life.

November 26th, 2004: I receive my Iron Ring, marking my entrance into the Engineering profession! I graduate a month later, with an excellent job already waiting for me. (I lost my Iron Ring on the first day of Ramadhan last month... still haven't replaced it.)

I could write hundreds of posts about my University experiences. Though I don't miss those days much, I had an amazing time and learned so much - both in the classroom and out. More than anything, I learned a lot about myself in living nearly five years on my own, and I recommend anyone considering studies outside their home town to take that opportunity, just for that reason.

January 2005: My mother and I go for Hajj! It was an amazing experience, with the highlight of the trip coming on the last day of Hajj when massive rainstorms caused major flooding around Makkah and Mina.

I didn't expect to write more here after Hajj, but was surprised to see that blogs had become popular among my family when I came back to Canada in April. So all two of my readers got to read my irrelevance for many more months.

April 15th, 2005: Some reflections on my trip to India, including the advice of some amazing scholars I had a chance to listen to. During April and May, I was also in the middle of a two month vacation, away from everything. I took the opportunity to learn Arabic through the Shariah Program on-line courses. I highly recommend those courses for anyone who cannot dedicate themselves to full-time studies.

On May 30th, 2005, the most recent chapter of my life had begun, with the start of my career in Consulting.

July 9th, 2005: A hilarious incident in the wake of the London bombings. Possibly my best post ever, insofar as it elicited a response from one of the best Muslim writers in Canada, albeit an emoticon.

August 7th, 2005: Probably the most frequently discussed piece of writing I have done, once the metaphor kicks in.

September 12th, 2005: Feeling exasperated with some trite Masjid politics and MSA issues, I let loose in my writing for once. I had lost the ability to do that after years of technical reports and little creative work.

October 22nd, 2005: On October 19th, all my co-workers joined me in fasting for one day of Ramadhan. This was the result.

November 20th, 2005: I ended the year on a high note, with the most unique commenters I've ever had on this site. While still extremely few in comparison to the great blogs out there (and many of the stupid ones too), it's nice to know that I have some readership after a year.

November 25th, 2005: In the absence of new, meaningful content, I strung together a years worth of Irrelevant Opinions in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of this site.

November 20, 2005

How Technology has Corrupted Language

Beep. It's from Hamlet. 2B? NT2B?=??? | Yahoo! News

The above news posting made me feel sick. For a while, I considered writing a piece about how instant messaging, e-mail, and SMS has tainted the value of the printed word, but I often felt that the situation was not as urgent as I originally suspected. When I first heard someone actually say "Lol" in a spoken conversation, I knew things were bad, but I thought we were still some years away from disgusting constructions like "2B? NT2B?"

How wrong I was. I'm not part of that generation where computer ownership was considered a luxury for most high school children; we were expected to submit most things typed and printed. However, back then, we still used our pencils most of the time. We were accustomed to writing out entire words, articulating our feelings with a healthy supply of adjectives. Abbreviations were frowned upon, and we were aware that contractions weakened the language already. Consider the following two statements; it is clear which one is stronger.
"I won't eat this spinach."

or,
"I will not eat this spinach."


The contraction used in the first statement weakens the emphasis of the negation; I would expect that with enough coercing, I could convince the writer of the first statement to eat the spinach. The second statement, however, signifies a bold defiance against spinach-eating that one would take all the way to the grave. For example, it would have been much less effective had William Wallace told the Englishmen that "You can take our lives, but you can't take our freedom." in Braveheart. That he explicitly says, "You can not take our freedom" emphatically suggests that this mans freedom was not something he would compromise under any circumstances.

You will not find many contractions in classical texts. They became common because of tongue laziness, as pronouncing too many syllables can quickly become tiresome; now, it is a perfectly common and normal part of speech. Lots of abbreviations have also been accepted as common enough to be used in formal writing. Nowadays, we do not even know what the acronyms mean, but still use them in our writing.

It is possible, perhaps likely, that common internet and SMS terms like "lol", "brb", and "l8r" will embed themselves into regular grammar in the same way. Some may say that this is just the natural evolution of language, and there is no reason to prevent it. However, many of these terms are incredibly stupid and ingenuine, and for the later generations who have been writing like this all their lives, that lack of authenticity will likely weaken the language even further.

Seriously, who actually laughs out loud when they type "lol"? Is there anyone who actually rolls on the floor laughing after typing "rofl"? Originally intended as abbreviations, these have become terms in themselves now which have been corrupted even further through contructions like "lolz", "loooooll!!11", and "rofflez!!"; these are indications that mainstream acceptance of the original terms has already begun. I do not want to even get started on the unpronounceable, meaningless terms like "pwn", which is at least two mistakes away from actual English.

Text messaging on mobile phones, or SMS, has made things far worse. Nowadays, most mobile phones are advanced enough that users can send full sentences, without resorting to abbreviating every second word. However, the culture of abbreviation in mobile technology has been so pervasive that these habits have persisted, and it is considered uncool to actually write out entire words. Grammar and spelling is so 20th century, after all. I remember watching a cousin of mine in India chatting on MSN. When accidentally writing "How are you?", she promptly deleted her last two words and wrote "How r u?" instead. After all, those pesky vowels sure complicate things.

For Muslims, the Islamic greeting of "Assalamu'alaykum" has not been spared from this corruption. This is a beautiful greeting which is shared by over a billion people worldwide, irrespective of language, culture, or sect; there is probably no other phrase in any language which matches the prevalence of this greeting. Every once in a while, however, I will get contacted on MSN Messenger with the message "aa". Many Muslims will reply with "ws", to imply "Wa'alaykum assalam." Our greeting is beautiful, "May Peace be with you." The more people use "aa" and "ws", the more likely this greeting will go the ways of "Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem", which has been reduced to a meaningless "786" in much of the Muslim world.

For those of you who continue to spell out words entirely in their instant messaging conversations, kudos to you. You will find me responding accordingly. But if you insist on "aa"ing me, then I can not promise you a meaningful discussion. And if you ever say "rofl", you better be rolling on the floor, laughing. Otherwise, I will have a very hard time believing anything else you say.

Update 8.1.2006: Apparently, research has proven my assertions false:
Texting helps teens' grammar | The Globe and Mail

The ironic part is the "verbing" of the word "text" in the title of the article, which is a grammatical failing in itself.

November 14, 2005

This almost makes you want to write buggy code!

When attempting to retrieve a recordset for a web application developed in ASP.NET, I encountered the greatest runtime error ever:

Run-time error '-2147418113' Catastrophic failure
There has been a catastrophic failure. Please stand by.


Catastrophic failure! Run, children! Save yourselves!!

This now surpasses the Quartus "This operation is legal, but highly suspicious" error message I encountered in fourth year university as the greatest error message of all time.

November 11, 2005

The Joys of Multiculturalism

This happened over a week ago, but since everyone found this story funny when I told them in person, it has now officially been relegated to an Irrelevant Opinion. Generally, I'll try to keep work-related stuff out of here, but this is an exception.

I was working on the integration of a third party tool into the system we were developing for the federal government. We had been waiting for months for the company to deliver this product, and finally last week, they told us that it was ready to be tested. We scheduled a conference call between a few of us from our company, with the third party vendor joining us from locations in Toronto and Arizona. I had not met any of these people previously, and didn't know most of their names either.

So after everyone introduced themselves on the call, someone asked: "Do we have a jew on the line?" I gasped, perplexed by the question. "Not yet," another replied.

Later, after our test failed, I was told to "touch base with a Jew" before I continue with my testing. I was confused, but didn't inquire further.

Finally, someone else joined the call. He had a heavy Indian accent, and introduced himself to the rest of us on the conference call.

"Hey everyone, this is Aju."

Finally, it all made sense. A few hours later, I was explaining to others within our company how to conduct the tests I had just run. When I told them to "get in touch with a Jew before you move forward," I was greeted with lots of furrowed brows - their confusion was probably amplified since this was being explained to them by a devout Muslim with a thick beard.

Ah, multiculturalism at work! It's a beautiful thing.

October 30, 2005

Strength in Weakness

I wrote this just a couple of weeks before the October 8th earthquake, as it was to be included in the Ramadhan issue of Muslim Link. I was fortunate to get in touch with one sister from New Orleans to provide an Islamic perspective to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, and referred to Baghdad Burning for the Iraqi perspective on Ramadhan. As I wrote this over a month ago, it might appear slightly outdated with emphasis put on Hurricane Katrina and not on the greater tragedies that have occurred since then, but this blog is called Irrelevant Opinions, so I suppose that's okay. The themes I touched upon for this article are better illustrated by the efforts of the Pakistani relief workers and the resilience of the victims, but here's my essay anyway (slightly edited from the published version.)

At first, it seemed like nothing. Ramadhan 1418 had just begun, and with it, the January temperature was unseasonably warm in Montreal. The winter break was coming to an end, so the students began preparing for school while others prepared themselves for returning to their various responsibilities. It was wonderful to begin the holy month of Ramadhan during the holiday season, since families could be together and share in the blessings that only that month could bring. The end of the holidays meant that most of the Ramadhan days would have to be spent in offices or classrooms, and perhaps the spirit of Ramadhan would be lost amid the hectic schedules.


No one expected the mild weather to cause as much havoc as it did. The rain came down innocently atop the trees and houses, but congregated there as ice; indeed, there were few sights more beautiful than those trees which appeared to be encased in glass, shining under the moonlight. Before long, branches of every tree became crystallized in a thick layer of frozen rainwater. Roofs of houses and cars collapsed under the weight of the ice, with the raindrops accumulating to become several inches thick. Trees that stood for hundreds of years succumbed to the ice, and came crashing down to the ground. And as trees all around the city fell victim to the drops of water, they took down large sections of the electrical infrastructure connecting the city. As each power line came down under the weight of nearby trees, another neighbourhood would fall into darkness.

Nearly the entire city was without power, and then a deep freeze fell upon the dimmed city. Temperatures dropped to twenty degrees below zero, and for the hundreds of thousands of residents accustomed to electrical heating, it became nearly impossible to live at home.

For Muslims, that Ramadhan quickly became unforgettable. Already accustomed to going without food and water for entire days, the experience became even more meaningful when other basic necessities were unavailable. Without light, heat, and electricity, families were forced to go about without the lavish meals and elaborate gatherings that generally accompany the breaking of the fast. In everything, simplicity and efficiency were the order of the day, and some of the deeper meanings of Ramadhan became apparent.

We prayed Tarawih prayer by candle light. Every worshipper stood listening to the words of the Quran wrapped in heavy ski jackets, multiple pairs of gloves and socks, toques, and even snowpants. Inside the prayer hall, temperatures were well below zero degrees, but somehow the beauty of the Quran transcended the extreme conditions, and the masjid remained full in spite of the extreme cold and darkness.

In the trying conditions, families came together, sharing whatever provisions they had. With schools and offices closed, it was perhaps the first time that entire families were able to break their fasts together. In the desperate circumstances, the beauty of Ramadhan was experienced fully.

In Ramadhan 1425, in the city of Baghdad, the circumstances were far worse. There was no end in sight to a war that had claimed the lives of thousands of Iraqis. Widespread chaos reigned throughout the country, and there no reason to believe that things would improve anytime soon.

One sister took her family to visit an aunt who had been stricken with depression due to the continuing occupation. At the time, the city of Fallujah was under heavy attack by occupation forces, thus many Fallujah residents fled to Baghdad. It was then that the sister met some relatives among the refugees. She had never met them before, but the war had brought them together in the home of her aunt. They broke their fast together solemnly, discussing the desperate situation. Among the refugees was a mother and some of her children; the father and one son did not make the trip. They stayed back in Fallujah to assist others in escaping the war-torn city, and had not been heard from in days.

It was Ramadhan, however, and the family from Fallujah vowed to remain patient. Abstaining from food and water was the least of their struggles; living under an occupation, with their family divided and without the means to communicate with them were much greater struggles than the traditional hardships associated with fasting. The families ate together and they cried together, while Muslims around the world prayed that their hardships come to an end.

For thousands of Muslims, this will be the first Ramadhan after being afflicted with the most devastating natural disaster in recent history. Countless Muslims died during the Tsunami crisis at the end of 2004, and over a million lost their homes and belongings. Many will never be able to rebuild their lives. For those who had lost homes and families, the hardships of Ramadhan would be insignificant in comparison. However, the qualities of patience, restraint and steadfastness that Ramadhan teaches are that much more important to those who have undergone such hardships. And in the midst of such overwhelming catastrophe, the most dedicated believers will always find courage in their losses and find strength in their weakness.

Today, the focus falls upon the southern United States, in the midst of the most destructive natural disaster in the nations history. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate their cities, and thousands more have lost homes and loved ones. In a nation known for its economic and military power and in a city known for its hedonism, the lessons to be learned are multiplied. Accustomed to its apparent invincibility, the devastation caused by the hurricanes will forever leave a stain on the nations pride.

For the sizable Muslim population living in New Orleans, the catastrophe and the consequent relief efforts have made the coming Ramadhan that much more meaningful. One sister, Kelly Izdihar Crosby of New Orleans, found renewed faith through her ordeal, summing up her feelings as follows.

“After facing the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and the ultimate failure of the relief efforts, I feel incredibly blessed that I am alive, happy and healthy. My faith in Allah Ta'ala has been strengthened, and since we had escaped from New Orleans to Atlanta, we have witnessed the sweetness and generousity of those who are sympathetic to our situation. I have seen an outpouring of generousity and sadaqa which reminds me of why Ramadan is so important.

“This year, when you fast, think about the people stranded behind in New Orleans, who were too poor to evacuate, and had nothing to eat for days. Praise Allah Ta'ala that you will probably break your fast with your loved ones, while many do not know where their next meal is coming. And give with a happy heart, as much as you can, for the pleasure of Allah. Allah will return it to you and reward you for your charity. Loan to Allah a beautiful loan. Thank Allah in your prayers this Ramadhan that you are in a clean home, in a dry land, with people who love you and all your possessions at your disposal. I am sad for my city, but thankful that we are safe in Allah's care.”

And we all must be thankful. We must always remind one another of the blessings bestowed upon us by Allah, lest the reminder come crashing down upon us again.

(Irrelevant Note: It would have really been nice if digital cameras were common back during the Ice Storm, because it was so incredibly beautiful and I'd have ice storm pics all over my desktop.)

October 22, 2005

“Ramathon”

Ramadhan is a particularly interesting time of year in the West because religious expression extends over the course of the whole day. As a result, questions will always arise in classrooms and workplaces, such as "Why aren't you coming out with us for lunch? How come you're leaving work at this time? Why are you never home in the evenings?"

Some answer with awkwardness or deliberation, and fail to provide good answers. Consequently, an excellent opportunity for educating people about Islam becomes lost. This feeling generally prevails when we develop a sense of disconnect from the lives and practices of non-Muslims; we feel that since we don't want to be involved with their activities, we don't them involved in our activities. Unfortunately, this only further alienates the community, and makes it harder for such opportunities to arise again in the future. This is a major problem within the Muslim community, and needs to change.

In the past, I've always been fairly up front regarding my beliefs and practices, but this year I wanted to take it a step further. Weeks before Ramadhan began, I started talking about it around the office, in elevators, and wherever else would I find myself. I work for a large consulting firm, and before Ramadhan began, my whole team knew about it and kept asking if it had begun yet.

So when it finally did, I was amazed when some of my non-Muslim colleagues expressed interest in fasting for a day themselves. I did not need to convince anyone or even encourage them, but of their own volition, they agreed to try it at least once. This was an opportunity not only to help others become more understanding of Muslims, but to engage them in a Muslim experience. To this end, I contacted the Ottawa Food Bank to turn this day of fasting into a charity event, where my whole team would fast, and others would contribute to a worthy cause in support of it. I was calling it Fast-a-thon, as the event was similar to ones organized by some MSA's with that name, but others called it Ramathon as an homage to the month of Ramadhan.

We set the day of fasting to be Wednesday, October 19th. I did not want the fasting to affect the productivity of my colleagues, so I told them that they could cheat if they really needed to, but they insisted on going through with it fully. On that day, they all woke up at 5:30am for an early meal, and then fasted from just before 6:00am to sunset at 6:14pm. They even avoided brushing their teeth during the hours of fasting, something many Muslims fail to do even though it is considered to be makruh, or undesirable. (See here.)

Two of them could not get by without at least water, so they drank throughout the course of the day. Even then, they strictly avoided any other drink entirely. The rest made the full fast until sunset. Most of them found it very difficult, with one wondering whether just licking an apple would break the fast. In the end, they made it through, and we broke our fast with dates and Timbits.

One noted, "It's strange we never see Faraz complaining about this."
Another replied, "Yeah, but he's got Allah."

Throughout the day, there was a buzz around the office, with everyone asking about the progress of the fast and the charity efforts; we had two donation boxes set up around the office and another at a client site. In the end, we raised just over 250$ for the Ottawa Food Bank, an impressive amount considering our rushed preparation. In spite of the fact that it was very difficult for most of the non-Muslim fasters, some were already talking about holding such an event next year with better preparation and more participation.

The Fastathon website expresses their vision as one of a nation as one that is not only accepting of Islam and Muslims, but one that is better because of them. This should be the vision of all Muslims living in North America. We tend to complain about injustice and intolerance and condemn whatever we find condemnable, but we have done very little to alleviate the problems. We lose ourselves in rhetoric, and our action falls short as a result. In the past, entire nations accepted Islam not because they were simply tolerant of it, but because they realized that society as a whole was better with Islam.

Huge thanks go out to CC, TT, TB, and JM for their patience, support, and dedication! And thanks to everyone else who helped out in supporting the event! I know at least some of you read this.

October 15, 2005

The Earthquake

I had been to Northern Pakistan a few years ago, and it really is the most beautiful place I have seen in my life. It was not uncommon to see mountains rooted in flowing streams of sparkling, cold spring water that you could drink right from the ground. Looking out any window was like looking at a beautiful painting.

Many of the people I met there were even more beautiful. They were some of the most humble, hospitable gentlemen I have ever met, and they treated us with so much respect and kindness. I imagine most of the areas I visited were heavily affected by the earthquake; I expect that those same people are now mourning and trying to salvage whatever they can of their possessions and food. On my way to that city, I recall driving alongside mountains for several hours on narrow, curvy roads - our driver kept freaking us out by taking the sharp turns at high speeds, with no barrier between the road and the cliff. I imagine that it must be incredibly difficult to bring food and supplies to those areas via those roads; hopefully there are enough helicopters to cover all the remote areas.

Human Concern International has begun their campaign, and so have a number of other organizations. It is Ramadhan, so let us all try to be charitable insha-Allah!

A few relevant links:

October 09, 2005

On Open Hearts and Empty Stomachs

As part of my ongoing laziness in writing new stuff, plus the fact that I'm busy with Ramadan, I've pulled out an old article I wrote. Originally published in the July 2005 issue of Muslim Link.

During the lifetime of Rasulullah SAW, generousity and self-sacrifice were common qualities. Numerous volumes have been written about the kindness of the companions of the Prophet SAW, and many scholars have spoken about their distinctive qualities. Today, however, we have reduced these inspiring episodes to mere stories that do not apply in modern life. But if one looks at these incidents in depth, one can appreciate their lessons more thoroughly, and recognize how far we have lagged behind.

One such incident was that of a Sahabi who volunteered to entertain a guest of Rasulullah SAW. The guest came to Rasulullah SAW complaining of hunger and distress, but the Prophet had no food available at the time. A man from among the Ansar of Madinah offered to take the guest, and brought him to his home. He informed his wife about his promise to feed the guest, though his wife informed him that there was only enough food in the house to feed the children.

The Sahabi had promised Rasulullah SAW that he would entertain the guest, and so he instructed his wife to put their children to sleep without food. With the children asleep, he sat the guest down and put out the lamp in a feigned effort to adjust it appropriately. With the lights out, he pretended to eat along, while feeding the guest with all the little that they had. The whole family went hungry so that the guest could enjoy the meal.

There are several lessons to take from this incident. First of all, it should be noted that the Sahabi did not know the guest. Today, we will often be ready to help our family and friends in need, but are unwilling to help a stranger, even though he may be Muslim and in greater need.

Another noteworthy point from this story was that the Sahabi did not even know whether he even had enough food for the guest, yet he was still not reluctant to offer his help. Nowadays, before we are willing to open our hearts, we check our wallets and our bank accounts, and then consult our calendars to see if we have time. We are willing to help out only when doing so will not inconvenience ourselves.

Things are changing, however. A number of local initiatives have done wonders to improve the condition of people around the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Poverty and hunger continue to be among the most significant afflictions in the Muslim world, but devoted members of the community are doing their part to assist those in need. The past year has seen local Muslims going hungry to raise money for food banks, fundraisers for disaster-stricken regions, and numerous campaigns to fight poverty.

The onus then lies on ourselves to stop waiting for the perfect opportunity when the conditions are favourable for helping, but rather give ourselves to the will of Allah SWT in any condition. Even if one can do little, no contribution is insignificant when done with the right intention. If we claim to be following the footsteps of our Prophet and his companions, we must recognize that those footsteps pushed forward even when the tides were pushing against them.

October 03, 2005

Reminder proves beneficial for the believers

Message of Ramadhan - alBalagh
Ramadan - The Muslim Reformer - Jamiyatul Ulama Canada
Sighting the Hilal - Jamiyatul Ulama Canada
Ramadan Warriors - Shaikh Muhammad alShareef


Narrated Abu Hurairah (RadhiAllahu'anh) : Allah's Messenger (Sallalaho'alayhi wa salam) said, "When any one of you is observing Saum (fasting) on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise the voice; and if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him, he should say 'I am observing fast.'" (Bukhari, Muslim)

September 25, 2005

As if things aren't crazy enough

Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina | Guardian Unlimited

This seems like a joke, but somehow my brains satire filter did not register this one.

September 23, 2005

Rhyme-adan

I've been rather busy over the last week, so instead of writing something new and meaningful, I'm just going to recycle a silly poem I wrote last year for the Ramadhan issue of Muslim Link.

We have come again upon that time of the year
Yes, certainly the month of Ramadan is near
So to Allahs teachings we must adhere
Fasting has been ordained to attain unto fear
The Prophet, on whom be peace, said on the last of Sha'baan
As narrated in Bayhaqi by the trusted companion Salman,
Telling the companions that a great month was in sight
And better than a thousand months in just one blessed night.
The gates of Paradise are open, gates of Hell are closed
Among the bounties that the Prophet disclosed
And as our beloved Prophet explained
In this blessed month, the devils are chained
So for one full month, Muslims celebrate
By virtuous actions, not by what they ate
Breaking their fasts with a simple date
And still somehow end up gaining weight
It is a test of patience and self-restraint
To abstain from food without complaint
To leave routine during the entire day
To worship and reflect, and especially pray
It is to give to the poor, to show we care
It is to pray at night, the Tarawih prayer
It is to learn respect and learn to share
It is to give up comfort without despair
Obscene language must go, for those who cursed
And if you lie, you might as well also quench your thirst
For fasting is not just about the food and drink
It is about our conduct, our actions, the way we think
In a narration by Muslim, the Prophet reported
That fasting will be exclusively rewarded,
While rewards for other deeds are generally known
The reward for fasting is with Allah, and Allah alone
Fasting is a shield, so let us defend ourselves well
If we live another year, only Allah can tell

September 13, 2005

Another eventful elevator ride

On returning from Isha prayer in the basement, the elevator opened up on the main floor. In walked a Chinese woman, two other Muslims, one of whom is a friend of mine, and Mr. White-Anglo Fascist. He had the usual scoul on his face, and appeared poised to make himself look like an idiot all over again.

My friend who was in the elevator with me was a big guy, not the type of guy you would want to mess around with. The White Anglo looked at his position in the elevator, and muttered to himself, "Looks like I'm a f**king minority in here."

"Where are you boys from?" he asked me. I casually replied that I was from Ottawa, which he could not quite swallow. "No f**king way you're from Ottawa. I'm from Ottawa." I was born in Montreal, I told him. That seemed to annoy him even more, so I told him that I'm historically from India. To this, he muttered a lot of expletives, but I don't think he felt safe attacking me directly with the other Muslims in the elevator. In particular, he probably felt threatened by the bigger guy, who I had engaged in small talk with as he started swearing at us. The two other Muslims got off before me, so it was just the white anglo, the Chinese woman, and myself left.

Then he launched his verbal assault, blabbering on about Jesus and Muhammad not existing, and how we've all been deceived, and that's what is causing war, us "f**king towelheads and Christians." The Chinese woman looked visibly upset, though said nothing. We reached her floor, and she got off. The white anglo then unleashed a barrage of ignorance regarding China and Chinese people. I told him to keep his opinions to himself.

He was to get off at the fifteenth floor. On reaching his floor, however, he had started saying terrible things regarding the Prophets of Allah, and how we were to blame for all that was wrong in the world. He told me that everything I believed in was bullplop, though his choice of vocabulary was less polite. He held the elevator door open and did not leave, only so he could belittle everything I hold to heart with his mindless nonsense.

"Religion is to blame for all the f**king nonsense going on right now." I replied that it was not religion in particular, it was intolerance. He asked me what I believed; I told him that I'll keep my beliefs to myself if he keeps his beliefs to himself.

"Have you heard of Nostradamus?"

"I believe you've already asked me that," I replied.

"Yeah? And what did you say?" I didn't say much last time, but by this point I was quite annoyed, and wanted him to get out and let me get back to my apartment. I quietly supplicated that Allah SWT take care of this situation for me before things got out of hand.

Then the elevator door started closing on him, and he got stuck in the middle. He tried pushing it back open, but could not; the elevator kept closing in on him. I replied to his Nostradamus question, telling him that I never heard Nostradamus say it was a good idea to get stuck in elevator doors. He started cursing, so I pressed the button to open the door. The door opened, and he clenched his arm in pain. He looked at me with malice, and turned towards the hallway.

I called out, as I did before, "Have a nice night!" He did not swear at me this time, but instead muttered incoherently. I was alone in the elevator now; the door closed, and I proceeded up towards my floor.

September 12, 2005

A Brief History of Decline

Over 1400 years have passed since Rasulullah SAW stood at Mount Arafah, and addressed his companions for the final time. The beloved Messenger of Allah began by appealing to the hearts of the people by calling upon their reverence of that holy day of Arafah, reminding them that they must also revere each and every Muslim. He reminded them that they must respect the sanctity and honour of the Muslim people just as they respect the sanctity and honour of Makkah, of the Ka'aba. He called upon them to deliver that message, as well as the entire message he gave his life for, to all those unable to accompany him at that time.

And so the companions set forth, not in search of treasure or land, but in search of those unfortunate people who were unable to hear the message of the Messenger of Allah SWT directly. They carried their message to all the corners, wherever they might expect to find someone to hear the message - and many places where they did not expect to find anyone at all. But they went on either way, because the message was so important. They pushed onwards into the unknown, for years and years.

Many did not even return to their homes. The message entrusted to them was too valuable to afford them time in other than the propagation of it. It was that message, after all, that elevated them to the heights of spiritual and moral excellence, after spending generations living in depravity and chaos. They endured extreme conditions of hunger, exhaustion, torment and pain for that message; it was not something they would take lightly ever again.

And so they mounted their camels and called all those they encountered to the way of their beloved Prophet, peace be upon him. In the absence of the transportation readily available today, they delivered the message throughout much of the entire known world through tremendous physical strain and hardship. Their graves are scattered in locations many thousands of miles across, but the message they conveyed did not die with them. It endured and prospered for many generations, and has now been left to us.

And now, whenever injustice occurs in the world, the Muslims have to defend themselves. Whenever acts of hatred claims the lives of innocent people, the Muslims are blamed for it. Whenever civil liberties are threatened, the Muslims fall back into the same refrain of apology and regret. Muslims are being tortured and blown apart at the core, and the ummah is in shambles.

With the Muslims under attack from every corner, one would expect that we would at least be united in defending our beliefs and our values. One would expect that with such merciless agression against us, we would stick up for one another, and develop compassion amongst ourselves.

Instead, we exhaust ourselves in belittling one another. Rather than discuss issues in a constructive manner, we instead seek to point out errors in the views of others. Every group is trying to "expose" the wrongdoings and miscalculations of the other groups. Each one of them believes they have the exclusive right to call themselves the follower of the Prophet, peace be upon him, yet the rhetoric of each group is eerily the same - and nearly all of it contrary to the teachings of compassion and tolerance that our Prophet taught.

The heart of the Muslim world, the lands of the Prophet (peace be upon him), has been ruptured. The Hajj has become a business and spirituality is declining. Racism is rampant, with Africans suffering from hunger, poverty and mutilation, while the locals look down upon them with derision. The air is thick with the stench of the thousands of smokers who have no problem with exercising their disgusting habit in the vicinity of the Ka'aba. Unlawful food is being sold and consumed by those sincere foreigners who have assumed that everything there must be halaal. At the site of the first revelation of Quran, a merchant will dress you up in traditional Arab garb and take a picture of you pretending to supplicate to Allah for five riyaals.

And most of the rest of us are oblivious to all this, because we feel that attending some lecture and yelling at some rally is all we need to do. Instead of addressing our concerns amongst our companions and community where we can actually do something productive, we rant to strangers under the title of Irrelevant Opinions. Still, we feel good inside because Muslim organizations are working hard to break stereotypes plaguing our community; after all, the world must know that we too can sing and dance.

How has it come to this?

September 07, 2005

Useful virus

Hopefully this one spreads rapidly.

August 31, 2005

Breaking some stereotypes, enforcing others

I was browsing the web for information regarding the upcoming ISNA conference in Chicago. I never go to ISNA conferences, but wanted to keep abreast of the latest happenings to get an idea of the scale of the event. This eventually lead me to the infamous Naseeb.com site, which I've heard much about but have never visited before.


Anyway, it has always bothered me that in spite of all our efforts to promote Islam in North America and in spite of the extremely educated Muslim population living here, we still can't spell. There, on the front page of this famous website, is a typo, in a sentence claiming that American Muslims will be breaking stereotypes. I love the irony.

August 25, 2005

Google Manipulation

It's old news that a search for the word "failure" on Google returns the biography of President Bush as the first result. This works because numerous people have linked to that page using the words "Failure" or "Miserable Failure" as the link text.

Bush supporters, unable to think of something original, decided to counter this Google manipulation by using the same trick to push Michael Moore to the top of the search results for that same query. Currently, his webpage ranks second on the word "Failure". First of all, I find it funny that Bush supporters find Michael Moore to be their greatest enemy, and not an actual political figure who could actually have some real influence.

Anyway, even with this attack on Michael Moore, the Bush supporters have lost again, as I discovered today. By virtue of what is probably some server-side scripting on www.michaelmoore.com, whenever someone tries to visit the Michael Moore website from the Google "Failure" search results, it will redirect the user back to the website of George Bush. Hilarious!

August 23, 2005

Speculations on Google Talk

The web has been abuzz with rumours of Google releasing their own Instant Messaging service, which they are calling Google Talk. Only mere days after they released Google Desktop 2, which puts a multitude of Google and web services on your desktop without need for a browser, Google seems poised to release a competitor for the IM services of MSN, Yahoo, AOL, etc. It appears as if the service is already live, though the Google client software is not yet available.

There are probably already too many IM services as it is, but history has shown that Google always goes several steps beyond what anyone thought was possible. Much of the innovation on the web today can be attributed directly to Google. With that being said, these are the types of services I expect Google to eventually include in their IM client if they do in fact release one.

  • VoIP. It's pretty certain that this is part of their plan, as Yahoo has launched a competing service, and I think MSN is working on it.

  • Integration with Google Desktop 2. I imagine that your contact list will be neatly stored as a module for Google Desktop 2, leaving no need for another program running as the client.

  • Integration with GMail, which will double as a voicemail box and the central contact list (all available from Google Desktop 2). Like Skype, I expect users to be able to have actual phone numbers that people can call and leave voice messages. Incidentally, Yahoo introduced a very similar service 5 years ago by the name of Yahoo By Phone, which provided users with a 10-digit extension that can be reached at by a toll-free Yahoo number. Yahoo By Phone used to also be able to read your mail out for you, so you could literally check your e-mail from any payphone.

  • Integration with Google Local, Google Maps, and Google Earth. I expect that some day, I can click on a location on Google Maps and have it automatically place a call to that location. You can almost do this already with the Vonage "Click2Call" service, which provides a couple of web services that make it extremely easy to automatically dial any number. Unfortunately, the service is not available to Vonage Canada customers like me just yet.

  • Voice-based ads. There is a service in Ottawa where you can pick up a payphone, call a toll-free number, listen to a short ad, and then make a local call. It saves you the quarter if you're not in a hurry and don't mind listening to a couple of short ads. I expect Google to employ a similar revenue scheme for their service, perhaps delivered when checking your voicemail.

  • Integration with Blogger and AudioBlogger, which will allow a person to quickly publish a voice or text conversation to their blog or podcast. They can also receive instant messages whenever a comment is posted on their blog, which they could then reply to immediately through the Google Talk interface.

  • this is an audio post - click to play


    So let's see how much of this actually happens. And remember, you heard it here first!

    August 12, 2005

    As the ink dries

    The same night I encountered the "white-anglo" who insisted I should address him as sir, I also witnessed a violent scuffle between a few other people. Some guys who live in my building had gotten into an argument with the Chinese convenience store owner over something trivial, and started smashing the windows of the store.

    The Chinese man, enraged, chased the kids outside, where the kids all started attacking him jointly, kicking and taunting him. I happened to be passing by at the time, and pulled one of the kids aside and spoke with him. He was a Muslim kid, a pretty nice guy who tends to find himself in the wrong crowd all the time. He pulled away from the fight, and eventually the others dispersed. Shortly afterwards, police arrived at the scene. By that point, I was long gone enjoying my meal at the nearby Somali restaurant.

    Though the dispute was a trivial one, the violence erupted largely due to racial differences. As I witnessed myself shortly afterwards, racism still exists in our society all over the place. Over the last little while, somehow, it has become even more apparent especially within my own neighbourhood.

    For the first few months after I moved into this building, there was quite a bit of vandalism on the walls and elevators, with most of it aimed at the large Bengali community in my area. Recently, all the elevators were redone, and for once they were clean and racism-free. Last week though, the vandalism started again; as I was taking the elevator to go down to the musalla, I saw the words "f***ing muslims" written on my elevator.

    Thankfully, the building administration dealt with it promptly, and it was removed the next day. As I went down for Isha today, however, all the elevators had been freshly filled with more anti-Muslim and anti-Bengali vulgarity; the ink must be drying now as I write this. As I returned from prayers, I got into a discussion with the guy riding the elevator with me.

    "Man, there's still so much racism, eh?", he asked me.

    "Yeah, unfortunately. The administration has been very prompt in cleaning it up, though," I replied.

    I reached my floor, and thought about the inaccuracy of what I had just said. The administration can clean non-erasable ink, but they can't clean up the hatred of the hearts.

    August 09, 2005

    No thank you

    I had just come back from a restaurant with my cousin when I witnessed another case of the racism that still unfortunately exists in this great country.

    I was on my way back to my apartment building. I reached in my pocket to get my keys to open the front door, but this man got to his keys first and so he opened it instead. So me and my cousin walked through the door. The man then yells at us, "YOU'RE WELCOME."

    I looked back at him, and he looked angry, presumably because I didn't thank him for unlocking the door.

    "Haven't you f**king ever heard of manners?", he asked me. I smiled as I found that comment deliciously ironic.

    I apologized for not thanking him for getting to the door first, and we all got in the elevator.

    "You guys better f'in learn some manners," he reminded us in the elevator.

    "Alright sir, I'll keep that in mind," I told him.

    "That's right, f**k. SIR. Especially I'm a white-anglo in this country, so you f**kin' better be calling me sir. It's all going to hell, just like Nostradamus said. It's gonna end where it began."

    After some more incoherent muttering and expletives, he reached his floor.

    "Have a nice night, sir!", I called out.

    "F**k off."

    Man dies after marathon video game session | CBC News

    He quit his job for this!

    When 'Izraeel comes to take your soul, there's really nothing you can do at that point. May we all be saved from leaving the world in such a state.

    August 08, 2005

    Funny Comments on Seekers Digest

    Shaikh Rabbani pokes fun at bad English

    Something I enjoy doing as well!

    August 07, 2005

    Isti-car-a

    I have recently been in the market for a car. While I'm not too knowledgeable about cars, I have been thinking for some time about what a car means to someone and how it defines a person. There are so many factors to consider, but perhaps the first thing that I began thinking about was deciding between an import or a local model. They both have their pros and cons.

    I find these days that a lot of my friends have decided to go with imports. Most of the people I know who imported were highly pragmatic people, with no intention of portraying a certain image with their car. They just wanted to have a car to go from one place to another, and not have their lives defined by it. Many of them have been with their cars for some time now, and while there are the occasional problems (often because foreign cars may not be well accustomed to local roads and weather conditions), they have never complained. The cars are reliable, safe, and have their own inner beauty.

    At the same time, the foreign car has certain limitations. Often, they tend to be more expensive. While the cost of materials may be cheaper, when you add in the freight and other charges, it adds up. Whenever anything goes wrong with the car, it can often be a very expensive task to get things back in shape. Also, they often have certain quirks that cannot be dealt with appropriately in North America. Sometimes the part you need can only be found back at the manufacturer abroad; that makes maintenance quite expensive. Granted, they generally need less maintenance overall.

    As for North American cars, the options are much more limited. To find a good domestic car is not an easy endeavour, but it may be worth the effort in the long run. Domestic models tend to be built for the surrounding environment, thus often making them more suitable for many people. The initial purchase of these cars tend to be cheaper, informed advice is more readily available regarding their particularities, and parts are generally cheaper. If anything goes considerably wrong, you would not need to go far for service.

    While the cost of parts may be cheaper, these cars tend to need maintenance more often. In many ways, they tend to be more expensive even though the initial purchase cost may be less. Sometimes these machines are built more for style and image than performance, which becomes noticeable after some time. Even then, people I know with these cars end up spending even more money on maintaining the style than on ensuring decent performance.

    One friend of mine frequently urges me to go with a North American car in order to support the local market. Too often, he says, people go out and buy foreign cars and then the North American market suffers. He reminds me that people living abroad don't buy North American cars much, so if we don't support our own local economy, the entire system will suffer as a whole.

    I've also received advice going the other way, that a foreign car is the best option. One friend keeps on telling me that if I went ahead and settled with a foreign car, I'd be much happier for it. He reminded me that owning a North American car would make it difficult to spend my money on things important to me, since so much would end up going into maintaining the car. I recently even visited a foreign dealership where salespeople worked very hard on convincing me of the benefits of their machines, though nothing I saw then interested me.

    In my family, I've seen both. My eldest brother has settled comfortably with a North American Cavalier, while my two other brothers have foreign cars. Overall, they all seem really happy with their cars, so I guess it really just depends on one's own personality. At this point, I have no idea which option would be better for me.

    August 02, 2005

    'A miracle' no deaths as Air France flight skids off runway, burns in Toronto | CBC News

    No deaths on Air France 358

    Amid all the chaos and tragedy in the world today, good things still happen once in a while. I was at work when this first happened, and initially we were told that few were likely to survive. The fact that no one died at all is truly a blessing and a miracle.

    May Allah SWT continue to protect Canada and it's people from harm and calamity.

    July 29, 2005

    U.S. Muslim Scholars Issue Edict Against Terrorism | NPR

    U.S. Muslim Scholars Issue Edict Against Terrorism

    Taking a page from CAIR-CAN and Jamiyatul-Ulama Canada.

    Pakistan to expel foreign students | Aljazeera

    Aljazeera.Net - Pakistan to expel foreign students

    "I have never done anything not seriously. I don't bluff. I do act with realism. I am realistic, not idealistic. I am very, extremely, serious."

    Seriously?

    Martin praises Muslim stand against extremism | CBC News

    Martin praises Muslim stand against extremism

    Way to go!

    July 22, 2005

    London II

    More bombs were planted yesterday in the London transit system, as everyone must know by now. So we've heard the usual condemnations and editorializing and all that talk. It's a blessing that no one got hurt, but one thing we must always remember is that some communities go through that every single day. While war in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be considered an excuse for these attacks, we should not sympathize and condemn these attacks while forgetting about the murderous ideologies that are victimizing our brothers and sisters.

    Whether you drop the bombs from a fighter jet or explode them out of a schoolbag, it's still a bomb, and it's still murder.

    July 20, 2005

    Toys Are Us: Part II

    I passed by Mrs. Tiggy Winkles again today to see what other toys are accompanying those wacky action figures that I mentioned earlier.

    Now Action Figure Moses and GeekMan are accompanied by, I kid you not, a Librarian Action Figure. If it encourages kids to read, then it's all good I guess.

    Seeker’s Digest

    One of my favourite blogs, Seeker’s Digest, has gotten it's own URL and has been beautifully re-designed. Shaikh Faraz Rabbani of SunniPath maintains this blog, and he has an uncannily similar set of interests as mine, including:

    • Islam (particularly Hanafi fiqh)
    • Technology
    • Literature
    • Shakespeare
    • Open-Source
    • Education

    ...which makes my blog even more irrelevant than the name indicates. Everything that I might be interested in posting is already there.

    July 14, 2005

    Optimus Keyboard

    I once hoped we would have something like this in the future. Well, here we are!

    July 12, 2005

    And now a bit about Tim Hortons

    Free Tim Hortons, U.S. fund says | CBC News

    I've been reading from the Riverbend blog for the last few hours, and it's been disturbing me greatly. Her writing is so effective in bringing the reader into the moment, into her neighbourhood and even into her family... I felt I needed a taste of home to get myself back on track. So an article about Tim Hortons seemed fitting; come home for lunch, they say.

    Anyway, to anyone who ever stumbles upon my Irrelevant Opinions, I humbly request you to stop reading this and go to the Riverbend blog. Her writing is extremely eloquent, putting me to shame with her witty metaphors and effective analogies. And while you're at it, drop by here too.

    July 11, 2005

    Baghdad Burning

    Today, I came across this blog of a sister living in Baghdad. She has first-hand accounts of what it is like to live in a country currently under foreign occupation in the midst of a massive and bloody insurgency. It reads kinda like an on-line, Muslim version of the diary of Anne Frank. It is extremely well written, and captures the personal and emotional details of the war that no media coverage can cover.

    May Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala relieve the suffering of all those living under oppression. I'm sitting here and reading about all this suffering in a comfortable, quiet apartment with a stocked fridge, running water, and electricity. And yet I still complain about stuff.

    Star Wars: An Islamic Perspective

    Star Wars: An Islamic Perspective | altmuslim.com

    July 09, 2005

    Heightened alert and heightened ignorance

    So yesterday I'm waiting at the bus stop near my office to go for Jumu'ah. This guy comes up to me, looks me up and down and says somewhat excitedly:
    "Al-Qaida?"

    I reply, "No, Accenture."

    He then walks away in dismay.

    July 07, 2005

    On aliens and the alienated

    I keep in touch with my cousins blog through my Mozilla Thunderbird RSS feed reader. Today, he decided it was time to give up on people and essentially alienate himself from common human interaction. In the process, he actually used the word "chooseth" which made me laugh out loud.

    Today, several bombs exploded in London, killing over 50 people and heightening security all across the world. Some people calling themselves the "Al-Qaida of Europe" claimed responsibility, and somehow thought that this would be a good idea. While I doubt the claim of responsibility, there are a few facts that are established here: someone planted those bombs, and intended that some message be put forth. In the end, they will pay for it in this world or in Akhirah.

    Who were they? They were most likely people who found people to be redundant, and found themselves becoming distanced from society. After some time, they decided that there was no need even to reattach themselves; they were unable to push their agenda through traditional means of social interaction and political movement. So they embarked upon their own isolationist movement and decided that they had no interest in a world that cast them aside whenever it so chooseth.

    The problem was that no one cared that they were gone, and their agenda was not being promoted. What that agenda was, I don't claim to know, but in isolation these people decided that it was time to re-emerge with a bang. Not with the intention of reattaching themselves to the society that cast it aside when it choseth, but just for the reason that they were getting exasperated and needed to make some noise. Of course, they had no compassion for society and no hope of promoting any of their values. So they struck out against society in the most cowardly and sadistic way.

    And when all those bombs exploded causing widespread fear and chaos, killing dozens of people, whatever values they had were not being promoted. Whatever agenda they had was not being pushed. Whatever discontent they had with society did not diminish. All that happened was that people died and hate grew. And as hate develops, more people will want to isolate themselves until they re-emerge with another deadly bang.

    Sometimes we live in our own little world, and no one really understands us. It's easy to blame that on others, but it is almost never productive. It is also easy to make ourselves comfortable in that little world of ours, and keep the door shut for fear of intrusion. We feel that it us against the world, and that our only hope of survival against a world is to create one of our own.

    That is not the answer. The truth is that we are the world. Together, we make it what it is. And together, we can make it better.



    June 29, 2005

    Toys Are Us

    I was at a toy store today for the first time in ages, and saw one shelf with the following toys:
    - Scarface Action Figure (complete with machine gun, sunglasses, and briefcase full of cash)
    - Moses Action Figure (with a stone tablet inscribed with the 10 Commandments)
    - Geek Man (with a pocket protector and glasses)
    - Jesus Action Figure (100% Pure Bible Action!)

    Signs of the times... if the toy industry is supposed to respond to the whims and desires of children, this paints a very absurd picture. The question is then, are toys designed to respond to what children want, or are they designed to control what a child wants? During my childhood, GI Joe was clearly a clever propaganda tool to raise a new generation of Americans that would conveniently hit adulthood at the dawn of the Patriot Act.

    So what does a kid conditioned by Mafia dolls and Jesus toys grow up to become? How do you reconcile geek culture with gangster culture? Absurd.

    June 19, 2005

    Tech firms compete to conquer the globe

    Tech firms compete to conquer the globe

    I loved this line:
    "Terrorists can use cars and cell phones and books and pencils and go to school."

    Hurry, get rid of the pencils!

    June 15, 2005

    Quebec private schools must allow hijabs | CBC News

    Quebec private schools must allow hijabs, skullcaps: human rights commission : "Private schools in Quebec must accommodate students' religious needs, including the wearing of Muslim hijabs or Jewish skullcaps, the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled on Wednesday."

    May 28, 2005

    Around the world

    I first read about Keyhole a while back, and was thinking about downloading the demo to play around with. Then Google Maps introduced satellite imagery, and so I was satisfied with just that. But that doesn't give you the full control that the actual Keyhole software does; Keyhole lets you fly around the world, zooming in and out of cities, and get a feel of the terrain. I watched the video about MSN Virtual Earth, and that won't let us do that either, though it is extremely cool that you can smoothly zoom in and out of the top-level map.

    But now I've discovered my new favourite toy, NASA World Wind. This is extremely cool, and is completely free (gotta love open-source.) While the Keyhole screenshots seem to show better resolution, this thing is still exceedingly cool. Definitely worth checking out.

    May 19, 2005

    Netscape 8

    As a fairly early adopter of Mozilla Firefox (back in the Firebird days), I have been browsing happy for well over a year. Complains about it not rendering certain sites correctly were not shared by me, for the most part. I only needed IE for Windows Update, and that was it. So when I heard that Netscape 8 would support both the Gecko rendering engine (that Firefox uses), as well as the Trident engine (that IE uses), I didn't particularly care.

    So Netscape 8 could only possibly win me over by providing an overall user experience superior to that of Firefox, which is a fairly tough challenge. Ultimately, it failed miserably.

    Installation
    The installation of Netscape 8 was quite smooth, conveniently prompting the user with various options while it was installing the core features in the background. I've wondered in the past why other programs don't do this; you don't need to wait for me to tell you that I want the core parts of the program installed; if I didn't want to install them, I would not have run the installer.

    During the setup, it also asked what theme should be used, which was nice in that it brings about awareness of the themability. There were options to install a couple of extra programs, one being a weather program which I hear is spyware, and another offering from RealNetworks; I never download anything from them. Touting itself as a secure browser, I find it quite bizarre that it would try to push these products.

    It then asked me about importing my settings from Firefox or whatever other browser I used. It crashed during the import process.

    First Run
    When the splash screen showed up, it was quite nostalgic. I've always liked the fact that IE and Firefox don't have splash screens; I think a browser is such a central part of a users computing experience that it doesn't warrant announcing itself like that. I open and close my browser like I might open Explorer, or Control Panel, or something like that. I don't want a fancy graphic telling me that I just opened Control Panel.

    The default theme, Fusion, is hideous. Netscape decided that it was a good idea to put the menu on the right side, get rid of the standard Windows titlebar, and throw as many buttons on the screen as possible. This is why it's important that they emphasize the themability right from the installation; people need to know that they're not stuck to this disgusting thing. I imagine few people would ever want to surf in this mess.

    The highly-touted "Multibar" is kinda neat, though most of the content is annoying. The concept is a good way to fit a lot more content on a page without sacrificing screen real estate. What sucked, though, was the fact that the content was very America-centric by default, and the weather component only accepts zip codes (US only) for setting its location. The "Personal" bar allows instant access to a variety of Webmail clients, which is a nice feature.

    What really turned me off was the default implementation of the tabbed browsing. When opening a new tab, it will open it to the same page as the current tab, which is not what most people want when they open a new tab. It would also open tabs in the foreground by default, and they would show up immediately to the right of the current tab. This gets somewhat confusing when navigating, particularly when you want to open up a bunch of search results. Fortunately, all of this is configurable by an interface which looks much like the Tab Browser Preferences Extension for Firefox. But for people who still use IE as their main browser, I don't think this implementation of tabs would impress them; if anything, it may turn them away.

    Security
    The Security Center allows controls on a per-site basis. For sites it deems trustworthy, it will load the page in the IE engine, and for potentially unsafe sites, it uses Gecko. This really won't help the cause of those who are pushing for web standards. The interface is straightforward, though it is a bit intrusive; they'll put a little shield icon on each tab to set the site controls for the page on that tab, and there's also another button on the toolbar for the security center, and of course, it's available from the menu in a couple of places. This seems to be overkill.

    The Passcard
    Netscape 8 has an integrated feature for remembering login information and filling forms on a per-site basis; they call them "Passcards". The feature works well in my limited testing, but the interface for configuring it is highly confusing. There are multiple nested tab controls inside the config menu, which is quite bizarre. It is organized fairly well, however, and I imagine that if I were the type of person who saves form information in my other browsers, I would find this thing useful. Personally, I never save login information into my browsers, except for on a couple of sites.

    Performance
    Like all things Netscape, this browser is kinda slow and bloated. Even without the integration of a mail client, calendar, and Composer, the interface is still extremely busy and slow. And while they didn't see a need to integrate a mail client, they decided to keep AIM and ICQ built in. For those of us who never use those IM clients, it's a pain that we have to load it up in the first place. They would better be served as options in installation, or maybe as Extensions. (Netscape supports the same Extensions framework as Firefox, being from the same codebase.) I personally liked the old Netscape mail client, and it was one of the key reasons I stayed with Netscape back in the day. Before Thunderbird came of age, I was considering downloading Netscape (or Mozilla Suite) just for the mail client. Removing the mail client will also discourage current Netscape users from upgrading, methinks.

    Page loading is nothing spectacular, though with broadband connections, I've never really had problem in page-loading time in any browser really.

    Overall outlook
    The one person I know who still uses Netscape as their primary browser doesn't plan on upgrading to Netscape 8. I doubt Firefox users or IE users will switch either. So I'm not too optimistic about the future of this thing. Nice try, but they haven't quite figured out, it seems, why Firefox became popular in the first place. I switched to Firefox because it did only what I needed it to do, and nothing more. The default settings were such that I was comfortable with it the first time I loaded it up on my old Win95 machine. I've never looked back since.

    Netscape 8 is worth checking out for kicks, but I imagine few will adopt it as their primary web browser.

    May 17, 2005

    Is new 'Star Wars' an anti-Bush diatribe? | CBC Arts

    Is new 'Star Wars' an anti-Bush diatribe?

    How is it that no one likes him, but he is in power?

    May 11, 2005

    New Robot Reproduces on Its Own | National Geographic

    New Robot Reproduces on Its Own

    This is neat, but quite spooky. They don't transform just yet.

    Watch the robots in action!

    May 09, 2005

    Google Takes A Break | SitePunch

    Google Takes A Break | SitePunch

    These few minutes of Google downtime bothered me... it's amazing how dependent we are on this thing.

    That's two Google problems reported on one day! It's interesting, though; I came across both of these news items through Google News.

    Not so fast, Google | SeattlePi

    Not so fast, Google | SeattlePi

    I didn't try it myself, but apparently that Web Accelerator thing is a big disappointment. So Google is not invincible perhaps, after all!

    May 02, 2005

    The Walima Poem II

    One year ago today, I wrote and presented this silly poem about my brother. Here it is again.

    Attend!
    Seated nearby is the man of the hour
    You can see him beside me with that sinister glower
    Driving right by you at hundreds of miles per hour
    The man of many cheesecakes devoured

    You know of whom I speak, this man named Asrar
    "Silent but Deadlys" silent defensive star
    A menace in his Mustang, his old stunning blue car
    Its motor snorting as you hear it from afar

    Now, though, a Mazda Three, cuz now he's not alone
    Sitting stylishly in his fancy suit with his fancy cologne
    Now a married man, a husband, all old and fully grown
    Beginning the new phase, to begin a family of his own

    Most call him silent, but I would just call it "calm"
    Instead of anger, he reacts with stunning aplomb
    Hanging with his friends at good old Darus Salam
    Or programming diligently on onlybatteries.com

    A great artist, both digitally and with ink
    A force on both sides of the ball hockey rink
    A worthy web designer, if you fall upon his link
    A great thirst quencher if you taste his cold coffee drink

    And if he were to say a few words on his own behalf
    It would surely be aimed at making Asif laugh

    But perhaps he's best known as the Hafiz of our clan
    But most don't know he is also a cunning businessman
    Allah gave him the ability to memorize the entire Quran
    But he also traded a Patrick Roy rookie card for Gilbert Dionne

    Yes, it's true.

    Most remarkable is his hifz, doing it with personal determination
    Managing his memorization along with his work and education
    May Allah SWT give us all such drive and desire
    To achieve His pleasure in order to lift us higher

    With that, I'd like to welcome our newest family member
    There's so many now, it's kinda hard to remember

    That makes it a trilogy now of these Walima events of ours
    And personally I'm kinda tired with all the balloons and flowers

    But it won't stop here, there'll soon be baby showers
    Knowing Asrar, he'd probably just stay home and watch "Two Towers"

    With that being said, We're lucky to have Sana Appi join the crew
    And to everyone else, a most heartfelt thank you.

    April 28, 2005

    Windows is weak | cNet

    Windows is weak: where's the alternative?

    At least there's that PDF thing.

    Microsoft to Take on PDF Technology | Web Host Industry Review

    Microsoft to Take on PDF Technology

    Microsoft doesn't innovate much, but I will give them this that they often do better work than their competitors. I personally can't stand the slowness of Adobe Reader, and was hoping that some alternative would be made available eventually. Despite that, I still send all my documents as PDF to avoid incompatibility issues. That Microsoft is embracing open standards for this document format should mean that it can easily be implemented on various platforms, and document incompatibility will be a thing of the past.

    April 27, 2005

    The Power of Nightmares

    CBC Newsworld just aired an excellent documentary called "The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear". It ran from Sunday through Tuesday, and exposed the media manipulation of the 2001 attacks on America and other incidents.

    Among the assertions made by the filmmaker was that there is no organized international terrorist network with tentacles all over America. Rather, the American media machine has invented this group in order to instill fear and mistrust in the people. They have been so successful that a simple tourist video of Disneyland became "smoking gun evidence" of a nefarious plot. According to the American propaganda machine, a two second camera shot of a garbage can was proof enough that terrorists were planning on blowing up the "happiest place on Earth."

    Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.

    April 25, 2005

    Uniting for the Prophet | SunniPath WebCast

    SunniPath WebCast: Uniting for the Prophet

    I think that would be 8:30am - 4:30pm in Eastern Standard Time.

    April 24, 2005

    How computers make kids dumb | The Register

    How computers make kids dumb | The Register

    Preposterous!

    Experts say Shakespeare portrait is a fake | CBC Arts

    CBC Arts: Shakespeare portrait is a fake: experts: "The art experts who work at the gallery say they found traces of chrome
    yellow paint dating from about 1814 embedded deep in the picture."

    Preposterous!

    April 22, 2005

    How Will New Pope Handle Ties With Muslims?

    How Will New Pope Handle Ties With Muslims?: "How will Pope Benedict XVI be different from his predecessor in dealing with other faiths and nations?"

    It's funny but sad that many Muslims are more concerned about how popes and other celebrities view Islam and Muslims, rather than how Allah SWT views us. If we correct our relationship with Allah SWT, our other relationships will be corrected in the process.

    April 19, 2005

    Knowledge

    I recently had a chance to visit Nadwatul-Ulama, one of the most respected Islamic institutions in India, and throughout the world. Wandering through the libraries and study centres of the school, I thought to myself: "I wasted my life."

    Not that my Engineering degree from the University of Ottawa was useless, but somehow seeing the oceans of Islamic knowledge that have been passed down throughout the centuries was a humbling experience. We've barely scratched the surface.

    This is why I am particular excited about the upcoming Darul-Uloom of Canada, located in the city of Bowmanville about 30 minutes out of Toronto. A project of this scale is really an exceptional challenge, and I believe that the success of the project will play heavily into the success of Islam in North America as a whole. I am also particularly impressed with the Shariah Program, where I am currently enrolled in a distance learning course. All these projects are important contributions to the community, and should be supported. I wrote somewhere in my Hajj journals that I admired the British Muslim community, and that insha-Allah we would eventually reach that level. Such projects make that closer to reality.

    In Ottawa, the Al-Maghrib Institute seems to be doing good work, though there is still a lot of work to be done. Rather than compare the different programs and criticize those that do not conform to our particular view, we should wish for the success of all those efforts that are done for the sake of pleasing Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala and elevating the deen.

    April 15, 2005

    Raindrops keep falling on my head

    It seems like blogs have become all the rage now, even among family members. I believe I started this thing towards the end of November 2004, but have not updated it much thus far, aside from my Hajj journals.

    Anyway, it's been a full two weeks since I returned to Canada after my three-month excursion that took me from Montreal to Toronto to Vienna to Cairo to Jeddah to Madinah to Makkah to Kuwait to Delhi to Lucknow. Thus far, we've covered in the Hajj journals. I went back to Delhi after some time, from where I was sent to Vaniyambadi, a small city not far from Madras in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. The city had not received rain in several years, to the point where shrubs growing on the mountains there literally caught fire from the intense, dry heat. It was a disturbing sight, seeing charred ashes of greenery littering what would otherwise be a beautiful mountain landscape. Somehow I felt confident that before we left South India, Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala would provide rain to that community through our collective prayers. And thus it was destined, that a heavy rainfall did occur shortly after we left Vaniyambadi, to the neighbouring city of Ambor. Incidentally, Ambor also received their first rainfall in a long time during our brief stay there.

    "Is not He ( best ) who created the heavens and the earth , and sendeth down for you water from the sky wherewith We cause to spring forth joyous orchards , whose trees it never hath been yours to cause to grow . Is there any God beside Allah? Nay , but they are folk who ascribe equals ( unto Him ) !" 27.60

    We rely so heavily upon the favours of our Creator, and yet we still tend to ignore Him. Over and over again, we are reminded of the favours of Allah SWT but even then we persist in disobedience. When we are thankful of the favours of Allah SWT, Allah SWT will increase our bounties. And as for those who reject those favours, well, the Creator is not in need of our thankfulness.

    Rain fell down upon the pilgrims in Mina on the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah, and we scrambled and panicked. People died in the ensuing floods. At the same time, rain came down upon the aforementioned cities of South India, and the people celebrated. It should be understood, then, that creation cannot inherently provide harm or benefit; harm and benefit are for Allah SWT to decide, and the creation is simply a means for that harm or benefit.

    On a related note, a scholar mentioned that sometimes people sacrifice for the sake of religion, ask from Allah SWT, and become surprised when they see their prayers answered. This surprise, the scholar mentioned, is due to our lack of conviction in the promises of Allah. Had we possessed the proper conviction (yaqeen), we would not be surprised by such things; rather, we would be surprised when the help of Allah SWT does not come. If a person puts sugar in tea, he should not be surprised that the tea becomes sweet; rather, he should only be surprised if after putting sugar in, the tea does not become sweet. If we have true conviction in what Allah SWT promised for His loyal servants, then divine help will surely follow us in all aspects of our life.

    And since rain has been the underlying theme of this post, one more anecdote seems fitting. The same scholar mentioned that when rain falls upon a certain area, it does not leave those areas which may not provide fruit. The rain falls on everything, and will bring about whatever fruits the buried seed will produce. The effort of the rain is one, but it brings about various fruits without discrimination. Similarly, when one wishes to make effort for religion, the effort should be general, and no one should be excluded. Some people will produce certain fruits, others will produce other fruits. Still others will produce no fruits whatsoever from the effort of the inviter (da'iee). But even if we do not expect results from the effort, we must do the effort nonetheless. And whatever fruit is unearthed through our efforts is indeed a great bounty. If the fruit is not to our tastes, that should not bother us. Somebody will surely benefit from that fruit.

    February 04, 2005

    Hajj Epilogues and India

    We didn't do much for the rest of the Makkah time after Hajj. Our hotel change was a mess, as the rooms assigned to us were not available on arrival. My roommates and I joked about other possible names for Safa Travel - Sabr Travel (Patience Travel - as in, you'll need a lot of patience if you're going with this group), Suffer Travels (which includes a great pun on the word safr, Arabic for travel or journey). We did not have the rooms until 3am, wasting the whole previous day. I befriended a Hajj group from Glasgow, who offered their floor for us to sleep on during the night. All of our luggage remained on the floor of the hallway, and some of our groupmates set up camp there.

    My mother and I took the opportunity to visit our cousins from India who had also come for Hajj. We met in front of the haram, and went back to their place. While lacking in the luxury of Qadisia Hotel (where we stayed), it was extremely practical. It was wonderful to see them, and we ended up staying the night there. We then went for Tahajjud together, and performed a nafl tawaf together after fajr.

    The next few days were similar. My cousins family went to Jeddah, so we just engaged in our own activities. Not much shopping done either, except for that suitcase we needed to replace. The suitcase we bought was pretty bad also, and has been falling apart over the last few days.

    We left for Jeddah at 3:00am on January 30th. After Tawaful-Wada, I made a lot of du'a that the travels on our way to Lucknow go smoothly. Alhamdolillah, it seems as if our du'a was accepted. First, we took a mini-bus to the Motawef 57 office, where we got our passports back. Somehow, our passports had written on them the number on our bracelet. This made no sense to me, as the bracelets were just given out on the busride from Madinah to Makkah haphasardly; basically, wherever we were sitting, and I don't recall anyone checking that number later. As I mentioned before, somehow amid all the apparent chaos, the Saudi Government runs a very efficient and organized system. Anyway, we got our passport back, and then were taken to the bus station where we found a ride to Jeddah. The ride was smooth and hassle-free, and eventually, I found myself on my way to Kuwait.

    Kuwait airport was very nice, but not worth writing about. We got a meal coupon with which we ate a wonderful dinner. The dinner was a buffet, and included so many delicious items. We sat in the transit restaurant for hours, discussing a whole bunch of stuff. Finally, after several hours, we got in line to board the place. The plane left on time, and less than four hours later, I was in Delhi.

    After collecting our luggage in Delhi, we sat in the lounge with two trolleys of luggage. We fell asleep sitting there in the lounge.

    At some point, my uncle sat down next to us. My eyes opened, and I nudged my mother awake. We were happy to see him, but so incredibly exhausted that we didn't greet him so enthusiastically.

    After a few hours, I found myself in a hotel room in Delhi, near Jama Masjid. Before even eating anything, I started feeling cases of the "Delhi Belly", or "India Disease" as it may otherwise be known. We had dinner at Karims after I got a good few hours of sleep. At night, we boarded a sleeper class train that brought us to Lucknow. We arrived in Lucknow in the morning.

    And here I am now. It's now Saturday, February 5th; we've been here for four days. Life here doesn't change much over the years; everything is as I remember it. Somehow I find the lack of a generation gap in this country intimidating. While there's been some good new development, it seems as if many things just won't change. This is good in a lot of ways, but somehow it just doesn't work for me. After only an hour in India, I was already to leave.

    Health has been up and down, which is better than last time when it was always down. Not sure whether it's worth continuing this journal, as I'm now a long way from Hajj, and don't really have anything left to write about.

    Thus ends my Hajj journal, which was typed up on Sunday, April 3rd 2005, after my return to Canada. Details of my time in Tamil Nadu may come shortly.

    January 23, 2005

    The 12th of Dhul-Hijjah

    On the 12 of Dhul-Hijjah, I was to complete my Hajj. We left out of Mina in the morning to take our stuff back to the hotel; we would walk to jamaraat from there.

    We did jamaraat after Zuhr. We went on the top floor for the first time. It wasn't really any less crowded, and somehow people seemed ruder. After completing the last stoning, I thought to myself: "Alhamdolillah, I'm done Hajj."

    How wrong I was. The last and biggest test was still to come. The rain had slowly begun by the time we completed the last stoning. We still had quite a distance to cover before reaching the hotel. It became clear that the rain would not stop anytime soon, so we decided to find shelter. The nearest spot was under the King Khalid Road (Tareeq Malik Khalid) bridge, the bridge that would lead back to the tunnel that goes to our hotel in Aziziah. The rain became extremely heavy before we reached the underpass; I was completely soaked from head to toe. We waited there for a while as the rain became heavier. The drainage system could not handle the rain, and it started flooding. The water level became knee deep, even under the bridge where we sought refuge. The security forces at first prevented the people from staying there, but eventually they gave up. The water level was very high, propelled by heavy winds. Garbage cans, bicycles, and tonnes of garbage flowed through the streets. One man saw his motorcycle get washed up in the waves. He desperately tried to stop it, but the water was coming down too fast - either he would have to let the motorcycle go, or go down the river of sewage with it. Others pleaded that he forget the motorcycle in order to protect his own life, and he eventually conceded. The motorcycle floated away, and was out of sight within seconds.

    Finally, security let us in the tent area, where we took refuge in an Indian womens tent. My mother was crying, and her condition got worse when they decided to kick out the men. A big argument broke out among the men regarding something; clearly, tensions were running high. After more arguing, all the men left, except me; I stayed with my mother. Eventually, security found me too, and so I decided to leave. My mother couldn't bear the thought of me having to wait out in the pouring rain; she was crying so much as I put on the security poncho they provided me. I seemed to be the only one given such a poncho. I went outside, and watched the water pour.

    After some time, they decided to tolerate the men being inside, so I stayed there for some time, freezing and soaking while the rain subsided. I tried to lighten the situation by engaging others in conversation, but none of the others spoke English.

    It was getting late, and I wanted to leave Mina before Maghrib. I also still had to pray 'Asr. The flood waters calmed, and so I tried to convince my mother to leave. She decided to wait a bit, but by 4:45pm, we left. Once we reached the King Khalid tunnel, our Hajj would be done.

    Getting there was still a challenge. King Khalid road was still flooded, and we were exhausted. But we needed to push on. The water, actually sewage and garbage, was to our knees, but we needed to get out. We finally made it to the tunnel, and so there officially ended my Hajj.
    But past the tunnel, the situation was getting worse. The flood waters were still rising and the wind was heavy. Cars were stuck, and people desperately tried to board busses that also refused to move. It took another 20 minutes at least to push through the flood waters along King Khalid road, but eventually, alhamdolillah, we made it. I showered and prayed Asr, and my Hajj was complete.

    Today would have been a relaxing day, except much of it was spent sick, and much of it was spent searching and worrying about Amma's moneyfold. I also realized that I was missing 200$ US, so that worried me a great deal too. We ate of our qurbani after Zuhr, but the rest of the day was spent worrying about our missing money. At around 9:30pm, we found the moneyfold, which also contained my missing 200$ US.

    In other news, my roommate turned on the TV and I saw a friend of mine from Ottawa U being interviewed about his Hajj experience... almost 3 million people went for Hajj this year; what are the chances?

    I've heard reports that approximately 150 people died in the flood. I would not be surprised at all if many of these were the small children that have been forced to beg on the streets. The tides would have washed them away in a second, and no one would have the heart to save them here.