February 28, 2006

Rambo is my mailman

Today, I was quickly perusing over the daily news headlines on my Google Personalized homepage, when I misread two adjacent headlines and thought I saw something about a bombing in Madrid killing 41 people. I did a doubletake, worried that Spain had been targetted again. I then realized it was Iraq, and went back to going about my business.

A minute later, I realized how indicative my behaviour was of the typical, indifferent Westerner. Hearing about bombings and deaths have become so commonplace in Iraq that it hardly catches our attention anymore. Each of those victims must have a family; for each of those families, they will always remember that day when a loved one - perhaps a father, perhaps a daughter, maybe a sister - left this world forever. They will cry uncontrollably, while others will try to comfort them to no avail. While these events may hardly catch our attention now, they are changing the lives - nay, destroying the lives of thousands. The losses can never be recovered.

Had it happened in Europe or Canada, it would dominate headlines for weeks and months. The date would become synonymous with the event, as if everything else on that day stood still watching tragedy unfold in our world. Talk shows and newspaper columnists would keep putting the same question forth, how could this happen to us?

Instead, the question must be raised, that how have we become so indifferent?

February 26, 2006


It's strange how easily I can write for this blog, even when I am at a complete loss for words for any other writing I need to do. Last week, I stared blankly at my word processor for over 10 hours across four days, trying to come up with something meaningful for the March issue of Muslim Link. I couldn't. I wrote a few lines here and there, but nothing that stood out as something I was willing to have published.

Muslim Link prints over 10,000 copies per month and is distributed in three cities, so anything I write there has a fairly sizable audience. Normally, I don't worry about audiences, but somehow I could not do it this time. The weight of my writers block was too much, and thus, I scrapped everything I had written and gave up.

The title "Irrelevant Opinions" works because it reminds me that I'm writing for myself. Whether I have an audience or not is irrelevant. Occasionally, I will write something that no one will understand, or at least, only a few will be able to interpret the meaning. And as far as I'm concerned, that's perfectly fine. A friend once suggested an 80/20 split on the generality of writing: 80% should be easily understood by everyone, while 20% could be reserved for a "niche" audience. Often, I will go for the opposite, that 80% of my meaning will be for myself and a handful of others who might understand the background, while just 20% can be understood at face value. And I will continue doing this, lest I start worrying about the lowest common denominator.

Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes, refused to license his characters or his work for fear that it would become impersonal. Even though he had an audience of over 2,400 newspapers worldwide, he always insisted that he was writing the comics only for himself and his wife. That kept the characters honest and entertaining, as the comics kept a strong personal voice until the very last strip was published. He put everything he had into it, rather than sell out and run a massive media empire as Jim Davis has done with Garfield. And we all know how funny Garfield has been for the last 15 years.

Perhaps this is why the short film "More" meant so much to me. Last week, I came across this six-minute animated short that was nominated for an Academy Award. The movie is available on-line for anyone interested; Quicktime is required to view it. I've developed a number of different interpretations of this, and am interested to see how others view it.

February 11, 2006


I didn't want to write about the whole cartoon "crisis". I really didn't. But something that has been lost in this whole issue has been the Prophet himself, peace be upon him. Not enough people know about this amazing personality, though there is probably no one in history whose life has been recorded as extensively. There is no shortage of material on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, but there is definitely a shortage of Muslims willing to deliver those materials.

Since at least one person has questioned my imaan altogether because of my lack of outrage, I felt compelled to write on this topic. Others have told me that the worldwide reaction was justified, as defence of the Prophet should be our number one priority as Muslims. Some are outraged that Canada hasn't done enough to make Europe apologize. All this just doesn't make sense to me, even though I did find the pictures offensive and insulting. Personally, I feel that even if every single European nation decided to apologize, there is no way that such an apology would be sincere.

"We're sorry a bunch of cartoonists accused your Prophet of being a terrorist. And thanks to your violent protests, your burning of our embassies, the dozens of deaths which have been caused by your riots, and the death threats we've received, we can now say that we were wrong, and we regret the error."

That seems highly unlikely. I'm not saying that no apology is necessary, but this is not what we need right now; an apology at this point would only be a political gesture that would do nothing in addressing the root problem. It amazes me that this is what it took to finally unite the Muslim world on a common cause, even after we remained silent on much larger issues.

Regardless, I wanted to write about the Prophet himself and leave the politics aside. Regarding provocations and ignorant talk addressed to Muslims, the Quran states:

"You shall certainly be tried respecting your wealth and your souls, and you shall certainly hear from those who have been given the Book before you and from those who are polytheists much annoying talk; and if you are patient and guard (against evil), surely this is one of the affairs (which should be) determined upon." (3:186)

"And the servants of the Most Gracious (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, 'Peace!'" (25:63)

Regarding the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Quran says:
"And most surely you conform (yourself) to sublime morality." (68:4)

"And We sent thee not, except as a Mercy for all the creatures." (21:107)

"You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the Final Day and who remember Allah much." (33:21)

"Say (O Prophet): 'If you do love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins, for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (3:31)

There are many more verses which illustrate how highly a Muslim must regard the Prophet, and how Muslims must follow him in all aspects of life. There is no doubt that reverence of the Prophet is fundamental, and thus any insult to him is something every Muslim will take personally.

Regarding the Prophets love for his followers:
"Now hath come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves: it grieves him that you should suffer, ardently anxious is he over you; to the Believers is he most kind and merciful." (9:128)

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was known as a "Mercy to Mankind", but he underwent years and years of suffering in order to guide people to the Truth. Prior to Islam during the early sixth century, the Arabian peninsula was mired in the heights of depravity and ignorance. Outside the Arabian peninsula, the rest of the world was also at a moral and intellectual low. The Sasanid and Byzantine Empires, the dominant world forces at the time, were worn out and weary, as noted by H. G. Wells in A Short History of the World:

"Science and Political Philosophy seemed dead now in both these warring and decaying Empires. [...] In both Persia and Byzantium, it was an age of intolerance. Both Empires were religious empires in a new way, in a way that greatly hampered the free activities of the human mind."

Ancient India, relatively free from the traditional Imperialism of the age, was doing fairly well in scientific fields. Morality was dead, however, and the social conditions were even worse. Women were dealt out and traded in games of chance, the caste system had rendered most of the people into slaves, and lawlessness was rampant. Europe fared no better, caught in their Dark Ages during which men were barbarians, women had no rights, and the religious elite had no morals.

Effectively, the entire world was in the most squalid and humiliating conditions, and there was no reason to believe things would change anytime soon.

Enter Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. An entire biography of his life is well beyond the scope of this post, and there are numerous books which can do a much better job than I ever could. However, it should be sufficient to state that within a matter of 23 years, a worldwide revolution had begun that we are still benefitting from today. In brief, Islam conquered the tribalism that sunk Arabia to barbarism, and propelled the land to the heights of enlightenment and progress. The people united, women were honoured, the poor benefitted from generous social programs, and the entire population enjoyed the benefits of a well-governed society which brought them both spiritual and worldly advancement.

Within a century, more than one third of the known world was benefitting from the revolution brought forth by Islam, and the rest of the world started waking up in awe of the massive changes which had taken place.

And it all began with that one man, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, whose mission was only to call people towards their Creator, teach them the Quran, and serve as an example for them. The root was Islam; the fruits were the advancements and innovations brought forth by the rising Islamic world. The Muslim world excelled in math and science; the Prophet was neither a mathematician nor a scientist. The Muslim world excelled in art and literature, though the Prophet himself was unable to read or write. The Muslim world pioneered some of the most important social programs we know today, including welfare and the protection of minority rights. The Prophet Muhammad brought forth all of this change not because he was an expert in these specific fields, but because he brought people towards obedience to their Creator. And the system of the Creator will always benefit the creation; the manufacturer of any product knows best how to operate and maintain their works, and humanity is no different.

One cannot judge the Prophet in the context of the Muslim world of today. It is embarassing to see how so much of the Muslim world is in shambles, but one cannot attribute that to Islam. If anything, it is the lack of Islam, and the lack of respect for the teachings of Prophet Muhammad that has caused the ruination of the Muslim world today.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not effect this change without facing adversity. He suffered much at the hands of his own extended family, and at the hands of the rulers of Makkah during the early years of Prophethood. He was insulted, cursed, and pelted with stones by children at Taif. He was conspired against, slandered, and opposed by people who claimed to be his friends.

He took it all in stride, knowing that he was suffering for a greater good. Instead, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who persecuted him. And as his followers were being tortured, he still pushed on with his mission, and his followers continued to support him. He urged his companions to remain discrete about their Islam so that they would not suffer. But those same companions refused to remain silent about their new way of life, also understanding that their suffering was for a greater good, and that such a valuable gift should never be kept hidden.

When that gift was exposed to the world, the world as a whole benefitted from it.

In the famous book "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History" by Michael Hart, Prophet Muhammad ranked #1 for turning the world around when it was approaching complete failure. George Bernard Shaw wrote about Muhammad, "I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness."

This is the personality we're talking about, about whom all this debate surrounds. Ignorant insults to him do not lower his stature and legacy in any way, and we will always be benefitting from that legacy whether we know it or not. Learning more about his life is left as an exercise for the reader.

* * *

Regarding the cartoons themselves, Imam Zaid Shakir has written one of the clearest and most reasonable responses to the issue I have read thus far:

Clash of the Uncivilized: Insights on the Cartoon Controversy

Regarding media responsibility on the issue, CBC editor-in-chief Tony Burman seems to have gotten this one right:
Why CBC News Drew the Line

February 08, 2006


I woke up this morning and looked out the window as I always do. This time, I was met with pitch darkness. I looked over at the clock - nothing. My computer, typically on for weeks at a time, was off. The power was gone.

I headed to the washroom, and flicked the light switch. Nothing. I turned the taps, and a few drops came trickling down the faucet. Finally, the water started spurting out, and I used whatever little remained in the pipes to perform wudhu. Finally, the water supply exhausted, and I was left with only a little lota water. The toilet would not flush either.

After prayer, I stepped outside my 18th floor apartment. There were no lights in the halls, and no power to work the elevators. I could not see anything in the darkness. I went back into the apartment, searching for a flashlight. I knew I didn't have one, but hopelessly searched regardless. Perhaps something was left behind by the previous tenants when I moved in over a year ago. I found nothing, and gave up my futile search after some time.

It was now 7:25am. I picked up the phone to call my supervisor that I might be late this morning. But there was no dialtone - I'm a subscriber of VoIP technology, and thus internet or power outages mean I am also without phone service.

It would have been a difficult trek to navigate my way down 20 floors to the parking garage to get to my car. At this point, I thought to myself, WWBD. "What would Batman do?"

And so I threw a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and some clothes into my bag. I pulled my laptop out of its bag, and powered it up. The LCD monitor provided enough light for me to navigate my way down the dark and dirty stairwell. Finally, I reached the second basement, where the laptop monitor continued to be the only light in the pitch black garage.

I reached my car, and turned on the radio. I heard no sign that this power outage affected anything outside my street, so I decided to head out to work.

Alas, on driving up to the first level of the parking garage, I saw a number of other cars waiting by the exit to leave the parking garage. The garage door was electronically controlled, and we could not open it manually during the power outage. I waited and waited in the parking garage, until finally, building security initiated a manual override of the parking garage controls, allowing the door to open. The garage became flooded with natural light from the outside world, and we all broke free.

I was still in pajamas, however, with an unshowered body housing unbrushed teeth. I could have gone down to my company's main office, but downtown traffic would suck me in. Fortunately, I still had the access card for an old client site I worked at, and recalled that there was a shower there. So I drove down to the old client site, snuck in through the side door closest to the shower room, and got ready. I brushed my teeth, showered, got dressed, and was soon inconspicuously on my way to the office; no one caught me during my brief intrusion.

I drove back down to my current clients office, and reported in for another fun day of consulting. In the end, I arrived only ten minutes later than usual.