December 28, 2006

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Punctuation Game

Not sure what the title means, but this might help me with my oft-criticized apostrophe issues.

My apologies for the meaningless entries of late.

Update 1.2.2007:

This is probably why people take the time to contact me about my grammatic failings. "They reveal that you have paid no attention to your own writing and invite the reader to respond in kind."

That's a great website, by the way. Writing, Clear and Simple is a blog with some great tips on conveying meaning clearly, and I've learned quite a bit from it in the last couple of months. (It's also where I found this punctuation game.)

Why I love the holidays

December 27th, 2006:

I prayed Fajr in Mississauga.
Zuhr and Asr in Kingston.
Maghrib in Ottawa.
And Isha in Montreal.

That's five prayers in four cities, a new personal record. Though in retrospect, I should have prayed Zuhr in Bowmanville; I'm due for another visit.

In addition, I found time to resolve a number of long-standing issues, including one nearly two years old, alhamdolillah, and managed to still find time to help someone move for three hours. I feel accomplished.

December 27, 2006

Hajj Journal | CBC Montreal

Online Hajj Journal | CBC Montreal

CBC, which I've come to greatly respect for the balanced news reporting and fair representation of Muslims, is hosting the journal of a sister from Montreal who has gone for Hajj this year. These are always interesting reads, and it's nice of CBC to include that on their website. I sometimes read over my own, and regret that I really did not express myself well. I generally wrote at times of inconvenience and frustration, and didn't capture my awe and amazement of the whole experience; I could have written something much better had I collected all my thoughts at the end rather than write at odd times during the actual rituals. Anyway, I'll be keeping tabs on this journal on CBC; it's always encouraging to read such accounts.

And while on the subject, this post is easily the best I've read describing the experience of Umrah. A very inspiring read that deserves a better medium than the blogosphere.

December 13, 2006

Arar Recommendations | CBC News

CBC News summarizes the principal recommendations for the RCMP coming from the Maher Arar commission:

Arar Recommendations | CBC News

Arar has accomplished so much already just by having his name cleared. He was just one person up against an entire government agency, and he's winning. Truly inspiring.

IO 2.0

I recently upgraded to the Blogger beta, which has a number of new features and brings it closer to matching Wordpress, which I admit is the better blogging platform. I'm relatively happy with Blogger, primarily because I've built my template mostly from scratch and don't feel like doing it over, and I'd rather not go with a boring generic one.

The changes don't mean much for you as a reader, except that most posts are now categorized for your reading convenience; you can see the full list of categories along the right side of the page, and navigate at your leisure. For those of you visiting through an RSS reader, you can now subscribe to a comments feed if you are so inclined. I imagine you're not. I encountered one somewhat annoying bug during the upgrade: a number of comments have now been marked as "anonymous" for some reason.

And for all those who have e-mailed me recently, commenting isn't broken; I just disable it occasionally. So don't worry about the monkeys.

Update 12.13.2006: It turns out that the commenting is actually somewhat broken as part of the upgrade. I think this primarily affects users who are signed in to older Blogger accounts (as opposed to their Google accounts.)

Blogger mentions the bug here, but they say it's been fixed. Oh well.

December 07, 2006

the blurst of times

a thousand monkeys at a thousand laptops a novel does not make
for behind the words is a work of sweat, hardship and heartache
yet the monkeys tried and sweat they did, all for menial pay
but still they tried, and felt inside they'd finally have their day

most would fail, to no avail was their random typing
a broken dream, they'd yell and scream and wouldn't quit their griping
but there was success, as the monkey press made it so well known
some did their best, made it big, and now are on their own

one group punched many keys but they were gibberish at best
but those who read them came to greet them, thinking they expressed
words of sorrow, words of anger, appealing to the stressed
and the group broke off, became big stars, and went out to the west

others smashed away, an odd array, of u's and i's and t's
but some found words that appealed to nerds of dubious degrees
and thus they learned and quickly turned to their expertise
and made big bucks, in their monkey tux, doing as they please

one remained who wrote his mind, he had so much to say
of humour, heartache and all between, in a unique monkey way
and the monkey earned respect and love, and oh so much hype!
but all alone and in the light, poor monkey couldn't type.

December 05, 2006


For those of you who have about 100 minutes to spare, this is a very enlightening documentary about Muslim Spain.

I have often wondered why we as Muslims have lagged so far behind when our predecessors were the pioneers of modernity and civilization. There is little innovation today in the Muslim world; at best, we copy the West, but unfortunately we tend to take the worst of it while leaving the good.

During my travels in South Asia, I heard many people lament about how things were becoming too "westernized". I generally take exception to hearing this sort of talk, as it undermines all the good in the West. I can walk outside at night and feel safe here. I can go to a store, and not expect to get swindled. I can breathe the air and drink the water without feeling sick. I can freely go to a doctor if necessary, and expect professional, courteous treatment. These are basic expectations that I've come to take for granted in Canada, but they are also expectations that should theoretically stem from Islamic living. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

The problem is not that Muslim countries are becoming Westernized. The problem is that Muslim countries are taking the bad from the West while leaving the good. We'll adopt the crude language and skimpy dresses, but ignore the orderly lineups and clean washrooms. We'll bring the booze, lottery tickets, and racy magazines into our stores, but we'll ignore all that Western nonsense about recycling. After all, throwing things on the street is much easier, and we don't want to imitate the kufaar.

Tobacco companies are starting to lose their battle in the North American market, but they're finding great adoption in Pakistan and Bangladesh. While smoking is becoming increasingly inconvenient in most major cities in Canada, it is becoming more and more common, almost encouraged, in much of the Muslim world. Even here, I know more Muslims who smoke than non-Muslims, the justification being "it's not haraam, brother. Allah said not to make what is halaal to be haraam." Personally, I do believe it's definitely haraam, but I won't get started on that because this sort of reasoning annoys me considerably.

Muslim Spain was the envy of the world; it set the precedent upon which the European renaissance was largely initiated. It was built upon a foundation that sought the best of two cultures. The basis remained Islam, but the Spanish Muslims were not afraid to learn the arts and sciences of others. Much of the classical philosophy we study today only reached us because the earlier Muslims preserved the texts in Arabic. This philosophy preceded Islam, but there remained some value in these texts that was worth preserving. This was not a compromise on their own values or beliefs, but a reflection of the curiosity and discovery encouraged by Islam.

It would have been easy for the Sahabah to brush off the suggestion of Salman al-Farsi radhiyallaho'anh to build a trench around Madinah. After all, Salman was coming from a society of fire-worshippers who were not guided by Allah or the Prophet. But in spite of this, the Prophet sallalaho'alayhi wa salam saw value in the idea, which ultimately lead to the successful defence of the city. This wasn't imitation of the kufaar; this was a case of taking the good from another society and adopting it.

Where have we gone wrong? It's not that Muslims are uneducated. When I first started at the University of Ottawa, I was surprised to see that half of my professors were Muslim, and the dean of the faculty was a Muslim woman wearing hijab. Nearly all the teaching assistants were Muslim, as were most of the graduate students. Most of them were Egyptian, but there was a good number of Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi Muslims amongst them as well. There were some exceptionally brilliant people among them who were the pride of the faculty.

Among the graduate students was my Egyptian roommate of two years. While he was also very intelligent, living with him gave me a peek into what really goes on in the minds of these Muslim students. I lived with him during the course of his Masters degree, and I knew he hated every minute of it. He would come home frustrated and angry, but never gave up. His perseverance astonished me. During this time, he went through a messy engagement that lasted over a year before breaking, but he kept his dedication high and his grades strong, something I failed to do during a somewhat similar ordeal. While he clearly lacked interest in his studies, he did extremely well. All the while, he would lament about how he would rather have been a cook instead, though the fool he used to serve me at breakfast made me glad he took up engineering instead.

Eventually, I moved away to live closer to the university, and he left the city as well after successfully completing his masters degree. Several months later, he called me up regarding some outstanding bills, but not before we caught up with one another.

"So what have you been up to lately?", I asked.

"I'm just doing my PhD right now, should be done in a year or two," he replied. I was astonished! A PhD? The poor guy hated every minute of his masters', I couldn't imagine him going through yet another several years in earning the PhD. I asked him to explain.

"Well, I'm planning on visiting Egypt soon," he said. "And I would feel shy to go back there with just a masters' degree." Just a masters' degree. I started realizing that many of these people were getting degrees only for the sake of degrees. I recalled one night where he had taken me to visit one of his friends who was working at a local pizza place. This friend was working there to cover the costs of his own PhD. He had already completed two masters' degrees in Engineering, and was well on his way to completing his PhD. And he was working in a pizza place. With two masters' degrees. I asked him what he wanted to do after he completed his studies, and he casually said "I'm doing what I want to do."

It's unfortunate that I've rarely seen any of these students venture outside academia; they generally become professors, or leave the discipline entirely. They could accomplish so much with their talents and education, but their education often goes to waste because it is sought for the wrong reasons. After living with that roommate for as long as I did, I discovered one frustrating trait of upper-Egyptian culture: higher education is not something that is considered exemplary or honourable; rather, the lack of higher education is something that is considered shameful.

Really, all that education is serving little more than to pad up their biodata (and according to my roommate, that's really the main goal). There's an incredible talent pool sitting there in the Muslim world, but not one single Muslim engineering firm has demonstrated much innovation in the last 50 years or so outside of the oil industry. Yet, there are PhD graduates in Computer and Electrical engineering making pizzas (and serving as prime ministers in inefficient governments.) All the while, we drive European and Japanese cars, talk on Finnish cell phones, and use American software.

I have often thought of Germany as a viable example for the Arab and Muslim world to follow. This is a country that has been decimated twice in the last hundred years, but has built itself up only on the strength of it's own people. It is not a land replete with natural resources, nor is it one with significant trade routes. Yet it is full of dedicated workers who can look beyond their past to harvest a better future. And it's been working.

There are opportunities out there to be explored, and a talent pool with the knowledge to make the most of these opportunities. Andalus was the envy of Europe, as much for it's advanced civilization as it's religion. Today, we are barely hanging onto our religion, and have hardly any civilization to be proud of. Progress starts by beginning with the fundamentals, and regaining that sense of discovery that the early Muslims brought forth. It doesn't happen in spite of Islam, it happens because of it.