December 17, 2007

To my neighbour

As part of the Monday original content on, here are some thoughts that crossed my mind after a discussion with a colleague.

I don’t blame you for having a skewed image of me. Every day, it seems like there’s another story that undoubtedly affects your perception of the Muslim community. Whether it be the ridiculous response to offensive cartoons, or the nearly daily attacks that take place in our war-torn countries, it must be difficult for you not to think we’re just a little bit suspicious. The murder case here at home, which has dominated headlines this past week, certainly does not help our case.

Read the entire post here, and leave your comments there.

Update 2007.12.24: You can also read the (slightly edited) piece at, where it was recently featured.

December 11, 2007

I am completely normal

After an extended lull, things became very busy for me very quickly, and I haven't had time to write anything. I still don't have time to write anything of substance, but I'll take a short break to respond to Manas' open invitation to uncover weirdness. Yes, I'm doing a tag. This won't become a habit.

  1. I can recite the English alphabet backwards just as quickly as I can do it forwards.

  2. I tend to get nervous when speaking with someone one-on-one, but am perfectly comfortable in front of large audiences. I've been on stage with no script in front of nearly a thousand people with no hesitations whatsoever, but I find I can't articulate very well when I'm with just one other person.

  3. My right eye tends to tear up when it is even just mildly cold (it seems to start when it drops below -5 degrees). This has often lead to kindly strangers at bus stops asking me if everything was alright.

  4. Not much more to say about this, really.

  5. I can make a rhyme out of anything, a skill which I've exploited on way too many occasions. Back in CEGEP, I began my final Bioethics project with a sonnet in which I complained about how much I disliked my professor's teaching style. Though I criticized her openly in the poem, she found the idea to be brilliant, and only offered some minor rebuttals to my criticism while giving me 100% on the project. I also left a rhyme, a parody of an Eminem song, at the desk of one university professor, whose course I nearly failed because I capitalized the letter C in a filename. (Long, depressing story.) In my first week at work, I wrote and presented a poem to teach my team about the illegality of insider trading.

  6. I really dislike sand. I've never understood the attraction of beaches; I appreciate natural beauty, but I just don't find anything appealing about sandy beaches. I can honestly say that I don't enjoy being at the beach at all. (So to those of you who I'm taking to Florida, we're not going to any beaches.)

  7. Poor spelling bothers me way too much. If something is within my capacity to fix, I'll fix it. I still maintain my old MSA website, and whenever anyone posts a classified ad or forum post with bad spelling, I'll go into the database directly and make the corrections. I'll also fix Wikipedia entries, and even edit e-mails sent to me in Outlook when there are too many typos. (Although I don't know why Outlook lets you edit incoming e-mails - it seems like that should be a defect.)

Those of you who know me personally probably can identify other oddities, but overall I think I'm a pretty normal person. A normal person with a blog who doesn't like doing tags. Perhaps my aversion to tags, or almost anything else that's "popular", is a weirdness in itself. Or maybe everyone else is weird.

November 25, 2007

Irrelevance Day 2007: The Year That Wasn't

Who would have thought I'd keep this going a third year?

And this year, I tried. Indeed, I tried putting an end to the irrelevance. There were numerous occasions in which I thought, "this is the last time I post on Irrelevant Opinions". I called it Irrelevant Opinions because I expected it to remain irrelevant, a mere pastime that I could leave as easily as I began it.

But moreso than any year prior, these silly pages had a significant impact on the year that was. It was certainly a challenging year; between the ludicrous amount of travel, a handful of side projects, and numerous family complexities, life was in a constant state of disarray. Things finally began to quiet down two months ago; life slowed down, until it eventually came to a complete halt. I didn't expect things to become so stagnant so quickly, after such a volatile year. After so much movement, I can't help but feel bored during this current period of calm.

And ultimately, I find myself in much the same situation now as I was last year. I didn't write much this year, but a lot happened behind the scenes. But, like a season of Seinfeld episodes, nothing really changed in the end. Characters had their entrances and exits, there were a few good laughs, some dramatic undertones, but the season finale left everyone in the same predicament as the season premiere. If a viewer wasn't paying close attention, he'd think he was watching reruns.

Like last year and the year before, I'll highlight my personal favourites from this year.

12.05.2006 - Andalus: Great documentary, and I like the post I wrote along with it.

2.06.2007 - Allegorical Absurdity: Goldilocks: The first in what has become something of a series across multiple blogs, this story is one of my better pieces of reactionary fiction.

4.01.2007 - ill relevant opinions: I don't consider this one of my favourites at all, I just want to apologize again for this. Sorry.

5.13.2007 - In Defense of the Sunnah: Remind, for reminder proves beneficial for the believers.

7.02.2007 - sillypost: A meaningless linguistic exercise.

7.25.2007 - And be not divided among yourselves: I reread this piece recently, and was surprised I wrote it. It made me realize that I'm a better writer than I am a person; I can only hope that I come close to the ideals I illustrate. Right now I feel quite disenchanted with my own personality; I need to become a better person.

2007.07.31 - Photos: Serenity: And Faraz finally gets a digital camera. Now, I can substitute actual content with failed attempts at photography.

2007.08.22 - Allegorical Absurdity: Three Little Pigs: The next chapter in the Allegorical Absurdity series. For the many of you who wondered about the "protected" Ugly Duckling post, again, I must apologize: this was a silly joke; there is no password, and no post hidden behind it.

So, here we are; another year gone by. I still enjoy writing, and I will continue to do so for a long time. These Irrelevant Opinions won't disappear, especially not for the petty reasons I thought to close it before.

Those of you who continue to visit and read, thank you for your kindness. Many of you have left, or will be leaving shortly. But if you happen to stumble upon these words, I wish you every success in all of your endeavours.

November 22, 2007

Photos: That Time of Year

Not quite December yet, and we've already had our first ice storm. Those of my readers who remember January 1998 in Montreal will remember that in spite of the havoc wreaked upon the city by the vicious weather, there was such beauty in the destruction. Every branch and every leaf was encased in ice, crystallized, and the trees shined brilliantly underneath the moonlight. It is a shame that digital cameras weren't in common use back then.

Here are some random icicle photos from today's storm:

And there's my car in the background:

It took a few tries before I could get the timing right on this one:

And now, back to work for me.

November 19, 2007

Of all things

We have a printout of an e-mail on our masjid notice board that alleges that Coke and Pepsi contain pork. Pork! It sounds quite reaching, almost as if the writer was just trying to scare people, but it's worth sharing regardless.

Personally, I avoid Coke and Pepsi because I don't like the way they taste. I've never seen anything corroborating the pork thing, though. The article itself seemed rather suspect, with little referencing and some rather silly statements (e.g. "Also drinking 6 bottles of Pepsi or Cola at a time causes instant death"). Here's the source of the article.

The scientific and medical research says that drinking Pepsi & Cola leads to cancer because the key element is taken from Pigs sausage. The heavenly books Quran, Bible and Torah forbids eating Pork, as it is the only animal that eats dirt, dung and urine, which makes lethal and deadly fabric polluted germs and microbes.

According to a report published in Jordanian magazine, the head of Delhi University's Science and Technology Center, Dr. Mangoshada scientifically proved that the key element in Pepsi and Cola contains extract from the intestines of Pig which causes cancer and other deadly diseases.

What do you think? Believable? Far-fetched? Silly? Well, it's no good for you anyway, so best to avoid it.

November 11, 2007

Binary Logic

For some reason, I had this post in my drafts for the last six months, unfinished and forgotten. I didn't like it much then, but I might as well post it. In the absence of anything else, here it is.

"What is the matter, you don't like Eid? Why do you hate Eid?"

This was one of the stranger questions I've ever been asked by someone, and I had a really hard time explaining myself. As was the case nearly every year, there was division on the date of Eid-ul-Fitr, and I had chosen to follow the local mosque. My Egyptian roommate, who was nearly twice my age at the time, found it very offensive that I was not praying on the same day as himself. As much as I tried to explain the difference of opinions to him, he took my autonomy as a sign of hatred towards Eid itself.

I've heard the same sort of logic applied in many cases, where one is unable or unwilling to recognize a middle ground, or practice subtlety. Everything is simple, black and white, and not worthy of discussion. Particularly on matters related to Islamic rulings, I would encounter the same sort of mindless argumentation from Muslims who were simply incapable of understanding opposing viewpoints. For many, there is nothing between forbidden and required, between good and bad, between right and wrong. Such polarization occasionally leads to these people taking very principled stands on what they believe to be right, but often it reduces them to silliness.

I recall being out for dinner with a group of volunteers at a recent Islamic conference. Among the volunteers was a contingent of international students of Arab origin, who matched nearly every stereotype thrown at the Arab community. In earlier years, we found it nearly impossible to tap into the potential of this community; they would typically shun such volunteer work, and ignore these sorts of events. But through the outstanding people skills of one of our volunteers, one of the more influential brothers from this group offered his help. And once that one individual came in, dozens of others joined him. This group stuck together, for better or for worse, in whatever pursuits they found themselves.

As we ate our shawarma, one of the Arabs brought out a case of non-alcoholic beer. The Arabs jumped on the case quickly. A few of us, who happened to all be born in Canada, hesitated to touch the cans. While we knew it was non-alcoholic, the very idea of sitting around in a loud restaurant drinking beer did not sit well with us. We all politely refused.

This offended the Arabs. "Who refuses to drink this?", one yelled. Another interjected, "Wallahi! Who do you think you are!"

I didn't understand what all the fuss was about, until this comment:

"Brother! Allah has said not to make haram what is halal! Why won't you drink?"

And there it was. The faulty reasoning that plagues so many Muslims coming to North America - that anything that is not forbidden automatically becomes required. The mentality that we need to do something, just because we can. Above all, it is the mentality that wants to emulate the West as much as it can without blatantly overstepping the boundaries of Islam. I have heard this argument used to support everything from divorce to Loblaws chicken to smoking. That, coupled with "but the Prophet said Islam was easy!", make for a formidable duo in justifying any number of activities.

What transpired then was just one amusing episode of a bizarre addiction to non-alcoholic beer. I remember another friend telling me that he hates the way it tastes, but keeps drinking it anyway because "it is good for his kidneys". This friend was by no means the picture of good health and nutrition, so his insistence on strengthening his kidneys seemed rather absurd. In practice, he came across as someone who simply needed to feed a desire to appear Westernized while remaining within the realm of permissibility in Islam. There is nothing wrong with the action per se, but the silly justifications are tiresome and unnecessary.

Regarding divorce, I recall when a friend of mine complained about his then-engagement going through some bumps. "But I think we'll still get married," he told me. "If things don't work out, we can always divorce." Shocked by how casually he could consider divorce even before getting married, I pleaded with him to reconsider if he had such negative thoughts going in. He replied by telling me that even the Companions of the Prophet salallaho'alayhi wa salam divorced, so who are we to argue against it? The gaps in his logic baffled me. He never did end up marrying, eventually realizing himself that he could not make things work, and "divorcing later" was not an option he should ever have considered.

The lesson that must be learned is that things really aren't so simple. The ability to think critically on issues appears to be lacking in much of the Arab world, a cultural weakness that betrays the Islamic principles of reason. And this, in my personal opinion, is one of the main reasons that extremism does exist in the Muslim West. I don't think it's nearly as bad as the media would make it out to be, but it would be rather naive to say extremism doesn't exist at all. Individuals are lead to believe that there is no room for nuance, and that everyone must pick a side. And for a few, the side they pick is one which deviates from classical teachings. Admittedly, it is a rather large leap from halality of chicken to all-out religious extremism, but the commonality is in the failure to critically analyze and understand other opinions.

Education is the key. And producing hundreds of Engineers every year from every university is not the type of education that's needed; critical thinking needs to be taught from a young age. Debate and discussion needs to be part of the curriculum. Solid ethics needs to be the underlying principle in the pursuit of all education. And we must all learn that it's okay to be wrong every once in a while; it's a reality we need to accept.

Of course, I'll never hate Eid, but the fact that such a concept could even be imagined continues to tickle me all these years later. But the same mentality could be stretched to hatred of other things, and hatred breeds many dark ambitions. We don't live in a world where "good guys" and "bad guys" are as easily discerned as in the cartoons we grew up watching, and hatred is too strong a feeling to dispense so freely. As such, we need to do away with the lines being drawn in the sand, and take our positions based on our own critical analysis. Like Islam itself, the truth will lie somewhere in the middle.

October 31, 2007

Awake is back up and running, as of today! JazakAllah to Manas for getting the ball rolling again.

But what is this website? is an initiative to scour and identify the best of the Muslim blogosphere. There's a lot of good content out there, but finding it is not always easy. The team at goes through the laborious effort of digging through tonnes of content daily, to find the content that best articulates the issues that matter. Update 2007.11.08: I've added a little feed that shows the last five posts from Ijtema on the bottom-right corner.

But wait, there's more!

At least, there will be, insha-Allah. Stay tuned.

But what about Irrelevant Opinions?

As most of you know, I just took an extended break through all of Ramadhan and beyond. To be honest, nothing interesting happened during these few weeks, but it was refreshing. I'm still waiting for some inspiration to write, but things are at quite a lull. If I don't find anything meaningful to write anytime soon, I'll just find something to complain about eventually.

October 20, 2007

Weak Signal

I was out for dinner a few days ago with a number of my old MSA friends that I had not seen in several years. Among those present at the dinner, half of the group was now married, while the rest of us were all in various stages of transition from academia to the working life. The topic of conversation briefly moved to marriage, and the married folk among my friends insisted on offering their thoughts and feelings on what marriage means.

One offered up this analogy:

"Finding a wife ... is like finding a good cell phone plan. It takes a long time, but if you get the right one, it's ... very good."

He tried supporting his analogy with some examples, but I don't think anyone quite understood the point he was trying to make. Or maybe it was just me; marriage metaphors are just not my thing.

"I'm on a Pay-as-you-Go plan," I replied. "I don't think that would be quite ethical..."

The evening remained quite enjoyable, but the married folks eventually had to leave, unable to join the rest of us for the obligatory post-dinner Tim Hortons trip.

"Yeah, I should get back home," one said. "My wife called a few times."

One of my friends offered the following retort, which finally made sense of the absurd cell phone analogy.

"Oh, so I take it you've ran out of minutes?"

October 12, 2007

Back Home, and Eid Mubarak!


I pray everyone had/is having a wonderful Eid insha-Allah. We are celebrating tomorrow insha-Allah.

I'm back home after a couple of weeks away, and am just catching up with my e-mails and voicemails now. Things are very busy at home so if you're waiting on something from me, it will still be another few days at least. I probably won't post anything substantial here for another couple of weeks or so. Until then, keep me in your du'as.

All the best,

September 15, 2007


I was in Chicago when I received a call regarding a project I was needed for in Vancouver. "Three months," they told me. Three months, including a rigorous three week development cycle. I protested early on that such a schedule was impractical, but I did my best regardless.

Only fifteen months and over 300,000 kilometres of travel later would I finally say farewell to the ocean and the mountains of the Pacific coast. It was a bittersweet feeling booking that last one-way flight back home. But Ramadhan was approaching, and I could not deal with another such month breaking my fast each night in the office with Tim Horton's and Subway, all alone or with a Jewish colleague.

It seemed fitting that my first Tarawih of the year was performed alone in an airport chapel. It summarized my whole year; out of my element, isolated, but comforting in a way, with only Allah to hear me.

I made intention early on to make the most of the coming Ramadhan, to make up for the sense of community I lost when navigating a difficult travel schedule. Every year, I would hear someone give a speech about how thankful we should be for meeting Ramadhan again each year; a wise reminder, no doubt, but somehow it never quite struck me how valuable this time really is.

I must have given that same speech myself dozens of times. Particularly, my final semester at the university saw me delivering the brief post-Maghrib lecture every day. Even speaking the words myself, perhaps they failed to touch my own heart the way such reminders should.

I was at the end of my studies, managing a full course load with a part-time job. I never got to know the wide-eyed first year students who sat patiently with us every day. Often, they would ask my friends and I about university culture, residence life, and other points of academia. And us grizzled veterans would respond, sharing our war stories and attempts at wisdom. Unfortunately, they were mere faces to me, without names, and once I graduated they became distant memories.

These three students may have been among those who sat with us, ate with us, and sought advice from us. They may have been amongst those who heard the same message I keep forgetting each year, that every Ramadhan is a blessing that should not be taken lightly. And perhaps they believed themselves that Ramadhan was only a few days away when they decided to go swimming at Gatineau Park, and perhaps they too had the intention to take better advantage of the approaching month.

But life itself is a gift that can be taken away from us at any time. Each moment may be our last, and each moment can make or break our hereafter. I didn't know the three students personally, but I almost certainly had seen them before. Final year Engineering students in their early twenties, they certainly faced many of the same experiences and challenges I did just a few years ago. But their lives were cut short; undoubtedly, someday we will all join them.

Looking at my own life, I realized that I had become complacent over the last few months, anticipating a Ramadhan in which I would be able to realign myself after a turbulent year. It never occurred to me that I may not have made it that far myself, that "waiting for Ramadhan" should never have been an option.

But by the mercy of Allah, here we are. We all need the solemn reminders that come with such incidents as described above, but we should also remember that this month should be shared, enjoyed, and celebrated with our families and friends. Our sense of community thrives in this month - let us take advantage of it. Enjoy it. And let us all take it upon ourselves to nourish this love and togetherness, such that it is sustained well beyond this blessed month.

May you and your families all have a blessed, productive, and enjoyable Ramadhan.

Ramadhan Mubarak!

Rhyme-adan: I'm reposting this poem because it's silly enough to make me smile, while actually touching on some relevant points.

September 11, 2007

Photos: Seattle A bunch of random stuff

The rhinoceros from the previous post was used to identify one section of the parking lot at Butchart Gardens. That visit was at the tail end of my final Pacific weekend, in which I tried completing the last of my personal West Coast goals. I wasn't able to cross every item off the list, but I did come close.

The first segment of my weekend journey was a road trip to Seattle. I've always had a slanted perception of Americans, thinking they were impolite and crass. My last couple of visits to Chicago only reaffirmed those perceptions. But Seattle was different; it reminded me that in spite of the ridiculous, imperialist policies of the nation to the south, the average American is not that different from us. The few people of Seattle that I interacted with had a very Canadian personality, and the city itself felt no different than Vancouver.

Of course, I didn't anticipate getting stuck in traffic for over two hours before the border, allowing me just shy of three hours to explore the city itself. Fortunately, the border itself was uneventful, with my interrogation limited to two simple questions about my Middle Eastern travels.

On reaching Seattle, I had only a few precious hours to explore the city. All alone and with only a few handwritten notes on driving directions, I found myself lost quite quickly. After driving around in circles for twenty minutes, I finally found myself approaching downtown.

I wouldn't recommend attempting photography while driving 120km/h, but it was the only opportunity I had. Nearly all of my Seattle pictures were taken from the car.

The sky took an almost alien hue on my return. Being stuck at the border another ninety minutes allowed me to watch the full sunset against the Pacific ocean, which was an absolutely incredible sight.

Though my American sojourn was extremely short, seeing this sign was comforting; there's no place like home.

More pictures here.

I'll try to get the Victoria pictures up for tomorrow, with my closing thoughts on Vancouver and the journey thus far. I don't expect to post anything through all of Ramadhan.

Update 2007.09.15: I'm not going to write anything about the rest of the weekend, I'll just post links to my public photo galleries.
From 2007-09-02 Do...

  • Wax Museum - warning: some disturbing pictures here
    From 2007-09-02 Wa...

    Butchart Gardens - very nice pictures here!
    From 2007-09-02 Bu...
  • September 05, 2007


    Rhinoceros crossing. Please keep your speed to 10 km/h.

    August 22, 2007

    Allegorical Absurdity: Three Little Pigs

    There once was a pig, who lived in the West
    Amid the fields and mountains did this pig rest
    Lush blades of green crowning the valley crest
    A world of his own, quite different from the rest

    But the elements were strong, at the winters' last thaw
    The torrents coming down, from which pig could not withdraw
    The pressure built with time, exposing the valleys' flaw
    So he built himself a home of the sturdiest straw

    'twas the finest stalk he could find, this little pig
    and so danced the pig, a merry little jig!
    not a strand out of place, not a single twig!
    a basement for a bunker, did this pig dig!

    And along came a wolf, or perhaps her twin!
    Poor little pig, his hair standing on his skin!
    "Little pig, little pig, let me in!"
    "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!"

    And she huffed, and she puffed, and gave it her all
    And though the straw may have shifted, the hut did not fall
    When at last the pig saw an escape, and began to crawl
    To find another valley to raise another wall

    Little time he had to spare, as another wolf was near
    Little pig felt exposed, out there in the clear
    Little did pig know that it was that time of year
    When wolves do their hunting, when pigs should disappear!

    And with the help of another, he built a house of wood
    "This time they'd come back harder", as any wolf would
    The straw hut did well, in the valley it still stood
    But a house of oak and pine would teach those wolves good.

    And thus the wolf approached, to the hut of oak and pine
    As the pigs stood motionless in their little shrine
    The hour was near, we'd see the strength of their design!
    The pigs in anticipation, thinking they'd be fine.

    And thus the wolf approached, with an evilish grin!
    But the house was of wood, much to her chagrin
    "Little pig, little pig, let me in!"
    "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"

    And she huffed, and she puffed, to blow the house away
    But in spite of heavy puffing, the house would not sway
    Annoyed and offended, the wolf was heard to say,
    "No fair, I'm a wolf, not a thing of play!"

    Still insecure, the pigs thought it best to move
    After all, the wolves would eventually find their groove
    If they wanted to remain safe, they'd have to improve
    And find a solution that mother pig would approve

    A third wolf came around, coming from a land far away
    Where pigs resist her taunts in houses made of clay
    Perhaps this wolf would see where the first two went astray
    And catch the little pigs without further delay

    The house of wood was strong, but was it strong enough?
    Rumour had it that this new wolf was very very tough
    Wood may not have lasted against her huff and her puff
    To beat this latest threat, they'd need some stronger stuff!

    So three pigs conspired, they had to think quick!
    This wolf was no slouch, they'd need something thick.
    Finally, one pig thought, "why not use some brick?"
    The others applauded, "that should do the trick!"

    Thus, a hut was built, of the finest mortar and stone.
    And the torrents came down harder, the wind would howl and moan
    The rain pelted the rooftops, the storm disconnected the phone
    And along came the wolf, and this one wasn't alone.

    They imagined the walls crashing down, reminiscent of Berlin!
    The pigs peeked out in fear, it was about to begin...
    "Little pig, little pig, let me in!"
    "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"

    And so she huffed, and she puffed, and she huffed again
    Then blew with all her might, until her lungs were drained
    The rustic house of brick was able to resist the strain
    And the wolves decided it was time to end their campaign.

    The first little pig remained in the house, withdrawn
    Thinking the wolf threat was now completely gone
    Little did pig know that the threat would respawn
    As a fourth hungry wolf awaited on the lawn!

    The pig heard a voice, and he called out from within,
    "Who awaits on my lawn, and speaks therein?"
    She said, "little pig, little pig, let me in!"
    "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!"

    "But it's huffing, and puffing, and going to get cold!"
    Confused, the pig decided it was time to be bold.
    He cracked open the door, and lo and behold!
    Was a friendly little wolf, with a teapot in hold.

    "I just wanted to know," she said, "if you'd like some tea.
    You already offended my sisters, one, two, and three!
    And I thought it would be nice to share, if only you'd agree
    We're only trying to be nice and neighbourly."

    And thus it became clear, this was no deadly scheme,
    All that huffing and puffing was just the call of the steam.
    And now poor pig has a reputation to redeem,
    Learning that wolves are not always what they seem.

    August 12, 2007

    Bookshelf Identity

    Since the beginning of the year, I've hardly visited my own apartment. I've kept it around because I love the location, and it's been of great service to Muslim students that I've accommodated for the last little while.

    Of late, I've been hosting large groups of visiting Al-Maghrib students in my apartment. I never actually meet these people, as I'm never around anymore. But often I wonder, when these people stay at my place, what impression does my home give to visitors who never actually meet me? As I returned to my apartment yesterday for the first time in months, I realized that my two bookshelves probably serve as the best indication of my personality.

    In the foreground is my complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, followed by project management notes I compiled during a training seminar I took last year. The rest of the books cover four years of Engineering studies, and a few other non-fiction publications. Sitting atop all these hardcover books is my little manual on changing the world.

    My other bookshelf contains my Islamic content. The titles here effectively speak for themselves. The "Saviours of the Islamic Spirit" collection is a fantastic read, and the seerah shown to the right is among the best I've read. The top shelf contains the four volumes of Shaikh Abul Hasan's Qissasus Nabiyeen in Arabic, the reader of choice for the Shariah Program. All of these books were written by Shaikh Abul Hasan ali Nadwi rahmatullahi'alaih, whose contributions to modern Islamic scholarship are astounding. It is an unfortunate reality that such scholars, who transcended the petty differences we find our ummah mired in, are very few and far between today.

    Overall, I do believe that the literature on my shelves is a fairly accurate reflection of my personality. I would imagine that any guests who perused my bookshelves would develop at least a rudimentary understanding of their host, even though they never met me in person.

    What does your bookshelf say about you? Does it accurately reflect your personality?

    This almost sounds like a tag. In which case, any blogger who is reading this is invited to display their own bookshelves, and share it with the world.

    Update 2007.09.03: We have participants!
    If anyone else has done this, then let me know and I'll put a link up here.

    July 31, 2007

    Photos: Serenity

    I finally decided that it was time to buy myself a decent digital camera. My first attempt at camera ownership only lasted a few days; I bought an Olympus FE-115, went to Whistler and took about a hundred shots, then returned it a couple of days later. It was the cheapest one I could find, and understandably so. It was rather cumbersome to use, and took way too long between pictures.

    My new camera is a Canon PowerShot SD1000, which I am absolutely loving so far. At first, I thought most of the features were somewhat useless; I never thought I'd need an "Aquarium" mode, for example. But lo and behold, only three days after the purchase, I found myself in an aquarium, face to face with some pretty amazing looking animals.


    The jellyfish were quite a sight to behold. The near translucence of their structure was something I had never quite seen before in a living organism. Truly amazing, subhanAllah.


    The sea otters were napping at the time, but they looked pretty darn cute and comfortable doing so.


    It never ceases to amaze me how much beauty there is even in the smallest creatures in nature, subhanAllah.

    The camera purchase was also partially one of my first steps in my farewell to the West Coast. It has been an amazing experience, and I thought it necessary to capture as much of it as possible before I leave for good. There are a few sights I will miss in particular.

    This was a new one for me, though I had passed this way so many times. I am not entirely sure what the intent of this monument is; does anyone have any ideas?

    My weekend ended at the Pacific Coast, just a few kilometres north of the American border.

    This is a fairly cliché shot, but I assure you that the lens flare effect is not photoshopped in.

    A man can get a lot of thinking done in a place like this. Of course, I've done more than enough thinking. It's time to take some action.

    July 26, 2007

    Coneheads redux

    Canadian Islam 101: Wooden Domes? | Seeker's Digest

    I'm loving this union of Islamic architecture and Canadian ingenuity. Seems like something out of Hobbiton, with a touch of Andalus on the side. As I start looking more deeply into the housing market, it's definitely something to think about.

    July 25, 2007

    And be not divided among yourselves...

    And hold fast, all of you together to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves (3:103)

    A rather unhealthy discussion took off recently on a Muslim blog that I visit. I've mentioned before how much I dislike on-line discussion forums, because most of them degenerate into pages upon pages of ad hominem attacks and mindless nonsense; it is much worse when the parties involved are Muslim. Earlier, a similar argument took place among some friends, who had forfeited their mutual friendship over some rather petty disagreements on the issues of the day. It was rather sad how two individuals who had been together for so long became enemies so quickly, as anger and pride robbed them of rational thought and reason.

    I had read and heard a great deal from scholars about the merits of reconciling disputes between Muslims, but I have never been much of a mediator. Without access to the friends and mentors whose advice I'd normally seek in such cases, I went straight into my collection of hadith and found some beautiful words that are worth sharing here. It also serves as a fitting follow-up to my earlier post on anger.

    On Anger:
    Abdullah ibne 'Umar radhiAllahu'anh narrates that Rasulullah salallaho'alayhi wa salam said, "No gulp swallowed by a slave of Allah is dearer to Allah, the Almighty and Majestic, than a gulp of anger which he swallows, seeking nothing other than the pleasure of Allah." (Musnad Ahmad)

    Ibne 'Abbas radhiAllahu'anh narrates that Rasulullah salallaho'alayhi wa salam said, "Teach people, and give them glad tidings, and don't make things difficult for them, and when anyone of you gets angry, he should remain silent." (Musnad Ahmad)

    Silence. Whether it is holding our tongues or holding our keyboards, a little silence can go a long way in maintaining cordial relations.

    The second hadith quoted here also speaks of remaining optimistic, and being easy on people. Unfortunately, many Muslims get scared away from Islamic discourse, whether it be in the masjid or on a message board, because we fill these discussions with prohibitions and punishments. Such discourse would be more fruitful and inviting if we were to maintain a pleasant demeanour, and focus on the positive.

    On Reconciliation
    Abu Darda radhiAllahu'anh narrates that Rasulullah salallaho'alayhi wa salam said, "Shall I not inform you about something more virtuous than fasting, prayers, and charity?" The Companions replied, "Certainly, do tell us!" The Prophet answered, "Harmony and unity between you is the most virtuous act, whereas discord amongst you wipes clean the Deen, just as the razor cleanly shaves the head. Similarly, fighting and hostility amongst you perishes the Deen." (Tirmidhi)

    I recall a virus of rumours that had infected my circle of friends in the MSA. It started off as a personal matter between two people, but quickly escalated to one that threatened the very organization. I recall my own judgement being clouded by the thoughts that had entered my heart about the brothers in our circle; lines had been drawn, and it quickly became an "us versus them" matter. Of course, I believed at the time that I had done nothing wrong, that if only "they" would apologize, everything would be fine. We placed the burden of responsibility on the "others", while they placed it on us.

    Fortunately, may Allah bless him, one brother saw through this mess and brought it forward, bluntly and honestly. It became apparent that none of us were guiltless; we all contributed to fostering this hostility. While some of us may not have actually said or done anything to perpetuate the rumours, we actively participated in them simply by harbouring them in our hearts. We let the hatred live. We gave it a home, provided it fuel and shelter, and thus we were equally guilty in sowing disunity as those who initiated the rumours.

    We talk about "unity" as a slogan frequently, and we also talk about shedding labels amongst Muslims; but in practicality, we're still criticizing one another, and allowing hostility to fester amongst ourselves. The problem is not that we, as a Muslim ummah, don't seek unity today; I sincerely think we do. The problem is that we all think that unity means that others have to conform to our way, our philosophy. It's a function of pride; why should I be the one to compromise, after all? We're all for unity, so long as we don't need to change our own lives in the process.

    There is no panacea that will cause every Muslim to agree with one another. Unity must mean respecting one another in spite of our differences. Mere tolerance is not enough; we must honour one another, as Allah has honoured all of us by virtue of the belief in our hearts.

    When our own episode of hatred was brought to light, I could not help but think of the rewards that brother must be receiving for his role in bringing us back together. Our little group went on to accomplish some great things, none of which could have been achieved had we let a little pride and anger conquer our brotherhood. Years later, and our group remains tight, though we are now considerably divided geographically.

    Sometimes, it just takes a little kick of hatred to find true friendship.

    July 18, 2007

    Not with a bang, but a whimper

    I've always wondered what I would sound like when I finally got frustrated enough to let loose. Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

    I've normally been one to reserve my emotions considerably. Occasionally, I would express frustration within a small circle of close friends and family, perhaps, but never to the point where I would say things I regret, or lose control of my better judgement. I never swear, much to the amazement of old high school friends. I used to tell them that swearing too much lessens the value of swearing; I explained that because swearing was so common for them, they'd have no vulgarities to express themselves when they were really feeling frustrated. Everyone knew that if they heard me swear, it would mean that I was extremely angry, because such language had never been heard from my lips before. Fortunately, no one ever had to hear it, because nothing ever angered me enough to even raise my voice. All those years of reserved emotion made me unsure as to whether I could even express myself if I needed to.

    It finally came crashing down last week, after the pressures of sustaining a half million dollar project by myself caught up with me. And when I got to that point, unloading all that had accumulated, I was rather surprised at how polite it all was. Still apologetic, my voice no louder than ever before, I worried that my faint plea for help lacked the urgency that raw anger brings with it. It almost felt like a waste, that even in my worst moments, I still came across as quiet and reserved. I had seen others explode before; yes, they would say stupid things, but they were definitely heard. At the very least, it was always a spectacle to see the energy and passion that came from those outbursts, even if the consequences were ultimately against their favour. My own outburst was almost laughable in comparison.

    An impending flight cut short my rant, which was probably for the better. I didn't say everything I wanted to, but perhaps I would've let something regrettable slip in if given the time. As I struggled to find sleep over that flight, I thought to myself, was my sorry excuse for frustration even worth it? What was I so upset about anyway? Reviewing all that I had gone through, it all seemed so trivial and inconsequential. Even my weak expression of exasperation seemed overdone and unnecessary.

    Anger can only get one so far. It's an emotion that has a powerful reach, channelling energy we didn't know we had, but it is nearly always destructive. There are the rare people who can translate their anger into positive action, but the majority of us let it consume ourselves. It brings out the worst in us.

    The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him once said, what could be loosely translated as the strongest man being not the best wrestler, but the one who controls himself when he is angry. It's true. Anyone can develop physical strength, but the passion of rage will conquer that strength every time. Someone who can conquer that rage, to suppress that passion, has done something far more difficult, far more worthy of respect. That restraint will win more battles than rage ever will. Just ask Bruce Banner.

    An old mentor of mine once advised me strongly, do not get angry at people. He said that no matter what a person may do to push your buttons, always look for the good in that person. No matter how hard you have to dig, no matter how deeply it may be buried, there is at least some good in everyone, and our job as Muslims is to find that good, and to wish well for that person. That hidden iota of goodness may, after all, be what changes that person forever. The Prophet salAllaho'alayhi wa salam saw good in 'Umar radhiAllahu'anh, for example, even when Umar's sworn mission was to kill the Prophet. Thus, at no point should we hold a grudge against anyone, or wish harm upon anyone, because we never know what good may be found in that person. Our Prophet was sent as a Mercy to the worlds, and consequently this ummah is also one of mercy; we are not an ummah of revenge or vindication. Whether our anger is justified or not, whether it is grave or trivial, conquering that anger with patience will always yield better fruits than succumbing to it.

    My own weak outburst left me only mildly satisfied at the time, and is proving now to have been a big mistake. In retrospect, the hour I spent narrating my frustrations will probably cost me a few points in my performance review, and I'll regret it if I get passed up for promotion. One Day, our entire lives will be subject to a performance review, and each moment that we held malice or unwarranted anger in our hearts will likely cost us a few points again. On that Day, however, "promotion" is eternal, and there's no "waiting until next year" if we are passed up.

    July 14, 2007

    Gee, had I known...

    Canadians can now mention bombs, guns at airports | Reuters

    Good news from the world of Canadian air travel! I think it might be safe to say that I'm at least among the top hundred most frequent air travellers among Canadian Muslims within the last sixteen months (over 250,000km so far), so anything that makes my travel safer is good for me.

    So if I ever run into you at the airport, old friend, I'll greet you just as enthusiastically.

    July 11, 2007

    Congratulations, Hooptygoo!

    The haiku-loving Hooptygoo successfully identified the secret of the sillypost, with this haiku comment:
    That is amazing!
    You wrote the entire entry
    Without using 'e'.

    I didn't use the letter e in any of my comments on that post either, which forced me to use bizarre constructions like "third guy talk" instead of "third person voice". I left three hints, the most obvious one being the intentional misspelling of the name Hajera. Ironically, most people I know with that name spell it without the e, which is why I explicitly apologized for the typo in the comment itself.

    So there you go. I'm sure very few of you care either way, but it's nice to see someone figure it out.

    Feeling Pessimistic

    Bush to name Muslim nations envoy | BBC News

    This is a rather old news story that I had bookmarked with the intent of writing about at some point, but I never got around to it. As far as I know, this envoy has not yet been named, but it will be interesting to see who they pick, and what their selection criteria are. If the administration's pick for UN ambassador is any indication, the job will go to a terribly unqualified political sellout with no understanding of the Muslim world whatsoever.

    It's rather simple, Mr. Bush, that if you want to "improve relations" with the Muslim world, stop invading our countries and torturing our people. No amount of political posturing will change our minds.

    On a related note, how much relevance does the Organization of the Islamic Conference have in the Muslim world? I don't know much about them, but the name has been coming up much more often of late. In principle, it sounds like a very noble organization, but do they actually matter to the Muslim governments in the world? Do their positions hold any weight?

    * * *

    Australia 'has Iraq oil interest' | BBC News

    This has already been written about in other blogs I read; it amounts to a nearly open admission of the motivations of the Australian government in deploying troops to Iraq. The news, while not really "news" to most people, has been discussed at length on numerous on-line forums. I absolutely hate on-line news discussion forums, as the maturity of the dialogue on them is usually atrocious, but I still often read them to get a feel for what the "general public" thinks about these matters.

    On one such site, I read the following comment which I found extremely disturbing:
    For those who think that oil isn't worth going to war over, spend one day without using any petroleum based products. No plastics, no lubricants, no gasoline. You'll have to walk everywhere, but make sure there's no plastic in your shoes. Make sure your clothes are 100% cotton -- no polyester please. You can cook your food only if you have an electric stove and your local power plant isn't oil or natural gas. Gas water heater? No hot showers for you (no cold one either if your shower head is plastic), which is ok because you can't use soap. You can't drive to work, nor can you ride a bicycle (plastics and lubricants again). No computers, no phones, no TV, no electricity.

    Everything we have depends on oil. Going to war for oil means going to war to defend our way of life.

    I don't know how mainstream this sort of view is, but it is one of the first times that I have heard someone defending the war for exactly those reasons that we deem it illegitimate. Typically, defence of the war in these types of forums comes from people who are still under the delusion that we're spreading democracy in the Middle East. It's not uncommon to find this sort of defence rife with spelling mistakes, vulgarity, superfluous exclamation points, and at least one comment about how "dumb leftists just don't get it". This was perhaps the first time that I read someone clearly articulating why they believe in the war without resorting to childish name-calling and label-dropping. And yet, the complete disregard of human life in this is frightening. The idea that the war is justified to defend your own way of life, with absolutely no consideration for the thousands of lives you're destroying in the process? Absolutely sickening. Such displays of complete indifference to human suffering frays whatever little faith I have left in humanity.

    July 08, 2007

    [Protected] Allegorical Absurdity: The Ugly Duckling

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    July 02, 2007


    Youth, many say, is an opportunity for trying things, taking risks, and ignoring winds of caution. Thus it was that a boy, worrying that his youth was finishing as a boring rut took hold of him, sought to do a thing against his traditional fashion, and find his own way. Would changing his approach assist him in putting a stop to this rut? Probably not, but it was worth a try.

    This boy, unassuming and shy, sat in front of his companions, thinking of a way to show his ability. Hoping for a small victory, any victory, this timid boy stood up, and with a bold look, said to this group in front of him: "Look! Today, I will do a thing that you saw not in past posts. And you will think, why do such a thing? I know not, but as unusual as it is, my opinion was that it could occur. And thus it was, that I did so."

    That boy was I, and that situation was just now. What did this boy do, that I just did?

    June 25, 2007

    Outsourcing Friendship

    I suppose I should have expected that I'd be posting again here. Whatever issues lead to the brief closing of these pages have been resolved, and even the Action Alert to rescue Target Theory was successful. But alas, I have found myself without much inspiration to write, no topic that kindled an urge to share any thoughts. Even though I said I would continue, I haven't written anything significant in over a month. Of course, the solution to this is to simply write about not being able to write.

    It is no surprise that blogging is so popular; the sense of community that comes with it is quite astounding. The Internet is vast, and typically anyone can find a place they fit in somewhere, somehow, no matter how absurd their interests. People will naturally find others who share their views and opinions; it is only the natural next step that they share their feelings and concerns. Eventually, some share their secrets. Formerly strangers, they are now a family of sorts, their lives are inextricably connected.

    Whether we like it or not, on-line communities have become an important part of our society. I work closely with people I have never met, but they are no less a part of my team than those I see every day. My professional community consists mostly of people I rarely meet, if ever. But the location independence of these relationships are what make them so effective; I rarely spend more than four days in a row in the same city, and any relationship that required physical presence would fail. My work would suffer as a result. Because distance is not an impediment to these relationships, we remain functional and productive.

    From a professional standpoint, I can accept this. In order to compete in an increasingly globalized society, one must leverage all the human potential one has access to, wherever that potential may reside. If someone in India can help me do my job better, then by all means I will enlist his help. The technology exists to allow this person to help me in almost any way. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the person down the street looking for a job may be overlooked in favour of the eager, cheaper supply of skills overseas. Much has been written on this topic already, and I don't want to repeat what has already been discussed to death.

    When this sort of relationship penetrates our personal lives, things become a little more complicated. As part of our fitra, our state of nature, we rely on the physical closeness of people to remain socially healthy. As children, it begins with our family, our parents in particular. That physical closeness, that most fundamental social structure dictates the people we become as we grow up. It plays into our early childhood, as we navigate through the hierarchy of primary school. There is always the socially awkward group, there are always the bullies, there are those in between. Children will undoubtedly jump from one group to another; one can't be typecast as a bully forever, for example, based solely on their behaviour in the first grade. But it is because of healthy social interactions that one will move away from dirty playground politics, towards a friendlier future.

    While psychologists will never stop debating the roles of nature and nurture in human development, it is clear that one's upbringing has a significant impact on their behaviour as adults. An unhealthy upbringing is often the warning sign of an unbalanced individual, and analysts will often look at the social interactions of a suspect to identify their motivations when a crime is committed.

    So when those social interactions move entirely out of the physical realm and into cyberspace, will this have the same impact on developing a person as traditional social interaction? In the same way that local talent is often overlooked in favour of resources abroad, we will often overlook our local communities for friendship in favour of on-line, "outsourced friendship". We are only at the beginning stages of this right now; on-line social networking is still in it's infancy. Most of us still remember a time before the Internet, even though we may not look upon it with fondness. But in this part of the world, anyway, we are the last generation like this; I can still remember what life was like before Wikipedia, when even simple high school research required time and effort. I can still remember when communication with my cousins was limited to the rare occasions of expensive long distance phone calls and six-hour road trips. Future generations will not know such a world; anything less than instant access won't be enough. I do prefer things as they are today, but at least I recall when things weren't so simple, so that I can better appreciate how far we have come.

    On-line forums were all the rage at a point, and I had become quite active in one several years ago. What I discovered there was the ability to be someone else, perhaps someone better. In that particular forum, being "better" was debatable; my on-line persona was a thugged out cereal mascot, part of a gangster legion played out by my friends. But however we represented ourselves, random people came to like us, admire us, and even trust us with their deepest feelings.

    One young member of that forum happened to be contemplating suicide at the time, and e-mailed me privately for help. While the suicide thoughts were the product of simple teenage angst and disaffected emo culture, unlikely to materialize into anything substantial, he took whatever advice I provided to heart. Eventually, the troubled child changed his mind. For months, this member thanked me for saving his life, even though my contribution was negligible at best. I don't believe to this day that I wrote anything special or beyond what any decent individual might say, but the value of an on-line friendship became apparent to me then. I never thought much about it, but in this child's troubled youth, my thugged out cereal mascot became something of a saviour.

    I kept thinking about why there was no one real to have offered that same advice. All I told him was that there was still so much to be thankful for, in spite of what he perceived to be significant personal problems. That little amount of kindness and optimism was apparently the only kindness he had been shown in years. I would have considered his case to be an exceptional one, except that over the years, numerous other on-line acquaintances from that forum have thanked me similarly for renewing their faith in humanity. That particular forum eventually closed, but I still occasionally get e-mails from it's members thanking me for the positive influence I left on them.

    Has the world become so cruel that we require outsourced friendships? Do on-line relationships lessen the value of personal contact in any way? These concerns have plagued me for some time now.

    I pose these questions, ironically, out to the Internet, where approximately 95% of my readers appear to be from cities and countries that I have no actual contact with. Your thoughts on the topic would be much appreciated.

    June 07, 2007

    Action Alert: Save Target Theory!

    When I wrote that I would be ending this blog, I didn't expect it to set off a reaction that would indirectly lead to the end of the blog of my cousin Nauman. Most of you who read my blog either only came to know of it's existence through Nauman, or have become fans of Nauman through my link.

    And now he wants to leave! I feel responsible and rather disappointed by this, so I'm briefly reopening comments in order for you, loyal readers and ex-readers, to show your support for Nauman through your comments. In spite of his melancholic nature, Nauman remains a champion of good will and dependability for all his friends and family, and is among my short list of favourite people I have the pleasure of being related to.

    So sign away! Let Nauman know that you want his voice to be heard!

    Update 6.14.2007: Success! Well done, team.

    May 13, 2007

    Comment Bug Fixed

    Thanks to a reader who pointed out that commenting wasn't working in Internet Explorer for some reason. It turned out to be due to a defect in a minor template change I made; it didn't seem to affect Firefox or Safari, though. I think I've fixed the bug now.

    In defense of the Sunnah

    I remember the deeply offended look on my friend's face. He was, by nature, a very emotional person, but that one moment he appeared to be even more distraught than usual.

    It was during Ramadhan, and I had just finished setting up the classroom for iftar. This meant stacking up all the desks and tables, pushing aside the chairs, and setting up the curtains that closed off the sister's section. Typically, there would be two hundred students breaking fast together during my university years, and it was always an honour to be part of it.

    I asked my friend what had disturbed him so; I shouldn't have been surprised by his response.

    "A lot of brothers are complaining," he said. "They want to start the food right after the Maghrib jama'ah is over, they don't want us to wait for people to finish their sunnah. They say they're just sunnah." Those were the words that infuriated him. Just sunnah. I hadn't known this friend for many years at the time, but we had gone through quite a bit together in those years; we had travelled together to some of the most outlandish places I've ever been, and he always came across as someone who truly loved the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In his actions, in his speech, and in his dress, this friend always inspired me by his dedication to the Prophet.

    "Don't they realize what they're saying?", he continued. "They're basically saying 'it's just Rasulullah, it doesn't matter. It's just the last and final Messenger, upon whom the way of life for all of humanity until the Day of Judgement had been conferred.'"

    It's true. Often, I hear this same remark about something being "just sunnah", implying that it doesn't hold importance or that it can be ignored. Certainly, there are varying levels of leniency with respect to the obligation of certain actions, but that does not obviate the spirit of the sunnah.

    There seemed to be two distinct waves of revitalization amongst the youth in the Muslim community where I grew up. The first wave, approximately between 1994 and 1996, was smaller and less dramatic, and included just a handful of people under the guidance of some very dedicated elders in the community. I am a product of this first wave. For our small group, there was a considerable amount of guidance from community leaders and imams who always imparted in us the value of the sunnah.

    The second wave was almost exclusively a youth movement, and it touched the entire city. It brought together hundreds of like minded Muslims through sports and social activites, and brought a new energy to the masaajid. Instead of the traditional lectures from imams that us in the first phase participated in, the second phase was characterized by youth circles and discussion groups. Many young Muslims who may have felt uncomfortable with the imams and community leaders were at ease in these youth circles. Thus, the effects were far more dramatic, and brought together a positive change within the community. But in distancing themselves from traditional scholarship amd guidance from elders, there was some unfortunate fallout with this new energy. Many were deprived of the emphasis placed upon the sunnah, and often it was ignored altogether. I do not mean to criticize their efforts, for certainly they did outstanding work that they will insha-Allah be rewarded for. However, it was a common trend that acts from the sunnah were dismissed as unnecessary.

    Now a decade later, the community has matured considerably, and the pioneers of those youth movements have taken their roles as community leaders in their own right. But the distinction still remains in that the sunnah is often neglected with the newer crowd; I've been to Islamic events where it was of great inconvenience to the organizers that people would choose to pray their sunnah prayers after the completion of the jama'ah. Sure, the events may have been calling towards the revival of the sunnah, but do those extra prayers on your own time. These same people were the most vocal during the cartoon fiasco, but would prefer to speak and dress like hip hop artists than the Prophet.

    It should be understood that sunnah does not mean "optional". Something that is sunnah is something that was practiced and encouraged by the Prophet salallaho'alayhi wa salam. There are sunnah that the Prophet never left during his lifetime. Some Companions sought to emulate each and every single little sunnah to the minutest details. And anyone that loves the Prophet should also love his sunnah, as has been emphasized in numerous hadith.

    Certainly, sunnah is not just those two extra units of prayer, nor is it just the simple clothing or beards or whatever else we often dismiss. It's also the character, the conduct, and the interactions, and to have one without the other is superficial. But this does not mean that we can ignore the more outward forms of sunnah; they're all part of who we are, and shouldn't be belittled or deemed unimportant.

    I felt the need to write this in order to give due credit to people who do their best to maintain both an inward and outward appearance of being Muslim. Often, I hear comments by people who insist that donning a hijab or keeping a beard or any other outward act of faith has nothing to do with being a Muslim, and it's only what is in the heart that matters. Yes, it's what is in the heart that matters, but if the feelings in our heart do not extend even so far as our bodies, then there is likely something missing from that heart. Of course, only Allah knows what the heart truly contains, but the outward disposition and behaviour usually offers at least some hints.

    I should be the last person writing about this, as my own life is riddled with inconsistencies, not just in the matter of sunnah, but even with the fundamentals. But too often, we dismiss these aspects of our faith; this is a reminder to myself, first, in that I have knowingly neglected so many opportunities to strengthen my connection to the sunnah. We reduce the religion to a set obligations and non-obligations, losing the spirit of what it truly means to be following in the footsteps of the Messenger of Allah. And we fail to pay due respect to those who really do struggle for the sake of maintaining the sunnah; often, we would go as far as belittling them.

    In the end, my friend did succeed in maintaining the status quo, accommodating all those people who chose to pray their sunnah prayers. He also succeeded in teaching everyone to wash their hands before eating, and to sit on the floor in a respectful manner while eating. Sure, they may have been relatively small acts of worship, seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps those little acts will be the little bit that can tip the scale the right way.

    May 08, 2007

    Buddy, can you spare a quarter for some international espionage?

    Do my Canadian readers remember a few years ago when the Royal Canadian Mint issued a series of memorial quarters, with a bright red poppy on the front of the coin? It always looked unusual to me, with a red splotch in the middle of a traditional silver coin. But having read of Flanders Fields so many times as a child, I've always appreciated the poppies everyone would wear around Remembrance Day, and thought the colourful coins to be a clever and unique way to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.

    Well, it turns out that the United States Department of Defence was convinced that the coins were embedded with nanotechnology to spy on US Army Contractors. It was suspected that radio transmitters were embedded into the coins in order to track the movements of any individual who happened to be carrying one.

    This level of fear and paranoia of the seemingly innocuous is one reason that in spite of all their so-called efforts to "promote freedom", the US is doing itself in. They live in so much fear, where every little thing from a Canadian coin to a tube of toothpaste is enough to provoke panic and dread. I'd feel sorry for them if they weren't so arrogant.

    May 04, 2007


    My mind has been in too many places over the last few weeks and months. As each day goes by, I keep promising to myself that I'll sort things out soon, that I'll reach my goals and clear my mind. But the to-do list keeps getting longer, and the destination keeps getting further no matter how hard I work to reach there. Allah is with the patient, I keep reminding myself. Still, patience can only take one so far; hard work and dedication are key.

    With that being said, I'm just going to spill out some thoughts here, with no attempt at cohesion.

    Soon, incoherence will be the lingua franca of our times. It seems that texting has become a national sport. Am I the only one who finds this somewhat disturbing? The studies are inconclusive, but I have to believe that future historians will look upon this trend as a low point in communication and the written word. Then again, this same generation has made it commonplace to publish one's deepest thoughts to a worldwide audience, so perhaps there is hope.

    Nothing markets better than the truth. My manager and I have both been suffering a nagging cough for over a week. During this time, I finally discovered Buckley's Mixture, a famous Canadian cough syrup; "It tastes awful. And it works", the tagline says. And it certainly does. As soon as I poured it in my teaspoon, I felt disgusted by the bland, colourless liquid that splurted out from the bottle. Taking a deep breath, I downed the teaspoonful of mixture into my mouth in one gulp, whereupon my face and mouth started contorting inadvertently. Such an incredibly vile taste, it was. But within seconds, I could feel the effect through my throat and sinuses, and the relief was instant. Now it has become common practice at work for my manager and I to step out of meetings to "take a shot of Buckley's".

    It seemed like the natural thing to do was to visit the company website, and learn more about the sludge-coloured syrup I had just swallowed. For a website devoted to cough syrup, it turned out to be incredibly hilarious. The current contest has participants filming themselves downing the liquid, with the winner being the one whose "bad taste face" is the most twisted and unpleasant. Of course, all this is part of the Bad Taste Tour.

    (Buckley's did not endorse or sponsor this message in any way; I just like the product.)

    Sometimes, the simplest of reminders are the most effective. I was standing outside the masjid with a couple of friends, one of whom is a colleague based out of another city; he had helped me get my job in the first place, offering me useful interview tips and suggestions. He had been around a lot longer than me, so I'd often solicit his advice with respect to my career, especially with regards to the balance of religion and career obligations. I expressed my concerns about the corporate culture, the same concerns I wrote about here. As I had often been advised to network and establish connections with the senior folk in the company as much as possible in order to advance my career, I lamented that my own reserved nature would hinder my progress. After all, as a matter of principle, I would never even go near any gathering in which alcohol was served, even though these sorts of events were considered to be the best ways to establish oneself and meet with the right people. I expressed a bit of frustration perhaps when I said that I was losing opportunities, even though I would not waver on my principles.

    My other friend turned to me immediately and said "No, you aren't losing opportunities. Opportunities are from Allah; there is no progress in disobedience. Allah will open the opportunities for you so long as you keep to your path. Your rizq is already written." It was a message I had heard hundreds of times before, but it meant more to me at that moment than every other time I had heard it. Alhamdolillah for friends who remind me when I forget.

    I'm not a very obedient citizen of "blogistan". My posts come few and far between, and my reading list keeps getting shorter. Furthermore, I tend not to participate in the tags that go around. But considering my infrequent updates, I thought I would share in the "Thinking Blogger Award" that has gone through the rounds before finally arriving at me. There is a surprising amount of quality content out there on the blogosphere amid all the nonsense, and I hope I can call attention to some of those pages that I have learnt the most from. At the very least, the content here will make up for my own infrequency.

    Seeker's Digest: This is the blog that inspired me to start my own, back in 2003/2004. Not because I share a name with the author, but because he touches on all the things that interest me, be they theological, technological, or academic. On top of that, he offers scholarly insight where most bloggers tend to fall into the layman variety.

    Disconnected Verses: This one is new, still finding it's feet perhaps, but the artistic talent being showcased here is unquestionable. Individually, all the contributors were impressive; now, they are all in one place for our reading convenience.

    Indigo Jo Blogs: I don't comment here much, but the content is generally poignant and educational. This blog covers mainly current events from a British Muslim perspective, but there is something for everyone.

    Writing, Clear and Simple: I've picked up a lot of tips from this blog which I believe has improved my writing. While I haven't fully solved my apostrophe problems, I have fixed some other common errors of mine thanks to this blog.

    Lifehacker: I dislike most technology sites, but Lifehacker is different. I'm often asked by colleagues as to how I can complete tasks so efficiently with my computer, and my answer usually references some information from Lifehacker. While the tips are mostly computer-related, Lifehacker offers a plethora of information on general productivity and life skills.

    None of these blogs are really personal ones, so this tag won't go any further on those sites. I believe the rules of the tag originally called for us to reference specific posts that "made me think", but there are too many to count.


    April 13, 2007

    Photos: Easter Weekend

    In the absence of relevant content, here are some photos from this past weekend. I think I tried to go for some artistic effects that I've seen done really well on Flickr, but in the absence of a tripod, and working with Shan's digital camera that ran out of batteries every ten minutes, the results aren't great.

    Here are a few of them, anyway.

    April 04, 2007

    Defining Diversity


    A few weeks ago, I was invited to a technology conference in the famous windy city of Chicago. Nearly 900 people attended, mostly North Americans but not exclusively, brought together by the prospect of stumbling upon that next great idea, and to hear from experts what the future may hold.

    In the opening address, the host paid respect to the diversity of the crowd. And looking around, there certainly was a lot of variety; many colours and shapes, from the East and the West, and I certainly wasn't the only Muslim around. Browsing the guest list as I reached the hotel, I found at least a couple dozen Muslim names, mostly South Asians but a healthy dose of Arabs as well. And in that crowd of people, at the heart of corporate America, I actually felt like I fit in.

    That feeling didn't last long. Surveying the audience, I noticed the uniformity of the participants. Yes, there were black people and Hispanics and Indians and Chinese people, but somehow they all looked the same. They all sounded the same, and they all dressed the same. There was an almost robotic feel to the crowd. In spite of the multitude of traditions and customs that their ethnicities may have been known for, in this forum, everyone followed a single custom, portrayed a single personality. Even as I first reached O'Hare Airport prior to the conference, I was able to easily identify others who were attending the same event simply by their appearance and gait.

    At the end of each day, the inevitable alcohol would come out, and I would disappear off to explore downtown Chicago. I was saddened to see that a number of those participants with Muslim names gracing their nametags would be drinking along with everyone else, likely out of a desire to fit in with that crowd and make key connections with industry leaders. I was often told about how important it is to network with the senior people in the industry, and networking in corporate America invariably means sharing drinks with a person. In spite of all the ethnic diversity, social interaction was limited to the practice of only the corporate West. There would be no sipping tea with these managers, and no Tim Hortons to discuss all the issues of the day; alcohol was the fuel that built relationships in this world, and I had no interest in taking part.

    As I wandered through Millenium Park (pictured above), I kept thinking that the diversity that was being applauded earlier was entirely superficial. Ethnic diversity means little if one loses all the uniqueness of that ethnicity, and religious diversity means nothing if there is no accommodation for religious difference. Of course, one can't please everybody, and what is a restriction for one may be an obligation for another. So where does that leave those who won't trade their values for the sake of fitting in? It usually leaves them on the outside looking in, and that will always be their personal challenge to overcome.

    I've had the honour of working with a number of outstanding people who have seen diversity beyond the superficial recognition of its existence. I've been a part of some fantastic teams that embraced diversity not just in words, but in practice - and that definitely strengthened our effectiveness. But those appear to be exceptions, and on a large scale, whatever diversity exists in the corporate world still remains shallow.

    It remains a challenge, and perhaps it should remain a challenge. Perhaps our strength lies in our ability to overcome societal norms. After all, few have ever achieved anything by simply following the course. Let the current flow as it may, we must hold our place.

    Update 4.5.2007: More pictures here.

    April 01, 2007

    ill relevant opinions

    It's been over a month since I posted here. In my defense, daylight savings time hit several weeks earlier this year, so the month of March was an hour shorter than usual.

    During this hiatus, I thought to myself, "what am I missing?" And now I know. There was a certain edge that was missing. A rage, if you will. The sort of rage that is best expressed through convoluted rap lyrics. So here goes; as of today, Irrelevant Opinions has gone ghetto, and none o'ya can say nothin' to make me change my mind, dawg. An' from now on, ya can call me MC Slam.

    yo .. one two .. check one two

    yo, we'z back and we gots a new attitude
    so y'allz best sit back, expressin' your gratitude
    for deze opinionz, clever and astute
    if you don't like 'em, yer gonna get da boot
    cuz deze rhymez keep comin' an' flowin'
    a real sight to see when mc slam gets goin'
    i keep rhymin', ain't no sign of slowin'
    flyin' rhymez like some kinda boeing
    yeah, we'll rap, through thick an' thin
    so grab a coffee, and roll up da rim to win
    an' if you loze, and ya ain't feelin' cheery
    express your melancholy at target theory
    dats da place to go when yer feelin' weary
    breakin' down like my chevy cavaliery
    so listen to me an' my cheezy ebonics
    i ain't hooked on dope, yo, i be hooked on phonics
    so keep readin', you an' yer minionz
    keep readin' deze irrelevant opinionz
    y'allz be thinkin' dis blog waz dead
    but deze new rhymez give me mad street cred
    no more bloggin' 'bout bugz in my cereal
    now i'm goin' wit' da gangsta material
    no more expressin' my irrelevant viewz
    an' droppin' random links to cbc newz
    now i be bloggin' 'bout drugz an' booze
    while i pump my funky basketball shoez
    if ya don't like it, don't try to sway
    me away from my amazin' new bloggin' way
    ya better not be hatin', ya better not provoke
    ya better understand dis be an april foolz day joke
    so y'allz best follow yer noze an' wiggle yer toez
    cuz everyone knowz da rhymez we compoze

    aight man, let's get outta here
    w0rd to your brother

    Update 4.1.2007: Special thanks to Google, for their new free broadband service which allowed me to post this.

    February 19, 2007


    Please pray for my 16-month old niece, Maryam. She remains in the hospital over a week after sustaining an injury to the head, and is in poor condition. The injury is far more serious than anyone initially suspected.

    She is the daughter of my youngest brother, Hafiz Asrar. He and his wife have been undergoing considerable strain and anxiety, as one might expect; thankfully, the community has offered tremendous support, with friends and family coming from all over. There are additional subplots to all this causing additional distress to our entire family, but the health of the child remains the deepest concern.

    Please remember all of us in your prayers, that Allah grants shifa to Maryam and lets her lead a normal life, and that Allah grants comfort and peace of mind to her parents and my parents, and that this ordeal comes to a quick and happy ending.

    Update 2.28.2007: Alhamdolillah, she's out of the hospital now, though far from 100%. I want to thank everyone who visited, offered advice, or supported us with their thoughts and prayers; you all know who you are.

    February 15, 2007

    Unlikely Tranquility

    Those who know me personally may know that it has been a rather difficult time for my family over the last few days. Sitting in my temporary apartment after I spent a good twenty minutes venting my frustration over the phone to a close friend, I felt rather helpless, over 3000km from home. I didn't know what to do, and my heart was restless.

    At that moment, I received a message on MSN. It was from a friend of mine who typically sends me links to Family Guy clips or dumb commercials, the same guy who prank called me on a couple of occasions. His MSN picture was one of Calvin wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, urinating on a Montreal Canadiens logo, which is offensive to me in so many ways. I wasn't in the mood to laugh, particularly when I saw he was sending me just another YouTube link.

    This was the link he sent me, the recitation of the section of Surah Naml that opens the 21st juz, recorded from the recent RIS conference.

    And SubhanAllah, those verses were exactly what I needed to hear at that time. He didn't know anything about the family situation, or my personal condition. He also didn't know that those verses are among my favourites in the entire Quran, that they were the same verses I've often read during the handful of Islamic events wherein I've been asked to do the opening recitation. It came from the unlikeliest of sources, but it put my heart at ease. I was reminded of the verse of Quran wherein it is stated that "verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction." (13:28)

    Alhamdolillah for my friends, who never fail to come through for me when I need them.

    Law scholarship named after Maher Arar | CBC News

    Law scholarship named after Maher Arar | CBC News

    University of Ottawa has a special place in my heart, being my alma mater and home for many years. This new scholarship is a wonderful token of appreciation on the part of the university.

    Last year, Arar was the keynote speaker at the Graduation Dinner I had the honour of emceeing. His advice to the graduates was simple - never underestimate your own worth, and don't back down if others try to compromise or undermine your worth.

    "The scholarship was initiated by Tyseer Aboulnasr, an electrical engineering professor at the university and a member of the Canadian Muslim Network, Leslie added."

    On a somewhat related note, Dr. Aboulnasr was the dean of the Faculty of Engineering when I started at the university. It was quite a pleasant surprise for me, to see a Muslim woman in hijab in such a respected position. Her first address to the new students included these memorable words:

    "Now, I know a lot of you are coming from out of town, and you believe university is all about freedom, and that Engineering is all about drinking and partying. But there are lots of extremely successful Engineers who have never had a single drop of alcohol in their lives, including myself!"

    That statement made me feel a little more comfortable with the fate that brought me to Ottawa against my own hopes and desires. As the years progressed, I realized why I ended up there; I truly believe it was one of the best things that happened to me. We all have our own plans, but Allah has His plans. And surely, He is the best of planners.