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.