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.