March 31, 2007

"Christian Muslims" for Australia

You really gotta wonder about some politicians. Perhaps there should be some sort of test that they need to pass before they're allowed to run for office, so that government wouldn't be filled up with so many clueless people.

Pauline Hanson has invented a new religion where Muslims and Christians can pray together.

The former One Nation leader, who is having another tilt at politics, said she was wary of allowing Muslims to settle in Australia.

But she would welcome some Muslims, she said. "There are Christian Muslims - there is no problems about that," she told ABC radio yesterday.

"But if people believe in the way of life under the Koran, that concerns me greatly."

The comment - an apparent reference to Arab Christians - revives memories of her famous "Please explain" gaffe during her early days in Parliament.

In another curious statement, Ms Hanson said Malaysia had been "taken over by Muslims, despite a long history of Islam in that country".

She also said she had no sympathy for confessed terrorist collaborator David Hicks, saying he was "prepared to blow himself up to kill other people".

But there is no suggestion Hicks ever planned to be a suicide bomber.

Despite her apparent confusion, she said she had learnt a lot since her first stint in Parliament. "I think I'm a little bit older, wiser, a lot more mature, and my knowledge of politics is a lot broader," she said.

No doubt, once back in office, Hanson will introduce legislation that makes mathematics easier for schoolchildren by making pi (π) equal to 3.

H/T: Austrolabe

March 29, 2007

"Mister? Why your face so red?"

Every now and then I get this question. "Mister? Why your face so red?" A Chinese woman who works at the grocery store on the ground floor of my block asked me this this morning. Was it so red because I ran all the way down to the store? No, my face is normally this shade, although sunlight can bring out the redness even more. I have an old driver's license photograph of myself. All the summer before I got that license, I had been walking around Phoenix in the sun; the suntan I acquired made my face a very dark red. Last year, when Milady and I were visiting Malaysia, we had been running around Putrajaya one bright, sunny day. When we returned to Kuala Lumpur later that night a very young Chinese boy came up to me and asked the same question, "Mister? Why your face so red?" Milady and I had recently seen the third X-Men movie, and I almost told the boy that I was a new "mutant," with my X-name being "Magento." :)

The fact of the matter is that my ancestry is primarily Irish and English, and many of us who come from the British Isles have this type of skin coloring. The above photograph isn't me, of course; it's the British actor Richard Griffiths (he plays the mean muggle "Uncle Vernon" in the "Harry Potter" movies). And while I don't exactly look like Mr. Griffiths, I do think we have somewhat similar facial skin with the reddish cast to the white complexion. So I guess the only real answer I can give to people when they ask that question is, "That's the way I am."

March 28, 2007

Hail, Augustus!

I rarely take these types of quizes anymore, but I'm so much into ancient Roman history that I couldn't resist. I don't have a problem being "Augustus." :)

You scored as Augustus. You are Augustus! First emperor of the Romans and one of the greatest statesmen in the ancient world. You brilliantly eased the old Republic into the Principate and set the path for an empire that would last for centuries and form the underpinnings for all western civilization. Hail Caesar!











Marcus Aurelius


Antoninus Pius
















Which Roman Emperor Are You?
created with

RAND: Building Moderate Muslim Networks

The RAND organization has come out with another report on how the US government should deal with the Muslim world. The report can be downloaded here, both the full (216-page) report and a summary version. I've skimmed through a few parts of the book and read the chapter on SE Asia. The authors have gone back to past history for inspiration as to how to deal with the Muslim world:

What is needed at this stage is to derive lessons from the experience of the Cold War, determine their applicability to the conditions of the Muslim world today, and develop a "road map" for the construction of moderate and liberal Muslim networks—what this study proposes to do.

The goals of the report and some of the specific tools listed are:

Principal goals
  • Link Muslim liberals and moderates
  • Begin with a known and solid core group and build outward from there
  • Exceptions should only be made knowingly, selectively, tactically
  • Reverse the flow of ideas (instead of Arab heartland > periphery, moderate periphery > Arab heartland)
  • Focus on areas of maximum obtainable success
  • Elsewhere, concentrate on holding ground and waiting opportunities

    Some key implementation tools
  • Convene a small workshop of boots-on-the-ground liberals moderates to help identify what they would need to become more effective
  • Tailor a set of pilot programs on the basis of these needs
  • Launch an international network of liberal and moderate Muslims, convening them in a location of symbolic salience
  • Reconfigure programs to concentrate on true moderates locations that hold promise
  • Ensure visibility and platforms for them. For example, ensure that they are included in congressional visits and meetings senior officials to make them better known to policymakers and to maintain support and resources for the effort.

    Now, insha'allah, I'll write some more specific comments in future posts, but I wanted to make two general comments now. One, the chapter on the "Southeast Asian Pillar" was generally accurate and "decent." There wasn't much there to offend or even that goes against local attitudes about Islam and how it should be presented to the outside world.

    On the other hand, the chapter about "Secular Muslims," the so-called "forgotten dimension in the war of ideas," is largely crap as far as I'm concerned. I think one of the things these non-Muslim ideological types at RAND can't understand is that most Muslims will not work with the so-called "Secular Muslims" (an oxymoron if ever there was one). The likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, et al (who are mentioned in the report) will turn away the very moderate Muslims RAND wishes to work with. Any reform of the Muslim world MUST be done ONLY by Muslims - apostates need not apply. Far better for RAND to work solely with Muslims and ignore the "Secular Muslims" altogether, even if they are ideological bedfellows.

    Altogether I am very mistrustful of RAND's work. I think activist Muslims should read through the report, though, borrowing what little that is good and using its ideas to develop counter-strategies to block or divert that which is bad.

    Update: Jinnzaman has a very good analysis of the Rand report here.
  • March 27, 2007

    Aphorisms on Success

    Last week, I attended a seminar located at the Mid Valley Cititel Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Their complementary notepaper had five aphorisms on the topic of success that I thought was worth sharing:

    "Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they start a winning game."

    "If you think you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary to victory."

    "To make it to the top, you've got to want it with all your heart."

    "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of chosen field of endeavor."

    "The secret of success is consistency of purposes."

    March 26, 2007

    Heaven's Gate +10

    Today is the 10th anniversary of the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult. The San Diego Union-Tribune has an excellent article on the suicide, including a detailed timeline of events through 1999.

    Heaven's Gate was one of those thoroughly weird religious events that happen every now and then. There have been a number of other mass suicides among cults (e.g., The People's Temple/Jonestown, The Order of the Solar Temple, and The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God), but Heaven's Gate ranks up there for being very unusual. Some quotations from the article:

    It began unfolding the afternoon of Wednesday, March 26, 1997, during a period when the Hale-Bopp comet could be seen in the night sky.

    Inside a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult lay dead. Convinced that a spaceship was traveling behind the comet and that they would be transported to the vessel to begin a new life “beyond human,” they had poisoned themselves. Twenty-one women and 18 men died by eating pudding and applesauce laced with phenobarbital and other drugs – the largest mass suicide on U.S. soil.

    All went willingly under the guidance of their leader, Marshall Applewhite, also known as “Do.”


    “I don't think anybody really believed what the person was saying,” said Robert Brunk, a sheriff's deputy who had just started his shift at the Encinitas station. “It was an anonymous call to the communications center stating that 40 people had committed suicide and they were cult members. It came out as a 'welfare check,' and they had held the call for a while because it was busy.”

    Brunk went to the address, 18241 Colina Norte, which turned out to be a 9,000-square-foot, two-story home up a 200-foot driveway.

    “As I'm driving, I'm thinking to myself, 'How am I going to explain to the people that live there the purpose for my visit?' ”

    But when he arrived, things seemed odd. All the windows were closed and the curtains drawn. Two vans parked in the driveway were rented, a dispatcher confirmed.

    Brunk found an unlocked door on the side of the house. When he opened it, the stench nearly knocked him over.


    “As we entered the house, we started seeing bodies that were covered up. ... Every room that you went into, we found more. Some were in bunk beds.

    “They were all in their running suits with their 'Heaven's Gate Away Team' patch on the sleeve. There was a computer flashing 'Red Alert,' sort of like 'Star Trek.' There was still a load of laundry in the machine. It was surreal.”

    Purple shrouds covered all but two bodies. Brunk remembers lifting the shroud off only one person, among the youngest. He also remembers shaking a foot of every body to check for rigor mortis. All were wearing black Nike running shoes with the white swoosh on the side.

    “The Nike symbol triggers my memory more than any one thing,” said Brunk, a 17-year veteran. “I remember their shoes, all 39 pairs.”


    “It was like being in the Twilight Zone,” he [Homicide Detective Rick Scully] said. “We were wandering from room to room to room, and every room we went into we were finding bodies. You're thinking: 'When is this going to end? How many bodies are going to be in here? How many rooms are there to this place?' Because every room we went in had bodies stacked up like cordwood.”

    He remembers thinking: “How could people do this to each other. What kind of person led them to do this?”

    “Then we got to the final room. Marshall Applewhite, aka Do. It was the upstairs master bedroom, a huge room, and he had the bedroom to himself. Great big bed. He's all propped up with pillows around him.

    “As soon as you walked in, you knew this guy was the head chief. He was the leader.”


    “The members of Heaven's Gate adhered to a strict doctrine. Members led a regimented lifestyle. Particular attention was paid to: punctuality, cleanliness, orderliness, personal possessions, how to dress, what to eat, how to phrase a question, and most importantly desires. Each member was assigned a partner to watch over him or her in order that they could constantly fight their 'human desires.'

    “Their beliefs were a hybrid of science fantasy (UFOs and aliens) and Christian beliefs. Essentially they believed that God and the Kingdom of God were extraterrestrial. They believed that they descended from this extraterrestrial kingdom and took occupancy in human bodies some 20 years or so ago. They believed that they had learned all there was to learn of the human condition and that it was time to return to the kingdom from where they came.”


    Many of those who joined had been searching for answers and goals, family members said. Applewhite offe red a simpler, more focused way of life that also isolated group members from the outside world and fostered a shared belief system. Some left behind children and spouses to join the group.

    “The investigation revealed that (the decedents) were ardent followers of Do, Marshall Applewhite. ... Members wrote that their only purpose was to make Do happy,” a Sheriff's Department report concluded.

    Together they ate their final meal March 21 at Marie Callender's in Carlsbad. Their orders were identical: salad and chicken pot pies, with cheesecake for dessert. The next day, working in shifts, they made their exit.

    Six weeks later, two male cult members who had not been at the mansion attempted suicide at an Encinitas motel, using phenobarbital and wearing Nikes. One died; the other was found barely alive but survived. Nine months later, his body was found in a tent in the Arizona desert, a suicide.


    But the first male body [Coroner Christina] Stanley examined caused her to worry about her skills. She couldn't find the man's testicles.

    “As a fellow, I thought, 'Boy, am I just bad at finding these?'” she said.

    “I remember (another doctor) was there, and he said he couldn't find any testes on these people either. So I thought, 'OK, this is real.'”

    Applewhite and six members of the cult had been castrated in Mexico a few months earlier – another way to deal with unwanted desires.

    Comet Hale-Bopp; photograph taken March 16, 1997.

    The Children of Hurin

    I had heard this news earlier, that Christopher Tolkien, the son of "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien, was working on "The Children of Hurin," but I hadn't realized that the book was almost ready for release.

    For those unfamiliar, the basic story of the children of Hurin was originally published in "The Silmarillion," in 1977. "The Silmarillion" deals with the First Age of Middle Earth, when the Elves and Men fought together against Morgoth, the Dark Lord, of whom Sauron was a mere lieutenant. ("The Lord of the Rings" takes place in the Third Age, thousands of years after the events in "The Silmarillion," so, should a movie of this book ever be made, the only possible characters that might make a reprise would be Gandalf and perhaps a few of the Elves, such as Galadriel. No Frodo, no Sam. Get over it.)

    In "The Silmarillion," the tale of Turin Turambar and Nienor Niniel takes up a 37-page chapter ("Of Turin Turambar"). [Plot spoiler ahead.] The story is a tragedy in the traditional sense of the word. Hurin, a man who had been a foe of Morgoth, had been captured by same and placed in a magical chair that imprisoned him and, also, allowed him to see what was happening in Middle Earth, so that he could watch his family from a distance as well. Turin, Hurin's son, becomes a mighty warrior, a councillor to a king, slays a dragon, yada yada yada (hey, I gotta get to work soon), marries his sister (neither realizing who the other is), and eventually dies, along with sis. Hurin and his wife, Morwen, survive both of their children, and Hurin eventually commits suicide, like both of his children before him (Morwen, apparently, dies a natural death). Yeah, it's all weepy and a depressing story, which should make it a good book and a great movie, insha'allah. If you enjoyed reading "The Lord of the Rings" and/or "The Silmarillion," no doubt you'll love this book too.

    An unfinished book by "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien, which was completed by his son, will go on sale on next month, a newspaper said.

    "The Children of Hurin", which Tolkien began in 1918, will be in bookshops on April 17, the Independent on Sunday added. The author's son, Christopher, spent 30 years completing the story from the many drafts produced by his father.

    Publisher HarperCollins is keeping exact details of the story under close wraps but its description as "an epic story of adventure, tragedy, fellowship and heroism" will be familiar to the legions of Tolkien fans.

    Artist Alan Lee has provided 25 pencil sketches and eight paintings for the book.

    Lee won an Oscar for art direction on Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King", the third blockbuster film based on the "Lord of Rings" trilogy that brought the stories to a worldwide audience.

    "The Children of Hurin" is the first "new" Tolkien book since a collection of his works -- "The Silmarillion" -- was published posthumously in 1977, four years after the writer's death. It was also edited by Christopher Tolkien.

    The chairman of the Tolkien Society, Chris Crawshaw, was quoted by the Independent on Sunday as saying: "It ('The Children of Hurin') would probably make a very good movie, if anyone can secure the film rights."

    March 24, 2007

    Wind of Change

    I came across this article from Islamica Magazine at Age of Jahiliyah. The article resonated with me in a number of respects. For example, the very first sentence: "Surveys of Islamic art tend to venture no further east than India." Having just purchased Robert Hillenbrand's book, Islamic Art and Architecture, this past week, it quickly became apparent that, geographically, the art and architecture covered in the book doesn't go even as far as India. Afghanistan seems to be the furthest east (I haven't seen anything in the book so far for Pakistan, let alone India and all the other Muslim lands east). Likewise, while there is some material in the book on Spain and Sicily, southeastern Europe appears to be completely ignored, as is sub-Saharan Africa.

    The thing is, there's a lot of good and interesting Islamic artwork here in SE Asia; it's just that it's largely ignored. The climate here does affect the artwork's ability to survive over long periods of time, though. For example, as the article says, "Although Qur’anic works have been copied locally for many centuries, the climate is not kind to paper." This is very true. I receive a monthly newspaper from the States, but almost never take it out of its plastic bag now because, if I do, the cheap newsprint paper will turn dark brown and be almost unreadable within a year or two.

    On the other hand, the statement, "...traditional Malay mosques are well ventilated and perfectly suited to a tropical climate." This is true for some masajid in Malaysia (and probably Indonesia and Brunei), but even this style is dying out in some parts of SE Asia. For example, many masajid in Singapore (and some that I've visited in Malaysia) are built of more permanent materials (e.g., cement and concrete), preserving some of the older masajid and giving us both a sense of the history of the Malay Muslim community (some of the masajid are well over 150 years old) and an understanding of their architectural influences, which are often an amalgamation of various styles (for example, Singapore's Masjid Sultan (the closest building we have to a national masjid) is a mix of Classical, Persian, Moorish and Turkish themes that form what is known as the Islamic Saracenic style).

    Still, institutions like the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur (which I have visited) are doing a good job at preserving and promoting SE Asian Islamic arts. But it also wouldn't hurt for more scholarly interest to be shown in the Islamic artwork east of Iran.

    The monsoon winds brought Islam to Southeast Asia. Lucien de Guise wonders when interest in the region’s Islamic art will arrive...

    Surveys of Islamic art tend to venture no further east than India. Similarly, art historians have shown a long-standing lack of interest in the output of Muslim artists from sub-Saharan Africa. The same applies to Islam in Europe, unless it happens to be Spain or Sicily, which have acquired perhaps the greatest mystique of all. Islamic art of the Balkans does not have the same allure, partly because it is of a more recent vintage and includes embarrassing items such as wine cups.

    The conventional approach has for more than a century determined that Islamic art comes from the “heartlands” and everything else is ethnographic. No one can say that the quantity of books on Islamic art is anything but massive, especially when the number of collectors is so small. The geographical range is, however, very limited. Books may occasionally mention China or Southeast Asia, but seldom do they show what works from so far east actually look like. To find a volume dedicated to Islamic art from these regions is almost inconceivable.

    China remains off-limits; it is of little interest to Islamic Art historians and only arouses the curiosity of Sinologists when an artifact turns out to be of Ming imperial quality. Southeast Asian works have, however, acquired more recognition recently. The Message & The Monsoon, a pioneering exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, is the first attempt to put the art of Southeast Asia into an Islamic context. The title takes its name from the summer and winter monsoon winds that brought trade, prosperity and Islam to the region. Works that are typically viewed as being merely “regional” are examined for their relevance to neigh-boring religious traditions and the world of Islam. To examine Islamic artifacts in Southeast Asia is less divisive than it would be in that other overlooked Far Eastern nursery of Islamic culture. Malay world objects do not suffer from the outright hostility that is found in China. For at least three centuries the central authorities of the Middle Kingdom have felt threatened by Islam. This has continued into the 21st century. The means of oppression have become less severe than in the past, when the simplest way to deal with unrest was to massacre Chinese Muslim communities.

    Maritime Southeast Asia is a very different proposition. As its population is mostly Muslim, there is less reason for the Islamic art of the region to have been so overlooked. However, it took the Bali bombing in 2002 to remind the world that this large pocket of Islam existed at all. Last December’s Asian tsunami provided another reminder. The area most affected, with the loss of well over 100,000 lives, was Aceh. This province of north Sumatra received more attention over a few hours than it had in three decades of conflict between Muslim separatists and Indonesia’s central government.

    As the death toll mounted, international awareness of the catastrophe became intense enough for charity football matches to be played by major European clubs. The Acehnese loss that received no attention was the destruction of its heritage. Once known as the “verandah of Mecca”, this was the launching pad of Islam in Southeast Asia around 700 years ago. Within a century or so, most of the region’s islands had become Muslim. It was one of the fastest and most peaceful conversions in the history of Islam. Other local religious communities—Hindu, Christian and animist—have generally lived in peace with the new Muslim majority, despite the occasional outbursts of church burnings in Sulawesi or head-hunting expeditions in Borneo. The different societies that have coexisted since the fall of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms have much in common. Unlike many parts of world, their differences have seldom been exploited for political gain.

    The art of the region has an equally multicultural feel to it, with the same techniques and similar products being used throughout the archipelago and in the Malay peninsula. Despite this, the works of Muslim communities have a special identity. Their unique approach is a fusion of Islamic principles with vestiges of the Hindu-Buddhist past. By making small changes, the results became overwhelmingly Islamic—not only different from their non-Muslim neighbours, but also distinct from the art of other parts of the Islamic world.

    The uniqueness of Southeast Asian art owes much to the region’s topography. Unlike the arid territories through which Islam first spread, Southeast Asia is hot and humid. Vegetation is abundant and the only sand to be found is on the beach. It is a less austere environment than that in which the three great monotheistic religions emerged. God’s bounty is all around and little effort is required to harvest it. Sit-ting under the right sort of tree will ensure a windfall, in the metaphorical sense at least, as wind is a comparatively rare phenomenon in these gentle climes. The two monsoons are the closest to violent weather as one can get. They are still manageable enough to be useful for sailing, although not for the huge quantity of trade that passed through the “Spice Islands” in the days before steamships.

    The importance and proliferation of nature is the most conspicuous feature of Southeast Asia’s Islamic art. Whether it is a machete or a manuscript, flowers and tendrils are bound to make a showing. Just about every item of aesthetic value from the Malay world shares this homage to the natural world. In a land such as Arabia, it was to the boundless sky that artists looked for inspiration, seeing God in the infinite. In Southeast Asia, the sky is more often obscured by a tree. Instead, the concept of God the Infinite is represented in trailing arabesques of flora or a geometric fruit.

    The concept of “fine art” in the Western tradition is as absent from the Malay world as it is from most parts of the Islamic world. There are virtually no paintings or sculptures. The “applied arts” are at the core of the region’s oeuvre, beautifying the mundane and at the same time paying homage to the Almighty. To some extent there is a hierarchy of media. The written word occupies the highest rung. Copies of the Qur’an are at the summit of all Islamic arts, and in Southeast Asia there is as distinctive an appearance with the holy book as with every other product of the artist’s atelier. The influence of longer-established Islamic societies is highly visible, which was inevitable when missionaries came from India, the Middle East and China. Despite this, there is still a unique identity to Southeast Asian religious manuscripts. They tend to use less gold and are plainer over-all than the Qur’ans from India, Persia or the Ottoman empire. This lack of ostentation conveys a purity that is some-times as striking as the North African Qur’ans from the first centuries of Islam. Invariably, plant life will be incorporated in the designs.

    As is common with most of Southeast Asia’s output, manuscripts are seldom older than a couple of hundred years. This is another factor that has given the region’s oeuvre less credibility than that of the heartlands. Although Qur’anic works have been copied locally for many centuries, the climate is not kind to paper. The same applies to what might be considered the region’s second-highest art form. The region’s early Islamic buildings differed from those of Hindu-Buddhist societies, which had emphasized stone structures. The preferred Islamic approach was wood. It is not clear whether this was in deliberate opposition to the extravagance of their predecessors or whether there was a lack of skilled stonemasons at the beginning of the Islamic period. The results are certainly no match for a Buddhist temple like Borobudur in Java.

    Despite their lack of grandeur and longevity, the wooden mosques of the Malay world mark a notable contribution to Islam. With three-tiered roofs and no trace of the later onion domes and ogival arches, traditional Malay mosques are well ventilated and perfectly suited to a tropical climate. It does not follow that superior function take an architectural style into the Islamic hall of fame. The mosques of Southeast Asia receive even less attention than the decorative arts.

    The artifacts that have received the consideration of scholars and collectors for several centuries are weapons and textiles. Occupying opposite extremes of the aesthetic spectrum, both have been viewed in their Southeast Asian rather than Islamic context. Among weapons, the kris is the most well known. With a characteristic blade that is often wavy and always flares toward the hilt, it has long been accepted as an effective killing instrument with mystical properties. Although its origins are undoubtedly pre-Islamic, there have been modifications to make it more appropriate for Muslim users. Hilts that once glorified Hindu deities were given abstract form after the arrival of Islam. Occasional Qur’anic inscriptions on the blades are another indicator of new patronage. Similar inscriptions occur on other regional weapons, including swords and spearheads of great technical accomplishment. Islam may not always have been as supremely pacific as some suggest, but there can be no denying that this was a faith that fully realized the aesthetics of warfare.

    Beautifying every aspect of life was once central to most parts of Islam. The effort is less conspicuous these days. Magnificent clothing used to be an expression of devotion, and Islamic textiles from Andalusia to Southeast Asia were universally admired. It was not unusual for Catholic priests’ vestments to be discreetly adorned with the Shahada. In the Malay world, textiles were a symbol of status and religion. Although other parts of the region had equally high regard for the weaver’s art—as much the domain of women as weapons were of men—the Muslim approach was distinctive.

    Sometimes the difference between the cloth of a Muslim and a Hindu is not immediately apparent. Plentiful use of silk and gold would hardly please observers who are aware of the hadith that discourages males from wearing these materials. Southeast Asian Islamic textiles win more pious approval when it comes to figural representation. As with weapons, anthropomorphic images in weavings are heavily abstracted. Where they exist at all, they are usually a graphic device created from calligraphic elements, such as the birds that often appear on Javanese batiks.

    It is not just the design of a textile that indicates the wearer’s religion; another Islamic aspect to Malay world weavings is the way they were worn. A different approach to modesty was noticeable in the Muslim communities. Going topless may have been acceptable in Hindu Bali, but it certainly wasn’t among the region’s Muslims. Cloths with religious inscriptions were especially revered and often had talismanic properties. This may not be entering into the anti-superstition spirit of the faith, but it is a weakness that has been shared by many communities.

    The most highly regarded inscribed cloths were those cut from the kiswah covering the Ka‘ba in Mecca. These could be tailored into waistcoats and other apparel conveying exceptional status—the owner would have needed to be extremely influential to secure a sample from the kiswah, even if it was replaced every year. The prestige of these items lay almost entirely in their sacred association. Imported goods also gave them a special position. The holy cities were a highly desirable place of origin, but almost anywhere from outside the region had cachet. Exquisite as their own goods were, rich members of the Malay world did not necessarily want to shop locally. Weavings from many other places were sought after. With the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century, there was much demand for laces and velvets from the West. Wares from India and China were also highly regarded and more widely traded. The 21st century new rich of Southeast Asia are equally inclined toward foreign goods, although it has to be said that the appeal of Indian and Chinese products is not what it was.

    The respect given to imports might partly explain the lack of recognition given to the region’s heritage. When the communities that once commissioned sophisticated works of devotion forget the purpose and overlook the importance of those works, there is little hope that they will ever be fully understood. The Message & The Monsoon attempts to explore this forgotten field of Islamic art and rescue it from the dustbin of ethnography.

    March 23, 2007

    What Does Islam Teach?

    These two videos are part of a "Why I Love Islam" campaign that's going on at Youtube. The campaign is for the purpose of da'wah, trying to teach people about Islam. So far, there have been 33 videos made that are in response to the campaign. Both videos here, "What Does Islam Really Teach?" and "Why I Love Islam: Tawheed - Oneness of God, Most High," are beautifully done. Enjoy.

    (Run time: 4:26)

    (Run time: 3:01)

    Des'ree: You Gotta Be

    When "You Gotta Be" first came out, I liked it quite a lot, as most everyone else did. But then the jazz stations started overplaying the song to the point where I became fairly sick of it. The other day, though, I heard "You Gotta Be" for the first time in a number of years, and it was like, "Wow! I'm really glad I heard this song once more because it's so good." :) Enjoy!

    March 21, 2007

    Update to "Hijabis of the World, Unite!"

    Back in February 2006, I read a comment on Indigo Jo Blogs, written by a woman who had worn a hijab for a week to see how people would react. I reposted that comment on my blog as "Hijabis of the World, Unite!", which has gotten a large number of hits over the past year. Today, I heard from Heather Hopkins, who wrote that original comment and happened to find my blog with her post.

    Heather is now a Muslim, alhamdulillah! I am very happy for her, and wish her the best of luck in her life journey as a Muslim. (And if you have any questions on Islam, Heather, please feel free to ask. :) )

    How funny that I found this online so long after I wrote it, hahaha. I was searching something else and saw my name on there, very funny. I am glad that you enjoyed my piece of writing :O)

    I wanted to do a follow-up on this because an interesting thing has happened to me since I wrote this piece...I have become Muslim myself. What started as a social experiment left me deeply interested in Islam. At first it was just because I found it to be fascinating, but after reading more and more about it, it all began to make sense to me, as though it were a truth I had known all along and was just waiting to discover the words for what was in my heart. Islam has made me feel complete. It has liberated me from the troubles of my past. And though some things have been tough since my conversion (or...reversion) (such as my family and friend's reactions....not as bad as I thought it would be, but still awkward), I have been better equipped to deal with these things because I can hold fast to my faith. Islam has changed my life for the better and I just want to share it with the world.

    “I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good”

    I recently got back from a short business trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While on the trip, I wrote down a number of thoughts and observations that I thought I’d share.

    The train leaves on time – for once! I’m amazed.

    At the emigration counters at the Woodlands checkpoint, I’m the first person in my line (and the second guy into the toilets). Traveling by first-class has its privileges. ;)

    There’s a beautiful blue-and-white masjid dome on the east side of the tracks north of Johor Bahru.

    KTM (the Malaysian inter-city train company) shocks me. The first movie today is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
    (Note: “The Rail Channel,” which is the entertainment KTM provides for first-class customers, is a 6-hour video played on TV sets at both ends of the rail car. It normally features two full-length movies and a couple of short documentaries on a variety of topics. Normally, the Rail Channel plays low budget B-movies for the passengers; in the past, these movies often were about racial issues between black and white Americans. Milady says that those movies were shown in order to help educate Malaysians of all races to learn to deal with racial tensions, to learn tolerance for other races. That may be, but those types of movies haven’t been shown in the past few trips I’ve made on KTM.)

    Malaysians love to fly their flags. (I’ve noticed this for years.) Even the poorest hovel with its rusted tin roof will proudly fly the Malaysian flag.

    It’s raining in Gemas.

    Much of the landscape in southern Malaysia is difficult to see from the train due to the jungle. Sometimes it seems like only just enough of the trees and plant life was cut back to make room for the train passing through. When you can see the terrain in the distance, it’s often low hills covered by ranks of palm trees on the palm oil plantations.

    Oh, no! The second movie today is “New York Minute (the Olsen twins). Maybe not “racial,” but definitely a “B-movie.”

    In southern Johor state: three masajid, two Hindu temples, and one Buddhist temple that can be seen from the train.

    The soil here is often an orangish-brown, not quite a burnt umber. Many of the streams here are muddy. In JB (Johor Bahru), I saw three guys walking down a stream. Fishermen?

    Passing through some of the tiny kampongs (villages), where every home is covered by a tin roof in varying degrees of rust, one wonders how much life has changed here over the decades.

    “Surf Like a Girl” – The slogan on a passenger’s t-shirt.

    Just before sunset, there was a Hindu temple that had both a nice color scheme (white and yellow), and a simplicity in ornamentation. The amount of statuary on a typical Hindu temple is normally enormous. However, this temple had maybe 15-20 idols on its rooftop at the most.

    There’s an older white couple four rows ahead of me. They strike me as being first-time tourists to Malaysia: taking videos, (him in particular) looking out the windows to see the view. Perhaps I’m becoming jaded. How many times have I come up this way before?

    Oh, no! They’re repeating “New York Minute” again! (Thankfully, the movie was cut short.)

    I just saw the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) express train pass us by. We must be getting close to KL Sentral.

    Ah! The Petronas Towers! We’re almost there.

    Is that a plastic 5-ringgit note?

    I’ve just finished traveling for eight hours and the first television show I see in Kuala Lumpur is “Phua Chu Kang Pte. Ltd.” (A TV show made in Singapore.)

    The smell of boiled corn from 20 meters away.

    Surau? There’s no surau here for guests at the hotel! Who do you think stays here? Muslims? In Malaysia?
    (Note: A “surau” is a prayer hall for Muslims. It is not as big as a masjid in that it can only accommodate a few people at a time. Many facilities in Singapore and Malaysia have a surau available for Muslims - shopping centers, hawker centers, hotels - but apparently not the hotel I'm staying at.)

    I am sooo used to the prices of goods including the sales tax (as it is done in Singapore). Spaghetti bolognaises – RM 9.90. I pull out a RM 10 note. “Excuse me, you owe RM 10.40. Diet Coke – RM 2.10. I pull out the exact change. “Hey! That’s RM 2.21!”

    “Tortillas?” I ask an employee at a supermarket? Blank stare. “Mexican? Flat bread?” He tries repeating the unfamiliar word, garbling it so badly I can't even begin to write down what he said. “Never mind.”

    I try taking photos of Masjid Negara (the National Mosque) and the Petronas Towers at night. They come out terribly.

    Less than an hour till my train leaves. I am sooo ready to go home.

    “Terima kasih.” “Sama sama.” No one expects the Ang Moh to know even this little Malay.

    The train ride home is torture. At 6’, I’m too tall for the sleeping berth. I can’t stretch my legs out like I like to in bed, and my knees are continually bent, which makes them hurt. Moreover, there’s no space for the luggage to be stored, so everything that I’m carrying is in the berth with me. I’m very uncomfortable. Then there are all the train stops. The train moves for about an hour or so, and then stops for 10-20 minutes. Every time the train stops, I wake up. I’m not getting any real sleep, and I’m feeling more and more miserable as this night goes on. Insha’allah, I’ll never take the night train again.

    Stupid freakin’ foreigners! Hey, white people! Next time, take your luggage with you when you go through immigration – like you’re supposed to! Don’t delay the remainder of the trip for the rest of us!

    Almost all the taxis on Keppel Road are hired already, so I’m taking the bus home. Thank God that the top side of the bus is almost empty, as I smell really ripe. The first thing I’m gonna do when I get home is take a shower. The second is to sleep the sleep of the dead.

    I’m home.

    March 17, 2007

    Conversions Unveiled

    An interesting article from Wednesday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (JS) Online about the new book, Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam, by Anna Mansson McGinty. Amazon's book description reads, "While Islam has become a controversial topic in the West, a growing number of Westerners find powerful meaning in Islam. Becoming Muslim is an ethnographic study based on in-depth interviews with Swedish and American women who have converted to Islam. Proceeding from the women’s life-stories, the author explores the appeal of Islam to some Western women and the personal meaning assigned to the religion. While conversion is often perceived as entailing a dramatic change in worldview, the women’s experiences point to an equally important continuity. Notably, the conversion is triggered by particular personal ideas and quests, and within Islam the women can further explore already salient thoughts. The work appeals to students in the fields of anthropology, religious studies, psychology, and women’s studies, interested in identity, conversion, and gender."

    In the 1990s, when she first set out to interview women about their conversions to Islam, Anna Mansson McGinty expected to meet the wives of devout Muslims, women whose religion had come from their husbands.

    But a more complex picture emerged as McGinty, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, began delving into the women's stories for her 2006 book, "Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam."

    McGinty, 35, interviewed women in her native Sweden and in the United States, and found no typical Muslim convert. Nor did she find conversions that could be reduced to a single act.

    "The book's main aim," she said, "is to show that conversion is not, as many scholars have described it, a one-time event. It's a constant process. It's never-ending."

    Among the nine women profiled in the book was Mariam, an American-born graduate student in anthropology who went to do field work in an oasis in northern Africa, and while in the field converted to Islam at age 25. Years later, she married a man who also was a Muslim convert.

    There was Fatimah, a former Catholic who had abandoned religion in college, then, as a married mother of two, watched a documentary on nuclear holocaust that led her to embark on a spiritual quest. In the course of this quest, she would divorce her husband, convert to Islam and later marry a Muslim man.

    "Becoming Muslim" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, $65) sheds light on how women in Islam are perceived, an issue that reflects the rift between the Muslim world and the West.

    Yvonne Haddad, a professor who teaches the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, said a fundamental misconception about Islamic women stems from an old colonialist notion.

    "There is a whole history of European colonialism," she said, "that justified the occupation of Muslim lands by saying, 'We have to save Muslim women.' "

    Early Crusaders saw Muslim women in their veils and imagined they were abused by their men, hidden under cover, Haddad said.

    Today the idea persists, though it is balanced by a view from the opposite side of the cultural divide.

    "Muslims look at Western women as being abused by their husbands because they allow strange men to talk and flirt with the women," Haddad explained.

    Negative ideas about the treatment of Islamic women, however, are not without some grains of truth.

    There have been forced marriages and "honor killings" of women in certain Muslim cultures, said Marcia Hermansen, director of the Islamic World Studies program at Loyola University of Chicago, but such practices are not part of most Muslims' "everyday reality. It's not sanctioned by the religion."
    [Note: Honor killings are not solely a "Muslim phenomenon," but have been done by members of other religions, including Christians.]

    "Under the Taliban, certainly women were hideously oppressed," said Leila Ahmed, a professor at Harvard Divinity School.

    At the same time, Ahmed said, "nobody has ever asked me to explain why there have been women heads of state in Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. How many European and American women heads of state have there been?
    [Note: To my knowledge, only two, the UK (Margaret Thatcher) and Germany (Chancellor Angela Merkel).]

    "The extraordinary achievements and freedoms of Muslim women are simply invisible."

    Hermansen pointed out that some of these heads of state were the wives or daughters of leaders, evidence in her view that "family identity trumps gender distinctions for the most part."


    McGinty's interviews with the nine women were never intended to be a scientific survey. Instead, they offer a window into the journey toward conversion and the consequences of that decision.

    One of the Swedish women told McGinty that the decision to wear the veil changed the way fellow Swedes viewed her. The woman said that strangers assumed she was an immigrant and would speak slowly, asking, "Do . . . you . . . speak . . . Swedish?"

    The veil has become a powerful symbol of the complexity of Islamic conversion.

    McGinty found that converts were eager to wear the veil to identify themselves as Muslim, yet also saw it as something "intimately linked to the stereotypes of Muslim women."

    Some women, McGinty said, remove the veil before entering their workplaces.

    Women also told McGinty that, since their conversions, people seemed to view them as boring or serious, almost discounting the possibility that they might have a sense of humor.

    All of the women, McGinty said, found something in Islam that aligned to a core part of their personality.

    Some found that zakat, or alms giving to the poor, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, fit a belief in social justice.

    Others found in Islam a faith that spoke to their sense of religious yearning or spiritual quest.

    Some of the women, she said, found that Islam allowed them to try out a new kind of femininity, one that emphasized modesty and placed value on who a woman is rather than what she looks like.

    "Conversion triggers profound questions to the self," McGinty wrote in her book. "It heightens the awareness and prompts reflections of who one is, who one was, and where one is heading."

    March 14, 2007

    Eclectic Videos

    Yes, it's eclectic video night. Our first video tonight is Speed Painting with French Fries and Ketchup, featuring our old pal Ronald and Morgan Spurlock (h/t: Crooks & Liars; run time: 3:57)

    Our other video tonight is Max Blumenthal's (The Nation) CPAC 2007: The Unauthorized Documentary. Gotta love that one "black" republican. :) (h/t: Cairogal; run time: 7:18)

    Both videos are pretty funny. Check 'em out.

    March 13, 2007

    Oy Vey!

    Stories like these make me wonder just how the nation of Israel vets its potential ambassadors. It sounds like they're not having a whole lot of luck.

    JERUSALEM – Israel has recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after he was found bound, drunk and nude, according to Israeli media reports confirmed Monday by a government spokeswoman.

    The longtime diplomat, Tsuriel Raphael, has been removed from his post and the Foreign Ministry has begun searching for a replacement, said ministry spokeswoman Zehavit Ben-Hillel.

    Two weeks ago, El Salvador police found Raphael naked outside his residence, tied up, gagged and drunk, Israeli media reported. He was wearing several sex toys at the time, the media said. After he was untied, Raphael told police he was the ambassador of Israel, the reports said.

    Ben-Hillel said the reports were accurate and that Raphael has been recalled, although he did not break any laws. "We're talking about behavior that is unbecoming of a diplomat," she said.

    The ambassador did not file a police complaint in the incident, she said.

    Raphael had served for six months as the ambassador in El Salvador and for several years at different missions around the world, she said.

    The embarrassing affair was one of several involving Israeli diplomats in recent years. In 2000, Israel's ambassador to France died of cardiac arrest in a Paris hotel under circumstances the Foreign Ministry refused to publicize. Media reports said he was with a woman who was not his wife at the time.

    Last year, Israel replaced its ambassador to Australia, Naftali Tamir, after he said Israel and Australia are "like sisters" because both are located in Asia and their peoples don't have the Asian characteristics of "yellow skin and slanted eyes."

    In 2005, Israel canceled the appointment of a diplomat to Australia after it was discovered that he published pictures of nude Brazilian women on the Internet while on a mission in Brazil.

    SF Book Meme

    I came across this meme over at Jim Chappell's blog. He didn't tag me for this, but I'm probably just as much into SF as him, so I thought I'd see how I do against him. :)

    Review the following list of books. Boldface the books you’ve read, italicize those you might read, cross out the ones you won’t, and place brackets around the ones you’ve never even heard of.

    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
    Neuromancer, William Gibson
    Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
    The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbur
    The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
    A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
    [Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras]
    Cities in Flight, James Blish
    The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
    Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
    Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
    The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
    Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
    Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
    Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
    The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
    The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
    Gateway, Frederik Pohl
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
    [I Am Legend, Richard Matheson]
    Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
    The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
    [Little, Big, John Crowley]
    Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
    The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick - ?
    Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
    More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
    The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
    On the Beach, Nevil Shute
    Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
    Ringworld, Larry Niven
    Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
    The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
    Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
    [Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson]
    Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
    The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
    Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
    Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock - ?
    The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
    Timescape, Gregory Benford - ?
    To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

    My totals: 30 read, 14 might read, two won't reads, and 4 never heard of. Jim's totals: 36 read, 10 might read, one won't read, and three never heard of. Of my 14 "might read," I've added question marks after three, meaning, I may very well have read those three books, but I don't remember if I did or not. For example, I've read a lot of Michael Moorcock's fantasies, including a number of the Elric novels, but don't know if I've specifically read Stormbringer. It's certainly a possibility. Likewise for the other two.

    One of the problems with trying to read SF in S'pore is that even the best stocked bookstores here (e.g., Kinokuniya) have limited selections available. Especially some of the older authors on this list (e.g., Cordwainer Smith, Algis Budrys, Alfred Bester), trying to find their novels is virtually impossible. About the only realistic way I could get these books would be to buy them through Amazon (and I don't do that very often). Still, some of these older novels have been recently republished. For example, I recently bought and re-read Ringworld; I prolly hadn't read that book in over 20 years. Which made the experience very pleasurable, like meeting an old friend after a long absence.

    March 12, 2007

    Richard Jeni, RIP

    Sadly, another obituary to report. Richard Jeni, the 49-year-old comedian, shot himself in the face on Saturday. The police are not sure at this time whether the shooting was an accident or a suicide attempt. He was still alive at his West Hollywood home when the police arrived, but died at a nearby hospital.

    I hadn't seen Jeni perform in years, but I did like his act, especially "Platypus Man," both the comedy special and TV series on UPN. His "Clamato" joke was classic. (For those who don't know or don't remember, Jeni always wondered who could think up a product like Clamato, which is tomato juice with clam broth and corn syrup. He would pretend to drink a glass of tomato juice, then whistle and say, "Needs fish!" :) )

    Cheers, Richard!

    March 11, 2007

    Brad Delp, RIP

    Boston, Don't Look Back (Live)

    ATKINSON, N.H. -- Brad Delp, the lead singer for the band Boston, was found dead Friday in his home in southern New Hampshire. He was 55.

    Atkinson police responded to a call for help at 1:20 p.m. and found Delp dead. Lt. William Baldwin said in a news release that there was no indication of foul play.

    "There was nothing disrupted in the house. He was a fairly healthy person from what we're able to ascertain," Police Chief Philip Consentino told WMUR-TV.

    Delp apparently was alone at the time, Baldwin said.

    The cause of death remained under investigation.

    Delp sang on Boston's 1976 hits "More than a Feeling" and "Long Time." He also sang on Boston's most recent album, "Corporate America," released in 2002.

    He joined the band in the early 1970s after meeting Tom Scholz, an MIT student interested in experimental methods of recording music, according to the group's official Web site. The band enjoyed its greatest success and influence during its first decade.

    The band's last appearance was in November 2006 at Boston's Symphony Hall.

    On Friday night, the Web site was taken down and replaced with the statement: "We just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll."
    [Note: This statement is still on the website as of the time of this posting.]

    March 8, 2007

    The Hadith of Jibril

    In his recent diary, There is no god but God, Abdur Rahman wrote, "In a very important prophetic tradition, Prophet Muhammad (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is reported to have said: 'Then he (the man) said, "Inform me about Ihsan..."'"

    I thought this hadith was worth expanding on because it provides a very succinct description of Islamic beliefs. The tradition is known as the "Hadith of Jibril," who is also known as the angel Gabriel, and it makes up part of the first hadith in the first book of the first chapter of the sahih ahadith collection by Muslim.

    A narration attributed to Umar reports:

    While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam ["peace be upon him"], there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him.

    He sat down close by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, rested his knee against his thighs, and said, "O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam." Said the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, "Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah, pay the zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the House [i.e., the Ka'ba], if you can find a way to it (or find the means for making the journey to it)." Said he (the man), "You have spoken truly."

    We were astonished at his thus questioning him and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, "Inform me about Emaan (faith)." He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, "It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects." He said, "You have spoken truly."

    Then he (the man) said, "Inform me about Ihsan." He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, "It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you." He said, "Inform me about the Hour." He (the Messenger of Allah) said, "The one questioned knows no more than the questioner." So he said, "Well, inform me about the signs thereof (i.e. of its coming)." Said he, "They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted ones, the naked, the destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings." Thereupon the man went off.

    I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, "O 'Umar, do you know who that questioner was?" I replied, "Allah and His Messenger know better." He said, "That was Jibril. He came to teach you your religion."

    Ketchup Art: "AUA"

    Another link stolen from IZ Reloaded. Ketchup Art invites people to send in photographs of "art" made with ketchup (and a few other materials). Many of the photos are both interesting in the artwork and amusing. I rather like the picture below.

    Careful with that axe, Eugene!

    March 6, 2007

    Child Abuse in Texas

    I'm trying to think of something to say that expresses my intense anger at these two men without being overly offensive to my readers... but I can't. So I won't try anymore (for now).

    [Key words: marijuana, pot, Watauga, Texas]

    Dual Indonesian Earthquakes Today

    There were two earthquakes today underneath the island of Sumatra. The tremors were felt as far away as Singapore (where I live) and peninsular Malaysia (to our north). In Singapore, the tremors were felt primarily in the financial district (where I work) and I've also heard that people on the east side of the island felt them as well. Some of the buildings in this area were evacuated, but ours was not. I myself didn't feel the tremors, but then again, I work on the third floor of the building. If our offices had been higher upstairs, perhaps we would have felt them. So, to make a long story short, I'm perfectly fine; nothing's wrong here. However, please do make dua for the people of Sumatra. From Bloomberg:

    Two earthquakes greater than magnitude 6 struck Indonesia's Sumatra island within two hours of each other, killing at least 13 people and destroying some houses and shops.

    A magnitude 6.3 quake struck west Sumatra at 10:49 a.m. local time 49 kilometers (30 miles) north-northeast of Padang city and 424 kilometers southwest of Singapore, the U.S. Geological Survey said. A second quake of magnitude 6.1 hit the same area two hours later. There was no tsunami warning issued because the temblors occurred inland.


    Both earthquakes were felt as far away as Singapore, where downtown office buildings shook.

    "I can't recall (this happening) in my so many years in Shenton Way, and it happened twice today already," said Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB-GK Securities in Singapore. Song has worked in the city-state's financial sector since 1990. Shenton Way is the main street running through Sinapore's business district.

    [Note: Shenton Way is a two block walk (5 minutes) from where I work.]

    Update: I've added the AP map above to help show where the epicenter of the quake was. As mentioned earlier, the quake was also felt in Malaysia; however, now I've read that it was felt in Johor (most likely the city of Johor Bahru). Johor Bahru is the city opposite of Singapore, across the strait that separates Singapore from Malaysia. I'll be more impressed if the quake was felt in Malaka or the Kuala Lumpur area.

    The death toll on Sumatra is now at least 70, and is expected to rise as reports come in from rural areas.

    The worst-hit area appeared to be in and around Solok, a bustling town close to the epicenter of the quake on Sumatra's western coast, which was spared destruction in the 2004 tsunami disaster.

    At least two young children and a teacher were killed when a two-story building crashed onto a playground in Solok, said police spokesman Supriadi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. Another woman died at a market.

    Town Mayor Samsu Rahim told el-Shinta radio that three others were burned alive when their collapsed home burst into flames.

    Hospitals were struggling to cope with a flood of patients, many suffering cuts and broken bones, Supriadi said. At least one hospital was evacuated.

    March 5, 2007

    I'm Irked!

    I just discovered last night that the Arizona Diamondbacks MLB team has changed its colors. Since the team's inceptions, the official colors were purple, turquoise and copper. Now, the colors are "Sedona Red," "Sonoran Sand" and black. While the colors are "deserty" enough, I've got two problems with the new color scheme.

    First, the red and black (the dominant colors) are too much like too many other MLB team colors, especially the red. With the old color scheme, there was only one other team that had purple (the Colorado Rockies) and no other teams with turquoise (the Florida Marlins and Oakland A's come close with their shades of green). However, with the red, now Arizona's going to look like the Angels, Red Sox, Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, Astros and Twins. Boring! The old color scheme was unique. The alternate home uniform of the purple jersey, purple cap and white pants was beautiful to behold.

    The second problem I have is that this is an obvious snub to Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Diamondback. Both of his teams, the Phoenix Suns (NBA) and the D-Backs, had purple in the official colors. That was OK by me. It looks good and it's a good Arizona color. But the new ownership is obviously trying to distance themselves away from the old regime. Yeah, that shows a lot of "class," guys.

    March 4, 2007

    Animusic: Acoustic Curves

    I was feeling like listening to some Animusic before going to bed. Enjoy!

    (Run time: 5:35)

    Peace Train

    What the warmongers don't want you to see. (Run time: 2:09)

    Strong vs. Weak Hadith

    tina asked: "What makes a weak hadith and what makes a strong hadith?"

    The "strength" or "weakness" of any hadith refers to the isnad or chain of transmitters of the hadith. Each hadith has an isnad that tells us who related the hadith from person to person. Each of these persons has had their life reviewed, especially as it pertains to the transmission of ahadith (the plural of hadith). For example, was that person trustworthy, how good was their memory, were they known for having created any spurious ahadith or falsifying in any way any hadith, and so on. The grading of all of the transmitters in each isnad would determine the status of the hadith, whether it is sahih (strong), hasan (fair), daif (weak), munkar (denounced), or maudu (forged).

    You might find this article, The Science of Hadith of interest.

    Wafa Sultan: Reformist or Opportunist?

    By Abdussalam Mohamed
    Staff Writer for Southern California InFocus

    "Unlikely journey from obscurity to fame, rags to riches."

    She has been described as a hero, a reformist, a crusader, and a brave woman who defied the Muslim world and stood up for what she believed in. In 2006, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people "whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world." Dr. Wafa Sultan has been honored countless times for her now famous appearance on Al-Jazeera television opposite a Muslim cleric named Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouly on February 21, 2006.

    In that memorable clip widely distributed by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), Sultan referred to the current conflict between the West and militant Muslims as "a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another that belongs to the 21st century... a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality." The clip spread through the internet like wild fire and landed Sultan in the LA Times, the New York Times and CNN among others. MEMRI estimated that the video was viewed at least one million times.

    All of a sudden, and out of obscurity, Sultan found herself the center of both attention and controversy. On the one hand, she became the darling of many right wing media pundits and mainly pro-Israel groups who viewed her as a beacon of reform that stood up to what was wrong with Islam and Muslims. On the other hand, Muslims contended that by making broad, unfounded and ignorant proclamations about their faith, Sultan was nothing more than a pawn playing into the hands of Islamophobes, and an opportunist who intentionally pushed the divide between the Islamic world and the West to further ulterior motives that included fame, fortune and immortality.

    Reformist or opportunist, Sultan continues to enjoy the spotlight as she routinely figures prominently as a guest speaker at many functions and fundraisers across the country. As her fame grows, so do her admirers and detractors.

    Born in 1958 in the coastal town of Baniyas, Syria, Wafa Sultan grew up in a modest middle class Alawite family. She attended the University of Aleppo where she majored in medical studies (source: wikipedia).

    In an interview with the New York Times, Sultan claimed that in 1979, gunmen from the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor before her eyes. It was then that her disillusionment and anger with Islam started. According to the same interview, Sultan, her husband Moufid, who goes by the Americanized name David, and their two children applied for a visa to the United States in 1989 and eventually settled in with friends in Cerritos, Calif.

    Post 9/11, Sultan reportedly began writing for an Islamic reform Web site called Annaqed (The Critic) run by a Syrian expatriate in Phoenix. She wrote an angry essay about the Muslim Brotherhood and her writings eventually drew the attention of Al-Jazeera television, which invited her to debate, first an Algerian Islamist in July 2005 and then Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouly, a lecturer at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, in February 2006 (New York Times, March 11, 2006).

    It was the second debate, excerpts of which were translated and circulated by MEMRI that garnered her worldwide attention. Sultan went from obscurity to fame in a matter of weeks.

    While Sultan’s admirers have nothing but praise for her, detractors charge that many of her public claims do not corroborate with facts. Moreover, they assert that the reasons behind her rise to fame have more to do with her personal life than with her desire to reform Islam.

    Adnan Halabi*, a Syrian expatriate who met and got to know the Sultans when they first came to the United States, spoke at length about the Wafa Sultan that very few people know.

    According to Halabi, Dr. Wafa Ahmad (her maiden name) arrived in California with her husband Moufid (now changed to David) in the late 80s on a tourist visa. Contrary to what she told the New York Times, they came as a couple, leaving their two children back in Syria.

    Another source named Nabil Mustafa, also Syrian, told InFocus that he was introduced to Moufid Sultan through a personal friend who knew the family well, and both ended up having tea at the Sultans’ one-bedroom apartment one evening in 1989. It was then that Moufid told Mustafa the story of how he was reunited with his two children. According to Mustafa, Moufid Sultan told him that a short time after they arrived in the country, his wife, Dr. Wafa Sultan, mailed her passport back to her sister Ilham Ahmad in Syria (while the passport still carried a valid U.S. tourist visa). With Ilham bearing a resemblance to her sister Wafa, the plan was to go to the Mexican Embassy in Damascus and obtain a visa to Mexico, making sure that the airline carrier they would book a flight on would have a layover somewhere in the Continental United States.

    With an existing U.S. visa on Wafa Sultan’s passport, Ilham Ahmad had no trouble obtaining an entry permit to Mexico. Shortly after, Ilham and Wafa’s two children landed in Houston, Texas. She and the children then allegedly made their way through customs and were picked up by Moufid and brought to California.

    Taking advantage of an amnesty law for farmers, the Sultans applied for permanent residency through a Mexican lady who worked as a farm hand. She helped Moufid with the paperwork by claiming he had worked as a farmer for four years. The application went through and the Sultans obtained their green cards.

    As incredible as the story sounds, Mustafa told InFocus that to the best of his recollection, this was the exact account he heard from Moufid Sultan. Halabi, who is not acquainted with Mustafa, corroborated the story, which he heard from Dr. Wafa Sultan herself but with fewer details. Dr. Wafa Sultan declined InFocus’ repeated requests to be interviewed or comment on the allegations. InFocus contacted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check on the veracity of the story but an official said that they would look into the allegations, which could take months to investigate.

    Halabi alleges that Ilham Ahmad lived as illegal resident with her sister Wafa for years until she met an Arab Christian named Khalid Musa Shihadeh whom she ended up marrying (they were married in Nevada on 12/8/1991 and filed for divorce in 2002). It was during that time that Halabi got to know the Sultans well.

    Halabi alleges that the Sultans lived in dire poverty. "Their rent was over $1,000 per month and Moufid was only making $800," he said. Dr. Wafa Sultan was forced to rent out a room in her apartment and work at a pizza parlor in Norwalk, Calif. where a personal friend used to pick her up and drop her off daily. This same friend used to help the Sultans out with groceries and occasionally loaned them money just so they could make it through the month. "It was a serious struggle," Halabi recalled. "The Sultans lived hand to mouth for years on end." Further, Halabi said that at no point during the period he knew the family did Sultan ever discuss religion, politics or any topic relevant to her current activities. "She is a smart woman, articulate and forceful, but she never meddled in religion or politics to the extent she is doing now," Halabi said.

    As to the claim that her professor (thought to be Yusef Al-Yusef) was gunned down before her eyes in a faculty classroom at the University of Aleppo, Halabi said the incident never took place. "There was a professor who was killed around 1979, that is true, but it was off-campus and Sultan was not even around when it happened," he added.

    InFocus contacted the University of Aleppo and spoke to Dr. Riyad Asfari, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, who confirmed Halabi’s account. "Yes, the assassination took place off-campus," he said. Dr. Asfari was keen to add that no one had ever been killed in a classroom anytime or anywhere at the university.

    Syrian expatriate Ghada Moezzin, who attended the University of Aleppo in 1979 as a sophomore, told InFocus that she never heard of the assassination. "We would’ve known about the killing if it had happened," she said. "It would have been big news on campus and I do not recall ever hearing about it." Moezzin, who lives in Glendora, Calif., added that government security was always present around the university given the political climate in Syria at the time.

    What are perceived as inconsistencies and half-truths like these convince Sultan’s critics that the motive behind her invectives against Islam and Muslims is other than her alleged desire for reform.

    These same critics allege that Islamophobes are most certainly behind the likes of Sultan. They argue that the clip that made her famous was distributed by MEMRI, a media group that purports to independently translate and distribute news from the Middle East when in reality it is promoting a pro-Israeli slant. In an article titled, "Selective Memri," published on August 12, 2002 by the British newspaper The Guardian, investigative reporter Brian Whitaker wrote: "The stories selected by MEMRI for translation follow a familiar pattern: either they reflect badly on the character of Arabs or they in some way further the political agenda of Israel."

    According to Whitaker, the founder of MEMRI is an Israeli named Yigal Carmon. "Mr - or rather, Colonel - Carmon spent 22 years in Israeli military intelligence and later served as counter-terrorism adviser to two Israeli prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin... of the six people named (as MEMRI’s staff), three - including Col. Carmon - are described as having worked for Israeli intelligence." (The entire article can be obtained at:,7792,773258,00.html

    Another feature of deliberate bias and media myopia, critics say, is the fact that the Al-Jazeera clip was edited intentionally "out of context" to reflect one single point of view and promote Sultan’s arguments through American-style media sound bites, reducing the other debater to a mere punching bag.

    InFocus was able to obtain a translated transcript of the Al-Jazeera debate. An example of this bias critics allege is Sultan’s much-rehashed quote, "It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality."

    In the transcript, Shaikh Ibrahim Al-Khouli responded by saying, "…here we must ask a question, who facilitated the conflict and indeed initiated it; is it the Muslims? Muslims now are in a defensive position fighting off an aggressor... who said Muslims were backward? They may be backward in terms of technological advances, but who said that such are the criteria for humanity? Muslims are more advanced on a human level, in terms of the values and principles they endorse." (Entire transcript can be viewed at:

    InFocus also found out that the web site called Annaqed ( she supposedly wrote for before being noticed by Al-Jazeera Television is not an "Islamic reform Web Site" as was reported in the New York Times article, but rather an Arab nationalist blog run by a Syrian Christian who defines it as being "in line with Christian morality and principles." The site is also replete with anti-Muslim writings.

    Sultan’s detractors include not only Muslims but members of the Jewish community as well. In an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times (June 25, 2006) and titled "Islam’s Ann Coulter," Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who attended a fundraiser for a local Jewish organization where Sultan was a speaker, wrote, "The more Sultan talked, the more evident it became that progress in the Muslim world was not her interest.... She never alluded to any healthy, peaceful Islamic alternative."

    The rabbi mentioned that Judea Pearl, father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, "was one of the few voices of restraint and nuance heard that afternoon. In response to Sultan’s assertion that the Koran contains only verses of evil and domination, Pearl said he understood the book also included ‘verses of peace’ that proponents of Islam uphold as the religion’s true intent. The Koran’s verses on war and brutality, Pearl contended, were ‘cultural baggage,’ as are similar verses in the Torah."

    He added, "Sultan’s over-the-top, indefensible remarks at the fundraiser, along with her failure to mention the important, continuing efforts of the Islamic Center (of Southern California), insulted all Muslims and Jews in L.A. and throughout the nation who are trying to bridge the cultural gap between the two groups. And that’s one reason why I eventually walked out of the event."

    In the end, Dr. Wafa Sultan will remain a conflicting figure. Loved by some, reviled by others, she does not seem to be afraid to voice her opinions. She once said, "I don’t believe you can reform Islam," and claimed that the Qur’an was riddled with violence, misogyny and extremist ideas. Her Muslims detractors believe Sultan does not even qualify as a Muslim reformer since she has publicly rejected Islam and declared herself an atheist.

    As for the Sultans’ financial troubles, Halabi told InFocus that ever since Dr. Sultan gained notoriety those troubles are a thing of the past. "She bought a house for herself and bought another for her son," Halabi said. "She also bought two smog-check stations, one for her husband and another for her son," he added. When asked about the source of her material well-being, Halabi was unsure.

    As to the reasons that may have pushed Sultan to be so outspoken and vocal against Islam in a post-9/11 world, Halabi sympathetically remarked, "Poverty. It drives people to sell their soul."

    * Adnan Halabi (not his real name) agreed to speak to InFocus on condition of anonymity. To this day, he maintains that he and the Sultans are still friends.