September 29, 2007

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall

I was doing my occasional "trolling" through the Internet just now, looking for blog articles on Islam, and came across an interesting piece on Al-Ahram Weekly Online. Eric Walberg looks at the increasing attraction to Islam on the part of Westerners in his Finding the Inner Muslim Prince, writing about a number of Westerners who are or were known for their interest in Islam. Many of the Westerners he writes about became Muslims in time (such as Muhammad Asad and Yvonne Ridley), while others did or have not, although they became famous for their knowledge or interest in Islam (such as Sir Richard Burton and Karen Armstrong).

The following excerpt from the article is on Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall.
Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall travelled to Cairo at age 18 in 1894 and, as he later recalled in his delightful Oriental Encounters: Palestine and Syria, "ran completely wild for months, in a manner unbecoming to an Englishman; and when at length, upon a pressing invitation, I turned up in Jerusalem and used my introductions, it was in semi-native garb and with a love for Arabs which, I was made to understand, was hardly decent. My native friends were objects of suspicion. I was told that they were undesirable, and, when I stood up for them, was soon put down by the retort that I was very young. I could not obviously claim as much experience as my mature advisers, whose frequent warnings to me to distrust the people of the country thus acquired the force of moral precepts, which it is the secret joy of youth to disobey."

The Orient came as a revelation. Later in life he wrote, "When I read The Arabian Nights I see the daily life of Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Cairo, and the other cities as I found it in the early nineties of last century. What struck me, even in its decay and poverty, was the joyousness of that life compared with anything that I had seen in Europe. The people seemed quite independent of our cares of life, our anxious clutching after wealth, our fear of death."

He had found a world of freedom unimaginable to a public schoolboy raised on an almost idolatrous passion for The State. Most Palestinians never set eyes on a policeman, and lived for decades without engaging with government in any way. Islamic law was administered in its time-honoured fashion, by qadis (local judges). Villages chose their own headmen, or inherited them, and the same was true for the bedouin tribes. The population revered the Sultan-Caliph in faraway Istanbul, but understood that it was not his place to interfere with their lives.

It was this freedom, as much as intellectual assent, which set Marmaduke on the long pilgrimage which was to lead him to Islam. He saw the Muslim world before Westernisation had contaminated the lives of the masses, and long before it had infected Muslim political thought and produced the modern vision of the Islamic State, with its centralised bureaucracy and its secret police. He would have converted to Islam immediately but was discouraged by an imam who was concerned about the shock this would be for the lad's mother, telling him to delay his decision till the moment was right.

Throughout his life Pickthall saw Islam as radical freedom, a freedom from the encroachments of the State as much as from the claws of the ego. It also offered freedom from the narrow fanaticism and sectarian bigotry which characterised and still characterises the myriad sects of Christianity. Superstition and priestcraft were abhorred. The Reason-God was immanent in creation, a blessed sign of God's nearness. The brotherhood of Muslims which he observed in Syria, the respect between Sunni and Shia, and their indifference to class distinctions in their places of worship, seemed to be the living realisation of the dreams of the Diggers, English radicals at the time of Cromwell's Commonwealth.

In 1917, in London, as the "Christian" nations committed mass murder in the war-to-end-all-wars, during a lecture on "Islam and Progress," he took the plunge. As the New Statesman put it in 1930, reviewing his Quranic translation, "Mr Marmaduke Pickthall was always a great lover of Islam. When he became a Muslim it was regarded less as conversion than as self-discovery."

The war ground on, and Pickthall watched as the Turks trounced the British and colonial troops at Gallipoli, only to be betrayed by the Arab uprising under TE Lawrence. Pickthall despised Lawrence as a shallow romantic, given to unnatural passions and wild misjudgements. As he later wrote, reviewing the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, "He really believed that the British Government would fulfill punctually all the promises made on its behalf. He really thought that it was love of freedom and his personal effort and example rather than the huge sums paid by the British authorities and the idea of looting Damascus, which made the Arabs zealous in rebellion."

Once a friend of Winston Churchill's, Pickthall broke with his elite friends, moved to India to teach and write, and became a close associate of Gandhi, supported the ulama's rejection of violent resistance to British rule. Nonviolence and noncooperation seemed the most promising means by which India would emerge as a strong and free nation. When the Muslim League made its appearance under the very secular figure of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pickthall joined the great bulk of India's ulama in rejecting the idea of partition. India's great Muslim millions were one family, and must never be divided. He also continued his Friday sermons, begun in the working class mosque in Woking, preaching at the great mosque of Bijapur and elsewhere, now in Urdu.

In 1935 Pickthall returned to England. His school and journal Islamic Culture were flourishing. Henceforth he had forever to deny that he was the Fielding of his friend EM Forster's novel A Passage to India. The last lines he wrote were from the Quran: "Whosoever surrendereth his purpose to Allah, while doing good, his reward is with his Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve." (5:69) A Don Quixote, peripheral to the great forces of imperialism, with its agenda of war and subjugation, but a template for the post-imperial man, citizen of the world, a modern saint.

His early love affair with life under the Ottomans meant he witnessed the dismemberment of the Caliphate, not as TE Lawrence and Philby's "liberation," but as a tragedy, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the ethnic cleansing of millions, the planting of ethnic hatred among peoples who had lived in harmony for centuries, and a fatal blow to Islam. However, while rejecting bitterness and calls for violent revenge, he was convinced that Islam's victory would come through changing an unjust world from within.

Ramadan Moon

In late August, I posted a photo I took back in July of the moon over Singapore. About a week ago, I saw the moon in the late afternoon. On the one hand, I wanted to take a picture, having been inspired by a recent photo on Lunar Photo of the Day (LPOD); on the other hand, I was too tired from fasting to wander outside with the camera to get my shot. So I found the only place in the apartment where such a photo could be taken at that time: in the bathroom, through the slot of the window panes, underneath the ledge of another apartment (which is the dark shadow in the upper left corner). And as I took the photo, the only thing that was going through my mind was that old McDonalds' commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, except that this time it was, "Through the slat, under the ledge, nothing but net." ;)

Some year I gotta buy myself a good telescope.

September 28, 2007

The "Bad" Old Days

Credit: Vintage Computing and Gaming

This is a fascinating ad when you have the advantage of 26 years' worth of hindsight and technological improvements in computer memory. This company, Morrow Designs, had two hard disk drives available for sale in January 1981 (advertised in BYTE magazine): a 10-megabyte HDD for a mere $3,695, and a 26-megabyte HDD for only $4,995. That's in 1981 dollars. Factor in inflation and, today, the prices of those two hard drives would be equivalent to $8,451.63 and $11,425.14, respectively.

Now, factor in the technological improvements. The older of our two home computers has a 150-gigabyte HDD in it (I've used up about 65-70 gig in the three years or so we've owned it; the newer computer, I have no idea how much memory it has except that it's more). The first thumbdrive I bought, back in late 2003, was 128-meg for S$88 (that number's etched in my brain for some reason). The most recent thumbdrive that I bought was a 4-gig model for S$55.

Now if only cars and homes could have such huge increases in quality and decreases in prices.

(HT: IZ Reloaded)

September 23, 2007

Slate V: Five Brothers

Make Your Own Romney Ad

"Romney for President" is holding a contest that asks supporters to create and submit video campaign ads. Here's an entry from Slate V. Yeah, the five brothers are real patriots there, enduring the fireflies of Iowa on Dad's behalf instead of being those, you know, so-called "patriots" who go off to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight. Whole lotta "courage of your convictions" stuff being shown here. And that "Waltons"-esque ending really makes me want to weep!

September 21, 2007

The Economist: Faith Upon the Earth

In this week's (September 22nd) issue of The Economist, there's a one-page article about the hot-and-cold alliance between religious groups and environmental scientists. Personally, I favor such alliances.

In Islam, we believe that mankind, through the acceptance of the Khalifa by Adam (pbuh) on mankind's behalf (2:30), has a responsibility toward our natural environment. The word Khalifa has multiple meanings, including: successor, steward, trustee, viceroy, and guardian. While we have the use of all the natural resources on the earth, in the seas, and in the heavens (14:32-3, 31:20, 45:12-3), we must still use these resources wisely. They were created to facilitate humanity in fulfilling our own purpose for which we were created: to worship and serve Allah (swt).

As a result of this, there has been a trend among Muslims toward ecological stewardship. One of the bright lights in this field is the work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who is currently a Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. (For an article that includes a brief interview with Dr. Seyyed, please click here.)

Some excerpts from The Economist:

In many other parts of the world, secular greens and religious people find themselves on the same side of public debates: sometimes hesitantly, sometimes tactically, and sometimes fired by a sense that they have deep things in common.

One more case from India: ornithologists who want to save three species of vulture (endangered because cattle carcasses are tainted by chemicals) see their best ally as the Parsees, who on religious grounds use vultures to dispose of human corpses.

In China, organized religion is much weaker and conservationists also feel more lonely. But Pan Yue, the best-known advocate of green concerns within the Chinese government, says ancient creeds, like Taoism, offer the best hope of making people treat the earth more kindly.

Other tie-ups between faith and ecology are less obvious. In Sweden, the national Lutheran Church, working with Japanese Shintos, recently held a multi-faith meeting on forestry. They agreed to set a new standard for the care of forests owned or managed by religious bodies—in other words, they said, 5% of the world's woods.


The terms of the transaction between faith and ecology vary a lot. In places like Scandinavia, where religion is weakish, a cleric who "goes green" may reach a wider audience; in countries like India, where faith is powerful, spiritual messages touch more hearts than secular ones do. That doesn't stop some environmental scientists from saying they are being hijacked by clerics in search of relevance. But Mary Evelyn Tucker, of America's Yale University, says secular greens badly need their spiritual allies: "Religions provide a cultural integrity, a spiritual depth and moral force which secular approaches lack."

Martin Palmer, of the British-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation, says faiths often have the clearest view of the social and economic aspects of an environmental problem. In Newfoundland, he notes, conservationists put curbs on cod fishing—and left the churches to care for families whose living was ruined.

Still, one selling point often used by the religious in their dialogue with science—the fact that faith encourages people to think long-term—may be a mixed blessing. The most pessimistic scientists say mankind has a decade at most to curb greenhouse gases and fend off disastrous global warming; that doesn't leave much time to settle the finer points of metaphysics.

September 20, 2007

Sequoias In Their Midst

Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. And those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Taurat; and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward. (48:29)

I sometimes hunt for blog posts about Islam, but - all too often - come across those of the Islamophobic variety. But this ayah and its similitude refreshes me. Islam sprouted 1400 years ago, grew strong, and now stands tall like a tree: like the enormous Banyan in Asia, like the strong and enduring Oak in Europe, like the tall (and stately) palm-trees in the Middle East, like the Giant Sequoia in the U.S. And like John Muir beholding the Sequoia ("Do behold the King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say."), we Muslims do indeed look upon Islam with wonder and delight. And the Unbelievers can only sputter helplessly, raging at us, hoping blindly that their vain desires will come true.

Sputter on, Unbelievers, for all the good it will do you! Your words, filled with hate, will only come to be used as evidence against you in the Hereafter, insha'allah. And in the meantime, your thoughts are only like an unpleasant odor, lingering for a moment before being swept away by the fresh air of Islam.

"The View" Co-Host Doesn't Know If the World is Round or Flat

The world is filled with a LOT of STUPID people. Sherri Shepherd appears to be one of them. From The Daily Background:

One of the co-hosts of The View, Sherri Shepherd, said she didn’t believe in evolution, so co-host Whoopi Goldberg asked her if she believed the world was flat or round. She wasn’t able to answer, using the excuse that she was too busy being a good little housewife to think about complicated things like matters that science settled hundreds of years ago. Amazing.

Partial transcript:

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Is the world flat?

SHERRI SHEPHERD: Is the world flat? (laughter)


SHEPHERD: I don’t know.

GOLDBERG: What do you think?

SHEPHERD: I… I never thought about it, Whoopi. Is the world flat? I never thought about it.

BARBARA WALTERS: You’ve never thought about whether the world was round or flat?

SHEPHERD: I tell you what I’ve thought about. How I’m going to feed my child...

WALTERS: Well, you can do both.

SHEPHERD: I’m going to take care of my family. The world, is the world flat has never entered into, like that has not been an important thing to me.

ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: You’ll teach your son, Jeffery, right?

SHEPHERD: If my son, Jeffery, asks me "is the world flat," I guess I would go...

JOY BEHAR: You know, didn’t some person already work this question out? I mean, why are we doing this again? (laughter, applause)

Update: Apparently, Shepherd now realizes that the earth is round; her problem was just that she suffered from a "senior brain-poopy moment." (Hmmm, isn't that what Miss Teen South Carolina just went through? ;) )

Response to "Islam, Muslims and Amerca, Part 4"

I've been commenting on a blog called The Thinker these past few days; however, one of my recent comments didn't post as normal and WordPress is not allowing a new copy of the comment to post over there. As a result, I've decided to post my response to OMC here. To view the original post and the previous comments, click here.

Are you stating in your position that Islam and, or Islamic standards have not been changing? Are you implying that “all is well in Islam”? From the Muslim perspective now, are you suggesting that there IS NOT any discord or various modifications going on within the faith?

Is Islam or Islamic standards changing? If it is, it's only fractional at the most. Is all well in Islam? Islam is perfect; Muslims are not. In that respect, no, not all is well among Muslims, just as all is not well among Americans. There is always room for improvement. One of my wife's favorite phrases is, "We strive to be better Muslims." Is there any discord or various modifications going on within the Muslim community? Of course, just as there is within any other community worldwide. So? There are one-point-something billion Muslims worldwide, not all of whom see eye to eye. There are one-point-something billion Christians worldwide as well, and not all of them see eye to eye either. I don't see Muslim nor Christian cultures going into "demise" anytime soon, but I do see fewer Muslim identity crises happening and more Christian identity crises happening than perhaps you do.

You seem to be suggesting that Muslims are undergoing a change in identity, a more pro-Muslim identity, as exemplified by the wearing of the hijab and your Muzaffar Christi quotation. But I would say that neither is particularly strong evidence. In some areas, where the wearing of the hijab is not particularly common (e.g., the US and Turkey), there may be more of a wearing of hijab now than there used to be in the past. But for most of the Muslim world (and this is something I've noticed myself in my travels through Europe and Asia), the wearing of the hijab remains relatively static. Meaning, the number of women who wear hijab (or a variant) is and has been relatively the same. If anything, the women in your "backwardness" quotation are young women; I see this type of women (and girls) all the time. They're in their late teens-early 20s, who are still in their "party girl" phase, who are still a little immature. By their late 20s (early 30s at the latest), they begin wearing the hijab on a daily basis and almost always continue to do so for the rest of their lives. They've always viewed themselves as Muslims, but they've matured in their understanding of why they should wear the hijab daily.

As for the people "who have no choice but to see themselves as Muslims," this tends to be the non-practicing, "secular" Muslims. Ironically, these people don't see themselves as Muslims because of Islam, but because of anti-Muslim hate or actions by police. They begin to realize that the rest of society rejects them as one of "us," being instead the "other," the Muslim. Your problem, not ours.

Personally, I do NOT feel that it is in good or proper form to bring up partial quotes from unknown people at an unknown time as I feel that this practice serves to Invalidate your points.

Sorry about that. I though I had included a link to the original article in the comment. Here it is: The Pathologisation of Muslims in Europe. And, incidentally, while I know that you've cited your sources, it would also help if you provided a link as well.

Why would a non-Muslim have problems with their identity? Why is it that Europeans in particular are having an identity crisis?

Ask the German that. I know some Muslims believe that European identity was formed solely by Islamophobia, through the Crusades. I've studied enough European history (particularly ancient history) to know that's not the case. But the European reactions to the growing Muslim communities throughout Europe have created numerous identity crises in a number of countries, many of which have been exploited by right-wing political parties (e.g., the BNP). Europeans see themselves, I believe, as a stagnant (in terms of population growth), irreligious society in comparison to the Muslim community, which continues to grow strongly and is quite devout in their faith (certainly much more so than most non-Muslim Europeans). They feel threatened by this community whose religion they don't understand very well and who are not so easy to socialize with (many Europeans eat food that is haram (forbidden) to Muslims; e.g., beer and pork). And, lastly, I don't think many Europeans (and Americans, for that matter) understand how to create and live in a harmonious society that accommodates multiple ethnic and religious groups; this is one of the areas where I think Asians (and SE Asians in particular) excel at. Governments here work to create identities that everyone can share; not to divide people based on their ethnicity or religion. I haven't seen many (if any) European governments trying to do the same.

September 18, 2007

"Mum, Dad & Bruce"

I got this from extended family today via e-mail. I have no idea if the story is really true, but the photo sure does make one think so. ;)

A family was on holiday in Australia for a week and a half when the husband, wife and their 15-year-old son decided to go scuba diving. The husband is in the Navy and has had some scuba experience.

His son wanted to take a pictuere of his mum and dad in all their gear with the underwater camera. As the son was taking the picture, the dad realized that the son looked like he was panicking and gave him the "OK" hand sign to see if he was all right.

The son took the picture and swam back to the boat as quick as he could, with mum and dad following to see if he was OK. When they got back to him he was scrambling onto the boat.

When the parents asked why, he said, "There was a shark behind you!" The dad thought he was joking, but the skipper of the boat said it was true and that they wouldn't believe him if he told them what it was. As soon as the family got back to the hotel they put the picture onto the laptop and this is what they saw:

September 15, 2007

Jay Leno Embarrasses Terry Bradshaw...

...or is that Terry Bradshaw embarrasses himself? ;) This is cute. Even Milady caught sight of the, er, problem before Leno made the announcement. Check six! Check six!

September 14, 2007

Ramadan Mubarak!

I'd like to wish all my Muslim brothers and sisters a blessed and successful Ramadan. May all of our fasts be accepted by Allah (swt). Ameen!

I also want to wish a special Ramadan Mubarak to the wife of one of my friends back home. Although she isn't a Muslim, she's been wanting to observe Ramadan with us this year as well. She's asked me a lot of questions in the past two weeks or so, and I've been trying to answer her as best I can.

I had wanted to make this post yesterday, but I was a little busy. :) The first day of Ramadan for me was a bit of a struggle, especially at the very end of the day. I was quite dehydrated, which gave me a massive headache. Iftar didn't help last night, either. Milady had bought me some beef rendang, along with some rice from her mom's. Now, I normally like rendang but for some reason, last night's batch was extremely spicy (much more so than normal). Last night was one of your stereotypical "steam coming out of my ears" moments. :) However, I got over that fairly quickly and ate some leftover pizza from the previous night instead. Tonight, Milady said that she'll be making me some spaghetti with olive oil and herbs, so that should be much more soothing to my delicate taste buds. ;)

I also wanted to say that this is my 501st post on this blog. I had hoped to write something special for post #500, but I felt that the Sumatran earthquakes was a more important story for me to write on instead of giving myself an "Attaboy." :) I know I don't have a very large (or consistent) audience, but I do enjoy writing for "you."

September 13, 2007

Sumatran Earthquakes Felt in Singapore

There have been two recent earthquakes on the western side of the island of Sumatra (Indonesia) in the past two days, and I've gotten one e-mail from a relative so far asking me how I'm doing. The earthquakes by themselves were much too distant to have caused any damage here in Singapore, and we are on the wrong side of Sumatra to have been affected by the tsunami (apparently there was a small one that reached about one meter - that's three feet for you Americans ;) - in height).

However, tremors were felt here both last night and this morning. My sister-in-law called us up last night asking if we had felt it (she had). That tremor happened at 6:10 pm. Milady and I were on our way home at the time and, thus, being on the ground, didn't feel it. (Whereas my sister-in-law was probably at home at the time; her flat is fairly high up and apparently her building swayed a bit. Had we been home, which is about as high up as my sister-in-law's flat, we might have also felt the tremor.)

The second tremor was felt this morning some time between 7:45 and 8:00 am. Although there were some reports from my neighborhood of residents feeling this morning's tremor, I did not feel it, even though I was at home.

Below are some excerpts from a few news reports on the earthquakes:

Another quake hits Sumatra at 7:21 p.m.

JAKARTA (JP): A second earthquake hit West Sumatra on Wednesday evening, just one hour after a powerful quake struck its neighboring province of Bengkulu at 6:10 p.m.

The second earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.7 on the Richter scale, was centered 154 kilometers southwest of Painan, West Sumatra, at a depth of 66 kilometers, the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency reported on its website. (Source)

Death toll in western Indonesia earthquake rises to six

JAKARTA (JP): The powerful earthquake that hit Bengkulu on Wednesday evening killed five people and injured at least 20 others in the province, Metro TV reported Thursday.The TV station also reported the 7.9 magnitude quake killed a man in Padang, West Sumatra, and injured two.The earthquake, which occurred at 6:10 p.m., damaged hundreds of buildings in the region, including a governor's office and hospitals. (Source)

Plate movement, awareness may have cut Indonesian toll: expert

JAKARTA (AFP) — The direction of plate movements that sparked quakes off Indonesia's Sumatra spared the coast from damaging tsunamis, while geology and awareness may have reduced the damage, an expert said Thursday.

"Most probably the quakes were caused by horizontal shifts in the continental plates," said Subardjo, a seismology expert with the Indonesian meteorological agency.

"So although similar amounts of energy were released, it had a different effect than when the quakes are caused by vertical shifts of the plates."

It was a vertical shift that caused the massive quake that unleashed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 168,000 people in Aceh province at the tip of Sumatra and more than 50,000 others in the region.

"It appears that this didn't happen in the recent string of quakes in Bengkulu," Subardjo told AFP.

Authorities here automatically issue tsunami warnings for shallow underwater quakes at magnitudes higher than 6.3.

Land damage on the other hand may have been limited by the geology specific to the areas near the epicentre, including Bengkulu, a city of about 300,000 people, he said.

Bengkulu was also hit by a 7.3-magnitude quake in June 2000, which killed about 88 people and injured nearly 1,000 people seriously.

"Maybe buildings were rebuilt to withstand tremors better after that, and people are more aware of quakes as well," Subardjo said.

Rahmat Priyono, another seismologist from the agency, said that the series of quakes rocking the coast are being considered part of the same string of events.

"The strong quakes were mostly centred in the ocean, although we recorded at least one with a 6.1-magnitude on land, and this was potentially more damaging on the ground," he said.

The initial quake was measured by the agency at 7.9-magnitude, with the numerous aftershocks, including one clocking in at 7.7, considered to be a ripple effect after the first massive release of energy, he said.

The US Geological Survey gradually upgraded the strength of the first quake from 7.9 to 8.2 to 8.4.

Any quake over 7.0 is considered strong enough to cause massive destruction and heavy loss of life. (Source)

Strong quake hits Indonesia; tremor felt in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Tremors were reported in several parts of Singapore at about 8am on Thursday.

Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) received about 500 calls from the public about the tremors.

The National Environment Agency said an 8.3-magnitude earthquake occurred at about 7:45 this morning in southern Sumatra, approximately 600km from Singapore.

Police said 248 buildings experienced tremors, and the affected building were located mainly in Clementi, Jurong, Toa Payoh, Punggol, Hougang, Woodlands and Central Business District areas. (Source)

Another powerful quake shakes Indonesia

PADANG, Indonesia - The second powerful earthquake in as many days shook western Indonesia Thursday, collapsing buildings in a coastal city and triggering tsunami alerts around the region. The latest quake was also felt in Malaysia and in Singapore where tall buildings swayed. It triggered at least one strong aftershock.

On Wednesday, a strong earthquake shook Southeast Asia, collapsing buildings, killing at least five people and injuring dozens in Indonesia. That tremor triggered a small non-destructive tsunami off the coastal city of Padang on Sumatra, the Indonesian island ravaged by the 2004 tsunami disaster. A tsunami warning was issued for wide areas of the region and nations as far away as Africa.

Thursday's magnitude-7.8 quake rattled the same area of Sumatra.

Rafael Abreu, a geologist with The U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado, said the quake on Thursday did not appear to be an aftershock to the 8.4-magnitude temblor the day before. But the centers of both were close together.

"We are not calling it an aftershock at this point. It's fairly large itself. It seems to be a different earthquake," Abreu said.

"The quake seems to be pretty shallow," he said. "These are the quakes that can produce tsunamis."

Indonesia issued a tsunami warning, lifted it and then reissued it. A tsunami watch was also in effect for Australia.

The USGS said the new quake was centered about 125 miles from Bengkulu, a city on Sumatra. It occurred at a shallow depth of about six miles and struck at 6:49 a.m.


Suhardjono, a senior official with the local meteorological agency who like most Indonesians uses only one name, said a small tsunami, perhaps 3-feet high, struck Padang about 20 minutes after the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also reported a small wave.

But most of the damage appeared to come from the ground shaking.


The undersea temblor hit around 6:10 p.m. at a depth of 18 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. (Source)

September 12, 2007


IZ Reloaded linked to an old website I remember coming across back when I lived in Korea, Despair, Inc. I haven't looked at this website in a long time, so it's worthwhile to have a laugh at some of this company's products, especially their line of "Demotivators®" posters.

Beauty: If you're attractive enough on the outside, people will forgive you for being irritating to the core.

This sounds like your typical teenage girl!

And this was me as a kid:

Potential: Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.

What Americans are very, very slow to realize:

Discovery: A company that will go to the ends of the Earth for its people will find it can hire them for about 10% of the cost of Americans.

And, of course, the brutal truth:

Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

September 8, 2007

Electric Chair Barbie

IZ Reloaded has a link to an unusual science project that was done by a teenage girl when she was in middle school. On the webpage, "jessyratfink" wrote:

This is a science fair project that I did in middle school and completely disgusted the entire female staff of Benton Middle. The purpose of this project is to show how the electric chair works and discuss basic electricity - currents and conductivity.

This is perhaps not the most politically correct science fair project, but it definitely gets attention. And although it is more based on presentation than science, most people find it very interesting to learn how an electric chair works. :D

Down in the comments, she gives a little more information on why she chose to put "Barbie" in the hot seat:

I admit that if anything, this was my way (in middle school definitely, and perhaps now just a little) of showing my dislike for Barbie and everything she represents. I always hated Barbie as a child. The stereotypical pretty girl with lots of money and looks a real person could never match.

This is more just a way to knock Barbie down from her pedestal. Nothing involving violence against women, that's for sure. I just think the use of a Barbie is much more shocking due to the fact that less women have sat in the chair than men, and also because she's the last possible person you'd think of ending up in the chair. It was all about the shock factor in middle school!

Funny Office Pranks

Be sure to check out Weirdomatic's "Funny Office Pranks" blog post. There's over 25 photos taken of numerous pranks done to fellow office workers...and the boss. I particularly liked this aluminum foil prank, but some of the others (the polystyrene "peanut" cubicle, the rubber banded telephone, the "Chinese" stone garden, and the jelloed mouse) are rather cute.

September 4, 2007

Singapore Malays/Muslims Financially Better Off

The Singapore government has released a report showing that the Malay/Muslim community here is improving in a number of key areas, especially with regard to personal finances and education. Some of the specific achievements mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech at Mendaki's 25th Anniversary Dinner include:

  • The percentage of school enrollment is almost 100%, the number of school dropouts has come down steadily, and educational outcomes have improved significantly. For example, in 1980 only one in six Malay students achieved five "O" level passes at the GCE "O" examinations. Today more than 60% do so, a fourfold increase. In the "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study" (TIMMS), which compares achievements in Mathematics and Science among students of different countries, Malay students rank well above the international average.

  • More than 80% of Malay students now make it to post-secondary education, into the ITEs, polytechnics and pre-university centers. The community is on track to achieve its target of 90% entering post-secondary institutions by 2010. The percentage entering tertiary institutions – the polytechnics and universities – has also increased sharply from 1.3% in 1980 to 34% in 2005. More are making it to the universities – 5%, a ten-fold increase in 25 years. And in universities, more students are in professional and technical disciplines like Accounting, Engineering and Life Sciences.

  • There is a growing middle-class with increasing purchasing power. Malay/Muslims are holding higher-skilled and better-paying jobs. Incomes have correspondingly increased.

  • More Malay/Muslim households have upgraded to better housing. The vast majority (93%) own their own homes. The proportion living in HDB 4-room or larger flats and private properties have increased by more than 6 times (from 11% in 1980 to 71% in 2005). There has also been a steady increase in ownership of consumer durables, including cars, air-conditioners, PCs and handphones.

    While the Prime Minister noted the declining usage of drugs among Malays, he noted several concerns among social issues, including:

  • Dysfunctional families - This problem manifests itself in many ways: the rising divorce rates, the growing number of single parent households, and the unacceptably high number of teenage births and early marriages.

    I have been searching for a copy of the report online, but have not been able to find it just yet. In the meantime, here is a recent Channel News Asia report on the subject:

    More Malay/Muslim households financially better off: new report
    May Wong, Channel NewsAsia
    September 3, 2007

    SINGAPORE: Malay/Muslim households are now much better off financially compared to 25 years ago, with more owning luxury items such as cars, according to a new report tracking the progress of the Malay community since 1980.

    The 40-page study also showed a steady rise in the number of single-parent households.

    Out of every 1,000 Malay households, 70 were headed by single parents in 2005, compared to 47 in 1980.

    Number of births by single Malay women also increased from 5.9 to 9.3 per 10,000 female residents in 2005.

    For some Malays, education is the key to a better future.

    Irwan Shah, 27, graduated with first class honors in education about three months ago, and is now working as a teacher.

    He is an example of how the Malay/Muslim community has progressed.

    Irwan's parents are firm believers in the importance of education. And from all that he has received, Irwan is now going to pay it forward.

    “Currently I teach. So I hope that I can teach them, not just through academics but through other areas as well, like values, especially behavior and character. Without good character, it's no use to be an intellect,” he said.

    "I was glad that I was given the opportunity by Mendaki. When I was young, I had the tuition scheme. It started when I was in primary three, all the way till I was in (secondary) four. Then even when I entered polytechnic, I didn't come from a well-to-do family, they helped me by paying for my tuition fees."

    The report also showed that Malay/Muslims in the workforce have better education today compared to 25 years ago.

    In 1980, 19 per cent of Malay/Muslim workers have a secondary or higher education qualification. But in 2005, the number jumped to 70 per cent.

    The number of Malay/Muslims holding managerial or professional jobs also grew from seven per cent in 1980 to 21 per cent in 2005.

    Despite better education and better jobs, the community still faces social challenges such as dysfunctional families, increasing divorce rates and teenage pregnancies.

    Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said, "We've recognized this problem for a long time, since 2002. We've been evaluating the data. And therefore we've started a couple of programs dealing with teenagers and youths at risk. What we'll do now is to put all of these together on the drawing board and see whether there are gaps and if those gaps are critical and strategic to the community. We'd probably have to move our resources there.”

    He believed if the community puts in the same amount of efforts in tackling these issues as it does in overcoming the drug problems and education challenges, it will succeed.
    -- Channel News Asia
  • September 2, 2007

    The Economist: Constructing Conflict

    This is the second of two articles in this week's Economist (August 30th) about the difficulties Muslims worldwide are facing in the construction of masajid. See below for the Economist's editorial on the subject.

    In many Western cities, plans to erect mosques often stir more passion than any other local issue—and politicians are leaping into the fray

    Not since Cologne was rebuilt half a century ago, out of the rubble of war, has a change in the urban landscape generated so much heat. A city whose main landmark is a medieval cathedral may soon share its skyline with another place of worship: a large mosque with minarets more than 50 meters (165 feet) high.

    While the city's (mainly Turkish) Muslim population of over 120,000 is looking forward to the new building—a sign, perhaps, that it has finally put down roots in a country that long treated migrant workers as guests—Cologne as a whole is deeply divided. A poll found that 36% of residents were happy with the mosque plan, 29% wanted to see it scaled down and 31% were entirely against it. The “no” and “yes” camps are not just passionate, they are diverse. Those who approve the plan include many Roman Catholic clergy. But a far-right party, “Pro Cologne”, which holds five of the 90 seats in the city council, has done well by drumming up opposition to the mosque. Also prominent among the “noes” (while distancing himself from Pro Cologne) is Ralph Giordano, a German-Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor, who stirred a national debate by issuing a stark message: “I urge the mayor and the members of the city council to stop the building of this mosque!”

    His comments dismayed Germany's four main Muslim associations, all of which have headquarters in the city. Whatever its importance to other faiths, Cologne is a sensitive spot for German Islam. It produced Metin Kaplan, a militant cleric known as “caliph of Cologne”, who was convicted of incitement to crime and extradited to Turkey in 2004. The would-be builders of the new mosque are at the other end of the respectability scale: the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an arm of the Turkish government.

    All over the Western world, mosques and mosque-building plans are generating passionate arguments, particularly in local and municipal affairs. In many cities, both opponents and supporters of Muslim construction projects have realised that this issue engages voters far more than drains or libraries do.

    In the east London borough of Newham, for example, proposals to build a “mega-mosque” to accommodate at least 12,000 worshipers have divided local people (of whom at least a quarter are Muslim) and drawn global attention. British Muslims have been lining up for or against Tablighi Jamaat, the conservative missionary movement behind the mosque. Some are dismayed at the thought that this hard-line group could soon become one of British Islam's most obvious faces, only a stone's throw from the site of the 2012 Olympics; others defend the movement's right to build, noting that Newham's existing mosques are visibly overflowing during Friday prayers.

    In Newham council, a new party—the Christian Peoples Alliance—has sprung up, mainly to articulate non-Muslim resistance to the mosque. And on the website of Gordon Brown, the prime minister, an experiment in e-democracy had an awkward result: some 277,000 people used a click to register their opposition to the mega-mosque, much the biggest sign of voter interest that the site attracted.

    In many places, the accommodation, both literally and metaphorically, of Muslims and their religious needs has led to some strange coalitions. In Boston in June, the capping of the minaret on a new mosque turned into an emotional celebration by 2,000 Americans, hailing the end of several years of conflict and litigation. The Islamic Society of Boston had in 2005 filed a defamation suit against pro-Israel groups and media outlets that accused the mosque's sponsors of extremist links. But liberal Jews and Christians helped solve the dispute; some hailed the fact that a Bostonian tradition of Jewish-Christian dialog had been extended to Muslims.

    AP Nearly ready: Boston's hard-won house of prayer[Nearly ready: Boston's hard-won house of prayer. (AP)]

    The terms of the mosque debate vary widely: in the United States, mosque projects often meet practical objections, to do with “zoning”, water supplies or parking, but they are usually overcome, helped by a legal system that protects all faiths. In southern European countries like Spain and Italy—where attachment to Catholic symbolism is strong—people are much blunter about expressing their objections in cultural terms: this is a Christian land, and mosques have no place here.

    In Rome, on August 21st, police halted work at a site on the Esquiline hill, in an area with a high immigrant population. The sponsors of a planned mosque there were found to have begun work without seeking permission from the local authority. The new building was to have gone up just a few meters from a Catholic church; for some, that was the most important point. A spokesman for a new far-right movement, La Destra, called it “an insult to Christian culture”.

    Reza Aslan, a Californian writer on Islam, says that to his American eyes the intensity of openly “Islamophobic” opposition to mosques in parts of Europe, especially the south, is a shock. “It's as though some Europeans are confused about their identity and are now trying to construct one in opposition to Islam.”

    But California is itself no paradise for Muslims: a mosque near San Francisco has just been burned down. Christina Abraham, a civil-rights lawyer in Chicago, says mosque builders around her city often have to work twice as hard as other religious groups to get the necessary permits, even though they do eventually get their way. One mosque in the Chicago area faced an apparently malicious regulation which banned parking for three hours on Friday afternoons—the time when worshipers were arriving. Lawyers successfully challenged the rule, on grounds of religious discrimination.

    In some European countries—like Germany—the atmosphere faced by would-be mosque builders varies a lot, even within cities. Berlin is one example. In the western district of Kreuzberg, Turkish migrants and their prayers have been part of the scene for decades. But in the capital's east, local residents and politicians from the far-right NPD party are leading loud protests against the building of the first mosque in the ex-communist part of the city. In Munich, meanwhile, the conservative government of Bavaria is locked in battle with the center-left dominated city hall over the plan for a new mosque. For now, the conservative opponents seem to be winning; a local court has called the current plan incompatible with the surroundings.

    If controversy over mosques is getting louder in Germany now, that may be because the Turkish community has only recently started claiming citizenship and the right to vote. On the other hand, a much higher share of France's 5m Muslim residents is enfranchised; and yet in some French town halls, the politics of mosque-building are explosive. In Marseille, which is home to 200,000 Muslims but also a bastion of the far right, arguments over the construction of a large mosque have dominated city debates for years. The municipal council voted in July to go ahead, overcoming a raft of legal objections from the far right, which said the Muslim builders got public land (an old abattoir) too cheaply. This week the far-right said it would mount a fresh legal challenge, on grounds that the price being paid for the land was still not enough.

    Opponents of mosque building in Europe often claim that the number of mosques is rising much faster than the number of Muslims. That is a hard proposition to test. Statisticians cannot even agree on the definition of a mosque. Idriss Elouanali, editor of the “Yearbook of Mosques” in France, says that in his 2006 survey he used two definitions: first, he counted roughly 100 purpose-built mosques, and then 1,525 prayer rooms, big enough to have Friday sermons with a recognized imam. The combined figure of 1,625 was 75 up from the Yearbook's first edition in 2003, hardly a surge. But Mr Elouanali points out that in the late 1970s, France had fewer than 50 prayer spaces. In the United Kingdom, says Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain, the number of mosques has jumped in the last 20 years from under 400 to 1,699 registered places of prayer today.

    Alexa Färber of Berlin's Humboldt University sees a more qualitative change. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mosques in Berlin grew from 66 to 76—a smallish rise. However, during those eight years 18 mosques moved location within Berlin: this added to people's perception that mosques were proliferating. More importantly, Ms Färber points out, 21 Muslim groups bought rooms or buildings, which in many cases had been rented before. These purchases usually went along with embellishments such as minarets. No wonder many people think Muslim worship is growing more visible.

    One explanation for the delayed building boom in Germany, argues Ms Färber, lies in the cultural obstacles faced by first-generation migrants. With a limited knowledge of their host country, they had to wait for their children and grandchildren, who grew up in Germany and understood the system better, to promote their interests. “Now there are more Turkish architects, lawyers or engineers who help to build mosques,” she says.

    Recently some Western governments have started to work more closely with Muslim minorities and encourage the building of new mosques. So why do so many conflicts persist? In fact, for every mosque that is impeded, many other projects go ahead. Moreover, as Mr Bunglawala notes, national politicians can only set the tone of the debate; actual decisions are taken by local councils. This distinction has become apparent in the German city of Duisburg, north of Cologne, where the local DITIB branch is also building a large mosque. There, thanks to good co-operation between religious communities and better communications, construction is going ahead much more smoothly.

    Despite such local contrasts, Jocelyne Cesari from Harvard University argues that there are national patterns at work. “In places with a long history of immigration, such as France, Britain or Belgium, resistance to mosques is losing its force,” she believes. In contrast, opposition is stronger in Spain or Italy, where Muslim immigration is relatively new.

    If Ms Cesari is right, then it may be that reaching a reasonable accommodation between Muslims and non-Muslim majorities over issues of urban planning is only a matter of time. Is that too optimistic? It may well be true that in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim elites will get better at understanding one another. But the question is whether grassroots politics will evolve at the same pace. Given the dividends that some local politicians are reaping from backing mosques, or opposing them, that seems a less sure bet.

    The Economist: Islam, The American Way

    In this week's Economist (August 30th), there are two articles on the difficulty Muslims worldwide are having in building masajid. The area that creates the most difficulty is Europe (and especially southern Europe, as the main article points out); however, that has not exempted other countries and cities from putting up fights on various masajid being built (e.g., east London, Boston, etc.). The article below is an editorial; the main article will be posted next (above), insha'allah, and is quite long (two pages in the print edition).

    Why the United States is fairer to Muslims than “Eurabia” is

    In Pittsburgh, a Turkish group, pious but peaceful, decides to rethink its plans for an Islamic center after an angry public hearing. In Clitheroe, a town in northern England, a plan to turn an ex-church into a mosque wins planning approval after seven failed bids. In Austria a far-rightist, Jörg Haider, grabs headlines by proposing that no mosques or minarets should be built in the province of Carinthia, where he is governor. In Memphis, Tennessee, Muslims manage to build a large cemetery despite local objections to their burial customs.

    On the face of it, there is something similar about all these vignettes of inter-faith politics in the Western world. They all illustrate the strong emotions, and opportunistic electoral games, that are surfacing in many countries as Muslim minorities, increasingly prosperous and confident, aspire to build more mosques and other communal buildings. All these stories show the way in which whipped-up fears of a “clash of civilizations” can inflame the humdrum politics of a locality.

    But there is a big transatlantic difference in the way such disputes are handled. Although America has plenty of Islam-bashers ready to play on people's fears, it offers better protection to the mosque builders. In particular, its constitution, legal system and political culture all generally take the side of religious liberty. America's tradition of freedom is rooted in the First Amendment, and its stipulation that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” Another recourse for embattled minorities of any kind is “Section 1983” of America's civil-rights legislation, which allows an individual who is deprived of a legal or constitutional right to sue the official responsible.

    More important than the letter of the law is an ethos that leans in favor of religious communities which are “new” (to their neighbors) and simply want to practice their faith in a way that harms nobody. In America the tone of disputes over religious buildings (or cultural centers or cemeteries) is affected by everyone's presumption that if the issue went to the highest level, the cause of liberty would probably prevail.

    The European Convention on Human Rights, and the court that enforces it, also protect religious freedom. But the convention is not central to European politics in the way the Supreme Court and constitution are in America. The European court disappointed advocates of religious liberty when it upheld Turkey's ban on the headscarf in universities.

    The risk in the garages
    Legal principles aside, there are pragmatic reasons for favoring the American way. Most mosques in the Western world pose no threat to non-Muslim citizens; but a few do pose such a danger, because of the hatred that is preached in them. In such cases police forces generally have the legal armory they need to step in and make arrests if necessary. Quashing extremism will surely be easier in an atmosphere where the founding and running of mosques is an open, transparent business. As Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, once said: “It is not minarets which are dangerous; it is basements and garages which hide secret places of worship.”

    Will someone please tell the Swiss? Politicians from two of the biggest political parties are seeking to insert a sentence into the country's constitution forbidding the building of minarets. Measures of this sort exemplify the bigotry that lies behind much of the opposition to mosque building in Europe. Christians in the West have long complained about how hard it is for their brethren in Muslim lands to build churches. Fair enough. But they should practice what they preach.