September 18, 2009

Star Trek Enhanced: The Doomsday Machine

One of the problems in living overseas is that some news just doesn't travel. For example, I discovered earlier today that the original Star Trek had been remastered in 2006 and rebroadcast back in 2007. (Not that any of this has appeared on Singapore television; a lot of American TV series never go into syndication here.) So, while looking through Youtube I discovered a number of clips that featured scenes from various episodes of the "enhanced" series.

I am quite impressed, especially with this particular episode, The Doomsday Machine. This episode was somewhat influential on my young life (according to Wikipedia, I would have been either five or six years old when I first saw the episode on TV). How was it influential? Well, it scared the crap out of me! :) I had been watching Star Trek most weeks with my Dad during the original broadcast back in the 60s; however, after watching The Doomsday Machine, I was too scared to continue watching the show. By the time I had screwed up my courage to start watching again, there were only a few more episodes left to air, the series having been canceled.

Two points of interest about this episode:
  • The planet killer and the wreck of the USS Constellation have been rendered in CGI. This included giving the planet killer a more battered, metallic appearance. Originally, because of budget restraints, the model of the planet killer was a windsock covered in concrete.
  • The Enterprise and Constellation are rendered in such a way that they are dwarfed by the planet killer, giving an enhanced sense of the machine's massive size.

    This first video is when Commodore Decker (played by William Windom) is in command of the Enterprise with Captain Kirk aboard the damaged Constellation:

    This next video is of the very end of the show:

    And this final video is a compilation of various visual effects from the enhanced episode. There are some nice touches in this compilation you should look out for; for example, at the 1:24 mark, an asteroid strikes the hull of the Constellation and shatters into several smaller fragments. I thought that was pretty cool.

  • September 17, 2009

    Hamza Yusuf - "As an Ummah We Need to Rise Up"

    This was an interesting speech by Hamza Yusuf. Although this video is old (apparently, it comes from ISNA 1995) and some of the events talked about are even older (the CIA's involvement with distributing cocaine in the US took place back in the early 80s), the overall message is just as timely today as it was fourteen years ago. We Muslims need more "fire and brimstone" imams.

    HT: Grande Strategy

    September 9, 2009

    Nerd Venn Diagram

    Although I'm sure Milady would have her own opinion as to my category, I'd probably put myself in "Geek." :)

    HT: BuzzFeed

    Ramadan Reminders

    The following came from the Surah Yasin group at Facebook. This is a very nice set of reminders for us Muslims to act upon as we enter the final days of this month of Ramadan:

    Rasullulah (pbuh) said, "The dua of a fasting person is not rejected" (Bayhaqi).

    He also stated, "The dua of a fasting person at the time of Iftaar is accepted." (Abu Dawood).

    Rasullulah (pbuh) said, "Do four things abundantly, two to please your Lord, and two you need for yourselves.

    "Things to please your lord:

    1. Say La illaha ill Allah abundantly
    2. Do Istigfar (seek repentance)

    "Things you need for yourself:

    1. Ask Allah for Jannah (heaven)
    2. Ask Allah to protect you from Janhannam (hell)"

    Many individuals see no benefit in asking for the protection from Jahannam if they already ask for Jannah. It is our aqeeda (creed) and belief that an individual may have to spend time in Jahannam in order to be purified from his sins so he may enter Jannah. Jannah is pure and only the pure are allowed to enter.

    There is a hadith narrated by Rajab al-Hambali's in Lata'if al-Ma'arif: "A person who does dhikr (the remembrance of Allah (swt)) during Ramadan is forgiven. And a person who asks Allah (swt) in Ramadan will not fail [Allah will give him what he wants]." Therefore do as much dhikr as one can.

    Shaykh Abdur Raheem ibn Dawood Limbada

    September 5, 2009


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    September 2, 2009

    Muhammad Asad: The Story of a Story

    The following is an excerpt from Muhammad Asad's book, The Road to Mecca. Despite the fact that this book was published back in 1954, I believe Asad's theory regarding the West's hatred for Islam (that it poses a significant challenge to Western concepts of spiritual and social life) rings very true, even today, 55 years later.

    Conceptually, Islam is too close for comfort for a lot of Westerners. We believe in the same God, the same prophets (pbut) and angels and message. But, compared to most (but certainly not all) Westerners, we take religion more seriously (actually, a lot more seriously) than they do, and we may be a little more disciplined in applying religious principles to our daily lives. (One of the benefits of fasting during Ramadan, in my opinion.) And that, I think, scares Westerners the most, the thought that if they became Muslim, these Westerners would lose their party world: no more booze, no more pork, a lot less ogling of naked or nearly naked women in public, and a refocusing of their lives on prayer and spirituality. Westerners (especially whites) may not feel as threatened when darker-skinned Westerners become Muslim, but many are threatened at the thought of white Muslims (such as myself) because we don't fit into their notions of racial behavior. In the Westerners' racist view, Islam isn't and can't become acceptable for white people to join. Because once they see the tide beginning to turn against them, then all is lost from their narrow perspective.

    “And this appeared very strange to most of my Western friends. They could not quite picture to themselves how a man of Western birth and upbringing could have so fully, and apparently with no mental reservations whatever, identified himself with the Muslim world; how it had been possible for him to exchange his Western cultural heritage for that of Islam; and what it was that had made him accept a religious and social ideology which – they seemed to take for granted – was vastly inferior to all European concepts.

    “Now why, I asked myself, should my Western friends take this so readily for granted? Had any of them ever really bothered to gain a direct insight into Islam – or were their opinions based merely on the handful of clichés and distorted notions that had been handed down to them from previous generations? Could it perhaps be that the old Graeco-Roman mode of thought which divided the world into Greeks and Romans on one side and ‘barbarians’ on the other was still so thoroughly ingrained in the Western mind that it was unable to concede, even theoretically, positive value to anything that lay outside its own cultural orbit?

    “Ever since Greek and Roman times, European thinkers and historians have been prone to contemplate the history of the world from the standpoint and in terms of European history and Western cultural experiences alone. Non-Western civilizations enter the picture only in so far as their existence, or particular movements within them, have or had a direct influence on the destinies of Western man; and thus, in Western eyes, the history of the world and its various cultures amounts in the last resort to little more than an expanded history of the West.

    “Naturally, such a narrowed angle of vision is bound to produce a distorted perspective. Accustomed as he is to writings which depict the culture or discuss the problems of his own civilization in great detail and in vivid colors, with little more than side glances here and there at the rest of the world, the average European or American easily succumbs to the illusion that the cultural experiences of the West are not merely superior but out of all proportion to those of the rest of the world; and thus, that the Western way of life is the only valid norm by which other ways of life could be adjudged – implying, of course, that every intellectual concept, social institution or ethical valuation that disagrees with the Western ‘norm’ belongs eo ipso to a lower grade of existence. Following in the footsteps of the Greeks and Romans, the Occidental likes to think that all those ‘other’ civilizations are or were only so many stumbling experiments on the path of progress so unerringly pursued by the West; or, at best (as in the case of the ‘ancestor’ civilizations which preceded that of the modern West in a direct line), no more than consecutive chapters in one and the same book, of which Western civilization is, of course, the final chapter.

    “When I expounded this view to an American friend of mine – a man of considerable intellectual attainments and a scholarly bent of mind – he was somewhat skeptical at first.

    “‘Granted,’ he said, ‘the ancient Greeks and Romans were limited in their approach to foreign civilizations: but was not this limitation the inevitable result of difficulties of communication between them and the rest of the world? And has not this difficulty been largely overcome in modern times? After all, we Westerners do concern ourselves nowadays with what is going on outside our cultural orbit. Aren’t you forgetting the many books about Oriental art and philosophy that have been published in Europe and America during the last quarter-century…about the political ideas that preoccupy the minds of Eastern peoples? Surely one could not with justice overlook this desire on the part of Westerners to understand what other cultures might have to offer?’

    “‘To some extent you may be right,’ I replied. ‘There is little doubt that the primitive Graeco-Roman outlook is no longer fully operative these days. Its harshness has been considerably blunted – if for no other reason, because the more mature among Western thinkers have grown disillusioned and skeptical about many aspects of their own civilization and now begin to look to other parts of the world for cultural inspiration. Upon some of them it is dawning that there may be not only one book and one story of human progress, but many: simply because mankind, in the historical sense, is not a homogeneous entity, but rather a variety of groups with widely divergent ideas as to the meaning and purpose of human life. Still, I do not feel that the West has really become less condescending toward foreign cultures than the Greeks and Romans were: it has only become more tolerant. Mind you, not toward Islam – only toward certain other Eastern cultures, which offer some sort of spiritual attraction to the spirit-hungry West and are, at the same time, too distant from the Western world-view to constitute any real challenge to its values.’

    “‘What do you mean by that?’

    “‘Well,’ I answered, ‘when a Westerner discusses, say, Hinduism or Buddhism, he is always conscious of the fundamental differences between these ideologies and his own. He may admire this or that of their ideas, but would naturally never consider the possibility of substituting them for his own. Because he a priori admits this impossibility, he is able to contemplate such really alien cultures with equanimity and often with sympathetic appreciation. But when it comes to Islam – which is by no means as alien to Western values as Hindu or Buddhist philosophy – this Western equanimity is almost invariably disturbed by an emotional bias. It is perhaps, I sometimes wonder, because the values of Islam are close enough to those of the West to constitute a potential challenge to many Western concepts of spiritual and social life?’

    “And I went on to tell him of a theory which I had conceived some years ago – a theory that might perhaps help one to understand better the deep-seated prejudice against Islam so often to be found in Western literature and contemporary thought.

    “‘To find a truly convincing explanation of this prejudice,’ I said, ‘one has to look far backward into history and try to comprehend the psychological background of the earliest relations between the Western and the Muslim worlds. What Occidentals think and feel about Islam today is rooted in impressions that were born during the Crusades.’

    “‘The Crusades!’ exclaimed my friend. ‘You don’t mean to say that what happened nearly a thousand years ago could still have an effect on people of the twentieth century?’

    “‘But it does! I know it sounds incredible; but don’t you remember the incredulity which greeted the early discoveries of the psychoanalysts when they tried to show that much of the emotional life of a mature person – and most of those seemingly unaccountable leanings, tastes and prejudices comprised in the term “idiosyncrasies” – can be traced back to the experiences of his most formative age, his early childhood? Well, are nations and civilizations anything but collective individuals? Their development also is bound up with the experiences of their early childhood. As with children, those experiences may have been pleasant or unpleasant; they may have been perfectly rational or, alternatively, due to the child’s naïve misinterpretation of an event: the moulding effect of every such experience depends primarily on its original intensity. The century immediately preceding the Crusades, that is, the end of the first millennium of the Christian era, might well be described as the early childhood of Western civilization…’

    “I proceeded to remind my friend – himself an historian – that this had been the age when, for the first time since the dark centuries that followed the breakup of Imperial Rome, Europe was beginning to see its own cultural way. Independently of the almost forgotten Roman heritage, new literatures were just then coming into existence in the European vernaculars; inspired by the religious experience of Western Christianity, fine arts were slowly awakening from the lethargy caused by the warlike migrations of the Goths, Huns and Avars; out of the crude conditions of the early Middle Ages, a new cultural world was emerging. It was at that critical, extremely sensitive stage of its development that Europe received its most formidable shock – in modern parlance, a ‘trauma’ – in the shape of the Crusades.

    “The Crusades were the strongest collective impression on a civilization that had just begun to be conscious of itself. Historically speaking, they represented Europe’s earliest – and entirely successful – attempt to view itself under the aspect of cultural unity. Nothing that Europe has experienced before or after could compare with the enthusiasm which the First Crusade brought into being. A wave of intoxication swept over the Continent, an elation which for the first time overstepped the barriers between states and tribes and classes. Before then, there had been Franks and Saxons and Germans, Burgundians and Sicilians, Normans and Lombards – a medley of tribes and races with scarcely anything in common but the fact that most of their feudal kingdoms and principalities were remnants of the Roman Empire and that all of them professed the Christian faith: but in the Crusades, and through them, the religious bond was elevated to a new plane, a cause common to all Europeans alike – the politico-religious concept of ‘Christendom,’ which in its turn gave birth to the cultural concept of ‘Europe.’ When, in his famous speech at Clermont, in November, 1095, Pope Urban II exhorted the Christians to make war upon the ‘wicked race’ that held the Holy Land, he enunciated – probably without knowing it himself – the charter of Western civilization.

    “The traumatic experience of the Crusades gave Europe its cultural awareness and its unity; but this same experience was destined henceforth also to provide the false color in which Islam was to appear to Western eyes. Not simply because the Crusades meant war and bloodshed. So many wars have been waged between nations and subsequently forgotten, and so many animosities which in their time seemed ineradicable have later turned into friendships. The damage caused by the Crusades was not restricted to a clash of weapons: it was, first and foremost, an intellectual damage – the poisoning of the Western mind against the Muslim world through a deliberate misrepresentation of the teachings and ideals of Islam. For, if the call for a crusade was to maintain its validity, the Prophet of the Muslims had, of necessity, to be stamped as the Anti-Christ and his religion depicted in the most lurid terms as a fount of immorality and perversion. It was at the time of the Crusades that the ludicrous notion that Islam was a religion of crude sensualism and brutal violence, of an observance of ritual instead of a purification of the heart, entered the Western mind and remained there; and it was then that the name of the Prophet Muhammad – the same Muhammad who had insisted that his own followers respect the prophets of other religions – was contemptuously transformed by Europeans into ‘Mahound.’ The age when the spirit of independent inquiry could raise its head was as yet far distant in Europe; it was easy for the powers-that-were to sow the dark seeds of hatred for a religion and civilization that was so different from the religion and civilization of the West. Thus it was no accident that the fiery Chanson de Roland, which describes the legendary victory of Christendom over the Muslim ‘heathen’ in southern France, was composed not at the time of those battles but three centuries later – to wit, shortly before the First Crusade – immediately to become a kind of ‘national anthem’ of Europe; and it is no accident, either, that this warlike epic marks the beginning of a European literature, as distinct from the earlier, localized literatures: for hostility toward Islam stood over the cradle of European civilization.

    “It would seem an irony of history that the age-old Western resentment against Islam, which was religious in origin, should still persist subconsciously at a time when religion has lost most of its hold on the imagination of Western man. This, however, is not really surprising. We know that a person may completely lose the religious beliefs imparted to him in his childhood while, nevertheless, some particular emotion connected with those beliefs remains, irrationally, in force throughout his later life –

    “‘ – and this,’ I concluded, ‘is precisely what happened to that collective personality, Western civilization. The shadow of the Crusades hovers over the West to this day; and all its reactions toward Islam and the Muslim world bear distinct traces of that die-hard ghost…’”

    pp. 2-7

    September 1, 2009

    Selling Salvation

    One of the regional magazines I occasionally read, Marketing, has a cover story for the month of August about religious marketing, entitled "Selling Salvation." (Unfortunately, the article is not online.) The basic theme of the article is that "marketers have much to learn from religion"; more specifically, how religious institutions market themselves, especially to gain new followers. Most of the article focuses on two evangelical Christian megachurches (which is somewhat ironic, considering that Christianity is very much a minority religion here, behind both Buddhism and Islam). However, there is some interesting information about the various marketing methods the three main religions here use. More commentary follows at the bottom.

    Islamic groups inform the public about upcoming religious events by advertising in Malay-language newspapers, paid for by travel agents which [sic] arrange travel plans for the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimages [sic] to Mecca. Posters to encourage young Muslims to attend seminars, lectures and fun camps are hung outside mosques, where leaflets are distributed to promote a better understanding of Islam among non-Muslims.

    Buddhist organizations ... engage young people through cultural activities such as lion dances, charity shows and martial arts training, and through youth groups... Buddhists are active in universities, too, with religious societies set up in all the major high education institutions.

    First time attendees ... are ushered to the front of the queues that amass ... before each of four services on Sundays. After the service, new members are led to a "welcome room" where a white-shirted "server" takes down personal details and gives them a welcome pack.

    Inside the pack is a booklet on the values of the church, a directory with information on services, meetings and contact details of cell group leaders, an introductory CD of sermons..., and a church magazine...

    Outside the auditorium is a gift shop where CDs, DVDs, postcards, posters, books ... and other memorabilia are on sale. ...

    Critics also like to point out that [the pastor's] teachings have such appeal because they push the "prosperity message" of financial and material gain. ...


    A use of topical language delivered with local humor is combined with what observers say is these churches' most effective marketing platform: music.

    "The evangelical Christian churches have been brilliant at drawing the young crowd with good-looking, witty pastors with sharp suits and gelled hair... But the secret is music. [Another church] is like one big karaoke session - a sort of religious version of Singapore Idol..."

    [Both churches] have their own music publishing businesses that have propelled them into mainstream culture. Associations with celebrities have helped too.

    An offshoot [of the second church] reportedly has plans to quite literally put its brand at the heart of the mainstream by building a mall with a church in the middle, and shops, cinemas and restaurants positioned around it.

    High visibility and "mainstream appeal" has ... enabled the evangelical churches to attract affluent, upper-middle class Singaporeans who help the church expand faster (and spend more on marketing) thanks to the generosity of their donations.

    The article continues with a brief section on how all three religions are taking advantage of the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Youtube. The article also describes how both Islam and Christianity have been using similar methods:

    A strategic focus of Islam ... has been to instill moral values among youth, build self-esteem and temper the rise in delinquency and unwanted pregnancies. This is a worry for Christians too, and both religions have started to address the issue using the same marketing tool: cell groups.

    "Youth are at an impressionable phase in their lives where they are discovering and building their identities. Religion is able to fulfill many voids that they might feel at this point ... Cell groups play a support function allowing them access to a trusted group that they can turn to for advice, encouragement and comfort."

    The last column of the article has some of the best information:

    "The peer-to-peer networking structure that religion employs, empowers followers on every level to be an advocate." ...

    The value of the "feel good" factor is something else brands can learn from religion.

    "One almost always feels good after going to the church/temple/mosque and making a donation because they believe they're earning good karma... This is a particularly important lesson for brands in light of the current economic situation where many are losing their jobs and have to tighten their belts. Those who have may feel guilty when they spend."

    Brands can alleviate this sense of guilt by adopting CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiatives linked to the consumer experience. ...

    One of religion's most successful strategies has been its immersion in local communities. Religions support local activities, raise funds for charities and set up schools. ...

    Probably religion's biggest allure is that it gives consumers values they can live by. Brands should follow suit. ...

    "The values that religions preach are open to interpretation, allowing followers to make it their own. In this way, they don't feel like they are buying blindly into something, but rather adopting a belief system that they genuinely aspire to and abide by in their daily lives." ...

    "Religion helps people in their quest for a deeper level of fulfillment. This is their secret."

    What the article doesn't mention regarding Islam in Singapore is that Muslims also employ a number of the other marketing tools that the Christian megachurches use. While almost every masajid in Singapore doesn't have anyone to greet non-Muslims who might want to look around the masjid (the most notable exception is Masjid Sultan), there is Darul Arqam - The Muslim Converts Association to Singapore, which provides numerous classes about Islam to those who are fairly serious about learning more about the religion. At Darul Arqam is a bookstore very similar to what is described in the article. New Muslim converts also receive a "welcome pack" as well; mine included a Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur'an, a prayer rug, a sarong, and a prayer compass, all packed into an attractive cloth briefcase. I also received (at the MUIS headquarters) S$40 as part of the zakat that's supposed to be given to converts, as mentioned in the Qur'an.

    Should Muslims adopt other marketing techniques? I would say, it depends. As described in the article, music and the shopping mall experience? No way. (That passage reminds me all too much of certain passages in Robert Heinlein's novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, involving the so-called Fosterite Church.) On the other hand, I think Muslims worldwide could do a better job promoting ourselves through print media. Books we have aplenty; four-color offset-printed magazines can be found. (Do they add value to the marketing proposition, though, other than to say, "Look, we can be slick too with high production values.") What I would like to see more of is lower-cost, monthly-produced magazines. Despite the fact that both of the Jehovah Witnesses' two tracts, Awake! and The Watchtower and the infamous Chick Tracts are banned here in Singapore, I think, if done properly (and without the hate as in the latter publication), both formats could be successful as a means to educate non-Muslims about Islam and Muslim society.

    On the digital front, the problem isn't that Muslims don't use the Internet to good advantage; on the contrary, I think we use Facebook, blogging and Youtube quite well. The big problem is that our message has become diluted through clutter, specifically, the hate messages spread by Islamophobes. Using a simple search term like "Islam" generally brings about 75% hate on blog search engines like Google and Technorati. Youtube isn't much better. How to rectify this problem? I'm not sure.