October 29, 2009

October 28, 2009

JKCS041: Galaxy Cluster Smashes Distance Record

Visible Light (Very Large Telescope (VLT)):

XRays (Chandra):


Photo Credits:
X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/S.Andreon et al; Optical: DSS; ESO/VLT

This image contains X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, optical data from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and optical and infrared data from the Digitized Sky Survey. This record-breaking object, known as JKCS041, is observed as it was when the Universe was just one quarter of its current age. X-rays from Chandra are displayed here as the diffuse blue region, while the individual galaxies in the cluster are seen in white in the VLT's optical data, embedded in the X-ray emission.

JKCS041 was originally detected in 2006 with infrared observations from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). The distance to the cluster was then determined from optical and infrared observations from UKIRT, the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope in Hawaii and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. However, scientists were not sure if it was a true galaxy cluster, rather than one that has been caught in the act of forming. The shape and extent of the X-ray emission in the Chandra data, however, provided the definitive evidence that showed that JKCS041 was, indeed, a galaxy cluster. The Chandra data also allowed scientists to rule out other possible explanations for the data, including a group of galaxies, or a filament of galaxies seen along the line of sight.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally-bound objects in the Universe. Scientists have calculated when they should start assembling in the early Universe, and JKCS041, at a distance of some 10.2 billion light years, is on the early edge of that epoch. Follow-on observations of JKCS041 will provide scientists with an opportunity to find important information about how the Universe evolved at this crucial stage.

October 17, 2009

Rep 4 That

Obviously, this video was made before the incredibly stupid and Islamophobic accusation by Reps. Trent Franks and John Shadegg (AZ), Sue Myrick (NC) and Paul Broun (GA) that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was "planting spies" among members of Congress through the use of Muslim interns. Otherwise I think you'd have seen the latter three Congressmen in the video. Franks, whom I'm familiar with from Arizona politics in the 80s (and was a wingnut Republican before "wingnut" came into vogue), is already in the video for other BS.

Republicans in Congress: Everything your demagoguery democracy needs.

Yeah, no $#|+!

October 10, 2009

Islamic Sects: The Sunnis

Insha'allah, this is the first of a multi-part series I'm writing for Street Prophets on the different groups of Muslims worldwide. As time permits, current plans are to write diaries on the Shi'a and Sufis, the so-called Heretics, and various Islamic movements.

A few days ago, Ojibwa suggested to me, in his diary, Ardipithicus Ramidus, that "It might also be interesting to see a diary outlining the different kinds of Islam."

Now I found this suggestion a little strange, if only for its vagueness: "Different kinds of Islam?" To me there is only one Islam, but I suspect that what Ojibwa really wants to see is a diary on the different sects, if you will, among Muslims worldwide. I've never tackled this topic before; it's always seemed rather elementary a subject to me, but I can see where others might find this type of information of interest.

Generally speaking, the Muslim world can be divided into two primary groups: Sunnis and Shi'a. Most non-Muslims are aware of a third group, Sufis, but for Muslims, Sufis fit within the other two groups; i.e., a Sufi may be either a Sunni or a Shi'a. Becoming a Sufi doesn't mean you're excluded from either the Sunni or Shi'a traditions, although not all Sunnis approve of Sufi practices.

Sunnis are the majority group among Muslims, making up roughly 87-90% of all Muslims worldwide (according to the recently-released Pew Forum report on worldwide Muslim population figures). Sunnis believe in following the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Sunnah is the words and actions of the Prophet (pbuh) recorded by the first several generations of Muslims. Most of the Sunnah comes in the form of ahadith (sing., hadith), which are anecdotes describing some incident that either the Prophet (pbuh) or one or more of his Companions (known collectively as the Sahabah) did. These ahadith were collected into multi-volume books by a number of scholars who graded what is known as the isnad of the hadith as to the hadith's reliability. (The isnad is the chain of transmitters of the hadith; i.e., who said what to who, from the first transmitter until the last when it was recorded into one of the collections.) Each person within the isnad was evaluated as to his or her memory, truthfulness, and a number of other factors. The isnad then received a grade as to its authenticity: authentic, fair, weak, fabricated, and shaky. There are six collections of ahadith in which virtually all of the ahadith are considered sahih or authentic, of which the two most important sahih collections are by Bukhari and Muslim. It should be noted that the actual anecdote (called the matn) is not graded in any way, only the isnad. Three of the six collections, plus a fourth that is not part of the six, can be found here.)

From an analysis of the Qur'an and Sunnah came to be developed a number of legal schools of thought. Four of these schools survive today, while a number of others have disappeared over time. The four surviving schools are all named after the respective scholars who started the school. (It should also be noted that none of these scholars actually sought to start a school of thought in their name; rather, the scholars attracted students who perpetuated their teachings.) The four schools are known as the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali madhahib (schools of thought).

Each of these schools tend to have a geographic predominance, although Sunnis are free to choose whichever madhhab (school of thought) they prefer. Hanafis are mostly located throughout Central and South Asia, the countries between Turkey and Jordan and Iraq, plus parts of Iran and the Balkans. Malikis are primarily in Western Africa, from the Atlantic to Libya. Shafi'i's are predominant along the east (Indian Ocean) coast of Africa, from Egypt on south, plus the countries of Yemen, the UAE, and all of southeast Asia (where I live). The Hanbali school is more or less only in Saudi Arabia.

From a practical perspective, the doctrinal differences between the four schools are minor. All four schools are considered to be "rightly guided," and there is no antagonism between any of the four. Muslims of any school, for example, may pray behind an imam (prayer leader) of another school. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in his famous book, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (which I happen to be reading right now), ignored doctrinal differences between the four schools on the various topics he discussed and, in fact, often provided examples of when one or more of the four schools would differ from each other on specific subjects. (For example, with respect to prohibited meats, the Malikis reject only those that are specifically mentioned in the Qur'an, whereas the other three schools prohibit other types of meats that are not mentioned in the Qur'an but were mentioned either directly or as part of a general classification (e.g., "birds with talons"; i.e., birds of prey) by the Prophet (pbuh).)

October 9, 2009

American Qur'an

I came across this news article yesterday about an art project entitled American Qur'an by the American artist Sandow Birk. Birk has been working on illustrating all of the Surahs in the Qur'an (he's about half-finished) in an effort to show other non-Muslims (American Christians in particular) how the Qur'an relates to life in the 21st century.

In Birk's version, each chapter of the Quran has been carefully copied in English in a calligraphy modeled on the urban graffiti of America's inner cities. The stark black text is bordered by scenes from American life both mundane and extraordinary: gangsters flashing signs, Hurricane Katrina's devastation, migrants working the fields, a crowded airport lounge and a raging California wildfire among them.

Each painting relates to the sura, or chapter, it illustrates, either literally or metaphorically, Birk said.

Although Birk doesn't use the actual Arabic Qur'an, he flouts one Islamic art tradition by incorporating images of people in the paintings. I understand why he has done this and, in certain ways, it has brought some of the surahs to life in a way I think many non-Muslims wouldn't otherwise get. But I also find myself preferring our way of doing art, without the humanity involved in the picture.

Some of the reactions to the project have been predictable. On the one hand:

Koplin Del Rio Gallery owners Sugar Elisa Brown and Eleana Del Rio braced for controversy when the show opened last month. They have been surprised and encouraged by the muted reaction: they have received only a handful of odd or threatening e-mails and some Muslims have written to express their appreciation. Surprisingly, some of the most vocal critics have been those who believe Birk's work portrays Islam in too positive a light, they said.

How terrible! Islam is being shown in "too positive a light." On the other hand:

Still, not everyone has appreciated the exhibit, including some Muslim religious leaders who believe the project degrades the Quran. Critic Mohammad Qureshi, administrator of the Islamic Center of Southern California, has refused to visit the gallery or look at pictures of the panels posted on the Internet.

"The Quran is above these things. It doesn't need to be depicted in that way," Qureshi said. "The Quran is accessible the way it is. It's been accessible for 1,400 years, so it doesn't need anything to make it more accessible."

I agree somewhat with this opinion; the Qur'an is above these things and is accessible the way it is. However, I feel the overall criticism is too heavy-handed. If the artwork brings the Qur'an to life in a way that brings non-Muslims to Islam, does that not make the artwork beneficial?

The art is currently being exhibited at two galleries in California, Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. The two links have a combined 50+ images, with the first link, to the Koplin Del Rio Gallery, having larger images that are easier to view. As for the English translations being used, Birk apparently is using several different translators for his work. Below are four pictures from the project that I found of interest. The first, of course, is Surah al-Fatihah:

This next picture is for Surah al-Adiyat (#100; The Chargers). It's an interesting juxtaposition between the first few verses of the surah with the colorful spectacle of NASCAR racecars thundering down the track:

By the (Steeds) that run, with panting (breath), And strike sparks of fire, And push home the charge in the morning, And raise the dust in clouds the while, And penetrate forthwith into the midst (of the foe) en masse;-" (100:1-5)

The last two are for Surah al-Qamar (#54; The Moon), showing a hurricane (Katrina?) raging over an ocean...

...with a space station and the moon floating peacefully overhead.

October 6, 2009

Here I Am

Allah (swt) answers our prayers. He may not do so immediately; in fact, He may take several years to do so, but He will answer our prayers in His time. To expect an answer immediately or overnight is shortsighted and the height of impatience. We must be patient and ready to respond to any tests He may set for us, to determine whether we are worthy to receive what it is we pray for. But never fear that Allah (swt) will not answer our prayers. He does, and I am grateful to Him for those prayers of mine He has indeed answered so far.

HT: QuranClub

BBC: Muslim Demographics - The Truth

BBC Radio has looked at the claims made in Muslim Demographics, the Islamophobic video that came out in May, and has come out with their own report. In general, the BBC confirms what I and a number of other bloggers wrote a few months ago: that the video is largely erroneous in its facts and conclusions.

For example, one of the claims made by the video (that the Russian army will be 40% Muslim within a few years) was dismissed by one expert as "complete poppycock." In another claim (that Germany will become a Muslim-majority nation by 2050), the BBC interviewed the person who was quoted for that statistic, Mr. Walter Radermacher. Mr. Radermacher not only said that he was misquoted but that he was making the opposite argument!

The BBC's ultimate conclusion, that the makers of Muslim Demographics neither found accurate data nor handled what data they used with care, is spot on. The only surprise is why they didn't do this research and come out with their report back in May, when the video was first released.

HT: QuranClub

October 4, 2009

Colorpulse: "A Glorious Dawn" (Cosmos Remixed)

I forget off-hand how I stumbled across this video tonight, but it's one guy's "remix," if you will, of Carl Sagan's TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Intermixed are snips of videos and "lyrics" "sung" by Stephen Hawking, taken from his Universe documentary. If you're interested in downloading the soundtrack from the video, click here.

A = B?

Are squares A and B the same color? In fact, they are, as the below illustration proves. This is an example of the same color illusion, created by MIT professor Edward Adelson. A description of how the illusion works can be found here. I verified that the "colors" were the same by using a Firefox add-on called ColorZilla; in hexidecimal format, the code for this particular color of gray is #787878.

The Only Video of Anne Frank

The Anne Frank House, the museum which was the hiding place for Anne Frank, her family, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer during World War 2, has uploaded the only known film footage of Anne onto Youtube. The film was taken on July 22, 1941, and shows a newly-wed couple walking out of the building (No. 37 Merwedeplein, Amsterdam) adjacent to the home Anne was living in at the time (No. 39 Merwedeplein). (This was about one year prior to the Frank family going into hiding.) Anne, who was 13-years-old at the time, appears at the nine-second mark of the video, and can be seen leaning out of the window to take a look at the couple.

The Anne Frank Channel on Youtube can be subscribed to here.

HT: Mashable

October 3, 2009

Fabio Valdemarin: Got a Match?

I haven't done any of my Bedtime Music videos in a long time, so consider this a special edition post of that series. Tonight's video was a recommendation made on, of all places, the Alan Parsons e-mail list (which I've been a member of for a very long time). The musician is Fabio Valdemarin, who does a cover of The Chick Corea Elektric Band's Got a Match?, off the band's 1985 eponymous debut album. Valdemarin's video is unique in that he recorded each of the instruments (drums, piano, guitar and bass) separately, then combined the four videos into one to create an Enya-like recording.

One wonders how many other instruments
Valdemarin can play. Looking around his website, he has another video in which he also plays the trumpet.

New Scientist: Cyborg Beetles

This is an extremely short video, but disturbing in its implications. Scientists are now able to control the flight of beetles through radio remote-control. The narrator describes several potential uses for such "cyborg beetles," such as searching for disaster victims (a good use) or for spying. (The proverbial "fly on the wall" may become the real "beetle on the wall"; the spy's electronic "bug" becomes a real bug.) And how long will it take military (or civilian) scientists to control the actions of other animals or even people by remote control?

Reality Check: The White House Responds

The White House has started showing some cajones with respect to some of the more out-and-out lies spewed by Faux News' Glenn Beck. (It's about time!) The first of the lies debunked was particularly amusing. Apparently Beck is back from a time-travel trip to the future. Tell us, Glenn, how many gold medals did we win next year? For the rest of the lies and the White House's responses, click on either of the above links.

RHETORIC: BECK SAID VANCOUVER LOST $1 BILLION WHEN IT "HAD THE OLYMPICS." Glenn Beck said, "Vancouver lost, how much was it? they lost a billion dollars when they had the Olympics." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]

REALITY: VANCOUVER'S OLYMPICS WILL NOT TAKE PLACE UNTIL 2010. Vancouver will host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games from February 12 – 28, 2010 and March 12-21, 2010, respectively. [Vancouver2010.com, accessed 9/29/09]

October 1, 2009

The Questions

One of the interesting things about the Qur'an is that there are a number of verses (at least 21) that I think of collectively as "The Questions." Each of the questions are framed in an "either-or" format: your answer is either one or the other. The answer to each of the questions is painfully obvious to a believer (in this case I don't think there even needs to be a distinction between Muslims, Jews or Christians). For a non-believer, I think the questions are more challenging, especially some of the more nature-oriented verses, like 56:58-9. Sperm are created within the male body, and a typical man can ejaculate over 40 million sperm at any one time; yet, how many of those sperm did we "create?" Do we have any conscious control over the creation of sperm, say, with respect to different features of a body (e.g., hair color, shape of the nose, etc.)? No, of course not. Through Allah's (swt) will, our bodies create the sperm in the way that He decides, not in how we choose.

If you know of any other "Questions" in the Qur'an that I missed, please add them in the comments.

Is the man who follows the good pleasure of God Like the man who draws on himself the wrath of God, and whose abode is in Hell?- A woeful refuge! (3:162)

Is it not (the case) that to God belongeth whatever is in the heavens and on earth? Is it not (the case) that God's promise is assuredly true? Yet most of them understand not. (10:55)

Is then one who doth know that that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the Truth, like one who is blind? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition;- (13:19)

Is then He who standeth over every soul (and knoweth) all that it doth, (like any others)? And yet they ascribe partners to God. Say: "But name them! is it that ye will inform Him of something he knoweth not on earth, or is it (just) a show of words?" Nay! to those who believe not, their pretense seems pleasing, but they are kept back (thereby) from the path. And those whom God leaves to stray, no one can guide. (13:33)

Is then He Who creates like one that creates not? Will ye not receive admonition? (16:17)

Is then the man who believes no better than the man who is rebellious and wicked? Not equal are they. (32:18)

Is he, then, to whom the evil of his conduct is made alluring, so that he looks upon it as good, (equal to one who is rightly guided)? For God leaves to stray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in (vainly) sighing after them: for God knows well all that they do! (35:8)

Is it not to God that sincere devotion is due? But those who take for protectors other than God (say): "We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to God." Truly God will judge between them in that wherein they differ. But God guides not such as are false and ungrateful. (39:3)

Is one who worships devoutly during the hour of the night prostrating himself or standing (in adoration), who takes heed of the Hereafter, and who places his hope in the Mercy of his Lord - (like one who does not)? Say: "Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition. (39:9)

Is, then, one against whom the decree of Punishment is justly due (equal to one who eschews Evil)? Wouldst thou, then, deliver one (who is) in the Fire? (39:19)

Is one whose heart God has opened to Islam, so that he has received Enlightenment from God, (no better than one hard-hearted)? Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against celebrating the praises of God! they are manifestly wandering (in error)! (39:22)

Is, then, one who has to fear the brunt of the Penalty on the Day of Judgment (and receive it) on his face, (like one guarded therefrom)? It will be said to the wrong- doers: "Taste ye (the fruits of) what ye earned!" (39:24)

Is not God enough for his Servant? But they try to frighten thee with other (gods) besides Him! for such as God leaves to stray, there can be no guide. (39:36)

Is then one brought up among trinkets, and unable to give a clear account in a dispute (to be associated with God)? (43:18)

Is then one who is on a clear (Path) from his Lord, no better than one to whom the evil of his conduct seems pleasing, and such as follow their own lusts? (47:14)

Is it that their faculties of understanding urge them to this, or are they but a people transgressing beyond bounds? (52:32)

Do ye then see?- The (human Seed) that ye throw out,- Is it ye who create it, or are We the Creators? (56:58-9)

See ye the seed that ye sow in the ground? Is it ye that cause it to grow, or are We the Cause? (56:63-4)

See ye the Fire which ye kindle? Is it ye who grow the tree which feeds the fire, or do We grow it? (56:71-2)

Is then one who walks headlong, with his face groveling, better guided,- or one who walks evenly on a Straight Way? (67:22)

Is not God the wisest of judges? (95:8)