January 29, 2010

"Human-Made" Rules in Islam

Recently, one of my readers has asked me to answer some questions her husband has asked of her. Based on the questions she submitted and several other e-mails she has sent to me, her husband, a European convert to Islam, appears to be a lukewarm Muslim at best. (I do realize that I'm only hearing from one-half of this couple; in fact, this woman has asked me to meet her husband face-to-face, but my schedule in the evenings and on the weekends at this time makes such a meeting very difficult to arrange.) She has asked me, instead, if I would post my answers to her questions on my blog, so I'm going to address each question separately as time permits, insha'allah.

Here is her e-mail:

Here are among the questions my husband always ask me
1) He said some of the rules in Islam are actually human-made. Some are not necessary in this modern world. For instance: the hijab for ladies, abolution before prayers, prayers with the necessary standing rules.. (sometimes I adapt the prayer accordingly like when we were on traveling). Also the importance to eat halal food ( for him only pork is haram, but all others should be halal like chicken, meat eventho it is not slaughtered by muslim)

"He said some of the rules in Islam are actually human-made."

My answer: Of course; so what? My initial thought was, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) created a number of "rules" that we Muslims follow; he was a man, like us. Thus, yes, some of the rules in Islam were created by a man. "But," my wife says, "the Prophet (pbuh) was also guided directly by Allah (swt) and the angel Jibril; in that regard, he wasn't like other men." To which I most wholeheartedly agree. However, even if we set the Prophet (pbuh) aside as a special case (which, obviously, he was), many men - scholars, jurists, imams - over the centuries have defined and refined "the rules in Islam" (regardless of whether one classifies them under fiqh or shari'ah) that Muslims live under.

However, just because these rules are made by men doesn't invalidate them. There are several reasons for this. First, the vast majority of men who have created rules have done so based upon the guidance of the Qur'an and Sunnah. In order for any rule in Islam to be valid, there has to be justification for the rule; that justification almost always comes from the appropriate Qur'anic ayat and/or ahadith from the Prophet's (pbuh) Sunnah. Secondly, even though individual men may have different opinions regarding a specific issue, the rules Muslims follow are based upon a consensus (ijma) of opinions. Extreme opinions are noted but rejected in favor of the majority opinion; likewise, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "My community will never agree upon an error." So a human-made rule in Islam is not necessarily invalid simply because it came from a man or men.

Two other points I'd like to raise: All these men over the centuries - the scholars, jurists and imams - who created the rules that Muslims follow, the vast majority of them have significant credentials in terms of their ability to render a judgment. To which I would ask you, what are your qualifications? Why should I trust your judgment? What do you bring to the table?

And secondly, don't you see the hypocrisy inherent in your own statement? You apparently think that something is wrong if the rules in Islam are human-made, but then you go ahead and make up your own rules! Ridiculous!

To be continued, insha'allah.

January 27, 2010

The 100 Cheesiest Movie Quotes

Amusing. Some of these are not quite so cheesy, but many are. As noted elsewhere, Arnold Schwarznegger and Keanu Reeves seem to have a disproportionate number of appearances here. ;) For me, the surprise was that there are only two Bond quotes here (from Goldfinger and The World is Not Enough); Bond movies usually have at least two or three CHEESY quotes in each film but, then again, that's part of their charm.

Be warned: while there's no nudity, some of the language is NSFW!

The movies, in order of appearance:

--0m-- American Beauty, Batman & Robin, Gigli, Batman & Robin, Showgirls, Troy, Star Wars, G.I Jane
--1m-- Love Story, Cast Away, Star Wars, City of Angels, As Good As It Gets, Pearl Harbor, Titanic, Ever After, Death Race, The Covenant, X-Men 3
--2m-- They Live, Commando, Matrix, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Total Recall, Wicker Man, Point Break, Lethal Weapon II, Boondock Saints, Predator, Road House, Kindergarten Cop
--3m-- Forrest Gump, Transformers 2, Lethal Weapon, Speed, Commando, X-Men, Exorcist II, Armageddon, Juno, Blood Diamond, Batman & Robin
--4m-- Goldfinger, Rocky 4, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Judge Dredd, Commando, Under Siege, Batman & Robin, The Happening, Star Wars, The Happening, Eraser
--5m-- Blood In Blood Out, Batman & Robin, Con Air, Air Force One, Bad Boys II, Snakes on a Plane, Showgirls, Notting Hill, Jerry Maguire, Ghost
--6m-- Pretty Woman, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Dirty Dancing, Matrix, 300, Star Wars, The Postman, The Happening, Congo
--7m-- Wicker Man, Pearl Harbor, Knowing, Predator, Troll 2, Matrix, Poseidon, Face Off, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Star Wars, True Lies, Twilight, Battlefield Earth
--8m-- The World Is Not Enough, Flash Gordon, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Braveheart, Independence Day, Wicker Man, Star Wars, The Room, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, Star Wars
--9m-- Conan The Barbarian, Battlefield Earth, Shark Attack 3, Lord of The Rings, Top Gun

January 24, 2010

Tycho Crater by LRO

Tycho Crater is an one of the most prominent craters on the moon. It appears as a bright spot in the southern highlands with rays of bright material that stretch across much of the nearside. Its prominence is not due to its size: at 85 km in diameter, it's just one among thousands of this size or larger. What really makes Tycho stand out is its relative youth. It formed recently enough that its beautiful rays, material ejected during the impact event, are still visible as bright streaks. All craters start out looking like this after they form, but their rays gradually fade away as they sit on the surface, exposed to the space environment which over time darkens them until they fade into the background.

How old is Tycho? Because the impact event scattered material to such great distances, it's thought that some of the samples at the Apollo 17 landing site originated at the Tycho impact site. These samples are impact melt glass, and radiometric age dating tells us that they formed 108 million years ago. So if these samples are truly from Tycho, the crater formed 108 million years ago as well. This may still seem old, but compared to the 3.9 billion-year age for many large lunar craters, Tycho is the new kid on the block. Directly sampling material from within the crater would help us learn more about not just when Tycho formed, but the ages of terrains on other planets throughout the solar system.


Tycho is also of great scientific interest because it is so well preserved, it is a great place to study the mechanics of how an impact crater forms. ... The peak is thought to be material that has rebounded back up after being compressed in the impact, and though it's a peak now, it originated at greater depth than any other portion of the crater. The floor of the crater is covered in impact melt, rocks that were heated to such high temperatures during the impact event that they turned to liquid, and flowed across the floor. In [this] image, impact melt flowed downhill and pooled, where it cooled.

Photo Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

January 20, 2010

The Known Universe

A video reminiscent of the famous Powers of Ten, but more up to date with respect to the nature and structure of the universe. Enjoy!

January 19, 2010

Children's TV

OK, I know, for those very few of my regular readers, this topic is perhaps the last one might ever expect to find on my blog. But with a very young daughter (currently 18 months), I am often reduced to watching hour after hour of - gasp - children's TV.

Actually, children's television is light years beyond what was shown on TV when I was a kid in the 60s. Some of this stuff is actually - wait for it - interesting! Three things have stood out while watching TV with my daughter:

1) Children's programming isn't an American monopoly. While there are many American productions on TV, other countries around the world are well represented. In fact, the only regions of the world I haven't seen childrens' programming from is Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and that is more due to a lack of English-language translations than from the actual production of the programs themselves. Unsurprisingly, Canada and Europe produce much of childrens' programming; for example, Canada (Igloo-gloo (one of A'ishah's favorites) and The Backyardigans), Britain (to be honest, there are too many programs to list here; Singapore broadcasts the BBC channel CBeebies, which plays, among other programs, two of A'ishah's favorites, Teletubbies and In the Night Garden...), France (Gazoon), Germany (Wildlife), Italy (MioMao), and Spain (Pocoyo). What's impressive, though, are the increasing number of Asian programs being broadcast, including: Malaysia (Upin & Ipin), South Korea (Pucca), and Taiwan (MumuHug). (I've also wondered if Little Fables is an Israeli production.) Two of these programs, Upin & Ipin and Pucca, have been picked up by Disney, which, insha'allah, will lead to greater coverage worldwide.

2) Some decent actors are involved with children's programming. Producers for childrens' programs have been using a lot of big-name narrators. The English-language version of Pocoyo is narrated by British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, while In the Night Garden... uses Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi. Fred Savage ("Kevin Arnold," The Wonder Years) does voiceover work for a number of different programs; the one A'ishah and I watch is Oswald. (Actually, Oswald uses quite a few actors who should be familiar to people 40 and over, including comedienne Laraine Newman (Saturday Night Live), David Lander ("Squiggy" from Laverne & Shirley), and actress Kathy Najimy (the two Sister Act movies). Also, singer Tony Orlando of the 70s pop group Tony Orlando & Dawn has also worked on Oswald.) Another singer who worked as a narrator is the Beatles' Ringo Starr, who was the original narrator on Thomas & Friends back in the mid 80s. (This is another series that has used a number of "name" voices, including the late comedian George Carlin, and actors Alec Baldwin and Pierce Brosnan.)

3) The visual quality of some programming is excellent. While CGI is used by virtually everyone who doesn't do stop-motion claymation series, a few series have very creative visual styles that make for beautiful artwork. Series that I like the look of include Little Fables (which makes cartoons in the form of shadow theater, using various tones of black, white and grey, with one bright color (such as red, yellow, green, etc.)), Bonny, Banana & Mo (for its vibrant color scheme), and MioMao (a claymation series that's very creative in how the characters move).

January 17, 2010

Where Books Come to Life

This is a well done animation, from the New Zealand Book Council, encouraging people to read. I think this video gives new meaning to the phrase, "reading between the lines." ;)

January 16, 2010

Milky Way Transit Authority

Samuel Arbesman, a postdoctoral sociologist at Harvard University, has created a semi-whimsical Milky Way Transit Authority map that's rather interesting. Inspired by Carl Sagan's novel, Contact, Arbesman has treated the various arms and spurs of the Milky Way in the manner of a subway map, complete with various stops and transfer stations. As Arbesman wrote:

This map is an attempt to approach our galaxy with a bit more familiarity than usual and get people thinking about long-term possibilities in outer space. Hopefully it can provide as a useful shorthand for our place in the Milky Way, the 'important' sights, and make inconceivable distances a bit less daunting. And while convenient interstellar travel is nothing more than a murky dream, and might always be that way, there is power in creating tools for beginning to wrap our minds around the interconnections of our galactic neighborhood.

I have attempted to actually make this map as accurate as possible, where each line corresponds to an arm of our galaxy, and the stations are actual places in their proper locations.

A larger PDF version of the map can be found here.

January 13, 2010

Top 100 Fail Clips of 2009

Although a lot of these clips show events that were beyond the control of the participants, it also shows that there are a lot of idiots out there in the world.

January 11, 2010

The Situation in Malaysia

There have been some tensions in Malaysia due to a recent High Court ruling allowing the Roman Catholic newspaper, The Herald, to continue using the word Allah instead of the English-language God, which the Malaysia government would prefer The Herald to use. (Note: The High Court has issued a temporary injunction against The Herald until the Court of Appeals has judged the case.)

Some people, such as Juan Cole, are puzzled by the Malay response in West Malaysia (various protests and six churches either burned down or attempted to be burned down), noting correctly that in most other parts of the world, God and Allah are used interchangeably; for example, Arab Christians refer to God as Allah. However, this linguistic analysis, as correct as it may be, is not the point. The issue at hand is something completely different:

With all due respect to Dr. Cole, I do believe he is missing the point. His linguistic analysis of the word Allah is correct; however, that is not the issue at play in Malaysia.

The real issue at hand is with respect to conversion to Christianity. The Malaysian newspaper in question, The Herald, is published by the Catholic Church. That newspaper is published in several different languages, but the paper written in Bahasa Melayu, the Malay language, is only distributed to the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. The problem as Malays in West Malaysia (the Malayan peninsula) see it is that the Malays and aboriginal people in East Malaysia are less educated, who lead simpler lives*, and they might become confused in reading a Christian newspaper that prints the word Allah, thinking that The Herald is a Muslim newspaper when it is not. This is a valid concern. IMO, the arguments made by The Herald are smoke screens, trying to hide the newspaper's ulterior motive which, indeed, is to convert people to Catholicism. This is what is making some people so angry that they are committing arson against various churches. As a Muslim, I don't condone this behavior, and I think the Malaysian government and political parties have responded properly to this situation. However, I do think the Catholic Church in Malaysia is being provocative and somewhat disingenuous. IMO, they share some of the blame for what has gone on so far.

* In all fairness, the same argument (not well educated, simpler people) applies to many Malays in West Malaysia as well; however, between the two sides of the country, West Malaysia is more advanced.

January 8, 2010

US Unemployment Rates - November 2009

The November US regional and state unemployment figures was recently released. The figures show an overall decrease in the unemployment rates. A total of 37 states had their unemployment rates decrease, while the numbers for 8 states increased; six states had no change. The number of states with double-digit unemployment rates remains at fifteen (not including Puerto Rico). Here are some of the highlights:

  • Overall, the "official" national unemployment rate (U-3) decreased by 0.2%, from 10.2% to 10.0% over October's number. For the past twelve months, the national rate has increased by 2.8% (down 0.4% from last month).
  • For the most inclusive unemployment rate measured (U-6), the decrease was 0.3%, from 17.5% to 17.2%. For the past twelve months, U-6 has increased by 3.7% (down 1.2% from last month). The spread between U-3 and U-6 decreased from its historic peak of 7.3% in September to 7.2%.
  • In terms of a monthly change, the states with the largest decreases were Kentucky and Louisiana, both with a decrease of 0.7%. Connecticut and Nevada followed with decreases of 0.6% each. The state with the largest increase was South Carolina, whose unemployment rate rose 0.3% (as did Puerto Rico's).
  • On an annual basis, the only state remaining with an increase over 5.0% is Michigan, at 5.1%. Three states are tied for second at 4.3% (Alabama, Florida and Nevada).
  • A total of fifteen states have double-digit unemployment rates, unchanged from October (not including Puerto Rico, which has an unemployment rate of 15.9%). The state with the highest unemployment rate continues to be Michigan at 14.7%, down 0.4%. Rhode Island comes in second with a rate of 12.7% (down 0.2%), while three states tied for third with a rate of 12.3%: California (down 0.2%), Nevada (down 0.6%), and South Carolina (up 0.3%). The remaining states (in declining order) are: Washington D.C. (11.8%), Florida (11.5%), Oregon (11.1%), Illinois (10.9%), 9%), Oregon (11.3%), North Carolina (10.8%), Kentucky and Ohio (both at 10.6%), Alabama (10.5%), Tennessee (10.3%), and Georgia (10.2%).
  • The states with the lowest unemployment rates are North Dakota (4.1%, down 0.1%), Nebraska (4.5%, down 0.4%), and South Dakota (5.0%, unchanged).
  • The states with the lowest annual increases are North Dakota and Nebraska at 0.9%, Vermont at 1.1%, Minnesota at 1.3%, Louisiana at 1.4%, and Colorado, Kansas and Montana at 1.5%.
  • In terms of non-farm payroll employment, four states had significant decreases in the number of jobs. Those states are Hawaii (-6,000), Michigan (-14,000), Mississippi (-6,100) and Nevada (-8,800).
  • For annual changes in non-farm payroll employment, the states with the biggest decreases are California (-617,600), Florida (-284,800), Texas (-271,700), Illinois (-250,400), Michigan (-240,200), and New York (-210,500). The states with the smallest decreases are South Dakota (-6,800) and Vermont (-7,800).

The PDF version of the Bureau of Labor Statistics press release can be found here.

The Thorn

Definition of atheism
Photo Source.
Whatever hardship a Muslim faces - even if it as minor as the prick of a thorn - Allah (swt) makes it an atonement for his sins. (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, and Malik's Muwatta)

January 3, 2010

The Fine Line

Several recent diaries over at Daily Kos have touched on the topic of Islamophobia. One question a number of people, both diarists and commenters, have wrestled with is whether Islamophobia is racism or bigotry. But even more fundamentally, one diarist asked, if someone publicly disagrees with Islam, does that make him or her a bigot? What follows is my answer:

As a Muslim, even I would say that not all publicly expressed disagreements with Islam classify a person as a bigot. But there is a fine line between bigotry and non-bigotry; on the Internet, this bigotry - Islamophobia - is usually expressed through the tone of the person's writings. The writer usually takes an attacking, accusatory mode, and rarely allows him or herself to acknowledge that he or she is wrong, let alone that the Islamic/Muslim point has merit. Moreover, the bigot/Islamophobe has no real desire to learn about Islam or Muslims. They already know what they know, so to speak, and are content to remain in a state of ignorance. For a Muslim to correct them would be "to confuse the issue with facts."

Ironically, this is the correct tact to take with Muslims: instead of attack, attack, attack (and showing we Muslims just how ignorant and closed-minded you really are), try asking questions instead and creating a dialog. Instead of assuming that Western conventional wisdom is correct for interpreting Islam and Muslim society, try asking Why? Most often, Western conventional wisdom is wrong in that it doesn't understand why the way things are (with respect to the Qur'an, with respect to Islamic practices, with respect to Muslim society, and so on). Context matters, and most Muslims understand that context far better than non-Muslims do. So don't be afraid to admit to yourself that maybe, just maybe you don't really know the subject as well as you think you do and that you may very well be wrong, and respectfully ask a Muslim for their point of view.

Very few Muslims, if any, would think of a person who comes across as sincerely desiring to learn about Islam and Muslims as an Islamophobe.