October 29, 2013

August 25, 2013

Banu Islam

“I am a Muslim. I exist only to serve Allah (swt) and His creation.”

On the whole, humanity is rather immature. We are born this way and it normally takes us at least two decades, if not more, to reach a level of cognitive and behavioral maturity that is acceptable to ourselves and society. This level of maturity is taught to us through many means, one of which is the institution of religion. Most religions, including Islam, seek to mature humanity. In Islam, we Muslims mature through our submission to Allah (swt) by conforming to His rules and legislation, which is presented to us in the form of shari'ah. The rules and legislation by which we mature aren't onerous, but they do take a significant level of discipline and determination in order to be carried out successfully and consistently.

This "discipline and determination" is known to us as jihad. It is the greater jihad, the jihad by which we seek to control and contain our nafs, our ego. Those of us who are parents (and I am the father to a five-year-old daughter) see the need to control the nafs daily through our children. "Abah, I want this! Ibu, I want that!" As children get older, their desires become more sophisticated, but their maturity levels also increase as well, insha'allah. People usually get to a point where their material needs are met, but their maturity levels have also plateaued.

The problem is that these maturity levels may or may not have reached their full potential. Have each of us met that full level of maturity? For example, consider three types of behavior: drinking alcohol, gambling and tattooing. All three behaviors are considered both legal (usually) and acceptable within modern non-Muslim society. But even while these behaviors may be acceptable in non-Muslim society, they are considered unacceptable among Muslims.

Engaging in these behaviors are signs of immaturity. An immature person wastes his or her money on alcoholic drinks that can cause numerous individual and societal problems (let alone being a poison to one's body). Through gambling, an immature person wastes his or her money in the unlikely possibility of winning a large payoff. Through tattooing, an immature person "decorates" his or her body with art that is often regretted (and sometimes removed) later in life. A Muslim avoids these immature behaviors altogether, thus bypassing the pain these behaviors may cause to themselves and to others.

Instead of engaging in immature behaviors, the Muslim engages in mature behaviors, especially that of salat (prayer), sawm (fasting), and zakat (and saudaqah, the giving of charity). Each of these behaviors are not only mandated as part of the Five Pillars of Islam, but are of supreme importance for increasing and maintaining the maturity level of Muslims individually and as a society. Salat is of primary importance. It not only restores our focus on Allah (swt) throughout the day, but also helps us to remember (through the various surahs we recite in the individual rakah) what we need to do for society as a whole.

Sawm is similar to salat except that, instead of being an intellectual reminder, sawm is visceral. We feel the hunger that the less-fortunate undergo so that we may acutely understand their needs and be motivated to help society. And, whereas salat and sawm are reminders for action, zakat and saudaqah are the actions themselves, the actual giving of charity to the poor, either directly to those in need, or indirectly, to agencies who will help us distribute the charity to others.

It should be noted that the giving of zakat and, especially, saudaqah goes not only to other Muslims in need, but also to non-Muslims as well. Muslims must act as khalifa, guardians of the community and the environment, to help in the process of maturing humanity, whether the individuals are Muslims or not. In that respect we try to be like the tide, lifting all boats together. We are lifting not only our community but that of the non-Muslim community as well.

Ideally, our goal should be to strive to bring everyone up to the minimum levels (myself included) that are expected of all Muslims in Islam. There are probably very few people who don't fail in one aspect of Islam or another. Are we only meeting what is expected of us with regard to the five pillars (especially that of salat, sawm, and zakat/saudaqah) but of the other aspects of a Muslim lifestyle as well? For example, do we behave with the proper adab? Do we eat halal food consistently, especially in those places where halal food and drink is not so easily available? Do we cover ourselves properly, both men and women, and lower our gaze appropriately, both men and women? Do we minimize our exposure to the negative aspects of our culture (especially as broadcast through the media and entertainment industries)? Do we minimize our exposure to the negative aspects of our economy, such as with regard to interest and casino capitalism as a whole? (I realize this last part is extremely difficult given the pervasiveness of the global interest-based economy. Still, does one try?) Islam addresses all of these issues and provides solutions for the maturation of humanity, but do we listen and implement these solutions into our lives?

Just as parents set limits on their children's behavior, Islam has set limits on our behaviors. Some, the immature, may whine and complain about those limits (with a few going into outright rebellion and/or apostasy because their egos cannot handle those limitations). However, the majority of us understand how we benefit from such self-restraint. One has only to look at the troubles plaguing the non-Muslim world, created by their indulgence in various vices, to see what we can and do avoid: the loss of wealth through gambling or the purchase of alcohol and/or drugs, the increased chance of illnesses through the consumption of alcohol, drugs or other haram products, the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, especially through zina, the loss and heartbreak of families split apart after cases of adultery, and so on. Moreover, these limitations are lifelong. We do not "graduate" from the limitations once we reach a certain age. Most, if not all, of these limitations will remain with us until death.

What also makes matters difficult is that many of these limitations have little or no ability to be enforced externally; they must be enforced internally. For example, governments can and do enforce some Islamic limitations (even by secular governments) to one degree or another. The sale of alcohol might be restricted to certain hours or prohibited altogether; the sale of various drugs may be strictly regulated or prohibited, depending upon the substance, and so forth. But other Islamic limitations are not enforced by various governments except in certain select cases; for example, riba, zina and adultery. Thus, the individual is left to him- or herself to maintain the limitations. This is the reason for the greater jihad. Can we maintain our ability as individuals and as a society to reach our full potential?

I began to write this essay last December while vacationing in Japan and reading one of Frank Herbert's Dune novels. It is unfinished, from my perspective, and perhaps I will finish it in the future, insha'allah. A couple months ago, I came across another essay, Psychology, Islam & Self-Control, that says much of what I'm trying to say here. I recommend that you read that essay as well.

June 26, 2013

Bill Cosby: We Should Be More Like Muslims

This actually came out a couple weeks ago in the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post (no less).  Bill Cosby had written an op-ed that didn't seem to gather much notice (at least from what I could observe here in Singapore); however, Bill wrote two paragraphs near the very bottom of his essay that I thought were very interesting.  He wrote:

I’m a Christian. But Muslims are misunderstood. Intentionally misunderstood. We should all be more like them. They make sense, especially with their children. There is no other group like the Black Muslims, who put so much effort into teaching children the right things, they don’t smoke, they don’t drink or overindulge in alcohol, they protect their women, they command respect. And what do these other people do?

They complain about them, they criticize them. We’d be a better world if we emulated them. We don’t have to become black Muslims, but we can embrace the things that work.

Spot on, Bill!  (Although I do think it'd be better if more Americans embraced Islam anyway.)  But had more conservatives read these two paragraphs, I think we'd have seen more heads exploding. ;)

April 1, 2013

Wag the Dog?

This is purely speculation on my part, but based on news about North Korea I've read over the years, I can't help but feel that this picture shows who's really running the show in that country. It's not the boy (Kim Jong Un) sitting down, but the generals behind him. The tail wagging the dog.

March 22, 2013

Kick Ass Democracy

"Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"
— George W. Bush, during a White House videoconference call, April 6, 2004

Gotta love the hypocrisy of the Shrub's "vision" of democracy. Americans were going to force democracy down the throats of Middle Eastern countries, like Iraq and Iran, and if they didn't like it, Americans were going to "kill them" and "wipe them out" rather than accept that there could be multiple points of view that (gasp) might be voted on to see what the people there wanted.

March 21, 2013

Creativity in Children

My four-year-old daughter appears to have entered her golden age of creativity. I frequently marvel at her artistic skills and her ability to see the potential uses for various mundane objects that can be turned into a piece of art. A check that needs to be deposited into a bank needs to be kept out of sight and, more importantly, out of reach of my daughter lest she turn that little piece of paper into a pretty yellow-and-white boat.

In addition to drawing, coloring and painting, all three of which my daughter enjoys doing as often as possible, she also uses other media for her creations. A number of empty tissue boxes lie stacked in the bedroom to be turned into rabbits, cats or, in one recent case, a "zoo" for animals made out of clay. A blue drinking straw cut into short pieces required a piece of string to be made into a bracelet. However, no string could be found so she cut a very thin strip of paper to be used as a replacement. After she had strung the pieces of straw, I taped the two ends of the paper together to finish the bracelet.

Of course, not everything my daughter does turns out for the best. Last week, she stuffed a small piece of purple crayon up her right nostril. Why? We have no idea. Fortunately, the ENT, after doing a thorough examination of my daughter's nose and sinuses, could find no piece of the crayon other than for purple stains. (We return tomorrow morning to the hospital for a follow-up exam, although I don't think we'll find anything at this time.). And just this afternoon, my daughter used her toothbrush on her feet, requiring that a new toothbrush be bought.

How do we lose this creative ability we had as children as we transition into adulthood? Is it because we realize the negative consequences from being too creative? (Now that my daughter knows how painful the nasal examination can be, will she ever put another piece of crayon up her nose again?) Or do we lose the time to be creative as homework begins to take up more of the playtime that was available to children before entering primary school? Regardless of the reason, I begin to realize that I need to enjoy watching my daughter's creative behavior while it's still in full bloom.

Update: I cross-posted this essay over at Daily Kos, where it was not only rescued (my sixth essay overall and the third in the past month and a half), but I also received a number of very nice comments there. Check it out!

February 12, 2013

Islamic Manners

Some of the Lessons From the Qur'an That Apply to Our General Living:

1. Respect and honor all human beings irrespective of their religion, color, race, sex, language, status, property, birth, profession/job, and so on. [17:70]

2. Talk straight, to the point, without any ambiguity or deception. [33:70]

3. Choose best words to speak and say them in the best possible way. [17:53, 2:83]

4. Do not shout. Speak politely, keeping your voice low. [31:19]

5. Always speak the truth. Shun words that are deceitful and ostentatious. [22:30]

6. Do not confound truth with falsehood. [2:42]

7. Say with your mouth what is in your heart. [3:167]

8. Speak in a civilized manner in a language that is recognized by society and is commonly used. [4:5]

9. When you voice an opinion, be just, even if it is against a relative. [6:152]

10. Do not be a bragging boaster. [31:18]

11. Do not talk, listen or do anything vain. [23:3, 28:55]

12. Do not participate in any paltry. If you pass near a futile play, then pass by with dignity. [25:72]

13. If, unintentionally, any misconduct occurs by you, then correct yourself expeditiously. [3:134]

14. Do not be contemptuous or arrogant with people. [31:18]

15. Do not walk haughtily or with conceit. [17:37, 31:18]

16. Be moderate in thy pace. [31:19]

17. Walk with humility and sedateness. [25:63]

18. Keep your gazes lowered, devoid of any lecherous leers and salacious stares. [24:30-31, 40:19]

19. Do not backbite one another. [49:12]

20. Do not make mockery of others or ridicule others. [49:11]

21. Do not defame others. [49:11]

22. Do not insult others by nicknames. [49:11]

23. When you meet each other, offer good wishes and blessings for safety. One who conveys to you a message of safety and security and also when a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous or (at least) of equal courtesy. [4:86]


Note: I came across the above on Facebook and shared it on my wall, but have also decided to share it with a larger audience here. I've cleaned up the various typos, but have left everything else the same. I also did not check to see whether the Qur'anic ayat citations are correct. Otherwise... I hope you enjoyed this!

February 9, 2013

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 53

It's been some time since I read the Tao Te Ching; however, today, someone wrote a comment at Daily Kos regarding Chapter 53. Here are several translations of this particular chapter:

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn-
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
S. Mitchell

"Once started on the great [lax] highway, if I had but little knowledge I should, in walking on a broad way, fear getting off the road.
On the main path (dao), I would avoid the by-paths.
Some dao main path is easy to walk [or drift] on, but safe and easy.
All the same people are fond, men love by-paths, love even small by-paths:
The by-path courts are spick-and-span.
And the fields go untilled, nay, exceedingly weedy.
They're content to let their fields run to weed.
All the while granaries stand quite empty and some exceedingly empty.
They have elegant, in clothes and gown to wear, some furnished with patterns and embroideries,
Some carry sharp weapons, glut themselves with drink and foods enjoyed beyond limit,
And wealth and treasures are accumulated in excess, owning far more than they can handle and use.
This is to [molest] the world towards brigandage, it's robbery as extravagance.
In the end they're splitting with wealth and possessions.
Wealth splits, tends to.
This cannot be a highway of dao (the way)."
Tormond Byrd

If I were suddenly to become known, and (put into a position to) conduct (a government) according to the Great Tao, what I should be most afraid of would be a boastful display.

The great Tao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love the by-ways.

Their court(-yards and buildings) shall be well kept, but their fields shall be ill-cultivated, and their granaries very empty. They shall wear elegant and ornamented robes, carry a sharp sword at their girdle, pamper themselves in eating and drinking, and have a superabundance of property and wealth;--such (princes) may be called robbers and boasters. This is contrary to the Tao surely!
J. Legge

What strikes me about this chapter is how closely it resembles today's conservative politics. The rich live in clean, sparkling homes, while robbing the livelihoods of the working class (the other 98%), leaving the farmlands untilled and granaries empty (akin to today's rape of corporate assets and theft from employees, such as their pension plans and federal entitlements). They dress well and own far more than they will ever need in today's life, yet live behind "sharp weapons" (the security forces in gated communities). Regardless of how your religious/philosophical beliefs run, they do not follow the dao.

It just goes to show that, despite 2400 years since the writing of the Tao Te Ching, the more things change...

February 5, 2013

Cool Unicorn, Bruv!

OK, now this very short film (less than two minutes) is rather funny and something you should watch. :)

January 30, 2013

Full Moon Silhouettes

Have you ever watched the Moon rise? The slow rise of a nearly full moon over a clear horizon can be an impressive sight. One impressive moonrise was imaged two nights ago over Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand. With detailed planning, an industrious astrophotographer placed a camera about two kilometers away and pointed it across the lookout to where the Moon would surely soon be making its nightly debut. The above single shot sequence is unedited and shown in real time -- it is not a time lapse. People on Mount Victoria Lookout can be seen in silhouette themselves admiring the dawn of Earth's largest satellite. Seeing a moonrise yourself is not difficult: it happens every day, although only half the time at night. Each day the Moon rises about fifty minutes later than the previous day, with a full moon always rising at sunset.

Video credit: Mark Gee; Music: Tenderness (Dan Phillipson); text credit: NASA (APOD)

January 15, 2013

Misty Mountains

Inevitably, the various covers of the song Misty Mountains from the film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, are coming out. I'm not sure which version of these two I prefer, although both sound very nice.