The drought here in Riyadh continues with no real hopes of any serious rainfall this season, especially with summer right around the corner. So lets do the next best thing - watch a video of the kids playing in last year's plentiful rain. :-)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The drought here in Riyadh continues with no real hopes of any serious rainfall this season, especially with summer right around the corner. So lets do the next best thing - watch a video of the kids playing in last year's plentiful rain. :-)
Monday, April 28, 2008
Having grown up in the US, I've always understood that sitting in the front passenger seat ('shotgun') is more desirable than being in the backseat. However, if ever the situation arose where I had to choose between myself sitting in the front or an elder, I would respectfully take the back seat.
However, the same is not applicable in Pakistan. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
When I returned to Pakistan in 1997 for the first time since 1984, I was ignorant of the local customs when it came to seating arrangements in the car. And so when my father and I approached the car, I naively insisted (thinking it to be respectful) that he sit in the front passenger seat and I would sit in the back. He declined, which I interpreted as a gesture of humility on his part and so I kept insisting, until he basically told me to just shut up and get in the front.
It was later that I realized that sitting in the back is a sign of respectability and even status. And it's not out of any elitism that prohibits them from sitting next to their 'menial' drivers. In fact, even if my brother and I were to get in the car with my father, we would both sit in the front with my father in the back.
As most of you know, it’s the exact opposite in the US, where I have countless times given up the front seat out of respect for an elder.
I wonder if this is the case in other countries/cultures…
And then there are the taxis here in Saudi. Back in America, the norm is to jump into the backseat of a taxi. And so, the first time I flagged down a taxi here in Riyadh, I instinctively got into the back. The Indian driver politely mentioned that I could sit in the front, but again out of ignorance of local customs, I thought it odd and simply ignored his request. I immediately sensed the discomfort in his facial expression.
I learned that male passengers are expected to sit in the front seat, next to the taxi driver. To sit in the back is sometimes seen as a gesture of arrogance and self-importance with a tinge of untrusthworthiness (is that even a word?) and it doesn't go over too well with the local drivers.
I find these cultural idiosyncrasies to be subtle pointers indicating the social mores of the various cultures.
That being said, just don't ask me what I would to do if my father and I were to ever take a taxi in Riyadh. :-)
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I found these two articles:
"Does going to Mecca make Muslims more moderate?"
A very interesting study done of Pakistani Hajjis and how their perspectives tend to be more understanding and compassionate (think of Malcolm X) after having extensive dealings with Muslims from all over the world.
"US Teen abstinence programs failing"
I'm very intrigued by this topic of teen sexuality and how best to address it. Here in Saudi, where the in-your-face culture of sex is absent, teen sexuality is still a problem - teen pregnancies and STD may not be as prevalent, but are replaced with issues such as homosexuality or pedophilia.
Many Muslims tend to believe that gender segregation would solve all such problems, but Saudi Arabia is proof that isn't the case. I guess, like tackling most other social ills, a strong foundation based out of the home is a good start...
Friday, April 25, 2008
When I was young, sufficient for me was the usage of fear and punishment as a deterrent from committing wrongs. In my oh-so-simple outlook on life and Islam, punishment in the hellfire was all I needed to intellectually dissuade me from partaking in the haram (not that I always conformed to what I was convinced of).
Divine threats of eternal punishment, prophetic traditions detailing the various torments, and weekly khutbahs lecturing on the chastisement of the afterlife – all cemented in me that most base of human instincts: self-preservation.
My faith was built on a foundation of saving my hide. Oh and that other pillar of sensual pleasure, promoted by the hedonistic images of heavenly pleasures. That didn't hurt either.
But as I matured, my motivation for avoiding the forbidden and practicing the commendable had less to do with base desires (fear and lust) and more to do with my relationship with Allah (swt).
Don't get me wrong - such motivational tools are not to be disparaged, for surely the masses are influenced by both the carrot and the stick. Allah (swt) Himself promotes this methodology as the Quran is replete with verses reminding us of the pleasures of Heaven and the punishment of Hell.
But I personally found it lacking, even problematic, for a relationship of love to be fostered in the shade of heaven and hell.
This transformation in my relationship with Allah (swt) bears an uncanny resemblance to the one cultivated between a child and his parents. During the younger years, the child is taught to obey through a combination of strict discipline, positive encouragement, and lots of toys. As the child becomes an adult, those ‘gimmicks’ are replaced with a mature relationship based on deep-seated love and genuine respect between parent and child.
So when tempted to look at something inappropriate, my incentive to look the other way comes less from fear of punishment than from fear of that dark spot on my heart, fear of falling a degree away from Allah (swt), fear of displeasing Him, disappointing Him.
And when I bite my tongue and swallow my anger, its not for the reward of palace made of gold or an everlasting supply of Cocoa Puffs, but for the chance that Allah (swt) is smiling at me, proud of me, maybe even complimenting me to His company of angels.
Now *that* is a reward worth struggling for.
Disclaimer: I dare not claim to be on some sort of higher ground on the evolutionary scale of spiritual development. I fully recognize the possibility of a simplistic desert Bedouin or an illiterate village farmer having a stronger relationship with Allah (swt) based purely on desire for heaven and fear of hell. Those are legitimate devices to achieve the pleasure of Allah (swt). I have simply found them to be insufficient for my personal journey back to my Creator.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Whenever I see people who are wholly dedicated to getting their physical bodies in shape, I can't but help wonder if similar efforts are being put towards their spiritual bodies.
Don't get me wrong – striving for and maintaining a healthy body is a commendable goal. It requires both discipline and dedication that are truly admirable.
But it really pains me when those same individuals are giving only a fraction of that effort towards their spiritual selves.
The similitude of embarking on such misplaced priorities is like the traveler who foolishly puts so much effort into refurbishing his hotel room – furnishing it with new fixtures, painting it anew, and buying appliances – while neglecting his permanent decrepit home, which is unfortunately suffering from negligence and carelessness.
How foolish for us to focus so much of our energies on our temporal bodies while forgetting our eternal bodies?
Nothing wrong with keeping a tidy hotel room, but let's not forget the maintenance required of our dilapidated dwellings of permanent residence.
Better yet, forget maintenance - let's try some major renovation, maybe even total reconstruction, of our run-down homes.
Monday, April 21, 2008
'Abujee, what does the middle finger mean?'
And so the intellectual duel began between a 7-yr old boy and his 34-yr old father.
'Huh?' The question truly startled me as I was caught off guard with Humza's innocuous question.
'Is the middle finger bad?'
Deep breath. This is definitely not THE talk. Let's see if I can deal with this in a mature, adult manner.
'Uhmmm...What do you mean? It's just one of your fingers. In fact, it’s the longest one. Pretty neat, eh? heh...heh', I shrugged with a nervous laugh that probably didn't convince my young opponent.
'Well, my friend Osama at school told me it means something bad.'
Stupid Osama's – always causing unnecessary trouble for us Muslims!
'Hah! What does he know!', I replied waving my hand with an air of arrogance.
'His older brother told him.'
Stupid older brothers - When have older brothers ever taught their younger siblings anything of value? (I speak from experience being the oldest of three boys)
Quick, I need to think of an answer befitting my status of know-it-all father.
'Hmmmm..Just ignore him. Its nothing. Don't worry about it.'
Yeah that's right, I totally wimped out. I dodged it like Bush and the draft.
Hey, cut me some slack people, I was under some serious duress.
Seriously, I avoided telling him that it's a bad thing, because I'm not comfortable in empowering him with the knowledge of 'silly' bad things. Of course I teach him about the serious stuff (lying, cheating, etc.), but I figured that if I simply avoided delving into details when it comes to such silly things, the issue would fall by the wayside, never to rear its ugly head again.
Ahhh...the innocence of naiveté.
Humza and Maryam are going about their daily routine, arguing and fighting and whining, while I'm going about my business trying to ignore their racket. And then out of nowhere, Humza, who is now sitting besides me on the couch, gets fed up with Maryam's teasing and ferociously yells out her name 'MiiiiiiiMiiiiii' (her nick is Mimi).
I look up and I see his fiery eyes with his face contorted with anger and frustration and I notice his left arm fully extended with his middle finger pointed right at Maryam. And he wasn't even doing it the 'correct' way, but was pointing it at her like some magic wand ready to unleash his rage. And he kept it pointed at her shamelessly, until I interrupted his focused stare.
Trying to hold back my laughter, I make my serious father face, 'Excuse me, Genius. What do you think you're doing?'
'I'm giving her the middle finger, like we do in school.'
'And why are you doing that?'
'Cause I'm mad at her.'
'And is that a nice thing to do?'
'Well, you said it was nothing.'
Doh! Pardon me while I go remove the egg from my face.
So it seems that he interpreted the gesture to be a way of expressing anger.
After I told him to lower his arm, I explained to him that it’s a bad thing and he shouldn't do it again.
So here are two lessons for all you young/future parents:
1. Never hesitate to educate your children about bad things, especially when they ask you about them.
2. Don't take lessons on parenting from me.
Although I must admit, I'm not convinced with rule #1. As the list of "Don'ts" gets longer and longer, the kids have more options to pick from. So I rationalize that if they don't know that some silly behavior is bad, they'll never think to indulge in said behavior, right?
For example, if they don't know that saying 'Up Yours' or 'Screw You' are bad, they won't think anything of them. But once they realize they are bad words, might they be tempted to make use of them?
So the question arises, is it better to educate them about bad words and bad gestures hoping they never use them or should we turn a blind eye, hoping they will do the same?
I think I'll adopt the 'Don't ask, Don't tell' policy. If they never ask, I'm never telling.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Haaretz is reporting Netanyahu as stating the following:
"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."
Please tell me that nobody is actually surprised by this news?
Well, it does add a new twist to the international outcry against the Palestinians who celebrated in the streets after the 9/11 attacks. While they were foolish enough to celebrate in the aftermath of the attacks, seems like Netanyahu and Co. are celebrating years later.
Friday, April 18, 2008
When faced with one of life’s countless difficulties, we are simultaneously faced with a choice. While the choice of the test is often out of our control, our reaction to it is not. And as we react, we are able to determine the purpose of the test.
In the first case, the response to the test can range from out-of-control anger and rage to helpless depression and self-pity. This response is filled with abuse of others and of the self – verbal abuse, physical abuse, even suicide. This response is typified by an overall loss of faith in Allah (swt) resulting in extreme actions of despair and hopelessness.
Due to the ill-fated response of such an individual, the nature of the test becomes manifest. It becomes evident that the tribulation was a punishment sent down from Allah (swt).
In the second case, the person patiently perseveres through the pain and suffering of the trials. Constantly biting one’s tongue, finding solace in one’s tears while praying to Allah, fighting away the urge to breakdown while confiding to a loved one, swinging between the highs and lows of maintaining faith in the Almighty – actions of a very human, very vulnerable believer. Thoughts of partaking in haram actions may cross the mind, but are thwarted by faith and trust in Allah (swt).
Most of us respond in such a manner, displaying our brittle humanity when confronted by an unexpected downturn of events. And it is because we have struggled through such difficulties that Allah (swt) rewards us by washing away some of our sins. It is these tests that become a means of expiation for past wrongs.
So what else remains? How else can one react?
I’m glad you asked, dear reader, for this last category is reserved for the special ones, the rare individuals who have transcended their humanity and soared to heights that even angels dream of.
These are the people who delight in the trials and tribulations of life. They realize the true nature of life and its difficulties. They may cry and weep out of worldly sorrow, but spiritually they are shedding tears of joy. Their faith never wavers; rather it is emboldened as they interpret the test as a gift sent from Allah (swt). They see it as a blessing from Allah (swt) – “My Lord, You have not forgotten this pitiful soul. You have provided me with yet another chance to come closer to You.”
And when the reaction is in such a manner, the test is but a means to raise the status of the individual. Allah (swt) in His Infinite Wisdom has not sent the test to cause pain or anguish, not to wipe away past sins, and surely not to punish; but to reward and honor this beloved servant by raising him, bringing him closer to the Divine Presence.
Dare I suggest that maybe one day you and I can both enter the hallowed grounds of this category?
(That is, if you haven’t already)
Monday, April 14, 2008
The sports entertainment industry is a beguiling evil. I kid you not.
Many of you may laugh at me for suggesting this, but I sincerely believe that sports entertainment needs to be outrightly rejected by Muslims and concerned citizens the world over. I come to you not as a self-righteous, preachy know-it-all, but as a humbled, recovering sports addict.
I'm referring to the multi-billion dollar industry that has been erected around sporting events. The enormous waste of resources that goes into the sports industry is unfathomable – the time, the money, the emotions, the brain cells.
I'm not referring to the commendable engagement in sports activities for the purpose of health or amusement. Also, I'm not discussing the obviously illegitimate activities that are all-too-often associated with sports entertainment, such as gambling and alcohol.
My qualm is with the seemingly innocent spectatorship of these sports. This includes the idol-worshipping of star athletes (which admittedly is not limited to sports, but reaches heights not seen in other entertainment industries), their enormous places of worship (stadiums), the immense waste of money in support of this cult, and most important of all, the purposefully created distraction from reality crafted by their ministers (sportscasters and analysts) and the like (sponsors, team owners, even politicians).
You see, watching sports for the actual fan is not merely limited to the few hours of the actual game. The real fan passionately follows the sport, follows the team, follows the players – they become emotionally invested in the sport. This includes memorizing team statistics, the schedule of games, and the team roster, following the latest developments on ESPN, and analyzing/discussing every possible storyline for the next game with friends and strangers alike.
The sport industry, backed by the advertising money of corporate sponsors, has transformed the star-athletes into god-like figures, by elevating their every mundane act into a heavenly performance. It's not only about *playing* like Mike, but *being* like Mike. And because Mike (or Kobe or Ronaldo or Beckham or A-Rod) is a clean, upstanding athlete participating in the harmless activity of sports, many Muslim parents view such imitations as innocent and benign (while similar worship of actors or singers would be deemed unequivocally Haram).
And then you have their temples. The billions of dollars spent on the stadiums boggles my mind - billions that could have been more effectively spent on inner-city development or improved educational systems or countless colleges and vocational schools.
Spare me the crap on how these stadiums inject invaluable economic growth to the inner-cities. The generated revenues go straight from the pockets of the rich spectators (who are able to afford the extravagant ticket/food prices) to the pockets of the filthy rich owners of the teams and stadiums, with a few crumbs falling to the ushers, security guards, and other minimum wage positions needed to maintain these temples of sports idolatry.
And then there's the business of sports paraphernalia. From trading cards to autographed balls to that oversized 'We are #1' sponge hand, this market is huge. It redirects hard-earned middle-class incomes to frivolous, foolish purchases of team jackets, jerseys, and the sort. Is it me or is it insane to see a sports jersey being bought for $100?
And then there is the intellectual and spiritual drainage associated with these activities. Many Muslims consider watching a two-hour Hollywood movie a questionable activity, but will never think twice about watching a three-hour football game (oh and don't forget the one-hour pre-game show). The sports event is justified as a Halal entertaining break from the stresses of life.
And it's this need for a diversion from 'life' that needs to be countered.
One reason for the Islamic prohibition of drugs and alcohol is the suspension of reality that is a consequence of their consumption. As mature, responsible adults, it is our duty (to ourselves, our families, and to our fellow man) to remain cognizant of our actions and our surroundings. By doing so, we are to constantly strive to become closer to the Ultimate Reality (swt).
Instead, we have become preoccupied with ways to distance ourselves from reality, thereby distancing ourselves from *the* Reality (swt).
Divorced from reality, these devotees are more concerned with the injury to their home team's starting quarterback than the broken leg suffered by their neighbor. Overzealous fans shed tears over their team's latest playoff loss while maintaining a dry eye at the news of their coworker's death. The potential of the new season is embraced with more fervor than the warm embrace of a loved one. The signing or drafting of a superstar to one's favorite team is akin to a new addition in the family. Geographical knowledge of cities around the nation (or the world) is solely a product of sporting events hosted in those cities. Checking the headline news means tuning into ESPN SportsCenter.
In the film Gladiator, Senator Gracchus, when contemplating on the introduction of games and festivities in the Colosseum, stated, "Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it's the sand of the Colosseum."
Keep the people preoccupied with their sports and they will turn a blind eye to the insidious machinations of their leaders.
That sentiment stands true today.
If Marx were to analyze the current socio-econo-political landscape, he would adjust his infamous line 'Religion is the opium of the masses'. Sports entertainment has clearly taken its place.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Perpetual dhikr (divine remembrance) defines our state of being.
We are commanded to be in constant remembrance of Allah (swt):
"O you who have attained to faith! Remember God with unceasing remembrance," (33:41)
"He is successful who purifies himself, and remembers the name of his Lord..." (87:14-15)
"Those who believe, and their hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: By remembering Allah, truly satisfaction comes to the heart" (13:28).
How odd then that we put off this dhikr when the times are tough. We convince ourselves that we have more important worries to attend to. 'When things settle down, I will return to my dhikr.' 'My mind is too stressed right now for any worship.'
How strange that when we need dhikr the most, it’s the first thing to go. After all, its not wajib (obligatory), its only 'extra credit', no?
Medicine is of no use to the healthy individual. Only when he is sick and in pain is the medicine to be administered. How strange that we have the cure to our ills and are only willing to utilize it when we are healthy?!
The need for constancy in dhikr cannot be overstated. Through the good times and the bad. Through busy times and down time. Through spiritual highs and worldly lows. From before engaging in the most profane of acts (copulation) to after the completion of one of the most sacred (Hajj).
How else can we explain Allah's command to perform dhikr even in the most dire of situations – on the battlefield:
O ye who believe! When ye meet a force, be firm, and call Allah in remembrance much (and often); that ye may prosper (8:45)
Having never been in the line of fire, I can only imagine the tension and gravity of the moment. Bullets flying, bombs exploding, death ominously hanging overhead. And yet, we are expected, nay commanded, to remember Allah in those difficult circumstances.
What then of our daily lives when we are in the safety of our homes?
When I ponder over that verse it becomes evident that no excuse is acceptable for passing a single moment without the remembrance of the Divine.
Let us redefine ourselves with constant, unconditional Dhikr of our Creator.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Check out this site called Whoopy. It’s a compilation of pictures from cities all over the world. You select a city and all the pics associated with that city will come up. There's some amazing pics of places from all over the world. I looked up Riyadh, Lahore, and Istanbul and found some truly amazing pictures.
Here is a video of the most 'vicious' hockey fight ever. You will be thoroughly entertained. :-)
And sticking to the sports theme, here's a funny video of a football quarterback who needs to learn a thing or two about celebrating a touchdown.
Finally, here's an amazing video from Tokyo. Thankfully Hajj isn't ever that crowded and tight.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
The Sultan of the times was traveling with his lavish entourage and passed through a small impoverished village. He approached the spiritual leader of the locality and offered him assistance.
'Old man, wish for anything and I will grant you'
'Of what benefit to me is the slave of my slave?'
'What foolishness do you utter?'
'I have conquered my nafs and transformed this world into my slave. You, on the other hand, are nothing but a slave to your passions and this world. Thereby, you are a slave of my slave and so I have no need of your hollow offer.'
Saturday, April 5, 2008
What is it with this whole evil eye obsession? Especially with women. This one family was coming to visit us the other day and my wife frantically came to me urging me to read Quran over the entire house and kids. Seems that the lady guest is very envious and tends to give the evil eye.
Thank god men aren't as jealous and envious of each other. I don't know many men who really care that you're making more than them or driving a fancier car or wearing nicer clothes. Although I have heard that some men (*cough* my brother-in-laws *cough*) wish they had my good looks, but I won't dwell on those sad saps.
I understand that the evil eye exists (after all, its existence is acknowledged in our deen), but I always feel that women take it to too far, constantly in fear of getting the evil eye, wary of associating with those known to give the 'ain (Arabic for 'evil eye').
I don't mean to gloss over the dangers of this sin, but I'm always amused by the extreme measures taken by some women when it comes to this issue.
Am I alone in thinking this?
Having said that, let me conclude with a lighter look at this issue (and just to appease you ladies, I'll use two men in the story):
There was once a young, pious man (hmmm...let's just call him Naeem) who constantly prayed in an isolated cave outside of town. He would religiously withdraw to the quiet spot, performing long acts of deep worship and contemplation.
After one such session, he heard a booming voice, "Oh Naeem, make a prayer and it shall be granted." Startled, he quickly prayed, "Ya Allah, please bless me and my family with abundant sustenance so that we can dedicate our lives to worshiping and serving You."
And so it was that Allah (swt) blessed his family with abundant wealth. True to his word, Naeem used that wealth for the purpose of worshiping his Lord. His family joined his efforts and they all became known throughout the town as charitable, merciful people.
So one day, a close friend came to visit Naeem (ohhh...let's call him Saleem) and asked him what the secret was to his good fortune. At first Naeem hesitated, but seeing that Saleem was sincere in his query, he confided with him the secret of his success.
Saleem decided to follow the same route and for years toiled in deep meditation and worship in the same cave that Naeem used to visit. Eventually one day, a voice declared to him, "Oh Saleem, make a prayer and it will be granted."
With tears of joy streaming down his cheeks, thrilled at the acceptance of his long struggle, he raised his hands and prayed, "Ya Allah, I am so grateful to You for accepting my efforts, so I will make my request short and simple. Please put an end to the wealth You have bestowed upon Naeem."
Thursday, April 3, 2008
We all know the story of Abraha and the battalion of elephants that he employed to destroy the Kaaba. Sura Fil in the Quran is dedicated to recounting his foolish antics and the ensuing punishment from Allah (swt) - a brigade of birds armed with powerful pebbles.
The miracle (and its poetic justice) is how the tiniest of birds with the tiniest of pebbles were able to destroy the mightiest of armies.
The lesson is not one for the history books. The tale of this assault on the house of Allah lives on - every single day.
Let us begin by reflecting on how Allah Himself declared the heart of the believer to be His blessed home:
"Neither the Heavens nor the Earth could accommodate Me, but the heart of my servant is a house for me."
And it is this very house of Allah, the precious heart of the Mumin, that is constantly being attacked by shaytaan and his mighty forces.
And Allah has armed us feeble humans with seemingly insignificant (to us) pebbles to fend off this ferocious army - pebbles with the same miraculous powers of the pebbles in Sura Fil.
Performing good deeds, busying the tongue with the constant remembrance of Allah, and of course the ever-powerful dua’a. They may seem petty and trifle, but these pebbles have the power to wipe out the dark forces of Shaytaan.
Let us protect the house of Allah inside all of us, in the same manner that Allah (swt) protected His house in Mecca.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
When I first read this piece at HuffPo I didn't think much of it. I actually brushed it aside thinking it a sad fulfillment of our dear Prophet Muhammad's 1400 year old prophecy (Muslims will one day be as the foam on the ocean – in such great volume but of little weight/value). It even depressed me a little when I thought of the vast potential that is being squandered on a daily basis.
But it was only when I read Br. Dawud's entry on this topic that I felt inspired to turn my frown upside-down. If nothing else, this news ought to be used as an opportunity for praising and glorifying our Creator. I really like how he cited Sura Nasr as a reminder of what we all should do when reminded of the masses entering the folds of Islam.
At the end of the day, no matter how miserable our plight may seem, there are over a billion people that have recognized the truth of our Creator and His beloved messenger.
So let us put aside all the negativity permeating our daily lives and celebrate this news with an extra prayer or some extra dhikr, preferably in the company of family or friends – spread the Good News!
And you see that the people enter Allah’s religion (Islam) in crowds, So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His Forgiveness. (110:2-3)