Friday, December 11, 2009

Radicalized American Muslims

The devil has made a nest in the American Muslim community and has successfully taken to hell some of our young men. The case of Somali boys from Minneapolis area returning to Somalia to join "Jihad" is about a year old. More recently, we had that Khabees Major Nidal Malik Hassan and now the bunch of young boys in Pakistan.

What's at stake is our very future and it doesn't get more serious than this. We need to find out who's doing it and weed them out. Thankfully, a first stone has been cast in this direction, but there is a lot more to do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where's Obama's Savvy?

Has Obama lost it? Where's the passion and the constant vigilance of his campaign?

Extremists have taken hold of the so-called debate on healthcare. Downright lies and scare tactics are growing roots. During his campaign, Obama's team would be there to fact-check and fix the nasty stuff. Not so on this healthcare reform issue.

We had a president of questionable intelligence aided by a vice president who had no respect for this country's constitution or traditions. Yet, they managed to get their way for most of their 2 terms. Yet, on healthcare reform we have people screaming "we want our country back" and "say no to socialism" - funny how that works.

If Obama lets others define him and his position on healthcare reform, it doesn't bode well for the rest of his presidency. Maybe instead of going on ritzy vacations, he ought to bring back the troops from his campaign to set the record straight on this critical issue?

Lastly, I mourn the nivite of my fellow citizens. The only people protesting this reform should be the super-wealthy insurance companies (i.e. the major shareholders in those companies). To say our healthcare system is broken is such an understatement. Yet, they have been scared into thinking the fix is better than their present state. Sigh!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Twitter Hype Machine - Give me a Break!

If Twitter ran for President of the United States last year, I have a feeling Obama would not have made the history he did. Twitter's PR department seems to have embraced and proven the observation of some perceptive figure in history who had noted that the bigger the lie, more readily people believed in it.

Her Royal Highness Queen Nur of Jordan has a Twitter account, she actually posts stuff so the rest of us can know how grateful she is to be married. His Highness, the Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Mohammed has an account verified to be his (yeah, with a Twitter ID of HHShaikhMohammed). I am waiting for their press release that Michael Jackson has been Tweeting from the other side (Suggested Tweeter ID NDMichaelJackson for Now Deceased Michael Jackson). This last one would be really helpful, it would save California courts a lost of time and California taxpayers could use a break.

This morning Twitter's server went down (again). My reaction to this cataclysmic event:

This is yet another irrefutable proof of the fact that Twitter is the fastest growing company in the history of humans, apes, microbes and celebrities. Data center cables must have literally burst into flames and melted as a result of the heavy traffic to Twitter’s servers…needing liquid Nitrogen to control the imminent fire.

Northern Air Command (NORAD) must appeal the Armed Services Committee to buy Twitter more cryo-server farms so homeland security is not compromised.

The only down side to this outage is that the democracy movement in Iran will not be able to oust Ahmadinejad for another 48 hours. Oh, not to mention, Obama’s economic recovery is going to take a few days longer. Sigh! We hope there has been no impact on the timeline for the cure for cancer and AIDS. This certainly must have disrupted the routine of the 200 million malnourished humans around the world, imagine, having to wait for their tweets!

On a serious note, Twitter’s PR department must be away on summer break. I was shocked Bill Clinton did not attribute his success in bringing home the journalists to Twitter and he didn’t post tweets during his dinner with KJI.

Update: Obviously, I am not the first to have figured out this hype machine's amazing performance. However, as with any eventually starts to catch up with you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Compromised Bedrock

A set of common core values and systems have served as the foundation on which America became a wealthy, powerful and even great nation. Many of these core values and systems have constantly been under threat and the onslaught has never been more blatant as in the present times.

Consider capitalism. A system that establishes rights of individuals and private enterprises and defines a framework in which people invest, buy and sell in order to advance their personal interest. The magic in capitalism was that in pursuing such self interest the common interest was also advanced (within limits of course, and often regulation was required to ensure that). I believe those days are over - regulation can't keep up with the thieves and the abuse has become shamelessly blatant.

Let me explain. Capitalism was epitomized by Wall Street which, in theory, provides a level playing field by making information available to everyone so the collective marketplace can determine the true value of any publicly traded company and no one has any unfair edge on information (knowledge) which translates into money and wealth. Tell me how badly this institution must be breached when Goldman Sachs reported making over $100 Million on 46 out of roughly 60 trading days in April, May and June of this year (and that in a bad economy). A bunch of people sitting in posh offices made money at such amazing levels merely "trading" which generates absolutely no tangibel or intangible asset of value (no inventions, no products, no new ideas from which any human derives any benefit). On all but two days in those three months, they made over $50MM.

Legally sanctioned heists of this sort will leave our society weakened and permanently damaged.

I say the fort called the United States of America has been breached and it cannot stand intact too long unless corrective action is taken. Thieves have figured out paths and channels that the rest of us do not know and it is only a matter of time before this thing collapses. Is anyone doing anything about it?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Twittering to Another Extreme

Growing up in the Eastern world, I was told that westerners are reserved by nature and cherish their privacy. When making small talk, I was told, it is best to stick to general subjects - such as weather and sports. On matters of faith, politics and personal life, they tend to shy off from talking to strangers. There is a fair bit of truth in this. The emphasis on individual living, decision-making and making the individual a priority is distinctly a Western trait. And in the 21st century, "Western" is not a geographical reference, it includes numerous places in the east that have adopted these norms. The emphasis on personal, individual and private to me has been a bit extreme.

In contrast, eastern societies have been more community-based. Your business was often everybody's business. Home was always abode to multiple generations, so people got married and continued to live under the same roof as their parents and other siblings. Over time people slowly moved to their own space (which is why you never find the entire village living under the same roof). I find this a more moderate approach.

The thing about moderation is, it is like an engineering system that has stabilized. Extremism is akin to an oscillating system which goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. What's true for engineering systems seems to be true for social systems too.

It is true that many eastern societies seem to be rapidly adopting western ways along with western gadgets, tools and technology and that is subject for another discussion. For now, I am marveling at the fact that in a mere twenty years I have seen my otherwise reserved and private neighbors swing to the other extreme in a phenomenon called Twittering.

Its tag line says "What are you doing?" Is that something we need to broadcast? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a Luddite and I do see some very good applications of the technology. What I am marveling at is the swing from one extreme of being so private as to being stuffy to being so non-private that trivia is being shared with EVERYONE. QED.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

TEHNC Series: Glorifying Lechery

This is my second post in The Emperor Has No Clothes series and, coincidentally, it happens to be about no clothes.

I will never understand why dressing up for women in the West equates with LESS CLOTHES AND MORE SKIN. Actually, how do I say this, I do understand, but that is just too obviously putrid and objectifying of the fairer sex, no? It's true in sports (compare google search for images for male gymnast and female gymnast and I am not even bringing up beach volleyball), in formalwear where for men it's suits or tuxedos and for women it starts to get pretty skimpy pretty quickly. Does everybody see the obvious and ubiquitous putrid standards at work yet no one's saying anything about it?

Why does society elevate that whose sole purpose is to invite leching? I suspect everybody sees the double standards yet the lower common denominator dominates. And the emperor continues to walk naked while we all pretend everything is allright.

Dear Sami Yusuf

I just bought and played Sami Yusuf's latest CD Without You. So here's a word or two for the brother...
  1. God has blessed you with a lovely voice. Amazing! And you're putting it to good use. Masha'Allah!
  2. As someone who loves the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) with all his heart, I can sense that you do the same and just that creates a special bond between two Muslims. So you know what I mean when I say "I hear you." I do :)
  3. Now some bad news and sincere advice: Fire your song-writers and get someone who can write songs. In this and your previous CDs I'd give you lyricists an F grade. You can't take cliche-loaded speeches and pretend like they were songs. Your voice is good, but NOT so good that badly written prose may bring out the effect of a song. It tortures the listener, spare us, bro!
  4. What's with plagiarizing singing styles and tunes? I swear, I thought I was listening to bad imitations of many popular artists. Stick to your style, brother. If I miss Jennifer Lopez, I will get her CD.

As much as I love you for the devotion which you fill your songs with, I cringed through most of the CD.

Here's the bottom-line: This is the last CD of yours that I purchased to support a Muslim artist. On your next CD, you'll have to earn my business.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Friday, Bad Friday

I perform my Jumu'ah prayers at a synagogue (I know, that's a construct you don't normally expect to read). In the land of Evangelical Christians and diehard Zionism are also Christians and Jews who have embraced Muslims with arms and hearts wide open. As the Qur'an says, the People of the Book are diverse, some more fair than others.

I find the synagogue more peaceful than the local mosque. You are probably disappointed, but it's true. To begin with, it's cleaner. There's a certain din in the local masjid and most masajid (not all!) that does not pervade the synagogue and that instantly improves my Jumu'ah experience.

But the thing that makes the most impact on my Jumu'ah experience is the khateeb of the day. Talk about diversity! They come in all persuasions - from calm and soothing to fire and brimstrones. Some are difficult to put up with for 35 minutes. They must be connecting with some other members of the congregation but, sadly, I am deprived of any spiritual or moral inspiration by their words. Then, there's Joshua. God bless him. He does his homework. He is articulate but he isn't in love with this own speech. He comes and makes a point or two, with clarity of ideas and humility in his tone. May God bless him and all khateebs who bring God's servants closer to piety through inspiration. May God bless all places of worship where His name is uttered and praised in abundance and those who maintain them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Losing Our Way

Tagore, in one of the most beautiful prayers penned by any human, wrote:
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Alas, all good things run their course and all streams seem to lose their way into "the dreary desert sand of dead habit."

The level of fraud and deception in businesses across the world has reached that critical proportion that I think we ought to pause for a moment and mark the ending of something good that began with the rise of the Bourgeois class in Europe some centuries back. Wealth was earned, in the good old fashion - an essential confluence of hard work, ingenuity and luck.

That culture (if it ever existed) seems to have vanished. The class that seeks to make money today does not seem inclined towards the pursuit of tireless perfection. Dark souls that do not seem inspired by anything good, merely obsessed to fill their belly with more, by hook or crook, and under incredible pressure of unrealistic expectations of all around them. Madoff and Stanford may be evil criminals. But is there no culpability on part of the society that expects those kinds of returns that they provided? I believe these two and others like them are merely expression of a collective loss of our moral compass. After giving birth to a lot of good things, the Industrial Revolution is now finding itself in the dreary desert sand of habit, quite lost, I am afraid. And it is producing toxic stuff.

Legitimate profits have yielded to Ponzi schemes. More than a century of medical miracles and this civilization is now floundering in the direction of creating superbugs that threaten all humanity. Ingenuity is replaced by greed. Valor and honor seem to have been overcome by treachery and deceit.

I believe no matter how inspired any human enterprise, when devoid of God, it will lose its way. It's actually worse than that, even Godly enterprises, when they do not heed to Godly teachings in their proper context, lose their way. How inspired was Tagore to seek refuge with God from this high susceptibility we have to losing our way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Paging Parents of Young Abdul Malik...

I spent 3 hours in transit on Terminal 3 of London's Heathrow airport on Sunday. In that brief period, there were two cases of children getting separated from their parents. In each case a public service announcement sought to reconnect the child with parents. The first was a baby girl, I do not remember the exact name, but it was a Muslim name. An hour later and I was amazed: "Will the parents of young Abdul Malik, about 6 years old and separated from his parents, please come the the central security area?" Another Muslim family had managed to lose their child!

Two out of two in three hours, both Muslim...what does this say about us? Wonder who we blame for this sort of attitude? Israel? America? Or some other "legion of kuffar and mushrikeen"?

Putting Limbaugh in His Place

Deepak Chopra, writing on Huffington Post, set the record straight on Rush Limbaugh:

By any sane account, Rush Limbaugh is dead weight when it comes to finding a solution to anything. Like Sarah Palin, his spiritual bride, he lurks in the shadow of the human psyche, expressing the dark anger, resentment, jealousy, and vindictiveness that society can never escape. And yet, the next time you tune into Limbaugh's censorious circus of insensitive scurrility, give him a kind thought. As far back as Mark Twain, the American character has been ornery. We secretly love rascals, bank robbers, tricksters, swindlers, hell raisers, and outlaws. And when we feel so inclined, we laugh at them. Rush Limbaugh may represent a toxic form of entertainment -- and the bile he spews bears no resemblance to true morality -- but the fact that America makes room for him is something to be proud of. I don't pray that he goes away. I pray that we can keep laughing, even if our grin is crooked, at the pranks of the eternal shadow who is our companion for life, whether we want him or not.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rape in Afghanistan?

This in today's news:
"'Rapes in the country have been growing tremendously, particularly child rapes within the ages of 9, 8, 7, even lesser than that' said Wazhma Frogh, director of Global Rights Afghanistan."

Any truth to this? I mean wouldn't ANY rape, much less rape of minors, be a highly dishonorable thing to do in Afghanistan, a highly repugnant action that would draw the ire of the masses given Islam's strong position against rape and any kind of sexual aggression? Then again, Islam is also strongly against drugs (consumption, supply or any involvement in any part of the entire supply chain) and narcotics are among the largest sectors of this sad country's economy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thinking Big, Very Big, in Mumbai

I aspire never to be a pessimist. Yet, some dreams seem very big. I won't say too big, for that'd be pessimism.

On many occasions in recent years, I have walked the streets of Mumbai (where the highly acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire was filmed) in shock at how poor the city's infrastructure is and how it appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. Home to 14 million people, 45% of India's GDP comes out of this one city (I know, shocking!), nearly 70% of capital transactions of India are through Mumbai. Yet, visibly and infrastructur-ally, Mumbai is one large slum with stench to go with it.

Every day affluent people, people who have shaped the world through their contribution to business and the art world, jump over heaps of trash to get into their chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz to navigate what are called roads but aren't really. They meet and socialize for hours in their posh apartments and villas with their windows closed lest the stench from the outside ruin their appetite. They spend millions in the weddings of their children competing in who could draw more guests, then go on with their lives breathing air that makes rounds of some shockingly polluted industrial zones.

The only thing more shocking than Mumbai's lack of infrastructure is the apathy of its residents and leaders over how bad things are. In fact, I feel there is a sense of joy its residents seem to find in all the squalor. Things are so bad and getting worse, there ought to be a citizens' revolt. Not's "chalta hai". Some may argue it's a poor nation's poverty I am making fun of. On the contrary, I think there is money and the money is spent. I fear it ends up in secret bank accounts of people who face no accountability, coz it's all chalta hai. Millions of "honorable" people, a land of countless saints (going by temples, masjids, dargahs), and yet, they all stink...and I mean quite literally.

So, from Mumbai comes the following news: a grand dream to transform the city! God bless those who have dared to dream. I will pray for their success, but my breath, I shall hold not (although around Mumbai it's an exercise one could often use)!

Islam and Patriarchy

Here's what I'd call a 5-star article on Domestic Violence among Muslims (and on the broader topic of Islam and Patriarchy) by Pamela Taylor. God bless Pamela! As long as we have people who can think clearly with humility and courage, we have hope.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "The Emperor Has No Clothes" Series

Needless to say, the list of things I do not understand, comprehend or appreciate is rather lengthy. But it's not my low IQ and naivete all the time. On more than one of these, I am glad to be on the side of those who don't get it.

For example: Starbucks coffee. I just don't get it. Why do people pay 3 to 4 times the average cost of better-tasting coffee? If this was some other issue we would have had a mutiny. A study found that many American college students add an average of $10,000 to their tuition loan over four years thanks to the habit of expensive coffee. All because it's a fad? Fools proudly follow fools each knowing in their heart the taste is lousy.

So after an issue with what we eat, let's go to the other end of the spectrum. The end we don't talk of often, and for good reasons. For all the awareness and desire for personal hygiene, why do westerners not use water for washing themselves after a visit to to the toilet? It seems natural - whether it's, #1 or #2, you want to wash. And I don't mean wash your hands. Wash!!! Get it? I hope so. A physician shared his experience in examining patients. When even the best dressed person got down to the gown, they would often smell. I know, you're cringing. Everyone must know something is not right. What's this obsession with dry bathrooms? Frankly, it err, stinks, everyone knows about it and yet, we pretend everything is OK.

As this company that introduced "wet wipes" would say in its commercial "try us, see the difference on laundry day" - or was it see and smell?

More to come, IA.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Inquiry into American Corruption in Iraq

In an earlier posting I had alluded to BILLIONS of dollars that are largely unaccounted for from America's war and reconstruction operations in Iraq since 2003. Then I read this report in the New York Times which seems to indicate there is some effort to uncover details of possibly the biggest case of theft in human history.

Some thoughts:
  1. This should be a multi-generation investigation. I'll tell you why. All they have to do is follow mid-to-senior level military officers who retire in the next 40 years, particularly if they leave America's shores to retire somewhere else. As they say in such investigations "follow the money" and in this case, following some of these retirees going overseas will take us to the money. My experience in such investigations is limited to reading Sherlock Holmes (sorry!) and yet, I feel confident if we do a preliminary investigation on those officers who have retired early in the last few years, we will be able to find a lot of American tax-payer money.
  2. Here's my rationale for why this investigation should last a long time: Once it comes out that retirees are being followed, many will decide to forgo their plans, leaving the money instead to their children and grand-children. Let's watch them carefully for some time.
  3. America's future depends on its ability to hold its officers accountable. Whatever happened to the days when this country could deliver massive and complex projects under-budget and ahead of schedule? The unprovoked war was shameful and criminal in itself. Its execution has been so badly botched that Americans have never been seen so incompetent and so corrupt in this nation's history. Aside from the unimaginable human tragedy brought upon the Iraqi people, George W. Bush' low, low IQ and Don Rumsfeld's high, high arrogance are the two things that have defined this war. And I believe there has been a "Don Rumsfeld" at every rank and level in this war. While we have seen the consequences of their arrogance, we have yet to see the size and scope of their corruption. Purely on a hunch, I believe there are boxes and sacks full of American currency hidden in all sorts of locations in Iraq and Kuwait. There are billions of dollars in off-shore accounts that these officers and contractors from Halliburton, Blackwater, CACI are waiting to retire and start enjoying. I hope we can catch them and make examples out of them. We need a long-term investigation. We must send a clear message that such ill-gotten gains can never be enjoyed. If your ethic is corrupt, no problem, America's Department of Justice will set it right. I must confess, I am not too optimistic about enough upright Americans left in public service to undertake this operation. But I can pray, can't I?
  4. American military officers and contractors do not have a monopoly on corruption nor is corruption anything new - but recent levels of corruption in American public life should alarm the daylights out of us. Bringing these criminals to justice and doing so swiftly is necessary or our entire culture could spiral out of control. I hope it's not too late, although sometimes I fear it just may be :(
  5. Finally, a silver lining to this cloud. I don't believe there is another nation in this world where an inquiry of this sort was even possible. Which is why I pray that not only may America survive this and prevail in ensuring justice gets done, I hope other nations follow in America's path. Many of you might remember, the long-time Saudi Ambassador to the US was identified as the man who received nearly ONE BILLION DOLLARS in kickbacks. It was all hushed up. Can you imagine what goes on in Saudi Arabia when news of this sort is discovered? I suspect it never comes out. I shudder to think of the sort of crimes that are constantly committed and, if you have the right contacts, you need never fear any consequences. Well, not until you wake up in your graves.

Case for Buying Fresh Produce and Cooking at Home

In American homes, the kitchen has become more of a show-piece than an actual workshop where cooking is a full-time acivity. Families are raised on microwave-ready meals, pre-made sauces and soups. Turns out, those polished cans and colorful labels that promise happiness and health have been hiding much concerning the stuff we have been ingesting.

An op-ed in today's New York Times shares the following from a recent FDA study:

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Giving Thanks

The Prophet (pbuh) said: He who does not thank people does not thank God.

You will love this story: and the associated video. Pull out some Kleenex.

Signs of a Maturing Community

If you have ever entered a masjid and thought to yourself, this could be better, then you owe it to yourself to attend this conference.

This is another step in our Thousand Mile Journey...a step worthy of celebration. Alhamdulillah!

A Cancer Called Taliban and Our Complicity in Their Crimes

When I read news like the following, I wonder if there is any explanation for the insanity behind such actions:

Insurgents attacked three government offices in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 26 and wounding nearly 60. The assault was one of the most complex and daring to take place in the Afghan capital since 2001.

There are more criminals in this than just the Taliban. All of us who fail to condemn it, we are complicit.

Where are the humanitarian Muslims who rush to condemn the insanity of Israel? Where are the rallies, and protest marches decrying the Taliban's brutality? I have yet to read any press releases from ISNA and CAIR. Will this be covered in our Khutbahs tomorow? If you hear one, please let me know. Will we call upon our Lord to rid the ummah of such fitnah?

What can explain mindless actions other than a primitive, tribal culture and civilization?

The irony is, Taliban literally means seekers of knowledge. A second irony is that such fitteen groups think they are acting in accordance with Islam. If we Muslims don't condemn such shameful acts, if we don't do something to counter it, we will be guilty of duplicity, among other things. And our Lord does not like duplicity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To Dream The (Worthy) "Impossible" Dream

Perssimists will find all sorts of problems with dreams of this sort. They are part of the problem. We need bold dreamers!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Two Moons in Someone Else's Moccasins

There is this well-known native American saying: “Do not judge your neighbour until you walk two moons in his moccasins.” Looks like some of our American neighbors have strapped on their moccasins and are walking in our paths. Here's a video on the same, encouraging. Interesting exercise, I applaud this effort.

I believe Americans are like people in many parts of the world: hospitable, generous and kind. Americans have one more trait that people in many parts of the world lack: they tend to be non-judgmental. However, the things that have made the world judgmental and nations less hospitable have arrived in America in the form of commentary from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. They appeal to humanity's lesser instincts just as a generation of semi-literate mullahs have in many Muslim countries.

While we don't always need as close an appreciation for how the world appears to someone else as in the experiment above, I do believe it makes us better neighbors, even adversaries, to be sensitive to it. Something as simple as appreciating the other side's perspective can significantly reduce misunderstanding, conflict and even violence.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Whither The Roots of Dubai?

People find all sorts of reasons to love and hate New York city. I too have a list of things I would want to see different in the Big Apple (affordable parking for one). But I marvel at the inspiration and courage that God endowed certain people with to build those bridges and tunnels. Really, think about it. There must have been skeptics and doomsdayers when plans were laid to build under-water highways in what became Holland and Lincoln tunnels? Or to stretch that vast span across the Hudson called The George Washington Bridge? Surely some of the very people behind those ideas must have faced self-doubt? Yet the enterprising human spirit overcame skepticism and doubt and we have the vast, bold statement of human will and ingenuity in block after neat block of steel and glass rising to meet the sky.

I drag New York City in to all of this to make the point that I am, to a fault, a fan of the human spirit of adventure and enterprise.

Yet, despite a dozen trips to Dubai in the last 18 years, and despite sitting through countless infomercials on the Emirate, my take on Dubai ranges from skepticism to nausea.

Don't get me wrong, I admire Sheikh Mohammed's courage. Without doubt, his plan/goal to do something bold to inspire the current generation of Emaratis, perhaps all Arabs, perhaps all Muslims, is admirable. And on that, I will always pray that God may bless us with more people who have such courage. But I will also pray that the courage and desire to do something big should direct as much effort to deepening of the roots (for they provide stability) as to shooting branches, leaves and flowers (for they draw attention and create buzz).

As of now, I feel Dubai is giant tree with lots of branches, leaves and flowers but no roots. It's all held into the ground by some silly super-glue. If you've read Ayn Rand's Atlast Shrugged, you might remember the giant oak tree in the Taggart family's backyard was knocked down by a storm. Remember Eddie Willers' shock when he saw that the tree trunk had been hollow and its roots had rotted away? Dubai is posing to be an oak tree that hasn't taken the time to grow roots and I find that unsettling.

To that extent, I think Sheikh Mohammed is more of a Donald Trump (ouch, I know, sorry!) than a George Washington or Mu'adh Ibn Jabal. Despite the court and cloak of a nation builder, possibly even the zeal and earnest desire to be a nation builder, he's as close as the real world gets to a builder of sand castles.

It is easier to criticize than be the one doing something...and I write this acutely aware of that. But really, isn't nation building a more serious business? Doesn't it need a lot of ground-work, hard work, difficult work in advance of rolling out the catwalks for Armani and Prada?

How do I explain my dissimilar takes on New York and Dubai? First, there is something daringly original and creative about New York. It's hard to admire an imitator. Further, New York had an organic growth. New York had a parallel "human resource" development around it. New York addresses more than just the superficial, thrill & frill needs of the men and women who built it.

Nearly everything newsworthy Dubai is doing must seem superficial to non-Muslims and either makrooh or downright haram to Muslims. Artificial islands? Skiing in the desert? The Qur'anic word lahw comes to mind. The American city Las Vegas comes to mind. Very few American heroes have come from Vegas. Many serious-minded Americans go to see the neighboring Hoover dam and the Grand Canyon instead of the lights and shows of Sin City (believe me, really! :) ).

I don't write all this to deride Dubai. I hope I am wrong - I remain a well-wisher. I hope they have focused on the roots and I just haven't seen them. If you have, please take a minute to point them out to me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

So We're All Terrorists Now?

An admirable trait in America as a nation is its quest to be a more perfect Union. It does not purport to be a perfect nation, merely one that is trying to get closer to that ideal. In it, there is a confession of falling short, and a determination to be better - two very admirable qualities that continue to serve America well.

Like many immigrant groups (e.g. Catholics, Jews) before Muslims, we are now the target of a massive campaign by a small-but-resourceful group for demonization. Over the years, this demonization technique has been perfected. Yet, the determination of every immigrant group has been able to defeat it. America is and has been the land where the children and grandchildren of immigrant laborers go on to become governors and senators.

A mainstream organization like ISNA has been in the cross-hairs of these hate groups for some time. What is interesting is the technique used. Having created the perception of a link between Muslims and terrorism (towards which many of our own have contributed rather generously), these groups now use innuendos to besmirch the reputation of any organization or individual.

Ingrid Mattson, ISNA's president, spoke by invitation at President Obama's inaugural National Prayer Service. She was very well received by leaders of the various faith traditions based on eye-witness accounts I have heard. I have known and followed Ingrid's work since she was a graduate student at U of Chicago. She represents the best in western and Islamic traditions. Modest, but walking as an equal with the best of the world. But hate groups have been pulling the levers they have put in place to label her as someone with "ties to terrorists." If Ingrid is "linked to Hamas" (which the readers' brains have been conditioned to translate as "Ingrid Mattson is a terrorist"), who among us is safe from such accusations and innendos?

There is bad news and good news in this. The bad news is, we're going to have to face a desperate group of people who have no shame and no ethics and who will try anything to besmirch the good name of Islam and Muslims. The good news is they are betraying signs of desperation. Remember how corrupt cabals with lots of power and wealth deal with a minority that threatens to expose their corruption? First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win. It's a rite of passage for every immigrant group to America as it stands at the cusp of a signifcant recognition. But we have to prove our worth and earn it.

We will have to steadfastly hold to being a just and fair people during this trial that lies ahead. We will have to do the right thing every day and ask our Lord for strength. In the end, I have no doubt as to who will prevail...this country has a fine tradition of that, and my faith assures me of it.

Preparing for the Attack of the Bigots

Fair-minded Americans are especially challenged by Obama's rise to the highest office in the land.

Many like Rush Limbaugh are openly hoping for America's first president with a non-traditional demographic to fail. Cheney recently claimed America is becoming unsafe due to Obama and he is perhaps waiting for his "I told you so" moment should, God-forbid, something bad happen.

The challenge before us is to produce a thousand men and women of Obama's caliber. The man's temperament is extraordinary. The clarity he brings on issues is refreshing. His ability to stand calmly under pressure and smile is unparalleled. Hate-mongers are plotting and hoping for things to fall apart. They want things to go wrong so they will spread fear for as long as they can so Americans do not soon dream of thinking freely when it comes to racial and other prejudices.

Now is the time to prepare. The silent majority has its work cut out for it. If anything goes wrong, the hatemongers will have a field day. Prepare! Be ready!!

Story-Teller Extraordinaire

I just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. It's mesmerizing. I normally don't go about buying every famous author's next book. Yet, I knew I would be buying and reading Unaccustomed Earth the moment my eyes fell on the book's epigraph, a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne, that inspired 19th century New England novelist most famous for The Scarlet Letter:

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn out soil. My children...shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

Jhumpa Lahiri has gained much fame, all quite well-deserved, for her two prior works, one of which was made into a movie. The reason her writings hold special meaning for people like me, is because nearly all her stories are inspired by the experience of Bengali-Indian immigrants to the United States. In Namesake she focuses on the immigrant generation. In Unaccustomed Earth she uncovers the life of the children those immigrants had as both embraced America as their home.

As I read one story after another in Unaccustomed Earth, I marveled at the power story-tellers have. Good story-tellers take their readers on elaborate, even transformational, journeys over which readers surrender all control to the story-teller.

Unaccustomed Earth has two common threads running through it: life experiences of Indian-Americans (I should say Bengali-Indian-Americans) and a sometimes-subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle sexual tension that the author builds and maintains throughout her stories (with the exception of two stories). Many Muslims might be a bit uncomfortable because of the consistency with which she holds to the latter theme. A good story-teller can glorify the trivialization of something sacred as well as make fun of the fact that some hold it sacred. Jhumpa Lahiri does both when it comes to that most intimate and sacred connection between two humans. But she does more. She lays bare the struggles of the Indian-American immigrant family from the perspective of one who has had front-row center seats to this show all her life. On things that other readers find simply funny, the reader who has witnessed life from the same perspective as the author will laugh to tears. There is very little pretension, the author does not try to be someone else. The stories are powerful because of their simplicity in both plot and prose.

What will resonate with all Muslims is the struggle between the old and the new. The journey into the unaccustomed earth by the new generation and all the joys and gut-wrenching it entails. I hope many of you will read and enjoy it. I hope somewhere out there are young Muslims who will grow up to tell the story of American Muslims and their foray into this unaccustomed earth.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Israel's Gone Insane

I cannot resist making a prediction: It's only a matter of time before Israel is going to fall into a spiral from which it will not be able to recover. Due to prevalence of recording devices and telecommunication, it has become harder to lie and hide crimes. And as a result of this, Israel has started to appear un-cool, it is losing its ability to project its moral high-ground. Any nation that starts to act as desperately as it has been acting of late cannot sustain itself. Watch this CBS 60 Minutes report and see for yourself (many thanks to my friend who brought this to my attention).

To be clear, I am not calling for its imminent demise, rather a fundamental change in its core values as a nation. No nation can live by the power of muscle alone, even if that muscle is powered by atomic bombs. Israel's founders got it wrong in their strategy with their neighbors. And Palestinians need to be more charitable and strategic in their thinking than their ancestors were - despite the fact that they have been egrigiously wronged. That is the tradition of our Prophet (pbuh). Let us compete in our abilities to be good, not evil.

I am told CBS is under tremendous pressure from very powerful folks and organizations for airing this and I am hardly surprised. I want to congratulate CBS' leadership for their bold stand. I have a feeling there were some gut-wrenching sessions before the decision was made to air this piece.

This shouldn't be about Muslim or Jewish, and for me it isn't. It should be about fairness and justice and I hope my Jewish friends will stand on the side of justice and fairness on this one. I hope Muslims will urge each other to avoid committing any excess, for our Lord is watching and He doesn't like those who commit excess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Real Reason Why America is in Trouble

Everywhere you see, the headlines are the same. People in leadership have become corrupt. The common man? I don't think so...the average person still appears to be more ethical than our leaders. But these are the headlines from just the past few days:

Mississippi mayor, wife arrested on Katrina fraud charges
Ex-NY Senate leader Bruno indicted
New York Says Health Chief Abused Power

Now the ones above are mere petty thieves. Blago of Illinois is his own league. And the real Big Leaguers just left Washington, DC and are probably starting to enjoy some of their ill-gotten gains. Some really LARGE ill-gotten gains.

Rush Limbaugh is a shameless, fast-talking entertainer who cares only for Rush Limbaugh and no one and nothing else, yet, a man so many Americans regard as their ideological leader. Religious leaders are either spreading hate or getting caught in scandals. Muslim leaders are busy entertaining.

I am reminded of a cartoon where this guy says "You know, used to be 'In God We Trust' it's 'I Got Mine'." It appears this was never more true of those in power in America as now...Obama's election being an exception and a ray of hope.

Using that ray of hope, I am hoping that American parents will raise a generation of leaders that is wired to not be greedy. There is no dignity in cheating to make money, there is no honor in being a thief. And in this task, American Muslims have a huge role to play. Are we ready for our prime-time role? We've benefited economically from will we give back?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You Don't Need "Virgins in Paradise" to Lose Your Mind

Dear Muslim World and Western World: Ignore the premise of this posting to both your peril. You are warned.

There are mischief-makers in both your communities. You should neutralize them else you will both suffer and bleed for a long time.

In the Muslim World, preying on the despair of the people, these monsters have mobilized religious zealotry to terrorism. Their message: the Western civilization is a blood-thirsty civilization. Events like the Iraq war serve as "proof."

In the West, a sophisticated and well-financed propaganda machine is at work in full force to demonize everything about Islam and Muslims. And there seems to be no shortage of fools among Muslims whose actions serve as proof for the propaganda against Islam.

Any thinking person will see the fallacy in their arguments, sadly most don't think. If Muslims were killing themselves to go to paradise and be in the company of 71 virgins, what is the motivation behind not-so infrequent news items of this nature.

If despair of losing job can drive a man this far, what could digging your child's body out of rubble do? Why doesn't Israel get this basic fact?

Let it be a thing of the past when civilizations fought because of misinformation sown by mischief-makers. Neither the West nor the Muslim World is all perfrect, or all evil. And both have some evil: Muslims have Taliban and Mullah Omar...the West has their equivalents dressed in suits and ties. They may not be physically bearing arms in the West but their agenda is every bit as sinister.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Scholar As Mere Entertainer

I attended talks by some prominent Muslim scholars recently. Hamza Yusuf is blessed with intelligence, eloquence and a memory unlike anyone I have seen among Muslims. Boy, can this brother connect the dots! Yet, I feel he has chosen a very unambitious roles for himself over the incredible possibilities that exist. Either that or nobody is perfect.

When history looks back at Hamza, will he go as anything more than one who entertained weary Muslims? Knowing fully well that my personal shortcomings far exceed that of any of the people I criticize, I still think it is necessary to take a few steps down this dangerous path. Aoodhu billah min ash shaitan ar rajeem.

Let me explain this with an analogy: There are two professionals who make the rounds at pediatric cancer facilities. The obvious one is the pediatric oncologist. These are learned physicians who use combinations of toxic chemicals and dangerous radiations in judicious quantities to kill cancerous cells while leaving good cells intact. Obviously, this requires skill and discipline that comes from years of rigorous training of a gifted and talented human being.

There is one more person you see make rounds at these facilities - very conspicuous by the way they dress. You guessed it, the clown! When children are dealing with such painful therapies, you need someone to come and cheer them up, to put smiles back on their faces.

As I left his talk, I couldn't help but wonder why Hamza, who has the talent and training to be a pediatric oncologist, ends up playing the clown in many of his speeches. O yes the ummah is hurting and we need someone to cheer the masses, but we have many clowns and far too few oncologists. I have watched him for nearly 16 years now: he chooses to be 10% oncologist, 50% clown and the other 40% of the times he's off on a stupid tangent which he later seems to regret.

Hamza brings to Muslims in America what Bollywood has brought to millions of slum-dwellers in India...a fleeting escape from the harsh realities of life. Sadly, when the movie ends, slums is all they got. In some ways, their escapism gets in the way of their doing something about their sad lots.

Islam Distorted: Distortion #6

Half-baked ideas based on slogans such as "we need to bring back the khalifa" built perverse movements such as Hizb At Tahrir which attracted, wasted and left disillusioned so many bright young Muslims. Without a substantial intellectual rebuttal, they gave birth to more radical groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

As I said at the start of this series, it's not just others' demonization of us that has us looking bad. Quite a bit at our core is rotten and that's where this stench is coming from. Don't spray perfume to mask it. We need a Hundred Year Strategy to clean up the mess based on a deep intellectual foundation, sound scholarship and education of the masses. A good PR campaign would make us look good but do we need some silly ephemeral fix?

For reform of this sort to occur, history shows us that several generations have to long for and pray for God's help before that help arrives. I wonder where we are on that timeline and with tears in my eyes, I seek our Lord's help, for He is most kind and merciful.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Islam Distorted: Distortion #5

Tribalism that never went away: Much of Arabia has remained tribal despite Islam. Tribalism teaches "My brother, right or wrong" whereas Islam teaches "truth and falsehood are not equal." As is evident, Islam is the very anti-thesis of Tribalism. Why, despite centuries of Islam, do tribal warlords and landlords loom large in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Why did Islam's adoption in these lands remain limited to its men growing ugly large beards?

Islam Distorted: Distortion #4

Instead of recognizing people's intellectual contributions through Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize and Fields Medal, we have been handing out Takfir Medal (broadly speaking Takfir = heresy) for nearly 150 years. Our greatest minds are all distinguished by having received this: Muhammed Abduh, Rashid Rida, Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammed Iqbal. First, very few among us are literate, and among those who can read, the culture of reading books and reflecting simply doesn't exist. Yet, we label as heretic anyone who comes up with an idea that doesn't fit our old, narrow, rigid mold.

Is that the reason contemporary Muslim scholars tend to restrict their sermons to entertaining Muslim masses instead of urging this intellectually ravaged nation to wake up and smell the coffee? Our culture does become the filter through which our future is shaped. We need someone who will give us the bitter pills that will heal us, but we threaten anyone who'd dare do that!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Islam Distorted: Distortion #3

The adoption of Terrorism in general and Suicide Bombing in particular, as modes of fighting. One of Islam's greatest contributions to humanity was the way it civilized the world with respect to rules of engagement and the battlefield. All that lies in a huge trash can of history.

Now Muslims didn't just go start blowing up other people. In most of these places they have been oppressed. A sinister result of that is, while most Muslims denounce terrorism, many sort of empathize with the extreme reaction because they may have witnessed the oppression. The Prophet (pbuh) was oppressed more than any prophet that preceded him. He is our role-model. Terrorism is fitnah and fitnah has been condemned as an extreme evil in Islam. This sickness will not go till every Muslim starts to hate it with every fiber of his being!

Islam Distorted: Distortion #2

Somewhat related to #1 is the Danish cartoon debacle. The kuffar of Makkah heaped greater insults on the prophet (pbuh) but no one was asked to murder anyone to defend the honor of the prophet. On the contrary, by brushing aside such insults, even continuing his acts of charity towards the offending people, the Prophet (pbuh) won many such haters to Islam.

Sincere as it may be, our service to the noble tradition and beautiful akhlaq of the Prophet (pbuh) has been no better than that of the monkey to his master in the following story:

A certain king had trained a monkey to guard him. One day, the king was sleeping and the monkey stood guard with a naked sword. A fly sat on the neck of the king. The monkey tried to scare the fly away but to no avail. So the monkey struck the fly with the sword and hurt the king in the process. (Taken verbatim from, original source unknown.)

The Prophet has been ill-served by his so-called followers whose collective IQ is no more than that of the monkey's in the story above.

The "Islam Distorted" Series: Intro and Distortion #1

Educated Muslims often think our only problem is Public Relations. And that the rest of our house is in order. I disagree. We must not forget that we declined as a nation and civilization, from one that was world-leading to one that couldn't even keep up with the world. Just that fact is enough to require some serious thinking as to what might have gone wrong.

The fixing of our house will need more than the world press becoming more fair and America's foreign policy becoming more just and balanced. We have a lot of work to do on the inside.

We need to find out the underlying philosophical and religious distortions that have led to the following events in the past 50 years. In my opinion, NOTHING in Islam allows it, and there is much in Islam that condemns it. The list is made in no particular order.

Distortion #1: Imam Khomeini's call for Rushdie's head. The whole murtad fatwa is nonsense. It's a shame very few Muslims, even among the educated elite, stood up to the massive besmirching of the name of their faith. (Same genre includes Taslima Nasrin and possibly others).

The list will grow. But remember to get more than just a good PR person.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Only the most cynical are left uncharmed. That's right, this includes The Wall Street Journal editorial team. Wait, Cheney and Bush charmed they're not cynical technically, they are in the Very Tribal category.

In physics there is this trick question about what might happen when an irresistible force were to hit an immovable body. For at least a generation, possibly much longer, America's federal government bureaucracy and related lobby groups have represented an immovable body. Barack Obama is the nearest I have seen to an irresistible force. The match has begun. We turn to God in thanks and in prayer...end the reign of those that cheat, usher in a period of honest public service and America and other lands of the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Culture Matters

If you got intimidated by the length of my previous post, here's a CliffsNotes version:

  1. Things that we do with regularity (even little things) become our culture.

  2. Cultural traits act like enzymes. Tiny little things eventually determine whether or not big things are possible.

  3. Al Ghazali, a genius and a rare scholar, deeply renowned in his own life time for his scholarship who adopted a highly spiritual path in the later stages of his life (lived in the 12th century CE), successfully (albeit erroneously, possibly unintentionally) pleaded a case to the Islamic civilization that things of this world were meaningless and matters of spirit and the business of there Hereafter, were more worthy pursuit.

  4. Al Ghazali was so renowned that his thesis slowly but surely started to deter Muslims away from the pursuit of scientific research, scientific knowledge, possibly even commerce, exploration, and innovation. Think about it, over several hundred years, young men and women made career decisions ever so slightly influenced by what a giant of a scholar and pious man had written, choosing a path closer to "piety" than "worldliness." Over time, this became our culture. New enzyme was no longer being produced, we survived a few hundred years off the "savings" from prior centuries. But we were running out of the good stuff. Many scholars tried, albeit in vain, to point out the critical error.

  5. The engine of innovation, discovery and scientific pursuit that Islam had unleashed continued to fire for a few hundred more years because of the sheer momentum (just like fast-moving car keeps moving even after you apply brakes...the brake in this case was gentle, but definitively there). Over time, though, it lost its vitality and intensity, sputtered, then gasped, and finally fell into a smoulder of its great history. The enzyme that made good reactions happen had been depleted below the critical threshold and so good things had ceased to happen beyond the required level to be a vital and thriving civilization. Essentially, our culture killed us.

  6. Ironically, just as our culture faltered, other societies which had been drowning in bad culture, selectively started to drain out the bad elements in their culture. They adopted innovation (often inspired by us), exploration and scientific methodology. Very soon, they were knocking on our doors, arriving on faster boats, armed with better weapons, with ability to predict the behaviour of elements of nature. They had mastered better organizational skills, replaced tribalism with meritocracy, embraced a culture of taking risks and ascribed heroism to trying new ventures even if it led to failure. In our culture, heroism was ascribed to only attaining greater spiritual levels.

  7. We were colonized as nations and dehumanized for over 200 years. In the great centers of learning in Baghdad, Bukhara, Samarqand and Al Azhar the structures remained, the drill was enacted, but the spirit had died. It remains largely dead till this day. The contemporary Muslim civilization despite numerous things worthy of celebration, (in general) lacks clarity on seeing its history in its proper context. (As a nation) we are slow to read the rules of engagement with our neighbors, react emotionally. Like a sharp chess player, we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Our lot has been rather miserable.
  8. (All this is said as a generalization. It is only an approximate truth from my perspective, and applies to our state as a nation. There are sub-groups and individuals among Muslims to whom this clearly doesn't apply. So if you know a certain Muslim who is all together, that does NOT constitute proof that my thesis here is wrong.)
  9. Diagnosis: Cultural Tilt that Favors The Spirit Over Matter
    Rx: Cultural Adjustment to reset this tilt (1-1-1) (i.e. over three generations) and restores the balance.
  10. Practical Change: The next time you see something about dunya that looks bad, don't shrug your shoulder and laugh at it as if it's an alien entity. It's our dunya. Pause, reflect on it and ask yourself if there might have been anything POSITIVE in what you're witnessing. Then, also reflect on what was deficient in it that led to the problem.
  11. Another Practical Change: If advising someone to be mindful of the pitfalls of this dunya, please remember to add "there may be pitfalls, but as God's khalifas in this world, we are also required to exert ourselves on matters of this world, so go forth, don't be too scared, work hard and pray may find odds but over time you will prevail, Insha'Allah."
  12. One More Practical Change: If you are a young Muslim, ask yourself, am I taking the easy path or am I exerting myself? Don't take the easy path. Exert, strive and struggle. Don't worry about setbacks, failures, names you get hard. Do things that benefit humanity as a whole. Live your life outside the comfort zone. Insha'Allah, there will be plenty time to rest in our graves!

OK, some CliffsNotes are longer than the original. What're you going to do!

(Credit: I borrowed the title of this post from a book by Harrison and Huntington.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Anti-Dunya Vigilantism

There's been some debate related to a past posting on the need to be really careful about becoming too if there is no need to be really careful about becoming too un-worldly. You see, in Islam, both (too much worldliness and too much un-worldliness) can and do lead to problems. Islam teaches us to excel in matters of both the body and the soul. But some among us have large "Welcome" signs on the booth that invites people to matters of the spirit, but install hazard signs, ring loud alarm bells and run hell-fire slide show around the table that deals with matters of this world.

I find this virtue ascribed to "avoiding worldliness" among Muslims troubling for several reasons. First, I think it is asymmetrically applied. Meaning, it has an elevated level of emphasis on one matter relative to other issues of equal, sometimes greater, priority. Secondly, this has UNINSPIRED (if there is such a thing) generations of Muslims into sitting back, even kicking back, instead of engaging with the world. So troubled was Muhammed Iqbal by this attitude that he wrote more than a poem urging Muslim youth to get off their lazy behind, recall their ancestors who embraced the world, who crossed oceans, who hungered for knowledge, who were curious and eager, who took risks and who considered the whole world and all its affairs their own. You can almost feel the pain, the agony in his words, you can sense a soul was on fire. He realized all too well that unless this ummah could shake off that "I choose that world instead of this world" mumbo-jumbo, we'd continue to be fringe players on the world scene.

The way to the next world for a Muslim is 100% through this world. It's not either-or for us, we are citizens of both the worlds and our Lord commands us to engage with this world in a manner that is just so we can inherit the next. Avoiding this world is not an option.

Shortly after 9/11, Carly Fiorina, then-CEO of Hewlett-Packard, spoke of this in a speech (scroll to the bottom where she says "I'll end by telling a story. There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.") that has received much attention among Muslims (a fellow Muslim said he wept for hours after reading that speech). She would know, she majored in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford. And the Madieval Age (ending in 16th century CE) is when the Islamic civilization was taking its last gasps of vitality in its losing battle against a defeatist, over-spiritual worldview.

Now, one could argue that just reminding people to avoid the pitfalls of the world doesn't necessarily invite doom & gloom. I disagree. I think the disproportionate emphasis tilts the focus even so slightly but definitively and sets the course of a nation in a certain direction - towards what eventually becomes doom & gloom. This disproportionate emphasis has been applied for more than a few centuries, and as a result, hardly anyone should be surprised, doom and gloom have arrived. They have been parked here for a long time. Just read the headlines. Just read your history books. Muslims, who once set the course of the world, were colonized, humiliated and often dehumanized. To call our present state doom & gloom sounds dramatic, but a civilization has run aground, people! And it crashed centuries back and it is still struggling to lift itself out of its rubble. How's that for dramatic?

Progress has been made and a lot of good work is and has been under way. But most of it is DESPITE the efforts of our "got to avoid the pitfalls of this world" vigilantes. This progress has been made at the risk of seeking the ire of this well-meaning section of our ummah that is, in my view, greatly responsible for the decline, destruction and confused state of this civilization. (I know, strong charges, but I don't use these words lightly, nor is this issue a light issue). If you made a list of the names of those thinkers/leaders and philosophers in the Muslim world who have been called heretic, "socialist" "progressive" (euphemism for "he's headed towards hell") in the last few centuries, you will have listed some of the brightest and best minds God has blessed this ummah. You can go back almost a millennium and you will see this trend.

Someone (you know who you are, I am not naming names :) ) quoted Imam Al-Ghazali corroborating the vigilante position. That's like quoting Paul (Paul as seen through Muslim eyes) as evidence for the doctrine of Trinity. Ghazali, as towering a scholar as he was, as elevated as he may have been in the eyes of His Lord, his piety having few parallels, was still human. Who am I to criticize this great scholar? I am not worth the dust on his feet. But it's not my opinion, it's historic evidence that judges Ghazali. He is the fountainhead of "this world's so dangerous and useless" school of thought. So dominant was his status that the shaikh single-handedly arrested the powerful engine of scientific inquiry, exploration, discovery (all things worldly) in this ummah. Other thinkers and scholars of his time and the generation that came after him saw the errors in Ghazali's thinking, foresaw its dire consequences, many sounded the alarm bells, all in vain. Ghazali's lofty status, his renowned piety, became the basis for the ummah to reject every other viewpoint. The brakes had been applied by that slight asymmetry in emphasis. Over time the great engine ran out of steam, and innovation came to a halt. Muslims were sitting ducks when the colonizers arrived. The rest, quite literally, is history. Many a great civilization has been gutted by strategic mistakes, and sometimes strategy amounts to a slight asymmetry on a seemingly harmless principle or a fine point. We are the inheritors of one such.

So stop with this "got to be careful with dunya" bit already. If someone were to say "we have to be careful with everything" I shall gladly cede that. The struggle today is to shake that mantle off where one who excels in matters of this world is seen is somehow being corrupt or at any greater risk for hell fire than the one who locks himself in the comfort zone of the so-called matters of spirit.

The irony is, books of hadith are filled with sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) telling us about the great scholar (or the great martyr or the great worshipper) who will will be dragged to hell fire...somehow, it's only that "worldly guy" everyone sees being hellward bound. Meanwhile, generations of youth whom God has blessed with energy and abilities, use the crutch of "avoiding dunya" as justification for their laziness, lack of ambition, avoiding even modest measure of risks and choosing the easier path while a nation rots. They choose a lower level of engagement with this world while their older parents struggle to make ends meet, their neighbors go hungry, their community has trash at street corners that is not cleared, their masajid are flooded with miskeen, young women are begging in their masajid (and in some cases old corrupt men want to marry pre-pubescent girls - well not any more than any other society, but at least in other societies it is ILLEGAL), polio and malaria still ravage our populations, streets are not paved, highways non-existent, public officials are corrupt, our societies are primarily based on tribal affiliations, we have become a nation that settles differences of opinion by murdering our adversaries, fatwas have been issued permitting smiuggling of drugs and suicide bombing.

For the Muslim, fortunately or unfortunately, there is no shortcut or easy path to paradise. I have witnessed the escapist Muslim desire expressed as "let me go on jihad (while my family that needs me here is abandoned)" all too many times. Others retreat into "Islamic work" which barely challenges them but keeps them well within comfort zone. Yet others take pride in being "content with the little God gave us." I want to grab young Muslim men by the collar and push them out into where the heat is so they sweat every day and feel challenged. Why are they so content earning just enough for their own few? Why isn't their soul agitated in this world where there is so much suffering, poverty, diseases, hunger and injustice? Why are they not less sure about whether or not their Lord is pleased with them? Why has the Lord so disfavored them that He has robbed them of ambition?

Thus the idea that "we're not people of this dunya" is one I consider possibly the most dangerous idea of the last thousand idea that has done more than its share of damage already. I don't think it was done with malice, but some of the greatest calamities have been brought about by by folks who had nothing more than good intentions.

As I reflect on colonialism, racism, the Ozone Hole, the World Wars, Consumerism, I wonder what the world would have been like if Muslims had not abandoned their engagement with the world. Detractors will say that the problems of the world are brought about by "worldism" - the very idea I am promoting. Not true, I am asking for BALANCE and MODERATION - perhaps the most critical concept in Islam. Not worldism, but not unworldism either. Not Dunya, but not Anti-Dunya either.

Now you know why I find this "anti-dunya"ism so dangerous. As I contemplate what the world would have been had Muslims continued down the bold path of embracing wordliness and touching and shaping it with the message of mercy that our Prophet (pbuh) was sent with, I get goosebumps and I too curl up and weep for hours. I suspect I am not the only one.

[If you are now wondering what this emotion is all about, I suspect it's because you didn't read Fiorina's speech, so I am copy-pasting the relevant portions here:

"I’ll end by telling a story.

There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.

It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.

One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.

And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.

Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.

When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.

While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.

And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.

This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.

In dark and serious times like this, we must affirm our commitment to building societies and institutions that aspire to this kind of greatness. More than ever, we must focus on the importance of leadership– bold acts of leadership and decidedly personal acts of leadership..."]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Auschwitz and Gaza

Palestinians searched for bodies in the rubble of a building after Israeli forces withdrew from the area east of Gaza City on Sunday. Source: New York Times
Above: Picture of Corpses in Block 11 of Auschwitz. Source:
Added later: Thanks, Anonymous. I am posting the URL you left as a comment here to make it easy for folks to access it. It's a must read.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Rape of Zimbabwe

You've probably seen the bizarre and sad headlines. In fact, I believe news from Zimbabwe has gotten so bizarre, it hardly even makes headlines. A nation is being deconstructed in ways that shocks the soul.

Here's a brief history of the country:
Inflation got so bad, they are printing 10 Trillion Dollar bills.

The key players are: Mugabe, The Opposition headed by Tsvangirai, other senior political leaders in and around Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe. The rest of the world watches helplessly and hopelessly as a nation is coming apart.

How does a nation allow itself to be so raped? The fact that this can happen in the world in 2009, what does that say about the human race?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Two Faces of "Dunya"

A very dear friend, a young man I proudly consider a younger brother, sent me a news article today about the rather superficial and fleeting aspect of this life (aka dunya, lit. dunya means "world"): it's an article about the stupid Forbes 400 list, specifically about the wavering fortunes of Sheldon Adelson. His email was entitled "dunya" and I think he makes a solid point. Everything here is fleeting, we need to anchor ourselves in more than our net worth. I understand the higher the net worth, the harder it becomes to stay anchored.

That having said, I think it is vital to remind ourselves that while it may be difficult, it is not impossible. And there is that distinctly different side to dunya. The works of Bill Gates and thousands of people who have acquired financial freedom (and engaged heavily with dunya) are worth mentioning and reminding so they inspire us for they are truly inspirational. A random search on google found a lot of articles, just one of which I thought I would share to make sure we don't lose our perspective on this matter.

In Islam, envy (not jealousy) is permitted in case you notice a person whom God has blessed with means and this person spends for good causes (because by becoming one who gives, this person is truly blessed!). In Islam, the hand that gives is better than the hand that receives. With so many hands in need right now, we need more hands that can give. Go and seek riches, my friends, grow the stuff of dunya, and then, do the ultimate...give it away to help others!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Immunizing Against Bigotry

The Islamic Society of North America and the American Baptist Church (USA) got together over the weekend to organize a Baptist-Muslim conference in the lovely Chapel building of the Andover Newtown Theological School in Needham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. More than any presentation by any scholar, what struck me was the gradual ice-breaking that occurred in successive sessions as the attendees got to know each other. I can't think of a more effective way to defeat bigotry in this world than to build deep and meaningful relationships and friendships with the good people of other faiths. The Qur'an assures us that in the face of the truth, falsehood eventually must retreat.

One way to get even greater mileage out of these meetings is to bring our respective youth to them. The older generation certainly benefits from it, but younger people would walk away immunized from bigory for life.
Update: Detailed articles on this event:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spin Makes the World Go Round

These past few months I have been quietly mulling over a question that might seem strange to you: What'd John Galt make of recent economic events? Of course you may not know Galt, but he is the hero in Ayn Rand's famous novel Atlast Shrugged. Rand proposes a radical theory of human nature with a lengthy treatment of what motivates us, even inspires us and, in the end makes a most passionate case for the fact that some systems of governance bring out the best in us and others the worst.

It makes for compelling reading even at its nearly thousand pages. I read it in my college days and drooled over the words. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said there is magic (sihr) in speech/words(kalam).

The reason I remembered John Galt is because it seems that everything that unbridled Capitalism stood for seems to have evaporated before our eyes in 2008. In my simple-minded understanding of the ideas in the novel, Rand suggests that government regulation is a great crime and if only we were left to our own instruments we would create the best world possible. Beginning in the 1980's American banking system has gone through waves of "banking reform," euphemism for deregulation. If 2008 was any indicator, it appears that some measure of regulation is good, even necessary. The heroes of Atlast Shrugged can also act like the looters in her novel - call it the Bernie Madoff Transformation. (Madoff was once the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange).

While I still remain curious about what Galt would really think, I read a sort-of response to it in today's WSJ which proves how, with good spin, you can twist any story to make it sound favorable to your agenda. My thesis is that Rand's "absolute" supporters should be in retreat right now given what has transpired. To me, recent events prove that she was dead wrong in her extreme view on regulation. Yes, you can over-regulate and that is an extreme, but, you can also fall off the extreme end over on the other side through under-regulation. However, an oped in today's WSJ cites recent events and loftily proclaims: "see, Rand told us so!" Told us what?

We live in an era which could be described as: never mind the truth and details, if you say it loud enough and often enough, people will believe it. Cynics might argue we have always lived by this rule.

Israel bombs Gaza away for days on, emaciated children, too worn out to be able to stand, are found guarding bodies of their dead parents in homes where they hid to seek shelter from the bombing and the headlines proclaim "FIGHTING in Gaza continues" - Fighting? I believe the word for what's been going on there has yet to be invented.

People were dying in the shelters in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit and for days America's famed FEMA was nowhere to be found, and our president proclaimed: "Good job, Brownie." Dick Cheney wants us to believe he has been nothing more than a traditional vice president for the last eight years. And of course, Don Rumsfeld had nothing to do with the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. I read all this and I have three words for you: Who's John Galt?