Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ayaz and the Cucumber

One day Sultan Mahmud and Ayaz were sitting together eating lunch. The Sultan cut a slice of cucumber and gave it to Ayaz, who ate it with relish. A little later he gave another slice of cucumber to Ayaz and took one himself. But when Sultan Mahmud bit into the cucumber, he immediately spit it out as it tasted terrible — chalky and bitter. He glared at Ayaz and accused him of tricking him into eating the foul vegetable by pretending it was delicious.

Ayaz answered, 'No, my dear Sultan. It was delicious to me. I have received so many wonderful things from your hand, that whatever comes from you is sweet to me.'


Many stories are told of Ayaz's humility. Among them is one in which it is said that when he had risen in royal favour, he would often go to a secret chamber by himself, put on the old rags which he used to wear as a slave and standing before the mirror say to himself, "Ayaz, don't forget thyself."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Joseph And Zuleika

"Not love thee!---ah! how much I loved
Long absent years of grief have proved.
Severe rebuke, assumed disdain,
Dwelt in my words and looks in vain:
I would not passion's victim be,
And turned from sin---but not from thee.
My love was pure, no plant of earth
From my rapt being sprung to birth:
I loved as angels might adore,
And sought, and wished, and hoped no more.
Virtue was my belov'd: and thou
Hadst virtue's impress on thy brow.
Thy weakness showed how frail is all
That erring mortals goodness call.
I thanked thee, and reproached thee not
For all the sufferings of my lot.
The God we worship was thy friend,
And led me to my destined end,
Taught the great lesson to thy heart
That vice and bliss are wide apart:
And joined us now, that we may prove
With perfect virtue, perfect love.


"The one sole wish of my heart," she replied,
"Is still to be near thee, to sit by thy side;
To have thee by day in my happy sight,
And to lay my cheek on thy foot at night;
To lie in the shade of the cypress and sip
The sugar that lies on thy ruby lip;
To my wounded heart this soft balm to lay;
For naught beyond this can I wish or pray.
The streams of thy love will new life bestow
On the dry thirsty field where its sweet waters flow."

... Haft Awrang, Jami of Persia
(This is his major poetical work.
The fifth of the seven stories is his acclaimed "Yusuf and Zulaykha" which tells the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife based on the Holy Quran.

The Cup

The Cup

Know'st thou whence the hues are drawn
Which the tulip's leaves adorn?
'Tis that blood has soaked the earth,
Where her beauties had their birth.

Know'st thou why the violet's eyes
Gleam with dewy purple dyes?
'Tis that tears, for love untrue,
Bathed the banks where first she grew.

If no roses bloom for me,
Thorns my only flowers must be:
If no sun shine on my way,
Torches must provide my day.

Let me drink, as drink the wise:
Pardon for our weakness lies
In the cup---for Heaven well knew,
When I first to being sprung
I should love the rosy dew,

And its praise would oft be sung.
'Twere impiety to say
We would cast the cup away,
And be votaries no more,
Since it was ordained before.

... Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam

Ibn Battuta's Travels

Was looking through some photographs of old historical mosques and came across this ancient Grand Mosque of Damascus, or is popularly known as the Umayyad Mosque.

The tomb of Saladin stands in a small garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque. In addition, the mosque holds a shrine which is said to contain the head of John the Baptist, who is honored as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims.

In 2001, the late Pope John Paul II visited the mosque, primarily to visit the relics of John the Baptist. It was the first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque.

With so much historical value, I was reminded of an earlier description of this mosque, which used to be a temple and a church, by a celebrated Muslim traveller, Ibn Battuta. In his travelogue, Travels in Asia and Africa, he described the mosque as follows:

"The Cathedral Mosque, known as the Umayyad Mosque, is the most magnificent mosque in the world, the finest in construction and noblest in beauty, grace and perfection; it is matchless and unequalled. The person who undertook its construction was the Caliph Walid I [AD 705-715]. He applied to the Roman Emperor at Constantinople, ordering him to send craftsmen to him, and the Emperor sent him twelve thousand of them. The site of the mosque was a church, and when the Muslims captured Damascus, one of their commanders entered from one side by the sword and reached as far as the middle of the church, while the other entered peaceably from the eastern side and reached the middle also. So the Muslims made the half of the church which they had entered by force into a mosque and the half which they had entered by peaceful agreement remained as a church. When Walid decided to extend the mosque over the entire church he asked the Greeks to sell him their church for whatsoever equivalent they desired, but they refused, so he seized it. The Christians used to say that whoever destroyed the church would be stricken with madness and they told that to Walid. But he replied "I shall be the first to be stricken by madness in the service of God," and seizing an axe, he set to work to knock it down with his own hands. The Muslims on seeing that followed his example, and God proved false the assertion of the Christians.

This mosque has four doors. The southern door, called the "Door of Increase," is approached by a spacious passage where the dealers in second-hand goods and other commodities have their shops. Through it lies the way to the [former] Cavalry House, and on the left as one emerges from it is the coppersmiths' gallery, a large bazaar, one of the finest in Damascus, extending along the south wall of the mosque. This bazaar occupies the site of the palace of the Caliph Mu'awwiyah I, which was called al Khadri [The Green Palace]; the Abbasids pulled it down and a bazaar took its place.

The eastern door, called the Jayrun door, is the largest of the doors of the mosque. It also has a large passage, leading out to a large and extensive colonnade which is entered through a quintuple gateway between six tall columns. Along both sides of this passage are pillars, supporting circular galleries, where the cloth merchants amongst others have their shops; above these again are long galleries in which are the shops of the jewellers and booksellers and makers of admirable glass-ware. In the square adjoining the first door are the stalls of the principal notaries, in each of which there may be five or six witnesses in attendance and a person authorized by the qadi to perform marriage-ceremonies. The other notaries are scattered throughout the city. Near these stalls is the bazaar of the stationers who sell paper, pens, and ink. In the middle of the passage there is a large round marble basin, surrounded by a pavilion supported on marble columns but lacking a roof. In the centre of the basin is a copper pipe which forces out water under pressure so that it rises into the air more than a man's height. They call it "The Waterspout" and it is a fine sight. To the right as one comes out of the Jayrun door, which is called also the "Door of the Hours," is an upper gallery shaped like a large arch, within which there are small open arches furnished with doors, to the number of the hours of the day. These doors are painted green on the inside and yellow on the outside, and as each hour of the day passes the green inner side of the door is turned to the outside, and vice versa. They say that inside the gallery there is a person in the room who is responsible for turning them by hand as the hours pass.

The western door is called the "Door of the Post"; the passage outside it contains the shops of the candlemakers and a gallery for the sale of fruit.

The northern door is called the "Door of the Confectioners"; it too has a large passageway, and on the right as one leaves it is a khanqah, which has a large basin of water in the centre and lavatories supplied with running water. At each of the four doors of the mosque is a building for ritual ablutions, containing about a hundred rooms abundantly supplied with running water."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) - Baz Luhrmann

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists

Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
than my own meandering experience… I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh never mind;
you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and
recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you
and how fabulous you really looked…
You’re not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future;
or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve
an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind;
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts,
don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes
you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you
succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…
the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives,
some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…
what ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either –
your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…
don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it,
it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own...
Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past
and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go,
but for the precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
because the older you get, the more you need the people
you knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard;
live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths:
prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old,
and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young
prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund,
maybe you have a wealthy spouse;
but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair,
or by the time you're 40, it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but,
be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia,
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal,
wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and
recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen…

Love And Lover

Love and lover have no rigid doctrine.
Whichever direction the lover takes,
he turns toward his Beloved.

Wherever he may be, he is with his Beloved.
Wherever he goes, he is with his Beloved.

He cannot do anything,
cannot survive for even a moment,
without his Beloved.

As his Beloved remembers him.
Lover and beloved,
rememberer and remembered,
are ever in each other's company,
always together.

... Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak

Carry Me In Your Arms

When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, I’ve got something to tell you. She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes.

Suddenly I didn’t know how to say it. But I had to let her know what I was thinking. I want a divorce. I raised the topic calmly. She didn’t seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, why? I avoided her question. This made her angry. She shouted at me, ” you are not a man!”

That night, we didn’t talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; I had lost my heart to a lovely girl called Linda. I didn’t love her anymore. I just pitied her!

With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, 30% shares of my company and the car. She glanced at it and then tore it to pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources and energy but I could not take back what I had said, for I loved Linda so dearly.

Finally she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me, her cry was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.

The next day, I came back home very late and found her writing something at the table. I didn’t have supper but went straight to sleep and fell fast asleep because I was tired after an eventful day with Linda. When I woke up, she was still there at the table writing. I just didn't care so I turned over and was asleep again.

In the morning she presented her divorce conditions: she didn’t want anything from me, but needed a month’s notice before the divorce. She requested that in that one month, we both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple: our son had his exams in a month’s time and she didn’t want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.

This was agreeable to me. But she had something more, she asked me to recall how I had carried her into our bridal room on our wedding day. She requested that everyday for the month’s duration I carry her out of our bedroom to the front door ever morning. I thought she was going crazy.

Just to make our last days together bearable I accepted her odd request. I told Linda about my wife’s divorce conditions. She laughed loudly and thought it was absurd. No matter what tricks she has, she has to face the divorce, she said scornfully. My wife and I hadn’t had any physical contact since my divorce intention was explicitly expressed. So when I carried her out on the first day, we both appeared clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, daddy is holding mummy in his arms. His words brought me a sense of pain. From the bedroom to the sitting room, then to the door, I walked over ten meters with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly, don’t tell our son about the divorce. I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work. I drove alone to the office.

On the second day, both of us acted much more easily. She leaned on my chest. I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn’t looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face, her hair was greying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute I wondered what I had done to her.

On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me. On the fifth and sixth day, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing again. I didn’t tell Linda about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout made me stronger.

She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed, all my dresses have grown bigger. I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin, that was the reason why I could carry her more easily. Suddenly it hit me: she had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart.

Subconsciously I reached out and touched her head. Our son came in at the moment and said, Dad, it’s time to carry mum out. To him, seeing his father carrying his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come close and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the sitting room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day.

But her much lighter weight made me sad. On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, I hadn’t noticed that our life lacked intimacy. I drove to office… jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind… I walked upstairs. Linda opened the door and I said to her, Sorry, Linda, I do not want the divorce anymore.

She looked at me, astonished. Then touched my forehead. Do you have a fever? She said. I moved her hand off my head. Sorry, Linda, I said, I won’t divorce my wife. My marriage life was boring probably because she and I didn’t value the details of our lives, not because we didn’t love each other any more. Now I realized that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day I am supposed to hold her until one of us departs this world.

Linda seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a loud slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked downstairs and drove away. At the floral shop on the way, I ordered a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The sales girl asked me what to write on the card. I smiled and wrote: I ll carry you out every morning until we are old.

The small details of our lives are what really matter in a relationship. It is not the mansion, the car, the property, the bank balance that matters. These create an environment conducive for happiness but cannot give happiness in themselves. So find time to be your spouse’s friend and do those little things for each other that build a relationship.

Courtesy: al-Islaah Publication, with minor modifications

Leading Our Own Lives

"When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that person' s life.

And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own."

... The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

The Three Travellers

Three travelers on a long and exhausting journey had become companions, and shared the same pleasures and sorrows, pooling all their resources. After many days they realized that all they had between them was a piece of bread and a mouthful of water in a flask. They fell to quarrelling as to who should have all the food. Making no progress on this score, they tried to divide the bread and water. Still they could not arrive at a conclusion.

As dusk was falling, one finally suggested that they should sleep. When they awoke, the person who had the most remarkable dream would decide what should be done.

The next morning the three rose as the sun came up and the first traveler said, "This is my dream: I was carried away to places such as cannot be described, so wonderful and serene were they. I met a wise man who said to me, 'You deserve the food, for your past and future life are worthy and suitable subjects for admiration.'"

"How strange," said the second traveler. "For in my dream, I actually saw all my past and my future. In my future I saw a man of great knowledge, who said, 'You deserve the bread more than your friends, for you are more learned and patient. You must be well-nurtured, for you are destined to lead men,'"

The third traveler said, "In my dream I saw nothing, heard nothing, said nothing. I felt a compelling presence which forced me to get up, find the bread and water, and consume them then and there. And this is what I did."

The two companions were very angry and demanded to know why they were not called when the mysterious power compelled him to consume the bread.

"But you were far from here! One of you was carried away to far places and the other to another time! How could you hear my calling?" he replied.

The Pearl

A single drop of rain fell from a cloud in the sky
But was filled with shame when it saw the sea so wide.

'Next to the sea then, who am I?
If the sea exists, then how can I?'

While looking down on itself
With the eyes of contempt,
An oyster in its shell,
Took it in for nourishment.

And so it was, that its fate was sealed by this event,
And it became a famous pearl to adore a king's head.
Having descended to the depths,
It was now exalted to the heights.
On the portal of non existence it went knocking,
Until it finally was transformed into being.

... Sa'di of Shiraz

Just Desserts

Had a most wonderful night of desserts - and I mean heavenly desserts... Tapas to be exact - so almost every conceivable desserts available in the restaurant, in bite sizes. I ate them all, with some good friends, and blamed them for it - how nicely convenient :)

The English word "dessert" comes from the French verb "desservir", meaning "to clear away" (to be thorough, it also means "to do a disservice to" and to serve in a transporation sense.)

Many people think that "in the good old days", every meal ended with dessert. That, however, was actually a very narrow period of history starting in the mid-1800s on, when people could provide it because they could afford it regularly, either because they were well-off in the Old World or because the abundance of the New World was making everyone a "king" at his own table. Then at the end of the 1900s, dessert started disappearing again as an expected part of meals. People no longer needed the extra food energy for a trip back outside after the meal to finish bringing in the hay, and in fact, they began looking for ways to reduce food energy intake. And, people were jaded by the concept. It was no longer special.

The concept of dessert only became possible when European cooking started to think of a clear divide between savoury and sweet food. The final course of a meal started to approach what we think of as "dessert" amongst the very wealthy in the 1700s in France, who would serve cheeses and meat pâtés, but also fruit, and pastries. Rich hostesses would lay out visually awe-inspiring dessert tables. Then, starting in the mid-1800s, a newly-created middle-class in Europe and in the New Worlds had a significant population of women who had the time to make dessert: they didn't have to work, because their husband brought in enough income, and thanks to the decreasing cost of sugar, they had affordable access to a key ingredient for a sweet course to finish off their meals.

Still, dessert was a "big deal". It took money and work to make it, amidst all the other kitchen chores. Bakeries were for the well-off, or very special, "count them on your one hand", treats of a lifetime. When children were told that they were about to behave themselves out of dessert, it actually meant something to them. Fruit was reserved for desserts. It was a big treat, as most fruits only appeared on the table a few times a year when it was in season. Apples were a godsend, as they were one of the few fruits that could be stored in an ordinary root-cellar.

The overabundance of desserts, available any time of day, even when not at a table, started in the mid 1900s, and picked up steam in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, people look at a restaurant's dessert menu, and yawn at items such as cheesecake, Crème Brulée, tiramisu and Death-By-Chocolate cake. Dessert has become such a "maybe, maybe not" afterthought, that many restaurants now have even surrendered in the desserts department and just outsourced them.

There are two worlds of desserts, though: homey and fine-art. The fine-art class of desserts is a skill you have to work on and hone over the years, and requires additional kitchen tools to tackle the steps involved properly. But, a rustic looking, down-to-earth made-from-scratch apple pie may end up being more visually impressive, if only because of the novelty of it, and the look of genuine authenticity.

Sweet desserts are generally based on pastry or milk. They can be made with fruits, even vegetables: carrots and beets are right up there as the sweetest of vegetables, which is why they appear in some dessert recipes - like carrotcake.

Sometimes a savoury item is served for dessert - such as cheese. People tend, though, to call this a "cheese course", because the word "dessert" is now strongly associated with sweets.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Was Yours To Have

I was away from everything and got myself checked into this beautiful resort over the past two days. I was invited last year for its opening and this was my second visit to this awesome resort - lushed away within the jungle landscape. The first picture above is the view from the corridor doorway facing the forest, the long free-formed swimming pool and the waterfalls. We got a double-floor room with a rooftop private jacuzzi complete with a view of the seaport. It was absolutely awesome being in the company of great friends sitting there overlooking the lights and ships passing by, with nothing but the sky above you and the sea in front of you. The second picture at the bottom is the view of our morning breakfast open-air restaurant. I spent hours having breakfast there, decked with a good book, company, food and of course, the gorgeous view.

I was asked by someone whether I was gonna write a poem about this beautiful experience. But, in passing, I perchanced upon this movie on cable yesterday entitled: Madea's Family Reunion of a particular wedding scene, and heard the recitation of an awesome poem - and I wished to share this with you. The poem named "In And Out Of Time" was written by Maya Angelou - and the manner in which this poem was recited by the talented Ms Angelou herself in the movie left me totally dumbfounded. You will love this ...

In And Out Of Time

the sun has come
the mists have gone
we see in the distance
our long way home

i was always yours to have
you were always mine
we have loved each other
in and out of time

when the first stone looked up at the blazing sun
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I have always loved you more

you freed your braids
gave your hair to the breeze
it hung like a hive of honey bees

i reached in the mass
for the sweet honeycomb there
ahh... God, how I loved your hair

you saw me bludgeoned by circumstance
lost, injured, hurt by chance

i screamed to the Heavens
loudly screamed
trying to change our nightmares
into dreams

the sun has come
the mists have gone
we see in the distance
our long way home

i was yours to have
and you were always mine
we have loved each other
in and out,
in and out,
in and out of time...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Disini Untukmu

This will be an odd entry - in terms of language. Since I have been introduced to this Indonesian band Ungu many moons ago, I have been unashamedly a big fan of this talented band. Their songs are truly great - bands, the likes of Peter Pan, Padi and Dewa now pales in comparison :)

Just listen to songs such as Demi Waktu, Kekasih Gelapku, Aku Bukan Pilihanmu, Tercipta Untukku (my favourite), Andai Ku Tahu etc

But as my last song entry for the day, I wish to share this song that introduced me to Ungu: Disini Untukmu (Here For You) - a soundtrack taken from the movie Coklat & Stroberi (Chocolate & Strawberry) released last year. Wonderful song ...

Everything Else Disappears

Sister Hazel is a musical group from Gainesville, Florida, whose style blends elements of alternative rock, folk, and southern rock. The group is known for devoting much of their time to fans and charity events in the spirit of the band's namesake, "Sister Hazel", the elderly coordinator of a homeless shelter in Gainesville, FL.

This song is taken from their latest album released in 2006 - Absolutely.


And if you need to just chill, a great song that has been haunting me for these couple of weeks: "Consequence" by The Notwist - a German indie rock band. While their early records moved through grunge and metal into dark indie rock, their recent efforts for which they've received the most attention have been very strongly influenced by the electronica scene. This is synthetiser all the way ...

Thanks bro, for the song. You're the best :)

Leaning Tower Of Pisa

I achieved a milestone today: I "climbed" the leaning Tower of Pisa at one go - all 294 steps of it (if you climb from the north side of the Tower - see details below) - through the most dreaded machine ever invented - the Stairs Master. Imagine the stairs on the ground floor leading up to your apartment (say on the 25th floor for example), add the concept of escalator to it: wala! you have the Stairs Master. Climb, climb, climb - endlessly ... and to add to the dreadfulness to it, there is the varying levels attached: levels of resistance (difficulty), and 'revolution' speed of the escalator.

In all earnestness, give me the treadmill or the cycling machine anytime of the day - although the cycling machine comes in second as the most dreaded machine ever invented for the gym. Despite all dreadfulness, these are my 3 basic cardio routines everytime I stepped into the gym before even proceeding to the weights. My personal trainer promised that I will thank him in due time for putting me up to these rigorous routines (when I asked him why not many people at the gym does the stairs master like me - bimbotic questions to find excuse not to do it) on these dreadful machines (my god - how many times have I used the word "dreadful" here?).

Now that the first month of training just passed by today, I have already thanked him. Apart from bimbotic vain reasons of having toned legs, my fitness have definitely improved by leaps and bounds. No more asthma-sounding noise trying to catch for breath, and definitely, I am able to sustain longer and "heavier" trainings. To my colleagues, I even exude a more positive and energetic aura. Now, almost half of my colleagues (some whose age is twice than me) - have also taken up the 'sport' and have started signing up for memberships and began their aerobics on Friday (I must remember to ask them how it was tomorrow at work :) All in all, everything is going right on track and I can see many positive results, Alhamdulillah :)

Alright, I was just too elated that I had to rant about it. Now, for some educational value - some information about the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

The Tower of Pisa is the bell tower of the Cathedral. Its construction began in the august of 1173 and continued (with two long interruptions) for about two hundred years, in full fidelity to the original project, whose architect is still uncertain. In the past it was widely believed that the inclination of the Tower was part of the project ever since its beginning, but now we know that it is not so. The Tower was designed to be "vertical" (and even if it did not lean it would still be one of the most remarkable bell towers in Europe), and started to incline during its construction.

Both because of its inclination, and its beauty, from 1173 up to the present, the Tower has been the object of very special attention. During its construction, efforts were made to halt the incipient inclination through the use of special construction devices; later colums and other damaged parts were substituted on more than one occasion; today, interventions are being carried out within the sub-soil in order to significantly reduce the inclination and to make sure that the Tower will have a long life.

In all this story, it is possible to find a meaningful constant, the "genetic code" of the Tower: its continual interaction with the soil on which it was built. Today's (1999) works for the safeguard and the conservation of the Tower with very advanced methodologies are designed to fully respect this constant.

The height of the tower is 55.86m from the ground on the lowest side and 56.70m on the highest side. The width of the walls at the base is 4.09m and at the top 2.48m. Its weight is estimated at 14,500 tonnes. The tower has 296 steps (the seventh floor has a different number of steps on the two sides, if you climb it on the north part you can count only 294 steps). The tower leans at an angle of 3.97 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is 3.9m from where it would stand if the tower were perfectly vertical.

Due to the peculiarity of the tower, there is no lift inside, contrary to common belief.

Galileo Galilei is said to have dropped two cannon balls of different masses from this tower to demonstrate that their descending speed was independent of their mass. This is considered an apocryphal tale, and the only source for it comes from Galileo's secretary.

In 1934, Benito Mussolini ordered that the tower be returned to a vertical position, so concrete was poured into its foundation. However, the result was that the tower actually sank further into the soil.

During World War II, the Allies discovered that the Nazis were using it as an observation post. A U.S. Army sergeant was briefly entrusted with the fate of the tower. His decision not to call in an artillery strike saved the edifice.

On February 27 1964, the government of Italy requested aid in preventing the tower from toppling. It was, however, considered important to retain the current tilt, due to the vital role that this element played in promoting the tourism industry of Pisa. A multinational task force of engineers, mathematicians and historians was assigned and met on the Azores islands to discuss stabilization methods. On 7 January 1990, after over two decades of work on the subject, the tower was closed to the public. While the tower was closed, the bells were removed to relieve some weight, and cables were cinched around the third level and anchored several hundred meters away. Apartments and houses in the path of the tower were vacated for safety. After a decade of corrective reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public on December 15, 2001. It was found that the lean was increasing due to the stonework expanding and contracting each day due to the heat of sunlight. This was working in combination with the softer foundations on the lower side. Many methods were proposed to stabilize the tower, including the addition of 800 metric tons of lead counterweights to the raised end of the base.

The final solution to prevent the collapse of the tower was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing 38m3 of soil from underneath the raised end. Through this, the tower was straightened by 18 inches (45cm), returning to the exact position that it was in 1838. The tower has been declared stable for at least another 300 years.

In 1987, the tower was declared as part of the Piazza dei Miracoli UNESCO World Heritage Site along with neighbouring cathedral, baptistery and cemetery.

My next target: "climbing" the tower of the awesome and romantic Taj Mahal by next weekend. Small trivia: It has 360 steps!!!

Insya-Allah... Anyone else?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Enjoying The Coffee

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university lecturer. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the lecturer went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, some plain-looking and some expensive and exquisite, telling them to help themselves to hot coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the lecturer said: "If you noticed, all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones."

"While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress."

What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the better cups and are eyeing each other's cups." "Now, if Life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn't change."

Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it." So don't let the cups drive you...enjoy the coffee instead :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Excessess, And Without

THE Sufi ancient Junayd taught by demonstration, through a method in which he actually lived the part which he was trying to illustrate. This is an example:

Once he was found by a number of Seekers, sitting surrounded by every imaginable luxury.

These people left his presence and sought the house of a most austere and ascetic holy man, whose surroundings were so plain that he had nothing but a mat and a jug of water.

The spokesman of the Seekers said:
'Your simple manners and austere environment are much more to our liking than the garish and shocking excesses of Junayd, who seems to have turned his back upon the Path of Truth.'

The ascetic heaved a great sigh and started to weep:
'My dear friends, shallowly infected by the outward signs which beset man at every turn,' he said, 'know this, and cease to be unfortunates! The great Junayd is surrounded at this moment by luxury because he is impervious to luxury: and I am surrounded by simplicity because I am impervious to simplicity.'

... Thinkers of the East, Idries Shah

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Prayer For Monday

O God,
give me on every Monday two favours from Thee:
the felicity to obey Thee
at its beginning
and the favour of Thy forgiveness
at its end!
O He who is God
and none other than whom grants forgiveness for sins!

Oh My Soul!

Should you not gain your wants, my soul, then be not grieved;
But hasten to that banquet which your Lord's bequeathed.

And when a thing for which you ask is slow to come,
Then know that often through delay are gifts received.

Find solace in privation and respect its due,
For only by contentment is the heart relieved.

And know that when the trials of life have rendered you
Despairing of all hope, and of all joy bereaved,
Then shake yourself and rouse yourself from heedlessness,
And make pure hope a meadow that you never leave.

Your Maker's gifts take subtle and uncounted forms.
How fine the fabric of the world His hands have weaved.

The journey done, they came to the water of life,
And all the caravan drank deep, their thirst relieved.
Far be it from the host to leave them thirsty there,
His spring pours forth all generosity received.

My Lord, my trust in all Your purposes is strong,
That trust is now my shield; I'm safe, and undeceived.

All those who hope for grace from You will feel Your rain;
Too generous are You to leave my branch unleaved.
May blessings rest upon the loved one, Muhammad,

Who's been my means to high degrees since I believed.
He is my fortress and my handhold, so my soul,
Hold fast, and travel to a joy still unconceived.

- Shaykh Ali bin Husayn al-Habshi

I Am In All My Creation

In a similar vein to the message of the previous entries, an excerpt from the book:

"Moses walked alone into the desert and prayed, beseeching God. "O Lord, for many years I have been Thy faithful servant, yet Thou hast never entered my house, nor broken bread with me. Wilt Thou not come and sup in my house?"

And God was well pleased with the request, and answered him: "Yea, Verily! Truly thou hast been My faithful servant, and so I will come this very evening to thy dwelling and break bread with thee!"

Moses was delighted that he was to be granted this special grace, and made swiftly for home, ordering his household as to the preparations, and cooking with his own hands a great feast worthy of the Lord.

When all was in readiness and the supper hour drew near, Moses dressed in his finest robes and waited outside his house, pacing in his eagerness. Many of the people were about at this hour, returning home from their day's labors, and they bowed in greeting as they passed him.

He returned their greetings distractedly until an old man in the crowd, a beggar, came up to him and bowed low. He was clothed in rags and leaned heavily upon a staff of sandalwood. "Great sir," said the old man, " will thee not share some small portion of thy bounty with one of lesser fortune? By the adab, the tradition of courtesy, I ask it."

"Yea, yea..." answered Moses kindly, but impatiently. "You shall have your fill, and coins for your purse also. But you must come back later. I await an important guest now, and have no time for thee."

So the beggar walked on and Moses waited. Hour after hour all through the night he paced and waited, but the Lord did not come. Now Moses was greatly disconcerted. He wept exceedingly and slept not at all. The very thought that God had forgotten him struck him to the heart. At dawn he again walked into the desert. Weeping, he rent his garments and prostrated himself upon the ground.

"O Lord!" he cried, "How have I offended Thee, that Thou did not come to my house as Thou had promised?"

"O Moses," said the Lord, "I was the beggar who leaned upon his staff, whom thou bid depart. Know ye that I am in all My creation, and what thou apportion to the least of My servants, thou apportion to Me!"

Translating Into Actions

Perhaps it may be difficult to make that first step - as in common - to transfer our knowledge, ideas, needs, desires, plans into actions. I thought it may be useful to see previous exemplary models and the following hadith came to mind straight away. All we need to do is just pick one to start with ... insya-Allah.

Once the Prophet (saw) asked the congregation right after the fajr prayers: “Who began this day fasting?” Abu Bakr said: “I did.” The Prophet (saw) said: “Who participated in a funeral procession today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did”. The Prophet (saw) said: “Who fed a needy person today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did”. He (saw) said: “Who visited a sick person today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did”. "Then", the Prophet said: “These things cannot all meet in a single person but that he will enter Paradise.” [Muslim]

Finding God

Alhamdulillah! I was involved in an inter-faith dialogue session yesterday. Each of the speakers representing the various faiths gave a lecture each, culminating in a panel discussion. Unlike many other of such sessions which I have participated, yesterday's session was refreshingly lively - many people stood up to share their inspirational experiences and most importantly, they posed thoughtful (as opposed to the mundane repetitive ones) questions.

I wish to share the jist of the last question. It came from a man who has lived and prayed in various places of worship - being an orphan, he was brought up by people of different faiths and has since lived in a temple, a mosque, a seminary etc. Now when he is older, he spends most of his time in the community clubs assisting the community in which he serves. He asked whether he has been wrong in his service at those places of worship and that he should quit serving the people and go back to the temple in his old age.

The strange thing was that none of the panelist wanted to answer this question - but I supposed for obvious reasons. The microphone was given to me and I thought there is a simple Islamic response to this.

I began by saying that he is indeed a "man of the world" in which tremendous rounds of applause ensued. Then I ventured to say that such questions are commonly asked by thinking men, perhaps for validation, but equally and regrettably, (religious) man is equally eager to respond to such question definitively. When he does so, he assumes the role of God - by replying either way. That none of us, how godly he seems to others, is indeed God. Muslims leave that role to The Wise who Judges fairly.

Islam propounds the concept of responsiblity in two tiers: to God (which is a personal relationship he builds) and to man (which is his social/community relationship and responsibility). That without him serving his community, the rest of us would not be able to be there yesterday night. In Islam, these matters are not contradictory, it must go hand-in-hand together - and I did expressed how I wished to see more Muslims coming out and serving the community as he did.

But, what I was dying to share with the audience was an educational point: I stated that the Buddhist, Christians and the Catholics share the same viewpoint. In fact the following hadith which I quoted has a very similar verse in the Bible - which surprised the representative of the Catholic faith sitting beside me. Whatever their faiths, service to mankind is a path towards serving God. Serving mankind enables one to enliven their faith in God. Knowing oneself and knowing mankind, one begins to know God. I ended with the following revolutionary hadith:

"The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: "(God) will (question a person) on the Day of Resurrection (saying)): 'O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me.' The person will say: 'O my Lord, how could I visit Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?' Thereupon (God) will say: 'Didn't you know that a servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him, and were you not aware that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him?'

(God will then say) 'O son of Adam, I asked you for food but you did not feed Me.' The person will say: 'My Lord, how could I feed Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?' (God) will say: 'Didn't you know that a servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him you would have found him by My side?' (Muslim)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Balanced Fitness

If you feel confused about my seemingly neither-here-nor-there entries (religion, music, movies, books, fitness etc) - it is a mere illustration of striking a balance of how a Muslim should lead his life.

Where the previous 2 entries spoke of physical fitness, the following 2 entries addressed the matter of mental fitness. It is not contradictory. It is not confusing. It is real. It is what we face daily.

That is the point :)


Matan al-Arba’in is another one of Imam Nawawi’s great books which have stood the test of time. For more than 800 years, this collection of Forty Hadith has lighted the path of believers “whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day". Each of the Hadith included in this collection sets forth one of the fundamental points of Islam and is a sahih Hadith taken mostly from the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim. The English translation is published as a service to the students and ordinary people who are not well grounded in Arabic.

Imam Nawawi collected and sourced these 40 Hadiths back to one of the sahabaeen (companions of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), which was no small task. From the whole corpus of our Hadith literature, his efforts to make it reachable to non-scholarly Muslims by selecting these 40 crucial Hadiths have benefitted us since then. May Allah reward him abundantly, Amin.

I will start a class based on this book next week. Students of the class are also warned to read the text prior to class and to think through the issues prior to the class. There will be so much to cover, hence preparation will be crucial.

Our intentions of studying this book are various. Whatever it may be, the benefits are tremendous. It is instructive to read from an Introduction by Imam Nawawi taken from this Book:

It has been transmitted to us on the authority of Ali bin Abi Talib, Abdullah bin Masud, Muadh bin Jabal, Abu Al-Darda, Ibn Omar, Ibn Abbas, Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurairah and Abu Saeed Al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with them all, through many chains of authorities and in various versions, that the messenger of Allah said: "Whosoever memorises and preserves for my people forty hadith relating to their religion, Allah will resurrect him on the Day of Judgment in the company of jurists and religious scholars".

In another version it reads: "Allah will resurrect him as a jurist and religious scholar". In the version of Abu Al-Darda it reads: "On the Day of Judgment I shall be an intercessor and a witness for him". In the version of Ibn Masud it reads: "It will be said to him: Enter by whichever of the doors of Paradise you wish". In the version of Ibn Omar it reads: "He will be written down in the company of the religious scholars and will be resurrected in the company of the martyrs".

Scholars of hadith agreed that it is a weak hadith despite its many lines of transmission... I have asked Allah Almightly for guidance in bringing together forty hadith in emulation of those eminent religious leaders and guardians of Islam. Religious scholars are agreed it is permissible to put into practice a weak hadith if virtuous deeds are concerned; despite this, I do not rely on this hadith but on his having said the [following] sound hadith: "Let him who was a witness among you inform him who was absent", and on his having said: "May Allah make radiant [the face of] someone who has heard what I have said, has learnt it by heart and has transmitted it as he heard it".

Furthermore, there were some religious scholars who brought together forty hadiths on the basic rules of religion, on subsidiary matters, or on jihad, while others did so on asceticism, on rules of conduct or on sermons. All these are godly aims-may Allah be pleased with those who pursued them. I, however, considered it best to bring together forty hadith more important than all of these, being forty hadith which would incorporate all of these, each hadith being one of the great precepts of religion, described by religious scholars as being "the axis of Islam " or "the half of Islam" or "the third of it", or the like, and to make it a rule that these forty hadith be [classified as] sound and that the majority of them be in the sahihs of Al-Bukhari and Muslim. I give them without the chains of authorities so as to make it easier to memorise them and to make them of wider benefit if Allah Almighty wills... On Allah do I rely and depend and to Him do I entrust myself; to Him be praise and grace, and with Him is success and immunity [to errors]."


Maqasid is the Arabic word for "goals" or "purposes". In Islamic context, it can refer to the purposes of Islamic faith, zakat (charity tax), pilgrimage or even of the Qur'an's and Sunnah's text.

Surprisingly, not many people are aware of this but in terms of Syariah, there are five Maqasid (foundational goals): these are the preservation of: 1) Religion 2) Life 3) Intellect 4) Honour 5) Property.

al-Maqasid, the book, is a guide to Islam written by Imam Nawawi. It presents the basic teachings of Islam from a traditional perspective. Topics include: Fundamentals of Faith and Sacred Law, Purification, The Prayer (Salat), Zakat, Fasting, the Pilgrimage (Hajj), and more. Famous Fiqh handbooks like al-Maqasid have stood the test of time because of their sheer usefulness. Compact enough to be memorized by students intending to become scholars, al-Maqasid contains hundreds of rulings of personal Islamic law distilled from the most commonly asked and answered questions in schools and mosques from the time of the Prophet (saw) down to Imam Nawawi. This new edition has been appended to include why Muslims follow madhabs, hadiths, the lack of mujtahid Imams and the place of Sufism in Islam. Those using Reliance of the Traveller as a text will find this to be a good overview as well.

It is also known in English as the Manual of Islam and is one of the easier to understand translated works on Islam.

I have just began conducting this course last week and will be doing so for the next 20 weeks. There are many ways to conduct this: I chose to instruct this book from a practical perspective with new presenting issues. My students have been asked to read and think of those issues before attending the weekly class.

I hope in the end, it will benefit those who attends. I pray that I will succeed in planting that seed of faith through this course. The journey is still a long way ahead...

Insya-Allah, Amin.

Personal Trainers

The concept is similar: On the path of knowing our faith, we need religious intructions from people who have mastered and studied the path to guide us. On the path of spirituality, we need shuyukh who have tasted that sweetness of faith to lead us towards tasting that sweetness which he has tasted. On the path towards health, we need a personal trainer to train us properly towards achieveing a balanced outcome. Below is an extract from wikipedia:

A personal trainer is a professional who educates people about physical fitness. Personal trainers are also referred to as "trainers," but should not be confused with athletic trainers. Personal trainers typically design exercise routines and teach physical exercises to their trainees. While some personal trainers work with only one client each session, others also teach groups of clients (like in aerobics).

Personal trainers typically work with clients to improve body composition (weight loss or muscle gain). They may also be hired for more specific goals, such as an increase in strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, or flexibility. Some trainers are qualified to improve sports performance, including speed and power. While not as common, some trainers may also be qualified to work with people who need help with physical dysfunction, including the improvement of balance, range of motion, knee and shoulder issues, and those released from physical therapy.

Personal trainers work with clients on several time intervals. Some clients meet for a single session to answer questions and to develop an exercise program (or to ensure that their existing program is balanced). Others prefer to work with a trainer for several months for the purposes of motivation, variety, exercise design, or to work toward a specific goal. And still others work with a trainer indefinitely for motivation, accountability, variety, or to ensure consistent progress.

Personal trainers often also have a specific method of motivating clients. Common techniques for motivation include demeanor (some trainers have an aggressive and commanding demeanor; others are more calm and supportive); incentives for reaching goals; and positive re-framing or visualization.

Typically a personal trainer will first do a health screen to make sure the trainee is cleared for exercise. If necessary, a doctor's consent may be obtained. A waiver is typically signed to release the personal trainer of legal obligations.

Personal trainers will usually proceed through an intake evaluation, either verbal or written, to identify goals and concerns. Fitness testing may follow, usually measuring indicators of physical fitness. These tests may include tests of strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, and postural abnormalities. In addition, body composition (body fat) is often evaluated. Specific numerical measurements of body fat and cardiovascular health can help clients to set specific goals.

For the typical requirements of a client seeking a change in body composition, a complete routine will include a warm up, dynamic (not ballistic) range-of-motion movement (static stretching is no longer placed before exercise), strength exercises and/or cardiovascular exercise, a cool down, and static stretching. Many trainers will add supplemental exercises.

Most trainers will complete a session by running through the exercises they have selected for that day, selecting how much weight the client should be using, and explaining how many repetitions and sets a client will perform.

If there are postural issues, a trainer may add exercises for the rotator cuffs, shoulders, etc. These are used to correct existing abnormalities, and at times may be used even up to a month before beginning the more basic exercises in order to prevent injury.

Some trainers begin all trainees on machines and rely on machines for progress. However, many fitness professionals believe that machines force the joints to work with a fixed axis, which can cause injury over time. They also believe that certain machines lead to injury, especially in people who arrive at the gym with pre-existing knee or shoulder problems. In addition, these trainers also believe that the body should be exercised using its natural movement patterns (instead of machines). They claim that this helps the body to use all the muscles in coordination to promote stabilization and a balance of strength within each muscle group. Proponents of free weights favor the ability to use more variation to change the stimulus on the muscle and the ability to perform certain exercises which are not possible with machines. These trainers typically only use machines with cables.

And take my word for it ... weights-less/no-machines trainings are really so much tougher :)

Being Healthy

Welcome back! And a Happy New Hijriah Year to all!

I have been inundated with many queries as to the long silence in this Blog. There is no excuse to it - I have been truly occupied with other obligations and have been busy with new commitments. Yes, there are still many things to say and to be said, and I pray it will not end, but I will begin the new hijriah year with this new resolution (?) yet again - but this time, it is being put into practice, and it has been absolutely great. Cryptic? Yes ... so intended.

It dawned on me that I do not find many Muslims being conscious about being healthy or sporty. For example, one hardly sees Muslims training at the gym or being involved in a disciplined sports - (once a month of soccer or running to the taxi stand does not count - oopss, that sounds like me :) - well, at least in Singapore.

On the contrary, Islam attaches much importance to sports and health in order to create a physically powerful generation or ummah. Islam advises Muslims to teach their children shooting, swimming, and horsemanship. "Teaching thy children writing swimming and shooting is a duty." The Prophet (saw) also adds "Teach thy children shooting and train them on horsemanship till they excel" and since these were the only sports known at the Prophet's time, then, Islam encourages all the sports known to us in the time being.

Apart from sports, it is all over the Qur'an and sunnah on health matters such as nutrition ("O you people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good..."(2:168), family planning ("And Allah has made for you spouses of your own kind and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed upon you good provisions" (al-Nahl 72), personal hygiene (The Messenger of Allah said: Cleanliness is half of faith and Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) fills the scale, and SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah) and Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) fill up what is between the heavens and the earth, and prayer is a light, and charity is proof (of one's faith) and endurance is a brightness and the Qur'an is a proof on your behalf or against you. All men go out early in the morning and sell themselves, thereby setting themselves free or destroying themselves (Sahih Muslim), medical ethics ("...We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people..." (Qur'an 5:32) etc etc.

What we find from the above is that at times, such matters are put on par in priority to matters of worship - and that signifies the importance of being healthy and keeping fit in Islam. In any case, from a philosophical point of view - this physical body which we have is indeed on loan from Allah, The Almighty. Therefore, since it is merely a "borrowed item on borrowed time", we have to maintain and upkeep it.

In that spirit, we keep our chest and shoulder open during the performance of tawaf - as historically, the beloved Prophet wants the people to see how strong and physically matured Muslims are.

A physically-abled and fit Muslim is a mentally-abled and fit Muslim. Hmmm ... now, that explains ...

Time to take out that running shoes or hit the gym, don't you think?