Saturday, May 31, 2008

Seattle, Washington

Seattle is a coastal port city and the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located in the state of Washington between an arm of the Pacific Ocean called Puget Sound and Lake Washington, about 154 km south of the Canada – United States border in King County, of which it is the county seat.

In 2006, the city had an estimated population of 582,174 and an estimated metropolitan area population of approximately 3.3 million. Seattle is the hub and largest city of the Seattle metropolitan area, often called Puget Sound, which also includes Tacoma, Bellevue, and Everett. From 1869 until 1982, Seattle was known as the "Queen City". Seattle's current official nickname is the "Emerald City", the result of a contest held in the early 1980s; the reference is to the lush evergreen trees in the surrounding area. Seattle is also referred to informally as the "Gateway to Alaska", "Rain City", "Coffee Town", and "Jet City", the latter from the local influence of Boeing. Seattle residents are known as Seattleites.

Seattle is the birthplace of grunge music, and has a reputation for heavy coffee consumption; coffee companies founded or based in Seattle include Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Tully's. There are also many successful independent artisanal espresso roasters and cafes. Researchers at Central Connecticut State University ranked Seattle the most literate city of America's sixty-nine largest cities in 2005 and 2006 and second most literate in 2007. Moreover, analysis conducted in 2004 by the United States Census Bureau of 2002 survey data indicated that Seattle was the most educated large city in the U.S. with 48.8 percent of residents 25 and older having at least bachelor degrees. Based on per capita income, in 2006 the Seattle metropolitan area ranked 17th out of 363 metropolitan areas in a study by the Census Bureau. Seattle was also the site of the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization.

Seattle's cool mild climate allows outdoor recreation including walking, cycling, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, boating, team sports, and swimming. In town many people walk around Green Lake, through the forests and along the bluffs and beaches of 2.2 km² Discovery Park (the largest park in the city) in Magnolia, along the shores of Myrtle Edwards Park on the Downtown waterfront, or along Alki Beach in West Seattle. Also popular are hikes and skiing in the nearby Cascade or Olympic Mountains and kayaking and sailing in the waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia.

Seattle is home to one of the United States's most respected public research universities, the University of Washington. A study by Newsweek International in 2006 cited UW as the twenty-second best university in the world. Seattle also has a number of smaller private universities including Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, both founded by religious groups; universities aimed at the working adult, like City University and Antioch University; and a number of arts colleges, such as Cornish College of the Arts and Art Institute of Seattle. In 2001, Time magazine selected Seattle Central Community College as best college of the year, stating the school "pushes diverse students to work together in small teams".[wikipedia]

Thin Partition

"In fact, what separates man from divine Reality is but a thin partition: God is infinitely close to man, but man is infinitely far from God.

This partition, for man is a mountain; man stands in front of a mountain which he must remove with his own hands.

He digs away the earth, but in vain, the mountain remains; man however goes on digging, now in the name of God.

And the mountain vanishes.

It was never there."

... Echoes of Perennial Wisdom, Frithjof Schuon

Two Lights

Once upon a time in a land far away, a woman named Neru set off on a journey to a village many miles from her home. She left in search of a particular dervish renowned for his wisdom.

Upon reaching the village, Neru was told that the dervish lived on a nearby mountainside. Although darkness was falling, she set off up the mountain towards a bright light, certain that it was there she would find the dervish.

When she reached the source of the light she was surprised to find nothing but an oil-lamp with moths fluttering around it. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, Neru noticed a dim glow a short way off. Walking over to it, she discovered the dervish reading by the light of a candle.

Neru greeted him and then asked, "Why are sitting here in the near-darkness when there is a much brighter light over there?"

"As you can see, the bright light is for the moths, leaving me here in peace to study by the light of my candle," replied the dervish.

Ugly Duckling

“He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the newcomer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.”


... The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen

I Was Passionate


I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide.

But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.

... Lalla

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 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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Multiple Existences

People encompass multiple existences, multiple levels of dealing and interacting with the world. The foremost level is an individual level - the level of a single person or single self (nafs) and the moral and ethical life and behavior of that person within the milieu of small scale interactions. This is the level at which most people relate to religion and ethical life - they see religion as an individual spiritual quest, morals and ethics as an individual’s responsibility, religious life as an individual struggle within their own nafs (soul) and characterized by their own behavior. And Islam greatly emphasizes this individual role through verses that indicate that “neither your creation nor your rising is anything but as a single soul.” (Qur’an 31:28) So the individual has a real, substantiative existence, a profound link to deeper realities, and therefore has a real and substantial responsibility as well.

But at the same time Islam claims a societal role for humans, and not simply a peripheral role but one in which society is viewed holistically, as greater than the sum of its parts - almost as a complex organism in it’s own right. And this role of society as a dynamic complex system intersects and overlaps with the role of the individual. So the Qur’an speaks of “ummatin” (the larger community) as having a collective fate, a collective life, a collective responsibility that interacts in a dynamic manner with each individual that is part of the society. And it doesn’t speak of the life of a community in an entirely allegorical or philosophical way but rather as having its own reality and therefore a responsibility and a destiny. “Every society will be called to its book.” (Qur’an 45:28) Just as individuals have a book that is a record of the reality of what they are and which is used to judge them and determine their fate, so too does every society have a book and a judgment awaiting them.

The Qur’an also implies a collective mode of thinking for each society - “We have adorned for each society their acts.” (Qur’an 6:108) So identification with a group and an admiration of the acts of that group is an instinct built into human beings. Every group has a particular taste, a particular aesthetic and a way of looking at things that makes their own achievements seem more pleasing than those of other groups. We value what we are familiar and comfortable with and we value that which originates from our own society (we have a group identity, a national identity that interacts and intersects with our individual identity) and we often devalue or deem as irrelevant or as something to be subsumed, that which is outside of our own societies.

So built into human nature are two modes of thinking that co-exist and overlap one another - individual thinking, and a complex, evolving, shifting ecosystem of group-thinking. This instinct to be part of a group is extremely powerful, whether the group is a nation, a culture, a sub-culture, a group of philosophers one identifies with, a political grouping, liberal, conservative, progressive, socialist, neo-con, political hawks, groups united on specific prejudices, groupings based on arts, music, business, corporations, commercial brands, technology, military forces, anarchists, internet discussion groups, groups of like-minded bloggers, groups that adhere single-mindedly to past traditions…groups that overturn tradition…and so on….

The impulse and need to form and participate in groups is a pattern built into the nature of humans, and while on one level our thinking is individual, on another it is, almost subconsciously, collective. Our individual consciousness evolves in the milieu of a complex, interconnected mental ecosystem where group ethics and a collective spirit and intention in action arises. Collective modes of thought emerge due to shared opinion, ideological direction, and will. So a society or group can take on the characteristics of a single complex individual and be viewed in that manner. And just as there is a limited lifespan for individuals there is also a term, a limit, a timeframe governed by a variety of conditions for the survival of any given mental ecosystem. When the life and vitality in the ideas around which a society or group congregates fades, weakens, or degenerates, that society, that manifestation of ideology and social structure reaches the end of its term, the end of its functional societal lifespan.

“And for every society there is a term, so when (the conditions of) their term is fulfilled they shall not remain behind, nor shall they go before.” (Qur’an 7:34)

So there arises a responsibility laid out not only by the Prophet but by revelation (the Qur’an) and by the reality and nature of societies and the laws which govern them. They have a life and death and an existence for a given span and will be called to an accounting (to their book). And so the Qur’an calls for people who will “rise up for Allah’s sake in twos and singly” (Qur’an 34:46) as the conscience of a society, as those who impart life to societies which blindly lay the foundations of their own demise and the conditions of their own degeneration. These will not approve group-think when it merits disapproval, nor allow a societal nafs-amarra to overrun their individual nafs-lawwama, but will act instead on carefully considered knowledge and inner conscience. Approval and disapproval takes on a metaphysical quality as the individual binds or distances himself from the reality which a society or group generates for themselves - and so we each are called upon to write our part, to manifest our corrective role in society’s unfolding “book”.

... Islam From Inside, Irshaad Hussain

Dove

A dove moaned frailly in the dark one night
On a branch, while I was sleeping.
I have lied, by God’s house! Were I a lover,
Then doves would not beat me in weeping.
I claim that I am mad with love, fervent with longing
For my Lord, yet I do not weep and such animals are weeping.


... Anonymous

al-Mahabba

That which one yearns for, he loves, and this yearning makes him great by transforming the depth of poverty in the yearning of His slave, his need and his longing to give Him everything, what his heart truly desires. This yearning (al-himma) is the oil in the fire of God’s passion, which makes this fire in the heart of the lover grow very hot and strong and bright. Sparks fly as the lover turns to the right and left, cooking in the fire of love, and becoming more and more tender and ready to be consumed.

The quality of love of which we speak is such that both lover and Beloved are consumed by a single flame, and whether by union or by seeming separation, by presence or absence, the flame is fanned. The lover kills himself to live in his Beloved and destroys all his qualities; he empties the cup of his existence so that it may be filled entirely with the qualities and presence of his Lord.

Why does Allah give the name al-mahabba (gift of love) to this quality of love? Because this fire purifies the heart of everything but the Beloved (al-Mahbub) and the beloved is one who puts his neck on the doorsill of his Beloved and whose heart is inseparable from his Beloved, breath to breath, moment to moment; and his heart is eaten by the fire of the Beloved, yet this fire is not fire, but light upon light. Then when he speaks, he speaks with his Lord, and when he walks, he walks with his Lord, and when he sleeps, he sleeps with his Lord. As Allah says to His prophet David, “I forbid the hearts of My lovers any love except My love. Understand, David, My beloved.”

But the love of Allah has two sides – the love of the truth for the human being and the love of the human being for truth. When truth loves a person, the truth of love within him moves him to love whatever he loves. Not understanding what is inspiring him to love, he attaches the energy of his feeling to what appears to him without as the object of his love. For example, when the love moves a man to love a woman and he stops with her body, the very body he thinks he loves becomes a strong veil to the essence of the love which is moving him. Then he is moving as an animal moves and loving as an animal loves. In this he touches only some of the love, the smell of the love and the heat of the fire, but this is not enough for him to taste the fullness of the truth of the love which is moving him.

When the fire of his love touches the essence of the love of the soul of the woman he loves, then the sparks and the waves of flame flash out and return to their source in the blaze of divine passion (al-’ishq), and his body disappears, and her body also disappears. All the veils, all the fascination of coming and going between them disappears in the experience of their indivisible unity, and God returns to love Himself alone. But He created these people and the fire between them to realize the essence of His love. Whereas, in the beginning, the man thought he loved a woman, when he comes to realize the essence of the fire, he sees that he himself is the Beloved and she is also the Beloved and in this, Allah alone is the Beloved and no other exists.

As Allah has said, “I was a hidden treasure that desired to be known. So I manifested all the creation to reveal the essence of the deep secret knowing of Myself. He whom I created to reveal the treasure carries within himself this treasure, but he must explode the mountain of his existence to discover the treasure which is hidden within it.”

This is the first part of the love in which Allah breathes all the creation into existence, and the second part of the love is the return in which the creature breathes his existence back into his Lord. But how do you explode the mountain of your entire being? Plant the flaming seed of your yearning in your own earth. When a man loves a woman, it is to know her as himself, to love her, to enter her as himself, as Adam entered Eve – who was of his own substance and truth – to penetrate her body as a veil and touch the essence within her, within himself. When you use the fire of your passion to open yourself, to know yourself, and to know the treasure which is hidden within you, the fire of your yearning explodes, in the depth of your own substance, creating an opening within, a space within.

excerpt

The Advice


al-Ghazali reported that Prophet Musa asked al-Khidr to advise him. He said, "Be someone who constantly smiles, and not someone who is constantly angry. Be someone who benefits others, and not someone who harms others. Refrain from argumentation. Do not walk around without purpose. Do not laugh without a reason. Do not disparage wrongdoers by mentioning their mistakes to them. And cry over your misdeeds, O son of 'Imran."

The True Treasure

"Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against your own souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" ... az-Zumar:53

A burglar scaled the wall of Maalik bin Dinar's house one night and easily managed to get inside. Once inside the house, the thief was disappointed to see that there was nothing inside actually worth stealing. The owner of the home was inside at the time, he was busy performing prayer. Realizing that he was not alone, Maalik quickly ended his prayer and turned around to face the thief. Without showing any sign of being shocked or afraid, Maalik calmly extended greetings of peace and then said, "My brother, may Allah forgive you. You entered my home and found nothing that is worth taking, yet I do not want you to leave my home without taking away some benefit."

He stood up, went to another part of the room, and came back with a jug full of water. He looked into the eyes of the burglar and said, "Make ablution and perform two units of prayer, for if you do so, you will leave my home with a greater treasure than you had initially sought when you entered it."

Much humbled by Maalik's manners and words, the thief said, "Yes, that is a generous offer indeed."

After making ablution and performing two units of prayer, the burglar said, "O Maalik, would you mind if I stayed for a while, for I want to stay to perform two more units of prayer?"

Maalik said, "Stay for whatever amount of prayer Allah decrees for you to perform now."

The thief ended up spending the entire night at Maalik's house. He continued to pray until the morning. Then Maalik said, "Leave now and be good."

But instead of leaving, the thief said, "Would you mind if I stayed here with you today, for I have made an intention to fast the day?"

"Stay as long as you wish," said Maalik.

The burglar ended up staying for a number of days, praying during the late hours of each night and fasting throughout the duration of each day. When he finally decided to leave, the burglar said, "O Maalik, I have made a firm resolve to repent for my sins and for my former way of life."

Maalik said, "Indeed, that is in the Hand of Allah."

The man did mend his ways and began to lead a life of righteousness and obedience to Allah. Later on, He came across another burglar he knew. [His friend] said to him, "Have you found your treasure yet?"

He said, "My brother, what I found is Maalik bin Dinaar. I went to steal from him, but it was he who ended up stealing my heart. I have indeed repented to Allah, and I will remain at the door [of His Mercy and Forgiveness] until I achieve what his obedient, loving slaves have achieved."


[al-Mawaa'idh wal-Majaalis: 85]

Piety

Umar ibn Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) asked Ubbay ibn Ka’ab (may Allah be pleased with him), “What is the meaning of Taqwa?” Ubbay ibn Ka’ab said, “O Amir ul Mu’minin, have you walked on a field that had a lot of thorny plants?” Umar said, “Yes” Ubbay ibn Ka’ab said, “So what did you do?” Umar replied, “I lifted up my clothes and I was very careful.”

Ubbay ibn Ka’ab said, “That is Taqwa.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Beautiful Pearls


"Believers are like pearls. Wherever they may be, they are beautiful there"


... Malik ibn Dinar

Desert Rose

I began my journey the day I was born.
My name told my destiny.
Yet, it remained hidden for me to discover.
I traveled a long time to get to this moment.
So many cactuses I stumbled over in the dark.
No star lighted my path– I was not yet awake.
Naivety guided me into sandstorms that made wounds in my soul.
Ignorance blinded me as the cactus’ thorns scratched me.
However, these wounds propelled me forward and kept me on
a certain path.
One day, when I looked ahead, I saw an oasis.
A mirage, I thought, so I slowly walked towards it– expecting
to be fooled again.
When I reached the mirage, I found a rose.
I touched it and found it was no dream.
Entranced by this rose, I placed it in the vase of my heart.
As it took root, it became a part of me.
My blindness lifted, for I could see the true Light.
Faith rested in my heart.
My desert rose led me to this destiny.
When I stray– its paper thorns remind me to come back to
the straight path.
Each day it continues growing, it strengthens my heart and
my soul.
I water it with my prayers, my charity, my fasting.
This rose is here to stay–
It guides me to an eternal Garden.
My thoughts, my goals, my actions are preparing my place in
that Garden.
That is where I will rest my roots–
As long as this rose remains in my heart.

... Lena Winfrey Seder

Salutation

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and the thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picknicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

... Ezra Pound

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

... Mark Strand

I Am Where Thou Art

Thus Moses said, when he conversed with God: “O Lord, where shall I seek Thee?” God answered: “Among those whose hearts are broken.”

Moses said: “O Lord, no heart is more broken and despairing than mine.”

God answered: “Then, I am where thou art.”

Speaking & Looking


Don't
speak
of your
suffering:


He's Speaking.

Don't
look
for Him
everywhere:


He's Looking for you.

... Sanai

Unfailing Trust

When the Messenger of God, Muhammad (saw) - having suffered the torture and hardships of the Makkans - journeyed to the desert town of Taif in search of support, he was stoned and ridiculed by its people. After going through such hardships and torments by the people of Taif, the Prophet (saw) turned to our Lord and Creator and prayed:

To You, my Lord,
I complain of my weakness,
lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive.
Most Compassionate and Merciful!
You are the Lord of the weak,
and you are my Lord.
To whom do You leave me?
To a distant person who receives me with hostility?
Or to an enemy You have given power over me?
As long as you are not displeased with me,
I do not care what I face.
I would, however,
be much happier with Your mercy.
I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is
dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in
their right course against incurring your wrath or being the
subject of your anger.
To You I submit,
until I earn Your pleasure.
Everything is powerless without your support.

Burning Bright

In the journey of life, many events of various nature unfolds. Sometimes we require kind holding hands to walk us along our path, and yet at other times, we become that pair of hands holding others in their journeys.

Our potential to do good and to be good is infinite and unrealised to the extend that at times we are amazed at our capacity to do simply that. In a hadith qudsi, God is reported to have said the same: "If you come to me walking, I will go to you running" - that most miraculous and definitive moments in our lives does not require us to 'move mountains'. Instead, it is those small steps of efforts and of our hearts that we put into our thoughts and actions that touched the lifes of others, and in the process, of our very own hearts.

And if we reflect on the innumerable opportunities that God has given us to be and to do just that, we will be left astounded. Take those small opportunites daily, and make the difference.

To my dear brother (sakit, sakit, sakit) who is recovering, this song is for you - and it ain't about me :)


Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all gone out
You'll still be burning so bright


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No Ruin Empty Of Treasure

You may despair of finding a true friend of God;
but since the treasure does exist in this world,
consider no ruin empty of treasure.
Go to every dervish at random,
and when you find the sign of a true saint,
keep his company regularly.
If the inner eye has not been granted to you,
always think that treasure could be in anybody.

... Mathnawi II: 2153-2155

Song & Music

Do not worry if our harp breaks
thousands more will appear.
We have fallen in the arms of love where all is music.
If all the harps in the world were burned down,
still inside the heart
there will be hidden music playing.
Do not worry if all the candles in the world flicker and die
we have the spark that starts the fire.
The songs we sing
are like foam on the surface of the sea of being
while the precious gems lie deep beneath.
But the tenderness in our songs
is a reflection of what is hidden in the depths.
Stop the flow of your words,
open the window of your heart and
let the spirit speak.

Secret

Love has nothing to do with the five senses and the six directions:
its goal is only to experience the attraction exerted by the Beloved.
Afterwards, perhaps, permission will come from God:
the secrets that ought to be told will be told
with an eloquence nearer to the understanding
than these subtle confusing allusions.
The secret is partner with none but the knower of the secret:
in the skeptic's ear the secret is no secret at all.


... Mathnawi VI:5-8, Mevlana Rumi

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Best of the Best

Our beloved Prophet (saw) told us:

1. "The best of the Muslims is he from whose hand and tongue the Muslims are safe." [Muslim]

2. "The best of people are those with the most excellent character." [Tabarâni, Sahîh]

3. "The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind." [Dâraqutni, Hasan]

4. "The best of people are those who are best in fulfilling [rights]." [Ibn Mâjah, Sahîh]

5. "The best of mankind is my generation, then those that follow them and then those that follow them. Then there shall come a people after them who will become avaricious, who will love gluttony, and who will give witness before they are asked for it." [Tirmidhî, Sahîh]

6. "The best of people are those who live longest and excel in their deeds, whereas the worst of people are those who live longest and corrupt their deeds." [Tirmidhî, Sahîh]

7. "The best of which man can leave behind for himself are three: a righteous child who supplicates for him, an ongoing charity whose reward continues to reach him and knowledge which others benefit from after him." [Ibn Hibbân, Hasan]

8. "The most beloved of deeds according to Allah are the continuous ones, even if they are little." [Agreed upon]

9. "The most beloved words according to Allah the Most High are four: Subhânallah, Alhamdulillâh, Lâ ilâha illallah and Allahu Akbar; there is no problem with which one you start with." [Muslim]

10. "The most beloved of people according to Allah is he who brings most benefit, and the most beloved of deeds according to Allah the Mighty, the Magnificent, is that you bring happiness to a fellow Muslim, or relieve him of distress, or pay off his debt or stave away hunger from him. It is more beloved to me that I walk with my brother Muslim in his time of need than I stay secluded in the mosque for a month. Whoever holds back his anger, Allah will cover his faults and whoever suppresses his fury while being able to execute it, Allah will fill his heart with satisfaction on the Day of Standing. Whoever walks with his brother Muslim in need until he establishes that for him, Allah will establish his feet firmly on the day when all feet shall slip. Indeed, bad character ruins deeds just as vinegar ruins honey." [Tabarâni, Hasan]

11. "The best of your leaders are those that you love and they love you, you supplicate for them and they supplicate for you. The worst of your leaders are those that you hate and they hate you, you curse them and they curse you." [Muslim]

12. "The best of you are those who are best to their wives." [Tirmidhî, Sahîh]

13. "The best of you are those who learn the Qur'ân and teach it." [Dârimi, Sahîh]

14. "The best of companions according to Allah are those who are best to their companion and the best of neighbours according to Allah are those that are best to their neighbour." [Tirmidhî, Sahîh]

15. "The best of provision is that which suffices." [Ahmad in 'Zuhd', Hasan]

16. "The most beloved dish according to Allah is that which most hands feed from." [Ibn Hibbân, Hasan]

17. "The most beloved servant of Allah is he who is most beneficial to his dependents." [Zawâ'id al-Zuhd, Hasan]

18. "The best of earnings is that of the labourer as long as he tries his best." [Ahmad, Hasan]

19. "The best of mankind is the believer between two honourable persons." [Tabarâni, Sahîh]

20. "The best of journeys undertaken are to this Mosque of mine and the Ancient House." [Ahmad, Sahîh]

Maryam - Mother of the Believers

19:16 - Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.
19:17 - She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.
19:18 - She said: "I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah."
19:19 - He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.
19:20 - She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?"
19:21 - He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us': It is a matter (so) decreed."

19:22 - So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.
19:23 - And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!"
19:24 - But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee;
19:25 - "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.
19:26 - "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'"

19:27 - At length she brought the (baby) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!
19:28 - "O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" 19:29 - But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"
19:30 - He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;
19:31 - "And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;
19:32 - "(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;
19:33 - So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"!
19:34 - Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.

Patience and Sincerity


"Patience and Sincerity - that is Islam, Fahri"

... Ayat-Ayat Cinta, a scene taken from the prison cell.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Faith


"How is your faith today?"

... Friday Sermon @ Sultan Mosque

Friday, May 23, 2008

George Michael

One of the most pleasant surprise at this year's American Idol results show was the performance by George Michael. It has been so long that he performed. I have always thought that he is one of the most artistically talented musician in this business, along with Prince. The intense performance that night was a beautiful icing on the cake.

So, do enjoy his life unplugged performance of the same song "Praying For Time" recorded in 1996 - while in his 'prime' and younger :)

Knowing Our Four Righteous Caliphs

I thought I was going to stop all my classes to rest before I leave for the US this fall, but apparently some organisations are not allowing me to do so. Therefore, apparently (again), I am conducting the course on Knowing Our Four Righteous Caliphs as there was demand for it and advertisements had been put up at the mosque's website and a few times in the local newspapers. I am left with no choice but to take on this responsibility.

I began conducting this course a few years ago, and have made so many repeated re-runs as I believe this period of our Islamic history to be very important for our current development. Most Muslims I know learnt about the seerah (history) of our beloved Prophet for years on end, and practically stopped there or re-learning it over and over again. It is good to do so, but there are so much more to learn of the four caliphs that replaced him. In terms of relevance, the manner in which they coped in running their religious and worldly life without the Prophet being around for reference is important, and is more relevant for us in the context of our lives now. Having a legal background, I can appreciate this much more as many of the application of our Syariah are actually derived from this period - hence the importance.

Obviously, this course/module will not be able to cover the whole aspect of this period in great detail, but I try to give a framework for students to follow-up on their own from this guideline. I hope it will be of benefit to all, and instil our sense of relevance in this world that we live in - enabling us to be positive, to contribute to our communities and the world, to make things better for human beings and to live our Muslim lives more comfortably in the context of the world which we live in.

This will therefore be my super-last class before I leave. Any other, one will have to join me in the US :) If you are interested, this course will commence next Friday 29 May 2008 at al-Falah Mosque. If you are, do try to register online prior to attending the class, so we will have an accurate estimation of what to expect. The last few times this course was conducted, it was full-house.

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It was almost 20 years ago since the first Indiana Jones movie thrilled me as a teenager. His travels inspired me and his search for world treasures sent me into many childhood fantasies - and that interest permutated into watching movies of similar genres. So, when I learnt that a fourth instalment was on the way, I had marked my calendar way ahead of its release date.

Maybe it was just me: but I thought Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the worst of the other trilogies. There were some laughs here and there - but they were cheap jokes. The travels were too late into the movie, it was not focussed and long-winded, many scenes were absurd (absurdities are expected, but tarzan-like rope swinging, falling into 3 huge waterfalls ala Niagara Falls unscathed, an atomic bomb explosion with Jones hiding in a fridge, a huge spaceship appearing from the earth and flying off - come on, what were they thinking off?). In short, I was so not excited nor was I thrilled. I didn't find any suspense in the movie either.

This is sad because it is the work of the (almost) original team that brought the earlier trilogies. George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Cake Blanchett (close friends know how much I adore her since Elizabeth) - but they all combined and made me thought I was watching the cheap vcds you can find in the market (literally) of the Mighty Morphine Power Rangers.

Can one then be blamed of awaiting anxiously for next week's opening of Sex and the City?

The only question I could muster when I walked out of the theatre was: what happened, Indie?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cook Over Archuleta

So, the voting American public did not agree with me. Cook won over Archuleta this morning.

But as Simon said: both are winners. And as I said: the journey has only just begun. Congratulations to all! I will be there to catch the action live next year :)



The Fulbright Scholarship

Wish to share on what is probably the most prestigious scholarship in the world: The Fulbright Scholarship. Perhaps it may inspire some of us to apply :)

“The Fulbright Commission aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.” - Senator J. William Fulbright

Created in the aftermath of the Second World War through the efforts of Senator J. William Fulbright, The Fulbright Program promotes peace and understanding through educational exchange. It is a program of grants for international educational exchange for scholars, graduate students and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research and university teaching. Senator Fulbright believed that this would be an essential vehicle for mutual understanding between individuals, institutions and future leaders.

Today, the Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs world-wide, operating in 144 countries and with 51 commissions. More Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes (about 37) than those of any other academic programme.

The J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding established in 1993 is awarded by the Fulbright Association to recognize individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward bringing peoples, cultures, or nations to greater understanding of others. Fulbright Prize laureates include:

Bill Clinton (2005)
Colin Powell (2004)
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (2003)
Sadako Ogata (2002)
Kofi Annan (2001)
Martti Ahtisaari (2000)
Mary Robinson (1999)
Patricio Aylwin Azócar (1998)
Václav Havel (1997)
Corazon Aquino (1996)
Franz Vranitzky (1995)
Jimmy Carter (1994)
Nelson Mandela (1993)

Dreamers

Just as life, it has been a long, challenging and courageous journey for the contestants. Not many (or none) of us are able to perform live in front of millions of people all over the world. I don't think I have the nerves to even try.

Very soon, their journeys will end and we will have a winner. But, it does not end there - it is the start of another long and courageous journey following this - just as life. Some may succeed, some may not. But journey on they will - just as life...

Despite their strengths and weaknessess, I bet my bottom dollar on the better performer tonight to emerge as the winner - the result of which will be announced this morning - and at such a tender age of mere 16. What was I doing when I was 16? It would be interesting to see whether America agrees with me :)

In any case, for both of them and for all of us: believe that dreams do come true :)

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prophet Ayoub (Job)

We spoke about the story of Prophet Ayoub (Job) yesterday night in class. Wish to share with the rest the story:

Job's body was filled with disease until it was reduced to mere skin and bone and he suffered severe pain. But through all the sufferings, Job remained strong in his faith, patiently bearing all the hardships without complaining. Even close relatives and friends deserted him. Only his kind, loving wife stayed with him. In his hour of need, she showered her kindness on him and cared for him. She remained his sole companion and comforter through the many years of suffering.

Iblis went to Job's wife in the form of a man. "Where is your husband?" he asked her.

She pointed to an almost lifeless form crumbled on the bed and said: "There he is, suspended between life and death."

Iblis reminded her of the days, when Job had good health, wealth and children. Suddenly, the painful memory of years of hardship overcame her, and she burst into tears. She said to Job: "How long are you going to bear this torture from our Lord? Are we to remain without wealth, children or friends forever? Why don't you call upon Allah to remove this suffering?"

Job sighed, and in a soft voice replied: "Iblis must have whispered to you and made you dissatisfied. Tell me how long did I enjoy good health and riches?"

She replied: "80 years."

Then Job replied: "How long am I suffering like this?"

She said: "7 years."

Job then told her: "In that case I am ashamed to call on my Lord to remove the hardship, for I have not suffered longer than the years of good health and plenty..."

21:83 - And (remember) Job, when He cried to his Lord, "Truly distress has seized me, but Thou art the Most Merciful of those that are merciful."
21:84 - So We listened to him: We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his people to him, and doubled their number,- as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration, for all who serve Us.
38:44 - Truly! We found him patient. How excellent a slave! Verily, he was ever oft returning in repentance to Us!"

Coloured?

When I born, I black
When I grow up, I black
When I go in sun, I black
When I cold, I black
When I scared, I black
When I sick, I black
When I die, I still black

You white folks...
When you born, you pink
When you grow up, you white
when you go in sun, you red
When you cold, you blue
When you scared, you yellow
when you sick, you green
When you bruised, you purple
and when you die, you gray
So who you calling "coloured"?


Author Unknown (African)

De Profundis

But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can't know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul? When the son went out to look for his father's asses, he did not know that a man of God was waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was already the soul of a king.

... De Profundis, Oscar Wilde

Seeing God Everywhere

To see God everywhere is essentially this: to see that we are not, that He alone is. If, from a certain angle, humility can be called the greatest of the virtues this is because it implies in the last analysis the cessation of egoity, and for no other reason. With a small change of viewpoint one could say as much of each fundamental virtue: perfect charity is to lose oneself for God, for one cannot be lost in God without giving oneself, in addition, to men. If 'love of one's neighbor' is fundamental, on the strictly human plane, it is not only because the ‘neighbor’ is in the final analysis ‘Self as are ‘we’, but also because this human charity — or this projection into the ‘other’ — is the sole means possible, for the majority of men, of being detached from the ‘I’; it is less difficult to project the ego into ‘the other’ than to lose it for God, although the two things are indissolubly linked.

... Frithjof Schuon

Lonsdale - New Boxing Gloves

I have been running 2.4km, cycle for 8km and climb 50 floors everyday for the past 5 days at the gym - and will have to continue doing so for the next week (or so - God help me!). It has been ... hell - arggh!. But dear Mr Trainer's instruction was that I need to up my cardio again after weeks of weights training. Whatever... and it does not help that I get more hungry and more often as a result.

To reduce the physical torture, I always try to be earlier at the gym at least half an hour before official training starts. Somehow, it is more manageable if I were to do it on my own. That is a really strange phenomena that both of us can't figure. For example, with him beside me looking with eagle eyes, I can never complete my 8km comfortably - I need the whole of me to complete it. So, by the time actual training starts, I am so dead beat!

Over the past few boxing sessions, I have been lamenting how the boxing gloves did not smell like my Gucci nor Kenneth Cole's cologne. Lo and behold! A pleasant surprise greeted me today when Mr Trainer came with a brand new box of Lonsdale boxing glove - exactly like the picture above. Way cool! I could practically smell the leather and it is so much more cushy and comfortable than the previous generation's gloves. There is no need to talk about taping my fingers. And by the end of the class, my fingers were not aching - although I did hit some good punches in that hour. Even the price tag was still there - and gosh ... it was really expensive! But the best thing about being a member of this gym is that it comes absolutely free for me :)

This is the description of the boxing glove:
"Professional Contest Fight Glove": - Our professional fight gloves have been re-designed to conform to the shape of your fist for maximum comfort, grip and support. We have used a softer more pliable top grade leather to provide additional comfort and durability. By combining three special selected foams we have increased metacarpel and knuckle safety without decreasing the "punch" power. A super smooth stern lining has been added to provide increased comfort and dryness for the hand. This latest fight glove has been tested and approved by champion fighters that have traditionally used "boxer's gloves" or "puncher's gloves" providing the perfect combination of power and protection.

I am convinced that I will be boxing for a long while. But for the novice who is interested, this comes with a warning (just because it still is for me): that boxing is super-tiring to the power of 10. For those who know, it is definitely more than the mere punching and the jabbing than you think it is - but it sure is super-fun :)

But till then, I need to muster all of my courage and energy (and Divine's help) to face the treadmill, the bicycle and the stairs master tomorrow. I so do...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meet Joe Black

Another movie shown on cable today is Meet Joe Black. Joe Black and Bill Parrish enter into a most unusual gentleman's agreement. Wealthy media tycoon Bill Parrish leads a charmed existence until Death comes calling with an extraordinary proposition - he'll delay Bill's imminent demise in exchange for a tour of life. Innocent, enigmatic and at times hilarious, Joe disrupts Bill's world of privilege and corporate intrigue. But when he falls for Bill's beautiful daughter, Joe threatens to change the rules. Now Bill must not only fight for his future, but also for those he loves in this bittersweet tale of life and death.

It is easy to wake up every day and see what is wrong with life. Everyone has their vices and their shortcomings. Such is human nature. But what can we do to improve that situation and ensure that life gets better? And is it all really that bad? Meet Joe Black is a movie that asks us to look at ourselves and realize that this life is a gift and one that perhaps is taken for granted a little too much. Meet Joe Black asks us to ask ourselves: is it really all that bad?

Anyway you look at it, life can only get better...

The Truth About Cats And Dogs & What Happens In Vegas

"If you were trapped in Biosphere 2 for three years, who would you bring: Time Magazine's Woman of the Year or Playboy's Playmate of the Year?"

To me, there is exquisite charm in movies which allows you to leave your brains at the door - not in a negative way - but in a manner which allows you to enjoy the movie without pretentions and to just have an innocent laugh: to relax. Top on my list of movies which I abhor are wanna-be movies, and there are many out there. So, it is not surprising that I have been enjoying this genre of late.

It was a perfect screening on this super-duper hot-hot-hot, lazy, public-holiday afternoon of The Truth About Cats And Dogs. It is a 1996 film which I watched before and it was a pleasure to lay down on bed watching it again today. Wonderful, feel-good movie about the charming Ben Chaplin discovering the woman whom he loves (Janeane Garofalo) is not the woman whom he actually loves (Uma Thurman). Sounds convoluted? No... it does not pretend to be. It is a simple telling of a juvenile love story which also suggests the combative nature of male-female romantic relationships. What is there not to enjoy when the only determining factor to "come clean" with the love of their life is by his response of the quotation above (Time Magazine's Woman of the Year or Playboy's Playmate of the Year)?

Err ... I am pretty sure which one would be my choice. Hmmm ... am I? Hahahaha....

I also managed to sneak watching What Happens In Vegas last week out of a boring work function way out North. And I did it with some other (new) friends - it was fun. I never had this film on my must-watch list as I expect it to be shown on the telly soon enough, and the reviews I read so far about it were all appalling. But it was a hot and boring afternoon, and we simply wanted to have some laughs.

Set in Sin City, the story revolves around two people who discover they've gotten married following a night of debauchery, with one of them winning a huge jackpot (US$3 million) after playing the other's quarter. The unhappy pair petitioned for a divorce but the judge refused to divorce them right away: they will have to 'earn' their divorce from this sham marriage by having to stay together for the next six months. The one who does not cooperate will not get any share of the money. The newlyweds devise ever-escalating schemes to undermine each other and get their hands on the money, only to find themselves eventually falling in love with each other in the process.

I must say though that Cameron Diaz looks aged in this movie. But coming back to the point, having no (negative actually) prior expectations before I stepped into the theatre, it was a rather enjoyable afternoon ride :)


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Someplace To Be Flying

We are our stories. But more that, our stories are inextricably intertwined, knotted, woven and spliced into the stories of those around us and then into a larger story. This is what Charles de Lint reminds us in Someplace to be Flying, one of his richest and most complex novels to date.

The book opens in the Newford slums when Hank, a jazz-loving cab driver, stops to save a woman being violently assaulted in a dark side-street. When her assailant shoots him as he gets out of his cab, the scene changes. In a flurry of darkness and the sound of beating wings, two mysterious young women appear out of nowhere, killing the man and healing Hank's wound. It is a moment that will change the world for Hank and Lily, the woman he has stopped to save, forever. Slowly they are introduced to a world of magic which has always existed around them, unseen and unknown, one peopled by figures of myth and legend, where trickster Coyote and Raven are real, and where it is possible for a young woman to wish her twin sister out of existence.

No brief summary, however, will adequately describe this complicated novel. De Lint introduces his reader to a large, diverse cast of characters plus an entire mythological system he explains only incidentally, and moves those characters across a number of different stages through a number of different times. It is a story that begins with the birth of daughters to a country woman who has slept with one of the Corbae—sort of animal people who have been around since the creation of the world—and how she and her daughters are treated. It is also the story of how Raven loses the cauldron he used to create the world, and how it must be recovered. And it is the story of how a ragtag group of people living in a violent and rundown world create a community amongst themselves.

Charles de Lint's strength is his obvious love for his characters and empathy for people generally. His characters live up to their potential rather than down to it. He brings to life the human frailties of his characters and the spirit with which they cling together. De Lint is a romantic; he believes in the great things, faith, hope and charity (especially if love is included in the last), but he also believes in the power of magic or at least the magic of fiction to open our eyes to a larger world. And he knows that a good story is worth a thousand sermons.

This is a powerful story about the power of story, intensely moving and gripping. It is nearly impossible to read it without being changed in some subtle and important way, with a deeper inner recognition of our own stories and where they connect to each other.

Joseph And Zulaikha

Inspired by Ayat-Ayat Cinta, I was reminded of the story of Prophet Joseph and Zulaikha. Taken from Chapter 12 of the Qur'an entitled "Yusuf" from verses 22-34:

12:22 - When Joseph attained His full manhood, We gave him power and knowledge: thus do We reward those who do right.
12:23 - And she, in whose house he was, asked of him an evil act. She bolted the doors and said: Come! He said: I seek refuge in Allah! Lo! he is my lord, who hath treated me honourably. Lo! wrong-doers never prosper.
12:24 - And (with passion) did she desire him, and he would have desired her, but that he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus (did We order) that We might turn away from him (all) evil and shameful deeds: for he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified.
12:25 - So they both raced each other to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back: they both found her lord near the door. She said: "What is the (fitting) punishment for one who formed an evil design against thy wife, but prison or a grievous chastisement?"
12:26 - He said: "It was she that sought to seduce me - from my (true) self." And one of her household saw (this) and bore witness, (thus):- "If it be that his shirt is rent from the front, then is her tale true, and he is a liar!
12:27 - "But if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then is she the liar, and he is telling the truth!"
12:28 - So when he saw his shirt,- that it was torn at the back,- (her husband) said: "Behold! It is a snare of you women! truly, mighty is your snare!
12:29 - "O Joseph, pass this over! (O wife), ask forgiveness for thy sin, for truly thou hast been at fault!"
12:30 - Ladies said in the City: "The wife of the (great) 'Aziz is seeking to seduce her slave from his (true) self: Truly hath he inspired her with violent love: we see she is evidently going astray."
12:31 - When she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them: she gave each of them a knife: and she said (to Joseph), "Come out before them." When they saw him, they did extol him, and (in their amazement) cut their hands: they said, "Allah preserve us! no mortal is this! this is none other than a noble angel!"
12:32 - She said: "There before you is the man about whom ye did blame me! I did seek to seduce him from his (true) self but he did firmly save himself guiltless!....and now, if he doth not my bidding, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and (what is more) be of the company of the vilest!"
12:33 - He said: "O my Lord! the prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me: Unless Thou turn away their snare from me, I should (in my youthful folly) feel inclined towards them and join the ranks of the ignorant."
12:34 - So his Lord hearkened to him (in his prayer), and turned away from him their snare: Verily He heareth and knoweth (all things).

To Love, But Not To Hold

After many reviews I received of this movie and the full-house attendances at the theatre, I finally succumbed and watched Ayat-Ayat Cinta today - commonly translated as "Verses of Love" but after watching it, I thought an Arabic translation as "Proofs of Love" seemed more accurate.

The jury on Ayat-Ayat Cinta is still out there. What seemed to divide these diverging views is firstly on the issue of polygamy portrayed in the movie. After watching it today, I opined that to be a dense perception of the whole point the movie was about and the message it was trying to portray. I also differ on the other contentious point that it was a religious love story - it was a love story as universal as any other, irrespective of faith - and it was literally illustrated in the movie when the Muslim male lead married his second wife, who is an Egyptian Coptic Christian.

At the core of this movie is truly the story of true love - each of its character trying to achieve the level of selflessness, purity and unadulterated love that he/she yearns. It represents the journey which all of us embark - but the marked consciousness of the characters in journeying through this is remarkable. None of the decisions they made were easy ones: Fahri's decision to be married with the right wife, Maria's silent suffering for the love of her life, Aisha's consent to her husband's second marriage ... and the list goes on even with the other minor characters.

It was about searching, and for some blessed ones amongst us, finding what we seek. But despite, the movie reminds us of faith when we don't get what we want. A moving example is when the accused in the same prison cell with Fahri spoke of the tests faced by Prophet Joseph (as) as inspiration to move on and to remain steadfast of our faith in The Almighty. A poignant point was delivered by Maria, when on her deathbed and despite being married to Fahri, she finally understood the difference between loving and holding on to the one whom she loves - hence the title of this entry.

But love is not simply a bed of roses, and neither is faith. We have to work to acquire and maintain faith. True love, requires sacrifices. Each of the character displayed an understanding of this concept remarkably. At the end of the movie, despite them not arriving at the audience's ideal life's conclusion, we somehow feel happy and relieved for them because they have arrived at their own mecca, on their own terms, and that is sufficient. These are indeed "Proofs of Love".

It was only after this, that the issue of faith comes into the picture for me, if I must. The virtues spoke of, the misconceptions cleared - are well-known. The 2 concepts which permeated through this movie: patience and sincerity, were beautifully exemplified - but the characters need not necessarily be Muslims to proof that point.

I have not read the novel of which this film was based on, but I suspect that in many years to come when the euphora of the movie has subsided, it will remain a classic when the public matures through the literal aspects of the novel to understand the subtlety of the powerful love messages Habiburrahman El Shirazy intended.

I like the movie, a lot. Perhaps I am a sucker for such things, well...

A bonus reason is that it has Ungu's song at the conclusion: Tercipta Untukku (t: You Were Created For Me). Now, what is there not to like :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a 1940 novel by American author Carson McCullers. She was 23 years old when she wrote this deeply affecting and insightful novel which is set in a 1930s mill town in the US state of Georgia.

While it is largely thought to be a kind of memoir (the young girl Mick Kelly, who teeters between being a playful tomboy and proper young lady, is supposedly based on McCuller's own experiences), it does the book a disservice to call it such. Instead this is a wonderfully realised coming-of-age novel that is told from the perspective of four very divergent characters: a young girl, a drunken socialist, a black doctor and a sympathetic deaf mute.

In many ways each of the characters share similarities: they are yearning for something that will help them "grow" emotionally. The unwitting "channel" who helps them achieve this is the deaf mute John Singer, whose inability to hear and speak allows him to take on board his confidante's secrets without fear of passing their "confessions" on.

During the course of a year, he befriends Mick, Jake Blount and Dr Copeland, who allow him glimpses of their troubled and complex inner lives. The friendships are touching, but they are, in many ways, one-sided. Singer, unable to voice his own fears, eventually reaches breaking point - with terrible, heart-breaking consequences.

When it was published in 1940, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter caused a literary sensation, not least because the author was so young. While there is no real plot to speak of, with each chapter devoted to individual characters in turn, it certainly addresses some big themes - isolation, loneliness, racial tension and the desire to escape small town life, among others. More than 60 years on, such themes still resonate.

But while McCullers is renowned for the maturity and compassion with which she tackles her subject, she is also incredibly talented at describing scenes so vividly you will be immediately transported to another time and place.

Each character is restricted by limitations. Each one has desires. And each one has his or her desires crushed. How each one reacts and how this interaction affects everyone else is the essence of the story. The author's skill pulls it all together masterfully. It's a disturbing book as it tugs at that chord of isolation that exists in all of us. And yet, it is a wonderful read.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Professor Kishore Mahbubani

I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Kishore Mahbubani for a campus magazine when I was an undergraduate and he was the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two things struck me: One, that he is such a brilliant and sophisticated man stylistically and intellectually. And the other, I realised that now more than ever because I am in the civil service, no other heads of the civil service of any government ministry would grant an undergraduate, no matter how important my group was in college, such interview. That is the graciousness of Professor Kishore - always ready to engage and share ideas.

In the course of my life since then, I have met him again on various occassions, and he still remembered me from my undergraduate days, but more strikingly, he always offers his smile to anyone he sees.

I was fortunate to be in his company again yesterday as he was our guest speaker at the Fulbright Annual Dinner 2008 held in the Churchill's Room at the Tanglin Club. The dinner was obviously good, but the highlight was Prof Kishore's insightful and thought-provoking speech on the new world order. A flurry of questions followed the brilliant off-the-cuff speech.

His books have always been ranked highly in the world, and a new book was just published. Excerpt from his latest book hot off the press, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Power to the East:

"For centuries, the Asians (Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and others) have been bystanders in world history. Now they are ready to become co-drivers.

Asians have finally understood, absorbed, and implemented Western best practices in many areas: from free-market economics to modern science and technology, from meritocracy to rule of law. They have also become innovative in their own way, creating new patterns of cooperation not seen in the West.

Will the West resist the rise of Asia? The good news is that Asia wants to replicate, not dominate, the West. For a happy outcome to emerge, the West must gracefully give up its domination of global institutions, from the IMF to the World Bank, from the G7 to the UN Security Council.

History teaches that tensions and conflicts are more likely when new powers emerge. This, too, may happen. But they can be avoided if the world accepts the key principles for a new global partnership spelled out in The New Asian Hemisphere.

"In The New Asian Hemisphere, Kishore Mahbubani has given us a very powerful account of the world seen through Asian eyes, and has shown the global relevance of that penetrating vision. The book is both insightful and delightfully combative as well as fun to read."

For those who do not know Prof Kishore yet, Kishore Mahbubani (b. 1949) is currently Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. From 1971 to 2004 he served in the Singaporean Foreign Service, ending up as Singapore's Ambassador to the United Nations. In that role he served as president of the United Nations Security Council in January 2001 and May 2002. He was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Ministry from 1993 to 1998. He is currently in the Board of Governors of the Institute of Policy Studies. Mahbubani has also served on the boards of leading institutes and think tanks in Singapore, such as the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the Institute of Policy Studies, the Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellowship and the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

The President's Scholarship was awarded to Mahbubani in 1967, for him to delve into philosophy as an undergraduate in University of Singapore (now known as the National University of Singapore or NUS). He graduated with a First Class honours degree in Philosophy from the University of Singapore in 1971. From Dalhousie University, Canada, he received a Masters degree in Philosophy in 1976 and an honorary doctorate in 1995. He spent a year as a fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University from 1991 to 1992. He was also given the 2003–2004 Dr Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award by the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) at Tufts University.

Mahbubani is best known outside Singapore for his writings in journals such as Foreign Affairs and in the books Can Asians Think? and Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World. His articles have appeared in several leading journals and newspapers outside of Singapore, such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

He has been conferred The Public Administration Medal (Gold) by the Singapore Government in 1998. The Foreign Policy Association Medal was awarded to him in New York in June 2004 with the following opening words in the citation: “A gifted diplomat, a student of history and philosophy, a provocative writer and an intuitive thinker”. Prof Mahbubani was also listed as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines in September 2005.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shade


The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:

“There are seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade: a just ruler; a youth who grew up in the worship of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic; a man whose heart is attached to the mosques; two men who love each other for Allah’s sake, meeting for that and parting upon that; a man who is called by a woman of beauty and position [for illegal intercourse], but be says: ‘I fear Allah’, a man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity; and a man who remembered Allah in private and so his eyes shed tears.”

... Sahih Bukhari & Sahih Muslim

Rights


The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:

Six are the rights of a Muslim over another Muslim. It was said to him: Allah’s Messenger, what are these? Thereupon he said: When you meet him, offer him greetings; when he invites you to a feast accept it, when he seeks your council give him, and when he sneezes and says:” All praise is due to Allah,” you say “Yarhamuk Allah” (may Allah show mercy to you); and when he fails ill visit him; and when he dies follow his bier.

... Sahih Muslim

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Pearl

Said one oyster to a neighboring oyster, "I have a very great pain within me. It is heavy and round and I am in distress."

And the other oyster replied with haughty complacence, "Praise be to the heavens and to the sea, I have no pain within me. I am well and whole both within and without."

At that moment a crab was passing by and heard the two oysters, and he said to the one who was well and whole both within and without, "Yes, you are well and whole; but the pain that your neighbor bears is a pearl of exceeding beauty."


... Khalil Gibran

Virtue and Sin


There is only one virtue
and one sin for a soul on the path:
virtue when he is conscious of God
and sin when he is not.


Flowers



"Pick not flowers, for it will detain you in your progress on the path, and as you go, they will only fade away. Look at them, therefore, and admire their beauty, and as you proceed on your journey, they will greet you with smiles all along the way"


... Pir Inayat Khan

Tree


"As high as a tree aspires to grow,
so high will it find an atmosphere suited to it"


... Henry David Thoreau

Bonnie Raitt

My Opening Farewell - Bonnie Raitt with Jackson Browne
(Awesome duet by 2 greats)


I Can't Make You Love Me - Bonnie Raitt
(One of the best version of this song - also famously sung by George Michael and Clay Aitken )

Many Rivers To Cross

Since the American Idol Gives Back 2008, I have been trying to search for this awesome yet haunting song and now finally found it. It was originally sung by Jimmy Cliff and performed by Annie Lenox at the American Idol - it blew me away. Enjoy them both!

The original version by Jimmy Cliff

Annie Lennox's performance

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Heart of the Matter


42 years to write... about 4 minutes to sing


Friday, May 9, 2008

Prayer Is An Egg

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy

your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes?
What did you make with

your five senses while they were dimming and playing out?
I gave you hands and feet

as tools for preparing the ground for planting. Did you,
in the health I gave,

do the plowing?” You will not be able to stand when you
hear those questions. You

will bend double, and finally acknowledge the glory. God
will say, “Lift

your head and answer the questions.” Your head will rise
a little, then slump

again. “Look at me! Tell what you’ve done.” You try,
but you fall back flat

as a snake. “I want every detail. Say!” Eventually you
will be able to get to

a sitting position. “Be plain and clear. I have given you
such gifts. What did

you do with them?” You turn to the right looking to the
prophets for help, as

though to say, I am stuck in the mud of my life, Help me
out of this! They

will answer, those kings, “The time for helping is past.
The plow stands there in

the field. You should have used it.” Then you turn to
the left, where your family

is, and they will say, “Don’t look at us! This conversation
is between you and your

Creator.” Then you pray the prayer that is the essence
of every ritual: God,

I have no hope. I am torn to shreds. You are my first and
last and only refuge.

Don’t do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head
Up and down. Prayer is an egg.

Hatch out the total helpless inside.


... The Soul of Rumi

Birds And Lovers


The difference between birds on the wing, and lovers of God, is that birds always fly in a certain direction, while lovers of God fly on the wings of their desire away from all directions. Every horse has its stable, every beast its pen, every bird its nest. And God knows best.


... Discourses of Rumi (Fihi ma Fihi), Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi