Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who Says Words With My Mouth?

All day
I think about it,
then at night
I say it.

"Where did I come from,
and what am I supposed
to be doing?"

I have no idea.

My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness
began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober.

Meanwhile, I'm like a bird
from another continent, siting in this aviary.

The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.

I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me Home.

This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

Shams Tabriz, if you would show your face to me again
I could flee, the imposition of this life.

... Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Relationship Between God and Human Beings

The relationship of the individual to God is the most significant dynamic in Islam. There is no disagreement that God is immutable, omnipresent, indivisible, and eternal. Belief in the oneness, completeness, and perfection of God is central to the Islamic faith...

The Qur'an emphasizes that human beings must submit to God and yield to God's commands, and it warns that people should not subjugate God to their whims. In other words, human beings should seek to understand God as God is, and not invent God as they would like God to be and then whimsically follow their own desires. There is no question in this relationship; God is the Superior and Supreme, and human beings must approach God with submission, humility, and gratitude.

This much is clear, and I believe that conservatives, puritans, and moderates would be in agreement. But what follows from this? What is the nature of the relationship between God and human beings, and what is the potential of that relationship? What does God want from human beings, and what is the ultimate objective behind submitting to God?

Puritans treat the relationship between God and humans as straightforward enough. Humans were created to submit to God through worship, they say. Ritual practice is the demonstrative proof of total submission to God, and so perfection of ritual practice is the ultimate objective. Importantly, since submission to God is hinged on correct ritual practice, submission is not possible unless one accepts Islam. The road to submission is available only through Islam and therefore, only by becoming Muslim does one gain the opportunity to submit to God.

In the puritan conception, the rules of submission are found in the sacred law (the Shari'a). Therefore, it is imperative that the Shari'a be precise and exact on most points. The Shari'a must set out the code for submission in precise and exact terms so that Muslims may obey it, and attain salvation. Through meticulous obedience, Muslims will avoid punishment in the Hereafter and will enter Heaven. On this point, the puritan conception is nearly mathematical. By performing acts of submission, Muslims earn good points, and by disobeying God they earn sins (or bad points). In the Final Day, God will total up the good points and the sins. Heaven or Hell is determined by the balance of points so that a single point can make the difference between Heaven and Hell. Puritans also dwell on Prophetic traditions that claim that in the Final Day people will be made to walk on a thin rope, and then, losing their balance, people will fall into either Hell or Heaven. Moderates, however, challenge the authenticity of these traditions, which make the fate of human beings in the Hereafter a by-product of mathematical equations or the end result of acrobatics performed on a thin rope. While moderates consider these traditions to be inconsistent with the Qur'an, and no more than historical fabrications, puritans accept the historical veracity of these traditions and read and understand them in a rigid and literal way. 

In the puritan paradigm, the relationship with God is formal and distant; it is strictly the relationship between a Superior and an inferior. God is to be feared and obeyed, and it is the fear of God's vengeance that defines true piety. As for God's mercy and compassion, the puritans believe that these two qualities have already been incorporated into the law. And since God's mercy and compassion are already contained in the law decreed by God, by definition the law must be considered compassionate and merciful. In the puritan view, it is not up to humans to reflect upon or think about the nature of God's mercy or compassion or the implications of this Divine mercy and compassion. All humans need to do is study the law, because the law is already the full embodiment of both God's mercy and compassion. It is as if God took whatever mercy and compassion that human beings might need in life, and put it all in the Divine law. Therefore, if one needs to find, experience, or feel this Divine law, human beings attain a full measure of God's mercy and compassion - through obedience to law, humans will necessarily enjoy God's mercy and compassion. 

The actual social impact that the law might have upon people is considered irrelevant. Although people might feel that the law is harsh or that its application results in social suffering, this perception is considered delusional. This is why, for instance, the Taliban of Afghanistan were oblivious to the social suffering caused by the laws that they enforced - since they believed that the law was Divine, there was no point in evaluating its actual impact upon the people they governed.

The approach of moderate Muslims to the the relationship with God is materially different in several aspects. Explaining the moderate approach must begin with the idea of trust between God and humanity. The Qur'an describes the moment of creation as the moment in which humanity was entrusted with a heavy responsibility. God gave humanity the blessing of rationality and the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. God made human beings God's agents or viceroys on the earth and entrusted them with the responsibility to civilize the land.

In the moderate conception, God is inherently and fundamentally moral. Puritans give God a whimsical quality - God is just, but justice is whatever God wills it to be. Similarly, God is merciful, but mercy is whatever God wills it to be. So, for instance, if God in the Final Day decides to damn all women or all Caucasians regardless of their actions, that would be just and good because God willed it.

For moderates, this would be impossible. God is moral and ethical, in the sense that God shares with human beings an objective standard for goodness, morality, and beauty. Civilizing the earth does not mean constructing buildings or paving roads. It means striving to spread on the earth the Divine attributes such as justice, mercy, compassion, goodness, and beauty. In doing so, human beings spread Divinity itself upon the earth. In contrast, corrupting the earth - spreading violence, hatred, vengeance, and ugliness - means failure in discharging one's obligations towards God. The Qur'an teaches that the act of destroying or spreading ruin on this earth is one of the gravest sins possible - fasad fi al-ard, which means to corrupt the earth by destroying the beauty of creation, is considered an ultimate act of blasphemy against God. Those who corrupt the earth by destroying lives, property, and nature are designated as mufsidun (corrupters and evildoers who, in effect, wage war against God by dismantling the very fabric of existence).

The earth was given to human beings in trust, and humans share the burden of establishing Godliness - in spreading attributes that constitute the essence of Godliness. The more the earth is permeated with justice, mercy, compassion, and beauty, the nearer the earth is to the Divine ideal. The more corruption permeates the earth, the further away the earth is from Godliness.

The purpose of the gift of rationality given to human beings is to investigate the meaning of Godliness and the nature of the opposite of Godliness - evil. God charges Muslims with a sacred and central obligation: the duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and to bear witness upon humanity for God. Conservatives, puritans, and moderates do not dispute that this is a fundamental and basic obligation upon all Muslims. In the puritan interpretation, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil means applying the Divine law and then bearing witness on the Final Day that the majority of humanity refused  to submit to God. Moderates believe that the enjoinment of good and forbidding the evil imposes an obligation to investigate the nature of good and evil, and by necessity investigating the nature of Godliness and the absence of it. The enjoinment of good is part and parcel of the duty to civilize the earth and resist the spread of corruption. But the enjoinment of good and avoidance of evil is an ongoing, everlasting obligation to investigate the nature of Godliness and to attempt to make this Godliness, as much as possible, a part of the reality on earth. Human beings will never be able to reach the perfection of Divinity, but they must relentlessly seek to fulfill the attributes of Godliness. To bear witness upon humanity means that Muslims have an added obligation and a greater burden. Muslims must set an example for the rest of humanity in their diligence and persistence in seeking the perfection of Divinity. If Muslims fail in setting an example for humanity in their fidelity to justice, mercy, compassion, and beauty, then Muslims have failed God.

In moderate thought, God is too great to be embodied in a code of law. The law helps in the quest for Godliness, but Godliness cannot be equated to the law. The ultimate objective of the law is to achieve goodness, which includes justice, mercy, and compassion, and the technicalities of the law cannot be allowed to subvert the objectives of the law. Therefore, if the application of the law produces injustice, suffering, and misery, this means that the law is not serving its purposes. In this situation, the law is corrupting the earth instead of civilizing it. In short, if the application of the law results in injustice, suffering, or misery, then the law must be reinterpreted, suspended, or reconstructed, depending on the law in question.

Moderates agree with puritans that submission to God is the pivotal obligation of human beings, individually and collectively. Only by submitting the self to God can a human being liberate himself/herself from his or her base and whimsical desires. Submission to God means refusing to submit to any other person or thing. For a Muslim to be dominated or subjugated by a human oppressor is fundamentally at odds with the duty of submission to God. Human free will cannot be surrendered or submitted to anyone but God, and a Muslim is commanded to accept no master other than God.

However, the moderate conception of submission is different from the puritan notion in very important respects. Moderates differentiate between levels of submission. It is possible to obey God without submitting to God. It is possible to obey God's commands while remaining narcissistically self-centred and selfish. In other words, it is possible to obey God, for whatever reason, while caring little about God, and while being entirely motivated by self-interest and without developing any emotional attachment toward God and without bothering to invest the time and effort in coming to know God by reflecting upon God's attributes, which are reflected in God's wondrous creation. Obeying God out of fear of punishment or out of a desire for a reward keeps one vested in the paradigm of self-interest and the artificiality of the mundane physical world. If this constitutes submission to God, it is formalistic and superficial because it does not attempt or even seek to internalize the sublime nature of the Divine. To submit to the Divine in a meaningful and genuine way is to elevate oneself to the transcendental and the sublime, to overcome the artificial physical world and to seek union with the ultimate Beauty. As one struggles to purify and cleanse oneself - as one engages in what is known as the inner jihad (jihad al-nafs), and struggles to know oneself and know God, one is able to achieve higher levels of submission.

... The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, Khaled Abou El Fadl

In The Way Of God (2)

The doctrine of jihad, as it slowly developed in the Qur'an, was specifically meant to differentiate between pre-Islamic and Islamic notions of warfare, and to infuse the latter with what Mustansir Mir calls an "ideological-cum-ethical dimension" that, until that point, did not exist in the Arabian Peninsula. At the heart of the doctrine of jihad was the heretofore unrecognized distinction between combatant and noncombatant. Thus, the killing of women, children, monks, rabbis, the elderly, or any other noncombatant was absolutely forbidden under any circumstances. Muslim law eventually expanded on these prohibitions to outlaw the torture of prisoners of war, the mutilation of the dead; rape, molestation, or any kind of sexual violence during combat; the killing of diplomats, the wanton destruction of property, and the demolition of religious or medical institutions - regulations that, as Hilmi Zawati has observed, were all eventually incorporated into the modern international laws of war.

But perhaps the most important innovation in the doctrine of jihad was its outright prohibition of all but strictly defensive wars. "Fight in the way of God those who fight you," the Qur'an says, "but do not begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor" (2:190). Elsewhere the Qur'an is more explicit: "permission to fight is given only to those who have been oppressed... who have been driven from their homes for saying, 'God is our Lord'" (22:39; emphasis added).

It is true that some verses in the Qur'an instruct Muhammad and his followers to "slay the polytheists wherever you confront them" (9:5); to carry the struggle to the hypocrites who deny the faith" (9:73); and, especially, to "fight those who do not believe in God and the Last Day" (9:29). However, it must be understood that these verses were directed specifically at the Quraysh and their clandestine partisans in Yathrib - specifically named in the Qur'an as the "polytheists" and "the hypocrites," respectively - with whom the Ummah was locked in a terrible war.

Nevertheless, these verses have long been used by Muslims and non-Muslims alike to suggest that Islam advocates fighting unbelievers until they convert. But this is not a view that either the Qur'an or Muhammad endorsed. This view was put forth during the height of the Crusades, and partly in response to them, by later generations of Islamic legal scholars who developed what is now referred to as "the classical doctrine of jihad": a doctrine that, among other things, partitioned the world into two spheres, the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-Harb), with the former in constant pursuit of the later.

As the Crusades drew to a close and Rome's attention turned away from the Muslim menace and toward the Christian reform movements cropping up throughout Europe, the classical doctrine of jihad a vigorously challenged by a new generation of Muslim scholars. The most important of these scholars was Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), whose influence in shaping Muslim ideology is matched only by St. Augustine's influence in shaping Christianity. Ibn Taymiyya argued that the idea of killing nonbelievers who refused to convert to Islam - the foundation of the classical doctrine of jihad - not only defied the example of Muhammad but also violated one of the most important principles in the Qur'an: that "there can be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Indeed, on this point the Qur'an in adamant. "The truth is from your Lord," it says; "believe it if you like, or do not" (18:29). The Qur'an also asks rhetorically, "Can you compel people to believe against their will?" (10:100). Obviously not; the Qur'an therefore commands believers to say to those who do not believe, "To you your religion, to me mine" (109:6)...

Over the last century, however, and especially after the colonial experience gave birth to a new kind of Islamic radicalism in the Middle East, the classical doctrine of jihad had undergone a massive resurgence in the pulpits and classrooms of a few prominent Muslim intellectuals. In Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-89) relied on a militant interpretation of jihad, first to energize the anti-imperialist revolution of 1979 and then to fuel his destructive eight-year war with Iraq. It was Khomeini's vision of jihad as a weapon of war that helped found the Islamic militant group Hizbullah, whose invention of the suicide bomber launched an appalling new era of international terrorism.

In Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-89), professor of Islamic philosophy at King Abdulaziz University, used his influence among the country's disaffected youth to promote an uncompromisingly belligerent interpretation of jihad that, he argued, was incumbent on all Muslims. "Jihad and the rifle alone," Dr. Azzam proclaimed to his students. "No negotiations, no conferences, and no dialogues." Azzam's views laid the foundations for the Palestinians militant group Hamas, which has since adopted Hizbullah's tactics in their resistance against the Israeli occupation. His teachings had an exceptional impact on one student in particular: Osama bin Laden, who eventually put into practice his mentor's ideology by calling for a worldwide Muslim campaign of jihad against the West, thus launching a horrifying wave of terrorism that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

Of course, these attacks are not defensive strikes against specific acts of aggression. They are not sanctioned by a qualified mujtahid. They make no differentiation between combatant and noncombatant. And they indiscriminately kill men, women, children, Muslim and non-Muslim. In other words, they fall far short of the regulations imposed by Muhammad for a legitimate jihadi response, which is why, despite common perception in the West, they are so roundly condemned by the vast majority of the world's Muslims, including some of Islam's most militant and anti-American clerics such as Shaykh Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Hizbullah, and the radical Muslim televangelist Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The fact is that nearly one out of five people in the world are Muslims. And while some of them may share bin Laden's grievances against the Western powers, very few share his interpretation of jihad. Indeed, despite the ways in which this doctrine has been manipulated t justify either personal prejudices or political ideologies, jihad is neither a universally recognized nor a unanimously defined concept in the Muslim world. It is true that the struggle against injustice and tyranny is incumbent on all Muslims. After all, if there were no one to stand up to despots and tyrants, then, as the Qur'an states, our "monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques - places where the name of God is honored - would all be razed to the ground" (22:40). But it is nevertheless solely as a defensive response to oppression and injustice, and only within the clearly outlined rules of ethical conduct in battle, that the Qur'anic vision of jihad is to be understood. For if, as political theorist Michael Walzer claims, the determining factor of a "just war" is the establishment of specific regulations covering both jus in bello (justice in war) and jus ad bellum (justice of war), then there can be no better way to describe Muhammad's doctrine of jihad than as an ancient Arabian "just war" theory.

... No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan

In The Way Of God (1)

Islam has so often been portrayed, even by contemporary scholars, as "a military religion, [with] fanatical warriors, engaged in spreading their faith and their law by armed might," to quote historian Bernard Lewis, that the image of the Muslim horde charging wildly into battle like a swarm of locusts has become one of the most enduring stereotypes in the Western world. "Islam was never really a religion of salvation," wrote the eminent sociologist Max Weber. "Islam is a warrior religion." It is a religion that Samuel Huntington has portrayed as steeped "in bloody borders."

This deep-rooted stereotype of Islam as a warrior religion has its origins in the papal propaganda of the Crusades, when Muslims were depicted as the soldiers of the Antichrist in blasphemous occupation of the Holy Lands (and, far more importantly, of the silk route to China). In the middle Ages, while Muslim philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians were preserving the knowledge of the past and determining the scholarship of the future, a belligerent and deeply fractured Holy Roman Empire tried to distinguish itself from the Turks who were strangling it from all sides by labeling Islam "the religion of the sword," as though there were in that era an alternative means of territorial expansion besides war. And as the European colonialists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries systematically plundered the natural resources of the Middle East and North Africa, inadvertently creating a rabid political and religious backlash that would produce what is now popularly called "Islamic fundamentalism," the image of the dreaded Muslim warrior, "clad in a long robe and brandishing his scimitar, ready to slaughter any infidel that might come his way," became a widely popular literary cliche. It still is.

Today, the traditional image of the Muslim horde has been more or less replaced by a new image: the Islamic terrorist, strapped with explosives, ready to be martyred for Allah, eager to take as many innocent people as possible with him. What has not changed, however, is the notion that Islam is a religion whose adherents have been embroiled in a perpetual state of holy war, or jihad, from the time of Muhammad to this very day.

Yet the doctrine of jihad, like so many doctrines in Islam, was not fully developed as an ideological expression until long after Muhammad's death, when Muslim conquerors began absorbing the cultures and practices of he Near East. Islam, it must be remembered, was born in an era of grand empires and global conquests, a time in which the Byzantines and Sasanians - both theocratic kingdoms - were locked in a permanent state of religious war for territorial expansion. The Muslim armies that spread out of the Arabian Peninsula simply joined in the existing fracas; they neither created it nor defined it, though they quickly dominated it. Despite the common perception in the West, the Muslim conquerors did have not force conversion upon the conquered peoples; indeed, they did not even encouraged it. The fact is that the financial and social advantages of being an Arab Muslim in the eighth and ninth centuries were such that Islam quickly became an elite clique, which a non-Arab could join only through a complex process that involved becoming first the client of an Arab.

This was also an era in which religion and the state were one unified entity. With the exception of a few remarkable men and women, no Jew, Christian, Zoroastrian, or Muslim of this time would have considered his or her religion to be rooted in the personal confessional experiences of individuals. Quite the contrary. Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity; it defined your politics, your economics, and your ethics. More than anything else, your religion was your citizenship. Thus, the Holy Roman Empire had its officially sanctioned and legally enforced version of Christianity, just as the Sasanian Empire had its officially sanctioned and legally enforced version of Zoroastrianism. In the Indian subcontinent, Vaisnava kingdoms (devotees of Vishnu and his incarnations) vied with Saiva kingdoms (devotees of Shiva) for territorial control, while in China, Buddhist rulers fought Taoist rulers for political ascendency. Throughout every one of these regions, but especially in the Near East, where religion explicitly sanctioned the state, territorial expansion was identical to religious proselytization. Thus, every religion was a "religion of the sword."

As the Muslim conquerors set about developing the meaning and function of war in Islam, they had at their disposal the highly developed and imperially sanctioned ideals of religious warfare as defined and practiced by the Sasanian and Byzantine empires. In fact, the term "holy war" originates not with Islam but with Christian Crusaders who first used it to give theological legitimacy to what was in reality a battle for land and trade routes. "Holy war" was not a term used by Muslim conquerors, and it is in no way a proper definition of the word jihad. There are a host of words in Arabic that can be definitively translated as "war"; jihad is not one of them.

The word jihad literally means "a struggle," "a striving," or "a great effort." In its primary religious connotation (sometimes referred to as "the greater jihad"), it means the struggle of the soul to overcome the sinful obstacles that keep a person from God. This is why the word jihad is nearly as always followed in the Qur'an by the phrase "in the way of God." However, because Islam considers this inward struggle for holiness and submission to be inseparable from the outward struggle for the welfare of humanity, jihad has more often been associated with its secondary connotation ("the lesser jihad"): that is, any exertion - military or otherwise - against oppression and tyranny. And while this definition of jihad has occasionally been manipulated by militants and extremists to give religious sanction to what are in actuality social and political agendas, that is not at all how Muhammad understood the term.

War, according to the Qur'an, is either just or unjust; it is never "holy." Consequently, jihad is best defined as a primitive "just war theory": a theory born out of necessity and developed in the midst of a bloody and often chaotic war that erupted in 624 CE between Muhammad's small but growing community and the all-powerful, ever-present Quraysh.

... No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Into My Own

One of my wishes is that those dark trees, 
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze, 
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom, 
But stretched away unto the edge of doom. 

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away, 
Fearless of ever finding open land, 
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand. 

I do not see why I should e’er turn back, 
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here 
And long to know if still I held them dear. 

They would not find me changed from him they knew -- 
Only more sure of all I thought was true

... Robert Frost


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 

... Billy Collins

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light 
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

... Billy Collins

Lost In The Forest

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

As if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood --
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

... Pablo Neruda

Monday, January 26, 2009


Bryan: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you. 

Marko: [after a long pause] Good luck.


You must watch this enchanting movie...

It is a wonderful seasoning of all enjoyments to think of those we love.

Love In The Time Of Cholera

Florentino Ariza: I love you, my crowned goddess. We're going to stay like this. 
Fermina Urbino: You can't mean it. 
Florentino Ariza: From the moment I was born, I have never said anything I did not mean. 
Fermina Urbino: And how long do you... you think we can... stay like this? 
Fermina Urbino: Forever. 
Fermina Urbino: Forever? 
Florentino Ariza: After 53 years, seven months and 11 days and night, my heart was at last fulfilled. And I discovered, to my joy, that it is life and not death that has no limits.

Il Postino

Pablo Neruda: When you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it. 

Slumdog Millionaire

Police Inspector: Doctors... Lawyers... never get past 60 thousand rupees. He's won 10 million. 
Police Inspector: What can a slumdog possibly know? 
Jamal Malik: [quietly] The answers.

Revolutionary Road

April Wheeler: Tell me the truth, Frank. Remember that? We used to live by it.
And you know what's so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is however long they've lived without it.
No one forgets the truth, Frank.
They just get better at lying


Col. Claus von Stauffenberg: Look them in the eye. They'll remember you.

Pride And Glory

Ray Tierney: I've done your kind of loyalty, pop, and it's cost me too much. 
Francis Tierney Sr: What did it cost you, Ray? 
Ray Tierney: It cost me everything!


Asian Journalist: Mr. President, what place do you think you will have in history?
George W. Bush: History? In history we'll all be dead!

Embodied Theory Of Meaning

Human meaning concerns the character and significance of a person's interactions with their environments. The meaning of a specific aspect of dimension of some ongoing experience is that aspect's connections to other parts of past, present, of future (if possible) experiences. Meaning is relational. It is about how one thing relates to or connects with other things. This pragmatist view of meaning says that the meaning of a thing is its consequences for experience - how it "cashes out" by way of experience, either actual or possible experience. Sometimes our meanings are conceptually and propositionally coded, but that is merely the more conscious, selective dimension of a vast, continuous process of immanent meanings that involve structures, patterns, qualities, feelings, and emotions. An embodied view is naturalistic, insofar as it situates meaning within a flow of experience that cannot exist without a biological organism engaging its environment. Meanings emerge "from the bottom up" through increasingly complex levels of organic activity; they are not the construction of a disembodied mind.

The semantics of embodied meaning that is supported by recent research in the cognitive sciences provides a naturalistic perspective, one that makes no explanatory use of any alleged disembodied or "purely rational" capacities. A naturalistic theory of meaning takes as its working hypothesis the idea that all of our so-called higher cognitive faculties (e.g., of conceptualization and reasoning) recruit cognitive resources that operate in our sensorimotor experience and our monitoring of our emotions. The guiding assumption for such a naturalistic semantics is what John Dewey called a "principal of continuity."

Dewey's Principle of Continuity:
"The primary postulate of a naturalistic theory of logic is continuity of the lower (less complex) and the higher (more complex) activities and forms. The idea of continuity is not self-explanatory. But its meaning excludes complete rupture on one side and mere repetition of identities on the other; it precludes reduction of the "higher" to the "lower" just as it precludes complete breaks and gaps... What is excluded by the postulate of continuity is the appearance upon the scene of a totally new outside force as a cause of changes that occur." (Dewey 1938/1991, 30-31)

An embodied view of meaning looks for the origins and structures of meaning in the organic activities of embodied creatures in interaction with their changing environments. It sees meaning and all our higher functioning as growing out of and shaped by our abilities to perceive things, manipulate objects, move our bodies in space, and evaluate our situation. Its principle of continuity is that the "higher" develops from the "lower," without introducing from the outside any new metaphysical kinds.

I will be using the terms embodied meaning and immanent meaning to emphasize those deep-seated bodily sources of human meaning that go beyond the merely conceptual and propositional. Structures and dimensions of this immanent meaning are what make it possible for us to do propositional thinking. But, if we reduce meaning to words and sentences (or to concepts and propositions), we miss or leave out where meaning really comes from. We end up intellectualizing human experience, understanding, and thinking, and we turn processes into static entities or properties. I will therefore be suggesting that any philosophy that ignores embodied meaning is going to generate a host of extremely problematic views about mind, thought, and language. I want to suggest, in anticipation of my arguments to come, some of the more important consequences of taking seriously a nondualistic account of mind and personal identity and recognizing the bodily basis of human meaning.

... The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, Mark Johnson

Love With No Object

There is a way of loving not attached to what is loved.
Observe how water is with
the ground, always moving toward the ocean, though the ground
tries to hold water's foot
and not let it go. 

This is how we are with wine and beautiful
food, wealth and power,
or just a dry piece of bread: we want and we get drunk with
wanting, then the headache
and bitterness afterward. 

Those prove that the attachment took
hold and held you back. 

Now you
proudly refuse help. 
"My love is pure. I have an intuitive
union with God. I don't need
anyone to show me how to be free!" This is not the case.

A love with no object
is a true love. All else, shadow without substance. 

Have you
seen someone fall in
love with his own shadow? That's what we've done. Leave
partial loves and find one
that's whole. 

Where is someone who can do that? They're 
so rare, those hearts that carry
the blessing and lavish it over eveything. 

Hold out your
beggar's robe and accept
their generosity. Anything not coming from that will damage
the cloth, like a sharp stone
tearing your sincerity. 

Keep that intact, and use clarity;
call it reason or discernment,
you have within you a deciding force that knows what to
receive, what to turn from.

... Mathnawi III: 2248-80, Mevlana Rumi

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Both Sides Now, 2000

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

The Water Is Wide

The water is wide, I cannot get o'er
Neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

Streets Of London

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Thursday, January 22, 2009

His Guarantee

“Do not let the delay of what you are fervently praying for discourage you, 
or dishearten you - for He has Guaranteed you the answer in what He chooses for you 
(not in what you choose for yourself) and when He wills, 
not when you do.”

... The Hikam of ibn 'Ata Allah

What A Difference There Is Between Them!

When He opens a way for you and makes Himself known to you, 
then do not worry about your lack of deeds. 
He only opened the way for you 
because He desired to make Himself known to you. 

Do you not see that while He grants gnosis of Himself to you, 
you have only deeds to offer Him? 

What He brings you - 
What you bring Him - 
What a difference there is between them!

... The Hikam of ibn 'Ata Allah


"Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; 
it is generally the by-product of other activities."

... Aldous Huxley


"I asked the wise man
To tell me the secret of life; 
The wise man whispered:
It cannot be told,
It is Wrapped in Silence"

... Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi


“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; 
An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

... Winston Churchill

Two Wolves

An old Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson about life:

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves."

"One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego."

"The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. "

This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old chief simply replied, "The one you feed."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wasn't It First Merely A Thought And A Quest?

Even though you're not equipped,
keep searching:
equipment isn't necessary on the way to the Lord.
Whoever you see engaged in search,
become her friend and cast your head in front of her,
for choosing to be a neighbor of seekers,
you become one yourself;
protected by conquerors,
you will yourself learn to conquer.
If an ant seeks the rank of Solomon,
don't smile contemptuously upon its quest.
Everything you possess of skill, and wealth and handicraft,
wasn't it first merely a thought and a quest?

...Mathnawi III: 1445-1449, Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Theory Of Law?

The introduction of logic into legal theory at a later stage in its life is but one instance of the process whereby a new subject matter is introduced to inform one segment of theoretical discourse or another. In fact, the history of usul al-fiqh may be said to consist of a massive body of questions (masa'il) which infiltrated the growing corpus of that theory throughout the centuries. Entirely new questions and questions stemming from older issues continued to arise and to demand theoretical attention. There is very little doubt then that the number and sheer content of the issues discussed continued to grow with the passage of time. The tradition was cumulative in the truest sense of the word.

While as a collective entity legal theory may have been cumulative, individual theorists were rather selective in their choice of the particular topics (=questions) that made up their respective theories. The choice of certain topics in preference to others was combined with another feature which added to the individualized character of each theory, namely, the emphasis and deemphasis placed upon the issues discussed. The very inclusion of one issue rather than another is quite significant and telling; but more telling is the generality or intensity of detail with which each issue is treated. Not entirely representative, but certainly an illustrative example, is the case of Shatibi. With every omission, expansion and digression, Shatibi was attempting to serve his own purpose, a purpose latently dictated by a clearly envisioned agenda. It is also in Shatibi that we observe how social and other factors determine both the form and content of legal discourse.

Now, all this means that both diachronically and synchronically legal theory was far from monolithic. Indeed, the synchronic and diachronic variations are so profound and prominent that in making terminological choices we oght to refer to the individual theories as independent and distinct contributions, although they must be considered thus within the purview of a tradition, that is, the collective and cumulative product of usul al-fiqh. Acknowledging the distinctness of each theorist's ideas is an obvious methodological necessity. No longer can one afford to speak of a fifth-/eleventh-century Juwayni and a seventh-/thirteenth-century Amidi interchangeably; nor can one afford to treat as identical the theories of contemporary authors writing in different environments.

Obviously, the most salient feature of the tradition within which all theories have been expounded is the divine source that binds them together. Yet, concomitant with this source there emerged a particular hermeneutic - constituting a common denominator in all these theories - which remained the single force that bestowed on theoretical discourse a certain unity within which interpretative variations could and did exist. No doubt this hermeneutic, which persistently defined the general character of Sunni usul al-fiqh, was a product of the sociological structure of classical and medieval Muslim societies. More precisely, this hermeneutic represented the descriptive (and later prescriptive) methodology that was dictated by the imperatives of the positive legal system in existence. When we say that no amount of interpretation could have altered the legal effects of the Quranic verse that allots the male in inheritance twice the share of the female, we mean in effect that the social structure as well as the positive legal system that was built to cater to its needs could not have allowed a different interpretation, say, an interpretation similar to that proffered by the modernists, Shahrur or Rahman. The divine source, the combination of the Quran and Sunna, was textually and hermeneutically bound, ineluctably, with the sociological and, consequently, juridical realities of classical and medieval Muslim societies. Thus, in the final analysis, the source becomes subservient to the imperatives of a particular, historically dictated, hermeneutic.

It is precisely this relationship between usul al-fiqh and the particular sociological and juridical backgrounds against which it had developed and was finely elaborated that became the locus of the modern reformist critique. Except for a minority of secularists, the great majority of modern Muslim thinkers and intellectuals insist upon the need to maintain the connection between law and the divine command. At the same time, they reject the specifically traditional connection, defined by the classical and medieval hermeneutic, as irrelevant to the modern age. Their rejection stems from two factors that are inextricably linked to each other. First, there is the wave of fundamental social, technological, economic and political changes that accompanied the military and cultural domination of the West over the Orient. With these changes, a new reality, on virtually all levels, emerged, thereby rendering the traditional system largely obsolete. The need for a substitute to the traditional system had already become obvious by the first half of the century, when European codes were introduced to the Ottoman Empire lock, stock and barrel.

The second factor that dictated and still dictates the shape of new reformist ideas is the movement of codification (based on indigenous and foreign laws) which has gained momentum in the Muslim world since the middle of the nineteenth century. With the introduction of these codes there arose the need to modify the infrastructure of the existing legal system in order to sustain these codes. In addition to the introducing of a western-styled hierarchy of courts, a new legal profession emerged. The training of modern lawyers who staffed these courts required the institutionalization of modern colleges of law, a fact which had a fundamental structural impact upon traditional class of legal scholars. The role these scholars played in the judicial system was gradually phased out, with the concomitant result that they could no longer be conceived as an integral part of the legal system. Their traditional colleges of law lost the financial support of both the state and private individuals, and the prestige of the social status of the traditional faqih thus gave way to the emerging class of modern lawyers.

The transference of "law-making" from the hands of the traditional jurists to those of the state constituted a major shift in legal theoretical discourse. The mujtahid-muqallid dichotomy which was the backbone of both the judicial system and the legal theory that accompanied it, was forced to disappear, thus creating new imperatives in the reformulation of legal theory. Individual ijtihad became, for all purposes and intents, extinct, having been replaced by state legislation committees staffed mainly by modern lawyers.

... A History Of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction To Sunni Usul al-Fiqh, Wael B Hallaq

In His Hands...

For Nunis, if you are reading this:

Ask not the question: what is going to happen?
Let things come upon you as they come.
Be at peace in the Now
That belongs to God; thy faith will reward thee.

If thy thoughts turn to the Most High,
He is with thee; and whatever lies before thee,
In this world or the next, is in His Hands.

... The Present Moment XXXII, Frithjof Schuon -

No God But God

Ever since the publication of this book, a number of people - both Muslims and non-Muslims - have taken issue with my characterization of the current conflict within Islam as signaling a period of reformation. This is understandable, considering that the term reformation has certain unavoidable Christian and European connotations that may not be applicable to the Arab and Muslim world. Some reject the term because it seems to imply an inherent flaw in Islam that requires "reforming". Others view it as overly optimistic, perceiving the surge in jihadism as an indication of devolution, rather than evolution, of Islam.

But I use reformation deliberately, not only to emphasize that the violence and bloodshed we are witnessing in large parts of the Islamic world are chiefly the result of an internal struggle between Muslims (rather than of a war between Islam and the West), but also to stress that the current conflicts within Islam are those with which all great religions grapple as they face the challenges of modernity. And while there is no question that certain parallels between the Christian and Islamic reformations can seem strained, there are some similarities that cannot and should not be dismissed, because they reflect universal conflicts in all religious traditions. Chief among these is the conflict over who has the authority to define faith: the individual or the institution.

In Islam, this issue is somewhat complicated by the fact that the religion has no central religious authority - that is, no Muslim Pope or Muslim Vatican. Religious authority in Islam is instead scattered among a host of smaller, competing, though exceedingly powerful clerical institutions that have managed to maintain a virtual monopoly over the meaning and message of Islam for fourteen centuries. This religious authority is self-conferred, not divinely ordained; it is the result of scholarship, not divine decree. A Muslim cleric's judgment on a particular issue is respected and followed not because it carries the authority of God, but because the cleric's knowledge is supposed to grant him a deeper insight into what God desires of humanity. Indeed, it could be said that Islam's clerical class has maintained its monopoly over religious interpretation simply by maintaining its monopoly over religious learning.

That is no longer the case. Dramatic increases in literacy and education, widespread access to new and novel theories and sources of knowledge, and a swelling sense of nationalism and individualism have exposed many Muslims to fresh and innovative interpretations of Islam. A whole new generation of westernized converts and "veiled-again" Muslim (lapsed Muslims who have returned to their faith and traditions) are increasingly uniting in worship, not in the Grand Mosques of their parents but in independent "garage mosques" that have sprung up all over the world. Muslim men and women, first worlders and third worlders, gay and straight, extremists and moderates, militants and pacifists, clerics and laypeople, are actively re-interpreting Islam according to their own changing needs. By doing so, they are not only redefining Islam by taking its interpretation out of the iron grip of the clerical institutions, they are shaping the future of this rapidly expanding and deeply fractured faith.

However, just as the Christian Reformation opened the door to multiple, often conflicting, and sometimes baffling interpretations of Christianity, so has the reformation of Islam created a number of wildly divergent and competing ideologies. Perhaps it is inevitable that, as religious authority passes from institutions to individuals, there will be men and women whose radical reinterpretations of religion be fueled by their extreme social and political agendas. In this sense, jihadists like Osama bin Laden must be understood as products of, not counters to, the Islamic Reformation. Indeed, bin Laden joins a long and unsavory list of militant puritans - whether Muslims, Christians, Jewish, or Hindu - who consider themselves and their individual followers to be the only true believers, and all others to be hypocrites, impostors and apostates who must be convinced of their folly or abandoned to their horrible fates.

Like puritans of other faiths - militaristic or not - the jihadists' principal goal is the "purifying" of their own religious communities. In other words, their first target is not the West, or Jews, or Christians, or Zionists, or Crusaders, or any other outsiders (what the jihadists term "the far enemy"). Their agenda can most clearly be observed in the civil war they have launched in Iraq. For whatever else may be fueling the violence in that country, there can be little doubt that the primary aim of the jihadists who have infiltrated Iraq and who represent the most ruthless segment of the insurgency is the massacre of all those Muslims (particularly the Shi'ah majority) whom they regard as rawafida, or apostates.

Of course, that is not to say that the far enemy is not a target of jihadism, as New York, Madrid, and London can testify. But it is mainly as a means to galvanize other Muslims to the jihadist cause that most of these attacks against the West should be understood. The attacks of September 11, 2001, for example, were by bin Laden's own admission specifically targetted to goad the United States into an exaggerated retaliation against the Islamic world so as to mobilize Muslims to, in the words of George W. Bush, "choose sides."

Now, four years removed from that tragic day, perhaps the most hopeful development in this internal battle to define the faith and practice of over a billion people is that Muslims themselves are becoming increasingly aware that they are as much endangered by the extremist agenda as are the so-called infidels. Thus, the day before the London bombings, one hundred seventy of the world's leading clerics and scholars, representing every major sect and school of law in Islam, gathered in Amman, Jordan, where, in an unprecedented display of intersectarian collaboration, they issued a fatwa, or legal ruling, denouncing all acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. The Amman declaration was not only a tacit (if belated) acknowledgment of the civil war raging within Islam, it was an attempt by the clerical institutions to re-exert some measure of authority over those who have hijacked Islam for their own murderous causes.

It didn't work. The next day, and almost as if in response to the Amman fatwa, London was attacked. Two weeks later, a bomb demolished a hotel in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, killing nearly a hundred people - many of them poor, many of them Muslims. Two weeks after that, three hundred fifty bombs tore through Bangladesh, one after the other, in a violent attempt to dislodge the country's fledging democratic government. After each of these attacks, a new wave of fatwas was issued, again denouncing the use of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam. And after each fatwa, the jihadists struck again. And the war goes on. Reformations, as we know from Christian history, are bloody events. And though the end is near, the Islamic Reformation has some way to go before it is resolved.

... Preface to No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan

My Winter Vacation '08

On top of the famous skiing resort in Boulder, Vail.

On the way up the peek of Vail in a gondola.

Ground Zero in Washington DC buzzing with reconstruction works.

The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.

Central Park, New York.

The Empire States Building, New York.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Maestro Lorin Maazel conducting his last performance.

Café Lalo, New York, where Meg Ryan was waiting for her blind date Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail.

Devoured my appetite at a famous Malaysian restaurant, Nyonya, in New York. Have not had these food since I came to the US.

At the famed Waldorf=Astoria Hotel lobby, or famously known as the "Two-Hyphens" where movies like Maid in Manhattan, Serendipity, Scent of a Woman, Coming to America, Out-of-Towners and most recently, Bride Wars were shot.

Bryant Park, New York, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue, 40th Street and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. It is a privately-managed park for the public, with a pond and a skating rink in the middle. The central building of the New York Public Library is in the park.

The craziness of New York City. This is Fifth Avenue.

Part of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC, this is the National Museum of Natural History - where 'A Night At The Museum' was shot.

The Smithsonian Museum Castle Building, Washington DC.

The Library of Congress, Washington DC, the largest library in the world by shelf space and holds the largest number of books.

Inside Capitol Hill, under the famous dome.

The seat of political power, Capitol Hill, Washington DC.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.

The Washington Monument, Washington DC, as a commemoration to George Washington, who remains one of the country's most admired leaders more than two centuries after his death.  Its reflection can be seen in the aptly named Reflecting Pool, a rectangular pool extending to the west toward the Lincoln Memorial.

The White House, Washington DC, taken from the south facade.

The White House, taken from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inside "Serendipity", the cafe where the movie starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale took its name and location. We had to make a 3.5hrs reservation, but the menu was chocolate-heaven.

"The Apprentice"

The United Nations, New York, at night.

The famous Union Square.

At Stardust Diner, the waiters and waitresses were all trained in Broadway and waiting for their lucky break. Its a continuous free entertainment of great quality.

The crowd and ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Centre - where Home Alone was filmed.

If you remember "The Sound of Music", you will remember the von Trapp family. After fleeing Austria, they settled in the elegant Stowe, Vermont. The built the Trapp Family Lodge and the establishment is still run by the von Trapp family. The surrounding was exquisite.

Visited the headquarters of Ben & Jerry's - where it all started, in South Burlington, Vermont. Yummy...

"Bridges of Madison County"

On a road trip in Portland, Maine.

My close friend and me baked Christmas cookies and painted them as well :)

My friend's exquisite 2 cats ... so cute!

I went for snow-shoeing in Maine.

And did my first skiing in The Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine.

First night in New York City - the famous Madison Square Garden.

JetBlue was my choiced flight. Was stuck in Denver International Airport for 8 hours and when I reached JFK, was stuck for another 20 hours due to extreme weather conditions. I gave up flying to Maine and took a train to Boston instead.

Starbucks, was a reprieve from the cold after whole day of snow-hiking in the mountains. We stopped at The Copper Mountains Ski Resort for a rest before the 2.5 hours drive back.

Switzerland? No ... but really looks like it. This is the famous Vail, my favourite ski resort 12,000 feet above sea level. I come here regularly - even for not skiing, and 3 hours drive from home.

On the way to Vail, we spotted many deers. Who is looking at who?