Friday, April 27, 2007

The Prophet's Challenge

Do not show me a verse saying women have to wear the hijab.
Show me an instance where the Prophet jailed someone for not covering up.

Do not show me a hadith about how long the Prophet’s beard was,
Did the Prophet ever criminalize shaving in his laws?

There are ample examples of his kindness and his gentle smile,
Yet show me where the Prophet punished a boy for having the wrong hairstyle?

Yes, I know praying 5 times a day is mandatory.
But beating someone who doesn't is not the way of my Nabi.

And while we are at it ...

Did my Prophet cut off the breasts of a mannequin?

Did my Prophet regulate the color of the scarf?

Let’s see what the first words of Prophet Muhammad, as leader of Medina, as the head of the world’s first truly Islamic state, was.

It wasn’t a dress regulation, or a crackdown on music, or mandating the beard’s length.

Ya aiuhan nas

O people.

Ibsus Salam

Exchange the greetings of peace with one another.

Wa atimut tawaam

Feed those who are hungry.

Wa sallu bil laili wannaasu niyam

Pray in the night when the rest of the people are asleep.

Idkhulul jannata bissalaam

Surely you will enter Paradise in peace.

The reason why Iran is cracking down on head scarves, T-shirts, hairstyles etc. is not because they want to make things more 'Islamic' - it's because they failed the Prophet's Challenge of delivering basic services to the people. Food. Water. Social Programs. Education. Cost of Living.
Some commentators have suggested that the government is conducting this crackdown to distract attention from the rising cost of living in Iran and increasing tension with the international community over the nuclear issue.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Aliens, Islam and New Earth

I read of the discovery of a new Earth-like planet with interest.
Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface.
They say the benign temperatures on the planet mean any water there could exist in liquid form, and this raises the chances it could also harbour life.
One of the first television series I watched with any regularity was Star Trek TNG. The fantasy world of starships exploring galaxies and aliens had never failed to fire my imagination. Of course in my role playing the Federation captain was Muslim and often he would say "Mr Riker you have the bridge" and then go to the ready room to say his prayers! How he would find the Qiblah ten light years away from Sector 001 and what prayers he would pray at warp speed were details not to be bothered with at the tender age of ten.

I had often wondered - what Islam says about the possible existence of alien life? For example, the first verse of the first chapter of the Quran ends with "Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds".

Worlds. Plural. Why did He use the plural - does it mean there are worlds besides ours? Other planets containing life, or parallel universes? Or just a translation using the royal form of Old English?

Then there is this verse when Allah tells the angels "I will create a vicegerent on earth" referring to man (Adam) [2:30]. Now, humans are appointed as God's deputy on Earth. Could He have appointed some other creature a vicegerent on some other planet?

I am of course confident we won't be invaded by smarter aliens because "Do ye not see that Allah has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth ..." [31:20]. Maybe this is why we haven't received any radio signals from that new "Super-Earth" planet they discovered - those aliens just aren't as smart as humans.

It's great that we discovered such a planet - now we have something to aim for. I hope the day when we can travel faster than light is closer than it seems. I am sure there will be a way to make it into a reality now that we have something to aim for. I still have a newspaper cutting of when they discovered the first extra-solar planet, now there's more than 200 known.

The Quran is of course clear on the existence of other intelligent forms of life - there's the angels, and then there's the Jinn with whom we apparently share this planet. Although if you believe the stories we were told on summer nights in our village in Bangladesh at a bonfire when the power would go out, Jinns apparently have a whole kingdom on the planet of Uranus.

I don't know, if I were a being with the power of inter planetary travel I would probably choose Mars. Then of course, there is the story of the Jinn in the Bermuda Triangle.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No Biscuit For You

Customer service - two words that seem to be missing from the vocabulary of brown service people.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I get no satisfactory customer service from desi people. Even when the business says Satisfaction Guaranteed! I mean c’mon – it’s in that blue board behind you! I am supposed to be no. 1!

I am at Tim Horton’s – getting breakfast. It’s supposed to be this delicious egg and cheese inside a tea-biscuit. The woman hands me something that feels a little too hard to be a tea-biscuit. I open and it and peek inside. It’s the stuff, but inside a bagel.

“Hello?” I wave the bagel around. “This is a bagel.”

“Oh, we ran out of tea-biscuits,” Was her answer.

She didn’t even ask, or bother to inform. And just for clarification, before I paid for the stuff, I had asked the cashier if they had tea biscuits still.

This was not an isolated incident. The bank closest to us is filled with people of Eastern European descent – and we have been banking there for over a decade. The customer service is exemplary. However, a branch of the same bank near my aunt’s is staffed with all desi people – mostly Indian. The service? Down the drain. You are waiting in the line – no one comes to ask you what you are here for. You want to find someone to see what line you should be queuing up at, there is no one to answer your questions. The ‘good morning’ when you reach the cashier is said with the vitriol of a guy having his appendix out, and mistakes made are not even apologized for.

If you are not desi I would be interested to know if you have similar experiences. My theory is that desis take other fellow desis for granted. They know we don’t usually complain to a manager, we don’t fill out those customer review cards, we are usually too polite and accept what may.

For the record I returned that bagel.

Yay for small gestures.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hello Doctor

I really don’t like going to the doctor. It’s an unnerving experience. First, they make you wait in that big waiting hall. That’s ok – I can read the latest medical journals and brush up on my microbiology research. Those magazines and their articles on the latest study done on cancer rates of Himalayan rats are so interesting. What I hate is waiting in that little room they take you into when your name comes up. Now you got nothing to do but stare at the wall, where one brightly colored poster cheerfully announces “You may have Hepatitis B already!” Wow, gee thanks.

My doctors can be the sort of Jekyll and Hyde characters. One hardly speaks 5 words.

How are you? … OK… You have *insert random disease here* … take 2 teaspoons of *insert random scribble on notepad here* and see if the symptoms disappear in two weeks. NEXT!

Or there’s the other one. He seems to spend all the time with you – which is good – unless you happen to be waiting in that little room staring at the Hepatitis B poster while you can hear the doctor in the next room talking about his stock portfolio to the patient before you.

Today I got the second doctor, and thankfully the clinic was virtually empty. I was the last patient, and I had only come to get his signature on some form. He beckoned me to step into his office and took the form.

“Ah, you.” He pretended to recognize me while perusing through my file. “How come I don’t see you here more often? You last came two years ago! You should come more often.”

Wow, really? Sorry doctor, I will make a better effort. I didn’t realize one had to get sick so often.

“The clinic’s virtually empty.” I tried to make small talk. “I seem to be the last one in today!”

“Ya, and you are not even sick!” My doctor actually seemed sad at that fact. “It must mean the guy at the pharmacy downstairs must actually be reading my prescriptions correctly.”

He turned to me, expecting a laugh.

“Ha. Ha.” I said, finally getting it, and hoping he was really joking.

“I should get the car serviced if no one comes after you.” My doctor signed my form. “Can’t get my wife to take it to the mechanic for me.”

“Oh.” I uttered, not knowing what to say.

“Yah, she can’t drive manual. It’s a stickshift.”

“Oh,” I nodded.

The doctor stood up and winked at me.

“WHY do you think I got a stickshift? HAHAHA....!”

My goodness. Maybe I have something to learn from this guy after all …

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Movie And A Show

I watched a good movie over the weekend. It's Namastey London. On one side you can say as per the movie all young British desis are club going vodka-sipping dancers who are in love with white people that are secretly racist and unfaithful lovers.

On the other hand, you can say the movie depicts the life of one young spoilt desi girl who is a coconut - brown on the outside but white all the way through - whose troubled Indian father decides the best way to control his daughter would be to take her to India on the pretext of a vacation - and get her married off by force to an Indian guy from Punjab. What follows that idea is the crux of the movie.

The movie is a complete entertainer and works without going into exaggerations that Hindi movies are prone to take. Akshay Kumar wants to win the love of his wife but you don't see any of the cliche scenes where a group of thugs will try to harass Katrina Kaif and he has to fight ten men with bare hands. Speaking of Kaif she looks like a million bucks and her Anglo-Indian accent is very believable.

Lot of other issues (racism/generation gap/fobbiness) were raised in the movie, but what I took back after it ended was the song 'Viraaniya'. It was such a melodious tune!

Speaking of acting and Indian, we had our Boisakhi (Bengali new year) party on the weekend. It was mostly composed of our friends and families (Bangladeshis) who had moved to Canada from the Middle East. One of the skits involved a reporter for BTV interviewing Sachin Tendulkar after India lost to Bangladesh in the World Cup. And of course Tendulkar was played by yours truly *cough*

It was a blast, as the reporter asked him why India lost and 'Tendulkar' replied (in that high pitched voice), "Well we were busy doing ads the night before the game - you know important stuff." And then 'he' starts touting Nirma - the washing detergent - during the interview.

I could not but help think if you are a kid born and brought up here whose parents took them to such Bengali functions and other cultural and religious events, maybe you won't feel so out of touch with your brown-ness when the time comes to get married.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The House Slave Syndrome

I visited someone in Oakville the other day. Bengali guy, new house in a new subdivision, housewarming party and all that. In the middle of showing me the house, the uncle turned to me and said, "You know what's the best part of this area? All around, for miles, no desis. All white people!"

He positively beamed as he said this.

I could only stare. I wish I could find it in me to be rude and reply, "Well, uncle, too bad your neighbours can't say the same thing!"

Sure, I can understand some of the issues if you live in an area where there's lots of Bengali people. I sympathize with you if you have to go to Crescent Town to deliver a pack of sweets to Kulsum Aunty because your brother got his G2 driver's license, and God forbid should you talk to any girl on the way there, because 4th floor's Rohima Aunty, the BBC of aunties, is ever Watching, and will report how you went on and on with the daughter from the new family who had just arrived from Kuwait, all because she held the door open for you as you had forgotten Kulsum Aunty's buzzer number.

Yes, that can be a problem.

But some people wear their dislike of people of their own race as a badge of honour, and this I cannot stomach.

For some reason, I just can't imagine a white guy saying the following.

"Well, Jim, this area is so good. No white trash for miles! All Jamaican, Tamil and Bengalis here. Delightful! I must tell you, I am sick of the bland cooking these white people do. When these brown guys cook in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, a delightful aroma fills the neighborhood - so exotic!"

This sort of post-colonial hangover is not just limited to finding a house in an area devoid of desis. It also appears in the form of people like Michelle Malkin, an American of Oriental descent who delights in telling the right-wing why the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War was a good thing. It appears in the form of the Muslim who thinks all hijab should be banned because "we" should "integrate".

I, for one, have no problem with other cultures. And I, also, do not have a problem with mine.

Now, in the tradition of a favourite blogger of mine (Samosa), I leave you with a video. They say the hijab and the niqab are supposed to make a women less alluring. Ya, right!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

You Must Be A Bangladeshi Cricket Fan If ...

Being a Bangladeshi cricket fan means victories over big teams are like Eid - they are extremely fun when they happen but only occur twice a year.

Even though our team has improved considerably, old habits are hard to break. With this in mind, I give you -

Signs You Must Be A Bangladeshi Fan If:

  • The first thing you look when you check the scoreboard is the wickets column. Who cares if we have scored 10 runs in 10 overs, as long as the wickets column reads 0 wickets down, we are GOOD.

  • Every time our batsman goes for a swing your heart is in your mouth. We are almost equally happy to see a "well left" ball as a boundary hit.

  • Javed Omar scores 17 runs in 41 balls and then praises the opening partnership. You actually agree that this is a good performance from an opener.

  • No matter how good the situation is for Bangladesh, you are quietly confident of our team's ability to screw it up royally. Therefore, even if the opposition requires 17 runs per over you still can't relax until the last ball.

  • You also harbor grand delusions that no matter how bad the scoreboard is, someone will come and smash 100 runs in 30 balls or take 6 wickets in an over. You genuinely believe it will happen.

    Fun and jokes aside, I would like to thank the Bangladeshi cricket team for making us dream again, giving joy to a poverty-stricken country of 150 million and giving us all a cause to unite behind, once again.

    Joy Bangla!

    B'deshi fans in Toronto
  • Friday, April 06, 2007

    Good Friday Jummah Rant

    Today, on Good Friday, when everyone is home because it's a holiday, it's NOT a good idea to be the last person to use the shower. Zero hot water. Dancing In The Shower takes on a whole new meaning.

    Usually my policy of Jummah used to be Last Person In First Person Out. On Good Friday, with half of Toronto deciding to go to our mosque, it's Last Person In, First Person To Get A Parking Ticket.

    If there are new ways to be stupid the Muslim community will find it. Even if it is the usually well organized Islamic Foundation. Today, as we were leaving the prayers, one volunteer stood in front of one stairway.

    "No, you can't exit from here." He said adamantly. "The sisters use that gate."

    To give you an idea, we were on the first floor, the "sisters" were on the ground floor. The stair he was blocking led from the first floor to the ground floor to an exit. So we were forced to take the longer route and this led to jams and lots of pushing and shoving and unintentional touching of body parts in an inappropriate manner.

    Apparently, if I use the same door as a girl, to get out of the mosque, it's a sin. Even though I may have seen a woman elsewhere minus her hijab, the sight of her, IN A MOSQUE, dressed in full Islamic garb, is so alluring to me as a man, that I may not be able to control myself.

    And what do most men do? As soon as they exit, they come around to the same gate to wait for their wives and daughters to exit so they may walk to the car together!

    PS. Is it just me, but whenever I see an Easter Bunny, I want to eat a rabbit? I guess being brought up in the Middle East, I learnt to eat all types of exotic meat. Anything tastes good with homous!

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Babel and Provoked


    We (a few of us) had gathered at a friend's house to watch Babel (and eat some pizza and wings). Just before the movie started, one of my friends got a phone call. It was this girl he was "seeing" for marriage.

    The movie started. He was still on the phone. Right near the end of the movie, as the credits started to roll in, he bid her goodbye and hung up. As the movie finished, I looked at him.

    "And you are still thinking of whether she is the right one for you?" I asked incredulously. "Not only did she talk to you for over TWO HOURS (and from all the laughing you did it was an interesting conversation) she saved you from watching this horrendously boring and crappy movie. Just for that, you should marry her."

    Yes, Babel was really that bad.

    I liked Crash. So when I was told Babel was just an international version of it, I was intrigued. Where Crash was gripping and engaging, however, Babel was just plain tedious, long, dragged out and painful to watch. At times, we were just forwarding through some of the scenes, so predictable and tired we were of the movie.

    Really, how different is Babel to the rest of Hollywood movies?

  • Arabs with guns shooting at white blonde women? Check.
  • Foreign kids are uncouth and gross compared with the well manicured Caucasian kids? Check.
  • Beer drinking, border crashing, illegally working Mexicans? Check.
  • Horny, perverted, exotic, naked, sexually ungratified Asian women? Check.
  • Happy ending for no one except the white, all-American family? Check.

    All in all, you are better off re-renting Crash.


    No, I am not previewing Provoked just so I can include a picture of Aishwarya here. The premise of the film, which reflects a true story, is an interesting one. Rai plays Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a woman caught in a bad and abusive marriage, who finally kills her husband, unable to take the constant threats, rapes and abuses anymore. She is sentanced to life imprisonment.

    Her case was taken up by the pressure group Southall Black Sisters, and in 1992 the sentence was quashed. The landmark case helped create a new defence in court for women suffering from domestic violence.

    Should women have the right to kill their husbands just because they are in a bad marriage? This was in UK, where a woman can easily run to a shelter with her kids and the full support of law. It's not a patriarchical backwards Eastern country, where the man's word is the law. If you take the law in your own hands, should you not bear the consequences? I once wrote of someone I know who was trapped in a bad marriage. She didn't kill her husband.

    Admittedly, the outcome of public sympathy would have been much different if it was the wife abusing her husband, and the man ended up killing his wife. Why?
  • Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    Just In Time Report

    A big, important decision awaited me.

    I was on Bloor Street, approaching the Don Valley Parkway exit. Do I take it, or continue along Bloor Street and use another local road to get to my destination. I had to make up my mind quickly; the exit was fast approaching. I quickly reached for the dial and turned on the radio to 680.

    Yes! It was 5.41, and they have traffic reports on the 1s. Quick!

    "This is 680 news with Paul Cook and Lisa Brandt .."

    Yes, yes! I know, get to the point!

    "... with traffic and weather on the 1s, we bring you the latest..."

    Oh my God! I could almost see the exit now.

    "And now we have the traffic report, brought to you by Pizza Pizza ..."

    Can you give me the damn report already?

    "... Pizza Pizza, where we now have our 2-for-1 special. Buy one medium size pizza and get another one of equal or less value at no extra charge!"

    Oh how good! Pizza! Will you give me the @#$! traffic already?

    ".. and now here is Darryl Dommer.."

    I was at the exit. Do I really need to know WHO is giving me my traffic report?

    "... and the Don Valley Parkway is moving smoothly..."

    Ah yes! Just in time, thank God! Confident that I would be able to make it in time for Smallville, I took the exit. I was now on the Don Valley Parkway, which, as he promised, should be moving smoothly. The traffic reporterer however, wasn't finished.

    "... Parkway is moving smoothly, till the Bloor viaduct from where it's heavy, bumper-to-bumper, to the 401 ..."

    As the long line of cars stretched ahead of me, their bumpers glistening in the sunlight, I contemplated whether Pizza Pizza delivered to cars stuck on the Parkway. Damn you 680 news commercial plugs.

    *shakes fist*