Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reviving The Islamic Spirit - 8th Convention - A Recap

I asked a friend who went to the RIS this year for a recap. Following is her reply.

A guest blog post by Anika Imam.

I didn't take notes this year and haven't seen any detailed recaps yet but I can give you a few lines from memory:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Fort Hood shootings: He condemned it of course. He also mentioned that Obama said, 'It is despicable that Americans have to be afraid for their lives in their own land', but its also despicable that Afghanis have to be afraid for their lives IN THEIR OWN LAND, and Iraqis are afraid in their own land....that's ALSO DESPICABLE!!

Dr Tariq Ramadan (who my mom now loves): He talked about how often times Muslims act unethical even though we should be more ethical, and often non-Muslims in Western society are much more ethical and honest and we should learn from the good Western society, they often emulate what we should be doing as Muslims in the first place....

Habib Ali Jafri: We should not call people "non-Muslims", we should call them "not-yet-Muslims".....creates a less of an us-against-them mentality, and more opportunity for dawah.

Dr. Hakim Abdul Jackson: Very fired up and passionate, did not hold back any punches and was not worried about offending anyone. He said how we should play ball in this existing sociopolitical world order, if we want to get anywhere in the next 50 years as Future Muslims. (-wasn't there for this one, heard about it, sad I missed it.)

Dr Tariq Ramadan (right after Dr. Jackson) on Sunday morning: We should stop playing the victim mentality and self pity routine, as Muslims. (also missed it, heard about it.)

Imam Zaid Shakir on Domestic Violence: Forgiveness and Mercy are the key elements....and it is a mental sickness due to several reasons, usually poor self image, need for control, unbalanced power. Men can be tyrannical in the home, but women can also be very tyrannical and sharp-tongued (of which many men cheered). That a sharp tongue can also lead you into the Hellfire. Also, if you want abusive grandchildren, then just abuse your children, because that's what will happen.

Dr. Tariq Ramadan in the French Session (from my own translation, so insha'Allah it is accurate): Spirituality is like l'art, and art also has a technique, spirituality also has a technique, which brings us closer (rapprochement) to Allah. Both require discipline. He talked about sense and action, why do we do what we do? Heart looking for proof. Someone asked about best form of jihad. He replied that resisting reformation is a type of jihad, understanding and responding in a discussion is a jihad.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, SWOT Anaylsis lecture:

Strengths: Things we already know, how Muslims enjoy more education and wealth than average, Alhamdulillah.

Weaknesses: How divorce is on the rise amongst young Muslims in North America and they are taking notes from Western mentality, of quick way out. Marriage is not meant to make us happy, it is meant to make us HOLY, its supposed to bring us closer to Allah.

Threats/Opportunity: Also we should be grateful to live in Canada, where we can even have such a conference...and that most of us shouldnt complain that we are oppressed just because we get hassled in the airport...thats not oppression...oppression is getting your tongues cut out because you are teaching people the Quran....which happened to the Sahaba!

Broadminded themes, not for West-haters.... :-P

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Resource Management: He read that 85% of the world's fishes are now gone. He wanted to confirm this, so he asked an oceanographer from Princeton who confirmed it. Shaykh Yusuf was saying how we waste our tuna fish on feeding our cats, which cats will eat anything. They can feed themselves and don't need tuna only.

A convert's mother was on stage, saying how she is Catholic, but she is so glad her son converted to Islam, because it changed him completely. he used to be into drugs, and would not respect her, but now he is very kind and respectful towards his mother. Three people also converted on stage.

Also on fish: In Mauritania, fisherman can barely get any fish into their nets. There is no more fish. They thought maybe they have not been grateful to Allah or they may have done some wrongdoing to have this happen. They prayed to Allah swt and suddenly their nets were full of fish. One could attribute this to coincidence or to a Higher Being.

A couple of other points that came to mind if anyone wants to learn:

Dr. Zainab Alwadi: She referenced several ayahs from the Quran pertaining to abuse, if anyone wants to read. Surah Hujarat, Ayah 49, Surah Noor, Surah Nisa and Surah Baqarah (can't rememeber the ayah but I know it is somewhere between 169-269).

Imam Zaid Shakir: Terrorists usually do not come from nurturing families. People from nurturing families in general do not do these types of things.

3 Idiots - Just Good, Not At All A Great Movie (and why Amir Khan is also not the Chosen One)

How was the movie?

Well, before I begin, three things.

First, if you are not into Bollywood skip this post.

Second, if you are going to watch 3 Idiots, watch it and then come back to this post. This is not a review, but a discussion, so I cannot guarantee no spoilers.

Third, if you are are a die hard Amir Khan fan, one who believes He can do no wrong and is the Chosen One and 3 Idiots is the Movie of the Year Decade then perhaps you should skip this post also, as this post makes sense and says some stuff that could be construed as blasphemy in your world.

Er, OK, so how was the movie?

Here's my quick take of the movie. It's a good movie. It entertains 80% of the time. Second half drags on. The twist in the story is unbelievable illogical incomprehensible. Still, overall, it's worth the $10 admission in a theatre and as I said, it's a good movie.

So, what's the problem?

Where I draw the line is when I listen to all this Amir Khan fans who have elevated this (and any thing he does) to unbelievable levels. Yesterday I went to a party and one guy was again saying the same thing and I couldn't take it any more - thus this post was born.

OK, so what exactly does this Amir Khan fan club say?

Well, first, they always say how meticulous and professional Amir Khan is and how realistic are his movies. Well, the first scene of this movie defies any logic.

A guy fakes a heart attack on a plane, makes the plane turn around, runs out THROUGH the airport, THROUGH security, rushes out of the airport and then goes on his business. Even given that this is India, in today's world, is that realistic?

I am not even going into another guy driving from wherever they are to Shimla half naked (yes, no pants). And exactly HOW LONG is a day in India? They flight is aborted in the morning, they drive around the town picking up another guy, they go to their old school, they go to another town 255 km away, then make a u turn and go somewhere else, and then again another city, and still it's just noon or so at the end of the movie!

Well it's just a Bollywood movie!

Exactly! I could accept all this from any movie. But Amir Khan's fanclub makes it as if their movies are the ONLY ones in Bollywood that are completely logical. And so I am nitpicking. I want to show that at the end, Amir Khan is only making a Bollywood movie. I mean, a still born baby comes alive when "Aal Iz Well" is said to his ear!

What other thing does Amir Khan's fan club say?

Well, they go on and on about his acting and how Shah Rukh Khan cannot touch him and why NO ONE ELSE can do this role except the Chosen and Blessed By God Amir Khan...

First, the role Amir Khan played is not a hard role. He will hardly get an Oscar nomination for this. He is playing someone eternally optimistic, always thinking beyond the immediate, fighting convention, the "modern Indian", wise, funny ... same roles.

It's a role he played in Taare Zameen Par, in Lagaan, in Dil Chahta Hain, in Rang De Basanti, in .... you get the point.

Second, R Madhavan has the toughest scene in the movie (when he tells his dad he doesn't like Engineering). Not Amir Khan. What's so hard about getting a hair cut, smiling with your teeth over your lips and saying "Aal Iz Well"?

Third, why do Amir Khan fans always have to put down Shah Rukh Khan to try and prove their Hero Deity is the greatest? They must suffer from some strange form of Inferiority Complex.

Well, at least Amir Khan is original, right?

LOL (that's me really laughing out loud).

The director must be a green person because he has recycled some horrible internet jokes that have gone out as forwards ever since email first started. He truly takes me back to my college days as one of the first forwards I got was "big butt seat" which when reluctantly (or eagerly, can't remember now) clicked upon (before the days of viruses and trojans) would lead to this.

The following still, from 3 Idiots, is however considered "original".

Second, as soon as Boman Irani (that's a whole post by itself) took out the astronaut pen, I groaned. Surely, Amir Khan is not going to tell this joke? But he did.

Oh, and remember the joke about exam papers and "Do you know who am I"? Groan. He put that in as well.

And now, let's come to some other shades of copying. Hero traveling out of the house, getting dressed in a hurry, forgetting his pants. Man! Shah Rukh Khan has done it to death in Dil To Pagal Hain and Kuch Kuch Hota Hain. Even he doesn't do it any more!

And finally, young college student trying to reform old grouchy headmaster whose own child has committed suicide due to the headmaster's fussiness about rules and practicality? Shades of Mohabbatein anyone?

Well, didn't the movie have a social message?

Which is what exactly? I am still trying to understand that. Does Amir Khan say don't study, grades are not important? Why is his grade in the movie first then? What exactly is the whole point of the movie?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

I was at Walmart (yes, seeing if they have deals on Lego specials), and then I overheard this conversation.

One middle aged Caucasian man, with a deep baritone voice and handle bar mustache, talking on his cellphone.

"Hi Johnny, this is Daddy. Listen, I just ran into Santa Clause ..."

"Yes, Santa Clause. Remember the chair you wanted? He has two chairs, blue and white, and he is asking me which one to bring for you."

"Yes, it's Santa Clause. I met him at the mall. Yes, he is standing in front of me now."

"No, you can NOT talk with him. He is very busy."

"Yes, I know it's not Christmas. He wants to get you the chair FOR Christmas."

"LOOK! Do you want the blue or white chair? OK, good.. I will tell him you want the blue chair."

The question I had after overhearing the man was this: in today's multicultural society, how do you keep the truth about Santa hidden from your kids? I mean, as soon as I have a kid and he or she goes to school, I am going to tell my kid to find all the Christian kids in kindergarten and tell them Santa is a myth (yes, I might have a mean streak! :-P )

A car, decorated for the season, at a parking garage

So, if you are reading this and Christian, first, Merry Christmas, and second, how old were your kids when they found out about Santa?

And to everyone else who's in Canada, get ready for Boxing Day!

From a party at work!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 10 Things A Muslim Loves About Christmas

1. It, really, IS a wonderful time of the year.

Even though it's not my celebration, it's nice to see everyone around engaged in spreading the holiday cheer, in a festive mood, smiling and focused on charitable acts.

2. The decking of the halls with boughs of holly.

Let's face it. For 11 months of the year we work in bland offices which bland colors on the walls, with our streets wearing a faded look. Suddenly, it all comes to live with the colors of green and red.

3. Cavalcade of Lights.

Not only does it look great, and City Hall does put out fantastic light shows and fireworks every weekend, but it's not a bad time of the year to put on some skates and go around the rink to the sound of some lovely music. It's not too cold, it's not too windy, and it's nothing a cup of hot chocolate can't put right!

4. The malls. Shopping. For self.

While the idea of shopping frenzy in December ("only x shopping days left till Christmas" ads notwithstanding), non-Christians have it really good. There's all this discounts galore, and you are really buying the perfect gift for the perfect person. I mean, I know EXACTLY what I want.

Photo Credit: Top Left Pixel

5. The decorations.

I grew up in a place where a 'good' decoration meant LOTS OF LIGHTS. Lights in the shape of the glorious leader's portrait. Lights in the shape of the leaders flags. Lights for no reasons at all.

So it's nice to see some of the creative lighting they put up at this time of the year.

6. The carols and the music.

What's Christmas without the music? If there was any doubt about the power of music to set the tone and soothe the soul, this is the time. Honestly, Jingle Bells doesn't get tiring. It's nice to see people smile. It just reminds you of number 7.

7. The 'Holiday' Parties.

There's the company party. Then the department party. Then the subdivision party. Then there's the office party. Finally there's the IT group's party. Of course, I am leaving out the alumnus party, the neighborhood association party, the union party ...

8. The "Leave the project till New Years" thing.

Um, no comment on this one.

9. The Holidays!

Let's not forget - not only do people NOT work during work time, but they also get time off work! That's always a plus in my book. I mean, I am always up for any holiday by any religious group - as long as it gets everyone a day off work. On that count, Christmas rules.

10. Boxing Day and New Years Eve.

Technically, this is after Christmas, but hey, it's something else to look forward to. And I love that song Auld Lang Syne.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all my readers.

PS. Honorable mentions for this list.

1. The annual Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas rematch.
2. The "are you visiting Bangladesh this year" questions every December.
3. Reindeer noses.
4. The spate of children's movies on TV.
5. Hot chocolate.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fun with Lego

I found an old bag in an old box the other day in storage, and was mighty surprised to see it contained various Lego pieces from my childhood!!!

That was the whole weekend spent trying to build things from memory and with missing pieces and no instructions. I even went out and got a couple of new sets. Here's one from more recent times.

So Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood are taking a walk in the markets of Cairo, Egypt.

Everything is great. The weather is sunny, there is even a wagon full of hay, and a barrel full of apples, some of which are in display at the stall. What could go wrong?

Oh no! Marion is suddenly attacked by a masked avenger!

While another fellow pops up to charge at Indiana Jones.

Marion manages to stun her attacker with a blow to the head with her frying pan ...

... while Indiana Jones uses his trusty whip to foil his attacker...

But there's more of them!

Sometimes, it's better to beat a hasty retreat.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An MBA Analysis of the Swiss Minaret Ban

A good solution is rarely a single course of action. A good solution always looks at the big picture, considers various relationships between all factors, and then coordinates multiple activities to realize the big dream.

A good solution is both complex and simple at the same time. Let me analyze the Swiss minaret ban using an MBA perspective.

Here I will talk about the problem, my executive summary, then an analysis of the factors (Porter's 5 force and SWOT), before breaking down my solution.

The Problem

The Swiss have banned the construction of minarets in mosques.

Many seem to think this is the problem. To me, this is a symptom.

Here is how I frame the problem.

There is a growing intolerance in Switzerland towards practicing Islam the way Muslims want in Switzerland.

This to me is the bigger picture, as well as more specific. We can already see that there's two issues (underlined) that can be tackled.

The Executive Summary

We need to implement "Forward, Switzerland" which is the name I give to an Integration Plan for Switzerland and her Muslims.

Its target is to ensure Swiss Muslims fit seamlessly into the Swiss culture while Switzerland becomes more accommodating of special needs of its own citizens. All this will be achieved with a focus on traditional Swiss values of secularism, tolerance and goodwill. In the end, Switzerland will emerge a stronger nation, an example to others, a bastion of liberty - hence the name "Forward, Switzerland".

The Analysis

Undertaking a Porter's 5 force analysis on Swiss Islam, we can make the following conclusions.
Suppliers: People who will become Muslim - they have high power because they love the values of freedom, secularism, liberty and traditional Swiss values.
Buyers: People who are already Muslim - have definite demands, fitting in with the Swiss tradition and environment.
Substitutes: Other existing religions - have low power because traditionally the conversion rate of Muslims into other religions have been low.
New Entrants: Other new religions - also have low power as Islam is an established religion.
Rivalry within: many Islamic sects who tend to nullify each other (same day Eid anyone?).

Therefore we can draw the conclusion from this that the Islamic community in Switzerland must address traditional Swiss values of liberty and tolerance, while trying to unify the Islamic community itself. This will also lead it to build a better brand image.

Let's come to the more interesting SWOT analysis.
Strengths: Islam is an established religion, and in Europe it has a history. Support can be garnered for objectives (including money) from the wider Muslim community.
Weakness: Swiss population of Muslim is small, plus Islam has a terrible PR problem. Brand image in Switzerland is one of violence that has to be changed.
Opportunity: The sudden prominence of the Islamic community as the victimized, particularly in secular Europe, and a position of sympathy from European leaders.
Threats: The hot headed extremists within the community can hamper any dreams.

Therefore we can draw the conclusion that the Islamic community in Switzerland must act quickly to realize the sympathy, must control its extremists and try and garner support from the wider Muslim community for its plan as soon as possible. Remaking the brand image will take a long time, but it has to be started.

A third part of the analysis, that I will not go into here for sake of brevity, involves breaking down the salient factors (immigration, rituals, cultural baggage, xenophobia, history) and understanding the relations between them, and how they play into the solution.

The Solution - Forward, Switzerland

1. Build Mosques

There is nothing in the law that says a mosque cannot be built in Switzerland. A key objection to obtaining local permits for building mosques in Switzerland has been the construction of minarets. Often, racist elements of the local community would object to a mosque being built because it had a minaret in it. The objection was to the minaret (You can read this lengthy article).

Well, in Islam, a mosque can be a room, or even a clean ground. Minarets were historically never part of the mosque and only started appearing 80 years after the death of the Prophet. Many Muslims don't know it, but even domes and arches that we now associate with mosques were only popularized during the Ottomans.

Switzerland and her Muslims needs more mosques, and now with no objection to minarets (no minarets permitted by law) the construction process of mosques should be faster.

2. Raise Money

Money will be needed for construction of mosques, for charitable initiatives, for public relations and for upkeep of Islamic institutions in Switzerland. Money exists in Switzerland (the country is super rich - and therefore her citizens - Muslims included). The wider Islamic community has funds also.

3. Mosques support charity

Every new mosque in Switzerland should come with a soup kitchen attached. When a neighborhood gets a mosque, they are also getting food and support for the needy and homeless in the area. This is the tradition of the Prophet, the tradition of the early Islamic community in Medina and the way mosques have traditionally worked.

4. Read our history

Do you know how the Prophet got around to establishing an Islamic empire from zero in Medina? He arrived as a refugee, a leader of fellow refugees, and what did he do?

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.

I deal with that in detail here.

Note: Feed those who are hungry.

Of similar interest should be the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, and how the Prophet turned a position of disadvantage to his advantage. The Treaty was hampering to Muslims in a legal, strategical, and military fashion.

Or so they thought.

5. Have Convert Outreach and Progress Programs

Following Islamic commandments, Muslims in Switzerland must reach out to non-Muslim citizens. Outreach programs that boost conversion rates (hence more mosques and $$$s are needed) should be started.

Not only must they try and convert people into their faith, they must also try and ensure converts are looked after, AFTER conversion. Often, new converts fall prey to extremists, or become disillusioned and leave, or fall into hard times.

A good proper new convert strategy will ensure not only that Muslims in Switzerland address their problem of small numbers, but will also change the Islamic community in Switzerland itself to become more in tune with Swiss values. This also reduces the xenophobia and increases cultural acceptance of Islam in Switzerland by her own people.

6. Deal with extremists

Any extremist risks harming the brand image of Islam in Switzerland and must be dealt with immediately. Muslims in Switzerland needs to focus on their own issues (Palestine, Afghanistan can come later). Extremism is not tolerated in Islam nor in Switzerland. Islam stands for justice, freedom and equality, and so does Switzerland. If people don't think so, it is the job of the brand manager (i.e. Muslims in Switzerland) to ensure people think so.

Muslims also have a bad habit of hiding their extremists or making excuses for them. This has to stop.


This multi-pronged approach will ensure that not only do Muslims change themselves in Switzerland for the better, to become more in tune with Islamic beliefs AND Swiss beliefs, but that Swiss resistance to Islamic principles is also reduced.

In the end, the following of this plan "Forward, Switzerland" will ensure proper integration of Islam in Switzerland to the benefit of both communities, which are really one community after all.