Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Robert Langdon visits Canada

Robert Langdon chuckled to himself. Just how much longer could he fool Harvard into thinking a symbologist was a real professor's title? Thank God for good publishers. And Wikipedia.

He surveyed his latest landmark. He was in Toronto, Canada. In front of him was the CN tower. Langdon chuckled. Unknown to most Canadians, the number of letters in "The CN Tower" was 10 - the same as the number of provinces in Canada - truly befitting a national symbol.

It did not escape his attention as well that Alberta and Ontario each had 7 letters, symbolizing the symmetry of political bipolarity of Canada. Whereas Alberta was Conservative, Ontario was Liberal. Many people thought the bipolars of Canada involved Quebec - they were wrong. Quebec had only 6 letters.

Langdon focused his attention on The CN Tower. Not many people knew a sinister fact about the CN tower. It had 6 elevators, each capable of moving at 6 metres/second, while the antennae at its peak was 6 ft. Together, they formed the numbers 666, which, affirmed mankind's desire to speak to God by the opposite of The Good - The Evil - again having 7 letters, same as Ontario, same as "CN Tower".

Langdon was to meet his friend, Moses Abraham, the chief tour operator of the most visited tourist attraction in Canada. And Abraham was late.

Langdon had first met Abraham at a seminar he had given at Harvard on Canada.

"Do you know," Abraham had asked the American audience, "that the USA gets most of its oil not from Saudi Arabia, but Canada?" Langdon had nodded, and added himself, "Yes. All cries about our oil crisis in peril is a tad alarmist as our greatest source of America's oil is a stable country, given that the world's smallest jail is believed to be in Rodney, Ontario, Canada. It is only 24.3 square meters (about 270 square feet)."

Abraham had also nodded, and thus the two had become best friends. And now, he was late.

Suddenly, a small boy tugged at Langdon's jacket. He was young, seemingly one of the many tourists. "I saw a man being kidnapped," He said, obviously breathless from the encounter. He dropped this." He handed Langdon a Blackberry, yet another Canadian invention. Langdon's heart skipped a beat as he recognized it was Abrahams' Blackberry, through the unique telephone number of the Blackberry that was also the Date of Canada's Confederation. 647-107-1867.

Langdon did not question why the boy did not go to one of the 11 policemen always present at the base of the tower. He did not think why a man who would kidnapped would, instead of using his Blackberry to alert 911, instead write a brief SMS that held the code to a puzzle that pointed the way to the enlightenment seeked by half the world at one time in the world.

Langdon was on the case.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Funeral

It was just yesterday I was attending Eid prayers. Today, I have just come back from attending a funeral prayer.

After a whole Ramadan when Allah was always warning us to take death seriously and in the rush for this material world not to forget the hereafter, it was a shock to have some one quite near to you suddenly leave for his heavenly abode. It was all very unexpected.

If you have the time, please say a prayer for my friend's father-in-law, who unexpectedly passed away yesterday morning.

When a person passes away, it's usually polite or customary to embellish the deceased's good qualities and forget the bad ones. Here, no embellishment is necessary. This person, who we all called 'uncle', was a genuinely nice, kind, good and simple hearted man, who was always jolly, jovial and had a smile on his face. He was a pillar of our small ex-UAE Bangladeshi community, and played in role in organizing any and every festive occasion or gathering.

He was someone whom if you met, and then learned he was Muslim, you would then develop a very favorable opinion of Muslims. A testimony to his good nature was the huge, huge number of people, well wishers and mourners, who gathered at a Scarborough mosque for his janazah (funeral) prayer, on a rainy Monday, at an odd time of 2 pm, on a work day.


I always thought the beauty of Islam is its simplicity. There are people who are bent on making things complicated, usually by a too literal interpretation or not adhering to the spirit of the law - and in my eyes it is against those people intent on making this hard on themselves that Surah Baqarah is aimed at. Today, in the funeral prayer, I witnessed the final rites of a Muslim on this world, and marveled at how beautiful and divine this simplicity really is, when my friend's father made a heart touching speech before the prayer, about his son's late father-in-law.

There was no need to extol what a great man the late person was. Those, who were his friends, knew. Those who were not but were just present in the mosque, all that was needed from them was their prayers. That's what my friend's dad asked for. He also asked if anyone had any claims against his estate. And, finally, with his voice breaking, he also asked anyone to forgive any mistakes his late "brother" may have done against any one. And after those two simple minutes, it was time for the prayer. With his family saying their final goodbyes, the congregation headed to the cemetery.

In the end, all that was left, after everything was over, were a few quiet moments of personal reflection.

"O my people! Lo! this life of the world is but a passing comfort, it is the Hereafter that is the Home that will last." [Quran 40:39].

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Completion

There was something different in the air. There was a buzz.

I looked at the crowd. The place thronged with people, and still they kept coming in. Tonight, I thought, we would break the occupancy limit for sure!

The leaders of the crowd were there. Was it my imagination or was their clothes freshly ironed, cleaned for a special occasion? Did the tunic look new? The turbans looked freshly unwrapped.

There was a smile amongst them, a lot of back slapping and a jovial mood. Yet, I knew, soon, these men would be crying.

It began, as it has always did, for the last 26 nights, with The Opening.

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.
All Praises to Allah, Lord of the Universe.
The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Sovereign of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.
Guide us to the true path;
The path of those on whom You have bestowed your favor, not of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who go astray.

It would end, like it had ended for every year for 1400 years. If the Opening was about God, the Closing was about Mankind.

Say, I seek refuge with the Lord and Cherisher of mankind.
The King of Mankind.
The Judge of Mankind
From the mischief of the Whisperer (of Evil), who withdraws (after his whisper)
(The same) who whispers into the hearts of Mankind
Among Jinns and among Men.

It ended a journey for the last month, all over the world, and signalled a new beginning.

This is the Book which contains no doubt; it means guidance for those who do their duty.

Let us hope we all have been able to do our duties in this last month. Tomorrow, a new day dawns.

Too all my readers, a very happy Eid Mubarak.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

On Bicyclists in Toronto

This week, one day, as I was crossing the street, my eyes glanced towards a cyclist who seemed to be veering down the wrong way on a one-way street. Only too late, I realized he was trying to beat the streetcar that was veering down its lane.


Of course it was totally the cyclist's fault. Not only was he going the wrong way, he ran the light and crossed the streetcar when he should have stopped and yielded. And now, he lay motionless on the street.

The streetcar stopped, everyone exited. Other streetcars on that line were now useless. The passengers would have to walk to the next line. The ambulance was there within 5 minutes, and traffic was stopped for sometime. All because one cyclist decided he, and his time, was above the law.

I later read on the news that the man succumbed to his injuries. I felt sad for him. A needless life wasted.

Driving downtown in Toronto has recently become very risky due to cyclists. At times, it feels like Beijing, with the amount of bikes on the road. It would be great if they kept to the side of the road or in the bike lanes. However, they never follow stop signs, traffic laws and ride haphazardly in rush hour traffic. Toronto has 3 near deadly collisions between a bike and a car everyday.

In my opinion they should register cyclists on the road, and force them to pass a basic knowledge test. Drivers are always taught to check their blind spot for cyclists when making a turn. Too bad the cyclists are too busy trying to outrun them instead. In a collision between a three ton vehicle and one person on two wheels, there can only be one winner.

And sadly, one loser.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Summer Ramadan

This Ramadan has been strange.

On one hand, I miss the early days of my life in Canada, when Ramadan was in the winter, iftar was at 5 pm (I had to eat a date on my way back from school/work), and you were done Taraweeh at 9.30 pm.

Now, Taraweeh starts at 9.30 pm!

Ramadan signs at a local No Frills store.

On the other hand, the long day of fasting has proved to be a blessing in disguise. There's no mad rush to complete iftar on time. You have lot of time to get ready, read some Quran, do some gym on the way home from work (and be half dead!) and still be at the dinner table in time for iftar.

However, the late ends to Taraweehs does mean my sleep schedule is severely affected. At our mosque, Isha prayer starts around 9.30 pm and full Taraweeh ends around 11.15 pm. By the time you are done exiting the mosque, driving out through the mad hordes all getting away, and reach home for bed, its midnight.

And lo, one has to get up around 4.45 am for Sehri. I usually go straight back to bed after Fajr before waking up again around 8 to go to work. Somehow, the body has adjusted to all this.

I think Ramadan is just perfect at 30 days. If it was longer, we wouldn't have been able to give it the respect it deserves - it would cease to be special. If it was shorter, it would have been meaningless.

One thing I have noticed this Ramadan, especially at our mosque, are the effects of recession. First, the iftar has been of dubious to seriously low quality. This mosque used to set the standard, and now you get next to nothing. I attended a couple of iftars and the turnout was quite low. From reports from the ladies' side, the volunteers were rude, foods wasted, etc.

Second, the turnout at the prayers. Is it my imagination or are less people attending the night prayers? One reason could be the availability of many more mosques in the GTA, but still our mosque is nowhere as crowded as it should be. Again, it's a blessing in a way that parking is easier to find even if you go late.

This mosque has a school attached to it that appears to be doing very well. I wonder if that is the way of the future for mosques - have a viable commercial arm generating cash for much needed mosque expenditures to get away from the donation model.