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About this blog

Ideas about modern issues from an Islamic perspective.

Entries in this blog

Haji 2003

Occasionally there is a piece in the British press about the case of an Iranian lady who married an Englishman and then went on holiday to Iran and has been held by the authorities there. 

The case has gained some more prominence recently because the British Foreign Secretary has claimed in parliament that she was 'training Iranian journalists', which does seem very suspicious indeed.

This has prompted her employer to come forward to claim that she was on holiday and not working for them. This is the first time the identity of her employer has been disclosed. Who is her employer?

It's the Thomson Reuters Foundation. A charitable arm of the Thomson-Reuters organisation which includes the news agency.

The Foundation is basically a 'soft power' outfit seeking social and cultural changes around the world. Some of it is ostensibly 'good' like the anti-slavery work, they are also involved in work which can have a clear political and propaganda dimension.

They claim to, "train reporters around the world to cover news fairly and impartially". People living in the West may be wondering where these principles were when we went to war in Iraq on a wholly false premise and to what extent Reuters challenged the agenda of the imperialists in its endeavours towards being fair.

So if she is an employee, it does beg various questions about what she may have been up to.

Remember Reuters does not have a glorious history in its involvement with Iran. Its founder Julius Reuter stitched up the Qajar dynasty into handing over a large proportion of the entire nation's mineral rights to him. 

Haji 2003

Palestine

In the year of the anniversary of the Balfour agreement, it seems relevant to sum up my views on this issue.

Following years of discrimination in Europe, the Jews were able to convince one of the world's leading powers to make promises about a homeland. A number of newspapers have carried photos of the letter written by the British foreign secretary to a leading Zionist with the relevant promises. The letter itself is evidence that the discrimination was not a permanent feature of Christian-Jewish relations but something which waxed and waned. So the occurrence of pogroms is without question, but by the same measure there were period where Jews were able to live prosperous lives. It's impossible to claim that only discrimination happened while at the same time celebrating the existence of iconic synagogues and the contribution of Jews to intellectual, cultural and economic life.

Similarly, from the time the Jews were expelled from Palestine to the modern period, they had established communities throughout the Muslim world. Again the fact that they were 'discriminated' against is not in question, but by the same measure so would other minority communities. Inclusivity and anti-discrimination laws are a relatively modern phenomenon. And by the same measure being a minority in different dominions offered Jews various opportunities, they were able to trade between Safavid Iran and the Ottoman empire.

In summary was the condition of Jews, in various countries, such that they warranted their own 'homeland' and that this had to be in Palestine? I think the answer to both questions is 'no'. By definition, a homeland for the Jews cannot be a protection against attack from others because if it was they would not have been expelled from Palestine by the Romans in the first place! Secondly, if the land were so central to Jewish identity, there could have been re-settlement there at many other points in Jewish history, but there wasn't. And the reason is that there were other parts of the world which clearly offered far better opportunities. And the same holds true today, if Israel were so central to Jewish identity there would be far more people living there regardless of the economic costs.

The function that Israel performs, in my opinion, is this. It provides for the Jews living in western countries a defence of last resort, that they have never historically had. No longer will we see periods of Jewish growth followed by pogroms, because Israel has nuclear weapons.

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Haji 2003

Mosque design

There's been coverage recently in the international press about Vali-e-Asr mosque in Tehran. At issue is the radical design and the criticisms it has received in some Iranian circles. To understand why, it's perhaps easiest to look at the image below and realise that the mosque is the slopey building on the left.

No doubt there are internal Iranian political considerations and perhaps those related to Islamic and secular ideologies being played out.

But the question remains of what counts as a mosque. Unless there is clear guidance as to the requirements, I sit on the side of the fence which says that there are no rules (apart from the need to face Qibla). In the modern age do we need minarets or domes? The best mosques have been attractive and served as a social and leisure space, but what that means to us can be different to what worked in previous centuries.

In fact there is a great risk that in trying to copy the past we end up making a pastiche of it. The Saudi developments to the Prophe's (s.a.w.) mosque in Medina are a great lesson on what not to do. That mosque is clearly the work of some American or European whose frame of reference were the mosques in Grenada and they've achieved a spectacularly brutal result.

The challenge for today's designers is to develop a vernacular for contemporary mosque design that is at the same time Islamic, unapologetic and not derivative.

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/23/a-modern-mosque-without-minarets-stirs-controversy-in-tehran#img-1

Haji 2003

There was news this week that we had observed two neutron stars colliding. And while the forces at work seemed beyond imagination, it occurred to me that much of our development has involved observing phenomena, moving onto measuring and assessing its propertles and ultimately (sometimes) using or managing it in some way.

And the ways that we have been able to do this have become more sophisticated. I smile when people in the comments section of newspapers disparage solar power in countries such as the UK. because we have many days with poor sunlight. The advent of the Tesla powerwall and subsequent work in that area will surely help to address that.

I think our trajectory is one where we'll be able to exert more and more control over more powerful elements in nature. On the one hand it will give theists greater understanding over the power and benevolence of the Creator and at the same time for atheists the greater material power that we have may enable them to believe that we do not need a God to determine our destiny.

Haji 2003

Charity?

There's a heart-warming story in the news recently.

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Dr Pallavi Patel, pledged $200m to a Florida university - the largest donation ever from an Indian-American to a US institution. Nova Southeastern University (NSU) will use the gift to create two medical colleges - one in Florida, another in India.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41587429

So far so good. Let's look at the background:

 

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Patel went from cardiologist to businessman when he created a network of physicians with different specialities. But the real breakthrough came in 1992 when he took over a health insurance company on the verge of bankruptcy. 

Ten years later when the Patels sold the firm, it had more than 400,000 members and revenue in excess of $1bn. His business empire is not without controversy - earlier this year, two of his businesses paid more than $30m in a settlement after accusations of artificially inflating costs for care. The firm has not admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41587429

That's basically the nub of the problem for me. And it is a twofold problem. First of all, you can have an economic system that exploits the vulnerable, as has happened here.

The second part of the problem is that although the system provides some people with the opportunity to give large sums to charity, even this is not without cost. Because the donors can impose their own beliefs and values in terms of who they give the money to and what it can be spent on. Neither of these may always be consistent with the interests of the State as expressed in a democracy.

In this specific instance, a tax based healthcare system makes it obligatory on the rich to pay, the obligations are on them an not the masses. Charity, on the other hand, places obligations on the recipient, the power balance is completely altered.

 

Haji 2003

So much of adult life is making applications to a brief, making bids to a brief, developing and making things to a specification. I thought I'd get the kids going early on this. There are lots of competitions that you can find on the net and I've been alerting them to these.

We had an early success with the first one we entered last year. It was the Henley Literary Festival, not as large and popular as some (the Hay-on-Wye festival is much better known in the UK), but it's not too far from us and made the job of picking up a runners-up certificate for my son a bit easier. Maryam came nowhere. He tried again this year, but no luck.

Given Maryam's Japanese fetish, I thought she'd be interested in an arts competition organised by the Japanese Agriculture Ministry (http://www.ienohikari.net/zugacon/english/). The winners seem to be dominated by Iranians (in Iran) and hardly anyone from the west, but we had a go anyway. True to form she would not actually do anything specifically for the competition, so we entered something that approximated their requirements. Obviously not proximate enough, having paid US$100 for the last minute express postage to Japan she got nada.

Earlier this year both of them entered for the BBC's 500 words short story competition. Maryam came nowhere, but my son made it to the top 5000, since there are over 100,000 entries that was reason enough to congratulate him.

By this stage, she wasn't really to keen to enter any more competitions, but we had another go with an essay competition organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society. This time she got a silver certificate (the son got bronze), so persistence paid off. It's also provided me with much-needed ammunition to get her entering more competitions.

It's also been an important lesson that with these things it's a numbers game, you have to work on having a success rate of x% and not giving up on the basis of repeated failure.

Haji 2003

It was Saudi Arabia's national day last week and the event seems to be taking on more significance than in the past.

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In celebration of the country’s 87th National Day on Saturday all roads in the capital and other important cities have been covered with green flags and posters of King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.

Many citizens have even got their cars painted green to celebrate the day.

Celebrations, featuring wide variety of programs and activities include patriotic events, folk arts and dances, processions and fireworks, have been held throughout the Kingdom with the start of the celebrations since Thursday.

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http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/09/23/Saudi-Arabia-celebrates-87th-National-Day-with-nationwide-festivities.html

The Arab press don't admit it, but the UK's Guardian newspaper has the following observation:

Quote

Saudi rulers are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education and the law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component, or pre-date Islam.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/24/saudi-arabia-allows-women-into-stadium-as-it-steps-up-reforms

 

Ostensibly a religiously charged national identity gave some power to local Saudi clergy. The move towards a more secular national identity will likely be transferring that power to political scientists, public relations agencies, media and entertainment groups outside Saudi.

The parallel here is the Shah of Iran's attempt at forging a national identity away from Islam and his attempts to link the Pahlavis to the Achaemenid Emperors. That attempt also relied heavily on foreign advisors, experts and consultants.

 

Haji 2003

One of my lives involves stock market investment.

One of the concepts that's been important is that of 'downside protection', and the reason for this post are the parallels between that idea and some of the imperatives religion offers.

In investment circles, downside protection deals with the idea that if things go pear-shaped (i.e. wrong) you are still able to live another day, because an important measure of investment success is survival.

What does downside protection mean to me?

Well if a potential investment sounds wonderful, it's a matter of not putting everything into it no matter how wonderful and/or certain the touted returns. There are lots of people chasing such opportunities and the harder they seem to chase, the more likely it is that most of them will lose everything. It's a bit sad really.

Downside protection is all about giving up potential wealth and happiness because the pain incurred by being wiped out is greater. It involves caution, a certain amount of diversification into different asset classes and the deliberate sacrifice of possible returns in favour of the long game.

I'm reminded of this notion of downside protection whenever the issue of religion-inspired asceticism comes up which challenges the desire for short-term pleasure. 

Haji 2003

Admittedly it was my own little idea/theory that fencing was a great sport for Muslim ladies. Being fully covered and all. And when it was a (paid) option in Maryam's new school I suggested she try it. She did and claimed to be interested in it, to the extent that after the first year's lessons we enrolled her for lessons in the second year of the school as well.

Then one day we needed to pick her up early from the school and found out that she was not in the fencing class. She was sitting in the library, apparently where she had been for a few weeks during fencing lessons.

For some reason, she was not liking fencing and didn't have the heart to tell us.

We told her the range of reasons why this behaviour was not acceptable.

Fast forward to a few weeks later and we're discussing what novels she could be reading. She opts for Dosteovsky's, 'Crime and Punishment'. Remembering the fencing issue and that perhaps she had chosen it to please me, I freely tell her I found it extremely boring when I was her age (in fact I never picked it up again!).

But she works her way through it, seems to have a reasonable understanding of the plot and then moves onto. Wait for it. It's a good one.

War & Peace.

I think Anna Karenin is far more readable, but the plot obviously not so wholesome.

Talking to her about it, seems that she's up with the personal relationships and less so with the military side of things, but I guess that is to be expected. At a deeper level I am not so sure about the literary benefit of reading these works in translation.

At the time she chose these I had been gunning for George Eliot as summer time reading.

 

Haji 2003

There is a vast industry of self-help books, seminars and videos. It deals with issues of setting goals and priorities, having role models and so on. But there is one topic that I strongly suspect the published literature in this area does not cover as a means of self-development.

It's attending funerals.

Now we know that in Islam attending funerals is strongly encouraged and there are various aspects of thawaab and spiritual benefits associated with it, but I think it's also worth reflecting on how attending funerals has clear personal, practical and life-skills benefits also.

  1. Obviously, we see death all around us in the media. But a funeral involves an actual physical engagement with the process. You are not just an observer, but a participant and brings home the following issues all the more forcefully, in my opinion.
  2. Funerals remind you what the end effort of everything that people do will ultimately be. To that extent they serve as a reminder of the importance of process (how people did things in life) as well as the final results that they may have achieved.
  3. And if those results were purely material - then funerals underpin the futility of achieving a success that is to be left behind. For all their scientific achievements the eschatology of the Pharoahs hadn't quite got that one figured out - as various looters over the centuries have found to their benefit.
  4. Funerals are a tangible reminder of mortality, something which cannot be put off and how they can happen to anyone, regardless of age or health.
  5. Funerals are also a reminder that regardless of how hard anyone else tries, most dead people will soon be forgotten. No matter how hard they may try not to be. The esteem of our peers then is only of limited value. There's a bigger game to be played.
Haji 2003

Came across this observation on Quora:

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And the reason this is so is because humans evolved, and evolution is a process that has no foresight and cannot plan for future contingencies.

 

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https://www.quora.com/Why-do-we-as-mammals-come-out-so-helpless-at-birth-and-other-baby-mammals-seem-a-lot-more-capable-for-survival-after-birth

The whole piece is worth reading in its entirety, it's very well written. The author argues:

Quote

 

When, about six million years ago, the human lineage started experiencing selection pressure favoring a bipedal gait, mindless evolutionary mechanisms could not foresee that the alterations to the pelvic and hip anatomy that aided bipedal walking which were currently being selected for had the potential to result in greater difficulty in childbirth if brain size should more than double, and could not anticipate that about 3 million years later exactly that kind of increase in brain size would end up being selected for.

For any intelligent designer of even moderate ability, capable of “back to the drawing board” style wholesale redesign, this would have been a trivial issue to deal with. But evolutionary mechanisms, which cannot plan for the future like this and which can only work step by blind step, cannot do this, and instead could only tweak the rates of intrauterine growth and the gestational age of birth.

Thus, relative to many other mammals, human babies are born effectively premature.

 

My understanding of the above argument is that human biology challenges the notion of intelligent design and instead reflects the notion of 'evolution without foresight'.

But the author ends the piece by saying that one of the reasons why human babies can have survival rates better than other species is because of their ability to scream. This allows babies to summon help.

But surely if we consider, as I do, evolution to be Divinely inspired then although we may be born 'physically immature', the fact that we survive based because of various social and other bonds, simply testifies to the importance of the latter.

It also provides another angle for understanding the importance of mums as delineated in the Qu'ran.

Haji 2003

The man was a background celebrity in my childhood. His name had become synonymous with martial arts, but I don't think I've seen any of his movies. Anyway, I had a spare couple of hours to kill in the Tai Wai district of Hong Kong and saw signs for the Heritage Museum, so I thought I'd pay a visit.

It says something about Hong Kong that such a rich colony only got such a museum well after the British left.

This special, temporary exhibition is really well done, it takes up one of the three floors of the museum. It charts Bruce Lee's childhood (born in Hong Kong and then emigrated to the U.S.) and shows how his career developed. You get to see all the equipment he trained with and even more interestingly the books that he read. That was a real eye-opener. There are texts on Chinese history and philosophy as well as ones on business and personal success. You get a real feel for someone who wanted to develop himself physically, spiritually and focus that on building a business. He developed his own martial art and there are notes about what ideas underpinned this.

It gets better. The exhibition documents how we used his martial arts expertise to train Hollywood stars and get into that industry. There are beautiful, directorial handwritten notes he made on how he wanted his movies shot. His sketches of fight sequences reminded me of Rodin. He was also a prolific letter writer and you get some feeling for his networking through his communications. I understand that he's revered, almost worshipped in some parts, obviously, he was much more than many of today's athletes.

He died young and there is some controversy about his death and I've read on Quora that he must have been taking steroids, which wasn't illegal in those days.

It's a really neat exhibition and given its high production values I guess it will be touring various other museums around the world at some stage.

Haji 2003

Mainly for personal use as a shortcut. I've put a link to this post on my browser menubar, makes life much easier.

It'll get in your way for a short while, sorry.

 

Eateries

Imageries

Jokeries

Thoughteries

Trumperies

Watcheries

 

 

Haji 2003

Was having a discussion with someone about halal meals on this airline. He does not eat when flying between the UK and Vietnam, because he is unsure as to whether their halal really is halal, since in Vietnam itself anything that does not have pork is called halal.

Since I may need to take the kids there to pay our respects to Ho Chi Minh, I checked out the airline website:

Quote

 

KSML: Kosher Meal

Recommended for: passengers adhering to Jewish customs

Prohibited: food items which are not chosen, prepared and served in accordance with kosher standards.

MOML: Halal Meal

Recommended for: passengers adhering to Islamic customs.

Prohibited: pork, pig by-products, gelatin, alcohol, flavoring extracts with alcohol, non-white fish meat from species without scales or fins.

 

https://www.vietnamairlines.com/cn/en/plan-book/vna-experience/meals-and-drinks/religious-meals-pop-up

Now the interesting thing is that for kosher they are quite explicit that the food needs to be prepared to kosher standards, however for Muslim meals they only talk of the lack of pork etc. So my interlocutor seems to have been correct.

It's interesting though, that their fish criteria make it permissible for Shias. I always avoid fish on Emirates et al.

Haji 2003

I thought I should get this entry going today, although I'll need to add the substantive content later.

The reason why the post is being made today is because it's the 100th birthday of I.M. Pei, the Chinese-American architect behind the pyramid in the middle of the Louvre museum in Paris. The pyramid was constructed in the late 1980s and at the time Pei faced intense criticism for his bold and controversial design. Since then the pyramid has become accepted and even admired. The same applies to a lot of what is presently considered to be great art, but which at the time saw the world from a new perspective that was unfamiliar to audiences.

Here's a pic I took of it a few years ago, the rain rendered it less glamorous than it's usually pictured:

IMG_1781.thumb.jpg.f8c6ec57f7aa0cc94c7b23d704b5a75a.jpg

I suppose you can guess that this post is heading in the direction of considering great art, innovation and religions and their relationship with public opinion.

In contrast to I.M. Pei's courage, we have the use of focus groups by film directors, who test out their plots amongst target audiences in order to ensure their movie's commercial success.  This issue came up recently on these boards when we were discussing the British film 28 Days Later. It's because of tools such as this that Hollywood movies aren't as emotionally challenging as those made by independents.

The need to make commercially successful films means that they have to appeal to as wide a group of people, who judge the movie on the basis of whatever it is that they like here and now.

It's that very approach that was decried by two American academics, Roger Bennett and Robert Cooper, writing in 1979 in a paper titled, 'Beyond the Marketing concept'. According to them in the preceding decades, Japanese industry had overwhelmed its American counterpart because counterintuitively the Americans had put the customer first. They had focused on making the easy incremental changes to products that consumers said that they wanted.

What they had ignored was what economists refer to as 'information asymmetry'.

In the consumer context, this refers to the idea that consumers could only talk about those things that they were interested in and knew about. But by definition consumers can only talk about what they are familiar with and what they know about and invariably there will be an asymmetry between this and what product specialists know is possible.

American companies focused on customers to tell them what to do, Japanese industry in the 1960s and 1970s focused on what its engineers said could be possible. It was the Japanese who came up with the compelling innovations and products that customers never know they needed until they were available.

The following video shows, how something we take for granted was the type of innovation that focus groups can't surface, but engineers can:

More recently it's been the same story if you consider the world before the first Apple iphone and what we have now. Prior to the first Iphone the world of mobile telephones was dominated by Nokia. When the first iPhone was launched there were a lot of questions about whether an IT company could make a consumer product, there were also questions about the lack of a keypad and other good reasons as to why an upstart entrant obviously did not know what consumers wanted.

But Apple understood what was technologically possible and what the future could be, this was the asymmetry between the company and its customers.

The key lesson from the worlds of art and innovation is that while the crowds may be good at telling people what they would like here and now, they are less good at anticipating what they'd like in the future, and much less what others may like in the future.

In contemporary society where religion is consumed much as we would a movie or a smartphone, there are similar pressures to conform to the audiences' expressed tastes. There is little acknowledgement on the part of the consumer that an information asymmetry may exist between those who had laid down various religious edicts and those who are supposed to follow them.

Haji 2003

Mujitude

I thought the corporate philosophy espoused by the Japanese household goods store (with an international presence) was worth remarking on.

They claim:

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The concept was born of the intersection of two distinct stances: no brand (Mujirushi) and the value of good items (ryohin). MUJI began with three steps: selecting materials, scrutinizing processes, and simplifying packaging. MUJI’s concept of emphasizing the intrinsic appeal of an object through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess is closely connected to the traditionally Japanese aesthetic of “su” –– meaning plain or unadorned –– the idea that simplicity is not merely modest or frugal, but could possibly be more appealing than luxury.

http://www.muji.eu/pages/about.asp?PT=29

They go on to say:

Quote

MUJI is not a brand whose value rests in the frills and “extras” it adds to its products.MUJI is simplicity – but a simplicity achieved through a complexity of thought and design.MUJI’s streamlining is the result of the careful elimination and subtraction of gratuitous features and design unrelated to function. MUJI, the brand, is rational, and free of agenda, doctrine, and “isms.”

 

what I have a problem with is:

Quote

MUJI, the brand, is rational, and free of agenda, doctrine, and “isms.”

To my mind, there is a doctrine and they've spent the better part of that page explaining what it is. It may be a doctrine that is different to other brands but it is a doctrine nevertheless. No matter how much you try and lose doctrine, it will always be there, even if it is the doctrine not to have one.

There's a similar issue with the focus on simplicity where, if I have understood the first extract correctly, the concept can be an aesthetic pursued in its own right, i.e. the benefits from simplicity that the consumer gets are no longer just utilitarian ones but also hedonic ones and to that extent, they add to the materialistic motive to purchase.

Muji is simply monetising and marketising simplicity and to that extent corrupting it.

 

Haji 2003

So we'd been trundling along with Arabic and French. Private (Iraqi origin) tutor for the former and school lessons for the latter. 

I had felt for a long time that based on my personal experience of the value of an intensive French course (a teenage summer spent in the University of Aix), the standard pedagogy of an hour a week is no good. There have to be at least bursts, in my opinion, of more intensive sessions.

Anyway,  the Iraqi teacher had become more irregular because it was no longer convenient for her and the French could have done with a bit of upping the ante.

And that's when I discovered italki.com

You can get language tutors from around the world, try them out and have lessons over skype etc. To get Maryam into this I suggested we give 3 Arabic teachers a go. You can choose standard Arabic rather than a dialect. As it happened all 3 live in Cairo. We had a trial lesson with each and Maryam chose one. Now the Iraqi lady had been charging us about $40 per hour. These people were charging something like US$20-25. Having settled on one Maryam now has regular lessons with her and during holidays it can be 2-3 per week.

Italki lessons can synch with whatever calendar you have on your machine, so that when a lesson is booked it appears on your machine on your local time and an email reminder comes as well. It's pretty well thought through.

Anyway, with these savings and the realisation that the system would be forcing Maryam into a more structured learning system, we repeated the process for French and settled on a native speaker living in that country.

The next language she has at school presented a problem.

They do Spanish and German for a year and then choose which one they carry on with in addition to the French leading up to the national exams at the age of 16.

So German or Spanish? Since the haji game plan is that south America may be a good destination if Muslims get kicked out of UK/Europe, and more people speak Spanish around the world and it may be easier for someone who already does French, we settled for her having extra lessons for Spanish. But I am in two minds. There was an argument that German may be better if, for example, someone wants to go into engineering.

Haji 2003

Spent a quiet and pleasant afternoon here a few weeks ago. It's a private collection and surprisingly large and well documented. Entry is quite cheap and not many visitors. Around a couple of corners, walking distance is the main Tareq Rajab museum, which has a pretty good collection of jewellery, clothing etc from around the region.

IMG_1840.jpg

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IMG_1801.jpg

Haji 2003

Spent a nice late afternoon/ early evening at the National Museum in Riyadh. Entry costs 10 Riyals and is well worth the admission. The place is built for large crowds weekday mornings seem to be set aside for parties of school kids. While I was there I only saw one Saudi couple and a party of four Germans and their English speaking guide.

So a nice and peaceful experience.

All signage is in Arabic and good English.

The exhibition starts of with natural history (dinosaurs etc.), with plenty of quotations from the Quran. I walked through that pretty quickly because there did not seem to be anything that isn't done better everywhere else.

Then the interesting stuff about the Arabian peninsula starts. Lots of early vases and implements, together with photos of excavations of early settlements and also actual mock-ups. The east and Yemeni coasts of the peninsula seem to be almost littered with abandoned towns. Many seem to have served trade routes and there seem to have been times in the peninsula's history when the nomads had the upper hand and times when it paid to be settled.

The last exhibits on the ground floor deal with the Jahiliya period, before you take an escalator upstairs for the start of the Islamic period.

The early part of the Prophet's (saw) story is told on posters, together with blow-up maps and copies of real and facsimile Qurans. The narrative is what you'd expect with minimal references to the Ahlulbayt (a.s.).

The coverage then moves onto the Ummayad and Abbasid periods and after the Ottomans its the Saudi family history. There's a whole gallery about the latter and a mini-cinema that shows a film about how the modern state was founded. The showcases have lots of guns from the early 20th century. 

Surprisingly there's next to nothing about the oil industry and its history in the Kingdom. 

There's a tiny cafe (for takeaways) and the souvenir shop does not sell fridge magnets. So there was nothing to keep me and I walked out to the street to find a taxi with an Urdu speaking driver (easy peasy).

The image is of the bag that is used to hold to key to the house of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in Madinah.

IMG_1764b.jpg

Haji 2003

Asymmetry of sin

There is a growth industry dealing with the shortcomings of Islam and the problematic behaviour of Muslims.

This also manifests itself on discussion forums populated by Muslims where participants can most easily discuss the supposed weaknesses of Islamic teaching and the shortcomings of individuals' practices. Thus, there are numerous discussions about, for example, the problems associated with polygamy. Something which Islam allows, but which is otherwise frowned upon by non-Muslims.

But what Muslims cannot do in discussions is refer (in any manner of detail) to the weaknesses in alternative lifestyles in case they open up the eyes of believers to what is sinfully possible.

Instead what Muslims have for comparison to their own lifestyles are the presentations by their critics of idealised and sanitised versions of, non-Islamic contemporary lifestyles. 

Haji 2003

Moderation is one of those ideas which sounds wonderful and like concepts such as equality and freedom often it is. But as with these other concepts it can have its drawbacks. One obvious limitation with moderation is that people may assume that it's possible to exercise moderation when this is actually very difficult to do and as such the very act of consumption may lead to excess. The people who make these promises know this. The promise is only a lure to catch the unwary. Once caught a certain proportion of the trapped will consume to excess and they will be the most loyal customers. Indeed, they will have reached a level of purchase where the promises of being able to moderate consumption no longer matter. 

Activities that are considered acceptable remain such as long as they are indulged in moderation. However, it is generally agreed that there is no moderate level of consumption of heroin. But proponents of gambling believe that there is an acceptable and moderate level of gambling at the level of the individual and they reassure governments that they can help to ensure that individuals do not stray from this. What constitutes a moderate level is not known.

Similarly with alcohol, it is argued that there is a moderate and achievable level of consumption. Firms that sell alcohol advise customers in their adverising to 'drink responsibly'. What sounds like an empowering message, one which gives the drinker the false belief that they can choose when to start and stop drinking, is one that is being made by people whose responsibility it is to ensure that sales rise.

With both alcohol and gambling the very act of consumption diminishes the individual's assessment of what moderation is. And this is a central fallacy with the notion of moderation - that people can work out what a moderate level is and then adhere to it. As with other aspects of modern consumption it seems to offer individuals a false level of control - which they may not really have.

Moderation is also often cited by the food industry as being the answer to the marketing of certain foods and drinks, usually those which contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar and fat (either individually or in combination with each other). Such foods are said to be acceptable as 'part of a balanced diet'. But just as with the other products mentioned above, the marketers' own activities are designed to encourage greater and more regular consumption than would otherwise be the case. One of the easiest ways to grow sales is to sell the offering in larger servings with the promise of a discount.

The promise of moderation, once again, becomes part of the seller's toolkit to seduce the consumer in the knowledge that only some people will have the will power to actually achieve this.

https://wordpress.com/stats/week/contemporaniablog.wordpress.com

Haji 2003

Joining the dots

The Saudi regime is an international lightning rod used to draw attention to the 'deficiencies' of Islam. And at the front row of critics are those people who see western civilisation as the antithesis to this Muslim backwardness.

So it comes as a bit of a relief to have an article in a mainstream publication that spells out the relationship between the above two groups.

Quote

 

Without lucrative contracts to supply the Saudi armed forces over the years, it would not have been possible to keep the production lines rolling as the transition was made from Tornado to Typhoon fighter jets at BAE Systems. So not only are British jobs at stake but also Britain’s independent arms production capability. And to maintain its niche in the market in the face of fierce competition, Britain has undertaken to provide training and maintenance packages that place its technicians at the heart of the Saudi defence establishment.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/20/defence-ties-saudi-arabia-yemen-british-cluster-bombs

So there you have it.

No Saudi regime willing to buy British arms, no independent British arms manufacturing capability.

It really is as simple as that. And it's a pretty damning reply to those people who believe that Muslims are quick to blame others for their own deficiencies.

In this instance, at least, the blame can be credibly laid at the door of others.

Would Saudi pursue the same policies if it were democratic? Would it pursue the same policies if it were not an authoritarian police state. I don't think so.

The deficiencies we see in Saudi are more a product of non-Muslims' creation than they are of the local Muslims.

Because the very system we see in that country has been created to benefit foreigners.

 

 

Haji 2003

The classic marketing text used in business schools around the world is written by Philip Kotler.

The underlying premise of the book is that at long as a business identifies the needs of its customers correctly and then delivers those in a way that is superior to its competitors it will be successful. The text pays close attention to the marketing functions performed within organisations and how they can be done more effectively.

The idea that business is a meritocracy, that delivering superior value to customers is what it takes to succeed is one that is used to sell the attractiveness of such an economy. Anyone can have a go, and anyone can succeed provided they follow the formula.

There is, however, an underlying problem with the formula and that is its essentially atomistic nature. All humans are considered equal and social biases are assumed out of the equation.

But that is not how business works.

Groups of individuals can collude (legally) to help each other by ethnicity, language, family and religion. The playing field is not level.

Those people who buy the textbook lie may find that those who play by a different set of rules end up winning. Indeed this can, sometimes, be the only way forward for those people from minority communities who'd otherwise not be able to enter the mainstream.

Success can depend not just on excellent customer service and an innovative business idea, but having access to capital, ideally at preferential rates. Success can also depend on having people in the distribution and supply chains who trust you and who are willing to take a risk.

That's unlikely to happen amongst total strangers. It's more likely to happen where you have networks of people who are already in business and who see your potential success as a means of building up social ties that contain future obligations and favours.

Of course, the unwritten rule of business schools is that you go there to make connections with people who could be useful later and to that extent the people who go there recognise the reality of the situation.

Haji 2003

Art and atrocities

One of the challenges of accepting a merciful God is the retort (of those who accept neither idea) about the existence of pain, suffering and death. 

For the theist, however, and those inclined towards notions of scientificness pain and suffering don't negate the existence of God, but they do rationalise art.

If we want to appreciate the latter we have to accept the former.

Our appreciation of aesthetics is continuously evolving as we see the world in new and different ways and in turn that was facilitated historically by our happening upon new pigments and more new technologies.

Our movement from a state of ignorance to knowledge of what could be seen and expressed and how innovatively this could be done was birthed by curiosity, stimulated by wonder and aroused excitement. It made being alive the experience contrasts with not being alive.

But that process is premised upon there being an intellectual and aesthetic development. Where would the wonder, anticipation and discovery be if we were born with perfect knowledge and sense of beauty? There would be no journey; there would only be the destination.

The experience of our personal journeys as we encounter new art forms and the benefits we gain vicariously from seeing how art developed for those who preceded us would all be lost. There would be no experience since there'd be no journeys for either ourselves or anyone else.

But there is a cost to this facet of human existence. The journey from ignorance to knowledge invariably involves not just artistic errors but also those of ethics and morals. It involves not just improvements in aritstic execution, but also improvements in the ability to cure.

While one journey elicits wonder and discovery, so the other generates pain and is sorrowful. The discovery of lapis lazuli and the impact that it had on art was all positive, but the discovery of the polio vaccine was coloured by the fact that many tens of thousands needed to suffer and die before it became available.

In the latter instance, we'd rather arrive at the destination without the travails of the journey.

Haji 2003

In debt management circles the 'light bulb moment' is when someone hit with the problems of managing debt and related financial problems suddenly realises that the solution lies within them and their spendthrift lifestyle.

Following 'the lightbulb moment', the individual chooses a lifestyle that does not involve so much consumption and thus improves their personal finances. But arriving at the lightbulb moment is a challenge.

People have been brainwashed to believe that they must have xyz products and services and woe upon anyone who dares to suggest that these are luxuries and not necessities.

We have, today, a prevailing ideology that other people should not be criticised for their lifestyle choices. People are said to be free to choose whatever it is that makes them happy and as long as it is 'legal' it is ok. Of course if enough people do something illegal it becomes possible to reclassify it as legal, but that is another story.

We've therefore evolved into a society where the people who wish to take advantage of the emotional and rational frailty of others are given a free hand. The countervailing forces are stymied.

In contemporary society a significant means by which people express their choices is via the market in terms of what they buy. In a politically correct world the only parties to the buying and selling are the customer driven by their internal desires and the seller driven by the need to make a profit.

All too often the seller does their work with ruthless efficiency, and if they don't they go bust. And if the customer makes poor choices, political correctness again weighs in and it isn't acceptable to criticise them. Neither the people around them can do this and neither can government.

The market itself sometimes imposes restrictions, bad behaviour can result in higher insurance premiums, and an inability to manage debt can result in fewer credit card issuers willing to do business - but the focus here is on protecting the sellers' businesses rather than the customers' welfare.

In some extreme political circles the case is made, that people who are on e.g. foodstamps should not be allowed to buy alcohol, but this is often seen as unfairly restricting the freedom of the poor.  

Occasionally the issue becomes overwhelming and government can't avoid taking its responsibilities and it does run campaigns against specific products such as tobacco, salt and now there is a proposed sugar tax in some countries. But that is rare. Certainly no government can recommend that people spend less, for fear of destroying the consumer economy.

Another factor driving change has been the impact on public health finances of those people making poor lifestyle choices and in some areas of the UK, the health services are trying to restrict the amount of (free) healthcare given to people who are obese or who smoke.

This approach is commonsense. People can either take the Islamic approach to controlling their nafs, or they can take the economic approach and suffer the financial consequences - but the end point will be the same.

Perhaps the 'free-to-choose' ideology was just an artefact of a society that could afford this luxury and if times become more straitened, they'll also become more enlightened?

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    • Beating oneself in grieve is from shaitan?
    • Another interesting blog entry. I learn so much from you, Sister. Alhamdulillah for all your help. 
    • Peace be upon you O Uthman, the namesake of Uthman the son of Amirul Mumineen [Ali].
    • Wa Alaykum Salam.  What you have quoted from Tafsir al-Safi goes back to Tafsir al-Askari [a Tafsir which claims to originate from the Eleventh Imam]. This is the translation: قال رجل للصادق عليه السلام فإذا كان هؤلاء العوام من اليهود لا يعرفون الكتاب الا بما يسمعونه من علمائهم لا سبيل لهم إلى غيره فكيف ذمّهم بتقليدهم و القبول من علمائهم و هل عوام اليهود الا كعوامنا يقلّدون علمائهم فان لم يجز لأولئك القبول من علمائهم لم يجز لهؤلاء القبول من علمائهم فقال عليه السلام بين عوامنا و علمائنا و بين عوام اليهود و علمائهم فرق من جهة و تسوية من جهة أما من حيث استووا فان اللَّه قد ذمّ عوامنا بتقليدهم علماءهم كما قد ذمّ عوامهم و أمّا من حيث افترقوا فلا، A man said to al-Sadiq عليه السلام: If the common people among the Jews did not have any other way to obtain knowledge of the Book except through what they heard from their scholars - then why did He blame them for their following of the scholars and acceptance from them? Further, is it not the case that the common people among the Jews are like our common people for they [our common people] too follow their scholars, so if it is not permitted for them [the Jews] to accept from their scholars then is it not also impermissible for these [our common people] to accept what their scholars say? He عليه السلام said: Between our common people and our scholars and the laity among the Jews and their scholars there is a difference in one aspect and similarity in another aspect. As far as the similar aspect is concerned then just as Allah censured our common people for the blind following of their scholars He did the same in censuring their common people, but as for the divergent aspect then No [he did not censure it].   قال بيّن لي ذلك يا بن رسول اللَّه قال إنّ عوام اليهود كانوا قد عرفوا علمائهم بالكذب الصريح و بأكل الحرام و الرّشا و بتغيير الأحكام عن واجبها بالشفاعات و العنايات و المصانعات و عرفوهم بالتعصب الشديد الذي يفارقون به أديانهم و إنهم إذا تعصبوا أزالوا حقوق من تعصبوا عليه و اعطوا ما لا يستحقه من تعصبوا له من اموال غيرهم و ظلموهم من أجلهم و عرفوهم يقارفون المحرّمات و اضطروا بمعارف قلوبهم إلى أن من فعل ما يفعلونه فهو فاسق لا يجوز ان يصدق على اللَّه و لا على الوسائط بين الخلق و بين اللَّه فلذلك ذمّهم لما قلّدوا من قد عرفوا و من قد علموا أنّه لا يجوز قبول خبره و لا تصديقه في حكايته و لا العمل بما يؤديه إليهم The Narrator said: Explain it for me O the son of the messenger of Allah. He عليه السلام said: the common people among the Jews knew that their scholars used to lie outright, eat the forbidden wealth, were corrupt, changed the laws from what they should be based on intercession, favours and bribes. They also knew that their scholars were excessively partisan, that they used to split up their religion because of this rivalry and used to trample the rights of those they were against and give those they are partial towards what they do not deserve of the wealth of others, they used to oppress them [the enemies of their allies] to please their biases. They knew them to perpetrate the forbidden. They [the common people] knew it in their hearts [had intrinsic knowledge] that the one who does what they used to do is a Fasiq, and it is not acceptable to consider them truthful in what they attribute to Allah or to the intermediaries between the creation and Allah. That is why He censured them when they followed those they knew for a fact it was forbidden to accept their reports or consider them truthful in what they say, or to act based on what they instruct.   وكذلك عوام امتنا إذا عرفوا من فقهائهم الفسق الظاهر ، والعصبية الشديدة والتكالب على حطام الدنيا وحرامها ، وإهلاك من يتعصبون عليه إن كان لاصلاح أمره مستحقا ، وبالترفق بالبر والاحسان على من تعصبوا له ، وإن كان للاذلال والاهانة مستحقا فمن قلّد من عوامنا مثل هؤلاء الفقهاء، فهم مثل اليهود الذين ذمّهم الله تعالى بالتقليد لفسقة فقهائهم Likewise, the laity of our community, if they recognize signs of clear-cut Fisq from their scholars, extreme partisanship, their turning towards amassing the wealth of this world and its prohibited items, destroying the affair of the one they are biased against even though extending assistance to him is what is appropriate,  showing compassion, good-will and charity to the one they are biased towards even thought humiliating and chastising them is the appropriate response - then the one among our common people who follows such Fuqaha are like the Jews and those who are censured by Allah the Elevated because of their following of corrupt scholars. فأما من كان من الفقهاء صائناً لنفسه، حافظاً لدينه، مخالفاً لهواه، مطيعاً لأمر مولاه، فللعوام أن يقلدوه. وذلك لا يكون إلاّ بعض فقهاء الشيعة، لا جميعهم فان من يركب من القبائح و الفواحش مراكب فسقة فقهاء العامّة فلا تقبلوا منهم عنا شيئاً و لا كرامة لهم. As for the one among the Fuqaha who protects his soul, preserves his religion, opposes his caprice [desires], and obeys the command of his Master then it is upon the laity to follow him. There are only some of the Fuqaha of the Shia who are like this, not all. As for those who perpetrate the despicable and abominable acts the way the `Amma [proto-Sunni] scholars do then do not not accept from them about us anything and they are not to be honoured.
    • The following link will take you to part 2 - http://www.shiachat.com/forum/blogs/entry/315-the-impact-of-cognitive-distortions/
    •   This is what I learned from you Hameedeh.
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