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    • My post is focused mainly on how Western socio-political discourse occurs between two poles: (1) Freedom, and (2) Harm. This is the result of a long, crystallizing history. Islam may have areas of overlap with utilitarians and classical liberals, but overall the Islamic thesis puts God above everything else. Regarding your point about jahiliyya: I can easily say that jahiliyya gave many freedoms to women that Islam removed. Jahiliyya had no penalties for fornicators, it had rights for prostitutes, it allowed women to marry a second husband to conceive a high-status son, it had female prophetesses, and it had female goddesses. Islam restricted all of this. Yes, Islam did give many additional rights to women, but my point is that Islam is not all about freedom and liberation. It is about accountability, responsibility, and duty. It freed some aspects of our lives, but it restricted others. Anyone who reads Islamic literature with feminist glasses will be surely disappointed. As for your point that men in eastern culture "don't lift a finger when they are at home", that sounds like a gross generalization of billions of people and hundreds of cultures. Even if I were to concede that eastern men generally cook and clean less than their wives, they work longer hours, and a lot of the handiwork, lawn-mowing, technology fixing is done by men. Either way, it's not a competition. One shouldn't have a men vs women mindset, or even a victimized mindset. Men too are victims; they are the ones most effected by violence, suicide, work injuries, drugs, prisons, gangs, and dropping out of school... a victim mentality however would not solve these problems. Islam = Submission in Arabic, it's not submission to men, it's submission to Allah. Submission in some cases will be the opposite of freedom, but I would argue that sincere submission to Allah frees you from your fears and your desires, and leads to a good and contented life. I never said women should be slaves to men, or that womanhood is a disadvantage, or being dark-skinned (?) is bad. Men and women are simply different and have different rights and responsibilities in Islam. Islam is a sexually dimorphic religion. Women don't pay mahr, they don't pray/fast during their time of the month, they are not conscripted in wartime, they don't need to work, they don't need to divide their wealth, etc. By the same token, women have some unique laws and responsibilities. Total freedom and equality means removing every gendered law, including the ones that restrict men and free women, and vice versa. This is antithetical to our revelation. Please don't call me dishonest or a male chauvinist just because of one respectful criticism of modern feminism. That type of spiteful namecalling won't get you much sympathy from a neutral reader. State your arguments respectfully.
    • Really? You are implying that during the period of Jahiliyya, women were free and they had power. We have always heard that before islam, women were in bad condition. They were buried alive and Islam gave them more rights. Please learn a little honesty. Where have you seen women who live without any responsibilities? So, in eastern culture, men only do their 40 hour job and don't do anything else. They don't even lift a finger when they are at home and in most cases, men don't even work for 40 hours. But that's okay, no one gives them lectures. While women in west work 40 hours, and I am pretty sure they don't spend the rest of time sitting idle. They are always doing something for someone. But just because they don't want to work 120 hours a week and raise kids while they are working full time, it means they don't want to take any responsibility?  And what do you mean by submission? You sound so much like those male chauvenists who tell women: You are a woman, accept it, don't try to become a man or equal to a man. You can never be equal to man. Do you seriously believe that all women are supposed to be slaves? and being a woman is a disadvantage? Being a woman or being dark skinned is just like being born in a poor family or being in a war. This is a disadvantage which happened to you, now accept the consequences and submit to Allah who made you a woman. 
    • Every time i read these blog-posts i feel my IQ increases a little. May Allah reward you on behalf of sharing this knowledge with us. Eagerly awaiting the release of the Atoms post inshAllah, whenever you deem it appropriate. 
    • I liked this post. I believe it has a solid base to say humanism is a conclusion of individualism, but I somehow think that merely because individualism may result in harm for the soul, it doesn't mean that humanism by itself will, or that it will necessarily lead to the perpetuation of individualism in oneself. I think we naturally develop that individualistic approach in our life, and deciding to take distance from it must be a consequence of our convictions. In this case, these can be religious and spiritual convictions (eg Islamic convictions), but also ones developed by people and the way they understand the meaning of life (humanism). What I am saying is that humanism doesn't necessarily leads to individualism, as far as I can understand.
    • Hobbes and John Stuart Mill cane long, long before Ayn Rand or even Marx.
    • i dont think individualism came from Christianity, not even the dysfunctional version.  More likely to be the work of Ayn Rand which is probably somehow related to Mrxism
    • The Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress is interesting. As you pointed out, the Muslims don't monetize everything they do. There is not one Muslim country in the top 15 of the Wikipedia "List of countries by GDP (nominal)." In the "List of countries by GDP (PPP)" Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia squeezed into the top 15 by tweaking the statistics. I did not read the whole report that you linked, but the words that stood out to me were "Quality of Life" and "Sustainable Development and Environment." Surely the Islamic societies are cognizant of these as well. I hope that there are studious intellectuals who are reading that document and thinking how they can help improve their own society. 
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Ideas about modern issues from an Islamic perspective.

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Haji 2003

This post is inspired by a document produced by the EU and for which there is a link at the bottom of the page. While it may seem technical (in terms of its use of economics), the executive summary should be very readable.

It's a coincidence that I've come across this right now, because I had been thinking about these issues recently in light of events in Iran. As a result of which there had been remarks made in the western media about that country's economic growth or the perception of the lack of such growth.

The natural question obviously is whether or not economic growth as usually measured is a useful indicator of national economica and social well-being.

I'll give a very simple example of the attendant problems. In the UK there is now a fashion for attending gyms and health clubs. This is a good thing. However people have to pay fees to do this and obviously this helps to exclude poorer members of society. Those fees count as part of a nation's economic output, so using that measure they look good. 

Now consider an alternative example. In my recent visit to Iran I saw that the Hasht Behesht palace gardens in Isfahan had exercise equipment available for the public to use free of charge. Some public parks in western countries have these as well. However, although these are available for anyone to use, because they are free, their use does not count as an element of economic activity.

The same applies to all forms of socialised provision. Go and see a movie, that's economic output. Go to mosque and pray, that isn't. Take an anti-depressant, economic output. Go to a shrine and ask an Imam (a.s.) for intercession with God to help solve your problems, that's not economic output.

Basically, monetising exchanges (charging people for things) helps show economic growth. Doing things because they are for the wider good of society or religiously mandated - doesn't. Looking after your parents at home? No good for economic growth. Pay a carer to look after them, that shows up in the national statistics. You see the issue here. Activities that are good morally, socially and environmentally don't show in GDP statistics. Islamic societies need alternative measures.

https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/ajoswald/Stiglitz20Report_Commission20Final20200920Sept.pdf

 

Haji 2003

Between 2002 and 2008 I went on ziarat to Iran four times. Then the kids took over and also work meant it was easier to visit Iraq, Syria and Saudi. So this year's ziarat to Iran was after a gap of about 10 years.

Everything seems to have changed for the better, mashallah. The shrines are all bigger and more capable of dealing with larger numbers of visitors and that's good. in the Imam Raza (a.s.) shrine complex one of the courtyards has been completely covered over and seems to have a continuous programme of talks, which are interrupted by congregational prayers followed by duas etc. There are also massive video screens in the Razavi courtyard relaying these talks.

But the biggest change is...Qom. From 2008 I remember it as a sleepy little town.

It seems to have become a city in the past few years. And there is a massive railway/metro system under construction. We were also amazed by the water fountains in underpasses, never seen that anywhere else before.

The pedestrianised courtyards outside the shrine are now massive. My favourite 'International Hotel' seems to have become more commercial. And perhaps it was the time of year, but I could find no room this time, whereas previously it used to be mainly empty, whenever I visited. 

Inflation also seems to have had an effect. In the past £1 was worth 10,000 rials, now it's about 50,000. Maybe its age or laziness, but I really did not have the inclination to do the sums. So I would simply give storekeepers an array of notes and get them to pick whatever they wanted. An absolutely genius idea if you ask me. As I see it a taxi fare from Tehran is more likely to be £20, rather than £2 or £200. So as long as they weren't overcharging me by a factor of 10, we were good. We ate everywhere and everything. I told the family I wanted no complaints for the next several months about the fact we don't eat out in London (it's expensive).

The increase in hotels in Mashhad has meant that the Attrak hotel people have had to up their game - Grohe bathroom fittings!

This was also the first time with the kids, so a matter of passing onto them, thoughts about getting the most out of everything. I did try and stress the value of sticking to the etiquette of ziarat in order to get the most out of it and that's there's a significant level of value of being in the right frame of mind.

I reminded the 13-year-old about the therapeutic value of having a conversation with Imam Reza (a.s.) as the Iranian ladies do. She's not hugely brilliant about communicating her feelings to us. Particularly relevant since there was a suspected case of suicide in her school last year.

In terms of prep I told her to look at my blog iranziarat.com . She had tons of observations about areas for improvement. I told her that the site was her inheritance from me, so she'd better get ready to sort those out herself.

 

Haji 2003

An interesting piece in today's Guardian:

Quote

Scientists have traced the rise of the super-rich deep into our historical past to uncover the ancient source of social inequality. Their conclusion? Thousands of years ago, it was the use of large farm animals – horses and oxen that could pull ploughs – which created the equivalent of our multi-billionaire entrepreneurs today.

However, animals such as the horse or ox were not available in the New World – where farming appeared independently of its arrival in the Middle East. As a result, this extension of farms did not occur and wealth disparities in societies were less pronounced.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/10/super-rich-elites-inequality-origins-ancient-farming-mckie-anthropology-society

I think this adds to the logic that as man develops the nature and scale of the moral and ethical challenges we face increases (as does our ability to deal with them). In the instance illustrated here, technological development presents the opportunity for an increase in "inequality" in society. I think it is a fair summary to say that there is an Islamic imperative to address this.

We face similar challenges today. Disruptive technologies are presenting us with the risks of colossal employment disruption as previously well-paid jobs become redundant. In addition, while technology presents us with the opportunity to do more and more effectively, there is also the chance that for some people the temptation to update Facebook profiles more frequently will prove too much.

But blaming the technology, in and of itself is wrong in my opinion. It simply provides us with the basis for testing our ability to cope. 

Haji 2003

There's an interesting piece about AI and robots in today's London Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/nov/25/cobot-machine-coming-job-robots-amazon-ocado#comments

It's a fair piece because it includes opinions along the lines of "we're doomed with robots doing everything" through to the other end of the spectrum where the argument runs that "no previous innovation killed us off and neither will this one".

I am in the latter camp, for what it is worth.

An atheist may well believe that an outcome where robots replace us in for every imaginable activity will make us redundant and worthless. And in a world without a benevolent God, that outcome is entirely possible. 

In a more theistic perspective on this issue, I believe that human development so far has been one where we have increasingly had the capability to indulge in exercising freewill, as standards of living and technological capabilities have risen. Going hand in hand with that capability has been the ability to think about our actions and pay more attention to moral judgements. I am using the shorthand of moral judgements to refer to issues related to what is considered to be ethically right or wrong, just and equitable. included in this discussion are issues to do with sustainability and the greater awareness that the decisions we take need to take into account their future costs (e.g. on the environment) as well as current benefits (e.g. to consumers).

Fewer people now work the land in the agricultural industry, as mechanisation and the use of chemicals have taken over, but there are more people being employed to investigate our impact on that environment, understand its implications and then research remedial action. Employment has not fallen, it has risen, but the tasks we perform are more cerebral and more of them involve making moral judgements.

The same process applies to the raising of farm animals and their slaughter. Affecting all of this is the entirely new industry of people making moral judgements about what is (morally) right in agriculture and what is wrong. Some of those judgements are informed by a theistic perspective, and some are not. In the latter instance we may question the validity, for example, of policy-makers in the West focusing on the last few seconds of an animal's life (as is the case in the debate about halal slaughter, as opposed to their accepting what are improvements but still cruel aspects of the husbandry of animals during the much longer period of their lives.

There are similarly eye-brow raising moral considerations such as the most humane form of capital punishment. Nevertheless, the reality is that moral judgements are being made in all aspects of our lives and more and more time and resources are being devoted to them. 

For a theist then, I believe the trajectory that we are following is proof of a God who desires to perfect man. He gives us the increasing opportunity to exercise moral judgements, both in terms of the time available to us with which to do this and secondly in terms of the situations to which those analyses can be applied. The latter are becoming ever more complex and challenging. The pastoral farmer of a few centuries ago obviously had the need to exercise moral judgements and take issues of sustainability into account when making decisions, but my point is that given smaller population sizes prevailing at the time and the more limited technologies available the nature of those judgements was necessarily more simple and straightforward than is the case, for example with the use of genetic modification.

As living standards continue to rise and societies become more complex, we will face an increasing number of situations of increasing complexity which will need moral solutions.

And that is something which robots can never do, they don't have a soul. They are not prone to temptation and nor do they have to deal with it.

Haji 2003

The motivation problem

According to Abraham Maslow's widely disseminated view, people start off with a need to fulfill physiological needs, and end up with the need to address psychosocial needs, such as self-esteem. What this and other psycho-sociological approaches to motivation lack is the desire for social equity and justice as a motivation for human behaviour.

That justice would be seen as a balance between the rights of individuals and their obligations.

In more modern times the view of such rights and obligations has been construed in terms of the rights of workers or the rights of owners of capital. And outside of industry and the workplace, contemporary problems have reckoned with, for example, the rights of unmarried mothers for social housing and care. But in this new environment there has been little consideration of their obligations. The stigma associated with different sexualities has been replaced with recognition of their rights, but again little about obligations.

The pendulum has swung from various groups  having no rights at all to one where for a young girl having illegitimate children becomes a lifestyle choice and a rung on the economic ladder.

The essential problem has been to do with the left, for example, not recognising the obligations of workers and the right not recognising the obligations of capitalists. Or where such obligations are recognised they are presented in such undemanding terms that the perception of inequity remains.

Achieving equity is not on the agenda, rather different according to one model groups in society try and achieve their goals depending on their relative levels of power, the legitimacy of their claims and the urgency with which they need to be addressed. While this approach is realistic, recognising as it does the central importance of power, it is by the same measure not indicative of what people should strive for.

So, for me, the Islamic agenda is one of equity. It is about balancing rights and obligations of different social groups. It is one which transcends socio-economic-political dogma and philosophies and applies at all levels of society. It is that pursuit of equity that becomes an important motivating factor driving human endeavour.

 

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.

1245.jpg?w=1920&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&

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.

Quote

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:

 

Quote

 

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

Nationalism & Religion

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

Quote

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

Downside protection

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

Evolution

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:

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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

Bruce Lee

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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