Friday, 28 December 2007

Dreaming of a White Christmas

When the odds of a White Christmas finding its way to you are just not on, only one option remains: pack your bags and go out in search of it.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Book Review: Building Agreement: Using Emotions as You Negotiate

UK Title: Building Agreement: Using Emotions as You Negotiate
US Title: Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate
Authors: Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro
Publisher: Random House Business Books (March 2006)

Good practical guide to make you think about the way you communicate with others, whether they are a family member, work colleague or complete stranger, and not just in a strict negotiation setting as the title may wrongly suggest. It must be said, the book is not about manipulating emotions, our own or those of others, but rather it provides an advice on how we can positively work with our emotions to reach agreement. The authors distinguish and focus on five 'core concerns' that motivate people: appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and a fulfilling role. I am pretty sure each will strike a chord with you to some extent and cause you to re-assess the way you interact with others. It certainly did so for me.

A great read with lots of real-life examples that you will easily be able to relate to with your own experiences. Indeed, if you are one of those people who are always looking to do a bit of introspection and improve your character, then I cannot recommend this book for you enough.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Less is More

Dude, speak little, minimal.
Look, assess, are they still with you?
Yes? Ask if they want a little more.
No? Ask why?
Perhaps you have confused them?
Go back a few steps and try again.
Perhaps you have overloaded them?
Stop there.
Perhaps they are not interested?
Then why did you even start?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Love Hurts

Every Wednesday, after a series of hard spars, I come home to nurse a bruised body in preparation for much the same the coming week.

And as I limp between each session, I think, "Am I like the man who drinks for a moment's pleasure to be drunk and foolhardy an entire night?"

But then I look to the beer bellied worshipper and think, "How can a man, losing battle with his visible body, expect to approach mastery of his hidden Nafs? Indeed, mine is not a matter of weakness; my pains are just a few small pebbles on the long rugged stretch to strength."

Friday, 16 November 2007


O sleepy slothful soul,
the sun has risen and you are still down?
Rise and ask your sluggish self,
who is more in need of running its course,
the one who will give account,
or the one who has no will?

Sunday, 4 November 2007


Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said,
"Weigh your actions before they are weighed,
and reckon with yourself before you are reckoned with,
for today's reckoning will be easier than tomorrow's.
And prepare yourself for the great appearance
(of the Judgement Day)."

What a sound advice,
and so I look at the person I was yesterday and think,
"Damn I would hate to be him",
and then I look with greater certainty to the day before,
"Damn how much more I would hate to be him",
but then, what is this revulsion compared to
how much I would hate to not hate the person I was yesterday
and to be content with the person I am today.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Gaining in Ramadhan

Who would have thought it, not eating between sunrise (5am) and sunset (7pm) for a month and gaining 1kg in the process?! Perhaps the increase is a gain of the inner self (you know, faith, spirituality and stuff)? Now that would be cause for celebration come this Eid.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Muslims and the Media Circus

I read an interesting comment piece in the Guardian on Thursday 20 September 2007 by Seumas Milne. The piece was entitled "This onslaught risks turning into a racist witch-hunt" and the subtitle read "The renewed anti-Muslim media campaign is partly driven by a political agenda which seeks to justify war". Here are some snippets from the article:

"... For the past three weeks, there has been a stream of hostile coverage in the heavyweight press and on TV current affairs programmes... The problem isn't necessarily with the stories themselves. There are obviously legitimate issues to report about jihadist and anti-Jewish strains... But in a climate of anti-Muslim prejudice, their disproportionate and sensationalist treatment can only feed ethnic tensions... The relentless public invective against Muslims and Islamism is also clearly fuelled by a political agenda, which seeks to demonstrate that jihadist violence is driven, as Tony Blair and the US neoconservatives always insisted, by a socially disconnected ideology rather than decades of western invasion, occupation and support for dictators across the Muslim world... Gordon Brown is said to want to mimic the clandestine methods used by the CIA against communism during the cold war in the cultural field to win Muslim hearts and minds. If the government's sponsorship of the pliant Sufi Muslim Council is any indication of the way he wants to go, that won't work - nor will any approach that tries to load responsibility for jihadist violence on to the Muslimc community while refusing to take responsibility for the government's own role in fanning the flames by supporting aggression and occupation in the Muslim world..."

I am sure Seumas Milne gets a lot of stick for writing what he writes but I tell you what, were he non-white or Muslim, the shouts "Islamist fundamenlist extremist traitor" heckled his way in true witch-hunt fashion would have him whisked away to feel the stick somewhere on the other side of the world. Know what I mean?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Audio Review: Where is Allah? by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari

Title: Where is Allah?
Speaker: Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Language: English
Producer: Al-Qurtuba Productions

"The question that should never be asked. Unfortunately, Some Muslims make this issue a matter of great debate and dispute. In this lecture, the speaker talks about unity, shedding light on its importance from the Qur’an and Sunna. Thereafter, he discusses the importance of learning the science of Aqida and talks about the correct belief one should possess regarding the attributes of Allah Most High. He explains the approach of traditional Islamic scholars to this important issue of Islamic Creed."

This is the first talk I have heard by this scholar and I was highly impressed. In this talk Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari tackles a potentially divisive topic in a very mellow disciplined manner. The talk is well worth the listen and will leave you with a strong desire to learn more about the "mainsteam traditional Islamic" understanding of God.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

News Round-up: June-August

A showdown between Palestine’s two rival groups, Hamas and Fatah, left the US-backed secularists of Fatah running the West Bank and the democratically-elected Islamists of Hamas in control of the Gaza strip.

Glasgow airport was attacked in bizarre fashion when a Jeep driven by two doctors struck the terminal and burst into flames, leaving one of the men dead and the other injured. This came a few days after Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister and a day after two unexploded cars were found in central London packed with gas canisters, petrol and nails.

A horrific week-long gun battle took place in Islamabad’s Lal (Red) Masjid between Pakistan’s security forces and those running the Masjid. Nearly 100 people died in the ensuing battle, including the Mullah leading the opposition.

On a more positive note, Pakistan and India celebrated 60 years as independent nations. While India, after decades of sloth, is poised to regain its pre-colonial glory as a great economic power, Pakistan on the other hand, lurching between corrupt civilian governments and military rule, struggles to hold fair and free elections.

The violence in Iraq did not slow. With much of the US-electorate losing faith in the war pressure was increased for the troops to return home. In turn, the US government increased pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, as well as accusing Iran of arming its neighbours (Iraq and Afghanistan).

Not all was bad in Iraq, in truly inspirational fashion the Iraqi football team won the Asian Cup in Jakarta to set off a wave of celebrations.

(Written for Issue 16 of the Noor Magazine)

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Faxing to you from an Egyptian prison cell

A repentant (currently jailed) Egyptian terrorrist leader putting the finishing touches to a recantation that undermines the Muslim theological basis for violent Jihad recently gave a foretaste of his conversion (faxed from an Egyptian prison to an Arabic newspaper).

This was the response of Ayman Al-Zawahiri (Al-Qaida number two) in a video message broadcast:

"Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian cells? I wonder if they're connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines [used to torture prisoners]."

Source: 'The Guardian', Friday 27.07.07

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Tea and Cricket

When speaking of my latest mountain-tea-drinking adventure with my supervisor she remarked, "How very English of you!"

As I completed my rebuttal, "On the contrary, drinking tea is very Pakistani." It dawned on me, "Actually..."

But by then, beating me to it, she remarked, "What, like cricket?"

There's one to think about: What came first to Pakistan (or India as it was then), the tea or the English?

Regardless, one thing is for sure today, as with cricket (and not too much else), the Pakistanis do it better.

Monday, 16 July 2007


Mission Accomplished... kind of anyway. As intended, we sat in the clouds and sipped hot tea but, admittedly, the tea was bought from a cafe at the bottom and not made on a camp fire. In actual fact, forget making tea, we couldn't even get a small fire started! The damp forest wood just would not burn. We tried using firelighters and tissue paper brought from home, we tried chopping the wood to small pieces, we even tried spraying flammable insect repellant but it just would not catch light. It just wasn't meant to be. Anyway, it didn't dampen our spirits because we had Ambrosia Rice Pudding with us which tastes good hot or cold.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Operation Hot Tea on Cold Snowdon

Hot milky tea tastes better sipped on a cold icy mountain-top after a long testing walk. For those heading to Mount Snowdon (i.e. me), good news! No need to make a fire, boil the water and fill the flusk at the bottom. Apparently, there's a cafe at the top.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Goodbyes to Blair

After more than a decade in charge it is all over for Tony Blair. Where to now for the man who brought you the war on Iraq? It looks like he'll be envoying to bring peace in the Middle East. Nice.

Here's some goodbyes I found in yesterday's 'The London Paper':

"Tony's a visionary. I admire someone who sees over the horizon. I've heard he's been called "Bush's poodle". He's bigger than that."
(George Bush)

"The army is p****d off, police are investigating him; in any other country he'd be leaving in a helicopter from the roof."
(Rory Brember on the end of Blair's reign)

"He was a huge inspiration for me when I ran for Governer."
(Arnold Schwarenegger, Governer of California knows a great political actor when he sees on)

And what better way to end than with some quotes from the man himself:

"Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right".

"I may have been wrong, that's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else – I did what I thought was right for this country."

"In time you realise putting the country first doesn't mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom or the latest snapshot of opinion. It means doing what you genuinely believe to be right.

"That your duty of prime minister is to act according to your conviction".

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Unfriendly fire

"Afghan patience is wearing thin with such incidents. Although many still support the presence of the foreigners, Afghans these days speak of aerial bombardments and Taliban suicide-bombings as twin evils. President Hamid Karzhai has expressed his frustration, but tries to appease his countrymen. 'Foreign troops are like powerful drugs that cure a disease but have side effects as well,' he told a meeting in Shindand last month after fighting between Taliban and Western troops left some 50 civilians dead."

(The Economist, June 23rd 2007)

As well as the scary side effects, the problem with powerful drugs is that the more they are taken the more the body begins to depend on them. The result: the required dosage just keeps on increasing and the body's natural defenses just keep on weakening.

Saudi Arabia's Religious Police

"... the Haya's existence helps solve two pressing social problems: high unemployment and a very large surplus of graduates in religious studies."

(The Economist, June 23rd 2007)

'Haya' is Saudi Arabia's 'Commision for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice'. Different from the "regular" police their duties include making sure that shops close for the five daily prayers and enforcing modesty of attire. According to the article in the Economist, it consists of around 5000 agents.

Are they graduates in religious studies? Judging from the harsh impoliteness that they display I'm not quite sure they are, or maybe the module on character and good manners was optional.

Knighting of Salman Rushdie

"These are great times for flag manufacturers. Union Jack vendors did brisk business across the Middle East this week, as mobs vented their anger with a bonfire of flags and effigies of Queen Elizabeth".

(The Economist, June 23rd 2007)

Doesn't all this publicity and protesting work to increase his book sales?!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Interview Questions

Preparing (truthful) answers to tough interview questions can make for good self-evaluation. It serves well to locate your weaknesses, set targets and discover areas for improvement. Try these on for size:

- Tell me about yourself
- Why should I hire you?
- Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
- Are you a team player?
- Have you ever had to resolve a conflict with a colleage?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What do you know about our company?
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Do you have any questions?

Forget not, these are not yes/no questions; example, example, example.

(Source of questions: New Scientist)

Monday, 11 June 2007


Isn't it funny how you wait for a bus... and then three come along, all on the same route, at once? And how I've never properly thought about the concept of bowing (to a being other than God)... and then have three separate discussions on the same day!

Firstly, many religious groups are extremely exuberant in their love and respect for their scholars/priests, and so bow down (to an extent) to kiss their hands.

Secondly, there's the bowing that occurs within so many Eastern martial arts; towards the teacher when entering/starting the class, towards the opponent when starting/ending a fight, and so on.

Thirdly, as found in some cultures as a mark of respect for parents.

So, does the Shariah of Islam allow this kind of bowing, given that the intention is not for idolisation? I have no idea. Any website links or suggested reading/listening would be greatly appreciated, as would your thoughts.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Ben Nevis

Whilst London drowned in rain I (and my small band of merry men) trekked in excellent conditions up Ben Nevis. Despite the terrible forecasts the skies cleared and the view was brilliant all the way up. As promised I printed my sponsorship page and made Du'a for everyone that sponsored me (by name) at the top.

The picture is of me resting on the peak with my walking stick - a real godsend. I found it in the forest the day before and it really helped with the walk. Not only that, it made for excellent fuel at night as we made a real camper's meal: Tinned soup and spaghetti with toast, and a rare camp treat... grilled garlic bread.

To top it all of, on the final day, just before we set off for the long drive home, because the weather was alright, we jumped into the river. A numbing experiece.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Make an Investment

After Fajr (dawn) prayer in the Masjid today I took my regular seat and observed the elders in the Masjid taking theirs, as they do every day to read Qur'an. In doing so, I sat and thought, that is really good of them; they disturb their early morning sleep for no other reason than to hear the Words of their Lord. The thing is, however, the question came to mind, given that they understand very little (if anything) of what they read, have they never thought to invest some time to improve the way they do what they spend so much time doing?

When I got home, during my post-Fajr pre-sleep reading I came across this quote, which I think provides the answer:
"Some people play tennis all their lives but never get better. Those people are not willing to take a fresh look at what they do or to consider changing it. Good players recognise that getting better often means making an investment in new approaches. For a while they may get worse as they wrestle with new and unfamiliar techniques, but eventually they surpass their old plateau." (Source: 'Getting to Yes - negotiating agreement without giving in')

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Film Review: The Battle of Algiers

Title: The Battle of Algiers
Language: French
Release date: 1966

This classic, shot in a quasi-documentary style and commissioned by the Algerian government, covers the violent struggle in the late 1950s for Algerian independence from France. It shows the clash between the French foreign legion and Muslim nationalists from both sides. The torture used by the French is contrasted with the Algerian's use of bombs in public outlets.

The film was banned in France, and the torture scenes were cut in the US and UK. With the advent of the "war against terror" in recent years, the film's relevance has only intensified. In 2003, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon screened this film for officers and civilian experts who were discussing the challenges faced by the US military forces in Iraq. The flier inviting guests to the screening read: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas".


Friday, 18 May 2007

Out with the root

Having fractured my tooth again (within two months of the previous treatment), this time round it had to come out. And so I found myself back on the dentist's chair. Tweezers tightened to the root, twisting, turning, pulling and pushing. A bit of introspection ("Oh my God! Without those three injections of anaesthetic that would really hurt") and a few crackles later, out it came.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Entering the West Bank from Jordan

Somebody recently asked me about my (unsuccessful) attempt at entering the West Bank (Palestine) from Jordan a few years back. The experience at the border checkpoint brought back some amusing memories. Here's what you should not do, which is what I did, to increase your chances of being allowed through:
  • go with a couple of other young Asian-British-Muslim looking fellows (you know: beard, hair, brown etc);
  • make full slow near-perfect Wudhu (ablution) putting your feet in the sink and the rest of it as your very own personalised Israeli security guard stands by watching in terror (wrong word?);
  • pray a long peaceful prayer out in the open to the excitement of passing Palestinians. It doesn't help if the Palestinians start coming over to shake your hands and ask "Are you Daa'ees (missionaries)?";
  • tell the interrogators you'll be staying more than a day. Certainly not 2 weeks! And definitely not for charity work with Birzeit University!! You're a tourist.
  • etc. You get the picture.
But truth be told. There's not much you can do. It depends on how they feel on the day. Do expect a six hour wait and a series of repetitive checks. That is standard for young foreign Muslims/Socialists whether they intend to let you through or not. They do it so that you go back with bad experiences/stories as a hindrance for future visitors.

They'll ask you (in a strong American accent) questions like: "What's your papa's name?... And your grand papa?..." Try not to laugh. And when they take your shoes away for long periods, it's not because they have a fetish.

All said and done, as with any interview... be yourself, don't lie, cover and make stuff up and you should be fine (God-willing)... unless you're part of any political organisations!

Lastly, it's not over until you're standing in Al-Aqsa or back on the other side being comforted by the Jordanian border officials. After hours of miserable behaviour, if the Israeli officials suddenly have a change of mood (i.e. smiling, offering fruit and sandwiches) and say they'll let you through, know that you are dealing with a deceptive bunch. If they begin apologising for the trouble they've caused and saying that they've called in a taxi to make up for your lost time to take you to your destination, know that something is not right. Ask yourself, "Why is the driver Jordanian? Why are they handing him my passport? Why is his car faced towards Jordan? And why have so many Israeli border officials come out to stand by and excitedly wave me goodbye?"

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Structuring Life and Fulfilling Goals

A good technique for adding a bit of structure to your life is this:

Set yourself small, tangible, achievable daily targets for the coming days (like "read 20 verses of the Qur'an on Monday", "pray Fajr in the Masjid on Monday", "go to the gym on Tuesday and do not leave until I've done...", "attend the weekly Fiqh/Tafsir/Hadith/etc class on Wednesday", and so on). Write all these targets down on paper so that you don't forget. For each target that you miss give yourself a little punishment (like "pay 50p to charity", "pray 2 Rak'ah optional prayer", etc). The key is to be strict on yourself but not too strict that you give up.

I must point out, however, this works for some but works against others. Don't use such a timetabled approach unless it comes naturally to you. Some people like to plan and get things done on time, others prefer a more relaxed ad hoc approach and thrive under last-minute pressure. Each person is different and you are what you are, and know best what you are. If the suggested technique works for you, refine it as required and stick with it. If not, seek a more fitting way.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Should Harry go to Iraq?

Here's a summary of some politician's response I just heard on the BBC:

"No... Because we're fighting terrorists... and... his first duty is not to die serving his country... his first duty is to live."

And whilst we're on the topic, I read an amusing comment piece in the Independent a few days ago begging the question: Whilst serving in the army, how does William get so much time to go skiing and attend horse races?

Monday, 16 April 2007

Book Review: The Secret History of al-Qa'ida, by Abdel Bari Atwan

Title: The Secret History of al-Qa'ida
Author: Abdel Bari Atwan
Publication date: February 2006

A well-researched (including a 1996 visit to bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan) and well-written (seemingly free from bias) book. Why should you read it? In the words of the author:

"There was a historical inevitability about the rise of bin Laden, who has become for many the figurehead of a resurgent Muslim identity. For many people in the West this is unthinkable, as there he is presented and perceived as an evil terrorist. Yet it is important to understand how he is viewed by his admirers in the Islamic world. How can the very real threat that al-Qa'da's ideology represents to global security be countered if its identity and nature remains shrouded in obscurtiy?"

I read the 2006 version, which seems to cover events right up to (but just before) the death of al-Zarqawi in Iraq. Since then, al-Qa'ida (and the Taliban) seem to have (unpredictably) increased in attacks, strength and resolve. It would be interesting to read how the author comments on this in his 2007 version.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Tips for better note-taking

Do you have any good tips/techniques (or recommended resources) for taking better notes, especially when in a live lecture or class, so that you can better absorb the material?

Not really sure. Different things work for different people. The key is to filter the unnecessary from the necessary (i.e. that which is directly relevant to the talk/lecture at hand from that which is not).

Then, to type up and restructure your notes when you get home according to the way you understand things. This is important. In doing so you are solidifying the lesson in your long-term memory.

And Allah knows best.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

I don't know

Next time you observe a survey result notice how few respondents vote 'don't know'. It says a lot about us, but two things strike me in particular: Firstly, we are a people of extremes: Yes or no, left or right, us or them. Secondly, we are a people of too many answers and not enough questions.

Am I right? Yes? No? Not sure? Maybe?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Tackling a Literature Review

A literature review is an organised, critical appraisal of published attempts to answer a question.

Therefore you have to start by knowing and understanding the research question; have it in mind so that you are not reading irrelevant material. Have a plan and structure of how you aim to go about the literature review.

The Foundation
How will it be organised? Chronological; Thermatic (models; results etc); Methodological?

The Phases
Phase One: More searching, less reading, little writing.
Phase Two: More reading, less searching, little writing.
Phase Three: Mainly writing, with some re-reading.

If you do phases one and two right the literature review will almost write itself. Keep the writing in draft shape until it is to be incorporated in the final thesis. You don't want to finalise and chop material too early.

The Search
With an abundace of material available, one vital resource is often forgotten... people! Continue to talk at all stages; not just to your supervisor but to others who can help and recommend papers.

Information Mapping
Such methods do not take very long to draw yet structure thoughts excellently.

Getting Stuck In
Read the abstract, introduction and conclusion of a paper first. Straight away. Then decide what parts of it need reading in depth.

Reading and Note-taking
Read papers with a defined purpose. What are you reading this for? Decide! It will help you focus. Read from a hardcopy whenever possible. You can't concentrate so well looking at a screen.

Reading with a purpose
Devise a set of questions for yourself and answer them as you read the main parts of the paper.

Information Management
Have some sort of filing system. Remember that the best ones are the simplest.

Writing the literature review
This should now be the easy bit. Don't forget to cite yourself, as and when required. The trail may need to be followed by fellow researchers. When in doubt... cite!

The Outline
  • Introduction - The research question and why it's important. Summary of previous attempts to answer it.
  • Body of the review - Headings according to your chosen method of organisation.
  • Conclusions - Where are the gaps? Are they worth filling? Who has made the best attempts to fill them? How do I intend to fill them? What do I intend to do?

Writing techniques
Rough drafting first! Remember, it's private. There's no need to beautify it... yet. What is said is more important here than how it is said. Also, in terms of writing order, it is best to leave the introduction to the end. It will then be brief and you'll be clearer on what lies ahead.

Refine your rough drafts
Wait! Leave it for two or three days at least (between drafting and editing). And make that final check in hardcopy.

Efficient Reading

Active Reading
Be selective and critical. Talk to other people: Before reading, ask, "Is it worth reading? All of it? What parts?" Whilst reading and after completion, discuss the content with others for further clarification and better understanding.

Make Notes
Techniques that work for some: knowledge & information mapping (graphs, brainstorms etc), highlight key words/points, paraphrase sentences, compare with other related work, compose a critical appraisal.

Some tips: Set specific goals, schedule realistic work spells, read at the right time, read in the same place, read from paper rather than a screen, use your knowledge map.

Some possible reasons: Sub-vocalisation, regression & backskipping, finger-pointing, interruptions, low light & discomfort, fatigue, poor vocabulary/comprehension.