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".

Sources: imdb.com, amazon.co.uk

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.