Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Needs a bit of Science Jolt

Coin of Abbasid CaliphateHave you ever wondered how are the ancient mosques (over 500 years old and more) pointing in the right direction? That is, towards Makkah. I mean, how did the ancient Islamic scholars figure out the direction of the Kaaba without having access to any modern instruments like GPS, or even advance mathematics like Calculus?

Have you ever wondered, how did a Muzzin called the faithful to prayer five times a day without the use of a clock? Some would argue the stars helped him, but then how was he so precise for Salat time on a cloudy night (or day for that matter)? How were they able to account for changing of the day and night and the length of daylight?

Did you know that the first Scientist to figure out Earth’s circumference to within 1% of accuracy (of what we know today) was no other than Al-Beruni, the muslim mathematician in Baghdad. And he did it in 900AD!
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Why do we gain weight during Ramadan?

ramadan-iftarEver wonder why do we gain weight during the holy month of Ramadan? We fast. From Fajr till Maghrib. Thats a whopping 15 hours (your local time may vary) of no food or drink under the blazing July Sun. But instead of making us thinner and fitter, we end up with an even wider waistline than before. Makes no sense!

Or does it.

The real problem is not what we eat. But how much we eat. And by God, we eat a lot after dutifully abstaining during the hot summer day. Just visit your nearest Iftar party in a typical Lahori restaurant; we literally invade the buffet trays as if we are famished for days.

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The Ancient Civilization’s Contribution to Modern World

AstroglobeI get miffed when a Western historian credits Europe for bringing the world out of dark ages with their Renaissance. I get miffed not because Europe is the savior, but because, there were no dark ages for most of the known world. Middle East, India, Persia and China were enjoying a period of great discovery, inventions, free thinking and open communications among distant lands.

Whenever you read classical Western history, it is usually summed up with “civilized” culture and literacy taking roots with Greeks, polished during Roman times and then after a long and bleak dark ages resurrected by the Europeans during Renaissance. Well, that could be the historical roots of Europe but certainly a wrong representation of the world.

The fact is that Science, literature, language, learning and culture is far older than any Romans or Greeks civilizations. And there were no dark ages sans Europe. The rest of the world led by the Arabs, Chinese and Indians were developing new engineering methods, laying the roots for mathematics, developing financial models of business including the first banks and cheques and building huge trade routes (Silk road) that span the whole of the then known world.

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Spiritual Journey of Hajj

Hajis perform Rummy

Millions perform Rummy

Hajj is not just a religious duty, its a spiritual one as well. It is not just about performing Tawaf of the Holy Kaaba, its about evaluating your life and figuring out for yourself the meaning of life.

Its about understanding why we are here and what is the purpose of our lives. It is about understanding what we owe to our parents, our families, neighbors, friends and man-kind as a whole.

Hajj will guide us through our journey of self discovery and more; only if we think and ponder of why we are here to do Hajj. Only if.
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A Must Watch TED Video on Reading the Quran

Sometimes you come across little gems that you never thought possible. Sometimes, you hear the right thing but from a very unexpected source. At times, you want to believe in myths and half truths, but then the real deal kicks in and you hear what is the absolute truth.

I was blown away by the following TED Video by Ms. Lesley Hazleton on Reading the Quran.

TED Video

Click to see the video

It is always best to learn from the source, in this case Quran, about Islam. The Fox news version or Al Jazeera version just does not cut it.

The First Information Society

Islamic CivilizationLooking back a thousand years, to a time when glorious civilizations in the Mesopotamia and Southern Spain spread their knowledge and scientific discoveries around the world. These powerful and well advanced societies were not only exporting culture, science and literature to the world but were one of the most scientifically advanced and civilized nations in the world. And with it they had also given the world a glimpse of the future. The future of Information Society, an age that has just reached us in 21st century.

At the turn of the first millennium, while the European societies feuded among themselves over petty matters and their cities were still nothing more than ghettos, the Islamic cities like Baghdad, and Damascus in Middle East and Cordoba, and Grenada in Southern Spain boasted a million in habitants who had access to clean water, integrated sewerage system, public baths paved roads and lighted streets at night. They were also amassing a huge wealth of knowledge. Their historians and scientists were translating and preserving scrolls, tablets and ancient languages into the lingua franca of the time, Arabic. These were not only studied but debated at their huge universities by thousands of students enrolled in them. There were no floggings or imprisonments if your scientific discoveries shook the norms of the society. Nor were you put to death for presenting a radical new idea. Instead, the knowledge was free to share with anyone who wanted it regardless of their religion, caste, creed or racial background. A copy of the amassed knowledge was also preserved in large public libraries which were accessible to everyone. It was even complied into an easy to read and carry form. A novel concept of that time called, the “Book”. Yes, it were these societies that gave us the current form of the book, where scrolls and mud tablets were replaced by neatly packed books as know them today. The streets of Cordoba and Baghdad were lined with 100 of book sellers that would be selling thousands of books from all corners of the world. This was a time, when Britain, is said to have no more than a dozen books locked up in a monastery and only accessible to the chosen few.

Had it not been for the Arabic Scholars and historians, today the world would remember little of Homer, Aristotle and other great ancient writers. The Muslims, when they conquered any society, made it a point to preserve their local culture, document their sciences and knowledge and share it with the rest of the world. With this knowledge sharing we see Arabic Numerals (the current number system) to be adopted by the world, the birth of new mathematics including Algebra, and sciences like Chemistry and health sciences including the concept of hospitals.

Sadly, today, not much survives of those libraries and book stores and that vast knowledge of information that they amassed is all gone. The Mongol invasion of Baghdad in thirteenth century not only destroyed every sign of civilization but burned every book that they could find along with the inhabitants of the city. While the conquest of Isabella and Ferdinand of Muslim Spain brought an abrupt end to free thinking, learning and knowledge sharing which sadly was replaced by crippling culture of Spanish Inquisition and supreme power of the Church over all mattes including science.

The Muslims who fled Spain made their way to Africa. And when they left many chose to take with them their precious libraries. Recent search of ancient books have been found in the Sahara desert where they have remained buried for centuries. Some people had brought with them as many as 700 books to Africa from their personal collections.

Arabian Nights (from where we get the tales of Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali Baba) , Hatim Tai, Umro Ayyar, Amir Hamza and many other original fiction from the Middle Eastern survives to this day and translated into many languages including Urdu. These enduring tales that go on forever are compiled into multiple volumes is just the tip of the ice berg of knowledge that was being created a thousand years ago. It was an age which gave birth to the first mass fiction novels. Sadly, not much survives today. And what we have is not yet translated into multiple languages.

It would be wonderful if somehow we can start a search for the ancient books (the first of its kind in the world) and scan them digitally to be shared with the modern societies. Only then will we appreciate the true power of the ancients who were extremely advanced and civil of their time. True they did not have computers, but they were discovering and inventing the mathematics which we use today to make our computers and machines churn our wonderful 21st century technology. We owe it to them to where we are today.

So lets discover the past and search out that knowledge and share it with the world. You never know what we may find. And that is the beauty of discovery.

Remember Flood Victims During Eid ul Fitr

Waiting for aid to reach them

As we all know 21million people in Pakistan are directly affected by the floods in Pakistan. Its a staggering statistic making it one of the biggest natural disasters in recent memory.

As Eid approaches later this week, Islam’s largest celebration, we must remember the stricken. While we buy new clothes for ourselves, let’s also buy one for them. While we share sweets and dinner with friends, we should also remember to give them food. While we sleep well in our beds, we must try to donate bedsheets, tents and utensils to them so that they may have a cover over their head.

So this Eid ul Fitr, while we celebrate and pray to Allah, we must also pray for their health and well being. Let’s hope their hardship comes to end soon.

We are working closely with UM Healthcare who have been in the field since the day floods hit Northern Pakistan. They have treated over 6500 patients in the month of August 2010 and 3,000 families received food rations through them. Do help organizations like UM Healthcare out there so that help could be sent to the needy.

Allama Iqbal Remembered

Allama Iqbal - Shair-e-Mashriq

Allama Iqbal - Shair-e-Mashriq

I have always been captivated by the electrifying and often highly passionate poetry of Dr. Allama  Mohammad Iqbal. Considered one of the greatest minds of early 20th century, Shair-e-Mashriq’s (Poet of the East) poetry and philosophy has had a deep impact on the thoughts and minds of millions across the whole of South Asia.

I remember my first impression of him was reciting poetry of  wonderful stories with a high moral content during my grade school. Poems like Ek Pahar aur Gulehri, Bulbul aur Jugnu. And others like Lub pe aatee hay dua and ofcourse, every Indian kid reciting, Saray jahan se acha, hindustan hamara among thousands of his greatest. Yes, arguably the greatest poet of Urdu Language, who dreamed up the idea for separate homeland for Muslim India, wrote many poems directed towards children.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Iqbal ever did was talk about “Khudi” the “individualism” among the youth of India. He wanted them to rise above the rest and take the destiny into their own hands. He was probably one of the earliest poets of Urdu language to use “Poetry for a purpose” or “maqsadi shairee”. A trend started in late 19th century by Moulana Hali, Iqbal took it to its zenith during the struggle for independence for Indians which finally culminated with the freedom from the British raj in 1947 with the creation of India and Pakistan (nine years after his death).

He also passionately advocated to Muslims around the world (almost half of his poetry is in Persian and the rest in Urdu) to not get bogged down with the disaster of the Great War (where the Ottoman territories was broken up by the colonial powers of Britain and France among themselves) and the dismantling of their homeland at the hands of colonial powers. But resist and struggle on.

Here is a great stanza from his “Jawab-e-Shiva” poem where he urges, as if the God is speaking to His followers, the Muslim youth to stand up and struggle on and not get bogged down and give up. It is so true even today while the Muslim world struggles to cope with Talibanism on one hand and ruthless and sometimes pointless War on Terror waged by America.

Stanza from Jawab-e-Shikva

Stanza from Jawab-e-Shikva

Today, April 21, 2009, the fans of Allama Iqbal quietly celebrated his 71st death anniversary.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Another year, and another Ramadan. Once again the month of blessings is here. It is a month when Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk. Yes, we not only abstain from eating and drinking throughout the month, but also do not use profanity in our language, avoid doing anything that is not just and control our emotions so that we do not hurt anyone. It is also a time for us to control our vices and spread good among the people. Yes, not just to the Muslim Ummah but to every living thing on earth. We also observe peace with absolutely no violence. That means, if there are any wars, we take a break and avoid fighting.

So join us in celebrating this holy month and share a meal with when we break our fast. Everyone is most welcome to join us observing it for the next 30 days.