Sunday, January 31

Film: Astro Boy Click for more info

Run of the mill animation about a robot boy struggling with identity issues. It gets some points for being pretty dark at times, but other than that I found it lacking in that certain sophistication animations like this usually have.

Astro Boy was funny at times, but not quite enough, and it did tug at the audience's heart strings once or twice. Hardly unmissable unfortunately.

Video of the Day Click for more info

From Future Wife To Future Mother

I did promise myself not to touch this subject any more on these pages (and I lasted one post) but I couldn't resist linking to the above video by the (in my humble opinion) illustrious Megan Wyatt. In her last two talks she managed to both crystallise exactly what I've been trying to say as well as present these thoughts to the fairer sex in a much more diplomatic way, and this video is a nicely presented, short and accessible overview of all of that.

I won't compromise the video by talking about it in detail and how it relates to what I've said, so please have a look yourselves. And try to ignore the blurred out talking face. It's a bit creepy.

Friday, January 29

Religion and Culture

Is it okay for a Muslim woman to wear a bindi? You know for decorative purposes? Well the two general opinions are yes, that it's harmless; and no, since it symbolises and represents another religion (and I apologise unreservedly for using yet another poor Muslim woman in my example). Largely though it seems to mainly depend on why someone is wearing it - that as long as it's clear to the wearer that it's not a form of worship that it's okay - and it's reasonable to assume that a Muslim wearing one is not doing it for the religious reasons a woman of another faith would. Pretty straightforward right? Many of us now visit churches and temples without fear of it tainting our religion so the point stands. Of course we don't do it as a habit either, so perhaps that's the difference.

Let's now consider a more difficult practise: how about touching the feet of an elder out of respect? The majority (and possibly obvious) understanding (with issues of earned respect put aside) is that this is against Islam because you're placing someone on a pedestal.

But what if it's a cultural ritual and nothing else? Just like shaking hands, or slapping someone with a hi five or a fist pound? What's wrong with it in that case? This isn't a particularly novel question to ask, and a quick Google shows that there are a surprising number of apparently informed opinions which deem this to be permissible provided it doesn't break clearly established rules which apply to all other interactions too (so you couldn't both touch the feet or shake the hand of a non-mehram for example).

But aside from the technicalities, there are two further points to make here. The first is considering the perception that you're giving to others; others who might follow your example without clearing their intent as rigorously as you might have. The discussion then turns to whether or not you are responsible for the actions (and ignorance) of others who have chosen to imitate you, something I've talked about before so I'll skip it for now.

Secondly, you may not have actually thought about it as rigorously as you might think you have. Being flippant about the reasons why you do something (by simply declaring "it doesn't mean anything" for example) may not be enough to clear you; in my opinion it takes much more introspection and a holistic view of how you're living your life, something which might be more difficult than just simply stopping what you're doing. In a world where many aren't even sure of their own faith, it may be a better idea to just avoid any ambiguity in the first place. Of course it's up to the individual to decide where they are in this landscape, and it goes without saying that we should strive to be strong and sure in our respective faiths even if we don't have any contentious issues to deal with.

I think on the whole many of us are able to deal with this isolation of culture and religion. After all, many of you reading are living in modern, western cities and have willingly embraced modern, western cultural ideas such as progressive social justice, equality, the freedom to choose education and work and all the rest of it, all of which complement and strengthen our religion rather than oppose or weaken it.

However the offshoot of this is that this relationship works both ways: that if you can practise an apparently foreign culture without it tainting your inherent religiousness, then you cannot use the same religion to combat a culture which doesn't compromise it, no matter how much you dislike the culture itself. For example, the claim that "cousin marriage isn't Islamic, it's cultural" doesn't mean that Islam has a negative opinion on the practise and therefore this isn't in itself an argument against it.

In other words the often used argument that something you find personally undesirable "isn't from Islam, but is cultural" cannot be used unless that culture is specifically impinging on an Islamic ruling or opinion. If Islam doesn't have an opinion on something then it neither encourages or discourages it, and using the religion to strengthen your own personal opinion on a cultural issue (be it for or against it) is doing your faith a disservice.

So in closing, culture isn't something that is necessarily defined by religion but something that sits alongside with it, and in fact sometimes defines how we implement and demonstrate our faith instead. The wider implication of this, however, is that although Islam can and should be a strong influence in how we live our lives, it doesn't have to be the absolute and only one; that it's okay to take things, both "good" and "bad", from extra-religious things like culture, society or even our friends, provided it doesn't end in us doing anything un-Islamic. In fact it's precisely this approach of subsuming what at first appears to be unrelated to religion which will allow it to spread to the places it wouldn't have been able to otherwise.


Originally drafted 12th September 2007

Thursday, January 28

Game: Bayonetta (360) Click for more info

Yes, she's hot. Yes, she's sassy. And yes, she has legs which seem to go on forever. But all these things a good game do not make.

This is basically Devil May Cry with a bird as the protagonist; you have a vast array of combos utilising your fists, feet, handguns strapped to each to do away the badguys with; you walk around doing this until you get to the end of the (quite linear) stages and every now and then (if you're lucky) you have a puzzle to solve. Shallow? You betcha. But then shallowness in games doesn't really seem to bother me too much so I'll let that pass.

Bayonetta is fun though; there's nothing like summoning a demon from the underworld via your hair and ordering it to eat an angel. It's not all smooth going though; sometimes the action gets a bit too much for my poor head, resulting in a button bashing mess which despite being random seems to be just as effective as thinking about what you're doing. Meh.

The story is pretty slick if a bit confusing; there's lots of cutscenes here (too many for some), but they're vital in a game which relies so much on image and design - it all looks awesome enough and the soundtrack is genius. And of course you get to to be flirted and purred at by Bayonetta so it's not all bad.

All in all Bayonetta isn't quite as exciting as the demo had made out. It's a nice enough romp while you're in there, but otherwise something you won't miss too much if you passed it by.

New Music

DJ Do It Again - Jaya

Urrrgh. Annoying into irresistible means I'm a sucker for cheap pop. And no it's not just 'cos she might be hot. I'm still deciding trying to figure that out (she probably is though).

Sunday, January 24

Link of the Day Click for more info

Women told to stop looking for Mr Right

Between articles in lefty papers like the above, and clever Muslim women running surprisingly sensible Internet seminars, I feel like there's actually a bit of a mindshift occurring. Single women (and men) are finally being told to get real and that they can't have everything, and to now figure out what they want the most and chase that, instead of what some feminist liberal teacher or older and wiser friend has been telling them to aim for instead (a Gucci Handbag that is).

Personally I prefer Megan Wyatt's approach of changing attitudes than Lori Goottlieb's approach of "settling", but it's all the same thing really: we need to realise that it's not unambitious to aim for kids rather than career; that being able to keep a home and be a mother isn't any less worthy than running a business; and that real contentment comes from the familial and mundane rather than the exotic and exciting.

Will women listen? Probably not.

A tip of the hat to Faruk for the link.

Wednesday, January 20

Film: Up in the Air Click for more info

Happy, sad, poignant, simple, clever and everything in between, Up in the Air is a story about an independent and free-living guy doing his thing and finding out that he might, maybe, have his priorities out of whack. And all this just after he manages to convince all around him (and possibly himself) how happy he is.

While the plot itself uses an extreme situation to prove its point, its this same context which provides most of the laughs. Clooney and co do a brilliant job, while the script is the most simple yet paradoxically the most potent I've seen for a while.

I did think it went on a bit, but the extra minutes were worth it for the resulting effect. A brilliant movie and totally recommended.

Game: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3) Click for more info

Uncharted is pretty much how all games should be made.

Although it's obvious why while playing, I find it difficult to describe it here. I guess for me it's all about its simplicity - the linear approach, the simple controls, the lack of a score or "percentage completed" and how you can pick up and play for just fifteen minutes and still feel that you've made great progress - all these things combine to form an experience that's hard to fault.

It's also a very slick game; from the marvellous script to the cinematographic transitions to the wonderful score, Uncharted is what would happen if Spielberg made a game. At eight hours for the first playthrough it's short but in a world where gameplay is extended by backtracking, grinding and having to collect arbitrary puzzle pieces the brevity is appreciated more than detested, and when you have this many set pieces in a game the variety far outweighs the lack of length. The fact that I still wasn't bored of the game by the end says a lot.

For me Uncharted finds itself amongst a small collection of games including Beyond Good & Evil and Eternal Darkness which seem to be made for the discerning non-casual gamer who is interested more in gameplay and story than headshots and Gamerscores; I'm just glad there's more to come.

New Music

Chori Chori Takna - The Dark MC Feat. Angel & Jaswinder Daghamia

After trying my best to resist yet another derivative Bhangra track I finally crumbled and now think that this is the best thing ever. I never claimed to not be fickle.

Replay - Iyaz

I literally laughed out loud the first time I heard this. The second time won me over; this would have been a proper anthem (like) if it had been released in the right season.

Monday, January 18

New Music

One Time - Justin Bieber

If there was any doubt that I was in fact an impressionable teenage girl, well, I guess it can now be removed.

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

I'm not even in a relationship yet I know plenty of Sheilas:

My advice ladies? Get rid of them. You might think they're just being good friends, but there's a fine line between loyalty and sycophancy.

Sunday, January 17

Food: Yum Yum Click for more info

As a non-foodie who just doesn't get why anyone would want to pay a tenner for noodles, I tend to prize value over apparently exceptional taste and so end up avoiding places which will look to cost more than 20 quid or so per head. However sometimes I get the opportunity to try out what, in my inexperience and lack of class, I call a fancy restaurant. I've heard a lot about Yum Yum so was quite looking forward to trying it out.

The first thing you notice is the ambience and vibe. Housed in a gorgeous Georgian building (no I didn't know that from seeing it, I had to look it up on the website) but with a clean and sleek inside it manages to impress before you even get a chance to sit down. And inside the place seems to go on forever, and despite it being a late Friday night I was surprised to see the whole place full, although looking around it seemed to be a favourite for large Indian-groups celebrating a birthday. Especially cute was the on-floor seated area; they even made people take off their shoes, bless.

Unfortunately we were seated on a single long table row, making it pretty impossible to talk to anyone other than those in our respective immediate vicinities; but this is the price paid for cramming so many people into a single place.

Food-wise Yum Yum was of a high, yet paradoxically very standard, quality; I enjoyed the starters much more than the mains (leaving me wondering exactly how appropriate it would be to just stick to 3-4 starters in a place like this). Exotic items like stuffed chicken wings and prawns and chicken on toast were pretty wonderful actually.

Since I left early I'm not quite sure what the final cost per head came to; I left £20 for my two starters and a noodle main (so no curry) and forwent any drinks which ranks Yum Yum as "pricey" in my (admittedly tight) book. That said I don't have any major complaints about lack of value since it was literally such a nice place to eat in; a quick look on Top Table shows that there are some offers thrown around and with that in mind the place becomes a much better candidate for a return visit.

Friday, January 15

Food: Ozer Click for more info

I've been to Ozer a few times, but never for an actual meal; I have eaten at Sofra though, so kinda knew what to expect tonight. It's all the same standard Turkish food you get elsewhere; since our birthday party was quite big our host decided to go the set menu; a good thing considering the logistics involved in allowing everyone a free choice.

That the set menu wasn't bad helped though - we had the standard selection of mezze followed up by various meats that you get at any decent Turkish joint and all was of a good enough standard. The cost was £15 per head which is a bit on the steep side but end up being good value compared with going a la carte (although I guess that does depend on how much you eat!).

But where Ozer really shines is in vibe and group facilitation. In two words: round tables. It's amazing how much of an effect a round table has on making a group dinner seem more than just about the two people seated either side of you and for this reason alone Ozer gets top marks as a place worth taking a group of friends to.

Wednesday, January 13

Food: Chilli Tonight Click for more info

Aah, Leicester. Although I've been a fair few times I don't think I've ever sat down to eat during my stay; this despite hearing a few good things about Belgrave and Melton Road. A visiting friend was my excuse to grab some dinner tonight.

Chill Tonight (or maybe 2night?) is a typical Indian-chinese affair on Melton Road, offering the usual stuff you'd expect to find in these places. I left it to my hosts to order and we had a good selection of prawn and chicken dishes, the names of which escape me right now. What's important is that it was all pretty good for a place of this apparent standard; the spicy chicken was especially notable, if only because it was actually spicy.

I've no idea how much it all cost since my hosts did a sneaky, but I can't imagine it breaking the tenner per head barrier. Still, although I haven't been to many other places in Leicester I think it's safe to say that you could probably do much worse.

Saturday, January 9

Video of the Day Click for more info

Here's an amusing short documentary about... well an unfinished line on the London Underground.

It's funny, engaging and insightful, but the most interesting thing for me is how it demonstrates how effectively the Government used to work for the people rather than for themselves. Whether their decisions were good or bad in the long run, it was clear it was more about action than politics back then. I've no doubt that the tube line would have been built in today's age after a bung or two.

Via @unsliced on Twitter.

Film: Pyaar Impossible Click for more info

"Beauty and the geek" timepass with nothing really substantial to offer. Priyanka didn't look as good as she did in the trailers, while Uday played the lead as well as anyone else could have. The script was quite fun although again nothing unique and the soundtrack... was amongst the worst I've heard for a while.

One to skip.

Friday, January 8

Three Critical Mistakes Click for more info

So yes, even after pouring scorn on the whole thing, I decided to sneak in and attend Practimate's latest webinar (ew) entitled "3 Critical Mistakes A Single Muslimah Makes When Finding Her 'Mr. Right' For Marriage". Although my lack of a uterus technically put me out of the target demographic I must admit that it wasn't all as bad as I thought it would be. That said I was right about the content; it is stuff I've been trying to say for years; I guess there's a lot of value in having credibility and diplomacy eh?

The female host Megan Wyatt was pretty awesome. And totally fanciable (which is probably inappropriate to say, but hey). She spoke sense, kept it real and wasn't afraid of stressing a point no matter how contentious it could have been. Of course her delivery and style ensured that it wasn't contentious at all, a skill that may have come out of her background as life coach.

I can't quite remember all three points but the bulk of the talk was about the first one: how some women misrepresent themselves to the kind of guys they want. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive but it was backed by some pretty indicative examples: like the woman who wanted a guy she can depend on going on about how independent she is. We were also told how although things like career ambition and outgoingness are wonderful qualities for a person, they don't say much about how they'll be as a spouse (and I reckon this point applies to men and women). It's less about potentials not appreciating these qualities, but more about them not helping them paint a picture of how husbandy/wifey you'll be. Things like saying what will essentially make you happy and content, and what you're willing to offer for your spouse to do the same, are much more helpful.

So all very clear and (even if I do say so myself) quite vindicating. Where it became a bit disappointing was that the solution to this issue was to represent yourself better (or as I like to call it, spin) rather than what I see as the more correct solution of getting people to fundamentally change their attitudes. To be fair change was suggested during the other parts of the seminar when stuff like fear, emotional baggage, guards and barriers and compromise (how women shouldn't, that is) were discussed.

So overall quite a useful session and one I actually suggest people attend if they can get a recording or something. Or of course you could just read these pages since I've pretty much been saying the same stuff here for, like, ever.

EDIT: The webinar is now up as a replay.

Wednesday, January 6

Link of the Day Click for more info

WEBINAR: 3 Critical Mistakes A Single Muslimah Makes When Finding Her ‘Mr. Right’ For Marriage

Best self-help-marriage-webinar title ever. I'd attend, except it's probably full of the same rubbish I've been spouting myself for years already. Funny how women'll all listen to a Shaikh on the Internet (DYSWIDT?) to tell them the obvious but tell me to bugger off. Maybe I should rebrand myself and start using "InshaAllah" more.

Interestingly I just signed up and was presented with a further pitch - for just $1 I can learn how to "Speak His Language"; and so the moneyspinning spam begins. It's a trap ladies, don't do it; if anything I can give you the same advice (you know, to dumb yourself down a bit and laugh at all his jokes) for free anyway.

EDIT: So I attended. And although it was just as I said, it wasn't that bad. More thoughts in a separate post.

Monday, January 4

New Music

Never Forget You - Noisettes

They call it New Wave but I call it fun and swing. Whatever, it's happy singalong enough for me.

TiK ToK - Kesha

I was about to veto this due to the obnoxious spelling of the track itself, but since it'll probably fall off my playlist soon anyway I thought I'd be nice instead. A bit of an fun anthem.

Whatcha Say - Jason Derulo

Amazing track... until you get past the sampled chorus (it's Imogen Heap by the way). Still, I guess it'll grow on me like the rest of these pop R&B tracks sung by pretty young black people did (I think I'm allowed to say that).

XKCD Click for more info

It's funny: I'm always surprised when people ask me "Have you found someone yet?". As if they wouldn't have heard me screaming it from the rooftops before that.
I guess when you're excited about something you just have to tell everyone about it. The rest of you should just be kind and humour us.

Sunday, January 3

Maharaja Click for more info

Despite having studied at Imperial for four years of my life (I'm not bitter, honest), I never once visited any of the museums around the vicinity. Sure, I had been to the Natural History and Science museums already as a child, but for some reason the Victoria and Albert always appeared as the poor neglected sibling. So when a couple of us decided to check out the Maharaja exhibition currently on show there, I saw it as a way to finally give it a visit.

Not that I really spent any time seeing anything other than the ticketed Maharaja rooms. To be honest the exhibition itself was pretty much what you would have expected: split into five themes (Royal Spectacle, Kingship, Shifting Power, The Raj, Princely India) we explored in more authentic detail all the stories and images us children of the sub-continent seem to have embedded in us already. It was quite surprising how well it all matched up, almost as if we were actually reading a fictional tale about India or something.

Interesting bits included a couple of dodgy sexually explicit pictures (all commissioned by the royal courts too) and some magnificent jewellery, but the thing that really hit home was how apparently easily some of those in power back then sold out to the British.

Of course such an exhibition would never be able to tell the whole complex story of pre and post British rule in India; but that wasn't really the point of this anyway. As a vivid and illustrating insight of how royalty lived over there for the past 200 years or so it did a fabulous job.

Overall though, I wouldn't say it was worth the asking price of £11 to get in; it only took me a leisurely 75 minutes to cover all of it in detail. However going in as a student (£6) or as one half of a Waterstone's 2-for-1 deal makes it a pretty decent way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Maharaja is running at the V&A till the 17th.

Game: Assassin's Creed 2 (PS3) Click for more info

In short: this is exactly the same as the first one. Or at least I can't really tell what any of the meaningful differences are. You have the same assassin based story, the same gameplay and the same controls.

In that sense it's just as good as the first one too. But ironically that's probably it's biggest flaw; the first was quite repetitive at times and to make another in a different skin is a bit grating. That said, it's nice to see the story progress to new depths, and that's probably the only reason I'm sticking around to play it.

Friday, January 1

Fuad and Sara

Although in theory I've known Fuad for a massive twelve years or so, it was only after we had both left Imperial and I had moved to a new home (which meant we shared the same mosque) that I really had the chance to get to know him. And after spending some time with the ol' chap I found that my initial and somewhat hasty impression of him being a bit of a hippie was... well... absolutely true.

But apart from this what I did find was a guy who, although quite eccentric, was also quite cool. And I don't mean this in a leather jacket sense, but more in an academic one - this was a guy who was able to reconcile things like religion, philosophy and sociology; and that in a pretty accessible way (even if that means he has to create a new word every now and then). The fact that he's a bit bonkers probably helps with this. Oh yes, and he's one of those annoying people who never seems to get visibly angry or upset at anything. Like I said: hippie. So in short, Fuad is a bit of a dreamer, an enabler, a risk-taker who's not afraid of what others may consider failure.

On the other hand Sara is polite, sensible, friendly, righteous and mature - all the necessary things she has to be to put up with Fuad and some of his mates. But rather than this apparent contrast in personalities being a point of contention, it's actually something which underlines how much these two complement and complete each other. She hails from that quite unique heritage of East African Indian Muslims we've all met at some point, all of whom effortlessly manage to exude good manners, high spirits and honest conduct everywhere they go, and Fuad is pretty darned lucky to have such awesome in-laws.

But it's the combination of the two which really amazes: from the various pre-wedding events (only Fuad could have organised a deliberately misspelled mandhi) to the QMT in-house nikkah party on New Year's Eve (Dr. Fahim showing himself to be a legend once again), it was all so unique and different and awesome. Personally I just can't wait to see exactly what they come up with in their life together!

And yes, I did think he was gay when I first met him.