Sunday, August 29

Cyanide & Happiness Click for more info

As much as a pervert you all think I am, I'll have you know I never wear sunglasses when talking to a woman (or any time else for that matter).

Although I guess that could just imply how damned good I am at "talking to women".

Friday, August 27

Video of the Day

Here's one that's probably inappropriate for Ramadhan, but hey, man speaks the truth. You may want to put the volume down.

Thanks to Mash for the link. Ooo, ooo, oooo.

Thursday, August 26

Supporting a Muslim Primary School

I hate it when people spam my inbox with requests to vote for something or sign an online petition. I just don't want to know. Why not put it on a blog instead? Heck I'd even prefer you raising awareness via Twitter or an FB status update.

Anyway since we're on the subject how about you consider signing the following petition at It's to support a bid for a new Muslim primary school in Redbridge. I won't sell the idea too much, but this kinda makes sense since there are so many Muslims in the borough.

Of course you don't have to be Muslim to sign, but you do have to live in the UK (and not just in Redbridge). Apparently you can sign on behalf of your kids too. Oh and please feel free to pass the link around.

Anyway I'll stop now. Look at me, using my blog for good. Must be a holy month or something.

Wednesday, August 25

Money For Nothing

Not being particularly romantic about these things, I would be the first to note that all charities need to eat. Not only do they need funding to do their good work, they also need some to function. Some take a lot (apparently Cancer Research spent 3 million quid on a CRM system; a system to solicit more donations), while some probably just take enough to pay for rent, employees and teabags.

This is all fine. And I have no qualms with that. But since I'm writing an article, I must have a problem with something right? Well yes, and it's to do with the transparency of these costs. I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that they should be clear and public. This is particularly important for a Muslim paying Zakat who happens to follow the opinion that none of his due can be spent on the distribution of the wealth (ie, that this has to paid on top of the Zakah amount).

Most charities recognise this and are quite forthcoming with their costs by displaying various pie charts and the like, although it must be said in the case of some Islamic charities (or ICs) it had been done in reaction to increasing customer pressure rather than an internal drive to be transparent.

And even so something isn't quite right with these figures. The British Red Cross (for example) seem to spend around 37.9%[1] on administration (including fundraising). If we look at Islamic Relief they state a more modest 20%. However, take a look at Muslim Hands and you see a pie chart showing that an impressive 0% of your donation is spent on administration.

How can this be? Well, they're not working for free, that's for sure. Their explanation is that they use something called Gift Aid (or GA) to fund all non-charitable costs, something which is given in addition to the basic donations of most people. I don't mean to pick on Muslim Hands though - most ICs (including Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid) seem to pull this kind of line in order to allay the fears of donors who want 100% of their money to be spent on what's been religiously obligated. After asking on Twitter if anyone knew of an IC which didn't take a cut a few people suggested that some don't, again citing the GA reason as why. For now, let's put aside the idea that you can't really separate "pots" of money anyway and accept that by "all your money is spent on charity" we actually read "those who need it get the total value you originally gave".

But what is GA? Well I have talked about it before (as well as any possible abuse of it by charities) but it's worth going over the topic again.

A fair few years ago, the UK Government in their benevolent way decided that any money given to charity shouldn't be taxed. This is sound in principle (since they're taking from those who need it most, not the donors), but I'm guessing a main reason was also to encourage giving more. This was an absolutely good thing, and a rare reminder that Governments can do things right.

However the complication comes due to the way tax is collected at source here (we call it Pay As You Earn, or PAYE). Usually by the time it comes to giving, you would have already been taxed. In that sense the Tax People actually owe you this money back. Since we're all either stupid, lazy or a bunch of crooks, they decided that instead of giving us this tax money, they would instead give it to the charities in question. This is what we call Gift Aid.

At this point it is worth mentioning that there is another way for a person on PAYE to give money that hasn't been taxed. Some larger companies (those that are willing to administer it) allow you to pay charity off your payroll. This is called Give As You Earn, or GAYE (no sniggering at the back). The idea is that you pay charity before the tax man looks at what's left to tax, and so it won't be.

Before we talk about how Gift Aid works, let's stick with GAYE for the minute. We're going to do some maths now - you've been warned. First some assumptions to make things simpler. Let's say you earn £100 a month, and that income tax is set at a straight 20% (and there are no allowances etc). Let's also say that you want to donate £10 to a charity, that is you want the charity to receive £10 (you'll see why I have to clarify this a little later). How would this work in the GAYE situation?

Gross pay, G = 100.
Gross pay after donation, G2 = 90. Charity, C = 10.
Tax, T = 90*0.2 = 18
Net pay, N = 90*0.8 = 72.

So we get £72, the tax man gets £18 and the charity gets £10. Superb. Bear in mind that since no tax has been paid on C's £10, it does NOT qualify for Gift Aid. Now, let's give as most of us usually do, out of our net pay:

Gross pay, G = 100.
Tax, T = 100*0.2 = 20
Net pay, N = 100*0.8 = 80.
Net pay after donation, N2 = 70. Charity, C = 10.

So currently we get £70 (a loss), the charity gets the same £10 but the tax man wins slightly by getting £20 too. However, since the charity's £10 has been taxed, they can now claim Gift Aid. One way this is calculated is by asking "how much of that tax was due to this £10?". For example if we had given half our net pay (£40) to charity instead, they could take back half that tax (£10). But since we've actually given an eighth (10/80), they can only claim an eighth of that tax, 20/8, or £2.50.

So let's see what the numbers look like now. We still have our £70, the charity now has £12.50, and the tax man is left with £17.50. We're still quite a bit out of pocket compared to when we used GAYE, and the charity has benefited quite a lot, but the Government has only lost 50p. We can check the numbers by giving £12.50 via GAYE:

Gross pay, G = 100.
Gross pay after donation, G2 = 87.70. Charity, C = 12.50.
Net pay, N = 87.50x0.8 = 70.

Which is what we were left with above. In effect, we've actually given 20% more in charity than we had intended to.

So, how do we actually do what we intended to do? That is, give £10 to charity after it's already been taxed? Well we essentially need to give an amount which, after the calculations above, would result in the same numbers as in the GAYE method. We want the charity to get a total of £10, after they've claimed GA. Looking at the analysis above, this is simply £10 after taxation:

C = 10*0.8 = 8

Which, after GA will result in the charity getting £10, the tax man £18 and ourselves £72, which is what we wanted. Just for completion, it's worth noting that GA is fixed at 25%, and so higher rate tax payers will get back the extra portion of tax they've paid, but only if they ask for it (so make sure you do!).

The real point I'm trying to make here is that GA is not free money that the Government have decided to just give away. It's not like a company matching scheme - as a tax payer this is directly your money that they're giving to charities on your behalf.

This doesn't mean that it's necessarily a problem. After all, the 20% extra that you're paying compares well with what other charities charge their donors, and you can only get extra reward for paying more charity. There are some practical concerns though: we can't make the above discount adjustment with our Zakah since most IRs say they'll use the GA gained for purposes other than our intended, so we have to pay the full amount regardless of any GA claimed. We also have to pay Zakah precisely from our holdings - we can't use "cashback" or indirect means to fund it. And finally not everyone pays this default fee; those who qualify for GA are effectively subsidising those who don't (like the self-employed). Whether or not these bother you may depend on your own understanding of fiqh and justice.

But ultimately the issue I have is with the lack of transparency and the blatant way in which GA is spun on IC websites. I'll say it again: it's not free money, it's your money. And what with charity being such big business (Justgiving earn a bucketload), I think it's quite important that we know where we stand when it comes to funding. Curiously no real mention of these "free donations" are made in their official and audits reports (it's a bit like those VAT free sales you sometimes see where they actually only reduce the price), presumably because any official auditor would laugh at such a gimmick, but I doubt the average Muslim donor reads these documents. The cynic in me also wonders about the efficiency of an operation that sees GA primarily as "funding" money. What do they do with a shortfall if any?

So now I've complained, what would I suggest they do instead? Well a possible option is to actually implement an explicit "admin charge" of whatever percent they need (much like some companies do with credit cards) on Zakah payments, with the option to pay this fee via GA if available. Or they could keep donations free and charge an annual membership instead, or even restructure themselves to rely more on funds explicitly raised for operational costs. I have faith that Muslims who want to be sure that their money is going to the right place will be willing to pay these charges, but I guess the risk is that in the real world it would put people off who now see a charge for something that used to be "free", and possibly even result in less money being given; remember, Zakah and charity passed on via "private" means aren't eligible for GA anyway (so it's only the Government who wins here). I personally would still prefer a level of transparency to the current method of spinning how things are actually funded.

I'll end on a personal note by saying that I'm actually a bit disappointed that, once again, the two concepts of Islam and money together result in something opaque and not entirely clean-cut. But then that often seems to be the case with good old Islamic finance. Who exactly is to blame for this I don't quite know, but it probably has something to do with the value money seems to play in the average life of a Muslim.

[1] I've included "Trading Activities", "Supporting the movement" and "Governance" as well as fundraising in the total of 68.6m.

Monday, August 23

Six Years And Counting

The really scary weird about having a blog that's six years old (today), is how it's actually older than three of my nieces and nephews. Even worse: that I've had a relationship with this blog longer than the majority of my friends. But I guess that just goes to show how pervasive this place has become now - at the very least it's as much "me" as my career, friends and other pastimes are.

I have felt a slight resurgence in posting and writing, quite possibly due to the fact that I've gone back to a 9-5 office job. Ironic, but then I've never been afraid to say that I wrote "better" content while bathing in the boredom of work. Whether I get back to my peak of 1500+ hits a week (yes, I know I keep banging on about that, but hey, you'd find it hard to let go of the fame if you had ever reached it yourself) remains to be see; heck maybe the whole increase in output is just a blip itself.

Otherwise the usual observations apply: that the technical quality of my writing is getting worse (which I won't complain too much about seeing as how that's a direct result of me spending less time on it - a good thing), that I seem to becoming more cynical, grumpy and moany as each article gets posted and finally that I still haven't managed to pull using my words.

On the other hand, my increasing use of Twitter has helped decrease the noise on this blog, as I choose to post my quips and shorts on that medium instead. Of course anything that requires a bit more permanency will always make it here.

Finally though, whether you're old or new: thanks for the feedback. Apart from providing that nice feeling of being read, it's handy to be kept in check and on my toes.

Friday, August 20

Islamic Superficiality

I have no qualms in admitting to being a "Lazy Muslim". That is, I've determined what I feel to be the most basic and easiest path to God - that is regular practice, leading a clean life, being honest and (kind of) nice to people - and made an attempt to implement and ingrain those things in my life. As such, I don't really go out of my way to improve on this way of life. I don't search far and wide (ie Syria or Egypt or Rihlas) for knowledge (I don't claim to know it all, but I do think I know enough to cover 99% of what life will bring me, with local accessible knowledge covering the rest), I'll only really give dawah by example and won't really be involved in organising any kind of overtly Islamic events and the only time I'll even think about going to a talk or a lecture is if it's on the way home from work (and I'm promised a good meal afterwards). Like I said, lazy.

I do hold those who aren't lazy in high regard. These folk put in at least one hundred times the effort I do, organising events, making Islam accessible, travelling to other countries to partake in knowledge and learning camps, and going to great lengths to worship their Lord. I find them to be inspiring and will never undermine or doubt their actions.

Right. Now that we have the niceties out of the way, it's now time for me to lose some friends. I'll get straight to the point: in my opinion there seems to be an increasing practice of what I can only describe as a superficial Islam. This in turn is demonstrated in various ways, and it's probably easiest if I list my observations thus. But before I continue, please forgive me for my lack of tact and diplomacy. Oh and I'm also well aware of the irony bordering on hypocrisy by me in even publishing this post, so you don't have to mention it.

  1. It's visible. Stuff seems to only be worth doing if it can be blogged or tweeted about. Feelings and experiences can now only be expressed in Arabic (reversed 3s and all), and you can't budge online without people telling you how spiritually uplifting some qiraat they heard was. There's an overt preoccupation with Islam and islamic issues, and it's all anyone can seem to talk about now (a bit like me with marriage actually).
  2. It's social. Stuff is only worth doing if enough other people are doing it too. An event is only worth going to if it has a flyer and FaceBook group set up for it.
  3. It's very obvious. It's like picking low hanging fruit, and in some cases at the expense of our more implicit obligations. Babysitters are now called in so we can attend tarawih prayers. Husbands are leaving their families for ten days or more in order to sit in the mosque for itikaaf. Prayers will only be observed under the most correct conditions, otherwise they're left to one side for later.
  4. It's cliquey. Actions need to be validated by cheerleading, @replying and FB liking. Lectures with rockstar scholars are now being traded, recorded and collected like top trump cards.
  5. It's progressive. Opinion is only valid if rejecting tradition or going back to the "real and more authentic" sunnah. Counter-examples in the form of "brainwashed" traditional types are used to prop up a mindset, and it's very them and us.
  6. It's blind. There is a distinct lack of critical thought and reflection, and as such we're left with a very "cookie cutter" implementation of Islam. The same scholars, webpages and circles are followed with agreement with what they say almost inevitable. The irony is that these sources are usually cherry picked in the first place because they agree with what is already believed, so they serve as validation and vindication rather than open-mindedness, and as such there is no internal challenge. This is the fault of the attendees rather than the scholars, etc - the latter would be the first to instruct those listening to them to rigorously critique what they say.
  7. It's complicated. A two hour course on Zakah, followed by a day of private study and then an exam is needed before you even think of calculating what you owe. The onus seems to be on the detail rather than the act itself, the justification being that it has to be done correctly or not at all.
  8. It's selfish. The individual right to worship takes priority over the responsibilities toward family, friends, society and in some cases the individual themselves.
These are all good and worthy things and should not necessarily be put to bed. However in my view there is a distinct lack of depth in all these characteristics. I am reluctant to suggest possible reasons since I'll probably offend even more people than I already have, but I should just for completeness' sake.

Firstly there seems to be a lack of fundamental and rigorous formal training now, with scorn poured over traditional madarasahs and the like. Related to this, there's also an emphasis on marketable action rather than spirit. Short-cuts, fads and side-effects now drive the reason to be a Muslim rather than the more difficult strategy involving hard work, reading and independent analysis. Opinion is packaged and presented, which is amusing since it makes some critics of traditionalism just as literal and "brainwashed" as those they are criticising. There's no open-mindedness, so insightfulness, no introspection and no constant re-evaluation.

Secondly these traits are sometimes a result of being new to a life where Islam is the focus. Just like learning to walk or talk, there's a learning curve, but due to the eagerness to catch up on lost time, religion may evolve artificially in haste instead of organically at a slower but more rigorous and sure pace.

And finally there's the ultimate scapegoat: the Internet. as much good as it brings, it also has a tendency to shallow out everything it touches - relationships, careers, knowledge and art have all suffered from the Internet effect, and there's no reason why religion would be immune.

But before I end, let me make this much clear: this is not about the lack of any good intention. Indeed, there would be no way for a person to know why someone else is doing something and so I have no view on that. However even the best intention doesn't guarantee correct behaviour, and in that sense this post is more a reminder or suggestion that we all continue to look to improve our relationship with God, in whatever form that improvement may come.


EDIT: Based on the comments so far, it seems that I've been a bit unclear as to what I'm discussing above. This post IS NOT about people doing things just to be seen doing them. I honestly believe that intent is something that cannot be determined by a third party, and for that reason I always assume that the intention of others are correct. It's worth noting that "visibility" makes just one point of many, but even in that case I'm not saying that some are being visible to be seen by other people, but more that they feel that God will somehow always recognise the visible more than the covert. In that sense worship is still being done for the right reason, but nevertheless lacks a certain depth and sophistication demonstrated via other means.

Cyanide & Happiness

When I was young, angry with the world and even more arrogant than I am now (yes, it is possible), I used to dream of building a machine that would program everyone to act like me and then to finally prove that the world would be a better place if everyone acted like me. Of course I've since realised that that's probably not true, but the following kind of give me comfort in knowing I'm not alone with my foolish egotistical delusions:

Of course Joss Whedon had already shown this too. I so should have sued him for copyright infringement of my brain.

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

This is how I feel each time I choose to keep silent on the Tube.


xxxx [09:58]:
    just out of interest
    what our
    "looks" requirements


xxxx [09:59]:
    the bare minimum that is not negoatiable
    so deep, im going to remembe this moment
Shak [09:59]:
    ther's this bird [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
    she's hot
    i think we bumped into her [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
xxxx [10:00]:
    ohhh thinki met her [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
    I THINK, shes...not our lot
Shak [10:01]:
    yeh, the JD bottle [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] is a dead giveaway
    as well as teh [kara]
xxxx [10:01]:
Shak [10:01]:
    as you can see.. ive done my homework
xxxx [10:01]:
    defo back that
    if anyone
    can convert
    its you
Shak [10:01]:
    aw.. so sweet, thanks man!

Monday, August 16


WARNING: Another awesomely gratuitous post about myself. Reading back even I think I'm being a bit of a self-absorbed tit, so if you do too don't be too surprised/cruel.

While having a group conversation about - yes, you've guessed it - marriage, someone made a simple point, quite possibly in passing, but which has kinda stuck with me since, opening up a whole new level of thinking (in my typical over-thinking and over-analytical fashion).

She said that the love a person needs is completely individual to them, and that effort will need be be made in order to figure that out.

Okay so it's hardly the insightful philosophical statement I billed it to be. But nevertheless the thing which struck me was how important the order and timing of things were rather than the effort or focus made; that part of loving someone is precisely to figure out how to love them. And yes, the logician in me is screaming at the recursion in that statement; presumably it starts with a spark or something.

Common sense? Well maybe. On to me.

I've written before about how the lack of any women in my life growing up may have had an effect on how I perceive, and so, treat them. A part of this reaction was to actually take notice of the typical things women used to complain about and try to figure out how to best avoid the issues that they had. This need to please, along with my incessant desire to marry and the fact that I'm a total planner in almost everything I do resulted in my taking some pre-emptive and long term measures in the way I lived my life.

So for example after a woman complained that her husband spent too much time at work, I specifically began to write off demanding careers that would get make me work odd hours or weekends or spend days or weeks away (the fear of a pager interrupting dinner with my family was the deciding factor in me declining to study medicine). The way women complained about not having enough to make basic ends meet spurred me to work hard in school and beyond in order to get a well paid job. The mere existence of the term "football widows" put me off following the sport, and so I chose other more partner-friendly things like movies instead (including chick flicks and Bollywood). The declaration that "chivalry was dead" spurred me to make opening doors, walking on the roadside and carrying bags for the ladies a habit.

And it goes on. Complaints about men not being around and choosing to hang with their mates instead of their families made me either keep friends at a disposable distance or become close to those who would welcome my wife alongside me. The lamenting about newlyweds having to leave home made me aim to look for a wife in my locality. Resistance toward having to live with in-laws meant I would start saving for a house to move into (complete with space for both our sets of parents if the need ever arose) instead of blowing my money on a fancy Merc. All that moaning about how Asian guys got to be promiscuous and insist on pure wives convinced me to keep it straight.

Fat husband getting you down with his smoking? Well then I'll keep slim and stay away from the ciggies. Does your bloke not have an interest in how you look? Heck I even formed opinions on ladies fashion (here and here). Does your man not talk to you about how he feels? Well, you get the idea.

Now before you all swoon at how much of a dreamboat I am (I can see you toppling over as I type), this isn't me listing all the qualities that would make me a good husband and how under-appreciated myself and other nice guys are. In fact I'd be lying if I said many of these things weren't due to other factors like my religion or decent upbringing and some are more incidental and post-justified than others. And of course there's plenty of things that I can work on too, so I'm not playing the martyr or falling on my sword here.

But I have suddenly noticed that the above all goes exactly against the very simple point my friend spelled out for me above. Instead of figuring out what a person needs, I've gone ahead and decided for them.

The problem is that I've totally disregarded any individuality members of the fairer sex might have. For each commitment and sacrifice I made, no matter how well intentioned, I created a further template that my future partner would have have to conform to. And just like with checklists, the more criteria we have, the less likely it is to find someone who fits them all. Yes, of course some women would like a fully available husband, and yes, many others would like him to have manners. But it doesn't mean that all will want all these things at the same time. So perhaps I could make the right girl really happy; it's just that now most girls aren't right.

So this essentially boils down to a lack of flexibility and dynamism on my part, totally missing that people (not just women) have quite naturally changed and developed and may want something else now. They no longer complain about the things they used to, either because they don't care or have found some kind of parity or justice in the situations they found themselves in before; so it's now normal for either gender to provide financial security, have their own space and partake in non-casual yet not-marital relationships. Whether these are good or bad things is not the point of this post (but I've spoken about it elsewhere), the point is that they're all out of whack with what I've conditioned myself to be able to offer.

But even if I was able to adapt further to a particular girl's needs, there's still a few issues here. I already am now who I already am, and for someone not to acknowledge and regard these things would at best be unappreciative of me and my development and at worst quite undermining of all those efforts I've already made - I'd pretty much be redundant. This goes both ways of course; due to the reasons stated above since I already believe I've done these things for her, I find it difficult to understand why she would want anything else. And hey: even if I found someone who did want these things, how could she ever appreciate them? I didn't do them for her, I did them for a potential she just happens to coincidently fill (otherwise known as Spammy's Eighth). Finally, I guess I have a little expectation that she would have prepared for me as much as I have for her. I fully recognise how unfair and unreasonable that is though.

On the other hand, those who didn't structure their lives around a future that didn't exist, those who lived for the day rather than tomorrow, those who followed their own desires and individuality, are more able to adapt to the unknown quantity presented in a new partner: I bet the farm on a lot of things and have ended up out of touch. This doesn't mean I have any regrets though since a lot of the things I did (or didn't do) were and are good for other reasons and have made me a better person regardless of how single I still happen to be. I do often wonder how different I'd be if I never had these considerations, but I like to think I'd very much be the same.

So what now? Well there's two main strategies I guess. I could either write off the investment and start afresh, this time basing my efforts to change around a particular individual who I actually, you know, like for who they are. Alternatively I could keep at it and search for that particular person who will appreciate all that I've worked to give her. Of course there's no guarantees such a girl exists, but then on the other hand without this framework I've no basis on which to actually determine whether or not I like someone; heck, I may even have to use those "feelings" things people keep telling me about to figure that out... Or perhaps I should just stick with looks.

Sunday, August 15

Game: Alan Wake Click for more info

Alan Wake is one of those titles that is more than just a game. Don't get me wrong; there is plenty of game here, with its tight controls, excellent learning curve and hard-but-not-really level of difficulty. Even if you ignore the plot you're sure to have a pretty good time playing this.

But ignoring the plot would be a pretty big mistake since its precisely that which makes an okay game actually rather great. You have the mind games, the manipulations, the twists and the sheer scary bits all coming together in a pretty compelling storyline, something alone which makes me want to see what happens next. It's one of those creepy tales which almost get you doubting yourself, and yes, I'm not ashamed to say that I jumped more than a few times toward the start.

It's very linear (which as some of you may know is something I love in a game) and you never get lost or feel like you're wasting time. There is a lot for explorers to do too, but otherwise I don't think this game will last more than twenty hours or so.

Fun, scary and engaging, I quite like Alan Wake. Recommended.

Thursday, August 12

Fly Me To The Moon

So here my, a layman's take, on the whole moonsighting difference of opinion. Please bear in mind that this is more of a scientific discussion than a fiqhi one. Oh and although I'm going to try to present the various ideas impartially I do have my opinion on the matter which may seep through; although I will be spelling out my position by the end anyway.

Before we begin, have a play with the following (sneakily stolen from here, which you should definitely click through to, if only to see a bigger version):

NAAP Astronomy Labs - Lunar Phases - Lunar Phase Simulator

Cool eh? Pay special attention to the horizon diagram on the right as well as the time of day for that little stick man, but bear in mind that since this doesn't take in seasonal and geographical effects it doesn't paint the full picture (which is much more complicated). You might want to have it open in another window as I continue.

So now let's create some definitions. Once again bear in mind that these aren't formal or well used, I'm kinda plucking them out of thin air. However they'll come in use when we talk about moonsighting strategies.

The true birth of a moon is the time when the new moon is technically born. This is when the crescent is at its absolute thinnest and is where the above simulator starts off. Notice how this can ONLY happen during the day. This is why total eclipses only happen during the day and at the beginning of the lunar month.

The visible birth of the moon is the first time you see the moon at night, any time after its true birth. This is the classic crescent we all look out for. Bear in mind that you may not see the visible birth the same night as the true birth, as you might be on the wrong side of the Earth at the time. We can try this in the simulator too: using the time tickmarks, adjust the hours and minutes until the stick man lies just after sunset - use the horizon diagram to determine when exactly the sun is setting (using later days when the moon isn't in the way, I make it to be around 6:22pm). Once you have him sitting at Maghrib, flick through the days to see the first time the moon is completely above the horizon. I make this a day after the true birth, although depending on the season and your geography in reality it could actually potentially be a good few days after - if seen at all.

Let's call the time we establish a new Islamic month "event zero" and the place "ground zero". I won't specifically define these, since it's these in particular that opinion differs upon.

We'll assume that "seen", "witness" and "calculated" are all synonymous; that we all believe calculations to be good enough to predict event and ground zero. We do this to avoid discussions about cloud cover or mountains etc. We'll also say that the Islamic day starts at Maghrib.

Okay, so with that groundwork done let's go through the various opinions. There are generally three, although I would expect there to be many variants too with some in between the ones I list below. Remember, this is only to outline the rationale behind the decisions we make, rather than to give or represent any existing fatwa.

Moonsighters take the scriptural source and apply it strictly; that is the month only starts if the moon's crescent is seen in their locality during the night - with each locality having its own event and ground zero. If it's not seen, then they use the fact that a lunar month cannot be longer than 30 days to create default position. The main benefit with this method is in its obviousness; you know when you see the moon. There are a few possibly negative implications however, all of which stem from the fact that there's fair few days gap between the visible and true births of the moon, and this gap depends on where you happen to be in the world. Amongst other things this may mean that end up repeatedly defaulting resulting in your locality becoming out of sync, until a visible birth close enough to a true birth resets this situation. A solution to this would be to use a neighbouring locality which has a smaller gap between the true and visible births - for example since we don't usually see visible births in the UK for a good three or four days into a lunar month, some receive word from Morocco instead. If we didn't do this, then every month would default to 30 days and we'd be even more out of whack with the rest of the world.

Apart from this, the insular nature of this method along with the timing issues of the moon and the Earth ensure that different localities may end up witnessing the visible births on different days - even if these localities are contiguous. This isn't stubbornness, it's the mathematics of a literal opinion. However it does mean that there's no allowance for a "universal Islamic date" or UID, something which causes major problems later on when you try to specify a world event (for example, the angels will only descend the one time on Lailatul Qadr; they won't think "well some are doing it tomorrow/the next day so we have to cater for them too"). On the other hand, since the event zeros are local there's no need for a fixed "international date line" equivalent.

The absolutists use the true birth to mark the beginning of a month, or rather the first night after the true birth (since it would have happened during the day). So let's say the true birth occurs in London: this sets the ground and event zero for the whole world (or rather, universe), and for each locality, the first night after that broadcasted signal will be the first of the month for them. Whether those already in a night (like Australia in this case) do it now or tomorrow boils down to a variant case, although in theory it would be consistent with all who happen to be in that position; as such this strategy requires global agreement and cooperation in order to reap maximum benefit.

Since there is only one true birth per month (that is, it's not a local phenomenon) we now have a UID. The biggest issue (which might not be that big a deal) is that we now have an international date line placed in relation to ground zero, which over the larger continents means we may have the situation where neighbouring localities spread across this date line will have different starts of the month. That said, this is happening many times over with local ground zeros anyway, so the best we can do is have just the one. For the literalists out there, it's worth bearing in mind that a visible birth may not actually be seen anywhere in the world for a few days after event zero - an absolutist doesn't care about that though. Also, there are no "defaulting" or synchronising events either - in fact you get some cool side-effects like the moon being full exactly half way through the month.

The third way is more of a mix of the two above. However it would be incorrect to call it a "middle" way, so I've going to talk about it a bit on its own. Here, they use the same strategy as the absolutists, but use the first visible birth to mark event and ground zeros. In practice, there isn't much difference between the results here and those above, except that the month may start a few days after that of the absolutists, and the international date line would have shifted a bit too. Otherwise we have the same advantages and disadvantages except that since it was a visible birth that defined ground and event zero we may now have fulfilled a Sunnah. This comes at a cost of having to sometimes default and have synchronising events, although these would not happen as often as it would for the moonwatchers. Once again, there's no insistence that a visible birth be seen in a locality - as long as it had been seen elsewhere.

Just to head those of you still reading, the rest of this discussion will be more about my personal take on the matter.

Generally at times like these, where there are split opinions, I tend not to look much at hadith or even the Quran. Each side will have their own irrefutable evidence and interpretations; and it's precisely these which leads to the split in the first place. I tend to use what I call the "Seerahtic" method, which doesn't ask "what did the prophet do when he came across a similar situation back in Saudi?" but instead "what would the Prophet do if he was around today?". Of course this still won't bring universal agreement, but in my opinion it does release the argument of technicalities and semantics.

Anyway, applying this method, I think it would be one of the last two he would pick, possibly the last strategy. I think he would want to enforce a UID, but whether it would be the true or visible birth which marks event zero would depend on whether his moonsighting advice was simply a device given to those without the geometry skills in order easily determine the start of a month or not.

This also sits with what I feel is right personally, although I may lean towards the final strategy . I like the idea of a UID; in fact I think it's essential. I also don't have a need to have seen a moon in my locality, just like I don't look out of my windows for dawn, sunrise and sunset (each of which, although calculable, can be effected by atmospheric conditions leading to the situation where it might not quite be dawn even though our timetables say it is). And even though there isn't a global consensus or UID yet, I think it's more correct to follow a strategy that has the potential for one rather than one that fundamentally doesn't allow one.

In the end though no matter how I reached there I don't have anything other than my own opinion to back this up. As such mutual respect and tolerance overrides any difference of opinion we might have in this matter, and is something that should always be put before any discussion on the topic.


Monday, August 9

New Music

Yes, you've guessed it: it's the traditional pre-Ramadhan gorging of music! They're all very similar songs to be honest, proof once again how much of a sucker I am for manufactured stuff. Anyway:

Sajde - Khatta Meetha

I think this is romantic, but I'm not quite sure.

Tum Jo Aaye - Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

I'll confess: I still confuse this song with the above. This one is sweeter I reckon.

Pee Loon - Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

I actually think the Pee Loon bit is quite annoying; it's the hook that saves this song for me. Although it loses points again for the Hashmi-laden video.

Sunday, August 8

I Hate You

Forgive the navel-gazing, but it just occurred to me that I'm a misanthrope; or at the very least show strong misanthropic tendencies.

From Wikipedia:

In Western philosophy, misanthropy is connected to isolation from human society. In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates defines the misanthrope in relation to his fellow man: "Misanthropy develops when without art one puts complete trust in somebody thinking the man absolutely true and sound and reliable and then a little later discovers him to be bad and unreliable...and when it happens to someone often...he ends up...hating everyone." Misanthropy, then, is presented as the result of thwarted expectations or even excess optimism, since Socrates argues that "art" would have allowed the potential misanthrope to recognize that the majority of men are to be found in between good and evil. Aristotle follows a more ontological route: the misanthrope, as an essentially solitary man, is not a man at all: he must be a beast or a god, a view reflected in the Renaissance of misanthropy as a "beast-like state."

In short, it's a condition that stems from an acute level of idealism and expectation.

I honestly don't know what's more depressing: the fact that I recognise all the symptoms and causes in myself as evidence that I hate people, or that I'm so easily defined by a blummin' Wikipedia article.

Of course, it goes without saying that I'm disappointed that none of my so-called-friends told me this already. I guess that would have been asking for too much.

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

I think it's safe to say that only a few people really achieve their dreams:

So the question is this: do we feel like failures for giving up what we think to be our dreams in order to live life? And if you could go back and do it again... would you have given up your life for your dreams?

Film: Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Click for more info

Considering the critical acclaim the film has received, I was expecting much more from OUATIM. I actually believe that Bollywood can do gangster flicks quite well, so it wasn't a flaw with the chosen genre; for me the film underperformed on a variety of levels.

Technically there wasn't much to talk about. The acting was passable, the direction unambitious. Considering the film was base don true events (despite the makers saying otherwise), I found the plot to be quite flat and even redundant at times; and any attempts at the movie to bring in other themes (like love and romance) were just plain confusing.

I admit say that I'm only being harsh due to the expectations I had going in to the film, but either way I don't feel the film does enough to warrant its two and a half running time - I even think that the makers forgot to create an ending, something which leads me to believe that this was a film only for those who live in Mumbai itself, those who already have an adequate context.

One to skip (and yes, I should have watched Aisha instead).

Saturday, August 7

Book: The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson Click for more info

I'm quite upset about this book, but I cannot tell you how apart from saying I feel cheated by the end.

Other than that, it's more of the same from Salander et al. It's gripping stuff, with the first half of the book setting the scene, spelling out what you need to know by describing the everyday movements and actions of the characters. After the literary bait and switch it's all then taken away from you as you're left in as much of the dark as the investigators in the book are. It's quite an effective device.

The same technical merit applies to this book; it's well written considering it's a translation, although I would say the characterisation is a bit lacking. I do stand by my opening paragraph too - I was quite disappointed by both the unfolding of events and how the book concludes.

Recommended, but only if you accept that you have to read all three books.

Friday, August 6

Muhtashim and Shaheen

Now sit back ladies and gentleman, for I am about to spin a tale if Internet lore which spans almost a decade as well as half the globe. Not many people know this story, but the time has now come to tell it from the beginning. Its relevance will only become apparent once you reach the end of the story. All names apart from the obvious have been changed to protect the innocent.

It may surprise many of you who are too young to remember, but before blogs and Facebook the main way in which people used to communicate and socially network were web forums. There were more than a fair few about, little pockets of introverted cyber-communities, sometimes come together by chance and sometimes by a common interest. For me, the biggest was Asian Life on the BBC's website. It was here that I came across TDS and FSP (amongst others). Meanwhile in another part of the internet, there was Mash and KWI.

Now KWI and I had become friends before any of this had happened - the particulars of which is a story for another time. But in their international wisdom since Mash and I happened to live in the same country, KWI kept pushing that we should meet. Due to my phobia of meeting people of the Internet whom I hardly knew (and the fact that this was a bald guy from Birmingham as opposed to a hot chick from London), I managed to avoid each and every push to hook up.

But then the great blog movement of 2004 arrived. Now I like to think that I started it all off, but that's probably not true in the general sense. However I certainly was on the cusp of a great migration from forums to blogs as TDS, FSP, KWI and Mash all jumped on the blogging wagon. If I'm totally honest, reading Mash's blog made me even more reluctant to meet a guy who appeared to have some serious issues. Plus I think he had a crush on me.

And what happened next was extraordinary. Networking and cross-pollination on a massive scale, as people quickly became familiar with people they hardly knew all over a single article or comment thread. TDS picked up Mash from my blog (or perhaps it was the other way around). I also believe that TDS was the first to bridge the gap between the UK and South Africa. A couple of blog roll clicks later and it all became a mass orgy of virtual hi fives and back pats. When Mash took the decision to come to London, he leveraged this virtual network to hook up with a few South Africans who were also looking for physical relationships (of the innocent kind, mind). And the rest, as you know, is history.

I was still reluctant to meet Mash. KWI had since given him my number which made dodging him even more difficult. In the end, however, he managed to track me down by figuring out where I'd be at a certain time (there are downsides to being a member of ICSS), but to my astonishment the person I met was completely different to the guy I was expecting. He was actually quite okay, and I soon forgot all the misgivings I had regarding him.

And after a number of various hook-ups, culminating in The Great South African Tour of 2010, I've come to realise that the only person who lost out with my aversion to the whole make quick Internet friends thing was me - well, in this particular case anyway. And now the tables have turned, with him being the one opening doors for me, treating me in a much better way than I ever did him.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is how real Mash is. He doesn't spin or market who he is depending on who he's talking to, and it's this accessibility and honesty which draws all those around him in. All his other attractive qualities stem from this - his humour, his rudeness and charm and his depth. While others are tackling their internal controls in order to tell others what they think or feel, Mash totally ignores his and says it all anyway.

It's this lack of social bureaucracy that makes him so easy to talk to. Personally He's one of the few people I know who quickly understands what I have to say (whether he agrees with it or not, although it is usually the former), which allows the conversation to progress to a stage further than it would have with other people. Unfortunately this is only in real life - he still can't write for crap.

One of his best qualities however is what I realised while travelling across South Africa with him. He has nothing at all bad to say about people. He was introducing me to around three new people each day, and each were unique, quality, the best. He'd sell his friends, but not in a way some people do by covering up their flaws, but only because he genuinely doesn't see any in the people he chooses to hang with.

Being a bit of a man whore (in a nice way), I'm pretty sure everyone who knew him was taken back - in a happy way mind - when he announced his plans to marry. Of course once we all heard how he spoke about Shaheen (including that Photography story) we all realised how special she was. After meeting her the couple of brief times that I did there wasn't any doubt how suited they were, with Shaheen matching Mash's realness in such a way it wouldn't have made sense if they didn't hook up.

Which brings us to their wedding tonight. There were no tears or hesitation here, just pure certainty and confidence between a couple who knew exactly where they stood with each other. If communication and honesty are things we're repeatedly told are essential in a marriage then in my humble opinion these two have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Thursday, August 5

Pretty, Hot, Attractive

As part of my ongoing duty to spell out stuff to the opposite sex (I believe women have a tendency to not use their senses and actually create their own unrealities), this is a post describing what a guy means when he calls a girl pretty. Or hot. Or attractive. You see, despite what you may think, these are not all the same things.

Before we begin, some preliminaries. Firstly, this is all only a discussion on what we can see. I'm not muddying the waters with irrelevancies like personality or character (no matter what people believe a person's appearance DOES NOT PHYSICALLY CHANGE after you get to know them); if it makes it easier for you imagine we're only discussing girls whose pictures we're looking at.

Secondly, we need to distinguish between what I describe as deep and shallow subjectivity. With regards to looks, shallow subjectivity is all about what a person likes, while deep subjectivity is about how much what they like matters. It's a bit confusing at first, but just bear with me for now (I have a post in the works elaborating on this difference which I'll publish at some point in the future).

So now, some definitions:

"Pretty" refers to a more vacuous kind of beauty. It usually refers to the face, but can also be determined by things like hands and feet, a smile and sometimes dress. It's the type of stuff most commonly associated with friendliness and niceties. This is a shallow subjective measure.

"Hot" refers to a more obvious kind of beauty. It usually refers to the body, but can also be determined by dress (or rather a lack of), an attitude or certain look. It's most commonly associated with sexiness (urgh, I never thought I'd ever use that word in this blog). This is also a shallow subjective measure.

"Attraction" is where it gets interesting. This is a more abstract measure and depends on the conscious and subconscious messages you're picking up from what you see; that whole je nais se quoi thing. There may or may not be reasoning behind it: for example, although a short skirt might be hot, it doesn't have to be attractive. For others, a hijab might have the opposite effect. For me, my upbringing has kind of conditioned me into finding well groomed eyebrows or nail varnish on a girl quite unattractive, even though I might otherwise consider them to be hot and pretty respectively - my friends have told me I like the "mousey" look, and that even if I don't consider a girl to be pretty. For others, smoking is very hot, but also quite the big turn off at the same time. This is a deep subjective measure.

There may be some correlations and dependencies between the three, but these aren't essential. A guy could find someone pretty but not hot (and vice versa). He might even be attracted to someone who is neither.

So for the sake of education let's have some examples. Remember these are all subjective measures and so you may disagree with the examples, if not the point.

Case 1: Rihanna. She isn't pretty, but boy is she hot. Overall though, she's not very attractive.

Case 2: Dawn French. She's quite pretty, but not really that hot. However she is rather attractive (and that's before she makes me laugh).

Case 3: Katie Holmes - Not that pretty, often not hot, but in all cases attractive.

Case 4: Deepika Padukone - Very pretty, very hot and very attractive.

Case 5: Kelly Brook - Quite pretty, more hot, but totally not attractive.

Since its the deepest subjective type, attractiveness is ultimately the most important measure for a sensible guy. He'll stick with someone whom he doesn't consider to be the prettiest or hottest and because he knows he's attracted to her those other measures don't matter much. In many ways, he could even be more secure about her looks than she is herself. Add personality and character to the mix and prettiness and hotness actually mean very little.

The point is that men are very objective and clinical when it comes to these things. Just because we think someone is pretty doesn't mean we want to look at them for days on end and just because we think they're hot doesn't mean we want to jump their bones. And just because I post who I find to be pretty and/or hot in this blog, doesn't mean I need someone to look like these women in order to find them attractive. In that sense accusations thrown at me of having high standards are both unfair and inaccurate.

There is an argument that this discussion essentially proves that men objectify women and see them, at first anyway, as physical objects. Whether this is true or not, or even acceptable or not (after all, a photo is nothing more than an object) is beyond the scope of the post.

So in conclusion ladies: don't be confused when a guy calls one of your not-so-pretty sistas as hot. Don't scratch your head when he tells you he's attracted to someone you know he finds neither hot nor pretty. It's our ability to be shallowly subjective about these things that allows us to be this way, and as such we can appreciate beauty without necessarily wanting it for ourselves.

Tuesday, August 3

Link of the Day Click for more info

Toy Story 3

A wonderful post demonstrating a noble and rare attitude; and exactly the one I look for in a serious potential. Either I'm unable to see it in others or it really is rare - interesting many of my peers claim it's something that will only materialise after marriage. In which case... how does one know it will?


[19:43:59] xxxx
    gave in to the Saffan gtalk trend i see :P
[19:44:15] Shak
    what can i say? you guys are too alluring to miss out on
[19:46:10] xxxx
    ah :) well we are a tad more friendly than poms :P
[19:46:56] Shak
    that you are. big shame about the arrogance and misplaced self-belief though, but hey can't have everything :)
[19:48:49] xxxx
    haha i can say the same about ur online persona :P
[19:50:24] Shak
    you could, but then you'd be just as unfriendly as poms. which would also make you a hypocrite :)
[19:51:20] xxxx
    haha funny how we're using emoticons to appear to soften the snide remarks
[19:57:34] Shak
    we? :)
[19:57:59] Shak
    this is a fine example of why I give you guys such a hard time. I'm going to snippet this.

Monday, August 2

XKCD Click for more info

Once again XKCD manages to succinctly make such a relatively complex point:

Make no mistake though: this kind of elitism occurs in both directions, and anyone who thinks that they're universally correct in their faith are probably wrong. Remember kids, when you point one finger at someone, the other three are pointing right back at ya.

Sunday, August 1

Link of the Day

Mila's Daydreams

A simple and awesome idea on so many levels - and one that may prove that staying at home in domesticity is only boring if you lack the imagination to create something to compensate for any engagement a mere job can bring.

Film: The A-Team Click for more info

Considering the hash jobs usually done with, uh, rehashes of 80's classics, The A-Team isn't that bad. It's certainly fun enough to compensate for any of the obvious accusations of shallowness, and yes, Bradley Cooper is again pretty cool in a man-crush kinda way. Other than that, nothing really stands out in the two hours or so that the film runs for.

A total popcorn flick, and so recommended for those who know what to expect.

On Balance

One of the major social curiosities amongst Muslim social circles is the issue of balance. More specifically most people we meet out there on the scene will claim to be balanced, and yet at the same time everyone is so different and leads their lives in so many different ways that at first glance you would think it impossible that everyone can be true to this claim. As such the term "balance" tends to mean nothing at all, its value ever decreasing as everyone rushes to label themselves as such - you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who claims not to be balanced.

The same goes for similar phrases like "moderate", "progressive" and "east-west mixture", where the respective sides of the scale can be religion, culture, family orientation, etc. The following discussion doesn't really consider whats being balanced but I think it can be applied in a generic way anyway.

So what exactly is balance? Are people fooling themselves or even lying about how balanced they are? Are there any examples of true balance that the rest of us should model? Is it possible for so many different people to lay claim to having balance?

I think there are various aspects in which this attribute gets into trouble. The first two are largely subjective and so in my view pretty uninteresting, but I'll cover them anyway.

Firstly since balance is largely a self-assessed attribute, it can be skewed with habit, bias and post-justification. Essentially everyone thinks they're right and good and so are doing things in a right and good way. No one wants to be unbalanced, so therefore they must be balanced. This isn't a selfish or bad thing, but simply just human nature if we assume that everyone wants to be the best that they can be.

The second subjective take is that balance is also a relative term, one which can't really be defined absolutely. No two people will ever be equally (or even correctly) balanced, and so both might feel they have a right to use the label. Apply this across society and topics and you'll end up with everyone saying they're balanced to a degree.

Since it's difficult to comment much on subjectiveness - after all, almost by definition these things simply are what they are - the final take is slightly more objective and analysable. The thing is that due to its nature, balance is actually a composite or aggregate term. And as is the case with most aggregates, the detail is lost with the summary result.

This might be clearer with a practical example. If you take a balance scale then it's perfectly possible to balance it with a few grams on each plate. However the fact that the scale is balanced says nothing about the respective weights on each side; and in fact it's also possible to balance the scale with an infinite amount of different, but equal weights. In this sense the scale isn't even measuring weights, but simply compare and contrasting them.

A balance scale is one dimensional, that is that it is only absolutely aware of one thing: weight. We can (kind of) make this multi-dimensional by imagining a plate on a fulcrum or bump, and laying on it different measures at different radial positions and distances from the bump; now we're not just contrasting two things. Not only that, but each measure has an effect on everything else. The bottom line is that there's an uncountably infinite way in which to balance this plate.

Which brings us to people. Trivially, people can also be balanced in an infinite number of ways; they can be narrowly balanced by doing nothing, or more widely balanced by doing everything. There could be a single part of a person's personality which mitigates everything else, or one could just be a total all rounder with a bit of everything. The point is that all these people can fairly and objectively be considered balanced, but since that single label loses so much of the detail that matters, they could all be vastly different kinds of people.

Bear in mind that this discussion isn't about what's right or wrong or even that balance is something to be desired and aimed for; someone who prays five times a day but thinks nothing of dating doesn't have their right to label themselves balanced taken away just because a consensus think the latter is prohibited. However it is perfectly reasonable for two people each of whom consider themselves to be balanced to not sit well with or accept the constituent parts which make up those respective balances in each other.

And just to add the marriage spin (you all knew it was coming) this is why I think we so often hear so many self-proclaimed balanced single people complain about the lack of balance in the people they meet. It's not that they're not meeting balanced people at all, but more that there would be a part of that person (which contributes to their overall balance) which, when taken in isolation, becomes a bit of a undesirable or deal-breaker. Whether or not this is reasonable is beyond the scope of this post; it's up to the individual what can and cannot be weighed away. However I guess the real point here is that for every balanced person with extremely desirable qualities, he or she will also inherently have extremely undesirable qualities which should be expected.

In conclusion, it seems that "balance" alone is a useless and redundant term, unless it is qualified with enough detail to say what makes up that balance in the first place. Other measures like range and breadth may help, but eventually some kind of explicitness will always be needed in order to portray someone in the most accurate and more importantly useful way.