Sunday, February 25, 2007

Beaver in the Big Apple

Beaver has moved into the Bronx River

I like to hear animal comeback stories when most of the time it is all bad news....

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dua after Fajr

Bismillah Arahman Araheem

Allahumma sale ala Muhammadan wa ale Muhammad

I entrust my cause(affairs) to God. Truthfully, God looks after His servants.

God keeps His eyes open to the evil which is done.

There is no God save You, Glory be to You. Truthfully, I have been a wrongdoer.

"So We complied with their request and saved them from worries, and like this We come to the rescue of believers. God is sufficient for us; and the most excellent protector is He, so they returned with grace and favor from God, and no harm touched them.

It is as God wills. There is no stratagem and no power save with God."

It is as God wills, be it that the people do not want it. It is as God wills, be it that the people do not like it.

Sufficient for me is the Lord against the other lords (His servants).
Sufficient for me is the Creator against the creatures (that have been created by Him).
Sufficient for me is the Nourisher against those who receive livelihood (from Him). Sufficient for me is God, Lord (rab) of all the worlds.
Sufficient for me is He.
Sufficient for me, sufficient for me is He who is "Lam Yazal" (does not ever pass away).
Sufficient for me, sufficient for me is He who is the creator (and I am the creation) and does not ever pass away.

Sufficient for me, sufficient for me is God.

There is no God save He.
I put my trust in He, and He is the Lord of the divine throne ('arsh).

Friday, February 23, 2007


Hijab in the Qur'an:

“And tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands….”24:30-31.

“Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their outer garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest and God is One who sees and knows all things.”24:60

“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons when abroad that is convenient that they should be known and as such not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”33:59.

What is it?

In brief, the hijab is often described as the modest dress of a Muslim woman, or more specifically, the hair-covering. Islamic teachings tell us that the Islamic modest dress for a woman should cover all but hands and face in clothing that does not conform to the body shape. Some sources prescribe the dress more strictly by limiting fashion and color and/or suggesting the covering of the face. It is not a uniform, thus one can find a lot of variation of styles of Islamic dress, as well as differing interpretations in the details. For example, many people interpret the wearing of a scarf with long-sleeve blouse and long pants that do not cling to the body as within the basic requirements of hijab. But some people or cultures feel differently and interpret it more strictly, perhaps preferring skirts or dresses to pants, or perhaps preferring mute colors to brighter colors, and so on.

Islamic modest dress applies to men as well, but in a different fashion. However, the nature of modesty and Islamic dress for men is often neglected, especially in view of the obsession that sometimes exist over the dress of women.

Hijab also has a philosophy or spirit to it, in addition to the physical nature. That is, as with almost everything in Islamic practice, there is an outward, physical nature and there is an inward, spiritual nature. The spiritual nature of hijab is the spirit of modesty - not only in how we present ourselves to the world, but in how we take in the world. The modesty of presentation includes not only dress, but demeanor and behavior. As for how we take in the world, this means how we observe the modesty of the eyes, ears, etc. - do we turn our eyes and ears away from things that violate the spirit of hijab and modesty or do we allow our eyes and ears to take in all things?

The spirit of hijab is very important, for if one acts only on the outward nature without acting on the inward nature, then one really misses the point altogether, and really misses out on the essence and heart of what hijab is all about.

The same is true for every act. Take, for example, the prayer. One can perform the mechanics of prayer and totally miss the inward aspects and thus benefit little from the prayer. The inward aspects of the prayer - the attention to God, the meaning of the words, and so on, are the true prayer.

A Muslim is one who submits to God, while a momin is someone who is a believer. Adopting a practice one knows is right even if she doesn't feel her heart is totally in it is an act of submission; it is an act of a Muslim. When one takes this first step, it is not uncommon that God returns the act by elevating one to the state of a believer so that now one does the act not out of submission but out of belief, and eventually maybe even out of love, desire, etc.

Why is it?

God knows best why He prescribes anything for us that He prescribes, but as can be seen in the ayahs mentioned above, and in the teachings of Islam preserved elsewhere, the purpose of Islamic modest dress is modesty and to be recognized as upright folk and be afforded the respect of an upright person.

Why is it that the modest dress for a woman includes covering the hair? In essence, it is due to what is her 'awra, or what is her beauty that particularly appeals to the opposite gender.

It may seem extreme, but hijab really is not extreme. In the context of past history, the modest dress of Muslim women is not unusual. Nor is it restrictive - it does not hinder her from most any action or movement she may want to do, although in reality, the Muslim (and other) societies have sometimes hindered her from some actions and movements that are not warranted by the minimum requirements of Islamic dress. It may seem different than what is common today in the Western world, but that does not make it extreme or prohibitive. Extremism and undue prohibition come from hard hearts, abandonment of spirit for letter only, and intolerance. Hijab in itself has none of these traits, but instead has at its core the ideals of equity and justice, respect, upright behavior and demeanor, and inclusiveness.

What is wearing hijab like?

Sometimes women will say they will wear the hijab later on when their spirituality matches the action - i.e., they say they are not pious enough to wear it and to wear it would be hypocritical. But this logic is erroneous. Whatever is required by God is required by God and it is not hypocrisy to follow the requirements with the intention of following the requirements, even if the spiritual self isn't in the ideal place. Even in prayer, often the heart is not in the right place, but that does not excuse one from the prayer. No one says that she should stop praying until she becomes more pious, so neither should such an argument be used about hijab. The reality is that if we sincerely adopt a practice often the heart will follow. Sometimes it is not for the heart to lead us to piety when our actions are against it, but rather it is for the heart to follow the actions on the course of seeking piety by submitting.

Hijab is one aspect of submission or belief in God. But like any other practice it is not the whole picture for any person. When we see people, Muslim or anti-Muslim, obsessing over hijab, it is a symptom of a larger problem. Sometimes we see Muslims obsessing over hijab - often this is a symptom of obsession over letter of law while neglecting spirit of law. It is also often a symptom of anti-feminine leanings that belittle the full personhood of women and objectify them just as much as those who obsess over the dress of women in the other extreme of immodesty as opposed to modesty. Sometimes we see anti-Muslim folks obsessing over hijab, too, - and this is often a symptom of intolerance us vs. them ideology, ignorance, and seeking to cause division and subjugation.

In practice, wearing hijab is like wearing any other clothes - it feels as natural as any other clothing. A person who is accustomed to wearing the hijab does not feel fully-dressed without it and in her day-to-day activities feels normal and does not feel different from someone else. At times, however, someone may react to her in a way that may remind her that she looks different than others are used to. But more of than not, she will go through her day without incident. Sometimes these reactions are positive - small acts of positive chivalry like opening a door or avoiding foul language, for example. Sometimes they are negative, such as a dirty look or bad word.

When someone first puts on hijab, however, it feels different. It can be hard for her to feel comfortable in a new style of dress. Also, she is often hyper-aware of any reactions and more self-conscious and concerned or afraid of negative reaction. On the flip-side, she is often also more aware of her dress as being potentially representative of Islam and Muslims and may be more modest in her behavior in reaction to her change in dress.

Some people avoid wearing hijab even if they believe it is right out of fear. For most women, however, this fear is out of place. God is the source of our well-being and sustenance. If we know this to be true, then we should also understand that we obtain our sustenance not through an employer, but through God. And we obtain our well-being from God also. If we wish to secure our well-being and our sustenance, then the best path is that path prescribed by God, not by following some path other than that prescribed by God. Some women certainly do face obstacles of many different types in regard to employment, relations, or safety when it comes to wearing hijab. But there are very very few women who would be turned down by every decent employer in their chosen profession - usually it is just one or two that have wrong attitudes. Similarly, a few women sometimes face danger or other hardship due to wearing hijab. But the vast majority of women will go their entire lives without ever being in danger because of it, and many having even enjoyed some measure of protection because of how people responded to her positively. If hijab closes doors, it also opens them. And ultimately, God is the All-Powerful and when we put our trust in Him and follow the path He guides us to, we cannot be disappointed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

John Frum Day

I came across an article about John Frum Day - a remnant of a cargo cult of the South Seas, apparently. It was quite odd to see the American Flag and other American patriot paraphernalia as part of a Vanuatu religious cult.

John Frum Day Feb. 15 in Vanuatu
Wikipedia on John Frum Day

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Silmarillion

I just finished reading the Silmarillion. Back in the fall I read The Lord of the Rings and in winter I read The Hobbit. I'd read all or parts of these before, but I'd never read the Silmarillion.

Tolkien's books are always slow starters - you have to read a 50-100 pages before the story really pulls you in, but after that it becomes very interesting. The Silmarillion is definitely no exception to that, but the 100 pages or so take even longer to get through because those pages are so dense with names and place names that it is hard to follow. You get names for myriad places and people, and often the same place or person has two or three different names - in Quenya, in Sindarin, in other languages as well. And then it gets hard to keep track of some of the people who are not as major in their roles as to who they are - who they are related to, what is their heritage, etc. And yes, all that information is pretty important to the stories. When you get to the end of the book, there are many pages of maps, family trees, pronunciation guide (it's "keleborn" not "seleborn"!), name dictionary, etc. And you actually read some of it because it is necessary.

The Silmarillion (as published, which includes several other tales as well such as the Akallabeth, the story of Beren and Luthien, etc.) is a mythology/history/creation collection. For anyone who has been interested in LOTR, it is really worthwhile because it provides a history of Middle Earth from the creation story up to and including the storyline of the Lord of the Rings - but the events of the Lord of the Rings are only the last few pages of the book and you get that story from a different and broader perspective (and of course in much less detail).

Now I just have to decide do I want to keeping reading and start in with the works that Tolkien's son Chris wrote in on because his father hadn't finished before he died. Anyone read any of the post JRR works and can weigh in? And where to start exactly?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Update on Sister Karima

From a letter of a friend who visited her:

Assalamu Alaikum Everyone
I visited Karima on Friday evening. She is no longer in CCU, she is in the rehab part of Swedish Hospital on the 6th floor. Yes she did have a stroke and she is partially paralyzed. She was sitting in the wheelchair when I was there, which is very good. She is aware and is able to speak 1 or 2 words at a time. She recognized me and overall seemed to be okay, given the circumstances. 1 sister went to see her another day and said that she asked her if Karima knew who she was and she shook her head and said no. This is a sister who Karima is close to, so it seems that at times there are some memory lapses, but it was not the case when I went. She has some depression from time to time. Her eyes fill with tears if anyone mentions her kids. Though she is not able to verbalize her worry for her kids, it is obvious in her expressions. We must keep her in our prayers.
For those of you sisters who are still in Denver, we have coordinated food to take to her children each week. Alhamdulillah we have been able to cover everyday, since we started several weeks ago. If you are interested in cooking, please let me know. We want it coordinated so that they don't have too much food on one day and then end up with nothing on another day. Karima's sister is living at the house with the boys, but she is very busy working and going to the hospital, we want to at least be able to provide the food for them so no one has to worry about that. I told Karima that everyone has been so helpful and so many people have asked in what way they can help and that everyone is praying for her. I also mentioned to her sister that any help that is needed to let us know. So far, it has just been the food once a week and someone has needed to take Javad to his basketball games, remain there and bring him back home. Alhamdulillah Sis Azadeh has been doing that once a week. As a community we must be willing to help Karima and her family in any way which we can.
Perhaps we may have to form teams who could work with her later on for her rehabilbitation. She is going to need a lot of physical therapy and it would be good if we could take turns helping to work with her, but we have to wait and see what happens and what she and her family wants us to do. For those of you who want to go and see her, I really don't know what to say. On the one hand, I think it is good that she is not alone and we go to see her regularly. On the other hand, sometimes I think that she is embarrassed to have people see her after the stroke. So I can't really say. Whatever you think is best, just do it. May Allah help our sister and her family and guide all of us to the path.

If anyone can help her and her kids, I do have a postal address available upon request. Please pray for her. I really feel for what difficulty she is suffering right now, for herself and her kids.

The Dollar Coin

Well, soon we'll be seeing new dollar coins - with different presidents on them every three months. The dollar coin would be much cheaper than the dollar bill if it were to replace it because coins last longer than bills. But so far, the public has had little interest in the dollar coins as actual viable currency.

With the popularity of the state quarters program, I think "powers that be" are hoping that changing up the dollar coin every few months will promote interest. I am sure it will, but only to a limited extent. People just don't see them as much and changing presidents is less interesting than changing states - the public identifies with the states, calling at least one of them their own, and sort of had a say in the design of their own state's quarter.

But anyway, I like coins and do a nominal bit of collecting. Anyone ever notice how silver coins have such a beautiful ring to them when they clink together? It is nothing like modern coins. Silver coins are softer, too, to the touch (and in color) - more aesthetically appealing - but also less durable and more expensive, which is why silver is not practical for modern common coinage.

The U.S. mint, in effort to promote its dollar coin campaign, is offering some free stuff - particularly to educators and retailers. If you are a teacher you can get free posters, bookmarks, coin cards, etc. and don't need to pay even shipping, and you can order whole class sets. Free Dollar Coin Stuff - Enjoy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Center of the Galaxy

Beautiful Image of the Galactic Center

The center of the galaxy is a violent place, where stars are compacted and whirl at great speeds and fall into the apparent death of the black hole, ripped apart. But in a still image, it appears static and peaceful.

In Islamic sources the center of the universe is the Empyrean ('Arsh), where the will of God comes down, and the Ka'aba is a model or reminder of it and part of the reason for circumambulation in the hajj is because of its representation of the center of all things.

Well, last night mom and I and Jeff's kids went to the movies as usual. But nothing really "good" has been out new for awhile and the only non-rated R thing we hadn't seen yet that was a "horror" flick at our particular theater was Norbit. Yuck, it was just disgusting and depraved in my opinion. Yes, a few funny things happen, but mostly I thought it was just sad and sick more than anything else. And the theater was sold out.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Orion and Astronomy memories

A beautiful image containing the constellation Orion.

Orion is my favorite constellation, and, I suspect, he is the favorite of many others too - and he is visible in both the northern and southern hemispheres, unlike many constellations. I think he is probably a favorite because he is bright and beautiful with very noticeable form.

I'd like to know, do you have a favorite constellation? If so, what is it and why (if you have a reason)?

I think the best books ever written about constellations are actually by the author of the Curious George books, H.A. Rey. He wrote two:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them.
Find the Constellations.

His work was revolutionary because he was able to draw the constellations so that they actually looked like what they were named after - which, for some reason, others before him had not succeeded in doing. His drawings make them much easier for people to understand and find.

When I was in fifth grade, there was actually a Young Astronauts club at my school for a little while and we went to this stargazing party out away from the city lights one night with a powerful telescope. It was really cool. That was the year the Challenger exploded with Christa McAuliffe aboard - I remember finding out about it while I was in my English class.

My dad had a telescope, too, for several years when we were young. I can remember him out there with a flashlight covered in red and his Astronomy magazine and his telescope. It was hours of setting up and not a lot of viewing so as a kid I wasn't patient enough for the telescope.

I enjoyed the telescope, however, when I took astronomy in college for fun. It was an easy class needed for my teaching license - way easier than my physics. But we had a lab and we would go up on the rough and we viewed mainly planets. I remember being able to see the phases of Venus. It was cool to find out Venus had phases like the moon has phases because of its position. And seeing Jupiter and some of its moons around it, and seeing Saturn with its rings. But I haven't tried to do that since, however, it seems to me to be one of things everyone ought to see at least once in their life. They say you can see Saturn's rings through good binoculars. Honestly I think it would be hard unless you used a tripod, because your hands shake even just with your heartbeat and the slightest movement could be enough to lose what you're looking for. I remember through those telescopes you could literally see the planet slowly move across your field of view and if you didn't readjust your telescope every few seconds, what you were looking for was no longer in the field of view. I think if you spend the really really big bucks you can get telescopes that will automatically track an object, but I'm not sure.

But my most fond memories of viewing celestial objects did not involve the telescope. For a brief time (a few years), my parents had 30 acres of land down near the Spanish Peaks, just west of Walsenburg. It was a hill against BLM land that flattened out a bit on top. I loved that place - it had petrified wood on it, and I was convinced the BLM land was haunted because I always heard strange sounds on the wind there. My parents' dogs loved it - one of them, Crystal, would catch birds and mice and was so proud of herself she would come back prancing with her catch. She was a really dainty dog for a Samoyed and she would toss her catch in the air with glee. I remember that we went there to cut down Christmas trees one year, too. My parents ended up selling the land because they had left a small camper on it with some basic supplies and it was broken into and robbed. My dad didn't want the land after that so they sold it. But the night skies from the top of that hill were fantastic - more stars than you thought possible - the Milky Way standing out clear as day. And soooo many satellites - I love seeing satellites or the space station in the sky and watching them move across. So there are two things else I think everyone should experience in their lifetime - seeing the Milky Way, and seeing the satellites.

I took astronomy in high school just for fun also and we made these spheres with all the constellations on them. We also did these projects where we tracked the sunset for a month - we picked a spot, drew a horizon, and went there every few days for a while and watched the sunset and recorded the time and location. It was awesome to actually see how the sunset occurs at a different spot each night and track the movement according to the season and understand it as how it related to the tilt of the Earth's axis. When I taught a unit of Astronomy to sixth graders one year, I had them do almost the exact same project.