Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SEPTEMBER

So this month, my challenge was inspired by the month of Ramadaan. I decided to tap into my Cerebral Cortex and delve into the mental archives. Unfortunately I found out that my brain is still using Windows 95 and I have to wait until it upgrades to Vista. See when I was in Primary School (Grades 1 to 7) I had Arabic as a subject in both School and Madressa. In Madressa, we had an excellent teacher from Egypt and we called him Sheikh. He was such a great teacher, that I was practically fluent in Arabic by the time I was 12.

However, (ashamed to say this but) the years rolled by and with no one to converse with, my linguistic skills and knowledge of the vernacular have sort of diminished over time. I can still read and write in Arabic, and I can vaguely recall the meaning of some words, but most of my memory is on lockdown…hidden in some encrypted file in an unknown location in my brain. So for this months’ challenge, I decided to change that. I went back to my linguistic roots and dug out my old books, taking a beginner’s course to re-learn what I was once proficient in.

And so far so good. I’m still far away from being fluent and I will have to learn grammatical laws etc. but I’m one step closer to my goal. Of course, I know this won’t take just one month to accomplish, several maybe…but it’s a start.

In other news, I finally received my letter from UJ in the Post Project headed by a one Organ Harvester. Firstly, I’m very disappointed that the postal strike prevented UJ from receiving my letter (a letter that took me a good part of a day to write), and secondly I’m sad that he’ll never receive my gifts which is probably sitting with some greedy minx at some or other postal depot :(

But what can I say?! I was floored. In the letter were two dried rose/flower petals. I thought that was very sweet. His entire letter details his escapades travelling through the country to the coast. It was detailed brilliantly, with enough description to make you feel like you were there with him, but not so much that you get bored reading it. In the enclosed bubble-wrap that came with his letter was a sea shell from Port Elizabeth. And even though it was crushed by the time I received it, for me it was gold. Great stuff! Especially since I collect little rocks, sea shells and sand from different places.

OH said that we should go into details with feedback regarding elements like handwriting and all that…and while UJ doesn’t win any awards in the the best calligraphy department, his thoughtfulness more than made up for it in his letter. I feel weird about sharing more details…is it weird that I feel weird? I just feel like it’s sorta personal. Man I love letters!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dancing Queens

I've mentioned my penchant for kicking it, wonky style, in public. This right here is why we shouldn't be allowed to go outside.

video

Well at least I can't complain that my life is boring :P

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Languid Indulgence

What a week! Well, it’s more like what a four days!! We’d been so busy with Eid preparations on Saturday (until the wee hours of the morning) that I woke up tired on Eid morning. But I couldn’t afford to be all groggy because it was time to get dressed in my best gear and party. And what a party! We cooked up a storm making Mutton Briyani, 4 Roast Chickens, 1 Roast Leg, Greek Salad, Roti, Mince Pies, Steak Pies, Kheer, Pomegranate Punch, Chocolate & Caramel Mousse Cake, 8 variations of biscuits and hundreds of little sweets and chocolates.

The downside to all this food is that by the time Ramadaan draws to a close (and you've gotten used to not eating for around 12 hours a day) your stomach is the size of a Walnut and not much can fit in there. So its like a hollow victory because you have all this delicious food, but you can't eat it. And the little that you do manage to gobble down weighs heavy on you and you walk around for days feeling bloated. I don't know if thats funny or sad :D

Anyways, it has been established that I know waaay too many people. This is why we’re allowed to celebrate Eid-Ul-Fitr over 7 days, to give you time to greet everyone. I couldn’t cram everyone in on one day so I did it over three. So that was three days of eating everything shoved in my face including all the left-overs here at home. It’s times like these where I’m happy that we only eat Briyani twice a year, because we usually end up eating it for the whole week (that’s how much food there is).

But the star of this Eid was Mother’s Roast Leg. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my ENTIRE life…EVER!!! The meat was so succulent and tender, wrapped in a perfect blend of spices. It was PERFECTION...unprecedented!! It was like it came down from heaven and flew into my mouth. I savoured every single bite and for once was glad that I could eat the leftovers for the next three days. However, I’m slightly devastated that I’ll never get to eat it again because Mother can’t remember how she made it! She cooks on a whim, so every year the the flavours change.
The Roast before it was popped into the oven for 6 hours.

Anyways, the day itself was splendid, even more so this year. We had loads of good food and laughs because humour and eccentricity is genetic in my family. Our celebrations even split over into the next day when everyone decided to ditch work for continued merriment. It’s taken me this long to wake up from my Eid Hangover. The lack of sleep, sinusitis, too much food, constant socializing and indigestion has left me feeling lethargic and bloated, and with one of those dull headaches at the base of my skull. I need to detox, and then I need some rest. It’s a long weekend in SA…with Thursday being Heritage Day and most people taking the day off on Friday. Wherever you are, enjoy and be safe.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Great Times Ahead

I heard on the news this morning that it’s been almost a year since Thabo Mbeki was ousted as President of South Africa. A year! I can’t believe it. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the concept of time and how the days seem to sweep by as swiftly as they come. We’ve been fasting for a month already, can you believe that?!?! A month! It feels like we just began yesterday!

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like the more we progress into the 21st century, the more time eludes us. Its like the months have become days and the days seem mere minutes in comparison. I can remember a time when life seemed to take FOREVER to happen. A normal school week felt like a month. Time just seemed to drag on forever back then. These days, it feels like my life may just pass me by if I don’t grab it by the horns and hold on.

Two days left and as this month of Ramadaan draws to a close, most of us are in the midst of preparing for the big day…Eid-Ul-Fitr on Sunday. It’s like Christmas & Diwali for Muslims. I’m assuming most people celebrating Eid are at home today or will be at home on Monday. Mother has been baking since 5:30 this morning, driving us crazy with the smell of freshly baked goodies lathered in chocolate and almonds and all sorts. I woke up starving and we only break our fast at 6pm so you can imagine I have to wait another 10 hours to eat or drink while unspeakable delights are being shoved in my face as I’m told to help in the kitchen. *sigh*

For me, saying goodbye to Ramadaan is always bittersweet, no matter how tough the fasting was. Its like I don’t want the month to end, I really don’t. But at the same time, I can’t wait to eat the chocolate and caramel layered mousse cake we’re serving on Eid. And then I feel guilty for wanting to eat the mousse and go back to repenting and lamenting the end of a great month. A vicious cycle I tell ya.

Last night we received confirmation from FC, he will indeed be flying out from Spain or Amsterdam or wherever he is at the moment to join us for Eid. Great news for us even though he’ll only be here for like 2 days. I have to go and pick him up at the airport. I love the airport…buts thats a whole other story for another day.

There were still so many stories I wanted to share. Stories of unsung heroes and extraordinary people living in eras long gone by. But perhaps another time. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all the Muslims out there blessed Eid Mubarak. May we remember all that we’ve accomplished during this sacred month and strive to better ourselves and our society for the greater good of Mankind.

Also wishing a very happy Navaratri to the Hindus and L’Shanah Tova to the Jews, may your days be blessed too. Christians, don’t worry Christmas is coming :) To everyone, wherever you are in the world and no matter what your beliefs, here’s wishing you peace, love and great food!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"This Is Zionism"


This picture comes from a blog I've been following quite closely over the past few months called Jews sans frontieres. It was posted under the caption of "This is Zionism" with a brief summary:


NYT, 9/13: "A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron. The approach of some settlers towards neighboring Palestinians, especially around Nablus in the north and Hebron in the south, has often been one of contempt and violence."

I don't know what it is about this picture that just stirs my pot. Maybe it’s that look of blatant disregard. Or perhaps it’s because I once walked through those streets and that could have been me or my mother or my sister.

I'll never forget the day we left for Palestine. We sat for 6 hours at the border while security checked that my paternal Great Grandfather was indeed a man named Edward Brooks from the UK and it was established that I was not out to bomb all the holy places. But I noticed something odd. Almost all of the Israelis were between the ages of 18 and 26. Weirder still, they were nothing like what we expected. They were…ummm how to explain it…very ummm…polite, yes… almost apologetic! Even though nothing was verbalised. It was like they had a job to do and they were just following orders. It made me wonder then, how many people in this world are just “following orders”…acquiescing to greater requests from those greedy bastards in authority.

Of course I was the target of relentless questioning and in-depth searches as I usually am. I wonder, perhaps it’s because I look like a terrorist. Or maybe it’s because someone with a past steeped in fanaticism is parading around with my name. The first time my person was assaulted with such notions was in Egypt where I was cornered and cross-examined by officials demanding to know if I spoke Arabic.

Me? A terrorist? Pffft! I’m not “sanctimonious” enough. I'm every terrorists nightmare...everything they abhor in the world. I’m a humanist even though I hate most humans. I’m the Paradox of Paradoxes but at the core I love and strive for Divine Justice in any setting. I have a better chance of being something rebellious like a movie star. So if they want to charge me on anything, it will have to be for being a Drama Queen.

The second time was epic because it’s not every day that officials in Dubai will actually stop the plane…like literally pull the aircraft off the runway to come and ask a passenger for their boarding pass. Like how the hell did they think I got there in the first place?

So lately, I got to reading around the web and came across some stellar posts with alot of insight, like this one from Tony Greenstein's Blog. Makes one think...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shit Happens

So in my free time, I’ve been going through various texts to re-affirm what I know to be true. It is imperative that the stories I narrate here are accurate in their detail, so I always check to make sure I have my facts down correctly. In doing so, I’ve come across a common theme amongst all of these stories. Firstly to Muslims and everyone else who hold them to be true, they aren’t merely stories but historical accounts of the lives that have contributed to our civilization. These Prophets and Companions of the Prophets gave their lives for the betterment of society, so that we could govern ourselves today. It was their life’s work. It is no wonder that they are honoured and revered.

I think most of us forget that they were just men too. Sure some of them were granted miracles through God’s will, but they were just men. Mere mortals. Some of them erred too, like Jonah (Yunus AS) who abandoned his mission and cursed his people after they refused to listen to him. And Moses (Musa AS), who discovered that he wasn’t the most knowledgeable man on earth when Allah SWT instructed him to meet with Khidr.

The Prophets (AS) also went through their fair share of trials and tribulations. Jonah was punished by Allah SWT by being swallowed by a fish/whale after he fled the city. Moses and the Israelites wandered around the dessert for 40 years, after they (the Israelites) were punished for fashioning a golden calf out of molten metal and worshipping it. The Prophet Job (Ayub AS) suffered through various ordeals, which he endured patiently. Joseph (Yusuf AS) was sold as a slave and then imprisoned by the King after being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. Jesus (Isa AS) was betrayed by Judas, one of his disciples. And the Prophet Mohammed SAW had to endure the resistance he had met whilst spreading his message, where rebels stoned him until blood flowed down to his ankles.

That’s what made these men so great. That’s what set them apart from the rest of us. That they had to endure all these difficulties and impediments throughout their lives; add to that the fact that they were just human and not these celestial deities with supernatural powers; and yet they lived righteously with never-ending devotion and trust in The Almighty. They always turned to Him, never faltering in their dedication and belief in Him. And the result was that they always triumphed.

I guess this is a great lesson for most of us. I know many many people who have been going through a tough time recently…meself included. Words like ‘Believe’ and ‘Trust’ seem so abstract and ambiguous to most during adversity. But I always remind myself that if the Prophets of God Almighty had to endure such trials and tribulations then who are we to complain? Those great men were chosen by Allah Himself and they too had to suffer on this earth, for the greater good. And by the mercy of Allah SWT, they eventually succeeded in their missions.

Or think ye that ye will enter paradise while yet there hath not come unto you the like of (that which came to) those who passed away before you? Affliction and adversity befell them, they were shaken as with earthquake, till the messenger (of Allah) and those who believed along with him said: When cometh Allah's help? Now surely Allah's help is nigh.” [Qur’an 2:214]

I’m also reminded that if life on this earth was meant to be easy, then there would be no point to striving for Paradise. It’s an incentive of sorts. Besides, if The Almighty can create Arcturus (of which I still stand in absolute awe and amazement of), then what can’t he do for you? So be nice, live righteously and conscientiously with respect and humanity; have faith, trust and believe. And remember that shit happens, but it’s how we deal with it that counts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pseudo Neo-Orientalists

I had another story lined up that will just have to wait for another day as there seems to be other more pressing matters to attend to. This one is a long time coming…

Now I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that I come from a very ethnically mixed background. In fact, my extended family is so large and diverse that we encompass all races and religions. Yes that’s right. To be specific, they are what I like to call ‘thorough-bred mixed breeds’ and include Whites, Coloureds (in SA Coloureds are those mixed races), Indians, Malays…covering ancestral ground from the Irish, Scottish, Malaysian, Arabian, French, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani and Portuguese. And even though the majority of my immediate extended family is Muslim, I do have many great aunts and second cousins who are Christian or Hindu.

So in essence, I’d like to think that I (more than most) understand most people in a cultural/religious context, having been exposed to everyone’s BS first hand. And nobody understands my concept of hating everyone equally quite the way I do, especially since I find abhorrent characteristics in EVERYONE and consider no one to be better than the other. With this pointless information on hand, I’d like to address a few issues that have been plaguing my mind of late.

Let me just clarify that the information I’m about to impart is not with the intent and purpose of being the village gossipmonger, since it is still Ramadaan and I am fasting and I don’t indulge in mindless activities during the holy month. Instead the boundaries of this information will be blurred so that nothing of an overtly personal nature is divulged to protect the not so innocent. Furthermore, the purpose of this information is to highlight the plight of people and religion everywhere.

Ok, so I don’t get these Pseudo-Neo-Orientalists and the likes of them. Let me break it down for you. A couple of years ago, I met two sisters. Lets call them Taraka and Baraka. Together with my sister, we accompanied them on various outings and built a friendship based on shared interests. Or so we thought. One day, we were conversing/disputing the merits of some or other cultural facet of Islam in our society amongst some of our Christian and Jewish friends. Up until this point, we had all agreed and expressed our disapproval of culture being allowed to dictate religious laws, when Baraka goes a step further and states that she doesn’t see the point of Islam especially since it advocates violence. At first I was perplexed, then horrified that she would express a sentiment that was completely false and baseless, to a crowd that could have easily mis-interpreted this information.

It wasn’t long before Baraka and my sister got into a HUGE argument over this and while I tried to remain diplomatic, it was very difficult not to punch Baraka's lights out. I tried to explain to her that she could not make a statement like that because as a Muslim (and having attended Madressa) she should know the code of morals and ethics that govern Islamic practices, the first being Peace…which refuted her claim that Islam advocated violence. Secondly I explained to her that there are fanatics in every faction of every religion, not only Islam and that fundametalists do not represent Muslims because their activities contradict and go against everything Islam stands for. I also reminded her that a lot of the information she quotes were from biased mediums, and therefore not correct or necessarily true.

I won’t go into the details of the argument, or the arguments subsequent to that but I will say this: I truly believe that people are free to choose how they want to live. They are free to decide whether or not they want to practice their religion. They are free to live in debauchery if they choose to, or in sanctimonious devotion to the Lord. They are free to frown upon how others perceive or interpret their religion. They are free to criticize, attack or question their so-called leaders; the intentions of the clergy in their churches, mosques, synagogues and temples; their societies; their cultures; the political agendas of some; corrupt officials etc. etc.

But I do NOT think that it is ok to attack a Religion. ANY RELIGION. There have to be some boundaries when it comes to Freedom of Speech, especially when people have NO IDEA about what the religion entails nor do they have any insight/information into the details of the religious laws and practices governing that religion. It is not ok for people to take things out of context and use them to manipulate the truth to advance their objectives. It is not ok to ardently argue over laws and issues of which they have no knowledge of. There she was insulting her own religion...a religion I hold dear...a religion she surprisingly knows very little about... amongst others who don't know any better. All I could think of was that she sits in their company and the Lord only knows what they think, what false impressions they take home with them, perpetuating and reinforcing negative perceptions based on her ignorance. And worst still was that she wouldn't listen to reason and was adamant in her sentiments.

I eventually gave up trying to talk to her and advised her to look into the matter, to read up on various sources, to go back and re-learn what she had been taught before expressing her opinions drenched in ignorance, so openly. Imagine if I argued the laws of Quantum Physics with a Professor when the only thing related to anything scientific (that I can vaguely recall) is a Bunsen Burner and I’m not even sure how it’s utilised in Scientific research. The whole situation was beyond ludicrous.

Reminds me of those Neo-Orientalists…

Orientalism arose waaaay back, when Westerners wrote books about how terrible and primal the occupants of the East and Mid East was. In these contemporary times, these Westerners have been replaced by new-age natives from these Eastern and Middle Eastern countries that have become known as the ‘New Orientalists’. Westerners regard them as authorities on the subject, and give them credit because they are deemed to have escaped unspeakable ‘horrible and oppressive’ regimes. Most of the information made available however, is distorted and severely biased.

In other news…

With regard to this whole ‘women in mosques’ debate that’s been going on. I find the whole ‘issue’ utterly ridiculous and absurd. If I’m not mistaken, the issue stems mostly from those following the Hanafi way (for non-muslims, think of it as similar to the difference amongst the factions in Christianity eg. Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Methodists etc.)

Again, I won’t go into all the gory details. All I know is that I’ve been going to mosque since I was a little girl, thankfully because Mother was brought up Shafi and it’s completely normal for them. I've always questioned and debated this issue as I don't see how women are allowed to attend the mosque in almost every other Muslim nation including Islam's holiest places, but they aren't allowed to go to the mosque in their own home towns. I see it as nothing more than cultural aspects influencing Islamic jurisprudence…so-called authority figures manipulating the system to drive their own agendas. I still can’t believe it lasted this long. Its about time people are speaking up.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Déjà Vu

I was traipsing around Johannesburg with Mother the other day, and by some fluke we had to go to her office because she needed a few files. When we got there, she had a couple of other things to do and instead of waiting for her in the unbearable heat in the car, I decided to go and sit in their air-conditioned boardroom while Mother added a few finishing touches to one of her cases.

Out of boredom, I was doodling on a notepad, contemplating about how weird life is…like how at 27 I’m still going to my Mummy’s workplace and waiting in the corner and playing with her different coloured pens and a notepad. It took me right back to when I was about 5 years of age. At that time, the company Mother worked for had a Kids Christmas party which we attended. Being my first Christmas party and not celebrating Christmas meant that I had no clue what was going on. All I remember was playing with the other kids and eating the sweets and everyone running for those triangular Quality Street chocolates covered in that turquoise metallic foil.

I also remember that at some point we were all waiting for Santa Clause…or Father Christmas as he’s called here. And we waited and waited and waited, and then one of Mother’s colleagues said that he was stuck on the side of the building but had sent the presents. My mind vividly recalls trying to imagine a red fat man hanging from the side of the building, trying to make sense of it all. Of course it was all lies, a ruse to keep with tradition. Our parents had to each buy our gifts, wrap and name them and put them in ‘Santas’ bag so that to us kids it looked like some strange man from the North Pole really cared.

Now I’ve always mentioned on more than one occasion that I was a deprived child when it came to popular culture. And that the only gifts I’ve ever received from my parents were books, more books, encyclopedia sets, puzzles and Lego. Occasionally they deviated from the norm and got me those metallic magnetic marbles that would stick together and that little toy bike where I had to push with my little feet so it would move.

So that year at the Christmas party, while Father Christmas was hanging from the side of the building, I made a friend. She was the daughter of one of Mother’s colleagues and we played merrily until the gifts arrived. We hastened to unwrap them and found that she had received the latest in the Barbie catalogue while I received a life-less Raggedy Ann doll that had a multi-layered apron with guess what…a story emblazoned on it. The words decorated every layer of the apron, in different colours until the last layer read ‘The End’.

Of course I was disappointed and my five year old heart was bleeding with covetousness for that damn Barbie. But alas it was never meant to be and for the next few years I had a love/hate relationship with Barbie and became resentful of her…her perfect hair and perfect wardrobe and perfect skin. I remember my cousin Shan having like 10 Barbies, because she was the only girl and spoilt rotten by her Grandparents. And every time we visited and I got to play with her Barbie’s, I almost always ended up mutilating one of them…ripping off the head, cutting her hair, pulling her limbs apart. It was revenge because she didn’t want to be mine lol. Human emotion is fascinating like that, because it’s not exclusive or limited to any particular age group.

These days I’m happy that we had a library we called home with everything from entire Encyclopedia sets to Fairytales and the “How to make just about anything” handbooks, numerous publications from Readers Digest, the entire collection of John Steinbeck’s novels and Charles Dickens and…I could go on and on. I don’t know who I’d be without it. I once told Shafinaaz that I don’t ever buy books, mostly because I never needed to. Mother and most of her family members are avid readers, so books exchange hands every week. And University introduced me to a whole new spectrum of books that have cemented who I am today and helped me get over my Barbie issues :D


On a totally unrelated note, does anyone else think that Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg looks like a dirty spaceship? It also looks incomplete with all those holes. I think it would have looked better if the paneling they chose was blue instead of this rustic orange.
Images from Google.com

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rise Of An Empire

After the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) died in 632 AD, the city of Medina fell into despair and was consumed by sorrow and grief. Uncertainty hung in the air and there was the question of succession. At some point, one of the Prophet’s companions, Abu Bakr came forth and addressed the people. He said:

If you worshipped Mohammed, know that he is dead. If you worshipped God, know that he lives forever.

For the next 200 years, the Muslims engaged in numerous wars with rebellious tribes and fought to maintain their united front. Islam spread rapidly and had transformed 3 continents to become literally the largest empire the world has ever seen. The Arabs transformed the lands they occupied by improving their infrastructure and agriculture flourished.

Makkah remained the centre of this empire because of its significance to Muslims as a place of pilgrimage. Hajj (pilgrimage) became a central and evolutional feature in Islamic life by uniting and emphasizing equality amongst all. Most historians and commentators agree that the annual Hajj set humanity in motion for the first time since the reign of Alexander the Great. Borders that had been closed for 1000 years were re-opened. And where cultures and caravans flowed freely, goods and ideas were often exchanged. Where pilgrims went, traders followed and it soon became the trade centre of the world. Two centuries after the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) passed away, the Islamic empire stretched from Spain until the end of India and it took approximately a year to cross the distance.

At the heart of the empire, lay the fabled city of wealth, Baghdad. Many of the palaces of ancient Baghdad had been lost over the centuries, but in its glory days it rivaled ancient Rome and Athens, with magnificent architectural achievements. Historical accounts state that there were parks, gardens, villas, beautiful promenades filled with bazaars, finely built mosques and bathes. They stretched for miles on both sides of the river. But what made it the greatest city of its time was the company it kept.

From the 8th century onwards, scholars made Baghdad the jewel of the world. The best thinkers and philosophers came to Baghdad in search for answers to pragmatic questions. The Islamic empire’s meteoric growth left its leaders overwhelmed. They had to contend with logistical and engineering problems and needed the help of the greatest minds. By then, Baghdad had established the renowned “House of Wisdom” (Arabic Bait al-Hikma), a magnet for scholars and intellectuals alike.

Muslims, Jews and Christians came from all over the empire to work in those libraries and academies. All these different threads of human knowledge and cultural traditions were thrown together and it had been decided that the great work of the ancients had to be accumulated, deciphered and ameliorated into a new body of knowledge. Scholars were dispatched across the empire to locate as many ancient texts as possible. Unlike their Christian counterparts, Muslim thinkers saw no insurmountable contradiction between their faith and the laws governing the natural world. So they embraced Greek, Persian and Indian writers like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Sushruta and Charaka; writers the Christian Church considered to be blasphemous. The Scholars accumulated a great collection of existing world knowledge and built on it through their own innovations, interpretations and discoveries.

Scientists and Bureaucrats sought knowledge from every civilization that had sciences before, like the Greeks and Persians and it is deemed as the first International Scientific venture in history. From the Hindus, came the mathematical concepts that guide us today. Scholars of the House of Wisdom translated and transformed the writings of the Greeks and made a gift of them to the modern western world. The Renaissance had its beginnings in Baghdad. They managed to assimilate a lot of the rich legacy of the Hellenistic world, translate it to Arabic and made it available to everyone else in the Islamic empire. Arabic emerged as the language of learning throughout the world.

Having amassed the knowledge, the Muslims then began to challenge it and the scientific process was born. Algebra, Trigonometry, Engineering and Astronomy were some of the products. There were many innovations in medicine too. At that time, the Europeans used to pray to the bones of their saints for cures to their illnesses. Muslim physicians developed an innovative theory that disease was transmitted through tiny airborne organisms, the precursor to the study of germs. They determined that sick patients should be quarantined and then treated – the first hospitals – which had separate wards or areas for patients suffering from different ailments. Even mental illness was treated. Their studies of Anatomy were so sophisticated that they remained in use by Muslim and European physicians for over 600 years.

Muslim scientists were especially intrigued by light lenses and the physiology of the human eye. The ‘father’ of optics, Ibn al-Haytham, is the man responsible for revolutionizing the field which eventually led to the invention of the modern camera. A thousand years befor the practice was taken up, Muslim doctors were removing cataracts surgically, clearing them from the eye with a hollow needle.

Between 700 AD and 750 AD, the need to document and distribute their findings led to the introduction of paper, which the Scholars sought from Central Asia and China. They learned to make paper to copy and transfer their knowledge. Women were used as scribes, transcribing the translations and new writings of the Baghdad scholars. Soon the knowledge acquired from the Greeks, Indians, Persians and Asians were being sold in bookshops in the Street of Booksellers – a street with more than 100 shops with paper and books for sale. It enabled people to think of the globe as a single unit, as humanity. At that time in Europe, a monastery would be fortunate if it had 5 or 10 books.

The Christian world would come to see evidence of Islamic culture in the Spanish city of Cordoba. A thousand years ago, Cordoba was a centre of learning and culture similar to Baghdad. During the Dark Ages, it was the most sophisticated and prosperous metropolis on the European continent. It had street lights, running water, paved roads, libraries, hospitals and palaces. It was a Muslim city and in the 9th and 10th centuries, known as the city of light, in contrast to the rest of Europe’s cities who were described as being very dark in comparison.

Cordoba was certainly one of the biggest, most exciting cities in Europe on the account of the various people who visited there. They described the place as resplendent with flowers, open streets and big houses in contrast to those in Paris who lived in shacks by the river. Most of Europe languished in poverty and squalor while Cordoba was a spectacle of prosperity and enlightenment. Evidence of its former glory is in the elaborate detail of the Cordoba cathedral which was originally a mosque, the largest in Europe. The Islamic architecture found in Cordoba, Spain mirrored and influenced other architectural endeavours throughout Europe in various cathedrals.

A 10th century Christian Saxon nun described Cordoba as the “ornament of the world”, and was very taken with the place. They lived lavish lifestyles in extraordinary luxury. The Muslim elite relished time on lush carpets surrounded by perfume, dined on spiced delicacies served on porcelain and strolled in gardens irrigated by complex water systems, while the rest of Europe suffered through the Dark Ages.

Europe was also introduced to Islamic culture during the Crusades. When the Crusaders occupied Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, they harassed traders and caravans that passed by their castles. In their raids, they encountered the luxurious lifestyle of the Arabs, unheard of in Europe, in the form of textiles, silks and inlaid metal work…the good life and the likes of which they had never encountered before. They were blown away for they had never seen such quantity and most of them took these items back with them as souvenirs. In fact, a whole industry developed to provide souvenirs for the Crusaders on their return to Europe.

It is perhaps a form of Western bias to imagine that the Crusaders were a decisive force in world events, devastating the Islamic culture and trade. But the truth is that while the knights of the Crusades were bunkering down in their castles, Islam was spreading its influence and flourishing. Mosques were now on every horizon. They welcomed traders and housed schools and hospitals. Through Islamic Architecture, Literature and Music, a vibrant culture was emerging in celebration of a singular faith. Faith had launched an empire, united by trade, which brought innovation.

Business was expedited by a revolutionizing concept called the sakk or cheque, which could be written in Spain and cashed in India, based on trust and faith in the bearer. Muslims became some of the greatest merchants of the Middle Ages and the greatest craftsmen as well. Muslim blacksmiths learnt how to fold steel from the Persians, to give it strength and flexibility. Swords made in Toledo and Damascus had no equal in the world. But the economic backbone of Islamic wealth was textiles, the demand being enormous for Cashmere, Cotton and Silk. While European garments were made of course Woolen and Linen, Muslims wore brocaded fabrics of Organdy, Damask and Taffeta – words that came into the English language from Arabic and Persian.

Complex patterns in silk, threaded with gold were coveted by the European elite. Most of these fabrics were trimmed with decorative Arabic text from the Qur’an and sometimes appeared in shocking proximity to Christendom’s holiest icon. It is not unusual to find in some Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary wearing fancy, intricately patterned cloth, precious silks embroidered or woven with gold designs; sometimes saying things in Arabic inscription like “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet”.

Crusaders returning to Europe were forever changed by the Islamic lifestyles they encountered in the Middle East. For instance, they acquired certain palates by being exposed to spicy food and were taken by the functionality of soap. As a result, they imported spices, soap, textiles etc. and became more interested in what was going on in the Middle East. They even learnt Arabic to engage with merchants and advance trade. The magnificent ideas and developments borne in this era significantly influenced Thomas Aquinas and eventually led to the European Renaissance.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dreams & Aspirations

I had such a beautiful dream last night that I woke up at 4am smiling down to my liver. I dreamt that I was eating the most delicious pizza in the entire universe. It was amazing. Now to most of you that dream will have no significance but let me tell you, when you wake up and you’re starving…no, correction…I mean STARVING at 9am in the morning, dreams like those are like finding drinking water when you’re stranded on a deserted island.

On another note, the most AMAZING and the WEIRDEST thing has happened to me. I haven’t been feeling very well for the past 6 weeks or so. I have these regular back aches, cramps that are not related to PMS and my skin on my tummy is all itchy, but itchy to the point where I want to rip it off and cut myself…seriously. I’ve even resorted to taking scalding showers to burn the itchiness because that’s the only way I can get some relief. Despite this, I’ve refused to go to the doctor. I hate doctors as I’ve mentioned before. Thankfully though, these symptoms don’t correlate to those related to the oink flu.

So what’s so amazing and weird about that? Well let me tell you. On Saturday we had a HUGE family dinner at my aunt’s place. We’re a close-knit family but I haven’t seen anyone since we got back from the UK because I’ve been quite busy, so it was the first time I got to see my cousins in a long time. As I’ve mentioned before, my cousin Jazz is pregnant, so it was the first time I got to see her too. When we got there, we all started chatting non-stop like we usually do.

It was funny to note that Jazz and I were wearing the EXACT same clothes…a black kurta (the same one) with a grey tracksuit pants and black sandals. But that’s not where the similarities ended. Before long, she was complaining about her back aches, her cramps and her skin that itches relentlessly. I was shocked. I told her that I was having the exact same issues and couldn’t understand why. She was scratching herself with a fork and mentioned that the only thing that relieves the irritation is a scalding shower! By this time I was FLOORED. I’ve been having these symptoms long before we even found out she was pregnant!

So my other cousins were joking around, wondering if I was pregnant too. I told them that unless it was another baby Jesus, there’s no way in HELL that could be possible. Then my cousin Shan suggested that Jazz and I were very close since childhood and that maybe we are cosmically linked and that’s why I have all her pregnancy symptoms. And knowing my family, this opened up a torrent of jokes. Stuff like when Jazz is in labour, I’ll know because my water will also break and I’ll feel the baby coming. I know that it’s common among husbands to pick up these phantom pregnancy symptoms from their expectant wives…but cousins? And even before I knew she was expecting? For me that’s just downright weird.

Later that night we were still chatting and I realised that I’m finally ready to get hitched. For years before this, the slightest reference to marriage or a wedding made me want to throw up, I would get physically sick. The mere thought of it often made me want to run screaming down the halls and corridors like a mental patient. But that’s changed. I don’t know exactly when or where or how. It just did. And I know that I want at least 4 kids…but no itching please. I’ll go insane.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Debut Novel Cover

So I was bored, mulling around abit when I came across this tag from Nafisa and I though eh, why not. This is the result:

Create your own debut novel cover:

1. Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/ The name that appears is your author name.

2. Go to “Random Word Generator” or click http://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title.

3. Go to “FlickrCC” or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.phpType your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4. Use Photoshop, Picnik or something similar (I used good ol MS Paint) to put it all together. Be sure to crop and or zoom in.

5. Post it to your blog along with this text.

I tag everyone who is just as bored. And those who want to do it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Salahuddin & Jerusalem

Mention Jerusalem and you’re sure to have most people up in arms, ready to fight with religious fervor and magnificent displays of zeal for a cause that most of them have no knowledge of, against crimes that they did not commit, against crimes that were not committed unto them. Sound preposterous? To a large extent it is. I’ve broken it up in sections to make for easier reading.

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, with evidence of civilization dating back to around 3000 BC. According to Jewish tradition, the city was founded by Shem and Eber who were Abraham’s ancestors. According to the bible, Shem was one of the son’s of Noah (Nuh AS), the brother of Japheth. Later, in the time of Joshua (Youshaa AS), Jerusalem functioned independently and was occupied by the tribe of Benjamin until David (Daud AS) conquered the holy city and made it the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel circa 1000 BC according to biblical accounts [Joshua 18:28]. King David reigned until 970 BC, according to Hebrew scripture and was succeeded by his son Solomon (Sulaiman AS). According to Jewish accounts, Solomon went on to build the first holy temple on Mount Moriah as a religious centre for the Israelis. After Solomon’s passing in 930 BC, Jerusalem became subjected to many conquests, being captured by many including the Assyrians (722 BC), the Babylonians (586 BC), King Artaxerxes I of Persia (445 BC) and Antiochus III (198 BC). During these years, the original temple was destroyed and a second one rebuilt.

In 6 AD, the city was under Roman rule under Herod the Great and he devoted himself to developing and beautifying the city. The first Jewish-Roman war resulted in the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD and Jews were banned from the city under Emperor Hadrian’s rule. Five centuries later, the city remained under Roman, then Byzantine rule and Emperor Constantine l ensured the construction of Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Jews remained banned from the city up until the 7th century when Persian forces took the city with the help of the Jews in 614 AD. The Romans however, managed to recapture the city in 629 AD, some 15 years later, with Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at the helm. In 638 AD, Islam was rising rapidly in the Middle East and the Caliphate or Islamic rulers conquered Jerusalem and allowed the Jews back into the city. The caliph at the time, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab signed a treaty with the Monophysite Christian Patriarch Sophronius, assuring him that the Christian holy places in Jerusalem would be protected under Muslim rule. The Dome of the Rock was later constructed in the late 7th century.

WHERE THE REAL TROUBLE BEGAN

At the dawn of the 11th century, a great tragedy struck in Jerusalem which would have great consequences in the course of history and set Christians and Muslims on an irrevocable collision course. Jerusalem was ruled by an Egyptian king named Al-Hakim. In contemporary times, he is described as nothing short of a mad man. His erratic and eccentric behaviour led him to issue strange, arbitrary laws like the prohibition of eating grapes and watercress. He also forbade fisherman from catching, selling or eating any fish that had no scales and ordered the execution of all dogs and cats in the country. In 1014 AD, he ordered women not to go out and that shoemakers not make women’s shoes as they were not necessary. He also allegedly conspired to steal the bodies of the Prophet Muhammed SAW and his companions in order to draw the Muslim world’s attention to Egypt; but the plan was foiled when his men were exposed when the residents of Medina learned of their plot.

Al-Hakim’s tyranny was evident from the many officials he had killed during his reign, some by his own hand. But his biggest offence came in 1009 AD when he broke tradition and ordered the holiest church in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be burnt to the ground. For 200 years, all Christian holy places were respected and protected by Muslim rulers. No one understood why he did it…Christians, Jews and Muslims alike were mystified. The repercussions of this act would change the course of history. It sent shivers of horror, anxiety and terror throughout Christendom. In a way, Al-Hakim was the one exception that proved the rule for Christians (of which they spoken about for years), that Muslims were intolerant, heretics and barbarians who could not be expected to abide by the rules of civilisation.

The fact the Al-Hakim’s successor re-built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1048 AD with Byzantine help did not eradicate the blotch that had been permanently etched in the relationship between Christians and Muslims. By that time, there was a perception that things weren’t going well in the Holy Land. In Europe, Anti-Muslim sentiment grew and by 1095 AD, the situation reached boiling point. Pope Urban II spent most of that year rallying and imploring his feudal lords to unite in a campaign of bloodshed. His speech to the soldiers and knights declared that Jerusalem was being governed by a “vile race” and that Christ commanded them to crusade and exterminate them from the land. He was one of the original founders of the concept of war because “God wills it”.


THE CRUSADES

When the Crusaders struck in 1097, it so happened that the Arab empire was fragmented and at its weakest; vulnerable and broken into feuding kingdoms and paltry dynasties. The great Muslim rulers of the time had already died and these Crusaders from the western world were an unexpected enemy. It was unexpected and unprecedented and the Muslims didn’t know who they were and had no idea that there was an extraordinary surge of religious fanaticism coming from Western Europe. History is haunted by days of incomprehensible horror, one of the darkest days being the 15th of July 1099 AD, when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem and a massacre in the name of Christ ensued. They slaughtered every Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, whom they considered to be foreigners. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hundreds of worshippers were butchered mercilessly. The Crusaders wrote to the Pope an account of this:

If you want to know what was done to the enemies we found in the city, know this: Our men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses…we have mingled blood with flowing tears and there is no room left in us for pity

With the first Crusade over, from the 100 000 men that campaigned, most of them returned to Europe and the job of occupying and governing Jerusalem and its surrounding areas was left to the 20 000 that remained behind. To secure their occupation, the intruders built elaborate castles and fortresses, like the Crac de Chevalier in Syria, designed to keep them safe. But instead of the merriment and festivity that was expected to occur behind their castle walls, the occupants lived in constant fear and paranoia. They were constantly on their guard against attacks by the local peasantry and those working in the castles.

SALAHUDDIN

For 100 years, the Crusaders made treaties and broke them and engaged in sporadic fighting with the Arabs. The situation reached a turning point and restitution came one day in the form of one of Islam’s most respected and celebrated figures. His name was Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, also known as Salahuddin or Saladin to the western world. Born in Tikrit in Iraq, Salahuddin was a Kurdish Muslim General with the military. He was successful where others weren’t and in addition to his intelligence and robust physique, he was a great inspirer of his military followers whose respect and loyalty stayed with him.

In 1187 AD, Salahuddin amassed an army of 12 000 mounted warriors and lured the Crusaders out of Jerusalem onto a plain between two hills called the “Horns of Hattin”. On the evening of the 3rd of July, after a long march, the Crusaders camped on the hillside severely dehydrated and lacking water. As dawn approached, Salahuddin’s men set fire to the tall grass, the flames and intense heat surrounded the enemy. Panic set in and the Crusaders were consumed by the flames, leaving them totally decimated. Three months later, Salahuddin proceeded to Jerusalem where he took the city. Those who wished to leave could and those who wished to stay could worship freely. Salahuddin leveled no retaliation against the Christians which shocked and surprised many in the West, earning him great respect and status amongst them. Once Jerusalem was captured, Salahuddin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city.

The Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem inspired a Third Crusade which was financed by Richard I of England although all attempts by Richard to re-take Jerusalem failed. Ironically though, both Richard and Salahuddin developed a friendship of sorts, based on mutual chivalrous respect and rivalry. Although the two kings never met face to face, they sent each other gifts. When Richard lost his horse at the Battle of Arsuf, Salahuddin sent him two replacements. When Richard became ill, Salahuddin offered the services of his personal physician. This eventually resulted in the Treaty of Ramla, where both kings came to an agreement that Jerusalem would remain under Muslim rule but would be open to the Christians.

Not long after Richard's departure to England, Salahuddin died on the 4th of March 1193 AD in Damascus. Since he had given most of his money away to charity, there was not enough money to pay for his funeral and so he was buried in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a marble sarcophagus to mark his burial site seven centuries later but to not disturb his body and as a mark of respect, he was never placed in it.

Salahuddin was known for his mercy and just character. Once during a battle at Kerak, a Christian wedding was underway in one of the towers that was under attack by Salahuddin’s men. Salahuddin ordered his men to attack the entire fortress except for the tower in which the wedding took place. In April 1191 AD, a Christian woman approached Salahuddin, anguished that her 3 month old baby had been stolen and sold on the market. Salahuddin used his own money, bought the child and reunited it with its mother and then ordered a horse to take them back to their camp. His character won him the praise of the entire Muslim and Western worlds. King Richard I praised him as a great Prince, and the people in Europe came to respect and revere him as one of Islam’s greatest men.


OTHER INCURSIONS

After Salahuddin passed away, his legacy continued and there was a huge investment in the development and construction of religious places of worship, houses, hostels and public bathes etc. However in 1244 AD, the Kharezmian Tartars sacked Jerusalem, drove out the Jews and demolishing the Christian population. The Mamluks then ruled Jerusalem from 1250 AD – 1517 AD although they were subjected to many clashes with the Crusaders and Mongols.

In 1517 AD, the Ottoman Turks took the city and remained in control for 400 years. Under the Ottoman rule of Sulieman the Magnificent, the city enjoyed a period of peace and renewal with innovation and construction to improve the city’s infrastructure. In 1836, then ruler Ibrahim Pasha allowed the Jewish residents to restore four major synagogues. The volume of Christian pilgrims also increased significantly under Ottoman rule. In 1917, the British Army captured the city and the population of the city rose with two-thirds being Jews and on third Arab (Muslims and Christians). Many skirmishes broke out in 1920 and 1929 against British rule.

In 1948 war broke out as Israel declared its independence and the displacement of Arab and Jewish populations ensued. Many residents were expelled or taken prisoner. A number of catastrophic events have taken place since then. The fight for land continues till today with hostilities waged in every direction. In my opinion, the war has nothing to do with religion and is driven purely by a political agenda. They fight for a myriad of reasons, sparked and fueled by political aims and retaliatory tactics, with religion as a mask to hide their hideous objectives. They fight for land that none has any claim to. Most of them don’t even know why they fight. It’s a sad state of affairs, especially considering that the land can never belong to any one person or people, it belongs to The Almighty God. And most of us believe in God. The situation remains futile.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Went Wrong?

So I was going to post one of my favourite stories today, but I’m too perturbed to concentrate. I'll be all pure and holy and sanctified on another day, maybe tomorrow. It’s true what they say…that you’ll never forget your first love. I wish it wasn’t but it is. It’s frustrating for me because I don’t love him anymore. And I know he doesn’t love me. But it’s like we just cannot escape each other! It’s like this divine force just keeps pushing us together at the most inconvenient of times. *SIGH*

Almost 18 years, (yes 18 years! my whole bloody life) on and every single year I go for months without even so much as thinking of him. And every single year, at some point when I’m at my most nonchalant, or when I’m at my finest it hits me like a friggin bus. He comes to me, at some point every single year…either in a dream, or accidentally in person, or on Facebook or on email bleh. I’ll accidentally bump into him at the market, or drive by him in the street. It’s like just when I think I’m fine, I see him and it’s not fine anymore. His trepidation indicates that he probably feels the same.

So what’s the big deal, why don’t we give it a shot I hear someone say. Even if by some miracle we had to, it would never work. I’m serious, I mean it, it would NEVER work. For one, he is EVERYTHING I abhor in this society and I’m NOTHING remotely compared to what’s his 'type'. And his parents hate me (yes I met them some time ago)…and well, even in the most ideal of settings, things have happened in a circle of events that just won’t permit the smoothness of a decent relationship. Maybe if I was who I was 15 years ago, and if he wasn’t such an asshole, there’d be that chance.

But I stay bothered and torn, worse even because I can’t understand why. Ugh, I guess there'll always be a part of me that will care about him. I wish he would just move on with his life already…maybe if he got married, it would break this repetitive paralyzing cycle we're in, maybe the spell will be broken. I keep thinking, maybe in another life, maybe if we were different people. And still I can’t escape. It’s like being trapped and there’s no way out. It’s exasperating and draining.

I grow increasingly weary of this perpetual cycle. I wish we could both move on because I can’t do this anymore. And so I’ve decided that at the end of Ramadaan, I will move on. I will get my lists ready and my pro-active search will begin. This madness has to end. I have to take the plunge. Wish me luck people.

Now if only that divine force would heed my request.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring Cleaning

September 1st marks the first day of Spring in South Africa. But I beg to differ because the last couple of days have been uncharacteristically hot and a few days ago, the birds were chirping at my window at 2:30am. Looks like we’ve gone straight from Spring into Summer. It’s like 2 weeks ago it was 0˚ Celsius (32˚F) and today its 28˚ Celsius (82˚F). But I’m not complaining! Geez, I’ve had enough of the depressing depths of winter…all that brown and black was starting to get to me and I’m more than ready to look at the greens please.

I love Spring. I mean I LOVE Spring. It’s my favourite season. It’s the season that’s Fresh, not too hot and not too cold. It’s filled with hope and promise of new beginnings and better days ahead. The air is just electric with possibilities and excitement. Every single year, the month of September is what I look forward to the most. Our garden seems to be playing along fabulously this year, with the first peach blossoms out and about in all their glory.

Spring for me also means cleaning out…physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally… Getting rid of the baggage, out with the old and in with the new. It’s my New Years Eve. So this weekend I started with clearing out my tour momento’s. I like to keep all the stuff I collect when I go overseas, and I’ve had every intention of making a scrapbook of each destination…and then it occurred to me that in the last 5 years, I’ve been to over 20 countries and in all that time, I’ve never bothered assembling any kind of scrapbook.

I also reasoned with myself that memorialising the old bus tickets and museum passes and little insignificant pieces of paper meant that I had no intention of going back there, and that’s a big NO-NO in my books because I’m a born traveler and I plan to visit every single destination at least thrice (iA). Getting rid of the clutter meant that I had two extra drawers, and I love my space. So with a heavy heart, save for my photo’s and the maps of every destination, I made a little camp fire and burnt it all.

For some reason, I don’t mind getting rid of my clothes that much. I think I’ve mentioned before how I’ve come to dislike hoarding and I hate having too many things. My primary objective is to ensure that all of my possessions, I mean ALL of it, including clothes, shoes, accessories, travel momentos, souvenirs, this & that…ALL of it, has to fit into these two suitcases. If it doesn’t, I feel like my life is chaotic, weighed down by mostly unnecessary things and it makes me claustrophobic. I like to live as if I can pick up and leave at any moment’s notice. It’s a gypsy’s life. So any chance I get, I throw out or give away to the less fortunate. My general rule when it comes to discarding clothes, shoes, accessories and stuff in general is that if I haven’t worn or used it in the last 6 months, It Goes…no matter how much I love the item.

And now my shoes. Every women’s Achilles heel (excuse the pun). I wish I could say that these are all the shoes I own, but I’ve counted them all, including the flats and slip-ons and I have 20 pairs. The last time I had this many pairs of shoes was in high school (actually it was more like 100 pairs of shoes at the time), when I was still a hoarder. I have since reformed and changed my ways and my last shopping spree in London means that 10 pairs have to go…now to decide which 10…