Gratitude for our age

I don’t like to get emotional about an inanimate object, but sometimes you do just have to express your wonderment at advances in technology.

The first computer I personally owned was a huge desktop machine with 300 MB of disk space and 4 MB of memory. It was a custom build and relatively advanced for its time. It didn’t have internet access (had never heard of it), relied on clunky optical ZIP disks for extra storage. At a time when floppy disks had a capacity of 1.4 MB, 100 MB disks were phenomenal. That was around 1995.

So naturally it does cause a bout of minor rage to read statements like the following on this incredible network known as the Internet:

“The iPhone 6 is crap.”

“The Surface Pro 3 is a pile of shite.”

I won’t bore you with any more examples, because we’ve all read them. Sure, we can all pick holes in design flaws, but to describe these amazing miniature computers as crap or shite? Could you not say instead something like: “this piece of advanced technological marvel and wizardry is not to my personal liking”?

Look, here I have an extremely powerful computer which is no larger than an A4 notepad. Where once I had a desktop tower and a hefty 15″ monitor, I now have a beautiful high resolution screen fixed to a PC less than 1cm thick. I don’t have a keyboard attached because it has a pen. I write as quickly as I think and it recognises my barely legible scrawl flawlessly, converting it into text in an instant.

It may not be to everyone’s taste, but this is a work of wonder. For clinicians, therapists, journalists – in fact anyone who must interview others face to face – this is a computer that could change worlds. For digital artists – even lame, aspiring creatives like me – this thing is a game changer.

The iPhone is not to my personal taste. I don’t like the style of Lenovo laptops. The iPad is not as flexible for my needs as I’d like. Sony’s Xperia just isn’t my cup of tea.

But come on: here we are, connected to the world, without wires, watching video clips uploaded by students, taking pictures which we don’t have to take to town to get developed, writing notes while watching the news.

Does a slither of gratitude and amazement not cross your mind for just a second or two?

27 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Reflections, Technology | Leave a comment

My vision

Building confidence in our community

For some time I have been contemplating means and methods to build confidence in our community, where issues related to a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem can be seen to be linked to academic under-performance, gang membership, abusive marriages, criminality, extremism and other social ills.

One of my ideas is to develop a coaching programme running over a number of weeks in local communities, which culminates in a final challenge event held regionally. Such a programme, I believe, could have long-lasting, positive results for our communities. Here is an outline of my thinking so far:

Summary

  • A flexible nine week programme is developed by a coalition of community groups and volunteers.
  • The programme is delivered independently by local community groups in participating localities.
  • The programme culminates in a 5K obstacle course challenge in the countryside, in which each of the local community groups compete as a team.

Programme Development

Interested community organisations, as well as expert volunteers and specialists, work together to develop a nine week personal development programme.

The focus is on physical exercise, team building, goal setting and spiritual wellbeing, with the aim of promoting:

  • self-confidence
  • cooperation
  • trust
  • effective communication
  • commitment
  • leadership
  • moderation
  • community spirit
  • appreciation of our natural environment
  • support for charitable causes
  • good citizenship
  • development of new skills
  • setting and achieving goals

The programme may be designed for different age groups and abilities, or it may be targeted at a particular group. Either way, it should be designed for participants with no previous experience of the proposed activities.

Elements of the NHS Couch to 5K running programme may be incorporated into the programme, which provides a gradual, stepped approach towards increasing fitness and stamina.

The programme would include indoor and outdoor activities which can be delivered during a 90 minute session once a week.

Each session would be given a theme which ties the hands-on activities to spiritual reflection and growth. Sessions might broadly adhere to the following format:

  • Arrival
  • Opening du’a
  • Overview of session
  • Warm up
  • Team activity
  • Reflections on session
  • Discussion
  • Departure

The following are examples of possible sessions:

Hold Fast to the Rope

This session meditates on the Quranic passage, “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided…” (Surat Al-Imran 3:103)

It is an outdoor session comprising either a night time walk or a walk undertaken while blindfolded, in which participants must negotiate relatively awkward terrain with only a rope line as a guide. A long rope will be threaded through trees, over obstacles and muddy ground, for an activity lasting for approximately twenty minutes.

The purpose of the session is to teach the importance of adhering to divine guidance, trusting in God’s wisdom even when we cannot see the path before us and acting together towards a common goal.

An inspiring reflection will be delivered to the group and participants will be encouraged to talk about their experience during the session and beyond.

Hitting the Target

This will be one of a few sessions which introduce participants to the noble art of archery, which is a confirmed Sunnah. Participants will learn about bow and arrow safety, and the equipment and techniques, before taking part in some archery practice and simple games.

The purpose of this session is to teach the importance of making preparations and exerting effort in order to achieve fixed goals.

 

In all cases, a balanced programme must be provided, addressing both the participants’ physical and spiritual needs. As far as possible the programme will take advantage of the natural environment and look to draw on the metaphor or parables of activities in relation to spiritual growth. However the programme should have room for manoeuvre and not be proscriptive and inflexible.

Programme Delivery

Once the programme has been developed, it will be adopted and delivered by local community groups (e.g. Scouts, Youth Clubs, Charities) in each participating locality. Larger towns may have several groups run by different organisations.

Individual groups are autonomous and have the flexibility to deliver the programme according to their specific needs, culture and environment, while still adhering to the general principles and timetable.

Each group, which meets for a 90 minute session once a week, will grow together as a team as they progress through the programme.

It will be the responsibility of each organisation to ensure they meet legal requirements (e.g. CRB checks) and decide how they structure groups (e.g. for different age groups). There might be separate groups in localities for 16-18 age group and adults, for example.

It will also be the responsibility of each organisation to administrate programme entry and any fees associated with the cost of running the programme.

Challenge

The programme culminates in a 5K obstacle course challenge in the countryside, in which each of the teams compete.

There are separate races at different times on the same day to accommodate different groups. For example:

  • First wave – female only
  • Second wave – families / mixed teams
  • Third wave – male only

The event includes running, problem solving, archery, climbing, rope, balancing and crawling elements. For example:

Low Ropes

Teams must cross part of the course by balancing on low ropes (feet on lower rope, chest height rope as hand guide).

Archery Challenge

Teams cannot move on from the archery station until they achieve a predefined score by hitting the target.

 

Some teams may use the challenge as a fundraising opportunity for the cause of their choice, but sponsorship is optional.

The event includes pre-race motivational talk by respected teachers and post-race barbecue and entertainment.

The obstacle course is likely created by event management specialists such as Ibn Battuta Expeditions or One Step Beyond to ensure that the course meets Health and Safety requirements, is responsibly staffed and is covered by public liability insurance, etc.

Precedent

Bolton Council of Mosques – Personal Development Assault Course (women and girls) – 2010, 2012

Ribat Institute – Military Assault Course Fundraiser (men) – 2014

Al Isharah – Deaf Run (separate race for men and women) – 2012, 2013, 2014

FAB Foundation – Girls’ 5K (girls) – 2009 to present

Feedback

 If you have any thoughts on this concept, please do share them with me.

19 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Faith, Reflections, Society | 6 comments

Good people

What we really need is balance. If all the good people withdraw, fearing harm or evil, the voices of negativity and hatred will only be amplified and all the more pervasive. Good people need to make themselves heard, felt and known.

18 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Reflections, Representation, Society, Technology | Leave a comment

Ode to my shoes

My dear noble friends, my humble servants, my trusty companions: alas, the time has come to part ways.

We have been through thick and thin together, through rainstorm, snow and searing heat, on hillside and lowland, on soft verge and hard road. You have served me well.

Two years ago I might have had cause to fling you in the bin, but I am a fool for comfort and fondness. Though water soaked my socks in a downpour, I could not let you go. Though I felt pavement instead of sole beneath my foot, I shunned all talk of the shoe shop. O, what comfort didst thou provide!

But alas, alas, the time has come to part ways. A new pair awaits me in the hall. But, lo, perhaps we will walk together in the garden yet.

10 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Gratitude, Reflections | Leave a comment

Are any of these claims true?

A friend posts conspiratorial claims on the Internet. I am surprised, because he is a student of knowledge who knows all about the importance of verification in our deen. So I ask, “Are any of these claims true?” A friendly exchange follows, for we each have a different take on these matters. Perhaps we just have to agree to disagree.

But, alas, my disputations are not appreciated. Somehow I must be convinced, even if it means sharing an article from a website which is as much devoted to aliens and UFOs as to the political machinations of the State. A faked photograph showing video fakery will surely convince me that the latest conspiracy theory is absolutely watertight and true.

Convincing? No, not really. I’m a dab hand at Photoshop myself and could mockup pretty much the same image in about half an hour by raiding a Google Image Search. True, the photo was just an illustration, chosen to complement an article: but a bad start in the mission to convince.

Now, look, I’m as partial to conspiracy theories as the next man. The Running Man and Enemy of the State are two of my favourite films. I am quite happy to believe that nations whose economies rely on weapons sales and access to oil use underhand techniques to help pave the way for war. Tony Blair, George Bush, WMDs, cough. This doesn’t mean I have to accept every claim I read on Facebook, however, just because it fits with a narrative I wish to believe and hold to.

This is why I will go on challenging spurious, unverified and curious claims whenever and wherever I encounter them. Why? Because we are charged with being a people of truth, and therefore we need to be certain that every piece of information we pass on is true. If there’s doubt, I tell myself, leave it out.

Shouldn’t those six short words be our minimum starting point, every single time?

07 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Conflict, Reflections, Representation, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Private faith

Is it really deception to keep one’s faith to oneself? I get the impression that some people I know are moderate evangelicals, but they’ve never actually said so. Generally speaking, we’re not a people who goes for show; we like a quiet, private faith. Displays of overt religiosity tend to send people running for cover. So why respond in horror, reeling at the revelations of the rumour mill? If you thought I was a decent human being before this news reached you, can you not find it in your heart to suppose that I may still be one? And if not, does that not suggest there was some wisdom in my keeping my faith to myself? If, every time it becomes known, I must fall out of favour, what choice do I have but to put up the wall of privacy? It is a self-defence mechanism, not a fifth column.

05 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Faith, Reflections | Leave a comment

A Mirror

As a people, we suffer from serious amnesia and as a result make these crass statements based on the news of the day.

We forget that 70 million people were killed over six years during World War II, of whom around 60% were civilians. We forget that the twentieth century saw 160 million people killed in war.

We would rather ignore the estimated 40,000 in Afghanistan and 160,000 in Iraq who were killed as a result of two US-led invasions.

Already we have forgotten the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Qaim and Samarra. If what happened a decade ago can be forgotten so easily, what hope do we have to recall the older crimes and abuses which litter our own history, stretching back over the past century alone?

Muslims, Muslim leaders and religious authorities have consistently condemned violent extremism for years and years.

We can’t place all the blame on the Press for not reporting this: the Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Mail and BBC have all published articles on condemnation of ISIS by Muslim leaders and imams.

At some point, do we not have to acknowledge that we filter the news we read through our own prejudices and beliefs? If we do not want to hear of a fatwa condemning terrorism, we will not hear. If we do not want to hear of the work of peace keepers and aid workers, we will not hear.

If we only want to see darkness in the world, then that’s what we will find. The world is a mirror.

05 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Conflict, Reflections, Representation | 2 comments

Gateways to the soul

Our senses, notably our eyes and ears, are gateways to our hearts.

In this interview, recorded just hours before his execution in 1989, serial killer Ted Bundy, speaks of the pervasive influence exposure to extreme, violent pornography had on him:

As can be seen, he is not abdicating responsibility for his actions. He is nevertheless acknowledging the power of an addictive force. It is an incredibly important observation for our times, for what is being said here applies not just to this type of extreme media, but to numerous other influences from the benign to the dangerous.

On the benign end we have shiny gadget syndrome, Technolust and obsessive devotion to a football team. Each become all-consuming because we choose to expose ourselves to images, words and sounds which reach into us.

But as to the dangerous: I have absolutely no doubt about the internal processes that occur in those who expose themselves to the gratuitous violence of warfare. The shock of a solitary photo on Facebook depicting horrific destruction in Gaza, followed by the stream of ever more extreme imagery, gradually, stage by stage, transform the viewer’s heart.

Responses are not uniform. The natural reaction of some will be to avenge for the wronged, to send aid to the oppressed or even to fight on their behalf.

But others, who expose themselves to the actions of other avengers, may be to perpetuate such horrors themselves. If you expose yourself to the actions of the supposed liberators, as they execute their prisoners and meet out punishment on those who oppose them, will a time not come in some, when a line is crossed, somewhere deep within?

This is an extreme example, but we are living in extreme times. We have witnessed once sensible, polite, kind individuals suddenly thrust upon us in the newspapers as terrible supporters of barbarity.

It is crucial that we recall the wisdom of Lower Your Gaze in a time of all-pervasive imagery.

Nobody in 1989, could have imagined the world as it is today, with such extreme imagery on tap. The days of debates about the effect of the video tape, satellite TV and the arcade game are long gone. All of that seems tame now — although it wasn’t of course. We have just lost touch with reality.

04 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Conflict, Faith, Nafs, Reflections, Society, Technology | Leave a comment

A Guiding Helper for today

It has become apparent to me for a couple of years now that there is a real and urgent need for a fiqh and adab guide to navigating the Internet, particularly for the Internet generation.

I am alarmed by online discourse surrounding the ISIS phenomenon, as well as other issues. I am not sure that the upcoming generation is equipped to negotiate the competing truths presented to them on social media, with all its graphic imagery and persuasive argumentation.

We need to present faith-based guidance to the upcoming generation which addresses the contemporary context — the ever-present news feed on a slab of glass in every pocket, the demands of constant immediacy, unimpaired access to horrific scenes of conflict and brutality, the rise of anonymous influence and typing thumbs the new tongue.

I need to start fleshing these ideas out, somehow, inshallah. We really need a Guiding Helper for today; a Book of Assistance for the age of the internet. Who will help me make it happen?

03 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Conflict, Faith, Reflections, Technology | Leave a comment

Extremes

We’re living in an age of such extremes that many of us haven’t realised we’ve become extremists.

02 September 2014 by Timothy Bowes
Categories: Reflections | Leave a comment

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