Image Search

We are finding out the hard way about the power of the web. As site/blog/twit owners we need learn and relearn the ethics of posting media that does not belong to us. It’s all too easy to google an image and treat the search results as a clip art gallery. Of course Google simply trawls all content for relevant media; it does not distinguish Copyright material from CreativeCommons.

But as individuals we also need to seriously consider the wisdom of posting media which *does* belong to us.

Some friends constantly post images of themselves and their children on Facebook, believing them safe from the Google robots. Well they might be, but they haven’t fixed their privacy settings to prevent a distant acquaintance like me from witnessing every visit to grandparents, every bout of sickness, each momentous first step.

It only takes one person to borrow your Selfie to illustrate an article on the web for the process of Google dissemination to begin. Combined with popular keywords – african american, hijab, Muslim, niqab – it will soon appear on multiple sites, reused and reused, and out of control.

We have learned the hard way about the dangers of publishing to public media sites like Flickr. Realising our errors, as we notice others cataloguing, favouriting, reusing our images, we attempt to back track, only to discover that it is too late. We no longer seem to own our images – or our text, artwork, videos – they have taken on a life of their own, sometimes landing in the hands of the most despicable.

Here again ample illustration that we need a legal and ethical guide to navigating the great world wide web. May we all take heed.

Forrest Gump meets the Internet

Have you heard it too: that enchanting, haunting hymn of crickets singing in the garden, slowed down to an unspecified speed, that has gone viral on the internet? It is beautiful, spellbinding. But alas, the first thing this soul asked himself on encountering it is what happens if you speed this track up again?

A little probing around carried me to an audio track entitled “Twisted Hair” by Robbie Robertson, which features the raw cricket choir for a while, uninterrupted by that recognisable insect chirping. If you were to take that raw sample and speed it up again, would you end up with the natural sound of crickets? Someone must be able to do that, and I’d really like to know the result.

Och, perhaps this Muslim has absorbed the science of Isnad too much into his life. Every time I come across these viral tales I end up asking too many questions. Is it real, who created it, when did they create it… on and on…

My area is in graphics, so adventures in Photoshop are easily analysed, be it a miracle in the clouds or a mysterious creature in a cave. But enter the world of audio or even video manipulation and I’m at a loss. If Forest Gump met Osama bin Laden today we would most certainly believe it. In an age of technological deception it is easy to be deceived.

Favour Culture

Dominic Grieve QC, the Attorney General, says ministers should “wake up” to the threat of corruption in public life, which he attributes to “minority communities” that operate a “favour culture”.

I agree. The Houses of Parliament are overwhelmed with minority communities operating a culture of favour: the Tories and Labour alike have been at it for years. Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, David Laws, John Butterfill, Derek Conway, Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers, Richard Caborn…

No, alas, irony is lost on the Political Class.

To be shy and retiring

I wish I had the confidence to contribute something to the world. Whenever I share a thought, I take it back within minutes. Whenever I write anything, I soon turn my back on it and abandon it, dreading to reencounter it once more. I wish I knew if there is a place for me at the table, whether there is any place for what I have to say. Instead I turn away, shy and retiring.

Even after

To remain steadfast after repentance is never easy. That moment of sincerity whilst falling down on your face in regret, resolving never to repeat those mistakes or return to them, is severely tested over the days that follow. It is too easy to become heedless of realities, returning to the norms that surround us. Video, photography, opinion pieces, radio, music — our senses are perpetually bombarded from every direction. The gentle teachings of our deen are easily ignored: listen not to vain talk, speak good or remain silent, lower your gazes, remember your Lord often. It is all too easy to return to wickedness even after that sincere resolve to reform. The battle with the nafs is perhaps the fiercest conflict of all.

Dear English & Proud

Look, you’ve go a mascot that’s a Teddy Bear dressed like Richard the Lionheart, a man who couldn’t speak English, mostly lived in France and only really used England as a source of revenue to support his war efforts.

Paddington Bear would be a more English mascot, but I appreciate we can’t have an Asylum Seeker from Darkest Peru representing us. There is Pooh, of course, but I think he sold his soul to Disney, and oh how we hate sell outs.

What we really need is a Red Squirrel, that very bastion of Englishness, bravely facing off those nasty foreign Greys. Yes, a Red Squirrel, but not one dressed like a Crusader. I think the Crusader imagery isn’t very helpful, since it is too reminiscent of EU Cooperation. Let’s have a Red Squirrel nibbling Cucumber Sandwiches and sipping English Breakfast Tea while complaining about the weather.

English and Proud. Personally I have never found pride to be a very nice characteristic, let alone a very English one. We’re more a kind of humble people who like to do ourselves down. Nothing wrong with that. Puffed up nationalism is so tiring. But English reserve, low expectations, benevolence and graciousness: ah, the very taste of Olde Englande! It brings tears to your eyes. English and just a little Humble. Ah, that’s better.

Any how, I digress. The first task of the English Democrats will be to promote the proper use of English by the English. So can all of you Patriotic folk refrain from penning your epistles until you have learnt to spell and use commas properly? Thereafter I propose we compile a list of all that’s good about England and the English as a starting point, rather than all that’s bad. I shall start.

1) We love to queue in an orderly fashion even when nobody asked us to.

2) We always pull to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle needs to get through.

3) It rains a lot, but we never complain; instead we shrug our shoulders and say, “So it’s raining again then.”

4) We’re generally very charitable.

5) We believe in the rule of law.

6) Curry.

7) We used to make the best sports cars.

8) The National Health Service, of course!

9) We invented all the best inventions and then gave them away for others to make even better – jet engines, radar, jet liners, sports cars, liquid crystal displays, bagless vacuum cleaners…

10) Silent Ks.

Please carry on chaps. Make your nation proud.

Time to change

I was inspired while in Turkey this summer to start doing regular exercise. Perhaps inspiration is the wrong word; perhaps I mean shamed, when my companions mocked my skinny frame repeatedly. On my return a month ago, I sent a message to a friend to ask if he might train me. He agreed, but I am yet to start; my fault, not his. This year must mark 20 years since I last did any serious exercise. No, I had a brief spell at university when a friend set out to increase me in strength and stamina. But since then: the only time I run these days is when I’m late for Jummah prayer.

Our experiences in our youth do tend to have long-lasting effects. The perpetual humiliation of every games lesson at school did much to dissuade me from pursuing sport thereafter. My friends are well aware of the allergic reaction I have whenever any of them mentions playing rugby or cricket; it is a true phobia in every sense. But something has to change. I have warned my friend that I will starting from zero — and I mean it — but the task ahead is necessary, if I ever find the motivation to take the first step. Change is always difficult.

I have been reading this wonderful blog on and off for a while now: muslimrunner.wordpress.com. It is very inspiring. I used to quite like running, although I was never very good at it. I might have pursued it had I not had teachers who delighted in putting their less talented students down and eradicating their self-esteem. Blimey: that was over twenty years ago and yet still I bang on about it. It’s time to get out of the rut, I guess. Time to make a change.

Nobody

I guess one mistake we make when we set out upon this road is to assume that we are important, or that the world does or should revolve around us. Very soon we grow despondent because nobody notices us, while we remain oblivious to all the other souls that are thinking just the same thing. In truth, nobody really cares what we have to say, unless it can benefit them in some way. And further, we probably don’t really care what others have to say either. We are just souls brushing shoulders with each other momentarily, wandering on indifferent to each other’s lives.

Nobody cares where you’re from, who you are, what you’ve seen or what you’ve done. You are nobody. Perhaps that realisation is driven home all the more forcefully for those cut off by language, who must sit there not just ignored, but in total ignorance too — not just unheard, but also unhearing — but it is a realisation that must dawn on all of us eventually. We live most of our lives having no influence on the world around us at all. And so it is in the mosque and in our communities: our place is to listen, but not talk, to see but not be seen, to hear but not be heard.

Perhaps this age of the celebrity has warped our expectations: when there are some who are known by millions, perhaps it is only natural that the millions also want to be known. But we are nobody. Perhaps this realisation is driven home all the more forcefully to those who walk upon a different path to their family, for it becomes clear that the brotherhood of faith often extends no further than a family or a clan, or perhaps a group of friends. Mosques bear witness to this reality all too well, where believers are now mean with their salams, withholding them from all except their loved ones. Even a smile or an exchanged glance is a rarity today. For you are nobody.

The ego petitions us constantly, doesn’t it, demanding that others pay attention to our insignificant lives? That’s why I consider our community good training for the nafs. Daily we are reminded that we are nobody, that nobody cares about our thoughts, that nobody in interested in your health, that nobody cares what you have to say, that your life is of no interest or worth. On forums we are those who come and go, who speak but are ignored. We are the ones who send emails that are never answered. We are the ones who wander into the mosque  like a stranger in a crowd of strangers. We are the ones who gives salams that are never returned. We are the ones that Allah has decided to train, whose nafs cry out for reform. Allah loves the slave who is hidden from the people, we once learnt, but it took all of this to make it true.

Yes, it is the truth: we are nobody. Don’t get despondent; take heart. Allah plucked you like a grain of sand from the desert, gave you faith and threw you back into that sea of sand, blown by the wind; without  all those grains there would be no cascading dune. Amongst our companions we are nobody, but before our Lord: so much more.

Before I go

It is that time once more, when my website domain name comes up for renewal and I force myself to evaluate whether to pay for another two years or not. It is never about the money, but about the tongue — or rather my typing fingers — about words, and the adab due to them as we wander along this path. It is likely I posted an article very similar to this one exactly two years ago, the last time the notification arrived from my web host, so I won’t prolong this (and anyway, I am typing this one-fingered on a virtual keyboard on a tablet computer — hardly conducive to writing).

In short, I don’t think I’m going to renew it. I’m going to let it float away, to be occupied by another soul perhaps. For a while I thought I ought to hang onto it for my publishing ventures, but as I have now turned my back on those too, it hardly seems worthwhile. It is not as if it is sought-after intellectual property; I have resigned to my place in the world, as a person with zero influence. I no longer lament leaving the writing to the learned and the wise; it is time to abandon my pretensions and inflated opinion of myself. So to the hills, I suppose. This website is no longer read much at all anyway, and I rarely have time to sit down to formulate a post, though ideas occasionally occur to me. Alas I have alienated many along the way, and sent the remaining to sleep, bored of my perpetual dreary refrain.

Let this not be a long goodbye, for we have been here before, preparing to withdraw, only to return once more. This is not meant as food for my ego, a ploy to draw out undeserved eulogies. We have been here before, haven’t we? I vowed to disappear last year too, but in time felt guilty for abandoning the little community that seemed to gather here, worrying after the faceless souls that would utter amiable words from time to time. I promised to return then, but it has only really been to leave a repository of writing online.

I rarely contribute anything new, for parenthood leaves me weary, or because too much of life is now too private, too important to be spoken of in public, or because the passing of time reminds me that most of the words I have uttered should never have been uttered at all. I recall years ago writing some post about Real Men, and now I regret almost every word, for back then I had no idea just how hard parenting would be — so how dare I pontificate on the weakness of a father who could not cope and who walked out on his two severely disabled children, leaving his wife to raise them alone. Yes, my sympathy for the mother remains, but still: how arrogant of me. And how many more words did I expend, talking about matters I knew nothing about, without right? So many thoughts occur to me now, but I either cannot articulate them, or choose to remain silent instead. I think it is better this way.

So no long goodbyes then; I am more than happy to stay in touch. No, just a plea. Forgive me for my innumerable shortcomings, for misplaced words, for that novel, for my arrogance, for alienating you, for hurting feelings, and for all the rest. Before I go, forgive me for the bad stuff, and perhaps keep me in your prayers if I am worthy. I think the domain expires in about a month.

Clockwork

Just like clockwork I repeat the same sins over and over; the same mistakes, again and again. For a while I persist in them, until just like clockwork, that unease begins to clamour within, whispering ever so softly that the end is near, that the time to repent has come. I will persist for a while, adamant to go on, until finally that faint trace of goodness forces me to relinquish my unjust desires. Repentance may follow, eventually, once the embers of misdemeanour have finally burnt out. And for a while I may be good again. But soon I will regret turning away from all that which is of no benefit to me at all; soon I will regret turning my back on sin, wishing all over again to return to it, just like clockwork, to repeat the same mistakes over and over. To sin and repent. To reform and deform. To be good and then be bad. To good and evil equal bent, and both a devil and a saint.

Conquering darkness

In the two years before I first uttered my shahada, I came to fancy myself as a fine writer, although my only real talent was to have the patience to hammer out a million words on a keyboard in the middle of the night for months on end. I had two self-printed novels to show for my efforts, which I shared with friends and family, accidentally revealing my woeful illiteracy.

Continue reading “Conquering darkness”

Taksim Square

Two weeks ago the big news was that Turkey had paid off its IMF debt and had pledged a $5 billion loan to the IMF to help alleviate the European debt crisis. Turkey seemed to have an air of confidence. And yet today the Prime Minister, democratically elected with 49.83% of the Popular Vote in 2011, is presented as an autocratic dictator. Is this the real mood of the nation, or outside provocation?

note

Once more your words are true. I am certainly aware of the debt I owe the immigrant Muslim community. And I do believe the Imam of my local mosque is a good man—although I pray in a different mosque on working days—for his words certainly do inspire those who understand his lyrical tongue. And yes, none of us is perfect.

But my post is not really about me, for I will survive the lack of inspiration, as I have other sources that satisfy me. I am more concerned about those who have no hope, who could benefit from their faith if only they knew it. There are many statistics that paint a gloomy picture for us, and we need to recognise what is going on. Take the following three points:

— The Office for National Statistics has figures showing that 31% of young British Muslims leave school with no qualifications compared to 15% of the total population.

— According to the Prison Service, almost 10% of the UK prison population is Muslim, two-thirds of whom are young men aged 18-30.

— According to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 35% of Muslim households have no adults in employment.

So the question is, who will reach out to young Muslims dealing with drug addiction, alcohol abuse, STIs, abortion, gang membership, suicidal feelings? Do we just leave it to the Primary Care Trust and youth centres? Or do we say that as Muslims we have a job to inspire people to live a good life, from childhood to old age?

Words I forgot to utter

I wish I had planted these words firmly in my mind and on the tip of my tongue when I first set out on this path: A’uzu billahi min ash shaitani r rajimi. Still I fail to recall them when the whispers come, and before I know it I have succumbed to the same old plots all over again, which then take an age to unravel and untangle.

Advice to those new to the path, whether converts or those returning to the faith of their family: hand over your affairs to Allah completely and do not rely on yourself. Remember that you are a child in your religion, so be humble. Don’t try to run before you can crawl. Don’t arrogate to yourself what is not yours. Be patient and realise that your success lies with your Lord alone.

Tiny Steps

I am continuously humbled by the generosity of my Lord, for no matter how far I fall, His Mercy is never failing. Over recent weeks I have made the tiniest steps back to Him, shunning the folly that evaporated a decade, and yet He has responded with great openings for me, brought forth without any effort on my part. They are too profound to articulate — or perhaps I am just too lazy to set it down — but it has touched me deeply. Continue reading “Tiny Steps”

Be with those you’re with

Are we smartphone gageteers addicted? Do we not realise we’re neglecting the companions sitting beside us just to be with the lines of text on our screen? I have just returned from my evening class—one that I cherish greatly—pondering, were we really all with each other tonight? Alhamdulilah, they’ve set a rule: turn off phones in class. But before class: eyes are glued to pieces of glass. Trying to make eye contact in order to exchange salams appears impossible. I accept we may all be shy and that the LED glow might be our refuge, but it is tiresome for those in search of community. No sooner has the lesson drawn to a halt for a half-time break, then those alluring screens are back. And so we never get to meet those we’re with, to know anything about the one who sits next to us, to learn how they are or how their day was, to discover if we have anything to learn from one another. For presumably Twitter calls, or a Facebook status needs updating, or someone, somewhere out there just needs to know you’re still there. What an age to live in: we’re more connected than ever before and yet so absolutely disconnected from each other.

Staying true to the past

While editing my novel Satya, I took the decision to leave it fairly intact in order to preserve where I was then, in 1997, when I originally penned it. I wanted to stay true to the original, without imposing too much of who I am now on the story. I didn’t have in mind that this was a story I would sell to publishers. It was an attempt to set free a piece of past writing in a form that could be understood by others.

Continue reading “Staying true to the past”