Why are muslims…

Google Search is contextual, delivering specific results to its audience, based on what it has already learnt about you and your confirmation biases. Continue reading “Why are muslims…”

“It was photoshopped”

As you will have realised by now, I am a just little obsessed with investigating the authenticity of images shared on Social Media. Whenever a great controversy arises, I will be there with my magnifying glass, peering into exif data, converting images to text files, running them through reverse image searches and consulting Street View for helpful clues as to whether the image is genuine or not. I admit that it is verging on a compulsive disorder, but so too is the habit of my fellow travellers in forwarding absolutely everything that confirms their worldview without pause. Continue reading ““It was photoshopped””

ad-blocker disabled

Dear Publisher,

I have just responded to your plea to turn off the ad-blocker when visiting your website, by disabling it. But I wanted to follow up with the reason I’m using an ad-blocker, in the hope that we can meet in the middle. Continue reading “ad-blocker disabled”

Inner core

Seriously, we need to stop sharing these spurious YouTube clips presenting miraculous facts, which have absolutely no basis either in science or religion. Continue reading “Inner core”

The video call

I’m known for my occasional Luddite lapses, but still we should challenge some of the technophobic declarations of our some of our scholars.

My wife has just had a seamless face-to-face conversation with her mother, 1600 miles away, both via a flawless video image on a pair of mobile phones, one out about in the streets of Istanbul…

What untold reward awaits the software and hardware developers that facilitate the coming together of families separated by seas and continents, who make these conversations possible?

All things can be used for good and bad, be it the marketplace, the cafe, the school, the book, the knife, the car…

The internet, television, smartphones and Facebook are no different.

We just need to remember that ethics and manners apply to this sphere as much as any other. That should be the concern of our scholars: how to we navigate these new avenues of communication. Not encouraging us to abandon them altogether.

Truthfulness is an issue on the web because it is an issue in general. Verifying information is an issue for the same reason, albeit amplified by immediacy and reach.

For all the claims that something awful is happening, it could be said that something beautiful is happening. Perhaps access to more information than ever before and exposure to new ideas might be good for us.

Perhaps the perpetual challenge of ideas we are subjected to might help us see a clearer forward path, that would have been impossible in our cloistered life of old, when gate keepers defined for us what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, regardless of truth or godliness.

Technology challenges us, without a doubt: it forces us to ask new questions, to negotiate the unknown, to be ever more vigilant to the pitfalls and obstacles brought ever closer to us.

But we have been placed in this time and place for a reason: in this world where national borders or vast oceans, or treks across sand dunes, rivers, valleys, mountains and ravines, risking the assault of bandits or pirates, no longer need keep loved ones apart. Blessings, if only we would allow ourselves to see it.

Make time for meditation, yes: for quiet and peace and a time for contemplation. Disconnect when you have to. Apply ethics liberally to these new gateways, check your intentions and habits and manners. Yes, all of this is important.

But be open to this world; embrace it. Be grateful, count your blessings. Make a prayer for the software developers that facilitate family time, even if thousands of miles separate you. Be in awe, and amazement, and thankfulness. Make good use of the blessings bestowed on you. We are living in an amazing time: we just have to try extra hard to see it.

Data mining sacred texts

Social Media timelines are awash with the results of a textual analysis of the Old Testament, New Testament and Qur’an, which in a very cursory way seems to suggest that the Qur’an is a more peaceful text than the Bible. Unfortunately it is one of those feel-good stories, easily shared, which falls apart on closer inspection.

Firstly because the Bible and the Qur’an are very different texts. What would happen if we were to compare biblical oral histories with those of Muslim tradition? Or the Acts of the Apostles to the accounts of early Muslim communities? The New Testament is made up of accounts of the life of Jesus, pseudo histories and letters of encouragement: though of course it informs the life of the Christian believer, it is of a completely different genre to the Qur’an. The Old Testament is an even more diverse body of literature, containing histories, poetry, canticles, mythology and law, spanning two thousand years.

More pertinently, however, the analysis was undertaken not on original sources in their native languages, but on English translations / interpretations. For the Bible, the New International Version was selected. For the Qur’an, Muhammad Ali’s Ahmadiyya rendering was used. Clearly data-mining any interpretation or translation of a text other than the original is going to severely skew the results.

It’s true that mining the original texts in Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic would present its own set of problems. Even in their Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek forms, biblical texts have long histories spanning centuries of oral transmission, the written record and subsequent editing and refinement.

It doesn’t stop there. The nature of language itself is an issue for all traditions. The meanings of words are not independent of religious authority, which itself is not independent of the political establishment; naturally the definitions of words are very often politicised. Even so, a word-for-word analysis of earlier texts would at least avoid some of the layers of interpretational, doctrinal and linguistic bias introduced by the translator.

Textual analysis of this kind no doubt has its place, but it is too limited to be used on its own, other than to generate the kinds of headlines helpful to a small technology company seeking to stand out from the crowd.

A real analysis of sacred texts demands years of very patient work — much more than most of us are willing to pledge — taking in the meanings of surrounding words, grammar, ellipsis, philosophy, practice, historical context, later political developments and so on. On the road to understanding there are no shortcuts: it is a lifetime’s work.

Freak show

Why do we have to expose the man with the foul mouth on the train?

These are the contradictions of our society. We demand more investment in Mental Health services for people suffering from schizophrenia, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and addiction. But when we encounter people exhibiting signs of mental health issues in public, our natural reaction is anything but compassionate.

The behaviour of the latest individual to fall foul of the communal censors was clearly unacceptable and unpleasant for his victim… but he was shown swigging wine from a bottle and was clearly over-intoxicated.

The wise before us worked amidst the despised, seeking to reform their body and soul. Our generation secretly records them on the ever-present smart phone and uploads the video to YouTube, like a modern-day freak-show, where it can the be Liked and Shared a million times over, even by those claiming to follow the Prophetic Path.

Rest assured, there is nothing Prophetic about these acts. The Messengers were friends to the poor, the slave, the sick, to women and men, to those cast out by society… even to their avowed enemies. Yes, the Messengers would have reached out to that racist in the train.

Public gaze

Has nobody seen the vast number of posts on the internet from women complaining about men taking surreptitious photos of them in public places without permission?

Why is it that nobody has bothered to ask if it was okay to share the now famous photo of a Muslim woman on the Basingstoke train, taken secretly as she snoozed?

Too late: it has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, shared thousands of times and republished repeatedly by media corporations and bloggers alike over the past 24 hours. It has now been cached on so many servers that it will never disappear from an internet image search, like that poor young artist in the red hijab.

The man who took the photo has been hailed as a hero: a champion of decency and tolerance. Nowhere has anybody asked for the woman in the photo to represent herself or provide consent to be seen by thousands without as much as a lowered gaze.

If that was you, or your sister, or your wife, or your mother, would you allow that photo to be shared ad infinitum by tens of thousands of strangers, just because the person who took it claimed to be your saviour?

What has happened to our ability to probe and ponder, and not just follow the crowd without a second’s pause or moment of thought?

DeenPort Runaways

It’s a long time since I’ve had the ability to post comments on the DeenPort forum. I deleted my account over five years ago and though I sometimes feel compelled to join again in order to respond to a particular thread, it appears that MAMA (the automated moderation system) is set to immediately auto-ban me. So instead I look on from afar, checking in now and then to see what people are talking about these days. Continue reading “DeenPort Runaways”