City of Brass

City of Brass

in motion, the believers reflect the heavens

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

If you think about it, the question of time and date is central to the
daily religious routine of a muslim. We need to know when to pray five
times a day, we need to know what time to start and begin our fasts, we
need to know what days to start and end fasting. To know what direction
to pray, we need to know the shape of the earth itself. Even our
prayers are in a sense the reflection of the cosmic clockwork, with
predictable cycles, rising, and setting. It’s not by accident that the
symbol of Islam is the crescent moon.

Despite the rich
heritage of mathematics and science that we as muslims can lay equal
claim to, however, there is an anti-intellectual strain in the modern
Islamic polity that says that calculations, astronomy, and math are
developed in a “western” context and that these ideas need to be
purified somehow before muslims may make use of them. There’s talk of
Islamic science as if science is not something universal, but reduced
to a mere ethnic trait. It’s incumbent on muslims in the modern age to
reject this way of thinking and embrace the tools that let us complete
our Deen.

In these modern times, the definitive resource on astronomical calculations is actually the military – the US Naval Observatory and its counterpart in the UK, HM Nautical  Almanac Office
These are fantastic resources for a muslim – since I am more familiar
with the USNO, I’ll give examples from there, but most of the same kind
of data can be found across the pond. Here are just a smattering of
useful links from the USNO’s Astronomical Applications department:

The USNO even has a page devoted to crescent moon visibility and the Islamic calendar – and they’ve listed the start dates for Ramadan and the Islamic new year all the way out to 1432 Hijri.

It
is astounding to think that in this day and age, anyone walking down
the street with an iPhone and a GPS can in a fraction of a second
access celestial and cosmological knowledge, to higher accuracy than
has ever been possible. Granted, there is an artistry in the make and
the use of an astrolabe, but those things don’t fit easily into your shirt pocket.

In
many ways, we are in a golden age of religious observance, because at
no previous point in the history of Islam was such fantastic
calculation and precision possible.

Let’s do something

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

One of the oldest voices in the Islamsphere, Umm Zaid, has penned a courageous screed excoriating her fellow muslims to take a stand and do something (paraphrasing Todd Beamer, hero of Flight 93) about extremism and terrorism. I will not excerpt it, it deserves a full reading on its own. This is my response to a dialog that I think we do, as a community, need to have with ourselves.

I think that the overall sentiment of muslim Americans is in line with her call. But saying “let’s do something” is not, in and itself, doing something. What looks on the face of things to be doing nothing – living our lives as loyal citizens, teaching our kids the true universal values of peace and tolerance of Islam, striving to contribute in a civic sense to our communities, muslim and non-muslim alike – is actually doing Something, a great deal of something.

It is because muslim Americans are so integrated into the fabric of our beloved nation that we are not as fertile ground for extremism as, say, muslims in the UK (recall that the London subway bombings were a home-grown Islamist act of terror and not akin to 9-11 in that regard).

When a muslim American calls themselves a moderate muslim, that is doing something – its emphasisizng the extremism of the jihadists’ claim to faith. When we argue against the term Islamofascism, it’s doing something – it’s objecting to giving the fascists the use f the term Islamic to cloak their actions. When we objectto racial profiling and the increased curtailing of our rights and civil liberties, that is doing something – it is fighting for the very ideals of freedom that the terrorists would deny all of us.

Where Umm Zaid’s argument goes astray is in ascribing too much importance to the dissonant voices of counterculture Islam, the equivalent of the Che Guevara idolism that is more heir to the radical leftism of the Vietnam era than of any true mainstream muslim doctrine. She points to voices on the internet defending bin laden and shrill attacks by email, but the Internet is a tool for amplifying the extreme. Go outside, visit a mosque, talk to people in the Islamic community and you will see a people united against the threat, resolute and vigilant.

In a sense, Umm Zaid is recycling the silence libel. But at some point we as a community need to stop being obsessed with what our fellow countrymen think or fear, and look inwards, and strengthen the core. And rising Islamophobia also plays a role here in obstructing all of us from our common objectives.

I thank Umm Zaid for raising the issue, and I am sure the Internet trolls will punish her for it, but I think we as a community are mature enough to have a discussion about it without falling into the stereotypes that the Islamophobes have prepared for us.

UPDATE: Discussion at Talk Islam.

a couch potato Ramadan

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The lighter side of Ramadan in the Arab world – soap operas:

Ramadan translates into big bucks for Arab satellite channels.
Millions of dollars are spent on special programming, much of it
comparable to Western soap operas, to entertain the masses during their
sunrise-to-sunset fasts.

One program, the popular Syrian
production “Baab El-Hara” — “The Neighborhood Gate” — offers high
drama focused on a family feud. A man and his pregnant wife are
separated as their mothers fight it out, with each mother-in-law trying
to teach the other a lesson.

The woman misses her husband and
wants to go back to him. The husband kisses his mother’s hand and
promises her he’ll do only what she wants.

The soaps showcase
social traditions mixed with melodramatic characters and enough twists
and turns of events to last the entire month of fasting.

Yikes, Ike … Remembering Rita

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Gulf Coast region – especially my family there and all the friends I accumulated over the 9 years I spent living there before moving to Wisconsin in June 2007.

It looks like Ike is going to hit Houston and Galveston hard:

Ike_091208.gifI pray that this storm has as little effect as Hurricane Rita did. I
still vividly remember the nightmare of our Hurricane Rita experience,
and that was just the evacuation and city-wide shortages of gasoline,
milk, eggs, etc for weeks afterwards. There wasn’t even any monster
rainfall with Rita, though she was a Category 5. A few years earlier,
though, Tropical Storm Allison turned Houston into a gigantic bayou,
causing billions of dollars to infrastructure and buildings, and
irreplaceable loss of research and data at the Medical Center.
Hurricane Ike is more analogous to Allison than to Rita – the primary
concern is a storm surge of 20 feet in the Galveston lowlands, and then
area-wide severe flooding throughout Harris county. Unlike Rita, Ike
hasn’t been deflected at the last minute, and given Ike’s far greater
extent (500 miles wide!) even if Ike were to be deflected by the hand
of God now, Houston would still get hit.

I had actually blogged the whole ordeal of Hurricane Rita (whenever access permitted) back in 2005 when we were evacuating and dealing with the post-Rita mess. I had chronicled the events as follows:

Rita’s comin’ to Texas, folks
(Sep 19, 2005). I was one of the very first Texas bloggers to declare
that Rita had our number. That post was updated numerous times over the
next couple of days as the reality began to sink into the wider media.

Batten down the hatches
(sep 21, 2005). I started planning our escape route. At that point in
time it wasn’t clear whether my wife, a resident at UTMB Galveston,
would have to stay on duty or not.

update
(Sep 22, 2005). A grueling 9-hour drive to go 60 miles. We were part of
the largest evacuation in US history, the great mother deity of all
traffic jams. A nightmare of overheating brakes and low gas and
frustrating cell-phone outages and endless mile after mile of highway,
one foot at a time.

contraflow
(Sep 23, 2005). Having escaped Galveston county, but still in northwest
Harris, we were deciding whether or not to try and make it to san
antonio or not. We ultimately decided to stay in Katy rather than take
our chances on the highway and repeat our experience of the previous
day.

shelter in place (same day, 23rd). The evening of landfall. We went to our community masjid for shelter, anticipating the worst.

the power is ours
(late that evening, 23rd). A report from the masjid, waiting out the
storm. It became pretty clear that evening that Rita wouldn’t pose the
threat we all feared – thanks to the divine providence of a sudden
change in Rita’s course.

Houston makes it through (Sep 24, 2005). A guest post from my friend Taha. We made it safe and sound and Taha expresses the thanks we all felt.

sitting dry
(that same day, 24th). We did lose power but only for about 10 hours.
We returned to my inlaws’ place in Katy and now begin the waiting for
normalcy.

Aggie joke (Sep 26th 2005). Some welcome humor at Texas A&M alumni expense.

Houston reawakens
(same day, 26th). The city comes back to life, though finding eggs and
milk was pretty hard. We were glued to the radio listening for when the
local WalMart would reopen!

home (Sep 27, 2005). Made it back to my house in Galveston, where apart from a few shingles, everything was ok.

My
posts didn’t get into a lot of detail about the preparations we made to
leave our home, the work involved in getting it all back together
again, etc. Overall it was a grueling and insane week, one I’d never
want to repeat. We were truly blessed to have escaped with as little damage and injury, and as much sanity intact, as we did. I pray sincerely that the good people of the Gulf Coast fare as well now as we did then. In this month of holy Ramadan, may our prayers be amplified accordingly for their sake.

UPDATE: Ubu has been hurricane-blogging extensively at Houblog. He’s way better prepared for this than 99% of the rest of the Houston metro.

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