Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I can't wait for a day when...

Gmail will have

  • most recently starred emails show up in a separate box on the top
  • an embedded calendar widget that'll help me remember pending emails, emails to follow-up on, and emails labelled as "action items"
  • the ability to label emails in one click
  • a customizable layout that'll allow me to place my Labels above the Chat list
  • the ability to label draft emails before they get sent
  • and also, the ability to click on any label on an email in the conversation list which will take me to all the emails with that label.

Yea, all these features will definitely make my Gmail experience more fun and perhaps almost complete :)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New in 2008

This blog might just self-destruct.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Emirati Marriage Fund

Which is where the Marriage Fund comes in. Its main function is to give one-off gifts of £12,000 to help bridegrooms pay for their weddings. But there's a catch. The bride must be an Emirati girl, not a foreigner. Each groom must have a fertility check and an AIDS test. So far -- since 1992, the Fund has helped to marry off 44,000 couples.

From Secret Dubai Diary's blog:

UAE mass marriages are always a heartwarming story, given the ludicrous and vast amounts of debt so many other young Emiratis get themselves into over their weddings:

Abu Dhabi: Five hundred young Emiratis, from all seven emirates, will tie the knot in a mass wedding dubbed the "Emirates wedding", on Friday, at the Dubai World Trade Centre's Za'abeel ballroom.

The wedding, which is being funded personally by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, is being celebrated on the occasion of the second anniversary of Shaikh Mohammad's accession as Ruler of Dubai.

If only there could be a general mindshift to view overblown nuptials as tacky and profligate rather than socially desirable, then there might be more young couples embarking on matrimony unblighted by huge debts:

"The Institute for International Research, a UAE think-tank, puts the average cost of a wedding ceremony in the UAE at Dh300,000 – 50 times the salary of an entry-level government employee in Dubai."

So good luck to these five hundred sensible young people, and may their marriages be long and happy.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Notes from my Hajj Journal I

December 24, 2006

And so it began. I’m on my way to Abu Dhabi... I have mu laptop in the car, so I decided to type the first part of my entry. It's become very popular for people to write their experiences once they come back from their travels, and Hajj is one of them. I'm not sure I want to follow the trend. I'm not sure how people can share the most intimate and private thoughts... their closeness to Allah (swt). Those who've asked, I've told them I'm nervous. Nervous... that my Hajj be accepted, that it be safe...

I know right now I long to be able to come back and tell all those people who asked me to pray for them, that I did.. that I took their duas with me, and tell them of the places I prayed for them at.....

But I dont know if I'll return.

4pm @ Jeddah Airport- Pilgrims section

Abu Dhabi airport was pretty…interesting. This one uncle on his way for Hajj started shouting @ the poor airport officials who sent him upstairs twice.

A khutbah is going on in the flight. We’ll be approaching the meeqat soon. The khatib is explaining the 3 types of Hajj and that you don’t have to wear Ihram if you’re going to Madinah first.

I received lots of tips from people, especially Farah Aunty. She told me to make sure I don’t miss the meeqat while making the niyyah in flight, when they announce it. She also told me that the crowd for stoning is less on one side, and that I should go to the end to throw the stones… and some other stuff.

I was feeling nervous. I took out my notes, read them, and felt much better.

Last night, I had read Sawitri’s Hajj memoirs. I was overwhelmed. She’s such an amazing sister, she captured so much in a few words.

I turned 23 today. My friend Sana said that this is the best birthday gift I could ever get. I know. It’s unbelievable.

Especially thinking about how difficult this had been. I remember having a conversation with someone- “When do you want to go for Hajj?”, I asked. “This year inshallah if I don’t get married, otherwise next when I can save up for two people.”

For girls in my culture, it’s not customary for them to go for Hajj before they get married. In fact, what people say is that, “spend an entire lifetime in sin, and then go for Hajj to repent”.


Still @ the airport. Really, how people even reach their destination is a miracle. Reminds me of my Hafiz sahib telling me about the organised chaos in India. He was once telling us how in India, everything just falls into place, despite extreme corruption, no centralisation of the transit system, the trains don’t have a schedule to run on, yet the country has progressed so much- life moves on. And it’s the same @ the Jeddah Pilgrims section of the airport. Total chaos, very few people know what’s really going on, and everyone else is sitting and having tea in the middle of the airport.

Saudi Arabia

The home of the 2 holiest cities, so holy that they’re blessed with real things from Paradise- the black stone in Makkah, and the Rawdah in Madinah.

As we exited the plane, in the bus to the airport, a sister noticed my UofT sling bag and started chatting with me. She was travelling with Nugget Travels from Scarborough. They were going to Madinah first.

I really wished the airport was non-smoking. I changed my seat several times and then finally gave up. Every other employee or guest @ the airport smoked. Little I knew that I would soon discover that the situation isn’t much better in the cities. I looked around me, and thought, nothing about this airport reflects the wealth of Saudi. This could be Africa, and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference. There are simply too many men everywhere. Do they even have a website?

Through the painful waiting hours I spent @ the airport, I often wished we were with a group… or at least a few more people. But there’s blessing and wisdom in every arrangement that we had. The airport authorities really exhausted my father. I prayed silently for Allah to help him, because for the time I was standing there, he must have run @ least 8 times between the finance and the pilgrims office.

I made a renewed effort to clear my conscience and intentions. Too many thoughts!

Azan and Music

A few days ago, a tent was setup about 20 metres from my house. I was wondering what it was for, when I concluded today that the men were having some celebrations because I could hear Arabic music blasting away.
At 7:11pm, the muazzins began to call out the azan for Isha. The music didn't stop, I could hear the azan and the music at the same volume. For a few moments, I was quite disappointed.
Subhanallah, we lose ourselves in entertainment so easily that we forget about all the muazzins in the city who have been appointed to call people to Salah. As I heard the words, I replied to each phrase of the azan, wondering which dua of mine will be answered by Allah (swt).
At that instant, the blasting music stopped. I was surprised... could it really be? I waited for the azan to finish and said the dua for the Prophet's rank in Paradise.
Then, I went to my sister's room and peered out her window. The tent seemed empty. Looks like the men went for salah (the closest masjid is a 4-5 minute walk from the tent).


Notes about my Hajj Journal

I tried to use the present tense wherever I could, but unfortunately, many times I would be too disheartened, or tired to write. I wish now that I didn’t lose any opportunity to pen my thoughts, but then it would have changed my entire experience. In so many ways, what a person writes does not reflect the changes they undergo within them.

I know this isn't the most vivid or best account I could write. Having worked for a year, my first priority was to go for Hajj as soon as I could. However, my plans wouldn't come together. Every door closed up on me and I locked myself up with depression. I couldn't understand what was happening in my life, and why I was facing nothing but rejection.

My parents couldn't see me suffer like that, and so my father, canceled all his important meetings, changed his investment plans, did whatever else he had to, and decided to, with Allah's Will, make my Hajj possible. We had our visas stamped some 4-5 days before the date of departure. It was truly an invitation from Allah, because such last minute plans are hardly entertained by travel agencies.

I was quite embarrassed before Allah (swt). How could I have not been patient through my ordeals in life? Perhaps I felt He had taken something away from me, but He replaced it with the best experience a Muslim could ever have, and that's how it was going to be.

A part of me was not completely prepared. I had a few exchanges, some words of advice, a fiqh course on SunniPath, and internet searches. I was going to be on my own. This was going to be my father's second Hajj, and mashallah, he had prepared well. I didn't want to discuss fiqh issues with him, because my own knowledge was recently acquired, and I was scared to confuse myself. Hence, despite being part of a group, I was on my own.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Coincidence blend

Today, I made the wackiest tea drink ever and I named it the Coincidence Blend. It's a blend of a special Pakistani tea and Ethiopian tea spice.

The reason why it's a coincidence is because, my mother made some Kashmiri tea for my brother because he requested her to (exam cravings I believe) and instead of making regular tea to find out how it tastes with the Ethiopian tea spice mix which my father brought back today, I added it to the pink tea that she made.

Don't ask me how many cups of that I've had (and I'm not a tea drinker)! But when you have pistachios, almonds, rose water, tea spice, sugar, milk and Pakistani green tea (or Kashmiri chai) all in one... it can make you high! I have to say, you are missing out! Unless if you're in town a few weeks from now because I'm seriously thinking of throwing a tea party.

I spent an hour in the internet searching for the ingredients of the tea spice without any luck. Anyone know?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Never Smile at a Crocodile

Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin
Never smile at a crocodile
Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile
You may very well be well bred
Lots ot etiquette in your head
But there's always some special case, time or place
To forget etiquette
For instance:
Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin
Never smile at a crocodile
Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile

From: Peter Pan

Ernie and Bert

Freeha, this one's for you:

Nafay's Travel Blog from Kabul

Nafay writes:

I'm currently in Kabul (Afghanistan) doing a short internship at an organization here - Women and Children's Legal Research Foundation. I guess this is what legal "activism" is about ;-). Anyways, if ever you hit a dull moment where you are about to crack open a book and get a head start on next semester's work (HAH!), you check out my travel blog: which tries to show what life in Afghanistan is like these days.

Nafay has a BA and MA in Economics and he's currently pursuing a law degree @ Mc Gill.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Doesn't matter

If I'm a year older. I still run around and jump all over the place and sing songs and do silly things.
Forever young inshallah.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eid Mubarak

and Eid Mubarak from our goat Sheikh as well!

May Allah (swt) accept from us.

Eid day is going to be rather interesting. I hope I have some time to put mehndi on my sister's hands. I chose a really difficult design so it's a 3 hour work. I haven't been able to move my neck since morning (not sure what I did!) so that adds to the challenge.
A conference call meeting at 5am, another at 6am, both of which I'm running. Then, Eid salah around 7:30am. We decided to do the sacrifice on the second day. So I hope that leaves me enough time to clean up my room (yea, I'm bad...). Sometimes it's hard to be prepared in advance!
And if all goes well, I'm going on a desert safari on Thursday!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Egg crisis!

Eggs have disappeared off the shelves of all major super markets in Al Ain. I don't know the situation in other cities, and I'm too lazy to research. You can check out Gulf or Khaleej
A tray of large eggs used to cost 12 dhs. A few days ago, the price had doubled to 26 dhs. And I asked my father today, it's upto 29, and eggs are still hard to find!

I hope this scarcity is temporary. The reason is cases of bird flu in India and Saudi Arabia. Local production isn't enough to meet the demands.

On an unrelated note, my mother collected the vegetable waste in the evening so that my father could give it to the neighbours to feed their hens. I didn't know hens eat vegetables.

Today however, we went to Buraimi for some errands. For all you Al Ain-ers lost without eating their eggs, the cost of the tray across the border is only 18dhs, and they are available!

Go get 'em!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What is our problem?

Either we ask too much, or we don't ask at all. We can't seem to find a balance. A friend who's been having trouble praying at work (and losing her values) was talking to me, and she said, "you know, it'll be great if you can get a degree from Harvard. That way, you'll have no problems at all".
Had it not been towards the end of our conversation, I would have lashed out a defensive, in a positive style.
I said to her, "inshallah I won't have problems even otherwise", and I know she had a skeptical look on her face.

I spent 5 years in Toronto. I can't say that I didn't face challenges with practicing Islam, but I can say for sure that there wasn't a problem that didn't have a solution. One of the best examples was the way I was able to handle the issue of praying during exams especially in winter with the help of the MSA, some students with like minds and my faculty. There were professors who said no to me on my face. Others asked me to make a "silent" prayer at my desk, and so on. But in every situation, I did not miss a prayer because of conflict with exam timings. There were times when the exam ended at 4:30pm. With Maghrib setting in at 4:40pm, that gave us less than 10 minutes to get through the crowd and find a spot to pray, and then open our fasts. This was a situation when we weren't accommodated because of our own oversight of approaching the faculty too close to exams.
The best arrangement I found was praying right outside the door, with a TA watching me, as well as the students inside the room. We would take turns. I always carried a compass on me so I always knew the direction of the Qiblah). And sometimes, some of the brothers who availed of these opportunities even did a jama'a in low voices during the exam!

So, why do we lose out? Why does my friend think that a degree from Harvard will pave way for me in the most difficult of times which I might face because I come across as a visible Muslim?

Being a visible Muslim
A person can use any situation to their advantage, or disadvantage. Most people tend to feel weak and wary as soon as they're faced with a difficult situation that compromises their beliefs. As a visible Muslim, instinctively I want to be able to portray a good image because I know that Islam is the right way, and by opening up people to Islam, I'm introducing them to a better way of life. Now, I might have a degree from Harvard, but people will first see me as a Muslim always because I don't think for the rest of my life I intend to walk around with the degree stuck to me. So much for the degree.

It's important to be in a mindset that hijab is great, and my hijab will help me. I still remember my first year in Canada. I was new to the hijab and didn't know how to pin it properly, but I never failed to notice the way guys differentiated in their treatment towards me and towards other girls. I was always given more respect. This same "respect" can be very easily labelled as "cold shoulder" by other people. In their efforts to "integrate", especially girls, they often forget that it's better not to be associated with people of the opposite gender if they are not able to respect you.
In particular, I remember a guy called Trevor. A classmate decided to study at my place, and in the hallway, we ran into him. I'm not sure how, but the conversation steered towards the topic of the reality of hellfire. Trevor resolved to become a better person.

It is so much easier for people to ask me what I'd like rather than for me to tell them, and being a visible Muslim makes it so much easier. I worked as a student assistant for a quadriplegic student for a summer and we became really good friends. I never needed to mention that I'm a Muslim to him. He once invited me to his party, and left me a very long voice mail message before he began his preparation. He wanted to know if I had any dietary restrictions, and then chanted off a list of ingredients in the different food items he was planning to use, and, "do you eat onions?".

It's true that you'll not always people who are accommodating and friendly. Sometimes my friend and I ventured to go jogging in the mornings. And at one time, someone did shout something awful at her. This incident was easy to ignore. What's not easy to ignore is the case of my friend, who's colleague with whom she shared her office, told her not to pray there because she felt uncomfortable. Even that situation has a solution.

Another friend, 19 year old revert to Islam, simply couldn't get herself to wear the hijab because she worked at a jewellery store. Everyday her story was the same- She felt horrible about the way she dressed, but she needed the job.

What a lot of people fail to understand that, when you place your values and religious responsibilities before everything else, Allah (swt) raises the ranks of such people in a very different way. They don't necessarily have to become CEOs or begin earning 6 digit salaries (there are examples of such people as well) but at least their hearts and minds do not possess the guilt that comes with selling out their values.

For sure if you want prosperity, you will achieve it through hard work, whether you wear the hijab/keep a beard or not. The comparison doesn't exist because you cannot compare the position of a person in this world, with his position with Allah (swt).

Perspective & creativity
We might think that Islam is foreign to most people around us in Western societies, and a scary religion as well. Yet, the bigger reality of this life is that there are millions of people groping in the darkness, looking for a guiding light. People in search of inner peace because nothing in their search, nothing else has satisfied them. So many people who are thirsty for the truth, but they just don't know that it all lies in Islam, because it's not within human comprehension to view the major benefits of being a Muslim right away. I'm still growing in my faith and discovering new paths.

My exposure hasn't been too wide, but I feel that we can always find a solution if we don't blow things out of proportion. There were people who would insist that if they want to pray during an exam, it has to be in a separate room on a "clean" floor. I found that to be so unnecessary. I wish in our training system we introduce a course titled "Foresightedness". Everything has to be done in steps. What is the bigger goal? Every time I walked into the registrar's office with the intention of making arrangements to pray during my exam, the thought that if I succeed, it's going to make it easier for Muslim students after me, was always there. So, stop being selfish.
Our salah is so beautiful that it has no attachments to material requirements. It is so pure that even with hundreds of eyes on you, you can pray if you really want to.

Also, if we weren't accommodated for, it was because we didn't ask for it early enough. There's hardly anything in life that wont go well if you don't plan it well. And planning ahead is an important part of the creative process.
The decision in this case, to allow students to pray, is not taken by just one person, but rather, it's propagated up/down several levels because they also have to choose the best possible solution. Don't forget to thank them later. Little gestures like these really go a long way. It's so easy for us to be aggressive and create so much drama every time something goes wrong in our community, but we are not quick and constant in our relationships with others.

When I was working as a research assistant on campus, in my lunch breaks, I would run downstairs to the Alumni office and help them prepare for the upcoming alumni dinner for those who graduated in the 40s and 50s. I would barely have 20-30 minutes because I had to eat and pray as well. However, this was an excellent opportunity to network (because I was hoping I'd be allowed to attend the dinner!) at the same time, I had made a place for myself that people would remember. To explain further, I did quite mundane tasks such as photocopying and cutting out old class pictures and sticking them up on boards, or making phone calls for RSVPs. But in that little time I had, I maintained a great relationship with the employees working in that office. One lady was from Cyprus and she told me about how in Cyprus, there's a major focus on family values. It was raining heavily one day and she decided to drop me to my place (I had to leave my bike on campus).

The problem does not lie in asking for time off for Friday prayers when you negotiate your job offer. The problem lies in how you ask for it. There are several factors operating at different levels. Study the person you are going to ask. Know your workplace. Prepare your case well, don't just blurt it out. Make an impressive statement about yourself. Be friendly. And my most important advice would be, ask for what you need after you have created a relationship of trust with your colleagues and immediate managers.

I've been to several fundraising events in Muslim communities- fundraising dinners for their own organisation, relief, masjid, etc. And over the years, I've seen a great improvement the way the it's done. We cannot expect to do things in the same way for the rest of our lives and expect impact in our society. Look at what children do in order to earn a few bucks- car wash, painting, window cleaning, etc. This work requires a lot of creativity.
I've seen congregations dwindle because of the mosque's fundraising techniques. Being creative is in other words, growing with society.

There was a time when mosques did not have loud speaker systems, and now they do (after much fiqh debate of course). Creativity is key. Be different. If you're asking for something, ask in the best possible manner. Definitely it is your right, but when you are setting a precedence, excellence and creativity are key.

I had worked at a startup company for a really short time and there was a really cool Muslim guy in his late 30s who had a prayer mat in his drawer. He showed me the room where he used to pray- a room full of pipes and cleaning supplies. He had an amazing attitude towards dealing with his religion. He had started working there a week before me, and I remember on one Friday, he walks into the CEO's office and goes, "Hey Daniel, I'm stepping out for an hour for the prayer. Will see you later. Have a great lunch."

If you feel troubled by asking for religious accommodation, then trouble is what you will get. Again, I'll stress that I'm not perfect. I faced problems and several times I made decisions that affected me adversely. And at the end, I always reminded myself, I need to be stronger.

Jumping at delusive opportunities
We have an interesting habit of rejoicing at small "successes" and then forgetting all about it. Just because someone asked me about whether their list of ingredients is halal, does not mean I'm calling up the guy and telling him I'm coming over with a Qur'an for him and start preaching Islam.
We really know how to torture people with our ways of communicating our very profound thoughts on Islam without checking if the other person is listening or even cares.
Islam is best spread by action. Get your own act right before you start preaching. We so easily forget that action is not just salah (in public) or making a grand statement of not drinking alcohol, but action is also your honesty, your hard work, your demeanor, your professionalism, and very importantly- your outlook and your treatment of others!

Note: This post was originally titled, "The trouble with not wearing Hijab".