Saturday, April 4, 2009

Book Review: Stroke of Insight


Through divine providence, given an opportunity to under-stand the working and the contours of ones brain


Through divine providence, availing of this opportunity, which also happens to be your own professional and career goal. Certainly an opportunity of a life time, isn’t it


Documenting, the working of the left and the right brain, from the emotional, to the spiritual and the physiological manifestations as they are worked through the two hemispheres of the brain, during a long, fulfilling eight years of discovery


Appreciating the plasticity of the brain: experiencing the functions of the left and right hemisphere, as in living in the moment, recording the development, not as a matter of a theoretical endeavor, but on a quest of self-realization, self-fulfillment and recovery


Experiencing the myriad of forces around you: positive and negative. Forces that emanate from the human spirit, the surroundings, the expansiveness of the universe that we are a part of, and hence our appreciation of being part of a larger reality, and yet at the same time, realizing our own infinitesimal existence within this universe. All of this created through the function of the right and the left hemispheres respectively


A world of possibilities, where the creative spirit and the analytic spirit of the brain are distinguishable from each other. Where the former, brings peace, tranquility and a sense of centeredness, the later, the analytical portion, engaged in brain chatter, the ego, the self


Where one is able to distinguish ones sense of consciousness: from doing to that of being.


Having to learn, the basics of day to day functions, like a baby: as if given an opportunity to witness a second birth and growth through childhood


Feeling and experiencing physical components of emotion


Entering into a world where one explores the left and right hemispheres differences in psychology and personality, not in terms of the functional a-symmetry


Tying all of this experience, on how we choose to respond, react and think of how we conduct our lives, by under-standing some fundamental truths about our brain is structures, particularly as it relates to the left and the right hemisphere, and the consequences it holds for taming negative emotions: anger, hate


That such in-sights came from the experience of a stroke survivor (left side of the brain was affected), who tended to the garden of her mind for eight years in recovery, and for eight years she toiled to write a book, that helps us under-stand on a fundamental level, the relationship of the right and the left brain, from concepts of being, to ego, to mindfulness, to peace, to changing our perspectives, un-learning what we have learned to achieve that sense of presence and peace. Importantly, how she regains functions of her left brain

The book is, 'My Stroke of Insight', by Jill Bolte Taylor. The work carries a lot of significance for me, not because that it was a stroke that claimed my father’s life, or that my wife suffered a stroke early this year: it has helped me under-stand, appreciate the resiliency of the human spirit, the brain and the un-tapped mechanisms in our mind that if properly schooled and engaged with, can help one bring aspects of those brain functions back to life.

The book is meant for the lay person: the function of the brain as it pertains to the left and the right hemisphere are duly mentioned, with enough repetition that after reading the book, one comes out with a very basic under-standing of where, how sections of the brain conduct them-selves. It is a work that indeed is a tribute to the an argument for 'Design in Nature'.

Lastly, I will mention, that the author/survivor, lists the needs of one who is challenged through a brain injury. To under-stand it as a mental illness, and for those who care about you, to observe certain adab, certain etiquettes, which are principally guided by ethical and spiritual perspectives.

I would encourage every-one to read this work, which flows rather naturally.

Even reading it from the back to the beginning will avail of some brilliant insights. After reading the work, I would be hard pressed to decide if I wanted to give up my brain after the termination of my life in this world, to the Harvard Brain Bank, where further research is conducted. At the juncture when this book was written, the bank received less than 40 brains a year

Friday, April 3, 2009

Book Review: Ramadhan and Ramada Inn

In His Name
Most Beautiful Names are His
The Rahman and The Rahim

American Crescent: A Muslim Cleric on the Power of His Faith, the Struggle Against Prejudice, and the Future of Islam and America, by Hassan Qazwini, a work that simply captivates the reader with the simplicity with which he contextualizes his entire life experience, of migration, within the American Context, starting from Iraq to Iran, Kuwait, LA and now Dearbon, Michigan

When I refer to the American Context, it relates to the challenges that any immigrant faces, from culture, language, education, freedom, portrayal of Islam, arab and muslims (which were not stressed enough in the work, and not to forget an his interaction with the opposite gender, specifically within the mores of the arab Culture.)

The work focuses on the arab ethnicity to a certain extent while also placing the motivation of the muslims in the United States and their political affiliations to either parties in the mirror of a 15 % minority within the Islamic world

Being an imam (leader to a gathering of fellow believers) in Dearbon, MI which is at the center of many arab Shi'i Muslims, places/d him in the unique position to interact with individuals in the higher echelons of the political corridor

The introduction to the work is simplistic: relating his lineage to the Prophet him-self, peace and blessings be upon him, the context of his families own history of muslim Scholarship, the out-spokeness of his relatives against the Iraqi regimes that were oppressive, their state of migration out of Iraq to Kuwait, Iran, and how he ended up in the United States.

As one reads the work, he doesn't belabor much on this subject of victimization, albeit in the context of the migration that he had to bear. At the same time he is also honest with decisions he wish he had not made, one of them, endorsing the Faith Based Initiatives, which in his opinion benefitted Pat/Falwells likes more than anything else. He sets to task and criticizes

1. US double standards in Foreign Policy in Latin America as he speaks of the Middle East. Devotes quite a few pages on it

2. Critical of Thomas Friedman (Editorial writer @ NY Times), for his lack of judgement, awareness and the placity of the roots of violence in the muslim Community as it relates to how elements like al-Qaeda create terror and fear and very much resort to violence, to dissuade other muslims. The placement of US strikes against sunni towns in Iraq, was in-fact preceded by al-Qaeda operatives engaging them-selves and terrorizing the Communities, which then lead the US forces to their actions

3. When Tom Ridge/Paul O Neil called upon arab leaders in Dearbon, he was direct to call Ariel Sharon a terrorist, after he solicited a definition of terrorism from them

4. Many will find his take on 'Halls of Power' rather simplistic.

The work is very well thought out - it is easy to read, especially for a non Muslim – who I believe are the direct audience.

It is important and note-worthy to take notice how well he is stayed away from the fray of Shi'i and Sunni tension with the life experience he, his family had to go through. It is obviously a tribute to the open mindedness that God his gifted him with- an agenda that caters to the youth here. Following Imam Chirris (his work on the life Imam Ali in english is simply brilliant!) foot-steps, he stays above the pettiness of a victimized mentality, which is so permeating the Shi'i discourse, particularly during the peak days of black observance.

Lastly, on why I titled the review as 'Ramadhan and Ramada Inn'. He shares an e mail from a non muslim inquirer, asking what relation was there in bombing 'Afghanistan' in October and Ramada Inn [The Ramada Inn is a hotel Chain across North America]. Obviously the non muslim inquirer was not aware of what Ramadhan stands for, particularly when the bombing in October of Afghanistan happened during the month of Ramadhan.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: If I should Speak .....

In His Name
Most Beautiful Names are His
The Rahman and The Rahim

If I Should Speak, by Umm Zakiyyah, an engaging work speaking to three difference archetypes, (1) devout and practicing muslims (2) muslims who need encouragement (3) those among the People of the Book, whose fitrah still intact (read Quran 30:30, 7:172-3), are attracted towards Islam

The main character is the sister from the people of the Book, where she happens to room with two muslim sisters. As she enrolls her-self in a class on religion, she under-takes to do her paper on 'Islam', and this is where the book defines it-self

In the work, one senses the dichotomy, as terms like "kuffar" and "people of the Book" were used in different contexts. Interestingly when the two muslim sisters speak of the other, she is always referred to as the "kafir", how-ever, it is the nature of the Quranic discourse, that addresses the other not as "kuffar", but as the "People of the Book" that startles the christian character

The work attempts to tackle several issues within the realm of inter-faith exchange and dialogue (actually in one instance it was tirade against the Christian faith, followed by an apology)

1- Concept of God in Islam (poorly explained, given that the work consulted was Bilal Philips 'Tauheed', which is cloaked as classical Islams take on Tauhid, but rather a pseudo Classical demogaguery of the Salafiyyah thought)

2- The Nature of Christ

3- Islam and Religious Pluralism (where the work severely lacked a perspective). The work failed to emphasize the nature of good deeds from among the people of the Book, while leaving the final judgement to God, as is repeated in Sura Ale Imran and al-Maidah (being the last revelation)

4- Jihad

5- Hijab/Abayya/Jilbab/Niqab (nascent terms only to those who are muslims, and it only highlights the cultural relevancy on where and how where these terms are used)

6- Polygny

The over-arching theme in the work, at least that what I had gathered was the muslim perspective so innately grained with a fear of God (not in the sense of ihsan), but in the form of a Punisher God, who consigns people to eternal Hell, if they are not muslims.

Once you know of Islam (Imam al-Ghazali actually made a very sharp distinction in a work that has been translated by Sherman Jackson, that speaks to the challenge of our times: when demagogues like Usama b Laden have given Islam quite publicity, this is not the Islam that imam al Ghazali speaks of), not accepting it, comes with dire consequences

This sort of dialogue permeates the entire discourse, even when the two muslim sisters, speak of their religious experience when they were children.

I found that some what disturbing to begin with. Images of hell and punishment are so well ingrained when they are projected to the "Other". Rarely is it projected to them-selves, as if muslims are not subject to the same standards as the other, and that we have afree ticket to heaven

The idea of "Salvation" is so critical in the entire discourse, and it is this notion where the projection of a Punisher God, the Punishment in the Grave, the role of the Angels who take the soul are vividly described through the Quranic verses.Well, one would be guilty to deny them, but there is the "beauty" of Islam that needs to be emphasized.

At one juncture, the Christian other attends a friday lecture, the sermon is delivered in the mirror of the corrupt and decadent West. It as if, the mirror being used here, rather than being the inherent beauty of Islam, is something that is reaction to, and not a discovery from within the fountain springs of Islam: the Quran and other spiritually leaning literature. Actually the sermonizing was a call to return to the first days of Islam, to mimick what the early Companions did: a calling to the golden era, so to speak. there is very little emphasis on providing an alternative discourse relative to the context at hand, and even scholars like Hamza Yusuf have spoken of and criticized this quite extensively. To suggest that the knowledge of Islam in it's utmost purity is restricted to the "Salaf" is a dis-service of the highest order, since it fails to take into account thesuccessive build up of knowledge, human experience that lent it-self to the flourishment of the golden age in Islam. Half-way through the work, the some-what less practicing muslim and the Christian other, become good friends: their interests in singing and music coincide, and this becomes the basis for much of the tirade against singing in Islam.

The allurement of the dunya is considered to be the sole factor that lends it-self to the deviation of the muslim sister. There is a very strong aura of confidence in the personality of the practicing muslim sister. Her views on women in Islam are part and parcel reflective of a very conservative tradition (down to the niqab, with only the eyes being displaced), Alhamdulillah. an encouragementfor polygny, the argument of covering within the context of a womans body being objectified for sexual gratification and also her voice, with the end being the honor and sanctity to be reserved for the husband.

I was rather dissapointed with how the work ends: as the less practicing muslim sister and her friend are auditioning (singing), they get into a car accident, with the fatality of the muslim sister. This is where the persona of a Punisher God, of the guilt associated with, and the relegation of the sisters un-practicising elements of the Islamic faith, lead to self drawn conclusions of punishment, though with the element of "mercy" invoked in very few instances.

I was rather surprised, and this is perhaps a credit to the empathetic nature of the practicising sister, that she wished well for her sister, but she saw it only through the mirror of her own experience, and not through how God would view it, and only God Knows. In closing I would say so, it was refreshing to read this perspective, since the practicising muslim sister in several of her statements to the non muslim other, states, that as muslims we dont get to define how Islam is, God defines it for us, God is not questioned, but we are questioned

But who speaks for God then?

The answer to that, ought to be, ingrained in humility, with the addition of

WalLahu Alam, Wa matawfiqi IllbaiLlah

Kindle: Finding God on a train platform

In His Name
Most Beautiful are His Names
The Rahman, The Rahim

After a full day of work, with contemplation being his lot, oscillating between a state of peace, serenity and un-certainty, he had reached his desired destination. It turned out to be a short journey, for the thoughts were his miraj, the horizontal ascent towards God, the one whom he seeks, and is seeking, may God have mercy on this poor soul

As he stepped out of the train, with his head down, with thoughts as a distraction to his surroundings, he walked by a mother to be. What striked him was not her state of fulfillment, but the weight that she carried. Not of the child, but of the two bags. They were a burden on but, there was a smile on her face, as she slowly paced her-self to the end of the train platform.

His thoughts now betrayed him, and he turned around, and paced him-self to the mother. "Mam, I can help you carry these bags". She remarked with a face brimming with joy, "Oh, that is so kind of you". We walked, and I congratulated her, asked her if the baby was the first in the family. She said, "Yes, and I have two".

Praise be to God, I said to my-self, two bundles of joy. He thought of his own family, how they had no one to assist when their first one was born. I asked her, "God bless, I hope that you have help and family around". In her state of exuberance, she said, "Yes".

"Is there some-one who is going to pick you up?". She remarked, "I am going to take the cab".
The pace to the end of the train platform was slow. She walked down the steps with such grace, with such calmness, and also with the utmost sense of protection, since she was carrying twins. I marvelled, and I had purposely walked behind her. I wanted to walk this walk, as my mind thought of several a things

Oh Lord, Our Rabb: how beautiful it is that a mother anchors her-self to the firmness of the ground, as if she is already aware that we are created from the dust beneath our feet. How gladly she bears this burden, and how generously you reward a mother for bearing children. O Lord, what would I know, alas?

The sense of attachment to the ground, with the feet taking steps, to balance the pull of the earth and the holding on of the mother to the children, is what awed him. He recalled that his Lord, declared in His Holy Book, that there are times, when the world, with all the glitter and the gold, draws us to this world, the ground under-neath. Its burdens one from reaching the miraj, and also the isra' (the vertical ascent to the state of seeing and meeting the transcendent, the in-effable).

Mother-hood is yet different, she has already reached the pinnacle of miraj, for her drawing to the earth, while being a burden, is for the sake of God, and for the protection of the children. She thinks of God, and makes her 'isra, as she wants the children also to partake in it

Alas! The walk was brief. Here ended the sojourn. He gladly handed over the bags to the cab driver, and went his way, afraid to look back. He had witnessed an act of submission, within the womb of the mother, and the mothers own act of submission, something that he has been seeking for some time

O Lord, Bless Muhammad and his house-hold and his chosen Companions

O Jabbar, O Jabbar, O Jabbar, O Jabbar

Kindle: In the Stillness of the Night ......

Sayyidna 'Ali, used to pray, 'Ya Jabbira kulli kasarin wa ya musahilla kulli 'asirin' - O Jabbar - the one who puts together all that is broken and the one who brings easy to every difficulty'

In The Name of the One
who is the Most Merciful
the Loving and the Forgiving

This night and at this very moment, the thought of Yaqub (pbuh) lingers through his mind. Blessed with children, his love for the most closest of his child, Yusuf (pbuh), and his awareness of the envy and jealousy that thrived in their breasts, made him even more so attached and conscious of his where-abouts.

Providence had it that Yusuf (pbuh) was to partake in a journey with his brothers to gather stock of food. It took them to a far away land. Hence, the story begins when Yusuf (pbuh) is thrown into a well, and left to his own devices. They proceed to tell the father that he had been devoured by a wolf.

This is where the story of love and seperation begins. Yaqubs (pbuh) love for his son, for the sake of God, renders his eyes blind, by profuse crying, and it is only later when Yusuf (pbuh) sends for his shirt for his father to smell, that his eye sight is restored.

Oh, God, I am certainly no Yaqub, for my patience is lacking, and I am certainly no Yusuf, for the school of Yusuf, teaches among several things, the value of virtuosity, faithfulness, honor, but it is precisely this lacking that has landed me before You, my dear LordI feel very lonely like Yaqub (pbuh) yet he never lost faith and confidence, and lack a patience, that Yusuf (pbuh) displayed. After many a days, I feel absolutely helpless before Thee, and I wonder, if the mere touch of this grace, which shines through not by giving, but through with-holding is my lot.If it is my lot, my dear Lord, please grant me the patience and the virtuosity of the father and a son, for they personified love. An orphan that I am, I seek your protection in You from my very self: remorseful, penitent, dissapointed.

I have yet again fooled my-self, and also fallen before your Grace. As lacking is my state of ihsan I ask of you to have mercy on this poor soul. He has been through a lot, and is searching, desperately seeking The al-Jabbar, who will lift him up.

Such is the state of his orphanage that he has no father like Yaqub (pbuh) and no brother like Yusuf (pbuh). Where he does he turn to for help?

I am tired, my dear Lord: my life lacking presence of compassion, love and longing, has made a hostage of me, and this is by own accord. Please release me from the fetters of my own doing, for I have no power to do it, O Jabbar

My faith is weak, my heart is crumbled, my soul constantly abases me, my intellect is paralyzed, my body weary of submission to thee, and my tongue too tired to call upon thee. Just accept these tears, my Lord, like you did for Yaqub (pbuh), but please, send for the shirt that will bring life and rejuvenate this poor soul.
Peace and Blessings be Upon Muhammad, His Family, and His Chosen Companions

O Jabbar, O Jabbar, O Jabbar, O Jabbar