Wednesday, August 30, 2006


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Circle Game

Shamelessly lifted from the NHS Blog Doctor:

This is so funny that it will boggle your mind. And you will keep trying at least 50 more times to see if you can outsmart your foot, but you can't.

1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor
and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

And there's nothing you can do about it!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It has begun...

Today's Independent reports:

UK tourists stage mutiny over Asian passengers

A holiday jet was grounded by worried passengers who staged a "mutiny" over fears that fellow travellers were acting suspiciously in the wake of the alleged terror plot to bring down planes.

The flight, from Malaga to Manchester, was delayed for three hours as police escorted the two Asian passengers from the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320, then conducted a security sweep of the plane. The men unnerved others waiting for the flight when they were overheard speaking in what was thought to be Arabic.

They were also wearing leather jackets and sweaters despite the heat of the southern Spanish city and were frequently glancing at their watches. The pair were taken to a hotel and then put on a later flight.

Six passengers had refused to get on board and word spread to those already on the flight and a number of people walked off the plane. Soon the pilot, police and airport security staff came to check their passports and then accompanied them off the flight.

College lecturer Jo Schofield, who was on the flight, told The Mail On Sunday: "There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men. It was an eerie scene, very quiet."
For the Daily Mail's account click here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Barber-ian Hordes

I popped in to my local barber's this morning for my regular fake-Haji cut. The venue never fails to disappoint. I could spend hours there just listening to the whacky conversations fading into each other, jostling for lyrical supremacy. But I'd need to understand Mirpuri to do that with any degree of success. Fortunately snippets of chatter do take place in English (or a least its Brummie equivalent).

The owner was valiantly holding the fort single-handedly while his colleague was "at a meeting", which prompted much speculation from the crowd of eager haircut-ees. Eventually, the AWOL tonsorial artist made a stunning entrance in traditional Pakistani dress. (We're accustomed to seeing him in 'Western' gear). Once the wolf-whistles had died down, the timely wail of a police siren triggered the expected:

Customer: Bro. You look like a Paki.
Barber #2: I am a Paki.
Customer: Yeah but the police don't need no help innit
Barber #2: I got nothing to hide man.
Customer: People dressed like that do all sorts of crazy things on aeroplanes. Dunno what they could get up to on the ground innit?
Barber #2: I aint cutting your hair.
Customer: I aint here for a cut anyway. I'm just chilling...It's all a cover up man. Taking attention away from the real stuff in Lebanon. Bush just says to Blair, "Oi Tony". Nah that's not it. How does he talk to Blair?
Me: I think he said "Yo Blair!"
Customer: Yeah that was it. He goes "Yo Blair!" What a joker. My car is mashed. I'm gonna sue BMW. But qasme, once I've replaced the transmission and stuff I'm gonna have 3.2 litres of power in a manual. Those rear wheels are gonna need serious replacing.

By that time my hair had been cut. I handed over the cash and made my exit stage left.

Postscript: People tend to get their hair cut by the barber* with the coolest cut but unless he/she has the supernatural ability to cut their own hair, surely the responsible hairdresser is someone else?

*insert relevant term for your coiffeur

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 3/3

The twelfth of the Shia Imams is referred to as the Mahdi – a prominent figure in Islamic eschatology and not only a source of inspiration for Iranian presidents. Born in 866 he is believed to be alive to this day but in occultation, absent from the physical world since the age of five. Shias await his return in a manner akin to those expecting the Messiah. In fact it is commonly held that his reappearance will herald an era of world peace and he is expected to return in the company of Jesus. During his period of concealment, the mujtahids are viewed as the Imam’s representatives in his absence. The clerical hierarchy unique to Shiism is indicative of this role of guiding the community by proxy.

The day-to-day practice of Shia Muslims is almost indistinguishable from that of their Sunni counterparts. Nevertheless, there are idiosyncrasies such as the insistence on prostrating on the ground (rather than a carpet for instance) and many Shias carry a small block of clay on them to ensure they can worship accordingly. There are some practices unique to Shia Islam though. One such article of faith is khums – derived from the Arabic number five – which refers to a one-fifth tax payable by adult Muslims who are financially secure and have surplus in their income. Half of the total is distributed amongst the destitute and needy descendants of the prophet and the other half (referred to as the Imam’s portion) is given to the individual’s mujtahid –which can amount to a considerable sum for popular mujtahids, strengthening their freedom from the state apparatus. Inheritance and divorce rights are arguably more favourable for women under the Shia interpretation of Islamic law. This may well be a reflection of the lofty status given to Fatima, the daughter of the prophet and matriarch of the imamate.

In his book The Failure of Political Islam, Olivier Roy writes “we find Islam divided into three geographic and cultural tendencies: the Sunni Arab Middle East, the Sunni Indian subcontinent, and Irano-Arab Shiism.” While the Pentagon reconsiders its ‘Neo-Con Shia-philia’ as one commentator puts it, ‘Irano-Arab Shiism’ continues to forge an emerging political presence. The strategic importance of the Shia diaspora has never been reflected in what is generally known of them and their beliefs. Perhaps now would be a good time to redress the balance.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 2/3

One of the central tenets of Shiism is belief in the Imamate, the divinely appointed leadership of the Muslim community following the prophet. The majority of Shias are Ithna-Asheri or Twelver, so-called because of their belief in twelve Imams, the first being Ali. The Imams are regarded as infallible individuals and interpreters par excellence of the prophetic tradition, differing from the prophets only by not being direct recipients of Divine revelation. The concept of imamate is commonly regarded as a corollary of the Shia emphasis on the justice of God, one of the five ‘roots of religion’ alongside Imamate, Oneness of God, Prophethood and belief in the Day of Judgement. The notion of a period in history without a guide, a human exemplar, is unimaginable for a Shia.

An exact (and for that matter even an approximate) number of Shias in Britain is unavailable. The community has a significant presence judging by the number of Shia mosques and imambaras dotted around the country. Four ethnic groups form the bulk of Britain’s Shia population: Iraqi, South-East Asian, East-African Asian and Iranian. The East-African Asians are mainly Khojas who are represented by the umbrella charitable organisation the WF of KSIMC, or to give it its glorious Technicolor title, the World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities. According to their impressive records there are 8,000 members currently residing in the UK. The National Statistics Office may well address this in the 2011 census.

Perhaps the most significant difference from an ideological perspective is the differing role of ijtihad (the derivation of Islamic law) in both traditions. The word ijtihad derives from the same Arabic root as jihad, both words reflecting a sense of struggle. Sunni Islam is classically composed of four schools of thought, named after their founders who lived in temporal proximity to each other during the 8th and 9th centuries. Sunni Muslims decide to follow a particular school, a decision inevitably influenced by cultural and familial leanings, and carry out their daily obligations in accordance with the school’s requirements. The reach of Islamic law is far and wide ranging from the form of prayer to the validity of voting.

It is said that once the Sunni schools of thought had taken on their solid independent existences, the door of ijtihad was then closed. Joseph Schacht, author of An Introduction to Islamic Law, states in this regard “hence a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one could be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in religious law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all.”

Ijtihad amongst the Shias took on a more dynamic nature with scholars continuing to derive and refine Islamic law to the present day. Shias are required to imitate a mujtahid (expert jurisprudent) perhaps the most famous of which today is the Grand Ayatollah al-Seestani based in Najaf, Iraq. The position offers the Shia scholars a powerful tool in their armoury of independence from the state, shown to great effect in the Tobacco Fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi in opposition to the concession made to British tobacco companies by the Qajar head of state in the late 19th century.

Monday, August 07, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 1/3

Fanatical flagellants. Bearded scholars. Revolutionary tendencies. Messianic beliefs. Leo Africanus uncovers the reality of Shia Islam.

With over one hundred million adherents, Shia Islam at a conservative estimate constitutes ten percent of the global Muslim populous. Shias make up to sixty percent of the population in countries situated in the ancient areas of the Levant and the Fertile Crescent including Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Iranian revolution triggered a crucial albeit brief encounter with the Shia world. A world regarded by many as shrouded in impenetrable mystery and by many Muslims as their own fifth column, a tolerated cultish minority. The political upheaval in Iraq and nuclear-jockeying by Iran has once more brought Shiism into the limelight.

Thud, thud, thud. As you approach a Shia community centre or imambara during the first ten days of the first month of the Islamic calendar, you would be excused for thinking you could hear the distant, mottled sound of drumming. Thud, thud, thud. The heavy, rhythmic sound becomes clearer and an accompanying sonorous yet sombre voice becomes audible. Thud, thud, thud. It becomes clear that the drumming is in fact the reverberation of palms striking chests as men stand, shoulder to shoulder, in concentric circles and parallel lines. This is not some Opus Dei reunion but one of the most visible and specific practices adopted by Shias: the mourning ritual commemorating the martyrdom of their 3rd Imam, Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The ceremonies have developed over a millennium and highlight some of the core features of Shia belief and practice: a deep veneration for the family of the prophet and communal spirit forged through hardship.

Edward William Lane, 19th century scholar and author of the prestigious (and prodigious) Lane's Lexicon – a dictionary of the Arabic language, offers the following definition of the word Shia: A separate, or distinct, party, or sect, of men.

He goes on to make mention of the specific application of the term to “a particular party [or sect] being predominantly applied to all who took as their friends, or lords, ‘Alee [sic] and the people of his house: those who followed ‘Alee, saying that he was the [rightful] Imam after the Apostle of God, and believing that the office of Imam should not depart from him and his descendants: they are an innumerable people, who are innovators; the extravagant zealots among them are the Imameeyeh [sic].”

This latter group is the very same group that form the majority of today’s Shia community. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s inflammatory pronunciations regarding the Shia are thus by no means novel.

Readers will be aware of the existence of distinctive Sunni and Shia traditions in Islam but their respective origins are steeped in a smokescreen of polemical diatribe and academic excursion with the Shias emerging as the underdogs, commonly portrayed as the religious manifestation of political partisanship. There is consensus that the trigger-factor for the schism was the issue of the immediate succession of the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632, an event to rival New Labour’s handover of power. The Sunnis favoured Abu Bakr, a companion of the prophet and elder statesman, whereas the preference of the Shias was Ali, war veteran and the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law and in their eyes, the divinely appointed choice, the Imam (based on their interpretation of certain verses of the Qur’an and the prophet’s traditions as reported by Shia and Sunni historians alike). Abu Bakr became the first caliph and Ali the eventual fourth.

Professor SHM Jafri, professor of Islamic studies at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, forcefully argues in his The Origins and Early Development of Shia Islam that there existed a group of Muhammad’s contemporaries who regarded Ali as not only his political but religious successor during the former’s lifetime who were referred to as the Shia of Ali. Subsequent political wrangling and civil wars served to galvanise this group into a fully-fledged religious movement.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Birmingham Zindabad!

Pictures courtesy of my sister and her K608i.