Archive for Blog

My Dream Boy

// November 13th, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Blog

Inspired by this post.

About a month ago I dreamt that I was on a journey with someone – a man; someone I'm somewhat familiar with in real life. We had stopped somewhere en route, and were using the computer room.

Swinging round in my swivel chair, I came to face to face with a young boy, maybe six years old or so. I said “hi”, in the kind of gentle way that you would with a small child… but for some unknown reason, he responded by launching into an unannounced bear hug! It felt like the type of sincere embrace that a child would give if they were scared, lonely, and needed reassurance.

I didn't know the boy at all, but I was so moved by this simple gesture, by his implicit trust in me, that I couldn't let go. As his chest lay upon mine, I felt my heart beat so strongly – almost painfully. I suspected that someone had abandoned him there, and that he had latched onto me like a lost puppy, hoping that I would love him. The whole experience evoked such a powerful maternal instinct in me; I just knew in my bones that I was meant to protect him.

I turned to my travel companion (whilst still engaged in the bear hug), who was sat on a nearby terminal. And as soon as I did, I saw a little girl do the exact same thing to him! I knew – as one usually 'knows' in dreams – that the little girl was the little boy's sister. They had both been abandoned.

We carried the children to our car – a large, black 4 x 4. I was so sad. I wanted to take them with us. I wanted to make them mine, and never let them be alone again. In the background, I listened to my companion share his opinions on how unfortunate the whole situation was… but I could tell without asking that he was unwilling to take the children. He was being the sensible man; I, the emotional woman – though I reluctantly understood his perspective, and didn't argue. I remember the solemn look on my face, and how I secretly hoped that it would be enough to make him change his mind.

Well, it seemed to have worked! Because as the dream advanced to the next 'scene', it was several years in the future. The travel companion and I were now married (I assume we weren't before), and the children were ours.

There was more to the dream, which has now been forgotten, and so I assume it was less significant. The strangest part, however, happened after I awoke. I made the opening takbir for Fajr salat. I went to place my hands on my chest, and subhanallah, I felt the same strong, painful, feeling of empathy in my heart, as I did during my embrace with the little, lost child.

As I prayed, I wept. All for the love of my dream boy.

How Old is iMuslim?

// November 9th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // Blog

Well, as of this entry, the blog is 500 posts (and just over three years) old. I have deleted the majority of posts created during the period of experimentation with imported status messages, so it is an official milestone this time – no cheating.

I now present my – I mean, my blog's – birthday wish list. And if you think birthday presents are too much of an innovation, then consider it an ‘Īd al-Aḍḥa wish list instead:

  • a Nintendo Wii, with Wii Fit/Active/Sports/whatever makes me sweat and get fit enough in the privacy of my own home, to eventually allow me to return to the kickboxing classes that I so dearly miss.
  • a compact DSLR
  • a decent haircut (blonde curls are a real possibility – an in-joke for my FB sisters)
  • a Maths tutor
  • a big ol' punch bag, like I saw on TV last night. Awesomeness!
  • Really good chocolate. I mean, so good that I don't care that it makes me fat, because it's that amazing. Cadburys and Thorntons do not fit in that category at present. Maybe Hotel Chocolat?
  • a trustworthy builder to knock down the wall that currently separates our two living rooms, so that the middle room can finally have some natural light, and not be so depressing a place to sit in – especially during the Winter.
  • a jacuzzi
  • someone that makes me feel less 'bleurghy'
  • a good, non-trivial, real life, face-to-face conversation, that doesn't involve discussion of the weather (unless it's related to a debate on climate change), or the stupidity of lecture timetables.

List to be updated as and when I – I mean, my blog – decides.

Btw, the above wish list is clearly pure self-indulgence. There are many things that I – and my blog – wish for, that are less selfish, and more altruistic. I am very blessed with what I already have, alhamdulillah, and don't feel at all lacking in respect to material goodness. I just felt like writing a 'me, me, me' post today. :)

What's on your (or your blog's) wish list?

Why Can Muslims Eat Big Macs?

// November 7th, 2009 // 7 Comments » // Blog

The following is a response to a post written by one of my colleagues at Ijtema.net, on the conditions that make meat permissible for Muslims to eat. Here is an extract to whet your appetite:

The whole zabiha vs. non-zabiha debate can get pretty emotional and even lead to fights. Surprisingly when one learns about it in some depth it's not all that complicated. I will list the 5 conditions the 'ulema have laid down for a slaughter to be permissible to eat, and then list some common misconceptions about the concept of zabiha.

The following five conditions must be met together when slaughtering an animal that is permissible to eat and requires slaughter… Click to read more

I recommend you read that post first – one, because it contains useful fiqhi info, and two, because my response will naturally make more sense that way.

Response

Tbh, the only thing I'd like explained to me, is why a Big Mac purchased in any McDonalds branch located in Western secular democracies, such as the UK and USA (for the most part), is considered by some to be permissible for Muslims to eat?

I completely understand the ruling about the meat of animals slaughtered by the Christians and Jews being permissible (excl. porcine flesh, blood, etc). But unlike the label 'Kosher', which actually has some value and meaning attached to it, McDonalds, and by extension, most fast food retailers in the West, do not offer any guarantee that the cows used in their burgers have been slaughtered by either a Christian or a Jew (irrespective of their level of practising).

Are the scholars who condone this working on a matter of probability? I.e., the majority (whatever % that is) of citizens in the US identify themselves as Christians, and hence the likelihood of the person slaughtering the animal being a Christian is high, and thus the meat automatically becomes permissible, unless clearly stated otherwise?

I really am curious, because I know a few people who follow the “People of the Book” rule that far, but they never ask the person serving the meat who did the slaughtering. We don't need to ask if the product is sold as halal/ kosher – but otherwise, shouldn't there be some responsibility on the individual consumer to at least enquire?

Considering how, in the West, tasks of manual labour (especially such messy, unpleasant ones) are usually consigned to low paid immigrants, which could be of any religion – and also, how meat can, and is, imported from anywhere in the world – I think such a 'catch-all' fatwa is more than a little risky.

In the UK, we are blessed in that halal meat is relatively easy to obtain – at least if you live in cities and towns with significant Muslim populations. However, that didn't happen overnight. This state of ease came about through necessity. The first generation of Muslims wanted to feed their families food that they could trust was halal. Without this demand, the market to supply halal produce – a market presently worth millions of pounds annually – would not have been established.

There are about two million Muslims in the UK but an estimated six million consumers of halal meat nationwide. Michael Oakes, board member for rural affairs at Advantage West Midlands, said British Muslims consumed 20% of all red meat sold in the country while making up just 3% of the population. [Source: BBC News – Farmers aim for halal meat market]

Further, the market has now begun to evolve to the next level: in response to recent halal meat scandals, a national halal monitoring committee was established to ensure correct slaughtering practices; major supermarket chains now stock halal produce in outlets with a significant Muslim customer base; and several new providers have sprung up to respond to the growing demand for organic meat (one example here).

Thus I believe that the 'catch-all' fatwa actually causes more harm than good in the long term, by discouraging the enterprise that would lead to a more certain state of affairs. Either we 'lay' Muslims have misunderstood the nature of this particular ruling (which is entirely probable), and/or the original need for such a fatwa no longer exists, especially as far more permissible alternatives are now commonly available. In reality, no-one is going to be placed at a life-threatening disadvantage from choosing to eat a 'fillet-o-fish', or vegetarian equivalent, in place of eating meat of unknown origin. And in the few cases where they are, then a whole new set of rulings apply, with the aim of preserving life and health.

Demand drives supply: Muslims in the West must continue to demand the supply of trustworthy zabiha meat, and also start putting their inherent, entrepreneurial skills to use. After all, the UK Muslim market proves that there is much reward – both earthly and heavenly – to be earned from doing so, inshā’Allāh.

And She Gets Back Up

// October 7th, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Blog

Oh, happy day! Alhamdulillah, today rocked. The lecture itself wasn't exactly super-stimulating; it was just a basic introduction to the various programming languages that we'll be trained in over the next three months: Perl, Python and… erm, Java, I think. It's what happened afterwards that made me grin ear-to-ear!

I asked the lecturer what his background was, expecting him to say Computer Science. But he's actually a Biologist-turned-Comp nerd, like I wanna be! I confessed to him that I had trouble with yesterday's lecture, which contained a lot of Maths; whereupon he confessed to me that his Maths is quite bad, too. And then, he said that the Bioinformatics service centre where he works, (i.e., the folks who help all the scientists on campus with their research projects), actually has a shortage of people with a good understanding of Biology, and skills in computing.

Yey! I may actually have a job at the end of this, inshā’Allāh. I am so sucking up to this guy; he might be my future boss! ;)

Seriously, I feel sooo much better today. I understood 99% of what he spoke about. In fact, only one slide didn't make sense, and it turns out there was a typo: so I wasn't going crazy, after all.

Day 3 of my course, we haven't actually touched a computer yet, and I pretty much already know what kind of Bioinformatician I want to be: the kind who doesn't have to deal with Maths! :))

She Stumbles

// October 6th, 2009 // 1 Comment » // Blog

Day 2 did not go as smoothly as Day 1. Maybe I should have brought my MacBook in with me? Though I doubt it would have done much to help, other than give me access to Twitter, so I could complain in 'real time'.

Basically, we had our first proper Bioinformatics lecture today. It started off well, as the Apple-loving professor covered the basics of genetics, evolution (wahey…) and population biology; the kind of thing one learns in first year BSc Biology.

But then, for the next 80 minutes… Slide after slide of algebra, quadratic equations, and crazy graphs. Ah! I had no idea what he was talking about! Suddenly familiar concepts were converted into single letters, and jumbled up with random symbols. What did he dooo?!

I looked at the person next to me: she sits silently, staring intensely at the screen. Was she really getting all this? Seriously? Where did I leave my brain today?

Then about half way through, the prof says: “Oh, btw, we don't expect you learn all of these equations. You won't be examined on this. If you don't know this Maths, don't waste your time with it”.

Eh?!! But… Why?!?! Gah!

I guess I was relieved, but still… Why did he spend 90% of the lecture on these crazy mathematical models? I think there should have been more explanation of their practical application to research, rather than confusing dumb people like me with endless equations. Sniffle.

Anyway, exams or no, I still feel compelled to open up my A-level Maths notes (yes, they're buried somewhere in the loft), and try to relearn some of the basics. Just because I won't be examined on it, doesn't mean it won't come up in project work, or even later on in my career. And how bad will it be then, when I'm truly old and stuck in my ways!

I think that's part of the mature student experience: you understand that there is life after exams, and you need to learn how to become a well-rounded, capable indiviudual who can function in a challenging work environment, inshā’Allāh; not just someone who crams to get good grades, but is generally clueless.

I am praying that my first computer lab tomorrow will go much better. Āmīn! That's the main reason I took this course, so I really can't afford to be confused, like I was today… Subhanallah!

First Steps

// October 5th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

Today was Day 1 of my shiny, new Masters course, marking my first step towards a career shift into Bioinformatics, inshā’Allāh. For those currently scratching their heads in confusion: read my earlier confession.

I want to be all clever, and write some amazing account of the myriad of emotions that I've experienced over the past two months, culminating in the pinnacle of nerves that was my afternoon commute into the familiar territory of what was once my undergraduate campus. But frankly, I cannae be bothered. I can barely put a sentence together right now; I don't think mornings agree with me. Most of my day was quite “meh”, tbh. I only had two lectures, one of which was a safety induction. Yawnsville!

There are about 20 of us, maybe less, on the course. 1:1 ratio of guys to gals, with the majority of gals being bionerds, and a smattering of various other disciplines amongst the guys. One of the women was actually more research experienced than me. Not only did she have a PhD in Endocrinology (she worked on growth hormone, whereas I worked on progesterone signalling), she also spent a year as a postdoc afterwards. Isn't that a poke in the eye for the people hating on me for taking this course? Okay, maybe not 'hating'… I've just heard a lot of “Haven't you studied enough, Mehzabeen, har har”. Yeah, hilarious. Hrm…

Though, the absolute highlight of my day was when I asked the computing lecturer if having a Mac would be problematic for the programming aspect of the course. I have spent the last fortnight worrying that I'd have to buy a regular laptop, or figure out how to install Windows/ Linux on my MacBook. The head professor – the one I refer to as the 'bad cop', from my initial interview – gives me a half smile and says: “You have great taste!”. Then a few moments later, speaking over the computing guy, “We all use Macs in the lab”. And then, the cherry on the double chocolate sundae: “You know what? You've already passed!“.

Talk about making an amazing first (or more accurately, second) impression! Alhamdulillah – thank you God! Much happiness. And thanks to Apple too! Let's pray that it only gets better from here on in, inshā’Allāh. :)

Choc Chip N’ Walnut Cookies

// October 2nd, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I know you might be getting bored of these cookie posts, but this recipe turned out quite nice, māshā’Allāh, so I thought I'd share (it has nothing to do with scoring extra 'rishta' points, by proving that I am not allergic to the kitchen. No, no, no… ahem).

Sorry about the dodgy photo. My camera doesn't do very well in low light conditions, and I detest using the flash! Anyhoo, recipe and instructions below.

  • 125g butter, unsalted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla, alcohol-free
  • 100g granulated white sugar
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 60g walnuts, chopped
  • 120g Cadbury's Large Buttons, chopped (this is the chocolate that we already had in the house, hehe – use whatever brand you wish)

Beat the butter, vanilla, and sugars together with an electric whisk until smooth, before mixing in the egg (both white + yolk). Add sifted flour, and remaining ingredients. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the dough onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, making sure to leave enough space between the lumps, as they do spread out. Bake at 200oC for around 13-15 minutes, or until sufficiently browned.

Results: I ended up with 24 medium-sized cookies, māshā’Allāh. My dad liked them, which I take to be a sign of a successful baking session, alhamdulillah – trust me, he's a harsh critic, and doesn't have a sweet tooth like me and mum – so I'm satisfied. :)

Impromptu American Cookies

// September 29th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // Blog

Well, they're probably not American cookies, per se. But the whole culinary experience has been American-ish.

First off, I had a 'mad' craving for summit sweet after dinner – but horror of horrors: no decent chocolate in the house. What to do? I suddenly came up with the idea that I would make raw cookie dough. Them US peeps seem to be crazy about the stuff, and actually buy it in packs ready-to-eat, so I thought it must be worth a go – especially as I have all the ingredients in the house from ‘Īd-cookies/" target="_blank">last week.

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A Safe Space

// September 28th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I've noticed that I refrain from commenting on several blogs, even my regular reads, because I don't deem them 'safe'. I don't mean that I fear being tagged by intelligence services (I don't think I'm controversial enough for that; though Allāh knows best), rather, I just don't feel comfortable speaking up, for one reason or another.

I wonder, do people feel the same on my little corner of the web? I don't think I have enough readers to warrant attention from Islamophobes and general nasties. But there are many other reasons to be timid.

Which sites to you feel safe on and why? Do you do anything special to welcome and reassure your readers?

Speaking of fear, last night I had a mini-panic attack that took me a while to overcome. I was already emotionally vulnerable as I had been suffering minor illness for several hours.

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An Inspirational, Must-See TED Video

// September 23rd, 2009 // No Comments » // Blog

I've been watching a few of the latest-release TED videos the past few days, mainly because I know once I download them, it'll be a while until I actually get round to viewing them. I posted links to a couple on my Twitter stream yesterday, but I decided this video deserved its own blog post, to become a part of my permanent archives, inshā’Allāh.

It's only six minutes long, and you must watch it now!

At age 14, in poverty and famine, a Malawian boy built a windmill to power his family's home. Now at 22, William Kamkwamba, who speaks at TED, here, for the second time, shares in his own words the moving tale of invention that changed his life.

Don't you feel inspired? And also, flippin' grateful for every, little thing? I am so amazed my his initiative. Bravo, young man! Māshā’Allāh.

I love Science even more now.

Don't waste the good feeling: donate to Muslim Hands education fund, so more young people can have access to the basic materials they need to succeed, inshā’Allāh.

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