Friday, February 23, 2007

An Other Cup

Maybe There's A World Lyrics

I have dreamt of a place and time,
where nobody gets annoyed,
But I must admit I'm not there yet but
Something's keeping me going

Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Open up o world and let me in,
Then there'll be a new life to begin

I have dreamt of an open world,
Borderless and wide
Where the people move from place to place
And nobody's taking sides

Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Open up a world and let me in,
Then there'll be A new life to begin

I've been waiting for that moment
To arrive
All at once the palace of peace
Will fill My eyes - how nice!

Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Maybe there's a world that I'm still to find
Open up a world and let me in,
Then there'll be A new life to begin

I've been waiting for that moment
To arrive
All at once the wrongs of the world,
Will be put right - how nice!

When We're Older

When we’re older
And full of cancer
It doesn’t matter now,
Come on, get happy,
‘Cause nothing lasts forever,
And I will always love you.

— Marianne Faithful

Monday, February 19, 2007

Father & Daughter

This short film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Animated Film, but lost out to The Perriwig Maker.

It is a sad story with a puzzling conclusion.

Issues arose in my mind.

Our separation from our Creator. Our Creator who loves us but leaves us in the world seemingly without reason. We are unable to understand why or what happened. We yearn for Him, but He is not with us physically, and does not return. We carry on with life. Things change. The world changes. We change. At the end, we return to Him where we last were left by Him. We are never really sure if we would ever meet Him again. When we do, He is as He always was, unchanged, as we last remember Him. We also return to Him in the way that we were, children to Him.

Our yearning for the Divine is the yearning of the orphan for the lost parent. It is no coincidence that our Master the Prophet was an orphan in this world, even though his parents were young when they died. He teaches us, and the Qur'an teeaches repeatedly, that we must be kind to the orphan, that He found us as orphans. This can be read in the spiritual sense as well, for we are all orphans in this world, cut off from our true parent - God.

There is a hadith where our Master the Prophet of God said to the effect that on the Day of Judgment the believer will meet his Lord like a child that has been separated from its mother.

The film would be totally meaningless if not for the fact that most of it is about the daughter's constant remembering of her lost father. It is because of her keeping his memory alive that she is reunited with him in the end. It makes me reflect - that just as the daughter in this film kept the memory of her father alive all those years - do I remember God enough? Would I be as glad to see Him and run into His embrace when I see Him on Judgment Day? Or would I be amongst those who would not recognise Him or run away from His wrath instead?

Pray Before You Are Prayed For

Here is a cute advert to remind people to pray. I like the idea of the mediabyte dakwah in the context of the present world. You cant get people's attention in any other way, nowadays.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Peace & Poverty

Yusuf Islam performed live at the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 Award.

It is without exaggeration that I say that watching it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
I can tell from the video that it moved thousands of the people in the audience there too.
When I was in primary and secondary school, Cat Stevens was the greatest pop singer in the world.
He was known by everyone.
His music was not trashy commercialism, but thoughtful and contained the message of gentleness and peace, and that was why he struck a chord with the youth of the time, in the midst of the drugs and rock and roll music of the crazy 70s.
When he dropped out of the pop music scene, the whole tenor of pop music changed.

Suddenly now, 30 years later, to our surprise, he appears on stage.
He sings, and his voice has not changed at all since the 70s.
He sings, and at the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony, as the quiet troubadour of peace that he always was.
Thousands of the people in the audience are clearly Western people who are of the age that grew up on his music and remember loving him then.
And now he is back.
Like a brother who disappeared without a trace when you were a kid who suddenly comes back to your door today.

That day was a special event.
In my measure two of the greatest Muslims of the world in the same place - both of whom have done more for more people that we can imagine - one empowering the poorest of the poor to break their chains of despondency, the other illuminating the hearts of the lost and wandering to find their way to everlasting Love and Happiness.

'I feel right about making music and singing about life in this fragile world again,' Yusuf says of his return to the pop music world. 'It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross.'

Next point - who won the Nobel Peace Prize that is so great that Yusuf comes out of singing retirement to sing for?
He is, to me, the probably greatest Muslim to be walking the Earth at this moment.
He made it possible for millions of people in the poorest countries of the world climb out of hopeless poverty, without riches to himself, without hogging the headlines.
He is Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh.
God bless this man!

Read his acceptance speech here.

How he started this immmense (and I would say unimaginable) project he describes like this :

I became involved in the poverty issue not as a policymaker or a researcher. I became involved because poverty was all around me, and I could not turn away from it. In 1974, I found it difficult to teach elegant theories of economics in the university classroom, in the backdrop of a terrible famine in Bangladesh. Suddenly, I felt the emptiness of those theories in the face of crushing hunger and poverty. I wanted to do something immediate to help people around me, even if it was just one human being, to get through another day with a little more ease. That brought me face to face with poor people's struggle to find the tiniest amounts of money to support their efforts to eke out a living. I was shocked to discover a woman in the village, borrowing less than a dollar from the money-lender, on the condition that he would have the exclusive right to buy all she produces at the price he decides. This, to me, was a way of recruiting slave labor.

I decided to make a list of the victims of this money-lending "business" in the village next door to our campus.

When my list was done, it had the names of 42 victims who borrowed a total amount of US $27. I offered US $27 from my own pocket to get these victims out of the clutches of those money-lenders. The excitement that was created among the people by this small action got me further involved in it. If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?

That is what I have been trying to do ever since. The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank located in the campus to lend money to the poor. But that did not work. The bank said that the poor were not creditworthy. After all my efforts, over several months, failed I offered to become a guarantor for the loans to the poor. I was stunned by the result. The poor paid back their loans, on time, every time! But still I kept confronting difficulties in expanding the program through the existing banks. That was when I decided to create a separate bank for the poor, and in 1983, I finally succeeded in doing that. I named it Grameen Bank or Village bank.

I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.
Today, Grameen Bank gives loans to nearly 7.0 million poor people, 97 per cent of whom are women, in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank gives collateral-free income generating, housing, student and micro-enterprise loans to the poor families and offers a host of attractive savings, pension funds and insurance products for its members. Since it introduced them in 1984, housing loans have been used to construct 640,000 houses. The legal ownership of these houses belongs to the women themselves. We focused on women because we found giving loans to women always brought more benefits to the family.

In a cumulative way the bank has given out loans totaling about US $6.0 billion. The repayment rate is 99%. Grameen Bank routinely makes profit. Financially, it is self-reliant and has not taken donor money since 1995. Deposits and own resources of Grameen Bank today amount to 143 per cent of all outstanding loans. According to Grameen Bank's internal survey, 58 per cent of our borrowers have crossed the poverty line.

Grameen Bank was born as a tiny homegrown project run with the help of several of my students, all local girls and boys. Three of these students are still with me in Grameen Bank, after all these years, as its topmost executives. They are here today to receive this honour you give us.

This idea, which began in Jobra, a small village in Bangladesh, has spread around the world and there are now Grameen type programs in almost every country.

A human being is born into this world fully equipped not only to take care of him or herself, but also to contribute to enlarging the well being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity, during their lifetime, to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with. They die unexplored and the world remains deprived of their creativity, and their contribution.

All I can surmise at the end of this is this - this man, with his sincere intentions and added to it sincere devotion and love for others, is aided only by the Divine, for only by miracle did he succeed as he did - to help others. In an age where we marvel at accomplishments in terms of how lavish, how expensive, how luxurious, how bloody they are, here is an accomplishment which places all the others in the shade.

Our Master the Beloved Prophet of God said, "None of you are true believers unless and until you love for your brother what you would love for yourselves.".

It is so fitting that Yusuf Islam sang the most appropriate of his songs, so beautifully at this event.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Farewell Old Friend

Originally uploaded by LilMudPie.

I took this photo of my cable TV decoder box and remote 4 months ago.
I then went over to Starhub and surrendered it to them and cancelled my cable TV subscription.
5 months ago I gave the TV in my bedroom to my mother, and 6 months ago the main TV in the living room of our home sort of blew up and had to be carted away.
In short, 6 months ago God smote my TV.

The first few weeks were the worst. We craved for our daily dose.
We wondered what happened to our TV characters in our cartoons and miniseries. We suddenly had hours of spare time.
We didnt know what to look at when we sat in the living room.

We adjusted our living room furniture so that we no longer faced the Great Altar That Presides In Everybody's Temple.
Our sofas, and us in it, now face each other.
We placed our family photos on the TV console.
That helped.

We developed other things to do in the spare time. Homework no longer gets undone.
Prayer does not get delayed by something happening on TV anymore.
We read a lot more than before.
We talk a lot more to each other now.

The home is peaceful - so peaceful.
No background noise of cartoon yells, car crashes, gunshots, shouting music, canned laughter.
We no longer know - nor care - about what happens to the non-existent people in the non-existent worlds of television shows anymore.

In his book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman, writing 20 years ago, observed that the people in our society today show a disproportionate interest in fictional happenings (most TV shows are fictional) and in events that have no effect on them (hyperinformationalism, or obsession with news of events in places we have no connection or control over).
I personally believe that these two things are spiritually toxic.
They serve the function of drawing our attention away from our inner selves.
By knowing our selves do we know God, said our Master the Prophet (prayer and peace be upon Him).
How much time do we spend on introspection and self-evaluation if we are occupied for hours staring at fictitious worlds and distant events?
Given, some measure of intellectual escapism is needed to give a person some perspective in life, and as such fictional literature, and its visual parallel, film, can play a positive role in a person's spiritual quest - but always in levels that WE control, certainly not in the overwhelming presence that IT controls US.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Il Mare

As you probably know by now, I'm a sucker for sappy movies. I watched Il Mare last night with Mrs MudPie.

Here's a review. There is also a music video from the soundtrack of the film.

Well, this movie was what The Lake House was adapted from. It is definitely different. Without comparing with the Lake House, I would say I liked it.

What is it about love that makes people cynical?
Love is the most natural and divine emotion we can have.
When a child is born, the only emotion it has is unconditional love.
Contrast with impatience and anger, as the Prophet (may God bless Him and give Him peace) said, are not from God, but from the Devil.
So an emotion like love must be from God.
Now, there is love that is pure and free from lust - not just sexual lust, but the lust of the ego, such as people who fall in love to fulfil themselves and to make themselves happy.
The love that is free of all these is pure, and we inherit this from our embedded memories of when we were in the state of bliss before we were placed in our mothers' wombs, when we were in the paradisical pre-beginning, and were directly aware of God, loving Him and basking in His love.
In my opinion, this explains why we all yearn for love in this world, groping to find only incomplete substitutes for the Incomparable.

Back to Il Mare. The thing I like about this film, and The Lake House for that matter, is that because the characters are physically separated by time, there is no possibility of physical intimacy or physical attraction.
In a world where it has become stock of trade for films to portray sex scenes (explicit or implied) to communicate to the audience the passionate emotion between two people, these two films have been able to dispense with it altogether.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thinking About the Tortures of the Grave

The counsel which I give you is that you should not look too intently into the details of this matter or busy yourself with trying to understand it. Occupy yourself instead with warding this chastisement off by whatever means, for if you were to neglect your works and worship, and busy yourself with this matter instead you would resemble a man arrested and incarcerated by a sultan with a view to cuting off his hand or his nose, but who spent all night wondering whether he would be cut with a knife, a sword, or a razor, and neglected to devise a plan which might ward off the punishment itself, something which is the very height of folly.

It is known for certain that after his death the bondsman must meet either with dire punishment or with everlasting bliss. It is this that one should prepare for; to study the minutiae of chastisement and reward is superfluous and a waste of time.

Imam al-Ghazali - Ihya 'Ulum al-Din - the Chapter on the Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife.