20th November, 1982.

Today was one of those amazing, indescribable days in history when a couple had their very first baby, a BEAUTIFUL glowing baby girl: everyone spoke of her slenderness and her gorgeous skin and petal-like lips.

It was the day when future siblings had received the most awesome eldest sister: unparalleled in her strength of mind, her responsible nature, her protectiveness of her siblings and her love for them- she was their wondergirl: she baked with them, swam with them, taught them about everything under the sun from making sand castles to email and the internet, captivated them with her animated stories and awareness of everything, counselled them, consoled them, listened intently to them, hugged them, taught them MATH in a way no one else could, protected them against the world, stood by them like always till and beyond their wedding day.

The day when one man had the most incredible woman come into the world to become his wife: she stood  apart from every woman in her beauty, her intelligence, her strength and her inexhaustible enthusiasm and love to  help, cheer up and comfort those around her. She was contagiously happy, she chose to look happy even in trying times.

The day when a model student and leader stepped into this world: brilliant in her ideas, excellent in her every project, always either the top or among the top of her class, exceptional in her wit and intelligence, an award-winner throughout her academic life, a revolutionary house captain that made her team a winner in her 1-year tenure despite their previous 10 years of consistent failure.

Exemplary and truly one of a kind in her eloquence and expression, today was the day when one of the best teachers and debate trainers was born. She changed minds and personalities through her talent and thoughts: numerous lives would testify to this.

Today, a friend like no other came to us, to be sought and admired: for her enlivening company, her patient ears, her logical and comforting advice and most of all, her trustworthiness and encouraging words.

But more than anything, today was the day when a mother was born. This, I cannot describe. Language and talent fails me in the description of this heavenly creature- whoever takes her form. Today, a mother who risked her own life to bring new life into this world was born. She chose to do this not once, but twice. Risking her own life was not the end of it all: sacrificing her every second, which is in essence her life, to beautifully rear and nourish her greatest gifts to our world was her next choice, which she chose instantly, fearlessly, individually- against every demand of society and norms and even her own self on her. As working women slept, she paced the room with her crying infant till the morning, as they worked on computers, her work was a living being: with its own mind, its own emotions, its own will, its own tastes and its own waste. They came back home after 5pm and weekends were parties and shopping- her workplace was her home, with no such thing as office hours, off-days or sick leave or vacation nor overtime – nor pay. No employee-of-the-month, no appreciation week, no best employee award, no bonuses, no promotions – despite the work steadily increasing. On-call, 24 hours, any hour of the day, irrespective of the situation: weddings, parties, classes, alone time, friends over, time with husband – nothing matters- she has to pull herself out of anything if her child needs her, to press replay on youtube or remove the peas from the rice or change her diaper or wipe her tears because of an imaginary injury by her cousin. This, I believe, is no ordinary creation. I do not say human being because it cannot be a human being. It is a creation in itself.

Today was the day Sarah Chinoy was born. All praise and thanks are for Allah alone.



Acquiescence

Irrevocablility torments
The mind struggles and the heart laments
Sight blurs, pretence fragments. 

In wakefulness, subconscience gnaws
In deep slumber, denial dissolves. 

Acquiescence, shrewdest of realms
Punishes with shadows in dreams
Unforgiving pricks of could’ve been.
 
Destiny, is still and always half-revealed
A lifelong irony that wounds and heals.
 

The Latest in Cyber Crime— for Dummies

Too big, too vague and too fast to catch up with, it’s interesting yet fearful watching governments trying to regulate this borderless, intangible space that we now spend so much of our lives in: the infinite cyberworld. Along with newer online services have come more sophisticated crimes but with the same timeless purposes: to steal, to scare, to damage, to defame, or to inflict loss.

Before I started my internship three months ago, I was almost as clueless about cybercrime as its countless potential victims: online shoppers, e-tailers, FB users, online banking customers, advertisers, governments and entire countries— let’s just say everyone! So here’s a list of some of the newest cybercrimes you just have to be aware of:

Corporate IP Theft/ Commercial Espionage

Earlier, hackers made money by stealing people’s credit card numbers and selling them online for around $6 per piece. The latest McAfee-SAIC study shows that cyber criminals are building a huge underground economy by stealing far more valuable intellectual property (IP): that of corporations.  Trade secrets – such as designs, formulae, product specifications and processes, as well as marketing plans, R&D findings and even source code are now being leaked by insiders or extracted by sophisticated hackers from poorly protected company systems and sold to competitors and foreign governments at enormous prices. In January this year,  Renault, the second-largest automaker in France, suspended three of its managers for allegedly selling information related to the company’s electric car program. In 2008, three people were convicted of stealing marketing plans from Coca Cola.

 Malware on FB

Malware, short for ‘malicious software’, is known in law as a computer contaminant, and includes varied forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code. Malware consists of computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, etc. A computer worm is self-replicating malware which uses a computer network to send copies of itself to other computers on the network and it may do so without any user intervention. This is due to security shortcomings on the target computer. So the next time you see stories in your Facebook newsfeed showing your friends ‘liking’ outrageous pornographic videos, start thinking MALWARE!

Phishing and Whaling

Although not amongst the latest cyber crimes, what  ‘phishing’ actually means is a mystery for most. Phishing is a way of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by pretending to be a trustworthy entity in electronic communcations like emails and instant messages. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, banks, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators direct users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one.

Several recent phishing attacks have been directed specifically at senior executives and other high profile targets within businesses, and the term whaling has been coined for these kinds of attacks.

The latest prime targets of phishing are social networking sites— yes; sites where you connect with your friends, since the personal and login details entered in such sites can be stolen through phishing and used in identity theft that can in turn be used to facilitate other crimes including illegal immigration, terrorism, and espionage.

Cyber Warfare

The cyberworld is now officially recognized by the Pentagon as the fifth critical domain of warfare alongside land, sea, air and space. Cyberwarfare consists of  “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” Cyberwarfare is waged through multiple techniques: espionage, sabotage of military equipment and systems, disruption and manipulation of national infrastructure, etc. Cyber espionage in this context is the act or practice of obtaining secrets from rival governments, competitors and enemies for military, political, or economic advantage illegally using IT. The US congress is currently considering the controversial “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act 2010“, which if approved, will give the American president vast emergency powers over parts of the Internet.

The Past After the Future

It was one of those ritual trips to KLCC that students take while trying to deal with the short-semester boredom. As the LRT rolled on, the three of them sat watching the rain battering against the train windows… trees swinging wildly in the wind, cars caught in the jam below… and they began to talk about the train. What could possibly have existed a 100 years ago along the same route they were travelling on? People moved about on foot, rode animals, primitive carts maybe; taking hours to cross distances that we now cross in minutes. Their clothes, technology and food would have definitely been different from ours… ours developed, exotic and stylish; and theirs quite dull and monotonous. But what if, for a moment, we were one of those people who lived a 100 years ago that these bored friends were talking about on a train? Where exactly would we be as they spoke?

Somewhere deep below the ground, walked upon by millions of busy people. Rarely or never thought about. Our faces nameless, our positions taken over, our institutions and houses destroyed, our contributions ridiculously insignificant, our lifestyles outdated… our entire civilization buried. Our once existence on this earth would be imaginary.

Caesar’s dead for all you could care to know about him today. The mighty Pharaoh lies lifeless in a box somewhere in Egypt. The affluent Ottoman Empire has crumbled. And we would never ever know the multitudes of common people that lived during those generations. So too, we will one day be. Meaningless to those that live when we are dead.
If to learn from the past is to realise the true insignificance and temporariness of everything that humans have always cherished, it is also to marvel at the timelessness of the lives of revolutionary people throughout the ages.

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No Place Like Home

Just the thought of it ceases the rush around us, immerses us into beautiful memories and drowns our hearts in longing. Its comfort, security and love left behind, we embark on student life; living with strangers, keeping everything locked, managing budgets, planning where and how to get every meal, allotting time to do laundry and clean the room—rarely having time to think of it, yet many a times intentionally avoiding thoughts of it, but surely, it lingers constantly in each of our minds…

The advice of a father, the kiss of a mother, the laughter of a younger sister, the fights with a brother, the family discussions, the meals together, the airport reunions, the waking up to sumptuous breakfasts, the peaceful sleep knowing that everything’s taken care of for you… truly, there’s no place like home.

Screaming with the agony of loss, they held on to the corpses of their family scattered through the streets… drenched in their blood as they embraced them, crying for them to come back, this was the last exchange between too many parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings in Gaza. Children sat crying around their mother’s body for four days, trying to wake her up, not understanding why she was sleeping so long. Orphans wept throughout the city, no one coming to claim them, not knowing that they had no one left. Thousands of others with throbbing gunshot wounds, hanging limbs or phosphorous burns flooded the hospitals, the doctors not sleeping for 15 days because the patients were too many. Every few hours there were fresh announcements of death in the wards, and another anxious parent or relative or spouse fell down with grief.

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The Nobodies

They’re everywhere, yet it’s as if they don’t exist. There are millions of them, yet they go unnoticed. There are over ten of them in every single day of yours, yet you look right through them. They are not angels or spirits, yet it’s as if they are invisible.

What do the prim lawns tell you as you walk to class every morning? What does a plate of roti canai say as you enjoy it? What do the new colors of the HS cafeteria say to you? Do you see something more than a clean table as you sit to eat or study? What does a clear road say as you drive along it? What about the bus that takes you to class?
Somehow, strangely it seems, our toilets are cleaned, our roads are cleared, our lawns are trimmed, our food is fresh, our walls are painted, our tables are wiped, we get to class on time… it all just happens. It’s all done.
By the Nobodies.

Thousands of us walk past them as they sweep early in the morning, but not even a handful can bother to smile at them or greet them. They drive so many of us to our classes, but it seems only a few of us don’t choke at the door and turn to say “Thank you, abang“. Yes they’re paid to cook our food, but why do the rules of courtesy not apply to them? Or perhaps they should have an ‘Honors Degree in Asian Cuisine’ from Harvard, then we’d thank them even if they burnt our food. As we talk about Ethics for Everyday Life over lunch, a nobody perhaps our mother’s age carefully cleans our messy table, wishing she understood us educated people. If she only knew how less we understood our own words.

Behind every stroke of new paint in HS is a person struggling to make ends meet and feed his family, behind every clean road is a person who always dreamt of owning a motorcycle, behind every washed toilet is a person juggling work, family and health, behind every hot meal are burnt hands… behind every comfort of ours are nobodies who wish to be noticed by the blind people they work for.

May Allah bless the nobodies of our world through whom He makes our lives comfortable. May He ease their burdens and cure our blindness. May He bless them with provision and us with the ability to be grateful, Aameen.

[First published in 2009]

Of Love, Commitment & Marriage in Islam

[A Marriage Sermon by Mirza Yawar Baig delivered at my cousin’s wedding.]

“And among His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. So that you might find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and mercy between you: in this, behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect (think!)” Qur’an 30:21

As I am sure most of you are aware, marriage in Islam is a legal contract. It is a contract between two people in the presence of witnesses the Best of whom is Allah Himself before whom this contract is made and to whom the ones making the contract will be accountable. It is therefore essential that they understand what they are contracting to do. I recited before you an ayah from the Qur’an where Allah speaks about the institution of marriage and mentions specifically three special features of the way He created it. He uses three critical words in this ayah:

The first word Allah used is the word Sukoon .

Allah said: And among his signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind so that you may find Sukoon with them. So what is Sukoon? It is a word that we use in Urdu as well so I am sure all my friends who understand Urdu have an idea about its meaning. In Arabic, Sukoon is the opposite of Al – Haraka – or movement. In Arabic grammar the equivalent of the maatra on the letter is called Al-Haraka which tells us how the letter “moves” meaning, how it is to be pronounced. When there is a Sukoon on the letter it means that the letter remains as it is and will not move and will be pronounced in its original form.

Allah has used the term Sukoon as the first purpose of the marriage. He said that He creates mates for us so that we may find Sukoon with them. So that we may find contentment with them. So that we may find peace and tranquility with them. Not so that we now have a permanent sparring partner with whom to test our strength and show who has the upper hand. The first condition of the contract is that the spouses are undertaking to promise that they will henceforth lead their lives in such a way that they will make their companionship, their home, their being together and their support for one another a source of contentment and Sukoon for each other.

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I live in a miserable world.

I miss those days when there was no Facebook or Twitter or Messenger. Days of long letters to far away relatives and hours of phone conversations with friends without having to worry about credit running out, excitedly looking forward to parties where we could see our real faces instead of fake profile pics. Picnics in fields and parks when we’d hear and see lively animated chatter, where we played real games and not some ridiculous virtual farming. Days of real expressions of the joy of births and weddings and meeting, not the little black hearts and godforsaken smileys and socially obligatory “likes” that interaction has come down to. And definitely not the million fake poses that the best moments of our lives have become.

Relatives or friends or even family, we’re literally only virtually connected now. By cables and worldwide webs and wireless connections. Not anymore by blood or affinity or  love or childhood. And the worst part is, we feel better off this way. Hugging our darling, cherished computers and phones to sleep.

EXAM ATTACK!!!

A prevalent modern disease bordering on insanity; generally erupts during mid-March and mid-October in UIA and vulnerable groups include young adults ranging from students of engineering to students of Celpad. It’s most likely causes have been discovered to be overdoses of procrastination, daily sleep extensions in morning classes, abnormal number of visits to KLCC, excessive dependence on seniors’ unopened notes and sudden realization that one is a student.

Symptoms of exam attacks are hard to miss: victims appear to be continuously tensed, complaining of headaches and hair loss, desperately searching for lecturers’ rooms and going in and out of the library just to feel better. Extreme cases may also show occasional bursts of mad laughter due to feelings of helplessness. Dressing sense also tends to drop on a mass level. The positive effects however include major economic benefits for the café near the library and other producers of caffeinated drinks.

Places to avoid during this period would definitely include the library where large concentrations of infected people can be found discussing their stress.
Cures for this disease are handed out by lecturers every semester but are unfortunately missed by the usual victims due to any of the previously mentioned causes.
In an attempt to minimize the effects of this self-inflicted trauma, we would like to propose a few solutions:

1. MAKE A STUDY PLAN!
List all the topics that you want to study and put a check box next to each of them, allocating sufficient time to each topic depending on their length and importance. Ticking the check box after completing a topic is guaranteed to give you immense mental satisfaction (Yes, the same mental satisfaction that we want but never get by sitting for hours in the library and staring at our books).

2. STICK TO YOUR FAJR PRAYER
Praying Fajr in the silence of dawn increases the mind’s concentration power and prepares it for intensive activity during the day. Reading the Qur’an at Fajr greatly strengthens memory power and has been the practice of many great Muslim scholars.

3. MAKE SPECIAL DUA REQUESTS
Call your parents and ask them to pray for your success. A parent’s prayer for his or her child is very special to Allah. Don’t forget to ask for your lecturers’ and friends’ prayers as well. Try it and see how much it matters.

4. TAKE USEFUL BREAKS
While you break between your study, read a page of the Qur’an. Apart from sharpening your memory, it calms you and increases your grades in the Hereafter.
“…for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (13:28)

5. REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE STUDYING
Remember that you’re here to educate yourself and increase your value as a person, not to test the extent to which your brain can be jammed with information and how accurately it can be thrown out onto your paper. After all, “Education is what is left when what has been learnt is forgotten.”

Who’s Life is it, Anyway?

Let’s see, what do we need for a life again? Air. Breathing apparatus (your lungs basically). An object to contain that breathing apparatus (this would be the physical you). A reason for that object with the breathing apparatus to exist. Well, you don’t make or supply your own air so that part of your life isn’t yours. You didn’t make your own lungs neither your body, you were made with materials belonging to someone else (guess Who), and if robots are copyrighted then you definitely are, so you don’t own your physical self either. But since you use them, it means they’ve been given to you, you must know by now that NOTHING is for free in our world (not even the ‘free’ ketchup!), so unless you remember buying your own lungs, etc. or renting them, you can successfully conclude that they’ve been loaned to you. And they all have an expiry date.

Now let’s talk about the reason for you to exist. This reason can be anything, unlike our lungs and our air and our body, we’re free to choose the design, quality, depth and beauty of this reason and thereby determine the value of our life. Ultimately, life is the execution of this reason. Since you determine this reason, you can safely say that at least this part of your life is truly yours. Or is it? Take a look at everything that you do. Is what you own what you require or what is socially accepted? Does dressing up go beyond the natural and civil requirement of being clean and presentable? Or does it involve dressing up (or down) for the pleasure of someone else, and hence living that part of ‘your’ life for someone other than yourself. Does getting a degree mean fulfilling a job requirement or developing yourself? Does learning mean passing an exam or increasing your awareness? Does talking involve regular showers of swear words that add nothing to the point you’re trying to convey? Does your sense of modesty change with changes in location? Do you sacrifice your own comfort just to beautify your walk? Are you ashamed to say you’re unaware of the latest shows and music? Do you smoke because you’re not a man if you don’t?

How much of what you use, speak, watch, eat, wear, spend or do is because it really makes you more valuable? How much of your life have you lived genuinely for the benefit of your own self? How much of your life have you let others own, determine and destroy?

We all need to work on our lives, large parts of which aren’t ours anymore. If our ancestors were physically invaded and enslaved; our very identities are the slaves of the massive consumerist and hedonistic empire of the modern world. Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but the liberty to do as you should. Go back to your Creator’s Book. It will show you the depth and beauty you can give to your life and will free you from being possessed by this world.