Disbelief in God, Belief in Santa

I’m probably about to commit the blogosphere equivalent of suicide by passing a slightly negative comment on one of Chairman Gruber’s recent posts.

In a slight variation on the cringeworthy “some of my friends are black” defence, I would just like to point out that some of my best friends are in fact atheists and agnostics, and I don’t take issue with Gruber’s apparent atheism. It’s just the quote he pulls out is of dubious quality. Science is actually held together by a bunch of theories. Many sciences have come and gone. So the course of science could have been dramatically different, what is important is not what science produces in the way of laws and theories, but the scientific process itself.

He (Jillette) should have said maths of course, but he’s also made the error of imagining that the social concepts that run through many of the world’s great religions can’t be separated from the times they were established in. You’d also have to suppose there was no God to come up with the logic that Penn Jillette, the quoted author does in the citation provided by Gruber for that conclusion to work. With a God in place, the idea that Messengers can come throughout history to call to His Unity, establishing laws suitable for the development of humanity for the time makes perfect sense. The idea also that the human race could reach a point beyond which we’d learned enough from His Messengers and we didn’t in fact need any more guidance, with the God of Islam urging us again and again to ponder, to reflect, to use our reason, is also not so radical or stupid, and Islam does in fact teach this.

Then you could also make the same point about art. Or literature. Or music. I’d argue that the popular music of today is as valueless and ugly as the militant atheism of Dawkins, but I can’t imagine that Jillette would argue that art or literature or music of the past was nonsense.

The reason Jillette has to imagine a reconstruction of religion in different forms each time is because he is presupposing that God didn’t send revelation to His Messengers. If you believe that order came from chaos, then of course a different re-run would produce different results.

A common failing of Western ideologues is that they completely ignore Islam and the reason for that is quite simple: They believe in their culture’s stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. I have been reading Anne Lamott’s brilliant “Bird by Bird” as recommended by Tim Ferriss. It’s taken me a while and I decided to go for the home stretch today. Written in 1994, thus predating 9/11 by quite a few years, it has until today for me been a book I’d recommend to anyone. Now I’m planning on using it for toilet paper because having taken my sweet time to read it, I came to the chapter headed “giving” today and found this distasteful tract. (The emphasis is mine.)

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers ,will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, wilful, terrible, crazed and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel.

On reading this, the intimacy that Lamott had developed with me during the course of her book drained out of me instantly. Like a wife who finds out that the man she has loved for several decades is in fact, a serial killer. It’s like finding out that Tony Benn has a Nazi memorabilia museum and that he salutes the German national anthem with tears of nostalgia welling up in his misty eyes. This kind of rubbish is used to bolster the views that start with mosque burnings and Breivik, but ultimately lead to wars of aggression and genocide.

So an important point gets missed. The Qur’an has not in fact changed one iota in 1400 years, unlike ever other religious text. We didn’t humanly have the technology to do that before. Science was developed hugely by Muslims (and Christians) who saw no conflict between their faith and reason and still don’t. It’s only a fashion to be militantly atheist and it’s shockingly easy to be an ignorant atheist too, simply because it’s so fashionable. I wonder if Jillette realises just how extraordinarily unprecedented this act of preservation is?

Some people accuse Gruber of being a fanboy. I think such people are irredeemably stupid. If he’s a fanboy (of Apple), then I’m screwed. If we’re fanboys, it’s of stuff that works really well and is designed for our needs. If something better comes along, we’ll take it. Our position is based on our reason, not on somebody else’s.

I do see a lot of atheism fanboyism going on though, a position taken without too much thought. I’m not going to accuse Gruber of that, because he rarely talks about the personal, but I do hope that he and others who have hung their hats on the Hitchens hook will at least have a look at Islam one day, having removed as far as possible, any of the prejudices they might unconsciously harbour against it.


Regent’s Park

I’ve been going to Regent’s Park for 46 years now.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

I’m still drawn to this place, even if I do feel somewhat rejected by racist usurpers who think they own it, barging us out of the way. They don’t own it. The Crown Estate does. Which means it belongs more to me than the Americans who forced me and my wife to make way attempting, but failing to ruin our beautiful afternoon walk.

There was one Spanish gentleman with his son on a bike. He moved for my wife, which was gracious of him. The English of course, treated us like scum, necks stiffening, voices rising, all ages, all classes, expected the paki scum to move. You only become sensitive to this stuff when you have experienced it for a long time.

The most notable exception was a Muslim family who like us, displayed gracious etiquette and moved. Please note, I don’t expect people to move for me, I always move and am happy to do so, but over decades, you understand body language, you read the dance, you know who is prepared to move with you, and you know who is not, and why. When you both start moving, there is genuine humility and giving on display, the head bows slightly, a small smile, sometimes not so small, spreads, otherwise subtle movements are exaggerated.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

These pictures were all taken on my iPhone 4, some using the Clarity filter in Camera+, then the Lomofi filter in Instagram.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

If you like these and you’re on Instagram, I’m shahidkamal, of course, and @shahidkamal on Twitter too.

The racist usurpers will neither know, nor love Regent’s Park the way I do.

Happy Birthday, Alhamdulillah

Birthdays don’t mean anything other than that which we ascribe to them, but they serve as a useful milestone for reflecting on change, growth, status and so on, whilst also giving us pause for thought about our direction and our future. So in the tradition of past birthday posts, I’m going to reflect briefly on the above.

Alhamdulillah, things have never been better on a personal level. My family continues to fill me with joy. My friends are truly generous, loyal and supportive. My colleagues inspire me with their talents, their courtesy and their friendship. I cannot say enough good things about my wife and kids. They are truly magnificent, just the most wonderful people a man could ever ask for in his life. My cup runneth over.

My health is as good, if not better, than at any time in my life. My weight is spectacularly heading back to the lows of a decade ago. The kidney disease that threatened me in 1997 has receded, miraculously. 14 years on from that fateful diagnosis and my creatinine levels are in normal range. My thyroid is fine. My eyes are fine. I have strong foot pulses. My HbA1c is heading in the right direction, finally in the 7% ballpark. My fitness has improved dramatically and I regularly play table tennis at a good level for an hour and a half. I can walk for miles with no discomfort. I can take the stairs up 10 flights and not be finished at the top. Alhamdulillah for all this.

My home is serene. Even the once noisy neighbours have piped down. The respect I have from my working network is humbling. To use the modern parlance, check out the love I get on LinkedIn. I look at that from time to time and wonder if my colleagues, past and present, are talking about a different, mythical person.

My faith, now in its 8th year, continues to be the source of peace and harmony, providing a rock on which the rest of my life continues to grow and develop as I look on in amazement at the countless blessings. Two of my close friends from my Qadiani days have joined me in Islam and are flourishing. I have great relationships with many wonderful Muslims from all over the world. They inspire and motivate me. I hear story after story after story of people unwittingly trapped in the Qadiani Ahmadiyya cult coming back to Islam and I am gratified and grateful. Guidance comes from Allah alone.

After hardship, there is ease. And of course, if hardship comes again, as it does, I will, insha’Allah accept it as part of the pattern of life and still say alhamdulillah.

So yes, whilst birthdays mean nothing in themselves, and with the deepest humility in light of all the suffering in the world and through the lens of my past, personal suffering, a very, very, very happy 46th birthday to me.


Security, Sidestep and Google Accounts

In the wake of several crude hack attempts, ostensibly by members of the Qadiani Ahmadiyya cult, I decided to play it safe and up my email security. I now use two-step verification, which I recommend to anyone interested in keeping their digital identity protected. As more and more of our lives become digital (how many people no longer need to do their Christmas shopping anywhere other than on-line these days?) we need to take more precautions with our email addresses, google accounts and passwords.

I tend to use quite ridiculously strong passwords, sometimes opting for long pass phrases and at other times choosing random characters. I don’t remember them, I have 1Password for that, except for when I’m at work, but I tend to keep my private life and work life quite separate, so if there’s anything personal I need to do, I prefer to use my own machine from the comfort of a nearby coffee shop, and that’s where I run into a little snag.

You see, most coffee shops use open WiFi, with no WEP, never mind WPA or anything fancier, so unless you’re using https login for your gmail, pretty much everything you’re sending over the air can be captured by a person running Firesheep as a plugin in an older version of Firefox. Then you’re stuffed. So I use Sidestep to get me hooked up to a proxy server. I’ve also used it to connect to my VPN on an Amazon EC2. I really don’t consider myself an expert in any of these things, but I can do what I need to follow instructions. Sidestep automatically directs me to a proxy if I happen to be on an open line, and leaves things alone if I’m on an encrypted wireless network, as I often am at home.

Sadly, Sidestep interferes with Google’s 2-step verification and Mail’s GMail integration gets confused. At home then, I have to disable Sidestep rather than leave it running and at a coffee shop, I will just have to go to gmail through my browser, or leave it for the iPhone.