Post Eclipse

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After much hysteria, inflated prices for solar glasses, booked out hotels, traffic predictions, ‘eclipse 2017’ tees, skepticism at the safety of viewing, and of course the retail marketing e-mails with subject lines “A Total Eclipse of a Sale!” and “Shop now before this deal is eclipsed!”, America did nothing short of almost ruining this event.

However, it’s comforting to know that even all that is nothing in front of what’s above us. These photographs are worth looking at—they restore all the calm and awe.

http://www.boredpanda.com/solar-eclipse-2017/

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‘Experiencing’ the Total Solar Eclipse on 08/21/17

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No doubt, in the past couple of weeks if you’ve tried to purchase ISO-certified eclipse viewing glasses, you’ve had tough luck. Following high demand, vendors on amazon are only selling these glasses in bulk packs, sometimes as expensive as $300 for a 5 pairs. Rental cars are booked out for that day as are hotels along the total-eclipse path.

Nonetheless, there are still many bright sides under the sun:

1) Libraries across the USA are hosting eclipse-viewing events. If you are able to attend one of these events at your local library, or contact them for information, you might still be able to find some glasses (and likely for free!): http://spacescience.org/software/libraries/map.php

2) Media projects everything to become bloated. Solar eclipses occur around the world every year. While it’s true that the last-total-solar-eclipse-to-span-all-of-North-America was 99 years ago, the next one of that same kind is only 7 years from now on April 8, 2024.

3) A solar eclipse is not a visual event. It’s an experience. And viewing the sun through glasses is one of many ways to have this experience.

Other ways include using a colander or making a pinhole camera to view the phenomenon without looking directly at the sun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKgK-hGmFQQ

Another way is to observe what’s happening around you under the eclipse. Even though a lot of hard science doesn’t exist (yet), there have been accounts of animals acting differently during solar eclipses: http://www.cnn.com/…/animals-react-to-the-eclipse/index.html

It’s important to not rely on only one of your senses during an eclipse. One eclipse chaser from San Diego remarked: “No photo or video can convey the experience of a total eclipse, but audio recordings come closest. I am not a very emotional person, but when I listen to recordings I have made at previous eclipses, I often get tears in my eyes.” So watch out for changes in the air, in sounds, and in plants and animals outside!

There’s nothing more wonderful actually than learning itself. Hearing and learning about what others have experienced has a higher value than it might sound. There’s a wonderful TED talk up by an eclipse chaser ( https://www.ted.com/…/david_baron_you_owe_it_to_yourself_to… ) as well as these brilliant individual accounts that are definitely worth reading: https://www.buzzfeed.com/sallytam…/astronomers-and-eclipses…

From an Islamic viewpoint, eclipses are seen as two signs among the signs of God that He shows His worshipers—so when we see them, we pray, invoke Him, and ask for His forgiveness. A beautiful, lengthy prayer called Salat-ul-Kusoof is designated for eclipses. An eclipse is seen as an opportunity to reflect and remember God, and to connect to His presence. This prayer has been the most powerful experience of an eclipse I’ve personally had.

And again, I can’t stress it enough: do not look at the sun without certified eye wear. Do not look at the sun through a reflection of something (mirror, CD, water). Do not, do not, do not be careless about this. Eyesight > eclipse.

Happy experiencing! 🙂 

white_light_corona.jpg[image credit: NASA]

Blackfish

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Nov 22, 2016

As it began nearing to 3:30pm, we made our way to the Shamu Amphitheater for the scheduled show.

People were flooding in and filling bleachers. A bee was after the glass of Sprite in my hand. As I tried to wave it away, forgetting I was holding the glass still, that Sprite fell on me. My niece was trying to escape onto the bleacher steps. Kids in the row behind us were using their brand new Shamu shaped bubble guns. It was all that a tourist could create. We sat and waited. Some lights started turning on. Some rehearsed lines sounded over the microphones. But the voices didn’t matter. The water’s appearance change, almost brewing. What the water announced drowned out the microphones.

And then, rising out from underneath straight into the air, appeared a black and white orca. My eyes and heart fused into one. My senses went numb. My face was skewed, not out of disapproval, but an overwhelming state. What I saw before me was magnificent, and beautiful. It actually did take my breath away. It was the kind of thing, had I any room or time to pace back and forth between the bleachers, I would certainly have been doing so, bewildering at the creation I was seeing.

I knew Blackfish was out there though. After I came back home that weekend I watched it. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The living conditions that were revealed were inhumane. But what I will never forget is the way Tilikum was captured as a child from his family, as his parents floated alongside the boats, wailing for their baby.

It’s very difficult to appreciate ‘good efforts’ after that. People argue that without places like zoos and sanctuaries, no one would know or care about any of these animals. The fact is santuaries, zoos, and Sea World are different things. How many sanctuaries can be boasted about around here? The few places I’ve heard of as anything truly ‘sanctuary’ were places like New Zealand where nature is actually preserved with great effort. I don’t mean to say they don’t exist here, but it’s also true that many zoos also have awful living conditions. Even for animals that were bred there and are taken care of well, some animals’ size naturally requires them a larger area to move around in.

As for Sea World, I don’t think I learned anything about Orcas. It felt like pure entertainment. I don’t deny that the people working there have great care and admiration for these creatures and that they know the risks involved. But the issue isn’t about the people, is it? The issue is that these animals are being kept in an area that would be analogous to us being kept in a bath tub. Often they’re starved until the show so that they will perform for the treats they receive during it. Often they get hurt in other ways.

Should orcas be put back into the wild? Obviously not. They couldn’t survive because of how they’ve been bred and raised. But what is the reason to take so many animals and keep them in these sort of places. Sanctuaries might be great, if they’re being done right. But from what I saw in Blackfish, SeaWorld doesn’t seem like that.

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Unfortunately we live in the day and age where it’s hard to look at any piece of news or admonition, and know if it’s true or not. Blackfish for me personally, was convincing, and I think it serves as a powerful reminder to us regarding not just orcas, but the very many animals that are in captivity under terrible living conditions.

I do have to say though, without seeing an actual orca while visiting Sea World, I actually may not have seen Blackfish, not this soon anyway. So it’s all been a bit dichotomous, if that’s the right word.

And I’d like to end on a recommendation for anyone reading this post. Wildest India, on Netflix, is another one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen. Even if you can only get to the first part about the Thar desert, try to see that episode.

It shows a relationship between humans and animals in the wild that raises another powerful reminder: we are capable of better.

Salah Study: Know what you’re saying [part 1]

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Our beloved Book, the Holy Quran, begins with words that we recite at the absolute least, 17 times a day. Our prayer is not considered valid without the recitation of Surah Fatiha in each rakah.

Yet the long-held familiarity with it can very easily lead us to remain incognizant of what we’re even saying. Our tongues know it so well that we can recite it without a second thought, but Allah has granted the Fatiha to us in every part of our salah for a much higher end. Its special place in prayer itself demands that we reflect on what we are saying. As Nouman Ali Khan says, “the muslim is supposed to really develop a genuine connection with the Quran in salah—that’s where the connection with the Quran exists—and that the purpose to tafseer (exegesis) is to give life to our salah.”

Thus we begin with the first part of the surah today, in attempt to appreciate what the Fatiha means and how it can help us connect with Allah during our prayers.

Scholars dispute whether the basmallahScreen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.06.59 AM.png (Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim) counts as an ayah of the surah or not. Regardless, as we do not begin the Fatiha or any other surah without reciting the basmallah first, this study will begin with a short note on the words Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim before beginning the actual ayaat.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim occurs at the beginning of every surah of the Quran save one—#9: Surah at-Tawbah—and it occurs twice within one surah—#27: surah an-Naml—making its occurrence a grand total of 114 times in the Quran. It’s the first thing we’re encouraged to say as toddlers, we are taught to say it before eating, before starting anything, before any regular act really. All the things that make up our day ideally should begin with the name of Allah.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim is often translated as: ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind.’ However, this isn’t a very accurate translation. The basmallah includes two names of Allah, ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim, out of the 99 some that we know. Why were these two used and not one of the others?

The answer to this came for me in an explanation of the root word behind both names: the word Rahmah. I could only do as good as transcribe the words of the speaker from the clip of the talk I heard (which I have also provided), but I much rather recommend listening to the audio, as Nouman Ali Khan’s way of explaining it is much more emphatic than it may read in written words. Nonetheless both are below:

Listen here!

Or read here:

“Rahmah in Arabic comes from the word rahm.

Rahm is actually the stomach of the pregnant mother—rahm is the womb. Commonly Rahmah gets translated as what? Mercy. I don’t like that translation. I have a problem with the translation ‘mercy’. Even though I use it because I’m so used to it—it’s not a good translation for the word Rahmah. Because the word mercy is used when something bad was about to happen and you stopped it from happening—in other words: “please, mercy, mercy, mercy.” Or for example: ‘the soldiers went into the village and they showed nobody any mercy,’ which means they didn’t spare anyone. In other words, when we use the word mercy in English, it’s when thinking about something bad that was about to happen and it stopped from happening. Ever seen the kids game, Mercy Mercy 1-2-3? It’s about being scared.

But the word Rahmah is not about being scared. The word for being scared is ‘being forgiven’—its maghfirah. The word Rahmah has to do with the stomach of the mother:

So this child is inside. This child’s entire world is what? This stomach. He has no sky. He has no other house. He has no bills to pay. He’s got nothing else. This is his world. He’s fed from that world, he sleeps in that world, he wakes up in that world, he breathes in that world—everything is inside here.

And all of his needs are being taken care of without any effort from him, by who? Now if somebody lives in your house—a stranger lives in your house—they eat whatever they want, whenever they want. They wake you up whenever they want. They kick you whenever they want. They’re a constant burden on you and the more time they spend, they get more and more difficult on you. Does your love for them increase? Does your love increase for a person staying in your house with a constant burden that is increasing, and they’re getting fatter and fatter and fatter and eating more and more of your food, and when you lie down, they sit on your belly. Would your love for them increase?

The more the baby becomes dependent, the more it kicks from the inside, the more it stretches—does a mother’s love increase or decrease? She cares more! She gets more careful, she walks around like this when she enters a door like she doesn’t want to touch the doorway. The idea here is that someone who takes care of you despite the pain you cause them, and someone who keeps providing for you, and their love for you continues to increase, and so does their care for you. And as their care for you increases, what you demand from them increases—meaning you’re not giving them anything in return. And they’re giving you love and care. Continually.

When Allah is Rahmah, when Allah is Rahim, it doesn’t just mean He’s merciful. It means He loves you, and He cares for you, and you keep asking Him for more and more stuff, but it doesn’t take away from His love. He doesn’t get annoyed with you—He keeps giving you more and more stuff. The love of Allah is embedded inside the word Rahim, which is why Hadith Qudsi says: ‘Allah turned to the womb of the mother, and said “salaytuka bi ismi:” I named you with My Name.

To get some idea, of what it means that Allah is Rahim—wa lillahi mathalul ala—to just get SOME picture of what that means—is the mother and her baby. It’s the closest you’ll get.” —Nouman Ali Khan

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Every time we say Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim before our prayer, every time we say ar-Rahman ar-Rahim in Surah Fatiha, with this explanation in mind as our definition for those names of Allah, we can know Him the way He means for us to know Him, and we can feel His love and care in every salah.

There’s still one more thing though: the qualities of the names ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim. I’ll be quoting Nouman Ali Khan, but again his verbal explanation is a lot more powerful, provided here: audio about ar-Rahman ar-Rahim.

Nouman Ali Khan goes to explain that ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim have very unique qualities to them despite a single syllable shift in structure. He says:

Ar Rahman actually does three things because of the way it’s spelled. It is extreme, and it is beyond expectation. What that means is that Allah is not just loving, He is EXTREMELY loving, beyond expectation. So whatever you expect from Allah in love and mercy, know that it is beyond your expectation.

The second meaning of ar-Rahman is that it is something immediately. It’s not something you have to wait for, it’s something happening now. Think of it in English, what’s the different between someone who is patient, and who is being patient? Ar-Rahman is not something happened generally, but RIGHT NOW. In ar-Rahman, we acknowledge that we don’t have to wait for Allah to show you love or care or mercy, it is actually happening in its extreme form right now.

The third part of the meaning is that it’s temporary. Every word on this pattern in the Arabic language is temporary—atshaan  means ‘extremely thirsty’ but eventually you drink water and you’re better. Ju’aan means your ‘extremely hungry’ and then you eat and you’re okay. When you add the ‘aan’ at the end of a word in the Arabic language, it means the quality is extreme, right now, and it’s not permanent. But it’s temporary because something takes it away. What takes thirst away? Drink. What takes hunger away? Food. But then we’re saying that Allah’s love is extreme, beyond expectation, it’s coming right now, but don’t mess up because if you do something so bad, you may be disqualified and it may be taken away.

So the three qualities of ar-Rahman are: (1) extreme, (2) happening right now, and (3) temporary.

The next name is ar-Rahim and this has two things to remember. One is that it’s permanent. The second is that it’s not necessarily right now. For example, when I say that my mother is loving, it’s a long term quality, but she may not be loving right now.

Now think about this. If Allah only said ar-Rahman, the love and mercy of Allah would’ve been extreme, it would’ve been right now. But it would not have been permanent. If Allah only said ar-Rahim, the love and mercy of Allah would have been permanent, but it would not have been extreme, and it would not have necessarily been right now.

So, how do I talk about the love and mercy of Allah so it’s extreme, so that it’s right now, and it’s permanent, all at the same time—the only way to do that is: ar-Rahman ar-Rahim.

Subhan Allah.”

Allah is so caring, so loving to us, that when He teaches us the names of His that we will use most in our lives, He gives us the ones that not only emphasize the extent of His love, but also the ones that ensure we are extremely, immediately, always under His love and care.

Day 30: Zindagi ka Safar

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Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 11.27.38 PMI had to post this before National Poetry Month ends. I really heard the song ‘Zindagi ka Safar’ for its meaning in the past year, when I came across a rare live performance of Kishore Kumar as he sang it.

Of course, and unfortunately, those who speak Urdu or Hindi will be able to reap the meaning better, but I’ll try my best to translate. It’s the second verse in particular that nearly makes me numb from how beautiful the wording is.

The song was sang by Kishore Kumar, composed by Kalyanji Anandji, and the lyrics were written by Indeevar. The audio is provided below with the translation of the verse I wish to share, which begins at 2 minutes 20 seconds into the video:

Listen here:

“Aise jeevan bhi hain
jo jiye hi nahin
Jin ko jeene se pehle hi maut aa gayi

Phool aise bhi hain
jo khile hi nahin
jin ko khilne se pehle khiza kha gayi”

“Such lifetimes exist too
that were never experienced—
ones that were taken by death before they could even be lived.

Such flowers exist too
that never did open up—
ones that were eaten by autumn before they could even bloom.”

 

Day 30: And another poem

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My vision clear, not blurred nor weak
It’s hard to see what’s you or me

Can you tell,
a cloud from a cloud
when the sky casts one large shade below

Can you tell
a leaf from leaf
When bunches lush hang rustling low

Can you tell
Love Bug from Bug
when they fly conjoined through the Spring

Can you tell really,
us apart
when we walk as one shadow now

Easy to see,
with cucumber eyes
It’s easy to see what’s you and me.

 

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Day 28: Just another poem

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How have they passed, these years so soon?
Wasn’t I just
that many years young?

Feeling empty inside me and out
Prisoner in this hourglass

The grains are falling one by one
time passes without my say

What will I do, with this time lost
this era drawing to a stop

I sat upon a rock, lonely and sad
crumbling myself in heartsick thoughts

But then a critter came hopping by
It broke me from my precious glass

“What are you doing!”, I first exclaimed
“I’ve only this time at my hands…”

“Silly silly,” it laughed and swayed,
“Time is not yours to vanish or gain.”

And it took my hand, soft and tight
it led me to meadows and starry nights
through colorful seas and crispy trees
where snowflakes kissed my nose and cheeks

Then it came up
close to me,
it snuggled right into where I breathe
“I have to tell you what I was once told:

Allah is High, He gave us all.
He can give it back the same,
and more than that we see

Nothing’s impossible. Not for Him.
This is not an end—silly—
It’s the beginning of Home.”

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Day 27: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

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I ran into a most interesting Ted Ed video today talking about Vivaldi’s piece, The Four Seasons. It explained several reasons as to why Vivaldi was far ahead of his time, but it also revealed that accompanying the four parts of The Four Seasons were four sonnets that are reflected in the music.

The Ted ed video describes that if one were to read the poems simultaneously to hearing the music, they would see that the music perfectly describes what’s happening in the poem—everything from birds singing in starting Spring, to thunderstorms and crackling fire, to slips and falls on Winter ice.

It’s an elevated experience listening to Vivaldi’s Four seasons while reading these poems at the same time:

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Listen to Audio here

Spring – Concerto in E Major
Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Summer – Concerto in g-minor
Allegro non molto
Beneath the blazing sun’s relentless heat
men and flocks are sweltering,
pines are scorched.
We hear the cuckoo’s voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air….but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles, fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.

Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
His limbs are now awakened from their repose by fear of lightning’s flash and thunder’s roar, as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Presto
Alas, his worst fears were justified, as the heavens roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly standing corn.

 

Autumn – Concerto in F Major
Allegro
The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in.
The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.

Adagio molto
The singing and the dancing die away
as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,
inviting all to sleep
without a care.

Allegro
The hunters emerge at dawn,
ready for the chase,
with horns and dogs and cries.
Their quarry flees while they give chase.
Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,
but, harried, dies.

Winter – Concerto in f-minor
Allegro non molto
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.

Largo
To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

Allegro
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.

(original poems in Italian: see here)

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Day 24: Just a poem

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“Hello? Hello?
I’m calling to speak to your heart
Is it up? Pardon me—is it too late?

“It’s never too late,” it says to me
gently, as it takes my call.

And I start talking without a pause:
I like you, adore you, I want to eat you up
—er, I mean because you’re cute…

To me, you’re like no other man
kind and soft, like tiptoe breeze
why, you make Canadians look even harsh.

You circle my mind, morning and night
few moments of dream with you
are fuller than a bed of clouds.

The way my heart crumbles
when escapes from you a single tear
I’d wish away the window between us
swallow you up in my arms.

Esteemed poet left me these few words:
Accept not the heart enchained by mind
And so I’ve summoned not you today
but instead your middle core.

Because, the moment
we really met
my eyes landed not on your able head.

They went
straight for your heart.