There is a highest number!

Common belief: There is no highest number because with any number you can just add 1.

But, I don’t think there is any such thing as 1 or 10 or 89234. These are abstractions and abstractions are as real as unicorns – meaning they are not real.

Numbers, instead, are only real in their association with that which is tangible. So, if you have 3 apples, 3 exists as a description of the apples. If there are 10 apples, then 10 exists. But if there are only 10 apples, there is no such thing as 11. 11’s existence is entirely contingent on reality.

In this sense, if you counted every divisible thing in the universe, from the smallest particle to the largest star, the number you arrived at is the largest number. That number’s existence is entirely contingent on the number of uniquely countable objects in existence. Adding 1 to that number computes a theoretical number that does not exist.

Some might disagree, they’ll say the proof that numbers are real is that we can work with them to produce models and theories with real utility. I would say the same thing can be done with unicorns. That doesn’t make unicorns real.

I’ll note that my brother disagrees with me on this, he says numbers exist the same way, say, “Economic theory” exists. It doesn’t have physical existence, it has a different kind of existence. I dunno, that’s a tricky one.

Your thoughts?

Religion for the Secular

What do you mean Religion for the Secular? How does that make sense?

I am currently reading the story of Ibn Battuta’s travels throughout the Muslim world. A very educated scholar in his own right, the text speaks of his education and the education common to the learned men of his time. Among the subjects that are attributed to his education are law and legal theory, rhetoric, history, art, classical literature and texts, and architecture. In other words, he was primarily trained in fields of study we would collectively term Humanities.

In contrast the modern world, particularly the West, is in courtier of Hellenistic philosophy which values rationalism and objectivity over the non-tangible aforementioned disciplines. Compounding this, over time the Western world has witnessed its culture atrophied away and be replaced with the musical genius of the likes of Justin Bieber. Students are dissuaded from studying liberal arts — and for good reason, considering the unemployment rate of liberal arts students versus the hard sciences.

As the West’s culture erodes, corporations and cultural capitalists fill the with their own engineered and synthetic culture. Just one example is music. Music is no longer an organic expression of the human condition. Instead, it is designed by industry experts, who look for a pretty young face to perform their pre-written and pre-recorded widget-music, sometimes literally auto-tuning the human voice to further mechanize the sound. The objective is to design music for the masses to bring in the highest revenue.

Since culture is an expression of those non-rational components of the self, what’s left is a mind that not only lacks the ability to appreciate its own humanity, but belittles or aggressively attacks those who connect with their inner nature. Poets, genuine musicians, and religious experts are seen as “cute”, dismissed as belonging to a subculture, maligned and called “hippies”.

And in this backdrop do we find the secularist who struggle to understand the religious phenomena. He fails to distinguish between the non-rational and irrational by asking sophomoric questions such as, “Science has brought us progress, what has religion done?”, as if the questions of science are the same as the questions of religion. And to a degree, you cannot blame him. The Western mind is so infected with this strain of thought that even the religious among them beg acceptance from the scientific community by hunting for scientific justifications for miracles or reinterpreting religious texts as hints to scientific phenomena.

The issue is not that the secular mind has just not heard the right arguments to believe in God. It is that the secular mind simply does not have the tools necessary to understand the discipline. For the secular to understand religion, the Western mind needs to change its perspectives. But How? Below are just four examples.

The first is about re-orienting one’s approach to literature. Consider the Bible, an undeniably foundational text in Western civilization. Rather than reading the Bible with the eye of criticism, hunting for the inconsistencies and unhistories, look at the stories as examples of human experiences from which we can take valuable lessons. The Book of Job is not about God’s cruelty towards his prophet, as if there is a flat moral landscape between humanity and God. It is about Job’s unbreakable spirit in the face of extreme adversity. The Sermon on the Mount was told to a people who had immensely suffered under foreign oppression helped them purify their hearts of anger and hopelessness. The secularist can take from these and apply it to his own life. The goal is not to endlessly point to external factors, but to tame one’s inner state.

Another aspect is communication. Have you ever seen a beautiful landscape? Can you perfectly describe how beautiful it is, or objectively measure its brilliance? Sam Harris has the laughable notion that with enough explanation you can. People like him posit these types of absurd ideas because they divorce information from the human element, as if there is no difference between looking into the eyes of you wife and saying “I love you” versus sending the equivalent text message. Instead, recognize the differences, not through mere affirmation but through experience. Spend time with people you ordinarily talk to online, ask about their life, and understand them as human beings.

A third and perhaps most morally bankrupt conclusion of the secular mind is the preference of knowledge over wisdom, resulting in the disregard of the elderly. With time and life experience, people attain a clarity into situations that can never be attained from reading a book. But because this insight is rarely expressable as an absolute rule, it is rejected. This leads to a preference the accumulation of facts, mistaken as knowledge. And because knowledge in the modern world is constantly changing, those who cannot maintain, the elderly, are belittled and disregarded. Their council is not sought, instead they are seen as a financial burden waiting to die. One way for the secular to reconnect with their own humanity is to spend time with those who have accumulated a few more decades of life than you, present them with your problems and take heed of their advice. Take care of them while they are sick, be patient when they become angry or irrational and hope to be lucky enough to witness someone dying before you — it is not easy, but it works wonders. Over time, you will come to realize that some wisdoms, what the Sufis call Asrar (secrets), cannot be written on paper.

In my opinion, the most powerful skills that the secular need to develop is the ability to spend periods of time in silence and solitude. The modern world assaults the individual with constant sensoral stimulation in the form of TV, radio, music, sexualized imagery, etc. As a result, the individual’s focus is exclusively on the outward, caught up in distractions, and never on his own inner state. He never, for example, goes for a solitary walk in a park or spends a night alone without a computer or cell phone. At best, if he witnesses a sunset, he feels the compulsive need to take a cell phone picture and modify it with Instagram. When he cuts out the distractions and spends time alone, he forces himself to confront his inner-self, his humanity, focus on it and see what awakenings occur.

There are countless other examples of the modern erosion of one’s humanity. Other examples include the disregarding of food as material substances rather than recognizing it as an immense blessing, perceiving oneself as an individual free from obligations or humility towards his parents, the constructed convolution of gender differences to create an intellectual framework for denying what you are, recognizing clothes as genuine self-expression and not purely to chase forever changing trends, the nihilism of modern stories that are more about interesting events and never about morals, and much more.

I hope that through these exercises, the secular mind can grow to reconnect with his inner self, affirm his own non-rational humanity and use this as a bridge to either connect with God, or at the least understand the phenomena of religion.


Examining my Disbelief

Often, believers in God or a religion reach a state where they begin to develop doubts in what they previously held. This is a frequent occurrence and not unique to any particular cult or creed. As is the trend in our modern times, believers dwell on their doubts and this eventually leads to disbelief, either in the form of apathy or atheism. I can honestly say that I have been through the early stages of a similar, painful experience where I have, and continue to, doubt my faith. But, few who go through this ponder over the legitimacy of their own disbelief or its trigger. What caused their disbelief now, whereas they previously disbelief? This question is seldom asked. Instead, they rationalize their doubts through distractive arguments, which serve merely to back-fill their new positions, instead of arriving at them independently.

In this entry, I hope to self-analyze my own doubts, expose its illegitimacy, expound on its temporarily solution, and lament over my inability to find a makhraj (way out) – except with the help of God, for which I hope and pray.

When I am not in a perturbous state, I find myself imbued with the presence of God in all things I do. This attitude is healthy and productive. But when I am made uneasy by the pains of life and am alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time, I develop a feeling of restlessless, despair, and depression. Since I believe that God is capable of doing all things, the complains and petitions go to Allah for relief. But invariably, those prayers are not answered (According to Islamic theology, all prayers are answered, but not necessarily in the way the person desires). At this point, the proper approach is to recognize the wisdom in God’s decision and submit to it. I can personally attest to recognizing profound wisdoms in not having my prayers answered as I wanted, but it took see that. As Allah says in the Qur’an.

وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

…but perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.
– Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 216

But recognizing a wisdom requires submission and breaking yourself. Its not easy to do. Not only that, it can seem absurd. Our Western culture chases material glory and does not create a space for spiritual growth through pain. Absent of being able to recognize that wisdom, the believer experiences frustration and anger with God. Why did God do this? He should not have! Allah says in the Qur’an:

لَا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُونَ

He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned.
– Surah Al-Anbiya’, Verse 23 

Frustration and anger of all kinds weaken a person’s rationale and relegate him to emotionalism. Trapped in this state, he may choose to take revenge on God, so he actively disobeys what he previously obeyed, comes to hate God, and ultimately makes the concious decision to disbelieve in Him. In an interview, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan explains this as a deep psychological disorder:

After the person makes his decision, the arguments for atheism become increasingly appealing. The disbeliever uses the arguments as a cover for the real reason he left his faith, not as the primary reason. After all, if his reason was purely intellectual, why did he do so only after a traumatic experience? And why didn’t those same arguments appeal to him earlier? He might read the books of contemporary atheists, or repeat witty atheist mantras without contemplation. But even if this person was intellectually defeated, he would not leave atheism. Reason and arguments have little to do with atheism, just as they have little to do with faith. And because their disbelief is primarily rooted in pain, a common characteristic is to appeal to the pain of others around the world, such as orphans, the destitute, or other disadvantaged people.

I have, and continue to go through a similar experience. In short, a traumatic experience, coupled with seemingly sustained silence from the Heavens has left me bitter, frustrated, angry, and in despair. I don’t know know what to think anymore. Where is God when I call upon him? Perhaps he’s not even there, does not exist! I never outwardly said “I am not longer a Muslim”, but I know I had no reality of faith in my heart, suddenly arguments against faith made sense. As I write this, if there is a God, it is by his divine Mercy that I am a Muslim. I also recognize the profound wisdom in why what happened happened, but it took many years to get to that point.

But this type of disbelief won’t bear to critical examination. It is rooted in an inability to accept the traumatic event, to recognize its wisdom, to recognize that a wisdom does exist. It is buttressed by the spiritual impotence that thrives in a cultural backdrop that urges satisfying one’s every desire and refuses to teach him to deal with deprivation. Thus, the life experiences of the poor and disadvantaged condition them for the pains of life, and force them to rely on God, unlike the rich and privileged who feel self-sufficient and not in need of God.

The next question is, what does someone do who recognizes that his disbelief is primarily the disbelief of pain? This process is very hard, and to this day, I do not have the final solution. However, I can provide some temporary medicines to help you keep your faith afloat:

  • Make a conscious effort to maintain a positive attitude. This means refusing to allow yourself to wallow in depression or despair. You cannot control when it strikes you, but you can change your attitude of dealing of with it. This is the hardest part of the entire process.
  • One of the mental tortures is to dwell on the future consequences of the traumatic event. Don’t do that. You have to change what you are thinking about. Don’t make “plans” or create absurd mental scenarios. This is especially difficult late at night, and I don’t have a cure for that time.
  • Reflect on the negative of what would have happened had the traumatic event not happened.
  • Reflect on the positive things around you. Most people who can read this have infinitely more blessings than problems. But, they just fail to think about them. Your food, your eyesight, your computer, all of these things are tremendous blessings. But few people think about them, most are stuck in the inability to see beyond their limited problems.

My thoughts, please share with me yours…

Why I stopped being a Salafi

To understand this, you need to understand my background as a Muslim, what my sources of education were and what experiences I went through. Mere arguments are not what brought me to this change.

I grew up knowing very little about Islam. My understanding was essentially that I was not supposed to drink, eat pork, or have girlfriends. I knew there were 5 daily prayers, but could not mention their number of rakahs, much less their names. I was ignorant of my ignorance.

When I entered college, I envisioned myself engaging in sins just like the people around me. But something happened, and my mother’s lessons from childhood really made me reconsider. Mind you, the skinny ignorant 18 year old version of myself was offered drugs, alcohol and zinnah on a daily basis – literally. On the weekends, my hallmates would go out and live that typical freshman college lifestyle. They would come back at 4am and talking about who was “so wasted” and how hot some girl was. All the while, I sat in my dorm and did nothing. TV was boring, no one was on AIM, sites like Facebook did not exist. Every week I looked forward to the weekend so that I could have time off school, and every weekend I looked forward to the week to rescue me from loneliness. You might find this crazy, but I watched all three of the Godfather movies around 9 times each, just to pacify myself.

I discovered the MSA around the same time. They were a beacon of hope. Here are Muslims who are funny, smart, educated, good looking…and yet religious. Just what I needed. They were the alternative to the corruption I was around. One day, I attended a halaqa, which they would have once a week or so, and the speaker talked about the dhikr (remembrances done as a chant) after prayer. I had been taught them as a child, but forgot what they were, so I asked. One of the guys there, an Afghan, told me them, wrote it down on a paper, and gave it to me. I used that paper for a few months to come.

It just so happened that a few days later I was going to meet this girl I was semi-interested in for lunch, when I ran into that same Afghan guy again. He said he had been thinking of me and wanted to teach me some more. Instead of meeting that girl, I went to his place where I met his roommates. He made food for everyone and we spent a few hours talking. I said I was interested in learning about Islam more, and he was much obliged. I remember, he re-taught me how to read Arabic, some basic fiqh, other aspects that I simply did not learn as a child.

During those lessons, he would gradually slip in a few Salafi talking points. I still recall the very first one, that Allah has a hand, how? We don’t know. The book of graciously provided was Nasir al-Deen al-Albani’s book. I was told that the Asharis were bad and corrupt, though I cannot recall the word ‘deviant’ ever used. I accepted then without question. What else did I know?

Around the same time, I started asking slightly more detailed questions about the Deen, mostly revolving around practice (fiqh). From the MSA, I was introduced to the concept of the madhhabs. This notion seemed entirely alien to me. So now there are four versions of Islam? I was taught since childhood that there was only one Islam. This particular dispute caused some arguments, but nothing serious. Even my immediate roommate and I would argue, but it never caused any serious problems.

After two years, I later transferred to another university. Most of the MSA were Salafi, but I did not think much of it. In retrospect, I realized that they were slowly unintentionally influencing me. I also started taking Al-Maghrib classes for the first time. Honestly, I benefited a lot. I started praying Fajr on a consistent basis for the first time, I started to appreciate the Qur’an more, started to expand my understanding of the Deen, lots more. When I graduated, I started taking Islam more seriously than I ever had before. I read more books, took more classes, attended the masjid on a nightly basis, and so on. I used to go to a local Islamic book store, purchase a book or two, and read it within the week. For a short time, I cut Facebook and AIM. Once, my mom walked into my room to find me memorizing the Qur’an. It was a great time and I think Allah for it.

Around this time, I completely accepted the ideas of Salafiyya. I perceived it as a pure Islam, not invaded by cultural innovations. Keep in mind, I was somewhat critical of Pakistani culture throughout this, so kind of “Pakistani Islam” was wrong, while I perceived all Arab culture as 100% pure Islam.

Then the break…there were two main breaks in my acceptance of Salafiyya, one was a sudden loss based on emotion, and the other was gradual and intellectual.

The emotional break took place over the course of a few days. I found myself very depressed. Deeply depressed. But, reading the same books, the same articles, all the intellectualism that Salafiyya offered did not help me. I would get upset or find ways to argue against the answers it provided me. The worst betrayal was how the Salafis would treat me. When I would speak to them or ask probing questions in my desperation, I would get yelled at or talked down to. In one particular case, it was especially offensive and rude from someone who had studied for a long time. I thought to myself, how can someone who studied so much behave this way? Hasn’t Islam tempered his emotions and made his character like that of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم? This was not the first time I had seen this kind of behavior, but it was a major turning point.

The intellectual change was different. It started with fiqh. The argument I was taught was that we follow the Qur’an and Sunnah say, not what an Imam from 1400 years ago said. I liked the idea of following the Qur’an and Sunnah overly blindly following some mere interpretation. But what I started to realize was that I was doing exactly that – I was blindly following the interpretations of the likes of Al-Albani. What different did it make whether I was following a Salafi Shaykh’s opinion? It was blind following both ways. But at least the madhhabs were from the period of the Salaf, while these people were from contemporary times. I was already on my way out of it, and it was an Al-Maghrib teacher who ultimately solidified my resolve, and I chose the Shafi’i madhhab. With regards the ‘aqidah, I found them placing a lot of emphasis on things that really had no importance to me in my day to day life, like where is Allah and what kind of hand he has. With regards to spirituality, I felt that the Salafi approach was empty. It was about actions, but when push came to shove, it offered no solution to finding a way out. What helped me out where the long talks I had with my friend of the Shadhili Sufi tariqa.

For a short while I fell in line with the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Tariqa. But to be honest, they were constantly rude, insulting, and condescending to me. Their local leader would use extremely hurtful comments to me, sometimes for fun as if it was a sport. Their Shaykh once started calling me “Pepsi” because I was wearing a shirt that had a Pepsi logo on it. I found that rude. I heard him curse on two separate occasions, very unbecoming. Their Shaykh barely knows Arabic and mispronounces tons of words. They pray faster than anyone can, even faster than I can recite Surah al-Fatiha even if I rush it. I know on at least one occasion the constant rude comments almost resulted in a fight breaking out between a mureed and a former Shi’a. They overate and talked down about women and many times directly to women. They all but completely reject learning Islamic knowledge So that Tariqa turned me off. However, I also saw many good things in them. So I was confused.

While I liked the Shadhili order, their Shaykh is about a 2 hour drive away from me. I needed something a bit more consistent. I found the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tariqa. I like them a lot, they married Islamic knowledge with spirituality. I wish I could be half of what their mureeds are like.

I could go on…but that’s enough for now.

My Quitting Facebook Plan

Let me be honest with myself. I’m addicted to Facebook. Its one of the sites I check up on on a daily basis. I find myself just browsing people’s profiles and making stupid status updates. It gets in the way of work, and worst of all, sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything with my life while others are doing all these cool things. I’ve quit cold turkey a few times, only to come back to it.

But now I have a new strategy on significantly reducing my Facebook usage. The premise is to gradually erode my usage until its zero. Here it is:

  • Step 1) Delete tons of old status comments;
  • Step 2) Lock my wall from allowing others to comment;
  • Step 3) Stop writing status updates (this required a great deal of self-control);
  • Step 4) Unsubscribe to people on the News Feed thingy – This is a manual process and takes place over time;
  • Step 5) Well…I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m sure there will be one.

Ultimately, I want to relegate my Facebook usage to only the chat feature. On my personal machine I can use that in Pidgin (A universal chat program) and never actually log in through the web interface. I want to maintain the chat feature because I have cousins from overseas who I’d like to keep in touch with. Other than that, this service is a burden, not a blessing.

Life is not meant to photographed and thrown online for everyone to click ‘Like’ and comment on. Its meant to be experienced.

A Mother’s Heart

Once, a man was so in love with a beautiful woman. Despite his pledges to her, she refused his advances saying she would only accept him if he proved his love by cutting out his mother’s heart and giving it to her. So the man went to his mom, violently killed her, and cut out her heart. As he was running back to the woman, with blood all over his hands and shirt and his mother’s heart in his hands, he tripped and fell on some rocks and the heart fell in front of him. The man looked up at the heart, which beated and said “O dear son, are you okay?”

Feminism? No.

I recently had an argument (not debate) with a feminist. In her rather pompous, presumptuous and arrogant attitude, she said “it is amazing that someone in this day and age can hold views as you do”. I respond in kind, its amazing that someone can hold your views. But how? Aren’t the views I hold old fashion and not in line with modern science and culture? What exactly are my view on gender differences and relations?

First and foremost, I absolutely agree that both men and women should share the same foundational rights. This should go without being said. I find it odd that irrational feminists tend to argue against views that I hold nowhere but in their own minds.

There are different kinds of feminism, each at different times and with different objectives. In modern times, the type of feminism that exists attempts to minimize any gender-specific legal or social expectations and differences. This is generally a good thing, but it has gone to the extreme. In doing so, they selectively ignore differences between the two genders, even if they have tangible ramifications outside of mere social construction.

Here is my view: Men and women should be treated the same in the general spheres of life. However, where there exists a tangible and objective difference between the two, exceptions in treatment should be accepted or deemed blameworthy sexism.

Examples: Women are especially vulnerable to male attackers at university campuses. Therefore, the university I attended established a womens’-only self-defense class, free of charge. Obviously only women benefit from this. Many AIDS-ridden African nations use government funds to pay for male-only circumcision. This is special access to medical care only afforded to men. My cross-country and track teams required the male runners to be faster than the female to make varsity. By any definition, that is sexism.

A key example of gender-related differences is covering the body in public. By law, a man can expose more skin on his body than a woman. Some feminists see this as blameworthy sexism. Perhaps they’ve forgotten the effects they have on men? The response is typically that men should control themselves. I agree, we should not be animals. But do not pretend that you can dress however you want and that there are effects in the opposite gender, especially unwanted effects he has to deal with.

These differences should be accepted and not seen as blameworthy or negative. Instead, they recognize the reality that human beings are not androgynous, we exhibit sexual dimorphism.

But according to feminist theory, any and all differences in treatment between the two genders should be minimized. This is based on the 11th century notions like the Tabula Rasa, the antiquated, demonstrably unscientific notion that we only behave as we do purely because of socialization, and not because of biological programming (ie, nurture). They reject the modern synthesis of the Nature vs Nurture debate, and posit “Socialization” as the excuse for gender differences. So to the feminist, I retort, it is amazing in this day and age that someone can hold the views you do.

The reason feminism of this sort exists is because the roles that men occupy based on biological factors are seen in a positive light, whereas the roles that women occupy based on biological factors are socially deemed as lowly and backwards. As a result, women want to “elevate” themselves and take what has classically been in the domain of men. They argue that any differences are from social constructions and in many cases outright deny them. The result? They run up against the reality of nature. Exceptions exist in all things, but the vast majority of women would not dream of playing football with a 200lb linebacker. Likewise, men cannot give birth. Neither of those two is mere socialization.

There was a study in France that said that women occupy lesser paying jobs then their male counter-parts. This divide was not based on passing up females for promotions, but largely because women tended to raise their children after childbirth and therefore lose years of experience and pay increases.

What I find hypocritical is that feminists will make gender-based exceptions for women, but will not make the same exceptions for men. For example, no one raised a finger against a womens’-only self-defense class. But, imagine if there was a mens’-ONLY self-defense class. That’s sexist and wrong!

So to conclude this rant: In general, we are the same, but where there are exceptions, allow them to occur and do not consider them blameworthy or wrong.