What is terrorism?

A few points up front:
1) Killing innocent people is abhorrent and as muslims we totally shun it.
2) There are many things worse things than the ‘terrorism’ we see now – Hiroshima, the fire bombings of Dresden, Hamburg etc., large scale female infanticide etc., etc.
3) There is no universally agreed definition of terrorism vs murder.

Terrorism has been elevated as the worst sort of evil when in fact it is not. It has been elevated in this way because it becomes a convenient ‘justification’ for (particularly) when the government want to attack and/or invade a country or e.g. launch a massive spying operation on the general population.

In terms of our own internal reasoning about the world and what is right and wrong, for me terrorism is when a small group of people get together and attack the larger group of people to achieve a goal, often political. This is wrong and a disaster for the entire society.

If the state goes about the systematic killing of civilians then that is often labelled as state terrorism, perhaps because people have come to think that the biggest accusation/crime is ‘terrorism’ and therefore it’s best to call it that to get the best effect.

The word has become totally degraded to the point of being useless. It’s just a jingoistic expression to lump all resistance into the same group as mindless murderers of civilians – e.g. compare what Hamas do to WWII bombings etc., and what Israel does. Hamas is labelled terrorist (and they do target civilians) but the UK/US/Israel (who also target civilians) are not.

To my mind all targeting of civilians by whatever actors is to be abhorred. Modern warfare is an abomination, chemicals, nuclear weapons, daisy cutters, barrel bombings, automatic weapons, drones, tanks, mass killing, destruction of entire cities. What can you do?

Year by year the many ways of communicating with others, both friends and strangers, increases and become easier. Likewise the media has an increasing impact on our lives, to the extent that it can now introduce serious and challenging problems. I want to talk about four areas, that are increasingly overlapping:

  • The Television
  • The Internet
  • The Mobile Phone
  • The News

The Television


Surat anNur, 24:30-31 – “Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.”

and in the next ayat:

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed”

Here I’m talking about video content designed for mass consumption. Until recently this has almost exclusively been viewed in the home through the television, but this content is now available through many other channels such as the internet and mobile phones. It is largely paid for by advertising (the content producers and broadcasters are selling eyeballs to the advertisers) or by subscription or tax (such as in the UK with the TV licence).

With the many changes in attitudes in recent decades, firstly in the sixties with the so called ‘sexual revolution’ and more recently with the widespread consumption of pornography, the images and story lines being presented to us are further and further from Islamic norms. If we allow ourselves to consume a steady diet of this type of programming we become accustomed to such debased material and our standards can, internally, sink to the same level.

On a more mundane note, but also very serious, we can end up wasting large amounts of time in front of these programmes, gaining no benefit whatsoever.

The Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”

My advice regarding the TV and related programming:

  • Try to watch less and less TV, replacing it with reading. The ultimate goal is to stop watching these types of programmes altogether.
  • Avoid watching programmes that contain sexual content – this information is now available in the TV guide so use it.
  • Be very conscious of the younger members of the household, you’re giving tacit approval to them of the behaviour that you sit and watch on TV for entertainment. It’s no good condemning something to them and then paying rapt attention to the bad behaviour on the TV that you condemned before.
  • Don’t watch the adverts – I achieve this easily by only watching recordings on a PVR where I can skip the adverts with the touch of a button. If you can’t do that the turn off the volume when the adverts are running. It’s amazing how the effect of the advert is reduced when there is no sound.

The Internet

We all know the obvious dangers of the internet.

  • Marriages have broken up when spouses create new relationships on the internet with strangers they have never met physically. Men and women in particular can mix much more freely and easily, and inappropriate emotions can develop unexpectedly.  Chat rooms and instant messaging make illicit communication simple and quick.
  • The internet is choc-a-bloc with images that are totally forbidden for a muslim to view. It is so prevalent on even ‘everyday’ web sites that it is very easy to become accustomed to seeing men and women in many states of undress, and ultimately become totally mentally saturated and desensitised to these images.

There are other privacy related dangers too:

  • All the web sites that we visit, and searches that we conduct, are stored by the ISP for a few years, in case the police request access to it. You can be prosecuted now for simply reading some material, and what you viewed can be taken out of context and used against you, especially if you are a muslim.
  • Such data is also routinely intercepted by GCHQ and the NSA, together with, no doubt, numerous other spying agencies. Some of the largest data centres in the world are maintained by these people.
  • As we know from the PRISM scandal much of our data such as private emails that we trust to Google, Apple, Microsft, Yahoo etc., is available to these same agencies. The SSL certificates of these organisations are almost certainly known to the main spying agencies, meaning that even when we are supposedly engaging in encrypted transactions (where the URL starts https:// instead of http://) the spying agencies can read it clearly.
  • Social media posts on sites such as Facebook can’t be really deleted and can prove a source of future embarassment, or even can cause problems with future employment as prospective employers seek out your social media postings.

My advice regarding the internet is:

  • Protect everyone in the family from inappropriate browsing and chatting on the internet by keeping the main internet device such as the PC in a place such as the lounge, where doors are not closed and the whole family can see what is going on. The default policy for waht we do on the internet is Public – we should not be ashamed for anyone to see what we have said or (harder) seen on the net.
  • Don’t maintain email or messaging accounts that your spouse cannot see. Keep these easily viewed by the spouse, and it protects you and your spouse from even thinking about sending inappropriate messages.
  • Install plugins such as AdBlock and FlashBlock that cut out adverts, both static and dynamic. The web site will load much more quickly too. You can also disable the loading of all images if you wish.
  • Think very hard before posting social material on the internet, could it pose a problem or be embarrassing to anyone now or in the future?

The Mobile Phone

  • The mobile phone, or smart-phone, has become a route to the TV programmes and internet activities such as chat and messaging that I have already mentioned. Because the phone can be carried to private places it presents all sorts of dangers. Be alert to those for yourself, spouse and children. One brother said to me, when I warned him about it, ‘but muslim kids wouldn’t do that!’. I don’t agree that being muslim gives us invulnerability to such things, so be vigilant, particularly for ourselves.

The News


“O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people in ignorance, then be sorry for what you have done.”

We should be aware that the western media tends to pick up stories about muslims, and then casts an anti-Islamic stance over the story.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the news (as excellently expressed in the original article http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli) :

  • News misleads – A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car.
  • News is irrelevant – Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business.
  • News has no explanatory power – Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements
  • News is toxic to your body – It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones (chronic stress)
  • News increases cognitive errors – News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias
  • News inhibits thinking – Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes.
  • News works like a drug – As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore
  • News wastes time
  • News makes us passive – News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence
  • News kills creativity – Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age

A few years ago I gave up reading the news because I felt it was stressing me out, and offered little if any benefit. Today I read a great piece on how there are so many negative effects to reading the news, with so little positive, such as:

  • News misleads
  • News is irrelevant
  • News has no explanatory power
  • News is toxic to your body
  • News increases cognitive errors
  • News inhibits thinking
  • News works like a drug
  • News wastes time
  • News makes us passive
  • News kills creativity

I strongly recommend you read the full article.

I enjoyed reading this article about the home office setups of journalists and editors working for Ars Technica. I thought I’d share mine, largely as a kind of personal history:

(With all photos, click to see full detail)

I’m using Ubuntu Linux, I’ve used linux as my primary OS for a very long time, and am using Ubuntu through laziness on my part. The prayer time widget in the top left hand corner of the left screen is one I developed myself (kprayertime). Below it is a moon phase widget, you can see it was just after the middle of the lunar month when I wrote this (in the blessed month of Ramadan). You can also see a weather widget that tells me it’s raining a lot in Bristol – well, I already knew that. Various items belonging to my daughter and wife are scattered on the desk, every few days I have to ‘send’ things back to their owners, usually by throwing them onto the respective bed. The desk lamp was given to me by my friend Zubair. There’s an uber mouse mat with the map of the world, that is now up-side down. An IKEA clock and Aldi watch can be seen, together with some Kumon homework.

Here you can see my wife’s books, and others about science, the philosphy and history of science and other miscellanea. Notable books for me in terms of my personal development are “Godel, Escher and Bach” and “Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information”.

Here we have a distilled collection of IT books. Such is the ephemeral nature of IT books that recently I gave/threw away two thousand pounds worth (well, spent) of IT text books due to lack of space in the flat. Below those is the books I studied during my physics degree, and some travel books below them. In the early 1990s I bought the book “The Science of Fractal Images” at Foyles in London. I spent many Saturday afternoons up and down Charing Cross Rd (also eating far too many pizzas at the Pizza Hut there) and bought my first islamic book at The Middle-Eastern Bookshop at the south end of the road. I think it was ‘The Book of Knowledge’, the first book in Imam alGhazali’s Ihyaa’. I also bought various books by Muhammad Asad including his translation of the Qur’aan. I think it’s fair to say that these books still have a great influence on me. Subhaan Allaah when I look back at my life there are definitely times when I was guided like an arrow to the straight path, in terms of knowledge and people.

This bookcase largely contains miscellanea, including various books about language in general, which is an interest of mine. The maps are there because when I travel I like to keep the maps that I used, as a memento. A number of the linguistics books are my wife’s, whose PhD thesis (in arabic-english linguistics) can also be seen.

Here we have various islamic books and below them some arabic language learning resources. I now teach arabic to beginners and intermediate level, while continually trying to improve my own level of arabic too.

We’re getting on to pride of place now, these books and those you can see below are on either side of me when I am doing my prayers, reading the Qur’aan or meditating on life, the universe and everything :-). There are numerous translations of Imam alGhazali, particularly from his Ihyaa’. A notable book is Searching For Solace, a biography of Yusuf Ali. A sad tale but which somehow sums up the state of the muslim world at the moment. Various books by Charles Le Gai Eaton, who I think writes beautifully about islam and explains it so well to the Western mind. Because he has some heterodox views he is not promoted by the muslims, which is a shame.

We’ve reached some truly great books now. Bottom left in blue and white are some grammar and morphology books by Antoine Dahdah. I love those books. We then have various less technical books about iman and other important islamic topics. Above them we have Sharh wa Tahleel of alHikam al`Ataa`iyya by Dr Ramadan Buti (they’re up-side down too – how did they get like that!) which is an explanation of the great book by Ibn `Ataa’illaahi alIskandariyya. My wife chose many of these books when we came back from Syria. There are the five volumes of Sufficient For Seekers of the Path of Truth which is a fine translation of the great book AlGhunya.

Pride of place, of course, goes to the masaahif (copies of the Qur’aan) and tafaaseer (explanations of the Qur’aan). For those who can’t read arabic the red and gold volumes are Tafseer utTabari, an explanation of the Qur’aan largely based on hadith narrated about the meaning of each ayat. The black and gold volumes are Lisaan al`Arab, a wonderful (and huge) dictionary of arabic. There are hundred of thousands of words, often accompanied by arabic poetry (or hadith or ayats) giving an example of the word in use. At the top, physically and metaphorically, are the masaahif, copies of the noble Qur’aan.

Writing the above has made me realise why I cart some of these older books around, even though in a sense they represent a skin that has been shed. They are a part of my history and remind me of the times when I was reading them. They serve as a type of authentication that my islam is not based on an ignorance of the pinnacle of Western knowledge, but as an ascent from it to higher goals.

If you enjoyed this post then please do something similar yourself and let me know!

P.S. my wife is complaining about the mess in the photos, but I wanted it to be ‘as-it-is’ ;-)

I love my job of architecting, designing and implementing (programming) IT systems – metaphorically we build elaborate castles in the sky. There is a joy in solving difficult problems and then, after a long period of reflection, analysis and craft, we gratifyingly see the solutions appear before our eyes.

The development of IT systems remains a poorly understood business – it’s unlike other disciplines that seem comparable, such as building bridges or tower blocks. The IT system often takes much longer to develop than expected, and can even fail to deliver anything of use at all. There are many different approaches and there is still great debate as to which one is best. As an individual I feel I’ve learnt a lot about the field, but it’s a type of experience (I’m loath to call it wisdom) that I find hard to explain, regretfully, to new practictioners of the ‘art’. I have established one rule of thumb however, which is that keeping things simple is, truly, the hard part. Unfortunately for me I’ve had to maintain one too many bits of code where the author thought that being ‘clever’ and writing algorithms that were complex and hard to understand, was something to be proud of. On the contrary, it’s crafting simpler-to-understand algorithms which solve the same problem that is an achievement worthy of note.

So, I struggle to express the lessons I’ve learnt over the years. That’s why I’m so delighted having just watched Rich Hickeys lecture “Simple Made Easy”. He articulates many of the important lessons that I’ve learnt over the years, and a lot more. Usually I don’t watch videos as the information content per hour is so low that it just can’t compete with reading a book. However, Rich has managed to beat the information density of most books in his great one hour talk (link below). He elaborates on the contradistinction between simple/complex vs easy/hard. He moves on from a really entertaining philosophical talk in the first 20 minutes into a brilliant analysis of the pros and cons of different approaches in programming languages. Rich, by the way, fairly recently invented one of the best new languages on the block, Clojure.

If you’re a hardened disciple of XP/Agile (i’m just a humble practitioner myself) then fasten your seatbelt. I think this lecture actually kicks off the next debate that IT professionals should be having. Rich formulates a number of philosophical principles and then gives a detailed view on how they apply to the job of programming. You may not agree with everything he says, but you’ll be entertained and ready to discuss the issues in the upcoming round of serious IT debate.

Anyway, on to that lecture:
Simple Made Easy – Rich Hickey

I myself didn’t understand why he thinks switch statements are so bad – if you thing you got it then please explain in the comments!


An interesting essay on how too much focus on a particular `aqeeda can be a negative thing.

Originally posted on StudentofIslam.com:

I am honored to share the following insightful reflections and observations, on a topic that is usually approached in a divisive manner, from my esteemed teacher Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Although this blog normally serves to share my personal writings and work, I feel that in this case,  Dr Akram took the ideas straight out of my heart and expressed them in words I could never have come up with. So I share them here for my esteemed readers, reproduced from the Nadwi Foundation.

Some Reflections on ‘Aqidah

All Rights Reserved.

© Mohammad Akram Nadwi, Oxford

A creed is a special kind of formal statement of religious belief or collection of such statements. A very good and justly famous creed among the Sunnis is the document known as al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah. I will be discussing it at some length. First I wish to clarify the framework in which I will present…

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A khutba of the husband’s obligations towards his wife,  using summarised extracts from one chapter of the very good book  “The Fragile Vessels” by Muhammad alJibaly


Prior to Islam

In societies that had deviated from the straight path women were considered a tradeable commodity. Similarly during the arab period of jáhiliyya prior to the advent of Islam, the woman’s position was extremely poor, being considered part of her father’s or husband’s property. AlHamdulillaah with the coming of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the right position of women was upheld and established.

With Islam came the sound way for men and women to deal with each other. Before going over the specific rights of the wife over her husband let’s first look at some Islamic qualities that apply especially between a man and a wife:

  • Good manners

Good manners are a distinctive characteristic of the religion of Islam. Abu Hurayrah reported that the prophet said:

“I have only been sent by Allah to complete the good manners” (ibn Sa`d, alHaakim)

He also said: “The best among the believers are those with the best manners” (Ibn Majah)

  • Truthfulness

Allah swt praises truthfulness in many places of His Book, and condemns liars.

  • Humbleness
  • Mercy and Kindness

The two spouses should show utmost compassion and mercy towards each other. They should be quick to overlook faults and forgive each other. The prophet pbuh said:

“The merciful ones are granted mercy by the Most Merciful (arRahmaan). Show mercy to those who are on Earth, and the One above the heavens will show mercy to you”

  • Avoid arguing and quarrelling

Frequent arguing and quarrelling is a sure way to undermine the ties between the married couple and should therefore be avoided. The prophet is reported to have said

“I am a guarantor of a house on the outskirts of Jannah for one who abandons arguing, even if he is right; and a house in the center of Jannah for one who abandons lying, even if he is joking; and a house in the highest place of Jannah for one who has good manners” (Abu Dawud)

The Obligations

Now lets look at the specific rights of the wife over her husband. The prophet  said:
إنّما النّساء شقائق الرجال

“Indeed women are the full sisters of men”

“I strongly admonish you in regards to the right of the weak ones – the orphan and the woman”

“You have rights on your women, and your women have rights on you”

We have traditions from the prophet (peace be upon him) relating to the rights that our wives have in all the following areas:

  • Protection

Security and safety are most important for a human being. One needs to feel reasonably secure in order to function normally and perform one’s regular tasks: Quran 4:34:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعضَهُم عَلَىٰ بَعضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِن أَموالِهِم

<<Men are caretakers of women, since Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because of the wealth they have spent>>

  • Ghayrah

As a demonstration of a man’s love towards his wife he should have ghayrah for her. Ghayrah is the great concern about her well-being, and the zeal to protect her from anything that might harm her person such as an evil touch, word or look.

  • Avoiding unnecessary suspicion

The prophet said: “When one of you is back from a long journey, he should not suddenly come to his family by night” (Bukhari, Muslim)

  • Safeguarding her secrets

It is greatly prohibited for a man to expose is wife’s secrets, especially in matters of privacy that no person would normally know except the husband, such as birthmarks, reaction to some intimate action etc.

  • Financial Support

One of the husbands major responsibilities towards his wife and family is providing financial support. The prophet said:

“They have a right on you – that you provide them with food and clothing in a fitting manner” (Muslim, Abu Dawud)

This support is in accordance with his capability, Allah swt says (2:286):

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفسًا إِلَّا وُسعَهَا‌

<<Allah does not burden a person beyond his capacity>>

  • Self-sufficiency

A man must seriously view his financial responsibility toward his wife and family. He should not look to others for help before he has exhausted all possible means of becoming independent and self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency brings a feeling of security and dignity to the whole family.

Abu Hurayrah may Allah be pleased with him, said that the prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said:

وَاللَّهِ لأَنْ يَغْدُوَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَيَحْتَطِبَ عَلَى ظَهْرِهِ فَيَبِيعَهُ ، فَيَسْتَغْنِيَ مِنْهُ ، أَوْ يَتَصَدَّقَ بِهِ ، خَيْرٌ لَهُ مِنْ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ رَجُلا فَيَسْأَلَهُ ، فَيَمْنَعَهُ ذَلِكَ ، إِنَّ الْيَدَ الْعُلْيَا خَيْرٌ مِنَ الْيَدِ السُّفْلَى ، وَابْدَأْ بِمَنْ تَعُولُ

“By Allah, for one of you to go in the morning, collect firewood, carry it on his back, and sell it to suffice himself and give charity from it: that is better for him than going to a man and asking him – he either giving or denying. That is because the upper (giving) hand is better than the lower (taking) hand. And start (giving) to those for whom you are responsible.”

  • A highly rewardable charity

The messenger of Allah said:

“Whatever a man gives to his wife is a charity (in his record)” (Ahmad)

he also said:

“When a muslim spends on his family, thereby seeking Allah’s reward, it is regarded as sadaqa for him” (Bukhari, Muslim)

  • The best form of spending

A man’s concern should first be about reasonably sufficing his wife and family. It is reported that the messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:

“When Allah gives one of you some good, he should start be spending on himself and his family members” (Muslim, Ahmad)

  • Adequate support is an earned right for the wife

If a man does not financially support his wife in a manner compatible with his financial resources and her needs, she would be justified to take, without his permission, a portion of his money that would suffice her and her children. Aisha rah reported that Hind bint `Utbah came to the prophet and said “Oh messenger of Allah! Indeed Abu Sufyan is a stingy man. He does not give me what would suffice me and my children – except for tht which I take without his knowledge.”

He said:

خذي من ماله بالمعروف ما يكفيك و ما يكفي بنيك

“Take of his money, in a reasonable manner, as much as would suffice you and your children.” (Muslim)

  • The great sin of neglect

The prophet saw said:

“A sufficient sin for a person would be that he neglects those whom he feeds”

  • Providing her with food, clothing and other basic needs

Allah swt says in surat alBaqara 2:233:

وَعَلَى المَولُودِ لَهُ  رِزْقُهُنَّ وَكِسوَتهُنَّ بِالمَعرُوفِ‌

<<And upon the father is their (the mother’s) provision and clothing according to what is reasonable>>

  • Providing a reasonable dwelling
  • The dowry (mahr)
  • Kind treatment and compassion

Allah says in surat an Nisaa’ 4:19:

<<Live with them (your wives) in kindness; even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good.>>

  • Understanding the woman’s different and fragile nature
  • Entertaining the wife
  • Fairness and justice

It is an obligation on the husband to treat his wife and family with fairness and justice.

The prophet pbuh said:

“Avoid oppression, because oppression will result in deep darkness on the Day of Resurrection”

  • Equal turns



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