Wednesday, December 07, 2016

On the passing of Junaid Jamshed and his legacy

Junaid Jamshed, the famous musician from Pakistan turned Islamic preacher, has died today in a plane crash.

I first met Junaid Jamshed at MuslimFest in 2011. It was a rainy day, yet the nasheed singer knew how to work the crowd. His song "Dil Dil Pakistan" remains Pakistan's unofficial second anthem.

The next time I saw him was when I myself was a participating artist at the 2012 MuslimFest. He was just doing a quick tour of all of the exhibits. I found him to be a knowledgeable and well mannered person.

His words, his music, his passions resonated in the souls of millions of people in ways that frankly other people could not. He was a remarkable individual, and someone who changed his life around and dedicated himself to serving others. He touched millions and always left a lasting impression on whomever he met.

Like any preacher, Junaid Jamshed held some unpalatable views and said some controversial stuff. I called him out on it sometime ago when his misogyny got him into trouble in Pakistan (and not for that reason). He also made some statements that he doubled down on regarding the role he thinks women should play in Muslim societies. Those views, no doubt fashioned by his circle and his society, are not something that I can agree with.

Yet, despite that, there is no doubt that Junaid Jamshed is a complex individual. The legacy he leaves behind is a complex and vibrant one.He did a lot of good, and supported a lot of charities, and spoke out a lot on human right abuses and other abuses. He tried to bring people closer to their religion.

I am not sure his life, or his legacy, can be defined with just one incident or one moment. Yet I would like to go back to that afternoon in 2011, as he sang in the rain, and the crowd sang with him. He was a man of the people, and in the end the people, especially Pakistanis, loved him. His death will be a great loss to his community.

May Allah forgive him his sins, and accept his good deeds, and elevate his status in Paradise.

To God we belong and to Him shall we return.

Western Canada Diaries - 17. Vancouver's Capilano Suspension Bridge

[ Continued from Part 16 - Route 99 to Whistler  ]

Right at the beginning of the eminently forgettable movie Neal N Nikki, there is a song montage of Vancouver, played to the tune of "Yeh Ladka Hai Allah". It's one of the few good things from that movie.

Vancouver is an amazing city. It is one of the few cities I would consider moving to in a heartbeat. Mountains on one side, the sea on the other, glorious ravines, rivers and nature all around, a city made up of many islands connected together by bridges, beautiful weather almost all year around, full of life and fun. The city just feels vibrant and the natives embody the sporty feeling.

There are many things to do and see in Vancouver, so this post is about the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Now it may seem odd that a bridge suspended over a huge canyon would be a notable attraction, but it's not just the bridge. And believe me, the bridge is an experience by itself.

In addition to this bridge, there's another bridge some distance away over Lynn Canyon that is also a popular attraction. That one is free, but Capilano is not. Despite that, Capilano is always the more popular attraction.

One of the reasons is because Capilano is more tourist friendly, and they have lots of things to do beside the huge bridge. Lynn canyon is more outdoorsy, and more "natural". It has less safeguards, for example, and is less kid friendly. It's more for hikers and nature lovers.

When you get on the Capilano suspension bridge, it sways. It's a suspension bridge after all ... and it really sways. So you have to hold on. They only allow so many people on the bridge, but the line wasn't long (even though it was a busy day) and it kept moving along fast.

Just like Banff, there were a lot of tourists from China. Vancouver (and Western Canada in general) is very popular with the Chinese and there's lots of flights from the mainland. Once you are on that bridge though, you realize there's really nothing between you and the water that's a long way below.

The Capilano also has something called the Cliffwalk. 

Basically they built a platform on the side of a cliff, and you walk along it to explore the ravine and the waterfalls. And oh, it has something to do with conservation.

The path was really narrow, and at any time you were reminded that you really were walking on a thin piece of wood hundreds of feet in the air beside a cliff. And we did it with a one and half year old baby that had just learnt to walk (and it was no big deal, really).

There was also a treetop trek tour, where you climb up high amidst tall trees, and use the platforms between the trees to get a sense of the forest from way above. Again, all done easily even with children in tow.

And for those who love to remain on ground level, there were lots of boardwalks and beautiful scenic spots with (tiny) waterfalls and small reflective ponds with fishes.

Overall this is a must do in Vancouver, and we seriously underestimated the time it would take. We easily spent half a day (four hours) here and could have spent more. They also have a very nice gift shop full of great souvenirs.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Western Canada Diaries - 16. Route 99 to Whistler

[ Continued from Part 15 - The Dinosaurs of Drumheller  ]

This was one of our scariest days on the trip.

There's a few ways to drive from Calgary to Vancouver. You can drive west to Revelstoke, and then take the highway south to Kelowna, then 97c west before catching highway 5 all the way to Vancouver. Or you can continue from Revelstoke to Kamloops, before catching highway 5 south. Either of these is scenic, beautiful, AND SANE.

We chose the INSANE route. You see, I didn't know it was the insane route. All routes look the same on Google maps.

We decided we wanted to see the famous resort town of Whistler before going on to Vancouver. So we decided to drive to Kamloops, and rest for the night. The following day we would continue driving west and take Route 99 all the way to Whistler, and then Vancouver.


At first everything was fine. We left Calgary and drove past Banff and Lake Louise. This time we stayed on Trans-Canada Highway 1 and didn't take the Icefields Parkway. Sometime after Lake Louise, we entered the province of British Columbia.

We thought we had seen mountains, ravines, rivers and so on during our Rockies trip. We were seriously mistaken. The drive, while not as scenic as the Rockies trip, was still superbly scenic by any other standard. We passed through Yoho National Park, Glacier National Park, Mt Revelstoke National Park before reaching Revelstoke.

We passed through interesting towns such as Golden, Salmon Arm and Chase. Even Revelstoke was something to see, the town was actually below the highway. You take a ramp from the highway, and it descends, really descends, before you find yourself in the small town. And all along the way you pass numerous lakes, ravines and mountains that can take your breath away.

At one point there was a train going beside us, and ducks flying in formation on the other side, and a lake in the distance with the sun shining through the clouds. It was beautiful.

We reached Kamloops without incident. The road, while on a mountainous terrain, was fairly easy to drive. No crazy hills, and even though it was mostly one lane all the way, traffic flowed smoothly. We had a good night's sleep in Kamloops, unaware of what would come the next day.

 Sushi in Kamloops with my brother

Suddenly gone were the smooth highways we were used to. Forget the 401 of Toronto, or even the Trans-Canada Highway 1 of Alberta. Route 99 suddenly became treacherous, and driving became grueling. Our first clue should have been the turning and twisting roads.

Not to forget the rain and mist that would suddenly descend without warning.

If we knew about this, it would have been one thing. Like we would have been prepared. We were expecting a quick 2 hour trip but our van wasn't made for this. We had to drive extremely slowly. At times the road took a sudden steep decline of 15%! And not only that, at the foot of that hill would be a sharp bend!

I was just glad we had rented a new car with proper brakes. Numerous times during the drive we could hear the brakes working hard. There were several warnings on the road to check your vehicle's brakes or to gear down as the road went through those steep hills.

We reached the town of Lilloet and had to take a break.

Even though it had just been a small drive from Kamloops, it had been taxing. We were almost unable to admire the view of the industrial town below us in the valley.

And then came the most dangerous part of the drive. We would find out later that a section of Route 99, called the Duffey Lake Road, that we were now about to pass through, is rumoured to be the deadliest highway in Canada.

Oh it was scenic alright. When you are 1000m up on a mountain road with a sheer cliff drop on one side, it can be scenic AND terrifying at the same time. If you ever want to challenge yourself, take this road. I honestly felt like I was in one of those movies where there's a car chase through winding roads high up in the mountains, because that's where we were! There were parts that went through mountains, with turns where we felt like we would tip over. There are other parts that suddenly open to a huge beautiful lake that we were in no condition to appreciate because we were scared out of our minds.

Finally, tired and drained out, we reached Whistler. Even though it was summer, and by now the weather was sunny and beautiful, we could see the snow capped peaks of the famous ski resoirt in the distance.

We were completely tired by our drive, and the knowledge that we still had another hour and half driving to Vancouver. This made us completely unable to really enjoy Whistler the way we could have. We just wanted to see it quickly and get on our way.

The resort itself is very pretty, and there's lots of activities to do, especially for kids.

We all went and took pictures and selfies by the famous rings. We all had fond memories of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler, and the town had lots of places which were made famous during that Olympics.

But if I had to pick a moral from our trip, it is that avoid Route 99. Go directly to Vancouver, and spare a whole day for Whistler, not just a few hours.

Monday, November 14, 2016

AfD - The News That Could Occur Next Year in Germany

In a stunning upset, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been declared the victor in the national elections, carving out a clear majority in the Bundestag.

The victory makes Frauke Petry, the spokesperson of the AfD, next in line for the Chancellery. The unexpected result also questions the very existence of EU, as Ms Petry repeatedly denigrated the institution during the campaign, and promised to take Germany out of EU if it meant, in her words, "subsidizing the lazy people of Greece and Spain with hard working German money". The results have thrown world markets into turmoil, further depressing the Euro.

Europe is in the midst of a stunning upheaval. Following from Brexit, and the shock election of Donald Trump as the President of USA (and the dismantling of NATO, followed by the cancellation of Paris Accord and the TTIP), Hungary, Holland have both voted to leave the troubled organization.

If Germany, a founding member and leader in the EU chooses to depart, it may well be the death blow to the EU. The Chinese yuan has already risen ten fold in thirteen hours since the election result.

It was thought for a long time that Germans would never warm to a political party pledging allegiance to neo Nazi ideals, denigrating migrants, peddling Islamophobia and anti-Semitic propaganda and insulting long standing allies. Indeed polls right the day before the vote gave a huge lead of 29.5 points to now outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The party has also pledged to take Germany back to its "Christian roots" and sought to strengthen the church and family values in Germany. Its closeness to the Vatican has also raised eyebrows, with the Pope choosing to remain silent on some of the outrageous statements issued during the campaign.

In hindsight, the Holy See must have seen something the polls had all missed. An anger at the current state of government, the bureaucracy in Brussels, the numerous Muslim migrants and the crimes alleged to have been committed by them (all debunked as false news by Politico Germany) and the "I-know-best" attitude of the ruling Christian Democratic Union.

It now remains to be seen how Europe will reshape itself in the years to come following this cataclysmic election.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why American Muslims Should Leave USA Right Now

My American Muslim friends and family.

Before I start, I want to tell you a little reality. It's something you can ask any Canadian, especially those who were immigrants to the Great White North, and they will verify this.

We often go the United States for little trips. Disneyland, shopping, tourism, work, visiting friends and family, and so on. The Americans are (usually) very nice and we have no complaints.

But ...

On the way back, as soon as our car crosses the 49th parallel back to Canada, we heave a sigh of relief. Just a few meters over the border in Canada, everything is the same as it was in US. The highway is equally good, the scenery hasn't changed much, the weather is the same. But something is different. We are in Canada.

We are home. We belong.

Now I ask you. Do you feel a sense of belonging in America? Is it your home? Is the government of America your government? Does it serve you? Are the people yours? Do they accept you as one of them?

These are not some bland questions. I want you to think about it deeply. What does it say when your country has elected a man who has openly villified your religion, talked about putting you in special registration programs, advocated a shutdown of people of your faith coming in to the country, and refused to apologize for his numerous racist, bigoted, sexist, ultra right wing comments?

In your country the police openly shoot unarmed black civilians without any fear. And this was under a black President.

This is the same country that elected Bush twice. An illegal war killing millions (and some of them Americans) did not stop a majority of the people from voting for him. And this is a country where the Muslim FRIENDLY candidate would talk about Muslims being on the front lines of the war against terrorism, would continue the drone bombings of civilians, would continue the PATRIOT act, amongst others. Not even the other guy. The other guy is far worse. And he is now your President, elected by half of your countrymen.

I don't need to go on. I know you KNOW the situation is bad. I am writing to tell you why you should LEAVE the United States NOW. Before it gets worse, and before your options dwindle, LEAVE NOW. While you still can.

I know this is your homeland, your place of birth. This is where you grew up. Went to school. Got married. Made a life. It's not easy to even think about moving.

There is some merit to the idea to stay, and fight, and make things better. Strive for your country. Try and make the society better. Help your country.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stayed in Makkah for 55 years - the vast majority of his life - trying to improve the society, help the people, strive for his place of birth. But at some point, you have to realize that things are not going to get better, ever. In fact, they will get worse.

The Clock Boy - Ahmed - was a genius and he was put in jail. And he was a KID! Sure, he then met the President, and the Faceook CEO, but what good did it do? Other future Clock Boys would still be put in jail. And there are no consequences. And this was under a black Democrat President. Things are not going to get better.

They are going to get worse.

We thought Bush was bad. 9/11 happened, and surveillance and overreach of power and so on. When you guys elected Obama, there was Hope that things would Change.

But has things changed? They only became worse. Obama never undid the Patriot Act. He made sure the US government could assisinate its own citizens. He never shut down Guantanamo Bay. Drone killings became a fact of life.

And now, what? The KKK approved guy is your President, with the House, the Senate and pretty soon the Supreme Court in tow. What more signals do you need to know things in America are not going to get better. Trump will not be able to make America Great Again, the way his supporters want him to. It's not 1950s any more. And then what?

I would urge you to consider Canada. It's right next door, and the culture is very similar. As part of NAFTA (until your new President dismantles it) you can get a job here easily before applying for Permanent Residence.

We are not perfect. We have healthcare, but it has issues (we are working on it to fix it, not dismantle it). We don't have racism the way you do, but we do have the French part of the country, Quebec, that ocassionally tries to ban the niqab or hijab. In fairness, our current Prime Minister also hails from Quebec, so there's a lot of good people there as well.

We have Muslims in the Cabinet, while you will now have a person in Cabinet (Ben Carson) who rose in the polls by saying US Muslims should never serve in Cabinet.

Sometimes our police do kill an unarmed civilian. But then we have an inquiry and an investigation. It's nowhere on the same scale as in USA, which is why Black Lives Matter gets far less traction here.

We had First Nations women being killed and missing for a long time. Our last Prime Minister refused to have an investigation, and prefered "old stock Canadians" (whatever that was). We got rid of him, and now we have an official inquiry into those missing women led by a lady who is a First Nations person herself.

Yes, things are not perfect (I mean there's our weather) but Canada is a far better place to be a Muslim than America, alhamdulillah. Our Walmart sells Halal stuff without any cries of boycott.

And we need you. We need you because the election of your crazy President will embolden the crazies here. You might remember our last Prime Minister. He's not there any more but there's people trying to become the leader of his party. Some of them are crazy right wing, and they will have noted the success of your President. We need you guys here so they don't succeed. We really like it here and don't want to move (ironic, eh?).

After 55 years in Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) realized things are not getting any better, but were getting worse. So he immigrated. He left his beloved place of birth and moved on. Your parents (or their parents) made the decision to move to this country for economic reasons. So you can't say you cannot move because it's your birth place - they did it and you can too.

Yes, some Muslims remained in Makkah because they couldn't move due to various circumstances. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always prayed for them, and helped them when he could.

So whatever your decision is, you will always be in my prayers. And may God be with you.

And may God bless your country with true justice.