Thursday, December 29, 2005

Miracles Debunked

Miracles are overrated.

That is a statement destined to incur the wrath of many a devout Muslim, self-proclaimed and authentic alike. Most, if not all of them subscribe to the notion that every extraordinary phenomenon that occurs around them involves a direct divine intervention. Case in point: an unfortunate lad who is seemingly possessed by some evil force lying in bed helplessly, is magically healed upon the recital of some Quranic verses by a skilled shaman. If God does not intervene firsthand, then nothing else does.

But what if there is no such intervention in the first place? What if the explanation lies in the forces of nature acting within the realm of space-time continuum and is bound by the laws of physics? What if all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, including the aforementioned exorcism, can be found in a single process called evolution?

And what if miracle is nothing but an empty nomenclature mankind uses to describe something that it fails to fathom?

These issues are hardly a novelty. They have been debated, debunked, proved and disproved countless times by religious thinkers and science advocates throughout history. Every effort to reconcile these opposing camps has so far proven futile, and judging by the current situation, it is highly unlikely things will improve any time soon.

But why should the common ground between the two be so elusive? If anything, science helps to reinforce the existence of God. Since God exists outside of our physical confinement, mankind needs an avenue other than physical means on which God can be reached. That avenue is the humand mind, and science is at its highest echelon.

But just because the answer has thus far eluded scientists does not mean that God cannot be reached through scientific reasoning. Perhaps we have been looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Maybe the elusiveness is the price have to pay for our refusal to merge religion and science, something which we are meant to achieve in the first place. Or can it be due to the false religious practices we have incorporated into Islam, which have, for centuries, been miscontrued as being part of the religion, when in reality they are the bane of our religion that is responsible for the deterioration of Muslims worldwide?

The differences in viewpoint between men of science and men of faith can best be demonstrated by a common scenario, in which a strange phenomenon occurs that offers no explanation.

A man of faith will have no problem attributing it to the works of God, while at the same time marvel at His infinite power and wisdom. More often that not, he will not even be bothered by why and how it happens in the first place. It is surreal enough as it is, so it must be God's doing.

A man of science on the other hand, will be extremely intrigued and fascinated by this and attempt to analyze and hypothesize the phenomenon, even if it means delving into the extremely intricate workings of the DNA or nanoparticles. Most scientists even go to the extent of denying outright any divine involvement in the phenomenon. After all, it is not scientific to attribute any paranormal observation to the works of a supernatural being.

Nowadays, it is no longer possible to read the news without coming across the latest developments in the struggle between the advocates of evolution and creationism (or "intelligent design", in the latter's desperate attempt at rebranding). What if both both parties do in deed have a point, and that we can merge the two viewpoints to produce something more powerful and potent that will help to explain all of the mysteries of the universe? What if evolution is in fact, God's instrument in governing the world, one which He set in motion the moment He uttered, "Be, and it is"? After all, this universe would not be that fine a design if He had to constantly intervene in all aspects of our lives, just as we would not call a piece of automation carefully designed if it requires a great deal of human intervention.

Islam is a religion of reason that encourages science and technology. Think about why Muhammand did not perform any supernatural acts apart from the inspiration that he received. He did not raise the dead, heal the sick nor cure the blind. Perhaps during his time, mankind was sophisticated enough in its thinking that it did not need any miracles to confirm the existence of God, unlike what his predecessors had to go through. Maybe it all goes to show that all we need in order to reach God is an analytical and open mind. Maybe if we do just that, we may one day be able revive the glory Islam used to enjoy.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Soul Searching

Soul Searching
(written 2.5 years ago)

He has seen it all
He fell into the deepest abyss
Climbed the highest mountains
Plucked the fruits in paradise
Even scorched by the hellfire
But he stood resilient
with the seeds in his hand.

He reached the land of Goshen
Where the birds sang in euphoria
Where majestic clouds reigned the sky
And the rivers flowed bountiful
Realm of the promiseful seeds.

He prayed for the rain to come
To wet the seeds he has sewn
And wash away all the filth
into the river of heedlessness
And it did.

So he thought the morning would arrive
When the sun would shine in all its glory
And the gardens would spring to life
Bringing joy to the kingdom
Sunshine after the rain.

But the morning never came
As he stood there waiting
Through nights of rolling thunders
Through long grey winters
And days of incessant rain.

For years he kept waiting
Resilient as ever
Peering for sunrise on the horizon
Knowing that it would never come
Holding more seeds in his hand.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Malays in Dilemma

Malays in Dilemma
(written 3 years ago)

The first important lesson you learn in any defensive driving course is this: every single driver around you is a moron. Having been driving in one of the toughest cities to drive in, Kuala Lumpur, I've come to learn the indispensableness of what the aforementioned lesson teaches us, and how true it rings. However, what I've yet to discover in its entirety is the extent to which Malaysian drivers (especially the Malays) are becoming more and more moronic.

Let's face it; even though we Malays are known for our "courteousness and "gentleness" (or so people claim), when it comes to driving, we're competing to become the most fearsome and disrespectful bastard on the road. But the moronity doesn't simply end there. For instance, some of us have become witnesses to a not-so-novel breed of sickness called the "modify-your-local-car-so-that-it-looks-like-something-else" sickness. We see it on the road every day; Wiras no longer look like Wiras, they've become Gallants, Mirages or Lancers(!!) instead; Kancils have shunned their original looks, and sport the not-so-different Daihatsu Mira design. Although I don't deny the existence of such imported cars in our country, some of the modified cars that I see simply fail to conceal their original "identity". In fact, they fail so terribly to the point of utter absurdity.

And this breed of sickness is not solely confined to the automobiles we own. It is spreading even to our physical looks that in this day and age, have failed to remain as the sole characteristic that defines who we (the Malays) are. Those of us who have a darker complexion spend a fortune on beauty products (read: Fair & Lovely) with the hopes of becoming fairer one day. Some feel that being brunettes is not cool enough and decide to dye or color their hair crappy brown so that they'll look prettier, when instead what they resemble more and more are shitheads. And last but not least, many juveniles nowadays pierce their nose, eyes, lips, and tongue, even nipples so that they'll look less and less human.

On the surface, this issue may seem trivial to many. But a closer look reveals the need for more serious questions. What are we trying to achieve by doing all this? Have we stooped so low that we're no longer proud of who we are and how we look? Don't we realize that most Caucasians are dying to have our dark complexion with their overzealous obsession with tanning and everything related to it, and how some blondes are willing to sell their souls to be brunettes so that people won't stereotype them as being stupid? We're spoon fed every day by our government to be proud of our local products, when in fact the government itself refused to make our Perdana V6 the official car for the XIII NAM summit and chose Mercedes instead?

At best, we're being inconsistent in holding on to our principles. At worst, we're trying to run way from our own shadows, which is completely futile. Where's the excitement and commotion of this world when everyone tries to be someone he or she is not? What's the use if everybody decides to become the same sort of person and don the same hair color? Our physical, intellectual and cultural differences are the things that make us unique in our own way. When everyone is the same, the world is no longer a fun place to live in.

A wise man used to tell me, that being a Malay is not a way of life, it's a state of mind. It took me a while to digest what he was trying to convey, but once I grasped it, I couldn't agree more. Unlike Chinese or Indians (India mari), we the Malays have no inscriptions or ancient writings that present the characteristics that define who we are. As a result, we resort to eating ketupat and tempoyak, wearing baju Melayu and kain pelikat, listening to 'irama Melayu' songs sung by our "favorite" singer Siti Nurhaliza and watching lame-ass Yusuf Haslam movies among other things. These are but shallow attributes that do not accurately characterize what a Malay is.

The lack of definition calls for a more solid foundation of what constitutes a Malay. But the problem is, we don't have any. The closest thing we have to a solid definition is our looks. But the problem still persists in that matter, and here's why. Put together native (not talking about indigenous here) individuals from Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Phillipines and Indonesia, and you really can't tell the difference. Still, they may look the same, but they're so different when it comes to other things. So, what else does a Malay possess that differentiates him from others? Nothing.

Not to mention the fact that it's so easy and trivial for a person of any race to be a Malay nowadays. An "a/l" or "anak lelaki" can easily become a Malay by changing it to "bin". Intermarriages amongst bumiputras and non-bumiputras are widespread nowadays, and the latter can obtain Malay-ship automatically. Therefore, it no longer matters what constitues a Malay individual. As long as you and everyone else think that you're Malay, then you are a Malay.

What does all of this boil down to? Deep inside, unconsciously, we are groping in the dark, searching for something that truly differentiates us from the rest. The search may explain the so-called sickness that is beleaguering some Malays nowadays, or it may not. It doesn't matter anymore whether a person is truly Malay or not. What matters is being able of feeling proud of who we simply are, and not becoming someone we're not, unless it's for the better. I've always been proud of being a Malaysian, but what I'm not sure is when I'm going to be able to be proud of my fellow Malays. Maybe when we've discovered who we really are. Maybe never.

A Week of Crappiness

(written 3 years ago)

Last Monday night, I woke up from a post-terawih nap and felt like watching the news (just because Astro doesn't have NBC, which means no Conan O'Brien for me). So I turned on the TV and immediately switched to CNN. It was the same familiar face again: the mentally impaired Mr. Bush with his daily “brave-new-world-against-basically-the-rest-of-the-world” and “enlighten me” rhetorics, which ultimately amounted to a bunch of horseshit as usual. I was still dreadfully irked by the fact that a half-witted individual is leading the most powerful nation in the world. Then there was his half-assed comrade-in-arms, Mr. Blair, whose gestures and speech tone disturbingly bear a fine resemblance to those of Ru Paul. I said to myself that sooner or later, if I watched CNN long enough, I'd become dumb myself. It made me realize why they call it the idiot box.

I switched to CNBC, and kept watching the news while doing my work. It was already time for sahur by the time I was done. In the middle of the meal, CNBC was showing a slot dedicated to the anniversary of JFK's murder. Then my mom started asking me stuff about JFK; about the killer's name, what happened to him after he got caught and whatnot. While I found myself fumbling for the right answers, my 10-year-old brother jumped in and practically told my mom everything about the murder. I was in total disbelief. Mouth gaping wide, I kept telling myself that it didn't happen. That it was just a figment of my imagination. My kid brother knows more about JFK than I do. He didn't exist. My mom didn't give birth to him.

The next day, I went to work after terawih prayers. My colleague named Uda and I began working on a new layer for our latest system. We spent about a few hours hacking up a bunch of code. After we were done writing and compiling it, the batch of code was automatically deployed to the application server (which is the coolest thing after NASA's moon landing hoax by the way). However, to our dismay, the application server kept throwing a bunch of weird errors. So we literally spent the next few days trying to figure out what was wrong, effectively neglecting iftars and sahurs and sacrificing our sleep and shower. Finally three days and 29 cups of coffee later, I was about to give up on it when Uda found out that the application server was actually throwing a bunch of bogus errors. There was absolutely nothing wrong with our code.

It made me feel somewhat crappy.

Later that night, Uda and I went for a drink in an attempt to get over the “tragedy”. We went to this place called Western in Setiawangsa (I found out later that there was absolutely nothing Western about it). Soon after I ordered a drink, we were joined by a group of former professors who happen to be my acquaintances at work. In the middle of the conversation, they started arguing about how most female students perform better academically than their male counterparts.

Then one of them, who happens to be short of a male chauvinist, began arguing that it's actually a vicious cycle in which men and women take turns in the pursuit of academic excellence. His argument went something like this: A smart dad marries a very dumb mother. They are blessed with two kids, a girl and boy. They will share the same degree of intelligence initially. But theoretically, the daughter will grow up being closer to the smart father, and the son will grow up being closer to the dumb mother. Intuitively because of the dad's influence, the daughter will actually grow up to be the smarter of the two. And later on in her life, she will marry a dumb guy in return, while the son will marry a smart girl. The cycle goes on and on in that fashion without ever reaching an equilibrium.

I thought it was practically horseshit, even though my mind was more inclined to buying it. Nevertheless, at the end of the argument, it triggered a question in my head: which category do I belong to? Thinking it over, rather than feeling better, I actually felt worse.

Anyway, street racing is not my cup of tea. In fact, I despise the very mention of it. Ironically enough, I own a pre-modded sports coupe. So last Friday night, I was driving home from work at 4.30 in the morning when the longest traffic light in the world turned red just before I could pass it. Extremely tired and beaten down, I glanced to my left and saw a pretty girl in a gray Satria. She looked to her right, gave me a quick glance, and immediately looked away. Obviously she wasn't too impressed with what she saw. It made me feel like crap.

Then I looked to my right. A couple of guys in a modded red Kancil were staring at my car's 16-inch sports rims with what appeared to me as utter envy. What followed were a couple of deathlike stares at me, as if I had stolen the car or something. Then the driver revved up the engine a few times while maintaining his deathlike stare. He was trying to provoke me into a race.

So I played along, just to spite them. I revved up my engine a few times in response, doing my best to appear as if I had accepted their challenge. We waited and waited for the light to turn green. And when it finally did five minutes later, with my right foot still on the break pedal, I simply watched the red Kancil speed off with all its “might”. It was funny.

But not that funny.

That same morning, I decided to watch an Indonesian film before going to bed. There was a lot of buzz surrounding it, getting rave reviews all over the world. I first found out about it while reading the Arts section of the New York Times some time in June. How often do you see an Indonesian film featured in the New York Times anyway? So I thought it was worth checking out.

I have to admit that I wasn't the least bit disappointed. Even though the storyline and plot were somewhat typical, I thought that the acting was great, the cinematography above par, and the script excellent and far from pretentious (evident in the fact that only half of what they were saying was decipherable). And the girl who happens to be the main character in the film was completely adorable, witty, and energetic, which kinda reminded me of...of...nevermind.

And to think that Indonesia could come up with such a decent film, I felt ashamed on behalf of all Malaysian movie makers. I kept asking myself when would they learn to make less crappy movies, with less pretentious scripts and less showy acting. When would they learn not to jam the storyline and plot down the audience's throats. It pissed me off so mightily, I felt like bitchslapping each and every one of them into oblivion and more.

That morning, before dozing off with such crappy feeling inside, I suddenly remembered one thing: I promised my friends that I would show them a software system that my friends and I wrote. That was three weeks ago, and I had to keep putting it off by giving them all sorts of lame excuses I could think of. And to think that I had been condemning practically everyone all this while, when I myself couldn't keep a simple promise. Suddenly I realized that, like the previous two nights, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep.

And that made me feel a whole lot crappier.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Believer's Dilemma

Grossly generalizing the human race, there are three categories of believers:

1. Those that are born into a religion
2. Those that embrace a religion upon marriage
3. Those that embrace a religion after years of soul searching

Most people who fall into the first category take their religious beliefs for granted. Being a believer by birth often makes someone feel too secure that he reasons that there is absolutely no need to dig deeper into his religion. This false sense of security begets complacency and apathy towards more important aspects of the belief system, and these in turn, lead to a superficial understanding of the religion. Most people, including yours truly, fall into this category.

The second category consists of those who only pronounce (albeit hesitantly) their "new found" beliefs upon marrying their spouses who are believers of other religions. More often than not, these people lack true appreciation of their new beliefs, simply because the ultimate reason for their conversion is to win the hearts and minds of their spouses and in-laws. There is no clear distinction between the first two categories, with the exception of the second group of believers having an extra religion or two to add to their portfolio.

The third category of believers is essentially what we mere mortals should strive for. Starting with a clean slate while being on the outside looking in, free of prejudice and bias, this breed of believers are blessed in the sense that they are not influenced by any prior religious and philosophical doctrine in their quest for the truth. Thus, they are free to roam and explore a multitude of uncharted terrains laid before them, until they ultimately reach their destination where the truth is finally laid bare. The vicious cycles of confusion, sorrow, ambivalence, anxiety and helplessness that accompany them throughout their journey only serve to solidify their enlightenment, whilst building a mighty foundation for true appreciation and understanding.

In an ideal world, one would dream of achieving what the last group of believers have attained. But is pure enlightenment solely attainable through a fully "empty glass"? If a man of faith were to wish to embark upon such journey, would it then amount to an implicit renouncement of his belief? Is it even remotely possible to truly explore and appreciate another belief system with indoctrination clouding one's judgement?

One can only wonder.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

BSD Forks Faster than Linux

Selected quote on a recent "G5 vs. x86 and Mac OS X vs. Linux" review posted on Slashdot:

"There's no OpenLinux, FreeLinux or NetLinux. I think that proves that *BSD forks at least 3 times faster than Linux." - Atomizer

Monday, May 16, 2005

Of Buddhism and Gods, Part 2 - Reincarnation

One of the most fundamental aspects of Buddhism is the concept of karmic rebirth. Some Buddhists argue that this process does not necessarily apply to the physical realm per se, rather it has to do with the rebirth of consciousness where continuous changes in the individual mind-state take place. However, the more predominant view on rebirth involves a continuous cycle of bodily deaths that a permanent "self" experiences.

In the latter, a permanent "self" transmigrates from one life to another in a cycle of birth and rebirth. Often this transmigration involves changes in the physical form of the "self" depending on the type of karma. Good karma leads to high rebirth as a deva or human, while bad karma leads to low rebirth as a hell-sufferer or an animal. The ultimate form of karma is a liberating one in which a "self" breaks free from the relentless cycle of rebirth to finally reach the permanent state of nirvana where the "self" ceases to exist in this material world.

While this school of thought clearly establishes what constitutes the end of "self", there is no clear explanation as to what constitutes the beginning. If we assume that the number of "selves" in this world is fixed and each "self" can only occupy one body, then it follows that since the beginning of time, the number of "selves" can only decrease, as more and more "selves" reach nirvana. However, the most recent number of the human population suggests otherwise as it keeps growing exponentially. At the same time, more and more animal species are becoming endangered and subsequently extinct, mostly in the name of progress brought about by homo sapiens. Therefore, it can be conjectured that the rate at which the number of animals is decreasing and the rate at which the number of humans is increasing do in fact cancel each other out at the very least, taking into account the number of "selves" that have succesfully reached nirvana.

While this theory looks promising, it fails to take into consideration an intermediate life form. Recent developments suggest the emergence of a third form that is part human and part animal. While there have been numerous attempts at christening this new life form, experts are still largely divided over the name. Biologists insist on calling them "chimeras", sociologists prefer the name "sociopaths", while psychologists refer to them as "psycopaths".

Regardless of the term used to describe these beings, scholars do reach a consensus on one occasion; that this hybrid life form consists of those so-called "humans" who molest their own children, leaders who cheat their own citizens, businessmen who cheat their own customers, world leaders who wage unjustified wars against so-called evil nations, and worst of all, drivers who like to jump queues in traffic. Why this intermediate life form was not discovered previously remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, these hybrid beings are here to last.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Of Buddhism and Gods, Part 1


Many a first-time blogger feels compelled to write a welcome message in his first post. I however, will try my best not to succumb to cliches and get straight down to business.

After work today, my colleagues and I decided to have dinner at a Muslim Chinese restaurant near our workplace. Some would say that it was a perfect venue for a theological discourse. Perhaps they were right, for as soon as after our orders were taken, we were already in full swing discussing Buddhism.

Contrary to what many Malays believe, Buddhism does not advocate the existence of a supernatural and supreme being, i.e. God. That struck me as mightily strange, since the majority of Malaysian Chinese subscribe to both Buddhism and Taoism, with the followers of the latter worshipping the most number of gods in comparison to followers of other polytheistic religions. Not only that, but the number of gods that Taoists worship keeps increasing every day.

Therefore I would say that the confusion was justified, for how could two religions that have very different views on God be compatible with each other? Despite the notion that Buddhist and Taoist philosophies heavily influence each other, the fact remains that they are two very different religions, for I view the belief in God as the most basic tenet that serves as the foundation of any religion.

Putting me out of my misery, one of my colleagues finally explained that being a very flexible and extensible belief system, Taoism has no problem assimilating its values and beliefs with those of Buddhism, but not the other way around. In other words, the relationship is unidirectional. Therefore if one is originally a Taoist, he will have no problem being a Buddhist as well. But for a Buddhist to subscribe to Taoism is outrageous, or a road least travelled at best. This however, begs another important chicken-and-egg question; are Malaysian Chinese Taoists first and Buddhists second, or is it the other way around?