Celebrating Ramadan

I have invented this thing that I call “Roza-rolling” in the spirit of ‘rick-rolling’. It involves a Google image search on queries like “chicken roast” or “bbq meat”, wrapping a tinyurl around it, and throwing it towards my fellow Pakistani ‘Rozadaars’ on Twitter – during fasting hours. Thankfully, they don’t mind (I hope) due to their great sense of humor/pity towards me.

Now here’s a thought experiment for my Pakistani Muslim brothers (just to make it clear, I consider myself one too):

Imagine yourself, tomorrow noon (middle of Ramadan), at lunch time, sitting besides a fountain near a very busy road in Pakistan (say, Main Boulevard, Lahore) with your favorite pizza and cola bottle combo, eating and joking with another friend as people pass by. What are your feelings? Are you

a) guilty, because you are a Muslim and should be fasting

b) happy, that you live in a country that respects your freedom

c) uneasy, you can get beaten up by a mob, there might be a mosque nearby

d) afraid, you can get arrested for this

e) none of the above, you will not do any such thing as you will be fasting like a good Muslim

So your answer is e? But what if you are a non-muslim by birth? (you can answer in the comments if you want.)

Today, I met a Christian classmate from school (and school ended 20 years ago, so he is a very old friend) who has recently come back to Pakistan from the UK. He asked me that if Allah says that a roza (fast) is for Him alone and He will reward it Himself, then why is it that he can’t eat, drink (water) or smoke in public? Why can’t he go out and buy lunch from a nearby place?

I’m an idiot when it comes to religion, the Pakistani politics and many things in between them, and topics like separation of state from religion make me queasy, so I had to change the topic. He left a few hours ago, but left me wondering about what used to happen in the times of the last prophet when Muslims ruled the land but non-muslims co-existed with them. Did the Muslims let the non-muslims eat/drink as usual, or did the non-muslims change their ways out of respect/fear? Do you know of the Sunnah/history in this regard?

Ten years ago, a relative living in Saudi Arabia told me that most of the government offices switch their office timings to night shifts, probably so that the daily productivity is not affected. I used to wonder if that is how God intended fasting to be. My idea of fasting was to put up a constraint on a single variable (our intake of food/drinks etc.) and keeping the rest of my life constant, but this Saudi adjustment sounded a lot like my physics lab data manipulation practices of keeping only the ‘good’ string lengths and dropping the rest so that the value of ‘g’ turns out to be ‘9.8’ and not ‘10.5’.

Today, I stumbled upon this page reporting how Ramadan was welcomed in different countries around the world this year. A few excerpts:

  • Pakistan’s government marked Ramadan by halting a major military campaign against Taliban rebels on its border with Afghanistan, launched after intense pressure from Western nations.
  • Ramadan started on Sunday in Libya, according to a decision by the authorities based on “astronomical calculations” rather than an actual sighting of the new moon.The calculations mean that the start of Ramadan does not clash with festivities normally reserved for the anniversary of the Libyan revolution on September 1, 1969.
  • Iranians, still waiting for the new moon to be spotted, are likely to start Ramadan on Tuesday, with office hours cut down from eight to five. Iranian police have issued a stern warning to crack down on people violating a ban on eating and drinking in public as well as eateries offering food before iftar except for designated places on the roads for travellers.
  • For many Muslims, Ramadan also means spending time with friends and family watching lavish television productions filmed especially for the festive season.However, the Egyptian Gazette quoted one man as being “shocked that state-run and privately owned studios wasted 500 million Egyptian pounds (93 million dollars) on producing TV soap operas to be show in Ramadan.”
  • Turkish Muslims meanwhile resolved a debate about whether they could resort to appetite suppressing diet patches to get through the daily fast after theologists reassured them they have nothing to worry about. The patches, cannot be considered as corrupting the fast because their effect amounts to “showering or applying a pomade on the skin” rather than eating, theology professor Kerim Yavuz said.

And here is how the Arabs do it. Google search results from a few other websites looked interesting as well, but ironically, most of them were blocked/restricted either from the Pakistani PTA end or the server end, and I didn’t bother going through a proxy. I fail to see how we can fight “evil” when we don’t know “evil”, but that is the topic of another post by somebody else.

If I had the power to change things, I would have asked all restaurants and food shops to continue business as usual during Ramadan – whoever wants to eat should be allowed to eat, it is his roza, for his God! Who am I to stop him from eating? Actually, I would have gone one step further and subsidized all food items during fasting times. If I am a Muslim and see someone eating while I am fasting, shouldn’t it make me a bit more stronger (and perhaps earn me some extra bonus thawab in the process)? I should not have to grab a person by the collar and tell him to stop eating and start ‘respecting’ my roza. How is this any different from the Taliban wanting everyone to grow a beard, or Bush wanting to convert all the islamic countries to democracy?

But since I do not have such power, I guess I’ll just go watch a movie, or three, before going to sleep until iftar. You ought to do the same. Have a safe and easy Ramadan.

OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Was Launched in Pakistan Last Month

olpc-launch-africaThe OLPC Pilot Project hit Pakistan last month without much fanfare. Infact, I don’t know of any tech blog that covered the event, and was told about the launch only by my brother. This came as a surprise considering that the whole world was uber-excited when the project was announced.

The OLPC guys have a wiki running here, but their page about Pakistan seems to be outdated as the last entries are two weeks old. Though Negroponte says criticizing OLPC is criticizing the church (?!) but I will risk being labeled a fundamentalist and criticize it nonetheless.

I don’t really see the criteria they used to distribute all 27 of the laptops (worth 5000$ or so – a huge fortune) among 150 children in the school – it is more like 0.18 laptop per child instead of one laptop per child. Also, if the laptops are to stay in the school (who in their right mind would let those starving kids take the laptops home, right?), then the kids can’t really have much fun with them, but If 27 selected children are allowed to take the laptops home, then I feel sorry for the remaining 123 (yea I know some of those are too young but still…). How do they use them, do they take turns? An hour every week per child?

I have been searching for news regarding the project every month to check on the progress of the OLPC project ever since it was announced, and I must say I am pretty disappointed. First, I found this post from Dr. Habib Khan “(PhD Harvard)” asking for people interested to help localize the English based OS, and then I found this page from CRULP which shows that they got together with OLPC to localize the PC, but the OLPC wiki mentions that the OS is still running English, which makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Did they have a deadline to meet, or did they simply not care? Or did they package each laptop with a universal translator right our of Startrek?

Some more questions that are bothering me:

  • What good will 27 odd laptops that don’t work and need Linux expertise to be of any use – do?
  • Did any ISP come forward and offer to provide internet connectivity to the school? What good is the laptop’s mesh technology without internet?
  • Has somebody Pakistani volunteered to teach those kids?
  • What became of the committee that was to be formed by our beloved MOIT to “study the feasibility” of the project?

The OLPC wiki says:

We distributed 39 XO localized in Dari and Pashto, official languages of Afghanistan.

Huh? I thought it was supposed to be a launch for Pakistani children – I do feel sorry for the homeless Afghan refugees, but don’t we have under-privileged children of our own, and didn’t Afghanistan get its own OLPC launch? The OLPC guys even imported two Afghan volunteers to help out with the launch as the kids can’t speak anything but Pushto/Dari. What about that CRULP project? Something is not right here. They call this a Pakistani launch, but it seems to me that the only thing Pakistani about the launch is the location.

Also, we have rich (lots of them) and generous (a few) people right here in Pakistan. Did anyone offer the Pakistani community the same “buy-one-laptop-and-a-third-world-child-gets-one-free” deal? I would have bought one for my child if someone had guaranteed that the other laptop would be used as advertised. Hell, I would even have volunteered for the project, and I’m sure there are more than 27 people like me out there in Pakistan. A simple campaign with a dozen Pakistani “stars” would surely have brought out the spirit of charity from the hearts a few of the rich.

But then again, perhaps the OLPC is just a tool to make a few thousand Westerners feel good about themselves – maybe all 27 of them can sleep peacefully after the knowledge that they have donated 100$ worth of stuff to the Afghan kids – the same kids whom they bombed out of Afghanistan not a very long time ago. Actually, giving laptops to Pakistani children would not have them the same bang for the buck as giving laptops to the poor Afghans, so yea, it all makes sense now. We need to get bombed back into the stone-ages before our children earn their OLPC.

So the hype around the OLPC project did get me excited when it was announced, but looking back, it seems wrong, almost evil. An ad featuring the OLPC will fit right into the Cordaid campaign (click on the image to see more), and this concludes my rant of the day.