Tuesday, November 30, 2010

PostMan's Law of Airport Terminal Exits

Visitors will somehow manage to block the exit path for arriving passengers at airport terminals.


Monday, November 29, 2010

PostMan's Law of Driving Confidence

You do believe that you can manage a cell phone while driving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who is Afraid of Dr. Salam?

Masood Hasan

It would seem just about most of us are! Fourteen years after his death in Oxford, Dr Salam rests in a modest graveyard near the Chenab river in Punjab, his grave disfigured on the orders of a lowly magistrate who had the word "Muslim" gouged out of his tombstone. The royal orders were happily complied with. The town of Rabwah, of course, is already "christened" Chenab Nagar. Maybe they should extend the farce further and call all those who inhabit this perpetually-threatened place, "Chenabis." A magistrate can "do the needful," as the Babus say.

I had the great honour of being within handshaking distance of this unique man – so modest and self-effacing, as all genuinely great men are. This was at a function years ago, convened almost secretly at one of Lahore's hotels. PTV, God bless them, had pulled out of the coverage at the last minute, which led a bemused Dr Salam to quip, "Why is PTV so afraid of me?" And in 1996, when his body arrived in Lahore, there was a farcical cat-and-mouse pantomime, with the government playing hot and cold. Bureaucratic hurdles were placed in the otherwise ordinary business of transporting his body from the airport to the Ahmadi place of worship in Garhi Shahu and then to Rabwah – sorry, Chenab Nagar. In the end, largely due to the efforts of dozens of volunteers and ordinary folks, mostly from the "A" sect, the ceremony was conducted without any major hiccup. Today, even this would seem highly unlikely. A bloodbath would be very much on the cards. Perhaps the Ahmadis should address themselves just as "A," since the mere mention of their name sends the faithful into paroxysms. In a few years a law can be passed and the "A" quietly erase as well.

In 1979, the proverbial spanner got entangled in the works. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the world's highest award in physics would be awarded to three scientists "for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles." One of these was Dr Abdus Salam. He would go on to become one of the most important theoretical physicists of his day, contribute to a landmark and crucial theory in physics, the Grand Unified Theory, and be celebrated around the world as a great scientist and human being. Except, of course, in his motherland, Pakistan.

When the Nobel Prize was announced, the government of India was the first to "claim him" and invited him to India with all protocol. Pakistan only reacted when our high commissioner in London intimated Islamabad of the Delhi invitation. Zia-ul-Haq's top brains went into a huddle. Damn if you do and damn if you don't. The British too had started claiming Dr Salam as their own! Realising that it was rather unlikely that Pakistan would ever produce another Nobel Laureate in a billion years, Islamabad cleared its throat and feebly accepted that said scientist was indeed one of their own. How it must have galled that demonic one-eyed monster to accept this, but the Nobel Prize is not quite "Bolan Awards," so the very bitter pill was swallowed, with resultant nausea.

When Dr Salam strode out in Oslo, Norway, he looked spectacular. Splendid in his traditional Pakistani gear, his turban high and flowing and his eyes, as always sparkling. History was being made. Just a handful really relished the moment, knowing that this would not happen again. Just a handful really relished the moment, knowing that this would not happen again. Pakistan fidgeted and turned, cringing at the situation at hand. The bias and discrimination against the new Nobel Prize-winner continued. 

We couldn't quite claim him, and we couldn't quite give up on him. Dr Salam had received at least 42 honorary doctorates bestowed upon him by universities across the globe. Five from India alone. Here, somehow the Quaid-e-Azam University and the Punjab University finally decided to award him honorary doctorates, but there was so much noise made by moderates like the Jamaat-e-Islami that the functions were hastily shifted to other venues and quickly dispensed with. To its eternal shame, Lahore's Government College University (GCU), Salam's own, did not even invite him!

Whereas nation after nation fussed over Dr Salam and leaders like Prime Minister Indira Gandhi literally sat at his feet, here he was treated with contempt and indifference. He was welcomed as a state guest and received by heads of states at airports. In Pakistan this "honour" was left to faceless secretaries and other file-pushers. The "leaders" were too scared to be seen welcoming him. 

Salam had earlier left Pakistan because his research work was not appreciated. It was actually frowned upon by the administrators at Government College. At the age of 31, he was already a professor at Imperial College London, and while he remained the chief scientific adviser to the president of Pakistan from 1961 to 1974 and somehow managed to set up PINSTECH and SUPARCO, his considerable plans faced innumerable hurdles and he was thwarted wherever possible. It was with the IAEA's support and Italy's generous help that Dr Salam established the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) at Trieste where countless Pakistani scientists received personal guidance from him. This is well known. 

He spared no effort to promote Pakistan and the scientific advancement of this part of the world. Even after his death, his spirit guides the many young scientists who arrive in Trieste. How ironical that this "heretic" should have found inspiration and guidance from the Holy Quran, of all the thousands of books he must have read starting as a boy in a village of the poor, squatting on the bare earth and going on to the great learning centres of this planet? How ironic that, through all that Pakistan did to him, he remained steadfast to this country and its people? How odd that this great man's life was built on the highest standards and principles that could never be compromised? Today, the world's biggest particle physics laboratory, CERN, conducts the largest experiment in the history of mankind at the Large Hadron Collider in search of fundamental answers to the creation of the universe. The Higgs Boson, predicted and worked on by Dr Salam, is at the centre of this research and deeply rooted in his unflinching faith in the miracle of the Holy Quran.

What was this country able to give to this great man? A solitary Nishan-e-Imtiaz? Abdul Qadeer Khan has two. and perhaps a few others! Even the notorious fixer, Sharifuddin Pirzada, has one – maybe more. And yes – the media accused Dr Salam of selling our nuclear secrets!. We issued a solitary stamp in Dr Salam's "honour," but so did the African country of Benin. The ICTP in Trieste is named in his memory. Not so the National Centre of Physics in Islamabad. In fact, except for the Department of Mathematics at GCU, there is no landmark, no institute, no building, no department or university in this country named after the greatest scientist this country has ever produced. 

It has been 31 years since he became our first and only Nobel laureate, and nearly 14 years since his death. The doctrinal differences over faith seem to have far more importance to this country than anything else. We will name no airport, or a road, or build a monument, an institution, initiate a scholarship – no, we will barely tolerate who he was. We are blinded by our bigotry and hatred. Will we seek forgiveness for how we treated one of the great, if not the greatest, sons of Pakistan? No, we won't. Many Pakistanis will continue to deny this unique man, and therein lies our shame, except we have none. We lost it many years ago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is Adoption Allowed In Islam?

Frankly, I was startled by this statement that Islam does not allow adoption. This is so strange, why would Islam do that? Such a novel act of taking in a human being in your folds, caring and protecting him/ her and then raising them to be the productive members of the society - at least in intention if not in reality. Does Islam totally prohibit that? does it place restrictions on it? What is really going on, I asked myself and then set about making myself understand it.

The verse that deals with 'prohibition' of adoption is as follows.

33:4 - Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body: nor has He made your wives whom ye divorce by Zihar your mothers: nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way.

33:5 - Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if ye know not their father's (names, call them) your Brothers in faith, or your maulas. But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.

Mere reading of these verses does not suggest that adoption is not allowed. Quran is alluding to a certain issue. For example, when it says  'nor has He made your wives whom ye divorce by Zihar your mothers', it is alluding to a custom wherein the husband who wanted his wife divorced equated her to 'being like his mother' - meaning she is no more treated his wife.

Something similar is being mentioned with regards to adopted children but it is not clear. Lets explore some more. The next verse mentions that the adopted children should be called by their father's name. Still, no explicit prohibition on adoption but one can see that the name of father is being given importance. But what for? Whats in a name?

When Quran talks about adopted children, it talks in terms of Orphans*1 because that is most likely scenario to occur. Couple of things to discuss here. First is the notion that since adoption is not allowed so it follows that the adopted child will not be able to inherit. This is not the case if we are to read Quran.

4:7 -  From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share.

4:8 -  But if at the time of division other relatives, or orphans or poor, are present, feed them out of the (property), and speak to them words of kindness and justice.

So orphans can have a share in inheritance as well and if you mention it in the form of a will - even better, because Quran stresses importance of having a will to decide inheritance matters. *2

You can argue that the verse is simply stating orphans and not adopted children. I will not refute your assertion but at least it shows you can give your inheritance to anyone - no restriction on 'adopted children'. Of course Quran focuses a lot on justice and being compassionate.

That was on side of the coin. How about if the adopted child had some property? Could it be that Quran is talking of this? Lets read further.

2:220 -  ... They ask thee concerning orphans. Say: "The best thing to do is what is for their good; if ye mix their affairs with yours, they are your brethren; but Allah knows the man who means mischief from the man who means good. And if Allah had wished, He could have put you into difficulties: He is indeed Exalted in Power, Wise."

17:34 - Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength; and fulfil (every) engagement, for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).

4:2 - To orphans restore their property (When they reach their age), nor substitute (your) worthless things for (their) good ones; and devour not their substance (by mixing it up) with your own. For this is indeed a great sin.

4:5 - To those weak of understanding Make not over your property, which Allah hath made a means of support for you, but feed and clothe them therewith, and speak to them words of kindness and justice.

When Quran discusses orphans as adopted children, it focuses more on protection of their rights. One has to be extremely careful in dealing with orphans properties because according to Allah that is one grave mistake.

4:10 - Those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, eat up a Fire into their own bodies: They will soon be enduring a Blazing Fire!

So one can see that when Quran talks about adopted children 'not really being your children', it states in terms of not eating up their property and preserving their rights. The issues of adopted children not being part of inheritance, as you have seen, is not the context of Quranic verse - and you can give them share of inheritance. So adoption is totally allowed in Islam but it impresses upon you to maintain their lineage so as to not encroach upon their rights - hence the name of their fathers as reference. I am open to discussion.


*1 - Quran also talks of adopted child in another scenario wherein it allows marriage to divorced wife of adopted son. (Quran 33:37)

*2 - 2:180 - It is prescribed, when death approaches any of you, if he leave any goods that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable usage; this is due from the Allah-fearing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Drivers First Commandment

Know the limits of thy brakes.