Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Nerd -who wants to stay that way

Except for the second term of sixth grade, I've always topped my class. I've never failed any test. In my high school board exams and in my A Level board exams, I got the best grades we could get. And I'm so far into two years of university and have never gotten any grade below distinction.

This makes me sound like a conceited, toffee-nosed stuck-up person, but God knows I'm not bragging. I know for a fact I'm not more intelligent that the average person. Maybe if people ask me what I've achieved in life I would repeat the above paragraph, not out of satisfaction but simply because I have nothing else to list.

There was a time when, as lame as it sounds, being a topper depressed me. I'm a very, very shy person and the last thing I wanted was to have teachers praise me and have the entire class look around at me. I hated being the teacher's pet always. I hated it when they would pick me for their "special tasks". I hated it when teachers would compare me to other students. I hated it when teachers would grab my book to show as an example to the class. I hated being the one who always did her homework, and always gave her assignments on time. I hated being the one everyone turned to when it was time to copy. And the worst thing I hated out of all of this was all the classmates who would take my phone-number and become "friends" with because I would come in handy.

I can remember at least five girls at the moment from my class-mates whose daily routine consisted of calling me- every single day of the academic year. I've spent hours of my life with the phone ear piece reddening my ear and all our school books surrounding me, repeating the answers of the next day's homework word by word, or number by number. I would hear the dreaded phone ring and look at the number on the call register, and if it was one of the familiar numbers, I would literally feel my heart sink a centimeter- at the thought that I'm going to spend the next hour giving away all my work to other girls. Some of the girls wouldn't even bother pretending to want anything else. "Hello? It's you? Done with the homework? Come on."

Funny how I wouldn't hear from any of them once the summer vacations started. Now that I think of it, I can't believe how much of a tread-on I was. I've come a long way from there. "Tell them to do their own work" my dad would scream angrily. Each time I would promise myself that would be the day, my courage would fail me and we'll be back to the same old routine. At some point, my dad started picking up the phone to tell them I was busy and they shouldn't call again. That didn't work. Not picking up at all wouldn't work either. They'd keep ringing till they had their work read out to them.

All my class-mates naturally assumed I was a topper because I spent most of my time studying. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can swear on my life that most of my classmates studied more than I did and had parents who were after their life. If you ask me why I did so well, I would say it's because my parents taught me to love learning and then left me to it. I don't remember my parents ever telling me to go study. On the day before my A-Level final examination, I told my mom I felt like going to the movies. We watched The Accidental Husband together, laughed lots, stuffed ourselves with popcorn and had an amazing day. I know someone from school whose parents moved the television into the store-room a week before her final examinations. My parents couldn't stand pampering like that.

My parents are both engineers, and my father is a PhD. So don't get me wrong, it's not that they're not educated, nor that they're not interested in my education. But my parents realized something that most parents never do: education doesn't start from a kid's first day at school. It starts from our birth day. It's not about how much you can stuff your brains with, it's about being passionate about finding out more about this world. During my childhood, the best day of the week was the day we would go the public library, pick out books to read- our own choices. When we would sit down to watch the news, my father would tell us all about the events of the twentieth century, events that happened before we were born but that somehow led to the news we were watching at the time. I remember in fifth grade history, when we were supposed to be learning about the Victorian Age and our history teacher couldn't make it more boring if she tried. My father narrated it all to me like it was one exciting fairy tale. I knew about Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini before we started on them at school. I read my textbooks like they were novels and enjoyed every bit. I was always thirsty to know more. I didn't care much about exams and how well I should prepare for them. I was just genuinely interested in most of my subjects.

Exam time meant nothing in my family. It was absolutely no excuse to use to skip my dish-washing chore, or to avoid visiting family friends. "The exams are just testing how much you already know" was what my mom always reminded me, and such a relief that was to know I wasn't under any pressure. I never really set a time aside to prepare for the exams. The preparation happened without me noticing: whenever we studied anything, I would listen carefully to make sure I've understood what happened in class, and if I didn't, I'd go home and read it up myself. I never felt like I was studying then, it was just researching to know more. I won't lie and say my grades didn't matter to me: if I felt the exam didn't go that well, I felt disappointed with myself for not having them under my control.

I know I've matured now since my school days because it no longer matters to me what people think. Peoples' perceptions about me are entirely irrelevant. I love defending interesting courses when they're accused of being a bore, and I love looking up extra material in the library, regardless of when exams are. I also know I've matured because I've learned when help is really needed, when it's hiding under an invisibility cloak, and when it's just a disguise.

Something else has change now too- I love getting high grades: no, they don't tell me I'm intelligent or great, they just re-assure me that I'm still as passionate about learning as I was when I first learned my ABCs. That the spark in me is still lit, and as long as it stays there, everything is going to be okay.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Why isn't God preventing evil?"

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

The Epicurean Paradox might seem like one of those clever riddles that will stop you in your tracks, make you pause and get all introspective, but it really isn't. I still think it's a good spiritual exercise to occasionally sharpen your saw by playing the role of the doubter though. There's no better way to strengthen your faith than questioning what you're told is the unquestionable, searching for the answers and finally, that peaceful feeling where you are one with your belief, knowing full well that what you believe in is where you arrived at with your own mind and heart.

So today I attempt to tackle this from how I understand it:
Before we humans jumped into the picture, it was perfect. Picture Perfect. An Almighty God, and angels, animals, nature..all willingly worshiping and praising Him. There was just the one peaceful system that God willed, and everything was in order. Anyone looking at the universe then would smile and say nothing's missing.

But God is Creative, and Just, and Wise, and if there was anything Higher and More Perfect that could be, He would let it be. And there was. You see: all the elements in that perfect picture didn't have a choice- they had to be good and peaceful and loving. The superior element that was missing was us: creatures with the freedom of choice. That's what sets us aside from the rest of the world.

By creating us, God may have been risking the smoothness of all that existed, (probably the reason why the Qur'an tell us the angels voiced their concerns when they were told we were arriving), but He was also unlocking the greatest potential ever. Because by choosing to do good, rather than doing good because it's the only choice, they could reach levels higher than any angel. Simply arming humans with freedom of choice made them that special. God gives us way more credit for using our minds to choose good over evil, instead of being compelled to do good. The greatness that humans could come up by being given a choice to do good is so large and powerful, that God judges it's worth all the trouble of giving up a world defined by 'goodness'. That's how much faith He has in us.

By expecting God to prevent evil, we're asking Him to take away from us our essence: the freedom to choose. If God prevented evil, He would be unfair because He would be taking away from us what distinguishes humanity. All the evil that happens in the world is a result of choice- our lives are a product of choice. True, there are victims of other peoples' wrong choices, but that's why God has a system of justice in place and accountability, and no good choice goes unrewarded.

Going back to the paradox, God doesn't Will good- He Wills freedom of choice, and that just illustrates and emphasizes the importance of the freedom in decision-making, in that the AlMighty Himself Wills it upon this universe. However, besides God's Will is God's Wish. God's Wish is for humanity to make the best of the gifts we've been given and use them for good. (Another conclusion you can come up with here is that no matter WHAT a person does, they are never going against God's Will, because they are exercising their right to choice. They may choose to go against His Wish, but that still is in line with His Will)

So Epicurus was wrong in concluding that if God is able to stop evil but does not, then he is evil-willing. That's like a professor who teaches all the material, prepares a reasonable exam, but still decides to whisper the correct answers to students during their exam. (In want of a better analogy. I know this one is weak because the student may not know what the answer should be, but there is no human heart that cannot make out right from wrong- another law of nature Willed upon us). I'd be offended if I as a student am not given my simple right to think for myself during the exam and trusted to come up with my own answer. I'd also be offended if God gives me a brain that processes information and is able to distinguish good from evil, but then He doesn't let me use this brain to do evil if I want to.

Imagine God did decide to take back our gift of freedom of choice and prevented all the evil in the world. Evil wouldn't exist, but then you wouldn't be able to call what exists as 'good' but simply 'existence'. Good would have no meaning then and no weight or measure, and when I mean good it includes powerful things that can shake the world, like love. Logically speaking, if no evil existed, good would be nothing, and so would everything that is part of good. I don't want to live in a world where I have no freedom of choice and where I see good in the world but just perceive it all as what exists, no thanks!

We all want everyone to not be ruled by misunderstanding, and so does God, but He cannot Will it (i.e. cause it to happen) because that would make creating us and this world pointless. A world like the one we dream of is beautiful because it is a world in which we, with our own choice, would make that way. If that same world happened because God willed it upon it to be that way, it wouldn't be beautiful anymore. It would be like the women in the movie 'The Stepford Wives'.

Good and Evil may be relative, but only to a small extent. Generally, humans know when they're doing lovely and when they're messing up. They know that they're collectively responsible for the ugliness that's been created of the beautiful world gifted to us. Yet we have the nerve to shift the responsibility away from us, and towards God. How about we open our eyes and see the gifts we've been given, the ones that could do wonders, and use them for a change?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Spacetoon Generation

I remember that day in third grade, when I was still trying to adapt to everything concerning living in the Middle East.

Sitting next to Maryam, my new Emarati best friend (who I have lost touch with and would really love to talk to again! Maryoom, if there's a one in a million chance you're reading this and happen to remember this conversation, let me know!). I don't recall what work we'd been given to do, except that I was really engrossed in what I was doing, and was getting slightly distracted with Maryam's soft singing next to me. I put my pen down in annoyance, and stopped to hear what it was she saying:

Ta5ayyal anal kawn
La 6a3ma lahu aw lawn
Aw annal televizyown
Min ghayri spacetoooon

(Imagine that this planet....had no taste or colour....Imagine television....without Spacetoon)

Not recognizing what she was singing doubled my annoyance, and I picked up my pen to resume my work, as Maryam continued singing, waiting for my curiosity to get the better of me.

She stopped singing suddenly and turned her head sharply towards me: "You know it?"
"Tut" was all that could escape my lips, my pride injured at having to give in.
She leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "It's going to be the best kids' channel ever. They're testing it now on Bahrain TV, but soon, it'll be a channel on its own, and I'm going to be the first one to watch it".

Well, you know how there's that age where life is a competition.
I continued my work the rest of the class, appearing to be not interested in what Maryam had to say, but inside I was super super excited. 'I'm going to be the first to watch the best channel ever too!'

That's where it started..
There's a whole generation of Arab kids that Spacetoon helped raise. We loved it. We loved the different planets you could travel to- each with a separate genre of cartoons. We loved all the Arabic-dubbed anime. We loved the feature songs to every cartoon, memorized all the lyrics. We loved the in-between play and learn sessions. We loved the little messages it sent across: the little jiggle about Palestine and freedom, the pop-up fact boxes about each arab country.

Spacetoon was probably one of the most useful projects the Arabs have come up with in a long time...

I miss Spacetoon and the big chunk of my childhood I spent under its spell.

Were you part of The Spacetoon Generation? Share your memories, I'd love to hear from you. What was your favourite kawkab and which cartoons did you watch? What would you have done to improve it? Do you think Spacetoon played a role in strengthening your Arabic language, and in instilling a sense of arab unity in you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A shout out to my followers :)

I started blogging in 2009 because it was something I wanted to try out for myself. When I began, for some reason, I expected to have a multitude of views and comments the second I typed out my first post. I admit feeling disappointed. (I even remember google-ing tips on how to get your blog to be popular!)

After a few days, when I realized I was not going to become the next Julie Powell, I pulled myself together, wiped the dust off me and started over with new goals in mind. This time, I was going to blog because I had something to say, not because I was looking for attention. I decided to humbly put in my two cents about whatever it is I want to say. There must be a billion blogs out there, and I was just another one added to them.

For the past two years, blogging has helped me through alot, in two ways:
The first side is the exciting bit of looking for blogs to follow, and getting to read diverse opinions on every topic under the sun. Reading other people's points of views has helped me become more tolerant towards accepting other perspectives, and I know this is one of my weak areas.

The second side is the even more exciting bit of getting my own word and perspective across. I love the feeling of knowing there are people out there, who I have never met in real life, but who are always there, listening to what I have to say and caring enough to let me know they are. Almost everyday, I check my blog stats and smile at the different countries I've had views from. It makes me feel all warm inside!

This is a special thank you to my 50 followers for enhancing my blogging experience.

Thank you:

Notorius Spinks
Stefanie R - Silver Starry Skies
Me's Bubble Me's Bubble
amal Starry Eyed
TheOneWhoNeedsReminders Reminders & Reflections
The Restless Quill ...and then
Amira The Stranger's Diary
Tori περιπλάνηση
Aliya A Pair of Specs
LuLu Captured
Zarina Hassem
Noshi Oasis of Truth
Zainab Yikes! I'm a Mum!
Zahra The Girl in the Awesome Chador
muffi smith
Abeer Alternate Mirror
Peace Be With You Working Minds
DYVYNE Meaningless Virtue
Pooja Second thoughts first...
Londoneya Londoneya
rose water rose water
Muslimahs Musings
Undefined my atmosphere
Koo A place for my head
7ormat khalid The Owl from Abu Dhabi
Najma A Star from Mosul
Elimar Licos
Mariam Underneath a Silver Sky..
mustika sari sayuti Vanilla Ice-cream floats
TGL This Good Life
Rukhpar Mor Rukhpar Mor
Ellen Keim I, Muslimah
Relax Please Relaxing Blogs
monsoon78 the blues, the blahs and the blarghs
Eternal Dawn new inspirations
AmmatulWadud Formal & Antiquated
ria lishariyani rialive

Thank you all! You may not know me, but you have made a difference in my life. :)

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