Religion Explained

This is one of the best books I have read. It explains the origins of religious thought based on how our mind works. Highly recommended.

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer is a great book about a very interesting topic.

It is a book about why most humans are religious. Pascal Boyer takes an evolutionary and cognitive psychology approach to the problem. The discussion in this book about how our mind works was fascinating enough by itself. As a parent, I found the description of how children think and how their thoughts develop as they grow to be the most interesting parts of the book.

Overall, Pascal Boyer explains the development of religious thought in humans in an easily accessible way that a casual reader can understand as well. Therefore, I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested in religion and/or cognitive sciences. I must thank Razib for suggesting this book to me and making my thinking about religion so much more coherent.

Here is an article Why is Religion Natural? by Boyer that gives a flavor of the book.

Other interesting works on this topic are:

I must note here that religion being natural does not necessarily mean that religion is true.

Digital SLRs

Here are links to some reviews of and information about digital SLR cameras, Nikon D40x, D80 and Canon Rebel XTi, as well as lenses for these cameras.

Here are some links for myself (and I guess others interested in digital SLRs).

Nikon D40X

Canon Digital Rebel XTi

Nikon D80

Lenses

Right now I am leaning towards the Nikon D80.

Chinatown

This is a great crime movie, featuring Jack Nicholson and directed by Roman Polanski.

Chinatown is a film noir thriller by Roman Polanski about power, murder and intrigue in 1930s Los Angeles.

Jack Nicholson plays the main role of a private detective hired by a woman to spy on her husband who she believes to be having an affair. Things start spiraling out of control when the husband is murdered. And Nicholson is drawn into the mystery.

I am not too fond of the acting of Jack Nicholson, but he does a very good job here.

It is a very good crime movie, even though I have almost no clue as to why it is titled “Chinatown.”

I rate it 8/10.

Pakistan Independence Day

Today is Pakistan’s Independence Day. It has been sixty years. Happy Independence Day!

Today is the 60th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence (and actually founding). Here is Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to the nation on August 15, 1947.

And here is the text of the speech:

It is with feelings of greatest happiness and emotion that I send you my greetings. August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign State of Pakistan. It marks the fulfillment of the destiny of the Muslim nation which made great sacrifices in the past few years to have its homeland.

At this supreme moment my thoughts are with those valiant fighters in our cause. Pakistan will remain grateful to them and cherish the memory of those who are no more.

The creation of the new State has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how can a nation, containing many elements, live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of caste or creed.

Our object should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with the world at large. We have no aggressive designs against any one. We stand by the United Nations Charter and will gladly make our full contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world.

Muslims of India have shown to the world that they are a united nation, their cause is just and righteous which cannot be denied. Let us, on this day, humbly thank God for His bounty and pray that we might be able to prove that we are worthy of it.

This day marks the end of a poignant phase in our national history and it should also be the beginning of a new and a noble era. Let us impress the minorities by word, deed and thought that as long as they fulfill their duties and obligations as loyal citizens of Pakistan, they have nothing to fear.

To the freedom loving tribes on our borders and the States beyond our borders, we send our greetings and assure that Pakistan will respect their status and will extend to them its most friendly co-operation in preserving peace. We have no ambition beyond the desire to live honorably and let others live honorably.

Today is Jummat-ul-Wida, last Friday of the holy month of Ramazan, a day of rejoicing for all of us wherever we may be in this vast sub-continent and for the matter of that throughout the world. Let the Muslim congregations in their thousands, in all the mosques, bow in all humility before the Almighty and thank Him for His eternal kindness and generosity, seeking His guidance and assistance in the task of making Pakistan into a great State and themselves into its worthy citizens.

Finally, let me tell you, fellow citizens, Pakistan is a land of great potential resources. But to build it up into a country worthy of the Muslim nation, we shall require every ounce of energy that we possess and I am confident that it will come from all whole-heartedly.”

Pakistan Zindabad!

Happy Independence Day!

Shab e Miraj

Did the Prophet Muhammad physically ascend to the heavens on this night?

Last night was Rajab 27 which is commonly believed to be the night of Miraj or the night of the ascension of Prophet Muhammad.

Here is what Fazlur Rahman had to say about it in Chapter 1 of his book Islam. He is discussing how externality of the Angel and the Revelation to Prophet Muhammad became an accepted doctrine among Muslims and then mentions the ascension:

The Quran refers to an important transforming experience or perhaps a series of such experiences of Muhammad in several Suras of the Quran (XVII, 1; LIII, 5-18; LXXXI, 23). In all of these places, the Quran alludes to the fact that the Prophet saw something ‘at the farthest end’ or ‘on the horizon’ and this shows that the experience contained an important element of the ‘expansion’ of the self. In LIII, 11-12, the Quran says: ‘The heart has not falsified what it has seen; shall you doubt what it has witnessed?’ But the spiritual experiences of the Prophet were later woven by tradition, especially when an ‘orthodoxy’ began to take shape, into the doctrine of a single, physical, locomotive experience of the ‘Ascension’ of Muhammad to Heaven, and still later were supplied all the graphic details about the animal which was ridden by the Prophet during his ascension, about his sojourn in each of the seven heavens, and his parleys with the Prophets of bygone ages from Adam up to Jesus. We may first concede the fact, which is rarely realized by opponents of ‘orthodoxy’, that a religion cannot live on purely ‘spiritualized’ dogmas and that reification is necessary even if only to serve the purpose of a ‘vessel’ for the spirit. We may further insist that it is really impossible to hold that something should occur of a purely spiritual nature without a physical concomitant, and we might even assert that a single event may be called spiritual or physical according to its setting or context, yet in either case the doctrine of a locomotive miraj or ‘Ascension’ developed by the orthodox (chiefly on the pattern of the Ascension of Jesus) and backed by Hadith is no more than a historical fiction whose materials come from various sources.

Here are the Quranic verses referred to in that passage. I am using Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English translation.

17:1: Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).

53:5-18: He was taught by one Mighty in Power, Endued with Wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form); While he was in the highest part of the horizon: Then he approached and came closer, And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; So did (Allah) convey the inspiration to His Servant- (conveyed) what He (meant) to convey. The (Prophet’s) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw? For indeed he saw him at a second descent, Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass: Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!

81:23: And without doubt he saw him in the clear horizon.

Without understanding the original Arabic and Arab linguistic and literature history, it is not possible for me to make a judgment on this matter. However, Fazlur Rahman’s account does seem plausible and Muslim orthodoxy has indeed given physical shape to a lot of things. Here is an example.

Quran 94:1-8: Have We not expanded thee thy breast?- And removed from thee thy burden The which did gall thy back?- And raised high the esteem (in which) thou (art held)? So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief. Therefore, when thou art free (from thine immediate task), still labour hard, And to thy Lord turn (all) thy attention.

This metaphorical language of the Quran got distorted into this colorful story in the Hadith in Sahih Muslim.

Anas b. Malik reported that Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upo him) while he was playing with his playmates. He took hold of him and lay him prostrate on the ground and tore open his breast and took out the heart from it and then extracted a blood-clot out of it and said: That was the part of Satan in thee. And then he washed it with the water of Zamzam in a golden basin and then it was joined together and restored to it place. The boys came running to his mother, i. e. his nurse, and said: Verily Muhammad has been murdered. They all rushed toward him (and found him all right) His color was changed, Anas said. I myself saw the marks of needle on his breast.

Are You a Feminist?

Another internet quiz. Find out how much of a feminist you are. I wasn’t surprised at my result.

Via Matthew Yglesias comes this quiz:

You Are 94% Feminist

Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn’t mean you’re a man hater (in fact, you may be a man). You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It’s a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Are You a Feminist?

Looks like I am more of a feminist than Matthew.

Dell and Blogging

Dell came through, thanks to my blogging, and replaced my laptop with a brand new Inspiron 1501.

At times I think of blogging as a useless activity. Yes, it has helped me meet new and interesting people, some of whom have become good friends. Yes, blogging has made me somewhat famous in that I sometimes run into people, offline or online, who have read my weblog. And of course blogging is a way to keep a diary and express my thoughts on a variety of topics.

Then again, I recall the PhotoDude complaining on his blog about not getting software user manuals and having them delivered the next day. But he is an A-list blogger unlike me!

So I had a rant here about my problems with my Dell laptop. A few days later, I got an email from Dell HQ from a person who had read it. Lo and behold, he offered to replace my computer. That was on July 26.

Meanwhile, my old Inspiron 5150 was repaired at the depot and returned to me. Then I went about copying everything off of it so it could be returned.

On August 6, I got a package from Dell. I opened it and found a brand new Inspiron 1501. I was a little surprised since I had assumed that the replacement would be a refurbished machine. Anyway, the machine looks good. And I must thank the Dell guy who read my blog and took the initiative to get me this computer.

I now have two brand new computers, a desktop that I built and this laptop. Amber is having second thoughts about letting me buy the desktop.