Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
By Mohsin Hamid
Penguin Books (2008)

I was channel surfing in the hotel room during a recent holiday, when I heard that there was a movie being made known as “the Reluctant Fundamentalist” which was being based on a novel of the same name.

The name had a certain fascination for me, so the next time I was at a bookstore, I was looking out for this book.

This book is certainly different from other books I have read recently in that it is a sort of monolog.  The hero, Changez, is narrating his story to an unknown American tourist visiting Lahore.

I think it would be easy to many people from the East who study in the West, to relate to the early optimism that they encounter when first they reach there.  Sometimes that optimism leads to a feeling of betrayal when things don’t always go the way we want it to.

The book is also about 9/11 and the way it has shaped our thinking – how heroes and villains are sometimes two sides of the same coin, and it often depends on the side one is looking at.

An easy, entertaining book or a deep, thought provoking one – either way an interesting read.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Book of Assistance
By Imam ‘Abdallah Ibn ‘Alawi Al-Haddad
Fons Vitae (2003)

Lately I have joined some members of my family to attend the twice monthly Ratib sessions held at Masjid al Bukhari in Jalan Hang Tuah, Kuala Lumpur.   (In Arabic, Rataba means to arrange in a regular sequence.  Thus a Ratib is a sequential supplication to Allah.) As part of the sessions, Ratib al Haddad is recited before Maghrib (sunset) prayers.  I was excited to find a book written by the author of Ratib al Haddad.

The book is a simple and practical guide for those who wish to improve themselves as Muslims and for beginners along the Sufi path.

On reciting the Quran he says, “You must have a wird of recitation of the Mighty Book to be read every day.”  The actual wird is left to the individual, may be one juz (a thirtieth part of the Quran) or ten juz a day.

On following the sunnah (way of the Prophet S.A.W.) it can be simple exercises such as, “When you either eat or drink always begin with bismillah (in the name of God) and conclude with Alhamdulillah (praised be God).

He reminds, “You must enjoin good and forbid evil, for this is the pivot around which religion revolves, and is the reason why God revealed His Books and sent His Messengers.

Credit must also be given to the translator, Mostafa al-Badawi, for arranging the book into easily identifiable chapters and including necessary annotations to make understanding the book much easier.

The book is very readable, simple and practical for any lay person, not some esoteric mumbo jumbo that needs a ‘Master’ to interpret it to be understood. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Holy Cities, The Pilgrimage and The World of Islam

A History: From the earliest traditions till 1925 (1344H)

By Sultan Ghalib al-Quaiti
Fons Vitae (2007)

 As the sub-title states, the book covers the period from the time of Adam (A.S.) till the early part of the third Saudi State.  The pre-Islamic period is based mainly on Hadith (sayings/teachings of Prophet Mohammed S.A.W.), Sirah (history of the Prophet S.A.W.) and other Arab sources while the Islamic and post-Islamic periods can be collaborated from various sources.

It is a detailed study running into 552 pages, not counting the preface, introduction, appendices and notes.

It highlights the various Islamic empires and their relationships with the cities of Makkah and Madina and the restorations, renovations and improvements to the holy shrines that were undertaken by the rulers.  The fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and the rise of Mustafa Kamal Pasha (Ataturk)are also discussed.

The book also discusses The Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, his teachings and legacy, and I must add that this is the first book in which I read, in some detail, about the ‘Qarmatians’ and the removal of the ‘Black Stone’(al-Hajar al-Aswad) from the Ka’aba.

The book also contains some old photographs and lists the names of all the rulers of the various dynasties in its appendices.

I found this book immensely informative and interesting, and would recommend it as a 'must read' to anybody interested in knowing and understanding the history of Makkah and Madina.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Money - Whence it came, Where it went

Money – Whence it came, Where it went
By John Kenneth Galbraith
Bantam Books (1975)

I found this book at a second-hand book fair some years back.  At RM3.00 it seemed a bargain. My earlier attempts to read it were not successful – a bit dry, but after “Extreme Money”, I wanted to find out the origins of money.

“Money” is a historical narrative tracing the origins of money from metallic coins to paper currency.  The role played by banks in the creation of money and how Governments use fiscal and monetary policy to promote employment and growth are also explained in some detail.

Money is defined as that which is generally offered or received for the purchase or sale of goods, services or other things.  It loses value or purchasing power over time.  The secret to money’s infinite amplification (read: get rich quick) usually involves the re-discovery of some ancient fraud (So beware of all the scams going around, made especially easy by the Internet.)

The book also looks at the gold standard, inflation, effects of war and the various issues concerned with the supply of money.

I probably need a few more re-readings of this book as well as “Extreme Money” to better grasp the issues involved.

This, “Extreme Money” and other related books must be made compulsory reading for “Islamic Scholars” especially those who sit on the Syariah Councils of financial institutions.  I am proposing this as I am now beginning to wonder if banks can ever be considered ‘Islamic’.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Extreme Money

Extreme Money
By Satyajit Das
John Wiley & Sons (2011)

An interesting sub-title, “Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk.”

Just like “This Time is Different” the underlying theme of this book is again ‘debt’.  The only difference is here, debt is “financialized”.  This is Extreme Money.

It is interesting reading – a lot of quotes and anecdotes – making the concepts discussed in the book easy to understand.  “There’s hard money, there’s fiat money, and there’s debt. .....  In truth, money exists only in the mind.  It is a matter of trust.  With trust, comes the possibility of betrayal.”

The following illustration is used to explain what has happened:
“There is a box – the original real economy.  In the age of capital, a larger economy appeared, really two boxes stacked on top of each other – the real economy and the extreme money economy, with its excessive debt and speculation.  In the global financial crisis, the extreme money box disappeared, leaving only the smaller real economy once more."

The author’s proposed solution to the financial crisis: “The world has to reduce debt. ... Individuals have to save more and spend less.  Companies have to go back to real engineering.  Governments have to balance their books better. ... The world must live within its means.”

I think that this is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the current global financial situation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This Time is Different

This Time is Different
By Carmen M Reinhart &
Kenneth S Rogoff
Princeton University Press (2009)
I picked up this book because of its subtitle “Eight Centuries of Financial Folly” thinking it will shed light on why the world is currently embroiled in one financial disaster after another.  On this I was disappointed.

The book contains data for 66 countries across the five continents covering eight centuries and this makes for some very dizzy reading.  I’m no economist; so, much of the data didn’t have meaning for me.

Various types of crises are defined and covered in the book – inflation, currency crashes and debasement, banking crises and debt defaults.  To me the unifying thread though all these crises is debt.  An interesting case is that of independent Newfoundland which had to form a federation with Canada due to default – even democracy is subordinate to debt.

While it seems near impossible to predict a crisis, rising real estate prices seem to precede many a financial crisis.

This is not an easy read, but if you are into data – go for it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Emperor of all Maladies

The Emperor of all Maladies
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Forth Estate (2011)

When I was a kid, cancer was not so common and only talked about in hushed tones as anyone diagnosed with it was considered as having been handed a death sentence.  Today, so many of my friends and family have been diagnosed with cancer in one or another of its forms.  Some of them are still around after having undergone treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

I’ve been curious about this ‘sudden popularity’ of cancer, Is it something to do with what we eat and drink? Is it our lifestyle? Am I going to be the next one?

This book, ‘A Biography of Cancer’, traces the history of cancer from Imhotep’s Egypt (2500 BC) to the present.  So cancer is not a scourge of modern living but a very old disease.  It’s just that people used to die of various other illnesses that have been eradicated today, long before they could contract cancer.  By the way, cancer does not seem to be a contractible disease like most other diseases.  It’s more of like our own cells have forgotten how to stop multiplying and to ‘die’ naturally.  (Maybe the stories of people who, for themselves to remain immortal, had to take the lives of others are actually based on cancer.)

The book also traces the people who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure for cancer.  Often times it has just been trial and error.  The old maxim that every medicine is a potential poison has been turned around to there is potential medicine in every poison, thus the use of cytotoxic drugs in chemotherapy.

One of the main stumbling blocks to finding that cure is determining the cause of cancer, what triggers the cells to misbehave.  It is known that that there is a correlation between smoking and lung cancer, yet why is it that not all smokers contract lung cancer.

The book is well written (did I mention, the author is an oncologist) and is a worthwhile read although whether you will be any closer to understanding cancer is debateable – I am no wiser about cancer even after reading the book.