Monday, December 24, 2018

The Charm of Knowledge

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

When my emotion and physique are not exhausted from work, I would pick up a non fiction book. I have piles of them waiting to be consumed in my office and my apartment. The one I'm currently reading is the The First Command by M. Jamal Haider. It is about Muslim intellectualism in the past.

But don't misunderstand, this is not a post about book review. This is a post on how I am inspired and at the same time stressed, by the Muslim savants from history at which the book highlights. I am inspired because their thirst for knowledge is so pure and sincere, and I am stressed because as an academician, I don't think I can reach their heights.

Source: Wikimedia

Martyrs of knowledge
The curiosity that these group of men possessed were immeasurable. They would go to great lengths for knowledge; always willing to sacrifice almost anything to get an ounce of it. Below is a bullet list of some of them:
  • Ibn Sina, or most Westerns would call him Avicenna, had cured the King of Bukhara from an illness when he was mere 17 years old. The King had hired many physicians beforehand but all were unsuccessful. Out of gratefulness, the King wished to present him with a reward. Instead of asking for wealth or power, Ibn Sina asked for access to the King's extraordinary library.
  • Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi or better known simply as al-Farabi, did not marry for he was highly focused in academia. I dare say that if most of you had known him, you would say that he doesn't have a life! Before that, he had endured poverty. He was employed as a gardener at first, and at last became the King's companion. He taught us that patience, determination and passion can help one pull through. Perhaps, he understood the meaning of life the most! 
  • Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham or Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen loved other fields except engineering. He hated it so much to the extent that he pretended to be mentally unstable when Caliph al-Hakim asked him to figure out how to stop floods. After the Caliph died, he pursued other fields of knowledge in Spain. This is another example of what passion, patience, and persistence can lead us to. In addition to all those lessons, we also learn what line of action to take when person(s) of authority asked us to do something that we don't like 😜
  • Prince Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah had abdicated his throne in order to study chemistry. People nowadays would call him a fool.

Most of them are also Mathematicians
It is interesting to know that regardless what their expertise were, most of them were also excellent in Mathematics! Below are some of them:
  • Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (died c.840) - Geographer, Astronomer, and Mathematician 
  • Banu Musa brothers (9th century) - Mathematicians and Mechanics 
  • Thabit ibn Qurrah (836 - 901) - Mathematician, Astronomer, Mechanics and Translator from Greek to Arabic 
  • Abu Abdullah al-Battani (858 - 929 CE) - Mathematician, Astronomer, and Mathematician 
  • Al-Razi (864 - 930) - Studied medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, music and philosophy 
  • Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi - Studied philosophy, logic, sociology, music, medicine, and mathematics 
  • Abu al-Wafa Muhammad al-Buzjani (940 - 997) - Mathematician and Astronomer 
  • Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham (965 - 1040) - Studied optics, mathematics, physics, and medicine 
  • Omar Khayyam (1044 - 1123) - Studied mathematics, astronomy, poetry, and metaphysics
This fact is exceptionally intriguing for me because:

Reason 1: My undergraduate Degree was in Mathematical Science
When I entered into the last semester of my sophomore year in university, it began to dawn on me that Mathematics is not for me. I found it harder to learn and understand. Despite my interest in it, I can't seem to grapple with most of the concepts. But somehow when I did my Masters and Doctorate Degree, I always steered back towards some form of Mathematics. I suppose just like human love, I can't really forget Mathematics. Ever since I started reading this book, I decided that I should incorporate more Mathematics in my research; even if it turns out to be mediocre.

Reason 2: Philosophy, poetry, AND mathematics?!
This is utterly mind boggling. In Malaysia at least, there is no one who would be an expert in philosophy or poetry WITH mathematics (if I'm wrong, please correct me). Those three different fields are just that, THREE DIFFERENT FIELDS! I however, do have have a few theories why, though. That my friends, will be in another post in the future, inshALLAH (God willing).

Still, there is one pertinent question to the current post that must be addressed; why was knowledge so alluring to the point that these Muslim scholars fell head over heels for it? I believe the words from M. Jamal Haider holds the obvious answer:

If now some scholars are using such verses (Quranic verses regarding geology, zoology, astrophysics etc.) as proof of authenticity of the Quran, in the past, such verses had directed the Muslims into an incredible quest for scientific knowledge that had lasted over a century.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

If you're an ardent follower of my blog posts, you'd notice that I've found a (not so) new hobby; hiking. The allure of hiking once a week, to admire nature and breath in the fresh air together with new and old friends, leaves me begging for solitude on another day. It is on this day, the pull of my introvert side would call upon a novel to be present. Navigating Early written by Clare Vanderpool is one such novel.

This novel is by actual fact, a children's novel. I was too proud to buy the novel at first. But the synopsis had helped me battle with my ego. The story takes place on the Appalachian Trail attempted by two friends, one of whom is obsessed with the number pi (3.14). The synopsis certainly piqued the hiker and fallen Mathematician in me. Its true what people say, passion can overcome anything.

Jack Baker, 13 years old, had lost his mother at the end of World War II and was sent to a boarding school by his Naval Seal father. There, Jack met with a peculiar boy, Early Auden. Early has a pet frog named Bucky, likes to colour code his jellybeans when upset, and will silently exit any classroom when he disagrees with what's been taught. Early especially disagrees with his Mathematics teacher who thinks that the number pi has an end because Early opines that the number pi does NOT have an end. Early somehow came out with a story using the pi numbers which he only shared with Jack.

Early had an elder brother who died during the war. But Early does not buy that. There's a black bear who is terrorising hikers on the Appalachian trail and Early believes that he'll find his brother when he finds this bear. Jack thinks this as nonsense of course, but seeing that he's alone during school break, Jack might as well join Early on his quest. Besides, Early reminds him of his mother so much.

As a reader, what fascinates me most is how Early sees the world. It's truly outlandish how people see things differently and get judged harshly for that. Anyway, I believe this is what a good novelist should acquire, a SENSE of his/her characters. Early, if you had not guessed yet, is actually a savant and has high functioning form of autism. I give this book 5 stars.   

A page from the book

Monday, July 16, 2018

Rationality vs Deep Thought

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

I'm reading a book written by John Ralston Saul entitled "Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West". I started reading it in 2016 and even after two years, haven't finish. This is record breaking for me as I've always been a fast reader. Still, it is unsurprising because the writer is a philosopher. Like most philosophers, it's so difficult to fathom his thoughts!

Fortunately (and alhamdulillah), his ideas got across to me recently. I am able to boil down his points into one simple sentence:
People make wrong decisions when they confuse rationality with deep thought.
You are questioning this sentence, aren't you? "Is not rationality similar to deep thought," you ask? Even Thesaurus lists wise as a synonym to rational. Well, you and Thesaurus have never been more wrong.

No, this post is not a book review to support that fact. The book review might come in the future, God willing. Probably eons away in the future. The actual purpose of this post is to explain how rationality is different from deep thought based on two simplest examples.

Image by tsukiko-kiyomidzu

1. Social media posts
It is easy to say that a person is narcissistic when (s)he post a lot of selfies on social media. People quickly presume that someone is an attention seeker when (s)he post a lot of personal struggles online. These conclusions are rationale, after all.
But should we think deeper, we might arrive at a different conclusion; the former might be suffering from a mental condition (which a study had recently pointed out) while the latter could view writing in social media as a form of therapy.

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.
[Quran: Chapter 49 Verse 12]

2. Stages in life
We are often advised to embark in life by following these steps: obtain an education, get a high paying career, get married, and have kids. These stages must be followed accordingly and religiously. The masses have agreed that to skip any step or to not follow them in order would translate into a difficult life. To clarify further: If you don't get an education, it will be difficult for you to find a high paying job. And if you can't find a high paying job, you won't have enough money to start a family. This insecurity will cause difficulties. Difficulties in turn, cause restlessness and sadness. These are the lines of a rational thought.
But if we pause for awhile and observe, we'll notice that this isn't necessarily so. People go through these stages of life at different times and at a different pace. Some might not go through one or more of these stages at all. Thus you wonder sometimes, how can the poor still smile and be at peace amidst chaos? How are the rich can be so serious and worried though in stability?

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [Quran: Chapter 2 Verse 216]

You may surmise two things from the above examples. One, cliche and two, morality or ethics.

Well my dear readers, these cliches can be analogous with what Saul wrote in his book. Politics and economics, topics that we would deem novel, have been made complicated by a rational line of thinking. These complexities then have been confused with deep thought. This is because rationally, anyone who possess deep thought, would be able to figure it out. The reality is, these complexities are to create a class or a caste that would separate people by "knowledge" (I think the strike through together with the quote will further emphasize how knowledge, in this sentence, is an oxymoron).

Anyhow, like I said earlier, I'm not going to elaborate further what Saul wrote in his book; at least not in this post. But I'd like to share a conclusion that I've arrived at.

To be a person with deep thought we need:
1) Simplicity
2) Morality/ethics
Do you agree with me? Or you simply don't care?