Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ramadan 2014 ends

It's likely that Eid will start tonight, though it could be tomorrow depending on the sighting of the Moon. Surprisingly it's cloudy today, a real rarity in the Doha summer, so I don't think anyone here will be spotting anything. They will probably have to rely on sightings from Saudi Arabia to determine if Eid starts tonight or not.

But I'm leaving on vacation tonight so the timing of Eid doesn't matter too much to me. I've heard the airport has been very busy (it's one of the busiest travel times) but dohanews reported that by-and-large things have been going smoothly in the new airport. That's good to hear but I'm getting there early anyway.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ramadan 2014 – Day 26, More Activities at Katara

Yesterday I read in the news that all the restaurants in Katara were doing a charity fundraising event that evening -- all revenues earned by the restaurants would go to helping Palestinians in Gaza. I had always been meaning to try the Italian restaurant there (Vesuvio) so the charity event was a good enough reason to head out to Katara for the evening.

After dinner I spent some time wandering around Katara looking at some of the exhibits that I missed during Garangao (see Ramadan 2014, Day 14). There was one I especially wanted to see:

I love astronomy, I have a few books on astronomy at home that I occasionally read, so I wanted to see the pictures of galaxies. It was an interesting setup, wall sized pictures along with the occasional area where tables and chairs were set up so people could read a variety of books on astronomy. The books ranged from kids books on the stars and planets to astronomy books geared more towards adults. It would be easy to spend a few hours reading if you really liked astronomy.

After wandering through the galleries I noticed something. With the exception of this picture:

I don’t think any of the images on the walls were of galaxies -- I believe they are all photos of nebulae, which are very different from a galaxy. The pictures were unlabeled as well so unless you recognized them you might not know if it's a galaxy or not.

It seemed strange to call this a Galaxies Gallery when almost none of the pictures were of galaxies so I took a catalog of events back home with me as it had the events in both English and Arabic. I assumed it was just a translation error and the Arabic for nebulae was mistranslated into “galaxies”.

Nope, it turns out it was not a mistranslation. The title of the event uses “majrat” (galaxies) instead of “sadim” (nebulae). Weird. Anyway, still worth popping by to see if you are in the Katara area, just bear in mind that most of the pictures are nebulae, not galaxies.

I then wandered over to the amphitheater area where I saw this:

Okay, I don't recall seeing that before. Turns out it was a ride, a bunch of people sit in chairs wearing 3-D glasses and you're taken on a journey for about five minutes flying through space. It’s designed that the chairs shift, tilt, and rattle a lot, not unlike being in a truck on a really bumpy road, so I wouldn't recommend it on a full stomach. Entertaining enough for a free ride.

I also wandered down to the shore, they had some boats moored and the Turkish restaurant (Sukar Pasha) had some tents set up on the beach. Previously they had some open-air tables on the beach so I assume the tents were for private dining, maybe even with air-conditioning to keep diners comfortable.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ramadan 2014, Day 25 – Eid is Approaching

You know you’re not in North America when the Government has to remind you . . .

I’m seeing notices like these on some of the main streets in Doha. It would seem amusing to a non-Muslim Westerner but there is a good reason for the reminder. The first Eid (Eid al-Fitr) is the breaking of the fast so it is likely there will be a high demand for meat. The Qatar Government has passed laws restricting slaughtering animals to official abattoirs, in some other Muslim countries it would not be unusual to bring an animal home and have it slaughtered in the yard. As Eid is maybe three or four days from now the Government clearly wanted to remind people of the law.

But there is another holiday where this message is most important -- the second Eid (Eid al-Adha), which this year will be in early October. During Eid al-Adha Muslims who can afford it should slaughter a goat/sheep/camal/cow (and if they own a herd preferably their best animal) and at least a third of the meat must be shared with the poor. In Qatar this results in thousands of animals butchered during the second Eid. Many would simply purchase a goat, take it home, and have it slaughtered there but the Government has forbidden the practice. One time I was in Turkey during Eid al-Adha and I saw many animal carcasses in yards being carved up to give out the meat.

So no home-butchering everyone, leave it to professionals.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ramadan 2014 -- Day 24, Learning About Shari'a Part 4

(This is the fourth installment of my read through "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" by Mohammed Hasim Kamali, you can find part three here)

Okay, so I’ve covered the Qur’an and how Islamic Scholars analyze the authenticity of hadiths in determining Islamic Law. Yet there is still more work to be done on just those two sources. The book I’m reading dedicates a full two chapters (around 70 pages) to interpreting the words in the sources to determine their intended meaning. 70 pages! As you could imagine it gets complicated. While with most words the meaning is clear there are some where the precise meaning could be open to interpretation and even a few instances where it is not entirely clear what the intended meaning of a word is. Much like English, words can have multiple meanings and usually the context lets the reader understand which meaning was intended. Occasionally though more than one meaning could work and the context does not provide enough to be able to distinguish which meaning was intended. This is another area where scholarly opinion can differ.

An example given was a passage that states a dowry for marriage can be waived by one “in whose hands is the marriage tie”. Scholars differ in opinion as to whether it refers to the spouse (Shafi’i interpretation) or the guardian (Maliki interpretation). The interpretation can impact the Law. Even things such as whether a command has to be obeyed once or on every single occurrence during someone’s lifetime has been debated on some passages. How that is interpreted will make a huge difference.

The chapters go on to discuss things like determining implied meaning in words, and how to judge varying meanings of words to determine which meaning should take precedence when comparing its usage across multiple examples. I won’t go into more detail than that, it would require someone fluent in Arabic to be able to do that kind of analysis anyway, something I won’t be tackling anytime soon.

Finally there’s the issue of Naskh (abrogation) in the Qur’an and Sunnah. A declaration in those works could have been superseded at a later date by another declaration. All scholars appear to be in agreement that naskh can only have occurred during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, when the Qur’an was revealed and the actions that formed the hadiths occurred. Nothing that occurred after the death of the Prophet could be naskh to the Qur’an or Sunnah.
Like everything, naskh can be complicated. Does the abrogation only occur in specific circumstances (partial abrogation) or was in meant to completely supersede the previous text (total abrogation)? Can a sunnah be naskh to the Qur’an? Scholars differ on their opinion but most disagree.

Naskh can be contentious, scholars have disagreed on just how often naskh occurs in the Qur’an itself, let alone in all of the Sunnahs. Issues trying to determine the exact timing of revelations or hadiths, combined with debates over whether a naskh is partial or total, leads to a huge variance in how naskh is applied by scholars.

Still only half-way through the book, more to come on Shari'a Law.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ramadan 2014 – Day 22, the Struggles with Exercise

Ramadan really shifts your entire schedule around. Since you’re fasting all day, including not drinking any water, exercising during the day just isn’t recommended. Many do though in the hour or so leading up to iftar, I've seen people jogging along the Corniche, and in the new park in Al Bidda I've driven by and seen 10-20 guys playing pick-up soccer games. I’m not sure how they managed to do that after fasting all day, even after I have an afternoon nap I'm pretty beat and have little energy.

So iftar starts around 6:30pm, then I eat and I’m a bit full so I don't feel like exercising. For Muslims they still have the tarawih prayers to go to and those won't end until sometime after 9pm. Usually I'm going out for a walk around 7:30-8:30 but a lot of people start hitting the gym after 10pm. I remember last year meeting people at the gym or at the squash court after 11pm. Then you’re in bed by 1am or 2am having to wake up at 6 or so to go to work, which means you need a big nap in the afternoon, and the cycle continues.

Compounding this is that it is summer. I really don't like treadmills as I find them boring and much preferred to walk around outside. Unfortunately the heat can be crazy! It depends a lot on the humidity, if it is a dry day than it cools down a little bit in the evening, still in the mid-30s but bearable. If it's a humid day though than going outside is just a hassle. Here's a couple of photos of store fronts from when I mistakenly went to the Pearl one evening for a walk in what turned out to be a humid day. At the time these were taken it was 37°.

After walking about 200 m I felt like someone had thrown a bucket of water on me, you’re just dripping with sweat and condensation, and your clothes are damp and muggy. Blah!

That leaves mall walking as the main option for humid evenings. That too can get a bit repetitive, in my opinion there's only a couple of malls big enough for a decent walk (Villagio and City Centre) but fighting the traffic and the parking to get to these malls can be a journey in itself. Needless to say on humid evenings everyone likes to go to the mall.

Oh well, one week to go. It's pretty dry out today so I think I will walk to Souq Waqif.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ramadan 2014, Day 20 - Corniche Car Show

During Ramadan there's a local tradition of Qataris driving down to the Corniche to while away the last hour or so before the iftar. They go down in luxury cars, vintage cars, cars with odd paint jobs, and even vehicles that make you go "huh"? It'll almost be like a parade as everyone circles back and forth around the Corniche. Plenty of people are on the side of the road taking pictures of the cars.

I always try to catch it at least once. So here is the Ramadan Car Parade 2014. Enjoy.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ramadan 2014 – Day 17-18, More Meals and Extra Meals

‘Tis the season for munching! More invites to meals. First I had Iftar at the Flying Carpet restaurant at the Torch Tower (I liked the carpet décor on the ceiling).

Then the next night was invited to dinner at a friend's house. 3 courses, starting with cheese plate.

Again I struggled with trying to not overeat. Managed to get through both meals without stomach pains but I find it is one of the hardest parts about fasting all day, once you break your fast it's difficult to stop eating whatever food is around – your body wants food. Naturally all of the hotels have extravagant buffets so you wind up just eating and eating.

I confess I had another slip-up on my fasting. Once again the alarm failed to wake me up around 3am so I woke up to go to work having not eaten anything since around 11pm. I had a lot of work to do so I just wasn't in the mood for being tired and starving all day. No fasting that morning, I had a bowl of cereal and a glass of water before I went to work.

Having that bowl of cereal really made a difference, I was nowhere near as tired as I had been during the days of Ramadan, I had a lot more energy and was more mentally alert. Take it from personal experience everyone, don't skip breakfast (unless you’re fasting for Ramadan of course). Having breakfast in the morning really does make a difference.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ramadan 2014 - Day 15-16, Learning about Shari’a Part 3

(This is the third installment of my read through "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" by Mohammed Hasim Kamali, you can find part two here)

My last blog post on shari’a law discussed all sorts of factors that scholars look at when reviewing hadiths to determine whether they are credible or not. One of those criteria was seeing if the hadith should have been known to many people but is only reported from one source then its authenticity might be questioned. But what if the hadith came only from a single source and in the circumstances would only have been recorded by either one or a few people? These are entire category of hadith called “ahad” hadiths (‘ahad’ means solitary).

Many (most?) hadiths are actually ahad hadiths. Rather than hadiths that were announcements made at mosques or in front of large groups of people, most were simply recordings of conversations or events one person or a group of individuals had with the Prophet Mohammed. Here’s an example:

Narrated A’isha that she was asked about the bath of the Prophet. She brought a pot containing about a Sa of water and took a bath and poured it over her head and at that time there was a screen between her and the questioner. (Al-Bhukari, Book of Ghusl, chapter 3, hadith 188)

Needless to say I doubt there were a lot of people around when this occurred. We don't even know who the original questioner was.

Because ahad hadiths cannot be confirmed through multiple sources Islamic scholars are even stricter about the scrutiny they put these types of hadiths through. Most schools of Islam are careful about how they consider ahad hadiths and are reluctant to incorporate them into overall Shari’a Law without a lot of corroborative evidence, but again the level of acceptance amongst the various schools differs from one another. It was noted that the Four Caliphs had been known to act on teachings from ahad hadiths so such types of the hadiths cannot be discounted completely.

So most Islamic schools have established numerous criteria for when the lessons in ahad hadiths should be considered obligatory for Muslims to follow. Character of the transmitter and narrators is key since there is little other evidence to determine whether the ahad hadith is authentic. My book lists the following:

 The transmitter is a competent person (so cannot be a child or mentally ill). Gender, status and non-mental disabilities are not considered so women, slaves, blind people, are all considered competent persons.
 The transmitter must be a Muslim. I'm assuming this is due to the lack of corroborative evidence to support ahad hadiths so the narrator has to be someone who would, as a pious Muslim, be highly unlikely to lie about the Prophet Mohammed (and see the next bullet). If the narrator was a convert to Islam it's fine as long as he narrated the hadith when he was a Muslim, even if the event occurred before his conversion.
 Similar to the above, the transmitter must be an upright person at the time of reporting the hadith. This means the person has not committed any major sins and does not persist in committing minor ones that they know is wrong. There must be positive evidence of the transmitters’ pious and upright character, whether through narratives by others or perhaps testimony at a court or similar legal hearing.
 The narrator (or chain of narrators) must be known to have possessed an excellent memory, and similar narrations by those people rarely have any mistakes or errors. If a narrator is known for having errors in memory it is unlikely scholars will trust an ahad hadith from that narrator.
 The narrator must not have a reputation for distorting or embellishing hadiths or stories.
 And the transmitter of the hadith must have met with and heard the hadith from the source.

So again we see how it can be a fine line between determining whether a hadith is authentic or not, especially an ahad hadith. If one school of Islam considers the transmitter to be trustworthy while another is less convinced then numerous hadiths could be either accepted or discounted, and as a result of followers of the different schools will follow different Shari’a.

Next Chapter: turning sources into Laws.

(Part 4 of this series can be found here)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ramandan 2014 – Day 14, Garangao at Katara

The evening of the 14th of Ramadan is the holiday of Garangao, when children in the Gulf traditionally went door-to-door where they were given sweets and nuts. In that respect it is similar to Halloween but the kids do not dress up in costumes. Girls typically wear brightly colored dresses while boys will wear a vest over their white thobe.

Nowadays various places in Qatar hold Garangao activities for children, one of the largest being at Katara. Children walk along the various streets of Katara and along the way there are stations where people give out candies and other treats. I arrived at Katara shortly after 7pm and there were already a lot of families lined up at the tables to get empty bags in preparation for the walk, along with a map showing the route.

People then lined up at the beginning. Despite how the picture looks it’s not a race so people were not running, that said volunteers were letting in small groups at the time so that the stations along the route wouldn’t suddenly be overwhelmed with dozens of people. The pathway was easy to follow as Katara staff roped off the side streets and had security guards posted along the way to make sure people didn't accidentally go off-track.

Children would go to the stations to collect treats,

And eventually wind up at the Katara Hall where there were activities.

Garangao at Katara gets more popular every year and I was really surprised by the crowds in the Hall. The only way I was even going to get into the activity room to take pictures was if I muscled my way in, so I didn’t try -- clearly the place was busy enough.

Families kept coming to Katara, with many Muslim families arriving around 9 or so after the tarawih prayers. Even at 9:30 there were families lined up at the rope and small groups being let through onto the walking route.

But that’s not the only thing that was going on in Katara. During Ramadan a number of exhibits, lectures, and activities are happening.

One of the main themes was astronomy. I went to a photography exhibition showing nighttime photography.

And there was a room with models of the planets as well as posters discussing each of the planets. I believe the planets were to scale compared to each other but were definitely not in scale comparison to how far apart they actually are from each other, you wouldn’t have been able to put them in a room otherwise (an old blog post of mine discusses just how crazy astronomical distances are)

Islam has a long tradition of astronomy and for many centuries the Islamic world was one of the most advanced in the field, with scientists from the Renaissance learning astronomy from the Islamic works. If you take a look at this picture of stars you'll note that most of the names are actually Arabic. Europeans kept most of the names given to the stars by the Islamic astronomers.

But there's other things in Katara as well. There was a gallery showing a number of Islamic antiques, including astrolabes.

And on the beach they set up a marketplace in the style of an old souq, where there are some traditional shops and a café. There is also a store selling all sorts of old electronics, which I thought was kind of cool.

Hopefully I will have the chance to go back to Katara later this month to catch some of the other events.