One Year Since My Father’s Death – Reflections on: TV, Music, Food, Religion & Sufism

On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days.  Continue reading

Twitter, Facebook, Food, Life and God

Today is probably the first time in about a year where I have had hardly anything to do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting around doing nothing, Tweeting, Facebooking and grazing like a cattle, you know, searching the fridge every 25minutes. Instead I’ve occupied my mind with fairly useful activities: reading and thinking. Here are some random thoughts from today, some arbitrary but others perhaps intuited from something deeper. Continue reading

All Hype For Palestine But Nothing For Burma

It’s a shame that this could be the first time you’ve heard about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma. News coverage on the plight of the Rohingya people – described by the U.N. as “one of the most persecuted people in the world” – has been scant, especially since sectarian violence flared in June. Continue reading

The Quest For Meaning: Belief and Disbelief

Philosopher Roger Scruton argues in his new book The Face of God: The Gifford Lectuers, that “when we hunt only for the cause and never for the reason of things, God disappears from the world” (1). And it’s true: if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will live in a Godless world and, as a result, everything becomes a proof that God doesn’t exist. A believer in God, however, lives in a world where God is omnipresent, and therefore everything becomes a proof for God. This is one of the fundamental reasons why believers and atheists are so diametrically opposed in their worldview.

Believers will often point to the seemingly “miraculous” nature of the universe and its uniformity. The New Scientist has described the universe as “unfathomably uniform”, however, atheists will point to certain aberrations in the universe like the inherent cosmic chaos and killer asteroids, which make it seem as if there is not an all-wise Creator behind this all. This is why scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic, once reportedly said: “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.”

The famous Muslim poet and sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, once told a parable of an ant creeping along a carpet and complains to God, asking him what is this, these bumps, and strange colours, and patterns, this must have been created just as a meaningless obstacle course, what a futile thing to have made.” However, as Cambridge academic Timothy Winter says: “But of course the carpet maker, looking at it from above, can see the patterns and the purpose of it, and can see that the whole thing is perfect and is good. And God is often like that. We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are two dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.”

There is a saying in the Islamic tradition that is believed to be God’s words, it says that “I am what my servant thinks of me”. This statement can be understood on many levels but what we can infer from this, is that if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will use the “aberrations” in our universe as further “proof” for the non-existence of God.

The discourse between theists and atheists has been skewed for too long. We vociferously debate with each other not to understand each other, or to come to a mutual understanding, but to attempt to prove each other wrong. Consequently, when we argue, our minds become preoccupied with trying to think of a counter response to what has just been propounded during the debate, instead of rationalising what the other has said.

While theists and atheists can both be as closed-minded as each other, both constantly looking for proofs to further their belief or disbelief, we must understand the plurality of life. There isn’t just one way of understanding things, there are many. There is a reason why we are all different; it is because life can, and should, be approached in many different ways. One of the fundamental misunderstandings of many atheists is that they forget religion has as its purpose to serve the whole of humanity. If this is the case, religion has to serve all the uneducated and stupid people in the world, which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of humanity. This is why, on the surface, religion may seem simple for simple people, when, in fact, it can be understood on many levels; the job of the intellectual should be to discern the profundity of divine revelation and explore the deeper, esoteric meanings.

When we are pushed to our extremes something strange often emanates from within us. Sometimes, when our life is in danger, we call on God. Interestingly, Oxford academic, Justin Barrett, says that research over the past ten years suggests that children are born with an innate disposition to believe in God. However, when we force ourselves to certain extremes, we often go mad, literally. Philosophers of the past have entered into a state of depression or madness because they try to push their mind to an extent that is not possible. Likewise, mathematicians have gone insane trying to understand the concept of infinity. We push ourselves to these extremes for no other reason but to find meaning. Meaning, however, can only be found within the depths of our innermost being, according to Rumi. He once said: “ The universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

What we are often guilty of doing is trying to fill the void in our lives – a void that occurs due to our inability or unwillingness to find meaning – with something physical. But how can we fill something immaterial with something material? We must recognise that the materialistic idea of consciousness is probably not the correct way to understand who we are. Things don’t always happen purely on the psychological level, they happen on the spiritual level, too. We all know that with every second that passes by, we edge closer and closer to our departure from this world, essentially, we are dying with time.

While we all agree that we must die, we differ on the concept of death. Some of us believe death is just the beginning of eternity, either in the divine Presence or in divine alienation; others believe that death is the end and there is nothing else. Leo Tolstoy once said: “Life is a dream, death is wakening.” While this may or may not be true, we only have limited time to search for any sort of transcendent, ultimate meaning. Journalist Matthew Parris poignantly said in an article in The Spectator that: “If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote my life to finding out.”

Our existential search for meaning needs satisfying and our perennial search for God will never end. Time is running out, hurry.

1) Into the void, Richard Holloway, page 43, New Statesman, 2 April 2012

Interview With Talib Kweli on US Politics, Hip-Hop, Drake, The Five Percent & The Occupy Movement

Talib Kweli – an internationally renowned American rapper and a celebrity within the hip-hop scene – once said: “I don’t fuck with politics.” Yet, when asked about his views on the upcoming US elections he becomes animated: “Politics is as entertaining as a soap opera. [President] Obama plays an ill political game, if there were no term limits, he would be President for a very long time!” he says. He also expresses his views on the Republican candidates. “Some of the political rhetoric coming out of conservative right in Americasounds like the same thing that set the stage for Nazi Germany.”

Kweli, known for his politically conscious music, has just finished touring the UK with British-born rappers Lowkey and Mic Righteous – also known for their “conscious” lyrics. “I’m not actually that familiar with them,” he admits in his softly spoken voice, perhaps the antithesis of the bravado with which many other rappers speak. “But I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with them.” It is not just his meek voice that stands out, his diction does too. Kweli, the eldest of two sons, grew up in a highly educated household: his mother Brenda Greene is an English professor and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. Isn’t strange, then, that he decided to pursue a career in rap? “My parents are writers and the writers of my generation are rappers,” he says.

During secondary school Kweli met Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey, a Grammy award winning emcee and DJ Hi-Tech, an American producer and rapper. These encounters would prove pivotal to Kweli’s career: in 1998, he combined with Mos Def to release the seminal album Black Star and teamed up with Hi-Tech, to release Train of Thought, both considered hip-hop classics. While the albums didn’t sell millions, they received critical acclaim and earned the respect of many fellow rappers. Now, five solo albums later (although not all of his records lived up to their expectation) Kweli, 36, is married to DJ Eque as of 2009 – and has two children from his former partner Darcel Turner.

Kweli, who insists his name be pronounced “Kwali”, rose to prominence amid the renaissance of Afrocentric, politically motivated hip-hop in the 90s but, since then, there has been an increase in music which – he believes – portrays, “sex and drugs…the gangster lifestyle…and just having a good time.”

“When I first came, hip-hop was about opening people’s consciousness but now even the great lyricists – J Cole, Kendrick Lamar – are rapping more about having fun,” he says. “Kwali” has never had an ostentatious demeanour – the big chains, flash cars and extravagant lifestyle associated with most high-profile rappers doesn’t seem to apply to him. Likewise, his physical features don’t particularly make him distinguishable: he stands at a height of around 5’8 inches and his soft features resemble that of any other Afro-American.

What does he make of the rampant materialism endemic in mainstream hip-hop? “I’m able to differentiate between what an artist creates based on how he grew up and what he creates as an individual. Jay Z the rapper, is different to Sean Carter. The same way as Arnold Schwarzenegger is different to The Terminator. It’s entertainment – I’m not here to judge.”

In a recent radio interview DMX, humorously, talked about why he doesn’t like fellow rapper Drake. What does Kweli think of Drake? “He is a shining example for mainstream artists – he is a really good rapper, singer and he can write, he is like a triple threat.” Many people have criticised Drake and Lil Wayne, both signed to Cash Money, for doing music purely for the money. Kweli disagrees and raises his voice: “I think that’s a very, very unfair, ill-informed criticism. They [the critics] are not really in hip-hop if they think like that. They just listen to the radio and end up getting sick of them and their lyrics. They forget they [Drake, Wayne and Kanye West] come from somewhere – how many people listened to Wayne’s first album? But everybody knows Carter IV.”

Many critics of hip-hop have claimed that it isn’t the “same” and isn’t as “good” as it used to be. Kweli again becomes annoyed: “Why should hip hop be the same? When I was first listening to hip hop in ’87, you had older artists saying this music is shit. The Cold Crust Brothers didn’t like LL Cool J, now he is  classic MC. They thought he was a young snotty nose punk. People look at things in their own perspective. If we could all see through the same eyes we would welcome new artists.”

Unlike many of Cash Money’s artists, Kweli’s music has always been synonymous with truthfulness and honesty. His views on the current political climate in America reflect this honesty. “A lot of American’s are greedy and selfish so they only want to listen to these messages [from the Republicans]. He describes these messages as “moronic,” “stupid,” “ignorant”. Kweli then speaks about the problems in American society. “The education system isn’t geared so that we know anything that goes on in the world; it doesn’t set you up to be part of the world either. The reason why America is having a crisis in education, science, and finance, is because we’re not prepared to deal with a world that is interconnected.”

One political movement Kweli has taken an interest in is the Occupy protests. Kweli says that he grew up in a protest culture and believes they are a “natural” part of society. “People aren’t just accepting things as they are; people are peeling layers back and seeing things for how they really are.”

Kweli, like many other black rappers have dabbled in the Five Percent Nation, an American organisation that believes 10% of the world’s inhabitants know the truth of existence, 85% live in ignorance and the remaining five percent know the truth and are determined the spread it. “I’ve got huge respect for the five percent,” he says. “When I was a teenager, I dabbled in the five percent, I also dabbled into Rastafarianism and Islam, I was trying to discover myself. I’m very much in touch with my spirituality now. I don’t claim to follow a particular religion.”

Why has he now disassociated himself from the five percent? “Disassociate is a strong word. I don’t like dogma. Even atheists will disagree with me but there is dogma to atheism, there’s a dogma to the five percent, whether people say there is or not. I would like to take something from every thought process. Nothing turned me off [the five percent] it makes a lot of sense, it makes as much sense as Christianity to me,” he says. “But I’d rather be open to see and receive everything,” he adds.