Saturday, October 29, 2005

Sweep Home Chicago...

As the whole world knows, after all it was the World Series, the White Sox are the best team in baseball. In the whole world. Well, the Sox have actually never played any teams from Venezuela, Japan or Cuba in order to earn that distinction, but we have players from each of those countries, so that's good enough...

All geopolitical joking aside, the White Sox are the best team in the United States. Without doubt. They simply dominated the postseason, losing only once, and crushing big names like Boston and Los Angeles on the way...

Some people will say that their string of losses near the end of the regular season, when they dropped from a 15.5 game lead to 1.5, tarnishes their accomplishment and keeps them from being mentioned among the ranks of the greatest teams in baseball history.

I don't buy that. I mean, those losses were frustrating and almost inexplicable. A team that was so comfortably ahead should never have gotten so close to losing the division. But you know what? They didn't. They won the division and then they beat Cleveland when it counted most.

What's more is the beat the defending champs without even flinching. If the losses were a sign of inherent weakness in the club, then they shouldn't have sailed through Boston without a loss.

The simple fact is this team was unbelievably strong in the postseason and they deserve all the accolades and respect of any World Series winner and should well be mentioned among the best teams because they truly won this Series as a team.

The selfless style of play, the lack of egos, the desire to win are all hallmarks of this team. This is something we haven't seen in a long time. When it came time to name a Series MVP, one is almost at a loss to pick a single player because so many were responsible for the wins (not to take anything away from Dye). The only thing one could criticize is the selection of the song, "Don't Stop Believin'", but even that has grown on me (I find myself humming it for no apparent reason with alarming frequency...)

So for all the fellow Sox fans out there, enjoy this win. It was truly unique, a gift to the city of Chicago and fans of baseball everywhere. The fact that so few watched it doesn't take anything away from it. The rest of the country missed one of the greatest stories baseball has seen in a long time...

Some local coverage:

ABC 7 News
CBS 2 News
NBC 5 News

Yeah Sox!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The thing about coats...

As I made my way through another blustery day on campus, I came to the realization that one of the standards by which all coats should be measured is by the number of discreetly located pockets. When the weather turns cold, it seems like there is no end to the number of uses such pockets afford. I have one pocket dedicated to fresh breath (tic tacs and "Maximints" given to me by a drug rep for Maxipime), one for my cell phone, one each for my gloves and one for random pieces of paper that I seem to collect (usually notes that have phone numbers written on them with no name, so I never know what the number was for).

Of course, the key to all this is that the pockets must not be obvious, they must not be a patchwork of pockets that incidentally come together to form a coat. No, rather it must be a coat that, incidentally, has a lot of really great pockets...

Perhaps you are not convinced by my theory of great pockets. But then perhaps you live in southern California, where exotica such as coats are seen only on late-night television movies, which you fall asleep to, so that when you wake up in the morning, you can chalk off coats as just some bad dream...thought so...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Kneeling and bowing...

Had an interesting experience today. Went to pray zuhr in the hospital chapel today and, after finishing, saw an elderly white gentleman walk in and sit down in one of the back pews. I was getting my stuff together, putting my white coat back on, and the man said, "You know, that is really beautiful, the way you pray."

I was silent, sort of shocked, really, that someone, ostensibly a non-Muslim, would say that. I mean usually when I pray in hospital chapels, and there are non-Muslims, they either pretend like I don't exist or have expressions of annoyance. But never did anyone stop me to say what I was doing is beautiful.

At this point, I figured I should say something to this remarkable stranger. I thanked him and told him that I am a Muslim and that the kneeling and bowing help us remember Who is in charge.

He replied, "You know all that kneeling and bowing is really wonderful. The Catholic Church used to have a lot more of that, a long time ago. We've gotten away from that."

I was still somewhat speechless, almost expecting the man to make a joke about Muslims and our way of praying. In the media, the Muslim prayer is almost always depicted in the background of violent images, as if it is the menace from which such violence is born, rather than the ultimate act of submission that it is, an act that when performed sincerely, and consistently, produces people of serenity and peace.

We introduced ourselves and, as I left, the man said, "if I ever switch sides, I'll let you know."

I walked away truly happy. Someone had looked past societal stereotypes, and perhaps even their own prejudice, to see the beauty in an act of worship so intimate as the Muslims. In no other religion will you find a form of worship that, in humbling the servant, also brings him or her so near their Creator. I have heard it said that the believer is never closer to his Lord than when his head is on the ground in prostration. Lowering our heads to the floor in acknowledgement of His Lordship, the Heights of His Majesty, is the very thing that brings us closest to Him. It is beautiful.

May Allah guide my new friend to Him and bring the beauty he sees in others into his own life. Ameen.

Grinder Ball, winning it big!

You can put it on the board thanks to Podsednik.  (Getty Images)
(c) 2005, Getty Images
"I don't think anyone in the ballpark
was thinking about me hitting the ball
out of the ballpark"
- Scott Podsednik
Even now I can hear the Sox's self-adopted theme song, "Don't Stop Believin'" playing in my head as I think about the remarkable win in Game 2 of the World Series. After Konerko's grand slam, it looked like the Sox had the game in the bag, but Houston mounted a heart-breaking comeback on Vizcaino's hit, to even the score on last night's darling, reliever Bobby Jenks.

I heard Ozzie say he was thinking of pulling Jenks out, but AJ Pierzynski and someone else told him not to, that they would get it back. A sign of the remarkable unity on the team and, boy, did they ever get it back, with Pods hitting a homerun, only his second this entire season...

What a great game! It is amazing to see the Sox tough it out and get the two big wins at home. While it would be nice to have them win at home, I have a feeling this series will be settled in Houston, God willing...

As one of the signs I saw in the stands at US Cellular, so aptly put it:
Houston, you have a problem
Go Sox!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sami Yusuf

Sami Yusuf is a great singer who's got a new album out, entitled "My Ummah," which continues his tradition of reflective, spiritual music. One difference that strikes you immediately is that the musical accompaniment is more sophisticated and textured than in the debut album, "Al Mu'allim." The first album seemed to rely more heavily on percussion, and the music was almost inobtrusive, serving to highlight Yusuf's singing and the vocal harmonies. In "My Ummah" the music is more of a partner, making its presence felt in a welcome way. Of course, the real instrument is Sami Yusuf's beautiful, otherwordly voice. When you listen to him, it feels as though you are transported to an oasis in the desert for a brief respite from the furnace of daily existence.

He continues to sing in Arabic and English, switching between languages with perfect fluency and ease. His songs range from those which praise the Prophet (peace be upon him) to those which call attention to the injustices being waged against Muslims in the world. An excellent example of the latter is the song, "Try Not to Cry" which features vocals by the group Outlandish (Isam Bachiri, Waqas Qadri, and R. Lenny Martinez), a hip hop band that became internationally renowned, especially in Denmark, where they started and are most famous. The song speaks more to the pain of oppression rather than promoting any sort of political agenda. Indeed, this is what is most compelling about Yusuf's lyrics, they paint a picture and leave you to make your own conclusion, giving voice to a perspective that is rarely heard in the mainstream media.

What also impresses me about Yusuf's songs are their emphasis on self-improvement in order to effect change that is meaningful. Truly, it is only when we make ourselves better people, morally and spiritually, that we can hope to effect change that is just and lasting. Yusuf specifically denounces the senseless violence of extremist groups (a violence that has no place in traditional Islam), reminding listeners that Islam's revolution is against one's own vices and shortcomings. As Waqas sings in "Try Not to Cry":

I throw bricks at the devil so I’ll be sure to hit him
But first at the man in the mirror
so I can chase out the venom

This, after all, is what Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent for, as he himself stated, "I have been sent to perfect noble moral standards". It is this mission of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that Sami Yusuf so poignantly reminds us of us through lyric and voice. In short, Sami Yusuf has come out with a gem of an album that should be good listening for people of all backgrounds.

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, you can download songs from iTunes, MSN Music, or watch some videos online for free. Enjoy!

No fluke!

Sox win big with lights-out pitching from Garland, who's showing that his 18 regular season wins were no accident...and this on a night that the Angels had every reason to want to win, after the Game 2 controversy.

I'll be the first to admit the Sox got a lucky break in game 2, but there is something to be said for Pierzynski's efforts, to try and make a play though the game looked to be all but over. Isn't it the moments of unexpected success that we most savor? And ones we should be most grateful for...

Hey, we got a gift in Game 2's win. Game 3 was just evidence that the gift was not totally undeserved...

Go Sox!

John Garland

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ramadan Mubarak!

I meant to post this earlier...the Holy Month of Ramadan started the evening of October 4th, with the first fast on Wednesday October 5th in the USA. I haven't come across any articles on the net that do a good job of explaining Ramadan to a non-Muslim audience, other than giving the subject a very superficial treatment.

For Muslims there are a variety of great resources, starting with an excellent article on Ramadan by Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmad, that is well worth a read. Also came across an interesting reflection on Ramadan by Ibrahim Abusharif, and an audio lecture (Real Player format) by Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad on Ramadan given back in 1999.

Also, please consider donating toward the relief efforts for the earthquake in Pakistan:

1) Islamic Relief
2) International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

I'm sure other organizations are also coordinating relief/donations...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Major Earthquake hits Pakistan

Please pray for those who have passed away and the survivors. Newer estimates are reporting 18,000 as dead, 40,000 as injured with many villages having been wiped out...

White Sox heading to AL Championship!