“The Hijab Threat and Airport Security”

A call out from Imaan Networking, she recounts an experience she has had a few times in the UKs airports and then asks us to make the following deal:

So here is the deal I want to make with my fellow scarf wearers, when asked at the aiport to allow a headscarf check, do not refuse but insist on one of the following:

1- a private room where the check can be carried out. I do this and even offer to take it off (in front of women) if they are that worried about, but not in front of other people.

2- a FULL body check so that onlookers do not think that it is the headscarf that they are worried about.


To which I say: DEAL!

To read the full post, and what prompted the deal, click here

A Network for Muslim Women in London

Imaan Networking was launched by a very innovative young professional a few months ago. Having just moved to London, and realising that it was difficult to meet like minded women she simply put an ad in one of the many websites for Muslims in the UK (I think it was islamic events something). Her ad requested that Muslim women professionals in London contact her should they wish to create a network. The idea took off, and several dinners in London restaurants were arranged, where the Women got to know the organiser and each other.

In Ramadan Imaan Networking organised iftars in members houses. A member would volunteer to host an Iftar, and registered guests only would receive the address. A bit risky, but since many had met each previously, the host knew at least a few of the people destined to show up at their doorstep. As a guest you were expected to bring a dish to share. The atmosphere at these events was amazing, over 15 people showed up at each, and we quickly got to chatting. The women were from various backgrounds and professions (film makers, IT managers, accountants, psychologists, teachers, lawyers, oh and a cosmologist 😉 I had some explaining to do at these events 😀 ), and the converstaion flowed.

The Network has expanded, and now have a website (www.imaannetworking.com) and a blog (www.imaannetworking.wordpress.com). They are now organsing theatre evenings, Eid parties, and trips abroad!!! The latter I am really excited about!

I think this is a neat and innovative way of making new friends 🙂

The House of Wisdom and the Legacy of Arabic Science

*A summary of the lecture given by Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical nuclear physicist.

**italics are my own take

The lecture kicked off with the Prof. explaining what prompted his interest in the legacy of Arab science. Born in Baghdad to a Iraqi father and English mother he was raised in the UK, and when he got older he became interested in the scientific history of his ancestors. He felt it may something he should be taking pride in, and wanted to promote knowledge of this era of scientific history which neither the West nor the Islamic/Arab east knew much about, or at least an era whose significance in modern-day science is under-appreciated.

Arab science is often viewed as merely presentational, the scientists of the age are assumed to have only translated and kept the scientific discoveries of the Greeks, then passing them on to Europe once it began its emergence from the Dark Ages. The Prof. aimed to present an argument that the Arabs did more than this, and that in fact they can be credited with the foundation of many of the theories and philosophies that drive modern day science.

The “Golden Age” of Arab science began roughly in the 9th century in Baghdad, a city built from scratch as a seat of power for the Abbassid Caliph, Harun Al-Rashid. This Golden Age was characterised by an “obsession with learning and original thinking. Haruns son, Al-Ma’mun, whose mum was a captured persian slave, took over the caliphate after his father. Like his father he had a thirst for knowledge, and claimed to have dreamt of Aristotle. He built what was known as the “house of wisdom”, or Beit Al-Hikmah, which was an academy filled with scholars and books. Today, some western historians try to play down the significance of this house by labelling it as little more than a library, when it was in fact a seat for science and rational thinking.

This interest in science and rational thought without any hint of any conflict with religion contrasts with the more modern viewpoint of some sort of clash between science and religion. 1000 years ago, Muslims took their duty to seek knowledge seriously, whereas today, a minority of Muslims now view with suspicion the advances in science. They wonder why we bother with the study of cosmology when the “Quran tells us all we need to know”.

Al-Khalili then spent the next 1/2 hour or so giving us a crash course on all the scientists of this golden age and their impact on science today. He started with Al-Kindi, a philosopher and polymath who imported and adapted Greek philosophy for the Islamic world. Then he spoke about Al-Khawarizmi, who is credited as the father of algebra, a title which he felt needed explaining since it is known that the balylonians were solving quadratic equations well before he came on the scene. Up until Al-Khawarizmi people were solving specific problems, and even though they used symbols these symbols represented real numbers, and their approach was geometrical and can be classified best as “number theory”. Al-Khawarizmi was the first to treat the symbols as free entities which can be manipulated, which through the algorithm that is used is ‘fixed’ or ‘forced’ to take a value (jabara=forced in arabic). In fact his seminal work in written entirely in prose, no mathematical symbols appear, and as such is accessable to anyone.

He then mentioned Al-Razi, the physician and founder of the modern day hospital. The of Al-Biruni, the persian polymath who provided a very clever and concise measurement of the radium of the earth. And f Ibn-Sina, the persona physician and author of the well known “Canon of Medicine”. Then of Ibn-Alnafis, the Syrian anatomist who first understood that blood must circulate via the lungs and into the heart.

Throughout the talk, Al-Khalili was careful not to over-inflate the contributions of Arab scientists. He was careful to mention that, for example, Al-Biruni was not the first to measure the circumference of the earth, he was beaten by the Greek Eratostheres in 250 BC, and that the Greek Gaelin thought the blood flowed from the right to the left chamber of the heart and that the true nature of blood circulation was figured out by William Harvey. His argument that no science springs out of the vacuum, and that people must stand on the shoulders of the giants that predated them to progress, and as the Arabs stood on Greeks, Indians, Persians and Babylonians, the West today stands on the shoulders of Arab giants.

This brings us to the question, do we call this age the Arabic revolution or the Islamic revolution? He argued that we can’t call it the ‘Islamic revolution’  because the early scientists were not all Muslim, and even though they were not all Arab, the language in which the texts were written in was Arabic. But it was not Arabic culture that prompted the revolution was it? It was Islamic philosophy, so shouldnt we pay credence to this?

He also briefly addressed the issue of the decline of science in Arabia. His reasoning for this was that there was no real answer to it. In the 14th and 15th centuries scholars such as Al-Ghazali came on the scene, he was more orthodox and criticised the early scholars and philosophers for being too pro-Greek (aka Pagan) philosophers. Added to this the Empire fragmented, the Mongols invaded (leading the loss of alot of literature), and the Ottomans took over. The Ottomans were not so much into pure science as they were into architecture (one of the Turkish members of the audience rightly argued that necessity is often the impetus for science and many engineering advances were made from the Ottoman interest in architecture). There was an overall loss of appetite for science, and no one other than Europe to carry the baton of scientific progress. I.e. the natural ebb and flow of life.

Moving on to Arabs today: the Gulf states are really in the best position to ignite another Arabian scientific revolution due to their financial resources, but up until recently they followed the science=technology=economy mentality which left little room for the pure sciences. Now things are changing, and Saudi Arabia for example is building (or has built?) a university dedicated to science for the sake of it.

Who know? Maybe we will shake of the cobwebs and become scientific revolutionaries once more? But will this require political and humanitarian stability in the regio or will it force it I wonder?

Probing the Very Early Universe (Part III)

Apologies for the delay in this post, I had started writing this ages ago, it was taking me forever to get the images right, and when I thought I was done, I lost both the post and the images!! I lost the will to live.

Catch up with the saga: part I, part II

A Neat Solution, Inflation

In the early 1980s, physicists started to take note of a theory that seemed to hold all the answers. The theory, cutely called ‘Inflation’ by MITs Alan Guth, offers a neat solutions to The Three Paradoxes of the Universe. In this post I will attempt to explain what inflation is, when it happened, and how it works.

What is Inflation?

Inflation is basically the very rapid expansion of the universe, where two points move away from each other at the speed of light(1). This does not contradict the special theory of relativity, since at the time this happened, the universe was classically empty, only energy existed at this time.

When did it happen?

Hard to quantify too precisely, but we can take on board two bits of information from two different sources in order to give a ball-park figure on this. Inflation must obey the physical laws of nature, there is no escape, however we are not entirely sure what these laws looked like such a long time ago.

[Extra Reading] The origin of the fundamental laws of physics:

One of the fundamental ideas of physics is that all the physical forces that we see as independent today (i.e. the force of gravity is seen as independent of say the theory of electromagnetism), were actually all ‘united’ many years ago, when the energy of the universe was ‘free’ (i.e. not bounded by structure, like atoms and such). That is, billions of years ago, physicists think only one law of nature existed, and that as the universe grew and cooled, this one law subdivided into a few sub-laws of nature. If you’re a bioligist or are more comfortable with the ideas of biology, think of this evolution as a top down process, as opposed to biology’s bottom up approach to evolution. So if a physicist had come up with a theory for the origin and diversity of the species she would have imagined one super-being (not divine, just super, as in ‘super duper’) that then spawned lots of other species, who then spawned even more species! But this spawning of mutants was already encoded in the first super-being, i.e. all the DNA any animal/plant needed existed within the chromosomes of that first super-being, and the genes ‘came to life’ as it were in response to the environment. That is the basic idea of the unification and subsequent diversification of the laws of physics, with the environment being the temperature/size of the universe.

Now, the physics world has managed to unite all the fundamental forces… except for one: Gravity. But that is not what we’re talking about, we assume that gravity did somehow unite with the other forces, and generally, gravity appears after what is known as the Planck epoch. The Planck epoch defines a time when the early universe was only a Planck length in diameter. This Planck length is special, in that it defines the smallest size that we know how to analyse physically i.e. we have a theory of how things behave when they are very small, or very very close together, but not if they measure less than or are closer than a Planck length. Since inflation deals with the expansion of space time, it needs general relativity (aka gravity) in order to operate, so Inflation takes place after the appearance of gravity.

So as a first guess Inflation takes place at least billion billion billion billionth of a second after the Big Bang. But to be brutally honest, since the theory of inflation is still work on progress, then inflationary cosmologists also look at scenarios when inflation took place at or before the Plank time, that is: less than 10 million billion billion billion billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

The second bit of information we need is when did the contents of the Universe become dominated by radiation? That occurred about a 10 millionth of a second after the Big Bang, and we need the universe to have ‘settled down’ by this time, because our theories of what happened after this time (the `standard’ Big Bang evolution) hold up pretty well under scrutiny, and we dont want to change things too much.

So inflation took place between a billion billion billion billionth of second after the big bang and 10 millionth of a second after the Big Bang. This would seem pretty precise for most people, but remember in the early universe aLOT of stuff could have happened within this time, after the universe became radiation dominated it took only 3 minutes for the temperature to drop 999,999,999,999,999,999,900,000,000 degrees Celsius. So we may have nailed the epoch of inflation to a few millionth of a second, but that still leaves alot of room for uncertainty.


How does it work? i.e. how does it solve the Three Paradoxes of Cosmology

How inflation explains the causality, homogeneity and isotropy of the universe?


This is a schematic diagram of the expansion of the universe. The figure on the left represents the standard big bang expansion, assuming only radiation and matter. The figure on the right represents big bang + inflation. To understand this diagram, you need to imagine that our universe is contained within the black lines, and that it grows as you follow the arrows.

Looking at the figure I have included (click on it for a better view), I have attempted to illustrate how the two different scenarios (Standard Big Bang vs. Inflation and Big Bang) expand. You need to imagine that our universe is contained within the two vertical black lines, so it grows as you follow the arrows.  Now, what we know of the age of the universe, and what we know about how radiation and matter (regular stuff) effect the rate of expansion, then it turns out that there were 50,000 parts of the universe not in causal contact. That is, the universe could not have been small enough for these parts to communicate. That is, 14 billion(ish) years ago, according to standard lore, the universe was made up of 50,000 independent regions. So why did these regions all evolve in the same way?

This is where inflation comes in, because inflation stretches the universe out in such a tiny amount of time (see previous section), it means that the universe could have started out much smaller than was actually thought, and expanded very quickly, all this without effecting the evolution of the universe from light to atoms to galaxies to us (i.e. Big Bang Nucleosynthesis). Referring back to the figure, the red and blue circles represent two regions in the universe, in the inflationary picture they start off very close to each other, so information gets shared between them, or more to the point the universe mixes and homogenizes

How does it solve the problem of the age of the universe? (or why isn’t it older?)

Since inflation causes the universe to grow to the size required by the theories which govern Big Bang Nucleosynthesis in a teeny fraction of a second, our theory of universal evolution now accounts for the age of the universe. We no longer need to add to the age of the universe to account for phenomena.

How does it solve the origin of structure? (or where did all this stuff come from?)

The answer to this one is quite involved, we need to look at how one gets inflation, i.e. what causes the universe to expand so rapidly? Once we answer this question, we discover that inflation also explains the origin of structure AND why it started expanding in the first place.. for next time though 🙂

(1)this is one scenario, but the other one is too complicated to explain right now

Next up: Negative pressure, exotic particles, and the emergence of something out of nothing

European Court rules boycott of Israel illegal

This smacks of outright, racist, hypocrisy! Wasn’t Iraq boycotted all so recently? Isn’t Cuba boycotted (sure they are by the States anyway)? Why is Israel above such boycotts? It’s disgusting!

European Court rules boycott of Israel illegal

Boycott is ‘discriminatory and punishable’ – EU Court judges

‘interference with…freedom of expression needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers.’ – Jerusalem Post

‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win’ – Gandhi

The European Court of Human Rights has moved to criminalise support for Palestinian human rights. The EU has consistently rewarded an Israel sinking ever deeper into crime, with open ethnic cleansers as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister. Now the judiciary joins the executive in aligning with Israel and criminalising those who support the call from Palestine for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the bloody violence of the Israeli state. Hardly suprising when the British Government is involved in an equally bloody military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Birds of a blood-stained feather flock together.

This ruling is a response to the growing support for BDS following Israel’s most recent massacres in Gaza in January. It criminalises the entire Scottish, Irish and South African trade union movements.

It might soon become illegal to stand up to the violence of Israel with the non-violent weapon of boycott. The courts, then, will leave supporters of Palestine with no choice but to challenge these laws in every way possible, including civil disobedience and non-violent direct action. This ruling is designed to protect those carrying out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine: according to the Jerusalem Post (see below), the European court of Human Rights ‘ruled that interference with…freedom of expression was needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers.’ Producing goods on ethnically cleansed land while working to destroy Palestinian producers.

The growing BDS movement will not be deterred by this latest ruling. After all, the British Government defied the ICJ (International Court of Justice) 2004 ruling that Israel’s apartheid Wall is illegal and must come down. The people of Gaza are being crushed by an open alliance of Israel, the US, the EU and the Arab regimes. They have no allies but a slowly awakening world civil society. They have paid many times over in mountains of corpses for their refusal to accept Israeli/Western plans for them to disappear. Compared to their heroism and suffering, the cost of standing up for human rights against the European Court of Human Rights remains very modest. Here in Scotland, we do not face Israeli death squads, the murder of our children, bulldozed homes, burning farms, prison walls, the kidnapping of our finest sons and daughters into dungeons, routine torture, expulsion or daily humiliation by a murderous soldiery.

Five Scottish PSC members will appear in court on Friday August 7 charged with ‘racially aggravated’ crime for disrupting a musical performance by official ‘Cultural Ambassadors’ of Israel when they came to Scotland last year. The charges are no more absurd than the defence of ‘Israeli producers’ by the European Court of Human Rights while Gaza lives with Israeli-induced hunger and misery. The five are privileged to stand alongside so many others fighting for justice, and with the people of Palestine whose resistance to Zionist crime has inspired the world, but has long been criminalised by Israel’s Western allies.

We invite you to come to the Court on Chambers St, Edinburgh at 9.15am on Friday 7 August to show your:

– solidarity with Palestine

– support for the boycott of Israel

– opposition to ‘interference with freedom of expression to protect Israeli producers’


European court: Israel boycotts are unlawful discrimination

Israel finally won one last week in an international human rights court.

On Thursday, the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights upheld a French ruling that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli goods, and that making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods did not constitute a violation of one’s freedom of expression.

The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, has some 47 member states and is independent of the European Union. The court is made up of one judge from each member state, and the rulings of the court carry moral weight throughout Europe.

On Thursday the court ruled by a vote of 6-1 that the French court did not violate the freedom of expression of the Communist mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products.

Jews in the region filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute Willem for “provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds.” Willem was first acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in September 2003 and he was fined €1,000.

His appeal to a higher French court was unsuccessful, and as a result he petitioned the European Court of Human rights in March 2005, saying his call for a boycott of Israeli products was part of a legitimate political debate, and that his freedom of expression had been violated.

The court, made up of judges from Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia and the Czech Republic .

According to a statement issued by the court on Thursday, the court held the view that Willem was not convicted for his political opinions, “but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate.”

The one dissenting opinion was written by the Czech judge.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor hailed the ruling Sunday, saying it provided important ammunition for those challenging on legal grounds calls frequently heard in Europe for a boycott of Israeli products, as well as calls for a boycott of Israeli academia.

“It is now clear that in every country in Europe there is a precedent for calling boycotts of Israeli goods a violation of the law,” Palmor said. “This is an important precedent, one that says very clearly that boycott calls are discriminatory. We hope this will help us push back against all the calls for boycotts of Israeli goods.”

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