The Friday Inspiration – Jan 31, 2014

One talk, one Qur’anic recitation.

Seth Godin – Stop Stealing Dreams

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Emotional recitation by Hussary, Baqarah 84-89

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The Friday Rodeo – Jan 24, 2014

He who has no one has Allah – Navaid Aziz

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Surah Noor ayah 35 by al-Utaybi

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The Friday Rodeo – Jan 10, 2014

This is a new series I’m doing here that I hope to post every Friday – The Friday Roundup. The idea is to post a lecture/video/podcast [not always or necessarily "Islamic"] along with a Qur’an recitation. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here’s today’s installment of the Friday Rodeo.

Lecture

Crisis – Mufti Menk

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Qur’an

Surah Ikhlas in 10 different styles by Efasy

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Khutbah: Implementing Islamic Principles of Friendship in the Social Media Age

Recording of my khutbah from today.

Right click to download.

Click play below to listen:

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Conan’s Farewell to the Tonight Show in Kinetic Typography

Definitely worth watching again

MegaPost: 5 Take-Aways for Muslim Fans of Breaking Bad

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 *This post contains major spoilers. If you don’t want the ending or major plot points ruined, don’t read this post. 

Breaking Bad is a story of transformation.

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It is a story of evolution. A man spends his entire life living one way, and then suddenly goes in the opposite direction.

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“Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a nutfah (a drop), then he becomes an alaqah (clot of blood) for a like period, then a mudghah (morsel of flesh) for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows his soul into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his rizq (sustenance), his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (i.e., whether or not he will enter Paradise). By the One, other than Whom there is no deity, verily one of you performs the actions of the people of Paradise until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him, and so he acts with the actions of the people of the Hellfire and thus enters it; and verily one of you performs the actions of the people of the Hellfire, until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he acts with the actions of the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.” [Bukhari]

Chuck Klosterman sums it up as,

Breaking Bad is not a situation in which the characters’ morality is static or contradictory or colored by the time frame; instead, it suggests that morality is continually a personal choice. When the show began, that didn’t seem to be the case: It seemed like this was going to be the story of a man (Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston) forced to become a criminal because he was dying of cancer. That’s the elevator pitch. But that’s completely unrelated to what the show has become. The central question on Breaking Bad is this: What makes a man “bad” — his actions, his motives, or his conscious decision to be a bad person? Judging from the trajectory of its first three seasons, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan believes the answer is option No. 3. So what we see in Breaking Bad is a person who started as one type of human and decides to become something different. … what’s interesting is that this transformation involves the fundamental core of who he supposedly is, and that this (wholly constructed) core is an extension of his own free will. The difference between White in the middle of Season 1 and White in the debut of Season 4 is not the product of his era or his upbringing or his social environment. It’s a product of his own consciousness. He changed himself. At some point, he decided to become bad, and that’s what matters.

Whereas shows like The Wire, or The Sopranos may have showcased the decisions of people born into darkness, here we see someone willingly abandon the light for darkness. It’s a core lesson for many of us – to have iman and then consciously choose to take another path. Our ultimate fate is the cumulative effect of our decisions and deeds – and even if we don’t see the consequences immediately (as happens in the show), we will eventually.

 1. Intentions and Self-Justification

The story of Walter White begins with cooking meth as a means of supporting his family and paying for his cancer treatments. But intention is a complicated thing, and often gets mixed up with other motives. What’s interesting in the show is how Walt continually considers himself to be doing the right thing. Even when things go wrong, he has an uncanny ability to hit the ‘reset’ button and pretend he’s starting from scratch – as if his previous actions no longer matter. He always hatches a new plan as if to say, “If we just do this, we’ll be ok.”

This is an incredible trick of Shaytan that we struggle with ourselves when we self-rationalize behavior that we otherwise know is incorrect.

As the story progresses, Walt does more and more “bad” things. It’s readily apparent that he is seeking fame and recognition. This becomes clear when he talks about Gray Matter, a company he helped found but was bought out before it went big. Here we see how it affected him and stuck with him throughout his life – and in fact became a huge motivator for his actions.

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Walt’s self-justification is always that he is doing this for the betterment of his family. It becomes confusing throughout the show where you begin to wonder if he truly believes that, or if he just thinks everyone around him is too stupid to realize it’s a lie. Finally in the last episode, he comes clean about his real intent when he finally tells Skylar, “I did it for myself, I liked it. I was good at it. It made me feel alive.”

We don’t always get what we intend for, and that is why consequences matter. People may intend good, and end up with evil actions as a result. One cannot, out of good intention, try to prevent an evil or command a good if a greater evil will result from it.

2. Sin is a Slow Burn

Stole this phrase from Imam Suhaib Webb. It’s an accurate description of how Walt ‘broke bad.’ He didn’t begin by killing anyone or poisoning a kid, but he slowly crept in that direction. Once he made the decision to get involved, he had to continue down that path. Similarly, we see how his wife also ‘broke bad.’ She was at first a model of morality, then she overlooked his activities, then she laundered money, and by the end she asked Walt to murder Jesse and was ready to frame her own brother-in-law. Once she made the initial decision, she became entrapped by her sins and there was no way out.

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The story of Barsisa comes to mind,

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Walt’s story shares a lot of similarities. The initial decision he makes to cook meth eventually results in him poisoning a child, killing people, and destroying his own family. The show highlights the consequences of his sins.

The creator of the show intentionally highlights this,

Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?….If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end. I feel some sort of need for Biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’  [New York Times]

We of course believe that there is an ultimate justice in the next life.

Actions do have consequences. What’s interesting is the decision making paradigm we go through when faced with difficulty. In this case, Walt is tested with cancer. He chooses to start cooking meth. Once he’s done that, other decisions follow from that.

One lesson we can learn is what our reaction to a test truly is. It’s part of our understanding of qadr. When something happens that is not truly in our control, what is our attitude toward it? Do we humble ourselves? Are we grateful? Are we patient? Dissatisfaction with qadr is at the root of sin. It was this dissatisfaction on the part of Shaytan when Adam was created that manifest itself in the form of arrogance.

In the case of one who does not understand this (such as Walt), they have a desire to control everything around them.There are elements of both entitlement and arrogance at play. For us we learn a lesson about tawakkul as well. We do what’s in our control, but ultimately leave everything else to Allah (swt). We know that we can’t control what is around us, and the need to do so is not just a sign of arrogance, but a huge deficiency in faith.

This is further driven by his own ego and pride. It further blinds him to the consequences of his actions. The root of evil is that he always assumes he is right, if everyone just follows his plan, then everything will be okay.

This is compounded with other motivating factors – such as seeking power (as covered above), and also fear. Fear of not providing for his family, a fear of what will happen because he’s not in control. Making a decision based on fear is a characteristic of Shaytan-

Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. [2:268]

In the moment of sin, in the heat of that decision, we cast aside the long term consequences. A sin is not something isolated. It only takes one stupid decision to destroy your life and legacy.

The last point to be made here in terms of the consequences of sin, is that they affect everyone around a person as well. The entire show is an accumulation of decisions.

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No one becomes Fir’awn overnight – it’s an evolution.

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3. The Rise and Fall of the King

This is an incredible motif in the show. We see the slow rise of Heisenberg into being a king, and then his humiliating fall from grace.

This fall is an inevitable consequence of the arrogance of someone who considers themselves to be of such high authority.

Allah’s Messenger (S) said, “The most awful name in Allah’s sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings) [Bukhari].

And,

I heard Allah’s Messenger (S) saying, “Allah will hold the whole earth, and roll all the heavens up in His Rig ht Hand, and then He will say, ‘I am the King; where are the kings of the earth?”‘ [Bukhari]

These are no doubt characteristics reminiscent of Fir’awn,

And [Fir'awn] said, “I am your most exalted lord” [79:24]

We see the rise of Heisenberg slowly as he gains a reputation and further builds his empire. It is a rise at all costs for nothing more than sheer power.

Imam Suhaib Webb commented that the Fir’awnic mentality of Water White is how the bad broke him.

Here’s a quick look at the progression.

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After this rise though, comes the fall.

One of the last episodes of the show is entitled Ozymandias. This is referencing a poem by the same title about the inevitable decline of leaders.

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This is a direct reference to the rise and fall of Heisenberg. Despite his reaching the top, there was a humiliating fall from grace, one in which his entire world is shattered around him. This is a universal theme we have seen throughout the course of history. In this show, this fall is the consequence of his actions. This is the justice he receives for his decisions. Because of seeking this kingdom, he loses his family, his wealth, and his reputation. In the end he is a broken man with nothing left, killed by his own stray bullet. It destroyed not only him, but left everyone around him in ruins.

And Walt is a man transformed. If his cackling meltdown in the crawlspace near the end of Season Four marked his transition from Walt to Heisenberg, the slow dolly zoom on his face when Jack shoots Hank was the moment when even Heisenberg disappeared, replaced by something worse. Heisenberg wanted Jesse dead, but quickly and painlessly; this new thing wanted him physically and emotionally destroyed first. Heisenberg was deadly but methodical, vengeful but careful; the creature now taking Heisenberg’s place lashed out wildly, inflicted suffering gratuitously. Most importantly, Heisenberg still wanted to be seen as a family man; whatever Walt is now, he gave up on having a family the moment he saw in their eyes that he’d finally gone too far. (Rolling Stone)

The exact scene showing his ultimate fall:

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4. Critical Examination of Wealth as a Blessing or a Curse

The pursuit of wealth, fame, and power is universal. They are motives nearly everyone can identify with. Wealth is an allure that causes man to break his own morality in pursuit of it. Wealth was sought as a symbol of security. A way to provide for his family long after his death. Wealth was also a scorecard by which to measure success. The more he made, the more successful he was – the more he was winning.

Wealth is also commonly seen as a solution to every problem. It is a way to ransom one’s self out of any situation.

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Seeking wealth in this manner is an endless pit.

“If the son of Adam had two valleys of wealth, he would love to have a third along with them. Nothing could satisfy him except dust. And Allah accepts the repentance of the one who repents.” [Ibn Majah]

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Of course, once obtained, it becomes a burden. First, quite literally in the sense that he can’t even physically move it,

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This can be considered symbolism to the story of Sisyphus as well. Rolling the barrel seems almost futile because there is no way for him to do anything with the wealth (and he ultimately loses the vast majority of it). Throughout the show, the wealth is his security, though he doesn’t realize he has lost all his dignity in trying to hold on to it. This is highlighted in the end when Walt pathetically asks the extractor (Ed) if he would deliver his money to his children after his death, to which Ed replies coldly, “If I said yes, would you believe me?”

The concept of using wealth for ransom was intriguing to me. In the end it seems Walt finally broke one of his own cardinal rules by bringing Hank to the brink of his death – despite their adversarial relationship. In the heat of the moment he offers up everything he has worked so hard for – all $80 million in exchange for Hank’s life, and it is refused.

It’s a stark reminder about the true value of what we accumulate.

Indeed, those who disbelieve and die while they are disbelievers – never would the [whole] capacity of the earth in gold be accepted from one of them if he would [seek to] ransom himself with it. For those there will be a painful punishment, and they will have no helpers [3:91].

And leave those who take their religion as amusement and diversion and whom the worldly life has deluded. But remind with the Qur’an, lest a soul be given up to destruction for what it earned; it will have other than Allah no protector and no intercessor. And if it should offer every compensation, it would not be taken from it. Those are the ones who are given to destruction for what they have earned. For them will be a drink of scalding water and a painful punishment because they used to disbelieve [6:70].

Secondly, it can actually be a curse in that it brings you further away from the very thing you were trying to obtain. Even his own family did not want anything to do with his money. Despite it being a large sum, because of what was attached to how the wealth was earned, they couldn’t bear to even think about it.

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After all of Walt’s self-justification about making meth to provide for his family, his family didn’t even want it because of what he did.

No amount of wealth will never purchase what you truly treasure.

5. The Theology of Breaking Bad by Imam Suhaib Webb

This isn’t a singular issue like the previous 4, but this khutbah by Imam Suhaib does a good job of breaking down some major themes with more developed lessons Muslims can draw from them.

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Ted Talk: Dan Pallotta – The way we think about charity is dead wrong

It’s been a long time since I saw a Ted talk that really rocked my world, but this one is definitely a must listen.

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My Favorite Khatam Dua

I first got this mp3 somewhere around the year 2000 or 2001. It’s been a personal tradition to listen to it every Ramadan, and it never gets old. No matter how many khatam dua’s I hear, I always come back to this one.

Full Guide to Killer WordPress Speed: Migrating from BlueHost to MediaTemple, W3 Total Cache, CloudFlare, and MaxCDN

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This guide details my experience with outgrowing BlueHost’s shared hosting, migrating my site to MediaTemple, and optimizing it for super fast speed with W3 Total Cache, CloudFlare, and MaxCDN. 

*Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you sign up for the service I will get a commission for them. There is no paid advertising in this post, it is my honest opinions and experience from serving as webmaster for multiple WordPress sites.  

I’ve been on a BlueHost account for a few years now overseeing a few websites. The price was amazing and the support was great. However,  as is the downfall of a shared hosting service, my sites were getting throttled. This basically means, they were taking forever to load no matter what I did to make them load faster. Thus began my quest of figuring out how to get my websites to load faster.

This is critical because if your content loads slow, people won’t wait for it. More importantly, Google actually factors in the load time of your site into its rankings.

You can check if you are getting throttled by logging into the CPanel, and selecting the CPU Throttling icon.

 

CPU Throttling icon in cpanel

 

Here you will see a snapshot of the last 24 hours. Think of throttling in this manner: Once you type in the website address, sometimes it takes a few seconds before the actual content starts to load. This initial delay is due to throttling from the server.

In this post I’m going to assume you’ve completed the basic troubleshooting steps such as:

  • Deactivate AND delete unused wordpress plugins. Get rid of absolutely everything you don’t need.
  • Installed a cache plugin (W3 Total Cache is my recommendation).
  • Delete post revisions [Info here] – If that’s too complicated for you, you can do it for free by hitting a “clear revisions” button for up to 5 sites at ManageWP.
  • Optimize images by decompressing [WP Smush it plugin] or installing a plugin like Lazy Load to speed up load time.
BlueHost also offers CloudFlare for free as a way to hedge against CPU usage on their server, but in my experience using CloudFlare with BlueHost did not do anything to lower the throttling on my account, or decrease my page load time significantly.

Step 1: Test Your Website Load Times

Test your site load time and see what kind of scores you get. These tools will give you more detailed information as well about some things you can do to optimize them. I found that my scores went from about a 65 or 70 up to over 90 after implementing the steps below.

Follow the links below and input your site address to see its current performance grade.

There’s lots of other sites that perform a similar function, but you can get pretty much everything you need from those two.

Step 2: Upgrade Your Hosting

I knew I was getting more traffic than the shared hosting at BlueHost could handle, but it wasn’t enough to get a fancy server that cost over $50/month. After some research and reading through reviews I settled on the GridHosting service from MediaTemple for $20/month.

I’ve been on MediaTemple for a month and couldn’t be happier. Everything is quick, and the customer support at MediaTemple has been outstanding. I’ve probably logged 20 tickets with them all related to setup, site migration, site optimization, and everything else related to switching hosts and they’ve been knowledgeable, helpful, and courteous.

Gridhosting is a step up from shared hosting in that it scales better to traffic spikes on your website.

Step 3: Migrate Your Website to Your New Server

This is a big pain. MediaTemple will charge $150 per website to migrate from your old host to the new one. If you have the cash, I would say it’s definitely money well spent. Learning how to do it from scratch and making mistakes and so on for 6 websites probably took me in the neighborhood of 15-20 hours. If you have just one website, or potentially two and you’re not tech savvy, I would say it’s money well spent. But for 6 sites (i.e. $900), you can learn how to do it.

Hopefully I can save you some of the headache with the following tools. There’s basically 2 methods that I found worked well. The first method consists of:

  1. Set up the new domain in media temple.
  2. Do an export of the full database from phpMyAdmin (If you can’t find the database name, call BlueHost support to have them walk you through it. But basically, you need to read through the wp-config.php file for that DB install to get the DB name).
  3. Download the ‘wp-contents’ folder to your hard drive.
  4. Install wordpress in MediaTemple using the 1-click WordPress install.
  5. Import the PHP database.
  6. Upload the wp-contents folder.

This process is explained in more detail from a great write up over at SmashingMagazine.

The second method is using the WordPress Duplicator Plugin which I used successfully for one site. There is also a highly rated Clone Plugin, but I couldn’t get it to work properly.

*If you go with the Duplicator plugin, use this KB article for setting up the access to your database when doing the migration. If that doesn’t work connect using the ‘internal-db.s00000.gridserver.com’ (obviously replacing the 0′s with your db).

Also note that ManageWP offers a clone service as well with their paid accounts, but I could not get it to work properly, and the knowledge base for how to actually do a site transfer with their tool was not written clearly enough for me to follow.

Step 4: W3 Total Cache

Install the W3 Total Cache plugin.

Step 5: CloudFlare

Activate CloudFlare by following the directions to activate CloudFlare from within Media Temple.

Step 6: Activate MaxCDN

Sign up for MaxCDN – a Content Delivery Network.

This costs $39.95 for a year for one site, and $12/year for each additional site [MaxCDN refers to sites as Pull Zones].

Step 7: Get the MaxCDN Domain Name

MaxCDN will give you a temporary URL like yourdomain.netdna-cdn.com or something similar. You can check this from the Pull Zones configuration. Set up a custom domain like cdn.yourdomain.com.

This will make it cleaner when people visit your site and it’s loading elements instead of displaying the longer URL.

Step 8: Configure W3 Total Cache (This is where the magic happens)

First add CloudFlare to W3TC. This is fairly straightforward as the W3TC plugin already has built in support for CloudFlare. Just make sure you’re logged into CloudFlare so it can link your accounts.

Then add MaxCDN to W3TC. Follow this tutorial exactly in order to set it up correctly.

 Step 9: WAIT 48 HOURS, and Then Test Your Site Speed Again

It takes a while for all these changes to settle in. So sit back, let it marinate, then test your speed and check your improvements.

 

What the NBA Finals and Any Given Sunday Taught me About Ramadan

Players work all year to get to that moment. It starts in training camp. Getting your conditioning down. Shooting thousands upon thousands of jumpers, making it muscle memory. Pushing til you hit your max, and then pushing some more. 82 game season is a grind. Playoffs are a grind. All the way through, you never stop working, never stop practicing. It leads to moments like this, where you’re in a broken play, you’re back pedaling, you can’t even check to see where your feet are, but all those hours of practice and work pay off into a moment like this

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A single opportunity. A single shot. It can swing your entire fate. It only takes one play here or there to make the difference between winning it all, or falling mere seconds short.

Ramadan gives us an opportunity to do work. It’s an opportunity to learn to grind it out. To get focused. We get a lot of obstacles all year, but we have to be dedicated to the ultimate goal, and doing everything we can. The only regret a player will ever have is when they don’t leave it all out on the floor. When they don’t give it all they’ve got. How many of us give it our all?

It’s about getting up and focusing on every single prayer. It’s about keeping up with your daily dose of tafseer even when you’re too tired. It’s about sleeping 2 hours, and still staying up after fajr to make sure you hit your required Qur’an reading every day. It’s about not wasting the 15 seconds walking from parking lot to the door and making dua so you don’t waste that time. It’s about shaking off your grudges and shaking hands with the person you don’t talk to anymore. It’s about fasting all day, and then throwing a couple of extra bucks in the donation box instead of grabbing a snack to fill your craving on the way home.

It’s about seeing this month as an opportunity to serve. It’s about seeing every hardship you face as a gift from Allah (swt) reminding you to come closer to Him.

It’s doing all these things because we don’t know what our margin of error is. We don’t know if we can make it all the way to a Game 6 of the Finals, catch a ball back pedaling, and still have the wherewithal  to stay in bounds and have enough practice under our belt to nail the shot. One half step off, and you’re out of bounds, and you lose the championship. You fall short of the whole goal. How confident are we that we’ve worked enough? That we’ve given it everything we have? That we can go to our grave saying we gave it all? That we seized every opportunity?

Dare I say, life is a game of inches? (warning, bad language)

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Now, what are you gonna do?

Ramadan: Grind it out.

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