Friday, June 19, 2015

5 Tips for Making Ramadan Better for Everyone

For the past 5 weeks every single sermon on Friday has been about the same thing, our good friend Ramadan who is visiting again, as he does every year. They talked about what we need to do make sure we get the most out of this holy month but I'm going to give you five tips on how to make it better for people around you.

1. Share Your Acts of Worship on Social Media

You see, it's not enough to fast, pray taraweeh, witr, tahajjud and give charity. To amplify your blessing share your accomplishments on social media. Woke up for Fajr? Or even better, went to the masjid for Fajr? Begin by instagramming a picture of the masjid while it's still dark, as proof, then tweet and make a facebook status about how you made it to the first row and only 11 other people showed up. I recommend using a hashtag so the youth will be able to understand your posts. Not only do all your friends and followers LOVE seeing those statuses but seeing your good deeds will only encourage them do more themselves!

2. Encourage Our Sisters to Dress Modestly

I'm pretty sure there's a hadith somewhere that says modesty is a part of faith. So when we see our fellow sisters in Islam make sure you examine them fully and make sure they're modest. Remember that us men have to lower our gaze so make the most out of your first look! Then remind them to wear loose fitting clothes and to wear hijab properly. Chances are, they're never heard this before and need a quick reminder. Women can be emotional sometimes and might not take kindly to your sincere advice so tell them that women who don't wear hijab are like moldy lollipops or something, trust me they'll understand. After you inform them of proper modest dress they will be very thankful for your wisdom and be more conscious of modesty.

3. Forget About Proper Parking Etiquette

We are told in Islam to "race to do good deeds". What is more good than to pray in the masjid? Therefore brothers and sisters, race to the masjid! Literally, drive as fast as possible to maximize the time spent in the masjid. And when you reach the masjid do not waste time parking your car properly. Squeeze into the nearest parking spot, even if a car already occupies it, and get out and rush to the prayer. If you can't find a parking spot make your own. The lines in the parking lot are created by man and man is not perfect, only Allah is. If there is pavement, there is parking. If you can't find absolutely anywhere to park then feel free to block the entrance with your car. It will encourage others to get to the masjid earlier than you, and you will be rewarded for encouraging this.

4. Bring All Your Young Children to the Masjid

There's a problem in the Muslim community with teenagers who don't want to go to the masjid for various reasons. To combat this we need them to develop a love for the masjid early on, as early as possible actually. As soon as they're out of the womb they should be in the masjid, actually they should come out of the womb in the masjid itself. Bring your children to taraweeh so when everyone is dozing off their cries and screams will wake everyone up and keep them attentive to the prayers. And don't you dare put them in the free child care the masjid offers, your children should not be quietly playing with toys and making friends while everyone is praying. Keep your children in the praying area so they can help everyone maintain their focus.

5. Keep Up Your Dawah Efforts 

I've noticed many brothers who, during the other 11 months, keep in contact with many non-Muslim people, mainly of the opposite gender. This is amazing, think of all the dawah these kind brothers are giving, throughout the entire year! For some reason I see a lot of them stopping during Ramadan and then resume their dawah the first day of Eid. I don't understand? Ramadan is the month where our reward is multiplied so why stop a source of immense rewards? Brothers I encourage you to keep up your dawah at all times. Sometimes your acquaintances might want to meet, GO! Spread the message to these kind non-Muslim sisters.


Friday, June 5, 2015

The Art of Troubleshooting (Part 1)

I like fixing things. Computers, vacuums, cars, cell phones, washing machines, dishwashers, sinks, ceiling fans, chainsaws, home electrical wiring, you name it I've fixed it. There are many benefits to fixing things yourself. You save money, time and (usually) know the quality of your fix. And then there's the satisfaction of doing it yourself which, in my opinion, is the best of them.

There's three steps to fixing something: identifying the problem, addressing the problem, and verifying the solution. Today we focus on the first, and more important part, identifying the problem. Obviously, you need to identify the problem before you can fix it. Identifying the problem involves looking at the symptoms, and applying your knowledge of the situation in order to identify likely causes of the symptoms.

Many would-be DIY (do-it-yourself) mechanics fail to do this. They identify some symptoms, and then "throw parts" at the problem instead of spending more time diagnosing it. This is a huge waste of time, effort and money. If your brake rotors are scratched and you just replace the rotors without understanding WHY they got scratched then chances are the new set you put on will face the same fate. This applies to almost anything. If you have mold on a wall, you can cut out and replace the section of the wall but without treating the root cause you're just putting a loose band-aid on the problem.

The first thing you need to do is learn about whatever it is your working on. Without some knowledge of the situation you aren't going to be able to understand what caused whatever you are dealing with and your ability to actually address the problem will be limited. Car overheating? Learn how your cooling system works. Bedroom doesn't have power at any outlets? Learn how home wiring works.

The internet has the complete sum of human knowledge available at the click of a button. Anything you want to learn, you can. If I'm tackling something I haven't worked with before I'll learn as much as I can beforehand. Read articles, forums, and watch videos on YouTube all with the intent of learning. You have to be broad in your scope because you don't know what's going to be the thing that helps you identify the cause of what you're dealing with. Keep learning until you can explain it to someone else.

The other method of learning, which I recommend to be used in conjunction with the one above is to examine and tinker with what you have. You can learn a lot by just looking at something and figuring out how it works. Open something up and put it back together. See how parts fit together and how they might work when they're operating. Doing this after you read up on how something works gives you the best possible understanding and foundation for troubleshooting.
Flowcharts like these are very helpful if you can find one
applicable to your situation

Ideally, after you've learned about the system your working on you'll be able to use your deductive reasoning to diagnose the problem completely. If not then, then google it! I'm going to spoil the master trick of anybody who's fixed a computer before. At least 80% of the issues we deal with aren't things we instantly know how to fix; we just google them and follow suggestions posted online. Now be warned, we don't do it mindlessly. With a basic understanding of how a computer works we can read similar problems people have had and conclude which is most likely in our specific scenario. This is why understanding what you're working on is so important, mindlessly following tutorials on the internet will often lead to making your problem even worse.

Now rarely, if ever, do we search online and find the exact cause of our issue. Normally we gain an understanding surrounding the problem and limit our possibilities down to a few likely causes. Then we have to tinker with whatever we're working on to isolate the exact cause. Let's say the light switch in your home doesn't work and through your research you've isolated it to two things: loose wiring or a faulty switch. You unscrew the cover and take a look at the switch and the wiring going to it. Online you learned how to test a switch using a multimeter. You disconnect the switch and find it to be functioning properly. This leaves loose wiring as your identified diagnosis. This is one area where following online tutorials WILL be super helpful. Troubleshooting tutorials walk you through how to test certain problems are great in helping people isolate specific issues. Following these tutorials is also a fantastic way to apply your previous research. You want to avoid tutorials that show you how to fix/replace things until you've diagnosed the problem.

The final and most important skill for anyone  properly troubleshooting things is to embrace failure. You will fail, and you will fail often the more you try to fix things. My parents lost power in their bedroom a year ago and I tried fixing it but only got one outlet to work. I tried some more over the next few days but couldn't figure it out. Fast forward a year and 25 YouTube videos later I understood the issue, understood how much I messed up the wiring a year ago, and managed to fix the power for about $10 and 30 minutes. The first project car I worked on had a blown headgasket and after repairing it I forgot that I had dropped a bolt in the engine. I started her up tried to drive and blew up the engine beyond repair. The point is you will screw up (a lot) but the idea isn't to be some magic genie that can fix anything on command, it's to add all the experience to your arsenal and slowly increase your success rate and limit the resources you use to fix things. The more things you see the better you'll be, and there's no substitute for that. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why We Need to Shut-Up About the Riots

I will not get into the gritty details of the protests that have been taking place in Baltimore over the past few days, however anyone who doesn't live under a rock knows of what's going on. Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black man, died on April 19th. He died from injuries he suffered while in police custody on April 12th. On the 19th he died from a variety of "mysterious" injuries, chiefly to his spine. A simple summary would be that Gray was another victim in a long line of police brutality killing innocent people without any sort of due process. Videos of Gray show him being dragged, unable to properly walk. He also suffered from asthma and was denied an inhaler when he was struggling to breathe. Despite all this it was his broken spine that killed him seven days later.

I'm not qualified to go into detail about the oppression and racism but many feel qualified to share their views on social media, condemning the violence caused by the protests. I implore these people to answer the question: "Why?"

What pent up oppression have these people been going through, for how long, that they erupt in anger like this? What kind of actions have muzzled a group's voice, and for how long, that rioting is only way they can be heard? What must it feel like to turn on the news everyday and think another person just like me got murdered by the people who are supposed to protect me? What must it feel like to try all the "acceptable" mediums of change and get absolutely nowhere near where you should've been in fifty years? What must it feel like to read of people like me in the 1800's being lynched, and then see it happen on the news 200 years later? What must it feel like to think that you or someone you love can easily be next?

I don't know.

Which is why I'm not going to sit on my couch, safe from all the above, and tell black people how they should go about making change. And while we're on the subject let's make some straw men very clear. Nobody is saying "all policemen" are bad or engage in police brutality. However the percentage of those who do is absolutely way too high and nothing is being done to combat this. Eric Garner was killed by police over an accusation of selling single cigarettes. The officer was cleared by a grand jury. Officer Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown SIX times and wasn't indicted. Until the structures that allow murderers of innocent black men to walk free the riots won't stop. Not sure if these men were innocent? Innocent until proven guilty and unfortunately they were never given the chance to be declared anything except dead. Baltimore will die down eventually only to crop up wherever the next instance happens. Until the root of the problem is treated the riots won't stop.

The internet tells me JFK said "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Baltimore hasn't been living in a vacuum. This extreme reaction has been brewing and brewing from decades of systematic oppression. If you can't see that, you really should do the world a favor and stick to posting about sports. Which, by the way, have caused way more violent riots recently than racism has. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Yes, Grades Do Matter

Every so often on some form of social media you'll come across an impassioned rant arguing that grades don't measure intelligence and that kids don't care about learning, just their grades. There's some validity to that claim so lets start by addressing it.

Let's make a claim: if grades measure intelligence, then people with good grades are intelligent. We know this to not always be the case. There are smart people who don't get good grades, and not so smart people who get good grades. I'm sure, if pressed, all of us could think of a few examples of this. And yes some people place too much of an emphasis on grades, and often times students don't have good teacher who keep them engaged in the subject matter. Students become disinterested and don't care about learning what they are being taught.

So then why do grades matter? Why does every college care so much about our GPA? Why do employers want to know what grades we got in college? Why do my parents care so much about my report card?

While not perfect, grades DO provide an objective analysis of how well you've understood the subject matter being taught to you. Tests are almost never perfect but still obtain a very solid baseline of your understanding. Daniel Tosh had a funny bit in one of his stand-ups about bad test takers:

"Don't you love it when people in school are like, 'I'm a bad test taker.' You mean you're stupid. Oh, you struggle with that part where we find out what you know? I can totally relate see, because I'm a brilliant painter minus my god awful brushstrokes. Oh, how the masterpiece is crystal up here but once paint hits canvas I develop Parkinson's." 

Obviously that's very generalized but how else can somebody understand how well you understand derivatives and integrals without seeing you derive and integrate? You can memorize law all you want but we can't understand how much you actually know until you can apply it to scenarios. There are billions of people in this world, and there simply has to be objective measures of one's abilities.

Humor me with the analogy of GPA and life. In life we have plenty of things that we don't want to do but must. Taxes, jury duty, interviewing for jobs and the like. In college/high school we have to take classes we don't necessarily want to. We may not be interested in them but we need them for our major or our core to graduate. Not wanting to do something isn't an excuse to not get that thing done. Life tosses us problems and we need solve them within the framework we are given. For example, in life we need to do taxes within the framework of the law of the country we live in.

The same thing holds for grades, we need to get good grades within the guidelines set by the college we are attending. The most common way to get good grades is to pay attention, do your work on time and study for the exams. Sure there'll be a class that you can BS the paper for, or only study the night before and still get an A in and that's fine. But the fact is you won't be able to do this for the majority of your classes and maintain a respectable GPA. For the most part a good grade in a class indicates that you understood the material, were able to prove that to a teacher and that you worked hard (to some degree) to achieve those things. In other cases a good grade means you understood the framework of the class, and manipulated it to your advantage to get a good grade. Again, this holds for a minority of the classes depending on where you go to school but we've all probably had a class like this.

What this shows is that the critics are right, grades don't measure intelligence. They measure how well you are able to adapt in a class, understand it's material, how well you work and how well you succeed given whatever parameters there are in the class.Yes, an intelligent person with poor grades probably won't get into a great college or get glossed over on some job applications. That's because intelligence without the accompanying effort is useless to employers and colleges know if you didn't work hard in high school you aren't going to magically flip a switch and succeed at Ivy-League level work.

Intelligence as it pertains to being successful at life goes way beyond schoolwork, but the ironic thing is that grades tend to correct for this on some level. It not only measures your ability to work, but also your ability to solve the "problem" of getting a good grade in a class. This is much more useful as it mimics, to some extent, your ability to succeed in college and in the work force.

Anybody who makes decisions based off numbers knows making decisions off a single metric is ineffective and often dangerous, depending on the decision you're making. Your GPA doesn't define who you are nor is it the end all and be all metric of your abilities. With that being said however, in a world with 7ish billion people there NEEDS to be objective measures to separate people based on their abilities. Grades, with all of their flaws, still remain an extremely viable resource for colleges and employers looking for driven people to join their ranks. There are people who succeed outside of the school environment, Zuckerburg, Gates, Jobs, etc. but for the majority of us simpletons it's much easier to play with the cards we're dealt as opposed to changing the game entirely. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Problem of Excessive Sheltering

Writer's note: This is a revised version of the Al-Huda article I published earlier this month.

My sister who is currently in her final year at Al-Huda school would currently be preparing for MIST, an interscholastic tournament between (mostly) Muslim high schoolers. Last year's competition in D.C. had some 600 competitors. I participated in MIST 8 times during high school. I wrote a piece on it after my last tournament, you can read it here if you want to get a better idea of the tournament.

Al-Huda is electing not to participate in this year's tournament, and is specifically prohibiting all students from participating under any other team, citing their code of conduct which states that all extra-curricular activities must be properly aligned with the values of the school and the values of Islam. They are threating the students with suspensions and expulsions if they try to bypass the ban by making their own team with a different name.

Let’s take a look for a moment at what is conflicting with Islamic and Al-Hudian values. The “gender-mixing” is obviously offender number one. For many Al-Huda students this is probably the first time they are put into a situation where they have to interact with the opposite gender without direct supervision. The big issue is that at MIST there are instances of people hooking up, now in my 4 years of competing I've never personally seen it happen but I'm pretty in confident it has. This is, of course, completely unacceptable in Islam but it’s also the extreme. People also tend to have an issue with how "friendly" guys and girls get at this competition. This guy-girl interaction is, in my opinion, the main reason that Al-Huda has decided to not only withdraw, but ban its students from competing. MIST has acknowledged the issue from the beginning and does what it possibly can to stop it when they see it by deducting points and telling people to separate and move along if they aren’t with a coach.

Another potential conflict is the musical performances they have during award ceremonies. Lyrically there isn’t a problem, all of the performers from Native Deen to Quadir Lateef have never said anything but Islamically appropriate material. The issue is the instruments they use and how it’s prohibited. I know there’s some debate about this subject but I’m not knowledgeable enough to go into issues of fiqh. I will say this however, almost everyone listens to music to some extent be it in movies, television or on their own Spotify and iTunes accounts. There is something magical about the way music affects the human person which is why it is so mainstream in every culture, so much so that MIST even has a nasheed competition. But when it comes to Islamically appropriate music that isn’t Quran the performances at MIST are the way to go. I believe Al-Huda handled this appropriately, I forget when this was but during a Native Deen performance Al-Huda students walked out of the award ceremony to peacefully protest the music. They explained to the kids why they were doing it and avoided the problem without robbing them of the rest of the beneficial experience.

There might be some other issues I’m not aware of but these are the two main issues
that Al-Huda has been vocal about. I doubt anything else would motivate them to ban the competition outright but what I’m about to say will cover those issues as well.

This decision is, in a word, dangerous. Al-Huda tries too hard to shelter its students from the outside world. From my years as a student I was made to believe that the outside world is cruel and that public school and college teachers won't care about me like the teachers at Al-Huda do. I was told about how all this haraam (Islamically prohibited) stuff is out there and I need to shield myself from it. For all the talk of the outside world Al-Huda did nothing to prepare me for HOW to deal with it.

Al-Huda is a very “orthodox” school in that they separate each grade by gender starting from kindergarten. With all the sexualization in American culture it’s necessary to instill a strong Islamic foundation in kids. This part Al-Huda does well, to an extent. You learn what’s right and what’s wrong. You read Quran and you learn hadith that tell you what to do and what not to do. What you don’t learn is how to live in the world around you.

Let’s just say, for the purpose of argument, Al-Huda’s concerns are valid and that MIST doesn’t align with Islamic principles. I’m not saying that this is the case at all, but let’s just assume.

The world in general doesn’t align with Al-Huda’s or Islamic principles in general. This is a fact and it’s true in America, it’s true in Canada, it’s true in Saudi and it’s true for the vast majority of the world. Sheltering, essentially telling young adults with impressionable minds that they aren’t allowed to go to or do X because it’s bad, is okay if there are no benefits. Ignoring legal principles, Al-Huda should be allowed to ban its students from going to bars and clubs. These places have absolutely no benefit for all the immorality they offer.

Thankfully, the majority of institutions in the world aren’t of the unsavory nightclub variety. Public school, college, the work place and the mall are all examples of places where we have to learn to live in the culture of our land while maintaining our religious foundation. Excessive sheltering however, impairs the students’ ability to perform this delicate balancing act.

Indulge me in this imaginary world where you don’t need a license to drive. Imagine a mother who is scared of letting her child drive a car. She doesn’t let him drive, doesn’t even teach him how to theoretically drive for fear of him doing it. She has the best intentions and is only worried about her son’s safety. So this continues until the son is 25, out of college and needs to drive 45 minutes through downtown Manhattan to get to work tomorrow. He steps into a car for the first time and gets into a 4 person accident before he makes it out of his driveway. The mother’s concerns were legitimate but she should’ve taught him how to safely operate the car while she still had the chance. The child suffers exactly what the mother tried to protect her from and the child suffered all those years of not enjoying the perks that come with driving. It’s in this way excessive sheltering is a ‘lose-lose’ situation. Imagine the animosity that kid had towards his mom the entire time; helicopter parenting or schooling is simply a proven method of accomplishing nothing. You can replace driving with inappropriate relationships, premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, anything really and it still holds.

Instead of trying to address the problem(s) they've simply cut it off. It seems oddly hypocritical to boast about their 9 consecutive MIST championships and then suddenly banning it for being un-Islamic. What kind of message does this send to students? We don't agree with these one or two aspects of the event and hence we are not allowing anybody to compete. And I can almost guarantee 99% if not 100% of Al-Huda's competitors were not involved in the small minority that use MIST as a marriage proving ground. This is not how to effectively address problems. What better place to learn how to handle interactions in an un-Islamic sexualized country than inside an Islamic school taught by educated teachers who go through the struggle everyday of their own lives. What should you do if a woman tries to shake your hand? Can you look her in the eye? What if she smiles at me? Am I going to hell for that? These are all questions I had as I  jwent from a tiny, secluded private school to a giant, co-ed public high school. I can't begin to tell people how awkward I was my first year as I had to learn all this stuff on my own. This is stuff Al-Huda should be addressing head-on, as opposed to shutting the dialogue down via an email to parents.

If nothing else the email to parents should've made them aware of the problem and encouraged them to discuss it with their children. Because if it isn't addressed now and simply brushed under the rug then the kids with the tendency to do whatever it is Al-Huda is trying to prevent will simply do so in bigger force when they get the chance. Be it in an unsupervised competition outside of MIST or whenever these high schoolers go off to college.

And let's be clear, it's not like MIST is some sacrilegious strip club where Muslim kids go to do nasty haraam stuff.

MIST is single-handedly the best thing that happened for Muslim youth in the D.C. area. The organizers are unpaid college students who have their own lives, classes, exams and jobs outside of MIST and yet dedicate insane amounts of time to create this amazing environment for their younger peers to flourish and grow.

MIST builds leadership, creativity, speaking and many other important skills that you don't necessarily cultivate in a traditional learning environment. Many people develop their talents through MIST. I became a better public speaker and debater, my sister became a better film-maker and photographer to the point where she opened her own business. Through the competitions and workshops these kids not only hone their creativity and other skills but have fun in a relatively wholesome environment (being a college student I can tell you first hand that MIST is NOTHING compared what these kids are going to see when they graduate) while learning more about their religion through the competition, speakers and workshops. And they build brother/sisterhood with their teams throughout the months of prepping and at the competition. Then those who excelled get to push themselves against the best of the best at Nationals where every region comes into compete. This experience is like nothing else. I feel so sorry for all those students who won't be able to experience the absolutely amazing journey that is MIST.


The bottom line is that this needs to be a lesson for people who hold the incredible responsibility of developing our Muslim youth that completely shutting off anything that can be remotely un-Islamic is doing more harm than good. Teaching is always better than hiding. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why Al-Huda's Decision to Ban MIST is Wrong

My sister who is currently in her final year at Al-Huda school would currently be preparing for MIST, an interscholastic tournament between (mostly) Muslim high schoolers. Last year's competition had some 600 competitors. I participated in MIST 8 times during high school. I wrote a piece on it after my last tournament, you can read it here if you want to get a better idea of the tournament.

Al-Huda School has dominated the regional tournament since its inception in the D.C. area. Everyone's goal was to upset them but nobody ever did. Eleanor Roosevelt (my team) came close in my final two years but missed them by a few points.

Al-Huda is electing not to participate in this year's tournament, and is specifically prohibiting all students from participating under any other team, citing their code of conduct which states that all extra curricular activities must be properly aligned with the values of the school and the values of Islam. Now it is my understanding that this decision is based on the "gender mixing" that happens at MIST, as this is the only thing that could potentially not comply with their values. If this is false, I'd love to hear an alternate explanation.

I've spent grades 1-6 and 8 at Al-Huda and what I'm speaking to comes from that experience, along with having a mother who teaches there and three siblings who are going there right  now. This decision is, in a word, asinine. Al-Huda tries too hard to shelter it's students from the outside world. From my years as a student I was made to believe that outside world is cruel, that public school and college teachers won't care about me like the teachers at Al-Huda do. I was told about how all this haraam (Islamically prohibited) stuff is out there and I need to shield myself from it. For all the talk of the outside world Al-Huda did nothing to prepare me for HOW to deal with it.

There are technically two schools at Al-Huda. Two sets of each grade. One for the boys and one for the girls. This separation starts at kindergarten. And I think at the beginning, it's fine. With all the sexual images in mainstream culture today, be it television, billboards, a Disney movie or whatever there is no need to further this while a child is young. It's extremely key for kids to have a sound Islamic foundation that a full time Islamic school can offer. That's not to say that children who go to public schools are somehow "corrupted" just that in my opinion it's better for them in the beginning. This helicopter schooling can only go on for so long, however.

Eventually students are going to go to public school and college and they'll be ill-prepared with how to smoothly handle the transition. The big issue is that at MIST there are instances of people hooking up, now in my 4 years I've never personally seen it happen but I'm pretty in confident it has. This would be the extreme I guess, people also tend to have an issue with how "friendly" guys and girls get at this competition. This guy-girl interaction is the reason that Al-Huda has decided to not only withdraw, but ban its students from competing. MIST has acknowledged the issue from the beginning and does what it possibly can to stop it when they see it.

Instead of trying to address the problem of teaching these children how to interact properly with the opposite gender they've simply cut it off. What kind of message does this send to students? We don't agree with this one aspect of the event and hence we are not allowing anybody to compete. And I can almost guarantee 99% if not 100% of Al-Huda's competitors were not involved in the small minority that use MIST as a marriage proving ground. This is not how we address problems. What better place to learn how to handle interactions in an un-Islamic sexualized country than inside an Islamic school taught by educated teachers who go through the struggle everyday of their own lives. What should you do if a woman tries to shake your hand? Can you look her in the eye? What if she smiles at me? Am I going to hell for that? These are all questions I had as I went from tiny, secluded private school to a giant, co-ed public high school. I can't begin to tell how awkward I was my first year as I had to learn all this stuff on my own. This is stuff Al-Huda should be addressing head-on, as opposed to shutting the dialogue down via an email to parents.

If nothing else the email to parents should've made them aware of the problem and encouraged them to discuss it with their children. Because if it isn't addressed now and simply brushed under the rug then the kids with the tendency to do whatever it is Al-Huda is trying to prevent will simply do so in bigger force when they get the chance. Be it in an unsupervised competition outside of MIST or whenever these high schoolers go off to college.

And let's be clear, it's not like MIST is some sacrilegious strip club where Muslim kids go to do nasty haraam stuff.

MIST is single-handedly the best thing that happened for Muslim youth in the D.C. area. It builds leadership, and many other important skills that you don't necessarily cultivate in a traditional learning environment. Many people develop their talents through MIST. I became a better public speaker and debater, my sister became a better film-maker and photographer to the point where she opened her own business. And through the competitions and workshops these kids not only hone their creativity and other skills but have fun in a relatively wholesome environment (being a college student I can tell you first hand that MIST is NOTHING compared what these kids are going to see when they graduate) while learning more about their religion through the competition, speakers and workshops. And they build brother/sisterhood with their teams throughout the months of prepping and at the competition. Then those who excelled get to push themselves against the best of the best at Nationals where every region comes into compete. This experience is like nothing else. I feel so sorry for all those students who won't be able to experience the absolutely amazing journey that is MIST.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Basic Car Maintenance for the Non-Car Person

Any car nut knows that upgrades, detailing and mods come second to actual maintenance. Cars are serious investment for any person or family, and taking care of it should be a priority. Today I'm going to outline some basic steps anybody who owns a car should take to ensure they're protecting their investment.

1. Engine Oil
The engine is the powerhouse of your car and also the most expensive part. It's also the easiest to take care of. The first step is to change your engine oil regularly. Follow your owners manual's recommended change interval and use the proper oil for the car. Your manual should say something like change it every 3500 miles with 5W-30. The most important thing is that the oil you use is API certified and of the correct viscosity. I could write an entire article on oil but for the purposes of changing your oil the viscosity (5W-30 or whatever your manual says) is the most important. Conventional, Synthetic, Synthetic-Blends are all sufficient and interchangeable if you want to go to a different type of oil for the next change.

The other thing is that in between oil changes you should check your oil level regularly. Check your engine when it's cold, so first thing in the morning before you take it out for a drive. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean, put it back in and check it and make sure the oil level is between the full and low marks and you're fine. Running your engine without oil is a surefire way to kill your car, so check your oil twice a month and make sure you're topped off.

2. Transmission Fluid
I'm assuming most you guys drive automatics. If you're one of the lucky people with a stick just change your gear oil according to interval in the owners manual. Nothing to check really. Check your owners manual on how to properly check your transmission fluid, there is a dipstick but there are differences on how you check it. But when you check it you still want the fluid to be between the low and fill marks. You also want to put a little fluid on your finger and make sure it's still relatively red. If it's brown or black that's a sign of neglect and you need to change it out.

Tranmission fluid needs to be changed less frequently but still needs to be changed as a maintenance item. Again this varies with your manufacturer so check your owner's manual. Usually it's like a 15k or 30k interval.

3. All Other Fluids
The other fluids you should be checking the same time you check your transmission and engine oil are your engine coolant, power steering fluid and brake fluid. You check these by finding the reservoir that they sit in, usually all these have markings of  MAX and MIN. If you can't see it then use some soap and water and just clean it off with a rag. Usually all you're checking for is to see if they're at an appropriate level. If they are low that's probably indicative of a leak. If they are low, just top them off until they're at the right level. In a pinch you can usually use transmission fluid as power steering fluid.

4. Routine Scheduled Maintenance
Follow the maintenance schedule outlined in your owner's manual. If you're due for spark plugs and an air filter, get them changed. If you're due for a timing belt, get it changed. It's that simple, the people who have cars that never give them problems are the ones who follow what the manufacturer says.

5. Tire Pressure
This is an easy one. Buy a cheapo $20 air compressor or a nice $90 jump starter that can jump start your car without the need for another car. These usually come with a built in air compressor and usb port to charge your stuff in a pinch. And get a tire pressure gauge while you're at it. Keep both in your car. With the car stone cold, ideally first thing in the morning. Check your tire pressure and make sure they're all inflated to the proper spec in your owner's manual. This not only helps your tire wear evenly but also helps your fuel economy. I also rotate my tires every two oil changes to help them wear evenly and make them last longer.

6. Ignoring Problems
Don't do it. If your check engine light comes on, get it checked. If your car is making a noise, get it checked. If you see a leak after you park your car, get it checked. Don't ignore problems just because your car still runs, you're probably running components way past their life-cycle. This is how people end up on the side of road with smoke coming out of their hood.

Sometimes it might seem like you're spending money on nothing when you pay for maintenance when your car is still running fine but remember that maintenance is always cheaper than paying for a new engine or paying for an accident caused a separated ball joint. It's always worth it.