Thursday, September 22, 2016

Using Bible as a basis for law (not my writing)

By all means, let's use The Bible as the measuring stick for Gay Marriage. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate. I do need some advice from my fellow believers, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual un cleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women
take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football (American) if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his Wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
Thank you for any clarification you can provide-

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Background post for my blog on Urdu Dictionaries

This is a disclaimer and a short background note to go with my other blog about Urdu dictionaries.

According to Ethnologue, a language reference website, Urdu is spoken (as a first or second language) by around 162.6 million people all over the world including Pakistan and India. It is also the national language of Pakistan. The number of native speakers of the language is around 70 million or so--14 million in Pakistan and 60 million in India. Moreover, the number of people who can understand the language is much larger due to its similarity with Hindi, which in spoken form is many a times indistinguishable from Urdu. Hence, based on this, there are more than 500 million people around the world who can communicate in Urdu/Hindi.

Urdu uses Perso-Arabic system writing that uses ABJAD (ابجد) script, or in other words this uses a consonant based system with only long vowels as part of the alphabets. To denote short vowels, Urdu uses various diacritics. However, in written Urdu the standard practice is to omit the diacritic marks. For the native speakers (called Ahl e Zubaan in Urdu) of the language this poses no problem, as they know the correct pronunciation of the words and in cases of words with similar spellings they can identify the correct one. This however, can be confusing and frustrating to non-native speakers. For example let's take the words "BUN" "BAN" "BIN." All three are written as BN (بن) in Urdu, in most cases without any diacritical mark, assuming that the reader would know the relevant short vowels (according to the context) and hence read it correctly. Similarly, I recently heard the word KNARA (کنارہ) --which means edge or border and commonly known as KINARA-- pronounced as KANARA by a poet, and upon exploration, I found that the prevailing pronunciation is a "vulgarized" version. This makes it harder to speak the language like an "Ahl e Zubaan." Non usage of diacritics makes it difficult for machine translation and text to speech recognition programs.

Urdu is not my first language nor is English. I had to learn both languages because I grew up in Pakistan and attended government schools and colleges, where the medium of instruction is Urdu. Most people around me were also not used to Urdu as their first language, including teachers in my educational institutions due to which I never got the opportunity to learn the language properly from Ahl-e-Zaban. Hence, I still make silly mistakes in pronunciation and grammar, which is the reason for writing this Blog in English and not Urdu.

To improve my (spoken) Urdu, all my life I have relied on listening to the diction of native speakers and television, radio and internet for renditions and readings by Zia Mohiyuddin and others like him. Despite all these efforts, I know I have serious deficiencies in the language in terms of vocabulary, choosing the correct gender of words and pronunciation etc. Plus it is difficult for me to translate anything which is beyond basic conversation, from English to Urdu and vice versa.

Here is the link to the blog post on Urdu Dictionaries.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Students in a university

In my experiences of teaching in Pakistan, one major problem with students I have noticed is their lack of interest in class. If given a choice most would just spend the day in loitering in the university, in chat chat or simply doing nothing. For them, university is a place which will give them the paper, aka degree, which will help them get ahead in life, regardless of the actual skills and information they learnt. There is, however, a small proportion of this lot who are actually interested in the subject matter and you can see their faces light up when you explain something new to them.

I used to believe that it is due to the incompetence of the teacher that the students' mind wander rather than the readily available internet (with Facebook etc.) in their hands, the rules of university where students are not penalized for using gadgets in the class or arriving and leaving at whim. I used to think that a "good" teacher has the capacity to arouse curiosity and interest about any subject/topic in any student, no matter how dull or disinterested. There are loads of scholarly work on this subject which shows the "best" methods to teach.

But after around two years of intensive exposure to this, I have a new thought to explain this. In my view, university education is not meant for everybody. There are many who go to universities just because they want the degree which is needed for the modern society that is based on "credentials". Without the piece of paper known as degree, no respectable job is possible, these days. Even if one want to start their own business or just stay home and do nothing productive (as many female students in Pakistan plan) one needs the degree for "social" prestige. Hence, we have the universities full of students who need to coerced and/or coaxed to learn something. Reminds me of my first day in school when more than half of the children were mortified because of being in an alien environment, far from their homes and the molly coddling of their family. Only a few were actually excited at the prospect of learning something new. Using their minds and satiating their curiosities.

I want to argue that we need more community and technical degrees granting colleges which would just teach skills that would be directly relevant to the job market.