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The best advice from mom

 

Dr Mohamed Elmasry

For as much of my seven-plus decades as I can remember, I have lived by the wisdom my mother imparted whenever she felt I needed it. She would say:

 “Rest assured, that if you help someone, anyone, God will send someone to help you when you need it. And if you do good you will be rewarded by something good, or a harm will be kept away from you. Call these miracles? I call them the truth of life.”

 There is no doubt that physical laws govern our lives on planet Earth; after all, scientists have been analysing them for millennia. But what about moral laws of reward and punishment? Do they really govern our actions and outcomes?  Such laws are extremely difficult to codify in a one-size-fits-all way, and even more difficult to enforce. But, as my wise mother instinctively knew, it’s very easy to recognise when they are being broken. And at certain levels, breaking those laws becomes a crime, no matter where in the world it happens.

 To determine any action a crime as defined by law, we also need police to investigate, prosecutors to prosecute, judges to judge and finally, guards to lock up the guilty.

Human society generally finds physical laws easier to deal with, as they are quantifiable or measurable. So if a car of a certain mass moves at a given speed and collides with a slower-moving human that crosses its trajectory, the human will most likely suffer serious physical injury or death.

 Because the driver is expected to be in control of the car’s direction and velocity, in most cases, he or she is considered responsible. Society has created laws limiting speed, direction and other physical factors of driving a vehicle in order to make transportation safer. We grow up learning and knowing those laws, so when they are broken through indifference, malice or incompetence, we know we will be punished – society has determined that a crime has been committed.

But what happens when a measurable physical law crosses over into moral territory and becomes almost impossible to codify? This one is all too familiar to us, especially after the holiday season!

 That physical law is: if you eat more than your body needs and don’t balance your caloric intake with sufficient exercise, you will become obese. Your bathroom scales will tell you that it’s a fact.

 The moral law is … How do you measure it? What are the cumulative costs to individuals, their families, and society if you take into account the North American epidemic of obesity? Various agencies and organisations have tried to attach numbers to it, but perhaps it’s enough to say that everyone pays a “heavy” price.

 Now let us attempt to discuss another kind of law – that which relates to ethical-moral behaviour and the consequences of violating it.

 Our society has codified a few immoral and unethical actions, such as sexual abuse, as criminal. They can be notoriously difficult to prove, but people generally approve of such laws as deterrents, even when they can’t seem to prevent some of the tragic allegations that have emerged with the growing “Me too” movement.  

 Most people brought up in a faith background believe that there are many more ethical and moral laws that govern our lives. But when Religion and Philosophy debate the issue things aren’t as clear; religion answers in the affirmative, but philosophers are divided.

 All mainstream faiths teach the law of good returns – that is, a good action is rewarded multiple times, both in the here-and-now as well as in the Hereafter. And most also teach a parallel law of bad returns – bad actions, even if not considered crimes and even if one isn’t caught, bring punishment of some kind.

 Some people are understandably skeptical about a law that rewards good and punishes bad. There are numerous examples of “crime that pays” where perpetrators of bad deeds escape capture or detection and end up profiting from their crimes (at least on earth), and others who suffer for trying to do the right thing and claim “no good deed goes unpunished.”

 The problem with these counter-examples in which moral law fails is that they are too heavily dependent on narrow definitions of reward and punishment. For example, death is not necessarily a punishment to someone who believes in the Hereafter and material wealth can turn out to be of little spiritual value.

 But one principle that religion and science can agree on is that to sustain planet Earth, we need ethical laws to govern our lives, no matter how few we can successfully codify into legislation, much less enforce.

 It comes down to the historical reality that since life started on Earth billions of years ago, the sum total of “good” events has been far greater than that of “bad” ones. If that weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t be here to discuss it.

 Like other major religions, Islam has recorded a long list of good deeds which are generously rewarded – everything from smiling as an act of charity, picking up garbage from the road, looking after elderly relatives, being kind to fellow humans and non-humans, and so on.

 Today, unfortunately, it seems that Muslim fundamentalists are too busy terrorising entire populations, demanding that governments bring back capital punishment, amputating the hands of thieves, and subjugating women, to take time for reflecting on the far more important topic of following Islam’s ethical and moral precepts.

 And it’s not just a Muslim problem, for it arises in other fundamentalist acts as well – self-proclaimed Christians who kill doctors for performing abortions, Jews who attack their prime minister for wanting to redress injustices inflicted on Palestinians, Buddhists whose “peaceful” religion endorses the genocide of Rohingyas, and so on all over the globe.

 My mother’s wisdom didn’t promise me superficial reward or punishment for following or breaking the moral laws on which I was brought up. It assured me instead of God’s help, which is a very different thing, for it can be both a blessing and a corrective.

 So after all this time, I am more certain than ever that she had it right. Thanks Mom!

_______________________________

 

Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He is the author of Spiritual Fitness® for Life – a term he coined and patented.

Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com

 

He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr Mohamed Elmasry

 My younger brother Mamdouh passed away in Toronto on Saturday June 2 after a brief but difficult illness.

 Although he was given three weeks to live after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he lasted more than twice that time, which gave me the opportunity to share more fully those final days with him.

 I was at his bedside daily and although we both knew that the end was near we managed to talk, laugh, have lunch and supper together, and watch his beloved soccer games on TV.

 Although I was focused on Mamdouh during my visits, I was also impressed with the facilities of the Toronto palliative care centre where he quietly left us.

 It has a floor with facilities for visitors, a dining room with kitchen, two hotel-like rooms for napping or sleeping overnight, three recreation rooms with TV, and a playground for children.

 Following Mamdouh’s passing, funeral services were conducted at a Toronto mosque where I led the prayers for the deceased.

 Still, more than a week later, his loss has not quite sunk in. I’m sure it will become most real for me during the upcoming World Cup soccer games, June 14 through July 15, when I will probably go to pick up my phone and chat with him about the games. And at the last moment I will realise that there is no one to answer on the other end.

 Although it is often discussed among grief therapists, I cannot tell which is easier on the deceased person’s loved ones – a sudden and unexpected death, or one which occurs over a relatively predictable length of time, say, in a few weeks, months, or even years.

 In most cases, sudden death bypasses the prolonged discomfort and often debilitating suffering in which the dying person and their near and dear ones can share in the process of grieving and leaving.

 Sometimes that process can be soul-healing and enriching, even though it is not without sadness and grief. Other times, the gradual or rapid decline of the terminally ill person can be overwhelming; people feel helpless, knowing how little they can do to relieve the physical suffering.

 Those who have lost loved ones through abrupt tragedies, whether human-made or natural, however, often remember the last conversations between themselves and the deceased.

 When those last words have been angry, irritated, or perhaps even trivial ones, survivors grieve the lack of closure. They often blame themselves for years after, because they said something that devalued those last moments, even though they could not possibly know what was about to happen.

 Now I know why grief therapy is such a specialised and necessary vocation. It is not only about the reality that we all die, but about the many ways in which we suffer during and after the loss of loved ones.

 There is the grief of peaceful extended passings; the grief of painful extended passings; the grief (and disbelief) of sudden unexpected passings. And these are just three scenarios of loss. I find I still have much to think and reflect about here. 

 When news of Mamdouh’s death reached his friends and mine, generous messages of condolence immediately began to flow in, some in person in my home city of Waterloo, some on social media, some by letter mail, phone calls, or email. All deeply shared their sadness at his loss and I am grateful for every one of them.

Here are some excerpts from one friend’s message:

 Dr. Br. Mohamed

Assalaam’alaikum,

 I am deeply saddened to receive the sad news of the passing away of your brother. Times of loss are difficult times. The loss is great and irreplaceable.

 I am sure that your late brother was a devoted and loving sibling and a model community member. He has certainly left you a legacy and memories that will live on forever. As you and your faithful family find solace in Allah's tender love and embrace, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt condolences to you on this sad occasion.

 " O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord, well-pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou, then, among My devotees! Yea, enter thou My Heaven!"       (Al-Fajr 27:30)

 Best regards,

 Khalil Osman, PhD

 

I know that grief is not a clinical checklist where one “gets over it” by completing clearly defined stages of emotion, ranging from disbelief to acceptance.

 Rather, it is more like a journey of the heart where feelings gradually transition over time and where wisdom and healing come together in spiritual peace … the place we all aspire to.

 For me, this journey is just beginning.

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 Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. 

Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com

 He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr Mohamed Elmasry

Evidence-Based Behavioural Practice (EBBP) entails “making decisions about how to promote health or provide care by integrating the best available evidence with practitioner expertise and other resources, and with the characteristics, state, needs, values and preferences of those who will be affected.”

 Evidence, as a single-word term, entails “research findings derived from the systematic collection of data through observation and experiment and the formulation of questions and testing of hypotheses.”

 Both terms cover a daunting but fascinating spectrum of contextual applications that prompted me to wonder whether an evidence-based approach to faith practices can enrich our spiritual lives. It’s something that could fill an urgent need in today’s society.

 Through personal experience and reflection, I now believe that religion does offer us Evidence-Based Behavioural Practice, but we often do not recognise it as such because it meets us in very non-clinical terminology and actions.

 Islam is no exception to the deeper principles of evidence-based practice. For example, in the Sufi tradition it is highly recommended that one join a group of regular practitioners and actually live with them for 40 days in a Kholwa – a form of spiritual learning camp. If this is not practical due to work, family or other commitments, the individual is encouraged to spend one day a week for 40 weeks immersed in Sufism.

 The Kholwa immersion experience includes the traditional Sufi practices of prayer, fasting, study, contemplation and, above all, asking questions – including questions arising from doubts about the very existence of God.

 One of the most revered personalities to write about the Sufi approach to faith was Imam Al-Ghazali (c.1058-1111 CE).

 Drawing from his own experiences, Al-Ghazali wrote about his life journey, beginning as a devout Muslim who achieved great success and recognition as an Islamic academic, writer, philosopher, legalist and Qur’anic scholar. But in 1095, he underwent a profound spiritual crisis that resulted in more than a decade of search and seclusion, during which he encountered and adopted Sufism as his path back to faith and health.

 Al-Ghazali is credited with the authorship of more than 60 major works on philosophy and religion, but the book which most compellingly introduces his struggle with doubt is Al-Munqidh min al-Dalal (or Deliverance from Error). It is, in fact, his intellectual autobiography of the journey to attain his own evidence-based behavioural practice, as applied to spirituality and the search for truth.

 In it he discusses various doctrines present among 11th and 12th-century Islamic philosophers, al-Mutakallimun (scholastics), al-Batiniyya (those who applied inner and external meanings to scripture) and traditional Sufism.

 Al-Ghazali was radical for his era in proposing that doubt is an integral part of being human. There are only a very fortunate few who are able to resolve it in their lifetimes, even if imperfectly. St. Augustine (whose writings influenced Al-Ghazali) affirmed, “I doubt, therefore I am.” Today’s rise of religious fundamentalism (not only in Islam, but in virtually every faith tradition) has driven many people away from seeking evidence-based spiritual practices.

 Within Islam, the unfortunate rise of smear campaigns against Sufism has resulted in the teachings of this historic tradition being viewed as suspect; several generations of mainstream Muslims have never read a single book by a Sufi scholar. Some countries have even banned Sufi gatherings and labelled its adherents as “enemies of the state.”

 Some 30 years ago I met a Sufi teacher in Cairo. Although I had read and studied about Sufism extensively long before he invited me to one of their gatherings, I still hesitated. He did not insist or pressure me; he simply continued to remind me a few days before their weekly meetings when and where they’d be gathering.

 It took a month before I finally decided to go; to this day I have never regretted it. The meeting was held one evening after sunset in a beautiful old villa near central Cairo. There were two large rooms, one each for men and women. The group was truly intergenerational, ranging from high school students to retired professionals.

 We began with the sunset prayers, followed by a Qur’anic recitation by someone with a most beautiful voice. Next came a short talk and then chants of praise to the Almighty.The evening concluded with night prayers and socialising over tea and sweets.Throughout the entire experience, I felt great sincerity and passion.

 I can’t say that evening among the Sufis transformed my life, but I enjoyed it so much that I attended every time I visited Cairo.

 Among the sayings of The Prophet is one that describes Islam as a verb; that is, if you want to feel how sweet it is, you have to “do” Islam as well as be it.

 I feel that this sense of “doing” in Sufi practice helps a great deal in understanding and adopting one’s own evidence-based faith practice. I am only one person, but I am sure there are many out there who can share a similar testimony.

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Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. 

Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com

 He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

 In teaching engineering students about microchip design, I would start with a simple exercise – design a microchip to control the traffic signals for an intersection.

 Then I increased the tasks that this microchip had to perform. For example, it could be pre-programmed to give green lights to the main road three times as often as to the secondary road, and to determine how many seconds it takes for the lights to sequence from green to yellow to red.

 And extra circuitry would be required to ensure that all the lights could not show green at the same time, otherwise more accidents would happen than if there were no traffic signals at all.

 Once students had completed this assignment, I increased the complexity yet again by requiring them next to optimize their designs according to criteria such as; low cost, less energy consumption, solar power operation, etc.

 And we reached the point where all the added complexities became something else: we gave it the sexy name “Artificial Intelligence,” or AI for short. It evolved something like this:

 The signal microchip reads data from road sensors that count vehicles in each direction and receives data from other traffic controllers which allow it to react (via changing lights) to ensure smoother traffic flow, which reduces environmental impact.

 The same microchip responds to accidents in all directions, allows a central police station to take control, records a daily traffic log and sends its data to a central unit for analysis.

 Through this exercise, students were challenged to design a “smart” microchip able to execute much more complex tasks with accuracy and reliability, but without exceeding the restrictions of design time, manufacturing costs, backup battery power, and so on.

 They learned a very essential criterion of successful design; that “it meets a need.”

 In the case of the traffic controller, the alternative is an analogue system that endlessly toggles between green, yellow and red at the same frequency, regardless of vehicular flow or other conditions. We still have these on many intersections and they frustrate the hell out of drivers and pedestrians alike. When they break down, humans have to do the job. How many times have you encountered a police officer directing traffic when the signal lights go dark?

 Remember, an AI microchip must meet a need where alternatives are not optimal. Secondly, the engineering/design teams developing such microchips must ensure that their product satisfies the specific need at the lowest cost. Thus AI microchips cannot logically be more intelligent than the engineers who create them in the first place.

 This leads to the design of microchips to control robots for tasks too dangerous or logistically difficult for humans to perform, such as deactivating or detonating an explosive device. Police and the military are already using such AI robots. And a near-future use for miniaturised AI devices is being able to swallow one that can identify and even eradicate cancer cells anywhere in the human body.

 Both the above examples can be described as market-driven: a need is identified and AI microchip technology offers an optimal solution.

 But we are already seeing examples of AI technology being applied to no-need markets; that is solutions that are not a viable replacement for existing ones. The most prominent application, I believe, is self-driving cars, for which there is no real “need.” Such developments are purely technology-driven.

 Another example, which perhaps seems far-fetched at the moment: Will it be possible to design AI microchips to control earth’s atmosphere and geology, to do a better job of reducing climate change, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes etc.?

 If so, is there a genuine need for such powerful technological intervention? If I could convince global investors that this is worthwhile, would I become rich and famous? We’ll have to wait and see.

 Prof. Dr. David Parnas, a world-class expert in software engineering, wrote an important technical article titled, "The Real Risks of Artificial Intelligence" in Inside Risks Viewpoint, Communications of the ACM, Vol 60, Issue 10 dated October 2017, pages 27 - 31. He warned that "Do not be misled by demonstrations (of AI applications): they are often misleading because the demonstrator avoids any situations where "AI" fails. Computers can do many things better than people but humans have evolved through a sequence of slight improvements that need not lead to an optimum design." But humans' "natural" solutions work. 

 In the meantime, AI gives us pause to reflect on the important difference between needs and desires, and how to recognize which is which. 

 

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Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. 

Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com

 He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

During the 1980s I was privileged to contribute to Malaysia’s ambitious plan to become a world class center for microchip design and manufacturing.

It was an exciting time to witness a developing nation – once a third-world agricultural backwater famous only for rubber exports – emerge with such determination and confidence into the high-tech era. Then, as now, I wished that my birth country of Egypt had done the same.

I was especially excited and inspired at meeting then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife over supper with leaders in the Malaysian microelectronics industry.

My fascination with the man and his vision inspired me to follow his political career and to study the nation’s complex history, including its colonization and exploitation by European and Japanese imperial powers.

My reading journey included some of Mahathir Mohamad’s own books, including his recent 1000-page memoir, A Doctor in The House (2011), written following his first term (1981-2003) at his country’s helm. At 22 years, it still stands as the longest consecutive period of prime ministerial service in Malaysia’s history.  

The “Doctor” in the title refers back to Mohamad’s parallel profession as a medical doctor, and the “House” is of course the institution of Parliament, since he spent several terms as an elected member, cabinet minister (especially education and trade portfolios), and deputy PM (from 1976) before taking on Malaysia’s top governmental job.

He began his political career with the United Malay National Organisation Party (UMNO) at the young age of 21 in 1946 – the same year he graduated from secondary school after his education was interrupted by WWII.

Mohamad married a fellow medical student in 1956, and in Kedah in 1957 he established a thriving medical clinic parallel to his political career. He was first elected to parliament representing his home state of Kedah in 1964 at the age of 39.

In 1969 he was expelled from UMNO after writing an open letter critical of then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The following year in 1970 he wrote a controversial book fueled by his experiences as an opposition politician, called The Malay Dilemma. In it, he argued that the country's Malay population had been marginalized, but also castigated them for apathetically accepting their second-class status. Mohamad was elected as PM for the first time in 1981 and continued as his country’s popular leadership choice for more than two decades.

“This is the story of Malaysia as I see it. This is also my story,” he wrote in his memoir. “I have written about the wisdom of our founding fathers who crafted a political system that has enabled the country to democratically and peacefully resolve the problems and challenges inherent in a complex society.”

Over the years, some Western media have labelled him a racist and dictator, due in large part to his adamant pro-Malay advocacy. But Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (as he is respectfully known at home) has also been heralded as a visionary champion and a rare role model in leadership who has given every Third World or developing country good reasons to stand tall and work hard to join the so-called “first” world.

He is credited for improving relationships with Malaysia’s neighbors, especially Thailand to the north and the island state of Singapore to the south. The result has been steady growth in trade and commerce. Today Malaysia enjoys one of the highest living standards in Asia, supported by full employment and good education and health care systems.

It was during the 1990s, one of the busiest periods in Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure, that Malaysia emerged as an Asian economic tiger, fueled by ambitious prestige projects such as the Multimedia Super Corridor and the Petronas Twin Towers.

Kuala Lumpur, once a virtually unknown capital of 300,000 when the modern Federation of Malaysia declared independence in 1957, has transformed over the intervening six decades into a cosmopolitan city of more than two million.

“I played some part in all this,” Mohamad humbly writes, “but it would be remiss of me not to credit my predecessors for Malaysia’s phenomenal progress. They set the foundation – and I only built on it. Without sound judgment and foresight, my task would been significantly harder.”

But his political life has not been without its challenges and regrets. When Mohamad retired as PM in 2003 at age 78, he supported the elevation of Abdullah Ahmed Badawi followed by Najib Razak as his successors. He called the move to support Razak “the biggest mistake in my life” and after some 15 years out of the political spotlight, he came out of retirement determined to set things right.  

On May 9 2018, Malaysians held the 14th general election in their nation’s history, once again choosing Mahathir Mohamad (now 92) and his new coalition of four former opposition parties. Their election win was doubly historic: Mohamad’s coalition overthrew a ruling alliance that had spent 61 years in power, and he became the world’s oldest serving Prime Minister.

Prior to the election, he stated his intention to stay in office for only two years before handing the country’s top job over to the coalition's currently jailed leader, Anwar Ibrahim who walked free after being granted a Royal Pardon on May 23, 2018.

So for the next two years Malaysia – and the world – will watch with great anticipation and interest to see how successfully this energetic and not-yet-retired “doctor in the house” can cure the ills of a nation he left too long in the care of others.

Knowing the passion and determination of a man who began as the youngest of nine children born to an impoverished rural high school principal and who rose to one of the most influential political posts in modern Asian history, I’m convinced Mahathir Mohamad will do it.

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Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. As a visiting Imam, he often represents Canadian Muslims at international faith conferences.

 He is the author of Spiritual Fitness® for Life – a term he coined and patented.

Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com

 

He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PORT SAID, Egypt, May 4, 2018 - Mozambique's Uniao Desportiva do Songo (UD Songo) arrived Friday in Port Said city ahead of their first CAF Confederation Cup round of 16 clash against Egypt's El-Masry on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the team arrived at Cairo International Airport in two groups.

El-Masry made their way into the round of 16 after defeating Gabon's Mounana, who were relegated from the elite Total CAF Champions League after a 7-1 aggregate defeat to Egyptian giants and record African champions Al-Ahly.