What a week! The past few days have been quite the rollercoaster. But, as always, life goes on and I’m continuing to realize that things always work out in the long run.
Each week, I put together a list of 5 things I enjoy. This week, I’m doing my five favorite foreign films.
I’ve been a foreign film fan ever since I became obsessed with linguistics and foreign language in college. I minored in French and have been continually learning Arabic for the past 10 years. All these films came out when I was the biggest connoisseur around 2011. I always say the best way to learn a language is to do things that you enjoy in that language, and movies are a great place to start.
- El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) [2009 – Argentina] – This is my favorite foreign film of all time. If you watch any movie on this list, watch this one. The story follows an Argentinian detective investigating a murder that happened many years ago. He’s now retired and writing a novel about his experience with the case, which has haunted him ever since. The movie has a great twist at the end, and a feel-good ending involving a well-balanced love story. This is probably the most universally enjoyable movie on this list, it even spurred an American remake, which I haven’t seen yet.
- Ajami [2009, Arabic/Hebrew – Palestine/Israel] – Ajami is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story at the same time, recounting the young adult years of a Palestinian teen growing up outside of Tel Aviv and in the Palestinian territory. It chronicles a manslaughter charge that he has to desperately raise money for, and resorts to selling drugs, all while trying to come of age in a difficult environment.
- 13 Assassins [2010, Japanese – Japan] – 13 Assassins is actually a remake of an old Japanese film. It’s a testosterone-filled samurai action film that’s a really fun experience. It’s based on historical events with some obvious embellishments.
- Hors la loi (Outside the Law) [2010, French/Arabic – France/Algeria] – Hors la loi is a gangster movie that centers around 3 Algerian brothers in France after WWII. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this one, so it’s in my queue to watch it again soon
- Elite Squad: The Enemy Within [2011, Portuguese – Brazil] – This is a great police action movie set in Rio De Janeiro, and stars Wagner Moura, who played Pablo Escobar in Netflix’s Narcos series. It’s an insanely well produced movie and Brazilians love to talk about it.
Every week I put together lists of 5 things I’m enjoying at the moment. I’ve recently started to enjoy audiobooks, so you’ll find two in this list that I’m currently listening to.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a fascinating retelling of Norse myths with a modern voice. Neil Gaiman recorded the audiobook himself and does a fantastic job. I don’t generally enjoy fiction, but this book is compelling and exciting enough to keep me interested. The audiobook is about a 7 hour listen.
- Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock tells the story of ancient wisdom found at the archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. I’ve only listened to the first chapter so far and it’s incredibly exciting how Graham breaks down the ancient symbolism in the site’s iconography. For those of you who like ancient history (with a hint of conspiracy theory), this one is a must-listen.
- Get Me Roger Stone – I’m currently watching this documentary on Netflix. Roger Stone is an agent provocateur who was instrumental in the Nixon campaign and the Donald Trump campaign. Political operatives run a nasty business.
- When Christians First Met Muslims is a book of source material of early Syriac writings largely ignored by western scholarship. The author has a great introduction about the Muslim conquests of Syria and the schism that occurred during Heraclius’ time. The introduction is very accessible to the average reader, but the fragments and documents in the book are very dense and not very reader friendly. However, this is an amazing work of scholarship.
- I finally got an Audible subscription after hearing hundreds of ads for it on various podcasts. The subscription gives you 1 audiobook credit each month, which does incentivise me to actually get new audiobooks. I usually look for audiobooks read by the original author (most readers are surprisingly bland). If you find yourself wanting to read more books, this is a good way to do that while driving!
Bonus! Listen to this interview with Graham Hancock on Joe Rogan’s show to get a quick overview of some of the topics covered in Magicians of the Gods:
Every Friday I put together a short list of five things I’m enjoying currently. Here’s this week’s list!
Stranger Things on Netflix – I binge-watched this entire series early this week. The series fictionalizes events during MKULTRA experiments in the 80s and is full of psychics, interdimensional monsters, and parallel universes. If you like conspiracy theories and Netflix specials, this one is for you. (They also feature float tanks!)
Quitting something you love (blog post by Derek Sivers) – I’ve been following Derek Sivers since his interview on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. Sivers founded CD Baby and is a fellow INTJ. That’s probably why I find myself so in-line with his thinking. This week was a big change for me career-wise, as I left a career which I loved to follow an obviously better opportunity. Life was pushing me along to make a change, and I was hanging on as tight as I can. True freedom sometimes comes from letting go of your perceived control.
MycoIMMUNE™ by Natural Stacks – This is one of my favorite supplements that features my favorite mushroom, Chaga! It makes me feel really good when I take it, and it’s a must for travel! I’ve experimented with tons of different supplements, and this is one that consistently delivers.
How to Pray Salah According to the Maliki Madhhab – Mufti Abu Layth put out this amazingly well-produced video on how to pray in the Maliki Madhhab. It’s a must-watch if you’re interested in Islamic jurisprudence.
Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – The Atlantic put out this article about the tragedy that is Google’s book scanning project. Google was borrowing truckloads of books from the biggest libraries in the United States to create an online library that is completely unparalleled. The best information is still held in books, and no tech company has been able to combat the copyright nightmare that is book publishing. They figured out how to scan all these books super efficiently, and then had to leave the project mostly unfinished due to publisher lawsuits. Eventually, digitization of these books will be a cultural imperative, but for now, it’s on a long pause.
If you enjoyed this list. Send me a note because I may respond.
A simple list of 5 things I’m enjoying right now.
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (free text) – I first read Siddhartha when a friend gave me his copy to borrow during high school. I’ve read it several times since then, almost on a yearly basis. The story is one of the best representations of man’s spiritual journey.
- Betting on Zero documentary – Bill Ackman vs. Herbalife is one of the best Wall Street stories going on right now. I’m on Ackman’s side with this one.
- The Poor Man’s Book of Assistance audio commentary by Hamza Yusuf – This is a great lecture series on Islamic spirituality from one of my favorite people, Hamza Yusuf. I’ve listened to this before and going through it again right now.
- Sandalwood candles from World Market – Got one of these for the home office. It’s awesome.
- Tax Hero episode from Planet Money – This is a good way to celebrate tax week to learn about all the political motivations for making the US tax system ridiculously complicated.
Explanation by Hamza Yusuf
This article is for those who may be in a confusing, stressful, and downright weird time of their life. If you’ve stumbled across this post from Googling “How to convert to Islam,” or “How to become Muslim.” I understand the vulnerability of the situation you’re in. I was there too, back in 2008, looking hard for answers that no one seemed to know much about.
Thinking of converting to Islam is a weird feeling. I remember the first time I was thinking about it seriously, about 5 months before I actually converted. I had restarted learning about comparative religion after becoming extremely distraught with my current outlook on the beliefs that were passed down to me by my parents. Essentially, I realized I had a severe case of cognitive bias.
I was only doing research to confirm what I already believed, and just seeking to “debunk” everything that disagreed with me. It was like playing whack-a-mole. I had spent more than a year doing this. Then became so upset one evening at the lack of satisfaction I was feeling, and said a nondenominational prayer to the Creator to guide me.
Deciding I was going to start from scratch, I decided that I would act as a totally neutral party with no previous experience believing anything, like an alien landing on Earth and trying to figure out the best belief system. And I began with the religion that I had “debunked” the quickest in the past, Islam.
Later I realized that this moment was actually a similar moment experienced by every convert I’ve asked. Converts to Islam feel an absolute desperation at some point in their search. They feel like there aren’t any answers, and in a completely distraught state of mind, they ask God for guidance. They then become open to Islam, and actually start to like the idea of converting, then convert after. Each person takes a varying amount of time with this, but it’s exactly what happened to me and many others.
After this change in outlook, and newly found interest in Islam, I became absolutely fascinated. How could I miss this before? It was so similar to early Christianity and Judaism. Islam seemed to have a unique, under appreciated role in comparative religion, and it wasn’t long before I became obsessed.
I still remember one of the lectures I listened to about Islam. I found a lecture by Yasir Qadhi about Islam’s perspective on Angels. I was so fascinated by the detail of faith in Islam, as well as the religion’s focus on knowledge and learning. (You can listen to that exact same lecture here.)
It took a few months for me to be convinced that Islam was actually the objective truth, but I liked the religion aesthetically for many reasons before that, but not before hitting rock bottom as I’ve described.
Whether you’re still skeptical, unsure, or considering, ask God to guide you to the truth. Make it as honest of a request as possible, and you’ll see that you have a new perspective.
Once you’ve decided to convert to Islam, there is another round of confusion. You don’t know how to pray 5 times a day, fast from dawn to sunset for a whole month, or really do anything like a Muslim. It’s overwhelming and a bit scary. Not to mention what’s going to happen with your family and friends when they find out that you’ve converted to Islam, which is in its own McCarthy era in the West.
First, realize that Islam is taken step-by-step. You’re not supposed to overwhelm yourself. Learn the basics before moving on. Having a solid foundation is very important.
To actually become a Muslim, all you have to do is make the following statement in Arabic and understand what you’re saying:
Ash-hadu an La Ilaha Il Allah
(I testify that there is no deity but God)
Wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad ar-rasullAllah
(And I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God)
Here’s a video of a sister saying it:
(Peace be upon him [Muhammad])
I didn’t say the Shahada (the Arabic word for this testimony of faith) to a congregation at a mosque. The situation was actually kind of funny. It was my third time to visit a mosque, and I prayed along with the congregation. Afterwards, my friend from high school (who was my tour guide during these visits), introduced me to one of the Khateebs (preachers) at the Mosque. He was about to bring me up to the front to say the Shahada, but I stopped him and said I wanted to talk about it first. We moved to a side room and I said it there with my friend as a second witness.
The feeling afterward was strange. What do I do now? I just made the biggest decision of my life. I converted to a foreign religion and still had so many questions. I got the Khateeb’s phone number and arranged to meet him a few days later at his restaurant. We quickly became good friends. He was more of a uncle figure in my life, and wasn’t a trained scholar. He knew a lot about Islam and knew how to answer my questions. Looking back, I realize that I was extremely blessed to find such an amazing mentor so early in my days as a Muslim.
It’s extremely important to have a support structure once you convert. Otherwise it can become an extremely isolating and lonely experience. I wrote about this more here. Having Muslim friends is the best way to build your newly found faith.
As a new Muslim, it’s easy to get overzealous when it comes to minor issues like whether chicken from KFC is Halal, or if you should stop listening to music. Some may choose to take the hard road, but realize that there are differences of opinion on almost all of the opinions that may strike you as strange. Remember to take it easy. It takes a village to raise a convert.
While converting to Islam can yield very uncomfortable and stressful experiences, realize the reason you’re doing it in the first place. You’re not converting to Islam to rebel against society, be different from others, or to garner attention. You’re doing it for God. If you have any other reason in your heart, you’re going to run into problems.
Becoming a Muslim has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding experience of my life. It was like hitting an intellectual and spiritual jackpot. Learning to read the Qur’an, learning the Seerah (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and having a satisfying spiritual outlet are irreplaceable experiences. And it’s something I wish everyone I know could taste for a moment.