Mandarin and Tones

February 26, 2008 at 12:30 am (Languages, Mandarin)

Mandarin is known for having “tones”. We might call them intonations. They determine the pitch and “direction” of the voice of a vowel. For example, in English there is a certain intonation—pitch and direction—at the end of a sentence. A similar intonation exists in Mandarin except rather than being at the end of a question, it can be carried by any vowel in any part of a sentence.

There are five tones:
Tone 1 (example: ē) – marked by a macron, it indicates a high, flat tone.
Tone 2 (example: é) – marked by an acute accent; it indicates a rising tone (like what we use in English at the end of a question), it should end where Tone 1 rests.
Tone 3 (example: ě) – marked by a caron or hacek; it indicates a falling and rising tone, and should end where Tone 1 rests
Tone 4 (example: è) – marked by a grave accent; it indicates a sharp, falling tone.
Tone 5 (example: e) – this is unmarked and is often referred to as a neutral tone; it short and clipped.

In order to demonstrate what a difference the tone can make, let us consider the following which are differentiated only by tone:
妈: mother
麻: hemp
马: horse
骂: to scold or curse
Ma 吗: interrogative particle

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Certain letters in Mandarin transcription: how they are pronounced

February 25, 2008 at 7:29 pm (Languages, Mandarin)

In the accepted transcription of Mandarin Chinese, known as “Pīnyīn” (拼音), certain letters should be explained:
Q is pronounced like English “ch”.
Ch is also pronounced like English “ch” but is a little more emphatic than q
X is pronounced like English “sh”.
Sh is also pronounced like English “sh” but is a little more emphatic than x.
Zh is pronounced like English “j”.
J is also pronounced like English “j” but zh is a little more emphatic than j.

C is pronounced like “ts”.
Z is pronounced like “dz”.
(In other words, z is a voiced equivalent of c.)

More emphatic, respectively: sh, ch, zh
Less emphatic, respectively: x, q, j

So Zhōng guó (中国, “China”) would be roughly “jong-gwoh” and wǔxiá (武侠, “chivalry”) would be roughly “woo-shyah”.

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How to look up a Chinese character

February 21, 2008 at 12:30 am (Languages)

1. Identify the radical.
2. Look up the radical in the radical list. The radicals are listed in order of strokes. Each radical has its own column numer. The radical’s column number should be noted.
3. Count the number of strokes of the rest of the character (the number of strokes of the entire character minus the radical’s number of strokes).
4. Look up the radical’s column number. In that column, go to the portion dealing with the requisite number of strokes for the character.
5. In section, find the character being looked up. Once found, note pronunciation.
6. Look up word by pronunciation.

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Pakistan – a banana republic?

February 19, 2008 at 12:30 am (Culture, Pakistan)

Someone I am very close to was telling me of a conversation he recently had with a senior advisor to the Pakistani government (part of a group of people who directly advise the prime minister and president). He was lamenting what America was saying about Pakistan, and he made a remark along the lines how stupid the Americans are: they’re calling Pakistan a banana republic. Which is stupid and shows they know nothing about Pakistan, because Pakistan in fact has to import bananas. How could it be a banana republic?

PJ O’Rourke made an amusing comment somewhere that Pakistani president Musharraf insisted Pakistan was not a banana republic. Whereupon he put on his uniform, declared martial law, and suspended elections.

And then the news breaks that Human Rights Watch has on record that the Pakistani attorney general admits the elections will be massively rigged. Let us not forget the many killings and attacks over the past few weeks.

When people go off on this, I have only one reaction: Meh. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mourning among South Asians

February 18, 2008 at 12:00 am (Culture, Pakistan, South Asia)

At about 7 pm CST, in Karachi, Pakistan, one of my father’s half-brothers suddenly died of a heart attack. He died en route to the hospital. (His family and ours became estranged when my then wife and I separated, which estrangement became permanent when we divorced. My ex was my uncle’s wife’s niece. Nevertheless, his son and wife spoke with us and were very pleased that we called. We called even though we did not expect them to talk to us. Turned out our call made a lot of difference.)

When someone dies, South Asian Muslims hold a Qur’ān khāni for the sake of the deceased. (There are a number of occasions when South Asian Muslims hold a Qur’ān khāni.)

In a Qur’ān khāni, the 30 volumes of the Qur’an (in Urdu: singular pārah and plural pāré; in Arabic: singular juz and plural ajzā) are set out. Guests come and read at least one volume, which are put in a separate pile. The goal is for all thirty to be read. If there are any remaining when the guests leave, the hosts will have to arrange to have the remaining volumes read (by others or themselves).

Associated with this is the dinner. It is customary for someone to bring food at a mourning Qur’ān khāni: the hosts, who are the chief mourners, should not have to worry about food at such a traumatic time. However, this does not always hold true, and dinner arrangements (whether someone will bring it or whether to be provided by the host) are finalized before the Qur’ān khāni. Some people, unfortunately, come only to such mourning gatherings to socialize and eat.

The choice of destination usually has to do with who and where the closest chief mourner is. Because my uncle died in Pakistan, someone closeby would have to be chosen. As my father is my uncle’s oldest brother around here, he became the chief mourner and so the Qur’ān khāni was held at our house even though a majority of our relatives live close to each other some distance away. And when they came, they offered their condolences first to my father.

It is believed that when the Qur’an is read or recited, merit accrues. This merit is like good points on one’s scorecard of deeds. In Urdu, this sort of merit is known as “sawāb”. The purpose of a mourning Qur’ān khāni is to transfer to the newly deceased the sawāb of a complete recitation of the Qur’an.

Dessert is not usually served at such an occasion. No one brings flowers either. Some will come dressed normally, others will be in black-ish clothes. Those very close to the deceased — spouse, children, and so on — wear simple, white clothes. Jewelry is usually not worn and make up is minimal if put on at all.

On a related note, those involved in the burial of the deceased (after prepared for burial) wear all white. In South Asia, white is the color of mourning. Nevertheless, black is considered inauspicious. (If someone dresses in all black to a joyous occasion, he/she is looked at with some trepidation: some may think he/she is trying to jinx the occasion.)

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Pashtun culture in Khuda Gawah: music videos

February 16, 2008 at 8:48 pm (South Asia)

Here’s a somewhat informational music video from the movie Khuda Gawah (God is a Witness), a Hindi movie. The song has elements of Pashtun music, dancing, and diction.

Part 1:
Part 2:

The language is Bollywood Hindi; however, in certain parts words are pronounced the way Pashtuns would pronounce them. Some of the dressing is in Pashtun style (although I can’t comment on the women’s dressing style). There are a few phrases in Pashtu.

First time I’ve seen the incorporation of Pashtun culture in an Indian movie.

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February 16, 2008 at 8:18 pm (Culture, South Asia)

Here’s a video to one of my favorite songs. I have been listening to the sog for a long time, but today was the first time in decades that I saw the video again. I saw move as a child and it absolutely fascinated and enthralled me. You can say it enchanted me.

Some background: Why is that poor woman writhing? She is a nagin, a snake that turns into a human, a supernatural being or being with supernatural powers (in addition to being able to shapeshift). In South Asia, is it believed that a sapera (snake-charmer) can control a snake with a been (the flute-like instrument you see being played in the video). The sound of the been is supposed to influence and enchant the snake. Otherwise, the snake (especially a nagin) can enchant the human. Upon hearing the been, she can almost not help but to fall and show forth her true nature.

The main sapera shown is no ordinary sapera: he’s a master of magic and occult and all that jazz. Indeed, she says, “aaya hai jogi banke lutera” meaning “a yogi (which can refer to anyone with abilities or knowledge related to the mystic arts) has come becoming a thief”.

The fact that she’s supposed to be really a snake would explain why she moves the way she does.

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And now for something different: Mandarin

February 16, 2008 at 1:15 am (Languages)

Switching gears for a second, I’d like to introduce a new topic: Mandarin Chinese.

A brief overview: Mandarin Chinese is the main language of the Chinese people. Mandarin is one of the few Chinese languages. Within Mandarin, there are a number of dialects. In order to alleviate this “problem”, standard Mandarin Chinese uses the Beijing dialect.

People often think Chinese is very difficult. It is difficult but is also easy. Once the tones are perfected, speaking Chinese should be a breeze. Grammatically, Chinese is very simple.

Characters, yes, are a challenge as well as the aforementioned tones.

More to come!

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About Jihad, Section IV: The Three Groups of Muslim Scholars

February 15, 2008 at 12:30 am (Islam, Islamism, Pakistan, South Asia)

The Three Groups of Muslim Scholars

There are in Islam three major groups of thinkers, scholars, and authorities. To understand the various formulations or policies or explanations of jihad, especially jihad by force, it is important to be aware of these three groups. Understanding this can also open up a greater understanding of the Muslim world and of the war of ideas therein. These three groups are the conservatives or traditionalists, the fundamentlist reformers, and the modernist reformers.

As an aside: many people say Islam needs a reformation. The sad news is that it is experiencing a reformation and its making Islam worse with regard to compatibility with the world and with other peoples. The fundamentalist reformers are at the forefront of reforming Islam, and have the greatest legitimacy of any reforming group. Indeed, in many cases such fundamentalist reformers have greater authority than the conservatives or traditionalists.

In order to better explain these movements or groups, examples from the South Asian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and (for our purposes) the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan) will be used. Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Part III: On Dissimulation

February 14, 2008 at 12:30 am (Islam, Islamism, Religion)

On Dissimulation

A number of people who know about jihad by force ask why the facts about jihad, especially jihad by force, are not made clear by Muslims and scholars of Islam, why misrepresentations abound rather than the truths thereof. There are three reasons for this: strategic dissimulation, ignorance, and embarrassment. Let us look at each in reverse order. Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 4 of Part II: A Brief Note on Textual Sources

February 13, 2008 at 12:30 am (Christianity, Islam, Islamism, Judaism, Religion, Religions)

Section Four: A Brief Note on Textual Sources

Much has been said about the textual sources of jihad by force (hereinafter simply “jihad”) in Islam. This is, of course, and important question or issue because like the other “revealed religions” (mainly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although perhaps Zoroastrianism and some Hindu movements may be included), what the textual sources say determine orthodoxy and orthopraxy (correct belief and correct practice respectively). This issue in Islam will now be discussed along with brief remarks on what Jewish and Christian scriptures and textual sources say about war. Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 3 of Part II: Eternal Relevance

February 12, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism) ()

Section Three: Eternal Relevance

In other words, the irrelevance of the above two sections.

Some modernist thinkers believe that because jihad originally was promulgated under certain circumstances and conditions, current circumstances and conditions need to be analyzed so as to determine whether jihad may be promulgated for the present as it was in the past. In other words, the mandates for acts and practices must be put in their historical context, and must be made relevant to today’s historical context. Most such thinkers believe that jihad by force is no longer justified based on the original model but that other reasons for jihad (legitimate self-defence) may exist and that, more significantly, the entire issue of jihad fi sabeeli-llah (“struggle in the path or cause of Allah”) must needs take on a social and spiritual nature, meaning that rather than fighting infidels, Muslims should be fighting poverty, illiteracy, extremism, injustice, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 2 of Part II: Comparison with Other Religions

February 11, 2008 at 12:30 am (Christianity, History, Islam, Islamism, Judaism, Religion, Religions)

Section Two: Comparison with Other Religions

An issue often brought up by Muslims (and the odd non-Muslim) seeking to legitimize jihad by force (hereinafter simply “jihad”) or to deflect criticism thereof, is the issue of holy war in Judaism and Christinity. The issue of holy war and violence in the Scriptures of Jews and Christians will be dealt with in a few days. Today we will discuss war in Judaism and the Crusades. (Scriptural issues will be dealt with in a later post.)

(This is the fourth version of this post: the last three were quite long. There is much to discuss when it comes to war in Judaism and Christianity, but simply not enough space to discuss them in detail here and then compare them to jihad. But as war in Judaism and Christianity are issues that are worth our attention and scrutiny, especially what with people revising history to demonize Jews and/or Christians or otherwise inaccurately protray war in Judaism and Christinity, it is a series I am thinking about doing later. Nevertheless, I apologize if the issues here are not more fully described.) Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 1 of Part II: Historical Contextualization

February 9, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism, War, World War III) ()

Section One: Historical Contextualization

One modern interpretation of the entire issue of jihad deals with historical contextualization: in other words, jihad in its times, places, circumstances, conditions, and other elements of its context in history. Such efforts attempt to study why jihad was waged when it was waged, why what was done was done, what changes from time to time and why and how, and so on.

One may thus divide jihad by force into four distinct periods:
1. Jihad under Muhammad
2. Wars of conquest
3. Rise of modern politics
4. Modern terrorist jihad Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 4 of Part I: Types of Engagement in Jihad

February 8, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism, Religion) ()

Section Four: The Types of Engagement in Jihad

Most people seem to believe that Muslims divide jihad into two main types: jihad against the self (jihad bi-n-nafs: literally, “jihad against/by the self”) and jihad by force (jihad bi-s-sayf: literally, “jihad by the sword”). While this may be true for some, and especially for the more technical and academic types (whom the common Muslim knows nothing about), in the general Muslim world, there are different types of involvement of jihad but all to the same end. That is, those who actually fight jihad with sword or gun or missile or IED are at an equal level of those who support or supply their needs in doing this. That is, one need not be on the battleground to fight jihad: facilitating jihad is just as good. Examples of facilitating jihad are donating money, acquiring arms for the fighters, encouraging the fighters, promoting jihad and the causes thereof, spreading awareness of jihad, and encouraging others to support or fight in jihad. As such, some characterize this support as “jihad bi-l-a’maal” (jihad by acts), “jihad bi-l-maal” (jihad with property), and “jihad bi-n-nafs” (jihad with one’s self, meaning dedicating one’s self to fighting jihad, meaning doing the actual fighting on the battlefield). Interestingly, only the people of the last category may claim the title (or have the title applied to them) of “mujahid” or one who fights/conducts/does jihad. See how one term is used by some to refer to a spiritual activity while many others integrate it in describing types of jihad by force?

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2 Points in Clarification with regard to Jihad

February 7, 2008 at 6:12 pm (Islam, Islamism)

echnaton wrote:

Hello Muslihoon.
I got an interesting point while reading your recent post….“There are some Muslims, notably the Ahmadi sect of Hanafi Sunni Islam, who have determined that jihad by force is no longer permitted and no longer needed”….I knew about the Ahmadi “sect”….but it’s the first time (I was thinking that I was well read into islam (reading about it for the last 8 years)) that I hear that the Hahafi school sets itself apart from the ortodox view on jihad…could you please alaborate a little on that? (I was thinking that the Hanbali school, as the Shafi’i (1991’s manual certified by al-azhar) tells: if you think that you are oppressed, you are in a defensive jihad that doesn’t need the presence and the call of the kalif. (for the Maliki (Ibn Khaldun 1332-1406 in his “Muqaddimah” : jihad is a religious obligation bcs of the universalism of the muslim mission. Hanbali….ok is the one school that gave the birth to wahabism…everyone knows the rest).
Many thanks Echnaton

I’m sorry if what I have written has caused any confusion. Two points need to be made in clarification: one with regard to what Hanafi Sunni Islam says or believes about jihad by force (vis-à-vis the other schools of jurisprudence), and one with regard to the classification of the Ahmadi sect within Hanafi Sunni Islam. Read the rest of this entry »

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About Jihad, Section 3 of Part I: Jihad in Popular Islam

February 7, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism, Religion, Religions) ()

Section Three: Jihad in Popular Islam

There are three distinct trends with regard to jihad as perceived by the average Muslim: that among Shiites, that among Sufis, and that among Sunnis. Read the rest of this entry »

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Victory! Maj. Coughlin to be retained by DoD

February 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm (Blogs, Islam, Islamism, Military, US Government, World War III)

Thanks to Nice Deb for alerting us: Major Stephen Coughlin, who was to be fired by the Pentagon under pressure from an Islam Hisham (close aide to Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Defense), and known Islamist-sympathizer, will be retained by the DoD albeit in another area.

For more info, please see:

  • “Major Coughlin To be retained by the DOD” by Nice Deb
  • “Breaking News: Rep Sue Myrick (R-NC) Announces Maj Stephen Coughlin to be retained in DoD!” by Cao’s Blog
  • “Major Coughlin will now be retained by the DOD, and the Rest of Congresswoman Sue Myrick’s Statement on the Coughlin Affair, 2/5/08” by Andrew Bostom
  • “Breaking News: Rep Sue Myrick (R-NC) Announces Maj Stephen Coughlin to be retained in DoD!” by Xformed of The Wide Awakes
  • “Stephen Coughlin will be retained by the Defense Department!” by Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch
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    About Jihad, Section 2 of Part I: The Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad

    February 6, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism) ()

    Section Two: The Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad

    There is a “hadith” (saying, in this case of Muhammad) that says that when Muhammad returned from one of his many battles, he told his soldiers that they were returning from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad. This has been interpreted to mean that the struggle against the self, one’s self, is a greater struggle than that with the sword against the infidel. This is also taken to mean that in Islam spiritual purification is higher and more important and more significant than war. Read the rest of this entry »

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    About Jihad, Section 1 of Part I: Definition

    February 5, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, Islam, Islamism, Religion, Religions) ()

    Section One: Definition

    Literally, “jihad” means “to make an immense struggle”. As one may struggle in a number of issues for various causes, the struggle for Allah and Islam, which Islam concerns itself with, is technically known as “jihad fi sabeeli-llah” (“struggle in the path/cause of Allah”). However, by now in the greater Muslim world, and especially among the common or average Muslims, “jihad” is understood to refer to “jihad fi sabeeli-llah” without it having to be specified. Read the rest of this entry »

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