Sunday, 15 July 2018

Book review: Clear and direct answers to the most frequently asked questions on Islam

To learn about Islam you can learn from its history, like those written beautifully in Islam: a short history by Karen Armstrong, No god but God by Reza Aslan, or Lost Islamic History by Firas Al Khateeb. You can read the religion from the current affairs perspective, like The World without Islam by Graham E. Fuller and Misquoting Muhammad by Jonathan A.C. Brown. You can also learn from books that analyses The Qur’an like If The Oceans Were Ink by Carla Powers, or read The Qur’an translation directly like one of the best translations by M.A.S Abdul Haleed. 

But among the most popular books there is one vital angle that has yet to be covered: the everyday real questions or accusations by non-Muslims towards Islam. This book is a collection of e-mail correspondences between the author, interfaith instructor Ahmed Lofty Rashed, and real-life people asking real-life questions. 

I'm talking about genuine questions like: Why do Muslims are living the same way as 1400 years ago with no progress? Why do Muslims support terrorist attacks? Why do Muslim women wear a head scarf? Why are women oppressed in Muslim countries? Why can’t women get an education in some Muslim countries? What are Islam's view on homosexuality? Why Muslim men can have 4 wives? What happen to people who do not believe in God or people from different faiths, are they going to hell? What happens when a Muslim marries a non-Muslim? Is it possible to be a good person and not be a Muslim? And many more, including questions on those conflicting passages in the Qur'an that leads to misinterpretations by extremists.

The author then gives the most reasurring answers to all of these sensitive questions with calm demeanor and gives elaborate but concise answers by quoting the Qur’an, hadiths, and important studies along the way. And the resulting discussions are nothing short of an eye opener.

One example is the questions regarding terrorism. Through the discussions it is suddenly clear that there is a lot of anti-Islam propaganda and misinformation in the media that are subjecting Islam in an unfair manner, and drowns out the mainstream Muslim voices. Rashed pointed out that “while it is true that some Muslims do evil deeds, it is also true that certain media outlets emphasize those evil acts without balancing what the religion actually preaches and what the majority actually practice.”

In fact, Rashed continues, in adressing suicide bombings, “Suicide is absolutely forbidden; the Prophet said that the man who purposefully takes his own life will automatically go to Hell and never see Paradise (see also the Qur'an 4:29-30). Killing noncombatants is absolutely forbidden; the Prophet repeatedly instructed his companions that the children, the women, the elderly, the farmer in the field, the craftsman in his shop, the laborers, and those who surrender SHOULD NOT BE HARMED. I think this is very clear evidence that Muhammad (peace be upon him) would not be okay with [the terror attacks]. And there are scholars and sheikhs around the world who say the same.”

Moreover, Rashed also pointed out that “if someone recruits Christians from the church so they can go bomb an abortion clinic, it is not right to say ‘your Christian faith enlists young men to carry out these acts.’ These acts are clearly against the teachings of Christianity. Likewise, all the acts that [an accuser] mentioned are against the teachings of Islam.” Rasheed then give emphasis that “the extremism of Muslim culture is a result of leaving the values and principles of Islam, not a result of following them.”

Another example are those questions related to treatment of women. The most frequently asked question is perhaps the most visible trait in Muslim women: about wearing the scarf. Rashed remarks “that head scarfs it is actually gives freedom to women, freedom from physical judgements. The same reason why Christian nuns and orthodox jewish women also cover their hair.” And when asked whether girls should or should not get an education, Rashed replied “of course girls can and should get an education. The Prophet said, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim, male and female.’ So what you see is that Muslims are doing something that is against the teachings of Islam.”

Muslims doing something that is against the teachings of Islam, which becomes the sole subjective focus of the media whilst ignoring the good deeds of the majority of Muslims, is the biggest PR problem Islam have right now. It’s like as if the media only show coverage of elegant and funny cats, while only show the nasty videos or pictures of dogs attacking humans and being a total beast. The world will only see dogs as a nasty creature that needs to be isolated from society, and see cats as the ultimate pet. The fact that there are many seeing-eye dogs, canine unit at the police, or many loyal stories like Hachiko in Japan, they will go unnoticed.

There are many, many more topics that are being thoroughly discussed in this book, which are impossible to cover all one by one in this short review. It is one of the most direct books that tackles the hot pressing topics on Islam right now, an absolutely vital book to read for those who are sceptical to, or even agressive towards, Islam.

It is also, in a way, a good guidebook for Muslims who constantly being harrassed and attacked based on their beliefs, on how to calmly and respectfully answer and straightened the wrong accusations. The author repeatedly says “With dialogue comes understanding", and that is ultimately what this book does.

For more reviews, please visit my book review page on Amazon

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Book review: Veteran traders telling their fascinating war stories

It's been a while since the last time I read New Market Wizards, when I was in university. And since then a lot of developments have occurred in the financial markets, including the rapid evolution of hedge funds. This 4th sequel of market wizards shows how far the industry has evolved. The wizards interviewed in the book are more technical, discussing more complex methods of trading, in an environment very different than the previous interviews.

Like the previous Market Wizards books, and indeed just like in the market, the trading methods or philosophy applied by the wizards could not be more different from one another. Some even directly contradict one another, with surprisingly good results for each of them. This, of course, remains the underlying message of the Market Wizards books: bottom line, we need to figure out who we are and what kind of strategies could work with our temperament and world view.

One interesting remark made by Jack Schwager when people were asking him to introduce them to one of the wizards, to work under their apprenticeship and learn about their methods/system that bring success, in which he answers that it will be useless because the main point is to develop our own trading system that cater to our character. Just like Colm O’shea said “If I try to teach you what I do, you will fail because you are not me. If you hang around me, you will observe what I do, and you may pick up some good habits. But there are a lot of things you will want to do differently.”

Nevertheless, as different as these Wizards can be, they all share some similar traits that become the foundation of their trading approach.

First and foremost, they're all very dilligent about risk management, minimizing risk is almost the most sacred part of each one of these traders. They also trade only the size they're comfortable with. To them the market is always right, Steve Clark commented that the market is not about facts but people's opinion and positions that reflects their opinions, and they aren't afraid to cut losses when they're wrong. In a similar tone, Scott Ramsey said that there is one principle that you cannot violate: know what you can lose.

Meanwhile, as one wizards believe that price is not actually important (instead the size of your position is more crucial, to determine whether or not you can get out quickly), Edward Thorp complement this view by saying don’t bet more than you are comfortable with (and just take your time until you’re ready). Moreover, Jamie Mai highlighted that finding answers is much easier when you know in advance what the questions are, and another wizard gives the simplest wisdom of all when he said do what you do best, and so less of what you do badly.

Furthermore, as different as they may be, almost all of them point out the fact that profit is nice but it wont teach us anything, and one of the most important parts of trading is to make as much mistakes as we can, learn from them, and create our own system to avoid those mistakes.

And the interviews in this book provide us with exactly that, the raw and honest stories about their hopes, fears, and doubts, and their struggle and journey from nothing to become one of the best in the world. It is also, perhaps more importantly, about the long road on how they come to acquire/develop the skills or tools or principles that they eventually use to make them very successful (like Ray Dalio’s principles, which he then expanded into a very good book). And it’s all very human, and the lessons are also very applicable in any walks of life other than trading.

Just like the format in Dale Carnegie’s books, by the end of each chapter Jack Schwager provides a concluding paragraph to sum up the interviews, which is very helpful. But the real gem of the book is definitely the conclusion chapter, where everything are summarized so neatly, in which Schwager lists the ultimate 40 Market Wizards lessons, which, of course, I won’t spoil in this review.

This would definitely be the 1st book I recommend on anyone asking about trading/investing. An absolutely useful real-life manual for the battle on the financial market ground.

For more reviews, please visit my book review page on Amazon

Monday, 19 March 2018

Book review: The perfect introduction to Stoicism

"The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living" by Ryan Holiday

Stoicism is not a religion. In religion the sacred texts lay out the ideal way of life and guide us to try our best to live a sinless (perfect) life. Stoicism sees the world completely the opposite, it acknowledges the harsh realities of life, the chaotic mess of the world that is filled with imperfections. And instead of demanding us to live up to a certain perfect standard, it gives us the tools to handle the real broken situations on the ground.

Founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in 3rd century BC, this branch of Greek philosophy got big in the Roman Empire, with its principle philosophers of Epictetus, Seneca, and ultimately Marcus Aurelius with his most-quoted memoir “Meditations.” The author of this book, Ryan Holiday, reads and re-reads Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations for 100+ times, which was the main reason why I choose this book as the 1st book I read on Stoicism.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Book review: A vital book to understand political Islam

This is an absolute important book to understand today's current affairs, which heavily linked with the rise of Islamic terrorism. The book is written by an ex-CIA analyst stationed in the Middle East, whom possess an incredible clarity over the geopolitics dynamics on the ground.

The premise of this book is to picture a world without Islam. How different it would have been, how the butterfly effects that never happened would turned out to be, and it's very sobering. This, in effect, becomes a book about the history of the world that has nothing to do with Islam.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

We need to talk about cryptomania

Every market crash is sparked by a trigger. Every trigger is preceded by a mania. Every mania began as an overshoot optimism. And every optimism started off by a justifying reason to be positive.

In 1880s the optimism was the invention of US railways. In 1920s the radio and motorcar companies. In 1980s the invention of microcomputers. In 1990s the optimism was the internet. In 2000s a complex invention of derivatives. And in 2010s? It's the blockchain technology and its cryptocurrencies.