Improve your NLP, because language impacts your Business!

I’ve sat in enough business meetings at my work (I can’t mention the name, but it’s #1 most valuable company in the world) to know one thing: The real king of the Internet is the one who can create an exceptional experience for people in their native language.

Natural Language Processing is primarily Limited to English

Today, Computer Scientists have developed amazing solutions and algorithms to serve the world. However, the ‘world’ that’s being served are primarily English-speakers, which is a problem. To be more specific, Search Engines such as Google/Bing/Yahoo are great for us English speakers, but in terms of design, they are horrible. These Search Engines have one of the best algorithms for English-speakers, utilizing the most advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) solutions. Universities and their respective Computer Science departments are investing heavily in identifying better methods of improving the interaction between Humans and Computers through languages; however, when it comes to foreign languages, it’s an epic fail.

Steps in conducting NLP Analysis: Lexical Analysis, Syntactic Analysis, Semantic Analysis, Disclosure Integration, Pragmatic Analysis

Steps currently used to conduct NLP analysis

It’s no surprise that Baidu exists because their NLP algorithm caters the Chinese market far better than Google’s, and it’s only a matter of time before someone implements Hindi NLP algorithm to serve the second largest population in the world.

Search Engine Distribution for China between 2016 and 2017. Baidu is losing grounds to new search engines in China, including and Google grew it's market share as well, but it's dwarfed by its Chinese competitors

Looking at Referrer Type

The following is a comparison of two sites by examining their referrer sources: one site is served in English, the other site in a non-English language. The length of the analysis is 3 months long (One Quarter)

Let’s go briefly through the definition:

  • Referrer means the source in which the visitor arrived to the site.
  • Search represents Search Engines, such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
  • Email represents email campaigns to the site for the given time period.
  • Social represents social media traffic to the site. For example, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Other Sites represents websites that do not fall in any of the above categories. This includes newspapers, blogs, personal sites, etc.
  • Typed/Direct represents traffic that entered the site via bookmark, or if the user typed the URL in.

As represented in the graph, the primary driver to the non-English site are Other Sites, like Blogs and Newspapers, whereas the Search traffic only serves 27% of the users who speak in the non-English language. As a business, where millions are invested in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), this represents a huge business problem.

Two pie charts representing visits to English Site and to non-English site. The English site generated 41% traffic from search, whereas the non-English site generated 27% from search. Majority of users from the non-English site are arriving via other sites, such as blogs and news to visit the site.

A solution some businesses are implementing to go around this problem is devising an app that provides all the necessary experiences to its users. A company that’s utilizing this business model is WeChat, a phenomenally amazing company that’s growing so rapidly. WeChat enables users to do nearly everything through its app, whether its purchasing items, calling in a cab, calling your friends, chatting with friends, etc. It’s what Facebook is trying to implement with Messenger, but the go-to market that WeChat is targeting makes it far more impactful.

This solution implemented by WeChat solves a lot of problems – instead of ‘searching’ for the product, you can find it in WeChat’s popular product listings. It’s only 6 days prior to the posting of this blog that WeChat introduced it’s own Search Engine, which may completely change the game as users who primarily use WeChat will only use the available Search Engine available on the App itself.

Combining the Power of Local and International Language

As a member of the Baha’i, I advocate for a single universal language (for now, it’s English based on how economies run), but to also serve people’s mother tongue, that’s gold! In the Baha’i Faith, these actions are highly encouraged, and valuable not only to improvement of technology, but to also narrow the gap between people by breaking the barriers of language.

A scene where a girl is saying "Why don't we have both!". The next scene shows a group of people rejoicing and picking her up while the girl is super happy!

Be part of the change! Study NLP

If you’re a linguist, and looking to create a massive impact in this world and help advance humanity and technology, study NLP and Computer Science. Even educating people to not discount different languages, and realizing its impact on the bottomline, will help people understand the significance in drawing the power of the word.

Why is Haskell’s Website Awesome?

I love computer science and programming languages, and I usually go over to different websites that describe their computer language – whether it’s Python, Ruby, JavaScript, PHP, etc. Today I visited Haskell’s website, and it blew my mind on how well they designed the landing page.
When you land on homepages of some of the popular computer science languages (like C/C++/PERL/PHP, etc.), you get bombarded with useless things like latest edits/update to the syntax or code, some unknown/complex syntax that you might use once in a blue moon, conferences, and some news that’s highly irrelevant for a beginner coder.
Most of these websites do not address the subject of “Hey new person, how can we help you get started in this language immediately?”
My assumption, based on the behavior on StackOverflow, the largest traffic drivers to those programming sites are for documentation purposes. And most of the time, those who want documentation are not familiar with the language, like me, and visit either the parent site, or roam around StackOverflow, in order to find an answer to a coding problem.
After solving some of the coding problems, I sometimes wishes there were good basic tutorials to help programmers get started immediately without the hassle of going through StackOverflow or copy-pasting code.
While browsing Reddit, I stumbled upon this graph at r/dataisbeautiful that showed the behavior of users on StackOverflow throughout the day. As you can see, during the evening, many Haskell programmers lurk on StackOverflow, which piqued my curiosity about Haskell. So I decided to investigate what Haskell is, and learn what’s going on.


I stumbled upon Haskell’s website, and really really loved their landing page which is a straight up introduction and tutorial on how to use Haskell! For beginners, it helps them to pick up coding quickly using Haskell, for more advanced developers, they can see all the components and details as they go through the tutorial.

Another cool feature of Haskell’s landing page is the URL updates as you go through the tutorial – making it easy to pick up where you left off.

Here’s Haskell’s website if you’d like to try out their tutorial:
If Education in the field of Computer Science should be represented in some form of way, this is it 🙂 Engage the user immediately through an interactive learning environment.

If your child’s picture is on Facebook, you will be called

A neighbor received a phone call that their son was kidnapped, and were told that if they do not pay the ransom, or if they contact the cops, their son will be delivered ‘in pieces’. The neighbor panicked. She heard the scream of a child in the background and was begging the kidnapper to not harm her son. She went into frenzy, and tried to negotiate a deal with the kidnappers.

But, there is a huge twist…

There were no kidnapped children, nor was this kidnapper real. Instead, this is a new scam that target parents. Scammers are utilizing the power of social engineering to manipulate parents into believing that their children are kidnapped. This new scamming method is called Virtual Kidnapping Scam.

How did the scammers know that my neighbors have children?

Unfortunately, through publicly shared images and information on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. In essence, any image on Facebook that has this icon on it will expose it to the world.

facebook public post

Scammers of virtual kidnapping use the information from your social media sites to develop a persona to have a stronger grasp of your weaknesses and manipulate you into sharing personal information or pay money.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. Hackers and scammers use the power of social media to collect and identify personal information that can help them access personal bank accounts, black mail private details, and/or learn movement patterns for nefarious purposes.

If you’ve received a scam phone call before, your phone number may unfortunately be available to such scammers. And in return, all that the scammers and hackers need to do is fish for private information to generate a complete profile of the target in order to either scam them or manipulate them.

With the advent of VoIP technology and easy to purchase phone numbers, hackers and scammers can now easily mask their telephone line and make it difficult for law enforcement officers and government to track them.

More on Virtual Kidnapping:

The following was the story shared on NextDoor by the neighbor. Names were changed to respect the privacy of the parents:

I (M) want to share a shocking and emotional incident that happened to me today March 20, 2017 around 3.20 PM.

I got a call on my cell phone from an unknown number. This is the time usually my son returns home from his middle school biking with his friends. I heard a man on the phone saying I have your kid and immediately I asked him “what happened? How is he doing”, thinking he must have probably got hurt or met with an accident.

Then I heard a boy crying loudly on the other end and saying that some guys have abducted him and was shouting “Help! Mom, help!”.

I totally panicked out. Then the guy took over the phone and said that he had my son and asked me to pay money, asked how much money I had in my bank account, etc. He said I must not inform the police or cops, otherwise, he will send pieces of my son’s body parts.

I ask him to put me on to my son so I could speak to him again. Since I was not listening and was deviating from the “money” topic, the guy was really mad and started talking very abusively. Meanwhile my husband went searching towards the school and had called 911 reporting the incident.

By then I was so panicked that I started running to my downstairs neighbor for help. He had also just got back with his kids who go to the same school. As I was climbing down the stairs, I saw my son come by. I was so relieved and started crying with joy. Immediately realizing the “unrealistic scary” situation, ended the call. Around 4 PM, we had 2 cops come home and he formally recorded the complaint.

When we google searched the phone number I had received +52 (686) 280-4688, we saw that a similar incident was logged on March 10th 2017 –….

Hoping that this situation does not happen to anyone and that the scammers can be traced and caught before they traumatize more innocent people.


Venture Funding is Painful, but Necessary

You hear it everyday, startups receiving funding from Investor XYZ or Venture Capital Firm ABC. It’s like money is being showered upon new businesses, and builds a great deal of excitement and energy which is what makes Silicon Valley the center of innovation, technology and growth.

While receiving venture funding is great, it’s also painful. For the money you gain, you give away a percentage of your company – whether it is in the form of decision making, the total profit you’re generating, or other means of acquisition of income. In addition, executives find it difficult to respond or answer to board members needs and demands, sometimes the demand are against the vision or goal of the executives or founders, which creates internal conflict and leads to stressful work days as the dream you were hoping to build turned into a task – the task of building someone else’s dream.

The alternative to venture fundings are numerous – including receiving paying customers and gradually expanding. That’s what my last startup did.

The chief executive despised the concept of venture funding, and focused on plans that targeted large businesses as customers and receiving large paychecks. The reasoning is that the large paychecks will pay off the lengthy sales cycle, and can provide sufficient funds to sustain operations in the business. Logically, this is a good idea! As a business, you are not in debt, nor do you have to respond to anyone else. In addition, the chief executive knew that our startup had a great partnership with a large network technology firm, and eventually the startup will be acquired for a great fee.


However, as we were waiting, the burn rate started to increase, and we were nosediving towards red. With the field of social media changing and shifting, product development cycles did not evolve fast enough to meet the demands of the customers. In addition, the competitive field became more intense as few competitors received venture funding, and maximized their focus in capturing markets.

That’s the key to venture funding, capturing the largest possible market and establishing your base.

The goal of venture funding enables businesses to scale much more faster than it were possible through customer funding.

In the future, I hope businesses will consider the value of venture funding, and while it is painful to let go of your dreams, it can provide the leverage to create a more solid foundation, and a better path to growth.

The 5 Stages of Job Search

That time in your life where you look for a job…

Searching for a job is a frustrating and tiresome experience.

It all starts with you building your resume (or trying to find where you placed your old resume), writing an eloquent cover letter, and then spending hours on LinkedIn, Monster, Craigslist, and other job directories.

For some of you, you’re lucky enough to do this with a group of friends or colleagues and empower each other, work together, and review each other’s resumes and cover letters to increase the chances of getting an interview and landing a job!

In the course of my job searching experience and helping colleagues and friends, I’ve noticed that there are 5 stages of human experience that people face during this crazy expedition. Let’s dive in!

Stage 1 – Enormous Confidence


You recently graduated from college/university, or you recently quit from a job you didn’t like, or you got laid off, or you’re simply looking for what’s out there.

Whatever’s the case, you know you’re the hot stuff!

Most likely you brushed up your resume, put some glitter on it, and launched it out to every big name firm you’ve ever dreamed of!

You apply to places like Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Intel, IBM, Tesla Motors, etc.

You know you’ll get it! Right?

I mean, look at that spanking clean resume combined with the MBA-class cover letter! Who can even reject that?

This is exactly what those recruiters over there are looking for!

Sometimes, you may have so much confidence that you even say that you’re looking at other places.


What a recruiter experiences when opening a resume that was built during the “Confidence” stage

That’s until you receive your first set of rejection letters, or two weeks of silence (because, you know, recruiters have no mechanism to inform you that your application was rejected – welcome to the 21st century!).


Recruiters and HR, please please please please use this feature in your email


Stage 2 – The Tactician/Strategist



Rejected? How can this be possible?! Inconceivable!

It’s the third week of job search, and you’re starting to feel slightly defeated, but your pride will never admit defeat!

You notice that you had few spelling errors in your cover letter, including some ridiculous grammatical errors in your resume.

Maybe you had no errors in either your resume or your cover letter – but to apply to all those companies without considering their background, needs and career path isn’t really a great idea.

You start developing strategies.

You write your resume in a way to reflect the needs of the job listed. You start listing your accomplishments and successes.

You even list your personal interests! Hoping it will attract the attention of the recruiter who also enjoys playing the Battlestar Galactica board game.


The game is actually decent…yet I prefer Dominion and Catan

Your cover letter expands further on why you’re interested in the company, and you further expand on some of your successes.

You have search queries pinned down; targeting jobs with specific titles, keywords, the date the job was posted, and even becoming more lenient with salary levels (maybe $150K right off the bat was too high?).

At this point, LinkedIn and Monster became your top visited pages on your Google Chrome homepage!

Screenshot 2015-04-10 16.48.45

Jobvite and LinkedIn as my top pages? Shit just got real!

Yet, despite your strategic approach to job search, things don’t go as well as you’ve wished for.

You actually receive emails expressing that you are a great person, but not a great fit.


But few weeks pass, and you realize you cannot wait any longer…

You really need a job!

Stage 3 – Whatever Works! (Desperation)

At this stage, those who were simply looking around for what’s out there are counting their blessings – they are happy to have a job.

For those who do not have that opportunity, it’s getting bad!

You’ve spent your 4-5 years in college learning something that you thought was valuable.

Maybe you should’ve paid more attention to that Data Structure or Financial Engineering class.

You wished you had a time machine to go back in time and convince yourself not to pursue that art degree.

At this stage, you wish Dr. Who was real and he would show up and take you back in time!

It’s time to humble yourself. Maybe it’s better to start from zero. How about an internship? Or even a co-op?

Your aim is to get your foot at the door, right? Do whatever it takes!

You look through entry-level jobs, even though you have years of experience in your hand.

You attend job fairs, and you’ll notice you’re not the only one at this stage of job search. This is a serious pestilence plaguing the job searchers!

At this stage, you actually care about how many job openings President Barak Obama opened…and for once, you feel the pinch of the unemployment index (you didn’t even know what this meant until a few days ago!).


“Thanks Obama!”

You apply and wait, similar to Stage 1, but you don’t receive a response or feedback. Because it seems from the perspective of recruiters that entry level jobs hardly need any feedback…

It’s now plaguing your soul.

Your pride is crushed, your ego is demolished, and after weeks of trying, you start feeling hopeless.

Stage 4 – Hopelessness

Few months have passed, and you realize it’s hopeless.

You feel that no one is accepting you.

You’re chained to this sense of guilt, disappointment and shame.


“What in the world happened? Am I useless? What’s my purpose?” Those are some of the questions you ask yourself.

At this stage, some give up and simply start watching a lot of TV, maybe Netflix it up, club a lot, or even hide in your home. Some drink, some resort to drugs, some smoke – either way, they seek these things to distance themselves from difficulties.

Among the privileged few, some rely on the support of their spouse, parents, or their savings. Some move into their parents’ home or their friend’s home.

Some, unfortunately, lose their homes, their family, or their life!

It’s a really dark period, and it sucks!

But gradually, you pick up the pieces.

You break free from these self-made chains of despair, self-hate, and sadness!

You start taking few college classes to gain some more experience: Maybe a class in iOS development, fundamentals of design, or even writing!

You might even change your career path completely!

You dedicate a year to exploring your talents!

In the end, you look at the process rather than outcome.

This is where you enter the last stage…


Stage 5 – Detachment and Growth

You’re at the Zen stage.

The results don’t matter, but rather, you focus on the effort and the work you’ve put in.

At this stage, you develop new talents.

You started playing the guitar again, or you joined multiple MeetUp groups and gained further domain knowledge in something you were interested or something completely new, you may have improved your skills, or even explored new exciting talents like 3D modeling.

You initiate your tiny little business – providing professional services to friends, family, or even old co-workers.

You brush up on your resume, you write a very beautiful cover letter, but wherever you apply, you don’t feel attached to it.



You feel detached, you feel light and happy!

You learn that life is a constant process of growth!

Eventually, you will get few interviews. You’ll be cool, comfortable, and content.

Then one day, a wonderful news arrives.

They are asking if you can start on Monday!

To celebrate this joyous moment, you invite your family and friends, and have great time together.

Deep inside, you feel happy, rejuvenated, and joyous!

Deep inside, you knew you were the BOSS all along!



How Hospitals can use Social Media to Fight Ebola and Promote Health

It all began in 1983…

World Health OrganizationThe concept of social media integrated into the health care system existed far before the launch of Facebook, MySpace, or even AOL! In a report written in 1983, World Health Organization (WHO) experts met in Geneva and published a document titled “New Approaches to Health Education in Primary Health Care”. In page 16, under the title “A People-Oriented Health Technology”, the WHO laid out the first framework and foundation for the integration of social media technology and health care. The WHO experts state:

A people-oriented health technology will require a fundamental change in the relationship between the community and the health care providers. In essence, this implies that people will no longer be fitted into predetermined framework for health care. Instead the approach adopted will enable community members to play an active role in the planning and setting up of a health care programme. This calls for a thorough understanding by the health care providers of the people’s perception of their health needs and their acceptance and utilization of different health care technologies – influenced as these are by sociocultural and economic factors.

The purpose of social media is people-oriented – it’s a platform where family, friends, colleagues and strangers share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas in order to interact and discuss with the world at large. In addition, social media has developed a niche market that produced social influencers, individuals that are key to bringing cultural and social changes within the circle of their network. With the prominent presence of social media, it is essential, and extremely important, for health organizations to utilize social media platforms to promote health education, public health and community health.

As stated in the document by WHO, through the available technology and a shift of framework in regards to interacting with the public, health care providers can engage community members, social influencers, and proactive members of the community to encourage preventative measures to fight against diseases, promote healthy hygiene habits, and be active participants identifying potential health hazards.

Health Care Providers and Social Media

The health care industry may be one of the leading industries in terms of size and scope. However, despite its growth, it has been slow in embracing advanced communications method and information technology. Luckily, onboarding to a more advanced medium of communication has been simple thanks to social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Today, a large number of hospitals are expanding their social outreach using social media; using social media to target audiences, provide patient education, promote health, increase public relations, or simply announce news or events. Certain medical organizations have gone further by providing advice via Instant Messaging (IM) platforms or share their medical conditions via Twitter or Instagram.

doximity interface showing a message with an attachment of an X-Ray image of a foot that is being sent to another doctor for review
Social media usage isn’t limited to patients, but also used by doctors to communicate with each other and solve difficult medical cases. Platforms like Doximity, Docji, and QuantiaMD attract doctors from all over the globe in order to learn, solve and interact with one another.

The Health Craze

We’ve heard it many times before: A colleague, a family member, or a friend visits websites like WebMD, they look up their ‘symptoms’, and panic when they find out they have a terminal disease – only to find out later from their doctor that it’s not the case. The same goes with social media! Except, instead of a website, people reach out to the social network to collect an opinion from the general public about their condition. Such a case isn’t rare at all! Just go and pay a visit. According to Timothy Bird, president and COO of Cooney/Waters Group, individuals now turn to the Internet as their primary source of health information.  A study by Pew Research reports that 72% of Internet users looked online for health information within the past year. People are exchanging stories about health to help understand what is happening to them and their loved ones right now and what might lie ahead.

So, which mediums should hospitals utilize in order to best promote proper health information and minimize health misinformation on the Internet?

Health Social Media 101 – Social Media Channels and Engagement Platform

IMS Health Report’s infographics provided a very simple, and easy to follow comparison chart of different social media channels covering the basic health communication principles, objectives and goals

IMS Institute Social Media Comparison Chart

In order to manage social media conversations effectively, a social media management platform or tool is used. However, most social media platforms are limited in their function, or not aligned with the need of the medical industry. For example, some social media platforms limit searching capabilities based on keyword or hashtags in social media conversations – such method will exclude patients or potential clients who are in need of assistance. In addition, some social media platforms do not provide a comprehensive user analysis algorithm, analytics module, or engagement tool. Finally, hospitals and clinics prefer to utilize a social media platform that can help target local communities and patients – assisting hospitals to reach out to people that matter. Therefore, an ideal social media solution is required that can help hospitals and clinics achieve their goals and objectives.

The ideal social media solution should utilize a location-based communication and analytics tool that can easily integrate all social media platforms. Which is why we developed WeLink. WeLink is a cloud-based hyperlocal social-media monitoring platform that utilizes enhanced geo-fencing techniques, sophisticated Wi-Fi ping technology and an intelligent user analysis framework.

Through the robust framework provided by hyperlocal, hospitals and clinics can:

  • Reach out and engage with patients and community members with social media
  • Promote health and increase patient education through targeted communication
  • Identify potential patients using geo-fencing and Wi-Fi ping technology
  • Increase the wellbeing, health, and security of the local community

Case Study – Fighting Ebola Virus Disease with Social Media

As of October 10th 2014, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 4,033 deaths related to the Ebola virus in West Africa. With over 4,600 confirmed Ebola cases, and over 8,400 cases of potential Ebola patients, the disease is spreading quickly. The Ebola virus claimed its second victim in the United States, and other countries, including Spain, Germany, and Norway, are treating a handful of cases as well. The head of the WHO, Margaret Chan, recently stated that the of the cost of panic “spreading faster than the virus”, citing a World Bank estimate that 90% of the cost of the outbreak would arise from “irrational attempts of the public to avoid infection” (

While there are no available treatments against the Ebola Virus Disease, preventative measures are available that can help mitigate the spread of the deadly disease.

Did “Square Order” use my Launch Hackathon idea?

Today, one of my friends shared with me a link. He mentioned that this product, Square’s Order, is very similar to the idea I once shared with him during February 2014. The idea was about a coffee ordering app that utilizes a very simple interface and design to eliminate the hassle of ordering coffee. In addition, it was designed to be very generic so the user could order (nearly) the same coffee regardless of the coffee shop.

This idea was brought to life on Feb 23, 2014 at the Launch Hackathon held in San Francisco. My colleague Asitha de Silva and I spent time building this phone app and placed all our effort to create a simple, yet effective, way of ordering coffee. We also enabled the application to order a coffee on your behalf through the phone using Twilio. You can see the basic idea of our app in the following link:

Here are screenshots of the application Asitha and I developed:

GetCoffee Interface-1

GetCoffee Interface-1

GetCoffee Interface-2

GetCoffee Interface-2

GetCoffee Interface-3

GetCoffee Interface-3

When the judging time came – our idea was evaluated by Dani Behrendt (Honda Innovation & Strategic Alliances) and Jessica Lessin (Editor-in-Chief of The Information)  – we received a mediocre result (6/10). Our judges stated that while our app has a great UI, it wouldn’t be able to penetrate the market.

“Think about reaching out to an independent shop for an early trial just with them. Very cool.”

“Very well designed app and I like how it is platform independent. I worry it is low barrier to entry.”

For Asitha and I, hackathons are a learning experience, and our days moved on.

But things have changed.

After seeing Square’s Order (which was launched in May 2014), I felt a bit uneasy. Are hackathons used as a medium to simply exploit from the ideas and endeavors of its participants? The application looked similar to our platform, including the distribution of the coffee content, the simple design. While it is not a direct reflection (given we only had time to code our app in 24 hours), if we were given the resources and time, we would’ve built something like this:

Square Order Interface

What do you think?

Do you think Square’s App and our app is similar? Do you think hackathons are providing the environment for individuals to create freely?


Why do we solve for X? [Infographics]

I’m taking a course on Udacity (Computer Science 101) to learn Python and simply learn coding as best as I could. Even though I have over 6 years of coding experience, it’s surprising how much I learnt by simply absorbing information like a sponge.

In one of the discussion forums on Udacity, someone mentioned why the variables that we select are nearly always “X” – why do we even solve for X? This question blew my mind, and I went out to search for answers and stumbled upon this video from TED:

This information was so fascinating and interesting! So much history and story behind the science of Algebra that I decided to create a simple infographics on why we use “X” as the unknown.

It’s wonderful to see how information traveled in the past. It is stated by both the TED video and information on research sites that it traveled via scholarly and/or trade means. But that brings out more questions, who were the scholars that visited different regions in order to learn about Algebra? Who was the Spanish mathematician that translated the “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”. I guess that needs another set of infographics!

Hope you enjoy the video and the infographics!

Shamim Etehadi and Yazd Cemetery

For over 160 years, the government of Iran has prosecuted religious minorities and jailed political activists, arresting them based on false and baseless  accusations ranging from espionage, treason and spying for the enemy.

The members of such minority groups have suffered tremendously in the hands of the Iranian regime; they were jailed, tortured, executed and murdered for their beliefs and ideals in the hand of the government of Iran. According to Shirin Ebadi’s “Iran Awakening“, the Iranian government has been actively involved in silencing and crushing any group or entity that they identified as enemies of their regime.

Shamim Etehadi, a Baha’i from Yazd, decided to speak against the crimes by the Iranian government; recording the outcome of their acts and documenting the story. However, he was later jailed for speaking against the state.

Lasheen Yusuf

They say Alchemists Do Not Exist

They say alchemists do not exist.

Scientifically, no one was ever able to transform base metals into noble metals, such as silver and gold. But, there was an alchemist in our midst.

WIth the ingredients of happiness, humor and wisdom, he sparks life. Leading with example, the alchemist inspired many apprentices, even mentors, whom have led and inspired others. I am grateful that he has invited me to accompany him on many trips and occasions to programs and events where he shared his insights on life, love and spirituality. Half-jokingly I would call him ‘Guru’ because of that.

Lasheen was an alchemist. He may have not transformed physical items into silver or gold, but he transformed our hearts and helped us to become joyful and happy beings.

I miss Lasheen Mannayath: I miss him for all that he has done for me and the community, and I hope to become the alchemist he once was, and will forever be.

The End of Holy War

Holy War is a controversial topic. The media would portray Holy War as a cause of negative consequences that were stirred strictly out of religious prejudice and fanatical belief. There is no excuse for mankind to lead senseless wars based on fanatical beliefs and prejudice. However, Holy War is a very complex topic; when comparing the past with present ideologies and framework of thought, it is quite illogical. Therefore, to provide us a better understanding of the conditions and framework of the past, it is important that we examine the context of Holy War and why some believe that Holy War is justifiable.

During the period of the birth of religions around the world, Manifestations of God and their believers faced extreme social hardship in the form of false imprisonment, slavery, barbaric aggression, murder and slaughter. Many believers, defying the traditional beliefs of their forefathers and ancestors, faced the swords of their enemies. The believers, respecting the Laws and Essences of the revelation of their Faith, responded only with patience, forgiveness, and steadfastness to the Cause of God. However, as the blood of many believers was being shed, it was up to the Manifestations of God to lead their believers through the difficult circumstances. With the threat of the enemies of the Faith imminent, the Manifestations of God had to respond to this aggressive nature immediately, otherwise they will be exterminated under the force of the evil that surrounded them.

In taking action and defending the Teachings of the Cause of God, the Manifestations of God revealed Holy War. For example, Prophet Muhammad’s Surat At-Tawbah was revealed before the Byzantine-Arab War, considered a Holy War. In my own research of Islamic Studies, the Byzantine Empire pre-meditated an attack by basing their military near the Arabian Peninsula with the aim of capturing the region, present-day Saudi Arabia. To protect the Muslim minority against further bloodshed, Prophet Muhammad revealed the Sura to inspire His people to defend the region against the oppressors and enemies of His Teachings.

Revelations in the Bible, such as Exodus and Leviticus, portray the Holy War between the different civilizations in history; the children of Israel and Pharaohs. The revelations were used by Moses to inspire His people to defend themselves against the oppressors. Moses, in Leviticus 26, reveals:

“And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.”

The Bab, founder of the Babi Faith, faced daily persecution and threats by the Persian Empire. Many of them recorded by notable European historians, describing the different methods of torture used against Babi believers. With the mounting pressure of the Persian Empire, and the rising number of believers dying in the hands of their oppressor, the Bab gathered his men and established a fort called the “Fort of Shaykh Tabarsi.” Bab’s intention was strictly to defend His followers against the atrocities and discrimination of the Sultan of Iran and his Vazir. The book “Gate of the Heart” provides a greater in depth perspective on this matter that I would highly recommend reading.

After the execution and martyrdom of the Bab. Baha’u’llah led the followers of the Bab in their time of mourning. After receiving revelation from Gabriel in the Black Pit, the prison in Iran, Baha’u’llah introduced Teachings that aimed in uniting mankind through virtues and moral acts. Truthfulness, kindness, love, justice and humility were the pinnacles of His Teachings. After revealing the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Holy Book of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah revealed Bishárát (Glad-Tidings) –  a Tablet that is composed of fifteen headings, each designated a glad-tiding, where Bahá’u’lláh provides teachings and laws. The Arabic text above, copied from Baha’u’llah’s Glad-Tidings, reveals:

The first Glad-Tidings which the Mother Book hath, in this Most Great Revelation, imparted unto all the peoples of the world is that the law of holy war hath been blotted out from the Book. Glorified be the All-Merciful, the Lord of grace abounding, through Whom the door of heavenly bounty hath been flung open in the face of all that are in heaven and on earth.

The first Bishara from Baha’u’llah is quite significant in the realm of Progressive Revelation – Baha’u’llah has declared an end to the practice of Holy War and replaced it with the specific Guidelines and Teachings aimed towards peace and unity. Given this explicit ordinance, Baha’u’llah has decreed that no form of violence can ever be conducted in the name of His Faith. These moral attributes and values taught in His Writings enforce the notion of peace and unity.

However, Holy War should not be confused with individual self-defense and protection. in Baha’u’llah’s Tablet to Queen Victoria, He states:

O rulers of the earth! Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no more armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories and dominions. Beware lest ye disregard the counsel of the All-Knowing, the Faithful. Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.

In addition, Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah, encourages people to examine the root cause of war and identify means to eliminate wars of any form from occurring. Abdu’l-Baha states:

“In short, every means that produces war must be checked and the causes that prevent the occurrence of war be advanced–so that physical conflict may become an impossibility. On the other hand, every country must be properly delimited, its exact frontiers marked, its national integrity secured, its permanent independence protected, and its vital interests honoured by the family of nations. These services ought to be rendered by an impartial, international Commission. In this manner all causes of friction and differences will be removed. And in case there should arise some disputes between them, they could arbitrate before the Parliament of Man, the representatives of which should be chosen from among the wisest and most judicious men of all the nations of the world.”

(Abdu’l-Bahá: Star of the West, Vol. V, pp 115-116, cited in Peace, A Compilation from the Universal House of Justice, August 1985)

Holy War in all its complexity had a significant purpose – to defend the oppressed peoples of forming religions against the violent blows of their oppressors. However, as humanity is progressing, civilizations are learning from the mistakes of the past and leaders are reconciling their differences through non-violent means.

Holy War is no longer needed and therefore removed from this era until eternity.

Friends from the Heart, Forever

Distance is annihilated and prevents not the close and intimate association of two souls that are closely attached in heart even though they may be in two different countries.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 101)

Since mid-November, I was in the United Arab Emirates working on my residency documents. Due to needed government work, I have to stay in the UAE until some of the necessary papers are completed. While being in UAE and working at weird hours to fit the USA schedule, I was hoping to spend some time reflecting on few things and examine my capacities, life and spirit. It was an ideal situation as I was away from all the clutter, noise and distraction of the Silicon Valley market – fighting for innovation, competitive atmosphere, and a limited scope of activity based on mainstream interests. In the mist of all the musing, I thought of a wonderful idea: why not visit my friends in Europe while I’m on this side of the Atlantic Ocean? That idea has lit a powerful engine in my mind, and my blood was rushing so quickly in my body. I didn’t hesitate to reach out to my dear friends immediately and share the news!

I had very little expectation, and packed very light to make my journey as easy as possible. The goal, as stated before, was simply to see my friends. My planned route of travel were London, to Paris, to Munich and finally Kehl; a city that borders France and hugs Straßburg with the famous La Passerelle Mirmam.

On December 23rd, I sat on the plane leaving from Dubai to London. It was a surreal journey, and I was slightly nervous: It has been a while since I’ve last seen my friends, and most of my interactions with them have been through the Internet. I was not sure for a second whether this was a good idea. I landed in Heathrow, went through the passport check, and my first encounter of seeing my friend has completely changed my mind.

It was only during the summer that I have studied about the definition of true friendship. True friendship encompasses the qualities that help one grow and prosper, both spiritually and physically, through mutual support, encouragement and channeling hope, energy and inspiration to one another. Those qualities were found in the heart of those friends who have hosted my during my short trip to Europe. Those are the friends that made Europe feel like home. And every departure from their region or home felt like being homesick. Homesick not because I miss UAE, or USA, but homesick because I will truly miss those beautiful friends.

Despite the pouring rain of London, the lousy restaurant service and train service in France, and the ridiculous Winterpause of German stores – none of them have changed my mind of the countries and cities I’ve visited. For me, the cities and towns that I’ve visited carry the memory of the compassion, love, kindness, and generosity of my hosts and friends.

To the wonderful hosts, friends and family that have made my Winter journey and reflection beautiful and illuminating:

Thank you so much, and I love you all dearly.