Monday, 17 June 2013

(62): Mobile phone as a urine laboratory

Twelve years ago when searching for a topic to write my undergraduate project at the Bayero University, Kano, I came across  a book entitled Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web written by  Tim Berners-Lee, who led the invention of the World Wide Web (www). Tim Berners-Lee, in my opinion, is the unsung hero of the internet age.  
He led the process that changed the way we conduct business. The invention of the World Wide Web has transformed how our family live, how our educational system operates; in fact it even changed the way people think, and try to find solution to their problems including spiritual issues.
Let me tell you a story that happened around 2004. We were having a chat with a friend who was studying at the University of Liverpool. He went to the mosque to perform one of the obligatory prayers, and he found some youths relatively confused, and searching their laptops. On coming together, he realized that they have made a mistake in their prayer,   and would therefore need to make Sujud al-Sahwi (prostration of forgetfulness); instead of asking a scholar, they quickly refer to Google to find out about the sujud and how to perform it. Our friend intervened and explained everything to the youth.
This is how the internet has transformed our lives, and significant part of that revolution should go to Tim Berners-Lee for coming up with the World Wide Web. Before coming to the subject of this discourse, there is a thought process and thirst for innovation which made Tim to come up with the World Wide Web. As he outlined in the book Weaving the Web, every day we wake up, go to the bathroom, take a shower, get dressed and then enter our car or ride a bike to go to work or other businesses. When we feel hungry we simply get out of our desk and either go to a restaurant, or move straight to the kitchen, and when it is time to close from work we do so automatically. This automatic process in our thought which makes us accomplish so much in a day without somebody having to tell you to go to the toilet, or drive your car is the sort of instinctive process that Tim Berners-Lee wanted to transfer to the computer.
Perhaps if Tim Berners-Lee was to explain this process prior to the emergence of the World Wide Web, people will think he is crazy. But today this crazy thinking is a reality we are living with. Since the emergence of the internet so many innovative thinkers in the field of technology have emerged. Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg etc have founded Google, Apple and Facebook. Probably you will be reading this piece from one of these devices and platforms.  
While Watching Aljazeera on Saturday 16th May 2013, some Indians wanted to join the league of 21st century innovators. They are working to create a smartphone application that can be used as a laboratory for urine test.
Speaking at the TED conference, (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design: it is a gathering of innovators and thinkers in the United States, who spread ideas on how they changed their society), Myshkin Ingawale from India suggested his motivation for working to create this mobile phone application. Like Tim Berners-Lee before him, Ingawale believes that people do pee, and they also have cell phones, so why not bring the two together to address the challenges of lab testing especially in rural areas. Writing about this innovation, Mchael V Copeland of the Wired Magazine stated that “what Ingawale has created is a seemingly simple app that analyzes chemical strips by first taking photos with your phone at predetermined times and comparing the results that appear on the pee-soaked strip to a color-coded map”. 
Copeland added that “With the color comparisons as a guide, the app analyzes the results, and comes back in seconds with a breakdown of the levels of glucose, bilirubin, proteins, specific gravity, ketones, leukocytes, nitrites, urobilinogen and hematuria present in the urine. The parameters the app measures are especially helpful for those people managing diabetes, and kidney, bladder and liver problems, or ferreting out the presence of a urinary tract infection”.
As the Aljazeera correspondent showed during the report, a team of doctors and IT experts have gathered in a room working to make sure this app becomes a reality. As the report finished, I quickly remember that in Nigeria people love watching Indian movies, in fact we now have Kannywood. Here is another movie in technology and medical education. Nigerian doctors and IT specialists, over to you.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

(61): Faith, civilisation and diversity (III)

Dushanbe at Night
I took the menu to see if I could recognise some of the food, I selected what I could recognise, but I had to use the sign language to point at my preferred choice. Sometimes you do not understand the value of a skill until its need arises. I had to use my fingers as well to find out about the price. This made me to appreciate the sign language that you normally see on television during news or whether forecast. As I was struggling to complete my order, a voice behind me said, brother Jameeeeeel…. I turned around; it was Professor Mudjia Rahardjo, the Rector of Republic of Indonesia Islamic University, who was attending the same event as I was.

I met Professor Rahardjo at the airport on our way to the hotel. He was a very humble and soft-hearted person. We quickly became friends. With a huge sigh of relief, I greeted him. “Don’t worry, we have an interpreter with us, he can help you order the food that you want”, Professor Rahardjo said. I went back to the counter again, and the interpreter helped me to place the order and settle the bills.

In the evening as people prepare to close from work, I returned to the hotel, a friend in our entourage suggested that we visit the Somoni Park, which is opposite the hotel. Few minutes later, we were there. Somoni Park is a very beautiful place for families and friends. It is decorated by flowers. It has enough seats for people to spend their time. But what I found most beautiful is how the people of Dushanbe utilise the parks by spending their evenings there. The youth will bring their friends to stroll around. And they welcome strangers with a smile.

A common practice you see in the Somoni Park is that once the young people see a stranger, they come and ask for photo, young children walk towards you and smiling with joy. One interesting point is that a country does not need to be stupendously rich before it can make life comfortable for its people. This is a great lesson for other developing countries. The city of Dushanbe is surrounded by public parks. The people of Tajikistan are not rich, yet they are happy. Their country is beautiful, and the people are hospitable.

There are some interesting facts about the country some of which were confirmed to us during a visit to Professor Jamshidov, a leading professor of linguistics in the country. It has a population of around eight million people, two million less than the population of Kano. Yet, there are 32 universities. Almost two million people are working in Russia, sending remittances worth US $ 2 billion a month to the country.

Somoni Park in Dushanbe
They have 97% literacy rate. Any father who refuses to take his child to school will go straight to prison. And you could clearly see the high literacy rate in the country when you interact with the elderly people. I saw that when purchasing some traditional Tajik attire, before we left the country. The elderly woman I was purchasing from writes well and makes calculations without any difficulty.This brings me to the next point, they have beautiful traditional dress. For those who like a unique dress during the Eid festivals, they should explore from Tajikistan.

One more thing, among the public universities the Tajik people are proud of is Avicenna Tajik Medical University, named after the famous Muslim scientist and a leading pioneer of medical education. The university is considered one of the best even in the former Soviet Union. According to an encyclopedia published by the University, “the medicine of Tajiks has an original history, which roots come from a deep antiquity. The treasury of the world medical science was enriched by the works of the greatest scientist-doctors of antiquity and first of all by Avicenna (in 10-11 centuries), from which many generations of doctors and scientists of the world have got medical knowledge and skills” (p. 104).

The journey to Tajikistan was fulfilling, but for every beginning there is an end, and it has to end. On Friday morning at 2am on 24th May, 2013, I checked out from my hotel and headed straight to the airport. The weather was cool, the wind gently breezing. As the morning approaches and the passengers on board Turkish airline were seated. It started raining heavily. After two hours of waiting inside the aircraft, it started moving gently and slowly. As the flight took off and headed towards Istanbul, looking through the window as we penetrate through the clouds, my heart was saying good bye Tajikistan.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

(60): Faith, civilisation and diversity (II)

It was Friday morning. The 17th of May, the jet lag was over. The sun was bright. People were elegantly dressed, the roads relatively busy, but nothing near the congested roads of bigger cities like London, New York, Jeddah or Lagos. Some people were walking by the side of the road, a common culture in this beautiful land. When is the Friday prayer? I asked a fellow. It normally starts around 1 pm. How far is the mosque? I enquired. It is nearby, you can either walk or take a taxi, a uniformed officer told me. A gentleman by the side looked at me and said, I am actually going to the mosque, and so I joined him in a taxi. About ten minutes later, the taxi driver stopped, and we paid him five Somoni (the name of their currency) each.   
People walking towards Abu Hanifa mosque

In Dushanbe there are two types of taxis, the ones that are officially registered, and those run by individuals. Of course for a stranger, it is always advisable to use a registered taxi, though they may be more expensive, but at least they are relatively safer. This is an advice that can help you, wherever you travelled around the world. I once had terrible experience using a non-registered taxi in a foreign country, a subject for another day.

Almost everyone in that area was walking towards the mosque, gently and respectfully. Although people tend to be liberally dressed, they are modest in their public attitude compared to what you see in European and other Western capitals. Those who drive left their cars in a relatively long distance, avoiding unnecessary congestion. As I turned right, I was greeted by this marvelous architecture, squared in shape. The inner part of the mosque was built within the shape of   the square, while the central part of the square was left as an open space. As we entered the main prayer hall, the Imam was delivering the pre-Khutbah (pre-sermon).

The Imam is a relatively old man, approximately in his late sixties or early seventies. He was wearing a medium sized turban, and an Eypto-Persian style long gown. His trimmed beard was grey, and was seated comfortably on the pulpit.  Although I don’t understand the Tajik language, but from the ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace), I could figure out he was speaking about generosity and humility. He was particularly emphasizing the reward for those who are rich but humble, as well as the poor people who are generous. Even if you don’t fully understand the Tajik language, there is something beautiful about this Imam. He has a compelling humility. One of our tour guides told me that the style of Khutbah (sermon) employed by the Imams, is one of the factors attracting people to the mosque. Because they focus on piety, generosity, brotherhood and those social values that hold the society together. A theme that people identify with in post-Soviet Tajikistan.

After finishing the pre-Khutbah and the call to prayer was made, the Imam ascended on the pulpit again, standing and facing the congregation, he started delivering the main sermon. Here was another lesson I learnt. The sermon was the shortest I have experienced. It was not more than ten minutes. So those coming from work, or having other responsibilities to attend, can benefit from the sermon, and go back to their businesses on time.
Secondly the, the voice of the Imam was one of most melodious I ever heard. Another quality that is common among the reciters of the Qur’an in Tajikistan. Their voice has a thinly-vibrant eloquence that keeps your nerves intact, and your mind fully focused when they chant the verses of the Qur’an.

The entrance of Abu Hanifa University
 As the Friday prayer finished, I could see strangers like myself busy bringing out their cameras, taking pictures, and the joy on their faces summarizes how fulfilling it is to visit this country. As we came out of the mosque, I noticed there was a bookshop by the side. I quickly entered. Looking around I could see prominent texts in the Islamic sciences, like Tafsirul Qurtubi, Tafsir ibn Kathir, Fathul Bari (the commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari) etc. one of the youths quickly came towards me, with a smile on his face. After greeting each other, I asked him, “please what is the name of this mosque?”, “this is Abu Hanifa mosque, it used to be called Imam At-Tirmidhy mosque, but it was changed to Abu Hanifa mosque about three years ago”, the young man told me in his posh Arabic. “I understand that you have a unique way of memorizing the Qur’an?” I asked again. “yes we do, there is actually a school called Mehrubat outside Dushanbe, they are specialists in that, just quote any verse, and the reciter who memorised the Qur’an will immediately tell you the chapter and the number of the verse”, he responded. Looking outside the bookshop, the gentleman said “apart from the mosque and the bookshop, we also have Abu Hanifa University”. So it was a triangle of a mosque, bookshop and a university. As I crossed the road around 2:30 pm, I heard the enzymes in my stomach beginning to hold a noisy conference. I quickly intervened by entering the next restaurant, where none of the staff on duty speaks English or Arabic, so how can I place an order?
To be continued