Sunday, January 22, 2006

Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji



Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji

by James Howarth
20 - 1 - 2006

A deliberate ambiguity between the spiritual and the political fuels the symbolic power of the elusive Islamist network, says James Howarth, the translator of Osama bin Laden's "messages to the world".

It was supposed to be simple. The civilised world is fighting an ongoing "war on terror" against evil, exotic forces that want to destroy freedom and progress everywhere. This enemy is spearheaded by a shadowy but highly organised collective going by the name of "al-Qaida", masterminded by Osama bin Laden.

In the real world, meanwhile, this crude narrative continues to unravel to the point of absurdity. The formulaic reactions in western politics and media to the broadcast on 19 January of bin Laden’s most recent taped message – in which he both threatens "new operations" and proposes "a long-term truce (with the Americans) based on just conditions that we will stand by"– reinforces its irrelevance.

Whether this message is really a miraculously revived bin Laden or not – and there is evidence to doubt its authenticity – are we now any nearer to understanding what this al-Qaida is and what it wants than four years ago? Are we now any nearer to understanding what this al-Qaida is and what it wants than four years ago? The ambiguity of the Arabic term Qaida (base, precept, rule, methodology or vanguard) only adds to its effectiveness, although bin Laden himself has scoffed at the idea of some hidden significance behind it.


James Howarth is reviewing the book by Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Hurst, 2005)

Also in openDemocracy, two articles by Faisal Devji, including a review of the book Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (Verso, 2005) (translated by James Howarth):

"Spectral brothers: al-Qaida’s world wide web" (August 2005)

"Osama bin Laden’s message to the world" (December 2005)



Al-Qaida and the global

If al-Qaida is a product of the information age, is it as a .com, a .net, a .org, or maybe all at once? At least three analogies have been proposed:

Jason Burke’s idea of the "Holy War Foundation": a wealthy university distributing research grants to localised militant groups who need logistical and financial assistance for terrorist attacks
the venture-capitalist model: assorted groups approach Osama bin Laden and his deputies in their capacity as CEO and executive board of a multinational. Significantly, this model reflects the structure and modus operandi of economic globalisation, suggesting that global terrorism is the evil but inevitable shadow of neo-liberal capitalism
the media empire: freelancers approach with ideas for independent projects, for which resources are occasionally granted.
At another level, al-Qaida's jihadism appears like an ideological tumour whose cells are spreading through the interstices of global discontent. Although military cures only worsen such a disease, by radicalising moderates and legitimising extremists, the western coalition nevertheless maintains its role in bin Laden's macabre theatre of cosmic struggle between two imagined, Manichean adversaries: "the abode of Islam" and "the abode of war".

Conscious of this complicity, and fearful of criticism, western leaders have stressed that this is a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy. The current Washington approach – mirroring al-Qaida's – argues that the enemy only understands force, and that victory will in itself prove this right. Are neo-conservatism and jihadism then locked into a mutually-sustaining metaphysical alliance in which each requires the other in equal measure? Without a ferocious and unambiguously evil enemy who can strike anywhere and anytime, what need for Americans' fear of terrorist annihilation?

Equally, every misguided attempt to eradicate terrorism only strengthens bin Laden's authority. Each has an interest in sustaining the vicious circle, while other world leaders, in supporting roles, seize on this metaphysical "war on terror" as carte blanche to deepen ethno-political conflicts like Israel-Palestine and Chechnya.

But is this really a new kind of war, and is al-Qaida really a new kind of enemy? In some respects yes; in others, no. The conceptual models described above may be useful, but they all lack one crucial dimension: the transcendental. bin Laden is not just a financial resource for suicidal extremists, he is also a spiritual symbol for millions of alienated individuals, a fact reflected in his powerful video performances. Whilst being a new departure, therefore, he is also merely the latest charismatic leader to issue the historic call to jihad. Easily exploiting the structures of globalisation to tap into the discontent of vulnerable Muslims – and non-Muslims – everywhere, he has brought this jihad from the local to the universal level.

Al-Qaida and Sufism

The image of bin Laden among his followers is very different to his bogeyman image in the west; known to them as "the sheikh", he clearly resembles a Sufi leader whose pious devotion, hushed tones and studied asceticism create an aura of holiness. Unlike countless politicians, he is seen as a man of principle, someone who practices what he preaches. To many he even appears blessed with extraordinary powers, a kind of baraka: by his own admission 9/11 outstripped even his wildest dreams.

Sufism is renowned primarily for its achievements in the fields of poetry and mysticism, and its popular image in the west is an inner spiritual quest that eschews external action. But the legacy of anti-imperialist insurgencies from Algeria to Chechnya over the past two centuries shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Historically, it is a very broad phenomenon, spanning quietist sects to militant splinter groups. The ambiguous relationship between these two persuasions is key to understanding al-Qaida. In his Landscapes of the Jihad (pdf), Faisal Devji, one of the most perceptive and original observers of al-Qaida writing today, picks up on this otherwise neglected point.

Sufism is not a marginal phenomenon within Islam, as widely perceived even by many contemporary Muslims themselves, influenced perhaps by Wahhabi or Orientalist agendas. It was in fact the basis of Islamic practice between the 11th and 19th centuries, and the openness and enthusiasm of its practitioners largely accounts for the expansion of the Islamic world during the same period. Even the intellectual resource to which Islamist polemicists invariably refer in their quest for legitimacy, the militant "sheikh of Islam" Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), was committed to a branch of mainstream Sufism.

The best model for understanding al-Qaida is arguably the Sufi tariqa, or brotherhood, of which it is in many respects a postmodern version. This conception maintains the Islamic element emphasised by scholars of the middle east as well as the global aspect stressed by scholars like Devji, who is so keen to highlight al-Qaida's structural parallels with apolitical non-Islamic movements that he appears entirely to discount its links to the middle east (a category he queries in any case).

Tariqas are hierarchical spiritual orders, headed by a sheikh whose authority rests on his own exemplary devoutness, honest deeds and spiritual distinction. He travels the inner path towards divine truth, and allegiance to him is therefore a means to God. Traditionally, followers crystallised into eponymous brotherhoods: for example, the disciples of Mevlana Rumi (now one of America’s favourite poets) became the Mevlevi tariqa, better known as the "whirling dervishes" after their circular dancing ritual. Then as now, individuals turned to the brotherhood in despair at the world and in the desire to overcome a deep sense of loss. The many peaceful Sufi tariqas still functioning across the world today are in fact the peaceful psychological alter-ego of al-Qaida.

As a theosophy of universal proportions, linking microcosmic man to macrocosmic God and enjoining its followers to a moral existence, it is no surprise that Sufism forms the psychological underpinning of a movement like al-Qaida that, as Devji reminds us, is essentially global and ethical in nature. This is what accounts for the family resemblances, as he argues, with other universalist ethical trends like environmentalism and anti-globalisation. While such resemblances exist, al-Qaida is more precisely the spiritually orphaned grandson of the Sufi movements that once dominated the Islamic world, particularly those that upheld an absolute ontological gulf between man and God.

Al-Qaida and fragmentation

Al-Qaida is a grandson and not a son because – sandwiched in between – lies the fleeting ascendancy of modern, European-style ideologies like pan-Arabism, nationalism and Ba’athism. These, however, foundered on their internal contradictions and their leaders' delusions of grandeur, and are now seen by many Arab Muslims as corrupt, tyrannical and godless. Islamist movements, and subsequently al-Qaida's jihadism, rose out of the ashes of this short-lived secular interlude, and in that sense are postmodern phenomena, even though their absolutist claims are relativised in the contemporary global "faith market".

The shrill, superficial religiosity of many Islamist movements is further evidence of this status. In many ways such offshoots are shallow simulacra of their original version, discarded as soon as they have served their purpose, and a reflection of the fickle, nervous world in which their adherents live. There is an increasing burnout rate among young converts to salafism, although contingent factors like prison or sexual repression can exacerbate the problem – al-Qaida’s new leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, being a case in point.

Devji asserts the relative importance of non-Arab actors like Pakistanis, Afghans, Bosnians and Chechens in the emergence of al-Qaida. But its psychosocial genesis undeniably traces back to the Arab world, and primarily to two countries: Egypt and Saudi Arabia. After all, these two produced both al-Qaida's leadership and the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers, while the network has now become largely re-territorialised in Iraq, where many of the foreign jihadis are also Saudi.

It was the confluence of several critical factors – the failure of secularism, the excesses of imperialism, and the continued disappearance of Islam's sustaining myth from the horizon – that sowed the original seeds of this moral catastrophe. This generation really is spiritually orphaned in the sense that, since their parents' generation was largely secular, they have lost the inherited contact with the myth that supposedly provided their raison d'etre. This was the psychological disconnect for which al-Qaida offered merely the most extreme answer.

For more sensitive individuals, the fragmentation of political realities has brought home profound existential realities, albeit often unconsciously. The painfully neurotic disposition of the 9/11 mastermind bomber, Mohammed Atta, as seen in his will, is a case in point. Europe faced its own existential questions when the Christian myth succumbed to the secular, rationalist worldview; the Islamic world has long been experiencing a similar crisis of mythology, albeit an even harder one as it does not hold a "cultural patent" on the modernity that undermines it.

Al-Qaida is the culmination of this process. That is why Devji is correct to imply that its most frightening aspect is not how exotic or distant it is, but how closely linked it is to the intellectual legacy of the European enlightenment and contemporary American existence. It is no surprise that Eliot's The Waste Land and Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra were the most influential European literary works in the Arab world during the 20th century.

It is worth remembering here that an evolutionary process that took Europe five centuries has been compressed for Arab Muslims into a few generations, complicated all the while by the designs of external powers. Nowhere is this clearer than in the almost overnight transformation of sleepy Arabian villages to glassy, high-rise metropolises: pre-modern to postmodern with precious little inbetween. In such a context the psychological disconnections of bin Laden's generation are hardly surprising.

At the apex of this hasty transition, the Arab individual often finds him/herself victim of a sharp sense of insecurity and anomie. Perhaps poor, part of a large family, recently migrant and lacking in prospects, or perhaps well-off but spiritually lost, this individual is acutely vulnerable to the instant comforts of religious ideology.


James Howarth is an analyst for Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and translator of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005). He lives in Amman.

Also by James Howarth in openDemocracy:

"Jordan’s 9/11" (November 2005)

"The fallout from Amman" (November 2005)


If you find this material valuable please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue



Al-Qaida and modernity

The search for permanence and identity in a fickle world often translates into a new-found attachment to Islam, a framework to find oneself and reassert a semblance of psychological self-control. But this knee-jerk reconversion is often accompanied by a lethal flaw: the inability to interpret an essentially mythological idea in anything other than a rational way. This explains the prevalence of scientists and engineers in the Islamist ranks. Cut off from the inherited tradition and searching for concrete answers, the modern subject reads the religious text literally and therefore adopts absolutist positions.

Ironically, Islamism reveals not a lack but a surfeit of modernity. Al-Qaida's chaotic jihad, in being open to all-comers, is in fact a strange democratisation of Islam, undermining all previous forms of social control at every turn. With its Sufi and capitalist characteristics, it privatises religion.

Just as people once turned to Sufism, this unstable, atomised individual, brought face to face with his ultimately helpless human condition, chooses to become part of a brotherhood that aims at psychological redemption. Sufism was an early Islamic version of psychology, and many of al-Qaida's more affluent recruits today share the affliction that Kierkegaard called despair: "the sickness unto death".

Over the last decade, bin Laden has not only appropriated the practical benefits of globalisation, but knowingly adopted the iconic mantle of prophecy on behalf of a spiritually lost nation. Answering the Muslim desire for a heroic saviour of mythological proportions, his darkly coherent speeches strike a deep chord in the collective psyche. It is only ironic that he should emerge from such a rigidly traditionalist school as Wahhabism, despite the fact that in drawing on Sufism, Shi'ism and secular ideas, al-Qaida displays all the characteristics of a monumental bid'a, or innovation.

Is there really good reason to conceive of al-Qaida as a quasi-Sufi order of the information age? Historically, certain tariqas have crossed over from quiet spiritualism to violent confrontation, while remaining true to one principle: jihad. These erstwhile peaceful and inward-looking brotherhoods have turned to military campaigns in response to invasion or occupation. As non-state actors with concentric and often clandestine structures, such tariqas can be understood as prototypes of modern jihadist organisations.

In the 1930s, pioneering Egyptian Islamist Hassan al-Banna (1906-48) described his newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood as "a Salafiyya message, a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organisation, an athletic group, a scientific and cultural union, and economic enterprise and a social idea". In other words, modernity – experienced largely as an aggressive other – meant that the tariqa concept could no longer afford to exist in solipsistic isolation: it had to be transformed into an expressly political institution that would restore truth to the world.

This is but one example of mutual reinforcement between the spiritual and political dimensions of religion. The restoration of personal psychic integrity through union with God that was the aim of Banna's childhood Sufism became the restoration of social integrity at large. In this, Banna was clearly influenced by modern conceptions of the state and European political movements. Like Sayyid Qutb, the brotherhood's intellectual donation to al-Qaida, he became a "martyr" for the Islamist cause, a concept which Devji also notes is largely borrowed from Shi'a mythology.

The worldview of the Naqshbandi tariqa, one of the most well-established orders in the Islamic world, needed relatively little adaptation to go political. Islam in 19th-century Chechnya essentially comprised a complex network of Naqshbandi lodges, whose politicisation can be traced directly to the aggressive designs of a cultural other over this strategic region. This generated a classic model of asymmetrical conflict – occupation versus resistance – with the Naqshbandis adopting guerrilla tactics against a Russian military power that, like the American army and its massive arsenal today, was rendered clumsy and largely obsolete when the exchange was not on their terms.

The tariqa's strategic advantages were its strict spiritual hierarchy, clandestine cell structure and religious authority. The order became "dual-purpose", adapting its entrenched system of lodges and disciples towards a military goal. In Islamic terms, the "greater jihad", inner purification of the self, had been exchanged for the "lesser jihad", outer purification of the larger self, or nation, from foreign contamination. The Naqshbandi imam and commander Ghazi Muhammad (c1793-1832) declared, quite plausibly, that spiritual perfection and foreign occupation were mutually exclusive – therefore expelling the enemy was the first step towards God.

Al-Qaida and the Islamic world

Islam and the common enemy also had the unprecedented effect of uniting the tribes and ethnic groups of a diverse, mountainous region under a common banner. This is also true of bin Laden and the transnational jihadi network under his name, except that the homeland in a globalised jihad is not just Chechnya but any Muslim territory, past or present. Is it the nature of the battlefield that has changed as much as the ideas at stake?

In any setting, foreign occupation undoubtedly instigates far more politicised religious interpretations. The believer's preoccupation is inverted from the divine Other within to the aggressive other without. Such confrontation inevitably generates dogmatic insistence on orthodoxy and hasty delineation between believers and infidels. The more superficial religious tenets begin to outweigh the spiritual truth they symbolise.

In Chechnya, a series of wars were fought against Russian occupation under the Naqshbandi leadership, whose spirituality became almost entirely eclipsed by the political struggle. The Russians, with their far greater resources, often passed up opportunities for negotiated settlement in favour of outright victory. Over time, however, this only exacerbated the Naqshbandis' capacity to recover from setbacks, regroup and respond quickly with devastating consequences. The inevitable collective punishments of ordinary people by the Russians in their attempts to crush the resistance only played into Naqshbandi hands. It is hardly surprising that this conflict still festers today, when it has become subsumed by both Russia and al-Qaida under the "war on terror" umbrella.

Bin Laden's astute ambiguity between the spiritual and the political bears clear parallels to this historical Chechen struggle. After the destruction of his Afghan base in 2001, his significance in the symbolic rather than practical realm has clearly increased. His frequent references to Chechnya reinforce the notion of al-Qaida as the latest incarnation of militant tariqas on a global scale. In both cases, the clandestine structure and spiritual authority of the Sufi brotherhood, based on total trust and loyalty, is readily adaptable to military objectives of "pure" Islam, centred around an essentially spiritual axis.

The tariqa has found an unexpected descendent in the form of an underground, disparate and constantly shifting hierarchy of associates. This post-tariqa functions under the aegis of religious inspiration, transformed in a globalised age by the existence of a militarily and economically superior adversary. The neo-conservative and jihadi ideologies, similarly lacking in political vision, represent mirror-image exoteric postmodernisms. That is why the higher echelons of al-Qaida and the Project for the New American Century, can be seen, as Devji hints, as psychological shadows of each other. The danger of both projects is their metaphysical dogmatism, facile resort to violence and narrow-minded contempt of the other, which is sucking impressionable individuals worldwide into a widening opposition.

Al-Qaida and the future

Faisal Devji's original and penetrating insights offers a refreshing alternative to the usual US or Eurocentric viewpoints. However, in theorising al-Qaida's ethical nature, it is surely too rash to dismiss out of hand the links between Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism. Al-Qaida thus presented comes across as a fait accompli that has appeared almost entirely spontaneously, overlooking its political or psychological causes.

Unconcerned with root causes, Devji devotes himself instead to a skilful exposition of al-Qaida as an integral part of our 21st-century global order. What we are observing is a religious edifice in disarray, brutally undermined by modernity and now watching its remains endlessly splintering. In the wake of the cold war and the failure of both secular and fundamentalist ideologies in Islamic countries, political ideas have been transcended towards individual radicalisation and ethical gestures. In an internally split Islamic world short on direction but long on vested interests and natural resources, it is hard to foresee any realistic renewal of authority. Instead we may be left with a daunting array of fragmented, feuding factions, the violent legacy of a once-peaceful tradition defending what remains of its honour.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tunes of the spirit: TAKE NOTE? Micky Narula is the latest entry to the music scene

TAKE NOTE: Micky Narula is the latest entry to the music scene

Micky Narula, who is coming up with "Ranjhan Yaar", his latest album with eight Sufi songs sung and composed by him, says the word Sufi has great significance for him. Brother of the famous Punjabi singer Jaspinder Narula, Micky Narula was fascinated with Sufi music from the very beginning. He may have inherited his passion to compose and sing from his father K.S. Narula, a noted music director, but for this album he has drawn inspiration from the 16th and 17th Century Sufi singers who used to dress in blue.

Micky, who currently has two Hollywood movies under production named Gold Bracelet and My Nanaji's Wedding and a Pakistani movie, Dil se Dil Tak, avers that his philosophy about spirituality in real life is reflected in this album.

"The theme of the album is based on the famous love-fable of Heer-Ranjha, but the essence of its music lies in addressing the Almighty. There is no candy-floss romance shown in this album; rather there is a depiction of pious love."

Micky is very much against the distortion of music, which he thinks has become a general practice in the industry.

"What video-music albums provide us today is for the eyes and not the soul. One should think and make music beyond the physical self," he explains, adding, "We have made use of an Arabic instrument called oodh in our album. It is probably the first time anybody has ever experimented with it in Indian music."

Two songs from this maiden album of Frankfinn Music, "Yaar Mera" and "Ranjhan Yaar", have video versions starring fashion designer Vijaya. Having already designed for the film Apaharan, she is looking forward to more acting and designing assignments in Bollywood.

"Though I love fashion designing, my first preference would remain acting. I am looking forward to doing meaty roles in Bollywood, but as of now, I am waiting for the album to be released," says Vijaya.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wadali brothers to sing for Dutt’s Sarhad Par

Wadali brothers to sing for Dutt’s Sarhad Par

- By Neha Sharma January, 8, 2006 from the Asian Age

New Delhi: After reviving the trend of qawwalis in Hindi films and giving hit numbers in films like Pinjar and Dhoop, the legendary Wadali Brothers will next be heard in Sanjay Dutt’s forthcoming film Sarhad Par. The duo were in the capital to perform at the Katha Asia International Utsav.

"Jab tak bika na tha koi puchhta na tha; tune mujhe kharid kar anmol kar diya," is how they define their journey from a hamlet in Amritsar to the present day hall of fame.

"I always wanted to be a wrestler but my father forced me to learn music. He used to sit with a stick during training sessions," said Puranchand Wadali, the elder of the two brothers. After mastering Sufi music, they trained under Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Comparing their compositions to the "so-called Sufi music which seems to be gaining steam," Pyarelal Wadali said, "The singers who claim to excel in Sufi music hardly know anything about it. It’s all superficial."

Further elaborating on Sufism, he added, "Sufi kalaam is actually a prayer sung by fakirs and Sufi saints in praise of the Almighty."

On the trend of remixes, the duo said, "If you call it music than you need to give it a second thought."

Dr. Carlos Verona Narvion to deliver Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture

Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture by Dr. Carolos Verona Narvion

Kolkata, India January 6, 2006

This year the prestigious Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Dr Carlos Verona Narvion, a philosopher researching on orientalism, sufism and the works of Cervantes for two decades. The lecture will be delivered on January 30.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Kailash Kher, Singer, on why Sufi music is not limited to a particular audience.

Kailash Kher, Singer, on why Sufi music is not limited to a particular audience.

in City Supplements, Bombay Times, January 4, 2006

You are known essentially as a Sufi singer. Does that alienate your kind of music?

Sufi music can be hugely popular, as Toota toota ek parinda proved to everyone. And if Sufi music is mixed with international sound, it can have quite a global appeal.

In my concerts abroad, the foreigners in the audience really enjoy the sound as it's exotic and very different from the run-of-themill music that plays all over.

Sufi music has a philoso phy behind it, so by going pop does the meaning get lost somewhere?

The philosophy of Sufi music is very easy to understand and the more pop you go with it, the better its chances of reaching out to the masses. Sufi music is about life, affinity, love, reality and the ultimate search for God.

But does Sufi music have to fall prey to the packag ing syndrome of music?

In this day and age, packaging of music is very important. So, for my new album Kailasa, for which I've composed, written and sung extensively, I've opted for music videos that add that extra visual appeal and pull in listeners. There will be three music videos for my album, one of which will be shot in Egypt as the visual treatment needed for a particular song in that album has special sound.

With so much music in the market, one really needs to make a mark and that can happen only by doing something different every time.

So, will there be out-andout Sufi music in your forthcoming album?

There is a confluence of varied sounds, ranging club music, lounge feel, country music to eclectic variations from the world over. But Sufi music is the vital element in the album.

Activist rocker [Salam Ahmad of Junoon] inspires Muslims

"Activist rocker inspires Muslims

By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service, December 30, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune

Salman Ahmad performs with his band, Junoon, at the Dubai Country Club in Dubai. His work to build bridges between the Muslim and Western worlds has earned him comparisons with another socially active rocker, U2's Bono. (Religion News Service)

One of Salman Ahmad's earliest gigs was a talent show at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he was studying to be a doctor. Moments after he strummed his first chords, Islamic fundamentalists barged in, smashed Ahmad's guitar and drum set, and broke up the show.
Ahmad wasn't so much scared as confused.
''I thought rock musicians were supposed to break their own instruments,'' he said with a smile.
Little did they know at the time, but those fundamentalists helped spawn an international star whose faith-based music reaches millions of Muslims, prompting comparisons to another do-good rocker, U2's Bono. Perhaps more important, by promoting interfaith understanding, Ahmad has become a pivotal figure in the war between moderate and extremist Islam.
''That one incident really changed the way I started thinking. I realized that if there are some people who feel threatened by music, and what music means for people, then I should do more of it,'' said Ahmad, a devout Sufi Muslim.
Ahmad, 41, is best known as lead guitarist of Junoon, a Pakistani-American rock band that is wildly popular throughout South Asia and among the South Asian diaspora, selling 25 million albums.
But fame was never enough for Ahmad, who has parlayed his popularity into lobbying for Third World development and building bridges between the Islamic and Western worlds.
''I can't imagine anybody else out there who as a single person can make a bigger difference than Sal,'' said Polar Levine, a Jewish-American musician with whom Ahmad has collaborated since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ''He's not making music as a sales unit or to get babes. He's got an agenda.''
Born in Lahore, Ahmad moved with his family to Tappan, N.Y., when he was 12. There he grew to love Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and bought his first guitar. He also maintained his Pakistani-Muslim roots, speaking Urdu at home, fasting during Ramadan and perusing the Quran. Ahmad returned to Lahore for medical school and after graduating chose music over medicine.
Ahmad formed Junoon in 1990, creating a distinctive sound - electric rock braided with Pakistani folk music and lyrics that drew from the Quran and Sufi poets such as Rumi and Baba Bulleh Shah. He quickly won a following that grew over the years.
''My inspiration comes from a lot of these Sufi poets, and the fact that they saw the world as one,'' Ahmad said. ''I'm a believer, and a lot of my music and my life take inspiration from faith. And the Quran is a huge source of inspiration.'' Despite his deference to Islam, not all Muslims approve of Ahmad and Junoon.
His group was banned from performing in Pakistan from 1996 to 1999 after referring to government corruption in a song and protesting Pakistan's and India's nuclear testing. After fundamentalists won local elections in Pakistan's northwest Peshawar region in 2002 and outlawed all music as un-Islamic, the BBC, in the documentary ''Rock Star and the Mullahs,'' chronicled how Ahmad challenged fundamentalists to show where in the Quran music is forbidden. They couldn't, but still held to their views.
Imam Yahya Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University and member of the Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Council of North America, says there is ''absolutely nothing'' in the Quran or Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) that prohibits music.
On the contrary, Islam needs musicians like Ahmad, perhaps even more than it needs religious leaders, Hendi says.
''Music is a universal language. Every human being connects with it. Not everyone connects with religious voices. Musicians can put out the message that Islam is a religion of love, compassion and peace better than clergy,'' he said.
Ahmad says the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, but that they need to do a better job of explaining their religion.
''Everybody says, 'It's a religion of peace.' Well, all religions are religions of peace. But what does your identity stand for?'' he said.
Ahmad's identity has been shaped by October's devastating earthquake in the disputed territory of Kashmir. It claimed nearly 90,000 victims, including Ahmad's aunt and cousin.
The tragedy has put Ahmad on a fundraising tour, including a concert in Norway that helped secure a $25 million pledge from that country's government. He was critical of the Pakistani government's hesitancy to accept aid from Israel, a country it doesn't recognize.
''We have to get out of this mind-set of the politics of division,'' he said. ''When there's a tragedy, you've got to do what's required.''

Nagore remembers 'tsunami' souls in true Sufi spirit

Nagore remembers 'tsunami' souls in true Sufi spirit

Nagore (Tamil Nadu) | December 26, 2005 in webindia123.com

Noorbano held on to the iron grills, staring longingly at a patch of green behind it. The long grass, however, could not hide the tombstone of her brother - washed away in the tsunami that struck the Nagapattinam coast a year ago.
Sitting a little distance from the prayer gathering Monday, Noorbano quietly remembers her brother, who she says now live as a 'nerunji'- a grass flower among hundred other tombstones.

Among these mass graves lie the remains of 300 people, who perished in the monster waves. The graves are located in the 'dargah' of Sayedna Sayed Abdul Kadir Shahul Hammed Nagoori, the highest-ranking Sufi saint in southern India, popularly known as Meeran Sahib.

The beaches are less than a km from the dargah and that is why the bodies were brought here on Dec 26 morning last year.

Haji H Mohamed Abubacker Sahib, a dargah trust aide, told IANS: "There were 50 children among the dead.

"We don't know who among the dead were Muslims and who were Hindus. We buried all the bodies we recovered here and prayed for their salvation, be it Hindu, Muslim or Christian. We are Sufis."

He said in true Sufi spirit, Nagore and its 20,000 inhabitants Monday joined in special 'namaz' prayers for the salvation of all tsunami victims - Hindus, Muslims, Christians - at the dargah.

"Death is a great leveller of truth for the high and mighty as well as the weak and the low. That is what our saint taught us," the keepers of this dargah say.

Nagore is a small pilgrim town, about seven km from Nagapattinam, where lie the remains of Meeran Sahib, a spiritual leader born in Audh between 1490 and 1500, who travelled all over in his quest for truth and eventually settled and preached here.

The devotees who throng here cut across religion.

Jayakali, from Sripudupettai village on the Cuddalore coast 200 km away, said: "We believe in Meeran Sahib. We will pray to him to make things all right. It was only because of him my family was saved from the tsunami."

Such is the power of faith here.

Hundreds of people from Pattinancherry, Silladi, Manalmodu, Kadalkarai and Attankarai on Nagore coast had died in the disaster last year.

During the tsunami, Muslim youths and elders of Nagore worked together to provide relief, without any religious bias.

After tsunami, Shanmugavel, 21, had along with Mohammad and John recovered the dead bodies. He was one of the first youths to have reached Pattinacherry that devastating Sunday.

The dargah - the biggest building in the town - was the centre of all relief operations.

Recalling those first few days, Shanmugavel, an Amritanandamayi Math volunteer at Nagore, said: "The mosque was the first place to thrown open its doors to the people from the coast, fleeing in fear. They were the first to help the villagers."

Mohammad, who helped bury the dead at the dargah, is philosophical: "Before Allah, who is Muslim, who is Hindu? We are all the same." He was selling a 'chaadar' to a Hindu Brahmin pilgrim at the dargah.

The dargah authorities have provided four acres of land for temporary shelters to tsunami victims.

Mevlana (Rumi) Peace Competition to be held in 2007

"On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth, Mevlana Peace Competition will be held in 2007."

from the Cultural Heritage News Agency, Tehran, 19 December 2005 (CHN) --

On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Mevlana’s birthday, the great Peace Competition of Mevlana, otherwise known as Rumi, the great Iranian poet of the 13th century AD, will be held in Konya, Turkey in 2007.

“Following the suggestion of Turkish government, the year 2007 will be named after Rumi,” Said Abdol-sattar Yazar, head of Konya Cultural and Tourism Office.

In an interview with CHN in Rumi’s death anniversary, Yazar added that the 732nd anniversary of Rumi’s death will also be held in Konya on June/July of next year.

“Rumi’s death anniversary is known as ‘bride’s night’ in Turkey, and was used to be held every year from 10 to 17 of December. However, this year this ritual will be held for a longer period of time, that is from 7 to 17 of December,” Yazar added.

Since Sufi Gnostics regard death as a means of reunion with the beloved (the Lord Almighty), Mevlana’s death anniversary is considered a happy occasion. That’s why it is called the “bride’s night”.

The most interesting part of this ceremony is the famous dance of the “Whirling Dervishes”. This type of dance is known as “Sama”, and is a mystical round dance related to Sufism. Sama, from the Arabic root meaning “to listen”, refers to the spiritual practice of listening to music and achieving unity with the Divine.

Those who are responsible for holding this ceremony have started their job from mid-January by preparing catalogues in 8 languages which have been sent to 35 countries already. A catalogue in Persian language was sent to the Iran’s Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance.

The number of tourists who travel to Turkey to participate in this ceremony is increasing each year which is a proof of the Turkish officials’ success in introducing this special ritual to the world.

In each performance, approximately 12 thousand people are present, watching the ceremony. “45 thousand people are expected to be present at this ceremony. Performing days of this ceremony have been extended to 15 nights due to the increasing number of visitors,” said Yazar.

Last year more than 1,350,000 tourists traveled to Konya. This number is predicted to be increased to two million this year. Due to the increasing number of tourists, the accommodation facilities are being developed to facilitate transportation of the tourists.

Each year and around this time, a large number of groups from India, Pakistan and Iran travel to Konya to take part and perform in this ceremony.

In an interview with the Iranian media, director of Konya Journalists Society announced that ministers of tourism and culture from seven Islamic countries will travel to Konya. He also added that next year, Prince Charles of England and the Spanish Prime Minister will be among the visitors.

CNN, BBC, and Reuters have covered the news of this ceremony in the past. 500 journalists and correspondents from different media will also be working in Konya during the time the ceremony is held.

Ever since Rumi’s book, Mathnavi topped the best selling books lists in countries such as Germany and the U.S., the people in these countries have become eagerly interested in his poems; and the number of those who appreciate this master of Persian literature is on the rise.

Mowlana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad Rumi, known to the Turks as Mevlana, was a Muslim Sufi, poet, jurist, theologian and teacher of Sufism who was born in Balkh (then a city of the Greater Khorasan province of Persia (Iran), now part of Afghanistan) and died in Konya (in present-day Turkey which was within the Seljuk Empire's territory back then). His birthplace and native tongue points towards a Persian heritage. He also wrote his poetry in Persian, which is widely read in Iran and Afghanistan where the language is spoken. Yet, he is adored to such a degree that citizens of modern Turkey, Pakistan, and India sometimes consider him one of their own.

Rumi’s tomb is located in Konya in present-day Turkey, to which thousands of the poet lovers travel each year.

Dalrymple finds Sufism’s maverick soul in music, as seen in his film, Sufi Soul

"Dalrymple finds Sufism’s maverick soul in music"

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan in Delhi Newsline at cities.expressindia.com

New Delhi, December 16:

Sufi music has always attracted the mavericks, the artists and anyone with a slight rebellion within their soul, because it breathes the unconventional by going against fundamentalists interpretations of Islam that music has no place in worshipping God.

Author William Dalrymple says he discovered this and more during the filming of his movie Sufi Soul, which premiered at the British Council here on Thursday.

Dalrymple travelled across South Asia — from Morocco and Turkey to Pakistan and India — finding out about this religion. The hour-long film covers quite a few aspects of Sufism — the whirling dervishes inspired by the poet and Sufi saint Rumi, the underground Sufis in Istanbul who have been forbidden to practice, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his nephew Rahat and even the qawwali sessions in the Nizamuddin Dargah.

‘‘Originally I wanted a whole series,’’ said Dalrymple in a discussion with Pavan Varma, director, ICCR,‘‘I especially wanted to do Iran and Egypt, but there were budget constraints.’’

The movie also premiered in London, under Channel 4, about three months ago, which was followed by a three-day Sufi music festival. ‘‘I obviously couldn’t say all that I wanted to,’’ said Dalrymple, ‘‘It’s an hour-long film made for English audiences, basically to show them that there is more to Islam than terrorism.’’

But the movie touches on another aspect as well — showing the conflict between the fundamentalist Muslims and the ‘open-to-all’ Sufis. ‘‘It varies from place to place,’’ said the filmmaker. ‘There is an almost complete wiping out of Sufis in the North-West frontier, but in my opinion there are more people now on Thursday nights in Nizamuddin than there have ever been,’’ he added

Does he plan on making any more films? ‘‘We’ve put in a proposal to do part two of this movie,’’ said Dalrymple, ‘‘Plus I also want to do another movie devoted to Rumi.’’

Rumi — Turning Ecstatic, a film by Tina Petrova and Stephen Roloff

Poet's voice still echoes

by Ron Csillag Dec. 17, 2005. 01:00 AM

World Rumi Day marks 13th century Persian mystic's metaphysical journey home to the Beloved Toronto woman screens film of her own spiritual odyssey that Rumi inspired, writes Ron Csillag.

Shakespeare, a devotee once wrote, has had neither equal nor second.

Don't tell that to lovers of Mevlana Jelalludin Rumi.

The 13th century Sufi writer of ecstatic love poetry has been dubbed "the Shakespeare of mystics" and "the Shakespeare of the soul."

More than any other poet in any other religious tradition, Rumi saw the unseeable and expressed the inexpressible. He found the sublime in everything — in song, in dance, in nature and in friendship.

At a time when God was either King or Avenger, he dared to speak of the divine as pure love. Rumi's God was "the Beloved."

And talk about bookstore boffo: in the past 20 years, the English translations of his works are said to have outsold those of Shakespeare. Books like The Essential Rumi and The Illuminated Rumi by American translator Coleman Barks have sold more than 500,000 copies.

Rumi's verse has even been called the "Persian Qur'an." Time magazine, in its Dec. 31, 1999 issue, crowned him "Mystic of the Century."

Anyone who's read him may know the feeling of being transported to a place of wonderment, of getting lost in the trance-like swirl experienced by "whirling dervishes" — members of the Mevlevi Sufi order founded by Rumi's followers and which continues today.

A dreamy new film about one woman's spiritual odyssey comes close to capturing the feeling.

Rumi — Turning Ecstatic, by Torontonians Tina Petrova and Stephen Roloff, was inspired by something no one would consider very inspirational: a near-fatal car accident.

It happened Dec. 21, 1997, when Petrova, born a Roman Catholic, was driving to a Buddhist monastery deep in California's Mohave desert, and plunged off a small cliff. That was after a mysterious hitchhiker she had dropped off warned: "Don't drive off the cliff today."

Petrova, a 50-year-old retired actor and now a filmmaker, didn't know it at the time but it was the beginning of a journey that would change her life. She had driven off the metaphorical cliff all right — and straight into the pillow of Rumi's lap.

Back in Toronto a year later, "broken and humbled," still in a rib brace and unable to work, she prayed a novena to the Virgin Mary for guidance. That night, her plea was answered by a vision of a robed figure she recognized as Rumi.

As Petrova puts it in the film: "A Muslim mystic appearing to a Tibetan Buddhist answering a plea to the Virgin Mary ... welcome to my life."

Inspired, she organized the Rumi Festival of Peace in Toronto in 1999, bringing together Barks, a diverse group of dervishes, musicians and actors. It was just the start of a mission that could well have been fired by Rumi's words: "Sometimes in order to help, He makes us cry."

The film follows Petrova on a pilgrimage-like journey of recovery as she seeks out others dedicated to following Rumi's path "in word and action." Appearances are made by Barks; Shaikh Kabir Helminski, the western representative of Rumi's Mevlevi order who leads a group of dervishes in California; author Andrew Harvey; and architect Nader Khalili, whose innovative designs are inspired by the Persian mystic.

Born in 1207 AD in what is today Afghanistan, Rumi's family fled Mongol invasions and settled in present-day Turkey. Rumi was a scholar of traditional Islam and its mystical branch, Sufism, and taught at his father's religious school until a meeting with a dervish named Shams of Tabriz changed his life, and the course of mysticism.

Upon hearing that the wild monk Shams had been murdered, Rumi, the story goes, began whirling in grief, verses of ecstatic poetry pouring from him so fluidly that scribes could barely keep up committing them to paper.

He spent the rest of his life addressing his love for God and love for absent friends as two sides of the same coin. His best-known works are the Divan i Shams, comprising about 3,500 poems, and his magnum opus, Mathnawi, a work of 35,000 lines in six books that is considered today a classic of Middle Eastern literature, held with a reverence not far below the Qur'an.

In the West, Rumi's work is getting wider play. A 1998 tribute CD released by New Age health guru Deepak Chopra featured spoken word and music performances by Madonna, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, and the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Director Oliver Stone is said to be developing a full-length Hollywood treatment on his life.

Why does Rumi's voice echo after 700 years? Some point to his interfaith approach: "I am not Christian or Jew, not Hindu, Buddhist or Zen," he wrote. "I'm not from the East or West. I belong to the Beloved."

Or as Harvey, the author, puts it, Rumi's embrace of all paths to God speaks to us "at the moment when the human race needs that inspiration like oxygen ... (it's) a midwifing voice in an apocalyptic time."

Despite his broad view, Rumi was "very much a Muslim writer. To him, Muhammad was the perfect man," says Maria Subtelny, a scholar of classical Persian literature at the University of Toronto. Even so, "there is a universalism there and if his writings inspire people who can derive spirituality from it, that's testament to his genius."

Subtelny isn't the first scholar or fan to believe God spoke to Rumi directly. "There's no question in my mind that he was divinely inspired," she says.

Petrova needs no convincing.

"He had a direct connection with God. This man was on first-name terms with God."

A reporter can barely get the question out — Why did she make the film? — before Petrova launches into a 15-minute outpouring that is, well, poetic.

Following her vision, "I really had no choice. The mystical dream I had, the vision, the building force of the love of Rumi coming through me ... it almost knocked the wind out of me. I was propelled forward on this journey and certainly there were times I felt I was drowning."

She isn't counselling anyone to run out and become a Sufi. "I just wish for people to heal their woundedness." Neither is she ready to say that she's healed. "I'm saying that the journey has been painful. It's been excruciating but it's also been uplifting and blissful. I wish everyone on the planet could taste one sip from the wellspring of love I have been graced with."

She quotes a Rumi verse from memory: "Those tender words we said are stored in the heart of heaven and one day, like the rain, the whole world will grow green with their love."

Petrova believes that day is today. "I think Rumi's words offer a profound ray of hope for humanity. There's something about his poetry that cuts right to the centre of the human heart. His writing speaks of loss and longing and separation and love and union and bliss — the whole gamut of the metaphysical journey home to God, and indeed is a roadmap home to the Beloved."

Today, literally, is special for another reason.

All over the Muslim world, Dec. 17 is auspicious: It's Rumi's "Wedding Day," the day he met his Beloved and lifted the final veil, or the day of his death in 1273. Petrova has helped brainstorm the event into World Rumi Day, which she envisions as an annual tradition.

Rumi — Turning Ecstatic airs on Vision TV, a partner in the film, on Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. For a list of local venues screening the film today, see http://www.rumi-turn ingecstatic.com.


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Ron Csillag is a Toronto who specializes in religion. He can be reached at csillag@rogers.com.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Turks in a spin over Whirling Dervishes



Turks in a spin over Whirling Dervishes

by MERIEL BEATTIE in the Scotsman, December 17, 2005, reporting from Konya, Turkey

FAHRI Ozcakil is an odd kind of civil servant: his job requires him to wear a long white robe and a tall, conical hat and to spin around in circles so fast that his head tilts to one side, his tunic billows out - and his body becomes a twisting blur.

Mr Ozcakil is one of Turkey's official Whirling Dervishes.

Founded in the 13th century by followers of the mystic philosopher and poet Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, the dervishes developed their mesmerising, whirling dance in the belief that it allowed them to abandon earthly concerns and to achieve a spiritual union with God.

"Every circle, every turn, we keep the name of Allah in our mind," said Mr Ozcakil, who is formally employed by the Turkish ministry of culture and tourism.

Today is the highlight of the Dervish calendar. It is the day, 732 years ago, that Rumi - known today as "The Mevlana" - died in the central Turkish city of Konya.

Thousands of visitors, including many foreigners, have been flocking to Konya this week to watch Mr Ozcakil and his highly trained colleagues perform the hypnotic, whirling dance ceremony, or "Sema", and to listen to haunting Sufi music.

This year, there is an extra reason to celebrate. Last month, UNESCO declared the whirling ceremony a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" - a special status which ranks it alongside Japan's Kabuki theatre and the Khmer shadow puppets of Cambodia.

It represents a return to favour after all Dervish lodges and religious practices were banned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, in 1925 as part of his drive to create a secular state.

Biographical Article on Rumi

On the occasion of Rumi day Rumi’s continuing influence

TEHRAN, Dec. 16 Mehr News -- Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi was born in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), during the reign of the Ghurid Empire on September 30, 1207, and died December 17, 1273.

Also called by the honorific Mawlana, the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language is famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnaviy-e Manavi (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced Muslim mystical thought and literature. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West the Whirling Dervishes.

Jalal ad-Din's father, Baha ad-Din Walad, was a noted mystical theologian, author, and teacher. Mainly because of the threat of the approaching Mongols, Baha ad-Din and his family left their native town in about 1218. According to a legend, in Nishapur, Iran, the family met Farid od-Din Attar, a Persian author of mystical epics, who blessed young Jalal ad-Din. After a pilgrimage to Mecca and journeys through the Middle East, Baha ad-Din and his family reached Anatolia (Rum, hence the surname Rumi), a region that enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of the Turkish Seljuq dynasty. After a short stay at Laranda (Karaman), where Jalal ad-Din's mother died and his first son was born, they were called to the capital, Konya, in 1228. Here, Baha ad-Din Walad taught at one of the numerous madrasahs (religious schools); after his death in 1231 he was succeeded in this capacity by his son.

A year later, Burhan ad-Din Muhaqqiq, one of Baha ad-Din's former disciples, arrived in Konya and acquainted Jalal ad-Din more deeply with some mystical theories that had developed in Iran. Burhan ad-Din, who contributed considerably to Jalal ad-Din's spiritual formation, left Konya about 1240. Jalal ad-Din is said to have undertaken one or two journeys to Syria (unless his contacts with Syrian Sufi circles were already established before his family reached Anatolia); there he may have met Ibn al-Arabi, the leading Islamic theosophist whose interpreter and stepson, Sadr ad-Din al-Qunawi, was Rumi's colleague and friend in Konya.

The decisive moment in Rumi's life occurred on November 30, 1244, when in the streets of Konya he met the wandering dervish -- holy man -- Shams ad-Din (Sun of Religion) of Tabriz, whom he may have first encountered in Syria. Shams ad-Din cannot be connected with any of the traditional mystical fraternities; his overwhelming personality, however, revealed to Jalal ad-Din the mysteries of divine majesty and beauty. For months the two mystics lived closely together, and Rumi neglected his disciples and family so that his scandalized entourage forced Shams to leave the town in February 1246. Jalal ad-Din was heartbroken; his eldest son, Sultan Walad, eventually brought Shams back from Syria. The family, however, could not tolerate the close relation of Jalal ad-Din with his beloved, and one night in 1247 Shams disappeared forever. It has recently been established that he was indeed murdered, not without the knowledge of Rumi's sons, who hurriedly buried him close to a well that is still extant in Konya.

This experience of love, longing, and loss turned Rumi into a poet. His mystical poems -- about 30,000 verses and a large number of robaiyat (“quatrains”) -- reflect the different stages of his love, until, as his son writes, “he found Shams in himself, radiant like the moon.” The complete identification of lover and beloved is expressed by his inserting the name of Shams instead of his own pen name at the end of most of his lyrical poems. The Divan-e Shams (The collected Poetry of Shams) is a true translation of his experiences into poetry; its language, however, never becomes lost in lofty spiritual heights or nebulous speculation. The fresh language, propelled by its strong rhythms, sometimes assumes forms close to popular verses. There would seem to be cause for the belief, expressed by chroniclers, that most of this poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or the drum, the hammering of the goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in Meram, where Rumi used to go with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in nature the reflection of the radiant beauty of the Sun of Religion and felt flowers and birds partaking in his love. He often accompanied his verses by a whirling dance.

A few years after Shams ad-Din's death, Rumi experienced a similar rapture in his acquaintance with an illiterate goldsmith, Salah ad-Din Zarkub. It is said that one day, hearing the sound of a hammer in front of Salah ad-Din's shop in the bazaar of Konya, Rumi began his dance. The shop owner had long been one of Rumi's closest and most loyal disciples, and his daughter became the wife of Rumi's eldest son. This love again inspired Jalal ad-Din to write poetry. After Salah ad-Din's death, Husam ad-Din Chelebi became his spiritual love and deputy. Rumi's main work, the Masnaviy-e Manavi, was composed under his influence. Husam ad-Din had asked him to follow the model of the poets Attar and Sanai, who had laid down mystical teachings in long poems, interspersed with anecdotes, fables, stories, proverbs, and allegories. Their works were widely read by the mystics and by Rumi's disciples. Jalal ad-Din followed Husam ad-Din's advice and composed nearly 26,000 couplets of the Manavi during the following years. It is said that he would recite his verses even in the bath or on the roads, accompanied by Husam ad-Din, who wrote them down. The Manavi, which shows all the different aspects of Sufism in the 13th century, often carries the reader away with loose associations of thought, so that one understands what subjects the master had in mind at a particular stage of his life. The work reflects the experience of divine love; both Salah ad-Din and Husam ad-Din were, for Rumi, renewed manifestations of Shams ad-Din, the all-embracing light. He called Husam ad-Din, therefore, Diya al-Haqq (Light of the Truth); diya is the Arabic term for sunlight.

Rumi lived for a short while after completing the Masnavi. He always remained a respected member of Konya society, and his company was sought by the leading officials as well as by Christian monks. Husam ad-Din was his successor and was in turn succeeded by Sultan Walad, who organized the loose fraternity of Rumi's disciples into Mawlawiyah, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes because of the mystical dance that constitutes their principal ritual. Sultan Walad's poetical accounts of his father's life are the most important source of knowledge of Rumi's spiritual development.

Besides his poetry, Rumi left a small collection of occasional talks as they were noted down by his friends; in the collection, known as Fihi ma fihi (“There is in it what is in it”), the main ideas of his poetry recur. There also exist some letters directed to different persons. It is impossible to systematize his ideas, which at times contradict each other; and changes in the use of symbols often puzzle the reader. His poetry is a most human expression of mystical experiences, in which each reader can find his own favorite ideas and feelings -- from enthusiastic flights into the heavens to matter-of-fact descriptions of daily life. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated; his mausoleum, the Green Dome, today a museum in Konya, is still a place of pilgrimage for thousands.
(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Council for the Promotion of Sufism in Punjab Established

"Council to promote interfaith harmony"

By Anjum Herald Gill Daily Times, Pakistan December 15, 2005

LAHORE: The Punjab government has formed the Council for Promotion of Sufism under the auspices of the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture to promote interfaith harmony.

A seven-member committee will look after affairs of the council that has Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as its chairman and socialite Mian Yousaf Salahuddin as vice chairman. Inamulhaq Kauser from Balochistan, Abida Perveen and Hamid Akhund from Sindh, Advisor to Punjab CM Mowahid Hussain and Punjab Information and Culture Secretary Taimur Azmat Usman are the council members.

“Our objective is to revive mausoleums as confluence points not just for Muslims but also for people belonging to other religions,” Tiamur Azmat said.

The council will promote Sufi teachings and literature. It will also work to promote Sufi thought and philosophy at international level and their role in spreading Islam in the subcontinent, Taimur Azmat added. “We want to revere Sufi saints and their mausoleums not just as centres of holiness but also as places of learning and teaching.” To a question, the culture secretary said, “We will announce the name of a council member from NWFP soon.”

Dervishes Reeling In Converts

"Dervishes Reeling In Converts" a Reuters article published on December 14, 2005 at CNN.com , discusses the 11-day Rumi festival in Konya, Turkey, which culminates on December 17, the date of Rumi's death, which has traditionally been called the Sheb-i Arus (Wedding Night). By clicking on the title, you can go directly to the article.

You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?

"You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?"

by Abhijit Majumder

Saturday, December 10, 2005 DNAIndia.com

Music of the mystics finds a growing market in India, thanks to a surge in ’urban spirituality’

As qawwal Hamsar Hayat’s voice sliced through the night air, the thousand-odd audience, canopy of trees and its tall shadows at Horniman’s Circle seemed magically frozen.

Outside the gates, however, there were angry voices. Guards and organisers would not allow a couple who were leaving to pass on their tickets to their friends so that they could watch the concert instead.

“Sufi qawwali pe baat karte ho, zaraa Sufiana socho (You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like the Sufis?),” said the woman sardonically before leaving. The other couple was let in immediately.

Ruhaniyat, a music festival held recently in Mumbai, showed that the music of the mystics is getting increasingly popular in Indian cities. Music makers say this genre has grown by 15-20 per cent over the last couple of years.

“It’s ‘city spirituality’. City people come to Bauls’ (roaming minstrels of Bengal) akharas, spend a couple of hours and go back happy. They don’t want a deeper take,” says a cynical Parvati Baul, who had performed at Ruhaniyat. “There is a great deal of inner confusion in urban India. We are looking at our country from the point of view of foreign anthropologists. For them, music of the mystics is like a whiff of fresh air.”

Anwar Husain Niyazi, whose troupe regularly performs at a dargah in Jaipur, says the ‘flexible’ Nusrat Fateh Ali and the ‘brilliant’ Ghulam Shabri had brought Sufi music into urban consciousness. Then came Abida Parveen with that booming voice and a dishevelled, mystic chic about her. “Yeh malik se milane wali cheez hai (It makes you one with the creator),” says Niyazi with a smile, adding that the Sufi large-heartedness can be humbling.

By the turn of the century, the film industry had started reinventing Nusrat’s ‘Mast Mast’ and other songs in its capsule format. Recently, Pooja Bhatt’s Paap used Sufi music extensively.

The music industry recognised the trend early. Younger artistes Rahat Fateh Ali, Rabbi, Kailash Kher, Hansraj Hans and Zila Khan are known to sell well. The Music Today album with Gulzar’s lyrics--’Ishqa Ishqa’--even has a video version. Sufi pop, says Shaheen Jehani of Music Today, has arrived.

Ninaad Music’s Mahesh Babu is planning a range of albums including solos of Parvati Baul, Kachra Khan and Banda Nawadi. “Experimental Sufi music is selling. ‘Rabbi’, for instance, did quite well,” he says. “We do traditional stuff, try to bring in the original and introduce new textures of sound.”

Talent spotting is probably the best part. Babu travels across the country, sits in the dargahs, meets little-known artistes… and thousands share the spoils.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz, Kashmiri Sufi music legend, dead

Kashmiri Sufi music legend dead

from The Hindu, Srinagar, Dec. 4 (PTI):

A legend of Kashmiri Sufi music and santoor maestro, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, died at a local hospital here yesterday after brief illness.

Sheikh, 75, is survived by son Sheikh Mushtaq,a journalist and three daughters.

He was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard here yesterday, family sources said.

A contemporary of the famous Shiv Kumar Sharma of Jammu and Bhajan Lal Sopori and his father Shamboo Nath Sopori in the valley, Sheikh had attained mastery in playing classical ragas on Santoor in his early age. Later, he had revived a number of the defunct ragas.

Sheikh's three-volume publication on Kashmiri musical instruments and ragas, titled 'Koshur sargam', had won him accolades all over the world. The University of Maryland, US, had not only translated the book in English but also included it in the syllabus of its post-graduation course and also appointed Sheikh as a guest lecturer on the Indian classical music who there for one year.

His research work, which was included in the syllabus by the University of Kashmir in 1980s, earned Sheikh the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award.

Sheikh had completed the fourth volume of his work days before his death. "It is currently being printed," Mushtaq said. After his return to Srinagar, Shiekh compiled another book titled 'Ramooz-e-Moosiqi', which was published in Urdu.

Sheikh had composed music for a large number of Kashmiri songs and operas. He also represented India in the world music festival in Europe.

Night journey: Pilgrimage to the Chiragh-i Delhi Shrine

"Night journey"

One lamp-lit night Moonis Ijlal goes beyond the Chirag Dilli flyover and explores the mazar of the Sufi saint popularly known as Chiragh-i-Dihli

by Moonis Ijlal, in Delhi Newsline, cities.expressindia.com ,New Delhi (India), December 3, 2005

Chiragh Dilli. For most of us a flyover on the Outer Ring Road. I was not surprised when the autodriver asked me what was the name of the dargah I wished to go in Chiragh Dilli. The mazar of the sufi saint Nasir al-Din, better known as Chiragh-i-Dihli (the Lamp of Delhi), is tucked in the middle of the basti.

To reach him, you have to pass through an inextricable jumble of streets, lined with frugal shops and inferior houses. Interspersed with tents of mattresswallahs sitting cosy amongst heaps of cotton. It’s a walk through rows of women and men selling fruits, vegetables and roasting peanuts. Under the light of gas lamps, their faces glow. For a sufi it’s a perfect abode — amidst people.

Nasir, was a disciple of Nizamuddin Aulia. Both were loved by the common people. Both in their lives showed how completely the political and social needs of people were a part of their spiritual needs. Nasir professed that renunciation was not asceticism in isolation. Instead, it was devotion to ummah — god’s people. Sufis professed “inner rebellion” not only against social injustice, but against person’s own faults. This helped people cleanse their souls, unite with god. Such an intense spirituality helped them launch reformist movements. People of all religions and castes flocked to Nasir’s khanqah.

It’s 10 at night at his dargah. His murids have come from Allahabad, Bara Banki, Benaras and Jharkhand. A group of five is cooking in one of the ruins of the 14th century complex. At the centre is Nasir’s shrine, painted in pastel green and white. The open courtyard is enclosed at two sides with a row of small rooms. Most of them are shut behind fragile wooden doors. There is no furniture here, only mats. Around Nasir’s shrine there are many small and large graves. Some are covered under domed canopies supported by stone pillars.

A couple touches the old khirni tree near the shrine, then presses their hand against their lips. Under the dark shade of a neem, a black cat walks by slowly. A spotted-white sits still on a grave, like a headstone. Three kittens are at a game of chase, their mother sprawled on the prayer mat of the masjid. A little girl dances with double her size dupatta, while a woman is in sajda.

The Chishtis organised sama (musical gatherings) to attain mystical ecstacy. Nasir’s teacher Nizamuddin died in state of ecstacy. The state of fana — annihilation. The one which exists in all religious traditions. Like the prophet’s Night Journey which Gabriel takes him on. When Mohammed has to leave him behind, then he dies to himself before confronting God, after which he becomes a perfect being, like a siddh in yogic belief. Like the Buddha, who conquers death.

The death to oneself is symbolic of the “inner rebellion”. Nasir openly confronted with Muhammad Bin Tughlaq and refused to move base to Deccan. On one hand Sufis prayed for the political stability, on the other entered into open conflict with the ruler.

Nizamuddin had refused to return the money to Ghiasuddin Tughlaq, which the Sheikh had distributed among the poor. He was targetted by fanatics over his practice of sama. He got into a heated argument at Ghiasuddin’s court. To support him were his disciples, including Nasir. Nasir taught that removing misery among those in duress was best worship. A Chishti verse says: Infidelity and faith, heresy and orthodoxy were all mere expressions, there was no such thing as absolute opposition, everything was conceived in relative terms, in the end everyone is created by the same god: This ideology of the Sufis was a big help for the Muslim rulers to conduct a just rule in India and Indonesia.

The theologians were snubbed by Iltutmish when they asked him to punish the “infidels”. The Khilji ruler, Jalaluddin’s comment explains the dilemma of the ruler the best: “Every day Hindus pass below my palace beating cymbals and blowing conch shells to worship their idols on the banks of Yamuna....while the khutba is read in my name as the defender of Islam, under my very eyes they proudly live ostentatiously among the Muslims of my capital...perpetuate their practices.” In such dilemmas Muslim intellectuals and the Sufis were of immense help.

Nasir interacted with people in Hindawi (Hindi), wrote on Hindu themes. When a Qalandar tried to assassinate Nasir, he stopped his disciples seeking revenge. He died in 1356. The relics bequeathed to him by the Aulia were buried with him. He couldn’t find a worthy successor. His disciples compiled his teachings in Khayrul Majalis. Towards the end of his life he was distressed about the way “Delhi Sufism had degenerated into mere formalism.” Hasn’t it?

Iranian Musical Group, Chehel Daf (40 Drums) to Perform in Konya


"Chehel Daf to Perform in Konya"

by Cultural Heritage News Agency [of Iran] December 4, 2005

Chehel Daf ensemble of Iran will be the first foreign group which will perform in commemoration of Rumi in Konya.

Tehran, 4 December 2005 (CHN) -- The music group of Chehel Daf, which plays traditional Iranian music, will perform as the first foreign music group in commemoration of Mowlana in Konya on 18th of December.

“Vocalist Behruz Tavakkoli will be singing songs from Rumi poems. Turkey’s Cultural attaché and ambassador to Iran saw a part of this program during Ramadan month and expressed his interest for our performance in the Konya program,” said Farshid Gharibnejad, head of the music group of Chehel Daf to CHN correspondent.

Mowlana, also known as Rumi, was a Muslim Sufi, poet, jurist, theologian and teacher of Sufism, who was born in Balkh, which was then a city of the Khorasan province of Iran and now is a part of Afghanistan, and died in Konya in today’s Turkey. His birth place and native tongue points towards a Persian heritage. He also wrote his poetry in Persian, and is read widely in Iran and Afghanistan where the language is spoken. Yet, he is adored to such a degree by citizens of the modern Turkey, Pakistan, and India that they sometimes consider him one of their own.

The general theme of his thoughts like that of the other mystic and Sufi poets of the Persian literature, is essentially about the concept of Unity and Union with his beloved from which he has been cut and fallen aloof, and his longing and desire for reunity.

Rumis’ major work is Masnavi-ye Manavi (Spiritual Couplets), a six-volume poem regarded by many Sufis as second in importance only to the holy Quran. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of mystical poetry.

The dance moves related to Sufism and Whirling Dervishes which is called Sama is a part of the inspiration of Mowlana as well as part of the Turkish custom, history, beliefs and culture. Sama represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to Perfect. The dance was recently registered as one of the world’s oral intangible heritage.

Every year the poet’s lovers from all around the world gather at his tomb in Konya city on his death anniversary and perform some programs in his commemoration including poem citing and Sama dances.

On the brink of precipice: Contemporary terrorism and limits of the state

"On the brink of precipice: Contemporary terrorism and limits of the state"

PROFESSOR IMTIAZ AHMED December 4, 2005, in The Independant [Dhaka, Bangladesh]

[Blogger's Note: While only partly pertaining to Sufism, this article --among other points-- addresses "the modernist or Western construction of Sufism [and its] impact on the contemporary understanding of Islam."]

The debate is still on as to the birth of contemporary terrorism, a phenomenon that has come to haunt the people of not only affluent societies but also poverty-ridden societies. In Europe, America, Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and, of course, near home in South Asia the debate has produced a plethora of literature and above all a formidable line up of scholars and opinion-builders passionately arguing for the one or the other, or even settling for a combination of the two. Bangladesh is no exception in this respect. Here too the scholars, politicians, retired bureaucrats and military officials, journalists, women activists, at times, even members of donor agencies, have passionately contributed to the debate. The bulk of them, however, chose to blame ‘poverty’ and the ‘gap between the rich and the poor’ for all the terrorist activities in the country. Specificity cannot be ruled out, and so they argued that what is true for Bangladesh may not hold true for the rest of the world and vice versa. But then, what about the terrorism of yesteryears? Masterda Surya Sen, Pritilata and not to mention Aurobindo and all the beatified Bengal terrorists of the colonial era - were they not all bhadrasantans (sons of gentlemen)? More importantly, what about the post-colonial terrorists - the Naxalites and the members of Siraj Sikder outfit - were they not also from social classes relatively well off? Indeed, the core leadership could hardly be dubbed as ‘poor and deprived’! But this is only one side of the matter, and I must quickly add that I would hesitate to fall for a dichotomous resolution of the issue, that is, if it is not ‘poverty’ then ‘affluence’ is responsible for the birth of contemporary terrorism, which incidentally is best advocated by the Muslim-basher Daniel Pipes, although he restricts his contention to America and the Middle East. My contention is qualitatively different from the syndromes of poverty and affluence or crass economism, but before attempting to delve into the intricacies of my contention let me highlight two issues informing the nature of contemporary terrorism, incidentally found in both developed and maldeveloped societies.

Firstly, the profiling of suicide bombers in Gaza, Lebanon, Colombo, New York, Washington, Kashmir, and more recently, Madrid and London has convincingly shown that not only were the terrorists relatively well off but also did not have their education in religious schools, as is the popular perception. The bulk of them actually had a secular education and had an upbringing high enough for them to mix and mingle with a cross section of people and also roam around in areas and avenues free from suspicion and the constant monitoring of the police. If anything that were common to them it was a deep sense of mistrust and intolerance of the Other. And this brings us to the second issue.

There is now a universalization of intolerance. Tolerance, however, if we were to trace its origins in the political domain, has imperial connotation, as Jacques Derrida pointed out in an interview, interestingly, immediately after 9/11: "Tolerance is always on the side of the ‘reason of the strongest,’ where ‘might is right’; it is supplementary mark of sovereignty, the good face of sovereignty, which says to the other from its elevated position, I am letting you be, you are not insufferable, I am leaving you a place in my home, but do not forget that this is my home..."

But when the ‘reason’ becomes questionable and the ‘might’ starts losing its grip over the population, even if it were only a miniscule section, there is always a quick slide into intolerance. Post-9/11 America, post-London bombing England, post-Bali bombing Australia, and more recently, post-deveiled France, are good examples of what seemed to many as an overnight return of intolerance.

But what makes an overnight return of intolerance possible? And for that matter, what about in places and with people where such ‘reason of the strongest’ is wanting or at the best an illusion or a lost dream to be recovered? Where constant catching up with the ‘modern’ results in periodic disillusionment? Where aspirations remain truncated? Where the path of development is soaked in blood and violence? Or, where the reason of the self gets fused with the reason of the state? Where the myth of Sisyphus becomes the newfound reality? Can we, if we were to pursue these queries seriously, expect tolerance from the fractured or those having a mental condition of being constantly threatened or those who are hyped up in the infinite ladder of modernity and progress? Evidence of intolerance resulting from the above is ample in America, Africa, Australia, Europe and Asia.

Put differently, modernity, far from reproducing tolerance, has in its composition complex structures of intolerance. Indeed, following the birth of modernity and during the Reign of Terror some 10,000 people lost their lives, most of whom fell victim to the post-medieval, yet ‘tyrannical,’ secular state. But this was only the beginning. By twentieth century assassination, incarceration, torture, mass murder, including the killing of 6 million Jews, 22 million Soviets and no less horrifying number of people in Hamburg (some 40,000), Dresden (at least 70,000), Hiroshima (over 70,000) and Nagasaki (between 60,000 and 80,000), all were carried out for the reason of the state, the latter allegedly facing an imminent rupture and decline. In this context, Samuel Huntington’s plea for state’s vigilance and rearmament in the face of an eventual ‘Clash of civilizations’ or George Bush’s ‘War on terrorism’ remain identical for they both sanction violence and terror for reproducing the ‘reason of the strongest’ and making room for a precise brand of tolerance or should I say, intolerance!

Bangladesh, in this respect, is no exception, although like elsewhere the nature of the state is marked by specificities. Let me highlight this in some details. I will divide my contention into four sections. The first section will take up the issue of modernity and how it has come to reproduce intolerance, particularly the ‘religious’ variant of it, in the country. This does not cancel the secular version of intolerance, rather adds and makes best use of the latter. The second section will then examine the ‘other side’ of globalization, keeping in mind that the people of the country are not living in isolation but are constantly and creatively networking with the globalized world. But then such networks often end up being less than formal, servicing the non-state elements, including the ‘dubious and shadowy’ people. The third section will take up the issue of weapons technology in the age of globalization and how it has come to transform the power of the non-state, indeed, to the detriment of the state. In sum, the subjective condition and the objective reality - both at the state level and beyond - have not only put a limit to the power of the state but also proven to be a deadly combination in the reproduction of contemporary terrorism in Bangladesh. The concluding section will deal with the issue of what is to be done.

I: Modernity and the Reproduction of Religious Intolerance

It is now widely accepted that the conversion to Islam in Bengal in the thirteenth century was more voluntary in nature and less the result of a coercive policy of the Muslim rulers. In fact, the [conversion to Islam in Bengal] resulted mainly from the preaching of Islam by the Sufis. But the modernist or Western construction of Sufism had a profound impact on the contemporary understanding of Islam, including the rendering of education in Bengal and now Bangladesh. Indeed, by the end of the eighteenth century the Orientalists started dividing the Islamic scholarship into ‘core Islamic thought’ based on the practices of Muslim rulers predisposed to ‘harsh legalism’ and the ‘abstract mystical philosophy’ of Sufism ‘indifferent to matters of religious law,’ with the latter suggestively having ‘an external origin in India or elsewhere’. A key Orientalist, Lt. James William Graham, went to the extent of saying that the Indian subjects in fact regard the British as Sufis: "We are, generally speaking, at least in this country, looked upon as a species or one kind of Sufi, from our non-observance here of any rites or forms, conceiving a worship of the Deity in mind and adherence to morality sufficient. In fine, the present free-thinker or modern philosopher of Europe would be esteemed as a sort of Sufi in the world, and not the one retired therefrom."

The idea was mainly to isolate Sufism from Islam to the point of making the latter thoroughly apathetic if not opposed to reason and free thinking. This had profound implications for the people of both Islamic and non-Islamic world. Islam in the modern West came to be understood as devoid of reason, while the followers of Islam, often naively if not shamelessly agreeing to the Western categorization of Islam, saw modernity as anti-Islamic. Only now with post-structuralism advocating the limits of reason do we find a renewed interest in the Islamic scholarship in the West. In fact, often a parallel is now made between Ibn al-Arabi’s (the Islamic ‘Sufi’ scholar who earned the honour of al-Shaykh al-Akhbar [1165-1240]) understanding of ‘Real’ and Jacques Derrida’s understanding of ‘différance,’ both trying to free their respective word/concept from the ‘shackles of reason’. But the ‘parcellized’ understanding of Islam already took its toll in the colonial world, including Bengal.

Islamic revivalism in Bengal during the colonial period came more as a reaction to the Western domination. The core message of various revival movements in the nineteenth century was a return to an authentic version of Islam, an authenticity now defined in terms of the ‘external’ - the Arab culture and tradition. This is particularly prominent in the anti-colonial, but no less Islamic, movements of the 1820s, for instance, the Faraidi movement led by Haji Shariat Ullah and the Tariqah i Muhammadiah movement led by Titu Mir. Shariat Ullah studied Islam for ten years in Mecca and was influenced by Wahhabism, a puritan movement developed by Abdul Wahhab [1703-1792] in Arabia. Shariat Ullah’s son, Dudu Miyan, took a more militant approach in reviving Islam. He confronted the Hindu Zamindars against their ruthless exploitation of the largely converted Muslim peasants. The Faraidi movement even denounced the Pirs (cult of the saints) and criticized the latter as contrary to Islam. It may be mentioned that the term Faraidi, derived from the Arabic faraid, the plural of faraida, signified obligations commanded in Islam. In setting its goal for Islamic revivalism, the Faraidi leaders underlined five foundations of Islam: Kalima (the doctrine of the uniqueness of God), Salat (prayer), Roza (fasting), Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and Zakat (tax for the poor). This practically led to the separation of ‘spiritualism [roohaniyat], mysticism [tassawuf] and piety [taqwa]’ from what may be called ‘ritualistic formalism’ or ‘legalism’ in the understanding of Islam. In some cases this has reduced Islam, as Eqbal Ahmad used to say, "to a penal code and its history to a series of violent episodes." Islam in the nineteenth century colonized Bengal, for that matter, was different from the Islam of the relatively autonomous Bengal of the thirteenth century. Not only did the British redefine the meaning of Islam by keeping Sufism at bay but also the Islamic revival movements, aided no less by the doctrine of Wahhabism, constructed a highly formalized version of Islam devoid of spiritualism, piety and mysticism. In the field of education this had a devastating impact in so far as inter-religious and intra-religious issues were concerned.

In the first place there was the deliberate displacement of the madrasahs, the Islamic educational institutions, in favour of modern secular education during the colonial period. This consisted not only in the forcible closure of some of the known madrasahs under the direction of the British but also the stopping of maadat-e-maash (allowances in the form of land grants) and the confiscation of lakheraj (rent free lands of the madrasahs) and making them rental, which practically contributed to the closing down of the madrasahs in large numbers in the nineteenth century. It may be mentioned that the first madrasah in Bengal was established by Sheikh Sharfuddin Abu Tawama, a saint and great scholar, in the middle of the thirteenth century at a place called Mograpara in Sonargaon near Dhaka, which later attained the status of what would now be an university but fell into decline following the British domination of Bengal.

No less befitting however was the rendering of modern education in Bengal. The Enlightenment and the modernist discourse have already placed Islam, both as religion and civilization, in the medieval period. Indian history came to be chronologised (interestingly by a person in the name of James Stuart Mill who never visited India!) into ‘ancient,’ ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ with the Hindus, Muslims and the British (or by implication, the Christians) corresponding to them respectively. Muslims attending the modern educational institutions and tutored in modernity felt humiliated and sought the replacement of it by an authentic version of Islam, ironically to situate Islam and by implication themselves at the top! The governmentalisation of education in post-colonial Bangladesh further contributed to the reproduction of this self-consciousness, which often slipped into being something of a self-righteousness of the Muslims.

Secondly, the colonial power established ‘modern’ madrasahs, indeed, modelled very much on its ‘parcellized’ understanding of Islam, which further created grounds for dissension and conflict both within and outside the community. Guided by the colonial government and headed by a European, the Calcutta Alia Madrasah (established in 1781) set a new trend in the madrasah education in Bengal. It favoured teaching Muslim law and jurisprudence rather than an all-round education of the Muslims. It may be mentioned that the Calcutta Alia Madrasah was originally meant for the training of the British officials sent to administer colonial India. Only later did the colonial government allow the Muslim natives to study there, but then with the same intention of administering and supporting colonial India. But that is not all.

The first Head Maulvi of the Madrasah, Mulla Majid-ud-Deen, while making the syllabus of Calcutta Alia Madrasah was influenced by the dars-i Nizami system of madrasah education. It may be mentioned that Majid-ud-Deen was a direct student of Mulla Nizamuddin, the founder of the dars-i Nizami system. The system was originally promoted during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, a bigoted Mughal emperor. In fact, Aurangzeb not only had his father, Emperor Shahjahan, restrained within the premise of the palace but also had his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent, summarily tried and killed on account of heresy. Furthermore, the exhaustive digest of Islamic Law, Fatawa-i Alamgiri, which was known for its harsh legalism, including ‘rigid and stern’ position on heresy (kufr) was compiled at the directive of Aurangzeb. According to one critic, "Aurangzeb’s superfluous adherence to the letter of the law was a subject of many jokes among the nobles. When he was about to depute an army against rebels in the South (who were incidentally Muslims), one of the nobles remarked in his presence, "Your Majesty! Why send an army? Tell the Qazi Sahib, he may be able to crush the enemy with a fatwa!’" In light of this it can easily be deduced that the dars-i Nizami system of Mulla Nizamuddin, a direct beneficiary of Aurangzeb, promoted a legalistic version of Islam mainly for reproducing the power of the state. Islamic education otherwise became correlated with the reason of the state.

Instructed by Lord Hastings, Majid-ud-Deen made the syllabus giving priority to Islamic law and jurisprudence in line with the dars-i Nizami system. In imparting education the madrasahs of Bengal followed the dars-i Nizami system, particularly during the colonial period and also during the Pakistan period of Bangladesh. However, the government-funded madrasahs replaced the dars-i Nizami system in post-independence Bangladesh. I will have more to say about this shortly. According to the dars-i Nizami system, a student needed to complete his studies at the age of 17/18 to be able to read and understand any of the ninety-nine proscribed books, which, apart from being all written in Arabic and Persian, included nothing on ‘mysticism.’

When it comes to the Bengali Muslims searching for authenticity there is hardly a difference between the modern secular education and the modern madrasah education imparted by the colonial power, only that the search for authenticity in the former is more sophisticated than the latter. However, a more noticeable difference is found in terms of the students getting into such education, indeed, with diminishing job prospects, a fewer of the meritorious students enter the madrasah education, and this includes the Qawmi madrasahs as well. I will have more to say about the latter. Suffice to point out here is that in both secular and madrasah educational institutions, Islam began to be understood in its legalistic version or something that is very ‘rigid and severe’ which only helped to reproduce religious intolerance and fundamentalism. In Bangladesh often this invited violence when the post-1971 Bengali Muslims, somewhat insecure of its newly found identity and falling back on the question of authenticity, started objecting to the life and living of the non-Muslims, including the non-Sunni Muslims, the Ahmaddiyas.

Madrasah education changed considerably following the independence of Bangladesh. There are now two types of madrasahs: Alia and Qawmi. The former offers both religious education and modern general education and is under the management of Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board (BMEB), an autonomous body since 1979 but largely funded by the government. The BMEB is also responsible for establishing madrasahs, appointing teachers and making the curriculum for all Alia Madrasahs. Qawmi Madrasahs, on the other hand, are non-government or private madrasahs. Only last year a private body called Befaqul Mudarressin of Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasah Education Board was formed to coordinate the education of all Qawmi Madrasahs. It may be mentioned that in 1971 there were approximately 1,351 Madrasahs with 300,000 students in Bangladesh. Currently there are 25,201 Alia Madrasahs with 3 million students and 8,000 Qawmi Madrasahs. There is hardly any credible information on the number of students in Qawmi Madrasahs; a guesstimate would be nearly a million.

But apart from the steep rise in the number of students in Alia Madrasahs the curriculum of the latter also changed considerably. Following the independence of Bangladesh the Alia Madrasahs replaced the dars-i Nizami system in large measure and had it replaced by a curriculum prepared by the Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board. This included, apart from the teachings of Arabic, the Quran, Hadith (Prophet’s traditions), Aqaid (Code of Islamic religious beliefs) and Fiqh (Jurisprudence or Law of Islamic conduct), courses on Bengali, General Mathematics, Social Science, General Science and English.

[first part of what may be a longer article]

The writer is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.

Sufism comes to Nicosia - North gears up for a week of religious and cultural festivities

Sufism comes to Nicosia - North gears up for a week of religious and cultural festivities

By Simon Bahceli from Cyprus Mail, December 2, 2005

WITH SUFISM being one of the fastest growing religious/philosophical cults in the West, the upcoming week-long festivities organised by the Rumi Institute in north Nicosia are likely to raise interest both locally and abroad.

Even those unfamiliar with Sufism, will have heard of the Whirling Dervishes. But their dancing is not simply an enchanting visual spectacle: it is steeped in culture, belief and tradition.

The Sufi tradition sprung from the Anatolian city of Konya – a city once the capital of the Selcuk and Ottoman Empires. Its leader and chief inspiration was the poet Jelaluddin Rumi (also known as Mevlana) who hailed originally from Afghanistan and spoke and wrote in Persian.

The week-long festivities are a commemoration of Mevlana’s death, which followers of the Mevlana refer to as the Shebu Arus or ‘wedding night’.

The founder of the Rumi Institute Gokalp Kamil explains: “The day the Mevlana died is seen by Sufis as the day when his soul was wedded to God. We celebrate this because death is for us the most meaningful moment in life; the moment which one spends one’s whole life preparing for.”

As a branch of Islam, Sufism both resembles and differs from mainstream Muslim practices. It is seen as non-fanatic and non-dogmatic, says Kamil.

“One of our primary maxims is: ‘The religion of love transcends all other religions: for lovers, the only religion and belief is God.’

“Imagine a mountain, and you want to get to the top of it. There are undoubtedly many paths that lead to the summit. It doesn’t matter much which road you take, as long as you manage to arrive at the peak,” Kamil adds.

There are other things that attract admirers and followers from the West. Jesus is highly regarded among Sufis. His ascetic life, his denial of possessions and his purity of the soul make him among the favourite prophets for Sufis.

Then there is the Mevlana’s poetry, which holds great appeal with its references to spiritual ecstasy and heightened awareness of God and nature.

Music too provides part of the attraction. Unlike more austere branches of Islam, which condemn music as frivolous and decadent, Sufism uses music in its rituals to lift the soul to higher levels.

The dancing of the Whirling Dervishes, of course, is accompanied by beautiful and haunting music. The ney – a woodwind instrument with a distinctively flowing sound – has become an integral part of the Sufi tradition.

And of course the dancing, or whirling, attracts people from all races and religions simply as a result of its unique and spellbinding nature.

But despite Sufism’s obvious attractiveness to westerners – especially at a time in history when individualism is king and confusion reigns over the validity of moral values – Kamil is keen to stress that it should not been seen as a fashion by those who would adopt it in order to anchor themselves to a larger cultural group.

“We should not confuse fashion with civilisation. Fashion is a reflection of our times, whereas civilisation is the accumulation of hundreds of years of local tradition knitted together with universal values.”

This is fourth year the Mevlana week has been celebrated and Kamil is hopeful that in time it will become an important part of Cypriot cultural life. The variety of events taking place is impressive, ranging from lectures on the philosophy and history of the Mevlana, and his book the Mesnevi, to concerts, dance performances and exhibitions.

This year’s Mevlana week is the most auspicious yet, Kamil insists

“For the first time we have a truly international flavour to the events with contributors coming from the US, France, Britain and Turkey to join those from Cyprus.”

The Mevlana week, to which “all are invited” kicks off on December 5 at 4pm with a ney recital by Sadreddin Ozcimi, Turkey’s most renown Sufi neyzen, and poetry at the Mevlevihane near Kyrenia Gate in Nicosia. Later in the evening at Ozcimi will perform again at greater length at the Ataturk Culture and Congress Centre at the Near East University in Dikomo, north of Nicosia. The performance is titled “The Voice of Love”.

On December 7 at 7.30pm another ney performance by two of Turkey’s top players Erol Soytac and Muzzafer Ahad will take place at the Ataturk Culture and Congress Centre, followed by poetic dialogues on the meaning of the Mesnevi.

December 8 and 9 see two days of symposiums on the cultural, historical, spiritual and artistic heritage of Sufism involving an awesome array of academics from across the globe. Those wishing to attend should be aware that the symposium on the 8th will be in Turkish while the one on the 9th will be in English. Both begin at 9.30am and take place at the Ataturk Cultural and Congress Centre.

But for many, the highlight of the week will be the Sema (Whirling Dervish) performances. These will take place at the Mevlevihane at 4pm on December 9, at 7.30pm at the Ataturk Cultural Centre, at 7.30pm on December 10 at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU), at 7.30 on the campus of the Middle East Technical University (METU) near Morphou, and at the Kyrenia American University (GAU) at 7.30pm on December 12.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2005

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji
2 comments:


Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji

by James Howarth
20 - 1 - 2006

A deliberate ambiguity between the spiritual and the political fuels the symbolic power of the elusive Islamist network, says James Howarth, the translator of Osama bin Laden's "messages to the world".

It was supposed to be simple. The civilised world is fighting an ongoing "war on terror" against evil, exotic forces that want to destroy freedom and progress everywhere. This enemy is spearheaded by a shadowy but highly organised collective going by the name of "al-Qaida", masterminded by Osama bin Laden.

In the real world, meanwhile, this crude narrative continues to unravel to the point of absurdity. The formulaic reactions in western politics and media to the broadcast on 19 January of bin Laden’s most recent taped message – in which he both threatens "new operations" and proposes "a long-term truce (with the Americans) based on just conditions that we will stand by"– reinforces its irrelevance.

Whether this message is really a miraculously revived bin Laden or not – and there is evidence to doubt its authenticity – are we now any nearer to understanding what this al-Qaida is and what it wants than four years ago? Are we now any nearer to understanding what this al-Qaida is and what it wants than four years ago? The ambiguity of the Arabic term Qaida (base, precept, rule, methodology or vanguard) only adds to its effectiveness, although bin Laden himself has scoffed at the idea of some hidden significance behind it.


James Howarth is reviewing the book by Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Hurst, 2005)

Also in openDemocracy, two articles by Faisal Devji, including a review of the book Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (Verso, 2005) (translated by James Howarth):

"Spectral brothers: al-Qaida’s world wide web" (August 2005)

"Osama bin Laden’s message to the world" (December 2005)



Al-Qaida and the global

If al-Qaida is a product of the information age, is it as a .com, a .net, a .org, or maybe all at once? At least three analogies have been proposed:

Jason Burke’s idea of the "Holy War Foundation": a wealthy university distributing research grants to localised militant groups who need logistical and financial assistance for terrorist attacks
the venture-capitalist model: assorted groups approach Osama bin Laden and his deputies in their capacity as CEO and executive board of a multinational. Significantly, this model reflects the structure and modus operandi of economic globalisation, suggesting that global terrorism is the evil but inevitable shadow of neo-liberal capitalism
the media empire: freelancers approach with ideas for independent projects, for which resources are occasionally granted.
At another level, al-Qaida's jihadism appears like an ideological tumour whose cells are spreading through the interstices of global discontent. Although military cures only worsen such a disease, by radicalising moderates and legitimising extremists, the western coalition nevertheless maintains its role in bin Laden's macabre theatre of cosmic struggle between two imagined, Manichean adversaries: "the abode of Islam" and "the abode of war".

Conscious of this complicity, and fearful of criticism, western leaders have stressed that this is a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy. The current Washington approach – mirroring al-Qaida's – argues that the enemy only understands force, and that victory will in itself prove this right. Are neo-conservatism and jihadism then locked into a mutually-sustaining metaphysical alliance in which each requires the other in equal measure? Without a ferocious and unambiguously evil enemy who can strike anywhere and anytime, what need for Americans' fear of terrorist annihilation?

Equally, every misguided attempt to eradicate terrorism only strengthens bin Laden's authority. Each has an interest in sustaining the vicious circle, while other world leaders, in supporting roles, seize on this metaphysical "war on terror" as carte blanche to deepen ethno-political conflicts like Israel-Palestine and Chechnya.

But is this really a new kind of war, and is al-Qaida really a new kind of enemy? In some respects yes; in others, no. The conceptual models described above may be useful, but they all lack one crucial dimension: the transcendental. bin Laden is not just a financial resource for suicidal extremists, he is also a spiritual symbol for millions of alienated individuals, a fact reflected in his powerful video performances. Whilst being a new departure, therefore, he is also merely the latest charismatic leader to issue the historic call to jihad. Easily exploiting the structures of globalisation to tap into the discontent of vulnerable Muslims – and non-Muslims – everywhere, he has brought this jihad from the local to the universal level.

Al-Qaida and Sufism

The image of bin Laden among his followers is very different to his bogeyman image in the west; known to them as "the sheikh", he clearly resembles a Sufi leader whose pious devotion, hushed tones and studied asceticism create an aura of holiness. Unlike countless politicians, he is seen as a man of principle, someone who practices what he preaches. To many he even appears blessed with extraordinary powers, a kind of baraka: by his own admission 9/11 outstripped even his wildest dreams.

Sufism is renowned primarily for its achievements in the fields of poetry and mysticism, and its popular image in the west is an inner spiritual quest that eschews external action. But the legacy of anti-imperialist insurgencies from Algeria to Chechnya over the past two centuries shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Historically, it is a very broad phenomenon, spanning quietist sects to militant splinter groups. The ambiguous relationship between these two persuasions is key to understanding al-Qaida. In his Landscapes of the Jihad (pdf), Faisal Devji, one of the most perceptive and original observers of al-Qaida writing today, picks up on this otherwise neglected point.

Sufism is not a marginal phenomenon within Islam, as widely perceived even by many contemporary Muslims themselves, influenced perhaps by Wahhabi or Orientalist agendas. It was in fact the basis of Islamic practice between the 11th and 19th centuries, and the openness and enthusiasm of its practitioners largely accounts for the expansion of the Islamic world during the same period. Even the intellectual resource to which Islamist polemicists invariably refer in their quest for legitimacy, the militant "sheikh of Islam" Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), was committed to a branch of mainstream Sufism.

The best model for understanding al-Qaida is arguably the Sufi tariqa, or brotherhood, of which it is in many respects a postmodern version. This conception maintains the Islamic element emphasised by scholars of the middle east as well as the global aspect stressed by scholars like Devji, who is so keen to highlight al-Qaida's structural parallels with apolitical non-Islamic movements that he appears entirely to discount its links to the middle east (a category he queries in any case).

Tariqas are hierarchical spiritual orders, headed by a sheikh whose authority rests on his own exemplary devoutness, honest deeds and spiritual distinction. He travels the inner path towards divine truth, and allegiance to him is therefore a means to God. Traditionally, followers crystallised into eponymous brotherhoods: for example, the disciples of Mevlana Rumi (now one of America’s favourite poets) became the Mevlevi tariqa, better known as the "whirling dervishes" after their circular dancing ritual. Then as now, individuals turned to the brotherhood in despair at the world and in the desire to overcome a deep sense of loss. The many peaceful Sufi tariqas still functioning across the world today are in fact the peaceful psychological alter-ego of al-Qaida.

As a theosophy of universal proportions, linking microcosmic man to macrocosmic God and enjoining its followers to a moral existence, it is no surprise that Sufism forms the psychological underpinning of a movement like al-Qaida that, as Devji reminds us, is essentially global and ethical in nature. This is what accounts for the family resemblances, as he argues, with other universalist ethical trends like environmentalism and anti-globalisation. While such resemblances exist, al-Qaida is more precisely the spiritually orphaned grandson of the Sufi movements that once dominated the Islamic world, particularly those that upheld an absolute ontological gulf between man and God.

Al-Qaida and fragmentation

Al-Qaida is a grandson and not a son because – sandwiched in between – lies the fleeting ascendancy of modern, European-style ideologies like pan-Arabism, nationalism and Ba’athism. These, however, foundered on their internal contradictions and their leaders' delusions of grandeur, and are now seen by many Arab Muslims as corrupt, tyrannical and godless. Islamist movements, and subsequently al-Qaida's jihadism, rose out of the ashes of this short-lived secular interlude, and in that sense are postmodern phenomena, even though their absolutist claims are relativised in the contemporary global "faith market".

The shrill, superficial religiosity of many Islamist movements is further evidence of this status. In many ways such offshoots are shallow simulacra of their original version, discarded as soon as they have served their purpose, and a reflection of the fickle, nervous world in which their adherents live. There is an increasing burnout rate among young converts to salafism, although contingent factors like prison or sexual repression can exacerbate the problem – al-Qaida’s new leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, being a case in point.

Devji asserts the relative importance of non-Arab actors like Pakistanis, Afghans, Bosnians and Chechens in the emergence of al-Qaida. But its psychosocial genesis undeniably traces back to the Arab world, and primarily to two countries: Egypt and Saudi Arabia. After all, these two produced both al-Qaida's leadership and the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers, while the network has now become largely re-territorialised in Iraq, where many of the foreign jihadis are also Saudi.

It was the confluence of several critical factors – the failure of secularism, the excesses of imperialism, and the continued disappearance of Islam's sustaining myth from the horizon – that sowed the original seeds of this moral catastrophe. This generation really is spiritually orphaned in the sense that, since their parents' generation was largely secular, they have lost the inherited contact with the myth that supposedly provided their raison d'etre. This was the psychological disconnect for which al-Qaida offered merely the most extreme answer.

For more sensitive individuals, the fragmentation of political realities has brought home profound existential realities, albeit often unconsciously. The painfully neurotic disposition of the 9/11 mastermind bomber, Mohammed Atta, as seen in his will, is a case in point. Europe faced its own existential questions when the Christian myth succumbed to the secular, rationalist worldview; the Islamic world has long been experiencing a similar crisis of mythology, albeit an even harder one as it does not hold a "cultural patent" on the modernity that undermines it.

Al-Qaida is the culmination of this process. That is why Devji is correct to imply that its most frightening aspect is not how exotic or distant it is, but how closely linked it is to the intellectual legacy of the European enlightenment and contemporary American existence. It is no surprise that Eliot's The Waste Land and Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra were the most influential European literary works in the Arab world during the 20th century.

It is worth remembering here that an evolutionary process that took Europe five centuries has been compressed for Arab Muslims into a few generations, complicated all the while by the designs of external powers. Nowhere is this clearer than in the almost overnight transformation of sleepy Arabian villages to glassy, high-rise metropolises: pre-modern to postmodern with precious little inbetween. In such a context the psychological disconnections of bin Laden's generation are hardly surprising.

At the apex of this hasty transition, the Arab individual often finds him/herself victim of a sharp sense of insecurity and anomie. Perhaps poor, part of a large family, recently migrant and lacking in prospects, or perhaps well-off but spiritually lost, this individual is acutely vulnerable to the instant comforts of religious ideology.


James Howarth is an analyst for Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and translator of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005). He lives in Amman.

Also by James Howarth in openDemocracy:

"Jordan’s 9/11" (November 2005)

"The fallout from Amman" (November 2005)


If you find this material valuable please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue



Al-Qaida and modernity

The search for permanence and identity in a fickle world often translates into a new-found attachment to Islam, a framework to find oneself and reassert a semblance of psychological self-control. But this knee-jerk reconversion is often accompanied by a lethal flaw: the inability to interpret an essentially mythological idea in anything other than a rational way. This explains the prevalence of scientists and engineers in the Islamist ranks. Cut off from the inherited tradition and searching for concrete answers, the modern subject reads the religious text literally and therefore adopts absolutist positions.

Ironically, Islamism reveals not a lack but a surfeit of modernity. Al-Qaida's chaotic jihad, in being open to all-comers, is in fact a strange democratisation of Islam, undermining all previous forms of social control at every turn. With its Sufi and capitalist characteristics, it privatises religion.

Just as people once turned to Sufism, this unstable, atomised individual, brought face to face with his ultimately helpless human condition, chooses to become part of a brotherhood that aims at psychological redemption. Sufism was an early Islamic version of psychology, and many of al-Qaida's more affluent recruits today share the affliction that Kierkegaard called despair: "the sickness unto death".

Over the last decade, bin Laden has not only appropriated the practical benefits of globalisation, but knowingly adopted the iconic mantle of prophecy on behalf of a spiritually lost nation. Answering the Muslim desire for a heroic saviour of mythological proportions, his darkly coherent speeches strike a deep chord in the collective psyche. It is only ironic that he should emerge from such a rigidly traditionalist school as Wahhabism, despite the fact that in drawing on Sufism, Shi'ism and secular ideas, al-Qaida displays all the characteristics of a monumental bid'a, or innovation.

Is there really good reason to conceive of al-Qaida as a quasi-Sufi order of the information age? Historically, certain tariqas have crossed over from quiet spiritualism to violent confrontation, while remaining true to one principle: jihad. These erstwhile peaceful and inward-looking brotherhoods have turned to military campaigns in response to invasion or occupation. As non-state actors with concentric and often clandestine structures, such tariqas can be understood as prototypes of modern jihadist organisations.

In the 1930s, pioneering Egyptian Islamist Hassan al-Banna (1906-48) described his newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood as "a Salafiyya message, a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organisation, an athletic group, a scientific and cultural union, and economic enterprise and a social idea". In other words, modernity – experienced largely as an aggressive other – meant that the tariqa concept could no longer afford to exist in solipsistic isolation: it had to be transformed into an expressly political institution that would restore truth to the world.

This is but one example of mutual reinforcement between the spiritual and political dimensions of religion. The restoration of personal psychic integrity through union with God that was the aim of Banna's childhood Sufism became the restoration of social integrity at large. In this, Banna was clearly influenced by modern conceptions of the state and European political movements. Like Sayyid Qutb, the brotherhood's intellectual donation to al-Qaida, he became a "martyr" for the Islamist cause, a concept which Devji also notes is largely borrowed from Shi'a mythology.

The worldview of the Naqshbandi tariqa, one of the most well-established orders in the Islamic world, needed relatively little adaptation to go political. Islam in 19th-century Chechnya essentially comprised a complex network of Naqshbandi lodges, whose politicisation can be traced directly to the aggressive designs of a cultural other over this strategic region. This generated a classic model of asymmetrical conflict – occupation versus resistance – with the Naqshbandis adopting guerrilla tactics against a Russian military power that, like the American army and its massive arsenal today, was rendered clumsy and largely obsolete when the exchange was not on their terms.

The tariqa's strategic advantages were its strict spiritual hierarchy, clandestine cell structure and religious authority. The order became "dual-purpose", adapting its entrenched system of lodges and disciples towards a military goal. In Islamic terms, the "greater jihad", inner purification of the self, had been exchanged for the "lesser jihad", outer purification of the larger self, or nation, from foreign contamination. The Naqshbandi imam and commander Ghazi Muhammad (c1793-1832) declared, quite plausibly, that spiritual perfection and foreign occupation were mutually exclusive – therefore expelling the enemy was the first step towards God.

Al-Qaida and the Islamic world

Islam and the common enemy also had the unprecedented effect of uniting the tribes and ethnic groups of a diverse, mountainous region under a common banner. This is also true of bin Laden and the transnational jihadi network under his name, except that the homeland in a globalised jihad is not just Chechnya but any Muslim territory, past or present. Is it the nature of the battlefield that has changed as much as the ideas at stake?

In any setting, foreign occupation undoubtedly instigates far more politicised religious interpretations. The believer's preoccupation is inverted from the divine Other within to the aggressive other without. Such confrontation inevitably generates dogmatic insistence on orthodoxy and hasty delineation between believers and infidels. The more superficial religious tenets begin to outweigh the spiritual truth they symbolise.

In Chechnya, a series of wars were fought against Russian occupation under the Naqshbandi leadership, whose spirituality became almost entirely eclipsed by the political struggle. The Russians, with their far greater resources, often passed up opportunities for negotiated settlement in favour of outright victory. Over time, however, this only exacerbated the Naqshbandis' capacity to recover from setbacks, regroup and respond quickly with devastating consequences. The inevitable collective punishments of ordinary people by the Russians in their attempts to crush the resistance only played into Naqshbandi hands. It is hardly surprising that this conflict still festers today, when it has become subsumed by both Russia and al-Qaida under the "war on terror" umbrella.

Bin Laden's astute ambiguity between the spiritual and the political bears clear parallels to this historical Chechen struggle. After the destruction of his Afghan base in 2001, his significance in the symbolic rather than practical realm has clearly increased. His frequent references to Chechnya reinforce the notion of al-Qaida as the latest incarnation of militant tariqas on a global scale. In both cases, the clandestine structure and spiritual authority of the Sufi brotherhood, based on total trust and loyalty, is readily adaptable to military objectives of "pure" Islam, centred around an essentially spiritual axis.

The tariqa has found an unexpected descendent in the form of an underground, disparate and constantly shifting hierarchy of associates. This post-tariqa functions under the aegis of religious inspiration, transformed in a globalised age by the existence of a militarily and economically superior adversary. The neo-conservative and jihadi ideologies, similarly lacking in political vision, represent mirror-image exoteric postmodernisms. That is why the higher echelons of al-Qaida and the Project for the New American Century, can be seen, as Devji hints, as psychological shadows of each other. The danger of both projects is their metaphysical dogmatism, facile resort to violence and narrow-minded contempt of the other, which is sucking impressionable individuals worldwide into a widening opposition.

Al-Qaida and the future

Faisal Devji's original and penetrating insights offers a refreshing alternative to the usual US or Eurocentric viewpoints. However, in theorising al-Qaida's ethical nature, it is surely too rash to dismiss out of hand the links between Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism. Al-Qaida thus presented comes across as a fait accompli that has appeared almost entirely spontaneously, overlooking its political or psychological causes.

Unconcerned with root causes, Devji devotes himself instead to a skilful exposition of al-Qaida as an integral part of our 21st-century global order. What we are observing is a religious edifice in disarray, brutally undermined by modernity and now watching its remains endlessly splintering. In the wake of the cold war and the failure of both secular and fundamentalist ideologies in Islamic countries, political ideas have been transcended towards individual radicalisation and ethical gestures. In an internally split Islamic world short on direction but long on vested interests and natural resources, it is hard to foresee any realistic renewal of authority. Instead we may be left with a daunting array of fragmented, feuding factions, the violent legacy of a once-peaceful tradition defending what remains of its honour.
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Monday, January 16, 2006

Tunes of the spirit: TAKE NOTE? Micky Narula is the latest entry to the music scene
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TAKE NOTE: Micky Narula is the latest entry to the music scene

Micky Narula, who is coming up with "Ranjhan Yaar", his latest album with eight Sufi songs sung and composed by him, says the word Sufi has great significance for him. Brother of the famous Punjabi singer Jaspinder Narula, Micky Narula was fascinated with Sufi music from the very beginning. He may have inherited his passion to compose and sing from his father K.S. Narula, a noted music director, but for this album he has drawn inspiration from the 16th and 17th Century Sufi singers who used to dress in blue.

Micky, who currently has two Hollywood movies under production named Gold Bracelet and My Nanaji's Wedding and a Pakistani movie, Dil se Dil Tak, avers that his philosophy about spirituality in real life is reflected in this album.

"The theme of the album is based on the famous love-fable of Heer-Ranjha, but the essence of its music lies in addressing the Almighty. There is no candy-floss romance shown in this album; rather there is a depiction of pious love."

Micky is very much against the distortion of music, which he thinks has become a general practice in the industry.

"What video-music albums provide us today is for the eyes and not the soul. One should think and make music beyond the physical self," he explains, adding, "We have made use of an Arabic instrument called oodh in our album. It is probably the first time anybody has ever experimented with it in Indian music."

Two songs from this maiden album of Frankfinn Music, "Yaar Mera" and "Ranjhan Yaar", have video versions starring fashion designer Vijaya. Having already designed for the film Apaharan, she is looking forward to more acting and designing assignments in Bollywood.

"Though I love fashion designing, my first preference would remain acting. I am looking forward to doing meaty roles in Bollywood, but as of now, I am waiting for the album to be released," says Vijaya.
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Monday, January 09, 2006

Wadali brothers to sing for Dutt’s Sarhad Par
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Wadali brothers to sing for Dutt’s Sarhad Par

- By Neha Sharma January, 8, 2006 from the Asian Age

New Delhi: After reviving the trend of qawwalis in Hindi films and giving hit numbers in films like Pinjar and Dhoop, the legendary Wadali Brothers will next be heard in Sanjay Dutt’s forthcoming film Sarhad Par. The duo were in the capital to perform at the Katha Asia International Utsav.

"Jab tak bika na tha koi puchhta na tha; tune mujhe kharid kar anmol kar diya," is how they define their journey from a hamlet in Amritsar to the present day hall of fame.

"I always wanted to be a wrestler but my father forced me to learn music. He used to sit with a stick during training sessions," said Puranchand Wadali, the elder of the two brothers. After mastering Sufi music, they trained under Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Comparing their compositions to the "so-called Sufi music which seems to be gaining steam," Pyarelal Wadali said, "The singers who claim to excel in Sufi music hardly know anything about it. It’s all superficial."

Further elaborating on Sufism, he added, "Sufi kalaam is actually a prayer sung by fakirs and Sufi saints in praise of the Almighty."

On the trend of remixes, the duo said, "If you call it music than you need to give it a second thought."
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Dr. Carlos Verona Narvion to deliver Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture
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Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture by Dr. Carolos Verona Narvion

Kolkata, India January 6, 2006

This year the prestigious Ashok Kumar Sarkar Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Dr Carlos Verona Narvion, a philosopher researching on orientalism, sufism and the works of Cervantes for two decades. The lecture will be delivered on January 30.
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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Kailash Kher, Singer, on why Sufi music is not limited to a particular audience.
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Kailash Kher, Singer, on why Sufi music is not limited to a particular audience.

in City Supplements, Bombay Times, January 4, 2006

You are known essentially as a Sufi singer. Does that alienate your kind of music?

Sufi music can be hugely popular, as Toota toota ek parinda proved to everyone. And if Sufi music is mixed with international sound, it can have quite a global appeal.

In my concerts abroad, the foreigners in the audience really enjoy the sound as it's exotic and very different from the run-of-themill music that plays all over.

Sufi music has a philoso phy behind it, so by going pop does the meaning get lost somewhere?

The philosophy of Sufi music is very easy to understand and the more pop you go with it, the better its chances of reaching out to the masses. Sufi music is about life, affinity, love, reality and the ultimate search for God.

But does Sufi music have to fall prey to the packag ing syndrome of music?

In this day and age, packaging of music is very important. So, for my new album Kailasa, for which I've composed, written and sung extensively, I've opted for music videos that add that extra visual appeal and pull in listeners. There will be three music videos for my album, one of which will be shot in Egypt as the visual treatment needed for a particular song in that album has special sound.

With so much music in the market, one really needs to make a mark and that can happen only by doing something different every time.

So, will there be out-andout Sufi music in your forthcoming album?

There is a confluence of varied sounds, ranging club music, lounge feel, country music to eclectic variations from the world over. But Sufi music is the vital element in the album.
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Activist rocker [Salam Ahmad of Junoon] inspires Muslims
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"Activist rocker inspires Muslims

By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service, December 30, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune

Salman Ahmad performs with his band, Junoon, at the Dubai Country Club in Dubai. His work to build bridges between the Muslim and Western worlds has earned him comparisons with another socially active rocker, U2's Bono. (Religion News Service)

One of Salman Ahmad's earliest gigs was a talent show at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he was studying to be a doctor. Moments after he strummed his first chords, Islamic fundamentalists barged in, smashed Ahmad's guitar and drum set, and broke up the show.
Ahmad wasn't so much scared as confused.
''I thought rock musicians were supposed to break their own instruments,'' he said with a smile.
Little did they know at the time, but those fundamentalists helped spawn an international star whose faith-based music reaches millions of Muslims, prompting comparisons to another do-good rocker, U2's Bono. Perhaps more important, by promoting interfaith understanding, Ahmad has become a pivotal figure in the war between moderate and extremist Islam.
''That one incident really changed the way I started thinking. I realized that if there are some people who feel threatened by music, and what music means for people, then I should do more of it,'' said Ahmad, a devout Sufi Muslim.
Ahmad, 41, is best known as lead guitarist of Junoon, a Pakistani-American rock band that is wildly popular throughout South Asia and among the South Asian diaspora, selling 25 million albums.
But fame was never enough for Ahmad, who has parlayed his popularity into lobbying for Third World development and building bridges between the Islamic and Western worlds.
''I can't imagine anybody else out there who as a single person can make a bigger difference than Sal,'' said Polar Levine, a Jewish-American musician with whom Ahmad has collaborated since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ''He's not making music as a sales unit or to get babes. He's got an agenda.''
Born in Lahore, Ahmad moved with his family to Tappan, N.Y., when he was 12. There he grew to love Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and bought his first guitar. He also maintained his Pakistani-Muslim roots, speaking Urdu at home, fasting during Ramadan and perusing the Quran. Ahmad returned to Lahore for medical school and after graduating chose music over medicine.
Ahmad formed Junoon in 1990, creating a distinctive sound - electric rock braided with Pakistani folk music and lyrics that drew from the Quran and Sufi poets such as Rumi and Baba Bulleh Shah. He quickly won a following that grew over the years.
''My inspiration comes from a lot of these Sufi poets, and the fact that they saw the world as one,'' Ahmad said. ''I'm a believer, and a lot of my music and my life take inspiration from faith. And the Quran is a huge source of inspiration.'' Despite his deference to Islam, not all Muslims approve of Ahmad and Junoon.
His group was banned from performing in Pakistan from 1996 to 1999 after referring to government corruption in a song and protesting Pakistan's and India's nuclear testing. After fundamentalists won local elections in Pakistan's northwest Peshawar region in 2002 and outlawed all music as un-Islamic, the BBC, in the documentary ''Rock Star and the Mullahs,'' chronicled how Ahmad challenged fundamentalists to show where in the Quran music is forbidden. They couldn't, but still held to their views.
Imam Yahya Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University and member of the Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Council of North America, says there is ''absolutely nothing'' in the Quran or Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) that prohibits music.
On the contrary, Islam needs musicians like Ahmad, perhaps even more than it needs religious leaders, Hendi says.
''Music is a universal language. Every human being connects with it. Not everyone connects with religious voices. Musicians can put out the message that Islam is a religion of love, compassion and peace better than clergy,'' he said.
Ahmad says the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, but that they need to do a better job of explaining their religion.
''Everybody says, 'It's a religion of peace.' Well, all religions are religions of peace. But what does your identity stand for?'' he said.
Ahmad's identity has been shaped by October's devastating earthquake in the disputed territory of Kashmir. It claimed nearly 90,000 victims, including Ahmad's aunt and cousin.
The tragedy has put Ahmad on a fundraising tour, including a concert in Norway that helped secure a $25 million pledge from that country's government. He was critical of the Pakistani government's hesitancy to accept aid from Israel, a country it doesn't recognize.
''We have to get out of this mind-set of the politics of division,'' he said. ''When there's a tragedy, you've got to do what's required.''
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Nagore remembers 'tsunami' souls in true Sufi spirit
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Nagore remembers 'tsunami' souls in true Sufi spirit

Nagore (Tamil Nadu) | December 26, 2005 in webindia123.com

Noorbano held on to the iron grills, staring longingly at a patch of green behind it. The long grass, however, could not hide the tombstone of her brother - washed away in the tsunami that struck the Nagapattinam coast a year ago.
Sitting a little distance from the prayer gathering Monday, Noorbano quietly remembers her brother, who she says now live as a 'nerunji'- a grass flower among hundred other tombstones.

Among these mass graves lie the remains of 300 people, who perished in the monster waves. The graves are located in the 'dargah' of Sayedna Sayed Abdul Kadir Shahul Hammed Nagoori, the highest-ranking Sufi saint in southern India, popularly known as Meeran Sahib.

The beaches are less than a km from the dargah and that is why the bodies were brought here on Dec 26 morning last year.

Haji H Mohamed Abubacker Sahib, a dargah trust aide, told IANS: "There were 50 children among the dead.

"We don't know who among the dead were Muslims and who were Hindus. We buried all the bodies we recovered here and prayed for their salvation, be it Hindu, Muslim or Christian. We are Sufis."

He said in true Sufi spirit, Nagore and its 20,000 inhabitants Monday joined in special 'namaz' prayers for the salvation of all tsunami victims - Hindus, Muslims, Christians - at the dargah.

"Death is a great leveller of truth for the high and mighty as well as the weak and the low. That is what our saint taught us," the keepers of this dargah say.

Nagore is a small pilgrim town, about seven km from Nagapattinam, where lie the remains of Meeran Sahib, a spiritual leader born in Audh between 1490 and 1500, who travelled all over in his quest for truth and eventually settled and preached here.

The devotees who throng here cut across religion.

Jayakali, from Sripudupettai village on the Cuddalore coast 200 km away, said: "We believe in Meeran Sahib. We will pray to him to make things all right. It was only because of him my family was saved from the tsunami."

Such is the power of faith here.

Hundreds of people from Pattinancherry, Silladi, Manalmodu, Kadalkarai and Attankarai on Nagore coast had died in the disaster last year.

During the tsunami, Muslim youths and elders of Nagore worked together to provide relief, without any religious bias.

After tsunami, Shanmugavel, 21, had along with Mohammad and John recovered the dead bodies. He was one of the first youths to have reached Pattinacherry that devastating Sunday.

The dargah - the biggest building in the town - was the centre of all relief operations.

Recalling those first few days, Shanmugavel, an Amritanandamayi Math volunteer at Nagore, said: "The mosque was the first place to thrown open its doors to the people from the coast, fleeing in fear. They were the first to help the villagers."

Mohammad, who helped bury the dead at the dargah, is philosophical: "Before Allah, who is Muslim, who is Hindu? We are all the same." He was selling a 'chaadar' to a Hindu Brahmin pilgrim at the dargah.

The dargah authorities have provided four acres of land for temporary shelters to tsunami victims.
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Mevlana (Rumi) Peace Competition to be held in 2007
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"On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth, Mevlana Peace Competition will be held in 2007."

from the Cultural Heritage News Agency, Tehran, 19 December 2005 (CHN) --

On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Mevlana’s birthday, the great Peace Competition of Mevlana, otherwise known as Rumi, the great Iranian poet of the 13th century AD, will be held in Konya, Turkey in 2007.

“Following the suggestion of Turkish government, the year 2007 will be named after Rumi,” Said Abdol-sattar Yazar, head of Konya Cultural and Tourism Office.

In an interview with CHN in Rumi’s death anniversary, Yazar added that the 732nd anniversary of Rumi’s death will also be held in Konya on June/July of next year.

“Rumi’s death anniversary is known as ‘bride’s night’ in Turkey, and was used to be held every year from 10 to 17 of December. However, this year this ritual will be held for a longer period of time, that is from 7 to 17 of December,” Yazar added.

Since Sufi Gnostics regard death as a means of reunion with the beloved (the Lord Almighty), Mevlana’s death anniversary is considered a happy occasion. That’s why it is called the “bride’s night”.

The most interesting part of this ceremony is the famous dance of the “Whirling Dervishes”. This type of dance is known as “Sama”, and is a mystical round dance related to Sufism. Sama, from the Arabic root meaning “to listen”, refers to the spiritual practice of listening to music and achieving unity with the Divine.

Those who are responsible for holding this ceremony have started their job from mid-January by preparing catalogues in 8 languages which have been sent to 35 countries already. A catalogue in Persian language was sent to the Iran’s Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance.

The number of tourists who travel to Turkey to participate in this ceremony is increasing each year which is a proof of the Turkish officials’ success in introducing this special ritual to the world.

In each performance, approximately 12 thousand people are present, watching the ceremony. “45 thousand people are expected to be present at this ceremony. Performing days of this ceremony have been extended to 15 nights due to the increasing number of visitors,” said Yazar.

Last year more than 1,350,000 tourists traveled to Konya. This number is predicted to be increased to two million this year. Due to the increasing number of tourists, the accommodation facilities are being developed to facilitate transportation of the tourists.

Each year and around this time, a large number of groups from India, Pakistan and Iran travel to Konya to take part and perform in this ceremony.

In an interview with the Iranian media, director of Konya Journalists Society announced that ministers of tourism and culture from seven Islamic countries will travel to Konya. He also added that next year, Prince Charles of England and the Spanish Prime Minister will be among the visitors.

CNN, BBC, and Reuters have covered the news of this ceremony in the past. 500 journalists and correspondents from different media will also be working in Konya during the time the ceremony is held.

Ever since Rumi’s book, Mathnavi topped the best selling books lists in countries such as Germany and the U.S., the people in these countries have become eagerly interested in his poems; and the number of those who appreciate this master of Persian literature is on the rise.

Mowlana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad Rumi, known to the Turks as Mevlana, was a Muslim Sufi, poet, jurist, theologian and teacher of Sufism who was born in Balkh (then a city of the Greater Khorasan province of Persia (Iran), now part of Afghanistan) and died in Konya (in present-day Turkey which was within the Seljuk Empire's territory back then). His birthplace and native tongue points towards a Persian heritage. He also wrote his poetry in Persian, which is widely read in Iran and Afghanistan where the language is spoken. Yet, he is adored to such a degree that citizens of modern Turkey, Pakistan, and India sometimes consider him one of their own.

Rumi’s tomb is located in Konya in present-day Turkey, to which thousands of the poet lovers travel each year.
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Dalrymple finds Sufism’s maverick soul in music, as seen in his film, Sufi Soul
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"Dalrymple finds Sufism’s maverick soul in music"

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan in Delhi Newsline at cities.expressindia.com

New Delhi, December 16:

Sufi music has always attracted the mavericks, the artists and anyone with a slight rebellion within their soul, because it breathes the unconventional by going against fundamentalists interpretations of Islam that music has no place in worshipping God.

Author William Dalrymple says he discovered this and more during the filming of his movie Sufi Soul, which premiered at the British Council here on Thursday.

Dalrymple travelled across South Asia — from Morocco and Turkey to Pakistan and India — finding out about this religion. The hour-long film covers quite a few aspects of Sufism — the whirling dervishes inspired by the poet and Sufi saint Rumi, the underground Sufis in Istanbul who have been forbidden to practice, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his nephew Rahat and even the qawwali sessions in the Nizamuddin Dargah.

‘‘Originally I wanted a whole series,’’ said Dalrymple in a discussion with Pavan Varma, director, ICCR,‘‘I especially wanted to do Iran and Egypt, but there were budget constraints.’’

The movie also premiered in London, under Channel 4, about three months ago, which was followed by a three-day Sufi music festival. ‘‘I obviously couldn’t say all that I wanted to,’’ said Dalrymple, ‘‘It’s an hour-long film made for English audiences, basically to show them that there is more to Islam than terrorism.’’

But the movie touches on another aspect as well — showing the conflict between the fundamentalist Muslims and the ‘open-to-all’ Sufis. ‘‘It varies from place to place,’’ said the filmmaker. ‘There is an almost complete wiping out of Sufis in the North-West frontier, but in my opinion there are more people now on Thursday nights in Nizamuddin than there have ever been,’’ he added

Does he plan on making any more films? ‘‘We’ve put in a proposal to do part two of this movie,’’ said Dalrymple, ‘‘Plus I also want to do another movie devoted to Rumi.’’
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Rumi — Turning Ecstatic, a film by Tina Petrova and Stephen Roloff
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Poet's voice still echoes

by Ron Csillag Dec. 17, 2005. 01:00 AM

World Rumi Day marks 13th century Persian mystic's metaphysical journey home to the Beloved Toronto woman screens film of her own spiritual odyssey that Rumi inspired, writes Ron Csillag.

Shakespeare, a devotee once wrote, has had neither equal nor second.

Don't tell that to lovers of Mevlana Jelalludin Rumi.

The 13th century Sufi writer of ecstatic love poetry has been dubbed "the Shakespeare of mystics" and "the Shakespeare of the soul."

More than any other poet in any other religious tradition, Rumi saw the unseeable and expressed the inexpressible. He found the sublime in everything — in song, in dance, in nature and in friendship.

At a time when God was either King or Avenger, he dared to speak of the divine as pure love. Rumi's God was "the Beloved."

And talk about bookstore boffo: in the past 20 years, the English translations of his works are said to have outsold those of Shakespeare. Books like The Essential Rumi and The Illuminated Rumi by American translator Coleman Barks have sold more than 500,000 copies.

Rumi's verse has even been called the "Persian Qur'an." Time magazine, in its Dec. 31, 1999 issue, crowned him "Mystic of the Century."

Anyone who's read him may know the feeling of being transported to a place of wonderment, of getting lost in the trance-like swirl experienced by "whirling dervishes" — members of the Mevlevi Sufi order founded by Rumi's followers and which continues today.

A dreamy new film about one woman's spiritual odyssey comes close to capturing the feeling.

Rumi — Turning Ecstatic, by Torontonians Tina Petrova and Stephen Roloff, was inspired by something no one would consider very inspirational: a near-fatal car accident.

It happened Dec. 21, 1997, when Petrova, born a Roman Catholic, was driving to a Buddhist monastery deep in California's Mohave desert, and plunged off a small cliff. That was after a mysterious hitchhiker she had dropped off warned: "Don't drive off the cliff today."

Petrova, a 50-year-old retired actor and now a filmmaker, didn't know it at the time but it was the beginning of a journey that would change her life. She had driven off the metaphorical cliff all right — and straight into the pillow of Rumi's lap.

Back in Toronto a year later, "broken and humbled," still in a rib brace and unable to work, she prayed a novena to the Virgin Mary for guidance. That night, her plea was answered by a vision of a robed figure she recognized as Rumi.

As Petrova puts it in the film: "A Muslim mystic appearing to a Tibetan Buddhist answering a plea to the Virgin Mary ... welcome to my life."

Inspired, she organized the Rumi Festival of Peace in Toronto in 1999, bringing together Barks, a diverse group of dervishes, musicians and actors. It was just the start of a mission that could well have been fired by Rumi's words: "Sometimes in order to help, He makes us cry."

The film follows Petrova on a pilgrimage-like journey of recovery as she seeks out others dedicated to following Rumi's path "in word and action." Appearances are made by Barks; Shaikh Kabir Helminski, the western representative of Rumi's Mevlevi order who leads a group of dervishes in California; author Andrew Harvey; and architect Nader Khalili, whose innovative designs are inspired by the Persian mystic.

Born in 1207 AD in what is today Afghanistan, Rumi's family fled Mongol invasions and settled in present-day Turkey. Rumi was a scholar of traditional Islam and its mystical branch, Sufism, and taught at his father's religious school until a meeting with a dervish named Shams of Tabriz changed his life, and the course of mysticism.

Upon hearing that the wild monk Shams had been murdered, Rumi, the story goes, began whirling in grief, verses of ecstatic poetry pouring from him so fluidly that scribes could barely keep up committing them to paper.

He spent the rest of his life addressing his love for God and love for absent friends as two sides of the same coin. His best-known works are the Divan i Shams, comprising about 3,500 poems, and his magnum opus, Mathnawi, a work of 35,000 lines in six books that is considered today a classic of Middle Eastern literature, held with a reverence not far below the Qur'an.

In the West, Rumi's work is getting wider play. A 1998 tribute CD released by New Age health guru Deepak Chopra featured spoken word and music performances by Madonna, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, and the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Director Oliver Stone is said to be developing a full-length Hollywood treatment on his life.

Why does Rumi's voice echo after 700 years? Some point to his interfaith approach: "I am not Christian or Jew, not Hindu, Buddhist or Zen," he wrote. "I'm not from the East or West. I belong to the Beloved."

Or as Harvey, the author, puts it, Rumi's embrace of all paths to God speaks to us "at the moment when the human race needs that inspiration like oxygen ... (it's) a midwifing voice in an apocalyptic time."

Despite his broad view, Rumi was "very much a Muslim writer. To him, Muhammad was the perfect man," says Maria Subtelny, a scholar of classical Persian literature at the University of Toronto. Even so, "there is a universalism there and if his writings inspire people who can derive spirituality from it, that's testament to his genius."

Subtelny isn't the first scholar or fan to believe God spoke to Rumi directly. "There's no question in my mind that he was divinely inspired," she says.

Petrova needs no convincing.

"He had a direct connection with God. This man was on first-name terms with God."

A reporter can barely get the question out — Why did she make the film? — before Petrova launches into a 15-minute outpouring that is, well, poetic.

Following her vision, "I really had no choice. The mystical dream I had, the vision, the building force of the love of Rumi coming through me ... it almost knocked the wind out of me. I was propelled forward on this journey and certainly there were times I felt I was drowning."

She isn't counselling anyone to run out and become a Sufi. "I just wish for people to heal their woundedness." Neither is she ready to say that she's healed. "I'm saying that the journey has been painful. It's been excruciating but it's also been uplifting and blissful. I wish everyone on the planet could taste one sip from the wellspring of love I have been graced with."

She quotes a Rumi verse from memory: "Those tender words we said are stored in the heart of heaven and one day, like the rain, the whole world will grow green with their love."

Petrova believes that day is today. "I think Rumi's words offer a profound ray of hope for humanity. There's something about his poetry that cuts right to the centre of the human heart. His writing speaks of loss and longing and separation and love and union and bliss — the whole gamut of the metaphysical journey home to God, and indeed is a roadmap home to the Beloved."

Today, literally, is special for another reason.

All over the Muslim world, Dec. 17 is auspicious: It's Rumi's "Wedding Day," the day he met his Beloved and lifted the final veil, or the day of his death in 1273. Petrova has helped brainstorm the event into World Rumi Day, which she envisions as an annual tradition.

Rumi — Turning Ecstatic airs on Vision TV, a partner in the film, on Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. For a list of local venues screening the film today, see http://www.rumi-turn ingecstatic.com.


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Ron Csillag is a Toronto who specializes in religion. He can be reached at csillag@rogers.com.
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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Turks in a spin over Whirling Dervishes
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Turks in a spin over Whirling Dervishes

by MERIEL BEATTIE in the Scotsman, December 17, 2005, reporting from Konya, Turkey

FAHRI Ozcakil is an odd kind of civil servant: his job requires him to wear a long white robe and a tall, conical hat and to spin around in circles so fast that his head tilts to one side, his tunic billows out - and his body becomes a twisting blur.

Mr Ozcakil is one of Turkey's official Whirling Dervishes.

Founded in the 13th century by followers of the mystic philosopher and poet Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, the dervishes developed their mesmerising, whirling dance in the belief that it allowed them to abandon earthly concerns and to achieve a spiritual union with God.

"Every circle, every turn, we keep the name of Allah in our mind," said Mr Ozcakil, who is formally employed by the Turkish ministry of culture and tourism.

Today is the highlight of the Dervish calendar. It is the day, 732 years ago, that Rumi - known today as "The Mevlana" - died in the central Turkish city of Konya.

Thousands of visitors, including many foreigners, have been flocking to Konya this week to watch Mr Ozcakil and his highly trained colleagues perform the hypnotic, whirling dance ceremony, or "Sema", and to listen to haunting Sufi music.

This year, there is an extra reason to celebrate. Last month, UNESCO declared the whirling ceremony a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" - a special status which ranks it alongside Japan's Kabuki theatre and the Khmer shadow puppets of Cambodia.

It represents a return to favour after all Dervish lodges and religious practices were banned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, in 1925 as part of his drive to create a secular state.
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Biographical Article on Rumi
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On the occasion of Rumi day Rumi’s continuing influence

TEHRAN, Dec. 16 Mehr News -- Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi was born in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), during the reign of the Ghurid Empire on September 30, 1207, and died December 17, 1273.

Also called by the honorific Mawlana, the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language is famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnaviy-e Manavi (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced Muslim mystical thought and literature. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West the Whirling Dervishes.

Jalal ad-Din's father, Baha ad-Din Walad, was a noted mystical theologian, author, and teacher. Mainly because of the threat of the approaching Mongols, Baha ad-Din and his family left their native town in about 1218. According to a legend, in Nishapur, Iran, the family met Farid od-Din Attar, a Persian author of mystical epics, who blessed young Jalal ad-Din. After a pilgrimage to Mecca and journeys through the Middle East, Baha ad-Din and his family reached Anatolia (Rum, hence the surname Rumi), a region that enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of the Turkish Seljuq dynasty. After a short stay at Laranda (Karaman), where Jalal ad-Din's mother died and his first son was born, they were called to the capital, Konya, in 1228. Here, Baha ad-Din Walad taught at one of the numerous madrasahs (religious schools); after his death in 1231 he was succeeded in this capacity by his son.

A year later, Burhan ad-Din Muhaqqiq, one of Baha ad-Din's former disciples, arrived in Konya and acquainted Jalal ad-Din more deeply with some mystical theories that had developed in Iran. Burhan ad-Din, who contributed considerably to Jalal ad-Din's spiritual formation, left Konya about 1240. Jalal ad-Din is said to have undertaken one or two journeys to Syria (unless his contacts with Syrian Sufi circles were already established before his family reached Anatolia); there he may have met Ibn al-Arabi, the leading Islamic theosophist whose interpreter and stepson, Sadr ad-Din al-Qunawi, was Rumi's colleague and friend in Konya.

The decisive moment in Rumi's life occurred on November 30, 1244, when in the streets of Konya he met the wandering dervish -- holy man -- Shams ad-Din (Sun of Religion) of Tabriz, whom he may have first encountered in Syria. Shams ad-Din cannot be connected with any of the traditional mystical fraternities; his overwhelming personality, however, revealed to Jalal ad-Din the mysteries of divine majesty and beauty. For months the two mystics lived closely together, and Rumi neglected his disciples and family so that his scandalized entourage forced Shams to leave the town in February 1246. Jalal ad-Din was heartbroken; his eldest son, Sultan Walad, eventually brought Shams back from Syria. The family, however, could not tolerate the close relation of Jalal ad-Din with his beloved, and one night in 1247 Shams disappeared forever. It has recently been established that he was indeed murdered, not without the knowledge of Rumi's sons, who hurriedly buried him close to a well that is still extant in Konya.

This experience of love, longing, and loss turned Rumi into a poet. His mystical poems -- about 30,000 verses and a large number of robaiyat (“quatrains”) -- reflect the different stages of his love, until, as his son writes, “he found Shams in himself, radiant like the moon.” The complete identification of lover and beloved is expressed by his inserting the name of Shams instead of his own pen name at the end of most of his lyrical poems. The Divan-e Shams (The collected Poetry of Shams) is a true translation of his experiences into poetry; its language, however, never becomes lost in lofty spiritual heights or nebulous speculation. The fresh language, propelled by its strong rhythms, sometimes assumes forms close to popular verses. There would seem to be cause for the belief, expressed by chroniclers, that most of this poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or the drum, the hammering of the goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in Meram, where Rumi used to go with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in nature the reflection of the radiant beauty of the Sun of Religion and felt flowers and birds partaking in his love. He often accompanied his verses by a whirling dance.

A few years after Shams ad-Din's death, Rumi experienced a similar rapture in his acquaintance with an illiterate goldsmith, Salah ad-Din Zarkub. It is said that one day, hearing the sound of a hammer in front of Salah ad-Din's shop in the bazaar of Konya, Rumi began his dance. The shop owner had long been one of Rumi's closest and most loyal disciples, and his daughter became the wife of Rumi's eldest son. This love again inspired Jalal ad-Din to write poetry. After Salah ad-Din's death, Husam ad-Din Chelebi became his spiritual love and deputy. Rumi's main work, the Masnaviy-e Manavi, was composed under his influence. Husam ad-Din had asked him to follow the model of the poets Attar and Sanai, who had laid down mystical teachings in long poems, interspersed with anecdotes, fables, stories, proverbs, and allegories. Their works were widely read by the mystics and by Rumi's disciples. Jalal ad-Din followed Husam ad-Din's advice and composed nearly 26,000 couplets of the Manavi during the following years. It is said that he would recite his verses even in the bath or on the roads, accompanied by Husam ad-Din, who wrote them down. The Manavi, which shows all the different aspects of Sufism in the 13th century, often carries the reader away with loose associations of thought, so that one understands what subjects the master had in mind at a particular stage of his life. The work reflects the experience of divine love; both Salah ad-Din and Husam ad-Din were, for Rumi, renewed manifestations of Shams ad-Din, the all-embracing light. He called Husam ad-Din, therefore, Diya al-Haqq (Light of the Truth); diya is the Arabic term for sunlight.

Rumi lived for a short while after completing the Masnavi. He always remained a respected member of Konya society, and his company was sought by the leading officials as well as by Christian monks. Husam ad-Din was his successor and was in turn succeeded by Sultan Walad, who organized the loose fraternity of Rumi's disciples into Mawlawiyah, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes because of the mystical dance that constitutes their principal ritual. Sultan Walad's poetical accounts of his father's life are the most important source of knowledge of Rumi's spiritual development.

Besides his poetry, Rumi left a small collection of occasional talks as they were noted down by his friends; in the collection, known as Fihi ma fihi (“There is in it what is in it”), the main ideas of his poetry recur. There also exist some letters directed to different persons. It is impossible to systematize his ideas, which at times contradict each other; and changes in the use of symbols often puzzle the reader. His poetry is a most human expression of mystical experiences, in which each reader can find his own favorite ideas and feelings -- from enthusiastic flights into the heavens to matter-of-fact descriptions of daily life. Rumi's influence on Turkish cultural life can scarcely be overstated; his mausoleum, the Green Dome, today a museum in Konya, is still a place of pilgrimage for thousands.
(Encyclopaedia Britannica)
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Council for the Promotion of Sufism in Punjab Established
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"Council to promote interfaith harmony"

By Anjum Herald Gill Daily Times, Pakistan December 15, 2005

LAHORE: The Punjab government has formed the Council for Promotion of Sufism under the auspices of the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture to promote interfaith harmony.

A seven-member committee will look after affairs of the council that has Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as its chairman and socialite Mian Yousaf Salahuddin as vice chairman. Inamulhaq Kauser from Balochistan, Abida Perveen and Hamid Akhund from Sindh, Advisor to Punjab CM Mowahid Hussain and Punjab Information and Culture Secretary Taimur Azmat Usman are the council members.

“Our objective is to revive mausoleums as confluence points not just for Muslims but also for people belonging to other religions,” Tiamur Azmat said.

The council will promote Sufi teachings and literature. It will also work to promote Sufi thought and philosophy at international level and their role in spreading Islam in the subcontinent, Taimur Azmat added. “We want to revere Sufi saints and their mausoleums not just as centres of holiness but also as places of learning and teaching.” To a question, the culture secretary said, “We will announce the name of a council member from NWFP soon.”
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Dervishes Reeling In Converts
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"Dervishes Reeling In Converts" a Reuters article published on December 14, 2005 at CNN.com , discusses the 11-day Rumi festival in Konya, Turkey, which culminates on December 17, the date of Rumi's death, which has traditionally been called the Sheb-i Arus (Wedding Night). By clicking on the title, you can go directly to the article.
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You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?
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"You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?"

by Abhijit Majumder

Saturday, December 10, 2005 DNAIndia.com

Music of the mystics finds a growing market in India, thanks to a surge in ’urban spirituality’

As qawwal Hamsar Hayat’s voice sliced through the night air, the thousand-odd audience, canopy of trees and its tall shadows at Horniman’s Circle seemed magically frozen.

Outside the gates, however, there were angry voices. Guards and organisers would not allow a couple who were leaving to pass on their tickets to their friends so that they could watch the concert instead.

“Sufi qawwali pe baat karte ho, zaraa Sufiana socho (You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like the Sufis?),” said the woman sardonically before leaving. The other couple was let in immediately.

Ruhaniyat, a music festival held recently in Mumbai, showed that the music of the mystics is getting increasingly popular in Indian cities. Music makers say this genre has grown by 15-20 per cent over the last couple of years.

“It’s ‘city spirituality’. City people come to Bauls’ (roaming minstrels of Bengal) akharas, spend a couple of hours and go back happy. They don’t want a deeper take,” says a cynical Parvati Baul, who had performed at Ruhaniyat. “There is a great deal of inner confusion in urban India. We are looking at our country from the point of view of foreign anthropologists. For them, music of the mystics is like a whiff of fresh air.”

Anwar Husain Niyazi, whose troupe regularly performs at a dargah in Jaipur, says the ‘flexible’ Nusrat Fateh Ali and the ‘brilliant’ Ghulam Shabri had brought Sufi music into urban consciousness. Then came Abida Parveen with that booming voice and a dishevelled, mystic chic about her. “Yeh malik se milane wali cheez hai (It makes you one with the creator),” says Niyazi with a smile, adding that the Sufi large-heartedness can be humbling.

By the turn of the century, the film industry had started reinventing Nusrat’s ‘Mast Mast’ and other songs in its capsule format. Recently, Pooja Bhatt’s Paap used Sufi music extensively.

The music industry recognised the trend early. Younger artistes Rahat Fateh Ali, Rabbi, Kailash Kher, Hansraj Hans and Zila Khan are known to sell well. The Music Today album with Gulzar’s lyrics--’Ishqa Ishqa’--even has a video version. Sufi pop, says Shaheen Jehani of Music Today, has arrived.

Ninaad Music’s Mahesh Babu is planning a range of albums including solos of Parvati Baul, Kachra Khan and Banda Nawadi. “Experimental Sufi music is selling. ‘Rabbi’, for instance, did quite well,” he says. “We do traditional stuff, try to bring in the original and introduce new textures of sound.”

Talent spotting is probably the best part. Babu travels across the country, sits in the dargahs, meets little-known artistes… and thousands share the spoils.
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Sheikh Abdul Aziz, Kashmiri Sufi music legend, dead
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Kashmiri Sufi music legend dead

from The Hindu, Srinagar, Dec. 4 (PTI):

A legend of Kashmiri Sufi music and santoor maestro, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, died at a local hospital here yesterday after brief illness.

Sheikh, 75, is survived by son Sheikh Mushtaq,a journalist and three daughters.

He was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard here yesterday, family sources said.

A contemporary of the famous Shiv Kumar Sharma of Jammu and Bhajan Lal Sopori and his father Shamboo Nath Sopori in the valley, Sheikh had attained mastery in playing classical ragas on Santoor in his early age. Later, he had revived a number of the defunct ragas.

Sheikh's three-volume publication on Kashmiri musical instruments and ragas, titled 'Koshur sargam', had won him accolades all over the world. The University of Maryland, US, had not only translated the book in English but also included it in the syllabus of its post-graduation course and also appointed Sheikh as a guest lecturer on the Indian classical music who there for one year.

His research work, which was included in the syllabus by the University of Kashmir in 1980s, earned Sheikh the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award.

Sheikh had completed the fourth volume of his work days before his death. "It is currently being printed," Mushtaq said. After his return to Srinagar, Shiekh compiled another book titled 'Ramooz-e-Moosiqi', which was published in Urdu.

Sheikh had composed music for a large number of Kashmiri songs and operas. He also represented India in the world music festival in Europe.
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Night journey: Pilgrimage to the Chiragh-i Delhi Shrine
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"Night journey"

One lamp-lit night Moonis Ijlal goes beyond the Chirag Dilli flyover and explores the mazar of the Sufi saint popularly known as Chiragh-i-Dihli

by Moonis Ijlal, in Delhi Newsline, cities.expressindia.com ,New Delhi (India), December 3, 2005

Chiragh Dilli. For most of us a flyover on the Outer Ring Road. I was not surprised when the autodriver asked me what was the name of the dargah I wished to go in Chiragh Dilli. The mazar of the sufi saint Nasir al-Din, better known as Chiragh-i-Dihli (the Lamp of Delhi), is tucked in the middle of the basti.

To reach him, you have to pass through an inextricable jumble of streets, lined with frugal shops and inferior houses. Interspersed with tents of mattresswallahs sitting cosy amongst heaps of cotton. It’s a walk through rows of women and men selling fruits, vegetables and roasting peanuts. Under the light of gas lamps, their faces glow. For a sufi it’s a perfect abode — amidst people.

Nasir, was a disciple of Nizamuddin Aulia. Both were loved by the common people. Both in their lives showed how completely the political and social needs of people were a part of their spiritual needs. Nasir professed that renunciation was not asceticism in isolation. Instead, it was devotion to ummah — god’s people. Sufis professed “inner rebellion” not only against social injustice, but against person’s own faults. This helped people cleanse their souls, unite with god. Such an intense spirituality helped them launch reformist movements. People of all religions and castes flocked to Nasir’s khanqah.

It’s 10 at night at his dargah. His murids have come from Allahabad, Bara Banki, Benaras and Jharkhand. A group of five is cooking in one of the ruins of the 14th century complex. At the centre is Nasir’s shrine, painted in pastel green and white. The open courtyard is enclosed at two sides with a row of small rooms. Most of them are shut behind fragile wooden doors. There is no furniture here, only mats. Around Nasir’s shrine there are many small and large graves. Some are covered under domed canopies supported by stone pillars.

A couple touches the old khirni tree near the shrine, then presses their hand against their lips. Under the dark shade of a neem, a black cat walks by slowly. A spotted-white sits still on a grave, like a headstone. Three kittens are at a game of chase, their mother sprawled on the prayer mat of the masjid. A little girl dances with double her size dupatta, while a woman is in sajda.

The Chishtis organised sama (musical gatherings) to attain mystical ecstacy. Nasir’s teacher Nizamuddin died in state of ecstacy. The state of fana — annihilation. The one which exists in all religious traditions. Like the prophet’s Night Journey which Gabriel takes him on. When Mohammed has to leave him behind, then he dies to himself before confronting God, after which he becomes a perfect being, like a siddh in yogic belief. Like the Buddha, who conquers death.

The death to oneself is symbolic of the “inner rebellion”. Nasir openly confronted with Muhammad Bin Tughlaq and refused to move base to Deccan. On one hand Sufis prayed for the political stability, on the other entered into open conflict with the ruler.

Nizamuddin had refused to return the money to Ghiasuddin Tughlaq, which the Sheikh had distributed among the poor. He was targetted by fanatics over his practice of sama. He got into a heated argument at Ghiasuddin’s court. To support him were his disciples, including Nasir. Nasir taught that removing misery among those in duress was best worship. A Chishti verse says: Infidelity and faith, heresy and orthodoxy were all mere expressions, there was no such thing as absolute opposition, everything was conceived in relative terms, in the end everyone is created by the same god: This ideology of the Sufis was a big help for the Muslim rulers to conduct a just rule in India and Indonesia.

The theologians were snubbed by Iltutmish when they asked him to punish the “infidels”. The Khilji ruler, Jalaluddin’s comment explains the dilemma of the ruler the best: “Every day Hindus pass below my palace beating cymbals and blowing conch shells to worship their idols on the banks of Yamuna....while the khutba is read in my name as the defender of Islam, under my very eyes they proudly live ostentatiously among the Muslims of my capital...perpetuate their practices.” In such dilemmas Muslim intellectuals and the Sufis were of immense help.

Nasir interacted with people in Hindawi (Hindi), wrote on Hindu themes. When a Qalandar tried to assassinate Nasir, he stopped his disciples seeking revenge. He died in 1356. The relics bequeathed to him by the Aulia were buried with him. He couldn’t find a worthy successor. His disciples compiled his teachings in Khayrul Majalis. Towards the end of his life he was distressed about the way “Delhi Sufism had degenerated into mere formalism.” Hasn’t it?
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Iranian Musical Group, Chehel Daf (40 Drums) to Perform in Konya
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"Chehel Daf to Perform in Konya"

by Cultural Heritage News Agency [of Iran] December 4, 2005

Chehel Daf ensemble of Iran will be the first foreign group which will perform in commemoration of Rumi in Konya.

Tehran, 4 December 2005 (CHN) -- The music group of Chehel Daf, which plays traditional Iranian music, will perform as the first foreign music group in commemoration of Mowlana in Konya on 18th of December.

“Vocalist Behruz Tavakkoli will be singing songs from Rumi poems. Turkey’s Cultural attaché and ambassador to Iran saw a part of this program during Ramadan month and expressed his interest for our performance in the Konya program,” said Farshid Gharibnejad, head of the music group of Chehel Daf to CHN correspondent.

Mowlana, also known as Rumi, was a Muslim Sufi, poet, jurist, theologian and teacher of Sufism, who was born in Balkh, which was then a city of the Khorasan province of Iran and now is a part of Afghanistan, and died in Konya in today’s Turkey. His birth place and native tongue points towards a Persian heritage. He also wrote his poetry in Persian, and is read widely in Iran and Afghanistan where the language is spoken. Yet, he is adored to such a degree by citizens of the modern Turkey, Pakistan, and India that they sometimes consider him one of their own.

The general theme of his thoughts like that of the other mystic and Sufi poets of the Persian literature, is essentially about the concept of Unity and Union with his beloved from which he has been cut and fallen aloof, and his longing and desire for reunity.

Rumis’ major work is Masnavi-ye Manavi (Spiritual Couplets), a six-volume poem regarded by many Sufis as second in importance only to the holy Quran. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of mystical poetry.

The dance moves related to Sufism and Whirling Dervishes which is called Sama is a part of the inspiration of Mowlana as well as part of the Turkish custom, history, beliefs and culture. Sama represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to Perfect. The dance was recently registered as one of the world’s oral intangible heritage.

Every year the poet’s lovers from all around the world gather at his tomb in Konya city on his death anniversary and perform some programs in his commemoration including poem citing and Sama dances.
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On the brink of precipice: Contemporary terrorism and limits of the state
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"On the brink of precipice: Contemporary terrorism and limits of the state"

PROFESSOR IMTIAZ AHMED December 4, 2005, in The Independant [Dhaka, Bangladesh]

[Blogger's Note: While only partly pertaining to Sufism, this article --among other points-- addresses "the modernist or Western construction of Sufism [and its] impact on the contemporary understanding of Islam."]

The debate is still on as to the birth of contemporary terrorism, a phenomenon that has come to haunt the people of not only affluent societies but also poverty-ridden societies. In Europe, America, Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and, of course, near home in South Asia the debate has produced a plethora of literature and above all a formidable line up of scholars and opinion-builders passionately arguing for the one or the other, or even settling for a combination of the two. Bangladesh is no exception in this respect. Here too the scholars, politicians, retired bureaucrats and military officials, journalists, women activists, at times, even members of donor agencies, have passionately contributed to the debate. The bulk of them, however, chose to blame ‘poverty’ and the ‘gap between the rich and the poor’ for all the terrorist activities in the country. Specificity cannot be ruled out, and so they argued that what is true for Bangladesh may not hold true for the rest of the world and vice versa. But then, what about the terrorism of yesteryears? Masterda Surya Sen, Pritilata and not to mention Aurobindo and all the beatified Bengal terrorists of the colonial era - were they not all bhadrasantans (sons of gentlemen)? More importantly, what about the post-colonial terrorists - the Naxalites and the members of Siraj Sikder outfit - were they not also from social classes relatively well off? Indeed, the core leadership could hardly be dubbed as ‘poor and deprived’! But this is only one side of the matter, and I must quickly add that I would hesitate to fall for a dichotomous resolution of the issue, that is, if it is not ‘poverty’ then ‘affluence’ is responsible for the birth of contemporary terrorism, which incidentally is best advocated by the Muslim-basher Daniel Pipes, although he restricts his contention to America and the Middle East. My contention is qualitatively different from the syndromes of poverty and affluence or crass economism, but before attempting to delve into the intricacies of my contention let me highlight two issues informing the nature of contemporary terrorism, incidentally found in both developed and maldeveloped societies.

Firstly, the profiling of suicide bombers in Gaza, Lebanon, Colombo, New York, Washington, Kashmir, and more recently, Madrid and London has convincingly shown that not only were the terrorists relatively well off but also did not have their education in religious schools, as is the popular perception. The bulk of them actually had a secular education and had an upbringing high enough for them to mix and mingle with a cross section of people and also roam around in areas and avenues free from suspicion and the constant monitoring of the police. If anything that were common to them it was a deep sense of mistrust and intolerance of the Other. And this brings us to the second issue.

There is now a universalization of intolerance. Tolerance, however, if we were to trace its origins in the political domain, has imperial connotation, as Jacques Derrida pointed out in an interview, interestingly, immediately after 9/11: "Tolerance is always on the side of the ‘reason of the strongest,’ where ‘might is right’; it is supplementary mark of sovereignty, the good face of sovereignty, which says to the other from its elevated position, I am letting you be, you are not insufferable, I am leaving you a place in my home, but do not forget that this is my home..."

But when the ‘reason’ becomes questionable and the ‘might’ starts losing its grip over the population, even if it were only a miniscule section, there is always a quick slide into intolerance. Post-9/11 America, post-London bombing England, post-Bali bombing Australia, and more recently, post-deveiled France, are good examples of what seemed to many as an overnight return of intolerance.

But what makes an overnight return of intolerance possible? And for that matter, what about in places and with people where such ‘reason of the strongest’ is wanting or at the best an illusion or a lost dream to be recovered? Where constant catching up with the ‘modern’ results in periodic disillusionment? Where aspirations remain truncated? Where the path of development is soaked in blood and violence? Or, where the reason of the self gets fused with the reason of the state? Where the myth of Sisyphus becomes the newfound reality? Can we, if we were to pursue these queries seriously, expect tolerance from the fractured or those having a mental condition of being constantly threatened or those who are hyped up in the infinite ladder of modernity and progress? Evidence of intolerance resulting from the above is ample in America, Africa, Australia, Europe and Asia.

Put differently, modernity, far from reproducing tolerance, has in its composition complex structures of intolerance. Indeed, following the birth of modernity and during the Reign of Terror some 10,000 people lost their lives, most of whom fell victim to the post-medieval, yet ‘tyrannical,’ secular state. But this was only the beginning. By twentieth century assassination, incarceration, torture, mass murder, including the killing of 6 million Jews, 22 million Soviets and no less horrifying number of people in Hamburg (some 40,000), Dresden (at least 70,000), Hiroshima (over 70,000) and Nagasaki (between 60,000 and 80,000), all were carried out for the reason of the state, the latter allegedly facing an imminent rupture and decline. In this context, Samuel Huntington’s plea for state’s vigilance and rearmament in the face of an eventual ‘Clash of civilizations’ or George Bush’s ‘War on terrorism’ remain identical for they both sanction violence and terror for reproducing the ‘reason of the strongest’ and making room for a precise brand of tolerance or should I say, intolerance!

Bangladesh, in this respect, is no exception, although like elsewhere the nature of the state is marked by specificities. Let me highlight this in some details. I will divide my contention into four sections. The first section will take up the issue of modernity and how it has come to reproduce intolerance, particularly the ‘religious’ variant of it, in the country. This does not cancel the secular version of intolerance, rather adds and makes best use of the latter. The second section will then examine the ‘other side’ of globalization, keeping in mind that the people of the country are not living in isolation but are constantly and creatively networking with the globalized world. But then such networks often end up being less than formal, servicing the non-state elements, including the ‘dubious and shadowy’ people. The third section will take up the issue of weapons technology in the age of globalization and how it has come to transform the power of the non-state, indeed, to the detriment of the state. In sum, the subjective condition and the objective reality - both at the state level and beyond - have not only put a limit to the power of the state but also proven to be a deadly combination in the reproduction of contemporary terrorism in Bangladesh. The concluding section will deal with the issue of what is to be done.

I: Modernity and the Reproduction of Religious Intolerance

It is now widely accepted that the conversion to Islam in Bengal in the thirteenth century was more voluntary in nature and less the result of a coercive policy of the Muslim rulers. In fact, the [conversion to Islam in Bengal] resulted mainly from the preaching of Islam by the Sufis. But the modernist or Western construction of Sufism had a profound impact on the contemporary understanding of Islam, including the rendering of education in Bengal and now Bangladesh. Indeed, by the end of the eighteenth century the Orientalists started dividing the Islamic scholarship into ‘core Islamic thought’ based on the practices of Muslim rulers predisposed to ‘harsh legalism’ and the ‘abstract mystical philosophy’ of Sufism ‘indifferent to matters of religious law,’ with the latter suggestively having ‘an external origin in India or elsewhere’. A key Orientalist, Lt. James William Graham, went to the extent of saying that the Indian subjects in fact regard the British as Sufis: "We are, generally speaking, at least in this country, looked upon as a species or one kind of Sufi, from our non-observance here of any rites or forms, conceiving a worship of the Deity in mind and adherence to morality sufficient. In fine, the present free-thinker or modern philosopher of Europe would be esteemed as a sort of Sufi in the world, and not the one retired therefrom."

The idea was mainly to isolate Sufism from Islam to the point of making the latter thoroughly apathetic if not opposed to reason and free thinking. This had profound implications for the people of both Islamic and non-Islamic world. Islam in the modern West came to be understood as devoid of reason, while the followers of Islam, often naively if not shamelessly agreeing to the Western categorization of Islam, saw modernity as anti-Islamic. Only now with post-structuralism advocating the limits of reason do we find a renewed interest in the Islamic scholarship in the West. In fact, often a parallel is now made between Ibn al-Arabi’s (the Islamic ‘Sufi’ scholar who earned the honour of al-Shaykh al-Akhbar [1165-1240]) understanding of ‘Real’ and Jacques Derrida’s understanding of ‘différance,’ both trying to free their respective word/concept from the ‘shackles of reason’. But the ‘parcellized’ understanding of Islam already took its toll in the colonial world, including Bengal.

Islamic revivalism in Bengal during the colonial period came more as a reaction to the Western domination. The core message of various revival movements in the nineteenth century was a return to an authentic version of Islam, an authenticity now defined in terms of the ‘external’ - the Arab culture and tradition. This is particularly prominent in the anti-colonial, but no less Islamic, movements of the 1820s, for instance, the Faraidi movement led by Haji Shariat Ullah and the Tariqah i Muhammadiah movement led by Titu Mir. Shariat Ullah studied Islam for ten years in Mecca and was influenced by Wahhabism, a puritan movement developed by Abdul Wahhab [1703-1792] in Arabia. Shariat Ullah’s son, Dudu Miyan, took a more militant approach in reviving Islam. He confronted the Hindu Zamindars against their ruthless exploitation of the largely converted Muslim peasants. The Faraidi movement even denounced the Pirs (cult of the saints) and criticized the latter as contrary to Islam. It may be mentioned that the term Faraidi, derived from the Arabic faraid, the plural of faraida, signified obligations commanded in Islam. In setting its goal for Islamic revivalism, the Faraidi leaders underlined five foundations of Islam: Kalima (the doctrine of the uniqueness of God), Salat (prayer), Roza (fasting), Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and Zakat (tax for the poor). This practically led to the separation of ‘spiritualism [roohaniyat], mysticism [tassawuf] and piety [taqwa]’ from what may be called ‘ritualistic formalism’ or ‘legalism’ in the understanding of Islam. In some cases this has reduced Islam, as Eqbal Ahmad used to say, "to a penal code and its history to a series of violent episodes." Islam in the nineteenth century colonized Bengal, for that matter, was different from the Islam of the relatively autonomous Bengal of the thirteenth century. Not only did the British redefine the meaning of Islam by keeping Sufism at bay but also the Islamic revival movements, aided no less by the doctrine of Wahhabism, constructed a highly formalized version of Islam devoid of spiritualism, piety and mysticism. In the field of education this had a devastating impact in so far as inter-religious and intra-religious issues were concerned.

In the first place there was the deliberate displacement of the madrasahs, the Islamic educational institutions, in favour of modern secular education during the colonial period. This consisted not only in the forcible closure of some of the known madrasahs under the direction of the British but also the stopping of maadat-e-maash (allowances in the form of land grants) and the confiscation of lakheraj (rent free lands of the madrasahs) and making them rental, which practically contributed to the closing down of the madrasahs in large numbers in the nineteenth century. It may be mentioned that the first madrasah in Bengal was established by Sheikh Sharfuddin Abu Tawama, a saint and great scholar, in the middle of the thirteenth century at a place called Mograpara in Sonargaon near Dhaka, which later attained the status of what would now be an university but fell into decline following the British domination of Bengal.

No less befitting however was the rendering of modern education in Bengal. The Enlightenment and the modernist discourse have already placed Islam, both as religion and civilization, in the medieval period. Indian history came to be chronologised (interestingly by a person in the name of James Stuart Mill who never visited India!) into ‘ancient,’ ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ with the Hindus, Muslims and the British (or by implication, the Christians) corresponding to them respectively. Muslims attending the modern educational institutions and tutored in modernity felt humiliated and sought the replacement of it by an authentic version of Islam, ironically to situate Islam and by implication themselves at the top! The governmentalisation of education in post-colonial Bangladesh further contributed to the reproduction of this self-consciousness, which often slipped into being something of a self-righteousness of the Muslims.

Secondly, the colonial power established ‘modern’ madrasahs, indeed, modelled very much on its ‘parcellized’ understanding of Islam, which further created grounds for dissension and conflict both within and outside the community. Guided by the colonial government and headed by a European, the Calcutta Alia Madrasah (established in 1781) set a new trend in the madrasah education in Bengal. It favoured teaching Muslim law and jurisprudence rather than an all-round education of the Muslims. It may be mentioned that the Calcutta Alia Madrasah was originally meant for the training of the British officials sent to administer colonial India. Only later did the colonial government allow the Muslim natives to study there, but then with the same intention of administering and supporting colonial India. But that is not all.

The first Head Maulvi of the Madrasah, Mulla Majid-ud-Deen, while making the syllabus of Calcutta Alia Madrasah was influenced by the dars-i Nizami system of madrasah education. It may be mentioned that Majid-ud-Deen was a direct student of Mulla Nizamuddin, the founder of the dars-i Nizami system. The system was originally promoted during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, a bigoted Mughal emperor. In fact, Aurangzeb not only had his father, Emperor Shahjahan, restrained within the premise of the palace but also had his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent, summarily tried and killed on account of heresy. Furthermore, the exhaustive digest of Islamic Law, Fatawa-i Alamgiri, which was known for its harsh legalism, including ‘rigid and stern’ position on heresy (kufr) was compiled at the directive of Aurangzeb. According to one critic, "Aurangzeb’s superfluous adherence to the letter of the law was a subject of many jokes among the nobles. When he was about to depute an army against rebels in the South (who were incidentally Muslims), one of the nobles remarked in his presence, "Your Majesty! Why send an army? Tell the Qazi Sahib, he may be able to crush the enemy with a fatwa!’" In light of this it can easily be deduced that the dars-i Nizami system of Mulla Nizamuddin, a direct beneficiary of Aurangzeb, promoted a legalistic version of Islam mainly for reproducing the power of the state. Islamic education otherwise became correlated with the reason of the state.

Instructed by Lord Hastings, Majid-ud-Deen made the syllabus giving priority to Islamic law and jurisprudence in line with the dars-i Nizami system. In imparting education the madrasahs of Bengal followed the dars-i Nizami system, particularly during the colonial period and also during the Pakistan period of Bangladesh. However, the government-funded madrasahs replaced the dars-i Nizami system in post-independence Bangladesh. I will have more to say about this shortly. According to the dars-i Nizami system, a student needed to complete his studies at the age of 17/18 to be able to read and understand any of the ninety-nine proscribed books, which, apart from being all written in Arabic and Persian, included nothing on ‘mysticism.’

When it comes to the Bengali Muslims searching for authenticity there is hardly a difference between the modern secular education and the modern madrasah education imparted by the colonial power, only that the search for authenticity in the former is more sophisticated than the latter. However, a more noticeable difference is found in terms of the students getting into such education, indeed, with diminishing job prospects, a fewer of the meritorious students enter the madrasah education, and this includes the Qawmi madrasahs as well. I will have more to say about the latter. Suffice to point out here is that in both secular and madrasah educational institutions, Islam began to be understood in its legalistic version or something that is very ‘rigid and severe’ which only helped to reproduce religious intolerance and fundamentalism. In Bangladesh often this invited violence when the post-1971 Bengali Muslims, somewhat insecure of its newly found identity and falling back on the question of authenticity, started objecting to the life and living of the non-Muslims, including the non-Sunni Muslims, the Ahmaddiyas.

Madrasah education changed considerably following the independence of Bangladesh. There are now two types of madrasahs: Alia and Qawmi. The former offers both religious education and modern general education and is under the management of Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board (BMEB), an autonomous body since 1979 but largely funded by the government. The BMEB is also responsible for establishing madrasahs, appointing teachers and making the curriculum for all Alia Madrasahs. Qawmi Madrasahs, on the other hand, are non-government or private madrasahs. Only last year a private body called Befaqul Mudarressin of Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasah Education Board was formed to coordinate the education of all Qawmi Madrasahs. It may be mentioned that in 1971 there were approximately 1,351 Madrasahs with 300,000 students in Bangladesh. Currently there are 25,201 Alia Madrasahs with 3 million students and 8,000 Qawmi Madrasahs. There is hardly any credible information on the number of students in Qawmi Madrasahs; a guesstimate would be nearly a million.

But apart from the steep rise in the number of students in Alia Madrasahs the curriculum of the latter also changed considerably. Following the independence of Bangladesh the Alia Madrasahs replaced the dars-i Nizami system in large measure and had it replaced by a curriculum prepared by the Bangladesh Madrasah Education Board. This included, apart from the teachings of Arabic, the Quran, Hadith (Prophet’s traditions), Aqaid (Code of Islamic religious beliefs) and Fiqh (Jurisprudence or Law of Islamic conduct), courses on Bengali, General Mathematics, Social Science, General Science and English.

[first part of what may be a longer article]

The writer is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.
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Sufism comes to Nicosia - North gears up for a week of religious and cultural festivities
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Sufism comes to Nicosia - North gears up for a week of religious and cultural festivities

By Simon Bahceli from Cyprus Mail, December 2, 2005

WITH SUFISM being one of the fastest growing religious/philosophical cults in the West, the upcoming week-long festivities organised by the Rumi Institute in north Nicosia are likely to raise interest both locally and abroad.

Even those unfamiliar with Sufism, will have heard of the Whirling Dervishes. But their dancing is not simply an enchanting visual spectacle: it is steeped in culture, belief and tradition.

The Sufi tradition sprung from the Anatolian city of Konya – a city once the capital of the Selcuk and Ottoman Empires. Its leader and chief inspiration was the poet Jelaluddin Rumi (also known as Mevlana) who hailed originally from Afghanistan and spoke and wrote in Persian.

The week-long festivities are a commemoration of Mevlana’s death, which followers of the Mevlana refer to as the Shebu Arus or ‘wedding night’.

The founder of the Rumi Institute Gokalp Kamil explains: “The day the Mevlana died is seen by Sufis as the day when his soul was wedded to God. We celebrate this because death is for us the most meaningful moment in life; the moment which one spends one’s whole life preparing for.”

As a branch of Islam, Sufism both resembles and differs from mainstream Muslim practices. It is seen as non-fanatic and non-dogmatic, says Kamil.

“One of our primary maxims is: ‘The religion of love transcends all other religions: for lovers, the only religion and belief is God.’

“Imagine a mountain, and you want to get to the top of it. There are undoubtedly many paths that lead to the summit. It doesn’t matter much which road you take, as long as you manage to arrive at the peak,” Kamil adds.

There are other things that attract admirers and followers from the West. Jesus is highly regarded among Sufis. His ascetic life, his denial of possessions and his purity of the soul make him among the favourite prophets for Sufis.

Then there is the Mevlana’s poetry, which holds great appeal with its references to spiritual ecstasy and heightened awareness of God and nature.

Music too provides part of the attraction. Unlike more austere branches of Islam, which condemn music as frivolous and decadent, Sufism uses music in its rituals to lift the soul to higher levels.

The dancing of the Whirling Dervishes, of course, is accompanied by beautiful and haunting music. The ney – a woodwind instrument with a distinctively flowing sound – has become an integral part of the Sufi tradition.

And of course the dancing, or whirling, attracts people from all races and religions simply as a result of its unique and spellbinding nature.

But despite Sufism’s obvious attractiveness to westerners – especially at a time in history when individualism is king and confusion reigns over the validity of moral values – Kamil is keen to stress that it should not been seen as a fashion by those who would adopt it in order to anchor themselves to a larger cultural group.

“We should not confuse fashion with civilisation. Fashion is a reflection of our times, whereas civilisation is the accumulation of hundreds of years of local tradition knitted together with universal values.”

This is fourth year the Mevlana week has been celebrated and Kamil is hopeful that in time it will become an important part of Cypriot cultural life. The variety of events taking place is impressive, ranging from lectures on the philosophy and history of the Mevlana, and his book the Mesnevi, to concerts, dance performances and exhibitions.

This year’s Mevlana week is the most auspicious yet, Kamil insists

“For the first time we have a truly international flavour to the events with contributors coming from the US, France, Britain and Turkey to join those from Cyprus.”

The Mevlana week, to which “all are invited” kicks off on December 5 at 4pm with a ney recital by Sadreddin Ozcimi, Turkey’s most renown Sufi neyzen, and poetry at the Mevlevihane near Kyrenia Gate in Nicosia. Later in the evening at Ozcimi will perform again at greater length at the Ataturk Culture and Congress Centre at the Near East University in Dikomo, north of Nicosia. The performance is titled “The Voice of Love”.

On December 7 at 7.30pm another ney performance by two of Turkey’s top players Erol Soytac and Muzzafer Ahad will take place at the Ataturk Culture and Congress Centre, followed by poetic dialogues on the meaning of the Mesnevi.

December 8 and 9 see two days of symposiums on the cultural, historical, spiritual and artistic heritage of Sufism involving an awesome array of academics from across the globe. Those wishing to attend should be aware that the symposium on the 8th will be in Turkish while the one on the 9th will be in English. Both begin at 9.30am and take place at the Ataturk Cultural and Congress Centre.

But for many, the highlight of the week will be the Sema (Whirling Dervish) performances. These will take place at the Mevlevihane at 4pm on December 9, at 7.30pm at the Ataturk Cultural Centre, at 7.30pm on December 10 at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU), at 7.30 on the campus of the Middle East Technical University (METU) near Morphou, and at the Kyrenia American University (GAU) at 7.30pm on December 12.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2005
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