Monday, March 31, 2008

Love Will Set You Free

By Schezee Zaidi "Celebrating the spirit & soul of cultural heritage", The International News - Islamabad, Pakistan
Monday, March 31, 2008

Projecting the true diversity of Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage by celebrating the essential spirit and soul of its people, PNCA opened a 3-day festival titled ‘Indus Rhythm’ at the National Art Gallery Auditorium on Saturday.

Truly following the famous adage, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness,” Pakistan National Council of the Arts have come forward to remove the darkness of restrictions put over the performing arts in the past through illuminating the glorious rich legacy of cultural heritage of the Indus Valley Civilisation.


The captivating ensemble of dance and music presented by the National Performing Arts Group showcased the magnificent heritage of the human spirit that added colour and integrity to our cultural heritage through ages.

The presentation brought back the memories of ‘good old times’ when performing art was a liberated part of our lives without any restrictions. ‘The Indus Rhythm’ is a presentation of joy and freedom of expression that adorns the day-to-day life of the people of Pakistan in various form and fragrance since ancient times.

The jam packed auditorium beamed with spontaneous applause of appreciation and recognition of what is truly and distinctively their own expression of joy and happiness.

Remembering Sindhi Sufi poet Fakir Bedil’s couplet “From the tyranny of religious dogma, love will set you free,” it is hoped that by ensuring frequent and free holding of events like this, PNCA would continue to spread the people’s culture and not the official version, and portray to the world the true face of Pakistan’s culture with its message of universal love, tolerance, peace, equality, and respect for all creation.

(...)

Talking to ‘The News’, PNCA Director General Naeem Tahir said, “Through the Indus Rhythm, we are trying to make a statement that people in Pakistan love and enjoy music and dance.

It is also an effort to trace the evolution of performing art through blending the ancient and traditional performances with that of the people who live in the Indus valley of now, recognised as Pakistan”.

He said that starting with only 6 male and 6 female dancers, the PNCA Performing Arts Group has now multiplied in to a full grown team of 48 members, with 24 male and equal numbers of female performers.

He said that with 3 existing branches operating in Sindh, Punjab, and Islamabad, PNCA is now hoping to open NPAG branches in Peshawar and Quetta.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Passionate Advocate of Sufi Wisdom

Staff Writer - Telegraph.co.uk - United Kingdom
Saturday, March 29, 2008

Shusha Guppy, who died on March 21 aged 72, was an Iranian-born writer, composer and singer.

Trilingual in Persian, French and English, she wrote stylishly and succinctly in the last two and made a reputation as an interpreter of Persian love songs and French chanson.

In exile from her native country, she became a passionate advocate of Sufi wisdom and the Persian classical literature on which she had been raised.

The daughter of Mohammed Kazem Assar, a distinguished liberal-minded Shia theologian and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tehran, she was born Shamsi Assar on December 24 1935 and grew up in an atmosphere of poetry and mystical chants in the Persia of the Shahs.

She movingly evoked her childhood and the Tehran of her youth in The Blindfold Horse: memories of a Persian childhood (1998).

(...)

As well as perfoming at concerts, she brought out 10 albums and published several books, while working as London editor of the American literary journal The Paris Review.

In the 1970s she travelled with the nomadic Bakhtiari tribes of southern Persia and worked on two films, one of which, People of the Wind (A Persian Odyssey), won an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

By the 1980s she had turned away from political radicalism, finding comfort in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam which emphasises the unity of religious creeds and the centrality of love.

Her inclusive beliefs were challenged by the rise of militant Islam and in later life she was much exercised by the worsening relations between the Islamic world and the West.

After her marriage was dissolved in 1976 she lived modestly in a small flat in Chelsea, where she continued to dispense generous hospitality and wisdom to her friends.

Shusha Guppy's other books include Looking Back (1991), a series of interviews with living authors, and The Secret of Laughter (2006), a collection of Persian tales which showed her homeland to be less part of an "axis of evil" than a land of scented gardens and nomadic storytellers.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Link with the Creator

By Prem Chand Sahajwala, "Indo-Pak Sindhi writers meet in New Delhi – I" - Meri News - New Delhi, India
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sahitya Academy held a conference of Indo-Pak Sindhi writers in New Delhi. It’s quite an encouraging step to strengthen the relationship between the two countries

Sindhi is one of the many Indic languages and it has gone through many phases of ups and downs in the histories of pre/post-partition India and Pakistan. Sahitya Academy (government of India) organised for the first time a two-day seminar of interaction between Sindhi writers from India and Pakistan on March 17-18, 2008, at its Academy Auditorium in New Delhi.

Prominent Indian Sindhi writers, led by MK Jetley, vice chairman, Sindhi Academy (government of Delhi), gathered to discuss many literary aspects of the Sindhi literatures on both sides of the border with prominent Pakistani writers like Dr Fahmida Hussain, Taj Joyo, Ayaz Gul, Imdad Hussaini, Shoukat Hussain Shoro among others.

The event became more significant than usual, looking at the current phase of comparatively better relationship between India and Pakistan in spite of years of bitterness, wars and the agony of the partition. Several other literary enthusiasts were also present in the seminar as audience.

Welcoming the guest writers from Sindh (Pakistan) in the inaugural session presided over by S.S. Noor, A. Krishnamurthy, secretary, Sahitya Academy, remembered the immortal classical names like Shah Abdul Latif (c. 1689 – 1752) and his 20th century incarnation – Sheikh Ayaz (1923 – 1997) – who put Sindhi language on the world stage by their Sufi literatures.

Shah Latif was the unique mystic Sufi poet who felt an interior link in every breath with the Creator, like any Sufi saint and, would say:

“A thousand doors and windows too,
the palace has, but see,
wherever I might go or be,
master confronts me there”


His poetry had the content of divine music.

Krishnamurty said that Sindhi was the language that developed in Sindh much before partition and many legendary poets like Sami, Sachchal Sarmast, Hamal Fakir, Dalpat Sufi and others evolved the language and literature through talent and perseverance.

(...)

Indian’s Vasdev Mohi, the programme convener, said that in this seminar the Indian writers were seeking to present Sindhi literature of India while their counterparts from Pakistan were there to talk about their respective literature in Sindh and the Sahitya Academy would encourage such seminars in future.

(...)

The welcome session was followed by sessions on various branches of literature like criticism, novel, and short story, the most evolved branch being poetry, which required three separate sessions for ghazal, poetry and the new poem.

Some prominent writer from either side chaired each session. Papers were read by one writer from each side of the border followed by two reviewers, with a discussion subsequently carried out by some other prominent writer.

(...)

An Independent Scientific Research Center

By Rumeysa Özel, "‘Encyclopedia of Islam’ to be translated into English and Arabic" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Published upon the initiative of the Islamic Research Center (İSAM) in İstanbul, the first Encyclopedia of Islam written by Muslims has already grown to 30 volumes and will be completed in four years.

An abridged version of 20-25 volumes will be translated into English and Arabic.

The Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV) was established in 1983 with the aim of conducting scientific research, publishing, editing and translating works focusing on Islamic and Eastern fields, publishing the TDV "Encyclopedia of Islam," organizing scientific conferences, sending representatives to conferences abroad, educating researchers, establishing a research library and a documentation unit and enlightening the public on scientific and religious subjects.

Associate Professor Ahmet Özel, a member of TDV's administrative board and the vice chairman of the committee responsible for the encyclopedia and the vice president of the TDV Analysis Council, which is the most important board within the institution, explains that the TDV decided to compile and publish this encyclopedia because other encyclopedias of Islam fell short in their entries, present a biased view and offer baseless assertions.

The copyright to the TDV "Encyclopedia of Islam" is completely held by Muslims and the encyclopedia comprises 16,915 entries about Islamic knowledge on subjects such as hadith (narrations about the Prophet), tafsir (commentary on the Quran), Shariah (Islamic law), kalam (Islamic theology) and Sufism (Islamic mysticism) along with the philosophy, history, geography, culture, civilization, languages and literatures of Muslim countries.

Moreover it includes entries on artistic branches like music, architecture, calligraphy, significant happenings or movements in the history, noteworthy cultural-historical institutions, important residential areas and other outstanding religions and people who influenced Islamic culture even though they were not Muslim.

"It was written by benefiting from 500 primary sources with the help of more than 1,500 scholars and contributions from foreign scholars as well," says Özel, adding that 40 volumes are expected in total and that four more years are needed to complete the project.

(...)

Apart from an abridged English and Arabic translation, another five-volume version consisting only of entries concerning faith, worship, morality, Islamic mysticism and the life of the Prophet Mohammed is going to be published under the title "Religion and Culture of Islam" (İslam dini ve kültürü) in Russian, Bosnian and Albanian as well as in Turkic languages spoken in Central Asia.

When asked why an abridged version was necessary, considering how work on the encyclopedia has gone on for 24 years, Özel explains that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an urgent demand among Muslims in Central Asia and the Balkans emerged to learn and live their own religion.

"Some books were published to meet this demand, but none were very comprehensive. If we were to publish the full version into these languages, it would not be logical since it would not be practical to use such a large encyclopedia. As a consequence we thought it would be better if we published a short and concise version," states Özel.

(...)

Even though İSAM's foremost activity is publishing the encyclopedia, it has an extensive range of activity. İSAM includes a rich library covering books on religious studies, history, culture and Islamic civilization. In order for the TDV to conduct swift and beneficial research, recently published books and periodicals have been made available in the library.

The library includes approximately 200,000 volumes of selected books and more than 2,400 periodicals with the contributions of book collectors like Ziyad Ebüzziya, Orhan Şaik Gökyay, Nejat Göyünç, Tahsin Yazıcı, Hilmi Oflaz, Nihat M. Çetin, Yavuz Argıt, Albert Hourani and Jacques Waardenbur.

(...)

Another regular İSAM activity is a journal it has been publishing biannually since 1997. It includes original political, historical, economic, philosophical, sociological, anthropological, religious and cultural articles that have been carefully sifted through in order to contribute to Islamic thought and culture in Turkish, Arabic, Persian, English, French and German. It also reviews books, symposiums and conferences.

An independent scientific research center, İSAM also gives scholarships to students studying at universities in England, Italy and the US and has organized many conferences and symposiums, including "Islam, Tradition and Renewal," "Islam and Modernization" and "Muslim Minorities in the Contemporary World."

Main Nahi, Sub Taun

By M. Tanveer Tahir, "Kahay Hussain Faqir Nimanah Main Nahi Sub Tu" - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Thursday; March 27, 2008

Lahore: The three-day annual Urs of Sufi Saint, Hazrat Madhu Lal Husain, will start with traditional enthusiasm here on Saturday.

The Auqaf department has completed all the arrangements in this regard. Shopkeepers have set up makeshift shops around the shrine.

Langer (Free Food) was being distributed among the people visiting the shrine.

Director General Auqaf Dr. Tahir Raza Bukhari, Zonal Administrator Auqaf Tasawar Ijaz Malik and a large number of pilgrims will participate in the celebrations.

On the first day, the celebrations will start with the lightning of earthen lamps at the shrine. For this reason it is also called 'mela chiraghan' ( a fair of lamps):
On the following day, only men will be allowed to visit the shrine to pay homage to the saint. On the final day, it would be all for women.

Mehfil-e-Milad, Mehfil-e-Sama and other religious and spiritual gatherings will be held during the celebrations.

Briefing this scribe about the life of the saint, the Official said that Madhu Lal belonged to a Hindu family. His father embraced Islam during the reign of Tuglak emperor Feroz Shah

"Madhu Lal was born in 1539 in Texali Gate. He acquired religious education from the Sufi Shaikh Behlol Qadri of Chinnoit", he said. "As he liked to wear red attire, people started calling him Lal Hussein", he added.

Talking to The Post, Custodian (Sajada Nasheen) of Madhu Lal shrine, Nazakat Ali, said that he was making sure for free food to the devotees during the three-day show, though he was not involved in the arrangements.

Banners inscribed with the great saint's verses are also on display. One reads:

Kahay Hussain faqir nimanah,
Main nahi, sub taun

(This humble self of Hussain declares,
I am nothing, You the All).

Friday, March 28, 2008

One of Society’s Greatest Needs

TT Culture Desk - Tehran Times - Tehran, Iran
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Albanian Sadi Foundation establishes library in Vlora

The Sadi Cultural Foundation in Albania has established a library in the tekyeh (place where ritual Shia Islamic ceremonies are practiced) of the city of Vlora and has presented it with a collection of cultural and religious books.

The Ahl-ul-Bait World Assembly also took part in the setting up of the library in the tekyeh which is one of the largest and most distinctive buildings of its type in Albania.

Head of the foundation Reza Karami said that the donation comprises hundreds of cultural and religious books, and a number of computers which were presented to the library in the presence of the head of the Tekyeh of the Bektashi Order in Albania, Baba Sadik Ibro.

He added that the foundation has previously established libraries in tekyehs located in Kosovo and Macedonia with the assistance of the Bektashi Order and is planning to set up more in the future.

Baba Sadik Ibro, who also participated in the book donation ceremony, expressed his appreciation and remarked that equipping libraries with cultural and religious books meets one of society’s greatest needs and is especially useful for young people.

[Picture from the Alevilik Bektasilik Research Site: http://www.alevibektasi.org/index1.html].

Courage and Sacrifice

IANS/Staff report, "Story of ‘Spy Princess’ hits bookstores in paperback version" - Thai Indian News - Bangkok, Thailand
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Story of ‘Spy Princess’ hits bookstores in paperback version

Indian history abounds in lores of brave women who sacrificed themselves to protect the honour of the country, clan, family and personal dignity. But rarely has a woman of Indian origin defended a foreign country and allowed herself to be tortured and shot to death by enemy forces - not out of compulsion, but out of choice.

London-based journalist Shrabani Basu’s non-fiction “TheSpy Princess” chronicles the extraordinary tale of India’s lone allied spy in Europe during the World War II, Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi girl who was shot dead by the Gestapo at the infamous prison of Dachau.

“More than anyone else, I want children to read the book so that they can learn about the virtues of courage and sacrifice,” the author, who has worked for more than 20 years as the London correspondent of the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, told IANS.

“I have received a book from Year 6 primary school students in UK. It is a project titled ‘Liberty’ about the life ofNoor Inayat based on the book. It is full of imaginary conversations.

“I want it to happen in India too, but I have too little time to promote it personally. I want to see postage stamps of Noor Inayat and comic strip series on her life - like the Amar Chitra Katha,” Basu said.

She will be touring the East and the West coasts of US with her book, the result of three years of relentless research.

“Actually two years of compiling documents and a year of writing,” Basu says.

The inspiration was an innocuous newspaper clipping announcing 50 years of Noor Inayat's death. “There were five lines. ‘Noor Inayat, wireless operator, George Cross winner of Indian Muslim origin…’ It set me thinking and I started researching about her. It is difficult to believe that she went through all this,” recalls the author.

Eyewitness accounts, interrogation, records of war crime tribunals, Noor’s telegrams - and three letters that described what happened to Noor helped Basu thread the story.

Basu was helped by Noor’s family, which provided her with details of her childhood. “I interacted a lot with them,” she said.

“She was so beautiful that everyone, including her code maker, was in love with her,” says Basu.

Shyam Benegal is making “The Spy Princess” into a movie. However, Basu refuses to divulge details about the movie.

“The cast has not been decided and I will have to go through the final screenplay. I leave characters and the cast to your imagination,” laughs the author.

Kosova Changing Reality

By Bill Weinberg, "Missing on Kosova: the sufi voice?" - WW4 Report - Brooklyn, NY, USA
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Newly pseudo-independent Kosova, it seems, is serving as a sort of political Rorschach test, with commentators' views on its drive for self-determination shaped more by their views on other issues.

Days after left-wing Israeli dissident Uri Avnery noted Israeli reluctance to recognize Kosova lest it give some ideas to the Palestinians (and, worse yet, Israeli Arabs), comes a voice from the neocon end of the spectrum—finding that Kosovars and Israelis are natural allies.

Michael Totten writes in a March 20 piece for Commentary (also online at his website):
The State of Israel is divided on the Kosovo question: should the world’s newest country be recognized?

Some, like former Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, worry that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia might encourage Palestinians to make the same move. The small Balkan state, however, may have more in common with Israel than with the West Bank and Gaza.

Israelis, as Amir Mizroch notes in the Jerusalem Post, have excellent relations with the Kosovars. "Israel has an interest in helping to establish a moderate, secular Muslim state friendly to Jerusalem and Washington in the heart of southeast Europe," he writes.

Indeed, Kosovo is neither an enemy state nor a jihad state. Its brand of Islam is heavily Sufi, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Wahhabism and Salafism that inspire Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In other words, the Kosovars are domesticated good Muslims, who view the US as protector rather than hegemon.

[But] The reality may be more complicated—and interesting—than either side will acknowledge.

A March 13 article in the Tehran Times mentions some deep-rooted elements in the region which appear to exist outside the spectacularized jihad-vs-GWOT duality.

It notes that the Albania-based Sadi Cultural Foundation is establishing libraries and tekiyas—sufi gathering places— in Kosova and Macedonia "with the assistance of the Bektashi Order and is planning to set up more in the future."

(...)

[Picture: Kosova Map, "Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin."]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

With a Large Number of Female Bauls

By Amanur Aman, "Lalon Smaran Utsab held in Chheuria" - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Smaran Utsab (Memorial Festival) was held -starting from March 22- at the Lalon Akhra (den), Chheuria.

The programme highlighted the philosophy of Lalon [Lalon Shah Fakir (c.1774–1890)]. On the occasion, the akhra saw an influx of devotees and admirers from all over Bangladesh and overseas. An attraction of the event was a Baul Mela.

The festival is held annually to celebrate Dol Purnima. The celebration was introduced by Lalon. In a departure from the norm, a large number of female bauls took part at this year's festival.

The programme was inaugurated by the Divisional Commissioner of Khulna, Yunusur Rahman. Kushtia Deputy Commissioner Nepur Ahmed chaired the event. Among others, Lalon exponent Professor Abul Ahsan Chowdhury of Islamic University Kushtia; Superintendent of Police Kushtia, Moslehuddin Ahmed and Additional Deputy Commissioner Kushtia, Pulok Ranjan Saha spoke at the programme.

Among the bauls who took part at the Utsab was Rehana Fakirani, from Pakkol village, Daulatpur upazila. Rehana embraced the baul doctrine 30 years ago. According to her, “I was in search of peace, which I found in Lalon's philosophy. I experience deep devotion and tranquillity when I come to the akhra.”

Also noticeable were a large number of teenage bauls. Among them were Santo and Sanu who were wandering around playing ektaras. When approached, they said that they were taking dikkha (tutelage) from their Guru Nahir Saha.

The festival also attracted some visitors from overseas. Masud, from Malaysia, said that he was already acquainted with Lalon's songs and message.

Lalon's songs fuse two streams of spiritual thought -- Sufism and Vaishnav (the Krishna cult).
The link that connects these two schools of thought is mysticism.

Research shows that Dol Purnima has been celebrated for around 200 years. The festival is organised with donations from well-wishers.

Lalon used to organise the event by himself at his den. After his demise, his shishyas (disciples) carried on the tradition. They formed a committee called Mazaar Sharif and Seba Sadan Committee.

The committee initially organised various programmes at the akhra. However, they were driven out of the akhra in 1982 by the then government. Later, the Lalon Academy was formed to look into akhra affairs. In the course of time, the Utsab has turned into a government-initiated programme.

The bauls fervently follow their customs. According to their philosophy, every religion is on par and division of mankind in the name of religion is unacceptable.
Following Lalon's teachings, they prefer to shun worldly desires.

[About Baul music read also: (click and scroll down) http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=By+Sabrina+F.+Ahmad+]

[Pictures: Bauls perform Lalon songs at the festival in Chheuria. Photo: STAR
Tomb and Shrine of Lalon Fakir: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushtia_District].

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Man of Principles, a Sufi at Heart

By Devirupa Mitra, "Ex-prisoner and man of ‘honour’ Gillani set to rule Pakistan" - IANS/Thai Indian News - Bangkok, Thailand
Monday, March 24, 2008

When he first met Benazir Bhutto, Makhdoom Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani called himself a lover of “honour”.

Three months after her killing, the journalism student-turned-politician who spent five years in jail is set to rule the world’s only nuclear Islamic power: Pakistan.

That he took charge as Pakistan’s 20th prime minister on a day the eldest of his four sons got married has only made the occasion doubly joyous - and hectic.
But Gillani, 56, has seen more frenetic days since he took to politics in 1978 when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, Zia ul Haq.

Years later, in 2001, another military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, the present president, had him jailed on corruption charges. A Sufi at heart, Gillani spent five years in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.
The distance from the prison to the Mughal-architecture inspired Prime Minister’s Secretariat in Islamabad may not be far. But it has been a long, long journey.

When his father was a minister in the 1950s, Gillani - his mother tongue is Seraiki, a language spoken by 14 million in Pakistan - studied in a school in Multan in Punjab. He earned a Masters in journalism from Punjab University in 1976. He went to England to study further.

Now a father of four sons and a daughter, Gillani entered politics by joining the Pakistan Muslim League in 1978. He was the Housing And Railway Minister in the Mohammad Junejo government. But he had a run in with Junejo and was out of the cabinet.

Later, in a book he wrote in jail, Gillani spoke out about his anger those days: “I was furious, and helpless at the same time… and then I made up my mind.”

He joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1988 after meeting Bhutto. “I said to her, there are three types of people in this world: lovers of honour, of wisdom and of wealth. I am of the first type, and that is all I want.”

And honour he got.

President Zia died in an air crash and the PPP returned to power in elections in which he created history by defeating Nawaz Sharif, the strongman of Punjab who is today propping him up as the prime minister.

Gillani became a minister in the first Bhutto government from 1988 to 1990. His reputation as a man of principles was secured in the second Bhutto term, from 1996, when he was the National Assembly speaker.

Though a loyalist, Gillani twice defied the Bhutto government to preserve what he said was the dignity of parliament. In 1994, he prevailed upon a reluctant interior ministry to produce jailed opposition members. Again in 1995 he refused the Attorney General's demand to slap cases against opposition MPs over bedlam in parliament.

Gillani refused to back Musharraf after he seized power in 1999. On Feb 11, 2001, the National Accountability Bureau arrested him over charges of illegal appointments when he was the parliament speaker.

Gillani was to later say: “Since I was unable to oblige them (government), they decided to convict me so that I could be disqualified and (shown as) an example for other political leaders (to be) good boys.”

He was released in October 2006. During his imprisonment, his mother and sister died.
Where did he get the courage to withstand the years in jail?

Gillani supporters credit it all to the family, which claims to be descendants of Sufi saint Syed Musa Pak, who originally hailed from Iran.

The family also fought for Pakistan. His grandfather and granduncles were signatories to the Lahore Muslim League resolution in 1940 that called for the creation of a separate state for Indian Muslims.

It is that country Gillani will preside over now.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Fountain of Musafir

Staff report, "300-year-old library reopened in Aurangabad" - The Times of India - India
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Aurangabad: An ancient library dating back to 300 years was reopened after a gap of 40 years at the historical monument Water Mill in Aurangabad.

The library housing manuscripts and other precious and rare books like the Holy Quran written by the last Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, was thrown open recently to the public.

The library, at the 17th century site, once the biggest in Asia, was restarted with the efforts of the top officials of the Maharashtra Wakf Board.

According to the sources, it was Hazrat Babashah Musafir, a Sufi Saint migrated from Bukhara to Aurangabad in the 17th century who founded the library as well as the Water Mill. His shrine is within the Water Mill complex.

The library had around one lakh [100.000] pieces till Independence. In 70s it was shut down due to administrative reasons, following which many of the library's books were shifted to Hyderabad.

Currently, the library houses 3,500 books on various fields including history, law, medicine, Sufism, religion and philosophy in Arabic, in Urdu and in Persian languages, penned by philosophers, saints and scholars.

The cover of the Holy Quran has a coating of gold on both sides, which has been preserved till date. A holy book written in 1283 in four languages is also available.

The librarian, Mr Hafiz Abdul Jaleel said that Babashah Musafir founded the library with the main objective of spreading the knowledge.

"The library was considered to be the largest one in Asia during that time. Now, it has around 3,500 rare books. After reopening the library, many students, especially those who are engaged in research are thronging it" .

"There is no entry fee," he added.

[Picture: Panchakki Fountain (The Water Mill Complex), Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchakki]

Monday, March 24, 2008

Azmat-e-Rasool Conference 2008

By Shahnawaz Warsi - 09990656018 - New Delhi, India
Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Delhi Muslim Students Organization of India(MSO), AMU Unit, Organized its 3rd Grand Azmat-e-Rasool Conference on 15th March at 8.00 p.m in the evening in the Kennedy Auditorium of Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

MSO had started title Azmat-e Rasool after organizing various Annual Conferences with the Name of Jashn-e Ghousul Wara (R.A) in various parts of the Country.

Its Conferences have been graced by many Prominent Personalities of Islamic World including Allama Qamaruzzaman Khan Azmi, President of the World Islamic Mission in London, Mufti Mukarram Ahmad Shahi Imam Fateh puri Masjid Delhi, Maulana Obadullah Khan Azmi (M.P), Saeed Noori (Raza Academy), Abdul Hakeem Al Azhari (Sunni Markaz Kerala), Professor Akhtarul Wasey (Jamia Millia Islami), Prof Aleem Ashraf Jaisi (Urdu University Hyderabad), Prof Liaqat Hussain Moini (Dargah Ajmer) and Vice Chancellors of AMU like Dr.Mamoodurrehman, Prof V.K. Abdul Aziz.

The whole sole guidance of MSO has been its Patron and widely respected Scholar of Islam and Professor in Urdu department of Aligarh Muslim University, Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri Barkati who is Sajjada Nashin of Khankah of Marehra, district Etah (Uttar Pradesh).

This year programme was no different in its grandness and was a huge success as both boys and girls turned up in large number.The Conference strated with the recitation of verses of Holy Quran by Qari Jawed.

Mohammad Zaid (AMU) and Mohammad Qayamuddin (Jamia), Ateef Mian (Badaun), Dr. Syed Siraj Ajmali (AMU), all presented the gift of beautiful na'ats in the praise of prophet (S.A.W).

M.S.O AMU Unit President Mohammad Najmuddin Ahmed adressed the presents with words of welcome, then emphasising the need for promoting Sufi teachings of peace and Love in the Country; Guest of Honour Dr. Liyaqat Hussain Moini appealed the students to adopt the Sufi Way of spreading Islam.

He said that Sufis taught Love and respect towards other religions and this was the main reason that they could establish not only themself but made Islam a popular religion in this land where it was not present even in minor form.

Chief Guest of Conference, AMU VC Professor P.K. Abdul Aziz said that Muslim youths should follow our beloved Prophet's (S.A.W) example which he gave in each sphere of Life.

Touching the current issues he advised the students to be ready by their actions and deeds to counter the Western propaganda that Islam preaches terorrism and extremism. He praised MSO for organizing a well managed, disciplined and beautifull evening.

Speakers of the Conference and head of Darul Ifta Ashrafia University Mubarakpur, Azamagarh, who is also expert in modern islamic problems dealing with Jurisprudence, Mufti Nizamuddin, said that Allah Praises Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) and wishes that we must praise and respect him.

Paying emphasis on the dignity and love towards Holy Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) he said that unless a Muslim loves passionately the Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) even more than his life, property and relatives, his Imaan remains incomplete.

Honour and love of Holy Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) is Imaan. The best example of love and honour towards beloved Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) may be seen from acts and deeds of Sahaba-e-Kiram.

Prof Akhtarul Wasey, Head of Islamic Studies Jamia Millia Islamia, said that students must not forget the acts of Nabi kareem (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) which were the best examples for the whole of the world. We must not get into an inferiority complex by Western concepts of secularism and tolerance as these are the hallmark of an Islamic state and we have proved them in our rule from Medina to India.

In Medina we established peace and non Muslims were given protection. We respected and gave honour to Old, Women, Children, Weak and Ill. We administered this Country for more than 800 years and we were in minority in this country and we are still in minority.

Isn't it a strong evidence that we are Peaceful and Islam was not spread by the sword ?Indonesia and Malyasia are Muslim Countries but we know that no Islamic warrior had to do war there. This is the beauty of Islam and that's why it is the fastest growing religion of the world.

Presiding the Conference, Professor Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri, who is a favourite among the students for his original and advising words, said that neither you should have inferiority complex regarding recent condition of Islamic world nor you should fear about future of Islam beacuse Islam has established itself in every adverse situation in most unbelievable circumstances at every nook and corner of the globe. Allah has Himself promised to keep faith in Him and success will wait for us open handed.

The thing we need to do is to have strong Iman in Allah and passionate love and respect towards beloved Nabi kareem (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam).

He advised students to be ready to face the real and practical world where one can be successful only when he has prepared himself. He told them to study hard and excel in their different fields because in this age the War will be fought not by Swords but by the Mind and those who will use their mind according to the most advanced techniques of science and technology will come out successful.

Shahnawaz Warsi, General Convener of M.S.O Delhi State, thanked all the speakers and guests. Ahmed Mujtaba Siddiqui beautifully conducted the Conference. General Secretary Shehzad ul Haq Shamsi,Vice President Mohammad Aslam, Joint Secretary Aftab Ahmed,Treasurer Pervez Alam Jawed Rizwi, Suhail Khan, and Imran, helped in organizing the programme.

The programme ended with the Salat o Salam and with distribution of Islamic books and sweets.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

There Is Beauty Here

By Devyani Rao, "Aesthetics In A Time Of War" - Tehelka Magazine - New Delhi, India
Vol 5, Issue 12, March 29, 2008

A young painter rejuvenates art in Afghanistan, drawing on its rugged landscape and Sufi traditions

Its products can be demolished, but its spirit is indestructible. Creativity can flower in the most leached soil, even in a country ravaged by war and hardship, where precious art has been destroyed — as the Bamiyan Buddhas were — and where the religious orthodoxy places impossible restrictions on art.

Talented artists in Afghanistan are once again trying to popularise the appreciation of art and for inspiration, they look to their country’s stunning landscape and rich heritage.

Born in Hazarajat in 1979 into the ethnic Hazara minority, Yazdani Ali Khan is one of Afghanistan’s most prominent artists today.

After graduating with a fine arts degree from the University of Kabul, he was one of nine people from Kabul and Herat to be selected by the University of Tokyo for a Master’s Degree at its Centre for Fine Arts.

Today, his sketches are priced between $50 and $70, while his paintings go for a price that ranges between $100 to $1700, which means that his clients are primarily foreigners and non-resident Afghans; the average local citizen’s income ranges between $50 and $100 a month.

His professional trajectory has not been an easy one, what with the war and the religious extremism of the Taliban.

“The Mullahs think of art as a sin”, Khan laughs. During the Taliban regime, he had painted and taught art inside his house and since the depiction of live beings in paintings was prohibited, he could only draw inanimate objects or landscapes.

“One day, a Talib came to my house where I had kept a single portrait that I had done. He beat me and threatened to take me to jail,” says Khan. He could not sell his paintings at the time, and took up odd jobs to make money so he could continue buying his art materials.

He ran afoul of the extremists on another occasion, while exhibiting his work at Kabul University. One of the paintings had a tiny bird in it. “The Taliban came and cut it out,” Khan recalls.

Khan says that although art had virtually died out in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, things are slowly getting better. Indeed, at the Rumi and Sufi — two popular Afghani cuisine restaurants in Kabul, frequented by foreigners and aristocratic Afghans — one can see the works of a few other new artists apart from Yazdani Ali Khan.

Two of them are his brother, Hamid Yazdani, and his sister. She, however, uses just her surname to sign her work. Karim Sharifi, the manager of Sufi, says that although the Taliban forbade the painting of living beings, there is promise in the fact that, each year, the department of Fine Arts at Kabul University graduates several students.

Khan attributes much of his success to his teacher, Najibullah Musafir, an artist who encouraged him to develop his own style. Among his best-selling paintings are those of the Sufi — whirling dervishes whose movements, elegance and spirituality is captured beautifully in Khan’s work.

However, much of his work, and that of his contemporaries, is in the realist style, reflecting the current needs of the people of this war-torn land. It reminds them that there is beauty here, and a gentler side to life.

Rahman Assad, an Afghan businessman puts it well when he says, “The sensitivity to be able to find beauty around you and turn it into art at a time when the country suffers from insecurity, poverty and depression, is an important contribution towards society.

It reminds people that Afghanistan also has a beautiful and rich culture.”

Saturday, March 22, 2008

To Center on Mevlana

Staff report, "'The Call' of Mevlana echoes on ballet stage" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mersin State Opera and Ballet's newest production, "Çağrı" (The Call), a balletic take on the life story of Sufi saint and poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, premiered on Thursday night.

The score for the single-act ballet was composed by symphonic new age composer Can Atilla, who also wrote the music for "Mevlana Oratorio."

The oratorio had its world premiere in İstanbul last April, marking the 800th anniversary of the birth of the 13th century Sufi saint who advocated tolerance and peace through his philosophy.

"Çağrı," featuring a libretto by journalist-art critic Şefik Kahramankaptan, marks a first for Turkish ballet as it is "the first-ever original Turkish ballet to center on Mevlana in its entirety," Atilla told reporters ahead of the premiere in the Mediterranean province of Mersin.

The score of the ballet combines local and universal musical structures, also taking inspiration from 19th century Romantic ballet patterns.

"I composed around 25 themes for each character and event [depicted in the ballet]. … I also employed atonal and electronic music in some parts to be able to reflect avant-garde and abstract atmospheres," Atilla explained.

A CD featuring the ballet score is due to be released soon, he added, noting that there are also plans to stage the ballet abroad.

The world premiere of "Çağrı" -- directed by Lale Balkan and featuring choreography by Mehmet Balkan -- will be followed by a gala performance on March 27, while its third staging is scheduled for April 24.

[See the Ballet's web page (in Turkish) https://secure.dobgm.gov.tr/ESER/eser0445.htm
Go to the State Opera and Ballet webpage (in English) https://secure.dobgm.gov.tr/dobgm_en.asp]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not Revising, but Classifying

By Gulnoza Saidazimova, "Islam: Turkish Theologians Revise Hadith, To Mixed Reactions" - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - Prague, Czech Republic
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Turkish religious authorities have been careful in presenting the Hadith Project, launched some two years ago.

The country's state committee on religious affairs, the Diyanet, reacted to last month's coverage of the Hadith Project by the BBC, "The Guardian," and some other Western media by insisting that the project should in no way be described as "reform", "revision," or "revolution."

A press release on February 29 by the Diyanet says the project's chief aim is to "revitalize the message of the Prophet, as was performed in the past, and offer these blessed tenets to humanity in the most accurate way."

The deputy head of the Diyanet, Mehmet Gormez, told islamonline.net that Turkey "not revising, but classifying" the Hadith -- a view echoed by Bunyamin Erul, a professor of Ankara University's Divinity Faculty who is a project member.

Erul says that there are "some mistakes in understanding" the Hadith. "So, we try to explain these sayings [based] on the rules of knowledge of the Hadith in a new style and [with] some new methodology."

A collection of thousands of sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, the Hadith is the second-most-important source in Islam after the Koran. Muslims' daily life is based on the Hadith rather than the Koran, which is believed to be God's direct message to Muhammad.

Many hadiths are believed to have been written a hundred years after Muhammad's death in 632.

Erul and 84 other scholars from Turkish universities involved in the Hadith Project reject literalist reading of the Koran and the Hadith. They believe each text should be taken within the historical context in which they were revealed.

The Diyanet says the project seeks to establish a connection between Hadith narrations and current thinking and scientific data. It adds that it has stayed away from "extreme interpretations" and avoided judging the past on the basis of today's categories.

Some Muslim clerics say the project is nothing new, and attempts to revise the Hadith have been made in the past.

Exiled Uzbek imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov is one of them. "Revising the hadiths sounds sensational," Nazarov says. "The Western media have made a big fuss about it. However, in fact, things are different, I believe. Commenting or interpreting the hadiths is a normal event that can take place anytime. The Koran and hadiths have been commented on and interpreted since they were revealed. Commenting and interpreting them in a given historical context can happen anytime and is nothing unusual."

On the other hand, Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at the London-based Chatham House think tank, tells RFE/RL that the process is "quite dramatic."

"It is a revolution in the sense that it is a state-sponsored process in Turkey," Hakura says. "It is a systematic, comprehensive, and quite accelerated process of change. So, although the idea of reinterpretation and adaptation is not new in Islam, the way Turkey is carrying it out in a systematic fashion is quite revolutionary."


Revising Women's Role
The project is expected to be completed by year's end and published in languages including Arabic, English, and Russian. It includes reinterpreting some misogynist statements in the Hadith.

Erul refuses to give details of revisions of the hadiths regarding women. He says the project members -- including female theologians -- believe the subject is "very important".

Hakura cites a particular example -- women's ability to travel without male accompaniment, which demonstrates that some notions Muslims have had on women are wrong. Hakura says the ban was not a religious one originally and was issued temporarily because of security reasons that pertained to circumstances that existed more than 1,000 years ago.

The proponents of the change cite the Prophet Muhammad's saying that he "longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone."

Feminist groups have embraced the idea of revising the ban that still remains in the Hadith and restricts the free movement of women in some Muslim countries.

Can Turkey Reform Islam?
Hakura gives another example: the common belief that a thief must be punished with the loss of his hand. He says such a punishment was practiced briefly in history and contradicts recent or current practice in some Muslim societies.

He says that in the Ottoman Empire, with institutionalized forms of punishment, thieves were treated with imprisonment and fines, not dismemberment.

(...)

When the project is completed, the Diyanet plans to send a new version of the Hadith, which will come in at least six volumes, and offer it at more than 76,000 mosques in Turkey and beyond.

[Picture: Istanbul. Photo AFP].

Everything Is in Intention

ABC Perth, "Bringing peace through music" - Perth, Australia
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Whirling Dervishes are probably the best known adherents of the esoteric branch of Islam called Sufism.

Not far behind must be a musician who is famous for playing the style of music the Dervishes dance to and for singing about the philosophy of the Sufis. He is the Turkish-born musician who now lives in the US, Omar Faruk Tekbilek.

Visiting the 720 ABC Perth studio, Tekbilek brings his flute-like instrument, called "ney in Turkish, nai in Arabic. It's a nine-piece bamboo - nine makes three and a half octaves possible," he explains.

Going on to explain the philosophy of his music, Tekbilek notes that "in Islam for many years, music was abandoned because in early times the music was used for earthly things - drinking… earthly joys - so music was banned. But with Rumi and the Sufi tradition, they see the real intention, because everything is in intention, if you use it with bad manners it becomes bad but if you use it for spiritual sake, to give relief and peace to people, it is good."

For Tekbilek, the spiritual aspect of music also comes through the actual playing of it. He has been quoted as saying "music is a short cut to God" and he expands on that by saying it's about "the awareness of breath, especially with this instrument, because the sound comes as we say 'hu' (as he breathes across the mouthpiece of the ney). Hu in Arabaic [is] God's name, He. So, from an early age I realised that I'm playing and I'm praying because I'm aware of my breath, I'm riding on my breath - breath riders."

The ride began when Tekbilek's uncle got him to open the uncle's music store in return for being taught how to play instruments. Within years he was mastering what he was playing and "at 12 years old I was a professional musician.

"In our town along the river, because it's a hot country, are all the coffee gardens and they make a stage, bring the musicians, [and] because of the instrument I play [there were] not too many [other players].

"[Then] in 1971, I went to the United States with a tour as a musician. I was very anxious because I read a lot about America before I went because America was the land of opportunity and also because I am a musician I was into jazz at that time. So, I was very excited."

Tekbilek was even more excited on that tour to then meet his then future wife and when he moved to be with her he formed his own band and started playing belly dance music in the many venues that play home to the artform in the US.

One day in 1988 a visitor to one of those clubs was Brian Keane, a producer who was looking for musicians to help him make the soundtrack to a film called Suleyman the Magnificent. It went so well "they offered us another album then we did six albums together…"

Since then Tekbilek has gone on to become one of the major figures in 'world music' and attempts to promote peace through his work. He bases this on the fact that in the Sufi tradition it is important to love the Lord and all of creation.

"There is no distinguishing between the people and nationality is illusion, we are all children of Adam," he notes. "So, now I have a band with a Greek keyboard player, an Armenian, and a guitar player from Israel, so we are showing as an example to people we can be peaceful, we can share common things."

[Picture: Sufi musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek plays his ney in the 720 ABC Perth studio. Photo: Matthew Perkins].

Sufism and Contemporary Values

[From the French language press]:

La Tarîqa Al-Qadiriya Al-Boutchichiya présente la deuxième Rencontre mondiale du Soufisme du 18 au 20 mars 2008 à Madâgh sous le theme :
« Soufisme et valeurs contemporaines»

Portail Ya Watani, "Maroc : Deuxième Rencontre Mondiale du Soufisme du 18 au 20 mars 2008" - Courbevoie, France - lundi 17 mars 2008

Madâgh (Morocco): The Tarîqa Al-Qadiriya Al-Boutchichiya presents "Sufism and contemporary values", the second World Meeting of Sufism to be held in Madâgh from 18 to 20 March.

This meeting aims to:

- Distinguish between authentic practices based on the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition and non authentic ones;

- Present an approach to Sufism in the modern world;

- Involve Sufism in the process of exchange and dialogue among civilizations;
- Enhance the contribution of Sufism in the literature and the arts.

Academics, researchers, intellectuals… this event brings together a wide range of specialists in Muslim spirituality from the whole world.

The meeting hopes to promote the dialogue among cultures through a Sufi approach best suited to the modern era.

Finally, this event will contribute to promote a spiritual message of peace, universality and altruism.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Beautiful Princess

[From the French language press]:

Il était une fois, dans la "Maison des bénédictions", une belle princesse, prénommée Noor (lumière) et parée de tous les dons. Hazrat, son père, venu des Indes, descendant d'un sultan de Mysore, lui enseignait la sagesse du soufisme, courant mystique de l'islam, dont il était un maître.
Par Francis Cornu, "Une altesse orientale au service de la Résistance" - Le Monde - Paris, France - lundi 17 mars 2008

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, named Noor (light), who lived in the "Blessed Home (Fazal Manzil)", and who was endowed will all kinds of gifts. Hazrat, her father, came from India and was a descendant of a Sultan of Mysore. He taught her the wisdom of Sufism, the mystic current of Islam of which he was a master.

The article is the review of a broadcasting on the life of Princess Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of Universal Sufism. She was a British agent in Nazi-occupied France and was awarded the George Cross by the British government while the French honoured her with the Croix de Guerre.

She had two brothers, who both became musicians and Sufi masters: Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and Pir Hidayat Inayat Khan.

[Visit the Sufi Order International, led by Pir Zia, the son of Pir Vilayat: http://www.sufiorder.org/

Visit the Sufi Movement International, led by Pir Hidayat, Noor's younger brother: http://www.sufimovement.org/work.htm]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Modern Heroes, Positive Role Models


By Marie-Helene Rousseau, "As Villains or Heroes, Muslims Star in New U.S. Comics" - NYU Livewire - New York, NY, USA
Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Some visitors who arrived recently at a New York airport caused quite a stir— and no wonder. They were using their superpowers to stop two planes from colliding.

But this Homeland Security emergency was part of a comic book tale, written and produced by a U.S.-educated Kuwaiti academic and publisher who hopes to send both U.S. and Middle Eastern readers a positive message about Islam.

[I realized that] “our part of the world was lacking modern-day heroes,” said publisher, Naïf Al-Mutawa, a Columbia Business School grad who also holds a Ph.D in clinical psychology.

Al-Mutawa’s superheroes are a multicultural gang, united by belief in a faith that routs evil. Each superhero embodies one of the 99 qualities that the Koran, the Islamic holy book, attributes to God.
There’s “Jabbar the Powerful,” and Noora, whose name means light, and who can see the light and darkness in everyone.

English and Arabic editions of “The 99” are sold in Middle East and in the United States, via al-Mutawa’s company, Teshkeel Media Group.
His books are among dozens of new Islamic-influenced comics and graphic novels circulating in the United States, home to six million Muslims.

But the message can vary. In his forthcoming graphic novel “The Infidel,” the Bronx-born son of Albanian Muslims makes Muslims the villains.

Author Bosch Fawstin, 37, calls himself an ex-Muslim. He says he wasn’t raised religious, beyond going to mosque once a year and avoiding pork. He attended art school at night, published his first graphic novel in 2004 and, inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, began writing “The Infidel.”

It focuses on two Muslim brothers, one who embraces fundamentalism and the other who battles extremism. Villains are killed in ways that readers may find disturbing, he admitted. “When I show some people the sketches, they turn away.”

Al-Mutawa’s superheroes battle enemies nonviolently, countering a Western image of Islam as inherently violent.

Al-Mutawa, 36, fell in love with comics during childhood summers at camp in New Hampshire. After college, he worked as a translator for torture survivors, and decided Muslims needed positive role models. That led to his founding Teshkeel Media, which takes its name from the symbols in Arabic script indicating pronunciation.

Besides “The 99,” the company distributes Arabic translations of other comic books, including the “Archie” series.

Other religions have also figured more prominently in the comics of recent years. “Buddha,” the comic book series about Buddha’s life, by the late Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka, was reprinted in hardcover in 2003.

“Devi,” published by UK-based Virgin Comics in 2006, offers a contemporary spin on the story of the Hindu warrior goddess.

In the renowned “Blankets,” (2003) novelist Craig Thompson illustrated his disenchantment with evangelical Christianity.

The same themes are creeping into mainstream comics: a 2002 edition of “New X-Men” introduced Dust, an Afghani Muslim super heroine clad in a body-covering burqa.
Religion is a new interest for comics, said Greg Garrett, author of a book on the subject: “Holy Superheroes: Exploring Faith and Spirituality in Comic Books.”

“Most comics, like most of our popular culture, homogenized their characters and edited out religious distinctions,” he said. As recently as the 1980s, readers were startled to see X-Men character Kitty Pryde wearing a Star of David. Muslims were non-existent, villanized or stereotyped, he suggested.

But because religion is a force in current events, it naturally informs comics, said Preston Hunter, the webmaster of Adherents.com, a 10-year-old statistical website Hunter said had a database of the religions of 2,000 comic book characters.

(Adherents says that Superman, for example, though hailing from the planet Ka-El, was raised in a Methodist household.) When Christian televangelist scandals made the news, many comic book villains appeared as Protestant preachers.

“The 99” is an amalgam of Eastern and Western ideas, said Al-Mutawa, drawing both on Western superheroes’ tendency to act individually, and Eastern comics’ reliance on teamwork (think Pokémon).

Characters work in teams of at least three, to solve problems together. Three is a significant number for another reason: it avoids offending Muslims who may have a problem with a man and woman being alone together. (Yet the comics aren’t necessarily conservative; not all superheroines, for example, wear the headscarf).

While raising funds to start his company, Al-Mutawa once showed potential investors another option available to Muslim kids: sticker books a Hamas supporter was selling that depicted suicide bombers.

[Pictures (clockwise):
-“The 99,” a series of comic superheroes meant to offer young Muslims positive modern role models, is one of a spate of recent comics exploring Islamic themes. Illustration: Courtesy of Naif al-Mutawa;

-Concerned that Islam had few modern heroes, Columbia University grad Naif al-Mutawa created a series of comic superheroes to provide positive role models to kids in the Middle East. Photo: Courtesy of Teshkeel Media Group.].

‘Multiculturalism and Beyond’

Staff Report, "German prof gives ‘Islam and West’ lecture at PU" -Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Punjab University (PU) Department of History arranged a lecture on ‘Multiculturalism and Beyond’ on Saturday.
Prof. Jamal Malik, the chairman of the Religious and Islamic Studies Department at University of Erfurt, Germany, delivered the lecture.

Professor Malik is a renowned scholar of Islamic studies, Sufism and the history of colonialism.

Keeping his focus on the Muslims living in Europe, he highlighted the possibilities of religious pluralism. He said that Europe, particularly Germany, had evolved out of three factors – dominance of the church, marginalisation of those differing with the church’s opinion, and monopolisation of secular modernity and unity of Christian Europe in the post-World War-II period.

“These are the three factors that are the cause of discrimination and cultural bias against three million German Muslims. Islam is inherently pluralistic, but the Western media has projected it as fundamentalist and aggressive” he said.

“These stereotypical images have given rise to extremism and ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and North America. In order to avoid further conflict, the Muslims and the West should promote interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding that lead to an alliance of civilisations,” he said.

After the lecture, the audience asked several questions. The seminar ended with a note of thanks by Dr. S. Qalb-i-Abid, Chairman of the History Dept.

[Picture of the Lecture from the University of the Punjab: http://www.pu.edu.pk/home/].

Monday, March 17, 2008

“Ba Dar-e Darvish Darbane Naa-Bayd"

By Abdul Manan, "Mian Mir’s 384th urs kicks off today" - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, March 16, 2008

All is set for the commencement of Mir Mohammad Moinul Islam’s, popularly known as Mian Mir, 384th urs from Sunday (today).

People from across the country have already reached the shrine of the Sufi saint. The urs celebrations will continue for two days.

Auqaf Additional Secretary Chaudhry Nisar told Daily Times on Saturday that the department had made all arrangements of the urs. Chador-laying ceremony would take place on Sunday to commence the urs, he added.

Mian Mir is regarded as one of the greatest Sufi saints of the Subcontinent. He belonged to the Qadiria order of the Sufis. He was famous for being a spiritual instructor to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also held Mian Mir in great esteem.

Dara Shikoh was a devoted disciple of the saint. His father, Shah Jahan, often requested the saint to pray for his empire.

Mian Mir was the earliest Sufi saint who promoted the Qadiria order in Lahore. He shunned worldly selfish men and proud high-ups of his time. He used to post his mureeds (disciples) at the gate of his house to stop rich people from entering.

Once Emperor Shah Jahan, with his attendants, came to pay homage to the great dervish. Mian Mir’s disciples stopped the emperor at the gate and requested him to wait, until permission was given. Shah Jahan felt insulted, but controlled his temper and composed himself. After a while, he was ushered into Mian Mir’s presence.

When the emperor came across the saint, he said, “Ba dar-e-darvish darbane naa-bayd (On the doorstep of a dervish, there should be no sentry).”The saint replied, “Babayd keh sag-e-dunia na ayad (They are there so that the materialistic, selfish men of the world may not enter).” The emperor was ashamed and requested forgiveness.

Mian Mir holds a legendary place in Sikhism and in Sikh history. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, often visited Lahore, the birthplace of his father – the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das – to meet his relatives. Once Guru Arjan called on Mian Mir. The two remained close life long friends, after the first meeting.

Mian Mir was thirteen years older than Guru Arjan. He invited Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib, one of the most sacred places for Sikhs. After a long life of piety, Mian Mir passed away on August 11, 1635 (seven Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1045 according to the Islamic Calendar), at the age of 88.

Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh led his funeral. He was buried near Alamganj, a place in the south of the city. His spiritual successor was Mullah Shah Badakhshi.

Mian Mir’s Mazar (mausoleum) attracts hundreds of devotees every day. Sikhs and Muslims equally revered the great Sufi saint of the Subcontinent.

[Picture: A calendar painting of Hazrat Mian Mir. Photo from: http://www.sikhspectrum.com/112002/mian_mir_tribute.htm].

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Simply Trust

By Nithya Caleb, "Fresh Prints" - New Ind Press - Chennai, India
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Like That is a compilation of Osho’s talks on Sufism.

Filled with his witty and incisive comments, the book explores the master-disciple relation and meaning of existence.

In one of his talks, Osho says, “ A Sufi master used to say to his disciples: ‘Simply trust. Do not the rose petals flutter down just like that?’”

A must-read for those who want to know more about the ‘inner self.’

Just Like That: Talks on Sufi Stories
By Osho
Penguin, Rs 295


That's Where the Real Teaching Is

By Todd R. Brown, "Muslim women counter stereotypes" - Inside Bay Area - Oakland, CA, USA
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Third annual Women's Milad Shareef symposium slated for Sunday

One stereotype pinned to Islam is the second-class status of women, illustrated by burqa-clad members of the fairer sex who stick out in the post-women's-lib Western world.

Instead of oppressing women, however, the "religion of peace" historically calls for an enlightened attitude toward female followers, said spokeswoman Shagufta Ahmad of Fremont's Islamic Educational and Cultural Research Center.

"Authentic Islam talks about the spiritual equality of men and women, how we're from the same soul and how we have equal potential to reach God," she said.

The group's third annual Women's Milad Shareef Conference is set for Sunday in Newark, with the goal of countering stereotypes and celebrating wives and daughters who learned directly from the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam in the 7th century.

"They were teachers, guides and mentors. They were in his company. There's a special blessing connected with those women," Shagufta said, noting they are regarded similarly to Roman Catholic saints. "The Arabic word (for saint) is 'wali,' which means friend of God."

Ahmad, a software engineer who lives in Fremont, said Milad Sharif translates to "noble birthday" and honors the birth of Muhammad. This year, the day begins at sunset Wednesday with a vigil.

Sunday's gathering is specifically for women, she said, so they can relax. "It just has a different energy when women are galvanized and organized just for them. You can feel it."

The nonprofit centers on Sufism, sometimes described by some as a mystical sect but really "the heart and soul of Islam," Shagufta said, one that focuses on inner spiritual development and avoiding sin.

The ideal is to achieve character in accordance with Ihsan, from the Arabic word hadith, meaning to make something beautiful.

Fatima Sharaaz Qadri, who chairs the women's group at the Islamic Educational and Cultural Research Center in Sacramento, called Sufism the "middle path" to God, in contrast with the stereotype of Muslims as extremists. The center was founded in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

"In every religion we have extremes," she said. "You cannot just combine everyone. You cannot just label them. I get a comment of 'al-Qaida' right away. We have to come up and tell people we are not like them."

About 300 women and children are expected to come to the conference from around the Bay, as well as from Yuba City, Sacramento and Fresno. Admission is free, and a complimentary dinner will be offered.

Poetry recitals will be given in Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, Punjabi and English. Sufi poet Rumi, the one most familiar to Americans, hit his 800th anniversary last year and still makes the best-seller list.

Ayyaz Yousaf Qadri of Hayward, the Fremont center's managing director, said the conference is one way to illuminate Sufi beliefs and to exchange cultural notions. For instance, pastor Floretta Kukoyi from Jesus House, San Francisco in Hayward is a planned speaker.

Ancient Sufi poets and saints, he said, "really embraced everybody to one fold" in travels that spread their religion throughout Asia, a spirit that he said informs the faith today.

"When you start working at the human level, that's where the real teaching is," he said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sufi Networks in the Islamic World

Staff Report, "IPFW's Ohlander one of seven to receive Purdue library grant" - KPC Times Community Publications - Fort Wayne, IN, USA
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hitting the books will be part of Erik Ohlander's summer plans thanks to a recent grant from the Purdue University Libraries.

The Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) assistant professor of religious studies was awarded the Purdue University Library Scholars Grant, which will allow him to travel to conduct research for his current book project.

Ohlander was awarded $3,571 to conduct research on Arabic manuscripts in the Rare Books and Special Collections division of Princeton University's Firestone Library and at the Library of Congress.

His research will focus on issues pertaining to the city of Mecca as a nodal center in the formation of Sufi networks in the Islamic world during the later medieval period.

This grant, along with other awards, will advance his second book, "Sufis of Mecca: Mysticism and Transregionality in the Later Medieval Islamic World." His first book, "Sufism in an Age of Transition: 'Umar al-Suhrawardi and the Rise of the Islamic Mystical Brotherhoods," was released Feb. 15.

Ohlander was one of seven faculty members from across various Purdue departments to receive this grant, which helps faculty members access unique collections of information not available at Purdue. The award covers transportation, lodging, meals, and fees charged by the library or other collection owner.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Transmission of Knowledge

[From the French language press]:

Initié dans le cadre de la manifestation «Alger, capitale de la culture arabe 2007», le vernissage de l’exposition «Béjaïa centre de transmission du savoir» a eu lieu jeudi soir au Palais de la Culture Moufdi Zakaria de Kouba [Alger].

Par Lamia S., "Une exposition sur Béjaïa" - La Nouvelle République, Alger, Algérie
Dimanche, 9 mars 2008

Initiated in the framework of "Algiers, Capital of the Arab Culture 2007", the opening of the exhibition «Béjaïa Centre for the Transmission of Knowledge» took place on Thursday night at the Palace of Culture Moufdi Zakaria of Kouba [Algiers].

This is an impressive exhibition, which will continue until April 10th, with manuscripts in the Amazigh [Berber] language and manuscripts from the National Center of Prehistoric, Anthropological and Historical Research (CNRPAH).

Included are several "relics" from scholars like Ibn Khaldun, Al-Gubrini, Ibn Raqqam -author of the Astronomical Tablets- the historian Ibn Hammad and Sidi Boumediene, a known and recognized authority of the Maghrebi Sufi movement.

[Visit the Palace of Culture Moufdi Zakaria of Kouba, Algiers (in French and Arabic) http://www.palaisdelaculture.dz/].

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sufi support for legislation opposing an American attack on Iran

"Sufi support for legislation opposing an American attack on Iran" by Dr. Alan Godlas (based on and including an announcement issued via email by authors at www.justforeignpolicy.org ). (Now including active links!)


Anyone interested in Sufism should read and act on the advice below (concerning the importance of opposing the Bush administrations' efforts to attack Iran) in general because Sufis --and Muslims as a whole, since the vast majority of Sufis are Muslims-- oppose actions that will result in the deaths of innocent people. More specific reasons are as follows:

1) There are a lot of Sufis and a majority of innocent (and U.S. loving) people in Iran who would die if the U.S. attacked Iran,

2) probably at least some of my students (who have studied Sufism) and a lot of innocent Americans who are going to go into (or are currently in) the American armed forces might die in such a war in Iran;

3) a lot of Sufis, sympathizers to Sufism, and innocent people in Israel might die in a retaliatory Iranian attack on Israel, which would be very likely if any Iranian military capabilities survived the initial American onslaught; which survival is a distinct possibility, given the difficulty in completely eliminating all Iranians' military capabilities--as seen by the difficulty the U.S. has experienced in eliminating all opposition in Iraq;

4) given that a very recent study showed that Iran's so-called nuclear threat to us and Israel is minimal in contrast to the damage that we would create if we attack Iran (See "U.S. Finds Iran Halted Its Nuclear Arms Effort in 2003" --N.Y. Times, Dec. 4, 2007 tinyurl.com/2tlcnw.

So, the message below is an attempt to mobilize support against the Bush administration's desire to attack Iran. It does not appear to exist on the web, on news sites, or in a blog, hence I am posting it here rather than simply posting a url (which I could not find).

-------- Here is the message:

In these final months of the Bush presidency, let's keep up the pressure against war with Iran.

Take action.

Dear Supporter of a Just Foreign Policy,

The Bush administration has forced out a top admiral who had widely been seen as an opponent of attacking Iran. (note 1) Now is the time to work harder against another war.

Last week, an article in Esquire called Admiral William Fallon the Bush administration's primary obstacle to an attack on Iran and an advocate of serious diplomacy.(note 2) His departure raises serious questions about the administration's intentions.

We just spent a month on the road with author Stephen Kinzer talking and meeting about Iran, and we have several ideas of what can be done to step up efforts against war. (note 3) Thanks to the tour, a few Senators and Representatives in Washington see the same urgency we do. Can you help us build momentum for legislation (note 4) introduced last year that would prevent the President from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization?

www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/nowaroniran.html

We met personally with Senator John Kerry last week, and he reaffirmed his active support for this legislation. Senator Hillary Clinton, in a press release following Admiral Fallon's resignation,(note 5) urged support for it.

We will continue working closely with key Members of Congress to get this bill passed. To make this work, it is crucial that your Members hear from you, their constituent.

www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/nowaroniran.html
Thanks for all you do for a just foreign policy,
Patrick McElwee, Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen and Sebastian Anti
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

References:
1. "Fallon falls: Iran should worry," Gareth Porter, Asia Times, March 13, 2008

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JC13Ak01.html

2. "The Man Between War and Peace," Thomas P.M. Barnett, Esquire, March 5, 2008
http://www.esquire.com/features/fox-fallon

3. The Folly of Attacking Iran Tour was a big success, attracting large audiences and press attention across the country. Thanks to all of you for your support. If you were unable to make it to an event, you can see some of what Stephen Kinzer had to say in his opinion piece that appeared in the Baltimore Sun yesterday:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.iran12mar12,0,5070600.story


4. The bill, introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), carries the bill number S. 759 and is titled, "To prohibit the use of funds for military operations in Iran." The full text is here:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:s.759:


A companion bill, H.R. 3119, has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Udall. The full text of that bill is here:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:h.r.3119:


5. In a statement released Tuesday, March 11, 2008, Senator Clinton said:
Admiral Fallon was a sensible voice within the Pentagon on the need to have a multi-pronged strategy towards Iran that included support for engaging Iran. Admiral Fallon was a voice of reason in an administration which has used inflammatory rhetoric against Iran. I am asking that the Senate Armed Services Committee hold hearings into the circumstances surrounding his departure. I will also urge my colleagues to join me in supporting Senator Webb's legislation requiring the Administration to come to Congress before taking military action against Iran.

Also the author of the above message notes the following for anyone who writes a letter to the administration:

I would emphasize to the Bush administration, as I have before, that it has no authority to take this nation to war against Iran, and I again urge the Bush administration to pursue diplomacy, including direct talks with Tehran, at its earliest opportunity.

Full text of Senator Clinton's statement is available at:http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=294635&&

With Each Other Not Against Each Other

[From the French language press]:

Pour sa onzième édition, Le Festival du Mawlid bâtit un pont entre l'Europe et le monde musulman, à travers une de ses composantes essentielles, le soufisme.

Yabiladi, France - mercredi 5 mars 2008 - Communiqué de presse

In its offering participants an experience in Sufism, a key aspect of Islam, the eleventh the Festival of Mawlid is intending to build a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world.

Open to all, this festive event is an ideal opportunity to share a repertoire of sacred music and experience something traditionally held in the privacy of Sufi Brotherhoods. For the first time together on stage in Paris, they offer the public a heritage shaped by centuries of practice.

The Festival of Mawlid contributes to a better understanding of a multicultural society.

It is resolutely focused on peace. It promotes a vision that the future is being built by all of us: with each other and not against each other.

By not focusing on conflict between groups and promoting the commonality of different cultures, AISA and Terres d'Europe -the associations promoting the Festival of Mawlid- sow hope for the world of tomorrow.

Saturday, March 22 - 8.00 pm
Espace Reuilly 21, rue Hénard Paris 12e - Métro Montgallet
Admission: 20 €
Infoline : 06 16 93 04 92 - 06 62 15 70 98 - mawlid08@free.fr

[Visit the website of AISA Association Internationale Soufie Alâwiya (in French) http://www.aisa-net.com/index00.htm].

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For the Benefit of the Current Society

By Mawassi Lahcen, "Sufi Culture Festival celebrates peaceful tradition, Fez history" - Magharebia - USA

The second Sufi Culture Festival, to be held in April in Fez, will offer a variety of art exhibits, lectures, and concerts on the themes of peace and tolerance

Casablanca: The historic city of Fez will host the second Sufi Culture Festival from April 17th-24th, offering visitors a distinguished spiritual atmosphere in which to explore principles of dialogue, tolerance and peace.

This year's programme features artistic soirées open to the public every night, with the participation of music bands from four continents. Each afternoon will feature Sufi Tariqas (schools) from around the world. In the mornings, intellectual seminars will discuss issues related to women, the environment, entrepreneurship and international relations through the spiritual and moral values of Sufi Islam.

In a statement to Magharebia, Festival Coordinator Mr Faouzi Skali said Sufism can fill a gap in the spiritual involvement of young people who are thirsty for religion.

"The absence of spiritual involvement for young people in their search for religion gives way for political ideologies that misunderstand the social function of religion, and attract the young people to the trap of extremism and terrorism," he said.

Mr Skali explained that the aim of the Fez Sufi Culture Festival is to renew Sufi practices, especially spiritual education in the values of tolerance, solidarity, and peace.

"It is true that we need to refresh memory and to benefit from the sources of heritage," he said, "but our aim in this Festival is to finalise the role of Sufism in the work that it can do today for the benefit of the current society; to live the Sufi experience as a lively, future-oriented experience; and to adapt its principles to the current needs of young people and societies."

The second Sufi Culture Festival coincides with the 1200th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Fez, considered the spiritual capital of Morocco. Al Karaouine University will hold an exhibition at the festival to showcase its treasure of manuscripts.

(...)

[Picture: A Sufi ensemble performs outside the Fez medina. Photo by: Mawassi Lahcen]

[See also: http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=Khadija].

Sufism Plays an Important Role

ECMI, "Ethnic Groups in Georgia #5 - Kists" - The Georgian Times - Tbilisi, Georgia
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In our series on the wealth of ethnic groups in Georgia, this week features the Kists. The materials on the ethnic groups are provided by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and are extracted from the book, Georgia – An Ethno-Political Handbook by Tom Trier & George Tarkhan-Mouravi.

With support from the foreign ministries of Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, the book will be published by the end of this year in a Georgian and an English edition.

Population in Georgia: 7,110 (Census 2002), and 1,150 Kist and Chechen refugees from Chechnya in Pankisi.
Total population: Approx 8,000.
Settlement: Kists are compactly settled in Pankisi Gorge, Akhmeta district; a few live in Tbilisi and other bigger cities.

Who, What, Where
Kists in Georgia (self-designation: Vainakh, Kistebi in Georgian) mostly live in villages in the Pankisi Gorge, and are descendants of Chechens and Ingush, who settled there from their native regions in the North Caucasus in the 18th-19th century.

The newcomers soon adopted the ethnic label Kist, which was used by Georgians as a generic term for Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) people. As a result of the separation and isolation of the Kists from their ethnic kin in the north, the group in Georgia developed its own characteristics and gradually incorporated many cultural and linguistic elements from its Georgian neighbors.

Today, most Kists identify themselves as Georgians and/or as a separate group closer related to the Chechens than to the Ingush. Kists are well integrated in Georgia, and the vast majority is bilingual in Kist and Georgian.

Due to rural-urban migration in the Soviet period and after Georgian independence, there are also a few hundred Kists in Tbilisi as well as in other large cities. Some Kist and Chechen refugees initially settled in Pankisi have also found their way to Tbilisi.

A Bit of History

In Soviet times, three ethnic groups, Kists, Ossetians and Georgians peacefully coexisted in Pankisi Gorge. There were no reported cases of ethnically-based tension or violence. However, this situation changed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Obviously, the general political and economical crisis also impacted on the situation in Pankisi Gorge, and at the same time the demographic situation has been in flux since the early 1990s. As a result of the conflict over South Ossetia (1990-92) and also fuelled by the conflict over the Prigorodniy district culminating with the North Ossetian-Ingush war in 1992, a part of the Pankisi Ossetians left the gorge for North Ossetia or other parts of Russia as refugees. The emptied houses were taken over by Kists and property conflicts arose between Kists and those Ossetians who remained. Simultaneously, relations between Kists and Georgians worsened, mainly due to Georgian discontent with the participation of Chechen voluntary fighters against Georgians in the Abkhaz War (1992-93).

The situation further deteriorated after the influx of refugees who fled the Russian-Chechen wars. Some 7,000 refugees arrived during the beginning of the second Chechen-Russian conflict in 1999-2000. There were two groups of refugees from Chechnya: native Chechens, and Kists, who had migrated to Chechnya during the Soviet or early post-Soviet periods. Some of the Kist refugees possessed houses or land in the gorge and most of them had relatives there. These factors contributed to the relatively easy integration of the Kist refugees, whereas the proper Chechen refugees faced more difficulties having no direct support base in the local Kist community.

With the refugees also came Chechen fighters (boyeviki), who used the Pankisi Gorge for training and reorganization of their units as well as a base for sporadic incursions into Chechnya for attacks against Russian military forces. Also some non-Chechen Islamist warriors (Jihadis) were reported to have taken part in military activities in Pankisi in support of the Chechen fighters. With the increasing presence of fighters and the general socio-political destabilization of the region, Pankisi also fell under the influence of criminal groups and became a transit region for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, including kidnapping. In this period, Georgian authorities failed to restore order due to lack of proper trained police forces, while at the same time corrupt officials were involved in the criminal activities.

Hence, from 2000 Pankisi Gorge earned a reputation internationally as a nest for criminal activity and terrorism. However, in 2002 the US government initiated a program to support the Georgian Army, and from 2003 the situation in Pankisi has greatly stabilized.

The region no longer provides shelter for Chechen fighters and rule of law has returned to Pankisi Gorge although the gorge’s reputation internationally as a hotbed for crime and guerilla warfare lingers on.

Since the early phase of the war in Chechnya, the number of refugees has now considerably decreased and today there are only around 1,150 refugees in Pankisi, as some have been resettled in third countries, others have returned and yet others have become Georgian citizens.

Language, Religion and Traditions

The Kist vernacular belongs to the Vainakh language group, which is part of the larger North East Caucasian (or Nakh-Dagestanian) language family. The Vainakh languages consist of Chechen, Ingush and Bats (Tsova-Tush), while Kist is not considered a separate language but merely a Chechen dialect with strong influences from the Georgian language.

Vainakh is the historical self-designation of the speakers of the languages and means “Our People”.

As Kists gradually moved to Pankisi in the 19th century, as there was a parallel process of settlement of Georgians to the gorge, resulting in close interaction between Kists and Georgians. Already in the late 19th century, Kists and Georgians culturally featured many similarities. Kists readily embraced Georgian traditions, such as the Supra (traditional Georgian feast), wedding ceremonies, funeral rituals etc, but at the same time, they preserved many elements of their original Vainakh traditions. In spite of the significant linguistic integration of the Kists, the group preserved their native language and traditional Vainakh toponymical names. With the establishment of schools in Pankisi Gorge in the early Soviet period, the language of education was Georgian, not Chechen, and this has been the case ever since.

As a result of Russification policies, the majority of Kists became Christians in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, but today practically all Kists are Sunni Muslims. Kists belong to the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith, but the religious practices of the Kists (like those of the Chechens and Ingushs) are often not in harmony with Sunni dogmas.

The Kists’ practice of Sunni Islam can be considered syncretic, fused with pagan and Christian elements.

At the same time, Sufism, a mystical, psycho-spiritual tradition practiced also in Chechnya, Ingushetia and among other North Caucasian people based on religious brotherhoods (Naqshbandiya and Qadiriya), plays an important role in the religious life of many Kists.

It is also true that while most Kists consider themselves to be Muslim, at least until recently many were largely indifferent to Islamic teachings, having been significantly influenced by Soviet secular policies or before to Georgian Christian practices and the Pagan traditions of neighboring Georgian Khevsurs and Pshavi mountaineers.

Many would eat pork, drink alcohol or sacrifice animals near the ruins of Christian churches, give their children Christian names, marry non-Kists, and profess other traditionally non-Muslim practices.

Since 2000, Wahhabism - a puritan and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim reformist movement originating from Saudi Arabia – had gained some support among Kists, mostly among the youth, although to a much lesser extent than in Chechnya.

Wahhabism mostly appeals to the male youth in Chechnya and has gained considerable popularity in pace with the wars and political radicalization in Chechnya. Today, there are four mosques of modern Sunni Islam in the gorge built in 1996-2001 and also one Wahhabi mosque in Duisi.

Economy

Traditionally, the population of Pankisi gorge has lived by means of agriculture and animal breeding. In the past, trade was an important activity, as the gorge provided a geographical link between Kakheti and Tusheti. After the introduction of the Soviet regime, kolkhozes (collective farms) were introduced in all settlements of Pankisi. Agriculture and animal breeding remained the main basis for the local economy in the Soviet period, but after introducing market economy and the abolishment of collective farms, neither agriculture nor animal breeding are sufficiently profitable for the local population to sustain themselves, and these traditional fields of work have been complemented by petty-trade activities.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deprivation of the primary means of income as elsewhere in Georgia contributed to a process of migration to urban centres or to other countries. Kists generally migrated and settled in Grozny in Chechnya or Nazran in Ingushetia in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, where they often established their own small business, although many later returned as refugees. Today, the traditional subsistence farming can no longer fulfill the household’s needs in Pankisi. Hence, the major economic activities in the region are now based on petty trade.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Love Will Set You Free
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By Schezee Zaidi "Celebrating the spirit & soul of cultural heritage", The International News - Islamabad, Pakistan
Monday, March 31, 2008

Projecting the true diversity of Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage by celebrating the essential spirit and soul of its people, PNCA opened a 3-day festival titled ‘Indus Rhythm’ at the National Art Gallery Auditorium on Saturday.

Truly following the famous adage, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness,” Pakistan National Council of the Arts have come forward to remove the darkness of restrictions put over the performing arts in the past through illuminating the glorious rich legacy of cultural heritage of the Indus Valley Civilisation.


The captivating ensemble of dance and music presented by the National Performing Arts Group showcased the magnificent heritage of the human spirit that added colour and integrity to our cultural heritage through ages.

The presentation brought back the memories of ‘good old times’ when performing art was a liberated part of our lives without any restrictions. ‘The Indus Rhythm’ is a presentation of joy and freedom of expression that adorns the day-to-day life of the people of Pakistan in various form and fragrance since ancient times.

The jam packed auditorium beamed with spontaneous applause of appreciation and recognition of what is truly and distinctively their own expression of joy and happiness.

Remembering Sindhi Sufi poet Fakir Bedil’s couplet “From the tyranny of religious dogma, love will set you free,” it is hoped that by ensuring frequent and free holding of events like this, PNCA would continue to spread the people’s culture and not the official version, and portray to the world the true face of Pakistan’s culture with its message of universal love, tolerance, peace, equality, and respect for all creation.

(...)

Talking to ‘The News’, PNCA Director General Naeem Tahir said, “Through the Indus Rhythm, we are trying to make a statement that people in Pakistan love and enjoy music and dance.

It is also an effort to trace the evolution of performing art through blending the ancient and traditional performances with that of the people who live in the Indus valley of now, recognised as Pakistan”.

He said that starting with only 6 male and 6 female dancers, the PNCA Performing Arts Group has now multiplied in to a full grown team of 48 members, with 24 male and equal numbers of female performers.

He said that with 3 existing branches operating in Sindh, Punjab, and Islamabad, PNCA is now hoping to open NPAG branches in Peshawar and Quetta.
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Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Passionate Advocate of Sufi Wisdom
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Staff Writer - Telegraph.co.uk - United Kingdom
Saturday, March 29, 2008

Shusha Guppy, who died on March 21 aged 72, was an Iranian-born writer, composer and singer.

Trilingual in Persian, French and English, she wrote stylishly and succinctly in the last two and made a reputation as an interpreter of Persian love songs and French chanson.

In exile from her native country, she became a passionate advocate of Sufi wisdom and the Persian classical literature on which she had been raised.

The daughter of Mohammed Kazem Assar, a distinguished liberal-minded Shia theologian and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tehran, she was born Shamsi Assar on December 24 1935 and grew up in an atmosphere of poetry and mystical chants in the Persia of the Shahs.

She movingly evoked her childhood and the Tehran of her youth in The Blindfold Horse: memories of a Persian childhood (1998).

(...)

As well as perfoming at concerts, she brought out 10 albums and published several books, while working as London editor of the American literary journal The Paris Review.

In the 1970s she travelled with the nomadic Bakhtiari tribes of southern Persia and worked on two films, one of which, People of the Wind (A Persian Odyssey), won an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

By the 1980s she had turned away from political radicalism, finding comfort in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam which emphasises the unity of religious creeds and the centrality of love.

Her inclusive beliefs were challenged by the rise of militant Islam and in later life she was much exercised by the worsening relations between the Islamic world and the West.

After her marriage was dissolved in 1976 she lived modestly in a small flat in Chelsea, where she continued to dispense generous hospitality and wisdom to her friends.

Shusha Guppy's other books include Looking Back (1991), a series of interviews with living authors, and The Secret of Laughter (2006), a collection of Persian tales which showed her homeland to be less part of an "axis of evil" than a land of scented gardens and nomadic storytellers.
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Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Link with the Creator
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By Prem Chand Sahajwala, "Indo-Pak Sindhi writers meet in New Delhi – I" - Meri News - New Delhi, India
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sahitya Academy held a conference of Indo-Pak Sindhi writers in New Delhi. It’s quite an encouraging step to strengthen the relationship between the two countries

Sindhi is one of the many Indic languages and it has gone through many phases of ups and downs in the histories of pre/post-partition India and Pakistan. Sahitya Academy (government of India) organised for the first time a two-day seminar of interaction between Sindhi writers from India and Pakistan on March 17-18, 2008, at its Academy Auditorium in New Delhi.

Prominent Indian Sindhi writers, led by MK Jetley, vice chairman, Sindhi Academy (government of Delhi), gathered to discuss many literary aspects of the Sindhi literatures on both sides of the border with prominent Pakistani writers like Dr Fahmida Hussain, Taj Joyo, Ayaz Gul, Imdad Hussaini, Shoukat Hussain Shoro among others.

The event became more significant than usual, looking at the current phase of comparatively better relationship between India and Pakistan in spite of years of bitterness, wars and the agony of the partition. Several other literary enthusiasts were also present in the seminar as audience.

Welcoming the guest writers from Sindh (Pakistan) in the inaugural session presided over by S.S. Noor, A. Krishnamurthy, secretary, Sahitya Academy, remembered the immortal classical names like Shah Abdul Latif (c. 1689 – 1752) and his 20th century incarnation – Sheikh Ayaz (1923 – 1997) – who put Sindhi language on the world stage by their Sufi literatures.

Shah Latif was the unique mystic Sufi poet who felt an interior link in every breath with the Creator, like any Sufi saint and, would say:

“A thousand doors and windows too,
the palace has, but see,
wherever I might go or be,
master confronts me there”


His poetry had the content of divine music.

Krishnamurty said that Sindhi was the language that developed in Sindh much before partition and many legendary poets like Sami, Sachchal Sarmast, Hamal Fakir, Dalpat Sufi and others evolved the language and literature through talent and perseverance.

(...)

Indian’s Vasdev Mohi, the programme convener, said that in this seminar the Indian writers were seeking to present Sindhi literature of India while their counterparts from Pakistan were there to talk about their respective literature in Sindh and the Sahitya Academy would encourage such seminars in future.

(...)

The welcome session was followed by sessions on various branches of literature like criticism, novel, and short story, the most evolved branch being poetry, which required three separate sessions for ghazal, poetry and the new poem.

Some prominent writer from either side chaired each session. Papers were read by one writer from each side of the border followed by two reviewers, with a discussion subsequently carried out by some other prominent writer.

(...)
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An Independent Scientific Research Center
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By Rumeysa Özel, "‘Encyclopedia of Islam’ to be translated into English and Arabic" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Published upon the initiative of the Islamic Research Center (İSAM) in İstanbul, the first Encyclopedia of Islam written by Muslims has already grown to 30 volumes and will be completed in four years.

An abridged version of 20-25 volumes will be translated into English and Arabic.

The Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV) was established in 1983 with the aim of conducting scientific research, publishing, editing and translating works focusing on Islamic and Eastern fields, publishing the TDV "Encyclopedia of Islam," organizing scientific conferences, sending representatives to conferences abroad, educating researchers, establishing a research library and a documentation unit and enlightening the public on scientific and religious subjects.

Associate Professor Ahmet Özel, a member of TDV's administrative board and the vice chairman of the committee responsible for the encyclopedia and the vice president of the TDV Analysis Council, which is the most important board within the institution, explains that the TDV decided to compile and publish this encyclopedia because other encyclopedias of Islam fell short in their entries, present a biased view and offer baseless assertions.

The copyright to the TDV "Encyclopedia of Islam" is completely held by Muslims and the encyclopedia comprises 16,915 entries about Islamic knowledge on subjects such as hadith (narrations about the Prophet), tafsir (commentary on the Quran), Shariah (Islamic law), kalam (Islamic theology) and Sufism (Islamic mysticism) along with the philosophy, history, geography, culture, civilization, languages and literatures of Muslim countries.

Moreover it includes entries on artistic branches like music, architecture, calligraphy, significant happenings or movements in the history, noteworthy cultural-historical institutions, important residential areas and other outstanding religions and people who influenced Islamic culture even though they were not Muslim.

"It was written by benefiting from 500 primary sources with the help of more than 1,500 scholars and contributions from foreign scholars as well," says Özel, adding that 40 volumes are expected in total and that four more years are needed to complete the project.

(...)

Apart from an abridged English and Arabic translation, another five-volume version consisting only of entries concerning faith, worship, morality, Islamic mysticism and the life of the Prophet Mohammed is going to be published under the title "Religion and Culture of Islam" (İslam dini ve kültürü) in Russian, Bosnian and Albanian as well as in Turkic languages spoken in Central Asia.

When asked why an abridged version was necessary, considering how work on the encyclopedia has gone on for 24 years, Özel explains that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an urgent demand among Muslims in Central Asia and the Balkans emerged to learn and live their own religion.

"Some books were published to meet this demand, but none were very comprehensive. If we were to publish the full version into these languages, it would not be logical since it would not be practical to use such a large encyclopedia. As a consequence we thought it would be better if we published a short and concise version," states Özel.

(...)

Even though İSAM's foremost activity is publishing the encyclopedia, it has an extensive range of activity. İSAM includes a rich library covering books on religious studies, history, culture and Islamic civilization. In order for the TDV to conduct swift and beneficial research, recently published books and periodicals have been made available in the library.

The library includes approximately 200,000 volumes of selected books and more than 2,400 periodicals with the contributions of book collectors like Ziyad Ebüzziya, Orhan Şaik Gökyay, Nejat Göyünç, Tahsin Yazıcı, Hilmi Oflaz, Nihat M. Çetin, Yavuz Argıt, Albert Hourani and Jacques Waardenbur.

(...)

Another regular İSAM activity is a journal it has been publishing biannually since 1997. It includes original political, historical, economic, philosophical, sociological, anthropological, religious and cultural articles that have been carefully sifted through in order to contribute to Islamic thought and culture in Turkish, Arabic, Persian, English, French and German. It also reviews books, symposiums and conferences.

An independent scientific research center, İSAM also gives scholarships to students studying at universities in England, Italy and the US and has organized many conferences and symposiums, including "Islam, Tradition and Renewal," "Islam and Modernization" and "Muslim Minorities in the Contemporary World."
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Main Nahi, Sub Taun
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By M. Tanveer Tahir, "Kahay Hussain Faqir Nimanah Main Nahi Sub Tu" - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Thursday; March 27, 2008

Lahore: The three-day annual Urs of Sufi Saint, Hazrat Madhu Lal Husain, will start with traditional enthusiasm here on Saturday.

The Auqaf department has completed all the arrangements in this regard. Shopkeepers have set up makeshift shops around the shrine.

Langer (Free Food) was being distributed among the people visiting the shrine.

Director General Auqaf Dr. Tahir Raza Bukhari, Zonal Administrator Auqaf Tasawar Ijaz Malik and a large number of pilgrims will participate in the celebrations.

On the first day, the celebrations will start with the lightning of earthen lamps at the shrine. For this reason it is also called 'mela chiraghan' ( a fair of lamps):
On the following day, only men will be allowed to visit the shrine to pay homage to the saint. On the final day, it would be all for women.

Mehfil-e-Milad, Mehfil-e-Sama and other religious and spiritual gatherings will be held during the celebrations.

Briefing this scribe about the life of the saint, the Official said that Madhu Lal belonged to a Hindu family. His father embraced Islam during the reign of Tuglak emperor Feroz Shah

"Madhu Lal was born in 1539 in Texali Gate. He acquired religious education from the Sufi Shaikh Behlol Qadri of Chinnoit", he said. "As he liked to wear red attire, people started calling him Lal Hussein", he added.

Talking to The Post, Custodian (Sajada Nasheen) of Madhu Lal shrine, Nazakat Ali, said that he was making sure for free food to the devotees during the three-day show, though he was not involved in the arrangements.

Banners inscribed with the great saint's verses are also on display. One reads:

Kahay Hussain faqir nimanah,
Main nahi, sub taun

(This humble self of Hussain declares,
I am nothing, You the All).
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Friday, March 28, 2008

One of Society’s Greatest Needs
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TT Culture Desk - Tehran Times - Tehran, Iran
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Albanian Sadi Foundation establishes library in Vlora

The Sadi Cultural Foundation in Albania has established a library in the tekyeh (place where ritual Shia Islamic ceremonies are practiced) of the city of Vlora and has presented it with a collection of cultural and religious books.

The Ahl-ul-Bait World Assembly also took part in the setting up of the library in the tekyeh which is one of the largest and most distinctive buildings of its type in Albania.

Head of the foundation Reza Karami said that the donation comprises hundreds of cultural and religious books, and a number of computers which were presented to the library in the presence of the head of the Tekyeh of the Bektashi Order in Albania, Baba Sadik Ibro.

He added that the foundation has previously established libraries in tekyehs located in Kosovo and Macedonia with the assistance of the Bektashi Order and is planning to set up more in the future.

Baba Sadik Ibro, who also participated in the book donation ceremony, expressed his appreciation and remarked that equipping libraries with cultural and religious books meets one of society’s greatest needs and is especially useful for young people.

[Picture from the Alevilik Bektasilik Research Site: http://www.alevibektasi.org/index1.html].
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Courage and Sacrifice
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IANS/Staff report, "Story of ‘Spy Princess’ hits bookstores in paperback version" - Thai Indian News - Bangkok, Thailand
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Story of ‘Spy Princess’ hits bookstores in paperback version

Indian history abounds in lores of brave women who sacrificed themselves to protect the honour of the country, clan, family and personal dignity. But rarely has a woman of Indian origin defended a foreign country and allowed herself to be tortured and shot to death by enemy forces - not out of compulsion, but out of choice.

London-based journalist Shrabani Basu’s non-fiction “TheSpy Princess” chronicles the extraordinary tale of India’s lone allied spy in Europe during the World War II, Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi girl who was shot dead by the Gestapo at the infamous prison of Dachau.

“More than anyone else, I want children to read the book so that they can learn about the virtues of courage and sacrifice,” the author, who has worked for more than 20 years as the London correspondent of the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, told IANS.

“I have received a book from Year 6 primary school students in UK. It is a project titled ‘Liberty’ about the life ofNoor Inayat based on the book. It is full of imaginary conversations.

“I want it to happen in India too, but I have too little time to promote it personally. I want to see postage stamps of Noor Inayat and comic strip series on her life - like the Amar Chitra Katha,” Basu said.

She will be touring the East and the West coasts of US with her book, the result of three years of relentless research.

“Actually two years of compiling documents and a year of writing,” Basu says.

The inspiration was an innocuous newspaper clipping announcing 50 years of Noor Inayat's death. “There were five lines. ‘Noor Inayat, wireless operator, George Cross winner of Indian Muslim origin…’ It set me thinking and I started researching about her. It is difficult to believe that she went through all this,” recalls the author.

Eyewitness accounts, interrogation, records of war crime tribunals, Noor’s telegrams - and three letters that described what happened to Noor helped Basu thread the story.

Basu was helped by Noor’s family, which provided her with details of her childhood. “I interacted a lot with them,” she said.

“She was so beautiful that everyone, including her code maker, was in love with her,” says Basu.

Shyam Benegal is making “The Spy Princess” into a movie. However, Basu refuses to divulge details about the movie.

“The cast has not been decided and I will have to go through the final screenplay. I leave characters and the cast to your imagination,” laughs the author.
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Kosova Changing Reality
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By Bill Weinberg, "Missing on Kosova: the sufi voice?" - WW4 Report - Brooklyn, NY, USA
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Newly pseudo-independent Kosova, it seems, is serving as a sort of political Rorschach test, with commentators' views on its drive for self-determination shaped more by their views on other issues.

Days after left-wing Israeli dissident Uri Avnery noted Israeli reluctance to recognize Kosova lest it give some ideas to the Palestinians (and, worse yet, Israeli Arabs), comes a voice from the neocon end of the spectrum—finding that Kosovars and Israelis are natural allies.

Michael Totten writes in a March 20 piece for Commentary (also online at his website):
The State of Israel is divided on the Kosovo question: should the world’s newest country be recognized?

Some, like former Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, worry that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia might encourage Palestinians to make the same move. The small Balkan state, however, may have more in common with Israel than with the West Bank and Gaza.

Israelis, as Amir Mizroch notes in the Jerusalem Post, have excellent relations with the Kosovars. "Israel has an interest in helping to establish a moderate, secular Muslim state friendly to Jerusalem and Washington in the heart of southeast Europe," he writes.

Indeed, Kosovo is neither an enemy state nor a jihad state. Its brand of Islam is heavily Sufi, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Wahhabism and Salafism that inspire Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In other words, the Kosovars are domesticated good Muslims, who view the US as protector rather than hegemon.

[But] The reality may be more complicated—and interesting—than either side will acknowledge.

A March 13 article in the Tehran Times mentions some deep-rooted elements in the region which appear to exist outside the spectacularized jihad-vs-GWOT duality.

It notes that the Albania-based Sadi Cultural Foundation is establishing libraries and tekiyas—sufi gathering places— in Kosova and Macedonia "with the assistance of the Bektashi Order and is planning to set up more in the future."

(...)

[Picture: Kosova Map, "Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin."]
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

With a Large Number of Female Bauls
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By Amanur Aman, "Lalon Smaran Utsab held in Chheuria" - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Smaran Utsab (Memorial Festival) was held -starting from March 22- at the Lalon Akhra (den), Chheuria.

The programme highlighted the philosophy of Lalon [Lalon Shah Fakir (c.1774–1890)]. On the occasion, the akhra saw an influx of devotees and admirers from all over Bangladesh and overseas. An attraction of the event was a Baul Mela.

The festival is held annually to celebrate Dol Purnima. The celebration was introduced by Lalon. In a departure from the norm, a large number of female bauls took part at this year's festival.

The programme was inaugurated by the Divisional Commissioner of Khulna, Yunusur Rahman. Kushtia Deputy Commissioner Nepur Ahmed chaired the event. Among others, Lalon exponent Professor Abul Ahsan Chowdhury of Islamic University Kushtia; Superintendent of Police Kushtia, Moslehuddin Ahmed and Additional Deputy Commissioner Kushtia, Pulok Ranjan Saha spoke at the programme.

Among the bauls who took part at the Utsab was Rehana Fakirani, from Pakkol village, Daulatpur upazila. Rehana embraced the baul doctrine 30 years ago. According to her, “I was in search of peace, which I found in Lalon's philosophy. I experience deep devotion and tranquillity when I come to the akhra.”

Also noticeable were a large number of teenage bauls. Among them were Santo and Sanu who were wandering around playing ektaras. When approached, they said that they were taking dikkha (tutelage) from their Guru Nahir Saha.

The festival also attracted some visitors from overseas. Masud, from Malaysia, said that he was already acquainted with Lalon's songs and message.

Lalon's songs fuse two streams of spiritual thought -- Sufism and Vaishnav (the Krishna cult).
The link that connects these two schools of thought is mysticism.

Research shows that Dol Purnima has been celebrated for around 200 years. The festival is organised with donations from well-wishers.

Lalon used to organise the event by himself at his den. After his demise, his shishyas (disciples) carried on the tradition. They formed a committee called Mazaar Sharif and Seba Sadan Committee.

The committee initially organised various programmes at the akhra. However, they were driven out of the akhra in 1982 by the then government. Later, the Lalon Academy was formed to look into akhra affairs. In the course of time, the Utsab has turned into a government-initiated programme.

The bauls fervently follow their customs. According to their philosophy, every religion is on par and division of mankind in the name of religion is unacceptable.
Following Lalon's teachings, they prefer to shun worldly desires.

[About Baul music read also: (click and scroll down) http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=By+Sabrina+F.+Ahmad+]

[Pictures: Bauls perform Lalon songs at the festival in Chheuria. Photo: STAR
Tomb and Shrine of Lalon Fakir: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushtia_District].
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Man of Principles, a Sufi at Heart
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By Devirupa Mitra, "Ex-prisoner and man of ‘honour’ Gillani set to rule Pakistan" - IANS/Thai Indian News - Bangkok, Thailand
Monday, March 24, 2008

When he first met Benazir Bhutto, Makhdoom Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani called himself a lover of “honour”.

Three months after her killing, the journalism student-turned-politician who spent five years in jail is set to rule the world’s only nuclear Islamic power: Pakistan.

That he took charge as Pakistan’s 20th prime minister on a day the eldest of his four sons got married has only made the occasion doubly joyous - and hectic.
But Gillani, 56, has seen more frenetic days since he took to politics in 1978 when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, Zia ul Haq.

Years later, in 2001, another military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, the present president, had him jailed on corruption charges. A Sufi at heart, Gillani spent five years in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.
The distance from the prison to the Mughal-architecture inspired Prime Minister’s Secretariat in Islamabad may not be far. But it has been a long, long journey.

When his father was a minister in the 1950s, Gillani - his mother tongue is Seraiki, a language spoken by 14 million in Pakistan - studied in a school in Multan in Punjab. He earned a Masters in journalism from Punjab University in 1976. He went to England to study further.

Now a father of four sons and a daughter, Gillani entered politics by joining the Pakistan Muslim League in 1978. He was the Housing And Railway Minister in the Mohammad Junejo government. But he had a run in with Junejo and was out of the cabinet.

Later, in a book he wrote in jail, Gillani spoke out about his anger those days: “I was furious, and helpless at the same time… and then I made up my mind.”

He joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1988 after meeting Bhutto. “I said to her, there are three types of people in this world: lovers of honour, of wisdom and of wealth. I am of the first type, and that is all I want.”

And honour he got.

President Zia died in an air crash and the PPP returned to power in elections in which he created history by defeating Nawaz Sharif, the strongman of Punjab who is today propping him up as the prime minister.

Gillani became a minister in the first Bhutto government from 1988 to 1990. His reputation as a man of principles was secured in the second Bhutto term, from 1996, when he was the National Assembly speaker.

Though a loyalist, Gillani twice defied the Bhutto government to preserve what he said was the dignity of parliament. In 1994, he prevailed upon a reluctant interior ministry to produce jailed opposition members. Again in 1995 he refused the Attorney General's demand to slap cases against opposition MPs over bedlam in parliament.

Gillani refused to back Musharraf after he seized power in 1999. On Feb 11, 2001, the National Accountability Bureau arrested him over charges of illegal appointments when he was the parliament speaker.

Gillani was to later say: “Since I was unable to oblige them (government), they decided to convict me so that I could be disqualified and (shown as) an example for other political leaders (to be) good boys.”

He was released in October 2006. During his imprisonment, his mother and sister died.
Where did he get the courage to withstand the years in jail?

Gillani supporters credit it all to the family, which claims to be descendants of Sufi saint Syed Musa Pak, who originally hailed from Iran.

The family also fought for Pakistan. His grandfather and granduncles were signatories to the Lahore Muslim League resolution in 1940 that called for the creation of a separate state for Indian Muslims.

It is that country Gillani will preside over now.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Fountain of Musafir
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Staff report, "300-year-old library reopened in Aurangabad" - The Times of India - India
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Aurangabad: An ancient library dating back to 300 years was reopened after a gap of 40 years at the historical monument Water Mill in Aurangabad.

The library housing manuscripts and other precious and rare books like the Holy Quran written by the last Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, was thrown open recently to the public.

The library, at the 17th century site, once the biggest in Asia, was restarted with the efforts of the top officials of the Maharashtra Wakf Board.

According to the sources, it was Hazrat Babashah Musafir, a Sufi Saint migrated from Bukhara to Aurangabad in the 17th century who founded the library as well as the Water Mill. His shrine is within the Water Mill complex.

The library had around one lakh [100.000] pieces till Independence. In 70s it was shut down due to administrative reasons, following which many of the library's books were shifted to Hyderabad.

Currently, the library houses 3,500 books on various fields including history, law, medicine, Sufism, religion and philosophy in Arabic, in Urdu and in Persian languages, penned by philosophers, saints and scholars.

The cover of the Holy Quran has a coating of gold on both sides, which has been preserved till date. A holy book written in 1283 in four languages is also available.

The librarian, Mr Hafiz Abdul Jaleel said that Babashah Musafir founded the library with the main objective of spreading the knowledge.

"The library was considered to be the largest one in Asia during that time. Now, it has around 3,500 rare books. After reopening the library, many students, especially those who are engaged in research are thronging it" .

"There is no entry fee," he added.

[Picture: Panchakki Fountain (The Water Mill Complex), Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchakki]
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Monday, March 24, 2008

Azmat-e-Rasool Conference 2008
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By Shahnawaz Warsi - 09990656018 - New Delhi, India
Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Delhi Muslim Students Organization of India(MSO), AMU Unit, Organized its 3rd Grand Azmat-e-Rasool Conference on 15th March at 8.00 p.m in the evening in the Kennedy Auditorium of Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

MSO had started title Azmat-e Rasool after organizing various Annual Conferences with the Name of Jashn-e Ghousul Wara (R.A) in various parts of the Country.

Its Conferences have been graced by many Prominent Personalities of Islamic World including Allama Qamaruzzaman Khan Azmi, President of the World Islamic Mission in London, Mufti Mukarram Ahmad Shahi Imam Fateh puri Masjid Delhi, Maulana Obadullah Khan Azmi (M.P), Saeed Noori (Raza Academy), Abdul Hakeem Al Azhari (Sunni Markaz Kerala), Professor Akhtarul Wasey (Jamia Millia Islami), Prof Aleem Ashraf Jaisi (Urdu University Hyderabad), Prof Liaqat Hussain Moini (Dargah Ajmer) and Vice Chancellors of AMU like Dr.Mamoodurrehman, Prof V.K. Abdul Aziz.

The whole sole guidance of MSO has been its Patron and widely respected Scholar of Islam and Professor in Urdu department of Aligarh Muslim University, Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri Barkati who is Sajjada Nashin of Khankah of Marehra, district Etah (Uttar Pradesh).

This year programme was no different in its grandness and was a huge success as both boys and girls turned up in large number.The Conference strated with the recitation of verses of Holy Quran by Qari Jawed.

Mohammad Zaid (AMU) and Mohammad Qayamuddin (Jamia), Ateef Mian (Badaun), Dr. Syed Siraj Ajmali (AMU), all presented the gift of beautiful na'ats in the praise of prophet (S.A.W).

M.S.O AMU Unit President Mohammad Najmuddin Ahmed adressed the presents with words of welcome, then emphasising the need for promoting Sufi teachings of peace and Love in the Country; Guest of Honour Dr. Liyaqat Hussain Moini appealed the students to adopt the Sufi Way of spreading Islam.

He said that Sufis taught Love and respect towards other religions and this was the main reason that they could establish not only themself but made Islam a popular religion in this land where it was not present even in minor form.

Chief Guest of Conference, AMU VC Professor P.K. Abdul Aziz said that Muslim youths should follow our beloved Prophet's (S.A.W) example which he gave in each sphere of Life.

Touching the current issues he advised the students to be ready by their actions and deeds to counter the Western propaganda that Islam preaches terorrism and extremism. He praised MSO for organizing a well managed, disciplined and beautifull evening.

Speakers of the Conference and head of Darul Ifta Ashrafia University Mubarakpur, Azamagarh, who is also expert in modern islamic problems dealing with Jurisprudence, Mufti Nizamuddin, said that Allah Praises Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) and wishes that we must praise and respect him.

Paying emphasis on the dignity and love towards Holy Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) he said that unless a Muslim loves passionately the Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) even more than his life, property and relatives, his Imaan remains incomplete.

Honour and love of Holy Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) is Imaan. The best example of love and honour towards beloved Prophet (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) may be seen from acts and deeds of Sahaba-e-Kiram.

Prof Akhtarul Wasey, Head of Islamic Studies Jamia Millia Islamia, said that students must not forget the acts of Nabi kareem (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam) which were the best examples for the whole of the world. We must not get into an inferiority complex by Western concepts of secularism and tolerance as these are the hallmark of an Islamic state and we have proved them in our rule from Medina to India.

In Medina we established peace and non Muslims were given protection. We respected and gave honour to Old, Women, Children, Weak and Ill. We administered this Country for more than 800 years and we were in minority in this country and we are still in minority.

Isn't it a strong evidence that we are Peaceful and Islam was not spread by the sword ?Indonesia and Malyasia are Muslim Countries but we know that no Islamic warrior had to do war there. This is the beauty of Islam and that's why it is the fastest growing religion of the world.

Presiding the Conference, Professor Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri, who is a favourite among the students for his original and advising words, said that neither you should have inferiority complex regarding recent condition of Islamic world nor you should fear about future of Islam beacuse Islam has established itself in every adverse situation in most unbelievable circumstances at every nook and corner of the globe. Allah has Himself promised to keep faith in Him and success will wait for us open handed.

The thing we need to do is to have strong Iman in Allah and passionate love and respect towards beloved Nabi kareem (Sallalahoalaihiwassalam).

He advised students to be ready to face the real and practical world where one can be successful only when he has prepared himself. He told them to study hard and excel in their different fields because in this age the War will be fought not by Swords but by the Mind and those who will use their mind according to the most advanced techniques of science and technology will come out successful.

Shahnawaz Warsi, General Convener of M.S.O Delhi State, thanked all the speakers and guests. Ahmed Mujtaba Siddiqui beautifully conducted the Conference. General Secretary Shehzad ul Haq Shamsi,Vice President Mohammad Aslam, Joint Secretary Aftab Ahmed,Treasurer Pervez Alam Jawed Rizwi, Suhail Khan, and Imran, helped in organizing the programme.

The programme ended with the Salat o Salam and with distribution of Islamic books and sweets.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

There Is Beauty Here
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By Devyani Rao, "Aesthetics In A Time Of War" - Tehelka Magazine - New Delhi, India
Vol 5, Issue 12, March 29, 2008

A young painter rejuvenates art in Afghanistan, drawing on its rugged landscape and Sufi traditions

Its products can be demolished, but its spirit is indestructible. Creativity can flower in the most leached soil, even in a country ravaged by war and hardship, where precious art has been destroyed — as the Bamiyan Buddhas were — and where the religious orthodoxy places impossible restrictions on art.

Talented artists in Afghanistan are once again trying to popularise the appreciation of art and for inspiration, they look to their country’s stunning landscape and rich heritage.

Born in Hazarajat in 1979 into the ethnic Hazara minority, Yazdani Ali Khan is one of Afghanistan’s most prominent artists today.

After graduating with a fine arts degree from the University of Kabul, he was one of nine people from Kabul and Herat to be selected by the University of Tokyo for a Master’s Degree at its Centre for Fine Arts.

Today, his sketches are priced between $50 and $70, while his paintings go for a price that ranges between $100 to $1700, which means that his clients are primarily foreigners and non-resident Afghans; the average local citizen’s income ranges between $50 and $100 a month.

His professional trajectory has not been an easy one, what with the war and the religious extremism of the Taliban.

“The Mullahs think of art as a sin”, Khan laughs. During the Taliban regime, he had painted and taught art inside his house and since the depiction of live beings in paintings was prohibited, he could only draw inanimate objects or landscapes.

“One day, a Talib came to my house where I had kept a single portrait that I had done. He beat me and threatened to take me to jail,” says Khan. He could not sell his paintings at the time, and took up odd jobs to make money so he could continue buying his art materials.

He ran afoul of the extremists on another occasion, while exhibiting his work at Kabul University. One of the paintings had a tiny bird in it. “The Taliban came and cut it out,” Khan recalls.

Khan says that although art had virtually died out in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, things are slowly getting better. Indeed, at the Rumi and Sufi — two popular Afghani cuisine restaurants in Kabul, frequented by foreigners and aristocratic Afghans — one can see the works of a few other new artists apart from Yazdani Ali Khan.

Two of them are his brother, Hamid Yazdani, and his sister. She, however, uses just her surname to sign her work. Karim Sharifi, the manager of Sufi, says that although the Taliban forbade the painting of living beings, there is promise in the fact that, each year, the department of Fine Arts at Kabul University graduates several students.

Khan attributes much of his success to his teacher, Najibullah Musafir, an artist who encouraged him to develop his own style. Among his best-selling paintings are those of the Sufi — whirling dervishes whose movements, elegance and spirituality is captured beautifully in Khan’s work.

However, much of his work, and that of his contemporaries, is in the realist style, reflecting the current needs of the people of this war-torn land. It reminds them that there is beauty here, and a gentler side to life.

Rahman Assad, an Afghan businessman puts it well when he says, “The sensitivity to be able to find beauty around you and turn it into art at a time when the country suffers from insecurity, poverty and depression, is an important contribution towards society.

It reminds people that Afghanistan also has a beautiful and rich culture.”
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Saturday, March 22, 2008

To Center on Mevlana
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Staff report, "'The Call' of Mevlana echoes on ballet stage" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mersin State Opera and Ballet's newest production, "Çağrı" (The Call), a balletic take on the life story of Sufi saint and poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, premiered on Thursday night.

The score for the single-act ballet was composed by symphonic new age composer Can Atilla, who also wrote the music for "Mevlana Oratorio."

The oratorio had its world premiere in İstanbul last April, marking the 800th anniversary of the birth of the 13th century Sufi saint who advocated tolerance and peace through his philosophy.

"Çağrı," featuring a libretto by journalist-art critic Şefik Kahramankaptan, marks a first for Turkish ballet as it is "the first-ever original Turkish ballet to center on Mevlana in its entirety," Atilla told reporters ahead of the premiere in the Mediterranean province of Mersin.

The score of the ballet combines local and universal musical structures, also taking inspiration from 19th century Romantic ballet patterns.

"I composed around 25 themes for each character and event [depicted in the ballet]. … I also employed atonal and electronic music in some parts to be able to reflect avant-garde and abstract atmospheres," Atilla explained.

A CD featuring the ballet score is due to be released soon, he added, noting that there are also plans to stage the ballet abroad.

The world premiere of "Çağrı" -- directed by Lale Balkan and featuring choreography by Mehmet Balkan -- will be followed by a gala performance on March 27, while its third staging is scheduled for April 24.

[See the Ballet's web page (in Turkish) https://secure.dobgm.gov.tr/ESER/eser0445.htm
Go to the State Opera and Ballet webpage (in English) https://secure.dobgm.gov.tr/dobgm_en.asp]
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Friday, March 21, 2008

Not Revising, but Classifying
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By Gulnoza Saidazimova, "Islam: Turkish Theologians Revise Hadith, To Mixed Reactions" - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - Prague, Czech Republic
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Turkish religious authorities have been careful in presenting the Hadith Project, launched some two years ago.

The country's state committee on religious affairs, the Diyanet, reacted to last month's coverage of the Hadith Project by the BBC, "The Guardian," and some other Western media by insisting that the project should in no way be described as "reform", "revision," or "revolution."

A press release on February 29 by the Diyanet says the project's chief aim is to "revitalize the message of the Prophet, as was performed in the past, and offer these blessed tenets to humanity in the most accurate way."

The deputy head of the Diyanet, Mehmet Gormez, told islamonline.net that Turkey "not revising, but classifying" the Hadith -- a view echoed by Bunyamin Erul, a professor of Ankara University's Divinity Faculty who is a project member.

Erul says that there are "some mistakes in understanding" the Hadith. "So, we try to explain these sayings [based] on the rules of knowledge of the Hadith in a new style and [with] some new methodology."

A collection of thousands of sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, the Hadith is the second-most-important source in Islam after the Koran. Muslims' daily life is based on the Hadith rather than the Koran, which is believed to be God's direct message to Muhammad.

Many hadiths are believed to have been written a hundred years after Muhammad's death in 632.

Erul and 84 other scholars from Turkish universities involved in the Hadith Project reject literalist reading of the Koran and the Hadith. They believe each text should be taken within the historical context in which they were revealed.

The Diyanet says the project seeks to establish a connection between Hadith narrations and current thinking and scientific data. It adds that it has stayed away from "extreme interpretations" and avoided judging the past on the basis of today's categories.

Some Muslim clerics say the project is nothing new, and attempts to revise the Hadith have been made in the past.

Exiled Uzbek imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov is one of them. "Revising the hadiths sounds sensational," Nazarov says. "The Western media have made a big fuss about it. However, in fact, things are different, I believe. Commenting or interpreting the hadiths is a normal event that can take place anytime. The Koran and hadiths have been commented on and interpreted since they were revealed. Commenting and interpreting them in a given historical context can happen anytime and is nothing unusual."

On the other hand, Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at the London-based Chatham House think tank, tells RFE/RL that the process is "quite dramatic."

"It is a revolution in the sense that it is a state-sponsored process in Turkey," Hakura says. "It is a systematic, comprehensive, and quite accelerated process of change. So, although the idea of reinterpretation and adaptation is not new in Islam, the way Turkey is carrying it out in a systematic fashion is quite revolutionary."


Revising Women's Role
The project is expected to be completed by year's end and published in languages including Arabic, English, and Russian. It includes reinterpreting some misogynist statements in the Hadith.

Erul refuses to give details of revisions of the hadiths regarding women. He says the project members -- including female theologians -- believe the subject is "very important".

Hakura cites a particular example -- women's ability to travel without male accompaniment, which demonstrates that some notions Muslims have had on women are wrong. Hakura says the ban was not a religious one originally and was issued temporarily because of security reasons that pertained to circumstances that existed more than 1,000 years ago.

The proponents of the change cite the Prophet Muhammad's saying that he "longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone."

Feminist groups have embraced the idea of revising the ban that still remains in the Hadith and restricts the free movement of women in some Muslim countries.

Can Turkey Reform Islam?
Hakura gives another example: the common belief that a thief must be punished with the loss of his hand. He says such a punishment was practiced briefly in history and contradicts recent or current practice in some Muslim societies.

He says that in the Ottoman Empire, with institutionalized forms of punishment, thieves were treated with imprisonment and fines, not dismemberment.

(...)

When the project is completed, the Diyanet plans to send a new version of the Hadith, which will come in at least six volumes, and offer it at more than 76,000 mosques in Turkey and beyond.

[Picture: Istanbul. Photo AFP].
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Everything Is in Intention
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ABC Perth, "Bringing peace through music" - Perth, Australia
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Whirling Dervishes are probably the best known adherents of the esoteric branch of Islam called Sufism.

Not far behind must be a musician who is famous for playing the style of music the Dervishes dance to and for singing about the philosophy of the Sufis. He is the Turkish-born musician who now lives in the US, Omar Faruk Tekbilek.

Visiting the 720 ABC Perth studio, Tekbilek brings his flute-like instrument, called "ney in Turkish, nai in Arabic. It's a nine-piece bamboo - nine makes three and a half octaves possible," he explains.

Going on to explain the philosophy of his music, Tekbilek notes that "in Islam for many years, music was abandoned because in early times the music was used for earthly things - drinking… earthly joys - so music was banned. But with Rumi and the Sufi tradition, they see the real intention, because everything is in intention, if you use it with bad manners it becomes bad but if you use it for spiritual sake, to give relief and peace to people, it is good."

For Tekbilek, the spiritual aspect of music also comes through the actual playing of it. He has been quoted as saying "music is a short cut to God" and he expands on that by saying it's about "the awareness of breath, especially with this instrument, because the sound comes as we say 'hu' (as he breathes across the mouthpiece of the ney). Hu in Arabaic [is] God's name, He. So, from an early age I realised that I'm playing and I'm praying because I'm aware of my breath, I'm riding on my breath - breath riders."

The ride began when Tekbilek's uncle got him to open the uncle's music store in return for being taught how to play instruments. Within years he was mastering what he was playing and "at 12 years old I was a professional musician.

"In our town along the river, because it's a hot country, are all the coffee gardens and they make a stage, bring the musicians, [and] because of the instrument I play [there were] not too many [other players].

"[Then] in 1971, I went to the United States with a tour as a musician. I was very anxious because I read a lot about America before I went because America was the land of opportunity and also because I am a musician I was into jazz at that time. So, I was very excited."

Tekbilek was even more excited on that tour to then meet his then future wife and when he moved to be with her he formed his own band and started playing belly dance music in the many venues that play home to the artform in the US.

One day in 1988 a visitor to one of those clubs was Brian Keane, a producer who was looking for musicians to help him make the soundtrack to a film called Suleyman the Magnificent. It went so well "they offered us another album then we did six albums together…"

Since then Tekbilek has gone on to become one of the major figures in 'world music' and attempts to promote peace through his work. He bases this on the fact that in the Sufi tradition it is important to love the Lord and all of creation.

"There is no distinguishing between the people and nationality is illusion, we are all children of Adam," he notes. "So, now I have a band with a Greek keyboard player, an Armenian, and a guitar player from Israel, so we are showing as an example to people we can be peaceful, we can share common things."

[Picture: Sufi musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek plays his ney in the 720 ABC Perth studio. Photo: Matthew Perkins].
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Sufism and Contemporary Values
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[From the French language press]:

La Tarîqa Al-Qadiriya Al-Boutchichiya présente la deuxième Rencontre mondiale du Soufisme du 18 au 20 mars 2008 à Madâgh sous le theme :
« Soufisme et valeurs contemporaines»

Portail Ya Watani, "Maroc : Deuxième Rencontre Mondiale du Soufisme du 18 au 20 mars 2008" - Courbevoie, France - lundi 17 mars 2008

Madâgh (Morocco): The Tarîqa Al-Qadiriya Al-Boutchichiya presents "Sufism and contemporary values", the second World Meeting of Sufism to be held in Madâgh from 18 to 20 March.

This meeting aims to:

- Distinguish between authentic practices based on the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition and non authentic ones;

- Present an approach to Sufism in the modern world;

- Involve Sufism in the process of exchange and dialogue among civilizations;
- Enhance the contribution of Sufism in the literature and the arts.

Academics, researchers, intellectuals… this event brings together a wide range of specialists in Muslim spirituality from the whole world.

The meeting hopes to promote the dialogue among cultures through a Sufi approach best suited to the modern era.

Finally, this event will contribute to promote a spiritual message of peace, universality and altruism.
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Beautiful Princess
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[From the French language press]:

Il était une fois, dans la "Maison des bénédictions", une belle princesse, prénommée Noor (lumière) et parée de tous les dons. Hazrat, son père, venu des Indes, descendant d'un sultan de Mysore, lui enseignait la sagesse du soufisme, courant mystique de l'islam, dont il était un maître.
Par Francis Cornu, "Une altesse orientale au service de la Résistance" - Le Monde - Paris, France - lundi 17 mars 2008

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, named Noor (light), who lived in the "Blessed Home (Fazal Manzil)", and who was endowed will all kinds of gifts. Hazrat, her father, came from India and was a descendant of a Sultan of Mysore. He taught her the wisdom of Sufism, the mystic current of Islam of which he was a master.

The article is the review of a broadcasting on the life of Princess Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of Universal Sufism. She was a British agent in Nazi-occupied France and was awarded the George Cross by the British government while the French honoured her with the Croix de Guerre.

She had two brothers, who both became musicians and Sufi masters: Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and Pir Hidayat Inayat Khan.

[Visit the Sufi Order International, led by Pir Zia, the son of Pir Vilayat: http://www.sufiorder.org/

Visit the Sufi Movement International, led by Pir Hidayat, Noor's younger brother: http://www.sufimovement.org/work.htm]
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Modern Heroes, Positive Role Models
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By Marie-Helene Rousseau, "As Villains or Heroes, Muslims Star in New U.S. Comics" - NYU Livewire - New York, NY, USA
Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Some visitors who arrived recently at a New York airport caused quite a stir— and no wonder. They were using their superpowers to stop two planes from colliding.

But this Homeland Security emergency was part of a comic book tale, written and produced by a U.S.-educated Kuwaiti academic and publisher who hopes to send both U.S. and Middle Eastern readers a positive message about Islam.

[I realized that] “our part of the world was lacking modern-day heroes,” said publisher, Naïf Al-Mutawa, a Columbia Business School grad who also holds a Ph.D in clinical psychology.

Al-Mutawa’s superheroes are a multicultural gang, united by belief in a faith that routs evil. Each superhero embodies one of the 99 qualities that the Koran, the Islamic holy book, attributes to God.
There’s “Jabbar the Powerful,” and Noora, whose name means light, and who can see the light and darkness in everyone.

English and Arabic editions of “The 99” are sold in Middle East and in the United States, via al-Mutawa’s company, Teshkeel Media Group.
His books are among dozens of new Islamic-influenced comics and graphic novels circulating in the United States, home to six million Muslims.

But the message can vary. In his forthcoming graphic novel “The Infidel,” the Bronx-born son of Albanian Muslims makes Muslims the villains.

Author Bosch Fawstin, 37, calls himself an ex-Muslim. He says he wasn’t raised religious, beyond going to mosque once a year and avoiding pork. He attended art school at night, published his first graphic novel in 2004 and, inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, began writing “The Infidel.”

It focuses on two Muslim brothers, one who embraces fundamentalism and the other who battles extremism. Villains are killed in ways that readers may find disturbing, he admitted. “When I show some people the sketches, they turn away.”

Al-Mutawa’s superheroes battle enemies nonviolently, countering a Western image of Islam as inherently violent.

Al-Mutawa, 36, fell in love with comics during childhood summers at camp in New Hampshire. After college, he worked as a translator for torture survivors, and decided Muslims needed positive role models. That led to his founding Teshkeel Media, which takes its name from the symbols in Arabic script indicating pronunciation.

Besides “The 99,” the company distributes Arabic translations of other comic books, including the “Archie” series.

Other religions have also figured more prominently in the comics of recent years. “Buddha,” the comic book series about Buddha’s life, by the late Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka, was reprinted in hardcover in 2003.

“Devi,” published by UK-based Virgin Comics in 2006, offers a contemporary spin on the story of the Hindu warrior goddess.

In the renowned “Blankets,” (2003) novelist Craig Thompson illustrated his disenchantment with evangelical Christianity.

The same themes are creeping into mainstream comics: a 2002 edition of “New X-Men” introduced Dust, an Afghani Muslim super heroine clad in a body-covering burqa.
Religion is a new interest for comics, said Greg Garrett, author of a book on the subject: “Holy Superheroes: Exploring Faith and Spirituality in Comic Books.”

“Most comics, like most of our popular culture, homogenized their characters and edited out religious distinctions,” he said. As recently as the 1980s, readers were startled to see X-Men character Kitty Pryde wearing a Star of David. Muslims were non-existent, villanized or stereotyped, he suggested.

But because religion is a force in current events, it naturally informs comics, said Preston Hunter, the webmaster of Adherents.com, a 10-year-old statistical website Hunter said had a database of the religions of 2,000 comic book characters.

(Adherents says that Superman, for example, though hailing from the planet Ka-El, was raised in a Methodist household.) When Christian televangelist scandals made the news, many comic book villains appeared as Protestant preachers.

“The 99” is an amalgam of Eastern and Western ideas, said Al-Mutawa, drawing both on Western superheroes’ tendency to act individually, and Eastern comics’ reliance on teamwork (think Pokémon).

Characters work in teams of at least three, to solve problems together. Three is a significant number for another reason: it avoids offending Muslims who may have a problem with a man and woman being alone together. (Yet the comics aren’t necessarily conservative; not all superheroines, for example, wear the headscarf).

While raising funds to start his company, Al-Mutawa once showed potential investors another option available to Muslim kids: sticker books a Hamas supporter was selling that depicted suicide bombers.

[Pictures (clockwise):
-“The 99,” a series of comic superheroes meant to offer young Muslims positive modern role models, is one of a spate of recent comics exploring Islamic themes. Illustration: Courtesy of Naif al-Mutawa;

-Concerned that Islam had few modern heroes, Columbia University grad Naif al-Mutawa created a series of comic superheroes to provide positive role models to kids in the Middle East. Photo: Courtesy of Teshkeel Media Group.].
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‘Multiculturalism and Beyond’
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Staff Report, "German prof gives ‘Islam and West’ lecture at PU" -Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Punjab University (PU) Department of History arranged a lecture on ‘Multiculturalism and Beyond’ on Saturday.
Prof. Jamal Malik, the chairman of the Religious and Islamic Studies Department at University of Erfurt, Germany, delivered the lecture.

Professor Malik is a renowned scholar of Islamic studies, Sufism and the history of colonialism.

Keeping his focus on the Muslims living in Europe, he highlighted the possibilities of religious pluralism. He said that Europe, particularly Germany, had evolved out of three factors – dominance of the church, marginalisation of those differing with the church’s opinion, and monopolisation of secular modernity and unity of Christian Europe in the post-World War-II period.

“These are the three factors that are the cause of discrimination and cultural bias against three million German Muslims. Islam is inherently pluralistic, but the Western media has projected it as fundamentalist and aggressive” he said.

“These stereotypical images have given rise to extremism and ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and North America. In order to avoid further conflict, the Muslims and the West should promote interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding that lead to an alliance of civilisations,” he said.

After the lecture, the audience asked several questions. The seminar ended with a note of thanks by Dr. S. Qalb-i-Abid, Chairman of the History Dept.

[Picture of the Lecture from the University of the Punjab: http://www.pu.edu.pk/home/].
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Monday, March 17, 2008

“Ba Dar-e Darvish Darbane Naa-Bayd"
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By Abdul Manan, "Mian Mir’s 384th urs kicks off today" - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, March 16, 2008

All is set for the commencement of Mir Mohammad Moinul Islam’s, popularly known as Mian Mir, 384th urs from Sunday (today).

People from across the country have already reached the shrine of the Sufi saint. The urs celebrations will continue for two days.

Auqaf Additional Secretary Chaudhry Nisar told Daily Times on Saturday that the department had made all arrangements of the urs. Chador-laying ceremony would take place on Sunday to commence the urs, he added.

Mian Mir is regarded as one of the greatest Sufi saints of the Subcontinent. He belonged to the Qadiria order of the Sufis. He was famous for being a spiritual instructor to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also held Mian Mir in great esteem.

Dara Shikoh was a devoted disciple of the saint. His father, Shah Jahan, often requested the saint to pray for his empire.

Mian Mir was the earliest Sufi saint who promoted the Qadiria order in Lahore. He shunned worldly selfish men and proud high-ups of his time. He used to post his mureeds (disciples) at the gate of his house to stop rich people from entering.

Once Emperor Shah Jahan, with his attendants, came to pay homage to the great dervish. Mian Mir’s disciples stopped the emperor at the gate and requested him to wait, until permission was given. Shah Jahan felt insulted, but controlled his temper and composed himself. After a while, he was ushered into Mian Mir’s presence.

When the emperor came across the saint, he said, “Ba dar-e-darvish darbane naa-bayd (On the doorstep of a dervish, there should be no sentry).”The saint replied, “Babayd keh sag-e-dunia na ayad (They are there so that the materialistic, selfish men of the world may not enter).” The emperor was ashamed and requested forgiveness.

Mian Mir holds a legendary place in Sikhism and in Sikh history. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, often visited Lahore, the birthplace of his father – the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das – to meet his relatives. Once Guru Arjan called on Mian Mir. The two remained close life long friends, after the first meeting.

Mian Mir was thirteen years older than Guru Arjan. He invited Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib, one of the most sacred places for Sikhs. After a long life of piety, Mian Mir passed away on August 11, 1635 (seven Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1045 according to the Islamic Calendar), at the age of 88.

Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh led his funeral. He was buried near Alamganj, a place in the south of the city. His spiritual successor was Mullah Shah Badakhshi.

Mian Mir’s Mazar (mausoleum) attracts hundreds of devotees every day. Sikhs and Muslims equally revered the great Sufi saint of the Subcontinent.

[Picture: A calendar painting of Hazrat Mian Mir. Photo from: http://www.sikhspectrum.com/112002/mian_mir_tribute.htm].
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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Simply Trust
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By Nithya Caleb, "Fresh Prints" - New Ind Press - Chennai, India
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Like That is a compilation of Osho’s talks on Sufism.

Filled with his witty and incisive comments, the book explores the master-disciple relation and meaning of existence.

In one of his talks, Osho says, “ A Sufi master used to say to his disciples: ‘Simply trust. Do not the rose petals flutter down just like that?’”

A must-read for those who want to know more about the ‘inner self.’

Just Like That: Talks on Sufi Stories
By Osho
Penguin, Rs 295


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That's Where the Real Teaching Is
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By Todd R. Brown, "Muslim women counter stereotypes" - Inside Bay Area - Oakland, CA, USA
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Third annual Women's Milad Shareef symposium slated for Sunday

One stereotype pinned to Islam is the second-class status of women, illustrated by burqa-clad members of the fairer sex who stick out in the post-women's-lib Western world.

Instead of oppressing women, however, the "religion of peace" historically calls for an enlightened attitude toward female followers, said spokeswoman Shagufta Ahmad of Fremont's Islamic Educational and Cultural Research Center.

"Authentic Islam talks about the spiritual equality of men and women, how we're from the same soul and how we have equal potential to reach God," she said.

The group's third annual Women's Milad Shareef Conference is set for Sunday in Newark, with the goal of countering stereotypes and celebrating wives and daughters who learned directly from the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam in the 7th century.

"They were teachers, guides and mentors. They were in his company. There's a special blessing connected with those women," Shagufta said, noting they are regarded similarly to Roman Catholic saints. "The Arabic word (for saint) is 'wali,' which means friend of God."

Ahmad, a software engineer who lives in Fremont, said Milad Sharif translates to "noble birthday" and honors the birth of Muhammad. This year, the day begins at sunset Wednesday with a vigil.

Sunday's gathering is specifically for women, she said, so they can relax. "It just has a different energy when women are galvanized and organized just for them. You can feel it."

The nonprofit centers on Sufism, sometimes described by some as a mystical sect but really "the heart and soul of Islam," Shagufta said, one that focuses on inner spiritual development and avoiding sin.

The ideal is to achieve character in accordance with Ihsan, from the Arabic word hadith, meaning to make something beautiful.

Fatima Sharaaz Qadri, who chairs the women's group at the Islamic Educational and Cultural Research Center in Sacramento, called Sufism the "middle path" to God, in contrast with the stereotype of Muslims as extremists. The center was founded in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

"In every religion we have extremes," she said. "You cannot just combine everyone. You cannot just label them. I get a comment of 'al-Qaida' right away. We have to come up and tell people we are not like them."

About 300 women and children are expected to come to the conference from around the Bay, as well as from Yuba City, Sacramento and Fresno. Admission is free, and a complimentary dinner will be offered.

Poetry recitals will be given in Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, Punjabi and English. Sufi poet Rumi, the one most familiar to Americans, hit his 800th anniversary last year and still makes the best-seller list.

Ayyaz Yousaf Qadri of Hayward, the Fremont center's managing director, said the conference is one way to illuminate Sufi beliefs and to exchange cultural notions. For instance, pastor Floretta Kukoyi from Jesus House, San Francisco in Hayward is a planned speaker.

Ancient Sufi poets and saints, he said, "really embraced everybody to one fold" in travels that spread their religion throughout Asia, a spirit that he said informs the faith today.

"When you start working at the human level, that's where the real teaching is," he said.
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sufi Networks in the Islamic World
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Staff Report, "IPFW's Ohlander one of seven to receive Purdue library grant" - KPC Times Community Publications - Fort Wayne, IN, USA
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hitting the books will be part of Erik Ohlander's summer plans thanks to a recent grant from the Purdue University Libraries.

The Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) assistant professor of religious studies was awarded the Purdue University Library Scholars Grant, which will allow him to travel to conduct research for his current book project.

Ohlander was awarded $3,571 to conduct research on Arabic manuscripts in the Rare Books and Special Collections division of Princeton University's Firestone Library and at the Library of Congress.

His research will focus on issues pertaining to the city of Mecca as a nodal center in the formation of Sufi networks in the Islamic world during the later medieval period.

This grant, along with other awards, will advance his second book, "Sufis of Mecca: Mysticism and Transregionality in the Later Medieval Islamic World." His first book, "Sufism in an Age of Transition: 'Umar al-Suhrawardi and the Rise of the Islamic Mystical Brotherhoods," was released Feb. 15.

Ohlander was one of seven faculty members from across various Purdue departments to receive this grant, which helps faculty members access unique collections of information not available at Purdue. The award covers transportation, lodging, meals, and fees charged by the library or other collection owner.
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Transmission of Knowledge
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[From the French language press]:

Initié dans le cadre de la manifestation «Alger, capitale de la culture arabe 2007», le vernissage de l’exposition «Béjaïa centre de transmission du savoir» a eu lieu jeudi soir au Palais de la Culture Moufdi Zakaria de Kouba [Alger].

Par Lamia S., "Une exposition sur Béjaïa" - La Nouvelle République, Alger, Algérie
Dimanche, 9 mars 2008

Initiated in the framework of "Algiers, Capital of the Arab Culture 2007", the opening of the exhibition «Béjaïa Centre for the Transmission of Knowledge» took place on Thursday night at the Palace of Culture Moufdi Zakaria of Kouba [Algiers].

This is an impressive exhibition, which will continue until April 10th, with manuscripts in the Amazigh [Berber] language and manuscripts from the National Center of Prehistoric, Anthropological and Historical Research (CNRPAH).

Included are several "relics" from scholars like Ibn Khaldun, Al-Gubrini, Ibn Raqqam -author of the Astronomical Tablets- the historian Ibn Hammad and Sidi Boumediene, a known and recognized authority of the Maghrebi Sufi movement.

[Visit the Palace of Culture Moufdi Zakaria of Kouba, Algiers (in French and Arabic) http://www.palaisdelaculture.dz/].
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sufi support for legislation opposing an American attack on Iran
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"Sufi support for legislation opposing an American attack on Iran" by Dr. Alan Godlas (based on and including an announcement issued via email by authors at www.justforeignpolicy.org ). (Now including active links!)


Anyone interested in Sufism should read and act on the advice below (concerning the importance of opposing the Bush administrations' efforts to attack Iran) in general because Sufis --and Muslims as a whole, since the vast majority of Sufis are Muslims-- oppose actions that will result in the deaths of innocent people. More specific reasons are as follows:

1) There are a lot of Sufis and a majority of innocent (and U.S. loving) people in Iran who would die if the U.S. attacked Iran,

2) probably at least some of my students (who have studied Sufism) and a lot of innocent Americans who are going to go into (or are currently in) the American armed forces might die in such a war in Iran;

3) a lot of Sufis, sympathizers to Sufism, and innocent people in Israel might die in a retaliatory Iranian attack on Israel, which would be very likely if any Iranian military capabilities survived the initial American onslaught; which survival is a distinct possibility, given the difficulty in completely eliminating all Iranians' military capabilities--as seen by the difficulty the U.S. has experienced in eliminating all opposition in Iraq;

4) given that a very recent study showed that Iran's so-called nuclear threat to us and Israel is minimal in contrast to the damage that we would create if we attack Iran (See "U.S. Finds Iran Halted Its Nuclear Arms Effort in 2003" --N.Y. Times, Dec. 4, 2007 tinyurl.com/2tlcnw.

So, the message below is an attempt to mobilize support against the Bush administration's desire to attack Iran. It does not appear to exist on the web, on news sites, or in a blog, hence I am posting it here rather than simply posting a url (which I could not find).

-------- Here is the message:

In these final months of the Bush presidency, let's keep up the pressure against war with Iran.

Take action.

Dear Supporter of a Just Foreign Policy,

The Bush administration has forced out a top admiral who had widely been seen as an opponent of attacking Iran. (note 1) Now is the time to work harder against another war.

Last week, an article in Esquire called Admiral William Fallon the Bush administration's primary obstacle to an attack on Iran and an advocate of serious diplomacy.(note 2) His departure raises serious questions about the administration's intentions.

We just spent a month on the road with author Stephen Kinzer talking and meeting about Iran, and we have several ideas of what can be done to step up efforts against war. (note 3) Thanks to the tour, a few Senators and Representatives in Washington see the same urgency we do. Can you help us build momentum for legislation (note 4) introduced last year that would prevent the President from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization?

www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/nowaroniran.html

We met personally with Senator John Kerry last week, and he reaffirmed his active support for this legislation. Senator Hillary Clinton, in a press release following Admiral Fallon's resignation,(note 5) urged support for it.

We will continue working closely with key Members of Congress to get this bill passed. To make this work, it is crucial that your Members hear from you, their constituent.

www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/nowaroniran.html
Thanks for all you do for a just foreign policy,
Patrick McElwee, Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen and Sebastian Anti
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

References:
1. "Fallon falls: Iran should worry," Gareth Porter, Asia Times, March 13, 2008

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JC13Ak01.html

2. "The Man Between War and Peace," Thomas P.M. Barnett, Esquire, March 5, 2008
http://www.esquire.com/features/fox-fallon

3. The Folly of Attacking Iran Tour was a big success, attracting large audiences and press attention across the country. Thanks to all of you for your support. If you were unable to make it to an event, you can see some of what Stephen Kinzer had to say in his opinion piece that appeared in the Baltimore Sun yesterday:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.iran12mar12,0,5070600.story


4. The bill, introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), carries the bill number S. 759 and is titled, "To prohibit the use of funds for military operations in Iran." The full text is here:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:s.759:


A companion bill, H.R. 3119, has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Udall. The full text of that bill is here:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:h.r.3119:


5. In a statement released Tuesday, March 11, 2008, Senator Clinton said:
Admiral Fallon was a sensible voice within the Pentagon on the need to have a multi-pronged strategy towards Iran that included support for engaging Iran. Admiral Fallon was a voice of reason in an administration which has used inflammatory rhetoric against Iran. I am asking that the Senate Armed Services Committee hold hearings into the circumstances surrounding his departure. I will also urge my colleagues to join me in supporting Senator Webb's legislation requiring the Administration to come to Congress before taking military action against Iran.

Also the author of the above message notes the following for anyone who writes a letter to the administration:

I would emphasize to the Bush administration, as I have before, that it has no authority to take this nation to war against Iran, and I again urge the Bush administration to pursue diplomacy, including direct talks with Tehran, at its earliest opportunity.

Full text of Senator Clinton's statement is available at:http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=294635&&

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With Each Other Not Against Each Other
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[From the French language press]:

Pour sa onzième édition, Le Festival du Mawlid bâtit un pont entre l'Europe et le monde musulman, à travers une de ses composantes essentielles, le soufisme.

Yabiladi, France - mercredi 5 mars 2008 - Communiqué de presse

In its offering participants an experience in Sufism, a key aspect of Islam, the eleventh the Festival of Mawlid is intending to build a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world.

Open to all, this festive event is an ideal opportunity to share a repertoire of sacred music and experience something traditionally held in the privacy of Sufi Brotherhoods. For the first time together on stage in Paris, they offer the public a heritage shaped by centuries of practice.

The Festival of Mawlid contributes to a better understanding of a multicultural society.

It is resolutely focused on peace. It promotes a vision that the future is being built by all of us: with each other and not against each other.

By not focusing on conflict between groups and promoting the commonality of different cultures, AISA and Terres d'Europe -the associations promoting the Festival of Mawlid- sow hope for the world of tomorrow.

Saturday, March 22 - 8.00 pm
Espace Reuilly 21, rue Hénard Paris 12e - Métro Montgallet
Admission: 20 €
Infoline : 06 16 93 04 92 - 06 62 15 70 98 - mawlid08@free.fr

[Visit the website of AISA Association Internationale Soufie Alâwiya (in French) http://www.aisa-net.com/index00.htm].
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For the Benefit of the Current Society
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By Mawassi Lahcen, "Sufi Culture Festival celebrates peaceful tradition, Fez history" - Magharebia - USA

The second Sufi Culture Festival, to be held in April in Fez, will offer a variety of art exhibits, lectures, and concerts on the themes of peace and tolerance

Casablanca: The historic city of Fez will host the second Sufi Culture Festival from April 17th-24th, offering visitors a distinguished spiritual atmosphere in which to explore principles of dialogue, tolerance and peace.

This year's programme features artistic soirées open to the public every night, with the participation of music bands from four continents. Each afternoon will feature Sufi Tariqas (schools) from around the world. In the mornings, intellectual seminars will discuss issues related to women, the environment, entrepreneurship and international relations through the spiritual and moral values of Sufi Islam.

In a statement to Magharebia, Festival Coordinator Mr Faouzi Skali said Sufism can fill a gap in the spiritual involvement of young people who are thirsty for religion.

"The absence of spiritual involvement for young people in their search for religion gives way for political ideologies that misunderstand the social function of religion, and attract the young people to the trap of extremism and terrorism," he said.

Mr Skali explained that the aim of the Fez Sufi Culture Festival is to renew Sufi practices, especially spiritual education in the values of tolerance, solidarity, and peace.

"It is true that we need to refresh memory and to benefit from the sources of heritage," he said, "but our aim in this Festival is to finalise the role of Sufism in the work that it can do today for the benefit of the current society; to live the Sufi experience as a lively, future-oriented experience; and to adapt its principles to the current needs of young people and societies."

The second Sufi Culture Festival coincides with the 1200th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Fez, considered the spiritual capital of Morocco. Al Karaouine University will hold an exhibition at the festival to showcase its treasure of manuscripts.

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[Picture: A Sufi ensemble performs outside the Fez medina. Photo by: Mawassi Lahcen]

[See also: http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=Khadija].
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Sufism Plays an Important Role
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ECMI, "Ethnic Groups in Georgia #5 - Kists" - The Georgian Times - Tbilisi, Georgia
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In our series on the wealth of ethnic groups in Georgia, this week features the Kists. The materials on the ethnic groups are provided by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and are extracted from the book, Georgia – An Ethno-Political Handbook by Tom Trier & George Tarkhan-Mouravi.

With support from the foreign ministries of Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, the book will be published by the end of this year in a Georgian and an English edition.

Population in Georgia: 7,110 (Census 2002), and 1,150 Kist and Chechen refugees from Chechnya in Pankisi.
Total population: Approx 8,000.
Settlement: Kists are compactly settled in Pankisi Gorge, Akhmeta district; a few live in Tbilisi and other bigger cities.

Who, What, Where
Kists in Georgia (self-designation: Vainakh, Kistebi in Georgian) mostly live in villages in the Pankisi Gorge, and are descendants of Chechens and Ingush, who settled there from their native regions in the North Caucasus in the 18th-19th century.

The newcomers soon adopted the ethnic label Kist, which was used by Georgians as a generic term for Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) people. As a result of the separation and isolation of the Kists from their ethnic kin in the north, the group in Georgia developed its own characteristics and gradually incorporated many cultural and linguistic elements from its Georgian neighbors.

Today, most Kists identify themselves as Georgians and/or as a separate group closer related to the Chechens than to the Ingush. Kists are well integrated in Georgia, and the vast majority is bilingual in Kist and Georgian.

Due to rural-urban migration in the Soviet period and after Georgian independence, there are also a few hundred Kists in Tbilisi as well as in other large cities. Some Kist and Chechen refugees initially settled in Pankisi have also found their way to Tbilisi.

A Bit of History

In Soviet times, three ethnic groups, Kists, Ossetians and Georgians peacefully coexisted in Pankisi Gorge. There were no reported cases of ethnically-based tension or violence. However, this situation changed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Obviously, the general political and economical crisis also impacted on the situation in Pankisi Gorge, and at the same time the demographic situation has been in flux since the early 1990s. As a result of the conflict over South Ossetia (1990-92) and also fuelled by the conflict over the Prigorodniy district culminating with the North Ossetian-Ingush war in 1992, a part of the Pankisi Ossetians left the gorge for North Ossetia or other parts of Russia as refugees. The emptied houses were taken over by Kists and property conflicts arose between Kists and those Ossetians who remained. Simultaneously, relations between Kists and Georgians worsened, mainly due to Georgian discontent with the participation of Chechen voluntary fighters against Georgians in the Abkhaz War (1992-93).

The situation further deteriorated after the influx of refugees who fled the Russian-Chechen wars. Some 7,000 refugees arrived during the beginning of the second Chechen-Russian conflict in 1999-2000. There were two groups of refugees from Chechnya: native Chechens, and Kists, who had migrated to Chechnya during the Soviet or early post-Soviet periods. Some of the Kist refugees possessed houses or land in the gorge and most of them had relatives there. These factors contributed to the relatively easy integration of the Kist refugees, whereas the proper Chechen refugees faced more difficulties having no direct support base in the local Kist community.

With the refugees also came Chechen fighters (boyeviki), who used the Pankisi Gorge for training and reorganization of their units as well as a base for sporadic incursions into Chechnya for attacks against Russian military forces. Also some non-Chechen Islamist warriors (Jihadis) were reported to have taken part in military activities in Pankisi in support of the Chechen fighters. With the increasing presence of fighters and the general socio-political destabilization of the region, Pankisi also fell under the influence of criminal groups and became a transit region for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, including kidnapping. In this period, Georgian authorities failed to restore order due to lack of proper trained police forces, while at the same time corrupt officials were involved in the criminal activities.

Hence, from 2000 Pankisi Gorge earned a reputation internationally as a nest for criminal activity and terrorism. However, in 2002 the US government initiated a program to support the Georgian Army, and from 2003 the situation in Pankisi has greatly stabilized.

The region no longer provides shelter for Chechen fighters and rule of law has returned to Pankisi Gorge although the gorge’s reputation internationally as a hotbed for crime and guerilla warfare lingers on.

Since the early phase of the war in Chechnya, the number of refugees has now considerably decreased and today there are only around 1,150 refugees in Pankisi, as some have been resettled in third countries, others have returned and yet others have become Georgian citizens.

Language, Religion and Traditions

The Kist vernacular belongs to the Vainakh language group, which is part of the larger North East Caucasian (or Nakh-Dagestanian) language family. The Vainakh languages consist of Chechen, Ingush and Bats (Tsova-Tush), while Kist is not considered a separate language but merely a Chechen dialect with strong influences from the Georgian language.

Vainakh is the historical self-designation of the speakers of the languages and means “Our People”.

As Kists gradually moved to Pankisi in the 19th century, as there was a parallel process of settlement of Georgians to the gorge, resulting in close interaction between Kists and Georgians. Already in the late 19th century, Kists and Georgians culturally featured many similarities. Kists readily embraced Georgian traditions, such as the Supra (traditional Georgian feast), wedding ceremonies, funeral rituals etc, but at the same time, they preserved many elements of their original Vainakh traditions. In spite of the significant linguistic integration of the Kists, the group preserved their native language and traditional Vainakh toponymical names. With the establishment of schools in Pankisi Gorge in the early Soviet period, the language of education was Georgian, not Chechen, and this has been the case ever since.

As a result of Russification policies, the majority of Kists became Christians in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, but today practically all Kists are Sunni Muslims. Kists belong to the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith, but the religious practices of the Kists (like those of the Chechens and Ingushs) are often not in harmony with Sunni dogmas.

The Kists’ practice of Sunni Islam can be considered syncretic, fused with pagan and Christian elements.

At the same time, Sufism, a mystical, psycho-spiritual tradition practiced also in Chechnya, Ingushetia and among other North Caucasian people based on religious brotherhoods (Naqshbandiya and Qadiriya), plays an important role in the religious life of many Kists.

It is also true that while most Kists consider themselves to be Muslim, at least until recently many were largely indifferent to Islamic teachings, having been significantly influenced by Soviet secular policies or before to Georgian Christian practices and the Pagan traditions of neighboring Georgian Khevsurs and Pshavi mountaineers.

Many would eat pork, drink alcohol or sacrifice animals near the ruins of Christian churches, give their children Christian names, marry non-Kists, and profess other traditionally non-Muslim practices.

Since 2000, Wahhabism - a puritan and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim reformist movement originating from Saudi Arabia – had gained some support among Kists, mostly among the youth, although to a much lesser extent than in Chechnya.

Wahhabism mostly appeals to the male youth in Chechnya and has gained considerable popularity in pace with the wars and political radicalization in Chechnya. Today, there are four mosques of modern Sunni Islam in the gorge built in 1996-2001 and also one Wahhabi mosque in Duisi.

Economy

Traditionally, the population of Pankisi gorge has lived by means of agriculture and animal breeding. In the past, trade was an important activity, as the gorge provided a geographical link between Kakheti and Tusheti. After the introduction of the Soviet regime, kolkhozes (collective farms) were introduced in all settlements of Pankisi. Agriculture and animal breeding remained the main basis for the local economy in the Soviet period, but after introducing market economy and the abolishment of collective farms, neither agriculture nor animal breeding are sufficiently profitable for the local population to sustain themselves, and these traditional fields of work have been complemented by petty-trade activities.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deprivation of the primary means of income as elsewhere in Georgia contributed to a process of migration to urban centres or to other countries. Kists generally migrated and settled in Grozny in Chechnya or Nazran in Ingushetia in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, where they often established their own small business, although many later returned as refugees. Today, the traditional subsistence farming can no longer fulfill the household’s needs in Pankisi. Hence, the major economic activities in the region are now based on petty trade.
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