Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eloquence and Calligraphy

TT Art Desk, "Historical manuscript bearing Imam Ali’s devotions published in Iran" - Tehran Times - Tehran, Iran
Saturday, July 26, 2008

A book carrying devotions attributed to Imam Ali (AS) was published by the Astan-e Qods Razavi Center for Artistic Creations last week.

An addition of the historical book, which has been calligraphed by Master Mir Ali Heravi in 1533 CE, was unveiled during a ceremony at the Imam Ali (AS) Religious Arts Museum in Tehran on Thursday.

The original version of the book, which is also known as “Heravi Devotions”, is keep at the Astan-e Qods Razavi Museum and Library in Mashhad.

Master Gholam-Hossein Amirkhani, who has done the calligraphy for the book’s preface, and Mohammad Jafar Yahaqqi, professor of the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad who has written the preface, some officials from Astan-e Qods Museum, and a number of Iranian cultural figures attended the ceremony.

“This is the first time a book from a manuscript in the museum has been published by Astan-e Qods Razavi Center for Artistic Creations,” Hossein Abedi a member of Astan-e Qods Museum board of directors said.

In the future, according to Abedi, the center plans to publish three versions of the Holy Quran written by Safavid-era calligrapher Alireza Abbasi, a selection of verses from the Holy Quran with calligraphy by Ibrahim Sultan (1394–1435), and the Divan of Hafez written by the 18-century calligrapher Abdolmajid Taleqani.

“‘Heravi Devotions’ is a complex of arts,” Yahaqqi said. “The eloquence of Imam Ali’s words and nastaliq calligraphy of an artist like Mir Ali Heravi have turned the book into one of world’s most valuable manuscripts,” he added.

The ceremony went on with a film clip depicting the printing process of the book. Afterward Amirkhani criticized the Astan-e Qods Museum and Library for not providing public access to manuscripts kept the museum and library.

“The museum has restricted public access to its treasury for years. Publishing the precious manuscripts is a cultural action that should have been carried out long ago,” he noted.

“Heravi was an artist, who was the epitomy of Persian calligraphy who distanced himself ahead of other forerunners of the art,” Amirkhani explained.

“Although Heravi wrote the book when he was a tyro, the calligraphy of the book well illustrates the novelty of his art,” he added. Two editions of the book were presented to Amirkhani and Yahaqqi during the ceremony.

[Photo: Master Gholam-Hossein Amirkhani holds an edition of a book carrying devotions attributed to Imam Ali (AS) during a ceremony at the Imam Ali (AS) Religious Arts Museum in Tehran on July 24. The original version of the book has been calligraphed by Master Mir Ali Heravi in 1533 CE. (Mehr/Majid Asgaripur)].

God Is Loving / وهوالودود






Yale Center for Faith and Culture Reconciliation Program - Yale Divinity School - New Haven, CT, USA
Thursday, July 31, 2008


Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims

News Conference Live Webstream begins at 11:30am, EST
Click on the title of this article

Videos of the conference are posted online on the Yale Divinity School webcast page
Click on this link http://www.yale.edu/divinity/video/commonword/video.shtml

[Pictures (from left to right): Senator John Kerry; H.R.H. Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad Bin Talal with Prof. Dr. Miroslav Volf; Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric. Photos: Yale Divinity School - Yale University].

It Contradicts the Fundamental Message of Islam

By M. Serajul Islam, "Religious terrorism and Bangladesh" - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Bangladeshi journalist working for a foreign radio station warned me recently against being complacent about Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh.

I argued that despite its overwhelming Muslim population, Bangladesh has historically rejected political parties that have used Islam in elections.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the best known among such parties, has never won even a handful of seats in elections, achieving the best of 14 seats in the 2001 elections as a result of its alliance with the BNP.

I also argued that despite being predominantly Muslim, Bangladesh is the most liberal South Asian country where Islam has been influenced by Sufism with the least incidence of communal violence that are so endemic in other parts of this sub-continent.

Its liberal traditions notwithstanding, the two mainstream political parties earned for Bangladesh the label of a country that supports Islamic terrorism during the last BNP term. The BNP played the major part by allowing Jamaat-e-Islami indulgence to put a terrorist infrastructure in place as a payback for its votes that helped it win a 2/3 majority in the 2001 elections.

The Jamaatul Muhahadeen Bangladesh (JMB) terrorists, who earned the maximum notoriety, was nurtured by BNP top leadership to help its leaders in northern Bangladesh win territorial control over the extreme leftist elements there and also to please Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Awami League did its part by publicising abroad this evil nexus, labeling Bangladesh as Taliban that countries and interested groups abroad used to identify Bangladesh as a supporter of Islamic terrorism.

The Indian media also played a role in projecting Bangladesh in a bad light, identifying it as a “locus of Islamic terrorism”.

The former US Ambassador Harry Thomas had spared no efforts to warn the Government about the growing Frankenstein. India watched developments with understandable concern and conveyed these to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her visit to New Delhi in March 2005.

Rice told the press during the visit that Bangladesh could become the next Afghanistan and that India and USA would look after Bangladesh. The BNP Government remained unmoved and termed the concern over the Islamic fundamentalist forces as “media hype”.

Encouraged, these forces carried out nearly 500 simultaneous bomb blasts all over the country in August, 2005 that proved that these terrorists had a terrorist infrastructure in place and had also infiltrated the country's intelligence although the blasts caused little damage and just two deaths.

Khaleda Zia cut short an official visit to China and returned home but did little to contain these forces except issue arrest warrants against leading JMB terrorists that were not pursued seriously.

The BNP finally acted only after the US Assistant Secretary Christina Rocco visited Dhaka in January 2006 and delivered a harsh ultimatum to the Government to rein in the JMB terrorists.

Within weeks, Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai with 4 others were incarcerated in a make believe manner that left little doubt that they had escaped being arrested earlier due to state sponsorship. In jail, these JMB terrorists were treated as VIPs, leading to speculation that they would be released at an appropriate time.

The politics of the country then slipped into anarchy, leading to 1/11 when fate intervened.

The JMB terrorists were executed by the Caretaker Government after due legal process but no act of revenge followed that went to prove that AL accusations and Indian media reports that Bangladesh was infested with Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists was exaggerated and largely untrue.

During this period, United States also did not find any evidence that Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalist parties had Al Qaeda connections. Their concern was to contain the Islamic terrorism at home that was growing due to BNP Government's sponsorship.

Islamic terrorism has become benign with the fall of the BNP Government at a time when internationally Islamic terrorist groups are weakening. Newsweek in its June 9th edition under the caption “New Face of Islam” writes that within the Islamic world, a critique of radicalism is growing.

Moderate Islamic scholars who were silent before and after 9/11 are now beginning to speak out against Islamic terrorism. Clerics who had supported Bin Laden are now distancing themselves from him. Countries that have tolerated Islamic radicalism like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now encouraging moderation.

In Saudi Arabia, 10,000 Government paid imams have been asked by King Abdullah to restrain their zealous excesses.

A new realisation is now afloat in the Islamic world that the “apocalyptic notion of holy war” that Laden had promoted contradicts the fundamental message of Islam, which is peace.

Al Qaeda is now on the run in Iraq, its haven after US invasion of Afghanistan, where the US forces are winning. As a result of worldwide hunt, Al Qaeda is no longer in any position to encourage international terrorism as its finances and infrastructure have been considerably weakened.

These positive developments offer Bangladesh a great opportunity to re-establish its liberal traditions.

The mainstream parties have the most critical role to play. The BNP must not repeat its past mistakes and must rein in Jamaat, with whom it is again very likely to form election alliance. It should also not allow Jamaat to nominate anyone for the next general elections with blood on its hands for its role in 1971, knowing how much the people detest the war criminals.

The AL must fight Islamic radicalism in the country politically and refrain from giving the international media wrong impression about Bangladesh by talking of our internal politics abroad as it did during the BNP era.

It must also be consistent in dealing with Islamic fundamentalist forces. It has not fully explained to the people its election alliance with Khelafat-e-Majlish, a fundamentalist Islamic party that supports the fatwa, just before the postponed 2007 elections as well as its alliance during the first BNP term with the Jamaat to force the BNP out of power. It also needs to explain why during its tenure it did not deal with the war criminals.

The role of the civil societies and sector commanders of our liberation forces is critical here. Those who committed war crimes in 1971 should be tried under law as murderers and rapists, remembering that there is no statute of limitation here.

Those in Jamaat-e-Islami who are war criminals must be brought under the law. Jamaat's opposition to Bangladesh's independence is a political issue and must be dealt politically.

Unfortunately, in pursuing the war criminals, these groups have called for banning Jamaat as a political party, only indirectly labeling it as a party of war criminals. They have also used the secularism card in seeking to ban Jamaat because of its belief in Islam, claiming secularism as fundamental to our statehood.

In doing so, they have overlooked that democracy gives all political parties the right to address their beliefs to the people directly who as sovereign authority accept or reject them.

They have also insensitively set aside the importance of Islam as a way of life both in literal and spiritual sense to majority of Bangladeshis. Furthermore, the belief in Islam that helps people retain mental sanity in the face of extreme poverty and unbearable natural and manmade calamities that they face regularly has also been over-looked.

Islam based parties, particularly Jamaat, may thus be getting the benefit of over-kill with the secular card because a lot of people feel that those attacking the Jamaat are also targeting Islam.

Sadly, the detested war criminals may also be getting the reprieve by moves to ban Islam based parties from politics. The fact that the groups seeking to ban Jamaat are also supporters of the Awami League is also taking the wind out of the sail for trial of the war criminals with which few people differ.

Just as the West has made the mistake of putting Islam in the dock, because of Al Qaeda, those seeking trial of war criminals have similarly erred by bringing Islam into the equation. This could eventually lead to sympathy for Islamic parties arising from the perception that Islam is in peril.

For tackling Islamic fundamentalism, these groups must therefore ensure that they do not put Islam and secularism in conflict for there is no reason to do so.

Because of Bangladesh's liberal traditions and that in case of a conflict, Islam is going to get the majority nod over secularism.

History, internal politics and recent developments in the Islamic world do not therefore place Bangladesh in imminent danger of a takeover by fundamentalist Islamic forces. These notwithstanding, the next elected Government must bear in mind that there are 9000 Government registered madrasas and 15,000 Qawami madrasas and Islamic fundamentalist parties like Jagrato Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, Al-Harakat-ul-Islamia, Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami and Al-Khidmat.

These institutions and parties would need strict surveillance by the intelligence agencies to keep them on track which should not be difficult if the next Government is sincere about it.

Whether Bangladesh becomes a haven for international Islamic terrorists and whether Islamic fundamentalism plagues our politics will thus depend largely on the mainstream political parties and the civil societies.

The Islamic parties by themselves have the ability to cause disturbances but little possibility of doing much more. It is time that the mainstream parties and the civil societies work together in the interest of the nation and ensure our liberal Islamic heritage.

There is no reason for complacency about Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh but no reason to cry wolf either.

The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador and Director, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.

A Critical Juncture

By Asim Javed "Spiritual leader for combating extremism" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chairman Sufism Pakistan and Sajjada-Nashen of Draga Hazrat Syed Jalal Din Sorkh Posh, Syed Nafees-ul-Hassan has said that extremism and terrorism should be eliminated through teachings of spiritual leaders.

Syed Nafees-ul-Hassan was talking to The Post in a Forum on Thursday. He said that Pakistan is passing through a critical juncture and it is need of hour to combat terrorism and extremism in the light of teachings of Hazrat Data Gunj Buksh, Hazrat Moeen Din Chishti, Hazrat Bakhtair Kaki, Hazrat Mian Mir, Baba Bullhai Shah, Waris Shah Hazrat Mian Mir, Shah Jamal, Mooj Dirya and Hazrat Shahbaz Qalandir.

Dilating on the history of Uch Sharif, he maintained that it was the land of old civilization after Harappa and Moinjo Daro.

According to international archaeologists' report it existed 5000 years ago. Due to it's historical importance, UNESCO included it in World Heritage in 2004. But it had become a place to reckon with after setting up Jammia Ferozia for spiritual education in the subcontinent.

A large number of religious and spiritual scholars obtained education from there.

Some elements of the society were earning bad name to Jihad by committing suicidal acts of terrorism. Islam abhors any type of activities which caused destruction and take life of innocent people, he added.

When asked about Mushaikhs and Sufis who did not seem to be united, he sharply reacted saying that the different sects of Muslim should show unity and harmony to eliminate the extremism and sectarianism.

He maintained that Auqaf department was busy just for earning money but not to facilitate the devotees during Urs ceremonies.

Replying to a question, he strongly condemned so called Peers and swindlers who were misleading the people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Airport’s “Guardian”.

TT Correspondent, "Mauritius flight has close shave" - The Telegraph - Calcutta, India
Friday, July 25, 2008

New Delhi, July 24: The wheels of an Air Mauritius plane caught fire when the pilot slammed the emergency brakes seconds before take-off at Delhi airport today.

A full emergency was declared and fire tenders rushed to the runway. The blaze was put out in 15 minutes.

The 241 passengers and 11 crew members came out through a chute. “They were very lucky. As the pilot aborted just before take-off, the plane was in full thrust,” an airport official said.
Thirty passengers received minor injuries.

The official quoted the pilot as saying the take-off was aborted because of a bird hit. “The pilot has reported it was a bird hit but this has to be investigated.”

As a debate raged over whether the emergency drill saved the day, talk among officials veered to “divine intervention” by Pir Baba.

A mazar [shrine] of two Sufi saints is considered by many officials as the airport’s “guardian”. Prayers are offered there on Thursday. “It is opened to the public for a few hours each Thursday,” an official said.

The shrine was to be shifted but after today’s close shave, there might be second thoughts.

The Eye of the Heart

By Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, "The Perennial Relevance" - Greater Kashmir - Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the everlasting and never fading importance of Perennial philosophy

If asked to name two or three best book on Islam in the 20th century one can reply, with good reasons, Frithjof Schuon’s (the great perennialist Sufi Isa Nuruudin) books such as Understanding Islam and Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, the works which most of professors teaching Islam don’t care to read many would not even comprehend because of “obscurity” and dense, allusive and demanding philosophical content and style.

If there is an approach that can defend Islam and attract people of the highest intellectual calibre to it, it is perennial philosophy.

Most of the most important scholars in contemporary Islam have appropriated perennialist insights. Sufism or inner dimension of Islam provides the basis for perennialist worldview in Islamic context. Muslim authorities are unanimous in recognizing the batin or inner dimension of Islam and most of them identify Sufism as this dimension.

Religion without esotericism or inward dimension is empty formalism in which modern man has little, if any interest. And those who oppose all Sufism divest Islam of all its vitality and make it irrelevant and defenseless against modernity.

Revolt against traditional philosophy began with the father of modern philosophy, Descartes though some fancy him to be in the service of religion and juxtapose his name with great traditional authorities such as Ghazzali betraying their ignorance of secularizing force of modern philosophy.

It is with Descartes that revolt against traditional epistemology and metaphysics set in to culminate in disguised or sometimes frank atheism of modern philosophy. His cogito principle, his method of doubt, his severance of reason from intellect and rejection of intellective intuition and revelation in philosophy, his soul/body dualism and his other devations from traditional background make him a key figure in modern philosophy’s turning away from traditional roots in religion.

He, along with Newton, despite their concern to defend their own constricted understanding of Christianity epitomizes negation of an epoch in history and are architect of modern desacralizing scientistim and secularization.

Here we may contrast Descartes with Ghazali, who stemmed the tide of faith denying rationalism and metaphysically problematic Aristotelianism in Islam and prevented the development of great aberration in philosophy that was to characterize the post-Descartes’ West.
Ghazali, in contrast, stood for intellect and revelation and didn’t subordinate theology to rational philosophy and was in important respects polar opposite of Descartes. There is little correspondence in their respective methodological doubts or between methodological and existential doubts of Descartes and Ghazzali respectively.
The fruits of their doubting methodologies being so different so we can’t characterize both of them with reference to single conception of “skepticism” or doubt.

If skepticism is a virtue in modern philosophy, it has no place in Muslim philosophy.

Traditional metaphysics doesn’t start from doubt, has nothing to do with synthesizing knowledge of sciences that are never absolutely certain and search for causes of phenomena.

The question is: did Ghazali ever doubt existence of God in his so-called skeptical phase? If he didn’t, how can we assert that he fell under the spell of “skepticism in all its connotations” for some time, as asserted by orientalists and those who read philosophy from Western historians of philosophy. He did become doubtful about the possibility of knowledge by means of reason and senses for sometime but did not turn a skeptic who denies the possibility of finding some means through this impasse and who doesn’t implore God to guide him out of this impasse.

That was more a dark night of soul than the darkness of impasse of other skeptics. Skepticism is a loaded term in modern discourse though if we restrict it to its original sense as inquiry then it is a virtue and all philosophers are skeptics, at least to begin with.

There can be no presuppositionless philosophy despite the claim to the contrary of those who claim otherwise and privilege methodology of doubt.

To accuse perennialists of pantheism shows one doesn’t care to read even the first sentence of perennialist writings on God that asserts the notion of Beyond-Being which is transcendent and pantheism means rejection of divine transcendence.

It is a typical orientalist fallacy to accuse Sufism of pantheism.

Even such a perceptive philosopher as Iqbal fell under the spell of this orientalist misreading (in his Reconstruction he labeled Sufism as pantheistic), not to speak of lesser mortals who have yet to emerge from the spell of modern Western thought which banished Intellect and don’t appreciate that intellective intuition and gnosis is possible by virtue of Intellect.

Intellect is what the Sufis, including Ghazali, call the eye of the heart. It is another face of what the Quran calls Ruh, the Spirit.

Without it man is not man, man in the image of God. Rejecting it in the name of Islam is to reject the intellectual/spiritual foundation of Islam.

The source of revelation in Islam is Gabriel or the Universal Intellect. It is Intellect that makes man immortal and makes man vestigio Dei.

All perception is dependent on intellect though Descartes didn’t appreciate this and up to the present day perception has been an unsolved problem in Western thought.

Gnosis or religious experience on which experimental proof of existence of God and thus possibility of religion is based is an attribute of Intellect.
Intellect and NeoPlatonic hikmah philosophy can be opposed in the name of modern philosophy only and not in the name of Islam and Muslim philosophy.
Aristotle deviated in certain measure from hikmah philosophy and Ghazalian criticism primarily applies to rationalizing Aristotlenism and he did so in the spirit of Neoplatonic mysticism despite his differences with emanationist view.

Bringing Ibn Taymiyah’s authority to refute NeoPlationic Muslim philosophers and perennialists, as is done by exotericists, is to confound separate prerogatives of theology and metaphysics and privilege the former.
It is metaphysics which is equipped to teach theology what polytheism or shirk is in its deepest or most real sense rather than the vice versa. Theology or exotericism for its dualism is inherently unable to taste unity or tawhid and thus a subtle form of shirk.
It argues in propositions and doesn’t see first hand its object.

It is only in the light of perennial philosophy that we can understand Islam most
comprehensively as civilization – its sciences, its arts, its architecture, its philosophy and its theology.

Symbolism of mosque, of cap or turban, of veil, of ritual prayer- indeed of anything associated with Islam, is best deciphered by perennialists.

Perennialists are able to convincingly own Sufis and most philosophers. They accommodate the generality of ulema as well though they are able to move beyond most of these categories.

Maulana Thanvi, one of the towering personalities - jurist cum theologian cum metaphysician cum Sufi- was Hasn Askari’s Murshid.
There is no orientalist influence in the writings of perennialists. They are 100 percent orientalism/Westernism/modernism free.

There can be no unIslamic source at metaphysical plane but only at theological plane. When one transcends theological plane one transcends all talk of “Islamic” and “unIslamic” sources.

The God of the Quran is Truth, Reality (al-Haqq).

Everything in the universe (aafaq) and soul (nafs) is the province of the inclusive truth of which Islam speaks. Wherever wisdom (hikmah) is or truth is, that is appropriated by the M’umin as his own possession.

Adopting perennialist perspective means one leaves aside all human constructions, all merely rational speculative systems, all doubt based and (modern) empiricist modes of thought, all complicity with (modern) science and its notions of causality and rests securely in the timeless truths of revelation and wijdan that metaphysics expresses in consistent format.

Dervishes in Tehran

TE/HGH, "Iran to hold 'Persian Gulf Sun' concert " - Press TV - Tehran, Iran
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Iran's Sa'ad Abad Palace is slated to host a traditional music concert by the Shams ensemble accompanied by international musicians.

The Persian Gulf Sun concert will feature Sama, the trancelike dance practiced by Sufi dervishes.

Five songs adapted from the works of Mowlavi will be played by the traditional Persian instrument Tanbour in the first part of the concert.

The second part of the concert will feature performances by the Shams ensemble accompanied by musicians from Armenia, France, England, India, Netherlands, Iraq and Turkey.

The concert will be held from Aug. 13 to 16, 2008 in Tehran.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

10 Books on Islam

Robert Irwin, "Robert Irwin's top 10 books on Islam and Islamic culture" - The Guardian - London, UK
Wednesday, July 18, 2008

1. The Koran Interpreted, translated by Arthur J Arberry
Strictly, Muslims hold that a translation from Arabic of the Koran is not possible. However, this is the best attempt at a translation into English.

Not only is this one the most accurate, it also captures the rhythm and poetry of the original. Arberry was a devout Christian who nevertheless identified strongly with the mystical strain in Islam.

2. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Cook
However good the translation you read (or even if you can read it in Arabic), the text of the Koran still needs a lot of glossing and some context. Cook is erudite, witty and incisive and he packs a huge amount into his 150 pages.

Even specialists in Koranic studies are likely to learn something from this amazingly efficient account of how the Koran was put together, what it contains and how it is studied and recited today.

Apart from anything else, this book should serve as a model of how to write a very short account of anything whatsoever.

3. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran by Roy Mottahedeh
There is no other book quite like this. Mottahedeh, a brilliant Princeton professor, based his account of spiritual life in Iran on a series of lengthy interviews with an Iranian mullah, tracing the holy man's career from childhood in the holy city of Qom to a senior position in the ranks of the Iranian clergy.

This searching exploration of the spiritual and intellectual life of Shi'i Islam is effectively an insider's account of an educational curriculum that has not significantly changed since the middle ages. Modern political and social tensions in the region are also explored.

4. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century. Shaikh Ahmad al-'Alawi by Martin Lings
This book changed my life. It is an inspiring account of the career and teachings of a great Algerian Sufi mystic master.

Al-'Alawi, a holy man and profound thinker, founded one of the most important North African Sufi orders.

Lings is a convert to Islam and his account of al-'Alawi's teachings manages to convey something of authentic Sufism, (as opposed to the ersatz new age stuff that is otherwise so widely available in the west).

This is a book that may give you some sense of why and how Muslims believe in Allah.

5. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism by Carl Ernst
This is an outsider's account of Sufism written by an academic specialist in Islamic studies. Ernst lucidly sets out the mystical elements in the Koran and provides a potted history of the great Sufi orders from medieval times onwards.

He is very good on the great Sufi poets, Hafiz and Rumi, but the most interesting chapter is the last, on contemporary Sufism.

6. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (3 volumes) by Marshal GS Hodgson
Hodgson died before he could quite finish this massive cultural history of Islam but, even so, it remains a great monument of learning and cross-cultural empathy.

Hodgson attempted to rethink the way Islamic history was traditionally written about and he wanted to ditch Orientalist cliches. Since he was largely successful in these enterprises, his book has been hugely influential.

It is particularly good on the achievements of Persian, Turkish and Indian Muslims.

7. Atlas of the Islamic World by Francis Robinson
This beautifully produced atlas is one of the books influenced by Hodgson's rethink of Islamic culture. The pictures (of Persian miniatures, Mughal architecture, African mosques, modern political posters and much else) are lovely.

The accompanying text is intelligent and entirely reliable. Robinson reminds us, if the reminder is necessary, that Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs and that high Islamic culture did not come to a screeching halt some time around the 11th century.

8. A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
Although Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs, they have played rather a large part in its propagation. Hourani was a fastidious stylist and this book, a glowing and sympathetic account of Arab achievements, was his last masterpiece.

The narrative has a fine sweep and is not clogged with detail about people with unpronounceable names marching off to fight in unspellable places.

Anyone thinking of going to the Middle East should read this first. So should Kilroy Silk.

9. Islamic Art and Architecture by Robert Hillenbrand
Hillenbrand is the top man on Islamic art in Britain today and in the past he has ranged extremely widely in his more specialist studies on Islamic art and architecture.

His general book on this topic is compact and attractively illustrated. The quality of his prose and its effectiveness in evoking the appearance and aesthetic effect of the objects he is describing is marvellous. His description of the Alhambra, for example, is simply breathtaking.

10. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Andrew Rippin
This is probably the best general account of what Muslims believe.

Rippin instructs his readers in the elements of Islamic history and the evolution of theology and law, as well as meaning of such things as the hajj, salaat, Ramadan and jihad. He explains the differences between Shi'is and Sunnis.

He is particularly strong on the challenges and opportunities facing modern Muslims, so that contemporary Islam's encounter with modernity, feminism and democracy are all thoughtfully explored.


Writer and broadcaster Robert Irwin is the author of The Alhambra, recently published by Profile. He is also the author of The Arabian Nights: A Companion and The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature as well as six novels. He has just finished writing a history of Orientalism.

[For reviews on books and music on Sufism, visit The Sufi Book and Music Blog http://sufibookstore.blogspot.com/ and the Sufi Book Store http://astore.amazon.com/wilderwri-20].

His Pioneering Role

Ljbc, "The Leader met with members of General Secretariat of World Islamic People's Leadership, members of World Sufism Office2008-7-22" - Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation - Libya
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Leader of the Revolution, the Leader of the World Islamic People's Leadership met with members of the General Secretariat of this Leadership, who are taking part in its 15th meeting, currently held in Tripoli.

The Leader also met with the members of the World Sufism Office, who are also participating in this meeting, besides Mufti of Chechnya, the Secretary-General of the Muslim Youth in Senegal, the Advisor to Philippine's President, and the chief editor of an Indonesian magazine.

At the outset of the meeting, the Secretary-General of the World Islamic People's Leadership, Dr. Mohammad Ahmed al-Sherif, briefed the Leader of the Revolution on the agenda of the meeting, which is held once a year to discuss situations of the Islamic world, Muslims' affairs and intercommunication with other the cultures; and to follow-up decisions of the General Conference of the Leadership, which is held once each four years; and also to follow up programs and activities of the executive office in the different arenas, expressing delight for being honored to meet the Leader and listen to his advices.

The Syrian Mufti, Dr. Ahmad Badruddin Hassun, delivered a speech to welcome the Leader of the Revolution, in which he hailed his concerns for Islam and Muslims, his courage in settling the Muslims' causes and his pioneering role in calling for dialogue with the other cultures and religions to diffuse Islam, valuing the Leader's prediction of the future of the Arab Ummah, which came in his speech in the Arab Summit in Syria; the prediction that came into reality represented in the ICC's decision against Sudan.

The World They Lived In

TP Correspondent, "People throng to pay homage to Waris Shah" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jandiala Sher Khan: On the third and last day of the annual Urs celebrations of great Sufi Poet and Saint Pir Waris Shah, thousands of devotees including children and women thronged the shrine to pay their homage to the saint.

Waris Shah was born in Jandiala Sher Khan, Sheikhupura in 1719 or 1730.

After completing his education in Kasur, he moved to Malka Hans where he lived in a small room adjacent to a historic mosque, constructed in 1340.

The room is still there, though devoid of any furniture or articles that could be related to Waris Shah in attempts to commemorate his being. The only sign remains a rather crudely written plaque with sketchy details about the poet.

A man of greet wisdom, understanding and experience, Waris had delved deep into his characters while, except for the famous Heer and Ranjha, he had penned down satirical sketches, through whom he showed the people the reality of the world they lived in.

[Picture from APNA (Academy of the Punjab in North America): http://www.apnaorg.com/].

Monday, July 28, 2008

To Promote Understanding

By Dorie Baker, "Muslim and Christian Leaders Meet at Yale for Historic “Common Word” Conference" - Yale Bulletin, Yale University - New Haven, CT, USA
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More than 150 Muslim and Christian leaders, including some of the world’s most eminent scholars and clerics, will gather at Yale University July 28 –31 to promote understanding between the two faiths, whose members comprise more than half the world’s population.

Prominent political figures and representatives of the Jewish community also will speak at the conference, which launches a series of interfaith events planned around the world over the next two years.

These gatherings respond to the call for dialogue issued in an open letter, A Common Word Between Us and You, written by major Islamic leaders, to which Yale scholars responded with a statement that garnered over 500 signatures.

(...)

Notable leaders expected at the conference include Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan; former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of Sudan; top Evangelical leaders Leith Anderson and Geoff Tunnicliffe; prominent Ayatollahs from Iran; Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi of Palestine, Grand Muftis of several Middle Eastern countries; Antonios Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches; and John Esposito of Georgetown University.

Senator John Kerry as well as other senior U.S. government officials also are expected to attend.

(...)

For additional conference information — including online streams of the conference panels and keynote addresses and other up-to-date information — visit the conference website
http://www.yale.edu/divinity/commonword/

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Not to Think in Terms of Blocks

dpa/Trend News, "Arts festival next year to link Weimar and Shiraz" - Trend News - Baku, Azerbaijan
Saturday, July 19, 2008

A new arts festival now taking shape in Germany may help avert a "war of civilizations" by highlighting a shared reverence in the Islamic world and the West for classical poetry and fine art, dpa reported.

The Divan Festival is to be staged in successive weeks next year in two fabled towns: Shiraz, the Iranian city of poets, wine and flowers, and Weimar, the central German home of the great German poets and writers.

The idea is to build bridges between European culture and the Islamic nations.

" Shiraz will be the first host in June 2009," explained the event's artistic director, Klaus Gallas, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. A 15-day Iranian culture programme will then take place in August 2009 in Weimar.

The programme will comprise concerts, literary readings and art exhibitions.

Gallas intends to hold the Divan Festival every year thereafter in both Weimar and a changing partner city in Iran or the Arab world. He said talks were already under way with the United Arab Emirates on a venue there in 2010.

The word "divan" has passed into several western languages meaning a collection of poetry. This was inspired by the Divan of Hafez.

Its author, Hafez, was a Persian mystic and poet born about 1325 in Shiraz. Sams ud-Din Mohammed Hafez lived till 1390 and his Divan collection of subtly ambiguous poetry is admired in many countries.

The title was mirrored by the West-Eastern Divan, the title of an 1819 collection of poems in a quasi-Persian style by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) who lived in Weimar and is revered as Germany's greatest poet, dramatist and novelist.

"We are calling the event the West-Eastern Divan Festival to commemorate both Goethe and Hafez," said the organizer.

A 1999 West-Eastern Divan monument in Weimar, in the form of two high-backed chairs carved out of stone and facing one another, already represents the two great national poets in virtual dialogue and recalls Goethe's cross-cultural interests.

The Argentine-born conductor Daniel Barenboim has also used the name, separately setting up a West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Weimar.

The city, which has given its name to the 1919-1933 pre-Nazi Weimar Republic in Germany, is a magnet for intellectual tourists because of its links with Goethe and other leading German poets.

"We aim to hold a cultural festival in Weimar that will be influential in the whole of Europe," said Gallas. "It will oppose the tendency to think in terms of blocks, east and west, occidental and oriental.

"The objective is to expose how we are mutually reluctant to be friends, how we are bound by our prejudices and misconceptions," said Gallas, who describes himself as a historian of culture. He has visited Iran several times, the first time more than 30 years ago.

Gallas said he had won government encouragement from the German Foreign Ministry, the Goethe Institute which promotes German culture abroad, the Federal Culture Fund which promotes culture within Germany and the municipality of Weimar.

"Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has agreed to be the patron," said Gallas, who has now taken the step of legally incorporating the West-Eastern Divan Festival Weimar as a non-profit society.

"The next step is to apply for public subsidies," said Gallas, who adds that he has set up a board of cultural advisers. Its membership would include Mumbai-born classical music conductor Zubin Mehta, who has twice conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Weimar.

Two German orchestras will be led by Iranian conductors in concerts at the opening and closing of the Festival under Gallas' plan.

"In between those dates there will be public readings from the works of Goethe and Hafez, exhibitions by contemporary artists and concerts of Iranian classical and popular music," said Gallas, 66, who has been working on the project for more than a year.

He denied in the interview that he was encroaching on Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. "I am in dialogue with Barenboim," he said.


[Picture: The Goethe-Hafez monument in the city of Weimar. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafez]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cello Invocations

By Serkan Kara, "Uğur Işık brings together world religions on Anatolian soil" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cellist Uğur Işık is an internationally acclaimed Turkish musician not yet recognized by the Turkish audience as he engages in no political rhetoric

The most prominent quality of his music is his performing instrumental and sometimes vocal pieces from Turkish culture using his cello, a Western instrument.

Having reached a considerably large European audience with his first album, in which he performs Anatolian folk songs with his cello, Işık appears to be continuing the upward trajectory in his career with his recently released second album, "Cello Invocations," with which he says he has "gathered world religions on Anatolian soil," also bitterly complaining that people are predisposed to pigeonholing his albums only by looking at the origin of the pieces he performs.

He says some branded him an Alevi after his first album and as religious following the second one, though he does not consider himself religious.

We spoke with Işık, who says, "My album dwells on religious music, not the religion itself," about his art, well received in the world but disregarded in his homeland. We also spoke about criticism that has been directed at his style and finally spoke about the things he wants to achieve.

We first heard Anatolian music from your cello. How did the idea of delving into religious music originate? Was it already present during the making of the first album, or did it develop afterwards?
You should begin learning the religious music of whatever society you are researching. If you are studying Western music, you cannot become a classical music performer without learning Bach. Eventually Bach, too, performs religious music.

If you are training to be a classical Turkish music performer, you have to learn the musical compositions of the Mevlevi whirling rite, Sufi hymns, qasidahs (Sufi poems spontaneously sung in a certain maqam [mode], mostly to accompany a Sufi remembrance ceremony) and the maqams (the hundreds of modal structures that characterize the art of Turkish classic music).

I'm not a practicing Muslim, but I have learned the Mevlevi rites and have also learned how to whirl. Unless you go deep down into music, as deep as its roots, you can't build anything on top. This is music.

We live with religious music, but when the word "religion" is mentioned, people start looking at the whole thing unfavorably because of prevalent prejudices.

My latest album is a grand invocation of all religions. When you mention the word "invocation" ("dhikr" in Turkish and Arabic), people are scared, whereas invocation, that is, remembrance ceremonies, makes for an outstanding musical show.

They portray invocation as something bad in films and series: They employ people who perform the audible dhikr as if fighting or making love. These people have nothing to do with invocation; the divine remembrance is completely something else.

Who performs the audible dhikr in the album?
It is performed by, so to say, real "invokers" who have grown up in a real Sufi environment and culture. They perform it the way it should be performed and use their bodies like a musical instrument.

I have played the cello to fill the background of the remembrance music, and I did that according to the authentic structure of remembrance ceremonies. I did not use "free-style" music, pushing the dhikr into the background; I never thought, "Hey, I could improvise on that one…"

What were your standards in choosing the pieces you have included in your album? What in those pieces attracted you?
The actual number I had considered was far higher. For instance, the tekbir, which pronounces the oneness of God, (composed in the segah maqam by the legendary Turkish music composer Mustafa Itri) had to be on the album.

When I perform the tekbir with the cello during my concerts in Europe, I see that the European people in my audience are spiritually moved to a great extent; they almost enter into a state of trance.

After I got the idea of the cello praying using the tekbir, I then tried the salawat -- asking God to shower his blessings and peace upon the Prophet Mohammed -- (again composed by Itri in the segah maqam).

Approaches to religion in the world are very different; that is why I have combined the differences on this album. If I had used (music composed by the followers of) Sunni Islam only, the album would have had a melancholy tone to it because in the country we live in there is gloom as well as fear, whereas the religion is only a means to reach God, the only Holy One.

When you perform a piece by Ellayl Zahi Fas with tambourines apart from religious pieces, the audience stands up and starts dancing along. I have mixed the strict Islam and the cheerful Islam together. When they all transcend one another, what comes out is a totally different combination.

Are there pieces which you left out at the last moment?
I thought of a very mournful and sorrow-inspiring sala [a kind of salawat, recited in certain maqams from the minaret to tell the neighborhood that somebody has died and his funeral prayer will be performed after the normal prescribed daily prayer], which I was to improvise over a Sufi hymn (ilahi).

Two religious musicians were to perform the sala. This project is ready and I will carry it out. It will not appear on my CDs, but it may end up being used as part of a soundtrack. The pieces I had to take out, even though I had deemed them suitable with the concept, will definitely get recorded.

(...)

The most important quality of the album is that the pieces that belong to different religions have similar sounds. Why did you perform them in the same style?
I memorized a Catholic piece from Italy like an Italian, but did not play it like an Italian. If I had played like them, a disconnect would have occured in the album.

In that case, "Lamento di Tristano," which comes after a Turkish folk song, would sound like a piece being played from some other CD. But in its current state, the listeners cannot differentiate the transitions between the tracks.

All the religious pieces on the album belong to the same sincere feelings. They are all music composed for God.

The album contains Greek Orthodox sounds, African hymns or Italian Catholic hymns, and I feel all of them are the same. Ultimately, the target of all of them is the same.

That you have performed the music of different religions with the culture of Anatolia as a backdrop makes Muslim listeners think that they are all Islamic melodies. Do your audiences abroad feel the same, that what you play belongs to their religion? In what way do they react?
When I perform the pieces that contain invocation, European listeners close their eyes and automatically start swaying. They are mostly the followers of another religion and also know that dhikr is a type of religious music that belongs to Islam; but knowing this doesn't prevent them from enjoying this music.

Respectively, I perform a Spanish Catholic hymn Jezebel, the Mevlevi rite in the hijaz maqam, followed by the Jewish hymn Yad Anuga.

Even if the people who listen to these back to back are Jews, Christians or Muslims, they all say that all the pieces belong to them. When a Christian listens to the ezan, the Muslim call to prayer, he says it belongs to him. The ezan awakens religious feelings in them.

Did anyone react negatively to you for making religious music?
People from my immediate surroundings showed a few negative reactions… What I feared most about this project was to be seen as "trying to appeal to a certain segment" and to be branded accordingly.

No segments exist for me! These are pretty ugly things to say. I'm a person who looks at everything with an open mind. An invocation performed by the most devoted Muslim or a Christian hymn sung by a most radical Catholic are both the same to me. All of them are the same in essence.

You keep insistently saying in your statements that you are not religious…
Some called me "religious" after the release of this album. And I said, or rather was forced to say, that I was not a religious man; this is not something good.

I'm not an atheist, I'm a believer; but I was forced to make that statement. Why the pressure? To me, everyone is equal, everything is the same; at least, that's how I see things.

Some people are proud to declare that they are atheists, whereas I'm indirectly coerced into stating that I'm not a religious person. I would have included pieces only from the Islamic culture, and it would have had a greater appeal to the European ear, but I couldn't.

(...)

You had one particular bad concert experience in Turkey. Will you be giving concerts as part of this album?
Oh, yes! I played to an audience of 5,000 people in Greece and the other day I played the same pieces to only 50 people in İstanbul, which put me off music.

I'm not pushing for it, but people have been demanding concerts from me. I might organize concerts by combining the two albums and by employing some visual aids.

For instance, I may have scenery from our country displayed or I might use dancers, but definitely not a big group of instrumentalists. It should always be elegantly simple -- maybe a couple of percussions and some sufis for the invocation parts.

I'm planning to open up to African countries and Muslim countries. I'd like to work on some projects with the people there also.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bridges across Faiths

Second Editorial: Peace in mysticism - The Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, July 20, 2008

A meeting organised by the University of Gujrat to discuss the topic of “Resurgence of Sufism as a Universal Movement for Peace and Development” on Friday came to the natural conclusion that mysticism removed barriers of hard faith and led to peace which is the translated meaning of Islam.

However, the same day a TV channel discussed Sufism and found fault with the great mystics of the past in their claims of direct communication with God.

In these days of punishing orthodoxy, the stock of mysticism is low. Anyone inclined to follow the path of our saints can be killed, as shown by the murderous ongoing clashes in the Khyber Agency.

Mysticism is an internal phenomenon which can’t even be expressed but it permeates our culture through poetry.

It loosens the hold of the orthodox clergy and brings people together without their agency in an atmosphere of festivity at the various melas.

The world outside is becoming aware of this trend in Islam and is reaching out to it simply because the orthodox clergy will not communicate except through jihad.

So we should constantly reassert our Sufi heritage and build bridges across faiths.

[Picture: University of Gujrat and World Punjabi Congress on Saturday organized a Mehfil-e-Mushaira (Poetry reading) to entertain the Indian delegation and national participants of the International Conference “Resurgence of Sufism as a Universal Movement for Peace & Development” at Hafiz Hayat Campus, UOG. Internationally renowned poet, Anwar Masood presided over the event.]

Read more at the University Website http://uog.edu.pk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=182&Itemid=1

'Persian Nightingale'


NA/MK, "Greece to host Iranian vocalist" - Press TV - Tehran, Iran
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shahram Nazeri, one of the most prominent Persian vocalists, is scheduled to perform classical and mystic pieces in Athens, Greece.

The Hellenic Festival will witness a 90-minute performance by Nazeri. He will perform songs adapted from the works of outstanding Iranian poets Mowlavi and Hafez.

Nazeri will be accompanied by fellow Iranian artists, the virtuoso Tanbur player Ali-Akbar Moradi, percussionist Pejman Haddadi and Daf player Kourosh Moradi.
Three-stringed Tanbur and Daf (frame drum) are traditional Persian music instruments.


Greek lyrist Matthaios Tsachourides will also collaborate with the ensemble.

In September 2007, Nazeri received the French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres Medal for his significant role in advancing traditional Persian music.

Nazeri, also known as the 'Persian Nightingale', is slated to perform in Athens' Scholeion Theatre on July 25.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Al-Mujadid

[From the French language press]:

Le Cheik Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754-1817) est une figure mythique de l'histoire de la pensée islamique en Afrique de l'Ouest.

par Matthieu Vernet, "S. Moumouni, Vie et oeuvre du Cheik Uthmân Dan Fodio 1754-1817 de l'islam au soufisme" - Fabula - France; vendredi 18 juillet 2008

Shaykh Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754 - 1817) is a mythical figure in the history of Islamic Thought in West Africa.

While his life and work have been widely studied, his work about Sufism is relatively little known.

The contribution to Sufism in the work of the Shaykh stands out at three levels: technical literature for internal use for murids; texts describing his experiences and spiritual initiation, and, finally, the texts of controversy and speculation between Sufism and other Islamic doctrines.

This book traces, through unpublished manuscripts, the life and work of this great mystic, "al-Mujadid" (the Renovator), as he is known in West Africa.

Seyni Moumouni is a teacher and researcher at the Institute for Research in Human Sciences at the University of Abdou Moumouni Niamey [Niger].

Vie et oeuvre du Cheikh Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754-1817) De l'islam au soufisme
Seyni MOUMOUNI
Préface de Souleymane Bachir Diagne


An Icon of Sufism

[From the French language press]:

Jbel Alam, capitale mondiale du soufisme: un colloque du 25 au 29 juillet. Chercheurs et dignitaires religieux parmi les invités.

Promouvoir l’image de tolérance de Moulay Abdeslam et de son disciple Chadili, tel est l’objectif d’un colloque international de la Tarika Mashishiya-Chadilia.

Par Ali Abjiou, "Jbel Alam, capitale mondiale du soufisme" - L'Economiste - Casablanca, Maroc; mercredi 16 juillet, 2008

Jbel Alam, world capital of Sufism: a symposium from July 25 to July 29. Researchers and religious dignitaries among the guests.

Promoting the image of tolerance of Moulay Abdeslam and his disciple Chadili: this is the objective of an international symposium of the Tariqa Mashishiya-Chadilia.

This first meeting on the personality and spiritual message of the saint of Jbel Alam will provide an opportunity to meet, in Tangiers and Tetouan, various spiritual dignitaries, researchers and historians interested in this icon of Sufism.

Other guests include Moroccan academics and experts.

Announced also Bariza Khiyari, a French Senator, particularly active in terms of bridging cultures; Eric Geoffroy from the Marc Bloch University (Strasbourg), a specialist in Sufism and sanctity in Islam; and Shaykh Khaled Bentounes, spiritual leader of the Alawiya Mostaganem.

Moulay Ben Abdeslam Mchich Alami (born in 1140 CE) and his disciple Chadili are surrounded by an aura of mysticism in the collective subconscious of Morocco.

Moulay Abdeslam is called "holy of holies", so much so that visiting his mausoleum seven times amounts to a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The ultimate goal through the organization of this symposium is to set the foundations for a global forum on the Mashishiya-Chadiliya.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For Those in Love

TP Correspondent, "Waris Shah Urs from tomorrow" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jandiala Sher Khan: The 210th Urs celebrations of renowned Sufi Saint Waris Shah will be started here from July 23 which will continue for three days.

Thousands of devotees of Waris Shah from various parts of country and abroad have started reaching to attend the annual Urs celebrations.

The Urse will be started with the recite of versus from the Holy Quran after which District Coordination Officer (DCO) Suleman Ejaz will perform the bathing of the tomb of the great Sufi Saint with rose water.

District and City Journalists Association's President Ilyas Gujar, Muhammad Yaqoob Sandhu, Mudassar Irfan, Akhter Rasool Janjua, former SP Syed Ahmad Khan, Manager Waris Shah Complex Ahsanul Malik and Ahmad Zia Khan will take part in the ceremony.

Vendors have started setting up various kind of stalls including of literary books while Circus and Theater will be featured during the celebrations.

On the second day of the Urs, a singing competition of 'Heer Waris Shah' will also be held in which people from across the country will take part. The Punjab Arts Council and Khabrian Group of News Papers will organise the competition and prizes will be distributed among position holders at the end of the competition.

Meanwhile, dance of horses and Kabaddi competitions will be held during the Urs.

The Punjab minister for youth will be the chief guest during these competitions. All the guests will be served with traditional dish "Chori of Desi Ghee."

Sheikhupura DPO Zeim Iqbal Sheik and DSP Traffic Haji Khalid Javied have prepared a special plan for smooth traffic flow during the celebrations.

On the other hand, Wapda Sub Divisional Engineer Shafqat Ullah Virk said that electricity to Waris Shah Complex would be provided without any interruption for three days.

Meanwhile, all markets, shops and commercial centres will remain close in connection with the Urs celebrations in the district on July 24.

[Picture from http://www.apnaorg.com/poetry/heercomp/. Visit the Site for a short Bio, a summary of the Heer in English, and more].

The Patched Cloak of the Celestial Sphere


By Karen Rosenberg, "An Emperors’ Art: Small, Refined, Jewel Toned" - The New York Times - New York, NY, USA
Friday, July 18, 2008

Muraqqa is the Persian term for a patched garment traditionally worn by Sufi mystics as a sign of poverty and humility.

Yet it is also the word for a gilded and lavishly calligraphed album.

This type of muraqqa, a luxury object from the Mughal empire in India, is a patchwork of imagery: portraits of emperors and courtiers, Eastern mystics and Western religious figures; examples of plant and animal life.

For just two more weeks muraqqa commissioned by the Mughal emperors Jahangir (ruled 1605-1627) and his son Shah Jahan (ruled 1627-1658) will be on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of theSmithsonian Institute here [Washington DC].

“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums” showcases 82 rarely seen paintings from six albums. These muraqqa are indeed patchworks, of the most elegant and refined variety.

Accompanied by an informative (and, at 528 pages, intimidating) catalog, the show inaugurates a yearlong festival of India-related programming at the Sackler and Freer Galleries of Asian art that will include performances, films and an exhibition in the fall titled “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.”

The works in “Muraqqa” were collected by the American-born industrialist and philanthropist Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), who established a library in Dublin for these and other treasures.

One imagines that Beatty, a mining magnate, was drawn not only to the jewel tones and gilded surfaces of Mughal paintings, but also to their intimations of empire.

Formal and informal portraiture, naturalism, spirituality, worldly extravagance and history are condensed into images no bigger than a notebook. (The museum has thoughtfully provided magnifying glasses.)

A typical album is composed of folios, or double-sided sheets, made up of several layers of paper pasted together. Each folio pairs a painting with a section of calligraphy, both surrounded by decorative borders; the relationship of image and text varies from illustration to loose association.

While the paintings in “Muraqqa” are by many different artists, much of the text can be credited to the famed calligrapher Mir Ali of Herat, who often signed his works in abject fashion, “the sinful slave Mir Ali the scribe” or “the poor Ali.” His voice, sometimes plaintive and sometimes mocking, is as distinct as his handiwork.

(...)

Bridging the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are 19 folios from the Minto album, a collection of 40 folios currently divided between the Chester Beatty Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum [in London, UK]. Among the most lavish in the show, these folios are distinguished by elaborate, gilded borders of flowering plants.

(...)

In a portrait that hangs in the final gallery of the exhibition the Sufi shaykh Shah Dawlat wears a short patched shawl. The garment’s colors echo the red-and-yellow border of the painting, linking one type of muraqqa to another.

A preface by Mir Ali, reproduced in the catalog, comes to mind: “As long as the patched cloak of the celestial sphere contains the sun and moon, may this album be the object of your perpetual gaze.”

“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin” continues through Aug. 3 at the Smithsonian Institution, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., SW, Washington; (202) 633-1000, asia.si.edu.

[Pictures: left, "Mu'in al-Din Chishti Holding a Globe" from the Minto album. Painting by Bichitr and calligraphy by Mir'Ali; right, "Majnun in the Wilderness" from the album of Shah Jahan (circa 1640-45).
See more images at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/07/18/arts/0718-MUGH_index.html].

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Word and Deed

Yale Center for Faith and Culture, "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims" - Yale Divinity School - Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Press Release, Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Professor Miroslav Volf and the Yale Center for Faith and Culture are planning a series of top-level interfaith workshops and conferences, the first of which is scheduled for July 24-31, 2008, on the Yale University campus

Background
In our increasingly interdependent world, religion remains a powerful force with the potential to either foster peace or provoke conflict.

A unique and potentially history-changing opportunity has arisen with the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You in October 2007, an open letter to Christian leaders and communities from 138 influential Muslim clerics representing every school and sect of Islam from around the world.

Compellingly, even if somewhat surprisingly, it states that what unites Christians and Muslims is their common commitment to love God and neighbor.

Among the most influential of the many Christian responses to the Common Word was a letter drafted in November 2007 by a group of scholars at Yale Divinity School, headed by Miroslav Volf, professor and director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, and coordinated by Joseph Cumming, director of the Center’s Reconciliation Program.

Endorsed by more than 300 of the most influential Christian leaders from this country and abroad, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You'” stressed that the dual commandment to love God and neighbor has the potential to reorient Muslim-Christian relations away from a “clash of civilizations.”

This reply, in turn, led His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, the primary drafter of A Common Word and President of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, to engage enthusiastically with Professor Volf and the Center’s staff in planning a series of top-level interfaith workshops and conferences, the first of which is scheduled for July 24-31, 2008, on the Yale University campus, to be followed by others in October (Cambridge University), November (the Vatican), March 2009 (Georgetown University), and October 2009 (Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Jordan).

We are hopeful that these meetings have the potential to redefine Christian-Muslim relations in the 21st century.

The Yale Workshop and Conference
The conference, “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians,” includes both a scholarly workshop and a broader conference.

The larger conference, July 28-31, involving more than 60 Muslim participants (mostly from the Middle East), a similar number of Christians, and nine Jewish guests, will extend the discussions of the preceding scholarly workshop to a larger group of scholars and leaders.

The workshop, closed to the press and public and scheduled for July 24-28, will involve approximately 60 Christian and Muslim scholars, along with three Jewish observers.

The objective of the Yale workshop and conference is built on the foundation laid by the two widely embraced documents.

Together with H.R.H. Prince Ghazi, who is coordinating the participation of Muslim signatories, we have set as our goal the exploration of ways in which the common commitments can help rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West.

If Muslims and Christians, who together comprise more than half the world’s population, can acknowledge mutual commitment to loving God and loving neighbor, the boost to a dynamic and peaceful interdependence in our globalized world would be immense.

[Click on the title of the article for the Event Schedule]

[Picture: Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and Sheik al-Habib Ali al-Jifri of the Tabah Foundation at a 2007 press conference in Dubai. Photo: Yale University].

An Important Opportunity to Win Hearts and Minds

By Sumes Milne, "Promotion of clients and stooges will get us nowhere" - The Guardian - London, UK
Thursday, July 17, 2008

The political knives are out for Shahid Malik, Britain's first Muslim minister. For years poor Malik has bent over backwards to toe the New Labour line and be the epitome of an acceptable, moderate Muslim.

But Malik also knows his own community and, when a ministerial edict went out to boycott the largest Islamic cultural and political event ever staged in Britain, he balked.

By any reckoning, he argued, the IslamExpo extravaganza, which attracted 50,000 people over the weekend, was a mainstream gathering and an important opportunity to win hearts and minds. Only when his departmental boss, the international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, cracked the whip did Malik relent.

Now he is paying the price in time-honoured style. First, he was taken to task in the Times by Dean Godson, research director of the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, which was last year found to have relied on faked evidence for an inflammatory report into extremism in British mosques.

Then, as if by magic, a knocking story appeared, complete with a withering comment from a "Whitehall source" about Malik's "seriously poor judgment", detailing the minister's failure to realise that a peace meeting he was due to address with his department's knowledge was linked to the Moonie cult.

Anyone who attended IslamExpo will know that it was, as Boris Johnson's champion Andrew Gilligan put it, an "impressive and serious" celebration of the diversity of Muslim art and culture.

The political debates brought together a broad range of voices - from the US Nixon Centre's Robert Leiken to Rached al-Ghannouchi, who played a key role in reconciling mainstream Islamism with democratic principles in the 1990s - as well as many more women than attend most mainstream British political events.

They would have been broader still if some of the harshest critics of British Muslim leaders had not joined the government and Tory frontbench boycott, which took in Stephen Timms, the employment minister, and Conservative community spokeswoman Sayeeda Warsi, as well as the unfortunate Malik.

The trigger for their abandonment of a rare chance to engage with thousands of British Muslims seems to have been an article by the increasingly extreme anti-Islamist campaigner, Ed Husain, comparing the event to a British National party rally.

His case for such a patently absurd claim was that some of the organisers had had links with Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, though the details are contested. But it was enough for Hazel Blears, whose communities department has been taking an ever-harder line against the most politically active sections of the Muslim community, to insist on a boycott.

Note that there is no suggestion of involvement in current terrorism in this controversy, in Britain or Israel. The issue is the government's growing hostility to dealing with anyone connected with the highly diverse movement that is Islamism.

This is a political trend that has violent and non-violent, theocratic and democratic, reactionary and progressive strands, stretching from Turkey's pro-western ruling Justice and Development party through to the wildest shores of takfiri jihadism.

But it's largely on the basis of this blinkered opposition that the government is now funding Husain's Quilliam Foundation, promoting other marginal groups such as the Sufi Muslim Council and turning its back on more representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

This is a dangerous game, whether from the point of view of reducing the threat of terror attacks on the streets of London or narrowing the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country as a whole.

As opinion polls show, most Muslims around the world are broadly sympathetic to Hamas as a movement resisting occupation of Palestinian land - and British Muslims are no exception. If such attitudes become a block on engagement with official Britain, or are ignorantly branded "Islamofascist", then the government and Tory opposition are going to end up talking to a very small minority indeed.

It's a risk well-recognised by some inside government. As one minister argues: "This cannot continue, it's completely counterproductive. You have to engage with those with influence over those you want to influence."

Some Muslim activists trying to work with government blame Blears' Sufi Muslim advisers, Azhar Ali and Maqsood Ahmed; one senior local authority specialist despairs that by refusing to deal with Muslim organisations the advisers crudely brand Islamist, ministers are "isolating themselves from the majority".

Blaming advisers is too easy. The British government, which is taking part in the military occupation of two Muslim countries, is hardly in a position to throw up its hands in horror at sympathy with political violence abroad.

But blurring the lines between support for those fighting foreign occupation and backing for violent attacks on civilians at home helps get the government off the hook of its own responsibility for the terror threat.

Part of the explanation given for pulling out of IslamExpo was that one of the organisers had expressed sympathy for suicide bombings in Israel. That was also the basis for banning the radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi from Britain.

However, both David Cameron and the government-backed Quilliam Foundation have strongly praised another cleric, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, even though he is also on record as supporting Palestinian "martyrdom operations". The crucial difference is that al-Qaradawi is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular opposition movement in the Arab world, while Gomaa is appointed by the pro-western Mubarak dictatorship.

This is also the key to official policy towards Muslim organisations in Britain. The groups currently regarded as beyond the pale - such as the organisers of IslamExpo - are those keenest to promote Muslim involvement in British society and politics.

But they are also the most actively opposed to western policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine - an important point of common ground, incidentally, with most non-Muslim Britons.

The organisations the government backs, on the other hand, are those who keep quiet about the wars the US and Britain are fighting in the Muslim world.

If the priority is really community integration and prevention of terror attacks, this sponsorship of clients and stooges is going to have to stop.
[Picture from IslamExpo 2008, The Islamic Garden http://www.islamexpo.com/attractions.php?id=10&art=14].

Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Are Dead in Life and Some Are Alive in Death

By Pr, "Wasif's urs on 26th" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 16th annual urs of renowned Sufi intellectual, Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif will begin from July 26, Saturday.

As per the program, the urs celebrations will start at his tomb at Bahawalpur Road after Asr prayers on July 26.

A Mehfil-e-Naat will also be organized; Srdar Nasrullah Dreshak will be the chief guest on the occasion.

On July 27, a seminar will be organized at Aiwan-e-Iqbal to highlight the life and teachings of Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif.

The celebrations will end with special prayers on July 28.

[Image from his biography on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasif_Ali_Wasif].

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Place They Deserve

By Ali Pektas, "Yarkın’s new album archival work, preservation of musical tradition" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Tuesday, July 16, 2008

With the release of their debut album, "Ten" (Skin), the Yarkın brothers expanded the horizons of Turkish music

The Yarkın Percussion Group, the first of its kind in Turkey, was established in 1994 by Fahrettin and Ferruh Yarkın and has managed to show that rhythm is not just a background factor, but can be appreciated on its own.

The group's primary goal was to "make drum players independent from horn players."

With later albums "Ten'de Ten" (Skin on Skin) and "Kervansaray" (Caravanserai), the group expanded its audience, and now their newest album, "Hayy," released recently under the Kalan Müzik label, has brought them once again to the musical agenda, giving today's voice to prominent works of Sufi music and at the same time serving as a rare archival work.

Contributors to the album include Bilal Demiryürek, Ahmet Şahin, Mehmet Kemiksiz, İlhan Yazıcı, Hamdi Demirci, Osman Ziyagil and Osman Erkahveci on vocals and Yavuz Akalın, Derya Türkan, Gökhan Filizman, Uğur Işık and Ferruh Yarkın playing music.

Fahrettin Yarkın spoke to Today's Zaman about the album, the commercially motivated albums of Sufi music that surface every Ramadan and the popularity of percussion music.

What was your goal when you first started to work on "Hayy"? Can it be described as an intentionally archival album?
There are hundreds of Sufi music albums on the music market. Until now, those who released these albums have tended to be either clerics or musicians only, and therefore there has always been something missing in these albums. I guess we have successfully fused both of these sides.

My brother, Ferruh, and I have been engaging in religious music since 1980 and had the opportunity to work together with many distinguished masters, such as Kani Karaca, Bekir Sıtkı Sezgin, Nezih Uzel and many more.

For a long time, we've had the intention to produce such an album. We have worked on the repertoire for about two years and we have also done meticulous work on the vocals.

We wanted to bring to the foreground the rhythm factor in this album and use some percussion instruments that have never been used before [in this musical genre]. Overall, we minimized the usage of melodic instruments.

Yes, we can possibly describe it as an archive work or an attempt to preserve the tradition. Apart from being an album with such a repertoire, it is a good work in that it is loyal to the original compositions and adapts them to the contemporary sound.

In the past, there were frequent discussions about whether there was religious music in Turkey or a need for it. What's your opinion on this?
We, as the Yarkın brothers, consider such discussions as out of context and unnecessary. In our opinion, there is indeed a religious music and any attempt to train, study or compose in this form of music is evidently very difficult.

In general, we can say that the area where religious music is used today can only represent the tip of the iceberg. There are tens more to what we now see and hear.

In particular, a number of Sufi music albums mushroom every Ramadan, and a section of these tend to be low quality, as they are produced with commercial goals in mind. Based on this fact, some argue that Sufi music is degenerating.
We are not interested in the commercial aspects of the work. We like to produce what we like to do. Of course, the primary purpose of releasing a Sufi music album in and for Ramadan is to earn money, and we cannot expect commercially-oriented minds to produce quality work.

We recorded this album in January 2008. We did not produce an album that can be listened to only at Ramadan. We regret that Sufi music is being degenerated. But it is not easy to prevent.

You set off as a percussion ensemble. Yet in your latest works, there are melodic elements. Are you going through a process of change?
We are happy to be a percussion ensemble. However our training and perspective do not keep us from utilizing from melodic elements, provided that we still give weight to percussion.

I hope 'Hayy' will be loved as much as and even more than 'Kervansaray.' We had conducted studies for months for some of the compositions in 'Kervansaray.'

We always perform long studies and then start the recording phase. In this respect, there has been no change. In our recent work, we have just given more room to melodic elements, but we still continue to use rhythmic structures and instruments as we wish.

What was your inspiration in saving percussion from being used just a factor accompanying other musical elements, making it an independently existing music element?
We won't be modest about this issue. Since 1995, we have been laboring to give percussion and percussion players the place they deserve. I guess we have shown that percussion can be both soloist and accompaniment.

As I said in our first album, we just wanted to make drum players are independent from horn players. At that time, there were mixed reactions. Yet it is good to see that percussion players are now getting the positions they long deserve.

‘We will establish a school of percussion if we find a sponsor'
"To remain and survive as an ensemble is very difficult. Although there are seemingly many percussion groups around, there is no true percussion band in the market.

Other than us, there's Engin Gürkey and his ensemble. They work more on Latin music and have managed to remain an ensemble. There are also good percussionists who work alone, such as Mısırlı Ahmet.

If you ask me about the current state of affairs in the market, I would say that I wish some groups that give preference to quality over commercial concerns would emerge and make contributions to music.

Time and music fans always eliminate the bad. We are waiting for good and original work. And if we can find someone to sponsor it, we intend to establish a percussion school".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Sea of Humanity

By Dr. Eugene D’Souza, "Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti – A Saint of the Downtrodden " - Daiji World - Mangalore, India
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The annual ten days Urs commemorating the death anniversary of one of the most revered Sufi Saints of India, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who is also referred as the ‘Garib Nawaz’, which means 'the one who shows kindness to the poor', comes to an end on July 15 at his magnificent mausoleum (dargah) at Ajmer.

During these ten days millions of devotees visit and pay respect and offer floral tribute to the saint for the favours that they had received or seeking favours of different kinds.

Eminent political leaders make it a point to present ‘cheddars’ amidst fanfare and media glare to be offered at the tomb of this medieval saint whose spirituality and love of humanity has been attracting thousands of devotees not only during his lifetime but even after his death year after year for the past 772 years.

This shrine is also known as the ‘Dargah Sharif’ (Holy Tomb).

Not only during the ten days Urs, but throughout the year, devotees, pilgrims and tourists throng the mausoleum of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. People of all walks of life and faith from all over the world, irrespective of their caste, creed and belief, visit this great shrine to offer flowers and devotion.

The rich and the poor stand side by side to pay homage and respect to this divine soul.

The mystic saints in Islam known as the Sufis were instrumental in spreading the ethical and spiritual values of Islam. Through spiritual attainment, piety and humanism they won over the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people.

They preferred to live among the masses of people, especially among the poor and downtrodden rather than living aloof from the society in mysticism and penance. Their service and love inspired the people and enabled them to realize the Eternal Truth.

Among the Sufi saints of medieval times, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti not only gained great spiritual and moral power but also manifested through practice his love and dedication to humanity without any worldly resources.

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was born in Sajistan, East Persia, in the first half of the twelfth century (around 1139).

Right from his childhood he manifested a spiritual bent of mind. At the age of 16, following the death of his parents, Moinuddin came under the influence of a spiritual leader and gave up his worldly belongings, distributed the money among the poor and took up the life of an ascetic.

He visited great centers of Islamic learning at Samarkand, Bokhara and other places and sought the guidance of a spiritual guide (Pir). Thereafter, he proceeded to Mecca and Medina on religious pilgrimage (Haj).

From Medina Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti proceeded to India and passing through Bokhara, Heart, Lahore and Delhi and meeting a number of Sufi saints arrived at Ajmer in Rajasthan at the age of 52 in 1290. At that time Ajmer was under the rule of Prithviraj Chauhan.

At Ajmer, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti attracted a large number of followers and acquired a great deal of respect amongst the residents of the city. Those who came in touch with him, especially the poor and downtrodden received kindest treatment and blessings from him and many became his disciples.

His simple teaching made great impact on common masses and his message of universal love and peace transcended the entire humanity without the distinction of creed and caste.

His strong faith in the unity of God provided the necessary ideological background to his mission of bringing about an emotional integration of the people amongst whom he lived.

Apart from the common people even the rulers and kings, both Hindu and Muslim used to visit the Khwaja and seek his intervention to solve their problems. However, he neither sought any favour nor any land grant from these rulers.

He lived a simple life relying on cultivation or alms.

Generosity to others, especially through sharing of food and wealth and tolerance and respect for different religions were the cardinal points of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s teachings.

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti interpreted religion in terms of human service and asked his disciples “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality.” The highest form of devotion, according to him, was “to redress the misery of those in distress – to fulfill the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry.”

In order to continue his mission of service to humanity, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti founded the so called Chishti Silsila (Order of Sufis) in India and sent his disciples to different parts of India to carry on his mission.

After living a simple and dedicated life in the service of common people, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti passed into eternity at the ripe age of 97 in 1236. After his death a mausoleum (dargah) was erected on his tomb at Ajmer by Iltutmish, the Sultan of Delhi. It was beautified and enlarged later by the Mughal Emperors Humayun and Akbar.

The tomb is a square white marble structure with a domed roof and two entrances.

The mausoleum of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, popularly known as ‘The Dargah Sharif’ (holy tomb) has been a center of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Hindus. However, the terrorists did not even spare this shrine that represents communal harmony and universal brotherhood.

On 11th October 2007, when thousands of Muslim devotees were breaking their day-long Ramzan fast, the terrorists triggered a bomb inside the dargah complex that killed three persons and injured seventeen.

In spite of this the spirit of the pilgrims to this shrine of the most revered Sufi Saint of Medieval India has not dampened and the stream of devotees has become a sea of humanity during these ten days of Urs.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eloquence and Calligraphy
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TT Art Desk, "Historical manuscript bearing Imam Ali’s devotions published in Iran" - Tehran Times - Tehran, Iran
Saturday, July 26, 2008

A book carrying devotions attributed to Imam Ali (AS) was published by the Astan-e Qods Razavi Center for Artistic Creations last week.

An addition of the historical book, which has been calligraphed by Master Mir Ali Heravi in 1533 CE, was unveiled during a ceremony at the Imam Ali (AS) Religious Arts Museum in Tehran on Thursday.

The original version of the book, which is also known as “Heravi Devotions”, is keep at the Astan-e Qods Razavi Museum and Library in Mashhad.

Master Gholam-Hossein Amirkhani, who has done the calligraphy for the book’s preface, and Mohammad Jafar Yahaqqi, professor of the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad who has written the preface, some officials from Astan-e Qods Museum, and a number of Iranian cultural figures attended the ceremony.

“This is the first time a book from a manuscript in the museum has been published by Astan-e Qods Razavi Center for Artistic Creations,” Hossein Abedi a member of Astan-e Qods Museum board of directors said.

In the future, according to Abedi, the center plans to publish three versions of the Holy Quran written by Safavid-era calligrapher Alireza Abbasi, a selection of verses from the Holy Quran with calligraphy by Ibrahim Sultan (1394–1435), and the Divan of Hafez written by the 18-century calligrapher Abdolmajid Taleqani.

“‘Heravi Devotions’ is a complex of arts,” Yahaqqi said. “The eloquence of Imam Ali’s words and nastaliq calligraphy of an artist like Mir Ali Heravi have turned the book into one of world’s most valuable manuscripts,” he added.

The ceremony went on with a film clip depicting the printing process of the book. Afterward Amirkhani criticized the Astan-e Qods Museum and Library for not providing public access to manuscripts kept the museum and library.

“The museum has restricted public access to its treasury for years. Publishing the precious manuscripts is a cultural action that should have been carried out long ago,” he noted.

“Heravi was an artist, who was the epitomy of Persian calligraphy who distanced himself ahead of other forerunners of the art,” Amirkhani explained.

“Although Heravi wrote the book when he was a tyro, the calligraphy of the book well illustrates the novelty of his art,” he added. Two editions of the book were presented to Amirkhani and Yahaqqi during the ceremony.

[Photo: Master Gholam-Hossein Amirkhani holds an edition of a book carrying devotions attributed to Imam Ali (AS) during a ceremony at the Imam Ali (AS) Religious Arts Museum in Tehran on July 24. The original version of the book has been calligraphed by Master Mir Ali Heravi in 1533 CE. (Mehr/Majid Asgaripur)].

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God Is Loving / وهوالودود
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Yale Center for Faith and Culture Reconciliation Program - Yale Divinity School - New Haven, CT, USA
Thursday, July 31, 2008


Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims

News Conference Live Webstream begins at 11:30am, EST
Click on the title of this article

Videos of the conference are posted online on the Yale Divinity School webcast page
Click on this link http://www.yale.edu/divinity/video/commonword/video.shtml

[Pictures (from left to right): Senator John Kerry; H.R.H. Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad Bin Talal with Prof. Dr. Miroslav Volf; Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric. Photos: Yale Divinity School - Yale University].
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It Contradicts the Fundamental Message of Islam
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By M. Serajul Islam, "Religious terrorism and Bangladesh" - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Bangladeshi journalist working for a foreign radio station warned me recently against being complacent about Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh.

I argued that despite its overwhelming Muslim population, Bangladesh has historically rejected political parties that have used Islam in elections.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the best known among such parties, has never won even a handful of seats in elections, achieving the best of 14 seats in the 2001 elections as a result of its alliance with the BNP.

I also argued that despite being predominantly Muslim, Bangladesh is the most liberal South Asian country where Islam has been influenced by Sufism with the least incidence of communal violence that are so endemic in other parts of this sub-continent.

Its liberal traditions notwithstanding, the two mainstream political parties earned for Bangladesh the label of a country that supports Islamic terrorism during the last BNP term. The BNP played the major part by allowing Jamaat-e-Islami indulgence to put a terrorist infrastructure in place as a payback for its votes that helped it win a 2/3 majority in the 2001 elections.

The Jamaatul Muhahadeen Bangladesh (JMB) terrorists, who earned the maximum notoriety, was nurtured by BNP top leadership to help its leaders in northern Bangladesh win territorial control over the extreme leftist elements there and also to please Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Awami League did its part by publicising abroad this evil nexus, labeling Bangladesh as Taliban that countries and interested groups abroad used to identify Bangladesh as a supporter of Islamic terrorism.

The Indian media also played a role in projecting Bangladesh in a bad light, identifying it as a “locus of Islamic terrorism”.

The former US Ambassador Harry Thomas had spared no efforts to warn the Government about the growing Frankenstein. India watched developments with understandable concern and conveyed these to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her visit to New Delhi in March 2005.

Rice told the press during the visit that Bangladesh could become the next Afghanistan and that India and USA would look after Bangladesh. The BNP Government remained unmoved and termed the concern over the Islamic fundamentalist forces as “media hype”.

Encouraged, these forces carried out nearly 500 simultaneous bomb blasts all over the country in August, 2005 that proved that these terrorists had a terrorist infrastructure in place and had also infiltrated the country's intelligence although the blasts caused little damage and just two deaths.

Khaleda Zia cut short an official visit to China and returned home but did little to contain these forces except issue arrest warrants against leading JMB terrorists that were not pursued seriously.

The BNP finally acted only after the US Assistant Secretary Christina Rocco visited Dhaka in January 2006 and delivered a harsh ultimatum to the Government to rein in the JMB terrorists.

Within weeks, Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai with 4 others were incarcerated in a make believe manner that left little doubt that they had escaped being arrested earlier due to state sponsorship. In jail, these JMB terrorists were treated as VIPs, leading to speculation that they would be released at an appropriate time.

The politics of the country then slipped into anarchy, leading to 1/11 when fate intervened.

The JMB terrorists were executed by the Caretaker Government after due legal process but no act of revenge followed that went to prove that AL accusations and Indian media reports that Bangladesh was infested with Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists was exaggerated and largely untrue.

During this period, United States also did not find any evidence that Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalist parties had Al Qaeda connections. Their concern was to contain the Islamic terrorism at home that was growing due to BNP Government's sponsorship.

Islamic terrorism has become benign with the fall of the BNP Government at a time when internationally Islamic terrorist groups are weakening. Newsweek in its June 9th edition under the caption “New Face of Islam” writes that within the Islamic world, a critique of radicalism is growing.

Moderate Islamic scholars who were silent before and after 9/11 are now beginning to speak out against Islamic terrorism. Clerics who had supported Bin Laden are now distancing themselves from him. Countries that have tolerated Islamic radicalism like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now encouraging moderation.

In Saudi Arabia, 10,000 Government paid imams have been asked by King Abdullah to restrain their zealous excesses.

A new realisation is now afloat in the Islamic world that the “apocalyptic notion of holy war” that Laden had promoted contradicts the fundamental message of Islam, which is peace.

Al Qaeda is now on the run in Iraq, its haven after US invasion of Afghanistan, where the US forces are winning. As a result of worldwide hunt, Al Qaeda is no longer in any position to encourage international terrorism as its finances and infrastructure have been considerably weakened.

These positive developments offer Bangladesh a great opportunity to re-establish its liberal traditions.

The mainstream parties have the most critical role to play. The BNP must not repeat its past mistakes and must rein in Jamaat, with whom it is again very likely to form election alliance. It should also not allow Jamaat to nominate anyone for the next general elections with blood on its hands for its role in 1971, knowing how much the people detest the war criminals.

The AL must fight Islamic radicalism in the country politically and refrain from giving the international media wrong impression about Bangladesh by talking of our internal politics abroad as it did during the BNP era.

It must also be consistent in dealing with Islamic fundamentalist forces. It has not fully explained to the people its election alliance with Khelafat-e-Majlish, a fundamentalist Islamic party that supports the fatwa, just before the postponed 2007 elections as well as its alliance during the first BNP term with the Jamaat to force the BNP out of power. It also needs to explain why during its tenure it did not deal with the war criminals.

The role of the civil societies and sector commanders of our liberation forces is critical here. Those who committed war crimes in 1971 should be tried under law as murderers and rapists, remembering that there is no statute of limitation here.

Those in Jamaat-e-Islami who are war criminals must be brought under the law. Jamaat's opposition to Bangladesh's independence is a political issue and must be dealt politically.

Unfortunately, in pursuing the war criminals, these groups have called for banning Jamaat as a political party, only indirectly labeling it as a party of war criminals. They have also used the secularism card in seeking to ban Jamaat because of its belief in Islam, claiming secularism as fundamental to our statehood.

In doing so, they have overlooked that democracy gives all political parties the right to address their beliefs to the people directly who as sovereign authority accept or reject them.

They have also insensitively set aside the importance of Islam as a way of life both in literal and spiritual sense to majority of Bangladeshis. Furthermore, the belief in Islam that helps people retain mental sanity in the face of extreme poverty and unbearable natural and manmade calamities that they face regularly has also been over-looked.

Islam based parties, particularly Jamaat, may thus be getting the benefit of over-kill with the secular card because a lot of people feel that those attacking the Jamaat are also targeting Islam.

Sadly, the detested war criminals may also be getting the reprieve by moves to ban Islam based parties from politics. The fact that the groups seeking to ban Jamaat are also supporters of the Awami League is also taking the wind out of the sail for trial of the war criminals with which few people differ.

Just as the West has made the mistake of putting Islam in the dock, because of Al Qaeda, those seeking trial of war criminals have similarly erred by bringing Islam into the equation. This could eventually lead to sympathy for Islamic parties arising from the perception that Islam is in peril.

For tackling Islamic fundamentalism, these groups must therefore ensure that they do not put Islam and secularism in conflict for there is no reason to do so.

Because of Bangladesh's liberal traditions and that in case of a conflict, Islam is going to get the majority nod over secularism.

History, internal politics and recent developments in the Islamic world do not therefore place Bangladesh in imminent danger of a takeover by fundamentalist Islamic forces. These notwithstanding, the next elected Government must bear in mind that there are 9000 Government registered madrasas and 15,000 Qawami madrasas and Islamic fundamentalist parties like Jagrato Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, Al-Harakat-ul-Islamia, Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami and Al-Khidmat.

These institutions and parties would need strict surveillance by the intelligence agencies to keep them on track which should not be difficult if the next Government is sincere about it.

Whether Bangladesh becomes a haven for international Islamic terrorists and whether Islamic fundamentalism plagues our politics will thus depend largely on the mainstream political parties and the civil societies.

The Islamic parties by themselves have the ability to cause disturbances but little possibility of doing much more. It is time that the mainstream parties and the civil societies work together in the interest of the nation and ensure our liberal Islamic heritage.

There is no reason for complacency about Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh but no reason to cry wolf either.

The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador and Director, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.
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A Critical Juncture
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By Asim Javed "Spiritual leader for combating extremism" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chairman Sufism Pakistan and Sajjada-Nashen of Draga Hazrat Syed Jalal Din Sorkh Posh, Syed Nafees-ul-Hassan has said that extremism and terrorism should be eliminated through teachings of spiritual leaders.

Syed Nafees-ul-Hassan was talking to The Post in a Forum on Thursday. He said that Pakistan is passing through a critical juncture and it is need of hour to combat terrorism and extremism in the light of teachings of Hazrat Data Gunj Buksh, Hazrat Moeen Din Chishti, Hazrat Bakhtair Kaki, Hazrat Mian Mir, Baba Bullhai Shah, Waris Shah Hazrat Mian Mir, Shah Jamal, Mooj Dirya and Hazrat Shahbaz Qalandir.

Dilating on the history of Uch Sharif, he maintained that it was the land of old civilization after Harappa and Moinjo Daro.

According to international archaeologists' report it existed 5000 years ago. Due to it's historical importance, UNESCO included it in World Heritage in 2004. But it had become a place to reckon with after setting up Jammia Ferozia for spiritual education in the subcontinent.

A large number of religious and spiritual scholars obtained education from there.

Some elements of the society were earning bad name to Jihad by committing suicidal acts of terrorism. Islam abhors any type of activities which caused destruction and take life of innocent people, he added.

When asked about Mushaikhs and Sufis who did not seem to be united, he sharply reacted saying that the different sects of Muslim should show unity and harmony to eliminate the extremism and sectarianism.

He maintained that Auqaf department was busy just for earning money but not to facilitate the devotees during Urs ceremonies.

Replying to a question, he strongly condemned so called Peers and swindlers who were misleading the people.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Airport’s “Guardian”.
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TT Correspondent, "Mauritius flight has close shave" - The Telegraph - Calcutta, India
Friday, July 25, 2008

New Delhi, July 24: The wheels of an Air Mauritius plane caught fire when the pilot slammed the emergency brakes seconds before take-off at Delhi airport today.

A full emergency was declared and fire tenders rushed to the runway. The blaze was put out in 15 minutes.

The 241 passengers and 11 crew members came out through a chute. “They were very lucky. As the pilot aborted just before take-off, the plane was in full thrust,” an airport official said.
Thirty passengers received minor injuries.

The official quoted the pilot as saying the take-off was aborted because of a bird hit. “The pilot has reported it was a bird hit but this has to be investigated.”

As a debate raged over whether the emergency drill saved the day, talk among officials veered to “divine intervention” by Pir Baba.

A mazar [shrine] of two Sufi saints is considered by many officials as the airport’s “guardian”. Prayers are offered there on Thursday. “It is opened to the public for a few hours each Thursday,” an official said.

The shrine was to be shifted but after today’s close shave, there might be second thoughts.
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The Eye of the Heart
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By Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, "The Perennial Relevance" - Greater Kashmir - Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the everlasting and never fading importance of Perennial philosophy

If asked to name two or three best book on Islam in the 20th century one can reply, with good reasons, Frithjof Schuon’s (the great perennialist Sufi Isa Nuruudin) books such as Understanding Islam and Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, the works which most of professors teaching Islam don’t care to read many would not even comprehend because of “obscurity” and dense, allusive and demanding philosophical content and style.

If there is an approach that can defend Islam and attract people of the highest intellectual calibre to it, it is perennial philosophy.

Most of the most important scholars in contemporary Islam have appropriated perennialist insights. Sufism or inner dimension of Islam provides the basis for perennialist worldview in Islamic context. Muslim authorities are unanimous in recognizing the batin or inner dimension of Islam and most of them identify Sufism as this dimension.

Religion without esotericism or inward dimension is empty formalism in which modern man has little, if any interest. And those who oppose all Sufism divest Islam of all its vitality and make it irrelevant and defenseless against modernity.

Revolt against traditional philosophy began with the father of modern philosophy, Descartes though some fancy him to be in the service of religion and juxtapose his name with great traditional authorities such as Ghazzali betraying their ignorance of secularizing force of modern philosophy.

It is with Descartes that revolt against traditional epistemology and metaphysics set in to culminate in disguised or sometimes frank atheism of modern philosophy. His cogito principle, his method of doubt, his severance of reason from intellect and rejection of intellective intuition and revelation in philosophy, his soul/body dualism and his other devations from traditional background make him a key figure in modern philosophy’s turning away from traditional roots in religion.

He, along with Newton, despite their concern to defend their own constricted understanding of Christianity epitomizes negation of an epoch in history and are architect of modern desacralizing scientistim and secularization.

Here we may contrast Descartes with Ghazali, who stemmed the tide of faith denying rationalism and metaphysically problematic Aristotelianism in Islam and prevented the development of great aberration in philosophy that was to characterize the post-Descartes’ West.
Ghazali, in contrast, stood for intellect and revelation and didn’t subordinate theology to rational philosophy and was in important respects polar opposite of Descartes. There is little correspondence in their respective methodological doubts or between methodological and existential doubts of Descartes and Ghazzali respectively.
The fruits of their doubting methodologies being so different so we can’t characterize both of them with reference to single conception of “skepticism” or doubt.

If skepticism is a virtue in modern philosophy, it has no place in Muslim philosophy.

Traditional metaphysics doesn’t start from doubt, has nothing to do with synthesizing knowledge of sciences that are never absolutely certain and search for causes of phenomena.

The question is: did Ghazali ever doubt existence of God in his so-called skeptical phase? If he didn’t, how can we assert that he fell under the spell of “skepticism in all its connotations” for some time, as asserted by orientalists and those who read philosophy from Western historians of philosophy. He did become doubtful about the possibility of knowledge by means of reason and senses for sometime but did not turn a skeptic who denies the possibility of finding some means through this impasse and who doesn’t implore God to guide him out of this impasse.

That was more a dark night of soul than the darkness of impasse of other skeptics. Skepticism is a loaded term in modern discourse though if we restrict it to its original sense as inquiry then it is a virtue and all philosophers are skeptics, at least to begin with.

There can be no presuppositionless philosophy despite the claim to the contrary of those who claim otherwise and privilege methodology of doubt.

To accuse perennialists of pantheism shows one doesn’t care to read even the first sentence of perennialist writings on God that asserts the notion of Beyond-Being which is transcendent and pantheism means rejection of divine transcendence.

It is a typical orientalist fallacy to accuse Sufism of pantheism.

Even such a perceptive philosopher as Iqbal fell under the spell of this orientalist misreading (in his Reconstruction he labeled Sufism as pantheistic), not to speak of lesser mortals who have yet to emerge from the spell of modern Western thought which banished Intellect and don’t appreciate that intellective intuition and gnosis is possible by virtue of Intellect.

Intellect is what the Sufis, including Ghazali, call the eye of the heart. It is another face of what the Quran calls Ruh, the Spirit.

Without it man is not man, man in the image of God. Rejecting it in the name of Islam is to reject the intellectual/spiritual foundation of Islam.

The source of revelation in Islam is Gabriel or the Universal Intellect. It is Intellect that makes man immortal and makes man vestigio Dei.

All perception is dependent on intellect though Descartes didn’t appreciate this and up to the present day perception has been an unsolved problem in Western thought.

Gnosis or religious experience on which experimental proof of existence of God and thus possibility of religion is based is an attribute of Intellect.
Intellect and NeoPlatonic hikmah philosophy can be opposed in the name of modern philosophy only and not in the name of Islam and Muslim philosophy.
Aristotle deviated in certain measure from hikmah philosophy and Ghazalian criticism primarily applies to rationalizing Aristotlenism and he did so in the spirit of Neoplatonic mysticism despite his differences with emanationist view.

Bringing Ibn Taymiyah’s authority to refute NeoPlationic Muslim philosophers and perennialists, as is done by exotericists, is to confound separate prerogatives of theology and metaphysics and privilege the former.
It is metaphysics which is equipped to teach theology what polytheism or shirk is in its deepest or most real sense rather than the vice versa. Theology or exotericism for its dualism is inherently unable to taste unity or tawhid and thus a subtle form of shirk.
It argues in propositions and doesn’t see first hand its object.

It is only in the light of perennial philosophy that we can understand Islam most
comprehensively as civilization – its sciences, its arts, its architecture, its philosophy and its theology.

Symbolism of mosque, of cap or turban, of veil, of ritual prayer- indeed of anything associated with Islam, is best deciphered by perennialists.

Perennialists are able to convincingly own Sufis and most philosophers. They accommodate the generality of ulema as well though they are able to move beyond most of these categories.

Maulana Thanvi, one of the towering personalities - jurist cum theologian cum metaphysician cum Sufi- was Hasn Askari’s Murshid.
There is no orientalist influence in the writings of perennialists. They are 100 percent orientalism/Westernism/modernism free.

There can be no unIslamic source at metaphysical plane but only at theological plane. When one transcends theological plane one transcends all talk of “Islamic” and “unIslamic” sources.

The God of the Quran is Truth, Reality (al-Haqq).

Everything in the universe (aafaq) and soul (nafs) is the province of the inclusive truth of which Islam speaks. Wherever wisdom (hikmah) is or truth is, that is appropriated by the M’umin as his own possession.

Adopting perennialist perspective means one leaves aside all human constructions, all merely rational speculative systems, all doubt based and (modern) empiricist modes of thought, all complicity with (modern) science and its notions of causality and rests securely in the timeless truths of revelation and wijdan that metaphysics expresses in consistent format.
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Dervishes in Tehran
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TE/HGH, "Iran to hold 'Persian Gulf Sun' concert " - Press TV - Tehran, Iran
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Iran's Sa'ad Abad Palace is slated to host a traditional music concert by the Shams ensemble accompanied by international musicians.

The Persian Gulf Sun concert will feature Sama, the trancelike dance practiced by Sufi dervishes.

Five songs adapted from the works of Mowlavi will be played by the traditional Persian instrument Tanbour in the first part of the concert.

The second part of the concert will feature performances by the Shams ensemble accompanied by musicians from Armenia, France, England, India, Netherlands, Iraq and Turkey.

The concert will be held from Aug. 13 to 16, 2008 in Tehran.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

10 Books on Islam
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Robert Irwin, "Robert Irwin's top 10 books on Islam and Islamic culture" - The Guardian - London, UK
Wednesday, July 18, 2008

1. The Koran Interpreted, translated by Arthur J Arberry
Strictly, Muslims hold that a translation from Arabic of the Koran is not possible. However, this is the best attempt at a translation into English.

Not only is this one the most accurate, it also captures the rhythm and poetry of the original. Arberry was a devout Christian who nevertheless identified strongly with the mystical strain in Islam.

2. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Cook
However good the translation you read (or even if you can read it in Arabic), the text of the Koran still needs a lot of glossing and some context. Cook is erudite, witty and incisive and he packs a huge amount into his 150 pages.

Even specialists in Koranic studies are likely to learn something from this amazingly efficient account of how the Koran was put together, what it contains and how it is studied and recited today.

Apart from anything else, this book should serve as a model of how to write a very short account of anything whatsoever.

3. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran by Roy Mottahedeh
There is no other book quite like this. Mottahedeh, a brilliant Princeton professor, based his account of spiritual life in Iran on a series of lengthy interviews with an Iranian mullah, tracing the holy man's career from childhood in the holy city of Qom to a senior position in the ranks of the Iranian clergy.

This searching exploration of the spiritual and intellectual life of Shi'i Islam is effectively an insider's account of an educational curriculum that has not significantly changed since the middle ages. Modern political and social tensions in the region are also explored.

4. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century. Shaikh Ahmad al-'Alawi by Martin Lings
This book changed my life. It is an inspiring account of the career and teachings of a great Algerian Sufi mystic master.

Al-'Alawi, a holy man and profound thinker, founded one of the most important North African Sufi orders.

Lings is a convert to Islam and his account of al-'Alawi's teachings manages to convey something of authentic Sufism, (as opposed to the ersatz new age stuff that is otherwise so widely available in the west).

This is a book that may give you some sense of why and how Muslims believe in Allah.

5. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism by Carl Ernst
This is an outsider's account of Sufism written by an academic specialist in Islamic studies. Ernst lucidly sets out the mystical elements in the Koran and provides a potted history of the great Sufi orders from medieval times onwards.

He is very good on the great Sufi poets, Hafiz and Rumi, but the most interesting chapter is the last, on contemporary Sufism.

6. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (3 volumes) by Marshal GS Hodgson
Hodgson died before he could quite finish this massive cultural history of Islam but, even so, it remains a great monument of learning and cross-cultural empathy.

Hodgson attempted to rethink the way Islamic history was traditionally written about and he wanted to ditch Orientalist cliches. Since he was largely successful in these enterprises, his book has been hugely influential.

It is particularly good on the achievements of Persian, Turkish and Indian Muslims.

7. Atlas of the Islamic World by Francis Robinson
This beautifully produced atlas is one of the books influenced by Hodgson's rethink of Islamic culture. The pictures (of Persian miniatures, Mughal architecture, African mosques, modern political posters and much else) are lovely.

The accompanying text is intelligent and entirely reliable. Robinson reminds us, if the reminder is necessary, that Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs and that high Islamic culture did not come to a screeching halt some time around the 11th century.

8. A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
Although Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs, they have played rather a large part in its propagation. Hourani was a fastidious stylist and this book, a glowing and sympathetic account of Arab achievements, was his last masterpiece.

The narrative has a fine sweep and is not clogged with detail about people with unpronounceable names marching off to fight in unspellable places.

Anyone thinking of going to the Middle East should read this first. So should Kilroy Silk.

9. Islamic Art and Architecture by Robert Hillenbrand
Hillenbrand is the top man on Islamic art in Britain today and in the past he has ranged extremely widely in his more specialist studies on Islamic art and architecture.

His general book on this topic is compact and attractively illustrated. The quality of his prose and its effectiveness in evoking the appearance and aesthetic effect of the objects he is describing is marvellous. His description of the Alhambra, for example, is simply breathtaking.

10. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Andrew Rippin
This is probably the best general account of what Muslims believe.

Rippin instructs his readers in the elements of Islamic history and the evolution of theology and law, as well as meaning of such things as the hajj, salaat, Ramadan and jihad. He explains the differences between Shi'is and Sunnis.

He is particularly strong on the challenges and opportunities facing modern Muslims, so that contemporary Islam's encounter with modernity, feminism and democracy are all thoughtfully explored.


Writer and broadcaster Robert Irwin is the author of The Alhambra, recently published by Profile. He is also the author of The Arabian Nights: A Companion and The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature as well as six novels. He has just finished writing a history of Orientalism.

[For reviews on books and music on Sufism, visit The Sufi Book and Music Blog http://sufibookstore.blogspot.com/ and the Sufi Book Store http://astore.amazon.com/wilderwri-20].
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His Pioneering Role
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Ljbc, "The Leader met with members of General Secretariat of World Islamic People's Leadership, members of World Sufism Office2008-7-22" - Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation - Libya
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Leader of the Revolution, the Leader of the World Islamic People's Leadership met with members of the General Secretariat of this Leadership, who are taking part in its 15th meeting, currently held in Tripoli.

The Leader also met with the members of the World Sufism Office, who are also participating in this meeting, besides Mufti of Chechnya, the Secretary-General of the Muslim Youth in Senegal, the Advisor to Philippine's President, and the chief editor of an Indonesian magazine.

At the outset of the meeting, the Secretary-General of the World Islamic People's Leadership, Dr. Mohammad Ahmed al-Sherif, briefed the Leader of the Revolution on the agenda of the meeting, which is held once a year to discuss situations of the Islamic world, Muslims' affairs and intercommunication with other the cultures; and to follow-up decisions of the General Conference of the Leadership, which is held once each four years; and also to follow up programs and activities of the executive office in the different arenas, expressing delight for being honored to meet the Leader and listen to his advices.

The Syrian Mufti, Dr. Ahmad Badruddin Hassun, delivered a speech to welcome the Leader of the Revolution, in which he hailed his concerns for Islam and Muslims, his courage in settling the Muslims' causes and his pioneering role in calling for dialogue with the other cultures and religions to diffuse Islam, valuing the Leader's prediction of the future of the Arab Ummah, which came in his speech in the Arab Summit in Syria; the prediction that came into reality represented in the ICC's decision against Sudan.
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The World They Lived In
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TP Correspondent, "People throng to pay homage to Waris Shah" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jandiala Sher Khan: On the third and last day of the annual Urs celebrations of great Sufi Poet and Saint Pir Waris Shah, thousands of devotees including children and women thronged the shrine to pay their homage to the saint.

Waris Shah was born in Jandiala Sher Khan, Sheikhupura in 1719 or 1730.

After completing his education in Kasur, he moved to Malka Hans where he lived in a small room adjacent to a historic mosque, constructed in 1340.

The room is still there, though devoid of any furniture or articles that could be related to Waris Shah in attempts to commemorate his being. The only sign remains a rather crudely written plaque with sketchy details about the poet.

A man of greet wisdom, understanding and experience, Waris had delved deep into his characters while, except for the famous Heer and Ranjha, he had penned down satirical sketches, through whom he showed the people the reality of the world they lived in.

[Picture from APNA (Academy of the Punjab in North America): http://www.apnaorg.com/].
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Monday, July 28, 2008

To Promote Understanding
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By Dorie Baker, "Muslim and Christian Leaders Meet at Yale for Historic “Common Word” Conference" - Yale Bulletin, Yale University - New Haven, CT, USA
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More than 150 Muslim and Christian leaders, including some of the world’s most eminent scholars and clerics, will gather at Yale University July 28 –31 to promote understanding between the two faiths, whose members comprise more than half the world’s population.

Prominent political figures and representatives of the Jewish community also will speak at the conference, which launches a series of interfaith events planned around the world over the next two years.

These gatherings respond to the call for dialogue issued in an open letter, A Common Word Between Us and You, written by major Islamic leaders, to which Yale scholars responded with a statement that garnered over 500 signatures.

(...)

Notable leaders expected at the conference include Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan; former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of Sudan; top Evangelical leaders Leith Anderson and Geoff Tunnicliffe; prominent Ayatollahs from Iran; Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi of Palestine, Grand Muftis of several Middle Eastern countries; Antonios Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches; and John Esposito of Georgetown University.

Senator John Kerry as well as other senior U.S. government officials also are expected to attend.

(...)

For additional conference information — including online streams of the conference panels and keynote addresses and other up-to-date information — visit the conference website
http://www.yale.edu/divinity/commonword/
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Not to Think in Terms of Blocks
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dpa/Trend News, "Arts festival next year to link Weimar and Shiraz" - Trend News - Baku, Azerbaijan
Saturday, July 19, 2008

A new arts festival now taking shape in Germany may help avert a "war of civilizations" by highlighting a shared reverence in the Islamic world and the West for classical poetry and fine art, dpa reported.

The Divan Festival is to be staged in successive weeks next year in two fabled towns: Shiraz, the Iranian city of poets, wine and flowers, and Weimar, the central German home of the great German poets and writers.

The idea is to build bridges between European culture and the Islamic nations.

" Shiraz will be the first host in June 2009," explained the event's artistic director, Klaus Gallas, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. A 15-day Iranian culture programme will then take place in August 2009 in Weimar.

The programme will comprise concerts, literary readings and art exhibitions.

Gallas intends to hold the Divan Festival every year thereafter in both Weimar and a changing partner city in Iran or the Arab world. He said talks were already under way with the United Arab Emirates on a venue there in 2010.

The word "divan" has passed into several western languages meaning a collection of poetry. This was inspired by the Divan of Hafez.

Its author, Hafez, was a Persian mystic and poet born about 1325 in Shiraz. Sams ud-Din Mohammed Hafez lived till 1390 and his Divan collection of subtly ambiguous poetry is admired in many countries.

The title was mirrored by the West-Eastern Divan, the title of an 1819 collection of poems in a quasi-Persian style by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) who lived in Weimar and is revered as Germany's greatest poet, dramatist and novelist.

"We are calling the event the West-Eastern Divan Festival to commemorate both Goethe and Hafez," said the organizer.

A 1999 West-Eastern Divan monument in Weimar, in the form of two high-backed chairs carved out of stone and facing one another, already represents the two great national poets in virtual dialogue and recalls Goethe's cross-cultural interests.

The Argentine-born conductor Daniel Barenboim has also used the name, separately setting up a West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Weimar.

The city, which has given its name to the 1919-1933 pre-Nazi Weimar Republic in Germany, is a magnet for intellectual tourists because of its links with Goethe and other leading German poets.

"We aim to hold a cultural festival in Weimar that will be influential in the whole of Europe," said Gallas. "It will oppose the tendency to think in terms of blocks, east and west, occidental and oriental.

"The objective is to expose how we are mutually reluctant to be friends, how we are bound by our prejudices and misconceptions," said Gallas, who describes himself as a historian of culture. He has visited Iran several times, the first time more than 30 years ago.

Gallas said he had won government encouragement from the German Foreign Ministry, the Goethe Institute which promotes German culture abroad, the Federal Culture Fund which promotes culture within Germany and the municipality of Weimar.

"Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has agreed to be the patron," said Gallas, who has now taken the step of legally incorporating the West-Eastern Divan Festival Weimar as a non-profit society.

"The next step is to apply for public subsidies," said Gallas, who adds that he has set up a board of cultural advisers. Its membership would include Mumbai-born classical music conductor Zubin Mehta, who has twice conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Weimar.

Two German orchestras will be led by Iranian conductors in concerts at the opening and closing of the Festival under Gallas' plan.

"In between those dates there will be public readings from the works of Goethe and Hafez, exhibitions by contemporary artists and concerts of Iranian classical and popular music," said Gallas, 66, who has been working on the project for more than a year.

He denied in the interview that he was encroaching on Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. "I am in dialogue with Barenboim," he said.


[Picture: The Goethe-Hafez monument in the city of Weimar. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafez]
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cello Invocations
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By Serkan Kara, "Uğur Işık brings together world religions on Anatolian soil" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cellist Uğur Işık is an internationally acclaimed Turkish musician not yet recognized by the Turkish audience as he engages in no political rhetoric

The most prominent quality of his music is his performing instrumental and sometimes vocal pieces from Turkish culture using his cello, a Western instrument.

Having reached a considerably large European audience with his first album, in which he performs Anatolian folk songs with his cello, Işık appears to be continuing the upward trajectory in his career with his recently released second album, "Cello Invocations," with which he says he has "gathered world religions on Anatolian soil," also bitterly complaining that people are predisposed to pigeonholing his albums only by looking at the origin of the pieces he performs.

He says some branded him an Alevi after his first album and as religious following the second one, though he does not consider himself religious.

We spoke with Işık, who says, "My album dwells on religious music, not the religion itself," about his art, well received in the world but disregarded in his homeland. We also spoke about criticism that has been directed at his style and finally spoke about the things he wants to achieve.

We first heard Anatolian music from your cello. How did the idea of delving into religious music originate? Was it already present during the making of the first album, or did it develop afterwards?
You should begin learning the religious music of whatever society you are researching. If you are studying Western music, you cannot become a classical music performer without learning Bach. Eventually Bach, too, performs religious music.

If you are training to be a classical Turkish music performer, you have to learn the musical compositions of the Mevlevi whirling rite, Sufi hymns, qasidahs (Sufi poems spontaneously sung in a certain maqam [mode], mostly to accompany a Sufi remembrance ceremony) and the maqams (the hundreds of modal structures that characterize the art of Turkish classic music).

I'm not a practicing Muslim, but I have learned the Mevlevi rites and have also learned how to whirl. Unless you go deep down into music, as deep as its roots, you can't build anything on top. This is music.

We live with religious music, but when the word "religion" is mentioned, people start looking at the whole thing unfavorably because of prevalent prejudices.

My latest album is a grand invocation of all religions. When you mention the word "invocation" ("dhikr" in Turkish and Arabic), people are scared, whereas invocation, that is, remembrance ceremonies, makes for an outstanding musical show.

They portray invocation as something bad in films and series: They employ people who perform the audible dhikr as if fighting or making love. These people have nothing to do with invocation; the divine remembrance is completely something else.

Who performs the audible dhikr in the album?
It is performed by, so to say, real "invokers" who have grown up in a real Sufi environment and culture. They perform it the way it should be performed and use their bodies like a musical instrument.

I have played the cello to fill the background of the remembrance music, and I did that according to the authentic structure of remembrance ceremonies. I did not use "free-style" music, pushing the dhikr into the background; I never thought, "Hey, I could improvise on that one…"

What were your standards in choosing the pieces you have included in your album? What in those pieces attracted you?
The actual number I had considered was far higher. For instance, the tekbir, which pronounces the oneness of God, (composed in the segah maqam by the legendary Turkish music composer Mustafa Itri) had to be on the album.

When I perform the tekbir with the cello during my concerts in Europe, I see that the European people in my audience are spiritually moved to a great extent; they almost enter into a state of trance.

After I got the idea of the cello praying using the tekbir, I then tried the salawat -- asking God to shower his blessings and peace upon the Prophet Mohammed -- (again composed by Itri in the segah maqam).

Approaches to religion in the world are very different; that is why I have combined the differences on this album. If I had used (music composed by the followers of) Sunni Islam only, the album would have had a melancholy tone to it because in the country we live in there is gloom as well as fear, whereas the religion is only a means to reach God, the only Holy One.

When you perform a piece by Ellayl Zahi Fas with tambourines apart from religious pieces, the audience stands up and starts dancing along. I have mixed the strict Islam and the cheerful Islam together. When they all transcend one another, what comes out is a totally different combination.

Are there pieces which you left out at the last moment?
I thought of a very mournful and sorrow-inspiring sala [a kind of salawat, recited in certain maqams from the minaret to tell the neighborhood that somebody has died and his funeral prayer will be performed after the normal prescribed daily prayer], which I was to improvise over a Sufi hymn (ilahi).

Two religious musicians were to perform the sala. This project is ready and I will carry it out. It will not appear on my CDs, but it may end up being used as part of a soundtrack. The pieces I had to take out, even though I had deemed them suitable with the concept, will definitely get recorded.

(...)

The most important quality of the album is that the pieces that belong to different religions have similar sounds. Why did you perform them in the same style?
I memorized a Catholic piece from Italy like an Italian, but did not play it like an Italian. If I had played like them, a disconnect would have occured in the album.

In that case, "Lamento di Tristano," which comes after a Turkish folk song, would sound like a piece being played from some other CD. But in its current state, the listeners cannot differentiate the transitions between the tracks.

All the religious pieces on the album belong to the same sincere feelings. They are all music composed for God.

The album contains Greek Orthodox sounds, African hymns or Italian Catholic hymns, and I feel all of them are the same. Ultimately, the target of all of them is the same.

That you have performed the music of different religions with the culture of Anatolia as a backdrop makes Muslim listeners think that they are all Islamic melodies. Do your audiences abroad feel the same, that what you play belongs to their religion? In what way do they react?
When I perform the pieces that contain invocation, European listeners close their eyes and automatically start swaying. They are mostly the followers of another religion and also know that dhikr is a type of religious music that belongs to Islam; but knowing this doesn't prevent them from enjoying this music.

Respectively, I perform a Spanish Catholic hymn Jezebel, the Mevlevi rite in the hijaz maqam, followed by the Jewish hymn Yad Anuga.

Even if the people who listen to these back to back are Jews, Christians or Muslims, they all say that all the pieces belong to them. When a Christian listens to the ezan, the Muslim call to prayer, he says it belongs to him. The ezan awakens religious feelings in them.

Did anyone react negatively to you for making religious music?
People from my immediate surroundings showed a few negative reactions… What I feared most about this project was to be seen as "trying to appeal to a certain segment" and to be branded accordingly.

No segments exist for me! These are pretty ugly things to say. I'm a person who looks at everything with an open mind. An invocation performed by the most devoted Muslim or a Christian hymn sung by a most radical Catholic are both the same to me. All of them are the same in essence.

You keep insistently saying in your statements that you are not religious…
Some called me "religious" after the release of this album. And I said, or rather was forced to say, that I was not a religious man; this is not something good.

I'm not an atheist, I'm a believer; but I was forced to make that statement. Why the pressure? To me, everyone is equal, everything is the same; at least, that's how I see things.

Some people are proud to declare that they are atheists, whereas I'm indirectly coerced into stating that I'm not a religious person. I would have included pieces only from the Islamic culture, and it would have had a greater appeal to the European ear, but I couldn't.

(...)

You had one particular bad concert experience in Turkey. Will you be giving concerts as part of this album?
Oh, yes! I played to an audience of 5,000 people in Greece and the other day I played the same pieces to only 50 people in İstanbul, which put me off music.

I'm not pushing for it, but people have been demanding concerts from me. I might organize concerts by combining the two albums and by employing some visual aids.

For instance, I may have scenery from our country displayed or I might use dancers, but definitely not a big group of instrumentalists. It should always be elegantly simple -- maybe a couple of percussions and some sufis for the invocation parts.

I'm planning to open up to African countries and Muslim countries. I'd like to work on some projects with the people there also.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Bridges across Faiths
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Second Editorial: Peace in mysticism - The Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, July 20, 2008

A meeting organised by the University of Gujrat to discuss the topic of “Resurgence of Sufism as a Universal Movement for Peace and Development” on Friday came to the natural conclusion that mysticism removed barriers of hard faith and led to peace which is the translated meaning of Islam.

However, the same day a TV channel discussed Sufism and found fault with the great mystics of the past in their claims of direct communication with God.

In these days of punishing orthodoxy, the stock of mysticism is low. Anyone inclined to follow the path of our saints can be killed, as shown by the murderous ongoing clashes in the Khyber Agency.

Mysticism is an internal phenomenon which can’t even be expressed but it permeates our culture through poetry.

It loosens the hold of the orthodox clergy and brings people together without their agency in an atmosphere of festivity at the various melas.

The world outside is becoming aware of this trend in Islam and is reaching out to it simply because the orthodox clergy will not communicate except through jihad.

So we should constantly reassert our Sufi heritage and build bridges across faiths.

[Picture: University of Gujrat and World Punjabi Congress on Saturday organized a Mehfil-e-Mushaira (Poetry reading) to entertain the Indian delegation and national participants of the International Conference “Resurgence of Sufism as a Universal Movement for Peace & Development” at Hafiz Hayat Campus, UOG. Internationally renowned poet, Anwar Masood presided over the event.]

Read more at the University Website http://uog.edu.pk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=182&Itemid=1
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'Persian Nightingale'
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NA/MK, "Greece to host Iranian vocalist" - Press TV - Tehran, Iran
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shahram Nazeri, one of the most prominent Persian vocalists, is scheduled to perform classical and mystic pieces in Athens, Greece.

The Hellenic Festival will witness a 90-minute performance by Nazeri. He will perform songs adapted from the works of outstanding Iranian poets Mowlavi and Hafez.

Nazeri will be accompanied by fellow Iranian artists, the virtuoso Tanbur player Ali-Akbar Moradi, percussionist Pejman Haddadi and Daf player Kourosh Moradi.
Three-stringed Tanbur and Daf (frame drum) are traditional Persian music instruments.


Greek lyrist Matthaios Tsachourides will also collaborate with the ensemble.

In September 2007, Nazeri received the French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres Medal for his significant role in advancing traditional Persian music.

Nazeri, also known as the 'Persian Nightingale', is slated to perform in Athens' Scholeion Theatre on July 25.
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Al-Mujadid
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[From the French language press]:

Le Cheik Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754-1817) est une figure mythique de l'histoire de la pensée islamique en Afrique de l'Ouest.

par Matthieu Vernet, "S. Moumouni, Vie et oeuvre du Cheik Uthmân Dan Fodio 1754-1817 de l'islam au soufisme" - Fabula - France; vendredi 18 juillet 2008

Shaykh Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754 - 1817) is a mythical figure in the history of Islamic Thought in West Africa.

While his life and work have been widely studied, his work about Sufism is relatively little known.

The contribution to Sufism in the work of the Shaykh stands out at three levels: technical literature for internal use for murids; texts describing his experiences and spiritual initiation, and, finally, the texts of controversy and speculation between Sufism and other Islamic doctrines.

This book traces, through unpublished manuscripts, the life and work of this great mystic, "al-Mujadid" (the Renovator), as he is known in West Africa.

Seyni Moumouni is a teacher and researcher at the Institute for Research in Human Sciences at the University of Abdou Moumouni Niamey [Niger].

Vie et oeuvre du Cheikh Uthmân Dan Fodio (1754-1817) De l'islam au soufisme
Seyni MOUMOUNI
Préface de Souleymane Bachir Diagne


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An Icon of Sufism
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[From the French language press]:

Jbel Alam, capitale mondiale du soufisme: un colloque du 25 au 29 juillet. Chercheurs et dignitaires religieux parmi les invités.

Promouvoir l’image de tolérance de Moulay Abdeslam et de son disciple Chadili, tel est l’objectif d’un colloque international de la Tarika Mashishiya-Chadilia.

Par Ali Abjiou, "Jbel Alam, capitale mondiale du soufisme" - L'Economiste - Casablanca, Maroc; mercredi 16 juillet, 2008

Jbel Alam, world capital of Sufism: a symposium from July 25 to July 29. Researchers and religious dignitaries among the guests.

Promoting the image of tolerance of Moulay Abdeslam and his disciple Chadili: this is the objective of an international symposium of the Tariqa Mashishiya-Chadilia.

This first meeting on the personality and spiritual message of the saint of Jbel Alam will provide an opportunity to meet, in Tangiers and Tetouan, various spiritual dignitaries, researchers and historians interested in this icon of Sufism.

Other guests include Moroccan academics and experts.

Announced also Bariza Khiyari, a French Senator, particularly active in terms of bridging cultures; Eric Geoffroy from the Marc Bloch University (Strasbourg), a specialist in Sufism and sanctity in Islam; and Shaykh Khaled Bentounes, spiritual leader of the Alawiya Mostaganem.

Moulay Ben Abdeslam Mchich Alami (born in 1140 CE) and his disciple Chadili are surrounded by an aura of mysticism in the collective subconscious of Morocco.

Moulay Abdeslam is called "holy of holies", so much so that visiting his mausoleum seven times amounts to a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The ultimate goal through the organization of this symposium is to set the foundations for a global forum on the Mashishiya-Chadiliya.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For Those in Love
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TP Correspondent, "Waris Shah Urs from tomorrow" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jandiala Sher Khan: The 210th Urs celebrations of renowned Sufi Saint Waris Shah will be started here from July 23 which will continue for three days.

Thousands of devotees of Waris Shah from various parts of country and abroad have started reaching to attend the annual Urs celebrations.

The Urse will be started with the recite of versus from the Holy Quran after which District Coordination Officer (DCO) Suleman Ejaz will perform the bathing of the tomb of the great Sufi Saint with rose water.

District and City Journalists Association's President Ilyas Gujar, Muhammad Yaqoob Sandhu, Mudassar Irfan, Akhter Rasool Janjua, former SP Syed Ahmad Khan, Manager Waris Shah Complex Ahsanul Malik and Ahmad Zia Khan will take part in the ceremony.

Vendors have started setting up various kind of stalls including of literary books while Circus and Theater will be featured during the celebrations.

On the second day of the Urs, a singing competition of 'Heer Waris Shah' will also be held in which people from across the country will take part. The Punjab Arts Council and Khabrian Group of News Papers will organise the competition and prizes will be distributed among position holders at the end of the competition.

Meanwhile, dance of horses and Kabaddi competitions will be held during the Urs.

The Punjab minister for youth will be the chief guest during these competitions. All the guests will be served with traditional dish "Chori of Desi Ghee."

Sheikhupura DPO Zeim Iqbal Sheik and DSP Traffic Haji Khalid Javied have prepared a special plan for smooth traffic flow during the celebrations.

On the other hand, Wapda Sub Divisional Engineer Shafqat Ullah Virk said that electricity to Waris Shah Complex would be provided without any interruption for three days.

Meanwhile, all markets, shops and commercial centres will remain close in connection with the Urs celebrations in the district on July 24.

[Picture from http://www.apnaorg.com/poetry/heercomp/. Visit the Site for a short Bio, a summary of the Heer in English, and more].
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The Patched Cloak of the Celestial Sphere
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By Karen Rosenberg, "An Emperors’ Art: Small, Refined, Jewel Toned" - The New York Times - New York, NY, USA
Friday, July 18, 2008

Muraqqa is the Persian term for a patched garment traditionally worn by Sufi mystics as a sign of poverty and humility.

Yet it is also the word for a gilded and lavishly calligraphed album.

This type of muraqqa, a luxury object from the Mughal empire in India, is a patchwork of imagery: portraits of emperors and courtiers, Eastern mystics and Western religious figures; examples of plant and animal life.

For just two more weeks muraqqa commissioned by the Mughal emperors Jahangir (ruled 1605-1627) and his son Shah Jahan (ruled 1627-1658) will be on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of theSmithsonian Institute here [Washington DC].

“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums” showcases 82 rarely seen paintings from six albums. These muraqqa are indeed patchworks, of the most elegant and refined variety.

Accompanied by an informative (and, at 528 pages, intimidating) catalog, the show inaugurates a yearlong festival of India-related programming at the Sackler and Freer Galleries of Asian art that will include performances, films and an exhibition in the fall titled “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.”

The works in “Muraqqa” were collected by the American-born industrialist and philanthropist Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), who established a library in Dublin for these and other treasures.

One imagines that Beatty, a mining magnate, was drawn not only to the jewel tones and gilded surfaces of Mughal paintings, but also to their intimations of empire.

Formal and informal portraiture, naturalism, spirituality, worldly extravagance and history are condensed into images no bigger than a notebook. (The museum has thoughtfully provided magnifying glasses.)

A typical album is composed of folios, or double-sided sheets, made up of several layers of paper pasted together. Each folio pairs a painting with a section of calligraphy, both surrounded by decorative borders; the relationship of image and text varies from illustration to loose association.

While the paintings in “Muraqqa” are by many different artists, much of the text can be credited to the famed calligrapher Mir Ali of Herat, who often signed his works in abject fashion, “the sinful slave Mir Ali the scribe” or “the poor Ali.” His voice, sometimes plaintive and sometimes mocking, is as distinct as his handiwork.

(...)

Bridging the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are 19 folios from the Minto album, a collection of 40 folios currently divided between the Chester Beatty Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum [in London, UK]. Among the most lavish in the show, these folios are distinguished by elaborate, gilded borders of flowering plants.

(...)

In a portrait that hangs in the final gallery of the exhibition the Sufi shaykh Shah Dawlat wears a short patched shawl. The garment’s colors echo the red-and-yellow border of the painting, linking one type of muraqqa to another.

A preface by Mir Ali, reproduced in the catalog, comes to mind: “As long as the patched cloak of the celestial sphere contains the sun and moon, may this album be the object of your perpetual gaze.”

“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin” continues through Aug. 3 at the Smithsonian Institution, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., SW, Washington; (202) 633-1000, asia.si.edu.

[Pictures: left, "Mu'in al-Din Chishti Holding a Globe" from the Minto album. Painting by Bichitr and calligraphy by Mir'Ali; right, "Majnun in the Wilderness" from the album of Shah Jahan (circa 1640-45).
See more images at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/07/18/arts/0718-MUGH_index.html].
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Word and Deed
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Yale Center for Faith and Culture, "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims" - Yale Divinity School - Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Press Release, Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Professor Miroslav Volf and the Yale Center for Faith and Culture are planning a series of top-level interfaith workshops and conferences, the first of which is scheduled for July 24-31, 2008, on the Yale University campus

Background
In our increasingly interdependent world, religion remains a powerful force with the potential to either foster peace or provoke conflict.

A unique and potentially history-changing opportunity has arisen with the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You in October 2007, an open letter to Christian leaders and communities from 138 influential Muslim clerics representing every school and sect of Islam from around the world.

Compellingly, even if somewhat surprisingly, it states that what unites Christians and Muslims is their common commitment to love God and neighbor.

Among the most influential of the many Christian responses to the Common Word was a letter drafted in November 2007 by a group of scholars at Yale Divinity School, headed by Miroslav Volf, professor and director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, and coordinated by Joseph Cumming, director of the Center’s Reconciliation Program.

Endorsed by more than 300 of the most influential Christian leaders from this country and abroad, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You'” stressed that the dual commandment to love God and neighbor has the potential to reorient Muslim-Christian relations away from a “clash of civilizations.”

This reply, in turn, led His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, the primary drafter of A Common Word and President of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, to engage enthusiastically with Professor Volf and the Center’s staff in planning a series of top-level interfaith workshops and conferences, the first of which is scheduled for July 24-31, 2008, on the Yale University campus, to be followed by others in October (Cambridge University), November (the Vatican), March 2009 (Georgetown University), and October 2009 (Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Jordan).

We are hopeful that these meetings have the potential to redefine Christian-Muslim relations in the 21st century.

The Yale Workshop and Conference
The conference, “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians,” includes both a scholarly workshop and a broader conference.

The larger conference, July 28-31, involving more than 60 Muslim participants (mostly from the Middle East), a similar number of Christians, and nine Jewish guests, will extend the discussions of the preceding scholarly workshop to a larger group of scholars and leaders.

The workshop, closed to the press and public and scheduled for July 24-28, will involve approximately 60 Christian and Muslim scholars, along with three Jewish observers.

The objective of the Yale workshop and conference is built on the foundation laid by the two widely embraced documents.

Together with H.R.H. Prince Ghazi, who is coordinating the participation of Muslim signatories, we have set as our goal the exploration of ways in which the common commitments can help rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West.

If Muslims and Christians, who together comprise more than half the world’s population, can acknowledge mutual commitment to loving God and loving neighbor, the boost to a dynamic and peaceful interdependence in our globalized world would be immense.

[Click on the title of the article for the Event Schedule]

[Picture: Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and Sheik al-Habib Ali al-Jifri of the Tabah Foundation at a 2007 press conference in Dubai. Photo: Yale University].
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An Important Opportunity to Win Hearts and Minds
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By Sumes Milne, "Promotion of clients and stooges will get us nowhere" - The Guardian - London, UK
Thursday, July 17, 2008

The political knives are out for Shahid Malik, Britain's first Muslim minister. For years poor Malik has bent over backwards to toe the New Labour line and be the epitome of an acceptable, moderate Muslim.

But Malik also knows his own community and, when a ministerial edict went out to boycott the largest Islamic cultural and political event ever staged in Britain, he balked.

By any reckoning, he argued, the IslamExpo extravaganza, which attracted 50,000 people over the weekend, was a mainstream gathering and an important opportunity to win hearts and minds. Only when his departmental boss, the international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, cracked the whip did Malik relent.

Now he is paying the price in time-honoured style. First, he was taken to task in the Times by Dean Godson, research director of the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, which was last year found to have relied on faked evidence for an inflammatory report into extremism in British mosques.

Then, as if by magic, a knocking story appeared, complete with a withering comment from a "Whitehall source" about Malik's "seriously poor judgment", detailing the minister's failure to realise that a peace meeting he was due to address with his department's knowledge was linked to the Moonie cult.

Anyone who attended IslamExpo will know that it was, as Boris Johnson's champion Andrew Gilligan put it, an "impressive and serious" celebration of the diversity of Muslim art and culture.

The political debates brought together a broad range of voices - from the US Nixon Centre's Robert Leiken to Rached al-Ghannouchi, who played a key role in reconciling mainstream Islamism with democratic principles in the 1990s - as well as many more women than attend most mainstream British political events.

They would have been broader still if some of the harshest critics of British Muslim leaders had not joined the government and Tory frontbench boycott, which took in Stephen Timms, the employment minister, and Conservative community spokeswoman Sayeeda Warsi, as well as the unfortunate Malik.

The trigger for their abandonment of a rare chance to engage with thousands of British Muslims seems to have been an article by the increasingly extreme anti-Islamist campaigner, Ed Husain, comparing the event to a British National party rally.

His case for such a patently absurd claim was that some of the organisers had had links with Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, though the details are contested. But it was enough for Hazel Blears, whose communities department has been taking an ever-harder line against the most politically active sections of the Muslim community, to insist on a boycott.

Note that there is no suggestion of involvement in current terrorism in this controversy, in Britain or Israel. The issue is the government's growing hostility to dealing with anyone connected with the highly diverse movement that is Islamism.

This is a political trend that has violent and non-violent, theocratic and democratic, reactionary and progressive strands, stretching from Turkey's pro-western ruling Justice and Development party through to the wildest shores of takfiri jihadism.

But it's largely on the basis of this blinkered opposition that the government is now funding Husain's Quilliam Foundation, promoting other marginal groups such as the Sufi Muslim Council and turning its back on more representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

This is a dangerous game, whether from the point of view of reducing the threat of terror attacks on the streets of London or narrowing the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country as a whole.

As opinion polls show, most Muslims around the world are broadly sympathetic to Hamas as a movement resisting occupation of Palestinian land - and British Muslims are no exception. If such attitudes become a block on engagement with official Britain, or are ignorantly branded "Islamofascist", then the government and Tory opposition are going to end up talking to a very small minority indeed.

It's a risk well-recognised by some inside government. As one minister argues: "This cannot continue, it's completely counterproductive. You have to engage with those with influence over those you want to influence."

Some Muslim activists trying to work with government blame Blears' Sufi Muslim advisers, Azhar Ali and Maqsood Ahmed; one senior local authority specialist despairs that by refusing to deal with Muslim organisations the advisers crudely brand Islamist, ministers are "isolating themselves from the majority".

Blaming advisers is too easy. The British government, which is taking part in the military occupation of two Muslim countries, is hardly in a position to throw up its hands in horror at sympathy with political violence abroad.

But blurring the lines between support for those fighting foreign occupation and backing for violent attacks on civilians at home helps get the government off the hook of its own responsibility for the terror threat.

Part of the explanation given for pulling out of IslamExpo was that one of the organisers had expressed sympathy for suicide bombings in Israel. That was also the basis for banning the radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi from Britain.

However, both David Cameron and the government-backed Quilliam Foundation have strongly praised another cleric, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, even though he is also on record as supporting Palestinian "martyrdom operations". The crucial difference is that al-Qaradawi is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular opposition movement in the Arab world, while Gomaa is appointed by the pro-western Mubarak dictatorship.

This is also the key to official policy towards Muslim organisations in Britain. The groups currently regarded as beyond the pale - such as the organisers of IslamExpo - are those keenest to promote Muslim involvement in British society and politics.

But they are also the most actively opposed to western policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine - an important point of common ground, incidentally, with most non-Muslim Britons.

The organisations the government backs, on the other hand, are those who keep quiet about the wars the US and Britain are fighting in the Muslim world.

If the priority is really community integration and prevention of terror attacks, this sponsorship of clients and stooges is going to have to stop.
[Picture from IslamExpo 2008, The Islamic Garden http://www.islamexpo.com/attractions.php?id=10&art=14].
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Are Dead in Life and Some Are Alive in Death
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By Pr, "Wasif's urs on 26th" - The Post - Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 16th annual urs of renowned Sufi intellectual, Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif will begin from July 26, Saturday.

As per the program, the urs celebrations will start at his tomb at Bahawalpur Road after Asr prayers on July 26.

A Mehfil-e-Naat will also be organized; Srdar Nasrullah Dreshak will be the chief guest on the occasion.

On July 27, a seminar will be organized at Aiwan-e-Iqbal to highlight the life and teachings of Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif.

The celebrations will end with special prayers on July 28.

[Image from his biography on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasif_Ali_Wasif].
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Place They Deserve
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By Ali Pektas, "Yarkın’s new album archival work, preservation of musical tradition" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey
Tuesday, July 16, 2008

With the release of their debut album, "Ten" (Skin), the Yarkın brothers expanded the horizons of Turkish music

The Yarkın Percussion Group, the first of its kind in Turkey, was established in 1994 by Fahrettin and Ferruh Yarkın and has managed to show that rhythm is not just a background factor, but can be appreciated on its own.

The group's primary goal was to "make drum players independent from horn players."

With later albums "Ten'de Ten" (Skin on Skin) and "Kervansaray" (Caravanserai), the group expanded its audience, and now their newest album, "Hayy," released recently under the Kalan Müzik label, has brought them once again to the musical agenda, giving today's voice to prominent works of Sufi music and at the same time serving as a rare archival work.

Contributors to the album include Bilal Demiryürek, Ahmet Şahin, Mehmet Kemiksiz, İlhan Yazıcı, Hamdi Demirci, Osman Ziyagil and Osman Erkahveci on vocals and Yavuz Akalın, Derya Türkan, Gökhan Filizman, Uğur Işık and Ferruh Yarkın playing music.

Fahrettin Yarkın spoke to Today's Zaman about the album, the commercially motivated albums of Sufi music that surface every Ramadan and the popularity of percussion music.

What was your goal when you first started to work on "Hayy"? Can it be described as an intentionally archival album?
There are hundreds of Sufi music albums on the music market. Until now, those who released these albums have tended to be either clerics or musicians only, and therefore there has always been something missing in these albums. I guess we have successfully fused both of these sides.

My brother, Ferruh, and I have been engaging in religious music since 1980 and had the opportunity to work together with many distinguished masters, such as Kani Karaca, Bekir Sıtkı Sezgin, Nezih Uzel and many more.

For a long time, we've had the intention to produce such an album. We have worked on the repertoire for about two years and we have also done meticulous work on the vocals.

We wanted to bring to the foreground the rhythm factor in this album and use some percussion instruments that have never been used before [in this musical genre]. Overall, we minimized the usage of melodic instruments.

Yes, we can possibly describe it as an archive work or an attempt to preserve the tradition. Apart from being an album with such a repertoire, it is a good work in that it is loyal to the original compositions and adapts them to the contemporary sound.

In the past, there were frequent discussions about whether there was religious music in Turkey or a need for it. What's your opinion on this?
We, as the Yarkın brothers, consider such discussions as out of context and unnecessary. In our opinion, there is indeed a religious music and any attempt to train, study or compose in this form of music is evidently very difficult.

In general, we can say that the area where religious music is used today can only represent the tip of the iceberg. There are tens more to what we now see and hear.

In particular, a number of Sufi music albums mushroom every Ramadan, and a section of these tend to be low quality, as they are produced with commercial goals in mind. Based on this fact, some argue that Sufi music is degenerating.
We are not interested in the commercial aspects of the work. We like to produce what we like to do. Of course, the primary purpose of releasing a Sufi music album in and for Ramadan is to earn money, and we cannot expect commercially-oriented minds to produce quality work.

We recorded this album in January 2008. We did not produce an album that can be listened to only at Ramadan. We regret that Sufi music is being degenerated. But it is not easy to prevent.

You set off as a percussion ensemble. Yet in your latest works, there are melodic elements. Are you going through a process of change?
We are happy to be a percussion ensemble. However our training and perspective do not keep us from utilizing from melodic elements, provided that we still give weight to percussion.

I hope 'Hayy' will be loved as much as and even more than 'Kervansaray.' We had conducted studies for months for some of the compositions in 'Kervansaray.'

We always perform long studies and then start the recording phase. In this respect, there has been no change. In our recent work, we have just given more room to melodic elements, but we still continue to use rhythmic structures and instruments as we wish.

What was your inspiration in saving percussion from being used just a factor accompanying other musical elements, making it an independently existing music element?
We won't be modest about this issue. Since 1995, we have been laboring to give percussion and percussion players the place they deserve. I guess we have shown that percussion can be both soloist and accompaniment.

As I said in our first album, we just wanted to make drum players are independent from horn players. At that time, there were mixed reactions. Yet it is good to see that percussion players are now getting the positions they long deserve.

‘We will establish a school of percussion if we find a sponsor'
"To remain and survive as an ensemble is very difficult. Although there are seemingly many percussion groups around, there is no true percussion band in the market.

Other than us, there's Engin Gürkey and his ensemble. They work more on Latin music and have managed to remain an ensemble. There are also good percussionists who work alone, such as Mısırlı Ahmet.

If you ask me about the current state of affairs in the market, I would say that I wish some groups that give preference to quality over commercial concerns would emerge and make contributions to music.

Time and music fans always eliminate the bad. We are waiting for good and original work. And if we can find someone to sponsor it, we intend to establish a percussion school".
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Sea of Humanity
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By Dr. Eugene D’Souza, "Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti – A Saint of the Downtrodden " - Daiji World - Mangalore, India
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The annual ten days Urs commemorating the death anniversary of one of the most revered Sufi Saints of India, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who is also referred as the ‘Garib Nawaz’, which means 'the one who shows kindness to the poor', comes to an end on July 15 at his magnificent mausoleum (dargah) at Ajmer.

During these ten days millions of devotees visit and pay respect and offer floral tribute to the saint for the favours that they had received or seeking favours of different kinds.

Eminent political leaders make it a point to present ‘cheddars’ amidst fanfare and media glare to be offered at the tomb of this medieval saint whose spirituality and love of humanity has been attracting thousands of devotees not only during his lifetime but even after his death year after year for the past 772 years.

This shrine is also known as the ‘Dargah Sharif’ (Holy Tomb).

Not only during the ten days Urs, but throughout the year, devotees, pilgrims and tourists throng the mausoleum of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. People of all walks of life and faith from all over the world, irrespective of their caste, creed and belief, visit this great shrine to offer flowers and devotion.

The rich and the poor stand side by side to pay homage and respect to this divine soul.

The mystic saints in Islam known as the Sufis were instrumental in spreading the ethical and spiritual values of Islam. Through spiritual attainment, piety and humanism they won over the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people.

They preferred to live among the masses of people, especially among the poor and downtrodden rather than living aloof from the society in mysticism and penance. Their service and love inspired the people and enabled them to realize the Eternal Truth.

Among the Sufi saints of medieval times, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti not only gained great spiritual and moral power but also manifested through practice his love and dedication to humanity without any worldly resources.

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was born in Sajistan, East Persia, in the first half of the twelfth century (around 1139).

Right from his childhood he manifested a spiritual bent of mind. At the age of 16, following the death of his parents, Moinuddin came under the influence of a spiritual leader and gave up his worldly belongings, distributed the money among the poor and took up the life of an ascetic.

He visited great centers of Islamic learning at Samarkand, Bokhara and other places and sought the guidance of a spiritual guide (Pir). Thereafter, he proceeded to Mecca and Medina on religious pilgrimage (Haj).

From Medina Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti proceeded to India and passing through Bokhara, Heart, Lahore and Delhi and meeting a number of Sufi saints arrived at Ajmer in Rajasthan at the age of 52 in 1290. At that time Ajmer was under the rule of Prithviraj Chauhan.

At Ajmer, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti attracted a large number of followers and acquired a great deal of respect amongst the residents of the city. Those who came in touch with him, especially the poor and downtrodden received kindest treatment and blessings from him and many became his disciples.

His simple teaching made great impact on common masses and his message of universal love and peace transcended the entire humanity without the distinction of creed and caste.

His strong faith in the unity of God provided the necessary ideological background to his mission of bringing about an emotional integration of the people amongst whom he lived.

Apart from the common people even the rulers and kings, both Hindu and Muslim used to visit the Khwaja and seek his intervention to solve their problems. However, he neither sought any favour nor any land grant from these rulers.

He lived a simple life relying on cultivation or alms.

Generosity to others, especially through sharing of food and wealth and tolerance and respect for different religions were the cardinal points of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s teachings.

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti interpreted religion in terms of human service and asked his disciples “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality.” The highest form of devotion, according to him, was “to redress the misery of those in distress – to fulfill the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry.”

In order to continue his mission of service to humanity, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti founded the so called Chishti Silsila (Order of Sufis) in India and sent his disciples to different parts of India to carry on his mission.

After living a simple and dedicated life in the service of common people, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti passed into eternity at the ripe age of 97 in 1236. After his death a mausoleum (dargah) was erected on his tomb at Ajmer by Iltutmish, the Sultan of Delhi. It was beautified and enlarged later by the Mughal Emperors Humayun and Akbar.

The tomb is a square white marble structure with a domed roof and two entrances.

The mausoleum of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, popularly known as ‘The Dargah Sharif’ (holy tomb) has been a center of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Hindus. However, the terrorists did not even spare this shrine that represents communal harmony and universal brotherhood.

On 11th October 2007, when thousands of Muslim devotees were breaking their day-long Ramzan fast, the terrorists triggered a bomb inside the dargah complex that killed three persons and injured seventeen.

In spite of this the spirit of the pilgrims to this shrine of the most revered Sufi Saint of Medieval India has not dampened and the stream of devotees has become a sea of humanity during these ten days of Urs.
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