Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Priyanandanan, director of Pulijanmam which won the best feature film award at the 54th National Film Awards 2006, is all set to direct his next venture, Sufi Paranja Katha (What the Sufi Said), an adaptation of famous Malayalam writer K.P. Ramanunni's first novel by the same name.
The film will be produced by some NRIs in the US. Script and dialogues are handled by the author himself while camera is by Hari Nair.
Set in the early nineteenth century Kerala, Sufi Paranja Katha evolves around the inter-religious marriage between a Muslim and a Hindu, played by Mammootty and Karthy.
Though converted to Islam, Karthy is unable to resist the primeval tug of her original religion.
The theme of the film is that no one is free from his cultural heritage of generations, irrespective of the religion that one is born into or chooses.
Ramanunni's novel ‘Sufi Paranja Katha’ has already been translated into English, French, Tamil and Hindi, and has won the two prestigious awards in Malayalam - the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and the Edasseri Award.
Ramanunni, born in 1955 in Ponnani, recently won the Rashtriya Sahityik Puraskar instituted by the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad. He won the award for his latest novel, ‘Jeevithathinte Pusthakam’. His other works include ‘Charama Varshikam’, ‘Vidhathavinte Chiri’, ‘Vendappettavante Kurishu’, ‘Purusha Vilapam’ and ‘Jathi Chothikkuka’.
Subsequently, he delivered a beautiful sermon. Among his points of emphasis, two points stood out: the importance of meditating on the Qur'an, in particular by taking even one aya (verse) and repeating and contemplating it at length (even for hours), such as the aya "alhamdulillah ir-rabb il-'alamin" (Grateful praise is due to God, the Lord-Sustainer of all worlds), contemplating it deeply in one's heart, mind, and body.
A second point of emphasis was on the importance of people relating well to their spouses, but especially a man's relating with the utmost love and care for his wife, in which the a case in point was that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "The best of you is one who is best to his wife; and I am the best amongst you because of my behavior to my wife."
September-October 2008, page 58
All 596 SEATS of the Director’s Guild of America’s largest screening room were filled July 17, when “A Jihad for Love” made its Los Angeles premiere as the documentary centerpiece of Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival.
The documentary was secretly filmed in 12 Muslim countries by Parvez Sharma, a former journalist in India. More than six years in the making, Sharma said, the documentary took shape as a testimony of Muslim gays and lesbians who love their religion and struggle for acceptance in a system that forbids their sexual orientation.
It is shocking to hear the stories of these young, devout Muslims who have been beaten and jailed for their homosexuality and have no choice but to flee to the West.
The viewer observes several Iranian men living in Paris as they await news from the Canadian Embassy there regarding their applications for asylum. One phones his mother in Iran telling her he is to go to Canada. As he puts down the receiver, he sobs over missing his family and Iran and voices fear of having to live in a foreign country.
Mazen, an Egyptian, was sentenced to four years in prison after being arrested in a gay nightclub. He was beaten and raped in jail and has taken refuge in Paris.
Sharma filmed a lesbian couple in Turkey and a teacher in South Africa who was fired after he announced his homosexuality.
The director focuses on the Sufi perspective of homosexuality at a shrine in Lahore. There, in the 16th century, Sufi Sheikh Hussain professed his love for a Brahman Hindu boy, Madhulal.
Even though the documentary had a budget of only $2 million and has no distributor in the U.S., it has been shown at film festivals in Canada, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, India, Greece, Turkey, South Africa and England.
It will be shown Aug. 22 to 28 at the Landmark Lumiere in San Francisco and Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley; Sept. 5 to 11 at the Landmark E Street in Washington, DC; and Sept. 18 at the JCC South Bay in Berkeley.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thanks to the initiatives of the Bhubaneswar Music Circle the City’s connoisseurs of classical dance and music had the first ever experience of Sufi Kathak (on Sunday) evolved and promoted by one of India’s young and brilliant dancers Manjari Chaturvedi since the past 13 years.
Belonging to the Lucknow gharana, Manjari, a disciple of Pandit Arjun Mishra, has attempted to introduce the mysticism of Sufism to Kathak.
‘‘The Indian concept of Nirvana is similar to the Sufi thought of Fana. The concept of merging of individual souls with the universal soul is common amongst both the Hindu mystics and the Sufis. Raas Lila tradition of Kathak is based on the divine love of Radha and Krishna that symbolises the torment of separation and ecstasy of union of man from God. My dance incorporates the mystic of Sufism through the dance of the moving meditation,’’ explained the exponent prior to commencement of her hour-long recital.
The dancer of eloquence and intensity narrated a story - the story of a very beautiful woman - through five dance sequences to explain the philosophy of Sufi Kathak.
In the first sequence the lady, who is very much in love with her body, decorated herself with ornaments. In the next, in all her finery she goes to meet her beloved one who becomes the formless Almighty for her in the next episode.
Moving on, the woman clad in cream-white costume adorns black costume - symbolising the uselessness of her body - and dances losing her identity. It’s the complete surrender of the ‘Me’ in her to the Almighty in the fourth sequence.
And in the concluding segment, the dancer becomes the dance in the dance of ultimate joy and union of the soul with the God. Sensuality merges into spirituality.
Supported by a magical light designing pattern, Manjari usually dances with two sets of musicians - traditional Hindustani music and the qawwals of Avadh - sitting on her both sides that create a mystical ambience.
The audience here, however, could not experience it as she performed to recorded music and inadequate lights for funds constraints of the hosts.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Followers of Sheikh Muhammad Kabbani, a liberal Sufi leader, hope to reintroduce his mild, American brand of Sufism to sect-addled Lebanon. Meris Lutz meets Obeida Adra, his ambassador in Beirut.
Thikr at Obeida Adra’s house is a casual affair: pleasant conversation followed by some light Sufi meditation before dinner, cigarettes and air-kissed send-offs among lingering guests reluctant to relieve babysitters and grandparents of their sleeping charges.
“I’m into reality,” Adra says, laughing, when I ask about the rumours of drug use, whirling and other shortcuts to enlightenment allegedly taken by some Sufis. “Spiritual cleansing of the self – that’s the journey of the real Sufi.”
Sufism, which names a wide array of practices that embody a tradition of Islamic mysticism dating back to the ninth century, has been subject to ridicule and persecution among Muslims and, more recently, new-age fetishism in the West.
It seemed an unlikely refuge for Adra, a disillusioned Sunni Muslim who had seen sectarian warfare devastate her native Lebanon. She certainly never saw herself returning to Lebanon over a decade after she left, as the regional ambassador for the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America.
Adra and I perch on a stiff ornamental couch, the kind that is typical of formal salons in Arab homes, as a pair of Ethiopian maids deftly arrange a small spread of tea, blueberry pie, and ice cream. The marble-floored room is so large there is another receiving area arranged at the far end with an equally daunting set of furniture. The villa belongs to the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi order, led by the US-based Sheikh Muhammad Kabbani. The brand new home – obviously a substantial investment intended to play host to a growing community – still seems empty and monolithic. The mosque downstairs is unused except for a small corner, with stacks of cushions still wrapped in plastic pushed against one wall.
When Adra, who describes her husband Zeid and herself as being among Kabbani’s “closest followers”, moved with her family back to Lebanon a little over a year ago for personal reasons, she was entrusted with the delicate task of reintroducing the milder American strain of Naqshbandi Sufism back into its native Eastern habitat. Twice a week she and Zeid host thikr, a Sufi group meditation, inviting friends, acquaintances and now a curious journalist to the villa, which is situated in the low mountains just south of Beirut.
Attracting an earnest following has been difficult, however. Mainstream Muslims and Arab society in general tend to see Sufis as novelty shamans at best and infidel cultists at worst. But the amount of money invested in the Naqshbandi villa suggests that someone believes this new liberal Sufism could provide a viable alternative to trends in the region towards fundamentalism and sectarian violence.
“I am happy to be here in this country now, because I really feel like [Lebanese people] need some kind of meditation- they need some kind of help,” Adra says. “They’re seeking fortune tellers and the future and I don’t know what, some magic, which is so ridiculous.”
Indeed, Lebanon is a country where superstition coexists and even flourishes alongside religions that openly condemn such beliefs. The only time I’ve ever seen the streets of Beirut totally quiet on a Friday night – and this includes the 2006 war – was an evening in autumn 2005 on which the renowned psychic Michel Hayek had predicted “blood would flow”. It did not, but that didn’t stop Beirutis from staying indoors just in case.
Adra’s own spiritual path started in Detroit, Michigan, where she and her husband moved to start a new life in the wake of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Born into a country deeply divided by bloodline and sect, she suddenly found herself in a sea of rootless soul-seekers, where the curious and confused drifted easily from Druidism to Hinduism to Buddhism, Kabbalah or Wiccan Marxism, or simply preached their own value system based on a convenient combination thereof.
Unsure of her own beliefs, and wary of wolves dressed in holy men’s clothes, Obeida started to do some soul-searching of her own.
“I prayed to God: I need someone like all the prophets,” she says. After extensive reading, she found Sheikh Kabbani, a fellow Lebanese and the leader of the American branch of the Naqshbandiyya, a Sufi sect led by Grand Shiekh Nazem Haqqani, a Turkish Cypriot. The Naqshbandi sect was formally founded in the 14th century, but its adherents trace their tradition back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed.
It’s impossible to refer to the Haqqani-led order as the definitive Naqshbandi institution, with distinct groups of Naqshbandi operating independently throughout the world, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, and even a jihadist “Naqshbandi army” in Iraq. But Shiekh Haqqani and his son-in-law, Shiekh Kabbani, are among the most widely recognised Naqshbandi leaders, attracting millions of devotees from around the globe.
Sufi orders in general differ from mainstream Islam in their belief that enlightenment can be achieved on earth through worship, and in particular by chanting and reciting the 99 names of God during meditation sessions called thikr, or “remembrance” [of God].
The Naqshbandi-Haqqani order refers to itself as “the Golden Chain” because it traces its spiritual lineage all the way to the Prophet through Abu Bakr, the first caliph. Their emphasis on legacy – on the sheikh is the sole inheritor of the true tradition – has contributed to the popular misconception of the Naqshbandi as an esoteric cult that demands complete, blind allegiance to its leaders. I received several whispered warnings from friends and acquaintances to whom I casually mentioned this article; they cautioned me not to be “taken in” because I would be forced to allow the sheikh to name my children, among other things.
This is, of course, untrue. Throughout most of the world Sufis resemble other Muslims in their beliefs and practices. Naqshbandi followers in particular are known for being very strict in their adherence to Sunni traditions.
Since moving to the United States 15 years ago, however, Kabbani seems to have adopted a more liberal, inclusive interpretation, branded “new age” by some, in which conversion to Islam is recommended but not required. This constitutes a significant departure from the traditional Naqshbandiyya practised in the Muslim world, whose adherents consider themselves conservative, if unconventional, Muslims.
Kabbani has shown himself to be remarkably adroit at using new media to bring Sufism to a new generation of followers. In addition to an official Naqshbandi home page and a slew of books and magazines, Kabbani has also launched sufilive.com, “the official media library of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America”, which includes a variety of multimedia resources and no less than six different online radio stations dedicated to Quranic recitation, sermons in English and “Sufi chanting at its best: live, raw and uncut.”
The open-minded approach and web accessibility has contributed to the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order’s huge success in the states, where it has opened centres in Michigan and California and a Washington lobby group. Adra admits that the same liberalism that attracted her to the American Naqshbandi order is a source of suspicion among more traditional, “harder” Naqshbandis, and that the two groups generally keep to themselves.
“The US branch is more liberal because they come from innocence,” she explains. “They’re not born Muslims, they don’t know Islamic ways … while here in Lebanon, they came from a hard-core Islamic background, so of course it’s going to be more strict.”
In fact, Adra seems hesitant to say that she related to Sufism because of her Muslim background, as if it were a tainted association: Obeida prefers a “softer” interpretation of sharia. She doesn’t cover her hair except while praying, and even then she says it’s to “protect the good energy” rather than conceal her body.
“For me, Islam is the rules of the body, but Sufism includes this and the spirit of the human being- the unlimited love of all creation,” she says. “Sufism is spirituality plus Sharia.”
Sufism first emerged in the ninth century as a small, pious order of ascetics who encouraged small groups to gather for spiritual training, according to Dr Vincent Cornell, an Islamic scholar at Emory University and the former director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.
By the 11th century Sufism had emerged as a separate madthab, or path, with its own doctrine and traditions. But it remained fully integrated as a mainstream Islamic practice. Throughout most of Islamic history, Dr Cornell points out, Sufism was accepted by the majority of religious jurists and scholars, although it was condemned early on by a small minority from the Hanbali school of jurisprudence.
In the 20th century, the prominent reformist Rashid Ridha picked up the anti-Sufi ideas of the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia and incorporated them into his widely-read Tafsir Al-Manar (The Manar Commentary). Ridaa’s work influenced other Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, swelling the already inevitable wave of reformism that sought to purge the Muslim world of heretical practices. More recently Saudi Arabia’s wealth and influence have given its religious institutions the resources to export salafism.
Despite the fact that Sufism is still illegal in the kingdom (many Sufi websites, including that of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order, are blocked), a relative thaw in the last few years has made things easier for Sufis. Several low-key orders operate in Saudi Arabia, especially in Medina, and some Saudis fund Sufi projects abroad.
Descending the glass staircase down into the villa’s private mosque, it’s hard to imagine Gulf money isn’t somehow involved. Adra tells me the funding comes from donations, but doesn’t get specific. At another point in our conversation, she refers to Sufis in Saudi Arabia, who are thought to include several high-placed officials and members of the royal family.
The participants in tonight’s thikr begin to arrive. They could easily be mistaken for stylish guests at a small dinner party. Mostly young, affluent-looking couples in their thirties from a variety of religious backgrounds, they express both scepticism and curiosity towards Sufi spiritualism.
“At the beginning I was a bit afraid because it is related to Islam, and I’m still not convinced one hundred per cent about this point,” says Nadine, a petite, articulate woman in her thirties who describes herself as a non-religious “believer” from a Muslim family.
Ever the diplomatic hostess, Adra, responds opaquely to the suggestion that the US brand of liberal Naqshbandi Sufism appeals only to a certain class in the Arab world. “It attracts empty souls,” she says, smiling gently.“
I have noticed that up till now it attracts educated people,” Nadine says to me in an aside, later. “You have to be educated to understand the Naqshbandi philosophy.”
The thikr itself lasts less than an hour. The participants sit in a circle, men and women, on the carpeted floor of the dimly lit mosque, listening to or reciting along with Zeid as he leads the group in a series of common prayers and special Sufi chants. None of the women wear veils except for Adra, and the Christian couple remains silent through the fatiha, but the ring of peaceful faces, eyes closed in prayer, are turned attentively towards the deep voice gently chanting “Allah”.
Afterwards, the group emerges with sighs and smiles as if waking up from a pleasant nap.“I feel so much more relaxed,” someone remarks. Elie, a robust Maronite, says he found himself attracted to the new Sufism because it transcends sect by focusing on unity and closeness with God rather than petty doctrinal differences.
“[Sufism] has so many things in common with Christianity – I mean true Christianity,” he says. “It’s just love. That’s all I can say. Love love love love love.”
[Visit the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Media Library http://www.sufilive.com/].
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Alzahra University will hold a conference on Hakim Sanai on the commemoration of his 850th birthday on December 2 and 3.
Scholars and academics will submit papers on the life, works and beliefs of the Iranian sufi Hakim Abul-Majd Majdud ibn Adam Sanai Ghaznavi.
Sanai and criticism on his works, Sanai ideology and his mysticism, the poetry style of Sanai, Sanai’s wisdom and philosophy are the themes of the conference.
Known as Sanai or Sanai of Ghazna, he was one of the earlier Sufi poets. He was born in the province of Ghazna in 1080(?) and died around 1150.
Rumi acknowledged Sanai and Attar as his two primary inspirations, saying, “Attar is the soul and Sanai its two eyes, I came after Sanai and Attar”.
His book “Hadiqatul Haqiqah” (The Walled Garden of Truth) contains mystical teachings intermingled with proverbs, fables, and anecdotes. The uncommon manner in which Sanai introduced and explained the esoteric teachings of Sufism -- through the medium of poetry -- was a key to its popularity and lasting value.
It is still widely considered by scholars to be the first great mystical poem in Dari, and the work had far reaching influence on both Muslim and Persian literature.
[For Sufi Poetry, visit the reception area of the Sufi Book Store http://sufibookstore.blogspot.com/].
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
One may say the best instrument that can articulate the human adventure of living in this world is the reed flute.
It is given a special place in Sufi culture with this metaphoric quality. It is also an indispensable part of the rites and ceremonies of the Mevlevi Sufi order.
Almost everyone knows the first lines of the "Mesnevi" by Mevlana Muhammad Jelaluddin Rumi: "Listen to the reed, how it complains of separation." While Mevlana's metaphor is centuries old, no film has ever been based upon inspiration from this metaphor until the new movie "Dinle Neyden" (Listen to the Reed Flute), produced by İsmail Eren.
The movie is due for release on Oct. 10. This film, which explores the reed flute and Mevlevi culture, is directed by French director Jacques Deschamps, who won the Best First Film prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1996 with his, "Méfie-toi de l'eau qui dort" (Beware the Still Waters). He is a lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Cinema Studies.
The making of "Dinle Neyden" was a complicated process. Two years ago, Eren launched the project "Galata Mevlevihanesi in the era of Selim III" in connection with the 800th anniversary of Mevlana's birth. But this project could not be completed for the Year of Mevlana.
Ayşe Şasa then wrote a script based on this project. In co-authoring the script, Eren and Şasa also consulted Tuğrul İnançer, who is known for his work on the Mevlevi order.
With contributions from Sedef Ecer and Olivier Lorelle, who won the Best Screenplay Award for "Indigenes" at the 32nd annual Nuit des Cesar ceremony in 2007, the script was given its final edit. The history consultant for the project was Professor Mehmet İpşirli. Thus, the project was ready for shooting after two years of preliminary work.
Set in 1798, just before the French occupation of Egypt, "Dinle Neyden" explores the efforts by a group of people in İstanbul seeking peace through the mystical world of a Mevlevi dervish who witnesses the emotional relationship between two young people from the Ottoman palace.
Thus, there are three over-arching themes in the film: Mevlana's doctrines, historical developments and a love story in the palace.
During the writing of the script, the words of Mevlana are amply quoted in the dialogues. We hear them mostly from Emin Olcay as Nuri Dede, a well-fitted match best known to Turkish TV viewers for his role as Ömer Baba in the crime drama "Kurtlar Vadisi" (Valley of the Wolves).
As for the rest of the cast, Ahu Türkpençe appears as Gülnihal Kalfa, one of the ladies of the court for Beyhan Sultan, the sister of Selim III, and Alican Yücesoy plays the palace doctor who treats Nuri Dede. Yücesoy's performance in the 2006 movie "Son Osmanlı-Yandım Ali" (The Last Ottoman) has been well received by many. The cast also contains surprise appearances by such well-known figures as stage and screen actress Lale Mansur and percussionist Burhan Öçal.
The production consultant for the film was Yücel Çakmaklı, whose name has not been listed in the credits for any film for a long time.
"Ayşe Şasa and Yücel Çakmaklı have been involved in the project since the beginning. They have made significant contributions to the content and implementation of the project. I can say that without them, this project could not be implemented in this form," Eren said.
Eren noted that the biggest challenge in the project was the correct presentation of Mevlana's doctrines in the film.
"It was very difficult for us to include them in a 100-minute film with extreme loyalty," he added.
The shooting of the film in historical places such as Topkapı Palace were completed in five weeks. The 500 costumes used in the film were prepared in six months and the artistic setting and accessories were prepared in eight months.
The soundtrack for the film was composed by Özhan Eren, the director and producer of the epic period film "120".
Friday, September 26, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Most of the news we hear out of the Middle East usually describes the violence among Israelis, Palestinians and Muslims.
We seldom hear about, and often are unaware of, the heroic efforts among those citizens who are saying "Enough!" and are creating numerous interfaith groups working together to bring peace to the Middle East.
The Jerusalem Peacemakers is one of those groups. It is a network of independent interfaith peacemakers. Their purpose is to inform others about their work; encourage peace and healing in the Holy Land; nurture forgiveness, justice and collaboration, so that all people in the Holy Land may build a new future.
The Peacemakers are increasing in numbers, and include Christians, Muslims, Jews and Palestinians, men, women and children of all ages throughout the Holy Land.
On Sept. 7, we were invited to hear two representatives from the Jerusalem Peacemakers at an Interfaith Forum, held at the Antrim Chapel at Roanoke College. They were brought here by Sam Rasoul, a candidate for Congress and a member of the local Valley Character Interfaith Committee.
Rasoul introduced the two guest speakers to a sparse audience and moderated the forum.
Eliyahu McLean and Ghassan Manasra represented the Jerusalem Peacemakers. Their topic was "Reclaiming Religion as a Source for Peace: Tools for Peacemakers in Judaism and Islam."
We learned that McLean was born in California and 10 years ago moved to Israel. He lives in Jerusalem and his faith is Judaism. He is active in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Nablus and Eilat. Until 2003, he was director of the Israel Chapter of the Peacemaker Community, Mevakshei Shalom, which serves as an umbrella for many projects integrating spirituality and reconciliation efforts.
Manasra is a Sufi Muslim. He is the director of Anwar il-Salaam, a Muslim peace and dialogue center based in Nazareth under the guidance of his father, Sufi sheikh Abdul Salaam Manasra.
His father serves as the head of the Qadiri Sufi order in the Holy Land. He is currently running a project that brings together Jewish and Muslim high school principals and educators for study and training in religious sources for peace.
This year, Ghassan Manasra was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
They told their stories of their struggles and successes of meeting together with rabbis, sheikhs and priests and the many citizens from these areas of unrest. The Jerusalem Peacemakers' efforts to bring peace include interfaith camps and meetings where they try to understand each other and build respect through interfaith dialogue. Some Jewish, Palestinian and Muslim women leaders are working with their counterparts to initiate various movements, i.e. The Women's Partnership for Peace in the Middle East, Women's Interfaith Encounter Association and Culture of Peace Educational Program for schoolchildren.
These efforts are reminiscent of the heroism in the biblical battle story of David and Goliath.
They are all working against great odds and with no support from their own governments.
The forum was uplifting, hopeful and educational. It is reassuring to learn that individual of different faiths are working together for peace in their part of the world.
My appreciation to Rasoul for his great effort in bringing these two Jerusalem Peacemakers to Roanoke.
The Writer is a member of the Valley Character Interfaith Committee and is active in local social issues
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Ashgabat: The international scientific conference entitled "Nejmeddin Kubra and spiritual-cultural world of the Orient" started in the northern region of Turkmenistan.
The conference [September 3-6] has been organized by the Miras Turkmen National Cultural Heritage Centre and the Dashoguz province administration.
The conference is divided into five sections. The conference participants will discuss issues related to academic researches of the cultural heritage of Nejmeddin Kubra, Turkmen theorist and practitioner of Sufism, author of numerous treatises, interpreter of the Koran and prominent poet.
The conference will also look into issues related to preservation of unique monuments that were found in the territory of Kunyaurgench State Historical-Cultural Reserve and included in UNESCO's list of world heritage.
The conference gathered historian-orientalists and literary critics, linguists and art critics, theologians and cultural experts, teachers of higher educational establishments as well as cultural workers and art figures from Turkmenistan and some twenty other countries.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has sent a welcome message to the conference participants. The text of the Turkmen president's message was published in central mass media outlets today.
In his message the head of state expressed hope that the scientific forum would play an important role "in studying the life and works of Najmeddin Kubra, finding a proper place for his scientific-literary heritage in development of the world culture, as well as getting true sense of his influence on the spiritual life of the entire Orient."
Melbourne, Australia: One of the advantages of living in Melbourne is that while Anglo-Celtic mores dominate the ambience in general, which is well and good, you never feel cut off from other cultures.
There are always reminders that you live in a multicultural society.
Take the Darebin Music Feast which is taking place in Melbourne's northeast suburb of Darebin, until Sept. 21, 2008.
Among the wide array of programs was the Muslim Music Festival, supported by the Darebin City Council and the Islamic Centre for Education and Development. It opened on Sept. 6 and finished on the evening of Monday, Sept. 8.
The festival was divided into three parts, the first two being, "Love is Divine: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2", focussing on music inspired by the poetry of Jalalud'din Rumi, a 13th century Persian Sufi poet, a highly-revered mystic even today, who was believed to have the gift of being a seer.
The third part, titled "Songs of the Heart, Rhythms of Unity", was a modern interpretation of Muslim devotional music woven through stories of ordinary lives grappling with contemporary issues.
Delivered through the various media of qawwali, hip hop, electronic and traditional music -- not simultaneously, the evening's offerings were incredibly well-grounded and compelling.
Ustad Khalil Gudaz featured prominently in both parts of Love is Divine where he played the sitar on the first evening, and sang while playing the harmonium on the second. On each night he was accompanied by other musicians on the tabla, tampoora, delruba, sitar and rebab.
Well-versed in Afghani and Hindustani music, Ustad Gudaz's performance was faultless. He opened the first evening with calm notes drawing the audience into the realm of Rumi's poetry wrapped in his own notes and giving us time to absorb the language of the music.
Then he played Raga Durga taking everyone to a higher level of involvement. When he had the audience all sitting on a figurative floating rug, he deftly took us further, now flying high, now flying low, with varying speed and movements traveling through different surroundings. Each time he finished a number, the audience had to descend slowly into the real world.
Compared to the Love is Divine chapters, the final night's Songs of the Heart, Rhythms of Unity was lively and varied.
The evening was opened with two dancers from Sanggar Lestari Dance Company, who performed Tari Ngarak Penganten, a dance from West Sumatra. A riot of colors was carried with subtle elegance by Mira and Yana, the dancers, who would later return with another Minang dance, Tari Lilin.
The qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music, was presented by a group of vocalists from Fiji, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, who call themselves The Color of Unity, accompanied by harmonium, tabla, and of course, the clapping of hands, from the stage, as well as the floor. The music flowed on bringing a rather inebriating ambience. Yet it was at the same time inviting and emotionally soothing.
One performance which would make you wonder why we bothered with musical instruments at all was beatboxing by Shazet. The Malaysian-born young artist has the ability to produce the most incredible repertoire of sounds and noises with his mouth, from the boinging and pinging electronic guitar sounds, drumming thuds, to rippling fluid notes and many more.
Needless to say, he also has an impeccable sense of rhythm. His on-the-spot improvised mouth percussion accompaniment livened up the delivery of hip-hop and rap performances by The Brothers, who told stories of their everyday lives as Muslims in Australia.
The audience were entertained with the accounts, for example, of a girl's dilemma whether to wear a hijab and tolerate and answer curious questions from her friends, or not wear a hijab and be answerable to her parents, or of Muslims youth maintaining equanimity in the face of prejudice from some people in the wider community. And looming large in their performance was the issue of how to behave during Ramadan.
Another feature in the evening's event was an extraordinary group called The Empty Quarter, consisting of Mark Pedersen, Kate Grealy, Rasheeda Cooper and Pete Emptage, who performed several numbers, combining lyrics with poems from Rumi, Hafiz and Ghalib, merging electronic and traditional music, riding on the concept of love.
Each evening the group of people most of whom -- if not all -- had not long broken their fast, showed their solid commitment and dedication to what they believe in. And we the audience were grateful for it.
[Pictures from http://www.darebin.vic.gov.au/page/page.asp?page_Id=878].
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I was strolling through the Qutb Complex with my friend, when we came across a little octagonal tomb set prettily in a separate courtyard.
There are many grand monuments inside the Qutb Complex - the tall Qutb Minar, the grand Quwwat-ul-Islam (Might of Islam) mosque, and the ornate Alai Darwaza.
Most were built in the early 13th century, by the Slave Dynasty. But this small tomb was added later, in the 16th century.
Who was he, I wondered, this man whose tomb lay next to some of the grandest structures in Delhi? Why was he such a big deal? A Sultan perhaps, or some great nobleman? I looked at the inscription - this was the tomb of a priest, a man named Imam Zamin.
It took quite some reading before I found out who he was. Imam Zamin was a Sayyid, a word that is used to describe male descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. The Sayyids trace their lineage back to Hassan and Hussein, the two grandsons of the Prophet, starting from the 7th century.
In the sixteenth century, Sayyid Imam Zamin came to India from Central Asia (Turkestan), during the Sultanate of Sikandar Lodi. In his book The Delhi that No One Knows, R. V. Smith says that the Sayyid was appointed Chief Imam of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, and that Sikandar Lodi looked to him for spiritual guidance.
The Imam, who was a Sufi, preached disregard for worldly achievements, asking Lodi to strive instead for unification for the divine Oneness.
Smith also says that Imam Zamin didn't like the political intrigues in the court of the Lodis. I am not surprised. Sufism is the most mystical aspect of Islam, and Sufi saints are renowned for turning their faces away from the material world.
When Babur (the founder of the Mughal empire) defeated the Lodis, he visited Imam Zamin, to pay his respects. Babur's son Humayun also held the Imam in high honour, and it was in Humayun's reign that the Imam's tomb was built.
When Humayun briefly lost Delhi to Sher Shah Suri, an Afghan, Sher Shah also came to seek the Imam's blessings.
I find it fascinating that here, in this little corner of the Qutb Complex, there was once a man who saw so many kings rule and die.
What an interesting life he must have led! I can imagine him sitting in his dusty courtyard, with the mango trees in the background, listening to the call of Delhi's peacocks, while empires rose and fell and new rulers prostrated before him for his blessings.
[Visit the Writer at Mumbai Magic http://www.mumbaimagic.com/ and Delhi Magic http://www.delhimagic.com/].
Sunday, September 21, 2008
During the month of Ramzan, Rozas or fasts are traditionally broken through a variety of signals, ranging from the lighting of a lamp to the sound of special sirens.
At the Ajmer dargah, a canon is fired. Ever since Mughal emperor Akbar donated it, the canon has been fired by men, but a young girl has now broken this male bastion and fires the canon daily.
Experts say that her whole-hearted acceptance by the dargah community reflects the liberal legacy of the Sufi dargah, a legacy that supports equality for women.
At first glance, Fauzia Khan, who fires the canon, seems an ordinary girl. She signals the time for Sehari and Iftari at the Ajmer dargah.
Fauzia is thrilled at breaking the male monopoly. "I feel proud that I am the first woman who has fired this canon and that too at the age of just 22. I want to carry on this duty till the last day of my life," said Fauzia.
After her father suffered a heart attack a decade ago, Fauzia took up the family duty and by firing the canon throughout Ramzan, she is now a role model for many girls in Ajmer."When we see her, we feel inspired that we can also become anything from a pilot to an engineer," said a local girl.
Remarkably, people in Ajmer and the Khadims, the traditional custodians of the dargah, have readily accepted a girl, performing a duty earlier reserved for men. In many mosques, women are not allowed to even pray at the same time as men. But at the Ajmer dargah, a special courtyard, the Begami Dalaan, enables women to pray at all times. It is a sign of the liberal vision of this Sufi shrine.
"Women have freedom to pray or move about in every part of this dargah, not just today but from the very start. That is why the dargah has appointed a girl to fire the canon and nobody has raised the slightest objection about her," said Irfan Rizvi, senior Khadim, Ajmer dargah.
A few years ago, conservatives wanted to ban women from this Sufi centre at the time of Namaz, claiming that they distract men. However, the dargah's liberals refused to curb women who continue to flourish with full freedom.
As in many other religions, women's struggle for greater spaces within Islam has been a rather uphill task. But with a young girl carrying on a crucial canon tradition that is continued since the medieval era reflects the liberal ethos, which is not just preached but also practised at the Sufi shrine.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Les travaux de la première édition des rencontres nationales Sidi Chiker des adeptes du soufisme (19-21 septembre), ont pris fin dans la nuit de samedi à dimanche, dans un climat de piété et de dévotion.
Par Toma/MAP, "Clôture des travaux des premières rencontres nationales Sidi Chiker des adeptes du soufisme" - Biladi Maroc - Casablanca, Maroc
The first edition of the National Meetings Sidi Chiker of Followers of Sufism (September 19-21), ended in the night from Saturday to Sunday in an atmosphere of piety and devotion.
Representatives of 44 Brotherhoods from different regions of the Kingdom have participated in these meetings.
Organized by the Ministry of Habous [Land Property] and Islamic Affairs, under the High Patronage of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI, the National Meetings Sidi Chiker of Followers of Sufism are also a meeting for the spiritual sources and part of the revival of the Sufi heritage and its national and international influence.
[Read the full text of the Message addressed by HM the King (in French) to the Meetings: http://www.lematin.ma/Actualite/Journal/Article.asp?idr=110&id=98534]
Saturday, September 20, 2008
On Saturday evening, the curtain will fall on the third edition of “Mûsîqât”, the festival of traditional and neo-traditional music.
The last artist who will perform on the Mûsîqât stage is the renowned Iranian singer and musician Shahram Nazeri, also known as the ‘Persian nightingale’.
A fitting closing evening for a successful festival whose eclecticism has attracted a great number of music lovers.
Shahram Nazeri who was born in 1949 in Kermanshah in the Iranian Kurdistan, is initiated very young by his father to the memorization and recitation of the poems of the great Sufi poet Jalaleddine Rumi. Soon, the young boy will become one of the great masters of Iranian classical singing.
His strong, warm and moving voice which has toured the world, will no doubt mark its stamp on his Tunisian audience, as it sings the texts of Persia’s mystic poets such as Rumi, Hafez, and Saadi, and man’s quest for the divine, as well as his inextinguishable thirst for love and light.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Accused of precipitating the Amarnath crisis, former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Lt Gen S K Sinha (retd) plans to present his side of the story in a book that is scheduled to be released early next year.
Titled Recall to Colours: Diary of a Pro-active Governor, Sinha’s book has four chapters, including one each on Assam and J&K.
The chapter on J&K is called “Unrest in Paradise”. In his book, Sinha says the genesis of the recent unrest lay in the struggle between “moderate and tolerant Islam on the one hand and radical and intolerant Islam on the other hand, that got hijacked by the separatists”.
He writes: “The settlement reached in Jammu may prove to be a stepping stone for ultimately winning the war for Kashmiriyat.”
In what he calls his “second autobiography”, Sinha lists the “inauguration of the Institute of Kashmir Studies as an autonomous body”; the “hugely successful performance of the Pakistani Sufi music band Junoon” by the Dal Lake in Srinagar in May 2008; the “three-day Sufi festival organised every year from 2004”; and the “hugely successful statewide essay competition on Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy” as the “high points” in his attempt to promote “Kashmiriyat” during his tenure as Governor.
With his position on the Amaranth controversy well known by now, Sinha takes on the PDP and its leaders, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, “for being instrumental in creating the problem in the state”. However, he has kind words for Ghulam Nabi Azad and Farooq Abdullah.
On Omar, he writes: “Omar Abdullah’s brilliant speech in the Lok Sabha during the nuclear debate unfortunately included an unnecessarily belligerent remark about the Baltal land. This greatly fuelled the agitation in Jammu.”
He concludes the chapter on J&K with the following remarks: “Whether during the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, the attacks on Raghunath Temple and Vaishno Devi pilgrims or during the recent agitation, Jammu has shown a pluralistic ethos while Kashmiriyat has got so badly eclipsed in Kashmir.
The war on Kashmiriyat can be won only when this unique heritage gets fully restored in all regions of the state.”(Courtesy:Suman K Jha,IE)
[Picture: Kashmir in winter. Photo from http://www.jktourism.org/p_gallery.htm].
Friday, September 19, 2008
In this glowing novella, Sharon Marcus, Sufi writer gives us a contemporary example of the ancient Sufi storytelling tradition inviting us to look at extremes, both the ups and downs of the heart as well as the illusory comfort we search for in the performance art of our lives.
Ilya Firkin is an artist, a painter living in Philadelphia whose attachment to his work, his art, is eclipsed by a dual sense of loss, first in divorce and then in death.
The Laura who was his wife shares center stage with him in this mystical examination of the struggle to be reconciled with the beauty and misery of the human condition.
Ilya’s four year retreat from life to contemplate the pain and the joy of our earthly existence is lit up by remembrance of scenes from Laura’s past and his own.
The Laura who was his wife imperceptibly merges with that other Laura, his all but imagined symbol of Petrarchan inaccessibility, whose own grief culminates in the coda of brief, weeping lyrics concluding the story.
The four years of Ilya Firkin’s compelling meditation on life, love, art and death create the canvas, a painting to study line and color, the instruments of examination transforming Ilya, moving him from each bleak plane of suffering to eloquent heights of realization.
A story thoughtfully and skillfully told, beautifully written, The Stradivarius Poems speaks directly to anyone with a deep longing to understand the towering strength and the infinite fragility of the human experience.
The Stradivarius Poems
The Sufi Press
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
For Muslims of south Asia, the Sufi Dargah at Ajmer stands second only to the sacred one in Mecca.
And in the holy month of Ramadan people from all corners of the subcontinent seek the blessings of the Dargah's immortal 13th century saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Popularly called Gareeb Nawaaz, the Protector of the Poor, the Khwaja is still revered for his compassion and empathy for those desperate and needy.
During Ramadan, the Ajmer Dargah still continues to provide lavish but free feasts to the poor. It is a tradition that has continued without a break for the past eight centuries.
Ahmad Raza, Nazim of Ajmer Dargah, says: "This Dargah is the home of Gareeb Nawaz who always helped the poor. That's why our effort is to ensure that nobody in this area goes hungry."
Besides free feasts, at Iftari and Sehari, elaborate arrangements are made by the Khadims -- the traditional servers of the Khwaja to prepare the food for the thousands who come here. The Dargah Committee and rich devotees donate generously to feed the needy. And recipients feel relieved that during Ramadan they can focus on praying, even if they don't earn a penny.
"This is a big help for us. Our children can eat good food at the Dargah and we can enjoy lavish Iftar parties here," says one of them.
The Khwaja won the hearts of people across the Indian subcontinent through his empathy for the deprived. And people of all castes and religions throng at this wish-fulfilling shrine convinced that they won't be left helpless by the Gareeb Nawaz.
Sawar Chishti, a senior Khadim at the Dargah, says: "These feasts promote universal brotherhood and communal harmony as people from all religions and classes sit together and eat here."
For nearly eight hundred years, countless millions from the richest to the poorest have sought spiritual solace from the Ajmer's Sufi shrine.
And by feeding all those in need, the grace of the Gareeb Nawaz still ensures that no one who seeks refuge at this Dargah is left hungry throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
[Watch the Ramzan Ajmer Feast' 2-minute video http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/videopod/default.aspx?id=%2038753].
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The fifth edition of the International Mystic Music Festival will get under way next Monday [September 22] in the central Anatolian province of Konya, paying tribute to Mevlana Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi on the 801st anniversary of his birth.
Konya, home to the 13th century Sufi saint and poet's tomb, will welcome mystic music ensembles from five countries, including Iran, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Greece and Senegal for this year's festival, which is being held two months earlier than originally scheduled in December.
Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Mustafa Çıpan told reporters that the rescheduling was aimed at avoiding a probable overlapping of the festival with other December events and ceremonies commemorating Mevlana on the anniversary of his death, to allow more viewers to attend both events.
He said the last day of the nine-day festival, Sept. 30, would now coincide with the first day of the Ramadan holiday, which is also celebrated as the anniversary of Mevlana's birth. "Thus we will celebrate both occasions together," Çıpan said.
The festival will open with a ney (reed flute) concert by Turkey's Dinle Ney'den ensemble.
Thione Seck, one of Senegal's greatest musicians in the mbalax genre, will be on stage on the festival's eighth day. The festival will wrap up on Sept. 30 with a performance by the Konya Sufi Music Ensemble. Admission to all concerts in the festival will be free of charge.
"Stephen Schwartz on The Other Islam" - National Review Online - New York, NY, USA
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
“It’s extremely important for Muslims and for non-Muslims to find a way to approach an Islam that can function as a normal religion and serve the interests of the Muslim believers in being good believers and being participants in…God’s world,”
Stephen Schwartz, author of The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony, tells John J. Miller.
[Click on the title of the article or on the following link to listen to the 10-minute MP3 interview http://tinyurl.com/5svnsu].
Friday, September 19, 2008
Realizzare in Sicilia la prima scuola italiana di musica sufi. Le iscrizioni sono già aperte e ci sarà tempo fino al 15 ottobre. La quota di iscrizione (simbolica) è di dieci euro.
Redazione - Alla Radio Org - Italia
martedì 16 settembre 2008
With this ambitious goal, an international formative stage of ney flute will be held from Oct. 20-26 at the Conservatory of Palermo.
The stage, entitled "Ottoman-Turkish Sufi Music and ney flute: instrumental practice and cultural values", is now in its second edition after the successful debut last year (June 2007).
The stage will be directed, as last year, by Stéphane Gallet, of the association “Voix des Voies” of Paris, along with Giovanni De Zorzi, professor of ney flute at the Conservatory “Arrigo Pedrollo” of Vicenza with the assistance of Maria Giuliana Rizzuto.
A reading of Sufi poetry will also take place during the stage, at "Teatro delle Balate".
Per iscriversi, occorre chiamare il numero 091.586314 e recarsi nei locali dell’Officina di Studi medievali, in via del Parlamento 32, a Palermo (dal lunedì al venerdì dalle 9.30 alle 12.30). Per informazioni, telefonare al numero 3270827691 o scrivere a email@example.com
Wednesday, September 16, 2008
Lahore: Hundreds of people from all parts of the country protested here on Monday against progressive religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi for his alleged remarks against Sufism in a private television programme.
Chanting slogans and holding banners and placards, the protesters took out a rally from the Lahore press club under the aegis of the Tasawwuf Forum Pakistan.
They also staged a sit-in to put pressure on the media to stop projecting Ghamidi, Dr Khalid Zaheer and Khursheed Nadeem.
The protesters were led by Tasawwuf Forum chief Organiser Khwaja Qutubuddin Faridi and Jamia Naeemia Principal Dr Sarfraz Naeemi.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Noted writer, Agha Saleem on Monday delivered a lecture on Sufism at department of Sindhi University of Sindh.
A large number students and teachers attended the lecture.
Mr. Saleem said that Sufism is a philosophical attitude which poses most importance and also needed in present modern time.
He said that philosophy of Sufism teaches to own the weaker and most ignored people of the society.
Dr. M.Qasim Bughio, Dr. Noor Afroz Khowaja, Ishaq Samejo and other faculty members also expressed their views.
[Visit the University of Sindh http://usindh.edu.pk/].
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), a Washington-based moderate Muslim organization established in 2004, will hold two events on September 23, 2008, both in the Nation's Capital, offering a critical look at radical Islam
The three participants will be:
-- Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, CIP Executive Director and author of the new Doubleday book, The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony.
Schwartz published the best-selling The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism, also from Doubleday, in 2002.
-- Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a medical doctor and author of In the Land of Invisible Women, published by Sourcebooks, and describing her experiences as a highly-qualified physician in the Saudi kingdom.
In the Land of Invisible Women is a personal, deeply affecting, and exhaustively detailed account of the author's experience as a female professional in the desert domain. Dr. Ahmed's chronicle is a valuable record of daily life in repressive Saudi Arabia.
-- Imaad Malik, CIP Fellow, coauthor of a new Center Report, Black America, Prisons, and Radical Islam. This extensive and fact-filled document explains the problem of radical Islam in American correctional systems and the history of Islamic influences in black American culture.
The report outlines a bold challenge to U.S. government failures in addressing this issue.
The first event will be held at 10 AM-11:30 AM. Stephen Schwartz will speak on "The Other Euro-Islam: Turkish and Balkan Sufism," hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Southeast Europe Project, 6th Floor Boardroom, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004-3027. Tel. 202/691-4000.
The second event will take place at 3 PM-5 PM. Schwartz will comment on The Other Islam, Dr. Ahmed on In the Land of Invisible Women, and Imaad Malik on Black America, Prisons, and Radical Islam, at the National Press Club, 13th Floor, Edward R. Murrow Room, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20045. Tel. 202/662-7957.
Admission to both events is free. The Other Islam and In the Land of Invisible Women will be available for purchase and signing at both events. Black America, Prisons, and Radical Islam is a free, downloadable .pdf document posted at the Center's website, http://www.islamicpluralism.org/.
CIP may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Turkish classical music composer Amir Ateş released his new album "Welcome Ramadan" on the first day of the Muslim holy month this year, Sept. 1. The album features 27 tracks, including Sufi hymns.
"Ramadan has a divine flavor. Everyone feels it, I think," says Ateş.
Ateş is a familiar figure to the Turkish audience, with his performances on holy Islamic nights broadcast on various TV stations from mosques. With his choir, he still appears on TV on such nights singing Islamic hymns and mevlid (a poem illustrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), along with recitations from the Quran.
Ateş was born in 1942 in the Marmara province of İzmit. He was sent to İstanbul during his early childhood to receive religious education. Once there he took religious Sufi music and Turkish classical music courses from prominent figures in the field.
After retiring from his job at the municipality as a civil servant at the beginning of the 1990s, Ateş has been able to concentrate more on his compositions. He is now among the few composers with over 2,000 compositions to his name. He is a member of Turkish Radio and Television Corporation's (TRT) repertoire committee. He also teaches students in the Üsküdar Music Society, for which he also serves as a member of the board of directors.
Ateş makes albums on request, with the latest one being "Welcome Ramadan," prepared for the Islamic holy month. All of the tracks on the album were composed by Ateş, and most of the lyrics also belong to him. His choir is made up of six musicians with whom he has been working for many years.
Although "Welcome Ramadan" is not the first hymn album from Ateş, he says: "I try to do my part whenever a service is demanded from me in this art. Our fathers used to say, 'Do not refuse to do what is demanded of you.' My previous album, however, was not as carefully prepared as this one. There was great effort put into this album."
The idea to make such an album came from Dağhan Baydur, the chairman of the Muzikotek music company. After being offered the project, Ateş decided to work with Baydur. "I have never sought self-promotion. I took on this project because I wanted to make a contribution to our culture and arts," says Ateş.
Noting that the current music market has been filled with a clamor of voices, Ateş emphasizes that Turkish culture has started to become too materialistic. According to Ateş, the figures we see on TV with the arrival of Ramadan all claim to be performing Turkish classical music. "Turkish classical music is above all genres in our cultures. Every genre has specific features, which should be paid close attention."
Although Ateş's album was released on the first day of Ramadan, he says he believes in the continuity of art and that he does not want his album to be restricted to Ramadan. Ateş says art should contribute to the culture that gave birth to it. "Art should give people peace in Ramadan, at home, in the car, everywhere and at all times. If it were intended to be temporary, neither the musician nor the listener would take pleasure in it," Ateş adds.
‘Ramadan has its own culture’
"Ramadan creates a unique flavor; everyone experiences it," Ateş says. "This is neither the flavor of pide [flat bread coated with egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds] nor that of the kebab. This is a distinct, divine flavor."
Attending numerous iftars (fast-breaking dinner) and Ramadan activities, Amir Ateş says Ramadan has a distinct spirit with the hymns sang during terawih prayers. As a master Islamic hymn singer, Ateş says hymns with the theme of welcoming Ramadan are sung at the mosques, and from the 20th day of Ramadan onward, hymns saying farewell to the month are sung.
"All the words said during the prayer are followed by a specific maqam, a system of melody types in Turkish classical music. The congregation at the mosque does not even understand how the prayer ends. They almost move into a different world spiritually."
Stating that his album is also intended to contribute to the spirit of Ramadan, Ateş says it is not difficult to feel this spirit and tells of one his concert experiences in Berlin.
"The entire hall was full of Turks, Arabs and Germans. Through the end of the concert we gave, we were so focused that our kudüms [a rhythm instrument in classical Turkish music] went silent and our invocations accompanying the rhythm of the tracks replaced them. At one moment, I even saw one of our musicians, ney player Mahmut Bilgi, give up playing and lose himself in the spirit of Ramadan."
At the end of the concert, a group of German youths, deeply impressed by the performance, found the concert hall managers and said they wanted to do something for the audience, proceeding to hand out cold beverages, Ateş notes. "They cried for several minutes, embracing us. Seventy young German youth said they converted to Islam there," he says.
After the concert, Ateş and his group were hosted by a Turkish family in Berlin, from where they would head to the Netherlands for another concert. "After these positive reactions, we heard that a group of ultra-leftist Turks in Germany wanted to prevent us from going to the Netherlands by informing their group members in the Netherlands about our concert, suggesting that we are poisoning the youth," he states.
Ateş and his group waited for almost four hours at the Netherlands border. "However, we knew that the queen of the Netherlands was also a Sufi and we informed her about the situation. When we crossed the border and arrived at the concert hall, thanks to the order of the queen, we saw that not one person had left the hall. How can you explain this spirit?" Ateş asks.
[Picture: Turkish classical music composer Amir Ateş poses for a photograph at the Etiler Mosque. Photo: Today's Zaman].
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Dal 16 ottobre la 11.edizione di "Religion Today" con 79 film a tematica religiosa e un solo obiettivo: il dialogo.
La redazione-cinematografo.it, "Credere nel cinema" - Libero - Milano, Italia
lunedì 15 settembre 2008
From 16th to 31st October the 11th edition of "Religion Today" with 79 films about religion and one goal: dialogue.
In Trento, Rome, Bolzano/Bozen, Ferrara, Nomadelfia.
This year's theme: "The Face of the Other". Listening, sharing, comparing, supporting, in other words, "loving one another", for Religion Today means neither confusing nor merging with the person loved.
For the 2008 edition, the festival invites us to undertake a two-level journey of discovery of conscience, encounter and mutual comprehension.
Among the films in competition, the world premiere A Span Of Heaven by Iranian artist Ali Vazirian, author of the angel on this year's poster.
[Visit the Festival Website (also in English) at http://www.religionfilm.com/homeENG.htm]
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Toronto: Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love (Documentary). Produced by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. With: Youssou Ndour, Kabou Gueye, Moustapha Mbaye, Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry.
Considering the popularity and stature of her titular Senegalese celebrity, it's a shame Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi didn't do more with "Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love" than make what often feels like an elaborate DVD extra.
Eventually, the helmer does delve into what it means to be a Muslim pop star in an increasingly fundamentalist world, and the pic's overall thrust more complex than the kickoff would indicate. Very musical bio-doc will cut a swath across the festival circuit and specialty market before coming to rest on video shelves, bulging with even more of what it offers now.
It isn't until about 50 minutes in -- after pic has delivered the obligatory intro performance by Ndour, returned to his boyhood home of Dakar and made a cursory review of what Ramadan means to Islam -- that the film gets really interesting, focusing on the making of Ndour's controversial "Egypt," an album of sacred songs celebrating his Muslim faith.
The concept creates problems: During a show in support of "Egypt," Ndour and the orchestra, led by Kabou Gueye, play a club in Dublin -- and refuse to perform until the patrons stop drinking. This is bleakly funny on one hand, but directly contradicts Ndour's advocacy of cultural tolerance and one-worldism.
Had the band been entirely from Senegal (where 94% of Muslims are of the more mystical, tolerant Sufi sect), this never would have happened, Ndour tells the camera. But there are Egyptian members in the band, and more viewpoints about Islam than there are songs in the star's repertoire.
The reaction to "Egypt" is not limited to alienating the Irish (who actually seem quite amenable to the temporary drinking ban). In Senegal itself, music fans reject the work even as audiences and critics around the world are embracing it. When Ndour finally wins his long-awaited Grammy for the record, Senegal rejoices, but the intoxication of victory doesn't preclude a global hangover of religious fundamentalism.
Vasarhelyi does a great job of keeping things moving, capturing some terrific performances with unobtrusive grace. "Egypt" itself has the ultimate chilling effect: When Ndour sings about love, or even Afro-empowerment and self-realization, he's singing about things people worldwide can relate to and embrace. When he sings about the glories of a particular strain of religion, it pushes the non-Muslim audience away.
"Egypt" could have been a great story all by itself. So would Ndour, had he assumed his more customary musical persona. But Ndour the Sufi enthusiast isn't someone who builds bridges, even within the Muslim world.
[Watch the Trailer at http://www.ibringwhatilove.com/].
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
"Footprints but come to the Ocean's shore.Therein, no trace remains"
If you ask his name, like Bayazid, he answers, "I lost him years ago. The more I seek him, the less I find."
If you ask of his religion, like Rumi, he answers 'The way of a lover is not among the religions.The church and state of lovers is God.'
If you ask who he is, like Bayazid, he answers, "There is nothing under my cloak but God."
Sufism- the belief in which the believer looses the 'self' and seeks the 'divine'. The practice of Sufism is the 'Tariqat' which means to go towards Truth by means of love and devotion.
The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called 'sama'. The practice involves engaging oneself through special rhythmic music and to achieve a state where the Sufi is a drunk lover, unaware of everything else but God. The 'sama' is practiced only when a teacher or a spiritual guide is convinced that it is appropriate for their students or not, as it is like a medicine;sometimes prohibited and sometimes prescribed.
Unlike the common misunderstanding, to attain sainthood in the sufi belief, one need not undergo seclusion. A true believer, a sufi, must live in, serve and guide society, and be a vehicle by which society receives Grace. It is for this reason that conforming to and being in harmony with society, being at peace with all, is a quality of a perfected being.
"I thought of You so often
that I completely became You.
Little by little You drew near,
and slowly but slowly I passed away."
According to Sufism, there are four stages of purification required to acquire the course of the 'selfless' remembrance of the divine.
1. Self becoming emptied
2. Self becoming illuminated
3. Self becoming adorned
4. Self having passed away (fana)
The first stage, becoming 'emptied', which refers to letting go of negativity from within and the desires which originate from the self. The second stage of becoming 'illuminated' that involves polishing the heart and soul. In the third stage, one's inner being is finaly 'adorned' by Divine Attributes. Ultimately, the being of the disciple becomes completely filled by the Attributes of the Truth, to the extent that there is no sign of his own limited existence. This fourth stage is the most crucial that is attaining the state of 'self-having passed-away' (fana).
'Oh heart, there is but one Path of loving;
in the country of love the slave and the King are one.
Not until you give up duality on the Path of love,
can you grasp that Nimatullah is but one.'
Shah Nimatullah Wali
In common with all of the authentic Sufi orders, the Nimatullahi Order stems from an initiatic chain, going back to the beginning of Islam, with the Prophet (P.B.U.H) being considered the first Sufi master. The word Nimatullahi is derived from the name of Shah Nimatullah Wali, who founded the order at the end of the 14th century A.D. and was one of the greatest Sufi masters of Iran.
'Whatsoever we possess in both the worlds in reality, my friend, belongs to God.'
Sufis believe in the adherence to the Sharia (Islamic law) manifests in the limbs and Dhikr (remembrance of God ) in the heart with the result that the outward is sober, the inner is drunk on divine love. Thus making a Sufi a regular worshiper, only a lot more observant.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Rabat: Morocco's Gnawa, heirs to a musical and spiritual tradition brought north across the Sahara centuries ago by black slaves, are enjoying new fame as their hypnotic rhythms hook listeners across the world.
The Gnawa brotherhoods have long scraped a living on the margins of Moroccan society by offering to restore health or good fortune through seances of trance and incantation.
They symbolize the of a country at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Arab world and many Moroccans say they are part of their national identity.
But Islamists, whose influence has grown among working-class Moroccans, have undermined their status by condemning their hedonistic lifestyle and belief in supernatural beings of African origin.
Now, the Gnawi have found an inadvertent champion in the north African kingdom's government as it seeks to bolster Morocco's moderate Maliki strain of Islam -- with its Sufi mysticism and cult of saints -- to counter Islamic extremists.
The government's aim is to entrench Maliki Islam to help discredit the more hard-line Salafist and Wahhabi doctrines that originated in the Middle East.
Authorities have promoted regional Moussems, or festivals, that involve the veneration of local saints and held international events to showcase and discuss Sufi identity.
The Gnawa have indirectly benefited because they derive their spiritual authority from the same beliefs.
The government also knows the exotic and free-spirited Gnawi are a powerful draw for tourists, and it has backed an annual Gnawa and World Music festival in the windy Atlantic city of Essaouira that this year drew almost half a million visitors.
The festival has propelled mainly poor musicians into the world music major league, introducing them to large audiences from Boston to Berlin.
"The children of Gnawi were once turning to other professions as they could not survive," said Essaouira festival organizer Neila Tazi. "Now more of them are choosing to become Gnawis and inherit the repertoire of their fathers."
Only some Gnawi are of black African descent but their culture arrived in Morocco in the late 16th century when emissaries of the Saadian king Ahmed el-Mansour Dehbi returned from a mission in modern-day Mali with gold and slaves.
The slaves were put to work near Essaouira, processing sugar for export to Europe. When the factories shut a few years later, they mixed with local Berber and Saharan tribes.
Their belief in sub-Saharan divinities, such as Mimouna, and rites of possession fused with local Islamic beliefs in demons, or djnoun, and saints like Abdel Kader Jilali and Moulay Brahim.
Today, the Gnawi are a common sight when Moroccans come together to celebrate.
"The Gnawi play the most powerful music because they are outsiders," said Tony Langlois, an ethno-musicologist at Cork University in Ireland.
"You can't have a wedding or a circumcision without them being there, but you wouldn't want your daughter to marry one."
The first step to seeking help from the Gnawi is to call on a Tala'a, a woman with magic and religious powers who seeks advice from spirits using talismanic shells, scents and colors.
Often, she will recommend that clients hold a lila, an all-night ritual of possession.
An animal is paraded through the streets and then eaten. At midnight the possessed dresses in the color of the demon afflicting him. The Gnawa call upon the saints or spirits to take possession of those present using dancing, chant, krakeb iron castanets, galga goatskin tambourines and the gelbri, a type of bass lute made of fig-tree wood.
The offended spirit is placated through a complex, frenetic ritual involving specially chosen colors, perfumes and musical patterns symbolizing the cosmic elements. At dawn, the elements are reunited and the human body's powers re-balanced.
Lilas can be used to cure scorpion stings, welcome home migrants, and bring success in studies or job-hunting.
Gnawi say they are kept busy with lilas, despite the disapproval of Islamists, but now foreign music sales and concerts are making a small number much wealthier than before.
Gnawa music fuses well with other styles, such as blues and jazz whose roots also lie in sub-Saharan Africa.
Moroccan groups like Nass el Ghiwane and Darga have brought Gnawa elements to concert stages at home and helped ensure the country's musical heritage is not subsumed by Lebanese pop.
But some Moroccans say the Gnawi's new fame has severed the music from its spiritual roots, turning it into disposable folklore.
They say the split began when hippies visiting Essaouira in the late 1960s asked a famous Gnawi, Abderrahman Paca, to organize a lila at their seaside villa. It widened when the Essaouira festival appeared in 1997, mixing Gnawa with music that had no obvious spiritual function.
"The Gnawi no longer serve their traditional purpose -- they're just playing world music like all the rest," said Moroccan ethno-musicologist Abdelkader Mana.
Tazi says the festival has restored the Gnawi's standing.
"You saw them playing for coins in the street or in tourist hotels ... They were perceived as just beggars," the festival organizer said.
Successful Gnawa musicians deny they have abandoned their social function for material gain.
Hamid El Kasri from the northern city of Ksar el Kebir, a regular at the Essaouira festival, says he has sold 300,000 CDs in the past 15 years and recently played to 12,000 in Germany.
But he still is obliged to perform lilas when requested.
"Lilas are spiritual occasions. We cannot refuse to perform a lila just because our host is poor," he says. "Lilas are the only thing I cannot do without."
[Pictures: Gnawan musicians dance at Djemma el-Fna square in Marrakesh August 26, 2008. Photos: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante].
Monday, September 15, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
New Delhi: Amid a few groans and grumbles about the event not being organised well, Open Frame, Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s (PSBT) international film festival, went on to its second day Saturday in the capital.
Attracting a sparse and mostly young crowd, many of whom were students of film making, the festival focused on films dealing with a range of issues on conflict.
Spread over a period of eight days, the festival will showcase nearly 55 documentary films from countries like the US, Britain, Palestine, Sweden, Pakistan and Israel - touching upon a range of issues such as gender, globalisation, development, Kashmir, media and war.
A film maker whose film was screened in the evening of the first day of the festival, however, complained that the affair was not well organised.
Not wishing to be named, she told IANS: “My film was scheduled late in the evening yesterday (Friday). To begin with, there weren’t too many people visiting the festival because of poor advertisement, and then there was such a long break before the film that most people went away.”
For others, however, the line of films was impressive and they are eagerly looking forward to watching them.
“I am looking forward to watching the films on Monday, because there are a host of them on Kashmir - an issue I am really interested in and plan to make a movie on someday,” said Aarti Kaul, a college student.
A number of workshops, like a film appreciation workshop, discussions on subjects like revisiting caste reservation and contemporary sufism are also a part of the bouquet.
Visit PSBT Public Service Broadcasting Trust at http://www.psbt.org/
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Music touches the hearts of both young and old, and in the case of Feridun Obul, 47, it can change lives.
Obul, a Turk of Circassian origin, produces musical instruments, some of which belong to the 6,000-year-old history of Turkish music, with its origins in Central Asia.
He produces these instruments quickly with his dexterous hands and has sold them all over the globe.
Ancient Turkish music has affected many parts of the world, from Asia and Europe to South Africa and Latin America. The music of the Turks has even had some influence on old English and Inuit civilizations. Over the centuries, the basis of some Turkish music was influenced by spirituality.
Upon the acceptance of Islam by the Turks, Sufi music was created. Some feel that Sufi music strengthens the feelings of love, friendship, solidarity and overall humanity. With this principle in mind Obul decided to produce instruments that give life to this extensive history.
"One of our relatives, Oruç Güvenç, was the head of the ethnomusicology department at the Cerrahpaşa School of Medicine," Obul said. "At the time, I was working at the university, repairing the roof. One day while working, he asked me to join him at a concert of a group that came from Central Asia. I went to the concert and -- from that moment on -- was not the same Feridun.
The following day I did not go back to my old job. Instead, I set up a new bench to produce some instruments that were not built in Turkey. Güvenç had said that there was no master who produced these old Turkish music instruments. That inspired me to be the first."
"It may be odd that I make old, rarely seen instruments," continued Obul, who is skilled enough to reproduce an instrument from a single photograph. "I am good at art. I was carving little tables and chairs when I was not working for someone. I can say that my secret ability has come out. Also, the group that gave that concert affected me deeply. They were playing so sincerely that they seemed to adore their instruments."
While on the journey from a repairman to a craftsman, Obul did not know any musical notes and says he did not see the necessity of learning them because he thinks sounds of instruments lead him in his pleasant way of music.
Obul has given life to over 800 instruments in his little workshop in Sultanahmet. When asked if the only thing that changed a repairman into a craftsman is inspiration, he said without hesitation: "If it isn't, how can I explain my situation? I didn't even know any notes. I was not interested in music. Every single instrument is like my child. When I sell them, I feel a bit of resentment."
When the university received a new rector, a decision was made that the department of ethnomusicology was not part of the school of medicine, and it was subsequently closed.
It was then that this university adventure came to an end, meaning he could no longer produce instruments with Güvenç and his students. Nevertheless, Güvenç continued his career at another university and Obul opened his workshop. He has been producing instruments for 20 years and is now a unique master of old Turkish instrument production. Although sad that he has been unable to find an apprentice to carry on the work, his daughter Gökçe, who graduated from İstanbul University, will carry on his legacy.
While playing his çeng, an Asian harp with either 14 or 24 strings, he tells of how he had a dream and then built several instruments. "I dreamed about many instruments whose names I don't even know. For example, this çeng does not have a tuning system, but after a dream I thought about it for 15 days or longer and devised a tuning system. Lecturers at the university were really very pleased with the discovery."
Many foreigners have an interest in old Turkish music. They visit Obul to see how he builds the instruments, and most of them return home with a newfound love for Turkish music. The most-wanted instrument is the "rebab" from Asia. Its body is made of a fish skin-covered coconut and its strings from horsetail hair. It is said that Mevlana Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi played this instrument.
The reason the rebab is so popular is the sound it makes -- a sound said to be the closest to the human voice. "The naturalness of the instruments affects many foreigners. For example, tourists from Europe often don't know any sounds except for electronic ones. They themselves even express that they don't want to hear what they are accustomed to."
There is no other master in the world who can build such instruments. Obul stresses that "each master makes only one or two types of instruments professionally. But what I make is over 800. I don't always make Eastern instruments -- Western instruments are well represented as well."
As can be understood from his style, modesty is his worldview. His words prove this: "You ask me if I am very proud of myself or not. I really don't know. What am I supposed to do? This is my life. The key is modesty; if you are not modest enough, you can change the dynamics of the world. I do not insist that I am, but I know this is the rule."
Obul's work ethic has led him to make instruments that are not widely known, including the rebab, the çeng, the dombra (also known as the dutar), the kılkopuz, the gubuz (sangobız), the koray, the sıbızgı, the mazhar kudüm and many others. He also introduces these instruments abroad and has participated in many exhibitions. One of his products is currently being exhibited at the Austrian state house.
Obul is currently working on a book that will introduce the instruments to a wider audience. The book will provide information on the history and characteristics of each instrument. "I didn't expect so much interest in my book, but I have to finish it in a short time. It has become an obligation," Obul says.
His workshop is like a museum, and he has dedicated himself to his work so much that his house is right next door.
Photos of Obul's instruments can be seen at http://www.turkishmusichouse.com/