Thursday, April 30, 2009

In a Bond of Mystic Love

By Anil Datta, "‘Sufism ideal recipe for religious tolerance and magnanimity’" - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Society needs to return to the same spirit of tolerance, intellectual, cultural and religious magnanimity that prevailed in the Indian sub-continent in the days of Sufi saints in order to nurture a society based on love and harmony that springs from mysticism and spirituality.

This was the consensus among speakers at the launch of Dr Kamran Ahmed’s book ‘The roots of religious tolerance in Pakistan and India’ held at the Arts Council on Friday evening.

Speaking as the keynote speaker, University of Karachi (KU) Pakistan Studies Department Chairman Dr Jaffer Ahmed classified the book as a must-read for college and university students and a book that must be made part of the curricula.

He said that seeing the conditions of extreme bigotry, hatred and militancy around us today, we find it hard to believe that there ever was religious tolerance in the sub-continent.

Dr Fouzia Saeed, sister of the author, social activist, and author of Taboo, said that we’d have to view our identity against the background of our culture.

Lamenting the present day air of acrimony and bigotry in society, noted journalist and intellectual Ghazi Salahuddin said that the concept of rational debate is totally non-existent in society today, and various groups just want to foist their views and beliefs on the more susceptible and vulnerable members of society.

He referred to the recent “peace deal” in Swat, which he termed a surrender. Talking of the love, tolerance and harmony of yore that bound society in a bond of warmth and love, he said that the Heer-Ranjha legend was reflective of the nature and collective love of society.

Noted journalist Owais Toheed bemoaned the fact that the oneness which bound the sub-continent together had become a relic of the distant past. He said the love preached by Odero Lall and Sachal Sarmast, which transcended all barriers of worldly religions and bound society in a bond of mystic love, was not there any more.

Winding up, the author, Dr Kamran Ahmed narrated his experiences in Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, with Islamic and Hindu groups. He advocated the pluralism of thinking and culture.

“We need to strengthen the roots of everyday spirituality,” he said.

[Book cover from http://tinyurl.com/cwdp3m]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On a Journey

By Sarah Touahri, "Sufi festival in Fez promotes religious tolerance with music, dance" - Magharebia - USA
Friday, April 24, 2009

Buoyed by past successes, the Fez Festival of Sufi Culture offers visitors to Morocco's spiritual capital a positive look at Islam through art and discussion

Rabat: The third annual Fez Festival of Sufi Culture, running through Saturday (April 25th), brings together artists and researchers from across the Maghreb and beyond. The organisers, encouraged by successful events in the past two years, say the week-long event provides a platform for expression by artists committed to the spiritual pursuit of artistic and intellectual creativity.

Artists pay homage to Sufism through poetry, music, and dance. Participants also demonstrate new art forms and cultural projects that foster intercultural dialogue and enhance human lives.

The primary objective of the event is to spread a positive image of Islam internationally, using the universal language of openness and peace advocated by Sufism. Organisers hope that the festival confirms Morocco's place in building a bridge between the East and the West.

"Every day gives us a chance to explore a particular country, its spiritual practices, the masters who have lived there, the words which have nurtured it and the arts and culture which express the very essence of its being," said event director Faouzi Skelli, "So we shall go on a journey through Egypt, Syria, Palestine, France, Turkey, the countries of Africa and Spain."

As the years go by, the festival attracts more and more visitors, both national and international, keen to experience and learn more about Sufi culture first-hand.

In one unique feature, public forums allow young people to discover a new world vision based on values of tolerance and community.

Discussion revolve around the interactions between spiritual values and society or, more broadly, spiritual values and globalisation.

Audiences also enjoy performances of Sufi chant at the religious soirées. Hamida Nidal, a teacher, said that music lovers are drawn into a universe of spirituality and calm, where peace and serenity reign.

"Our world needs such a culture to reject all the obscurantist ideas and to teach our young people about the benefits of tolerance and openness towards other people's cultures. We need a rebirth of this culture which once flourished in Morocco," she said.

Kaddour Kamini, a teacher of Islamic education, says that this kind of event enables Morocco to establish itself internationally as a place for dialogue between cultures and home to a rich Islam which is open to other religions.

"It is impossible to engage in dialogue with others unless one is at peace,' said French singer Abdel Malik. Spirituality has the resources needed to change things in a world which is becoming more and more dehumanised, he added.

Picture: French singer Ingrid Panquine performs holy songs at the Sufi Cultural Festival in Fez. Photo: Getty Images.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Love as the Leitmotif

By Sukhada P. Khandge, "Essence of Sufi depicted on canvas" - Daily News & Analysis - Mumbai, India
Friday, April 24, 2009

Nashik-based artist, Ashok Dhivare's work, which is currently being exhibited at Thane Kala Bhavan, conveys spiritual and devotional messages through nature.

Dhivare is also a keen observer of human behaviour. So, he fuses the two to depict how the human heart craves for freedom.

"Some of my paintings talk about women and their experiences. My portrayal of Meera has love as the leitmotif," he said. His paintings carry the essence of Sufi thought.

"I always paint whatever I experience. Painting makes me happy and I want to share it with the masses," the artist said.

Dhivare, who works as an art teacher at a school in Nashik, believes that paintings are meant to enlighten people. The exhibition will be on at Thane Kala Bhavan till April 27.

[Picture: Mr. Ashok Dhivare, Art Teacher and Artist. Photo from http://www.indiaart.com/thumbs.asp?ACode=363&cnt=]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sufi Resurgence

By Shobhan Saxena, "Mystical diplomacy" - The Times Of India - India
Sunday, April 19, 2009

What has a bunch of dervishes whirling round a fire got to do with down-and-dirty politics and shady wars among nations?

A lot, if you are fighting a lost battle in the area of darkness that stretches from Lahore to Mingora, to Jalalabad and beyond — where religion is used as fuel for the engines of war.

As the Pakistani Taliban appears to tighten its noose around the country’s neck, Islamabad is trying to open a new front —faith wars between two strains of Islam. This lies in the hope that the deep-rooted Sufi tradition would help to halt the al-Qaida/Taliban juggernaut — driven by Wahabism.

Last week, even as President Zardari inked the deal that gives the Taliban a free hand in imposing Shariah in Swat, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who belongs to a family of pirs, was publicly talking about the role Sufism could play in checking extremism. But not everyone agrees.

Ayesha Siddiqa, Islamabad-based analyst, says that “Southern Punjab, once a hub of Sufi Islam, is a region lately making waves in terms of growing militancy. This is not to argue that the influence of pirs has reduced, but that there is a certain vacuum which is now being filled by a more rabid brand of Islam”.

But Siddiqa is one of the very few who advise caution. Invoking Sufism in a time of war at home makes sense to Pakistani politicians. Every Thursday, thousands of Sufi shrines across the country come to life as rich and poor, migrants, settled workers and different ethnicities come together to pray and party.

Amid the beats of the dhol and strains of qawali, the shrines look like party zones, with dancing transvestites, ganja-smoking men huddling around fires, and devotees expressing their love for Him. This form of devotion is being seen as a powerful force by Gilani, his government and Pakistan’s foreign advisors. But can Sufism resist the wave of orthodox Islam in Pakistan?

Scholars believe they have a reason to be hopeful. “In the past decade, especially since 9/11, there has been a powerful Sufi resurgence all over the Muslim world in direct response to the literalism and spiritual and ethical bankruptcy of Wahhabi Islam.

Many Muslims have found in Sufism a rich religious tradition and reclamation of the soul of Islam,” says Khaled Abou El Fadl, Alfi professor of law at UCLA.

The idea has been around for a while. In a 2007 report, ‘Building moderate Muslim networks’, the American think tank, RAND Corporation, identified Sufism “as one of the potential forces that must be strengthened to fight the rising extremism”.

Closer home, Islamic scholar Rafiq Zakaria’s book, The Struggle Within Islam, advocated a radical Sufism that “could offer an alternative to the Wahabi totalitarianism”. Now, a new book, The Other Islam by Stephen Schwartz argues that Sufism “offers the clearest Muslim option for reconciliation between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds.”

Is much of this overstatement? An Indian intelligence official, who doesn’t want to be named, warns that “the clash between the two forms (of Islam) can take a dangerous turn as happened in Iraq, where thousands of people were killed near the shrines of Sufi saints. It’s a dangerous situation out there”.

This conflict might have already arrived in India. “The fundamentalists are trying to undermine Sufis. Even in India, some groups, funded by the Saudis, have attacked Sufi shrines like Ajmer Sharif to dissuade people from visiting these places,” says Maroof Raza, a Delhi-based defence analyst.

So, are the voices of pirs drowned out by the crackle of gunfire? Experts are not giving up.

Last week, at a conference organized by IPPAI and Aviation Watch, terrorism experts, religious leaders and social scientists discussed “the ideal strategy to counter terrorism”. It says something that the meet ended with Kailash Kher entertaining the gathering with his Sufi songs.

It sent a subtle message: there is still a role for the whirling dervish in complex geopolitical games.

[Picture: Semi-precious stone shop in Mingora. Photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mingora]

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Day of Sufi Culture

By Samir, "Moroccan Sufi Brotherhood to feature on film" - Agoravox - Paris, France
Friday, April 17, 2009

The Hamadcha Brotherhood are one of the most popular of the Sufi Brotherhoods in Morocco, and while they are very strong in the areas around Fez, Zerhoun and Meknes, their popularity spreads across the country and beyond with followers in many other countries including America, France and even Australia and New Zealand.

One of the highlights of the 2008 Fez Sacred Music Festival was when members of the Fez Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood joined Ismael Lo on stage.

Along with the Gnawa and the Aïssawa, the Hamadcha are one of the three most important so-called ‘popular’ Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The Hamadcha brotherhood was founded by Saint Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch in the seventeenth century and has become famous through the originality of its repertoire, its spellbinding dances, and the trance-therapy skills of its members.

The Hamadcha of Fez, led by the master Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi distinguish themselves by their will to preserve the brotherhood from a possible disappearance. Their thorough knowledge of the repertoire and their remarkable musical skills make them the most renowned and valued Hamadcha of Morocco.

With the Festival of Sufi Culture about to start this week, it was disappointing that the Hamadcha are not to be represented. However the good news is that The View from Fez was invited to the village of Sidi Ali recently to witness a remarkable lila (ceremony) being filmed.

A large contingent of the media and local dignitaries were on hand to witness the event and were treated to a remarkable day of Sufi culture and hospitality that extended to an extraordinary late night banquet before the actual lila began.

Filming went on through the day and eventually wrapped up in the very early hours of the morning.

The View from Fez would like to thank Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi, and the Hamadcha Brotherhood from Fez for their generous hospitality. We will provide more details about the film and Hamadcha events in the coming months.

Picture: A young Hamadcha follower. Photo by Sandy McCutcheon

[Click on the title of this article to the original article with more pictures and links.]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

People Want to Live


By Declan Walsh, "Islamabad in frontline of Pakistan struggle with Islamic militants" - The Guardian - London, UK
Saturday, April 18, 2009

Islamabad: Fortifications are springing up across Islamabad as foreigners retreat from public view and Pakistanis worry about the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack on shops, offices or even schoolchildren.

Twelve-metre (40ft) high sandbag walls, nests of gun-toting soldiers and concrete blast walls have started to appear around the once sleepy federal capital, where over the last year Taliban suicide bombers have attacked a five-star hotel, the Danish embassy and several army and police posts.

The most visible precautions have been taken at UN offices, most of which now resemble facilities in war zones. "In terms of security instability Pakistan has become as dangerous as Iraq and Afghanistan," said a senior UN official.

Last week a Taliban commander, Mullah Nazir Ahmed from South Waziristan, threatened to overrun the city. "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen," he told al-Qaida's media wing As-Sahab.

Few residents take that warning seriously, but there is a creeping sense of menace fed by the march of extremist forces in neighbouring North-West Frontier province. This week the government met Taliban demands to impose Sharia law in Swat, 100 miles north-west of Islamabad. On Thursday it released the firebrand cleric Abdul Aziz, who led the bloody Red Mosque siege two years ago, on orders from the supreme court.

Only four years ago Islamabad was considered one of the safest places in Pakistan, a small city of wide boulevards and low crime, if a muted social scene. Now it wears a tense face. Streets have been sealed, five-star hotels are fortified like army bases and a heavily protected area around parliament is known as the "red zone".

Convoys bristling with gunmen escort ministers to work, while western ambassadors travel in bullet-proof limousines. The government is urging foreign embassies to move into a diplomatic enclave that may soon resemble Baghdad's green zone.

A spring ball at the British high commission, due to take place tonight was cancelled yesterday over security concerns. Meanwhile hardware stores have found a lucrative new product line: blast film. "If a bomb goes off, it stops the glass from flying into your home," saleswoman Zahida Hashmi explained at the Ideal Home store.

But the most profound changes are being felt by Pakistanis, including the well-heeled, who are starting to feel their city has moved to the frontline of the war against militancy. Last weekend most English language schools in the city closed, some for several days, amid rumours of a commando-style gun attack on a school. One institution, which caters to foreigners, remains shut, with classes continuing by email.

School owners said they were installing closed circuit television and hiring armed guards, but admitted the precautions were insufficient to stop a suicide bomber. "Privilege won't buy you security any more," said one. "We are wondering how we can stay here if your kids are not safe."

For others, the closure of a main road outside the anonymous-looking headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) this week was a measure of the seriousness of the threat.

It is also hitting business. At Sufi restaurant, a popular kebab joint opposite a police building, sales are down 40%, said waiter Muhammad Asfandyar. "People are afraid to come out these days," he said, indicating a row of empty tables.

Some flag their resistance through culture. At the height of last weekend's scare, theatregoers flocked to see a play about Bulleh Shah, an 18th century Sufi mystic who defied the mullahs with a message of love and tolerance.

The play sold out, said director Madeeha Gauhar. "Unfortunately a minority seems to be winning this war of ideas through coercion. But this sends a strong message that people want to live, to be entertained, and to watch a play."

[Pictures (left to right):
Theatre Director Madeeha Gauhar. Photo from http://tinyurl.com/ckkng8 ;
Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamabad]

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Sufi Idea of Love

By Farhad Shakely, "AESTHETICAL ASPECTS IN THE POETRY OF MALÂ-YÊ JAZÎRÎ -- Part III" - The Kurdish Globe - Erbil, Iraq
Friday, April 17, 2009

In order to understand various aspects of Jazîrî's poetry, it is of utmost importance to place it in its historical context and take the political, cultural and religious dimensions of his time into consideration.

Questions of special interest concern the poet's relation to the princes of Jazîra, the Azîzân dynasty, and the sufi order to which he probably belonged. There are additionaly the issues of Kurdish culture and language that deserve investigation.

These issues are directly connected with the history of the Botân principality, but also with the situation in Kurdistan generally. Jazîra was one of the chiefdomds that belonged to the newly established ayâlat of Diyârbakir. Apparently it was the most powerful and independent one amongst the Kurdish principalities and, therefor, enjoyed a special position. It constituted, together with six other major and ten minor principalities an administrative unity called vilâyat-i Kurdistan.

An important question in the context of Jazîrî's life and poetry is The Red School, Madrasa-yâ Sor, that was built by a Mîr Sharaf, supposedly the one to whom the poet was a contemporary.

It is said that when Mîr Sharaf II was on his way to capture Jazîra, after being in exile a long time, he prayed to God and promised to build a mosque on the spot from which he enters the city, and thus The Red School, together with a mosque, were built. It is often asserted that Jazîrî lived and taught in The Red School.

One of the important remnants seen in the present city of Jazîra is the piebald tower, that is built on the bank of the Tigris. Yashin, in his book on Jazîra, states that the tower was built in 1596 by Mîr Sharaf III. The name balak, piebald, derived from the Arabic ablaq, is due to the fact that the tower is built of black basalt rocks and gypsum. Jazîrî mentions the tower of honour, burjâ Sharaf, in a panegyric poem supposedly addressed to Mîr Sharaf III.

The relationship between Malâ-yê Jazîrî and the princely family of Botân, the 'Azîzân dynasty, is not recorded except in the poetry of Jazîrî himself and in a great number of anecdotes about his life, most of which are completely unfounded. The essence of this relationship and the reason why Jazîrî had such a high position with that family is, I think, due to the fact that Jazîrî was a Sufi and a poet. We find in the dîwân of Jazîrî only two panegyrics for the Kurdish prince.

The whole poetry of Jazîrî affords a great deal of possibilities to find out and study the basic elements of a representative classical sufi poetry. He was greatly inspired by classical Persian poets as Hafiz, Mawlânâ Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî and Jâmî whom he certainly considered great masters of poetry. The spiritual affiliation to the Naqshbandi order of sufism is also distinctly present in his poetry.

His experiences as a sufi are marvellously illustrated in almost all his poems. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that the formal and linguist aspects of his poetry are also of utmost importance for every approach that aims at presenting a comprehensive idea about the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî.

Aesthetical Aspects: An Approach
To study and investigate aesthetical aspects in the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî one does not need to confine his research to only one genre, topic or form. The whole poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî affords a great deal of possibilities to find out and study the basic elements of a representative classical sufi poetry. These elements, indeed, are harmoniously interwoven with the themes and ideas of the poet, which create a high degree of poetical structure. The study of this structure involves, inevitably, a close reading of the texts to explore the most subtle parts and the intricate relationships among these parts, and to grasp meanings that are convoyed by various metaphors and symbols.

One of the most important questions that should be dealt with and answered in the beginning of a study of the content of Jazîrî's poetry is whether we consider his poetry as an artistic expression of his life and his experiences, material and/or spiritual.

A thorough reading of the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî gives the impression that the topics of sufism were present and dominant almost in all his poetic production. This leads us, consequently, to wonder if there has been a time when Jazîrî was a poet, but not a sufi. The logical answer seems to be that his poetical talents spouted out and flourished as a result of his initiation to the path and his aquaintance with the legacy of sufi poetry.

The ghazal of Jazîrî as a whole deal with the mystical, and thereby philosophical, thoughts and ideas of the poet. There are only a few number of ghazal in his dîwân that can be interpreted as love poetry, the addressee of which being a human. Even in such poems one is struck by the fact that they inevitably contain symbols, similes and expressions that connote the sufi idea of love; the divine love.

A Ghazal
The ghazal DJZ-Z:1 is an example of a sufi ghazal that contains significant twofold metaphors and similes. The formal and exterior meaning of this poem suggests that it is a love poem, in which the poet addresses his beloved to describe his love and his grief. This line of thought continues through the whole poem, although on different levels.

What makes the reader from the beginning aware of the real meaning of the poem, the sufi ideas of annihilation in and unity with God, is the linguistic vehicle, the vocabulary, and the metaphors. These elements are employed on such a level that it widens the circle of the poem to comprehend not only the earthly love, but also the heavenly.

Jânâ zhi jamâl-â ta muqaddas qabasim az
Gar khûb u parîzâda nazar kî ta basin az

Dear, of your holy beauty I am a firebrand
Beautiful and fairyborn, if you look [at me], you are enough for me


Describing her/his beauty muqaddas, holy, and himself as a qabas, firebrand or a portion of a fire, is the key for the twofold interpretation. Being a part of a greater whole is the idea that is expressed ambiguosly here. The second b. presents the idea of unity more deliberately and more poetically:

Mithlê mah-i naw gar ta divêtin ma bibînî
Mêza bika jâmê, tu dizânî chi kasim az

If you want to see us as the new moon
Look in the cup, [then] you know who I am

The picture is built upon three different allusive and mythical dimensions that are commonly employed in the Oriental poetry.

The new moon, mah-i naw, is the symbol of the good news that the fast month, Ramadhân, or the festival, i.e. the beginning of Shawwâl has come. Then it is enthusiastically expected and looked for. But, on the other hand, it tells of the grief that turned the lover, the poet, so thin that he resembles a new moon.

The cup, jâm, is a reference to Jamshîd's cup, in which he could see the secrets of the world.

Abbreviations
b: beit, bb: beits

DJZ: The Diwan of Mala-ye Jaziri, edited by Zivingi, see the bibliography.
The letters and numbers that follow indicate the chapter and the poem in the book.

Terms
Diwan: the entire collected work of a poet. Poems are usually arranged according to letter (or letters) of the rhythm.

Beit: or bayt, the basic unit in Oriental verse, usually translated as a couplet or distich. Consists of two misra's in the same metre; misra's may or may not rhyme.

Misra': each of two rhythmically identical (or near identical) halves of a beit.

Ghazal: a short poem of not fewer than four and not more than fifteen couplets.

Qasida: in form similar to the ghazal, but much longer. Theoretically it contains not less than thirty and not more than ninety-nine couplets.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

La Kud Karamna Bani Adama

By Webmaster, "Sufi-ism is a way of life" - Kashmir Watch - Islamabad, Pakistan
Wednesday, April 15 2009

Muzaffarabad: Mr Hameed Shaheen has said that sufi-ism is a way of life. A sufi first of all applies ethically corrective discipline on his own self; becomes a model for others; environment around him starts taking inspiration from; and thus a two-way trust builds between a sufi and the human environment around him.

Mr Shaheen, Resident Editor, Daily Pakistan Observer, was delivering a off-hand remarks on Sufi-ism and Social Reform to a group of youth who called on him Wednesday here. The core code of sufi-ism, he explained to the youth, is spread of love, because loves transmits how to respect others. It is the love among humans which brings strangers together, which draws nearer the distant thoughts, cultures and civilization, he added.

About human respect he explained that the Creator Himself says that He has created descendants of Adam (PBUH) very fortunate, blessed (La Kud Karamna Bani Adama (We have created descendants of Adam (PBUH) as honored ones); and again the Creator says La Kud Khalaqnal Insaana Fi Ahsan-e-Taqweem (We have created human being in perfect form); yet again the Almighty says that in human beings He has breathed His Light (Noor) from Him meaning thereby that in each and every human being there burns an Eternal Light. That is the reason that human beings would be held responsible in the Hereafter for their deeds, doings in the temporal world.

Sufi-ism is a way of life; that is a simple, truthful and altruistic way of life; the greatest good is to do goodness to others in the clear belief that those others are also creation of the Almighty as any good-doer himself or herself is.

Replying a question as to how one can adopt a sufi way of life, Mr Shaheen whose own family background is sufistic explained that a simple step is needed to move forward along this path - 'resolve not to think in bias, prejudice, hatred, malice, etc. against any other'. If one can practise this formula, one can reach a stage in life that he (practitioner) becomes automatically benign-influence-vendor among the human crowds; people get around him and start participating in his routines of life; thus a pattern evolves.

Today, he said, human societies need diversion towards this line of life; it is dynamic, vibrant and full of zeal to do good to others; if maximum number of people adopt this mode of practice, then with the passage of time the goodness maximizes.

Streaks of sufi-ism, he said, is found in every religion.

He told the youth to practise this spiritual formula: Allah with inhaling breath and Hoo with exhaling breath; a few hours continuous practice will regulate the breathing process into Allah Hoo; this mode of prayer (ibadat) does not interfere with any practical work one is needed to do to push ahead day-to-day life.

[Picture from http://www.sufism.org/society/asma/allah.html]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Between Operatic and Birdlike

By Ruth Jacobs, "Musical Islam" - Colby Magazine - Waterville, ME, USA
Vol. 98 N° 1 / Spring 2009

The musical sounds of Islam, rarely heard in Maine or even the United States, have made it to Colby.

Music Artist in Residence Dhruv Sangari, a well-known vocalist in the genre, is teaching a course and presenting Sufi music—mystical Islamic music—using poetry and improvisation.

“It’s the only real singing in an Islamic tradition,” said Colby Music Department Chair Steven Nuss, who helped bring Sangari to Colby from New Delhi, India, to teach and perform. “It’s a facet of Islam that we don’t hear a lot about.”

Sufi music may be sung in Hindi, Panjabi, Urdu, Persian, or other languages, and much of it surrounds love poems. “It’s a very florid, melodic style, something between operatic and birdlike,” said Nuss.

Sangari’s form of Sufi music, which comes from ancient temples of northern India and Pakistan, is primarily represented by Qawwali, a form of Arabic vocal music from the seventh and eighth centuries that eventually blended with preexisting local Indian forms and evolved into a its own musical genre.

Sangari, 27, has also recorded pop and rock fusion, blending sacred, secular and World music traditions.

See the Artist's profile at LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/pub/10/9aa/b17

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Love Flowed

By Asadullah, " The departure of an Australian soul" - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Looking around with Surma-laden eyes and covering her head with a traditional Dupatta that allows snow-white hair to curl out, Amatullah Jyly Armstrong looks like a Western custodian of a local shrine.

Alas, after living in Karachi for a decade, she has moved to Johannesburg.

Between spiritual journeying from Muckle Flugga Farm in Sydney to Zawia Ebrahim out of Johannesburg, Jyly came to one of Karachi’s early post-independence neighbourhoods called PIB Colony.

She disappeared last year but I recently found her on Facebook, only to discover that she had gone to South Africa on a one-way ticket. Though I had seen her at different places in Karachi, I never had a chance to know her.

I met her for the first time in Delhi’s police station one fine morning in October 2005 on my second trip to India. I realised that I was carrying her book The Sky is Not the Limit in my backpack and ended up introducing myself, mentioning this very fact to her. She was amazed, and said we were destined to meet in Delhi. She introduced me to her companion, Mehmood Ghaznavi, the youngest of the great Sabri brothers. Seeing them together reminded me that Jyly had appeared in one of his rare qaw’wali videos.

After writing a small message in the book, she invited me to have Iftar together at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, but since I was heading straight to Haryana, I excused myself. We stayed in touch mostly through text messages. I met her again at Costa Coffee on Shaheed-e-Millat Road, where we talked at length about the Sufi path that she took in early eighties. Let me introduce her to you.

Amatullah Armstrong Chishti, known as Jyly to her family and friends, is a trained art teacher. Her spiritual quest began in the early eighties when she rode some 5,000 kilometres on a bicycle from France to Tunisia. On the journey, she encountered Islam and formally embraced the faith in 1984 in the Algerian Sahara Desert.

As a spiritual traveller connected to the Chishti Silsila, Jyly left Australia in 1998 for Karachi. She tied the knot with Mehmood Sabri at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi and collaborated with him to send the Sufi message in Pakistan and abroad.

She promoted Mehmood’s Qaw’wali as his manager here and abroad. After knowing that she had left Pakistan almost for good, I was curious to know her experiences of the city we all love and hate. She was very forthcoming, and like a scholar, posted an excerpt from her last book, The Lamp of Love:

“Pakistan ripped me apart and opened me up to an inflowing and an outpouring. Love flowed to me from so many people. And I reciprocated with a great outpouring of love and compassion for them. Everywhere I went I encountered raw, beautiful, sad, joyful, exultant, desolate, dignified, impoverished humanity. Pakistan changed my entire life.”

“But I cannot go back to [the solitude of Australia’s north coast beaches]. I would be miserable and would yearn for the freedom of Karachi’s chaos! Yes, there is a freedom here too, the freedom to lose oneself in the multitudes.”

“Riding in a rickshaw through the polluted city streets, I catch those fleeting passing images of humanity, images of pathos and joy and dignity and impoverishment that flood my heart with an intense love. Thank Allah for the experience.”

Jyly is working on a new commentary to one of her old books, which she says has many points that she now considers quite wrong. She is also thinking of publishing her post-graduate thesis titled The Artist Transformed: Sufi Views on the Development of the Self and Art.

Her marriage is amicably over. She has left Karachi, very much like Costa Coffee, although she misses the coffees and meetings with all her friends in Karachi and Lahore.

“It’s amazing that we do actually mature on this journey through life,” she writes. “Looking back at a 1994 book makes me somewhat embarrassed, but hopefully there will be benefit in the new commentary I’m presently working on.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Celebration of Diversity


By Wendy Kristianasen, "A Celebration of Diversity for Harmony and Peace" - Middle East Online - London, UK
Monday, April 13, 2009

In this year’s Jaipur literary festival in India [January 21-25], a good number of Pakistani writers were able to take part. More surprising, and equally welcome, was the large number of Pakistanis in the audience too.

Can we make the arts an effective platform for fighting political (and religious and cultural) conflict in the Indian subcontinent, and further? The answer from Jaipur (India) this January was “Yes, we can.”

Salman Ahmed from the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon says: “The artist should be as ruthless in pursuing cultural harmony as the terrorist is bent on destroying it.”

Junoon played at this year’s Jaipur literary festival, now in its fourth year, which hosted 167 writers -- from the internationally famous to new young authors -- and 30 performing artists. Participants came from China, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Mali, Sierra Leone, Algeria, the US, the UK -- and, importantly, from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The festival’s purpose is dialogue between cultures and faiths, and across borders -- a celebration of diversity.

That purpose took on a directly political tone this year following the Mumbai attacks in late November and the tensions and debate they provoked on either side of the India/Pakistan border, not least among intellectuals.

Despite fears that visas might not be granted, a good number of Pakistani writers were able to take part. More surprising, and equally welcome, was the large number of Pakistanis in the audience too, taking an active role whenever the floor was opened up to general debate.

The dialogue between cultures was enhanced by the cross-culture of many of the writers, poised between the subcontinent and other parts of the world, mainly in the West. This cross-fertilisation was matched in the music, which was an integral part of the festival.

William Dalrymple, its co-director with Namita Gokhale, explained: “In the aftermath of the Bombay attacks, we worked on trying to showcase traditional forms of sacred music as a way of creating dialogue between faiths and cultures. After the horrors of Bombay with Muslim terrorists attacking both Hindus and Jews this dialogue seemed especially important to foster and encourage in India.”

So there were Muslim musicians from desert Rajasthan; Hindu Bauls from Bengal; musicians (Kudsi Erguner and Coleman Barks) celebrating the tolerant pluralistic Sufism of Rumi with verse and music of the ney; a Muslim griot from Mali on kora alongside Hindu dhrupad singers from Benares; a Jewish/Muslim concert for peace bringing together the Palestinian/New Yorker rap poet Suheir Hammad, the Indian based Israeli qawwali singer Shye Ben Tzur with his Indian Hindu and Muslim musicians, and the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon.

The music provided a backdrop to a diverse five-day programme in which politics was high on the agenda: Art historian Simon Schama spoke about American politics in the new Obama era as well as about art; Christophe Jaffrelot, the well-known specialist on India, discussed nationalism; a panel of experts compared Christian, Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms; the commentator Shashi Tharoor discussed (and regretted) the impact of political and economic change on Indian society; a panel of writers talked of insurgencies (Nepal, the Naxalites) and how to portray them creatively; there was a heated open debate on Kashmir.

Alongside this was a kaleidoscope of other happenings: sessions on Sanskrit, local languages, oral traditions, the Mahabharata (the epic Hindu narrative), events for children, etc. Travelwriters, including Dalrymple, Colin Thubron and Paco Iyer, drew us to a wider world. Novelists, poets, biographers, authors of fact and fiction, talked of their passions and purposes.

The festival was free to all. Local schoolchildren sat on the grass and listened. The public debated, and crowded round to talk to the authors. People ate and drank tea and beer together, and stood in the same long queue to be served – no matter if it was Amitabh Bachchan, the film actor/producer/TV presenter (mobbed by admirers), or best-selling novelist Vikram Seth, or Vikas Swarup, author of Slumdog Millionaire.

As Junoon’s Salman Ahmed remarked: “Films, music and literature are what give South Asians an identity, joy and a much needed sense of normality. That’s why the fanatics abhor them so much. If we start pulling the plug on artists, the fanatics and the warmongers have already won.”

[Pictures (left to right) Salman Ahmad from Junoon; Coleman Barks and Muzaffar Ali. Photos: from the JLF website http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Light of the Sufis

Staff Report, "Brooklyn Museum Celebrates Sufism with an Islamic Art Installation" - Art Daily - Eastport, Maine, USA
Monday, April 13, 2009

Brooklyn, NY: Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam features twenty-four objects from the Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and private collections that are related to a mystical form of Islam known as Sufism.

This special installation will be on view in the Brooklyn Museum’s Islamic galleries from June 5 through September 6, 2009.

While diverse Muslim sects and Islamic cultures do not necessarily share a singular view or practice of Islam, the mystical and romantic nature of Sufism tends to have a more universal appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This exhibition focuses on some of the most important Sufi ideas and practices that found expression through the arts of the Islamic world, beginning with light, which symbolizes both God and enlightenment.

The works displayed represent both literal and figural reflections of important mystical themes, including furnishings used for lighting; representations and attributes of Sufi mystics; illustrated, illuminated, and laser-etched manuscripts of Sufi poetry; and traditional and contemporary works inspired by Sufi principles.

The range of chronology, cultures, and media of the works exhibited reflects the wide appeal and impact of Sufism on the arts from the early period to the present day. Highlights include a gilded and enameled glass lamp inscribed with the famous “Light Verse” (Ayat al-Nur) from the Qur’an, a gilded and jewel-encrusted silver beggar’s bowl meant for collecting alms, and two inlaid brass candlestick bases from the eastern Islamic world made in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively.

Two contemporary artworks will be featured in this installation: one is a modern interpretation of the mystical verses of the renowned poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), translated by Zahra Partovi and inscribed in a glass book by Brooklyn artist Kelly Driscoll, and the other is a composition of charcoal prayer-stone rubbings by Iranian-American artist Pouran Jinchi.

The exhibition will also present several portraits of Sufi dervishes, some identified through inscriptions and others through costumes representing a particular Sufi order.

A vintage photograph depicts a dervish family from the early twentieth century in modest attire, while an album page shows a mystic resembling a Chinese luohan in meditation accompanied by his flute and alms bowl.

Some works, such as large Qajar painting and illustrated manuscript pages, illustrate narratives recounted in well-known Sufi literature. Poetry also appears on a beautiful medieval Iranian ceramic dish painted in light-reflecting luster, including verses by Rumi’s master, Shams al-Tabrizi (d. 1248), whom Rumi compared to a sun shining the light of God upon him.

The exhibition has been organized by Ladan Akbarnia, Hagop Kevorkian Associate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam will be presented in conjunction with Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas, an unprecedented ten-day festival and conference in New York City celebrating Islamic culture of which the Brooklyn Museum is a supporting partner.

Picture: Sample of Persian Calligraphy from a Mughal Album. Calligraphy: Iran, Safavid, 16th century; margins: India, Mughal, 17th century. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by anonymous donors and the Helen Babbott Sanders Fund, 1991.185

Photo: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/light_of_the_sufis/. Visit the Brooklyn Museum http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Religious Brotherhood

By Express News Service, "Sufi saints on a mission to spread peace" - Express Buzz - Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

April, Sunday 12, 2009

Hyderabad: Setting an example of religious brotherhood, the members of World Sufi Council and Sanathan saints, joined hands to unitedly promote peace and love across the country.

The saints are from different parts of the country and members of various religious institutions. The members who were in Hyderabad as part of their tour spoke at length about the coming general elections which is due this month.

Md. Sufi Gilani, Chairman, World Sufi Council, Ajmersharif opines, “We are here to spread not only love but also remind people on choosing the right candidate for the elections. We oppose those parties and candidates who are communal and divide the country on religious basis for their selfish motives.”

He said, “When elections are fast approaching the parties are quick to divide Hindus and Muslims, thus, flaring up emotions. We, hereby, appeal to the people not to get carried away by politicians and instead vote for a secular candidate with credible record”.

Gilani feels that some politicians spread intolerance but an average citizen is by nature peaceful and law abiding.

He further adds that the members embark on a quest to know the problems of the people and find solutions, which is why, they have set out on this national tour.

Umakant Maharaj of Divine Shri Ram International, Haridwar, adds “We should remember that we can make the world a happy place. India has always been known to be a tolerant and united country. As saints of love, it is our responsibility to preach communal harmony and peace.”

The members advised the citizens not to vote on the basis of religion, caste or creed and shun violence.

The saints will continue their peace tour into Karnataka and later covering places like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Assam, Delhi and others.

The saints association vowed to work towards country’s prosperity even after the elections are over.

Using Religion for Political Gain

By IANS, "Hindu saint asks people not to vote for BJP" - The Thai Indian - Bangkok, Thailand
Monday, April 13, 2009

Patna: A Hindu saint Monday asked the people not to support or vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has raised the issue of the Ram temple at Ayodhya again.

“We have been cautioning people across the country that the BJP is eyeing to capture power at the centre by using the Ram temple issue again. It is another example of mixing or using religion for political gain at the cost of the people and nation,” Mahant Janamjey Sharanji, the president of the Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Nirman Nyas, Ayodhya said here.

“The much awaited construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya is possible through common or mutual agreement,” he said.

The seer, who is leading the “Sanatan Sant Sufi Yatra”, said the nine member team - comprising four Muslim Sufi saints and five Hindu seers - will go around India to create awareness among the people to teach a lesson to those playing politics in the name of religion.

He made it clear that their campaign from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to spread the message of peace, love and communal harmony by countering hatred, has nothing to do with any political party.

“We have been requesting people to discard politicians if he or she is playing politics in the name of religion. They may belong to any political party,” he said. The seer also termed senior BJP leader L.K. Advani’s letter to Hindu saints last week as a “gimmick” to influence them before elections.

Sufi Mohd Geelani Kattan, the president of Ajmer unit of the World Sufi Council, said millions of people across the country were facing unemployment, starvation and poverty but none of the political parties had a clear stand on these issues.

“We are asking people to vote for those who promise to provide employment, food and fight against terror,” he said.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Praise of Meeran Sahib

By Neha Bhatt, "Fakir fusion" - Business Standard - Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sufi singers from Tamil Nadu find fame and a wider audience

The Fakirs from Nagore Dargah in Tamil Nadu, who recently performed at several venues in Delhi, had a quiet, meditative presence on stage, which was enchanting.

At Bhakti Utsav, the music festival held every year at Nehru Park in Delhi, the Fakirs were just one of the many groups of artistes invited to perform. Other forms included gurbani, Vedic chanting, Rabindra Sangeet and the music of the Bauls.

The Fakirs held their own, singing in a popular music style to the accompaniment of rabahna or frame drums. Their lyrics conveyed praise of the Sufi saint Meeran Sahib, through the medium of stories.

At their native place in Tamil Nadu, the Fakirs are known for singing devotional songs in Tamil and Arabic dialects at religious and social occasions.

A well-travelled group, having performed in Australia, Israel and many other countries, they have dabbled in fusion music, whether that involves singing to the rhythm of the tabla and other percussion instruments, blending their voices with that of Carnatic singers, or chanting to the beat of the drums or the strains of the guitar.

The singers in the group — Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer — say that they especially enjoy jamming with instruments like the tabla and veena. Ajah Maideen says, “The exciting part is when we fuse our Sufi chants with distinct sounds. The rhythm of our music gets enhanced with such a combination. Each song symbolises love for the Almighty and fosters camaraderie between people of different cultures, religions and beliefs.”

Interestingly, it was their performance as part of a musical collective for Laya Project — a production that brought together folk traditions from the 2004 tsunami-affected regions in South-east Asia — that marked a new beginning for the group. EarthSync, the Chennai-based label that produced Laya Project, subsequently brought out an album exclusively featuring the Fakirs, called Nagore Sessions.

While the singers are pleased that their music is being documented, and that they are able to perform on different platforms, it is evident that not many will be able to step into their shoes.

“Our children have not taken up music professionally. They sing occasionally, in parallel with their occupations,” says one of the singers, Abdul Ghani, sadly.

[Visit the Bhakti Ustav Festival website and watch the Photo Gallery http://www.sehernow.in/index.html]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Sufi by Inclination

By Ahmed Darwish, "'Enlightened by sight'" - Al-Ahram Weekly - Cairo, Egypt
9 - 15 April 2009 / Issue No. 942

Ahmed Darwish reviews the life of one of Egypt's most distinguished calligraphers

Khan Al-Maghrabi in Zamalek has put together an exhibition of the work of calligrapher Hamed El-Uweidi to mark the anniversary of his death last year at the age of 53. The exhibition, entitled "Love and Salute", drew crowds of art enthusiasts and calligraphy buffs.

Calligraphy may seem to be a luxury, as it requires a skill and takes too much time, especially at a time when most of us spend our days hunched over a keyboard, the nostalgia for beautiful writing is hard to resist.

I first met El-Uweidi at an exhibition of his work at the Higher Council for Culture (HCC). The exhibition was arranged for the 20th anniversary of the death of the poet Amal Dunqul, and the event was sponsored entirely by Gaber Asfour, then secretary-general of the HCC and an old friend of Dunqul's. At the Khan Al-Maghrabi, I felt that time had only added to the inspiration of his message.

Looking at El-Uweidi's work, one is gripped by a persistent sense of wonder. Most of the pieces fuse old and new approaches, since El-Uweidi remains faithful to the legacy of centuries past while experimenting with new approaches with the same freshness found in such works as those of Youssef Sayeda, Kamal El-Sarrag and Naga El-Mahdawi.

Poetry is his favourite theme. "If enamoured, it's because our faces are enlightened by sight." One of his pieces offers the line with such a melodic tenderness that one can almost hear it.
What sets El-Uweidi apart from other calligraphers is that he uses the background of his compositions as a basic component of the piece. It is as if one is prepared for the opus with a chorus of whispers, or perhaps eased into the melee with a nudge on the shoulder. Then an oversized letter, his trademark, brings the message home on a dramatic note, one that pushes the delicate harmony of the inimitable composition out of this world and into another level of visual expression altogether.

In another piece, he presents a fragment of poetry: "He who says no to the face of he who said yes, and teaches man to tear apart the emptiness, he who says no doesn't die, but becomes a soul in pain immortalised." He is using a three dimensional pattern here, offering Persian script interlaced with another script called Thuluth, the word "no" blown out of proportion, offering the canvass an audio quality of immense impact.

In all El-Uweidi's compositions there is a yearning for spirituality, a supplication to a higher power, a quest for a spiritual journey that takes him to the poetry of Ahmed Shawqi and Mahmoud Darwish and the sayings of Ibn Arabi and Omar Khayyam.

El-Uweidi, who held the post of art director at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies, was a Sufi by inclination, a poet by temperament, and a man of encyclopaedic knowledge. A keen collector of rare Quran recitals, he would spend hours listening to the great Quranic readers Mustafa Ismail and Mohamed Siddiq El-Minshawi.

He was close to his family, and used to spend most of his time at home either reading or talking to his daughter, Aida, who was 10 when he died. He was also a frequent visitor of old mosques, his favourite being the Sultan Hassan Mosque, a great place for admiring the fine examples of Mameluke calligraphy. El-Uweidi used to take his son Salah to mosques in Islamic Cairo, usually opting for the mosques with the best examples of calligraphy.

El-Uweidi owned a large collection of art, Sufi literature, and poetry, and had plans to write the whole Quran in calligraphy, but died before he could fulfil his wish. He died on 4 March 2008 and was buried in Qus village in Upper Egypt.

Picture: El-Uweidi adding the final touches to one of his calligraphy masterpieces in Al-Ahram office [click to enlarge]. Photo: Al-Ahram

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Beauty and Love


By Emily Snyder, "Carleton Humanities Center Sponsors Screening of Sufi Mystical Poem Interpretation" - Carleton College News - Carleton, MN, USA
Thursday, April 9, 2009

Northfield: Carleton College will screen a modern dance interpretation of Beauty and Love, a Sufi mystical poem on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. in Carleton's Gould Library Athenaeum.

The video screening will be followed by a discussion led by Carleton graduate and University of Washington professor and Ottoman scholar Walter Andrews.

A Mediterranean reception will immediately follow the discussion. This event is free and open to the public.

The modern dance interpretation of the Sufi mystical poem will be performed in the Mevlevi (Rumi) tradition, a Sufi order established in present-day Turkey.

The Mevlevi tradition uses dance performance as a form of remembrance of God, or dhikr. The dance represents an individual’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to reach “Perfect,” a journey that involves abandoning the ego to arrive at truth. Whirling is the most common type of dance to use as a form of dhikr, which earns the Mevlevi tradition its alternate identity as the “Whirling Dervishes.”

Andrews, a distinguished Ottoman scholar, specializes in Ottoman and Turkish literature. His most recent book, titled The Age of the Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, was co-authored with Mehmet Kalpakli. The book explores the sex, spirituality, and politics of Ottoman historical culture through lyrical poetry, along with the extension of the “age of beloveds” into Western Europe through a closer examination of Venice, Rome, Florence, and London.

For more information regarding the screening, discussion, or library reception, please contact Mary Tatge at (507) 222-4252.

The Humanities Center and Carleton’s religion and theatre and dance departments sponsor this event.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Milk, Husks and Rose Petals

Culture Desk Editor, "Sidi Goma Performs exhilarating Sufi Devotional Music and Dance" - The Somerville News - Somerville, MA, USA
Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sidi Goma performs exhilarating Sufi devotional music and dance filled with intoxicating drum patterns, joyful praise dances and virtuosic feats of agility that gradually reach an ecstatic climax.

The wildly energetic ensemble of 12 drummers, dancers and singers provide a rare opportunity to discover the joyful and exuberant music and dance of the hidden community of Sidi from Gujarat, India.

The mysterious, little-known Sidis are the descendants of Africans who traveled from East Africa to India over the last 1000 years. The Sidis of Gujarat are a tribal Sufi community of East African origin which came to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home.

As Sufi Muslim devotees to their African saint and symbolic ancestor, Bhava Gor, their sacred songs praise the gift of joy he brought from the waves of the sea. Sidi Goma is a loosely-knit, semi-hereditary Sufi organization, with a core group of performers that is rounded out with a rotating cast of other men from the village, depending on who is available at the time.

They perform in a group of twelve: four lead musicians (drummers/singers) and eight dancers.

Sidi Goma's program presents an overview of Sidi ritual performance, from the traditional muezzin call to prayer to a staged ritual performance of a damal. It centers on danced zikrs (prayers), consisting of joyful, satirical praise dances to their ancestral saint, Bhava Gor. In a distinctly African practice, the performers are "dressed" in fabric, made up with face paint and matching peacock-feather headdresses and skirts.

However, it is their musical instruments that provide the Sidis with their most vital link to Africa. They employ a variety of hand drums and hand percussion instruments in performance, among them coconut rattles, an under-arm drum, double-headed drums and a large foot drum. The most distinctive Sidi instrument is the malunga, a braced bow similar to the Brazilian berimbau.

Like all Sufi's, there is an ecstatic component to Sidi Goma's ritual, with its rhythmic chanting and hypnotic, ever-faster drumming.

Their performance, which starts with the a cappella muezzin, crescendos to a frenzy with increasingly virtuosic dance solos and singing. It finally climaxes in a coconut-breaking feat, in which coconuts are tossed high into the air and cracked open with a head butt, that leaves the stage a slippery but fragrant mess, littered with milk, shattered husks and rose petals.

Since the 1990's, Sidi Goma has been performing outside of their community to raise consciousness about the discrimination and poverty that Sidis face in India.

In recent years, Sidi Goma has been busy developing their international profile: touring the UK in 2002, East Africa in 2003 and North America and Europe ever since. In 2005, they released their first album, Black Sufis of Gujarat. They also recorded on Sidi Sufis: African India Mystics Of Gujarat, an album of unique field recordings by UCLA ethnomusicologists Amy and Nazir Jairazbhoy, made in collaboration with Abdul Hamid Sidi and the Sidi community during their survey of Sidi shrines in Gujarat in 1999-2002.

Proceeds benefit Sidi education projects in Gujarat.

Free preperformance talk with dance critic Debra Cash: 45 minutes prior to each show.

World Music/CRASHarts presents the Boston debut of Sidi Goma: The Black Sidis of Gujarat on Saturday, May 2, 8pm at Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Sq., Somerville. Tickets are $28. For tickets and information call World Music/CRASHarts (617) 876-4275 or buy online at http://www.WorldMusic.org/

[Picture from the Sidi Goma Website: http://www.kapa-productions.com/sididotcom/]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Drunk on God

By Claudia Rousseau, "Exhibit explores urban tales and spiritual journeys" - Business Gazette - Gaithersburg, MD, USA
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The work of Montgomery County artists Tom Block and Michael Enn Sirvet is at the District's Hamiltonian Gallery as part of the fifth of its series of exhibits of Hamiltonian Fellowship winners, along with paintings by their "mentor artist" Lisa Montag Brotman of Bethesda.

Wrapping around the gallery's back walls are the 25 mixed media panels comprising Block's "Conference of the Birds." Each panel is 6 feet high, and together they measure 62.5 feet wide. Thus, Block's work, which, at these dimensions, becomes a kind of wall itself, fills the viewer's visual field with what at first may appear to be a chaotic jumble of brightly colored graffiti-like marks. In fact, it is a very carefully orchestrated series of images echoing the allegorical quest of 30 birds in the spiritual epic of the same name written by the Persian Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar in 1177.

Block has become something of a comparative theologian in the past decade or so, publishing scholarly articles on the relationship between Sufism and Jewish mysticism. He has delved extensively into Sufi thinking about the path to enlightenment, the obstacles along the way and its equivocal end where "drunk on God," the pilgrim finds that God is within. The idea of God within is an idea intrinsic to interpretations of Sufism dating back to the roots of Islam.

What Block has done here is reinterpret the poem in a pictorial sequence taking place in the urban setting, and featuring the artist. Executed on canvas, it exhibits an amazing density of painted and pasted elements, paper sketches in ink and pencil, and acrylic, gold and silver paint. These are layered, drawn and re-drawn. Sometimes, collaged elements are torn and reworked. Handwritten text, with references to everything from current events to the Kabbalah, appears everywhere, requiring the viewer to get up close to and get lost in the surface.

The translation of the spiritual journey, with its didactic stations, into contemporary street imagery takes it out of the exclusive religious context of its source and universalizes it. Thus, at the end (the work "reads" like a scroll from left to right), hands point back the other way — back into the world. For Block, the aim of classical mystical enlightenment is wrong. For him, rather than sit in perfect contemplation, the goal of knowledge is action. The meaning here is about returning to the world with the benefit of wisdom gained.

The transition from innocence to knowledge, if not enlightenment, is the theme of many of Brotman's paintings. In this exhibit, the best of them date from the early to mid-1990s when she painted images from photos of her adolescent daughters in leotards, set against suggestive backgrounds, to connote the budding of desire and self-consciousness.

Much of Sirvet's sculpture has taken on an increasingly painterly aesthetic by the use of colored elements of various kinds. A number of pieces include colored Plexiglas which the artist, a structural engineer, has discovered how to bend and bolt together with metal components of varied origins. Beyond his former use of aluminum, brass, copper and wood, Sirvet is also using rusted steel from found objects like junked kitchen cabinets that often retain their original painted colors. "Panopticon?," a nearly 8-foot tower form, is made of all these materials, its multicolor surface luring the viewer to examine its composition. Ironically, a "panopticon" is a tower permitting observation of a whole class of people, whether literally as in a prison (its first use), or virtually, as on the Internet. The interaction between observer and object is certainly among Sirvet's aims here.

A number of wall reliefs are in this exhibit, which are even more strikingly painterly, even evoking landscape. "My Blue Heaven" contains three distinct registers of smallish pieces: torch-cut rusted steel on the bottom, aluminum and copper plate in the center, and mechanically-cut blue Lucite on top, held together with stainless and alloy steel bolts. Unlike the impeccable precision and measured progress of an earlier work like "Birch Wall" (2003), also in this exhibit, "My Blue Heaven" displays a more intuitive approach, something more personally expressive of a longing for the sky, or the perfect life suggested in the old song of that name.

"Metroscape" is another wall piece in a series Sirvet calls his "metal quilts" because they are pieced together. This work, which the artist describes as having the "energy of a dense, evolving city," is made of "metals, wood and plastic; materials of a city." It makes a nice comparison with Block's walls, telling urban tales from a different vantagepoint. Still, I am drawn to the elegance of the more "engineered" pieces like "Ming's Flame" and "Crystalline Pod," with their flowing tails and sense of cometlike motion.

The exquisite technique of a work like "What the Shifting Sands Reveal," another tower form in aluminum and brass, conveys a natural sense of growth or evolution. Rising from the brass bottom, this round tower begins with squared aluminum parts carefully linked together. Near the top, the form becomes irregular and lacelike, with holes cut into the metal suggesting a metaphor of a tree canopy, or perhaps clouds; the culmination is satisfying formally but subjectively provocative.

As a person who loves the outdoors as much as the city, Sirvet asks questions with his work about the connection between the natural and the manmade, about human existence and our place in nature.

Picture: Tom Block's "Conference of the Birds" refers to a medieval Sufi poem in an urban street language of letters and symbols. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Key Features of the Faiths




By Andrew Nelson, "Interfaith Speakers Share, Explain Faith Rituals" - The Georgia Bulletin - Atlanta, GA, USA


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Atlanta: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory joined an interfaith panel of scholars and clergy as they shared insights on the rituals of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.

Touching on issues of language, communal prayer, and the essence of liturgy, the speakers revealed key features of the faiths, including distinctions between Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions.

Some practices in different faiths have similarities. The Catholic liturgy is rooted in Jewish table fellowship. Islam and Judaism value individual prayers in the homes of believers. Some Protestant traditions are adopting Catholic disciplines, such as fasting, that church reformers who began the denominations did away with in the 16th century.

Georgia is overwhelmingly a Protestant state, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Some 70 percent of people here worship in the Protestant tradition, followed by Catholics, with 12 percent. The Jewish and Muslim faiths make up 1 percent or less of the population.

Close to 350 women attended the 10th annual interfaith luncheon. The Atlanta chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women hosted it at The Temple, the oldest synagogue in Atlanta.
The guests were Archbishop Gregory; Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple; Alan Godlas, an associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia; Martha Moore-Keish, an assistant professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur; Laurie Patton, a Candler professor of religions at Emory University.

The speakers fielded questions from Judy Marx, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

From the Catholic point of view, Archbishop Gregory said the church borrows much from Jewish worship. From the communal table meal to the proclamation of the Scripture, these are necessary and important components of Catholic prayer life, he said.
“As Catholics, we are deeply aware of our rootedness in Jewish ancestry,” he said.

Jewish liturgy has an outward focus, Rabbi Berg said. When people leave the service, their mission is to help make the world a better place, he said. Its theology recognizes God’s ongoing creative acts, the revelation of God’s word in the Torah and God’s redemption of all people by freeing the Jews out of Egypt, he said.

For a Muslim service, the faithful must face toward Mecca, according to Godlas, a scholar on Islamic and Arabic studies. God is “the sustainer of everything in existence” according to Muslim belief, he said. And gratitude is the key human quality of people toward God, he said. Muslim postures of bowing and prostrating are a reminder that without God’s constant sustenance, nothing is possible, he said.

Protestant liturgy—a broad term which covers mainstream to evangelical churches—generally favors proclaiming readings from the Bible, sacraments and “prayers in the name of Jesus,” said Moore-Keish. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are key parts of a Protestant liturgy, although they may not be celebrated weekly, she said.

On the issue of language, faith traditions wrestle with whether followers hold to ancient languages or use the contemporary.

Godlas said Muslims pray together in Arabic and it binds people together no matter their culture. But individuals pray on their own in their own language, he said.

For Jews, it isn’t required to pray together in Hebrew. In fact, the Reform branch of Judaism in the 19th century started as a way for Jews who didn’t speak Hebrew to worship in a common language, Rabbi Berg said. But now, Hebrew is becoming a bigger part of the service, he said.

For Catholics, Latin was the language of prayer for some 500 years, said the archbishop. The church’s prayer language evolved from Jesus’ Aramaic to Greek, a universal language in the ancient world, to Latin, which was the language of commerce, he said. There is a “serious debate” among Catholics about language and worship, he said. Since the Second Vatican Council, the custom has been people should have access to the language of worship, he said. The challenge is to translate the ideas expressed in the fixed language of Latin into contemporary language, he said. The archbishop compared the work to putting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English into current day Japanese.

Panelists also shared the favorite ritual in their faith tradition.

Moore-Keish said the eucharistic celebration moves her. The ritual has many rich layers, from sharing food with people and the biblical level of recalling Jesus’ sacrifice to building community among believers, she said.

Godlas said Muslims have a practice of “grateful remembrance” of God’s names. It carries with it an attitude of appreciating every thought and feeling as a gift from God, he said.

The archbishop said his favorite ritual is Holy Week. The observance “really captures everything that it means to be Catholic,” he said. The week follows Jesus from the glory of Palm Sunday to Good Friday, where he is nailed to the cross, to the Easter Vigil, where newcomers join the church, and Easter, marking his new life. “It captures the joy and the essence of our Catholic sacramental, liturgical tradition,” he said.

Rabbi Berg said his favorite moment is the blessing shared both within a congregation and in the family. He talked about the privilege of the blessing when he and his wife hold hands over their three children and recite the prayer from the Book of Numbers: “May God bless you and keep you, may the light of God’s presence shine upon you and inspire you.”

Pictures (above, left to right): Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Dr. Alan Godlas; (below, left to right): Rabbi Peter Berg, Dr. Martha Moore-Keish. Photos by Michael Alexander.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Peaceful Methodology


By Shahnawaz Warsi, "Azmat-e-Rasool Conference 2009" - Muslim Students Organization of India (MSO) - New Delhi, India
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

AMU Unit Organized its 4th Grand Azmat-e-Rasool (S.A.W.) Conference on 22nd March from 8:00 pm in the Kennedy Auditorium of Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh, India.

MSO, which was established in AMU in 1983 by Advocate Ismail Wafa of Kerala has spread in at least five states spreading the message of Quran and Sunnah among Youths.

Prof. Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri of Urdu dept. AMU who is also Sajjada Nashin of Barkatiya Silsila, and Sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed, Gen Secretary of All India Sunni Jamiatul Ulema, are its Patrons.

Programme started with the recitation of Verses from Holy Quran. Thereafter Mohammad Zaid, Mujibul Haq Qadri and Abdul Wakeel presented Naatiya Kalam in the praise of Nabi Kareem Sallaho alaihi wasallam. AMU Unit President Mohammad Najmuddin presented Welcome adress. Sajjada Nashin of Ajmer Dargah Prof. Liaqat Hussain Moini appealed the students to develop their Character according to Islam.

National General Secretary of MSO, Shahnawaz Warsi presented annual report of MSO activities and appealed students to join MSO to spread the true message of Islam. He told that Sufism has been an integral part of Islam and only by its peaceful methodology peace can be established.

Vice Chancellor of AMU Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis advised students to work hard in their education field. He told them to follow the Seerah of Rasulallah Sallaho alaihi wassalam. He congratulated MSO Unit for organizing such a grand and disciplined meeting in the University.

Maulana Qamaruddin of M.P. presented very beautifully the Azmat-e-Risalat before the Students.

Maulana Usaidul Haq Asim Qadri, Director of Al Azhar Institute Badaun, described the difficulties faced by our beloved Prophet of Islam in spreading Islam in Arabia. He said that Islam could be established only due to the high character and immense qualities possesed by our beloved Prophet Muhammad Sallaho alihi wasallam which were given to him by Allah Rabbul Izzat.

Prof Syed Muhamamd Ameen Mian emphasised on hard work for the youth. He said that only hard work can bring success for you in academics or in your careers. He said that Mehfil-e-Milad are the chances for us to get more knowledge about our beloved Prophet of Islam.

Ahmed Mujataba Siddiqui conducted the Conference beautifully.

In the last, MSO Members from Delhi led by Zuhairudddin presented Qasida-e-Burda Sharif and Salat-o-Salam.

Dr. Ameen Mian offered Dua. Thousand of boys and girls attended the conference which lasted upto 1:00 am.

Dr. Muhibul Haq, Dr. Abdurrahim, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, Mohammad Shoib Malik, Dr. Inayat, MSO Asstt General secretary Shujaat Ali Qaudri, Kerala Unit president Basharat Hussain,Tauheed from Bareilly MSO were among the few who were present on the stage.

Photos by Shahnawaz Warsi /09268207909 / Jamia Millia Islamia /New Delhi.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In Consideration of the People

By Zeyno Baran, "Commentary: What Turkey can do for the U.S." - CNN - USA
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Turks greeted President Obama with huge excitement Monday.

This was the first time a U.S. president visited Turkey at the start of his term, sending a clear signal that this administration recognizes the importance of Turkey and wants to engage with it from the start.

His address in the Turkish parliament was one of the greatest speeches made by an American leader in such a setting: He not only showed his deep understanding of Turkey's many complex issues and identities, but also handled tough issues with great skill. He framed his talk just right by underlining Turkey's European identity as a secular democracy.

That said, it is important to remember how good U.S.-Turkey relations were at the start of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush also considered Turkey an extremely valuable partner, but then came the Iraq war. The United States genuinely believed Turkey would be one of the most important allies going forward.

Despite official channels and experts making clear the difficulties in allowing U.S. military to cross into Iraq via its lands, the administration chose to listen to those who sang music to its ears. As a result, they based a whole military strategy on the Turkish parliament voting yes and were shocked when they received a no. Bilateral relations then entered a downward spiral.

With Obama's election, there is renewed excitement in Turkey. Like most of the people of Turkey, he opposed the Iraq war and considered Afghanistan the "good war." Going forward, as President Obama underscored in his speech, Turkey can play an important role in Afghanistan as a reliable NATO ally. The question is: How can Turkey best help?

Turkey is one of the few -- possibly the only -- NATO member that has deep religious, cultural and historic knowledge of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, the Turkish government has brought together the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan much before the United States began approaching them together.

Reading the tea leaves, one may conclude that the Obama administration wants to cooperate with Turkey in engaging with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This would be the wrong kind of cooperation. Although Turkey has channels to the Taliban and has means to facilitate the talks, there cannot be a morally acceptable deal reached with the Taliban, whose ultimate goal is to curb all individual freedoms and universal human rights, especially when it comes to women.

No matter what the reasonable sounding arguments may be in favor of this strategy, pulling Turkey into any kind of engagement with the Taliban -- either as part of NATO or bilaterally -- would have much worse long-term consequences.

Instead, the Obama administration needs to think of "victory" not only in the short term and from a purely anti-terrorism perspective, but also in consideration of the people who have lived and will continue to live in those lands. In other words, providing true safety, security, justice and development for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- not the kind of society the Taliban has been providing.

Indeed, it is in providing the basic securities that Turkey can be a great partner. Turkey not only can and will continue to help provide safety and physical security, but also could further assist with the reconstruction projects, such as building hospitals, schools, sanitation facilities and investment projects that would have direct impact on the socioeconomic development of the Afghan and Pakistani societies.

There are many Turkish companies that have undertaken successful construction projects in these fields since early 2002. There are also military and civilian trainers, nongovernment organizations and even volunteer teachers who work in some of the most dangerous regions.

Still, Turkey can possibly make the greatest contribution by helping the United States frame the challenges it is facing in a more accurate and honest way. Just as President Obama referred to his personal story and that of the United States to help Turks look deeper within, Turks can do the same for the United States.

To start, Turkey can explain how the vast Eurasian region it belongs to is not just part of the "Muslim world" but has been at the crossroads of eastern and western cultures and ideas and witnessed many brutal wars and massacres over the millennia. Moreover, each country has its own spirit -- there are ancient cultures and tribal formations, and these do not move fast. It is important to stop and drink the tea.

Turkey can also explain that it is only in recent decades that jihadism and extremism took root in these lands known for their Sufi teachings that talk about love, instead of hatred. As a true partner, it can also help the United States recognize its share, along with many others, in inadvertently contributing to the creation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by making bad foreign policy choices.

Anything short of recognition of the past catching up with us will leave us all unprepared for what may come in the future. In other words, we may be doomed to repeat the same mistakes until we learn our lesson.

CNN Editor's note: Zeyno Baran, a native of Turkey, is senior fellow for the Center for Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank that says it is dedicated to "global security, prosperity and freedom." From January 2003 until 2006, Baran directed the International Security and Energy Programs at The Nixon Center.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Art of Writing

By Johannes Hillje, "Traditional art in a modern style" - Hürriyet Daily News - Turkey
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rezan Has Museum opens a new exhibition today by well-known calligrapher Etem Çalışkan, an artist famous for rewriting the Nutuk, a 36-hour speech Atatürk delivered in 1927.

The exhibit includes 15 poems and 10 quotes from relevant historical figuresA new exhibition of work by the famous Turkish calligraphy artist Etem Çalışkan debuts today at Istanbul’s Rezan Has Museum at Kadir Has University.

The pieces will include visual interpretations of "the most beautiful poems by Istanbul’s most important poets," Çalışkan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

The Istanbul-based artist put verses by well-known Turkish poets, including Yayha Kemal Beyahtl, Nazım Hikmet and Talat Sait Halman, on paper in his unique writing style. The exhibit includes 15 poems and 10 quotes from relevant historical figures such as the Sufi mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi.

Çalışkan, 81, became famous for rewriting the Nutuk, the 36-hour speech Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gave in 1927 at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

The work on the Nutuk, which covers the events between the start of the Turkish War of Independence in 1919 and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, fills 900 pages and took Çalışkan about two years to complete.

It was published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture in 2000 and is displayed, in 17 books, at the Atatürk Museum in Ankara.

Major works
Two other major works that Çalışkan has illustrated are a Turkish translation of the Koran and a book by Sufi mystic Yunus Emre, making him the only person to ever rewrite all three important books. "I don’t think anyone else will ever do this again," he said.

Çalışkan was also hired to decorate Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara with sayings uttered by the founder of the Turkish Republic.

Çalışkan’s passion for calligraphy began during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, now part of Mimar Sinan University. He learned the art of writing from Emin Barin, an important calligrapher in the first half of the 20th century. After graduating in 1956, Çalışkan worked for various newspapers, including Yeni Sabah, Milliyet and Hürriyet.

Sales of Hürriyet skyrocketed the day Çalışkan’s version of Atatürk’s Gençliğe Hitabe, a speech addressing Turkish youth, was published.

His large portraits of Atatürk were printed in many newspapers and became very famous.

Today, Çalışkan is one of the only Turkish calligraphers writing in Latin letters. "People always connect calligraphy to Arabic letters and religion," he said. "If I wrote in Arabic, I would be rich by now."

He hopes Turks will learn that calligraphy can be also done in Latin letters and develop the art further. "Calligraphy is related to our culture; it was popular in the past, when paintings were forbidden," he said.

Calligraphers now face the challenge of preserving the art of writing, which was the main artistic discipline during the Ottoman Empire. "Nowadays, people prefer to write with computers, but computers cannot dream and create something new, because they don’t have a brain," he said.

Çalışkan thinks that schools should start teaching handwriting again. He is proud of his sole student, Seval Özcan, a young artist who shapes mirrors in calligraphy style. Çalışkan was also invited to a calligraphy symposium at Eskişehir University, which he says shows that young people are still interested in the art.

The new exhibition at Rezan Has Museum is the fifth collaboration between the artist and Kadir Has University.

The poetry-related works displayed in the exhibit are the start of a project Çalışkan is working on for Istanbul’s term as the European Capital of Culture in 2010.

[Picture from the Rezan Has Museum website. Visit the Rezan Has Museum in Istanbul http://www.rhm.org.tr/en/index.php].

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Al-Wasadiyah

By Nur Kafi/HAN with Abdurahman M Abdullahi, "Somalia: Political Islam, It’s time for Strategic Engagements" - Geeska Africa - Nairobi, Kenya
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

‘Political Islam’ is a catchy expression that signifies many things to different people. In Western circles, political Islam is considered a reactionary ideology and an anti-Western movement; and is portrayed as a menace to their civilization, values and hegemony.

In the Muslim world, despotic governments perceive political Islam as a competing oppositional ideology that threatens their political power and economic privileges. Both the West and these despotic Muslim governments agree on the necessity for its containment, even if this involves the violation of human rights and the abortion of democracy. Conversely, the Muslim masses longing for change consider political Islam to be a hope for possible cultural revival, economic prosperity and liberation from Western domination. However, the vicious extremism committed in the name of Islam on 9/11 and after, and the violent reaction of the US and other countries to this, has embarrassed Muslims everywhere. Somalis in particular are shocked at the unprecedented violence carried out in the name of Islam, such as suicide bombings, random assassinations and the wrecking of Islamic scholars’ tombs.

This is not the kind of Islam that Somalis have practiced for centuries and they ask themselves, “what type of religion is this?”

Many varieties of terminology have been used to signify this phenomenon. Proponents of political Islam prefer words such as ‘Islamic movement’, ‘Islamic awakening’ and ‘Islamic revival’. Opponents use offensive words, like ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘Islamic terrorism’, ‘Islamic radicalism’ and so on.

The terms ‘political Islam,’ or ‘Islamism,’ emphasize the resurgence of political aspects of Islam weakened after Western domination, and also the revitalizing of other aspects. They signify active movements striving to make Islam the definitive reference for the state and society. However, these active movements are not a single group; they comprise diverse parties and ideologies covering both extremists and moderates.

All forms of extremism: ghuluw (excessiveness), tanattu' (meticulous religiosity) and tashdid (strictness), are disapproved of, while moderation or balance, “al-wasadiyah,” is the fundamental marker of Islam. Religious extremism leading to political extremism has been known in Muslim history since the Kharijites rebelled against Imam Ali bin Abidalib, which is why the term neo-Kharijites (Khawarij al-Casr) is sometimes employed to signify an armed rebellion claiming Islamic righteousness that is directed against legitimate government in Muslim countries.

In Somalia, in the aftermath of the collapse of the state in 1991, local identity politics based on clanism and political Islam have emerged forcefully. As a result, Somalia has become a theatre for international and regional interventions, and is currently caught up in a bizarre assortment of Islamic insurgencies, piracy and weak state institutions.

It is the collapse of the state, along with successive failures of transitional governments, that has ushered in a stronger political Islam, which has become more militant since the Global War on Terrorism after 9/11, the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 and Ethiopian military intervention. Recently, a reconciliation agreement was concluded in Djibouti, producing a national unity government comprised of the Alliance of Re-liberation (ARS) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). However, al-Shabab and Hizb-al-Islam (formerly members of UIC and ARS) are fighting the new government headed by the former chairman of UIC and ARS, and the incumbent President Sheikh Sharif.

To understand this phenomenon, it has to be placed in the Somali historical context. Islam has been used as a strong mobilizing ideology in anti-colonial responses and nationalist struggles. The first modern organization in the name of Islam was formed by Haji Farah Omar in Aden in 1925. However, it was banned because of its political activities. The second attempt occurred after the return of Italian rule under UN trusteeship in the 1950s, when the Somali Islamic League was formed in Mogadishu. It set out to promote education in the Arabic language, and lobbied Egypt to open Arabic schools that would be comparable with the Italian school networks.

After independence in 1960, some students who had graduated from Arab universities held modern Islamic ideas and introduced them to Somalia. These Islamic scholars were inspired by the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Salafia (Wahabi School) of Saudi Arabia. The process started with the formation of Al-Nahda (the Renaissance) in Mogadishu (1967), Wahadat al-Shabab al-Islami (the Union of Young Muslims) in Hargeysa (1969) and Al-Ahli (the native) student organizations in Mogadishu (1970). The military regime of 1969, however, abolished Islamic societies and banned all non-state institutions. So Islamic activism operated underground and had by the 1970s taken greater strides, in reaction to the military regimes’ espousal of Marxist ideology.

The organizations al-Ahli, Al-Wahda and al-Nahda were coordinating stiff resistance to the socialist ideology. Initially, they all claimed affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood, but that situation had changed by 1975 after the execution of 10 Islamic scholars who opposed secularized family law. Young Islamic activists fled to Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and made contact with different aspects of political Islam. Eventually, besides traditional Sufis and Shafi’i jurists, four Islamic affiliations emerged in Somalia: the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafia and its derivatives, Takfir (declaring unbeliever groups) and Tablighi Jama’a (conveying group).

All modern organizations in Somalia are rooted in one of these four schools. For instance, Al-Shabab and Hizb al-Islam claim affinity to the Salafia movements. The complexity of Somali political Islam is such that even traditional Sufis known for their focus on the spiritual aspect of Islam are becoming more political and militant. The organization Ahlu-Sunna wa al-Jama’a is reacting in military ways to the destruction of the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs by the Shabab. In the final analysis, these organizations agree only on the principle of adopting Islam as the ultimate reference for the state and society. Beyond that, they disagree on political views, being influenced by socio-economic conditions, global politics and regional conflicts.

Political Islam has been approached from the perspective of those modernist theories that consider that traditions, including religion, are destined to decline, due to the rise of secular nationalism and nation-state institutions. Based on this assumption, Islamic movements are treated as presenting a threat to world order and as security challenges for the 21st century. This notion and the policies built upon it have contributed to further antagonizing and radicalizing many groups within political Islam, both in Somalia and worldwide.

In Somalia, tremendous changes have happened over the last 20 years and the political setting has shifted towards political Islam. Certainty, the period of Western projected dominance of secularism, and the state that it represented, collapsed in 1991. Political Islam emerged from its ashes and is now digging itself a strategic position in the realms of the state. Moreover, the people of Somalia are looking to Islam as an alternative salvation and solution. They believe that Islam is capable of diluting radical clanism and reconstituting the state. However, that form of Islam should be authentic and moderate; it should not be based on an extremist interpretation that preaches relentless violence.

Currently, the choice is either ruthless extremism or participatory moderation. The question is: which one of these two Islamic banners prevails? Which one would the Somali people choose and support? Which one should the international community accept and work with?

Political Islam has been approached from the perspective of those modernist theories that consider that traditions, including religion, are destined to decline, due to the rise of secular nationalism and nation-state institutions. Based on this assumption, Islamic movements are treated as presenting a threat to world order and as security challenges for the 21st century. This notion and the policies built upon it have contributed to further antagonizing and radicalizing many groups within political Islam, both in Somalia and worldwide.

In Somalia, tremendous changes have happened over the last 20 years and the political setting has shifted towards political Islam.

Certainty, the period of Western projected dominance of secularism, and the state that it represented, collapsed in 1991. Political Islam emerged from its ashes and is now digging itself a strategic position in the realms of the state. Moreover, the people of Somalia are looking to Islam as an alternative salvation and solution. They believe that Islam is capable of diluting radical clanism and reconstituting the state. However, that form of Islam should be authentic and moderate; it should not be based on an extremist interpretation that preaches relentless violence.

Currently, the choice is either ruthless extremism or participatory moderation. The question is: which one of these two Islamic banners prevails? Which one would the Somali people choose and support? Which one should the international community accept and work with?

To begin with, Somali intellectuals are required to re-evaluate political reality in Somalia and realize that the choice is between Islamic extremism and moderation. Thus, non-Islamists should make strategic engagement with Islamic moderation. On their part, moderate Islamists have to welcome the participation of all parties in the rebuilding of the state.

All moderate Islamic scholars should realize that the country is in peril and should stand up and articulate the true nature of Islam. All Somalis have to reawaken their natural religiosity and reassert their mobilizing capacity for exceptional solidarity, as brothers and sisters. Moderate Islamists have to show that Islam accepts political participation and plurality for all the citizens. They have to demonstrate that Islam protects human rights and freedom of expression. They have to reconfirm their commitment to peace and regional security. In so doing, they have to convince the international community and regional states that the new Somalia will be a bastion of peace and an icon and hub for development and regional cooperation.

Finally, the external actors involved in Somalia should realize that the Somali political landscape is changing.

The current unity government headed by moderate Islamist President Sheikh Sharif and the Shari’a bill endorsed by the Council of Ministers shows the trail in that direction. Therefore, moderate political Islam should no longer be eschewed but accepted as an alternative political reality.

In particular, neighbouring Ethiopia should be convinced to refrain from its subversive policies and develop an alternative strategy, based on dealing with moderate Islamists. Moreover, the Egyptian regime, in its entanglements with its rising Islamic opposition, should not obstruct the emergence of Islamism in Somalia. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Yemen should realize that their national security is at stake if extremism prevails in Somalia.

Eventually, if Islamic moderation does not take centre stage in Somalia, extremism will emerge as a triumphant ideology, hence the strategic choice of all concerned parties must be to join with the new government against rising extremism – and the government should combine clemency with resolve and take the path of state reconstitution seriously.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

In a Bond of Mystic Love
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By Anil Datta, "‘Sufism ideal recipe for religious tolerance and magnanimity’" - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Society needs to return to the same spirit of tolerance, intellectual, cultural and religious magnanimity that prevailed in the Indian sub-continent in the days of Sufi saints in order to nurture a society based on love and harmony that springs from mysticism and spirituality.

This was the consensus among speakers at the launch of Dr Kamran Ahmed’s book ‘The roots of religious tolerance in Pakistan and India’ held at the Arts Council on Friday evening.

Speaking as the keynote speaker, University of Karachi (KU) Pakistan Studies Department Chairman Dr Jaffer Ahmed classified the book as a must-read for college and university students and a book that must be made part of the curricula.

He said that seeing the conditions of extreme bigotry, hatred and militancy around us today, we find it hard to believe that there ever was religious tolerance in the sub-continent.

Dr Fouzia Saeed, sister of the author, social activist, and author of Taboo, said that we’d have to view our identity against the background of our culture.

Lamenting the present day air of acrimony and bigotry in society, noted journalist and intellectual Ghazi Salahuddin said that the concept of rational debate is totally non-existent in society today, and various groups just want to foist their views and beliefs on the more susceptible and vulnerable members of society.

He referred to the recent “peace deal” in Swat, which he termed a surrender. Talking of the love, tolerance and harmony of yore that bound society in a bond of warmth and love, he said that the Heer-Ranjha legend was reflective of the nature and collective love of society.

Noted journalist Owais Toheed bemoaned the fact that the oneness which bound the sub-continent together had become a relic of the distant past. He said the love preached by Odero Lall and Sachal Sarmast, which transcended all barriers of worldly religions and bound society in a bond of mystic love, was not there any more.

Winding up, the author, Dr Kamran Ahmed narrated his experiences in Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, with Islamic and Hindu groups. He advocated the pluralism of thinking and culture.

“We need to strengthen the roots of everyday spirituality,” he said.

[Book cover from http://tinyurl.com/cwdp3m]
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On a Journey
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By Sarah Touahri, "Sufi festival in Fez promotes religious tolerance with music, dance" - Magharebia - USA
Friday, April 24, 2009

Buoyed by past successes, the Fez Festival of Sufi Culture offers visitors to Morocco's spiritual capital a positive look at Islam through art and discussion

Rabat: The third annual Fez Festival of Sufi Culture, running through Saturday (April 25th), brings together artists and researchers from across the Maghreb and beyond. The organisers, encouraged by successful events in the past two years, say the week-long event provides a platform for expression by artists committed to the spiritual pursuit of artistic and intellectual creativity.

Artists pay homage to Sufism through poetry, music, and dance. Participants also demonstrate new art forms and cultural projects that foster intercultural dialogue and enhance human lives.

The primary objective of the event is to spread a positive image of Islam internationally, using the universal language of openness and peace advocated by Sufism. Organisers hope that the festival confirms Morocco's place in building a bridge between the East and the West.

"Every day gives us a chance to explore a particular country, its spiritual practices, the masters who have lived there, the words which have nurtured it and the arts and culture which express the very essence of its being," said event director Faouzi Skelli, "So we shall go on a journey through Egypt, Syria, Palestine, France, Turkey, the countries of Africa and Spain."

As the years go by, the festival attracts more and more visitors, both national and international, keen to experience and learn more about Sufi culture first-hand.

In one unique feature, public forums allow young people to discover a new world vision based on values of tolerance and community.

Discussion revolve around the interactions between spiritual values and society or, more broadly, spiritual values and globalisation.

Audiences also enjoy performances of Sufi chant at the religious soirées. Hamida Nidal, a teacher, said that music lovers are drawn into a universe of spirituality and calm, where peace and serenity reign.

"Our world needs such a culture to reject all the obscurantist ideas and to teach our young people about the benefits of tolerance and openness towards other people's cultures. We need a rebirth of this culture which once flourished in Morocco," she said.

Kaddour Kamini, a teacher of Islamic education, says that this kind of event enables Morocco to establish itself internationally as a place for dialogue between cultures and home to a rich Islam which is open to other religions.

"It is impossible to engage in dialogue with others unless one is at peace,' said French singer Abdel Malik. Spirituality has the resources needed to change things in a world which is becoming more and more dehumanised, he added.

Picture: French singer Ingrid Panquine performs holy songs at the Sufi Cultural Festival in Fez. Photo: Getty Images.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Love as the Leitmotif
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By Sukhada P. Khandge, "Essence of Sufi depicted on canvas" - Daily News & Analysis - Mumbai, India
Friday, April 24, 2009

Nashik-based artist, Ashok Dhivare's work, which is currently being exhibited at Thane Kala Bhavan, conveys spiritual and devotional messages through nature.

Dhivare is also a keen observer of human behaviour. So, he fuses the two to depict how the human heart craves for freedom.

"Some of my paintings talk about women and their experiences. My portrayal of Meera has love as the leitmotif," he said. His paintings carry the essence of Sufi thought.

"I always paint whatever I experience. Painting makes me happy and I want to share it with the masses," the artist said.

Dhivare, who works as an art teacher at a school in Nashik, believes that paintings are meant to enlighten people. The exhibition will be on at Thane Kala Bhavan till April 27.

[Picture: Mr. Ashok Dhivare, Art Teacher and Artist. Photo from http://www.indiaart.com/thumbs.asp?ACode=363&cnt=]
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Sufi Resurgence
1 comment:
By Shobhan Saxena, "Mystical diplomacy" - The Times Of India - India
Sunday, April 19, 2009

What has a bunch of dervishes whirling round a fire got to do with down-and-dirty politics and shady wars among nations?

A lot, if you are fighting a lost battle in the area of darkness that stretches from Lahore to Mingora, to Jalalabad and beyond — where religion is used as fuel for the engines of war.

As the Pakistani Taliban appears to tighten its noose around the country’s neck, Islamabad is trying to open a new front —faith wars between two strains of Islam. This lies in the hope that the deep-rooted Sufi tradition would help to halt the al-Qaida/Taliban juggernaut — driven by Wahabism.

Last week, even as President Zardari inked the deal that gives the Taliban a free hand in imposing Shariah in Swat, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who belongs to a family of pirs, was publicly talking about the role Sufism could play in checking extremism. But not everyone agrees.

Ayesha Siddiqa, Islamabad-based analyst, says that “Southern Punjab, once a hub of Sufi Islam, is a region lately making waves in terms of growing militancy. This is not to argue that the influence of pirs has reduced, but that there is a certain vacuum which is now being filled by a more rabid brand of Islam”.

But Siddiqa is one of the very few who advise caution. Invoking Sufism in a time of war at home makes sense to Pakistani politicians. Every Thursday, thousands of Sufi shrines across the country come to life as rich and poor, migrants, settled workers and different ethnicities come together to pray and party.

Amid the beats of the dhol and strains of qawali, the shrines look like party zones, with dancing transvestites, ganja-smoking men huddling around fires, and devotees expressing their love for Him. This form of devotion is being seen as a powerful force by Gilani, his government and Pakistan’s foreign advisors. But can Sufism resist the wave of orthodox Islam in Pakistan?

Scholars believe they have a reason to be hopeful. “In the past decade, especially since 9/11, there has been a powerful Sufi resurgence all over the Muslim world in direct response to the literalism and spiritual and ethical bankruptcy of Wahhabi Islam.

Many Muslims have found in Sufism a rich religious tradition and reclamation of the soul of Islam,” says Khaled Abou El Fadl, Alfi professor of law at UCLA.

The idea has been around for a while. In a 2007 report, ‘Building moderate Muslim networks’, the American think tank, RAND Corporation, identified Sufism “as one of the potential forces that must be strengthened to fight the rising extremism”.

Closer home, Islamic scholar Rafiq Zakaria’s book, The Struggle Within Islam, advocated a radical Sufism that “could offer an alternative to the Wahabi totalitarianism”. Now, a new book, The Other Islam by Stephen Schwartz argues that Sufism “offers the clearest Muslim option for reconciliation between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds.”

Is much of this overstatement? An Indian intelligence official, who doesn’t want to be named, warns that “the clash between the two forms (of Islam) can take a dangerous turn as happened in Iraq, where thousands of people were killed near the shrines of Sufi saints. It’s a dangerous situation out there”.

This conflict might have already arrived in India. “The fundamentalists are trying to undermine Sufis. Even in India, some groups, funded by the Saudis, have attacked Sufi shrines like Ajmer Sharif to dissuade people from visiting these places,” says Maroof Raza, a Delhi-based defence analyst.

So, are the voices of pirs drowned out by the crackle of gunfire? Experts are not giving up.

Last week, at a conference organized by IPPAI and Aviation Watch, terrorism experts, religious leaders and social scientists discussed “the ideal strategy to counter terrorism”. It says something that the meet ended with Kailash Kher entertaining the gathering with his Sufi songs.

It sent a subtle message: there is still a role for the whirling dervish in complex geopolitical games.

[Picture: Semi-precious stone shop in Mingora. Photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mingora]
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Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Day of Sufi Culture
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By Samir, "Moroccan Sufi Brotherhood to feature on film" - Agoravox - Paris, France
Friday, April 17, 2009

The Hamadcha Brotherhood are one of the most popular of the Sufi Brotherhoods in Morocco, and while they are very strong in the areas around Fez, Zerhoun and Meknes, their popularity spreads across the country and beyond with followers in many other countries including America, France and even Australia and New Zealand.

One of the highlights of the 2008 Fez Sacred Music Festival was when members of the Fez Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood joined Ismael Lo on stage.

Along with the Gnawa and the Aïssawa, the Hamadcha are one of the three most important so-called ‘popular’ Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The Hamadcha brotherhood was founded by Saint Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch in the seventeenth century and has become famous through the originality of its repertoire, its spellbinding dances, and the trance-therapy skills of its members.

The Hamadcha of Fez, led by the master Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi distinguish themselves by their will to preserve the brotherhood from a possible disappearance. Their thorough knowledge of the repertoire and their remarkable musical skills make them the most renowned and valued Hamadcha of Morocco.

With the Festival of Sufi Culture about to start this week, it was disappointing that the Hamadcha are not to be represented. However the good news is that The View from Fez was invited to the village of Sidi Ali recently to witness a remarkable lila (ceremony) being filmed.

A large contingent of the media and local dignitaries were on hand to witness the event and were treated to a remarkable day of Sufi culture and hospitality that extended to an extraordinary late night banquet before the actual lila began.

Filming went on through the day and eventually wrapped up in the very early hours of the morning.

The View from Fez would like to thank Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi, and the Hamadcha Brotherhood from Fez for their generous hospitality. We will provide more details about the film and Hamadcha events in the coming months.

Picture: A young Hamadcha follower. Photo by Sandy McCutcheon

[Click on the title of this article to the original article with more pictures and links.]
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

People Want to Live
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By Declan Walsh, "Islamabad in frontline of Pakistan struggle with Islamic militants" - The Guardian - London, UK
Saturday, April 18, 2009

Islamabad: Fortifications are springing up across Islamabad as foreigners retreat from public view and Pakistanis worry about the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack on shops, offices or even schoolchildren.

Twelve-metre (40ft) high sandbag walls, nests of gun-toting soldiers and concrete blast walls have started to appear around the once sleepy federal capital, where over the last year Taliban suicide bombers have attacked a five-star hotel, the Danish embassy and several army and police posts.

The most visible precautions have been taken at UN offices, most of which now resemble facilities in war zones. "In terms of security instability Pakistan has become as dangerous as Iraq and Afghanistan," said a senior UN official.

Last week a Taliban commander, Mullah Nazir Ahmed from South Waziristan, threatened to overrun the city. "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen," he told al-Qaida's media wing As-Sahab.

Few residents take that warning seriously, but there is a creeping sense of menace fed by the march of extremist forces in neighbouring North-West Frontier province. This week the government met Taliban demands to impose Sharia law in Swat, 100 miles north-west of Islamabad. On Thursday it released the firebrand cleric Abdul Aziz, who led the bloody Red Mosque siege two years ago, on orders from the supreme court.

Only four years ago Islamabad was considered one of the safest places in Pakistan, a small city of wide boulevards and low crime, if a muted social scene. Now it wears a tense face. Streets have been sealed, five-star hotels are fortified like army bases and a heavily protected area around parliament is known as the "red zone".

Convoys bristling with gunmen escort ministers to work, while western ambassadors travel in bullet-proof limousines. The government is urging foreign embassies to move into a diplomatic enclave that may soon resemble Baghdad's green zone.

A spring ball at the British high commission, due to take place tonight was cancelled yesterday over security concerns. Meanwhile hardware stores have found a lucrative new product line: blast film. "If a bomb goes off, it stops the glass from flying into your home," saleswoman Zahida Hashmi explained at the Ideal Home store.

But the most profound changes are being felt by Pakistanis, including the well-heeled, who are starting to feel their city has moved to the frontline of the war against militancy. Last weekend most English language schools in the city closed, some for several days, amid rumours of a commando-style gun attack on a school. One institution, which caters to foreigners, remains shut, with classes continuing by email.

School owners said they were installing closed circuit television and hiring armed guards, but admitted the precautions were insufficient to stop a suicide bomber. "Privilege won't buy you security any more," said one. "We are wondering how we can stay here if your kids are not safe."

For others, the closure of a main road outside the anonymous-looking headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) this week was a measure of the seriousness of the threat.

It is also hitting business. At Sufi restaurant, a popular kebab joint opposite a police building, sales are down 40%, said waiter Muhammad Asfandyar. "People are afraid to come out these days," he said, indicating a row of empty tables.

Some flag their resistance through culture. At the height of last weekend's scare, theatregoers flocked to see a play about Bulleh Shah, an 18th century Sufi mystic who defied the mullahs with a message of love and tolerance.

The play sold out, said director Madeeha Gauhar. "Unfortunately a minority seems to be winning this war of ideas through coercion. But this sends a strong message that people want to live, to be entertained, and to watch a play."

[Pictures (left to right):
Theatre Director Madeeha Gauhar. Photo from http://tinyurl.com/ckkng8 ;
Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamabad]
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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Sufi Idea of Love
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By Farhad Shakely, "AESTHETICAL ASPECTS IN THE POETRY OF MALÂ-YÊ JAZÎRÎ -- Part III" - The Kurdish Globe - Erbil, Iraq
Friday, April 17, 2009

In order to understand various aspects of Jazîrî's poetry, it is of utmost importance to place it in its historical context and take the political, cultural and religious dimensions of his time into consideration.

Questions of special interest concern the poet's relation to the princes of Jazîra, the Azîzân dynasty, and the sufi order to which he probably belonged. There are additionaly the issues of Kurdish culture and language that deserve investigation.

These issues are directly connected with the history of the Botân principality, but also with the situation in Kurdistan generally. Jazîra was one of the chiefdomds that belonged to the newly established ayâlat of Diyârbakir. Apparently it was the most powerful and independent one amongst the Kurdish principalities and, therefor, enjoyed a special position. It constituted, together with six other major and ten minor principalities an administrative unity called vilâyat-i Kurdistan.

An important question in the context of Jazîrî's life and poetry is The Red School, Madrasa-yâ Sor, that was built by a Mîr Sharaf, supposedly the one to whom the poet was a contemporary.

It is said that when Mîr Sharaf II was on his way to capture Jazîra, after being in exile a long time, he prayed to God and promised to build a mosque on the spot from which he enters the city, and thus The Red School, together with a mosque, were built. It is often asserted that Jazîrî lived and taught in The Red School.

One of the important remnants seen in the present city of Jazîra is the piebald tower, that is built on the bank of the Tigris. Yashin, in his book on Jazîra, states that the tower was built in 1596 by Mîr Sharaf III. The name balak, piebald, derived from the Arabic ablaq, is due to the fact that the tower is built of black basalt rocks and gypsum. Jazîrî mentions the tower of honour, burjâ Sharaf, in a panegyric poem supposedly addressed to Mîr Sharaf III.

The relationship between Malâ-yê Jazîrî and the princely family of Botân, the 'Azîzân dynasty, is not recorded except in the poetry of Jazîrî himself and in a great number of anecdotes about his life, most of which are completely unfounded. The essence of this relationship and the reason why Jazîrî had such a high position with that family is, I think, due to the fact that Jazîrî was a Sufi and a poet. We find in the dîwân of Jazîrî only two panegyrics for the Kurdish prince.

The whole poetry of Jazîrî affords a great deal of possibilities to find out and study the basic elements of a representative classical sufi poetry. He was greatly inspired by classical Persian poets as Hafiz, Mawlânâ Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî and Jâmî whom he certainly considered great masters of poetry. The spiritual affiliation to the Naqshbandi order of sufism is also distinctly present in his poetry.

His experiences as a sufi are marvellously illustrated in almost all his poems. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that the formal and linguist aspects of his poetry are also of utmost importance for every approach that aims at presenting a comprehensive idea about the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî.

Aesthetical Aspects: An Approach
To study and investigate aesthetical aspects in the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî one does not need to confine his research to only one genre, topic or form. The whole poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî affords a great deal of possibilities to find out and study the basic elements of a representative classical sufi poetry. These elements, indeed, are harmoniously interwoven with the themes and ideas of the poet, which create a high degree of poetical structure. The study of this structure involves, inevitably, a close reading of the texts to explore the most subtle parts and the intricate relationships among these parts, and to grasp meanings that are convoyed by various metaphors and symbols.

One of the most important questions that should be dealt with and answered in the beginning of a study of the content of Jazîrî's poetry is whether we consider his poetry as an artistic expression of his life and his experiences, material and/or spiritual.

A thorough reading of the poetry of Malâ-yê Jazîrî gives the impression that the topics of sufism were present and dominant almost in all his poetic production. This leads us, consequently, to wonder if there has been a time when Jazîrî was a poet, but not a sufi. The logical answer seems to be that his poetical talents spouted out and flourished as a result of his initiation to the path and his aquaintance with the legacy of sufi poetry.

The ghazal of Jazîrî as a whole deal with the mystical, and thereby philosophical, thoughts and ideas of the poet. There are only a few number of ghazal in his dîwân that can be interpreted as love poetry, the addressee of which being a human. Even in such poems one is struck by the fact that they inevitably contain symbols, similes and expressions that connote the sufi idea of love; the divine love.

A Ghazal
The ghazal DJZ-Z:1 is an example of a sufi ghazal that contains significant twofold metaphors and similes. The formal and exterior meaning of this poem suggests that it is a love poem, in which the poet addresses his beloved to describe his love and his grief. This line of thought continues through the whole poem, although on different levels.

What makes the reader from the beginning aware of the real meaning of the poem, the sufi ideas of annihilation in and unity with God, is the linguistic vehicle, the vocabulary, and the metaphors. These elements are employed on such a level that it widens the circle of the poem to comprehend not only the earthly love, but also the heavenly.

Jânâ zhi jamâl-â ta muqaddas qabasim az
Gar khûb u parîzâda nazar kî ta basin az

Dear, of your holy beauty I am a firebrand
Beautiful and fairyborn, if you look [at me], you are enough for me


Describing her/his beauty muqaddas, holy, and himself as a qabas, firebrand or a portion of a fire, is the key for the twofold interpretation. Being a part of a greater whole is the idea that is expressed ambiguosly here. The second b. presents the idea of unity more deliberately and more poetically:

Mithlê mah-i naw gar ta divêtin ma bibînî
Mêza bika jâmê, tu dizânî chi kasim az

If you want to see us as the new moon
Look in the cup, [then] you know who I am

The picture is built upon three different allusive and mythical dimensions that are commonly employed in the Oriental poetry.

The new moon, mah-i naw, is the symbol of the good news that the fast month, Ramadhân, or the festival, i.e. the beginning of Shawwâl has come. Then it is enthusiastically expected and looked for. But, on the other hand, it tells of the grief that turned the lover, the poet, so thin that he resembles a new moon.

The cup, jâm, is a reference to Jamshîd's cup, in which he could see the secrets of the world.

Abbreviations
b: beit, bb: beits

DJZ: The Diwan of Mala-ye Jaziri, edited by Zivingi, see the bibliography.
The letters and numbers that follow indicate the chapter and the poem in the book.

Terms
Diwan: the entire collected work of a poet. Poems are usually arranged according to letter (or letters) of the rhythm.

Beit: or bayt, the basic unit in Oriental verse, usually translated as a couplet or distich. Consists of two misra's in the same metre; misra's may or may not rhyme.

Misra': each of two rhythmically identical (or near identical) halves of a beit.

Ghazal: a short poem of not fewer than four and not more than fifteen couplets.

Qasida: in form similar to the ghazal, but much longer. Theoretically it contains not less than thirty and not more than ninety-nine couplets.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

La Kud Karamna Bani Adama
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By Webmaster, "Sufi-ism is a way of life" - Kashmir Watch - Islamabad, Pakistan
Wednesday, April 15 2009

Muzaffarabad: Mr Hameed Shaheen has said that sufi-ism is a way of life. A sufi first of all applies ethically corrective discipline on his own self; becomes a model for others; environment around him starts taking inspiration from; and thus a two-way trust builds between a sufi and the human environment around him.

Mr Shaheen, Resident Editor, Daily Pakistan Observer, was delivering a off-hand remarks on Sufi-ism and Social Reform to a group of youth who called on him Wednesday here. The core code of sufi-ism, he explained to the youth, is spread of love, because loves transmits how to respect others. It is the love among humans which brings strangers together, which draws nearer the distant thoughts, cultures and civilization, he added.

About human respect he explained that the Creator Himself says that He has created descendants of Adam (PBUH) very fortunate, blessed (La Kud Karamna Bani Adama (We have created descendants of Adam (PBUH) as honored ones); and again the Creator says La Kud Khalaqnal Insaana Fi Ahsan-e-Taqweem (We have created human being in perfect form); yet again the Almighty says that in human beings He has breathed His Light (Noor) from Him meaning thereby that in each and every human being there burns an Eternal Light. That is the reason that human beings would be held responsible in the Hereafter for their deeds, doings in the temporal world.

Sufi-ism is a way of life; that is a simple, truthful and altruistic way of life; the greatest good is to do goodness to others in the clear belief that those others are also creation of the Almighty as any good-doer himself or herself is.

Replying a question as to how one can adopt a sufi way of life, Mr Shaheen whose own family background is sufistic explained that a simple step is needed to move forward along this path - 'resolve not to think in bias, prejudice, hatred, malice, etc. against any other'. If one can practise this formula, one can reach a stage in life that he (practitioner) becomes automatically benign-influence-vendor among the human crowds; people get around him and start participating in his routines of life; thus a pattern evolves.

Today, he said, human societies need diversion towards this line of life; it is dynamic, vibrant and full of zeal to do good to others; if maximum number of people adopt this mode of practice, then with the passage of time the goodness maximizes.

Streaks of sufi-ism, he said, is found in every religion.

He told the youth to practise this spiritual formula: Allah with inhaling breath and Hoo with exhaling breath; a few hours continuous practice will regulate the breathing process into Allah Hoo; this mode of prayer (ibadat) does not interfere with any practical work one is needed to do to push ahead day-to-day life.

[Picture from http://www.sufism.org/society/asma/allah.html]

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Between Operatic and Birdlike
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By Ruth Jacobs, "Musical Islam" - Colby Magazine - Waterville, ME, USA
Vol. 98 N° 1 / Spring 2009

The musical sounds of Islam, rarely heard in Maine or even the United States, have made it to Colby.

Music Artist in Residence Dhruv Sangari, a well-known vocalist in the genre, is teaching a course and presenting Sufi music—mystical Islamic music—using poetry and improvisation.

“It’s the only real singing in an Islamic tradition,” said Colby Music Department Chair Steven Nuss, who helped bring Sangari to Colby from New Delhi, India, to teach and perform. “It’s a facet of Islam that we don’t hear a lot about.”

Sufi music may be sung in Hindi, Panjabi, Urdu, Persian, or other languages, and much of it surrounds love poems. “It’s a very florid, melodic style, something between operatic and birdlike,” said Nuss.

Sangari’s form of Sufi music, which comes from ancient temples of northern India and Pakistan, is primarily represented by Qawwali, a form of Arabic vocal music from the seventh and eighth centuries that eventually blended with preexisting local Indian forms and evolved into a its own musical genre.

Sangari, 27, has also recorded pop and rock fusion, blending sacred, secular and World music traditions.

See the Artist's profile at LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/pub/10/9aa/b17
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Love Flowed
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By Asadullah, " The departure of an Australian soul" - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Looking around with Surma-laden eyes and covering her head with a traditional Dupatta that allows snow-white hair to curl out, Amatullah Jyly Armstrong looks like a Western custodian of a local shrine.

Alas, after living in Karachi for a decade, she has moved to Johannesburg.

Between spiritual journeying from Muckle Flugga Farm in Sydney to Zawia Ebrahim out of Johannesburg, Jyly came to one of Karachi’s early post-independence neighbourhoods called PIB Colony.

She disappeared last year but I recently found her on Facebook, only to discover that she had gone to South Africa on a one-way ticket. Though I had seen her at different places in Karachi, I never had a chance to know her.

I met her for the first time in Delhi’s police station one fine morning in October 2005 on my second trip to India. I realised that I was carrying her book The Sky is Not the Limit in my backpack and ended up introducing myself, mentioning this very fact to her. She was amazed, and said we were destined to meet in Delhi. She introduced me to her companion, Mehmood Ghaznavi, the youngest of the great Sabri brothers. Seeing them together reminded me that Jyly had appeared in one of his rare qaw’wali videos.

After writing a small message in the book, she invited me to have Iftar together at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, but since I was heading straight to Haryana, I excused myself. We stayed in touch mostly through text messages. I met her again at Costa Coffee on Shaheed-e-Millat Road, where we talked at length about the Sufi path that she took in early eighties. Let me introduce her to you.

Amatullah Armstrong Chishti, known as Jyly to her family and friends, is a trained art teacher. Her spiritual quest began in the early eighties when she rode some 5,000 kilometres on a bicycle from France to Tunisia. On the journey, she encountered Islam and formally embraced the faith in 1984 in the Algerian Sahara Desert.

As a spiritual traveller connected to the Chishti Silsila, Jyly left Australia in 1998 for Karachi. She tied the knot with Mehmood Sabri at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi and collaborated with him to send the Sufi message in Pakistan and abroad.

She promoted Mehmood’s Qaw’wali as his manager here and abroad. After knowing that she had left Pakistan almost for good, I was curious to know her experiences of the city we all love and hate. She was very forthcoming, and like a scholar, posted an excerpt from her last book, The Lamp of Love:

“Pakistan ripped me apart and opened me up to an inflowing and an outpouring. Love flowed to me from so many people. And I reciprocated with a great outpouring of love and compassion for them. Everywhere I went I encountered raw, beautiful, sad, joyful, exultant, desolate, dignified, impoverished humanity. Pakistan changed my entire life.”

“But I cannot go back to [the solitude of Australia’s north coast beaches]. I would be miserable and would yearn for the freedom of Karachi’s chaos! Yes, there is a freedom here too, the freedom to lose oneself in the multitudes.”

“Riding in a rickshaw through the polluted city streets, I catch those fleeting passing images of humanity, images of pathos and joy and dignity and impoverishment that flood my heart with an intense love. Thank Allah for the experience.”

Jyly is working on a new commentary to one of her old books, which she says has many points that she now considers quite wrong. She is also thinking of publishing her post-graduate thesis titled The Artist Transformed: Sufi Views on the Development of the Self and Art.

Her marriage is amicably over. She has left Karachi, very much like Costa Coffee, although she misses the coffees and meetings with all her friends in Karachi and Lahore.

“It’s amazing that we do actually mature on this journey through life,” she writes. “Looking back at a 1994 book makes me somewhat embarrassed, but hopefully there will be benefit in the new commentary I’m presently working on.”
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Monday, April 20, 2009

A Celebration of Diversity
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By Wendy Kristianasen, "A Celebration of Diversity for Harmony and Peace" - Middle East Online - London, UK
Monday, April 13, 2009

In this year’s Jaipur literary festival in India [January 21-25], a good number of Pakistani writers were able to take part. More surprising, and equally welcome, was the large number of Pakistanis in the audience too.

Can we make the arts an effective platform for fighting political (and religious and cultural) conflict in the Indian subcontinent, and further? The answer from Jaipur (India) this January was “Yes, we can.”

Salman Ahmed from the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon says: “The artist should be as ruthless in pursuing cultural harmony as the terrorist is bent on destroying it.”

Junoon played at this year’s Jaipur literary festival, now in its fourth year, which hosted 167 writers -- from the internationally famous to new young authors -- and 30 performing artists. Participants came from China, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Mali, Sierra Leone, Algeria, the US, the UK -- and, importantly, from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The festival’s purpose is dialogue between cultures and faiths, and across borders -- a celebration of diversity.

That purpose took on a directly political tone this year following the Mumbai attacks in late November and the tensions and debate they provoked on either side of the India/Pakistan border, not least among intellectuals.

Despite fears that visas might not be granted, a good number of Pakistani writers were able to take part. More surprising, and equally welcome, was the large number of Pakistanis in the audience too, taking an active role whenever the floor was opened up to general debate.

The dialogue between cultures was enhanced by the cross-culture of many of the writers, poised between the subcontinent and other parts of the world, mainly in the West. This cross-fertilisation was matched in the music, which was an integral part of the festival.

William Dalrymple, its co-director with Namita Gokhale, explained: “In the aftermath of the Bombay attacks, we worked on trying to showcase traditional forms of sacred music as a way of creating dialogue between faiths and cultures. After the horrors of Bombay with Muslim terrorists attacking both Hindus and Jews this dialogue seemed especially important to foster and encourage in India.”

So there were Muslim musicians from desert Rajasthan; Hindu Bauls from Bengal; musicians (Kudsi Erguner and Coleman Barks) celebrating the tolerant pluralistic Sufism of Rumi with verse and music of the ney; a Muslim griot from Mali on kora alongside Hindu dhrupad singers from Benares; a Jewish/Muslim concert for peace bringing together the Palestinian/New Yorker rap poet Suheir Hammad, the Indian based Israeli qawwali singer Shye Ben Tzur with his Indian Hindu and Muslim musicians, and the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon.

The music provided a backdrop to a diverse five-day programme in which politics was high on the agenda: Art historian Simon Schama spoke about American politics in the new Obama era as well as about art; Christophe Jaffrelot, the well-known specialist on India, discussed nationalism; a panel of experts compared Christian, Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms; the commentator Shashi Tharoor discussed (and regretted) the impact of political and economic change on Indian society; a panel of writers talked of insurgencies (Nepal, the Naxalites) and how to portray them creatively; there was a heated open debate on Kashmir.

Alongside this was a kaleidoscope of other happenings: sessions on Sanskrit, local languages, oral traditions, the Mahabharata (the epic Hindu narrative), events for children, etc. Travelwriters, including Dalrymple, Colin Thubron and Paco Iyer, drew us to a wider world. Novelists, poets, biographers, authors of fact and fiction, talked of their passions and purposes.

The festival was free to all. Local schoolchildren sat on the grass and listened. The public debated, and crowded round to talk to the authors. People ate and drank tea and beer together, and stood in the same long queue to be served – no matter if it was Amitabh Bachchan, the film actor/producer/TV presenter (mobbed by admirers), or best-selling novelist Vikram Seth, or Vikas Swarup, author of Slumdog Millionaire.

As Junoon’s Salman Ahmed remarked: “Films, music and literature are what give South Asians an identity, joy and a much needed sense of normality. That’s why the fanatics abhor them so much. If we start pulling the plug on artists, the fanatics and the warmongers have already won.”

[Pictures (left to right) Salman Ahmad from Junoon; Coleman Barks and Muzaffar Ali. Photos: from the JLF website http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/]
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Light of the Sufis
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Staff Report, "Brooklyn Museum Celebrates Sufism with an Islamic Art Installation" - Art Daily - Eastport, Maine, USA
Monday, April 13, 2009

Brooklyn, NY: Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam features twenty-four objects from the Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and private collections that are related to a mystical form of Islam known as Sufism.

This special installation will be on view in the Brooklyn Museum’s Islamic galleries from June 5 through September 6, 2009.

While diverse Muslim sects and Islamic cultures do not necessarily share a singular view or practice of Islam, the mystical and romantic nature of Sufism tends to have a more universal appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This exhibition focuses on some of the most important Sufi ideas and practices that found expression through the arts of the Islamic world, beginning with light, which symbolizes both God and enlightenment.

The works displayed represent both literal and figural reflections of important mystical themes, including furnishings used for lighting; representations and attributes of Sufi mystics; illustrated, illuminated, and laser-etched manuscripts of Sufi poetry; and traditional and contemporary works inspired by Sufi principles.

The range of chronology, cultures, and media of the works exhibited reflects the wide appeal and impact of Sufism on the arts from the early period to the present day. Highlights include a gilded and enameled glass lamp inscribed with the famous “Light Verse” (Ayat al-Nur) from the Qur’an, a gilded and jewel-encrusted silver beggar’s bowl meant for collecting alms, and two inlaid brass candlestick bases from the eastern Islamic world made in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively.

Two contemporary artworks will be featured in this installation: one is a modern interpretation of the mystical verses of the renowned poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), translated by Zahra Partovi and inscribed in a glass book by Brooklyn artist Kelly Driscoll, and the other is a composition of charcoal prayer-stone rubbings by Iranian-American artist Pouran Jinchi.

The exhibition will also present several portraits of Sufi dervishes, some identified through inscriptions and others through costumes representing a particular Sufi order.

A vintage photograph depicts a dervish family from the early twentieth century in modest attire, while an album page shows a mystic resembling a Chinese luohan in meditation accompanied by his flute and alms bowl.

Some works, such as large Qajar painting and illustrated manuscript pages, illustrate narratives recounted in well-known Sufi literature. Poetry also appears on a beautiful medieval Iranian ceramic dish painted in light-reflecting luster, including verses by Rumi’s master, Shams al-Tabrizi (d. 1248), whom Rumi compared to a sun shining the light of God upon him.

The exhibition has been organized by Ladan Akbarnia, Hagop Kevorkian Associate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam will be presented in conjunction with Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas, an unprecedented ten-day festival and conference in New York City celebrating Islamic culture of which the Brooklyn Museum is a supporting partner.

Picture: Sample of Persian Calligraphy from a Mughal Album. Calligraphy: Iran, Safavid, 16th century; margins: India, Mughal, 17th century. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by anonymous donors and the Helen Babbott Sanders Fund, 1991.185

Photo: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/light_of_the_sufis/. Visit the Brooklyn Museum http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Religious Brotherhood
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By Express News Service, "Sufi saints on a mission to spread peace" - Express Buzz - Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

April, Sunday 12, 2009

Hyderabad: Setting an example of religious brotherhood, the members of World Sufi Council and Sanathan saints, joined hands to unitedly promote peace and love across the country.

The saints are from different parts of the country and members of various religious institutions. The members who were in Hyderabad as part of their tour spoke at length about the coming general elections which is due this month.

Md. Sufi Gilani, Chairman, World Sufi Council, Ajmersharif opines, “We are here to spread not only love but also remind people on choosing the right candidate for the elections. We oppose those parties and candidates who are communal and divide the country on religious basis for their selfish motives.”

He said, “When elections are fast approaching the parties are quick to divide Hindus and Muslims, thus, flaring up emotions. We, hereby, appeal to the people not to get carried away by politicians and instead vote for a secular candidate with credible record”.

Gilani feels that some politicians spread intolerance but an average citizen is by nature peaceful and law abiding.

He further adds that the members embark on a quest to know the problems of the people and find solutions, which is why, they have set out on this national tour.

Umakant Maharaj of Divine Shri Ram International, Haridwar, adds “We should remember that we can make the world a happy place. India has always been known to be a tolerant and united country. As saints of love, it is our responsibility to preach communal harmony and peace.”

The members advised the citizens not to vote on the basis of religion, caste or creed and shun violence.

The saints will continue their peace tour into Karnataka and later covering places like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Assam, Delhi and others.

The saints association vowed to work towards country’s prosperity even after the elections are over.
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Using Religion for Political Gain
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By IANS, "Hindu saint asks people not to vote for BJP" - The Thai Indian - Bangkok, Thailand
Monday, April 13, 2009

Patna: A Hindu saint Monday asked the people not to support or vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has raised the issue of the Ram temple at Ayodhya again.

“We have been cautioning people across the country that the BJP is eyeing to capture power at the centre by using the Ram temple issue again. It is another example of mixing or using religion for political gain at the cost of the people and nation,” Mahant Janamjey Sharanji, the president of the Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Nirman Nyas, Ayodhya said here.

“The much awaited construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya is possible through common or mutual agreement,” he said.

The seer, who is leading the “Sanatan Sant Sufi Yatra”, said the nine member team - comprising four Muslim Sufi saints and five Hindu seers - will go around India to create awareness among the people to teach a lesson to those playing politics in the name of religion.

He made it clear that their campaign from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to spread the message of peace, love and communal harmony by countering hatred, has nothing to do with any political party.

“We have been requesting people to discard politicians if he or she is playing politics in the name of religion. They may belong to any political party,” he said. The seer also termed senior BJP leader L.K. Advani’s letter to Hindu saints last week as a “gimmick” to influence them before elections.

Sufi Mohd Geelani Kattan, the president of Ajmer unit of the World Sufi Council, said millions of people across the country were facing unemployment, starvation and poverty but none of the political parties had a clear stand on these issues.

“We are asking people to vote for those who promise to provide employment, food and fight against terror,” he said.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

In Praise of Meeran Sahib
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By Neha Bhatt, "Fakir fusion" - Business Standard - Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sufi singers from Tamil Nadu find fame and a wider audience

The Fakirs from Nagore Dargah in Tamil Nadu, who recently performed at several venues in Delhi, had a quiet, meditative presence on stage, which was enchanting.

At Bhakti Utsav, the music festival held every year at Nehru Park in Delhi, the Fakirs were just one of the many groups of artistes invited to perform. Other forms included gurbani, Vedic chanting, Rabindra Sangeet and the music of the Bauls.

The Fakirs held their own, singing in a popular music style to the accompaniment of rabahna or frame drums. Their lyrics conveyed praise of the Sufi saint Meeran Sahib, through the medium of stories.

At their native place in Tamil Nadu, the Fakirs are known for singing devotional songs in Tamil and Arabic dialects at religious and social occasions.

A well-travelled group, having performed in Australia, Israel and many other countries, they have dabbled in fusion music, whether that involves singing to the rhythm of the tabla and other percussion instruments, blending their voices with that of Carnatic singers, or chanting to the beat of the drums or the strains of the guitar.

The singers in the group — Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer — say that they especially enjoy jamming with instruments like the tabla and veena. Ajah Maideen says, “The exciting part is when we fuse our Sufi chants with distinct sounds. The rhythm of our music gets enhanced with such a combination. Each song symbolises love for the Almighty and fosters camaraderie between people of different cultures, religions and beliefs.”

Interestingly, it was their performance as part of a musical collective for Laya Project — a production that brought together folk traditions from the 2004 tsunami-affected regions in South-east Asia — that marked a new beginning for the group. EarthSync, the Chennai-based label that produced Laya Project, subsequently brought out an album exclusively featuring the Fakirs, called Nagore Sessions.

While the singers are pleased that their music is being documented, and that they are able to perform on different platforms, it is evident that not many will be able to step into their shoes.

“Our children have not taken up music professionally. They sing occasionally, in parallel with their occupations,” says one of the singers, Abdul Ghani, sadly.

[Visit the Bhakti Ustav Festival website and watch the Photo Gallery http://www.sehernow.in/index.html]
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Sufi by Inclination
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By Ahmed Darwish, "'Enlightened by sight'" - Al-Ahram Weekly - Cairo, Egypt
9 - 15 April 2009 / Issue No. 942

Ahmed Darwish reviews the life of one of Egypt's most distinguished calligraphers

Khan Al-Maghrabi in Zamalek has put together an exhibition of the work of calligrapher Hamed El-Uweidi to mark the anniversary of his death last year at the age of 53. The exhibition, entitled "Love and Salute", drew crowds of art enthusiasts and calligraphy buffs.

Calligraphy may seem to be a luxury, as it requires a skill and takes too much time, especially at a time when most of us spend our days hunched over a keyboard, the nostalgia for beautiful writing is hard to resist.

I first met El-Uweidi at an exhibition of his work at the Higher Council for Culture (HCC). The exhibition was arranged for the 20th anniversary of the death of the poet Amal Dunqul, and the event was sponsored entirely by Gaber Asfour, then secretary-general of the HCC and an old friend of Dunqul's. At the Khan Al-Maghrabi, I felt that time had only added to the inspiration of his message.

Looking at El-Uweidi's work, one is gripped by a persistent sense of wonder. Most of the pieces fuse old and new approaches, since El-Uweidi remains faithful to the legacy of centuries past while experimenting with new approaches with the same freshness found in such works as those of Youssef Sayeda, Kamal El-Sarrag and Naga El-Mahdawi.

Poetry is his favourite theme. "If enamoured, it's because our faces are enlightened by sight." One of his pieces offers the line with such a melodic tenderness that one can almost hear it.
What sets El-Uweidi apart from other calligraphers is that he uses the background of his compositions as a basic component of the piece. It is as if one is prepared for the opus with a chorus of whispers, or perhaps eased into the melee with a nudge on the shoulder. Then an oversized letter, his trademark, brings the message home on a dramatic note, one that pushes the delicate harmony of the inimitable composition out of this world and into another level of visual expression altogether.

In another piece, he presents a fragment of poetry: "He who says no to the face of he who said yes, and teaches man to tear apart the emptiness, he who says no doesn't die, but becomes a soul in pain immortalised." He is using a three dimensional pattern here, offering Persian script interlaced with another script called Thuluth, the word "no" blown out of proportion, offering the canvass an audio quality of immense impact.

In all El-Uweidi's compositions there is a yearning for spirituality, a supplication to a higher power, a quest for a spiritual journey that takes him to the poetry of Ahmed Shawqi and Mahmoud Darwish and the sayings of Ibn Arabi and Omar Khayyam.

El-Uweidi, who held the post of art director at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies, was a Sufi by inclination, a poet by temperament, and a man of encyclopaedic knowledge. A keen collector of rare Quran recitals, he would spend hours listening to the great Quranic readers Mustafa Ismail and Mohamed Siddiq El-Minshawi.

He was close to his family, and used to spend most of his time at home either reading or talking to his daughter, Aida, who was 10 when he died. He was also a frequent visitor of old mosques, his favourite being the Sultan Hassan Mosque, a great place for admiring the fine examples of Mameluke calligraphy. El-Uweidi used to take his son Salah to mosques in Islamic Cairo, usually opting for the mosques with the best examples of calligraphy.

El-Uweidi owned a large collection of art, Sufi literature, and poetry, and had plans to write the whole Quran in calligraphy, but died before he could fulfil his wish. He died on 4 March 2008 and was buried in Qus village in Upper Egypt.

Picture: El-Uweidi adding the final touches to one of his calligraphy masterpieces in Al-Ahram office [click to enlarge]. Photo: Al-Ahram
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Beauty and Love
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By Emily Snyder, "Carleton Humanities Center Sponsors Screening of Sufi Mystical Poem Interpretation" - Carleton College News - Carleton, MN, USA
Thursday, April 9, 2009

Northfield: Carleton College will screen a modern dance interpretation of Beauty and Love, a Sufi mystical poem on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. in Carleton's Gould Library Athenaeum.

The video screening will be followed by a discussion led by Carleton graduate and University of Washington professor and Ottoman scholar Walter Andrews.

A Mediterranean reception will immediately follow the discussion. This event is free and open to the public.

The modern dance interpretation of the Sufi mystical poem will be performed in the Mevlevi (Rumi) tradition, a Sufi order established in present-day Turkey.

The Mevlevi tradition uses dance performance as a form of remembrance of God, or dhikr. The dance represents an individual’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to reach “Perfect,” a journey that involves abandoning the ego to arrive at truth. Whirling is the most common type of dance to use as a form of dhikr, which earns the Mevlevi tradition its alternate identity as the “Whirling Dervishes.”

Andrews, a distinguished Ottoman scholar, specializes in Ottoman and Turkish literature. His most recent book, titled The Age of the Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, was co-authored with Mehmet Kalpakli. The book explores the sex, spirituality, and politics of Ottoman historical culture through lyrical poetry, along with the extension of the “age of beloveds” into Western Europe through a closer examination of Venice, Rome, Florence, and London.

For more information regarding the screening, discussion, or library reception, please contact Mary Tatge at (507) 222-4252.

The Humanities Center and Carleton’s religion and theatre and dance departments sponsor this event.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Milk, Husks and Rose Petals
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Culture Desk Editor, "Sidi Goma Performs exhilarating Sufi Devotional Music and Dance" - The Somerville News - Somerville, MA, USA
Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sidi Goma performs exhilarating Sufi devotional music and dance filled with intoxicating drum patterns, joyful praise dances and virtuosic feats of agility that gradually reach an ecstatic climax.

The wildly energetic ensemble of 12 drummers, dancers and singers provide a rare opportunity to discover the joyful and exuberant music and dance of the hidden community of Sidi from Gujarat, India.

The mysterious, little-known Sidis are the descendants of Africans who traveled from East Africa to India over the last 1000 years. The Sidis of Gujarat are a tribal Sufi community of East African origin which came to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home.

As Sufi Muslim devotees to their African saint and symbolic ancestor, Bhava Gor, their sacred songs praise the gift of joy he brought from the waves of the sea. Sidi Goma is a loosely-knit, semi-hereditary Sufi organization, with a core group of performers that is rounded out with a rotating cast of other men from the village, depending on who is available at the time.

They perform in a group of twelve: four lead musicians (drummers/singers) and eight dancers.

Sidi Goma's program presents an overview of Sidi ritual performance, from the traditional muezzin call to prayer to a staged ritual performance of a damal. It centers on danced zikrs (prayers), consisting of joyful, satirical praise dances to their ancestral saint, Bhava Gor. In a distinctly African practice, the performers are "dressed" in fabric, made up with face paint and matching peacock-feather headdresses and skirts.

However, it is their musical instruments that provide the Sidis with their most vital link to Africa. They employ a variety of hand drums and hand percussion instruments in performance, among them coconut rattles, an under-arm drum, double-headed drums and a large foot drum. The most distinctive Sidi instrument is the malunga, a braced bow similar to the Brazilian berimbau.

Like all Sufi's, there is an ecstatic component to Sidi Goma's ritual, with its rhythmic chanting and hypnotic, ever-faster drumming.

Their performance, which starts with the a cappella muezzin, crescendos to a frenzy with increasingly virtuosic dance solos and singing. It finally climaxes in a coconut-breaking feat, in which coconuts are tossed high into the air and cracked open with a head butt, that leaves the stage a slippery but fragrant mess, littered with milk, shattered husks and rose petals.

Since the 1990's, Sidi Goma has been performing outside of their community to raise consciousness about the discrimination and poverty that Sidis face in India.

In recent years, Sidi Goma has been busy developing their international profile: touring the UK in 2002, East Africa in 2003 and North America and Europe ever since. In 2005, they released their first album, Black Sufis of Gujarat. They also recorded on Sidi Sufis: African India Mystics Of Gujarat, an album of unique field recordings by UCLA ethnomusicologists Amy and Nazir Jairazbhoy, made in collaboration with Abdul Hamid Sidi and the Sidi community during their survey of Sidi shrines in Gujarat in 1999-2002.

Proceeds benefit Sidi education projects in Gujarat.

Free preperformance talk with dance critic Debra Cash: 45 minutes prior to each show.

World Music/CRASHarts presents the Boston debut of Sidi Goma: The Black Sidis of Gujarat on Saturday, May 2, 8pm at Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Sq., Somerville. Tickets are $28. For tickets and information call World Music/CRASHarts (617) 876-4275 or buy online at http://www.WorldMusic.org/

[Picture from the Sidi Goma Website: http://www.kapa-productions.com/sididotcom/]
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Drunk on God
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By Claudia Rousseau, "Exhibit explores urban tales and spiritual journeys" - Business Gazette - Gaithersburg, MD, USA
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The work of Montgomery County artists Tom Block and Michael Enn Sirvet is at the District's Hamiltonian Gallery as part of the fifth of its series of exhibits of Hamiltonian Fellowship winners, along with paintings by their "mentor artist" Lisa Montag Brotman of Bethesda.

Wrapping around the gallery's back walls are the 25 mixed media panels comprising Block's "Conference of the Birds." Each panel is 6 feet high, and together they measure 62.5 feet wide. Thus, Block's work, which, at these dimensions, becomes a kind of wall itself, fills the viewer's visual field with what at first may appear to be a chaotic jumble of brightly colored graffiti-like marks. In fact, it is a very carefully orchestrated series of images echoing the allegorical quest of 30 birds in the spiritual epic of the same name written by the Persian Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar in 1177.

Block has become something of a comparative theologian in the past decade or so, publishing scholarly articles on the relationship between Sufism and Jewish mysticism. He has delved extensively into Sufi thinking about the path to enlightenment, the obstacles along the way and its equivocal end where "drunk on God," the pilgrim finds that God is within. The idea of God within is an idea intrinsic to interpretations of Sufism dating back to the roots of Islam.

What Block has done here is reinterpret the poem in a pictorial sequence taking place in the urban setting, and featuring the artist. Executed on canvas, it exhibits an amazing density of painted and pasted elements, paper sketches in ink and pencil, and acrylic, gold and silver paint. These are layered, drawn and re-drawn. Sometimes, collaged elements are torn and reworked. Handwritten text, with references to everything from current events to the Kabbalah, appears everywhere, requiring the viewer to get up close to and get lost in the surface.

The translation of the spiritual journey, with its didactic stations, into contemporary street imagery takes it out of the exclusive religious context of its source and universalizes it. Thus, at the end (the work "reads" like a scroll from left to right), hands point back the other way — back into the world. For Block, the aim of classical mystical enlightenment is wrong. For him, rather than sit in perfect contemplation, the goal of knowledge is action. The meaning here is about returning to the world with the benefit of wisdom gained.

The transition from innocence to knowledge, if not enlightenment, is the theme of many of Brotman's paintings. In this exhibit, the best of them date from the early to mid-1990s when she painted images from photos of her adolescent daughters in leotards, set against suggestive backgrounds, to connote the budding of desire and self-consciousness.

Much of Sirvet's sculpture has taken on an increasingly painterly aesthetic by the use of colored elements of various kinds. A number of pieces include colored Plexiglas which the artist, a structural engineer, has discovered how to bend and bolt together with metal components of varied origins. Beyond his former use of aluminum, brass, copper and wood, Sirvet is also using rusted steel from found objects like junked kitchen cabinets that often retain their original painted colors. "Panopticon?," a nearly 8-foot tower form, is made of all these materials, its multicolor surface luring the viewer to examine its composition. Ironically, a "panopticon" is a tower permitting observation of a whole class of people, whether literally as in a prison (its first use), or virtually, as on the Internet. The interaction between observer and object is certainly among Sirvet's aims here.

A number of wall reliefs are in this exhibit, which are even more strikingly painterly, even evoking landscape. "My Blue Heaven" contains three distinct registers of smallish pieces: torch-cut rusted steel on the bottom, aluminum and copper plate in the center, and mechanically-cut blue Lucite on top, held together with stainless and alloy steel bolts. Unlike the impeccable precision and measured progress of an earlier work like "Birch Wall" (2003), also in this exhibit, "My Blue Heaven" displays a more intuitive approach, something more personally expressive of a longing for the sky, or the perfect life suggested in the old song of that name.

"Metroscape" is another wall piece in a series Sirvet calls his "metal quilts" because they are pieced together. This work, which the artist describes as having the "energy of a dense, evolving city," is made of "metals, wood and plastic; materials of a city." It makes a nice comparison with Block's walls, telling urban tales from a different vantagepoint. Still, I am drawn to the elegance of the more "engineered" pieces like "Ming's Flame" and "Crystalline Pod," with their flowing tails and sense of cometlike motion.

The exquisite technique of a work like "What the Shifting Sands Reveal," another tower form in aluminum and brass, conveys a natural sense of growth or evolution. Rising from the brass bottom, this round tower begins with squared aluminum parts carefully linked together. Near the top, the form becomes irregular and lacelike, with holes cut into the metal suggesting a metaphor of a tree canopy, or perhaps clouds; the culmination is satisfying formally but subjectively provocative.

As a person who loves the outdoors as much as the city, Sirvet asks questions with his work about the connection between the natural and the manmade, about human existence and our place in nature.

Picture: Tom Block's "Conference of the Birds" refers to a medieval Sufi poem in an urban street language of letters and symbols. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Key Features of the Faiths
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By Andrew Nelson, "Interfaith Speakers Share, Explain Faith Rituals" - The Georgia Bulletin - Atlanta, GA, USA


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Atlanta: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory joined an interfaith panel of scholars and clergy as they shared insights on the rituals of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.

Touching on issues of language, communal prayer, and the essence of liturgy, the speakers revealed key features of the faiths, including distinctions between Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions.

Some practices in different faiths have similarities. The Catholic liturgy is rooted in Jewish table fellowship. Islam and Judaism value individual prayers in the homes of believers. Some Protestant traditions are adopting Catholic disciplines, such as fasting, that church reformers who began the denominations did away with in the 16th century.

Georgia is overwhelmingly a Protestant state, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Some 70 percent of people here worship in the Protestant tradition, followed by Catholics, with 12 percent. The Jewish and Muslim faiths make up 1 percent or less of the population.

Close to 350 women attended the 10th annual interfaith luncheon. The Atlanta chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women hosted it at The Temple, the oldest synagogue in Atlanta.
The guests were Archbishop Gregory; Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple; Alan Godlas, an associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia; Martha Moore-Keish, an assistant professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur; Laurie Patton, a Candler professor of religions at Emory University.

The speakers fielded questions from Judy Marx, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

From the Catholic point of view, Archbishop Gregory said the church borrows much from Jewish worship. From the communal table meal to the proclamation of the Scripture, these are necessary and important components of Catholic prayer life, he said.
“As Catholics, we are deeply aware of our rootedness in Jewish ancestry,” he said.

Jewish liturgy has an outward focus, Rabbi Berg said. When people leave the service, their mission is to help make the world a better place, he said. Its theology recognizes God’s ongoing creative acts, the revelation of God’s word in the Torah and God’s redemption of all people by freeing the Jews out of Egypt, he said.

For a Muslim service, the faithful must face toward Mecca, according to Godlas, a scholar on Islamic and Arabic studies. God is “the sustainer of everything in existence” according to Muslim belief, he said. And gratitude is the key human quality of people toward God, he said. Muslim postures of bowing and prostrating are a reminder that without God’s constant sustenance, nothing is possible, he said.

Protestant liturgy—a broad term which covers mainstream to evangelical churches—generally favors proclaiming readings from the Bible, sacraments and “prayers in the name of Jesus,” said Moore-Keish. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are key parts of a Protestant liturgy, although they may not be celebrated weekly, she said.

On the issue of language, faith traditions wrestle with whether followers hold to ancient languages or use the contemporary.

Godlas said Muslims pray together in Arabic and it binds people together no matter their culture. But individuals pray on their own in their own language, he said.

For Jews, it isn’t required to pray together in Hebrew. In fact, the Reform branch of Judaism in the 19th century started as a way for Jews who didn’t speak Hebrew to worship in a common language, Rabbi Berg said. But now, Hebrew is becoming a bigger part of the service, he said.

For Catholics, Latin was the language of prayer for some 500 years, said the archbishop. The church’s prayer language evolved from Jesus’ Aramaic to Greek, a universal language in the ancient world, to Latin, which was the language of commerce, he said. There is a “serious debate” among Catholics about language and worship, he said. Since the Second Vatican Council, the custom has been people should have access to the language of worship, he said. The challenge is to translate the ideas expressed in the fixed language of Latin into contemporary language, he said. The archbishop compared the work to putting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English into current day Japanese.

Panelists also shared the favorite ritual in their faith tradition.

Moore-Keish said the eucharistic celebration moves her. The ritual has many rich layers, from sharing food with people and the biblical level of recalling Jesus’ sacrifice to building community among believers, she said.

Godlas said Muslims have a practice of “grateful remembrance” of God’s names. It carries with it an attitude of appreciating every thought and feeling as a gift from God, he said.

The archbishop said his favorite ritual is Holy Week. The observance “really captures everything that it means to be Catholic,” he said. The week follows Jesus from the glory of Palm Sunday to Good Friday, where he is nailed to the cross, to the Easter Vigil, where newcomers join the church, and Easter, marking his new life. “It captures the joy and the essence of our Catholic sacramental, liturgical tradition,” he said.

Rabbi Berg said his favorite moment is the blessing shared both within a congregation and in the family. He talked about the privilege of the blessing when he and his wife hold hands over their three children and recite the prayer from the Book of Numbers: “May God bless you and keep you, may the light of God’s presence shine upon you and inspire you.”

Pictures (above, left to right): Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Dr. Alan Godlas; (below, left to right): Rabbi Peter Berg, Dr. Martha Moore-Keish. Photos by Michael Alexander.
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Peaceful Methodology

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By Shahnawaz Warsi, "Azmat-e-Rasool Conference 2009" - Muslim Students Organization of India (MSO) - New Delhi, India
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

AMU Unit Organized its 4th Grand Azmat-e-Rasool (S.A.W.) Conference on 22nd March from 8:00 pm in the Kennedy Auditorium of Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh, India.

MSO, which was established in AMU in 1983 by Advocate Ismail Wafa of Kerala has spread in at least five states spreading the message of Quran and Sunnah among Youths.

Prof. Syed Ameen Mian Qaudri of Urdu dept. AMU who is also Sajjada Nashin of Barkatiya Silsila, and Sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed, Gen Secretary of All India Sunni Jamiatul Ulema, are its Patrons.

Programme started with the recitation of Verses from Holy Quran. Thereafter Mohammad Zaid, Mujibul Haq Qadri and Abdul Wakeel presented Naatiya Kalam in the praise of Nabi Kareem Sallaho alaihi wasallam. AMU Unit President Mohammad Najmuddin presented Welcome adress. Sajjada Nashin of Ajmer Dargah Prof. Liaqat Hussain Moini appealed the students to develop their Character according to Islam.

National General Secretary of MSO, Shahnawaz Warsi presented annual report of MSO activities and appealed students to join MSO to spread the true message of Islam. He told that Sufism has been an integral part of Islam and only by its peaceful methodology peace can be established.

Vice Chancellor of AMU Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis advised students to work hard in their education field. He told them to follow the Seerah of Rasulallah Sallaho alaihi wassalam. He congratulated MSO Unit for organizing such a grand and disciplined meeting in the University.

Maulana Qamaruddin of M.P. presented very beautifully the Azmat-e-Risalat before the Students.

Maulana Usaidul Haq Asim Qadri, Director of Al Azhar Institute Badaun, described the difficulties faced by our beloved Prophet of Islam in spreading Islam in Arabia. He said that Islam could be established only due to the high character and immense qualities possesed by our beloved Prophet Muhammad Sallaho alihi wasallam which were given to him by Allah Rabbul Izzat.

Prof Syed Muhamamd Ameen Mian emphasised on hard work for the youth. He said that only hard work can bring success for you in academics or in your careers. He said that Mehfil-e-Milad are the chances for us to get more knowledge about our beloved Prophet of Islam.

Ahmed Mujataba Siddiqui conducted the Conference beautifully.

In the last, MSO Members from Delhi led by Zuhairudddin presented Qasida-e-Burda Sharif and Salat-o-Salam.

Dr. Ameen Mian offered Dua. Thousand of boys and girls attended the conference which lasted upto 1:00 am.

Dr. Muhibul Haq, Dr. Abdurrahim, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, Mohammad Shoib Malik, Dr. Inayat, MSO Asstt General secretary Shujaat Ali Qaudri, Kerala Unit president Basharat Hussain,Tauheed from Bareilly MSO were among the few who were present on the stage.

Photos by Shahnawaz Warsi /09268207909 / Jamia Millia Islamia /New Delhi.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

In Consideration of the People
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By Zeyno Baran, "Commentary: What Turkey can do for the U.S." - CNN - USA
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Turks greeted President Obama with huge excitement Monday.

This was the first time a U.S. president visited Turkey at the start of his term, sending a clear signal that this administration recognizes the importance of Turkey and wants to engage with it from the start.

His address in the Turkish parliament was one of the greatest speeches made by an American leader in such a setting: He not only showed his deep understanding of Turkey's many complex issues and identities, but also handled tough issues with great skill. He framed his talk just right by underlining Turkey's European identity as a secular democracy.

That said, it is important to remember how good U.S.-Turkey relations were at the start of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush also considered Turkey an extremely valuable partner, but then came the Iraq war. The United States genuinely believed Turkey would be one of the most important allies going forward.

Despite official channels and experts making clear the difficulties in allowing U.S. military to cross into Iraq via its lands, the administration chose to listen to those who sang music to its ears. As a result, they based a whole military strategy on the Turkish parliament voting yes and were shocked when they received a no. Bilateral relations then entered a downward spiral.

With Obama's election, there is renewed excitement in Turkey. Like most of the people of Turkey, he opposed the Iraq war and considered Afghanistan the "good war." Going forward, as President Obama underscored in his speech, Turkey can play an important role in Afghanistan as a reliable NATO ally. The question is: How can Turkey best help?

Turkey is one of the few -- possibly the only -- NATO member that has deep religious, cultural and historic knowledge of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, the Turkish government has brought together the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan much before the United States began approaching them together.

Reading the tea leaves, one may conclude that the Obama administration wants to cooperate with Turkey in engaging with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This would be the wrong kind of cooperation. Although Turkey has channels to the Taliban and has means to facilitate the talks, there cannot be a morally acceptable deal reached with the Taliban, whose ultimate goal is to curb all individual freedoms and universal human rights, especially when it comes to women.

No matter what the reasonable sounding arguments may be in favor of this strategy, pulling Turkey into any kind of engagement with the Taliban -- either as part of NATO or bilaterally -- would have much worse long-term consequences.

Instead, the Obama administration needs to think of "victory" not only in the short term and from a purely anti-terrorism perspective, but also in consideration of the people who have lived and will continue to live in those lands. In other words, providing true safety, security, justice and development for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- not the kind of society the Taliban has been providing.

Indeed, it is in providing the basic securities that Turkey can be a great partner. Turkey not only can and will continue to help provide safety and physical security, but also could further assist with the reconstruction projects, such as building hospitals, schools, sanitation facilities and investment projects that would have direct impact on the socioeconomic development of the Afghan and Pakistani societies.

There are many Turkish companies that have undertaken successful construction projects in these fields since early 2002. There are also military and civilian trainers, nongovernment organizations and even volunteer teachers who work in some of the most dangerous regions.

Still, Turkey can possibly make the greatest contribution by helping the United States frame the challenges it is facing in a more accurate and honest way. Just as President Obama referred to his personal story and that of the United States to help Turks look deeper within, Turks can do the same for the United States.

To start, Turkey can explain how the vast Eurasian region it belongs to is not just part of the "Muslim world" but has been at the crossroads of eastern and western cultures and ideas and witnessed many brutal wars and massacres over the millennia. Moreover, each country has its own spirit -- there are ancient cultures and tribal formations, and these do not move fast. It is important to stop and drink the tea.

Turkey can also explain that it is only in recent decades that jihadism and extremism took root in these lands known for their Sufi teachings that talk about love, instead of hatred. As a true partner, it can also help the United States recognize its share, along with many others, in inadvertently contributing to the creation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by making bad foreign policy choices.

Anything short of recognition of the past catching up with us will leave us all unprepared for what may come in the future. In other words, we may be doomed to repeat the same mistakes until we learn our lesson.

CNN Editor's note: Zeyno Baran, a native of Turkey, is senior fellow for the Center for Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank that says it is dedicated to "global security, prosperity and freedom." From January 2003 until 2006, Baran directed the International Security and Energy Programs at The Nixon Center.
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Art of Writing
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By Johannes Hillje, "Traditional art in a modern style" - Hürriyet Daily News - Turkey
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rezan Has Museum opens a new exhibition today by well-known calligrapher Etem Çalışkan, an artist famous for rewriting the Nutuk, a 36-hour speech Atatürk delivered in 1927.

The exhibit includes 15 poems and 10 quotes from relevant historical figuresA new exhibition of work by the famous Turkish calligraphy artist Etem Çalışkan debuts today at Istanbul’s Rezan Has Museum at Kadir Has University.

The pieces will include visual interpretations of "the most beautiful poems by Istanbul’s most important poets," Çalışkan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

The Istanbul-based artist put verses by well-known Turkish poets, including Yayha Kemal Beyahtl, Nazım Hikmet and Talat Sait Halman, on paper in his unique writing style. The exhibit includes 15 poems and 10 quotes from relevant historical figures such as the Sufi mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi.

Çalışkan, 81, became famous for rewriting the Nutuk, the 36-hour speech Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gave in 1927 at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

The work on the Nutuk, which covers the events between the start of the Turkish War of Independence in 1919 and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, fills 900 pages and took Çalışkan about two years to complete.

It was published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture in 2000 and is displayed, in 17 books, at the Atatürk Museum in Ankara.

Major works
Two other major works that Çalışkan has illustrated are a Turkish translation of the Koran and a book by Sufi mystic Yunus Emre, making him the only person to ever rewrite all three important books. "I don’t think anyone else will ever do this again," he said.

Çalışkan was also hired to decorate Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara with sayings uttered by the founder of the Turkish Republic.

Çalışkan’s passion for calligraphy began during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, now part of Mimar Sinan University. He learned the art of writing from Emin Barin, an important calligrapher in the first half of the 20th century. After graduating in 1956, Çalışkan worked for various newspapers, including Yeni Sabah, Milliyet and Hürriyet.

Sales of Hürriyet skyrocketed the day Çalışkan’s version of Atatürk’s Gençliğe Hitabe, a speech addressing Turkish youth, was published.

His large portraits of Atatürk were printed in many newspapers and became very famous.

Today, Çalışkan is one of the only Turkish calligraphers writing in Latin letters. "People always connect calligraphy to Arabic letters and religion," he said. "If I wrote in Arabic, I would be rich by now."

He hopes Turks will learn that calligraphy can be also done in Latin letters and develop the art further. "Calligraphy is related to our culture; it was popular in the past, when paintings were forbidden," he said.

Calligraphers now face the challenge of preserving the art of writing, which was the main artistic discipline during the Ottoman Empire. "Nowadays, people prefer to write with computers, but computers cannot dream and create something new, because they don’t have a brain," he said.

Çalışkan thinks that schools should start teaching handwriting again. He is proud of his sole student, Seval Özcan, a young artist who shapes mirrors in calligraphy style. Çalışkan was also invited to a calligraphy symposium at Eskişehir University, which he says shows that young people are still interested in the art.

The new exhibition at Rezan Has Museum is the fifth collaboration between the artist and Kadir Has University.

The poetry-related works displayed in the exhibit are the start of a project Çalışkan is working on for Istanbul’s term as the European Capital of Culture in 2010.

[Picture from the Rezan Has Museum website. Visit the Rezan Has Museum in Istanbul http://www.rhm.org.tr/en/index.php].
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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Al-Wasadiyah
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By Nur Kafi/HAN with Abdurahman M Abdullahi, "Somalia: Political Islam, It’s time for Strategic Engagements" - Geeska Africa - Nairobi, Kenya
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

‘Political Islam’ is a catchy expression that signifies many things to different people. In Western circles, political Islam is considered a reactionary ideology and an anti-Western movement; and is portrayed as a menace to their civilization, values and hegemony.

In the Muslim world, despotic governments perceive political Islam as a competing oppositional ideology that threatens their political power and economic privileges. Both the West and these despotic Muslim governments agree on the necessity for its containment, even if this involves the violation of human rights and the abortion of democracy. Conversely, the Muslim masses longing for change consider political Islam to be a hope for possible cultural revival, economic prosperity and liberation from Western domination. However, the vicious extremism committed in the name of Islam on 9/11 and after, and the violent reaction of the US and other countries to this, has embarrassed Muslims everywhere. Somalis in particular are shocked at the unprecedented violence carried out in the name of Islam, such as suicide bombings, random assassinations and the wrecking of Islamic scholars’ tombs.

This is not the kind of Islam that Somalis have practiced for centuries and they ask themselves, “what type of religion is this?”

Many varieties of terminology have been used to signify this phenomenon. Proponents of political Islam prefer words such as ‘Islamic movement’, ‘Islamic awakening’ and ‘Islamic revival’. Opponents use offensive words, like ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘Islamic terrorism’, ‘Islamic radicalism’ and so on.

The terms ‘political Islam,’ or ‘Islamism,’ emphasize the resurgence of political aspects of Islam weakened after Western domination, and also the revitalizing of other aspects. They signify active movements striving to make Islam the definitive reference for the state and society. However, these active movements are not a single group; they comprise diverse parties and ideologies covering both extremists and moderates.

All forms of extremism: ghuluw (excessiveness), tanattu' (meticulous religiosity) and tashdid (strictness), are disapproved of, while moderation or balance, “al-wasadiyah,” is the fundamental marker of Islam. Religious extremism leading to political extremism has been known in Muslim history since the Kharijites rebelled against Imam Ali bin Abidalib, which is why the term neo-Kharijites (Khawarij al-Casr) is sometimes employed to signify an armed rebellion claiming Islamic righteousness that is directed against legitimate government in Muslim countries.

In Somalia, in the aftermath of the collapse of the state in 1991, local identity politics based on clanism and political Islam have emerged forcefully. As a result, Somalia has become a theatre for international and regional interventions, and is currently caught up in a bizarre assortment of Islamic insurgencies, piracy and weak state institutions.

It is the collapse of the state, along with successive failures of transitional governments, that has ushered in a stronger political Islam, which has become more militant since the Global War on Terrorism after 9/11, the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 and Ethiopian military intervention. Recently, a reconciliation agreement was concluded in Djibouti, producing a national unity government comprised of the Alliance of Re-liberation (ARS) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). However, al-Shabab and Hizb-al-Islam (formerly members of UIC and ARS) are fighting the new government headed by the former chairman of UIC and ARS, and the incumbent President Sheikh Sharif.

To understand this phenomenon, it has to be placed in the Somali historical context. Islam has been used as a strong mobilizing ideology in anti-colonial responses and nationalist struggles. The first modern organization in the name of Islam was formed by Haji Farah Omar in Aden in 1925. However, it was banned because of its political activities. The second attempt occurred after the return of Italian rule under UN trusteeship in the 1950s, when the Somali Islamic League was formed in Mogadishu. It set out to promote education in the Arabic language, and lobbied Egypt to open Arabic schools that would be comparable with the Italian school networks.

After independence in 1960, some students who had graduated from Arab universities held modern Islamic ideas and introduced them to Somalia. These Islamic scholars were inspired by the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Salafia (Wahabi School) of Saudi Arabia. The process started with the formation of Al-Nahda (the Renaissance) in Mogadishu (1967), Wahadat al-Shabab al-Islami (the Union of Young Muslims) in Hargeysa (1969) and Al-Ahli (the native) student organizations in Mogadishu (1970). The military regime of 1969, however, abolished Islamic societies and banned all non-state institutions. So Islamic activism operated underground and had by the 1970s taken greater strides, in reaction to the military regimes’ espousal of Marxist ideology.

The organizations al-Ahli, Al-Wahda and al-Nahda were coordinating stiff resistance to the socialist ideology. Initially, they all claimed affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood, but that situation had changed by 1975 after the execution of 10 Islamic scholars who opposed secularized family law. Young Islamic activists fled to Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and made contact with different aspects of political Islam. Eventually, besides traditional Sufis and Shafi’i jurists, four Islamic affiliations emerged in Somalia: the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafia and its derivatives, Takfir (declaring unbeliever groups) and Tablighi Jama’a (conveying group).

All modern organizations in Somalia are rooted in one of these four schools. For instance, Al-Shabab and Hizb al-Islam claim affinity to the Salafia movements. The complexity of Somali political Islam is such that even traditional Sufis known for their focus on the spiritual aspect of Islam are becoming more political and militant. The organization Ahlu-Sunna wa al-Jama’a is reacting in military ways to the destruction of the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs by the Shabab. In the final analysis, these organizations agree only on the principle of adopting Islam as the ultimate reference for the state and society. Beyond that, they disagree on political views, being influenced by socio-economic conditions, global politics and regional conflicts.

Political Islam has been approached from the perspective of those modernist theories that consider that traditions, including religion, are destined to decline, due to the rise of secular nationalism and nation-state institutions. Based on this assumption, Islamic movements are treated as presenting a threat to world order and as security challenges for the 21st century. This notion and the policies built upon it have contributed to further antagonizing and radicalizing many groups within political Islam, both in Somalia and worldwide.

In Somalia, tremendous changes have happened over the last 20 years and the political setting has shifted towards political Islam. Certainty, the period of Western projected dominance of secularism, and the state that it represented, collapsed in 1991. Political Islam emerged from its ashes and is now digging itself a strategic position in the realms of the state. Moreover, the people of Somalia are looking to Islam as an alternative salvation and solution. They believe that Islam is capable of diluting radical clanism and reconstituting the state. However, that form of Islam should be authentic and moderate; it should not be based on an extremist interpretation that preaches relentless violence.

Currently, the choice is either ruthless extremism or participatory moderation. The question is: which one of these two Islamic banners prevails? Which one would the Somali people choose and support? Which one should the international community accept and work with?

Political Islam has been approached from the perspective of those modernist theories that consider that traditions, including religion, are destined to decline, due to the rise of secular nationalism and nation-state institutions. Based on this assumption, Islamic movements are treated as presenting a threat to world order and as security challenges for the 21st century. This notion and the policies built upon it have contributed to further antagonizing and radicalizing many groups within political Islam, both in Somalia and worldwide.

In Somalia, tremendous changes have happened over the last 20 years and the political setting has shifted towards political Islam.

Certainty, the period of Western projected dominance of secularism, and the state that it represented, collapsed in 1991. Political Islam emerged from its ashes and is now digging itself a strategic position in the realms of the state. Moreover, the people of Somalia are looking to Islam as an alternative salvation and solution. They believe that Islam is capable of diluting radical clanism and reconstituting the state. However, that form of Islam should be authentic and moderate; it should not be based on an extremist interpretation that preaches relentless violence.

Currently, the choice is either ruthless extremism or participatory moderation. The question is: which one of these two Islamic banners prevails? Which one would the Somali people choose and support? Which one should the international community accept and work with?

To begin with, Somali intellectuals are required to re-evaluate political reality in Somalia and realize that the choice is between Islamic extremism and moderation. Thus, non-Islamists should make strategic engagement with Islamic moderation. On their part, moderate Islamists have to welcome the participation of all parties in the rebuilding of the state.

All moderate Islamic scholars should realize that the country is in peril and should stand up and articulate the true nature of Islam. All Somalis have to reawaken their natural religiosity and reassert their mobilizing capacity for exceptional solidarity, as brothers and sisters. Moderate Islamists have to show that Islam accepts political participation and plurality for all the citizens. They have to demonstrate that Islam protects human rights and freedom of expression. They have to reconfirm their commitment to peace and regional security. In so doing, they have to convince the international community and regional states that the new Somalia will be a bastion of peace and an icon and hub for development and regional cooperation.

Finally, the external actors involved in Somalia should realize that the Somali political landscape is changing.

The current unity government headed by moderate Islamist President Sheikh Sharif and the Shari’a bill endorsed by the Council of Ministers shows the trail in that direction. Therefore, moderate political Islam should no longer be eschewed but accepted as an alternative political reality.

In particular, neighbouring Ethiopia should be convinced to refrain from its subversive policies and develop an alternative strategy, based on dealing with moderate Islamists. Moreover, the Egyptian regime, in its entanglements with its rising Islamic opposition, should not obstruct the emergence of Islamism in Somalia. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Yemen should realize that their national security is at stake if extremism prevails in Somalia.

Eventually, if Islamic moderation does not take centre stage in Somalia, extremism will emerge as a triumphant ideology, hence the strategic choice of all concerned parties must be to join with the new government against rising extremism – and the government should combine clemency with resolve and take the path of state reconstitution seriously.
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