Monday, August 31, 2009

Mevlana In America

By D. Andrew Kille, *Sufi leader to speak in Sunnyvale* - Examiner.com - USA
Monday, August 24, 2009

Kabir Helminski, Shaykh in the Mevlevi tradition of Sufism that traces its history back to the mystic poet Rumi, will be the guest speaker at the next gathering in the Interfaith Conversations Series sponsored by Pacifica Institute in Sunnyvale, CA.

Together with his wife Camille Adams Helminski, Kabir is co-Director of The Threshold Society, a non-profit educational foundation rooted in the tradition of Sufism and the work of Rumi. They believe that when people apply principles of spiritual development "we inevitably transcend much of the conditioning of our culture and identity."

He is one of the signatories of A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter by islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding.

Helminski has translated many of the works of Rumi, as well as other Sufi literature, and has written two books on Sufism: *Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulnessand the Essential Self*, and *The Knowing Heart: a Sufi Path to Transformation*.

He and Camille came from Putney, Vermont to Aptos in 1999, and continue their work of writing, recording, and educational consulting. Together, they have published two collections: *Rumi Daylight: A Book of Spiritual Guidance* and *Jewels of Remembrance, 365 Selections from the Wisdom of Rumi*. Their books are now translated into at least seven languages.

He will be speaking on "Traveling the Way of Mevlana in America," sharing his experience as a Sufi in the US.

The Pacifica Insitute seeks "to promote cross-cultural awareness within the diverse communities we live in and help establish a better society where individuals love, respect and accept each other as they are."

Formerly known as Global Cultural Connections, it was founded in 2003 by the Turkish-American community of California as a non-profit organization.

The Pacifica Institute organizes conferences, panels, public forums and art performances in order to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and communities.


The event will be held on Sunday, September 6th, beginning at 6:30 pm at the Pacifica Institute Silicon Valley Branch, 1257 Tasman Drive, Unit B in Sunnyvale, CA.

RSVP is required by August 31st for dinner arrangements, and can be made by calling (408) 423-8543 or writing to pacificasv@pacificainstitute.org.

Visit the Pacifica Institute http://www.pacificainstitute.org/

Smoothly

Staff Writer, *Hazrat Amer Kabir shrine to be repaired by 2010* - Press Trust Of India - India
Monday, August 24, 2009

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir government today said the repair and renovation work of the famous shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Amer Kabir in Pulwama district was expected to be completed by next year.

The shrine at Tral in South Kashmir was destroyed in a mysterious fire in December 1998.

Repair and renovation of the shrine of Hazrat Amer Kabir also known as 'Khan Khai Faiz Panah' was being executed by Tourism department through Jammu and Kashmir Project Construction Corporation and is going on smoothly, Tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora said.

The work is expected to be completed by August, 2010, he said in a written reply to a question in the state Assembly. Jora said so far work worth Rs 235 lakh [$ 486,542.--] has been completed as part of phase one. It was earlier estimated at Rs 227 lakh.


[Picture: Mustard in full bloom. Photo from Pulwana Official Gateway.]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back To Sufi Poetry

By Becky Garrison, *Afghan Idol: Can a Talent Competition Save a Nation? * - Religion Dispatches - San Francisco, CA, USA
Sunday, August 23, 2009

An interview with the director of Afghan Star, a documentary that follows a tense but cathartic talent competition

Etched on a wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s special exhibit “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” is a slogan that first appeared at the museum back in Kabul: “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.”

I thought of this as I prepared to interview London-based documentarian Havana Marking, director of the new film Afghan Star, an inspiring look into a talent competition that is uniting this war-torn country through the power of music.

What drew you to this story?
We just hear the warlords, the mullahs, the Taliban—the old guard. We’re not hearing the voice of the young people. I wanted something that showed that in some way. But also you want something that is logistically possible and something that is going to be worth essentially risking your life to film. When someone told me about Afghan Star, I thought instantly, that’s the way in.

How does pop music serve to unite this country?
When the Taliban fell, the first thing people did was put on music cassettes. As people got more confident they played it louder and louder. Music is sort of an expression of freedom now because it was banned at that time. But the partaking and the creating of music is something that’s even more radical. The listening, discussing and debating and all that kind of stuff gives people something to talk about that isn’t war or tragedy.

Afghanistan has a very strong cultural history and a very strong music; it’s not just music but the lyrics. Afghanistan is the home of Sufism and a lot of the lyrics that these kids are singing date back to Sufi poetry of the 17th century and beyond. Afghans themselves are really proud that there’s Afghan music again. It’s a real invigoration of the culture.

What does this show demonstrate about the power of democracy?
There are democratic ideals in the show in that everyone competing in the show is equal; there is voting. Afghan Star actually seems to be bringing together warring factions within the country. They’re voting across ethnic lines, but all those singers are given a fairly equal chance.

How did get religious leaders to speak to you on camera?
I was there for four months. We just kept requesting interviews with the Islamic Council and in the end, they were like okay. I realize now that you don’t always get an interview with them. Also, the footage of the warlords was footage taken from a local news station.

What were their objections to Afghan Star?
The Islamic Council weren’t so angry about the singing. It was the dancing that got them really upset. Afghanistan is finding itself as a nation. It’s working out how you can be a modern Afghan and be religious. Eight years ago putting on a cassette was considered radical. Now making music is considered radical. We’ve got another generation to go before dancing will be accepted.

Even one of the female contestants objected when the other female contestant chose to dance.
The men don’t dance either. So Setara’s dance is radical on all fronts. She becomes a direct result of political manipulation. So one of the leaders goes on TV and says, “She’s insulted our martyrs. If the Mujahideen were in power, this would never be allowed to happen.” This deliberately stirs up the young men of Herat, where she’s from. It’s only after that broadcast that those guys start saying how awful Setara is.

A lot Afghans, like Setara’s father, want the best for their daughters but they’re not given a chance to speak. It’s a very difficult balance for those men; that they want the best for their daughters and yet they know that if their daughter goes on stage, her life is going to be in danger. Do you let her or do you make her stay at home?

How would you respond to those who state that these clerics’ objections to Afghan Star prove that Islam is a repressive religion?
That’s ridiculous. Raffi, one of the finalists, goes to the mosque to be blessed. These clerics are portrayed now as mainstream Islam in the media because they have the loudest voices. It sells papers when the crazy man says something. But Afghanistan is the home of Sufi dancing. It’s not unimaginable to think that won’t come back.

What reaction to this film have you received from Muslims, especially those who consider themselves to be moderate?
We had an amazing screening in London at a high school that’s in a largely Muslim area. Incredible debates happened: shouting, cheering, and booing. But the kids, who are second and third generation Muslims, want to do a screening where the local Mullahs and their parents come so they can start a debate themselves.

What do you hope to accomplish through this film?
I want to humanize the Afghans. Journalism in Afghanistan is very difficult because you’re only allowed to embed with the troops, which means they completely control what you can cover. So the only Afghans you ever see on the news are the enemy. You never get to to really see and hear what real Afghans are saying.

[Picture: Contestant Raffi backstage. Photo from Afghan Star official website http://www.afghanstardocumentary.com/]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Very Powerful Tool

By Razia Khan, *Interview with Atiya Khan* - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, August 23, 2009

I think advertising is a great industry to sort of learn craft from, because you are working with a lot of formats so you have to be very conscious of every frame and it is a great learning experience

Razia Khan interviewed Atiya Khan, a former model and documentary/film maker.

RK: There is so much to talk about, your career has comprised of all kinds of jobs. You started off as a model at a very young age and then you moved on to advertising and production. How did you enjoy the switch from in front of the camera to behind the camera?

AK: I started off behind the camera actually and I continued doing my work behind the camera while I was doing my stint in front of the camera as well so it wasn’t really a switch as such but for me, being in front of the camera was part of a learning process and I was learning the craft really.

RK: But you were drawn more towards working behind the camera?AK: Yes.RK: Most people tend to get lost in the glamour and the air of the industry; you weren’t at that side at all were you?AK: No, somehow I wasn’t. I wanted to be able to excel in something but more the creative aspect of it than anything else.

RK: And as I mentioned, you have enjoyed every aspect of it, from the direction to the production and even the costumes. Tell me how is it that you were involved in every single step of the process?AK: I think at that point I really didn’t have a choice, I mean if I wanted to sort of have the kind of image or the kind of vision translated, you ended doing everything yourself because you don’t have those kinds of budgets and it’s not so well organised and you cant really afford to have a designer, a wardrobe or set designer to design the sets, and you had to work within a certain limited budget. RK: So you were happy to take that on and you just went with it

AK: Well, when you take on a project, you can either let it go or you can get fully involved and get very meticulous about every single detail, and I am more of a meticulous person I suppose.

RK: So it must be a good learning experience, I mean you were doing everything!

AK: Yes, it was fabulous and I think advertising is a great industry to sort of learn craft from, because you are working with a lot of formats so you have to be very conscious of every frame and it is a great learning experience.

RK: And you had a very memorable experience with the advertising industry as well, tell us about that.

AK: Yes, I was very young at that time and I was working in an environment which was full of established men who had cornered the market and it took me a while to be taken seriously there, but to excel at it was very rewarding.

RK: Apart from advertising, you are also involved with music videos.

AK: Yes, Pakola sponsored a music video of Ali Haider and I think that was the first sponsored music video that happened in Pakistan and I directed that. Again it was something to do with, interestingly enough, because at that time I hadn’t really gotten involved with spirituality, the lyrics had to do with God and it was like a prayer, so I ended up using Nighat Chaudhry and shooting at the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar and stuff. Now that I look back I think it must have been something even then! That was a lot of fun.

RK: Yes and you mentioned Sufism, the spiritual side of you had quite an awakening at some point in your life?

AK: I had different points in my life till it became very prominent later on, but even at a young age I went through episodes where I would sort of dedicate time and energy into the Quran and Hadith and stuff. I kept getting drawn in more and more. You know for the longest time it was more of an intellectual pursuit and a more philosophical endeavor till I met the Sheikh, who I would take as my teacher and that was the first time that I decided to actually change to a more practical aspect of religion.

RK: And then you traveled to Cyprus on several occasions?

AK: Yes. I did a documentary on the Sheikh as well a couple of times.

RK: Was that quite a nice enhancing experience? I mean I am sure that you were spiritually inclined, that must have had an impact on your world?

AK: Yes, because initially I used to feel that there were great Sufis and they had written great works, now they have passed away and that system does not exist anymore and those people don’t exist anymore, but that was till I met the gentleman and I realised that he was still pretty much alive.

RK: And that led you then to eventually set up an online TV channel based on this interest of yours which was Soul TV.

AK: Initially then I did a documentary on Sheikh Nazim and I was working on a documentary based on Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar while I was in Pakistan. And then when I moved to Canada, I was given an opportunity to join this channel called Soul TV, which was basically about promoting a moderate face of Islam by inter-faith dialogue and that sort of thing.

RK: That must have really been amazing; to have been part of something that promotes such a positive image frankly.

AK: Absolutely, it was a great opportunity and for me, I find that media is such an important tool and by large it has been used to promote rubbish, you know like lies and deception and all of that stuff, but it can definitely be used to promote the other side. And I think this is something really important because we are so used to being fed by the media with an agenda like Western media, and even Pakistani media today, I personally find it so blatantly biased, there still are journalists who want to come up with the truth but they are not allowed to do that.

RK: It is a very restricted environment right now, just because of the nature of the situation in the country I guess.

AK: But even before, it has always been so politicised. Each channel has its own political and financial affiliation and then you end up promoting their interests.

RK: So have you thought of getting back into the media game since you came back earlier this year?

AK: I have and I do plan to at some point, but it all depends on whether I find the right people who want to do the kind of programming that I want to do. I am not interested in doing something just for the sake of doing something commercial, because like I mentioned earlier, the media is a very powerful tool and I would like to use it in the most positive way possible.

RK: Yes because media has now come to the point where people are realising their responsibilities and what they should say on air but I guess it will take time.

AK: Yes, I think it has been great, this boom and the rise of so many different channels but things have become highly politicised and they all have vested interests now, and media has not always been a very positive game, so yes it will take time.

RK: I wish you best of luck with your endeavors, and thank you for talking to us.

AK: You are welcome.

Razia Khan is the host of ‘17 Minutes’, a show on Business Plus TV

At the Fort

Editor with Agencies, *J-K plans cable car facility to Sufi saint's tomb at fort* - Kashmir Live - J&K, India

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government plans to install cable car facility between Rainawari and the fort in the city to facilitate pilgrimage to Mazar (graveyard) of sufi saint Shaykh Hamza Makhdoom.

Minister for Rural Development, Ali Mohammad Sagar, said the project, estimated to cost Rs six crore, [U$D 1.229 Million] would be completed within a year. The new mode of transport would have a capacity of 250 passengers per hour.

The system would be at an expected height of 32 meters from the ground. The cable car and its allied accessories would be indigenously designed.

The fort in the city has been built by Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Khan in 1808-10 on the top of the Koh-e-Maraan hill. Mughal emperor, Akbar, founded Naagar Nagar city in the foot of the hillock and constructed a 28 feet high wall, naagar nagar 'qalai' (fort) around the city, which served as the cantonment for the mughal army.

The Sufi saint's tomb is at the fort.

The minister, at a meeting of the special task force constituted for the beautification of Srinagar, asked the officers to submit a fortnightly report on the status of various projects, including road works, taken up here.

[Picture: Shaykh Hamza Makhdoom's Shrine at Hari Parbat. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hari_Parbat]

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Moving Journey

By John P. Meyer, *Movie review and filmmaker interview: Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love* - Pegasus news - Dallas, TX, USA

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Songwriter/vocalist Youssou Ndour is a major African superstar, particularly in his home country of Senegal. I, like many Americans (including filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi), was unfamiliar with him and the extent of his influence, both musical and cultural. A few years ago Vasarhelyi, a New York-based filmmaker, wanted to make an uplifting film about Africa, and had been casting about for a focus. She thought the realm of music might be a starting place, and the name (and music of) Youssou Ndour kept coming up in her research. Thus was born the documentary Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love.

I've said I was unfamiliar with Ndour, but that turns out not to be entirely true: I was, in fact, familiar with his melodious, lilting, magical voice thanks to a memorable duet with Peter Gabriel on the song "In Your Eyes." Vasarhelyi's film takes the viewer on an emotional, transformative, behind-the-scenes journey into the life of Ndour, during a period when his career was in turmoil as a result of a courageous creative decision.

Ndour's Egypt is a collection of faith-based songs blending Senegalese musical stylings with those of northern Africa. The compilation of songs -- whose lyrics are a retelling of the stories of important figures in Senegalese Sufism -- ended up bringing him closer to the same local Muslim brotherhood which at first threatened to expunge him. But the journey to this outcome was far from a foregone conclusion, and was fraught with complications that would test the convictions of Ndour's family, fan base, and business associates.

Vasarhelyi's film follows Youssou Ndour as he stages concerts and performs around the world -- including an appearance at a public house in Dublin, Ireland where there's a bit of a ruckus when it's determined that he and his band will not be performing until all the patrons dispose of their alcoholic beverages. It also documents family visits, business meetings, and religious observances. Ndour makes a pilgrimage -- along with thousands of other Senegalese -- to the holy city of Touba; Vasarhelyi and her camera person make the same pilgrimage, but on a disconnected parallel path (because Ndour didn't want to be perceived as having secularized the event). The film crew came away with unprecedented footage of religious observances in the holy city.

When the Egypt album receives a Grammy, Senegalese hearts begin to soften towards the controversial project, leading to a groundbreaking collaboration between a revered Senegalese religious singer and the king of Senegalese pop. It's a touching moment, the emotional high point of the film.

We spoke with Chai Vasarhelyi when she visited the Angelika in Dallas for the local premiere of her film. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

PegNews: How did you come up with the idea for the film? And how did you decide on Youssou Ndour as your subject?

Chai: I was interested in making an uplifting film about Africa, and music was where I started. And when you start there, Youssou's name came up.
I only really got to know the music about six months before I began making the film.
I still wasn't sure, and then I met him in person. I saw him perform, and it's an amazing experience, but I wasn't sure. It's such a big commitment to make these films, and when he shared with me the Egypt album I knew at that moment that this was a film I really wanted to make, and that it was important, and that here was a man who was in the middle of a very important turning point in his life.

P: At first, when I began watching the film, I wasn't familiar with who Youssou was, but then I heard the Peter Gabriel "In Your Eyes" performance tape and went: "Oh, it's that guy!" His voice was slightly familiar, but I couldn't place it.

C: Absolutely. The yodelling at the end of "In Your Eyes." I think most Americans have heard Youssou's voice but never knew it was him.

P: So you spent two years making the film. Is that right?

C: Yes.

P: You've said you wanted to make an uplifting film about Africa. Were there times during this two year period when you worried that you might have chosen incorrectly? Did you have any doubts during this whole period.

C: Of course. I think every filmmaker should. You like dig yourself into a hole and your job is to dig yourself out of it. But there's something about Youssou himself that is truly inspiring, and so at the end of the day when nothing worked ...

Like the most difficult part was this year when it was completely unresolved what would happen. And no one was speaking about these issues in Senegal, and meanwhile everyone abroad was very happy and it was very meaningful, and stuff was unfolding in front of the camera, but then you would go home to Senegal and it would be like radio silence. It was like a taboo subject.

The controversy in Senegal -- basically, the film turned much more personal. And that time I spent pretty much with his family, and with him. And it's the first time he's ever opened up like this in front of the camera. And I think it's actually what the most special part of the film is.
And so there's times when you doubt. Especially financing an independent film - talking about an African Muslim? -- you feel like you're the most unpopular person in the room. Adding charm helps, but it's still a very tough subject.

And he (Youssou) so consistently stands up for what he believes in. If you look at the old songs -- like even the Peter Gabriel "In Your Eyes" -- he's singing "if you want to educate your people, build a school." That's what Youssou's singing, Peter's singing something completely different. And that's what really moved me.

P: That's interesting. His voice is so beautiful that you really don't care about the lyrics. From (English-speaking) standpoint. But when I started seeing the translation, it was a real eye-opener. They were stories -- they were basically stories.
So -- what did you do to get him (Youssou) to allow you all this access. Because he's like the superstar of Senegal.

C: I was very persistent. The pace of his life is crazy. I mean he's in Davos one day, and he's in like rural Mauritania the next. It's really hard to conceive of, how he crosses between the worlds. Like rubbing elbows with Bill Gates, and then like in the poorest parts of Africa.
And so basically we met, we talked (about the film). I hadn't heard "Egypt" yet. I met his management and the record label, they all thought it was a great idea. And he was like "oh, O.K." And I didn't get one step further.

So then I knew he was touring in Spain. I got on a plane to Spain and I snuck backstage. Literally, like around the bouncer. And that's when he saw me, he like invited me to eat with the band. And he shared with me the Egypt album, and that was like -- that fire.
And even in sharing that album with me, I knew he was telling me that there's a real story here. And that was really something special. And then I didn't hear from him.

So finally I met a guy who was like "I'm Youssou's former bodyguard. Buy me a ticket to Dakar and I'll get you in front of Youssou."

Meanwhile he'd never said no, and I arrive in Dakar, six hours later I'm on a bus with the band. Thirteen hours later I'm on Matam, which is on the border with Mauritania. I spent the entire day with the band. They didn't know me, Youssou was nowhere to be found, and then ... I never saw another show like that, it was basically build a stage in the middle of nowhere. It was a UNICEF sponsored concert against malaria, and children had walked for miles. Miles. Like, you couldn't see the end of them. The only water available was in bags. Just to see how much he meant to them really moved me.

And then, 2 o'clock in the morning, someone was like "Chai, come on, Youssou's ready," I get ushered back to where his SUV is, the door opens, and he looks at me and he laughs. He had no idea it was me (from their previous conversation about the film). He thought it was just an American journalist. He had no idea that this girl had come.

And the next day he introduced me to his spiritual guide who blessed the project, and he signed the contract.

Of course, like a true New Yorker, I was like "you can't film unless we have a contract." And then three weeks later, it began.

P: Amazing. It could easily not have happened, right?

C: Yeah, but also there were a lot of people who wanted to make that film. What was unusual was the fact that -- 'cause he's very famous everywhere else in the world -- and I was actually given a hard time by a lot of these older male European directors, who knew his music for a long time and were big fans.

And for me I thought it was important to bring a fresh perspective. I thought there was something about coming from a stance where you were like, "I didn't know him before," that could open up -- you know, if I did my due diligence in my research and make an in-depth film -- I could open up his story to an American audience. And an international audience, too.

P: And where has the film played so far?

C: It's being released theatrically across Europe. Here it opened in New York very well, and we've got ten prints and they kind of make their way across. San Francisco, the bay area, L.A. -- we're opening three cities in Texas.

P: Youssou has seen it, I'm sure.

C: Yes, he's been very involved in the promotion, too. He loves the film. He was really surprised by the religious images. He didn't know that we had managed to get that access (i.e., filming inside a mosque during worship). It was one of those things where it was still very delicate between him and Touba -- so he said "never mention my name, just go and figure it out." (re. her access to the holy city during pilgrimage). And so he was really moved by that.

The film is special, and it's also something bigger than him. There's something that's very organic about the film, and the Egypt album.
And it's great when he promotes it, because that's the real deal.

P: I got the sense ... the religious context in the songs in the Egypt project ... it struck me that it was similar to what Jesus Christ Superstar was in the Western world. Only far more controversial.

C: I think there are certain taboo subjects. I'm not an expert on Islam. I do know the specificity of what happened with Youssou.

Ramadan is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection, you withdraw from worldly activities. Youssou Ndour owns a nightclub. He closes the nightclub. He decided to release an album during Ramadan. To present this music as spiritual music. And that really challenged how people thought about music.

And then what happened -- like any celebrity, I think, anywhere -- is like overnight there's like crazy gossip. There were these radio talk shows and people were and saying "Oh, we saw Youssou with naked women in a mosque." Literally! And then 25,000 cassettes were returned by the street vendors. 'Cause they just didn't want it in there stalls. And the TV stations took the ads off the air. Never letting them (Youssou's agents) know. It's not like there was a real discussion about it.

And then finally a sect of the brotherhood -- not the main part -- threatened to sue him. Which is interesting too, 'cause it's a secular state, so it's not punishable by law, but they wanted to sue him. It's the idea that they could sue him for desecrating the memory of the saint.

What happened in Youssou's case was a tragedy, a real misunderstanding. 'Cause no one even listened to the album.

At the end of the day, when the crazy things that happened happened -- with the Grammy, which was like a gold medal, really...

P: Did that (the Grammy) soften people's hearts and open up the floodgates? Is that what did it, the Grammy?

C: The Grammy forced a recontextualization of the album. You've gotta kind of divorce it from the Grammy context, even though it's hard to do that. Like no one knew what a Grammy was. It was like bringing home an Olympic gold medal. And it was the first time this major international honor had been received by a Senegalese national. And that was huge.

I think the attention made people listen to the album. And once you listen to the album, you understand it.

But I can't (over)stress the importance of that religious singer, Moustapha Mbaye, (who collaborates with Youssou near the end of the film). He is Senegal's most celebrated religious singer. He's never been in a recording studio before. So when he decided to cross that line, and record a song to the prophet Mohammed with Youssou Ndour, that was like ... saying it was O.K., what Youssou was doing. And that, I think, really thawed things.

And so it was like the Grammy gave him an opportunity to do that, but it was like Moustafa's endorsement that was like a big deal.

P: What message do you want your film to bring to Western audiences?

C: I'm always afraid I sound like I'm preaching, or it's like medicine. Because the point of the film is like it's a moving emotional journey. This is a story about a Senegalese man who is ... a wonderful example to everyone, no matter where you live. Of how, from the most humble of origins, you can live successfully by your convictions and change your circumstances and also ... change your community.

And that's the message. That's what I took away from him, and I tried to make that film that opened it up.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nothing Works Better

By Manya A. Brachear, *Taking the extra step at Ramadan* - Chicago Tribune - Chicago, USA
Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Hasan Mavric bit into a date to break his first Ramadan fast on Friday, the taste sparked a series of rituals he had never performed during the ninth and holiest month on the Islamic calendar.

After prostrating himself for the nightly recitation of verses from the Quran known as taraweeh, Mavric worked to elevate his awareness of God with additional prayers at home after midnight.

He expected to rise several hours later to pray again and share a light, pre-fast meal called suhur. Every Thursday, Mavric also will preface the taraweeh with an abridged version of a ritual, known as dhikr, in which he and others in his Sufi order recite the 99 names of God.

It is the first time Mavric, a member of the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook, has observed Ramadan as a Sufi, a Muslim who seeks a direct and personal relationship with God. "It seems hard, but with heavenly support it's easy," said Mavric, 39, of Mt. Prospect, a member of the Naqshbandi Sufi order.

During Ramadan, Muslims are commanded to fast from dawn to dusk as a show of empathy for those less fortunate. The fast prohibits eating and drinking during daylight hours and forbids vices such as smoking, profanity and ill temper.

Though Sufi Muslims fast in the same prescribed fashion, they also recite extra prayers and abstain from vices for the purpose of expunging their ego to connect with God. "Fasting is the best weapon against the ego," Mavric said. "Nothing works better."

Mavric's piety reflects a worldwide renaissance of Islamic spirituality or the Sufi way that encourages heightened devotional activities, open-mindedness about all faiths and universal love.

Though some orthodox Muslims believe Sufis commit heresy by adding extra rituals to Islam's fundamental tenets, scholars say at least half of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims have chosen to embrace a degree of Sufi practice, feeding an apparent spiritual hunger and transforming the annual monthlong fast in many communities.

"Ramadan is clearly a high-water mark for spiritual practices for Muslims, especially for Sufis," said Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "It's commonly believed that because of the importance of Ramadan, there will be more efficacy of late night vigils. Special times, special effects."

Marcia Hermansen, a Loyola University Chicago professor and author of a forthcoming book on Sufi devotion in America, said Sufi practice permeates almost every mosque, but many practitioners stay in the closet to avoid criticism. Ramadan is the one time of year when most Muslims share their spiritual intensity, she said.

But Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer at the University of Chicago and the first woman to translate the Quran from Arabic into contemporary English, said Sufis' motives for performing acts of devotion during Ramadan come from a different place. Many Muslims adhere to the rules of Ramadan to avoid God's wrath, she said. Sufis adhere to show God their love. "Because you love God, you want to do what God asks you to do," said Bakhtiar, a member of the Shadhili Sufi order.

The goals of praying and fasting also vary. Sufis aspire to abstain from food and ill will. Few reach the highest tier, which prohibits any thoughts that don't pertain to God. While all Muslims seek mercy and redemption in the holy month, Sufis also seek an experience with the divine.

This aspiration for a personal union with God had kept Sufis from fully integrating into the mainstream Muslim community, scholars say. For that reason, Imam Senad Agic of the Islamic Cultural Center knows he is an exception. During Ramadan, he offers an abbreviated dhikr once a week for the throngs who come to pray at the Northbrook mosque.

"After fasting all day, they feel victorious," he said, adding members of the mosque are often intrigued to learn more. "They want to continue on that way."

[Picture: Phoenix dactylifer (Date Palm). Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_dactylifera]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So-called Sufis

AFP, *Baathists use Muslim mystics to trouble restive Iraqi north * - Khaleeji Times - UAE
Friday, August 21, 2009

Kirkuk, Iraq: KIRKUK, Iraq - Fugitive henchmen of Saddam Hussein have adopted the cover of influential Muslim mystic groups to pose a real threat to stability in ethnically divided northern Iraq, Iraqi and US commanders say.

The so-called Sufi orders have a large historical following in the disputed oil-rich region and commanders say that the exploitation by Saddam loyalists of the orders’ extensive network of lodges holds more dangers than Al-Qaeda.

“They have a pretty significant long-term potential to be a threat to the powers that be,” said Major Chuck Assadourian, the intelligence chief of the US Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who is based outside the oil city of Kirkuk.

Known as the Army of the Followers of the Naqshbandiya Order, or JRTN from its Arabic acronym, the insurgent group operates under the cover of the order’s many lodges across Kirkuk and neighbouring provinces, and counts Saddam’s fugitive number two Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri among its leaders.

It was founded under the auspices of Ibrahim and former interior minister Mohammed Yunus on the night of Saddam’s execution for crimes against humanity at the end of the end of 2006, Assadourian said.

The members of its military wing are mainly made up of Sunni Arab former members of the Baath party and Saddam’s disbanded armed forces, even though the Sufi orders traditionally claim to draw support from across the region’s ethnic divide.

The JRTN has capitalised on the unpopularity of Al-Qaeda and its foreign fighters, whose brutal tactics and enforcement of a strict version of Islam out of kilter with local traditions has alienated the region’s population.

“They’re (Al-Qaeda) not really as concerned with winning the hearts and minds of the people, they still have their extremist ideology — no alcohol, no smoking, those sort of things — and that’s a big turn-off for the population,” Assadourian said.

Provincial police chief Major General Jamal Taher Bakr agreed that the JRTN were now “the big threat,” surpassing even Al-Qaeda despite its continued mounting of spectacular, mass-casualty bombings. But he took issue with the JRTN’s claim to focus its campaign of violence on US targets rather than Iraqi ones. “They will attack civilian targets in cities, everywhere,” Bakr said.

Assadourian said that overcoming the JRTN threat would take time and would need a political approach as much as a military one to woo former rank-and-file Baathists away from the diehards of the ousted regime. “Obviously national elections would help, if there was a more proportional representation of Sunnis,” he said in allusion to the widespread boycott among Sunni Arabs of the last parliamentary elections in 2005.

“And really there needs to be some determination as far as political accommodation for technocrats from the former regime, non-ideological individuals, because there’s a significant population of those folks.

“With some of the political dynamics right now, a lot of the Baathists are excluded from holding positions and of course that’s very contentious.”

Progress has been slow on re-integrating former Baathists into government employment, after all but the most junior members of the party were barred from government jobs following the US-led invasion of 2003 in what is now regarded as one of the most misguided policies of the occupation.

Assadourian said that JRTN fighters, who also operate in neighbouring Salaheddin province around Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit — a traditional Baathist stronghold, mostly used roadside bombs and grenades, and often exaggerated their battlefield successes.

“They post videos and they’ll drop it off on the street corner — ‘Look at us, look at what we can do, we’re capable, we’ll stand up against the occupiers,’” he said.

“One of the funny things is that they do a monthly production of these videos, and you’ll go from month to month sometimes and you’ll see the exact same video, and they’ll tell you that it’s a different unit that did it or a different location.”

But the group has scored some major coups against US targets.

In January, four US soldiers were killed when two US helicopters on a reconnaissance mission came down, which JRTN claimed happened as a result of their fire.

The US military initially insisted that it was an accident, only to acknowledge the following month that the aircraft were downed by “hostile fire”, but gave no specifics.

Nationwide, security has improved markedly compared to last year, with the number of violent deaths falling by a third in July to 275 from 437 in June.

But the JRTN’s strength in volatile Kirkuk threatens a new flareup with the movement’s mainly Sunni Arab supporters bitterly opposed to longstanding Kurdish claims to incorporate the province and its oil wealth in their northern autonomous region.

With Iraqi government troops, many of them Arab, deployed in the province alongside Kurdish peshmerga militiamen, Western diplomats have expressed fears that the dispute could spark a return to communal bloodshed.

To Realms Unimagined

SA Editor, *An African and Indian journey of discovery* - ScreenAfrica.com
Friday, August 21, 2009

Of journey, home and treasure
Director: Feizel Mamdoo
Producers: Feizel Mamdoo and Patrick Vergeynst
Associate Producer: Dumisani Dlamini

The documentary, of journey, home and treasure by South African filmmakers, Feizel Mamdoo and Dumisani Dlamini, traces their own journey to the “Festival of the Dhow Countries” in Zanzibar to seek from this kaleidoscope of cultures a vision for the relations between African and Indian in South Africa.

The documentary feature will be screened in September at main city centres [click on the title of the article].

Dlamini, is of African and Indian Tamil progeny whose accommodation of this is unsettled by existing social and cultural divides. Mamdoo, of Muslim Indian descent, is painfully conscious too of the divides between African and Indian South Africans as he strives for recognition and definition of his African identity.

However the filmmakers' issues of identity transcend in discovery to realms unimagined when the film was first shot in 2000.

In Stone Town, Zanzibar, Mamdoo is jolted into connection with his birthplace, "Fietas", and grows to appreciate that the treasure of an integrated identity he seeks is not in some distant future, but back from where he comes.

Mamdoo discovers his issues of journey, homecoming and identity to resonate profoundly with the outlook of the Sufi mystic Rumi, more especially after Dlamini, is one day found dead.

Featuring the reed flute music of Deepak Ram and evocative thematic instrumentation by Jeremy Karodia & The Mavr!x, this art documentary has a strong audio-visual narrative that draws on the Sufi spiritual meaning and symbolism of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.

A Sufi Sojourn

By TNN, *Double treat for Chennai* - The Times Of India - India
Saturday, August 22, 2009

It was a double bonanza for all who had turned up at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre as they had a Sufi sojourn and a tryst with ace danseuse Shobana

The evening started with some scintillating compositions by renowned Qawwal Munawwar Masoom who set the mood for the evening with Hazrat Amir Khusro’s composition Aadhi Rain to Kat Gayi Baalam.

The racy Sufi Kalaam Damaadam Mast Kalandar and Dushman Ko Rakhna Salaam, penned and composed by Ustad Masoom himself, got loud applause. Shobana’s recital started with a traditional anjali followed by Muruga Kauvutham.

The main piece of the evening, a Dasavatharam, to the tunes of Pranayapayodhi, a composition by Jayadeva, stood out for the sculpture like poses, vibrant footwork and impeccable abhinaya. In the padam, Shobana transformed into a grief stricken Sita.

A pulsating fusion composed by percussionist Sri Ramakrishnan had the crowd tapping their feet. The programme concluded with a dance set to Vande Mataram, in which the dancers brought out the patriotic flavour.

The Times Chennai Festival is presented by Estancia, Chennai’s first integrated township, in association with co-host Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers, and radio partner Radio Mirchi.

Picture: Mohammad Shahid

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From Both Sides Of The Border

By Adrian Pabst, *Pakistan must confront Wahhabism* - The Guardian - London, UK
Thursday, August 20, 2009

As the Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam supplants the tolerant indigenous Sufi Islam, its violent creed is inspiring terrorism

Despite the recent offensive by the Pakistani army in the Swat Valley and by Nato in Helmand province, the "Talibanisation" of both Afghanistan and Pakistan proceeds apace. Vast parts of the Afghan south and a large region in western Pakistan are still under de facto control of Taliban militants who enforce a violent form of sharia law.

Western responses oscillate between calls for a secular alternative to the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban and attempts to engage the moderate elements among them. Neither will solve the underlying religious clash between indigenous Sufi Islam and the Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi extremism. The UK and US must change strategy and adopt a policy that supports the peaceful indigenous Muslim tradition of Sufism while thwarting Saudi Arabia's promotion of the dangerous Wahhabi creed that fuels violence and sectarian tension.

As Afghanistan goes to the polls this week, western political and military leaders now recognise that stability and peace in the country cannot be created by military force alone. Like the "surge" strategy in Iraq which reduced suicide bombings by driving a wedge between indigenous Sunnis and foreign jihadists, the US and its European allies will try to separate the Taliban from al-Qaida fighters who infiltrate Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan. By combining "surgical" strikes against terrorists in the Afghan-Pakistani border region with a political strategy aimed at "moderate" Taliban, President Obama hopes to save the US mission from disaster.

The problem is that those Taliban who would be prepared to talk have little leverage and those who have influence feel that they have little incentive to compromise, as they have gained the upper hand. Unlike many Sunnis in Iraq, most Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have embraced the puritanical and fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs from Saudi Arabia who wage a ruthless war not just against western "infidels" but also against fellow Muslims they consider to be apostates, in particular the Sufis.

Sufi Islam is not limited to the southern Pakistani province of Sindh on the border with India. It also exists elsewhere in Pakistan and has been present in Afghanistan for centuries, as exemplified by the 18th-century poet and mystic Rahman Baba whose shrine at the foot of the Khyber Pass (linking Afghanistan and Pakistan) still attracts many Sufi faithful from both sides of the border.

All this changed in the 1980s when during the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion, elements in Saudi Arabia poured in money, arms and extremist ideology. Through a network of madrasas, Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi Islam indoctrinated young Muslims with fundamentalist Puritanism, denouncing Sufi music and poetry as decadent and immoral. At Attock, not far from Rahman Baba's shrine on the Khyber Pass, stands the Haqqania madrassa, one of the most radical schools where the Taliban leader Mullah Omar was trained. Across the Pakistani border, the tolerant Sufi-minded Barelvi form of indigenous Islam has also been supplanted by the hardline Wahhabi creed.

This madrassa-inspired and Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam is destroying indigenous Islam in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crucially, it is imposing a radical creed that represents a distortion and perversion of true Islam. Wahhabi followers beheaded a Polish geologist in February (as revenge for Polish troops in Afghanistan) and blew up a century-old shrine dedicated to Rahman Baba in the Pakistani town of Peshawar in March.

The actions of the west and its Afghan and Pakistani allies are making matters worse. By causing civilian deaths through aerial bombings, the US is driving ordinary Afghans and Pakistani into the arms of the jihadi terrorists. By declaring sharia law in Pakistan's northwestern Swat region to appease the local Taliban and by using Islamism in the ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir, Pakistan's government is emboldening the extremists and undermining Sufi Islam.

What is required, first of all, is to prevent Saudi Arabia from playing a duplicitous game whereby the authorities in Riyadh help the Afghan President Karzai in his attempts to woo moderate Taliban while promoting the violent creed of Wahhabism across this volatile region. The west should call Saudi Arabia's bluff and not surrender to Riyadh's threats of ending security co-operation and information exchange on international terrorism which thrives on Saudi-exported Wahhabi ideology.

The west and Muslim countries such as Jordan should also put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to confront Wahhabism by expelling Saudi hate preachers, closing the Wahhabi madrassas and establishing schools that teach the peaceful Islam of Sufism.
By itself this strategy will of course not be sufficient to eradicate violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But without an alternative policy based on religion, this religious conflict will further escalate.

Picture: Rahman Baba. Image from The Poetry Of Rahman Baba

Monday, August 24, 2009

Without Any Fighting

By AFP, *Somali pro-government forces oust Shebab in southern town* - AFP Somalia - Somalia

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mogadishu: An alliance of pro-government fighters on Wednesday recaptured a southwestern Somali town previously held by the Shebab, the latest defeat inflicted on the extremist group.

Local clan militias trained in Ethiopia and the moderate Sufi religious group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa reclaimed Luq, a town some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, without any fighting.

"Our forces took control of the town without fighting," Colonel Mohamed Osman Weli told AFP by phone. "The hardline elements ran away from us before we got to them, now we fully control the town."

Witnesses said the pro-government forces crossed over the neighbouring Ethiopian town of Dolow before marching on to Luq.

Further down the same road from Luq is the city of Baidoa, the former seat of parliament and one of the Shebab's current strongholds.

"There were no clashes this morning but we saw the pro-government militia enter the town from Dolow and they now control it," said Abdullahi Salat, a local elder. "They took the police station and control other official buildings."

Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abdurahman, the spokesman of Ahlu Sunna, said they would rout their opponents from their strongholds in central Somalia. "We are planning an offensive against the last stronghold of the rebels," he told AFP. "Their time of rule and oppression will come to an end."

Witnesses reported seeing heavily-armed militia, some in military uniform, enter Luq town.

However, Sheikh Ibrahim Ali, a commander of the Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired group, said his men had not been defeated but had "retreated as a military tactic."

On Monday, the same pro-government outfit retook the nearby town of Bulohawo, which sits on the border with Kenya and had recently been under Shebaba control.

The forces which ousted the Shebab from Luq and Bulohawo include many fighters loyal to Barre Hirale, a prominent military leader from the Marehan clan dominant in the region who was ousted a year ago from Kismayo by a top Islamist leader Hassan al-Turki and the Shebab.

Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, a Sufi organisation with strong popular support that took up arms in recent months to repel the Shebab, recently inflicted heavy losses on Islamist hardline groups further up the Ethiopian border.

The group sprung to the limelight in late 2008 when they clashed with the Shebab over the control of two towns in central Somalia.

It accused the hardline Shebab militia of fostering insecurity in the lawless Horn of Africa country as well as killing opponents on grounds that they are enemies of Islam.

The Shebab and the more political Hizb al-Islam rebels launched an offensive to topple the internationally-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sharif, a moderate Islamist who came to power in January, has faced stiff opposition from the hardline groups and his government controls only a handful of areas in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.

Picture: Hard-line islamist fighters exchange gun fire with government forces in Mogadishu. Photo: AFP

We Believe In Sufism

By Reyyaz Salley *There are Jihad groups – say’s ISF chief* - Lankaweb - Sri Lanka
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

This is a response to an press release by the Asst Secretary Mr. Thassim of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama on the 18th of August 2009 in the Daily News.

The Islamic Solidarity front of North America says the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the tawheed does not belong to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’at. Who are involved in various fundamentalist activities?

Certain Muslim organisations are involved in terrorist activities in the east and related to armed groups and also certain Prominent Muslim politicians are the cover for these groups. These Politicians are funded during the time of the election and they are bound to give shelter.

When our Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapakshe, who completely eradicated terrorism, [?] Certain politicians from the East are trying to disturb the peace of our Mother Lanka. Islam says respect the law and order of the country you belong.

When the Beruwala incident occurred the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama never came forward to express there concern and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama does not represent all the Muslims in Sri Lanka. They teach hatred by invading Zawia and Thakkiya’s belonging to the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’at.

Today certain extremist groups are exposed by the media. We take the opportunity to thank the media of exposing these elements. We belong to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaat and we have been taught to live united among the non Muslims in our motherland and in any other Country. We respect all religion and mankind.

The misuse of the word Jihad by certain fanatic groups who are funded by oil rich countries to separate Muslims among Muslims and fight against each other and they are funded to build mosque in every corner which Islam does not permit. There are so many unauthorized mosque built lately by these groups and we have brought to the notice of the Minister of Religious affairs in the presence of the Mr Navavi who is the Director of the Department of the Muslim Affairs to look into this and this was confirmed by the M.Q.M Navavi the Director of the Department of Muslim Affairs at the meeting held at Religious Ministry.

Muhammed Reyyaz Salley, Chairman of the Islamic Solidarity Front of North America stated in a press release

“All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama says that the Muslims should not get involved in any propaganda misleading the Muslim community and causing humiliation for the whole Muslims but Mr Salley said the ACJU is also another organization which does not allow Muslims to live in peace. There are certain Islamic research centers who brainwash the children and get them hatred among there own families in the name of Islam. It is the duty of every Muslim organization to make an effort not to criticize and instigate people to fight against each other.

If we follow Islam according to the life style of our Prophet Muhammad sal (peace be upon him) we don’t need money from oil rich country. Certain Oil rich countries follow Abdul Wahab the founder of Wahabism. We believe in Sufism and Sufism is against terrorism and fundamentalism.

Furthermore, Mr Salley said lets follow our fore fathers from Prophet Adam to Prophet Muhammad sal (pbuh) and there Allah Awliya’s who educated us in proper Islam.

Islam consists of Peace and Harmony. We Muslim should set an example to every mankind and pray for the Unity of our Motherland. May the Almighty Shower his blessings upon us.

United we Stand. Country before Self

Reyyaz Salley
Chairman
Islamic Solidarity Front Of North America.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metaphors Of Love

By Ed Ward, *For Richard Thompson's 60th, A Musical Gift* - National Public Radio - USA

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Richard Thompson is the kind of guitar player other guitar players revere. It's not just his technique, nor the fact that he's equally at home with an electric or an acoustic guitar. He's also a songwriter of uncommon skill.

And over the past 40 years, he's written some classics. Now, in honor of Thompson's 60th birthday, Shout Factory Records has released
Walking on a Wire, a four-disc overview of his career.

It's a career that has its roots in the Notting Hill section of London, where Thompson was born the son of a policeman who'd moved to London from Scotland to join the force. He started playing guitar in school, taking lessons from a friend, and then started writing songs with a couple of other friends. There was no question about what he wanted to do after that: falling in with a bunch of London musicians who were attracted by American folk-rock and lived in a house called Fairport, he joined their band when he was 17. Their first gig was in front of 15 people in a church hall, and it was the start of Fairport Convention.

Fairport has always been a rather fluid band, and after their first album, they changed personnel for the first time when singer Judy Dyble made way for another, Sandy Denny. She proved to be perfect to sing the songs Thompson was writing at the time — dark songs like "Meet on the Ledge," which became a kind of band anthem.

Late in 1969, though, Denny and bassist Ashley Hutchings quit, and the remaining members retreated to the countryside to think things through, emerging with a new take on British traditional music — and a masterpiece of an album, Liege and Lief, featuring extended guitar jams that proved that Richard Thompson was one of the best guitarists in England. Fairport toured America at this point, and Thompson held his own on stage with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page at one show.

But when he returned to England, he quit the band and spent a lot of time doing session work for other artists. In the course of this, he met a backup vocalist named Linda Peters, who was recording a Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercial the day they met. They were married in 1972, and two years later, released I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, the first in a series of albums that showcased Richard's songwriting and guitar playing alongside their almost magical vocal blend.

In 1975, Richard and Linda became Sufis, appearing on the cover of their 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver in traditional clothing, but otherwise hardly changed. Sufism is a famously liberal branch of Islam, often cloaking its devotional texts in metaphors of love or intoxication — things Richard had written about in the past.

Over the next few years, Richard and Linda continued to record, but raising two young children kept them pretty close to home, despite a growing following in the United States. In 1982, they released Shoot Out the Lights, one of their strongest sets of songs ever. Maybe too strong.

Richard and Linda started a tour when the album came out, and it lasted just long enough to fulfil the American dates; after the London show, the Thompsons' marriage was over. It was about this time that word finally got out about Richard's songwriting and guitar-playing, and stars from Lou Reed to Neil Young were mentioning him in interviews. Alternating between acoustic and electric versions of his music, he continued to write great songs.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is the song audiences clamor for now, from his 1991 album Rumor and Sigh, but there are many, many more where that came from: over 400 in his lifetime catalog, by one estimation.

Richard Thompson continues to put out great albums and play shows that are never anything less than amazing. It's been a long time since he knocked on the door of Fairport, guitar in hand, but he shows no signs of letting up.

[Picture: Richard Thompson at Fairport's Cropredy Convention, 2005 Photo from: Wiki]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Give Peace a Chance

News Editor, *Barodian gets communal harmony award* - The Times Of India - India
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It was a case of exemplary courage. If not for Abdul Qureishi, Kalpesh Pawar of Vadodara might not be alive today. Pawar can't thank Qureishi enough for saving his life from a rioting mob on June 26, 2007, risking his own.

Last week, Qureishi was conferred the Kabir Puraskar by the Central government for communal harmony. He displayed rare physical and moral courage in saving the life of Pawar and two Hindu families during the 2006 communal riots in Vadodara.

The award is named after Kabir, the Sufi saint instrumental in promoting communal harmony among various sects.

Till now, four individuals from the state have got the award. The national award recognizes acts of physical or moral courage displayed by individuals who, at great personal risk, protect life and property of a member of another caste, community or ethnic group during communal riots, caste conflicts or ethnic clashes.

Pawar had gone to Reshamwala Khancha in Yakutpura where he found himself surrounded by a violent armed mob that would have hacked him to death.

Says Qureishi describing the ordeal, "I got to know about Pawar's plight. I barged into the mob facing blows on my body and was nearly lynched. But, I was able to rescue him from the irate mob."

It was a gratifying experience to save a life. He also realized the futility of communal tension which serves no purpose but creates enmity among people, he adds.

"After all these years of senseless violence, it's time to give peace a chance. There are differences everywhere but violence is not the solution to deal with them. It's important to have regular dialogues among all communities on all issues to bring about harmony," says Qureishi.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hybrid In Nature

By Isambard Wilkinson, *Music show a source of pride for Pakistanis* - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Karachi: Millions of Pakistanis will gather around television and radio sets today to listen to a music production that has become a national phenomenon.

Coke Studio is a result of a collection of well-known musicians coming together to create songs that fuse traditional Pakistani forms with modern pop.

It has been a distracting salve for a country that has limped through a blazing summer of bloody fighting between militants and security forces, electricity shortages, monsoon floods and economic insecurity.

The talk of chat shows, blogs, newspaper columns and the victim of rampant pirating, the show has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and is now hugely popular. In a country desperate for good news, it has arguably given Pakistanis longer lasting relief than their country’s victory in the Twenty20 cricket competition in June. “It has caught the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the modern Pakistani tradition and identity, and it is a source of hope,” said Musharraf Zaidi, a leading political and social analyst.

Today is the fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s second season.The episode has been dubbed “Unity Day” – after the motto of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Unity, Faith and Discipline” – and is timed to coincide with the day Pakistan celebrates its creation and independence from British rule in 1947.

The show is broadcast simultaneously on at least 14 television channels and five radio stations. One fan affectionately described the blanket coverage as “musical martial law”.

The talent behind the production is Rohail Hyatt, a former Pakistani pop music star who became inspired by Sufic and other subcontinental musical genres. “The nation has taken to it. Pakistan is in a strange place going through something of an identity crisis. It has given people something to hold onto and say, ‘This is us’,” said Mr Hyatt. “People have to fight against the Taliban extremism on the one hand and the negative western media perception on the other with something and music has given us that,” added Mr Rohail.

One of the featured songs, Bulleya, based on a poem by the 17th century mystic Bulleh Shah, is a moving statement of identity, as the singer proclaims that he is “neither of the mosque but neither an infidel”.

“We do not have a 60-year but a 4,000-year-old tradition of music – which for those who think that life began in this area at partition is something of a blasphemy,” said Mr Hyatt.Pakistanis know and love the music and poetry of the subcontinent’s Muslim traditions. A vast number can recite dozens of verses of the region’s Sufi lyrical poetry in several languages, including the classical Persian.

“True” desis, as Pakistanis endearingly refer to themselves, from all classes enjoy sinking into trances with their heads leaning over crossed legs, meditatively tracing a musical path to “ishq”, the high of divine love, or spontaneously jigging to the spine-tingling drum beat of the dholki.

Coke Studio is produced by Mr Hyatt’s wife, Umber, and features artists on each episode – which are titled with a positive buzzword such as “harmony” or “equality” – who are backed by a house band and guest musicians.

Rizwan U Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, which has sponsored the production, said, “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instils a sense of Pakistani pride.”

It was recorded earlier this year in a studio in Korangi, Karachi. This year’s line-up included musicians ranging from well-known pop artists such as Ali Zafar to traditional performers who have moved into the fusion style, including Javed Bashir and a female duo, Zeb and Haniya, from Kohat in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Singing in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindi, musicians use instruments ranging from the rubab, a string instrument from Pakistan’s northern provinces, to the banjo, the dholak and sarangi. An Indian musician, Gurpreet Chana, was also invited to play tabla.

Perhaps the most unusual figure in the line-up is Saieen Zahoor, who is revered for his mesmeric renditions of kalaams – spiritual compositions by saintly Sufi poets.

Mr Hyatt said that when he first entered the studio everybody was hypnotised. Adorned with strands of beads and large rings on his fingers, he had the air of the impish Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Mr Zahoor learnt the Sufi musical tradition at shrines from the age of seven and is now 72. He writes his lyrics in drawings and has made arduous pilgrimages to shrines wearing chains and bells.

During the studio jamming sessions he said he carried the ecstasy inducing rhythm of dhamma to the proceedings. He held his hand to his stomach, and said: “Music is a diet for the soul, it is nourishing. When I recite Allah-u my heart absorbs the pleasure. Once you feel that, there is no return.”

“Music is not forbidden [in Islam]. It is a language and you cannot forbid talking,” he added.

Zeb said that music industry had previously stifled artists but that Coke Studio had given them an open platform that encouraged experimentation and cross-pollination as well as treated them as professionals.

“Usually we have poor production, poor sound, but this project was different because Rohail is a musician. We had genuine teamwork and a feeling of pride and nostalgia. And we got paid and on time,” she said.

Mr Hyatt accepted a criticism made by purists that Coke Studio was not classical music, but he gently brushed it off by pointing out people’s enjoyment of it. “It is hybrid in nature,” he said.

For Mr Hyatt, a moment that encapsulated what Coke Studio signifies was when Atif Aslam, a pop singer, improvised a beautiful, spiralling solo in classical Sufi style.

“That’s what it’s about: allowing the space to let creativity flow”.

Picture: Saieen Zahoor, famous for his renditions of kalaams - spiritual compositions by Sufi poets - rehearses for an appearance in Coke Studios. Photo: Muzammil Pasha for The National

Another Nazim?

Staff Writer, *Sufi body demands removal of Nazim of Ajmer Dargah* - Press Trust Of India - India
Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Delhi: Sufi Federation of India has demanded removal of the Nazim of Dargah Azmer Sharif Ahmed Raza from his post, following his alleged controversial remarks in a CD that led to angry protests in the city last month.

In a letter written to Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed, the federation said, it "expects you would immediately remove Ahmed Raza from the post of Nazim of Dargha Azmer Sharif and appoint another Nazim, who could discharge the responsibility according to Sufi traditions."

The federation claimed it has held a thorough enquiry into the controversy that erupted after a controversial CD surfaced purportedly having the voice of Raza. The contents of the CD were aired by a local TV channel.

It had led to protests by Khadims of the Dargah, who had allegedly attacked Ahmed Raza leading to police intervention last month.

With The Sufi Master

By Dean Nelson, *Pervez Musharraf becomes YouTube singing sensation * - The Telegraph - London, UK

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pakistan's General Musharraf has talent a YouTube video clip of the ousted dictator has revealed

The film which features the former president singing a duet with the Sufi singing maestro Ustad Hamid Ali Khan has become an internet sensation, especially in Pakistan where members of parliament are deciding whether he should face treason charges.

Despite facing arrest in Pakistan for illegally arresting the country's judges, and the threat of the death penalty for high treason, General Musharraf appears to be singing his blues away while in London where he has performed at a series of concerts.

In his latest appearance he harmonised with the Sufi master while leading the crowd of Pakistani exiles, including his former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, in a rousing chorus of the popular ghazal "Laage re tou re laage najar sayyain laage". As Musharraf took the lead, Khan shouted "wah wah" in appreciation.

General Musharraf surprised another London concert audience recently when he took to the stage to play the Tabla bongo drums after complaining that the featured drummer was not keeping good time. His performance on that occasion was witnessed by Lord Nazir Ahmed.

The video clip has taken his erstwhile subjects in Pakistan by surprise with websites flooded with comments from viewers who had thought the General was only proficient in border skirmishes, ousting democratic governments, and holding opponents under house arrest.

Now, they realise, their former dictator can also hold a tune. "I really like his taste in music Pervez Musharraf may or may not be the one leader who did the most good (or bad) for Pakistan. But he may well be the one who sings the best," said Adil Najam, who posted the clip.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rooted In The Kashf ul-Mahjub

By Suroosh Irfani, *Reclaiming the founding moment* - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Friday, August 14, 2009

Reclamation of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity, so poignantly reflected in Jinnah’s speech, is as crucial for the survival of a democratic Pakistan as the battle for defeating the Taliban

Rooted in a democratic struggle that ended British rule in the subcontinent, there was something remarkable about Pakistan’s emergence on August 14, 1947 as a sovereign Muslim state. This was as much reflected in the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly as in its national anthem and flag celebrating Pakistan’s founding moment.

Jinnah’s speech on August 11, 1947 set the direction for Pakistan as a modern democratic state, where religion was a personal matter that had “nothing to do with the business of the state”, and people could creatively rework a divisive past for a promising future. At the same time, the inclusive spirit of a South Asian Muslim identity was reflected, on the one hand, in the first national anthem composed by Jagan Nath Azad, a scholar of Indo-Persian culture, and on the other hand, in a flag that celebrated Pakistan’s three percent religious minorities by giving them twenty five percent of the flag’s space — its white section.

Such eclecticism rooted in an Indo-Persian culture also prevailed in the new national anthem — first played at Karachi airport on March 30, 1950 when the Shah of Iran visited Pakistan, but formally adopted seven years later. As with the Urdu word for ‘national anthem’ (qaumi terana in Urdu, terana e qaumi in Persian), the anthem is as much in Urdu as Persian, the composition is by a Zoroastrian — Ghulam Ahmed Chagla, and the chorus giving it an ‘Indian’ musical aura comprises of almost equal numbers of female and male singers, respectively five and six. (See Ashfaque Naqvi. “A word on Jagannath Azad”, Dawn, June 27, 2004).

Indeed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s populist slogan of “Islam, Democracy and Socialism” that gave him a landslide win in Pakistan’s first general elections held in 1970 also reflected the eclectic spirit of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity. However, General Zia-ul Haq, who toppled Bhutto’s government in a military coup in 1977 and had him hanged two years later, set Pakistan on a different track that eroded the South Asian spirit of its identity. Lacking a political or social base of his own other than the army, Zia carved out a constituency for himself through a Saudi-backed politics of ‘Islamisation’ that infused Islamic conservatism in the state and society and co-opted religio-political parties, including the Jama’at-e Islami that had historically stood in opposition to Jinnah and Pakistan. Moreover, Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in support of Kabul’s Marxist regime in 1979 helped in entrenching General Zia’s regime and turning Pakistan into “America’s most allied ally” as a Cold War frontline state.

Indeed, if the Cold War had given General Zia a shortcut to legitimacy on the international front, the Afghan jihad enabled Zia to stake Pakistan’s future on the jihadi politics in Afghanistan , giving rise to a plethora of home-grown militant outfits. Clearly, the upshot of the US-Saudi backed Afghan jihad in a regional context shaken by Shia revivalist Ayatollahs of the Iranian revolution had fateful consequences for Pakistan.

At the same time, with the virtual collapse of state education, religious schools linked with jihadi outfits rapidly expanded as breeders of a violent jihadi culture that eclipsed Pakistan’s South Asian identity while promoting an ‘Arabist shift’ — a tendency to view the Arab as the only ‘real’/pure Muslim, and then using this trope of purity as a self-righteous weapon for recasting the present in a glorified imaginary of a triumphal Arab past.

Such reasoning is reflected in a detained Pakistani suicide bomber’s interview on Geo Television on July 2, 2009. The would-be bomber justified the killing of innocent children and citizens in the ongoing spate of suicide bombings by invoking the fatwa of “a great Arab cleric”, to the effect that those who died in the bombings were not innocent victims as they did not support Taliban’s jihad.

Indeed, back in the 1990s when Pakistan helped Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, Talibanic Islam became virtually synonymous with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda through fusion with Wahhabi-Salafi radicalism, even as Peshawar became “the capital of the Islamic world”, as noted by Al Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri in Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab al- Suri. (Hurst. London. 2007) According to al Suri, “every ongoing discussion and debate (in Peshawar) quickly spread out to the rest of the world, through audio communiqués, books, leaflets, audiocassettes, and through couriers and visitors”.

Moreover, if the founding moment of Indo-Persian culture was rooted in the 11th century publication of Kashf ul Mahjub, (The Unveiling of the Veiled), a treatise on Sufism by Lahore’s patron saint Ali Osman Hujwiri or Data Ganj Baksh as he is popularly known across the country, the publication in Peshawar of al Suri’s The Experience and Lessons of the Islamic Jihadi Revolution in 1991 might well have signalled the internationalisation of the Arabist shift in Pakistan.

At the same time, Arab and Pakistani jihadis continued to flourish in the training camps of Afghanistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir after Zia’s death and Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Pakistan briefly realised its dream of gaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

However, all this changed following the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on the United States, masterminded by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda that Taliban had hosted in their Islamic Emirate. And although the invasion by US and NATO forces in October 2001 led to the rout of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, this further radicalised Pakistan’s Islamist groups, even as the Taliban and Al Qaeda sought refuge in Pakistan. Indeed, most Pakistanis regarded the Taliban as ‘true Muslims’ and bin Laden a ‘hero of Islam’, thereby enabling the terrorists to exploit local hospitality in Pakistan. The existential threat that Pakistan faces is not only because of the Taliban per se, but also a complicit culture largely blurring the boundaries between ‘extremist’ and ‘mainstream’ in the Islamist spectrum.

However, a sea change has occurred in Pakistan’s public perceptions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban since May 2009, after the Pakistan Army was finally compelled to crush the Taliban insurgency. Even so, military action against the Taliban would remain inconclusive without socio-economic and educational measures for winning “hearts and minds”, especially of the people displaced by recent fighting.

At the same time, such measures should aim at promoting a new political culture in sync with Pakistan’s founding moment, summed up by Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly. Indeed, reclamation of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity, so poignantly reflected in Jinnah’s speech, is as crucial for the survival of a democratic Pakistan as the battle for defeating the Taliban.

Suroosh Irfani is an educationist and writer based in Lahore. (Courtesy a special edition of Viewpoints entitled “The Islamisation of Pakistan: 1979-2009.” The Middle East Institute, Washington DC).

The Land Of Sages And Saints

By KONS, *Ahad Zargar's Anniversary Observed* - Kashmir Observer - India
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Srinagar: The death anniversary of renowned Kashmiri Sufi Poet was observed with great enthusiasm today at his native area Narwarah in Shehr-e-Khas, in which a large member of people joined to pay tributes to sufi poet.

An impressive function was organized, in collaboration with the State Information Department, at which Commissioner, SMC, Khawja Farooq Renzu was the Chief Guest. He inaugurated a photo exhibition depicting various aspects of the life of the Sufi Poet.

On the occasion Renzu was conferred with Dastar Bandi. Those who conferred this honor to Renzu included Zareef Ahmed Zareef, Mr. Bakhsi and Mr. Imdad Saki for keeping in view his contribution towards the social causes. The Deputy Mayor, SMC Mr. Chasoo was also honoured with Dastar Bandhi.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Renzu threw a light on the life and works of Ahad Zargar.

Mr. Renzu announced that Department of Information will issue a photo album on the life and works of this great Sufi poet. He said "Kashmir is the land of sages and saints and we should follow their teachings and lead a prosperous life in the world as well as hereafter".

Besides others, Justice (Rtd) Bashir Ahmad Kirmani and former Chairman Public Service Commission, Mr. Mohammad Shafi Pandit also participated in the function.

Gazals of Iqbal

Staff Reporter, *An 'Evening of Sufi Music' on 16th* - Central Chronichle - India
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bhopal: The Allama Iqbal Literary Section of Sahitya Academy is organising an 'Evening of Sufi Music' at Bharat Bhavan on August 16.

Sahitya Academy director Dr Degendra Deepak and Iqbal Literary Section in-charge Jhammu Chhugani in a joint press release said that 'A' grade singer of All India Radio Gwalior, Ms Neelima Sharma and 'A' grade singer of AIR Bhopal Ravi Pandey would sing gazals of Iqbal and other famous Urdu poets and Sufi songs.

Neelima Sharma has performed at National Gazal Festival, Delhi, and India Habitat Centre, Delhi. She had also sang several gazals at programmes in different parts of the country.

Ravi Pandey has so far released 140 albums of songs. He is a famous Sufi song singer. He has sung songs for Venus, Tips, Rajshree Music and Music India. He has sang gazals in a gazal album under music direction by Jagjit Singh.

He was a disciple of Pandit Nand Kishore Sharma in classical music. He has done Ph.D in classical music from Mauritius. Famous music director Zubin Mehta was his guide in Ph.D.

[Picture: Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) in 1899. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Iqbal]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tarikate

By Veton Surroi, *Albanian shamans and Islamic pluralism* - Bosnian Institute News - London, UK
Monday, August 10, 2009


The editor of Koha (Prishtina) and perhaps Kosova's best know journalist comments on the themes of Stephen Schwartz's 'The Other Islam: Sufism and the dialogue about respect', an Albanian edition of which has recently appeared in Kosova.

I
It must have been in the nature of the Albanians – the curiosity to look at history from inside just like children who want to know how toys function. Maybe only in this simplified and almost cynical way can we interpret one of those centuries-long investigations (‘how does religion work?’, ‘what’s the name of God?’, ‘can he watch us when we sleep’ etc.) when the Albanian lands became the latest stop for a long shamanic journey that originated from somewhere deep in Central Asia’s spaces.

The shamans, mystics who identify themselves as mediators between God and man, by using a variety of means from music and dances to hallucinogens, and who in their long journey seem to have met, somewhere between Afghanistan and Persia, the prophecy of a religion, would identify in the latter the framework of a moral code. After melding their mysticism with a monotheist religious order like Islam, they would continue their journey towards the West until they reached their most advanced position, among Albanians.

After a journey of seven centuries, it was only among Albanians that Sufism (known in Albanian lands as tarikate, including Bektashis, Mevlevis, Rufais and other names from the 12-member family) found a safe home in Europe. And through Albanians it reached also America, with the first teqe opened in Michigan by Baba Rexheb Beqiri.

As if all this story were not interesting enough, with the Albanians taking the journey of the Central Asian shamans to a teqe near the automobile plants in America, now comes Stephen Schwartz, American journalist, son of a Christian mother and a Jewish father, a former communist with great interest in the Latin American revolutions, who travels to the Balkans to cover the wars in former Yugoslavia only to discover and to embrace the call of Sufism and to author, among many books, a new one with the Albanian title *Islami Tjetër: Sufízmi dhe rrëfimi për respektin* [The Other Islam: Sufism and the dialogue about respect, KOHA, Prishtina, 2009].

II
The arrival of mysticism among the Albanians – it may sound like the title of an article, but according to Schwartz’s book, mysticism was a challenge for all three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The three tried to institutionalize mysticism within them in the 13th century. One of them, Judaism, was directly influenced by Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, in structuring ‘Kabbalah’ as its own mystical form.

In the two-way exchange, Islamic Sufism pushed the limits of the interpretation of God and God’s message, by suggesting a common source for all the monotheistic religions. As two other Americans, James Fadiman and Robert Frager, who have also embraced Sufism, explain in their Essential Sufism (Castle Books, New Jersey, 1998), Sufism is capable of integrating in itself Judaism and Christianity, by defining all of them as coming from a sole Truth, a sole God, declaring the lives of Adam, Moses and Jesus Christ as parts of and completely expressing the same prophecy. Of course, all this is functional only within the Islamic theological framework.

However, as Schwartz explains it, this makes sense only for a genuine and liberal Islamic theological framework. Such would, along with dialogue with other religions, frankly accept gender equality, the right to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, and in its philosophical aspect, the right to an eternal quest of the Truth, first within ourselves and within this life, and especially through Beauty and Love.

III
Seems complicated? Wait until politics enters the picture as well, with two essential events.

First is the division over the heir of Muhammad. The Sunnis who make up the majority of the Islamic world are part of the group that after the death of Muhammad defined election/selection as the form of establishing the heir. The Shias, a minority in the Islamic world, are part of the group that wanted the heir to be a blood relative of Muhammad.

After the Battle of Karbala where Shias refused to submit to the orders of Sunnis, the theological debate turned into a political one and continues to these days as is demonstrated in the internal conflicts in Iraq.

Secondly, there is the division of power in Saudi Arabia. Before the birth of the modern state that territory saw the birth of Wahhabism, a strictly orthodox interpretation of Islam, which promoted inequality between men and women, while the praise of Muhammad and celebration of his birthday were seen as polytheistic and contradictory to Islam.

During the rise of the Saudi kingdom and, strengthened after the discovery of oil, a contract was established in the foundations of that country: the Wahhabis would be in charge of God while the Saudi royal family would be in charge of the state and of the oil needed to finance the Wahhabis. (In this book, Schwartz promotes respect towards and within Islam, but he calls Wahhabism ‘idiotic’ and the Saudis ‘bandits’.)

Provided with petrodollars, the Wahhabis have, for several decades, been on the offensive, exporting ‘bearded’ men in three-quarter-length pants, to impose their interpretation of Islam on what the author calls the seven identities of Islam, including the Turkish-Balkan one, in which the Albanians are included.

After the American occupation of Iraq, according to Schwartz, the Wahhabis (despite Saudi Arabia being an American ally) incited the Sunnis against the Shias, which then caused the Shias’ violent reaction. However, this is not simply a Sunni-Shia conflict, according to the author. In reality, we see an effort by the Wahhabis to destroy the Iraqi Sufis who are both Sunnis and Shiites, Arab and Kurdish, but more importantly are disciples of a personal, liberal interpretation of Islam.

IV
‘White Muslim!’ They would shout in disbelief and sympathy. They would speak in English to the red-haired, blue-eyed nurse when they first met him, but he responded to them in Arabic (with his limited knowledge of the language). When asked where he came from, he explained that he came from Kosova. Then they would gather around him to watch this walking two-legged controversy: the soul of a Muslim (and therefore Asian/Middle Eastern) in the physical structure of a European.

The explanation of the nurse who had spent some time working in the Saudi Arabia came to mind during the last summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where there was an effort to pass a resolution in support of Kosova. Meanwhile, I was reading Schwartz on the prejudices of Wahhabis towards Sufism.

In fact, the Resolution on Kosova could be identified as an effort to play the card of surprise and sympathy for the ‘white Muslims.’ However, it also represented a paradox: Albania (a country with all the Sufi tarikats) had composed for Kosova (a country with a considerable presence of Sufi tarikats, persecuted with bloodshed and other violence by the Serbian regime) a supporting resolution which would be sponsored in the OIC by the same Saudi Arabia (with the Wahhabi headquarters in Najd, also spiritual center of Al Qaeda).

A resolution, completely emptied of any substantial support for Kosova, was eventually adopted with consensus. Where had all the Islamic solidarity gone? (Wouldn’t this be a winning case, with ‘Wahhabi’ Saudi Arabia joining ‘Sufi’ Albania?)

One reason is simple. It has to do with our 20-year old effort to present our struggle against the Millosheviq [Milošević] regime not as a religious challenge but as a national democratic one. This self-defined image of ours is now known throughout the Islamic world. In their midst, there are countries which do not view favourably the birth of new states or the democratizing movements that lead to their birth. What bothers them the most is the model separating religion from politics, as in the case of the democratic movement towards independence in Kosova.

V
The centuries-long journey of Sufis towards the Albanian lands was crowned with the rise of Ataturk, who excluded them from Turkey in fear of their mystic and secretive ways.
Among the Albanians however, they found a long-established tradition of harmony and co-existence of different religions.

With the birth of the 21st century, the world would discover that what was normal to Albanians was also almost impossible and extraordinary to other cultures and people throughout the world. It would be underlined that among Albanians there lives and flourishes not only religious pluralism, but also Islamic pluralism.

It is exactly this Islamic pluralism that represents an intellectual, political and theological challenge to the Islamophobes, who see nothing more than violence in this great religion, but also to those within Islam whose aim is to suppress diversity by imposing their own rigid interpretation of Islam.

Translated from Koha (Prishtina), 30 May 2009

[Picture: Ruins of a Greek-type Roman Theatre at Butrint (Buthrotum), Albania, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo from Wikipedia.]

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mevlana In America
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By D. Andrew Kille, *Sufi leader to speak in Sunnyvale* - Examiner.com - USA
Monday, August 24, 2009

Kabir Helminski, Shaykh in the Mevlevi tradition of Sufism that traces its history back to the mystic poet Rumi, will be the guest speaker at the next gathering in the Interfaith Conversations Series sponsored by Pacifica Institute in Sunnyvale, CA.

Together with his wife Camille Adams Helminski, Kabir is co-Director of The Threshold Society, a non-profit educational foundation rooted in the tradition of Sufism and the work of Rumi. They believe that when people apply principles of spiritual development "we inevitably transcend much of the conditioning of our culture and identity."

He is one of the signatories of A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter by islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding.

Helminski has translated many of the works of Rumi, as well as other Sufi literature, and has written two books on Sufism: *Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulnessand the Essential Self*, and *The Knowing Heart: a Sufi Path to Transformation*.

He and Camille came from Putney, Vermont to Aptos in 1999, and continue their work of writing, recording, and educational consulting. Together, they have published two collections: *Rumi Daylight: A Book of Spiritual Guidance* and *Jewels of Remembrance, 365 Selections from the Wisdom of Rumi*. Their books are now translated into at least seven languages.

He will be speaking on "Traveling the Way of Mevlana in America," sharing his experience as a Sufi in the US.

The Pacifica Insitute seeks "to promote cross-cultural awareness within the diverse communities we live in and help establish a better society where individuals love, respect and accept each other as they are."

Formerly known as Global Cultural Connections, it was founded in 2003 by the Turkish-American community of California as a non-profit organization.

The Pacifica Institute organizes conferences, panels, public forums and art performances in order to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and communities.


The event will be held on Sunday, September 6th, beginning at 6:30 pm at the Pacifica Institute Silicon Valley Branch, 1257 Tasman Drive, Unit B in Sunnyvale, CA.

RSVP is required by August 31st for dinner arrangements, and can be made by calling (408) 423-8543 or writing to pacificasv@pacificainstitute.org.

Visit the Pacifica Institute http://www.pacificainstitute.org/
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Smoothly
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Staff Writer, *Hazrat Amer Kabir shrine to be repaired by 2010* - Press Trust Of India - India
Monday, August 24, 2009

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir government today said the repair and renovation work of the famous shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Amer Kabir in Pulwama district was expected to be completed by next year.

The shrine at Tral in South Kashmir was destroyed in a mysterious fire in December 1998.

Repair and renovation of the shrine of Hazrat Amer Kabir also known as 'Khan Khai Faiz Panah' was being executed by Tourism department through Jammu and Kashmir Project Construction Corporation and is going on smoothly, Tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora said.

The work is expected to be completed by August, 2010, he said in a written reply to a question in the state Assembly. Jora said so far work worth Rs 235 lakh [$ 486,542.--] has been completed as part of phase one. It was earlier estimated at Rs 227 lakh.


[Picture: Mustard in full bloom. Photo from Pulwana Official Gateway.]
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back To Sufi Poetry
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By Becky Garrison, *Afghan Idol: Can a Talent Competition Save a Nation? * - Religion Dispatches - San Francisco, CA, USA
Sunday, August 23, 2009

An interview with the director of Afghan Star, a documentary that follows a tense but cathartic talent competition

Etched on a wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s special exhibit “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” is a slogan that first appeared at the museum back in Kabul: “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.”

I thought of this as I prepared to interview London-based documentarian Havana Marking, director of the new film Afghan Star, an inspiring look into a talent competition that is uniting this war-torn country through the power of music.

What drew you to this story?
We just hear the warlords, the mullahs, the Taliban—the old guard. We’re not hearing the voice of the young people. I wanted something that showed that in some way. But also you want something that is logistically possible and something that is going to be worth essentially risking your life to film. When someone told me about Afghan Star, I thought instantly, that’s the way in.

How does pop music serve to unite this country?
When the Taliban fell, the first thing people did was put on music cassettes. As people got more confident they played it louder and louder. Music is sort of an expression of freedom now because it was banned at that time. But the partaking and the creating of music is something that’s even more radical. The listening, discussing and debating and all that kind of stuff gives people something to talk about that isn’t war or tragedy.

Afghanistan has a very strong cultural history and a very strong music; it’s not just music but the lyrics. Afghanistan is the home of Sufism and a lot of the lyrics that these kids are singing date back to Sufi poetry of the 17th century and beyond. Afghans themselves are really proud that there’s Afghan music again. It’s a real invigoration of the culture.

What does this show demonstrate about the power of democracy?
There are democratic ideals in the show in that everyone competing in the show is equal; there is voting. Afghan Star actually seems to be bringing together warring factions within the country. They’re voting across ethnic lines, but all those singers are given a fairly equal chance.

How did get religious leaders to speak to you on camera?
I was there for four months. We just kept requesting interviews with the Islamic Council and in the end, they were like okay. I realize now that you don’t always get an interview with them. Also, the footage of the warlords was footage taken from a local news station.

What were their objections to Afghan Star?
The Islamic Council weren’t so angry about the singing. It was the dancing that got them really upset. Afghanistan is finding itself as a nation. It’s working out how you can be a modern Afghan and be religious. Eight years ago putting on a cassette was considered radical. Now making music is considered radical. We’ve got another generation to go before dancing will be accepted.

Even one of the female contestants objected when the other female contestant chose to dance.
The men don’t dance either. So Setara’s dance is radical on all fronts. She becomes a direct result of political manipulation. So one of the leaders goes on TV and says, “She’s insulted our martyrs. If the Mujahideen were in power, this would never be allowed to happen.” This deliberately stirs up the young men of Herat, where she’s from. It’s only after that broadcast that those guys start saying how awful Setara is.

A lot Afghans, like Setara’s father, want the best for their daughters but they’re not given a chance to speak. It’s a very difficult balance for those men; that they want the best for their daughters and yet they know that if their daughter goes on stage, her life is going to be in danger. Do you let her or do you make her stay at home?

How would you respond to those who state that these clerics’ objections to Afghan Star prove that Islam is a repressive religion?
That’s ridiculous. Raffi, one of the finalists, goes to the mosque to be blessed. These clerics are portrayed now as mainstream Islam in the media because they have the loudest voices. It sells papers when the crazy man says something. But Afghanistan is the home of Sufi dancing. It’s not unimaginable to think that won’t come back.

What reaction to this film have you received from Muslims, especially those who consider themselves to be moderate?
We had an amazing screening in London at a high school that’s in a largely Muslim area. Incredible debates happened: shouting, cheering, and booing. But the kids, who are second and third generation Muslims, want to do a screening where the local Mullahs and their parents come so they can start a debate themselves.

What do you hope to accomplish through this film?
I want to humanize the Afghans. Journalism in Afghanistan is very difficult because you’re only allowed to embed with the troops, which means they completely control what you can cover. So the only Afghans you ever see on the news are the enemy. You never get to to really see and hear what real Afghans are saying.

[Picture: Contestant Raffi backstage. Photo from Afghan Star official website http://www.afghanstardocumentary.com/]
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Very Powerful Tool
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By Razia Khan, *Interview with Atiya Khan* - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Sunday, August 23, 2009

I think advertising is a great industry to sort of learn craft from, because you are working with a lot of formats so you have to be very conscious of every frame and it is a great learning experience

Razia Khan interviewed Atiya Khan, a former model and documentary/film maker.

RK: There is so much to talk about, your career has comprised of all kinds of jobs. You started off as a model at a very young age and then you moved on to advertising and production. How did you enjoy the switch from in front of the camera to behind the camera?

AK: I started off behind the camera actually and I continued doing my work behind the camera while I was doing my stint in front of the camera as well so it wasn’t really a switch as such but for me, being in front of the camera was part of a learning process and I was learning the craft really.

RK: But you were drawn more towards working behind the camera?AK: Yes.RK: Most people tend to get lost in the glamour and the air of the industry; you weren’t at that side at all were you?AK: No, somehow I wasn’t. I wanted to be able to excel in something but more the creative aspect of it than anything else.

RK: And as I mentioned, you have enjoyed every aspect of it, from the direction to the production and even the costumes. Tell me how is it that you were involved in every single step of the process?AK: I think at that point I really didn’t have a choice, I mean if I wanted to sort of have the kind of image or the kind of vision translated, you ended doing everything yourself because you don’t have those kinds of budgets and it’s not so well organised and you cant really afford to have a designer, a wardrobe or set designer to design the sets, and you had to work within a certain limited budget. RK: So you were happy to take that on and you just went with it

AK: Well, when you take on a project, you can either let it go or you can get fully involved and get very meticulous about every single detail, and I am more of a meticulous person I suppose.

RK: So it must be a good learning experience, I mean you were doing everything!

AK: Yes, it was fabulous and I think advertising is a great industry to sort of learn craft from, because you are working with a lot of formats so you have to be very conscious of every frame and it is a great learning experience.

RK: And you had a very memorable experience with the advertising industry as well, tell us about that.

AK: Yes, I was very young at that time and I was working in an environment which was full of established men who had cornered the market and it took me a while to be taken seriously there, but to excel at it was very rewarding.

RK: Apart from advertising, you are also involved with music videos.

AK: Yes, Pakola sponsored a music video of Ali Haider and I think that was the first sponsored music video that happened in Pakistan and I directed that. Again it was something to do with, interestingly enough, because at that time I hadn’t really gotten involved with spirituality, the lyrics had to do with God and it was like a prayer, so I ended up using Nighat Chaudhry and shooting at the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar and stuff. Now that I look back I think it must have been something even then! That was a lot of fun.

RK: Yes and you mentioned Sufism, the spiritual side of you had quite an awakening at some point in your life?

AK: I had different points in my life till it became very prominent later on, but even at a young age I went through episodes where I would sort of dedicate time and energy into the Quran and Hadith and stuff. I kept getting drawn in more and more. You know for the longest time it was more of an intellectual pursuit and a more philosophical endeavor till I met the Sheikh, who I would take as my teacher and that was the first time that I decided to actually change to a more practical aspect of religion.

RK: And then you traveled to Cyprus on several occasions?

AK: Yes. I did a documentary on the Sheikh as well a couple of times.

RK: Was that quite a nice enhancing experience? I mean I am sure that you were spiritually inclined, that must have had an impact on your world?

AK: Yes, because initially I used to feel that there were great Sufis and they had written great works, now they have passed away and that system does not exist anymore and those people don’t exist anymore, but that was till I met the gentleman and I realised that he was still pretty much alive.

RK: And that led you then to eventually set up an online TV channel based on this interest of yours which was Soul TV.

AK: Initially then I did a documentary on Sheikh Nazim and I was working on a documentary based on Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar while I was in Pakistan. And then when I moved to Canada, I was given an opportunity to join this channel called Soul TV, which was basically about promoting a moderate face of Islam by inter-faith dialogue and that sort of thing.

RK: That must have really been amazing; to have been part of something that promotes such a positive image frankly.

AK: Absolutely, it was a great opportunity and for me, I find that media is such an important tool and by large it has been used to promote rubbish, you know like lies and deception and all of that stuff, but it can definitely be used to promote the other side. And I think this is something really important because we are so used to being fed by the media with an agenda like Western media, and even Pakistani media today, I personally find it so blatantly biased, there still are journalists who want to come up with the truth but they are not allowed to do that.

RK: It is a very restricted environment right now, just because of the nature of the situation in the country I guess.

AK: But even before, it has always been so politicised. Each channel has its own political and financial affiliation and then you end up promoting their interests.

RK: So have you thought of getting back into the media game since you came back earlier this year?

AK: I have and I do plan to at some point, but it all depends on whether I find the right people who want to do the kind of programming that I want to do. I am not interested in doing something just for the sake of doing something commercial, because like I mentioned earlier, the media is a very powerful tool and I would like to use it in the most positive way possible.

RK: Yes because media has now come to the point where people are realising their responsibilities and what they should say on air but I guess it will take time.

AK: Yes, I think it has been great, this boom and the rise of so many different channels but things have become highly politicised and they all have vested interests now, and media has not always been a very positive game, so yes it will take time.

RK: I wish you best of luck with your endeavors, and thank you for talking to us.

AK: You are welcome.

Razia Khan is the host of ‘17 Minutes’, a show on Business Plus TV
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At the Fort
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Editor with Agencies, *J-K plans cable car facility to Sufi saint's tomb at fort* - Kashmir Live - J&K, India

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government plans to install cable car facility between Rainawari and the fort in the city to facilitate pilgrimage to Mazar (graveyard) of sufi saint Shaykh Hamza Makhdoom.

Minister for Rural Development, Ali Mohammad Sagar, said the project, estimated to cost Rs six crore, [U$D 1.229 Million] would be completed within a year. The new mode of transport would have a capacity of 250 passengers per hour.

The system would be at an expected height of 32 meters from the ground. The cable car and its allied accessories would be indigenously designed.

The fort in the city has been built by Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Khan in 1808-10 on the top of the Koh-e-Maraan hill. Mughal emperor, Akbar, founded Naagar Nagar city in the foot of the hillock and constructed a 28 feet high wall, naagar nagar 'qalai' (fort) around the city, which served as the cantonment for the mughal army.

The Sufi saint's tomb is at the fort.

The minister, at a meeting of the special task force constituted for the beautification of Srinagar, asked the officers to submit a fortnightly report on the status of various projects, including road works, taken up here.

[Picture: Shaykh Hamza Makhdoom's Shrine at Hari Parbat. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hari_Parbat]
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Friday, August 28, 2009

A Moving Journey
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By John P. Meyer, *Movie review and filmmaker interview: Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love* - Pegasus news - Dallas, TX, USA

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Songwriter/vocalist Youssou Ndour is a major African superstar, particularly in his home country of Senegal. I, like many Americans (including filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi), was unfamiliar with him and the extent of his influence, both musical and cultural. A few years ago Vasarhelyi, a New York-based filmmaker, wanted to make an uplifting film about Africa, and had been casting about for a focus. She thought the realm of music might be a starting place, and the name (and music of) Youssou Ndour kept coming up in her research. Thus was born the documentary Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love.

I've said I was unfamiliar with Ndour, but that turns out not to be entirely true: I was, in fact, familiar with his melodious, lilting, magical voice thanks to a memorable duet with Peter Gabriel on the song "In Your Eyes." Vasarhelyi's film takes the viewer on an emotional, transformative, behind-the-scenes journey into the life of Ndour, during a period when his career was in turmoil as a result of a courageous creative decision.

Ndour's Egypt is a collection of faith-based songs blending Senegalese musical stylings with those of northern Africa. The compilation of songs -- whose lyrics are a retelling of the stories of important figures in Senegalese Sufism -- ended up bringing him closer to the same local Muslim brotherhood which at first threatened to expunge him. But the journey to this outcome was far from a foregone conclusion, and was fraught with complications that would test the convictions of Ndour's family, fan base, and business associates.

Vasarhelyi's film follows Youssou Ndour as he stages concerts and performs around the world -- including an appearance at a public house in Dublin, Ireland where there's a bit of a ruckus when it's determined that he and his band will not be performing until all the patrons dispose of their alcoholic beverages. It also documents family visits, business meetings, and religious observances. Ndour makes a pilgrimage -- along with thousands of other Senegalese -- to the holy city of Touba; Vasarhelyi and her camera person make the same pilgrimage, but on a disconnected parallel path (because Ndour didn't want to be perceived as having secularized the event). The film crew came away with unprecedented footage of religious observances in the holy city.

When the Egypt album receives a Grammy, Senegalese hearts begin to soften towards the controversial project, leading to a groundbreaking collaboration between a revered Senegalese religious singer and the king of Senegalese pop. It's a touching moment, the emotional high point of the film.

We spoke with Chai Vasarhelyi when she visited the Angelika in Dallas for the local premiere of her film. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

PegNews: How did you come up with the idea for the film? And how did you decide on Youssou Ndour as your subject?

Chai: I was interested in making an uplifting film about Africa, and music was where I started. And when you start there, Youssou's name came up.
I only really got to know the music about six months before I began making the film.
I still wasn't sure, and then I met him in person. I saw him perform, and it's an amazing experience, but I wasn't sure. It's such a big commitment to make these films, and when he shared with me the Egypt album I knew at that moment that this was a film I really wanted to make, and that it was important, and that here was a man who was in the middle of a very important turning point in his life.

P: At first, when I began watching the film, I wasn't familiar with who Youssou was, but then I heard the Peter Gabriel "In Your Eyes" performance tape and went: "Oh, it's that guy!" His voice was slightly familiar, but I couldn't place it.

C: Absolutely. The yodelling at the end of "In Your Eyes." I think most Americans have heard Youssou's voice but never knew it was him.

P: So you spent two years making the film. Is that right?

C: Yes.

P: You've said you wanted to make an uplifting film about Africa. Were there times during this two year period when you worried that you might have chosen incorrectly? Did you have any doubts during this whole period.

C: Of course. I think every filmmaker should. You like dig yourself into a hole and your job is to dig yourself out of it. But there's something about Youssou himself that is truly inspiring, and so at the end of the day when nothing worked ...

Like the most difficult part was this year when it was completely unresolved what would happen. And no one was speaking about these issues in Senegal, and meanwhile everyone abroad was very happy and it was very meaningful, and stuff was unfolding in front of the camera, but then you would go home to Senegal and it would be like radio silence. It was like a taboo subject.

The controversy in Senegal -- basically, the film turned much more personal. And that time I spent pretty much with his family, and with him. And it's the first time he's ever opened up like this in front of the camera. And I think it's actually what the most special part of the film is.
And so there's times when you doubt. Especially financing an independent film - talking about an African Muslim? -- you feel like you're the most unpopular person in the room. Adding charm helps, but it's still a very tough subject.

And he (Youssou) so consistently stands up for what he believes in. If you look at the old songs -- like even the Peter Gabriel "In Your Eyes" -- he's singing "if you want to educate your people, build a school." That's what Youssou's singing, Peter's singing something completely different. And that's what really moved me.

P: That's interesting. His voice is so beautiful that you really don't care about the lyrics. From (English-speaking) standpoint. But when I started seeing the translation, it was a real eye-opener. They were stories -- they were basically stories.
So -- what did you do to get him (Youssou) to allow you all this access. Because he's like the superstar of Senegal.

C: I was very persistent. The pace of his life is crazy. I mean he's in Davos one day, and he's in like rural Mauritania the next. It's really hard to conceive of, how he crosses between the worlds. Like rubbing elbows with Bill Gates, and then like in the poorest parts of Africa.
And so basically we met, we talked (about the film). I hadn't heard "Egypt" yet. I met his management and the record label, they all thought it was a great idea. And he was like "oh, O.K." And I didn't get one step further.

So then I knew he was touring in Spain. I got on a plane to Spain and I snuck backstage. Literally, like around the bouncer. And that's when he saw me, he like invited me to eat with the band. And he shared with me the Egypt album, and that was like -- that fire.
And even in sharing that album with me, I knew he was telling me that there's a real story here. And that was really something special. And then I didn't hear from him.

So finally I met a guy who was like "I'm Youssou's former bodyguard. Buy me a ticket to Dakar and I'll get you in front of Youssou."

Meanwhile he'd never said no, and I arrive in Dakar, six hours later I'm on a bus with the band. Thirteen hours later I'm on Matam, which is on the border with Mauritania. I spent the entire day with the band. They didn't know me, Youssou was nowhere to be found, and then ... I never saw another show like that, it was basically build a stage in the middle of nowhere. It was a UNICEF sponsored concert against malaria, and children had walked for miles. Miles. Like, you couldn't see the end of them. The only water available was in bags. Just to see how much he meant to them really moved me.

And then, 2 o'clock in the morning, someone was like "Chai, come on, Youssou's ready," I get ushered back to where his SUV is, the door opens, and he looks at me and he laughs. He had no idea it was me (from their previous conversation about the film). He thought it was just an American journalist. He had no idea that this girl had come.

And the next day he introduced me to his spiritual guide who blessed the project, and he signed the contract.

Of course, like a true New Yorker, I was like "you can't film unless we have a contract." And then three weeks later, it began.

P: Amazing. It could easily not have happened, right?

C: Yeah, but also there were a lot of people who wanted to make that film. What was unusual was the fact that -- 'cause he's very famous everywhere else in the world -- and I was actually given a hard time by a lot of these older male European directors, who knew his music for a long time and were big fans.

And for me I thought it was important to bring a fresh perspective. I thought there was something about coming from a stance where you were like, "I didn't know him before," that could open up -- you know, if I did my due diligence in my research and make an in-depth film -- I could open up his story to an American audience. And an international audience, too.

P: And where has the film played so far?

C: It's being released theatrically across Europe. Here it opened in New York very well, and we've got ten prints and they kind of make their way across. San Francisco, the bay area, L.A. -- we're opening three cities in Texas.

P: Youssou has seen it, I'm sure.

C: Yes, he's been very involved in the promotion, too. He loves the film. He was really surprised by the religious images. He didn't know that we had managed to get that access (i.e., filming inside a mosque during worship). It was one of those things where it was still very delicate between him and Touba -- so he said "never mention my name, just go and figure it out." (re. her access to the holy city during pilgrimage). And so he was really moved by that.

The film is special, and it's also something bigger than him. There's something that's very organic about the film, and the Egypt album.
And it's great when he promotes it, because that's the real deal.

P: I got the sense ... the religious context in the songs in the Egypt project ... it struck me that it was similar to what Jesus Christ Superstar was in the Western world. Only far more controversial.

C: I think there are certain taboo subjects. I'm not an expert on Islam. I do know the specificity of what happened with Youssou.

Ramadan is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection, you withdraw from worldly activities. Youssou Ndour owns a nightclub. He closes the nightclub. He decided to release an album during Ramadan. To present this music as spiritual music. And that really challenged how people thought about music.

And then what happened -- like any celebrity, I think, anywhere -- is like overnight there's like crazy gossip. There were these radio talk shows and people were and saying "Oh, we saw Youssou with naked women in a mosque." Literally! And then 25,000 cassettes were returned by the street vendors. 'Cause they just didn't want it in there stalls. And the TV stations took the ads off the air. Never letting them (Youssou's agents) know. It's not like there was a real discussion about it.

And then finally a sect of the brotherhood -- not the main part -- threatened to sue him. Which is interesting too, 'cause it's a secular state, so it's not punishable by law, but they wanted to sue him. It's the idea that they could sue him for desecrating the memory of the saint.

What happened in Youssou's case was a tragedy, a real misunderstanding. 'Cause no one even listened to the album.

At the end of the day, when the crazy things that happened happened -- with the Grammy, which was like a gold medal, really...

P: Did that (the Grammy) soften people's hearts and open up the floodgates? Is that what did it, the Grammy?

C: The Grammy forced a recontextualization of the album. You've gotta kind of divorce it from the Grammy context, even though it's hard to do that. Like no one knew what a Grammy was. It was like bringing home an Olympic gold medal. And it was the first time this major international honor had been received by a Senegalese national. And that was huge.

I think the attention made people listen to the album. And once you listen to the album, you understand it.

But I can't (over)stress the importance of that religious singer, Moustapha Mbaye, (who collaborates with Youssou near the end of the film). He is Senegal's most celebrated religious singer. He's never been in a recording studio before. So when he decided to cross that line, and record a song to the prophet Mohammed with Youssou Ndour, that was like ... saying it was O.K., what Youssou was doing. And that, I think, really thawed things.

And so it was like the Grammy gave him an opportunity to do that, but it was like Moustafa's endorsement that was like a big deal.

P: What message do you want your film to bring to Western audiences?

C: I'm always afraid I sound like I'm preaching, or it's like medicine. Because the point of the film is like it's a moving emotional journey. This is a story about a Senegalese man who is ... a wonderful example to everyone, no matter where you live. Of how, from the most humble of origins, you can live successfully by your convictions and change your circumstances and also ... change your community.

And that's the message. That's what I took away from him, and I tried to make that film that opened it up.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nothing Works Better
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By Manya A. Brachear, *Taking the extra step at Ramadan* - Chicago Tribune - Chicago, USA
Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Hasan Mavric bit into a date to break his first Ramadan fast on Friday, the taste sparked a series of rituals he had never performed during the ninth and holiest month on the Islamic calendar.

After prostrating himself for the nightly recitation of verses from the Quran known as taraweeh, Mavric worked to elevate his awareness of God with additional prayers at home after midnight.

He expected to rise several hours later to pray again and share a light, pre-fast meal called suhur. Every Thursday, Mavric also will preface the taraweeh with an abridged version of a ritual, known as dhikr, in which he and others in his Sufi order recite the 99 names of God.

It is the first time Mavric, a member of the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook, has observed Ramadan as a Sufi, a Muslim who seeks a direct and personal relationship with God. "It seems hard, but with heavenly support it's easy," said Mavric, 39, of Mt. Prospect, a member of the Naqshbandi Sufi order.

During Ramadan, Muslims are commanded to fast from dawn to dusk as a show of empathy for those less fortunate. The fast prohibits eating and drinking during daylight hours and forbids vices such as smoking, profanity and ill temper.

Though Sufi Muslims fast in the same prescribed fashion, they also recite extra prayers and abstain from vices for the purpose of expunging their ego to connect with God. "Fasting is the best weapon against the ego," Mavric said. "Nothing works better."

Mavric's piety reflects a worldwide renaissance of Islamic spirituality or the Sufi way that encourages heightened devotional activities, open-mindedness about all faiths and universal love.

Though some orthodox Muslims believe Sufis commit heresy by adding extra rituals to Islam's fundamental tenets, scholars say at least half of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims have chosen to embrace a degree of Sufi practice, feeding an apparent spiritual hunger and transforming the annual monthlong fast in many communities.

"Ramadan is clearly a high-water mark for spiritual practices for Muslims, especially for Sufis," said Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "It's commonly believed that because of the importance of Ramadan, there will be more efficacy of late night vigils. Special times, special effects."

Marcia Hermansen, a Loyola University Chicago professor and author of a forthcoming book on Sufi devotion in America, said Sufi practice permeates almost every mosque, but many practitioners stay in the closet to avoid criticism. Ramadan is the one time of year when most Muslims share their spiritual intensity, she said.

But Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer at the University of Chicago and the first woman to translate the Quran from Arabic into contemporary English, said Sufis' motives for performing acts of devotion during Ramadan come from a different place. Many Muslims adhere to the rules of Ramadan to avoid God's wrath, she said. Sufis adhere to show God their love. "Because you love God, you want to do what God asks you to do," said Bakhtiar, a member of the Shadhili Sufi order.

The goals of praying and fasting also vary. Sufis aspire to abstain from food and ill will. Few reach the highest tier, which prohibits any thoughts that don't pertain to God. While all Muslims seek mercy and redemption in the holy month, Sufis also seek an experience with the divine.

This aspiration for a personal union with God had kept Sufis from fully integrating into the mainstream Muslim community, scholars say. For that reason, Imam Senad Agic of the Islamic Cultural Center knows he is an exception. During Ramadan, he offers an abbreviated dhikr once a week for the throngs who come to pray at the Northbrook mosque.

"After fasting all day, they feel victorious," he said, adding members of the mosque are often intrigued to learn more. "They want to continue on that way."

[Picture: Phoenix dactylifer (Date Palm). Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_dactylifera]

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So-called Sufis
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AFP, *Baathists use Muslim mystics to trouble restive Iraqi north * - Khaleeji Times - UAE
Friday, August 21, 2009

Kirkuk, Iraq: KIRKUK, Iraq - Fugitive henchmen of Saddam Hussein have adopted the cover of influential Muslim mystic groups to pose a real threat to stability in ethnically divided northern Iraq, Iraqi and US commanders say.

The so-called Sufi orders have a large historical following in the disputed oil-rich region and commanders say that the exploitation by Saddam loyalists of the orders’ extensive network of lodges holds more dangers than Al-Qaeda.

“They have a pretty significant long-term potential to be a threat to the powers that be,” said Major Chuck Assadourian, the intelligence chief of the US Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who is based outside the oil city of Kirkuk.

Known as the Army of the Followers of the Naqshbandiya Order, or JRTN from its Arabic acronym, the insurgent group operates under the cover of the order’s many lodges across Kirkuk and neighbouring provinces, and counts Saddam’s fugitive number two Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri among its leaders.

It was founded under the auspices of Ibrahim and former interior minister Mohammed Yunus on the night of Saddam’s execution for crimes against humanity at the end of the end of 2006, Assadourian said.

The members of its military wing are mainly made up of Sunni Arab former members of the Baath party and Saddam’s disbanded armed forces, even though the Sufi orders traditionally claim to draw support from across the region’s ethnic divide.

The JRTN has capitalised on the unpopularity of Al-Qaeda and its foreign fighters, whose brutal tactics and enforcement of a strict version of Islam out of kilter with local traditions has alienated the region’s population.

“They’re (Al-Qaeda) not really as concerned with winning the hearts and minds of the people, they still have their extremist ideology — no alcohol, no smoking, those sort of things — and that’s a big turn-off for the population,” Assadourian said.

Provincial police chief Major General Jamal Taher Bakr agreed that the JRTN were now “the big threat,” surpassing even Al-Qaeda despite its continued mounting of spectacular, mass-casualty bombings. But he took issue with the JRTN’s claim to focus its campaign of violence on US targets rather than Iraqi ones. “They will attack civilian targets in cities, everywhere,” Bakr said.

Assadourian said that overcoming the JRTN threat would take time and would need a political approach as much as a military one to woo former rank-and-file Baathists away from the diehards of the ousted regime. “Obviously national elections would help, if there was a more proportional representation of Sunnis,” he said in allusion to the widespread boycott among Sunni Arabs of the last parliamentary elections in 2005.

“And really there needs to be some determination as far as political accommodation for technocrats from the former regime, non-ideological individuals, because there’s a significant population of those folks.

“With some of the political dynamics right now, a lot of the Baathists are excluded from holding positions and of course that’s very contentious.”

Progress has been slow on re-integrating former Baathists into government employment, after all but the most junior members of the party were barred from government jobs following the US-led invasion of 2003 in what is now regarded as one of the most misguided policies of the occupation.

Assadourian said that JRTN fighters, who also operate in neighbouring Salaheddin province around Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit — a traditional Baathist stronghold, mostly used roadside bombs and grenades, and often exaggerated their battlefield successes.

“They post videos and they’ll drop it off on the street corner — ‘Look at us, look at what we can do, we’re capable, we’ll stand up against the occupiers,’” he said.

“One of the funny things is that they do a monthly production of these videos, and you’ll go from month to month sometimes and you’ll see the exact same video, and they’ll tell you that it’s a different unit that did it or a different location.”

But the group has scored some major coups against US targets.

In January, four US soldiers were killed when two US helicopters on a reconnaissance mission came down, which JRTN claimed happened as a result of their fire.

The US military initially insisted that it was an accident, only to acknowledge the following month that the aircraft were downed by “hostile fire”, but gave no specifics.

Nationwide, security has improved markedly compared to last year, with the number of violent deaths falling by a third in July to 275 from 437 in June.

But the JRTN’s strength in volatile Kirkuk threatens a new flareup with the movement’s mainly Sunni Arab supporters bitterly opposed to longstanding Kurdish claims to incorporate the province and its oil wealth in their northern autonomous region.

With Iraqi government troops, many of them Arab, deployed in the province alongside Kurdish peshmerga militiamen, Western diplomats have expressed fears that the dispute could spark a return to communal bloodshed.
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To Realms Unimagined
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SA Editor, *An African and Indian journey of discovery* - ScreenAfrica.com
Friday, August 21, 2009

Of journey, home and treasure
Director: Feizel Mamdoo
Producers: Feizel Mamdoo and Patrick Vergeynst
Associate Producer: Dumisani Dlamini

The documentary, of journey, home and treasure by South African filmmakers, Feizel Mamdoo and Dumisani Dlamini, traces their own journey to the “Festival of the Dhow Countries” in Zanzibar to seek from this kaleidoscope of cultures a vision for the relations between African and Indian in South Africa.

The documentary feature will be screened in September at main city centres [click on the title of the article].

Dlamini, is of African and Indian Tamil progeny whose accommodation of this is unsettled by existing social and cultural divides. Mamdoo, of Muslim Indian descent, is painfully conscious too of the divides between African and Indian South Africans as he strives for recognition and definition of his African identity.

However the filmmakers' issues of identity transcend in discovery to realms unimagined when the film was first shot in 2000.

In Stone Town, Zanzibar, Mamdoo is jolted into connection with his birthplace, "Fietas", and grows to appreciate that the treasure of an integrated identity he seeks is not in some distant future, but back from where he comes.

Mamdoo discovers his issues of journey, homecoming and identity to resonate profoundly with the outlook of the Sufi mystic Rumi, more especially after Dlamini, is one day found dead.

Featuring the reed flute music of Deepak Ram and evocative thematic instrumentation by Jeremy Karodia & The Mavr!x, this art documentary has a strong audio-visual narrative that draws on the Sufi spiritual meaning and symbolism of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.
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A Sufi Sojourn
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By TNN, *Double treat for Chennai* - The Times Of India - India
Saturday, August 22, 2009

It was a double bonanza for all who had turned up at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre as they had a Sufi sojourn and a tryst with ace danseuse Shobana

The evening started with some scintillating compositions by renowned Qawwal Munawwar Masoom who set the mood for the evening with Hazrat Amir Khusro’s composition Aadhi Rain to Kat Gayi Baalam.

The racy Sufi Kalaam Damaadam Mast Kalandar and Dushman Ko Rakhna Salaam, penned and composed by Ustad Masoom himself, got loud applause. Shobana’s recital started with a traditional anjali followed by Muruga Kauvutham.

The main piece of the evening, a Dasavatharam, to the tunes of Pranayapayodhi, a composition by Jayadeva, stood out for the sculpture like poses, vibrant footwork and impeccable abhinaya. In the padam, Shobana transformed into a grief stricken Sita.

A pulsating fusion composed by percussionist Sri Ramakrishnan had the crowd tapping their feet. The programme concluded with a dance set to Vande Mataram, in which the dancers brought out the patriotic flavour.

The Times Chennai Festival is presented by Estancia, Chennai’s first integrated township, in association with co-host Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers, and radio partner Radio Mirchi.

Picture: Mohammad Shahid
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From Both Sides Of The Border
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By Adrian Pabst, *Pakistan must confront Wahhabism* - The Guardian - London, UK
Thursday, August 20, 2009

As the Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam supplants the tolerant indigenous Sufi Islam, its violent creed is inspiring terrorism

Despite the recent offensive by the Pakistani army in the Swat Valley and by Nato in Helmand province, the "Talibanisation" of both Afghanistan and Pakistan proceeds apace. Vast parts of the Afghan south and a large region in western Pakistan are still under de facto control of Taliban militants who enforce a violent form of sharia law.

Western responses oscillate between calls for a secular alternative to the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban and attempts to engage the moderate elements among them. Neither will solve the underlying religious clash between indigenous Sufi Islam and the Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi extremism. The UK and US must change strategy and adopt a policy that supports the peaceful indigenous Muslim tradition of Sufism while thwarting Saudi Arabia's promotion of the dangerous Wahhabi creed that fuels violence and sectarian tension.

As Afghanistan goes to the polls this week, western political and military leaders now recognise that stability and peace in the country cannot be created by military force alone. Like the "surge" strategy in Iraq which reduced suicide bombings by driving a wedge between indigenous Sunnis and foreign jihadists, the US and its European allies will try to separate the Taliban from al-Qaida fighters who infiltrate Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan. By combining "surgical" strikes against terrorists in the Afghan-Pakistani border region with a political strategy aimed at "moderate" Taliban, President Obama hopes to save the US mission from disaster.

The problem is that those Taliban who would be prepared to talk have little leverage and those who have influence feel that they have little incentive to compromise, as they have gained the upper hand. Unlike many Sunnis in Iraq, most Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have embraced the puritanical and fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs from Saudi Arabia who wage a ruthless war not just against western "infidels" but also against fellow Muslims they consider to be apostates, in particular the Sufis.

Sufi Islam is not limited to the southern Pakistani province of Sindh on the border with India. It also exists elsewhere in Pakistan and has been present in Afghanistan for centuries, as exemplified by the 18th-century poet and mystic Rahman Baba whose shrine at the foot of the Khyber Pass (linking Afghanistan and Pakistan) still attracts many Sufi faithful from both sides of the border.

All this changed in the 1980s when during the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion, elements in Saudi Arabia poured in money, arms and extremist ideology. Through a network of madrasas, Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi Islam indoctrinated young Muslims with fundamentalist Puritanism, denouncing Sufi music and poetry as decadent and immoral. At Attock, not far from Rahman Baba's shrine on the Khyber Pass, stands the Haqqania madrassa, one of the most radical schools where the Taliban leader Mullah Omar was trained. Across the Pakistani border, the tolerant Sufi-minded Barelvi form of indigenous Islam has also been supplanted by the hardline Wahhabi creed.

This madrassa-inspired and Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam is destroying indigenous Islam in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crucially, it is imposing a radical creed that represents a distortion and perversion of true Islam. Wahhabi followers beheaded a Polish geologist in February (as revenge for Polish troops in Afghanistan) and blew up a century-old shrine dedicated to Rahman Baba in the Pakistani town of Peshawar in March.

The actions of the west and its Afghan and Pakistani allies are making matters worse. By causing civilian deaths through aerial bombings, the US is driving ordinary Afghans and Pakistani into the arms of the jihadi terrorists. By declaring sharia law in Pakistan's northwestern Swat region to appease the local Taliban and by using Islamism in the ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir, Pakistan's government is emboldening the extremists and undermining Sufi Islam.

What is required, first of all, is to prevent Saudi Arabia from playing a duplicitous game whereby the authorities in Riyadh help the Afghan President Karzai in his attempts to woo moderate Taliban while promoting the violent creed of Wahhabism across this volatile region. The west should call Saudi Arabia's bluff and not surrender to Riyadh's threats of ending security co-operation and information exchange on international terrorism which thrives on Saudi-exported Wahhabi ideology.

The west and Muslim countries such as Jordan should also put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to confront Wahhabism by expelling Saudi hate preachers, closing the Wahhabi madrassas and establishing schools that teach the peaceful Islam of Sufism.
By itself this strategy will of course not be sufficient to eradicate violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But without an alternative policy based on religion, this religious conflict will further escalate.

Picture: Rahman Baba. Image from The Poetry Of Rahman Baba
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Without Any Fighting
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By AFP, *Somali pro-government forces oust Shebab in southern town* - AFP Somalia - Somalia

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mogadishu: An alliance of pro-government fighters on Wednesday recaptured a southwestern Somali town previously held by the Shebab, the latest defeat inflicted on the extremist group.

Local clan militias trained in Ethiopia and the moderate Sufi religious group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa reclaimed Luq, a town some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, without any fighting.

"Our forces took control of the town without fighting," Colonel Mohamed Osman Weli told AFP by phone. "The hardline elements ran away from us before we got to them, now we fully control the town."

Witnesses said the pro-government forces crossed over the neighbouring Ethiopian town of Dolow before marching on to Luq.

Further down the same road from Luq is the city of Baidoa, the former seat of parliament and one of the Shebab's current strongholds.

"There were no clashes this morning but we saw the pro-government militia enter the town from Dolow and they now control it," said Abdullahi Salat, a local elder. "They took the police station and control other official buildings."

Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abdurahman, the spokesman of Ahlu Sunna, said they would rout their opponents from their strongholds in central Somalia. "We are planning an offensive against the last stronghold of the rebels," he told AFP. "Their time of rule and oppression will come to an end."

Witnesses reported seeing heavily-armed militia, some in military uniform, enter Luq town.

However, Sheikh Ibrahim Ali, a commander of the Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired group, said his men had not been defeated but had "retreated as a military tactic."

On Monday, the same pro-government outfit retook the nearby town of Bulohawo, which sits on the border with Kenya and had recently been under Shebaba control.

The forces which ousted the Shebab from Luq and Bulohawo include many fighters loyal to Barre Hirale, a prominent military leader from the Marehan clan dominant in the region who was ousted a year ago from Kismayo by a top Islamist leader Hassan al-Turki and the Shebab.

Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, a Sufi organisation with strong popular support that took up arms in recent months to repel the Shebab, recently inflicted heavy losses on Islamist hardline groups further up the Ethiopian border.

The group sprung to the limelight in late 2008 when they clashed with the Shebab over the control of two towns in central Somalia.

It accused the hardline Shebab militia of fostering insecurity in the lawless Horn of Africa country as well as killing opponents on grounds that they are enemies of Islam.

The Shebab and the more political Hizb al-Islam rebels launched an offensive to topple the internationally-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sharif, a moderate Islamist who came to power in January, has faced stiff opposition from the hardline groups and his government controls only a handful of areas in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.

Picture: Hard-line islamist fighters exchange gun fire with government forces in Mogadishu. Photo: AFP
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We Believe In Sufism
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By Reyyaz Salley *There are Jihad groups – say’s ISF chief* - Lankaweb - Sri Lanka
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

This is a response to an press release by the Asst Secretary Mr. Thassim of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama on the 18th of August 2009 in the Daily News.

The Islamic Solidarity front of North America says the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the tawheed does not belong to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’at. Who are involved in various fundamentalist activities?

Certain Muslim organisations are involved in terrorist activities in the east and related to armed groups and also certain Prominent Muslim politicians are the cover for these groups. These Politicians are funded during the time of the election and they are bound to give shelter.

When our Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapakshe, who completely eradicated terrorism, [?] Certain politicians from the East are trying to disturb the peace of our Mother Lanka. Islam says respect the law and order of the country you belong.

When the Beruwala incident occurred the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama never came forward to express there concern and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama does not represent all the Muslims in Sri Lanka. They teach hatred by invading Zawia and Thakkiya’s belonging to the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’at.

Today certain extremist groups are exposed by the media. We take the opportunity to thank the media of exposing these elements. We belong to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaat and we have been taught to live united among the non Muslims in our motherland and in any other Country. We respect all religion and mankind.

The misuse of the word Jihad by certain fanatic groups who are funded by oil rich countries to separate Muslims among Muslims and fight against each other and they are funded to build mosque in every corner which Islam does not permit. There are so many unauthorized mosque built lately by these groups and we have brought to the notice of the Minister of Religious affairs in the presence of the Mr Navavi who is the Director of the Department of the Muslim Affairs to look into this and this was confirmed by the M.Q.M Navavi the Director of the Department of Muslim Affairs at the meeting held at Religious Ministry.

Muhammed Reyyaz Salley, Chairman of the Islamic Solidarity Front of North America stated in a press release

“All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama says that the Muslims should not get involved in any propaganda misleading the Muslim community and causing humiliation for the whole Muslims but Mr Salley said the ACJU is also another organization which does not allow Muslims to live in peace. There are certain Islamic research centers who brainwash the children and get them hatred among there own families in the name of Islam. It is the duty of every Muslim organization to make an effort not to criticize and instigate people to fight against each other.

If we follow Islam according to the life style of our Prophet Muhammad sal (peace be upon him) we don’t need money from oil rich country. Certain Oil rich countries follow Abdul Wahab the founder of Wahabism. We believe in Sufism and Sufism is against terrorism and fundamentalism.

Furthermore, Mr Salley said lets follow our fore fathers from Prophet Adam to Prophet Muhammad sal (pbuh) and there Allah Awliya’s who educated us in proper Islam.

Islam consists of Peace and Harmony. We Muslim should set an example to every mankind and pray for the Unity of our Motherland. May the Almighty Shower his blessings upon us.

United we Stand. Country before Self

Reyyaz Salley
Chairman
Islamic Solidarity Front Of North America.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metaphors Of Love
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By Ed Ward, *For Richard Thompson's 60th, A Musical Gift* - National Public Radio - USA

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Richard Thompson is the kind of guitar player other guitar players revere. It's not just his technique, nor the fact that he's equally at home with an electric or an acoustic guitar. He's also a songwriter of uncommon skill.

And over the past 40 years, he's written some classics. Now, in honor of Thompson's 60th birthday, Shout Factory Records has released
Walking on a Wire, a four-disc overview of his career.

It's a career that has its roots in the Notting Hill section of London, where Thompson was born the son of a policeman who'd moved to London from Scotland to join the force. He started playing guitar in school, taking lessons from a friend, and then started writing songs with a couple of other friends. There was no question about what he wanted to do after that: falling in with a bunch of London musicians who were attracted by American folk-rock and lived in a house called Fairport, he joined their band when he was 17. Their first gig was in front of 15 people in a church hall, and it was the start of Fairport Convention.

Fairport has always been a rather fluid band, and after their first album, they changed personnel for the first time when singer Judy Dyble made way for another, Sandy Denny. She proved to be perfect to sing the songs Thompson was writing at the time — dark songs like "Meet on the Ledge," which became a kind of band anthem.

Late in 1969, though, Denny and bassist Ashley Hutchings quit, and the remaining members retreated to the countryside to think things through, emerging with a new take on British traditional music — and a masterpiece of an album, Liege and Lief, featuring extended guitar jams that proved that Richard Thompson was one of the best guitarists in England. Fairport toured America at this point, and Thompson held his own on stage with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page at one show.

But when he returned to England, he quit the band and spent a lot of time doing session work for other artists. In the course of this, he met a backup vocalist named Linda Peters, who was recording a Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercial the day they met. They were married in 1972, and two years later, released I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, the first in a series of albums that showcased Richard's songwriting and guitar playing alongside their almost magical vocal blend.

In 1975, Richard and Linda became Sufis, appearing on the cover of their 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver in traditional clothing, but otherwise hardly changed. Sufism is a famously liberal branch of Islam, often cloaking its devotional texts in metaphors of love or intoxication — things Richard had written about in the past.

Over the next few years, Richard and Linda continued to record, but raising two young children kept them pretty close to home, despite a growing following in the United States. In 1982, they released Shoot Out the Lights, one of their strongest sets of songs ever. Maybe too strong.

Richard and Linda started a tour when the album came out, and it lasted just long enough to fulfil the American dates; after the London show, the Thompsons' marriage was over. It was about this time that word finally got out about Richard's songwriting and guitar-playing, and stars from Lou Reed to Neil Young were mentioning him in interviews. Alternating between acoustic and electric versions of his music, he continued to write great songs.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is the song audiences clamor for now, from his 1991 album Rumor and Sigh, but there are many, many more where that came from: over 400 in his lifetime catalog, by one estimation.

Richard Thompson continues to put out great albums and play shows that are never anything less than amazing. It's been a long time since he knocked on the door of Fairport, guitar in hand, but he shows no signs of letting up.

[Picture: Richard Thompson at Fairport's Cropredy Convention, 2005 Photo from: Wiki]
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Give Peace a Chance
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News Editor, *Barodian gets communal harmony award* - The Times Of India - India
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It was a case of exemplary courage. If not for Abdul Qureishi, Kalpesh Pawar of Vadodara might not be alive today. Pawar can't thank Qureishi enough for saving his life from a rioting mob on June 26, 2007, risking his own.

Last week, Qureishi was conferred the Kabir Puraskar by the Central government for communal harmony. He displayed rare physical and moral courage in saving the life of Pawar and two Hindu families during the 2006 communal riots in Vadodara.

The award is named after Kabir, the Sufi saint instrumental in promoting communal harmony among various sects.

Till now, four individuals from the state have got the award. The national award recognizes acts of physical or moral courage displayed by individuals who, at great personal risk, protect life and property of a member of another caste, community or ethnic group during communal riots, caste conflicts or ethnic clashes.

Pawar had gone to Reshamwala Khancha in Yakutpura where he found himself surrounded by a violent armed mob that would have hacked him to death.

Says Qureishi describing the ordeal, "I got to know about Pawar's plight. I barged into the mob facing blows on my body and was nearly lynched. But, I was able to rescue him from the irate mob."

It was a gratifying experience to save a life. He also realized the futility of communal tension which serves no purpose but creates enmity among people, he adds.

"After all these years of senseless violence, it's time to give peace a chance. There are differences everywhere but violence is not the solution to deal with them. It's important to have regular dialogues among all communities on all issues to bring about harmony," says Qureishi.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Hybrid In Nature
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By Isambard Wilkinson, *Music show a source of pride for Pakistanis* - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Karachi: Millions of Pakistanis will gather around television and radio sets today to listen to a music production that has become a national phenomenon.

Coke Studio is a result of a collection of well-known musicians coming together to create songs that fuse traditional Pakistani forms with modern pop.

It has been a distracting salve for a country that has limped through a blazing summer of bloody fighting between militants and security forces, electricity shortages, monsoon floods and economic insecurity.

The talk of chat shows, blogs, newspaper columns and the victim of rampant pirating, the show has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and is now hugely popular. In a country desperate for good news, it has arguably given Pakistanis longer lasting relief than their country’s victory in the Twenty20 cricket competition in June. “It has caught the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the modern Pakistani tradition and identity, and it is a source of hope,” said Musharraf Zaidi, a leading political and social analyst.

Today is the fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s second season.The episode has been dubbed “Unity Day” – after the motto of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Unity, Faith and Discipline” – and is timed to coincide with the day Pakistan celebrates its creation and independence from British rule in 1947.

The show is broadcast simultaneously on at least 14 television channels and five radio stations. One fan affectionately described the blanket coverage as “musical martial law”.

The talent behind the production is Rohail Hyatt, a former Pakistani pop music star who became inspired by Sufic and other subcontinental musical genres. “The nation has taken to it. Pakistan is in a strange place going through something of an identity crisis. It has given people something to hold onto and say, ‘This is us’,” said Mr Hyatt. “People have to fight against the Taliban extremism on the one hand and the negative western media perception on the other with something and music has given us that,” added Mr Rohail.

One of the featured songs, Bulleya, based on a poem by the 17th century mystic Bulleh Shah, is a moving statement of identity, as the singer proclaims that he is “neither of the mosque but neither an infidel”.

“We do not have a 60-year but a 4,000-year-old tradition of music – which for those who think that life began in this area at partition is something of a blasphemy,” said Mr Hyatt.Pakistanis know and love the music and poetry of the subcontinent’s Muslim traditions. A vast number can recite dozens of verses of the region’s Sufi lyrical poetry in several languages, including the classical Persian.

“True” desis, as Pakistanis endearingly refer to themselves, from all classes enjoy sinking into trances with their heads leaning over crossed legs, meditatively tracing a musical path to “ishq”, the high of divine love, or spontaneously jigging to the spine-tingling drum beat of the dholki.

Coke Studio is produced by Mr Hyatt’s wife, Umber, and features artists on each episode – which are titled with a positive buzzword such as “harmony” or “equality” – who are backed by a house band and guest musicians.

Rizwan U Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, which has sponsored the production, said, “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instils a sense of Pakistani pride.”

It was recorded earlier this year in a studio in Korangi, Karachi. This year’s line-up included musicians ranging from well-known pop artists such as Ali Zafar to traditional performers who have moved into the fusion style, including Javed Bashir and a female duo, Zeb and Haniya, from Kohat in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Singing in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindi, musicians use instruments ranging from the rubab, a string instrument from Pakistan’s northern provinces, to the banjo, the dholak and sarangi. An Indian musician, Gurpreet Chana, was also invited to play tabla.

Perhaps the most unusual figure in the line-up is Saieen Zahoor, who is revered for his mesmeric renditions of kalaams – spiritual compositions by saintly Sufi poets.

Mr Hyatt said that when he first entered the studio everybody was hypnotised. Adorned with strands of beads and large rings on his fingers, he had the air of the impish Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Mr Zahoor learnt the Sufi musical tradition at shrines from the age of seven and is now 72. He writes his lyrics in drawings and has made arduous pilgrimages to shrines wearing chains and bells.

During the studio jamming sessions he said he carried the ecstasy inducing rhythm of dhamma to the proceedings. He held his hand to his stomach, and said: “Music is a diet for the soul, it is nourishing. When I recite Allah-u my heart absorbs the pleasure. Once you feel that, there is no return.”

“Music is not forbidden [in Islam]. It is a language and you cannot forbid talking,” he added.

Zeb said that music industry had previously stifled artists but that Coke Studio had given them an open platform that encouraged experimentation and cross-pollination as well as treated them as professionals.

“Usually we have poor production, poor sound, but this project was different because Rohail is a musician. We had genuine teamwork and a feeling of pride and nostalgia. And we got paid and on time,” she said.

Mr Hyatt accepted a criticism made by purists that Coke Studio was not classical music, but he gently brushed it off by pointing out people’s enjoyment of it. “It is hybrid in nature,” he said.

For Mr Hyatt, a moment that encapsulated what Coke Studio signifies was when Atif Aslam, a pop singer, improvised a beautiful, spiralling solo in classical Sufi style.

“That’s what it’s about: allowing the space to let creativity flow”.

Picture: Saieen Zahoor, famous for his renditions of kalaams - spiritual compositions by Sufi poets - rehearses for an appearance in Coke Studios. Photo: Muzammil Pasha for The National
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Another Nazim?
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Staff Writer, *Sufi body demands removal of Nazim of Ajmer Dargah* - Press Trust Of India - India
Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Delhi: Sufi Federation of India has demanded removal of the Nazim of Dargah Azmer Sharif Ahmed Raza from his post, following his alleged controversial remarks in a CD that led to angry protests in the city last month.

In a letter written to Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed, the federation said, it "expects you would immediately remove Ahmed Raza from the post of Nazim of Dargha Azmer Sharif and appoint another Nazim, who could discharge the responsibility according to Sufi traditions."

The federation claimed it has held a thorough enquiry into the controversy that erupted after a controversial CD surfaced purportedly having the voice of Raza. The contents of the CD were aired by a local TV channel.

It had led to protests by Khadims of the Dargah, who had allegedly attacked Ahmed Raza leading to police intervention last month.
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With The Sufi Master
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By Dean Nelson, *Pervez Musharraf becomes YouTube singing sensation * - The Telegraph - London, UK

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pakistan's General Musharraf has talent a YouTube video clip of the ousted dictator has revealed

The film which features the former president singing a duet with the Sufi singing maestro Ustad Hamid Ali Khan has become an internet sensation, especially in Pakistan where members of parliament are deciding whether he should face treason charges.

Despite facing arrest in Pakistan for illegally arresting the country's judges, and the threat of the death penalty for high treason, General Musharraf appears to be singing his blues away while in London where he has performed at a series of concerts.

In his latest appearance he harmonised with the Sufi master while leading the crowd of Pakistani exiles, including his former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, in a rousing chorus of the popular ghazal "Laage re tou re laage najar sayyain laage". As Musharraf took the lead, Khan shouted "wah wah" in appreciation.

General Musharraf surprised another London concert audience recently when he took to the stage to play the Tabla bongo drums after complaining that the featured drummer was not keeping good time. His performance on that occasion was witnessed by Lord Nazir Ahmed.

The video clip has taken his erstwhile subjects in Pakistan by surprise with websites flooded with comments from viewers who had thought the General was only proficient in border skirmishes, ousting democratic governments, and holding opponents under house arrest.

Now, they realise, their former dictator can also hold a tune. "I really like his taste in music Pervez Musharraf may or may not be the one leader who did the most good (or bad) for Pakistan. But he may well be the one who sings the best," said Adil Najam, who posted the clip.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rooted In The Kashf ul-Mahjub
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By Suroosh Irfani, *Reclaiming the founding moment* - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan
Friday, August 14, 2009

Reclamation of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity, so poignantly reflected in Jinnah’s speech, is as crucial for the survival of a democratic Pakistan as the battle for defeating the Taliban

Rooted in a democratic struggle that ended British rule in the subcontinent, there was something remarkable about Pakistan’s emergence on August 14, 1947 as a sovereign Muslim state. This was as much reflected in the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly as in its national anthem and flag celebrating Pakistan’s founding moment.

Jinnah’s speech on August 11, 1947 set the direction for Pakistan as a modern democratic state, where religion was a personal matter that had “nothing to do with the business of the state”, and people could creatively rework a divisive past for a promising future. At the same time, the inclusive spirit of a South Asian Muslim identity was reflected, on the one hand, in the first national anthem composed by Jagan Nath Azad, a scholar of Indo-Persian culture, and on the other hand, in a flag that celebrated Pakistan’s three percent religious minorities by giving them twenty five percent of the flag’s space — its white section.

Such eclecticism rooted in an Indo-Persian culture also prevailed in the new national anthem — first played at Karachi airport on March 30, 1950 when the Shah of Iran visited Pakistan, but formally adopted seven years later. As with the Urdu word for ‘national anthem’ (qaumi terana in Urdu, terana e qaumi in Persian), the anthem is as much in Urdu as Persian, the composition is by a Zoroastrian — Ghulam Ahmed Chagla, and the chorus giving it an ‘Indian’ musical aura comprises of almost equal numbers of female and male singers, respectively five and six. (See Ashfaque Naqvi. “A word on Jagannath Azad”, Dawn, June 27, 2004).

Indeed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s populist slogan of “Islam, Democracy and Socialism” that gave him a landslide win in Pakistan’s first general elections held in 1970 also reflected the eclectic spirit of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity. However, General Zia-ul Haq, who toppled Bhutto’s government in a military coup in 1977 and had him hanged two years later, set Pakistan on a different track that eroded the South Asian spirit of its identity. Lacking a political or social base of his own other than the army, Zia carved out a constituency for himself through a Saudi-backed politics of ‘Islamisation’ that infused Islamic conservatism in the state and society and co-opted religio-political parties, including the Jama’at-e Islami that had historically stood in opposition to Jinnah and Pakistan. Moreover, Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in support of Kabul’s Marxist regime in 1979 helped in entrenching General Zia’s regime and turning Pakistan into “America’s most allied ally” as a Cold War frontline state.

Indeed, if the Cold War had given General Zia a shortcut to legitimacy on the international front, the Afghan jihad enabled Zia to stake Pakistan’s future on the jihadi politics in Afghanistan , giving rise to a plethora of home-grown militant outfits. Clearly, the upshot of the US-Saudi backed Afghan jihad in a regional context shaken by Shia revivalist Ayatollahs of the Iranian revolution had fateful consequences for Pakistan.

At the same time, with the virtual collapse of state education, religious schools linked with jihadi outfits rapidly expanded as breeders of a violent jihadi culture that eclipsed Pakistan’s South Asian identity while promoting an ‘Arabist shift’ — a tendency to view the Arab as the only ‘real’/pure Muslim, and then using this trope of purity as a self-righteous weapon for recasting the present in a glorified imaginary of a triumphal Arab past.

Such reasoning is reflected in a detained Pakistani suicide bomber’s interview on Geo Television on July 2, 2009. The would-be bomber justified the killing of innocent children and citizens in the ongoing spate of suicide bombings by invoking the fatwa of “a great Arab cleric”, to the effect that those who died in the bombings were not innocent victims as they did not support Taliban’s jihad.

Indeed, back in the 1990s when Pakistan helped Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, Talibanic Islam became virtually synonymous with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda through fusion with Wahhabi-Salafi radicalism, even as Peshawar became “the capital of the Islamic world”, as noted by Al Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri in Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab al- Suri. (Hurst. London. 2007) According to al Suri, “every ongoing discussion and debate (in Peshawar) quickly spread out to the rest of the world, through audio communiqués, books, leaflets, audiocassettes, and through couriers and visitors”.

Moreover, if the founding moment of Indo-Persian culture was rooted in the 11th century publication of Kashf ul Mahjub, (The Unveiling of the Veiled), a treatise on Sufism by Lahore’s patron saint Ali Osman Hujwiri or Data Ganj Baksh as he is popularly known across the country, the publication in Peshawar of al Suri’s The Experience and Lessons of the Islamic Jihadi Revolution in 1991 might well have signalled the internationalisation of the Arabist shift in Pakistan.

At the same time, Arab and Pakistani jihadis continued to flourish in the training camps of Afghanistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir after Zia’s death and Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Pakistan briefly realised its dream of gaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

However, all this changed following the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on the United States, masterminded by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda that Taliban had hosted in their Islamic Emirate. And although the invasion by US and NATO forces in October 2001 led to the rout of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, this further radicalised Pakistan’s Islamist groups, even as the Taliban and Al Qaeda sought refuge in Pakistan. Indeed, most Pakistanis regarded the Taliban as ‘true Muslims’ and bin Laden a ‘hero of Islam’, thereby enabling the terrorists to exploit local hospitality in Pakistan. The existential threat that Pakistan faces is not only because of the Taliban per se, but also a complicit culture largely blurring the boundaries between ‘extremist’ and ‘mainstream’ in the Islamist spectrum.

However, a sea change has occurred in Pakistan’s public perceptions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban since May 2009, after the Pakistan Army was finally compelled to crush the Taliban insurgency. Even so, military action against the Taliban would remain inconclusive without socio-economic and educational measures for winning “hearts and minds”, especially of the people displaced by recent fighting.

At the same time, such measures should aim at promoting a new political culture in sync with Pakistan’s founding moment, summed up by Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly. Indeed, reclamation of Pakistan’s South Asian Muslim identity, so poignantly reflected in Jinnah’s speech, is as crucial for the survival of a democratic Pakistan as the battle for defeating the Taliban.

Suroosh Irfani is an educationist and writer based in Lahore. (Courtesy a special edition of Viewpoints entitled “The Islamisation of Pakistan: 1979-2009.” The Middle East Institute, Washington DC).
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The Land Of Sages And Saints
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By KONS, *Ahad Zargar's Anniversary Observed* - Kashmir Observer - India
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Srinagar: The death anniversary of renowned Kashmiri Sufi Poet was observed with great enthusiasm today at his native area Narwarah in Shehr-e-Khas, in which a large member of people joined to pay tributes to sufi poet.

An impressive function was organized, in collaboration with the State Information Department, at which Commissioner, SMC, Khawja Farooq Renzu was the Chief Guest. He inaugurated a photo exhibition depicting various aspects of the life of the Sufi Poet.

On the occasion Renzu was conferred with Dastar Bandi. Those who conferred this honor to Renzu included Zareef Ahmed Zareef, Mr. Bakhsi and Mr. Imdad Saki for keeping in view his contribution towards the social causes. The Deputy Mayor, SMC Mr. Chasoo was also honoured with Dastar Bandhi.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Renzu threw a light on the life and works of Ahad Zargar.

Mr. Renzu announced that Department of Information will issue a photo album on the life and works of this great Sufi poet. He said "Kashmir is the land of sages and saints and we should follow their teachings and lead a prosperous life in the world as well as hereafter".

Besides others, Justice (Rtd) Bashir Ahmad Kirmani and former Chairman Public Service Commission, Mr. Mohammad Shafi Pandit also participated in the function.
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Gazals of Iqbal
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Staff Reporter, *An 'Evening of Sufi Music' on 16th* - Central Chronichle - India
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bhopal: The Allama Iqbal Literary Section of Sahitya Academy is organising an 'Evening of Sufi Music' at Bharat Bhavan on August 16.

Sahitya Academy director Dr Degendra Deepak and Iqbal Literary Section in-charge Jhammu Chhugani in a joint press release said that 'A' grade singer of All India Radio Gwalior, Ms Neelima Sharma and 'A' grade singer of AIR Bhopal Ravi Pandey would sing gazals of Iqbal and other famous Urdu poets and Sufi songs.

Neelima Sharma has performed at National Gazal Festival, Delhi, and India Habitat Centre, Delhi. She had also sang several gazals at programmes in different parts of the country.

Ravi Pandey has so far released 140 albums of songs. He is a famous Sufi song singer. He has sung songs for Venus, Tips, Rajshree Music and Music India. He has sang gazals in a gazal album under music direction by Jagjit Singh.

He was a disciple of Pandit Nand Kishore Sharma in classical music. He has done Ph.D in classical music from Mauritius. Famous music director Zubin Mehta was his guide in Ph.D.

[Picture: Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) in 1899. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Iqbal]

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tarikate
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By Veton Surroi, *Albanian shamans and Islamic pluralism* - Bosnian Institute News - London, UK
Monday, August 10, 2009


The editor of Koha (Prishtina) and perhaps Kosova's best know journalist comments on the themes of Stephen Schwartz's 'The Other Islam: Sufism and the dialogue about respect', an Albanian edition of which has recently appeared in Kosova.

I
It must have been in the nature of the Albanians – the curiosity to look at history from inside just like children who want to know how toys function. Maybe only in this simplified and almost cynical way can we interpret one of those centuries-long investigations (‘how does religion work?’, ‘what’s the name of God?’, ‘can he watch us when we sleep’ etc.) when the Albanian lands became the latest stop for a long shamanic journey that originated from somewhere deep in Central Asia’s spaces.

The shamans, mystics who identify themselves as mediators between God and man, by using a variety of means from music and dances to hallucinogens, and who in their long journey seem to have met, somewhere between Afghanistan and Persia, the prophecy of a religion, would identify in the latter the framework of a moral code. After melding their mysticism with a monotheist religious order like Islam, they would continue their journey towards the West until they reached their most advanced position, among Albanians.

After a journey of seven centuries, it was only among Albanians that Sufism (known in Albanian lands as tarikate, including Bektashis, Mevlevis, Rufais and other names from the 12-member family) found a safe home in Europe. And through Albanians it reached also America, with the first teqe opened in Michigan by Baba Rexheb Beqiri.

As if all this story were not interesting enough, with the Albanians taking the journey of the Central Asian shamans to a teqe near the automobile plants in America, now comes Stephen Schwartz, American journalist, son of a Christian mother and a Jewish father, a former communist with great interest in the Latin American revolutions, who travels to the Balkans to cover the wars in former Yugoslavia only to discover and to embrace the call of Sufism and to author, among many books, a new one with the Albanian title *Islami Tjetër: Sufízmi dhe rrëfimi për respektin* [The Other Islam: Sufism and the dialogue about respect, KOHA, Prishtina, 2009].

II
The arrival of mysticism among the Albanians – it may sound like the title of an article, but according to Schwartz’s book, mysticism was a challenge for all three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The three tried to institutionalize mysticism within them in the 13th century. One of them, Judaism, was directly influenced by Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, in structuring ‘Kabbalah’ as its own mystical form.

In the two-way exchange, Islamic Sufism pushed the limits of the interpretation of God and God’s message, by suggesting a common source for all the monotheistic religions. As two other Americans, James Fadiman and Robert Frager, who have also embraced Sufism, explain in their Essential Sufism (Castle Books, New Jersey, 1998), Sufism is capable of integrating in itself Judaism and Christianity, by defining all of them as coming from a sole Truth, a sole God, declaring the lives of Adam, Moses and Jesus Christ as parts of and completely expressing the same prophecy. Of course, all this is functional only within the Islamic theological framework.

However, as Schwartz explains it, this makes sense only for a genuine and liberal Islamic theological framework. Such would, along with dialogue with other religions, frankly accept gender equality, the right to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, and in its philosophical aspect, the right to an eternal quest of the Truth, first within ourselves and within this life, and especially through Beauty and Love.

III
Seems complicated? Wait until politics enters the picture as well, with two essential events.

First is the division over the heir of Muhammad. The Sunnis who make up the majority of the Islamic world are part of the group that after the death of Muhammad defined election/selection as the form of establishing the heir. The Shias, a minority in the Islamic world, are part of the group that wanted the heir to be a blood relative of Muhammad.

After the Battle of Karbala where Shias refused to submit to the orders of Sunnis, the theological debate turned into a political one and continues to these days as is demonstrated in the internal conflicts in Iraq.

Secondly, there is the division of power in Saudi Arabia. Before the birth of the modern state that territory saw the birth of Wahhabism, a strictly orthodox interpretation of Islam, which promoted inequality between men and women, while the praise of Muhammad and celebration of his birthday were seen as polytheistic and contradictory to Islam.

During the rise of the Saudi kingdom and, strengthened after the discovery of oil, a contract was established in the foundations of that country: the Wahhabis would be in charge of God while the Saudi royal family would be in charge of the state and of the oil needed to finance the Wahhabis. (In this book, Schwartz promotes respect towards and within Islam, but he calls Wahhabism ‘idiotic’ and the Saudis ‘bandits’.)

Provided with petrodollars, the Wahhabis have, for several decades, been on the offensive, exporting ‘bearded’ men in three-quarter-length pants, to impose their interpretation of Islam on what the author calls the seven identities of Islam, including the Turkish-Balkan one, in which the Albanians are included.

After the American occupation of Iraq, according to Schwartz, the Wahhabis (despite Saudi Arabia being an American ally) incited the Sunnis against the Shias, which then caused the Shias’ violent reaction. However, this is not simply a Sunni-Shia conflict, according to the author. In reality, we see an effort by the Wahhabis to destroy the Iraqi Sufis who are both Sunnis and Shiites, Arab and Kurdish, but more importantly are disciples of a personal, liberal interpretation of Islam.

IV
‘White Muslim!’ They would shout in disbelief and sympathy. They would speak in English to the red-haired, blue-eyed nurse when they first met him, but he responded to them in Arabic (with his limited knowledge of the language). When asked where he came from, he explained that he came from Kosova. Then they would gather around him to watch this walking two-legged controversy: the soul of a Muslim (and therefore Asian/Middle Eastern) in the physical structure of a European.

The explanation of the nurse who had spent some time working in the Saudi Arabia came to mind during the last summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where there was an effort to pass a resolution in support of Kosova. Meanwhile, I was reading Schwartz on the prejudices of Wahhabis towards Sufism.

In fact, the Resolution on Kosova could be identified as an effort to play the card of surprise and sympathy for the ‘white Muslims.’ However, it also represented a paradox: Albania (a country with all the Sufi tarikats) had composed for Kosova (a country with a considerable presence of Sufi tarikats, persecuted with bloodshed and other violence by the Serbian regime) a supporting resolution which would be sponsored in the OIC by the same Saudi Arabia (with the Wahhabi headquarters in Najd, also spiritual center of Al Qaeda).

A resolution, completely emptied of any substantial support for Kosova, was eventually adopted with consensus. Where had all the Islamic solidarity gone? (Wouldn’t this be a winning case, with ‘Wahhabi’ Saudi Arabia joining ‘Sufi’ Albania?)

One reason is simple. It has to do with our 20-year old effort to present our struggle against the Millosheviq [Milošević] regime not as a religious challenge but as a national democratic one. This self-defined image of ours is now known throughout the Islamic world. In their midst, there are countries which do not view favourably the birth of new states or the democratizing movements that lead to their birth. What bothers them the most is the model separating religion from politics, as in the case of the democratic movement towards independence in Kosova.

V
The centuries-long journey of Sufis towards the Albanian lands was crowned with the rise of Ataturk, who excluded them from Turkey in fear of their mystic and secretive ways.
Among the Albanians however, they found a long-established tradition of harmony and co-existence of different religions.

With the birth of the 21st century, the world would discover that what was normal to Albanians was also almost impossible and extraordinary to other cultures and people throughout the world. It would be underlined that among Albanians there lives and flourishes not only religious pluralism, but also Islamic pluralism.

It is exactly this Islamic pluralism that represents an intellectual, political and theological challenge to the Islamophobes, who see nothing more than violence in this great religion, but also to those within Islam whose aim is to suppress diversity by imposing their own rigid interpretation of Islam.

Translated from Koha (Prishtina), 30 May 2009

[Picture: Ruins of a Greek-type Roman Theatre at Butrint (Buthrotum), Albania, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo from Wikipedia.]
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