Friday, April 30, 2010

The Name Of God

By Nimet Seker, *Jewish Mystics on the Sufi Path* - Qantara.de - Bonn, Germany
Friday, April 23, 2010

The Middle East conflict has dug deep trenches of enmity between Jews and Muslims.

That makes it easy to forget that, for centuries, the two religions contributed much to each other's philosophy and spirituality.

Nimet Seker looks at the influence of Muslim Sufism on Jewish mysticism

Jews do not traditionally destroy texts which include the name of God – even when they are no longer needed. Such texts are kept in the synagogue in a special room called the geniza, "hiding place" in Hebrew. Over 100 years ago, the geniza of the Ben Ezra synagogue was opened, and extraordinary things came to light.

The bricked-up room contained works in Arabic and Hebrew by mediaeval Muslim mystics and pietistic texts by Jewish writers which were clearly inspired by Sufism.

Many of the texts date from the lifetime of Rabbi Abraham Maimonides (1186–1237), the son of the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. Rabbi Abraham he-Chassid ("the pious") was the religious and political leader of the Jewish community at the time, and was a significant proponent of a Sufi form of Jewish piety which the Jewish texts call chassidut. The title he-Chassid indicates someone pious who follows a spiritual path, similar to that of the Muslim Sufis.

Sufism as a prophetic tradition

Rabbi Abraham wrote openly in his works of his admiration for the Sufis. He describes biblical figures as pietists with Sufi characteristics and sees the Sufis as the real heirs to the traditions of Israel. He considers that important Sufi rituals are based on the Jewish prophets; through the sufferings of exile, the Jews had forgotten this spiritual tradition and now had to rediscover it.

Abraham did not just see the matter theoretically; he introduced a number of changes in the synagogue services, such as the washing of hands and feet before prayer, which is not traditional in Judaism; the ordering of the congregation into rows, as in Muslim practice; facing Jerusalem in prayer, as Muslims face Mecca; and various gestures, such as standing, kneeling, bowing and stretching out the hands during petitionary prayers.

Most noticeable were typical practices of the Sufis such as hitbodedut, solitary meditation in the dark, and the ritual of dhkir (Arabic for "thinking of God"). Abraham found sources for all these new practices, which he rediscovered in Islam, in the Jewish Bible.

The family of Abraham Maimonides continued these Sufi-influenced tradition for another 200 years. And this Sufi-Jewish pietism was not a local Egyptian phenomenon: there is evidence of Sufi-based Jewish mysticism among the Jews of Andalusia, of Damascus, Yemen, Palestine and Persia.

The cabbalists of Spain and Palestine

The esoteric teachings of the Spanish cabbalists around Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291) exhibit considerable similarities to the rituals of Muslim mystics: they include, for example, complicated songs, controlled breathing techniques and typical head movements. These were all practices which did not exist in the Kabbalah before the Middle Ages. Abulafia introduced into Judaism the ecstatic aspects of the Sufi dhikr rituals, in which the name of God is repeated so often that one reaches a trance-like state.

The famous Kabbalistic school of Safed in Galilee also seems to have been influenced by Sufism. During the sixteenth century, when the Kabbalist Isaac Luria was active, Safed was also a flourishing centre of Muslim mysticism. It boasted a Sufi convent, as reported by the Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi.

There are striking parallels: the Kabbalists held spiritual concerts (baqashot) at which mystical verses were sung, as did the Mevlevi dervishes. Spiritual brotherhoods were established around a saint, and here too there was the practice of hitbodedut (in Arabic khalwa) and dhikr (in Hebrew hazkarah).

The Sabbateans and the Chassidim

During his exile to Ottoman Adrianople (today Edirne in Turkey), the mystic Jewish Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi, or Sabbatai Zevi, who later converted to Islam, took part in dhikr rituals with the Bektashi dervishes. His followers adopted some Bektashi rituals and spiritual songs in their own ceremonies.

Even the Eastern European Chassidic movement in the eighteenth century may have been influenced by Islam. The Southern Polish province of Podolia, once under Ottoman rule, was the cradle of Chassidism. It was also a centre for the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi, who maintained contact with Ottoman Saloniki, which was a stronghold of Sabbateanism.

Cabbalistic and Chassidic rites are still an important part of Jewish tradition, especially in the USA and Israel.

Those who speak of the "Judeo-Christian roots of Western culture" thus close their eyes to its Judeo-Muslim roots and the common spiritual and philosophical tradition of the two religions. As so often, as well as that which divides, there is also much that unites them.

Picture: A mystic discovery in the secret hiding-place of a Cairo synagogue: manuscripts of mediaeval texts by Muslim and Jewish mystics

Thursday, April 29, 2010

$149,000 Grants

By Staff Reporter, *US puts up $149,000 for Sufi shrines’ preservation* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Thursday, April 22, 2010

US Ambassador Anne Patterson announces $65,011 for Hazrat Fareed’s shrine, $22,358 for Hazrat Musa Pak’s and $62,351 for Hazrat Rajan Qattal’s

Conservation work to include brick and tile renovation, removal of worn-out paint and plaster, restoration of original frescoes

Lahore: United States Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson on Wednesday announced grants worth $149,000 for the conservation and restoration of the three Sufi shrines in Punjab under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

She was speaking at the signing ceremony of the cultural preservation project at Jahangir’s Tomb. Patterson said the US government was honoured to contribute to the preservation of the shrines of Hazrat Rajan Qattal in Uch Sharif, Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed in Multan and Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed in Rajanpur.

Grant breakdown: She also lauded the Punjab Archaeology Department’s support in preserving the province’s cultural heritage sites. The US ambassador announced a $65,011 grant for Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed’s shrine, $22,358 for the shrine of Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed and $62,351 for the shrine of Hazrat Rajan Qattal.

Patterson said these sites are not only part of Pakistan’s heritage, but were treasured by the world at large. The conservation projects will include renovation of brick and tile work, the removal of superficial layers of paint and worn-out plaster to unearth the original plaster designs, replacing decaying wooden beams and restoring the frescoes to their original form.

In addition to the three grants, the US embassy has also funded the conservation of several sites in Pakistan, including the Alamgiri Gate of the Lahore Fort, the Sirkap Site and Jinnan Wali Dehri in Taxila, Masjid Mahabat Khan and Gor Khuttree in Peshawar, Maan Sing Haveli, the Rohtas Fort and the bazaar of the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore.

Three restoration projects – currently underway in Punjab include Hazrat Shah Shams Tabraiz’s shrine in Multan, the Hafiq Hayat Complex in Gujranwala and Hazrat Sakhi Sarwar’s shrine in Dera Ghazi (DG) Khan. The US has spent more than $20 million on 550 similar projects under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation across the globe during the last decade.

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Archaeology Department Director General (DG) Haroon Ahmad Khan said the US had funded a number of preservation projects in different parts of the province and helped restore places, such as the Alamgiri Gate of Lahore Fort, the Wazir Khan Mosque and others.

Terming the US’ grants for the three shrines a ‘noble gesture’, he thanked Patterson for Washington’s keen interest in the restoration of Pakistan’s cultural heritage sites.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pohela Boishakh

By Zafar Soibhan, *Re-framing the debate* - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Friday, April 23, 2010


Pohela Boishakh [Bengali New Year] has long been contested political ground. For most Bangladeshis it is a cherished article of authentic indigenous Bengali culture. But not for the fundamentalists, who have long made it a target, both rhetorically and in more direct and deadly ways.

I have always felt that this hostility to Bengali culture, which to them has the taint of our pre-Islamic heritage, has long been the principal stumbling block for the fundamentalists in their struggle to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Bangladeshis.

But the fundamentalists make no bones about their opposition to Pohela Boishakh. They make no bones about their hatred of the new year's celebrations at Ramna Batamul. This hatred and hostility was why militants bombed the celebrations in 2001, killing 10 and injuring scores.

But this hostility to Bengali culture is one significant reason why fundamentalism has never gained much traction among the general population.

In the long run, the fundamentalists face a similar problem with respect to religion. It is not that Bangladeshis are not religious people. In fact, religious faith is an important part of most Bangladeshis' identity.

But Bengali Islam, which was introduced to the region by Sufi missionaries, has long been a syncretic and liberal creed, that for many includes veneration of Sufi saints and their holy shrines.

The fundamentalists have declared war on all this (they bomb the shrines, too) in their attempt to impose a more rigid and conservative Wahhabi-infused doctrine on the nation.

Religion has always been a hot button issue in Bangladeshi politics. But here there are two things to note.

The first is that all political parties in the country recognise the centrality of faith in the Bangladeshi psyche. In other words, it is not as though there is no place for people of faith outside of the Islamist political parties.

The second point is that even among the Islamist political parties, there are those that are not hostile to our pre-Islamic and non-Islamic Bengali heritage and culture. In other words, there are many more options other than just the Jamaat-e-Islami.

This new year, the Jamaat finds itself in uncharted territory due to the government's determination to, at long last, pursue war crimes trials that will doubtless focus on many members of the Jamaat high command.

But the interesting thing is that this might in fact make the Jamaat a more popular party in the long run, once it has expunged itself of the taint of war crimes and collaboration in 1971.

In fact, many of the younger members of the party, most of whom were not even born in 1971, reportedly want the trials and are looking forward to a future when the party's role in 1971 is not a mill-stone around its neck.

Alas for these young idealists, that is not the only problem the Jamaat faces. As long as it continues to oppose Islam as it is traditionally practiced in Bangladesh and our indigenous Bengali culture, I suspect the party will continue to have a tough time attracting adherents.

But religion remains a live issue and the AL needs to address the perception that the party is hostile to the religious, that has long been the party's Achilles' heel.

To this end, the AL is attempting to re-frame the discussion. No longer is the argument that the AL is the party of secularism, per se, that, in many people's eyes, translates into being anti-religion.

The AL's new line of argument, insofar as the debate centres on religion, is to re-brand the party as the defender of Islam as it has traditionally been practiced in Bangladesh.

It feels that a more compelling line of attack against the Jamaat is to criticise them, not for being anti-secular or communal, per se, even though they are, but for promoting a non-indigenous practice of Islam which is alien to most Bangladeshis.

This means making a big deal of promoting the nation's Sufi heritage and articles of traditional Bengali culture such as Pohela Boishakh.
This is what was behind the renaming of the airport after the great Sufi saint Hazrat Shahjalal.

Naming it after this revered figure of Bengali Islam helps shore up the government's religious credentials. There is now talk that each one of the big airports in the country will be named after a different Sufi saint.

This helps to reframe the national debate over religion, not as religious versus secular but as indigenous versus alien. This is firm ground for the AL to contest from.

I don't know about the short run, but re-framing the debate on terms more advantageous to you is what wins political battles in the long run.
Zafar Sobhan is Editor, Editorial & Op-Ed, The Daily Star.

[Click here for a Wiki about Pohela Boishakh]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Despite The Logic

By Herpreet Kaur Grewal, *Rock against religious fanaticism* - The Guardian - UK
Thursday, April 22, 2010

How a smashed guitar brought an epiphany for a Pakistani student with rock'n'roll dreams

One day in 1982, a Pakistani medical student named Salman Ahmad was playing guitar at a student talent show in a Lahore hotel when a young religious fanatic dashed on stage.

He snatched Ahmad's Gibson Les Paul from round his neck and smashed it, because he thought rock music was an affront to Islam. It was, Ahmad says, a profound moment in his life.

"For me to feel like I wanted to smash my guitar, it would have been a political statement," he says. "The idea of getting on stage is to steal the show. I didn't even finish my show and my guitar was being smashed by somebody else. It took me four years to decide whether to pursue music after that. I didn't want to play music if people wanted to kill you for playing guitar."

Ahmad spent the next few years playing cricket – his other passion – to a high standard, alongside the likes of Imran Khan, who later led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup. On a cricket tour of Bangladesh, he met some local musicians in a Dhaka hotel lobby who got him play guitar in exchange for some match tickets. Ahmad says: "I started playing Black Magic Woman and everything just came back and I thought, 'That's my space.' A light bulb went on in my head and I thought, 'If these Bangladeshi kids are enjoying this, why can't we play in Lahore?' Despite the logic that said, 'Become a doctor, it's safer', my junoon [in Urdu, "extreme passion"] said 'No way."

Ahmad, whose autobiography Rock & Roll Jihad was published last week, was born in Lahore in 1963, but his family moved around a lot because of his father's job in the airline industry he lived in Kuwait, London, Denmark and the US, where he fell in love with rock music. Going to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1977 was "an assault on the senses", he says. "The excitement I felt as Led Zeppelin ripped into its set began at the base of my spine and enveloped first my heart and then my head. I didn't know any Zeppelin songs but it didn't matter. Celtic, Indian, and Arabic melodies combined with the blues with effortless ease."

He bought a guitar and became part of a high-school band, with Jewish and Catholic friends. "I was the overweight, brown kid – the last person on earth, who would be a rock star," he says. Then, when he was 18, his parents moved the family back to Pakistan, where Ahmad enrolled in medical school. But the years in America had left their mark, and Ahmad started playing in public – until a fanatic smashed his guitar.

Four years later, after his spirits had been revived by playing Black Magic Woman in that Dhaka hotel lobby, Ahmad made another choice: to reach out to the youth of Pakistan who were not allowed to listen to rock, under the dictatorship of its then ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Combining classic rock and the blues and mixing it with the mystical music and poetry of Islamic Sufism, he created "Sufi rock". At first it was in clandestine, small-scale bands. But then, after General Zia died in 1988, rock was able to move overground in Pakistan, and Ahmad joined first Vital Signs, then, in 1991, Junoon, who have sold 30m albums worldwide between them. Politicians, celebrities and journalists clamoured to be associated with them because they represented a progressive Pakistan.

Defying death threats, Ahmad fashioned Junoon as advocates of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence. "I wanted a natural meeting ground for the different [western and eastern] sounds, whereas other bands wanted to ape [western bands]," Ahmad says. "I didn't want us to just be the Pakistani Led Zeppelin."

Now 46, Ahmad lives and teaches in New York and continues to resist labels. "Boxes are created – Punjabi, Pakistani, American – by society just to get a sense of order and hierarchy. The reality is in the gaps."

Rock & Roll Jihad is published by Simon & Schuster. Junoon's album of the same name is being released digitally by Nameless Sufi music

Picture: 'Boxes are created by society' … Salman Ahmad. Photo: Farooq Naeem/Getty

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interfaith Harmony

By APP, *Pakistan committed to inter-faith harmony: Qureshi* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Foreign ministers of Iran, Afghanistan to attend international Sufi conference


Multan: Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the promotion of interfaith harmony and said an international Sufi conference would be organised in Multan soon.

Addressing a gathering of pilgrims during the first session of Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam conference after inaugurating the three-day 696th annual urs of the renowned saint, he said the first session of the conference, being organised by ministries of foreign affairs and religious affairs, will be held in Multan and the second session in Herat city of Afghanistan.

FMs: The FM said the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Iran will also attend the international Sufi conference in addition to the religious scholars from different faiths.

He said the process of inter-faith dialogue was meant to create understanding amongst people belonging to different faiths to understand each other’s point of view and two sessions of inter-faith conference have already been held at Philippines and Spain.

Qureshi expressed concern that a section of people were misinterpreting Islamic teaching to tarnish the image of Islam. But these elements do not represent the majority, he added.

The FM said approval of 18th Amendment was a big achievement and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had congratulated Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on its approval during the nuclear safety summit in Washington.

He said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and the Balochistan leadership had attended the ceremony where President Asif Ali Zardari signed the 18th Amendment Bill.

No dissent: He said it was important that no dissenting note had been written by the Balochistan leadership. He said the government had announced Aghaze Huqooqe Balochistan package to heal the wounds of the Baloch people and announced a National Finance Commission (NFC) Award that promises more resources for Balochistan.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi, while speaking on the occasion, lauded the FM’s plan to promote inter-faith harmony.

Earlier, Allama Farooq Saeedi, Khalid Sultan and other religious scholars also addressed the gathering and highlighted the services of Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam for the people.

Picture: Mausoleum of  Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam (d. 1335). Photo: Wiki.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Transcending Communitarian Bounds

By Yoginder Sikand, *The Tauhidic basis for inter-community peace and justice: Lessons from Dara Shikoh* -Two Circles Net - Cambridge, MA, USA

In today’s rapidly globalizing world, relations between states and between different communities need a firmly moral basis.

Clearly, as long as such relations are premised, as they are today, simply on unequal power and economic structures, sustained peace and justice will remain elusive, and ongoing conflicts can only linger on or even further exacerbate.

While generally-accepted secular contemporary human rights norms are an obvious ingredient in developing this moral basis for international and inter-community relations, they are, in themselves, insufficient. Given the salience of religion globally (and also of conflicts that are sought to be justified by appeals to religion), the moral basis for such relations needs also to draw on existing religious/spiritual resources.

A key task in this regard is to recover, articulate and promote religious traditions or interpretations that reflect or champion justice, peace and solidarity transcending communitarian bounds, being grounded in a firm faith in ethical monotheism. These traditions can make a valuable contribution in developing the moral basis that we seek today to govern inter-community and international relations, providing them with a vital transcendental dimension that contemporary secular human rights discourses lack.

This paper seeks to develop this argument by building on the insights of a key medieval Indian religious figure Dara Shikoh, focusing particularly on his quest for developing a consensus between conflicting religious communities and their conflicting truth claims.

Dara Shikoh’s quest for a universal Sufi ethic

Dara Shikoh, eldest son of the Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, and heir apparent to his throne, was born near Ajmer in 1615 C.E.1 It is said that before Dara’s birth, Shah Jahan had paid a visit to the tomb of the great Chishti Sufi mystic, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer and there had prayed for a son to be born to him, since all his earlier children had been daughters. Thus, when Dara was born great festivities were held in Delhi, the imperial capital, for the Emperor now had an heir to succeed him to the throne.

Like any other Mughal prince, Dara’s early education was entrusted to maulvis attached to the royal court, who taught him the Qur’an, Persian poetry, and history. His chief instructor was one Mullah ‘Abdul Latif Saharanpuri, who developed in the young Dara an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and the speculative sciences, including Sufism. In his youth, Dara came into contact with numerous Muslim and Hindu mystics, some of whom exercised a profound influence on him. The most noted among these was Hazrat Miyan Mir (d.1635 C.E.), a Qadri Sufi of Lahore whose disciple he later became. Hazrat Miyan Mir is best remembered for having laid the foundation-stone of the Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple at Amritsar at the request of his close friend, Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.

The strand of Qadri Sufism that Miyan Mir represented, which he must have bequeathed to his disciples, including Dara, thus appears to have been extremely catholic and accepting of spiritual truths in other traditions and communities. This must be seen as in marked contrast to the ‘orthodox’ ‘ulema associated with the royal courts, the vast majority of who appeared to champion a misplaced Islamic or, more exactly, Muslim supremacism, not just denying the possibility of spiritual worth in other faith traditions and communities but also going so far as to advocate their suppression and extirpation.

After Dara was initiated into the Qadri Sufi order, which he describes in his Risala-i Haq Numa as ‘the best path of reaching Divinity’, he came into contact with several other accomplished mystics of his day, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, including Shah Muhibullah, Shah Dilruba, Shah Muhammad Lisanullah Rostaki, Baba Lal Das Bairagi, and Jagannath Mishra. Dara’s willingness to freely interact with, among other, non-Muslim seekers of the truth marked an understanding of Islam that was in contrast to the court ‘ulema. It was perhaps more in line in keeping with the original Quranic vision, which regards all communities as having been the recipients of divine revelation through prophets, all of who taught a common, universal din, the same primal religion of surrender to the One that was preached by the last of them, the Prophet Muhammad.

Dara’s close and friendly interaction with non-Muslim mystics led him to seek to establish bridges of understanding between Sufism and local or Indic forms of mysticism. In pursuit of this aim, Dara set about seeking to learn more about the religious systems of the Brahmins. He studied Sanskrit, and, with the help of the Pandits of Benaras, prepared a Persian translation of the Upanishads, which was later followed by his Persian renderings of the Gita and the Yoga Vasishta. Throughout this endeavour, his fundamental concern was the quest for the discovery of the Unity of God, seeking to draw out commonalities in the scriptures of the Hindus and the Muslims.

One can see this quest as a search for the recovery of the original vision of both the Quran and of the Indic scriptures, the former having been clouded by excessive ritualism in the name of the shari‘ah and Muslim communalism, the latter by widespread corruption, ritualism and caste prejudice. If, as Dara possibly believed, the core of Islam, understood here in the sense of the primal din taught by all the prophets, including the Prophet Muhammad and the prophets sent by God to India, was monotheism (Arabic/Farsi/Urdu: tauhid, Hindi: ekishvarvad), his quest in drawing parallels between the Quran and the Upanishads can be seen as an effort to recover, highlight and stress this monotheism—the basic common core of divine revelation that could bring about a grand reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus.

This project of unity was to be based on the principle of tauhid, regarding the differences of language, custom and ritual that distinguished Muslims and Hindus from each other as secondary, and, indeed, ultimately speaking, immaterial in the eyes of God.

Dara expresses this concern in his Persian translation of the Upanishads, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) thus:

“And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity [of God], which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. […] Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian [Hindu] mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians.”

Dara’s works are numerous, all in the Persian language, only some of which are readily available today. His writings fall into two broad categories. The first consists of books on Sufism and Muslim saints, the most prominent of these being the Safinat ul-Auliya, the Sakinat ul-Auliya, the Risala-i Haq Numa, the Tariqat ul-Haqiqat, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin and the Iksir-i ‘Azam. The second consists of writings on parallels between Muslim and Hindu mysticism, such as the Majma’ ul-Bahrain, the Mukalama-i Baba Lal Das wa Dara Shikoh, the Sirr-i Akbar, and his Persian translations of the Yoga Vashishta and the Gita.





















Dara on Tauhid as the basis of human unity

Dara’s Muslim critics, particularly among the Sunni ‘ulema (in his own time, down to our own) berated him for allegedly renouncing Islam or for allegedly mixing Islam with ‘infidelity’. Nothing could be further from the truth. In actual fact, Dara’s commitment to Islam was unquestionable, although, obviously, his understanding of Islam was in marked contrast to that of his ‘orthodox’ Sunni critics, particularly on the question of recognising, accepting, respecting and even celebrating religious truths in other communities, particularly the Hindus, whom the ‘ulema regarded as infidels and polytheists who deserved to be exterminated, or, at least, to be crushed and subdued.

Dara’s understanding was hardly an aberration even within the larger Muslim Sufi fold, for numerous other Indian Sufis made much the same arguments. Dara located himself firmly within the broader Sufi Muslim tradition, as is evident from the numerous works on Sufism that he penned, including the Safinat ul-Auliya, a biography of several leading Sufi saints, his first work, composed in 1640 C.E., and the Sirr ul-Auliya, his second biography of various Sufi saints. Unlike the Sakinat ul-Auliya, which deals with Sufis of various orders, this book discusses only the Qadri Sufis of India.

Here Dara explicitly declares his Qadri credentials, confessing, ‘Nothing attracts me more than this Qadri order, which has fulfilled my spiritual aspirations’. Dara’s third book on Sufism, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin or ‘The Aphorisms of the Gnostics’, consists of the sayings of 107 Sufis of various spiritual orders. In his introduction, Dara explains why he wrote the book: “I was enamoured of studying books on the ways of the men of the Path and had in my mind nothing save the understanding of the Unity of God.” This thirst to comprehend the principle and meaning of tauhid—the core of not just the Quran, but all other forms of divine revelation as well prior to the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, and indeed the uniting principle of all of them, placed Dara firmly within the Islamic tradition, as broadly understood.

In line with numerous other mystics, Dara, as is evident in his writings on Sufism, was bitterly critical of ritualism in the name of religion, which tended to substitute for genuine devotion and which also served to build walls of division between various communities. In the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin, Dara bitterly criticises self-styled ‘ulama who, ignoring the inner dimension of the faith, focus simply on external rituals. His critique is directed against mindless ritualism emptied of inner spiritual content, and he challenges the claims of religious professionals who would readily trade their faith for worldly gain. Thus, he says:

May the world be free from the noise of the mulla
And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.

As for those religious scholars and priests who claim to be religious authorities but have actually little or no understanding at all of the true spirit of religion, Dara writes, ‘As a matter of fact, these are ignoramuses to themselves and learned to the ignorant’, and adds the following couplet:

Every prophet and saint suffered afflictions and torments,
Due to the vicious and ignominious conduct of the mullah.

The term ‘mullah’ here is thus not a class just limited to Muslims alone. It comes to stand for exploitative religious professionals associated with every community whose tradition is associated with one or the other prophet or saint. Its parallel in the Hindu tradition would be the pandit, whom numerous Indian mystics roundly berated for precisely the same reasons. These men, who thrive on opposing true religiosity, have, Dara would probably argue, a vested interest in stressing and magnifying differences, based largely on language, customs and rituals, between different communities, turning a blind eye to the basis of all true religion—tauhid—consciousness of which alone can unite people beyond narrow, ascriptive communal boundaries. In another of his works on Sufism, Tariqat ul-Haqiqat, Dara articulates tauhid as the basis of an ethic that can unite all human beings irrespective of communitarian labels in the following verse:

You dwell in the Ka‘aba and in Somnath [a famous Shaivite temple]
And in the hearts of the enamoured lovers.

In his Risala-i Haq Numa, Dara discusses the various stages on the Sufi path, where the seeker (salik) is shown as starting from the ‘alam-i nasut or ‘the physical plane’, and, passing through various stages, finally reaching the ‘alam-i lahut or ‘the plane of Absolute Truth’. Some of the physical exercises employed by the Sufis that are described in the Risala-i Haq Numa are shown by Dara to be similar to those used by the Hindu Tantriks and Yogis. These include astral healing and concentration on the centres of meditation in the heart and brain. Further, he suggests that the four planes through which the Sufi seeker’s journey takes him—nasut , jabrut, malakut and lahut—correspond to the Hindu concept of the avasthanam or the four ‘states’ of jagrat, swapna, shushpati and turiya. By stressing the similarities, or identicalness, of the concept of the planes in both Hindu and Muslim mystical systems, Dara seems to argue that, at root, both stem from a common tauhidic tradition, the differences between them, as suggested by their different terminology, being apparent—only linguistic—and not real.


Dara on the religious systems of Hindus

Medieval Muslim ‘ulema in India, as has been suggested earlier, generally (with notable exceptions) regarded the Hindus as polytheists, and some of them even went so far as to refuse to accept them even as ‘People of the Book’ (ahl-i kitab), who could be granted protection in return for the payment of the jizya. This attitude of theirs was a principal cause for a deep-rooted and long-standing tradition of hostility between Hindus and Muslims. It was premised on a notion of Muslim communal supremacism, which some noted Sufis actively protested against as un-Islamic, and not warranted by their understanding of Islam and tauhid. Dara can be classed in this category of Sufis, who not only denounced Muslim communalism but also actively sought to explore a common spiritual basis for unity between Hindus and Muslims, rooted in tauhid.


In pursuance of this aim, Dara wrote extensively on the religious systems of the Hindus, following in the tradition of several Muslim mystics and scholars before him. Like several Muslim Sufis, he saw the possibility of some religious figures of the Hindus having been actually been prophets of God, and certain Hindu scriptures as having been of divine origin. Thus, for instance, he writes in the Sirr-i Akbar that a strong strain of monotheism may be discerned in the Vedas and opines that the monotheistic philosophy of the Upanishads may be ‘in conformity with the Holy Qur’an and a commentary thereon’.

In his quest for an empathetic understanding of the Hindu religious systems, Dara spent many years in the study of Sanskrit, and for this purpose employed a large number of Pandits from Benaras. Several contemporary Sanskrit scholars praised him for his liberal patronage of the language. Prominent among these was Jagannath Mishra, who, it is said, was once weighed against silver coins at Shah Jahan’s command and the money given to him. He was the author of the Jagatsimha, a work in praise of Dara, and of the Asif Vilasa, a treatise written in praise of Asif Khan, brother of Nur Jahan, wife of Shah Jahan. Other Sanskrit scholars who were patronised by Dara included Pandit Kavindracharya, who was granted a royal pension of two thousand rupees, and Banwali Das, author of a historical work on the kings of Delhi from Yudhishtra, a key figure of the epic Mahabharata, to Shah Jahan, for which he was honored by Shah Jahan with the title of Sarvavidyanidhana.

The most well-known of Dara’s several works on the religious sciences of the Hindus is his Majma ul-Bahrain (‘The Mingling of the Two Oceans’). Completed when Dara was forty-two years old, this book is a pioneering attempt to build on the similarities between Sufism and certain strands of Hindu monotheistic thought, and it is these two that the ‘two oceans’ in the book’s name refer to. He describes this treatise as ‘a collection of the truth and wisdom of two Truth-knowing groups’. It is, in terms of content, rather technical, focussing on Hindu terminology and their equivalents in Islamic Sufism. The basic message that this book conveys is summed up in Dara’s own words thus: ‘Mysticism is equality’, and, he adds, ‘If I know that an infidel, immersed in sin, is, in a way, singing the note of monotheism, I go to him, hear him and am grateful to him’.


The Majma-ul Bahrain is divided into twenty-two sections, in each of which Dara seeks to draw out the similarities between Hindu and Sufi concepts and teachings. Thus, for instance, the Hindu notion of mutki, he says, is identical with the Sufi concept of salvation, denoting the annihilation (fana) of the self in God. Or, for example, the Sufi concept of ‘ishq (love) is said to be identical with the maya of the Hindu monotheists. From Love, says Dara, was born the ‘great soul’, alternately known as the soul of Muhammad to the Sufis, and mahatman or hiranyagarba to the Hindus.

Dara’s translation of certain Hindu scriptures into Persian represents a landmark in the process of developing bridges of understanding between people of different faith communities in medieval India, in which certain Sufis played the leading role. One of Dara’s earliest attempts at translation was his rendering of the Gita into Persian. Keenly interested as he was in the philosophy of Yoga, Dara also had the Yoga Vasishta, one of the earliest Sanskrit texts on Yoga, translated into Persian. The translator of the text opens his treatise with praises of God and the Prophet Muhammad thus:


“Gratitude, adoration and submission are offered to the One, the Sun of whose glory shines in every atom of the cosmos and where grandeur is manifested in the entire Universe, although He is hidden from all eyes and is behind the veil; boundless benedictions in all sincerity and faith free from error, omission or sanctimoniousness to that choicest product of His creation, to that personification of all that is best, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and Allah’s blessings be upon him, and the same to the Imam ‘Ali, the object of his love.”

The translator then quotes Dara as saying:

“My chief reason for this noble command [to have the Yoga Vasishta translated] is that although I had profited by pursuing a translation of the Yoga Vasishta ascribed to Shaikh Sufi, yet once two saintly persons appeared in my dreams; one of whom was tall, whose hair was grey, the other short and without any hair. The former was Vasishta and the latter Ram Chandra, and as I had read the translation already alluded to, I was naturally attracted to them and paid them my respects. Vasishta was very kind to me and patted me on the back, and, addressing Ram Chandra, told him that I was brother to him because both he and I were seekers after truth. He asked Ram Chandra to embrace me, which he did in exuberance of love. Thereupon, Vasishta gave some sweets to Ram Chandra, which I also took and ate. After this vision, a desire to cause the translation of the book intensified in me.”

Dara established close and cordial relations with mystics from various backgrounds. Among these were several Yogis and sadhus, about some of whom Dara also wrote. One such sadhu was Baba Lal, follower of the renowned Sufi-Bhakti saint Kabir and founder of a small monotheistic order named after him as the Baba Lalis. Many of the teachings of this sect can be traced to a distinct Sufi influence. A summary of these teachings is to be found in Dara’s Makalama Baba Lal wa Dara Shikoh, which consists of seven long conversations between the Baba and Dara held in Lahore in 1653. These seven discourses were composed originally in Hindawi, and were later translated into Persian by Dara’s chief secretary, Rai Chandar Bhan. As in the case of Dara’s translation of the Yoga Vasishta, this text focuses particularly on certain similarities in the teachings of Hindu and Muslim mystics.

The great interest that Dara had in exploring monotheistic strands in Hindu philosophy led him, finally, to translate fifty-two Upanishads into Persian. The text that he prepared, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) was completed in 1657. Here, he opines that the ‘great secret’ of the Upanishads is the monotheistic message, which is identical to that on which the Qur’an is based. The text begins with praises to Allah and the Prophet Muhammad thus:


“Praised be the Being, that among whose eternal secrets is the dot in the b of the bismillah in all the Heavenly Books, and glorified be the Mother of Books. In the Holy Qur’an is the token of His glorious name; and the angels and the heavenly books and the prophets and the saints are all comprehended in this name. And the blessings of the Almighty Allah be upon the best of His creatures, the Holy Prophet Muhammad and upon all his family and upon all his Companions!”

Dara then proceeds to detail the purpose behind translating the Upanishads. He writes that in the year 1050 A.H. he visited Kashmir, and there he met Hazrat Mullah Shah, whom he describes as ‘the flower of the Gnostics, the tutor of the tutors, the sage of the sages, the guide of the guides, the Unitarians accomplished in the Truth’. Thereafter, he says, he was filled with a longing to ‘behold the Gnostics of every sect and to hear the lofty expressions of monotheism’. Hence, he says, he began his search for monotheism in other scriptures as well, including the Torah of the Jews (Taurat), the Gospels of Jesus (Injil) the Psalms of David (Zabur), and, in addition, the books of the ancient Hindus. He notes with approval the fact that certain Hindu ‘theologians and mystics’ (‘ulama-i zahiri wa batini) actually believe in One God, but laments that ‘the ignoramuses of the present age’, who claim to be authorities in matters of religion, have completely distorted this fundamental truth. His search for traces of monotheism in the religious systems of the Hindus stems, he says, from his faith in the Qur’an, which states that God has, from time to time, sent prophets to all peoples to preach the worship of the One. Thus, he goes on to add:

“And it can also be ascertained from the Holy Qur’an that there is no nation without a prophet and without a revealed scripture, for it has been said: ‘Nor do We chastise until We raise an apostle’ [Qur’an: XVII, 15]. And in another verse: ‘And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them’ [Qur’an: XXXV, 24]. And at another place: ‘Certainly we sent our apostles with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the Measure’ [Qur’an: LVII, 25].”

Accordingly, says Dara, he travelled to Benaras in 1067 A.H., where he assembled several leading Sanskrit Pandits to translate the Upanishads, in an effort to draw out from the scriptures of the Hindus the hidden teachings on monotheism which are, he says, ‘in conformity with the Holy Qur’an’. Having explored the teachings of the Upanishads, he writes that they are ‘a treasure of monotheism’, although, he notes, ‘very few are conversant with this, even among the Hindus’. Hence, he says, there is an urgent need to bring to light this ‘Great Secret’ so that the Hindus can learn the truth about monotheism as contained in their own scriptures and, in addition, Muslims, too, can be made aware of the spiritual treasures that the Upanishads contain. He goes so far as to claim for the Upanishads, in their original forms, the status of divinely revealed scriptures, claiming that the Qur’anic verse which speaks about a ‘protected book’, which ‘none shall touch but the purified ones’ [Qur’an: LVI, 77-80] literally applies to them, because some of the verses of the Qur’an are to be found in their Sanskrit form therein. This conclusion can indeed be contested, although the sincerity of Dara’s effort to draw parallels between the Hindu and Muslim mystical systems and to stress their common core of tauhid as a uniting principle and the basis of an ethic of universal human understanding and solidarity cannot be so easily dismissed as his detractors did, causing him to be killed at the command of his younger brother and rival to the Mugahl throne, Aurangzeb Alamgir, in the year 1657.

Dara’s relevance in today’s age


Tauhid, or belief in and surrender to the One, formed the aim of Dara’s spiritual quest. Tauhid was also the basis of his effort to develop a rapprochement between people of different communities, most notably Hindus and Muslims. The ethical monotheism that Dara stood for, and which indeed all the prophets had preached, was the basis, and, indeed, real intention of all divine revelation, Dara stressed. The differences in rituals, language, manners and customs, which served to build barriers of division and hostility between different peoples in the name of religion, he seems to have believed, were, ultimately, meaningless, particularly if they were taken as ends in themselves, as many conventional religionists did in Dara’s time—and still do.

Commitment to tauhid is not, Dara suggests, simply a matter of personal belief. Rather, it must necessarily translate into practical action on the social plane. The fact of the unity of God must also be reflected in a deep and abiding commitment to struggling for the unity and solidarity of humankind, beyond all ascriptive differences, working together to fulfil the purposes of God’s creation plan. That struggle for unity, harmony and peace, one whose challenge we continue to be faced with, is demanded precisely by the commitment to tauhid, the core the universal din preached by all prophets, Dara would probably have insisted. This, however, might seem easier said than done.

Peace cannot be had without justice, and in the face of oppression—in the name of religion, nation, community, gender and so on. In the absence of justice, calls for peace are easily reduced into appeals for preserving an iniquitous status quo and remaining silent in the face of oppression. Calls for justice without peace can only mean endless chaos and ceaseless rounds of revenge and retribution. Dara himself fell prey to a system of injustice despite his life spent in quest for peace and human solidarity transcending narrow boundaries, being accused of apostasy by orthodox clerics and sentenced to death by his power-hungry brother.

[Dara Shikoh With Mian Mir And Mulla Shah. Picture from Wiki]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pashto Hafiz

By Bureau report,  *Rahman Baba Urs celebrations conclude* - The News International - Pakistan
Monday, April 19, 2010

Peshawar: The three-day annual Urs of the great 17th century Pashto poet Rahman Baba (1653-1711) arranged by the Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga concluded at the poet’s shrine at Hazarkhwani here Sunday.

A large number of poets from all over the province, tribal areas, Balochistan and Afghanistan attended the event. Every year Rahman Baba’s devotees and poets visit his shrine and pay him tributes. He is called the Hafiz Shirazi of Pashto because of his refined and appealing poetry.

The participants demanded early completion of reconstruction work on Rahman Baba’s mausoleum. The three-day annual celebrations started with a seminar at the Iranian Culture Centre on Friday where scholars read out papers on various aspects of the Sufi poet’s life and poetry.

Speakers termed him the messenger of peace and harmony who through his poetry influenced and inspired many generations of Pukhtuns. They said he was perhaps the most relevant Sufi poet today than ever before.

Prof Dawar Khan Daud in his paper titled ‘Rahman Baba the poet of peace’ pointed out that peace was evident in every verse of his poetry drenched in Sufi thoughts standing above the divisions of race, colour and land. He said Rahman Baba was the perpetual fountain of good sense as individualistically inclined Pukhtuns of all age and sex were still unanimous on his literary stature despite a lapse of more than 300 years. He added that Rahman Baba was the most respected, most quoted and most poplar poet among Pukhtuns. “He is revered both in Pukhtun’s Hujra and mosque,” he observed.

Dr Sohail Insha in his research paper, Rahman Baba the poet of humanism, said that probably he was the most relevant Sufi poet today than ever before because he advocated justice, peace and universal brotherhood in his spiritual poetry.

Prof Dr Hanif Khalil threw light on the political consciousness of the legendary poet and said that Rahman Baba was not just a Sufi reclusive but he was well aware of his surrounding as his poetry spotlighted common people’s problems.

Majeedullah Khalil, who presided over the event, maintained that research scholars had not dug out many hidden aspects of Rahman Baba’s poetic art and stressed that substantive research work should be initiated on his personality and creative work so that the young generation could know about the Sufi poet and his literary contributions.

Abdul Sattar Lawaghari, Malik Qasim and a few others also spoke on the occasion. Malik Wazir, president of Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga, told the participants that all the research papers read out at the seminar would be published in an annual journal of the Jirga’s ‘Rahman Puhanah - Understanding Rahman Baba’.

The other important feature was the two-day poetry recital on April 17-18 held at the shrine of Rahman Baba at Hazarkhwani in which 400 prominent Pashto poets from all parts of the province, Fata, Balochistan and Afghanistan. They attended the celebrations and paid glowing poetic tributes to the great mystic.

The four sessions of the poetry recital were held on each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Poets and Baba’s devotees laid a wreath on Sufi poet’s shrine. With it the Urs came to an end on Sunday. Yousaf Ali Dilsoz conducted the event in a befitting manner.

[ Picture's Source: Wiki ]

Shadi

By Ameer H. Ahmad, *‘Spirituality’ a homage to the pure* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Karachi: An exhibition of works titled ‘Spirituality’ by world-renowned British-Persian artist Mohsen Keiany is being held at the ArtScene Gallery.

The pieces are inspired by the artist’s Persian background and the country’s rich historical and Islamic heritage. The exhibit would continue until May 24.

Keiany states he is greatly inspired by traditional Persian miniature paintings and observing his work one must admit that it echoes his love for Persian philosophy and spirituality.

Painting for Keiany is a form of meditation; he never plans, designs or makes sketches for any of his paintings. He merely creates textures on the canvas and from that figures, trees, landscapes and animals are born.

He states that an artist must be proud of his own work and should not copy from others. His pieces include horses, goats and characters playing music and dancing. Men and women dressed in traditional Sufi clothes playing instruments like the daf and the flute, seemingly in a trance.

He paints using primary colours as a symbol of purity that alludes to how the old masters used to cleanse themselves he states. The colours are reminiscent of the tiles and stained-glass windows in Persian architecture.

He states that his use of warm and hot hues is a representation of the sunny climate of the Middle East. Some of his pieces also include beautifully rendered poetry by Hafez and Rumi.

One of his paintings titled ‘Shadi’ is a painting of women, horses and poetry; he states that ‘Shadi’ in Urdu means marriage whereas in Persian it refers to any happy event.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caucasian Cauldron

By John Russel, *Chechnya: Monster in the Mountains*- The World Today - London, UK
May 2010/ Volume 66, Number 5

Chechnya has returned to haunt Russia. Forty deaths by suicide bombs on the Moscow subway confirm that outsourcing rule in the restive republic is a failed policy.

But no other plan is in sight; these are not likely to be the last innocent lives lost.

The ease with which terrorists detonated their bombs in the heart of the Russian capital - under the very headquarters of the Federal Security Service at the Lubyanka station and near the world famous Gorky Park - raised serious questions, not just about the ability of Russian security forces to defend citizens, but more fundamentally over the entire Russian policy towards the North Caucasus, begun under Vladimir Putin and carried on by his successor as Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

Insofar as Putin's reputation and popularity were built on his aggressive Chechen policy, the latest spike in attacks from the North Caucasus calls into question his frequent assertions that the 'war' against terror in Russia's southern republics has been won.

For Medvedev, who has been much more proactive in addressing the root problems of the region: corruption, unemployment, low levels of development, a question mark hangs over the future of his hand-picked plenipotentiary to the North Caucasus - Aleksandr Khloponin - who was appointed, one assumes, to tackle these issues.

For all his undoubted financial skills and business acumen, the fresh-faced newcomer from Krasnoyarsk appears as vulnerable as a sacrificial lamb in a political landscape increasingly dominated by factions that have a tendency to behave more like wolves than sheep.

CAUCASIAN CAULDRON

In attempting to crush separatism and extremism, the Kremlin twice tried and failed to implement the strategy employed by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamils: to impose a military solution by force, ignoring international condemnation of disproportionate civilian suffering.

By 2000, then President, now Prime Minister, Putin turned to Chechenisation, in effect delegating responsibility for countering the insurgency in Chechnya to pro-Moscow Chechens, led by the Kadyrovs: first the father Akhmad until his assassination in 2004, and then his son Ramzan, now the young and controversial Chechen president. Never popular with some of Putin's presidential advisers, let alone Russian military leaders, the policy appeared to have paid dividends by 2007 when fighting in Chechnya largely subsided.

The Faustian pact between Putin and the Kadyrovs promised, in return for offering the latter virtually a free hand in running their fiefdom, not only Russian territorial integrity, but also a guarantee that ordinary Russians would no longer be subject to such bloody terrorist spectaculars as the 2002 Dubrovka theatre siege and the Beslan hostage-taking two years later. The Moscow subway bombings effectively demonstrate that the deal now appears incapable of fulfilling this important last condition and that Russians must brace themselves for further assaults.

FUNDAMENTALIST TRAJECTORY

Although surprise is necessary for any successful terror operation, the warning signs have been there for some time. Despite the success of Kadyrov in suppressing armed opposition in Chechnya, much of the violence had merely shifted to the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Last year there was a significant increase in the number of insurgent attacks in the three republics as a whole.


As pressure on the resistance increased, the tactic of suicide bombings reappeared after a considerable lull. In November the fight was once again taken to Russia, with the bombing of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St Petersburg.

In February, Doku Umarov, leader of the self-proclaimed Emirate of the North Caucasus, warned after the loss of several key rebel commanders - including the alleged perpetrator of the train bombing, Said Buryatsky - that attacks deep in Russia were being planned. Umarov took responsibility for the Moscow bombings in a video posted on YouTube two days later - subsequently withdrawn - claiming they were in response to the February killing and mutilation by Russian forces of four local civilians.

Umarov, the only field commander who has been fighting federal forces since the outbreak of the first Chechen war in 1994, has gradually evolved from a relatively moderate, nationalist and secular fighter into a radical Islamist pledged to spread the writ of Shari'a law beyond even the North Caucasus to the Muslim republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan on the Volga.

The evolution of this Moscow-based graduate engineer to Russia's 'terrorist number one' appears to have imitated that of his former comrade-in-arms, Shamil Basayev, who went from defending the capital's White House during the communist putsch of August 1991, to masterminding a string of 'terrorist spectaculars', culminating in the Beslan school siege. In fact, Umarov roundly criticised the tactics employed by Basayev at Beslan, vowing henceforth to target government and security personnel rather than civilians.

However, just as Basayev's demeanour changed radically after Russian forces killed eleven of his relatives in 1995, the savage treatment of Umarov's family by pro-Russian Chechen forces - it is rumoured that his septuagenarian father had his eyes plucked out by one of Kadyrov's henchmen - appears to have similarly altered the tactics of the current insurgent leader.

Like Basayev before him, Umarov gave up on any prospect of peace talks with the Russians, especially after the assassination in March 2005 of Aslan Maskhadov - the one Chechen resistance leader who had held out to the last the prospect of negotiations with Putin.

In his frequent webcasts, Umarov has complained repeatedly of both the hypocrisy of the West and the indifference of the Russian public in effectively ignoring what he termed the 'Chechen genocide' and has followed Basayev's trajectory towards a more fundamentalist brand of Islam than the Sufism traditionally followed by Chechens and energetically promoted since Ramzan Kadyrov came to power.

Thus, a man who admitted that, at the start of the conflict with Russia, he barely knew how to pray, has become leader of one of the most active and dangerous Islamic armed groups in the world. Clearly, this conversion has been opportunistic, albeit in part, not least because the bulk of funding for his forces comes from Salafist factions in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the considerable North Caucasian diaspora in the Middle East and Europe.

Western and Russian diplomats tend to agree that there is presently no alternative to Kadyrov's one-man rule, so there appears to be no place for opposition of any hue, let alone Umarov's militants. Indeed, the bitter reality of the situation appeared to reach even the remnants of the Chechen independence movement, led from exile in London by Akhmed Zakayev. He broke with Umarov after the latter established the Emirate in 2007 and at times seemed to be on the brink of an historic reconciliation with Kadyrov.

WHO IS TO BLAME? WHO IS TO GAIN?

Basayev was finally tracked down and killed in July 2006, a fate that, sooner or later, surely awaits Umarov. Inevitably, however, a successor will be found and the conflict will drag on until and unless a satisfactory political resolution is achieved.

While it is understandable that the Russian leadership is keen to stress the international nature of the common threat posed by such terror groups, and even point the finger at 'foreign intelligence services' in organising the Moscow blasts, the reality is that Russian domestic policy must shoulder the lion's share of the blame for the North Caucasus tragedy.

Having effectively chosen, under Putin, to follow the Eurasianist 'great power' path of development, territorial integrity and a highly-centralised political 'vertical' became essential for Russia's survival. This inhibited movement towards genuine federalism and democracy and enhanced the necessity for prerogative power to be exercised by those factions which were, in fact rather than constitutionally, running the country. Although Medvedev has recognised the obstacles that such policies place in the modernisation path, he seems incapable of shifting his country away from the course Putin has set.

BENEVOLENT DESPOTISM

The bizarre outcome of these policies was the emergence of Kadyrov's medieval style of benevolent despotism. In effect duplicating Putin's 'vertical of power', Kadyrov has emerged virtually unchallenged as the arbiter of Chechnya's fate, eliminating all in his way, whether loyal to Moscow or not.

Heavily dependent on both Putin's personal support and generous subsidies from the Russian treasury, Kadyrov, to his credit, has devoted much time and energy to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and giving his people, at least those who do not openly oppose him, relative peace, prosperity and elements of cultural renaissance, embodied in the massive new mosque in the capital Grozny.

Here lies the rub. By actively promoting the Sufi brand of Islam, Kadyrov is not only marginalising the militant Salafis under Umarov, but also turning Chechnya into a cultural, national and religious enclave in Russia.

While this has brought some fame and popularity among his own people and Islamic leaders around the world, his eccentricities clearly remain somewhat of an embarrassment to the current Russian president and make him an unwelcome guest in any western capital.

The Russian leadership's patent misunderstanding of the Caucasian mentality has led separatists and radicals to be lumped together with terrorists in cracking down heavily on any form of opposition. Deprived of any legitimate outlet and subject to repression at every turn, it is hardly surprising that young Muslim men and, as evidenced by the Moscow bombings, increasingly women, are being drawn to the fundamentalist Islamic resistance.

To be fair, even under the intense pressure of the suicide bombings, Medvedev has balanced the tough-talking military approach of his predecessor with a continuing commitment to socio-economic improvement throughout the North Caucasus. Here, Russian interests will undoubtedly at times continue to clash with those of Kadyrov.

Some Russian commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the bombings worked to Kadyrov's advantage by weakening the position of Medvedev's envoy Khloponin. Certainly, irrespective of whether he was involved in any way, following the murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, and the assassinations of pro-Russian Chechen commanders Movladi Baisarov and Sulim Yamadayev, it would appear that Kadyrov might yet again be the immediate beneficiary of acts of political terror.

BLOOD FEUDS

However, neither Caucasian nor Russian politics are ever that simple or transparent. It might equally be argued that, by outperforming his predecessor in firmness and reason in dealing with the attacks, Dmitry Medvedev may well have consolidated his position as a frontrunner for the Russian presidency in 2012. His security forces will go after Umarov and his supporters with renewed vigour, while measures aimed at improving the welfare of citizens in the North Caucasus will continue.

Yet time is not on Medvedev's side. The ability of the Russian economy to continue to bankroll the north Caucasian republics, the growing resentment of ordinary Russians against such generosity and the absence of the flexibility and understanding to reach a genuine political resolution, not to mention the unpredictability surrounding the likely longevity of Kadyrov's rule, all point to the fact that Moscow has produced something of a monster in the North Caucasus mountains.

Insofar as that monster was born amidst, and has been bred on the blood of literally hundreds of thousands of victims, over the past two decades in a region in which the blood feud still holds sway, it would, regrettably, be foolhardy to predict that more will not be shed - be it in Makhachkala or Moscow.

John Russell, Professor of Russian and Security Studies, University of Bradford, author of Chechnya - Russia's 'War on Terror' (Routledge, 2007)

[Picture: Market in Machachkala, Dagestan. Photo: Bolshakov, Wiki]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Khidma

By Ingrid Wassmann, *Moulid in the daytime* - Al-Ahram Weekly - Cairo, Egypt
15 -21 April 2010 / Issue No. 994

The small bare room is covered with green plastic mats.

Rice cornels from lunch have fallen through the cracks.

Men are resting on the diwan pillows lining the walls, smoking and digesting their meal.

An old tape player lets out Sufi chanting. On the top of the recorder lays a Quran and a wrinkled white head turban. Beside it is a bag of tapes with more religious music by other sheikhs, and an old water bottle filled with fresh mint.

By the open window sits Abdel-Moheimen. He has been renting this same four-room flat behind the Al-Hussein Mosque for the past six years just for this annual moulid that ended on Tuesday with Al-Laila Al-Kebira, the Big Night. During the week-long Sufi celebration, Abdel-Moheimen and his friends spent their days as volunteers preparing and serving free meals.

"Many of us also hold jobs," he said. "The most important thing about this is that we do it out of our love for the prophet and his family," explained Abdel-Moheimen, unwilling to divulge how many meals they offer per day out of humility.

Like in numerous other flats and temporary tents around the Al-Hussein Mosque that offer free food as part of khidma, or service, Abdel-Moheimen would welcome men and women for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"The door is always open and we start serving breakfast after the dawn prayers," he added. "We offer meals to whoever comes, rich, poor, Christian, Jewish, foreign. Love is not racist, not white, not black."

Every year thousands of Egyptians from all over the country travel to the capital, gathering around the Al-Hussein Mosque and its backstreets, to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohamed's grandson, Hussein.

One such person is Rasmeya. For the past 35 years, she has been commuting from Mit Ghamr, in the governorate of Daqahliya, to attend the Al-Hussein moulid. "During the day, I sit here, prepare my meals here, drink tea here, but sleep and pray in the mosque," explained the 65-year-old, cross-legged on the sidewalk of Umm Al-Ghoulam Street, adding that she cannot afford to do omra or hajj in Mecca.

Around the corner, Adli Abdel-Rahman is distributing water to those followers gathered in one of the temporary tents erected outside the Al-Hussein Mosque. "At lunch, we served rice and kofta," said Abdel-Rahman, dipping empty cups into a big plastic jug of water. "We prepare the food in Madinet Nasr and bring it here readymade," he added.

Behind him, gathered in a circle on the matted floor of the tent, members of one small family clap their hands to a religious tune.

A small boy, one arm in a cast, blows into a mizmar while his father sings into a rudimentary self-made microphone system.

Photos: Sherif Sonbol / Al-Ahram Weekly

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We Are All United

By Guillaume Lavallee, *Sudan's powerful Sufi orders warm to Beshir's regime* - Agence France-Presse - Paris, France
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Umm Dubban: The village of Um Dubban outside the Sudanese capital Khartoum is an unlikely place for a veteran president to make one of his last campaign stops before his first contested election.

A group of young boys sits in a dusty courtyard in the shadow of a minaret reciting verses of the Koran off wooden tablets as children do in mosque schools across the Muslim world.

But the village is the centre of the Badriyya branch of the Qadariyya, one of the Sufi orders that have traditionally dominated the practice of Islam in northern Sudan, particularly in the countryside, and the boys are being schooled in its mystical teachings.

Such is Um Dubban's renown as a centre of Sufi learning that the boys are drawn from across northern Africa.

"There are children here from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Congo, from Darfur," said Karar, one of the aides of the order's sheikh.

In northern Sudan, the Sufi sheikhs wield enormous influence, being consulted on by villagers about all manner of problems and commanding huge reverence both in life and in death.

Each day, a queue of supplicants seeking advice waits outside the sheikh's office.

"Since I got married, everything has scared me," one man whispers as he awaits his turn. "I hope the sheikh can make me better or do something for me," he adds.

With such influence over daily life comes temporal power and in the years before a 1989 coup brought President Omar al-Beshir to office, the Sufi orders held huge sway over Sudanese politics.

When Beshir seized power, he did so with support from Islamists long suspicious of the Sufi orders because of the perceived heresy of some of their teachings, particularly their reverence for their sheikhs and their tombs.

But Beshir has since fallen out with his longtime mentor, Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, and has moved to consolidate his northern power base by wooing the Sufis.

So it was that he came to make the 30 kilometre (20 mile) journey out from the capital to Umm Dubban last week.

Khartoum University sociology professor Idris al-Hassan is in no doubt about the importance of Beshir's opening to the Sufi orders.

"One cannot exclude the importance of the popular support of the ordinary Sufi order," Hassan said.

"Generally speaking, loyal followers would just get the message and go along in the direction the Sufi order want to go. By going to Umm Dubban, it gives a very strong signal to followers."

Hassan says that the regime's rapprochement with Sufis is all the more striking because of the hostility between the two sides through the 1990s.

"In the early Inqaz (Salvation) years of the regime, the Sufi orders went through a difficult period," he said.

"Nowadays, the Islamists still do not share the same beliefs as the Sufis but they have a pragmatic relationship with them."

One elector queueing outside the village polling station in Um Dubban was clearly impressed by the president's pitch for his vote.

"Now, we're all united, there are no differences," he said as he sheltered from the sun under a tree.

Pictures: A Sudanese Sufi student walks past shrines at the Qadiriya Sufi school in the village of Umm Dawban / Sudanese Sufi Sheikh al-Khalifa al-Tayeb al-Gid, leader of the Qadiriya Sufi school, sits in his room in Umm Dubban. Photos: AFP

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tranquillity of Sufism

By Staff Reporter, *Sotheby's Second Contemporary Art: Turkish Sale Achieves 2.4 Million Pounds* - Art Daily - Spain
Friday, April 16, 2010

London: Sotheby’s second sale of Contemporary Art: Turkish achieved a total of £2,436,850/ $3,779,067/ 5,577,465 TRY, comfortably within its pre-sale estimate of £1.9-2.9 million.

The Thursday's April 15th sale established 16 new artist records for artists including Fahrelnissa Zeid, Taner Ceylan, Haluk Akakçe and Canan Tolon, and was 78.4% sold-by-value.

Bidding was international, and buyers came from across the globe. Of the buyers in the auction, a significant 32% were new to Sotheby’s.

Specialists in charge of the Contemporary Art: Turkish Sale, Ali Can Ertuğ, Sotheby’s Senior Vice President and Dalya Islam, Deputy Director, commented after the sale:

“The strong performance of Contemporary Turkish art in today’s sale demonstrates its growing presence on the international auction scene. The demand for Turkish Contemporary Art, from both Turkish and international collectors, today proved extremely high and ratifies Sotheby’s decision to hold its auctions in this category in London, one of the company’s three most important international selling centres. We are thrilled by the success of this auction and the number of new artist records achieved – it marks another important step in the development of this exciting and fast-growing market. The record achieved for Fahrelnissa Zeid effectively becomes the first modern Turkish work to exceed the $1m mark in an international auction with international bidding.”

Applause erupted in the saleroom as Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Untitled, 1954, (lot 66) sold for £657,250/$1,019,263/ 1,504,314 TRY after seven minutes of frenzied bidding, establishing a new record for the artist at auction.

Surpassing the pre-sale high estimate of £500,000 Untitled, 1954, which saw bidding from no less than four clients, was the highest selling lot of the auction.

The doyenne of Turkish art and one of the first female artists to exhibit at the ICA in the 1950s; Zeid is not only one of the most important Turkish artists, but is arguably one of the most important female artists of the 20th Century.

Her work Untitled was created at the beginning of an era in the artist’s oeuvre, when she began experimenting with abstraction; the colour asserts itself with brilliancy under an influence of Byzantine art, the tranquillity of Sufism and in this particular instance, Africa and its totems.

Picture: Applause erupted in the saleroom as Fahrelnissa Zeid's Untitled, 1954 , sold for £657,250/$1,019,263/ 1,504,314 TRY after seven minutes of frenzied bidding. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sufi Is The Soul

By Venkat Raman, *Fill your soul with some Sufi music* - Indian Newslink - Auckland, New Zealand
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Shoshan, the new album by celebrated artiste Shye Ben Tzur arrived by post just an hour after our last issue went to printers, the immediate response was to issue a Stop Press but we thought we would serve our readers better by writing a review.

The 12-track CD, due for release on April 16, comprises songs in Hebrew, Urdu and Hindi.

It is certainly one of a kind.

Chennai based EarthSync is releasing the album for worldwide sale. The title track Intro Shoshan, followed by Shoshan is so lilting that it would be hard to resist the temptation to hit the replay button.

I was told that Shoshan means ‘Rose’ in Hebrew; by any other name, this album of songs would have been as melodious as they are now. Dil Ke Bahar is another track that would hold you spellbound. The intro entrances, as does the main song.

Vocalist Shubha Mudgal, Spanish Flamenco Guitarist Fernando Perez, Qawwals Zaki Nizami, Mohamad Zakir Elias Aghan and Rajasthani artistes Kutla Khan, Chugge Khan, Rais Khan, Aziz Khan, Chand Nizami and Safi add value to the album with their superb performances.

Testifying the adage that music transcends languages, Shye Ben Tzur has written most of the songs in his native Hebrew. “Even those who do not know the language will enjoy, so long as the music touches their heart,” he said. Ben Tzur respects and follows the finer aspects of Sufism but has retained his original religious identity.

His passion for Sufi music, culture and literature encouraged him to compose music with a touch of Sufism in Hebrew.

More than a decade ago, Ben Tzur arrived in India and was instantly attracted by the folk tunes of North India, especially Rajasthan. Seated in a concert at which Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute) and Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla) performed, he decided to bring the depth of Indian music to his repertoire.

His journey towards achieving proficiency began under the pedagogy of Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, one of the foremost vocalists of the ‘Dhrupad,’ stated to be the oldest form of Hindustani Classical Music.

‘Shoshan is a collaboration of enchanting devotional poetry, irresistible Rajasthani rhythms and electrifying Western grooves. “Although the collaboration celebrates different kinds of devotional poetry, Sufi is the soul of the album,” he said.

While much is made of the fact that Ben Tzur’s music (merging Hebrew with Islamic-Sufi traditions) speaks of peace and reconciliation, the artiste has no agenda. “I am not making any political statements,” he said.

“If someone says that my music bridges these two cultures, my answer would be that I do not see much need for a bridge because I don’t see much difference between them. “Maybe I am blind, but nothing feels foreign. Whatever differences there are, they are part of the divine harmony,” he said.

The 34-year-old lyricist, composer and singer lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Sajida and their little daughter Uriya.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Grand Sheikh Of The Sufis

By Osama el-Mahdy, *Mubarak appoints Grand Sheikh of the Sufis, Al-Azhar chancellor* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt
Sunday, April 11, 2010

President Mubarak has issued two decrees appointing Abdel Hady Ahmed el-Qasbi as the Grand Sheikh of the Sufis and Abdallah el-Husseini as chancellor of Al-Azhar, taking the place of Ahmed el-Tayeb who was recently appointed as Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh.

El-Qasbi is a member of the Shura Council from the district of Tanta, the High Sufi Council, the Supervisory Council and also leads the el-Qasbiya Sufi order.

He is the son of a previous head of Sufi sheikhs, Ahmed Abdel Hady el-Qasbi, making it the first time that a father and son have occupied the position.
The appointment of el-Qasbi comes in the wake of judicial disputes that began a year and a half ago, after the death of Ahmed Kamel Yasin, the previous head of Sufi sheikhs. The sheikhdom at that time witnessed a conflict between el-Qasbi and Mohamed Alaa el-Din Abu el-Azayim, the head of the el-Azamiya order.

The appointment of el-Husseini as the chancellor of Al-Azhar follows his nomination by a minister and after the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar stipulated that whoever occupied the chairmanship should have taught at the university as a professor, as specified by Decree 103 of 1961.

The chancellor directs the academic, managerial and financial affairs of the university, represents the university in its interactions with other bodies and enforces the university's rules and regulations. In the event of a disturbance, the chancellor has the authority to partially or completely shut down the university for a period of three days, after which the decision must be reviewed by the University Council.

The chancellor of the university presents a report to the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar at the end of every academic year a report on teaching affairs and academic research and other activities occurring at the university. He has four deputies that assist him in managing the university's academic, managerial and financial affairs.

In the event that the chancellor cannot perform his official duties, the most senior of his deputies assumes his position.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

[Picture: Al-Azhar, photo of the old Mosque. Cairo, Egypt. Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Azhar_University]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eye of the Heart


By Kabir Helminski, Camille Helminski, *Eye of the Heart* - The Threshold Society - Watsonville, CA, USA
Friday, April 16, 2010

The Threshold Society with Spirituality and Practice is once again offering a Rumi eCourse, an opportunity to participate in a period of reflection and dialog focussed on:

The Journey of the Soul
in the Teachings of Rumi

Seven Weeks, April 18 - June 5

Didn’t I say, don’t sit with sad companions?
Don’t sit with anyone but those whose hearts are glad.
Since you are in the garden, don’t go to thorns.
Sit amidst the roses, jonquils, and jasmine.
(1518)

If you dwell with the unaware, you become cold,
But if you dwell with the aware, you become human.
Make a sanctuary inside a furnace, as true gold does,
Knowing that if you leave, you will freeze.
(170)

For this Online Retreat and Practice Circle, a group of practicing Sufis, who have been on Rumi’s path for many years under the direction of Shaykh Kabir Helminski and Shaykha Camille Helminski, have collaborated to offer some selections from Rumi’s vast work that capture the essence of his teaching.

Every morning for seven weeks, retreat participants will receive a selection by email to be contemplated according to a recommended method of conscious reflection.

Rumi has been quoted everywhere for years now, usually in bite size portions — a line, a couplet, or a quatrain — but it is possible to go deeper, to explore the many themes that form a coherent whole in Rumi’s literary and spiritual legacy. Most importantly, the inspired words of a true spiritual master are nourishment for the soul at a time when such nourishment is vital to sustaining our humanness itself.

Reflecting upon these sacred texts can kindle the precious spark of wisdom within ourselves.

We are calling this retreat "The Journey of the Soul" because it focuses on the practical steps of the spiritual journey. It covers seven themes:

• The Call & Remembrance
• Seeking
• Mercy
• Purity of Heart
• Trust
• Surrender in Love
• Oneness of Being

Each week one theme will be introduced and mentored by one of the Sufi elders; later in the week he or she will relate a personal experience of living that theme. Kabir and Camille Helminski will be monitoring the course as well.

We believe you will find these selections from the teachings of Rumi not only beautiful and inspiring, but informative and practical.

Participants in the retreat will also have access to an online Practice Circle where we will discuss the theme and the poetry as well as ask questions of our retreat mentors.

This Online Retreat has been developed by the Threshold Society, which is affiliated with The Mevlevi Order of Sufis. The Mevlevis, who trace their inspiration back seven centuries to Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, are known for their hospitality to religious seekers of all traditions.

Spirituality & Practice is pleased to partner with the Threshold Society to bring these teachings to our online community. We hope that you will enjoy the retreat and that it will also be deeply transformative to your spiritual understanding.
Seven Weeks, April 18 - June 5
$49.00

Click here to enroll or to give as a gift.

Click on the title of this article to the Threshold Society

Friday, April 16, 2010

Muslim World Music Day

By Bob George, ARChive for Contemporary Music - New York, USA
Monday, April 12, 2010

Muslim World Music Day is April 12, 2011

New York—The ARChive for Contemporary Music announced the launch of Muslim World Music Day, an innovative new project to catalogue and celebrate the diversity of Muslim music.

In collaboration with Columbia University Libraries and the Arts Initiative at Columbia University, and with the support of founding partners Gracenote, the Internet Archive and ARC will lead a live online effort to identify and catalogue tens of thousands of recordings from around the world in a single day: April 12, 2011. One Year From TODAY!

The diverse musical forms inspired by Islam are sacred and secular, traditional and contemporary, locally rooted and globally mobile. Muslim World Music Day will embrace and share a broad understanding of “Muslim music,” acknowledging the debates about the issue within Muslim communities while exploring the musical connections between Islam and other cultural traditions.

From the ecstatic Sufi traditions of qawwali and gnawa to the raucous sounds of taqwacore punk and the flourishing Muslim hip-hop scene, this heritage transcends borders and bias.

The goal of Muslim World Music Day is to develop an open archive of this music through real-time global grassroots participation. ARC is developing the database along with Gracenote (they supply the metadata for iTunes) and the Internet Archive (they save the Internet) will host the interactive website.

Libraries, archives, universities, and cultural organizations around the world will upload metadata on their musical holdings, which the project team will use to create a comprehensive discography.

Collectors, fans, scholars, artists, and record labels will contribute tracks, images, video clips, essays, lectures, bibliographies, and reviews. Partner organizations in several countries will host concerts, seminars, and exhibitions. By the end of those 24 hours, Muslim World Music Day will have created something unprecedented—a permanent, crowd-sourced online catalogue of more than 50,000 recordings supplemented by artistic and educational resources.

The Muslim World Music Day team invites organizations and individuals interested in supporting and participating in the project to contact the ARChive for Contemporary Music.

This exploration of the diverse musical traditions of Muslim communities will lay the groundwork for future efforts to catalogue music from other global traditions, as every year we will create a “Day” to honor a different style, genre or national music.

###

About the ARC: Now in our 25 year, the ARChive of Contemporary Music is the largest collection of popular music in the world, with over two million recordings. It is supported by a Board of Advisors comprised of leading musicians, songwriters and directors, including David Bowie, Jellybean Benitez, Jonathan Demme, Michael Feinstein, Jerry Leiber, Youssou N'Dour, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers, Todd Rundgren, Fred Schneider, Martin Scorsese, Paul Simon and Mike Stoller.

###

Partners + Contributors to Muslim World Music Day

The following is a list of partners and contributors who have agreed to offer concerts, seminars, symposiums, lectures, and contribute funding, data and materials to the ARChive’s Muslim World Music Day.

Funding and Project Partners:

Gracenote (provides metadata for iTunes) / The Arts Initiative @ Columbia University / The Internet Library (they save the internet) and The Libraries @ Columbia University

Contributors:

• AfroPop Worldwide, Syndicated National Public Radio program. Radio show.
• Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Concerts, metadata and recordings by Central Asian Artists.
• Ozan Aksoy, PhD candidate, Ethnomusicology, CUNY Graduate Center, director CUNY Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. Kurdish musician from Turkey who will contribute a performances and organizing events or concerts.
• Al Andalus Ensemble – Charlie Bisharat, Tarik Banzi and Julia Banzi, a trio that bridges world, traditional contemporary and classical genres. Concert.
• The American Musicological Society, Robert Judd, Executive Director. Historically related articles on Muslim music.
• Elizabeth Angell, Graduate Fellow, Anthropology, Columbia. Turkish/Middle Eastern popular culture essays.
• Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Harvard. Focus on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions. Lecture and conference participant.
• Asia Society, New York City. Concert.
• Dr. Michael Buehler, Postdoctoral Fellow, Modern Southeast Asian Studies, Weatherhead Institute, Columbia.
• Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Columbia.
• Center for Traditional Music and Dance, NYC. Concert and documentation on NYC’s Muslim immigrant communities.
• Columbia University Middle Eastern Research Center (CUMERC), Jordan. Symposium.
• Gene DeAnna, Head, Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress. Cataloging data on 1244 Arabic music tapes in their Voice of America Collection.
• Hirad Dinavari, Reference Librarian for the Iranian World Collections, Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division. Metadata, genre definitions and possible conference.
• Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Curator, World and Traditional Music, British Library Sound Archive. Data on holdings at the British Library for the MWMD database.
• Dr. Michael Frishkopf, Associate Professor, Department of Music, University of Alberta and Associate Director, Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology. Specialist in the aural rituals of Islam (especially Sufi music) in Egypt, West Africa and Canada, as both a scholar and performer.
• Dr. Alan Godlas, Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Georgia, administers the Islamic Studies Resources/UGA Virtual Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Islamic World (VCISIW). Symposium, links and essay.
• Dr. Janice Gross, Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages Grinnell, Iowa. Essay on gender and national identity on Muslim immigrant communities and music in France.
• Dr. Abdel-Hamid Hamam, Dean, Art & Design, University of Jordan, Amman. Concerts.
• Karl Gert zur Heide, Bremen, Germany. Essay: American 'rag' from Arabic 'raqs'.
• Sussan Deyhim (composer, vocalist), Richard Horowitz, composer, multi instrumentalist. Performance and/or lecture.
• Jon Kertzer, The Best Ambiance Radio, KEXP, Seattle, WA. Show on Muslim Music.
• Michael Muhammad Knight, author, the novel The Taqwacores.
• Bassekou Kouyate, Mali’s leading virtuoso on the ngoni, a traditions griot lute. Concert.
• Susan Lewandowski, Assistant Curator, Musical Instruments Collections, Department of World Cultures, National Museums Scotland. Sound samples and instrument index.
• Limewire, world's most popular legal peer-to-peer file-sharing site. Dedicated Islamic storefront and blog.
• Prof Jostine Loubser, Faculty of Arts, Media and Social Sciences, School of Media Music & Performance, University of Salford, Manchester, UK. Mini music festival and lecture.
• Omar Majeed, director, documentary, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam.
• Groupe Mazagan, Morocco, Concert.
• Meedan, San Francisco. Will blog MWMD live in both English and Arabic.
• Youssou N'dour. Concert – hopefully @ the United Nations.
• National Music Conservatory of King Hussein Foundation, Jordan. Concerts.
• Fred Patterson, ARC. Essay and discography on The Jazz Messengers, American-Muslim big band.
• Robert Reeder, photographer. Recent images from the Middle East.
• Braden Ruddy, journalist. Essay with focus on Arab-American and Arab-Canadian hiphop.
• Ruwwad Center, Amman, Jordan. Youth orchestra concert.
• Dr. Ilaria Sartori, Sapienza University, Rome. Musicologist, Ethnomusicologist, Expert in Ethiopian Cultural Heritage. Lecture and/or article on the music(s) of Ethiopian Muslims.
• Robert Singerman, Music with Subtitles. Universal translator for lyrics in any language.
• Ted Swedenburg, Professor of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Middle East Report editorial committee member and KXUA d.j. Radio show, blog and organize a day of teaching or a seminar.
• Dr. Ayman Tayseer, University of Jordan, Faculty of Arts & Design. Essays.
• Dr. Victor A. Vicente, Assistant Professor of Music, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China. Specialist in the musical cultures of Turkey and the Middle East.
• WKCR Radio, NYC. Marathon of Middle Eastern music.
• Eyad Zahra, director, The Taqwacores, film on Muslim punks.

Click on the title of this article to the Project Website

Visit ARC on Facebook

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Name Of God
No comments:
By Nimet Seker, *Jewish Mystics on the Sufi Path* - Qantara.de - Bonn, Germany
Friday, April 23, 2010

The Middle East conflict has dug deep trenches of enmity between Jews and Muslims.

That makes it easy to forget that, for centuries, the two religions contributed much to each other's philosophy and spirituality.

Nimet Seker looks at the influence of Muslim Sufism on Jewish mysticism

Jews do not traditionally destroy texts which include the name of God – even when they are no longer needed. Such texts are kept in the synagogue in a special room called the geniza, "hiding place" in Hebrew. Over 100 years ago, the geniza of the Ben Ezra synagogue was opened, and extraordinary things came to light.

The bricked-up room contained works in Arabic and Hebrew by mediaeval Muslim mystics and pietistic texts by Jewish writers which were clearly inspired by Sufism.

Many of the texts date from the lifetime of Rabbi Abraham Maimonides (1186–1237), the son of the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. Rabbi Abraham he-Chassid ("the pious") was the religious and political leader of the Jewish community at the time, and was a significant proponent of a Sufi form of Jewish piety which the Jewish texts call chassidut. The title he-Chassid indicates someone pious who follows a spiritual path, similar to that of the Muslim Sufis.

Sufism as a prophetic tradition

Rabbi Abraham wrote openly in his works of his admiration for the Sufis. He describes biblical figures as pietists with Sufi characteristics and sees the Sufis as the real heirs to the traditions of Israel. He considers that important Sufi rituals are based on the Jewish prophets; through the sufferings of exile, the Jews had forgotten this spiritual tradition and now had to rediscover it.

Abraham did not just see the matter theoretically; he introduced a number of changes in the synagogue services, such as the washing of hands and feet before prayer, which is not traditional in Judaism; the ordering of the congregation into rows, as in Muslim practice; facing Jerusalem in prayer, as Muslims face Mecca; and various gestures, such as standing, kneeling, bowing and stretching out the hands during petitionary prayers.

Most noticeable were typical practices of the Sufis such as hitbodedut, solitary meditation in the dark, and the ritual of dhkir (Arabic for "thinking of God"). Abraham found sources for all these new practices, which he rediscovered in Islam, in the Jewish Bible.

The family of Abraham Maimonides continued these Sufi-influenced tradition for another 200 years. And this Sufi-Jewish pietism was not a local Egyptian phenomenon: there is evidence of Sufi-based Jewish mysticism among the Jews of Andalusia, of Damascus, Yemen, Palestine and Persia.

The cabbalists of Spain and Palestine

The esoteric teachings of the Spanish cabbalists around Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291) exhibit considerable similarities to the rituals of Muslim mystics: they include, for example, complicated songs, controlled breathing techniques and typical head movements. These were all practices which did not exist in the Kabbalah before the Middle Ages. Abulafia introduced into Judaism the ecstatic aspects of the Sufi dhikr rituals, in which the name of God is repeated so often that one reaches a trance-like state.

The famous Kabbalistic school of Safed in Galilee also seems to have been influenced by Sufism. During the sixteenth century, when the Kabbalist Isaac Luria was active, Safed was also a flourishing centre of Muslim mysticism. It boasted a Sufi convent, as reported by the Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi.

There are striking parallels: the Kabbalists held spiritual concerts (baqashot) at which mystical verses were sung, as did the Mevlevi dervishes. Spiritual brotherhoods were established around a saint, and here too there was the practice of hitbodedut (in Arabic khalwa) and dhikr (in Hebrew hazkarah).

The Sabbateans and the Chassidim

During his exile to Ottoman Adrianople (today Edirne in Turkey), the mystic Jewish Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi, or Sabbatai Zevi, who later converted to Islam, took part in dhikr rituals with the Bektashi dervishes. His followers adopted some Bektashi rituals and spiritual songs in their own ceremonies.

Even the Eastern European Chassidic movement in the eighteenth century may have been influenced by Islam. The Southern Polish province of Podolia, once under Ottoman rule, was the cradle of Chassidism. It was also a centre for the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi, who maintained contact with Ottoman Saloniki, which was a stronghold of Sabbateanism.

Cabbalistic and Chassidic rites are still an important part of Jewish tradition, especially in the USA and Israel.

Those who speak of the "Judeo-Christian roots of Western culture" thus close their eyes to its Judeo-Muslim roots and the common spiritual and philosophical tradition of the two religions. As so often, as well as that which divides, there is also much that unites them.

Picture: A mystic discovery in the secret hiding-place of a Cairo synagogue: manuscripts of mediaeval texts by Muslim and Jewish mystics
Read More

Thursday, April 29, 2010

$149,000 Grants
No comments:
By Staff Reporter, *US puts up $149,000 for Sufi shrines’ preservation* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Thursday, April 22, 2010

US Ambassador Anne Patterson announces $65,011 for Hazrat Fareed’s shrine, $22,358 for Hazrat Musa Pak’s and $62,351 for Hazrat Rajan Qattal’s

Conservation work to include brick and tile renovation, removal of worn-out paint and plaster, restoration of original frescoes

Lahore: United States Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson on Wednesday announced grants worth $149,000 for the conservation and restoration of the three Sufi shrines in Punjab under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

She was speaking at the signing ceremony of the cultural preservation project at Jahangir’s Tomb. Patterson said the US government was honoured to contribute to the preservation of the shrines of Hazrat Rajan Qattal in Uch Sharif, Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed in Multan and Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed in Rajanpur.

Grant breakdown: She also lauded the Punjab Archaeology Department’s support in preserving the province’s cultural heritage sites. The US ambassador announced a $65,011 grant for Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed’s shrine, $22,358 for the shrine of Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed and $62,351 for the shrine of Hazrat Rajan Qattal.

Patterson said these sites are not only part of Pakistan’s heritage, but were treasured by the world at large. The conservation projects will include renovation of brick and tile work, the removal of superficial layers of paint and worn-out plaster to unearth the original plaster designs, replacing decaying wooden beams and restoring the frescoes to their original form.

In addition to the three grants, the US embassy has also funded the conservation of several sites in Pakistan, including the Alamgiri Gate of the Lahore Fort, the Sirkap Site and Jinnan Wali Dehri in Taxila, Masjid Mahabat Khan and Gor Khuttree in Peshawar, Maan Sing Haveli, the Rohtas Fort and the bazaar of the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore.

Three restoration projects – currently underway in Punjab include Hazrat Shah Shams Tabraiz’s shrine in Multan, the Hafiq Hayat Complex in Gujranwala and Hazrat Sakhi Sarwar’s shrine in Dera Ghazi (DG) Khan. The US has spent more than $20 million on 550 similar projects under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation across the globe during the last decade.

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Archaeology Department Director General (DG) Haroon Ahmad Khan said the US had funded a number of preservation projects in different parts of the province and helped restore places, such as the Alamgiri Gate of Lahore Fort, the Wazir Khan Mosque and others.

Terming the US’ grants for the three shrines a ‘noble gesture’, he thanked Patterson for Washington’s keen interest in the restoration of Pakistan’s cultural heritage sites.
Read More

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pohela Boishakh
No comments:
By Zafar Soibhan, *Re-framing the debate* - The Daily Star - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Friday, April 23, 2010


Pohela Boishakh [Bengali New Year] has long been contested political ground. For most Bangladeshis it is a cherished article of authentic indigenous Bengali culture. But not for the fundamentalists, who have long made it a target, both rhetorically and in more direct and deadly ways.

I have always felt that this hostility to Bengali culture, which to them has the taint of our pre-Islamic heritage, has long been the principal stumbling block for the fundamentalists in their struggle to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Bangladeshis.

But the fundamentalists make no bones about their opposition to Pohela Boishakh. They make no bones about their hatred of the new year's celebrations at Ramna Batamul. This hatred and hostility was why militants bombed the celebrations in 2001, killing 10 and injuring scores.

But this hostility to Bengali culture is one significant reason why fundamentalism has never gained much traction among the general population.

In the long run, the fundamentalists face a similar problem with respect to religion. It is not that Bangladeshis are not religious people. In fact, religious faith is an important part of most Bangladeshis' identity.

But Bengali Islam, which was introduced to the region by Sufi missionaries, has long been a syncretic and liberal creed, that for many includes veneration of Sufi saints and their holy shrines.

The fundamentalists have declared war on all this (they bomb the shrines, too) in their attempt to impose a more rigid and conservative Wahhabi-infused doctrine on the nation.

Religion has always been a hot button issue in Bangladeshi politics. But here there are two things to note.

The first is that all political parties in the country recognise the centrality of faith in the Bangladeshi psyche. In other words, it is not as though there is no place for people of faith outside of the Islamist political parties.

The second point is that even among the Islamist political parties, there are those that are not hostile to our pre-Islamic and non-Islamic Bengali heritage and culture. In other words, there are many more options other than just the Jamaat-e-Islami.

This new year, the Jamaat finds itself in uncharted territory due to the government's determination to, at long last, pursue war crimes trials that will doubtless focus on many members of the Jamaat high command.

But the interesting thing is that this might in fact make the Jamaat a more popular party in the long run, once it has expunged itself of the taint of war crimes and collaboration in 1971.

In fact, many of the younger members of the party, most of whom were not even born in 1971, reportedly want the trials and are looking forward to a future when the party's role in 1971 is not a mill-stone around its neck.

Alas for these young idealists, that is not the only problem the Jamaat faces. As long as it continues to oppose Islam as it is traditionally practiced in Bangladesh and our indigenous Bengali culture, I suspect the party will continue to have a tough time attracting adherents.

But religion remains a live issue and the AL needs to address the perception that the party is hostile to the religious, that has long been the party's Achilles' heel.

To this end, the AL is attempting to re-frame the discussion. No longer is the argument that the AL is the party of secularism, per se, that, in many people's eyes, translates into being anti-religion.

The AL's new line of argument, insofar as the debate centres on religion, is to re-brand the party as the defender of Islam as it has traditionally been practiced in Bangladesh.

It feels that a more compelling line of attack against the Jamaat is to criticise them, not for being anti-secular or communal, per se, even though they are, but for promoting a non-indigenous practice of Islam which is alien to most Bangladeshis.

This means making a big deal of promoting the nation's Sufi heritage and articles of traditional Bengali culture such as Pohela Boishakh.
This is what was behind the renaming of the airport after the great Sufi saint Hazrat Shahjalal.

Naming it after this revered figure of Bengali Islam helps shore up the government's religious credentials. There is now talk that each one of the big airports in the country will be named after a different Sufi saint.

This helps to reframe the national debate over religion, not as religious versus secular but as indigenous versus alien. This is firm ground for the AL to contest from.

I don't know about the short run, but re-framing the debate on terms more advantageous to you is what wins political battles in the long run.
Zafar Sobhan is Editor, Editorial & Op-Ed, The Daily Star.

[Click here for a Wiki about Pohela Boishakh]
Read More

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Despite The Logic
No comments:
By Herpreet Kaur Grewal, *Rock against religious fanaticism* - The Guardian - UK
Thursday, April 22, 2010

How a smashed guitar brought an epiphany for a Pakistani student with rock'n'roll dreams

One day in 1982, a Pakistani medical student named Salman Ahmad was playing guitar at a student talent show in a Lahore hotel when a young religious fanatic dashed on stage.

He snatched Ahmad's Gibson Les Paul from round his neck and smashed it, because he thought rock music was an affront to Islam. It was, Ahmad says, a profound moment in his life.

"For me to feel like I wanted to smash my guitar, it would have been a political statement," he says. "The idea of getting on stage is to steal the show. I didn't even finish my show and my guitar was being smashed by somebody else. It took me four years to decide whether to pursue music after that. I didn't want to play music if people wanted to kill you for playing guitar."

Ahmad spent the next few years playing cricket – his other passion – to a high standard, alongside the likes of Imran Khan, who later led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup. On a cricket tour of Bangladesh, he met some local musicians in a Dhaka hotel lobby who got him play guitar in exchange for some match tickets. Ahmad says: "I started playing Black Magic Woman and everything just came back and I thought, 'That's my space.' A light bulb went on in my head and I thought, 'If these Bangladeshi kids are enjoying this, why can't we play in Lahore?' Despite the logic that said, 'Become a doctor, it's safer', my junoon [in Urdu, "extreme passion"] said 'No way."

Ahmad, whose autobiography Rock & Roll Jihad was published last week, was born in Lahore in 1963, but his family moved around a lot because of his father's job in the airline industry he lived in Kuwait, London, Denmark and the US, where he fell in love with rock music. Going to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1977 was "an assault on the senses", he says. "The excitement I felt as Led Zeppelin ripped into its set began at the base of my spine and enveloped first my heart and then my head. I didn't know any Zeppelin songs but it didn't matter. Celtic, Indian, and Arabic melodies combined with the blues with effortless ease."

He bought a guitar and became part of a high-school band, with Jewish and Catholic friends. "I was the overweight, brown kid – the last person on earth, who would be a rock star," he says. Then, when he was 18, his parents moved the family back to Pakistan, where Ahmad enrolled in medical school. But the years in America had left their mark, and Ahmad started playing in public – until a fanatic smashed his guitar.

Four years later, after his spirits had been revived by playing Black Magic Woman in that Dhaka hotel lobby, Ahmad made another choice: to reach out to the youth of Pakistan who were not allowed to listen to rock, under the dictatorship of its then ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Combining classic rock and the blues and mixing it with the mystical music and poetry of Islamic Sufism, he created "Sufi rock". At first it was in clandestine, small-scale bands. But then, after General Zia died in 1988, rock was able to move overground in Pakistan, and Ahmad joined first Vital Signs, then, in 1991, Junoon, who have sold 30m albums worldwide between them. Politicians, celebrities and journalists clamoured to be associated with them because they represented a progressive Pakistan.

Defying death threats, Ahmad fashioned Junoon as advocates of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence. "I wanted a natural meeting ground for the different [western and eastern] sounds, whereas other bands wanted to ape [western bands]," Ahmad says. "I didn't want us to just be the Pakistani Led Zeppelin."

Now 46, Ahmad lives and teaches in New York and continues to resist labels. "Boxes are created – Punjabi, Pakistani, American – by society just to get a sense of order and hierarchy. The reality is in the gaps."

Rock & Roll Jihad is published by Simon & Schuster. Junoon's album of the same name is being released digitally by Nameless Sufi music

Picture: 'Boxes are created by society' … Salman Ahmad. Photo: Farooq Naeem/Getty
Read More

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interfaith Harmony
1 comment:
By APP, *Pakistan committed to inter-faith harmony: Qureshi* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Foreign ministers of Iran, Afghanistan to attend international Sufi conference


Multan: Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the promotion of interfaith harmony and said an international Sufi conference would be organised in Multan soon.

Addressing a gathering of pilgrims during the first session of Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam conference after inaugurating the three-day 696th annual urs of the renowned saint, he said the first session of the conference, being organised by ministries of foreign affairs and religious affairs, will be held in Multan and the second session in Herat city of Afghanistan.

FMs: The FM said the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Iran will also attend the international Sufi conference in addition to the religious scholars from different faiths.

He said the process of inter-faith dialogue was meant to create understanding amongst people belonging to different faiths to understand each other’s point of view and two sessions of inter-faith conference have already been held at Philippines and Spain.

Qureshi expressed concern that a section of people were misinterpreting Islamic teaching to tarnish the image of Islam. But these elements do not represent the majority, he added.

The FM said approval of 18th Amendment was a big achievement and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had congratulated Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on its approval during the nuclear safety summit in Washington.

He said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and the Balochistan leadership had attended the ceremony where President Asif Ali Zardari signed the 18th Amendment Bill.

No dissent: He said it was important that no dissenting note had been written by the Balochistan leadership. He said the government had announced Aghaze Huqooqe Balochistan package to heal the wounds of the Baloch people and announced a National Finance Commission (NFC) Award that promises more resources for Balochistan.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi, while speaking on the occasion, lauded the FM’s plan to promote inter-faith harmony.

Earlier, Allama Farooq Saeedi, Khalid Sultan and other religious scholars also addressed the gathering and highlighted the services of Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam for the people.

Picture: Mausoleum of  Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam (d. 1335). Photo: Wiki.
Read More

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Transcending Communitarian Bounds
No comments:
By Yoginder Sikand, *The Tauhidic basis for inter-community peace and justice: Lessons from Dara Shikoh* -Two Circles Net - Cambridge, MA, USA

In today’s rapidly globalizing world, relations between states and between different communities need a firmly moral basis.

Clearly, as long as such relations are premised, as they are today, simply on unequal power and economic structures, sustained peace and justice will remain elusive, and ongoing conflicts can only linger on or even further exacerbate.

While generally-accepted secular contemporary human rights norms are an obvious ingredient in developing this moral basis for international and inter-community relations, they are, in themselves, insufficient. Given the salience of religion globally (and also of conflicts that are sought to be justified by appeals to religion), the moral basis for such relations needs also to draw on existing religious/spiritual resources.

A key task in this regard is to recover, articulate and promote religious traditions or interpretations that reflect or champion justice, peace and solidarity transcending communitarian bounds, being grounded in a firm faith in ethical monotheism. These traditions can make a valuable contribution in developing the moral basis that we seek today to govern inter-community and international relations, providing them with a vital transcendental dimension that contemporary secular human rights discourses lack.

This paper seeks to develop this argument by building on the insights of a key medieval Indian religious figure Dara Shikoh, focusing particularly on his quest for developing a consensus between conflicting religious communities and their conflicting truth claims.

Dara Shikoh’s quest for a universal Sufi ethic

Dara Shikoh, eldest son of the Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, and heir apparent to his throne, was born near Ajmer in 1615 C.E.1 It is said that before Dara’s birth, Shah Jahan had paid a visit to the tomb of the great Chishti Sufi mystic, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer and there had prayed for a son to be born to him, since all his earlier children had been daughters. Thus, when Dara was born great festivities were held in Delhi, the imperial capital, for the Emperor now had an heir to succeed him to the throne.

Like any other Mughal prince, Dara’s early education was entrusted to maulvis attached to the royal court, who taught him the Qur’an, Persian poetry, and history. His chief instructor was one Mullah ‘Abdul Latif Saharanpuri, who developed in the young Dara an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and the speculative sciences, including Sufism. In his youth, Dara came into contact with numerous Muslim and Hindu mystics, some of whom exercised a profound influence on him. The most noted among these was Hazrat Miyan Mir (d.1635 C.E.), a Qadri Sufi of Lahore whose disciple he later became. Hazrat Miyan Mir is best remembered for having laid the foundation-stone of the Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple at Amritsar at the request of his close friend, Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.

The strand of Qadri Sufism that Miyan Mir represented, which he must have bequeathed to his disciples, including Dara, thus appears to have been extremely catholic and accepting of spiritual truths in other traditions and communities. This must be seen as in marked contrast to the ‘orthodox’ ‘ulema associated with the royal courts, the vast majority of who appeared to champion a misplaced Islamic or, more exactly, Muslim supremacism, not just denying the possibility of spiritual worth in other faith traditions and communities but also going so far as to advocate their suppression and extirpation.

After Dara was initiated into the Qadri Sufi order, which he describes in his Risala-i Haq Numa as ‘the best path of reaching Divinity’, he came into contact with several other accomplished mystics of his day, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, including Shah Muhibullah, Shah Dilruba, Shah Muhammad Lisanullah Rostaki, Baba Lal Das Bairagi, and Jagannath Mishra. Dara’s willingness to freely interact with, among other, non-Muslim seekers of the truth marked an understanding of Islam that was in contrast to the court ‘ulema. It was perhaps more in line in keeping with the original Quranic vision, which regards all communities as having been the recipients of divine revelation through prophets, all of who taught a common, universal din, the same primal religion of surrender to the One that was preached by the last of them, the Prophet Muhammad.

Dara’s close and friendly interaction with non-Muslim mystics led him to seek to establish bridges of understanding between Sufism and local or Indic forms of mysticism. In pursuit of this aim, Dara set about seeking to learn more about the religious systems of the Brahmins. He studied Sanskrit, and, with the help of the Pandits of Benaras, prepared a Persian translation of the Upanishads, which was later followed by his Persian renderings of the Gita and the Yoga Vasishta. Throughout this endeavour, his fundamental concern was the quest for the discovery of the Unity of God, seeking to draw out commonalities in the scriptures of the Hindus and the Muslims.

One can see this quest as a search for the recovery of the original vision of both the Quran and of the Indic scriptures, the former having been clouded by excessive ritualism in the name of the shari‘ah and Muslim communalism, the latter by widespread corruption, ritualism and caste prejudice. If, as Dara possibly believed, the core of Islam, understood here in the sense of the primal din taught by all the prophets, including the Prophet Muhammad and the prophets sent by God to India, was monotheism (Arabic/Farsi/Urdu: tauhid, Hindi: ekishvarvad), his quest in drawing parallels between the Quran and the Upanishads can be seen as an effort to recover, highlight and stress this monotheism—the basic common core of divine revelation that could bring about a grand reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus.

This project of unity was to be based on the principle of tauhid, regarding the differences of language, custom and ritual that distinguished Muslims and Hindus from each other as secondary, and, indeed, ultimately speaking, immaterial in the eyes of God.

Dara expresses this concern in his Persian translation of the Upanishads, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) thus:

“And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity [of God], which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment. […] Thereafter, I began to ponder as to why the discussion of monotheism is so conspicuous in India and why the Indian [Hindu] mystics and theologians of ancient India do not disavow the Unity of God, nor do they find any fault with the Unitarians.”

Dara’s works are numerous, all in the Persian language, only some of which are readily available today. His writings fall into two broad categories. The first consists of books on Sufism and Muslim saints, the most prominent of these being the Safinat ul-Auliya, the Sakinat ul-Auliya, the Risala-i Haq Numa, the Tariqat ul-Haqiqat, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin and the Iksir-i ‘Azam. The second consists of writings on parallels between Muslim and Hindu mysticism, such as the Majma’ ul-Bahrain, the Mukalama-i Baba Lal Das wa Dara Shikoh, the Sirr-i Akbar, and his Persian translations of the Yoga Vashishta and the Gita.





















Dara on Tauhid as the basis of human unity

Dara’s Muslim critics, particularly among the Sunni ‘ulema (in his own time, down to our own) berated him for allegedly renouncing Islam or for allegedly mixing Islam with ‘infidelity’. Nothing could be further from the truth. In actual fact, Dara’s commitment to Islam was unquestionable, although, obviously, his understanding of Islam was in marked contrast to that of his ‘orthodox’ Sunni critics, particularly on the question of recognising, accepting, respecting and even celebrating religious truths in other communities, particularly the Hindus, whom the ‘ulema regarded as infidels and polytheists who deserved to be exterminated, or, at least, to be crushed and subdued.

Dara’s understanding was hardly an aberration even within the larger Muslim Sufi fold, for numerous other Indian Sufis made much the same arguments. Dara located himself firmly within the broader Sufi Muslim tradition, as is evident from the numerous works on Sufism that he penned, including the Safinat ul-Auliya, a biography of several leading Sufi saints, his first work, composed in 1640 C.E., and the Sirr ul-Auliya, his second biography of various Sufi saints. Unlike the Sakinat ul-Auliya, which deals with Sufis of various orders, this book discusses only the Qadri Sufis of India.

Here Dara explicitly declares his Qadri credentials, confessing, ‘Nothing attracts me more than this Qadri order, which has fulfilled my spiritual aspirations’. Dara’s third book on Sufism, the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin or ‘The Aphorisms of the Gnostics’, consists of the sayings of 107 Sufis of various spiritual orders. In his introduction, Dara explains why he wrote the book: “I was enamoured of studying books on the ways of the men of the Path and had in my mind nothing save the understanding of the Unity of God.” This thirst to comprehend the principle and meaning of tauhid—the core of not just the Quran, but all other forms of divine revelation as well prior to the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, and indeed the uniting principle of all of them, placed Dara firmly within the Islamic tradition, as broadly understood.

In line with numerous other mystics, Dara, as is evident in his writings on Sufism, was bitterly critical of ritualism in the name of religion, which tended to substitute for genuine devotion and which also served to build walls of division between various communities. In the Hasanat ul-‘Arifin, Dara bitterly criticises self-styled ‘ulama who, ignoring the inner dimension of the faith, focus simply on external rituals. His critique is directed against mindless ritualism emptied of inner spiritual content, and he challenges the claims of religious professionals who would readily trade their faith for worldly gain. Thus, he says:

May the world be free from the noise of the mulla
And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.

As for those religious scholars and priests who claim to be religious authorities but have actually little or no understanding at all of the true spirit of religion, Dara writes, ‘As a matter of fact, these are ignoramuses to themselves and learned to the ignorant’, and adds the following couplet:

Every prophet and saint suffered afflictions and torments,
Due to the vicious and ignominious conduct of the mullah.

The term ‘mullah’ here is thus not a class just limited to Muslims alone. It comes to stand for exploitative religious professionals associated with every community whose tradition is associated with one or the other prophet or saint. Its parallel in the Hindu tradition would be the pandit, whom numerous Indian mystics roundly berated for precisely the same reasons. These men, who thrive on opposing true religiosity, have, Dara would probably argue, a vested interest in stressing and magnifying differences, based largely on language, customs and rituals, between different communities, turning a blind eye to the basis of all true religion—tauhid—consciousness of which alone can unite people beyond narrow, ascriptive communal boundaries. In another of his works on Sufism, Tariqat ul-Haqiqat, Dara articulates tauhid as the basis of an ethic that can unite all human beings irrespective of communitarian labels in the following verse:

You dwell in the Ka‘aba and in Somnath [a famous Shaivite temple]
And in the hearts of the enamoured lovers.

In his Risala-i Haq Numa, Dara discusses the various stages on the Sufi path, where the seeker (salik) is shown as starting from the ‘alam-i nasut or ‘the physical plane’, and, passing through various stages, finally reaching the ‘alam-i lahut or ‘the plane of Absolute Truth’. Some of the physical exercises employed by the Sufis that are described in the Risala-i Haq Numa are shown by Dara to be similar to those used by the Hindu Tantriks and Yogis. These include astral healing and concentration on the centres of meditation in the heart and brain. Further, he suggests that the four planes through which the Sufi seeker’s journey takes him—nasut , jabrut, malakut and lahut—correspond to the Hindu concept of the avasthanam or the four ‘states’ of jagrat, swapna, shushpati and turiya. By stressing the similarities, or identicalness, of the concept of the planes in both Hindu and Muslim mystical systems, Dara seems to argue that, at root, both stem from a common tauhidic tradition, the differences between them, as suggested by their different terminology, being apparent—only linguistic—and not real.


Dara on the religious systems of Hindus

Medieval Muslim ‘ulema in India, as has been suggested earlier, generally (with notable exceptions) regarded the Hindus as polytheists, and some of them even went so far as to refuse to accept them even as ‘People of the Book’ (ahl-i kitab), who could be granted protection in return for the payment of the jizya. This attitude of theirs was a principal cause for a deep-rooted and long-standing tradition of hostility between Hindus and Muslims. It was premised on a notion of Muslim communal supremacism, which some noted Sufis actively protested against as un-Islamic, and not warranted by their understanding of Islam and tauhid. Dara can be classed in this category of Sufis, who not only denounced Muslim communalism but also actively sought to explore a common spiritual basis for unity between Hindus and Muslims, rooted in tauhid.


In pursuance of this aim, Dara wrote extensively on the religious systems of the Hindus, following in the tradition of several Muslim mystics and scholars before him. Like several Muslim Sufis, he saw the possibility of some religious figures of the Hindus having been actually been prophets of God, and certain Hindu scriptures as having been of divine origin. Thus, for instance, he writes in the Sirr-i Akbar that a strong strain of monotheism may be discerned in the Vedas and opines that the monotheistic philosophy of the Upanishads may be ‘in conformity with the Holy Qur’an and a commentary thereon’.

In his quest for an empathetic understanding of the Hindu religious systems, Dara spent many years in the study of Sanskrit, and for this purpose employed a large number of Pandits from Benaras. Several contemporary Sanskrit scholars praised him for his liberal patronage of the language. Prominent among these was Jagannath Mishra, who, it is said, was once weighed against silver coins at Shah Jahan’s command and the money given to him. He was the author of the Jagatsimha, a work in praise of Dara, and of the Asif Vilasa, a treatise written in praise of Asif Khan, brother of Nur Jahan, wife of Shah Jahan. Other Sanskrit scholars who were patronised by Dara included Pandit Kavindracharya, who was granted a royal pension of two thousand rupees, and Banwali Das, author of a historical work on the kings of Delhi from Yudhishtra, a key figure of the epic Mahabharata, to Shah Jahan, for which he was honored by Shah Jahan with the title of Sarvavidyanidhana.

The most well-known of Dara’s several works on the religious sciences of the Hindus is his Majma ul-Bahrain (‘The Mingling of the Two Oceans’). Completed when Dara was forty-two years old, this book is a pioneering attempt to build on the similarities between Sufism and certain strands of Hindu monotheistic thought, and it is these two that the ‘two oceans’ in the book’s name refer to. He describes this treatise as ‘a collection of the truth and wisdom of two Truth-knowing groups’. It is, in terms of content, rather technical, focussing on Hindu terminology and their equivalents in Islamic Sufism. The basic message that this book conveys is summed up in Dara’s own words thus: ‘Mysticism is equality’, and, he adds, ‘If I know that an infidel, immersed in sin, is, in a way, singing the note of monotheism, I go to him, hear him and am grateful to him’.


The Majma-ul Bahrain is divided into twenty-two sections, in each of which Dara seeks to draw out the similarities between Hindu and Sufi concepts and teachings. Thus, for instance, the Hindu notion of mutki, he says, is identical with the Sufi concept of salvation, denoting the annihilation (fana) of the self in God. Or, for example, the Sufi concept of ‘ishq (love) is said to be identical with the maya of the Hindu monotheists. From Love, says Dara, was born the ‘great soul’, alternately known as the soul of Muhammad to the Sufis, and mahatman or hiranyagarba to the Hindus.

Dara’s translation of certain Hindu scriptures into Persian represents a landmark in the process of developing bridges of understanding between people of different faith communities in medieval India, in which certain Sufis played the leading role. One of Dara’s earliest attempts at translation was his rendering of the Gita into Persian. Keenly interested as he was in the philosophy of Yoga, Dara also had the Yoga Vasishta, one of the earliest Sanskrit texts on Yoga, translated into Persian. The translator of the text opens his treatise with praises of God and the Prophet Muhammad thus:


“Gratitude, adoration and submission are offered to the One, the Sun of whose glory shines in every atom of the cosmos and where grandeur is manifested in the entire Universe, although He is hidden from all eyes and is behind the veil; boundless benedictions in all sincerity and faith free from error, omission or sanctimoniousness to that choicest product of His creation, to that personification of all that is best, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and Allah’s blessings be upon him, and the same to the Imam ‘Ali, the object of his love.”

The translator then quotes Dara as saying:

“My chief reason for this noble command [to have the Yoga Vasishta translated] is that although I had profited by pursuing a translation of the Yoga Vasishta ascribed to Shaikh Sufi, yet once two saintly persons appeared in my dreams; one of whom was tall, whose hair was grey, the other short and without any hair. The former was Vasishta and the latter Ram Chandra, and as I had read the translation already alluded to, I was naturally attracted to them and paid them my respects. Vasishta was very kind to me and patted me on the back, and, addressing Ram Chandra, told him that I was brother to him because both he and I were seekers after truth. He asked Ram Chandra to embrace me, which he did in exuberance of love. Thereupon, Vasishta gave some sweets to Ram Chandra, which I also took and ate. After this vision, a desire to cause the translation of the book intensified in me.”

Dara established close and cordial relations with mystics from various backgrounds. Among these were several Yogis and sadhus, about some of whom Dara also wrote. One such sadhu was Baba Lal, follower of the renowned Sufi-Bhakti saint Kabir and founder of a small monotheistic order named after him as the Baba Lalis. Many of the teachings of this sect can be traced to a distinct Sufi influence. A summary of these teachings is to be found in Dara’s Makalama Baba Lal wa Dara Shikoh, which consists of seven long conversations between the Baba and Dara held in Lahore in 1653. These seven discourses were composed originally in Hindawi, and were later translated into Persian by Dara’s chief secretary, Rai Chandar Bhan. As in the case of Dara’s translation of the Yoga Vasishta, this text focuses particularly on certain similarities in the teachings of Hindu and Muslim mystics.

The great interest that Dara had in exploring monotheistic strands in Hindu philosophy led him, finally, to translate fifty-two Upanishads into Persian. The text that he prepared, the Sirr ul-Akbar (‘The Great Secret’) was completed in 1657. Here, he opines that the ‘great secret’ of the Upanishads is the monotheistic message, which is identical to that on which the Qur’an is based. The text begins with praises to Allah and the Prophet Muhammad thus:


“Praised be the Being, that among whose eternal secrets is the dot in the b of the bismillah in all the Heavenly Books, and glorified be the Mother of Books. In the Holy Qur’an is the token of His glorious name; and the angels and the heavenly books and the prophets and the saints are all comprehended in this name. And the blessings of the Almighty Allah be upon the best of His creatures, the Holy Prophet Muhammad and upon all his family and upon all his Companions!”

Dara then proceeds to detail the purpose behind translating the Upanishads. He writes that in the year 1050 A.H. he visited Kashmir, and there he met Hazrat Mullah Shah, whom he describes as ‘the flower of the Gnostics, the tutor of the tutors, the sage of the sages, the guide of the guides, the Unitarians accomplished in the Truth’. Thereafter, he says, he was filled with a longing to ‘behold the Gnostics of every sect and to hear the lofty expressions of monotheism’. Hence, he says, he began his search for monotheism in other scriptures as well, including the Torah of the Jews (Taurat), the Gospels of Jesus (Injil) the Psalms of David (Zabur), and, in addition, the books of the ancient Hindus. He notes with approval the fact that certain Hindu ‘theologians and mystics’ (‘ulama-i zahiri wa batini) actually believe in One God, but laments that ‘the ignoramuses of the present age’, who claim to be authorities in matters of religion, have completely distorted this fundamental truth. His search for traces of monotheism in the religious systems of the Hindus stems, he says, from his faith in the Qur’an, which states that God has, from time to time, sent prophets to all peoples to preach the worship of the One. Thus, he goes on to add:

“And it can also be ascertained from the Holy Qur’an that there is no nation without a prophet and without a revealed scripture, for it has been said: ‘Nor do We chastise until We raise an apostle’ [Qur’an: XVII, 15]. And in another verse: ‘And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them’ [Qur’an: XXXV, 24]. And at another place: ‘Certainly we sent our apostles with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the Measure’ [Qur’an: LVII, 25].”

Accordingly, says Dara, he travelled to Benaras in 1067 A.H., where he assembled several leading Sanskrit Pandits to translate the Upanishads, in an effort to draw out from the scriptures of the Hindus the hidden teachings on monotheism which are, he says, ‘in conformity with the Holy Qur’an’. Having explored the teachings of the Upanishads, he writes that they are ‘a treasure of monotheism’, although, he notes, ‘very few are conversant with this, even among the Hindus’. Hence, he says, there is an urgent need to bring to light this ‘Great Secret’ so that the Hindus can learn the truth about monotheism as contained in their own scriptures and, in addition, Muslims, too, can be made aware of the spiritual treasures that the Upanishads contain. He goes so far as to claim for the Upanishads, in their original forms, the status of divinely revealed scriptures, claiming that the Qur’anic verse which speaks about a ‘protected book’, which ‘none shall touch but the purified ones’ [Qur’an: LVI, 77-80] literally applies to them, because some of the verses of the Qur’an are to be found in their Sanskrit form therein. This conclusion can indeed be contested, although the sincerity of Dara’s effort to draw parallels between the Hindu and Muslim mystical systems and to stress their common core of tauhid as a uniting principle and the basis of an ethic of universal human understanding and solidarity cannot be so easily dismissed as his detractors did, causing him to be killed at the command of his younger brother and rival to the Mugahl throne, Aurangzeb Alamgir, in the year 1657.

Dara’s relevance in today’s age


Tauhid, or belief in and surrender to the One, formed the aim of Dara’s spiritual quest. Tauhid was also the basis of his effort to develop a rapprochement between people of different communities, most notably Hindus and Muslims. The ethical monotheism that Dara stood for, and which indeed all the prophets had preached, was the basis, and, indeed, real intention of all divine revelation, Dara stressed. The differences in rituals, language, manners and customs, which served to build barriers of division and hostility between different peoples in the name of religion, he seems to have believed, were, ultimately, meaningless, particularly if they were taken as ends in themselves, as many conventional religionists did in Dara’s time—and still do.

Commitment to tauhid is not, Dara suggests, simply a matter of personal belief. Rather, it must necessarily translate into practical action on the social plane. The fact of the unity of God must also be reflected in a deep and abiding commitment to struggling for the unity and solidarity of humankind, beyond all ascriptive differences, working together to fulfil the purposes of God’s creation plan. That struggle for unity, harmony and peace, one whose challenge we continue to be faced with, is demanded precisely by the commitment to tauhid, the core the universal din preached by all prophets, Dara would probably have insisted. This, however, might seem easier said than done.

Peace cannot be had without justice, and in the face of oppression—in the name of religion, nation, community, gender and so on. In the absence of justice, calls for peace are easily reduced into appeals for preserving an iniquitous status quo and remaining silent in the face of oppression. Calls for justice without peace can only mean endless chaos and ceaseless rounds of revenge and retribution. Dara himself fell prey to a system of injustice despite his life spent in quest for peace and human solidarity transcending narrow boundaries, being accused of apostasy by orthodox clerics and sentenced to death by his power-hungry brother.

[Dara Shikoh With Mian Mir And Mulla Shah. Picture from Wiki]
Read More

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pashto Hafiz
No comments:
By Bureau report,  *Rahman Baba Urs celebrations conclude* - The News International - Pakistan
Monday, April 19, 2010

Peshawar: The three-day annual Urs of the great 17th century Pashto poet Rahman Baba (1653-1711) arranged by the Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga concluded at the poet’s shrine at Hazarkhwani here Sunday.

A large number of poets from all over the province, tribal areas, Balochistan and Afghanistan attended the event. Every year Rahman Baba’s devotees and poets visit his shrine and pay him tributes. He is called the Hafiz Shirazi of Pashto because of his refined and appealing poetry.

The participants demanded early completion of reconstruction work on Rahman Baba’s mausoleum. The three-day annual celebrations started with a seminar at the Iranian Culture Centre on Friday where scholars read out papers on various aspects of the Sufi poet’s life and poetry.

Speakers termed him the messenger of peace and harmony who through his poetry influenced and inspired many generations of Pukhtuns. They said he was perhaps the most relevant Sufi poet today than ever before.

Prof Dawar Khan Daud in his paper titled ‘Rahman Baba the poet of peace’ pointed out that peace was evident in every verse of his poetry drenched in Sufi thoughts standing above the divisions of race, colour and land. He said Rahman Baba was the perpetual fountain of good sense as individualistically inclined Pukhtuns of all age and sex were still unanimous on his literary stature despite a lapse of more than 300 years. He added that Rahman Baba was the most respected, most quoted and most poplar poet among Pukhtuns. “He is revered both in Pukhtun’s Hujra and mosque,” he observed.

Dr Sohail Insha in his research paper, Rahman Baba the poet of humanism, said that probably he was the most relevant Sufi poet today than ever before because he advocated justice, peace and universal brotherhood in his spiritual poetry.

Prof Dr Hanif Khalil threw light on the political consciousness of the legendary poet and said that Rahman Baba was not just a Sufi reclusive but he was well aware of his surrounding as his poetry spotlighted common people’s problems.

Majeedullah Khalil, who presided over the event, maintained that research scholars had not dug out many hidden aspects of Rahman Baba’s poetic art and stressed that substantive research work should be initiated on his personality and creative work so that the young generation could know about the Sufi poet and his literary contributions.

Abdul Sattar Lawaghari, Malik Qasim and a few others also spoke on the occasion. Malik Wazir, president of Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga, told the participants that all the research papers read out at the seminar would be published in an annual journal of the Jirga’s ‘Rahman Puhanah - Understanding Rahman Baba’.

The other important feature was the two-day poetry recital on April 17-18 held at the shrine of Rahman Baba at Hazarkhwani in which 400 prominent Pashto poets from all parts of the province, Fata, Balochistan and Afghanistan. They attended the celebrations and paid glowing poetic tributes to the great mystic.

The four sessions of the poetry recital were held on each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Poets and Baba’s devotees laid a wreath on Sufi poet’s shrine. With it the Urs came to an end on Sunday. Yousaf Ali Dilsoz conducted the event in a befitting manner.

[ Picture's Source: Wiki ]
Read More
Shadi
No comments:
By Ameer H. Ahmad, *‘Spirituality’ a homage to the pure* - Daily Times - Pakistan
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Karachi: An exhibition of works titled ‘Spirituality’ by world-renowned British-Persian artist Mohsen Keiany is being held at the ArtScene Gallery.

The pieces are inspired by the artist’s Persian background and the country’s rich historical and Islamic heritage. The exhibit would continue until May 24.

Keiany states he is greatly inspired by traditional Persian miniature paintings and observing his work one must admit that it echoes his love for Persian philosophy and spirituality.

Painting for Keiany is a form of meditation; he never plans, designs or makes sketches for any of his paintings. He merely creates textures on the canvas and from that figures, trees, landscapes and animals are born.

He states that an artist must be proud of his own work and should not copy from others. His pieces include horses, goats and characters playing music and dancing. Men and women dressed in traditional Sufi clothes playing instruments like the daf and the flute, seemingly in a trance.

He paints using primary colours as a symbol of purity that alludes to how the old masters used to cleanse themselves he states. The colours are reminiscent of the tiles and stained-glass windows in Persian architecture.

He states that his use of warm and hot hues is a representation of the sunny climate of the Middle East. Some of his pieces also include beautifully rendered poetry by Hafez and Rumi.

One of his paintings titled ‘Shadi’ is a painting of women, horses and poetry; he states that ‘Shadi’ in Urdu means marriage whereas in Persian it refers to any happy event.
Read More

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caucasian Cauldron
No comments:
By John Russel, *Chechnya: Monster in the Mountains*- The World Today - London, UK
May 2010/ Volume 66, Number 5

Chechnya has returned to haunt Russia. Forty deaths by suicide bombs on the Moscow subway confirm that outsourcing rule in the restive republic is a failed policy.

But no other plan is in sight; these are not likely to be the last innocent lives lost.

The ease with which terrorists detonated their bombs in the heart of the Russian capital - under the very headquarters of the Federal Security Service at the Lubyanka station and near the world famous Gorky Park - raised serious questions, not just about the ability of Russian security forces to defend citizens, but more fundamentally over the entire Russian policy towards the North Caucasus, begun under Vladimir Putin and carried on by his successor as Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

Insofar as Putin's reputation and popularity were built on his aggressive Chechen policy, the latest spike in attacks from the North Caucasus calls into question his frequent assertions that the 'war' against terror in Russia's southern republics has been won.

For Medvedev, who has been much more proactive in addressing the root problems of the region: corruption, unemployment, low levels of development, a question mark hangs over the future of his hand-picked plenipotentiary to the North Caucasus - Aleksandr Khloponin - who was appointed, one assumes, to tackle these issues.

For all his undoubted financial skills and business acumen, the fresh-faced newcomer from Krasnoyarsk appears as vulnerable as a sacrificial lamb in a political landscape increasingly dominated by factions that have a tendency to behave more like wolves than sheep.

CAUCASIAN CAULDRON

In attempting to crush separatism and extremism, the Kremlin twice tried and failed to implement the strategy employed by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamils: to impose a military solution by force, ignoring international condemnation of disproportionate civilian suffering.

By 2000, then President, now Prime Minister, Putin turned to Chechenisation, in effect delegating responsibility for countering the insurgency in Chechnya to pro-Moscow Chechens, led by the Kadyrovs: first the father Akhmad until his assassination in 2004, and then his son Ramzan, now the young and controversial Chechen president. Never popular with some of Putin's presidential advisers, let alone Russian military leaders, the policy appeared to have paid dividends by 2007 when fighting in Chechnya largely subsided.

The Faustian pact between Putin and the Kadyrovs promised, in return for offering the latter virtually a free hand in running their fiefdom, not only Russian territorial integrity, but also a guarantee that ordinary Russians would no longer be subject to such bloody terrorist spectaculars as the 2002 Dubrovka theatre siege and the Beslan hostage-taking two years later. The Moscow subway bombings effectively demonstrate that the deal now appears incapable of fulfilling this important last condition and that Russians must brace themselves for further assaults.

FUNDAMENTALIST TRAJECTORY

Although surprise is necessary for any successful terror operation, the warning signs have been there for some time. Despite the success of Kadyrov in suppressing armed opposition in Chechnya, much of the violence had merely shifted to the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Last year there was a significant increase in the number of insurgent attacks in the three republics as a whole.


As pressure on the resistance increased, the tactic of suicide bombings reappeared after a considerable lull. In November the fight was once again taken to Russia, with the bombing of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St Petersburg.

In February, Doku Umarov, leader of the self-proclaimed Emirate of the North Caucasus, warned after the loss of several key rebel commanders - including the alleged perpetrator of the train bombing, Said Buryatsky - that attacks deep in Russia were being planned. Umarov took responsibility for the Moscow bombings in a video posted on YouTube two days later - subsequently withdrawn - claiming they were in response to the February killing and mutilation by Russian forces of four local civilians.

Umarov, the only field commander who has been fighting federal forces since the outbreak of the first Chechen war in 1994, has gradually evolved from a relatively moderate, nationalist and secular fighter into a radical Islamist pledged to spread the writ of Shari'a law beyond even the North Caucasus to the Muslim republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan on the Volga.

The evolution of this Moscow-based graduate engineer to Russia's 'terrorist number one' appears to have imitated that of his former comrade-in-arms, Shamil Basayev, who went from defending the capital's White House during the communist putsch of August 1991, to masterminding a string of 'terrorist spectaculars', culminating in the Beslan school siege. In fact, Umarov roundly criticised the tactics employed by Basayev at Beslan, vowing henceforth to target government and security personnel rather than civilians.

However, just as Basayev's demeanour changed radically after Russian forces killed eleven of his relatives in 1995, the savage treatment of Umarov's family by pro-Russian Chechen forces - it is rumoured that his septuagenarian father had his eyes plucked out by one of Kadyrov's henchmen - appears to have similarly altered the tactics of the current insurgent leader.

Like Basayev before him, Umarov gave up on any prospect of peace talks with the Russians, especially after the assassination in March 2005 of Aslan Maskhadov - the one Chechen resistance leader who had held out to the last the prospect of negotiations with Putin.

In his frequent webcasts, Umarov has complained repeatedly of both the hypocrisy of the West and the indifference of the Russian public in effectively ignoring what he termed the 'Chechen genocide' and has followed Basayev's trajectory towards a more fundamentalist brand of Islam than the Sufism traditionally followed by Chechens and energetically promoted since Ramzan Kadyrov came to power.

Thus, a man who admitted that, at the start of the conflict with Russia, he barely knew how to pray, has become leader of one of the most active and dangerous Islamic armed groups in the world. Clearly, this conversion has been opportunistic, albeit in part, not least because the bulk of funding for his forces comes from Salafist factions in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the considerable North Caucasian diaspora in the Middle East and Europe.

Western and Russian diplomats tend to agree that there is presently no alternative to Kadyrov's one-man rule, so there appears to be no place for opposition of any hue, let alone Umarov's militants. Indeed, the bitter reality of the situation appeared to reach even the remnants of the Chechen independence movement, led from exile in London by Akhmed Zakayev. He broke with Umarov after the latter established the Emirate in 2007 and at times seemed to be on the brink of an historic reconciliation with Kadyrov.

WHO IS TO BLAME? WHO IS TO GAIN?

Basayev was finally tracked down and killed in July 2006, a fate that, sooner or later, surely awaits Umarov. Inevitably, however, a successor will be found and the conflict will drag on until and unless a satisfactory political resolution is achieved.

While it is understandable that the Russian leadership is keen to stress the international nature of the common threat posed by such terror groups, and even point the finger at 'foreign intelligence services' in organising the Moscow blasts, the reality is that Russian domestic policy must shoulder the lion's share of the blame for the North Caucasus tragedy.

Having effectively chosen, under Putin, to follow the Eurasianist 'great power' path of development, territorial integrity and a highly-centralised political 'vertical' became essential for Russia's survival. This inhibited movement towards genuine federalism and democracy and enhanced the necessity for prerogative power to be exercised by those factions which were, in fact rather than constitutionally, running the country. Although Medvedev has recognised the obstacles that such policies place in the modernisation path, he seems incapable of shifting his country away from the course Putin has set.

BENEVOLENT DESPOTISM

The bizarre outcome of these policies was the emergence of Kadyrov's medieval style of benevolent despotism. In effect duplicating Putin's 'vertical of power', Kadyrov has emerged virtually unchallenged as the arbiter of Chechnya's fate, eliminating all in his way, whether loyal to Moscow or not.

Heavily dependent on both Putin's personal support and generous subsidies from the Russian treasury, Kadyrov, to his credit, has devoted much time and energy to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and giving his people, at least those who do not openly oppose him, relative peace, prosperity and elements of cultural renaissance, embodied in the massive new mosque in the capital Grozny.

Here lies the rub. By actively promoting the Sufi brand of Islam, Kadyrov is not only marginalising the militant Salafis under Umarov, but also turning Chechnya into a cultural, national and religious enclave in Russia.

While this has brought some fame and popularity among his own people and Islamic leaders around the world, his eccentricities clearly remain somewhat of an embarrassment to the current Russian president and make him an unwelcome guest in any western capital.

The Russian leadership's patent misunderstanding of the Caucasian mentality has led separatists and radicals to be lumped together with terrorists in cracking down heavily on any form of opposition. Deprived of any legitimate outlet and subject to repression at every turn, it is hardly surprising that young Muslim men and, as evidenced by the Moscow bombings, increasingly women, are being drawn to the fundamentalist Islamic resistance.

To be fair, even under the intense pressure of the suicide bombings, Medvedev has balanced the tough-talking military approach of his predecessor with a continuing commitment to socio-economic improvement throughout the North Caucasus. Here, Russian interests will undoubtedly at times continue to clash with those of Kadyrov.

Some Russian commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the bombings worked to Kadyrov's advantage by weakening the position of Medvedev's envoy Khloponin. Certainly, irrespective of whether he was involved in any way, following the murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, and the assassinations of pro-Russian Chechen commanders Movladi Baisarov and Sulim Yamadayev, it would appear that Kadyrov might yet again be the immediate beneficiary of acts of political terror.

BLOOD FEUDS

However, neither Caucasian nor Russian politics are ever that simple or transparent. It might equally be argued that, by outperforming his predecessor in firmness and reason in dealing with the attacks, Dmitry Medvedev may well have consolidated his position as a frontrunner for the Russian presidency in 2012. His security forces will go after Umarov and his supporters with renewed vigour, while measures aimed at improving the welfare of citizens in the North Caucasus will continue.

Yet time is not on Medvedev's side. The ability of the Russian economy to continue to bankroll the north Caucasian republics, the growing resentment of ordinary Russians against such generosity and the absence of the flexibility and understanding to reach a genuine political resolution, not to mention the unpredictability surrounding the likely longevity of Kadyrov's rule, all point to the fact that Moscow has produced something of a monster in the North Caucasus mountains.

Insofar as that monster was born amidst, and has been bred on the blood of literally hundreds of thousands of victims, over the past two decades in a region in which the blood feud still holds sway, it would, regrettably, be foolhardy to predict that more will not be shed - be it in Makhachkala or Moscow.

John Russell, Professor of Russian and Security Studies, University of Bradford, author of Chechnya - Russia's 'War on Terror' (Routledge, 2007)

[Picture: Market in Machachkala, Dagestan. Photo: Bolshakov, Wiki]
Read More

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Khidma
No comments:
By Ingrid Wassmann, *Moulid in the daytime* - Al-Ahram Weekly - Cairo, Egypt
15 -21 April 2010 / Issue No. 994

The small bare room is covered with green plastic mats.

Rice cornels from lunch have fallen through the cracks.

Men are resting on the diwan pillows lining the walls, smoking and digesting their meal.

An old tape player lets out Sufi chanting. On the top of the recorder lays a Quran and a wrinkled white head turban. Beside it is a bag of tapes with more religious music by other sheikhs, and an old water bottle filled with fresh mint.

By the open window sits Abdel-Moheimen. He has been renting this same four-room flat behind the Al-Hussein Mosque for the past six years just for this annual moulid that ended on Tuesday with Al-Laila Al-Kebira, the Big Night. During the week-long Sufi celebration, Abdel-Moheimen and his friends spent their days as volunteers preparing and serving free meals.

"Many of us also hold jobs," he said. "The most important thing about this is that we do it out of our love for the prophet and his family," explained Abdel-Moheimen, unwilling to divulge how many meals they offer per day out of humility.

Like in numerous other flats and temporary tents around the Al-Hussein Mosque that offer free food as part of khidma, or service, Abdel-Moheimen would welcome men and women for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"The door is always open and we start serving breakfast after the dawn prayers," he added. "We offer meals to whoever comes, rich, poor, Christian, Jewish, foreign. Love is not racist, not white, not black."

Every year thousands of Egyptians from all over the country travel to the capital, gathering around the Al-Hussein Mosque and its backstreets, to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohamed's grandson, Hussein.

One such person is Rasmeya. For the past 35 years, she has been commuting from Mit Ghamr, in the governorate of Daqahliya, to attend the Al-Hussein moulid. "During the day, I sit here, prepare my meals here, drink tea here, but sleep and pray in the mosque," explained the 65-year-old, cross-legged on the sidewalk of Umm Al-Ghoulam Street, adding that she cannot afford to do omra or hajj in Mecca.

Around the corner, Adli Abdel-Rahman is distributing water to those followers gathered in one of the temporary tents erected outside the Al-Hussein Mosque. "At lunch, we served rice and kofta," said Abdel-Rahman, dipping empty cups into a big plastic jug of water. "We prepare the food in Madinet Nasr and bring it here readymade," he added.

Behind him, gathered in a circle on the matted floor of the tent, members of one small family clap their hands to a religious tune.

A small boy, one arm in a cast, blows into a mizmar while his father sings into a rudimentary self-made microphone system.

Photos: Sherif Sonbol / Al-Ahram Weekly
Read More

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We Are All United
No comments:
By Guillaume Lavallee, *Sudan's powerful Sufi orders warm to Beshir's regime* - Agence France-Presse - Paris, France
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Umm Dubban: The village of Um Dubban outside the Sudanese capital Khartoum is an unlikely place for a veteran president to make one of his last campaign stops before his first contested election.

A group of young boys sits in a dusty courtyard in the shadow of a minaret reciting verses of the Koran off wooden tablets as children do in mosque schools across the Muslim world.

But the village is the centre of the Badriyya branch of the Qadariyya, one of the Sufi orders that have traditionally dominated the practice of Islam in northern Sudan, particularly in the countryside, and the boys are being schooled in its mystical teachings.

Such is Um Dubban's renown as a centre of Sufi learning that the boys are drawn from across northern Africa.

"There are children here from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Congo, from Darfur," said Karar, one of the aides of the order's sheikh.

In northern Sudan, the Sufi sheikhs wield enormous influence, being consulted on by villagers about all manner of problems and commanding huge reverence both in life and in death.

Each day, a queue of supplicants seeking advice waits outside the sheikh's office.

"Since I got married, everything has scared me," one man whispers as he awaits his turn. "I hope the sheikh can make me better or do something for me," he adds.

With such influence over daily life comes temporal power and in the years before a 1989 coup brought President Omar al-Beshir to office, the Sufi orders held huge sway over Sudanese politics.

When Beshir seized power, he did so with support from Islamists long suspicious of the Sufi orders because of the perceived heresy of some of their teachings, particularly their reverence for their sheikhs and their tombs.

But Beshir has since fallen out with his longtime mentor, Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, and has moved to consolidate his northern power base by wooing the Sufis.

So it was that he came to make the 30 kilometre (20 mile) journey out from the capital to Umm Dubban last week.

Khartoum University sociology professor Idris al-Hassan is in no doubt about the importance of Beshir's opening to the Sufi orders.

"One cannot exclude the importance of the popular support of the ordinary Sufi order," Hassan said.

"Generally speaking, loyal followers would just get the message and go along in the direction the Sufi order want to go. By going to Umm Dubban, it gives a very strong signal to followers."

Hassan says that the regime's rapprochement with Sufis is all the more striking because of the hostility between the two sides through the 1990s.

"In the early Inqaz (Salvation) years of the regime, the Sufi orders went through a difficult period," he said.

"Nowadays, the Islamists still do not share the same beliefs as the Sufis but they have a pragmatic relationship with them."

One elector queueing outside the village polling station in Um Dubban was clearly impressed by the president's pitch for his vote.

"Now, we're all united, there are no differences," he said as he sheltered from the sun under a tree.

Pictures: A Sudanese Sufi student walks past shrines at the Qadiriya Sufi school in the village of Umm Dawban / Sudanese Sufi Sheikh al-Khalifa al-Tayeb al-Gid, leader of the Qadiriya Sufi school, sits in his room in Umm Dubban. Photos: AFP
Read More

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tranquillity of Sufism
No comments:
By Staff Reporter, *Sotheby's Second Contemporary Art: Turkish Sale Achieves 2.4 Million Pounds* - Art Daily - Spain
Friday, April 16, 2010

London: Sotheby’s second sale of Contemporary Art: Turkish achieved a total of £2,436,850/ $3,779,067/ 5,577,465 TRY, comfortably within its pre-sale estimate of £1.9-2.9 million.

The Thursday's April 15th sale established 16 new artist records for artists including Fahrelnissa Zeid, Taner Ceylan, Haluk Akakçe and Canan Tolon, and was 78.4% sold-by-value.

Bidding was international, and buyers came from across the globe. Of the buyers in the auction, a significant 32% were new to Sotheby’s.

Specialists in charge of the Contemporary Art: Turkish Sale, Ali Can Ertuğ, Sotheby’s Senior Vice President and Dalya Islam, Deputy Director, commented after the sale:

“The strong performance of Contemporary Turkish art in today’s sale demonstrates its growing presence on the international auction scene. The demand for Turkish Contemporary Art, from both Turkish and international collectors, today proved extremely high and ratifies Sotheby’s decision to hold its auctions in this category in London, one of the company’s three most important international selling centres. We are thrilled by the success of this auction and the number of new artist records achieved – it marks another important step in the development of this exciting and fast-growing market. The record achieved for Fahrelnissa Zeid effectively becomes the first modern Turkish work to exceed the $1m mark in an international auction with international bidding.”

Applause erupted in the saleroom as Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Untitled, 1954, (lot 66) sold for £657,250/$1,019,263/ 1,504,314 TRY after seven minutes of frenzied bidding, establishing a new record for the artist at auction.

Surpassing the pre-sale high estimate of £500,000 Untitled, 1954, which saw bidding from no less than four clients, was the highest selling lot of the auction.

The doyenne of Turkish art and one of the first female artists to exhibit at the ICA in the 1950s; Zeid is not only one of the most important Turkish artists, but is arguably one of the most important female artists of the 20th Century.

Her work Untitled was created at the beginning of an era in the artist’s oeuvre, when she began experimenting with abstraction; the colour asserts itself with brilliancy under an influence of Byzantine art, the tranquillity of Sufism and in this particular instance, Africa and its totems.

Picture: Applause erupted in the saleroom as Fahrelnissa Zeid's Untitled, 1954 , sold for £657,250/$1,019,263/ 1,504,314 TRY after seven minutes of frenzied bidding. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Read More

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sufi Is The Soul
1 comment:
By Venkat Raman, *Fill your soul with some Sufi music* - Indian Newslink - Auckland, New Zealand
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Shoshan, the new album by celebrated artiste Shye Ben Tzur arrived by post just an hour after our last issue went to printers, the immediate response was to issue a Stop Press but we thought we would serve our readers better by writing a review.

The 12-track CD, due for release on April 16, comprises songs in Hebrew, Urdu and Hindi.

It is certainly one of a kind.

Chennai based EarthSync is releasing the album for worldwide sale. The title track Intro Shoshan, followed by Shoshan is so lilting that it would be hard to resist the temptation to hit the replay button.

I was told that Shoshan means ‘Rose’ in Hebrew; by any other name, this album of songs would have been as melodious as they are now. Dil Ke Bahar is another track that would hold you spellbound. The intro entrances, as does the main song.

Vocalist Shubha Mudgal, Spanish Flamenco Guitarist Fernando Perez, Qawwals Zaki Nizami, Mohamad Zakir Elias Aghan and Rajasthani artistes Kutla Khan, Chugge Khan, Rais Khan, Aziz Khan, Chand Nizami and Safi add value to the album with their superb performances.

Testifying the adage that music transcends languages, Shye Ben Tzur has written most of the songs in his native Hebrew. “Even those who do not know the language will enjoy, so long as the music touches their heart,” he said. Ben Tzur respects and follows the finer aspects of Sufism but has retained his original religious identity.

His passion for Sufi music, culture and literature encouraged him to compose music with a touch of Sufism in Hebrew.

More than a decade ago, Ben Tzur arrived in India and was instantly attracted by the folk tunes of North India, especially Rajasthan. Seated in a concert at which Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute) and Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla) performed, he decided to bring the depth of Indian music to his repertoire.

His journey towards achieving proficiency began under the pedagogy of Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, one of the foremost vocalists of the ‘Dhrupad,’ stated to be the oldest form of Hindustani Classical Music.

‘Shoshan is a collaboration of enchanting devotional poetry, irresistible Rajasthani rhythms and electrifying Western grooves. “Although the collaboration celebrates different kinds of devotional poetry, Sufi is the soul of the album,” he said.

While much is made of the fact that Ben Tzur’s music (merging Hebrew with Islamic-Sufi traditions) speaks of peace and reconciliation, the artiste has no agenda. “I am not making any political statements,” he said.

“If someone says that my music bridges these two cultures, my answer would be that I do not see much need for a bridge because I don’t see much difference between them. “Maybe I am blind, but nothing feels foreign. Whatever differences there are, they are part of the divine harmony,” he said.

The 34-year-old lyricist, composer and singer lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Sajida and their little daughter Uriya.
Read More

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Grand Sheikh Of The Sufis
No comments:
By Osama el-Mahdy, *Mubarak appoints Grand Sheikh of the Sufis, Al-Azhar chancellor* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt
Sunday, April 11, 2010

President Mubarak has issued two decrees appointing Abdel Hady Ahmed el-Qasbi as the Grand Sheikh of the Sufis and Abdallah el-Husseini as chancellor of Al-Azhar, taking the place of Ahmed el-Tayeb who was recently appointed as Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh.

El-Qasbi is a member of the Shura Council from the district of Tanta, the High Sufi Council, the Supervisory Council and also leads the el-Qasbiya Sufi order.

He is the son of a previous head of Sufi sheikhs, Ahmed Abdel Hady el-Qasbi, making it the first time that a father and son have occupied the position.
The appointment of el-Qasbi comes in the wake of judicial disputes that began a year and a half ago, after the death of Ahmed Kamel Yasin, the previous head of Sufi sheikhs. The sheikhdom at that time witnessed a conflict between el-Qasbi and Mohamed Alaa el-Din Abu el-Azayim, the head of the el-Azamiya order.

The appointment of el-Husseini as the chancellor of Al-Azhar follows his nomination by a minister and after the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar stipulated that whoever occupied the chairmanship should have taught at the university as a professor, as specified by Decree 103 of 1961.

The chancellor directs the academic, managerial and financial affairs of the university, represents the university in its interactions with other bodies and enforces the university's rules and regulations. In the event of a disturbance, the chancellor has the authority to partially or completely shut down the university for a period of three days, after which the decision must be reviewed by the University Council.

The chancellor of the university presents a report to the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar at the end of every academic year a report on teaching affairs and academic research and other activities occurring at the university. He has four deputies that assist him in managing the university's academic, managerial and financial affairs.

In the event that the chancellor cannot perform his official duties, the most senior of his deputies assumes his position.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

[Picture: Al-Azhar, photo of the old Mosque. Cairo, Egypt. Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Azhar_University]
Read More

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eye of the Heart
2 comments:

By Kabir Helminski, Camille Helminski, *Eye of the Heart* - The Threshold Society - Watsonville, CA, USA
Friday, April 16, 2010

The Threshold Society with Spirituality and Practice is once again offering a Rumi eCourse, an opportunity to participate in a period of reflection and dialog focussed on:

The Journey of the Soul
in the Teachings of Rumi

Seven Weeks, April 18 - June 5

Didn’t I say, don’t sit with sad companions?
Don’t sit with anyone but those whose hearts are glad.
Since you are in the garden, don’t go to thorns.
Sit amidst the roses, jonquils, and jasmine.
(1518)

If you dwell with the unaware, you become cold,
But if you dwell with the aware, you become human.
Make a sanctuary inside a furnace, as true gold does,
Knowing that if you leave, you will freeze.
(170)

For this Online Retreat and Practice Circle, a group of practicing Sufis, who have been on Rumi’s path for many years under the direction of Shaykh Kabir Helminski and Shaykha Camille Helminski, have collaborated to offer some selections from Rumi’s vast work that capture the essence of his teaching.

Every morning for seven weeks, retreat participants will receive a selection by email to be contemplated according to a recommended method of conscious reflection.

Rumi has been quoted everywhere for years now, usually in bite size portions — a line, a couplet, or a quatrain — but it is possible to go deeper, to explore the many themes that form a coherent whole in Rumi’s literary and spiritual legacy. Most importantly, the inspired words of a true spiritual master are nourishment for the soul at a time when such nourishment is vital to sustaining our humanness itself.

Reflecting upon these sacred texts can kindle the precious spark of wisdom within ourselves.

We are calling this retreat "The Journey of the Soul" because it focuses on the practical steps of the spiritual journey. It covers seven themes:

• The Call & Remembrance
• Seeking
• Mercy
• Purity of Heart
• Trust
• Surrender in Love
• Oneness of Being

Each week one theme will be introduced and mentored by one of the Sufi elders; later in the week he or she will relate a personal experience of living that theme. Kabir and Camille Helminski will be monitoring the course as well.

We believe you will find these selections from the teachings of Rumi not only beautiful and inspiring, but informative and practical.

Participants in the retreat will also have access to an online Practice Circle where we will discuss the theme and the poetry as well as ask questions of our retreat mentors.

This Online Retreat has been developed by the Threshold Society, which is affiliated with The Mevlevi Order of Sufis. The Mevlevis, who trace their inspiration back seven centuries to Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, are known for their hospitality to religious seekers of all traditions.

Spirituality & Practice is pleased to partner with the Threshold Society to bring these teachings to our online community. We hope that you will enjoy the retreat and that it will also be deeply transformative to your spiritual understanding.
Seven Weeks, April 18 - June 5
$49.00

Click here to enroll or to give as a gift.

Click on the title of this article to the Threshold Society
Read More

Friday, April 16, 2010

Muslim World Music Day
No comments:
By Bob George, ARChive for Contemporary Music - New York, USA
Monday, April 12, 2010

Muslim World Music Day is April 12, 2011

New York—The ARChive for Contemporary Music announced the launch of Muslim World Music Day, an innovative new project to catalogue and celebrate the diversity of Muslim music.

In collaboration with Columbia University Libraries and the Arts Initiative at Columbia University, and with the support of founding partners Gracenote, the Internet Archive and ARC will lead a live online effort to identify and catalogue tens of thousands of recordings from around the world in a single day: April 12, 2011. One Year From TODAY!

The diverse musical forms inspired by Islam are sacred and secular, traditional and contemporary, locally rooted and globally mobile. Muslim World Music Day will embrace and share a broad understanding of “Muslim music,” acknowledging the debates about the issue within Muslim communities while exploring the musical connections between Islam and other cultural traditions.

From the ecstatic Sufi traditions of qawwali and gnawa to the raucous sounds of taqwacore punk and the flourishing Muslim hip-hop scene, this heritage transcends borders and bias.

The goal of Muslim World Music Day is to develop an open archive of this music through real-time global grassroots participation. ARC is developing the database along with Gracenote (they supply the metadata for iTunes) and the Internet Archive (they save the Internet) will host the interactive website.

Libraries, archives, universities, and cultural organizations around the world will upload metadata on their musical holdings, which the project team will use to create a comprehensive discography.

Collectors, fans, scholars, artists, and record labels will contribute tracks, images, video clips, essays, lectures, bibliographies, and reviews. Partner organizations in several countries will host concerts, seminars, and exhibitions. By the end of those 24 hours, Muslim World Music Day will have created something unprecedented—a permanent, crowd-sourced online catalogue of more than 50,000 recordings supplemented by artistic and educational resources.

The Muslim World Music Day team invites organizations and individuals interested in supporting and participating in the project to contact the ARChive for Contemporary Music.

This exploration of the diverse musical traditions of Muslim communities will lay the groundwork for future efforts to catalogue music from other global traditions, as every year we will create a “Day” to honor a different style, genre or national music.

###

About the ARC: Now in our 25 year, the ARChive of Contemporary Music is the largest collection of popular music in the world, with over two million recordings. It is supported by a Board of Advisors comprised of leading musicians, songwriters and directors, including David Bowie, Jellybean Benitez, Jonathan Demme, Michael Feinstein, Jerry Leiber, Youssou N'Dour, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers, Todd Rundgren, Fred Schneider, Martin Scorsese, Paul Simon and Mike Stoller.

###

Partners + Contributors to Muslim World Music Day

The following is a list of partners and contributors who have agreed to offer concerts, seminars, symposiums, lectures, and contribute funding, data and materials to the ARChive’s Muslim World Music Day.

Funding and Project Partners:

Gracenote (provides metadata for iTunes) / The Arts Initiative @ Columbia University / The Internet Library (they save the internet) and The Libraries @ Columbia University

Contributors:

• AfroPop Worldwide, Syndicated National Public Radio program. Radio show.
• Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Concerts, metadata and recordings by Central Asian Artists.
• Ozan Aksoy, PhD candidate, Ethnomusicology, CUNY Graduate Center, director CUNY Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. Kurdish musician from Turkey who will contribute a performances and organizing events or concerts.
• Al Andalus Ensemble – Charlie Bisharat, Tarik Banzi and Julia Banzi, a trio that bridges world, traditional contemporary and classical genres. Concert.
• The American Musicological Society, Robert Judd, Executive Director. Historically related articles on Muslim music.
• Elizabeth Angell, Graduate Fellow, Anthropology, Columbia. Turkish/Middle Eastern popular culture essays.
• Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Harvard. Focus on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions. Lecture and conference participant.
• Asia Society, New York City. Concert.
• Dr. Michael Buehler, Postdoctoral Fellow, Modern Southeast Asian Studies, Weatherhead Institute, Columbia.
• Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Columbia.
• Center for Traditional Music and Dance, NYC. Concert and documentation on NYC’s Muslim immigrant communities.
• Columbia University Middle Eastern Research Center (CUMERC), Jordan. Symposium.
• Gene DeAnna, Head, Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress. Cataloging data on 1244 Arabic music tapes in their Voice of America Collection.
• Hirad Dinavari, Reference Librarian for the Iranian World Collections, Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division. Metadata, genre definitions and possible conference.
• Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Curator, World and Traditional Music, British Library Sound Archive. Data on holdings at the British Library for the MWMD database.
• Dr. Michael Frishkopf, Associate Professor, Department of Music, University of Alberta and Associate Director, Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology. Specialist in the aural rituals of Islam (especially Sufi music) in Egypt, West Africa and Canada, as both a scholar and performer.
• Dr. Alan Godlas, Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Georgia, administers the Islamic Studies Resources/UGA Virtual Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Islamic World (VCISIW). Symposium, links and essay.
• Dr. Janice Gross, Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages Grinnell, Iowa. Essay on gender and national identity on Muslim immigrant communities and music in France.
• Dr. Abdel-Hamid Hamam, Dean, Art & Design, University of Jordan, Amman. Concerts.
• Karl Gert zur Heide, Bremen, Germany. Essay: American 'rag' from Arabic 'raqs'.
• Sussan Deyhim (composer, vocalist), Richard Horowitz, composer, multi instrumentalist. Performance and/or lecture.
• Jon Kertzer, The Best Ambiance Radio, KEXP, Seattle, WA. Show on Muslim Music.
• Michael Muhammad Knight, author, the novel The Taqwacores.
• Bassekou Kouyate, Mali’s leading virtuoso on the ngoni, a traditions griot lute. Concert.
• Susan Lewandowski, Assistant Curator, Musical Instruments Collections, Department of World Cultures, National Museums Scotland. Sound samples and instrument index.
• Limewire, world's most popular legal peer-to-peer file-sharing site. Dedicated Islamic storefront and blog.
• Prof Jostine Loubser, Faculty of Arts, Media and Social Sciences, School of Media Music & Performance, University of Salford, Manchester, UK. Mini music festival and lecture.
• Omar Majeed, director, documentary, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam.
• Groupe Mazagan, Morocco, Concert.
• Meedan, San Francisco. Will blog MWMD live in both English and Arabic.
• Youssou N'dour. Concert – hopefully @ the United Nations.
• National Music Conservatory of King Hussein Foundation, Jordan. Concerts.
• Fred Patterson, ARC. Essay and discography on The Jazz Messengers, American-Muslim big band.
• Robert Reeder, photographer. Recent images from the Middle East.
• Braden Ruddy, journalist. Essay with focus on Arab-American and Arab-Canadian hiphop.
• Ruwwad Center, Amman, Jordan. Youth orchestra concert.
• Dr. Ilaria Sartori, Sapienza University, Rome. Musicologist, Ethnomusicologist, Expert in Ethiopian Cultural Heritage. Lecture and/or article on the music(s) of Ethiopian Muslims.
• Robert Singerman, Music with Subtitles. Universal translator for lyrics in any language.
• Ted Swedenburg, Professor of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Middle East Report editorial committee member and KXUA d.j. Radio show, blog and organize a day of teaching or a seminar.
• Dr. Ayman Tayseer, University of Jordan, Faculty of Arts & Design. Essays.
• Dr. Victor A. Vicente, Assistant Professor of Music, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China. Specialist in the musical cultures of Turkey and the Middle East.
• WKCR Radio, NYC. Marathon of Middle Eastern music.
• Eyad Zahra, director, The Taqwacores, film on Muslim punks.

Click on the title of this article to the Project Website

Visit ARC on Facebook
Read More