Sunday, October 31, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sufi leaders on Saturday urged President Hosni Mubarak to limit the term of the grand sheikh of Sufi orders. The leaders also publicly expressed their disapproval of the presidential appointment of Abdel Hady al-Qasaby as grand sheikh.
During a press conference held at the headquarters of the Shahawiya order in Cairo where the statements were made, the Sufi leaders announced the formation of a new front called “Reformation and the Sufi rescue.”
“The front has contacted the 46 sheikhs of other Sufi orders to join the front in order to correct the legal situation which is affected by the appointment of al-Qasaby as the head of the Supreme Council for Sufi Orders,” one Sufi leader said.
“The front has formed a delegation to convince al-Qasaby to stick to the Sufi orders’ law, which stipulates holding elections every three years,” said the sheikh of the al-Sharnoubeya order, Mohamed Abdel Maguid al-Sharnouby.
Twelve high Sufi sheikhs previously filed a lawsuit at the administrative court calling for a grand sheikh term limit.
Sufi leaders at the press conference called on Sufi sheikhs and followers to join them in reforming the Sufi community, while alleging al-Qasaby was ill-fit for the position because of his narrow Arabic language background as well as deficient religious science education.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
A week-end forum in Mauritania presented Sufism's unique perspective as an alternative to extremism.
"At a time when the culture of exaggeration and extremism is trying to rip our intellectual structure apart and threaten our security and stability, we should revive the venue of Sufism, which is a source of peace and purity of hearts," Mauritanian Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Neini said on Saturday (October 22nd).
In his opening remarks at the 2-day event, Neini described Sufism as "purification of hearts of the vices of hatred and envy and a spiritual bond that brings peoples together and unites feelings and hearts, transcending barriers and geographical borders".
The conference, organised by Sheikh Ahmedou Bamba Foundation, brought together leading Islamic thinkers and policy makers from the region and drew flocks of supporters. On Friday, before the event got under way, Ahmadou Bamba Foundation leaders visited several villages in southern Mauritania to meet with sheikhs of religious schools, students and leading Sufi figures. This was the same area where Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba lived more than 100 years ago.
Event coordinator Sheikh M'backé on Saturday addressed the participants and thanked both the Mauritanian government and people for hosting the meeting.
He emphasised the need to "establish religious moderation for the service of Islam and Muslims".
Some participants commented that globalisation "has not yet helped in highlighting the core values of Islam or in establishing love between peoples and realising social justice" and criticised the media for propagating messages of violence.
"Muslim extremists are a few, but their voice is higher these days than that of moderates," Oumar Ly, from Senegal, told Magharebia. "Unfortunately, many of the Arab media channels have become like forums for extremists to disseminate their narrow ideas that call for dividing people on sectarian and doctrinal bases," Ly said.
In many areas around the world, the image of Islam has become associated with violence, "a reality that we as Muslims must change", Ly noted. "Islam is the religion of mercy and is not a religion of violence. This fact must be clarified and promoted."
"The Sufi order in the region has played, and is still playing, a major role in linking the African peoples with the entire world with the aim of establishing world peace and realising welfare for all peoples," said religious affairs advisor to Senegalese Prime Minister Sheikh al-Karkh.
For his part, Hamden Ould Tah, chief of Mauritania's Union of Religious Scholars, described Sufism as "the panacea for violence, extremism and exaggeration," noting that some people misunderstand Sufism, which he believes is a "means to discipline souls by diving into the world of spirituality".
Ould Tah suggested "starting a broad dialog between the sheikhs of Sufism and capable religious scholars with the participation of social and psychological specialists, with the aim of producing a new and correct Islamic approach that would immunize young people against extremism in beliefs and behaviour".
"This approach should then be disseminated on a large scale via the different means of modern technology," he proposed.
Senegalese ambassador to Mauritania Mohamedou Sheikh highlighted the "leading role that the Sufi orders have historically played as a forefront of pure Islam and correct behaviour in Mauritania, Senegal and the entire region".
The conference ended with an award ceremony and prayers and supplications that peace and harmony prevail in the world.
Picture: Sufi symposium organiser Sheikh M'backé called for a new approach to confronting extremism. Photo: Mohamed Wedoud.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Birmingham International Center's "Spotlight on Turkey" shone brightly on the mystic culture of the Sufis Saturday night with a concert by Turkish musician Latif Bolat.
A virtuoso on the saz, a long-necked lute with a pear-shaped body and 1,000-year-old history, Bolat sang and played a two-hour set that mesmerized with its repetition and simplicity, and revealed the heartfelt emotions of centuries-old texts.
Bolat likens himself to an ashik, or troubadour, in the tradition of the mountain dervishes who roamed about looking for beauty. His program, from which he departed on several occasions, was peppered with enlightening stories and histories -- on subjects such as ancient Robin Hoods known as "efes," the plight of being exiled from one's homeland, and a 7-year-old victim of Hiroshima (inspired by Pete Seeger lyrics).
Much of the beauty of this concert could be found in the saz itself, its "just intonation" giving it its Middle Eastern flavor, Bolat performing the fretted instrument's three multiple courses of strings with fullness and clarity.
Songs about watching the universe, and a city where the only currency is the rose, unfolded through Bolat's bright, pure voice.
The exquisite poetry of Islamic Sufi writers Ummi Sinan, Yunus Emre and Niyazi Misri took on universal significance.
At Bolat's request, applause was withheld until the end of the concert, allowing the words and music to settle in.
On two numbers, Bolat switched to piano, but the instrument's conventional tuning was too jarring to be appreciated. Slides from modern Turkey shown during one of the final numbers drew too much attention away from Bolat's performance.
But Bolat's exhaustive research of this ancient poetry had already reaped its reward.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
A bomb exploded at the gate of a Sufi shrine in Pakistan's eastern city of Pak Pattan on Monday, killing six people, a city government official said.
The explosive was planted on a motorcycle, city police chief Mohammad Kashif told Reuters by telephone.
"According to initial reports, two men came on the motorcycle and parked it near the gate just minutes before the blast," he said, adding 12 people were also wounded in the explosion.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but Taliban militants have in the past attacked Sufi shrines.
Pakistan's U.S.-backed government faces a stubborn Taliban insurgency.
Hard-line Taliban militants generally abhor the Sufi strand of Islam and disapprove of visiting shrines, which is popular with many Pakistanis.
Separately, a roadside bomb explosion killed three people and wounded two in the northwestern tribal region of Orakzai, said a regional government official.
Orakzai was a known sanctuary for al Qaeda-linked militants. Security forces declared victory over the Taliban there in June but still face pockets of resistance.
Picture: Security officials survey the area outside a Sufi shrine after it was hit by a bomb blast in Pak Pattan, located in Punjab province October 25, 2010. Photo: Reuters/Stringer.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By Sharon Otterman, Sept. 3, 2010, New York Times.
WATERPORT, N.Y. — The small congregation established a mosque here three decades ago in a 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards and cornfields. In the farmhouse’s simple prayer room, they prayed for many things, including peace and quiet that has never fully come. The local sheriff said some in his county did not even know that the mosque was there. Nevertheless, over the years, burglars have stolen prayer rugs and religious tapestries from the small sanctuary, the only Islamic place of worship in rural Orleans County, which hugs the shore of Lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. Vandals have shattered car windows and thrown beer bottles on the lawn. One night about five years ago, the wooden fence in front of the mosque was set afire.
And then, this week, a car filled with local teenagers sideswiped the 29-year-old son of one of the mosque’s founding members, said Joseph V. Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney. One teenager was charged with firing a shotgun into the air near the mosque a few days earlier, after driving by and shouting epithets.
The details of the harassment and the arrests on Tuesday of five teenagers brought reporters and cameras; the ugliness seemed consistent with a number of other suspected anti-Muslim attacks around the country amid an emotional and often-bitter public discussion about whether an Islamic community center should be built in New York City near the site of the World Trade Center.
The events here have left the congregants of the mosque — which practices a form of Islam that emphasizes simple living, prayer and meditation — searching for answers about why the periodic harassment persists.
Muhyiddin Shakoor, 66, a psychotherapist and retired professor at the State University at Brockport [and author of the fascinating narrative about his experiences with Sufism, The Writing on the Water (ed.)] who is one of the founders of the mosque, which is known as the World Sufi Foundation, said trouble seemed to ebb and flow with the national mood but appeared to have grown more mean-spirited in recent years. “It seems whatever is happening for Muslims generally gets projected on us,” he said.
But the events in this county, population 44,000, also suggest how hard it can be to accurately trace the influence of national debates and moods on individual episodes of antagonism.
Mr. Cardone, the district attorney, said he believed the mosque attacks were more an example of ignorance and teenage thrill-seeking than of any specific anti-Muslim fervor. He said, by way of example, that for years a fable had persisted about the mosque, which bears no sign except for the single word “Him” in Arabic calligraphy on its white-clapboard siding: that it is not a mosque at all, but a cult house where mysterious practices occur.
“Me and a couple of friends were going to a friend’s house,” Anthony Ogden, 18, one of the teenagers arrested, said Wednesday, “and we went down that road where the supposed mosque is, beeping the horn, trying to get them to chase us. We were looking for fun, you know, the wrong kind of fun.”
Mr. Ogden, who is going into the 10th grade but is very likely not returning to high school this year, said he had heard it was a cult house where people drank blood. “How many real religious places do you see that do not have a sign stating that it’s a religious place?” he asked.
For the mosque’s members, who are largely American-born professionals, some of whom converted from Judaism and Christianity, the harassment has been a painful invasion of their faith, said Bilal Huzair, 39, one of the group’s imams. “I don’t believe at all that they didn’t know what they were doing,” he said, adding that the harassers shouted anti-Muslim slogans as they drove by.
Each night during the month-long observance of Ramadan, the congregation has gathered for the traditional night prayer in the sanctuary, its single bulb a pinpoint of light under a dark sky filled with stars.
Several times each week, congregants said, the prayer was disrupted by the sound of screeching wheels and cursing, as one or two cars raced back and forth on the gravel road outside.
The congregants became more frightened after the shooting, and when cars appeared on Monday night, they were determined to get their license-plate numbers, because the police had told them not much could be done without that information, said Jacob Zimmerman, a congregant.
They went outside with flashlights as the prayer ended. David E. Bell, the son of a local physician, was struck by one of the cars as he stood on the side of the road. He said it intentionally swerved to hit him; Mr. Ogden, who said he was a passenger in the car, said Mr. Bell had something in his hand that struck the car, a Chevrolet Blazer, breaking its driver-side mirror.
The cars sped away about two miles to a local boat launch, a gravel area surrounded by a low metal guard rail. The teenagers were spotted there by Chad Scott, 35, a Ph.D. student and former Marine who was on his way to the mosque, late for prayers. Mr. Scott said he recognized the cars as the ones that had harassed the mosque on Friday.
He called the police and then returned to the boat launch with mosque members in three cars, hoping to hold the occupants there until officers came. Mr. Ogden said that he and another teenager, Mark Vendetti, 17, got out and started apologizing. Mr. Ogden said he was bruised as a mosque member briefly restrained him there.
Mr. Vendetti, who is accused of firing the shotgun outside the mosque, began talking to Mr. Scott and seemed to warm up to him, surprised that Mr. Scott was a former Marine.
“ ‘I’m a good Christian kid; I go to church every Sunday,’ ” Mr. Scott said Mr. Vendetti told him, adding that two of his brothers were also in the military.
But in the car that allegedly hit Mr. Bell, there was panic. Dylan Phillips, 18, drove around wildly, Mr. Huzair said, at one point nearly striking Mr. Bell, who was there with a tree branch he had brought from the mosque.
One of the teenagers also called the police. Mr. Bell, who said he was defending himself, shattered the back window of the car as it sped past. The teenagers interpreted that as aggression.
When the police arrived, they first interviewed the teenagers, who said they believed the congregants had billy clubs and swords. Instead of flashlights coming down the hill from the mosque, Mr. Ogden said, they saw “some kind of strobe.”
Mr. Vendetti faces the most serious charge: weapons possession, a felony. All the teenagers — Mr. Vendetti, Mr. Ogden, Mr. Phillips, Tim Weader and Jeff Donahue — are charged with disrupting a religious service, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Mr. Cardone is considering additional charges, like hit-and-run and possibly a hate crime. He said he thought that at least some of the teenagers knew that Muslims worshiped there and that they had referred to Islam in their epithets.
Mr. Huzair said he was not sure of the mosque’s next step. Press conferences and events intended to educate residents seemed a stretch for an institution so simple that it has never installed heat or a restroom. “We want to end Ramadan in peace,” he said. (It ends next weekend.)
From Mr. Cardone’s perspective, it is not the job of the mosque to educate the public, adding that its members have been cooperative, law-abiding citizens through the 20 years he had been district attorney.
“They have no understanding of the gravity and sensitivity of this thing,” he said of the teenagers, adding that even so, they would be responsible for the seriousness of their actions.
Along with better education from schools and parents, he said, “part of this is law-enforcement letting people know this is not going to be tolerated.”
The ceremonies of 80th Urs of Sufi saint Saman Sarkar have began in Pingrio near Badin [Sindh] on Friday.
The Urs was begun by the successor of the shrine, Syed Ali Bux, amid presence of great number of devotees of Saman Sarkar who had come from different parts of country.
For the facility of pilgrims various kinds of stalls had been installed whence people purchased articles of their choice.
On the occasion arrangements for sufi music had been made where sufi singers will perform during the annual rituals for next three days.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Sarv-e Yasin artistic group will hold a painting exhibit inspired by Hafez’s “Saqi Nama” (Ode to the Cupbearer) at the Kamaleddin Behzad Gallery.
The exhibit is the sixth showcase by the group and the fourth in the series “Art for Self-examination”. The previous showcases were based on stories from the poems of Farid od-Din Attar (1142-1220) and “Golshan-e Raz” (The Secret Rose Garden) by the Sufi poet Sheikh Mahmud Shabestari’s (1288 – 1340).
“The exhibit is a result of several hours of discussion and interpretation of ‘Saqi Nama’ among group members,” mentions the exhibit’s catalogue. Also included is that although group members do not claim professional expertise in art, they have attempted to discover truth via the words of the great literati.
Morshed Mohsen Mirzaali will perform Pardeh-Khani, a kind of Naqqali during which a morshed (mentor) stages the tragic stories of Muslim leaders, especially the Imams of the Shia, on November 6 and 13.
The design is by Ahmadreza Azarbaijani (Azar).
Ahmadreza Azarbaijani (Azar), Razieh Mohammad-Hosseini, Tayyebeh Qasemi, Farahnaz Fardi, Tahmineh Amirian, Mehdi Taqizadeh, Zohreh Keshavarz, Zahra Fallah-Chizeh, Narges Sadeqi, Zahra Sheikh, Reyhaneh Abbasabadi, Hamed Davatgar, Javad Bahrami and Hassan Za’fari are members.
The exhibit will be held from November 6 to 16 at the gallery located on Shanzdah-e Azar St. at the intersection with Keshavarz Blvd.
[Picture: The Hafezieh in the Musalla Gardens in Shiraz, Iran. Photo: Wiki.]
Monday, October 25, 2010
Over three months have passed since the famed Sufi shrine of Data Ganj Baksh, or Abul Hassan al-Hujwiri, fell victim to a suicide terrorist attack. The most celebrated saint in Pakistan, and author of one of the most famous Sufi treatises in history, the Kashf al-Mahjub (The Unveiling of the Veiled), al-Hujwiri played no small role in the spreading of Islam in South Asia. One can’t help but wonder why a man of his stature would stir up so much enmity among Islamic extremists, to the point that they were willing to commit such an unspeakable atrocity in the name of their faith.
Sadly, July’s bombing in Lahore would only be one of several strings of unprovoked acts of sectarian violence by Pakistani extremists this year, culminating most recently in last week’s bombing of the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the patron Sufi saint of Karachi, killing at least nine congregants—two of them children—and injuring more than sixty. I would have thought that the national crisis in the aftermath of Pakistan’s devastating floods would stand to unify the country.
Sadly, hatred seems insufficiently deterred by natural disaster.
Since last week’s bombing, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reviewing old photographs from trips to Pakistan. In seeing pictures of the mizaar, or shrine, pre-attack, and in vividly recalling crowds of peaceful worshipers congregating there, posing no discernible threat to anyone, I was nearly moved to tears.
Recollecting my personal experiences at the mizaar became infinitely more painful, moreover, when I recalled my own family’s history there: throughout her girlhood, my mother visited Karachi’s patron saint regularly. At the behest of her mother, a devoted believer in saintly intercession, my mother would visit Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine seeking his intervention in overcoming her spiritual—and medical—ills. A sickly child, suffering from crippling scoliosis, frequent bouts with jaundice, and an array of other maladies, Ami (Mom) was repeatedly assured—by both her mother and by the throng of fellow congregants at the shrine—that the wali, the saint, had the power to cure her of her otherwise incurable ailments.
Ami's visits unfortunately did little to mollify her health problems, and in witnessing a critical mass of vagabond con artists at the shrines swindling poor uneducated Pakistanis under the pretext of intercession, she became somewhat disillusioned with the process. Nonetheless, largely due to my frequent discussions with her on the issue, she's begun to rethink that position.
In reviewing the photos of my trip to Lahore in 2005, and my visit to Hujwiri’s shrine there, I quickly recalled the great saint’s astute observation that today Sufism has become a name without a reality—having degenerated largely to folk superstitions couched in the language of spirituality—when it was previously a reality without a name, a method of spiritual purification through absolute reliance on Allah alone, with which the early generations of Muslims were intimately familiar. Ami remains cautious, but has come to realize that the sort of chicanery she witnessed in the mizaar growing up ultimately contradicts the primordial wisdom behind Sufism.
I wasn’t surprised, then, when she openly wept upon hearing of last week’s attacks.
Despite my Pakistani heritage, as someone who has never lived in Pakistan for any extended period of time, I think it would be presumptuous—if not outright malpractice—for me to be proposing any substantive solutions to my ancestral homeland’s ongoing skirmishes with sectarian violence. That said, one needn’t be based in Pakistan proper in order to discern the undeniable fact that the agents of intolerance operating in that country are not arbitrary in the targets they select.
The Ahmadi community—a frequent target of state-sponsored discrimination—has been in their sights for years, most recently by being denied access to flood relief aid as punishment for their allegedly heretical beliefs. Similarly, the Pakistani Shi’i community has increasingly fallen victim to indiscriminate acts of violence, despite the national hysteria over the flood crisis. And increasingly now, these same agents of intolerance have an axe to grind with the Sufis.
At first glance this shouldn’t be altogether surprising, as South Asia has a long tradition of critique against Sufi shrine excesses. Indian Muslim scholars like Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Ashraf Ali Thanwi engaged in meticulous theological debates against the sort of practices my mother witnessed in her girlhood shrine visits. But scholarly critiques of this sort never carried any palpable threat of violent reprisal. Something else is at stake here. The miscreants now at work in Pakistan who committed these dastardly attacks seek to strip Islam of its primordial spiritual wholesomeness, and replace it with strait-jacketed dogmatism.
The real object of their animosity, sadly enough, is love. And insofar as the great awliya', the saints of the subcontinent, as martyrs of love (to steal Carl Ernst and Bruce Lawrence's expression), stand in the way of this campaign to replace love of Allah with fear and paranoia, it makes perfect sense that they've become its latest victims. Which is especially sad because, as too many Pakistanis seem to have forgotten, love is in fact at the heart of the spiritual ethos upon which the country was founded. Per the words of the poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal, in Masjid-e-Qurtaba: “Love is the holy prophet, love is the word of God.”
A dogmatic theology stripped of its spirituality necessarily lacks long-term staying power. Because you can’t sequester love with hate. Because you can’t stop the love of God from permeating people’s hearts—at the barrel of a gun, no less—no matter how brutal your inquisitions.
Toxic theology may have found a temporary home in Pakistan, but I am entirely convinced that this scourge will be defeated in my lifetime. Because, as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pakistan’s greatest modern poet, astutely recognized while languishing in prison, cruelty stands no chance of triumphing over the heart:
Let thousands of watches be set on cages
by those who worship cruelty,
fidelity will always be in bloom—
this fidelity on which are grafted
the defeats and triumphs of the heart.
Time will tell, but I remain convinced that love will prevail over paranoid dogmatism, in sha' Allah.
Picture: The author in Pakistan in 2005.
[Click on the title to the original article and its many links.]
Sunday, October 24, 2010
First Week of February Each Year proclaimed World Interfaith Harmony Week
Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, Personal Envoy and Special Adviser to the King of Jordan, introduced the draft resolution on World Interfaith Harmony Week (document A/65/L.5).
He said the Assembly was well aware the world was rife with religious tension, mistrust, and hatred, which facilitated war and violence. The remedy for such problems could only come from the world’s religions themselves, and although much good work had already been done towards that end, religious tensions were on the rise.
The present draft sought to turn the tide against that negative movement by coordinating and uniting efforts among all interfaith groups doing positive work through one focused annual theme. At the same time, it would harness the collective might of places of worship for peace and harmony and regularly encourage the “silent majority” of preachers to commit themselves on the record for peace and harmony.
The text used the Confucian concept of the word “harmony”, which suggested peace and also “beautiful and dynamic interaction between different elements within a whole”, he said.
The third paragraph of the text made religious reference to “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour” but that language excluded no one. He noted, however, the entire proposal was purely voluntary and no place of worship should be forced to observe World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The resolution “excludes no individual, compromises no one, commits no one, forces no one, harms no one, costs nothing, and — on the contrary — includes everyone, celebrates everyone, benefits everyone, unites everyone and has the potential to bring much needed peace and harmony to the entire world, in sha Allah,” he said.
The General Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote.
Click here to the UN General Assembly News Report.
Click on the title of this article or here for full text of Prince Ghazi's speech.
Click here to the Video of H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad's Presentation to the UN General Assembly.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
By Andrew Reinbach, *Small Town Islamophobia: Sidney, NY Town Supervisor Refuses to Apologize to Muslims, Ignites Firestorm* - The Huffington Post - New York, USA
Sunday, October 17, 2010
In a scene right out of a Frank Capra movie, the Sidney N.Y. Town Board fled its monthly town meeting after an overflow crowd began chanting "McCarthy must go! McCarthy must go!"
The ruckus exploded after Sidney Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy refused to apologize to a local Sufi Muslim community, Osmanlı Nakş-ı'bendi Hakkani Dergahı, for claiming it broke unknown laws when it buried two of their own on their property, for wanting to force them to dig up the bodies -- and for making the town an international joke.
The meeting was the climax of events dating from July, when Mr. McCarthy asked Town Attorney Joseph Ermeti how to stop further burials on the Dergah's cemetery.
Step by step, Mr. McCarthy turned a tussle about bigotry and Islamophobia into a morality play--a morality play about a rural town of fair-minded Americans that elects, then turns against, a man on a horse who promised to turn around its declining fortunes--only to earn a reputation as a small-minded bully with no respect for the law, or the people he serves.
At the meeting the Sufis' spokesman, Hans Hass, calmly exploded Mr. McCarthy's claims about what happened one by one, and then asked point-blank if he'd apologize. Mr. McCarthy said "No." That answer turned the mood of the overflow crowd from restive to surly, and Mr. McCarthy and the board soon left.
Mr. McCarthy's earlier response to claims he'd caused the mess, and to demands for an apology? "Whatever."
Mr. McCarthy probably wanted to leave it all behind him when he closed the meeting and followed the Board out of the room. Instead, the door he walked through opens on the next chapter of what promises to be a long struggle to drive him from office.
"He's certainly done some things that are out-and-out illegal," says Dawn Rivers Baker, first vice chair of the Delaware County Democratic Committee. "This Sufi thing is small change next to those things. They may seem small, but they add up." Ms. Baker ran for Town Supervisor against Mr. McCarthy last November.
The day after the town meeting, there were serious local discussions about moving in state court to dismiss Mr. McCarthy, possibly under the state's Public Officers law, according to Mr. Schimmerling, who's representing the Sufi community pro bono.
The Sufi issue itself is in fact more or less over. The day before the meeting Town Attorney Joseph Ermeti sent the Sufi's lawyer, Thomas Schimmerling, a fax saying that the Town plans to take no action on the matter.
Before that, Mr. Ermeti had circulated a letter to Delaware County officials claiming that the Sufi cemetery violated a provision of the state cemetery law, an assertion that Mr. Schimmerling, in a letter in response sent to Mr. McCarthy, pointed out doesn't apply to religious cemeteries.
In the same letter, Mr. Schimmerling threatened to sue the Town, and each Town officer, under Federal civil rights law. This would have inflated the towns legal fees in the matter by a factor of 100. The original budget for it? Three thousand dollars. That in turn raised fears in the town that Mr. McCarthy, who'd campaigned on promises of lower taxes, would in fact wind up raising them to pay for legal fees he creates.
The Sufis' spokesman, Mr. Hass, says his group still needs to be told clearly that the cemetery is legal, and still wants an apology. So does the Council of American-Islamic Relations. But as things stand, the Town has obviously backed down in hopes the matter will blow over, and any danger of action against the Dergah when they conduct their next burial is remote.
In truth, the cemetery on the Dergah's land is perfectly legal. It took Town Attorney Joseph Ermeti four months to discover there are no laws in New York or Sidney governing religious cemeteries on private property, time that allowed pressures in the town over the issue to boil over.
Mr. McCarthy does have his supporters, including Robert Hunt, Republican leader of Sidney, Steve Anderson, the local Tea Party leader, and some town citizens who spoke up at the meeting.
But Mr. McCarthy's behavior has turned the people of Sidney and of surrounding Delaware County almost solidly against him, and the support he has is dwarfed by opposition most local citizens say was created by Mr. McCarthy himself. Those turned against him include:
-The Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce of the Village of Sidney, which is located in the town;
-The local daily newspaper, The Daily Star, whose reporter, Patricia Breakey, first broke the story;
-Forty area clergy;
-The chair of the Delaware County GOP, Leonard Govern;
-Two major local Tea Party leaders, Chuck Pinkey and Jim Losie, who said the issue has nothing to do with the Tea Party, and personally repudiated Mr. McCarthy's original idea of disinterring the two graves.
A letter from the Board, read at the meeting by Town Clerk Lisa French, said in part that while he's accomplished some positive things since he took office, Mr. McCarthy has to "...work on his people skills...." And interviews with waitresses, librarians, and town and village officials were unanimously against Mr. McCarthy personally, and for making Sidney an international laughing stock.
Among the things that may weigh against Mr. McCarthy:
-A personal style that Sidney residents say leans heavily on insulting, humiliating, and brow-beating associates;
-A general impression in the town that it's his inclination to run the town on his own authority, as if it were his own business--instead of a government run according to the rule of law;
-A mysterious $50,000 check connected to the Sidney Hospital -- now closed -- that he says he knows nothing about. Sidney has gone through three different local bookkeeping companies since Mr. McCarthy took office in January.
Many in the area think Mr. McCarthy's performance in this scandal has made clear that Mr. McCarthy either doesn't understand the limits of his powers, or doesn't care.
For example, Mr. McCarthy has never had any legal power to stop further burials in the Dergah's cemetery, and certainly none to force the Sufis to dig up the graves; the cemetery had been approved by the town in 2005, the Dergah had valid permits for each burial, and Article 9 of the U.S. Constitution forbids so-called ex post facto laws.
That provision, forbidding laws created after an event that make said event illegal, means the best he could have hoped for would have been to forbid future cemeteries on private property -- a step the town did in fact take at the meeting, when it proposed the first Town Law of the year, covering exactly that subject.
Observers likewise say that Mr. McCarthy's management during this imbroglio has been, at best, remarkably ham-handed -- even naive.
For instance, he got up at the recent County Republican dinner, claimed the Town Meeting minutes for August -- which authorized Mr. Ermeti to act legally against the Sufis -- were false, and read what he claimed were the real minutes -- a document that conveniently made everything go away. Unexplained was why the Board, including Mr. McCarthy, approved the official August minutes in the first place if they were false. Calls to Messers McCarthy and Ermeti requesting comment were not returned.
[Picture from the Osmanlı Nakş-ı'bendi Hakkani Dergahı.]
Friday, October 22, 2010
Mogadishu: Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab Islamists wrested control Friday of a key town in central Somalia from the Sufi sect Ahlu Sunna, officials and residents said.
The town of Dhusamareb is one of Ahlu Sunna's strongholds and the two militant groups have previously fought over it.
"We have taken control of Marergur village and passed into Dhusamareb where our forces are now in control. The enemy fled and the Mujahidin fighters took the city in a matter of minutes without casualties," Sheik Mohamed Ibrahim, a senior Shebab commander, told AFP.
Witnesses said most of the Sufi militants normally in Dhusamareb went to Adado, another town in the region, where they toppled a clan militia that was in control there.
"The Shebab fighters came into the city after brief fighting with the Ahlu Sunna outside the city and the Sufi militants fled the town," said Adan Wardhere, a Dhusamareb resident.
Ahlu Sunna was reportedly sending men from Adado back into Dhusamareb.
The Shebab control large swathes of southern and central Somalia and has wrested control of much of the capital Mogadishu, where it has relentlessly attacked government and African Union forces.
The Ahlu Sunna was founded in 1991 to promote moderate Sufi Islam in Somalia. It renounced a posture of non-violence in early 2009 to take on the radical Shebab and their allies from the Hezb al-Islam movement.
The Ahlu Sunna does not fully recognise Somali President Sherif Sheikh Ahmed's transitional government but it too wants to rid Somalia of the Shebab and its Al-Qaeda-inspired ideology.
Picture: An Al-Shabab Islamic fighter carries a rocket launcher. Photo: AFP.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Islam has a bad reputation these days. Aside from its associations with political militancy, there have been incidents which challenge Canadian conceptions of tolerance, including the recent high-profile account of an Iranian woman sentenced to stoning for adultery.
Such incidents must be viewed in the proper perspective. Most Canadians would not like to see Christianity judged as a whole simply by the Crusades, or by the separation of children of the First Nations from their families, and their subsequent abuse. If this is so, it is incumbent upon all of us to seek out a larger, more complicated view of Islam. Indeed, the recent debates over the placement of a mosque at ground zero, and the threatened burning of the Quran, have shown how terribly close-minded North Americans can be.
What sensationalist accounts about violence and cultural incommensurability don’t tell us about is how and why Islam is such a powerful positive force in the world, and why so many in our world celebrate it. Such representations threaten to erase the complexity and beauty of Islam from our view, and allow singular acts--and some enduring problems—to speak for the tradition as a whole.
There are many other Islams to learn about. One is accompanied by song. Sufism is the mystical tradition in Islam, and it has played a powerful role in Islam’s history. Music is central to the Sufi approach to the divine as intimate, personal, and ecstatic. It is a celebration of the life of the divine within our world. This is the Islam that scholars have decisively shown was responsible for large numbers of conversions in South Asia over the last millennium. This is the Islam that lives at Sufi shrines all through South Asia—even in areas with small Muslim populations. Even in the Indian Punjab today, which lost most of its Muslim population at partition in 1947, such religious and musical traditions thrive.
Song and performance bring Islam to life throughout South Asia. I will never forget when I visited a tiny shrine in Panipat in Haryana, India, tucked away in a busy bazaar. Inside was a small group of musicians, singing of the grace and glory of God, and the loving compassion of the saint. If only I could bring such an experience to people in North America, I thought, those years ago, to help them understand the beauty and intimacy of such a performance.
This Islam is coming to Vancouver this weekend. Singer Mukthiar Ali—who performs on Saturday and Sunday at the Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC—represents the 26th generation in a family of Mirasi or traditionally nomadic singers of Rajasthan. He sings a wide range of devotional music, including that of the Hindu saints Mira and Brahmanand, the lower caste critique of social and religious conventions, Kabir, and a range of Sufi (Islamic mystical) poets such as Bulle Shah, Baba Sheikh Farid, and Amir Khusro. Ali comes to us as a part of the Virani Lecture Series in Islamic Studies, an annual event made possible by the generous support of Amir and Yasmin Virani. Their vision makes this celebration of culture and knowledge possible.
The visit of Mukhtiar Ali to UBC offers an opportunity to experience this mystical dimension of Islam, sung and experienced by a group of folk singers who have only begun to be heard outside of India. It also demonstrates vividly how the performance of Islam in South Asia has occurred in dynamic conversation with non-Islamic traditions: Ali sings Mira, as well as Baba Sheikh Farid. The divine, through such poets, is accessible to all.
These performances are accompanied by a mini-film festival featuring the films of Ajay Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based documentary filmmaker, with films related to the theme of Islam in Punjab (and others as well), and talks by UBC professor Ken Bryant and University of Alberta professor Regula Qureshi, who is a specialist on Islamic musical performance in South Asia.
If we want to understand our world, we must understand its complexity. Islam is not the one-dimensional ideology all too often portrayed in the media. We invite Vancouver to experience a larger, more representative Islam. Sometimes—as I learned in Panipat—it is necessary to see for yourself.
Anne Murphy is Assistant Professor and Chair, Punjabi Language, Literature and Sikh Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Some of the recent terrorist attacks on various targets in Pakistan by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Movement of Pakistani Taliban) reveal an ideological pattern. The Taliban, who owe their allegiance to the Deobandi school of Islamic thought, are not only targeting Pakistani state institutions but are also attacking other Islamic sects in the country.
Pakistan is a predominant Sunni country. The Deobandis, who account for only 15%of all the Sunni Muslims, are well organized, while the Barelvis, who constitute the bulk of the Sunni population, are seen as being close to the Pakistani state. The Deobandi interpretation of Islam doesn't approve of the Barelvi practices of visiting shrines of Sufi mystics and singing and dancing there, and therefore considers them as infidels.
Similarly, the Deobandis do not consider the Shi'ite Muslims as Muslims. Various Deobandi groups have demanded that Shi'ites be declared by the Pakistani government as religious minorities like Christians and Hindus, i.e. as infidels. A similar demand against Ahmadi Muslims succeeded in 1974, when the government of the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared them as non-Muslims.
These ideological considerations can be seen in the recent attacks by the Taliban-Deobandi militants in Pakistan. In April 2006, a conference of Barelvi clerics organized to mark Prophet Muhammad's birthday was attacked in Karachi. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmadi Muslim mosques were attacked by suicide bombers in Lahore. In March 2009, shrine of the 17th century Sufi mystic Rehman Baba was attacked in Lahore. On July 1, 2010, the famous shrine of 11th century Sufi mystic Syed Ali Hajveri was attacked by Taliban suicide bombers. In December 2009, a Shi'ite religious procession was bombed in Karachi. In August 2010, two Shi'ite religious processions in Lahore and Quetta were attacked. All these attacks are blamed on Taliban-Deobandi attackers.
These attacks show that Deobandis, who comprise about 15% of the population, consider the rest of the Pakistani people – Barelvis, Shi'ite Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others – as infidels. In a recent article, titled "Just Who is Not a Kafir?" prominent Pakistani journalist and author Amir Mir examined the ideological pattern of violence in Pakistan.
Following are excerpts from the article:
"In the Darkness Enveloping Pakistan, It Won't be Wrong to Ask: Who Isn't a Kafir or Infidel, Beyond Even the Religious Minorities of Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus?"
"When two suicide bombers exploded themselves in the shrine of the revered Sufi saint Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore [on July 1], the ensuing devastation... rendered meaningless the promise of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. Jinnah had said, 'You may belong to any religion or caste or creed... that has nothing to do with the business of the state. You are free, free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.' These stirring words were then perceived as an explicit assurance to the religious minorities of their rights in a country where Muslims constitute over 95% of the population.
"Six decades later, as Pakistan remains trapped in the vortex of violence, even the Muslims are in desperate need of assurances such as Jinnah's. Mosques and shrines of saints are targeted regularly, votaries of different Muslim sects are subjected to suicide bombings, and just about every mullah [cleric] seems to enjoy the right of declaring anyone who he thinks has deviated from Islam an apostate, a non-Muslim, whose killing is religiously justifiable. In the darkness enveloping Pakistan, it won't be wrong to ask: who isn't a kafir or infidel, beyond even the religious minorities of Christians, Sikhs and Hindus?"
"Shrapnel from Every Explosion Strains the Social Fabric, Tears Its Rich tapestry, and Undermines the Traditional Forms of Devotion [in Pakistan]"
"Shrapnel from every explosion strains the social fabric, tears its rich tapestry, and undermines the traditional forms of devotion inherited over generations. Take the twin suicide bombings of the Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine of July 1, which has been blamed on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) even though it has vehemently denied its involvement. This Sufi shrine defines the spirit of Lahore, which is often called Data ki Nagri (Data's abode). Here lies buried [the 11th century Sufi mystic] Syed Abul Hassan Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh, whose shrine is mostly visited by members of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. The shrine, famous for mystical dancing by devotees, is a Lahore landmark.
"However, the adherents of the Deobandi school of thought, to which the Taliban belong, are opposed to the idea of Muslims visiting Sufi shrines and offering prayers, a practice known as piri-faqiri [Sufi and mystic practices]. The Deobandis deem piri-faqiri to be heretical, a gross violation of Islamic doctrine; ditto [with] mystical dancing. The Deobandis, therefore, consider the Barelvis as kafir whose neck can be put to [the] sword, no question asked.
"A week before July 1, the TTP had sent a letter to the Data Ganj Baksh administration threatening to attack the shrine, claiming its status was equivalent to that of the Somnath temple in Gujarat, India. The symbolism inherent in the comparison wasn't lost – the Somnath temple had been repeatedly raided by Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi, 'the idol destroyer,' who believed his marauding attacks would sap the fighting spirit of the Hindus. The attack on the Data Darbar was, similarly, aimed at demoralizing the Barelvis, besides striking at the root of Lahore's religious and cultural ethos..."
"Music and Dance [at Shrines of Sufi Mystics] are Unacceptable to the Deobandis, And the Taliban..."
"This isn't the first time Barelvi Muslims have been targeted. On April 12, 2006, for instance, a Barelvi conference organized to celebrate the perfectly orthodox occasion of Prophet Muhammed's birthday at Nishtar Park, Karachi, witnessed a suicide bombing that claimed 70 lives.
Last year, the Taliban attacked the shrine [in Peshawar] of the 17th century Sufi saint-poet, Rehman Baba, who is said to have withdrawn from the world and promised his followers that if they emulate him, they too could move towards a direct experience of god. He also believed god could be reached through music, poetry, and dance. But then music and dance are unacceptable to the Deobandis, and the Taliban extensively damaged the shrine of Rehman Baba with explosives. Soon, they used rockets to ravage the mausoleum of Bahadar Baba, and then directed their wrath against the 400 year-old shrine of another Sufi saint, Abu Saeed Baba, both located near Peshawar.
"Renowned Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which furnishes legal advice on Islamic issues to the Pakistan government, laments, 'Labeling others "infidel" and "kafir" has become a preferred task of the mullahs. It's clear that every sect considers others heretical, kafirs, and dwellers of hell. Even verses of the Koran are wrongly used to disprove others' faith and sects."'
"A Minority of Pakistan's Population has Taken to Declaring the Rest as Kafir"
"In a way, a minority of Pakistan's population has taken to declaring the rest as kafir. Look at the figures – 95% of the Pakistani population is Muslim, of which 85% are Sunni and 15% Shi'ites. But for the five percent belonging to the Ahle Hadith (Wahhabis), the Sunnis prescribe to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. They are further subdivided into the Barelvi and Deobandi schools.
"Most agree on the following composition of Pakistan's population – 60% Barelvis, 15% Deobandis, 15% Shias, 5% Ahle Hadith, and the remaining 5% constituting Ahmadis, Ismailis, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, etc. This means only 20% of Pakistanis – 15% of Deobandis plus 5% of Ahle Hadith – strictly consider the remaining 80% as kafir, even willing to subject them to death and destruction."
Pakistani Writer Khaled Ahmed: "Within Sunni Islam, the Deobandis And the Barelvis are Not Found Anywhere Outside India and Pakistan"
"Renowned Pakistani writer Khaled Ahmed points to the irony: 'Within Sunni Islam, the Deobandis and the Barelvis are not found anywhere outside India and Pakistan. The creation of these two sects was one of the masterstrokes of the Raj [British rule] in its divide-and-rule policy.' He says the Deobandi school took roots in India in 1866 as a reaction to the overthrow of Muslim rule by the British.
"This school believes in a literalist interpretation of Islam, and apart from Wahhabis, considers all other sects as non-Muslims who must be exterminated. 'That's why they work side by side, from politics to jihad,' says Ahmed, adding that though the Barelvi school of thought is the dominant jurisprudence in Pakistan, 'it is not as well politically organized as the Deobandi school.'
"It was the Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance... which pressured President General Zia-ul-Haq to declare the Ahmadis as non-Muslims [in 1974]. At a stroke of the pen, thus, a Muslim sect was clubbed with other religious minorities [i.e. as infidel]. Under the Constitution, they can't call themselves Muslim or even describe their place of worship as a mosque. Wary of disclosing their identity publicly, the Ahmadis were dragged into the spotlight following devastating attacks on two of their mosques in Lahore [in May 2010] that killed over a hundred people..."
"The Deobandis Regard Shi'ites as Kafir, Claiming Their Devotion to the Clerics and Grant[ing] of Divinely Inspired Status to Them as Heretical"
"[A Pakistani national's] 'Muslim' status doesn't insulate even mainstream sects from murderous attacks. Ask the Shi'ites, whose Muharram procession in Karachi was bombed in December 2009, killing 33. The Deobandis regard Shi'ites as kafir, claiming their devotion to the clerics and grant of divinely inspired status to them as heretical.
"The history of Sunni-Shi'ite conflict is as old as Islam, but this has become increasingly bloody in the last decade – over 5,000 people have been killed since 2000 – because of the war in Afghanistan. Since Iran had backed the [anti-Taliban] Northern Alliance there, the Deobandis have taken to retaliating against the sect in Pakistan. They also accuse the Shi'ites of assisting the Americans to invade Iraq.
"Historian Dr. Mubarak Ali says, 'One consequence of the war in Afghanistan is the fracturing of Pakistan's religious patchwork quilt. Whereas once the faultlines lay between the Shi'ites and Sunnis, these have now spread to the Barelvis and Deobandis, who are both Sunni.' Since the Barelvis are moderate and against the Taliban, the Deobandis look upon them as the state's stooges, who as heretics should be put to death anyway, Ali argues."
Columnist Imtiaz Alam: "As Long as... the [Pakistani Army] Establishment Persists with Their Goal of Bringing the Pashtun Taliban Back to Power in Kabul, They will Continue Digging the Grave of a Democratic Pakistan"
"Perhaps the complicity between the state and the Deobandis deterred the latter from targeting the Barelvis till now. Lawyer and columnist Yasser Latif Hamdani says, 'There is this potent mixture of Pashtun nationalism and Deobandi Islam. Somehow, there is something intrinsic to the very nature of Deobandi doctrine which the Pakistani military establishment is promoting to advance its so-called geostrategic agenda.' Yet, simultaneously, under U.S. pressure, the state had to crack down on the TTP, which, in pique, has taken to wreaking vengeance on the hapless Barelvis.
"'Columnist Imtiaz Alam says, 'As long as powerful sections in the [Pakistani military] establishment persist with their goal of bringing the Pashtun Taliban back to power in Kabul, they will continue digging the grave of a democratic Pakistan.' 'Sectarianism and jihadi terrorism will be its consequent wages," he insists..."
 Outlook (www.outlookindia.com), India, July 19, 2010. The text of the article has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Seasoned director Goutam Ghose intends his “Moner Manush” to be a chapter in harmony.
Speaking to Goutam Ghose, that man of many summers and many a landmark movie, can be both a delight and a despair. One moment, it is all enlightenment as he talks of Sufism, Lalan Fakir, and those days when we lived in harmony. At such a moment, he takes you back to the days of Sufis and bhakts who forever told us we are all ‘Here for the Hereafter.' Next moment, he is at a loss for words. Even as you wait for the next expression to fall off his lips, he thinks. First silently, then aloud.
He is talking about his next film “Lala” that is still in the initial stages. The film is being talked about as Richard Gere's India debut but Ghose does not want to share too much about a film that is only now beginning to spread his dream. He is, of course, much more at ease talking about “Moner Manush”, the Indo-Bangla co-production that is scheduled to hit the cinema halls shortly.
Quietly, unobtrusively, Ghose, the man we never suspected of taking Indian films to international stage, is making ripples on the international circuit. And almost effortlessly stepping beyond the confines of Hindi or Bengali cinema.
“I have just wrapped up “Moner Manush.” It is based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay. I have tried to relate the story of Lalan Fakir, the 18th -19th Century mystic widely revered on both sides of Bengal.”
Starring Prosenjit in the role of Lalan Fakir, the film has the tried and trustworthy Soumitro Chatterjee and Priyanshu besides Paoli Dham and Chanchal. With the likes of Latif Shah and Khuda Baksh getting the support of Farida Parveen, it is truly an international venture.
“I went to Kushtia, the village of Lalan Fakir. I discovered his songs have notations.” Incidentally, Lalan composed some 10,000 songs and less than a 1,000 of them have survived.
The film was conceived in early 1990s but could reach fruition only now. Shot largely in Bangladesh and Bengal, the film's production work completed only recently.
“I had planned this film immediately after the demolition of Babri Masjid. I wanted to highlight the shared past, the social harmony of our land with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians living together. But the film is as relevant now with so many divides of religion, race, caste and nation.”
He might otherwise be a man of few words but when Ghose talks about “Moner Manush”, there are no full stops, few commas.
“The film embodies the fantastic subaltern spirit of our nation that is so liberal, so secular. We have a composite culture. We have Kabir. And Lalan is similar to Kabir. He did unbelievable work in 19th Century. His followers worked a lot in rural areas.
If the subject is so close to his heart, why the long delay?
“I was all set to make to this film earlier to recreate the beautiful atmosphere that was created by the followers of Lalan Fakir. But I got busy with other projects. However, now the film is more important as there is intolerance all over the world. We need to learn from Lalan.”
Actually this “learning from Lalan” also makes smart business sense today with the Bengali Diaspora spawning across the world. Ghose, a genial man with the looks of a philosopher, agrees.
“Co-productions make market sense for sure. And an Indo-Bangla production more so. There are Bengalis or Bangla-speaking people living across the world. There is a world market for Bengali cinema. With the improved Indo-Bangladesh relations, we hope to release more than a 100 prints. The film will be shown across the country at multiplexes. I am confident of it doing well because after a long time we have an Indo-Bangla film. We have a mixed cast and crew.”
“Moner Manush” might be just round the corner but Ghose is not resting on his laurels. “I am working on ‘Lala' next. Again, it will be a bilingual film.”
It is whispered none other than Richard Gere is working in “Lala”?
“I don't want to be talking about it yet. Unlike here, in Hollywood they have a process, a procedure in place. Yes, we have approached Richard Gere and he has evinced interest in the project. But he has not signed the film yet. Our producers will come down to India later this month, then we will finalise everything.”
For the moment, the bhadralok can savour “Moner Manush”. Over to Richard Gere next? Umm.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Vertical Road, the latest work by Akram Khan, celebrates 10 years of his own company.
It reflects many of Khan's strongest qualities. Dancers are sculpturally placed, on a stage that looks gorgeous, with powerful design and music. The dancing ranges from silky delicacy to ecstatic wrestlings. Vertical Road also feels too long, dawdling as it moves from one sequence to the next.
Khan is known for his collaborative work but for Vertical Road, he returns to composer Nitin Sawhney. The work starts with strong hums and driving beats, before breaking into more lyrical, meditative sounds.
Vertical Road is inspired by Sufi ideas of grace. It opens with a dim figure, just visible behind a translucent backdrop. When his hand brushes the surface, you can see it clearly; the rest of his body is a blurred image. Throughout, Khan uses images of transcendence. His dancers spin like whirling Sufi dervishes.
The dancers stand in a group, heads bowed. Kimie Nakano's costumes – pale, draped tunics and trousers – are saturated with white dust. As the dancers move, shaking their limbs or striking their own bodies, clouds of dust fly up, very visible in the stark lighting. They dance in unison, driven about by the beat, then slide into solo movements.
Salah El Brogy, a tall dancer with a shock of dark curls, knocks over a line of blocks, like mystic dominoes, or picks one up to contemplate it. Khan's choreography with blocks tends to slow the work down. We can see that the dancers are thinking deep thoughts, but they don't exactly communicate them.
El Brogy is more interesting as an angel figure, someone who affects the other dancers without touching them. In one duet, another dancer follows every gesture of his hands. The directed movements get more precise as the "angel" comes closer. Finally, he is outlining the other man's body, guiding each tiny movement – still never touching.
Vertical Road lingers over some of its images. It's clear that Khan will end by returning to the figure behind the veil, long before he actually gets there.
A final sequence has dancers mirroring each other, one behind the screen, one visible.
It's beautifully lit, clearly staged – but the delay makes it less satisfying.
Touring to 4 December. Visit the Akram Khan Company
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Pakistanis were first introduced to contemporary Afghan literature during the Afghan war emanating from soviet occupation of the country. Like all wars it uprooted millions of Afghan forcing them to seek refuge in Pakistan.
This scribe whose journalistic involvement with Afghan political leaders and court writers was deep and lasting was amazed to find men with long flowing beards writing fantastic love poetry.
Many also attempted resistance poetry exposing the soviet barbarism and encouraging the insurgency of the Mujahideen. But by and large wrote love poetry and in that they faithfully followed the Persian (Farsee) and Pashto tradition.
Farsi is the mother tongue of many of them and provides a link with Iran and recently freed Muslim States of central Asia.
Like their central Asian brothers Afghans accord high place to Sufi outlook in their daily life as well as in their literary endeavour.
The popular order in eastern Afghanistan is Mujadadi with some mix of Chishti and Gillani. The former is more Shariat bound and conservative (recall the argument between Mujadid Alaf Sani and Mughal Emperor Jhanghir).
Other popular Sufi orders are known as Nakasbandia and Suharwardia. In the context of current upheaval many Afghans seek solace in Tassawuf or Sufism.
Poet Maasoom has based his poetry on Sufis Concept of love and compassion. We may therefore be permitted to save few more words about Tassawuf. The many ingredients of the concept include omnipotent God; belief in pantheism which allows worship of all gods of different creeds and cults. It insists upon toleration of worship of all gods and lastly renunciation of self.
Poet Maasoom welcomes the existence of multiple gods and pantheistic view that in fact they are all one. In Persian language it is called Wahdatul Wajood.
And when I learned that the mosque,
the mandir, the church, the shrine
are all homes of God and not of the priest inside,
I lost my fears,
my fears of not knowing how to pray…
and entered freely.
And when I learned that the reservoirs of man,
the inner reservoirs of man to take it,
to take it in have no limits,
I lost my fears,
my fears of not being, of not being able to brook it…
and took in freely.
The Western writers influenced by Sufism generally highlight two points of the doctrine. Those are toleration and love of fellow beings. Both are noble acts but both are invisible activities.
There is a lot of talk in the Subcontinent about Sufi role in the conversion of Hindus to Muslims through the magic of love. However the large-scale communal riots which accompanied the independence tend to give a different verdict.
The blood bath in homeland of Rabindranath Tagore could not be stopped by the love song of Gitanjali.
We have indulged in Sufism only because Mr. Maasoom has termed his tribute to three poets i.e. Emily Dickinson, Antonio Parclia and Rabinranath Tagore as “ The Sufis Garland” which is also the title of the book.
Maasooms poetry is an excellent combination of the east and west. His medium is English but he sounds like talking to his readers in Persian or Farsi. The essence and flavour of his poetry, designated as “Love poems” more than meets the requirements of such an undertaking.
The expectations of the readers however escalate when the subject is ISHIQ (Love), the style is Persian and the writer speaks with a dip in the cultural capital of the United States.
Maasooms Persian style is highlighted by the following in the early part of the book. He says:
You seemed to me
In the opening
Hour of the morning
Of all that is
Love is known in an instant….
And realized over a lifetime.
Author: Manav Sachdeva Maasoom
Edition: 1st Edition 2010
Published by: Roman Books, Kabul
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
University a big step towards research on Sufism
The passing of the Sheikh-ul-Alam Research and Technical University Bill by the Assembly has received all round appreciation from people and scholars.
Ahal-i-Hanfia and Ahal-i- Aitiqaad have welcomed the move and described it a big step towards a better research over Sufi saints and scholars.
“The passing of bill in Assembly along with Ahal-i- Ahadees Technical University, shows government is conscious of promoting all schools of thoughts,” Ahal-i-Hanfia and Ahal-i- Aitiqaad said in a statement issue here on Sunday.
The people, educationists, Islamic scholars, ulemas, students and research scholars have appreciated the move and have said that this will create healthy educational atmosphere in the State.
Many educational outfits have congratulated Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, and his cabinet for the approval.
“The establishment of these universities by reputed Non-Government Organisations (NGO) shall strengthen the belief that government’s educational policy is free and fair” statement said.
“The ulemas, scholars, intellectuals and writers are of the view that the present government is really determined to encourage all the schools of thoughts in a proper manner so that they are able to impart the real education which has once upon a time given glory to the Valley of Kashmir throughout the World” statement said.
The renowned Islamic scholar of the Valley Jenab Maulana Hami has conveyed his personal appreciation to Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues particularly to Minister for Higher Education, Abdul Gani Malik, Speaker, Mohammad Akbar Lone, Deputy Chairman, Legislative Council, S Arvinder Singh Micky, MLA, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, Secretaries, Higher Education and Law who have taken personal interest in promoting the concept of Sheikh-ul-Alam teachings and helping in passage of the bill.
[Picture: Dargah Dastageer Sahab, one of the oldest Mosques in Kashmir. Photo: Wiki.]
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Karachi: Ground to boost up sectarian bloodshed is gaining strength day by day. The multidimensional target killings and other violent incidents among the rival religious groups are increasing the level of anger and a possible clash among the believers of rival sects could not be ruled out because concerned authorities failed to track down the root cause of violence.
According to the reports, the twin blasts at Sufi saint’s shrine and frequently upward incidents of violence taking place in the city for last couple of years are justifying the involvement of covert hands seeking the a sectarian bloodshed in the city.
Despite the reports of intelligence agencies and recently recovered Indian made explosive RDX from the possession of activists of a defunct sectarian organisation, law enforcement agencies seem reluctant to take action against the sectarian outfits having ties with Al-Qaeda, Taliban and foreign agencies including RAW and KGB.
Renamed banned sectarian outfits are gaining strength, hoisting flags, collecting funds and running their offices across the city without any hindrance by the security agencies.
The defunct SSP activists had placed the collection stalls outside the recently held congregation of non-violent organisations in Orangi Town where hundred of thousands people participated.
Source privy to the matter told that organisers of the gathering banned the entry of the any collection unit and the said stalls took place outside the boundary but police and intelligence organisations did not take any action against them.
A senior activist of SSP whishing to be anonymous accused a third party’s involvement in all sectarian killings continuing in the city.
He pinpointed the involvement of a declared minority behind the sectarian killings and other target killing incidents in the city.
He said that there are a number of high-ranking officials belonging to the same faction working in the various security agencies, organised and operating the various criminal groups for such sort of activities to flare up the sectarian and ethnic violence in the city.
A systematic chain of incidents is suggesting the existence of an organisational structure behind all such incidents from Ashura blast to Ghazi shrine blasts. A senior police official wished to be anonymous told TheNation that the blasts at the Sufi’s shrine seem a conspiracy to fuel the sectarian violence in the city.
The blasts went off after an hour of the burial of Mulana Muhammad Amin, gunned down a day earlier in target killing, leader of SSP sister organisation Sunni Action Committee and after the frequent killing of 23 SSP activists taking place within a month and half.
Simultaneous incidents of target killings of defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba workers and leaders started last year and scores of people including the leadership of the SSP have been killed in the first episode of the sectarian violence.
[Picture: Inside Abdullah Ghazi shrine. Photo: Umme Salma Hamdani/Wiki]
Friday, October 15, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
The ideology that reigns in Saudi Arabia comes into plain view on the website of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, where boys and girls sharing a swimming pool causes "mischief and evil" and bringing flowers to a hospital patient is to be discouraged because it's a foreign custom that "imitates Allah's adversaries."
And those fatwas, or religious rulings, come from the government-appointed body of clerics who are the guardians of the kingdom's ultraconservative Wahhabi school of Islam. But there's also a whole other world of independent clerics issuing their own interpretations, often contradictory, through the Web, TV stations and text messages.
Now King Abdullah is moving to regain control over this abundance of fatwas. Under a royal decree issued in mid-August, only the official panel may issue the fatwas that answer every question of how pious Saudis should live their lives.
The result: In recent weeks, websites and a satellite station where clerics answered questions have been shut down or have voluntarily stopped issuing fatwas. One preacher was publicly reprimanded for urging a boycott of a supermarket chain for employing female cashiers.
The question on the minds of some Saudis is whether any of this points the way to a more liberal code. Saad Sowayan, a Saudi historian and columnist, thinks it does. "The state wants to take the lead in shaping public opinion and this serves the issue of secularism and modernity," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
But many of the powerful clerics on the 21-member council are themselves hard-liners. Beyond strict edicts on morality, they reinforce a worldview whereby non-Muslims and even liberal or Shiite Muslims are considered infidels, and their stances on jihad, or holy war, at times differ only in nuances from al-Qaida's.
The website has thousands of fatwas, some dating back more than a decade, and dozens more are added each month.
A far stricter interpretation than is followed in most Muslim countries, Wahhabism is known most for its near obsessive segregation of the sexes, its insistence on ideological purity and its harsh punishments of beheadings and hand amputations for some crimes. It is also the law in Saudi Arabia, where clerics sit as judges in courts, religious police prevent unmarried or unrelated men and women from mixing, and women are banned from driving.
King Abdullah has taken a few incremental steps toward modernization. In a move last year that angered some Wahhabis, for example, he inaugurated the first university where male and female students share classes.
But tinkering with the system is risky, because of the grand trade-off that lies at the heart of modern Saudi Arabia: The governing Al Saud family supports the clerics, and the clerics support the family's rule.
Theoretically at least, the council's new fatwa monopoly could help Abdullah if his aim is to enact further reforms by seeding the commission with clerics who are more liberal and are willing to give him religious cover. The king seemed to give a hint of that last year when for the first time he appointed four clerics from non-Wahhabi schools of Islam, including one Sufi — a notable step given Wahhabi hatred of the Sufi movement.
On the other hand, some of the now-barred independent sheiks have issued fatwas that are more moderate than those of official clerics — men like Sheik Adel al-Kalbani, who challenged the Wahhabi ban on music by saying it was permitted provided the lyrics didn't promote sin.
Saudi media have speculated that the king's resolve may have been hardened by a recent fatwa that provoked particular public uproar. Sheik Abdul-Mohsen al-Obeikan ruled that if a woman needs to appear without her veil in front of an adult, unrelated male, she has the option of breast-feeding him, because it establishes a mother-son bond in Islamic tradition. That reasoning has been heard in a few fatwas by other sheiks, but is rejected by most scholars.
Saudi political analyst Turk al-Hamed says limiting fatwa rights to the official panel isn't enough. "The state must intervene. The religious establishment enjoys complete freedom. This is not acceptable," al-Hamad said in an interview.
He noted the council clerics' rulings on jihad, some of which are vague enough to be interpreted on pro-al-Qaida websites as approval of violence in the cause of Islam.
"If you endorse jihad, it means you are searching for a war with the rest of the world," al-Hamad said.
Even amid a state counterterrorism effort that followed a series of al-Qaida attacks on Saudi territory from 2003-2005, council clerics have balked at issuing a clear rejection of waging "holy war." In 2007, the council's head, Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz Al Sheik, urged young Saudis not to join jihad in Iraq or other countries, saying it could embarrass the kingdom. Still, some criticized him for not outright prohibiting it.
Fatwas on the official website also reinforce a deep intolerance that critics say fuels militancy. Apart from the rulings on swimming pools and hospital flowers, there are injunctions against movie theaters that "promote lewdness and immorality," and against relationships of "mutual affection, love and brotherhood" with non-Muslims — or even initiating an exchange of greetings with them.
Islamic clerics around the world issue opinions regularly. They can vary widely, and individuals can choose which ones to follow. Fatwas from other parts of the Middle East tend to be more moderate, but the Saudi council is influential, as the kingdom is home to Islam's holiest sites and its oil wealth amplifies its voice.
Council members are appointed by the king to four-year terms. The leadership has generally not intervened in clerics' opinions, but a council member was dropped in 2009 after he criticized the mixed-gender university, Abdullah's pet project.
Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan was removed as chief of the Supreme Judiciary Council, the kingdom's top court, after a 2008 fatwa in which he said it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that show "immoral" content. Several popular TV channels are owned by influential Saudi billionaires.
On the other hand, one of the kingdom's most hard-line independents is still issuing fatwas on his website, openly flouting the ban without reprisals so far. Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak endorses jihad and in February raised controversy by ruling that those who advocate easing gender segregation should be put to death.
"This is not reforming the clerical establishment," Christopher Boucek, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the royal decree, "but rather a process to institutionalize and bureaucratize the state."
Official council website: http://www.alifta.net/
Picture: In this Sept. 9, 2010 file photo, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, prays at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque during Eid al-Fitr morning prayers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Hassan Ammar/ AP.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
7 - 13 October 2010/Issue No. 1018
Inheritor of the modern movement in Egyptian art, painter Taher Abdel-Azim combines experimentation with traditional subject matter
A while ago, artist Taher Abdel-Azim drew headlines with an exhibition about the Sira Nabawia, or life of the Prophet Mohammad.
A remarkable journey into the Islamic past, the exhibition featured, among other things, a panoramic painting depicting the various periods of the Sira, from the Yemeni campaign on Mecca in around 570 CE to the revelation of the Qur'an 40 years or so later.
The Sira exhibition was also inaugurated by the Mufti of the Republic as a sign that Islam is not opposed to the fine arts.
Taher Abdel-Azim, who is proud of his rural roots, sees Sufism as an integral part of Egypt's national psyche. In his new exhibition at the Durub Gallery in Cairo, he offers a refreshing insight into Sufi traditions, especially whirling dervishes performing the tannoura, their much-loved dance.
A rhythmic dance performed in circular movements by a group of dancers, the tannoura is central to Sufi rituals, and it symbolises the nature of a universe that is forever in motion and yet is also immutable.
The dance originally came to Egypt from Anatolia in the 13th century, where it had been perfected by the disciples of the philosopher-poet Galaleddin al-Rumi, also known as the Mulawiya. Over the years, it has acquired a show-business or touristic touch, with more colourful costumes and faster music sometimes being used in a bid to make the dance more attractive to visitors.
In addition to his pictures of the Sufi dance, Abdel-Azim has also focused on folklore and Egyptian street scenes. Earlier exhibitions, among them Alwan min Baladna (Colours of our Country), Laqatat min Osim (Snapshots of Osim) and Rihla ala al-Ganoub (Journey to the South), share a common focus on local traditions.
The modern art movement started in Egypt in the 19th century at the hands of visiting and resident foreign artists. A generation of Egyptian pioneers, including Ragheb Ayyad (1892-1982) and Mahmoud Said (1897-1964), then made a point of turning modern art into a local phenomenon, one illustrating and commenting on Egyptian life and landscapes. This is a tradition that artists such as Abdel-Azim have kept alive until this day.
A graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo, Abdel-Azim originally wrote his Masters thesis on visual effects in Steven Spielberg's films, later completing a PhD on costume design in historical films, especially those about Cleopatra and ancient Egypt.
There is a hint of these interests in his paintings, particularly in their use of vivid colour, carefully composed scenes and the way in which the artist frames each picture with great precision. His work may remind visitors of that of another Egyptian painter and filmmaker, Shadi Abdel-Salam, who was also very interested in costume design.
Although Abdel-Azim is a professor of art and a teacher, there are no academic traces in his work. Instead, he experiments freely, using a palette knife to apply paint in impressionistic strokes that add a touch of mystery to his canvases.
He is also not the first Egyptian artist to portray whirling dervishes in his work. There is a famous 1929 picture by Mahmoud Said [1897-1964] of the Mulawi dervishes*, for example, showing six dervishes performing at the Samaakhana, the dervishes' home and performance space in Islamic Cairo.
In Abdel-Azim's interpretation of the scene, the dervishes can be seen turning their faces to heaven as they dance, as if aspiring towards higher realms.
Egypt has several contemporary Sufi singing and dancing troops that specialise in the tannoura and offer traditional religious singing accompanied by instruments such as the violin, oud, tambourine, flute, and qanoon.
*[This painting will be sold in Dubai by Christie's on October 26th, see it at this link]
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
When I got the book *Celebrating Delhi*, my instant reaction was: what is there to celebrate about a city that had no soul? Anyone who goes around Delhi’s restaurants and hotels on New Year’s Eve will find thousands of sleek cars parked outside, with their owners spending virtually lakhs of rupees at every table, while thousands sleep, in the peak of winter, on pavements, in corridors and underneath flyovers. When the huge spenders come out and drive home, they do not register the spectacle of misery around. With such dead souls dominating the power structure of the city/state, would any of its features be worth applauding?
Nevertheless, there are quite a few aspects of Delhi’s past and present that are both interesting and instructive in their own ways. The book deals with some of them. Facets of Delhi would have, perhaps, been a better title for it. Its 11 compilations of lectures deal with different items.
The piece that stands out for its originality, insight and innovative approach to the study of history is “The Pir’s Barakat and the Servitor’s Ardour: The Contrasting History of Two Sufi Shrines in Delhi”. In the backdrop of the general philosophy of Sufism and the faith associated with the shrine of Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki, the author, Sunil Kumar, on the basis of his first-hand experience, describes how two hitherto little-known shrines of Khwaja Maqbul Shah, Saket, and of Jalal al-Din Chishti, Jahanpanah, have emerged from the obscure pages of history; how the old character of the former, its “magical mysticism”, has given way to “stones and mortar” of doctrinal Islam; and how the latter has kept its Sufi core and also prospered by manipulating new forces. For serious students of history, a study of this piece is a must.
Upinder Singh’s piece “Discovering the Ancient in Modern Delhi” is no less impressive. It is marked not only by a sense of balance and precision but also by a dignified respect for the remoteness of Delhi’s past. She shows how rich Delhi is in pre-historic remains and how these remains could be animated by imagination. She also provides a fascinating account of the transport of two Ashokan pillars to Delhi and highlights the manner in which some remnants of the ancient past of the city have got woven in its medieval and modern texture.
Khushwant Singh’s piece “My Father the Builder” bears the stamp of his delectable style. It covers the first lecture in the series and I was invited by the organisers to preside over it. In my introductory remarks, I referred to a story about shifting of the two foundation stones from Kingsway Camp to Raisina Hill. This story was told to me by Sir Sobha Singh a few months before his death in the course of my talk with him in the Punjabi programme of All India Radio. Khushwant interrupted, saying, “We should not take such stories of his at face value. In the old age, my father had started romanticising his past.” Only Khushwant Singh could be so candid. His narration of various events is also clear, concise and crisp.
William Dalrymple’s write-up “Religious Rhetoric in the Delhi Uprising of 1857” is characterised by his painstaking scholarship and simplicity of approach. He highlights the little-known facts that one of the major causes for the failure of the 1857 uprising was the persistent tension between the “overwhelming Hindu sepoys” and, “militantly Muslim mujahedin”. He brings out how some of the “jihadis wanted to be martyrs for the faith just as well by killing a Hindu as by killing a firangi”.
The pieces on “Toponymy”, “Avenue-trees”, “Dilli Gharana, “Cuisine” and “Language” are perceptive, informative and useful in more than one respect. But Dunu Roy’s article “City Makers and City Breakers” is disappointing. It should not have a found place amidst the scholarly pieces. It is replete with denunciatory statements that are not backed by evidence. He shows no respect even for the Supreme Court. His observations about the “forcible” relocation of 1.5 lakh squatters’ families in 1976 stand contradicted by contemporaneous records. In the elections to the Delhi Municipal Corporation and Metropolitan Council, held in 1977 soon after the general elections, the re-settlers overwhelmingly voted for Indira Gandhi’s party. Would they have done so if force had been deployed against them? At that time, Indira Gandhi’s party lost in almost all the constituencies except those that covered the resettlement colonies. But Roy ignores all the documentary evidence available in the offices of the Election Commission, the Delhi Metropolitan Council and the Delhi Municipal Corporation. He relies merely on his simulated anger.
On the whole, the book makes a laudable contribution to the study of Delhi’s past and present. It would have added immensely to the value of book had there been at least one piece dealing with the soul of Delhi, its “inner controller”, its underlying forces of mind and matter, which have pushed the city sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other. The piece could have shown how this city has been a symbol of power and prestige in India; how it has been loved and nursed, coveted and desired, ravished and conquered, neglected and despised; and how all these imprints of history now stand woven in its physical and spiritual texture.
The reviewer is former governor of Jammu & Kashmir, former minister of communication and former minister of urban development, poverty alleviation and tourism and culture
Edited by Mala Dayal