Monday, January 31, 2011
The social role of Islam in the Indian subcontinent has become a topic of global debate. The liberal world is looking at Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as “bad states” and as uncritical and undemocratic societies because of the issues they grapple with.
There is a view that Islam has not gone through any reform, while other religious and civil societies have passed through reform after reform. There is a strong view that the Islamic civil societies are resisting reform, even while a religion like Hinduism, which practices caste and untouchability, is willing to change.
This view is now acquiring global acceptability with the recent developments in Pakistan — particularly in relation to the blasphemy laws.
Before examining this view, we must understand the social role of Islam in the subcontinent.
Before Islam came to India, there were two notions of God in India. One was that of Vaidic Brahminism, which believed that God (Brahma) created Indians into unequal varnas (or castes); The other was the Buddhist view of God, which was essentially agnostic. Though the Christian notion of God was also prevalent, it was confined to a small region, that of Kerala.
Once the Islamic traders came along, the notion of Allah, who created all human beings as equal (irrespective of caste, tribe and race), spread across the Indian subcontinent.
Though this was followed by the invasion of Muslim rulers, the Sufi movement began and started acquiring a pan-India character by the end of the 11th century itself. It was mainly from the Muslims and the Sufi movement that the Hindu notion of spiritual exclusion, which was based on caste, tribe and race, got challenged. Perhaps this caused enormous exodus of lower castes into Islam and the plural but unequal castes began to be homogenised within Indian Islam. At that stage, in the land of caste (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on), Islam became a massive agent of inclusiveness and oneness.
This new practice of homogenising hierarchal and unequal castes was seen as a blasphemous act by the native Hindu spiritual pundits. This must have resulted in enormous violence and counter violence in the subcontinent.
Islam in the process achieved what was difficult for even the Buddhists. As we know, by 1947 about 31 per cent of Indians (mostly lower castes) embraced Islam and thus the present Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as Muslim nations. This happened merely because of the inclusive spiritual policy of Islam in general and of the Sufi saints in particular.
Let us not forget that the inclusive Muslim trade even in the villages played a key role in expanding Islam. In fact, it seems to have broken what Karl Marx called “the self-sufficient (but under developed) village economy”.
Today the practice of untouchability exists in Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism because of their notions of “blasphemy”.
The Christian world, which is attacking the Islamic blasphemy laws as medieval, should know that the Indian church — particularly the Catholic Church — still practices untouchability and casteism through a different mode of blasphemy laws that are borrowed from the Hindu system. We do not have any statistical data on how many dalits and lower castes were punished or even killed in places such as Kerala by Syrians and Marthomas for engaging in social intercourse with upper castes — the character Velutha in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things is a good example.
Now one central argument around “Islam as a global religion” is that it homogenises its civil societal order so much so that it does not allow any contending pluralities to exist.
Such a trend from within stagnates its civil societal transformation, for transformation requires pluralities to operate at least vertically. Blasphemy laws work as instruments against change and transformation.
Islam seems to have worked out the theory of blasphemy that makes it tightly inclusive. But this very tightly inclusive spiritual policy evolved through the Islamic history also made the expansion of Islam into caste society possible.
The caste culture worked out a theory and practice of blasphemy to establish strictly exclusivist social units. God in that society is not seen as a social unifier but as a divider. The strength of Islam and also the language of Urdu — perhaps after the decline of Pali — was unification through a spiritual discourse of inclusion and oneness of soul, body and the social organism.
What the Christian West has not noticed is that Indian Islam succeeded in abolishing untouchability from its social fold totally, though caste exists in some form.
Pakistan came into existence as an aggressive Islamic state. The Christian world has to understand its trauma and it must also ponder why it has failed to abolish untouchability within the fold of Indian Christianity.
Thus, the notion of blasphemy should not only be understood in terms of attack on one particular belief of God or a Prophet, but should also be understood as abusing a human being’s rights against the other in relation to God. This is where the discourse around God and the multiple forms of blasphemies must expand.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
There is a certain poetry in the final moments of worshipers who were killed by Islamic militants as they prayed at the holy site of Data Darbar and shrines to Abdullah Shah Ghazi and other Sufi saints in Pakistan over the past year.
I imagine them focused on their task — appealing to the saints for intercession with God — as they whispered their prayers, or left talismans tied to the doors and trees, or danced in ecstasy on a heated night, connecting to the Divine in ways that have been passed down through generations, linking the mysticism of Islam with the mysteries of their own lives.
They were certain, the 40 men and women at Lahore’s Data Darbar, the 9 people at Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s tomb, and the 5 others at Pakpattan, that the saint — or buzurg, as they are known in South Asia — would have the power to convince God to accept their prayers. Perhaps a woman was going there to pray for a child, after years of being barren. Perhaps a student wanted help to pass his exams. Perhaps a man needed a job, with hungry mouths at home that he was desperate to feed.
As they climbed the stairs up to the pistachio-colored building that is Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s watchtower over the seas of Karachi, or passed through the iron gates at Baba Farid’s tomb, as they took off their shoes to walk across the cool tiled floors at Data Darbar, they must have been hoping that their actions would bring relief for their pain — spiritual, physical, emotional.
If they were lucky, they would experience what is known in Sufism as fanaa, the annihilation of the lower self in the Divine. In the words of Bayazid Bastami, the 9th century Persian Sufi saint, a worshiper would “become fully absorbed to the point of becoming unaware of himself or the objects around him.”
And then the bombs went off, and their souls were let out of the cage that is the human body and reunited with God.
There is no poetry in the aftermath of a bombing. After the initial fireball, there’s choking black smoke, people running everywhere, screaming in fear and panic. There is blood, and body parts strewn on the ground. Rescue workers must claw their way inside, facing searing heat and burning wreckage, to find what little remains of both the victims and the perpetrators.
If there are any human remains left, they are taken by ambulance to the hospital, where their relatives wail in horror at what has happened. And yet the dead are at peace, “free of every barrier that could stand in the way of viewing the Remembered One.”
Those of us left behind know that these bombings are perpetrated by those who wish to divide our country and break our spirits. We seem helpless to prevent these attacks, and those who commit them grow bolder with each one. They feed off our fear like ticks growing more bloated on every drop of blood that is spilled in our country.
Violent attacks on Sufis for their beliefs is not a new thing. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banned all Sufi orders in 1925, and their spiritual centers were taken over by the Turkish state. In North Africa in the 12 century, the Maliki Almoravid dynasty actively denounced Sufis and Sufism. Mansur al-Hallaj, a Persian mystic and poet of the 10th century was condemned to death for proclaiming, at the height of an ecstatic trance, “Ana al-Haqq” (I am the Truth).
The practice of Sufism is characterized by its disciples’ sole aim: to become closer to God. They achieve this through dhikr, the remembrance of God, and asceticism, through being “in the world but not of it.” Sufis are opposed to violence, extremism and jihad. They are seen as the world’s symbols of Islamic tolerance and humanism: nondogmatic, flexible and nonviolent.
Many Muslims in Pakistan consider themselves to be Sufis, and while the South Asian brand of Sufism is tied to our own particular culture, it has links to Sufi orders all over the world, which have thrived despite violence and discrimination.
However, a closer reading of history reveals that while South Asian Sufism carries that particular flavor of peacefulness, Sufis in other parts of the world have not been passive when it comes to standing up for Haqq, the Truth. In the Middle East and North Africa, Sufis have been at the heart of many reform movements, forming the core of anti-colonialist uprisings, such as the Sanusis in Libya, and the Qadris in Algeria.
Could it be that the Pakistani movement of peaceful Sufism may have to evolve into something more resolute in order to stand up against terrorism? Perhaps, but only if it would mean no compromising in matters of Shariah, and if it would serve the goal of Haqiqah, or “arriving at the knowledge of God,” both central to Sufi thought everywhere in the world.
There are Western analysts who believe that Sufism is the perfect foil to be used in the battle against Islamic extremism. The terrorist attacks on the shrines may be an expression of extremist contempt for the Sufi tradition, and they might well serve to rouse Pakistani anger enough to turn against the militants, but look what happened the last time the West tried to use Islam against its enemies: The mujahedeen were born, morphed into the Taliban, and then into the extremists that are against Pakistan today.
Sufism can only encounter extremism on its own terms, as a movement that rises from within, not as an experiment imposed from without. Attempting to “use” Sufism will only result in more bombings like these ones. And Pakistan cannot afford to lose more lives in the name of any ideology, on either side of the divide.
Bina Shah’s most recent novel is “Slum Child.” [Visit Bina Shah's website.]
[Picture: Data Darbar Complex in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Wiki]
Saturday, January 29, 2011
The erudition of the text matches the richness of the illustrations in these two books on holy places of Islam.
Oversize books with profuse illustrations tend to be dismissed as “coffee table” books that adorn the drawing rooms of the affluent.
They might yet read books like these two and ignore their contents. For, they belong to the genre in which erudition of the text matches richness of the illustration. There is unfortunately not a single work on the main dargahs or mazaars of the great masters of the subcontinent. Each has its own individual characteristic, while all are bound by a rich tradition.
Mazaar, Bazaar is an excellent source book for students of culture as well as for artists and students of communication.
Saima Zaidi, its editor, who teaches the history of design and typography at the University of Karachi, has brought together a large number of contributors of erudite essays – 33 actually – and has embellished the work with excellent illustrations.
“They comment on a pluralistic society and reflect a visual culture that evolved from centuries of exchange with diverse civilisations.”
terms and topics vary. There is one on wall chalkings advertising cures for impotence and those calling for jehad which, the writer Durre S. Ahmed argues, display “a collective crisis of masculinity, religion, sexuality and love”.
The book thus covers mazaars (graves) as well as bazaars. The editor has written an essay on the visual campaigns of political parties in Pakistan. There are essays on Sufi and Shia elements in the representations of Guru Nanak and on the Buddhist art of Gandhara.
Samina Quraeshi has produced a feast of a book. She is a teacher, artist and author, currently the Gardner Visiting Artist at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University.
Sacred Spaces has essays by Professor Ali M. Asani at Harvard on “Images of South Asian Sufism”; by Professor Carl W. Ernst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on “Islam and Sufism in contemporary South Asia”; and by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, a leading Pakistani architect, on the architecture of Sufi shrines, besides a major contribution on “Story-Telling as Imaginative History” by Samina Quraeshi herself, a devoted student of the legendary Annmarie Schimmel, who deserves a biography.
The author calls her a “practising Sufi and eminent scholar of Islam”. Invited to the author's studio, she remarked, “Your real work is to express what people feel and cannot express. You must communicate through the talent Allah gave you. Do not waste it. Start.”
There can be no praise greater than this that in this book Samina Quraeshi has fulfilled the task her mentor had set. It is about sacred places and how the spirit of Sufism is embodied and enacted at the shrines of the saints.
Her outlook is reflected in a Sufi saying she quotes: “The real journey must take place within the waste of one's homeland, the soul.”
Friday, January 28, 2011
Lahore: Three-day celebrations of 967th Urs of Hazrat Ali bin Usman Hajveri, known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, will begin amidst tight security here on Sunday (today).
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will inaugurate the festivities by laying floral wreaths and opening the milk Sabeel at the shrine of the 10th century Sufi saint who was among the pioneers of preaching and spreading Islam in the sub-continent, particularly in Punjab.
As per tradition, milkmen will bring thousands of litres of milk as a donation for the milk Sabeel at Data Darbar which will be distributed among the devotees and visitors during the Urs.
Millions of devotees from all parts of the country come to witness the Urs and to offer special prayers. A large number of devotees, especially youth, have already gathered at and around the shrine from all over Punjab. They are dancing, drumbeating and collecting donation to participate in the Urs while philanthropists provide them food as part of worship.
The district administration has taken all the necessary measures to maintain peace and security during the Urs. A special committee, headed by Auqaf Minister Ehsanuddin Qureshi, and comprising Auqaf Secretary Tariq Mehmood Pasha and Auqaf Director Tahir Raza Bukhari, is supervising all the preparations and management of different functions during the Urs.
Various seminars on Sufism, spiritual gatherings, Qirat and Naat competitions, debate contests, seminars, lectures of religious scholars, etc will also be a part of the Urs. Noted and amateur Naat Khwans, Qawwals and Qaris will participate in these contests. Besides, a large number of Ulema, Mashaikh, spiritual leaders and Gaddi Nasheens from all over the country will take part in the congregations and meetings.
According to Auqaf Minister Ehsanuddin Qureshi, over 500 Ulema, Mashaikhs and custodians of popular shrines from all over the country and abroad will gather for the Urs ceremonies to conduct various spiritual sittings which will be attended by thousands of devotees.
These gatherings will be presided over by noted personalities like Syed Muhammad Bilal Chishti of Ajmer Sharif, India, Diwan Syed Tahir Nizami from Mehroli Sharif, India, Khwaja Fakhruddin Fakhri, Syed Ahmad Ashraf Shah, Ghulam Qutubuddin, Nazeer Ali Shah, Baqar Ali Shah while prominent among the participants will be Khwaja Abul Khair, Samsam Ali Shah, Abdul Shakoor Hazarvi, Sufi Ashraf Masoomi, Siddiq Hazarvi, Mufti Khan Mohammad Qadri, Ashraf Asif Jalali, Prof ZAfarul Haq, Abdul Tawwab Siddiqi, Fida Hussain Shah, Hafeezullah Mehrvi, Mehmood Ahmad Qadri and others.
They will also offer special prayers for national security and prosperity and for the wellbeing of Muslim Ummah.
In view of the ongoing wave of terrorism, particularly the twin suicide blasts at the shrine last year, special security arrangements have been made including nine walkthrough gates, 80 security cameras and other monitoring apparatus which would be manned by over 500 policemen, 65 security guards of the Auqaf Department besides over 100 others from private security agencies. In addition to that, hundreds of volunteers, employed by the department, will perform different duties.
While officials of the bomb disposal squad, Civil Defence and other civic agencies, like Wasa and Wapda, will be deployed to meet any emergent situation.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Ajmer: The Rajasthan anti-terrorism squad (ATS) on Saturday took into custody Swami Aseemanand, a key accused in the 2007 Ajmer bomb blasts. His remand is till February 5. The agency produced the swami in the court of judicial magistrate Vikram Singh, who sent him to ATS custody. Swami Aseemanand had been brought from the Ambala jail in Haryana.
An ATS officer said Aseemanand would be quizzed in connection with the attack at the Ajmer dargah of 12th century sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti.
In its charge sheet filed in October last year, the ATS named Aseemanand as the mastermind behind the blast, which killed three persons and injured 15.
A CBI team had arrested Aseemanand in November last year. He was then sent to judicial custody in Hyderabad and later re-arrested by the National Investigation Agency in the Samjhauta Express blast case.
Thatta: The 301st Urs of a famous Sufi Shah Inayat Shaheed has been started here on Saturday.
Shah Inayat raised a slogan of equality, peace, brotherhood and struggled for the rights of farmers and laborers. He is known as the first socialist of the world.
He was killed with a large number of his disciples in a war to protect a commune they had established in the Jhoke area.
The Urs celebrations will continue for four days in which thousands of his devotees will participate.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
A Jewish-born Muslim convert reaches out to promote his vision of understanding and tolerance
An N.C. congresswoman is elected on the strength of a TV ad blasting a proposed community center near ground zero in New York as a "victory mosque."
The new chairman of the congressional committee overseeing domestic security said he plans to open an inquiry into what he calls the "radicalization" of the Muslim community.
And in Oklahoma, residents approve a "Save Our State Amendment" banning Islamic, or Shariah, law.
In this polarizing environment where Muslims are often cast as the enemy, David Sterling recently began writing an occasional column for The Chapel Hill News.
The 58-year-old American-born Muslim convert has a more hopeful vision for Muslim acceptance in the U.S. With the calm demeanor of someone not easily rattled by the latest demagoguery or political posturing, Sterling is trying to make his vision a reality in his everyday interactions.
The owner of a pair of stores that sell gemstones for amateur and professional jewelry designers, Sterling is in his element helping people unleash their creativity.
"I really believe this is a precursor to a new reality," said Sterling, who lives in Durham. "Islam is here to stay in the U.S. And I believe there will come a time when it will be popular."
In his first three columns, Sterling wrote about mollifying his Jewish family after he converted to Islam 35 years ago, traveling to Washington with his wife, Zahara, to participate in the "Rally to Restore Sanity" in October, and embracing Jesus as one of the great prophets Muslims emulate.
Sterling has also taken on a larger public profile recently as one of a group of Muslims who gather for the obligatory Friday prayers, called Juma'ah, at the Friends Meeting House in Chapel Hill. There, Sterling occasionally delivers the sermon, or khutba, following the prayer.
To those who would paint Muslims with a broad brush, Sterling is proof that Muslims are a diverse bunch. Sterling follows the mystical branch of Islam called Sufism. Like other Sufis, best known for their ecstatic use of chanting, singing, dancing and whirling, Sterling wants to experience transcendence in this life.
"This is the paradox of life," he said explaining the Sufi way of thinking. "We are in time and we contain the timeless."
But while many non-Muslims have embraced bits and pieces of Sufism, especially the poetry of Rumi or the music of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sterling practices the mainstream Islam preached by Muhammad. He prays five times a day, fasts during the holy month of Ramadan and abstains from alcohol.
Happy in the U.S.
Yet committed as he is to Islam, Sterling avoids the immigrant mosques, where he says the sermons are either too dogmatic or irrelevant to the issues facing Muslims today.
He is adamant he would not want to live in a country that follows Shariah law, especially as it's interpreted in the Middle East, where he says it has become oppressive. And after traveling the world and living abroad, he says he's happiest in his native country.
"I would never want to live anywhere else as a Muslim than in the United States," he said.
Born to Holocaust survivors who emigrated from Poland, Sterling was raised a Jew in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He went to Hebrew school, attended synagogue and celebrated his bar mitzvah, or coming of age ceremony. Sterling completed high school in 1970, during the height of the countercultural revolution and was swept up in it.
Meeting a holy man
At 18, he hitchhiked across the country and dabbled in different faiths, trying to square his parents' narrow form of Judaism with his desire for a more universal faith experience. He joined the Hare Krishna for six weeks. He lived on a Hopi Indian reservation. He studied Tibetan Buddhism.
He was living in Berkeley, Calif., when he read a book about Sufism and was "enthralled." Later, when he ran a sandwich shop, he met an Iranian-born Sufi traveling the country with only a portable outdoor gas burner and a book of poems by the Persian master Hafez.
He invited the holy man to the communal house where he was living and the two became friends.
One night he had a vision of a man dressed in a long robe wearing a veil of shimmering light who said to him: "Come. Don't hesitate."
When he awoke, he got in his car, drove to a Sufi congregation and joined.
He has never looked back. Eleven years after his conversion, he agreed to an arranged marriage to Zahara. He was 35. She was 21. They never dated, much less talked to each other.
Today, the Sterlings say they advise their five sons against such an arrangement - not because they are unhappy, but because they recognize how fortunate they are to have found such a compatible match.
"We know how unusual it was," he said. "To find that in this day and age, while not impossible, is rare."
After following his Sufi spiritual master, Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri, to South Africa for five years, the Sterlings returned to the United States in 2002 and settled in Houston, later in Durham. The couple opened their store, Rare Earth Beads, in 2005.
Building a bridge
Every few weeks, the Sterlings lead a "zikr," or practice of remembering God, in their home during which they pray and chant. Newcomers to the practice said they appreciate the sincerity of Sterling's approach.
"David makes the living heart of Islam more accessible to me as a non-Muslim," said Krista Bremer, a writer from of Chapel Hill who is married to a Muslim. "He's provided a bridge for me and my husband to meet in a place where I could understand and relate to his faith."
That's exactly the approach Sterling now takes with his column.
In October, he wrote about finding forgiveness from his family for his conversion to Islam.
"I see us overcoming the currently volatile and highly emotionally charged narrative about Islam and Muslims in America and the world," he wrote. "Standing on level ground, we are all the same in the end."
Picture: David Sterling grew up in a Jewish family and says he has found forgiveness from his family for his conversion to Islam. He hopes to spread the message of acceptance. Photo: Harry Lynch/CO.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Sufi women defy traditional beliefs about female spiritual inferiority
In an urban neighbourhood in eastern Java, hundreds of religious students, or santri, arrive at a pesantren (boarding school) owned and run by the family of a charismatic preacher, Nyai Nisa. She is a popular figure, aged in her 40s, with hundreds of supporters who appreciate her speeches for their wisdom and for the feminist orientation of her religious thought.
The santri have come to this family-operated pesantren because it is also the home of a tarekat (Sufi order). They will attend courses of study that last for days, weeks or months depending on their spiritual needs.
The pesantren-based tarekat run by Nisa’s family is distinctive when compared with similar institutions in Java: the school’s history has been turbulent because the women active within it have opposed widely-held ideas about gender. The stories told by Nisa and other women at the pesantren reveal lesser-known experiences of Sufi women that significantly contrast to the idealised spiritual image of Sufis, who are usually male. Apart from this, the pesantren is different because it includes an asylum that caters to the needs of the mentally-ill.
In the spiritual cave
Nyai Nisa’s tarekat is a branch of the Naqsyabandiyah, the world’s largest Sufi order. Like most of Indonesia’s many Sufi orders, this one has adapted to its local cultural context, which means that its traditional teaching practices, material and structure have changed to varying degrees over generations. The pesantren attracts people from all over Indonesia, who come and go in their hundreds, and even some from as far away as Malaysia and Brunei. It offers a standard Naqsyabandiyah observance referred to in east Java as prihatin, which its adherents consider an important exercise in the pursuit of divine knowledge.
Here, prihatin means ‘to go within’ by ‘going without.’ The prihatin process confines seekers of the truth to ‘the cave,’ symbolically named after the cave in which the Prophet Muhammad meditated and received some early revelations. The ‘spiritual cave’ is a vacant room in a gender-segregated dormitory, which seekers share with up to ten others, sleeping on carpets without pillows or sheets. Talking is banned, and seekers are confined to their own room and to the women’s compound. The minimum time required in 'the cave' is three days, and some stay for 40 days or several months – it depends on the needs of the seeker. In this way, there is a constant stream of people coming and going, so it is hard to know exactly how many are there at any given time.
Fasting is required between sunrise and sunset, and since bathing is not allowed during the day, it is performed after midnight, when seekers endeavour to cleanse their inner and outer dimensions in order to know their ‘inner lights and spiritual guides’. The aim is to ‘go within’ in order to feel who one really is. Ideally, santri enter the compound on a Wednesday night when an initiation takes place after the evening prayer. When confronted with the hardships they will experience in prihatin, some women decide to proceed no further.
Women perform prihatin for a number of reasons. Some seek enlightenment, others want to heal themselves. Many women are widowed or divorced, and some tell stories of arranged marriages in which they experienced repeated marital rape when they were as young as ten years of age. Several women explained how they killed their own newly-born babies to lighten their heavy loads as Javanese wives and mothers. Others spoke openly of their sexual desires for married men and how these desires crystallised as they went deeper into themselves during prihatin.
Seekers do not pay for the experience, but contribute some money for the food, which is supplied twice a day when they open and break the fast. Food is cooked by full-time santri who board for free at the pesantren and work as household staff, a typical pesantren arrangement. This traditional structure is centred on the house of the mursyid (spiritual leader), which is located between the male and female compounds.
The mursyid lives with his wife and children in the house, while members of the pesantren’s staff have separate living quarters near the communal kitchen at the back of the property. Female santri are traditionally segregated from the males, and do not have the same access to the mursyid as male santri. It is therefore very common for the mursyid’s wife, known as ‘bu nyai’, to play an important role in the daily interactions with female santri. Yet Nisa’s pesantren is different, because its history shows its women to be more than functionaries in a male-dominated structure.
A history of female leadership
The family pesantren has been in operation since the early 1900s when Nisa’s grandfather established it with his wife, Siti. After his death, Siti inherited the leadership for 30 years. Her leadership conflicted with the conventions of the genealogical lineages from which pesantrens derive authority as inheritors of august forebears. Recognised Sufi tarekat are parts of international networks legitimated by male mursyid or syeikhs who form a chain of spiritual transmission that goes back to the Prophet Muhammad. As a rule, therefore, it is males who lead Sufi tarekat in gendered spiritual lineages.
A division of the Nahdlatul Ulama organisation is responsible for recognising the authenticity and correctness of the tarekat, including the Naqsabandiyah order. Nisa’s grandmother’s leadership, however, seriously jeopardised the legitimacy of the family’s tarekat, and it was classified as sesat (deviant) until her son, Nisa’s father, succeeded to the leadership upon Siti’s death in the 1960s. With a man back in control, the pesantren’s status was restored and it began operating in line with the standardised rules of the Naqsyabandiyah order.
Nisa’s brother is the current leader of the pesantren, but what makes this pesantren unusual is that its staff and students recognise Nisa as the inheritor of her grandmother’s leadership ability. Inspired by her grandmother’s example, Nisa established her own small pesantren which she runs and manages on her own in another city in Java. But she continues to play an important role as spiritual leader of the women’s section in her family’s pesantren.
Women in Southeast Asia have an elevated social status in contrast to other Asian societies such as in India and China, and it is not uncommon for women to assume high positions in spiritual matters in the non-formal spheres of religious practice. Nisa’s grandmother was recognised for her spiritual abilities by her husband, a charismatic Sufi syeikh. He entrusted her with the leadership of hundreds of santri, who remained loyal by seeking her counsel and guidance during her 30 year leadership. Both men and women were initiated into the tarekat under her guidance.
The making of a nyai
As a nyai, the female equivalent of the kiai, Nisa performs a similar role to that of her grandmother, and implements a feminist approach that was shaped by her experiences with her father and his four wives, and by the severe segregation rules she grew up with at home as a child. Nevertheless, she takes care not to challenge strict interpretations of Islam that prevent women from leading men in religious and spiritual matters.
As a child she was rebellious, running away from home several times. She fled for good when her father arranged for her to marry a kiai who already had three wives. She was to be the fourth. The teenager finally returned home after living with relatives for a year, and married the son of a high-profile governor. Having been raised in the pesantren, she had no secular education, but her new status as the wife of a governor’s son allowed Nisa to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother by preaching and teaching, and she generated a large following over the years.
The pesantren also specialises in spiritual healing of mentally-ill patients. These patients are moved to a separate section of the pesantren in a village out of town. This special asylum has a high success rate in restoring mental health, thereby gaining ongoing support from locals, who firmly believe in the efficacy of its Sufi healing practices. The site has been associated with ‘healing the mad’ since Nisa’s grandparents led the pesantren, and its reputation has grown because of the many successful healings of mentally-ill individuals who took part in periods of prihatin. The spiritual manager of the asylum is a disciple of Nisa’s father. He has four wives who assist him to take care of the 100 mentally-ill people in his care.
In addition to her formal tarekat duties such as opening the initiation ceremonies and preparing women for what will take place during prihatin, Nisa is a spiritual guide and counsellor for women. Many people visit Nisa, seeking her blessing, prayer and advice, and she considers her vocation to lie in guiding women to feel Allah’s love. Her family’s pesantren provides a feminine space for healing under the leadership and guidance of advanced women Sufi practitioners.
Bianca J. Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Brunei Darussalam. She researches the gendered dimensions of (re)Islamisation in Indonesia’s pesantren, tarekat and spiritual movements.
This article is part of the Women and Islam feature edition.
[Click on the title to the original article with more pictures and the link to "Women and Islam" (ed.)]
Monday, January 24, 2011
Islamabad: With the objective to promote interfaith harmony, tolerance and spreading Pakistan’s soft image across the globe, Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) on Thursday launched three documentaries on Sufi poets Mian Muhammad Bukhsh, Baba Belleh Shah and Shah Hussain here at Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA).
Art lovers, educationists, intellectuals, poets, writers and a number of students attended the function, presided over by PAL chairman Fakhar Zaman.
Prior to the screening of 40 minutes each documentary, PAL chief said the objective of the production of the documentaries was to promote the Sufi poets’ message of humanity, love and peace in the society which was facing conflicting and trouble time and needs spiritual and moral guidance.
These documentaries will be subtitled with all UNO accepted six languages ie English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic, in addition to Urdu, Zaman said.
He said all members of ‘International Council of Sufism and Peace’ around the globe had committed its telecast and marketing throughout the world and these documentaries were produced keeping in view international standard.
Zaman further said that documentaries on Sufi poets would be a milestone in highlighting soft image of Pakistan in the world. “Since the International Conference of the Writers and Intellectuals on ‘Sufism & Peace’ in Islamabad, was a great success in projecting the soft image of Pakistan in the world.
It is need of the hour that documentaries on Sufi poets with subtitles in major languages of the world be produced by PAL and distributed by the Ministry of Culture and the writers unions of different countries of the world.
Executive producer of these documentaries is a poet, writer and anchorperson, Afzaal Shahid, who has a wide experience of production and had various award to his credit.
The PAL chairman said that the technical team of Stanza Arts, Lahore under Farrukh Zaman had produced these documentaries. Zaman is a graduate in Film and TV studies from Carleton University, Canada while associate director Hassan Shahid got certificate in music from Middlesex University, London and has experience of working with BBC I&II radio and Shakeel Shahzad Director Photography and Editor was graduate of Punjab University and had experience of documentaries and editing, Zaman said, adding Publication Officer of PAL, Tariq Shahid, is coordinator of the project.
At the end of ceremony documentaries on Sufi Poets, Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and Mian Muhammad Bukhsh were screened.
[Picture: Pakistan Academy of Letters. Photo: PAL.]
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Omdurman, Sudan (CNN) -- Islamic hardliners frown at their offbeat, spontaneous ways, but in Sudan, Sufism runs deep.
While they shun politics, the Sufis are well aware this country has reached a historic crossroads.
Southern Sudan last week held a referendum to determine if the south will split from the north. But some members of the mystical branch of Islam are hoping for divine intervention to head off what appears to be an almost certain divorce between the Muslim majority north and the Christian, Animist, south.
"We ask God almighty that they vote for unity," said Shaik Amin Briil, from a cemetery in the city of Omdurman, where followers of the Sufi Qadiriya order have gathered every Friday night for decades.
The Sufis, who brought Islam to much of Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa, dance, pray and preach using drama and humor.
But most significantly, they follow strictly the Quranic prohibition against compulsion or force in religion. Everyone is at liberty to choose their own path.
Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, described Sufism as the most prominent mystical tradition in Islam.
"Above all else, it aspires to have a face-to-face encounter with God," he said.
"Rooted in the Quran and the experience of the Prophet Muhammad, Sufis often emphasize the transformative power of Divine love."
It's this power that some followers hope will help keep Sudan united.
Former government official Hussein Ali says Sudan's politicians have destroyed the country by fighting instead of having a dialogue with the people in the south.
"It's finished. The south will be out," he said. "For me, as a Sudanese, it makes me sad because we want one Sudan."
But Badr Khalafallah says after all the suffering it's better to live in a small country at peace rather than a large country at war. He works in Darfur, where, according to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been killed and more than three million others displaced as a result of conflict.
"For me, because I am working in Darfur as a civil administrator, I know the wars," he said.
"I know the displaced people, I know the conflict there. For this we have no right to have any war in Sudan."
[Click on the title to listen to the article with a video of the Qadiriya dhikr in Omdurman (ed.)]
[Picture: Sudan, ortographic projection. Photo: Wiki.]
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Bhit Shah: The lure of the annual Urs of Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai is strong enough to attract people from as far as Berlin, Germany.
A well-known German writer and follower of Sufism, Peter Pannke, is among the people who arrived in Bhit Shah on Tuesday evening for the 267th Urs celebrations, that was inaugurated by the Sindh Auqaf Minister Abdul Haseeb.
Pannke, 64, was dressed in a black shalwar kameez. “I was the first person to invite the singer Faqirs of the shrine to Berlin in 1997. It was the first time they travelled outside of Pakistan and we had a concert similar to Bhit Shah’s on a Friday night which was attended by 700 people. The Faqirs sang for whole night,” he recalled.
Pannke is currently writing a book titled “Saints and Singers,” and will attend the second Karachi Literature Festival slated for February 5 and 7. He would be speaking on Sufism along with other writers Jurgen Wasim Frembgen and Michel Boivin at the festival.
He has studied sinology, Indology and comparative religions. He has made a name for himself as a writer, composer, festival director and broadcaster with an output of several programmes directing his own world music shows.
His wife Lisa said that the shrine is an attractive place with a long tradition. “You can see how strong Bhitai’s attraction is still today that he attracts people even from Berlin,” she said.
Besides this German couple, the devotees have arrived at the shrine for the Urs. For the elderly Mohammad Hassan Jafri it is very important to come pay his respects to his Murshid – Shah Latif – all the way from Shikarpur.
“I have to be here at all costs,” said Jafri while offering lunger [food] to this reporter. He has brought with him, food and other necessary items to stay in the shrine’s courtyard for three days.
Men, women and children excitedly watch those dancing on the drumbeats. Devotees throng to the shrine in large number to offer fateha at the grave of Shah Latif. Many sat in front of the singer Faqirs as they recited his verses.
But more than it were people who gathered around a man who danced with ghungroos around his ankles while balancing a pitcher filled with water on his head.
Like every year, the town wore a festive look with shops selling food and dry fruits with colourful decorations. Even the main road leading to the shrine had been cleared and washed.
[Picture: Peter Pannke. Photo: Troubadours United.]
Devotees of Sufi Poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai have started pouring in large numbers into the Bhit Shah Town in Matiari District to pay homage to the Sufi saint on his 267th annual Urs starting from January 19 (today). The arrangements for the three-day Urs have been finalised.
Assistant Manager Auqaf, Bhit Shah, Abdul Shakoor Bozdar, supervising the security arrangements of the Urs, said that they have identified three places where 20 closed- circuit television cameras will be installed to monitor the situation and avoid any untoward incident during the celebrations. He said that an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people visit the shrine each year, while the local administration used to deploy at least 1,200 police personnel to maintain law and order situation during the Urs festival. But, this year, the mela committee and the town administration decided to deploy 2,400 policemen along with Ranger’s personnel, which will be deployed at the four entrances of the shrine to perform security duty.
Member of the mela committee Shams Jafrani informed this correspondent that this year the department has set up a unique Cultural Village where artisan communities will display their art work. The Cultural Village will open on the first day of the annual Urs. Besides, he said that a separate sitting with the renowned folklore writers and Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haque has been planned on the first day of the Urs. The writers will be presented awards and shields in recognition of their writings, creativity and texture of thoughts.
Secretary Sindhi Language Authority (SLA) and member mela committee Taj Joyo told The News that they have invited Sufi scholars of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa to attend the literary conference, which will commence on the second day of the Urs. Minister for Culture Sassui Palejo will preside over the literary event, while Provincial Minister Makhdoom Jamil Zaman will be the chief guest on the occasion, he added.
Executive Director Indus Foundation Hassan Dars stated that as part of the Urs celebrations, a horse race will also be held to entertain the devotees. He said that this year, Bhitai’s Urs will be unique as the mela committee has planned a number of sports and music events.
On the occasion of Bhitai’s annual Urs, the devotees also take part in a special tradition in which they tie small pieces of cloth to branches of Cappris deciduas locally called Kirir plant. The town administration also cleaned and renovated the old Karar Lake to beautify the area, which was once the source of inspiration for Bhitai.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Salmaan Taseer, is said to be associated with the Dawat-e-Islami, a non-violent, non-political, Sufi-inspired group of the Barelvi school of thought.
The Barelvis are mainly pacifists, having little or no militant tendencies, while most jihadists and militant groups, with few exceptions, believe in a more puritanical version of Islam where veneration of Sufi saints and rituals and devotional music and dances at their shrines, are considered apostasy.
So does this mean orthodox Islam is essentially violent and Sufi Islam non-violent? My answer is, ‘no’. Blanket generalisations are wrong in either case. Neither are all orthodox Muslims militants, nor are all Sufis pacifists. Many would disagree with the latter part of my thesis because they believe Sufis are peace-loving, proselytising preachers. But I say, not essentially.
Before going further, let’s first see what exactly Sufism is. Islam has an exoteric and an esoteric dimension. The exoteric, or outer, dimension is scriptural and normative. The esoteric dimension, on the other hand, is liberal, spiritual and pluralistic and hence characterised by humanism, tolerance and accommodation of differences. Sufi masters have described fighting one’s ‘evil self’ as a greater jihad than armed struggle. Nonetheless, all Sufis weren’t and aren’t non-violent. Read history. Sufi sheikhs and dervishes led revivalist movements, fighting foreign rule as well as the ‘tyranny and oppression’ of Muslim rulers.
In 1240, Baba Ilyas-i-Khorasani and Baba Ishaq, two popular Sufi sheikhs, mobilised nomadic Turkmen against the Seljuk rule in what is modern-day Turkey, demanding a revival of ‘pure’ Islam. And in the 15th and 16th centuries, several Sufi masters led armed uprisings in the Ottoman Empire against the ‘lax’ official Islam.
In modern times, most rebellions, led by Sufi masters, were targeted against the British, French and Italian colonialists. The Sanusiyya — a Sufi order widespread in Libya, Egypt, Sudan and the Sahara — fought against the Italian colonialists. And the Muridiyya order, founded by Amadu Baba, fought the French in Senegal. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sufis from Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya orders fought jihad against ‘godless’ Russian tsars and the Soviets.
In the region now called Pakistan, Sufis, dervishes and mullahs pioneered several millenarian and revivalist movements directed against British colonialists. Mirza Ali Khan, better known as the ‘Faqir from Ipi,’ a hermit from the Waziristan region, led his disciples in a successful rebellion against the British. And the Hur movement of the late 19th century in Sindh was also mobilised by a saintly figure, Sibghtullah Shah Badshah.
Having said that, I think Qadri’s act shouldn’t be a surprise. Qadri, in his own words, was motivated by a sermon of a local imam. The government should, at least, monitor Friday sermons at all mosques. This is essential to check hate-preaching and extremism which has become an existential threat for Pakistan.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Shopkeepers have started preparations amid fear and speculations collecting and packing dry fruit, foodstuffs, displaying a variety of hand-made colourful items and installing sweet meat shops along the streets in Bhit Shah town, Matiari district, on the occasion of 267th three-day annual Urs of Sufi Poet and saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.
The celebrations are starting from January 19, 2011. The annual urs of Bhitai attracts 500,000 to 600,000 devotees every year from all over the country, parts of India, UAE and Europe to pay homage to the Sufi saint. Hundreds of people from the neighborhood supply milk, meat, handicrafts, water, installing small shops and the workforce find suitable job to supply water and do other work for a week of activities to earn a little on the occasions.
Shopkeepers have started preparations amid fear and speculations collecting and packing dry fruit, foodstuffs, displaying a variety of hand-made colourful items and installing sweet meat shops along the streets in Bhit Shah town, Matiari district, on the occasion of 267th three-day annual Urs of Sufi Poet and saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.
The celebrations are starting from January 19, 2011.
The annual urs of Bhitai attracts 500,000 to 600,000 devotees every year from all over the country, parts of India, UAE and Europe to pay homage to the Sufi saint. Hundreds of people from the neighborhood supply milk, meat, handicrafts, water, installing small shops and the workforce find suitable job to supply water and do other work for a week of activities to earn a little on the occasions.
One of the leading fairs of Pakistan not only attracts devotees to pay homage to the Sufi Saint but also is a major opportunity for the people to initiate economic activities during the week-long celebrations. Shopkeepers belonging to Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber- Pukhtoonkhwa and Punjab province mostly bring dry fruit items from Quetta, Karachi, Hyderabad and other areas. Majority of shopkeepers set up their decorated shops on the occasion of the three-day Urs while others have permanent shops there, selling a variety of items to earn their living.
Workers packing dry fruit at famous Hameed Lahooti shop, located close to the main entrance of shrine say, the shop is open for 24 hours entire 12 months of the year. The devotees from all over the country visit the shrine frequently. There is always a rush hence they never shut their business. However, on the occasion of annual gathering, they say, hundreds of people come to the shrine and all the devotees mostly cross their shops to enter inside. They have safe food items, which the people buy for their homes.
Saghir Ahmed, another shop owner who was supervising his workforce to arrange these items, sharing his observations said that now the devotees cannot afford to purchase these items because of increasing prices. For example, he said, 10ó15 years back dry food items they sold at per 40-kg was available at Rs5000 in the wholesale market, which now they purchase at Rs15,000. Thus now they are compelled to sell with little benefit but the buyers are reluctant to get valuable gift for their children and relatives. He said they display these dry fruits originally are produced by Afghanistan and Iran.
The Shaukat Mughul dry fruit shop, which is also open for 24 hours whole the year has hired workers for the period of Urs celebrations as daily wagers.
The workers, who usually hunt lucrative jobs in the mela season, said the rates of popcorn per bag has jumped from Rs300 earlier to Rs800 atpresent. They now were making small packs for buyers.
Kodu Mallah, owner of the famous tea shop of the town, sharing his experience said they have developed contacts with the local dairy farm owners who supply milk frequently as per our requirement and face no difficulty during the period. He claims they use pure milk and that is why the people coming from different areas prefer to have a cup of tea there. The tea stalls in other parts face a difficulty during the period and they mostly use dry milk. In fact they increase rates during the period due to price hike and demand.
Some hand-made items which the shopkeepers prepare themselves are also available at every corner. A vendor, Juman, vending a variety of items say that these items people take as gifts to present to their loved ones. “Obviously, Rs10—20 is considered a meagre amount but the item bought from the shrine of Sufi saint has more value. The visitors, both men and women know which colour of a thread-knitted item their beloveds may like and they get it for them”, he describes the value of these items.
The Shah Abdul Latif Book Shop, located on the premises of the shrine also attracts a large number of people. The owner said publishing institutions supply a variety of books to them, which they sale at 30 per cent discount rates.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Violence against Christians in the Middle East is much in the news these days. Reports are coming from Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran about Christians being discriminated against, persecuted severely, and killed.
A few days ago, a bomb exploded outside of a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt, killing at least 21 Coptic Christians and wounding 96. On Tuesday an off-duty Egyptian policeman opened fire on train travelers, killing one Coptic Christian and injuring five others.
In response to the events in Egypt, the C-1 World Dialogue, a group on whose executive board I serve, has issued a very constructive statement condemning any act of terrorism as an improper understanding of religion. I invite you to read this document, along with a statement by the Grand Mufti of Egypt (the C-1 Co-Chair).
THE CO-CHAIRS of THE C-1 WORLD DIALOGUE speak out on The Bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria Egypt Responding to Alexandria church bombing Dr Ali Gomaa, The Grand Mufti of Egypt the sanctity of human life. Islam is no exception to this rule. Indeed, God has made this unequivocal in the Quran by emphasizing the gravity of the universal prohibition against murder, saying of the one who takes even one life that “it is as if he has killed all mankind.” punishable in the Afterlife as well. Prophet Mohammad said, "The first cases to be decided among the people on the Day of Judgment will be those of blood-shed". The first prophetic saying that is taught to a student of Islam is "Those who show mercy are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those who are on earth and the One in the heavens will show mercy to you". rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic. It is thus with great sadness and outrage that we witness the emergence of this disease in our nation with the recent bombing outside a church in Alexandria that killed tens of Egyptian citizens. There is no doubt that such barbarism needs to be denounced in the strongest of terms, and opposed at every turn. transgressions. Despite their confused claims, terrorists are miscreants who have no legitimate connection to the pure Islamic way, whose history and orthodox doctrine are testaments to the Islamic commitment to tolerance, compassion and peace. human dignity. As in all matters, the Prophetic example is the best of all models. The Prophet considered non-Muslims and Muslims as participating in a social contract which was inviolable. The promise of a Muslim is sacrosanct, for as he said, “Whoever unjustly persecutes one with whom he has an agreement, or short-changes his rights, or burdens him beyond his capacity, or takes something from him without his blessing, I myself will be an argument against him on the Day of Judgement.” What sort of Muslim could it be that not only deprives himself of the intercession of the Prophet of God in front of his Lord, but indeed puts himself at odds with him? country where Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace for centuries. It is vital for the peace of the region and wider world that the place of all religious communities and their full participation in society should continue to be fully protected and assured. We therefore welcome the firm resolve and assurances of all those in authority to make sure this will continue to happen. clear that everybody around the world needs to understand that any act of violence, crime or terror is an action against God, Faith and Religion. Whoever declares crime in the name of God or any Religion is false and nothing else than a criminal who needs to face the power of the legal system. we will never be able to eradicate this scourge. This must be understood in order to build a better future that can bring an end to this grave situation that is destroying the world. and those who seek to use this as a pretext to stoke sectarian tensions need to be opposed in every way possible. At such a sensitive moment, we Egyptians must not participate in the spreading of rumours of such tensions. Rather, we must remain united. We must continue to treat each other with the goodness and respect that has long characterized Egyptian society. We offer our deepest and sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and pray for a speedy recovery of the wounded.
His Eminence Dr. Ali Gomaa the Grand Mufti of Egypt (Co-chair) & His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick Archbishop Emeritus (Acting Co-chair) together with His Eminence Dr Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia (Vice Co-Chair):
On behalf of the members and Executive of the C-1 World Dialogue we condemn the horrifying attack in Alexandria outside a Coptic Church and a nearby Mosque killing so many Christians as well as Muslims.
Christians and Muslims are as one in knowing that such an act is contrary to the law of God and can have no possible justification.
Our prayers and thoughts go out to all who have been affected and especially to the families of all those killed or wounded. We pray too for those so blinded by fear and hatred as to be involved in committing such crimes and call them to repent.
This act of terrorism was an affront to all Egyptians. It must not be used to sow discord in a country where Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace for centuries. It is vital for the peace of the region and wider world that the place of religious minorities and their full participation in society should continue to be fully protected and assured.
We call upon all Christians, Muslims and people of good will to reach out in their local communities, churches and mosques and to come together in practical solidarity against violence and all those who use it to promote strife and discord.
We are all called as human beings to follow the two great commandments of which the Common Word letter reminds us, namely to love God and our neighbour and we urge everyone to come together in fulfilment of them.
For further information please contact the Director General of the C1: Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff at email@example.com +44 7968 030 138 or +44 207 101 9576
His Eminence Dr. Ali Gomaa The Grand Mufti of Egypt CO-CHAIR of THE C-1 WORLD DIALOGUE writes on The Bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria:
Terrorism cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion:
There is no religion worthy of the name that does not regard as one of its highest values
Islam views murder as both a crime punishable by law in this world and as major sin
The Islam that we were taught in our youth is a religion that calls for peace and mercy.
What we have learnt about Islam has been taken from the clear, pristine, and scholarly understanding of the Quran, "O people we have created you from a single male and female and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another".
Terrorism, therefore, cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is
Just as importantly, we must counter the deviant beliefs that underpin such gross
The Quran is clear that “God has honoured the children of Adam.” Islam therefore makes no distinction among races, ethnicities, or religions in its belief that all people are deserving of basic
Furthermore, Islam has laid down justice, peace and cooperation as the basic principles of interaction between religious communities, advising Muslims that the proper conduct towards those who do not show aggression towards us is to act with goodness and justice. Indeed, this is the way of the true Muslim, for “God loves the just.”
This act of terrorism was an affront to all Egyptians. It must not be used to sow discord in a
Together with the Bishop of London, my Co-Chair at the C1 Foundation, we always made
Let me be clear by reiterating that Islam is utterly against extremism and terrorism but unless we understand the factors that provide a rationalization for terrorism and extremism
All Egyptians stand united against such behaviour. Sectarian conflict is foreign to Egypt,
My heart, my thoughts, and my prayers go out to the families who lost their loved ones.
For further information please contact Dr Ibrahim Negm Special Assistant to the Grand Mufti +20 (0) 106 186 439
THE CO-CHAIRS of THE C-1 WORLD DIALOGUE speak out on The Bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria Egypt
Responding to Alexandria church bombing Dr Ali Gomaa, The Grand Mufti of Egypt
the sanctity of human life. Islam is no exception to this rule. Indeed, God has made this
unequivocal in the Quran by emphasizing the gravity of the universal prohibition against
murder, saying of the one who takes even one life that “it is as if he has killed all mankind.”
punishable in the Afterlife as well. Prophet Mohammad said, "The first cases to be decided
among the people on the Day of Judgment will be those of blood-shed".
The first prophetic saying that is taught to a student of Islam is "Those who show mercy
are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those who are on earth and the One
in the heavens will show mercy to you".
rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and
warped logic. It is thus with great sadness and outrage that we witness the emergence of
this disease in our nation with the recent bombing outside a church in Alexandria that killed
tens of Egyptian citizens. There is no doubt that such barbarism needs to be denounced in
the strongest of terms, and opposed at every turn.
transgressions. Despite their confused claims, terrorists are miscreants who have no
legitimate connection to the pure Islamic way, whose history and orthodox doctrine are
testaments to the Islamic commitment to tolerance, compassion and peace.
As in all matters, the Prophetic example is the best of all models. The Prophet considered
non-Muslims and Muslims as participating in a social contract which was inviolable. The
promise of a Muslim is sacrosanct, for as he said, “Whoever unjustly persecutes one with
whom he has an agreement, or short-changes his rights, or burdens him beyond his
capacity, or takes something from him without his blessing, I myself will be an argument
against him on the Day of Judgement.” What sort of Muslim could it be that not only
deprives himself of the intercession of the Prophet of God in front of his Lord, but indeed
puts himself at odds with him?
country where Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace for centuries. It is vital
for the peace of the region and wider world that the place of all religious communities and
their full participation in society should continue to be fully protected and assured. We
therefore welcome the firm resolve and assurances of all those in authority to make sure
this will continue to happen.
clear that everybody around the world needs to understand that any act of violence, crime
or terror is an action against God, Faith and Religion. Whoever declares crime in the name
of God or any Religion is false and nothing else than a criminal who needs to face the
power of the legal system.
we will never be able to eradicate this scourge. This must be understood in order to build a
better future that can bring an end to this grave situation that is destroying the world.
and those who seek to use this as a pretext to stoke sectarian tensions need to be
opposed in every way possible. At such a sensitive moment, we Egyptians must not
participate in the spreading of rumours of such tensions. Rather, we must remain united.
We must continue to treat each other with the goodness and respect that has long
characterized Egyptian society.
We offer our deepest and sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and pray for a speedy recovery of the wounded.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
"Dara" is the story of a prince who could be the role model Islamic society urgently needs
A dancing girl has just learnt of Mughal prince Aurangzeb’s ultimatum to all dancers: Marry within the next 24 hours or leave the capital. Dejected, she goes up to a group of commoners in the village, who comfort her by talking about the other prince, Dara Shikoh. Dara, a lover of the arts, a poet and Sufi, an ally of the masses, a face of Islam so different that his political success might have charted an entirely different course in the subcontinent’s—and potentially world— history.
At a time when Pakistani liberal society finds itself—yet again—under attack, a failed Mughal prince might just be the hero it needs to cling on to for survival. Dara, the latest offering from the Lahore-based Ajoka theatre group, is the story of Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, who lost the battle for supremacy to his brother Aurangzeb. Travelling to India for the National School of Drama’s (NSD) ongoing 13th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the play is a constant counterpoint between the two brothers, two ways of viewing the arts, two ways of interpreting Islam and two ways of being.
“While Mughal history is always a fascinating subject for dramatic exploration, the contemporary—and more pressing motivation—to doing this play was the situation in present-day Pakistan, in fact all of the Muslim world,” says playwright-director Shahid Nadeem. “This is the struggle between Sufi Islam and Wahabi Islam; and that the latter seems to be overpowering the former in influence. Extremists are interpreting it, contrary to how Sufis or moderate voices interpret it. The recent assassination of governor Salman Taseer bears prime testimony to this form of extremism. The real battle is one within Islam itself, not Islam and Western civilization,” says the founder of the Ajoka group, which is known for its anti-establishment work.
Nadeem talks of how, in the past few decades, there has been an organized attempt in Pakistan to erase the secular prince from history books. “Muslim clerics justify the creation of Pakistan based on the fear of the enemy, more specifically, the fear of India,” he says. “Having figures like Dara Shikoh or Bulleh Shah, who spoke of universal brotherhood and syncretic cultures, will hamper their project. There is, naturally, the need to obliterate them from public memory.”
Dara was a champion of religion and cultural syncretism who constantly strove to bridge Hinduism and Islam (he translated 50 Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian and suggested that the Kitab al-maknun, or hidden book, referred to in the Quran was in fact the Upanishads). Dara’s journey, meeting scholars from Christianity and Hinduism in order to develop his philosophy, is one of the critical scenes in the play.
Although popular with the masses and his father’s favourite, Dara lost out to Aurangzeb. While the play ends on this factually accurate note, it does suggest that had Dara won, the subcontinent’s history might have been very different; in fact, Islam itself might have been viewed differently.
“Islam is a religion of peace, love and understanding, and a promoter of the arts and harmony between different classes and communities,” says Nadeem. Given that the protagonist and his interpretation of Islam both favoured the arts, music and dance are integral to the play. “A lot of qawwalis, dance and other subcontinental musical forms are vehicles for action in the play, especially since culture is also a tool for communal harmony,” says Nadeem. The scene between the dancer and the commoners, for instance, ends with the group breaking into a song.
Dara, according to Nadeem, is a “role model for the true face of Islam” that Pakistan and Islamic society as a whole need. “He needs to be brought back into the history books, and that is the only way forward for Muslims in Pakistan and Muslims everywhere,” he says.
Dara will be staged on 21 January at Kamani Auditorium as part of NSD’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav. The festival is on till 22 January. For details and bookings, log on to www.nsdtheatrefest.com