Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the Freewheeling Days

By Madhusree Chatterjee, *'Sufis of Punjab' - Building bridges across borders* - IANS/Two Circles Net - Boston, MA, USA; Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book: "The Sufis of Punjab"; Edited by Muzaffar Ali, Anoo C. Nayar and Syeda Bilgrami Imam, Publisher: Rumi Foundation, Price: Rs.1,895, Pages: 208

The birth of the Punjabi literary tradition is built into Sufi mysticism, which dates back to the birth of Shaikh Faridu'd-Din, popularly known as Baba Farid, in the late 12th century.

For the last 800 years, Punjab has prided itself on a spiritual culture that believes in open worship, relying on the "holy book" and the core tenets of Sufism, secularism being its primary plank.

The anthology of essays, "The Sufis of Punjab", traces the evolution of Sufi mysticism in the state in the context of its assimilation from local cultures, references to Sufism in the Granth Sahib and how the Sufi literature conected to the local people with concepts of love, secularism, universality, music, freedom of spirit and one god.

The hefty volume, which released Sunday, is visually opulent. It uses a combination of graphics, line sketches, illustrations, hand-painted portraits, calligraphy , sonnets and photographs arranged on a muted colourscape of beige, brown, black and red.

The volume is engaging and lucid with a festive feel that harks back to the freewheeling days of the early Sufi period when life in the northwestern frontier bustled around shrines and celebrations of faith.

The pages are leaves out of history; embellished with unusual anecdotes and facts linking Sufism to Sikhism. For beginners in the study of religion, the book comes across as a page-turner.

The editors say the book tries to build bridges across the border by highlighting a greater Sufi literary lineage that went beyond geographical boundaries of Pakistan and India.

Sufi mystics and poets then shared common home, stories and music.

Since the early Punjabi poetry was spiritual in nature - it allowed Baba Farid's profound poetics to flower. In the 14th century, Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikh religion, distilled the Sufi, Nath and Bhakti traditions - three religious genres that influenced Punjab's spiritual tradition - in his divine verses. Nanak even laid down the 'raag (melody)' in which each of these verses were to be sung. The songs came to be identified as "kirtan"- a pioneering avatar of devotional music.

The book is one of the four volumes published by Rumi Foundation. The first one documents the legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrau while the second commemorates the 800th anniversary of Jalaluddin Rumi. The third tome, "Sufi & Rishis of Kashmir", is a tribute to the secular Sufi poets of J&K.

"Punjab has been a vital gateway to this enormous sub-continent. It has opened minds to create 'seekers of truth', of those who came in and those who went out," said filmmaker and Sufi revivalist Muzaffar Ali, chief editor of the book.

"Sikhism has gained from Sufism, an older faith. A lot of Guru Granth Sahib has Baba Farid in it," Ali told IANS.

One of the best examples was Sufi mystic Hazrat Mian Mir, who was invited by Arjan Dev to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Arjan Dev sent a palanquin and a posse of 100 followers to fetch Mian Mir to Amritsar from Lahore.

The convoy was attacked by local king Chandu Mal, but Mian Mir escaped. He laid the foundation of the Golden Temple Jan 3, 1588.

It was also around that time that "qissa-poetry", the ballad poems of Islamic-Punjabi, became popular among both Sufi story-tellers and the Gurmukhi musicians, who believed in "ishq (love)" both in life and in commune with God.

Love was the central theme immortalised in legendary ballads such as "Hir Siyal" -- the tale of the rebellious Punjabi love born in 1425 AD.

Muzaffar Ali has just completed work on the subsequent volume - "The Sufis of Awadh" -- which will be published by the end of this year.

"Like Kashmiri Sufi mystics, who were influenced by Shaivism, the Sufi poets of Awadh were inspired by Krishna-Bhakti. The 'Sufis of Awadh' will be published by the end of this year. It will be followed by the 'Sufi Saints of Bengal'," Ali said.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Heart-warming

By Rauf Parekh, *Urdu, mysticism and Japanese scholars* - Dawn.Com - Karachi, Pakistan; Monday, August 29, 2011

Last week was not particularly a very pleasant one for Karachi and Karachiites as the fallout of the recent disturbances in the city continued in one way or the other. However, some Japanese scholars and their students dared it out and landed in the city to gather some material for their ongoing research projects.

The visitors included three scholars, two from the Kyoto University and one from the Osaka University. And accompanying them was a PhD student from the Kyoto University and a research student from the Osaka University. It was nice to see that both the young students were very keen to learn more and more about Urdu language and Pakistani culture.

Talking to them — amidst the rare books and manuscripts they were poring over at Prof Dr Moinuddin Aqeel’s huge personal library — was an enlightening experience. Discussions with them on several topics continued as this writer rejoined them later in the evening at an Iftar dinner writer Muhammad Hamza Farooqi had arranged in their honour.

It was a pleasant surprise to know that it is considered quite normal in Japan for a scholar to know several languages and one can expect a Japanese scholar to know as many as ten languages. For instance, one of the visitors, Dr Tonaga Yasushi, a professor of the Study of the Islamic World and the deputy director of the Centre for Islamic Area Studies at the Kyoto University, knows Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, German and Italian, not to mention English and his native Japanese.

In addition to Islamic Studies, he is an expert on the history, cultures and languages of the Islamic world. Another area of study that fascinates him is mysticism and Sufism. When asked how he became interested in Islamic mysticism, he said that he was keenly interested in mysticism since his childhood. Later, he studied Chinese mysticism, Taoism and Sufism and graduated in Islamic Studies from Tokyo University. Here he met and was deeply impressed by Prof Toshihiko Izutsu, an expert on Islamic Studies who had profoundly studied Imam Ghazali’s philosophies and the aspects of Islamic mysticism. Prof Izutsu later supervised his PhD thesis.

Born in 1960 in Japan’s Mie prefecture, considered cradle of Shintoism, Prof Tonaga went to Egypt for higher studies and also carried out research on Ibn-i-Arabi’s theories on Islamic mysticism and ‘tariqat’. His works include a research on ‘Tariqah Movement’. He feels there are many aspects of Islamic Sufism that must be brought before the Japanese people as tolerance is one of the virtues and lures of Sufism. An interesting aspect of Prof Tonaga’s research is that he did not confine himself to sheer academic interest in Sufism and learned different ways of meditation. He practised Islamic Sufism while in Egypt and wanted to be admitted into a ‘silsila’ (order of Sufis).

One of Dr Tonaga’s recent research works is a bibliography of the books written on Ibn-i-Arabi all over the world.

Prof Dr Imamatsu Yasushi is another scholar who has a deep interest in Islamic mysticism. A visiting professor at the Centre for Islamic Area Studies at Kyoto University, he is also an expert on Turkey, its culture, language and history.

Born in Osaka in 1963, he received his early education in Kobe and graduated in Oriental History from Kobe University. Later, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the same university.

Prof Imamtsu had come to Pakistan some 11 years ago and during his first visit he had been to many Sufi shrines, comparing them with the shrines in Turkey.

Prof Yamane So is not a stranger to Pakistan neither is Pakistan an strange country to him. In fact, we can call him half-a-Pakistani as his impeccable Urdu and fluent Punjabi with a barely traceable Japanese accent make him appear quite at home in Pakistan. A very jolly and vivacious character, Prof Yamane got his diploma in Urdu from the Punjab University Oriental College and MA in Urdu from Osaka University in 1989.

His frequent visits and stay in Pakistan for many years has perfected his Urdu, so much so that he not only appreciates Urdu maxims and the nuances of Urdu idioms but can also enjoy Urdu’s latest slangy expressions and informal parlance. As a result of his huge reading and a deep love for poetry, he composes beautiful Urdu poetry under the penname of ‘Yasir’ and can discuss with you Urdu’s meters and prosody, a rarity even among many native scholars of Urdu.

His dissertation on Urdu short story writer Ghulam Abbas has been published and a mention of his works on Urdu would require a long list. His recent works include some research on Urdu orthography and Urdu script. Another work of his is the first volume on the Islamic history of South Asia, published in a series in the Japanese language, aimed at presenting the history of Islam for common Japanese readers.

Sunaga Emiko is a PhD candidate and a research fellow at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University. Having graduated in Urdu from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she is here to collect some research material for her doctoral dissertation that aims at discovering the impact of print media on Islam in South Asia.

Meeting these Japanese brimming with academic spirit was very refreshing as equally heart-warming was their love and appreciation for all things Pakistani.

[Picture: Karachi with the Mazar-e-Quaid (Jinnah's Shrine). Photo: Wiki.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Afghanistan Needs a Balance

By Iason Athanasiadis, *Afghanistan: Sufi Mysticism Makes a Comeback in Kabul* Eurasianet.org - Open Society Institute, New York, NY, USA; Friday, August 26, 2011

In a garden in Kabul’s Karte-Seh district, a group of Sufi musicians and poets gather for an evening of mystical melodies. Platters of rice pilau and fruit cover carpets spread across the lawn. This twice-weekly meeting is held at the home of a member of the ancient Chishti Sufi order who gathers together an all-male crème de la crème of Kabul’s Sufi society. Television preachers, renowned qawwali singers and prominent politicians with clandestine Sufi proclivities all flock to the garden to sample the ecstatic music.

Sufism is an ascetic spiritual tradition pioneered by Islam’s early warriors, who pushed outwards from the Arabian Peninsula into Central Asia and lived in all-male bands on the frontiers of the young empire. As they traveled, they adopted local traditions, even some that seemed to go against the mainstream tenants of Islam, including music. The Chishti blended qawwali music, a devotional melody that developed in south Asia, with the Persian whirling dervish dances, and acquired a reputation for being the most musical Sufi order.

As a result, they suffered more than other Afghan Sufis during the rule of the Taliban, who banned music and discouraged the gatherings. Whereas Sufi orders and pilgrimages to the shrines of mystics were long an integral part of Afghan devotional traditions, the Taliban’s harshly orthodox interpretation of Islam banned creative outlets, locking Afghan society into a half decade of spiritual austerity. Recently, Sufism has been on the defense in neighboring Pakistan, where local fundamentalists have killed hundreds in attacks on Sufi shrines.

Lutfullah Haqqparast was one of the few Sufi sheikhs who refused to submit to the Taliban’s restrictions on Sufism. The preacher – a suit-and-tie-wearing sociologist at a Kabul University who dons a white turban and green robe when officiating Sufi gatherings – was arrested for not caving to Taliban demands to stop his followers’ chanting. But when the Taliban tried to transfer him from Kabul to Kandahar, according to legend, there was such an outcry from religious elders that Haqqparast was released.

Today Haqqparast says Afghanistan needs a balance between Sufism’s mystical passion and the western rationality he teaches. “This traditional society needs Sufis to show it a more open-minded path but also the West to teach it logic,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Haqqparast attends zikrs – devotional Sufi gatherings that often turn ecstatic – at Kabul’s historic Shah-Do Shamshira mosque, a stately yellow building topped by twin navy-blue minarets.

Worship at the shrine is precarious, though. On June 17, for example, suicide bombers targeted a police station in the area and a gun battle raged for hours nearby – another reminder of how confident the Taliban are becoming.

The Afghan government, too, is feeling the pressure. To that end, President Hamid Karzai pays greater reverence to the Ulema Shura (Council of Clerics) whose orthodox Muslim views are often opposed to women’s rights, free speech or mystical Islam. On the other hand, Minister of Information and Culture Sayeed Makhdoom Raheem seeks to use Sufism as a moderating force against the Taliban even as he pressures Sufis to tone down their theatrical devotions ahead of reconciliation talks.

“Raheem is reviving Sufism and restoring khaneqahs [lodges] that encourage mysticism exactly because he believes that it can act as a tool to stop political Islam and the Taliban,” said Nasir Farahmand, a Kabul-based professor of philosophy who is an avowed secularist.

After taking in the qawwali music, Haqqparast gets up and, escorted by a group of disciples, heads to his modest car. A supporter drives him through old Kabul’s twisting lanes to Sufism’s less-effete face.

At the entrance to a charity home, disabled Sufis bedecked with necklaces and hennaed beards cluster around a gate opening onto what was once a basement jail. Amid clouds of hashish smoke, semiconscious men loll against the metal bars of former cells. Others file upstairs into a makeshift temple of interconnected rooms. It is nearly 3 a.m., but the floor is packed with ecstatic dervishes listening to musicians on a raised dais.

Iason Athanasiadis is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist.

Click on the title to the video in the original article.

[Picture: Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque (built 1920). Photo: Wiki. More images of the Mosque at Asian Historical Architecture.]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happiness and Sadness

By Abdul Sattar, *Alam Lohar a trendsetter in folklore* - The Nation - Pakistan; Thursday, August 25, 2011

Muhammad Alam Lohar was a prominent Punjabi folk music singer of Pakistan. He died in 1979 in an accident. He is also credited with popularising the term and song Jugni.

Alam Lohar was born in the small village of Aach Goach in Gujrat district, in Punjab in a family of blacksmiths. He was gifted with a melodious voice and began singing as a child.

He developed a new style of singing the Punjabi Vaar, an epic or folk tale. He is famous for his rendition of Waris Shah’s Heer, which he has memorised in 36 styles and forms. He recorded his first album at the age of 13 and has outsold all other singers in Pakistan (verified in records kept with HMV Pakistan 1979).

In his childhood he used to read Sufiana Kalaams, Punjabi stories and participate as a young child in local elderly gatherings. Out of the rural background rose a great singer that could influence his audience with elements of joy peace, happiness and sadness.

He started going to festivals and gatherings on regular basis and with these performances he rose to become one of the most listened singers in South Asia. In 1970s, it was the Queen’s Jubilee event in the UK and there was a singing competition between all the Commonwealth Countries in which Alam won the award of best performance and was also presented with a gold medal award.

Throughout the period of 1930’s and until his passing away in 1979, he has dominated folk singing in Pakistan and been a major singer in Punjabi and Sufi singing throughout the entire world. In many rural villages the local traditional people have called him ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ or ‘Heerah’.

With his God-gifted voice and singing in difficult high and low pitches, he made a unique impression in singing with his Chimta [musical tongs].

Other than being a famous singer, Alam Lohar was also a great poet and wrote many of his songs. He also had another quality that he used books of Sufi saints and stories and brought them in song format which gave his songs a great lyrical content which could make people cry and joy at the same time. The word ‘Jugni’ was his creation and he created this term from reading many Sufi writings and represented this word as a spiritual feeling of one’s experience of the world. Furthermore, he was the pioneer of introducing the writings of Saiful Malook and Mirza Shabaan in song format.

Alam Lohar had another quality that he could sing all night long and sometimes without music. In rural Punjab, he used to sing from village to village and without any modern music technology.

Later, he organised a full-fledged theatre with a complete orchestra. His troupe toured all over Punjab for religious and seasonal festivals and was one of the first Pakistani as well as South Asian singers to sing internationally in almost all the countries.

Alam died in an accident near Sham ki Bhaitiyan on July 3, 1979. He laid to rest in Lala Musa. He was given the Pride of Performance award in 1979 by General Ziaul Haq and had also received numerous awards. He is a pioneer in cultural and folk style singing.

He set a benchmark and many Punjabi and other folk singers have greatly been influenced from him. Therefore he has left a great legacy of a unique style of singing which is still followed in Pakistan by Punjabi as well as other folk singers. One of the greatest singers of all time: he is seen and remembered through his son Arif Lohar who has continued in the same tradition.

His famous songs are Dharti Panj Daryavan Di, Dil wala dukhra nahin kisse noon sunayee da, Saiful Malook, Qissa Hazrat Yousaf, Mar ke modha hauly jaye sorry akh gaye, Bol mitti diya bawiya, Jugni, Mirza, Qissa Karbala, Kalam Baba Bulley Shah, Sohni Mahiwal and others.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Peace and Well-being in the Caucasus

By ANS Press Reporter, *Baku to host international Islamic conference* - News.Az - Baku, Azerbaijan; Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A conference on "The Place and Role of Sufism in Islam" has ended in Chechnya with a decision to hold next year's conference in Baku.

Azerbaijan's spiritual leader, Caucasus Muslims Department Chairman Allahshukur Pashazade, was among the religious leaders and theologians from the former Soviet Union and further afield who attended the conference.

This was the third consecutive year that the International Islamic Conference had been held in the Chechen capital Grozny.

This year's conference was dedicated to what would have been the 60th birthday of Chechnya's former pro-Moscow president, Ahmat Kadyrov.

In his address, Sheikh Pashazade proposed expanding the scale of the conference.

“This conference must receive attention not only in Grozny but also in Azerbaijan, Turkey and other countries. It has shown that some trends that run counter or are indifferent to Islam are not on the true path. We also urge them to take the right path,” Pashazade said.

He read out a letter from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev which talks about the development and prosperity of the Chechen Republic in all areas, including religious and moral.

The Chechen Republic's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, son of Ahmat Kadyrov, thanked the Azerbaijani authorities for the letter.

“The attention paid to us by the Azerbaijani leadership is positive and the letter sent by Ilham Aliyev to the international conference is yet further proof. May God forgive all our sins! May he unite us and strengthen us in our faith! May Azerbaijan and Russia be always strong! May there be peace and well-being in the Caucasus! May there be no war and may the economy strengthen!"

During the conference, two mosques and one medrese were opened in Gudermes. Haji Allahshukur Pashazade said prayers together with the Chechen president in one of the newly opened mosques.

Picture: Haji Allashukur Pashazade.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trying to Resurrect

By Sayed Mahmoud, *Book review: I'll Become What I Want* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hamdi Abdel-Rehim's first novel is a narrative, describing events which have taken place in Egypt in the last half-century

As an indication to the content of this work, Hamdi Abdel-Rehim dedicates his first novel to the great novelist Alaa El-Deeb.

The secret behind the dedication only becomes apparent to the reader towards the end of the novel.

The novel itself resembles a photo shoot of the author’s generation, through snap shots of the protagonist’s life.

The hero does not differ greatly from those of El-Deeb’s characters in Lemon Blossoms, Children Without Tears, and Rose-Coloured Days. They all belong to the middle classes and experience the crisis of their intellectuals and contradictions. They all live at the time of the National Project (the Nasserite concept of full mobilisation of resources for achieving a common dream) and its abrupt end, leading to their breaking.

Our hero was born at the same time as Abdel-Nasser’s defeat, his mother explains. He lives his life fighting against this defeat and trying to resurrect the National Project. Thus, although the protagonist is similar to that of El-Deeb’s characters, the time frames in which the authors bring their characters to life differ greatly.

Despite the protagonist’s existentialist crisis, the author tries not to sink into a narration of Abdul-Futouh’s personal problems when describing his experiences. Instead, he tries to draw a map of the transformation of Egyptian society in the last fifty years.

The writer gives the reader a set of keys that unlock his own artistic and political biases, debating each of his characters with his own voice. The story’s hero Mustafa, son of a Sufi Sheikh who is often preoccupied with the celebration of saints, is palmed off on a number of women to be looked after.

Naeema, renowned for being lonely, tries to teach him to sing, while Amaal offers him a warming presence. Through selling old books on the street, our young hero discovers his love of reading and writing.

Through Sawsan, daughter of his father's friend, he is introduced to Radwan, a left-wing intellectual who comes from the heart of the National Project and is opposed to Sadat’s settlement with Israel. Through Radwan he connects with Sheikh Khamis, a calligraphy lover who in turn introduces him to Zainab. At this point Mustafa is left with the library and private papers of Radwan.

The inheritance leaves Mustafa heavy hearted, especially after his parents both passed away, leaving him nothing, and were buried in a cemetery for the impoverished, forcing him to search for his first job.

By working with Takki El-Din, Mustafa and the reader are introduced to the human rights lawyer-model that evolved in the 1980s. He works and lives off foreign aid, is introduced to his new love Ragaa, and his friend Ali who is similar to Radwan. He's only able to get over Ragaa, who is already married, by setting up a publishing house, funded by a French lady who gives him his first physical experience with a woman.

Despite Mustafa's success as a publisher and writer, he's threatened by the Zionist influence that rejects his passion for rebellion. The novel ends in 2007 where Mustafa kills one of the Zionist symbols, and sings a Sufi piece he learnt from his father, confirming that he lived and died as he wanted.

The novel appears to be a cultural autobiography about a man always trying to achieve the unattainable.

The author does not employ any modern techniques, but rather conforms to the usual narrative, originally presented by Naguib Mahfouz in the Realist Stage. Sometimes a link is made between the mentor figure of Radwan and one of the heroes of Mirrors, by Mahfouz.

The writer also switches to a philosophical genre, and touches upon characters from other novels. Our hero’s struggles lead him to learn about the world, mixing the two diverse concepts of Sufism and rebellion.

The Mahfouz spirit can also be felt in the geographical setup: the hero is born and raised in Al-Hussein neighbourhood, and seeks refuge in Alexandria, a favourite pattern for Mahfouz's characters. There's also the love story with Ragaa, similar to the woman who thrives on pain in Bahaa Taher's Doha Said.

The author references other books and authors in order to pass on his experiences with the world, not in order to merely mingle the lives of his characters and those of his favourite novels; Abdel-Rehim wishes to write about all of our experiences.

His work is in honour of friendship, love of life, books and music- the author’s testimony.

Sa’akun kama ureed, I’ll Become What I Want
By Hamdi Abdel-Rehim
Cairo: Dar El-Shorouk, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To the Next Level

By Rafay Mahmood, *‘Awal Allah’: The Sketches return* - The Express Tribune - Pakistan; Sunday, August 21, 2011

Karachi: The Sindhi rock stars from Jamshoro, who rose to prominence through “Coke Studio 4” with their song “Mand Waai”, are back with a bang, and this time around, their music is even more soulful, simple and thought-provoking. The duo, comprising of Saif Samejo and Naeem Shah, recently released their new track “Awal Allah”, a hamd by legendary Sindhi scholar and poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

The band, which essentially focuses on Sufi pop music, considers it important to vocalise love for the Creator, especially in the holy month of Ramazan. “According to Bhittai, all of God’s creatures are His subordinates and we all should look for God in ourselves and in each other,” explains the lead vocalist Samejo, adding that Ramazan was the best time for this particular release.

With “Awal Allah”, which comes after the duo impressed audiences with their performance of “Mand Waai” — a kalaam by Bhittai — the band has definitely taken their music to the next level. Popular musicians including Najam Sheraz, Ali Hamza and musician-turned-religious scholar Junaid Jamshed have sung naats before, but none have left the kind of impact that “Awal Allah” has on listeners.

“Shah Abdul Latif’s waai — a style closely associated with the poet — is very simple and expressive. By keeping our version mellow and acoustic, we have tried to do justice to the sacred style of singing,” states Samejo.

Anyone who has been following the band’s music from the days of their initial tracks — “Maujood” and “Moomal Rano”— will relate to their signature style of music and amazing vocal talent. Like all their songs, lyrics are crucial to this one as well but the band believes that if the music itself is strong enough, the listener will get the message anyway.

“The lyrics of the hamd are in Sindhi, but we’ve kept a very simple arrangement so that the people who don’t understand the language can also relate to it.” Samejo’s expectations were not too off the mark as the video, which although is subtitled, has managed to move listeners, who thoroughly enjoyed the soulful melody of the song.

“Even though I don’t understand Sindhi, the song touched me because of its soulful melody,” says 23-year-old university student Emaan.

The video, directed by Zohaib Kazi, is a simple one with the band performing near Keenjhar Lake near Thatta, Sindh. Samejo explains the spiritual connotation of the video being shot at this particular location. “Keenjhar jheel was very personal to Bhittai as he has written a lot about the beauty of the lake and the boatmen who sail on it,” says Samejo.

Adding to that, Samejo also informed that one of the very well-known surs by Bhittai, ‘sur noori’, was inspired by birds and trees of the lake, hence, bringing the lake into the song definitely served a larger purpose.

“Awal Allah” is the first bait from Bhittai’s compilation Shah Jo Risalo and according to Samejo, it is the written musical arrangement of all his compilations which makes Bhittai stand out from other poets.

“Apart from being a poet, Bhittai was also a phenomenal musician and that is why you will find special musical arrangements for all of his compilations; for instance there is a sur called ‘sarang’ which is the sur of rain or ‘sur pirbhat’ which is sung with the first ray of sunshine. All of these surs can only be sung in the way he had composed them and his compositions have come to us via fakirs,” says Samejo.

Following “Awal Allah”, The Sketches plan to release the video of “Nind Nashe Vich”, another Sufi song originally written by Meeral Fakir, a poet from Sindh.

Picture: The video of “Awal Allah” sees the band performing near Keenjhar Lake, a place Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai has extensively written about. Photo: Adnan Kandhar.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Web of Divine Voices

By Sara Elkamel, *Folk: Sufi Music Fills the Ramadan Air* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the fourth night of Samaa International Sufi Festival, members of the Pakistani Rafi Peer band create musical magic for an eager crowd

Poignant entertainment graces the audience at the charming 16th century Qubbat Al-Ghouri (Al-Ghouri Dome) located in the wholly authentic, utterly crowded Khan El-Khalili district as Sufi chanters from Pakistan and Algeria create currents of spiritual tunes that strike your heartstrings. This is the Samaa International Sufi Festival.

On the fourth night of the Samaa Festival, members of the Pakistani Rafi Peer band cross their legs on stage in their turquoise and cream-colored tunics, facing the eager crowds. The vocalists fervently belt out melodic chants that the audience may not understand, but that certainly infiltrate their being. One chanter extends both arms spiritually as he shouts, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” Screams of “bravo” meet the songs, as members of the varied audience smile gleefully.

The festival seeks to merge different cultural interpretations of Sufi music and chanting by inviting Sufi bands from multiple countries. The result is a unique amalgamation of culture, spirituality and art. Religious heritage is brought to the fore at the Ghouri Complex in El-Hussein with a spontaneous flair as Sufi musicians celebrate their cultural differences and their shared spirituality.

Sufi chanting entails reaching a euphoric state of spirituality through singing and whirling to music. Sufi music and Samaa branches out from Islam’s mystical dimension. As a practice, Inshad, or religious chanting, springs from Islamic heritage. It is often traced back to the first caller for prayer in Islam, Belal Moazen El-Rasoul.

In Egypt, Sufi chanting first appeared in Islamic schools or kuttabs. Chanting then proliferated with the spread of Sufi sects. Today, Sufi music fills traditional moulids, while other folkloric celebrations breed many more chanters in the mystic art. Celebrated folkloric Munshidien today include Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy and Sheikh Ahmed El-Touny.

Festival director Intessar Abdel Fattah presents the Algerian group. The Algerian Issawi Sufi Musical Band of Constantine is 30 years old and remains at the forefront of Sufi chanting in the country. Dressed in black and white and embracing traditional instruments. They praise the Prophet Muhammed in smooth voices decorated with the sounds of the tambourine and tabla (drum).

Abdel Fattah is keen on creating a dynamic experience that engages the audience and provides a vigorous atmosphere for the chanters, which ultimately results in innovative and invigorating performances.

His journey started a few years ago. In an effort to create a web of divine voices weaved with innovative compositions, Abdel Fattah established a workshop and named it "Al-Ghouri Monshed" (the Ghouri chanter) in 2007, and later decided to proceed with his endeavor for reviving Sufi music. Abdel Fattah jumped from one governorate to the other and combined the finest Egyptian munshedeen for his Samaa troupe.

The annual Samaa International Festival is one of the composer’s projects, and it continues to deliver culturally diverse musical infusions. International workshops bring together groups from different cultures in an effort to unify an artistic vision, as various cultures fuse in a moment of collective spirituality.

While the Pakistani and Algerian bands separately gave the audience a poignantly musical night, it is a completely different experience when various groups collectively take the stage and spontaneously create heartrending and exciting harmonies.

This year’s festival also features bands from India, Morocco, Syria, Sudan, Spain, Norway, Indonesia, the United States and Turkey.

Programme:
Daily until 25 August at Al-Ghoury Dome, Al-Hussein District, at 9:00pm

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Transcendental / Aphoristic / Spiritual

By Sridala Swami, *Making new celebrations* -Livemint.com, HT Media - India; Friday, August 19, 2011

A new anthology of Bhakti poetry compels us to think about a form with the power to disarrange the world

There must be something about the state of the world now that makes the publication of three volumes of Bhakti poetry seem like a sign of the times: First, there was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s translation of Kabir published earlier this year by the New York Review Books press, followed shortly by Ranjit Hoskote’s I, Lalla (Penguin India); now there’s The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature, edited by Andrew Schelling.

Schelling teaches at Naropa University (established in Boulder, Colorado, by Buddhist spiritual leader Chogyam Trungpa​), writes poetry and has translated Mirabai into English—translations that are included in this anthology. The university describes itself as a “leading institution of contemplative education” and has long had ties with the Beats. The importance of these connections becomes clear in Schelling’s introduction to the anthology, which reflects the almost umbilical tie that some American poetry has with transcendental/aphoristic/spiritual traditions of a certain kind, including Bhakti poetry.

Schelling finds parallels between the Bhakti poets and the Native American shamans in their “hunger for human freedom”, but is careful not to make uncritical comparisons. At the same time, he declines to see Bhakti “as a religious tradition locked inside India”. The power of words to disarrange society and its traditions is something that poetry from elsewhere in the world shares with Bhakti poetry; he quotes the poet Kenneth Rexroth​, who once defined the counterculture of the 1960s as “those people who live by the tenets of lyric poetry”.

The introduction gives a brief history of the origins of Bhakti poetry from the early Tamil Kuruntokai onwards. Arranged regionally, the anthology moves across the south of Antal, Basavanna and Annamacharya, to the west with Jnanadev, Janabai and Tukaram, the north ranging from Lal Ded​ to Kabir, Mirabai and Surdas, and finally to the east, with selections from the Gita Govinda, the poetry of Chandidas, the Baul and Sakta poets, ending with Rabindranath Tagore​’s Bhanusimha (I can’t help noticing the absence of Subramania Bharati​, especially when other nationalist poetry is included).

There are the now familiar translations of A.K. Ramanujan from the Tamil and the Kannada, which retain their brevity and verve even after so many years; Velcheru Narayana Rao’s and David Shulman’s Telugu translations have also been widely read, especially the Annamayya padas from God on the Hill. Especially poignant is the evidence of the late Dilip Chitre’s huge, unpublished body of translations. His Poets of Vithoba: Anthology of Marathi Bhakti Poetry is credited as an unpublished manuscript and one can only hope it finds a publisher soon.

That Schelling had access to Chitre’s translations makes the exclusion of Mehrotra’s translations of Kabir and Hoskote’s translations of Lal Ded more inexplicable. It says something about the serendipitous nature of anthologies—even the ones that come to be considered definitive or are hugely influential in forming a canon.

An interesting and perhaps historically valuable translation is Ezra Pound’s “versions” of Kabir, which were based on Kali Mohan Ghose’s translations. This makes for an unusual experience of Kabir, not just because it comes at two removes (and perhaps more; this, as Mehrotra has demonstrated, is impossible to determine) but also because Pound doesn’t use the word “Ram” even once in his 10 “versions”.

Schelling takes care to provide a context to each poet’s life before letting us arrive at his or her work. Through these mini introductions it becomes clear that across the centuries, while spirituality may be one axis on which the complex terrain of Bhakti is mapped, politics must always be the other.

If Allama Prabhu says: “No one knows the groom/and no one knows the bride/Death falls across/the wedding/Much before the decorations fade/the bridegroom is dead/Lord, only your men/have no death” (Ramanujan), then Tuka says, “A king may not grant land to the landless/But wouldn’t he at least ensure/That his subjects get a meal?/After all a king must protect/The myth of his benevolence” (Chitre).

Basavanna lived on the cusp of a Hindu revival after centuries of Jain and Buddhist thought dominating the country; yet he set himself outside religious orthodoxies. Many of these poets were from lower castes or were completely outcast, yet found a kind of power through their poetry. Janabai says, “Jani sweeps with a broom/The Lord loads up the garbage/He carries it on His head/Throws it away in a distant dump/So much under the spell of Bhakti is He/He now performs the lowliest tasks” (Chitre).

There are poems in the existential mode, the mystic, the erotic, the bitter and wry, poems in satirical and paradoxical voice, epigrammatic poems and poems about the art of poetry (occasionally, there are startling and completely unintentional contemporary resonances, as when Surdas says, “Manmohan, what clues are you trying to erase?” (John Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer​).

An inevitable question that arises is: Who is a Bhakti poet today, when the secular occupies as much of the public space as the overtly religious? If godhead is an abstraction separate from what’s done in its name, then one could argue for the inclusion of poems from Arun Kolatkar​’s Jejuri and Sarpa Satra. This brings us back to Rexroth’s definition of “counterculture” and Schelling’s reading of Bhakti in light of this definition.

I could wish there had been a deeper exploration of the sociopolitical relationship between Sufism and Bhakti, between Bhakti poetry and Jain and Buddhist poetry (Manimekalai comes to mind) but perhaps that is a subcontinental preoccupation and not within the remit of this anthology.

In an appendix, Schelling includes some poems and quotes from more contemporary sources, among them Kshitimohan Sen discussing the Bauls: “They (the Bauls) say, all these scriptures are nothing but leftovers from ancient celebrations. What are we, dogs?—that we should lick these leftovers? If there is need, we shall make new celebrations.”

The poems in this anthology are certainly not leftovers; but they could be new celebrations of an old counterculture.

IN SIX WORDS
Poetry as the world’s perpetual revolutionary


The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature
Oxford University Press
273 pages, Rs. 695.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Food Is My Hunger

By Manzur Ejaz, *The people's poet: Baba Fareed (1173-1266)* - The Friday Times - Lahore, Pakistan; August 19-25, 2011 - Vol. XXIII, No. 27

Fareed Masood-ud-Din, also known as Baba Fareed and Shakarganj, was born in 1173 AD in a village called Kothowal near Multan where his father was a mosque imam and ran a small madrassa.

Fareed went to Multan city for higher learning in a famous madrassa. That is where he met his murshid or mentor, Bukhtiar Kaki, who was so impressed with Fareed's knowledge and disposition that he immediately accepted him as a mureed or devotee and asked him to travel the world for four-five years to gain worldly knowledge.

Fareed followed the orders of his murshid and traveled to Afghanistan, Iran and parts of central Asia. When he speaks in his poetry of wandering, we know he means it symbolically as well as literally:

With these small legs you walked through deserts and climbed hills.
But, O Fareed today to get to the earthen pot seems like miles away.


Returning from his journey, he spent some time in his native village, where he was found in tatters by visiting Sufis and scholars (they had been advised by their seniors to see him).

Eventually he moved to Jhansi and spent the next twenty years there. It is likely that his murshid advised him to go there.

In those days it was common for the heads of Sufi orders to send their brilliant devotees to go to far off places and pass on their knowledge to common people. So Baba Fareed got married in Jhansi and had a daughter who was married to another budding Sufi called Sabir Kaliar. Fareed made many friends in Jhansi who always missed him after his departure.

Later he had to move to Delhi because his murshid appointed him the head of the Chishti order (Bakhtiar Kaki himself was on his deathbed). In Delhi, for the first time in his life, Fareed met the Persian aristocracy and saw royal comforts. He got so uncomfortable here that he literally ran away to an unknown place called Ajodhan (present-day Pakpattan):

Raw and processed sugar, rare food, honey and buffalo milk...
These comedies are all sweet but they cannot assist to reach God.


According to another story, one day during his stay in Delhi, when Fareed was able to go out for a while, a poor old devotee ran to him and said that when you were in Jhansi we could catch sight of you every day but now it is impossible because these guards are all around you.

Fareed decided there and then to leave Delhi, as the story goes. Another story has it that the Persian aristocracy did not accept this boy of Multan as a head of the prestigious Chishti order, and sensing the ongoing conspiracies he left. (Fareed hints at such conditions in his poetry.)

In Pakpattan he married again; most of his offspring (four sons and three daughters) were from this wife. He married another woman whose husband, an attending devotee, expired and left her helpless. The eldest son of Baba Fareed is reported to be a step-son from this wife.

Fareed may have thought Pakpattan to be a peaceful place, far off from the conspiracies of the Delhi aristocracy, but he soon found that the life was not easy there. The city's qazi and kotwal (police commissioner) became his arch enemies and harassed his devotees and his sons.

The qazi wrote a letter to the leading authorities in Multan-the center of scholarship then-accusing Fareed of listening to music and dancing in the mosque. The scholars in Multan, however, knew Fareed and ignored the complaint. This verse depicts the pains and pressures inflicted on Fareed by rulers of Pakpattan:

Look Fareed what has happened: Sugar has become poison.
Who should we tell our pains except our spiritual Being?


Fareed did not come from the new Persian aristocratic class and never joined them like Bahaud-Din Zakria Multani who lived like royalty and was always the Delhi Court's appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam and advisor.

One of Fareed's brothers and devotee, Najib-uddin Mutawakkil, was a mere paish imam in Delhi and the third one lived a modest secluded life in Badaion. He did not promote his sons either so one of them started small farming, another joined the army, the third remained in his attendance and the fourth went to far off places in India and was murdered.

We have scant knowledge about Fareed's daughters except one, Fatima, married to his deputy. His sons always complained to him that instead of helping them he had become an obstacle in their way because of the hostility of qazi and kotwal. However, it was his great grandsons who joined the Tughlaq Court and were awarded a huge estate. Ranjeet Singh had to discuss the matter of this big estate and he decides not to interfere in it.

If Fareed had seen his descendants' greed he would have said:

They passed away building houses, castles and palaces.
After indulging in bad bargains they went to the grave
.

Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, his successor as the Chishti order's main head, spent a lot of time with Fareed in Pakpattan. He reports in his diary, Fawadul Fawaid -the most and only authentic account of Fareed's life- that the day when there was salt in boiled dailas (berries) it was Eid for the devotees and his family because everyone was supposed to eat the same langar.

Probably, the source of myths about just chewing wood for twelve years is what Aulia has described:

My bread is made of wood and my food is my hunger.
The ones who eat buttered bread will suffer the most.


Fareed's living conditions improved for some time but we do not know why or when he died; by the time of his death he was so poor that there were no bricks for his grave. As a result, the bricks of his gate were used.

It was Nizamud Din Aulia who renovated the monastery and constructed the Bahisthi Darwaza or Heaven's Gate through which millions of devotees pass every year.

Fareed was a people's man and he remained so till his death. The conditions of the people around him were extremely wretched.

Poor people of India had suffered under the yoke of the caste system for thousands of years and after Shab-ud-Din Ghauri's conquest, from the Slave Dynasty onward, slavery became common.

In every invasion the Muslim armies took most of the population as slaves and sold them in the prospering slave markets of Lahore and Ghazni. The slave markets were flooded and the price for slaves had tumbled too low.

According to Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, a fatherless child, the conditions in his home were so bad that the next meal was uncertain and yet his mother had a slave woman who ran away and his mother did not get up from her prayer mat till she returned.

The lower caste people who chose to convert to Islam were treated by the rulers like their Hindu predecessors: this is the reason that even until 1947 the Muslims of Punjab and Sindh were peasants, artisans and laborers, while business, state functions, education, etc. were controlled by the Hindu urban classes who had not felt compelled to convert.

Misery and religious hatred practiced by the rulers and other propertied classes was all around Fareed:

Some have too much of flour
and some have not an iota of salt.


Fareed deepened the Chishti order's anti-establishment philosophy in every way. He dumped Persian and adopted Punjabi, though he was a known grammatician of Persian and Arabic and people used to travel hundreds of miles to discuss linguistic issues with him. He was in one sense a predecessor of Martin Luther, who would later translate the Bible in Germany.

He refused to see kings or their men to keep his distance from the ruling elite.

Once Tughral Khan, the army chief, who ascended the throne late as Mohammad Tughlaq, was passing through Pakpattan and wanted to see him or his army men. After so many requests Baba Fareed's shirt shoulder was hanged over the wall so that the army men could come and kiss it. At the end of the day the shoulder cloth was tattered.

But despite these displays of devotion from the rich, Fareed remained pro-poor: eventually a sweeper from the army successfully barged into the monastery and said, "God has blessed you so don't be frugal about it!" Fareed rose and embraced him, saying: "It was not for people like the state functionaries."

Fareed, the creator lives in his creature,
and the creature is embodied in God.
Then whom should we condemn
where the is no one except You.


In fact it was it was Fareed who articulated the progressive direction of Sufi thought and poetry that impacted every Punjabi poet after him.

18th century poet Waris Shah paid a special tribute to him when starting his epic story of Heer, and according to many accounts had spent spent many months in secluded meditation at Fareed's shrine before he came to Malka Hans, a small town in Sahiwal, where he wrote his everlasting epic story living in a mosque.

He displayed Fareed's defiance on the mosque's use when he was narrating Ranjha's thrashing of the mullah. In the 19th century Khawaja Ghulam Fareed also followed Baba Fareed by listening to music while sitting in the mosque.

Fareed's ideology and political philosophy were secular and opposed to the nexus between the feudal state and organized religion as preached by mullahs.

His secularism in the multi-religious society of his time -Hindus and people of all religions were allowed to visit his monastery, unlike the Suharwardy order, which shunned non-Muslims- is based on negating the mullah's Sharia and establishing a direct link with the Creator without involving intermediaries. If the practice of religion is a matter between man and God, the state cannot impose anything on citizens in the name of religion.

Fareed looked upon the ruling classes' pomp and triviality as a form of degeneration. He did not overtly formulate an anti-feudal agenda in the modern sense of the world but showed the tempernious nature of life and the pain of alienation that resulted from distatancing oneself from the masses. The following verse shows this in a stunnigly beautiful way:

I have seen the mesmerizing eyes
that could not bear the slide of maskara
and then I saw the birds shitting on them.


Despite all the heartbreaking conditions around him Fareed was not whining or pessimistic. On the contrary, he viewed the world as changing and evolving. One should pay attention to the first line of his verse:

O Fareed if you have sophisticated mind
then do not portray destiny as dark.
Look into yourself [and decide]...


Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and well-known Pakistani columnist.

Picture: Fareed with disciples.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dhikr

By Ola El-Saket, *Samaa Sufi Music Festival brings music world together* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Despite being rivals in the political arena, the Indian Qawwali Group and Pakistani Rafi Peer band sang side by side, praising God at Ghouri Dome on Monday night.

The Fourth International Samaa Festival for Sufi Music and Chanting opened with the mesmerizing performance, "Homeland is Man," in which eight musical groups participated.

Inspired by the teachings of the 12th century Sufi mystic Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, “Love is my religion and faith,” Intissar Abdel-Fattah - music conductor and director of the show - invited 11 music groups from India, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, the US, Spain, Algeria, Indonesia, Norway, Sudan and Egypt to perform. A Syrian band was meant to participate, but could not make it due to the current unrest in Syria.

It might seem hard to imagine different bands performing simultaneously, building off one another with some using the Oriental quarter tone and others applying scales of five tones. Yet in "Homeland is Man," the music beats harmoniously, invoking the name of God through Sufi "Dhikr" (Remembrance).

Spiritual elevation is the underlying theme that brought hundreds of audience members - overflowing outside the historic dome - to see the different groups perform.

The American gospel choir, Voices of Inspiration - a newcomer to the festival - chanted for Jesus, while the Indonesian group "Dai Nada" praised Prophet Mohamed. Neither one used musical instruments and relied on their voices to produce musical hymns and clapping as percussion.

A member of the choir said the group usually uses electronic instruments, but decided to go acoustic for the festival. This resonates with the Sufi saying that compares a man’s vocal chords to a flute and argues that it can be more expressive than words.

This year’s festival seeks to emphasize peaceful coexistence and that humans have much more in common than they think.

Before the performance began, Hossan Nassar, of the Culture Ministry’s Foreign Culture Relations sector, announced that this year’s edition is dedicated to Sheikh Ali Mahmoud (1887 - 1946), a pioneer Sufi chanter in the Arab world, as well as Priest Ibrahim Ayad, the lead chanter of the Grand Cathedral.

Abdel Fattah also announced the beginning of the festivities, quoting ancient Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trismegistus.

"I pray in a courtyard beneath the open skies, awaiting dawn on the east side and dusk on the west, until the universe opens up before me to receive my praises to God," Abdel Fattah said.

The show was based on a musical workshop setting, as every band is led by its lead singer, who is in turn guided by Abdel Fattah.

Despite the technical difficulties in terms of lighting, the show was a big success, and Abdel Fattah hopes to hold it in the future by the pyramids in Giza.

Samaa festival continues until 25 August at Ghouri Dome, 111 Azhar Street, Ghouria, Fatimid Cairo.

Tonight’s show will include performances the Indian Qawwali Group, the American "Voices of inspiration" and the Moroccan "Sidi Kadour Alami."

In parallel to the festival, the Second Arabic Calligraphy Forum exhibit is being held.

The closing ceremony, entitled "To the world ... a message of peace,” will include performances by the Egyptian Samaa Band for Sufi Chanting, the Coptic Hymns Band, and the Indonesian Band for Islamic Chanting.

The shows starts daily at 9:30pm.

Picture by Ola El-Saket

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sachal's Message

By Staff Reporter, *Hazrat Sachal’s Urs concluding today* - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan; Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday is the concluding day of renowned Sufi saint/poet, Hazrat Sachal Sarmast’s three-day 190th annual Urs at Daraza Sharif here.

Mahfi-e-Sama, Huque Maujood Sada Maujood, Ishq-e-Mubarak and other such Sufiana programs are included among the concluding celebrations.

Sajjada Nashin of Sachal Sarmast’s Dargah Dr. Sakhi Qabool Muhammad and thousands of pilgrims from across Sindh attended the ceremonies.

The Sufi Faqirs of Sachal received applause from the pilgrims by singing the song of peace and brotherhood. The Faqirs pledged to gear up the struggle for stamping out the hates and making the Sufi thought public.

Sajjada Nashin Dr. Sakhi Qabool Muhammad urged upon the government to take measures at the governmental level for making the Sachal’s thoughts public and the research work on Sachal’s message of love and peace be widened by encouraging the scholars and academicians for this purpose.

[Sajjada_nashin]
[Huque Maujood Sada Maujood]

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Promising Nation

By AO Staff Writer, *14 Liberal, leftist and Sufi forces create electoral bloc in Egypt* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Monday, August 15, 2011

14 Liberal, leftist and Sufi forces create electoral bloc in Egypt. Bloc make clear that all parties and political forces are allowed to join their group which will focus on creating equality and social justice in the country

Fourteen political parties and groups have united to create the Egyptian Bloc, a political and electoral alliance with the purpose of creating a modern civil state in which science is considered an important element.

In a statement released by the bloc, during their inaugural conference, the group stressed that their alliance was not created to oppose any other political group and that all parties and political forces in Egypt are welcome to join.

They added that the bloc plans to run for seats in the upcoming elections with a unified candidate list, using the same slogan.

The bloc includes several prominent Egyptian parties such as the Egyptian Democratic Front Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Free Egypt Party, the Tagammu Party, the Awareness Party, the Tahrir Sufi Party, the Egyptian Communist Party as well as the Farmers Syndicate, the Popular Worker’s Union, the National Association for Change and the National Council.

The bloc also includes two members of the Wafd Party: Alaa Abdel Moneim and Mustafa El-Guindy.

The group say they believe that Egypt is a promising nation and should be established as a modern state where science takes precedence. Egypt, the group said, deserves a democracy in which all factions of society are represented from the far left to the far right, without any discrimination based on religion, race or gender.

The statement said that the bloc will focus on creating equality and social justice in Egypt so that the poor can live a decent life with education, health insurance and proper housing.

Mohamed Abul Ghar, member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party claims that the bloc was not created to oppose any political force in Egypt and that Islamists are welcome to join the party if they share the values specified by the bloc.

Osama Ghazali Harb, head of the Egyptian Democratic Front, added that Egypt is now redrawing its political map. He therefore states that it is logical for all political parties who believe that Egypt should be a civil state and who share similar views, should come together.

[Picture: Female nationalists demonstrating in Cairo - 1919. Photo: Wiki.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Body and Soul

By CUP Writer, *Sufi Bodies: Religion and Society in Medieval Islam* - Columbia University Press - New York, NY, US; August 2011

Between 1300 and 1500 C.E. a new form of Sufi Islam took hold among central Islamic peoples, joining individuals through widespread networks resembling today’s prominent paths and orders. Understanding contemporary Sufism requires a sophisticated analysis of these formative years.

Moving beyond a straight account of leaders and movements, Shahzad Bashir weaves a rich history around the depiction of bodily actions by Sufi masters and disciples, primarily in Sufi literature and Persian miniature paintings of the period.

Focusing on the Persianate societies of Iran and Central Asia, Bashir explores medieval Sufis’ conception of the human body as the primary shuttle between interior (batin) and exterior (zahir) realities.

Drawing on literary, historical, and anthropological approaches to corporeality, he studies representations of Sufi bodies in three personal and communal arenas: religious activity in the form of ritual, asceticism, rules of etiquette, and a universal hierarchy of saints; the deep imprint of Persian poetic paradigms on the articulation of love, desire, and gender; and the reputation of Sufi masters for working miracles, which empowered them in all domains of social activity.

Bashir’s novel perspective illuminates complex relationships between body and soul, body and gender, body and society, and body and cosmos. It highlights love as an overarching, powerful emotion in the making of Sufi communities and situates the body as a critical concern in Sufi thought and practice.

Bashir’s work ultimately offers a new methodology for extracting historical information from religious narratives, especially those depicting extraordinary and miraculous events.

August, 2011
Cloth, 296 pages, 23 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-231-14490-2
$50.00 / £34.50

About the Author

Shahzad Bashir is professor of religious studies at Stanford University. He is the author of Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions: The Nurbakhshiya Between Medieval and Modern Islam and Fazlallah Astarabadi and the Hurufis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Competitive rather than Cooperative

By Dr. Bader Hassan Shafei, *Islamists in Nigeria…from Sufism to Boko Haram (1-2)* - Islam Online - Doha, Qatar; August 4 / August 15, 2011

Nigeria is home to the largest Muslims population in Africa, where in a 2007 census showed that Nigeria has a population of approximately 148 million people; 50% of which are Muslims, the rest are Catholic Christians and of Indigenous beliefs.

Muslims in Nigeria

Muslims live throughout the country. However, the highest population of Muslims tend to center in Central and northern Nigeria, and the lowest Muslims population tend to be in southern Nigeria. This is perhaps natural because Islam spread in western Africa from northern Arab countries. Therefore, because Muslim merchants traded mostly with the northern part of the country, due to its close proximity, the southern part of the country was left for Christian missionaries coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Muslims in Nigeria are distributed throughout four main tribes:

· The Hausa tribe: represent the majority of Muslims in Nigeria- 80% Muslim.

· The Fulani tribe: close kin of the Hausa tribe- rarely any Christians or Pagans amongst them.

Both the Hausa and Fulani tribes are situated in central and northern Nigeria.

· The Yoruba tribe: largest tribe in Nigeria centered in south-western Nigeria- more than 60% of the tribe are Muslims.

· The Igbo tribe: centered in south-eastern Nigeria- The majority of this tribe are Christians and Pagans, although some claim to be Jewish.

This large disposition of Muslims throughout the county made Nigeria a target, whether in the colonization era, which attempted to obliterate the Muslims identity in the country, or through missionary establishments.

Christian conversion by missionaries is taking its toll in southern Nigeria, especially after the year 2000. This prompted many northern provinces (12 out of 16 provinces) to implement Sharia within their premises, while paying special adherence to non-Muslims, in an attempt to halt the missionary establishments from taking over the northern part of the county.

However, this did not stop Christian conversion in the south, inducing the rise of Islamist movements in the south.

Despite these advantages Nigeria is enjoying and this large Muslim population, it seems that this population is not put into practical use; the reason why a series of Christian presidents ruled the country. In fact, some Sufi leaders even backed Christian nominees against their Muslim opponents, because for them, a Christian president is always better than a Sunni president!

The Muslim map of Nigeria is split into two; a Sunni movement and a Shia movement. The Sunni movement is split into three categories; Sufi, Wahhabi, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sufism in Nigeria

Sufism is generally predominant in West African countries, not just in Nigeria. This is perhaps because Islam was spread to those countries through merchants, not scholars. The majority of those merchants belonged to the Sufi sect.

The most prominent Sufi orders are the Qadiriyya order founded by Sheikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani and the Tijaniyya order founded by Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani.

The Qadiriyya order

The Qadiriyya order is founded by Sheikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani. This order spread tremendously throughout the north, especially after Usman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809, a religious teacher, writer and Islamic promoter, adopted this order.

Usman dan Fodio jointed between Sufism and Jihad to liberate northern Nigeria from the rule of Pagan leaders. Therefore, Sufism for him was both an ideology and a practical way to implement political change and reform.

It should be mentioned that dan Fodio had a moderate ideology. He did not display Sufism as his way of thinking, but he did mention it while speaking about Islamic conduct.

His reform strategy was based on the existence of a socio-political revolution program that would take the place of the former regime. He also stressed the importance of Jihad in establishing an Islamic state.

The Wahhabi movement

This movement originally emerged to combat the spread of Sufism, mainly the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya orders, in the northern part of the country. As a result, because Sufism spread prior to Wahhabism, Wahhabis in Nigeria to this day are not very well accepted, especially in the north.

Sheikh Abubakar Gumi was the founder of the Wahhabi movement, combating Sufism in Nigeria. His close relationship with Saudi Arabia was the aspect that influenced his ideology and provided him with support in spreading Wahhabism and combating Sufism in Nigeria.

It should be noted that Wahhabism is not a single trend, and is in fact multiple trends sharing the same ideology. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, it does not possess a single organizing body.

Wahhabism did not only attempt to combat Sufism, but the Shia sect as well, mainly the Imami and Ithna Ashariyyah sects.

Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that the Wahhabi movement does not give much consideration to political aspects, such as establishing an Islamic state, as it does to implementing the pure form of Islam and abandoning innovation. Therefore, it does not have any confrontations with the regime; its main confrontation is with Sufism.

To recapitulate, the first article of “Islamists in Nigeria…from Sufism to Boko Haram” mapped out Islam in Nigeria in general, and tackled Sufism and Salafism in particular. This article will now take on the existence of the Muslims Brotherhood, Shiites, and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood in Nigeria was established before Nigeria’s British independence by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ilory, who met with Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna—founder of the Muslim Brotherhood—in the 1940’s while studying at Al-Azhar University. Its ideologies were wider spread during the 50’s and 60’s when some of the Muslim Brotherhood members from Egypt made their way to Nigeria during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime.

During the 80’s and 90’s the Muslim Brotherhood established organized groups, yet each independent from the other, in all 36 states in the country. This lasted until 1995. Following that period, members of the Muslim Brotherhood who came from Egypt coordinated between the groups in all states and brought them all together under one umbrella.

The Muslim Brotherhood tends to be more prominent in northern and southern states, unlike the eastern states where indigenous beliefs tend to be more vital.

The Brotherhood in Nigeria carries moderate ideologies. It also attempts to bring Islamist movements together in order to confront missionary efforts.

Shiites

Shiites gradually seeped into Nigeria due to the Sufi and Salafi resentment of their ideology. In the beginning, they attempted to associate themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood by dissociating themselves from their Imamate beliefs and associating themselves with the Sunnis. To the point where some media sources would have difficulties differentiating between Shiites and the Muslim Brotherhood.

This however did not last very long. With the success of the Iranian revolution in 1979, Shiites formed a strong bond with Iran. With this strong support, they unveiled their true ideologies and began advocating it.

During the early 1980’s Shiites formed the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in the northern region of the country headed by Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was trained by Iran to encourage youth protests.

Leaders of this group tend to be higher educated youth. The purpose of this is to nurture an Islamic society that would lead to the establishment of an Islamic state based on the Iranian model.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria demands the establishment of a fully Islamic constitution based on that of Iran. Due to this, the group is in a constant clash with the government, unlike the other Islamist groups in the country. Shiites also tend to clash with other Islamist groups, mainly Salafism, in areas they dominate.

Clearly, Nigeria is a multi-Islamist group society. However, due to ideological, internal and external factors, the relationship between these groups is classified as competitive rather than cooperative.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, who was born in Girgir village, in Yobe State. In 1999 —the year Olusegun Obasanjo, Christian president, came into power— Yusuf began to spread his ideologies, gaining some popularity by the year 2002.

In 2004, he announced the founding of ‘Afghanistan’ headquarters in Yobe. The name ‘Afghanistan’ was in inspiration of forming an Islamic ‘princedom’ in Nigeria in tune with that established by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This in turn led many media sources to dub Boko Haram the Taliban of Nigeria.

Soon after, the group announced its armed defiance of the government. Inspired by the idea of Takfir wal-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus), members of the group also isolated themselves from the ‘sinful’ general public.

The group, which took over the northern part of the country, began using armed insurgency to impose Islamic Sharia in the country. Due to the armed confrontations with the government in all 36 Nigerian states, the government took advantage of this situation to massacre members of this group without undergoing trials, amongst which is Mohammed Yusuf himself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Importance of Unity

By Mohammed Jamjoom, *Tahrir protesters call for civil state, end to military rule* - CNN Middle East - USA; Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cairo: A few hundred protesters gathered Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, calling for a civil state and an end to military rule.

The rally began after iftar, the evening meal that marks the breaking of the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and was organized by Egyptian activists, political groups and a few of the country's Sufi orders.

It was a protest meant not only to highlight the importance of unity, but also to contrast the message of a massive demonstration that took place in the same location in late July -one that had brought out tens of thousands of Islamists demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Egypt.

During Friday's rally, many participants chanted slogans such as, "No terrorism, no sectarianism, Egypt is a civil state," "Peaceful, peaceful", and "Down with military rule."

Egyptian Sufi leader Alaa Eddin Abu el-Azayem, who addressed the crowd later in the evening, told his audience, "An Egyptian civil state is the only choice for Egypt." Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam.

Brief clashes broke out earlier between protesters and security forces -- at one point both sides were throwing rocks and bottles at one another. Calm was restored a few moments later.

Last Friday, a non-violent protest in Tahrir Square quickly turned chaotic, as the demonstrators were chased by military through surrounding streets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Something Greater

By Esra Basbaydar, *Peter Sanders: The art of integration* - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey; Sunday, August 14, 2011

London: Renowned Sufi Sheikh Abdal Qadir Al-Jilani once said, “Reflect on the work of art and you may come to know the artist.” Indeed, such is the case with celebrated artist and photographer Peter Sanders.

Having undertaken extensive travels throughout his life, Sanders is no doubt the quintessential artist in search of something greater and more beautiful. His life has certainly been an extended journey in search of beauty and refinement.

Although Rumi once reflected: “I am not hidden in what is high or low, nor in the earth nor skies nor throne. This is certainty, O beloved: I am hidden in the heart of the faithful. If you seek me, seek in these hearts,” surely the sensation of living, experiencing and breathing different people, cultures and traditions no doubt grants a renewed life and energy for the artist and provides them with their much-needed inspiration.

Sanders’ extensive travels have also allowed him to develop himself, gaining a better understanding of different societies, traditions and cultures. Indeed, Sanders’ work intends to capture a “moment” in time and to then reflect and unravel the story behind the silence. Before we delve into the art, however, let’s explore the man behind the work.

In his early career, Sanders began photographing famed bands and musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, The Rolling Stones and many others. Whilst working as a photographer, Sanders says he “did not feel the passion to carry on taking those kinds of photos any longer.”

This belief led Sanders on a journey in search of enlightenment and fulfillment, and so his first stop was India in search for a religious leader. Sanders expounds that many “Westerners” looked towards the East at the time because there was a yearning for “something spiritual which had been neglected by Western societies with the rise of materialism and capitalism in the ‘50s.”

His journey through India, although providing him with the spiritual leader he so desired, still left him unfulfilled, he states. It was only later, during his extensive travels through Muslim-dominated countries, that Sanders embraced the religion of Islam. He reflects that he was one of the few and fortunate photographers to have been given permission to photograph the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. The images were subsequently used by several established British papers.

Sanders’ photography is a portrayal and exploration of integration. For Sanders, British society has overcome the so-called problems surrounding “multiculturalism” and is a fully integrated society with its different religions, cultures and traditions.

“The Art of Integration,” one of Sanders’ most acclaimed works, explores his belief that religion, race and gender are no longer controversial or cause for conflict. For Sanders, people have successfully integrated into society.

Yet Sanders has often been asked if he, as a photographer, only portrays that which is “beautiful,” as opposed to the often harsh realities of life.

For Sanders, however, there is “no desire to show the brutality of situations.” He adds, “I have had many friends doing that sort of photography, and they were affected badly by what they saw.”

He refers to the case of renowned photographer Kevin Carter, who, shortly after winning the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his now famous “Vulture and the Child,” took his own life. While there were various reasons for Carter’s eventual suicide, Sanders points out that the moment at which he captured the vulture and the child was an eventual trigger for Carter to take his own life. “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain. ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners,” read Carter’s suicide note.

“Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. … they leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” insisted Sol LeWitt, famed American artist.

Indeed, this may be a reflection of Sanders and his work. Although the notion originally refers to conceptual art, photography is also an art form. Pictured, framed and exhibited; this medium of art offers a story within its framed borders. For Sanders, the splendors he has captured across the world are but a reflection of the monotheistic and all-present God.

In conversation with Sanders, one realizes that far from aiming to cause controversy with his work, Sanders hopes to attain peace, both spiritually and physically. He is continuously on a path of purity and refinement. In the words of English poet John Milton, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Sanders’ photograph from his travels to Senegal of the two children by the shore is effortlessly beautiful and ethereal and captures a world of conscious evaluation of different societies. Indeed, Sanders brings to mind the famous lines of Lord Byron, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture on the lonely shore, there is society, where none intrudes.”

As our conversation with Sanders draws to an end we discuss his future projects and what we can hope to see from him.

His most recent project, “The Meeting of the Mountains,” is a collection of photographs taken over the last 40 years and will be unveiled to the public shortly. The project will include photographs of Islamic scholars, academics and sheikhs who have played a significant role in the 21st century.

He is also in the process of gathering an archive of images and footage under the single banner of “Islamic images,” which can be used by a wide range of people interested in the material.

When asked about his future plans, Sanders notes that he would like to delve into filmmaking. For Sanders, although photography is an “individual experience,” film is in fact a “collective vision” for a wider audience. He cites Jane Campion and Godfrey Reggio amongst his cinematic inspirations. Reggio, who has “created poetic images of extraordinary emotional impact for audiences worldwide,” is no doubt a model for Sanders and his future work in the world of cinema.

Finally, we quiz Sanders about current affairs and his views on the various happenings around the world, Sanders returns to us with his most beloved Bob Dylan track, “Masters of War.”

[Visit Peter Sanders Website]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Sense of Peace

By Georgina Maddox, *Sufi Stories Under Red Sky* - Indian Express - India; Friday, August 12, 2011

Manjit Bawa’s canvases come out of his daughter’s private collection for a rare viewing

Almost three years after he died, artist Manjit Bawa will finally have a long overdue solo exhibition with Vadehra Art Gallery, which he considered his second home. From August 20, works from the private collection of Bawa’s daughter, Bhavna Bawa, will be on display at the India Habitat Centre.

The show, organised by Vadehra, has been titled “Let’s Paint the Sky Red”. It will move to Vadehra Art Gallery’s Defence Colony centre in September.

“This year, he would have turned 70 and I wanted to commemorate this with an exhibition. I wanted to work with a gallery that knew his work well,” says Bhavna.

Bawa was known as the Sufi among artists and his works were culled from a mixture of High Modernism and earthy folklore.

“He always had interesting stories from the oral traditions of Indian mythology and Bulleh Shah. He was a firm believer in the Sufi tradition and even his violent works have a sense of peace,” says Arun Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery.

He recalls how Bawa frequented the gallery ever since it opened in 1987.

“Although we never had his solo, he did participate in a lot of group shows. The truth is that, at that time, we had our hands full with artists such as MF Husain, Ram Kumar and SH Raza,” says Vadehra.

Bawa has had several solos, including important ones at Sakshi Art Gallery in Mumbai.

[Picture: Manjit Bawa, Lets Paint The Sky Red. Photo: Vadehra Art Gallery.]

Saturday, August 13, 2011

With a Firm Belief

By TNI Correspondent, *‘Spiritual personalities can inspire nation’* - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan; Monday, August 7, 2011

Lahore: The Mir Khalilur Rahman Memorial Society (Jang Group of Newspapers) organised a seminar Islam: Sufism and Dua in connection with 25th Urs of Hazrat Syed Yaqoob Ali Shah (RA) at the auditorium of Allama Iqbal Medical College here on Sunday.

Former Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Syed Samsam Ali Bokhari presided over the seminar while Syed Sarfraz A Shah, Syed Bilal Chishti from Ajmer, India, AIMC Principal Prof Dr Javed Akram, Allama Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer and others also spoke.

Syed Samsam said there was need of taking inspiration from spiritual personalities in the prevailing circumstances and spiritual gatherings always proved beneficial in this regard. He said self-accountability was very important to ensure constructive activities for betterment of the society.

He said no-one could rule a heart with a sword, however, it was possible with love and care.

Syed Sarfraz said Dua helped remove uneasiness within one's self and one must fully concentrate while changing the words of Dua each time. He said no-one knew human psychology better than Allah. He also said Sufis and spiritual personalities never prayed for vested interest as they always prayed in best interest of people.

Justice (r) Nazeer Akhtar said reforming intention was very important and it could be achieved by acting upon the best practices. He said Dua was the treasure of religious obligations and the act of Dua was highly liked by Allah.

Maulana Fazalul Rahim of Jamia Ashrafia said the prevailing circumstances of the country demanded people make special Dua for its survival. He said one should bow before Allah while keeping in view that one was being watched by Him.

MKRMS Chairman Wasif Nagi said Dua should be made with a firm belief that it would be accepted by Allah. Ibtisam said Dua (prayer) made with pure intention was always accepted. Prof Dr Javed Akram also talked about importance of Dua.

The speakers paid glowing tributes to Hazrat Syed Yaqoob Ali Shah (RA) and shed light on his life. Syed Bilal Chishti led Dua in the end and also prayed for peace in Pakistan and India.

The seminar was attended by a large number of people from different walks of life, including Punjab University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran and renowned actor Ahsan Khan. Kashan Haider assisted the seminar proceedings.

[Picture: Allama Iqbal Medical College.]

Friday, August 12, 2011

“In the Love of Egypt”

By Staff Writer, *Egypt's Sufis, joined by Copts, call for a million-man march on Friday the 12th* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sufi leaders along with ten political parties as well as Coptic, liberal and secular groups are planning to stage a million-man protest in Tahrir square on Friday, 12 August

The leaders of eight Sufi sects have formed an organisational committee to prepare for the protest, which will be held under the theme “In the love of Egypt”.

The purpose of the protest is to reinforce national unity between Muslims and Copts, challenge Salafist and Wahhabi thought, and promote the civil state, according to Alaa Aboul Azayem, founder of the Al-Tahrir political party and leader of Azmiya Sufi sect.

Abdel Galil Mostafa, another member of the committee, said that one goal of the demonstration is to form political blocks to prepare for the upcoming elections.

Aboul Azayem was quoted by several publications critiquing Salafists who staged a massive protest last Friday, describing their school of thought as alien to Egyptian culture. He also criticised raising the Saudi flag during their protest in Tahrir as unpatriotic.

The Sufi protest is scheduled to commence after the Friday prayers and extend through the early hours of Saturday as protesters plan to have Suhour in the square. Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy, an acclaimed Sufi chanter, will give a performance until the dawn prayers.

Picture: Egyptians dance to the music of a Sufi singer as they celebrate the birthday of Sayida Zeinab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, near her shrine in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.

Calls Rejected

By Staff Reporter, *Sufis and Salafis refuse call for Friday of solidarity with Arab uprisings* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sufi and Salafi movements announced Thursday their refusal to attend the protest planned for Friday next week to show solidarity with other Arabs protesting against oppressive regimes.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called on its supporters in Egypt and other countries to show solidarity with Arabs demonstrating across the region, the Middle East News Agency reported Thursday.

Jama’a al-Islamiya, though, announced that it will take part in the protest, noting that its participation will not be as strong as in last Friday’s protest.

The Salafi Nour Party spokesperson Mohamed Yousry said the party will not participate in the protest, and will instead hold a conference to discuss means to help other Arab revolutionaries.

Khaled Saeed, spokesperson for the Salafi Front, also said that the party will not take part in the protest.

The party will not take part in any protests until the end of Ramadan in order to help restore stability to the country, said Adel Afify, chairman of Asala Salafi Party. He added that support for Arab revolutions should be through providing aid, rather than staging protests.

Sheikh Mohamed Aboul Azayem, the founder of Al-Tahrir Al-Masry Sufi Party, also rejected calls for next Friday's protest. He accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to play a bigger role than it actually could, by calling on Arabs in other countries to take to the streets.

Jama'a al-Islamiya spokesperson Asem Abdel Maged said his group will participate in the protest because Arab affairs are one of the group's top priorities.

We are deeply concerned with the massacres in Syria, Libya and Yemen, he emphasized.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Sanctity of Work

By Tim Judah, *Senegal's Mourides: Islam's mystical entrepreneurs* - BBC Africa - Uk/Africa; Thursday, August 4, 2011

Many of the street vendors commonly seen in Italy, France and Spain selling sunglasses, bags and souvenirs are members of a highly industrious, entrepreneurial branch of Sufi Islam, which has its roots in Senegal.

At the entrance to Touba, Senegal's second-largest city, is a gateway arching over the road under which a sign urges visitors to respect the orders of the local Islamic leader and to not smoke.

Touba, a four-hour drive east of the Senegalese capital Dakar, is the spiritual home of the Mouride Brotherhood, a branch of Islam which holds the sanctity of work as one of its core beliefs. Perhaps this explains why the city is covered in adverts for international banks and money transfer services.

I am taken on a tour of Touba's great mosque by Cheikh Sene, a Mouride scholar from nearby Bambey University.

In a quiet corner of the mosque men sit chatting, while in a nearby room younger men are busy, hunched over computers working on the mosque's website.

A constant stream of people come to the mosque to pay homage at the tomb of Amadou Bamba - a Sufi mystic and founder of the Mouride Brotherhood.

For true believers, says Mr Sene, the path laid down by Bamba is nothing short of "the real practice of Islam". It is also a path of which many other Muslims in the world strongly disapprove.

"They think we are nothing," says Mr Sene, referring to many Arab Muslims, whom he says have done much to rid their own countries and east Africa of Sufi traditions.

"They think we are crazy. They think they are superior."

However, without a flicker of a doubt, he adds that if they come to Touba, "they will be dazzled by the light of Amadou Bamba".

Saint-like status

Following his death in 1927, Amadou Bamba was buried in the then small settlement of Touba, which he founded in 1887.

Today, Bamba has achieved saint-like status among his followers, and the great mosque, with four towering minarets and a green dome over his mausoleum, has grown and grown.

It can accommodate more than 7,000 people for Friday prayers, and is constantly being improved. When I visited, crates containing air conditioning units sat ready to be unpacked, the gift of a wealthy follower.

Replacement marble slabs, which are cooler on the feet in the heat, were also being laid.

Like the mosque, Touba itself has grown exponentially. Hot and dusty, it is now Senegal's second city, with an estimated population of one million.

But this can double during the Mouride festival of the Grand Magal, which is held early every year, and which can bring more than a million visiting pilgrims on to the streets.

Amadou Bamba's vision of Islam was one which has at its very core the precepts of non-violence and hard work.

Since his death, Touba and the Mouride Brotherhood have been controlled by Bamba's sons, and grandsons, several of whom have held the position of Caliph - the spiritual head of the order.

Out of a population of some 14 million, there are thought to be anything between three and five million Mourides in Senegal.

Famous followers

They include the humblest of peasants to Senegal's now somewhat beleaguered president, Abdoulaye Wade, who has recently faced intense criticism amid recent protests against proposed changes to the constitution.

Perhaps the best-known follower of Mouridism is the musician Youssou N'Dour.

When I met him in the television station he owns in Dakar, he talked about his 2004 Grammy award-winning album Egypt, which celebrated Amadou Bamba and Mouridism.

He argues Mouridism is a counter to the post-9/11 stereotype of Muslims. "In the West, you read all about terrorism... we're all lumped together. But those of us who understand that it's a religion of peace, love and sharing mustn't give up.

"Mouridism is for me two paths - one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don't work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity."

Amadou Bamba was exiled by the French, the colonial power in Senegal during his lifetime. So as well as preaching the virtues of hard work, N'Dour says Bamba inspired his followers to travel.

Of course, like other migrants from poor countries, many Senegalese go abroad because they are looking for work and because they want to send money home to their families, but Mourides have an additional spiritual motivation.

Abroad and at home, Mouridism not only preaches self-help, but also the responsibility to look after others within the Brotherhood.

One of the things that distinguishes Sufism from other branches of Islam is the role of spiritual guides, known in Senegal as marabouts.

These marabouts help their followers make business deals and introduce their followers to important contacts.

After fighting through the choking traffic on the outskirts of Senegal's capital, Dakar, I visit Oumar Fall, the commercial director of Diprom, a major oil and gas firm.

It owns a chain of petrol stations called Touba Oil, whose logo is an image of the tallest minaret of Bamba's mosque.

He tells me that the firm has done well with contacts made through marabouts. Marabouts will even help negotiate and settle disputes, he says.

And if a business deal is successful, a marabout can expect financial compensation, and followers will usually donate money to the Brotherhood.

Political clout

Ninety five per cent of Senegal's population is Muslim, and the vast majority belong to one Sufi brotherhood or another.

Mouridism is the youngest, and said to be the most dynamic, not least because it is organised in a strict pyramid structure headed by the Caliph.

The structures of the others are far more dispersed and thus arguably weaker.

Another reason for the popularity of Mouridism is that it is the only brotherhood founded by a Senegalese. The image of Amadou Bamba is everywhere in Senegal, plastered on car and bus windscreens, in shops and carried in charms around people's necks. Giant portraits of him loom out at you from painted city walls.

But, says Latir Mane, the political editor of L'Observateur, a newspaper owned by Youssou N'dour, many non-Mourides chafe at what they see as the overweening economic and political power of the Mourides.

All politicians he says, even non-Mourides, look for endorsement from Touba because they want Mouride votes.

"Nowadays religion is deeply immersed in politics," he says.

If the Caliph issues an ndigel, or order, all Mourides are bound to follow, says Mr Mane, which gives the Caliph significant political clout.

However, he says, the fact that there are now so many Mourides, whose political interests are not all the same, means that the Caliph's power is less than it would have been in years gone by.

Still, with an aura of success about it, Mouridism is a growing movement and now says Mr Mane, many are joining, not because they believe in it as such, but because they see it as good way to get ahead in life.

Who is Amadou Bamba?

Amadou Bamba was born in Baol, in central Senegal, in 1853. A renowned poet, mystic, and prayer leader, he founded the Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. He was renowned for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are famous for their industriousness. Bamba led a peaceful struggle against French colonialism.

As his popularity grew, the French government sentenced Bamba to exile in Gabon and later in Mauritania. By 1910, the French recognised he was not a threat, and he was released. In 1918, he won the French Legion of Honour for enlisting his followers in World War I. He died in 1927.

Today, followers donate earnings to the Mouride Brotherhood, who in turn provide social services and business loans. This is the only surviving photo of Amadou Bamba. His image adorns buildings, buses and taxis all over Senegal.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the Freewheeling Days
No comments:
By Madhusree Chatterjee, *'Sufis of Punjab' - Building bridges across borders* - IANS/Two Circles Net - Boston, MA, USA; Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book: "The Sufis of Punjab"; Edited by Muzaffar Ali, Anoo C. Nayar and Syeda Bilgrami Imam, Publisher: Rumi Foundation, Price: Rs.1,895, Pages: 208

The birth of the Punjabi literary tradition is built into Sufi mysticism, which dates back to the birth of Shaikh Faridu'd-Din, popularly known as Baba Farid, in the late 12th century.

For the last 800 years, Punjab has prided itself on a spiritual culture that believes in open worship, relying on the "holy book" and the core tenets of Sufism, secularism being its primary plank.

The anthology of essays, "The Sufis of Punjab", traces the evolution of Sufi mysticism in the state in the context of its assimilation from local cultures, references to Sufism in the Granth Sahib and how the Sufi literature conected to the local people with concepts of love, secularism, universality, music, freedom of spirit and one god.

The hefty volume, which released Sunday, is visually opulent. It uses a combination of graphics, line sketches, illustrations, hand-painted portraits, calligraphy , sonnets and photographs arranged on a muted colourscape of beige, brown, black and red.

The volume is engaging and lucid with a festive feel that harks back to the freewheeling days of the early Sufi period when life in the northwestern frontier bustled around shrines and celebrations of faith.

The pages are leaves out of history; embellished with unusual anecdotes and facts linking Sufism to Sikhism. For beginners in the study of religion, the book comes across as a page-turner.

The editors say the book tries to build bridges across the border by highlighting a greater Sufi literary lineage that went beyond geographical boundaries of Pakistan and India.

Sufi mystics and poets then shared common home, stories and music.

Since the early Punjabi poetry was spiritual in nature - it allowed Baba Farid's profound poetics to flower. In the 14th century, Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikh religion, distilled the Sufi, Nath and Bhakti traditions - three religious genres that influenced Punjab's spiritual tradition - in his divine verses. Nanak even laid down the 'raag (melody)' in which each of these verses were to be sung. The songs came to be identified as "kirtan"- a pioneering avatar of devotional music.

The book is one of the four volumes published by Rumi Foundation. The first one documents the legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrau while the second commemorates the 800th anniversary of Jalaluddin Rumi. The third tome, "Sufi & Rishis of Kashmir", is a tribute to the secular Sufi poets of J&K.

"Punjab has been a vital gateway to this enormous sub-continent. It has opened minds to create 'seekers of truth', of those who came in and those who went out," said filmmaker and Sufi revivalist Muzaffar Ali, chief editor of the book.

"Sikhism has gained from Sufism, an older faith. A lot of Guru Granth Sahib has Baba Farid in it," Ali told IANS.

One of the best examples was Sufi mystic Hazrat Mian Mir, who was invited by Arjan Dev to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Arjan Dev sent a palanquin and a posse of 100 followers to fetch Mian Mir to Amritsar from Lahore.

The convoy was attacked by local king Chandu Mal, but Mian Mir escaped. He laid the foundation of the Golden Temple Jan 3, 1588.

It was also around that time that "qissa-poetry", the ballad poems of Islamic-Punjabi, became popular among both Sufi story-tellers and the Gurmukhi musicians, who believed in "ishq (love)" both in life and in commune with God.

Love was the central theme immortalised in legendary ballads such as "Hir Siyal" -- the tale of the rebellious Punjabi love born in 1425 AD.

Muzaffar Ali has just completed work on the subsequent volume - "The Sufis of Awadh" -- which will be published by the end of this year.

"Like Kashmiri Sufi mystics, who were influenced by Shaivism, the Sufi poets of Awadh were inspired by Krishna-Bhakti. The 'Sufis of Awadh' will be published by the end of this year. It will be followed by the 'Sufi Saints of Bengal'," Ali said.
Read More

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Heart-warming
No comments:
By Rauf Parekh, *Urdu, mysticism and Japanese scholars* - Dawn.Com - Karachi, Pakistan; Monday, August 29, 2011

Last week was not particularly a very pleasant one for Karachi and Karachiites as the fallout of the recent disturbances in the city continued in one way or the other. However, some Japanese scholars and their students dared it out and landed in the city to gather some material for their ongoing research projects.

The visitors included three scholars, two from the Kyoto University and one from the Osaka University. And accompanying them was a PhD student from the Kyoto University and a research student from the Osaka University. It was nice to see that both the young students were very keen to learn more and more about Urdu language and Pakistani culture.

Talking to them — amidst the rare books and manuscripts they were poring over at Prof Dr Moinuddin Aqeel’s huge personal library — was an enlightening experience. Discussions with them on several topics continued as this writer rejoined them later in the evening at an Iftar dinner writer Muhammad Hamza Farooqi had arranged in their honour.

It was a pleasant surprise to know that it is considered quite normal in Japan for a scholar to know several languages and one can expect a Japanese scholar to know as many as ten languages. For instance, one of the visitors, Dr Tonaga Yasushi, a professor of the Study of the Islamic World and the deputy director of the Centre for Islamic Area Studies at the Kyoto University, knows Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, German and Italian, not to mention English and his native Japanese.

In addition to Islamic Studies, he is an expert on the history, cultures and languages of the Islamic world. Another area of study that fascinates him is mysticism and Sufism. When asked how he became interested in Islamic mysticism, he said that he was keenly interested in mysticism since his childhood. Later, he studied Chinese mysticism, Taoism and Sufism and graduated in Islamic Studies from Tokyo University. Here he met and was deeply impressed by Prof Toshihiko Izutsu, an expert on Islamic Studies who had profoundly studied Imam Ghazali’s philosophies and the aspects of Islamic mysticism. Prof Izutsu later supervised his PhD thesis.

Born in 1960 in Japan’s Mie prefecture, considered cradle of Shintoism, Prof Tonaga went to Egypt for higher studies and also carried out research on Ibn-i-Arabi’s theories on Islamic mysticism and ‘tariqat’. His works include a research on ‘Tariqah Movement’. He feels there are many aspects of Islamic Sufism that must be brought before the Japanese people as tolerance is one of the virtues and lures of Sufism. An interesting aspect of Prof Tonaga’s research is that he did not confine himself to sheer academic interest in Sufism and learned different ways of meditation. He practised Islamic Sufism while in Egypt and wanted to be admitted into a ‘silsila’ (order of Sufis).

One of Dr Tonaga’s recent research works is a bibliography of the books written on Ibn-i-Arabi all over the world.

Prof Dr Imamatsu Yasushi is another scholar who has a deep interest in Islamic mysticism. A visiting professor at the Centre for Islamic Area Studies at Kyoto University, he is also an expert on Turkey, its culture, language and history.

Born in Osaka in 1963, he received his early education in Kobe and graduated in Oriental History from Kobe University. Later, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the same university.

Prof Imamtsu had come to Pakistan some 11 years ago and during his first visit he had been to many Sufi shrines, comparing them with the shrines in Turkey.

Prof Yamane So is not a stranger to Pakistan neither is Pakistan an strange country to him. In fact, we can call him half-a-Pakistani as his impeccable Urdu and fluent Punjabi with a barely traceable Japanese accent make him appear quite at home in Pakistan. A very jolly and vivacious character, Prof Yamane got his diploma in Urdu from the Punjab University Oriental College and MA in Urdu from Osaka University in 1989.

His frequent visits and stay in Pakistan for many years has perfected his Urdu, so much so that he not only appreciates Urdu maxims and the nuances of Urdu idioms but can also enjoy Urdu’s latest slangy expressions and informal parlance. As a result of his huge reading and a deep love for poetry, he composes beautiful Urdu poetry under the penname of ‘Yasir’ and can discuss with you Urdu’s meters and prosody, a rarity even among many native scholars of Urdu.

His dissertation on Urdu short story writer Ghulam Abbas has been published and a mention of his works on Urdu would require a long list. His recent works include some research on Urdu orthography and Urdu script. Another work of his is the first volume on the Islamic history of South Asia, published in a series in the Japanese language, aimed at presenting the history of Islam for common Japanese readers.

Sunaga Emiko is a PhD candidate and a research fellow at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University. Having graduated in Urdu from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she is here to collect some research material for her doctoral dissertation that aims at discovering the impact of print media on Islam in South Asia.

Meeting these Japanese brimming with academic spirit was very refreshing as equally heart-warming was their love and appreciation for all things Pakistani.

[Picture: Karachi with the Mazar-e-Quaid (Jinnah's Shrine). Photo: Wiki.]
Read More

Monday, August 29, 2011

Afghanistan Needs a Balance
1 comment:
By Iason Athanasiadis, *Afghanistan: Sufi Mysticism Makes a Comeback in Kabul* Eurasianet.org - Open Society Institute, New York, NY, USA; Friday, August 26, 2011

In a garden in Kabul’s Karte-Seh district, a group of Sufi musicians and poets gather for an evening of mystical melodies. Platters of rice pilau and fruit cover carpets spread across the lawn. This twice-weekly meeting is held at the home of a member of the ancient Chishti Sufi order who gathers together an all-male crème de la crème of Kabul’s Sufi society. Television preachers, renowned qawwali singers and prominent politicians with clandestine Sufi proclivities all flock to the garden to sample the ecstatic music.

Sufism is an ascetic spiritual tradition pioneered by Islam’s early warriors, who pushed outwards from the Arabian Peninsula into Central Asia and lived in all-male bands on the frontiers of the young empire. As they traveled, they adopted local traditions, even some that seemed to go against the mainstream tenants of Islam, including music. The Chishti blended qawwali music, a devotional melody that developed in south Asia, with the Persian whirling dervish dances, and acquired a reputation for being the most musical Sufi order.

As a result, they suffered more than other Afghan Sufis during the rule of the Taliban, who banned music and discouraged the gatherings. Whereas Sufi orders and pilgrimages to the shrines of mystics were long an integral part of Afghan devotional traditions, the Taliban’s harshly orthodox interpretation of Islam banned creative outlets, locking Afghan society into a half decade of spiritual austerity. Recently, Sufism has been on the defense in neighboring Pakistan, where local fundamentalists have killed hundreds in attacks on Sufi shrines.

Lutfullah Haqqparast was one of the few Sufi sheikhs who refused to submit to the Taliban’s restrictions on Sufism. The preacher – a suit-and-tie-wearing sociologist at a Kabul University who dons a white turban and green robe when officiating Sufi gatherings – was arrested for not caving to Taliban demands to stop his followers’ chanting. But when the Taliban tried to transfer him from Kabul to Kandahar, according to legend, there was such an outcry from religious elders that Haqqparast was released.

Today Haqqparast says Afghanistan needs a balance between Sufism’s mystical passion and the western rationality he teaches. “This traditional society needs Sufis to show it a more open-minded path but also the West to teach it logic,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Haqqparast attends zikrs – devotional Sufi gatherings that often turn ecstatic – at Kabul’s historic Shah-Do Shamshira mosque, a stately yellow building topped by twin navy-blue minarets.

Worship at the shrine is precarious, though. On June 17, for example, suicide bombers targeted a police station in the area and a gun battle raged for hours nearby – another reminder of how confident the Taliban are becoming.

The Afghan government, too, is feeling the pressure. To that end, President Hamid Karzai pays greater reverence to the Ulema Shura (Council of Clerics) whose orthodox Muslim views are often opposed to women’s rights, free speech or mystical Islam. On the other hand, Minister of Information and Culture Sayeed Makhdoom Raheem seeks to use Sufism as a moderating force against the Taliban even as he pressures Sufis to tone down their theatrical devotions ahead of reconciliation talks.

“Raheem is reviving Sufism and restoring khaneqahs [lodges] that encourage mysticism exactly because he believes that it can act as a tool to stop political Islam and the Taliban,” said Nasir Farahmand, a Kabul-based professor of philosophy who is an avowed secularist.

After taking in the qawwali music, Haqqparast gets up and, escorted by a group of disciples, heads to his modest car. A supporter drives him through old Kabul’s twisting lanes to Sufism’s less-effete face.

At the entrance to a charity home, disabled Sufis bedecked with necklaces and hennaed beards cluster around a gate opening onto what was once a basement jail. Amid clouds of hashish smoke, semiconscious men loll against the metal bars of former cells. Others file upstairs into a makeshift temple of interconnected rooms. It is nearly 3 a.m., but the floor is packed with ecstatic dervishes listening to musicians on a raised dais.

Iason Athanasiadis is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist.

Click on the title to the video in the original article.

[Picture: Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque (built 1920). Photo: Wiki. More images of the Mosque at Asian Historical Architecture.]
Read More

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happiness and Sadness
No comments:
By Abdul Sattar, *Alam Lohar a trendsetter in folklore* - The Nation - Pakistan; Thursday, August 25, 2011

Muhammad Alam Lohar was a prominent Punjabi folk music singer of Pakistan. He died in 1979 in an accident. He is also credited with popularising the term and song Jugni.

Alam Lohar was born in the small village of Aach Goach in Gujrat district, in Punjab in a family of blacksmiths. He was gifted with a melodious voice and began singing as a child.

He developed a new style of singing the Punjabi Vaar, an epic or folk tale. He is famous for his rendition of Waris Shah’s Heer, which he has memorised in 36 styles and forms. He recorded his first album at the age of 13 and has outsold all other singers in Pakistan (verified in records kept with HMV Pakistan 1979).

In his childhood he used to read Sufiana Kalaams, Punjabi stories and participate as a young child in local elderly gatherings. Out of the rural background rose a great singer that could influence his audience with elements of joy peace, happiness and sadness.

He started going to festivals and gatherings on regular basis and with these performances he rose to become one of the most listened singers in South Asia. In 1970s, it was the Queen’s Jubilee event in the UK and there was a singing competition between all the Commonwealth Countries in which Alam won the award of best performance and was also presented with a gold medal award.

Throughout the period of 1930’s and until his passing away in 1979, he has dominated folk singing in Pakistan and been a major singer in Punjabi and Sufi singing throughout the entire world. In many rural villages the local traditional people have called him ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ or ‘Heerah’.

With his God-gifted voice and singing in difficult high and low pitches, he made a unique impression in singing with his Chimta [musical tongs].

Other than being a famous singer, Alam Lohar was also a great poet and wrote many of his songs. He also had another quality that he used books of Sufi saints and stories and brought them in song format which gave his songs a great lyrical content which could make people cry and joy at the same time. The word ‘Jugni’ was his creation and he created this term from reading many Sufi writings and represented this word as a spiritual feeling of one’s experience of the world. Furthermore, he was the pioneer of introducing the writings of Saiful Malook and Mirza Shabaan in song format.

Alam Lohar had another quality that he could sing all night long and sometimes without music. In rural Punjab, he used to sing from village to village and without any modern music technology.

Later, he organised a full-fledged theatre with a complete orchestra. His troupe toured all over Punjab for religious and seasonal festivals and was one of the first Pakistani as well as South Asian singers to sing internationally in almost all the countries.

Alam died in an accident near Sham ki Bhaitiyan on July 3, 1979. He laid to rest in Lala Musa. He was given the Pride of Performance award in 1979 by General Ziaul Haq and had also received numerous awards. He is a pioneer in cultural and folk style singing.

He set a benchmark and many Punjabi and other folk singers have greatly been influenced from him. Therefore he has left a great legacy of a unique style of singing which is still followed in Pakistan by Punjabi as well as other folk singers. One of the greatest singers of all time: he is seen and remembered through his son Arif Lohar who has continued in the same tradition.

His famous songs are Dharti Panj Daryavan Di, Dil wala dukhra nahin kisse noon sunayee da, Saiful Malook, Qissa Hazrat Yousaf, Mar ke modha hauly jaye sorry akh gaye, Bol mitti diya bawiya, Jugni, Mirza, Qissa Karbala, Kalam Baba Bulley Shah, Sohni Mahiwal and others.
Read More

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Peace and Well-being in the Caucasus
No comments:
By ANS Press Reporter, *Baku to host international Islamic conference* - News.Az - Baku, Azerbaijan; Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A conference on "The Place and Role of Sufism in Islam" has ended in Chechnya with a decision to hold next year's conference in Baku.

Azerbaijan's spiritual leader, Caucasus Muslims Department Chairman Allahshukur Pashazade, was among the religious leaders and theologians from the former Soviet Union and further afield who attended the conference.

This was the third consecutive year that the International Islamic Conference had been held in the Chechen capital Grozny.

This year's conference was dedicated to what would have been the 60th birthday of Chechnya's former pro-Moscow president, Ahmat Kadyrov.

In his address, Sheikh Pashazade proposed expanding the scale of the conference.

“This conference must receive attention not only in Grozny but also in Azerbaijan, Turkey and other countries. It has shown that some trends that run counter or are indifferent to Islam are not on the true path. We also urge them to take the right path,” Pashazade said.

He read out a letter from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev which talks about the development and prosperity of the Chechen Republic in all areas, including religious and moral.

The Chechen Republic's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, son of Ahmat Kadyrov, thanked the Azerbaijani authorities for the letter.

“The attention paid to us by the Azerbaijani leadership is positive and the letter sent by Ilham Aliyev to the international conference is yet further proof. May God forgive all our sins! May he unite us and strengthen us in our faith! May Azerbaijan and Russia be always strong! May there be peace and well-being in the Caucasus! May there be no war and may the economy strengthen!"

During the conference, two mosques and one medrese were opened in Gudermes. Haji Allahshukur Pashazade said prayers together with the Chechen president in one of the newly opened mosques.

Picture: Haji Allashukur Pashazade.
Read More

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trying to Resurrect
No comments:
By Sayed Mahmoud, *Book review: I'll Become What I Want* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hamdi Abdel-Rehim's first novel is a narrative, describing events which have taken place in Egypt in the last half-century

As an indication to the content of this work, Hamdi Abdel-Rehim dedicates his first novel to the great novelist Alaa El-Deeb.

The secret behind the dedication only becomes apparent to the reader towards the end of the novel.

The novel itself resembles a photo shoot of the author’s generation, through snap shots of the protagonist’s life.

The hero does not differ greatly from those of El-Deeb’s characters in Lemon Blossoms, Children Without Tears, and Rose-Coloured Days. They all belong to the middle classes and experience the crisis of their intellectuals and contradictions. They all live at the time of the National Project (the Nasserite concept of full mobilisation of resources for achieving a common dream) and its abrupt end, leading to their breaking.

Our hero was born at the same time as Abdel-Nasser’s defeat, his mother explains. He lives his life fighting against this defeat and trying to resurrect the National Project. Thus, although the protagonist is similar to that of El-Deeb’s characters, the time frames in which the authors bring their characters to life differ greatly.

Despite the protagonist’s existentialist crisis, the author tries not to sink into a narration of Abdul-Futouh’s personal problems when describing his experiences. Instead, he tries to draw a map of the transformation of Egyptian society in the last fifty years.

The writer gives the reader a set of keys that unlock his own artistic and political biases, debating each of his characters with his own voice. The story’s hero Mustafa, son of a Sufi Sheikh who is often preoccupied with the celebration of saints, is palmed off on a number of women to be looked after.

Naeema, renowned for being lonely, tries to teach him to sing, while Amaal offers him a warming presence. Through selling old books on the street, our young hero discovers his love of reading and writing.

Through Sawsan, daughter of his father's friend, he is introduced to Radwan, a left-wing intellectual who comes from the heart of the National Project and is opposed to Sadat’s settlement with Israel. Through Radwan he connects with Sheikh Khamis, a calligraphy lover who in turn introduces him to Zainab. At this point Mustafa is left with the library and private papers of Radwan.

The inheritance leaves Mustafa heavy hearted, especially after his parents both passed away, leaving him nothing, and were buried in a cemetery for the impoverished, forcing him to search for his first job.

By working with Takki El-Din, Mustafa and the reader are introduced to the human rights lawyer-model that evolved in the 1980s. He works and lives off foreign aid, is introduced to his new love Ragaa, and his friend Ali who is similar to Radwan. He's only able to get over Ragaa, who is already married, by setting up a publishing house, funded by a French lady who gives him his first physical experience with a woman.

Despite Mustafa's success as a publisher and writer, he's threatened by the Zionist influence that rejects his passion for rebellion. The novel ends in 2007 where Mustafa kills one of the Zionist symbols, and sings a Sufi piece he learnt from his father, confirming that he lived and died as he wanted.

The novel appears to be a cultural autobiography about a man always trying to achieve the unattainable.

The author does not employ any modern techniques, but rather conforms to the usual narrative, originally presented by Naguib Mahfouz in the Realist Stage. Sometimes a link is made between the mentor figure of Radwan and one of the heroes of Mirrors, by Mahfouz.

The writer also switches to a philosophical genre, and touches upon characters from other novels. Our hero’s struggles lead him to learn about the world, mixing the two diverse concepts of Sufism and rebellion.

The Mahfouz spirit can also be felt in the geographical setup: the hero is born and raised in Al-Hussein neighbourhood, and seeks refuge in Alexandria, a favourite pattern for Mahfouz's characters. There's also the love story with Ragaa, similar to the woman who thrives on pain in Bahaa Taher's Doha Said.

The author references other books and authors in order to pass on his experiences with the world, not in order to merely mingle the lives of his characters and those of his favourite novels; Abdel-Rehim wishes to write about all of our experiences.

His work is in honour of friendship, love of life, books and music- the author’s testimony.

Sa’akun kama ureed, I’ll Become What I Want
By Hamdi Abdel-Rehim
Cairo: Dar El-Shorouk, 2011
Read More

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To the Next Level
No comments:
By Rafay Mahmood, *‘Awal Allah’: The Sketches return* - The Express Tribune - Pakistan; Sunday, August 21, 2011

Karachi: The Sindhi rock stars from Jamshoro, who rose to prominence through “Coke Studio 4” with their song “Mand Waai”, are back with a bang, and this time around, their music is even more soulful, simple and thought-provoking. The duo, comprising of Saif Samejo and Naeem Shah, recently released their new track “Awal Allah”, a hamd by legendary Sindhi scholar and poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

The band, which essentially focuses on Sufi pop music, considers it important to vocalise love for the Creator, especially in the holy month of Ramazan. “According to Bhittai, all of God’s creatures are His subordinates and we all should look for God in ourselves and in each other,” explains the lead vocalist Samejo, adding that Ramazan was the best time for this particular release.

With “Awal Allah”, which comes after the duo impressed audiences with their performance of “Mand Waai” — a kalaam by Bhittai — the band has definitely taken their music to the next level. Popular musicians including Najam Sheraz, Ali Hamza and musician-turned-religious scholar Junaid Jamshed have sung naats before, but none have left the kind of impact that “Awal Allah” has on listeners.

“Shah Abdul Latif’s waai — a style closely associated with the poet — is very simple and expressive. By keeping our version mellow and acoustic, we have tried to do justice to the sacred style of singing,” states Samejo.

Anyone who has been following the band’s music from the days of their initial tracks — “Maujood” and “Moomal Rano”— will relate to their signature style of music and amazing vocal talent. Like all their songs, lyrics are crucial to this one as well but the band believes that if the music itself is strong enough, the listener will get the message anyway.

“The lyrics of the hamd are in Sindhi, but we’ve kept a very simple arrangement so that the people who don’t understand the language can also relate to it.” Samejo’s expectations were not too off the mark as the video, which although is subtitled, has managed to move listeners, who thoroughly enjoyed the soulful melody of the song.

“Even though I don’t understand Sindhi, the song touched me because of its soulful melody,” says 23-year-old university student Emaan.

The video, directed by Zohaib Kazi, is a simple one with the band performing near Keenjhar Lake near Thatta, Sindh. Samejo explains the spiritual connotation of the video being shot at this particular location. “Keenjhar jheel was very personal to Bhittai as he has written a lot about the beauty of the lake and the boatmen who sail on it,” says Samejo.

Adding to that, Samejo also informed that one of the very well-known surs by Bhittai, ‘sur noori’, was inspired by birds and trees of the lake, hence, bringing the lake into the song definitely served a larger purpose.

“Awal Allah” is the first bait from Bhittai’s compilation Shah Jo Risalo and according to Samejo, it is the written musical arrangement of all his compilations which makes Bhittai stand out from other poets.

“Apart from being a poet, Bhittai was also a phenomenal musician and that is why you will find special musical arrangements for all of his compilations; for instance there is a sur called ‘sarang’ which is the sur of rain or ‘sur pirbhat’ which is sung with the first ray of sunshine. All of these surs can only be sung in the way he had composed them and his compositions have come to us via fakirs,” says Samejo.

Following “Awal Allah”, The Sketches plan to release the video of “Nind Nashe Vich”, another Sufi song originally written by Meeral Fakir, a poet from Sindh.

Picture: The video of “Awal Allah” sees the band performing near Keenjhar Lake, a place Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai has extensively written about. Photo: Adnan Kandhar.
Read More

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Web of Divine Voices
No comments:
By Sara Elkamel, *Folk: Sufi Music Fills the Ramadan Air* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the fourth night of Samaa International Sufi Festival, members of the Pakistani Rafi Peer band create musical magic for an eager crowd

Poignant entertainment graces the audience at the charming 16th century Qubbat Al-Ghouri (Al-Ghouri Dome) located in the wholly authentic, utterly crowded Khan El-Khalili district as Sufi chanters from Pakistan and Algeria create currents of spiritual tunes that strike your heartstrings. This is the Samaa International Sufi Festival.

On the fourth night of the Samaa Festival, members of the Pakistani Rafi Peer band cross their legs on stage in their turquoise and cream-colored tunics, facing the eager crowds. The vocalists fervently belt out melodic chants that the audience may not understand, but that certainly infiltrate their being. One chanter extends both arms spiritually as he shouts, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” Screams of “bravo” meet the songs, as members of the varied audience smile gleefully.

The festival seeks to merge different cultural interpretations of Sufi music and chanting by inviting Sufi bands from multiple countries. The result is a unique amalgamation of culture, spirituality and art. Religious heritage is brought to the fore at the Ghouri Complex in El-Hussein with a spontaneous flair as Sufi musicians celebrate their cultural differences and their shared spirituality.

Sufi chanting entails reaching a euphoric state of spirituality through singing and whirling to music. Sufi music and Samaa branches out from Islam’s mystical dimension. As a practice, Inshad, or religious chanting, springs from Islamic heritage. It is often traced back to the first caller for prayer in Islam, Belal Moazen El-Rasoul.

In Egypt, Sufi chanting first appeared in Islamic schools or kuttabs. Chanting then proliferated with the spread of Sufi sects. Today, Sufi music fills traditional moulids, while other folkloric celebrations breed many more chanters in the mystic art. Celebrated folkloric Munshidien today include Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy and Sheikh Ahmed El-Touny.

Festival director Intessar Abdel Fattah presents the Algerian group. The Algerian Issawi Sufi Musical Band of Constantine is 30 years old and remains at the forefront of Sufi chanting in the country. Dressed in black and white and embracing traditional instruments. They praise the Prophet Muhammed in smooth voices decorated with the sounds of the tambourine and tabla (drum).

Abdel Fattah is keen on creating a dynamic experience that engages the audience and provides a vigorous atmosphere for the chanters, which ultimately results in innovative and invigorating performances.

His journey started a few years ago. In an effort to create a web of divine voices weaved with innovative compositions, Abdel Fattah established a workshop and named it "Al-Ghouri Monshed" (the Ghouri chanter) in 2007, and later decided to proceed with his endeavor for reviving Sufi music. Abdel Fattah jumped from one governorate to the other and combined the finest Egyptian munshedeen for his Samaa troupe.

The annual Samaa International Festival is one of the composer’s projects, and it continues to deliver culturally diverse musical infusions. International workshops bring together groups from different cultures in an effort to unify an artistic vision, as various cultures fuse in a moment of collective spirituality.

While the Pakistani and Algerian bands separately gave the audience a poignantly musical night, it is a completely different experience when various groups collectively take the stage and spontaneously create heartrending and exciting harmonies.

This year’s festival also features bands from India, Morocco, Syria, Sudan, Spain, Norway, Indonesia, the United States and Turkey.

Programme:
Daily until 25 August at Al-Ghoury Dome, Al-Hussein District, at 9:00pm

Read More

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Transcendental / Aphoristic / Spiritual
No comments:
By Sridala Swami, *Making new celebrations* -Livemint.com, HT Media - India; Friday, August 19, 2011

A new anthology of Bhakti poetry compels us to think about a form with the power to disarrange the world

There must be something about the state of the world now that makes the publication of three volumes of Bhakti poetry seem like a sign of the times: First, there was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s translation of Kabir published earlier this year by the New York Review Books press, followed shortly by Ranjit Hoskote’s I, Lalla (Penguin India); now there’s The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature, edited by Andrew Schelling.

Schelling teaches at Naropa University (established in Boulder, Colorado, by Buddhist spiritual leader Chogyam Trungpa​), writes poetry and has translated Mirabai into English—translations that are included in this anthology. The university describes itself as a “leading institution of contemplative education” and has long had ties with the Beats. The importance of these connections becomes clear in Schelling’s introduction to the anthology, which reflects the almost umbilical tie that some American poetry has with transcendental/aphoristic/spiritual traditions of a certain kind, including Bhakti poetry.

Schelling finds parallels between the Bhakti poets and the Native American shamans in their “hunger for human freedom”, but is careful not to make uncritical comparisons. At the same time, he declines to see Bhakti “as a religious tradition locked inside India”. The power of words to disarrange society and its traditions is something that poetry from elsewhere in the world shares with Bhakti poetry; he quotes the poet Kenneth Rexroth​, who once defined the counterculture of the 1960s as “those people who live by the tenets of lyric poetry”.

The introduction gives a brief history of the origins of Bhakti poetry from the early Tamil Kuruntokai onwards. Arranged regionally, the anthology moves across the south of Antal, Basavanna and Annamacharya, to the west with Jnanadev, Janabai and Tukaram, the north ranging from Lal Ded​ to Kabir, Mirabai and Surdas, and finally to the east, with selections from the Gita Govinda, the poetry of Chandidas, the Baul and Sakta poets, ending with Rabindranath Tagore​’s Bhanusimha (I can’t help noticing the absence of Subramania Bharati​, especially when other nationalist poetry is included).

There are the now familiar translations of A.K. Ramanujan from the Tamil and the Kannada, which retain their brevity and verve even after so many years; Velcheru Narayana Rao’s and David Shulman’s Telugu translations have also been widely read, especially the Annamayya padas from God on the Hill. Especially poignant is the evidence of the late Dilip Chitre’s huge, unpublished body of translations. His Poets of Vithoba: Anthology of Marathi Bhakti Poetry is credited as an unpublished manuscript and one can only hope it finds a publisher soon.

That Schelling had access to Chitre’s translations makes the exclusion of Mehrotra’s translations of Kabir and Hoskote’s translations of Lal Ded more inexplicable. It says something about the serendipitous nature of anthologies—even the ones that come to be considered definitive or are hugely influential in forming a canon.

An interesting and perhaps historically valuable translation is Ezra Pound’s “versions” of Kabir, which were based on Kali Mohan Ghose’s translations. This makes for an unusual experience of Kabir, not just because it comes at two removes (and perhaps more; this, as Mehrotra has demonstrated, is impossible to determine) but also because Pound doesn’t use the word “Ram” even once in his 10 “versions”.

Schelling takes care to provide a context to each poet’s life before letting us arrive at his or her work. Through these mini introductions it becomes clear that across the centuries, while spirituality may be one axis on which the complex terrain of Bhakti is mapped, politics must always be the other.

If Allama Prabhu says: “No one knows the groom/and no one knows the bride/Death falls across/the wedding/Much before the decorations fade/the bridegroom is dead/Lord, only your men/have no death” (Ramanujan), then Tuka says, “A king may not grant land to the landless/But wouldn’t he at least ensure/That his subjects get a meal?/After all a king must protect/The myth of his benevolence” (Chitre).

Basavanna lived on the cusp of a Hindu revival after centuries of Jain and Buddhist thought dominating the country; yet he set himself outside religious orthodoxies. Many of these poets were from lower castes or were completely outcast, yet found a kind of power through their poetry. Janabai says, “Jani sweeps with a broom/The Lord loads up the garbage/He carries it on His head/Throws it away in a distant dump/So much under the spell of Bhakti is He/He now performs the lowliest tasks” (Chitre).

There are poems in the existential mode, the mystic, the erotic, the bitter and wry, poems in satirical and paradoxical voice, epigrammatic poems and poems about the art of poetry (occasionally, there are startling and completely unintentional contemporary resonances, as when Surdas says, “Manmohan, what clues are you trying to erase?” (John Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer​).

An inevitable question that arises is: Who is a Bhakti poet today, when the secular occupies as much of the public space as the overtly religious? If godhead is an abstraction separate from what’s done in its name, then one could argue for the inclusion of poems from Arun Kolatkar​’s Jejuri and Sarpa Satra. This brings us back to Rexroth’s definition of “counterculture” and Schelling’s reading of Bhakti in light of this definition.

I could wish there had been a deeper exploration of the sociopolitical relationship between Sufism and Bhakti, between Bhakti poetry and Jain and Buddhist poetry (Manimekalai comes to mind) but perhaps that is a subcontinental preoccupation and not within the remit of this anthology.

In an appendix, Schelling includes some poems and quotes from more contemporary sources, among them Kshitimohan Sen discussing the Bauls: “They (the Bauls) say, all these scriptures are nothing but leftovers from ancient celebrations. What are we, dogs?—that we should lick these leftovers? If there is need, we shall make new celebrations.”

The poems in this anthology are certainly not leftovers; but they could be new celebrations of an old counterculture.

IN SIX WORDS
Poetry as the world’s perpetual revolutionary


The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature
Oxford University Press
273 pages, Rs. 695.
Read More

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Food Is My Hunger
No comments:
By Manzur Ejaz, *The people's poet: Baba Fareed (1173-1266)* - The Friday Times - Lahore, Pakistan; August 19-25, 2011 - Vol. XXIII, No. 27

Fareed Masood-ud-Din, also known as Baba Fareed and Shakarganj, was born in 1173 AD in a village called Kothowal near Multan where his father was a mosque imam and ran a small madrassa.

Fareed went to Multan city for higher learning in a famous madrassa. That is where he met his murshid or mentor, Bukhtiar Kaki, who was so impressed with Fareed's knowledge and disposition that he immediately accepted him as a mureed or devotee and asked him to travel the world for four-five years to gain worldly knowledge.

Fareed followed the orders of his murshid and traveled to Afghanistan, Iran and parts of central Asia. When he speaks in his poetry of wandering, we know he means it symbolically as well as literally:

With these small legs you walked through deserts and climbed hills.
But, O Fareed today to get to the earthen pot seems like miles away.


Returning from his journey, he spent some time in his native village, where he was found in tatters by visiting Sufis and scholars (they had been advised by their seniors to see him).

Eventually he moved to Jhansi and spent the next twenty years there. It is likely that his murshid advised him to go there.

In those days it was common for the heads of Sufi orders to send their brilliant devotees to go to far off places and pass on their knowledge to common people. So Baba Fareed got married in Jhansi and had a daughter who was married to another budding Sufi called Sabir Kaliar. Fareed made many friends in Jhansi who always missed him after his departure.

Later he had to move to Delhi because his murshid appointed him the head of the Chishti order (Bakhtiar Kaki himself was on his deathbed). In Delhi, for the first time in his life, Fareed met the Persian aristocracy and saw royal comforts. He got so uncomfortable here that he literally ran away to an unknown place called Ajodhan (present-day Pakpattan):

Raw and processed sugar, rare food, honey and buffalo milk...
These comedies are all sweet but they cannot assist to reach God.


According to another story, one day during his stay in Delhi, when Fareed was able to go out for a while, a poor old devotee ran to him and said that when you were in Jhansi we could catch sight of you every day but now it is impossible because these guards are all around you.

Fareed decided there and then to leave Delhi, as the story goes. Another story has it that the Persian aristocracy did not accept this boy of Multan as a head of the prestigious Chishti order, and sensing the ongoing conspiracies he left. (Fareed hints at such conditions in his poetry.)

In Pakpattan he married again; most of his offspring (four sons and three daughters) were from this wife. He married another woman whose husband, an attending devotee, expired and left her helpless. The eldest son of Baba Fareed is reported to be a step-son from this wife.

Fareed may have thought Pakpattan to be a peaceful place, far off from the conspiracies of the Delhi aristocracy, but he soon found that the life was not easy there. The city's qazi and kotwal (police commissioner) became his arch enemies and harassed his devotees and his sons.

The qazi wrote a letter to the leading authorities in Multan-the center of scholarship then-accusing Fareed of listening to music and dancing in the mosque. The scholars in Multan, however, knew Fareed and ignored the complaint. This verse depicts the pains and pressures inflicted on Fareed by rulers of Pakpattan:

Look Fareed what has happened: Sugar has become poison.
Who should we tell our pains except our spiritual Being?


Fareed did not come from the new Persian aristocratic class and never joined them like Bahaud-Din Zakria Multani who lived like royalty and was always the Delhi Court's appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam and advisor.

One of Fareed's brothers and devotee, Najib-uddin Mutawakkil, was a mere paish imam in Delhi and the third one lived a modest secluded life in Badaion. He did not promote his sons either so one of them started small farming, another joined the army, the third remained in his attendance and the fourth went to far off places in India and was murdered.

We have scant knowledge about Fareed's daughters except one, Fatima, married to his deputy. His sons always complained to him that instead of helping them he had become an obstacle in their way because of the hostility of qazi and kotwal. However, it was his great grandsons who joined the Tughlaq Court and were awarded a huge estate. Ranjeet Singh had to discuss the matter of this big estate and he decides not to interfere in it.

If Fareed had seen his descendants' greed he would have said:

They passed away building houses, castles and palaces.
After indulging in bad bargains they went to the grave
.

Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, his successor as the Chishti order's main head, spent a lot of time with Fareed in Pakpattan. He reports in his diary, Fawadul Fawaid -the most and only authentic account of Fareed's life- that the day when there was salt in boiled dailas (berries) it was Eid for the devotees and his family because everyone was supposed to eat the same langar.

Probably, the source of myths about just chewing wood for twelve years is what Aulia has described:

My bread is made of wood and my food is my hunger.
The ones who eat buttered bread will suffer the most.


Fareed's living conditions improved for some time but we do not know why or when he died; by the time of his death he was so poor that there were no bricks for his grave. As a result, the bricks of his gate were used.

It was Nizamud Din Aulia who renovated the monastery and constructed the Bahisthi Darwaza or Heaven's Gate through which millions of devotees pass every year.

Fareed was a people's man and he remained so till his death. The conditions of the people around him were extremely wretched.

Poor people of India had suffered under the yoke of the caste system for thousands of years and after Shab-ud-Din Ghauri's conquest, from the Slave Dynasty onward, slavery became common.

In every invasion the Muslim armies took most of the population as slaves and sold them in the prospering slave markets of Lahore and Ghazni. The slave markets were flooded and the price for slaves had tumbled too low.

According to Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, a fatherless child, the conditions in his home were so bad that the next meal was uncertain and yet his mother had a slave woman who ran away and his mother did not get up from her prayer mat till she returned.

The lower caste people who chose to convert to Islam were treated by the rulers like their Hindu predecessors: this is the reason that even until 1947 the Muslims of Punjab and Sindh were peasants, artisans and laborers, while business, state functions, education, etc. were controlled by the Hindu urban classes who had not felt compelled to convert.

Misery and religious hatred practiced by the rulers and other propertied classes was all around Fareed:

Some have too much of flour
and some have not an iota of salt.


Fareed deepened the Chishti order's anti-establishment philosophy in every way. He dumped Persian and adopted Punjabi, though he was a known grammatician of Persian and Arabic and people used to travel hundreds of miles to discuss linguistic issues with him. He was in one sense a predecessor of Martin Luther, who would later translate the Bible in Germany.

He refused to see kings or their men to keep his distance from the ruling elite.

Once Tughral Khan, the army chief, who ascended the throne late as Mohammad Tughlaq, was passing through Pakpattan and wanted to see him or his army men. After so many requests Baba Fareed's shirt shoulder was hanged over the wall so that the army men could come and kiss it. At the end of the day the shoulder cloth was tattered.

But despite these displays of devotion from the rich, Fareed remained pro-poor: eventually a sweeper from the army successfully barged into the monastery and said, "God has blessed you so don't be frugal about it!" Fareed rose and embraced him, saying: "It was not for people like the state functionaries."

Fareed, the creator lives in his creature,
and the creature is embodied in God.
Then whom should we condemn
where the is no one except You.


In fact it was it was Fareed who articulated the progressive direction of Sufi thought and poetry that impacted every Punjabi poet after him.

18th century poet Waris Shah paid a special tribute to him when starting his epic story of Heer, and according to many accounts had spent spent many months in secluded meditation at Fareed's shrine before he came to Malka Hans, a small town in Sahiwal, where he wrote his everlasting epic story living in a mosque.

He displayed Fareed's defiance on the mosque's use when he was narrating Ranjha's thrashing of the mullah. In the 19th century Khawaja Ghulam Fareed also followed Baba Fareed by listening to music while sitting in the mosque.

Fareed's ideology and political philosophy were secular and opposed to the nexus between the feudal state and organized religion as preached by mullahs.

His secularism in the multi-religious society of his time -Hindus and people of all religions were allowed to visit his monastery, unlike the Suharwardy order, which shunned non-Muslims- is based on negating the mullah's Sharia and establishing a direct link with the Creator without involving intermediaries. If the practice of religion is a matter between man and God, the state cannot impose anything on citizens in the name of religion.

Fareed looked upon the ruling classes' pomp and triviality as a form of degeneration. He did not overtly formulate an anti-feudal agenda in the modern sense of the world but showed the tempernious nature of life and the pain of alienation that resulted from distatancing oneself from the masses. The following verse shows this in a stunnigly beautiful way:

I have seen the mesmerizing eyes
that could not bear the slide of maskara
and then I saw the birds shitting on them.


Despite all the heartbreaking conditions around him Fareed was not whining or pessimistic. On the contrary, he viewed the world as changing and evolving. One should pay attention to the first line of his verse:

O Fareed if you have sophisticated mind
then do not portray destiny as dark.
Look into yourself [and decide]...


Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and well-known Pakistani columnist.

Picture: Fareed with disciples.
Read More

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dhikr
No comments:
By Ola El-Saket, *Samaa Sufi Music Festival brings music world together* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Despite being rivals in the political arena, the Indian Qawwali Group and Pakistani Rafi Peer band sang side by side, praising God at Ghouri Dome on Monday night.

The Fourth International Samaa Festival for Sufi Music and Chanting opened with the mesmerizing performance, "Homeland is Man," in which eight musical groups participated.

Inspired by the teachings of the 12th century Sufi mystic Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, “Love is my religion and faith,” Intissar Abdel-Fattah - music conductor and director of the show - invited 11 music groups from India, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, the US, Spain, Algeria, Indonesia, Norway, Sudan and Egypt to perform. A Syrian band was meant to participate, but could not make it due to the current unrest in Syria.

It might seem hard to imagine different bands performing simultaneously, building off one another with some using the Oriental quarter tone and others applying scales of five tones. Yet in "Homeland is Man," the music beats harmoniously, invoking the name of God through Sufi "Dhikr" (Remembrance).

Spiritual elevation is the underlying theme that brought hundreds of audience members - overflowing outside the historic dome - to see the different groups perform.

The American gospel choir, Voices of Inspiration - a newcomer to the festival - chanted for Jesus, while the Indonesian group "Dai Nada" praised Prophet Mohamed. Neither one used musical instruments and relied on their voices to produce musical hymns and clapping as percussion.

A member of the choir said the group usually uses electronic instruments, but decided to go acoustic for the festival. This resonates with the Sufi saying that compares a man’s vocal chords to a flute and argues that it can be more expressive than words.

This year’s festival seeks to emphasize peaceful coexistence and that humans have much more in common than they think.

Before the performance began, Hossan Nassar, of the Culture Ministry’s Foreign Culture Relations sector, announced that this year’s edition is dedicated to Sheikh Ali Mahmoud (1887 - 1946), a pioneer Sufi chanter in the Arab world, as well as Priest Ibrahim Ayad, the lead chanter of the Grand Cathedral.

Abdel Fattah also announced the beginning of the festivities, quoting ancient Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trismegistus.

"I pray in a courtyard beneath the open skies, awaiting dawn on the east side and dusk on the west, until the universe opens up before me to receive my praises to God," Abdel Fattah said.

The show was based on a musical workshop setting, as every band is led by its lead singer, who is in turn guided by Abdel Fattah.

Despite the technical difficulties in terms of lighting, the show was a big success, and Abdel Fattah hopes to hold it in the future by the pyramids in Giza.

Samaa festival continues until 25 August at Ghouri Dome, 111 Azhar Street, Ghouria, Fatimid Cairo.

Tonight’s show will include performances the Indian Qawwali Group, the American "Voices of inspiration" and the Moroccan "Sidi Kadour Alami."

In parallel to the festival, the Second Arabic Calligraphy Forum exhibit is being held.

The closing ceremony, entitled "To the world ... a message of peace,” will include performances by the Egyptian Samaa Band for Sufi Chanting, the Coptic Hymns Band, and the Indonesian Band for Islamic Chanting.

The shows starts daily at 9:30pm.

Picture by Ola El-Saket
Read More

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sachal's Message
No comments:
By Staff Reporter, *Hazrat Sachal’s Urs concluding today* - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan; Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday is the concluding day of renowned Sufi saint/poet, Hazrat Sachal Sarmast’s three-day 190th annual Urs at Daraza Sharif here.

Mahfi-e-Sama, Huque Maujood Sada Maujood, Ishq-e-Mubarak and other such Sufiana programs are included among the concluding celebrations.

Sajjada Nashin of Sachal Sarmast’s Dargah Dr. Sakhi Qabool Muhammad and thousands of pilgrims from across Sindh attended the ceremonies.

The Sufi Faqirs of Sachal received applause from the pilgrims by singing the song of peace and brotherhood. The Faqirs pledged to gear up the struggle for stamping out the hates and making the Sufi thought public.

Sajjada Nashin Dr. Sakhi Qabool Muhammad urged upon the government to take measures at the governmental level for making the Sachal’s thoughts public and the research work on Sachal’s message of love and peace be widened by encouraging the scholars and academicians for this purpose.

[Sajjada_nashin]
[Huque Maujood Sada Maujood]
Read More

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Promising Nation
No comments:
By AO Staff Writer, *14 Liberal, leftist and Sufi forces create electoral bloc in Egypt* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Monday, August 15, 2011

14 Liberal, leftist and Sufi forces create electoral bloc in Egypt. Bloc make clear that all parties and political forces are allowed to join their group which will focus on creating equality and social justice in the country

Fourteen political parties and groups have united to create the Egyptian Bloc, a political and electoral alliance with the purpose of creating a modern civil state in which science is considered an important element.

In a statement released by the bloc, during their inaugural conference, the group stressed that their alliance was not created to oppose any other political group and that all parties and political forces in Egypt are welcome to join.

They added that the bloc plans to run for seats in the upcoming elections with a unified candidate list, using the same slogan.

The bloc includes several prominent Egyptian parties such as the Egyptian Democratic Front Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Free Egypt Party, the Tagammu Party, the Awareness Party, the Tahrir Sufi Party, the Egyptian Communist Party as well as the Farmers Syndicate, the Popular Worker’s Union, the National Association for Change and the National Council.

The bloc also includes two members of the Wafd Party: Alaa Abdel Moneim and Mustafa El-Guindy.

The group say they believe that Egypt is a promising nation and should be established as a modern state where science takes precedence. Egypt, the group said, deserves a democracy in which all factions of society are represented from the far left to the far right, without any discrimination based on religion, race or gender.

The statement said that the bloc will focus on creating equality and social justice in Egypt so that the poor can live a decent life with education, health insurance and proper housing.

Mohamed Abul Ghar, member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party claims that the bloc was not created to oppose any political force in Egypt and that Islamists are welcome to join the party if they share the values specified by the bloc.

Osama Ghazali Harb, head of the Egyptian Democratic Front, added that Egypt is now redrawing its political map. He therefore states that it is logical for all political parties who believe that Egypt should be a civil state and who share similar views, should come together.

[Picture: Female nationalists demonstrating in Cairo - 1919. Photo: Wiki.]
Read More

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Body and Soul
No comments:
By CUP Writer, *Sufi Bodies: Religion and Society in Medieval Islam* - Columbia University Press - New York, NY, US; August 2011

Between 1300 and 1500 C.E. a new form of Sufi Islam took hold among central Islamic peoples, joining individuals through widespread networks resembling today’s prominent paths and orders. Understanding contemporary Sufism requires a sophisticated analysis of these formative years.

Moving beyond a straight account of leaders and movements, Shahzad Bashir weaves a rich history around the depiction of bodily actions by Sufi masters and disciples, primarily in Sufi literature and Persian miniature paintings of the period.

Focusing on the Persianate societies of Iran and Central Asia, Bashir explores medieval Sufis’ conception of the human body as the primary shuttle between interior (batin) and exterior (zahir) realities.

Drawing on literary, historical, and anthropological approaches to corporeality, he studies representations of Sufi bodies in three personal and communal arenas: religious activity in the form of ritual, asceticism, rules of etiquette, and a universal hierarchy of saints; the deep imprint of Persian poetic paradigms on the articulation of love, desire, and gender; and the reputation of Sufi masters for working miracles, which empowered them in all domains of social activity.

Bashir’s novel perspective illuminates complex relationships between body and soul, body and gender, body and society, and body and cosmos. It highlights love as an overarching, powerful emotion in the making of Sufi communities and situates the body as a critical concern in Sufi thought and practice.

Bashir’s work ultimately offers a new methodology for extracting historical information from religious narratives, especially those depicting extraordinary and miraculous events.

August, 2011
Cloth, 296 pages, 23 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-231-14490-2
$50.00 / £34.50

About the Author

Shahzad Bashir is professor of religious studies at Stanford University. He is the author of Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions: The Nurbakhshiya Between Medieval and Modern Islam and Fazlallah Astarabadi and the Hurufis.
Read More

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Competitive rather than Cooperative
No comments:
By Dr. Bader Hassan Shafei, *Islamists in Nigeria…from Sufism to Boko Haram (1-2)* - Islam Online - Doha, Qatar; August 4 / August 15, 2011

Nigeria is home to the largest Muslims population in Africa, where in a 2007 census showed that Nigeria has a population of approximately 148 million people; 50% of which are Muslims, the rest are Catholic Christians and of Indigenous beliefs.

Muslims in Nigeria

Muslims live throughout the country. However, the highest population of Muslims tend to center in Central and northern Nigeria, and the lowest Muslims population tend to be in southern Nigeria. This is perhaps natural because Islam spread in western Africa from northern Arab countries. Therefore, because Muslim merchants traded mostly with the northern part of the country, due to its close proximity, the southern part of the country was left for Christian missionaries coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Muslims in Nigeria are distributed throughout four main tribes:

· The Hausa tribe: represent the majority of Muslims in Nigeria- 80% Muslim.

· The Fulani tribe: close kin of the Hausa tribe- rarely any Christians or Pagans amongst them.

Both the Hausa and Fulani tribes are situated in central and northern Nigeria.

· The Yoruba tribe: largest tribe in Nigeria centered in south-western Nigeria- more than 60% of the tribe are Muslims.

· The Igbo tribe: centered in south-eastern Nigeria- The majority of this tribe are Christians and Pagans, although some claim to be Jewish.

This large disposition of Muslims throughout the county made Nigeria a target, whether in the colonization era, which attempted to obliterate the Muslims identity in the country, or through missionary establishments.

Christian conversion by missionaries is taking its toll in southern Nigeria, especially after the year 2000. This prompted many northern provinces (12 out of 16 provinces) to implement Sharia within their premises, while paying special adherence to non-Muslims, in an attempt to halt the missionary establishments from taking over the northern part of the county.

However, this did not stop Christian conversion in the south, inducing the rise of Islamist movements in the south.

Despite these advantages Nigeria is enjoying and this large Muslim population, it seems that this population is not put into practical use; the reason why a series of Christian presidents ruled the country. In fact, some Sufi leaders even backed Christian nominees against their Muslim opponents, because for them, a Christian president is always better than a Sunni president!

The Muslim map of Nigeria is split into two; a Sunni movement and a Shia movement. The Sunni movement is split into three categories; Sufi, Wahhabi, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sufism in Nigeria

Sufism is generally predominant in West African countries, not just in Nigeria. This is perhaps because Islam was spread to those countries through merchants, not scholars. The majority of those merchants belonged to the Sufi sect.

The most prominent Sufi orders are the Qadiriyya order founded by Sheikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani and the Tijaniyya order founded by Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani.

The Qadiriyya order

The Qadiriyya order is founded by Sheikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani. This order spread tremendously throughout the north, especially after Usman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809, a religious teacher, writer and Islamic promoter, adopted this order.

Usman dan Fodio jointed between Sufism and Jihad to liberate northern Nigeria from the rule of Pagan leaders. Therefore, Sufism for him was both an ideology and a practical way to implement political change and reform.

It should be mentioned that dan Fodio had a moderate ideology. He did not display Sufism as his way of thinking, but he did mention it while speaking about Islamic conduct.

His reform strategy was based on the existence of a socio-political revolution program that would take the place of the former regime. He also stressed the importance of Jihad in establishing an Islamic state.

The Wahhabi movement

This movement originally emerged to combat the spread of Sufism, mainly the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya orders, in the northern part of the country. As a result, because Sufism spread prior to Wahhabism, Wahhabis in Nigeria to this day are not very well accepted, especially in the north.

Sheikh Abubakar Gumi was the founder of the Wahhabi movement, combating Sufism in Nigeria. His close relationship with Saudi Arabia was the aspect that influenced his ideology and provided him with support in spreading Wahhabism and combating Sufism in Nigeria.

It should be noted that Wahhabism is not a single trend, and is in fact multiple trends sharing the same ideology. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, it does not possess a single organizing body.

Wahhabism did not only attempt to combat Sufism, but the Shia sect as well, mainly the Imami and Ithna Ashariyyah sects.

Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that the Wahhabi movement does not give much consideration to political aspects, such as establishing an Islamic state, as it does to implementing the pure form of Islam and abandoning innovation. Therefore, it does not have any confrontations with the regime; its main confrontation is with Sufism.

To recapitulate, the first article of “Islamists in Nigeria…from Sufism to Boko Haram” mapped out Islam in Nigeria in general, and tackled Sufism and Salafism in particular. This article will now take on the existence of the Muslims Brotherhood, Shiites, and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood in Nigeria was established before Nigeria’s British independence by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ilory, who met with Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna—founder of the Muslim Brotherhood—in the 1940’s while studying at Al-Azhar University. Its ideologies were wider spread during the 50’s and 60’s when some of the Muslim Brotherhood members from Egypt made their way to Nigeria during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime.

During the 80’s and 90’s the Muslim Brotherhood established organized groups, yet each independent from the other, in all 36 states in the country. This lasted until 1995. Following that period, members of the Muslim Brotherhood who came from Egypt coordinated between the groups in all states and brought them all together under one umbrella.

The Muslim Brotherhood tends to be more prominent in northern and southern states, unlike the eastern states where indigenous beliefs tend to be more vital.

The Brotherhood in Nigeria carries moderate ideologies. It also attempts to bring Islamist movements together in order to confront missionary efforts.

Shiites

Shiites gradually seeped into Nigeria due to the Sufi and Salafi resentment of their ideology. In the beginning, they attempted to associate themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood by dissociating themselves from their Imamate beliefs and associating themselves with the Sunnis. To the point where some media sources would have difficulties differentiating between Shiites and the Muslim Brotherhood.

This however did not last very long. With the success of the Iranian revolution in 1979, Shiites formed a strong bond with Iran. With this strong support, they unveiled their true ideologies and began advocating it.

During the early 1980’s Shiites formed the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in the northern region of the country headed by Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was trained by Iran to encourage youth protests.

Leaders of this group tend to be higher educated youth. The purpose of this is to nurture an Islamic society that would lead to the establishment of an Islamic state based on the Iranian model.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria demands the establishment of a fully Islamic constitution based on that of Iran. Due to this, the group is in a constant clash with the government, unlike the other Islamist groups in the country. Shiites also tend to clash with other Islamist groups, mainly Salafism, in areas they dominate.

Clearly, Nigeria is a multi-Islamist group society. However, due to ideological, internal and external factors, the relationship between these groups is classified as competitive rather than cooperative.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, who was born in Girgir village, in Yobe State. In 1999 —the year Olusegun Obasanjo, Christian president, came into power— Yusuf began to spread his ideologies, gaining some popularity by the year 2002.

In 2004, he announced the founding of ‘Afghanistan’ headquarters in Yobe. The name ‘Afghanistan’ was in inspiration of forming an Islamic ‘princedom’ in Nigeria in tune with that established by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This in turn led many media sources to dub Boko Haram the Taliban of Nigeria.

Soon after, the group announced its armed defiance of the government. Inspired by the idea of Takfir wal-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus), members of the group also isolated themselves from the ‘sinful’ general public.

The group, which took over the northern part of the country, began using armed insurgency to impose Islamic Sharia in the country. Due to the armed confrontations with the government in all 36 Nigerian states, the government took advantage of this situation to massacre members of this group without undergoing trials, amongst which is Mohammed Yusuf himself.
Read More

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Importance of Unity
No comments:
By Mohammed Jamjoom, *Tahrir protesters call for civil state, end to military rule* - CNN Middle East - USA; Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cairo: A few hundred protesters gathered Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, calling for a civil state and an end to military rule.

The rally began after iftar, the evening meal that marks the breaking of the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and was organized by Egyptian activists, political groups and a few of the country's Sufi orders.

It was a protest meant not only to highlight the importance of unity, but also to contrast the message of a massive demonstration that took place in the same location in late July -one that had brought out tens of thousands of Islamists demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Egypt.

During Friday's rally, many participants chanted slogans such as, "No terrorism, no sectarianism, Egypt is a civil state," "Peaceful, peaceful", and "Down with military rule."

Egyptian Sufi leader Alaa Eddin Abu el-Azayem, who addressed the crowd later in the evening, told his audience, "An Egyptian civil state is the only choice for Egypt." Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam.

Brief clashes broke out earlier between protesters and security forces -- at one point both sides were throwing rocks and bottles at one another. Calm was restored a few moments later.

Last Friday, a non-violent protest in Tahrir Square quickly turned chaotic, as the demonstrators were chased by military through surrounding streets.
Read More

Monday, August 15, 2011

Something Greater
No comments:
By Esra Basbaydar, *Peter Sanders: The art of integration* - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey; Sunday, August 14, 2011

London: Renowned Sufi Sheikh Abdal Qadir Al-Jilani once said, “Reflect on the work of art and you may come to know the artist.” Indeed, such is the case with celebrated artist and photographer Peter Sanders.

Having undertaken extensive travels throughout his life, Sanders is no doubt the quintessential artist in search of something greater and more beautiful. His life has certainly been an extended journey in search of beauty and refinement.

Although Rumi once reflected: “I am not hidden in what is high or low, nor in the earth nor skies nor throne. This is certainty, O beloved: I am hidden in the heart of the faithful. If you seek me, seek in these hearts,” surely the sensation of living, experiencing and breathing different people, cultures and traditions no doubt grants a renewed life and energy for the artist and provides them with their much-needed inspiration.

Sanders’ extensive travels have also allowed him to develop himself, gaining a better understanding of different societies, traditions and cultures. Indeed, Sanders’ work intends to capture a “moment” in time and to then reflect and unravel the story behind the silence. Before we delve into the art, however, let’s explore the man behind the work.

In his early career, Sanders began photographing famed bands and musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, The Rolling Stones and many others. Whilst working as a photographer, Sanders says he “did not feel the passion to carry on taking those kinds of photos any longer.”

This belief led Sanders on a journey in search of enlightenment and fulfillment, and so his first stop was India in search for a religious leader. Sanders expounds that many “Westerners” looked towards the East at the time because there was a yearning for “something spiritual which had been neglected by Western societies with the rise of materialism and capitalism in the ‘50s.”

His journey through India, although providing him with the spiritual leader he so desired, still left him unfulfilled, he states. It was only later, during his extensive travels through Muslim-dominated countries, that Sanders embraced the religion of Islam. He reflects that he was one of the few and fortunate photographers to have been given permission to photograph the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. The images were subsequently used by several established British papers.

Sanders’ photography is a portrayal and exploration of integration. For Sanders, British society has overcome the so-called problems surrounding “multiculturalism” and is a fully integrated society with its different religions, cultures and traditions.

“The Art of Integration,” one of Sanders’ most acclaimed works, explores his belief that religion, race and gender are no longer controversial or cause for conflict. For Sanders, people have successfully integrated into society.

Yet Sanders has often been asked if he, as a photographer, only portrays that which is “beautiful,” as opposed to the often harsh realities of life.

For Sanders, however, there is “no desire to show the brutality of situations.” He adds, “I have had many friends doing that sort of photography, and they were affected badly by what they saw.”

He refers to the case of renowned photographer Kevin Carter, who, shortly after winning the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his now famous “Vulture and the Child,” took his own life. While there were various reasons for Carter’s eventual suicide, Sanders points out that the moment at which he captured the vulture and the child was an eventual trigger for Carter to take his own life. “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain. ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners,” read Carter’s suicide note.

“Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. … they leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” insisted Sol LeWitt, famed American artist.

Indeed, this may be a reflection of Sanders and his work. Although the notion originally refers to conceptual art, photography is also an art form. Pictured, framed and exhibited; this medium of art offers a story within its framed borders. For Sanders, the splendors he has captured across the world are but a reflection of the monotheistic and all-present God.

In conversation with Sanders, one realizes that far from aiming to cause controversy with his work, Sanders hopes to attain peace, both spiritually and physically. He is continuously on a path of purity and refinement. In the words of English poet John Milton, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Sanders’ photograph from his travels to Senegal of the two children by the shore is effortlessly beautiful and ethereal and captures a world of conscious evaluation of different societies. Indeed, Sanders brings to mind the famous lines of Lord Byron, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture on the lonely shore, there is society, where none intrudes.”

As our conversation with Sanders draws to an end we discuss his future projects and what we can hope to see from him.

His most recent project, “The Meeting of the Mountains,” is a collection of photographs taken over the last 40 years and will be unveiled to the public shortly. The project will include photographs of Islamic scholars, academics and sheikhs who have played a significant role in the 21st century.

He is also in the process of gathering an archive of images and footage under the single banner of “Islamic images,” which can be used by a wide range of people interested in the material.

When asked about his future plans, Sanders notes that he would like to delve into filmmaking. For Sanders, although photography is an “individual experience,” film is in fact a “collective vision” for a wider audience. He cites Jane Campion and Godfrey Reggio amongst his cinematic inspirations. Reggio, who has “created poetic images of extraordinary emotional impact for audiences worldwide,” is no doubt a model for Sanders and his future work in the world of cinema.

Finally, we quiz Sanders about current affairs and his views on the various happenings around the world, Sanders returns to us with his most beloved Bob Dylan track, “Masters of War.”

[Visit Peter Sanders Website]
Read More

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Sense of Peace
No comments:
By Georgina Maddox, *Sufi Stories Under Red Sky* - Indian Express - India; Friday, August 12, 2011

Manjit Bawa’s canvases come out of his daughter’s private collection for a rare viewing

Almost three years after he died, artist Manjit Bawa will finally have a long overdue solo exhibition with Vadehra Art Gallery, which he considered his second home. From August 20, works from the private collection of Bawa’s daughter, Bhavna Bawa, will be on display at the India Habitat Centre.

The show, organised by Vadehra, has been titled “Let’s Paint the Sky Red”. It will move to Vadehra Art Gallery’s Defence Colony centre in September.

“This year, he would have turned 70 and I wanted to commemorate this with an exhibition. I wanted to work with a gallery that knew his work well,” says Bhavna.

Bawa was known as the Sufi among artists and his works were culled from a mixture of High Modernism and earthy folklore.

“He always had interesting stories from the oral traditions of Indian mythology and Bulleh Shah. He was a firm believer in the Sufi tradition and even his violent works have a sense of peace,” says Arun Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery.

He recalls how Bawa frequented the gallery ever since it opened in 1987.

“Although we never had his solo, he did participate in a lot of group shows. The truth is that, at that time, we had our hands full with artists such as MF Husain, Ram Kumar and SH Raza,” says Vadehra.

Bawa has had several solos, including important ones at Sakshi Art Gallery in Mumbai.

[Picture: Manjit Bawa, Lets Paint The Sky Red. Photo: Vadehra Art Gallery.]
Read More

Saturday, August 13, 2011

With a Firm Belief
No comments:
By TNI Correspondent, *‘Spiritual personalities can inspire nation’* - The News International - Karachi, Pakistan; Monday, August 7, 2011

Lahore: The Mir Khalilur Rahman Memorial Society (Jang Group of Newspapers) organised a seminar Islam: Sufism and Dua in connection with 25th Urs of Hazrat Syed Yaqoob Ali Shah (RA) at the auditorium of Allama Iqbal Medical College here on Sunday.

Former Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Syed Samsam Ali Bokhari presided over the seminar while Syed Sarfraz A Shah, Syed Bilal Chishti from Ajmer, India, AIMC Principal Prof Dr Javed Akram, Allama Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer and others also spoke.

Syed Samsam said there was need of taking inspiration from spiritual personalities in the prevailing circumstances and spiritual gatherings always proved beneficial in this regard. He said self-accountability was very important to ensure constructive activities for betterment of the society.

He said no-one could rule a heart with a sword, however, it was possible with love and care.

Syed Sarfraz said Dua helped remove uneasiness within one's self and one must fully concentrate while changing the words of Dua each time. He said no-one knew human psychology better than Allah. He also said Sufis and spiritual personalities never prayed for vested interest as they always prayed in best interest of people.

Justice (r) Nazeer Akhtar said reforming intention was very important and it could be achieved by acting upon the best practices. He said Dua was the treasure of religious obligations and the act of Dua was highly liked by Allah.

Maulana Fazalul Rahim of Jamia Ashrafia said the prevailing circumstances of the country demanded people make special Dua for its survival. He said one should bow before Allah while keeping in view that one was being watched by Him.

MKRMS Chairman Wasif Nagi said Dua should be made with a firm belief that it would be accepted by Allah. Ibtisam said Dua (prayer) made with pure intention was always accepted. Prof Dr Javed Akram also talked about importance of Dua.

The speakers paid glowing tributes to Hazrat Syed Yaqoob Ali Shah (RA) and shed light on his life. Syed Bilal Chishti led Dua in the end and also prayed for peace in Pakistan and India.

The seminar was attended by a large number of people from different walks of life, including Punjab University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran and renowned actor Ahsan Khan. Kashan Haider assisted the seminar proceedings.

[Picture: Allama Iqbal Medical College.]
Read More

Friday, August 12, 2011

“In the Love of Egypt”
No comments:
By Staff Writer, *Egypt's Sufis, joined by Copts, call for a million-man march on Friday the 12th* - Ahram Online - Cairo, Egypt; Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sufi leaders along with ten political parties as well as Coptic, liberal and secular groups are planning to stage a million-man protest in Tahrir square on Friday, 12 August

The leaders of eight Sufi sects have formed an organisational committee to prepare for the protest, which will be held under the theme “In the love of Egypt”.

The purpose of the protest is to reinforce national unity between Muslims and Copts, challenge Salafist and Wahhabi thought, and promote the civil state, according to Alaa Aboul Azayem, founder of the Al-Tahrir political party and leader of Azmiya Sufi sect.

Abdel Galil Mostafa, another member of the committee, said that one goal of the demonstration is to form political blocks to prepare for the upcoming elections.

Aboul Azayem was quoted by several publications critiquing Salafists who staged a massive protest last Friday, describing their school of thought as alien to Egyptian culture. He also criticised raising the Saudi flag during their protest in Tahrir as unpatriotic.

The Sufi protest is scheduled to commence after the Friday prayers and extend through the early hours of Saturday as protesters plan to have Suhour in the square. Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy, an acclaimed Sufi chanter, will give a performance until the dawn prayers.

Picture: Egyptians dance to the music of a Sufi singer as they celebrate the birthday of Sayida Zeinab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, near her shrine in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.
Read More
Calls Rejected
No comments:
By Staff Reporter, *Sufis and Salafis refuse call for Friday of solidarity with Arab uprisings* - Al-Masri Al-Youm - Cairo, Egypt; Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sufi and Salafi movements announced Thursday their refusal to attend the protest planned for Friday next week to show solidarity with other Arabs protesting against oppressive regimes.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called on its supporters in Egypt and other countries to show solidarity with Arabs demonstrating across the region, the Middle East News Agency reported Thursday.

Jama’a al-Islamiya, though, announced that it will take part in the protest, noting that its participation will not be as strong as in last Friday’s protest.

The Salafi Nour Party spokesperson Mohamed Yousry said the party will not participate in the protest, and will instead hold a conference to discuss means to help other Arab revolutionaries.

Khaled Saeed, spokesperson for the Salafi Front, also said that the party will not take part in the protest.

The party will not take part in any protests until the end of Ramadan in order to help restore stability to the country, said Adel Afify, chairman of Asala Salafi Party. He added that support for Arab revolutions should be through providing aid, rather than staging protests.

Sheikh Mohamed Aboul Azayem, the founder of Al-Tahrir Al-Masry Sufi Party, also rejected calls for next Friday's protest. He accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to play a bigger role than it actually could, by calling on Arabs in other countries to take to the streets.

Jama'a al-Islamiya spokesperson Asem Abdel Maged said his group will participate in the protest because Arab affairs are one of the group's top priorities.

We are deeply concerned with the massacres in Syria, Libya and Yemen, he emphasized.

Translated from the Arabic Edition
Read More

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Sanctity of Work
No comments:
By Tim Judah, *Senegal's Mourides: Islam's mystical entrepreneurs* - BBC Africa - Uk/Africa; Thursday, August 4, 2011

Many of the street vendors commonly seen in Italy, France and Spain selling sunglasses, bags and souvenirs are members of a highly industrious, entrepreneurial branch of Sufi Islam, which has its roots in Senegal.

At the entrance to Touba, Senegal's second-largest city, is a gateway arching over the road under which a sign urges visitors to respect the orders of the local Islamic leader and to not smoke.

Touba, a four-hour drive east of the Senegalese capital Dakar, is the spiritual home of the Mouride Brotherhood, a branch of Islam which holds the sanctity of work as one of its core beliefs. Perhaps this explains why the city is covered in adverts for international banks and money transfer services.

I am taken on a tour of Touba's great mosque by Cheikh Sene, a Mouride scholar from nearby Bambey University.

In a quiet corner of the mosque men sit chatting, while in a nearby room younger men are busy, hunched over computers working on the mosque's website.

A constant stream of people come to the mosque to pay homage at the tomb of Amadou Bamba - a Sufi mystic and founder of the Mouride Brotherhood.

For true believers, says Mr Sene, the path laid down by Bamba is nothing short of "the real practice of Islam". It is also a path of which many other Muslims in the world strongly disapprove.

"They think we are nothing," says Mr Sene, referring to many Arab Muslims, whom he says have done much to rid their own countries and east Africa of Sufi traditions.

"They think we are crazy. They think they are superior."

However, without a flicker of a doubt, he adds that if they come to Touba, "they will be dazzled by the light of Amadou Bamba".

Saint-like status

Following his death in 1927, Amadou Bamba was buried in the then small settlement of Touba, which he founded in 1887.

Today, Bamba has achieved saint-like status among his followers, and the great mosque, with four towering minarets and a green dome over his mausoleum, has grown and grown.

It can accommodate more than 7,000 people for Friday prayers, and is constantly being improved. When I visited, crates containing air conditioning units sat ready to be unpacked, the gift of a wealthy follower.

Replacement marble slabs, which are cooler on the feet in the heat, were also being laid.

Like the mosque, Touba itself has grown exponentially. Hot and dusty, it is now Senegal's second city, with an estimated population of one million.

But this can double during the Mouride festival of the Grand Magal, which is held early every year, and which can bring more than a million visiting pilgrims on to the streets.

Amadou Bamba's vision of Islam was one which has at its very core the precepts of non-violence and hard work.

Since his death, Touba and the Mouride Brotherhood have been controlled by Bamba's sons, and grandsons, several of whom have held the position of Caliph - the spiritual head of the order.

Out of a population of some 14 million, there are thought to be anything between three and five million Mourides in Senegal.

Famous followers

They include the humblest of peasants to Senegal's now somewhat beleaguered president, Abdoulaye Wade, who has recently faced intense criticism amid recent protests against proposed changes to the constitution.

Perhaps the best-known follower of Mouridism is the musician Youssou N'Dour.

When I met him in the television station he owns in Dakar, he talked about his 2004 Grammy award-winning album Egypt, which celebrated Amadou Bamba and Mouridism.

He argues Mouridism is a counter to the post-9/11 stereotype of Muslims. "In the West, you read all about terrorism... we're all lumped together. But those of us who understand that it's a religion of peace, love and sharing mustn't give up.

"Mouridism is for me two paths - one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don't work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity."

Amadou Bamba was exiled by the French, the colonial power in Senegal during his lifetime. So as well as preaching the virtues of hard work, N'Dour says Bamba inspired his followers to travel.

Of course, like other migrants from poor countries, many Senegalese go abroad because they are looking for work and because they want to send money home to their families, but Mourides have an additional spiritual motivation.

Abroad and at home, Mouridism not only preaches self-help, but also the responsibility to look after others within the Brotherhood.

One of the things that distinguishes Sufism from other branches of Islam is the role of spiritual guides, known in Senegal as marabouts.

These marabouts help their followers make business deals and introduce their followers to important contacts.

After fighting through the choking traffic on the outskirts of Senegal's capital, Dakar, I visit Oumar Fall, the commercial director of Diprom, a major oil and gas firm.

It owns a chain of petrol stations called Touba Oil, whose logo is an image of the tallest minaret of Bamba's mosque.

He tells me that the firm has done well with contacts made through marabouts. Marabouts will even help negotiate and settle disputes, he says.

And if a business deal is successful, a marabout can expect financial compensation, and followers will usually donate money to the Brotherhood.

Political clout

Ninety five per cent of Senegal's population is Muslim, and the vast majority belong to one Sufi brotherhood or another.

Mouridism is the youngest, and said to be the most dynamic, not least because it is organised in a strict pyramid structure headed by the Caliph.

The structures of the others are far more dispersed and thus arguably weaker.

Another reason for the popularity of Mouridism is that it is the only brotherhood founded by a Senegalese. The image of Amadou Bamba is everywhere in Senegal, plastered on car and bus windscreens, in shops and carried in charms around people's necks. Giant portraits of him loom out at you from painted city walls.

But, says Latir Mane, the political editor of L'Observateur, a newspaper owned by Youssou N'dour, many non-Mourides chafe at what they see as the overweening economic and political power of the Mourides.

All politicians he says, even non-Mourides, look for endorsement from Touba because they want Mouride votes.

"Nowadays religion is deeply immersed in politics," he says.

If the Caliph issues an ndigel, or order, all Mourides are bound to follow, says Mr Mane, which gives the Caliph significant political clout.

However, he says, the fact that there are now so many Mourides, whose political interests are not all the same, means that the Caliph's power is less than it would have been in years gone by.

Still, with an aura of success about it, Mouridism is a growing movement and now says Mr Mane, many are joining, not because they believe in it as such, but because they see it as good way to get ahead in life.

Who is Amadou Bamba?

Amadou Bamba was born in Baol, in central Senegal, in 1853. A renowned poet, mystic, and prayer leader, he founded the Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. He was renowned for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are famous for their industriousness. Bamba led a peaceful struggle against French colonialism.

As his popularity grew, the French government sentenced Bamba to exile in Gabon and later in Mauritania. By 1910, the French recognised he was not a threat, and he was released. In 1918, he won the French Legion of Honour for enlisting his followers in World War I. He died in 1927.

Today, followers donate earnings to the Mouride Brotherhood, who in turn provide social services and business loans. This is the only surviving photo of Amadou Bamba. His image adorns buildings, buses and taxis all over Senegal.
Read More