Saturday, December 31, 2011
Peshawar: The Taliban have destroyed schools, bombed music shops and carried out gruesome executions in Pakistan’s territories bordering Afghanistan. But what they may never be forgiven for is the destruction of ancient shrines where revered Sufi mystics are interred.
"Three years ago, I used to be a supporter of the Taliban because I believed they were true Muslims, but this destruction of shrines of revered saints has saddened me and others," said Afaq Ali, a shopkeeper in the Khyber Agency.
Ali was reacting to the destruction of the shrines of Sheikh Bahadar Baba and Sheikh Nisa Baba in separate attacks in the Khyber Agency on Dec. 9.
"These attacks are unacceptable and the people who used to contribute money to the Taliban in the past hate them now," Ali told IPS. "People don’t respect them any more."
Since 2005, the Taliban has been carrying on a relentless campaign to destroy the tombs of mystics and poets since reverence for them is considered ‘un-Islamic’ by Wahabi purists.
Some 25 shrines across Pakistan, many of them centuries-old, have been destroyed in these attacks.
"Taliban have several factions and the Wahabi group is opposed to people visiting shrines, and these attacks are designed to scare away people," Mufti Ghulam Nabi, a prayer leader in Peshawar, explained to IPS.
"Except for the Wahabis, all other groups hold the Sufis and mystic poets in high esteem," Nabi added.
Maulana Ghulam Rasool, another cleric, said that the mainstream Tehreek Taliban Pakistan was opposed to desecration and destruction of shrines of saints and poets, but Taliban belonging to Ahle Hadith school (Wahabis) are opposed to visits to these shrines by people.
"This school considers visits to the shrines un-Islamic as they argue that the people should directly seek blessing of God and visiting the shrines amounted to equating them with God," he told IPS.
"But, the attacks on these shrines has greatly harmed the image of the Taliban," Rasool added.
Wahabi fundamentalism originated in Saudi Arabia, and the present Saudi government provides funds to the school’s adherents for the construction of mosques and other institutions.
Until the May 28, 2005 destruction of the shrine of Bari Imam in Islamabad by a suicide bomber, killing 20 people, attacks on Sufi shrines were unthinkable.
In 2006, the Pakistani Taliban captured the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai in the Mohmand Agency and converted it into their headquarters.
By 2008, the militants had accelerated their campaign, blowing up important shrines such as that of Abdul Shakoor Baba in Chamkani, Peshawar.
On Mar. 5, 2009 when the ‘mazar’ (domed mausoleum) in Peshawar of the 17th century Sufi poet Abdul Rahman Baba was blown up, people began to openly condemn the Taliban for the desecration.
"Attacking shrines of revered people shows that Taliban are not Muslims. They are doing this to please the enemies of Islam," Saeed Bibi, 26, a housewife told IPS. "Now I am staunchly opposed to the Taliban."
The Pakistan government has tried to protect the more important Sufi shrines. The 16th century tomb of the highly respected saint Pir Baba in the Buner district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was saved from being burned down in 2009 by the timely intervention of security forces.
But, three determined suicide attackers hit the famous Data Darbar shrine in Lahore in July 2010, resulting in the deaths of at least 40 persons.
"We have allocated 800,000 dollars to reconstruct the damaged shrines and appoint permanent security personnel around them to deter attacks in future," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IPS.
"We received letters from Taliban in which they warned us to stop women from visiting the shrine," said Umar Shah, a caretaker of the tomb of the 20th century poet and mystic Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari in Khyber Agency, which came under attack in July 2011.
"Militants think that women who visit the shrine indulge in immoral activities," Shah said. "There is no truth in this as the women are coming here to receive blessings."
"Targeting the shrines of poets shows that Taliban are against culture and poetry. People have immense love for local culture and anyone targeting the tombs of poets are the enemies of Islam and local culture," said Muhammad Abdullah, a poet.
Abdullah said that the views of poets and mystics are anathema to the Taliban. "The former advocates tolerance and the latter extremism… they are poles apart."
The Khyber Literary Society in Peshawar is among entities actively working to safeguard the tombs of poets against attacks.
"We have raised a committee of volunteers who perform duties in different shrines during nights. The government is supporting us," Ali Kamran, an activist with the society, said.
Picture: A Sufi shrine damaged in an attack being rebuilt. Photo:Ashfaq Yusufzai / IPS.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Islamabad: Ayeena Theatre group recently paid homage to the 12th century Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti with a dramatic play called “Sultan-e-Hind” which was part of the ongoing drama festival at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad.
Although directorial bloopers and technical mistakes could have easily spoilt the show, the play was well-received. The production, which had a considerably large cast, was based on the life of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and his work for the Sufi concept of Sulh-e-Kul (peace to all).
With an unconvincing, flimsy stage design, the play showcased everything from the Sufi’s birth to his childhood and subsequent travels to Ajmer in India.
Even though the play was fine in the beginning, when Chishti arrived in Ajmer and the emperor Prithvi Raj Chauhan’s court came into play — it seemed like the director and the set designer were not in sync on the storyline.
Strangely enough, the court was set in a way that the domineering king could only see the raqasa’s (dancing girl) back as she performed facing the audience. For a good 10 minutes, Chauhan looked like a sorry figure who had nothing to do but smile.
On more than two occasions, the spotlights disappeared at the wrong time. Furthermore, when the actors left the stage after certain acts, they lost their exits, inviting laughter from the audience and marring the seriousness of the scene. At one point, the raqasa had to wait on stage for the music to start while standing in her dancing posture.
“I am hurt that such a tribute could go wrong. The PNCA did not give us enough time to rehearse on their stage and there were multiple multimedia issues as well,” said the writer and director of “Sultan-e-Hind” towards the end when he introduced the cast and crew. He requested the PNCA management to provide ample time for rehearsals as other theatre groups had complained of similar issues facing them during the festival.
However, the Director of PNCA Hassan Abbas was quick to rebuff these complaints.
“This is a national festival where a play is held every day including the weekends. The teams are expected to come prepared with their rehearsals. One should not blame PNCA for their own lack of preparation,” said Abbas.
Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed the play and applauded various performances. The highlight of the play was when the most trusted of the king’s courtesans was converted by the Sufi.
The actors playing the characters of Chishti and Chauhan gave strong performances and were well supported by their co-actors. However, it was the king’s deputy, played by Javed Bhatti, who received the most appreciation from the audience.
The play ended with dervishes swirling on the tunes of a qawwali and courtesans paying tribute at Chishti’s mausoleum in Ajmer Sharif, India.
Picture: Artists perform in play “Sultan-e-Hind” by Ayeena Theatre Group during “National Drama Festival 2011” organised by Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad. Photo: Muhammad Javaid / Express.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
A different kind of Haj: Arun Ganapathy visits the shrine of Bahauddin Naqshbandi in Bukhara and is touched by the serenity of the place.
The woman was dressed in a colourful rumcha, a long, loose robe. Her husband and two little sons were wearing a great black kalpok, or skull cap. The boys looked like smaller versions of Genghis Khan.
"Hindustani?" the man turned to me and asked. "Yes. And you?"
"My name is Sherzodbek. I come from Karakalpakstan, close to the Uzbek-Kazakhstan border."
"That's a long way for you to come."
"Yes, but coming here is like going on Haj for us."
We were in a marshrutka, a shared taxi, driving swiftly through flat, melon farms towards the complex of Bahauddin Naqshbandi, just outside Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
Every now and then, the marshrutka would slow down to make way for rosy-cheeked Uzbek girls on the wayside, carrying buckets piled high with peaches and quinces.
Finally, the taxi took a turn off the highway and stopped. The driver announced that we'd arrived at our destination. I tumbled out of the taxi, still reading from the guide book that I was carrying.
Bahauddin Naqshband Bukhari - also called Shah Naqshband - was the founder of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis. He was born in the village of Quasr-Al-Arifan, close to Bukhara, in the early 14th century.
When he was still young, he met and served his Sufi masters, Shaikh Muhammad Baba as-Samasi and Shaikh Sayyid Amir Kulal. During the time he was with the latter, he had a series of visionary experiences. In one such experience, according to the guidebook, he found himself in the Divine presence.
'O Bahauddin,' he heard a voice say, 'whatever you want, we will grant.' In response, Bahauddin said, 'I want to be given a path (tariqat) that will lead anyone who travels on it, straight to the Divine Presence.'
His wish was granted. And thus began the tariqat of Sufis known as Naqshbandis.
Not knowing where to start, I followed Sherzodbek and his family, and we walked along a flagstoned path that led, first through a high arch dressed in dazzling blue geometric tiles, and then through a garden of roses and fir trees.
We reached a large dun-coloured building complex, surrounded by ayvans, or covered courtyards, and was topped off by a great lotus dome. As I stepped in, through the heavily carved wooden doors at the entrance, I realised how big the place was and why the Uzbeks called it a ritual ensemble; inside, there was a mosque, a minaret, tombs of dervishes, a series of tanks and courtyards.
"Why did you say coming here is like a Haj?" I asked Sherzodbek.
"Praying to Shah Naqshband is like praying directly to Allah," he said. "He always takes up our requests and shows us the way. The Shah showed us the tariqa - the way to pray and meditate. He would write Allah on the wall and ask his followers to move their finger on the word, concentrating on the divinity within it. In this way, he engraved Allah in his followers' hearts. This is the meaning of 'Naqsh' in Naqshbandi."
By now we crossed a passageway and come to a courtyard, enclosed on three sides by an ayvan. Immediately in front was the tomb of Shah Naqshband - a solid marble platform with a carved fretwork fence running around its perimeter.
From where I was standing, it looked like a performing dais for artists rather than a place for veneration, but it was only my impression. The Sherzodbeks and the other Uzbek families suddenly stopped and fell silent; clearly, they were moved by the place. They kissed the tomb and walked around it thrice, anti-clockwise. All the time, they pleaded for the saint's support with raised palms. It was a touching moment.
Sherzodbek finished praying and we walked for the next 15 minutes along the pathway. It led us through a maze of tombs of Sufi dervishes. When we came to a dead end, we turned around and headed back with Sherzodbek continuing his story of the Shah's life.
"Shah Naqshband's life was full of miracles and you can see them for yourself here," he pointed into the distance. I followed his finger to see the huge tree trunk lying on its side on a platform. It was once a mulberry tree.
"During one of his visits to Mecca, Shah Naqshband was gifted a walking stick. One day, on his return to Bukhara, he was strolling in his garden carrying the walking stick. While walking, he jabbed the stick into the ground and a mulberry tree grew on the spot. It's been long dead and has fallen over, but it still has a lot of spiritual power. If you pray to it, your wishes would be granted," Sherzodbek continued.
As we walked towards the tree, more Uzbek families joined us. Some of them - especially the women - bent under the trunk, where it stretched over the platform and created a lintel, and circled the tree thrice. Each time they bent, they mumbled a little prayer. "Praying for children," said Sherzodbek and I understood this as a wish for fertility.
As the sun began to set over the arched entrance, the call for maghrib, the evening prayer, went up from the minaret to my right. Leaving his wife still praying at the tree, Sherzodbek headed back to the mosque and I joined him.
Inside the mosque, Sherzodbek joined a few Uzbeks who sat on the floor, praying. Together they said a few rakats, or units of prayer, and did the dhikr, or recitation that the Shah had shown.
Although it was silent, one could make out their Adam's Apples shuttling ever so slightly up and down their throats as they recited the name of Allah. For the next few minutes, there was complete silence, then Sherzodbek got up and we filed out one after the other into the chill desert wind outside.
Journey of a lifetime
It was time to leave, so we shook hands. Sherzodbek's family bowed and prayed one last time to the complex; and then turned towards the gate. As they did so, I noticed both husband and wife pulling out handkerchiefs from their pockets. For them this had been a journey of a lifetime; who knows they might never again see their beloved Shah's tomb again... they were wiping their tears.
By Road: To get to the Naqshabandi shrine, you have to first get to Bukhara and then take a Marshrutka, or shared taxi from there. The shrine is just outside the city.
By Train: Bukhara is a short train ride from Tashkent. There are two daily trains connecting Tashkent with Bukhara via Samarkand.
By Air: Tashkent is only about two-and-a-half hours by flight from Delhi. Uzbek Air operates regular flights regularly between Delhi and Tashkent.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Somalis call for the arrest of Puntland leader as Fighting flares in central town
Las Anod: Fighting has erupted in a disputed town in central Somalia between two pro-government militias, with Ahlu Sunna militia claiming a strategic victory in its offensive against rebels loyal to TFG member.
Witnesses in the town of Abudwaq in Galgudud region told Somalilandpress the fighting began on Saturday night after militia loyal to Ahlu Sunna attacked forces led by Somali parliament member Abdifatah.
They added the offensive displaced hundreds, cut off communication services and is threatening to spread. They said more than five were killed and further fifteen injured from both sides. The town is currently under the control of the Sufi Ahlu Sunna group. The clerics imposed an overnight curfew in the town.
The Sufi group, often regarded as pro-government, accused the member of Parliament of destabilizing the town. They issued him a verbal warning to halt all activities but he refused to comply. Ahlu Sunna now says all government (TFG) members require permits to enter any territory under their control. They requested that all government members leave the town immediately.
Regional analyst warn the current conflict between the two pro-government militia could widen and disrupt the fragile treaty between the weak TFG and the Sufi militant. Ahlu Sunna now controls much of central Somalia and wants to establish its own semi-autonomous region similar to the dozens already active in the failed state.
The conflict in Abudwaq comes days after the semi-autonomous region of Puntland declared an open war on Gal-Mudug, another semi-autonomous in Somalia’s central region. Puntland leaders accused them of destabilizing the region in particular the border town of Galkayo.
Garowe said Galmudug kidnapped a ten year old boy and assassinated countless others. Galmudug administration ignored the accusations and went about its business.
Meanwhile Somali intellectuals in the Somali capital urged the TFG to arrest the leader of Puntland, Abdirahman Farole, insisting that he was undermining the country’s leadership and derailing the peace process. They said it was not his responsibility to implement the proposed peace plan but it was up to to the national leadership including the UN-backed parliament in Mogadishu.
They dismissed that the up coming meeting which will implement a political plan agreed in September known as the roadmap be held in Garowe, the capital of Puntland. They argued Mogadishu was the capital and the right venue for such dialogue.
The weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu and the Garowe administration have been at odds in recent times over a number of issues including aid money and foreign investment. The current conflict in central Somalia and the political infighting in Mogadishu will add more headache to the struggling TFG as it tries to tackle the country’s numerous problems.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since the ouster of one-time dictator Mohamed Siad Bare in 1991.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Now, all roads lead to Mumbai's Mahim Dargah fair
Changing times haven’t affected the enthusiasm with which the ten day-long Mahim fair is being held this year.
Held in the honour of the Sufi saint, Makhdoom Ali Mahimi (1372-1431) the Mahim fair at the dusty Mahim beach is full of people on giant wheels, toy trains and enjoying gravity-defying stunts in the ‘Maut Ka Kuan’.
The qawwali tradition is being celebrated by the locals, too. “Hindi songs are not sung because they can get boisterous. Each singer comes and gives their nazariayana (respect) to the God and Baba. They all speak about how different religion say the same thing,” said Mohammed Aslam, who organises qawwalis at Wajewadi.
“Listening to them is like paying your respects to Baba. You remember him and his teachings,” said Arvind Tambole, one of the people who attended a qawwali after going to the dargah.
The cops go easy even if the qawwalis go on till late into the night. The Mahim Fair is the only time when the police participate in an official capacity apart from providing security cover. It is a policeman who has the honour of applying sandalwood paste on the saint’s grave, and offering it a chadar.
There are three different versions of the story behind the involvement of the police. Ramrao Desai, senior police inspector of the Mahim police station, said, “A sepoy served water to the saint while he was dying. That is why the police have been putting the first sandal and the chadar on him.”
According to another version, Baba was very close to the investigative arm of the police. “He helped them crack a case and, out of respect, an assistant sub inspector offers the first sandalwood and chadar,” said L B Shaikh, advisor of the Sandal committee of Hazrat Maulana Makhdoon Ali Saheb Fateh Ali Shaha, the police wing that organises the first sandal that is offered.
Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer says that, in 1891-92, the city witnessed a brutal riot. So, the then police commissioner began offering the first sandal as a call for communal harmony.
It takes seven hours for the sandal to reach the police station from the Dargah in the midst of the police band and other bands.
Another misconception amongst the people is that the festival marks the birth or the ‘Urs’. “It is only a mela in the honour of Makhdoom Shah Baba held every December. Many people call it Urs which is wrong as it means the death of a person,” said Sohail Khandwani, managing trustee of the Pir Makhdoom Shah Fakhi Charitable Trust, which takes care of the dargah.
People also arrange for community eating. “We provide rice mutton curry free to whoever comes,” said Salim Chaus who claimed to have fed 600 people.
[Picture: Dargah Sharif on 11/23/2011. Photo: Wiki.]
Monday, December 26, 2011
By Ishtiaq Ahmed, *VIEW: The humanist tradition of Punjab —Ishtiaq Ahmed* - Daily Times - Lahore, Pakistan; Sunday, December 18, 2011
The sages, sufis and gurus of Punjab tried in different ways to heal the wounded humanity of their times. It is a legacy we can all be proud of
In today’s column, I shall delineate the humanist tradition of Punjab as bequeathed to us by our sages, sufis and gurus. I define humanism simply as a worldview that recognises the equal worth of all human beings irrespective of the incidents of race, religion, sect, language and other such attributes.
Such a standpoint is premised on the assumption that empathy, compassion and solidarity among human beings are a superior basis for human relations both morally and practically. The simple proof of such an assertion is an ancient idea: I should treat others the way I want them to treat me. Yet, the history of humankind is replete with wars of race, religion and sect deriving primarily from tribalism. State-nationalism and religious dogma are both manifestations of tribalism. Humanism is therefore the counterpoint movement against the powers-that-be.
With regard to Punjab, one of the earliest sages to represent humanism was Gorakhnath. The exact year and place of his birth are not firmly established, but it is widely recognised by scholars that his influence was pervasive in what came to be known as Punjab, whatever his precise place of birth. The Gorakhnathi yogis or wandering sages retained features of the Shaivite Hindu cult while accepting Buddhist and Islamic influences.
The Gorakhnathis were able to form a bridge between Muslims and Hindus because of their opposition to caste distinctions and ritual purity. The symbiosis between Hinduism and Islam in the Gorakhnathi movement comes out strongly in the great Punjabi version of Romeo-Juliet, the epic Heer, as narrated by both Damodar (a Hindu) and Waris Shah (a Muslim), when Heer’s lover Ranjha joins the Gorakhnathi yogis to express rejection of a world full of intrigues, jealousies and oppressive customs and beliefs.
Another Hindu reform process that gained a foothold in the Punjab was the order of the sants, or itinerant sages often of humble status. The sants were associated with the Bhakti movement, which originated in South India among Hindus who were opposed to caste oppression. The Bhaktis made great headway into northern India and Punjab.
Later, the Muslims also joined it. Among them the name of Bhagat Kabir is the most well-known. Kabir was not from Punjab but his poetry is replete with the suffering of the ordinary people. His ideas made a great impact on the non-conformist traditions prevalent in Punjab at that time. Bhagti philosophy was premised on the assumption that there was one God and His creation was inseparable from Him. The Bhaktis professed a life vowed to poverty and purity of conduct.
The sufi brotherhoods that arrived in South Asia from either the Middle East or Central Asia had already incorporated the pantheistic traditions of South Asia, and in some cases the result was theist fusions or Unitarian views of God. Individual sufis sometimes evolved non-conformist positions that assumed that ultimately there is one Great Spirit or God holding together the cosmic and earthly systems.
Such a train of thinking reached its apogee under Bulleh Shah (1680-1758). Bulleh Shah’s guide and master, Shah Inayat, belonged to the Qadriyya Shattari school of Sufism, which readily borrowed Hindu philosophical ideas of reaching individual salvation and incorporated them into sufi beliefs. Bulleh Shah, however, surpassed his teacher and guide in terms of openly questioning religious dogmas. Just to quote a couplet:
“Gal samajh layee te raolaa keeh,
Eyh Raam, Raheem te Maula keeh.”
(Why this commotion if you claim you understand?
Why this fuss about calling Him Ram, Raheem or Maula?)
(Ram is a Hindu god; Raheem and Maula are designations for Allah).
The guru tradition based on devotion to an ideal teacher found its most innovative and enlightened expression in the teachings of Guru Nanak. He famously expressed the idea of a wounded humanity when he said, “Nanak dukkhia sabb sansaar” (Nanak, humanity everywhere is in pain).
Born as Nanak Chand (1469-1539), in a Khatri Hindu family in Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib, in the Pakistani Punjab), Guru Nanak initiated a reform movement to alleviate the pain he found afflicting humanity everywhere. He rejected untouchability and condemned the corruption rampant in the Muslim and Hindu religious and political establishments.
Founding a system of free community kitchens, he was able to persuade his followers, who came largely though not exclusively from Hindu ranks, to eat together. The brotherhood he founded was based on absolute respect for the personal faith of all human beings. Thus for example, the musician Bhai Mardana was a Muslim who accompanied him wherever he went all his life. At no stage was Mardana’s Islamic faith a problem for Guru Nanak to accept him among his closest companions. Guru Nanak thus established a principle and practice for moral persuasion which, in my opinion, is far superior to the use of force that has typified the spread of religions otherwise in the world.
On November 13, 2011, a well-known scholar of Islam, Professor Akbar S Ahmed, spoke on Guru Nanak’s 543rd birthday at a Sikh gathering in Rockville, Maryland, US. He remarked that through Guru Nanak’s life we learn “how he promoted the dialogue between the two great religions of India; Hinduism and Islam, which added to the beauty and birth of Sikhism”. That I believe was a very apt compliment by a devout and enlightened Muslim scholar.
One can add that Guru Nanak was able to promote a dialogue between Hinduism and Islam, because in his scheme of things it was the dignity and equal worth of all human beings that was important — not religious dogmas. Therefore, he chided the priests of both religions. In that sense, he was a challenger of the status quo that he saw served the interests of brute forces in society and those armed with the might of the state and the authority of scriptures.
In the light of the above discussion one can say that the sages, sufis and gurus of Punjab tried in different ways to heal the wounded humanity of their times. It is a legacy we can all be proud of. In our own times, the old issues and problems remain very much intact. Therefore, the struggle must go on. Universal human rights as inalienable entitlements of individuals are a sublimation of humanism that the sages, sufis and gurus set forth in another historical context. That point needs to be grasped.
The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at email@example.com
Sunday, December 25, 2011
The artist Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui talks about her solo exhibition at Salwa Zeidan Gallery in Abu Dhabi.
In the great Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar's masterpiece The Conference of the Birds, the humble hoopoe is the wisest of all the feathered assembly. With black-tipped crest quivering on its head, the hoopoe plays the wise Sufi master in the poem, leading the birds back to clearsightedness.
"Come you lost atoms to your centre draw, and be the eternal mirror that you saw", is one of the book's most famous lines. "Rays that have wander'd into darkness wide, return and back into your sun subside."
This spirit of holding on or returning to one's essence is at the heart of the Lebanese artist Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui's solo exhibition at Salwa Zeidan Gallery in Abu Dhabi, continuing until December 30.
Sehnaoui spent two weeks travelling through the Emirates, absorbing the natural grandeur of Sir Bani Yas island while sketching and painting the birds that pass through that part of the country in a palette of soaring colours. One of the finest of those included in the exhibition is that of the hoopoe - Sehnaoui shows the boisterousness of the bird's call in v-shaped lips, and the fan of colours on its head seems to lilt like waving fingers.
But while her birds hint at some of the appealing, colourful boldness of American artist Ed Ruscha's robin, Sehnaoui explains that finding her own voice on canvas only came once she "threw out the window" everything she learnt during a spell at the University of Arizona, at a time when minimalism was at its apogee.
"I came back to Lebanon and just froze in front of the canvas. Eventually, I realised I needed to draw what I felt like drawing. Being in the States made me see the region differently, as a place with a lot of history to be inspired from."
This, she explains, is what has charged the flat-plane style she's gone for - taking precedents from early Levantine art, mosaic and flashes of Byzantine icon painting.
"Flat painting is in my genes," says Sehnaoui and she brings this to a representation of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, giving the scene a harmonious, exhaling order.
But birds are recurrent images in Sehnaoui's work and she has included a vast number of these small canvases. "I'm very interested in archaeology in the Middle East," she says. "I have noticed that over the centuries the bird motif has been used over and over again in mosaics, silverwork and pottery from this part of the world.
"In the past, birds represented peace, spiritual life and freedom. For me as an artist, I notice that birds are free to cross borders without visas - almost like the global connection that the internet has today - and are a reminder that justice has to be the same for everyone." To reflect this, perhaps, both Latin and Arabic letters seem to mingle together amid the birds' feathers, suggesting a meeting of East and West in the wings that allow them to migrate.
Sehnaoui ascribes a silent personality to these birds, trying to capture their simple, inscrutable joy in being. Myna birds, egrets and a wonderfully chirpy portrait of the na'al, a cross between a nightingale and a canary, are all represented in these small canvases, as well as two facing peacocks. "I was fascinated in Yemen and the Dubai Museum by the rooms that resembled traditional bedrooms - I kept finding images of the double peacock, but wondering why it was placed in the bedroom? Then, I saw this inscription: 'God grants to those who have patience.'
"When I came back to Beirut, I met a man who had a huge collection of birds, including a pet peacock that answered to his call. The peacock's tail was missing, and he explained that these birds lose their tail in summer. I realised then that the peacock I'd seen in the images of bedrooms was a very old fertility symbol in the Middle East."
This feeds into Sehnaoui's representations of the birds. But elsewhere in the show, she's chosen to look at the purity of the desert landscape and reflect on the brilliance that it must have taken to adapt to this harshness.
"On the surface it looks so barren and arid, but once you give a bit of time to the desert you realise all the gifts it can give to man. It's no coincidence that the founders of the three monotheistic religions sought deserts for contemplation."
Abundant palm trees and carefree horses prance light-footed through a difficult terrain. The abundance of the desert, these works suggest, is something that must be found and arduously learnt. Sehnaoui says these works are a plea to those who've inherited this that they should not let it go. "I worry that if they lose touch with this tradition that they're all about, it will leave a great emptiness behind."
Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui: Arabian Roots continues at Salwa Zeidan Gallery in Abu Dhabi until December 30
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The way forward: Following the (Sufi) Piper
Islamabad: Liberating shrines and mosques from the clutches of the government is vital for spreading public awareness about Sufic beliefs for peace and harmony, said participants of a conference on Wednesday.
Researchers and academics from across South Asia are taking part in the SDPI [Sustainable Development Policy Institute] conference on “Redefining Paradigm of Sustainable Development in South Asia”.
Speakers, divided on various aspects of Sufism, unanimously called for an end to the political exploitation of shrines by state institutions and top politicians. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Amin Faheem and Faisal Saleh Hayat were named for exploiting their relationship with Sufi saints.
When asked what the relevance of centuries old shrines had in the contemporary world, Dr Karamat Ali replied,
“There are many people who do not like socialism or ‘mullaism’, but we can promote Sufism to counter modern challenges.”
Ahmed Salim stated that the surge in militancy and terrorism is the direct result of ignoring the Sufic message of love and peace. Heinrich Boll Country Director Britta Petersen, however, insisted that it could be dangerous to follow Sufism as it could lead to a disconnect from everyday life.
During the session, documentaries written by Salim and Humaira Ashfaq on the role of shrines and Sufi saints were aired. Particular focus was on Dr Kamran Ahmed’s ‘Spiritual Heritage – The Hidden Face of Pakistan,’ which highlights the contributions of shrines in promoting social harmony and tolerance.
He also focused on the various elements of the Sufic way of life, including family and community relations, submission to God, tolerance towards others, beauty and creativity and the sacredness of all life.
Earlier, the conference addressed a redefinition of the South Asian region’s approach towards poverty reduction to enhance regional cooperation and integration. Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Dr Sabina Alkire said that according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2011, as much as half the Pakistani population is poor and the country must adopt a national poverty line that takes into account disparities in education, health and living standards.
Various solutions were proposed to improve standards of living and alleviate poverty in the region, from increased cooperation and partnership between India Pakistan and China, downplaying ethnic conflicts, using literature to create awareness and the use of information technology and communication.
In a discussion organised by ActionAid Pakistan in collaboration with SDPI, the importance of education was highlighted as the key to tackling security challenges, with speakers demanding an increased budget allocation for the sector. Speakers stressed the need to contextualise the issue and said extremism was seriously threatening educational institutions.
ActionAid Country Director Jamal Ahmed stressed for easy accessibility, affordability and acceptability of education for all to bring about a change in the lives of the poor.
Other recommendations included compliance with article 25A of the constitution which guarantees provision of free and compulsory education to all children between five and 16 years of age should be enforced. The session concluded on an emphasis to mobilise resources for promoting education.
Picture: Devotees singing Waee at Bhitai’s shrine. Photo: Saba Channa.
[Visit the SDPI website.]
Friday, December 23, 2011
Mysticism in the Ottoman Empire
The Mevlevi Sufi order is probably the most famous mystical sect in Ottoman and Turkish history, especially because of Rumi, who is commemorated every Dec 17.
Mysticism, or Sufism as it was called among the Ottomans, was very much a part of Ottoman society in spite of a large, conservative religious establishment and an educational system that was based on the Quran and shariah law.
At its foundation was the idea that there was a path that one could travel to become a perfect human being or saint and, in many cases, achieve union with the divine truth or God. This of course differs from orthodox Islam in which God is the Creator and mankind the created and man could never reach him.
People who followed mystical paths were considered heretics at the beginning but over the centuries the teaching of the Sufis was accepted. Even members of the religious establishment joined these groups. Two schools arose – an Iranian mysticism based on ecstasy and divine love and an Iraqi school based on asceticism. Several sects followed the conquest of much of Anatolia by the Selçuk Turks and had established themselves there by 1299 when the Ottomans, under Osman, began expanding in force.
Each sect had differing paths by which one was to achieve perfection with different sets of rituals, practices and even wearing apparel including their headgear. Each sect, or “tariqa,” started from one teacher and usually had a permanent central location starting from where this particular person was. The main practitioners were men but women were also involved.
Several mystic sects were prominent in the Ottoman Empire, including the Bektaşi, Halveti, Mevlevi, Rifai, Qadiri, Naqshbandi and Bayrami. Of all of these, the Ottoman rulers were probably closest to the Mevlevis, undoubtedly from the time of Osman. It was the Mevlevi Sheik Edebali who girded him with a sword that became known as the Sword of Osman and every sultan after that had to be girded with it on his accession to the throne. The Mevlevi sheik who was leading the tariqa at the time would be summoned to Istanbul from Konya especially for that purpose.
The Mevlevis and the Bektaşis have their roots in 13th century Konya.
The Bektaşi order was founded on the teachings of Hacı Bektaş Veli, who was originally Persian. He drew followers in both rural areas in Anatolia and in the Ottoman military. In fact, the Bektaşis were the official sect of the Ottoman army’s famed Janissary corps. They also were popular in the southern Balkans where there are still followers.
The second important order was the Mevlevis whose founder, Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi, taught “unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.” The day he died, Dec. 17, 1273, is still celebrated throughout the world as his wedding day, that is, the day he was united with God.
His followers are known for their whirling ceremony through which they attempt to reach union with the divine. In spite of the Turkish ban on Sufi sects in 1925, the Mevlevis were not persecuted to the extent that other sects were, and republican founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is thought to have been responsible for this.
For many years it was an open secret that they met in each other’s homes and held their whirling ceremonies; today they can carry this out in public.
The Naqshbandi order is the only Sufi sect that can trace its origins back to the first century of the Prophet Muhammad, making it the oldest tariqa. Today it still has followers in the millions around the world. As a sect it and the Halvetis were particularly popular among theologians and government officials.
During the years of conquest, Sufis, or dervishes as they were known, formed groups who fought in the numerous battles that occurred. Later the tariqas played an important role in the areas that were conquered, influencing the people there to accept Islam. One only has to glance through the vast literary output of the Ottomans to understand just how great the Sufi influence was; the concepts and vocabulary reflect the influence that it had on writers.
Picture: Each sect, or ‘tariqa,’ started from one teacher and usually had a permanent central location starting from where this particular person was. The main practitioners were men. Photo: HDN.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Mysticism takes stage in İstanbul
“Love is love, faith is faith, and art is art everywhere. To art with love!” This is the motto of a festival unique and of its own kind.
As much as it is eclectic and stirring, it is controversial as well. The Third International Mystic Arts Festival kicks off on Dec. 16 with a wide range of activities -- from music and dance to theater, films and exhibitions -- this in addition to debates on the concept of “mysticism.”
Organized by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Department of Cultural and Social Affairs and Kültür A.Ş., the festival will take place at various locations on the city’s historical peninsula between Dec. 16 and 20, including the Aya İrini Museum, the Basilica Cistern, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and the Kızlarağası Medresesi.
Mystic vs. modern
“The idea for such a festival comes from the Department of Cultural and Social Affairs,” explains the head of the department, Hüseyin Öztürk, to Today’s Zaman.
“Our main motivation was the idea that İstanbul deserved such a festival. We thought that a festival looking back at various historical and mythical traditions from different cultures should be realized in a great historical city like İstanbul. Essentially we wanted the city to be able to host a diverse and unique collection of pieces of art from all over the world”
However, since the very beginning of the festival in 2009, debates and controversies have not ceased regarding the conceptual approach and content of the festival. There have been some disputes that confusing mystic elements of other religions with sufi elements could be controversial as well as arguments that such activities would make Sufism seem superficial. In response to these arguments, Öztürk says that the festival’s idea is far from being religious, but is a cultural one.
“Sufism is something different, mysticism is something different,” notes Öztürk. “Mysticism may include Sufism but it is not limited to that. We have some Sufi activities as well but we mainly focus on historical traditions which have been hidden or untouched for many years. We are trying to reveal these hidden elements and offer them to the people through concerts, films, performances and exhibitions,” he said.
Another aim of the festival is to try and safeguard historical traditions against modernization. “Many activities in terms of modern art have already been realized,” says Öztürk. “We want to show elements which merge the past with the future. We try to find works of art made by the people and display them again in a mystical ambiance. We wanted to present something different to our audiences, something different than what they have been used to.”
The festival carries another message as indicated in its motto. “Love is love, faith is faith, and art is art everywhere. To art with love!”
“We wanted to demonstrate that we could eliminate discrimination,” says Öztürk.
“Our point of departure was that we wanted to reveal the ideas addressing humanity and the essence of the human being through music, films, performances and other works of art.”
What’s there to be seen?
The festival kicks off today with three activities at two different locations with artist İsmail Acar’s exhibition “Sema” at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, including more than 50 paintings of whirling dervishes.
The second activity will be the performance of Yunus Emre chants in the honor of Prophet Muhammad at the Aya İrini Museum. Another activity of the inauguration night will be the performance of Ensemle Galatia, again, at the Aya İrini Museum, where the group performs the banned songs of the Middle Ages with instruments of those times.
On Dec. 17, the theatre play “Dönemeç” (Turnout), written by Serhat Üstündağ and directed by Engin Kurt, will be staged at the Eminönü Public Education Center. The play depicts the journey of a poet living the life of a bohemian.
One of the significant performances of the festival will be that of the well-known dancer and choreograph Ziya Azazi. Azazi will greet the audience with his performance “Dervish in Progress” on Dec. 18 at the Aya İrini, where the artist depicts the zenith of the dervish’s love.
That same evening, Tengir Too, the band that derived its name from the “Holy Mountains” connecting Kyrgyzstan and China, will perform songs of legends, heroism and love in Turkish with traditional instruments at the same place.
The festival includes panel discussions and talks as well. The well-known director of Iranian cinema, Kemal Tebrizi will give a talk at the Eminönü Public Education Center on Dec. 19 while nine films of Tebrizi will be shown on dates between Dec. 18 and 20 at the same location.
The festival will also witness a first, the film “Mim Misli Mader” (Like My Mother). The film, directed by Resul Molla Kulipur and based on the life of Veysel Karani, will be shown at the Eminönü Public Education Center on Dec.19, which will be the film’s first screening in Turkey.
One of the last performances of the festival will be poem recitals at the Basilica Cistern. Harun Yöndem, Yusuf Ziya Özkan and Emin Baykırkık will read poems accompanied by the music of the Hayal Music Choir on Dec. 20.
Finally, the exhibition “Mistik Sayfalar” (Mystical Pages), where various books belonging to different religions and cultures will be exhibited, can be visited at the Kızlarağası Medresesi between Dec. 16 and 20. All the activities will be free; however, reservations may be necessary.
Picture: İsmail Acar’s exhibition “Sema” at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Photo: TZ.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Abode of the Message
The Abode of the Message is a Sufi retreat center located just over the Massachusetts border, in New Lebanon, New York. Built in 1785 as the Mount Lebanon South Family Shaker Village, The Abode is now a community of the Sufi Order International.
Many original structures and furnishings are still in use and the campus sits on 400 acres that include an organic farm, a pond, and hilly trails into the Berkshires.
“There are many ways to be here depending on what you are looking for,” notes programs manager Amalae McCloud. There are individual silent retreats, done alone or with experienced Sufi guides (many of whom live at The Abode), that last anywhere from three to 40 days; retreats run by outside groups—Catholic, Jewish, Tibetan, for example; or guests may also create their own “rest and relaxation” retreats. Massages and other body treatments are available.
No prior knowledge of Sufism is necessary, nor do guests need to be exclusively interested in that practice. “Love, peace, and harmony are the three most important things here,” says McCloud.
Classes and workshops on Sufism and other religious and spiritual practices are offered daily; all, as well as the universal worship on Sundays, are open to everyone.
The main house has guest rooms, but there are also cabins and huts. Silent retreaters have simple, mostly vegetarian, meals delivered to them, while others eat together in the dining hall.
The local natural beauty alone may be enough for some to book a stay at The Abode. Wooded hikes and mountain climbs offer majestic views. There is even a bridge suspended over a cliff, affording a sense of “standing in mid-air,” McCloud reports.
“Some like it as a meditation spot. It’s like a bridge to nowhere. Others are too scared to go out there.”
Picture: The Abode of the Message's Meditation Room.
[Visit the Abode of the Message website.]
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Karachi: The poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai is unique, and even after 250 years since his demise, his ideas of peace and love for humanity are thought-provoking and create magic, renowned writer, poet and feminist Fahmida Riaz said on Wednesday.
Riaz was delivering a lecture on Bhittai’s message of love and peace through Sufism at an event organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation.
“Pakistan is blessed with a rich heritage of Sufism that promotes the message of peace, tolerance and harmony. In today’s world, the ideals of peace and harmony cannot be achieved until we reflect and internalise the message of Sufis, who promoted this message for centuries,” she said.
Riaz said that Bhittai’s poetry is an elaboration of spiritual quest.
“Bhittai was a creator of music. Some of his surs were created in musical nodes. His followers are singing his famous Sur Kalyan for 250 years,” she added.
“He was a believer of spiritualism and used to say that ritualism is not enough.”
She said that Bhittai had a Sufi family background and was also interested in Maulana Rumi’s poetry.
“That is why people compared him to Maulana Rumi. However, Sufis do not believe in competition.”
Patience, humanity adopt,
For anger is disease
Forbearance bringeth joy and peace,
If you would understand.
Shah Latif’s message of peace in his Sur Kalyan.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Karachi: Love and tolerance, which forms the edifice of Sufism, was highlighted at a lecture titled, “Sufism in Islam”, at the Goethe-Institut on Tuesday by Prof Dr Jurgen Wasim Frembgen.
The lecture highlighted the mystical thoughts and values embedded in Sufi poetry, which serves to build bridges by spreading the message of love, harmony and tolerance.
In addition to the field of philosophy, practical tolerance is exemplified within the devotional religiosity at the shrines of Sufi saints in Punjab and Sindh.
Expressing concern over the danger faced by the cultural heritage of Pakistan owing to the current socio-political conditions, Frembgen said this Sufi heritage was worth conserving as it was the surest panacea for the religious and cultural strife that had engulfed society today.
He said that Sufi values of universal brotherhood, love and tolerance were enshrined in the Holy Quran. To consolidate his thesis, he said that Muslims of the subcontinent often drew on the mystical poetry which characterises Sufi Islam.
In ethical terms, he said, Sufism preached non-interference in the religious beliefs of others and acceptance of every viewpoint. In this context, he cited the oft-quoted axiom,
“Apne aqeede ko mat choro, doosron ke aqeede ko mat chero”
(Stick steadfastly to your beliefs, don’t comment on the beliefs of others).
Sufis in the subcontinent, Frembgen said, had all along promoted the saying,
“Mohabbat sab ke liye, nafrat kisi ke liye naheen”
(Love for everybody, hatred for none).
The Sufis, he said, believed that love was all that existed in the world and was the force that kept the world and mankind going. For them, he said, divine and human love was the edifice of religion.
Absolute unity and uniqueness of God, Frembgen said, was the key to the Sufi tradition. “For those who love, there are no Muslims, no Christians, but all are the equal sons and daughters of Allah Almighty, all of them equal masterpieces of His creation,” he said.
He said that Sufism in Islam was the exact antithesis of the rigid caste system of Hinduism. Sufis, he said, warn strictly against religious exclusivism as they firmly believe that whichever way one turns, there’s Allah.
Talking expressly on the Sufi tradition in the subcontinent, he frequently quoted Baba Farid, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Bulleh Shah and Odero Lal and their message of universal love transcending all religious differences and uniting mankind into one large homogenous family, all a creation of the loving Allah Almighty.
Frembgen is the curator of the Oriental Department at the Museum of Ethnology Munich, Germany, and a private lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Munich.
[Picture: Museum of Ethnology (SMV), Munich, Germany. Photo: SMV]
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Peshawar: Religious extremists attacked two shrines of Sufi saints and killed the caretaker of another one in the Khyber Agency, an official confirmed on Saturday.
The official from the political administration told The Express Tribune that extremists destroyed two historical shrines in the Kam Shalman area, in the Landikotal subdivision of Khyber Agency, at around 10:30 pm on December 9.
“The shrines were those of Sufi saints Sheikh Bahadur Baba and Sheikh Nisa Baba,” he said. “Bahadar Baba’s shrine was dynamited, while Sheikh Nisa’s shrine was set on fire,” the official said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But in the past the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) carried out similar attacks in the region.
A middle-aged man was killed by gunmen at the shrine of saint Baisai Baba on Saturday.
Local authorities could not immediately confirm the victim’s identity, but he was recognised as the “caretaker of the shrine”.
Sources said the Basai Baba shrine had earlier been shut down by the banned religious extremist group Lashkar-e-Islam.
More than 25 shrines across Pakistan have been attacked since 2005, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people.
Picture: The shrine of revered Pashtu Sufi poet Abdul Rehman was blown up in March 2009 by suspected militants in Peshawar. Photo: File.
By PTI Staff Writer, *Pro-Taliban militants attack Sufi shrines in Pak* - Press Trust of India / Zee News - India; Sunday, December 11, 2011
Pro-Taliban militants attack Sufi shrines in Pakistan
Islamabad: Pro-Taliban militants attacked two Sufi shrines in Pakistan's restive tribal belt on Saturday though there were no reports of casualties, officials said.
The militants detonated a bomb inside the century-old shrine of Sheikhullah Baba near Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency early this morning, partially damaging the structure.
They also torched the shrine of Sheikh Bahadur Baba in Kam Shalman area. There were no reports of loss of life in the two incidents. No militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Taliban have targeted several Sufi shrines in northwest Pakistan in recent years. The militants claim the practice of visiting shrine is "un-Islamic".
Pro-Taliban militants attack Sufi shrines in Pakistan
Islamabad: Pro-Taliban militants attacked two Sufi shrines in Pakistan's restive tribal belt on Saturday though there were no reports of casualties, officials said.
The militants detonated a bomb inside the century-old shrine of Sheikhullah Baba near Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency early this morning, partially damaging the structure.
They also torched the shrine of Sheikh Bahadur Baba in Kam Shalman area. There were no reports of loss of life in the two incidents. No militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Taliban have targeted several Sufi shrines in northwest Pakistan in recent years. The militants claim the practice of visiting shrine is "un-Islamic".
Saturday, December 17, 2011
10-day Mevlana memorial celebrations near end
Activities to commemorate the 738th anniversary of Mevlana Muhammad Jelaluddin Rumi’s passing, also know as the “Vuslat” (reunion with the Beloved), have been taking place in many cities, especially in Konya, where Mevlana is buried.
The celebrations that began on Dec. 7 with a magnificent show at the Konya Mevlana Cultural Center, with 2,700 spectators, will continue until the evening of Şeb-i Arus, or the “Wedding Evening,” which is held annually on December 17.
The main event during the 10 days was the sema (whirling dervish ceremony) presented by the whirling dervishes of the Konya Turkish Sufi Music Association.
The association’s art director, Yusuf Kaya, told the Anatolian news agency that the sema is performed twice a day during the 10-day commemoration by dervishes who worked hard to ensure there were no mistakes during in their performances and got their strength from their love of Mevlana.
According to Kaya, the association has been organizing sema performances for 20 years and every year they draw more spectators, including from foreign countries.
“We organize performances in other countries -- mostly European -- where we receive great interest from people. ... We believe that our mission is to introduce Mevlana and Turkey to the rest of the world and this mission gives us the strength to carry out hundreds of performances with a busy schedule throughout the year,” Kaya said, adding that by declaring 2007 “The Year of Mevlana,” the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) raised Mevlana’s popularity throughout the world.
Apart from the sema performances, roughly 150 events, including symposiums, conferences and plays on Mevlana and his teachings, and 29 exhibitions featuring photos, ceramics and ebrus, Turkish marbled paper, were organized.
This year’s concept for the 10-day celebrations is “heavenly light.” Last year “divine love” was the theme, which the events were centered around.
Unlike previous years, this year’s Şeb-i Arus ceremony will be hosted by the Galata Mevlevihanesi (Lodge House), which was recently reopened to visitors after a four-year restoration project.
Another significant Şeb-i Arus ceremony will be held in İstanbul’s Üsküdar district, where a sema performance is to take place against the backdrop of the Maiden’s Tower.
Friday, December 16, 2011
They don’t do it for fame or for money, nor do they have glamourous music videos to promote themselves. These are musicians who have probably touched God through their devotion to music.
Ruhaniyat, one of the largest All India Sufi and Mystic Music Festival, for the past 10 years has been giving the country a reason to touch base with its spiritual self.
Conceived by Mahesh Babu in 2001 in Mumbai, the festival has travelled to different cities, seven to be exact, with a spectacular line up of rare art forms.
The sixth edition of Ruhaniyat in Bangalore, on December 10, will feature Bharud and Abhang of Maharashtra, Sufiana Kalams from Kashmir, Sema from Turkey, Baul Songs from West Bengal to name a few.
Nandini Mahesh, director of Banyan Tree Events, organisers of the festival, says,
“More than ever before the messages of Sufi saints and mystics seem to be the need of the hour for they knew the secret of blissful existence amidst all kinds of turmoil.
Ruhaniyat is the platform through which their works, abounding in wisdom and unconditional love, are presented in the most dignified manner.
Each of these acts is like a soothing balm and a timely reminder of the human capacity to evolve, give love and live in harmony,”
What sets Ruhaniyat apart from any other music festival is that the performers are rarely seen because they are not commercial artists. For them, music is a call to the supreme.
“In fact, our endeavour has been to discover and give a platform to rare gems from the remote parts of the country; unheard of talents, masters of exotic instruments and orally transmitted repertoire of greatest of mystics of a by-gone era,”
says Nandini, adding,
“These are carriers of living traditions who bring alive the messages of the Sufi saints, mystics, healers, fakirs, monks, bauls, peers in the most enchanting manner, thereby fulfilling our purpose of spreading these age-old messages of love, peace and harmony across the country”.
The line up in Bangalore includes Whirling Dervishes from Turkey, Parvathy Baul of Bengal, Mystic Kalam by Indra and Shakur Khan and group from Rajasthan and Sufi qawwali by Shameem Nayeem and group from Jaipur, to name a few.
Visit the Ruhaniyat Website with Full Program and Entry Details.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Kashmir: Crossroads of Cultures: Situated on the north-west of the Indian subcontinent, the picture-postcard beauty of Kashmir valley is breathtaking
Recent newspaper reports that over a million tourists from different parts of India visited the Kashmir valley this summer set me reminiscing about my travels to this amazingly beautiful part of the subcontinent.
The director of tourism in Kashmir, Farooq Shah, recently said, “This is the highest number of tourist arrivals recorded in the past 25 years. It has been a very good season for us. But Kashmir’s potential is unparalleled and we hope to do more work.”
Another optimistic official said, “There has been a lot of improvement in infrastructure and, with the new rail link, we hope to cross the 10 million mark (of tourists) by 2012.”
One hopes that the politicians can, after years of conflict, arrive at a lasting solution to the vexing ‘Kashmir issue’ and the peace-loving citizens can, once again, begin to enjoy the economic benefits of tourism.
The capital of Kashmir, the city of Srinagar, has a long history dating back to the 3rd century BC.
It has been known by different names over the centuries. It was founded by King Pravarasena II over 2,000 years ago and was then a part of the Maurya Empire, one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka introduced Buddhism to the Kashmir valley and the regions around the city became the centre of Buddhism.
In the 1st century AD, Kashmir was under the control of the Kushans and the rulers of this dynasty strengthened the Buddhist traditions. Vikramaditya (of Ujjain) and his successors probably ruled the area just before the city fell to the Huns in the 6th century.
Over the past few hundred years, the Kashmir region changed hands several times between the Mughals and the Sikhs (under Ranjeet Singh) before finally coming under the rule of the Hindu kings within British India.
The charm of staying on a houseboat, which provides the unique experience of living on the water in a walnut and cedar wood-panelled elegant boat with all the conveniences of a luxury hotel, attracts travellers to Srinagar. Every houseboat has a balcony in front, a lounge and dining room, and three or more bedrooms with attached bathrooms.
Srinagar’s several hundred houseboats are moored along sections of the Dal and Nagin Lakes and along the River Jhelum that flows through the heart of the city. Each is richly decorated and romantically named.
All houseboats, regardless of category, have highly personalised service with the owner and his family usually in attendance.
Houseboats were introduced accidentally to Kashmir when members of the Indian Civil Service serving in the hot plains who went on regular vacations to Kashmir were not permitted to build permanent homes there because of the Maharaja’s suspicion of British presence in Srinagar.
The government officials chose to stay in houseboats. The first boat, named Victory, was designed by MT Kenhard in 1888.
Drive up the hill on the edge of Srinagar’s famous Dal Lake to visit the Shankaracharya temple regarded as the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley. With commanding views of the city and its lakes, this is a must-do for all travellers.
Srinagar’s famous Dal Lake, with a shoreline of 15km, has a boulevard lined with Mughal era gardens, parks and hotels on one side and houseboats and floating kitchen gardens on the opposite shore.
The Lake covers an area of 18sq km and is part of a natural wetland which includes floating gardens known as ‘Rad’ in Kashmiri which bloom with lotus flowers in late summer.
At present, the Dal Lake and some of the Mughal gardens are undergoing extensive restoration. The gardens of Srinagar reflect the sense of beauty and the lavish styles of the Mughal era in India. One of them, the Nishat Bagh (garden), was laid by Asif Khan, the brother of Nur Jehan, in 1633. The Zabarwan Hills provide a spectacular backdrop to this beautiful garden located on the banks of the Dal Lake.
Opposite the Nishat Bagh, the shining white dome of Hazratbal Mosque stands on the north-western bank of the Dal Lake. With the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains, this is perhaps the holiest of Islamic shrines and preserves a strand of Prophet Mohammed’s sacred hair.
It is also where Sufism, a mystic tradition which believes in the brotherhood of man and preaches divine love, thrived.
Kashmir has been endowed with a rich Sufi tradition and the landscape is dotted by many Sufi shrines held in high esteem by people of all faiths.
Shalimar Garden, second in size among the Mughal gardens at Srinagar, was built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife, Nur Jahan. This Garden is marked by terraces that are separated by water channels.
Chashmashahi, the smallest amongst the Mughal gardens of Srinagar, is famous for its springs.
Ride the fancifully-named shikara boats used as water taxis by locals and visitors. The experience of gliding smoothly over the calm waters of Dal Lake as the boatman rows you along with the heart-shaped paddle is not to be missed.
While in the valley, make sure you try the aromatic Kashmiri cuisine, rich with the flavours of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and saffron. Kashmiri food can be the simple family meal or a 36-course wedding banquet called the Wazwan.
Kahwah or Kashmiri tea, traditionally prepared in a brass kettle known as the samovar, is served in tiny, shallow cups. Kahwah is made by boiling green tea leaves with saffron, cinnamon and cardamom pods, sweetened with sugar and crushed almonds or walnuts added for flavour.
About 50km away, Gulmarg boasts Asia’s highest and longest cable-car project —the Gulmarg gondola— completed in 2004. In two stages, the cable car takes skiers and visitors to a height of 12,293ft (3,747metres) to a shoulder of Afarwat Mountain overlooking Gulmarg.
The flower-decorated meadows of Gulmarg transform into some of Asia’s best ski slopes in winter where you can either take lessons or ski with the regulars. The skiing season starts around Christmas and runs through to mid-March. Apart from the cost of the lessons, be prepared to pay Rs500 a day for ski/snowboard hire and another Rs1,250 for an unlimited use of the gondola day-pass.
The resort of Pahalgam, located in the Lidder valley 96km to the south-east and a pleasant three-hour drive from Srinagar, is another destination that is worth a few days’ visit.
One of the starting points of the pilgrim route to the holy cave of Amarnath.
Pahalgam is surrounded by forest-covered mountains where you can take pony rides, picnic on the banks of the Lidder River, lie in the sun next to your cottage with a book, play a game of cards with friends and, finally, stroll down to the main street to buy some exquisite Kashmiri handicrafts.
Twelve kilometres further up the valley is the tiny village of Aru with stone and wood houses, some built in the typical Gujjar-shepherd style. In this stunning Alpine setting, you can only marvel at the picture-postcard landscape.
Kashmiri handicrafts are prized for their craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, knitted in wool and silk with Persian designs, are a lifetime investment; they range from the simple to the most extraordinarily intricate patterns handed down several generations.
There are papier-mâché items from jewellery boxes to mirror frames, intricately carved walnut-wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful pashmina shawls, crewel embroidery on furnishing material and so much more.
With such beauty to enjoy just a short journey away from wherever you are in India, there is every reason to book your travel to Kashmir.
When Go There: A visit to this visually stunning part of India is best made after the summer crowds have left and tranquillity returns to the valley. Spring and autumn are best, particularly October, when Kashmir’s famed chinar trees are clothed in their rich golden foliage.
Getting There: The easiest route is to fly to Srinagar; most airlines offer several flights every day. Alternatively, Jammu Tawi, a major railway junction, and Udhampur, Srinagar’s nearest railhead (302km), have several trains coming from most parts of India. From Jammu Tawi and Udhampur, luxury coaches, buses, shared and regular taxis are available.
Where To Stay: Hotel and houseboat accommodation and local travel arrangements are best arranged through a reliable tour operator. A list of hotels and houseboats is available on the official www.jktourism.org and www.houseboatowners.org. Local transport can easily be booked either through your hotel or from the local central taxi-stand.
[Picture: Hazratbal Mosque, Srinagar. Photo: Wiki.]
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The 2011 edition of the must-own book about the movers and shakers in the Muslim World is now available.
Which Muslims actually influence the Muslim community? If you relied on the general media for this answer you just might walk away with an understanding that the only Muslims with influence are those on the extreme fringe. Studies have shown that although they make up less than 1% of the Muslim population they dominate the nearly 95% negative coverage of Muslims in the media.
We asked ourselves if it was entirely their fault for not researching more or was there something we could do to help this situation. It's easy to sit back and blame the media but it takes quite a bit of effort to figure out what information do journalists need in order to cover the Muslim world more objectively.
We needed to come up with a book that would give everyone reporting on, or dealing with, the Muslim World about who is actually shaping this vast nation of disparate people at their fingertips.
Until 2 years ago there was no clear place to turn to in order to find answers to these questions.
Now there is.
In 2009 we launched the first edition of the 500 Most Influential Muslims. With a small team and a short amount of time we were able to publish it hoping that it would be get at least a few thousand readers. We were not expecting what followed. It was an absolutely huge success with tens of thousands of downloads.
Last year we gathered all the feedback we got, did some more research, and came out with the 2010 edition, which again was a huge success with tens of thousands of more downloads and increased media coverage.
With a year and a half under our belt we decided that we would raise the bar far higher in 2011.
Although the publications have been a huge success online we still did not reach the places we want it to get to with our print edition.
We want this publication to be in every library and school in the English speaking world so that every single student will have access to it. We want it on the desk of every journalist so that they will have a reference to turn to when writing about Muslims. We want it to be in every non-profit organization that does work in the Muslim world. In short we want to spreach it's benefit to every person that may find benefit in it.
For this to happen we needed to do more with the print edition to make it more accessible, lighter, engaging, and jammed-packed with up-to-date information.
So in order to do this we set a few concrete goals for the 2011 Edition, which we are excited to have fulfilled:
•Updated Bios: We spent months going through all the bios, digging for updates where ever we could find it. As the Arab Spring and other news events unfolded we constantly updated the book to reflect changes.
•Expanded Introduction: A new introduction by S Abdullah Schleifer about the book and the Arab spring.
•New Format: We analyzed the book size and layout and came up with a new format that allows much more information in fewer pages with a 14% increase in the amount of information including, for the first time, dozens of quotes and stats, despite reducing the amount of pages by 20% and decreased the weight by roughly 25%, making it lighter on the hands.
•Beauty: Besides the format allowing for more information it also allowed for a more elegant design with a near doubling in the amount of images, including award-winning photography and calligraphy, making it both light enough to hold and a sight to behold.
•Arab Spring Box: An "Arab Spring" box was added for the top 50 that highlights each person's response to it and how it has affected their influence.
•Maps: Expanded from just a single map highlighting only Muslim majority countries to 2 maps highlighting the world's Muslim population providing new ways to look at the Muslim World.
•An Obituary section: This year we added a section for the deaths that occurred in the past year of top influential Muslims, adding to the uniqueness of each year's edition.
This year's edition is completely unlike previous years. It has taken from all the previous work and has improved it dramatically with the print edition a clear improvement from previous editions. We just printed our first sample batch and handed them out at a conference and found that many couldn't put it down once it was in their hands. We are confident that you will feel the same way.
Although we put much effort into making the print version greater than before, we still offer off the same exact content on a FREE pdf version at http://themuslim500.com/download.php
which you can download this very minute.
However, there is still something to be said about holding a print version of the book in your hands and reading it in the comfort of your own home which is why we continue to carry both.
Make an order this week and save $10! Each book retails for $39.95 but you can get your copy now for only $29.95, or order 5 books for your family, friends or interfaith community for just $20 each. Please email us first at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the discount.
Wholesale options available (retailers and institutes). Email us at email@example.com to make a wholesale order.
The 500 Most Influential Muslims
This publication is part of an annual series that provides a window into the movers and shakers of the Muslim world. It gives valuable insight into the different ways that Muslims impact the world, and also shows the diversity of how people are living as Muslims today.
Visit the web site dedicated to the Muslim 500 publication at www.themuslim500.com
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Srinagar: A day after he advocated opening of cinema and liquor shops in the Valley, Union minister for new and renewable energy Farooq Abdullah faced flak from hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and independent MLA Engineer Rashid for “hurting Muslim sensibilities”.
"Kashmir valley is an abode of saints and seers. There is no place for liquor shops and cinema halls here...The Abdullah family is responsible for waywardness and several social evils in Kashmir," said Geelani on Tuesday.
“It was the National Conference who in 1978 provided a constitutional cover to liquor in the state assembly...Liquor is prohibited in Islam and saints in the valley have been fighting the evil all their lives,” he added.
Addressing a gathering in Srinagar on Monday, Abdullah had said re-opening of cinema halls and liquor shops would “give a boost to the tourism industry which is the backbone of the local economy".
Independent MLA from north Kashmir’s Langate Constituency Engineer Rashid said, “Tourists do not come to Kashmir to drink liquor and visit cinemas halls; they come to enjoy the natural beauty of this place.”
[Picture: Shalimar Gardens. Photo: Wiki.]
Monday, December 12, 2011
Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the 99 Names of Allah
By Murshid Wali Ali Meyer, Imam Bilal Hyde, Faisal Muqaddam, and Pir Shabda Kahn; Publisher: Sufi Ruhaniat International (September 1, 2011).
The following are excerpts from the introduction and the chapter on Divine Forgiveness. To order the book click HERE (International) or HERE (U.S. only).
How the Wazifah Project Began
In 1969, I received my first wazifah recitation practice from my Sufi teacher, Murshid Samuel Lewis. Since then, daily wazifah recitation and contemplation have been part of the rhythm of my life.
In February 2001, I was appointed spiritual lineage holder (pir) of our Sufi family, the Sufi Ruhaniat International, in the stream of the great mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan and his disciple, Murshid Samuel Lewis.
For years, I searched for texts to illuminate these millennia-old ways of opening the heart, but I never felt satisfied with available texts on wazifah in the English language. In late 2001, I approached my friend and colleague, Faisal Muqaddam, asking if he would join me in bringing through a contemporary, sophisticated guidebook on the 99 Beautiful Names of God, the Sifat-i-Allah.
Faisal is one of the founders of the Diamond Approach to awakening, a native-born Arabic speaker, and a mystic deeply versed in uncovering and healing the wounds of the human condition. He agreed!
Very shortly after that I was invited to teach and perform at the Sound and Spirit music festival in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, with another friend and colleague, Imam Bilal Hyde. Imam Bilal is a unique blend of Arabic and Quranic scholar, Muslim and Sufi seeker. As we walked on the beach during a break, I shared with him my enthusiasm for the Wazifah Project. He immediately was inspired to join our concentration.
The three of us met for 3-hour sessions year after year. Each session was recorded and faithfully transcribed by our Sufi friend Vakil Cary Polevoy. I had hoped to make time to turn the transcriptions into a readable manuscript, but my responsibilities as pir, as well as my inexperience as a writer, kept me from the opportunity.
In 2005, one of my oldest friends and mentors, Murshid Wali Ali Meyer, shared an office with me. In 1969, he was Murshid Sam’s esoteric secretary, and lived with him at the Mentorgarden. He was one of the people who led me to my teacher. During our time in the shared office, Wali Ali – who had become the head of the esoteric school of the Ruhaniat – listened with great interest as I shared the discoveries of our wazaif sessions.
Familiar with his writing skills and mystic heart, I was moved to invite Wali Ali to join our ongoing conversation, and to write our text. He joyfully entered our group, and this guidebook is the glowing result. We are indebted to him for so masterfully giving written voice to 8 years of meetings and research.
May the feelings,ideas and words on the following pages find their way into your hearts and minds. May the practices suggested help you unfold your life’s purpose and become streams of blessing, happiness and generosity.
The Divine Forgiveness Cluster
–- a way to address layers of self-isolation and disconnection
The subject of forgiveness, and what forgiveness means to human beings, immediately brings up the issue of our sense of self-worth.
This is a crux psychological issue, which is important to find a way to approach effectively.
By examining the cluster of divine Names that comprise the forgiveness family, we have a unique opportunity to address crippling human problems such as self-loathing, guilt, and shame.
The four Names in the forgiveness family offer an excellent way to describe and understand the different gradations of Divine Forgiveness and provide an effective avenue for spiritual growth.
Ya Ghaffar, Ya Ghafur, Ya Tawwab, Ya ‘Afuw
Al-Ghaffar, al-Ghafur, at-Tawwab, and al-‘Afuw have a very intimate relationship with one another. By exploring each Name’s meaning, as well as the interrelationships of the Names, different layers in the human psyche are exposed.
Contemplation of these emanations of divine forgiveness leads directly to a process for remedying deep psychological wounds.
It is interesting how we were first guided to look into the forgiveness family. We were considering the moral and psychological problems connected with revenge that could be seen around al-Muntaqim, a Name often mistranslated as “the avenger.” Something in this Name was calling out for balance.
We noticed that on the list of 99 Names, al-‘Afuw appears right before al-Muntaqim, and it is a true opposite to al-Muntaqim. Al-‘Afuw then became very important in our discussion of how the dynamic of divine opposites works. This directed us toward our present focus on the inner relationships in the forgiveness family.
Divine Names can have a meaningful relationship with each other both as opposites and as similars.
As opposites they create balance, and this leads to integration and transcendence (see the chapter on the divine opposites). In dealing with similars, as we are in this discussion, we often come to see how gradations of essentially the same divine quality may reveal developmental stages of growth.
Ya Ghaffar, Ya Ghafur
(yaa ɡ̣ḥaf-FAAR, yaa ɡ̣ḥa-FOOR)
The ground floor in the forgiveness cluster of Names, the starting point, is al-Ghaffar. It is appropriate to begin with this divine quality as it relates to a low point in the human process.
People at this stage are usually unable to even consider the possibility of forgiveness. They are caught up in disbelief, grief, and judgment —often self-judgment.
There is a progression of forgiveness implied in the Qur’an. Do the big forgiveness, and if you can’t do that, do a lesser forgiveness, and if you can’t do that, do a still lesser forgiveness.
This is similar to the progression we are presenting in this chapter, but we are starting with the most basic level of forgiveness and working up to the most profound.
In the concluding part of this chapter we will focus on applying the healing properties of the forgiveness family to the human condition, and in particular to our emotional and mental health.
Before we can properly do this, we will first focus on the layers of meaning in each divine Name in this family. Then we can turn our attention to each Name’s application in the various layers of the human psyche and in our psychological states.
The form of al-Ghaffar in the sound-code of Arabic grammar gives it a quality that is both continuous and repetitive. You may make the same mistake over and over again, a hundred or a thousand times a day. Every day. But such repeated errors never place you outside the realm of divine forgiveness.
Repetitiveness is no problem for al-Ghaffar. Its nature makes it repetitive. Al-Ghaffar’s forgiveness is continuous and repetitive.
There is a memorable hadith where a Bedouin says to the Prophet, “What if I do this really bad thing?” And the answer is, “Allah forgives.” “But what if I do it again and again and again?” “Allah continues to forgive.” Then the Bedouin says, “Doesn’t Allah ever get tired of forgiving?” And the Prophet Muhammad says, “No, but you might get tired of doing that same thing over and over again.”
It must have been a great moment. At such a time you can see a simple mind becoming enlightened. This tradition of the Prophet beautifully shows the quality of al-Ghaffar. It is not simply an act of forgiveness, but continuous, repetitive acts of forgiveness.
It puts in mind the thought inscribed on Mevlana Rumi’s tomb ––that even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, you should always feel the invitation to return again.
God’s forgiveness is inexhaustible, and it is continuous.
But we cannot properly introduce al-Ghaffar without introducing its partner, al-Ghafur. They share the same root and are basically emanations of the same divine forgiveness. Not only are they cognates, and thus naturally close in meaning, but they complement each other in another most fulfilling and wholesome way.
Earlier we saw that the sound code of Arabic makes al-Ghaffar repetitive and unending. Now we see that the sound code places al-Ghafur in the group that carries the meaning of “penetrating right into the essence of a thing.” It goes right into the deepest place in the heart.
Therefore al-Ghafur goes right to the worst crime we have ever committed in our lives. It goes right to the worst thing that has ever been done to us.
Whether it is a grudge of self-loathing or a grudge held against another, the depth of feeling is the same. Allah’s forgiveness reaches that deepest place. From a medical point of view we might say that al-Ghaffar is a remedy for a chronic condition and Al-Ghafur is for an acute condition.
Contemplation on al-Ghafur is a profound and healing practice for anyone.
It is even recommended for prisoners on death row. It reaches the deepest wound. It goes right to the heart of the matter. It penetrates to the essence. Divine forgiveness reaches that which we imagined was unforgiveable. That is the quality of al-Ghafur.
The very concept of forgiveness, even in English usage, is to give up the grudge, to let go of that revenge fantasy. Forgiveness comes by giving that away.
So at this first stage in the process of learning to forgive, you need to learn to give up the revenging impulse that arises many times a day. And you also need to give up the grudge you hold about the inner wound you believe to be unforgiveable.
At this beginning stage in the process, you notice the fault either in other people or in your own self.
Again and again you are asked to give up the grudge you are holding, and to invite in al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur. You can then awaken to a kind of compassion that actually reaches the wound and covers over the fault in a soothing way.
Both al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur have this same root meaning of covering over in a healing kind of way.
One of the physical plane variations of the root of these Names refers to covering over the cracks in a leather water skin using the sticky substance that bees use to repair their hives.
In a desert culture, a whole tribe could die of thirst from a leaky waterskin. This is a very earthy image that helps us understand the importance of this basic kind of forgiveness.
By calling on these two sacred Names we can actively moisturize and heal the cracks in our being that allow the water of life to dissipate and our hearts to dry up.
Repetition of Ya Ghaffar, Ya Ghafur brings a pliability that allows us to overcome brittleness of character. It is a soothing balm to our woundedness. It begins to ease the pain that has caused us to isolate ourselves in our relationships in life.
Going beyond this, there an inner stage called tawba. Now you actually become able to turn away from perceived defects and shadows and face directly towards the divine perfection.
At-Tawwab is both the divine reality that you turn to in such a way and the activity of turning.
The form in Arabic is wa taaba ilallaah. We literally turn from the defect and toward Allah. “From” and “toward” are expressed simultaneously by the same verb in Arabic.
Tawba has a Hebrew equivalent of tauba, which is the same as teshuva. In Judaism, between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are the ten days of teshuva. These ten days are a time that is set aside to turn within, to turn to God, and to turn away from the point of view of the ego.
What does it mean to say we turn from a defect and turn towards Allah? We are turning towards, or are returning to, at-Tawwab. Because of the sound code embedded in Arabic grammar, we know that at-Tawwab must have a quality that manifests continuously, without beginning, end, or interruption. This allows us to see Allah is always turning toward us, always returning to us.
When we give God bad words, God gives us good words. That is God’s way of turning.
At-Tawwab is always turning towards you without interruption. This is very important to understand! It allows us to overcome certain theological confusions that can arise in relation to our usual understanding of the English word ”repentance.”
With the invocation of Ya Tawwab, you turn from the defect that you perceive to the face of Allah, who always is facing you. It allows you to let go of the grudge you have been holding onto and to face toward the light.
Tawba ada literally means to forgive someone by facing away from the defect towards Allah who is always forgiving.
That is a very high stage of forgiveness. You are not stuck in the rights and wrongs of your personal relationships.
What is quite remarkable is that it is by noticing the faults in the first place that you are impelled towards Allah, towards the One. The process of truly invoking Ya Tawwab is deeply healing, because negativity is transformed into its opposite. This is spiritual alchemy.
A hadith says, “If you make a mistake and ask for forgiveness, Allah will immediately turn your grief and sorrow into joy and gladness. God will give you sustenance from an unknown source and will deliver you from all difficulties and hardship into ease.” That is at-Tawwab in action.
When, through the realization of at-Tawwab, the student on the path has learned to use every particular event as an opportunity to become aware of the face of Allah, surely it is not out of place to ask what more could there possibly be?
The ultimate stage of forgiveness is expressed by al-‘Afuw. Let’s begin with a physical metaphor that is part of the word’s root meaning: Afu til … (Arabic?). This is an image of the wind blowing across the desert vastness and completely erasing all the tracks in the sand. It is as if no one had ever walked there.
Such a fundamental image in the root of the word shows us that with al-‘Afuw, you do not even notice the fault.
In the first stages of forgiveness you definitely do notice the fault, but you feel there is a possibility for forgiveness, a chance for some healing salve to reach your wounded places.
Then you find the strength to overlook it.
Eventually you are moved to turn away from the fault towards Allah whenever awareness of the fault arises, thus transforming negativity into a vision of the divine face.
Finally we come to al-‘Afuw, which means to completely forgive, with no trace of the fault even subtly retained. There is not even a trace of resentment or memory. There are no footprints in the sand. There are no impressions. Your awareness is clean and incapable of being stained.
Such is the highest stage of divine forgiveness.
We want to strongly emphasize that the state of “not seeing” we are referring to here should not in any way be considered to be unconsciousness or lack of awareness. Rather, it is that your consciousness has been raised to the level of seeing in accordance with the divine reality.
There’s a story of a teacher who goes to a town, and when he comes back to his students they ask him what he saw. He says, “It is beautiful, but I don’t want any of you going there.”
Nonetheless, one of them goes to the town; however, he experiences it to be utterly ugly. He comes back and says, “It’s a horrible place. What were you talking about?” The teacher replies, “Well, you’d have to be able to see it through my eyes.”
With al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur, you see the shadows. You even see the worst ugliness when you look at the “unforgiveable place” into which al-Ghafur penetrates.
In at-Tawwab we notice patches of light and shade, so to speak, because there is still awareness of that fault you are turning from. But with al-‘Afuw, there is none of that. You no longer have any negative connotation about whatever events have happened to you.
We want to make it emphatically clear to our readers that this is not a stage that you should try and rush into. It is the culmination of a lengthy inner process. If the negative conditions are not respected sufficiently, they become masked and remain active in the unconscious.
Al-‘Afuw is the doorway in the heart where all attachment to hurt and pain, and memories regarding hurt and pain, are absolved from within.
In that station, such impressions are gone like the footprints in the desert after the wind. It is like they were never there. There is no sense of a mistake that needs to be corrected.
If you are graced to have this realization, you are with humanity, but you are not caught up in it, because you are beyond being touched in a reactive way. You leave the relative perspective, which evaluates people and their limitations. You merge in al-‘Afuw in the absolute state of the Divine heart.
There is forgetfulness of duality and of separation. There is no such thing as poison anymore. Divine Forgiveness has come.
The phrase astafir’allah, often repeated by Sufis, shares the same root as both al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur.
Its meaning is both penetrating and continuous. The “ah” sound at the end of the word adds a sense of yearning or longing. The phrase includes the sense of an “I” that yearns. It is the separated “I” that is the persona of the longing lover.
That is why the great Saint Rabia of Basra said, “Astafir’allah to Allah, for having to say astafir’allah.” She wanted forgiveness for still needing to overcome that “I” of separation.
With al-‘Afuw there are no gradations any more. There is the erasing of the “I.” No more is there the feeling, “I got hurt yesterday.”
There simply is a state of Being itself, a being that is continually flowing. No more is there the ego’s wound-engendered self-identification that causes people to hold on to their grudges and experience themselves as something separate.
People often repress memories. They say that they don’t remember some event, and then they imagine that they have actually forgiven the parties involved because they don’t remember an incident any more. But when a counselor shakes them up a little bit, all their memories come out. This is very different from the state we have been discussing.
In the spiritual state, there is no barrier between you and al-‘Afuw itself, and it is flowing gently all the time. Nothing is repressed. Every system is released and there is just the continual emanation of that presence.
Such a person is very much awake, not asleep and forgetful. They are awake, but they are not carrying the past.
Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the 99 Names of Allah
By Murshid Wali Ali Meyer, Imam Bilal Hyde, Faisal Muqaddam, and Pir Shabda Kahn
Publisher: Sufi Ruhaniat International (September 1, 2011).
To order the book click HERE (International) or HERE (U.S. only).
Visit Sufi Ruhaniat International Website