Sunday, April 29, 2012
Mali: Confronting 'Talibanization' - the Other Ansar Dine, Popular Islam, and Religious Tolerance
Of the insurgent factions that have wrested control over northern Mali from the central government, and effectively partitioned the country, Ansar Dine ("Defenders of the Faith") has stolen the spotlight. Led by the wily Tuareg rebel Iyad ag-Ghali, and aiming to impose shari'a law in Mali, this group has come to epitomize the northern revolt.
But there is another "Ansar Dine" in Mali, and one that is far more representative of the kind of Islam that most Malian Muslims practice. Although this grassroots movement has over one million followers, it rarely makes the news - at least not the kind of news that ag-Ghali's Islamist militia made in seizing Timbuktu. And yet in the past decade, the charismatic preacher of this other Ansar Dine, Shaykh Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara, has emerged as Mali's most popular religious leader. Consistently preaching messages of unity, peace, tolerance, moderation, and moral renewal, he unequivocally opposes the establishment of an Islamic state and shari'a law in Mali. Clearly, we have a tale of two namesakes that stand for very different things.
Thus, it seems an obvious question to ask: What is the place of religion in the current political crisis in Mali?
Now, we have noted the secular nature of the MNLA, and the lack of any religious content among the putschists. But, as the Islamists of Iyad ag-Ghali have promulgated their theocratic intentions, with their sinister black flag, and the unconfirmed reports of rather ghoulish behavior vis-à-vis non-Salafists, we might take a moment to revisit the crisis through the lens of religion in Mali. This also provides a subtle corrective to the overblown reporting on the place of Islam and Islamism in this otherwise peaceful and tolerant country.
So who is Shaykh Haidara and why does he serve as a compelling counterpoint to Iyad ag-Ghali? The leader of Ansar Dine rose to prominence following the coup of 1991, which overthrew Moussa Traoré. This new era of multi-party democracy then opened the floodgates to freedom of expression, as radio stations, newspapers, and civil society organizations proliferated across Mali. It also saw an explosion in the number of Islamic nongovernmental organizations and religious associations. Within this context, Haidara saw his popularity skyrocket, as audio taped sermons, radio programs, and videos have broadcasted his distinctive voice and religious messages across the country.
For Malian Muslims looking for spiritual, moral and even practical guidance, "Wulibali," as Malians affectionately call him, is the man "who speaks the undeniable truth." Preaching in the lingua franca of Bamana, Haidara advocates for a Malian Islamic tradition independent of Arabic language and culture. Politically, he has used his platform to deliver blunt critiques of government corruption and forms of social injustice, while weighing in on important issues, such as the new family code.
Since the coup, Haidara has made it clear that his movement has "nothing to do" with the militant group of Iyad ag-Ghali that has taken Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao and has threatened to impose shari'a law. He refers to it as a "a criminal association that kills and pillages." He states: "We don't need their shari'a. We have been Muslim here for centuries. We don't need their new Islam that they are bringing to impose among us.... Mali is a secular country. The shari'a is for Muslims. But here in Mali, we live with Christians, we live with Jews, and we live with animists. We are all Malians together here.... We are not in agreement with the shari'a of Iyad. We reject it." And when Haidara speaks, Malians listen.
Yet a quick web search for "Ansar Dine," yields pages of stories about the Islamist militia led by Iyad ag-Ghali, and how Salafists are taking over northern Mali and setting their sights on the entire country. Indeed, the news media has gotten carried away with a narrative of inexorable Islamist radicalization. For these reasons, it is high time that we place the religious dimensions surrounding the current political crisis in their proper context.
Mali is at the far moderate end of the spectrum of Islamic societies. Talk to Malian Muslims about Islam today, and they will likely say something about peace, tolerance and unity. Therefore, the brand of Islam being advocated by the Islamists in the north simply does not mirror what the vast majority of Malian Muslims value in their religion. In fact, most Malians are loosely affiliated with one of the major Sufi brotherhoods, such as the Tijaniyya, Hamawiyya or Qadiriyya. However, there are many Malians who simply identify themselves as "Sunni," or ahl al-Sunna (which non-reformists label as "Wahhabi"), usually indicating that they belong to the wider reform movement. These reformists state that the only real difference between them and Sufis is that they pray with "arms crossed" and their wives wear veils. Otherwise, many of them participate in community-level Sufi rituals and celebrations. In other words, the boundaries between reformists and Sufis are not quite as rigid as outside observers might think.
Cutting across these Sufi brotherhoods and reformist groups, there are the new media stars, such as Haidara, who draw followers from a wide range of affiliations. And many Malian Muslims do not hold themselves exclusively to these institutional groupings, and in fact move rather freely and promiscuously among them, gleaning insights and finding direction wherever they are to be found.
Furthermore, Islamic practices in Mali continue to be profoundly shaped by an underlying animist substratum. In the southern parts of the country, these pre-Islamic customs are called Bamanaya. In certain localities, people draw deeply on these indigenous customs for healing or bringing the rain. And even Muslim preachers, such as Haidara, draw extensively on Bamana idioms, proverbs, and a kind of Malian common sense. Indeed, for Malian Muslims, rather than looking to the Arab world for direction, they look to their own rich cultural heritage. We can see this today in current concerns over the safety of Timbuktu's libraries and manuscript holdings and evocations of the city's traditions of tolerance.
Timbuktu has been central in the wider propagation of the Qadiriyya Sufi brotherhood, with its long local history of Muslim scholars opposing jihad. Thus, even in the north, which has been posited as the more "radical" region, a Sufi-animist substratum among the Songhay, Tuareg, Bella and so forth has deeply influenced Muslim religious life. This has meant a more expanded role for women in public life than one might expect, and the persistence of customs, such as ritual music and dance - and even a gender reversal in veiling practices among the Tuareg - that do not usually conform to the normative traditions of Islam being enforced by Salafists.
Certainly, things have changed in recent years, partly stemming from Saudi patronage, usually in the building of mosques or madrasas, but also due to the activities of Muslim missionaries, such as Pakistanis belonging to the Tablighi Jama'at. We should also add, however, that the U.S. "war on terror" in the region, and wider Islamophobic discourses, have not helped, and have very likely served as rallying devices for reformist leaders. According to recent reports, reformists have grown in number, but not dramatically so. In many regions, Malian Muslims have flirted with the "dawa," but then have simply drifted back to their original religious communities.
In the more important religious centers of Nioro du Sahel, Djenne and Timbuktu, the most powerful religious authorities continue to be those linked to the Sufi brotherhoods, despite the presence of reformists. And while there are small pockets of ahl al-Sunna in rural areas, peasants generally remain tied to syncretic forms of Islam that draw heavily on pre-Islamic practices and beliefs. In short, from the perspective of popular modes of religious belonging, there is very little reason to anticipate any kind of grassroots enthusiasm for the prospects of Salafist variants of Islam, particularly when imposed through violence and intimidation.
There is another reason for this: Malians have a long history of resisting jihads and attempts at forced conversion. This is not to say that in the long run jihads always failed in spreading Islam. The nineteenth-century Muslim scholar and state-builder El Hajj Umar Tall left an enduring legacy in the region, despite the resistance that his wars provoked, particularly in the Bamana heartland. However, the historical and anthropological literature is replete with cases of Malians resisting the efforts of Muslim states and preachers seeking to impose Islam on them.
Malian peasants have generally refused to accept forced conversion efforts, whether by firebrand preachers or state-builders. They cite the "No Compulsion" verse from the Qur'an, as one elderly informant stated: "On the path of Allah, there is no need for forcing Islam on people. After the descent of the Quran, Allah said that there is no more compulsion in religion. This cannot be done." Later, there were efforts by "Wahhabis" at imposing reformist ideas on rural Muslims. Once the "Wahhabis" showed their intolerance by criticizing Sufi holy men, engaging in street battles over the correct way to pray, defiling the tombs of saints, and generating "conflict" (fitna) between Muslims, they were rejected.
For these reasons, local imams and ordinary Muslims have stated that they don't need any foreigners coming to tell them how to conduct their religious lives. Thus, when Malian Muslims hear about the violent efforts of Iyad ag-Ghali and other Salafists linked to Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, they see no religious legitimacy or theological rationale for their wars. They are already Muslim, so there is no justification for bringing war to Muslim communities. They see the northern jihadists as warlords aimed at pillaging Malian people and lands for personal gain, while using Islam as an ideological tool to manipulate and dominate vulnerable people.
In this light, it is no coincidence that ag-Ghali chose to name his Islamist militia Ansar Dine. The Tuareg rebel leader is well aware of Haidara's organization, and he is also au courant that this other Ansar Dine is the far more popular one. Is ag-Ghali trying to highjack the movement, or sow confusion while playing on Malians' desperation? So far, ag-Ghali's armed group has pursued its goals through violence and intimidation. But in recent days, it has stepped up a kind of hearts and minds campaign, distributing food and medicine. This isn't fooling anyone, at least not in the south.
In the past few days in Bamako, Muslim leaders, including prominent reformists and Sufis, unanimously denounced the Islamists in the north. Although they have sought to reign in any sort of overtly bellicose rhetoric, and kept the emphasis on peace, their condemnations have been strong. They stated that Mali would not accept foreigners imposing their Salafist kind of Islam on Malians by force of arms. And in a press conference, Shaykh Haidara repeated his message of tolerance: "We do not know this Islam advocated by these people. Those who kill and say that they want to act in the name of Islam are not really [Muslims].... Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance."
Outside of the mosques, there has been an active mobilization of civil society organizations, including numerous women's groups, the hunters' associations, and urban youth. And the interim president Diouncounda Traore has threatened "total war" against the northern insurgents. We can only hope that the saber-rattling in Bamako will not escalate into a full-blown conflagration in the north, and that the Islamists come to their senses in hearing religious authorities calling for Muslim and Malian unity. In the meantime, as outside observers, we might look beyond ag-Ghali's statements about holy war, or stories on the potential "Talibanization" of Mali, which ultimately serve to obfuscate the realities of Malian Muslim societies. We might push past the prevailing jihad-centric narratives, in finding that we too embrace Haidara's vision of a tolerant, pluralistic, and democratic society, while rejecting the vision of intolerance currently threatening northern Mali.
Brian J. Peterson is an associate professor of history at Union College (NY). His recent book is Islamization from Below: The Making of Muslim Communities in Rural French Sudan, 1880-1960 (Yale University Press, 2011).
[Picture: Bozo Girl in Bamako. Photo: Wiki.]
Saturday, April 28, 2012
How Sufi Music Helps Patients in Turkey
The intensive care unit of Istanbul’s memorial hospital looks like any modern hospital anywhere. But it definitely doesn’t sound like one.
Dr. Bingur Sonmez introduces himself: “I am Professor Doctor Bingur Sonmez, I’m a cardiac surgeon, I’ve been doing cardiac surgery more than 30 years. What we are doing in intensive care, we are playing Sufi music to our patients to calm down, to make them feeling much better.”
Sufism is a mystical strain of Islam whose traditional music is popular among Turks. Sonmez says that five centuries ago when Europeans were burning people alive for having mental illnesses, the Turkish Ottoman Empire had a more civilized approach.
“In this country, in Ottoman Empire times, we used to treat psychiatric patients with music in hospitals, in local hospitals,” Sonmez says. “So what we are doing is the same.”
So doctors here don’t consider themselves doing anything new.
“If you look at the patient’s face, you can see that he is very anxious. But after 10 minutes you will see that he is very much relaxed,” says Sonmez.
After a short performance, anesthesiologist Erol Can says the patient’s heart rate decreased 15 percent.
Can says the approach has scientific backing. He says the hospital conducted a study of 22 patients and measured their stress levels on a scale of one to 10. Their stress went down from an average of seven to three after a 20 minute musical performance.
“We recorded heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen delivery, the oxygen saturation of the blood. Every parameter was better after this 20 minutes,” Can says.
Sonmez and Can demonstrate the traditional medicinal properties of different melodic systems – or makams in Turkish music. Sonmez says certain makams can treat specific conditions.
“That makam makes you sleepy, it’s a real meditation music,” says Sonmez. “So its good to listen to when you go to bed. If you listen to this makam when you are waking up in the morning, you won’t be able to get out of the bed.”
The Mahur makam is the opposite of Sabah, so it might make you agitated and unable to sleep.
“If you play that makam to a depressed patient, you can cheer him up easily,” says Sonmez.
There are makams that can help with other conditions as well. One supposedly increases your appetite. Another can help you lose weight. The music has significant health results, the doctors say. But while they sing the praises of music therapy, they stress it’s a compliment — not a replacement — for conventional medicine.
Picture: Erol Can (left), an anesthesiologist, and Bingur Sonmez, a cardiac surgeon play for a patient. Photo: Matthew Brunwasser.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Samir Odeh-Tamimi & Hezarfen Ensemble on stage: The Goethe-Institut Istanbul and Borusan Music House are presenting a series called “New Music -- Commented Concerts.”
The first concert of the series will feature Berlin-based Palestinian-Israeli composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi, who musically brings together the European environment he lives in today with the Islamic-Oriental traditions that shaped his youth.
His music bears traces of Sufi rituals that are deeply rooted in him, thanks to the influence of his grandfather, who was an esteemed Sufi healer.
Many other ingredients also spice up his music, and his choice of instruments reveals his Palestinian-Israeli roots.
Odeh-Tamimi will perform with the Hezarfen Ensemble, known for supporting young musicians through intercultural projects and interdisciplinary performances.
Odeh-Tamimi’s debut presentation of some new music at this performance is highly anticipated in music circles. His comments on his selected works, and Hezarfen Ensemble’s renderings of them, will create a setting where listeners’ questions will be answered.
This encounter, where musicians and discussion will complement each other on stage, will launch the “Commented Concerts” at Borusan Music House.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Sufis as architects of Muslim spaces in India
Sufism (tasawwuf in Arabic), the esoteric physiognomy of Islam, is probably the only school of thought which has remained above suspicion in the post 9/11 Islamophobic onslaught. And if any reason could be attributed to this unimpeachability it is its inherent pacifism.
Although Sufism has several etymological denotations the simplest and best explanation was given by Al-Hujwiri, the famous 11th century mystic of Lahore. In his renowned treatise, Kashf al-Mahjub, Hujwiri quotes a Prophetic tradition to define a Sufi as the one who adopts safa (purity) and gives up kadar (impurity).
Such straightforward renditions have contributed to the immense popularity of Sufism across the globe. In India too it is believed that a huge percentage of Muslims have historically been the adherents of the inclusive Sufi traditions.
It is this Sufi history which happens to be the theme of Prof. Nile Green's latest tome Making Space wherein he explores the role of itinerant “saints” and “blessed men” in the emergence of Muslim communities in early modern India.
Most of these saints, according to Green, sought refuge in India after the sacking of “the great Sufi cradle of Khurasan” by the Mongols, and the mass persecution of Iranian Sufis under the Safavids.
Green's thesis is that Sufi shrines serve as “gates through time” (dargah means gateway) where the past is recounted in narrative and rendered visible in architecture and ritual, and therefore, have been crucial to the making of Muslim space on Indian soil.
These dargahs, or “the death spaces” as Green calls them, helped define Muslim identity by linking community to territory and territory to hagiographic texts of memory known as tazkirat. In other words, a mausoleum that immortalised a saint was kept alive through the stories and rituals that surrounded it, and the resulting “architectural embodiment of collective memory” helped create a Muslim space by acting as a bridge between the past and present.
Interestingly, Green does not go into the “intellectualized doctrinal abstraction” of Sufism. He confines his research to a dispassionate analysis of the historical role of the Sufis as social actors — both during their lifetime and after their death — in the creation of Muslim settlements in India.
But he does mention quoting Hujwiri that Sufism should not be talked about in a different breath from Islamic law or the study of Hadith. For, to the likes of Hujwiri the notion of a discrete ‘Sufism' at even a step's removal from ‘Islam' would have been “a troubling and unfamiliar idea.”
Rise of shrine cults
And, even while treating them as purely historical events, Green drops enough hints to suggest that most of the rituals that have come to be associated with the shrines today did not have the approval of the buried Sufis. For instance, he speaks of how “shrine cults” rose to a high degree of importance a few centuries after Hujwiri's death.
Even today many shrines in India are said to facilitate the exorcism of jinns in clear violation of the teachings of the very saints in whose name it is done.
Green feels that such commemorative rituals extolling the miraculous powers of the buried saints were meant to attract the more material forms of investment required to maintain and preserve the sacred space. This argument is substantiated by the huge monetary contributions some South Asian Muslim shrines regularly get, the most recent example being the donation of a million dollars by the President of Pakistan to the Ajmer dargah.
A substantial part of Green's research is devoted to the Mughal imperial expansion into the Deccan (1640-1690) and their policy of co-option and creation of Sufi shrine complexes in south India which was continued by Aurangzeb's successors, the Nizams. Green recounts the story of how Aurangzeb himself came to be buried at the shrine of Zaynuddin Shirazi (d.1369) in Khuldabad on the advice of Sufi Shah Nur as expiation for killing Sarmad, the free thinker and close associate of Dara Shukoh.
Mention is also made of the migration of Sufis to Arcot where they were patronised by the Nawabs of Carnatic, especially Sadatullah Khan and Muhammad Shah who built shrines in their honour.
One of the most significant findings of Making Space is the absence of communal overtones in the Sufi narratives. Extracting from the works of leading Deccan litterateurs, Azad Bilgrami and Sabzawari, Green highlights the presence of numerous Yogis at the shrines in Khuldabad and says that if at all there was rivalry during those times it was not between Hindu and Muslim power centres but between the Muslim saints and the sultans. The saints refused to bow down to the kings.
In short, Making Space is a chef-d'oeuvre which expertly weaves together various aspects of Muslim cultural history to produce a coherent account of how Muslims carved out a space for themselves in India. It is essential reading for anyone who has a dispassionate interest in the ethno-history of early modern India.
MAKING SPACE — Sufis and Settlers in Early Modern India;
Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
‘Sufism isn’t a fashion statement but a quest for union with God’: Jashn-e-Khusrau unearths facets of Sufism that make the tradition dynamic, says Sadia Dehlvi
Jashn-e-Khusrau: A Collection
Roli Books & Agha Khan Trust For Culture
The last decade has witnessed innovations such as Sufi Yoga and Sufi Kathak. Bare-chested men have been dancing at Sufi festivals marketed in the name of Khusrau.
New age gurus continue to recycle selective writings of Mevlana Rumi and Amir Khusrau to produce what I call “bubble gum spirituality”. Such innovations make mockery of both Sufism and Hazrat Amir Khusrau, one of the great poets of the region.
Sufism is not a fashion statement but a serious quest for union with God. Much like other religions, Islam too has a mystical dimension. This spiritual current, known as tasawuff, later came to be called Sufism. It represents the vibrancy of Islam in adapting to different cultures, allowing for diversity of devotional expressions while affirming unity of faith.
In the subcontinent, this plurality is exemplified by the life of the towering 13th century Sufi Master Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his beloved disciple Amir Khusrau.
Produced by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Jashn-e-Khusrau: A Collection does not succumb to popular notions of Sufi traditions.
It presents a genuine understanding of Sufiana Qawaali and its pivotal role in Zikr, remembrance of the Divine at sama mehfils, collective gatherings held to induce spiritual experience.
The text focuses on how the Hindawi Kalaam of Khusrau, who venerates his mystic master, celebrates local language and cultures, defines the essence of Qawaali and gives it a universal appeal.
Jashn-e-Khusrau, both the festival and the book, take Amir Khusrau to the place where he lies entombed, the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, a place at the core of Delhi’s history and culture.
The first essay by Sunil Sharma, who teaches Persian literature at Boston University, details the vast and diverse nature of Khusrau’s work. Regula Qureshi, the sole ethnomusicologist to work on genre of Qawaali, pens an insightful history of the popular genre. The third and final essay by Irfan Zuberi on art, artists and patronage of the Qawaals in Basti Nizamuddin, outlines the close symbiosis between the Qawaals and their patrons at the dargah. It rightfully calls for the conservation of the 700-year-old settlement, its traditions and monuments.
The illuminated manuscripts in Jashn-e-Khusrau are sourced from museums around the world. Rather than just serve as decorative miniature paintings and calligraphies, these folios illustrate the literary work of Amir Khusrau and Amir Hasan, a fellow poet and disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin.
The three CDs, elegantly cased within the folds of the book, are a compilation of the six Qawaali performances held by the Agha Khan Trust.
The collection from the festival Jashn-e-Khusrau includes some of the best Qawaals from India and Pakistan, including Meeraj Nizami, Ghaus Muhammad Nasir Niazi, Muhammad Ahmed Warsi Naziri, Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad. Khusrau’s poetry is sung in the traditional style as across the dargahs of South Asia.
The rendition and choice of poetry, both in Hindawi and Persian, are amongst the finest I have heard.
The second part of the book has around 25 pages devoted to Kalaam, where the complete poetry of the recitals rendered in the CD are inscribed in Urdu with a transliteration in the Roman script, along with English translations by scholars like SM Yunu Jaffery, Saleem Qidwai, Paul Losensky and Sunil Sharma.
Jashn e Khusrau: A Collection recounts Amir Khusrau’s contribution to India’s contemporary identity and continuing traditions. The wonderful pictures, essays, and Qawaalis make Jashn-e-Khusrau: A Collection, a treasure for lovers of Sufism and Qawaali.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Stanford's Özgen Felek investigates the power of dreams in Sufism: Through a study of dreams, Özgen Felek charts the ascendance of the 16th-century Ottoman ruler Sultan Murad III from humble disciple to spiritual and political leader.
Every night when the 16th-century Ottoman ruler Sultan Murad III went to bed, he looked forward not just to rest, but also to the guidance he would find in his dreams. In the morning, Murad, the grandson of Suleiman the Magnificent, reported his dreams to his Sufi – a mystical Islamic master who interpreted and transcribed the signs and symbols to help the sultan make decisions about his empire and his personal progress.
One night while dreaming of a boy with "a bejeweled crown on his head," the sultan reported hearing a voice in his dream that said, "It is not a boy, it is the religion of Muhammad and the religion of Islam; it is the religion of Muhammad."
Hundreds of dream narrations like this were eventually compiled into a bound manuscript that established the ruler not only as a religious leader but also as an important authority figure.
To this day, Islamic mysticism places a great emphasis on the significance of dreams as windows into the dreamer's soul. The mystics also believed that dreams, and even visions that happen when one is awake, correspond to real-world scenarios. While many modern historians write off dreams as fiction, Muslim populations understood the interpretation of these dreams as ways in which to achieve "orientation in a world that would otherwise be experienced in chaos," according to Stanford scholar Özgen Felek.
The research of Felek, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Religious Studies at Stanford, has shed new light on Ottoman dream culture and Sufism. Her international investigation of archival documents has yielded new perspectives on the spiritual progress of important figures in Ottoman history.
"For Ottoman chroniclers and their audiences, dreams were as real as historical events. But, for some Sufis, dreams were particularly significant for each disciple's individual progress," said Felek.
For example, in the Khalwatiyya order of the Sufi tradition, if one's dreams featured elephants and camels or the color blue, the individual's soul was in the first stage or "Nafs-i Ammara" (the Soul/Self that Dictates Evil), which indicated that the soul was still dominated by earthy desires and passions.
Felek, co-editor (with Alexander D. Knysh) of the recently published book, *Dreams and Visions in Islamic Societies* (SUNY Press), is studying how Sultan Murad III's portrayal of himself in dreams established him as a universal Islamic ruler and an accomplished Sufi.
Felek, inspired by the rich descriptions of the dreams, is also painting a series of miniatures that illustrate some of their themes.
Charting the rise of a ruler
A series of divine messages that the sultan received in his dreams led him to envision a broad expansion of his kingdom. The sultan referenced these dreams to justify a 12-year war with the neighboring Safavids.
Felek noted the transcription of one dream in which the sultan said God had granted him the lands of Persia: "I was wandering with Suleiman Ghazi (Suleiman the Magnificent). I heard a Divine call that said, 'O Murad Khan, the sovereignty of the province of the Persian Lands was given to you. Its invasion and conquest was made easy for you. It was all given to you.'"
"His dreams function not only to create an image of Murad as a spiritual leader, but also to legitimize his political and military decisions," said Felek.
In earlier accounts, the sultan is portrayed as the humble friend of God, but as time goes on he begins to dream of doing the types of miracles that can only be performed by the great Sufi figures and prophets. He walks on water, flies in the air, turns stones into cheese, produces milk from his fingers, and ascends into the heavens.
For many Muslims the relevance of their visions has not waned over the centuries. According to Felek, disciples of the Khalwatiyya order still report their dreams to their Sufi masters in search of spiritual guidance and understanding. According to Felek, "Some dream narratives in which the Prophet appears are circulated via Internet blogs and forums or being forwarded through emails among Muslims."
The practice of "Istikhara," first prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad, is common in some communities today. Devotees who face large decisions are encouraged to say a specific prayer meant to incite a dream that will guide their decision. Generally, as Felek explained, Muslims turn to elder or more pious Muslims to say the prayer on their behalf in the belief that "the dreams of pious people are more likely to come true."
Dreaming in the classroom
In the course of her research, Felek became intrigued by the idea of visual representations of the dreams she was studying.
"I was fascinated by how descriptive and lively his [the sultan's] dream accounts were," Felek said. "One can envision each dream in detail, so I decided to combine my academic interests and artistic skills to make his dreams even more visible by illustrating them. I thought this would make the sultan happy, too."
Felek uses very fine brushes and crushed gold leaves to capture every fine detail. A calligrapher adds the transcription of the dream accounts in traditional Arabic text.
"I closely examine the illustrated manuscripts commissioned by the sultan in order to stay loyal to the dress code, architecture and the artistic style of his time as much as possible in my paintings," said Felek.
Each ornate painting takes a full year to create. Felek is currently working on creating a book of all of her artistic endeavors and hopes to put them on exhibition one day.
This spring Felek is teaching two undergraduate courses that she developed. Islamic Manuscript Illumination: History, Theory and Practice is designed to give students more than just a theoretical introduction to Islamic manuscripts. Over the course of the quarter each student will produce at least one painting in the traditional techniques and styles of Islamic art.
Although the students were apprehensive about the painting component of the class, Felek said it has in fact helped students uncover artistic abilities they didn't know they had.
Picture: One of Özgen Felek's illuminations in progress. Photo: L. A. Cicero.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Ghariani embodies image of Muslim Libya in post-Gathafi era: Mufti warns all groups, whether Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists or Sufis, are vulnerable to radical elements in their ranks seeking to sow chaos.
Tripoli: As devoutly Muslim Libya struggles through a transition to democracy, its Grand Mufti has emerged as a powerful moral compass for leaders and ordinary citizens alike.
While Libyans were fighting to oust leader Moamer Gathafi last year, the new National Transitional Council named Sheikh Sadeq al-Ghariani in May as the top religious authority and judge of what is forbidden or permitted under Islam.
The Tripoli-based scholar and author of 32 books was among the first to speak out against Gathafi's regime after it launched a violent crackdown against a popular uprising in February 2011 in the eastern city of Benghazi.
And when Gathafi was captured and slain last October, the grand mufti ruled the former strongman to be an "infidel," unworthy of prayers.
"The role of the mufti is to provide guidance and counsel," Sheikh Ghariani said in between solemn meetings with citizens seeking answers on how to settle disputes out of court.
Interim government spokesman Nasser al-Manaa says of Sheikh Ghariani that "these days show that many Libyans stand by his words," adding that the authorities themselves will seriously consider any proposal he makes.
No such compass guided the nation during the final years of Gathafi's four-decade rule. A self-proclaimed Arab, African and Islamic leader, Gathafi had a touch-and-go relationship with Islam.
He replaced the Gregorian, solar-based calendar with the Muslim lunar calendar in everyday affairs and declared the Koran should be translated into every language. But he also abolished Dar Al-Ifta, the office for religious edicts, fatwas, and crushed Islamists posing a political threat.
Dar Al-Ifta was formally reinstituted in Tripoli after rebels seized the capital last August.
Indefatigable, the septuagenarian Sheikh Ghariani hosts a weekly TV talk show fielding calls on a range of topics, from how to split inheritances to what is halal (permitted) and haram (forbidden) in Islamic sharia law.
Yet he is modest about his role.
"If no one comes to him (for advice), he approaches no one (with advice)," said the graduate of Cairo's Al-Azhar, the highest centre of Sunni Muslim learning, who issued his fatwas from Benghazi during the 2011 revolution.
Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring last year, a long-running debate on the thorny constitutional question of whether Islam should be "a" source of legislation, or "the" source, has come to the fore across the region.
In August, the NTC issued a provisional declaration that Sharia would be the "primary source" of legislation, raising concerns in the West about religious tolerance and women's rights.
The Mufti clarifies: "We are not saying Islam should be the only source of legislation... What we are saying is that any law that contradicts Islam is invalid."
"Laws created by men are acceptable on the condition that they are not in contradiction with the Koran and Sunna (teachings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed)," he said, adding that 90 percent of the laws on the books pose no problem.
Hence, the longstanding bans on selling alcohol and pork and of licencing brothels will never be revoked.
But there are some laws promulgated under Gathafi that fly in the face of the holy book, including one that allows a person to claim unoccupied property, and one that permits charging interest on loans.
As for politics, Sheikh Ghariani has already issued edicts on the importance of qualified people running for office but declines to define which school of Islamic jurisprudence he draws on for his fatwas.
"Islam is one," he stressed.
Libya is a Sunni Muslim society in which many citizens describe themselves as middle-of-the-road moderates who reject violence.
But the Sufi sect, which practises a mystical form of Islam and has played a historic role in the affairs of the North African nation, now finds itself in conflict with Qatari- and Saudi-trained Salafist preachers who consider it heretical.
The Mufti warns that all groups -- whether the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists or Sufis -- are vulnerable to radical elements in their ranks seeking to sow chaos.
While downplaying fears Salafist extremists are gaining momentum in post-Gathafi Libya, he said they are a minority and taking advantage of the security vacuum left after Gathafi.
"Such people are a very small segment (of society) and have surfaced now because of the lack of security and stability," he said in reference to scattered cases of zealots entering mosques by force to preach.
"If there were a strong grip on security and everyone who committed a crime faced justice, these people would never have come out, and we would never have heard of them."
At the request of the interim government, he ruled against the desecration of tombs after an attack by Salafists against a cemetery in Benghazi left the graves of World War II heroes gutted.
He also opposes the demolition of Sufi shrines, which have been attacked, and issued an edict to that effect in March after a stand-off between people in the town of Zliten and armed Salafists seeking to destroy a shine there.
The Mufti's position on women reflects view held widely in his society.
Interim leader Abdel Jalil sparked an outcry last year, especially among women rights activists, when he said his country would overturn a Gathafi-era ruling restricting polygamy.
Libya's personal status laws -- which regulate such matters as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance -- are already based on the Koran and will probably remain the same or similar in future, he said.
When asked whether a man would need his wife's permission to take a second wife -- a requirement under Gathafi that was rarely put into practice -- he said no, because of a woman's "jealous nature."
"Polygamy is legitimate and there is no controversy in this," he said, arguing it is better than to take a lover and bring illegitimate children into the world and makes men shoulder the responsibility for their offspring.
However, at the same time, he said "we want women to play a strong role in the upcoming phase of elections."
While his views may be as jarring as fingernails on a chalk board to most Western and some Arab feminists, they cause few ripples in Libya, where religious observance underpins every social norm.
"Islam governs all aspects of life, not only Zakat (alms) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) -- two central tenets of Islam -- but the moment from which a Muslim is conceived to the moment he is buried," says the Mufti.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Attar Neishabouri commemorated
Tehran: Ceremonies marking birth anniversary of eminent Iranian poet Attar Neishabouri were held here as well as in his birthplace Neishabour in Khorassan Razavi province.
Designated as the ‘Day of Commemorating Attar’, April 13 provides an opportunity for experts to study his life and works.
Iranian literati and scholars gathered at the mausoleum of the classical Persian poet as part of the programs to commemorate him.
Attar was a Persian Muslim poet, theoretician of Sufism and hagiographer who left an everlasting influence on Persian poetry and Sufism.
His works are in poetry and prose. ‘Manteq At-Teir’ (conference of birds), his masterpiece, is in poetry while his works in prose include ‘Elahi Nameh’, ‘Asrar Nameh’ and ‘Mosibat Nameh’.
‘Manteq At-Tair’ covers approximately 4,500 verses. It depicts a journey by a group of birds, led by a hoopoe, as an allegory of a leader directing them to the land of Simorgh (mythical bird).
They cross seven valleys longing for meeting Simorgh. The seven valleys symbolizing the seven stages of mysticism.
But not all of the can endure the pains of the journey. A number of them drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse.
Eventually, only thirty birds reach the abode of the Simurgh. But there is no Simurgh to see. Simurgh's chamberlain keeps them waiting for Simurgh long enough for the birds to figure out that they themselves are the si (thirty) murgh (bird).
It is the Sufi doctrine that God is not separate from the universe and every creature is a manifestation of the Creator.
Attar was killed by the invading Mongols. He was buried near Neishabour, Khorassan Razavi province.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Salman Ahmad: Making his way into films
Sufi rockstar Salman Ahmad, who is all set to rock India in an upcoming tour later this month, has a little surprise for his fans in Pakistan and abroad.
Previously, Ahmad was going to New Delhi to perform live for his fans but now the musician has announced that he will be making his Bollywood debut in Vicky Kumar’s musical love story Rhythm, according to timesofindia.com.
Hindustan Times reports that Ahmad’s fan following started strengthening from 1997, when his song “Sayonee” created a rage in India and garnered uninterrupted airtime on television. Now, Junoon, spearheaded by Ahmad, will hit the stage in Mumbai on April 28.
Having undergone numerous line-up changes since the band’s inception in 1990, Junoon currently consists of founder Ahmad on guitar and vocals, John Alec on bass, Sunny Jain on drums and Kedarnath Havaldar on percussion.
Sadly, the current line-up does not include singer Ali Azmat and bassist Brian O’ Connell, two band members who helped the band earn recognition as the pioneer of rock in the subcontinent.
The two-hour long show aims to attract a crowd of 10,000. The Pakistani Sufi rock band is also scheduled to perform in Pune, Delhi and Bangalore.
Event organiser Darpan Trisal says, “We might add on some more cities on the road. Band member, Salman Ahmad has also consented to perform a jugalbandi at the forthcoming Wow awards, the awards which recognise outstanding customer service.”
Junoon’s last concert in India was on February 6, 2010 in Delhi in support of the Lighting a Billion Lives campaign, reports Hindustan Times.
According to Pakistantoday.com, Ahmad, who is based in the US these days, says, “India is the land of junoonis and we want to infuse it with some high-octane junooni (passion) soul.”
He adds, “Many of my Indian friends including actor Naseeruddin Shah, politician Shashi Tharoor, Nobel Peace prize winner Dr Rajendera Pachauri and actor Nandita Das have told me that our music has played a vital role in promoting harmony between India and Pakistan. I hope to further promote peace, joy and unity on the land of Hazrat Amir Khusrau and Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.”
Picture: Salman Ahmad will perform live in India after almost two years. Photo: TET File
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Karachi: Sufism is all about loving humanity and discovering one’s own self to reach or understand God.
This was the crux of the arguments presented by speakers on the inaugural day of a two-day national conference on ‘Significance of Sufi poets in modern Pakistan’ organised by the department of Sindhi, Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast) in the institute’s Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan auditorium on Tuesday.
The introductory session of the moot was presided over by Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser, former vice-chancellor of Fuuast, now the VC of Karachi University.
Chairman of the Sindhi department Prof Dr Inayat Hussain Laghari informed the audience (who had turned up in a small number because of the transport strike in the city) about the conference’s objectives. He said Sufism taught us to love humanity, something which could help us in difficult, violent times.
The keynote address was delivered by Prof Dr Nawaz Ali Shoq.
He suggested that there should be a Shah Latif chair at Peshawar or Punjab university and a Bulleh Shah chair at Karachi University to promote national integration.
He said Sufis were not just poets; they were scholars too. They preached love of God, of His prophets and of humanity in general. He said according to the Sufis, offering prayers and keeping fast were important aspects of faith, but human beings needed to go beyond that – they should serve and love their fellow creatures.
To illustrate his point, Dr Shoq quoted quite a few incidents from some known Sufis’ lives.
For example, he narrated a story related to Baba Farid Ganj-i-Shakar. Once a man came to Baba Farid and tried to gift him a knife (the village he belonged to was famous for making knives). The Sufi saint refused to accept the gift and said to him that he would rather accept a needle, because he was in the world to bring people closer to each other (sui ki tarha jorney ke liyey dunia mein hoon), not to separate them (chhuri ki tarha kaatne ke liyey nahin).
Dr Shoq rounded off his address by telling the gathering that in Sufis’ eyes it was very important for man to keep his heart pure.
He read out the couplet:
Her tamanna dil se rukhsat ho gaee
Ab to aa ja ab to khalwat ho gaee
A scholar from Balochistan, Prof Dr Abdul Razzaq Sabir, said people thought Sufis led a secluded life; it was not so, they raised their voice against oppressors and tyrants. He said there was a need for revisiting Sufis’ lives and works.
Throwing light on contemporary times, he quoted Prof Karrar Husain who once said that while different languages were getting merged into each other those who spoke those languages were drifting apart. Dr Sabir added we should learn to accept one another and then read a few beautiful lines by Baloch poets, including Jawan Saal Bugti.
Prof Dr Seemi Naghmana went back in time when the British held sway over the subcontinent. She commented that even at that time Sufis had a sense of the political situation and rebelled against the British in their own way.
Prof Dr Ali Akbar and Prof Dr Sulaiman D. Mohammad also spoke. In his presidential address Prof Dr Qamarul Haq lauded the efforts of the Sindhi department in holding the event.
The second and first formal session of the day was presided over by Dr Dur Mohammad Pathan. Allah Bachayo Arisar was the first speaker who shed light on the Sufi element in Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s poetry. He also touched on the allegorical (tamseeli) side to stories such as Noori and Jaam Tamachi’s in Bhitai’s poems.
Sumaya Qazi read out a paper on the life and work of Shah Karim. She said he was fond of mehfil-i-sama and often organised such gatherings.
Ramzan Bamari spoke on Mast Tawakkuli.
He said people had confined Sufism to Islam; they were more than that. Sufis were above the concepts of cast, creed or colour, and though Sufis did not care much about themselves, they loved their motherland. He said Mast Tawakkuli was fond of a girl named Sammi. He often used her as bigger metaphors.
He took issue with the title of the conference and remarked that Sufis existed even before Pakistan came into being. He also talked about the tortured bodies found in Balochistan on a regular basis and argued such things made one rebellious.
He iterated the Sufis’ message was to love humanity, particularly the oppressed. He pointed out that every university had a chair, but there were no Baloch poet chair at any university.
Prof Dr Khurshid Abbasi shed light on Faqeer Qadir Bakhsh Bedil and told the audience he penned no fewer than 23 books.
Dr Abdul Aziz Sahir’s topic was Pir Meher Ali Shah Golra Sharif while Prof Nasir Abbas delivered a speech on the importance of studying Sufism so that history could be better understood.
In his presidential address Dr Dur Mohammad Pathan remarked Sufis were normal human beings and should be treated like that.
Dr Kamal Jamro conducted the event.
Picture: Whirling dervishes perform at the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall, founded in 1491 by the Ottomans, in Istanbul, Turkey, on the second day of Muslims' holy month of Ramadan, late Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. Sufi whirling performance of the Mevlevi order is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sama. The order was founded by the Persian-Turkish poet Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the greatest mystic poets of Sufism in Islam, born in 1207 in Balkh, then in the Persian province of Khorasan and now in Afghanistan, and died in 1273 in Konya, Turkey. - Photo: AP.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
[From the French language press]:
C'est peut-être la première fois qu'un grand musée israélien consacre une exposition (jusqu'au 21 avril) à un grand artiste palestinien: Walid Abu Shakra, graveur et soufi.
By Marc Lenot, *Walid Abu Shakra, graveur et soufi* Le Monde - Paris, France; Tuesday, April 10, 2012
This is perhaps the first time a major Israeli museum devotes an exhibition (until April 21) to a great Palestinian artist, Walid Abu Shakra, Engraver and Sufi.
The exhibition is held in collaboration with a Palestinian Art Gallery located in Umm el Fahm ('the mother of coal' or charcoal), hometown of Walid Abu Shakra (born 1946).
In the 1980s Walid Abu Shakra stopped drawing and painting to devote himself to Sufism.
He resumed his practice at the death of his mother, three years ago: the few recent engravings presented at the exhibition seem finer, softer, more ethereal.
Pictures: Walid Abu Shakra, "View from my Village", Drypoint, 2011 / "Night View", 1975. [Click on the title to the original article with more images and links; Click here to the exhibition at TAM Museum (English) (ed.)]
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Learning to sing the language of love: Anglo-Indian musician Susheela Raman is collaborating with Lahore's qawwali singers. She explains how they learned to make music together
"Everybody thinks we are all terrorists," our friend and driver Asif tells us, "that's why there are no tourists here these days. But look around you, nobody is bothering you, people are happy that you are here." We are sitting at a street restaurant in the old city of Lahore, near the astonishing Mughal citadel of the Lahore fort and the Badshahi mosque, ordering bowl after bowl of utterly delicious chickpeas stewed in a chicken and coriander stock, served with nan bread fresh baked in their clay oven. Lahore surely has some of the world's great street food, often served by one-dish restaurants, which its famously epicurean inhabitants will cross the city to sample. The food is not always for the faint-hearted; before we settle on the chickpea joint, we are taken as a treat to a restaurant where we are offered the three bovine options on the menu: brain, hoof or tongue.
Alongside its culinary arts, Lahore's other cultural treasure is its music, which is why we are here. Qawwali is a form of Muslim mystic – Sufi – devotional music. Its roots go back seven centuries, although it was the great qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who brought it to international exposure. Nusrat, who died in 1997, was based in Lahore, and today the city is full of musicians of all sorts. Sam, my producer and guitarist and I have come from London to connect with this deeply-rooted and hugely popular form of devotional music. We're part of a British Council/Southbank Centre project called The Language of Love that facilitates collaborations between musicians from India, Pakistan and the west.
Sufism is often celebrated as the softer face of Muslim culture. Celebrating the union of Sufi saints with the divine, qawwali is designed to create an ecstatic trance mood, and is most typically performed at Sufi shrines. Sufi saints are thought to be channels of "baraka" – divine blessing – and to have powers of intercession. Qawwali can be pious but also transgressive in its adoration of the saints and its glorification of states of "intoxication" and loss of self. The performers stand or fall on their ability to deliver a sense of rapture to the audience; the most famous qawwals command huge fees and when shrine performances occur banknotes are showered on performers who make a particular lyric or sentiment hit home.
The singers draw on a repertoire of hundreds of songs which are sung mainly in Urdu or Punjabi. A main voice is backed by others singing in unison, sometimes in call and response, and sometimes taking the lead and it's impossible not to be swept away on the tide of their emotion. There are moments of improvisation, but these are tunes built around killer hooks. Handclaps, tabla and other hand percussion drive the music forward relentlessly.
The magnificent Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan typified how qawwali is performed with such passion that you sense the singer trying to tear away the veil of separation between himself and the "beloved".
Sufism has many facets and many different styles – it penetrates every level of Pakistani society. Even the qawwals vary. The Mian Mir are a group of working class qawwals who for centuries have performed at an 18th-century shrine in praise of the Sufi saint Mian Mir. Fresh rose petals and green cloths are laid on the tomb around which people sit in states of prayer. Around the shrine however, there is heavy security as Sufi gathering places have been bomb targets (popular Sufism is an anathema for some Salafist Muslims who regard the traditional South Asian reverence for saints and even for the Prophet as a kind of polytheism.) And today, because of government fears for public safety, the qawwalis can only sing at the Mian Mir shrine once a year. This is heartbreaking for them. Lead vocalist Mehboob Khan says he learned to sing alongside his father who performed here every Thursday night for 25 years. It was a family tradition has been passed down for generations.
Sam and I are due to perform with the Mian Mir qawwalis at Lahore's Rafi Peer auditorium. The Rafi Peer has been bombed three times and now has extensive security measures in place, but it is determined to continue supporting traditional music, no matter what. The event is by invitation only and is not publicised in the newspapers.
We start practising together. Because qawwali music has drones, choruses and driving rhythms there is a lot to latch on to. Some previous fusions with qawwali have gone towards the dreamy, but we are aiming to match their energy and their sense of immediacy. Our songs and sounds mix and merge. The Mian Mir qawwals are wonderfully easygoing and relaxed about collaborating. Qawwali is not traditionally sung by women, but they have no hesitation in accepting me as a performer, nor do they have a problem with the fact that I am a western woman of Hindu and Indian origin. When we play one of our songs they try to find one of their own that uses a similar scale and rhythm, and we build from there. We seek ways to play together where they can sing with their full range and feelings. As the hours pass, the boundaries begin to slip away. It is a music of raw and intsense emotion. The crackling electricity and tender openness of qawwali forces its way directly into our heads and hearts – we cannot help but respond to it, and find the musical energy, versatility and sheer invention to match the Lahore group.
Some qawwals are technical maestros but these guys are more about raw feelings. They perform seated, punctuating their performance with hand gestures and head shaking. I stand up and move around and dance as I sing, but, again, this is fine – they are used to members of their audience entering into paroxysms of ecstasy so the sight of my hair flying around is mild by comparision. They drive their voices as high as possible, which reminds me of the Beatles in their early days. But they also have a sense of pacing and of dynamic in orchestrating the flow of the emotions they unleash.
Sam expertly finds chords and guitar riffs to bring the songs into a shared musical space; some of the most touching moments are when he and the Mian Mir's singer Mehboob Khan duet.
These guys have great stamina. Used to performing for several hours at a time, their singing draws in a column of air from their middle to throw their voices out at maximum pitch and volume. In between songs they chain-smoke and drink tea. We join in.
Our performance is to 700 invited guests. The audience give us a standing ovation, loving the fusion and confirming for me and Sam that we are on a path that makes sense both in Pakistan and back in the west. We will do the exact same show in London.
We have discovered a sound that crossses boundaries both in terms of South Asian culture but that also brings qawwali into relation with a kind of post-rock. For years I have performed songs from Hindu devotional traditions because so much of the best music from south Asia has a spiritual component. The crucial point is not to make the music into a walled garden. So much cultural heritage is shared, and who has the right to dictate where the boundaries should be? Communal divisions are both real and absurd, and almost everyone welcomes a chance to forget them. Qawwali reaches across cultural divides. There is no sense of a separation of sacred and profane or Muslim and non-Muslim: everyone is invited. It simply sweeps you up and blasts you with love, like all real "soul" music does.
If political Islam is about the struggle for an imaginary future, this kind of Sufi Islam is about evoking the feeling of the divine in the present.
• Susheela Raman and Pakistan Qawwalis perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 16 April as part of Southbank Centre's Alchemy festival.
[Click on the title to the original article with a preview video (ed.)]
Picture: Susheela Raman performing with the Mian Mir Qawwals in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: The Guardian.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Ishq Khuda may bring Lollywood back to life: Written by Saleem Zuberi and Pervaiz Kaleem, the film centres around Sufism and the difference between temporal and eternal love.
Lahore: If there’s one person who can change the positioning of Lollywood and give the industry a new appeal, it has to be film-maker Shehzad Rafique. With hits like Mohabbatan Sachiyan and Salakhain on his directorial resume, Rafique is set to return with his much-awaited comeback film Ishq Khuda, which is scheduled for a global release this Eid.
With film stars like Shaan and industry legends like Syed Noor as his biggest supporters, the film-maker’s latest venture has once again roped in a multitude of artists and musical personalities. Ishq Khuda stars actors Ahsan Khan and Meera in the leading roles and features guest appearances from Shaan and Saima.
For Rafique, putting a star-studded cast was easy since actors like Khan, who are well-aware of the film-maker’s talents, needed little persuasion. Khan, who is popular for his acting on television serials, had previously turned his back on the film industry but changed his mind when Rafique offered him this opportunity. “I don’t normally act in films but there are very few people who can match the work done by Rafique,” said Khan.
Intriguing plot and theme
Written by Saleem Zuberi and Pervaiz Kaleem, the film is based on a love triangle between Khan, Meera and another actor yet to be revealed. Centred on the theme of Sufism, Khan explains that the film intends to show that when a person fails in the pursuit of worldly endeavours and passions, they start to question their reason for existence and start to struggle for a higher love.
Regarding the plot and cast, Rafique said, “It is based on the idea of Ishq Majazi (temporal love) and Ishq Haqeeqi (eternal love). I have always chosen the cast according to the requirements of the role. I think the chemistry between Ahsan and Meera will be exceptional.”
Moroccan artist Wiam Dahmani, who is popular in the Middle East, will be marking her acting debut with Ishq Khuda. Talking to the Pakistani media, Dahmani said, “I feel great to be in Pakistan. When the director approached me for the role, I immediately said yes.” Rafique said that the reason for his choice was that the debutant will add freshness to the silver screen and will open the gateway for other international artists to feature in Lollywood films.
Filming in Swat
Ishq Khuda is extensively shot in the war-torn and flood-affected region of Swat. Rafique, who had just returned from a shoot in Swat, also thanked the Pakistan Army and the people of Swat for their support during the filming process.
“As a director, I wanted to capture the beauty of the region through the camera. Pakistan is a unique and beautiful place and its people are tolerant and accepting of different ethnicities and religions,” said Rafique. “I think the education of Sufi concepts is important as it promotes tolerance and inter-faith harmony.”
Musically, the film will follow the footsteps of Mohabbatan Sachiyan, which featured an array of acclaimed musicians and artists. Leading playback singer Shazia Manzoor, who had officially left the film industry 12 years ago after the decline of Urdu films and the increasingly lyrical vulgarity that accompanied Punjabi films, has agreed to lend her melodic voice to Ishq Khuda’s soundtrack.
Regarding the decline of the film industry and its impact on the music industry, Manzoor said, “While singers can go to India to record albums, the technicians and musicians cannot and those are the people who suffer in the long run. Therefore, quality films with great music are important for their survival.”
The film’s music has been composed by Wajahat Attray and lyrics have been penned by Riazur Rehman Saghar. Besides Manzoor, the soundtrack will also feature Sanam Marvi, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and several other major artists.
Picture: Creative Commons / The Express Tribune.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Zardari prays at Ajmer Sharif, donates $ 1m
Ajmer: After a gap of eight years, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari offered prayers at the revered shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer and announced a donation of $1 million for the dargah.
Accompanied by his son Bilawal, Zardari who had last visited the shrine in 2003, was presented a ring studded with nine gems.
"President Zardari prayed here...He announced a donation of $1 million for the shrine," Syed Zeeshan Kaptan, the Khadim or caretaker of the dargah, told IANS.
The father-son duo spent around 35 minutes at the shrine, which included a 15-minute prayer at the tomb of Moinuddin Chisti.
Both Zardari and Bilawal offered separate chadars at the shrine which they had brought from Pakistan.
According to Kaptan, the father-son duo spent around 10 minutes at the tomb of the Sufi saint also known as Garib Nawaz, and recited verses from the pocket-sized editions of the holy Quran they were carrying.
Both received gifts from the Khadim.
"Bilwal was very happy when we gifted him the picture of his mother when she had last come here," Kaptan said.
The 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto drew instant comparisons with Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi.
"Bilawal looks like the Pakistani version of Rahul Gandhi... He is a soft spoken person and a thorough gentleman," Syed Natik Chishti, Khadim at the dargarh who helped Zardari and Bilawal perform their prayers, told IANS.
"We were very impressed by Bilawal...He seems so full of energy and has a kind and clean heart...He is just like Rahul Gandhi," he said.
Chishti said Bilawal held his hand and asked him to pray for harmonious relations between India and Pakistan.
[Picture: Dargah Sharif. Photo: Wiki.]
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
What is the true theme of poetry? Faiz Ahmed Faiz is reported to have once said that “the true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved”.
Explaining this statement in the preface to her book The true subject: selected poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Naomi Lazard writes that the quotation that says the true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved is in fact a Sufi tenet, a teaching of Sufism.
Then she says that ‘the beloved’ in the phrase may “refer to a person, a home, a country — anything that is beloved, whose meaning is love”.
It may seem a bit strange to some that despite referring to Sufism she has conveniently forgotten to mention God, the true beloved of a Sufi. The reason perhaps is that it would not have fit in properly, since the philosophy Faiz believed in did not have much room for metaphysical concepts such as God.
But the Sufi tenet may work well both for Sufis and the Marxists — and even for those who believe in other kinds of love — and help understand all kinds of poetry, be it love poetry or metaphysical or progressive, if taken in the broader sense.
But she is right when she says that to Faiz the Sufi teaching came to have many meanings and “loss encompasses many losses — loss of home, family, livelihood, country”, because for Faiz, his country and his people were, of course, among the beloved ones and he suffered a lot while in exile.
Later in the preface, Lazard refers to God as well but in a different perspective. She thinks that Faiz used the classical Urdu, Arabic and Persian metaphorical lyrics and songs of yearning for love and yearning for God with a different connotation and “the time-honoured metaphorical yearning for God becomes something new, a vital living poetry that speaks of the struggle to survive against the crushing weight of colonialism, imperial war, against the injustice that strangles our lives every day”.
The book contains the translations of Faiz’s 45 poems along with the original Urdu text. Naomi Lazard, the translator, is an American poet and playwright and she had met Faiz in 1979 at a writers’ conference in Honolulu. Lazard quoted a line from Robert Graves, which he had received in a letter from the Welsh poet Alun Lewis. And the line was, of course, the one quoted above: the true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved. Faiz laughed and said that he was the one who had given that Sufi teaching to Lewis, with whom he had worked in the British Indian army in Burma during the Second World War. The next day both Faiz and Lazard began work on the English translation of Faiz’s poem. It went on till Faiz’s death.
Now a word about the translation: as Lazard has described in the intro, the method of translating the text into English was very peculiar: First Faiz dictates the literal meanings to her.
Then she asks questions about the words, metaphors and cultural nuances. And then she works on the poem until, as she puts it, “the English version works in the same way that a poem I have written myself works. It must be faithful to the meaning Faiz has given it. It must move in his [sic] own spirit, with the same feeling and tone. It must have the same music, the same direction, and, above all, it must mean the same thing in English that it means in Urdu.”
Well, sounds interesting, as it gives the impression that she does not know Urdu. It also reminds one of a saying popular among the academics that poetry cannot be translated. But by it they mean it is very difficult to capture the essence of poetry in translation, that is, even if one knows both the languages very well.
She then adds: “I have learned how crucial it is to find the verb, the active verb to its highest degree, to find the most active verb for the occasion”. But then comes the more interesting part when a few pages later she adds: “In the poetry of Faiz this problem is intensified because his language in Urdu is singularly devoid of active verbs. Images and passives constructions abound”. What worries a student like me is that it is evident that Lazard knows very little Urdu, if at all, yet she is so judgmental about Faiz’s diction.
First published by Princeton University in 1987 under the same title, this edition of The true subject is published by Oxford University Press with a new preface.
One feels that the book can serve as an introduction to Faiz’s poetry and might be helpful to the readers who cannot read, for one reason or another, Faiz’s poetry in the original. For westerners it does open up a new world of themes and expressions, faithfully rendered into English by someone who worked closely with Faiz and is a poet herself.
What is important is that Faiz himself dictated the essence of the poems. Some of the shorter poems convey the message emphatically as is evident from the following translation of Faiz’s famous poem Tanhai (solitude):
Someone is coming at last, sad heart! No. I am wrong. / It is a stranger passing on the way to another place. / Night falters; stars are scattered like clouds. / The lamps in the hallway droop; they want to go out./ All roads are asleep after their long work of listening. / Alien dust has come to cover the traces of the footsteps everywhere. / Snuff out the candles, clean away wine, flask, and goblet. / Lock up your sleepless doors, my heart. / No one, no one will ever come here now.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Cricket and the Ajmer Sharif Shrine Bolster India Pakistan Relations
When Pakistan’s leaders visit India to try to bolster fragile relations between the two countries, both sides can always count on cricket and the famous shrine of Ajmer Sharif to provide the perfect cover for informal talks.
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan visited the Ajmer Sharif shrine on Sunday afternoon, after having a conversation and a delegation-level lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in New Delhi.
Ajmer Sharif is a famous shrine to the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, situated in the middle of Ajmer, Rajasthan, 420 kilometers, or 260 miles, southwest of New Delhi. The saint established an order of Sufism known for its generosity and tolerance, and the shrine is considered one of the world’s most revered places for Muslims. At least 10,000 people visit the shrine every day. Visitors include Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who come to get their wishes fulfilled.
Several leaders of Pakistan have visited Ajmer Sharif in the past. In 1987, General Zia-ul-Haq, then the president of Pakistan, visited Jaipur to watch a cricket match, followed by a visit to Ajmer Sharif. At the time relations between India and Pakistan were passing through a particularly rough phase. He wrote in the visitor’s book, “O Allah, Please accept the services of this servant.”
Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister of Pakistan and wife of Mr. Zardari, visited Ajmer Sharif four times but never as a prime minister. During her first visit in 1991 she wrote in the visitor’s book, “I pray for peace, for well being of humanity, for tolerance and understanding.” A decade later she visited again and wrote, “I feel the spirituality of Darbar. I feel a sense of happiness and joy and an uplifting experience.”
On her third visit, in 2003, she wrote, “I feel great support coming to Ajmer Sharif and offering prayers.” She again visited in 2005 and wrote, “I come for thanks giving as relations between India and Pakistan improve and my husband Asif Ali Zardari is freed from the captivity of tyrants.”
In 2005. the then-president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, visited Ajmer Sharif and wrote in the visitor’s book, “I consider it my honor as also of my entire delegation to have prayed of the Shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chishty. Our prayers for peace, harmony and amity between Pakistan and India and prosperity of both the countries be answered.”
In 2007, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of Pakistan visited the shrine and wrote in visitor’s book, “Allah has been very kind to bring me here. Insha Allah will pray to come back here.”
After the Mumbai attacks in 2008, in which at least 163 people were killed by Pakistani terrorists, official talks between India and Pakistan were suspended. Cricket diplomacy came in handy here. Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan visited India in 2011 to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semifinal match in Mohali. Bilateral relations were resumed again soon after.
After the visit of Mr. Zardari on Sunday afternoon, it will be seen whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India will reciprocate with an official visit to Pakistan. May be that would be the best tribute to the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti.
[Picture: Zardari prays at Ajmer Sharif Dargah. Photo: Ajmer Sharif Dargah (shrine) website.]
Monday, April 09, 2012
Discussion highlights relation of religion, culture
Sufi Islamic Scholar, Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar here on Thursday highlighted the relation of religion and culture in terms of mysticism and spirituality and called the young generation to follow true ethical values of this relation.
Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) in collaboration with Ministry of National Heritage and Integration arranged the lecture and discussion on ‘Deen Aur Saqafat Ka Rishta’.
Professor Rafique explained Islam as a modern and revolutionary religion. “Traditions are outcome of varieties which create new environment. In the beginning traditions oppose these varieties but gradually feel proud of it. The advancement of science and technology considered all religions as unreliable but not Islam,” he added.
“All scientific inventions and discoveries were unable to compete Qura’n. Unfortunately now people have stopped reading Qura’n with complete understanding and they are doing researches on the basis of modern sciences,” he said.
Culture is the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours and traditions of a particular human group, a way of living learned from, and shared by, the members of that group.
Understanding the concept of culture is key to understanding human behaviour.
He said that culture and religion are part of human life to create harmony in different matters. Participants including students and people from different walks of life took part in discussion to explore the subject and understand the concepts in detail.
Ahmad Rafique Akhtar (born April 15, 1941) has been associated with teaching for years and delivers lectures on different Islamic and philosophical topics all over the country and different places in the world. Many of his lectures have been published in books.
Ahmed Rafique is known as ‘Mystic of this Era’ who focuses on topics like mysticism, religion, today’s world, approach to Qura’n, Science and Islam.
[Picture: Professor Ahmad Rafique Akhtar. Photo: Wiki.]
Sunday, April 08, 2012
The journey to Ajmer Sharif - from Akbar to Zardari
Ajmer: From Mughal emperor Akbar who came praying for a son to a relentless stream of around 12,000 people who throng every day to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari who will visit it Sunday, the pull of the 12th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer remains undiminished.
The marble-domed tomb of the Sufi saint, located 145 km from Jaipur, in the middle of Ajmer's walled city area, attracts a huge mass of people from all over the world who come here with an ardent wish and a prayer on their lips.
The tomb is located at the centre of a courtyard and is surrounded by a marble platform. It is believed that the remains of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz, lie buried at the shrine.
Khadims, or priests at the dargah, claim to be his descendants and are authorised to carry out prayers at the shrine. The premises have eight more tombs, including those of the saint's family members.
S.F. Hussein Chishti, a khadim, told IANS that people come here with the hope to fulfil their wishes and offer 'chadar'. After their wish is fulfilled, they visit again to express their gratitude.
"It used to be Mughal emperor Akbar's favourite destination for many years," said Chishti.
He said the most spectacular thing about the shrine is that it is visited by not only Muslims but equally by those from other religions, including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
The shrine is set to complete 800 years in June.
Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti is said to have been born in 1142 A.D. in Iran. "He left the place to spread the teachings of Sufism. He came to India and settled in Ajmer," added a khadim.
"At that time, society had many social evils; so he spread the teachings of equality and brotherhood. Sufism is a moderate philosophy and Mughal kings were impressed and encouraged the spread of its teachings". He is largely famous for the Sufi philosophy that preaches brotherhood, harmony and prosperity, say the khadims.
Julfikar Chishti, another khadim, said: "The deprived and the poor come barefoot, walking hundreds of kilometres. For the past three to four years, people from Europe and America are also coming here to learn the teachings of Sufism."
Mohamed Aajam, a historian, said: "King Akbar came barefoot from Agra to the Ajmer dargah and wished for a son here.
"There is the Akbari mosque and also Shahani mosque constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan," he said.
There are eight gates for entrance to the shrine, but only three are used. "The Nizam gate was constructed by the Nizams of Hyderabad," said Aajam.
A dargah committee takes care of the security and sanitation of the place. The rituals are in the hands of the Anjuman Committee, made up of priests of the place.
"Our duty is to organise rituals and provide food to the deprived coming here," said Waheed Angara, secretary of the Anjuman Committee. There are regular elections to this committee and only khadims can participate in it.
Zardari will be the fourth Pakistani head of state or government to visit the dargah. His late wife Benazir Bhutto and former presidents Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf also visited the shrine.
"The shrine has always been a great source of communal harmony and national integrity," Mohammad Ahmed, a resident of the dargah area, told IANS.
Every year, on the death anniversary (urs) of the Sufi saint, held on the first six days of Rajab (seventh month of the Islamic calendar), millions pour into the shrine.
[Picture: Ajmer Sharif, Big Degh (cauldron). It was presented by Emperor Akbar, 4800 kgs of food can be cooked in it and the cost comes to about 1,20,000 Indian Rupees (2300.-- USD). Photo: Chishti Ajmer Sharif.]
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Kashmir first Rock band has Sufi poetry on Blues
Born and brought up in difficult and violent years of the past two decades, four boys have come together in Kashmir for first Rock band to sing philosophical Sufi poetry and hum people's day to day sufferings.
Named ‘Dying Breed’, the valley-based band had people on toes on Sunday evening at Srinagar’s Sangarmaal shopping complex. The band sung from famous poetic verses of Sheikh-ul- Aalam on Blues with on-stage improvisation.
“It was not easy to form a band in place like Kashmir. From social to economic pressures, we braved it all,” said 23-year-old guitarist Muiz.
Though the final shape of the band took place in the middle of 2011, it was during schooldays of 2005-2006 that three friends Muiz, Zohaib and Maajid would hum and jig secretly in their rooms and dreamt of making it big in music.
“I used to play guitar and sing psychedelic music all day long in my room. My parents sent me to an engineering college outside the state,” said Muiz.
The three friends, however, met again in Srinagar after pursuing different courses for three years only to come up with the valley’s first Rock compact disc album with four songs, which was released on Sunday evening. John Khankashi, a drummer, joined the trio last year to complete the band to produce new music.
‘Dying Breed’ is passionate about Psychedelic, Blues and Rock. “The band believes in experimentation which may or may not fall into a specific genre,” said Maajid.
Influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and Nirvana, Maajid -the lead vocalist- said he wants to sing about everyday life of the valley.
“Our music will have nature and love in it. From traffic jams to day to day issues to Sufi poetry, we will sing for people’s hearts,” said Maajid.
The band is aiming at connecting youth with their roots. “This kind of Sufi music will help new generation to identify with the past and its literature,” said Kashmir’s known playwright Aarshad Mushtaq, who is among rare supporters to the initiative.
All early twenties, the band members are deeply influenced by verses of spirituality-driven poetry of Wahab Khar, Sheikh-ul-Alam and Lal Ded.
Maajid said he will not run away from here just because there is bedlam or the opportunities are fewer. “We may not have had a political stance but we were always clear that our first album will come out from here. We have done our work. Now, we are waiting,” said Maajid.
The band has decided not to preach any ideology. “We are not missionaries. We want to feel normal. We should not be expected to be a political band because we are from Kashmir,” they said.
[Picture: Map of Kashmir showing disputed territory. Photo: Wiki.]
Friday, April 06, 2012
Pak President Asif Ali Zardari to meet Manmohan Singh on April 8 before visit to Ajmer shrine
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi over lunch on April 8 before making a private visit to the famous 13th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer.
This will be the first visit to India by a Pakistani Head of State since 2005, when then President Pervez Musharraf had travelled to New Delhi.
"The President has accepted the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch in New Delhi en route to Ajmer Sharif on April 8," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said on Sunday night.
Zardari will visit Ajmer in Rajasthan "on a private visit for Ziyarat and prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz", Babar said.
"The President will return to Islamabad the same day," he added.
The visit comes against the backdrop of several steps taken by India and Pakistan in recent months to normalise bilateral relations, especially in trade.
Zardari and Singh had last met on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Russia in 2009.
Earlier in the day, Pakistani officials said that a request for a private visit by President Zardari to Ajmer had been forwarded to the Indian side. The government had kept the visit under wraps as it was originally intended to be a "purely private" matter, officials said.
Though the visit was supposed to be devoid of political or diplomatic content, the officials had not ruled out the possibility of some official meetings as a Pakistani head of state would be visiting India after a long gap.
A presidential aide, who spoke on condition that he would not be named, said Zardari's visit to Ajmer had been in the pipeline for almost a year.
"This visit has been planned since last year as the President wants to make a trip to the dargah in Ajmer," the aide said.
Zardari's India visit is intended to be purely for religious purposes. However, the Indian government is looking at the possibility to add some political discussions during his day-long visit.
"While as of now, the visit is purely for religious purposes, efforts are being made so that some political discussions could also take place during the day-long trip of Zardari," sources in Delhi said earlier in the day.
India and Pakistan resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Following several rounds of talks, Pakistan recently switched over to a negative list regime for trade, paving the way to giving India Most Favoured Nation-status by the beginning of next year.
Senior officials of the two sides will hold talks in the coming months on key areas like terrorism, the military standoff on the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek boundary dispute, and this is expected to be followed by the Indian External Affairs Minister?s visit to Islamabad by July.
Zardari is known to be superstitious and his spiritual beliefs have been widely reported in the Pakistani media.
According to media reports, one of his rituals is the sacrifice of a black goat to protect him from evil. Scores of black goats have reportedly been sacrificed since Zardari moved into the presidency.
Picture: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Photo: India Today.