Imam Haddad, the mujaddad (renewer) of his time, and ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you,

Hope you are all well.

On this last day before the start of the blessed month of Ramadan (crescentwatch estimates a good chance of sighting the new crescent on the night of Friday May 26th, heralding the lunar month of Ramadan tonight in many parts of the world – hope you will go out to ‘sight’ the moon tonight!), I want to highlight Imam Abdullah bin Alawi Al Haddad (d 1719 CA), who many consider the mujaddid of the 12th Islamic century.

The mujaddid (=renewer), is a title given to a person who Muslims believe renews the faith. The muhaddid is said to be born once in 100 years and by his presence and teaching the message of Muhammed (peace be upon him) is renewed and continued. We are now in the 15th Islamic century, and while some have speculated as to who the present day mujaddid is, it is not for me to relay here who it may be.

The knowledge of the mujaddid is taught in a famous hadith (=narration) from the beloved, the messenger of God (peace be upon him)

“Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renovate its religion for it.”

— Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), recorded in Sunan Abu Dawood, Book 37: Kitab al-Malahim [Battles], Hadith Number 4278

 

It is not always only one mujaddid, some centuries there are more than one. The mujaddid attains a stature in the tradition that is unquestioned and generally leaves behind a vast corpus of spiritual and other texts or a body of very famous students who become masters in their own right. As I mentioned in a previous post, they are often leaders who are shunned by or feared by the Islamic political leadership of the time, as they do often ‘call out’ sultans and qaadis (=magistrates) etc. Often they are persecuted by the ruling elite, as has been the case for so many of the great scholars in our tradition. The torture the founders of the four sunni schools of legal jurisprudence; Imam Malik, Ahmed, Shaafi’ and Hanafi is well known in the Muslim world.

In fact the present day descendants of Imam Haddad, who represent one of the oldest unbroken lineages of sound Islamic scholarship in the Sunni tradition, and who still call the city of Tarim in Yemen their home, were and are often still persecuted. If I recall correctly, Imam Habib Omar’s (who is the present day leader of the ‘Alawi scholars, who take their name from Imam Haddad) grandfather himself a great scholar, was tied to a vehicle and dragged through the streets of Yemen not too many years ago by the government of that time, and I believe his father was asked to appear before some government agency and ‘disappeared’ thereafter. So this is nothing new, sadly.

Spiritual Islam has always been attacked by ‘political islam’, constantly seeking to divide Muslims along sectarian lines and use the religion for power-grabbing. In fact, if we Muslims would stop listening to political leadership and start studying the religion we will find little difference among Sunni and Shias, and much that is the same. On those lines, I have often found it striking in my travels to the old Muslim Sunni cities, how deeply a love for the prophet’s family – his beloved daughter, Fathim Al-Zahra (= the resplendent one), her husband, Imam Ali, karamallahu wajha (=may God ennoble his face), Imams Hassan and Hussain – is evinced. For example, in old Morocco, the doorknobs are often shaped after a delicate female hand – said to be the ‘hand of Fathima’, that bringer of gentleness, healing and repose. Here is an image below, the lion’s head may represent Imam Ali who is considered a great warrior in our tradition…karamallahu wajha

112608-147

Imam Haddad himself is a descendant of this blessed couple, his lineage below (from www.muwasala.org, where you can read more of the Alawi scholars) Each time you read ‘bin’ think ‘son of’ – it’s like ‘Mc’ in the Scotts traditions:

He is al-Imam al-Habib `Abdullah bin `Alawi bin Muhammad bin Ahmad bin `Abdullah bin Muhammad bin `Alawi bin Ahmad “al-Haddad” bin Abu Bakr bin Ahmad bin Muhammad bin `Abdullah bin Ahmad bin `Abd al-Rahman bin `Alawi `Amm al-Faqih (uncle of al-Faqih al-Muqaddam), bin Muhammad Sahib Mirbat, bin `Ali Khali` Qasam, bin `Alawi, bin Muhammad Sahib al-Sawma`ah, bin `Alawi, bin `Ubaydullah, bin al-Imam al-Muhajir il-Allah Ahmad, bin ` Isa, bin Muhammad al-Naqib, bin `Ali al-`Uraydi, bin Ja`far al-Sadiq, bin Muhammad al-Baqir, bin `Ali Zayn al-`Abidin, bin Husayn al-Sibt, bin `Ali bin Abi Talib and Fatimah al-Zahra’, the daughter of our Master Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets ﷺ.

The Imam’s diwan (=usually used to mean ‘throne’, or ‘government’ or ‘seat’ as in politcal seat ..’Sultan’s diwan’ etc… but here used to mean generally a collection of poetry. For scholars, a diwan generally means their collection of artistic works, often poetry, as all great sunni scholars were great poets), became very popular and a number of his compositions are still sung today. By the way, the presence of a diwan of poetry itself, speaks volumes to the types of people true scholars really are – very much aligned to the spiritual inner workings of man – which all true poetry speaks directly to.

I would like to write of his scholarly works, of which, a very small but profound volume, I had the honor to study. But it would be too much here, so I will continue with his diwan. Among his many poems, one especially ‘Qad kafani i’lmu Rabbi’ (=My Lord’s knowledge has sufficed me) I adore, and the words in it, I can relate directly to, MashaAllah! (by God’s grace).

Here it is, with translation!

 

Many of his poems are sung, and you can find whole volumes of them sung by Indonesian Munshidas (=female singer of devotional music) on Youtube. The Alawi scholars have a great following in Indonesia/Malaysia/Singapore, where they are a major cause for the spread of Islam – again testifying to the falsity of the claim that Islam was spread by the sword – the largest Muslim population exists in Indonesia and certainly Islam only went there through scholars and merchants, the same is true for Western Africa, Central Asia, China… etc.

You can find munshidas singing many of Imam Haddad’s diwan at this website http://bukuhariannikita.blogspot.qa/. Unfortunately the translation is only in Bahasa.

And here is another very famous nasheed from the diwan of Imam Haddad, called ‘Ala yallah bi nadhra’

 

I found a rough English translation from http://ummualwi.blogspot.qa

Ala Yallah bi Nadzrah (Imam al-Haddad)

Chorus:

Ya Allah. Send down Your mercy by Your gaze
That will cure all my ailments in me

Oh my friend! Oh my friend! Don’t you be anxious and burdened
Leave everything to fate and you will be praised and rewarded
And be servants who accept what has been decreed by His Lord, which He has fashioned
And reject you not the decree of Allah, The Lord of the Throne

Be those who are patient and grateful
May you be successful and victorious
And be amongst those who have the secrets
That is, those who have hearts of light
Pure from filth; Pristine and refined

This world is dejected,
And the life of this world is insignificant, and life is short
And no one has greed for the world, except those who are blind
No intellect; that if he is of intellect he will reflect

Reflecting that this world does not last
And the sorrows are aplenty
And wealth is scarce
Hence, blessed is he, so blessed is he who is cautious of the world
And divorced himself from it, and prepares himself to obey Allah

Oh my eyes! Pour from you tears that descend
For a lover who had been sent

Slow tempo…

He was with us and now he has gone
Our hearts have become saddened at his departure

But suffice for me, Allah
That all things will return to You
And nothing lasts but You
May Allah pour down His mercy to the occupants of Basshar
And He is pleasured by them and sent glad tidings

There exists our masters and teachers
Our family and those whom we love
And they remain in our hearts
They reside in places where the dusts smelt a sweet fragrance

A resting place for the best of humanity
They are the leaders of mankind
In loving them there is happiness
How blessed are those who visit them with sincerity
And comes with awareness, so all his wishes will be facilitated.

 

Finally, as the ‘dawn’ of Ramadan of 1438 (Islamic year) is a few hours away, and as it is a month of great re-union with the Quran, family and all things delightful in our tradition, and as it is my first time to experience Ramadan living in a Muslim country (! – dear Readers, I moved to Qatar, so if any of you are here, do reach out! 🙂 ), I likely will not reblog to post my wishes for Ramadan unless I do it now.

So Ramadan Mubarak to all my dear readers, of all faiths, backgrounds, creeds and places – I wish you all a month of peace, blessing, generosity, re-connection with your inner soul and great harmony. May God, bring you all peace and prosperity and heal all our many wounds and bring peace to all countries at war, and especially bless and protect our children.

I will end with the Quran, as Ramadan is the month of the Quran. Here is a recitation from the very famous Qaari (=reciter of Quran), Sheikh Abdul Basit Abdul Samad – a great of the greats, Allah irhamhu (=God have mercy on his soul). He is reciting many verses from many different surahs (=’chapters’ roughly). I will not say which ones in order not to be tedious. The translation is given. He is reciting in the slow style, and using ‘makams’, which I blogged about before and here. I don’t know enough to say which makamaath he uses, but the effect is very beautiful mashaallah.

Peace be with you all

 

 

Tawaf and Sa’ii – the Umrah of Hajj Qiraan – Hajj chronicles 2

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah (peace be with you and the blessing of God),

To continue from the previous post, we reached Makkah after a day’s travel from Madinah. In the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), traveling on foot, this journey would have taken about a week. And what a journey it must have been, to be all together in ‘ihram’ (=sanctified pilgrim state, see previous post for detail) along with the blessed beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) and making that long walk (it was encouraged, and still is, to walk as much as possible during the Hajj) chanting the talbiya together.

When we arrived in Makkah, we performed the ‘umrah’ (=visitation, the lesser pilgrimage). Performing Umrah can be done at any time of year, but it too like Hajj, requires that one be in ihram. There are three methods to perform Hajj, which I won’t go into now. Suffice to say, one of them is Hajj Qiraan. This is the Hajj the blessed prophet (peace be upon him) performed and the one we chose to do (the other two methods may be considered easier). It is where you perform an umrah as soon as you enter Makkah and then remain in your ihram waiting till the 8th of Dhul Hijjah to begin the rights of the Hajj.

It was the night of the 4th of Dhul Hijja when we entered Makkah. Umrah can be completed in a few hours and so we performed this before the 8th of dhul Hijja with ease. An umrah entails two main rituals and some minor ones. The main ones are that you ‘circumambulate’ (- a terrible English word translators have been fond of using for the right called ‘tawaf’ in Arabic. It means ‘circling’ (!), so I will just say to circle or stick to tawaf) the ‘ka’ba’, the cube shaped structure that is the holiest place for all Muslims. It is a structure built by the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and venerated for centuries from way before the time of Muhammed (peace be upon him), as a place for pilgrimage, as a ‘house of God’.

Indeed many of the rights of the Hajj are closely linked to the establishment of Makkah as a place of habitation. In the Quran, and in the Bible, the valley of what is present day Makkah, where the ‘ka’ba’ (=literally meaning cube, it is cube shaped…we say the mathematical ratios of the sides have significance in how we understand the Divine. Also, the four corners of the ‘ka’ba’ point to the four directions; north, south, east and west) is, is referred to by the more ancient name ‘Bakkah’

إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنّاسِ لَلَّذي بِبَكَّةَ مُبارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلعالَمينَ
TRANSLITERATION
ʾinna ʾawwala baytin wuḍiʿa li-n-nāsi la-lladhī bi-bakkata mubārakan wa-hudan li-l-ʿālamīna
TRANSLATION
Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for all nations.
Quran 3:96

The Biblical reference is Psalms 84. , though there is difference of opinion among Biblical scholars as to whether this is present day Makkah or not.

Makkah or Bakkah was a nondescript location in the stark and barren Arabian dessert. Abraham (peace be upon him) was commanded to leave his wife Hagar (=’Hajara’ in Arabic. Arabic, along with Hebrew, are still existent languages that are closely related to the ancient Sumerian or Syriac languages that it is likely Abraham peace be upon him, spoke. Certainly Arabic is closely connected to Aramaic, the language the blessed Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him, may have spoken). I find it interesting that her name is so linguisticaly similar to the word ‘Hajj’. The meaning of ‘Hajara’ is ‘to be independent/not in need of anyone/to avoid others’ (root word used in Quran 73:10), and indeed what an apt description of the strength and courage of our mother Hajara (and indeed of the pilgrim state itself). She is, in my opinon, one of the bravest women of all time, with a faith as giant as that of her husband.

According to Muslim scholarly tradition when Abraham (peace be upon him) left Hajara and her little baby in the dessert and turned to go, Hajara ran after him questioning him as to what he was doing. She is supposed to have asked him several times ‘Ya Ibraheem (=O Abraham), what are you doing, are you leaving us in this barren place…’ (I put this in my own words). Abraham (peace be upon him) did not reply, but walked on. We know that the prophets (peace be upon them) are the best of humanity, chosen to be messengers, due to their strength of character, their moral uprightness and their vast compassion and wisdom

[the Quranic narrative and Muslim scholarly tradition does not allow any blemish of character attributed to a prophet – male or female – many Muslims hold Mariam, the blessed virgin Mary, as a prophet. How can we look up to them, take them as role models or follow them otherwise? In general Muslim tradition holds that prophethood is too heavy a weight to be placed upon female shoulders by a loving God, so they are predominantly male. However the great female leaders in our tradition, are highly revered, and are our role models in every sense of the term. They are our mothers, peace be upon them all. The prophets (peace be upon them all) were the most tested of mankind, all of them without exception were driven out by their people and faced untold persecution. In Muslim tradition all of their endings though are good and every story has a ‘happy ending’. This is what Muslims believe also in respect of the blessed Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, and Muslims look forward to his return and then a happy ending. Something most non-Muslims are surprised by]

..So it is impossible Abraham (peace be upon him) would do something so cruel- a complete antithesis to what a loving husband would do, and certainly to the actions expected of a prophet of God. So Hajara (peace be upon her) followed him, asking him this and he did not reply. She finally asked him ‘Ya Ibraheem, is it your Lord that commands you do this?’, at this, Ibraheem (peace be upon him), still did not turn around…but stopped, and nodded his head. (I often think, that had he turned his head and looked at his wife and baby, his resolve would have failed him. Surrounded by the harshness and barrenness of the dessert of Makkah, this feeling was deeply re-enforced).
..When Hajara (peace be upon her) realized this, then she said ‘Go, Abraham, our Lord will not forsake us’. Her strength and faith still takes my breath away!
..He left. In sometime, her baby, also destined to be a prophet, Ismael (=Ishma’el) began to cry. She must have run out of milk by this time. A desperate mother…she ran seven times between two hillocks called Safa and Marwa located about 400m apart, scanning the horizon for anyone and shouting for help. Her struggle is forever honored by God, as a central right of the Hajj. It is also a central right of the Umrah. On the seventh trip, she comes back to where she had placed her dying baby and finds by him water was spouting from the ground. She shouted ‘zam zam’ (=’stop,stop/hold it, hold it’, basically not wanting the water to run off into the dessert sand) and quickly fashioned earth around the spout to collect the water. The water saves her baby and herself. Soon after a passing trade caravan stops by. And now, where there is water in the dessert, people settle, and soon the town/city of Makkah is born.

That water is still there, it is called ‘zamzam water‘, it tastes very different as it has a unique mineral composition. It is a small well that has been supplying water to all of Makkah for centuries. Muslims believe this is a miracle. The water is found everywhere in Makkah, not just in the grand mosque, it is supplied to all the hotels for pilgrims to drink and also trucked to the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. Muslims know the healing properties of ‘zamzam water’ well, and it is a prized drink among us. There is a Zamzam studies and research center, part of the Saudi Geological Society, worth checking out. It is interesting that the Bible contains a story that has several similarities with the Muslim tradition (Genesis 16:3), though there are several differences as well.

Here is a picture of the old well, that is now in a Musuem. Nowadays, the entrance is not open to the public – due to fears of overcrowding perhaps.

20150903_105602

According to Muslim traditin, Abraham returned often to visit this branch of his family, now settled and living in Makkah. On one of those visits, he (peace be upon him), along with Ishma’el (peace be upon him), built the ka’aba. And during another visit he (peace be upon him) was ordered to sacrifice his son. Muslim scholars differ as to whether the son was Ishma’el or Is-haaq (=Isaac), peace upon them both. The stronger opinion is that it is Is-haaq actually, though most Muslims don’t know this. More about this story later – it is a central part of the Hajj, but not the Umrah.

To get back to the chronicles, the Umrah consists of two main rights – the tawaf(=circling) and the Sa’i’ (=struggle). These are done consecutively and one symbolizes one has completed them by cutting a lock of one’s hair after which one can ‘exit the ihram‘. As we were doing the Umrah as part of Hajj Qiraan, we remained in Ihram after the Umrah.

The tawaf is performed as seven circles, and during each one the pilgrim goes around the ka’ba anti-clockwise. This motion (you’ll see it on TV if you’ve watched anything to do with the Haram – the grand mosque in Makkah), we say mirrors the motion of the planets around the sun (planets orbit anti-clockwise). And there are other meanings and intentions. More about this in other posts inshaallah (=God willing).

After the tawaf, the next major rite of the umrah is the ‘Sa’ii’ (=literally ‘hardship’ or struggle). The Sa’ii is our going in the footsteps of our mother Hajara, when she made that desperate search for water. We walk in her footsteps, between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. Each time, when we ascend a hillock we too pause and pray for help. Safa and Marwa used to be outside the mosque in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), now the grand mosque is so large it has absorbed what used to be the city of Makkah in the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), and therefor both Safa and Marwa are now within the mosque complex.

As in the Tawaf, several prayers are made during this walk, and there are spiritual meanings and intentions too much to go into here. But the Sa’i is a very special rite for one reason – it symbolizes the desperate search of a mother for help for her dying child. It is the epitome of the love, faith and courage of a woman and celebration of motherhood.

There is a section of the Sa’ii, where it is required that men run. This is required of men, but not of women pilgrims. This is the way the blessed beloved, Muhammed (peace be upon him) taught us. When we were beginning the Sa’ii our group leader told us that our mother Hajara had run for all of womankind so women were excused, but now the men must run! I loved that, and truly it was very emotional to witness men from all countries of the world, all walks of life, all ages…yes even the very old.. running in the footsteps of our beloved mother Hajara.

The Sa’ii is not too easy to do, even now, with all the air-conditioning and the smooth marble. What then, when it was done in the open, under the dessert sun. Up until about 60 years ago, it was still like that – one performed in the open and could climb the hillock of Safa and Marwa. Now, one can climb Marwa but Safa is enclosed behind glass. It is nevertheless powerful to be there, knowing Hajara was here, and so many who have honored her search, by running in her footsteps, over the centuries. Indeed, including the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

Safa and Marwa have been honored by mention by name in the Quran, where Allah subhahana ta’aala (=exalted and high), calls them from among the ‘signs’ of Allah. That is a great honor indeed, and should not be taken lightly. We recite these verses whenever we are on the hillocks, while doing the Sa’ii.

إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ اللّهِ فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ (2:158)

Transliteration – Inna alssafa waalmarwata min shaAAairi Allahi faman hajja albayta awi iAAtamara fala junaha AAalayhi an yattawwafa bihimawaman tatawwaAAa khayran fainna Allaha shakirun AAaleemun

Translation – [Hence,] behold, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the symbols/monuments set up by God; and thus, no wrong does he who, having come to the Temple on pilgrimage  (i.e., Hajj) or on a pious visit (i.e., Umrah), strides to and fro between these two: for, if one does more good than he is bound to do-behold, God is responsive to gratitude, all-knowing.

Quran 2:158

Below are pictures, and also a documentary of the Hajj of a beloved scholar of Islam in the Western tradition – Dr. Martin Lings (Allah irhamhu, God have mercy on his soul). An Englishman who wrote a masterful biography of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him), an authority on Shakespeare, and a Muslim spiritual luminary. If you watch this, you will see the purity of his soul shine through in the way he speaks. He made the Hajj in 1948 and again in the seventies. It is very impressive to hear his experiences.

In 1948 the hillocks of Safa and Marwa were as they had been for centuries, and he is one of the very few native English speakers who must have made the Hajj when the Sa’ii could still be done that way. He says of the transformation ‘I find it very hard to forgive the Saudi’s ‘… for how they have covered up half the hillocks and marbled/built over the sand track between them. How I wish it had not been done so. But as Dr. Lings says at the end of this documentary, “the baraka is unchanged”.

‘Baraka’ is another Arabic word hard to translate – roughly it means ‘blessing’. Indeed the immense spiritual gifts that come of being there, of walking in those footsteps and being a pilgrim, that has not changed. Indeed, the closeness to the Divine and to the giant spiritual role models, fathers and mothers of humankind, that has not changed.

 

20150907_063841

The rock behind the glass is the hillock, ‘Safa’ at which end we begin the ‘Sa’ii’. It is very jagged rock. A prayer is made here. If you can see behind all the construction scaffolding, there is the ka’aba..the top of the black cube with the gold writing is seen.

20150928_201815

A better image showing Safa. The caligraphy on the ceiling includes the ayat from the Quran (2:158) given in the blog

20150907_063711

Making the ‘Sa’ii’. A still picture doesn’t capture the feel of the place, the energy, the motion and the many groups making ‘dhikr’ out aloud. It is a beautiful experience

20150907_063752

This is also taken close to Safa, you can see the ‘ka’ba’ more clearly in the background here… in the old days, it must have been clearly visible when doing the Sa’ii. The black lines on the floor, are the lines for prayer -that orient us to the ka’aba. Makkah is a place where the direction to prayer changes every 10 yards! – the only place on earth like this. Muslims face the ka’aba during prayer, wherever we are on the earth.

20150928_201901

20150928_205554

Standing on Marwa and praying..or contemplating. It is a place when one sits down, it is hard to stand up…hard to leave. Time stands still.

And the documentary, I hope you can watch it…beautiful footage of the Sa’ii in 1948, and going by boat to do Hajj.

University of Karueein – oldest university in the world

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

It was a dream come true to set foot inside the famed Karueein, the oldest continually operating university in the world (Guinness, UNESCO). I will use the English form of the Arabic name, as that is more familiar to me, Al-Qarawiyyin. It was founded in 859 CE, which would be 244 AH (hijri calendar), so 234 years after the death of the blessed beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him).

It was built by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. And what a lady she must have been. She was wealthy and endowed her wealth to build this institution. It is said, such was her piety, that she continuously fasted for the duration of the building of the institution. Indeed, as per a classical Islamic understanding of success…her intention and good deed was surely accepted by God, for it has been rewarded by the benchmark of divine acceptance – longevity! She is given the affectionate title, Al-Fihriyya – Allah be well pleased with her!

From the ‘1001 inventions exhibit’ – fatima

 

We entered the mosque of the Qarawiyyin through one of its 14 gates. In the old Muslim world (and indeed to this day, though it remains as only a slight shadow of its glorious past), mosques were a center for learning and community. Education was free in the Muslim world, the Sultan supporting the scholars, or more frequently, their work would be supported by rich endowments, called ‘waqf’ in Arabic. Awqaf (plural of waqf) would be established by wealthy families, so that scholars would be supported and could work independently from state sponsorship – ensuring free thinking. So scholars would stay behind after one of the canonical prayers and stand at a pillar of the mosque (rarely there would be chairs on raised daises – you can still see some in old Turkish mosques) and give a lecture. Anyone who wanted to was free to listen or go. One can imagine serious students keeping a timetable of talks times and scurrying from mosque pillar to mosque pillar! As well as busy merchants, housewives etc. wandering in and out catching a talk here and there as they go about their daily business.

So the mosque is an essential part of the University. The university complex grew around it, and included many amazingly beautiful dormitories (another post inshaAllah) and buildings. The mosque is not used as a lecture hall anymore, though we were treated to a glimpse of the past…when the imam came by, he sat down on the carpet by a pillar, we sat in a circle around him and he gave us a mini lecture on the history of the Qarawiyyin. Beautiful, simple, and easy – devoid of all the trappings of a modern classroom. The teacher is fully exposed and the student has full access to him. What a teacher one has to be to take this place confidently!

Before stepping into those hallowed halls of the Qarawiyyin mosque we stopped to imagine the footsteps that must have gone over the same door-sill we were stepping over; the Qarawiyyin was famed for studies in theology, jurisprudence , philosophy, mathematics , astronomy, geography and languages. It was open to students of all faiths. Maimonides, one of the most famous of the Jewish scholars (well worth looking into the Jewish golden age of scholarship that flourished in Muslim Spain in the past – a strong proof that the present Muslim-Jewish conflict has little precedent historically, as well as negating the orientalists assertion that Islam is an intolerant faith. Please look at this link from jewishhistory.org) was said to have studied there. Indeed there was a rich caravan of scholars going to and fro between the Maghreb (Muslim lands in North West Africa) and Andalucia (Muslim kingdom in Spain) in those days, a bit like scholarship travel between Canada and the USA of today if I may. Here is an excerpt about other famous scholars at the Qarawiyyin, source here

Pioneer scholars include Ibn Maymun (Maimonids, (1135-1204) who was taught at Al-Qarawiyyin by Abdul Arab Ibn Muwashah. The famous Al-Idrissi (d.1166 CE) is said to have settled in Fes for considerable time suggesting that he must have worked or studied at Al-Qarawiyyin. Sources also list a number of peers such as Ibn Al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 CE), Ibn Al-Khatib, Alpetragius, Al-Bitruji, Ibn Harazim, and Ibn Wazzan are said to have all taught in Al-Qarawiyyin[7].Some historic accounts also spoke of Ibn Zuhr (d.1131 CE) spending a great deal of time travelling between Andalusia, Fes, and Marrakech.

Among Christian witnesses of the contribution of Al-Qarawiyyin is Gerbert of Aurillac (930-1003), famously known as Pope Sylvester II, and who is credited with introducing the use of zero and Arabic numerals to Europe, studied at Al-Qarawiyyin[8] . More recently the Belgian Nichola Louvain settled in Fes in 1540 and studied Arabic at Al-Qarawayyin, to be followed later by the Deutch Mathematician Golius who also studied Arabic there

N.B. – Al-Idrissi is the famous cartographer, whose maps contributed greatly to the Portugese and Spanish naval conquests. The world-map as he drew it, had what is now considered North, at the South. That is, Europe appears below Africa! This was the order of the world-view pre-Renaissance apparently. He was commissioned to do this by the Norman king of Sicily at the time, Roger. His finished product, ‘Al-kitab Al-Rujari’ (=Roger’s book). Source here

Ibn Khaldun, for those not familiar, wrote one of the most comprehensive world-histories…it is a masterful compendium of global events and civilizational analyses. Still studied to this day in the Muslim world.

I will stop myself going on about the scholarship there (this junior scientist finds it very easy to indulge in long digressions on this topic) and post pictures below. They are mostly of the mosque…where we were privileged to join several congregations and then just ‘hang-out’.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside where the mihrab (=prayer niche) is. The mihrab is a distinguishing characteristic of a mosque, it faces to Mecca and is where the Imam stands to recite. The hollow niche acts to echo his voice so the congregation can hear him. The niche was a few degrees ‘off’ from the direction of Mecca…but to me that only spoke to how old the mosque is and I was amazed they could calculate the direction to so close to accuracy ~1200 years ago!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

sacred space still echoing the purity of lost knowledge…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the functions of the ‘work’ on the ceiling it was found recently was that the angles created prevent the formation of cobwebs… sorry about the poor focus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Courtyard, that features the fountains to make ‘wudu’ (=lumination, mandatory washing prior to entering the salat or prayer)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of two sundials found in the courtyard…this one must have been touched up with the numerals (?). The sundials were used to calculate the times for the canonical prayers -which are based upon the position of the sun in the sky

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Second sundial…unfortunately I am not able to read the Arabic around it yet…it is most likely Quranic ayat (=verses, literally ‘signs). In the center portion is ‘Allah’ right on top, below that ‘Muhammed’ and the four circles on either side have the names of the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs of Islam, ‘Abu Bakr’, ‘Umar’, ‘Uthman’ and ‘Ali’ (God be pleased with all of them)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the two fountains in the courtyard is under this beautiful and intricately decorated roof. Truly breathtaking to make the ‘wudu’ under…

20150316_105948

Finally, the doors being opened by the beautifully dignified caretaker…what a feeling when those giant ancient wooden doors swing open and we step over the sill. A feeling of awe and being deeply honored to enter.

 

Moulay Idriss (raheemahullah alai = Allah’s mercy be upon him)

Assalamu alaikum (=peace be upon you) dear readers,

Good ‘adab’ ( =manners/etiquette) on a rihla (= journey for purpose of learning, often used for spiritual journey) entails that the first places in a new country one visits are purposefully chosen.  We chose to begin as far as practically possible, with visiting ‘Moulay Idriss’, the ‘founder’ of what is modern day Morocco and the spiritual father of the land. There is a mosque by his burial site as well as the town where he is buried is also called ‘moulay Idriss’. We stopped here on our way to the ancient city of Fez, Al-Faas in Arabic, one of the great spiritual capitals of the maghreb (=literally ‘west’, meaning the western Muslim world…the lands that would comprise Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Southern Spain of today)

Moulay Idriss was the great-great-grandson of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). We were treated to a masterful narration of his story on our bus-ride to the city by Sh. Mokhtar, which I will not be able to recapitulate. However to summarize, during the tumultuous time of the khalif Ali (karamallahu wajha = Allah ennoble his face) and the years after, there was deep discord and division as to who would become the ruler. By this time, the capital had moved to modern day Iraq and the rule of the Muslim world had entered a dynastic period with the first Umayyad dynasty established.

Dynastic rule is not something Muslims are comfortable with and that was the case at that time as well. [The preferred Muslim system of rule has often been described as ‘meritocracy’ as opposed to ‘democrasy’ or ‘monarchy’]. So not surprisingly, in Medina, there was a movement to bring rule back to descendants of the prophet (peace be upon him) not simply due to lineage, but because they embodied the truest spirit of ascetisicm and ability to rule justly. In other words most ‘taking after the prophet’ (peace be upon him). The people of Medina swore allegiance to ‘Muhammed nafsul zakkiya’ (Muhammed the ‘pure souled’), the brother of Moulay Idriss. One of those who pledged allegiance was Ja’far al Mansur, who went on to found the Abbasid dynasty at the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, and then turn against the family of Muhammed nafsul zakkiya. Muhammed nafsul zakkiya was killed in 145 AH (after hijri, 762 CE), and many of his family members captured.

Moulay Idriss escaped and was taken by his ‘servant’ (there is no modern day equivalent, but you could think of this as his ‘valet’ in the old English meaning of the word perhaps), Moulay Rashid to the maghreb. [BTW ‘moulay’ in Arabic can be used to mean both ‘master’ and ‘servant’, or ‘guardian’ as well as ‘ward’…translators of Arabic texts need to be careful of terms like this that they don’t make mistakes in translation. A digression worth the mention as the Orientalists have done plenty damage in bringing knowledge of the Muslim world to Europe by making several mistakes like this the past 200-300 years]. Moulay Rashid had family ties in the maghreb, his mother being a Berber tribeswoman, and news of Islam had already spread as far as the Berber tribes which had for the most part already converted to Islam.

Therefore when Moulay Idriss arrived in the maghreb, he was welcomed with open arms as a great teacher by the Berber tribes, who gave him leadership and pledged allegiance to him. He founded a capital in what is now the town of Moulay Idriss and ruled there for a short 3 years. The caliphs in Baghdad, afraid of his popularity and rapidly growing influence, had him assassinated by means of a spy they sent to the maghreb. His wife, the lady Kinza, was 7 months pregnant at the time. In Muslim history, much is written about the nobility and wisdom of the lady Kinza. The boy born to her was named ‘Idriss’ as well. A prodigal child, he was carefully looked after by Moulay Rashid until at a very young age (perhaps early teenhood), all the tribes pledged allegiance to him as their leader. Idriss the second, moved the capital to Fez (Al-Faas), a project begun by his father. He lived a short time, dying in his thirties, but accomplished a great deal during that period. A master orator, leader, scholar, he memorized the Quran at a young age of course, and was a saintly person.

To get back to the tale of his father, Moulay Idriss the first is buried in the town bearing his name. It is a very picturesque town high up in the mountains (chosen for it’s strategic location) close to what used to be a Roman outpost. The mosque adjoining the compound of his tomb is stunning. We joined the congregation for the noon prayer there, and spent some time wondering around the town after. Only Muslims are allowed into the mosque complex though as it is a very sacred space. In the short time we spent there, we witnessed many beautiful experiences which I unfortunately cannot include in this medium. And perhaps on hindsight it is wiser to keep the space free from tourist cameras and the like. Some pictures I am able to share are below.

There was a very peaceful feel to the whole place. It bore the traces of people who had come to find rest, and found it, over the centuries. While we were there, a group of ‘munshid’ (=those who sing ‘nasheed’, which are often poems in praise of the prophet peace be upon him) came by, sat down on the carpet and started a beautiful harmonious chanting of a poem famous throughout the Muslim world; ‘qaseeda Burdah’.  [It is a long poem (depending on style of reading/singing, can take upto 4 hours), a nice documentary on it here and partial (?) meaning in English here. – one of my have-to-blog-on in the series of ‘music in Islam’ – inshaAllah. There is a rendition of it in a very ‘olde English’ style of singing performed by Sheikh Tim Winter of Cambridge – one of the greatest scholars in the Muslim English speaking world today, well worth the listen!]

Also to note, the love and reverence the people of the maghreb have for the family of Muhammed, peace be upon him is deep and ancient. Morocco is a sunni country and many in the world today unfortunately have the impression the Sunni world is divorced from the love of the prophet (peace be upon him) and of his beloved family. This is not true, and has never been the case. It was nice to witness such deep love, unspoilt by all the modern woes, in this beautiful spot…that still bears the marks of the saintly and revered person buried there, a descendant of our beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him) who had that great noble bearing which is a mark of those of his family, peace be upon him.

I will end with a short clip of the Burdah, sung in a very old Moroccan style

Peace be with you all.

20150315_130433

A glimpse into the little mosque inside the compound…

20150315_130635

Collecting water from the fountain in the courtyard, and ‘hanging out’ there… a scene that must have played out for centuries

20150315_133441

One of the doors in the compound. My attempt to read the inscription on the two rows, it is in the ‘maghrebi’ script – outer row ‘Al-ghani Allah’ (God is The Rich, or God is the one who is self sufficient, independent of needs) is repeated, inner row ‘Ash-Shaafi, Al-ghafur’ is repeated. Both are names of Allah, Ash-Shaafi means ‘The Healer’ (all healing comes from God, God is the source of all healing) and Al-ghafur means ‘The Forgiver’ (God is the only One whose forgiveness is sought, or God is the one who forgives all)

-2

Town street with food stalls lining it

20150315_132107

Tagines being prepared for lunch 🙂

 

And a clip from the Burdah…if you visit me, you may hear it playing often 🙂

Peace and blessing be with you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Salawat’ – a musical tradition in Islam

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

There is a great musical tradition in Islam, one that the West knows little of. One that spans a multitude of styles, genres and ages. From the deep rhythm of African drums to the mournful haunting melodies of Central Asia to the lyrically joyful sounds of the Indonesian percussion to the complex soothing majesty of the middle eastern Oud, Santoor and Violin, there has been a wealth of musicality in the Muslim world. Most of these classical traditions revolve around ‘salawat’ (=sending prayers upon the prophet, peace be upon him), and many are the lengthy poems and odes sung in every part of the world in praise of Muhammed, the beloved messenger (peace be upon him, his family and his followers). I will hope to collect a few of these genres together soon to give you a glimpse into this rich tradition.

There is a difference of opinion among Muslims as to the permissibility of Muslic in Islam. Islam is more commonly understood as a way of life among its adherents rather than a religion (see this post where I detail this better) and therefore everything in life has a law attached to it. The default state of everything is that it is permissible and only exceptions are forbidden. This is the classical scholarly understanding. The burden of proof always falls on rendering something invalid rather than the other way around. However I am sure all my Muslim readers would have come across the so called ‘haram police’ at least once in their life. These are the self-righteous self-appointed ‘scholars’ who would have you think that everything was forbidden and the burden of proof was on rendering validity (yet another symptom of the disease of lack of sound knowledge of Islam among Muslims nowadays). These people suck the joy out of life, and that is rather strange that they claim it is Islamic, when we know that the prophet (peace be upon him) was one of the most positive cheerful kind gentle accommodating of people, always smiling and always benevolent.

For myself, I have never found in my practice of Islam, anything except for joy, and that ever present sense of deep peace, which especially is strengthening during those difficult times that this life is bound to be peppered with.

So as to the permissibility of Music – the strictest opinion is that only using the human voice is allowed, the next lenient one is that the voice and percussion (some specify exactly which type of drum) is allowed, the next lenient one is that any instrument is allowed. However for all of the above, there is a consensus that the lyrics/message of the music must be ‘sound/wholesome/good/halal’. In other words ludity, lyrics that encourage impermissible actions, disturb the heart (e.g., violence, ugliness) etc. are to be absent in order for it to be allowable to partaken in.

About this difference in opinion – what is important to note is that scholarly difference of opinion is always respected and one may choose the opinion that suits one. One may disagree with another Muslim’s stance but one is not allowed to impose one’s way on the other. The latter point should be underlined, such is the sad state of lack of Islamic knowledge among Muslims these days that many do not know this principle, and a lot of unnecessary argumentation and much worse ensues. There are a vast number of issues upon which opinions differ in the Muslim’s life, and this is not a problem or should not be.

Music affects different people in different ways.  I have always found it healing and spiritually very uplifting. Someone once told me that ‘music is mathematics in motion’. This makes perfect sense to me. I have always adored mathematics…it is as they say ‘the language to understand the divine’ – of course mathematics will only lead us to a glimpse of divine truths, as a complete understanding of the divine is not possible in this lifetime given the limitations of our brain, and only God knows if it will ever be possible!

After all, while we all know that there is a concept called ‘infinite’ do we really *know* what that means? So can we really ever comprehend an infinite being? In mathematics it is proven that any number divided by infinity equals zero, and thus we say that anything or anyone compared to God, who is infinite, equals nothing! Hence the deeply spiritual person’s moving to a state of being devoid of  ‘ego’ (a good way to recognize a true teacher from a false one). This is why we also emphasize the oneness of God.. Mathematically, one (as in the absolute ‘one’..here I am talking about the concept of singularity) is the only number that cannot be divided…were it to be divided, it would not be one, and were it capable of being divided, then it would by definition have a limit, and what is limited is not infinite and hence cannot be God. These are some brief points to note on why mathematics has always been a cherished science in the Muslim world, and why Muslim scholars of old have recognized the power of music, being that ‘mathematics in motion’.

In the Islamic Golden age (when Algebra was invented) Muslim art always used geometrical patterns for that same reason – using pattern work to symbolize eternity and using the mathematical ratios of sides to symbolize the oneness of God. So that one who looks upon this pattern work is transported ‘out of the body, freeing the mind so as to catch a glimpse’…thereby making art a means to ‘know’ God, so to Islamic music has sought to transcend or elevate the limits of human consciousness.

That long preamble done, I wanted to share with you a piece from the ‘Firdous ensemble’. A very unique group of musicians who are blending different musical genres to produce what to me is a marvelous rendition of classical Islamic musical works. They are based in modern day Spain and strive to bring back to life the spirit of old Andalusia. A spirit some have argued this fractured world of the so called ‘clash of civilizations’ is much in need of rekindling. A place and time when people of different faiths, cultures and ideas lived and worked side by side, in what some historians have called was ‘the closest thing to paradise created on earth’.

So here is the Firdous ensemble. They are singing in praise of the prophet (peace be upon him)

They combine traditional and modern elements, even incorporating some celtic fiddle work in certain pieces! It’s best enjoyed with headphones. You can youtube more of their work, here are two clips I particularly like-

1. Salawat Dimashqiyya –

salawat = sending prayers upon the prophet (peace be upon him) and Dimashqiyya = from Damascus. It must be an ancient piece, or perhaps it is their name for it. I will translate what I can for your enjoyment and better appreciation below;

Begins with recitation from Quran, Surah 49, ayat 13 and Surah 33, ayat 56

49:13
(Quran 49:13) Sahih International Interpretation

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.

33:56
(Quran 33:56) Sahih International Interpretation

Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [ Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [ Allah to grant him] peace.

@min 2:24 various salawat in Arabic…

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

@min 5.56 – singing in turkish (?)

@min 6.14 chorus –

“hasbi rabbi jallalah, maafi qalbi ghairullah = sufficient is my Lord, the majestic, for me, there is none in my heart except God/

“nur Muhammed sallallah, la ilaaha illallah” = The light of Muhamed (peace and blessing be upon him), there is no God but God.

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

end – “Muhammed rasullullah” = Muhammed is the messenger of God.

A recitation of the opening chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha = ‘the opening’ is given at the end as is often customary.

2. Madha Morisco – Morisco was the name give to Muslims who lived in Spain after the Reconqista. The video has subtitles and and an explanation. This one I find rather poignant, as there is some reason to believe I may have partially descended from the Moriscoes. Perhaps this geneticist should sequence her genome to find out! Enjoy 🙂

The ten days of Dhul Hijja

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,

Things are slowly settling in the new place and I am recovering from a few ailments past as well as some new developed during the move. For my Muslim readers, I ask that you please keep me in your du’a (=prayers) for a speedy and lasting recovery ‘hasana’ (=good, beauty, excellence, nobility) in this world and most importantly in the hereafter for me and my family, especially my mother who is fighting a cancer discovered last year. I ask this especially during the ten days that are about to be upon us (God grant we meet them). The first ten days of Dhul Hijja.

Dhul Hijja is the name of the last month of the Muslim year. It is during this month that the annual Hajj pilgrimage is performed. The ‘eid’ (=festival) of Hajj, in this case called ‘eid-ul-adh’ha’ (=festival of sacrifice) is on the 10th of the month and marks the end of the rights of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is an obligation upon a Muslim who has the means (monetary and physical) to make it, and due at least once in a lifetime. It is the fifth of the five pillars of Islam. The others being the testification of faith, the salah (=five times a day ritual worship), the fasting in Ramadan, and the giving of 2.5% of one’s savings to charity called ‘zakat'(=purification) – an annual ‘tax’.

I have been longing to go but visa restrictions still prevent me. My beloved grandmother (and I ask you for your du’a upon her too, is mostly bed-ridden now, yet a smile never leaves her face. Allah bless her abundantly!) performed the pilgrimage when she was 75 by the grace of God. She needed to spend some days in a nursing home to recover when she came back severely dehydrated. She told me to go when I was young, so I would have the strength to fulfill the rights of pilgrimage and spoke highly of the multitudes of young women from Indonesia she saw performing the pilgrimage. In the old days it used to be that a village would gather to bid farewell to a pilgrim, not really expecting to see them return and many are the pilgrims who go in the mental state of not expecting to come back. They prefer death in the blessed land close to where the beloved, the messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) lived. Though it is not so long ago, I did hear of people who did not come back from the Hajj when I was a child. It was difficult for the families but there was always a sense of peace with this news. Inna lilllaahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon (=from God we come and to Him we return).

Yet, these 10 blessed days are open to all in terms of their merit in drawing near to God and many Muslims engage in extra acts of worship at home. Anse Tamara Grey, a ‘sheikha’ living in the USA organizes the annual ‘pilgrims at home’ event for sisters. Here is a link FYI.

Commemorating the sacrifice our father, the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was so ready to make of his son, the blessed prophet Ismael (peace be upon him), we follow rituals that remind us of this event as well as of the struggles of Hajar, the blessed mother of Ismael. She, when left with her baby (Ismael in infancy) in that barren dessert, ran from hilltop to hilltop looking for help…crying for water. It was then that she discovered the well of water that had sprung up by the feet of her infant son. She was desperate to collect the water and built a ridge of sand around it, crying ‘zam zam’ (=stop, stop)…so the water would not run off. That well to this day has been supplying all the inhabitants of Mecca with water. Pilgrims will often fill what bottles and vessels they can with it and bring it back home, and then distribute it as a precious gift from the hajj. It is a sacred gift, and I have drunk of it. It has a particular taste, attributed to its higher than usual mineral content. Nowadays the water from the well is managed in a modern way and pumps are used to draw it up to supply the pilgrims and others. More information can be found here at the ZamZam studies and research center in Saudi Arabia website.  , part of the Saudi Geological Society.

I pray one day I can go, and I pray I can go soon. For the news of the mega-construction projects all around the haram (=sanctuary, another way of terming the ‘ka’aba in Mecca and the prayer enclosure around it) are very depressing to the spirit. I used to love to see photographs of the haram in the past. Now with that gargantuan clock-tower complex towering over it, the sense of aesthetic is severely dampened. It is an eye-sore, I have to be honest. The haram itself is undergoing major renovation I heard, and soon it may not be possible to see the ‘ka’aba (=literally, ‘cube’. Guess where the English word cube came from? 🙂 ) unless close to it. I have read, though I pray it is not true, that the graceful, elegant and aesthetically so pleasing porticos built during the Ottoman time by the great architect Mimar Sinan (I blogged about him here) may be torn down. What a tragedy that would be. Muslim art and architecture has always had a quality of grace, of being able to transport the spirit out of the body. I am not sure the modern day Saudi government appreciates that quality!

I wanted to point you to a very nice article written by a recent hujjaj (=pilgrim) appearing in the New Yorker. It is beautifully written and contains pithy and poignant little pieces of wisdom and insight. My dear non-Muslim readers may find it especially informative and an easy read. It is too long to copy-paste here. Here is the link. Called ‘Modern Mecca; the transformation of a holy city’. My Muslim readers also may find it very informative.

Finally to end I thought to share a documentary link on the hajj. Youtube is filled with them. I recommend one by National Geographic tracing the journey of three different hujjaj from around the world, even a Biology professor from Texas. But I picked this one to share, about 5 hujjaj from China. So as to shed light on the 20 million strong ethnic Chinese Muslim community (below). Watching it I could not but help thinking of the pure hearts of the hujjaj highlighted in it. We believe that it is only God who knows a person’s heart, and indeed that all and any act of worship is only acceptable to God or not, based on the sincerity in that heart. That it is done for the sake of pleasing the Most Beautiful One, only. A glimpse into their simple lives brings serenity to the heart. May God bless their beautiful souls.

We believe that should the hajj be acceptable to God, one returns from it as pure as a new-born babe! May Allah shower His abundant grace upon the hujjaj of this year, and accept their efforts, granting them this high state. And may we one day be among them.

Peace be with you all

 

 

Muslim Women in Science

Assalamu alaikum dear readers,

There have been several issues I have wanted to blog about recently, however I have been prevented from doing so due to  pressing personal issues. So in passing, a quick video I wanted to share. It is ~5 mins and a delightful listen delivered by Professor Emeritus Dr. Salim Al-Hassani, associated with the multi-award winning global exhibition, 1001 inventions:Muslim heritage in our world . He uncovers something I’ve been coming across in my studies in Islamic knowledge too – that Muslim women’s contributions to all facets of knowledge in the Islamic world is largely unearthed. For example, there was recently published a manuscript written by a very prominent male Muslim scholar, As-Sulami about a 1000 years ago, where he chronicles 80 famous Muslim women scholars/saints of his day! This manuscript, ‘Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta’abbidat as-Sufiyyat’ was ‘lost’ for about 900 years until recently discovered in a library in Saudi Arabia and now has been translated into English. You can buy it from Amazon.

Prof. Al-Hassani mentions that of about 5 million manuscripts surviving from the Muslim Golden Age, only about 50,000 have been edited so far. Many of these manuscripts are rotting away in libraries in Italy, Spain and in old European cities. (where they went during the Renaissance).

He speaks of Fatima Al -Fihri, who founded the world’s longest running (still functioning) University. I did not know that she is reported to have fasted throughout the time of the building of this University. [Aside – her sister built a mosque in the same city at about the same time. Fatima chose instead to build a University. The Arabic word for University is ‘jami’at’ – the female form of the word for gathering!]. Indeed blessing of God upon her, for her work seems to have been accepted by God as evidenced by its longevity. In Muslim spirituality we consider something lasting as a mark of God’s being pleased with that service. While many good deeds if not rendered upon a sincere intention (that is the intention of it being purely for the worship of God, and not to ‘display one’s piety’ or please society or for fame etc.) are often short-lived. I find this a fascinating standard – as truly one will never know in one’s life-time how good one’s actions have been found… but posterity will!

4

 

Finally a word to my sisters before I post the clip – Sisters! we have a lot of work to do. The Muslim nation is in crisis upon crisis and knowledge starts in our laps. We have to participate more in our mosques, societies, communities and surroundings. Whether Muslim  or non-Muslim…we have to retake our place in building humanity. It is the woman who brings wisdom to temper the excesses of the power-hungry male ego. Lets stop ‘trifling with trinkets’ and get to work. Allah SWT speaks of this weakness of mind that ensues when we raise our girl-children with trifles…

43:18
English interpretation by Shakir

What! that which is made in ornaments and which in contention is unable to make plain speech!

Quran (43:18)

It’s time to get serious – as I’ve often said, there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world…roughly half are not really participating. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s say bismillah and begin!
Peace to all, enjoy the clip

Saluting the artist Shua’ib

Assalamu Alaikum Dear Readers,

Peace be with you this beautiful sunny August day. What a blessing to enjoy that ‘glorious morning light’ (Quran 91:1) and be in good health. I pray you who read this, are all in good health, physically, mentally and most importantly, emotionally. I pray your heart is expanded and filled with that sense of true belonging that is the foundation of serenity. And who do we belong to, except to the One who made us.

This is a post about the artist Shu’aib. I was fortunate to meet him when I was in Spain this Spring. He is a beautifully humble man. A delight to be around. The type of person, one feels ennobled by, not in a grandiose manner, but due to his sincere humility and beautiful comportment. Perhaps this is what the artisans and guildsman of old were like. Truly dedicated to a craft and they have a sense of dignity in how they carry themselves. He is a Spaniard, who I believe, like many thousands of others, are discovering that centuries ago their ancestors were Spanish Muslims. Please note, ethnic Spanish Muslims and not Arabs who lived in Spain. I do not know if this is what lead him to Islam. But he converted and unfortunately then faced a lot of hostility from his surroundings. So much that he had to move.

His trade is in ceramic work and he hand crafts some gorgeous pieces. He has commissions from some major mosques around the world I was told. He lives in a complex that is somewhat like a ‘kibbutz’ I think. There is a house that has a prayer hall, his workshop, garden plots and some farm land in the back, and goats! We offered the noon prayer there and then stayed to enjoy a very special tea that he served us out in the garden.

He has a website, Al-Yarrar (linked) but I am not sure you can buy online. A speciality to the kingdom of Granada was the Nasari style pottery, a type of lusterware. Lusterware is a technique developed during the Islamic Golden Age in Iraq (9th or 10th CE / 3rd or 4th Hijri?) and then it soon spread across the Muslim world. It involves reducing elements through a firing process to produce beautiful shining gold-like effects and can be done in other colours too. Here is a nice article with information. One of the most famous remaining examples of this style is the ‘vase of the gazelles’ in the Alhambra palace. Here is a picture, it really is stunning.

To end some pictures I took. Captions on the images. I especially liked the image in the prayer hall – it is the entire quran on one sheet of paper. I could actually read the verses! I am not sure if it is a hand-written Quran or not.

picture137

The entire Quran! And in my reading of it not a single vowel was out of place. The size must have been 1.5 ft by 2.5 ft.

picture142

The 99 names of God in square kufic script calligraphy, the frame was surrounded by the largest rosary (Muslims use these as a means of counting when repeating the names of God in dhikr=remembrance, a common spiritual practice) I’ve ever seen. The frame was about 1.5 ft by 1.5ft

Shuaib1

Collage of the tile making process – from Shuaib’s workshop

picture144

Shuaib pouring tea in the garden. I don’t have his permission to share this, but I hope he won’t mind.

picture159

Items for sale

picture161

Lusterware pieces

picture162

A replica of the famous ‘jar of the Gazelles’ from the Alhambra palace

unnamed

Finally, two little pieces to grace my Quran table. MashaAllahu ta’ala

 

May God bless our brother Shu’aib and give him every success here and hereafter.

Mezquita de Cordoba

Dear readers,

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you,

I cannot move to sharing other snippets from our rihla, without posting on the Mezquita de Cordoba. I had read and heard a great deal about it, and for me, it was a dream come true to be able to stand inside and wander through that magnificent pattern of palm-tree columns.

La mezquita’ as the locals still chose to call it, is the Cathedral of Cordoba. Recently (since a few years ago), signage has begun to read ‘Mezquita-Cathedral’, though for centuries since it was turned into a cathedral, it was still simply called ‘la mezquita’. The locals would say “I’m going to the mezquita for mass”! It used to be the ‘jamia masjid of Cordoba’ (the grand mosque of Cordoba. The word ‘jamia’ comes from ‘jumu’ah’ or Friday..as related in previous posts..the word for Friday comes from the word for gathering as it is when Muslims gather for a communal prayer. Therefore the largest mosque in a city is usually called the ‘jamia’ mosque. It often tends also to be the grandest, and so in English a more appropriate translation has become ‘grand mosque’, though perhaps ‘main mosque’ is more apt). The mosque, in the style of the great Umayyad mosqe of Damascus (God grant it is safe, and this needy abd [=slave] the chance one day to visit!] was built on where there used to be a Visigothic Catholic Church (from ~600 CE to 800 CE) that used to be an ancient Roman temple. I am not sure if any part of the original Church remains, but you can see some of the foundation of the ancient Roman temple. Perhaps the temple was used as a Church ? I do not know. What I do know, and I did some research on this, is that AbdurRahman-I who was the first caliph of Al-Andalucia bought the property for a huge sum of money (~ 100,000 dirhams possibly) from the Catholic church and then built his mosque. He bought it after a few years of sharing the property (paying rent of course) and thereafter upon needing more space for the growing Muslim population.

The original was expanded by successive caliphs to become the huge complex of close to 1000 pilars. Mosques in the Muslim world have always been more than places of worship. It’s the ‘family hang-out’, the ‘classroom and university’. Actually in the Islamic Golden Age, great teachers were born out of the mosque-circles. Usually a speaker/teacher would lean on a pillar after the salah (=prescribed 5 times a day ritual worship, I’ve described the term elsewhere) and give a talk. People would sit to listen, if the talk is good, more people join…and so a teacher’s fame spreads. Even today the mosque in Al-Azhar in Cairo (the second oldest University in the world) serves the same purpose. If you go there, you will see these circles by a pillar. In those days anyone on the street could wander in and sit down to listen. Even today you can do this, very few Muslims do have the interest to however. In them days, people would come in droves and soon a speaker would be addressing hundreds.

The pillars in the Mezquita de Cordoba have this double arch structure – so evocative of the branches of a date-palm. Others have said more eloquent things about it, so I will limit myself here. Only to add, an engineered effect of all the pillars is the feeling one gets of eternity….of a seemingly never-ending path of tall trees. This is very typical of Islamic art – you will often find repeated patterns, some intricate and elaborate. Often on nature themes. A reminder of the eternal life to come, of paradise, which was our home, and of God the almighty, who is limitless and eternal. Eternal is a poor word according to Muslim theologians, as it still talks upon the frame-work of time. And we believe God, is beyond time, being The Creator, and the Creator is not like the creation. ” …laisaka mithlihi shai =There is nothing like unto Him” (Quran 42:11). So we say, to try to capture this idea better; God is beginninglessly eternal and will be forever, endlessly (the Arabic captures this better).

After the reconqista, the mosque was converted to a church. It would have been torn down (hence why none of the Jamia masajid of other Andalucian cities remain) except the local people were so fond of it, they protested. The Catholic authorities could not therefore, and instead built a cathedral in the middle of it. The cathedral itself is quite grand. But I must be honest – the two art-forms just do not go well together. The overall effect is rather strange and unnerving. I found it very jarring to my artistic sensibilities. I was not the only one, apparently the pope of the time, when he came to visit it having being invited to see the accomplishment by the local Catholics on completion, is reported to have said something along the same lines. However it is a good thing this was done, as it is probably what saved the structure from destruction, particularly during the Inquisition. Wa Allah a’lam (=and God knows best)!

Here are pictures. Please read the captions.

A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum

A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum

A picture of the inside of the model - what the old mosque would have been like

A picture of the inside of the model – what the old mosque would have been like

 

columns and columns

columns and columns

 

The effect is amazing...my camera could not do it justice. It's quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design

The effect is amazing…my camera could not do it justice. It’s quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design

 

The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam's recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.

The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam’s recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.

The ayaath above the mihrab are the last lines from Surah Hashr. They are often recited in prayer.

He is Allah, than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. (59:22)

He is Allah than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. (59:23)

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (59:24)

 

The top of the mihrab

The top of the mihrab

The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take

The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take

 

One of the many gates from the outside. It's walled up though

One of the many gates from the outside. It’s walled up though

The above gives you a size of the structure. It was huge, at one time the second largest mosque in the Muslim world.

I will end by saying how many a great thinker and scholar must have sat and leaned on those pillars, how many rapt-eyed students at his or her feet. The space still seems to carry echoes of their lost voices.

Ending with a prayer for peace and understanding and truth told, no matter the cost

Peace be with you all.

Madina al-Zahra and Cordoba

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise be to God) for the peace and security to continue these posts. We visited Cordoba, a city established by Abdul Rahman I -the Umayyad prince who was the first ruler of Al-Andalus. His story is the stuff of romance. His family, the Umayyad rulers in Damascus were killed by the Abbasids who then established their own dynasty. He escaped and made his way to Spain, where he established his own caliphate that began as an emirate of ruling Berber Muslims in Morocco but then became an independent state.

The Umayyads were the first in Islamic history to establish an aristocracy, the advent of which, saw an end to the time of the rule of the first ‘four rightly guided caliphs’. This was predicted to happen by our beloved prophet (peace and blessings of God be on him). Muslims consider the time of the first four caliphates the true caliphate whereas since then there have been bad and good leaders. On this note, it must be said, that the model of leadership brought by Islam is what Sheikh Quick aptly termed a ‘meritocrasy’ and though an aristocracy is not preferred, where there is absent of rule of law otherwise, it is allowed. Having said that, it was the young prince Abdul Rahman I who was destined to found the Muslim Andalucian kingdom and continue the Umayyad line.

We stayed in a neighborhood in the city called ‘Arrusafa’. It was where AR-I built his palace, though no trace of that structure remains. The name Arrusafa is the name of a part of Damascus, beloved to AR-I, so you can see how he named this location the same, out of home-sickness. Quite remarkable the name stays to this day! This was in the year 711 AD, about 80 years after the death of the prophet (peace be on him).

Many things are told about the caliph AR-I and his rule. He was known as a just and wise ruler. This post will be too long were I to speak in detail about him, but here is one note that I particularly liked. Every child in his realm, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim would get a free education in reading, writing and math (the proverbial three ‘R’s! -hmm, wonder where that came from eh?;) ) and if a child wanted to study more, the doors were open. This love of education is a hallmark of Muslim civilization. As we believe that to know God, you must learn about His creation. The Quran repeatedly enjoins us to learn, study, think! So it is nothing new but something I deeply love about this way of life. One other thing to mention, there was no forced conversion as that is forbidden in the religion (“There is no compulsion in faith” – Quran 2:256). A proof of this is the great Jewish scholars that were produced in the Andalucian kingdom. The historians will speak more accurately about this than I can.

Cordoba became a great jewel in the crown of human civilization. The achievements of its people and its rulers must be given their due recognition no matter what faith or creed one belongs to. History is a common human treasure and it must be given its right. Cordoba was written of by Christian visitors from the North as ‘the ornament of the world’! It had street lighting and running water, great libraries and hospitals, synagogues and churches and of course great mosques. All this a couple of centuries before the battle of Hastings mind you.

And then comes Madina al-Zahra! Madina al-Zahra means ‘The resplendent city’. It was built by Abdur Rahman III who ruled for about 50 years beginning in 912 CE. It took him 12,000 builders and 12 years to build it. It was a custom built city about 6 miles outside the city of Cordoba. It housed the royal family and the court and attendants etc. It was a statement of authority as our tour-guide pointed out – a message to all, that Andalucía had arrived. And indeed it did do that. At that time also the Muslim rule in Baghdad was declining and AR III did declare himself the ruler of the entire Muslim world, it is entirely possible he had the riches and the authority  to be this as well, no small statement indeed.

Ah, but we derive a lesson from this – the caliph was distancing himself from his people. Becoming more exclusive and preferring the pleasures of the world, over the dues owed to the people he ruled. It is the story of history and human folly. It was the beginning of the end. And it is the story playing out time and time again to Muslim rulers…and we see it in today’s news too! We Muslims believe that the mark of the approval of God on any human endeavor is its longevity and that if Allah is not pleased, His blessing removed, no thing will last. So it is with Madina al-Zahra. While Cordoba still stands and Arrusafa is a modern day neighborhood, Madina al-Zahra needed to be dug out by archeologists. Now about 10% of the site is excavated and there is a museum built close by showcasing what life in that city must have been like. Wandering through that 1/10th of the city one gets a feel to what its grandour. I wish I could share that experience with you all, but I cannot here, so please do go visit. Some photos are up on my public facebook page though https://www.facebook.com/joy.manifest

The museum built there is a very interesting structure. It is built entirely underground. The reason for this is to emphasize a subtle yet important message. That the population of Muslim Cordoba is indigenous  to the land. It is ‘part of the earth’. At that time about 80% of the population was Muslim (BTW this is also an index used to prove the lack of forced conversion as where there is forced conversion, 100% of the population will be the enforced religion usually within decades or much less of its enforcement. However here 300 years into the establishment of the kingdom not yet is everyone Muslim) and what is important to note is that these were for the majority, ethnic Spanish Muslims. They were not the dark-skinned black-haired depictions Orientalist painters for some reason seem to love to paint Muslims as, and as is shown in the majority of textbooks. These were very Spanish Muslims. What was nice during this tour was to meet some of those very ethnically Spanish Muslims, who are now reclaiming their history and heritage over 500 years after the Inquisition and the forced erasing of this period from history. But more about that later. For now, it was an important lesson to take home and kudos to the architects of the building for such a subtle yet beautiful message.

And kudos also to the beautiful Spanish people, who are restoring these old sites and reclaiming what is after all, their own heritage!

Please do check out the pictures of Madina al-Zahra on Facebook. And below are some more, from a Museum as we entered the old city of Cordoba. Captions below.

A model of the great masjid of Cordoba and the stages in a person's prayer. The masjid is now a Cathedral and still stands

A model of the great masjid of Cordoba and the stages in a person’s prayer. The masjid is now a Cathedral and still stands

 

A model of a Synagogue in Cordoba. I was struck by how similar to a masjid it is in that it is an empty space. The tile-work is obviously Moorish. The jewish quarter still exists in modern Cordoba

A model of a Synagogue in Cordoba. I was struck by how similar to a masjid it is in that it is an empty space. The tile-work is obviously Moorish. The jewish quarter still exists in modern Cordoba

 

A model of a library/school/university

A model of a library/school/university

The bridge over the river Guadalquivir. Originally built by the Romans, it was fortified by AR-I. Interestingly the names of most rivers in Spain begin with 'guada'. This word comes from the Arabic 'wadi' which means valley. Guadalquiver is from 'Wadi al Akber' = The great valley. The river systems were called by the valleys they carved.

The bridge over the river Guadalquivir. Originally built by the Romans, it was fortified by AR-I. Interestingly the names of most rivers in Spain begin with ‘guada’. This word comes from the Arabic ‘wadi’ which means valley. Guadalquiver is from ‘Wadi al Akber’ = The great valley. The river systems were called by the valleys they carved.

One of the old 'water-wheels' used to irrigate the city. I think the only one still standing. Rather remarkable given it is over a thousand years old

One of the old ‘water-wheels’ used to irrigate the city. I think the only one still standing. Rather remarkable given it is over a thousand years old

The site of the masjid of Madina az-Zahra. Unlike many Muslim cities, where the city is built around the masjid, here the masjid is in a corner of the city almost outside its main design.

The site of the masjid of Madina az-Zahra. Unlike many Muslim cities, where the city is built around the masjid, here the masjid is in a corner of the city almost outside its main design.

Finally, the trailer for a video we watched in the Museum, that recreates life in Madina az-Zahra. Ending with the visit of a delegation from a Christian kingdom in the North. Enjoy!