A POSITIVE END TO RAMADAN 2018

Putin

As always the Islamic world is a mix of contradictions and complexities. There is plenty for Muslims to be down about. Problems exist in Palestine, Kashmir, Yemen, Syria, and in many other parts of the Muslim world. Car and suicide bombings continue to wreak havoc in Afghanistan and other places too. Trump is still insisting on his Muslim travel ban, and Islamophobia is still rising in the Western world, as witnessed recently by the state of rampant Islamophobia in the British Conservative party.

However, this is also the time of Eid-Al-Fitr, a day of celebration right after the blessed month of Ramadan. Traditionally Eid, one of our two annual religious festivals, is a time for Muslims to celebrate and to be thankful. It is a time when we are supposed to give thanks to God for all the good that we have, and for all the potential bad that we do not have. So I would like to end Ramadan 2018 on a positive note. I would like to thank God for the positive and blessed lifestyle that I live here in the West. I would like to thank God for all the countless blessings I always find myself surrounded by. I would like to thank God for allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to openly pray their Eid prayer out in the open, all over the world. And I would like to thank God for making sure that Saudi Arabia only let the Russians score a measly five goals against them in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.

Continuing this vibe of positivity, please find below links to two articles that show, in their own unusual way, just how positive this month can be. There are also links to several photo blogs that show how varied Ramadan and Eid around the world actually is. Think no longer please of Islam as a stereotyped monolith. I hope all of these put a smile on your face. Enjoy!


Why Do I Want My Teenage Muslim Boys To Fast In Ramadan?

Emily Richardson, 14 Jun 2018, theguardian.com

Living in regional Australia, it’s not easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month. But my kids have embraced its hidden benefits

Like most teenage boys, my sons love to eat. Most nights, my 15-year-old polishes off two large servings of dinner before heading directly to the fridge in search of more food.

So as a Muslim kid, how does he – and his younger brother – cope with not eating all day during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset? And what is the point of it for them?

Growing up on a farm in rural Australia, I had no idea about Islam or anything to do with it, including Ramadan, until I went to live in Egypt in 1999 and met my husband, Ahmed.

In a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, it’s easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month, where everyone around you is fasting. There’s a camaraderie because the community is going without food and water together.

It’s a lot trickier to get that same feeling living in a small seaside town in regional Australia, 140 kilometres from the nearest mosque, as we do now.

It would be easy to put the practice of fasting into the too-hard basket, especially with our kids. So, religious obligation aside, why do we persevere?

My kids have never gone to bed hungry. They live fortunate lives, especially when compared to some of their best friends back in Egypt. I think it’s good for them to go hungry so they can empathise with those less fortunate, even if only for a few hours. But still, at the end of each day they know there’s a hot meal waiting for them, which is a safety net the underprivileged don’t have.

Yes, fasting helps teach compassion for those less fortunate and gratitude for what you have. And it’s good for your physical and spiritual health.

But as the mother of two teenage boys, it’s the hidden benefits of fasting that have taken on greater significance as I navigate this phase of parenting.

Any parent of a teenager knows it can be difficult to get them to do anything they don’t want to do. So how do you force a constantly hungry teenage boy to fast every day for a month?

For us, the answer is simple: we don’t. There is no coercion from us, only encouragement. We lay out the reasons why it’s good for them to fast, and then leave it up to them to decide if they want to do it.

Sometimes they fast the whole day. Sometimes they fast half a day. Sometimes they don’t fast at all. We don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. It’s up to them to do it when they feel they can commit to it. Because of this, everything they gain comes from them, from their internal motivation, and not from us.

But it’s not just food and drink they have to refrain from – anyone fasting is also expected to refrain from negative behaviour such as swearing, lying, gossiping, and speaking or acting unkindly.

The Arabic word for fasting is “sawm”, which means “to refrain” – a skill I want my teenage boys to be proficient in.

When I asked Ahmed why he was on board with not forcing the fasting issue, his response was simple: “I don’t want them to resent their religion. They have to want to do it, otherwise they won’t get any benefit from it.”

By not being forced, they are more drawn to it. Seeing their dad (and sometimes me) fast, they’ve always been keen to give it a go. They started by skipping one meal a day, and now often fast the whole day with no problem. They fast as much as they can, with no pressure from us.

By making the decision of whether to fast their choice, what do we as their parents hope to get out of it?

We hope to get boys – who will soon be men – who are able to control themselves, who are able to wait for things in life, who have self-restraint and self-discipline when faced with temptation of any kind, who are able to resist the urge to do something they really want to do but shouldn’t, who are able to see something through to the end even if it gets difficult or uncomfortable.

Our 15-year-old son, Ziad, has his own take on it. “When I fast, I feel empowered and in control of myself,” he says. “And it really makes me appreciate food more! It also makes the family closer because we’re doing something together.”

This year, we’ve found that as we have progressed through the month, the boys have become increasingly motivated to fast. They can feel the benefits. They feel a sense of power over themselves and their decisions. It’s helped them develop a strong mindset.

Over the years, they’ve gone from thinking they couldn’t possibly go without food for a whole day to waking up determined to do it – and realising that something that seems impossible can be achieved if they keep at it.

There are times when less really is more; when you achieve a lot by giving something up.

Ultimately, because it’s their choice, it’s their accomplishment. But it’s everyone’s gain. As Ramadan draws to a close for another year, our boys have taken a few more positive steps on the road to good manhood.


How Ramadan Can Make You Poorer Yet Happier

Timothy P Carney, 13 Jun 2018, washingtonexaminer.com

Despite the old saw that money can’t buy happiness, the two tend to be correlated. Up to about $75,000, the higher your income, the happier you tend to be.

Correlation, of course, does not equal causation. It’s quite possible that the connection between money and happiness is not a direct one. It’s hard to root out the causal mechanism because so many of the good things in life correlate with one another. Income, marriage, sobriety, health, and education all tend to coexist in the same people and communities.

That’s why Ramadan can be so educational. The Muslim holy season may actually separate wealth from happiness.

Thursday night at sundown, Ramadan 2018 comes to an end with a feast called Eid al-Fitr, “Fitr” referring to the breaking of the fast.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast during all daylight hours. And this isn’t the sort of fast Catholics do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, where water is allowed, along with a mini-breakfast and mini-lunch. Ramadan fasting means no food, no drink, no water from sunrise to sunset.

A quirk in the Muslim calendar that makes the current Ramadan more brutal than most. The Islamic calendar doesn’t coincide with the Gregorian calendar or with the earth’s orbit around the sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, and every month comprises the approximately 29 days from new moon to new moon. Twelve of these months, an Islamic year, is about 354 days.

As a result, Ramadan cycles through the calendar year. Ramadan began December 9 in 1999, for instance. In 2016, Ramadan lasted from June 7 to July 5. Because of the longer summer days, Northern Hemisphere Muslims have fasted far more in recent years than they did 18 years ago. Muslims in D.C., for instance, face nearly 15 hours of fasting this year, compared to 9.5 hours in 2000.

So why does this have to do with anything? Economists Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott saw this variation in fasting duration as something of a natural experiment. How do longer religious fasts affect a country compared to shorter ones?

So they compared Bangladesh, which is near the equator and thus experiences very little variation in Ramadan fast duration over the years, to Turkey, where the longest day of the summer has nearly 6 hours more sunlight than the shortest day during the winter.

A month with a lot of fasting should affect the people of a country differently than a month with a moderate amount of fasting. Sure enough, the researchers found two correlations.

First, “longer prescribed Ramadan fasting has a robust negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries.” That is, with all sorts of controls in place, the economists found that Turkey’s economy seemed to be dragged down by the longer fasts in years where Ramadan was in the summer — an effect that didn’t pop up in Bangladesh, where summer Ramadan isn’t much different in fast length than winter Ramadan.

It’s not hard to guess why: More fasting means more hours being hungry and low on energy, which means less economic productivity. In these years of longer fasting, GDP per capita fell in Muslim countries with longer fasts, but not in non-Muslim countries.

But here’s the more interesting finding: “increased Ramadan fasting requirements lead Muslim individuals to report greater levels of both happiness and life satisfaction.”

Longer fasts, then, might make Muslims poorer but happier, the study suggests.

As always, the mechanism and causality could be endlessly debated. Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe the key is the camaraderie formed by sacrifice. Maybe the key is the extra joy of the nighttime meals after the long fast. Maybe it’s the ability to eat outdoors in the warm weather after fasting.

Whatever the actual cause, there seems to be an important lesson that we can generalize beyond Islam and beyond Ramadan: Sacrificing, together with family and community, for a higher cause, can bring happiness, without the need for riches.

This is something to recall in America, where the working class is retreating from religion at the same time it is suffering social and economic woes. When we’re reduced to a secular culture, there’s no escaping the connection between wealth and happiness. The only way to detach those two seems to be through religious sacrifice.


These Photos Illustrate The Incredible Diversity Of Eid Al-Fitr In America

Carol Kuruvilla, 15 Jun 2018, huffingtonpost.ca

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr in the Brooklyn

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on June 15, 2018


Images From Ramadan 2018

Alan Taylor, 12 Jun 2018, theatlantic.com

TOPSHOT-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN

A Palestinian youth waves a sparkler next a mosque in Gaza City on May 16, 2018, as the faithful prepare for the start of Ramadan


Black Muslims Are Sharing Photos Of Their Eid Outfits With The Hashtag #blackouteid

Delaney Strunk, 15 Jun 2018, uk.businessinsider.com


Muslims Gather To Celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr

Johnny Simon, 15 Jun 2018, qz.com

Ramadan 2018 3

Iraqi Sunni Muslims attend Eid al-Fitr prayer amid the ruins of a mosque destroyed during the battle against the Islamic State in western Mosul city, Iraq

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ISLAM IS ABSOLUTELY NOT AN ARTLESS RELIGION

Salvator.jpg

We humans have always tried in various ways to express ourselves. Where this burning desire emanates from is for historians and other such experts to discuss, but there is no doubt that the desire was there from the start, and it is still with us. The best way that mankind has found to pour forth this need for expression is through the myriad forms of art that we see all around us. The oldest art form is considered to be cave paintings, also known as parietal art, and currently the oldest known cave paintings are over a staggering 64,000 years old.

Let us move on from rudimentary paintings on cave walls to arguably the most famous artist of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci. Amongst his most well-known works of art are the elusive and priceless Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man, the Last Supper, Lady with an Ermine, and his self-portrait in red chalk. Another famous painting by Da Vinci recently made global headlines. Salvator Mundi (Latin for “Saviour of the World”) is a painting of Jesus Christ that Da Vinci made around 1500. Some 517 years later it was sold at auction by Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million to become the most expensive piece of art in the world.

Officially the painting was sold to Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism on the 15th of November 2017. Unofficially it was bought by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. The Saudi leadership bought the artwork as a gift for the Abu Dhabi government, a close regional partner. The reason for this purchase being so hush-hush is that news of the prince’s acquisition damages his claim that he will impose more transparency on the money accumulated by various members of the sprawling Saudi royal family. The most expensive painting in the world is to be put on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. Yes, the Louvre in Paris, the world’s best known museum which houses the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, has for the first time in its long and distinguished history decided to open another branch, way out in the deserts of the predominantly Muslim Arabian peninsula.

Why would a Muslim pay such an extortionate amount for a painting of the Christian Jesus, painted by the founding father of the High Renaissance? Are we Muslims not meant to have a reputation for being totally artless, especially when compared to the visual veneration Christianity has of Jesus? Some may argue that this reputation, to be fair, is somewhat self-inflicted since Muslims generally do not promote images of God or any of His prophets, especially the prophet Muhammad. Many a Muslim scholar would argue back that we do not need visual imagery to heighten our spirituality as the words of the Qur’an are more than enough. However, one can easily argue that this artless reputation has no basis in reality.

Art is the most vivid expression of our human existence. It can represent an individual, a community, a nation, a race, a gender, even an entire faith. Since art expresses the beauty of the human experience, Islamic art expresses the beauty of the spiritual experience. I know of many Muslim households that have framed artwork hanging on their walls, usually in the form of Arabic calligraphy. Muslims, like many others, artistically express themselves in many different ways, be it through our food, our homes, our cars, our clothes, our writing, our language. So for us art, and certainly the concept of art, is a big part of our daily lives, whether we realise it or not. Not bad for a group of people who are stereotyped as being bland and uncreative. In fact, just do a quick Google search on “Islamic art” to see the wealth of artistic experience that exists in the Muslim world.

Art still continues to define and shape who we are today. It also helps us to better understand who we were. Take the recent case of a 3000-year-old sculpture of the head of a king that was found in Israel. Archaeologists are currently baffled as to who the head represents, and why a piece of figurative art from the iron age is of such unusually high quality.

The power of art is also recognised by groups such as ISIS who appear to be against the open display of art. Publicly, for the cameras, they will destroy a few statues and other works of antiquity that are centuries old. Privately, they are more than happy to hypocritically benefit from the selling of many other pieces on the artistic black market. The Nazis also understood the importance of art (Hitler was himself a failed art student), but albeit in a different way, which is why they tried to hide and preserve tens of thousands of works of art they looted from museums and wealthy families all across Europe. For more on this please see the excellent 2014 George Clooney movie The Monuments Men, well worth a watch.

One person who definitely sees the power of art in Islamic culture is the British artist Zarah Hussain:

Islamic art is often vibrant and distinctive…Art is the mirror of a culture and its world view. The art of the Islamic world reflects its cultural values, and reveals the way Muslims view the spiritual realm and the universe. For the Muslim, reality begins with and centers on Allah. Allah is at the heart of worship and aspirations for Muslims, and is the focus of their lives. So Islamic art focuses on the spiritual representation of objects and beings, and not their physical qualities. The Muslim artist does not attempt to replicate nature as it is, but tries to convey what it represents. This lets the artist, and those who experience the art, get closer to Allah. – Zarah Hussain, from a 2009 BBC News article on Islamic art

Another person who sees Islam as being anything but artless is Mary Beard. Beard is many things: a historian, a classicist, a Cambridge don, a public intellectual, a professor, and an author. She is also a famous TV historian. There are many such famous TV historians who are ever-present upon our television screens, such as David Starkey, Lucy Worsley, Bettany Hughes, Michael Woods, Waldemar Januzczak, AJP Taylor, Neil Oliver, and Kenneth Clark, to name but a few. Beard is another famous name that can be added to that list. Recently Beard was seen as one of the presenters in the epic BBC 9-part documentary series called Civilisations.

Beard DVD

The title of the documentary series is a reference to a previous BBC TV 13-part documentary series called Civilisation, which was written and presented by Kenneth Clark almost fifty years ago. That landmark program offered one man’s personal view of western European civilisation, from the end of the Dark Ages onwards. It was partly conceived by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC Two, to demonstrate the potential of colour television.

This new series (not only in colour but now also in high definition!) ranges more widely, featuring African, Asian, American as well as European cultures to explore how human creativity began and developed, how civilisations around the world influenced one another, and how artists have depicted the human form and the natural world. It spans 31 countries on six continents, covering more than 500 works of art. Alongside Beard are fellow presenters Simon Schama and David Olusoga, and they all explore humanity’s desire to create and express.

Episode 4 of the series is titled The Eye Of Faith and was first aired in March 2018. It featured Beard on her own travelling extensively all over the world and some of her visits included: sixth-century mosaics at Ravenna, which the Byzantine emperor Justinian and his consort Theodora commissioned to demonstrate the divinity of Christ; the Angkor Wat Hindu temple complex in Cambodia; a statue of the Virgin Mary in Seville, Spain, known as La Macarena; the painting known as the Tintoretto Crucifixion in Venice, Italy; the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, India, whose celebrated Buddhist murals were executed over 700 years starting in the 2nd century BC; the Anglican Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, an architectural masterpiece in the English fenlands; the 500 year old Kennicott Bible in Oxford, England; and the Quwwat Al-Islam mosque in Delhi, India.

It is clear from this episode that Beard has a unique way of looking at art. She depicts humans and gods in an erudite yet light-touch way. Beard understands that great art makes emotional demands that we may not make of ourselves otherwise. The visionary imagery we see before us can be quite soul-stirring, but only if we understand it well enough, and only if we allow it to be.

Beard Book

There is also a corresponding book, How Do We Look/Eye Of Faith, to the two episodes in the series that are written and presented by Beard. How Do We Look focuses on how humanity has artistically represented the human body, and Eye Of Faith focuses on how human beings have artistically depicted God or gods. In this book Beard implies that informing her travels throughout is the question of “how people look at religious art — or what it is to look ‘religiously’ ” In a review of the book journalist Kathryn Hughes says that “Meaning is always an ongoing process for Beard, concerned not so much with making as making-over.”

The TV program proved so successful that in June 2018 it was announced in the Queen’s Honour List that the Queen was awarding Beard a dame hood. In typically down-to-earth fashion Beard described it as a “smashing honour” and attributed it to the growing interest in her field of work. At the start of the Eye Of Faith episode Beard describes her intellectual quest as follows:

For millennia, art has been used to bring the human and divine together. And it’s given us some of the most majestic and affecting visual images ever made. I want to explore what really lies behind these extraordinary creations and reveal the kind of religious work that art does all around the world. But, for me, the story of religious art is about more than this. It’s about controversy and conflict, danger and risk. Whether it’s Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Jewish, I want to expose the dilemmas that all religions face when they try to make gods visible in the human world. When does the worship of an image turn into dangerous idolatry? Where does divine glorification end and worldly vanity begin? What actually counts as an image of God or of God’s word? – Professor Mary Beard

She goes on to explain the widespread prevalence that such art has:

Religious art gets everywhere. You don’t only find it in churches, temples and galleries. Religion has always brought out the artfulness in people, on the body, in the home, and on the street. – Professor Mary Beard

She ends the episode at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, a building that has been in turn a pagan temple, a Christian church, and a mosque. Now it is a monument to Western civilisation itself and a pilgrimage site for tourists. She ends with the following quote about the modern religion of civilisation:

Only the bare bones of Ancient Greek or any other religion stand here today, but it’s become the focus of a worship of another kind. It’s easy to come to a place like the Acropolis and to assume that whatever religion there once was here has gone for good. But I think we should be a bit more careful. However secular they might be, when people here look at this monument, when they admire its art and engage with its mythology, many are reflecting on questions that religions have often helped us face. Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What’s my place in human history? I think people are engaged in a modern faith here, the one we call civilisation. It’s an idea that behaves very much like a religion. It offers grand narratives about our origins and our destiny, bringing people together in shared belief. And the Parthenon has become its icon. So if you ask me, “What is civilisation?” I say, “It’s little more than an act of faith.” – Professor Mary Beard

But it is her visits to the Sancaklar Mosque and the Blue Mosque, both in Turkey, that really caught my attention. Amongst the people she speaks to is the brilliant calligrapher Soraya Syed, who gives a deeper insight into the Arabic lettering that adorns almost every mosque around the world. In the aforementioned review Kathryn Hughes adds the following candid insight about Islamic art, the Blue mosque, and about Beard herself:

In the second part [of the book] a standout section sees Beard upending that stale old assumption about Islam being an artless religion. To prove her point she takes us into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and points out that, while there may be no images of human or divine forms, joyous streams of holy writ dance along the ceramic walls and ceiling. So exquisite is this monumental calligraphy, with its repeating visual rhymes and rhythms, that at some point the script ceases to be text and becomes instead its own picture. This effect is even more striking given that the majority of visitors to the mosque will historically have had neither the laser-sharp vision nor the literacy in Arabic to make out the meaning of the words suspended hundreds of feet above their heads. What we are looking at on the walls of the Blue Mosque is nothing less than the divine in visual form. It is this ability to read closely in the interstices of culture that makes Beard such an invigorating guide. – Kathryn Hughes, 01 Mar 2018, theguardian.com

Presented below is a transcript of the 12 minute segment from the episode where Beard travels to these mosques in Turkey. I have tried to provide a link to a video, and I hope it still works. If not, then please try to view all 9 episodes (I am sure they are available somewhere online such as catch up TV) as the entire series is a magnificent eye opener on the vast world we all reside in. So if anyone, including yourself, thinks of Islam as joyless, soulless, uncreative, and artless, then I would strongly advise them to spend the next 12 minutes watching this. The video is a link to the entire episode, with the relevant clip in question beginning exactly at the 30 minute mark. Enjoy!


Out on the rural fringes of Istanbul is one of the most striking religious creations of modern times. It appeared on the landscape less than a decade ago and has drawn people in ever since. It’s the Sancaklar Mosque, the work of one of Turkey’s most visionary architects. This is one of the most startling mosques in the world. What the architects wanted to do is to harness the power of modernism, which is often thought of as a very secular movement, to express the very essence of religious space, stripped of all the non-essentials. And it’s certainly untraditional in all kinds of ways. But, in other ways, it’s exploiting the traditions of Islam very heavily. This inside space is meant to be reminiscent of the Cave of Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Word of God that became the Koran. And, of course, it also evokes one of the classic stereotypes that many people now have of Islam, that it’s a religion that is in some way artless. That it prohibits not just the image of God and the Prophet, but the images of living creatures which only the Creator, God, is supposed to be able to create. In fact, the only man-made image is a wonderful piece of calligraphy which is a quote from the Koran. It’s as if what we’re expected to do when we come in here is to see, and go away with, the Word of God. Islam, as a faith of the word, is enshrined in the Koran itself. There are many famous sayings and stories that condemn idolatry and give warning about the dangers of images.

But in the ancient city of Istanbul itself, a very different picture of Islam fills our field of vision. Islam is absolutely not an artless religion. In the whole history of the faith, you cannot trace a single, uncontested line about images of living creatures or about the image of God. In the Middle Ages, the Islamic world held some of the most intricate debates on aesthetics, the nature of beauty, the optics of the human eye, and our sensory experience of the natural world. And there’s a kaleidoscope of stories and parables that are Islam’s conversation with itself about the role of the artist and the purpose of the image. And one of the most revealing takes us into the domestic life of the Prophet Muhammad himself.

One day, Muhammad came home to discover that his wife Aisha had acquired a tapestry with images of living creatures woven into the design. And she’d hung it up. Muhammad is furious, he won’t even go into the house because it’s the Creator God who’s supposed to create living creatures, not some tapestry artist. So, Aisha takes it down, but she doesn’t let it go to waste. She cuts it up and turns it into cushion covers, and that, apparently, creates no problem.

The story of Aisha’s cushion is a wonderful illustration of how Islamic attitudes can shift according to the role and the setting of the image. But there’s one kind of Islamic art whose role and function is much more significant than any other. As soon as Muhammad received the Word of God in the 7th century, calligraphy, or the art of beautiful writing, was taken to the very heart of Islamic identity.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “There is an obligation on the calligrapher to serve the community in which he or she is writing for. But calligraphers were highly esteemed. The pen is the potent symbol of knowledge.”

The art of calligraphy became the means by which the sacred word could be set down, spread, and remain uncorrupted for all time.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “From the very birth of Islam, the first verses revealed to the Prophet Muhammad were by the pen. Therefore, it sanctified the use of the pen at the outset of Islam. And, ever since that point, artisans have been trying to beautify the divine word through that pen.”

Serdar Gulgun, art collector: “Of course, the text of the calligraphy is very impressive but, for me, what is more important is the visual of the calligraphy, the graphic, the balance and the rhythm of the calligraphy. To be a good calligrapher, you have to have years of work in you. Even on one single letter. It takes a complete life to come to that maturity to do a good calligraphy. So, you see all his life in a single stroke.”

With exquisite penmanship, Islam had an art form to set it apart from many other religions. And it was said that while the Koran was received in Mecca and spoken in Cairo, it was Istanbul that produced the finest calligraphers able to write it down.

This is the Blue Mosque. It was commissioned in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmed and, in its almost excessive size and splendour, it was designed to surpass all other mosques in the city. There are no idols or images of living creatures. Instead, the walls are alive with the most ornate patterns. Plants and flowers intertwine in the most vivid glaze of ceramic tiles. And, laced into the scheme, are some of the most extraordinary examples of monumental calligraphy in the Islamic world. It’s as if the Blue Mosque itself was conceived as a great library of Islamic script, and it’s here that we see calligraphy at its most powerful.

When you enter the building, above the door there’s a message telling you to expect something special, that you’re going through the Gates of Paradise. And that’s just one of a whole series of notices throughout the Mosque, often beautifully written snippets of the Koran which guide the thoughts of the faithful and interpret what you see. If you look up into the dome, you’re reminded that it’s Allah who supports the heavens and the world. And it was a message that basically says that you should take back there into the outside world the state of purity that you’ve reached through prayer. It’s as if there’s a written programme here, telling you how to experience the building and how to look at it.

But for those who worshipped and still worship here, there’s another way of reading this writing. Placed high above the prayer hall, the script becomes almost illegible. When it was first painted, many of the faithful would have been illiterate. And, even for those who could read, the clarity of the message is obscured in the rhythm and patterns of the text.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “This very magnificent, elaborate script is quite complex. It’s not always easy to read and I don’t think it was meant to be read. Because sometimes it’s there also as a form of blessing. And, just by looking at it, you can absorb some of that blessing.”

What we have to remember is that writing can work in other ways. Here, we are seeing God represented in visual form but not as human. Here, God is displayed as his word in the Koran. It’s God in the art of writing. Now, Islam is by no means the only religion to use writing as a way to negotiate the problem of how you represent the divine. The Christian gospels, for example, can claim that God is the word. But in Islam, more than anywhere else, we see the image becoming the word, and the word becoming the image. In the face of all the debates and prohibitions on images, Islamic calligraphy evolved to redefine what an image of God could be.

‘PUNISH A MUSLIM DAY’ IS EVERY DAY

PAMD

We live in a world where there is so much news that an important issue that took place only a few months ago is probably already forgotten. Remember Punish A Muslim Day? It was supposed to take place on the 3rd of April 2018. Weeks before an A4 letter was circulating in print and online, encouraging people to earn points by performing certain atrocities against Muslims. You scored 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim, all the way up to a whopping 2,500 points for dropping a nuclear bomb on the holy Islamic site of Mecca. No one was really sure how you would then cash in these points, or what kind of prizes you could win from your hard earned points.

Police forces all over the UK took this threat seriously. Muslims were asked to be extra vigilant on that day. My wife was concerned for my welfare as I travel to work on public transport. There was even a counter-movement started called Love A Muslim Day. There were a few Islamophobic incidents recorded that day, but no more than usual. In large, thankfully, not much happened. I remember reading many articles about the build-up and aftermath to this non-event, and the best one I came across was from the always brilliant Dean Obeidallah. Selected quotes from his article are presented below. Dean is not just a writer, he is also a stand-up comedian. One of his fellow Muslim stand up colleagues, Hasan Minhaj, had his own take on the entire PAMD fiasco.

Around the same time I was reading the article from Dean I read two other articles, on different subjects, that were also very impressive. Sarah Khan is a travel writer whom I have mentioned before and I mention her again because she wrote a brilliant article about how she visits mosques wherever and whenever she travels.

The third article presented below is from another travel writer, Katherine Lagrave, who describes how one can easily argue that the beauty of the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage is being overtaken by the business of the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage.

As always presented below are selected quotes from these articles, which are worth reading in full. Enjoy!


Why I Visit A Mosque Wherever I Travel

When traveling, mosques around the world become more than just a place to pray.

Sarah Khan, 29 Mar 2018, cntraveler.com

On my first trip to Rome, I did as the tourists do: paid my respects at the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vatican, and no fewer than a dozen gelato shops. But the memory that lingers strongest a decade later is of boarding a nondescript commuter train to Parioli with my friends to visit the Moschea di Roma, the largest mosque in Europe. Built in 1994 with the blessing of Pope John Paul II, it is a tranquil escape from the eternal frenzy of the Eternal City. We prayed, took pictures, and marveled at walls clad in traditional mosaics juxtaposed with striking contemporary pillars, the result of a collaboration between Iraqi and Italian architects. Then we took the train back to the city for a night out in Trastevere.

I religiously cross major monuments off my tourist checklists, but since my twenties, whether I’m in Buenos Aires or rural Mozambique, Paris or Cape Town, a recurring feature of my travels has become tracking down each destination’s major mosque. I may struggle to navigate through storms of rapid-fire French, Italian, Kimwani, or Malayalam, but when the echoes of a muezzin calling, “Hayya as-salah, Hayya al-Falah” (“Come to prayer, come to success”), descends over me, instantly recognizable despite varying accents and levels of melodiousness, there, too, is a sense of peace.

While I still consider myself an observant Muslim, visiting mosques is about something more than religious devotion; it’s a way for me to connect with Muslims throughout the world…I ask someone which direction the qibla is, to face the Kaaba in Mecca, or where to perform wudu, the ablution required before prayer: Islam 101 becomes an ice breaker.

I’ve lived in five countries on three continents and, as a travel journalist, so much of my life is spent in transit that my comfort zone is not any one city or country but somewhere at 30,000 feet. Even if I’m not quite sure where home is, I know I’ll find it in some form whenever I hear the adhaan, the call to prayer that rings out from mosques five times a day. In the unpredictable madness of travel, a mosque is my sanctuary. It’s the one place I know I’m guaranteed history, smiles, art, and a moment of peace. And then it’s back to the next hotel, the next train, the next airport—and the next mosque.


Hajj Swirl

The Beauty—And Business—Of The Hajj

Piety, profit, and their intersection at one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings.

Katherine Lagrave, 29 Mar 2018, cntraveler.com

And while the rituals required know no gender, the difficulties with each step vary greatly by person…For Murtaza Sutarwalla, a Houston-based attorney who went on hajj with his wife in 2012, it was spending the night under the stars on the plains of Muzdalifah—no tents, no roof over your head, no bed beyond a straw mat or cardboard, wearing only ihram. It took Sutarwalla some eight hours to reach Muzdalifah, but in a journey lies a reward. “That night, as I fell asleep after the longest and most tiring day of my life, the thought hit that for all of the material things we chase, as long as one has that inherent connection to God, there is nothing more that one really needs. I had the most wonderful sleep that night in my entire life,” he says.

For many who have completed hajj, though, the thought of doing it all again is met with a mix of apprehension and excitement…Says Mohammed Khan, who also writes about religion and travel for the online publication Sacred Footsteps: “The experience I had after I finished it was that I never wanted to do it again. It’s so tiring. It’s so crowded. It’s busy. It’s hot. It’s not a very comfortable situation to be in. But at the same time, you think back, and despite all of those things you went through, it’s a really uplifting experience. It’s a completely different world. It’s something that you don’t know what it is, but you have that feeling [of wanting] to go back.”

To some pilgrims, that high volume of people all trying to accomplish the same things can feel dangerous at times. “It gets kind of violent, unintentionally,” says Ali. “People come to pilgrimage for thousands of reasons. Many come out of desperation—they’re looking for hope—and they will do anything. They’ll push each other, they’ll shove each other, they’ll step on each other. It’s so ironic, because they’re there for a religious purpose, to cleanse their soul, and out of their own desperation, they forget humanity. And that is one of the most interesting facets [of the experience] to observe.”

For Mahmood, Hajra’s husband, this me-first mentality is at odds with the true intent of the hajj. “In the context of how the prophet wanted hajj to be performed, there’s a clear contradiction in how people behave today,” he says. “Though we complete the hajj—all the requirements, all the rituals—there is a very clear understanding that that itself does not indicate that you have accomplished the goal of hajj. You may complete the rituals, but you have not completed hajj, because you have transgressed the duties in a way that you have ignored the most important things, which is humanity. Kindness. Showing respect to others, and taking their needs into account. And at the end of the day, God is the only entity that can say, ‘Yes, you were successful in your hajj.’”


Fingers Pointing

It’s ‘Punish A Muslim Day.’ Or, As We Muslims Call It, Every Day.

A flier declares today, April 3, ‘Punish a Muslim’ Day in the U.S. and the U.K., offering 100 points for beating up a Muslim. But it’s not as if everything will be fine on April 4.

Dean Obeidallah, 03 Apr 2018, thedailybeast.com

Trump’s words and actions have truly helped make every day “punish a Muslim” day. We have witnessed a bone-chilling increase in hate crimes against Muslims since Trump began his campaign. In 2016 alone there was a documented spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes to levels that surpassed what we saw in the year after 9/11. Think about that for a moment: There were more hate crimes against Muslim Americans in terms of physical assaults during Trump’s run for president than after a terror attack involving Muslims that took nearly 3,000 lives.

Sure, there were anti-Muslim hate crimes before Trump. But Trump’s demonization of Muslims is like nothing we ever saw before by a major party-political candidate, and that is a big part of the reason for the spike.

And beyond these hate crimes, the sense of an almost daily “punish a Muslim” day in America comes from the growing trend we see from the media normalizing or ignoring anti-Muslim hate. For example, there’s a major federal terrorism trial going on right now in Kansas. Why haven’t you heard about it? Simple: The terrorists are not Muslims. Rather, they are Trump supporting white supremacists who plotted to kill American Muslims. But the mainstream media simply doesn’t cover these trials with the same intensity as when a Muslim is a defendant.

Even in entertainment media we are seeing a normalization of anti-Muslim hate. Roseanne Barr has a documented history of spewing anti-Muslim bigotry (as well attacks on other communities), from retweeting claims that Islam is the same as Nazism to her ginning up fear of Muslims by tweeting about “Islamic rape pedo culture.” Yet ABC rebooted her TV show and has refused to denounce or even comment on her history of anti-Muslim hate. (My inquiries to ABC’s publicist for the show have gone unanswered.)

So while April 3 might be designated by some right-wing bigots as “punish a Muslim” day, that’s been happening almost daily since Trump ran for president. The result, however, is that the Muslim American community is more resilient than ever, with our community thriving and growing through it all.

LIFE WOULD BE TRAGIC IF IT WEREN’T FUNNY

Hawking Tragic

Way back in 1988 I was just thirteen years old, a very impressionable age indeed. On the 1st of March of that year a book was published by a hitherto unknown scientist about cosmology, the study of the universe. The title of the book was A Brief History Of Time: From The Big Bang To Black Holes and the scientist was the British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. The book became an international bestseller with sales of more than 10 million copies over the next 20 years. It was also on the Sunday Times bestseller list for more than five years, and was translated into 35 languages by 2001.

For those of us old enough to remember, the book was a global sensation. It was easily the most famous book on the planet at the time, it is arguably the most famous science book of all time, and it is also considered to be the most unread book of all time. Even though Hawking was an atheist and I am a Muslim, when I read his book it did kind of blow my mind, even though I may not have understood all of it. It made me realise just how expansive ones thoughts can be, just how vast the mind can open when analysing life, the universe, and everything. If you have not read it them please do so, especially the illustrated edition. You will not think the same again afterwards, or your money back.

Just over 30 years after the publication of his seminal work, on the 14th of March 2018, Hawking passed away. The world lost one of the greatest minds of our age. The death of the theoretical physicist came as a shock to many, especially when judging by the outpouring of tributes from compatriots, politicians, musicians, actors, and others. Hawking was primarily famous for his immense intellect, which he used to delve into the furthest realms of our universe. Despite his immense genius he was humble about it, famously remarking that “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

At the age of 21 Hawking was diagnosed with a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS went on to gradually paralyse his body over the decades. Even though he was given a few years to live, as do most people with ALS, Hawking somehow managed to live for another 55 years, thus proving that he truly was able to master the elasticity of time. Despite his condition he managed to do more with one finger than most have with their entire body, myself included.

Whilst Hawking was a man of great inspiration to many, he was also famous for his sharp and sometimes savage sense of humour. Most people’s passion, ambition and ability to laugh would crumble in the face of a degenerative disorder such as ALS, but Hawking was not most people. So how do you cope in a situation where, in a sense, you have your hands, feet, and everything else tied behind your back? When asked by the Radio Times what inspires him to keep going Hawking replied, “My work and a sense of humour. It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life is, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and at life in general.”

True to his word, throughout his long life Hawking continued to blow our minds with his exploration of the complexity of the universe, all the while making us laugh and reminding us that even the smartest among us are still human. One of his many famous quotes that I have now read several times since his passing is, “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”

Never was a truer word spoken about the comedic nature of our existence. Since his passing this quote has been going around and around in my head, especially when I watch the news. So, as a way to stop it circulating in my mind the way it currently is, and in light of the passing of such a great and humorous intellect, here are some recent quotes from others to hopefully make us all understand that life would indeed be tragic if it were not so darn funny. There are some savage remarks from Frankie Boyle about the current situation in Palestine and Israel, some quotes about the royal wedding, and of course a few about Trump. Please note that some quotes may be for adults only, you have been warned. Enjoy!

Hawking Cover

A problem I have with the news now is that it is all ridiculous all the time. Have you noticed that April Fools Day has just died as a concept because people go “Is it? Is it any different? I can’t really see the difference.” And I just think that there is a big problem in the modern world, that our evil is now so ridiculous that you can’t take it seriously. Vladimir Putin kills his enemies, he’s extracted a huge amount of wealth from Russia, but he also rides around topless on a horse. It’s very hard to hold those two things in your mind at the same time. – Helen Lewis, May 2018

And then there’s the Royal wedding. To say I am excited…would not be accurate. I already have my alarm set so I’ll know exactly when to start not giving a shit. But on the bright side the Queen finally found a job for Charles. He’ll be walking Megan Markle down the aisle, because who better as a happy marriage good luck charm than Prince Charles. Trump was not invited to the royal wedding. He said that’s okay that he’s not invited. He said in their honor he would continue to royally screw America. So look, I don’t want to be the wet blanket, enjoy the hell out of it tomorrow. Are you gonna watch? Of course you are. It’s gonna be great when a B-list actress marries a man who will never be king in a country that doesn’t even matter, an event so unimportant even the Russians aren’t fixing it. – Bill Maher, 18 May 2018

Earlier today Megan Markle married some unemployed dude who still lives with his grandma. – Micheal Che, 19 May 2018

I think the reason most people are so drawn to the royal wedding is that it’s a reminder that if you’re an unbelievably good looking woman someday you may meet a legacy billionaire full of recessive traits. – tweet from @mattytalks, 19 May 2018

Israel this week shot dead 58 Palestinian protestors and wounded another 2,000 people, in what the British media disgracefully described as ‘clashes’. It’s not clashes. If one side has sniper rifles and the other side has a few catapults and slingshots, you’re basically murdering the Ewoks. – Frankie Boyle, 18 May 2018

It will be hard for Iran to actually attack Israel because they don’t recognise it. I don’t know why they don’t recognise it because it looks exactly like Palestine. – Jeremy Hardy, May 2018

Megan Markel is now the Duchess of Sussex. That’s got to hurt. You grow up wanting to be a princess but you end up sounding like a pub in Eastbourne. It was a traditional wedding. Something old, Prince Phillip. Something new, the royal baby. Something borrowed, the wealth of India. And something blue, the Queen’s feet. – Frankie Boyle, 18 May 2018

Megyn Kelly kicked off America’s royal wedding coverage today by discussing how many people would have to die for Meghan Markle to become queen. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why the rest of the world thinks us Americans are a bunch of weird violent crazy people. – Marie Connor, 19 May 2018

Obama was the first black president. And Donald J Trump is the first porn president. He has pornified not the high street, not the world of fashion, but the whole world itself. What unregulated internet access began, Donald Trump has finished, his porn star affair inadvertently dissolving the last vestiges of modesty displayed by the world of monetised desire. And the phrase “porn star” now sits comfortably in the mouths of Today programme presenters, TV newsreaders, and year 4 schoolkids. – Stewart Lee, 14 May 2018

President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the Iran deal, but Trump is! And you know the only part of that deal Trump has read was the signature on the bottom that said ‘Barack Obama.’ That’s all he needed. Trump is undoing so much of Obama’s work that Obama’s going to start fading away in pictures like in the movie Back To The Future. – Michael Che, May 2018

Royal shows are an escapist distraction for a fractious nation, but when the confetti is swept away and the bunting taken down, Britain is still left to wrestle with its deep divisions. Another concern is that Britain’s monarchy is all that much of the world ever notices about our country and this entrenches an international image of these islands as a heritage park. – Andrew Rawnsley, 20 May 2018

The death toll rose from the protests in Gaza. Over 100 people have been shot dead and thousands more have been shot and wounded. But to be fair there were injuries on both sides. One of the Israeli snipers got an erection for so long that his foot went to sleep. Things are bad in Gaza. Things are so bad in Gaza that porn stars have started referring to their pubic arrangement as a ‘Gaza strip’, an area that has been so brutally pummeled that no child could ever hope to crawl out alive. So why is it important to talk about this? It is important to talk about this in Britain because Britain still provides moral and practical support to Israel while Israel breaks international law. And I don’t think British people would be okay with that if they knew the full facts of the case, if they knew the full extent of Britain’s hypocrisy on the world stage. Britain sells weapons to Saudi Arabia that Saudi Arabia uses to kill people in Yemen. Yet Britain is the number two provider of aid to Yemen. And why not? Life gives you Yemen, you give Yemen aid. – Frankie Boyle, 25 May 2018

Trump has broken synapses thrashing around in his brain, like electricity cables that have been gnawed through by a gopher with nothing to live for. – Miles Jupp, May 2018

Trump is obsessed with undoing everything Obama did. If Trump could bring Bin Laden back to life he would do it. – Bill Maher, May 2018

Trump will not be assassinated. It would be very difficult. He’s not smart enough to go to the theater, and also Democrats would never assassinate him because then they’ll have to admit that guns can be useful. – Katherine Ryan, May 2018

We are told that Prince William is to visit Israel and the West Bank. He’s not the first member of the royal family to go over there, but he is the first one who isn’t leading a crusade…It’s Israel’s 70th anniversary, so William will be greeted with a 70 gun salute, fired straight into some Palestinians. – Frankie Boyle, 01 Jun 2018

When your map of the world is systematically leading you astray, step one for finding your way is to throw away the map. – Oliver Burkeman