Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Making of a Saint

With my parents coming from opposite ends of the country I spend a fair amount of the summer with the Libyan landscape whizzing by the car windows. The one constant feature, from east to west, and even the desert in between, is the Maqams.

Domed white buildings, built over the tomb of Wali, and all marked as such by a profusion of green banners, are just everywhere. Perched half-way up a hill in the J'bal Alakhdar, surrounded by a rippling sea of wheat, golden in the sun light; in the middle of an almond orchard, where goats prefer it's cool shade to the trees' more patchy shadow; or on the right hand side of a much used desert highway alongside petrol stations, truckers restaurants, and the occasional sheepherders' village.

Which was why I wasn’t surprised when, driving back from a cousin's wedding, we drove by a Saints tomb right next to the main road into Tubruk. It was larger than usual though, with quite a few cars parked nearby and people milling about.

I thought they were just using it as a place to rest, as travelers often do, for which reason Maqams, like roadside mosques, are never locked, and sometimes don't even have a door.
But no, this was the tomb of the Mujahid Yunis Hashim, a Maqam so famous I was told, that even now, with such superstitious practices on the decline, there were visitors from all over the Eastern provinces.

My uncle filled us in on its story: apparently the grave belonged to a Shaheed from the Jihad against the fascist occupation, who volunteered to hold off the Italians soldiers after a skirmish, giving the others time to escape.When his body was recovered and buried, some people, hearing his story, and the fact that he had been a member of one of the more mystically prone Sufi tariqas, began visiting his grave to seek blessings from one they considered closer to God.

(To those who think Sufis are a quiescent bunch, too busy chanting and spinning in circles to know, or care, if the Kaba was nuked: a ‘Sufi Jihadi’ is not an oxymoron)
So Yunis Hashim became a Wali of sorts, one to whom people would turn for guidance and example, and sometimes mentioned as an intercessor in a du’a, which is as always addressed to God, but prefaced by a formulaic reference ("By the high worth in which you hold Si ...") to a Wali.

With time the tomb was built, then a Maqam was added over it, and gradually gifts of tomb covers and wall hangings, without which no Maqam is complete, were embroidered by women fulfilling a vow or in gratitude for a granted prayer.
But there was still another stage in the evolution of this Maqam, which was responsible for its remarkable - I would say anachronistic-popularity.Sometime shortly before the sanctions regime ended a family, on their way to Egypt to treat their crippled daughter, stopped at this Maqam for a rest, as I had imagined the present crowd was doing. The girl was left inside the Maqam with her brother, as she was really suffering from the long journey, while the others went to get supplies from a nearby village.
When they returned they found the children asleep, and her father bent over her to wake her up, and as soon as he said her name -so the story goes- she stood up as naturally as any healthy child.The overjoyed father donated the money he was planning to spend on her treatment to extend the Maqam, whose fame has spread so widely that it now draws pilgrims by the score each week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Leonardo's mother: an Arab slave?

The Arabist has this from Discovery:

Da Vinci Fingerprint Reveals Arab Heritage?

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Oct. 28, 2006 — Leonardo da Vinci may have had an Arab heritage, according to Italian researchers who have isolated and reconstructed the Renaissance master's fingerprint.

The fingerprint represents the only biological trace of the Florentine genius, said Luigi Capasso, an anthropologist at Chieti University...Fingerprints are unique and don't change over a lifetime. Analysis of the skin's arches, loops and whorls — a science known as dermatoglyphics — has shown that there is a link between fingerprints and populations.

In the case of Leonardo's fingertip, patterns and ridges pointed to the Middle East, the researchers concluded. "The fingerprint features patterns such as the central whorl that are dominant in the Middle East. About 60 percent of the Middle Eastern population display the same dermatoglyphic structure found in the fingerprint," Capasso said.

The discovery would support Vezzosi's claim that Leonardo's mother was not a local peasant girl as previously thought, but a Middle Eastern slave. According to Vezzosi, records unearthed in Vinci offer substantial evidence that Leonardo's father, a craftsman called Ser Piero Da Vinci, owned a Middle-Eastern female slave named Caterina.

"It was common in 15th century Tuscany to own slaves from the Middle East," said Vezzosi. Indeed, in 1452, the same year of Leonardo's birth, a law was passed in Florence that gave slave owners greater rights over their slaves. Shortly after the law was passed, Ser Piero married Caterina off to one of his workers. The woman had just given birth to a boy called Leonardo.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stupid Americans - Uncle Sam inspires 3ami 3arabi


شعب أمريكا غبي
كف عن هذا الهُراء
لا تدع للحقد
أن يبلغ حد الفتراء
قل بهذا الشعب ما شئت
ولكن لا تقل عنه غبي
اأيقولون غبيا
احمد مطر -

Whether it is calumny, as the title of Ahmad Matar's poem claims (only to be contradicted by the text), to call American's stupid seems a moot point; the world having decided that the its sole Superpower is characterised by this trait above all others.

And the American as voter is particularly afflicted with a lack of brain power, eating up such patent whoppers as in Steve Brodner's cartoon.

You have to wonder though, with a media driven by the bottom line parroting the same message, if it isn't what they want to hear. And if the leaders the rest of the world find so ridiculous might be elected because their policies, and even the annoying mannerism, are what appeals.

The nation of shopkeepers appreciates a Tom Brownian PM who quotes his school motto in his inaugural speech, and the Americans prefer a straight-talking cowboy. To each his own.

And as to foreign policy, those who celebrate the fall from grace of neo-cons as the awakening of the gullible and naive seem to ignore the fact that their detractors feel the need to compete.

With Iraq burning, and the rest of the region apparently gearing up for a similar inferno, we have more than our share of certified experts in the global phenomena of Yankee bashing, most of whom have a sub-speciality in attention-deficiency, short-term fixation and sheer stupidity studies.

From the perspective of a local groundling, watching the US of A's military and diplomatic [sic] machine wreak havoc across it's current stomping ground, America appears as a lobotomised blindfolded colossus on the rampage.

Seeing such a monster - and the destruction it leaves in it's wake - up close and personal gives an intensity to the anti-US rants, and enough emotion to inspire poetry on their stupidity- as in the Iraqi Ahmad Matar's poem above, and the Lebanese Khaled El-habir's below:

ابانا الذي في السما

ابانا الذي في السما انت عراسي انما عندي كلام
في كم سؤال بها لعمر اجتمعوا براسي من القهر والانهزام
ما هيدا مبارح كان ولد كيف تبلع كل البلد... اول سؤال
مبارح اخونا كان فقير وهلق تيابو من حرير... تاني سؤال
ليش العرب بعد النفط صارت حضارتهن زفت... تالت سؤال
كيف العدالة بنعدم والحرية بتنحرم... رابع سؤال
كيف بيخلق واحد زعيم والتاني ما عندو ملّيم... خامس سؤال
كيف اليهودي مضطهد، ما هوّي سارقلي بلد... هوني السؤال
كيف العراقي بينقتل ما قالوا حرية وعدل... سابع سؤال
ليش الضمير بيحتضر عنا وبيضلو مستتر... تامن سؤال
كيف الامركاني حكم، هيدا الغبي بين الامم... تاسع سؤال
ليش الفتك فينا حلال، فكرلي بهذا السؤال... عاشر سؤال
هيدي وصايا يا ابي... ارشف وصفها بمكتبي كي لا تزال

ابانا الذي في السما انتا عراسي انما عندي كلام
ابانا الذي في السما انت الهي انما هذا حرام
اخيراً ليس آخراً ما يطلع حكيي نافراً... ولا تعتبرني كافراً
اطلع فيي يا ابي... ساعدني خطيّ يا ابي ...عليك السلام

خالد الهبر -

Not since their Southern neighbours gave vent to their furious anti-gringo rage amid uncivil proxy wars, a sting of coups, and a plethora of military dictators have Americans been reviled in verse so frequently.

Ahmad Matar and Khaled El-habir are not among the more passionate practitioners of this art form though.

افتراء (Calumny) is one of Matar's shortest, and in comparison with the rest of his poetry is positively mild...which is probably why it's also one of his worst, since his genius is for Swiftian humour. He reserves his venom for certain Arab rulers, and is perhaps even harsher with their people, who seem to have resigned themselves to endure oppression as their inevitable lot.

I must say his Lafitat is a bit extreme, and although I can understand the frustration that prompts it, blanket statements regarding ALL Arab rulers and the Arab people as a whole don't seem to leave the all important chink of possibility open.

Khaled El-habir's ابانا الذي في السما (Our Father which art in heaven) has a confused speaker questioning injustice, and specifically asking ten questions (for which no answers are provided, although something like Naji Al3ali's cartoon is implied) out of which only three (Palestine, Iraq and "how the stupid American rules the world") acknowledges the American elephant in the Arab living room.

The rest deal mostly with issues of reform and good governance, as talked up but not practised by various Western leaders.

For example:"how is it that he has swallowed the country, only yesterday he was a boy", which just conjures up that memorable Saad Hariri Jack Straw moment (to my mind anyway).

Neither Matar nor El-habir ignore America's role, but they realise that العيب فينا the main problem is not with America, but with us.

In the words of Abu Al-qasim Al-shabi, as taught to every schoolchild:

إذا الشعب يوماً اراد الحياة فلابد ان يستجيب القدر

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Muslimas' Glam Mags Galore

A Magazine For And By Today's Modern Muslimah
By Muna Shikaki

Azizah ($8.50) is very much a glossy women’s magazine. It has articles on fashion, food, travel, books and relationships. Its 112 pages contain articles, photographs, and illustrations, and a quarter of its pages are devoted to ads. The magazine’s “Well-Being” section covers topics like massage and aromatherapy; its “Destinations” section mentions places to pray throughout the world (including one on mosques in the U.S. Virgin Islands).

Fashion sections have models wearing modest clothes, some with backdrops of the beach. A long garment that covers most of the body from the neck down, the djilbab, is modeled with a college backdrop (“This denim-look djilbab is perfect for the campus.”) A “wrap and snap” black djilbab looks as if it could be put on in a second.

Yet the magazine also delves into serious topics such as AIDS in the Muslim community, birth control in Islam and polygyny. It includes headlines like “America’s First Muslimah Judge” and “How Inclusive is the Muslim Community of the Disabled?”

...Though the magazine doesn’t posit itself as a controversial magazine, it is not complacent. Sometimes, the simple act of covering a topic can be seen as taking a stand.

But some of the most important articles are not necessarily the most provocative ones. “How Inclusive Is the Muslim Community of the Disabled?” questions the absence of ramps for wheelchairs in mosques. In the same issue, a disabled woman writes a heart-wrenching story about making the pilgrimage to Mecca in her wheelchair.

The article, and the magazine in general, reflects a “multiple critique,” a term championed by Miriam Cooke, professor of modern Arabic literature and culture at Duke University, for the way in which Islamic feminists critique Western culture and Islamic patriarchy without abandoning their religious identities. “The ability [of Muslim women] to say, ‘I don’t like what the Saudis do’ doesn’t mean I can’t also say ‘I don’t like what Bush or a Muslim cleric is doing,’” Cooke said. “I can talk about all these various communities to which I belong.”

Muna Shikaki, who wrote the above in the New York Review of Magazines, is one of Alarabiya's corespondents in North America.

Her colleague Nadia Bilbasey had a report on a teen-Azizah magazine: Muslim Girl, which both the non-hijabi (wearing an 'Allah' pendant) and the muhajaba girls she interviewed enthused over.

The Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Ausma Khan, was interviewed by Alsarq Al-awsat

What do you hope to achieve?
So many things! We want to make a difference in the lives of American Muslim girls by giving them a forum where they can express themselves and see their stories told in a positive and celebratory spirit. We want to give Muslim girls the tools for empowerment, education and enlightenment. It can be really difficult and isolating for Muslim youth when the only images they see of themselves are negative or frightening ones.

We are seeking to provide a counter-point and we hope to bring out all those wonderful stories about Muslims that are rarely told. For example, one Muslim girl helped others in Malawi through the Peace Corps, another American Muslim girl worked with tsunami victims in Indonesia. We also feature an amazingly accomplished Muslim woman who is a BBC news anchor, a lawyer and journalist (Mishal Hussain). There are wonderful things that Muslim girls and women are doing every day to make a difference to their families, schools and communities. We think that telling stories like these will give Muslim girls confidence and will re-affirm their pride in their own heritage and values.

At the same time, we are showing how much a part of American life Muslim girls are and how much they have in common with other teens. When you clear up misunderstandings and provide information to people who genuinely desire to know more about Muslims, that’s bound to make a positive difference in this world – individual to individual, community to community, and nation to nation.

What is the process of choosing the cover girl and is it a requirement that she wears Hijab?
We’ve asked girls to write in to us via the website if they would like to be on our cover. We are looking for girls who are proud to be American Muslims, who find their values empowering and who want to reach out to other girls. As long as a girl subscribes to Islamic values and dresses modestly and with self-respect, she does not have to wear the hijab to appear on our cover. We are looking for a girl who has a great story. Our first cover girl, Wardah Chaudhary, was really excited about the concept of the magazine and really keen to reach out to other Muslim girls and share her own experiences. She is a bright, articulate, wonderful young girl whom we think other teens will look up to and identify with. Again, we celebrate diversity and we seek to be as representative and inclusive as possible.

Du3a' Al-istikhara

اللهم إني أستخيرك بعلمك و أستقدرك بقدرتك و اسألك من فضلك العضيم فإنك تقدر و لا أقدر وتعلم و لا أعلم و أنت علام الغيوب
اللهم إنْ كنت تعلم أن هذا الأمر خيرٌ لي في ديني ومعاشي و عاقبة أمري فاقدره لي و يسره لي ثم بارك لي فيه
إنْ كنت تعلم أن هذا الأمر شرٌ لي في ديني ومعاشي و عاقبة أمري فاصرفني عنه واقدر لي الخير حيث كان ثم أرضني به

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sandcomics - Arab cartoons and national identity

This advert has been running on all UAE channels for a while, and what with the repetition and the cool graphics, I felt compelled to go check out the website it advertised.

Turns out there is a new bilingual Emarati comic that will be distributed both in printed form, at an as yet unspecified price, and an online edition will provide a downloadable page every day.
The idea, in the words of Ahmad Almansuri, is that it should "promote national identity and show the traditions of this Gulf state to visitors "

I find the whole concept of 'native pride' a bit iffy, and as for Sandman as the incarnation of the spirit of the past Asia said "DAMMIT! muslims PLEASE be original ".

Some of the artwork is very good, but not up to the standards of the TV trailer. And the super hero Ajaaj doesn't seem to have been fully developed - what can you say to this for example:

Then there's the name.

3asifa Ramliya (Sandstorm) not being a very catchy, they came up with Ajaaj. Which has a sort of nice ring to it…only instead of conjuring up some primeval force bearing the ‘values of the desert’ into a futuristic city, it is - to me at least- synonymous with those ‘ayam 3ajaj‘ when you’re cooped up at home, with nothing to do but think about whether to dust or not to dust.

So overall it was a bit disappointing. I was expecting something like the Khaleeji cartoons last Ramadan, the Saudi and Emarati ones were pretty awesome.

Almost every national Arab channel has a short let's-make-fun-of-ourselves cartoon during the fasting month, usually aired around if6ar time, for a local audience.

Highlander has blogged about our own 7aj 7mad, the great dissector of Libyan mores, who desperatly needs a make-over as her photo makes clear.

Last year the Saudi's aired يوميات مناحي on their pan-Arab mbc - it dealt with topics from youth unemployment to Iraq. Sort of like 6ash ma 6ash but more understandable :P, so it was the content rather than the technical presentation that mattered.

It was the Emarati الفريج however, broadcast on Dubai, that broke the usual format of a well-meaning male fool as the central figure and representative of the 'national character'.

Instead there were four older Emarati women of varying ethnic and social backgrounds, personalities, and I.Q levels. It was visually visionary too, being the first Arab 3-D animation.