Eid Mubarak from Pres. Obama

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The President released the following statement to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr:

“As Muslims in the United States and around the world complete the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Michelle and I would like to extend our personal greetings on this joyous occasion. Eid is a time to celebrate the completion of 30 days and nights of devotion. But even on this festive occasion, Muslims remember those less fortunate, including those impacted by poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease. Throughout the month, Muslim communities collect and distribute zakat-ul-fitr so that all Muslims are able to participate in this day of celebration. As I said in Cairo, my Administration is working to ensure that Muslims are able to fulfill their charitable obligations not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year. On behalf of the American people, we congratulate Muslims in the United States and around the world on this blessed day. Eid Mubarak.” 

Over the past month, the President and several government Agencies participated in events to mark Ramadan – the President continued the tradition of hosting an Iftar here at the White House while the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the first in their history. The Corporation for National and Community Service spearheaded “Interfaith Service Week” as part of the President and First Lady’s Summer of Service initiative and many other groups and individuals came together to make this month a time of giving and reaching out to our neighbors in need.

The President and the First Lady extend their personal greetings on this special day. May you be well throughout the year.

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Kamala Surayya (1934- 2009)

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: With a hypersensitive and emotional spirit, reflected in her words – written as well as spoken – Kamala Surayya always moved on, stepping into controversial zones through her creative work and also her life-style. Ironically, her being a trendsetter is also marked by the homage paid to her and the funeral services held in her memory. She is one of the few Indian celebrities, who have been accorded state-level funeral services even though at the time of their death, they did not hold any high political or any authoritative post necessitating the same. Kamala, the well-known litterateur and poet, breathed her last in Pune (May 31), in a city hospital, where she had been admitted on April 18. Her body was brought to her native region, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on Monday. The body was interred with state honors at the graveyard of Palayal Masjid, where it was laid to rest (June 2). The funeral prayers were led by chief cleric of Palayal Masjid. 

Expressing grief at Kamala’s demise, in his message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that her poems “focusing on womanhood and feminism gained her recognition as one of the most noted modern Indian writers.”

Kamala had decided to leave Kerala and stay in Pune around two years ago. She had said then: “Enough is enough. Kerala has become an inhospitable place. I can’t live here anymore. I am getting raunchy mails and obscene calls. Everything is being criticised. Even fellow writers are not on my side. Maybe because I don’t have power through politics. Maybe, because I don’t have the influence.” On whether, the discomfort she faced had anything to do her with her converting to Islam, Kamala replied: “No. It has nothing to do with that. The truth is Kerala can’t stand ‘brainy women.’ They expect women to be behind closed doors. Their roles are predefined. They don’t want women to explore.” She converted to Islam in 1999, at the age of 65, a little after passing away of her husband. Earlier known as Kamala Das, after conversion, she started using the name Kamala Surayya.

So Kamala left Kerala, with practically no intention of ever returning back. As she then said: “I don’t have anything left there. No sentiments. I am leaving everything behind- furniture and all my books. I am not taking anything. I have had enough of Kerala culture. I want to be at peace with myself.” Kamala also felt sad that the state she belonged to had not given her due recognition. It is, however, claimed that practical sense prompted Kamala to move out of Kerela and live with her youngest son in Pune. She had accepted the hard reality that because of failing health she couldn’t live alone anymore in her flat in Kochi. She longed to finally return to Kerala. During the last couple of months, Kerala Minister for Culture M.A. Baby visited the ailing Kamala twice. He is understood to have offered to make arrangements for a state funeral, befitting her stature, in her home state Kerala, where she really wanted to be laid to rest.

Kamala was born on March 31, 1934 in Punnayurkulam in Kerala, in a conservative Hindu family. Her father V.M. Nair, a leading executive, later became managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi. While her mother Balamaniyamma was a noted poet, her great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a literary stalwart of the time. Influenced by her mother and great-uncle, Kamala took to writing from an early age.  She was married at a young age (13) to Madhava Das, 15 years older than her. The couple had three sons.

Kamala began writing professionally after becoming a mother, with her kitchen table serving as her writing area after the housework was taken care of. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing. That was my work area,” she said in an interview in 1996.

Among her most notable works is her autobiography, My Story (1976) which has been published in more than 15 languages. Other popular English works of Kamala include Asian Poetry Prize winner- The Sirens (1964) and Kent’s Award winner – Summer in Calcutta (1965). Her last published work in English is a collection of poems- Yaa Allah (2001). Kamala’s Malayayam works, for which used the penname Madhavikuttii, include short stories- Pakshiyude Manam (1964), Vayalar Award winner, novel Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (1994), poetry- Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996) and short stories – Nashtapetta Neelambari (1998).

She has earned laurels as well as criticism for her writings, viewed by “liberal” by some and “amoral” by others for their projection of women. In Kamala’s opinion, Indian women were suppressed and exploited. She wanted them to liberate themselves from age-old prejudices, which led to their sufferings.

Kamala ventured into the political arena for a little while and also directed her creativity to painting for some time. She floated Lok Seva Party to promote social and humanitarian work. She, however, failed to win Lok Sabha in 1984. But the lady moved on, creating waves through her pen. Her achievements and life extended beyond the pen, as she said: “I wanted to fill my life with as many experiences as I can manage to garner because I do not believe that one can get born again.” And so she did. Kamala Surayya is no more, but with her writings, she has joined the immortals.

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Sufism in South Asia

December 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

hadithSan Francisco–I am in the midst of the insanity of moving, but I am trying to keep up with my basic compilations early in the morning or late into the night.

I would like to discuss three presentations made last year (Summer of 2007) –in the Asian Art Museum — as part of the bi-annual meeting of the American Council of Southern Asian art in this City here on the Western shores of San Francisco Bay.  I found the talks to be slight in news content; thus, I have previously refrained from composing on them, but because of circumstances, they have become a practicable article, and make an acceptable historical feature on an ancient vital Islamic tradition.  An article on this form of piety stated that Sufism “…is a…mystical dimension of Islam” where meditation plays an integral part.

People talking about Islam usually mention Sunnis and Shi’a; among Sunnis are also Sufis – there is mutual tension between Sufis and Wahhabi/Salafis.  Salafis accuse the Sufis, saying “…[Sufism] has never played a part in normative Islam.” 

A position with which your author extremely disagrees!

First, your journalist acknowledges that his main sources for his background on the Sufis in an historical and contemporary context are an excellent unsigned, thorough yet concise article on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  My second source is a review essay I wrote on a book that is considered the main Western source on Sufism. Unfortunately, I do not have the piece at my fingertips; therefore, I am paraphrasing it ex aqua.

Sufism has gained much of its doctrine through accretion from the mystic environ of religious clusters that Islam absorbed in its Eastward expansion.  Accordingly, to several Western scholars, Sufism arose initially in the Western Mahgreb in a region of present-day Morocco where Christianity had been repressed three hundred years before.  There was a yearning for the type of mysticism found in monasteries of the old religion, but in the Qur`an there is a strong injunction to marry and procreate!  The early “Order” solved this “problem” by creating brotherhoods of married men who followed Muslim law carefully.  As their Society traveled into new lands, they met new converts.  For instance, the Sufic poet, Rumi, who has had a considerable influence over contemporary thought here in the West’s, name derives from the word “Roman” (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Byzantine) in the local language of Anatolia at that time.  The Turks had held that province from which Rumi wrote for a comparatively short time.  Thus, his family must have been fairly recent converts.  Sufic thought gained much when it crossed into India.  The great poet Kabir, who some scholars claim was a Sufi was not fully Islamized, even though he did accomplished the hajj, for he referred to God both in the Hindu terminology as Ram and, also, as Allah interchangeably in his poetry! Traditionally, in the Sufi-dominated Districts of India, the Hindus revere the Islamic Saints as much as their own.

Yet the traditional Islamic scholarship on the Sufis view their development in quite a different manner.  The Sufic thinkers trace their origins through the Prophet (Blessed be his Name!) himself.  To quote an early Sufi, their teaching “…is a science through which one can know how to travel in the presence of the Divine…”
Their beliefs and persons have been persecuted by more fundamental (and, thereby, less mystically inclined) individuals.  Consequently, their writings and practices took on an esoteric, secretive tone.

In the early centuries, Iman Al Ghazali answered that Sufic doctrine was compatible with Islamic law conclusively.  In fact, “Sufism…is the central organizing principle of many…[other] Islamic groupings.”

With the rise of more strident forms of Islam, Sufism is currently under duress.  In many regions the repression made them illegal, and forced them underground.  For instance, the Turkish government compelled the whirling dervishes into a mere entertainment.  Yet there are areas in the Muslim world where they are still strong.  To understand the attitude for an inquirer, a Sufi master was quoted as saying, “…the seeker must not self-diagnose” the situation.

The Islanicists have no sympathy for the Sufi reverence for saints, and their pilgrimages to the holy tombs for religious merit.  In my following comments, these pilgrimages and the places of devotion and worship will be placed in context.

Persianate culture had a dominant position in the old Hindustan even before the rise of the Mughal Empire.  An Indo-Persian culture dominated from western Persia well into the Subcontinent after the Muslim Empires in India, and Sufism had dominated Persian thinking before it crossed from Southwest into South Asia.  Now, Sindh (presently in Pakistan) had been Islamic since the Ninth Century of the Common Era (i.e., A.D.). Sufism came forward with the Islamic conquest, but not from the top to the bottom.  It burst through at the “grassroots” level (i.e., bottom up), and was greatly embedded in the evolving Indo-Persian Islam.  The “Missionaries” were the humble, holy Pirs, a type of holy men with which the Medieval Indians could easily culturally identify.  Soon, converted Indians adapted Islam and the Persian Worldview of Islam – even though they may not have chosen Shi’a religious views.

An Afshan Bokari pointed out that female devotees upheld the high ideals of religiosity within the Timurid Empire, and were the mainstay of the Mosques during this period which not only included India, but Iran into Mesopotamia – even into Syria — and a good extent of Central Asia.  The Empire, founded by the Sunni military genius Emir Timur (Shakespeare’s Tamerlane) was comparatively short-lived.  Most of the acquisition of territory occurred during the late Fourteenth into the early Fifteenth Centuries (C.E.). This brief Imperial sway not only spread S.W. Asian ideas, but mystical Islam. as well.  This can be termed a Timurid “ideology.”  Mystical Islam centered on feminine participation, also.  This is markedly at odds with the modern Islamicists’ dogma.  A site was shaped into the sacred by an association with a saint or a sacred act, etc.  This confine almost became a “…second Mecca!”

The major contemporary art historian, Catherine Asher, from Minnesota spoke on the “Sufic Shrines of Shahul Hamid in India and Southeast Asia.”  The basic style of the Sufic shrines spread into Peninsular and Insular S.E. Asia forming a consistent Southern Asian approach to sacred space.  On the emigration of the righteous Pirs, it is hard to determine fact from legend.  The Enlightened man often died in his travels.  South Indian Islam, from which Southeast Asian cultural religiousness derived, assumed many traits of traditional Hinduism – in this case the veneration of exceptionally piously devout men, and this practice advanced ever eastward.  Males were encouraged to go to the tombs, besides, for a sort of “darshan,” or, in the Islamic cognizance, a type of religious merit.  Basically, the Sufis’ influence flowed over three different faiths because the Pirs exhibited extraordinary powers to do miracles in their lifetime, and to bequest assistance from the tomb to his devoted believers – whatever the saint’s follower’s religiosity!

Kishwar Rizvi talked about a shrine in the present Pakistani Punjab that was built around circa 1300 (C.E.).   Most of the devoted came from the minority Shia community there.  Further, there are many Sufic elements in the shrine, for it revolves around the casket of a Saint endowing the building as sared space.  Women still retain a great responsibility in sustaining the shrine’s sacredness.  On the other hand, sexual degenerates are attracted to the location because of the laissez faire attitudes of the worshippers which may detract from the great postiveness of the greater Movement to more mainstream Muslims.

In this essay, your scribe has tried to describe a living tradition in Islam in historical and conteporary terms that has been repressed by the main thrust of the religion today, but is still strong among the common people in particular localities all over the World, and, furthermore, has brought many Westerners to the Qur`an, for its mystical saving methodologies.

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Adil James—Profile

November 18, 2004 by · Leave a Comment 

justme

Adil James graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in American Literature in 1989 and from Columbia University School of Law in 1994.  His father was a career foreign service officer whose career culminated in being ambassador to the West African nation of Niger.  He is descended from Quaker families who emigrated to the American continent in the 1600s, including two of the founders of New Jersey.

He is the Managing Editor / General Manager of TMO, whose primary duties include managing the TMO office, its website, laying out the print newspaper, writing articles, and advising TMO’s CEO on content and strategic direction for TMO.

Adil has worked at The Muslim Observer since November of 2004.