“Recite in the name of your Lord who created- created man form a clinging substance (clot). Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen- taught man that which he know not. No! Indeed, man transgresses because he sees himself self-sufficient. Indeed, to your Lord is the return.” Qu’ran- Surat Al-Alaq 96:1-96:8
Whenever I am asked about my connection to the Arab and Middle Eastern world, I never know how to respond? The question is one of origins, how does an Englishman of Pakistani Muslim heritage find himself in the hustle and bustle of the ancient streets of Damascus or standing on Mount Carmel in Haifa with Professor Pappe, facing the Lebanese mountains after he provided me with an enlightening personal tour of the city? My connections are far and wide- and it’s taken me to a wedding in an upper-middle class neighbourhood in Tehran, it’s taken me to the art markets of Marrakech and taken me to worlds beyond the allure of the reductionalist single narrative. (suite…)
Written by Hani Azzam for a class titled « Arabs and Muslims in America »
Note: The works referenced in this piece are The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and Sitt Marie-Rose by Etel Adnan
In many ways the lives of Etel Adnan and Khalil Jibran follow similar trajectories. Both hail from Lebanon, eventually immigrating to the United States while still maintaining strong ties with the land and culture of their birth. Both have taken to multiple languages to express their ideas, employing a variety of mediums, which straddle the border between literature and philosophy. However, their seminal works, The Prophet and Sitt Marie-Rose, reflect divergent philosophies, perhaps born out of the differing eras from whence they came. Gibran’s The Prophet, a collection of prose poetry spoken by the prophet Almustafa in response to the (fictional) people of Orphalese’s request that he “give [them] of [his] truth” (Gibran 10), presents the world in unequivocal, idealistic terms, leaning heavily on Gibran’s belief in humanity’s inherent goodness. In contrast, Adnan’s Sitt Marie-Rose, while very poetically crafted, develops multiple characters across a storyline set in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. Though she speaks to certain ideals in the novel, it’s mainly as foils to harsh realities. Adnan grounds her philosophy in the cruelty of the war, detailing an ambiguous, fragmented human nature, which strays towards evil as much as, if not more than, it does towards good. Three recurring themes throughout both texts, Love, Crime and (Violent) Punishment, reflect the juxtaposition between Gibran and Adnan’s “truths” and reveal the foundational elements of their divergence. (suite…)
Hani Azzam and Zena Agha, Infita7’s co-founders, took separate journeys to Andalusia, Spain, and they offer their reflections…
Boston, 8th April
What struck me most about the Spanish province of Andalucia, beyond the aesthetic beauty of its architecture, the quality of its food, and the generosity of its people, was the feeling of walking through narrow streets in Cordoba and the gardens of Sevilla and believing myself in the golden age of al-Andalus. During the pinnacle of Islamic Spain, these cosmopolitan, peninsular emirates, sultanates, and caliphates held some of the greatest thinkers, writers, and treasures of the contemporary world. Today, this rich heritage is on full display. Furthermore, the overlay of Christian and Islamic architecture and motifs create a blend virtually unseen in anywhere else in the world. Enjoy photos from one of most beautiful corners of civilization.
Warwick, 8th April
Visiting Andalusia imbued in me a sense of awe coupled with a sense of nostalgia. The region is saturated in Islamic design. I found it astounding to see something so beautifully (and positively) Arab in Europe – the Moors were in Spain for 900 years after all. Al-Hambra is arguably the jewel in the crown of the region, perched as it is on a cliff, towering over Granada. The fountains, the gardens and the views compound to create an astonishing monument. It has that rare ability of invoking intimacy: Al -Hambra makes you feel like it’s for your eyes only, despite being surrounded by tourists. For me, though, the Islamic art was the glue underlying its magic. The mathematics of the tiles, the richness of the colours and the intricate detail all go a long way to impress upon the visitor the talent and dominance of the Moors. It reminds me wistfully of other pockets where Islamic art is found: on the insides of mosques and homes in old towns from Damascus to Fez. Andalusia is, in many ways, a home away from home for all Islamic art lovers and those with an eye for beautiful things. It adds much-needed perspective on Arabic and Islamic influences in the world and makes for a great visit.
Iran is a country of contradictions. Iranians call it a Republic, the West call it a Theocracy. The Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has declared nuclear weapons “un-Islamic”, and yet Western states are in a constant hysteria over his country’s A-bomb ambitions. However, one of Iran’s most perplexing paradoxes is one that relates to a whole 49% of its population.
Modern Islam is in crisis, reformist Islam threatens all and classical Islam weeps in despair. That’s one way to describe our predicament in the modern age. The prevalent media narrative around Islamic State (IS) is all wrong. IS is not a medieval throwback but a ruthless modernising force with very few original ideas. Indeed, I would argue that for Western societies that seem to be living through an age of postmodern nihilism, the ascent of IS threatens not to take them away from the modern world but drag them back into it. IS see themselves as having a cause to transform society which they seek to do through the use of terror- is there anything more modern than that?
IS relies on three components to recruit its members. Firstly, ignorance of theology, jurisprudence and history, when a new recruit enters IS they are told the story of Khalid ibn al-Walid expedition to Banu Jadhimah. To cut a long story short Khalid went to invite this tribe to Islam, but due to past enmity between them, as soon as they accepted his invitation, Khalid took them prisoner and began executing them in cold-blood.
Humans can be very funny sometimes. If I told you that a hate-filled man killed three young students it would be tragic news. If I told you they were community-serving, charitable, integrated and happy young people it would be even worse, no? Well, no, not really, certainly not if they’re Muslims. Because if they’re Muslims, their victimhood reduces in value.
Deah Barakat was a dental student who provided emergency dental care in Palestine and helped in the local community. His young wife, Yusor Abu-Salha was about to embark on her own studies and her sister, Razan, was studying Architecture and Environmental design. On Tuesday, all three ended up with a bullet in the head in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is a massacre that has not been awarded its proper place in the media.
Humanity is in poor shape when twitter hashtags like #MuslimLivesMatter speak more truth than mainstream headlines or presidential addresses. (suite…)
On the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world mark the anniversary of the battle of Karbala. The battle took place in 680AD near the city of Karbala in Iraq, between the forces of Yazid bin Muawiyah, the Umayyad caliph, and Hussain bin Ali, grandson of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. The latter’s army was vastly outnumbered and suffered, in strict military terms, a heavy defeat. However, to the 200 million or so Shia Muslims around the world (1), it was a resounding victory for true Islam. To Shia Muslims, Hussain’s martyrdom represents a symbol of sacrifice in the struggle for right against wrong, and for justice and truth against wrongdoing and falsehood. (2) (suite…)