Monday, January 28, 2013

Mawlud Azzawia, Cape Town

Mawlud weekend at the Azzawia, Cape Town. Jumuáh addressed by Shaikh Muhammad Yayha Ninowy al-Hussaini, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) followed by the children's Mawlud on Saturday addressed by Shaikh Seraj Hendricks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mawlud un-Nabi – Cape Town Muslims to honour Prophet (SAW) in thousands

Copyright Shafiq Morton
Historically, prophetic icons are celebrated for their distinctive qualities: Jesus for turning the other cheek and for reviving the dead; Moses for the Ten Commandments and wanting to see God; Vishnu for his pantheon of rebirth and Buddha for achieving nirvana, or spiritual perfection.

And whilst there is often scant biographical detail about their actual lives, a prophetic personality exists in the mind of every believer. For their devotees, Jesus, Moses, Vishnu and Buddha are not legendary, but very real.

Another historical figure hugely alive in the human psyche is Muhammad (SAW), the 7th century prophet of Islam, whose name means “the Praised One.”. His 23-year ministry was not only a devotional prophethood, but one of great learning. “Seek knowledge, even unto China,” was one of his most famous maxims.

For an unlettered man, his legacy is remarkable. He would subsequently inspire an academic efflorescence that would spread to the rest of the world from the sands of Arabia. The universities of Baghdad, Cordoba – and even Bukhara – would produce scholars whose influence would endure for centuries.

Algebra, astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, optics, musicology and philosophy were all refined by Islamic scholars such as Averroes, Avicenna and Al-Kharazmi. The 9th century engineer, Abbas ibn Firnas, would even experiment with flight.

In its heyday Cairo’s hospital could accommodate 8,000 beds, and when the library of St Gall could only offer 36 books, the library of Cordoba could boast 50,000 volumes. And when 12th century Damascus had streetlights and sewage, Londoners floundered in effluent and darkness.

Words such as “alchemy” and “alcohol” owe their derivation to Muslim chemists, and it was the mathematicians of Cordoba who introduced the zero to Europe, and its doctors who discovered the nature of smallpox.

Muslims accept Muhammad (SAW) as the amalgam of prophethood, as he is considered the last of the prophets – and a light to all humanity. What also sets Muhammad (SAW) apart from other prophets – whom he regarded as his brothers – was that every moment of his life was recorded.

Muslims know, for example, that their prophet had a silent laugh, that his black eyebrows were slightly arched, that his hair hung to his earlobes, that he walked leaning forward, that he had a long beard with a trimmed moustache and that he never raised his voice, or that he always chose the middle path.

They also know that he dined with Christians, stood up for the funeral procession of a Jew, honoured agreements with his enemies, milked his own goats, stitched his own sandals and treated women equitably.

It was Muhammad (SAW) who forbade the ancient tribes from burying their newly-born daughters – and who accepted a marriage proposal from a Meccan noblewoman, Khadijah. It was Muhammad who informed a prostitute she would find paradise because she’d given a thirsty dog water.

It was Muhammad (SAW) who forgave the Quraish of Mecca who’d persecuted, tortured and killed his followers. It was Muhammad (SAW) who forgave Hind who’d eaten the liver of his uncle, Hamzah, after a battle.

These traditions about Muhammad (SAW) – called Hadith – have been transmitted from generation-to-generation in chains of authority. Every piece of Muhammad’s (SAW) life has been recorded and graded for authenticity and context.

With some 200,000 traditions attributed to him, Muhammad (SAW) is the most accessible prophetic figurehead today. From these traditions emerge a compassionate human being with the unconditional love of Jesus, the legal majesty of Moses, the humble hospitality of Abraham and the quiet spirituality of the Buddha.

Informed by the injustice done to the image of Islam since 9/11, and the distortion of the true character of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), a diverse group of scholars and community activists are hosting a mass commemoration of the Prophet’s birth, Mawlid SA 1434, at the Green Point Urban Park on January 27.

The event has been organised in conjunction with the Cape-based Muslim Judicial Council, and according to spokesperson Nabeweya Malick, Mawlid SA 1434 aspires to reflect in Cape Town the spirit of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) message.

“This message – one of peace – was not delivered at the point of the sword, but through compassion, and Muhammad (SAW) being a mercy to all universally and without exception. He was the prophet that brought us the lights of science and social justice.

“At Mawlid SA 1434 we aim to show the humble, dignified way Muslims commemorate the legacy of Muhammad (SAW) during the month of his gracious birth. We’ve invited guests from around the world to grace the mother city for our big event,” she said.

Shaikh Sayyid Ninowy from the US (and a descendant of the Prophet), Shaikh Ahmad Tijani Sidi Ben Omar and Shaikh Ahmad Qatáni al-Maliki (one of Libya’s top scholars) are among those attending.

Local guests would include the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa,as well as mayor Patricia de Lille and premier Helen Zille.

Malick has urged the community to participate in Mawlid SA 1434, saying that the commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) birth was a centuries old tradition. Mawlid SA 1434, she said, would be a “family affair” with Capetonians of all faiths welcome to join in.

She requested that those Muslims attending the commemoration of the Muhammad’s (SAW) noble birth at the Urban Park on January 27 wear white (a colour loved by the Arabian prophet). Malick said that through “unity, dignity and respect” Mawlid SA 1434 would once again show the true, welcoming face of Cape Town Islam in the spirit of its founder.

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In the original Cape Argus op-ed (Tuesday, January 22) the appellation (SAW) – peace on the Prophet – was left out due to the predominant non-Muslim readership who would not know what it meant, and who would be put off by it on the page. Those who have so rudely accused me of disrespect may not be aware of this. It is the practice of many Muslim authors and publishers when reaching a general audience to leave out the appellation of peace. It is not done out of disrespect, but rather, a consideration for other readers not familiar with this practice. In this case, it was felt that the benefits of talking about the Prophet (SAW) in a good light on the main page of a daily South African newspaper far outweighed the negatives.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Syria: is the Cold War thawing?

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires at Syrian Army positions in Tal Sheer village, north of Aleppo province, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)
AP Photo.
WITH the Syrian death toll reportedly rising to 60,000 according to the UN, the 23 month-old uprising – which started off as a peaceful protest against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – has developed into a conflict with Cold War overtones.

President Bashar al-Assad’s January address to the troubled Middle East nation – his first in six months – was a flowery monologue that evoked Al-Qaedah whilst giving little to his opposition and even less to the international community. UN envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi described Assad’s speech as a “lost opportunity”.

Or as Syrian media activist, Ahmad Rahban, commented: the only new thing in Assad’s address (in which he mooted political transition on the one hand, and a refusal to deal with “terrorists” on the other) was his reference to the resistance as a coalition of “soap bubbles”.

The problem, as many Syrian commentators have pointed out, is that the key dramatis personae in the conflict – Iran, Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – all have their own geo-political agendas.

And while the bull elephants trample the grass, says Sami Ibrahim of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the welfare of the beleaguered Syrian population appears to be the least consideration. A massive humanitarian disaster is unfolding.

Apart from 4 million Syrians being internal refugees, the UNCHR estimates that there are some 750,000 refugees in neighbouring states such as Turkey and Jordan. This means that a quarter of the Syrian population has already been displaced by the conflict. To make matters worse, Syrian government forces have been widely accused of war crimes.

In the meantime, the Friends of Syria – an assembly of nations convened by the US outside the UN Security Council in the light of Chinese and Russian vetoes on sanctioning Assad – has made little progress.

But then, the UN-approved Action Group for Syria (which included Russia and China) and which outlined a six-point peace plan in June last year, failed to make an impact too. It saw special envoy Kofi Annan resigning in frustration.

The US, traditionally a powerful broker in the Middle East and NATO, has been cautious on direct engagement. The Security Council vetoes by Russia and China have also assured that Syria will not go the way of Libya. NATO forces will not be taking out Assad’s airforce.

However, the interests of China and Russia in Syria are not the same. China has invested in Syria’s oil industry and is a major trade partner, but not to the extent where economic losses in Syria would trouble Beijing too much.

Nicholas Wong, writing for Open Democracy, suggests that whilst China wants to protect its strategic interests in the Middle East, it is also trying to ensure that a pro-west, pro-US (thus anti-Chinese) government does not replace Assad’s regime.

This, he hints, is one of China’s concerns about the effects of the Arab Spring. By backing Syria, China prevents the political dominoes from falling into Iran, a strategic “anti-western” cohort.

In the case of Russia, it’s a re-visiting of the Cold War era to counter US influence. Russia’s relationship with Syria goes back to the 1950’s. The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s last naval base in the Middle East.

Iran’s alliance with Assad and Hizballah is often portrayed as a Shi’ah alliance, but it is not the honest answer. The ruling Alawite clan, a 10% minority which controls Syria via its own network and a Sunni elite, embraces an eclectic mixture of beliefs foreign to Shi’ah Islam.

The truth is that Iran’s long-standing alliance with Syria is more political than religious. It is centred on Iran’s regional interests and the balance of power, especially in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported the Syrian resistance– but for their own reasons; the blunting of what they perceive as a “Shi’ah crescent” from Iran to the Arabian Peninsula. The Shi’ah constitutes nearly 20% of the Saudi population, and a significant percentage in the Gulf. They are the unwelcome elephants in the Arabian room.

Turkey, a Euro-Asian power, had mended its fences with Syria after decades of post-colonial tension. But skirmishes close to its southern territory saw another chilling of detente with Damascus.

The Turks have taken in over 300,000 refugees and have worked quietly, and mostly behind the scenes, with the IHH – a Turkish humanitarian organisation –successfully negotiating the release of 48 opposition-held Iranian Republican Guards for 2,000 Syrians held in Assad’s jails.

For the Israeli house, jittery about the Golan Heights and Hizballah in Lebanon, Assad has been a case of the devil you know. Israel’s recent air-raid on Syrian territory against an alleged arms convoy travelling to Lebanon was not only a pre-emptive strike at Hizballah, but Iran.

Given the impasse – the intransigence of Assad and the inability of the opposition to coalesce – the rise to prominence of Mouaz al-Khatib, a geophysicist and Islamic cleric, as an identifiable leader of the Syrian Opposition Coalition has been hugely significant. It could finally offer some hope.

A proponent of political plurality who sees dialogue not as surrender, but the lesser of two evils, he has recently met with the Foreign Ministers of Iran, Russia and the US vice-president, Joe Biden.

Syrian opposition sources told me this week that Al-Khatib’s offer to enter into a dialogue with Syrian vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa – on the condition that 160,000 political detainees be released – is not only a calling of Assad’s bluff, but could be an important step towards negotiating a transitional government.

Even Moscow is showing a subtle shift. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev suggested, in a rare criticism of Assad, that his refusal to engage in dialogue was not good for Syria. Media activist, Ahmad Raban, said the leaders had begun to realise that the bloodshed could not continue.

“Things are really bad. Five thousand people are dying every month. We Syrians have been forgotten. The world must act as one to stop the violence,”he said.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

District Six Moods

 Aspeling Street minaret. Victorian  masterpiece.

South-east clouds roll over mountain like a wave.

Muir Street.

Aspeling Street against backdrop.

In Muir Street mosque.

Cat on a hot green roof, Azzawia, Walmer Estate.

New Year in full glory.  

 Photos copyright Shafiq Morton.