Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Turkish Mosque, Midrand South Africa

In Midrand, between Johannesburg and Pretoria, there is a sight that ought to belong to the landscape of Istanbul. On a highveld koppie one notices the unexpected pencil-thin minarets of a Turkish mosque. They dominate the skyline, the crowning glory of a 52-hectare complex developed by Turkish businessman, 75 year-old Ali Katircioglu.

Said to have cost R 1.3 billion, the mosque is a scaled down version of the Sulaimaniyyah mosque in Istanbul, one of the grandest projects of the 15th century Ottoman architectural master, Mimar Sinan. In spite of being smaller than the original, Midrand's Nizamiyyah mosque is still a huge building framed by four 50 metre-high  minarets and a dome that is 31 metres off the ground.

The mosque complex also consists of a clinic, an educational facility and a shopping centre, where people can sip coffee, enjoy Turkish kebabs, browse in a bookshop and buy sweetmeats. Inside the mosque courtyard one enters a world of tranquility and aesthetic mastery where the soul is uplifted.

Photos Copyright Shafiq Morton

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Seeking the Light Fantastic…

Celebrating the birth of the Prophet.
IN SUMMER when you travel from the city centre to Sea Point, you’ll always feel cool air wafting off the Atlantic. And on baking evenings – when people migrate to Sea Point’s lawns to escape the heat – it’s difficult to leave.

This reminds me of Madinah, a sanctified city, for which the Prophet Muhammad
made copious prayer. Madinah effuses one with the cooling presence of the Prophet in the same way the Cape Atlantic does.

“O Allah, make us love Madinah as much as we love Makkah, and even more,” was the Prophet’s invocation. Indeed, there is not a visitor who does not long to return to Madinah – a fertile, palm-fringed oasis that attracted wandering Jews nearly 2,000 years ago.

These tribes migrated to Madinah in 70 CE after the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. They trekked there to await a prophet who’d liberate them from the Diaspora. Ka’ab al-Ahbar, a rabbi who became Muslim, was once asked what the Torah had told the Jews about the expected prophet. He replied:

“We find him named the son of ‘Abdul-Allah, his birthplace Makkah, his place of migration Madinah …we find him neither coarse of speech nor rowdy in the market place. He does not return wrong with wrong, but instead forgives and pardons.”

Because of the Prophet’s clemency, Madinah is imbued with immense peace. It is not a noisy place. Its inhabitants are known for their gentleness. This is ascribed to the tradition that no-one must raise their voice in the presence of the Prophet.

As Dr Mostafa Badawi, a resident of Madinah, has written: “Madinah is a universe unto itself…each atom of it vibrant with a life intensified by the immense blessings of the Prophet…”

Even the soil of the city has special properties. I can remember going to a quiet spot near Quba to collect small bags of clay. Called the Turab al-Shifa’ (the Healing Clay), it had been used by the Prophet to heal sickness.

It has always led me to believe, like Mostafa Badawi, that even the dust of Madinah has barakah, or blessing. The Companions certainly thought so, and have been recorded as saying that when the Prophet entered the city, everything became illuminated.

“There has come to you from your Creator a Light…” says Allah, the Highest, informing us of the Prophet in Surat ul-Ma’idah (The Table Spread).

Indeed, it was Sayyidina ‘Ali – the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law – who said that the Messenger of God was light before he became form. This incandescence, this nur, travelled through the backbone of Adam, the first prophet, into the DNA of the Quraish.

These Hijazi Arabs knew that they were carrying the genes of a prophet. Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki reports that scholars could detect no marital impurity – and not even a hint of paganism – in at least 500 of the Prophet’s direct ancestors.

Nizar, the son of Ma’ad, saw the nur of the Prophet centuries before he was born. Ilyas even heard the labbaik – the invocation of the Hajj – in his spine. And so powerful was the Prophet’s pre-natal presence that Ka’ab gathered the Quraish and warned them of his coming ten generations before his noble birth .

This light moved to the forehead of ‘Abdullah, the Prophet’s father, and then to the womb of Amina, his mother. And when the noble Prophet was born (miraculously circumcised and in the position of prostration) Amina was able to see the palaces of Syria in the blaze of light that followed.

Of course, this radiance is not like an LED display. The Prophet was not a lamp in the literal sense, and whilst his knowledge was figuratively illuminating, his body did at times emit spiritual luminosity.

These instances are regarded by the scholars as miraculous signs of his elevated status. Sayyidah A’ishah did see beads of the Prophet’s sweat brighten a darkened room, and the Companions did witness flashes from between his incisors when he spoke.

The significance of this, as we’ve already said, is that the Muhammadan Light was the first light to be shaped. “I was light in the hands of my Lord,” is the axiom of the Prophet that supports Sayyidina ‘Ali’s account.

In my view, the Prophet is imbued with four different kinds of light: firstly, primordial fitrah (the nur of being something before Creation); secondly, the light of outer, or material knowledge; thirdly, the light of inner, or heart knowledge; and fourthly, the light of final prophethood.
But, that is not all.

For added to this extraordinary radiance is a shimmering, unimaginable cloud of divine creatures originated from pure light. They surround the Prophet at all times. These are angels praising, protecting and extolling the honour of the blessed Prophet.

His soul alive in his grave, the salutations of every Muslim are carried to him by another angel – and returned tenfold – no matter where believers find themselves. Other angels show him the deeds of his community, about whom he cares for and prays constantly.

These angelic beings are rivers of colour; every dawn 70,000 descend upon the Prophet’s noble grave in Madinah, and at every sunset they ascend to be replaced by another 70,000. No same group of angels ever returns.

But on the Day of Resurrection these angels will surround the green-robed Prophet astride the buraq, his prophetic steed, in rows upon rows. It will reflect a majesty that will defy earthly imagination.

It is at that moment that the Prophet, Allah’s most praised one, will be granted the Maqam al-Mahmud (the Station of Intercession) in fulfilment of his special request – that he be allowed to ask for the relief of his people.

For us in the ranks of humanity and the jinn seeing our imperfections, this will be a glimmer of hope. In the same way Adam, the first of conscious mankind, saw the Prophet’s blessed name inscribed on the Divine Throne when he first lifted his head, our hearts will be filled with awe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bela Bela: the pot that boils

Bela Bela, near Warmbaths, is Tswana for "the pot that boils". It is an apt description for the geo-thermal water that percolates through the earth's crust at extremely high temperatures. Bela Bela is also part of the lowveld, a region with a moderate climate and rich soils which support a plethora of game. With its wide expanses and spectacular summer skies, its a good place to visit.











Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Of Orientalism and other Madmen

IT was Edward Said, the Palestinian exile and scholar, who cracked the nut on post-colonial prejudice in his seminal work of the 1970’s, Orientalism. In it he exposed what he regarded as institutionalised racism against Arabs and North Africans.

In essence, Said argued that western scholars had looked at the east with a jaundiced eye. Predicated by notions of superiority, western academia had misunderstood, misrepresented and misread what constituted the cultural and theological discourse of the Arab and Muslim world.

For western scholarship of the late 18th century (when Orientalism gained impetus after Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Egypt) the term meant someone who studied the Levant. It was a Latin-derived word referring to the sun’s rising in the east – in this case the eastern Mediterranean region between Anatolia and Egypt.  

Whilst Said has had to withstand academic attack on his work, his central thesis has stood the test of time, despite its alleged errors; this due to the fact that many of those outside the Arab and Muslim tent have visited it with extreme prejudice and conjecture. What Said did was to successfully, and uncomfortably, expose their arrogance.

A butt of Said’s public invective was Bernard Lewis, a British-American historian. Lewis, a professor at Princeton University, was the first to promote the idea of an ‘inevitable’ east-west clash, the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’. This was picked up by US neo-con, Samuel Huntington, in his sinister treatise on post Cold War politics.

Lewis’ methodology, argued Said, was a case of puffed-up agenda-driven intellectualism. It was based on a western-minded self affirmation that merely enhanced US and European imperialism – and Israeli hegemony.

Lewis (an advisor to Bush and Cheney) had replied that Orientalist study had done nothing to further western control. He asked how deciphering the past could contribute to this. The famous linguist, Noam Chomsky, shrewdly accused Lewis of having a short memory on the impact of western meddling and its political cock-ups in the Middle East.

I interviewed Bernard Lewis in the 1990’s and found him to be a courteous, if not formidable subject. Assured of his views, he was not easily put off his stride – though I did feel that Said and Chomsky had rattled him more than I ever could.

I was reminded of Orientalism the other day, for after writing about the roots of the extremist Wahhabi group, ISIS, I was accused of ignorance and depravity. That I did not fit the jihadi mould of an AK47-toting extremist had apparently upset my critic, who commented:

“[Muhammad]…vomit (pbuh)…what the hell do you know about what happened more than 800 years ago? Shafiq you are brainwashed…all you have is your faith and identity (which is obviously confused)…and that makes you oppose all who are different from you…you are vile…”

I saw this cyber tantrum (from someone with a name ending in ‘itz’) as Orientalism. I saw it as Orientalism, not because of its crassness, but rather because there appeared to be discomfort with the notion that ISIS – the godchild of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab – didn’t represent mainstream Islam. Later exchanges seemed to indicate that my Muslim-ness precluded me from being qualified to comment on Islam anyway!

It led me to re-examining Orientalism, and discovering that its landscape has been dotted with madmen, eccentrics, theological claptrap and flashes of genuine scholarship for centuries.

One of the first recognised Orientalists was Ramon Lull, a Franciscan from Majorca, who saw his life work as the conversion of Jews and Muslims. A scholar of considerable note, he was influenced by Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, and called for the introduction of Arabic into European university syllabuses.

Obsessed with martyrdom, he visited North Africa three times to convert Muslims. On the last occasion he was stoned by angry townsfolk who’d finally got tired of his incessant provocation. Licking his wounds (he didn’t get martyred) he found his way back to Majorca where he passed away in about 1314.

John Wycliffe, the first to translate the bible into English circa 1324, wrote that Islam was like the Catholic Church – ‘violent, corrupt and greedy’. It was the Catholic Church, and not the Muslims, who dug up his bones 40 years after his death and threw them into a river.

In 1356 Sir John Mandeville, a travel writer of French identity – who claimed to be an English knight ­– wrote in Mark Twain fashion that the ‘coffin’ of the Prophet (SAW) floated in the air, and was suspended by magnets. The Ka’bah in Makkah was filled with idols that killed any bird that alighted on it.

The Frenchman, Guillame Postel, was regarded as a madman. He believed that Hebrew was the primary Semitic language. He was a linguist par excellence. In Istanbul he learnt Arabic so fast his teacher thought he was a demon, and when he departed for the Holy Land in 1549 with a grey beard, it’s said he miraculously returned with a black one.

Curiously, for his era, he believed in the supremacy of women and said that Muslims should be regarded as ‘half Christians’. He was impressed by the east and wrote that “all things we hold in the west as of extraordinary edifice are like mere shadows of oriental excellences.”

The author Robert Irwin says that Postel was driven by a fear of Islamic hegemony, a pathology that is noticeable in many western societies today that seem to think that the ‘Muslims are coming’.

Another French Orientalist, Silvestre de Sacy, could not speak Arabic. On the other hand, the Englishman David Margoliouth could talk for an hour without notes in classical Arabic on the splendours of ‘Abbasid Baghdad. Margoliouth also clumsily said that the Prophet (SAW) was an epileptic.

Yet another fascinating Orientalist is the Hungarian Jew, Ignaz Goldziher, who studied at Al-Azhar in Cairo and who later concluded that Islam was better than Judaism or Christianity. However, his view of Hadith – that they were later fabricated – did not endear him to the Muslim community. Goldziher is said to have influenced another Orientalist, Louis Massignon, and Bernard Lewis.

Space, and lack of material, precludes discussion on the Russian Orientalists and perhaps even the Chinese. But suffice it to say that our very own home-grown Cape Town Orientalist, ID du Plessis (who enjoyed a close relationship with apartheid's PW Botha and who 'studied' the local Malay community), fits the Edward Said model of Orientalism like the proverbial glove.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Naqshbandi Shaikh in Cape Town

THE next guide in what is called the "Golden Chain" of Naqshbandi Shaikhs, Shaikh Muhammad 'Adil al-Haqqani, briefly visited the Cape with his brother, Shaikh Bauhideen. The previous Shaikh of the Sufi order, Shaikh Naazim - who was based in Lefke, Cyprus -  passed away in May this year, aged 92.

Shaikh Muhammad, who is renowned for his humility and who is the eldest son of Shaikh Naazim, only started giving public addresses when his father fell seriously ill. This, in spite of the mantle having been passed on to him in 2011. During his visit, Shaikh Muhammad spent time with his followers, conducting the Jumu'ah - or Friday prayers - in the townships where the Naqshbandi have been working for several years under the leadership of Shaikh Yusuf da Costa.   

Shaikh Muhammad
ShaikhYusuf da Costa
Sh Yusuf da Costa,Shaikh Muhammad and Shaikh Bauhideen
Dhikr at the Azzawia in Cape Town
Enjoying the Thursday evening in Cape Town
Sh Muhammad, 'Isha Sunnah prayer. 
Young and old
Crowd enjoying dhikr, remembrance of Allah
Shaikh Muhammad enjoys recitation of nasheed.
Shaikh Bauhideen, addressing Islamia College Hall function
Bay'ah with the Shaikh, Islamia.
Women take bay'ah
The entourage.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Newlands Forest

Newlands Forest, sheltering under the south-east face of Table Mountain in Cape 
Town, is a place of great tranquility, changing seasons and textures. 

© Shafiq Morton Photos