Tuesday 17 August 2010

BBC: The Koran Through the Ages

The BBC has an article entitled "The Koran through the ages" by Razia Iqbal which looks at the origin of the Quran, how it has been preserved and memorised through history and how modern technology is making it accessible to everyone:

"A secular interpretation of any sacred text says, of course, that it's a human production," explains Tim Winter, also known under his Muslim name Abdel Hakim Murad, who lectures in Islamic studies at Cambridge University in England.

"But a traditional believing interpretation says that this is the word of God. It's not a work of co-authorship between God and the Prophet. God wrote it all," he adds.

One of the oldest surviving fragments of the Koran, dating back to the late 7th or early 8th Centuries, is at the British Library in London.

A page from Sultan Baybars' Koran at the British Library, written entirely in gold. Although the script slants to the right and looks unfamiliar to modern Arabic speakers, the text itself is almost exactly what you would find in a modern printed edition.

Soraya Syed is one of the few full-time female Arabic calligraphers in Europe.

Even though writing the sacred words is so closely bound up with the Islamic faith, she says she experiences her art as liberating and profoundly universal.

As she showed me how to write a version of the Bismillah - the declaration "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" - she revealed something astonishing.

"When you study calligraphy and read how the old manuscripts describe the letters and the proportions, they use the human anatomy to describe the letters," she says.

"So in order for you to understand the letters and how to write them, you need to understand the human form."

Read the full article here.

Obama and The Ground Zero Mosque

The Independent (16 August 2010) carries a leading article supporting Barack Obama's decision to support the "Ground Zero" mosque which has had staunch opposition in the US:

"The very idea of building a mosque in lower Manhattan was bound to be divisive, and it has indeed been fiercely opposed. After a long planning battle, permission was finally granted only at the beginning of this month. Yet Mr Obama, with or without his uncommon family background, is right to have said what he said, and to have said it as forcefully as he did.

Religious freedom is one of the great strengths of the United States, and one that has facilitated its successful integration of many waves of immigrants. Nor, although it requires particular generosity of spirit after 9/11, is Islam the only religion that represents a challenge to the status quo in America, now and in the decades to come. The rapid increase in the Hispanic population, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, is also bringing change to many parts of the United States, even as the traditional White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment is in numerical decline.

Mr Obama's election as the country's first non-white President was an extremely positive sign of US voters' openness to cultural change. But there are still those who harbour suspicion and even hatred of the diversity that he represents. It is regrettable that Mr Obama felt he had to underline the need for religious tolerance as he did, but admirable that – despite the sensitivity of the mosque's location – he nonetheless went ahead and gave it the seal of presidential approval."

You can read the full article here.

CSM Ramadan Gallery

The Christian Science Monitor has a gallery called "Scenes of Ramadan":

An Afghan man reads the holy Koran at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug 11, the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan (Ahmad Massoud/AP)

A Musaharati, or dawn awakener, strikes his drum just before dawn on Aug. 11 to wake observant Muslims in Sidon's old city in southern Lebanon for their overnight 'sahur,' or last meal before the day's fast. (Ali Hashisho/Reuters)

Filipino Muslim students read the Koran inside an elementary school during Ramadan in Manila, Philippines, on Aug. 11. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

Indonesian Muslim students march during a rally for Ramadan in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug. 7. Ramadan, the holy fasting month, began Wednesday, Aug. 11. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

An Egyptian vendor prepares the display of traditional lanterns for sale at his shop in Cairo on Aug. 3, in preparation for the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Nasser Nasser/AP).
View the full gallery here.

Sunday 15 August 2010

CSM Ramadan Round-up

The Christian Science Monitor (11 August 2010) mentions Ramadan:

“Ramadan 2010 USA started Wednesday as Muslims from Miami to Mecca began the month-long fast to mark what they believe was Allah's revelation of the Koran 14 centuries ago. This is the first time in nearly 30 years that Ramadan, whose timing depends on the lunar calendar, has corresponded with the hot summer months of the Gregorian calendar.

In addition to the heat, Muslims – who now comprise roughly a quarter of humanity – face unique challenges and perks depending on whether they’re celebrating in America, Arab countries, or as far north as the Arctic Circle.

In Jerusalem, considered the third holiest city in Islam, West Bank Palestinians will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount compound without permits. But there’s a catch to visiting the area, which is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock: Men must be over age 50 and women over the age of 45. For married individuals, the age limit drops to 45 and 30, respectively.

Many Muslims in Morocco will be forced to congregate in makeshift tents after the government announced this week that it is closing 1,256 mosques. The move came after the religious affairs ministry inspected nearly 20,000 mosques for safety standards in the wake of a minaret’s collapse that killed 41 people in February.

Iraq is bracing for an uptick in attacks, as US combat troops withdraw by Sept. 1 and temperatures of 120 degrees F. – coupled with a dire lack of electricity – agitate an already tense situation.

Indonesia ushered in the holy month by banning pornographic websites, prostitutes, and firecrackers – “things that can distract Muslims from faithfully observing Ramadan in peace,” deadpanned the Jakarta Globe. (In addition to abstaining from food and water during daylight hours, Muslims are also to refrain from sex.) Some 80 percent of porn sites had been blocked by the government, said Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring.

Egypt, meanwhile, is keeping time in a rather unorthodox way – turning the clock back an hour so that the Ramadan fast ends earlier in the day. Some Muslims worried that the special Ramadan time zone might violate Islamic law, reported NPR. But most carried on with preparations for nightly feasting that causes Egypt to triple its food consumption during the month – a tradition one Egyptian compared to 30 Christmas Eve dinners.

In New Jersey, school administrators decided to cancel classes on the culminating day of Ramadan – part of a controversial move by 10 of the state’s school districts to incorporate Muslim holidays into the school calendar.

To counter what many see as increasing anti-Islamic sentiment in America, such as that surrounding the ground zero mosque, Muslims at a storefront mosque in the Miami area have decided to broadcast their Friday sermons live.”

You can find the original article here.

Fasting for Non-Muslimas

BBC Bradford explores what it means to fast during Ramadan for a non-Muslim:

“Eilish Bromley works with the youth service in Bradford. She's not Muslim but will begin fasting this year. She explains her reasons behind it.

She says: "I've got a lot friends who are Asian and they're fasting so I want to respect their religion and fast.

Eilish says: "I'm also trying to have a small understanding of what's going on around the world, people who are suffering in poverty, and I hope this will also help me gain more understanding about myself."

Eilish has fasted in the past and it's something she says she was glad she did and will be glad to do it again.

She explains: "I will try and eat the same amount I eat normally. I didn't notice any weight loss the last time I did it. I don't think you necessarily lose any weight. "It's about trying to gain a better understanding of people and what they are going through, which is why I want to do it."

You can read the full article here.

Mahya: Turkish Illuminations

Reuters (12 August 2010) carries an article on the Turkish tradition of Mahya:

“Yildiz is one of the few remaining masters of Mahya, a tradition unique to Turkey and for which Istanbul's Ottoman-era imperial mosques with their soaring minarets are ideally suited.
Suspended between the minarets, dangling lights spell out devotional messages in huge letters, visible from afar and intended to reward and inspire the faithful who have spent the daylight hours fasting.

While Yildiz's working conditions are hard -- he must mount the minaret's 250 narrow, dark steps every week of Ramadan to change the message and deal with dizzying heights -- his counterparts of previous centuries had it harder. They would have to light and suspend hundreds of oil lamps and wicks and carefully plot letters in Arabic's curving letters.

Today just a handful of Istanbul's mosques use Mahya, but they are the city's grandest, and the phrases, set by Turkey's directorate of religious affairs, are legible from afar.

"Fast, find good health," reads another of this year's Mahya, seemingly printed onto the night sky.

image source

Mahya are said to have their origins in the reign of Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617), who was so pleased by a Mahya a muezzin had created as a surprise for him, he ordered that they be copied elsewhere.”

You can read the full article here.

UK Foreign Secretary Ramadan Message

The UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague released a Ramadan message on the 12 August 2010:

"As-Salaam Alaikum. As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins I want to send as British Foreign Secretary good wishes to Muslims across the globe.

This is a very important time in the calendar. It’s a time of fasting, of prayer, of introspection, of the gathering of families and I’m very conscious as a British politician of the huge contribution that so many Muslims in Britain make across the whole breadth of our society and that is something of course that we want to see even more of in the future.

So it’s a very, very important time of year celebrating what Ramadan is about, important values of selflessness, of charity, of compassion, of looking after people less fortunate than ourselves. And these are values of course that unite Muslims and non Muslims alike.

So at this special time of year I say to you, your friends and your relatives, Ramadan Mubarak."

The original video message is on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website here.

Prime Ministers Ramadan Message

The UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron released a message for Ramadan (Thursday 12 August 2010) on the No.10 website:

“I want to send my very best wishes to all the Muslim communities in Britain and around the world as you start this hugely significant month of Ramadan.

I know one of the messages of Ramadan is the importance of charity and the act of giving to those less fortunate than ourselves. That tradition is not just a great Muslim tradition. It’s also a great British tradition, something we cherish right across our society, amongst people of every faith and none.

At this time of prayer and reflection, I hope that your prayers will be answered, your families and communities strengthened and that this Ramadan may bring you peace, happiness and every blessing.”

You can read the full briefing here.

Thursday 12 August 2010

German TV Ramadan Reminder

A German TV Channel, RTL2 is offering an on-screen reminder at sunrise and sunset to indicate the start and end of the daily fast during Ramadan. German English newspaper The Local comments:

"German television channel RTL2 said Tuesday it was launching a special service for Muslim viewers during Ramadan, letting them know when to begin and end the daily fast.

"You can theorise all you like about integration, but we wanted to send a clear signal," Carsten Molings, head of marketing at the channel, said in a statement.

"RTL2 makes programmes for all people and followers of all religions. Just as every year we reflect Christmas and Easter in our programming, we wanted to do the same for Ramadan."

The Central Council for Muslims in Germany (ZMD), representing Germany's roughly four million believers, welcomed RTL2's decision.

"This shows how successful integration is in this country," ZMD general secretary Aiman Mazyek said in a statement. "Actions like this are an example to all."

You can read the full article here.

Sister Alison Lake on Conversion, Hijab, Worship and Ramadan

The Washington Post carries a series of articles by Alison Lake, one of their staff writers, on the experience of conversion to Islam:

1. Confessions of a convert to Islam
"Well before formally converting, I knew I wanted to be Muslim. I felt Muslim, and enjoyed spending time with Muslims. I began to avoid alcohol and eat halal (permitted) foods, changed my dating habits, and become more aware of how I dressed. As I continued to read, I became more aware of how our actions affect other people, and our futures. For example, Islam is centrally focused on community awareness and charity, so much that the entire month of Ramadan is devoted to good deeds and awareness of the feeling of hunger.

The word Islam means "submission." That is all: submitting to God and admitting your humility. I love the Islamic phrase insha'Allah, or "God willing." It admits that we (humans) cannot control everything. We don't know God's plan for us and should be humble to that and follow what we do know from Him. With that in mind, living my life according to what I believe is a little easier."

2. Converting to Islam today
There is much to admire in Islam, and Muslims should educate non-Muslims, as well as their own brothers and sisters in the faith, on the religion's nuances. There is a rich field for debate on subjects such as the meanings of the Quran, the implications of Prophet Muhammad's life practices today, the behavior of men and women in the public sphere, and what Islam shares in common with other religions. Islam is also in dire need of a better public relations campaign around the world, particularly in the West.

Islamic civilization was born in the Middle East but also has deep historical roots in India, Iran, central Asia, and Africa. Western textbooks and histories previously ignored Islamic civilization's rich history, which is slowly becoming more accepted in the European/American worldview. While Europe was in the bubonic depths of the Dark Ages, Islamic civilization produced great thinkers, writers, and inventors. Baghdad and Damascus were bustling, advanced centers of learning and commerce. Arab scholars (many of them Muslim) helped to launch the Renaissance in Europe with their scientific advances and translations of ancient texts for wider consumption.

Islam also shares many points in common with the histories of Judaism and Christianity, based on scriptures and the tradition of such prophets as Abraham, Moses, and Noah. This commonality in the Abrahamic faith tradition is a helpful foundation for interfaith studies, and for pursuit of greater understanding of Islam by non-Muslims. There are too many Muslims worldwide to ignore -- more than 1.5 billion. Hopefully more non-Muslims will take time to understand this religion and its people, and try to look beyond the crimes of terrorists and the stereotypes perpetuated in the media and in Western culture.

3. "Why don't you love Jesus?"
My recent first visit to a Muslim country demonstrated that daily practice of Islamic faith does not have to be cumbersome or a cause for social shyness, and further inspired me to challenge my own timidity about outwardly being Muslim.

The Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad to "Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their garments [or veils, depending on the translation] close around them," so as to be known as believers and not molested. The Quran does not expressly instruct women to cover their hair and necks, but Islamic culture and faith practice surrounding the Prophet Muhammad led to use of the headscarf. These are known as hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and sunnah (practices of the Prophet), and are central to Islamic practice.

My trip to Morocco in June transformed my perception of what a day should look like for a Muslim. I observed how many Moroccans incorporate prayer into their daily schedule, and how easily women moved about, dressed modestly in extreme heat, stylishly, and without baring lots of skin.

4.Embracing new rituals
Prayer in Islam is beautiful, peaceful, and humble. The act of praying is powerful, especially when you do it several times a day. I feel closer to God the more often I pray, and my faith deepens. Somehow the greater frequency of prayer sharpens my spiritual senses. As a result, I approach life more in spiritual terms; think of God more often; and feel stronger emotionally, intellectually, and physically. I feel motivated to read the Quran, to reach out to people, and to thank God for all the blessings of life.

I look forward to the quiet reflection of Ramadan that comes every year, along with the pleasure of cooking certain meals and foods I can eat in the morning and after breaking fast in the evening. Knowing I am fasting changes the tenor of my day and gives focus. The daily routine throughout the year of dressing the part, reading Quran, and wishing salaam to other Muslims provides other comforting, predictable, and rewarding rituals.

Fasting is definitely challenging to learn if you don't grow up with it. I still struggle with it. My blood sugar rebels and I feel thirsty, even dizzy. I try to be easy on myself, because in Muslim families, children learn to fast slowly, short periods at a time. But I do my best because it is a mark of the faith and brings great rewards: understanding the feeling of being poor or starving; self-discipline; cleansing of the body; and spiritual closeness to God. In the Quran, God enjoins Muslims to fast. Those who are sick or on a journey are not required to fast, and should give money or food to someone needy. Also, women are not expected to fast after childbirth or during their monthly cycle.

I believe Islam is needed now more than ever, especially in our hectic society that seems to be regulated by television, fluorescent lights, commercialism, self-indulgence, and the 24-hour clock. Regular spiritual practice is calming and grounding. Islam expects more of us. Knowing that God is responsible for this world but also gave us brains and heart to use well is somehow freeing -- we can do our best and leave the rest up to God.

Click on the links to read the full articles.

Ramadan in Britain

The Independent (8 August 2010) explores different individual's perspectives on what Ramadan means for them and how they prepare in "Ramadan and me: A month in the life of British Muslims":

Farasat Latif, 41 - Project manager from Luton

"I'm going to take some time off from my jobs – working with ex-offenders, and teaching business and English to overseas students – and use it to get closer to god. It is a spiritual time during which one abstains from things which are normally permissible, so we learn how to abstain. I will be fasting from dawn until dusk and praying five times a day, with congregational prayers in the evening."

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, 35 - Author from London

"For the past three years, I've organised a dinner in Ramadan in which I get 10 or so friends to bring people they know who are not Muslim to break the fast with us. As British people, we tend to be quite reserved about religion, but I think we should be open. In a recession, people can understand the importance of stepping back from consuming and focusing on what's inside rather than what we have."

Ayesha Abdeen, 26 - CEO, Muslim Women's Sport Foundation, from London

"I adhere to everything, fasting from dawn until dusk. It is quite a long day, hard at the beginning, but the benefits always outweigh the difficulties. It is one month of being disciplined and a reminder, especially for those who are always busy, of our surroundings and those less fortunate. It is a month where everybody gets together, we visit friends and family. There is a sense of community."

You can read the full article here.

Ramadan Lights in Palestine

Palestinians decorate an alley of Jerusalem’s old city with lights in preparation for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan

Photographer: Muhammed Muheisen/AP
Source: Guardian 12 August 2010

Ramadan Apps

The Metro (12 August 2010) carries a short article discussing the use of technology to assist Muslim's in their worship this Ramadan:

"Mobile phone applications such as ‘iPray’ or ‘iKoran’ offer a beeping reminder of requisite prayer times, while the ‘mosque finder’ programs help travellers in unfamiliar cities find the nearest place to pray.

The apps are not just for Ramadan; there are Islamic-themed programs that help users find the nearest supermarket offering halal foods, learn the correct Arabic pronunciations in a daily prayer, or count how many pages of the Koran they have read that day.

The programs are not only offered by Apple. Nokia has a ‘Ramadan suite’ on its phones, a guide to Islam’s holiest month, in which Muslims worldwide observe daily daylight fasting"

You can read the full article here.

The Guardian (11 August 2010) also discusses the topic:

"As millions of Muslims around the world began observing the holy month of Ramadan today, modern technology has stepped in to help them through the 30 days of fasting.

Perhaps inevitably, applications for the iPhone and iPad are now available to provide inspiration, support and practical information during Ramadan, the dates of which are determined by the lunar calendar.

The Ramadan Daily Dua, available for the iPhone and iPad, offers a prayer of supplication specific to each day during the holy month, while Ramadan Booster Pro offers "tips and recommended good deeds to help organise your Ramadan". Nokia has its own updated, free Ramadan application suite, which allows users to browse the Qur'an, get prayer times and find their nearest mosque, among other things."

You can read the full article here.