Jun 11, 2016

The Mystique of Mystics: Spiritual Energy and Sufi Meditation

You can feel the spiritual power of this Sufis dancing in this video. You can feel the energy that emanates from their chanting, their circling, the clapping and pounding.
This kind of ritual is rare in the Muslim world, but still exist in some part of the world.

They are Chechen Sufis as part of a larger group of Sufi brotherhoods. Chechnya is mostly Muslim, and they relate to the Shafi'i school of thought. Their mystical tradition is mixed of muridism (according to Arabic Al-Ma'ani dictionary, murid means adherent or disciple) and in which a Murshid (spiritual teacher or guide) plays a central role in the spiritual journey. Some of Chechen associate themselves with different branches of Sufism. Mainly there are two tariqas (order) in the north of Caucasus region: Naqshbandiyah and the Qadiriyah.

The word that they keep repeating is 'Yahu or Yahoo (which in English means oaf or a lout person),' not the website though, it is an Arabic term and is a pronoun for God. In Hebrew language, it means God. You also here the chant, "La ilaha illallah," which means there is no deity but God.

I shared this video with someone who asked me, "where are the women?"
I wrote back and said: That is a question that can't not be answered so easily. There have been women Sufis but not many, and they were mostly secluded from public gathering like the ones you see in the video. The reason is very obvious. From religious and Sufi point of view anything that is considered distracting, or source of temptation must be avoided. This is a backward belief, which dates back to maybe one thousand years ago, but there are some changes made in recent decades. Let's hope that one day Sufis wouldn't think women as threat to their purifying spiritual endeavor, rather see them naturally a graceful and blissful companions.

Jun 7, 2016

Sultana's Story And Her Educational Aspiration

If you haven't yet read this week's incredible about Sultana on the New York Time, a young girl living in southern Afghanistan who dreams to study in the United States, I highly recommend to read it. Sultana is definitely in of some attention for her future. If you want to donate money towards her education, there is a page made for her in which money goes directly into her account.
Sultana at her desk, photo already published on the NYT.

Like Sultana, there are thousands of girls in areas under the Taliban control who can't go to school. It is unfortunate that Sultana and girls like her are forbidden to go to school, but there is always an incorrect perception that deludes our understanding of the nature of south, where Sultana comes from. ( It is not known where exactly she comes from. The impression that I have from the photos that she has provided to her supporters is that she lives in city).
Most of often people think that the Taliban are foreigners, they come across the boarders from Pakistan, while this might be true to some degree, it belies the sympathizing nature for the Taliban in the southern Afghanistan - mainly in Pashtun areas. Those that hold this kind view that the Taliban are not Afghans, they are either proponent of Ashraf Ghani and Krazai who have been calling the Taliban 'brothers' or they are those that are influenced by misconceptions on the nature of Afghan war and politics. If the Taliban would not have sympathizers among the people in the south, Afghanistan would be much safer today and girls like Sultana would be able to freely attend school.

I am also a little bit doubtful about the story of Sultana. It seems that exaggeration is a fun thing - especially that she is intrigued by dark matter and she aspires to solve its mystery - and Kristof has used it well in his article, though he states that he can't verify everything Sultana says. I hope everything is written there turns out real. There are many girls like Sultana who needs support, but not all can make their stories so theatrical to get American readers' attention. Let's wish her all the best.

Also, you can listen to Sultana's Skype short interview (pull the bar to the end of the program, the interview starts at 36.40) with her friend Emily Roberts, a student at the University of Iowa. 

Jun 5, 2016

Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle over Islam is Reshaping the World

 by Shadi HamidI have been thinking to find a book, a non-academic one, to start my summer break; something that would refresh my knowledge and understanding of Middle East politics that I learned in college. As a student of political science with a great emphasis on Middle East politics and history, I keenly followed the news on uprisings that began in Tunisia and soon set off across the Middle East. The uprisings, which soon became known as the Arab Spring drove the entire region into a state of flux and consequence that have been far from predicable.

It is now five years since the Arab Spring started; the turmoil that followed led into regional conflagration. For the past years, pundits and scholars alike have attempted to find an answer to questions: What went wrong? What do Islamists want? Can we generally consider the Arab Spring as a movement for regime change that is doomed to fail, or should we examine each state individually? Is the revolution over? And questions such as how and why some countries endorsed to employ heavy-handed security tactics, while others took delicate measures.

Recently, I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of the book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World by Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. Hamid tries to provide some answers to these questions by (first) explaining chaos and violence of the Middle East, the rise to the Islamic State or ISIS, cultural divides over some trifling matters like cartoons of Mohammad and how much they really matter to Muslims.

Hamid argues that in order to understand the current turmoil of the Middle East, we need to understand go back to the start of twentieth century when the last caliphate was formally abolished. “Since the caliphate’s dissolution, “Hamid says “The struggle to establish a legitimate political order has raged on, with varying levels of intensity.” At the heart of the struggle, Hamid believes that lies the most basic questions that remain unresolved: “what it means to be citizen and what it means to be a state.”

At the outset of the book, Hamid makes it known that Islam is related to politics - though this is a familiar argument that has often been made by many - and he emphasizes that because of the distinctive relationship between Islam and politics, the separation is unthinkable. In fact he stresses that Islam should play a serious role in political community and strengthen where it finds the weak ones because Hamid believes that excluding religion undermines the social fabric of religious people and results into violence.

On Islam’s reformation, Hamid argues that Islam, by its leniency offered accommodation for changes, especially “Western secular ideas, recasting them as authentic and Islamic.” He shortly illustrates this point in his previous chapter in which he says: “Islam has already had a “reformation” of sorts. Hamid refers to the nineteenth country Islamic modernism movement, which began during the Ottoman Empire. At the forefront of this movement there were three notable figures: Muhammad Abduh, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, and Muhammad Rashid Rida. Perhaps, this is a reaction to those who might wonder why can’t Islam be reformed or when it would be reformed.

The next three chapters are devoted to three case studies where Hamid investigates the inseparability of Islam and politics, and the irreconcilablity of these two with modern nation-state and secularism in general. These three cases are the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état, the Turkish model and domination of power by Turkish president Erdogan, and Tunisia’s Ennahda party to intentionally reduce its prominence on the basis of respecting the national consensus. Hamid explains how Morsi’s series of mistakes provoked a storm of protest against him; something that was not spontaneous, but build on disillusionment, and swiftly deteriorating security in the country. In cases of Turkey and Tunisia, Hamid lucidly describes how these two countries have been a breeding ground of what happens when decades of imposed or forced secularism come to an end and how it looks when Islamic revival superseded.

Similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda in Tunisia, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Hamid believes that Islamic State is also a modern product of a long-term struggle that goes back to the demise of the Ottoman caliphate. Through interviews and dialogues with close relatives of those who joined the Islamic State, Hamdi tells us that what see know of Islamic State is a result of decades of injustice, subjugation, oppression, humiliation, and disillusionment.

Finally Hamid notes that whatever is happening in the Middle East is natural with all its religious ideology and idiosyncratic Islamic practices. The book ends with a hopeful tone, but not to the degree that we can imagine a road map, or what we can expect to happen in the next decades.

Jun 4, 2016

The "Beautiful" and "The Greatest" is Gone

Picture: Muhammad Ali Credit: Michael Gaffney
He was beyond words to be described. Muhammad Ali was the greatest of all time, the greatest who ever lived, and will be the greatest athlete who ever will be. Rest in peace, the beautiful man!

Here is a great quote of him:
"A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at 20, has wasted thirty years of his life." Muhammad Ali
Here is a video of Muhammad Ali on goodwill visit to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Jun 3, 2016

Libraries Destroy Books

Yesterday morning as I walked into the UGA science library, I saw huge stacks of red boxes ready to be loaded into a big truck. I passed by without paying much attention. I assumed that the boxes are filled with books that might be transferred to a new library.

Curious and maybe a little worried about the books, I walked to the main gate and approached one of the guys who was loading the truck. I asked him where the books go and how many truckloads do they make a day. He kindly explained to me that the boxes are filled with books and they are going to a warehouse, which finally will be destroyed. He added that for the next two weeks, they are going make one truckload every day. 

"How bad." I said to myself. I felt a profound sadness due to thousands of books are going to be destroyed one day. As I walked back to my desk, I thought that this is an indication of an ominous future that is looming on the horizon. I am worried that one day libraries' shelves are being emptied. In fact, it is already happening as the books are being digitized. It is an incontrovertible truth that we are living in a digital world where a small device can hold thousands of books and easy to carry around. I am worried about that one day libraries become irrelevant and the virtual library take over this valuable tradition.

Jun 1, 2016

How to Erase Desert Tradition?

I have never seen this in my life until now. A group of men - who don't look to be students because they look in their 40s and 50s - just arrived in the coffee shop with their own thermos and cookies. I watched them carefully because they are sitting next to me. From their accent, I can tell that they are not from the Gulf. Surprisingly, only two of them bought coffee, the rest didn't. They even brought their own cups and sugar. I can't fathom the depth of this contradiction.

It is a fascinating social and cultural paradox to see this mingling odds from two different world. I asked myself whether people in the Middle East and North Africa take their food out to the restaurants and coffee shops to eat? I don't think so and I don't know it. This is an odd thing that I saw this evening at this coffee shop.

I am a regular coffee shop camper, especially in the evening because the library is closed at night. I also go to the coffee shop because I find my solace in drinking coffee and tea in a common place while doing my work. After a while - maybe two or three hours later - when I see my coffee has dried up, I usually start feeling uncomfortable because I feel I am leeching off the space, free Wi-Fi, and the spirit of the social harmony in a small space like the coffee shop.

With respect to all cultures and traditions, I think social etiquette, having sense of decency and awareness in a different environment is a primal value that can get us close.