333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship Under Threat, Alexandra Huddleston

Mali scholarsSome time ago I blogged about a video by Alexandra Huddleston, 333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship Under Threat

The good news is that Alexandra is now ready to publish her work on this subject with magnificent photos. The photo included in this post is one of the many beautiful images she has captured. This work is of great importance in recording the life of scholars in Mali especially as they have recently been under threat. Alexandra needs the funds to publish the book and she has launched a Kickstarter project to raise the money. You can see the page that describes the project here

Please take a look and consider donating and you will be rewarded for doing so.

Language, Light, and Intention

Shaharah Bridge, YemenThis is a fictional discussion on the nature of language that I wrote a few years ago. It’s part of a novel in progress that has been having rather a long holiday!

“Let’s look at language as an example.” Dan stood up, swivelled his chair around and sat astride with his elbow resting on the chair back. His excitement was obvious and Bridget could not resist a smile despite her hesitation about the risks they were about to embark on.

“Taking what we know about light, we can look at language in time and ask a few questions about the nature of knowledge acquisition. For example, who knows what is going to happen even within the next second?” He rose again and walked purposefully to the coffee machine talking as he went. “Do we really understand how we traverse this moment into the next? The spoken, or written word, for example, is it made of particles, an accumulation of moments added together that result in meaning, or is it like a wave, a continuous flow that contains an inherent teleology?”

Dan poured himself a coffee and added three spoonfuls of sugar. Gavin refilled the machine, switched it on, turned around and leant against the sink without once breaking his concentration on Dan’s words. Bridget noticed that Philip was fidgeting and frowning hard. Then Philip spoke up, “I think you mean the thought, dear boy. It’s the thought that makes the spoken, or written, sentence.”

“Ah, now that’s another matter. We are not talking origins at the moment. I want to keep this simple, Philip. Quantum physicists will tell you that what you find when you look at light depends on the observer. If you look for particles you find them, a world made of bits. If you look for a wave you find it, a world of continuity and unity. I prefer the latter. But what is happening if I speak or write, without pause, word-by-word? In one respect that seems like little more than particles randomly following one after the other. But there is teleology here, even though unthought. I can think it now as I speak without pause and it is called intention. That teleology is the desire to tap my creativity, to make room for that which otherwise might not emerge, a moment of inspiration that is uncensored and unformatted, simply allowed to transpire. What a great word, transpire, to breathe across. It reminds me of Blake, ‘He who kisses the joy as it flies…’”

“You do realise that you are coming very close to metaphysics, don’t you Dan?” Nanon had been so quiet during the past half hour, standing by the window, a little apart from the rest of the gathering, that her voice startled them all, coming calm and authoritative after the tense excitement of Dan’s narrative. While everyone participated in the breathless sense of wonder of Dan’s account, Nanon’s remarks moved them all to a level of grave attention that subtly altered the mood of the room to one that appeared to align itself with the changing weather. The room had darkened as storm clouds stretched above the peninsula. Through the window they could see the slate grey light that anticipated a storm. A little rain began to splatter against the pane and thunder could be heard in the distance. Nanon moved away from the window and came closer to the table. Gavin offered her a coffee, which she gratefully took.

“In the medieval universities of Baghdad and Cordoba there was no separation between physics and metaphysics. Philosophy was all about understanding the world in relation to humanity. The big questions, then, as now, were about our origins, our destiny, and the meaning of our lives, the ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘how’. The difference between science then and science today is that up until the enlightenment that which is invisible, unknowable, and supratemporal, was not considered to be non-existent. The other significant difference is that some enlightened souls had some pretty stunning ideas on the matter of knowledge acquisition.”

“How do you mean?” queried Ben, looking as if he well knew the answer but that some of the others might be grateful for an explanation. Nanon remained silent for a moment, staring attentively at Ben.

“I’m hungry Ben. I’m sure we all are. I could also do with a change of scenery. Shall we go down to the Mermaid Inn and get a bite to eat?”

“Good idea.” Bridget slid off the table, “they’ve got a private room there. We can continue the conversation over supper, although to me it sounds more like a briefing. Am I right? Nanon? Daniel?”

Ocean of Being

You turned and pointed, and when I looked in the direction You were indicating I saw a vast horizon of which I was unaware before. We stood at a great height and from here the distant sea was visible with its sparkling reflections of light. On the shoreline I discerned a boat waiting to set sail. You waved your hand towards the boat, becoming impatient with my reluctance to leave. Finally I began the descent to the shore but as soon as I had taken a few steps the brambles and rocks around the mountain gathered force against me and I slipped and became entangled in their relentless power of impediment. Covered in scratches and bruises I stood once again and continued in my effort to reach that waiting vessel. Gradually a path became evident and the brambles no longer held me back and I climbed right over the rocks until I reached the shore.

The ship floats on the surface of the water, content in the gentle rocking of the waves. I board the navigator of the ocean of being and discover it is You who are the sea, and its vastness, and the lands beyond.

Once Upon a Time in Andalucia

For a while I once lived in Andalucia and I used to write a regular journal on this blog that viewed life from a Sufi perspective. I’ve been back in the UK for four years now and I’m busy writing my PhD thesis on Sufism in Israel. What I miss most about Andalucia is the light and a constant feeling of the baraka of Ibn ‘Arabi wherever I went. I sometimes wonder if I was in fact living more in the 12th/13th century than in the 21st century! The inspiration to write flowed easily during my stay in the mountains and I’m now considering writing a novel based on the entries in my blog – much expanded of course – and the work of Ibn ‘Arabi. Inshallah I’ll manage to find some time to write amidst my academic writing.

Rumi’s Sermon

Irving, author of the blog, Darvish, has posted a translation of one of Jalaluddin Rumi’s last sermons. Irving notes that,

“We do not know if it dates from before or after his meeting with Shams al-Din of Tabriz. Rumi delivered the opening benediction and the Hadith in Arabic, the liturgical language, then switched to Persian. Only seven sermons are so far known to exist in manuscript form.”

To read the full sermon go over to Irving’s blog at Darvish by just clicking here.

Please note that Irving has also written a powerful Sufi novel, Master of the Jinn. You can find details about this novel on the blog.

The Sufi Scholars of Mali

I discovered this video in an article on the scholars of Mali in the Huffington Post  It is about the rich tradition of scholarship in Timbuktu, Mali and the threat that comes from the Ansine and Al-Qaeda groups. As the author of the article, Rudolph Ware, notes, “Unfortunately, the “radical Islam” of groups like Ansar Dine and al-Qaida have spilled far too much blood and ink in Northern Mali and beyond. Armed with deadly weapons, a false doctrine of jihad, and a perverse sense of martyrdom they have committed countless acts of violence. While the Western imagination is captivated by fear of ‘radical Islam’ its victims — in Timbuktu as elsewhere — are almost invariably Muslims.”

Introduction:
The photographs in the following video were taken in 2007 in the region of Timbuktu, Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa. At that time, Mali was one of Africa’s most stable democracies. Timbuktu had regained its ancient fame as a center of Islamic scholarship.

Political chaos has now over-taken the north and south of Mali. Timbuktu is under Shariah law, controlled by rebel groups connected to al-Qaeda. Not only are thousands of ancient manuscripts and holy sites under threat, but an ancient scholarly culture….

Objective:
The objective of this video and its corresponding website is to provide cultural context to the current conflict in the north of Mali, with a focus on Timbuktu. To do so, it uses a photographic series that presents an in-depth view of Timbuktu’s tradition of Islamic scholarship, an ancient form of learning influenced by Sufism and characterized by tolerance, plurality, and a deep joy in and respect for learning.

This video calls for religious freedom and cultural self-determination for the people of Timbuktu, Mali.

Please share widely

Credits:
Text and photography by Alexandra Huddleston

Recording and sound editing by Brian Stillman

Introductory music: “Hibernal”
Stock audio provided by Ian Hubball/ Pond5.com

Jews and Muslims Together

I’ve just begun a new blog that relates to my research on Jewish-Muslim relations in Israel. The research project looks specifically at Sufism in Israel whereas the blog is more generally about Jewish-Muslim relations. It hasn’t been up for long so it’s still in its first stages with more to come but you’ll still find plenty of interest there as well as some good videos. Take a look and please give me some feedback if you’re interested. Click here