Diary of an Andalusian Village: Spring Flowers and Arab Towers

It’s much warmer up here in the mountains now. When the seasons change it happens quite abruptly leaving you walking around in inappropriate clothing for a couple of days until you realize this is really it and Spring has arrived. This happens especially when, like me, I took a very early bus to a town much further down the mountain and found that although it was chilly waiting for the bus with only a jumper on instead of a coat, by the time I arrived it was very hot indeed.
This morning I visited my friend who I haven’t seen in a while because she and her husband have been busy bringing in the olive harvest. We speak some of the time in Spanish and some of the time in English so each can learn the others language. Today she took me down to her land outside the village. They keep bees as well and as we sat by an ancient Arab water basin we were surrounded by them. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Amalia, ‘they know me,’ and it was true, neither of us was stung. Above the water basin was a stone built arch, the entrance to a tunnel into the cliff side which is part of the old system of irrigation that directs water to where it is needed as it flows off the mountain. Water is scarce so every drop is precious. Vegetation isn’t as lush up here as it is down on the coast but, apart from the almond trees which have been in blossom for about a week now, there is an array of spring flowers many of them so tiny you have to bend down to see them reveal their intricate beauty. The soil is full of stones and rocks and conducive to the abundant growth of wild rosemary, thyme, lavender, and sage. Once upon a time wheat was grown here as well but the only remaining witness to this are the large round threshing circles, built of cobbled stone and placed strategically on the windiest outcrops. You can be assured that if you are standing on a threshing circle you will be looking out on a wide open view in all directions; down the valleys to the Mediterranean coastline with its regular  tower-forts that served as lookout posts and beacons, allowing news to travel literally as fast as fire from Cadiz to Almeria.
As we get back in the car, Amalia tells me proudly that there are two Arab graves on her land. I nearly jump out of the car again but she has already turned the ignition, I really want to see those graves and she promises to take me to them next time. I begin to wonder if the former Arab owners of this land, who have left signs of their presence clear to see, were actually Amalia’s ancestors, maybe a family who were victims of the Inquisition and the forced conversions of the 15th and 16th centuries? There must be records somewhere of the Muslim presence in the rural areas of the mountains, it’s obvious, of course, in the architecture, the agriculture, the language, and the large Arab built towns such as Cordoba, Seville, Granada, but the Spanish people went through a huge denial of their Islamic (and Jewish) heritage even succumbing to the dubious and destructive claim of ‘racial purity’ during the time of Franco when Muslims and Jews were forbidden entry into Spain. These mountains once provided food supplies to the Kingdom of Granada and the people who worked hard on the land deserve recognition. I am hoping that when I go to see those graves with Amalia they will have tombstones with names on them.


The Imagination and the Soul

Recently I spoke to Imam Luqman Ali about his activity as artistic director of the Khayaal Theatre Company. The following are the answers he gave to my questions and illustrate the relevance of the company’s work in today’s world.

An Interview with Imam Luqman Ali
Artistic Director of the Khayaal Theatre Company

Brother Luqman, I visited your website http://www.khayaal.co.uk/ and was fascinated by the work you do. It is very encouraging to see Muslim creativity presented in this way as it takes us into the many-dimensional world of the imagination. The name of your theatre company is Khayaal, the Arabic word for imagination. The role of the imagination in the arts is obvious but do you also relate this name to Ibn ‘Arabi’s concept of an intermediate world, the ‘Alam al-Khayaal, or realm of the imaginal, which is said to be the world of the soul?

Luqman Ali
Yes, we do relate the name of our company to the conception of khayaal as expounded by Ibn Arabi. But then everything is khayaal as a statement of Ibn Arabi asserts:

‘Everything engendered in existence is imagination – but in fact it is Reality. Whoever understands this truth has grasped the mysteries of the Way.’

The world of khayaal, or Aalamu ‘l-khayaal is of numerous ascending gradations. At the lower end, we have the dense and shadowy and at the higher end the translucent and luminous. But ultimately from the perspective of the Divine, it is all akin to a dream, for if we dream, that activity must reflect and be rooted in some Divine act. This metaphorical dream of God is alluded to in a statement made by the great Taoist master Chuang Tse:

‘Confucius and you are both dreams, and I who say you are dreams am a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may explain it; that tomorrow will not be for ten thousand generations.’

By working with literature that explores universal virtues and sacred
symbolism, we aspire to align the cascading signs of meanings and forms and in such a manner as to give people a glimpse of the imaginal, which we believe will stimulate reflection and contemplation.

I find your answer very exciting, Brother Luqman as I have been reading Ibn ‘Arabi for some time and I often ask myself whether this contact with the imaginal is sorely lacking in the world today, especially in education, and that a greater immersion into the imaginal world of many layered meaning and sacred symbols, as you say, would also act as an enrichment for those who tend to a literalist and two dimensional way of thinking. Do you see the arts of storytelling and performance as a way to break through to that immense world of the soul, especially important in today’s often bleak cultural landscape that is offered young people?

Luqman Ali
The cultural landscape is bleak because the connections of its language, symbols and metaphors with the world of cosmological and spiritual meaning have largely been severed or so obfuscated that popular culture seldom truly liberates one from the confines of the sensory. ‘Liberal’ in the term liberal arts originally meant that the intention of these arts was to liberate one from the ephemeral so that one might reflect upon the eternal or from the finite so that one might reflect upon the infinite.
Provided storytelling and performance re-establishes and illustrates the connections between form and meaning, the physical and metaphysical, the sensory and the spiritual, then they can provide an opportunity for people to break through to a greater appreciation of the world of the soul and thereby find a greater sense of equilibrium and fulfilment. At a time when the prevailing popular and universal cultural language is drama, it will inevitably be the most effective means of achieving this, especially in the case of young people who have by and large been hemmed in and rendered desacralised by the secular dream of material success to such an extent that traditional means of spiritual edification have become ineffective.

At a time when all shadow points deeper into the pitch of darkness,
Shadows pointing towards the light are akin to light itself.

To visit the Khayaal Theatre Company website click here:   http://www.khayaal.co.uk/

Diary of an Andalusian Village: A Winter’s Day in a Spanish Village

Winter is a strange time up here in the mountains. I remember one Christmas, just two years ago, when it was so warm that people were wearing summer clothes and sitting outside the cafés drinking coffee and chatting. The good weather continued on into January and that was the year we saw the Moroccan coastline during sunset several days in a row. This time last year saw a completely different scenario with snow drifts several feet thick and some people having to be rescued from their Cortijos (farmhouses) by helicopter. Locals said they had never seen anything like it before, they were used to a light sprinkling of snow but not this much and for so long. This year has been cold with a little snow and some rain. I don’t know if these aberrations in the usual weather patterns have anything to do with global warming, I suspect they do, but I do wonder if more dramatic landscapes like ours feel the changes in more obvious ways.

With a population of approximately five hundred people, the village is very small and in one respect there’s not a great deal going on here in terms of cultural, or social events but in other ways this is a very lively community and its life is patterned by the seasons and work in the fields. A lot of people own land as well as their houses in the village. Barely anyone here can make a decent living from agriculture, the crops being figs, almonds, vines, and olives there are other places in the world who with large-scale farming dominate the markets. Agriculture here serves more as a useful addition to the annual income and of course to the family diet. Favourite vegetables are peppers of all varieties, broad beans, courgettes, aubergines, avocados, and a variety of fruits. Slim red peppers tied to string and hung up to dry decorate the balconies and patios of many a house here in late summer. Alas it is winter now and today I’ve been sitting at my laptop writing while the clouds over the Mediterranean rose and wrapped themselves (do they have selves?) around the village. I couldn’t even see the church when I looked out of the window and that is saying something. It does not have much in the way of architectural merit but it is very large for such a small community and it dominates the plaza, in fact there isn’t much plaza left over because of the size of the church. Wrapped in cloud today it was obscured from view but it could be heard. When someone dies in the village the church bells ring and they rang this evening. I don’t know who died but I will hear about it tomorrow when I go down to the bakery for bread. Those church bells have been ringing quite often for the dead this winter.