This exhibit sounds really interesting. If anyone is checking it out, or know about an exhibit book, please let us know. I love the last line about the novel and poetry, although I think it devalues poetry too much.
I only saw a little bit of Bush's speech the other day, and it happened to be the part where he wants the military to run this country when it gets too tough for him to do it. I was going to write some commentary on the military industrial complex, but these two pieces pretty much cover what I wanted to say: TPM, Gadflyer (related).
Hi everyone, this is my first post as a contributor to Islamicate so I'd like to thank Hussein for so kindly inviting me to be a contributor.
I think that Islamicate is part of a wider and essential movement which is small but growing and which focuses on the common ground that we all share as opposed to the differences. We all have points of divergence, even within our own communities, even in our personal relationships, it's the way it is and I have never seen much point in dwelling on these. It is far more useful and harmonious (and essential in today's climate) to look for points of convergence - especially in matters of culture and religion. Especially today. I suspect it will become more pressing in the coming years.
So in the light of this, i thought it might be interesting to post a list of points of convergence between the West and East. This is not an exhaustive list (I have cross-posted it to my blog) but it might be a good starting point for a discussion or for anyone else who may have any other examples they can contribute.
1. This first one is perhaps not such a good thing but alcohol, generally regarded as 'Western', was first distilled by the Sufi and alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (d. 815). Jabir also was the first person to systematize chemistry and is regarded as the founder of Western alchemy. He gave his name to the english word 'jibberish' (ie Jabir-ish) as he was allegedly so difficult to understand.
2. As in the case of Jabir, many Arabic and Persian words have passed into English, some directly: Coffee is from Qahwa (the beverage was first utilised by Arab Sufis as an aid to concentration), traffic, cheque, tariff, magazine, tabby, filly, algebra, troubadour and admiral are also Arabic. The word 'Orange' is directly from the Persian na rang meaning 'no sorrow'.
3. In literature too there are direct links. Shakepeare used many Sufi stories (see this Guardian article) as did Dante, drawing largely on Arabian folk-tales. Chaucer's 'Pear Tree' story is to be found in Rumi's Mathnawi and the fable 'Dick Whittington' is Persian in origin. Later writers such as Goethe draw heavily on the Persian Hafiz.
4. The British King Offa (757 - 796) may have been a Muslim. There is a coin minted during his reign in the British Museum which has the shahada - There is no God but Allah - inscribed on it alongside his name.
5. The discipline of Comparative Religious Studies was founded by Ibn Hazm of Cordoba (d. 1064) who also wrote the first history of world religions. In other academic fields, the first critical historical survey was written by Ibn Khaldun (his muqaddima still an acknowledged Classic text), al-Razi (d. 925) is credited with inventing the classification 'animal, vegetable, mineral), logarithms were developed by the Arab mathematician al-Khwarizm from Hindu sources (the name algorithm is a corruption of his own), Rumi mentions a form of evolutionary theory hundreds of years before Darwin and ibn Nafis discovered the circulation of the blood centuries before Harvey who is generally credited with this discovery.
6. The concept of the University is Islamic on origin. The world's oldest University is al-Azhar in Cairo which dates from 970. Even the 'mortar boards' of graduates are Islamic and derive from the flat hats of the scholars there who would rest the Qur'an on the 'mortar' to symbolize the primacy of Scripture over the intellect. The tassel at the back of the 'mortar board' was for bookmarking the pages of the Qur'an.
In the 13th Century at Oxford, the great Franciscan scholar Roger Bacon taught Arab Illuminist philosophy and wore Arab clothes whilst lecturing (incidentally there are many connections between Sufism and Franciscan thought - particularly marked are the parallels between St Francis and the Sufi teacher Najmuddin Kubra).
Hospitals too derive from a similar source - perhaps specifically the Bimaristans (sick-houses) of the Seljuq period in Damascus. they were imported to Europe by the Crusaders. Vaccination also was first introduced into the West at this time form Turkish lands.
7. In Music, the Waltz is modeled on the movements of the 'Whirling Dervishes' (Mevlevis) and Ravel's 'Bolero' is a Sufi piece of music. Similarly the typically English 'Morris Dancing' is in fact Moorish dancing and derives from Islamic Spain.
8. Saint George, patron Saint of England is in fact synonymous with Khidr the patron Saint of the Sufis and is not English at all but Syrian. Similarly, the Christian Saint Charlambos is in reality the Sufi teacher Haji Bektash as Saint Therapion is really the Sufi poet Turabi.
There are many more such foundations - particularly in the realm of science: the concept of zero, translations of Greek thought, astronomy and mathematics are perhaps the best known. All in all there is so much more that unites the Islamic world and the West than divides that it is incredible that these common areas are not more widely known. In may ways the West actually IS the East (particularly in Europe) in all but a geographical sense.
Whenever I hear or read of the 'Clash of Civilizations' and the 'backwardness' of Islam (attitudes it is unfortunately currently possible to sometimes encounter) I always think of facts like these and it is perhaps a good thing to make them better known. Anybody have any thoughts?
Jonathan of Head Heeb fame is convening the third annual blogburst for Arrival Day. Arrival Day commemorates the arrival of Jews to old New Amsterdam, and each year, the burst has a theme. According to Jonathan, “this year, the focus is on American Jews as part - or, more accurately, parts - of a larger whole.”
After last year's Arrival Day I read Philip Roth's Operation Shylock - no causal relationship. In it, Roth's protagonist, Philip Roth #2 (you really need to read the book) preaches an idea he calls “diasporism,” as a counter to Zionism. Now, regardless of what thinks of Zionism as a political and/or religious philosophy, diasporism takes that idea to it's logical extreme and flips it on its head. According to Roth #2, Zionism is an extreme form of ghettoization exercised on the Jewish community by itself, and as such, almost guarantees the death of the Jewish community. The only hope for keeping the faith and culture (he uses the term with several conditions) alive is for Jews to live all over the world. By being spread out everywhere, Jews have more of a chance of being accepted because they will be known, not just an Other. He also talks about the Jewish tradition gaining its vibrancy by being extroverted and interacting with different communities; the isolation of Zionism causes an “inbreeding” (my word, not his) of the Jewish tradition that eventually weakens it and makes it ill-suited for the world around it.
I think Roth, the author, is implicitly making an observation about the world we live in now. How did we get here? As much as there is a sense of defined and definable cultures, for example as presented in the clash of civilizations thesis, the reality is that cultures are in constant contact with one another, and it is this contact that has created the world as we know it. What we argue about now is not the reality of our situation, but how we interact and get along. Those who would argue to maintain an imagined purity see conflict and strife as the logical outcome of interaction, and need to erect barriers to keep that imagined level of purity. As facile as it sounds, the only way to break down those barriers is to make them impossible to keep. For example, Who You? recently posted about Muslim Boy Scouts, and it is that being in the world that we need. I know this sounds like platitudes and simplicity, but to me the ideas are so simple that I can't complicate them.
Rachel over at Velveteen Rabbi talks about the inter-faith dialogue she sees in the Jewish Diaspora, and in my mind it's very much a causal relationship. You cannot have productive conversations in an insular world. The greatest periods in Islamic history were period were ones of cultural and religious openness; Europe brought itself out of the dark ages through trade (too Marxist an idea?).
So where does the Jewish community belong? The same place any faith community belongs: everywhere. Look at Kurban Said, author of Ali and Nino. He was Jew who wrote about a Muslim man loving a Christian woman so convincingly everybody assumes he was one of them.
We all need our own diasporas. Sometimes from place. Sometimes from time. But always from where we are.
Great piece, continuing in the vein of Asians and East Africa. If you haven't seen Mississippi Masala, I do recommend it as it is the only film I know of that deals with the twice-migrant Asian community.