Thursday, 5 December 2013

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Monday, 21 October 2013

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

How bathroom posture affects your health.

Don't Just Sit There!

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.
Shortly before Christmas in 1978, the leader of the free world came down with a severe case of hemorrhoids. The pain was so bad that President Carter had to take a day off from work. A few weeks later, Time Magazine asked a proctologist named Michael Freilich to explain the president's ailment."We were not meant to sit on toilets," he said, "we were meant to squat in the field." He's probably right.
Michael Freilich isn't the first doctor to suggest that sitting on toilets—a recent phenomenon, stemming from the invention of the flush toilet in 1591—might be unhealthy. By the 1960s and '70s, the idea was relatively commonplace. Architect Alexander Kira argued in his 1966 book The Bathroomthat human physiology is better suited to the squat. According to Bockus's Gastroenterology, a standard medical textfrom 1964"the ideal posture for defecation is the squatting position, with the thighs fixed upon the abdomen."
Modern-day squat evangelists make money off the claim that a "more natural" posture wards off all sorts of health problems, from Crohn's disease to colon cancer. InventorJonathan Isbit runs a modest online business selling Nature's Platform—a homemade, $150 device that fits over toilets to make them more like holes in the ground. * (He alsoposted the Bockus quote above to the Wikipedia entry on defecation.) Other entrepreneurs peddle similar products, like the In-Lieu, the Lillipad, the Evaco toilet converter, and, for those who don't like explaining their squat platform to house guests,   a $688 Singaporean toilet that lets users switch among different squatting and sitting postures, from the "East Asian squat" to the "aft sit."* (Confused? Watch thevideo.)
That may sound like a bunch of Internet quackery, but there's now some empirical evidence for the claim that defecation posture affects your body. The more extreme assertions about squatting—that it prevents cancer, for example—remain untested. But when it comes to hemorrhoids—a painful swelling of the veins in the anal canal that affects half of all Americans—new research suggests that you may want to get your butt off the toilet.
Before we dive into the data, let's review the mechanics of going to the bathroom. People can control their defecation, to some extent, by contracting or releasing the anal sphincter. But that muscle can't maintain continence on its own. The body also relies on a bend between the rectum—where feces builds up—and the anus—where feces comes out. When we're standing up, the extent of this bend, called the anorectal angle, is about 90 degrees, which puts upward pressure on the rectum and keeps feces inside. In a squatting posture, the bend straightens out, like a kink ringed out of a garden hose, and defecation becomes easier.
Proponents of squatting argue that conventional toilets produce an anorectal angle that's ill-suited for defecation. By squatting, they say, we can achieve "complete evacuation" of the colon, ridding our bowels of disease-causing toxins. But there's no reason to think that getting into a squat will make defecation more complete, nor that most people are sickened by their colons. If squatting does provide a health benefit, just as Michael Freilich stated in Time, it comes in the form of hemorrhoid prevention.
Hemorrhoids may be brought on by pregnancy, obesity, and receiving anal sex. But the main cause is straining during bowel movement. Straining increases the pressure in your abdomen, causing the veins that line your anus to swell. In hemorrhoid patients, those veins stay swollen and sometimes bleed. In theory, squatting might stave off hemorrhoids by making defecation easier, reducing the need to strain and decreasing abdominal pressure.
An Israeli doctor named Dov Sikirov tested this idea for a 2003 study published inDigestive Diseases and Sciences. He had several dozen patients defecate in each of three positions: sitting on a 16-inch-high toilet, sitting on a 12-inch-high toilet, and squatting over a plastic container. He asked his subjects to record how long each bowel movement took and rate the effort required on a four-point scale ranging from effortless to difficult. Sikirov found that, when squatting, subjects averaged a mere 51 seconds to move their bowels, versus 130 seconds when sitting on a high toilet. And as they moved from a sit to a squat, subjects were more likely to rate the experience as easier.
Then last year, a group of Japanese doctors extended Sikirov's findings by looking at what happens inside the body while people squat and sit. For a study published in the medical journal Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms, six subjects had their rectums filled with a contrast solution and then released the fluid from a squatting or a sitting position while being filmed with X-ray video. Image analysis showed that the anorectal angle increased from 100 degrees to 126 degrees as the subjects moved from a sit to a squat. The researchers also recorded abdominal pressure, and found that the subjects were straining less when they squatted.
Of course, it's one thing to show that squatting streamlines defecation and reduces hemorrhoid risk. It's another to actually move your bowels while you squat. But how hard could it be? For most of human history—several hundred thousand years—we've squatted. Today, 1.2 billion people squat because they simply don't have a toilet, while many, many more in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe use toilets designed specifically for squatting. And for 28 years—from his junior year at Yale in 1970 to the moment when he completed the first Nature's Platform prototype in 1998—Jonathan Isbit "perched," as he put it, squatting on the rim of toilet seats. So I decided to try it—each morning for a week, following a bowl of corn flakes and a cup of coffee.
Besides tipping over, there's little danger in squatting over a modern sit toilet. Both American Standard and Kohler say that floor-mounted toilets are designed to hold at least 1,000 pounds. (Still, neither company recommends perching.) The American Society for Engineers requires that wall-mounted toilets hold 500 pounds. But squatting on your toilet seat is not for everybody. Even when I was holding onto a towel rack, the situation felt precarious. A bedpan or a plastic container would have been easier, but I didn't have the former and the latter seemed gross. So I forged ahead, pushing through the week—or, as it turned out, not pushing: Bowel movements just seem to happen in a squat. My 10-minute routine dropped to a minute, two at the most, and within a few days my knees stopped complaining.
Although the week is now over, I'll probably squat again. At the very least, I gained an hour over seven days. It seems doubtful, though, that squatting, even if it helps hemorrhoids, will become the next back-to-nature craze—the new barefoot running shoe or caveman diet. Sit toilets, in the short term at least, are more comfortable than the squat toilets you might find in Europe. In fact, since Jimmy Carter's bout of hemorrhoids sit toilets have actually grown in height, pushing the anorectal angle in the wrong direction. Standard models, 14 inches from floor to rim, now compete with "comfort height" toilets that tower more than 17 inches of the floor. Americans, now fatter than ever, are having trouble standing up from a sit, never mind a squat.
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Correction, Aug. 27, 2010: This article originally misspelled the first name of Jonathan Isbit. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Correction, Sept. 13, 2010: The original sentence described the $688 toilet as being Japanese. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Dragon Harald Fairhair. The construction of a Viking Dragon Ship

Albert Einstein Quote :

"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible" 

Physics and Reality(1936), in Ideas and Opinions, trans. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Bonanza, 1954), p292

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Advert for The Imam of the Grand Mosque in Istanbul

While browsing the internet I came across a job advertisement for the grand mosque is Istanbul. Below is an official a advert for the position of Imam of the Grand Mosque in Istanbul at the time of Sultan Suleyman who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 – 1566.

  1. To have mastered the languages of Arabic, Latin, Turkish and Persian.
  1. To have mastered the Qur’an, the bible and the torah.
  1. To be a scholar in Shari’ah and Fiqh.
  1. To have mastered physics and mathematics up to teaching standard.
  1. To be a master of chivalry, archery, duelling and the arts of Jihad.
  1. To be of a handsome countenance.
  1. To have a strong melodious voice.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

From Homeless to Ivy League: The Story of Walid Rahman

Walid Rahman was homeless from the time he was 4 until he was 10. He moved from couch to couch as his family struggled to earn a living while caring for Walid’s terminally ill father.
But Walid, an 18-year-old senior at Townsend Harris High School in Queens, refused to let any of that stop him. He is determined to find a cure to beat his father’s illness. The first step for him is getting out of poverty and getting into a top college. Even though there are over 70,000 seniors this year who are like Walid — low-income and qualified to attend a top college — they make up only 3% of the population at elite colleges and universities.

The odds are stacked against him.
Hard Beginnings
Despite the Rahmans’ numerous hardships, the family considers their circumstances a blessing from God.
The Rahmans, originally from Bangladesh, feared for their lives during Walid’s childhood. A criminal blackmailed the family, leaving them the choice to give up their business and lose everything or have Walid kidnapped. For Mr. Rahman, the choice was obvious.
His family believed they could rebuild their lives in the United States. They entered the visa lottery and were chosen.
When the family arrived in America, they had nothing.
“Literally we lost everything and my parents’ education was worth nothing. They both had engineering degrees but to be engineers in the United States they would have to go back to school for years which we could never afford,” Walid said.
Mr. Rahman got a job as a busboy. But his severe beta-thalassemia, a rare blood disorder that almost always spells death by 25, made him unable to keep the job.
“I was in so much pain I knew I would die if I kept going. Just working for that one week meant I was bedridden for a month,” Mr. Rahman said.
Mr. Rahman is a medical miracle. He has outlived his prognosis by over 20 years. A devout Muslim, he attributes his success largely to his faith in God.
Mr. Rahman applied for Supplemental Security Income for Americans with disabilities but was denied. He looked healthy externally, but internally, he was on the verge of dying.
While appealing the decision, Mr. Rahman took up work as a taxicab driver, though he and his doctor knew the work was causing him severe bodily harm.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Rahman was caring for a newborn, also unable to work.
The family has almost no income so they stayed with distant friends and moved from house to house for years. This meant Walid had to move from school to school. He struggled to keep up with his peers and the constant changes to his curriculum.
“I could never predict anything,” Walid said.
Despite all of these hardships, Walid is still devout in his faith. The family treats every experience and every struggle as a gift from God who is always watching over them. The family calls moving to America a miracle.
“My father told me, ‘miracles are everywhere, we just have to keep our eyes open for them,’” Walid said.
A New Purpose
As Walid watched his father grow more and more ill, nearly dying on a number of occasions, he became angry.
“It wasn’t fair that I had to go through all of this. I had to care for my family and watch my father struggle to survive. And I was only a teenager,” Walid stated.
He wanted to find a cure. He was determined.
Walid decided then that he wanted to become a hematologist and find a cure, or at least a better treatment, for thalassemia. He is rebuilding his dreams around his father.
To become a doctor, Walid knew he needed to attend a top university with excellent research opportunities and a strong alumni network. Getting to that next step became Walid’s life purpose.
But Walid had not always been a good student.
The lack of stability in his life coupled with the inconsistency in his schooling made learning quite difficult. At one school he was the top of his class but at the next school he felt as if he was years behind. Walid nearly failed the second grade.
Mrs. Rahman spent the entire summer after second grade drilling Walid, trying to help him catch up. But still, Walid often felt like an academic failure.
“In seventh grade I had the meanest teacher in the world. She would ask me so many questions it was almost like harassment. I got so angry that I just started answering the questions. Answering all of them correctly. That’s when things changed,” Walid said.
He started working hard and emerged at the top of his class but knew that if he wanted to be admitted to a good high school, he was going to have to study hard. He prepared for months on his own for the Specialized High School Admissions Test, an exam that students from all five boroughs of New York take to qualify them for the most selective high schools. But unlike most of his peers, he couldn’t afford the pricey preparation programs.
He came up just shy of qualifying for Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, his first two choices and arguably two of the best high schools in the nation. He was devastated when he was denied.
“I was so disappointed. I felt like I had failed. But I refused to let failure stop me,” Walid said.
He ultimately decided to attend Townsend Harris High School, a magnet school attached to Queens College in Flushing, New York.
Walid was excited by the rigorous curriculum at Townsend Harris.
His school teachers advised him to consider engineering as a track as it looked very appealing to medical schools. He joined his school’s FIRST Robotics team and dove into engineering with passion.
“I had role models in FIRST. I wanted to strive to be like them. But to be like them I needed good connections and a fantastic education with lots of research opportunities,” Walid said. He knew he needed to attend a top college. But, getting to a selective school isn’t easy, especially for those who don’t have many resources.
In his sophomore year, Walid scored 180 out of 240 points on his PSAT, above the 90th percentile. But Walid was dissatisfied with his score.
“I would not settle. I refused to settle for another 180.”
Walid studied on his own all summer before his junior year. He didn’t take any classes or hire any tutors. They were far too expensive for his family. Instead Walid checked a workbook out of the library and took practice test after practice test.
He got back his PSAT score junior year. 213. The 99th percentile.
“Two-thirteen was good, but not nearly good enough.”
He studied more than eight hours a week for several months before taking his SAT. Over the winter break, he studied nearly four hours a day.
“The moment I woke up on the day my test scores came back, a sense of foreboding swept over me. I read my prayers, told my mom to leave the room, and clicked on the link to see my scores. I literally said, ‘Oh my God!’ and then called my mom in. I got a 2310, above the 99th percentile,” Walid said.
Despite being excited, he never let himself get too comfortable.
“Even after my high SAT score, I decided not to get filled with hubris. I knew that a good essay could mean everything,” Walid said. He had a B-minus in his Spanish class which he was sure spelled rejection to any top college. The essay was the only way he could compensate for the lackluster grade.
In the summer before his senior year, Walid committed himself to starting his college essays. He found a group of students on the internet who were just like him, extremely talented but very low-income. They bounced ideas off each other trying to figure out how to best convey who they were.
But, he struggled with actually writing his ideas down on paper. He waited for the perfect moment.
“The moment happened to be 3 am. I was listening to Chopin in E Flat Major and was thinking about my past. I was eating a mango for Sehri, which is the time period in which we eat right before fasting during Ramadan. I may be a pauper now, but I used to be a prince and will one day become a king. I will rise against adversity and rule my own future.”
Walid wants to develop technologies to cure thalessemia and bring them back to Bangladesh where the poor never get health care. He will not let families like his be defined by their financial circumstances.
During his junior year, Walid heard about the QuestBridge National College Match program. QuestBridge is an organization that helps low-income students from across the world secure full scholarships at the nation’s most elite colleges like Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. The scholarship is highly selective and more difficult than securing admissions to these prestigious institutions.
In September, Walid was named a finalist for the National College Match. Finalists are able to apply to colleges through QuestBridge, giving them the change to secure the full scholarships to the most prestigious colleges in the world.
“I jumped, screamed and hugged my father. I was extremely overjoyed. But I knew this wasn’t the end. I was only halfway there. There were 4500 people named Finalist, and most likely less than 400 students would be matched,” Walid remembered.
Walid spent months crafting his application, trying to demonstrate who he was as a person to each college.
“I had to be introspective. I had to realize myself. The essays and supplements, there were a lot of them, but I always somehow knew how to answer them after good thinking. It felt like a game of chess,” Walid said.
The Waiting Game
He was so excited to be finished with his applications, but knew he had to stay level headed. He knew that what he had done had the power to determine his next four years.
“Some people who knew me well believed in me. Others wanted me to fail. But I didn’t let any of that get to me. I knew that whatever was going to happen, I would do anything to find a cure for my dad’s disease. College was just a way of getting there,” Walid said.
He knew he would end up somewhere. And even if he failed, he knew he would find a way to get where he needed to go.
When November 30th rolled around, Walid knew in his heart that he would hear good news. “I had the best feeling in my stomach. The feeling I would have right before a science competition. And whenever I had this feeling, I would win,” Walid said.
“Before I left home, I touched my parents’ feet for their blessings,” Walid explained. In Islam, touching an elder’s feet is the ultimate sign of respect and deference.
He would hear back that evening.
On his way home from school he was nearly attacked on the bus by a gang of students from a nearby high school. But, the excitement of hearing back from colleges meant he wasn’t even very afraid. Walid managed to convince them they had the wrong kid.
When he got home, he immediately logged into his QuestBridge account. “I closed my eyes and knew this was both the end and the beginning.”
He clicked it.
Walid was admitted to his first choice college, Columbia University, via the National College Match Scholarship.
“Getting into Columbia is the realization of a four-year dream. It’s the success of a cab driver who can no longer work. It’s the manifestations of the blessings my dying grandparents gave to me in their final moments. But more importantly, it’s the start of a new adventure and the road to something unfulfilled: finding a cure.”
But the Rahman family knows that not everyone like Walid is so lucky.
Mr. Rahman humbly said, “our lives have been a series of miracles. We are extremely fortunate people.”
Looking Forward
On Tuesday Mr. Rahman was admitted the hospital again. His prognosis does not look good, but then again it never has.
Walid said, “My father [landing in the hospital] wasn’t unexpected, he’s been miraculously alive for almost 25 years, but I have to stay strong. I will always be there for my mother and brother.”
Despite the fear that encapsulates this family every day, Walid lets trying events like this motivate him to achieve his goals.
“Every time my father gets sick, it reminds me of how important it is for me to find a cure. I will do it for my family,” Walid said.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Amazing Grace - John Newton

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

50 - 50 by Langston Hughes

I’m all alone in this world, she said,
Ain’t got nobody to share my bed,
Ain’t got nobody to hold my hand—
The truth of the matter’s
I ain’t got no man.

Big Boy opened his mouth and said,
Trouble with you is
You ain’t got no head!
If you had a head and used your mind
You could have me with you
All the time.

She answered, Babe, what must I do?

He said, Share your bed—
And your money, too. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Shaykh Ramdhan al Buti and the Unfortunate Girl

Sheikh Ramadan al-Buti mentioned this incident:

One day a few years ago, there walked into my office at the College of Islamic Law a young woman who was feigning a hijab- or so it appeared to me- by covering part of her hair. She requested my permission to sit down and tell me about her situation in the hope that I might point her to a way out of her dilemma or aid her in finding a solution.

Her story in short was that she had been brought up in a household which had no understanding of the meaning of religion and which lived by none of its values. She received her education and cultural conditioning first in the schools, then in the university, without anyone to watch over her or advice her in a spirit of compassion and concern. She said, “From the time I started high school, boys started hovering around me, showing admiration for me and pushing me to be more ‘liberated’ in the way I looked and acted.

“So,” she continued, “I went along with all this, and my heart turned into a kind of ‘hotel room’ that was occupied by one boy after another.

“When I went to the university I got even more involved with young men, and they all liked my liberated style. At the same time, there was constant pressure on me to ‘liberate’ myself even more and strive for self-fulfillment. During this same period of time, I got attached to a guy that I felt I’d come to love, and my feelings for him took over my whole being. He used to assure me of his sincere love for me and attachment to me, so I suggested that he approach my family about getting engaged. His response to my suggestion was positive and enthusiastic. He said that marriage was what he had in mind and that he would approach my family about the matter in the near future. As a result of this growing trust, our relationship grew even stronger and deeper. Then during one of our trysts, he managed to take from me the most precious thing I possessed. I’d been sure of his love and trusted his promises, and I’d believed my dreams that he was the one I could depend on and come to for protection.” 

“What happened during that one meeting happened again on other occasions and I started reminding him about the matter of our getting engaged and urging him to hurry in fulfilling his promise to me. As for him, he started putting me off and making excuses which I realized only later he was just making up.”

“Finally during one of our times together, I demanded that he do what he had promised me with regard to talking to me family about our engagement. In response, he looked at me contemptuously and said “When I decide to get married, I’ll look got an honorable girl, not one who makes herself into a plaything for all the guys.”

“What he said that day cut me to the quick. It was like a shout that wakened me out of a long deep sleep to find myself surrounded by a crowd of ‘playboys’ who only wanted to make sport of me. I saw that I was a stranger in this world, even to my family, who had let me wander about aimlessly with no one to show me the way. Even so, I know that if I told them what had happened as a result of their neglect and lack of concern, I’d be certain to face the worst fate imaginable.”

Then, with great emotion, she said “I know for sure now that if I had protected myself with the principles and wise counsel of Islam, no impostor could have taken advantage of me and I would have continued to have both happiness and honor. And now I don’t know what to do.”

I said to her, “Was it necessary for you to put God’s commands to the test and plunge headlong into this devastating experience in order to arrive at this certainty? Wouldn’t it have been enough to realize ahead of time that this religion, in essence, is nothing but the wise admonitions of the God who is the most Merciful of the merciful? Through these admonitions, God addresses His honored servants so that they can find happiness in the care and nurture they give and in the protection which they provide from all harm.”

“You turned away from God over the past years, preferring to be led astray by the deceit of wanton, disreputable individuals rather than to be obedient to His commands and precepts. Even so, you’ll find Him to be the only true Friend capable of comforting you in your alienation and of delivering you from your misery and pain. All it will cost you to find Him is for you to be reconciled with Him in sincerity and to obey His commands to the best of your ability and with confidence and assurance.”

She said to me, “From now on, I promise God in repentance and remorse to obey His commands and submit to all His judgments. Never again will I pay attention to Satan’s deception, and I won’t give into any sort of passion or enticement.”

I said to her, “Come by to see me from time to time, and I feel confident that God will provide you a way out of your difficult.”

Then, in an extraordinary demonstration of God’s grace, only three or four days later I was visited by a young man who had come to complain to me that he felt the need to get married but hadn’t been able to find the right girl with the religious commitment that he wanted in a life partner. It was apparent that the young man was devout himself and committed to Islam based on genuine awareness and understanding.

So I asked him, “Would you be willing to consider a young woman with a pleasant appearance and whose religious faith and conduct you can be assured of? By marrying her you would merit a reward the likes of which only the most righteous attain, and I’m willing to vouch for the marriage myself.”

“Yes!” he replied enthusiastically. “Who is she?”

I then told him the girl’s story just as she had recounted it to me, and I assured him of my confidence in the sincerity of her repentance. As I spoke, he grew more and more happy and enthusiastic and in the end, he gave me the go-ahead to handle the matter as I saw fit.

Glory be to the One Who changes people’s hearts! Praise be to my merciful, loving Lord, who opened people’s minds and brought this union to pass, wiping away the crushing sorrow that had threatened to quench the spirit of this unfortunate girl who had fallen victim to profiteers- profiteers of the call to “progress “ and the warning against “backwardness.”
In short, God gave me success in bringing these two together. In a single introductory session, they established a dialogue, affirmed their confidence in each other and exchanged pledges. The young man then arranged with her family for their engagement in the customary manner and God joined them in comfortable, happy marriage beneath the protective umbrella of mutual commitment to His blessed teachings. Truly did God speak when He declared, “O you who have believed, respond to Allah and to the Messenger when he call you to that which gives you live” (8:24).

Taken from Ramadan al-Buti’s book “Women between the tyranny of the western system and the mercy of the Islamic law”(pages 246-251)

May Allah have mercy upon him.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Friday, 3 May 2013

Inside Darul Uloom Deoband Part 2

Inside Darul Uloom Deoband

Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global

The Arab world has given birth to many thinkers and many inventions - among them the three-course meal, alcohol and coffee. The best coffee bean is still known as Arabica, but it's come a long way from the Muslim mystics who treasured it centuries ago, to the chains that line our high streets.
Think coffee, and you probably think of an Italian espresso, a French cafe au lait, or an American double grande latte with cinnamon.
Perhaps you learned at school that the USA became a nation of coffee drinkers because of the excise duty King George placed on tea? Today ubiquitous chains like Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Costa grace every international airport, and follow the now much humbler Nescafe as symbols of globalisation. 
Coffee is produced in hot climates like Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia, and you could be forgiven if you thought it is a product from the New World like tobacco and chocolate. After all, all three became popular in Europe at more or less the same time, in the 16th and 17th Centuries. In fact, coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea - Yemen and Ethiopia.

Qahwa originally meant wine, and Sufi mystics in Yemen used coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.

By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554.

In Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul attempts were made to ban it by religious authorities. Learned shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol, and some remarked that passing round the coffee pot had something in common with the circulation of a pitcher of wine, a drink forbidden in Islam.

Coffee houses were a new institution in which men met together to talk, listen to poets and play games like chess and backgammon. They became a focus for intellectual life and could be seen as an implicit rival to the mosque as a meeting place.

Some scholars opined that the coffee house was "even worse than the wine room", and the authorities noted how these places could easily become dens of sedition. However, all attempts at banning coffee failed, even though the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-40). The religious scholars eventually came to a sensible consensus that coffee was, in principle, permissible.
Coffee spread to Europe by two routes - from the Ottoman Empire, and by sea from the original coffee port of Mocha.

Both the English and Dutch East India Companies were major purchasers at Mocha in the early 17th Century, and their cargoes were brought home via the Cape of Good Hope or exported to India and beyond. They seem, however, to have only taken a fraction of Yemeni coffee production - as the rest went north to the rest of the Middle East.
Coffee also arrived in Europe through trade across the Mediterranean and was carried by the Turkish armies as they marched up the Danube. As in the Middle East, the coffee house became a place for men to talk, read, share their opinions on the issues of the day and play games.
Another similarity was that they could harbour gatherings for subversive elements. Charles II denounced them in 1675 as "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers".
A century later Procope, the famous Parisian coffee house, had such habitues as Marat, Danton and Robespierre who conspired together there during the Revolution.
At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and that it should therefore be baptised.
Austrian coffee drinking is said to have received a big boost when the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 was broken, and the European victors captured huge coffee supplies from the vanquished.
Perhaps that is why, to this day, coffee is served in Vienna with a glass of water - just like the tiny cups of powerful Turkish coffee with its heavy sediment in Istanbul, Damascus or Cairo. Is this just a coincidence, or a long forgotten cultural borrowing?

Paddy Ashdown: The global power shift

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Monday, 8 April 2013

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Hans Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) The Mawlid of the Prophet Muhammad

The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), famous for his stories and fairy tales, also captured his journeys abroad in a number of travelogues. The lengthy excerpt reproduced here recounts a visit to Istanbul (Constantinople) on the occasion of the birthday celebration, or Mawlid, for the Prophet Muhammad. He also recounts the public procession of the Sultan and his entourage from the Serail (meaning Topkapı Saray or Palace). The account gives yet another interesting outsider perspective on Ottoman life and society.

he following passage is found in an 1889 publication entitled Stories for the Household as are the two images (pp. 829 & 845 respectively) in this post:
THE fourth of April is the birthday of the Prophet. Already on the eve of that day the celebration began; and to say the truth, the performance on the eve was the prettiest part of the festivity. I considered it unfortunate that the night happened to be moonlight, and that the Osmanli police regulations demanded that every one who went out after sundown should carry a light in a lantern; but I was obliged to submit, for the police regulation could not be altered, nor could the moonlight. A young Russian named Aderhas and I associated ourselves together, and, without a companion, but duly provided with a light in a great paper lantern, we sallied forth to behold the illumination in honour of the Prophet.
“We went through a narrow street of Pera, and before us lay a scene of fantastic beauty, such as we can only see in the North in a wondrous dream. From the row of houses near which we stood down towards the bay extended a churchyard, that is to say, a cypress grove, with thick dark trees ; and dark night rested upon it. Over rough hills, downwards among the tall trees, winds the path which the footsteps of men and the hoofs of horses have worn, sometimes among the tombs, sometimes among fallen grave-stones. Here and there a blue lantern was seen moving to and fro, which soon disappeared, to reappear shortly upon the black background of the picture.
In the churchyard a few lonely houses lie scattered, and the lights glimmered from the upper windows, or were carried to and fro upon the balconies.
Beyond the cypress-tops shone, blue as a Damascene blade, the Gulf with its many ships. Two of these, the largest, were richly ornamented with burning lamps, which glittered around the portholes, the masts, and the guns also, or were hung in the rigging, which shone like a spangled net. Just before us lay the town itself, the great far-spreading Constantinople, with its countless minarets all wreathed with garlands of lamps. The air was still red with the sheen of the setting sun, but so clear and transparent that the mountains of Asia, and Olympus, covered with perpetual snow, showed their sharp broken outlines like a silver-white cloud behind the glorious city. The moonlight did not deaden the splendour of the lamps, but only brought out the minarets in relief, till they looked like gigantic flower-stalks crowned with blossoms of flame. The smaller minarets had one starry wreath, the larger two, and the largest of all three, one over the other.
 Not a human being was to be seen in our neighbourhood, all was lonely and still. We wandered down among the cypresses; a nightingale was raising its flute-like voice, and turtle-doves cooed among the shadows of the trees. “We came past a little sentry-house, built of planks, and painted red; a little fire had been kindled in front of it, among the gravestones, and soldiers were reclining around it. They were dressed in European garb; but their complexion and features proclaimed them of Ishmael’s race, children of the desert. With long pipes in their mouths, they lay and listened to a story. This story was about Mahomet’s birth.
The nightingale translated it for us, or we should not have understood it. Here it is:
La illah il Allah!” “There is no God but God!” In the city of Mecca the merchants assembled for the sake of traffic; thither came Egyptian, and Persian, and Indian, and Syrian dealers. Each one had his idol in the temple Kabba, and a son of Ishmael’s race filled the highest office, namely, that of satisfying the hunger of the pilgrims and quenching their thirst. In his piety he wished, like Abraham, to offer up his son as a sacrifice; but the prophetess declared that the handsome Abdallah should live, and a hundred camels were sacrificed in his stead. “La illah il Allah!
And Abdallah grew to be a man, and was so handsome that a hundred maidens died for love of him. The prophetic flame shone on his forehead, the flame which passed hidden from race to race, until the Prophet was born, Mahomet, the first and the last. The prophetess Fatima saw this flame, and she offered a hundred camels if he would be her husband; but he married Amina, and the prophetic flame vanished from his forehead and burned in Amina’s heart. “La illah il Allah!
And the next year came round; the flowers had never been so sweet as they were this year, never had the fruits on the trees swelled with, such abundance of juice; and the rocks trembled, and the lake Sava sank into the earth, the idols fell down in the temple, and the demons, who wanted to storm the heavens, fell from the sky like millions of shooting stars, hurled down by the mighty hand that wielded the lance; for in that night Mahomet the Prophet was born. “La illah il Allah!
This was the story the nightingale translated for us, for the nightingale understands Turkish just as well as our own language.
We went forth beneath the tower of Pera, out to the convent of the dancing dervishes, and a beauteous panorama met our view. The whole Sea of Marmora lay before us, lighted up by the rays of the moon, and in the mid-distance Scutari [Üsküdar] stood forth, its minarets gleaming with many lamps like those of Constantinople. The Mosque of St. Sophia with its four, and the Mosque of Ahmed with its six minarets, stood forth in especial splendour, each pinnacle crowned with a double or a triple garland of glittering stars. They seemed to surround the garden of the Serail, which stretched down towards the Bosphorus, dark as a starless night. No light shone in the palace of the sultanas near the shore; but there where the Golden Horn ends, a sword of flame had been reared, that threw a ruddy glow over the waters. Innumerable little boats, gaily decked out with red, green, or blue paper lanterns, darted like fireflies between the shores of the two continents. All the great line-of-battle ships blazed with lamps; every ship, nay, every rope and spar, could be clearly seen, the outlines drawn in fiery colours. Scutari and Stamboul seemed united by the gleaming water with its rows of shining sparks. It was a fairy city, a city of the fancy, with a magic haze poured forth over it; and only two points were covered by mysterious darkness: in Asia the great churchyard behind Scutari; in Europe, the garden of the Serail. Night and dreams lay brooding over both spots the dead heroes are dreaming of the maidens of Paradise, and in the night of the Serail the dreams are those of earthly beauties, charming and fair as the houris of Paradise.
The streets of Pera were filled with a throng of Greeks, Jews, and Franks, each carrying his lantern or his candle. It was an Oriental procession ofMoccoli; but the costumes were far more correct, more rich and varied, than those in the Corso of Rome on the last evening of the Carnival. In front of the palaces of the foreign ministers lamps were burning, erected in the form of pyramids, or in a great M, the initial letter of the Prophet’s name. At nine o’clock cannon were fired from all the ships; there was a thundering din, like that of a sea-fight; all the windows shook; shot after shot boomed forth, announcing the hour at which the Prophet was born.
I fell asleep amid the thunder of the cannon, and was awaked early by the same sound. Merry music of Rossini and Donizetti sounded through the streets: the troops were marching on, to be paraded between the Serail and the Mosque of Ahmed, whither the Sultan was about to proceed in state.
The Danish Consul, Romain, an Italian, came to fetch me. A young Turk, with pistols in his girdle and two long tobacco-pipes an his hand, walked before us; an old Armenian, in a dark blue fluttering caftan, and a black jar-shaped hat on his shaven head, came after us, carrying our cloaks; and thus we strolled through the main street of Pera, down towards Galata. The servants stepped into a boat, we two embarked in another, and now we rowed across the Gulf, darting swiftly among hundreds of others, whose rowers shouted and howled at each other, as one or other of the boats ran the risk of being swamped. At the landing-place in Constantinople the mass of gondolas formed a huge swaying bridge, across which we had to skip, to reach the firm land, which is bordered by decayed planks and beams. The crowd was great, but soon we came to a broad side street. Here were many people, but there was room enough. Great crowds of veiled women wended along the same way with us, and soon we had arrived under the walls of the Serail, which are very high towards the town, and look like the walls of an old fortress. Here and there is a tower, with a little door, which looks as if it had never been opened; the hinges were covered with grass and climbing plants. Great old trees stretched their leafy branches across the old walls; one could fancy one’s self on the borders of the forest in which sleeps the enchanted Princess.
We chose our position in front of the Mosque of St. Sophia, between the great fountain and the entrance to the Serail. From this point the Mosque of St. Sophia, with its numerous cupolas and subsidiary buildings, has a whimsical resemblance to a great flower-bulb to which several smaller bulbs have attached themselves. The terraces in the foreground were thronged with Turkish women and children, and the shining white veils worn by the former gave the scene quite a festive air. The fountain behind us is the largest and most beautiful in Constantinople. With the name “fountain” we usually associate the idea of a basin with a jet of water plashing up from it; but in Turkey fountains have a very different appearance; and a more correct idea of their appearance will be obtained by imagining a square house, whose walls are quite Pompeian in their variegated richness of colour: the white groundwork is painted with inscriptions from the Koran in red, blue, and gilt letters; and from little niches, to which brazen basins are fastened, the consecrated water ripples forth, with which the Mussulman bathes his hands and face at certain hours of the day. The roof is painted and gilt with quite a Chinese richness of colour. The dove, the sacred bird of the Turks, builds its nest here: in hundreds they flew over our heads, to and fro between the fountain and the Mosque of St. Sophia.
All around were a number of Turkish coffee-houses, all built of wood, with balconies, almost like the Swiss houses in appearance, but more gaudy and less solid: before each there stretched a little plantation of trees; and all these plantations were occupied by smoking and coffee-drinking Turks, who quite lit up the gardens and the fronts of the houses with their bright-coloured caftans: some of them wore turbans, others fez caps. Between the fountain and the great gate leading into the forecourt of the Serail, two long scaffolds had been erected of boards placed on tubs and tables. The second of these was higher than the first, and on the lower one veiled Turkish women of the lowest class were reclining. Old Turks, Persians, and a few Frankish strangers, whose unveiled women were objects of universal attention, held their station on the upper platform. Now appeared several regiments of Turkish soldiers, all dressed in European fashion, in tight trousers and close jackets, white cross-belts across their chests, and red fez caps on their heads. The guards made a very good appearance in their new uniforms, with tight stock and collars; and, as I was told, they wore gloves to-day for the first time. Some of the other regiments seemed in most lamentable plight: not only were the men of all possible complexions, white, brown, and coal-black soldiers all mingled together, but some of them were lame, and others had club feet. Their European uniforms were too tight for them, consequently the majority had ripped up the seam of the sleeves at the elbow, and many had cut their trousers at the knee, that they might move their legs with greater freedom; consequently naked elbows were seen protruding all along the line, and during the march many a red, brown, or black knee protruded from the blue trouser. Especially remarkable was one regiment, which I might almost call the “barefoot warriors,” for some of them had only one boot and one shoe, while others shuffled along with bare feet thrust into slippers of different colours. Amid a din of military music, they all marched into the courtyard of the Serail, and, after defiling before the Sultan, came back and drew up in line along both sides of the way: Ethiopians and Bulgarians stood side by side, and the Bedouin became the neighbour of the shepherd’s son from the Balkan.
At ten o’clock the procession was to begin; but it was nearly twelve before the Sultan thought fit to leave the Serail. The sun shone warm as in summer; cup after cup of coffee was quaffed, and once or twice the lower platform gave way, and all the Turkish women tumbled down in a heap. It was a long time to wait. Until within a few years, it was the custom to bring out to this spot the heads of those who had been decapitated in the courtyard of the Serail, and to throw them to the dogs; but everything looked peaceable enough now. Young Turks who could speak a little French or Italian began a conversation with us and with other Franks, and showed the greatest willingness to explain to us whatever they thought might excite our interest. Below us, in front of the walls of the Serail, lay spread the Sea of Marmora, enlivened with many a sail, and glittering in the sunshine; and high up, in the background, the snow-covered mountain-peaks of Asia glowed in the clear blue-green sky. I had never before seen this grassy glimmer in the air. A young Turk, who told me he had been born on the banks of the Euphrates, assured me that yonder the sky sometimes showed rather green than blue.
But now a cannon-shot resounded from the garden of the Serail: the procession was starting. First came a mounted military band, even the drummer and the man who played the cymbals were on horseback: the latter musician let the reins hang loose on the horse’s neck, while he clashed the brazen plates in the sunlight. Now came the Sultan’s guards, as soldierly a body of men as you would see in any Christian kingdom; then a number of splendid horses were led along, without riders, but all decked in gorgeous trappings, red, blue, and green, and all powdered with jewels. The horses danced along on their strong slender legs, tossing their heads and shaking their manes, while their red nostrils quivered like the leaf of the mimosa, and more than instinct seemed to flash from their bright eyes. Now came a mounted troop of young officers, all clad in the European costume, but wearing the fez cap; they were followed by civil and military officials, all clad in the same way; and now the Grand Vizier of the empire appeared, an old man, with a long beard of snowy whiteness. Bands of music had been posted at different points, and relieved each other at intervals. In general, pieces from Rossini’s “William Tell” were played, but suddenly they were broken off, and the strains of the young Sultan’s favourite march were heard. This march had been composed by the brother of Donizetti, who has been appointed band-master here. Now came the Sultan, preceded by a troop of Arabian horses still more gorgeously caparisoned than those who had gone before. Rubies and emeralds formed rosettes for the horses’ ears; the morocco leather bridles were covered with precious stones, and saddles and saddle-cloths were wrought with pearls and jewels.
 It seemed as though we were looking on the work of a spirit of Aladdin’s lamp. Surrounded by a number of young men on foot, all displaying a feminine Oriental beauty, as if a number of Turkish women had ventured abroad without their veils, came riding on his splendid
Arab horse the young “nineteen-year-old” Sultan Abdul Medjid. He wore a green coat buttoned across the chest, and wore no ornament, except one great jewel with which the bird of Paradise feather was fastened in his red fez cap. He looked very pale and thin, had melancholy features, and fixed his dark eyes firmly on the spectators, especially on the Franks. We took off our hats and bowed; the soldiers shouted out, “Long live the Emperor!” but he made not a gesture in acknowledgment of our salutes.
 “Why does he not notice our salutes?” I inquired of a young Turk at my side. “He must have seen that we took off our hats.”
 “He looked at you,” replied the Turk; “he looked at you very closely.”
With this we had to be content, for it was considered as good as the best acknowledgment. I told the Turk that all Frankish princes acknowledged the salutes of their subjects with uncovered heads, a statement which seemed quite incredible to him. 
Pachas and other grandees of the empire now came by; then Frankish officers in the Turkish employ; and then a number of servants, male and female Turks, closed the procession. Such a crowd, such a pushing to and fro! Half-naked street boys with dingy turbans, old beggar women with ragged veils, but with coloured trousers and morocco slippers, pushed noisily through the throng.
Allah akbar!” “God is great!” they shouted, when the soldiers tried to drive them back with the butt-ends of their muskets. The whole street was like a many-coloured stream of fez caps, turbans, and veils, and on both sides, like reeds along the river’s banks, rose the glittering bayonets. Whenever parties of Franks wished to pass through the ranks of the military, Turkish officers came forward and made room for them with the greatest politeness, pushing aside their fellow-countrymen, who contented themselves with gazing upon the favoured Franks, and shouting once more, “Allah akbar!” (pp. 830-836)
Hans Christian Andersen. 1889. Stories for the Household. London: George Routledge and Sons.