Monday, 28 December 2015

A draft list of books recommended by Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa

A draft list of books recommended by Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa, collected by his students. The list is in no particular order.
  1. In the Absence of the Sacred – Jerry Mander
  2. Deep Nutrition – Catherine Shanahan
  3. On Disciplining the Soul – Al-Ghazali
  4. Breaking the Two Desires – Al-Ghazali
  5. Words and Rules – Steven Pinker
  6. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  7. The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  8. Milestones – Syed Qutb
  9. The Islamic Struggle in Syria – Dr Umar Faruq Abdullah
  10. Sea Without Shore – Shaykh Nuh Keller
  11. The Art Of Memory – Frances Yates
  12. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – John Perkins
  13. Reflections – Shaykh Gai Charles Eaton
  14. The Value of Time – Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah
  15. Autobiography of Malcolm X – Malcolm X
  16. Mastery – Roberte Greene
  17. Brainsex: The real difference between men and women – Anne Moir & David Jessel
  18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
  19. Orality and literacy – Walter J Ong
  20. How to make Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  21. In praise of slow by Carl Honore Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman
  22. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
  23. Don’t think of an Elephant – George Lakoff
  24. Dumbing us down: The hidden curriculum of complusory schooling – John Taylor Gatto
  25. Unschooled Mind – Howard Gardner
  26. Ghosts in our blood – Jan Carew
  27. God and the new Physics – Paul Davies
  28. Hidden Messages in water – Masaru Emoto
  29. The Book of five rings – Miyamoto Musashi
  30. The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember – Nicholas Carr,
  31. Mastery -George Leonard
  32. What the dog saw and other adventures – Malcolm Gladwell
  33. Who moved the stone? – Frank Morison
  34. Islam and the destiny of Man – Charles Le Gai Eaton
  35. Our Master Muhammad, The messenger of Allah – Imam ‘Abdallah Sirajuddin al-Husayni
  36. Evolution’s End: Claiming the potential of our intellgence
  37. The holographic universe – Michael Talbot
  38. How to create a mind – Ray Kurzweil
  39. The accident universe: The world you thought you knew – Alan Lightman
  40. Exploring the crack in the cosmic egg: split minds and meta-realities – Joseph Chilton Pearce
  41. Darwin’s Black box – Michael J. Behe

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Story of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s Conversion to Islam By Michael Sugich -

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

“The last time I saw him was in Los Angeles immediately after Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Israel, which had endeared the Egyptian leader to the West and branded him a traitor to the Arab and Islamic world. Shaykh Al-Azhar [Dr. Abdul Halim Mahmoud, 1973-1978] had been sent by Sadat to the US on an official visit to reach out to the Muslim community in America. He gave a talk at UCLA, where we went to meet him. We were able to sit with the Shaykh for a while and then moved with his entourage to the Central Mosque in Los Angeles. He led the prayers. I was thrilled to stand shoulder to shoulder and pray beside the legendary qari (reciter of Qur’an) Shaykh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Houssari. Shaykh Al-Azhar then gave a press conference. I remember the reporter from Newsweek asked, tongue in cheek, “Do you think that America could become a Muslim country?” Shaykh Al-Azhar answered with a twinkle in his eye, “Why not? Americans believe in God and Islam is the religion of God. It is not impossible.” How things have changed.
Outside the mosque I met him. He greeted me warmly. I told him with some pride that three people had just converted to Islam with me. He smiled sweetly and said, “Why not three hundred?” His response left me defeated. Was he teaching me humility? Was he teaching me not to be satisfied with a small achievement but to aspire to greater things? I expected a pat on the back and felt that my efforts had been dismissed by this great man.
In retrospect, it occurred to me as I was setting down these memories decades later that one of the three souls who had converted to Islam was an intense and brilliant 18 year old former theological student who subsequently learned Arabic, traveled the world in search of knowledge, sitting with many of the great men of the Way and emerged as one of the most influential Muslim thinkers and orators in the West, reaching millions and guiding thousands on the path of Islam. He is known today as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. In balance I would say he counts for three hundred, at the very least. Perhaps Shaykh Al-Azhar understood this with the eye of insight.
God knows best.”

(Michael Sugich, Signs on the Horizons)
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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Muslim Women in Granada, Spain

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Stanford Scholar explores Arabic obsession with language

Through a study of metaphor in medieval Arabic literature, Stanford comparative literature professor Alexander Key finds that the Arab world had a head start on the West when it comes to understanding how language works.

The Arab world's preoccupation with the mechanics of language has a long history.More then a millennium ago, scholars in what is now Iran were reading, thinking and writing books about how metaphors work.
Eleventh-century polymaths Raghib al-Isfahani and Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani worked to understand and explain what happens to readers when a poem compares a flash of lightning to a book being opened and closed.

illustration of scholars from 13th-century Arabic manuscript

Medieval Arabic scholars developed a sophisticated philosophy of language that can teach us much today, says comparative literature professor Alexander Key.

They wrote complex theories that detailed how our brains connect something our eyes read to something our hands touch, while at the same time processing the words on the page to help us imagine what lightning looks like.According to Alexander Key, an assistant professor of comparative literature at Stanford, these ancient academics were essentially "giving an account of human cognition through an analysis of what happens in your brain when you read a metaphor."
A scholar of literature and the intellectual history of the medieval Arab and Persian worlds, Key is fascinated by how 11th-century Arabic thinkers developed successful theories about metaphor and language.
Most significant, he says, is the fact that these scholars were working "with what appear to be basic structural assumptions about words and meanings that we just never had in the West."
"I'm struck by the many points, particularly around metaphor, where the medieval Arabs and Persians may have just done a better job than we have been managing to do with these same questions," Key said.
Key also found that the early scholars benefited from a holistic perspective. The ancients lacked the modern methodological divide between arts and sciences, and so were able to see language as a cognitive function shared between poetry and logic.
Key's latest research showcases the Arab world's unique understandings of language across grammar, logic, poetics, law and theology. The monograph connects four towering cultural figures of the Arabic 10th and 11th centuries: literary theorist Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani, philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna), literary scholar and exegete Raghib al-Isfahani and theologian and jurist Ibn al-Furak.
Key found that they shared "sets of assumptions, with an absolutely fixed, established terminology about the workings of language, which contemporary scholarship has slid over because it appears to be so commonplace."
The shared academic terminology helped medieval Arabic thinkers solidify their understanding of the relationship between words and ideas. For these scholars, Key says, such knowledge was the start of a process that presented "nothing less than the possibility of establishing a theory for everything – an account of how humanity functioned."
Over the ages, Arabic scholars have been committed to understanding the mechanics of language. "It became a scientific pursuit," said Key. And, as he pointed out, the considerable work by these theorists was a "reflection of society's obsession with language."
Beginning as early as the eighth century, Arabic educators and intellectual society in general emphasized the importance of the written and spoken word. "The philosophy of language has been a fundamental part of the Arabic curriculum for nearly a millennium," Key said.
Language also had resonance outside of purely intellectual circles. In the Middle Ages, Key said, "Politicians cared about poetry, and logicians cared about language. Literature was the source of cultural capital for everyone, and consequently it was the battleground upon which struggles over identity and power took place."

Important academic resources

Key is particularly keen to shed light on these "important academic resources," which he says are erroneously dismissed because they are assumed to be "less sophisticated than modern thought."

pages from al-Raghib's taxonomy and definitition of language from his poetics manual Afanin al Balaghah
The beginning of Raghib al-Isfahani's taxonomy and definition of language from his poetics manual, 'Afanin al-Balaghah.'

There are Arabic critiques of classical poetry from the Middle Ages that are "as advanced and complex as 20th-century critiques of English poetry," said Key.
Much as students and academics today study Aristotle to understand modern ethics, Key argues they "should study these critiques to better understand language today."
In addition to his monograph on the 11th-century philosophy of language, Key is preparing a study of the least well known of the four intellectuals, Raghib al-Isfahani. It will include the first-ever English translation and Arabic-language edition of the polymath's work on poetics.

Beyond medieval manuscripts

For Key it is important that the classroom provide students with the opportunity to appreciate and explore the originality of Arabic culture and language. In his spring 2014 seminar, Readings in Avicenna and al-Jurjani, graduate and undergraduate students from an array of fields read essential primary texts from the 10th and 11th centuries in the original Arabic.
The seminar was a valuable experience for Key, who found himself "learning relevant vocabulary for talking about cognition and syntax from a physics major, or thinking through a complicated theoretical passage with the help of the class and the whiteboard."
Said Alex Muscat, a junior studying comparative literature: "Professor Key helped us develop concrete strategies for approaching difficult texts in any language, in addition to specific techniques for how to read Arabic works. I'm now reading the Tales of 1001 Nights in the original, and although it's still a very slow process I would never have been able to even begin had I not taken Professor Key's class."
Working in the interdisciplinary environment of Stanford's humanities departments has also been crucial to the development of Key's work. "If I hadn't come to Stanford's Comparative Literature Department, I wouldn't have had the conversations I have both on the analytical philosophy side and also with people in the Poetics focal group."
Key, who has also studied literature and the Arab Spring, envisions a future project linking literary studies and philosophy of language with socio-political and cultural issues of the present.
"With North African hip-hop, for example, we are talking about a mixture of different registers of Arabic, English, French and their dynamic relation to both poetry and politics," he said. "It is another area of Arabic language and thought that I am excited to work on."

Biliana Kassabova is a doctoral candidate in French at Stanford. For more news about the humanities at Stanford, visit the Human Experience
Corrie Goldman, director of humanities communication: (650) 724-8156,
Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Jerusalem's 800-year-old Indian hospice By Daniel Silas Adamson

Courtyard of the Indian hospice

There is a little corner of Jerusalem that is forever India. At least, it has been for more than 800 years and its current custodian has plans for his family to keep the Indian flag flying for generations to come.
Around the year 1200, little more than a decade after the armies of Saladin had forced the Crusaders out of the city, an Indian dervish walked into Jerusalem.
Hazrat Farid ud-Din Ganj Shakar (or Baba Farid, as he is better known) belonged to the Chisti order of Sufis, a mystical brotherhood that still flourishes today across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Later accounts of his life said that he spent his days sweeping the stone floors around al-Aqsa mosque, or fasting in the silence of a cave inside the city walls.
No-one knows how long Baba Farid stayed in the city. But long after he had returned to the Punjab, where he eventually became head of the Chisti order, Indian Muslims passing through Jerusalem on their way to Mecca wanted to pray where he had prayed, to sleep where he had slept. Slowly, a shrine and pilgrim lodge, the Indian Hospice, formed around the memory of Baba Farid.
Baba Farid
More than eight centuries later, that lodge still exists. And although it stands inside Jerusalem's walls - perhaps the most fiercely contested stretch of ground anywhere in the world - it is still in Indian hands.
Muhammad Munir Ansari as a boy, in about 1936
                                                      Sheikh Muhammad Munir Ansari as a boy
The current head of the lodge, 86-year-old Muhammad Munir Ansari, grew up there in the years before World War Two, when Palestine seemed to end just outside the gate.
"All the residents were Indian. I felt as if I was living in India. Whenever we entered the Hospice - Indian state!" he says. "At that time people came by ship. They used to bring food, rice, even their salt. Salt! All from India. As soon as you entered the gate, the smell of Indian food, they were washing their clothes, hanging them here in the courtyard."
The war cut off the flow of pilgrims and brought an end to the colourful scenes of Munir's childhood.
The lodge became a leave camp for the Indian Fourth Infantry division, whose soldiers had only just left when the first Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948. By the time Munir succeeded his father as Sheikh - head of the lodge - in 1952, the building was scarred by shelling and overrun with Palestinian refugees.
But worse was to come.
In 1967, as the Israeli army fought its way into Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the lodge was hit by rockets.
"The '67 war started on Monday 5 June. On the second day we found them at our entrance. By night, 50 or 60 soldiers inside the gate - Jordanians. They were in terrible condition, asking for water," he says.
"That was on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning we went out to find not a single soldier. They ran away, leaving their uniforms and even their weapons. That day the Israelis began to prepare for entering the Old City. So these weapons that had been abandoned, some local people took these guns and started shooting. And we paid the price."
As the Israelis bombarded the hospice, Sheikh Munir herded his family from room to room. The shells found them near the shrine of Baba Farid. The roof collapsed. Sheikh Munir, his hands and face badly burned, pulled the survivors from the rubble. His mother, his sister, and his two-year-old nephew were dead.
Sheikh Hasan Nazir Ansari
                                                               Sheikh Hasan Nazir Ansari
From a hospital in the Old City, Sheikh Munir brought his family back to the ruins. "We came home. Very sadly, I can say. Imagine how the situation was. Most of the rooms were damaged. My hands were burned, my eyes were closed, my hair was burned. It was a miserable situation."
Miserable or not, there was no question of abandoning the lodge. Its history went back too far - to the days when Saladin was still consolidating his hold on Jerusalem.
Baba Farid arrived in a city that had just returned to Muslim hands after almost a century of Christian rule. The Crusaders, ensconced along the Mediterranean coast, had not gone away, and Saladin understood that if the Muslims were to keep Jerusalem, they would need to match the Crusaders not only on the battlefield but in their zeal for the city.
The Sufis therefore served a useful purpose.
More on Sufism
c. 1870 A group of dervishes begin their dance known as the dance of the Whirling Dervishes
  • Sufis usually belong to Tariqas - or orders - each tracing its lineage back to the Prophet
  • Sufis attempt to balance the three dimensions of the religion - Islam (submission), Iman (faith) and Ihsan ("doing the beautiful")
  • Many Sufi orders practise zikr - the rhythmic repetition or chanting of the word "Allah", or of one of other 99 names of God, or of a phrase from the Quran - some also use music in their rituals, a practice that has often drawn criticism from more conservative Muslim theologians
  • In the early 13th Century, Baba Farid-ud-Din Ganj Shakar, a famous Sufi saint from the Punjab, performed a solitary 40-day fast in Jerusalem - this site became the Indian Hospice
  • In the 17th Century, there were more than 70 Sufi zawiyas - or spiritual retreat centres - in Jerusalem
Since the early days of Islam, mystics had been drawn to Jerusalem from across the Muslim world. There were some strange characters among them. Barefoot drifters who wandered from town to town in search of enlightenment. Ascetics who wore rough woollen robes and slept in the desert. Ecstatics who wept and sang for the love of God.
The jurists and theologians who guarded the frontiers of Islamic orthodoxy had always thought that the Sufis, with their music, whirling and wild ideas, were a suspicious bunch.
But they had many followers and it's not hard to see why. Here was a tradition that spoke more of God's gentleness than of his severity, a dialect of Islam in which love sounded louder than prohibition or dogma.
Saladin had the rock beneath the golden dome washed with rosewater, re-consecrating Jerusalem for the Muslim faithful. He welcomed the Sufis with open arms and encouraged popular devotion to the city's shrines and sanctuaries.
This was the atmosphere in which the first Indian pilgrims gathered at Baba Farid's lodge, bringing with them instruments and melodies from the Punjab.
They may well have sung verses written by Baba Farid. He composed hundreds of poems, drawing on the playful, even erotic imagery that runs right through Sufi literature. Instead of using the scholarly languages of Arabic or Sanskrit, Baba Farid chose to write in his native Punjabi, which had never before been used for poetry. As well as laying the foundations of a Punjabi literature that has thrived ever since, these poems bind together the Sufi and Sikh traditions of India: dozens of Baba Farid's hymns found their way into the Guru Granth Sahib, a compilation of mystical verse that is the central scripture of Sikhism.
Over the next 300 or 400 years, Sufi groups from across the Islamic world joined the Indians in Jerusalem. Funds poured into the construction of schools and lodges that housed mystics from Morocco and the Crimea, Anatolia and Uzbekistan.
A View of Osman Manzil, the main building in Zawiyat Hindiyyah, 1945.
When the great Ottoman traveller Evliya Celebi arrived in the 17th Century, he counted at least 70 different Sufi lodges within the walls. Jerusalem, he wrote, was the Mecca of the dervishes.
Many of those lodges were still active on the eve of World War One. Sheltered by the Ottoman Empire, shrines built by Saladin and described by Celebi had survived into the 20th Century.
But war and modernity disrupted age-old patterns of pilgrimage. Caravan routes were cut off. Borders were drawn across the map of the Middle East. Sufism itself began to look to some like an anachronism, a relic from the medieval world. One by one, the Sufi lodges closed their gates and fell into dilapidation, so when the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed in 1922, no-one would have predicted that the Indian Hospice was about to flourish once more.
Its revival was rooted in desperation.
Resentful of British colonial rule and alarmed by the influx of Jews from Europe, Jerusalem's Islamic authorities were casting around for friends and allies. It was natural to look east - not to the emirates and kingdoms of the Arabian Gulf, still impoverished backwaters, but to British India, which was home to millions of Muslims, some of them fabulously rich.
In 1923, Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini (whose search for support would eventually lead him into a murderous collaboration with both Hitler and Mussolini), sent a delegation to India seeking funds for the restoration of al-Aqsa mosque. There, they met the leaders of the Khilafat movement - Indian Muslims who were agitating against British rule and struggling to promote the idea of a pan-Islamic Caliphate. The Palestinians told their Indian hosts about the decaying lodge. Could they send somebody - an Indian Muslim - to take charge?
The man who arrived in 1924 was called Nazir Hasan Ansari. He came from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, and over the next 27 years he worked not just to restore the lodge but to revive the idea of Jerusalem as holy ground for Indian Muslims.
When the leader of the Khilafat movement, Muhammed Ali, died in 1931, his body was brought to Palestine and buried inside al-Aqsa mosque. As Saladin had done centuries earlier, the Islamic authorities were encouraging an old and deeply felt devotion to Jerusalem's sacred sites, using that devotion to forestall a rival claim on the city - this time, the claim made by Zionists rather than Christians. In the 20th Century as in the 12th, faith and politics met at the Dome of the Rock.
Indian Muslims in front of the Dome of the Rock
As Indian pilgrims returned to Jerusalem, the Hospice recovered much of its prestige and spirit.
In the 1920s and 30s Sheikh Nazir travelled back and forth to India, persuading its Muslim princes to pay for the rebuilding of the lodge. Among those who contributed was the Nizam of Hyderabad, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1937 as the richest man in the world.
Sheikh Nazir's main legacy, through, was not in bricks and mortar but in flesh and blood. Not long after his arrival in Jerusalem he married a Palestinian woman, Mussarra, and in 1928 she gave birth to Munir.
Almost 40 years later, in the wake of the Six Day War bombardment, Sheikh Munir buried his mother in the Muslim cemetery near Saladin Street, in a city now under Israeli control. Grief was softened by the squabbling and laughter of his own five children, who all survived the attack. Sheikh Munir raised them in the Indian Hospice, rebuilding the bombed out rooms and planting the lemon trees that now blossom in the quiet sunlit courtyard.
The lodge today has a library, as well as a mosque and guest rooms for the few Indians who still visit.
In 2011 Sheikh Munir received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, an award given by India's President for exceptional service to the country.
Sheikh Munir Ansari with granddaughterSheikh Munir Ansari with granddaughter Nimala
From the roof he flies an Indian flag, its saffron and green visible over a city that remains as volatile as ever. Sheikh Munir, though, is not easily intimidated. "I am not afraid. I am satisfied for the future, that we, the Ansari family, are serving. After me, my elder son, Nazer, should replace me as Sheikh of the zawiyya [lodge]."
I ask if Nazer, who works overseas, is interested in taking over. Sheikh Munir hesitates. From a frame on the wall, his father looks down silently. The old man raises his hands, palms up.
"It's not a question of interested."
India's former ambassador to Israel, Navtej Sarna, recently published a book on the Indian Hospice - Indians at Herod's Gate: A Jerusalem Tale

Tuesday, 3 February 2015