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My tenuous Persian connection draws me to Nooshabeh at the annual World Editors Forum in Hamburg earlier this month. The recipient of the 2010 Golden Pen of Freedom is another fearless Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi. Since he's in jail, the gleaming trophy is received by Akbar Ganji, himself a survivor of the notorious Evin prison and recipient of the 2006 Golden Pen. The ceremony concludes with a haunting performance by Gitti Khosravi, the throaty Iranian opera singer reinforcing Shelley's lament that 'our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought'. -- Bachi Karkaria

 

When I was at school, in Class 7, I had a classmate, Faquir Bakhsh, who was 22-years-old, 11 years elder to most of the other boys in the class. The reason was that he was unable to join school till he was already 15. He was tall and had a flowing beard. When he came the first day, most students thought he was a teacher. Many of them shunned him when they realised he was a student. I was one among the few who befriended him. He told me that the great Sufi mystic Rumi of Iran was among his distant ancestors and that now he himself studies Sufi lore at home. -- J.S. Neki

 

Prophet Ayub (Job) is someone whose name has become synonymous with patience. He possessed all the adornments of this world including good health, abundant wealth and a large family. Suddenly he became infected with a terrible skin disease where worms were eating into his flesh and the body was covered with ugly sores. Except for his heart and tongue, with which he remembered his Lord, no part or organ of his body was spared of the disease. The fear of infection caused his close friends and family to force him out of the village, with just his wife attending to his needs. She worked in people’s home to raise money, but then people began to stay away from her as well. Narrations inform that he would encourage the worms to eat from his flesh and thanked God for creating them. -- Sadia Dehlvi

There are two different approaches to worship God for fear, greed or sheer love and devotion. Most of us ordinary people worship God either for fear of punishment or greed for reward in paradise. In Sufi lore it is said once Rabia Basri, a great Sufi woman of 23nd century hijrah (8th century A.D.) once was carrying bucket of water in one hand and a burning torch in the other. When people saw her they asked O! Rabia why are you carrying this bucket of water and burning torch?

It is love of power, arrogance and wealth which leads to all evils in the world and it is power of love which negates all these evils and makes this world a paradise. Now it is or us to go for love or for fear. One who loves is truly fearless and indeed it is love which is God and it is God who is love. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

Navaratri is celebrated to celebrate victory of spirit over inertia, pride, shame, craving and aversion. We rejoice in the three primordial qualities that make up the universe.

Though Navaratri is celebrated as the victory of good over evil, the actual fight is not between good and evil. From the Vedantic point of view, the victory is of the absolute reality over the apparent duality. Navaratri is time to drop the separateness and recognise that life in everything. Mother Divine or pure consciousness pervades all forms and names. Recognising the one divinity in every form and every name is celebration of Navaratri. Hence, special pujas honouring all aspects of life and nature are performed during the last three days. -- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Hence the sentiment that dominated in the run-up to the Allahabad high court’s judgment: a generalised unease that this issue, with all its blood-soaked historical baggage, its appeal to an atavistic, communal sense of who we are, would once again take over India’s political conversation. That sentiment, universally apparent — even in the various quirky suggestions about what to do with the disputed site — was driven by those who felt that they had a stake in only one thing: in moving on.

So, now the judgment’s out, naturally everyone wants to move on quickly. Nobody really wants to look at it very closely: because we’re happy to read it as an attempt to force a compromise; because we’re desperate to ensure nobody loses their temper; because partitioning something equally has a certain intuitive appeal; and because very few of us are lawyers, and we’re correspondingly diffident. -- Mihir S. Sharma

In every religious tradition God’s name is truth. In Islamic tradition one of Allah’s name is Haq i.e. Truth. Without being truthful and engaged in constant quest for truth one can hardly be religious. … Along with constant quest for truth humility is required. Any sense of truth being any ones monopoly leads to sense of arrogance and destroys the very quality of truth.

That is why Qur’an says that all previous prophets came with truth and requires Muslims not to distinguish between one and the other prophets, those who do so are not true believers. All prophets and great religious thinkers were committed to quest for truth. Also, Qur’an maintains that Allah has created diversity, not uniformity so that one could understand different forms of truth without leading to arrogance. Anyone engaged in quest for truth has to have a quality of humility. Qur’an strongly denounces mustakbitin (the powerful and arrogant). Most of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an were of humble origin.

Third important quality for being truly religious is being compassionate i.e. being sensitive to others suffering. Anyone who is not compassionate cannot be a true human being, let alone religious. Allah’s name in Qur’an is Compassionate Merciful (Al-Rahman al-Rahim) and Prophet Muhammad has been described as Mercy of the Worlds (Rahmatan li-Al’alamin). Any Muslim who is not compassionate would never be a true Muslim. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

It is not only in New York that Sufism is misunderstood; even in the Muslim world it is widely ignored or sidelined. And that’s when it is not being persecuted, sometimes by fellow Muslims who claim it is deviant. In the past year, at least four Sufi shrines and mosques in Pakistan have been the target of suicide bombers — attacks that have killed at least 42 people. In Turkey, where Sufism was suspected of being a covert sect with tentacles reaching into every corner of society, the post-Ottoman secular rulers closed Sufi lodges and outlawed the Whirling Dervishes, the hallmark of Sufism. The Dervishes were later granted a “cultural” status and permitted to continue performing their ecstatic dances. Every Saturday night, Dervishes in white gowns and cone-shaped hats perform at Konya’s Mevlana Cultural Centre to gentle applause from tourists and respectful silence from Sufis, who consider the twirling salutation to be an act of mysticism, a way to touch the divine presence in this life. -- Catherine Field

 

Traditional beliefs and observances have something remarkable in them and that is why they persisted so long. For one, these prescriptions urge us to do justice to great beings. And, more importantly, they indicate that no task is mundane. In Yajnavalkya Smriti, for instance, bathing is mainly classified into Mukhyam and Gaunam, and these have six and seven sub-divisions respectively. All auspicious acts are supposed to be done after taking a bath. Otherwise they don’t incur any results. Hence, one has to begin the day with bathing. -- V. Balakrishnan

The Quran reminds us that piety does not lie in turning our faces to the East or the West. Yet we continue to equate piety exclusively with salath (nimaz). The Quran encourages us to give from our wealth to meet the unmet needs of the poor, the needy and those who ask. Yet we continue to save and hoard and refuse to spend when the wretched and beaten down cry for help. The Quran extols us to live for the Hereafter, pursuing His will, yet we delight in living for the day, cherishing our pleasures, our wealth and our possessions.

The Quran teaches us to be learned with knowledge, to be united in belief, to be patient in adversity, to be models of integrity, to be watchful of our anger, to be keepers of our promises, to be foremost in service and to be defenders of the rights of fellow man. We choose instead, to be illiterate and ignorant, to be divided thru prejudice promoting sectarian hostilities, to be betrayers of the trust of our people and plunder the wealth of our countries, to be explosive in our anger, to be restrictive with our freedoms, unreliable with our promises, indulgent in our self interests, indifferent to the needs of others, unwilling to rise from our abodes of comfort and do His Will. 
We were given a country to live in peace and practice our faith and we converted it into a hellhole where neither peace exists nor faith prevails. We were given boundless wealth and resources in the ground, to use them prudently and to better the lives of our people and we squandered them to satisfy our lust for power and pleasure. -- posted by Munavvar Izhar at NeweAgeIslam.com

Eid Mubarak! Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the 10th Islamic month Shaw’waal, which marks the completion of Ramzan. The festival begins with the first sight of the new moon. For Muslims it is a joyous day of thanksgiving to God; for guiding them to follow His injunctions on fasting and softening their hearts with His remembrance during the sacred month.

Muslim communities all over the world begin the day by attending congregational prayers that are followed by a khutbah, sermon. It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances. -- Sadia Dehlvi

Two days ago, Adil Najam’s website carried a photographic report of a different kind—of religious extremists attacking Shia processions in Lahore and Karachi, and killing dozens of people. “Pakistan is at war,” Najam wrote in anguish and despair. In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed a series of terrorist strikes targeting Shias, Ahmediyas and Sufis. This made me ponder over a troubling paradox. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Islam’s insistence on righteousness and God-consciousness is loud and clear, more emphatically so in the practice of fasting and prayers during Ramzaan. Why, then, do a minority of Muslims exhibit that streak of extreme intolerance which rejects other faiths as false or aberrant, seeks to violently suppress diversity within Islam, and never hides its ultimate goal of establishing a uniform and dogmatic interpretation of Islam as the reigning faith all over the world? -- Sudheendra Kulkarni

 

Wasifuddin Dagar, president of the Dhrupad Society, represents the 20th generation of a family that has nurtured the dhrupad tradition in music. His forefathers were court musicians, dating back to the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar. Dagar, 42, spoke to Humra Quraishi:

We believe that it's Allah who is the Provider, who bestows on you your daily bread. In our rendering there's pulse for rhythm, pitch for 'swar' and pause for silence. Like mere words do not and cannot make a speech so just about any sort of music cannot reach or touch us. Our rendering starts with the tanpura in the background and then the alaap.

In the green room, the sound of the tanpura sets the raga and we can delve into that pure sound of the alaap for hours at a stretch, but sometimes even wrap it up in a few minutes depending on that particular moment. We can lose sense of time and space while singing and so do some listeners. It cannot be done at will, it happens only through His Grace and that is why we pray to Him to give us a good mood.

 

What is the greatest dharma? It is said, “Non-violence or non-injury is the supreme dharma”. Violence is something that disturbs the entire society, and it begins at the mental level. Dislike can turn to anger, and if uncontrolled it will result in physical and emotional abuse within the home as well as in the society. We usually consider violence only at the physical level, but it can occur at the thought and speech level also. So it is important to practice non-injury (ahimsa) at all levels — at the levels of thought and speech as well as the physical level. -- Swami Tejomayananda

One of ships in the Turkish flotilla carrying aid for Gaza was named ‘Rachel Corrie’, after the 23-year old American peace activist who was martyred on March 16, 2003, when she tried to prevent an advancing Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home by standing in front of it, as part of non-violent resistance by International Solidarity Movement activists. The Israeli Defence Forces fulfilled her premonition, when she wrote to her mother back in the US that “if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide”. She sent out a loud message not only to her mother, but to the entire world that they needed to open their eyes to the plight of the Palestinians and shed complacency, that the American government and people are complicit in the genocide being systematically carried out in Gaza through their policy to support Israel. Hers is the modern day parable of courage and conviction. -- Ishrat Saleem

My first Ramadan, when I was 30 years old and a relatively new Muslim, was a bit of a disaster. Since becoming a Muslim, I'd had an eventful year. I had been an award-winning television presenter on MTV Europe and host of the youth show Bravo TV in Germany. But my conversion had sparked a negative press campaign in the German media which led to me losing my presenting work almost overnight. -- Kristiane Backer

 

The thought that someone else will clean for you is playing havoc with our inner and outer environment. If 75 per cent of the population is entitled to throw dirt around and only 25 per cent is supposed to clean it, what will be the quality of cleanliness? The outer mess is a reflection of the inner mess. Indian mind is a junkyard. It is full of old baggage because it is attached to the old — old ideas, beliefs, conditioning, culture. Osho calls it “garbage”. When there is a heap of garbage within, how can the outside be without it? It is high time we realise that old is no more gold, old is dead. Osho defines cleanliness as emptiness: “You have to clean yourself; and nothing less than emptiness will be accepted as cleanliness. In the West they say, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’. There is no god so there is no question about that. But I say, ‘Cleanliness is just next to emptiness. In fact, cleanliness is another name for inner emptiness'. The outer garbage is a symptom, a reflection of the inner garbage. -- Amrit Sadhana

 

Breathing is a divine act. It takes one deep within one’s body and soul; it explores the realm of sound that awakens the consciousness. It explores the zahir, the outward, and the batin, the inward.

“And remember when thy Lord said unto the angels:

Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered.

So, when I have made him and have breathed into him My spirit...’ (Quran 15:28 -29)...

The Sufis resort to the use of divine names, which condense and compress the effect of a longer recitation into a brief space, which becomes Dhikr. Yoga teaches that the body reflects the breath, the breath reflects the mind, the mind reflects the heart and the heart reflects the soul. The Kapalbhaati and the deep breathing in pranayaam is a measure of one’s healing power. As you learn to become still, you take your attention to where you want the healing to happen. For the Taoist, the conscious cultivation of breath offers a powerful way not only to extract energies from the outside world but also to regulate the energetic pathways of our inner world, helping to bring our body, mind and emotions into a harmonious balance. -- Muzaffar Ali

 

The world and all who share in it have suffered too long from the spiritual provincialism that results from clinging to our separate dogmas so fiercely that we behave in ways that mock the very message that they were created to promote. The followers of every religion - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, all have at one time or another been both perpetrators and victims of the sin of enmity toward those who do not share their specific doctrines or their history.  It is long past time for all of us to honor our faiths by allowing their dogmas to serve their true purpose of revealing the universal message of love for all of our fellow sufferers on this earth.

When we are truly religious, our faiths serve to unite, not divide us; they lead us into conversation, understanding and compassion; they do not become excuses for hostility and strife.  If peace is to become more than a fantasy, we must not let the differences among our doctrines and rituals lead us down paths that can end only in suffering and death. Instead, we must learn to talk to one another - and listen to one another, using as the common vocabulary of our conversation the two great truths that are the priceless gift of our religions. -- Norm Phelps

"O you who believe, seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient. And speak not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, (they are) alive, but you perceive not. And We shall certainly try you with something of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits. And give good news to the patient, who, when a misfortune befalls them, says: Surely we are Allah's, and to Him we shall return. Those are they on whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord; and those are the followers of the right course." –The Holy Quran (2:153-157)

This, of course, does not mean that we should not speak up against the evils of corruption, cheating, lying, exploitation of the poor and the downtrodden. What Jesus is warning us against is to stop judging and criticising others on those very things that we could be found guilty of. Before we speak about others it may be good to go through the thest which socrates administered to some one who came to complain to him about one of his students. Before he could start, Socrates asked him, “a)Are you sure that what you will say is true? B) Is it something good? And c) Is what you want to tell me going to be useful to me at all?” When the answer to all the three was in negative, Socrates told him, “ If what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?” -- Dominic Emmanuel

Today, empowering your heart to control your mind is the essence of any education philosophy. Thus today, more than ever before, we need to think with our hearts.

India’s cultural subjugation had begun even before the first war of Indian Independence in 1857. In 1835, Lord Macaulay said about India in British Parliament: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”. -- Muzaffar Ali

... This “basic structure” lies embedded in the Upanishadic thought. Its central message is that all life in this universe is divine and individuals are “divine specks” of the same Supreme Divinity, which permeates the inextricably enmeshed cosmic web of human existence. In this metaphysical principle, the notion of equality is in-built. If the same divinity is embodied in different individuals, they cannot but be equal. The Bhavishya Purana says: “Since members of all the four castes are children of God, they all belong to the same caste. All human beings have the same father and children of the same father cannot have different castes”. Because of widespread ignorance about Hinduism and the extensive interpolations and manipulations which it has undergone over the ages, few in India today understand its fundamental principles and propositions. The very soul of Hinduism debunks the caste system. The only source to which the origin of this system could be attributed is the second portion of Purusha-sakta hymn of the Rig Veda, wherein it is stated that the purusha was cut into four parts, the first pertaining to his mouth, the second to his arms, the third to his thighs and the fourth to his feet. An interpretation of this statement was drawn to lay down that the Brahmin came from the highest portion of the Supreme Self and shudra from the lowest. In between came the kshatriyas, the warrior class, and the vaishyas, the traders, agriculturists etc. This interpretation is, clearly, arbitrary and untenable. Nor is there any scriptural authority on the basis of which the caste system could be made either hereditary or water-tight. In his remarkable write-up, titled Un-Hindu Spirit of Caste-Rigidity, Sri Aurobindo has pertinently observed: “The baser ideas underlying the degenerate perversions of the caste system, the mental attitude which bases them on a superiority, depending on the accident of birth of a fixed and intolerant inequality, are inconsistent with the supreme teaching, the basic spirit of Hinduism which sees the one invariable and indivisible Divinity in every individual being”. -- Jagmohan

Sufis have a treasure of stories relating to methods used in replacing unworthy attributes by praiseworthy qualities. One day the bazaars of Baghdad caught fire and Sari Saqti, the ninth century mystic was informed that his shop had burnt down. He later learnt that somehow his shop did not get destroyed in the fire whereas most of the other shops in the street had been destroyed completely. Saqti said he gleefully thanked God, but soon realised his selfishness in not feeling immense pain for fellow shopowners. He admitted to repenting that one sin for over 40 years. Eventually, Saqti gave away the shop and everything he owned to the poor and embraced the Sufi path. -- Sadia Dehlvi

 

There are wide inter-religious differences in the quality and intensity of repentance depending on what is considered as the origin of evil. In the Christian faith, for example, the source of evil is the tempter Satan. In Sikh theology, God Himself is considered the author of good as well as evil. Surprised by this Sikh concept, a Christian would exclaim, “How can God be the author of evil?” However, a little open-mindedness can resolve the paradox. The omnipotent Christian God could have exterminated the rebellious Satan, if He wanted to. But He didn’t. Isn’t He Himself then responsible for the presence of evil in the world? Apart from blaming Satan for tempting him, a Christian might also blame himself for getting tempted. That often leads to a biting sense of guilt and an excruciating sense of repentance. A Sikh on the other hand would invoke God to divert his mind from evil and blessingly lead him towards salvation. -- J.S. Neki

 
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