PopTech is always showcasing some of the coolest things going down (or up in this case?) — like a graffiti mural on a minaret in Tunisia:
Tunisian Calligraffiti artist eL Seed (PopTech 2011) is currently suspended 57 meter in the air, creating Tunisia’s largest Graffiti mural to-date. The mural is being painted on the country’s tallest minaret, during the holy month of Ramadan.
The convergence of art and religion, the centre of much heated debate since the Tunisian elections, is being re-examined in a positive light. Approved by the mosque’s Imam, the 57 meter high mural is promising to be an awe-inspiring landmark, conveying a message of mutual respect, tolerance, and dialogue in a country brimming with countless possibilities.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Longing for the Muezzin’s Call
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
One of the things I find I most enjoyed — and, now, most miss — about my travels to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Istanbul is the periodicity of the muezzin’s call to prayer. It greets you in so many unexpected ways.
Standing on the Mount of Olives, one call drifts across the valley from the Old City only to be washed over by another one down the way. But walk within its walls and it beckons you to stop. Sometimes sternly and at others as a mother would remind her child.
Walk around a corner in Ramallah and the muezzin’s voice may greet you as a friend and wrap its arms around your shoulders; walk down another alley and it barks at you. Sit atop a rooftop patio in the oldest parts of Istanbul and several voices vie for your affections without competing with one another. The voices of small, underpowered speakers from a nearby local mosque provide background vocals for the melodic mix of the more prominent mosques like the Sultanahmet Mosque, the Blue Mosque, in what seems like a talent show of some of the world’s best.
And, then there’s the greeting from one’s home, as you can hear in the audio embedded audio above. It’s the maghrib athan, the fourth call that summons the faithful to prayer just after sunset, during Ramadan from what seems like an apartment window somewhere outside of Nablus.
One sees so many sites, eats so much delicious food, meets so many wonderful people. But it’s the rhythmic reminder that stays with me, a discipline I’ll cherish long after the memory of such encounters slowly erode themselves in my mind.
About the photo: The muezzin at the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo demonstrates his vocal abilities in the liwan. (Photo by Christopher Rose/Flick, licensed under Creative Commons)
Through the initial physical challenge of the fast, the soul is agitated and its level of maturity is tested. In this way, the physical fast is a means to an inner, spiritual fast. The fast ultimately reveals to you everything that comes between you and Allah s.w.t., every tendency to break down and lapse out of trust in Allah s.w.t. when placed under pressure. How you respond to this discomfort determines the degree of success of your spiritual fast.
—Ilyas al Kashani, on the purification of the fast (sawm) during Ramadan
(h/t Maryam Eskandari)
Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)
The Triumph of Ramadan: The Many Stories and Many Faces of Muslim Identity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: “the Muslim world.” This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.
But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces?
So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:
- What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
- What do you find beautiful about Islam?
- How does it find expression in your daily life?
- What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called “Living Islam,” but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.
With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.
About the image: Mushda Ali, a young Bangladeshi Muslim artist, posted this self portrait on Flickr with this line from Flavia Weedn: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.”
Whole Foods has become the first prominent supermarket chain to run a Ramadan marketing campaign—and they’re hoping Muslim customers will return the favor as they break fast. Even though Muslims traditionally forego meals during the day, lavish evening Ramadan meals could mean big bucks for the natural foods giant … as well as brand loyalty from a demographic not traditionally courted by megastore advertising.
Ramadan 2011: The Blessings of a 16-Hour Fast and Mahmoud Darwish’s Poetry
by Ayman Amer, guest contributor
Ramadan this year starts Monday, August 1st. Every year it comes 11 days earlier because Muslims follow a lunar calendar. A lunar year is only 355 days long. So my Ramadan comes sometimes in super freezing Iowa winters and sometimes in hyper sizzling hot and humid summers.
When Ramadan comes in winter. It is easy to fast. Sunrise to sunset is a very short day. When it comes in summer, like this year, oh God helps us. Dawn is about 4:30 a.m. and sundown in Cedar Rapids is about 8:30 p.m. A sixteen-hour fasting day.
But I gladly fast. I am used to it. As Jane Gross said, “We became who we are when we were ten years old.” I started fasting when I was ten. Fasting makes me feel close to Allah. I really feel closest to Allah just as the call for maghrib, or sunset prayers, is heard — just before I take a sip of water and eat one or two dates, as is the tradition.
When I am not working late in a Ramadan afternoon, I read Qur’an in the last hour before maghrib. I feel so light, so alive, astonishingly spiritually energized. A day of fasting washes me inside and out. I make a deliberate tough choice, and I stick with it. I feel blessed with food and drink when I eat a simple meal because there are so many in the world who have no food and or are in a drought. I feel blessed that God taught me how to feel like them and live like them, but I do so by choice. Millions do not have that choice.
At the end of the month of Ramadan, our fasting is not acceptable if we do not offer the obligatory zakat, food for the poor. I remember the words of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet:
As you prepare your breakfast — think of others.
Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.
As you conduct your wars — think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill — think of others.
Think of those who have only the clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home — think of others — don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others — there are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others — those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others — think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”
Ayman Amer is an associate professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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Can Fear and Burning Unite?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”
Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.
So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.
As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?
I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:
“In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an.”
And the Undercover Nun continues:
“On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?”
Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.
When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”
She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”