War, killings, death and beheadings

The internet is very powerful – outdoing the ‘soft’ news that we see on television on the escalation of war in Iraq and the impending civil war, images are kept from us.

It’s very very disturbing to see bodies paraded after a killing; beheading; executions; massacres; bomb blasts……

Pointless, mindless killing continues. The US, Britain and Allies continue their efforts of destruction and daily murder ensuring the suffering of Iraqi’s remains intact. The response to this by insurgents has been swift and brutal and escalating. I wrote a while ago of Yousif Naser’s nephew being shot by a British army sniper – there has been no explanation so far.

Insurgents have taken to kidnapping US soldiers as well British and the allies. Recently in the “Information Clearing House” website – the editors have posted gruesome pictures of allegedly captured US soldiers who have been beheaded – their bodies exhibited for the world to see.

Mindless, senseless killings – a greater need for us to increase pressure for US, British and Allies to exist fast from Iraq.

Save and Burn

Screened at the Barbican as part of the Palestine Film Festival 2007 on 3rd May, Save and Burn brought to the British audiences the plight of libraries in crisis, from the USA to Palestine and Iraq.

Directed by Julian Samuel, a Pakistani now living in Canada, Save and Burn is a highly provocative and political film, exploring the commercialisation of libraries. Above all, the film looks at the destruction of Palestinian libraries by Israeli soldiers and the fate of Iraqi libraries during the “liberation.”

Julian Samuel’s “Save and Burn” appeared as part of this year’s Palestine Film Festival which ran from 27th April to 10th May. A diverse programme of films, the screenings took place at the Barbican Cinema and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies in Russell Square).

The Palestine Film Festival was set up in 1999 by the Palestine Society at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In 2004, the society formed the Palestine Film Foundation, which is solely concerned with programming and organising the festival. The festival has gained strength forging links internationally and throughout the UK.

Do pay the festival a visit which finishes on 10th May. Failing that, you could donate funds to the Foundation to ensure the continuation of their remarkable work. For further information on the foundation, go to: http://www.palestinefilm.org

To see more of Julian Samuel’s work go to:  http://www.juliansamuel.net

Of Torch and Water

I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.  Rabia Al-Basri

The profound Sufi Saint, Rabia Al-Basri lived in Basra in the 8th century. Separated from her family during a famine, she was sold by robbers as a slave. As stated in many essays about her, she attained a “spontaneous self realisation” and formed an intimate relationship with God, her beloved. Rabia learnt about God through hardship as a slave – her thesis was one of love.

Legend has it that her master saw her in devotion after a hard days work. As he stood spying on her, he witnessed a divine light surrounding her. The impact of the scene prompted him to free her, where upon she took to the desert and spent her life in the devotion of God. Rabia collected a number of followers and was often challenged or in conversation with ‘men of learning’. Her sole possessions were a mat used both for sleeping and praying, a brick to use as a pillow and a jug to carry water.

The Torch and Water

As time passed, Rabia became a well known figure in Basra. The Sufi poet, Attar is attributed as her biographer and penning her many poems, although she never wrote any down herself. There are numerous stories about her, but the torch and water are legendry –a lesson for any for the greed of paradise or for the coward heart for the fear of hell. Holding a torch in one hand a bucket of water in the other, she ran through the city of Basra. When she was stopped and asked what she was doing, she replied:

“I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God”.

One of the first Saints in Islam to propagate God as pure love and defining the doctrine on mystical love for Sufi’s throughout the Islamic world thereafter, Rabia’s legacy is becoming an important tool to help bring balance in present day Islam. Rabia’s quest was not of what is God, (The word Allah in Arabic is used generically in Christianity and Judaism and is not the domain of Islam alone), for she had this knowledge, her quest was to be with her beloved that is God. After “realising” God, Sheikh Hasan al-Basri is reported to have asked her how she came to know of the secret, she replied that:

“You know of the how, but I know of the how-less”.

Her definition of God spells out clearly that God is supreme and therefore not dysfunctional and doesn’t possess attributes such as anger. God is pure love and salvation for humanity is in pure love. Since Saints historically are forbidden in orthodox Islam and only marginally accepted, particularly amongst the Sunni, the tolerance of 8th century Iraq would have difficulty in sustaining itself in the midst of the masculine reactionary right-wing forces that are forging the future for Islam in the 21st century. Would they heed Rabia’s prayers today as they were often about eliminating the fear within of God?

 “O Allah! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

Selection of poems by Rabia Al-Basri:

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

My Beloved
My peace, O my brothers and sisters, is my solitude,
And my Beloved is with me always,
For His love I can find no substitute,
And His love is the test for me among mortal beings,
Whenever His Beauty I may contemplate,
He is my “mihrab”, towards Him is my “qiblah”
If I die of love, before completing satisfaction,
Alas, for my anxiety in the world, alas for my distress,
O Healer (of souls) the heart feeds upon its desire,
The striving after union with Thee has healed my soul,
O my Joy and my Life abidingly,
You were the source of my life and from Thee also came my ecstasy.
I have separated myself from all created beings,
My hope is for union with Thee, for that is the goal of my desire.
My Greatest Need is You
Your hope in my heart is the rarest treasure
Your Name on my tongue is the sweetest word
My choicest hours
Are the hours I spend with You —
O Allah, I can’t live in this world
Without remembering You–
How can I endure the next world
Without seeing Your face?
I am a stranger in Your country
And lonely among Your worshippers:
This is the substance of my complaint

Dream Fable
I saw myself in a wide green garden, more beautiful than I could begin to understand. In this garden was a young girl. I said to her, “How wonderful this place is!”

“Would you like to see a place even more wonderful than this?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I answered. Then taking me by the hand, she led me on until we came to a magnificent palace, like nothing that was ever seen by human eyes. The young girl knocked on the door, and someone opened it. Immediately both of us were flooded with light.

Only Allah knows the inner meaning of the maidens we saw living there. Each one carried in her hand a serving-tray filled with light. The young girl asked the maidens where they were going, and they answered her, “We are looking for someone who was drowned in the sea, and so became a martyr. She never slept at night, not one wink! We are going to rub funeral spices on her body.”

“Then rub some on my friend here,” the young girl said.

“Once upon a time,” said the maidens, “part of this spice and the fragrance of it clung to her body — but then she shied away.”

Quickly the young girl let go of my hand, turned, and said to me:

“Your prayers are your light;
Your devotion is your strength;
Sleep is the enemy of both.
Your life is the only opportunity that life can give you.
If you ignore it, if you waste it,
You will only turn to dust.”

Then the young girl disappeared.

Iraq: The Forces of Ignorance and the Death of Innocents

On 12th April, Ali Salam Naser, nephew of the London based world renowned artist, Yousif Naser, was shot by a British army sniper. Curious to know about the commotion on the street outside, Ali opened the front door to look. Just as he did this, the sniper shot him above his left eyebrow, instantly killing him. Yousif was talking to his brother on the phone during the incidence “all I could hear was my brother screaming that Ali had been shot and that there was blood everywhere”.

The reportage in the newspapers generally of the events in Basra that day were about the battles between the insurgents and the British forces. There was no mention of civilian casualties.  Writing to the Daily Telegraph about the incident, Yousif alerted the paper that there was at least one civilian casualty, the killing of his nephew, Ali Salam Naser. The irony was that his brother’s family, including Ali and Yousif here in London had supported Britain invading Iraq to end the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. They had had enough of the sadistic regime that had lasted for over 30 years.

As we spoke, I could sense the fatigue in Yousif’s voice. We were trying to come up with a description that suited both the British army and the insurgents. I said to Yousif that there is a word in Urdu, Jahil, which describes an individual as uncouth and immoral. Yousif commented that this description suited both the parties aptly and pointed to the prophet Mohammed describing pre-Islamic Arabia as Al-Jahiliya.  We quickly came to the conclusion that the insurgents in Iraq, the militias, the British and Americans and their allies along with Al-Qaeda were in fact Al-Jahiliya. Yousif commented that if I understood Arabic I would be horrified to hear what the insurgents say: “If we can’t have Iraq back then nobody will”. I commented that apparently there were more death penalties and subsequent hangings now then during Saddam Hussein regime.Yousif pointed out that Saddam was too busy throwing people down wells, into the sea by helicopters, into tanks of acid and making people run to the border of Iran “to be martyred rather than shot” and onlookers watched as they got blown up by landmines instead – and that was the only reason why there weren’t that many deaths by hanging during his days. 

In the Terrorism Monitor for the Jamestown Foundation, Andrew McGregor wrote in 2003 on Al Qaeda and the war on Jahiliya instigated by Al Qaeda stating that: “If the war on terror is to be won, we must first understand the perspective of our opponent. One of the principal inspirations for the type of Islamist ideology pursued by Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian chief lieutenant, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is the work of Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb (1906-66). Qutb was an important theorist in the Islamist movement and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun). His opposition to the secular Arab nationalism of Nasser led to his execution in 1966; he was accused of plotting to overthrow the Egyptian government. Qutb’s elegant prose barely conceals the rage against injustice and immorality that drove him, but it was his militant interpretation of jihad (“striving in the cause of God”) that would later inspire Dr. Abdullah Azzam (1941-89), the late founder of the organization that would become al Qaeda. While studying at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University (Sunni Islam’s preeminent theological school), Azzam became close to Qutb’s family and legacy. Working in large part from Qutb’s ideas, Azzam transformed radical Islam from a group of disparate national movements into a potent international force during the Afghan-Soviet war”.

In light of McGregor’s detailed analysis, there is no question that the Islamic right wing factions such as that proscribed by Qutb and Azzam have damaged the region from which it will take decades if not centuries to recover, particularly if Iraq ultimately enters a civil war. In the final analysis one has to question the definition of who constitutes a terrorist – killing innocent civilians and being cold hearted as reported in the Daily Telegraph that “the report stated that no civilians are believed to have been killed in the fight, the military reported, although it could not rule out innocent casualties caught in the crossfire” is an attitude that spells out the cheap regard for the lives of Iraqis.

Yousif’s letter to the Telegraph clearly shows his pain and loss of his nephew, where he said that “the British army is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, but they have killed a young man from a family which believed in their mission. The British army in Basra should investigate this killing thoroughly to find out how one of their soldiers came to murder this innocent young man, who supported them in the fight for the new Iraq”. 

Composition 9 by Yousif Naser