The Swedish connection


Remarkably one of the earliest men in the Western world to embrace Islam and enter a Sufi order was Swedish, born Ivan Aguéli aka Abdal Hadi. He is famous in Sweden as an artist (featured above) and recently shared an exhibition of impressionist painters in Stockholm with Paul Klée. His combination of art and Sufism is not unique which is why I have also featured in this post the wood art and Arabic calligraphy of a young Swede AbdelKarim Cederberg, now a resident of Andalusia, who has explored Nordic art and scripts and woven them into a kind of authentic fusion with traditionally Arabic design motifs. When I interviewed him for this blog he pointed out the significance of Aguéli and his pioneering life and work.

Ivan was born in 1867 in Sala, Sweden and died in Spain in 1917. There are various accounts of his life available but here is a brief one: 

Ivan Aguéli was a Swedish mystic, painter and student of Islam. As a painter he is acknowledged as the grandfather of impressionism, a student of an Émile Bernard, who also happened to be a close friend of Vincent Van Gogh of all people and Paul Gauguin.  He was active in anarchist circles in Paris in the 1890s and was apparently responsible for shooting a Spanish matador at a bullfight in Paris, but not fatally, for which he was briefly imprisoned. He avidly supported animal rights and feminism. A pionering 21st century man by all accounts.

Aguéli became the first Westerner to study at the famous Al-Azhar university in Cairo where he studied Islamic philosophy. He had taken the name Abdal Hadi and seems to have become a Sufi mystic, studying under a mentor figure, a Shaykh Muhammad Ilaysh. He is credited with having introduced Rene Guénon to Islam in the Ibn Arabi study group he founded in Cairo.

Aguéli died in 1917, being run down by a train at a railway junction at L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a town in Spain, near Barcelona, a town close to the French border. The circumstances surrounding his death are confusing, and some claim he was pushed. The British believed he was an Ottoman spy. We shall never know. He is buried in Sala, Sweden, his birth place where his remains were interred.



Ivan Aguéli aka
Abdel Hadi pictured left and right (top left back row)




Wikipedia has  a longer bio.

Exactly 100 years later after Abdal Hadi’s death in Spain another Swede has arrived on the Iberian peninsular namely AbdelKarim Cederborg. Explore his work here:

He has blended both traditional Islamic motifs and Nordic designs into a uniquely Scandinavian take on both wood carving, calligraphy and geometry. Some of his work is pictured here.




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The Sky is Filling Up


I have had for some time now an app called Flight Radar 24 which some readers may be familiar with. This isn’t a plug for it, but a little perusal of this app will doubtless surprise you. It did me. In the screen shot above you will see in real time the exact position of every plane (the little yellow things) in the air at the time of the screen grab  – in this case North America. And the app covers the whole world. The app collects the flight data every civil aviation plane has to broadcast once it is airborne and even on the ground. If you get up close you can see each plane’s movement and with the correct settings, its flight path as well. Plus all available information about the carrier, the plane type, speed etc. It’s mind boggling to think of this many planes in the air at any given time. 5000-10,000 is one figure mooted and that doesn’t include military flights. And that is at any moment in any day, depending on whether the USA is awake or not. Over Africa there appear to be almost no planes at all which speaks volumes. A simple graphic of the disparity between the excessively rich nations and the excessively poor. Read on, it gets worse.

Yes it’s a beautiful picture but don’t be deceived. I don’t want to be alarmist (or maybe I do) but it’s not really beautiful at all.  

During take-off, a jumbo jet can devour 2 million litres (528,344 gallons) of air per second. In the first five minutes of flight, a commercial airliner can burn as much oxygen as 49,000 acres of forest produce in a day. According to Department of Transportation figures, flying a Boeing 747-400 from Washington, DC to San Francisco burns 17,232 gallons of jet fuel. (Fuel efficiency: 6.7 mpg.) A Boeing 747 averages 32 minutes taxiing, taking off and landing. During this time, it can generate 190 pounds of NOx – equal to the amount produced by driving a car 53,500 miles.

Research by NASA proved that in the North American corridor there are major climatic changes taking place, more than anywhere else. One of the world’s most troubled routes, the North Atlantic Flight Corridor (NAFC) lies between 45 and 65 degrees north latitude and runs almost entirely over water. In 1990, between 700 and 800 aircraft traveled this route between the US and Europe each day – amounting to more than 200,000 flights per year. 27 years later, do you think this has declined?

I haven’t had time to sit in front of FlightRadar24 and count them.

Aside from the air pollution aspect of this which is serious considering that even a recently engineered plane spreads a blanket of toxic gases miles wide, the sheer size of what is going on reflects the huge corporate and commercial activity going on at a global scale and which dwarfs the petty political squabbles taking place in the world which we get hypnotized by. So you get an idea of who is really running the show for their own advantage basically. For example, no mention recently of the $15 billion airplane contract with Iran being cancelled by Trump who pre-election vowed to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran. They know too darn well that if they did, the order would go directly to Europe or even China. The White House is often called the east coast office of Monsanto for good reason. The Americans, having elected their lower self to the Presidency now have a rather unpredictable and potentially dangerous person running the show and they are having to live with it. Much of this information here is probably known to you all, and is all available on-line but I thought the app mentioned above might give you a tangible perception of what I have been discussing and why it’s worth a quick look. The global media drama serves to distract you from what is really going on. 

So much is hidden from us and maybe just as well as I think the big picture might just be too much to take. About ten years ago I was traveling over the Oakland bridge in the Bay Area of San Francisco with friends just before sunset and suddenly we saw the enormous awesome plume of a space rocket moving silently and slowly into the upper atmosphere emitting a strange light. Up and up and up it went till with a big blast it vanished. I found out later it was a Star Wars test over the pacific from Vandenburg Airforce Base (the picture above is of a recent test by the US military of an unarmed nuclear missile from Vandenburg). What we witnessed was a $100m firework display by the American military – all over in a few seconds. On the west coast of America you get some idea of the vast and secretive world of the American military industrial complex that is given all it wants from the Federal purse, – whenever it is wanted. It is said that when the US is at war there is full employment on the West coast. In computer software and weapons research, the Federally funded Lawrence Livermore labs just inland from the Bay Area, is where even now research is being made into neutron bomb warfare amongst much else of strategic interest to the US.

Don’t lose sleep over it as you can’t do much about it.

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Long Hopes and Personal Choices

I wrote this in late January after some outrage in the US by a white supremacist but sadly it applies now and probably for the foreseeable.

I would rather be writing on a more creative theme but current events seem to have interposed themselves unfortunately. I was sent the following article today by a friend which coming from a US Catholic professor I thought an excellent if alarming analysis of the state of play.

In September 1962 I was playing football on an Essex sports field when enormous USAF B52s began screaming overhead above the grey wintery clouds. We shuddered. This was the height of the Cold War and on that day the high point of the Cuban missile crisis. The referee, who was our music master in fact, a rather nervous soul, went white as a sheet and went inside the school buildings and left us playing on.

Well I’m still here over 50 years later to tell the tale. Today, 1 February 2017 we are entering another rather perilous stage in our shared history but maybe there are some lessons to learn from my first teenage protest experience. 


A year before the Cuban missile crisis I had been on an anti-war CND march from Wethersfield USAF base in Essex to Trafalgar Square in central London (photo above). One would have thought 100,000 people would make some kind of difference but actually it changed nothing – outwardly at least. But it did change me as I am sure it changed others. I was suddenly made aware of the outside world, grubby, wet, shouting and political. But it also highlighted new realities to do with civil rights in the USA and a whole new horizon of humanity in the world we were in at that time but ignorant of. We had been all shut up in our towns, our schools, our families, our country, pretty unaware of what was going on in the outside world. It was challenging to figure out where I fitted in that new world and who I really was. That world was suddenly a slightly frightening place but full of new and fascinating things nonetheless. Much transpired from that four day marching experience, sleeping rough with little or no money and being amongst the rain sodden anoraks, ordinary folks, the left wing politicos et alia. It was all full of portents.


Pretty much like the million man/woman march in 2003 (above) when central London was flooded to overflowing with the incredible sight of an ocean of people protesting the imminent invasion of Iraq chanting and singing …”War, what is it good for..absolutely nothing“. I walked on that protest march as well and was dismayed that it made absolutely no difference at all. It seemed that political realities and the fate of thousands of souls was all going to happen regardless of our protestations and on the meretricious whim of a power drunk egotist. We were just the escape valve. The faceless war mongers and their military machine would do whatever they wanted even if it meant lying about it. The dismay was accentuated because many of those marching had voted for Blair a few years earlier. The sweeping realities of war seem to happen in spite of humanity’s hatred of it. Man proposes but God disposes.

Individually of course the effect of the dramatic events of history are posing us all with a question. Much as we might be affected by the big news and the actors in the drama with our hopes vainly pinned on outcomes, we have in fact absolutely no influence over them other than a well directed prayer. The question each person is being asked is …..’Who are you and what to you choose to be?’ …..that is, forever, for all eternity. Each human soul is taxed with this test at any given moment but particularly in times of oppression or war. Are you going to be generous to the refugee, or even to your next door neighbour, or harden your heart and repeat to yourself the corrupting slogans and mantras of the arch-inciters who infest the newspapers, TV channels and web sites. Or at best do nothing.

For surely as night follows day, whatever is in your heart is what you will take with you, should death come upon you. Which is why so many people who cherish and nurture hatred in their hearts are in such a perilous position but are unaware of it. And if they don’t believe that then they will find out soon enough. Maybe they just lack imagination. 

(This was not much to do with typography but I thought it would be of interest.)

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Music to my Ears

My Ramadan afternoons, when the blood sugar reaches low levels, have been spent watching some of the lectures by Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter) on YouTube given in his college’s annual retreat last year. I can strongly recommend his lecture on Riding the Tiger of Modernity, something which we are all trying to do in this strange period of history. 

Ottoman Music Therapy. Pictured possibly in the Erdine Therapy Clinic illustrated below.

But today I just watched his talk on Music in Islam which is a subject close to my heart about which I’ve already blogged a few times in recent years. His lecture is worth watching as he explores some of the finer points and secrets of the Islamic musical traditions from the medical benefits of music therapy to the some of the different legal positions scholars have made over the past 1400 years. To those unfamiliar with this particular discussion it is because over past centuries every single aspect of the human situation has been filtered through the minds of Muslim scholars endeavoring to apply their knowledge and wisdom of the Qur’an and the Sunna to guide people aright in their lives. The use of instrumental and sung music being one of them. Abdal Hakim also outlined some of the technical details of the maqamats, harmonic frameworks which could be described as the empirical auditory harmonies of this created universe. Man’s knowledge of them predates Islam and is most likely what the Pythagoreans called the music of the spheres. My understanding of them is likened to the example of the western concept of major and minor, the listener comprehending happiness and sadness respectively. But there are many more maqams than major and minor and which can also involuntarily affect and inspire the listener. 

This is a vast subject and Abdal Hakim was obviously not going to cover all the ground available. The broad range of scholastic opinions on this subject is proof of how vast the subject is and why the differences of opinion is a mercy, as people can legitimately fit in wherever they wish. It’s not black and white. Unlike matters of law, music is a qualitative thing, fundamentally about the emotions of sound and how it affects the heart. What people do with it is another matter. Applying law to what is essentially art is tricky ground and given the limited practical knowledge and experience most people have of music, any strong legal statement against music by a scholar is going to very likely shut some people’s ears to something of beauty in God’s creation for fear they may be doing wrong. 

As I understand it, the four schools of law generally rule against instrumental music and I’m pretty sure the reasons for that are based on the premise that it is better to avoid doubtful things though I would need confirmation of that. I’m well aware that there is ugly music as well as beautiful music and in these times just too much music altogether so if you do music then you have to do it with care, beauty, discrimination and a good intention. But how often I have heard of people denied musical education for legal sharia reasons who end up listening to the worst kinds of music or worse still have no music in their lives at all apart from their phone ringtone. I’ve seen how it diminishes people. You cannot just say no, if there is nothing else to fall back on. But the important subject of music education, which you won’t see in any Muslim curriculum, is for another day. To me music is like a language and there are many such languages and if you wish to speak something profound to people you have to speak their language and not be looking over your shoulder all the time wondering if someone is going to catch you out on some legal point. Everyone these days is bombarded with these myriad musical languages (or genres if you like), unaware of their effects as they don’t know the language and their often malign meanings. Another reason to educate not legislate.

MT hospital
Music Therapy in action in a Turkish hospital.

The prophetic traditions invoked to forbid instrumental music (the Qur’an doesn’t specifically mention it) generally linked it to lewdness and alcohol and these are well known and always trawled out in this debate. But one scholar I know pointed out that the use of profanity does not invalidate language so why should the use of a stringed instrument in a dubious situation invalidate musical instruments when the same instrument could be used to spiritually inspire and beautify? A good point. I want to suggest a different approach. Are we not to be judged by our intentions, if God judges us thus?  Not using instruments in a spiritual gathering is no guarantee of it’s worth if it is done with bad intentions. There could be much good in a whole orchestra of instruments if the intention was to uplift the spirit and to better humanity or to heal sickness. Are we to deny the value of music therapy, which is exactly that?

Music Therapy Erdine
The Music Therapy Chamber, Erdine, Turkey. Now a museum.

In earlier posts on this blog I’ve inveighed against vacuous mindless music, and how in these times it’s linked to money, advertising, drugs and alcohol and worse. I know how the music business works. But there is an artistic component to this debate. How do we define beautiful music when so much of the appreciation of music is subjective? The technological noise that surrounds modern man is a terrible intrusion on his birthright to a bit of peace and tranquility. It’s noise without art. Like the noise of war. All the environmental noise of this age, inside and outside our houses, is seriously desensitizing us which is why I value silence most of all these days. I’ve said it before on this blog.

Tunes and musical ideas all have history and if some pedants query the use of maqams as being from a time prior to Islam (which they do), then stop to consider that much of culture and language has passed down from disbelieving but extinct civilisations. A real spiritual culture takes what has been inherited and refines it. The same with music. All of life is grafted on to the tree of our ancestry. Even the Celtic maqams beloved of Abdal Hakim are likely to have some alcoholic origins but that doesn’t mean when they are used in Qur’anic tajweed they aren’t beautiful, for they are. In Abdal Hakim’s CD the Rawdhat as-Shuhudat, Ali Keeler breaks new ground with his Qur’an recitation in Celtic modes. It’s the one thing I most appreciate on that album. We have left Damascus and are nearer home, now safely in a Scottish glen. •

Posted in miscellaneous, music, music in Islam, religion, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, tassawuf, typography / design | Leave a comment

Unplanned Permanence


Whilst doing the washing up after supper last night it dawned on me that the fish slice I had just used to flip my egg-in-the nest was the actual fish slice my mother was using in the 1950s when I was a teenager. In perfect working order after a lifetime of flipping pancakes and eggs. A Prestige Skyline. And a fine fish slice it is, better than any others I have had the pleasure to use. I must have inherited it in 1990 when my mother passed away but I had totally taken it for granted until I realised what I was using daily was an actual antique. It’s still in use because it is incredibly well made. I have had others which have usually snapped or bent irreversibly. Apart from some of my old books, little else has survived the test of time of possessions that get to be used regularly in our house. I do have a hammer I was given to me by American GIs who lived next door during the 1950s when East Anglia was awash with servicemen from the USA and who gave us everything when they left. But that’s about it. And I do use it.

But it did occur to me that blogs, like this one, will outlive me. I think. Unlike bank accounts and I suspect Facebook accounts, which close with the demise of its owner, I imagine blogs will carry on into perpetuity. At least I hope so. As long as the internet remains. The manipulations of fashion are mostly what drives people to update whatever it is that they want but as the quality of things increases surely owners of cars, computers whatever, will be less inclined to purchase the latest version as the current model works fine thank you very much. But computers is one arena which alas compels one to catch up all the time. Computers are like standing on an escalator. You go where it goes and when it goes. Everyone knows how persistent computer manufacturers are to get you to upgrade your operating system even though, for instance, my last iPhone upgrade slowed my old iPhone 5 down to a crawl. It’s since caught up in speed but I am wary now of hitting the upgrade option when it pops up. I’m trying step off the update treadmill but it requires determination and cool thinking but I still feel I am a like a Luddite for choosing not to.

I have never ever bought a new car and still believe rightly so that the older cars, if you get the right one, are vastly better than newer cars which are overly computerised and are less serviceable by your local garage. I know of cars which have just died because the computer seized up. It just calls into question the notion of endless new car models and planned obsolescence which was an idea that began in the 1920s in the USA when car sales reached saturation point and getting people to change cars even if they didn’t need to, became a priority. So cars could suddenly be had in a range of colours and sizes and then marketed like mad by the Mad Men of Madison Avenue. You’ll find some people still who have kept the same vacuum cleaners and fridges since the war and have no reason to change. Cars too.

Human beings have a limited lifetime and although there is a small wealthy percentage who advocate cryonic preservation most of us will pass away and quite thankfully leave this world behind. But occasionally the dead don’t disintegrate once dead, and here in Spain they are called the Incorruptibles.


This link is to the story of a Lebanese Christian saint (St. Charbel Makhlouf) who died in 1898. These incorruptible (as opposed to artificially preserved) men or women are often saintly souls and in Catholicism are revered as Saints or Blesseds. There are many accounts of incorruptibles (in all religious faiths) but of course only when a grave is opened does this come to light. Often what attracts people to the tombs of saints is a luminous living presence, something which I’ve often experienced in the Muslim world at tombs of the dead. Although I did find the tomb of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral very affecting when I visited it in the 1960s. 

St. Charbel Makhlouf (above)

Of course in the northern Anglo Saxon Christian tradition visiting tombs of saints or even the graves of relatives is not common and likewise in the more puritan parts of the Muslim world. In the Catholic world All Souls (Halloween) was always the day you visited your dead relatives placing flowers on the graves or nowadays by their bricked up niches. Only recently was the idea of Halloween imported into Spain as a commercial money spinner. Before it had always been the day every Spanish family took flowers to the cemetery. Now it’s like America with pumpkins and ghoulish masks. But All Saints day is different from All Souls’ Day which is set aside for prayers for all souls, whether in heaven or purgatory. All Saints is supposed to celebrate the souls of saints who are in heaven because of their dedication to prayer and devotional living.  

father-brownThe recent BBC series Father Brown, a TV adaptation of the original novels by GK Chesterton throws up some interesting issues around this subject. Apart from being simply a whodunnit, the series is also a lot about Catholicism but I’m sure it’s mostly watched and enjoyed by religious believers of all stripes as well as agnostics and atheists. But what overrides the religious issues is that it is all about God, whether you agree or not that God exists. Father Brown, the eccentric sleuth, is sympathetically played by Mark Williams, who, when he exposes the murderer, first councils him or her to confess and is usually merciful in his judgment of people. He always puts God first and the law last so ends up in some awkward situations. To non-Catholics the idea of confession seems absurd as to believe a priest can absolve you of sins just doesn’t add up but I must admit the more I see Mark Williams in action the more it makes sense for certain troubled people to unburden themselves to another person in the confessional booth. Especially before dying. After all psychiatrists and councillors perform the same function but charge for the service. The only oddity about the programme is that it is hard believe that anywhere in the Cotswolds is there a village with so many Catholics.

One question I would love to ask Mark Williams if ever I met him is whether acting the priest hasn’t made him into one or whether he couldn’t just change jobs to be one, if his Harry Potter work ran out. We are all knowingly or unknowingly very concerned with our impermanence and whether one aspect of ourselves is in fact most definitely permanent.  After all eternity is by definition a permanent condition. 

Posted in Catholicism, Comment, Father Brown, Fish Slices, Halloween, miscellaneous, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, tv, typography / design | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Passing of Martin


Picture Courtesy of Peter Sanders.

Martin Stone passed away at 2am on the 8th November 2016 in Paris where he lived. Before joining the seminal rock group Mighty Baby in 1968 he had ventured into the world of the occult, after having begun more prosaically playing in blues bands in south London.  I have many stories to relate about him although for thirty years I had no contact at all. Others have many more stories I’m sure. Read on.

After Brian Jones was sacked, the Rolling Stones considered Martin as a replacement and somehow the news leaked and the press descended on his parents house in Sandersted, South London, where they all lived. His mother was shocked. Martin had known Brian and had played informally with him previously. In the London music scene if you were vaguely talented you were known about as it was a small world, and certainly much smaller than it is now. He told me he once had to back Rufus Thomas, a black blues legend, back in the 1960s on a UK tour. He thought of inviting his parents who came to see him in a dance hall in South London. Much to his embarrassment Thomas came out with obscene jokes in between his songs. That’s what the music business could be like and probably still is. 

Martin’s occult interests were not unconnected to his love of psychotropic drugs but led him book by book to works by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, the Upanishads, Buddhism, the I Ching etc. and so on all the way to books on Celtic Christianity, geomancy, and finally Rumi and Sufism. Watkins bookshop in Cecil Court, and Probsteins in Museum Street in London’s west end were some of his favourite haunts at the time as they were for Richard Thompson and later Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Books for him contained all the secrets he longed for. When I first met him at his audition he had a guitar case in one hand and a large book of oriental wisdom in the other.

He first connected with Ian Dallas (aka Abdal Qadir), a Scottish one time actor and writer, at a time when Dallas was given a guest editorship of the International Times, an anarchic rag, published in the late 1960s in swinging London. He interviewed Martin and Roger, the Mighty Baby drummer, for the paper, and this led to another meeting with just Martin in the old Cranks vegetarian restaurant just behind Oxford street. Soon after that Martin was invited to Dallas’ cottage in Devon. This led to a secret trip with Ian Dallas to Morocco in late 1970 and no one in Mighty Baby knew anything about it!  In Meknes, Martin was introduced to the famous, venerable and saintly teacher Muhammad Ibn Al Habib with whom he accepted Islam and was given the name Abdal Malik. This fits with a vivid memory I have of a tour in Germany where I first encountered Martin praying, although I didn’t know at the time it was prayer. I thought he was looking under his bed in the hotel. On the same journey Martin’s two heavy Yusuf Ali Qur’ans fell on my head in an incident on an autobahn in Germany on the way back to England. 

Incidentally, on our first trip to Morocco in 1971, I found myself in a small room in the old Zawiyya in Meknes with the late poet Abdal Hayy Moore (who I wrote about recently and who died earlier this year) when Muhammad Ibn al Habib, may God be pleased with him, then around 100, came into the room and sat with Abdal Hayy for about 15 minutes with his hand on his forehead to assuage his high fever. Martin and I were both stunned into silence as if a large ship had steamed into a tiny harbour. Now they are all together in the afterworld …. 

Martin also remembered better than me the encounter Mighty Baby had with Mick Jagger in our dressing room at a Drury Lane gig in 1968 with the Rolling Stones. Apparently I had some harsh words for Jagger but I have no memory of it at all. I think we all thought that, rightly or wrongly, we were the counterbalance to their demonic presence. 

After he parted with the nascent Sufi community early in 1972 due to a terminal clash of personalities with its leader Ian Dallas/Abdal Qadir, Martin toyed with other music groups but became best known as a book scout, tracking down rare books for high paying clients. He was featured in various novels….. in one book A Pound Of Paper by John Baxter I was erroneously blamed for having ended Mighty Baby by embarking on the spiritual journey we had all embarked on. Without any shadow of a doubt, Martin was the one, to his credit, who took us all into it. 

Martin, aka Abdal Malik, passed away after a long battle with a rare kind of cancer. I last spoke with him a few months ago and he was as ever, cheerful. We even discussed doing some recording down here in Spain. After being disconnected for so long, we began corresponding with each other up to the time of his death. He was fascinated with what had happened after he departed the Sufis in 1972 and I filled in the history for him. Although he had reversed out of practical Islam, I know he still had respect for those with sincere spiritual intent. He always addressed me as Abdallateef not Ian, not that it mattered to me. But it mattered to him. Whatever happened between him and Abdal Qadir/Ian Dallas was so traumatic that it drove him away. His loss? Most probably. Our loss? Definitely.

Below is a recording I made in memory of him which is revisiting an old Mighty Baby track from the ultimate album. Martin wrote the lyrics though the band always shared writing credits equally. Feel free to distribute it. Somehow it captures the bitter sweet nature of the time it was written.

Posted in Comment, miscellaneous, music, Poetry, religion, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, tassawuf, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pearls of the Faith


A book that recently left my desk to the printers after sitting in my computer for over ten years is the book illustrated above: Pearls of the Faith by British Victorian journalist and traveller Sir Edwin Arnold. First published in 1884 it was an attempt to present Islam in an appealing and intelligent manner to a world steeped in prejudice and colonial disdain for Islam. When I first saw the text ten years ago it seemed archaic and written in a kind of verse that reminded me of the stories of Rupert Bear, an illustrated childrens’ story book told in verse form which I had grown up with. I didn’t really understand Hamza Yusuf’s motives in wanting to republish it but after ten years and a now very different world that we live in, it actually makes a lot of sense to re-present it to the public. After careful editing involving many spelling changes and the addition of the essay by Gai Eaton, a foreword by Robert P George, a prominent professor of Law from Princeton who gives a Christian perspective, the book has been given a new lease of life. Hamza’s preface unlocks his own motives behind its publication and how he came to find the book in the first place. Part of his preface I have reproduced here.

Pearls of the Faith is a book that harkens back to a slower time, before the nanosecond, before supersonic travel, before the advent of cyberspace, when handwritten letters took weeks to deliver, and people could sit under a canopy and read light verse about other faiths in faraway lands. It was a time when lettered men and women wrote prose and poetry in the hope that it might engender greater understanding of a richly diverse world in dire need of peaceful co-existence, reciprocal respect, and a deeper knowledge of the evergreen truths hidden in the myriad teachings of our various world faiths. The love and appreciation of poetry, far more widespread in Sir Edwin Arnold’s day, is unfortunately lost on many in our impoverished and illiterate post-modern culture. In light of that lamentable reality, we humbly offer this reprint of a 19th century British poet’s effort to help cleanse the doors of perception regarding Islam and hope that it may also help revive a love of such aspirational literature in these troubled times.  (Hamza Yusuf, Zaytuna College)

Mohamed Zakariya, America’s arabic calligrapher emeritus, contributed a great swathe of his work to the project. All the 99 Names of Allah as well as calligraphic set pieces. It illumines almost every page of the book (and the cover) and reproduced here is a typical page spread to give you a taste of it.

pearls pages MASTER 19 October•.indd

I have always thought that poetry more than anything is enhanced and honoured by good typesetting and printed on good paper stock in a hard back volume. In this case every poem had a different metre, stanza length and line length so it was almost impossible to standardise the pages. Almost every page had to be considered individually. The editor and proof readers have carefully adjusted spelling and transliterations to make it more comprehensible to a modern reader. Pearls of the Faith is now in the printers and I can’t give a release date as of yet. Watch this space or follow the Sandala web pages.

Posted in Comment, language, miscellaneous, Poetry, Publishing, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, typography / design | 4 Comments

Small is Bountiful

house from above

In the year 2000, Shaykh Zaki Yamani, the erstwhile Saudi oil minister, gave a one-off lecture in London which I had the good fortune to attend. The lecture was about the house of Khadijah, may God be pleased with her, in Mecca, the first wife of the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, which was so mindlessly obliterated by the Saudi government in the 1990s to make way for a building of 1,400 toilets adjacent to it. The site itself is now covered in marble. This was a house which was revered as a place of pilgrimage by muslims for well over 1000 years to which dignitaries would visit and pray in, and where the angel had sat and prayed with the Prophet and where he taught him. A place of revelation in other words. As sacred a space as you could possible imagine. The house was tiny and a sign of the simplicity and economy that those people of that time embodied during their lives. You can watch the lecture here:

In his lecture, Shaykh Yamani explained that he was able to secure a three week delay to the rebuilding while he brought in 500 workers to excavate, measure and photograph it before it was filled in with sand and covered in concrete. This act was hurtful to the vast majority of muslims. The recent destruction of Palmyra and mausoleums in Libya were merely a continuation of this process of desecration that has been going on for centuries. The favourite pastime, it appears, of the khawarij and its current manifestation.

khadija plan

My fascination with this tiny house in Mecca, was the sheer smallness of it. It must have been a house with five children with two thirds of it for commercial storage, as Khadijah was a working businesswoman who employed her younger husband who happened to also be the Prophet of God. You could stand in one of the rooms and touch opposite walls with arms outstretched. Compare this to the excesses of life in the west and what is now considered the poverty line in the USA and you start to wonder if some of the material values aspired to by the so called developed world aren’t seriously overblown. father when he was alive in the 1950s was editor of a fine arts magazine and as part of his job had to visit Sutton Place, in Surrey, the then British residence of J Paul Getty, the elder, to write an article on the 600 room historic mansion and its antiquities.

Getty, then the richest man in the world at the time, lived there alone and made his guests bring sandwiches and in a wild moment of generosity provided a payphone in the entrance foyer for their use. Sad, to say the least. A king of the large-house movement. Conversely there is a growing small-house movement these days world-wide in the so called developed world.

Sutton Place, Surrey UK

Small-House-Japansmall house usa
Left: a tiny house in the USA. Above: Interior of a small wooden Japanese house.

Type ‘small houses’ into Google and you get 83 million results. However, in the USA the average size of new single family homes grew from 1,780 sq. feet (165 sq.m) in 1978 to  2,662 sq. feet (247.3 sq.m) in 2013, despite a decrease in the size of the average family. Reasons for this include increased material wealth and prestige in a very spoilt country. And of course it has left a lot of people out of the loop, if not actually homeless. Which is why now people are looking for alternative ways of living because of the difficulty of renting property let alone buying it. I personally know of people in Spain who have rented  land and built theoretically temporary structures to live in. Importantly they live within their means, often off-grid, and avoid the need to borrow money. I call it creative adaptability. For them it is fulfilling and honourable.

The human race is very inventive and hugely adaptive which is why I’m interested in people who have consciously and creatively down-sized and how they have done it. I have recently downsized myself and after a year and half my wife and I have fully adapted. Not enough storage? Then get rid of the clothes you never wear. Badly need another room? then build a shed. But only if you really need it. But our mini house does have a lovely very private garden with fourteen kinds of fruit trees, vegetables, a fast running irrigation acequia (irrigation channel), a small pool and rather too many cats. In Spain you live a lot outside all year round so not having palatial living rooms is not a problem which is why most houses have small rooms.

Our ancestors, the best of them that is, mostly lived in small houses and only the rich elites lived in big houses. The current American large house solution is clearly unsustainable even though Hollywood and English period TV productions, try to convince us all that we really need kitchens the size of tennis courts and swimming pools the size of the Caspian sea. That model, with the huge mortgages it necessitates, cannot and will not last.

Posted in architectural, Comment, House design, miscellaneous, religion, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, small houses, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pass the Parcel



The graveyard of 6 million at Najaf, south of Baghdad.

Professional journalists usually have to fill column inches to order,
which accounts for their flights of fancy or in many cases outright
lies. Bloggers, unless they are driven lunatics, tend to post stuff as
and when they feel inspired. Which is why reading blogs is often more
informative than most news sources, printed or electronic.

In the summer months I tend to put my feet up and take a blog holiday
as to tell the truth I think I stop thinking in the heat or I’m
otherwise occupied watering plants or just trying to stay cool. But I
can see the need soon for a special obituary page on my blog as
increasing numbers of my friends are entering the ante chamber of life
or should that be death. There has been a rush to old age for some
time with my generation and naturally it’s regularly a topic
of conversation. Where are you going to be buried? And so on…..and
why not? Nothing morbid about it. Just forward planning.

I’ve blogged two obituaries in the last six years of people close to
me which is not exactly a lot. But my late brother Kaye, himself a
journalist, wrote quite a few obituaries over the years for the
Guardian and other newspapers – mostly obituaries of other
journalists, writers or political figures who were connected to
Africa, his area of interest. Until of course he passed away himself
two years ago and some other journalist had to write his obit for the
Guardian. Like a macabre game of pass the parcel except the idea is to
keep the parcel as long as you can.

In fact when Kaye died I was in California so I missed his actual
funeral but was able to go to a memorial for him in Chatham House in
London a few months later. I say event because if you put a lot of
journalists and their coterie of politicians, diplomats and
businessmen together, especially if half are Africans or
Afro-Caribbean, it’s more of a party than a serious memorial for the
one who has passed on.

Mind you it was quite serious in places and at one point a giant
Nigerian who arrived halfway through the proceedings burst into tears
as he mentioned Kaye’s name. But the recollections were generally humorous with a well known Jamaican writer recalling the time when he met up with Kaye, newly
married back in 1963. Asked where she was, Kaye said that Marva, his
new wife, was tied up at home and was unable to come. Our Jamaican
writer pointed out wryly that where he comes from people had a kind of
literal understanding of the language and that tied up meant … tied
up! Much mirth.

In the room full of over 100 people I felt a warmth and mutual respect
amongst them but not in a politically correct fashionable multiracial
kind of way but quite real. I was moved. When I was introduced as
Kaye’s youngest brother to the large Nigerian journalist who had wept
on the podium, he clasped me in a giant bear hug.  But of course
waiting upstairs were the drinks and once the dedications were over
there was a stampede. I’m afraid alcohol is the lubricant of most
journalists’ lives, my brother included.

I recall visiting him once in his office, the HQ, of West Africa ,
somewhere in south London. West Africa was a political weekly he
edited for 20 years, mostly about Nigeria and its three storey
headquarters was inhabited entirely by Nigerians. But at the very top
in the Managing Editor’s office was the very white Mr Whiteman. A
symbolic and defining image of my brother’s life.

My own generation is ten years behind that of my brother so there is
less shuffling going on to get off this mortal coil but the shuffling
has definitely started and passing the obituary parcel has begun. I’ve
written two obits in total in 6 years which seems to indicate that
most of my friends are still alive and kicking. Who will do the next
obituary? Who will do mine? Do we actually need obituaries?

We bury these realities as we bury the dead or incinerate them as is
the fashion even here in Spain these days. It’s the not talked about
taboo subject in modern cultures or else it’s the headline item that
is guaranteed to sell newspapers or pull in tv advertising. More
deaths = more advertising. As the Australian arch lizard of the news
business correctly observed: news is entertainment, and horror and
death sells and always has. The tv channels are filled with whodunnits
always featuring the gruesome ritual pulling back of the green shroud
in the mortuary for us to see how well an actor can act being dead.

This culture is probably the only civilization in history with zero
knowledge of what happens next. It’s all about somehow extending life
at all costs by miraculous medical techniques putting huge profits
into the transplant industry and leaving simple cheap life preserving
measures un-financed. Also the arms manufacturers guarantee that for
some, extending life is not their plan but the serious curtailing of
it – for a lot of people.

As Abe Lincoln said “it’s not the years in your life that matters but
the life in your years.” Quality not quantity. Isn’t that a better
attitude? Or as Al Ghazali said 700 years ago “only the deceived fool
rejoices as his wealth increases as each day his life shortens.”

Best to look death in the face and smile … it will descend.

Posted in Comment, miscellaneous, Poetry, Publishing, religion, sacred knowledge, tassawuf, typography / design, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Daniel Moore, Poet

AH City Lights

Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, passed away yesterday April 18 after several years of cheerfully coping with illness. He was a night bird poet who invariably wrote in the early hours. Like a nightingale his song was only heard by a few but fortunately was recorded in all the many books he self-published over a fifteen year period till the time of his death. It is said that when a poem is recited the spirit of its author appears in some way and it’s in his poetry that you can still meet with him. There is a huge volume of his work but it is hoped an anthology can be assembled soon to present the essence of his work to a bigger audience. He was well known as a beat poet in the 1960s in the USA and was brought to a large audience by the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, and his name was always linked with Alan Ginsberg and Laurence Ferlinghetti. But it was a world of poetry that I had little to do with. I only knew him as a fellow traveler through the wild and rocky roads of a Sufi brotherhood over a period of around 45 years.

Others could relate in more detail better than me his early fame in the Floating Lotus Opera Company in San Francisco during the late sixties and the internet might reveal more details and even movie footage. Remember this was in the height of the flower revolution fuelled by LSD and many other stimulants. Many of the pioneers of this new frontier were cosmic explorers seeking whatever they could of Eastern universal wisdom in all its many manifestations, Sufism included. And Islam finally.

He was an early follower of Suzuki Roshi, the famous Zen master, and he once gave me a tour of his old dojo in the heart of San Francisco where a row of small black zen cushions in a large wood panelled downstairs room was evidence of where the disciples endured hours of meditation.

Abdal Hayy was plucked out of that Zen Buddhist world and the shaymanic theatrical world of the Floating Lotus and hip poetry, by the actor Ian Dallas and it was 1971 when I first met Abdal Hayy in London, shed of his long hair, prayer beads in hand. He was en route to Morocco with some other Californians to meet the famous venerable Sufi shaykh in Meknes, Muhammad Ibn al Habib, where he was appointed a muqqadem (a deputy) by the Shaykh. When he finally fled from the gravitational pull of the various communities he found himself living in for many years, he ended up in Philadelphia where he remained till his death. Having been curiously prohibited from writing early on by Ian Dallas, in his newly won freedom, Abdal Hayy began writing poetry again, and prolifically so.

I worked on quite a few of his books and although I must admit I am no connoisseur of poetry there was always a few of his poems that caught my eye. The poems I liked best were honest, observant, surreal, self deprecating and often humorous. The book I know best is Ramadan Sonnets from 2006 which acts as a kind of vessel which could contain his genius. The opening poem The Inevitable is about fasting, and quite timely which is why I quote it here:

It’s like practicing for death. No food or drink
during daylight hours no matter
what, in the
heat of summer or
cold of winter,
and no way out of it but through
sickness, pregnancy, menstruation, madness or travel.
So that

it’s something that comes
inevitably each year, like it or not, whether or not
you’ve got a knack for it, and
some do, and love to fast, and
thrive on it, but
I do not, yet

each year it makes its visit, and year after
year it builds up to be a
sweet thing,

which make it like death, the way its
always on the
horizon, and an
absolute obligation, which must be
why Muslims often die well, They’ve had a
lifetime of Ramadans tenderizing them
for The Inevitable. And the Inevitable surely comes.


RAMADAN SONNETSBut appreciating poetry is always a very personal thing and many people just don’t get it. It tries to express what cannot be expressed in any other way. I also loved the way Abdal Hayy’s words just tripped out of his pen as if they had minds of their own in his endless efforts to define impossible spiritual heights in verse. Loose, free verse. He didn’t really have time for rhyme though it would pop up every so often. In fact I asked him several times to write in rhyme so I could set it to music. I managed to make Raspberry Juleps, one of his poems from the Ramadan Sonnets into a song as it had a bit of rhyme in it. It was unavoidably and inevitably west coast sounding like a Robert Hunter Grateful Dead track. The words always flavoured the song:

Raspberry Juleps sweet as cucumbers,
delicate froth on the rim of the glass,
even the hasty buffalo lumbers
slowly when entering Paradise Pass.

Tweets in triplets cascade in a mass
from eaves where chickadees sit by the trail,
suddenly filtering down through the grass
I imagined appearing in this vale

of tears in the modern city, chromium wail
of silent citizens taking their walks.

Silver in rays, sparkles like chain mail
flash through the nonsense everyone talks
Why not see canyons filling with light?
Any moment leads to some insight.


Even though he tried to express the divine in his poetry, he was still in some ways very much to me the west coast beat poet appraising in his nightly vigils wondrous and infinite celestial and very spiritual inner worlds as well as just the plain ordinary. His words were his rocket fuel, launching him constantly into wonderful journeys into the inner beyond. His own artwork adorned most of his book covers and was a glimpse of the surreal worlds he looked out on and which had surrounded him in his early life in the floating Lotus. He was ever conscious that his imagery would never be endearing to Muslim bookshops. But he stuck to his guns and  carried on regardless creating ever stranger collages and odd juxtapositions.

His poetry was always God conscious poetry and it came from from an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. He really knew poetry inside out, and poets too whether from the Caucasian or Hispanic universes. Where he is now only God knows, but I’m sure he is writing a poem about it.

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