The Other Al-Andalus – When Muslims and Christians Flourished Side By Side in Sicily

Three main Muslim dynasties ruled Sicily until 1071. The first to rule were the Sunni Aghlabids, an Ifriqiyan family that had broken away from the Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad. Following the Aghlabids were the Shi’ite Fatimids, who drove out their predecessors in 909 and founded their Sicilian base of Mahdia in 916. The Fatimids eventually conquered Egypt in 969 and transferred the seat of the caliphate from Baghdad to the newly founded city of Cairo in 973. Fatimid emirs, or governors later ruled Ifriqiya and Sicily.


Under these Muslim dynasties, the population of Sicily grew rapidly and dozens of towns and cities were founded and repopulated including: Messina, Syracuse, Sciacca, Mazara and Castrogiovanni. The finest city in Sicily was Palermo, called al-Banurmu, or simply al-Medina, “the city”.

Dr. Craig Considine

The outsides of the principal doorways and their pointed arches of the Monreale cathedral are magnificently enriched with carving and colored inlay, a curious combination of three styles – Norman-French, Byzantine and Arab. Source: Wikipedia

I sometimes think about the glories of “Islamic Spain,” or Al-Andalus. Starting around 711 and ending in 1492, Muslim rulers maintained a spirit of convivencia, a Spanish term meaning “living in togetherness” or “coexistence”, which allowed for an unprecedented level of interfaith engagement on the European continent. While Al-Andalus may represent the pinnacle of cooperation among Muslims, Christians and Jews, there is also a brilliant history – too often ignored and still inadequately assessed – coming out of Sicily, an island belonging to modern-day Italy.

The unique society that developed in Sicily is hardly mentioned by historians of Europe, Christianity or Islam. Over the course of several centuries, interfaith exchanges in cultural, religious and scientific…

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Explanations of War, by Dave Lordan

The Bogman’s Cannon

stop bombing

See all those bright lights whizzing around in the sky-
They are only the stars throwing a party.
And the shaking you feel beneath you,
The shaking that jars your teeth and your bones-
That is only the way the earth dances.
And the bangs and roars, the cracks and blasts and booms-
These are only the sounds of little spirits tuning their instruments.
And the horrible wailing that rises and falls, rises and falls above the buildings-
That is only the rooftops shrieking their envy that they cannot fly off.
And the high fires that climb above the rooftops-
These are the rejoicing souls of our city flying to heaven.
And the black clouds of smoke blotting the beautiful woman of the moon-
These are our dark acts evaporating.
And you my child, lying still in my arms,
Lying stiff as a mould of ancient clay,
You my child…

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On Love

I dedicate this post to my friend Akhila
Reading philosophy and poetry does not guarantee success in Love. It depends- in my opinion- on the mysterious forces that defy human comprehension, but that does not prevent me from reading about my favorite topic.
Socrates, in Plato’s Symposium talks about Love in the form of ladder that one has to climb to become a perfect lover. He talks about loving a particular human body for its beauty and goodness, becoming a lover of all beautiful bodies in the second stage (most of us are unable to go beyond this), then moving upward on the ladder of love by loving the beauty/goodness of the soul in the third stage.
The fourth and fifth stages are quite philosophical. These stages move beyond the body (to the idea, noble causes and creation of beauty) and talks about how our perpetual longing to possess good and beautiful can be fulfilled if directed towards other objects, that is, not human beings. However, the message of Socrates was that we do not need to give up our longing for salvation through love.
I think these stages are more natural as circular rather than in a ladder form. For example, when I go through the poetry of Ghalib, I see all those stages circular depending upon my mood. He does not offer a celebration of love, or limit himself to the love of the divine, as mystic poets do. It is a poetry of contemplation on the topic of love. His couplets offer a precise distinction between one experience and another. Also, if you ask anyone’s opinion on Love many times over a period of time. They will define it not once or twice, but over and over again and may end up contradicting themselves. So a whole collection of thoughts of one person may signify the complexity of human thought on Love (like Diwan-e Ghalib).
The speech of Eryximachus on the science of Eros was also interesting. Symposium has some golden nuggets to offer to anyone who wants to think about love philosophically.



Touch Deprivation

The other day I was reading at the Café and was going through the same page of the book probably for the third time. Maybe the language was too difficult or maybe my heart was not at it. I was aware of a mild headache. That was a kind of headache when you feel some weight on your head. I caressed that part of my head with my hands.
On my left a man explaining a business plan to another. Repeating again and again that poor people remain poor because they do not change their ways. I tried to avoid his irritating talk, but he was loud. On the other side of the glass wall that is on the open terrace of the café, I saw this rich looking couple. They were well dressed with undeniably attractive bodies. Their bodies have the presence of the kind Walt Whitman talks about in his poetry.
While the lemon slices were floating in their colorful drinks, the woman was stroking his hair and face like he is her child. I started observing other people around to see how many are touching each other. The touch I thought has whole philosophy to it. Perhaps those around me not touching each other might be touching each other through words or unable to do so. After all, one can be very specific about who they allow to touch and where. Touching could be a way of understanding each other. It is how we transfer healing warmth from the one body to the another.
I was looking at that couple again. I was thinking that these two must be enjoying closeness to each other. How healing it must be for him to feel her breast, her hair and her face so close to him. Edward Munch would not have created his ‘Madonna’ without experiencing such closeness. I reached to a conclusion that my headache might be out of a deprivation, especially the touch deprivation. I liked the precise term I coined for my sickness. I can borrow money to have coffee here but I cannot borrow a touch.                  
This is where my failure lies?
I carried on with my reading.

Diary entry

She was in my dream last night. I thought of telling her and realize that I have deleted her number four-five times before to prevent asymmetric conversation. This time, I prevented myself from saying I miss her. Like that. Plainly.
I thought, our ancestors who wrote letter were better off. This easiness of expressing emotion is counterfeiting and insisting. I thought about Mujavaba tradition when they use to write poetry to each other and it took 2 years for them to reply. If I have to say, I miss you to someone. I must feel it in the blood and bones first. Easy communication is preventing me from letting the lava ignite until it explodes.
So this time I did not tell her that I miss her. May be it does not matter at all if I miss her. To be a wise man is to be able to develop your ability to handle the pain. In the subconscious, no one leaves me completely. I need to learn to create a fragrance out of the absence. Ailments deep within this body are so many and I must entertain every ailment cautiously and learn to create things out of them.

–  29th May 2016