Monthly Archives: March 2010

Burners, Tags and Beauty Bombs

20 March 2010 | The National Newspaper

Tag: The simplest and most prevalent kind of graffiti, a tag is a stylised signature.

Burner: a large, more elaborate type of graffiti mural involving the use of multiple colours and elaborate designs.

Bomb: to paint murals on many surfaces in a given area.

The British graffiti artist Mohammed Ali has been at the Art Dubai event and I recently had the serendipitous opportunity to take in his presentation. The following thoughts came to mind:

Muslim art famously celebrates the “word” in ornate and exquisite elaborations on calligraphic motifs. These words have been, more often than not, verses of the Quran, heavily laden with meaning; but the word for verse is “ayah” which also means signs.

“Ayah” is also used to denote the signs of the Almighty on the horizons of His creation in the natural world. Scholars refer to both Allah’s written book and His visual book to be read on the horizons of the natural world.

But the verses to be read in the world around us are meant to take you somewhere, to the transcendent, to the sublime; to remind, to enlighten; to “pull one’s coat” to a higher awareness of beauty.

“Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty,” and we are told, “take on the character traits of Allah”.

This means that when you project goodness, compassion, and beauty, you are reflecting the sublimity of the Divine Presence. Sometimes Muslims forget this. Allah bless Mohammed Ali for reminding us.

Returning to the verses to be read in the world around us. We gain enlightenment from the “lesson” embedded within the verse, which is called an “ibrah”.

But from the same Arabic root comes the word “ubur” which means to cross over, or to bridge. So the “ayah” wants to cross you over from where you are into a new plane of consciousness and understanding. From the same root though, comes the word “ibarah” which means a “phrase”, and the theme of a graffiti piece is more often than not a phrase.

But what is unique about graffiti is that it is a “phrase out of place”. So it comes as a surprise in the monotony of your existence and the essence of its message is “wake up”.

Wake up to this meaning, become conscious of its scope, become aware of its import.

The artistic phrase, the artist’s verse or sign, is tendering an offer. It is an offer to take you on a journey; to bridge over into a new dimension of time and space; one of awareness and exquisite meaning. It wants to take you from the common to the uncommon, from the mundane to the extraordinary.

It is asking for you to renew your world. It is asking you to change, to become enlivened and new people. But the most important thing is to be conscious people and conscientious people. But first you have to be awake.


Abdel Halim Mahmud: Azhar at its best

13 March 2010 | The National Newspaper (Abu Dhabi)

“As long as God leaves us absorbed in our own suffering we remain sterile, nailed to ourselves. As soon as compassion brings us beyond ourselves to another’s suffering than our own, we enter into the science of compassion experientially, we discover wisdom in it. In the immortal company of all creatures purified by angelic and human trial we glimpse the joy of tomorrow through the pain of today.”

 – Louis Massignon

Abdel Halim Mahmud (1910-1978) returned from Paris in 1940 with a PhD in philosophy. At the Sorbonne he had studied psychology, anthropology, and sociology under the renowned French scholar Louis Massignon. But before ever leaving Egypt he had completed his Islamic studies at Azhar and was awarded the Alamiyyah certificate, one of the youngest to ever do so in modern times.

In 1973 he was appointed to the position of Shaykh al-Azhar, the highest religious position in Egypt. However, because of the institution’s preeminence and history, it becomes perhaps the highest religious position in the Muslim world. To this day he is revered and loved throughout the Muslim world as a profound intellectual, an extraordinary social leader, and cultural icon.

Three elements of his approach made Abdel Halim Mahmud so significant and effective. First, he combined traditionally grounded authenticity with a conversance with contemporary global intellectual trends. This authenticity gave him credibility with the Muslim public as well as a means to model intrinsic cultural autonomy while engaging in world issues on the terms of the international community. It was his involvement with international institutions that enabled the latter and modeled a new openness for Muslims to participate with confidence in global community.

Second, he revived the relationship of jurisprudential policy and regulation with the Islamic tradition of spiritual ethics. The mechanical body of the law would no longer be without a soul, but rise to its calling of reinvigorating fairness, goodness, and purposeful leadership in society. Third, he was always conscious of a local-global big picture and inspired a generation to be participants in that bigger picture.

In her 2005 article on the intellectual legacy of A. H. Mahmud, the Oxford academic Hatsuki Aishima, highlights his spiritually informed approach which he termed, the “Way of Continuity,” as being comprised of three elements; knowledge, action, and devotion. Knowledge implies an emphasis on education and intellectual erudition. ‘Action’, as positive and constructive civil engagement, informs his formulation of the meaning of ‘jihad’. And devotion grounds ethics in religious commitment and spiritual vision and praxis. Through this approach, she points out, he was able reinvigorate al-Azhar as a significant cultural, educational, and intellectual institutional leader.

A healthy and robust Azhar makes for a healthy and balanced Muslim world. With the office of Shaykh al-Azhar vacant, Egypt is under pressure to make a courageous and visionary choice.

Muslims are looking for cultural leaders who can show them how to participate in the global public square in ways that are significant, honest, and true to their own identity. A burgeoning youth population figures significantly into this equation along with their concerns for livelihood, education, security, and cultural integrity.

With no one to champion their cause and address the needs of themselves, their families, and the circumstances of their lives, they become frustrated, cynical, and feelings of disenfranchisement prevail. Many will become disaffected; some may even turn to vigilantism – which by the way is prohibited in Shariah. But it’s not enough to tell them that its wrong; someone needs to show them how “right” can bring tangible improvements to their situation and that of their families.

But more than this, we need an Azhar that can deliver on still more civilizational objectives; social balance, global participation, and cultural significance.

The Mawlid Sermon

On Friday 5th March Shaykh Jihad Hashim Brown delivered a khutba (sermon) on the topic of the birth of God’s final messenger Muhammad, upon him be peace. You can listen to and download it below.

Listen here:

Download here: 05-03-10 Mawlid Khutba

Friday Sermon – Brotherhood Part 6

Shaykh Jihad Brown continues with the Brotherhood series, focusing upon the deeper meanings of partner, ally and brother within the Islamic tradition.

Delivered on 02 January 2010 in Maryam bint Sultan Mosque, Abu Dhabi.

To Listen Online:

To Download: 02-01-10 Brotherhood pt 6 [approx running time: 33 mins]