Mecca goes Vegas

If you’re not Moslem, chances are you’ll never see the architectural wonders of Mecca.  The NYT has a short (7 photos) slideshow of the new and the old, including a tacky replica of London’s Big Ben, decked out in green Allah neon.

In a companion piece, the NYT also tracks the controversy over the latest architectural additions to the holy city: New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy.

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on. ….

“It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.”

….[The construction boom — and the demolition that comes with it] has been facilitated by Saudi Arabia’s especially strict interpretation of Islam, which regards much history after the age of Muhammad, and the artifacts it produced, as corrupt, meaning that centuries-old buildings can be destroyed with impunity.

Contrast some building projects of the past, Frei Otto’s tent cities from the 70’s:

made up of collapsible lightweight structures inspired by the traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribes and intended to accommodate hajj pilgrims without damaging the delicate ecology of the hills that surround the old city.

and Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill’s Hajj terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, completed in 1981:

A grid of more than 200 tentlike canopies supported on a system of steel cables and columns, it is divided into small open-air villages, where travelers can rest and pray in the shade before continuing their journey.

Some say the new construction will change the spiritual experience of the hajj as well.

…. Many people told me that the intensity of the experience of standing in the mosque’s courtyard has a lot to do with its relationship to the surrounding mountains. Most of these represent sacred sites in their own right and their looming presence imbues the space with a powerful sense of intimacy. But that experience, too, is certain to be lessened with the addition of each new tower, which blots out another part of the view. Not that there will be much to look at: many hillsides will soon be marred by new rail lines, roads and tunnels, while others are being carved up to make room for still more towers.

“The irony is that developers argue that the more towers you build the more views you have,” said Faisal al-Mubarak, an urban planner who works at the ministry of tourism and antiquities. “But only rich people go inside these towers. They have the views.”

[image: NYT]

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Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s Romanization

Here is how my copy of Abdullah Yusuf Ali‘s translation of the Koran looks.  English on the left, transliteration in the middle, Arabic on the right. (clickable)

For the record, this is the 1991 edition, printed in Lahore, Pakistan.  It was a gift from a friend in Amman who was alarmed about my spiritual health.  A quick browse though reviews of this translation in Google Books shows some reviewers complaining about the lack of transliteration–apparently some versions were printed with only the Arabic on one side and English on the other–and I thought the transliteration had been discontinued. But a look at this 2007 edition show the transliterations are still alive and well.  Okay, alive then.  Because the transliterations don’t make much sense to me.

What is interesting about this 2007 edition is not only that transliterations are back in the book, but also that the writer of the “Roman” script, M.A.H. Eliyasee, is credited. You can also see a “Key to Transliteration“, the same one as in my 1991 edition.

Writing Arabic sounds in English is not exactly standardized. Wikipedia lists some sixteen different ways of representing the sounds of Arabic in English. (See Romanization of Arabic) “Romanization”?  Whatever.

For example, take the first line of the first verse of the Koran “Fatiha” (Opening).  Most verses of the Koran start with the line “In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.”  The Fatiha is no exception.  In Arabic, it looks like this:   بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Literally:  in-name/Allah/the-merciful/the-compassionate

Or sometimes like this:

I also had a fancy version of this that someone made for me and posted on the outside of my classroom door in Amman.

Looking at the transliteration, you can see they write it “Bismillaahir – Rahmannir – Rahiim.”

But if you have ever been to any public meeting in an Arab country, they always start a speech by saying,  “Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Raheem”.  That’s quite a bit different from the transliteration–and for a very common everyday phrase, at that.  How far off is the rest of the Koran?

If they are so careful to preserve the Koran in original form, why are they not careful with representations of the pronunciation?

See for yourself.  The Koran is  “recited” in different “tonal keys” (maqams) and “variant readings” (qira’at), but as I understand it, the pronunciation is always the same.  To listen to Koran with a variety of voices, check out Open Quran (click the “Quran Viewer” icon  at the top, then make sure the “Show Quran Reciter”  box is checked).

I guarantee you will hear “Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Raheem” in all of them.

Koran 13:11

Does Allah help those who help themselves? This Koranic ayah was cited in Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh. I have used it as the subject of a small Sura Koran, the framed calligraphy art favored by a people whose religion discourages graven images.  You find the framed verses in homes, always over the door leading outside. The Arabic text is: إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ


Verily, Allah does not change a people’s condition until they change what is in themselves.
(The Chapter of Thunder), Verse 11




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Koran Burners-1, Islam-0

Hillary called it.

“…it’s regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention, but that’s the world we live in right now.”[Official State Department transcript]

It gets better.
The guy who is threatening to burn Korans on Sept 11, The Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., has

…fewer than 50 members in his church. He belongs to no denomination, has held no regional or national office for any church organization and has never held an academic position at a seminary or Bible college.

His church members don’t even support him.

And he was kicked out of his previous church:

A “climate of fear and control” had previously prevailed in the congregation, says one former member of the church who does not want to be named. Instead of free expression, “blind obedience” was demanded,…

In the meantime, the state department has issued a global travel alert, U.S. embassies have held Emergency Action Committee meetings, and U.S. Embassies in Algeria, Indonesia, Jordan and Syria have issued warden messages.

Because this is what is happening around the world, and no matter what else is happening, this is what the American public will see and this is what will shape the American view of Islam.

So what do you see? Bearded crazies threatening a tantrum?

So tell me again about Moderate Islam . Give me something to tell my old landlord who said to me this week “they just want to blow us up”.

This one right wing crackpot has succeeded in making Islam look idiotic.

And now another crackpot in Tennessee has decided to burn Korans.  You know what?  I think they should go ahead and burn the the Korans.  Burn some Bibles too, then throw in Moby Dick and Huckleburry Finn for good measure.

Becuase it will make absolutely no difference to anything at all.

What do they think–Allah is going to get too hot if a Koran is burned?  Does Allah live inside the Koran?  Can Allah be harmed by this action?

Does Allah even care?


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Eid Mubarak

Blessed Eid!

Eid will be celebrated in the U.S on Friday, but it is already Friday on some parts of the globe.

[Image courtesy of NASA.]

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Ramadan images

In the last week, the number of people looking at my blog doubled and then tripled as Ramadan approached and everyone was searching for images of Ramadan calligraphy.  In other years I have linked to Salma Arastu’s work–I loved the calligraphy she was doing five years ago, also her 99 names of Allah in tiles the color of stones, but the more chaotic patterns and pastel colors she has been using lately don’t appeal to me, so I have gone searching for something different.

This year I found the expected calligraphy, also some images of the Koran strangely lighted (Ramadan is the anniversary of the revelation of the Koran by an angel), a couple of wallpapers, one manga, and for some reason–and I’ve never noticed this before–a lot of lamps, both oriental-style lamps and railroad-style lamps that could have come out of the Old West.

Here are the images, along with links to the artists:

Above: “Ramadan”  Artist: Saeed Al-Madani from Dubai, UAE

Below:  “Ramadan” Artist: mh2aa

Above: Islamic Wallpaper 2: Ramadan by t4m3r
Below: Ramadan prayers by mekaeel (a wallpaper with a Ramadan prayer)

Above: Ramadan Kareem2 08 by razangraphics

Below: Ramadan kareem by 3arif

Above: Ramadan 2007 by YoonzDigital
Below: ..Ramadan w-melon

Above: Ramadan Karim by ~max-melyanos
Below: Ramadan Kareem by imadesign

Below: Fasting Ramadan by badr-ex

Wait, “play with your fanoos“??!?

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Ramadan mosque

Ramadan Kareem.

In honor of the beginning of Ramadan today, here is a photo of the Mosque of Omar at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, taken by a companion from the stairs on the west side in 2000.

Inside this mosque it is said are the footprints of the Prophet’s flying horse, left imprinted in the stone on the night of Lailat al Miraj, as well as the entrance to the Well of Souls, the omphalos of the universe.

At this point I have no special plans for observing Ramadan this year, this is just a shout-out to my Moslem friends at their holy season.  But if someone were to approach me with a plate of guidief stuffed with walnuts and smothered in orange flower syrup, who knows….

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Islamic reform

If you listen to NPR in any city but Chicago, you are missing an excellent weeklong series on Worldview about Islamic reform.  Fortunately it’s available on the web.  Twice today when I jumped in the car for an errand, I heard Jerome McDonnell’s most excellent  interview with Islamic scholar Amina Wadud, author of the book Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam.

Wadud (and you really do have to listen to her talk–this doesn’t do her justice):

What has happened in terms of our text and textual analysis is there are some people in this era–we call them neo-conservatives–that believe that at some point, 8th century, 9th century, 10th century, whatever, that somebody gave a perfect  understanding of everything in the text so all we have to do is follow what they did and not assume the agency, which is the mandate for us as human beings .  We are all agents from God.  So if I were to choose one text from the Koran it would be “ini ja ailun fee al-ardi khalifa” اني جاعل في الارض خليفة — “verily I am going to create on the earth a khalifa”–a khalifa is an agent– we are agents of God.  Not tenth century people were agents of God and then we’re agents of those people.  Not the Prophet was an agent of God and we’re agents of the Prophet.  We’re all agents of God, therefore our agency require of us to use our live reality, our known sciences, our information about the universe, our known awareness of social context, and to put all this together to be able to follow the divine trajectory which again is taoheed, unity, unity in diversity.


…in our tradition the mandate for  seeking knowledge is for both males and females; explicit.  The prophet said “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. The prophet said “the seeking of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female”.  So we are required.  Yet the circumstances of history, especially following the Abbasid period, put women in a place where, yes there were learners, people who studied the Koran, women who memorized the Koran,  but the act of participation in the sciences of interpretation of the text left no record, not a single record, of women’s interpretation of the text.  Maybe they had some that was oral,  and we didn’t get it, I don’t know, but you can look back and see there’s no written record.

And as a consequence, men were reading the text for themselves as humans, which we as women share in humanity.  They were reading the text for themselves as men which we as women do not share.  But then they were also reading the text for us as women.  So the consequence, I used to say,  was that men were telling women how to be women without ever having been women themselves.


We have had an inadvertent emphasis on looking for Muslim women as victims.  So when we look at Muslim women who are empowered to be able to articulate their own identity, their own relationship with the law, their own understanding of what is Islam–it’s not as interesting to us, so we haven’t pursued it, we haven’t supported it. We are much happier to hear the stories of women in burkas and women who can’t get off to school or women get acid thrown on them–we are happy to hear that stuff.  But women empowering themselves to make change–we are unfortunately very, very much behind the curve.

Oooh, she’s good.

A teaser promises us something about the oud later in the week, but for now, here are links to the segments that are available so far:

Iran: Beyond the Veil
Vermont Public Radio’s Steve Zind traveled to Iran to explore how the tensions between tradition and modernity play out. This piece was provided by the Public Radio Exchange.
Muslim Women’s Leadership
Dr. Ingrid Mattson is Director of Islamic Chaplaincy at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. She was elected the first female President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in 2006.
Moroccan Morchidates
Independent reporter Sarah Kramer brings us the story of female preachers from Morocco. This peice was provided by the Public Radio Exchange.
Women in the Quran: Alternative Interpretations
Amina Wadud is an Islamic scholar and author of the book, “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam.”

[Image:Photo by Nevit Dilmen (source). Woman looking at large writing of the word Allah in Arabic script at Edirne Old Mosque in Turkey.

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Blessed Eid

Eid mubarak!

Today is Eid al-Adha, the “greater Eid”, to honor those returning from a Mecca pilgrimage, as distinguished from the “lesser Eid”, the three day party following the month of Ramadan.  The graphic says “Eid Mubarak” عيد مبارك (blessed Eid) in Arabic and is adapted from a design from artist Salma Arastu (link to her website).

A quick glance at some mosque websites shows Adams Center in DC is collecting donations for a relief fund for the families of the victims at Fort Hood.  Why am I not surprised. (The button for prayer times in my right sidebar is a link to Adams.)

My local mosque?  The last time I heard, they were collecting donations to pay for a billboard to try to convert people to their religion.  And I thought Moslems weren’t supposed to proselytize.  Tsk.

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John and Jesus in Arabic

Do Arab Christians and Moslems have different names for the same biblical personages?

I remember a Jordanian Moslem from the town where Herod had his palace (the one where the Baptist was beheaded) telling me the name for John was Yohanna.


Checking the account of John the Baptist in an Arabic Bible we find in Matthew 3:1 the name used is يُوحَنَّا Yohanna. Jesus, from Matthew 1:1 is يَسُوعَ Yasua.  While we’re there let’s get from Matthew 1:16 the names of Mary مَرْيَمَ (Mariyam) and Josephيُوسُفَ  (Yousef), parents of Jesus. In the same verse there is also the word for Christ الْمَسِيحَ –Maseeya.

But in Arabic there is more than one Mariyam and more than one Yousef. Aaron, brother of Moses had a sister Miriam the prophetess. In Exodus 15:20 she is called مَرْيَمُ Miriam, same as the mother of Jesus. Joseph يُوسُفَ (Yousef) who was sold into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 39:2), the same as the carpenter Joseph. There is also more than one Jesus, the name Joshua يَشُوعُ (Yashua) (son of Nun and aide to Moses) being cognate (?) with Jesus, but not spelled the same here in Numbers 11:28.  But isn’t s/sh a shiboleth somewhere in the Bible?*


On to the Koran. First, Jesus. Koran 3:45 has the names Jesus عِيسَى (Issa),  Maryيَٰمَرْيَمُ (Mariyam) and Messiah ٱلْمَسِيحُ (messeeya) . A few passages further on (3:39), John the Baptist is called بِيَحْيَىٰ Yahya. Apparently Joseph the carpenter doesn’t rate a mention in the Koran, but Joseph who was sold into slavery to Egypt has his own book of the Koran where he is called يوسف Yousef, or in the fully voweled classical Koran version يُوسُفَ.

And in Spanish (from the same Bible portal as the Arabic):

John the Baptist-Juan el Bautista



Joseph-José (The Egyptian Joseph is also José.)

Joshua (son of Nun, Moses’ aide)=Josué (hijo de Nun, asistente de Moisés)


*Judges 12:5-6:

5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the Gileadites asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.

The Hebrew for “messiah” appears to be מָשִׁ֫יחַ transliteration: mashiach, phonetic spelling: (maw-shee’-akh).