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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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Crossing paths with a Hoopoe bird

Hoopoe (Arabic, Hudhud) bird, in United Arab Emirates

I encountered an extraordinary bird on the way to work this morning which brought me a great deal of joy as well as new, unexpected layers of knowledge.

As May turns the page to welcome June, Dubai’s scorching heat is becoming more and more intolerable. With each passing day I try to dash a bit more quickly from the large gravel parking lot where I park my car to the office tower across the street where I work.

But today, as I was hurrying into the small grass field in between the parking lot and the road, I was stopped in my tracks abruptly by a pretty bird strutting in front of me on the ground. It was busying itself looking for worms and insects and I was taken aback by its beauty, especially the prominent crest of orange and black feathers on its head. I had not come across this graceful, majestic bird before.
It was all alone, as was I, so I pulled out my phone and started photographing the bird as it pranced through the grass and around the date palms, from which are starting to fall dates that have not yet ripened. The bird had beautiful black-and-white striped wings and a peachy coloured breast. She did not seem bothered at all by my presence and carried on with her business for about a minute. She was very beautiful.
The Hoopoe bird is a central character in one Quranic chapter
I decided to share a photo of this exotic bird on Twitter later that morning, and very shortly afterward a friend of mine told me it was called the Hoopoe (or Hudhud in Arabic). She said seeing the photo evoked memories of her childhood in Egypt. Then, a couple of people I hadn’t met or spoken to before (which something I love about Twitter) began sharing details about the Hoopoe’s history and legacy with me that I had not been aware of.

The Hoopoe is mentioned in the Holy Quran in reference to how it brought an important message to Prophet Suleiman in the Chapter (Surah) known as Al Naml (The Ants). I had read that surah and was aware of Prophet Suleiman’s ability to communicate with animals and insects, but I had not paid particular attention before to the type of bird. King Suleiman’s army consisted of men birds and jinn (spirits).

In this Surah, the Hoopoe has a central role in the story of King Suleiman and the Queen of Sheba, an area believed to be in modern-day Yemen. Noticing the absence of the Hoopoe in his army one day, Prophet Suleiman inquired where the bird was.

The Hoopoe returned shortly after and, upon being instructed to give a clear reason for its absence, the bird relays important news from Sheba.  “Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne,” reads the Quran (27:23). “I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah (God), and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided,” the bird continues in the pages of the Holy Book. (27:24)


Prophet Suleiman asks the Hoopoe to deliver a letter to the Queen, enjoining her and her followers to submit to God in Islam. Later, the Queen visits Jerusalem to see Prophet Suleiman. She arrives at the palace and mistakes the luminous glass flooring for a body of water. Lifting her dress to cross, she discovers it is glass, not water. Taken aback, the Queen repents to God shortly after, declaring herself a Muslim (i.e. one who has submitted herself to God).

In light of this event, the Hoopoe is known for its powers of observation and intelligence; it was able to decipher the lack of faith among the people of Sheba and relay this message to a prophet. In an epic poem known as “The Conference of the Birds” written by a Persian Sufi mystic in the 12th century, meanwhile, the Hoopoe guides a group of 30 birds on a journey much as would a Sufi master lead disciples to enlightenment.

Learning these rich facts from peers on Twitter reminded me about the importance of pausing at times to observe the beauty and miracles of nature; you never know what you may miss if you rush past too quickly. I certainly was not expecting to cross paths with such a splendid bird. Sharing these moments with others, meanwhile, adds to their beauty and etches them more meticulously in our memories.
“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of the sky? Nothing holds them up but the power of God. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.”  (Quran, 16:79)

Spirit of discovery

View of KAUST Beacon of Knowledge from campus library
 “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” –Arabic wisdom
When my brother-in-law decided along with my sister to accept a faculty position to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), he referred to the campus as an ‘oasis for science in the desert’.
They and many other scientists and engineers in numerous disciplines were drawn by the idea of reviving scientific research in the Arab world, home to about 17% of the world’s Muslims.
KAUST is a modern, liberal enclosed campus community situated at the heart of Islam’s birthplace, just an hour from Makkah and three hours from Madinah, the two holiest cities in Islam. The location at first glance appeared peculiar, particularly since very little research and development occurs in the Middle East. The region has long suffered from a brain drain of top talent moving to the west to complete higher degrees and conduct world-class research.
In addition to this shortcoming, the desert bordering the Red Sea seemed an inappropriate backdrop against which to situate a university that strives to turn out high-calibre research and graduate scientists and engineers who are able to compete on the world stage, particularly since Saudi Arabia is regarded as among the most-conservative states the world.
Most of the KAUST campus is lined with date palms
Yet the project, while bearing numerous growing pains since its launch in late 2009, appears to be working. Scientists have set up world-class laboratories and hired first-rate researchers and post-doctoral fellows of numerous nationalities. They are conducting research in-house and through collaborations which should, in the coming years, produce meaningful results and hopefully be published in some top scientific journals.
‘The learned are the heirs of the Prophets’

If cultivated effectively, KAUST’s location could be viewed as quite ideal, as I would discover following a visit to the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam on the campus this week. The museum chronicles the accomplishments of pre-eminent Muslim scientists and scholars during the Islamic Golden Age spanning the seventh to 17th centuries.

Through numerous interactive multi-media displays, the museum introduces visitors to Muslim scholars who made pivotal contributions to physics, chemistry, engineering, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, life sciences, geology, architecture and material sciences. “It is evident from this museum that Muslim scholars laid the foundation for the Renaissance in Europe,” reads one sign in the museum.
Seeking to revive this vitality near the birthplace of Islam made a great deal more sense to me after touring this small but immensely engaging museum.

Islam, which literally means ‘submission to God’ in Arabic, is a faith that when properly practised encourages Muslims to strive for balance in their lives. They should pray regularly to the one Almighty God, fast frequently, do good deeds and give charity, be patient before all challenges and give gratitude to God for their blessings. They should also, very importantly, seek to think and reflect, and discover and dispense knowledge during their time in this world.

Research and discovery are complementary with these goals; Muslim scientists strive to uncover the secrets that only God knows, and in doing so bring good to humanity as a whole by discovering technologies and medicines that would benefit their communities.
 “The learned are the heirs of the Prophets,” reads one Hadith, saying of the Last Prophet , in words etched on the wall of the museum. “Those truly fear Allah (God), among His Servants, who have knowledge,” says another sign, quoting from the Holy Quran, itself full of numerous scientific truths.
The quest for knowledge is an essential part of faith

The skilfully designed museum underlines great Islamic inventions and discoveries, answers the question, ‘Why did science flourish in Islam’ and illustrates how Muslim scientists laid the foundations for some of the most-fundamental scientific principles.

Ibn al-Haitham (965-1039), for instance, pioneered the scientific method and his ‘Book of Optics’ (1011-1021) ranks alongside Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in physics. He made crucial discoveries in mathematics, astronomy and optics.
It was Muslim mathematicians who introduced the concept of zero, the decimal point and Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) to mathematics. The numerals used widely by Arabic speakers today (٠.١.٢.٣.٤.٥.٦.٧.٨.٩) are actually Hindi numerals.

Muslim engineering genius Al-Jazari (1136-1206) invented five water-raising machines, and was the first engineer to introduce crankshafts, cog wheels, pistons and one-way clack valves into pumps. He also designed and made both the four-bolt lock and the combination lock. An impressive replica of Jazari’s Elephant Clock using water technology, along with an interactive description of how it works, is found in the museum.

Interactive display of the ways Islam promoted research and discovery
A touch-screen ‘human health’ wall displays the contributions of Muslim scientists to the study of human anatomy, physiology and epidemiology. The museum also features an interactive game that allows you to chart the travels of Ibn Battuta, one of history’s greatest explorers. Along with Muslim explorer Zheng He, Ibn Battuta’s travels were as extensive as those of more famous European explorers such as Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.
Replica of Al-Jazari’s genius water-powered Elephant Clock
Other brilliant Muslim scientists featured in the museum include:
Ibn Sina (980-1037), who wrote over 200 books on medicine, mineralogy, astronomy and mathematics, and identified over 700 drugs.
Jabin bin Hayyan (721-815), who made important contributions to chemistry that were translated into Latin and used extensively in Europe.
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), regarded as the forerunner of modern sociology and economics.
Umar al-Khayyam (1048-1131), who discovered methods for solving cubic equations “that would be intelligible to only the most advanced mathematicians 1,000 years later”.
Al-Zahrawi (936-1013), who’s 30-volume ‘Method of Medicine’ summarised all known information on medicine and medical treatments. The book was translated into Latin and used for teaching medicine in Europe for several centuries.
 
Water technology displayed at KAUST museum
KAUST’s main research buildings are named after many of these pre-eminent Islamic scholars.
Developing knowledge-driven economies in the Middle East that promote and encourage innovation and modernisation is crucial for the region’s economic future. While there is a long road ahead to make this a reality, reinvigorating the scientific spirit that is intrinsic in Islam is one way KAUST could help make this a reality.
 “Knowledge exists potentially in the human soul like the seed in the soil; through learning, that potential turns into reality”-Muslim Philosopher Al-Ghazali
Among the university’s missions is to reinvigorate the role of innovation
Fantastic interactive screen chronicles great Islamic inventions
Me next to the Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock replica
List of some of history’s greatest explorers
Wealth of language transfer from Arabic to English
Front view of the Elephant Clock
One of Islam’s great scientists
Arabic numerals, zero and decimal place introduced to mathematics by Muslim scholars
Interactive game charts travels of Ibn Battuta
In front of one of the key research buildings at KAUST
Many students and faculty ride bicycles on campus despite the heat
Gorgeous interior of the KAUST library. All the computers are Macs!
King Abdullah depicted using computer motherboard pieces & oil paint, KAUST library, Renaud Delorme


KAUST’s main mosque
Convinced harvesting dates partially funds the university. They’re everywhere!
And I mean everywhere..
Partial view of the Red Sea in residential area of KAUST

Enlightened City in photos

Outside of the Prophet’s Mosque in ‘The Enlightened City’, Madinah

I spent the last two days in Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, Arabic for ‘the Enlightened City’ or ‘the Radiant City, located in Western Saudi Arabia. It is the home of the Prophet’s Mosque, Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, dedicated to Prophet Muhammad and the site of his burial. Prophet Muhammad is the last of a long line of Prophets within the Abrahamic tradition, and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah is regarded very highly by those who have embraced Islam, an Arabic term meaning ‘submission to God’.

Al-Madinah is the second-holiest city in Islam after Makkah, site of the Kaaba, which is located about a four-hour drive away. Millions of Muslims from around the world visit Makkah each year to perform the hajj pilgrimage that takes place once every year, or umrah, a smaller pilgrimage that can be conducted throughout the year. During their visits, Muslims typically spend time at the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah as well, to pay their respects and pray in congregation at a mosque that can easily accommodate a million worshippers at a time.

Exquisite interior view of the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah

It was immensely relaxing and humbling to be at the Prophet’s Mosque, which unites people from around the world who have a common aspiration – to express their love of the Almighty. The Prophet once said: “For everything there is a polish that taketh away rust, and the polish of the heart is remembrance of God”. There are few places in the world where one’s heart is able to feel more at peace than at this mosque. I was overwhelmed by the level of emotion and dedication many believers hold.

Worshippers gather outside the mosque ahead of early-morning prayer, Fajr

On my first day, I went to the mosque 40 minutes before the call to prayer for the early-morning prayer, called Fajr, which is currently about 4:30 a.m. local time. When I arrived, the mosque was already teeming with people offering optional prayers, giving supplications for family and loved ones, reading from the Quran, Arabic for ‘the Recitation’ – a series of admonitions from God delivered through His Last Messenger .

The following morning I went even earlier and it was a similar experience; watching the streams of people walking from nearby hotels was truly uplifting and inspiring. As you walk through the mosques massive courtyard and within its magnificent walls, you hear an array of languages being spoken. I sat with, prayed with and befriended people from all over the world – Turkey, Morocco, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Europe, Iran, Egypt – and so many others. The days in Madinah revolve around prayers and dua’a (supplications for loved ones), reflection, contemplation and giving thanks.

I also visited Al-Rawdah, the small area situated between the location of the Prophet’s last house and the pulpit where he would lead prayers prior to his death, an area which the Prophet described as “one of the gardens of Paradise”. It was a humbling, meditative, calming weekend – excellent way to rejuvenate my faith. I hope you enjoy my photos!
Exquisite interior design of Prophet’s mosque

See more..

Slightly pointed arches atop white marble columns throughout the mosque
The massive mosque can accommodate a million worshippers
Women walking toward Al Rawdah, a garden from Paradise
Rows upon rows of beautiful arches
Exterior of Prophet’s Mosque after the evening Isha prayer
Three of the mosque’s 10 minarets
After the evening prayer, Isha
At prayer times, tens of thousands gather inside and outside for worship
People gather in the courtyard between prayers
Elderly man sells siwak, a teeth-cleaning twig, in courtyard
Minaret appears through umbrellas in courtyard
People walking and sitting in courtyard between prayer times
Another mosque in Al-Madinah, which means ‘Radiant or Enlightened City’

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