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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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Travel

Seeking the Kaaba Within

I was fully aware that within seconds my body would be drawn into a mass of humanity unlike any other in the world. “Surrender to the experience,” I thought while stepping into the overflowing main courtyard surrounding the Kaaba. The barriers that divide us in our daily lives are lifted here at the seat of the holiest site of Islam.

No honorary titles or entitlements have worth or function, there’s no distinguishing based on whether you are a woman or man, whether your income bracket is high or low. Rather, the bracketing qualities that contain us outside–our nationality, ethnicity, age, or skin tone–are shed at the door. Wherever our outward journeys have started, we all walk barefoot inward into a single circle, devoid of these unnecessary parenthesis appended to our identities.

“The goal of all is the same” no matter what road we took to get here or what quarrels we fought on the way, Rumi writes in Fihi Ma Fihi, It is What It is.

kaaba-night

We are both universal and singular, each worshipper an equal soul before the Creator of all humankind and all being. Here we consciously move together in a unified mass, circling seven times around this stone cube as our prophets, peace and blessings be upon them, and our predecessors have for centuries. It’s become a timeless procession connecting us to the scattered cosmos. With the right kind of openness, the pilgrimage is a truly humbling, enchanting and purifying act of dedication to God, The Gracious One.

The ritual starts at the eastern corner, where the Black Stone is situated, a stone that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, said was blackened by the sins of humankind after descending from heaven as white as milk. I’ve certainly swerved from the path since I was last graced by the opportunity to visit the Holy City five years ago. My soul yearns now for nourishment as I circle the four corners of the central cube draped in black.

I yield my body to the crowd that surrounds me in every direction, letting it move my limbs. I’m here for my soul, after all, and as we give thanks and make prayers to the Infinitely Compassionate One, drawing our attention to the Kaaba as birds circle above us, I concede any claim to the personal space that I normally protect.

Sometimes I find my body being drawn inward with an uncontrollable force, and it is suddenly so close to the edge of the Kaaba I can almost touch it.
Continue reading “Seeking the Kaaba Within”

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My favourite things in the UAE: a bittersweet blog

About four months ago I started photographing some of my favourite things in the Dubai, and neighbouring areas, where I’ve lived for the past eight years. I took snapshots of locally available food items, unique restaurants and cultural and social spaces that have become dear to me over the years and, in the end, have made this place feel like home. I planned to compile the photos into a blog, along with a short description of each of my choices, to give others a glimpse into some of the valuable little discoveries that have enlivened my daily experience living in the UAE.

I didn’t realise when I started the creative process that by the time I actually got around to putting this blog together, I would be less than 10 days away from leaving Dubai indefinitely. This project ended up being more for me than anyone else – a way of capturing some of the fleeting colours and flavours of my daily life that are easy to take for granted, but that I will miss dearly when I move away early next month.

Continue reading “My favourite things in the UAE: a bittersweet blog”

Malaysia’s mosques

 

Putrajaya Mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia, May 2012

One of the highlights of my first trip to Malaysia this past week was visiting a number of the country’s beautifully designed and diverse mosques catering to the 60 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million people who are Muslim. Some of the mosques were Ottoman or Arabian influenced in their style, while others boasted traditional Malay architectural designs and still others were modern and incorporated contemporary blends of old and new. It is always a treat for me to go to mosques in the countries I visit because it reminds me how universal the message of Islam — describing a state of mind where one surrenders or submits to the one Almighty God — truly is. Continue reading “Malaysia’s mosques”

Rare friends

Whenever I have a stopover at an airport, I get a sense of just how big the world is. Each is an international intersection where a myriad of people walk to and fro through its overcrowded terminals, wait at countless gates eager to board flights to numerous destinations. The vast majority of these are people I will never cross paths with again.

Perhaps because I have normally travelled alone on business and leisure trips in the past 10 years, these encounters often left me feeling acutely aware of how lonely the world can be. Despite the enormous size of the world population, the number of people who will enter and leave an imprint on our lives is strikingly small.

Starting from this perspective, I often marvel at the miracle of friendship.

Of all the people we meet, interact and work with over the years, only with a rare, select number will we forge sincere, lasting bonds. Even among individuals we identify as friends, there are only a few, if we are lucky, that we will connect with on a deep enough level to feel we can be completely ourselves.

In addition to my two sisters whom I adore, I also have a couple such friends—rare companions who are truly precious gems on the journey of life.

With these true friends we are able to spend every free minute if we had the ability, or we can go months without seeing them at no consequence to the comfort of a bond that springs right back to normal, as though not a moment had passed apart.

These are the friends who will stand by us during those dreadful, lousy periods when we are dealing with difficult workplaces, harrowing heartbreaks, complex family troubles, or are grappling with the surprise death of a parent.

Such friends will open their homes to us during times of anguish, and somehow intuitively know when we need a boost of inspiration to invigorate our downtrodden spirits. At times they join us in hearty laughter, generously share in wholesome meals and humorous stories, while at times they linger in silence with us following a meaningful conversation. They help us pray, pray for us, and warmly congratulate and share joy in the trivial and exceptional successes that change our lives, even when it means our paths will be divided along the way.

I feel God’s immense blessing at the honour of having such remarkably rare friends in my life. The way we understand our connection is unspoken and subtle. Yet there is a clear mutual sense that although life will surely pull us in different directions, we will always actively seek ways to bridge the space between.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.
–Jalaluddin Rumi, “My Worst Habit”

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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