Editor’s note: This poem was composed by Nazim Bhimani, a deaf Ismaili boy, when he was twelve. Nazim calls himself Deaf 1 Naz, and his profile in his own words can be read by clicking on Nazim Bhimani: The Deaf World.
By Nazim Bhimani
You came with a beautiful name, and took everything in vain,
You left the babies crying, fathers dying, and mothers praying,
You came with danger and left with total devastation and pain.
You took so many human lives,
the dogs, the cats, the house, the monies, the food, the water,
Are you sure you are mother nature’s daughter??
You took so much, yet you didn’t even leave a pot of rice,
instead you left them with disease that come from rats and mice,
and you didn’t even try and make things right,
so Katrina you are not nice.
Oh my God! what have you done?
Have you come here to make us pay the price?
Date posted: August 30, 2015.
Please also read Nazim Bhimani: The Deaf World.
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I. THE HARSH REALITIES OF ALEPPO TODAY
(A). Syria’s Most War-Torn City by Newsweek Magazine
(Note: Newsweek’s story, accessible by clicking on the first image shown below, contain graphic images and may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised).
“Longer even than the journey from Damascus to Aleppo is the time it takes to get from one end of Aleppo to the other. Moving from the east to the western side of the city once took only a short bus ride. Now it involves navigating a labyrinth of side roads and as many as 20 checkpoints; an endurance test that can last between 10 and 16 hours” — James Harkin for Newsweek, August 19, 2015. Please click on Newsweek – Syria’s War Torn City or click on image below for Harkin’s full report.
(B). A Resident’s Account of Aleppo’s Humanitarian Crisis and the Fear for its Historic Citadel
Editor’s note: The following excerpts are from the website of the Centre for Research and Globalization based in Montreal. For a full account published on July 25, 2015, please click on Global Research – Aleppo’s Humanitarian Crisis.
“Aleppo city has shrunk to a fifth of its original site. I walk everyday in the city. I see children and girls without limbs because of a mortar over here or shrapnel over there that hit them randomly and caused them a terrible wounds and horrific memories that will never leave them. The girl who lost one leg is standing on her good leg and selling bread, while the little boy who lost one arm is selling chewing gum. Those are the “injured” people who come in the news, just numbers in one line of a report, after each attack from the terrorists. “Injured” doesn’t mean scratched or having a bleeding finger; it means someone lost his eyes or her limbs.”
“The last symbol left of Aleppo, is the most famous one: the Citadel. I can see part of it from our balcony, but I can see it more clearly from the roof of the building….It has been badly injured, but it’s still there, dominating the city skyline. It’s where they found the Storm God’s Temple a few years ago. It withstood many invaders, including the Mongols and Crusaders. It has been damaged severely several times through history, but it has been rebuilt over and over again, as an immortal symbol to the inhabitants of one of the oldest living cities in history. I just pray I don’t live to witness its total destruction as I have seen happen to many of the surrounding buildings.”
II. IBN BATUTTA’S 14TH CENTURY DESCRIPTION OF ALEPPO AND ITS CITADEL
An Introduction to Ibn Batutta
“No intelligent man,” wrote Ibn Djuzayy, the scribe to whom Ibn Batutta (also Batutah etc) dictated his memoirs, “can fail to see that this sheikh is the traveller of the age.” But Ibn Batutah (1304-1368 or 1377) was not only the greatest Arab traveller of the Middle Ages, he was one of the greatest travellers of all time. At the age of twenty-one, he set out from his birthplace, Tangiers (Morocco), and started his travels by undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca. This was the start of thirty years of wandering during which he would travel almost 120,000 kilometres that would take him halfway round the world as far as China. His account of his travels (the Rihla), in addition to its literary value, gives a panoramic picture of the 14th-century world.
If there are historical inaccuracies in Ibn Battuta’s writings, they are largely attributable to the pronounced taste for the bizarre which was characteristic of the age, and to the loss of his notebooks during a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean.
But errors or exaggerations do not detract from the value of Ibn Battuta’s narrative which is written in a direct, straightforward style punctuated by observations which are not without humour. His entertaining story has been translated, wholly or in part, into some 15 languages and ranks among the masterpieces of Arabic literature.
Ibn Batutta on Aleppo and Its Citadel
From Sermin we proceeded to Haleb (Aleppo), a large city and splendid metropolis. This is how Abulhossein the son of Jobeir described it:
“This city is of enormous worth and its fame will last forever. Kings have often sought to possess it and men have been impressed by its importance. What a number of battles it has provoked, and what a quantity of shining words have been unsheathed for it! Its fortress is renowned for its power and its height is clearly to be seen. No one dared attack it because of its strength, or if they did they did not conquer it.
“The sides are of freestone and its proportions are full of symmetry. It has outlasted the days and the years and has seen nobles and beggars carried to their last resting-places. Where are the Hamdanite princes and their poets now? They are no more, and only the buildings remain. Oh wonderful city! It endures, but its owners have passed on. They have perished but its hour has not come. It was sought for after them and taken without great difficulty. It was coveted and won at the smallest cost.
Such is this city of Aleppo. How many of its kings has it not changed into a past tense (expression borrowed from grammar) and how many vicissitudes has it not defied because of its position! Its name was made in the feminine gender, it was adorned with the finery of a chaste virgin, it succumbed to the victor as others have done. It shone like a young bride after the sword (seif) of its dynasty, Ibn Hamdan (a reference to Prince Seif eddaoulah).
Alas! its youth will pass, it will be no longer desired, only a short while and it will be destroyed.”
The fortress of Aleppo is called Ash shahba (the grey one). Within it there are two wells from which water gushes, and there is no fear of thirst there. The castle is surrounded by two walls, there is a great moat from which water rises, and its wall has many towers standing close together. This fortress encloses marvellous chambers pierced with windows. All the towers are occupied and in this fortified castle food is not impaired by the passage of time.
There is a sanctuary which is visited by many people, and it is said that Abraham prayed there to God. This fortress resembles the one called Rahbet (square of) Malik Ibn Thaouk, near the Euphrates, between Syria and Iraq. When the Tartar tyrant Kazan marched against the city of Aleppo, he besieged this fortress for many days. Then, frustrated in his desire to take it, he withdrew. Ibn Jozay says: Alkhalidy, the poet of Seif eddaoulah, writes as follows about this fortress:
“With its high belfry and invincible flanks, it is a vast, grim place which rises up against him who would take it.
“The atmosphere spreads a layer of cloud over this place and adorns the castle with a necklace of brilliant stars.
“When lightning flashes in the night this fortress appears through its interstices, shining like the constellation of the Virgo through the openings in the clouds.
“How many armies has this castle not destroyed and how many conquerors has it not put to flight!”
The same poet also speaks of the castle in the following admirable verses:
“It is a citadel whose base embraces the springs of water, and its summit is higher than Orion’s Belt.
“It knows no rain, because for it the clouds are a ground, whose sides are trodden by its cattle.
“When the cloud has given water in abundance, he who lives in the fortress uses all the water in his tanks before its summits are moistened.
“Its belvedere would be counted amongst the stars of the heavens if it passed through their orbits.
“The cunning of this fortress has repulsed the tricks of its enemies and the evils it caused were greater than theirs.”
Here is what Jemal eddin Ali, the son of Abulmansur, has to say about this castle:
“Because of its enormous height and the point which its summit attains, this castle nearly stops the celestial sphere that turns around the earth.
“Its inhabitants have gone to the Milky Way as to a watering place and their horses have nibbled the stars as though grazing on flowering plants.
“The vicissitudes of time turn from it in fear, and for this castle there is no change.”
Date posted: August 22, 2015.
Editor’s note: The above introduction to Ibn Batutta and his narratives on Aleppo and its Citadel have been adapted from the January 1986 issue of The Unesco Courier which was dedicated to Treasures of World Literature. Please visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/.
We welcome your feedback. Please click on Leave a comment.
FORTHCOMING PHOTO AND LITERARY PIECES ON SIMERGPHOTOS AND SIMERG
- “Prayer Halls of Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji,” to be published week of August 24th, 2015 on Simerg’s photo blog, http://www.simergphotos.com
- “Naklanki Geeta – Quantum Mechanics in Ginans” by Shiraz Pradhan, to be published week of September 7th, 2015 on this website, http://www.simerg.com.
Written a thousand years ago, Ferdowsi’s Shahnama or The Epic of the Kings tells the story of the Iranian people from the time of the world’s creation. National epic, landmark in world literature and a profound expression of the Iranian soul, Ferdowsi’s masterpiece is still read and recited throughout Iran.
I. THE EPIC OF THE KINGS, AN INTRODUCTION
By Nahal Tadjadod
In a square in Teheran, the capital of Iran, there is a statue of Ferdowsi [or Firdawsi, Firdausi etc, Ed.) where the poet holds his Epic of the Kings (Shahnama or Shahnameh, Ed.) in his hand and gazes at the peaks of the Alborz mountains. When I was young, my parents often took me to this place and while they looked on attentively I recited these lines by Ferdowsi:
“I have toiled painfully these thirty years. I have restored Iran to life by my verse. Henceforth I cannot die; for I live, having broadcast the seeds of my verses.”
These words were engraved in the memory of the child I was then and I know that they have shaped my innermost identity. There is nothing astonishing in that. For a thousand years Ferdowsi’s poem has been read, recited and copied in Iran. Even today it is recited in the cafés. Early on it became our national epic.
Why has it always been so popular? Not because of the originality of its subject the history of ancient Iran from the time of its first mythical king to the last sovereign of the Sassanid dynasty in the seventh century AD nor because of the novelty of its content. “What I will say, all have already told,” Ferdowsi claimed. The poet transmitted; he invented nothing. He drew on old oral traditions and on ancient texts such as the Avesta, a holy book of the eighth century BC, or reworked somewhat earlier tales on the same theme.
The First Masterpiece of Persian Literature
This immense poem of 50,000 couplets appeared in the tenth century, at a key moment in the history of Iranian culture. Since the fall of the Sassanids, the literary language of Iran had been Arabic. Middle Persian, the main vehicle of Sassanid civilization, was disappearing. At this moment, a young literature in an Iranian idiom-Persian emerged in the east. Ferdowsi’s poem would be its first masterpiece.
The Epic of the Kings does not describe the deeds of a single hero or king nor even a long adventure. It begins with the creation of the world and relates the history of fifty reigns on three distinct planes: the mythical, the epic and the historical.
The first part relates civilizing myths. The Pishdadians, the “first created”, teach men to clothe themselves, to work metal, to master fire, to tame animals and to organize themselves in society. After ruling for 700 years, King Jamshid, succumbing to pride, has to yield his throne to a demoniac creature, the tyrant Zahhak who will rule for a thousand years. His malign power will finally be conquered by the justice-loving Faridun. These heroes, who personify the conflict between the forces of darkness and light, constitute a religious theme which is typically Iranian.
The second, longest and most truly epic part of the poem evokes the reign of the Kaianid kings. Here, in the centrepiece of the poem, light has triumphed. Rostam is the champion of all the heroes who live at the Kaianid court. Prodigiously strong, loyal to his king and faithful to his country, he is the terror of the enemy. This period is marked by interminable wars against Turan, a central Asian country whose ruler Afrasiyab is the sworn enemy of Iran.
In the final part, the poet presents a number of historical figures but in a rather fantastic light. He gives a notable account of the conquest of Alexander the Great (Sekandar), based on the Alexander legend of the Orient. The ending, even closer to history, tells of the exploits of the Sassanid rulers until the end of the dynasty.
Faridun and Zahhak: The Just man and the Tyrant
The story of Zahhak the tyrant, told in the first and most brilliant part of the poem, extols the sufferings of a martyred people.
The courageous but wayward son of King Mardas, Zahhak is led astray by Eblis, the devil. After making a pact with Eblis, Zahhak usurps the throne. Revealing himself to the king in various forms, the devil extends his power further each day. One day Eblis presents himself in the guise of a cook. “The diet is not varied,” he says, “for flesh is not eaten,” and he wishes Zahhak to eat all kinds of viands, both birds and quadrupeds. When the devil, who has gained Zahhak’s confidence, embraces him, a black serpent thrusts its head out of each of the tyrant’s shoulders. Whenever he cuts them off they sprout anew like two branches of a tree. Then Eblis appears again, this time disguised as a physician, and proposes as a remedy that Zahhak should eat two human brains each day.
Thus for a thousand years the demons cause evil to reign and no one dares talk openly of good. But one night Zahhak dreams that he is laid low by a young prince who strikes him with a bullheaded mace and drags him in chains to Mount Damavand. Plunged in darkness, the world was as black as a raven’s wing. The tyrant consults the Mubads, the Zoroastrian priests, who read the stars and tell him that his vanquisher, who is not yet born, will be called Faridun. “He will hate you, for his father will die at your hand and you will also kill the cow that will serve him as nurse. To avenge the cow he will take up the bull-headed mace.”
Mad with anxiety, the king hunts everywhere for traces of Faridun. The blessed child is born at the same time as the most marvellous of cows. He is entrusted by his mother to the keeper of the park where the nurse-cow lives, and is nourished with her milk. One day Zahhak hears of the park and the cow, kills the fabulous animal and rushes to Faridun’s house. He finds no one there. Overcome with fear, Faridun’s mother has taken her son to Mount Alborz.
At the age of sixteen Faridun learns of his origins from his mother and decides to fight the tyrant. In anguish Zahhak convokes all the elders of the land to seek their support. “I desire you to subscribe to a proclamation on my behalf that as commander in chief I have sown no seed but that of uprightness…and that I would never fail to maintain justice.” All consent except one man, Kava the Blacksmith, who rises in protest. “I am Kava, seeking for justice. Most of the wrong done to me comes from yourself. It is you who constantly thrust the lancet into my heart. Why do you inflict harm on my children? I had eighteen alive in the world, and now only one remains.”
Overcome with astonishment and fear, Zahhak restores the man’s remaining son to him and asks him in exchange to add his testimony to the proclamation. Kava reads the proclamation, tears it into pieces, and tramples them underfoot.
Kava leaves the palace and the people crowd around him. Fastening a blacksmith’s leather apron to a spearhead, he calls on the people to free themselves from the tyrant’s yoke. Followed by a multitude of the stout-hearted, Kava the liberator sets out in search of Faridun, who agrees to lead the popular rising. The people of the city and the army mass before the palace, whose guards dare not resist. Faridun rides into the palace without striking a blow and seizes the royal crown. Attacked by Zahhak, the young prince shatters Zahhak’s helmet with his bull-headed mace. At that instant the angel Sorush appears and stops Faridun killing Zahhak. “Do not strike him down,” he says. “His time has not yet come. Tie him securely inside the mountain.” Faridun then drives the tyrant into the mountains and wishes to strike off his head, but the angel Sorush appears again and tells him to leave the captive in fetters on Mount Damavand to endure an eternal agony.
Ferdowsi: A Poet of Human Grandeur
In the person of Faridun, an era of enlightenment and justice succeeds a long period of obscurity and tyranny. Here Ferdowsi returns to pre-Islamic traditions; he takes this idea of an eternal combat between good and evil from Zoroastrian eschatology. The interminable wars between Iran and Turan are the reflection of this. But Ferdowsi does not profess a naive dualism. He shows that these two principles coexist in everyone: human beings can do good as well as spread evil.
Thus, after a thousand years of tyranny, light and good seem to triumph: the new king, mandated by heaven, serves his people devotedly. But evil persists, it has not ceased to exist. This is what the angel means when he twice prevents the tyrant from being put to death. Zahhak is finally fettered on the summit of Mount Alborz as if to show by his existence that the victory of good over evil has not yet been won.
Ferdowsi bases his poem on the implacable force of destiny. This quintessentially epic theme echoes the sense of fatality which is so deeply anchored in the Iranian soul. And yet his characters are still men, torn and tortured by doubt and sensitive to the misfortunes of the age. They are to be pitied rather than condemned. Zahhak, the bloody tyrant, the symbol of cruelty, does not act freely; he has, after all, sold his soul to the devil. He is merely an instrument. As a great tragic epic poet, Ferdowsi thus creates terrible situations in which a man is led to kill his brother, or a father kills his son. Links of kinship add grandeur and resonance to the combat waged by the individual against higher forces.
The Epic of the Kings is still a living epic for Iranians because it is profoundly in tune with the Iranian soul. The Iranian peasant, even if he can neither read nor write, responds to the exploits of Rostam, the hero par excellence, and weeps to think of his sufferings when he is compelled to kill his own son to defend his country. Neither good nor ill will lastfor ever: the finest thing is to leave good deeds to be remembered by.
Ferdowsi’s voice still speaks to us across the ages.
The above piece has been adapted from the September 1989 issue of The Unesco Courier which was dedicated to “Great Epics, Heroic Tales of Man and Superman.” Please visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/.
Quotations from the Shahnama in this article are taken from the translation by Reuben Levy which was published as The Epic of the Kings by Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, 1967) and features in the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.
II. THE STORY OF HAFTVAD AND THE WORM
Story from the website of the Aga Khan Museum
In this tale the daughter of Haftvad is spinning cotton with her female friends one day outside the village and discovers a worm in her apple. She decides to keep the worm, regarding it as a lucky charm, and places it in her spindle case for safekeeping. She asserts that the worm will help her to spin greater quantities of cotton than she ever has before, and to her friends’ amazement her boast is realized. With each day she spins greater quantities of cotton and nurtures the worm by feeding it pieces of apple. When her father, Haftvad, learns of this, he takes the worm to be a good omen and over time it grows to fill a custom-made chest, and then a stone cistern. After five years, it is as large as an elephant and has to be housed in a fortress. As the worm grows, so do Haftvad’s fortunes. When King Ardashir learns of this, he becomes jealous and suspicious and plots to kill the worm. Eventually, Ardashir succeeds in penetrating the fortress and kills the worm by pouring molten lead down its throat. The tale ends with the deaths of Haftvad and his sons, vanquished by Ardashir’s army. This painting, one of a few signed works in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp I, is among the last added to the book. A signature, reading “Dust Muhammad painted it” (savvarahu Dust Muhammad), combined with written sources, identifies the artist as Dust Muhammad Musavvir or Dust-i Divana. Although the implications of the signature remain unclear — did he design the composition and/or execute the painting in whole or in part? — the painting is one of the strongest in Shah Tahmasp I’s Shahnameh. The vignette of Haftvad’s daughter spinning cotton at the lower left activates the pictorial narrative, but the remainder of the painting is conceived as evidence of Haftvad’s good fortune. The village, an aggregate of many finely made buildings, bustles with the activities of daily life. A muezzin makes the call to prayer as two figures sit atop a building consulting books with the tools of a scribe set down beside them. Elsewhere in the village, figures transport bundles of wood gathered from the countryside and carry sacks of goods, while a butcher serves a customer. The painting is replete with many other details of the everyday and depicts the elements of its extra-urban landscape with equal depth and complexity.
Date posted: Monday August 17, 2015.
For more on the Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh please also visit:
Editor’s note: The following two mystical stories have been adapted from the August-September 1981 issue of The Unesco Courier magazine, which was dedicated to Islam and the Muslim world.
(compiled from UNESCO Courier)
We present two extracts from The llahi-nama or Book of God by the great Persian mystic poet Farid al-Din Attar (circa 537-627 AH, 1140-1230 AC) translated into English by John Andrew Boyle. The translation, with a foreword by Annemarie Schimmel, was published by the Manchester University Press in 1976 and forms part of the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.
Doctor, pharmacist and perfumer, Attar, whose name means “He who trades in perfumes”, wrote a prose work containing much information on the mystics, Tadhkirat ul-Auliya (abridged English translation, Biographies of the Saints, 1961) as well as several major works of poetry. In the West his best-known work is Mantiq-ut-Tair (The Conference of the Birds), an allegorical poem describing, the quest of birds for the Simorgh, or Divine Bird, led by the hoopoe, the wisest of them all. But ‘Attar’s masterpiece is doubtless the Mosibat-nameh (“Book of Affliction”), which describes the quest of the soul, embodied by the Pilgrim, for unity.
1. ZUBAIDA AND THE SUFI
Zubaida was seated on a camel-lifter, journeying auspiciously upon the Pilgrimage. A gust of wind blew the curtain to one side: a Sufi caught sight of her and fell headlong to the ground.
He set up such a crying and commotion that no one could silence him. Perceiving that, Sufi Zubaida whispered to a eunuch*: “Free me quickly from his noise even though it cost thee much gold”.
The eunuch offered the man a purse of gold: he would not take it, but when he was offered ten purses he gave way. Having accepted the ten purses of gold, he ceased at once to cry and to utter pitiful moans.
Zubaida, perceiving the true state of affairs, that that Sufi had turned away from the mystery of love, told the eunuch to bind his hands and to break his seven limbs with blows of the rod.
He cried out: “What then did I do that I should suffer these endless blows?”
“0 lover of thyself, what wilt thou do henceforth, liar that thou art?
“Thou didst pretend to love such a one as I, and yet when thou wert shown gold thou hadst enough of loving me. I have found thee nought but pretense from head to feet, and I find thy pretense to be false.
“Thou shouldst have sought after me; since thou didst not I knew for certain that thou wert feeble in action. Hadst thou sought after me, all my goods and property, all my gold and silver, would have been thine absolutely.
“But since thou soldest me I resolved to punish thy ardour. Thou shouldst have sought after me, 0 foolish man, and then all would have been thine at once.”
Fix thy heart on God and thou shalt be saved; if thou fix thy heart on men thou shalt be afflicted. Close tightly to thyself all other doors; seek out His door and fix thy heart upon it entirely, So that through the dark cloud of separation may shine the light of the dawn of knowledge. If thou find that light thou shalt find also the way to knowledge.
The saints that raised their heads to the moon were guided by the light of knowledge.
2. STORY OF BISHR HAFI
Bishr Hafi was walking along early one morning drunk with the lees of wine and yet pure in his soul, when he found lying in the road a piece of paper on which was written the name of God.
All he had in the world was a single grain. He sold it for musk. See what gain! At nightfall that God-seeking man perfumed the name of God with his musk.
That night, just before dawn, he dreamt that there came a Voice to him saying:
“0 thou who didst raise My name from the dust and with reverence didst both perfume and purify it, I have made thee a seeker of the truth; I have both perfumed and purified thee”.
0 Lord this sweet-singing ‘Attar has perfumed Thy name with the perfume of his poetry. And yet what though he sang sweetly? Thy name has always been perfumed. Still by Thy grace make him the dust of Thy doorway; make him famous with Thy name. He can expect nothing save from Thy grace, for he can produce not a single act of devotion.
Date posted: Friday, August 14, 2015.
Credits: Introduction and stories compiled and reproduced from The Unesco Courier. Please visit the magazine website at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/. Photos taken from Wikipedia, please visit http://www.wikipedia.org.
* A man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.
LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
By Abdulmalik Merchant
I have lived in Ottawa for almost thirty years, and as a lover of magazines and newspapers I have been a weekly visitor to two great and noteworthy magazine stores in the downtown area, “The Globe” in the Byward Market area and “Mags & Fags” on Elgin Street, as well as “Brittons” located in the dynamic and eclectic shopping district in the Glebe neighbourhood. Brittons abruptly closed its doors earlier this year, with a notice posted on the door that stated, “Due to changing times our business is no longer economically viable.” Mathematically, these stores have been visited by me alone approximately 1300 times! I have seen Prime Ministers, Bank of Canada Governors, ambassadors, politicians of every party and famous writers at these stores. Also, I may add that the idea for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There was conceived from a special issue of American Heritage magazine that I had acquired at Mags & Fags during the 1980’s.
Mags & Fags on Elgin was my favourite all along, not because of (Cuban) cigars or anything like that, but for the sheer number of magazines and newspapers that it carried from around the world. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s the magazine store even kept provincial and regional newspapers from around Canada, various USA States, as well from Africa (Al-Ahram, Egypt), the Middle East (Kayhan, Iran) and South East Asia. Gradually, over the years with the advent of the internet, the demand for newspapers declined, as did their availability at Mags & Fags. However, it remained the preeminent magazine store in Ottawa.
The store has undergone a major transformation, and the entire magazine holding is now on one side of the wall, and not as dominant as it once was. Almost 80% of the shop is now dedicated to specialty cards and gift items. I lamented this change to one of the store managers on duty recently, who told me that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined substantially because of their on-line availability. The exceptions, though, are luxury and specialty magazines covering travel, fashion, history, as well as arts, culture and science. Some of these magazines are incredibly beautiful and bold and, because of demand, continue to generate adequate revenues, keeping the magazine section robust.
Among the specialty or luxury print magazines that I came across this weekend at Mags & Fags, is the current July-August issue of Hong Kong’s “Arts of Asia” which carries an elaborate piece on the Aga Khan Museum with a collection of fantastic photos from the museum’s Islamic Art collection (for on-line piece, please click on first image shown below, but note that the downloadable PDF file available via the second column of the “editorial” page is huge at 15MB).
Earlier, I had purchased the May 2015 issue of the Canadian “Azure” magazine dedicated to the City of Toronto, with a nice piece on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre (for on-line article, please click on second image below).
While I am happy to provide readers with links to the on-line articles, on a personal note I would say that the on-line versions do not do justice to their print counterparts which are alluring, and a joy to turn and read from page to page, and cover to cover. The magazines I have listed should be available at good magazine stores or newsagents in your area, and I might add that Chapters-Indigo has expanded its magazine section considerably in the last few years. The cover price of Arts of Asia is US$20.00 (selling in Ottawa for C$21.00), and Azure is under $10.00.
My weekly rendezvous with magazines and newspapers at Mags & Fags, the Globe and Chapters-Indigo will continue, and I hope to provide readers with information on outstanding print magazines that carry fine pieces on the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies, as well as the Ismaili Imamat and the admirable Ismaili community, of which I am a proud member. To familiarize yourself with the Ismailis and His Highness the Aga Khan, please visit the websites http://www.theismaili.org, http://www.akdn.org and http://www.iis.ac.uk. An outstanding resource and referral blog for all things Ismaili is http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com, a private initiative.
Date posted: August 8, 2015.
Last updated: August 9, 2015.
Editor’s note: We are pleased to offer our readers a link to an extraordinary footage shown on Portuguese Cable News Channel, SIC Noticias, of the signing ceremony that took place in Lisbon establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. We also include two other short clips of remarks made by the Foreign Minister of Portugal and the Prime Minister of Portugal. The event in Lisbon on June 3, 2015 was a truly historic moment in the modern history of the Ismaili Imamat, and earlier this week we brought you the complete English text of the Agreement. Readers who haven’t read the text are invited to click on “Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement.
I. FANTASTIC VIDEO OF THE HISTORIC SIGNING ESTABLISHING THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL
Please click on image below or “Video of the Signing of the Historic Agreement Establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal
II. REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, RUI MACHETE
III. REMARKS BY THE PRIME MINISTER OF PORTUGAL, PEDRO PASSOS COELHO
Date posted: August 6, 2015.
Full English text of agreement at “Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement Between the Ismaili Imamat and the Portuguese Republic.
This post is also reproduced at http://www.simergphotos.com, Simerg’s photo blog.
Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant
On Thursday June 4, 2015, in a piece entitled History in the Making: Establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal, we informed our readers about a landmark agreement that was signed a day earlier by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, at the historic Necessidades Palace in Lisbon. The Agreement marked the first such accord in the Ismaili Imamat’s modern history.
We are pleased to inform our readers that we now have access to this milestone agreement which is being reproduced in full below based on the text of the original English version of the document, which appears on the website of the Portuguese Parliament. 
The Agreement is divided into 5 chapters dealing with (1) General Provision; (2) The Seat of Imamat; (3) Prerogatives of the Imam and the Members of the Seat; (4) Cooperation; and (5) Final Provisions, and consists of 21 articles. The Agreement, reflecting the mutual trust and esteem which has traditionally characterised the relationship between the Republic of Portugal and Mawlana Hazar Imam, affirms the recognition of the legal personality of the Ismaili Imamat.
During the signing on June 3, His Highness the Aga Khan hailed the agreement as a historic milestone in the Imamat’s history and said:
“Today is a unique and important occasion, where for the first time in our history we will have the opportunity to work with a partner with whom we share so many values, so many hopes and so many desires.”
THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC
THE ISMAILI IMAMAT
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL
The Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, hereinafter referred to as “Parties”,
Considering the Protocol of Co-operation between the Government of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, signed in Lisbon on 19 December 2005 and considering further the Protocol of International Co-operation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat signed on 11 July 2008;
Recalling the Agreement between the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, signed in Lisbon, on 8 May 2009, whereby the legal personality of the Ismaili Imamat is recognised;
Having in mind the common purpose of strengthening the historical ties uniting both Parties, as well as of promoting enhanced enabling conditions for the activities of the Ismaili Imamat, its governance bodies and its dependent institutions, in particular the member entities of the Aga Khan Development Network;
Furthermore having in mind the promotion of the quality of life of the global Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim Community and more generally of the people of the countries where the Ismaili Imamat or its dependent institutions are or may become active, including Portugal and the Portuguese people in particular;
Considering that both Parties assume, as common objectives, the defence of human dignity, economic and social development, interfaith dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, as ways of achieving justice and peace;
Affirming the interest of both Parties in the establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in the territory of the Portuguese Republic and their common will mutually to respect each other’s autonomy in the context of the mutual trust and esteem which has traditionally characterised their relationship;
Believing in the historic significance of such a decision for both Parties and fully appreciating the long term implications and complexities that such a decision entails;
Considering that the privileges, immunities and facilities recognised are not granted for the personal benefit of their holders, but merely in order to contribute to the effective and independent performance of their official and institutional functions on Portuguese territory;
Agree as follows:
Chapter I: General Provisions
For the purposes of this Agreement, the following terms shall have the meaning set forth below:
a) “Ismaili Imamat”, a legal entity, means the institution or office of the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims established in accordance with the applicable customary law;
b) “Imam” means the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, embodying the Ismaili Imamat at any given time in history, designated in accordance with the said customary law;
c) “Dependent Institutions” means the instrumentalities of the Ismaili Imamat, in particular the member entities of the Aga Khan Development Network around the world, more particularly Fundação Aga Khan, a Portuguese foundation created by decree-law in 1996;
d) “Seat” means the global head office of the Ismaili Imamat, as further defined in the present Agreement;
e) “Members of the Seat” means the Senior Officials and the Staff Members of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat;
f) “Senior Officials” means the Heads of the Ismaili Imamat Departments;
g) “Staff Members” means the Members of the Seat employed in the administrative and technical service of the Seat;
h) “Premises of the Seat” means the buildings or parts of buildings and the land ancillary thereto used exclusively for carrying out the official mission and performing the official functions of the Ismaili Imamat, including the central Seat premises, the premises of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Lisbon and the official residence of the Imam.
1. The Portuguese Republic acknowledges the legal personality and capacity of the Ismaili Imamat to act in international relations and welcomes the decision of the Imam to establish the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal.
2. This Agreement establishes the privileges, immunities and facilities extended by the Portuguese Republic to the Ismaili Imamat, the Imam, the Senior Officials and the Staff Members, as well as to its Seat and assets, with a view to ensuring the performance of their official functions in Portugal and facilitating the same internationally.
Chapter II: Seat of the Ismaili Imamat
1. The Portuguese Republic shall ensure the conditions for the establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat within its territory as well as for the exercise of its functions, in accordance with the present agreement.
2. The location of the Premises of the Seat shall be subject to mutual agreement between the Parties. Pending the construction or acquisition of the central Premises of the Seat, and within a period of five (5) years, the Seat may be established in Lisbon, in the existing premises of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat. The Imam shall notify his decision in this respect to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Function of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat
The function of the Seat is to serve as the global head office of the Ismaili Imamat with a view to:
a) Facilitating the spiritual and secular guidance of the Imam to the Ismaili Community globally;
b) Promoting the quality of life of the Ismaili Community globally and more generally of the people of the countries where the Ismaili Imamat or its Dependent Institutions are active;
c) Enhancing international relations and co-operation with States, International Organisations and other entities.
Appointment of the Members of the Seat
1. The appointment of the Senior Officials of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat by the Imam shall be preceded by a consultation with the Portuguese Government and shall be notified to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to the procedures applicable to members of diplomatic missions accredited in the Portuguese Republic.
2. The number of Members of the Seat shall be determined by the Imam as may be necessary to enable the Ismaili Imamat to carry out its functions. The Ismaili Imamat will review such number with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs shall issue diplomatic identity cards to the Members of the Seat, according to the functions they perform, the highest level being attributed to Senior Officials and the other levels to the other Members of the Seat as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Imam shall establish.
Inviolability of the Premises of the Seat
1. The Portuguese authorities shall take all appropriate steps to protect the Premises of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat against any intrusion, threats or damage.
2. The Premises of the Seat, as well as the Ismaili Imamat land, air or sea vehicles used for its official functions, are inviolable, except in emergency situations that endanger public order and security, in case of a serious incident or any other event requiring immediate protective measures.
3. The Premises of the Seat cannot be used as a place of refuge for any individual prosecuted for a crime or flagrante delicto or subject to a court warrant, criminal conviction or a deportation order issued by the Portuguese authorities.
Inviolability of files and correspondence
The files and documents as well as the official correspondence of the Ismaili Imamat are inviolable at any time and wherever located within Portuguese territory.
Use of distinctive signs
The Ismaili Imamat shall be entitled to use distinctive signs, flags and emblems, in the Premises of the Seat as well as on any of the said official vehicles, which shall enjoy a registration status no less favourable than that accorded by the Portuguese Republic to diplomatic missions.
Facilities in respect of communications
The Ismaili Imamat shall enjoy on the territory of the Portuguese Republic, for the purposes of its official communications and correspondence, treatment no less favourable than that accorded by the Portuguese Republic to diplomatic missions.
Immunity from jurisdiction and from execution
The Ismaili Imamat and its assets shall enjoy immunity from jurisdiction and execution within the scope of its official activities, except:
a) When the Ismaili Imamat expressly waives those immunities;
b) In the context of cases related to employment contracts;
c) In a lawsuit brought by a third party with a view to obtaining financial compensation for death and injuries suffered as a result of an accident caused by vehicles owned or used by the Seat, or in case of any offence involving one of those vehicles.
1. Gifts and bequests made by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam within the context of their official functions or received by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam, as well as income received by them, including capital gains, as well as the assets held by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam, shall not be subject to any tax, including income or wealth tax.
2. Without prejudice to the application of more favourable provisions, granted by the Portuguese Republic to any other religious institution, the provisions of paragraph 1 shall not extend to:
a) Income deriving from any business activity directly exercised in Portugal neither to the assets connected to such activity;
b) Interest and other investment income, either due or paid by any resident in Portugal or effectively connected with the activity of a permanent establishment or fixed base in Portugal, as foreseen in the Portuguese corporate income tax code.
3. The income referred to in paragraph 2 (b) shall be subject to withholding tax, of a final character, in accordance with the corporate income tax legislation of the Portuguese Republic.
4. The Ismaili Imamat shall be exempt from any national or local tax on immovable property as regards the Premises of the Seat.
5. The Ismaili Imamat and the Imam shall be exempt from stamp duty, as well as from any other transfer tax, on the acquisition or sale of movable or immovable properties used or to be used for their official functions.
6. The Ismaili Imamat and the Imam shall be exempt from any taxes or duties on the purchase, ownership, registration, use or sale of land, air or sea vehicles, including spare parts and consumables, used for its official functions.
7. The Ismaili Imamat shall be entitled to a refund of the amounts corresponding to VAT paid on goods, including the vehicles above-mentioned, and services purchased or imported for its official use. The Portuguese Republic will establish the conditions and procedures for the application of such refund.
8. Gifts made to the Ismaili Imamat shall be tax deductible according to the Portuguese legislation applicable to gifts made to religious institutions.
Funds, foreign currency and assets
1. Subject always to the laws and regulations of the Portuguese Republic and of the European Union, namely those regarding the fight against money laundering and terrorism, the Ismaili Imamat may hold funds, securities, gold and other precious metals, or foreign currencies.
2. The Ismaili Imamat shall be free to receive any such values from within or from outside Portugal and hold and transfer the same within Portugal or from Portugal to any country and to convert any currency held or bought into any other currency.
3. This does not preclude the Portuguese Republic from adopting any requirements resulting from its membership of the European Union, including measures prohibiting, restricting or limiting the movement of capital to or from any third country.
Continued after photo below
Chapter III: Prerogatives of the Imam and the Members of the Seat
Prerogatives of the Imam
1. The Imam shall be granted the following prerogatives:
a) Ceremonial diplomatic treatment accorded in Portugal to foreign High Entities;
b) His official residence shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the Seat;
c) Inviolability of any type of papers, documents or materials as well as of any communications;
d) Immunity from any judicial action and legal proceedings in respect of acts done in the performance of his functions for the Ismaili Imamat, including immunity from any measures of execution;
2. The direct family members of the Imam shall be accorded the appropriate facilities and courtesy treatment.
Prerogatives of the Senior Officials
The Senior Officials of the Seat shall enjoy such privileges, immunities and facilities as are necessary for the performance of their functions, such as:
a) Ceremonial treatment accorded to diplomatic representatives of equivalent level and in the same circumstances;
b) Their residence shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the Premises of the Seat;
c) Inviolability of any type of papers, documents or materials relating to the functions of the Ismaili Imamat, as well as of any communications;
d) Immunity from any judicial action and legal proceedings, including immunity from any measures of execution, in respect of acts done by them in the performance of their functions for the Ismaili Imamat;
e) Exemption from all direct taxes and social charges on salaries, wages and other similar remuneration paid to them in their capacity as Senior Officials by the Ismaili Imamat or its Dependent Institutions;
f) When required by Portuguese or European legislation, facilitation of issuance of visas and residence permits, extended to direct family members.
Prerogatives of the Staff Members
The Portuguese authorities guarantee the protection and necessary assistance to the Staff Members of the Seat with a view to securing the efficient performance of their official functions, including, when required by Portuguese or European legislation, facilitation of issuance of visas and residence permits.
Chapter IV: Cooperation
Support for scientific and economic development
1. The Ismaili Imamat shall actively support the efforts of the Portuguese Republic to improve the quality of life of all those living in Portugal, particularly through the development in Portugal of world-class research projects in the said area, but more generally on subjects of common interest to the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat.
2. In view of the above, the Ismaili Imamat shall cause its highest level Dependent Institutions to create a special window devoted to achieving the objectives set out above in cooperation with the relevant Ministries or other entities of the Portuguese Government.
Chapter V: Final Provisions
Joint Committee and Settlement of disputes
The Parties shall establish a Joint Committee composed of six (6) members, three (3) appointed by the Portuguese Republic and three (3) by the Ismaili Imamat, for the following purposes:
a) Aiming to guarantee the implementation of the present Agreement;
b) Settling any differences or disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the present Agreement, with the understanding that, if an agreed solution cannot be found in the context of the Joint Committee, the matter shall be brought to direct negotiation between the Parties.
1. The present Agreement may be amended by the Parties by written mutual consent.
2. The amendments shall enter into force in accordance with the terms specified in Article 21 of the present Agreement.
Duration and termination
1. The present Agreement shall remain in force for an unlimited period of time.
2. Either Party may, after an initial period of twenty-five (25) years, terminate the present Agreement upon prior written notice of four (4) years, to be communicated through diplomatic channels. The Parties may by written agreement, modify the length of the said notice time.
Cooperation with competent authorities
The Ismaili Imamat shall fully co-operate with the competent Portuguese authorities, without prejudice to this Agreement, with a view to complying with Portuguese legislation and preventing abuse of the privileges, immunities and facilities granted under the present Agreement.
Entry into force
The present Agreement shall enter into force thirty (30) days after the date of notification in writing by the Portuguese Republic to the Ismaili Imamat, conveying the completion of the constitutional procedures of the Portuguese Republic required for that purpose.
Done in Portuguese and English, in Lisbon, on the 3rd day of June 2015.
For the Portuguese Republic
His Excellency Rui Chancerelle de Machete
For the Ismaili Imamat
His Highness Shah Karim al-Hussaini Prince Aga Khan, Forty-Ninth Hereditary Imam
Date posted: August 3, 2015.
Last updated: August 6, 2015 (Video link of the signing ceremony added, see below).
EXTRAORDINARY VIDEO: THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL
Please click on image below or “Video of the Signing of the Historic Agreement Establishing the Seat of the smaili Imamat in Portugugal
 The PDF version of the June 3, 2015 Agreement is in the public domain, and may be viewed by clicking on English Text of the Agreement, PDF File, website of the Government of Portugal.
Introduced by Abdulmalik J. Merchant
In 2008, the same year that the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building was opened by Canada’s Prime Minister Harper in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, a rediscovery of a spectacular medieval Islamic rock crystal ewer, forgotten since the mid-19th century, provided the catalyst for the re-examination of all of the surviving rock crystal ewers — the “Magnificent Seven”— carved for the Fatimid caliphs of Cairo in about the year 1000.
Jeremy Johns, and his colleague Elise Morero, are on the verge of completing a new multidisciplinary study of the Magnificent Seven and related artefacts, which is intended to be the first phase of a much wider project to examine the medieval Islamic carved rock crystal “industry”.
The Fatimid Imams-Caliphs of Egypt who founded the city of Cairo in 969 and also the Al-Azhar University, are ancestors of His Highness the Aga Khan. They prized the qualities of the rock crystal and carved them into vessels of different forms. In seeking to conceive a design for the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, His Highness wanted to connect the new building symbolically to the faith of Islam. The suggestion he made to the renowned Japanese architect, Professor Maki, focused on creating a certain mystique, centred around the beautiful mysteries of rock crystal.
In answering, “Why rock crystal?” the 49th Ismaili Imam explained:
“Because of its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colours – all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them. The hues of rock crystal are subtle, striking and widely varied – for they can be clear or milky, white, or rose coloured, or smoky, or golden, or black.
“It is because of these qualities that rock crystal seems to be such an appropriate symbol of the profound beauty and the ever-unfolding mystery of Creation itself – and the Creator. As the Holy Qur’an so powerfully affirms, ‘Allah is the Creator and the Master of the heavens and the earth.’ And then it continues: ‘Everything in the heavens and on earth, and everything between them, and everything beneath the soil, belongs to Him’.”
We divide this post into two parts. We begin with an introductory piece on Fatimid ewers by Aliza Moledina, which is followed by a link to an extraordinary video presentation by Jeremy Johns, who with his colleague has used the traditional techniques of stylistic analysis and has returned to the written sources for the production and life histories of the ewers. Both the researchers have also subjected all seven ewers for the first time to detailed archaeometrical and tribological analyses, and have drawn upon ethnographical studies, archaeological excavation, and experimental archaeology to interpret their new findings.
The lecture gives a concise overview of their progress to date, and attempts to replace the ewers back into the socio-economic context from which they were produced. It is copiously illustrated with new images of these extraordinary artefacts, revealing hidden detail that puts us in touch with the hands of the craftsmen that made them.
1. A BRIEF NOTE ON FATIMID ROCK CRYSTAL EWERS
COMPILED BY ALIZA MOLEDINA
The Fatimid Period in Islamic History (909–1171 C.E.) is characterized by the Imam-Caliphs’ emphasis on the search for knowledge and religious tolerance. Artwork thus gained importance and flourished. The Fatimids were able to draw upon diverse skills and knowledge from many sources to develop new techniques and styles for their artwork.
The Fatimids produced a wide variety of very beautiful and skilfully crafted works of art in textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, jewellery and rock-crystal. However, only a limited number of examples are available today, and it is by sheer chance that some happen to have a name or signature which links them to the Fatimids. The main reason why our knowledge of Fatimid objets d’art is so limited is that the great Treasury in which the Fatimids stored all their riches was looted between the years 1067 and 1072. They were then sold, melted down and minted into coins to be dispersed amongst the population of Fustat, or carried by merchants to other countries.
As a rare medium of art, rock crystal is made of pure quartz crystal and was only shaped by masterful craftsmen which made it highly valued by the Fatimids. The purest crystals were imported from Basra, Yemen and the islands around the East African Coast.
Of all the rock crystal objects manufactured by Fatimid artisans, the Fatimid rock crystal ewers, such as the one shown at the top of this page, are considered among the rarest and most valuable objects in the entire sphere of Islamic art. Only five were known to exist before the extraordinary appearance of an ewer in a provincial British auction in 2008 which was later sold at Christie’s last October. It was the first time one has ever known to have appeared at auction. The last one to surface on the market was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1862.
Of the very few rock crystal objects extant today (180 in total), only a few can be securely dated back to the Fatimid period. The treasury of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice has two ewers, one of which bears an inscription to the Fatimid Imam al-Aziz (975-996). Another rock crystal ewer holding an inscription to his son, Imam al-Hakim, is in the Cathedral of Fermo in Italy. An additonal rock crystal ewer was in the treasury of the Abbey of Saint Denis in Paris and is now in the Louvre. The one in the Museum of Limoges in France was stolen in 1980. Disaster also befell the final known ewer which was from the Pitti Palace collection in Florence and had an inscription to Husain ibn Jawhar. It had been on display in the Museo degli Argenti, and it was accidentally dropped by a museum employee in 1998, shattering it irreparably. Finally, a rock crystal crescent in the Museum in Nuremberg, which may have been mounted on a horse’s bridle as a royal emblem, bears the name of the Imam al-Zahir (1021-36).
In addition to the five (and now six) ewers, three or four smaller oval flasks are known to exist including one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (located just across from the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre), one in the Freer Gallery in Washington DC, and one in the Keir Collection, London. The oval flask in the Freer Gallery has a 17th century gold and enamel setting and is described by the museum as dating from the reign of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II.
“The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts, which made Cairo the most important cultural center in the Islamic world. Nearby, Old Cairo, known as al-Fustat, became a major center for the production of pottery, glass, and metalwork, and rock-crystal, ivory, and wood carving; textile factories run by government officials created tiraz fabrics in the name of the caliph elsewhere in the Egyptian region, especially the Nile Delta. A novel, more refined style developed in pottery; bands with small animals and inscriptions now formed the major decoration in textiles; and rock-crystal carvers demonstrated great skill in works created for and treasured by the caliphs themselves.” — Excerpt from “The Art of the Fatimid Period,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Kitab al-Hadaya wa’l-Tuhaf (The Book of Gifts and Rarities, selections published by Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass., 1996) says that when Imam al-Mustansir was forced to open his treasury in 1068, the looters of the Palace “brought out of the Treasury of Precious Objects 36,000 pieces of rock crystal”.
The extant rock crystal objects with no identifying inscription on them appear to be types of containers, either goblets for drinking or ewers and basins for holding liquids, perhaps for washing the hands of the guests after a meal. Over the centuries, many magical properties or benefits were deemed to be associated with objects made using rock crystal.
For example, by simply procuring a vessel made of rock crystal, an individual’s craving for water was considerably reduced. It was said that rock crystal glasses were supposed to shatter on contact with poisoned liquids, or the liquid changed colour, which is perhaps why they were so popular with rulers.
Cups of crystal are also mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an as one of the many items the Believer has to look forward to in Paradise; for example in Sura 37 (Al-Saffat, The Arrangers, Verses 45-47, tr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali):
“Round will be passed to them a cup from a clear-flowing fountain, crystal-white, of a taste delicious to those who drink (thereof), free from headiness; nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom.”
This Qur’anic reference may suggest another reason why rock crystal drinking vessels were so popular in the Muslim world.
The skill required to hollow out a piece of crystal without blemishing it meant that relief decoration was often kept to a minimum, unlike other media in Islamic art where the surfaces were covered with decoration, to ensure that the viewer could appreciate the craftsmanship of the object. When adorned with relief carving, this usually depicted floral or animal themes, especially lions and birds amongst palmettes. Occasionally gold or precious stones were added on the handle, or to hide a cloud or knot in the crystal; however generally the purity of the crystal was judged sufficient in itself.
About the author: This piece is an expansion of a special Powerpoint presentation made by Aliza Moledina for a special Literary Night event held in Ottawa, Canada, in 2008 to commemorate His Highness the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Aliza was at that time completing her Grade 12 studies at the Colonel By Secondary School, in Ottawa, Canada, after which she proceeded to the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada from where she recently graduated in medicine.
2. ‘THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN’ A VIDEO PRESENTATION BY JEREMY JOHNS
Date posted: July 30, 2015.
About Jeremy Johns: Professor Johns is Professor of the Art and Archaeology of the Islamic Mediterranean and Director of the Khalili Research Centre (KRC) for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East in the University of Oxford. He is principally interested in relations between Muslim and Christian societies in the medieval Mediterranean as manifested in material and visual culture. His research has focused upon the archaeology of the transition from late antiquity to early Islam in the Levant and, especially, upon the archaeology, history and art history of Sicily under Islamic and Norman rule, from the Muslims’ conquest of the island in the 9th century to the destruction of the Islamic community of Sicily by Frederick II. His recent and forthcoming publications include the first comprehensive study of the Islamic painted ceilings of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, and editions and studies of Arabic and bilingual documents from Norman Sicily. Amongst other projects, with Dr Elise Morero (KRC), he is currently engaged on a multidisciplinary study of the medieval Islamic carved rock crystal “industry”.
Letter From Publisher
By Abdulmalik J. Merchant
Simerg’s new feature Short Historical Insights is intended to make history educational, interesting and stimulating for readers through anecdotes, facts, stories as well as images related to Ismailis and their Imams, in no more than 500 words. Information in the series will be unearthed from a maze of documents, including those that are not easily accessible due to their sheer size or location, or material which, in the broader scope, would be of interest for research on specific themes. Of course, we will also rely on other well-known (or lesser-known) treatises and texts as well as libraries and museums for this new feature.
For the first episode, we go to a massive work called The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi and reveal a story that appears in Volume 33, which is dedicated to the period from September 1925 to February 1926 in Gandhi’s life. During his visit to Mundra in Gujarat, the father of India, is frustrated with members of his own faith with respect to their treatment of the Untouchables* and, somewhat grudgingly, praises the work of one Khoja (Ismaili) named Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb, who has unselfishly built a school for the outcast children.
This anecdote, by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, is an excellent example of the Ismaili spirit of loyalty to their countries of birth or adoption, a matter which Ismaili Imams have placed on their followers as one of their two principal obligations during their lifetime, the other being their loyalty to the Ismaili Muslim faith. Ibrahim Pradhan was an exemplary Ismaili in this regard, and we are pleased to provide a short account of his contribution from Mahatma’s own two speeches made in 1925.
Readers are invited to contribute to this new feature by submitting their pieces to Simerg@aol.com. We always acknowledges letters and submissions from non-anonymous sources.
Ibrahim Pradhan’s Meritorious Deed As Recorded By Mahatma Gandhi
102 – Gandhi’s Speech at Mundra, November 1, 1925, page 177 – 181
(It is noted by Mahadev Desai that Mahatma Gandhi began his speech with “Antyaja brothers and sisters, their sympathizers, and other Hindu brothers and sisters”)
” ….It is wrong to invite me to a place where the entire public believes in untouchability. It is an insult to invite me to a place where the untouchables are treated with nothing but contempt. After having come here, I heard of the school for the untouchables. I felt that at such a place the Antyajas [lit. the last born – ed] would receive service. I would congratulate Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb on the school but the Hindu public deserves no such congratulations. Its existence puts the Hindus to shame. It is a matter of shame for me if a Muslim builds a Siva temple for my benefit. I was pleased to see the school’s activity of spinning and weaving; however, I immediately felt that neither I nor the Hindus could take credit for this meritorious deed. I can have no sense of satisfaction if a Muslim recites the Gayatri mantra instead of me. I can only feel satisfied when a Brahmin comes along and offers to recite the Gayatri for me. However, in this case, the Khojas are doing the work that should be done by Hindus. Here, no one is bothered in the least about the Antyajas. I do not see any non-Antyajas except the guests sitting among the Antyajas here before me. Even those who go around with me during the day have abandoned them and are seated in the enclosure for high-caste gentlemen. If you could rip open my heart today, you would find it crying — ‘O Lord! Could this be the Hindu dharma, where no one cares for the Antyajas? Is there not a single person in the town who will come to their rescue’?…
103 – Gandhi’s Reminiscences of Kutch, November 1, 1925, pages 181-187
I had my bitterest experience in Mundra. I found only hypocrisy, insincerity and play-acting there. Even Muslims were made to sit in the enclosure for those who supported untouchability as if they too believed in it. Hence, only my companions and the Muslim volunteers remained in the section reserved for Antyajas. Many among the Hindu volunteers, though they claimed that they did not believe in untouchability at all, were nevertheless kept in the enclosure meant for those who did believe in it.
There is a school for the Antyajas in Mundra but it is a philanthropic Muslim gentleman, Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, who runs it at his own expense. The school may be regarded as good up to a point. The children are kept very clean. The building is in the centre of the city. The children had even been taught Sanskrit verses, [which they recited] in a broken accent. Spinning, carding, ginning and weaving were taught in the school itself. Only children’s clothes were not made of khadi [handspun and hand-woven cloth – ed.]; however, the organizers had gone in for the cloth believing it to be pure khadi. The reader might perhaps conclude that this school would give me some satisfaction. It gave me no satisfaction but caused me grief, rather, as the credit for it would not go to a Hindu. I have already mentioned the name of the gentleman who finances it.
The gentleman in charge of this school is the heir of the Aga Khan in Mundra. Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan deserves all praise for his charity, as I was informed that this school is not being run for the purpose of converting the untouchables or schoolchildren to Islam, but in order to enable them to make progress as Hindus. The people of Mundra also informed me that the gentleman in charge, Mauledina Meghji was a Vedantin [belonging to a school of Indian philosophy – ed.] and a learned person. All this must be regarded as satisfactory. However, what is the contribution of the Hindus? Untouchability is an ugly blot on the Hindu religion, it is a sin. The Hindus alone can do prayaschitta [atonement for sins] for it. The dirt on my body will go only when I myself remove it.
This institution adds to the prestige of Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, and to that extent to the shame of the Hindus.
Date posted: July 26, 2015, word count, appx. 400 words.
Notes and references:
*Untouchables are outcasts—people considered too impure, too polluted, to rank as worthy beings. Prejudice defines their lives, particularly in the rural areas, where nearly three-quarters of India’s people live….Although the Indian constitution makes caste discrimination illegal, Untouchables living at the bottom of society are subjected to indignities” — from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0306/feature1/
See complete volume 33 at http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL033.PDF.