Kawhi Leornard of Toronto Raptors Makes the Greatest Shot Ever in the Last Second in Game 7 of the NBA Playoffs

By ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos
 

The Toronto Raptors Lapel Pin

The Toronto Raptors lapel pin that I was presented with as I entered Section 307 to watch the 7th and final playoff game between the Raptors and 76ers. Photo: Malik Merchant.

No one, not even NBA players, could recall a shot in any NBA seventh playoff game in the dying second, buzzer beating moment, such as the one Kawhi’s made to lead his team (OUR TEAM) Toronto Raptors to victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena. Kawhi had to leap high up in the air to ensure that it would go over Joel Embidd (2.13 m, 6.99 feet) who stood in front of him to prevent him from scoring. The ball flirted with the rim 4 times before sinking into the basket. The two-points that Kawhi delivered are now for history books and will be talked about for ever! Perhaps, a physicist can explain the science of all that took place in lay terms — the flight of the ball as it left Kawhi’s hands, the ball bouncing on the rim 4 times, 2 times on either side, before it sunk into the basket.

During the course of my life, I have attended about a dozen NBA basketball games. I first came into contact with basketball as a young boy in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). I often escaped with my friends to see local basketball matches played at the court of a college that was just 200 metres from the Jamatkhana. I had no favourite local teams then. A few years later, when our family moved to Dar es Salaam, I would go and watch the nail biting  matches between Azania Secondary School and Aga Khan Boys Secondary School. In 1979, when a computing assignment took me to Salt Lake City,Utah, my colleague, Jim Golluch, took me to watch Utah Jazz play LA Lakers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson), Boston Celtics (Larry Bird and Archibald) and Philadelphia 76ers (Julius Erving or Dr. J and Darryl Dawkins). Utah was beaten in all the games — the franchise was new —  but one Jazz player who left a mark on me was Adrian Dantley whose shooting was almost perfect. Then several years later when I was in Philadelphia, I went to watch the 76ers on a couple of occasions. Utah, however remained in my heart since 1979, until of course the Raptors franchise was established in 1995!

A view of the basketball court at the Scotiabank arena from where I sat (Section 307, Row 17, Seat 20). The Raptors and 76ers are practicing shooting from close ranges. I would not hesitate in recommending the section. Photo: Malik Merchant

I had never watched the Raptors on their home court. I didn’t want yesterday’s 7th game to happen. After routing the 76ers in the fifth game in Toronto, we lost the 6th in Philadelphia to everyone’s dismay. On Thursday, I decided I would go and watch the final game and obtained my ticket at a premium price from Ticketmaster. I got to the Scotiabank arena very early and the gates to the arena opened 90 minutes before the game. The arena was empty and when I got to Section 307 to locate my seat (Row 17, Seat 20), a  Raptor’s representative welcomed me  by giving me a beautiful Raptor’s team pin, when I told him about my love for the game since childhood. The back rest of every seat was covered with a free Raptor’s tee shirt. He told me they did that for the playoff games, and they came in different shades — the free give away tee shirt yesterday was white with portraits of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, and Danny Green adorning the front with the proclamation WE THE NORTH. The arena gradually filled to full capacity by the time the game commenced shortly after 7.

WATCH KAWHI’S WINNER

The noise level though, throughout the game, was not as much as I had expected. I think everyone was, like me very nervous. I could not scream as loud as I had wanted to –  my chocked throat held the screaming back, it was difficult to be really noisy! But then in the final minutes when Raptors scored some important vital points – the game was always close – Gason gesticulated to the crowd to raise the noise level. We then went absolutely crazy and became delirious when Leonard (“God is good, I pray everyday”) scored the winning basket just as the buzzer sounded. We were stunned; no one wanted to leave the arena. It’s fine to watch the excitement at home on TV but there is nothing like being at a live game. The experience was overwhelming.

Yes, Kawhi, God is good – to everyone actually – but the incredible player had availed himself of God’s help by working hard, not being like other players who argue and punch fists, make a show of their talents, and are arrogant. Kawhi Leonard, I have always felt, is a pure soul and the bus driver taking me home told me “I like him for what he is.” A truly humble person who delivers over and over again and carries the team on his shoulders without complaining! Incredible. What a human being, and an example to all other sportsmen. But we do need those fists and fights, and shows of pride and arrogance. Its sports!

Congratulations Kawhi and the Toronto Raptors for making Sunday, May 12, 2019, one of the 3 greatest sporting days in my life. The other two are football related – my favourite team in the world, Tottenham Hotspur, coming from behind to defeat, in midweek, Ajax of Amsterdam, and earlier Manchester City in the UEFA Champions Cup.

I wasn’t in person at the Tottenham games, but I was at the Raptors game and that personal presence gives the Raptors game a slight edge over the Tottenham victories which I watched alone.

Date posted: May 13, 2019.

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Cannabis use in teens raises depression risk in adulthood and lowers school achievement – McGill and Oxford Study

Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos)

In a piece for “On the Brain,” [1] a newsletter published by the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, the Chairman and President of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and a former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., writes:

“In his monumental study of history, the brilliant British historian Arnold Toynbee found that the great civilizations were destroyed not by an external enemy, but from within. ‘Civilizations,’ he said, ‘die from suicide, not by murder’.”

Califano continues:

“Of all the internal dangers our nation faces, none possess a greater threat to our children and families and none is complicit in more domestic ills than substance abuse and addiction.”

In urging Jamats to use their assets of energy, health, intelligence and ability to better ends than wasting them on valueless habits, Mawlana Hazar Imam  interestingly made a similar remark to what has been made above by Califano, when he stated on November 11, 1970 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that those who knew Islamic history would know that social habits had eaten into the fabric of Muslim societies and had contributed to the destruction of Muslim empires.

Just days before Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana on October 17, 2018, we carried a post  where we called on the Ismaili Jamat and its youth to seek to apply principles of good health and good judgement as articulated by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

We take this opportunity to publish a  report that was released by the University of Oxford on  February 14, 2019. [2] Again, we ask members of the Jamat to keep away from all social habits including smoking, drinking and drugs so that we may always remain a strong and purposeful Jamat.

McGill and Oxford Report

KEY POINTS:

Question:  Is adolescent cannabis consumption associated with risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality in young adulthood?

Findings: In this systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 studies and 23, 317 individuals, adolescent cannabis consumption was associated with increased risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior later in life, even in the absence of a premorbid condition. There was no association with anxiety.

Meaning:  Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid using cannabis as use is associated with a significant increased risk of developing depression or suicidality in young adulthood; these findings should inform public health policy and governments to apply preventive strategies to reduce the use of cannabis among youth.

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While there has been a lot of focus on the role of cannabis use in psychosis, there has been less attention on whether cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Researchers from McGill University and the University of Oxford carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of the best existing evidence and analysed 23,317 individuals (from 11 international studies) to see whether use of cannabis in young people is associated with depression, anxiety and suicidality in early adulthood.

They found that cannabis use among adolescents is associated with a significant increased risk of depression and suicidality in adulthood (not anxiety). While the individual-level risk was found to be modest, the widespread use of the drug by young people makes the scale of the risk much more serious.

The population attributable risk was found to be around 7%, which translates to more than 400,000 adolescent cases of depression potentially attributable to cannabis exposure in the US, 25,000 in Canada and about 60,000 in the UK.

Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University and a scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, states: “While the link between cannabis and mood regulation has been largely studied in preclinical studies, there was still a gap in clinical studies regarding the systematic evaluation of the link between adolescent cannabis consumption and the risk of depression and suicidal behaviour in young adulthood. This study aimed to fill this gap, helping mental health professionals and parents to better address this problem.”

Professor Andrea Cipriani, NIHR Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said:

“We looked at the effects of cannabis because its use among young people is so common, but the long-term effects are still poorly understood. We carefully selected the best studies carried out since 1993 and included only the methodologically sound ones to rule out important confounding factors, such us premorbid depression.

“Our findings about depression and suicidality are very relevant for clinical practice and public health. Although the size of the negative effects of cannabis can vary between individual adolescents and it is not possible to predict the exact risk for each teenager, the widespread use of cannabis among the young generations makes it an important public health issue.

“Regular use during adolescence is associated with lower achievement at school, addiction, psychosis and neuropsychological decline, increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, as well as the respiratory problems that are associated with smoking.”

The active ingredient in cannabis, THC, mediates most of psychoactive and mood-related effects of cannabis and also has addictive properties. Preclinical studies in laboratory animals reported an association between pubertal exposure to cannabinoids and adult-onset depressive symptoms. It is thought that cannabis may alter the physiological neurodevelopment (frontal cortex and limbic system) of adolescent brains.

While the review of observational studies was the first to look at the effects of cannabis use in adolescents only, it was not possible to predict the risk at the individual level, nor was it possible to discern information about the dose-dependent risk of cannabis use.

Date posted: April 11, 2019.

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[1]. High Society: How Substance Abuse Ravages America and What to Do About It by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., please click: https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/publications%20archive/OnTheBrain/OnTheBrainFall08.pdf

[2]. http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-02-14-cannabis-use-teens-raises-risk-depression-young-adults

An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj, and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ by Jehangir A. Merchant @Simerg

The night journey (al-isra) and the ascension (al-mi’raj) of the Prophet is observed on the 27th day in the Islamic month of Rajab (falling in 2018 on Friday, April 13).

This is an event of great spiritual significance because the exalted experience of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) is viewed by all Muslims as an example of his elevated status. Significant events of this nature in the life of the Prophet are a source of inspiration for the believers to excel in their quest for spiritual enlightenment and also serve as a model for the believers to emulate. The attainment of this exalted status is possible for every believer who correctly practice his or her Faith in accordance with the proper guidance of Allah through His Prophet and the designated successors (i.e. the Hereditary Imams).

An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ (li ma’a Allah waqt)

Fragment from a manuscript of Bustan of Sadi extolling the Prophet’s miraculous ascension to the heavens (mi’raj) Image: Wikipedia. Please click for article.

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Ismailis of Eastern Canada and their upcoming holy encounter with their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan: #1 – Forgiveness

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

Eastern Canada Maps

Eastern Canada shown in green on map on left consists of the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. The total population is 23,946,177 (2016), and approximately 40-45,000 Ismailis live in these provinces.  Map (left) Connormah – Wikipedia, CC BY 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19857457, and (right)  Natural Resources, Canada.

Lets us make the visit of Mawlana Hazar Imam a fantastic and happy one for us and our families, particularly our parents and children

 

By ABDULMALIK J. MERCHANT

His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam as he is affectionately and respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim community, will be meeting with tens of thousands of his followers living in Eastern Canada — an area stretching from Windsor in Ontario to Montreal in Quebec to Halifax and beyond in the Maritime Provinces — for religious gatherings in Toronto and Montreal from November 17 – 21, 2017.

The Ismailis use the term didar (lit. to have a glimpse of the Imam of the Time) for these intimate religious mulaqats (meetings or encounters). The didar with the Imam can be on an individual basis, in small or large settings or in ceremonial gatherings that are referred to as darbars. Most recently, His Highness visited the Ismailis in Uganda and Tanzania and graced them with darbars as part of his Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismailis throughout their rich and eventful 1400 year history, from the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali, have sought to articulate their experiences of the didar  of their Imams through oral expressions of ginans, qasidas, poetry and songs as well wonderful narratives. These varied expressions have become sources of inspiration for Ismailis leading up to the moment of the didar.

Today, we commence the publication of a series consisting of short articles that we hope will contribute to making the mulaqat with Mawlana Shah Karim more meaningful and purposeful. Our material will center on the concept of Imamat as articulated in Ismaili and related Shia literature and we will also include stories and accounts of didars well as supplications from the oral traditions and other pertinent material.

We begin the series with what we feel is an important ethic that will help us benefit during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s coming holy visit: FORGIVENESS.

Let bygones be bygones: “If people have harmed you, forget and forgive…”

 

Mawlana Hazar Imam pictured at the Olympia Hall, London, during his weeklong visit to the United Kingdom Jamat in September 1979. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.

The spirit of forgiveness is an ethic that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has articulated many times since his Imamat. In 1969, he said in Mumbai:

“As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little bit more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges. Do not turn around and say, ‘he hurt me yesterday, so I will hurt him today’. This is not the spirit of Islam, and it is not as I understand that our faith should be practiced, and this is fundamental.”

The act of apologizing when one thinks that one was not at fault, and the act of exercising forgiveness when one feels that they have been wronged, are probably the most difficult to struggle with.

However, each one of us has to realize that when there are conflicts, especially within a family, the burden of disunity is the greatest on parents because their love for all their children is absolute. Now consider that in the context of Hazar Imam, who addresses all Ismailis as his spiritual children!

According to a popular tradition, when the Prophet Muhammad asked Angel Gabriel what was meant by the Qur’anic verse (7:199),

“Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant”

the Angel replied:

“It is God’s command to forgive those who have wronged you, to give to those who have deprived you, and to tie relations with those who severe theirs with you.”

Another tradition of the Prophet says:

“Show mercy and you shall be shown mercy. Forgive others and you shall be forgiven by God.”

When Mawlana Hazar Imam received the Adrienne Clarkson prize for Global Citizenship he shortlisted a good measure of forgiveness, along with an  abundant capacity for compromise, a little sense of patience and humility, as strengths for an aspiring global citizen. Accomplishing these would mean hard work, he said, “but no work would be more important.”

In a piece “Why Forgive” Fatima Ariadne in her blog Decoding Eden says that “forgiveness is about giving yourself permission to let go of the past….and giving that inner space in your heart for something more positive. We forgive because we deserve peace.”

Through our kind gesture of forgiving, we are also raising the consciousness of  this fundamental Islamic ethic in the hearts and minds of  the persons we are seeking to forgive. Speaking in Moscow in 1995 during his first physical presence among his community in Central Asia, Mawlana Hazar Imam said that “forgiving those who may have made a mistake or harmed you, will give them respect for your behaviour, and it will encourage them to follow your behaviour.”

Of course, Mawlana Hazar Imam was addressing an audience that had passed through a period of civil strife in Tajikistan. However, this principle is as fundamentally important in our daily attitudes to our families and friends.

Louis B. Smedes, professor emiritus of ethics and theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadens, California and author of book Forgive and Forget wrote that, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” He further noted that “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”

The Qur’anic ayat quoted earlier “tie relations with those who severe theirs with you” imposes upon us  a moral obligation to forgive.

So as we approach the important day of the holy encounter with Hazar Imam it would be most appropriate for us to reach out to our friends and family members with whom we are seriously at odds and say, “Let unpleasant things that have happened in the past be forgotten.”

That act of courage would be in the truest and finest tradition of our faith. With that kind spirit in our heart, we will truly lavish in the love, grace, and blessing of Mawlana Hazar Imam when he is with us in a few days. Forgiveness will lead to greater unity within families and the jamat.

It is within the framework of united families and Jamats that Mawlana Hazar Imam wishes us to attain spiritual as well as worldly success and happiness.

Date posted: November 4, 2017.

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Hazrat Ali (a.s.): “Have a Tender Heart, as Tender as a Fistful of Green Grass”

MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM ON HAZRAT ALI

His Highness the Aga Khan

“This is a time of new freedoms, but it is also one in which new choices must be made wisely. In exercising freedom and making choices, our institutions must be guided, as they have been in the past, by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace of Allah be upon him), and the tradition of our tariqah, which is the tradition of Hazrat Ali: A thinking Islam and a spiritual Islam – an Islam that teaches compassion, tolerance and the dignity of man – Allah’s noblest creation.” — His Highness the Aga Khan on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Aga Khan Foundation, May 14, 1992.

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THE BLESSED

Blessed is one
who is humble regarding himself,
whose livelihood is good,
whose inner thoughts are virtuous,
whose character is good,
who spends the surplus from his wealth
and removes superfluity from his speech,
who keeps his evil away from people — Hazrat Ali

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THE KALAM-I MAWLA OF HAZRAT ALI

A page from a manuscript of Kalam-i Mawla. The Institute of Ismaili Studies collection.

Hazrat Ali’s aphorisms and wise counsels got translated into numerous languages across the Muslim world. The Kalame Mawla is a moving poetic rendition of his teachings in Hindustani. The work exhorts the believers to observe virtues such as brotherhood, honesty and generosity. The image shown above is from the manuscript  collection at the Institute of Ismaili Studies and written in a beautiful Khojki hand in Bombay. It was copied in 1908 samvat/1851 by Khoja Alahrakhea Koriji.

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Titles of Hazrat Ali in Kalam-i Mawla

  1. Shah-e Awliya (verses 2 & 182) – the Lord of the friends (of God)
  2. Sahib-e Zulfiqar (verse 15) – Master of (the sword) Dhulfiqar
  3. Wali Maqbul (verse 34) – the accepted friend (of God)
  4. Sahib-e Israr (verse 98) – Master of the (spiritual) mysteries or secrets
  5. Kawsar-e Saqi (verses 102 & 107) – the pourer (of water) at the Pond of Kawthar (in Paradise)
  6. Shah-e Dul Dul Sawar (verses 113 & 130) – the rider of (the horse) Dul Dul; etc.

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Thoughtful Teachings of Hazrat Ali from Kalam-i Mawla

Have a tender heart,
as tender as a fistful of green grass;
be not arrogant and stiff as a tree
upright in a forest;

A tree is toppled in a storm,
but grass bends and sways happily with the wind. — 8:67

When the boat of the heart comes upon a storm,
change direction, and lead it to the shore — 6:47

Gold remains in this world but right conduct (adab) enable you to meet your lord — 3:16

Be as soft as silk — 8:16

The best of wealth is that which is spent in the Name and way of the Lord — 4:22

The waters of a river do not turn back; neither does one’s age — 7:234

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INVOCATION
Nade Ali

Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum. Copyright.

Nadi Ali, Nadi Ali, Nadi Ali
Nadi Aliyyan mazhar al-ajaib
Tajidahu aunan lakafin-nawaib
Kullu hammin wa ghammin
sayanj-i Ali Bi wilayatika
Ya Ali, Ya Ali, Ya Ali

Call Ali, Call Ali, Call Ali
Call Ali who is the manifestation of marvels;
You will find him your helper in calamities.
Every anxiety and grief will come to an end
Through your friendship,
O Ali, O Ali, O Ali.

Date posted: April 19, 2016.

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For Navroz, How Volunteers and Young Ismailis Inspire the Aged and the Sick: And Thank you Ali of Grade 4

By Abdulmalek Merchant
Publisher-Editor, http://www.simerg.com

Navroz greeting from an Ismaili student
A greeting and prayer for my parents from an Ismaili student in Vancouver.

On auspicious occasions such as Navroz, Imamat Day and Salgirah a team of volunteers sets out to deliver trays of delicious food around the Greater Vancouver area to the aged and the sick who cannot attend the jamati functions due to ill-health and other limitations. These deliveries remind the recipients they are part and parcel of a greater brotherhood which has not forgotten them. The volunteer who came by to my mum was in his last leg of deliveries to 84 homes – this is just from one out of several Vancouver area jamatkhanas.

Navroz greeting from an Ismaili student 2

Along with the food comes a card designed by a young Ismaili. For my mum, the card delivered with the food moments ago was the highlight (the spicy food is for me! lol) and her face lit up as she read it. “See Malik,” she tells me, “different students write cards for us which brings joys to our hearts. This is done everytime.”

Thank you to the volunteers for preparing the food, and delivering it to hundreds of homes, and to students who design beautiful cards with good wishes and prayers. Keep up the excellent work of lighting up the hearts and souls of hundreds of jamati members on this most auspicious occasion of Navroz.

On behalf of everyone whose hearts you have warmed up, we say to you and your families Navroz Mubarak, and may you be blessed with happiness and success in all walks of life.

Date posted: March 19, 2016.

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 We welcome your feedback, please click Leave a comment.

Egyptian President al-Sisi Meets His Highness the Aga Khan and Hails AKDN’s Work + Memorial Photo

Alaa Youssef, spokesperson for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said that the President met with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on Saturday, February 20, 2016,  and hailed the positive role played by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) which he considered as an example of non-governmental organizations contributing to development in the society and creating jobs. President Sisi also praised the AKDN’s efforts in Egypt, especially in the area of childhood development. [1]

Please click on photos to enlarge

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Egypt's President al-Sisi on February 20, 2016. Photo Credit: The Egyptian Presidency.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Egypt’s President al-Sisi on February 20, 2016. Photo Credit: The Egyptian Presidency.

The 49th Ismaili Imam said that he was looking forward to boosting the Network’s activities in various Egyptian cities, referring to AKDN’s projects in Aswan. He added that the foundation plans to finance more projects for the needy segments, especially in the health and educational sectors. His Highness the Aga Khan was in Egypt to deliver the keynote address at the Africa 2016 investment forum in Sharm el Sheikh. Thematic excerpts of the speech will appear on this website during the week of February 22, 2016.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) takes a memorial photo with other heads of state and government and the participating delegations during the Africa 2016 Business for Africa, Egypt and the World Forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 20, 2016. His Highness the Aga Khan is pictured second from right in the front row. The 49th Ismaili Imam will be giving a key note speech at the forum on Sunday, February 21, 2016 at approximately 9:00 am (Cairo Time). Photo Credit: The Egyptian Presidency.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) takes a memorial photo with other heads of state and government and the participating delegations during the Africa 2016 Business for Africa, Egypt and the World Forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 20, 2016. His Highness the Aga Khan is pictured second from right in the front row. The 49th Ismaili Imam will be giving a key note speech at the forum on Sunday, February 21, 2016 at approximately 9:00 am (Cairo Time). Photo Credit: The Egyptian Presidency.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi delivers his speech during the opening session of the African international business forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in the South Sinai governorate of Egypt, 20 February 2016. Photo Credit: The Egyptian presidency.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi delivers his speech during the opening session of the African international business forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in the South Sinai governorate of Egypt, 20 February 2016. Photo Credit: The Egyptian presidency.

We invite our readers to click on the following exclusive pieces published recently at Simergphotos:

Date posted: February 20, 2016.
Last updated: February 21, 2016.

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[1] Report compiled from the website of Egypt’s State Information Service, http://www.sis.gov.eg/en/.

Ismaili History: The Marco Polo Myth of the Assassins

alamut14

Major excavation activities have been underway for the past few years resulting in interesting archaeological discoveries. Here we see the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

PULLING BACK THE SILK CURTAIN

“The Nizari [Ismailis] excelled in the fields of theology, philosophy, architecture and science, but their opponents demonized them as bloodthirsty extremist religious murderers…The returning Crusaders brought back the legend of the pothead assassins, partly because they loved to believe imaginative romantic tales of the East…In 1256, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu, destroyed the Nizali mountain castles, one at a time. Their political and military power was permanently broken (although today, some several million Nizalis still survive in some 25 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America).

Timeline

Timeline by Dr. Ali M. Rajput, Birmingham, England.

“In 1273, Marco Polo visited Alamut, and brought back the story of how hashish was used to attract potential killers…After, Dante was the first to use the word “assassin” in the 19th Canto of The Inferno in his Divine Comedy. The word “assassin” remained in various European languages, right through to Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, who mentions the Assassins in his book, Angels and Demons. But there are a few reasons why the hashish-assassin myth is almost certainly wrong….If hashish is given in a large enough dose to cause unconsciousness, it will first cause nausea and hallucinations – which are usually very scary and unpleasant to the unsuspecting user.” — Excerpts from  Dr. Karl  S. Kruszelnicki’s “Hashish Assassin – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain”, broadcast on ABC Science Australia. Dr. Karl is Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney. 

alamut13

Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

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ETYMOLOGY

Nevertheless, the most acceptable etymology of the word assassin is the simple one: it comes from Hassan (Hassan ibn al-Sabbah) and his followers, and so had it been for centuries. The noise around the hashish version was invented in 1809, in Paris, by the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, whom on July the 7th of that year, presented a lecture at the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters (Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres) – part of the Institute of France – in which he retook the Marco Polo chronicle concerning drugs and this sect of murderers, and associated it with the word. Curiously his theory had great success and apparently still has…Jacques Boudet, in Les mots de l’histoire, Ed. Larousse-Bordas, Paris, 1998

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THE TRUTH IS DIFFERENT

[…] their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some Orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin,” which in many European languages was more terrifying yet….the truth is different. According to texts Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to “hashish” — Amin Maalouf, in Samarkand, Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 1998

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Editor’s note: The following piece by Valerie Gonzalez has been adapted from her review of the book Eagle’s Nest – Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria by the late Professor Peter Peter Wiley, who had spent nearly a lifetime discovering and investigating the Ismaili castles of Iran and Syria. Professor Wiley passed away on April 23, 2009, at the age 86. Valerie’s copyright piece originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008)  and was reproduced on this blog in full (see link below) with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée.

DECONSTRUCTION OF THE MYTH

The Rock of Alamut.

The Castle of Alamut, nested on the top of the colossal mass of granite rock, became the centre of Nizari Ismaili activity after the fall of the Fatimid Empire. It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright. Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

By Valerie Gonzalez

Old myths are very difficult to deconstruct, even when historical evidence reveals the absurdity of their foundations. The infamous “assassin” legend that from the Middle Ages soils the memory of the Nizari Ismaili community is an example of this incorrigible defect of the collective consciousnesses. The image presented by both Christian and Muslim chroniclers of the Ismailis as unscrupulous terrorists is unfortunate if their sole fault lay in surviving as a distinct political and religious community within a hostile and troubled environment. The Crusaders, Sunnis and Seldjuk Turks naturally saw in this Shi’ite minority a threat to their establishment and expended great efforts in eliminating the Ismaili State from Iran and Syria. In addition to the pressures exerted by the great powers holding sway over the Middle East, in the 13th century, the Ismailis had to confront the Mongol threat which finally overwhelmed them. It is not wonder that in such a context they deployed the most efficient means of defense available to maintain not only the network of their strongholds and basis of their State, but also their faith and culture, the very sense of existence. In practice however, they were no more immoral or cruel than their contemporaries. They simply proved tremendously clever and obstinate in facing adversity and in struggling against forces vastly more powerful than their own. And it is probably for this reason that the Nizari Ismaili community were subject to demonization.

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Attaining the summit at Alamut is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife. The above is an open passage through the mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Much scholarship was required to unravel the dark mystery of the medieval Ismaili community. Numerous historical essays and archeological reports, among them Fahrad Daftari’s extensive works, have provided an accurate view of the Ismailis within the Islamic tradition. But assuredly the latest release on the subject, Peter Willey’s book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, brings invaluable new insights by accurately portraying the environment in which the life and struggles of the Ismaili faithful took place. There is no question but that this book offers a convincing tool for the deconstruction of the false myths which surround the cult of the Assassins.

Far from being the addicts of hashish (the word assassin is believed widely, but incorrectly, to derive from the word hashishin) and a band of murderous brigands, the Ismailis were highly intelligent and devout Muslims serving their own Imam or spiritual leader (the present Imam is the Aga Khan) and attempting to build a new and vigorous Islamic state independent of the Seljuqs who had conquered Iran in 1038 – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

More than a mere treatise on the archaeology of the Ismaili castles in Iran and Syria, Willey’s book shows multiple qualities. As an academic work, it fulfills its main objective which is to present the results of a meticulous description and observation of these fortified sites. The considerable amount of information contained in the volume reflects a near life-time of research devoted to the subject. Not a single pile of stones or rubble has escaped Willey’s acute attention, or skillful restoration in clear prose of the forbidding grandeur of the Ismaili military architecture. Each remaining element of structure is analyzed and appropriately re-situated in the initial order both of the architectural organization of the building itself and of its broader setting within the coherent chain of fortresses spread over Ismaili territories. The material and documentation at the author’s disposal, including building scale, purpose, population levels and strategic importance have been patiently collected in order to present a reliable picture of the complex network of Ismaili strongholds. Maps, ground plans, photographs and even artists’ impressions and drawings complete the written work together with four appendices which include the castles’ inventory, a list of Willey’s expeditions and two catalogues of the ceramic and coin artifacts dating from the Alamut Period found at the site.

As seen on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News a meteor's streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

As seen on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News, a meteor’s streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

Beyond the high quality scientific report based on the archaeological record, Eagle’s Nest offers a brilliant reconstitution of Ismaili material culture from an historical, intellectual and sociological point of view, from the 11th century through the Mongol destructions of the mid 13th century. Willey restitutes the very meaning of the architecture he studies through the history of its builders and inhabitants, pointing out the most significant events of their lifetimes and portraying the great spiritual and political leaders of the Ismaili community. Methodically and surely, Willey describes the intricate historical background of the Ismaili State in which multiple powers confronted or fought each other, including Seljuk Turks, ambitious Sunni and Shii’a rulers, Crusaders on the Mediterranean coast, to propose his own interpretation of the historical evidence. Where evidence lacks or where persistent misconceptions require redress, the author proposes and defends critical hypotheses. The historical and cultural dimension of Willey’ archaeological investigation is particularly enhanced by the presentation of certain situations and events as literary narratives, as he does in the beginning of chapter 2, “Hasan Sabbah and the Ismailis of Iran”. The passage in question relates the capture without bloodshed of the Alamut fortress under Seljuk authority and begins thus: “It was nearly noon on a hot day in the early summer of 1090. Mahdi, the lord of the castle of Alamut, was beginning to sweat a little” (p. 21). In this way, the author makes us relive the extraordinary event in a human atmosphere that is quite uncommon in scholarly works.

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A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Willey’s sensitivity to humanistic values is perceptible throughout the book, not only through the telling of the past but also in the lively narration of the research trips themselves. First, he pays considerable attention to the actual environment of the castles he visits, their awesome natural frame and the rural or urban settings of the surroundings that are presented with delight and consideration. Although most of the time the Ismaili vestiges are ghost constructions in remote, isolated regions, they are not at all presented by Willey as still life portraits. Rather, each fortress is an element in a busy, human landscape. As an example, where appropriate Willey writes about agriculture and local conditions in the surrounding villages for fortresses located in rural areas. Also, the local population and individuals involved in Willey’s expeditions frequently are mentioned as actors in the archaeological narrative. In this way, Willey underscores the support of both his team and the local community in contributing to the success of his research. Particularly moving is his attitude toward the people who help him visit inaccessible locations under difficult conditions and various orders, especially his work partner Adrianne Woodfine. More broadly, the practical aspects of each journey, the general organization and unexpected situations and encounters are meticulously recounted so that the book offers the live texture of a human adventure together with its purely scholarly content.

It is often difficult to describe to friends the problems which the investigation of Ismaili castles present. They are built on the top of high mountains, covering the entire summit, and are normally surrounded by three defensive walls with numerous outworks. Most of the castles were destroyed by the Mongols and the ruins are dangerous and infested with snakes and scorpions on or under the stones or in the cracks of walls. The steep scree and sharp rocks are formidable, especially in the intense heat and altitude of over 2000 metres – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

Chapters 7 through 12 cover the various areas of the Iranian Ismaili strongholds. Willey naturally begins with the fortresses in the famous Alamut Valley of the Alborz Mountains, the fortress in which the infamous legend of the “Assassins” took place. Alamut fortress constituted the very heart of the Nizari State in Iran and was the seat of Hasan Sabbah. Alamut and its sister fortresses represented the epitome of Ismaili military science. Willey presents it with a rigorous method of sketching, measuring and enumeration of the construction’s features and structures, topography, architectural configuration, water equipment, cisterns, underground storage, garrison quarters and so on.

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The pottery kilns in the valley of Andij in the Alamut valley. Some 15 kilns were discovered including good examples of contemporary ceramics. Photo: http://www.iis.ac.uk

The Alamut castle like many of the Ismaili strongholds contained facilities for religious activities and higher learning such as libraries. To support his observations, Willey quotes several times the Mongol historian, Juwayni, who witnessed the surrender of the Alamut fortress among other similar events. Although this chronicler was hostile to the Ismailis, his detailed reports offer an invaluable source of information. In particular he inspected the Alamut fortress’ interior prior to destruction and mentions, not without admiration, its remarkable facilities (p.100). Indeed, the sophistication of their architecture allowed the Ismailis to resist the fiercest attacks while ultimately succumbing to the formidable Mongol war machinery. Willey relates with great empathy for the desperate inhabitants the dramatic capture and systematic destruction of Alamut and other Ismaili strongholds. After Alamut, Willey investigates the other Iranian Ismaili castles of the regions of Qumes, Khorassan, Qohistan and in the surroundings of the Seldjuk capital Isfahan.

Willey terminates his book with a moving epilogue in which he shares a few of the thoughts, feelings and questions raised in his heart and mind by the exceptional fate of the Ismailis. He naturally mentions the remarkable endeavor of the Aga Khan’s organization for the development of both Ismaili and Islamic culture in continuation with the educational tradition of the community since the Middle Ages.

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Nevin Harji stands by an official road sign when she visited Alamut with husband Muslim. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

If, through such personal treatment, Willey hoped to clarify the historical issues surrounding Ismaili culture through the ages, he most assuredly succeeded. Eagle’s Nest unveils the extraordinary reality and humanity of the medieval Ismaili civilization, often hidden behind romantic images of remote ruins and the dark secrets contained behind crumbling walls. Finally, that Willey should communicate his deep affection for the countries he explored, particularly Iran, and the Ismaili themselves, is not the least quality of this book.

Date posted: December 14, 2015.

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Credits and notes:

1. The book review originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008) and was reproduced on this web site with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée under the title Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community

2. Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, by Peter Willey, published by I.B. Tauris, 2005, London – New York, 321 pages, hard back. Approximate prices in Canada, USA and the UK (at Chapters.ca $45.00 – $61.00; at Amazon.com $37.00 – $58.00; new at Borders.com $58.00, at Amazon.co.uk Pounds 9.95 – 21.25, note price range based on used – new book)

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Pomp and Celebration in Fatimid Egypt During the Flooding of the Nile

BY THE LATE JOHN FEENEY

“When the Nile reached its peak, the golden parasol was unfurled, trumpets sounded, and the caliph, mounted and clothed in sapphires and emeralds, emerged to the wonderment of his subjects…it was difficult for many spectators to catch even a brief glimpse of the passing caliph. But the very act of seeing him, it was believed, conveyed blessings upon the beholder.”

This pair of true-and false-color images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer was acquired on June 3, 2002. For thousands of years, the lower Nile valley (northern end) has been a cradle of civilization. Surrounded by deserts, the Nile river brings much—needed water to the land and people, making the valley into an oasis of agriculture and life. At its delta at the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile broadens into a large fan-shaped delta. All of Egypt’s large cities fall along the Nile, which sustains life in a region of scant rainfall. Photo Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Flowing out of a barren desert, from a source “beyond all known horizons,” the Nile had baffled the world for thousands of years. Regular as sun and moon, in the middle of burning summer, without a drop of rain in sight, when all other rivers on earth were drying up, for no apparent reason at all, the Nile rose out of its bed every year, and for three months embraced all of Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians knew when the flood would come, almost to the hour, but they never knew how much water it would bring to irrigate their fields. Egypt’s prosperity depended not only on the flood but also upon the accurate measurement of its height, for on that depended the allotment of water to its many users and the taxes they would have to pay in the coming year.

In the Middle Ages, each day during flood-time, the town crier walked the streets of Cairo announcing to the city the height of the rising Nile, although in drier years the actual height might be kept secret for fear of causing financial panic. “Twelve cubits today and the Lord is bountiful. God hath given abundance and watered the high fields,” he would say, to which a boy accompanying the crier would reply in his high-pitched voice, “Bless ye Muhammad.”

…The river having reached its anxiously awaited peak, preparations were made for the annual ‘Procession to the Nile.’ In 1047, the visiting Persian scholar Nasir Khosrau left a particularly rich description of the annual Fatimid procession celebrating the Nile’s inundation of Egypt.

For this great occasion, he wrote, the caliph [Imam al-Mustansir Billah] went personally to his treasury to select his symbolic regalia: parasol, turban, sceptre and sword. The sound of the palace band, which would accompany the procession, was so enormous that for three days before the event, massed drums and trumpets played continuously in the palace stables to accustom the animals to the noise. The job of decking out the processional route fell to the jewelers and tailors of the city, and this, too, always took three days and nights to arrange.

When the Nile reached its peak, the golden parasol was unfurled, trumpets sounded, and the caliph, “mounted and clothed in sapphires and emeralds,” emerged to the wonderment of his subjects.

Amidst clouds of incense, the procession of 10,000 men on horses moved off toward the great gate of Bab Zuwaylah, and beyond it to the flooding Nile.

From the surrounding rooftops, joining the din of drums, clashing cymbals and trumpets, “which sounded like thunder,” came choruses of the women’s ululations, “made by holding one hand under the nose and waggling the tongue in mid-scream.”

Leading the great procession were the sons and soldiers of the caliph’s princes (amirs). Then came the “amirs of the silver rods,” their symbols of office hung with little silver bells that jingled as they marched. Next came the “amirs of the collar,” two bearers of “the standards of praise,” and bearers of the symbolic inkstand and sword. Next came the mounted caliph surrounded by “men of the stirrup,” two at his horse’s bit, two at the neck, two at the stirrups, with the “commander of commanders” holding the caliph’s whip. The bearer of the golden parasol “took care to keep the caliph shaded from the sun,” while strategically placed in front of the caliph’s horse were two designated fly-swatters.

Amidst such a vast assembly of courtiers and crowd, it was difficult for many spectators to catch even a brief glimpse of the passing caliph. But the very act of seeing him, it was believed, conveyed blessings upon the beholder.

In both ancient and medieval Egyptt a nilometer was used to record how high the Nile was during the year. The nilometer was a staircase that proceeded down into the Nile with marks on it so the Egyptians knew how far the river rose. Image: TourEgypt.net

On reaching the Isle of Rhoda, the caliph dismounted, and the ceremony of anointing the Nilometer began. A mixture of saffron and mastic was handed to an official. Still in his clothes, he plunged into the flood-water and hung by his legs around the measuring column, dabbing on the perfumed mixture as readers above recited verses from the Qur’an.

The caliph went on to attend the opening of the “Canal of Egypt” (Al-Khalij al-Misri), which was kept dammed with stagnant water during the river’s winter months. At the canal, one of the caliph’s most magnificent silk tents was ready to give him protection from the summer sun. (Fatimid tents, transported on the backs of many camels, were portable palaces that took seven to nine years to make.) Amid more trumpet fanfares, the caliph thrust a spade onto the winter earthen dam and at once diggers attacked the dam with their hoes, cutting a series of narrow trenches across its surface. The impatient floodwaters quickly took over, eroding deeper channels, washing the dam completely away, and within an hour the life-giving flood reached the heart of all Cairo.

[Today] The Nile flood still comes, of course, but no one in Egypt sees it. Instead, it is contained in the immense inland sea called Lake Nasser, behind the Aswan High Dam. Here, Nile water collected year by year is led along neat narrow canals as unobtrusively as water coming out of a bathroom tap.

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One of the fascinating aspects of viewing Earth at night is how well the lights show the distribution of people. In this view of Egypt, we see a population almost completely concentrated along the Nile Valley, just a small percentage of the country’s land area. The Nile River and its delta look like a brilliant, long-stemmed flower in this astronaut photograph of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea, as seen from the International Space Station. The Cairo metropolitan area forms a particularly bright base of the flower. The smaller cities and towns within the Nile Delta tend to be hard to see amidst the dense agricultural vegetation during the day. However, these settled areas and the connecting roads between them become clearly visible at night. Likewise, urbanized regions and infrastructure along the Nile River becomes apparent . This astronaut photograph (ISS025-E-9858) was acquired on October 28, 2010, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 16 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 25 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. Credit: NASA

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, recently past the halfway mark of his one-year mission to the International Space Station, photographed the Nile River during a nighttime flyover on Sept. 22, 2015. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, “Day 179. The #Nile at night is a beautiful sight for these sore eyes. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace.” Image Credit: NASA

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John Feeney (d. 2006)

About the writer: The late New Zealand born filmmaker, photographer and writer John Feeney was among the early developers of wide-screen and large-format film techniques. For over 4 decades from 1963 onwards until his death in Wellington in 2006 at the age of 84, he divided his time between residences in Cairo and New Zealand. His piece (images excepted) is adapted from “The Last Nile Flood” which originally appeared in the May/June 2006 print edition of Saudi Aramco World, a publication to which Feeney regularly contributed for some 35 years.

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Related articles on this Website:

Cairo in the Light of Nasir Khusraw’s Safarnama by Hatim Mahamid
“Riding Forth to Open the Canal” with Nasir Khusraw by Alice Hunsberger

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