Is Sufism IN?


It hit me during this Ramadan night, I was browsing twitter when I found people sharing El Halaj poetry tagging it #الخواجة_عبد_القادر , I was like people but this is Kazem ElSaher, chanting El Halaj’s poetry, there are no Abdel Kaders here, let alone khawaga. I then realized that it is an Egyptian series that tackles a love story, I started watching it and connecting the increased admiration and association with the Sufi streak being demonstrated throughout the main tagline *ربنا يدوق عينيك رؤية حبيبك*

Although the hardcore Sufi Community is not new to Egypt and has been deeply rooted throughout the years, yet the embracement of Sufism and spirituality has been on the rise for a while, and I can safely say it is “in”.

I have been a goer to zikr and sufi chanting circles since 2005/2006 and I can tell you, I haven’t seen that number of attendees and embracers like the past few months, people recite the chants, know the moves, wash up in appreciation of the collective energy and serenity.
You can hear Zein Mahmoud, El Touni and, Yassin El Tohamy in a friend’s car, or recurrently see the name in a music list. Halaj, Rab3a El 3adaweya, Rumi, and Ibn El Fared are being quoted during casual discussions! And the next thing you see is chanting circles and even Mouled El Hussein have Facebook events.

As superficial as this may sound; it strips the hardcore of Sufism to soft-core spirituality – and of course as many would say it is just the “hip”- yet I find it a counter reflection to the current humongous negative vibe instigated by the radicalism of the Islamic current or to be more precise high pitch.

In history, Sufism has risen in many countries like Pakistan or Iran to defy radicalism and intolerance. No one can deny that over the past few years “Religion” has been the visible façade for everything oppressive, turbulent and vandalistic , that the only logical counterweight was turning towards the peaceful, mystical, and “existential unity of being and vision”.

As baffled and bewildered, I popped the question on Twitter; Is Sufism in?

Ola Abbady (@OlaAbbady) said: “I had a book -referring toبحار الحب عند الصوفية – that related the rise of Sufism to the loss of faith in times of turmoil, in religious figures. For some it is either atheism, or Sufism.”

Nermeen Refai (@Nerminism) who has recently started delving into Sufism, she said “I find myself in there, in Sufi love, a book, a poem, a chant, a dervish’s journey. It is fascinating, Sufism explain God through love and how you get lost in longing words let it be meant for God or the beloved”

In his book بحار الحب عند الصوفية., Ahmed Bahgat simply stated that Sufis are those whose hearts have been polished “الصوفية هم الذين صفت قلوبهم”. Although the statement capsulate the heart of Sufism and reflects the universal and simple define, yet the Sufi Order is much complicated and gradual in terms of connectionوصل

Whether the increased appreciation and endorsement of Sufism and Spirituality is because it is “in” or a social defense mechanism in defiance to the community hyper-aggression, and unavoidable mind and body crashing stress levels, I would say let it be. It is a good cholesterol, quite needed and encouraged. Like Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi Said:
Come, Come, whoever you are.
Worshiper, wander, lover of leaving; ours is not a caravan of despair

Published in: on April 18, 2013 at 9:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Pope Joan A.K.A. John Anglicus

Originally uploaded by nerro285.

The old tale of Pope Joan is just another intrigue in the mystifying history of the Vatican. Pope Joan is the name of a female pope who is regarded by most serious historians as a fiction, possibly originating as an anti-papal satire.

The Myth:
In the middle ages, there was a woman who hid her gender and rose through the ranks of the Church, became a cardinal and was elected pope supposedly reigned from 855 to 858. No one knew she was a woman until, during a papal procession through the streets of Rome, she went into labor and gave birth to a child. Then the story gets very confused; some of the records say she was killed along with her child right on the spot. The people of Rome tied her feet together and dragged her behind a horse while stoning her, until she died. Other records say she was sent to a convent and that her son grew up and later became bishop of Ostia.”

Who is Pope Joan or should I say John Anglicus??
A brilliant scholar who was born at Mainz. Under the name of John Anglicus she had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and afterwards in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city, became a Cardinal, and when Pope Leo IV died in 853 A.D, she was unanimously elected pope.

Trick or Treat…..Chasing the Clues:

-The Catholic Church strongly denied the existence of a female pope, though the story was accepted as true throughout Europe until the 1700s. In the 1300s, the image of Pope Joan–or so it is believed–began to appear on the High Priestess tarot card.

– Another problem, scholars say, is there was no mention of such a pope in any historical account until the 13th century, about 400 years after her presumed reign. However, there are over five hundred ancient manuscripts containing accounts of Joan’s papacy, including those of Martin Polonus, Platina, Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Donna Cross, a novelist who spent seven years researching the time period, says the historical evidence is there. “I would say it’s the weight of evidence — over 500 chronicle accounts of her existence.”

– Inside the cathedral is a gallery of terra-cotta busts depicting 170 popes, in no particular order. In the 17th century, Cardinal Baronuis, the Vatican librarian, wrote that one of the faces was Joan the Female Pope. He then added that the pope at the time decreed that the statue be destroyed, but some say the local archbishop didn’t want a good to statue go to waste. Nevertheless…the statue was scraped off, and on top was written the name of Pope Zachary.”

– In the decades that followed, the intersection that witnessed Pope Joan labor was called the Vicus Papissa “the Street of the Female Pope” and for more than 100 years, popes would take a detour to avoid the shameful intersection.

– Rumor had it that for centuries, new pontiffs were required to sit the enormous purple marble chair on which popes once sat as they were crowned. The chair has a strange opening, something like a toilet seat, reportedly used to check their manhood.
David Dawson Vasquez, the director of Catholic University of America’s Rome program, says that the Vatican was just using the most impressive chair it had.
The hole is there because it was used by the imperial Romans, perhaps as a toilet, perhaps as a birthing chair. It doesn’t matter if there’s a hole there, because you can still sit there and be crowned.”
Others say it was a symbol of the pope giving birth to the mother church. Either way, newly minted Protestants in the 1500s had a field day making fun of the chair, and so it was hidden from view.

– At the Basilica in St. Peter’s Square are carvings by Bernini. Among the carvings are eight images of a woman wearing a papal crown, and the images seem to tell the story of a woman giving birth and a baby being born. Yet it is said that the Bernini sculptures were modeled after the niece of the pope.

Pope Joan in Literature:
– In 1996, the myth was transformed into the novel “Pope Joan” by author Diana Woolfolk Cross.

– “The Myth of Pope Joan,” first published in 1988, French author Alain Boureau.

– The Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio, best known for writing “The Decameron,” also wrote a book on “100 Famous Women.” No. 51 is Pope Joan.

CBS Primetime
Pope Joan by Diana Woolfok Cross
Boccaccio, Giovanni, Concerning Famous Women, trans. Guido A. Guarino

Published in: on August 13, 2006 at 1:15 pm  Comments (6)  

The Reincarnation of Baron Empain Palace*

The Baron palace always seemed to be an intriguing place.  For some reason it has been associated by many with the Beast’s palace in my favourite Beauty and the Beast the Cartoon.  Childish..Superstitious..could be! But a palace like this is bound to have a captivating story behind it.  Many questions are begging to be answered!

The story goes like this: A month or less before the Heliopolis Centennial Celebration, a festival that took place in May 2005, the national newspapers announced that the Palace is now state-owned property and would be opened soon to visitors.  Fifty-five days later the palace was closed. 

Considering its history and the interesting story behind it, I decided to pay it a visit….the minute I stepped inside the large garden I felt a sense of royalty… the palace itself is literally a massive architectural extravaganza.

In 1904, Belgian Baron Edward Louis Joseph Empain first arrived to Egypt with only one intention: rescuing his company’s project to construct a railway line connecting Matariya to Port Said.  Although the mission failed and he lost the contract to the British, he made up his mind to stay in Egypt.  It is said that the Baron had fallen in love.  But no one knew whether it was with the desert or one of the Egypt’s most beautiful elites.

In 1907, Baron Empain decided to build a home from which to overlook the rise of the promising City of Heliopolis.  He commissioned two French artists to design his castle; Alexander Marcel was responsible for the exterior, and the interior was assigned to Georges-Louis Claude. The palace architecture is of a cross-cultural nature with an extraordinary mixture of Hindu and Renaissance architecture along Marcel’s own adaptation of the Cambodian temples in Angkor Wat. Located in Heliopolis, the palace was apparently built on an artificial elevation in order to allow the Baron to continue his ongoing work in the new project back then “Heliopolis”. 

While passing through the small yet immeasurably artistic details, one wonders how on earth they completed it in just three years! Floral designs and other images are carved in the stone walls surrounding the terrace. Dragons, Krishnas, and Shivas engraved in leaf-shaped formations mark the four edges of the terrace to make for a Stunning huge ornamented façade.  The rooftop especially stands out with its 3 or 4 shaded benches and a concrete stage in the middle.  One can presume that Baron Empain probably used it as an entertainment facility, yet there are no references to this.

Although exploring the palace is a great pleasure, it was like seeing a beautiful bride in her coffin.  The walls are totally covered with such lines as “for the memory of…” which made me wonder with horror if they were painted during the restoration process!  The parquet floor is stripped off and thin marble cracks spread out like spider webs behind the huge stylish fireplace.  Frames are only left with no mirrors, doorknobs are missing and kitchens and bathrooms are lacking their most distinctive characteristics like sinks, bathtubs, and toilet seats.  Even the elevators the Elevators!  The torn out belts gives the only clue that they even existed.  The Baron Empain Palace had been abandoned in every sense of the word. 

Only three generations occupied the mansion before it was deserted: the Baron Empain himself, followed by his Son Baron Jean Empain, and finally Edward Emapin’s grandchildren Janine and Huguette; after which the huge mansion has became a rich source for legends and fables.   

Superstitions usually arise with the unknown, and the Baron Palace was no exception.  One myth affirms that the palace is built on a rotating base to allow the Baron to manage the entire area while sitting in one place.

Another one says that there is a secret tunnel that connects the palace with the Basilique church. Moreover, there have been countless accounts and tales of lights mysteriously turning on and music emerging from the house.

No matter what happened, the place is so peaceful inside; one can easily imagine what it was like during its days of glory. Its spirit of royalty becomes apparent as soon as you step onto the outside stairs that lead to the main entrance; it is there mingling with the air, bringing the past to life and giving its visitors an opportunity to hear its stories.  Unfortunately, it has been vigorously neglected, as the case with many of our unobserved national treasures.

The palace has closed its doors again and is under restoration, with the ” intention of turning it into a museum”.  One must visit the palace to find the truth.  We are looking forward to seeing those doors open again announcing the reincarnation of the Baron Palace.

* My article for the Art Review, June issue.

Photos: Eman M

Published in: on July 3, 2006 at 9:25 am  Comments (15)