On Contemporary Extremism and Cultural Oppression

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In Medieval times, discrete attempts to diverge from authoritative ideology were tolerated by the Islamic ruling class for art’s sake, fostering a more liberal and independent society of artists. With the emergence of ISIS, we witness the complete suppression of critical thought and freedom of thinking

by Arielle Blattner
Graphic designer and MA Student of Islamic Art

As long as there have been religions, there have been sects. As long as there have been religions and sects, there have been vicious wars between sects. No matter which division, the proclamation of faith written on the flag of ISIS lā ilāha illā allāh (“There is no god but Allah”) is the same phrase written on Islamist medieval coins since the 8th century, and continues to be seen on the flag of ISIS. In addition to spreading Islam being the main goal of these regimes, the suppression of free thought (whether non-muslim…

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The Conferences of the Birds

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The encounter between fashion design and a mystical Persian poem: Conversation with Moroccan fashion designer Said Mahrouf

Interview

The Conference of the Birds, also known as The Language of the Birds is certainly the most celebrated work of the twelfth-century Persian poet, Farid al-Din Attar.
It tells the story of a flock of birds that set out to seek their king and god, the Simurgh. Only thirty of them survive the perilous path, on which they traverse seven dangerous valleys and reach their ultimate destination: a lake. There they see their image mirrored in the water and recognize themselves as the very god they were seeking.This mystical poem clearly lends itself to numerous interpretations and, even if the author is not himself a Sufi,, the tale is full of Sufi references and meaning.
The mystical and evocative nature of the plot has its visual counterpart in an exceptional medieval…

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A 17th century copy of Saʻdi’s collected works from the British Library Blog

The Persian writer and poet Musliḥ al-Dīn Saʻdī of Shiraz (ca.1210-1291 or 1292) are without a doubt one of the best-known and most skilful writers of classical Persian literature. With an established reputation even during his lifetime, his works have been select reading for royal princes and ʻset textsʼ for more humble students of Persian the world over. It is hardly surprising then that a corresponding number of deluxe copies survive of his works. A previous post (What were the Mughals’ favourite books?) described some copies of his best known works, the Būstān (ʻFragrant Gardenʼ or ʻOrchardʼ) and the Gulistān (ʻRose Gardenʼ), in the Library’s collection. Another sumptuous manuscript, which has also been digitised, is an early 17th century copy of his Kullīyāt (ʻCollected Worksʼ)IO Islamic 843 which was completed in 1034 (1624/25) by Maḥmūd, a scribe of Shiraz (al-kātib al-Shīrāzī), during the reign of Shah ʻAbbas (r. 1588-1629).

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Very little is known about the poet’s life. Born in Shiraz, Saʻdī left his hometown to study in Baghdad. After a period of study at the Nizamiyah Madrasah, Baghdad, he set off on travels that lasted over thirty years. His experiences and adventures found their way into his writings, including being a prisoner of the Crusaders in Syria, visiting Kashgar, and killing a temple priest at Somnath in India. Many of these tales, however, have been proved to be anecdotal rather than biographical. Saʻdī returned to Shiraz in 1257, already a widely recognised poet and completed his two most famous works: the Būstān in 1257 and the Gulistān in 1258. These two works of poetry and prose respectively, contain anecdotes from the life of the author, moral teachings, and advice for rulers. Many stories communicate elements of Sufi teachings through their dervish protagonists. Other works reflect the changing political situation in Shiraz. Several of his poems are dedicated to the Salghurid dynasty, which ruled in Fars from 1148 to 1282, while later works are addressed to their successors the Mongols and their administrators.

More: http://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2017/04/a-17th-century-copy-of-sa%CA%BBdis-collected-works-io-islamic-843.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts by Sâqib Bâburî From the British Library Blog

For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry, in particular, has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts; we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

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More: http://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2017/02/romancing-the-tome-love-in-illustrated-persian-manuscripts.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29

A History of Mughal Cuisine through Cookbooks from The Heritage Lab

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On any given weekend, my head is usually occupied with the thoughts of food. The taste buds have been working over time for a year now – ever since I started following my friend Richa’s amazing food stories. Turns out that Kings and Royalty had a thing for food too. The cookbooks of Akbar, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb give us an idea of the history of Mughal cuisine. Apart from royal food, you also get to look into their kitchen! For instance, the Ain-i-Akbari mentions that during the reign of Akbar, there was a Minister for Kitchen! He had his own budget, an independent accounts department and ran an army of cooks, tasters, attendants, bearers and other sundry designations. It is true – there was a time when people really lived to eat (and life sounded like Harry Potter books)!

More: http://www.theheritagelab.in/mughal-recipe-history/

Firdausi’s Shahnama is a manual on kingship, wisdom, love, and magic

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I’ve reached the end of this great history
And all the land will talk of me
I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave,
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim,
When I have gone, my praises and my fame.

Firdausi
Extracted from Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, translated by Dick Davis
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The Shahnama (The Book of King), composed by the Persian poet Firdausi (940-1020) around the year 1000, comprises more than 60,000 rhyming couplets, telling the story of Persia (modern-day Iran) from the time of creation to its conquest by Muslims in the seventh century. Partly legend, partly historic, it is also a manual on kingship, a collection of heroic tales, and a long essay on wisdom, love, warfare, and magic, structured around four successive dynasties, each representing the various phases of human history, seen from the Iranian…

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Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah, by Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, British Library Blog

While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

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XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

More: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/06/revisiting-the-provenance-of-the-sindbadnamah-io-islamic-3214.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29