Sam's Life

Follow Sam Around The World

The fascinating history of Arab men’s apparel

Loia wedding in Jeddah

Traditional thobeshemagh and egal worn by friends attending Abdulhadi’s recent engagement party in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Dressing like a Saudi

Sam dressed in thobe and shemagh with egal at the national Saudi Janadriyah Festival.

Sam dressed in thobe and shemagh with egal at the Saudi National Janadriyah Festival.

I always wear the white Saudi thobe here in the Kingdom, and on very special occasions I wear the full Saudi attire. I don’t always get the shemagh positioned precisely correct, and sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed when my black egal falls off! (Hey! I have a great new idea! How about an egal with Velcro on the bottom to hold it in place?)

I recently wore this complete Saudi traditional outfit at the celebrated National Saudi Arabian Janadriyah Festival near Riyadh where I was the guest of the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. To my surprise, groups of Saudi young people recognized me as I walked through the grounds. Some would approach to practice their English and to shake my hand, and, on one occasion, there was a shout of appreciation in English, “Welcome, Uncle Sam! We love you!”

The white thobe

The thobe is a full-lenth garment commonly worn by men throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It is normally made of cotton, but heavier materials such as sheep’s wool can also be used, especially in the colder climates of Iraq and Syria. The most common color is pure white, but darker colors are sometimes worn during the cooler months.

The style of the thobe varies slightly from region to region. The long sleeves and the collar can be stiffened to give a more formal appearance.

Other names may be used for this garment. In Oman, dishdasha is the most common word used; in the UAE, the word kandura is used; in Jordan, it is called keffiyeh.

I always wear the thobe in Saudi Arabia. It fits the warm to very hot desert climate.

The shemagh head covering

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a white thobe is most often worn with a white skull cap and a head covering called a shemagh. All is generally considered essential clothing in every Saudi man’s wardrobe. The thobe and shemagh are generally requisite dress when visiting government buildings, attending formal gatherings like state functions, weddings, funerals, dinners or the weekly Friday jumah worship service at one’s local mosque.

The customary wearing of the shemagh began with the Bedouin tribes of old. Designs and colors have varied through the centuries. Like Scottish tartans with designs and colors for the various Scottish clans, colors and designs of the shemagh have often represented the various Arabian tribes. In Saudi Arabia the predominant design today is a red, checkered effect while an alternative solid white is also fashionable.

Friday jumah service at Tukwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Friday jumah service at Tukwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The shemagh historically has served many purposes. It is used to shade one’s head and neck from the desert sun, but it also many other practical uses, as I discovered when overnighting in the Arabian desert with friends. On windy nights it can be used to conceal the face from blowing desert sand and dust. It can also be worn as a neck scarf to retain heat during cold weather or rolled and worn in a turban style to absorb sweat during hotter, sunny days.

According to the English language daily Saudi Gazette, the shemagh has evolved into a symbol of manhood, particularly among Saudi teenagers who are sometimes expected to wait until they graduate from high school to wear an egal with their shemagh.

Thobes and shemaghs today brandish such names as Armani, Cardin, Gucci and other leading fashion houses. The very best handmade outfits sell for thousands of dollars. But, a custom made thobe in the Al Balad (Old Town) of Jeddah can be purchased for $100 or less, depending on material and quality.

A crowning touch–the Egal

The egal is the black, woven camel or sheep wool cord that is doubled and used to hold the shemagh in place. It has an interesting history, as I learned recently from a close friend in Riyadh. When milking or grooming a camel, Bedouin tribesmen used this black cord to pin the she-camel’s front right leg in order to keep her from moving. What more convenient place to keep the egal than on one’s head!

Today, not wearing the egal is considered by some of the more pious Muslims as a sign of humility, especially those who are devoted observers of the religious teachings of the sunnah; however,  most Saudis overcome their humility with pride of Arab tradition. In the short video below, an American tourist is instructed by a Jordanian in the many varied ways to wear his new shemagh.  

Sources: The Saudi Gazette, wikipedia.com, A History of Saudi Arabia, Sam’s friend Sheikh Rayan

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Arab lifestyle, Arabian Desert, Jeddah History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

History of our universe written in the Arabian Desert

Meteorites are found frequently in numerous parts of the Arabian Desert.

Black “space rocks,” or meteorites, are found in numerous parts of the Arabian Desert. Sam found a nice one just the other day.

 

History of our solar system 

Meteorite scientist

Florian Zurfluh, a doctoral student at the University of Bern, conducts an in-situ X-ray fluorescence analysis of the freshly found achondrite meteorite.

The oldest matter found on earth originates from outer space. This debris from far away worlds falls from the dark depths of space onto the ever-changing surface of planet Earth. These meteorites provide valuable information about the early history of our solar system.  

Scientists are now investigating unusual surface areas of the Arabian Peninsula where meteorites are found, often in dense concentrations.  In these black stones one learns about the early beginnings of  the birth and death of celestial bodies. Today, in almost every country there are scientists who work on decoding the hidden messages of this space debris.

Most meteorites are fragments of asteroids, some containing organic matter. Some preserve information on the chemical make-up of the solar system before the formation of planets. Other meteorites found in the Arabian Desert are known to be impact debris from the surfaces of the Moon and Mars. Martian and lunar meteorites, which are rare, are often fragments from the past, having been knocked off into space millions or even billions of years ago.

Mars literally in our hands

Meteorites provide the only samples from Mars that we have in hand to analyze in a laboratory. However, we do have material collected by astronauts from the Moon. Lunar meteorites provide clues to early processes in the Earth-Moon system, such as the a period known as the “late heavy bombardment.” That’s the period when huge numbers of meteorites pelted the Earth and Moon some 3.9 billion years ago, just when life may have started on our planet.

“Searching for meteorites is of paramount importance for astrobiology and planetary science,” according to Dr. Beda Hofmann, head of Earth Science at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland. Hofmann and Edwin Gnos of the Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland are leaders in meteorite hunts taking place in Oman.

Hiking in the Arabian desert near Ryhah, Sam found this piece of space history.

Hiking in the Arabian desert near Rumah, Sam found this piece of space history.

 

Antarctica and desert hunting grounds

For 30 years, the frozen desert of Antarctica has been one of the richest sources of pristine meteorites. The black stones are easy to pick out from the white snow, and there are no rivers or other natural processes to carry the meteorites away.

More recently, the hot deserts of Africa and Australia also have produced new meteorite discoveries. The dry conditions in deserts tend to preserve stones, and the lack of rain means they are less likely to become eroded or be covered over by sediment.

In 1999, an incredible number of meteorites appeared on the market due to activity by private collectors and dealers.

Oman a big source of space rocks

Within the last ten years Oman has yielded almost one-fifth of the world’s meteorites, a huge cash of more than 5,000 fragments weighing greater than four tons. The Oman finds include one-third of all known lunar meteorites, and a handful of specimens from Mars.

Amateur collectors are cautioned to accurately document their finds, which will make life a bit easier for the scientists who might want to study the rocks. Amateurs found the first Mars meteorites in Oman; in fact it was the appearance (and sale) of those rocks and lunar meteorites that caught the attention of a group of Swiss researchers. They enlisted the support of the government of Oman, and on their first mission in 2001, the team recovered a Mars sample.

Dr. Beda Hofmann is proud that his team’s meteorite collection is conducted in collaboration with the Omani government. “So far we have obtained permission to take all samples necessary to Switzerland,” he says, “but the samples remain the property of the Sultanate of Oman.” Eventually representative samples will be displayed in the Natural History Museum of Muscat, the Omani capital.

Sam with Bedouin herder near the location on his meteor find.

Sam with Bedouin sheep herder near the location of his meteorite find.

 

Fossils from outerspace

Meteorites are the fossils from which geologists recover the history of our solar system, but most of the meteorites found in Oman did not fall on Earth recently. They have been lying in the desert for several thousand years. A major thrust of the Swiss research is to learn how the environment contaminates meteorites, and see how a meteorite might change its appearance and composition prior to discovery and conservation.

The deserts of Oman seem to be a rich source of unique meteorites, and the precious fragments can tell planetary scientists about conditions in the early solar system when stony objects first formed. These fragments subsequently were glued together by gravitational attraction to construct planets, moons and asteroids. By helping us reconstruct the early history of our solar system and our planet, meteorites bring us a step closer to understanding what conditions were necessary for the origin of life on our world.

Our past, present, future

While meteorites are important because they reveal the very source of life on Earth, they have also contributed to the development of our life-sustaining environment.

Meteorites provide not only a glimpse into the past but also a window to the future. They represent, in a very real sense, both birth and death; creation and destruction.

Today, they are being studied because of their significant threat to life on our planet.  With increasing regularity, we are discovering asteroids and comets with unusual orbits — ones that take them dangerously close to Earth and the Sun.

Though just a very few of these bodies are potential hazards to Earth, by understanding more about these “near earth objects” early on, we are better prepared to take appropriate measures to head off a collision with our planet in the future.

For sure, I am joining the hunt for these fascinating interplanetary objects. I have marked carefully the coordinates of where I found my meteorite and hope to return there in the near future.

The following brief video helps us better understand meteorites and to easily distinguish them from meteoroids and meteors.

Sources: NASA, wikipedia.com, Science Magazine, National Geographic, University of Bern archives, astrobio.net, Hossam Malallah

March 12, 2014 Posted by | Arabian Desert, Archeology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

British duo cross Arabian Desert with cart in tow

Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron pull their cart

Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron pulling their cart

Cart tugging across “the Empty Quarter”

Humphreys and McCarron with their cart

Humphreys and McCarron with their cart

The pinkish-orange sand dunes of Saudi Arabia: a beautiful part of our earth’s biodiversity–challenge any who seek to cross its barren stretches. British adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron seek to better the camel in the Arabian desert. “The locals we met were the kindest, friendliest and most welcoming, but they thought what we were doing was completely crazy.”

Humphreys and McCarron crossed “the empty quarter.”  The Empty Quarter (in Arabic known as Rub’ al Khali) is the largest sand desert in the world. It encompasses just about all of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi). 

The goal of the two men was to retrace the footsteps of a great British legend–Wilfred Thesiger, who had made two separate desert explorations in the 1940s charting vast tracts of the Empty Quarter.

Truth be told!

Just as I, these two adventurers came to Saudi Arabia having received dire warnings of terrorists and impending danger. And, just as I, Humphreys and McCarron found themselves safe–safer than some places we might be in our home countries.

“It was very safe,” Humphreys said. “Before I went a lot of people were thinking  ‘Oh you’re going to the Middle East. You’ll definitely be killed by Islamic terrorists!’ but it was so much safer than even the United Kingdom.”

Read more about these adventurers at:  http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/22/world/meast/modern-day-adventurers-desert-crossing/index.html?iref=allsearch

Or, watch this YouTube video describing their incredible desert adventure:

 

Sources: CNN, Wikipedia, YouTube, alastairhumphreys.com

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Arabian Desert, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas to you all!

"The angels said, 'O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to God ] (The Quran / Family of Imran 3:45).

“The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God’” (The Quran / Family of Imran 3:45).

Dear Friends,

I wish all who love and seek to honor Jesus a very merry Christmas!

While Jesus’ birth year is estimated among most modern historians to have actually been between 7 and 2 BC, the exact month and day of Jesus’ birth are unknown. Western Catholic and Protestant Christians have chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th while Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate January 7th as Jesus’ birthday.

But did you know that the same story about Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth is also told in the Qur’an?

In fact, there are two chapters of the Qur’an which tell the story of Mary’s life and Jesus’ birth. One chapter is entitled “Mary,” and the second is entitled “The Family Imran” (or “Mary’s Family”).

Here one reads about the birth of Jesus (also known in the Qur’an as “the Christ”–”the Messiah of God”). Here there is detail about the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. One reads the same story about Jesus’ virgin birth that is allso told in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In the Qur’an one reads, “”The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God…’ She said, ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He (the Archangel Gabriel) said, ‘Even so: God creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is’” (Qur’an / The Family of Imran 45-47).

During this season and the coming year 2014, may we all seek to honor Jesus’ words and teachings by loving God immensely and by loving others as much as we love ourselves!

Sam Shropshire

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Interfaith, Religious Reconciliation, The Quran, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Scaling the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira

(Last updated 11 December 2013…)

The difficult climb

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur'an.

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur’an.

As a dinner guest at the home of Dr. Safi and Eman Kaskas, I mentioned that I was interested in someday visiting the Cave of Hira, about 3 miles north of Mecca, a place known by Muslims as the place where the Prophet Mohammad received his first revelation of the holy Qur’an from God as delivered by the angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).

Another dinner guest, renowned Saudi poet and writer Nimah Nawwab, immediately phoned a friend, and early the next morning found Dr. Safi, Eman, Nimah, Hisham, the muadhan (‘caller to prayer”) Shafik Zubir from our local neighborhood mosque and me in an SUV bound for Jabal al Nour (the Mountain of Light).

The Cave of Hira is a cave just below the back side of the peak of the mountain. It is about 3 miles (4.9 km) northeast of the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. The cave itself is about 12 feet (3.7 m) in length and just over 5 feet (1.60 m) in width. One must climb 890 feet to the summit. That’s like climbing the stairs of a 90-story building—no small task for the older members of our adventurous troupe. I needed help and direction getting up much of the way and especially a lesson in contortion in order to squeeze through some of the smaller 8 to 10-inch crevices between the rocks surrounding the cave.

At 65 I found my legs and knees weaker. It was a difficult, difficult climb, but I was blessed to be able to complete it with the help of two men—one from Pakistan and the other from Kashmir.

The first revelations of the Qur’an

The oldest surviving biography of Prophet Muhammad is that of Ibn Hisham (833 CE), which is a freely edited version of Ibn Ishaq’s (ca. 704 – 767 CE). In this biography, Ibn Hisham tells us that before the revelation of the Qur’an Muhammad used to retreat for a month every year in a mountain called Hira in Mecca.

When the prophet would finish his seclusion he would return to circumbulate the Ka‘bah seven times before heading home.

One year, corresponding to 610 CE, the Prophet had retreated to Hira in the month of Ramadhan when he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who read to him the first verses of the Qur’an to be revealed. According to Ibn Hisham, Gabriel appeared to Mohammad in his sleep, carrying a book. He commanded him to “read.” Mohammad refused the order twice before finally asking what he was supposed to read. Gabriel replied with following verses of the Qur’an: “Read in the name of your Lord who created, He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most honorable who teaches by the pen, He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). Mohammad then recited the verses in his sleep. When he woke up, he felt as if the words had been engraved on his heart. On his way down from the mountain, the Prophet heard a voice from heaven saying: “O Mohammad! You are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.”

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas on their way up the Mountain of Light.

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas begin the arduous trek up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira. (Photo / Nimah Nawwab)

Another perspective of the event

Imam Muhammad Al Bukhari (810-870 CE), whose compilation of sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad is highly regarded by Sunni Muslims, gives a slightly different account: The commencement of the divine inspiration to the Messenger of God was in the form of “good dreams which came true like bright day light.” It is then said that the prophet was endowed with a love of seclusion.

He would go to the Cave of Hira where he would worship God alone–continuously for many days before he would desire to see his family. He used to take with him a provision of food for the stay and then come back to his wife Khadija to take food for another stay, until suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the Cave of Hira.

According to Al Bukhari,  Mohammad related, “The angel caught me forcefully and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ So he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ So he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said: ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is most honorable who teaches by the pen. He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96:1-5).

Al Bukhari says Mohammad  returned greatly inspired “with his heart beating fast.” Then he went to his wife Khadija and said: “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him with a cloth until his fear subsided. The prophet then told her everything that had happened, saying, “I fear that something may happen to me.”

Khadija replied: “Never! God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your family, carry the weak, help the poor, serve your guests generously, and assist those afflicted by calamity.”

Although the overwhelming majority of scholars believe the verses of chapter 96 above are the first to have been revealed, some others have disagreed. For instance, in his famous exegesis of the Qur’an, At Tabari quotes some who insist that the first verses of chapter 74 were the first to be revealed.

However, in addition to his citation of those who argue that it was the verses of chapter 96, Al Bukhari also quotes a number of transmitters of prophetic sayings who claim that those verses of chapter 74 were revealed first: [The Messenger of God] said: “I went to stay in Hira. After finishing my stay, and while I was coming down, I was called upon. I looked right, left, in front, and behind, but could not see anyone. But when I raised my head I saw something. I then came to Kadhija and said: ‘Cover me, and pour cold water on me!’”He said: ‘They covered me and poured cold water on me.” He said: “Then the following verses were revealed: ‘O you who are clothed! Arise and warn! And your Lord do magnify’” (Qur’an 74:1-3).

In Al Bukhari’s renowned exegetical work, Al Qurtubi he adds another two opinions–one of which claims that chapter 1, known as Al Fatiha, was the first to be revealed, and the other claims it was verse 6.151.

Prophet Mohammad’s mountain retreat

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira.

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira–once a place of sanctuary and meditation for the Prophet Mohammad.

Despite the conflicting accounts and the impossibility of finding out the exact details of the first revelation of the Qur’an, Muslim scholars and historians have not disputed the fact that the Prophet used to retreat to the Cave of Hira near the summit of the Mountain of Light for worship, and the overwhelming majority agree that it was during one of those seclusions that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed.

The books of Prophetic sayings also mention at least two instances after the revelation of the Qur’an in which the Prophet “climbed up to Hira.” In one instance he was with a group of his companions when the mountain shook.

Prophets found solace in caves

Many prophets from the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) fled into a desert wilderness or hid in caves for safety or respite–seeking peace, emotional healing and protection while being alone with God.

Moses, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostle John and many others found times in their lives where the road of life became so narrow that there was simply only room for God and them alone.

Indeed, obeying God is often difficult business, especially when you are confronted by an enemy that seeks to undo you emotionally and spiritually. In such times one embraces solitude in a desert or cave to be in solitude with the Almighty.

One reads in the Old Testament that “Ahab told (Queen) Jezebel everything (God’s prophet) Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the (queen’s false) prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). Further it is said that Elijah “was afraid and ran for his life.”  It is said that Elijah was directed by the Archangel Gabriel to get up and eat a cake of bread that lay by the prophet’s head and to drink water. Later, Gabriel “came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.

Strengthened by that food, Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8). There, exhausted and trembling in fear and depression, Elijah hid in a cave until the “still, small voice” of God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God eventually relieved the prophet of his horrid depression; strengthening him and giving him hope for the future.

The prophet David, likewise, cried out to God from the cave of Adullam when he was fleeing King Saul. One of his cries for help is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Psalms and is entitled “A Psalm From a Cave” (Psalm 57). He wrote:

“Have mercy on me, my God,
have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
 
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
 
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
 
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
 
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.”

It was in what today is known as the “Cave of the Apocalypse” that the Apostle John received God’s “Great Revelation.” It describes end-time events, beginning with the words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass: and signified, sending by his angel to his servant John… The things which must shortly come… and again it is said, ‘The time is at hand…’” (Revelation 1:1-3). The Revelation describes end-time apocalyptic events that will come to pass shortly before Jesus’ prophesied return. (Both Christians and Muslims believe in the imminent return of Jesus the Messiah.)

Sami Yusuf sings about the Cave of Hira

Muslims over the centuries continued to climb to the top of this high desert Mountain of Light to visit the cave where the Qur’an was first revealed.During Ramadan and during the holy days of the annual Hajj, as many as five thousand pilgrims per day make the climb to the Cave of Hira. We are fortunate on our journey as our trail is not crowded. Once we have made the steep climb to the cave we find time there alone to think about life and the significant event that took place in this mountaintop grotto. Our thoughts are filled with praise and prayer for our families, friends and the world today. There is so much human need, misunderstanding, distrust, conflict, greed and war. “How, God,” we ask, “can we make a difference?”

Below, contemporary Muslim singer Sami Yusuf echoes our thoughts about the Cave of Hira and the first revelations of the Qur’an which began there. Take a few minutes to listen to Yusuf’s inspiring song and be encouraged!

Sources: National Geographic, wikipedia.org, The Hajj School, mecca.net

December 5, 2013 Posted by | Mecca, The Quran, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

All creatures of our God and King! Alleluia!

"Leila" the camel gets special attention from Sam and friends outside Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“Leila” the camel shows kind affection to Sam and his colleagues in the desert near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Faith books and animal welfare

In Saudi Arabia, even the camels bow in prayer!

In Saudi Arabia, even the camels bow in prayer! (Click on photos to enlarge!)

All the Abrahamic holy books, including the Torah, the Zabur (The Psalms), the major and minor prophecies, and the Christian New Testament, the Qur’an—all strongly enjoin men and women to treat animals with compassion and not to abuse them.

At the time of the worldwide flood described in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an, why do you think it was important for God to save the animals of the world? It’s because God loves his creatures, and because they serve an important purpose in his creation. For example, without the pollination of bees, we would not have flowers, and a lot of our fruits and vegetables would also become extinct! When examining each animal, one finds that each one has purpose.

Animals praise their Creator

Did you know that animals also praise God? They were created with a sense of God, their Creator, and, yes, they honor, praise and worship God! It may not be in a language that you or I understand, but it is an important part of their service to God.

In the Qur’an we read, “Don’t you see that it is all creatures in the heavens and on the earth celebrate (praise) God–even the birds of the air with wings outstretched? Each one has its own way (language) of prayer and praise, and God knows well all that they do” (Qur’an 24:41).

In the Old Testament Psalms of David, we read, “Praise the Lord from the earth…you great sea creatures, you wild animals and all grazing livestock, small creatures and flying birds…” (Old Testament / Psalm 148:7, 10).

St Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals.

St Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals.

Kindness taught by faith leaders

We should note that King Solomon in the Old Testament book of Proverbs expressed concern for animals. He said, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (Old Testament / Proverbs 12:10).

Jesus spoke of God’s love and care for His creatures. He pointed to God as our example, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (New Testament / Matthew 6:26).

According to Prophet Mohammad, “Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself” (Wisdom of Prophet Mohammad in Muhammad Amin). He also said, “Whoever tills a field, and birds and beasts eat from it, it is an act of charity” (Holy Prophet in Musnad of Ahmad),

One cannot write an article about faith and animals without mentioning Saint Francis of Assisi. He was a Roman Catholic friar and the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, birds, the environment, and Italy, and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies honoring animals around his feast day on October 4.

It was Saint Francis who penned the words to this great hymn sung today in so many houses of worship.

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saint Francis’ devotion to God was expressed through his great love for all of God’s creation. He cared not only for the poor and sick; he preached sermons to animals, and praised all creatures as “brothers and sisters under God.”

Animal emotions

Animals express emotion. Fear is an emotion that generally produces observable behavior in animals. A field mouse will flee from the shadow of a hawk flying overhead. And we all are familiar with the term “scaredy cat”!

Jana Shropshire with the family pet Schnauzer "Kenny."

Jana Shropshire with the family pet Schnauzer “Kenny.”

Happiness can be discerned as one enters his home to be greeted by an excited, barking dog, with tail wagging uncontrollably! Our Schnauzer “Kenny” is one of the happiest dogs I know.

There are purring cats of all kinds, from house cats to huge lions, all purring out their feelings of contentment and happiness.

And we  have all, at one time or another, observed animals whining or crying.

The Prophet Muhammad is said to have voiced his concern for a “crying camel.” According to Anas bin Malik, one of Muhammad’s close companions, the prophet came across a camel tied to a post. The animal looked desperately malnourished. As Muhammad approached, the camel began to relay emotions to the prophet. It was, according to bin Malik, as though the animal were saying, “My master overburdens me. I’m never given sufficient food or water. When I am weak and barely able to walk, he beats me. I can hardly bear this difficult life.”

Bin Malik said the Prophet searched out the owner, and exhorted him, “Don’t you fear God because of your poor treatment of this camel?” The prophet explained that God had given the camel into the man’s care, and he had a duty to treat the camel well.

Humbly the owner accepted Muhammad’s rebuke and immediately repented, declaring loudly before all who were present, “I have done wrong. May Allah have mercy on me.” He promised the prophet that he would extend greater care to all his camels.

The Abrahamic holy books decry animal cruelty. In the Jewish Talmud one reads that a great rabbi who was insensitive to the fear of a calf being led to slaughter was punished with years of pain.

Several commandments demonstrate concern for the physical or psychological suffering of animals.  We may not plow a field using animals of different species, because this would be a hardship to the animals.  We are required to relieve an animal of its burden, even if we do not know its owner, or even if it is ownerless.

Prairie dog

Praiie dogs come out of their holes early after sunrise to lift their paws in seeming praise and worship of their Creator.

We are not permitted to kill an animal in the same day as its young, and are specifically commanded to send away a mother bird when taking her eggs, because of the psychological distress this would cause the animal. In fact, the Talmud specifically says that a person who sends away the mother bird will be rewarded with long life, precisely the same reward that is given for honoring one’s mother and father. This should give some indication of the importance of this law.

Faith group positions today

The Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) have adopted a very strong statement on environmental stewardship. “We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over Nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life.” (Quaker Advices and Queries 42)

In Islam, mistreating an animal is considered a sin. The Qur’an and guidance from the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in hadith, give many examples and directives about how Muslims should humanely treat animals.

In the Jewish Torah, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals. The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals.  “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you (Moses) are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.’” We also note that Rebekah was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife.

Animal abuse lingers

Lions communicate with one another to keep social order. The dominant males are most apt to let a member of the pride know when he or she is out of order.

Lions communicate with one another to keep social order. The dominant males are most apt to let a member of the pride know when he or she is out of order.

Unfortunately, around the world, some people do not always follow the rules! There are those humans who mistakenly believe that since human needs take priority, animal rights are not an urgent issue.

That has been the case throughout the ages. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote in 97 AD about the hideous acts committed against animals and humans in Roman arenas in his Antiquities of the Jews: “Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration.”

Judaism and Islam have both recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people. St. Francis concurred, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Modern psychology confirms this understanding, with many studies finding a relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult criminal violence.

Some people find excuses to inflict deliberate harm on certain animals, such as dogs and roosters. These actions fly in the face of Jewish, Christian and Islamic teachings, and the best way to combat such ignorance is through education and by good example. Individuals, houses of worship and governments have an important role to play in educating the public about the proper care of our animal friends.

Poaching of endangered species and illegal markets for ivory, tiger oil, etc., breed corruption and lead to the extinction of certain animals like tigers, rhinos. and others.

Numerous organizations have been formed through the years to ensure animals’ rights and protection. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) are but a few. Such organizations are now found in every US state and in many foreign nations.

God’s heavenly pets!

God has awesome love and appreciation for his created animals. He even has animals around his throne in heaven! They are the “living creatures” we read about in the New Testament book of Revelation. The Greek word translated “living creatures” is zoon. It is the word from which the English word “zoo” is derived.

It is said that these heavenly animals were created for the express purpose of shouting out praises to God, saying, “Holy! Holy! Holy! The Lord God! The Almighty!”

Even though these creatures are highly intelligent and expressive, they’re still animals. That’s what the Bible calls them!

In writing this article I ran across this Muslim children’s song. Enjoy this music which celebrates God’s animals.

Postscript… And then came “Abra”!

Sam's tiny "miracle kitten" named "Abra"!

Sam’s tiny “miracle kitten” named “Abra”!

After I posted the above article, I walked out my front door in Jeddah, and started singing loudly,  “All creatures of our God and King! Life up your voice and with us sing!” As soon as those words came out of my mouth, an emaciated tiny, little kitten bounded across that busy street and fell down at my feet. It just lay their meowing! I leaned over, picked it up, and began looking for the mother. No other cats were in sight.

I took the kitten home. I mistakenly gave it solid food, and it got very sick. A veterinarian friend told me the kitten was only two weeks old,  too young for solid food. I was told to give it only a powdered animal milk, which I mixed with water and dished out  4 times a day. The kitten came alive–running, jumping! I promtly named the kitten “Abra” (Arabic, meaning “dedicated to God.”

But then in typical human fashion I began grumbling to God, “Why did you give me this needy 3-week-old kitten to take care of when You know I have to leave for the US in a few days! What am I going to do with this kitten?”

I kept looking for someone in Saudi Arabia to take my kitten. No one was willing to do so because Saudis don’t let animals in their homes. So I kept praying. Just a few hours before I had to leave for the airport I still had no one who would care for this kitten. Three hours before I had to leave for the airport, I ran to a meeting nearby where I am editing a photo album about Mecca. Khalid, the owner of the company, asked me if I had everything in order for my trip. I told him about the kitten to which he replied, “That isn’t anything I can do. Animals are not permitted in my home.”

I responded in despair with these exact words: “Khalid, please pray that I can find someone who loves cats.” We continued with our business meeting. About 30 minutes later a gentleman, a copywrite eidtor by the name of Hafeez, walked into the meeting. We continued with our discussion about the book, and that Hafeez’ phone rang. It wasn’t a normal ringing sound. His phone was going, “Meow! Meow! Meow!” We all laughed, and then this man said, totally unaware of what I had said to my friend just a few minutes earlier, “I love cats so much!”

Khalid and I stared at each other in amazement. Here was the man God had picked to love and care for this tiny kitten! Hafeez gladly went home with me to take charge “Abra.” This three-week-old kitten is, indeed, a miracle kitten.

I received a message just today from Hafeez who assures me the kitten is doing well and is in good hands. He says, “Welcome back to Saudi Arabia, Uncle Sam! ‘Abra’ is the star of our house. My mother and my sisters fell in love with her, and they are feeding her gourmet food!”

Truly, if God cares so much in providing for this poor, homeless kitten; how much more must He care for us!

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Animal Rights, Interfaith, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Praying to the God of Abraham

Left:  Muslim pray at the Kaaba in Mecca. Right: Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Left: Muslims pray at the Kaaba in Mecca. Right: Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Praying to Abraham’s God 

Sam, Shafik and Muhammad in front of the holy Kaaba in Mecca.

Sam, Shafik and Muhammad in front of the holy Kaaba in Mecca. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Last night I was invited by three Muslim friends to join them in the holy city of Mecca.

I took this photo (above left) of my Muslim brothers praying at the Kaaba (a worship place built by Prophet Abraham). It reminded me of another photo (above right) I had seen of Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (the foundation stones of the worship place built by Prophet Solomon).

These stone buildings are not objects of worship. They are merely places to focus one’s attention on the one and only God of the universe.

Both Jews and Arabs are genetically descendant from Prophet Abraham. They are “cousins.” They both pray to Abraham’s God.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer

As I joined hundreds of men and women in making the ritual tawaf (the prayerful circumambulation of the holy Kaaba), Scriptures came to mind reminding me that disagreements, no matter how difficult, must never lead to hatred. Hatred has no place in true faith.

While I praised God for his loving kindness, I tearfully prayed as the great Prophet and Messiah Jesus taught us to pray, “God, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The context of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, known to Christians as “the Lord’s Prayer,” outlines a heartfelt appeal to all of us (men and women) who make a public show of prayer. We are in essence told to humble ourselves in our relationships with others;  seeking not to offend but rather to make amends.

Praise to the God of Abraham

In many Christian congregations (especially the Methodist), congregants stand and sing the hymn “The God of Abraham Praise.” This old hymn has an interesting background

One night in 1865, the English hymnist Thomas Olivers was attract­ed to a service in a London Jew­ish syn­a­gogue where he heard an inspiring soloist, Le­o­ni, sing an an­cient He­brew mel­o­dy. His baritone voice was filled with deeply profound emotion. Olivers was im­pressed and immediately was moved to write a hymn to the same tune. The re­sult was the hymn, “The God of Abra­ham Praise.” This hymn is actually a par­a­phrase of an an­cient He­brew yig­dal, or dox­ol­o­gy:

The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
Jehovah, great I AM,
by earth and heaven confessed:
I bow and bless the sacred Name
for ever blessed.

Films you should see

There are a number of award-winning films that have been released during the past few years that help one to understand what’s behind the conflict between Israel and Palestine–the heart of the Middle East crisis.

Below you will see the closing scene from a great film Language of the Enemy (2008) about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its resulting calamity. In the film an American Jewish university student falls in love with a Muslim Palestinian doctor. The young man is tragically killed by Israeli soldiers. This scene depicts the heart-rending despair separating Jews and Arab Muslims. It ends with an agonizing cry “Abraham!”  If you haven’t seen this movie, get a copy and watch it.

I also highly recommend the award-winning films The GatekeepersFive Broken Cameras and the recently released Omar.

Unless we feel their pain we will never understand their suffering. Please join us in praying and working for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. Our collective hope and faith is in Abraham’s God

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Human Rights, Religious Reconciliation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeddah’s awe-inspiring Al Makkiyah mansion

The Angawi mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for study and dialogue.

The Angawi family mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for friendship and learning.

Al Makkiyah Carter

Former US President Jimmy Carter and US consulate staff listen as Dr. Sami Angawi speaks about Islamic art, science and history at Al Makkiyah. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Leaders come to Al Makkiyah

One of the most interesting private residences in Saudi Arabia is the home of well-known architect and historian Dr. Sami Angawi. Al Makkiyah mansion attracts leaders and visitors from around the world.

Angawi is an expert in Islamic architecture and is also outspoken about his faith, Islam. The house serves as a meeting place for individuals and groups seeking to communicate Middle Eastern culture to peoples and groups on other continents. He believes, however, that extremists are attempting hijack Islam. He and other Muslim leaders hope to maintain Islam’s core roots—balanced and moderate and more tolerant of people’s differences.

Angawi is known for his activism–especially his strong views about historic preservation in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Many significant sites of Islam have been destroyed under direct orders from radical religious leaders in an effort, they claim, to prevent idolatry or because of what they consider to be,the veneration of gravesites or relics. (See my story “Grandmother Eve’s grave.”)

Public lectures and concerts

The Angawi house is a cultural haven in Jeddah where his family and friends regularly host lectures, concerts and timely discussions, often on a weekly basis.

The design of this residence combines modern construction techniques with traditional crafts such as Turkish mosaic and Moroccan zillij. Red Sea coral reef stone, desert sandstone, marbles and granite are utilized throughout the exterior and interior.

Old-style natural ventilation techniques minimize the need for air-conditioning even at the peak of hot Arabian summers. A computerized drip-watering system feeds thousands of hanging plants that are an integral feature of both the central internal courtyard and the exterior ground and roof gardens.

The Islamic principle of sitr (ensuring privacy for neighbors as well as inhabitants of the house) is accomplished by using traditional rawasheen bay windows and intricate hand-carved Hijazi woodwork over the openings.

Guests at Al Makkiyah llllllllllllllll lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

Al Makkiyah will serve as the main campus of the Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute for cross cultural studies.

Bridging nations and faiths

For decades Saudi Arabia has been generally considered a somewhat closed society, eager to protect its own traditions from external cultural influences.

While preservation of traditions is of great concern to Dr. Sami Angawi, his desire is balanced with a passion for building bridges between nations, cultures and faiths.

His architectural designs assert the importance of his HIjazi heritage with the common cultural heritage shared by both western and Islamic societies; believing that a “clash of civilizations” need not lead to misunderstanding, but rather friendship, trust and peace.

This concept of balance, known in Arabic as mizan, is the essence of Islamic tradition and of many of the world’s religious beliefs. The aspiration of Angawi to reflect this historic principle in his life and work is important. It has made him a leader in building bridges between the Middle East and the rest of the world. “More balance can be achieved through respect for the past,” Angawi says. “In our Al Makkiyah mansion, modernity and tradition, privacy and openness, stability and dynamism are equally represented to generate harmony.”

Hijazi culture influences the modern world

Dr. Sami Angawi shows guests the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

Dr. Sami Angawi leads guests through the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

Angawi is the founder of the renowned Hajj Research Center in Mecca and also the Amar Center for Architectural Heritage. He has dedicated his life to preserving the history and architecture of Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina; encouraging dialogue about Islam and cross-cultural collaboration and understanding between institutions and universities worldwide.

Angawi’s Hijaz ancestry can be traced back to the Mecca region along the central Red Sea coast. It is his lineage, dating back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, that has formed his religious thought. “The Hijaz,” he says, “is the site of Islam’s holy places and the melting pot of the Muslim world. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world have traveled  annually for centuries to the region, enriching it with their traditions and ideas.”

Respect and compassion

Angawi believes that respect, solidarity and compassion are human values and inspiring principles for every culture and all faiths. “Being aware of these intrinsic similarities and stressing them is the only antidote to fear, bigotry and ignorance.”

In a 2011 interview with Arab News, Angawi said, “Al Makkiah represents a seed. I wish that one day we could have thousands Al Makkiyahs and establish a ‘United Nations of people,’ regardless of their race, color or beliefs.”

When Arab News challenged his concept as being Utopian, Angawi said he finds inspiration in water. “It is a powerful element, stronger than rocks, steel and diamonds. If it doesn’t reach the sea, water changes its status and comes back in other forms to achieve the goal.”

Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute

Dr. Sami Angawi is now gathering an international board of intellectuals, activists and businessmen to create his legacy–an international institute offering degrees in Islamic history and science, the Al Makkiyah / Al Mediniyah Institute will provide courses in Islamic history, architecture and science.

The institute at Al Makkiyah will house Angawi’s more than 100 thousand photographs, drawings and writings about Islam and the two holy cities Mecca and Medina. The school will be a collaborative educational experience, providing American, Canadian and European students the opportunity to research Islam on location in the Hijaz–right where the faith has advanced over the past 1400 years.

Here’s a short video describing the Al Makkiyah mansion:

Sources: Arab News, wikipedia.com, Saudi Airlines, CNN, History of Architecture, BBC, Harun Yahya TV

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Archeology, Human Rights, Jeddah History, Music, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ascending the minaret–a childhood dream

Minarets tower over the world's mosques as powerful symbols of Islam's daily calls to prayer.

Minarets tower over the world’s mosques as powerful symbols of Islam’s five daily calls to prayer.

Dream come true

Today my friend Aidarous Al Mashhour drove me to the Khalil Mosque here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After we prayed together at the mosque, Aidarous told the imam about my childhood dream—to climb to the top of a minaret.

The imam directed us to the caretaker of the mosque who was more than happy to unlock the door to the inner stairway of the minaret. After some ten minutes of climbing through very narrow openings I arrived at a balcony which encircles the upper section of the minaret. I was so happy to be able to look out over the city of Jeddah and to consider the hundreds of years of Islamic history that minaret represented..

Sam stands atop Jeddah's Khlil Mosque minaret.

Sam stands atop Jeddah’s Khalil Mosque minaret. (Click photos to enlarge.)

The history of this marvelous structure

The minaret is one of the most distinctive features of a mosque. It’s history is interesting, not just to Muslims, but also in the annals of architecture.

Remarkably, there are very few references to the minaret in Arabic literature.

The name itself is somewhat strange, and in no way represents the purpose for which these towers are built. The word in Arabic means “an object that gives light” ((Arabic nur, meaning “light”; hence mi-nur-rat or minaret). So, from the name itself one could wrongly conclude the minaret to be a type of “light house” or tower with a light on top.

Some suggest that the minaret gets its name from the light that the muadhin (“caller to prayer”) would hold as he recited the adhan (call to prayer). Others indicate that in some of the oldest mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus, minarets doubled as illuminated watchtowers.

The earliest Islamic mosques had no minarets. The mosques built in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and Medina were very simple. There was nothing like a tower associated with these early houses of prayer and worship.

The call to prayer

Sam's friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Tuqwa Mosque near the Red Sea Promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Sam’s friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Taqwa Mosque near the Red Sea promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. The adhan is, for sure, one of the most characteristic, powerfully evocative symbols of Islam. This Arabic call to prayer, dramatically intoned by a muadhin from high atop a lofty minaret—once heard—it can never be forgotten!

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and is mentioned only once in the Qur’an, in connection with the Friday assembly:

“O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], leave your business and proceed to the remembrance of God. That is better for you, if you only knew” (Sura 62:9).

Muslim tradition explains how the adhan came to be used to announce the times of the five daily prayers.

After the emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina (known as the Hijra) a believer named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he tried to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer, as was the tradition of Christians living in Medina at that time. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and to cry:

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

I testify that there is no god but God.

I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to salvation! Come to salvation!

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

There is no god but God!

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world's  tallest brick minaret.

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world’s tallest brick minaret.

Bilal, Islam’s first “caller to prayer”

According to Ibn Ishaq, the eighth-century biographer of Prophet Mohammed, Ibn Zaid went to the Prophet with his story and Mohammed, having had a similar dream, agreed. He told Ibn Zaid to ask an Ethiopian believer named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer.

Early traditions indicate that Bilal made his call to prayer from the rooftop of the Prophet’s house, which doubled as a residence and a place for prayer and worship.

Indeed, no towers were used or mentioned. The ancient poet al Farazdak spoke of the adhan as being prounounced “on the wall of every city.” In the later hadiths it was said “the muadhin, if he is on the road, may make the call to prayer while riding; he need not halt.”

(Note: Below, I have put a short, stirring video of the call to prayer being made from the minarets of Jeddah. Listen to it.)

First mentions of minarets

The first time a minaret is referenced in connection with the mosque was in Medina–some 80 years after the Prophet Mohammed’s passing.

The massive minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is the oldest standing minaret. Its construction began during the early 8th century and was completed in 836 CE. Its imposing square-plan tower consists of three sections of decreasing size reaching 31.5 meters (103 feet). Considered as the prototype for minarets of the western Islamic world, it served as a model for many minarets to come.

The tallest minaret, at 210 metres (689 ft), is located adjacent the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. The tallest brick minaret is the Qutub Minar in Delhi, India.

Perhaps you heard recently about the 12th-century Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. It was a UN World Heritage Site. Sadly, its ancient minaret was completely obliterated a few months ago during a battle of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

The minaret’s design

Minarets basically consist of three parts: a base, shaft, and the tower gallery. For the base, the ground is excavated until a hard foundation is reached. Gravel and other supporting materials may be used as a foundation.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

Minarets may generally tapered upward, square, cylindrical, or polygonal (faceted). Stairs circle the shaft in a counter-clockwise fashion, providing the necessary structural support to the decidedly elongated shaft.

The gallery is a balcony which encircles the upper sections from which the muadhin may give the call to prayer. It is usually covered by a roof-like canopy and adorned with ornamentation, such as decorative brick and tile work, cornices, arches and inscriptions, with the transition from the shaft to the gallery typically sporting muqarnas (collections of small corbels that form a transition from one plane to another). Formerly plain in style, a minaret’s place in time can be determined by its level of embellishment.

The symbolic moon

The crescent moon, sometimes combined with a star, often tops the minaret. This symbol was often used by the late Turkish Ottoman Empire; however, its not the official symbol of Islam.

In many nations; however, it remains a generally accepted symbol of Islam in much the same way the Star of David represents Judaism or as the cross is representative of Christianity.

The crescent moon points to God’s awesome creation. We read in the Qur’an, “Surely your Lord is none other than God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then ascended His Throne; Who causes the night to cover the day and then the day swiftly pursues the night; Who created the sun and the moon and the stars making them all subservient to His command. Lo! His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed is God, the Lord of the universe” (Qur’an 7:54-58). A similar sentiment is echoed by the prophet King David in the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-5).

The crescent moon is not, as some Islamophobic individuals continue to wrongly assert, a “secret Muslim moon god”! The Qur’an forbids the worship of idols of any kind. “And from among His signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Do not bow down (prostrate) to the sun nor to the moon, but only bow down (prostrate) to God Who created them, if you (really) worship Him” (Qur’an 41:37).

Watch this short BBC report on Jeddah’s mosques and the call to prayer:

Sources: The Oxford History, wikipedia.com , Saudi Aramco World, BBC, CNN, Architectural History

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Jeddah History, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Egyptian pyramids and the mummy’s curse!

Sam Shropshire at the pyramids in Giza--one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Sam Shropshire at the pyramids of Giza–one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

My visit to the pyramids of Giza

I recently fulfilled a lifetime dream of visiting the famous Pyramids of Giza, just to the south of Cairo, Egypt. These celebrated pyramids are among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the oldest built more than 4500 years ago! Modern scholars and archaeologists have long been curious about these ancient tombs of the pharaohs. Out of the three pyramids, the most famous is the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), which was built by Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 BC.

Sam standing among the collosal, ancient limstone blocks that were used to build the Great Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu.

Sam standing among the collosal, ancient limstone blocks that were used to build the Great Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The Great Pyramid stands 137 meters (449 feet) high. Each side is oriented with one of the cardinal directions of the compass (north, south, east, and west). The Great Pyramid of Khufu is made up of two million blocks of limestone. Granite lines the entrances, the shafts and the chambers.  The thousands of smooth white casing stones that beautified the sides of this pyramid, have long since been unfortunately removed, being used in other building projects.

I was pleasantly surprised when my Egyptian friends actually got permission for me to climb through the inner shafts of the Great Pyramid. This pyramid is equal in height to a modern 50-story skyscraper! For the better part of an hour, I was led upward through the narrow connecting shafts some 200 meters (656 feet) to the upper chamber of Khufu. Due to low ceilings in most of the shafts, one is forced to lean over while walking, literally crawling, in places, on hands and knees. It was a difficult climb, and I was drenched in sweat when I finally stood in the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu.

The Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) is situated to the southwest of the Pyramid of Khufu. Although it appears to be taller than the Great Pyramid, as it stands on higher ground, this pyramid is actually smaller than that of Khufu. This pyramid was built by Khufu’s son Khafre.

The third pyramid, the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus), which stands some 67m (220ft) high, was started by Khafre’s son Menkaure.

In front of the Great Pyramid stands the Sphinx, a statue of a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. The Sphinx, which stands 20 meters (66 feet) high, and measuring about 73.5 meters (241 feet) long, was carved over 4500 years ago out of sandstone.

Narrow passageways leading to the upper burial chamber.

Narrow passageways leading to the upper burial chamber.

Archaeologists and historians marvel

Can you imagine one of our modern skyscrapers weathering 4500 years of harsh climatic conditions? Just how were these pyramids built? How have they stood the test of time?

Today’s scientists, historians and civil engineers stand  in awe of the pyramids. They are continually developing theories as to just how the ancient Egyptian peoples could have carved and moved these millions of huge stones hundreds of miles from the far south to their Giza location and then haven assembled them into the pyramids.

When I was in graduate school, I remember reading the 1970 best-selling book by Erich von Däniken‘s titled Chariots of the Gods. The book theorized extraterrestrials interacting with early human life, passing on high-tech scientific information to undeveloped human civilizations in various parts of the world—one being the ancient kingdoms of the Egyptian pharaohs. (This theory was subsequently debunked by University of South Carolina professor Dr. Clifford Wilson in his 1972 sequel entitled Crash Go the Chariots.)

One of the best construction explanations I’ve found was published in the March 2008 issue of Science Daily.

The legendary curse of the pharaohs

Map showing inner shafts climbing to the upper chamber where Pharoah Khufu was entombed.

Map showing inner shafts climbing to the upper chamber where Pharaoh Khufu was entombed.

Just two days after climbing through the Great Pyramid’s inner, narrow shafts leading to Khufu’s burial chamber, I ended up in a Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, hospital with a high temperature, swollen glands diagnosed with some mysterious, unknown virus. I was mainlined with some pretty powerful antibiotics for five days and then released to continue my recuperation at home. I have now fully recovered, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the extraordinary rumors of pyramid curses that have circulated for centuries.

Movies and sensational Hollywood science fiction movies abound, encouraging the rumors—the classic being the 1944 horror film The Mummy’s Curse.

The idea of a mummy coming back to life from the dead, an essential part of many mummy curse legends, was developed in The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an early work combining science fiction and horror, written by Jane C. Loudon and published in 1827.

Louisa May Alcott was thought by Dominic Montserrat to have been the first to use a fully developed plot about the “mummy curse.”

Two other stories subsequently discovered by S. J. Wolfe, Robert Singerman and Jasmine Day–The Mummy’s Soul (Anonymous 1862) and After Three Thousand Years by Jane G. Austin in  1868–have similar plots. In both, a female mummy takes supernatural revenge upon her male counterpart.

Tutankhamun’s “curse”

The belief in a curse was brought to many people’s attention due to the mysterious deaths of several members of archaeologist Howard Carter‘s team while they were excavating the tomb of Tutankhamun (more commonly known as King Tut). The tomb was located far to the south in the Valley of the Kings and was opened by Carter and George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon (Lord Carnarvon) in 1922.

The sarcophagus burial chamber of Pharoah Khufu.

The Pharaoh Khufu’s sarcophagus in the Great Pyramid burial chamber.

The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted, working with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb, reported how Carter had sent a messenger on an errand to his house. When the man came near to Carter’s home he thought he heard a “faint, almost human cry.” On reaching the entrance he saw a cobra in a bird cage. (The cobra was the symbol of Egyptian monarchy.) Carter’s canary had died in the cobra’s mouth, and this fueled local rumors of a curse. An account of the incident was reported by the New York Times on 22 December 1922. The first of the “mysterious” deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon had been bitten by a mosquito, and later cut the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted.

Two weeks before Carnarvon died, Marie Corelli wrote an imaginative letter that was published in the New York World magazine, in which she quoted an obscure book that confidently asserted that “dire punishment” would follow any intrusion into a sealed tomb. A media frenzy followed, with reports that a curse had been found in the King’s tomb, though this was untrue.

The curse rumors were further fanned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. In a film he suggested that Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by “elementals” created by Tutankhamun’s priests to guard the royal tomb, and this further fueled public curse frenzy.      .

A newspaper report printed following Carnarvon’s death is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.”

There is, though, a possible reasonable explanation for illness and even death resulting from noxious gases that are released when ancient tombs are opened. When Archaeologist Sami Gabra was working in tombs in the ibis-necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel, both he and his workers were seized by violent

Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb. His death resulted in many curse stories in the media.

Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb. His death resulted in many curse stories in the media.

headaches and shortness of breath.  At first the workers feared of the ibis-headed god, Thoth.  In reality, it was discovered that the cause was toxic vapors. When the tomb was fumigated, the crew  returned to work..

Russians scale the Great Pyramid

A few months ago, Russian photographer Vadim Makhorov caused quite a stir when he published a set of stunning images captured from atop Egypt’s Great Pyramid. The photos, posted to Makhorov’s LiveJournal page, provide a rare view of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though they’ve fueled a fair bit of controversy, as well.

Once the pyramid complex had closed to tourists, Makhorov and his two friends, Vitaliy Raskalov and Marat Dupri, staked out for nearly five hours, hiding themselves from Egypt’s armed guards. (Now if only I had been there to scale the pyramid with these guys!)

When they were certain the coast was clear, they embarked on the 481-foot climb to the top of the pyramids, where they captured incredible panoramic shots of the Giza Necropolis,. They were able to keep totally out of sight of the guards below.

According to Raskalov, the trio would have faced between one and three years in jail, had they been caught. Said Makhorov, “We didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following our dream.”

Below are some of the photos Makhorov and his friends took.

 

 

Here’s an incredible video about the Great Pyramid of Giza:

 

Sources: Science Daily, The New York Times, New York World, Archaeology, The Pyramids of Egypt, BBC, The Verge, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Magazine, galactic-server.net, en.wikipedia.org

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Archeology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,082 other followers