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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Reflections Of Andalusia

Image of Bayad playing the lute in the presence of the Lady and her entourage.from the 13th-century manuscript Hadith Bayad wa-Riyad, from Andalusia 

Today's post is the 30th and last post of Ramadan Special 2013. 
Throughout this Ramadan, I had been exploring the essence of the Holy month, the spirit of Ramadan and its cultural traditions in different countries and various eras. One thing very evident is that Muslims everywhere celebrate Ramadan very similarly, despite the few differences which are more like culture-specific details. For instance in Hyderabad a Musaherati would roam the streets with a lantern, while in most Arab countries, following suit of the Ottoman era they would roam with drums, and a little further back in time it was roaming with their own voices... put the tools aside, the aim was one; to wake people for their predawn meals, in an attempt to help make people's fast easier and more tolerable. The Ottoman's Mahya Illuminations, the lights in the picture of a star and moon that is today hung on balconies and homes to express the celebration of Ramadan, are similar to the very old era's lanterns that were placed on either side of the path leading to the mosques to help people find their way for Tarawih prayers. On the same note, the Religious sessions held for the Sultans during Ramadan to teach them the right practices, The Hakawatis telling stories to address the issues arising at the community and the today's Ramadan TV dramas that deal with all matters of the society, all eventually aim at addressing issues and teaching people the right practices.... as with the rest of the examples I had explored throughout Ramadan... 
All stress the fact that in the bigger picture we are all similar despite the details.


The Last Ramadan Tradition I am exploring in this series,
One of the most important Ramadan practices: Contemplation
It is Reflecting on life, one's self in it and understanding that nothing is eternal. 

Therefore, while I have explored all the traditions with a focus on food and cultural traditions, to conclude this Ramadan Special I will leave it at contemplation. No recipes, no cuisine, but only food for thought.

Cordoba Bridge

The one space I had left unexplored was Andalusia! 
I had left Andalusia for the last post, because it is the Islamic culture and era that I personally find most fascinating. 

Andalusia, was the Golden Age of Islam, and it was the people, the time and the place where culture came to the forefront. Following in the footsteps of the Abbasids and Umayyads, Andalusia continued the focus on cultural development and therefore during that time literature, arts, music, sciences, and the social life of people had all thrived, not only for those living there, but for all those around them as well. Some of the most prominent features of Andalusia are co-existence, tolerence and a focus on humanities. Andalusia's works are at the base of today's philosophies, sciences, sociology, and all aspects of life today. It was one of the major stops and stepping stones in the transformation of human societies. 
For those who like to explore history and sociology, Andalusia is one of the most fascinating to explore, as it is very insightful on what made a society flourish and the conditions under which people lived happily and fulfilled their most potential, both spiritually and physically.

I have chosen to conclude this Ramadan Special with contemplation, as one must always take a few steps back and reflect on one's life. Also concluding this series with Andalusia, as I think there are lessons to be learnt from that era, especially lessons about cherishing culture and fostering an environment where all people matter, where you are encouraged to bring out your talents and contribute to society... If only today's very advanced world can reach the full potential of all people, if only it can provide a haven in which people are happy, a space where balance, tolerance, peacefulness and expression are a God given right then today's world would have been a better place, and today's world would have reflected better conditions for all its people.

In search of The Middle Ground
While I might come out as an idealist - I do celebrate the beauties of idealism in theory - however, I am more of a realist but one who believes in the middle ground. There has never been an ideal situation, where earth became heaven. History is all too human, as it should be, because it is the reflection of its main characters - humans. But there were periods that were more tolerant of humanity, and periods where the middle ground was everyone's destination. Extremities - both sides of the pole - are the biggest manifestation of ignorance and the source of all evil, and all periods of extremities have proved to do no good to anyone. If people were to find the middle ground, then maybe heaven will become closer. And we must always remember that there is a reason why there is both; a life and an afterlife!

For the last post, I do not wish to sit here and tell you about the greatness of Andalusia and why it has been forever the point of study for all the world's intellectuals, historians, and a point of reference in all fields... Instead, I will leave you with a segment of Food for thought that I hope will give you an introductory impression of Andalusia and interest you to explore more...

The Grand mosque of Cordoba

Food For Thought
These words are from the opening speech of Faouzi Skali - Director General, Spirit of Fez Foundation - addressing the Fes Festival: World Sacred Music. But I have chosen this piece for this segment as the words go beyond the festival, planting the seed for reflections of Andalusia...

"There are certain periods in history that stand out in our memory as special times when mankind seemed to rise above his usual small-mindedness, when his actions became a source of inspiration for generations and centuries to come.

We might talk about the Greek Miracle in this way, and even more so of that time conjured from an ingenious and subtle harmony between spirit and matter, faith and reason, art and Convivencia (Co-existence) or simply of that time when both individual and community life was so very rich and accomplished: that of Andalusia, which covered a large area of Spain from the 8th to the 15th century.

Obviously we must be wary of excessive idealizing here. Examining the pattern of events at that time gives us a more prosaic reality containing human conflict - all too human - where the ideology was no more than a comfortable mask hiding the usual motivations found in the history of mankind, those of monopolizing power and wealth.

So rather than talking of a paradise, we can speak of an Andalusian paradigm: that where knowledge above all led organically towards the realization of one aim: that of the accomplishment of wisdom and human values. This objective was undertaken with awareness and in accordance with the various approaches of such philosophers as Ibn Tofail, Averroes, Maimonides, Raymond Lull and Ibn Arabi.

According to many Andalusian thinkers such as Ibn Hazm or Ibn Gabirol, knowledge itself cannot be considered as separate from that other dimension which is an integral part and superior to it: that of Love; Love that is freed of all constraint to become progressively unconditional and universal. These writers could have paraphrased the wisdom of Rabelais to say that knowledge without love is nothing but the death of the soul. This phrase is particularly apt in our time of technological proliferation and the rupture of the narrow remit of science and of the complete loss of vision of its aims.

In Andalusia the cult of femininity reached its highest point, it was the scene of courtly love and of poetry. Today we need to rediscover the mystery and hidden resources of this lost paradigm. Nizam (Harmonia), just like Dante’s Beatrice of later centuries, can escape time and place and return from the furthest reaches of the Orient to interrogate each of our philosophers, all of whom spent time in Fes.

Perhaps the secret of this recreated Andalusia will be murmured to us in the shadows or the light, between songs, musical interludes and poetry, clothed in the breeze that whispers within Bab al Makina or through the lanes and courtyards of the medina."


Andalus Quran 12th Century

All Conclusive
I had set out this Ramadan to expand the Horizons of your dinner table, and hopefully I was able to bring new cuisines, conversations, and thoughts in that effect. I had also aimed to explore The Colours of Ramadan (the cultural traditions that gave Ramadan its unique flavour), and I hope you have enjoyed remembering these and finding out more about them, their origins and where they stand today. Another objective was Food For Thought, in which I asked you to pause and feed your thoughts, through the 30 segments at the end of each post, which I hope you have seen and that they allowed you to stop for a minute and reflect. I wanted to help you explore, cook, eat and share this Ramadan and I hope that you enjoyed all these.

Most importantly I wanted to bring interesting to you this Ramadan, and I can only hope that you have found all this interesting and that it sparks an interest to explore more and discover the real traditions, the real history and the real identity of this beautiful culture.

Thank you to all those who took part in this Ramadan Special and those who have connected with me, sharing all this amazing information, recipes, stories, traditions... you guys have given this Ramadan Special an amazing touch and have enriched our knowledge and our Ramadan.


Wishing you and your Families Eid Mubarak, an amazing time in the company of those you love and hopefully a fresh start after all the hardwork you have done this month. 
I will leave you now with the all conclusive line and the one message I intended this Ramadan


The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem & Eid Mubarak :)

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