Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 21, The Qur’an and the Prophet Musa (Moses)

Starting my look into how Islam records the life of Moses I quickly realized I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. Moses is mentioned more in the Qur’an than anyone else, almost 300 passages mention him, which goes to show that he was clearly a very important Prophet to Muslims.

It would a lengthy process to type all the main passages into this post so I’ll just cover some highlights:

 Islam agrees with Biblical tradition that as a baby Moses was put in a basket and sent down the Nile River in order to prevent him from being killed by the Pharaoh. He was then adopted by one of the Pharaoh’s family.

 Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. This caused Moses to flee the area and become a shepherd, much like the Biblical account.

 The story of the burning bush is a bit different in Islam. Moses was lured to the area because he saw a fire and once he reached there Allah spoke to him. Allah did not take the form of fire nor did the fire speak to Moses.

 Like the Biblical account Allah sent various plagues to Egypt (I didn't do a comparison to see if all of the plagues were the same but locusts and frogs were there).

 The parting of the sea occurred to allow Moses and his followers to escape the Pharaoh’s army. The army was drowned when the sea closed in on them.

 The Israelites were punished by Allah to wander for 40 years

 The Qur’an states that Allah “ . . . wrote for him on the Tablets the lessons to be drawn from all things and the explanation of all things . . .” [7:145], which ties into the story of the Ten Commandments but the Qur’an does not state what was written on the tablets nor what number of statements were there. Thus I don't believe Muslims automatically assume it was 10 things. The Torah was reveled to Moses during his time wandering near Mount Sinai.

 Islamic tradition agrees with Biblical accounts that while Moses was away many of his followers started worshiping a statue of a calf, though it is not clear if the calf was golden -- I can’t find any reference specifically saying it was gold in the relevant passages. However, the calf was formed by melting “ornaments” carried by the people so it’s a reasonable assumption.

By and large the Qur’an agrees with much of the Biblical account. There are a few differences but in terms of the major items the differences appear minor (well, except for the Ten Commandments one, I'm sure many would consider that a big difference).

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 19, Traditional Qatari Ramadan Foods

Out at Ezdan Mall they had some posters for traditional Qatari foods, including the recipes. I've eaten most of them at one point or another.

My first encounter with harees was at a wedding. A container of it was being passed around the table and given that there were no plates or cutlery people were just scooping some out with their fingers and eating it. Some of my friends declined (imagine passing around a jar of white peanut butter and everyone was dipping their fingers in it) but I dug in. In truth I find the taste of it very plain, kind of like porridge without sugar or much spice. That many times it has little pieces of meat blended in with it makes for an odd experience.

Elqaimat is a staple at any wedding or buffet featuring Arabic cuisine. Tiny balls of fried dough sweetened with sugar syrup or honey. They are smaller and crispier than a doughnut hole.

Another standard dessert at an Arabic buffet, though I never knew its name before. The sign also says it's eaten at breakfast, something I've never tried before. A pretty straightforward dish, cooked vermicelli which I assume is sweetened with sugar syrup or honey. I've also seen it served drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.

It was interesting to see a sign for thareed as I mentioned it just a week ago when blogging about a friend’s iftar. I'm sure I've had it other times in the past but didn't know what its name was.

I believe on the weekend during Ramadan there is a stall at Ezdan Mall food court where ladies are preparing these dishes for you to try. Check it out if you have time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 17, Sohour Banquets

So I've now attended my third sohour at a hotel. During Ramadan all of the major hotels host these lavish iftar and sohour buffets and I inevitably get invites either through work or from friends. The sohours are always popular and despite the many five-star hotels here you still need to reserve in advance.

Here's some pictures from the most recent one, at the Ritz. While some hotels actually set up tents on the grounds for the sohour some, like the Ritz, decorate their ballroom instead.

The buffets are huge, focusing mostly on Arabic cuisine but are sure to offer numerous other foods as well.

Love the dessert section (though I didn’t have much of it, I swear).

It's things like this that can make it difficult for people to lose weight despite the fact that you're fasting throughout the day for a month. Ramadan is also a time of celebration so families or friends commonly meet up for iftar or sohour at these buffets. I'm okay with sohours because at least you've already eaten, but iftar is more difficult because once you break your fast and start eating it's hard to stop when there is a horde of food around.

Anyway it is still worth trying at least once. Sohours typically start at 9pm and go on till late, maybe 1am or 2am. Most people don't arrive until sometime after 10 or 11; we arrived around 9:20pm to an empty ballroom but by 11:30 it was packed.

Expect to pay at least QAR 200 per person but more likely you'll be paying around 300.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 16, Katara Lecture and Art Exhibitions

So last night I went to Katara to attend a lecture by Sheikh Saad Al Aatik on "Deliverance from Hellfire". It didn't start until 9:30pm but to get out of the apartment I arrived at Katara around 8:15pm so I could wander around. There wasn't much humidity that night so while it was hot it wasn't so unpleasant that you couldn't walk around.

First I came across a gallery that held modern artworks expressing faith.

I'm not much for modern art so I wasn't sure what to make of it. The glasswork was kind of cool and a few people were getting pictures taken standing behind the glass.

Then I saw another exhibition at a nearby gallery. The title refers to the 99 names of Allah that are found in the Qur’an.

Turns out the artist is primarily a graffiti artist but while there was some artwork definitely inspired by graffiti art . . .

. . . he also had a lot of calligraphy work on display.

Then I stopped for a free Arabic coffee and some dates from a stand that Katara had set up. That was nice of them. Finally it was off to the mosque for the lecture.

Beautiful mosque isn't it? Anyway, Sheikh Al Aatik (on the right with the red gurtra) started off the lecture and after a minute I realized that the entire lecture would be in Arabic! I heard about the lecture through a catalog of events happening at Katara, I wish they had said that the lecture would be in Arabic, I assumed it would be in English because the catalog listing was in English. Don't get me wrong, I can speak a bit of Arabic, but nowhere near enough to follow what was going on, I caught maybe 5% of what he was saying. *shrug*, I sat patiently, admired the mosque, and tried to pick up whatever words I could. After about 45 minutes lecture was over and I left. Shame that I couldn't understand what he was saying.

Anyway, Katara has a lot of events and nice exhibitions on display during Ramadan. If the weather is not too humid I suggest you go there one evening.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 15, the Qur’an and the Prophet Dawud (David)

Looking at the Prophet David (Dawud in Arabic) in the Qur’an we see that, like my look at the other Prophets, much of the overall history is there but without all of the detail in the Bible. In some ways it appears that it is assumed that the reader of the Qur’an knows much of the history that is referred to in the verse.

The battle with Goliath is only mentioned once, and it covers only 3 verses in the overarching narrative of King Saul. David is only mentioned once:

2:251 So they routed them by Allah's Leave and Dawud (David) killed Jalut (Goliath), and Allah gave him (David) the kingdom and Al-Hikmah (Prophethood), and taught him of that which He willed. And if Allah did not check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief. But Allah is full of bounty to the 'Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists).

Otherwise the bulk of discussion on David comes from the 38th Surah. First it mentions his ability to either speak to birds or somehow charm birds (it’s unclear to me)

38:18 Verily, We made the mountains to glorify Our Praises with him (David) in the 'Ashi (i.e. after the mid-day till sunset) and Ishraq (i.e. after the sunrise till mid-day).

38:19 And (so did) the birds assembled: all obedient to him (David).

Followed by some verses about David passing judgment on a dispute between two men arguing over some sheep (I won't go into the details here) and concluding with:

38:26 O David! Verily! We have placed you as a successor on the earth; so judge you between men in truth and follow not your desire - for it will mislead you from the Path of Allah. Verily, those who wander astray from the Path of Allah (shall) have a severe torment, because they forgot the Day of Reckoning.

There’s not much more than that. The Qur’an does not contain much else about David and certain stories, such as David’s interactions with Bathsheba and Uriah, are not mentioned at all and generally discounted by Islam. As the Prophets of Islam would be exemplary in following the path of Allah, I'm guessing that Muslims are of the view that there is no way the Prophet David would commit the major sin of adultery as outlined in the tale of Bathsheba. In a similar vein Islam does not believe that the Prophet Isa (Jesus) would be drinking wine since alcohol is forbidden.

However there is something that the Prophet David is famous for in Islam – fasting (which is why I felt investigating the Prophet David was an appropriate thing for Ramadan). The Fast of David is not mentioned in the Qur’an but it is mentioned numerious times in the Al-Bukhari Hadiths, for example:

Book 21:231 Narrated Abdullah bin 'Amr bin Al-'As: Allah's Apostle told me, "The most beloved prayer to Allah is that of David and the most beloved fasts to Allah are those of David. He used to sleep for half of the night and then pray for one third of the night and again sleep for its sixth part and used to fast on alternate days.

Book 55:631 Narrated Abdullah bin Amr: Allah's Apostle said to me, "The most beloved fasting to Allah was the fasting of (the Prophet) David who used to fast on alternate days. And the most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of David who used to sleep for (the first) half of the night and pray for 1/3 of it and (again) sleep for a sixth of it."

The fact that David used to fast on alternate days is well-known in Islam and is seen as one of the best fasting regimes. You should not fast any more than that (except daily Ramadan fasting of course as that is mentioned in the Qur’an). Versions of this Hadith appear almost a dozen times in Al-Bukhari:

Book 31:197 Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr: Allah's Apostle was informed that I had taken an oath to fast daily and to pray (every night) all the night throughout my life (so Allah's Apostle came to me and asked whether it was correct): I replied, "Let my parents be sacrificed for you! I said so." The Prophet said, "You can not do that. So, fast for few days and give it up for few days, pray and sleep. Fast three days a month as the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times and that will be equal to one year of fasting." I replied, "I can do better than that." The Prophet said to me, "Fast one day and give up fasting for a day and that is the fasting of Prophet David and that is the best fasting." I said, "I have the power to fast better (more) than that." The Prophet said, "There is no better fasting than that."

Apparently the Prophet David also used to be frugal in his eating:

Book 34:286 Narrated Al-Miqdam: The Prophet said, "Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has earned by working with one's own hands. The Prophet of Allah, David used to eat from the earnings of his manual labor."

Book 34:287 Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "The Prophet David used not to eat except from the earnings of his manual labor."

I can’t recall when it happened but I do remember meeting one Muslim (and I don't know how the conversation got onto this) who said he had tried the fast of the Prophet David for a month. He said it was extremely difficult given how it disrupted your eating and sleeping patterns. I don’t doubt it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 14, Iftars

Ramadan is the time of year where you receive a lot of invitations to meals. So far this Ramadan I've been out to two iftars and two sohours, with a third sohour coming up this Friday. I've been deliberately trying to reduce the number of times I eat out compared to prior years -- I think the first couple of Ramadans I was out almost every iftar eating at restaurants, which is overdoing it a bit.

I haven't mentioned the two iftars yet. One of them was at a non-Muslim friend’s place. They had guests coming down from the UK so we thought it would be a cool idea to have an iftar so they could see what the custom was like. So I arrived with a variety of dates as well as things like laban and had a nice meal of mixed mezzahs and other Arabic foods. I also cooked my homemade chili, both a spicy and non-spicy version so people could blend it to the desired level of hotness (my spicy chili is mind-blowingly hot). It was perhaps a larger meal than would be standard for an iftar but it was a pleasant meal.

Earlier this week I also received an invitation to an iftar from a friend of mine who works at a nearby taekwondo school. Each Ramadan the owner of the school hosts an iftar for friends and students and when I arrived a number of my friends were already there.

In preparation a number of places had been set up on the floor for the drinks, dates, and food.

Here’s a look at where I sat. The metal dish held a chicken stew called Tharid that is cooked with a base of bread. The platter had pieces of lamb on a bed of rice.

And soon the hall filled up with people ready to break their fast.

When iftar was announced we all sat down on the floor and started eating. There were no utensils, the traditional way to eat meals, so you used your right hand to grab pieces of meat or roll balls of rice in your hand (so you could easily put them in your mouth). You only use your right hand – never the left.

After eating people washed their hands and left for prayer. It was over in less than 30 minutes, iftars are not some multi-our event. A number of us went for coffee after the prayers were over.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 13, Qur'an Calligraphy

Last night I went down to Katara to catch some of their Garangao events and happened to walk past a gallery with this sign:

That was certainly worth a look, I did a post about Qur’an calligraphy a year ago on the various styles and how they developed.

One of the first things they had was a great list showing examples of some of the styles:

It may surprise you to find out that each line of calligraphy has the same words in it. It took me a while to figure this out too. While kufic is pretty straightforward for me to read styles like diwani and diwani jali are exceedingly difficult for a beginner like me to decipher. Yet they all say the same thing. It might be in part because written Arabic is read right to left so printed Arabic tends to be very horizontal like kufic, whereas most of the styles here seem to be written almost diagonally or at a sharp angle, from the top right corner to the bottom left.

Now in my original post on calligraphy I mentioned the early Uthman Qur’ans, of which possibly two of those early Qur’ans still survive – the Topkapi Qur’an in Istanbul and the Samarqand Qur’an. At the exhibition were replica copies of both. The Topkapi is the first picture, the Samarqand second. Both are in Kufic but with slightly different style:

The exhibition then discussed the evolution of calligraphy and credits two main historical periods: in Baghdad under the Abbasid Dynasty (roughly 8th to the 13th century) and in Istanbul under the Ottoman period (16th to 20th century). Below is an example from one of the top 16th century Ottoman calligraphers, Ahmed Qurah Hasari.

While in most of the examples we see that the calligraphy is quite spaced out, not all Qur’ans were written this way:

But many were incredibly decorative, with a lot of color and artwork, not unlike the level of decoration that went into some of the Medieval Bibles:

Here's a decorative modern example for comparison:

Finally the exhibit had some copies of the earliest printed and translated Qur’ans. The first printed Qur’an was in 1694 in Germany:

The exhibit also had copies of the first Qur’ans printed in Iraq and Saudi Arabia (at the top and bottom of the picture respectively)

And the first translations of the Qur’an date from around that time. A copy in French was first produced in 1649.

It took a while after that for the first translation in English, which was published in 1734.

It was great to have seen that exhibit, especially since I had to leave Katara to meet friends before the Garangao events really started to take off (I keep forgetting things start really late here, people were only starting to show up around 10pm). At least the exhibit made the trip worthwhile.

If you're interested in seeing the exhibit it is in building 22 of Katara.

You can read more about Qur'anic Calligraphy here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 10, Corniche Car Show

During Ramadan people spend the late afternoon showing off their cars by driving up and down on the Corniche. I went down to see the show a few times last year and have occasionally been popping by this year as well.

A lot of people park their cars on the side of the road to get pictures.

And a lot of cars are on the road, hundreds come down to be part of the spectacle.


(What is that? It has Ferrari logos on it but I’ve never seen a Ferrari that small.)

(This one is from last year but it’s still my favourite).