- What was Rumi talking about?
- Shakespeare’s 450th birthday: Now all the world is his stage
- WHAT’S THERE TO HIDE? M’sia UNDECIDED on making public report on MH370
- Anwar convinced he will go to jail for sodomy
Posted: 23 Apr 2014 09:53 PM PDT
Sufi poetry has been largely misunderstood by modern pop culture.
Sorry to ruin this, but when you read poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi or any other Sufi figure’s poems, the wine is not literal, and Layla is not actually a woman. It is quite a depressing realisation to witness great Sufis such as Rumi become reduced to drunkards raving about their current love partners or unable to get over losing their past ones. This is precisely what modern pop culture’s misappropriation of Sufi poetry about love has done.
The reason we love poetry so much is because it is a venue where we let our imaginations soar. The best poets are ones that most people can identify with in some way. Poems that speak to universal meanings can be flexible in their applications to different contexts, thus becoming a place of solace for the readers. However, this activity becomes disingenuous when the poet and the context in which he or she wrote are manipulated to suit one’s own projections. For example, Rumi’s poetry can be summarised in one line that was recorded in pre-Islamic poetry: “Verily, everything other than God is a falsehood.” But it seems that today, Rumi quotes are cited in the context of, “Verily, everything other than my girlfriend or boyfriend, including God, is a falsehood.”
The misuse of Sufi poetry is symptomatic of modern culture’s combination of materialism with self-spirituality. The theme that runs through the New Age movement is about experiencing the “Self” because it is the way to experience the “God” or “Goddess” within. As noted by Peter Pels in his 1998 article ”Religion, Consumerism and the Modernity of the New Age”, the New Age emphasis on self-spirituality is rooted in late 19th or early 20th century occultism.
It is a detraditionalised form of faith that internalises religiosity, turning an individual’s reliance to be on “inner voices”, and in turn rejecting any outside authority. The Self reigns supreme in place of anything external to it. It is therefore ironic that religious Sufi symbolism, which was used to express annihilation of the Self in the presence of the Divine, is now being used to express the elation of the Self in the presence of another’s.
By worshipping the Self, the New Age movement gave rise to a form of neo-paganism, which survives through appropriation and consumption of religious symbolism. Given the individual nature of the consumption process, ultimate meanings intended from religious symbols are exchanged for relative experiences of Self-worship, which ironically render the symbols ultimately meaningless.
Moreover, given the tandem development of the New Age movement in popular culture alongside popular religion, it can be expected that popular misuse of religious symbolism will have an impact upon the religious. As religious symbols are presented outside of contexts they were created to serve within, they begin to lose their significance for the religious in an insidious way that desacralises the Sacred and grants sanctity to the secular.
The misappropriation of Sufi poetry can be seen as resulting of unfamiliarity with how Sufis made their indications. For example, the intoxication of wine refers to the loss of one’s sense of rational self in the sea of Divine Love. The tavern is the experience of being overwhelmed from being surrounded by Divine Presence. Layla is an Arabic female name that linguistically refers to the darkest night of the month, and in Sufi poetry refers to the hidden realm that lies behind outward appearances of this world.
A Sufi line of poetry that talks about becoming intoxicated from a single sip of wine served in the tavern before Layla appearing naked, is not talking about getting drunk and losing one’s mind out of love for a woman before proceeding to fulfil lustful desires after her.
The abundant use of metaphors and various rhetorical devices in Sufi poetry has polarised Muslim theologians ever since they began. Some of their statements taken literally are in direct contradiction with basic foundational beliefs and practises in Islam. This polarisation was exacerbated with Sufi symbolism that would invariably lead to misinterpretations if one were not familiar with it.
Wine, tavern, and Layla are among the recurring symbols that in popular culture are understood at the literal level first before they are taken as metaphors. However, as many Sufi poets and saints have warned, their poetry begins at the metaphoric level to indicate literal meanings other than what first comes to mind, all of which revolve around the Divine. It is interesting to note that out of fear of misappropriating their symbols, various Sufi figures have warned against reading their works without the guidance of a teacher.
It is not uncommon to find within the Sufi tradition phrases like: “We are a people of metaphors, not of literalism,” and “Metaphors for us are what literalism is for others.” For this reason Al-Ghazali (c. 1056-1111 AD) said that no one has attempted to explain the essence of what Sufis talk about except that they fall into explicit error. He also said, “Know that the wonders of the heart are outside of sensory experience.”
Hence, if one seeks to gain a closer understanding about what Rumi and other Sufi poets were talking about, they must suspend their own material and worldly projections and put such poetry in its proper metaphysical context.
In a culture of materialism and illusory appearances, Rumi and other Sufi poets’ works are meant to serve as indications that there is something more than what we experience with our senses. Their poetry was not about escapism through intoxication or loss of self-awareness for the sake of another material being. Rather, their message was to serve as reminders about the Formless Being by which all forms come into existence.
When Rumi speaks about the love of lovers, he refers not only to the love they share between each other, but about the love they both share towards the Being that transcends their beings. In this, the lovers become united as they share a common desire to transcend beyond each other’s sense of Self and Self-worship. Unless this is appreciated, the depths of Rumi’s words will not be realised, as they should, and we risk the complete loss of their significance.
Posted: 23 Apr 2014 09:52 PM PDT
The 450th anniversary of the Bard's birthday on Wednesday will see an explosion of tributes and performances – how different to 50 years ago. Jonathan Bate explains how the playwright became a global icon
The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth was marked by a set of Royal Mail stamps, a gala performance by the recently established Royal Shakespeare Company, a new biography by A L Rowse and a rollicking Anthony Burgess novel about his love life. Fifty years on, this seems like a modest commemoration. It was the Beatles and Disney's Mary Poppins that were making the cultural running in 1964.
This week, by contrast, it is a racing certainty that every major news outlet in the world will have something to say about the Bard of Avon's 450th birthday, which falls on Wednesday. And this is only prologue to the wall-to-wall programme of celebrations, productions, exhibitions and documentaries being planned for 2016, the quatercentenary of his death. Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George's Day.
At the time of his death, he was a much admired dramatist. But Francis Beaumont, who passed away a few weeks before him, was equally admired, on the basis of far fewer plays. The centenary of Shakespeare's birth fell soon after the theatres reopened with the Restoration of the monarchy, following the period when the Puritans had closed them down for the duration of the Civil War. His plays formed a staple part of the repertoire, but those of Beaumont and John Fletcher were performed more frequently. Shakespeare only pulled ahead of the pack in the Georgian era. It was around his 200th anniversary, under the auspices of the great actor David Garrick, that he took on his status as National Poet and exemplar of artistic genius. He has never fallen out of fashion, but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric. In Britain and around the world you can see more Shakespeare than ever before. It may indeed be that his reputation has reached its high-water mark and can only recede.
At the time of the 400th anniversary, which fell in the interim between the closure of the Old Vic and the opening of the new National Theatre, there was only the RSC and regional rep. Now there is the Globe, a plethora of West End productions — Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Martin Freeman as Richard III hard on the heels of Jude Law as Henry V and David Tennant as Richard II — and an extraordinary wealth of smaller-scale Shakespeare by Propeller, Cheek by Jowl, The Tobacco Factory, Filter and dozens of other innovative touring companies. In North America, at least two dozen cities have a summer Shakespeare festival. Modern cinema has produced everything from a Samurai Macbeth to several Bollywood Romeo and Juliets.
The success of Kenneth Branagh's Henry V in 1989 heralded a revival of Shakespeare on screen following a period in the doldrums. But an even more important turning point was the triumph of Shakespeare in Love at both the box office and the Oscars. Tom Stoppard's brilliant screenplay drew such strong parallels between the Elizabethan theatre and modern Hollywood that the film contrived to turn Shakespeare into a celebrity. It made him our contemporary at precisely the moment when culture was taken over by a rage for the now, a cult of the new.
Our age of novelty and celebrity, of 24/7 entertainment news and ever-renewing digital information, leaves little time for the measured appreciation of Shakespeare's more demanding contemporaries such as Ben Jonson and John Donne, let alone the epic poetry of other classic authors such as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, who were once as admired as the man from Stratford. It is only Shakespeare whose language and characters have taken on a life of their own, enabling his work constantly to accommodate itself to the new. There is a quotation for every occasion, a character parallel for every figure in public life.
Shakespeare — along with Jane Austen — is becoming the token representative of a cultural past that is otherwise forgotten. The danger is that if we lose the ability to place him in the context of his age, we may cease to understand him. Students struggle with aspects of his language because they no longer share that knowledge of the Bible and classical antiquity which Shakespeare expected of his audiences. When Hamlet says that he is not like Hercules or when Shylock calls Portia "a Daniel come to judgment," most Elizabethans would have understood the allusion. Soon we will all need a footnote.
On the other hand, the passion for Shakespeare has become a way of opening up his world and keeping it alive. Over the past couple of years, I have had the good fortune of being consultant curator for the British Museum's 2012 Cultural Olympiad exhibition "Shakespeare Staging the World", of writing the script for Simon Callow's one-man show Being Shakespeare, and of presenting a global online course exploring the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. In each case, I've been amazed by the enthusiasm, the inquiring spirit and the knowledge of thousands of people, from teenagers to octogenarians.
How knowledgeable should we expect our schoolchildren to be about Shakespeare?
During the Government's recent overhaul of GCSEs, I was asked to join a consultative group advising on the English Literature syllabus. It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by anybody except Shakespeare. It cannot be in Shakespeare's interest for teenagers to associate him with compulsion, for his plays and his alone to have the dreaded status of set books.
That said, recent years have witnessed great progress in the way in which Shakespeare is taught. Back in 1964, the tendency was to parse the text on the page and pay little attention to the theatrical life of the plays. There was a degree of mutual suspicion between academic critics and theatre professionals.
All this has changed. Much of the best modern scholarship has focused on the practicalities of performance in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, while the history of Shakespeare on stage and screen has become a thriving sub-discipline in its own right. The education departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe are getting into schools and persuading teachers to get pupils on their feet, speaking the lines aloud and fitting the word to the action.
The crucial next step will be the adaptation of Shakespeare to the digitised classroom of the future. By the time the 500th anniversary is celebrated in 2064, textbooks will have been replaced by some version of the tablet computer. There are already exciting initiatives in the creation of Shakespeare apps for the iPad, most notably a project led by Sir Ian McKellen and the director Richard Loncraine, in which the plays can be simultaneously read and seen, with all sorts of contextual and explanatory information reachable at a click.
In a verse preface to the First Folio of the complete plays, his friend and rival Ben Jonson predicted that there would come a time when Shakespeare would be held in as high regard as the great writers of antiquity. "Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show," he wrote, "To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe." Shakespeare's Britain stood on the threshold of the modern world. Britain's Shakespeare was a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries, an era when the nation and thus the national poet moved on the world stage. There is, wrote Maurice Morgann, one of his 18th-century admirers, "nothing perishable about him … the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the plains of Sciota , shall resound with his accents … when even the memory of the language in which he has written shall be no more."
Now it is not just "all scenes of Europe" but almost all countries in the world that pay homage to William Shakespeare. His works are our most enduring cultural export.
Posted: 23 Apr 2014 07:51 PM PDT
Malaysia has yet to decide whether to publicly disclose an initial report submitted to international aviation authorities on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the country's director-general of civil aviation said on Wednesday.
The Southeast Asian country has filed the preliminary report as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told a news conference. He didn't specify when it was filed or offer any details of the contents.
"We have issued the preliminary report and we have sent it to ICAO,'' Mr. Azharuddin said. "We have not make any decision yet whether to release it to the media or public."
Such reports are usually disclosed, in the public interest, although that isn't required. Asked whether Malaysia would eventually disclose details of the investigation into the disappearance, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at the news conference that "with the public interest globally, I think there's no way that we can avoid making it public."
Reports to the ICAO, a U.N. body based in Montreal, are required from the country conducting an investigation within 30 days of an accident and would include the sequence of events and other technical aspects.
The Boeing 777-200 disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and the search is focused on a portion of the Indian Ocean based on analysis of satellite data and possible pings from the flight recorders. No confirmed wreckage has been found.
Posted: 23 Apr 2014 07:49 PM PDT
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is convinced he will go to jail for his sodomy conviction, probably for even longer than the five years he was given, as he said the judicial process is staked heavily against him.
The de facto PKR leader, who disclosed that foreign leaders like former US Vice-President Al Gore and Irish President Mary Robinson had advised him during his recent trip to London not to return to Malaysia and be jailed, said the refusal of the Federal Court registry yesterday to allow him an extension of time to file his petition of appeal against the conviction was just the latest legal hurdle he had to overcome.
The deadline for filing the petition is today (Thursday).
Decrying the refusal as an abuse of the judicial process, Anwar said it was another "clear testimony" that the courts were being used by Umno leaders to harass him.
"It is definitely harassment and an abuse of process," he said.
"I’m just waiting. I don’t know how much time I have.
"A month, two months before they send me to jail," said Anwar, who was in Kuching to speak at the Reformasi 2.0 rally last night.
Anwar also spoke on the harassment he said he had to deal with when his appeal was heard in the Court of Appeal.
He said the courts advanced the hearing of his appeal by a month to "fit in" the dates of the Kajang by-election.
Anwar was to have been Pakatan Rakyat’s candidate in the March 23 by-election in Selangor that was called after the incumbent, Lee Chin Cheh, unexpectedly resigned on January 27.
However, the Court of Appeal’s "swift" decision in overturning a High Court ruling and finding him guilty meant he was not eligible to contest.
His wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail replaced him as the PR candidate.
PKR legal bureau head Latheefa Koya yesterday said even with the deadline today, the Federal Court registry asked Anwar to file a formal application, which included a notice of motion, to ask for more time to file the grounds of appeal.
Karpal Singh, who was Anwar's lead counsel in the case, was to have filed the appeal.
Karpal was killed in a tragic road accident along with his personal aide last Thursday.
Latheefa described the court's refusal as highly inconsiderate and showing a lack of sympathy and understanding over the tragic death of Karpal.
Anwar, meanwhile, said the refusal meant his new lead counsel Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah did not have enough time "to go through the files and files of notes".
“It appears the Federal Court is bent on rushing the appeal and this can be seen in their failure to grant an extension of time,” Latheefa added.
Anwar’s latest brush with the court prompted him to warn that other key opposition leaders could suffer the same fate as he did.
He said with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak "manipulating the Attorney-General and judicial system", opposition leaders like Batu MP Tian Chua, Pandan MP and PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli, Seremban MP Anthony Loke and PAS deputy secretary-general Dr Syed Azman Ahmad Nawawi were "all on the list of people to be charged and jailed".
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