The Islamic New Year
راس السنة الهجرية
With Allah the months are twelve; four of them are holy; three of these are successive and one occurs singly” between the months of Jumaada and Sha’ban.” The Prophet Mohamed in his final sermon.
November 5, 2013 is a holiday all over Egypt and there are no classes at the academy. It’s the Islamic new year according to the Islamic calendar. It was interesting to know about its origins, as it is not really celebrated by partying as is usually done.
There are many stories in the Islamic faith and the beginning of the Islamic calendar is not an exception. It began with the Hijrah or migration of the prophet Mohamed PBUH from Mecca to Medina around 622 AD, and therefore it has been named the hijri calendar. This migration was an important turning point in Islamic history, as it is in Medina, then called Yathrib, that Muslims were able to establish the first real Muslim community with social, political and religious orders. The Prophet PBUH was so welcomed by the people of Madina that they went out to greet him with stalks of palm trees singing the beautiful song of Tala’ al badru Alina, (the moon has come to us), which is still sung until today. The Prophet PBUH has always remembered the graciousness and generosity of the Medina people and always spoke highly of their gentility, in contrast to the torture and difficulties Muslims faced in Mecca.
The calendar was first introduced by caliph Umar ibn el Khattab around 638 AD. It has 12 lunar months which are determined by the sightings of the crescent moon and counted with Arabic months.
Opening the TV on that day, there will be many religious songs playing and movies depicting the early history of Islam. It is not really a time for partying as much as it is a time of reflection on and remembrance of a faith that changed the fate of mankind.
“Establish the prayer and pay Zakat.” (Qur’an, 2:110)
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is an act of worship carried out by one’s wealth. It is the duty of every wealthy Muslim to give a percentage, at least 2.5%, of his possession to the needy persons, every year. Zakat purifies one’s wealth. It cleanses the society of greed and stinginess. Zakat also develops love, kindness, generosity and sacrifice, purifies the heart and protects from the Hellfire.
“Those who pay Zakat, their reward is with their Lord and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve.” (Qur’an, 2:277)
Sadaqat-ul-Fitr (Charity of the Fast Breaking)
Sadaqat-ul-Fitr is a compulsory charity given at the end of month Ramadan. Every Muslim who has wealth and property that exceeds his/her basic needs must give Sadaqat-ul-Fitr to the poor.
It should be given from dawn of the Eid (Holiday) to the beginning of the Eid prayer, but it can also be given before. If a person has dependants, such as wife or children, he is obliged to pay Sadaqat-ul-Fitr on their behalf as well.
The amount to be donated is 1460 g of wheat or 2920 g of barley, dry grapes, dates or equivalent value of money.
People who are entitled to receive Zakat are appropriate recipients of Sadaqat-ul-Fitr.
Sadaqat-ul-Fitr can be given to more than one needy person.
Sadaqat-ul-Fitr’s role is to serve as the atonement for behavior that may have reduced the reward for the fast during Ramadan. It purifies the fast while gives to poor Muslims the chance to celebrate Eid.
Prepared canned hummus is available worldwide, but the flavor is not like that of home-made hummus which is easy to prepare, especially using canned garbanzo beans. Another option is to soak dried garbanzo beans overnight and cook them the next day. Serve hummus with Arab flat bread, fresh vegetables or any kind of rustic bread.
INGREDIENTS – BEANS
½ cup water
1 can garbanzo beans (drained) – about 1 ¾ cups
Alternatively: 1 ¼ cups dried garbanzo beans
4 cups and 6 cups water, divided
½ teaspoon and ¼ teaspoon baking soda, divided
½ teaspoon salt
INGREDIENTS – HUMMUS
2 large cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini (mix well before using)
PREPARATION – BEANS
In a small saucepan place ½ cup water and the drained canned garbanzo over high heat, reserving a few beans for garnish. Bring to boil and cook uncovered for about 1 min., allowing half water to evaporate.
Alternatively: To prepare dried beans soak beans in 4 cups of water, add ½ teaspoon baking soda and leave it overnight at room temperature uncovered. The next day, drain beans, place them with ½ teaspoon of salt in a medium-sized sauce pan with 6 cups fresh water. Bring to boil over high heat. Skim the foam off the top, reduce the heat to medium-low and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Cover and let the beans simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes or until tender.
Place 1 ¾ of the drained beans plus ½ cup of the cooking liquid in a small saucepan and boil-off half the water to prepare the hummus
PREPARATION – HUMMUS
Pour the boiled garbanzo beans and the remaining cooking liquid into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the garlic and salt and process for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides. Add the lemon juice and tahini and process for 1 minute more.
Transfer the hummus to a container, cover with a paper towel and refrigerate. Cover with the lid once cooled. Serve at room temperature.
Place room-temperature hummus in the center of a flat serving dish. Use the back of a spoon to spread the hummus over the dish so there is an outer raised lip around the perimeter, with a central ‘canal’ around the raised mound in the center. Place a radish star on a raised mound surrounded by three garbanzo beans. Garnish with a few springs of parsley and sprinkle the center and around the perimeter with paprika. Pour extra-virgin olive oil in the central canal formed with the back of the spoon. Offer with warm flat Arab bread.
(The recipe is taken from the book “Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh and Healthy Mediterranean Favorites” by Kamal Al-Faqih)
Hummus is one of the most famous Middle Eastern and Mediterranean delights. It is healthy and nourishing, believed to keep illness away. Hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea which is known today as the garbanzo bean. Garbanzo is the Spanish translation of the word meaning chickpea.
Hummus is one of the oldest foods known, dating back to Egypt over 7,000 years ago. We know that throughout history, chickpeas have been a staple of the Egyptian diet. It is thought that chickpeas have been around since prehistoric times. Chickpeas were growing in the hanging gardens of Babylon. As long ago as about 400 B.C., both Socrates and Plato were writing about the benefits of hummus in their diets. By 1200 A.D. many countries in the Mediterranean basin list Hummus as one of their staple foods. Also, hummus is one of the most widely eaten and the most popular foods of the Middle East. It is also popular food in Greek and Syrian cultures, as well as Lebanon and Holy Land of Palestine, but it is known and eaten in every Arab country, from Morocco in the West to Oman in the East.
The ingredients are pretty much standard, but the distinctive flavors are the ones that change. Because Hummus is legume, it is a healthy alternative dish and it can be very filling.
It is believed that the chickpea is native to the area around Persia and the Caucasus Mountains. Legends say that hummus was first made in the 12th century by the Sultan of Egypt, Saladin.
The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahina are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century.
Between nutty-tasting tahini and the buttery texture of the garbanzo beans, the dish is not only flavorful, but a very good source of vitamins and minerals.
Bread stands out as the most important component of the Egyptian diet. Vendors, flat wicker baskets with aish and perched precariously on their heads, find their way through the crowded streets of Cairo to their selling spot. Aish is the flat brad of Egypt made with a combination of plain and whole-meal flour with sufficient leavening to form a pocket and a soft crust. Its basic character has stayed unchanged by the passage of millenniums, and survived as the constant reminder of the achievements of Ancient Egyptian culture and civilization.
The Ancient Egyptians developed a strain of wheat which could be threshed without the preliminary heating, taking a giant step towards the improvement of bread. They also found the means to leaven bread made from this wheat. Centuries passed before other civilizations were introduced to leavened bread.
The Ancient Egyptians who, according to Herodotus did everything in a different fashion from ordinary mortals made an enormous contribution to civilization by using the grains in different way: they set aside the dough until it decayed and observed with pleasure the process of fermentation.
This new product could not be baked in the fire coals so the Egyptians invented the oven. The oven had a cylindrical structure of bricks made of Nile clay, the top narrowing to a cone, the flat partition divided interior and the lower part had a firebox opening while the upper section had a larger opening for the breads and drawing of gasses.
The great library of Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was founded by the Ptolemy dynasty around 290 BC, in a palace district known as the Brucheion. The library was opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC). It functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. Alexandria was the largest city in the western world at the time, the home of the papyrus industry and the center of the book trade
We don’t know the actual size and content of the library at Alexandria. Some estimate 600,000 scrolls, although that’s probably an overstatement. The daughter library is thought to have contained about 40,000 scrolls. Demetrius Phalereus is said to have reported that the number of papyrus rolls was 200,000, but that he hoped to increase it soon to 500,000.
The library of Alexandria was a part of the Museum of Alexandria, which functioned as a sort of research institute. In addition to the library, the Museum included rooms for the study of astronomy, anatomy, and even a zoo of exotic animals. The classical thinkers who studied, wrote, and experimented at the museum include the fathers of mathematics, engineering, physiology, geography, and medicine.
The library consisted of a group of buildings, including lecture halls, study rooms, dining rooms, gardens, and an astronomical observatory. The buildings were connected by a series of covered walkways, with statues, plantings, and pools, so that scholars could study in the shade.
During the 1980s, Egypt and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization resolved to build the Bibliotheca Alexandrina with the same universal goals as the ancient one: a focal point for research, the advancement of knowledge and the open exchange of ideas.
The ancient library dominated the ancient world of learning from approximately the third century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. The new one sits on the Eastern Harbor on or near the site of the original.
The building, in the shape of a massive disc inclined toward the Mediterranean, evokes the image of the Egyptian sun illuminating the world.
Molokhia’s texture makes it unique. It gets very slimy after cooking which makes molokhia an ideal soup. Molokhia was found in India and Philippines but it has been a staple of Egyptian diets as far back as the Pharaohs. Molokhia is also eaten in Libya, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon, but it is not as popular as in Egypt where it is eaten at the most important occasions and very often as family meal.
Nutritionally, it has three times the calcium and phosphorus as kale and four times the amount of riboflavin. It also provides 70% of the Recommended Daily Amount value of vitamin C and 25% of vitamin A.
One of Egypt rulers from the Fatimid dynasty, Calipf Al-Hakim Abu Ali Mansour who ruled Egypt from 985 to 1021 BC, banned the consumption of molokhia because he believed that it worked as a sexual stimulant in women. After his reign the ban was lifted and households continued to uphold the traditional meal, regardless of religion, across the country.
(Yield: 6-8 servings)
1 ¼ lb beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 ½ TB canola oil, divided
4 ½ c warm water
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 bay leaf
2 (400 g) bags frozen minced Molokhia
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Rice (for serving)
Fresh lemon (for serving)
In a 5-quart pot with a lid, heat 1 ½ TB of oil on high; sear the beef on all sides, then add the water, bouillon, and bay. Cover the pot, bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for 60-90 minutes (stirring occasionally). Turn the beef broth back up to a boil and add the Molokhia, then turn it down to a simmer. If you added frozen Molokhia, cook for 10-15; if you added thawed or partially thawed Molokhia, cook for 7 minutes. When it’s done it should have the consistency of a thick soup, and it should still be a pretty bright green.
In a small saucepan, add 1 TB of oil and heat it on medium-low; add the garlic and sauté for 45-60 seconds (stirring continuously). Add the garlic to the Molokhia, along with the salt and pepper. Taste the Molokhia and adjust it for seasonings.
Serve the Molokhia alongside rice (the Molokhia is usually spooned onto the rice and eaten that way), with fresh lemon juice squeezed on top.
Islam considers good food and drink to be blessings from God, manifestations of His power and mercy towards humankind. “O, you who believe! Eat from the good things we have provided for you and be grateful to God if you worship Him.” (Qur’an 2;173) Fruits, water or milk are the proof of the perfection of God’s creation. Believers are exhorted to enjoy the gifts from God during the lifetime. After the death and resurrection, blessed believers will enter paradise described as the wonderful garden where they will enjoy blessed food and drink.
Fundamental religious aspect of the Arab culinary culture is tradition of hospitality. A guest is sacrosanct, even if he or she belongs to the hostile tribe.
One of the most important religious aspects of Muslim culinary culture is the obligation to fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
First verses of the Qur’an (holy book of Islam) were revealed in the month of Ramadan. They were sent down on the ‘Night of Destiny’
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Islamic calendar is lunar, so Muslim year is 11 days shorter than the solar one. That is why we find the month of Ramadan to be floating through the solar year.
During Ramadan adult Muslims of both sexes are obliged to abstain from food, drinks and smoking during the daytime.
Muslims use this month to focus their minds on God.
Ramadan is the time for worshiping God, reading the Holy Qur’an, acts of charity, and overall soul purification. According to Islam, the rewards for fasting are numerous, but in this month they are multiplied.
The Ramadan ends with a two-day feast known as Feast of Breaking the Fast. For this occasion whole family get new clothes. It is custom in Arab world that sheep is slaughtered and eaten together with one’s extended family.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900) AND STENDHAL (1783-1842) – THEIR PERCEPTION OF ARAB-ANDALUSIAN CULTURE
Friedrich Nietzsche is known as a writer and an artist amongst philosophers not only due to his love and understanding of literature but also due to his unique ‘sacral’ stile. In his philosophical study entitled “Antichrist” he writes about Arab Andalusian culture as being the last and lost chance for maintaining vitality of the Western European culture and civilization: “Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life!… The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have groveled in the dust—a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very “senile.”—What they wanted, of course, was booty: the orient was rich…. Let us put aside our prejudices! The crusades were a higher form of piracy, nothing more!”
Unlike all other Western European writers and philosophers (Goethe is mainly the only exception) Nietzsche was introduced to the wonderful achievements of Arab Andalusia. Also he had profound understanding of shortcomings of Western European culture and civilization. His understanding was so profound that he realized greatest problems inside of Judeo-Christian perception of life that is mostly built on negation of human nature. Surely, Nietzsche’s writings represent milestone in Western European thinking. In this sense, role of his understanding of Arab Andalusian culture is extremely important and should be subject to scientific research.
Stendhal, one of the most known classical French writers, writes in his essay “On Love“: “The Moors, when they abandoned Andalusia, left in their architecture and much of their manners. Since it is impossible for me to speak of the latter in the language of Madame de Sevigné, I’ll at least say that this Moorish architecture: – its principal trait consists in providing every house with a little garden surrounded by an elegant and graceful portico. There, during the unbearable heat of summer, when for whole weeks together the Réaumur thermometer never falls below a constant level of thirty degrees, a delicious obscurity pervades these porticoes. In the middle of the little garden there is always a fountain, monotonous and voluptuous, whose sound is all that stirs this charming retreat. The marble basin is surrounded by a dozen orange-trees and laurels. A thick canvas, like a tent, covers in the whole little garden, and, while it protects it from the rays of the sun and from the light, lets in the gentle breezes which, at midday, come down from the mountains.”
It is obvious that Stendhal find Moorish culture beautiful, nice and feminine per definition. We could say that this is a standard understanding of “Moorish” or Arab Andalusian culture among Western European intellectuals of this time who observe whole Arab culture to be the mysterious one, difficult and unexplainable but interesting and exciting. This kind of understanding also assume existence of Western European egoistic and clear, masculine and powerful culture in the opposition to the Arab-Eastern, oriental and feminine culture. In his essay “On Love” Stendhal discusses issues of beauty and love between man and woman and so, in this context, Arab-Andalusian or “Moorish” culture is abundant to the greatest extent. It wears nostalgic memories of illustrious past while being at same time completely beaten by Western European power.
Having in mind all this, we can still see the potential for future different perception of Arab Andalusian culture and civilization which understood this culture and civilization to be a kind of “Paradise Lost”. This perception will come from the writer with strong Islamic background but who were very influenced by Western European values, namely Pakistani writer Tariq Ali whose work will be discussed latter, in our blog posts.
“DON QUIXOTE” BY MIGUEL DE CERVANTES (1547-1616), “DIVINE COMEDY” BY DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321) AND “EITHER/OR” BY SØREN KIERKEGAARD (1813-1855) AS THEY PERCEIVE ARAB-ANDALUSIAN CULTURE
There are plenty of literary works that have been strongly influenced by Andalusian culture and which can thank their glory mostly to this culture’s achievements. In this blog post we will talk about two major ones: Dante’s Divine Comedy and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But also, just to make a kind of creative comparison of these two conceptions to the one written by Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, and expressed in his book entitled Either/Or, we will introduce this work as well. It is necessary here to add that as we understand the literature influenced by European culture in widest way as any literature other than the Arab literature, we also understand expression literature in its wide sense embracing some philosophical works as well, primarily that philosophical works which use in their expression the ‘materials’ that are, by their nature, literary materials. More precisely, this very philosophical work does not deal with life itself as the basis of the thinking, but instead this philosophy is based upon literature and literary characters.
The common distinction of all these works, when it comes to the Andalusian culture influence, is that they don’t mention that influence at all, regardless of the strength and importance of such an influence, or they mention it but in very rude, even racist way, as it is the case with Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
We must point out here that by the time of Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Dante’s Divine Comedy creation, Andalusia was still alive in Europe especially in Dante’s times when Islam was physically still existing at Iberian Peninsula. This means that even if these authors practicing their best in order to disclaim Arab-Andalusian culture, they are aware of the fact that this disclamation must be carried out by their active will, not by nature of the Arab-Andalusian culture itself. Moreover, these two authors, namely Cervantes and Dante, must make a vast effort to absorb all wonderful achievements of that culture but at the same to disclaim that process as not existing one. Practically, this means that until today there is almost no literary critic who belongs to the Western cultural circle who would simply admit the fact that Dante’s eschatological vision expressed in his Divine Comedy, in its major features, if not even to details, was not result of his creativity but rather it was taken from Islamic eschatology as expressed by Holy Qur’an and other classical and post-classical Islamic sources. We come to this result by researching of what was actually happening in Southern Europe, or more precisely in Spain and Italy, during existence of Islam and immediately after Islam was expelled from there. As the matter of fact the eschatology as complete understanding of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise did not exist in the Christian theology before Dante. On the other hand, we know that Dante belongs to Renaissance in Europe (same as Miguel de Cervantes) and we also know that main and mostly the only source of European Renaissance was the Arab-Andalusian culture and the Antic sources transmitted by Andalusian culture. Having in mind that Islamic eschatological vision has been strongly present from the very beginning of Islam and that it was very clearly and in details expressed by Qur’an itself and the hadith of Prophet Muhammed; having in mind also another fact that Dante Alighieri’s eschatology expressed in his work Divine Comedy is very simmilar to the Islamic eschatology, then it is impossible not to dispute the authenticity of this, one of the most important literary works that belongs to the European classics.
Cervantes, on the other hand, had much more difficult project to accomplish: he had to deride Arab-Andalusian culture and its influences in Spain but at the same time avoiding to the greatest extent to even mention that culture and avoiding to admit also that the Arab-Andalusian culture ever made anything good at the land of Castile (Spain). Cervantes’ success was fabulous as whole Western-influenced world has been considering Cervantes’ Don Quixote to be a wonderful literary accomplishment. We agree with this, as the literary value of Don Quixote stayed indisputable, but this fact emphasizes vast lack in the research of Don Quixote in comparison to the Arab-Andalusian culture in the way that was previously explained.
Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophical work Either/Or, as it belongs to 19th century after Christ and as it belongs to the Northern European culture does not remember Arab Andalusia, so this work has very different approach to the issue. Søren Kierkegaard certainly knew that Arab-Andalusian culture existed, but due to permanent avoiding the confirmation of this culture’s achievements and its great influence that it made to the European culture and its greatest cultural masterworks, Kierkegaard did not understand that the poetic potential of Don Juan or Dona Elvira character was directly inherited from the Arab-Andalusian culture. This makes Søren Kierkegaard free to openly admire to these characters and their poetical ‘purity’. We shall meet this admiration again in the Northern European literatures and philosophies and we can thank this phenomenon of admiration to the fact that most of authors who belong to these literatures and philosophies ‘lost’ of more precisely forgot the ‘link’ or connection or very special relationship that light-motifs of far Southern European cultures (namely Italian, Spanish and even that of Southern France) have with Arab Andalusia. In this sense, the critical and outstanding is the role of Friedrich Nietzsche and his understanding of this phenomenology but this will be discussed in the next blog post.