Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Light your lanterns

A spectacular array of lights welcomes  the blessed month of Ramadan. Across the public streets and squares, dangling from windows and rooftops, adorning shops and hotels, colourful lights are hung against the walls, shining and flickering like a million Christmas trees. Beautiful tinted lanterns of every size, shape and hue add to the sparkle and glitter of the city during those unique Ramadan nights… long, long nights!

While themes of charity, worship and soul-cleansing abound, Muslims take pleasure in the many splendours of this holy month… its flavours and aromas, its sights and sounds, its joy and purity, and its decorative lanterns of light.

The origin of the lantern is rather vague, though early man was always searching for more light, charmed by its blaze and warmth in the still of night. Primitive man used sea-shells or hollowed-out stones and burned whale or animal fat as fuel. Later oil- lanterns were used to announce or spread news on the battlefield, state houses or throughout city streets.

Lanterns therefore are not only purveyors of light but also a symbol of enlightenment!

The Ramadan ‘fanous’, or its facsimile was used in ancient Egypt each month to welcome the new moon. Children would sing and dance happily as they carried their lanterns around town. Lanterns are also prevalent in ancient Chinese culture and their gossamer-thin paper textures are still used for decoration and atmosphere.

One thing is certain lanterns have been a cherished tradition in the city of Cairo, especially during Ramadan. But an ill wind has blown our way. It has dimmed many lanterns that once brimmed with their glowing light and colour. Now they look drab and gloomy and the twinkle of their lives has died. Without the light of heart, mind and soul, we are no more than wandering beasts in an endless desert.

Religion of gilded domes and graceful minarets, of supreme architecture, science and philosophy, Islam has found new interpreters to its meaning and purpose. As we view Islamic history we find that women had a far distinguished place than they do now. Islamic scholars agree that ‘the veil’ is a choice and not a ‘fard’ or requirement in the holy Koran, but the status of women is eroding, adversely affected by waves of religiosity, bigotry and chauvinism.

No veil, no niqab, no burqa, no chador! None is required by the Islamic religion, but certain clever clerics, male of course, have found a way to force them on women. Now women are increasingly challenging the tradition of ‘veiling’, tired of fulfilling fanatics’ unreasonable wishes. Tradition plays a great part in religion, in law, in life, but while we may pay reverence to tradition we must adhere to reason. We must never blow out the light.

It was almost a century ago that a young Egyptian woman, Hoda Shaarawi, passionate and determined, challenged the status of women as full citizens. On her return from a meeting of the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome, Shaarawi made history. She removed the veil. The year was 1920!  Why are most women veiled today?

Why has the modern, enlightened, civilised, Egyptian, Muslim community, abandoned its principles to keep up with a moderate form of Islam? Land of the oldest University in the world, “Al Azhar” has always kept step with the pace of progress and avoided fanaticism and zealotry. Why is it allowing women to be dragged back to doubtful traditions, irrationality, superstition and tyranny? The answer is the spread of Wahhabism!

Wahhabism has extinguished the light from our world.

It all started in the 18th century! While Europe was celebrating ‘the Age of Enlightenment’ an ‘Age of Darkness’ was starting to dim the world of Islam.

The European intellectual movement advocated an authoritative system of ethics, aesthetics and knowledge, which presented a framework for the French, American, Russian revolutions as well as the Latin Independence movement. Forces of imagination such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and American Francophiles like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson spread across the West. While Europe flourished, the lights were slowly going out in the once buoyant, blooming Islamic society.

In Najd, Saudi Arabia, theologian Mohamed Ibn Abdel-Wahab, (1703- 1792), advocated a return to extremist teachings of early jurist, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, and mediaeval cleric Ibn Taymeya. Although he was vehemently opposed by his father and brother, the Wahhabi movement spread like wildfire across  Islamic societies, who meekly adopted his teachings, although the primary religious principles behind this movement, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere. Blindly, some Muslims fell into a deep, dark labyrinth of lethal infirmities and malignancies. Will those misguided extremists ever climb out of their dark infected well, cleanse heart and soul and allow their minds to see the light?

In 2012, 8500 terrorist attacks killed 15,000 people. They continue on their bloody path even during this holy month. Six of the most deadly terror groups are directly affiliated with Wahhabism, including Al- Qaeda.

The European Parliament has identified the Wahhabi movement as the source of global terrorism and a threat to traditional, moderate Muslim cultures, worldwide.

Time however, cannot steal substance and truth. The unconscionably long and horrific Wahhabi age is only transitional. Though our patience is exhausted, our journey of enlightenment is not over. Whatever harm the Wahhabi movement caused, it has left untarnished the purity and essence of this great religion.

Our lanterns are still flickering!

Light always overcomes darkness!

“Zeal without knowledge is fire without light.”  

Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)

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