Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shakespeare Extravaganza

It really has been more than a year since I wrote here. Kinda makes me think of how time flies and that life is transient and all that jazz. Either that or I am lazy as hell. It’s probably the latter.

Anyway, seeing that my writing has been significantly reduced to an annual one-off thing, I’d better make this post slightly above average, even though that would be a hard goal to score after not writing for so long. Man, what a vicious cycle.

So here goes the "Shakespeare Extravaganza" that I have been planning for days. I realize that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am feeling very self indulgent right now, so bear with me. Since plays are meant to be performed and not just read, I have also included links to YouTube videos of selected scenes at the end of every entry, for your reference. Let’s start now, shall we?

1. Macbeth

I know of many people who are conflicted about Macbeth. On the one hand, it is possibly the greatest tragedy Shakespeare ever wrote, arguably of course; and on the other hand, most everyone who took the SPM would look back to that time and associate that with the confusion of “Life’s Brief Candle”, a famous soliloquy from the play. The trauma of having gone through that usually puts people off Macbeth, which is a shame because in terms of length, the play is considerably shorter compared to the other tragedies (King Lear creeps to mind) and the storyline much simpler.

The play starts with the audience being informed of Macbeth’s valiant acts in a recently concluded war with a rebel, the Thane of Cawdor. We are told of his awesome feats in battle by another soldier, for the attention of King Duncan, who immediately plans to make Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor, replacing the rebel. Before Macbeth even hears a word of this plan to honour him, he comes across the three weird sisters (or witches, if you will) prophesying Macbeth’s rise to the Thaneship of Cawdor and later….. to the Kingdom of Scotland. Mind you, Macbeth is not Duncan’s son as you probably can tell anyway, so the only way Macbeth can ever be the next king is if Duncan and his heirs to the throne die first.

Now, there seems to be the suggestion that Macbeth might be able to ignore the weird prophesy, but the possibility is dashed by a message sent by King Duncan’s envoy, informing Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor. Man being what he is, Macbeth grows impatient and begins to eye the throne, even considering foul play to speed up the process. It does not help matter that his wife is this insanely ambitious bitch with a heart of stone to go with it. But just how a far can a man go for ambitions? In a heated exchange with his wife, who accuses him of being lily-hearted in his pursuit of power, Macbeth retorts the following:

“I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more, is none”

This is a play that touches the psychological consequences of immoral acts. More than any other plays, Shakespeare devotes a great amount of time in showing Macbeth’s internal miseries. How can he not, when in his greed, Macbeth is driven to regicide and still later, to murders of innocent children? One cannot commit all those offences and expect to get away with it. We see how Macbeth subtly suffers from insomnia because he is too afraid to sleep, having killed Duncan while the latter was asleep. And we see how he becomes increasingly reliant of evil (the three sisters) in his efforts to stay in power. It’s an avalanche of evil deeds, one that results in destruction to the victims as well as the perpetrators.

Give this play a try. It’s packed with a lot of action and makes you think twice before doing something immoral to get where you want to be. And, for those of you who are fans of the "tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow" soliloquy, here are two famous renditions for comparison; one by Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and the other by Ian McKellen (Magneto/Gandalf):

2. Much Ado About Nothing

I am not really a fan of Shakespeare’s comedies, but a few stand out in my eyes, one of them being the light and sweet Much Ado About Nothing. The premise is nothing original; we see two couples who are brought together in a merry little town of Messina; one through cupid, and the other through their friends’ mischief. It's a story as old as love itself, which actually adds to the charm of the play.

The play opens with the announcement that Don Pedro ( who just won a war) is visiting his old friend, Signior Leonato, the governor of said Messina. Don Pedro brings along Don John, his illegitimate brother; Claudio, a young Count; and Benedick, a confirmed bachelor. Leonato’s daughter, Hero, will be paired with Claudio, in what is suggested to be love at first sight. Whereas Benedick, the self-proclaimed bachelor for life, seems to be a convenient match for Leonato’s niece, the seemingly misandristic woman who is sworn against men. But are they as ill-suited as they seem? Hmmm…

Obviously the answer is “No”, for therein lies the comedy of the play. It strikes one as being too simple a premise for comedy, and I would be the first to agree with that claim. But it is not a stretch, I think, to say that the best comedies -in good hands- are usually the simplest. I cannot remember how much I laugh throughout  the film version of this play, directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh in 1993. The verbal sparrings between Benedick and Beatrice (as you can see in the video above) are cruel, sweet and funny all at the same time, and before long, you just cannot wait to see them fall in love with each other, thanks to their conspiring friends who matchmake people for fun (because, hey, that’s what soldiers who return from war do every day!).

Shakespeare being Shakespeare, there is also the dark side of Much Ado that threatens to shatter the bliss enjoyed by the ‘good’ characters. Don John, whose mission in life appears to be to vex his brother, does all that he can to stop Claudio’s marriage to Hero. And it all unravels at the expense of everyone involved. One cannot help but to be reminded of how fleeting happiness is. Once in a while, when you are not careful, misery comes knocking and one just needs to cope with that.

To me, the highlight of the play is when Benedick, after an elaborate trick, finds himself in love with Beatrice and seeks to justify this sudden turn from the bachelor life he swore himself to. It’s a great piece of comedy and Branagh aced it, in this video:

All in all, to every bad in life, there’s good to accompany it, and it usually makes all the difference =)

3. Othello

Let me first admit that the first time I watch the film version of Othello, I saw Sir Lawrence Olivier in thick make-up pretending to be the black eponymous Moor. I was really put-off by that, added to the fact that I have always found Sir Lawrence’s acting a bit too hammy to my liking. It’s a different age, I suppose, but it left a bitter taste to my experience of Othello.

So when I heard that there was another film version out there, one that stars a black man in the role of Othello and the ever wonderful Branagh as the villain, I didn’t think twice before watching it on YouTube. I can safely say that it was one the best decisions in my life. (I am inclined towards the melodramatic, so bear with me) For the first time, I began to see how difficult it must be for a black man to survive a white man’s world, which is essential to a play like Othello.

At the opening of the play, we are told that Iago the villain has been passed over for promotion in favour of another soldier under Othello’s command, the straight Cassio. In an act of revenge, Iago plans to sully Othello’s name by blowing the cover of Othello’s secret marriage to Desdemona, while at the same time pretending to be Othello’s loyal friend. Italy at the time was still rife with racism, and Desdemona’s father took the news badly even though he was once fond of Othello. He even warned Othello to be careful of Desdemona:

“Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see/She has deceiv’d her father, and may thee.”

Iago, seeing his chance, exploited the warning to further fill the seed of doubt in Othello’s mind. Desdemona is, by all accounts, a virtuous woman, so it takes a masterful villain to change the way Othello sees his wife and loses sleep over her fidelity (or the alleged lack thereof). It is in this respect that Shakespeare proves a crafty artist in his creation of Iago. As a villain, he was numerously called by others as “honest Iago”, and is universally liked by all other characters in the play, something that you cannot say for Shakespeare's other villains. Iago is also honest in his duplicity as he declares: “I am not what I am.” The way Iago plays all other characters is fascinating to watch, even though we know just how much misery it causes Othello and the ones around him in the end.

Here is a video of how Iago starts make Othello suspicious of Desdemona. Nice scene.

Never has the subject of jealousy been tackled so plainly as Othello does. One sees how suspicion, when inflamed just right, gives birth to an irrational condemnation of the thing that we hold most dear. I guess fear of losing something is one of the ingredients required to actually lose it. Here is an exchange between Othello and Iago. Powerful performance all around:

And here is the full movie, courtesy of the uploader and YouTube. Don't mind the subtitle. Enjoy =)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

I have been introduced to the whole concept of The Story Of Stuff while I was a degree student. We were sitting in a class of Environment Management (one of my favorite classes during my undergrad years-highly recommended) and our dear lecturer showed us one of the videos. It changed (almost) the whole concept of sustainability that we have understood before, and I am always amazed by the ideas presented by Annie Leonard and the whole team.

Then, a month ago a friend lend me the book. The 'story' is pretty much the same, only with wider and expanded explanation, in my honest opinion.Early pages of the book might have made you think on the power of purchasing. To make it simpler, for example, some people always on the go with cheaper items with short lifespan, with the idea that all these things- when is no longer useful, can be recycled. Why don't we spend more for something that has higher quality and last longer? Isn't it a better idea to reduce, reduce and reduce, rather than purchasing low-quality stuff with the hope that it will (or might) be properly recycled? How about preventing new waste being made while producing new items?
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"

This book might have revealed a lot of bad ideas and habits that we have been practicing daily each day, but it won't be too late to change. After finishing the book, you might  think deeper while make choices during purchasing. Somehow, you couldn't help to wonder how each item purchase not only affect you, the environment, the economy, but to the whole community's health too. Trust me, you don't need to put your green-hipster-cap on to save the environment, because every little deed goes a long way.

Holistic and  brilliant, and if you want a head start- click here to view its website -

Friday, August 3, 2012

In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan.

Every once in a blue moon, you will see a happy kid wandering, back and forth, left and right in Kinokuniya. I have to admit, getting a book, especially by Prof Tariq Ramadan is quite a rare chance, from where I came from (Now, now. Where I come from is a question, too for myself, sometimes. Penang? Ipoh? Terengganu?) So you could say I was a happy kid (am, in fact, until today) to pick up one of his books and paid. So sad it took me a year to finish this book, all thanks to procrastination, new books, errands, and so on. Anyhow, back to the core business.

A refreshing reminder from Tariq Ramadan, the biography is timely prescribed and beautifully arranged that it  drove me to flip from page to page.  The book does not only revolve around the Prophet himself, also the sacrifice made by the Companions, and Muslims from the earliest years. How they confronted with pressures and discrepancies from all sorts in expanding the beauty of Islam is something that we all need to learn from. Perseverance and patience are really circumscribed in the book, that it put me to shame (really) knowing that I am not that strong compared to what they have done and faced.   

Knowing that the Prophet (pbuh) we love is a loving man himself,  the last chapter is certainly one of my favorites (ahem). Quoted Ramadan,

" Divine love was free from human dependence.  He submitted, and he was free. He submitted in the peace of the divine, and he was free from the illusions of human." 

reminded of the word 'ikhlas' or sincerity. It's something that is exclusive and lavish, but not impossible to be achieved. Be aware that ikhlas might be a trait that encourages us to do something, but often an excuse of not doing something, well. 

May all of us are protected, and blessed by the Almighty, insyaAllah.  
Recommended :) 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Killing the Cranes by Edward Girardet

For the last few weeks, I've been stocking up books to read for post-finals leisure, one of them a gem of a non-fiction that I spent quite a fortune on. It was worth every penny. Killing the Cranes is Edward Girardet's account of Afghanistan that covers almost three decades of unending war against various enemies. What makes this book unique is that it is not strictly a history book. It is a journalistic work, with the kind of language that you'd expect from an adventure article in the National Geographic, making the read all the more enjoyable.

The book opens with Girardet's scheduled meeting with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan Mujahideen commander who led a largely effective resistance against the Soviets back in the 80s. In 2001, he was still at war, but this time leading his small army of Afghan youths to stall the onslaught of the Talibans in the Panjshir Valley. The meeting never took place, for Massoud was killed in a suicide attack two days before 9/11. It is such a powerful intro to the book.

Then Girardet goes on to tell the reader what first pulled him to the enigmatic land of Afghanistan, where the people are both hospitable and proud, and foreigners are treated like families if they come in peace. As a fresh graduate in the 70s, he had wanted to report on any Asian country embroiled in conflict, and Afghanistan, with the communist coup d'etat in 1978, looked promising. Armed with a bagpack, sturdy hiking boots and some notebooks, he began a journey that would span almost half of his life. Little did he know then that he was going to join and mingle with a people that would bring communism to its knees.

 In today's world of fast-paced news reporting and conflict coverage, it is fascinating to see glimpses of old-school journalism at work. Girardet adopted the Afghans' lifestyle in his lengthy research for news materials, learned their way of life and even hiked the mountains along with the Mujahideen in their struggle against communism. The book is filled with anecdotal insights into some of the most famous figures in the world now. A particularly memorable one tells of Girardet's accidental meeting with a young Osama bin Laden, with whom Girardet shared the title of 'guests' of Afghanistan.

What I find most appealing about the book is how it captures the romanticism of Afghanistan that is often overlooked amidst stories of war and terrorism, and Girardet does it so well that I found it easy to understand how a European could not seem to leave the war-torn nation for very long. He always came back to the warmth of the soft-spoken men of the valley and the adventure that an unstable country is willing to give. Of course, the cost of war is adequately potrayed, and there are times when reading about the deaths of good people (like the young Afghans, and the charity volunteers) makes me want to put the book down but such times are rare. It's not the main point of the book. What it is, is a personal story of a reporter who fell in love with a nation and seeks to share with the world what Afghanistan has to offer, as seen through his eyes. The even pace of the narration serves that purpose very well, making me feel like I was accompanying the author in his quest to report the beauty and the ugly of the country.

 A nice little story serves as a background to the title of the book, and its metaphorical beauty fills me with a deep sense of melancholy: Girardet was sitting and talking with an Afghan poet and a close friend, Massoud Khalili in 2004, when the latter suddenly paused  and looked at the sky. Khalili commented that he had not seen the crane birds fly as they used to during migration season. In fact he had not spotted a crane since the height of the Soviet-Afghan war. He mused, "Have we even killed the cranes?"

I highly recommend this book to those who seek to understand a little bit better about Afghanistan and the events leading up to the war against global terrorism. It is not a truly academic account of the nation's history but I can promise you that it will teach you more about humanity than a history book ever can.

Visit Girardet's official website to find out more about the books and to read excerpts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ethics of Muhammad (pbuh)

This is not a book review, but I thought some people might find it helpful, so here it is.

I have just come back from a public lecture given by Tim Winter in Gonville and Caius College, a lecture on Islamic ethics as personified by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I went with a non-Muslim friend and as much as I was moved by the lecture, she was visibly more moved. It is her particular reaction to the lecture that made me decide to write a review on it.

Winter started by illuminating on the personality of the Prophet. According to Muslim chronicles, it took 23 years for Muhammad (pbuh) to bring about a nearly complete transformation of the Arab peninsular, from a pagan society of feuding tribes to an ordered monotheist community governed by a single law. This man was no theorist, he did not commit to writing a set of principles or a dogma that his followers can cling to; in fact he could not read nor write. At a time when the Quran was more a verbal guidance than a codified source of law that it is now, people were more attracted by what they witnessed rather than everything else. The Prophet's personality or mannerism (خلق) is very likely to have accounted for the success of the societal transformation of Arabia during that time.

The Prophet claimed that he was sent by God to perfect the human character*.  It is in the perfection of human character that the universal ethics in Islam lie. Winter calls this set of ethics universal because despite liberal democratic values, there are things that people still find to be intrinsically wrong. Winter gave the example of modesty, one of the underpinning value in the Prophet's life. It was reported that the Prophet was more shy than a virgin in a tent (I take that to mean very shy indeed!). The west might be more willing to accept certain immodest behaviours but the notion of modesty itself is not alien to westerners. Even now, public nudity is still illegal in most European countries. The same goes to other Islamic ethics that non-Muslims are able to relate to; perhaps not in the same magnitude as Muslims, but the avenue for understanding is there.

Of course, we as Muslims have a duty to facilitate this understanding, even when at times we are forced to resort to utilitarian explanation of Islam. For example, a non-Muslim who asks about the headscarf may be given the rather secular answer (the society will benefit more if women wear modest attires, etc) and not the real answer, which is that Muslims simply submit to God's order to cover their aurah (عورة). This duty to help understanding lies behind the core duty of spreading the word of God, but it does not do to dismiss the real reason for most of Muslim's behaviours: submission to God's will, the underlying principle within each Muslim's life.

One need not go further to find the essence of Islamic ethics than to be familiar with God's attributes. Winter alludes to the idea of moral excellence by adorning ourselves with divine qualities. The 99 names of Allah help us to identify the characteristics of the perfect being. This does not mean that we are prescribed a duty to be the perfect being. It is in the process of striving to be morally excellent by means of emulating the divine attributes that Islamic ethics can truly be meaningful. And then, there is of course, the example of the Prophet himself, whose character, according to his wife Aishah, is the Quran. 

One of the most important lessons that we can take home is perhaps the alertness to the present in our reflection of the transience of life. Islam pays a lot of attention to the afterlife, and the Prophet himself said that the wisest man is he who thinks of death constantly. By bearing in mind that the future is not certain and that death may come at any time, we can do well by focusing on the present. I personally have found myself inhibited from doing the right thing because I fear the consequences that might entail. The Prophet himself never went to sleep before giving away what little money he had in his possession that day. His absolute trust in God's provision absolves him of fear of the future's uncertainty. Some people say that this is foolhardy; how can you not worry about the future even for a bit? Surely we have to plan for the future? Yes we do, but not at the expense of doing the right thing now. Whenever we feel held back from doing what is right, maybe because it is not financially or socially wise to do so, remind ourselves of what The Prophet said to Abu Bakr, "Do not be sad for Allah is with us. / لا تحزن إنالله معنا "**

There is a lot more discussed in the lecture but I am pressed for time since tomorrow will be a full day for me and there is some work I have to do. I will end the review here and hope that you find it as helpful as my friend and I did. In the mean time, stay well : )

Wallahu a'lam.

* Sahih Muslim, 6017
** The Quran 9:40

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tuhan Manusia dari Faisal Tehrani

"Semua agama itu tidak sama. Tapi betul, yang semua agama menyeru ke arah kebaikan."

#1 Waktu Tingkatan 2 dahulu, kelas agama yang paling saya suka sebab Ustazah Fatimah rajin bercerita. Tapi, malang sekali, waktu itu segala cerita diserap satu hala. Zaman itu, rasa naif melebihi rasa ingin tahu, jadi segala pertanyaan, "Mengapa, apa, di mana, bagaimana" semuanya ditutup dek diam seribu bahasa. Tau sahaja hujung bulan ada kertas ujian menanti. Barangkali itu sebabnya bila Ustazah cakap ayat di atas, saya semat sahaja baik-baik dalam hati. Tiada soalan.
#2 Satu masa dahulu di zaman undergraduate, dimulakan cerita dengan imbasan kenangan bersama kawan kawan. Mungkin kenangan itu besar impaknya, sebab sampai sekarang saya ingat segala butirnya (Lebih dari cerita ceriti gosip harian yang tak ketahuan benarnya). Dalam perbincangan itu, 'kakak' saya telah mengingatkan kami tentang ayat yang sama. Waktu ini, mungkin saya lebih berani dalam bertanya.

Katakanlah (wahai Muhammad): “Hai orang-orang kafir!“Aku tidak akan menyembah apa yang kamu sembah.Dan kamu tidak mahu menyembah (Allah) yang aku sembah.Dan aku tidak akan beribadat secara kamu beribadat.Dan kamu pula tidak mahu beribadat secara aku beribadat.Bagi kamu ugama kamu, dan bagiku ugamaku. (109: 1-6)
#3 Saasatul Ibaad saya beli pada tahun 2009. Janji pada diri setiap helaian ingin dihabiskan, tapi manusia. "Terlupa apa yang perlu, terlalu banyak alasannya." Mungkin terlalu berat, tak tercapai dek kemampuan saya pada waktu itu. Lalu sahabat saya mencadangkan buku ini, oleh penulis yang sama. Tak pernah ada kesempatan untuk membeli, tahun 2012 menemukan kami.

"Kerana ilmu sangat penting. Ilmu membezakan manusia dan haiwan ternak, membezakan manusia dan malaikat. Hah, kerana ilmulah manusia, mendapat darjat yang lebih istimewa daripada malaikat. Kata 'ilm diulang sebanyak tujuh ratus lima puluh kali dengan berbagai-bagai bentuk dalam al-Quran." (ms 278, para 3)

Berkisar tentang Ali Taqi, seorang adik yang mencari jawapan terhadap satu persoalan yang berat. Berat, bukan sahaja sebab ia menggoncang haluan abangnya, tetapi menggugat segala ummat yang mengambil kisah. Tiada sebarang unsur cinta terlalu idealistik yang menganggu tema utama novel ini, cuma kekuatan kasih antara seorang adik kepada seorang abang, seorang bapa kepada seorang anak, seorang hamba kepada Tuhannya. Dan mungkin kisah Zehra dengan kisahnya yang tidak berbalas, atau Encik Aris dengan ideologinya yang bagi saya, sangat gerun sekali bila membacanya. Mungkin sebab persoalan ini 'baru' bagi saya.

Setiap helaian membuka mata saya. Betul, sebab buku ini sarat dengan segala maklumat dan hujah, saya kagum dengan hasil kajian penulisnya. Terperinci, dan tidak sambil lewa, serta serius dengan penyampaiannya.

Dalam dunia perbincangan sehari-hari, malahan dalam ruang social networking, saya dipertemukan dengan istilah dan sekumpulan manusia yang 'holier-than-thou' ataupun lebih jelas dengan label 'self-righteous'. Selalunya pendekatan yang menghukum itu didahulukan daripada mendidik, just because.

"Sekolah agama kot. Perangai sama je."
"Pakai tudung tapi...."
" Dulu kat sekolah _________ (masukkan perlakuan baik). Sekarang upload video Youtube. Takut aku dengan dia. Aktiviti seni kononnya."

Seolah olah manusia yang lahir dalam background agama, bersekolah agama itu selamanya maksum. Seolah-olah disebabkan satu kekurangan, habis semua kebaikan. Seolah-olah pencuri yang ditidakkan kebenaran tatkala berpesan supaya tidak mencuri, tanpa difikirkan kebenaran pesanannya.

Dalam buku ini, kepentingan dalam hikmah itu ditunjukkan, agar indah itu lebih difahami. Dan penjelasan itu seharusnya berlandaskan sesuatu yang relevan dan diterima fikrahnya. Bukan sekadar free-mind based, terima sahaja segalanya. Tidak bermaksud jika seseorang itu menolak pluralisme, beliau tidak boleh menganjur kebaikan dengan manusia lain yang berbeza agama dan bangsa. Tidak juga bermaksud manusia itu tidak ada batasnya. Agar yang keliru itu tak terus berlalu, yang kabur itu tak terus gelap, yang terus itu tiba tiba berhala.

"Andai kota itu peradaban, rumah kami adalah budaya, dan menurut ibu, tiang serinya adalah agama."

Habis sahaja menyelak buku ini, saya tahu banyak lagi yang saya perlu cari. Mudah-mudahan tidak terbatas di sini sahaja.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Subtle Blessings in the Saintly Lives of Al-Mursi and Abul-Hassan

This review is written by a new friend of the BukuProject's, Aslan Uddin*. Enjoy : )

Many people easily get into the trap of saying “there’s no good men/women out there”, but we should avoid falling into that mode of thinking, because often we attract the type of people that we are ourselves, or think of, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The “Subtle Blessings” is a book that reminds readers of the blessings that God has bestowed upon humanity by the continued prevalence of excellent people on this Earth, who though rare, nevertheless exist and serve to guide people towards their higher potentials, and in achieving tranquillity in Allah Most High. This is in contrast to most celebrities these days who pull people to their lower selves.

The Prophet described 3 integral parts of Islam, the legal side, the intellectual side, and the spiritual side. The book focuses primarily on the latter (without diminishing the other aspects), since it improves people and makes a person’s Iman (religious conviction) and its sweetness grow. It contains the teachings of two spiritual masters called “Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili” and “Abul Abbas al-Mursi”. Both strove to embody the outward and inward character traits and practices of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace of Allah be upon him), practically reforming the lives of many.  It explains how they went about it in their own lives, and in the lives of others, and how people can adopt such characteristics in their daily lives and make the world a much better place through humility, preference for others, honesty etc.

The book is split to an introduction to the spiritual and intellectual side of Islam, and then the teachings of the shaykhs based upon the Qur’an, Hadiths, sayings, poetry, and explanations of spiritual and religious matters, thus catering to all types of Muslims.
The author, Ibn Ata, a leading legal scholar of his age, at the start had a strongly negative view of them, but when he actually met them, he was blown away, and started keeping their company.  Abbas was instrumental in removing the doubts of Ibn Ata, and helped to increase his certainty in the Divine. With wisdom in relation to solving peoples’ problems, giving sincere advice, giving profound commentaries on the Qur’an, Hadiths (Prophetic sayings) and poetry, the two shaykhs gained large followings amongst both the higher and lower echelons of society.  It goes to show that if one sincerely searches for great people, he will find them to exceed expectations.

Their influence was also extended by the numerous miracles that the author witnessed through those scholars, such as the ability to see into the hearts of people and cure them. These show the benefits of achieving closeness to Allah Most High, the paltriness of attaching ourselves to the lower world, and the need to avoid modern ideologies of scientism and materialism.
 Abbas’ teachings are summarised by his saying: “When I was a young boy, there was a shadow play being put on beside our house, so I went to see it. When I went the next morning to see the teacher at the Qur’anic school, who was a friend of Allah, he uttered the following lines of poetry when he saw me:

“You who behold shadow images in wonderment,
You yourself are the shadow if only you could perceive it!”

At the end of the day, it is to Allah that we turn; so do aim to be of the best people. If we have sincere intentions and take the proper procedures, the experiences and wisdom discussed in this book are not beyond our reach. 

*Aslan is a recent graduate from Warwick University. His curiosity and need for certainty led him into various subjects of study, especially philosophy, science, Sufism and theology. He now works in Cambridge, UK.