New Books in Islamic Studies Interview: Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar

I recently spoke with Kristian Petersen at New Books in Islamic Studies about my book Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar. NBnIslamicStudiesOur conversation is now available online here. It was a great opportunity for me to go over the book once more and I’m very glad to have been included in this excellent series. Looking forward to the many other forthcoming conversations coming down the line.

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Journal of Sufi Studies: Al-Qushayrī and His Legacy

JSS-2.1-2013cover

Journal of Sufi Studies 2.1 (2013)
Special Issue: Al-Qushayrī and His Legacy

In early 2010 Matthew Ingalls (University of Puget Sound) and I imagined a scholarly panel dedicated to the study of Abū l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1072) and the legacy that he left behind that would appear at the American Academy of Religion. We contacted fellow scholars in the field and were able to convene such a session for the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), which met that year in Atlanta, Georgia.  Afterwards we worked with Erik Ohlander, the Executive Editor of the Journal of Sufi Studies, to have these papers considered for a special issue of the journal. Following some years of work that issue has finally come to fruition. The special issue now features the revised and expanded versions of the papers first presented at the AAR as well as an introduction co-authored by Ingalls and myself.

More information on my article, which deals with the manuscripts possibly related to al-Qushayrī’s Major Qur’an Commentary, can now be found on the project page for al-Tafsīr al-kabīr.

The articles included in the JSS special issue on “Al-Qushayrī and His Legacy” are as follows:

Martin Nguyen and Matthew Ingalls, “Introduction: Al-Qushayrī and His Legacy” (p. 1-6)
Kristin Zahra Sands, “On the Subtleties of Method and Style in the Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt of al-Qushayrī” (p. 7-16)
Martin Nguyen, “Al-Tafsīr al-kabīr: An Investigation of al-Qushayrī’s Major Qur’an Commentary” (p. 17-45)
Francesco Chiabotti, “The Spiritual and Physical Progeny of ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī: A Preliminary Study in Abū Naṣr al-Qushayrī’s (d. 514/1120) Kitāb al-Shawāhid wa-l-amthāl” (p. 46-77)
Alan Godlas, “Influences of al-Qushayrī’s Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt on Sufi Qur’anic Commentaries, Particularly Rūzbihān al-Baqlī’s ʿArāʾis al-bayān and the Kubrawi al-Taʾwīlāt al-najmiyya” (p. 78-92)
Matthew Ingalls, “Recasting al-Qushayrī’s Risāla in Fifteenth-Century Egypt” (p. 93-120)

The other articles in the special issue of the Journal of Sufi Studies may be accessed here.

Harlem Treasures

We recently picked up a small booklet from the bookstore at The Ferguson Library called Harlem Treasures: A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights. While certainly not an antiquarian piece, being published in 2003, the booklet proved interesting for its extensive coverage of Harlem’s religious communities and mention of Malcolm X. Moreover, the publication appears to be a community project having been published by the Alliance for Community Enhancement at Columbia University, Inc.

Harlem Treasures

Harlem Treasures – A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights / 2003

Within its 114 pages this slim volume also covers subjects such as Harlem’s history, neighborhoods, restaurants and shops. The second chapter on “Religion in Harlem,” however, is indeed the longest. A page therein is dedicated to “Al-Islam” which reads:

Background

Islam is a major world religion founded by the Arabian prophet Mohammed in the seventh century. The central teaching of Islam is that there is one God (Allah) and all Muslims (followers of Islam) are equal before God, regardless of race, class or ethnic background. The five pillars of Islam described in the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) are the essence of Islamic worship: the profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj). These rituals constitute the core practices of the Islamic faith. The Muslim community currently numbers more than one billion followers worldwide and is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, where there are an estimated six million followers.

Mosque Services

The social and intellectual centers for Muslim communities are mosques, where Muslims worship publicly. Traditionally, mosques were built to face Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and are dome shaped, with a line marked on the interior wall connecting the center of the dome to the side of the building facing Mecca. Another important feature of mosques is a minaret, or tower, from which the crier (muezzin) calls Muslims to prayer five times a day. Due to the poverty of early Muslims (usually immigrant and African-Americans), most mosques in the United States are housed in buildings originally built for other purposes. U.S. mosques have some distinct characteristics – for example, most do not operate strictly as places of worship but also function as places of public gathering; therefore, many are called Islamic centers. They often house weekend Islamic schools, libraries, conference centers, recreation facilities, residential apartments or community halls.

Typically, everyone in an American Muslim family attends worship. Women usually have a separate space for prayers. (p. 44)

At the end of the book a directory is provided that lists information (relevant in 2003) for two mosques under “Al-Islam” on page 102:

Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood: 130 W. 113th Street / Imam Talib’Abdur Rashid (212) 662-4100 Sun., 6 P.M.

Mosque Masjid Malcolm Shabazz: 102 W. 116th Street / Imam Izak-El Mu’eed Pasha / (212) 662-2201/2 / Fri. 1 P.M.

The booklet also makes mention of Malcolm X on a number of occasions. Under the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) a section reads:

When Black activist Malcolm X was slain in 1965 and none of Harlem’s major churches would host his funeral, Bishop Childs allowed the service to take place at Faith Temple. In 1973, following the death of Bishop Childs, Bishop Norman Quick was installed as pastor of the Faith Temple Church. He changed the name of the church in 1974 to Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ in honor of its founder. (p. 51)

Then, under “Landmarks of Political or Social Note” the first entry is the Audubon Ballroom:

Audubon Ballroom (3940 Broadway (212) 928-6288) is where Malcolm X was murdered on February 21, 1965. He was both a loved and hated African-American leader. Shortly before his death, he had completed his autobiography, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he wrote with the assistance of Alex Haley. It was published in 1965. (p. 73)

Finally, to close this post, under the history section, there is a lengthy, sidebar dedicated to Malcolm X, which is also the only place where the Nation of Islam is ever mentioned. The sidebar reads:

Malcolm X was one of the most influential Black nationalist leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. An outstanding orator and organizer, he was an outspoken critic of American racism. He advocated Black self-defense in the face of racist attacks and urged Black Americans to view the civil rights struggle in the international context of human rights.

Malcolm was born in 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Earl and Louis Little, who were active supporters of Marcus Garvey’s Harlem-based Black nationalist organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In 1931 Earl Little was found dead – probably the victim of racist violence – and the Little family suffered in response. Malcolm was moved to various foster homes before eventually ending up in Boston to live with his half-sister Ella Collins in 1941.

Over the next five years Malcolm held a wide variety of jobs in both Boston and New York City. Known in the streets of Harlem as “Big Red” and “Detroit Red,” Malcolm entered the underground economy of the ghetto, running numbers, peddling bootleg liquor and selling illegal drugs. Malcolm’s life as a petty criminal caught up with him in 1946 when he was arrested and sentenced to prison for grand larceny and breaking and entering.

While in prison, Malcolm’s brother Reginald introduced him to the Nation of Islam (NOI), a Black nationalist Muslim movement that promoted ideals similar to Garvey’s UNIA, with an added religious dimension that affirmed Black humanity while radically repudiating white supremacy by referring to whites as “devils.” After being paroled from prison in 1952, Malcolm Little joined the NOI and became Malcolm X, with the “X” signifying the unknown true name of his African ancestors who had been enslaved.

Working closely under the NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm quickly rose through the NOI hierarchy, and in 1954 he became minister of the NOI’s Harlem Temple No. 7. The decade that followed saw Malcolm establish NOI temples throughout the country and gain notoriety as the national representative of Elijah Muhammad for his fiery speeches denouncing white racism.

By 1964, however, Malcolm had grown disillusioned with the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. That, in addition to internal power struggles as well as possible manipulation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which kept tight surveillance on Malcolm and the NOI, caused an embittered Malcolm to leave the NOI.

He abandoned the racialist teachings of the NOI and established his own Harlem-based Muslim Mosque, Inc. and Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), patterned after the Organization of African Unity – an organization of newly independent African states. Malcolm traveled widely throughout Africa and Asia, and he encouraged Black people in America to view their struggle in the context of the international struggle for human rights. He even announced plans to take the plight of Black Americans before the United Nations.

On February 21, 1965, while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm was assassinated at the young age of 39. Alleged NOI members were convicted for his assassination, but many argue that there exists a compelling case for involvement by others, including the FBI.

A year after his death, his autobiography was published, and it remains one of the most widely read books of the twentieth century that continues to inspire people from all walks of life to this day. (pp. 24-25)

Alliance for Community Engagement. 2003. Harlem Treasures: A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights. New York, NY: Alliance for Community Engagement at Columbia University, Inc. Co-produced by the Habitat Project.

A Study on the Disconnected Letters of the Qur’an

An article of mine has just been published in the Journal of Qur’anic Studies. In it, I explore the problematic history of Western scholarship on the meaning of “the disconnected letters” (al-ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭa’a) of the Qur’an before turning to the multitude of interpretations that have appeared across the historical Sunni tradition.

I first conceived of the study during my initial dissertation research on al-Qushayrī and his commentary of the Qur’an, Laṭā’if al-ishārāt. Once, I completed that work I immediately resumed my investigation of the disconnected letters and eventually produced the present study. Two acknowledgements, which are regrettably absent from the published version of the article, are in order. First, I presented an earlier version of this work at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and would like to thank my colleagues in attendance for their helpful advice and insights. Second, I shared this piece again in a departmental seminar at Fairfield University where I benefited immensely from the inquiries and comments of my fellow faculty members.

Further details of the study can be found on The Disconnected Letters project page. The article appears in the Journal of Qur’anic Studies, vol. 14 no. 2 (2012), pp. 1-28. A copy of the article can also be accessed here.

Arabic Manuscript Reference Works

For those working with Arabic manuscripts I wanted to draw attention to three works that have recently been published in a more accessible format for the individual scholar. This is especially relevant as the fall conference season draws closer and book buying stratagems begin to percolate in scheming scholarly minds. The works in question are all by Adam Gacek, the head of the Islamic Studies Library at McGill University, and have been previously published in 2001, 2008, and 2009.

Adam Gacek. 2001. The Arabic Manuscript Tradition: A Glossary of Technical Terms and Bibliography. Leiden: Brill.

Adam Gacek. 2008. The Arabic Manuscript Tradition: A Glossary of Technical Terms and Bibliography – Supplement. Leiden: Brill.

Adam Gacek. 2009. The Arabic Manuscript Tradition: A Vadecum for Readers. Leiden: Brill.

As the preceding bibliographic listings indicate these three works were previously published by Brill, which generally prices its titles for institutional purchase and hence beyond the typical means of the sole researcher. However, last year Brill began to publish a number of its highly sought after titles in a more reasonably priced paperback edition. 2012 now sees the release of these three important works in such a state. Scholars working with manuscripts from the Islamicate world and those entertaining to undertake such vital research, will find these reference works invaluable. The Vadecum alone serves as a useful introduction for the uninitiated and is certainly a valuable resource for those already invested.

Several other paperback volumes that will be of interest to scholars of Islam include:

Jonathan Brown. 2011. The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadith Canon. Leiden: Brill.

Alexander Knysh. 2000. Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. Leiden: Brill.

Lonesome Road: One Woman’s Journey to the NOI

On a recent summer trip to Richmond, VA I came across Lonesome Road: Journey to Islam and Liberation by Dorothy Blake Fardan. I had almost dismissed Fardan’s memoir but soon realized I had stumbled upon a gem. In Lonesome Road Fardan recounts her life’s journey from her childhood growing up in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky to venturing a monastic path as a teenager and ultimately accepting Islam and becoming part of the Nation of Islam. However, what sets Fardan apart from other NOI members, is her race. Fardan is said to be the first white woman member of the NOI. This caused her to became a bit of a sensation. A 1976 article from the Chicago Tribune offers a brief biographical sketch of Fardan: “She said she was baptized a Catholic, entered a convent in Los Angeles to join the order of the Sisters of Social Service but was ‘radicalized’ by the student movement and her husband, Donald 12X Dorsey, a Muslim and former member of the Black Panther Party. Dr. Dorsey, who has a Ph.D in sociology and anthropology, said, ‘Around the late sixties while teaching on various college campuses, I became disenchanted and began searching for truth, something real that was not so hypocritical. I found that in Islam.'”

Though Fardan had accepted Islam it was several years before she and her husband (whom she calls “Piccolo”) could worship together in the same mosque. Below is an excerpt from her autobiography. Fardan recalls the day she tried to formally join the NOI:

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad had departed this world in February 1975, shortly before we left Canada for Jamaica. While in Jamaica, news filtered down that the Nation of Islam no longer would close its doors to caucasians or any other ethnic group. Elijah Muhammad’s son, Wallace D. Muhammad, stepped forward as the new leader. I had in fact already written a letter to the leadership in Chicago appealing for entrance into the Nation before the news of the open door policy broke in the New York Times.

After consulting with Piccolo, I immediately planned to go to the temple (mosque) in Kingston the following Sunday. And this I did, accompanied by Piccolo, Mackenzie and a cab full of visitors (called “fish” in the language of the Nation those days). But I could not enter that day. The brothers on post explained that they knew of the rumors about the new policy but had received no official word from Chicago at the time. I was near tears, but understood their decision and admired them for standing firm in the line of command. I knew in my heart that they were struggling with this logistical obstacle that separated us on the steps of the mosque that day. Years of teaching and policy were on trial. The Qur’an was not on trial, but the whole teaching of the “white devil” was.

I loved and respected the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, even though I never saw him in person or heard him teach. I understood the devil teaching and I understood the reality of white supremacy. I loved the fact that the Nation for forty years had preached Black pride in the streets of America’s ghettos. Even though not all Blacks in the Americas were Muslim, all had been impacted by the powerful message delivered by the Nation. By 1975, “Black is Beautiful” and “Black Liberation” were common terms in the Black Community.

I insisted that Piccolo and his visitors stay that day and I would take a cab back to the house where we lived. For days following Black Family Day and being turned away from the mosque, I felt a deep loneliness. Not that I ever felt lonely in the Universe, for all of my life the structure and beauty of the natural order had been my church and temple. I had indeed been a loner in many respects, but always found solace in nature. I thrived on solitude. But it was the loneliness of being without a people; a real community; some body of men and women with whom I held a common bond and aim. I felt a real affinity with revolutionary movements, and had moved in harmony with the peace movement and many of those identified as “hippies.” But after meeting Piccolo and Islam through him, I knew it was among the Muslims, the Nation of Islam, that I wanted to dedicate my service and loyalty. (p. 381-382)    

Fardan has authored several other books including, Yakub: and the Origin of White Supremacy and Cure: Reparations is the Cure for America’s Race Problems. Currently, Fardan, is a professor of Sociology/Anthropology at Bowie State University in Maryland.

Fardan, Dorothy Blake. 2009. Lonesome Road: Journey to Islam and Liberation. Drewryville, VA: UBUS Communications Systems.

Reynolds, Barbara. 1976. First White Woman Becomes a Muslim. Chicago Tribune, March 2, sec. C p. 12.

ISNA and America’s Muslim Library

Entrance to the Library

Just beyond the city of Indianapolis, heading west on Interstate 70 is the small town of Plainfield, Indiana. It is here, flanked by cornfields, that the headquarters of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is located. ISNA has for many years represented itself as an umbrella organization to Muslim communities, a common hub for the exchange of ideas and resources. Today, ISNA’s vision is succinctly stated as “To be an exemplary and unifying Islamic Organization in North America that contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large.” However, it is perhaps best known for its annual convention in which tens of thousands of Muslims typically gather over Labor Day weekend.

Lesser known, however, is that ISNA once had intentions to house a library, and a fairly major one at that. We turn now to an August 1981 edition of Islamic Horizons (ISNA’s monthly publication):

With the wheels of the tractors clattering and the thud of the trees felled, MSA’s $3.4 million project for a mosque and library took off on an auspicious day of Ramadan 1, 1401.

The agreement signed between the MSA and the Delbert E. Wilsey Construction Company (Indianapolis) and the Dana Engineering Co., Inc., a Muslim architectural firm operating out of Chicago provides for an eight-corner mosque with a dome, though the dome will not be visible from the outside. It will also have a mezzanine, a kind of partial second floor for women. When completed the mosque will have a capacity for 500 people, with separate entrances and wadhu [sic] (ablution) areas for men and women.

The library, as envisaged in the plan, will contain films, slides, videotapes, and about 300,000 titles classical and contemporary Islamic writings in English as well as Arabic.

The proposed library is expected to be a storehouse of unbiased Islamic research and knowledge.

(Islamic Horizons 10.8, p. 1)

Library Assistance Program, image courtesy of ISNA 1984 Annual Report

Having grown up in Plainfield, my earliest memories of the headquarters were often of its unique library space. The main level of the mosque is divided into two large spaces, the first being the prayer hall, restrooms and lobby. The second space, for the library, was beyond the set of glass doors in the above photo. During the late ’80s and early ’90s I remember there being a large curved circulation and information desk, with a return slot and fully equipped. I also vaguely remember a hinged half door that separated the public reading area from what would have been the librarians’ offices and work space. A second set of inner doors led into the library proper. This ample space was crowded with bookshelves, card catalogs, and reading chairs. A section of the library space still opens up to the second floor allowing for a surrounding balcony to look down upon what was once a reading area with study carrels and what is now the main library stacks. Despite the careful measures that were taken to establish a library, I have no recollection of the library being heavily trafficked.To my memory, the library was often dark, the card catalogs empty, and the circulation desk vacant.

Today, all the remaining books have been consolidated into one compact area with the remaining library space having been converted into offices. There appear to be a number of useful works of either scholarly or historic value remaining, but a handlist or catalog that documents these works still needs to be made.

Beyond the in-house library, ISNA had also initiated a Library Assistance Program and a Film Loan Program.

Library Assistance Program: This program is designed to set up a library or augment the collection of existing Islamic libraries in local organizations. Over 237 books were donated to six Islamic centers or masjids during the period. A large set of books, pamphlets and other literature is in the process of being mailed to all MSA chapters and MCA affiliates.

The Film Loan Program: The Program did not add new films to its collection in 1984-1985. During this period it loaned 23 films to local organizations. An estimated number of 2,000 persons viewed these films. 

(ISNA 1984 Annual Report, p. 9)

In a recent visit to the ISNA headquarters we decided to photograph the library space as it stands now. We are hoping to obtain a grant in order to return and properly document the materials there.

For more images see the Gallery.

The ISNA library stacks as viewed from the balcony

Present entrance to the library stacks

Former location of the library circulation desk

Between the stacks

Classical Arabic books in the ISNA library collection

Islamic Society of North America. 1981. “MSA’s Project Finally Takes Off.” Islamic Horizons. 10.8 (1).

Islamic Society of North America. 1984. “Services and Resources.” 3rd Islamic Society of North America Annual Report. 9.

Annual report images taken from the Archive of Muslim American History and Life.

US Army Guide to Calcutta, circa 1945

At this summer’s Westport Public Library Book Sale I came across a guide to Calcutta, India prepared by the Information and Education Branch of the United States Army Forces during World War II.

The Calcutta Key

The small pamphlet provides both cultural information and advice on living abroad in the city. Brigadier General Robert Reese Neyland provides the following introduction:

“TEEK-HAI”

Once I knew a man who grew up in Philadelphia but never visited Independence Hall located there. I know several New Yorkers who though they live in its shadow, have never visited the Statue of Liberty.

I hope it can never be said that you were in Calcutta and didn’t visit the Burning Ghats, the Kalighat Temple, and some of the other – equally famous – sights which Calcutta affords.

If you come here with an open mind you will find Calcutta is “Teek-Hai” (Okay). Of course, it’s just like visiting any big city back home: you can have a good time, or a bad time, depending on how well you take care of yourself.

Incidentally, the people here like us. They think we’re all right. Thanks to the good behavior of American soldiers who preceded you, a friendly welcome from these folks awaits you. If you behave equally as well, a similar welcome will await your buddies who follow you in here.

“Teek-hai?”

Br. Gen. R. R. Neyland

Calcutta, 1945.

(Information and Education Branch, The Calcutta Key,  3)

Illustration for “That Minor Sport – Bargaining”

Unfortunately, Islam and Muslims are rarely mentioned in the publication. Nevertheless, there are a few notices. Under the section “People in Calcutta” we find the following:

The Local Man. Being a Bengal he usually has no headdress. Of the Bengalis only the Muslim wears a fez, and even then he does not wear one all the time. The Bengali is the chap who wears a sheet-like cloth which you will see draped about his waist and legs, with the ends of the cloth tucked between the legs – sometimes winding up in a flowing, folded end that hangs in front. The shirt-like garment is worn outside the lower one. (Remember those jitter-bugs back home who thought they were starting a new fad by allowing their shirttails to hang outside their trousers?)

(The Calcutta Key, 7)

Mention is also made of “the Nakhoda Mosque which is the largest Mohammaden mosque in Calcutta” under the “American Red Cross Daily Tours” as part of the second of such excursions (The Calcutta Key, 45).

On a more general note, we find the following interesting description under the section “Our Allies”:

You Look At The Indian. You look at the Indian daily, you pass him on the streets, his life touches yours constantly. But do you actually see him, do you get a picture of what makes him tick, or do you brush him off in your mind as “That darn native who….”? (He is an Indian, not a native, by the way – and you, being a non-Asiatic in a country where all such visitors are for convenience classed as Europeans, you are a ‘European’) You do see that the Indian is different from yourself. Granted. But – do you see that the difference between the two of you does not give you a reason to criticise the Indian? Do you try to realize that the Indian’s dress is not strange for India? Rather, it fits the climate here. The Indian thinks his turban to be sacred and does not want it touched. Is that silly to you? Okay, soldier, how’d you like to be back in the United States sporting a new light-grey snap-brim felt and have some stranger come along and casually reach up to finger it? When the stranger had picked himself up…! Many Indian women object to hands being touched even in a friendly handshake. Perhaps you may feel the same way about the French custom of kissing you on both cheeks. Kissing you, the nerve of the guy! Everywhere, in streams, ponds, or under public fountains, you will see Indians taking baths by pouring water on themselves; although they have their own standards and their own instincts for cleanliness, a great number of Indians consider a bathtub to be dirty. Queer of them, isn’t it? Ha, ha! Some of our own States once outlawed the use of bathtubs as being immoral. To repeat, yes, the Indian is different. But instead of merely noticing that difference and judging it hastily, suppose we take a good long second look and attempt to understand the fellow’s customs and ways of living. Remember, it is an age-old failure to laugh at things that you do not understand.

(The Calcutta Key, 11-12)

Illustration for “What To Do and Where To Go”

Finally, some concise guidelines:

TRY THESE “DO’S” FOR SIZE

1. Avoid political discussions.

2. Act here with the same common courtesy you use at home.

3. Guide the other fellow’s conduct; ‘breaks’ reflect on all.

4. Replace, “Hey, you!” with “Bhai!” or “Brother!”

5. Discuss Indian customs out of their sight and hearing.

6. You’re in Rome. Keep your ways; let the Romans have theirs.

7. Keep your temper; the Indian will keep his.

8. An attitude of respect leads to ‘breaks’ being forgiven.

9. Take pictures only of the laboring classes (and them only if they cnnsent [sic]); upper-class Indians don’t like to be photographed.

10. Look at passing British and Indian women without tossing remarks at them. Four out of five women over here are offended by “yoo-hoos.”

(The Calcutta Key, 16-17)

The publication page of “The Calcutta Key”

Now, a bonus excerpt:

Women. (whoops, here we go again! But we don’t mind knocking ourselves out if you guys don’t mind listening.) Those of you who have already made up your minds to abstain, kindly turn to the next movie section and decide what show you want to go to tonight. That eliminates part of the audience – we hope. To go on: As in any port city in the Orient, Calcutta is riddled with venereal diseases. Studies show that professional prostitutes are 150% infected (half have one and the other half have two). Even in the native population the rate is well over 50%. That good-looking amateur whom you think you convinced by your personal charm may be just the baby to hand you a gift package – unwrapped.

(The Calcutta Key, 75)

The final illustration in “The Calcutta Key” pamphlet

Information and Education Branch, United States Army Forces in India-Burma. The Calcutta Key. Calcutta: The Indian Press Limited, n.d. [ca. 1945].

Strolling Through Istanbul

Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City is the essential guidebook for any curious visitor to Istanbul. Originally written in 1972 by the late Hillary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely, the book has since been revised by Freely and reprinted in 2010. Sumner-Boyd was a professor of Humanities at Robert College, Bosphorus University. Freely, originally a New Yorker is currently a professor of physics at Bosphorus University in Istanbul and author of over forty books and guides. The authors, who are intimately familiar with Istanbul, have outlined several walking tours in and around the city and bring attention to the major historic sites as well as many others often overlooked by tourists. Sumner-Boyd and Freely go beyond simply mentioning historic locations but animate each stop along the stroll with vivid historical descriptions, biographical sketches, and architectural interests. Through their well crafted prose they guide the eye to the more unique aspects of each location. Their engaging personalities and love for the city comes through in their writing making them the ideal tour guides to Istanbul. The walking tours are divided into geographic sections for a total of 23 chapters that span up the Golden Horn to Eyüp, along the Bosphorus, and down to to the Prince’s Islands. Despite its considerable size, a generous 487 pages, this book is always tucked into a bag and towed around the city. It’s through this guide that we discovered such gems as the Yeraltı Cami (Underground Mosque), Namazgahs (open air prayer spaces), and the serene Küçük Aya Sofia Camii.

Yeraltı Cami 

Leaving Karaköy we begin walking along the seaside road, which is always bustling with pedestrians rushing to and from the ferry station. About 200 metres along, past the ferry pier, we turn left and then left again at the next street. A short way along on our right we come to the obscure entrance of Yeraltı Cami, the Underground Mosque. This is a strange and sinister place. The mosque is housed in the low, vaulted cellar of keep of a Byzantine tower or castle which is probably to be identified with the Castle of Galata. This was the place where was fastened the one end of the chain which closed the mouth of the Golden Horn in times of siege. Descending into the mosque, we find ourselves in a maze of dark, narrow passages between a forest of squat passages supporting low vaults, six rows of nine or 54 in all. Towards the rear of the mosque we find the tombs of two sainted martyrs, Abu Sufyan and Amiri Wahabi, both of whom are supposed to have died in the first Arab siege of the city in the seventh century. Their graves were revealed to a Nakşibendi dervish in a dream in 1640, whereupon Sultan Murat IV constructed a shrine on the site. Then in 1757 the whole dungeon was converted into a mosque by the Grand Vezir Köş Mustafa Paşa.

The Underground MosqueThe interior of the Underground Mosque.

Namazgahs 

In the centre of the square, Kadirga Liman Meydanı, there is a very striking and unique monument. This is the namazgah of Esma Sultan, daughter of Ahmet III, which was built in 1779. It is a great rectangular block of masonry, on the two faces of which are fountains with ornamental inscriptions, the corners having ornamental niches, while the third side is occupied by a staircase which leads to the flat roof. This is the only surviving example in Stamboul of a namazgah, or open-air place of prayer, in which the kıble or direction of prayer is indicated but which is otherwise without furniture or decoration. Namazgahs are common enough in Anatolia and the remains of at least two others can be seen in the environs of Istanbul, one in Okmeydanı overlooking the Golden Horn and the other at Anadolu Hisarı on the Bosphorus; but this is the only one left in the old city.

Ironically one is no longer allowed to pray here.

SS. Sergius and Bacchus 

At the end of this lane, we come to one of the entrances to the courtyard of the beautiful Küçük Aya Sofya Camii, the former Byzantine church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus. The church was begun by Justinian and his Empress Theodora in 527, five years before the commencement of the present church of Haghia Sophia. It thus belongs to that extraordinary period of prolific and fruitful experiment in architectural forms which produced, in this city, buildings so ambitious and so different as the present church, Haghia Sophia itself and Haghia Eirene…

In SS Sergius and Bacchus, as in almost all of the surviving Byzantine churches of the city, we must simply use our imagination in order to recapture the extraordinary beauty of its original condition. The walls, like those of Haghia Sophia, were revetted with veined by variegated marbles; the vaults and domes glittered with mosaics. “By the sheen of its marbles it was more resplendent than the sun,” says Procopius, “and everywhere it was filled profusely with gold.”


Kitāb al-Futūḥāt al-rabbāniyya fī tafsīr mā warada fī al-Qurʾān min al-awāmir wa’l-nawāhī al-ilāhiyya

While browsing the used books in the Sahaflar Çarşısı (located in the Aslıhan Pasajı off of Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu, Istanbul) we came across a corner bookstore called Ayça Kitabevi. Inside I found a stack of mostly old Ottoman books, but intermixed with these works were a few Arabic ones.

After going through the store’s small collection I ended up purchasing a copy of the Qur’an printed in Mecca, whose publication date is unlisted (according to the text this edition was verified in Ramadan 1366/July-August 1947), and a two-volume Arabic tafsīr or commentary of the Qur’an. Both volumes of the text are in fairly poor condition. The cover to volume two, for example, has been previously “repaired” with tape. The tafsīr in question is entitled Kitāb al-Futūḥāt al-rabbāniyya fī tafsīr mā warada fī al-Qurʾān min al-awāmir wa’l-nawāhī al-ilāhiyya and was written by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm. According to the introduction the author’s full name is Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm Ibn ʿUmar Rāsim b. Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd al-Raḥīm (vol. 1, p. 3). Consulting al-Ziriklī, the author, who also bears the nisba al-Kuraydī, appears to have died in 1324/1906 with this tafsīr listed as his only work of note (al-Ziriklī, al-Aʿlām, vol. 4, p. 24). This date of death cannot be correct if the tafsīr itself is to be believed. The colophon to the second volume states that the work was completed on Monday 29 Safar 1324/23 April 1906. However, the colophon to the first volume states that that volume was completed a year later on 12 Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1325/24 April 1907. It would seem that volume one was finished after volume two and that the author was still alive in 1325/1907.

The text is an aḥkām al-Qur’ān work. Based on the repeated Qur’anic injunction to command the good and forbid the wrong, the book is divided into two volumes; one deals accordingly with divine commands (awāmir) and the other with divine prohibitions (nawāhī). The first volume is 352 pages with 4 additional pages of corrections and the second volume is 354 pages also with 4 pages of corrections. Neither a date of publication or publisher is given in the work. The book appears to be rare. Checking the libraries catalogued on WorldCat the tafsīr only appears in the collection of two libraries: the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and Brigham Young University. The edition that they have, however, is a later printing. We know this because their edition, which was published in 1936  by Maṭbaʿat el-Mahmūdiyyah in Cairo, has both volumes printed together as one, whereas as the present edition was printed as two separate volumes as it was initially intended.

If anyone can shed further light on this work or its author Muḥammad ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm, it would be greatly appreciated.