Reminding me very much of Advent calendars (probably not the desired association!), these children’s Ramadan calendars are made of silk and have thirty pockets, one for each day of Ramadan. Each 3” square pocket has a star button, and every evening, children mark the passing of another day of the month of Ramadan by looking inside the pocket for a tiny treat (gifts, candies, notes, wee toys) placed there by their parents, and fastening the button so the star shows.
It’s a lovely way to involve young children in the observation of Ramadan and to make the month more special for them. As a convert, I never experienced Ramadan in my childhood, but Neman (my husband) was brought up Muslim, and he says he would have loved this idea as a kid. (Also, he can generally be counted on to be in favour of anything involving noms and toys.) I'm sure, if I had been a Muslim child, I would have loved it too. There are lots of ways you could personalize this tradition for your family: for example, you could include a short piece of scripture, maybe one or two ayat of the Qur'an; or for a child who's learning the Arabic alphabet, maybe a little note featuring one letter per day with a treat (a picture, a candy, or tiny toy) that corresponds to that letter.
The calendars are made by Khadija O’Connell of Barakah Life, a company based in the Bay Area of California. (Barakah means blessing in Arabic.) In addition to selling products online, Barakah Life offers sewing and crafts classes for children and adults, art camps for children, and event décor.
I read about these calendars on a Muslim blog last year (sorry, I can’t remember which one or I’d give credit) and sent out the link to most of my cousins who have young kids. One of them was so taken with the idea and the product that she immediately ordered one for each of her boys. She showed them to me when they arrived, and I was impressed with how well-made and attractive they are, and made a mental note to write about them for Ramadan 2011. They're $40, which, for the quality of materials and work involved, is a steal.
There are lots of colours available, and you can have your child’s name embroidered on the heading along the top (although this takes some extra time, and given how close we are to Ramadan--it's not even six weeks away--may not be feasible if you want a calendar for this year). If you’re crafty, you could embroider the name yourself, or otherwise think of creative ways to put a child's name on the header. But if you want a calendar in time for Ramadan, better order soon.
Check out Barakah Life’s blog here: Barakah Life Handmade. The blog has lots of ideas for party decorations, favours, paper crafts and so on. Khadija also has an Etsy shop (although she doesn’t seem to have anything in stock right now). I really like her ideas for party decorations and paper crafts, and look forward to seeing what other products she might bring out. And check out this cool collaboration between Khadija and "calligraffiti" genius el Seed: Calligraphy Pillow--I love it!
I've been looking at my piles of crafting supplies and thinking of getting rid of them, because since I went back to school, I never have time to use them, but looking through the various projects on the Barakah Life sites really makes me want to hang onto them. But if I didn't have time during my undergrad, I really doubt I'm going to during grad school.
First order of business: We need to ask for your ghfir. This past month and a half, Al Jazeera English has consumed all our bandwidth, in every sense of the phrase. We've been so focused on the uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa that we actually had to get the next bigger package from our ISP. And how we've been using it! (Are you in the Al Jazeera-deprived United States? Demand it!) Also, Deborah's in her final term of her undergraduate degree, and since she's already accepted her grad school offer (!), has to make sure she completes everything this term. We're sorry it's been so long since our last post. But we promise you more stuff to come, and on a more regular schedule, insha'Allah.
The awesomely researched and written blog, The Arabist, has a great article on the food that fuels the Libyan revolution. Let's see… it needs to be fast, easy to transport, have a long shelf life, rapidly consumable, high energy, and oh yeah – as tasty as all get-out. That can only be one thing: junk food. And what's more symbolic of rebellion and freedom than Twinkies?
Seriously – the rebels are turning to junk food. All organized movements always come down to logistics. Don't have the right logistics, and you won't have any movements. (Go on, take a moment.) So in addition to some traditional Libyan foods, including fava beans, pasta, rice, and chicken, the groups are feasting on Twinkies, Snickers bars, and other fast-pack/fast-eat/fast-energy junk food and juice boxes. They're loving it.
Let's hope it's just a temporary thing, and they don't get this into their heads.
So that got us thinking (and by "us" I mean Deborah) – what should rebels eat? Apart from "whatever comes to hand?" But there's a point at which they need proper nutrition to function effectively and kick tyrant ass. One can only operate on Twinkies so long before that lovely oozy non-dairy vanilla cream filling just sets your teeth on edge and damages your brain.
The answer, for rebels and others who don't have the luxury of choice many of us have in our world of western comfort, might be a simply brilliant product by Campbell's. Yes, Campbell's, the soup people. In addition to the Canadian subsidiary certifying certain soups halal (for which they took heat from uber-hateful idiot queen Pamela Geller, who "bravely" suggested a boycott – please buy more of their soup if for no other reason than to vex her), the wonderful people at Campbell Canada created Nourish, a complete meal in a can. It's meant to be a healthy option for users of food banks. According to the Toronto Star's Jennifer Bain, the protein-rich meal contains a Canadian supergrain called naked oats and a full serving of vegetables and grains. It's halal, comes in vegetarian and chicken versions, and is designed to be eaten even unheated. Further evidence of knowing your market and exercising intelligence? You can open it without a can opener, and it doesn't need to be mixed with water (making it ideal for disaster zones, such as Japan, where concerns about tap water radiation are increasing).
They are donating the first 100,000 cans to Food Banks Canada. With your help they can double the donations. Just visit and "like" the Campbell Canada Facebook page; doing so will trigger up to 100,000 more donations by May 31, Hunger Awareness Day. Every time you like or comment on their page, watch or share their short video, or tweet with the hashtag #Nourish, they'll donate another can.
The product will be in stores later this year, selling for around $4 CDN/can, with net profits heading back toward more donations.
We don't know how to get Nourish to Libya, or the rest of the Arab Spring countries (although Egyptian protesters seem to have figured out how to send pizza to Wisconsin!) but you can help Campbell's soup be a symbol of care and dignity right here at home. Put your money where your mouth is: encourage Campbell Canada to keep producing decent--and halal--food.
(On a mobile device? Click here to view the video.)
I cannot wait until some rural Pakistani kid learns the unqualified joy of this song:
Yes, you did the math right. Sesame Street is going full-steam ahead in Pakistan with a $20,000,000 grant from USAID, "the principal US agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms." As the Toronto Star reported recently, USAID is providing massive funding for the ground-breaking and incredibly influential children's show. Sesame Street was the first children's show to use actual lab studies to measure viewer engagement, and in doing so, they created legions of young fans and indelible memories for all young North Americans. Recognizing the power of education and entertainment, Sesame Street slowly spread worldwide, taking time to ensure each series reflected local sensibilities while pushing boundaries and creating new role models and ideas for kids from Bangladesh (Sisimpur) to Germany (Sesamstrasse), from Israel (Rechov Sumsum) to Palestine (Shara'a Simsim) and beyond.
The careful respect for culture, sensitivity, and context (what people dismiss as "political correctness") that is the hallmark of Sesame Workshop shows has led to incredible success and a strong hold over the hearts and minds of the kids – and parents – in the countries it has come to. When you watch a localized episode of Sesame Street, you can see and feel that it isn't American cultural imperialism hidden under a smear of hummus - it's genuinely of their land and their culture. They make such an effort to create an appropriate show, you can easily imagine that kids might be surprised to learn there's an American version.
First airing August 15, 2006, Khul Ja Sim Sim, the Indian version of Sesame Street, was also shown in Pakistan. It has been renamed Galli Galli Sim Sim (street, street, sesame) in India and produced anew as Gali, Gali Hamara (street, street, ours; the repetition implies "every street") in Pakistan. It won't just be Urdu either – Gali, Gali Hamara will be dubbed into four more languages (Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, and Pashto) to vastly increase its reach and unique combination of love and learning. There's nothing formal on the Sesame Workshop Around the World page (as of this writing) for Gali, Gali Hamara but I imagine once details are finalized we'll see something soon. They've got their work cut out for them – 72 half-hour episodes are planned over four seasons. Fifty-two of them will be redubbed in the other languages mentioned above, and there will be special radio-only broadcasts aimed at mothers. The current expectation is for a July 2011 start. (The original USAID page from October 2010 is now a little outdated – the number of episodes has changed, they didn't name the show, and they aim for an April 2011 start – but there's still a large element of 600 live puppet performances and more for rural areas.) They won't be addressing politics. They are pushing understanding, inspiration, tolerance, and respect. The emphasis on creating a genuine Pakistani experience is paramount – no hints of America are allowed, given how sensitive the region is to American influence. From the Toronto Star article:
Twelve of the show's first 14 characters will be Pakistani. The main puppet character, Ranni, is a 6-year-old girl who has her hair in braids and has a passion for school. In place of Oscar the Grouch will be Haseen O'Jameel, a wily crocodile who starts each show as a troublemaker and inadvertently learns something.
The only characters adopted from U.S. Sesame Street producers are the popular Elmo and a new character that has yet to make his debut on TV, a donkey named Bailey. "We have to make him look more like a Pakistani donkey, less pink on the nose and his ears more straight up," Peerzada said.
In the show's first episode, Ranni and her friend Munna, a 5-year-old boy, bemoan the fact they don't have a place to play. Adults ultimately agree that on selected days, a local street should be closed to traffic to give kids a chance to play safely outside. Other subplots will feature the benefits of good nutrition and answer the familiar "why is the sky blue?" type of questions.
"The characters will learn about things like what they can learn in a library and science questions like the migratory patterns of birds," said Imraan Peerzada, the show's lead writer. "We'll deal with universal truths like the importance of not stealing and lying, but we don't want to get into giving sermons. Lots of kids here are not taught to question and that's something we really want to bring out, being as playful as we can."
The stories that are part of Sesame legend often include parental bonding with children as they share episodes together, so this is just brilliant. Not only is television ownership a luxury we take for granted, but in oral cultures where storytelling is revered, radio programs have a special impact we forgot about long ago. With or without radio, almost every child who grew up in North America has strong memories of Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and so many more – both muppets and humans. (Who didn't shed a little tear when they heard about Mr. Hooper's death? I'm getting a little sad just writing about it.)
Gali, Gali Hamara is not by any means the Sesame Workshop's first venture into the Muslim world – these people are truly courageous in many ways. There was a 2004 venture into Afghanistan that featured Grover wearing a kufi. Puh-leeeeze - if you have that video, send it my way!!!
Galli Galli Sim Sim – India is rife with ethnic and religious tensions, not to mention multiple languages. Pictured: Boombah the lion, Aanchoo the purple monster, Chamki the little Indian girl, and Googly, the blue monster.
Alam Simsim – Egypt is a generally Muslim country with a strong Christian population. Pictured: Filfil the purple monster (brown in the illustration), Nimnim the huge green monster, and Khokha the peach monster (inexplicably purple in the illustration).
Jalan Sesama – Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, and consistently ignored proof that Muslims aren't frothing-at-the-mouth maniacs that will ruin everything. Pictured: Jabrik the baby rhino, Putri the little girl, Momon the little boy, and Tantan the orang-utan.
Hikayat Simsim – Jordan, like Egypt , is a generally Muslim country with a significant Christian population, and also shares a border with the home of Rechov Sumsum. Pictured: Juljul the little boy and Tonton the little girl.
Sisimpur – Bangladesh. A country that has many challenges and surprises. The kids learned to use video cameras and produced many documentaries on their lives, and these small films are featured on the show! The story of Sesame Street in Bangladesh is beautiful and inspiring from the word go. Pictured: Ikri Mikri the small blue monster, Halum the Bengal Tiger, Tuktuki the young girl, and Shiku the jackal.
Shara'a Simsim. Speaking of challenges, Palestine has more than a few of its own. Simply the fact that Palestine is recognized as an entity with its own name is worth paying attention to. The Sesame Workshop acknowledges the depth and importance of the Palestinian identity, but intentionally does not include any direct references to the overall politics of the region. Concepts of tolerance of the "other," teamwork, non-violence, and recovery from disaster permeate the show. Shara'a Simsim is the current production; previously there was a joint Israeli-Palestinian show known both as Rechov Sumsum and Shara'a Simsim (the characters live on separate streets but occasionally meet by crossing over on friendly visits), and Palestinian-only show named Hikayat Simsim. Pictured: Kareem the rooster and Haneen the monster, characters from the original shows who continue on.
Rruga Sesam/Ulica Sezam. Kosovo still feels the pain of its terrible conflict, and the unhealed wounds run deep. So deep that a key aspect of Sesame Street, visual learning of language, brought new challenges for the Sesame Workshop team to overcome. In addition to overcoming ethnic "otherness," Kosovo has two official alphabets, Cyrillic and Latinic for Serbians, and Latinic for Albanians. Even seeing Cyrillic can cause emotional upset for some Albanians because of the history within the former republic of Yugoslavia. The team decided to teach literacy through the spoken word rather than the visual (not unlike Rosetta Stone) and include clips in Turkish, Roma, and Croatian in addition to Albanian and Serbian. I wasn't able to find any images of Kosovo's muppets. If you know of any, please post them in the comments.
Sufi Comics has published its first book, 40 Sufi Comics! If you're not familiar with Sufi Comics, it's a series by two Bangalore-based brothers, Arif and Ali, which conveys various Sufi teaching tales and religious stories through the medium of web comics.
Okay, maybe Ali's not Jack Kirby, but the drawings are charming and expressive, and everybody has to start somewhere. I think the overall effect of the comics is consistent with the humility and simplicity of the Sufi path. And any time people can manage to transmit religious knowledge with some humour, we're all over that. I find it's "teachy" without being preachy.
The book is a collection of the first 40 comics they've produced, and it includes a page after each one with relevant verses from the Qur'an and traditions from the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions. Sometimes Ali includes a few thoughts of his own about particular comics. So even if you've followed the comics as they were published and read them all online, there's still material in the book that augments them.
The book is available for free download, and will soon be available in print from Amazon, which could make a nice gift for someone, especially those just beginning to learn about Islam. And of course, you can read all the comics online. Here are two of our favourites:
Neman's choice (note that the imam's face is not illustrated in keeping with Islamic traditions about depictions of holy personalities):
Portal of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain showing reflective and translational symmetries and decoration with complex tessellations
Anyone who has known me for a while knows how much I love the work of Dutch graphic artist MC Escher. While his work is extremely popular and well-recognized (though many might not know his name), what a lot of people don't realize is that Escher was deeply inspired by Islamic art.
Of the four famous Escher drawings above, only one directly ties into the Islamic inspiration.
Hopefully the tiles above helped answer that question. The tiles are actually a painting done by Escher, based on one of the Alhambra tile patterns. I replicated it to show the extended tessellation pattern more clearly; the actual painting is only one tile. (That makes what I did above…reptiling!) [Deborah, please don't edit that out. It's the highlight of my comedy career.] Escher visited the Alhambra first in 1922 and again in 1936. His work was never the same again.
Prior to 1937, his work was representational, but the effect of seeing the Alhambra was that Escher's work began to incorporate the stunningly intricate and complex mathematics of Islamic geometric patterns. He described tessellations, a mathematical term for tiling without any empty spaces or overlaps, as "the richest source of inspiration that I have ever tapped." Escher's third major period began in 1946 where he used perspective to great effect, creating impossible situations such as Waterfall. By 1956 he began focusing on the infinite, in works such as Snakes and these infinite tessellations below:
Escher considered it a pity that the tessellations were restricted to figures with abstracted geometrical shapes, thinking maybe even it had never occurred to the Moorish artist to use recognizable figures. Personally, I think what people can create with restrictions/guidelines (self-imposed or otherwise) can be infinitely amazing and inspiring.
In Islamic art, the spiritual world is regarded as being reflected in nature through geometry and rhythm. Hence, Islamic artists used geometry as an aid to raise their spiritual understanding as well as the viewer's.
Gelgi quotes the North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts:
Muslim intellectuals recognized in geometry the unifying intermediary between the material and the spiritual world. These patterns may be seen as symbolizing the Islamic principles of 'Tawhid' (the unity of all things) and 'Mizan' (order and balance), which are the laws of creation in Islam.
The kicker is the following beautiful insight that will likely stick with me forever, because it so perfectly puts into words what I have always felt when looking at either Escher's work, or Islamic architecture's stunning geometrical expressions of the divine (a sacred and meditative geometry in its own right):
Tessellations are one of the major components of Islamic art. Islamic artists mastered regular division of plane using, in particular, circles on triangular or square grids, because the circle – which has no beginning and no end and thus symbolizes infinity – was considered to be the most perfect geometric form. In mosques, where a wealth of these geometric patterns could be found, one could contemplate the infinite nature of God simply by looking at the walls or ceiling. In short, these geometric forms expressed Islamic artists' fascination with mathematics as a metaphor for divine order and presence.
Look at these few incredible examples of Islamic artistry:
La Mezquita (The Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba)
Alhambra tile tessellations
Detail of tiles in the Alhambra
Alhambra "magical ceiling"
Escher was a mathematical, artistic, architectural, and communicative genius. But let's remember the Muslim artists and mathematicians who hand-carved the tiles. They did the heavy math – and the heavy lifting – hundreds of years before Escher, Penrose, and others. These inspired Muslims worked to great and lasting positive effect, long before their techniques' "discovery" by Europeans. Islam's arguably most-known and strangely least-acknowledged visual brand – by those who wish to believe Islam is nothing but barbarians wielding swords – is its geometric artistry and its indelible impact on art, architecture, and history. It's almost as if acknowledging the mindblowing beauty of these rivals to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Notre Dame might somehow bring to light that Islam isn't a religion of crazed maniacs and bloodthirsty freaks. It's actually a way of life that values contemplation, peace, beauty, order, unity, and balance.
(Spoiler alert: this post discusses these issues in detail.)
The story so far: The City of Tomorrow falls apart at its opening as an evil underling infects its citizens with something that causes everyone to start beating on everyone. The whole world is devolving into a massive G20 summit, but instead of Toronto Police Services beating the Jahannam out of people standing around taking pictures or wearing black pants, it's each other. Dr. Ramzi of The 99 Steps Foundation, a few of his protégés, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lucius Fox are doing what they can to hold it together. Hawkman and a crew on the other side of the world have discovered a new Noor stone, the object that gives the members of THE 99 their powers, and boy is it wreaking havoc, earthquake-style. Batman, monitoring the Earth from the Justice League satellite, quickly realizes there are multiple earthquakes and all the sudden violence around the world is related, but he's not yet sure how.
In the second issue (34 pages with a lot of ads, but this time my shields were up and I was ready, unlike back in issue 1), we learn the instigator for all this is none other than Ramzi's arch-nemesis, Rughal. Yes, that old crazy man is at it again. We also see that Superman has something weird at the base of his skull, and it's not the Best Neck Tattoo EVAR. Disappointed, Supes. The Man of Fe3C however, is becoming less interested in the people taking crazy pills. He's put himself above it all – literally – leaving the rest of the pack to deal. The City of Tomorrow is sealed off by the evil underling, and Batman finally stands up to let us all know that Earth is under attack from a giant starfish named Starro the Conqueror. (Much more lifelike picture here.) A starfish. Uh huh…
Comic Vine has a summary and list of characters in the issue here.
After plunging into the graphic novels that came to North America in the late 1980s, and being introduced to the possibility of serious, noir work in comic form, I think my standards and expectations have changed even though I've hardly read any comics over the last 25 years. I'm finding the dialogue and hyperbole in issue 2 somewhat harder to handle than issue 1. There's so much jumping between threads that each storyline only gets about 5 minutes of advancement in story time. Not very satisfying.
My last complaint about issue 2 is the lack of anything even vaguely relevant to Islam. At the end of the comic we have a major revelation of cosmic proportions, the sort of thing that ought to cause anyone to drop a little G-D bomb. I know this isn't a Muslim comic, but the reasons THE 99 get the press they do definitely include their Islamic roots. Nothing. Not a thing. (I'm on about this not because I need to see Islam everywhere, but because it kinda matters to this blog, and this makes issue 2 almost irrelevant to Philosufi.)
So… no plot advancement, not much explanation, no Islam, and 10 pages of ads (7 about Batman). On the other hand, Superman has gone rogue and given up on humanity, so this could be fun.
Consider that our good deed for the month. We took one for the team.
On to the current action in issue 3. Seems that the evil underling has been spreading a new breed of the starro; not the normal drones that control your mind and make you a member of the Tea Party. These ones are microscopic, easily transmittable, and really fast-acting. Batman really gets down to work here, figuring out what's going on and funnels his idea into "safe-suit #3," a truly wicked-looking, bad-Bats armoured outfit that'll scare the ampullae out of any starfish.
Rughal is revealed to be not just an independent actor, but in a partnership with the chief Starro. (That's a misnomer; they're hive mind beings. But hey.) Like Superman and countless others, he's got one on the base of his neck, but unlike everyone else, Rughal intentionally chose this. Not that much else makes sense here, but Rughal's helping Starro to have humanity destroy itself and wants only the remaining cinders.
THE 99 kids are still all learning their powers and learning to work together. One of the more interesting aspects of the franchise is the requirement for teamwork. They work in triads, each person's powers complementing the group to fulfil their current mission. This isn't coincidence; it's something Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the inventor of THE 99 series, intentionally put in there to teach young readers. Another little thing about the kids – they're exceedingly polite, at least the ones we've seen so far. It's cute, and I actually rather like it. These are kids, and they're dealing directly with the Holy Trinity of superheroes as well as their disciples. Some manners are in order.
There is – for the first time – a little hint of Islam. One of THE 99, Rola Hadramy, better known as Batina the Hidden, makes her series debut. She is fully covered in a niqab built for action, and can make herself and others invisible. Batina is one of five of the 50 women who comprise THE 99 who will cover completely, showing there are multiple ways to interpret Islamic dress. Others, such as Samda the Invulnerable (she can project force fields) might loosely cover, while others like Mumita the Destroyer or Noora the Light might just start an affair with their hair. To be fair, all the names of THE 99 keep challenging me to remember the 99 Names of Allah and see how much I remember from my old Sunday school at the top of the Jami Mosquein Toronto with Dr. Mahdi. I have no idea how Dr. Ramzi keeps it all straight.
Can't wait to see what happens when Batina meets the half-naked but ludicrously-hijab'd Hawkman. Should be interesting.
Page count: 34, of which 12 are ads. Looks like my earlier ranting may have had an impact; only four of the full-page ads are about Batman.