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Archive for May 2009

The Eighth Day [An Ochdamh Latha]

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One really shouldn’t preach, I suppose, because it annoys people for one thing and maybe gets their backs up. It’s really best if they find out for themselves, like a sort of epiphany.

However, I am a little irritated by the sneering casualness with which far too many “Muslims” bandy around the epithet “kafir” (and its derivatives) about the indigenous cultures of these islands, and the indigenes who represent them.

So… open your eyes and ears, and look around you; now, to quote Terry Pratchett, open them again.

These islands – what Ibn ‘Arabi called Al ‘Arin, and described as the home of a metaphysical realm – are a Celtic culture; and are The Blessed Isles [Eileanan an Àigh] known to many ancient cultures of the Mediterranean Basin.

They are, according to both Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus)(c160 – c220 AD) and Gildas (Gildas Bandonicus)(c504-570 AD)(in Concerning the Ruination of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae)), the recipients of the authentic message of Jesus Christ preached during or slightly after his Mission (during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, d. 37 AD). So, be a bit careful with the concepts you bhat about.

Professor Akbar Ahmed once gave a keynote speech to the Annual General Meeting of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (UMO). During it he paused and asked, presumably rhetorically as nobody answered, “How many of the delegates here today have ever taken three minutes to reflect on what makes the British tick?” A good question, which I fear is rarely asked by the guests in these Islands.

Do they appreciate that, in spite of labelling to the contrary, British and Irish culture is profoundly Celtic? And so it is through trying to understand these strangely metaphysical peoples that an answer to the ‘ticking’ of the Islanders may be had; or do they not care to find out? They should.

Years ago, a Turkish friend of mine – exasperated by the boorish behaviour of a couple of Arab and Pakistani students – exploded after one jumu’ah at the university, saying, as politely as he could manage through clenched teeth, “You know, if Allah Almighty had sent Malays and Turks here the whole country would be Muslim by now, but in His Infinite Wisdom He sent Arabs and Pakistanis.”

For years I’ve wondered at the hikmah contained in this outburst; and for some time it has been my belief that the sending of these people here has been less for the benefit of the Celtic Islanders and more that these people would learn from the Islanders the true meaning of the Immanence of the Divine: that everything is a window that lets one look upon The One Face [An Aon Gnùis] – a typical expression of Celtic mysticism – if one is willing to see.

A simple collection of tales – it actually dates from 1937, and was reprinted once in 1999 – by Rev Alistair MacLean, father of the once famous novelist, and a Church of Scotland minister in the Hebrides, is called Hebridean Altars. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter about the inherent indigenous spirituality of the Islands.

Selections from Hebridean Altars by Rev Alistair MacLean (1937):

Whoever brings a gentle mind to what is written here, may He bless, who loves us all, and, as they read, may catch a vision of The One Face [An Aon Gnùis](p 7)

The Eighth Day [An Ochdamh Latha] p 11-13

Since he [John of the Cattle, from Mull] it was who taught me that, in his essence, a man is a spirit, and that the essence of spirit is truth and beauty and love. The legend of the veil of the purple light was his story, as was the reason why the King of the Elements [Rìgh nan Dùil] made the Hebrides. A fanciful reason, you may urge, and with as much weight in it as thistledown. I agree. Yet the man and the day and the scene gave it such an air of sincerity, not to speak of glamour, that I was clean cast under a spell – so deep a spell and witching that I sometimes think I have not wakened from it yet.

‘These islands,’ he breathed, with a gesture towards the North, ‘aye, ‘tis myself that is as fond of them as a mother of her baby-child, and, mind you, they are the great favourites with the Good One [An Nì Math] above us as well.’
‘Indeed,’ said I.
‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘or rather, as I should say, the greatest favourites of all. Now,’ he raised his forefinger impressively, ‘listen to what I am telling you. The Good One made the Hebrides on the eighth day.’
‘The eighth day!’ I cried, ‘but the Bible…’
He waved his hand for silence. ‘The Bible is a grand book entirely, and the stories of Samson and the other noble heroes in it are warming to the heart. But, mark you, lad, a man who writes a large book cannot mind everything and’ – he hummed a little at this point – ‘and, like enough, the decent man forgot about the Islands being made on the eighth day. But they were, and this was the way of it. The world was finished and the Good One was mighty tired and took a rest and, while He was resting, He thought “Well, I have let my earth-children see the power of my mind, in rock and mountain and tree and wind and flower. And I have shown them the likeness of my mind, for I have made theirs like my own. And I have shown them the love of my mind, for I have made them happy. But halt,” says the Good One to Himself, “I have not shown them the beauty of my mind.” So the next day, and that was the eighth day, He takes up a handful of jewels and opens a window in the sky and throws them down into the sea. And those jewels are the Hebrides. I had the story of it from my father’s father,’ he went on. ‘An extra fine man, and terrible strong for the truth.’

The Three Wonders (p55)

‘If a man has the fortune to come by a vision of the three wonders: the wonder that God is; the wonder a woman is; the wonder that he is in himself, there is a radiance in his spirit which breaks through his thought and his eyes and his speech.’ He was a simple upland farmer who said the words and his face glowed at the truth of them.

Though the dawn breaks cheerless on this Isle today, my spirit walks upon a path of light. For I know my greatness. Thou hast built me a throne within Thy heart. I dwell safely within the circle of Thy care. I cannot for a moment fall out of Thine everlasting arms. I am on my way to Thy glory.

To the Celt each new day is a gift, a flower; above all, a mystery which calls for the companioning of God, if a man would see it well through. Hence the old prayer:

God be with me
In this, Thy day,
Every day,
And every way,
With me and for me,
In this, Thy day. (p62)

The Love of God is Broader than the Measure of Man’s Mind (p82)

The creeds have never put the Islesman’s faith in shackles. Nor priest nor presbyter can rob him of the hope that before the last darkness falls the Tireless Herdsman will bring his sheep and lambs into the inner fold, not one miscounted. Of inseeing did any ever say a lovelier thing than the old Highland mother who comforted herself for her son dead in war. ‘He was ever a rover,’ she whispered as she stirred the peat ash, ‘and the blood warm in the veins of him, yet ‘twas he who had the mirthful laugh and the giving hand. So, to my thinking, his feet kept God’s road. Some journey in sunshine, and fair is their travel; and some, like my lad, push on through the shadows. But it is the same road, and leads at last to an Eternal Town.’ The generous man, Columba said, is sure of heaven, for his life is the gospel. And sure too is he who kindles at beauty: he who never sees a man but wishes him well: and he who cries heartily to the wanderer ‘Come thou in, brother, and let the night go by.’

‘There is a mother’s heart in the heart of God. And ‘tis his delight to break the bread of love and truth for his children.’ – A Hebridean Mother (p92)

Suns ever at their noon (p106)

A Gaelic saying, chiselled out of the rock of experience and perfect in its tenderness, is, ‘An dà mhaireann, gaol na máthar agus grádh Dhè’ – ‘The Immortal Twain, the mother’s love and the love of God.’

The Motherhood of God (p 107)

I have a secret joy in Thee, my God. For, if Thou art my Father, Thou art my Mother too. And of Thy tenderness and healing and patience there is no end at all.

© D Rosser-Owen 2009

Written by David Rosser Owen

May 20, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pwy Ydyn Ni, Y Moslemoedd yng Ngymru?

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I originally wrote this for, and posted it on, the Facebook group “Muslims in Wales and friends”:

Pardon my pitiful attempt at Welsh, but I thought that starting a discussion thread about just who we see ourselves as, these Muslims of/in Wales, should begin from there, with yr hen iaith.

My problem with it is that, although I was born and spent the first few years of my life in and around Swansea, the only Welsh I really remember is from the rather pathetic attempts to teach me (and others) at Bishop Gore’s School. My non-English language (actually my first language) is Gaelic; but that’s another story.

When I was small (and even later after I’d left the Regular Army – then a Muslim) about the only Muslims in Wales were the Welsh-Yemenis and Welsh-Somalis in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, latterly gathered around the suhba of Shaykh Saleh. They had had no problem with intermarrying with Welsh women and becoming a truly Welsh Muslim community. So where do things stand now? Was this emerging Welsh Muslim community brushed aside, just like the emerging communities of Muslims elsewhere in the UK, to ‘start again from scratch’?

It’s not right to import the political and cultural problems of the sub-continent into the UK in general and, in this case, Wales in particular, especially when there were existing host Muslim communities.

When the Muslims went to South-East Asia and East Africa, for examples, they intermarried and integrated and in the process “islamised” the native cultures, but didn’t transplant cultural things from “back home”: nor import spouses and imams from ‘back home’ either. Thus, we have the distinctive Malay-Indonesian-Phillipino-Thai-Cambodian-Vietnamese autochthonous culture of mainland and island South-East Asia.

Now, of course, these things don’t happen overnight – this is a generational process. So, we have an opportunity to nudge the development of this Welsh Muslim Community in the direction of being a truly Welsh, Muslim, community.

And this means embracing the resurgence of the language, along with all the other proud Welshmen and women (or rather Cymry and Cymraesau) so that we have Muslim Cymreigiwyr.

And, of course, playing rugby and supporting the WRFU (and Ospreys, which amounts to the same thing).

In regard to the language and culture, Welsh Muslims could take a leaf from the ‘Save Gaelic’ movement. One of the leading lights was Ali Abbasi, yarhamahu-Llah, who settled in Scotland from Pakistan in the 1950s and who died in 2004. He lived in Glasgow and worked as a motoring correspondent on the Radio, and learnt Gaelic because he felt that it was an essential part of Scottish culture and becoming a Scot (Muslims in Scotland are Muslim Scots to an extent that leaves the rest of the kingdom standing). He also took parts in just about every Gaelic-language sitcom, and TV show.

This Thread is intentionally rambling, because it’s not really about me. I may be the seniormost (or, in other words, oldest) Welsh (after a fashion) Muslim convert, but I live in London. I come down to Wales maybe four or five times a year to visit relatives and tend to the family graves. My family home (The Rhyddings in Brynmill) got taken over by the Council at the tail-end of WW2 as “bomb-damaged property” (it wasn’t really: all the windows had been blown out, but that was about all) and turned into “social housing”, and the stables and coaching block became a pub (quite a successful one it seems from the outside), so I have no real roots left in Swansea and Gower other than history and sentiment. But I think it does give me the moral right to participate in things as a “Welsh Muslim”.

On my last visit to Swansea, I noticed that the Al-Khoei Foundation have turned an old church (by Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour) into a Shiah Centre.

So what happened to the scheme to turn St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in George Street into a mosque and Muslim cultural centre? That was the church I used to attend as a boy, and where my grandfather was an Elder and my greatuncle the Session Clerk and the old codgers of the congregation used to talk to me in Gaelic. Sentiment and history again. I would have liked to pray there as a mosque having prayed there as a Scots Presbyterian.

© D Rosser-Owen 2009

Written by David Rosser Owen

May 13, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized