The Importance of Qasidah

There are so many beautiful habits and customs that have become commonplace in countries where Islam has existed for centuries, like reciting salawat after Adhan or joining the du’a of the Imam after salat, that have not yet permeated the muslim community here. Most palpably lacking is the invoking of praise on the Propet, peace be upon him, through the beautiful poetry of nasheed, qasidah, naat, milad and so on. There are so many songs, poems, melodies praising HabibAllah SAWS in the most exquisite and moving way that are part of the cultural inheritance of Islam, and it has been fairly inaccessible and even discouraged for us American muslims.

Which is all simply to say I am so grateful and happy to have received my copy of The Qasida Burda Sharif of Imam Sharafaddin Al-Busiri today. It is so, SO very good, I’m really at a loss for words. It is translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, calligraphed by Mohamed Zakariya, sung by the Fez Singers led by Bennis Abdelfettah, produced by Sandala, and available in the US at AlHambra Productions. It is a thing of beauty, a real work of art. The calligraphy is in the maghribi style, which practically dances on the page. It’s not what I’m used to reading so I’m still getting familiar with it. But with the book in hand and the CD in the spinner, it’s not too difficult to follow along. The style of recitation is powerful but not so decorated that you can’t make out what is being said. I can’t do it justice so I won’t go on about it.

There are a few extra tidbits in the book that are worth mentioning. One is Shaykh Hamza’s description of his stay in the maghrib, and the way the Qasidah pervades the atmosphere there. SubhanAllah! How many of us can even recite Tala’al Badru Alayna from start to finish? The other is the Isnad provided through several lines by Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ya’qubi to Imam al-Busiri himself. It is of course beyond me to comment on the strength or weakness of that chain, but so is it also beyond the unfortunate finger-waggers out there who may try to discourage others from the self-evident goodness of Qasidah! Allah SWT says: Say [O Muhammad]: God and His angels bless the Prophet. O ye who believe! Bless him and salute him with a worthy salutation.


The recent bombing in Bali is terribly unsettling, coming as it does a few months before my departure for Malaysia. As horrific as it is, though, it doesn’t change my plans, and I don’t think it will be a “first step” on the road to something more terrible, God willing. Eric Boehlert of has an interview with “Robert Hefner, a Boston University professor, Indonesia expert and author of “Civil Islam.”” Boehlert has reported well on Islam in the past; his article on CAIR in particular was very good. The interview with Prof. Hefner is worth reading; he argues that “in terms of moral authority for these groups [radicals] to sell their arguments to a small fringe of the Muslim community, [the bombing] has been a serious setback.”

Anyone looking for English-language news out of Indonesia about Bali should have a look at Joe Friend’s weblog, so many islands, so little time, direct to you from Bandung.

Also in the news, though regrettably not (yet?) online, is an article by Alex Alexiev in the 10/28 issue of the National Review. “The End of an Alliance” lays out very clearly the role of the Saudi government in spreading wahhabi heresy worldwide, and the tremendous destructive effect that has had. Unlike others who have picked up on the Saudi connection, he doesn’t conclude that Islam is the enemy, but rather that the US has to more effectively engage and support traditional Islamic institutions to counter Saudi influence. And of course turn off the spigot of money flowing out around the world. Alexiev figures the cash flow at $4 billion a year, in the excerpt available here.

Mawlid from Malaysia

Mawlid in Malaysia

I was browsing through my site stats and noticed that somebody had found my site by googling for “Nasheed and Mawlid from Malaysia”. Now that is a visitor I don’t want to disappoint! So I’ve collected what I could find on the subject:

Alhamdulillah, recitation of praise on the Prophet (saws) is regularly practiced in Malaysia, on the traditionally observed day of his birth, 12 Rabi ul-Awwal, as it is in all muslim countries except one; and at any other happy occassion, such as the shaving of the newborn child’s head. If we have cause for happiness, is it not fitting to praise God and His Messenger for it? There are many books of songs, poetry and supplication that are widely read throughout the muslim world wherever the bid’a-shouters haven’t penetrated too deeply. Among the more famous are Mawlid Diba’i, Mawlid Barzanji, Dala’il Khayrat and Qasidah Burdah. There are of course more. It hasn’t always been easy getting copies of these works in the US, but thankfully they are becoming more and more available.

A wonderful CD of Mawlid Diba’i was produced by the Mawlid Project in Malaysia. It is available for sale here. It originally was available with a book of translation and Arabic for a higher price, but I think now only CDs are left. The production quality is very good.

A recitation of Dala’il Khayrat on cassette is available here. I had the privilege to hear the Shaykh recite, and it was by far the most powerful recitation of Qur’an I have heard. The cassettes, unfortunately, are recited in a more dry and unemotional style. So for a non-Arabic speaker like myself, it was less captivating. An English translation of the Dala’il is available from Shaykha Aisha Bewley’s website. I have not yet found Dala’il Khayrat in print, though I’ve been told it exists.

The Qasidah Al-Burda of Imam Busiri is being released as a 3-CD box set with a book. Produced by Hamza Yusuf, with calligraphy by Muhammad Zakariyya. [!] I can’t wait to get a copy, but I haven’t seen it for sale in the US yet, only in UK. Soon InshaAllah. An appreciation of the Qasidah, as well as selective translations from other qasaaid, is available at Iqra Islamic Publications, a very nice website of the ba’alawi tariqa.

Br. Muhammad Sajad Noshahi’s Homepage, Dedicated to the importance of Dala’il ul Khayrat, Qasidah Burdah & Salawat ala Rasul, has a terrific listing of audio sources. Now that I’ve found his site, I don’t think I have any more to write. It looks like he’s got it all in there. Thank you Br. Sajad!

Wahhabis not Welcome

On September 11, 2002, the [Islamic Supreme] Council unequivocally calls on all leaders of traditional Islamic communities and Muslims at-large to immediately establish “Community Watch” groups across the nation. While typically such groups are designed to prevent external threats, these community-based groups will protect our mosques, schools and centers from the threat within our ranks, the threat posed by extremist elements who attempt to hijack our peaceful religion. These watch groups will prevent extremists from using our places of worship for illegitimate and illegal purposes.


I came home to see Omar Al-Faruq on the front cover of my free copy of Time Magazine. OK, so that explains the embassy closings. That article is serious bad news, except for the fact they caught him. Really, the arrest of Faruq is a perfect example of the war on terrorism done right. Authorities got a lead, they followed it up, they cooperated with the local authorities, they checked his background, they nailed him. Good job, gentlemen. Police work at it’s best.
Contrast that to the denial of visas to 150 honor students from Malaysia. How do you ask a country to make dozens of arrests on your behalf and share intelligence information, then turn around and stiff the best and brightest young people from that country? Supicion should have some grounds. Were the students even in the Muslim Students Association, never mind anything more insidious? Where is the discretion, the individual assessment, the case-by-case examination? Bin who? Denied. Mahathir is playing it cool though. They’ll probably just transfer the kids to Canada.

Garage Sale – Lightening the Load of Dunya

This weekend I managed to rid my house of 10 years of dunya accumulation. I left home in 1993 on a bicycle with a frame backpack. Less than 10 years later, I had filled a three bedroom house to the brim. Lord have mercy! Two days of garage saling and I have rid myself of well over half my possessions. In three weeks I’ll be back down to a small pickup’s worth: One computer, clothes, and a few boxes of books. Whew.

The garage sale was great fun. All kinds of folks showed up. I met more people in my neighborhood this weekend than in the last two years I’ve been here. Next time, I’ll have the garage sale first.

Almost everyone found something they wanted. I was wheelin and dealin – anybody who picked something up left with it. Really, I didn’t have to bargain much at all. I priced it to sell in the first place. The whole idea with a garage sale is liquidating your stuff. A lot of people don’t get the concept. I’ve been to garage sales where the lady is trying to charge me for her memories. “Oh those shoes – Katie loved those shoes, she wore them all the time.” Well, that’s why they’re only worth a nickel. Other folks are just way too tight. “I paid $150 for it, but I’m willing to let it go for $145.” Heh. That TV won’t do you any good in a box in your basement, you know.

Of course, some people think it’s only a good deal if they get it for less than you’re asking. I purposely marked things so cheap so that I wouldn’t have to haggle. I hate haggling. But it is an art form to some. So I had to indulge a few artists. Hey, indulging others is an art form too.

This will make 13 moves in less than 10 years, and 22 moves in 26 years. Not Bad. “Be in this life like a traveler.” Ameen.

Transnational Sufism and Islamic Change

Rifa'i Dervishes

Transnational Sufism and Islamic Change in Contemporary Sri Lanka

by Dennis B. McGilvray

In the context of spectacular Sinhalese and Tamil forms of religious austerity and mortifying vow-fulfillment — such as the hook-swinging, kavadi dancing, and firewalking so prominently displayed at Kataragama — the so-called “cutting and stabbing work” of the Bawas is the only comparably breathtaking and “miraculous” devotional tradition available on the Muslim side. In the years since I first encountered the Bawas, my awareness of the transnational nature of the Rifai performance tradition has gradually expanded to include a live demonstration of daggers, needles, and spikes performed by the followers of a Rifai’i sheikh in Calicut, northern Kerala, and an exhibit of identical stabbing implements in the National Museum in Jakarta. The capstone experience for me, however, was to see these very same Rifai’i implements wielded by Balkan Muslims in Skopje, Macedonia, in a documentary film many of you have probably seen: I am a Sufi, I am a Muslim (with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing qawwali songs in the closing minutes of the movie).