The Legacy of Sicily

The Legacy of Sicily

By Saulat Pervez – Writer and editor

When we talk of Islam in Europe, we often mention the famous Muslim empire in Spain, also known as Andalus. Lesser known is the fact that Muslims also ruled southern Italy for about two hundred years between the ninth and eleventh centuries.

The Emirate of Sicily, an island off the coast of Italy, was part of the larger Islamic Empire and was governed by a variety of rulers. Sicily prospered during this period in its history. Its population doubled, agriculture and trade flourished, and a spirit of tolerance and harmony existed among its ethnically and religiously diverse population.

Muslims introduced many new crops, such as cotton, hemp, date palm, sugar cane, mulberries and citrus fruits. Related industries grew, such as textiles, sugar, rope-making, matting and paper (which was later introduced to Europe via Sicily). Sicilian silks also became well-known internationally for their fine quality.

Sicily was taken over by the Normans in the late eleventh century, but Muslims continued to live in the multicultural island peacefully. Muslim heritage was preserved by the Normans, so much so that Arabic continued to be the prime language for the next hundred years. Muslim scientists and architects were employed by the royal court. Palermo, the central city in Sicily during Muslim rule, continued to serve as the capital under the Normans.

Along with Spain, Sicily was a major point of contact between Muslims and the rest of Europe. European scholars were attracted by the intellectual culture in Spain and Sicily, and some chose to live there. They would then translate Arabic books into Latin, thereby transferring the rich scholarship of the Muslim world to other parts of Europe. Michael Scot (c. 1175-1232) was one such individual; after spending a considerable time in Spain, he became the librarian for King Frederick II’s vast collection of Arabic works in Sicily.

When Ibn Jubair was shipwrecked on his return from the Hajj in the late twelfth century, he found himself in Sicily. He was very surprised by how warmly the Normans received him. Of Palermo, Ibn Jubair later wrote: “The capital is endowed with two gifts, splendour and wealth. It contains all the real and imagined beauty that anyone could wish. Splendour and grace adorn the piazzas and the countryside; the streets and highways are wide, and the eye is dazzled by the beauty of its situation. It is a city full of marvels, with buildings similar to those of Cordoba, built of limestone. A permanent stream of water from four springs runs through the city. There are so many mosques that they are impossible to count. Most of them also serve as schools. The eye is dazzled by this splendour.”

Unfortunately, this spirit of tolerance and harmony did not last long for Sicilian Muslims; they met a fate similar to the Andalusian Muslims. By the end of the thirteenth century, all the Muslims were evicted from Sicily. However, they left traces of their history behind in the form of Islamic-style architecture, Arabized words in the now-Latinized language, and the Arab-style outdoor marketplace, among others; many of these continue to exist to date.

Above all, the Muslims of Sicily were conduits, who enabled the wider Muslim legacy of the sciences, philosophy, literature and astronomy to be disseminated to Europe as a whole.

The First Task, Before Reading the Quran

The First Task, Before Reading the Quran

By Syed Abul Ala Mawdoodi – Journalist, theologian, Muslim revivalist leader, political philosopher, and Islamic thinker

All kinds of praise are for Allah (swt), Who is the Sustainer of the whole Universe. He is the Only One Who has the right to be worshipped and is the All-Seer and All-Knower of everything we do. We praise and glorify Him, as He should be praised and glorified. We send blessings of Allah (swt) to all His noble messengers, especially the last of them, Muhammad (sa). May Allah’s blessings be upon all of them.

This article is based on an abstract from Tafheem-ul-Quran, a Quranic Tafseer (commentary) written by Syed Abul Ala Mawdoodi. He informs us about the first task which needs to be done before we start learning the word of the Supreme Authority (Allah), the Quran.

He writes:

“There are many people in this world who seek guidance from the Holy Quran for various reasons. Keeping this in view, it is quite impossible to give any opinion about it. I am only interested in those who want to learn the Quran and want to know how this book guides the humankind in their overall life. I want to advise such people about learning the teachings of the Quran and trying to solve certain problems which are faced during the whole experience of interacting with it.

Any one, whether or not he believes in the Quran and who really wants to learn its teachings, the very first thing which is required to be done is to free his mind from any sort of resistance which he might face due to already established beliefs, facts or thoughts and then start reading it with an open mind and heart. People who read this book, keeping in their hearts some specific kind of thoughts and beliefs, keep on reading their own thoughts and beliefs in the lines of the Quran. Due to this, the Quran never exposes itself to them. This way of reading is no doubt the wrong way to read any book. Specifically, the Quran does not open its doors to people who have such an attitude towards it.”

We pray to Allah (swt) that He let us open our hearts and minds before we start reading the Quran.

“And We have indeed made the Quran easy to understand and remember, then is there any that will remember (or receive admonition)?” (Al-Qamar, 54:22)

Compiled for “Hiba” by Zaki Imtiaz.

No Age for Charity

No Age for Charity

By Naureen Aqueel – Freelance journalist

If you study the lives of great personalities, who have achieved something commendable, you will find a few characteristics that are shared by them all: determination, courage and hard work. Where these traits are present, Allah (swt) extends His help too. There could be no better example than in the case of Major Abbas Ali and his wife Sarwar Jehan Begum, founders of the Muslim Welfare Centre – a couple who defied old age and devoted themselves to provide selfless service to humanity during the ripe years of their lives.

Major Abbas chose to raise funds by charity walks and feats others would only imagine at an age like his. He walked over 10,000 kilometres to support charities in various countries around the world. On April 7, 1985, at the age of 64, on World Health Day, Major Abbas undertook to visit on foot children’s hospitals in the seven emirates of UAE, propagating Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT). He covered 600 km on foot. In 1986, he also participated in the Sports Aid Programme organized by Unicef throughout the world to raise funds for the famine-stricken people of Africa in which he covered 191 km from Dubai to Abu Dhabi on foot.

In 1987, at the age of 66, he walked 2500 km in 90 days through the sandy deserts and camel trails across the Arabian Peninsula to perform Hajj and to collect funds for a charitable hospital in Karachi. He became known as the first man in modern history to walk for the Hajj.

In September 1998, at the age of 77, he sky dived from a height of 10,500 ft to raise funds for the ‘Support a Child, Save the Nation’ welfare project. In 2004, at the age of 82, he walked 100 km from Whitby to Mississauga to raise funds for a Seniors’ Home. His walks earned him the title of the ‘Volunteer Charity Walker from Pakistan’. He would often say “The rich pay Zakat on their wealth, I pay Zakat on my health.”

A retired major from the Pakistan army, Abbas Ali and his wife founded the Muslim Welfare Centre in Toronto in 1993 with the motto “Service to humanity is Service to Allah”. The organization was based in Canada but has operations in Pakistan and other areas of the world.

The Muslim Welfare Centre established a home for needy women and children in 1995. Over 3500 single women and mothers with children, irrespective of their backgrounds, have benefitted from it. The centre also operates four Halal Food Banks and Halal Meals on Wheels food distribution system for the less fortunate from all faiths in Toronto. Over 6500 needy families are helped by this initiative on a monthly basis.

The centre is also operating two schools and two charity clinics in the poor localities of Karachi. Moreover, it provided emergency aid for flood victims in Pakistan and is operating a water exploration project for the impoverished villages in the Thar desert region.

Major Abbas passed away in 2009 while visiting Pakistan to oversee these projects. Since her husband’s demise, Sarwar Jehan Begum has remained in Karachi and is serving as the President of the organization.

Major Abbas received a number of awards during his lifetime and others posthumously. The McLevin Park in Scarborough Canada was renamed to ‘Major Muhammad Abbas Ali Park’. The couple has taught us that if one has determination and will power, there is no age for charity work.