Saturday, May 28, 2016

Umid Ali writes


You put fire into my root, 
The sorrows could evoke a soul. 
I separated myself from myself, 
And realized what the soul is.   
Soul is happiness, an angel and honor – 
A frill of the eighteen thousand of the world 
If any spark falls into my heart, 
It is great “Hamsa” of a poet Navoi. 
Here the body, here a soul, heart – 
They are giving up because of love.  
What pain have you given me? 
I am not even taking breath without love. 

--tr. Asror Allayarov, from "The Gate Opened by Angels"



  1. The Hamsa (Arabic: Khamsah, meaning "five" or "the five fingers of the hand") is a palm-shaped amulet depicting the open right hand (or in some cases, vulva) that represents blessings, power, and strength (when the fingers are closed together) or (when they are spread apart) as protection against the evil eye (a curse cast by a malevolent glare that causes misfortune, injury, illness, or death ). It is one of the national symbols of Algeria and appears in its official emblem. The symbol originated in Carthage and was associated with the city's chief goddess, Tanit, analogous to the Phoenician moon goddess Astarte (Ishtar)(and later worshiped in Roman Carthage as Dea Caelestis, Juno Caelestis, or simply Caelestis). From the 5th century BCE, she was associated with Ba`al Hammon and given the epithet "pene baal" ("face of Baal") and the title "rabat"(chieftainess), but she was also a virginal mother goddess, a nurse, a goddess of war, and a symbol of fertility, and she evolved from the Ugaritic goddess Anat, a consumer of blood and flesh; child sacrifice may have been an integral part of the worship of both Tanit and Ba'al Hammon. In modern-day Tunisia, it is still customary to invoke "Omek [Mother]Tannou" ("Oumouk Tangou") to bring rain during a drought. Her original symbol was a trapezoid (or an isosceles triangle) closed by a horizontal line at the top and surmounted in the middle by a circle: the horizontal arm is often terminated either by two short upright lines at right angles to it or by hooks, symbolizing a woman raising her hands. Traditionally, it was carved in jet or shaped in silver, a metal that represented purity and held magical properties. Highly stylized versions may consist of five circles situated around a central circle. It was also painted in red (sometimes using the blood of a sacrificed animal) on the walls of homes for protection or painted or hung on the doorways of rooms such as those of an expectant mother or new baby. "Khamsa wa-khamis" ("five and Thursday") is a protective formula -- Thursday, the 5th day of the week, is an auspicious day for magic rites and pilgrimages to the tombs of revered saints to counteract the effects of the evil eye. A counter curse, "Khamsa fi ainek" ("five in your eye"), uttered while raising one's right hand with the palm showing and the fingers slightly apart, is meant to blind the aggressor. In Egypt the hamsa is the most popular amulet (along with the Eye and the Hirz — a silver box containing verses of the Qur'an) for warding off the evil eye; and Egyptian women may assemble khamaysa, amulets made from five objects (hands, circles, stars, peppers) hanging from hooks to attach to their children's hair or black aprons.

  2. From the Muslims the hamsa passed on to other communities in North Africa and the Middle East. At the Mimouna, a North African Jewish celebration held after Passover, tables are laid with various symbols of luck and fertility, such as five pieces of gold jewelry or five beans arranged on a leaf of pastry. The hansa is popular particularly among Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, who interpret the five fingers as a reminder to use all five senses to praise God, and the symbol often appears in Kabbalistic manuscripts and amulets, doubling as the Hebrew letter "Shin", the first letter of "Shaddai", one of the names referring to God. In the early days of the establishment of Israel, its widespread use by Jews from Muslim nations was considered a sign of "Easternness" and looked down upon by the dominant Eurocentric Ashkenazi. However, it has survived as a popular symbol of secularity and even, to some extent, a symbol of Israel itself. A common Jewish expression is "Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, tfu, tfu, tfu", the sound for spitting out bad luck. Levantine Christians call it the hand of Mary (Kef Miryam, the Virgin Mary's Hand). As the Hand of Fatima, it was a durable vestige of Muslim rule in Spain; an episcopal committee convened by emperor Charles V (Carlos I of Spain) in 1526 to decree a ban on all open right hand amulets.

  3. “In the early days of my youth I began to perceive a few jewels from the inkwell of my mouth. These jewels had not yet become a string of verse, but jewels from the sea of consciousness which were worthy of being placed on a string of verse began to reach shore, thanks to the nature of the diver. Then I reached the age of comprehension and God (whose praises I recite and who be extolled!) instilled in me sensitivity and attentiveness and a desire for the unique. I realized the necessity of giving thought to Turkish words. The world which came into view was more sublime than 18,000 worlds, and its adorned sky, which I came to know, was higher than nine skies. There I found a treasury of superiority and excellence in which the pearls were more lustrous than the stars. I entered the rose garden. Its roses were more splendid than the stars of heaven, its hallowed ground was untouched by hand or foot, and its myriad wonders were safe from the touch of other hands.”
    Mir Ali Shir Nava'I, a 15th-century poet, was called “the Chaucer of the Turks" by Bernard Lewis. He did not invent Turkish literature, the beginnings of which were already at least 700 years old, but he revolutionized it by becoming the first really outstanding writer to use the Turkish vernacular, which had been considered uncouth and plebeian, and which Arab and Persian intelligentsia though incapable of expressing complex ideas and lofty emotions with elegance, subtlety, and power, as a major literary vehicle (much as Geoffrey Chaucer had done with English a century earlier). He was born in Heart (in modern Afghanistan), the capital of Khorasan, which Timur’s fourth and ablest son Shahrukh had made into the premier intellectual and cultural center of the eastern Islamic world; but Persian was still the language of high culture throughout the region. Informal works written in some Turkic dialect, sometimes in an Arabic script, had long been popular among the masses, but it was not until the early 15th century that serious writers like Sakka-ki, Lutfi, Yaqini, and Gada'i, tried to apply the rules of Perso-Arabic versification to their own language. The result was the creation of Chagatai as a literary language. Nava'i standardized and perfected it via his 30 or so works written in that idiom. His best-known poems were included in four divans (collections of poetry): “Ghara'ib al-Sighar” (Wonders of Childhood), “Naivadir al-Shabab” (Witticisms of Youth), “Bada'i' al-Wasat” (Marvels of Middle Age), and “Fawi'id al-Kibar” (Advantages of Old Age), but he also composed influential manuals such as “Mizan al-Awzan” (The Measure of Meters). His last major work, “Muhakamat al-Lughatayn” (Judgment between the Two Languages), completed 13 months before his death, was a manifesto on Chagatai superiority over Persian (though he admitted that “Arabic possesses the most eloquence and grandeur;” he dismissed Hindi entirely, saying it sounded like "the scratching of a broken pen" and looked like "the footprint of a raven"). For the next 400 years, Chagatai was the main literary language of Turks from the Volga to Chinese Turkestan, but eventually it gave way to modern Central Asian languages, among them Uzbek, Kazakh, Kirghiz, and East Turki (also known as New Uighur, the language of the Uighurs of China and the former Soviet Union). But for the Uzbeks, whose language is the closest to Chagatai, which indeed has been renamed "Old Uzbek," Nava'i is not just their Chaucer’ he is also their Dante, Cervantes and Shakespeare.


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