Category Archives: Religions

Crime and Punishment

atocha.jpg

November 1st is celebrated in Spain today as Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints), as it also is in all other countries with large numbers of Catholic worshipers, such as in Latin America and the Philippines, as well as other former Spanish colonies.

Todos los Santos is the day, when Spanish families not only honour the Saints, but also remember their own dead relatives. 191 families, most of them Spanish (but not all), will remember today their relatives who where killed during the 2004 Madrid train bombings (also known in Spain as 11-M). 42 of the dead came from 13 countries other than Spain, giving an indication of the level of immigration that is typical for Spain at the beginning of the 21st Century.

As it happens, a Spanish court in Madrid yesterday sentenced three men to thousands of years in jail each, for their respective part in the terrorist bombings of that fateful March 11th, 2004. One suspected mastermind, known as “Mohamed the Egyptian“, however, was acquitted in court.

The 11-M bombings consisted of a series of coordinated explosions against the Cercancías (commuter train) system of Madrid, Spain, on the morning of March 11th, 2004. Ten backpacks filled with dynamite and nails blew up on four packed commuter trains heading for Madrid’s Atocha Station. 191 people died and 1,841 more were wounded. It proved to be the deadliest terrorist attack that Spain had ever seen in peacetime.

 

madrid_bombings.jpg 

The Madrid attacks and their consequences created a huge divide in Spain, as was to be expected, reverberating to this very day. 

The attacks occurred 911 days after 9/11 and three days before Spain’s 2004 General Elections. The Spanish government at the time, headed by José María Aznar from the Partido Popular (PP), quickly put the blame for the terrorist attacks on the Basque ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) organization, their favorite enemy.

 

The bombings changed the course of Spanish politics as voters subsequently ditched the Conservative government. Instead, an attack by Islamists was widely suspected, and perceived as the direct result of Spain’s involvement in Iraq, an extremely unpopular war that had not been approved by Spain’s Parliament.

Seven top suspects, mostly Moroccans, blew themselves up in a Madrid apartment during a police raid in April 2004, three weeks after the bombings.

The surviving suspects, 27 men and one woman, 19 Arabs, mostly Moroccans, and nine Spaniards, now defendants, had faced charges including murder, forgery and conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack. All the accused pleaded not guilty to any involvement in the Madrid attacks, during the four-month trial.

21 of the accused were found guilty yesterday of at least one charge whilst seven others were acquitted through lack of evidence. One person had already been acquitted earlier for unsubstantial provability.

The judge also said there was no evidence of involvement by the Spanish separatist group ETA. After the verdicts President José Luis Zapatero said: “Today justice was done and we must now look to the future”.

Compensation for victims was also decreed, ranging from 30,000 euros to 1,500,000 euros.

The victims and their families are organized in two competing lobby groups, mirroring the divide that is so typical of everyday life in Spain today, one of the Left and one of the Right. The  Asociación de Ayuda a las Víctimas del 11-M, expressed their disagreement with some of the findings and in particular with the proposed distribution of compensation. The other victims’ lobby group, Associación 11-M Afectados por el Terrorismo, has already announced that they want to go to the Spanish High Courts for an appeal against yesterday’s sentences.

But justice is a fickle thing, especially in our day when, post 9/11, there is an irrational dislike, even fear, of people from other countries and especially, Arabs, Moroccans, Muslims and Islamists.

 

We may never know what really happened on 9/11 or 11-M, nor today, nor yesterday. 

 

A General Election has to be held in Spain in March, 2008. I expect that 11-M and yesterday’s court sentences will once more have a decisive influence in voters’ decision making. I don’t think the present government can be too sure of a win, this time round.

 

Let’s Talk About the Spanish Inquisition

cardenales_vaticano_beatificacion.jpg

 

I am sorry. I got it all wrong.

In my blog entry dated July 18th, Better Late Than Never, I was under the wrong impression that the Catholic church would beatify 498 Spanish martyrs as a late but somehow inevitable gesture to make amends about their role during the years of the Spanish Civil War. I even thought that the announced beatification was meant as a way of saying ‘Sorry’, albeit a bit late. But, as I suggested, it would be better late than never.

Well, last Sunday was the big day in Rome. 40,000 Spaniards apparently attended the largest mass beatification that the Catholic church has ever celebrated. But, it was all wrong, from my point of view, and from the point of a balanced historical assessment.

Amongst the 498 martyrs beatified and postumously honoured, it seems that there was not a single name that can be attributed to the Spanish Republican cause. All of the dead martyrs were Catholic priests and nuns, and all of them had died standing up for, and siding with, General Francisco Franco and the totalitarian regime that the Generalissimo stood for. 

Critics other then me accuse the Vatican of playing politics by promoting recognition of one side of the Civil War’s protagonists.

Spain remains deeply polarized, even today, as it struggles to come to terms with its past.

 

Spain is currently governed by the PSOE party of the Socialists, under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. His government is in the process of passing a bill later this week, called Ley de la Memoria Histórica, under which Spain would try to come to terms with the atrocities of the Franco regime. Spain’s Catholic church on the whole sided with the Fascists led by Francisco Franco, who overthrew the elected leftist government, eventually won the war and ruled as a dictator for nearly four decades, granting wide power and influence to the church.

The Catholic church in Spain has a history of doing dark and wicked deeds, and getting away with it. Let’s just look at another chapter of Spain’s history, a possibly even darker one than the Civil War. Yes, I am talking about the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1478, Queen Isabel established the Spanish Inquisition under the leadership of the Dominican monk Tomás de Torquemada. The Inquisition was initially founded to ensure the sincerity of former Jews and Muslims who had recently converted to Christianity, known as Conversos and Moriscos respectively. Insincere converts were suspected of disloyalty and punished. 

As an institution that operated in both Castile and Aragón, the Inquisition was an instrument for unity in Spain. It brought both monarchies closer to the Roman Catholic church and it helped guarantee that Spain would remain a profoundly Catholic country.

In its first decades, the Inquisition tried and punished thousands of people, including many Conversos involved in commerce and trade. However, it soon turned into a general witch-hunt. The Inquisition turned on any and all royal subjects. People judged to be heretics were executed, often by burning at the stake.

 

spanish_inquisition.jpg


In 1492, all unconverted Jews were ordered to leave Spain, and as many as 100,000 emigrated to Portugal, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and other parts of Europe. In the early 17th century the Spanish inquisitors turned their attention to Muslims. Between 1609 and 1614, more than 250,000 Spanish Muslims were driven out of Spain. Later, the Spanish Inquisition sought to discipline citizens suspected of practicing Protestantism.

At the time, many Spaniards considered the Inquisition a triumph for Roman Catholicism. The church, with Royal cooperation, also censored books, and students were prohibited from studying abroad to prevent the importation of Protestant ideas into Spain. These practices eventually cut Spain off from intellectual developments in Europe and turned Spanish universities into academic backwaters. This isolation made it more difficult for Spain to modernize in later centuries. In addition, the urge to protect royal legitimacy, power, and prestige, led Spain to fight wars it could not win, at great cost to Spain’s society and economy.

For the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) – a title given to Fernando and Isabel by Pope Alexander VI for their religious devotion – religious observation was central to achieving domestic peace. The Spanish monarchs, like their European counterparts, were believed to rule as trustees of God. This direct link to divine authority is what made rulers legitimate in Europe. It also made non-Christians or heretics dangerous because their rejection of Christianity implied that they did not accept the monarch’s right to rule.

Spain, in my view, is to this day a rather conservative country. The country is polarized, not unlike it was in the Thirties, between those, who think that Franco was not a bad man after all, and those who would prefer to live in the present world rather than in the Past. The old divide continues to exist, between those on the Left and those on the Right.

 

The previous Spanish government was ousted three days after the deadly Madrid train bombing of 2004, which many people understood to be a consequence to the government of José María Aznar’s decision to go to war in Iraq with the Big Boys, against the expressed wishes of large parts of the Spanish population.

The Church in Spain now wants to gain some of the influence back that it had in the old days. The Vatican’s ceremony two days ago was not an attempt to come clean and to offer an apology, but an attempt to turn the clocks back to a Spain that is conservative, that is non-democratic and that is xenophobic

I would not be surprised if the Church somehow, secretly, would want to resurrect the days of the Spanish Inquisition.  

May God save us all from his or her Catholic disciples.

 

All Saints

lourenza.jpg

Spain is a country where religion has played, and still plays, a considerable part in daily life. More so than in Northern European countries, or in Canada and the USA. Much more so. And religion in Spain, ever since the days of the Inquisition, has been exclusively Roman Catholic. That is 500 years by now, roughly speaking.

 

One significant difference to life, the way we know it, is the patron Saint.

Each child at birth is given a name, which most often has been passed down within the family. Traditionally, the oldest son is given the name of the paternal grandfather, and the oldest daughter the name of the maternal grandmother. The second son is given the name of the maternal grandfather, and the second daughter the name of the paternal grandmother. And so on.

 

As a consequence, you have an abundance of Miguels, Jaimes, Pedros, Antonios, Tomeus and Juans. And many Marías, Catalinas, Joannas, Antonias, Barbaras, Claras and Magdalenas.

All these names, of course, are borrowed from Saints. Each day of the year has been assigned to one particular patron Saint, and the child who is given the name of this Saint, will celebrate the day of their Santo with as much fervour and joy, if not more, as they will their day of birth. You get more presents as a Spanish child on your Saint’s day.

 

Today, by the way, is the day of Sant Calixt. Yesterday was San Teófilo. Tomorrow will be Santa Teresa de Jesús’s day. Enhorabuena.

If you look around, you will probably find it very hard to find a Tamara in Spain, or a Timothy. It is not unheard of, but it is extremely seldom. It is much more common to meet a Vicente, or a Gregorio. Or a Teresa, or an Apolónia.

Of course, churches are most often named after a Saint as well, here. That’s why we have the Basílica de San Francisco, here. The Oratorio de Sant Blai. And the Parroquia de San Nicolas.

It seems that more churches are named after Santos than Santas, but that may be for a future blog entry to look into.

 

Anyway, your very own Saint plays a very big role all of your life, if you live in Spain, or in a Catholic country. You celebrate your Saint’s day at every opportunity that might present itself. But you also live in a parish that has its own Saint. And you live in a village that also has its own Saint.

Santanyí for instance, has San Jaime as its patron Saint. Felanitx, where I live, has San Augustín. And Palma has San Sebastian. Another day off, every time. Sounds confusing to most of us, but it is an important backbone to people in Spain, and to your very own next door neighbour, provided he is not Swedish, German or Dutch. Or Moroccan, as it may be.

Unlucky is the person in Spain, who is first born in a village who’s local Saint is San Pedro, whose paternal grandfather was called Pedro and who goes to his parish church that is also named after St. Peter. He will only have one Saint day’s worth of celebrating a year.

 

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate our Muslim neighbours on completing their fast of Ramadan, and celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festivity to mark its joyous end.

 

The Amazing Senyor Llull

ramonllull.jpg

I was musing about dinosaurs yesterday in a metaphorical way.

Well, there is another metaphorical dinosaur today: Ramón Llull. He is long since dead, but his thoughts are still very influential in many of our ways of thinking, not least of which, in the way we use computers and the Internet.

Ramón Llull (Raimundus Lullus) is without doubt a most important 13th Century Catalán philosopher and mystic as well as the first writer to ever write books in the Catalán language. Some argue that Senyor Llull should be considered the greatest man ever born in Mallorca.

As I do live in Mallora, Spain, and have been for 20 years now, I must declare myself partial to this man.

Llull was born in Palma de Mallorca at the time of the Reconquista. Jaume I, King of the newly united Aragón and Catalunya, had just conquered the Balearic Islands in 1229, ending 300 years of rule of the Moors. However, it took about another 3 years until the last of the Arab resistance was crushed on the island.

Llull was brought up at the Royal Court of Mallorca. He learnt Arabic from the Moorish population that still remained after their defeat. He was well educated, and became the tutor of Jaume II of Aragon. Llull wrote in Latin, Catalán and Arabic.

In 1265, aged 32, he had a religious epiphany, and became a Franciscan monk. In 1273, he founded a Franciscan missionary school in Miramar, near Deià, Mallora, which today is a museum for Ramón Llull, as well as for the Archeduque Luis Salvador. Miramar is well worthy of your visit. Talk to the gardener there if you have a chance.

Llull’s first major work ‘Art Abreujada d’Atrobar Veritat’ (The Art of Finding Truth) was written in Catalán and then translated into Latin. He wrote treatises on alchemy and botany, ‘Ars Magna’, and ‘Llibre de Meravelles’. He wrote a romantic novel, ‘Blanquerna’, the first major work of literature written in Catalán, and thought to be the first European novel ever.

 

All this happened some 350 years before Cervantes or Shakespeare, and 30 years before Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

 

llull_01.jpg


Llull pressed for the study of the Arabic language in Spain, then insufficiently studied here, for the purpose of the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

About 1272, after another mystical experience on Mallorca’s Randa mountain in which Ramón Llull related seeing the whole universe reflecting the divine attributes, he conceived of reducing all knowledge to first principles and determining their common point of unity.

Ramón Llull designed a method, which he first published in full in his ‘Ars Generalis Ultima’ or ‘Ars Magna’, of combining attributes selected from a number of lists. He also invented numerous devices for the purpose, each of which consisted of two or more cardboard discs inscribed with alphabet letters or numbers that referred to lists of attributes. These discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. This method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge.

 

Some computer gurus have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the true beginning of Computation Theory.

Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, virtue, truth and glory.

Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions – whether Jews, Muslims or Christians – would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

 

llull_2.jpg

 

In 1285, Ramón Llull visited Rome and from there embarked on a mission to convert the infidels of Tunis to Christianity. He was violently expelled from Tunis, in an incident which was wrongly magnified by some later historians into a stoning to death, and therefore a martyrdom. On his return, Llull began to preach for a unification of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which, together, he hoped, would be able to defeat the Asian invaders then threatening Europe and the Middle East.

Llull reduced Christianity to rational discussion, thereby attempting to prove the dogmas of the Church by logical argument. But in 1376, Pope Gregorio XI charged Llull with confusing faith with reason and condemned his teachings. The Roman Catholic church did, however, pardon Ramón Llull more quickly than they did Galileo Galilei, venerating Llull during the 19th century.

In all, Ramón Llull is said to have written over 265 books and treaties, making him the most prolific Catalán author ever. Another 135 works are doubtfully or spuriously attributed to him.

The amazing Senyor Llull has a statue in his honour in Palma de Mallorca, just as one turns right from the Paseo Sagrera towards Plaza Reina and the Borne.

 

I salute him every time I drive past.

 

The ‘Príncipe de Asturias’ Award for Yad Vashem

We all know that most noble award of all, the Nobel Prize. Each year, scientists are awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Physics, or Chemistry, as are authors and writers, for Literature.

 

The crown of all that is the Nobel Prize for Peace; never mind that Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, a product  that has had its fair share in bringing down peace more often than enhancing it.

Not everyone knows that Spain has created the poor man’s Nobel Prize.

Well, that is not quite doing it justice. Spain has set up something similar, with perhaps a slightly more contemporary and more popular angle, and without the prize money that is attached to the Nobel Prize. And without any dynamite or other applications with sinister possibilities associated with it. It is called Premios Príncipe de Asturias, and is awarded annually to outstanding achievers from the world of theatre, literature, art, music, film, architecture, politics, sports and the world of science.

 

Stephen Hawking, Woody Allen, Daniel Baremboim, Günter Grass, Arthur Miller have all been awarded the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ in the past, as have Doris Lessing, J. K. Rowling, Susan Sontag, Yaser Arafat, Jane Goodall, Yehudi Menuhin, plus many others, as well as the Camino de Santiago, in case you should want to know.

 

Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Nelson Mandela are laureates of both, the Nobel Prize as well as the Premio Príncipe de Asturias.

The Prince of Asturias award was first bestowed in 1981 and now celebrates its 26th anniversary (quite a way from the 106 year old Nobel Prize). But Spanish Prince Felipe after whom the award giving Foundation is named, has the slight advantage of still being alive and kicking, something that Mr. Alfred Nobel, sadly for him, can no longer claim.

Quite why the Prize giving scheme was conceived is anyone’s guess. I suspect that the Premios Príncipe de Asturias have to be seen in the historical context.

After a dictatorship of 40 years, Spain has been a Parlimentary System with a Constitutional Monarchy only since 1978. It is a system similar to the one in Great Britain. The Monarch is the head of the State and as such, represents Spain internationally. Prince Felipe is the 3rd child of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophía. He was born in 1968; he will be 40 years old next January. His full name is Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia. His Royal title is Prince of Asturias. He is also Prince of Girona and Prince of Viana. He is the Spanish Crown Prince, i. e. the future King of Spain, if things don’t change any time soon.

With a bit of maths you can work out that the prince was a mere 13 years old when the Premios Príncipe de Asturias were set up. I believe that the Spanish Royal family was then looking for a niche in the international scene. Spain also wanted to give itself an image of being democratic, pro-Western, open, liberal, dignified and humanitarian, attributes that this country had forgone during the dark years of Franco. Plus the young Prince also had to be given a role on the world stage with some prestige attached.

26  years on, Spain is a respected member of the world community, both in Europe and in the world. The Premios Príncipe de Asturias were certainly not fundamentally instrumental in getting Spain to this position, but they have hardly done any harm on the way there.

The Premios Príncipe de Asturias command prestige and respect already. They have not quite yet achieved the flair that the Nobel Prize evokes, but wait another 78 years, before we can take stock. They are in a close second position now and that is not bad going for such a young scheme.

The 2007 prize winners have already been named:

Writer, Amos Oz has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturia de las Letras 2007’. Michael Schumacher won the award for Sports. Arts, Bob Dylan. German born British Lord Dahrendorf has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for Social Sciences. Al Gore has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for International Cooperation. Peter Lawrence and Ginés Morata have been chosen for Scientific and Technical Research.

 

And just a week ago or two, the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia’, was announced. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, has been awarded the coveted prize.

 


The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, an international institution in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, aims to transmit to future generations the need for preserving human rights and, essentially, the respect for life. It is the only one of its kind in the world to also honour people who risked their own lives to save Jewish victims of the Shoah. Yad Vashem has become an important centre of information, research and education of one the largest genocides in the history of Mankind.

I just wish Israel would not only take good care of the memory of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but would also begin to preserve human rights and respect for life in their own territory and in the immediate neighborhood in the present day, i. e. in Gaza, the Lebanon and also in Jerusalem. Too many victims and too much death, destruction, misery and hardship are caused on a daily basis in the vicinity of Yad Vashem.

If not, perhaps our children will visit an Intifada Museum in Gaza, one day, which the Premio Príncipe de Asturia might also choose to award some Concordia award to, in years to come. 


The Japanese ‘Camino de Santiago’

japan_temple.jpg

Let me invite you to a virtual visit of Japan.

Just off the eastern coast of the Japanese mainland, the island of Shikoku is only ten kilometres away from the nightlife of Osaka, but in all other ways it is worlds apart. Shikoku is the smallest of the four islands that make up Japan, for a moment leaving aside the much smaller, and in my opinion not truly Japanese archipelago of Ryūkyū, probably better known by most as Okinawa. But that would be a different story, some other day.

The island of Shikoku is famous for its 88 Sacred Sites which connect on a pilgrimage trail. The route of the 88 temples of Shikoku is the classic Japanese Buddhist pilgrimage. For over a thousand years, only the Japanese followed the path to the remote places of Shikoku island, but over the last thirty years or so, anybody can visit and walk and follow the trail. The walk around the perimeter of the island is said to take somewhere between 50 and 60 days to complete if done in the traditional manner, with a total distance of some 1,400 kms. If one should feel so inclined, one could call the Shikoku trail the Japanese Camino de Santiago.

You might be aghast at the idea of a 60 day lone walk, but when I said earlier on this blog that the Spanish Camino de Santiago walk took me 35 days, that did not include the six weeks of a preparatory warming-up period, when I covered some 500 kms on Mallorca, the island where I live. Without that breaking-in, I would not have been physically able to bring my Spanish Camino to its conclusion. All together, I was walking for eleven weeks and covered some 1,350 kms, or so I think.

Before we settled in Mallorca, my wife and I had planned a prolonged trip to Kyūshū in Japan which never materialized, due to the birth of our first, and then, our second daughter. Fittingly, we have given our second daughter the Japanese name of Onna, in lieu of the journey to Nippon that never happened. Since  then, I have been to Japan once, but only for five days, and not on a walking tour.

 

I am looking forward to going back there for an extended period next time and to return to Japan, though with a mission.

I understand that the temples on Shikoku island are spread around the circumference of the isle. In some areas, especially in and around the larger cities, the temples are very close together and one can visit several temples a day. In other areas the temples are much more spread out and it can take three days or so to travel by foot from one to the other.

Of the 88 temples, 66 are located in the mountains and 27 are on the plain and near the coast. Of the mountain temples, 25 seem located at or near the top of their mountain with the highest situated at an elevation of over 900 m.

shikoku_map.jpg


First records of the pilgrimage’s existence in any form similar to today’s didn’t appear until a few guidebooks were written in the 1680s. If and when I go, I shall probably rely on a more recent guide book, perhaps Echoes of Incense, by Don Weiss, even though I believe that that one seems to be out of print. I have also been recommended A Henro Pilgrimage Guide to the 88 Temples of Shikoku Island, Japan, published by Buddhist Bishop Taisen Miyata, in Los Angeles, California. Some more research will have to be done before I set off.

 

Apparently, one Buddhist theory says that the number 88 is the sum of the unlucky ages (yakudoshi) of men, women, and children. Japanese folklore supposedly claims that there are a number of ages which are particularly unlucky for people. When one reaches one of these special years, certain special religious practices need to be performed to guard against bad luck and other potential misfortunes. Of the several unlucky ages, though, the most dangerous are 42 for men, 33 for women, and 13 for children of both sexes. The total of these ages is 88. Hence, as the theory goes, this is an especially unlucky number. As I am well past the age of 42, and still a long way off the age of 88, I am quite hopeful that my future Shikoku pilgrimage attempt will be a lucky one.

 

As I am writing this I notice that my ARXXIDUC blog has just had its 8,888th visitor (or hit; I know it’s not the same). I take that as a rather good omen for my planned 88 temples trip, even though that journey might still be some time away.

 

To make it all a bit more complicated, it seems that there are 108 temples, if one were to include the twenty unnumbered Bangai temples as well. For the moment though, I shall concentrate on the Pilgrimage of the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku, if and when it all comes to fruition.

 

First of all I have to learn the Japanese word for Ultreia.

 

Ramadan, a 29 Day Fast

ramadan.jpg

Ramadan or Ramadhan is the holiest month in Islam. The month of Ramadan is when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar – that means, each month begins with the sighting of the New Moon. Because the Lunar calendar is some days shorter than the Solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays move each year.

This year, Ramadan starts today, September 13th, in Spain that is. But it is more complicated than it appears. Since the moon does not have the same constellation everywhere at the same time, Ramadan gets observed with slight variations, depending upon the country and region.

The Astronomical New Moon is on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007 at 12h44 Universal Time (i. e., 12h44 GMT, 08h44 EDT, and 05h44 PDT). But the new moon is almost impossible to be seen anywhere on September 11th. On September 12th, the moon will be visible in Australia, South Africa, South America, and North America. Hence, the first day of Ramadan (fasting) in Spain is determined to be September 13th. Where and when exactly, is ascertained by the local Imam, the religious leader.

In Mallorca, where I live, Ramadan has always been celebrated at dates according to the country of the Muslim immigrant’s origins, be he or she from Moroccco, Algeria, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Sudan, Mali or wherever. But last year, for the first time, it was agreed that all Mallorcan Muslim residents would celebrate at a uniform date, set by the New Moon in Spain, irrespective of their geographic origins.

And this year, if you happened to follow the Prophet’s ways, the dates in Spain are for one lunar month from the New Moon on September 13th.

According to some of my sources there are 18,500 residents of the Muslim faith in Mallorca alone, whilst other sources claim that number to be over 25,000. If these figures are those of official residents only, one might as well double those numbers for people of Islamic belief actually living on this island. No wonder there are so many Halal butchers in our villages now.

There are two major mosques in Mallorca, in Palma and in Inca, with smaller ones in most villages, normally unnoticed by people like us. But recently it was announced that a new large mosque will be built in Marratxi.

Ramadan is the time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of contemplation and worship. This year then, every Muslim in the Balearics can fast during the same days. The ‘Fast of Ramadan’ lasts the entire lunar month. The next New Moon in Spain will be on October 12th. The last day of fasting will be October 11th.

During the ‘Fast of Ramadan’ strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. One is not allowed food, water, and most importantly, coffee, tea, or cigarettes from dawn to dusk. Sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the ‘iftar’. After the ‘iftar’ meal it is customary for Muslims to go out, visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning.

According to the Holy Quran, one may eat and drink at any time during the night “until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight – then keep the fast until night”.

The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things: the telling of a lie, slander, denouncing someone behind his back, a false oath, greed or covetousness. These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.

 

ramadan_1.jpg


During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the usual five daily prayers, during Ramadan, Muslims recite an additional special prayer called the Taraweeh (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2 – 3 times as long as the regular daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the night in prayer.

On the evening of the 27th day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night, Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran.

When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated with a three day holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the ‘Feast of Fast Breaking’). Then, gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray together, and for large meals. In some towns fairs will be held to celebrate the end of the ‘Fast of Ramadan’.

Insha’Allah.

For all of my Jewish readers: Shaná Tová. A Happy New Year to you. The Jewish Rosh Hashana (New Year) began yesterday. The year 5678 has started.

 

Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, in Barcelona at Last

dalai_lama_barcelona.jpg

 

The present Dalai Lama’s visit was expected in Barcelona a few years ago, at the time of the Forum Barcelona 2004. At the end of the Rambla de Santa Mònica, Tibetan monks had erected a large tent and were busy for several days creating a massive Sand Mandala, the largest one that I have ever seen, in eager anticipation of their leader’s sojourn. It was not to be, then. The Sand Mandala had to be brushed into oblivion.

 

mandala_bcn.jpg

 

Last Sunday, three years later, it finally happened. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in Barcelona at last, for a brief three day visit. By the time you read this he will be on his way to Lisbon, Portugal, and after that to California, New Zealand, Germany, London, UK and Washington DC. After that, Canada. The Dalai Lama is a very busy man.

His Holiness had come to Barcelona for the first time in 10 years, to officially inaugurate the new headquarters of the Tibet House Foundation Barcelona. For those in need of enlightenment He also gave a public talk about The Art of Happiness at Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi. I believe that 14,000 tickets were sold out well before the beginning of this public appearance. That’s a lot of people seeking either enlightening or happiness, or both, at 20 € a go.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the laureate of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

I once had the good fortune to attend the closure of a Tibetan Thangka paintings exhibition, celebrated by the Dalai Lama in Mallorca, Spain. Tibetan monks had again created a Sand Mandala, albeit much smaller in size, inside Pollença’s church of Santo Domingo. At the closing ceremony, this small, but impressive Sand Mandala, was brushed away by the Master. I stood perhaps one metre away from him, being saddened about the willful elimination of this beautiful, if only temporary Mandala artefact. The finissage ceremony was followed by a public discourse held by the Dalai Lama at the cloisters of Santo Domingo. My personal enlightenment then was admission free.

mandala.jpg


One can not talk about the Dalai Lama without talking about Tibet.

Tibet, according to Wikipedia, is a plateau region in Central Asia and the indigenous home to the Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 4,900 metres, it is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the Roof of the World.

Tibet was occupied and annexed by the People’s Republic of China in 1959, with this incorporation into China being disputed under international law.

Earlier, Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo united many parts of the region in the seventh century. From the early 1600s the Dalai Lamas, commonly known as spiritual leaders of the region, are believed to have been the emanations of Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan), the Bodhisattva of compassion. Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lama and his regents were the predominant political power administering religious and administrative authority over Tibet from the traditional capital Lhasa, regarded as Tibet’s holiest city.

The British Empire had a role in Tibet as well, beginning in 1865. After some clandestine dealings and some trickery, a treaty was signed between lay and ecclesiastical officials of the Tibetan government and the British, before the British forces left the city of Lhasa in 1904.

The treaty made provisions for the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet to be respected, for free trade between British and Tibetan subjects, and for an indemnity to be paid from the Qing court to the British Government for its expenses in dispatching armed troops to Lhasa. It also made provision for a British trade agent to reside at the trade market at Gyangzê (the position of British Trade Agent at Gyangzê was occupied from 1904 until 1944). The provisions of this 1904 treaty were confirmed in a 1906 treaty signed between Britain and China, in which the British, for a fee from the Qing court, also agreed “not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet”.

 

Instead, Tibet was annexed by China, in 1959.

tibet_potala_2.jpg


When China took Tibet, the then (and present) Dalai Lama emigrated to Dharamsala in India. He has since ceded temporal power to an elected government-in-exile.

Only last week, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to allow the use of the US Capitol rotunda for a ceremony next month to bestow US Congress’ highest civilian honor on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The resolution also would permit the International Campaign for Tibet to sponsor a related ceremony for Tibet’s exiled spiritual head on the Capitol grounds on October 17th. The House voted last year to award the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal. The congressional ceremony will no doubt rankle China, whose government has increasingly sought to steer Tibetan Buddhism, for centuries the basis of Tibet’s civil, religious, cultural and political life.

China denounced the House vote last year to bestow the gold medal on His Holiness the Dalai Lama and condemned His receipt in 1989 of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mary Beth Markey, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet, called the congressional award the most significant international tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since the Nobel Peace Prize nearly 20 years ago. Good.

Wrong must be allowed to be called wrong. And what has happened to Tibet in 1959 was wrong.

2191 Days Since 9/11

911_2.jpg

On a day like today, you will probably find millions of blog entries all over the world, ranging from the despair of the victims’ families to the glee of the Neo-Conservatives, and from the advocates of conspiracy theories to the fanatics of various factions.

Here is my own personal blog entry, and it’s not so much about 9/11 as it is about our past and our future.

I am not too surprised about the fact that 9/11 occurred. Assuming that it was a terrorist attack that might be traced back to some authentic Middle Eastern sources I only say that an attack like that was somehow inevitable, sooner or later. If it ever will be traced…

The history of the Western civilization is one of an advancement, by and large, to the detriment and at the cost of the so-called Third World.

Australia was conquered by the British and declared Terra Nullis, when we all know that it wasn’t uninhibited at the time. South America and Central America up to and including Mexico were conquered by the Spanish and the Portuguese, to the detriment of the Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous people of Latin America.

North America and Canada were conquered by the Spanish and by the British, again at the expense of an indigenous population. And Africa was colonized and exploited in a big way by the French, the Dutch, the British and the Portuguese, not to mention the Germans or the Belgians or whoever else.

I am leaving out the Asian continent for the sake of briefness, but I have already mused about the doings of the mighty British East India Company sometime before (see August 15th).

Shame on all of them, and on the slave traders.

 

How can anyone mentally sane assume that centuries of wrongdoing would not eventually result in some severe misgivings of the underlings’ part?

 

Just treat your dog like the supposedly First World has treated any and all non-Christian natives on any continent and you will soon learn that your dog will die from the injuries you inflict on him, or else he will bite back, sooner or later.

No, I am not defending terrorism. I am simply pointing out the fact that terrorism has its roots and its raisons d’être on most occasions in actions and misdemeanour inflicted upon the people or nations or groups in question.

 

911.jpg

 

I am saying that a peaceful co-existence can not prevail, neither in New York City nor in the USA nor anywhere on this planet, really, if one applies the bullying tactics of the Terra Nullis concept for ever more, claiming that no-one was there before, that we have been there first, that we are superior for reasons of our creed or colour or religion, or whatever other crap.

I think the lessons that can easily be learned from 9/11 are obvious if one simply looks at the unequal treatment and/or compensation of the WTC victims. Civilians killed or seriously injured reportedly received a total payout of $ 8.7 billion, ranging from $ 0.25 million to $ 7.1 million per recipient. Are some dead always worth so much more than others? If the 9/11 victim was Bulgarian or Colombian or Syrian or Nigerian or non-White or non-Christian, it was a different story again. Some got nothing, some got $ 0.1 million, some still wait. Like the family of Adel Agayby Zakhary, and many others.

In a world of injustice, we cannot expect peace. If we want peace, we have to strive for peace.

 

If we want to co-exist peacefully in our family, or our community, or office, or nation, or world, we have to be prepared to listen and to tolerate and to accept that one can’t justify inequality, at least not without repercussions.

 

ground_zero.jpg

For the next 2191 days of my life, I would wish for a better understanding between all of us, and for more tolerance. I would wish for a better deal for women. I would wish for a curbing of religious influence on any non-religious topics. I would wish for the West to learn from the mistakes of the past and to apologize for them, and I would wish for the East, or at least the Middle East, to be more forgiving and absolving. I would wish for a new US government that is neither symbolized by elephants nor by donkeys.

 

I would wish for a substantial change of thinking. I would wish for the old men brigade that has done so much wrong in the past to not be allowed to continue to make more mistakes on our behalf.

I would wish for an end to the Terra Nullis thinking in our minds.

I would wish for a new beginning.

 

Fiesta Time in Ecuador

loja_puente.jpg

People in the Republic of Ecuador celebrate the Fiesta de la Virgen del Cisne today in the city of Loja in the mountains of southern Ecuador. Sadly, I cannot make it there but, if she got there in time, our daughter Kilina will.

The city of Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and was established in its current location in 1548. It was the first city in Ecuador that made use of electricity in 1897; quite an achievement considering the time. 

Loja has an estimated population of 150,000 people and is particularly proud of its music conservatory. It is said that the best, most talented musicians in Ecuador originate from Loja. Some people call Loja the cultural and musical capital of this Andean nation.

The best known attraction to visit Loja for, however, is the festival of the Virgen del Cisne. What’s that all about?

North west of the city of Loja you’ll find the place of El Cisne, a small town in Ecuador’s Southern Andes, the site of the venerated shrine of the Virgen María

Every August there is a three day pilgrimage of faithful Ecuadorians carrying the statue of La Virgen del Cisne from El Cisne to Loja with fiestas in every town along the way. The statue of the Virgin Mary is carried 74 kms to the cathedral of Loja where it is the focus of one of the oldest festivals in Latin America on September 8th, i. e. today. 

 

virgen.jpg


The venerated statue remains in the cathedral of Loja until November 3rd and is then returned to El Cisne for the remainder of the year. 

We expect our daughter to be back long before that.