NEW DATES for the Zende Creative Retreat, Summer 2014!

Salaams all, greetings of peace,

We’ve been a little quiet of late, but it’s for good reason: the Zende Creative Retreat, which had to be cancelled earlier this year due to logistical problems, is finally back on for this August!

The programme is much the same, although we will be having slam poet Baraka Blue with us for the poetry workshops, as well as Makkan poetess Nimah Nawwab and me ole’ self, and the addition of an optional photography tour through Cordoba and Granada prior to the retreat with Neil Turner. The location for the retreat has also moved to the stunning Alquería de Morayma, a rustic ‘finca’ near Cádiar deep in the Alpujarra mountains, which will be our base for the Arabic calligraphy classes, poetry workshops, and traditional singing (nasheed) workshops. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place to reflect, spend time in nature, and rediscover the creative core that so often our hectic urban lives distract us from.

The new prices include pick-ups from either Malaga or Madrid and reflect the two different options: option A includes the photography tour as well as the retreat, while option B is simply the creative retreat. We’ve also added an all-out spectacular in Granada on the last day, including history talks and a concert from Ali Keeler’s heart-stirring Firdaus Ensemble of classical Arabic and Andalusi music, and a night in a hotel. The trip ends with a tour of the Alhambra together with the retreat facilitators, an absolute must for photography and poetry enthusiasts, and transfers back to Madrid and Malaga.

Image

OPTION A – Photography tour + Creative Retreat

24th August 2014, Pick-up in either Malaga or Madrid, transport to Cordoba to join photography group. 1 day in Cordoba, then transfer to Granada for 1 day. Transfer to the Alquería de Morayma in the Alpujarra mountains on the 26th of August for the Zende Creative Reatreat. Transport to Granada on the 30th of August for concert, one night in Granada. 31st of August, tour of Alhambra, and finally transfer to Madrid or Malaga. Min 10 participants, cost €1500.

OPTION B – Creative Retreat only

26th August 2014, pick-up in Madrid or Malaga and arrive directly at Alquería de Morayma in the Alpujarras. Four days of retreat, then transfer to Granada for concert on 30th of August, one night in Granada. 31st of August, tour of Alhambra and finally transfers back to Madrid or Malaga. Madrid pick-up: min. 5 participants, cost €725. Malaga pick-up, min. 5 participants, cost €670.

We look forward to seeing you in beautiful Andalusia!

 

Literature: The Forgotten Islamic Art

When we think of ‘Islamic art’, it is usually the classic trivium of calligraphy, Islimi (biomorphic design) and geometry that spring to mind. These are a visible response to the Qur’anic statement ‘Allah is Beautiful and He loves beauty’.

Love of beauty is so deeply ingrained into Muslim culture that we can find exquisite examples of architecture, tilework, marquetry, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, carpets, ceramics, carved plaster, and book art from every corner of the Muslim world. Whatever else is going on, it seems there is always someone making something beautiful!

Carved stucco calligraphy from Samarqand. WikiCommons

Carved stucco calligraphy from Samarqand. WikiCommons

However, visual arts are only one half of the story. Literature, verbal compositions that can conjure up the wildest or subtlest of sensations, has generally not received the same nurturing attention in the Islamic world. While Rumi has become a household name in the West, Arabic literature is suffering from brain drain: Western-educated Arab writers now compose in English.

From time immemorial, whether it be the Ilead or Gilgamesh, Sunjata or Mahabharata, Shahnameh or Mathnawi, epic poems or collections of poems have infused lives that might otherwise be confusing, dreary, or even tortuous with a sense of something greater, more beautiful, more extraordinary. They also shape a cultural identity and present the history, philosophy and perhaps even the soul of a people to outsiders.

Jalal-ad-Din Rumi's Mathnawi. WikiCommons

Jalal-ad-Din Rumi’s Mathnawi. WikiCommons

The codification of written Arabic as a means of preserving and disseminating the Qur’an enabled Arabic poetry, which had hitherto been entirely oral, to develop as a written art form. While the Qur’an is much more than poetry, there are elements to it that certainly influenced Arabic poetry, such as rhyme, rhythm and repetition (and deliberate interruptions to all of these). The mutability of Arabic makes for some wonderful word plays, phonetic cadences and semantic connections between words with the same letters in a different order.

In the Prophet Muhammad’s own time, poetry was a great source of joy for people living a hard life in a hostile environment. Hasan bin Thabit was Muhammad’s (s.) favourite poet Companion, and he was known to say to him, ‘Hasan bin Thabit, say it again.’ Later, too, poetry was considered a vital part of a scholarly education, alongside such sciences as Qur’an, hadiths, jurisprudence, astronomy, logic, rhetoric, algebra and physics.

A great many spiritual masters of the Islamic tradition have also been poets, channeling their glimpse of the Divine into something that can be a source of joy and inspiration to others for centuries to come. These include not only the ecstatic Persians Hafez, Rumi, Saadi, Jami, Ferdowsi and their kind, but also scholars such as Imam ash-Shafi’i, Imam Ghazali, Ibn ‘Arabi, and Dawud az-Zahiri. In Andalusia alone there were many poet-scholars, such as Ibn Abd-Rabbihi of Cordoba, Ibn Bajja of Zaragoza, and Ibn al-Faradi of Cordoba – and many more who focused on poetry alone.

Bust of Andalusi Sufi poet Ash-Shushtari, from Guadix near Granada. WikiCommons

Bust of Andalusi Sufi poet Ash-Shushtari, from Guadix near Granada. WikiCommons

So why has Islamic poetry slumped in modern times? While the V&A in London hosts the Jameel Gallery, Doha, Qatar has the Museum of Islamic Art, and dozens of art galleries and private collectors deal in visual Islamic art, poetry is famously hard to make a living from. You can’t sell a poem for $10,000 to put on someone’s wall. It is a kind of folk art, designed to be memorised and passed on to others.

The political decline of the Muslim world over the past 500 years or so has also certainly had a hand in our literary doldrums. While praise poets might have enjoyed the patronage of wealthy rulers in the past, now poets must offer their wares to the paying public – perhaps a healthier relationship in any case. Literary forms have also remained the same for centuries, encouraging poets to fixate on form instead of focusing on content.

Page from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. WikiCommons

Yet creative writing, when done with the intention to honour the principle that ‘Allah is Beautiful and He loves beauty’, is just as much a sacred art as any other Islamic art. I would even argue that the process of delving into your heart and discovering what is there follows the advice that ‘He who knows himself knows his Lord’.

Creativity is a much-needed vent for feelings that otherwise have nowhere to go, and when those feelings are beautiful, that is enough to create a work of beauty. At its best, it is a moment of union between the heart and the head, a reminder of how to live with compassion and awareness of all that passes through the caravanserai of the heart.

With that intention, we wish all those who attend the Zende Creative Retreat this spring connection, remembrance and peace.

Further reading:

http://poeticvoicesofthemuslimworld.org/#

http://www.maslaha.org/untold-islam/depth/islamic-poetry

http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/islamlit.htm

Creativity: The Breath of Life

For most of us, living in the industrialised, automated, pre-programmed world might be productive, but it is also a drain on our vital energy. We get exhausted, sick, depressed, anxious, listless.

We perpetually look elsewhere for that magic ingredient that will return us to the natural joy we remember from childhood – films, music, art, shopping, other people’s output.

By contrast, the meditative practice of calligraphy brings our focus back to the beauty and harmony around us, while diving into our poetic depths reminds us of the beauty and harmony within.

Our worried, chattering minds are stilled. Without hardly noticing it, we achieve a state of tranquility and centredness that so much of our ordinary lives combats with caffeine, to-do lists, and social whirl.

Zende Creative Retreats are a specially formulated treatment for the condition of the modern human, administered in deliciously palatable, intensive dose over the course of four days.

We will be drawing on the deeply transformative Islamic arts of calligraphy and ecstatic poetry and combining them with intellectual enrichment, performance, yoga and a spectacular natural environment to give you the ideal opportunity to find your inner calm again.

We are currently devising a schedule for our first retreat, which will take place from the 24th to the 28th of April, to be held at the Hotel Taray, set amid luscious botanical gardens, in the Alpujarran mountains.

The Alpujarras - land of plenty

The Alpujarras – land of plenty

So far the programme will include calligraphy workshops daily with Asghar Alkaei Behjat (Nastaliq style) and Abd al-Lateef Whiteman (Andalusi style), ecstatic poetry workshops with Nimah Nawwab and Medina Tenour Whiteman, talks and performances from Abd al-Hayy Moore, Nimah, Medina and others, a seminar on Andalusi thinkers and writers by historian Tahira Larmore, a qasida (Andalusi traditional poem) singing workshop, yoga at dawn and lots of opportunities to take long walks in the Alpujarran mountains, discovering rivers, waterfalls and ancient Moorish sites with Ahmed Zaruq Summers of Granada-based tour company Al-Andalus Experience.

Click ‘follow’ to receive updates as we finalise the program and complete the web shop to book your place on the retreat!