Monday, December 22, 2014

how egypt cracks down on the gay community...

it was late summer in 2014 when an irish resident of cairo sent chill through the gay community in egypt. conor sheils, who says he's happily lost in cairo, wrote that gay dating apps like 'grindr' were being used by the egyptian authorities to track down gays, and arrest them.

how is this possible?

well, these apps use your location to identify where you are. in fact, you cannot use many of them without accepting their access to your location services. that is how they help you find the nearest person, and that is how their system helps the authorities to find those very people.

according to the cairoscene, where sheils wrote his article, the individuals post their photos and approximate location is given by the app, together which allow authorities to easily identify the user (they can ask the people who live in that area, for example, if they know the user).

according to a recent survey by cisco, 72% of smartphone users in the middle east are younger than 34 years.  that means, the gay apps are leading to the arrest of younger gay men. but what about the guys who are older?

that is where bath house raids come in.

earlier this month, 26 men were arrested in a night raid on a hammam (bath house) in central cairo's azbakeya district. the men were filmed, as they were led through the cold streets (it was around 50 degrees fahrenheit) naked.

according to an article by the agence france presse, the men arrested at the bath house appeared to be between 40 and 50 years old. one of the defendents claimed to have been suffering back pain and that that was the reason he was there, according to the afp article, which is one of the reasons why egyptians use hammams (aside from relief stress, or to socialize in a non-sexual way).

in other words, egypt is smartly going after the gay community with specific targets that are aimed at different age groups. despite the fact that being gay is not illegal in egypt, owning a bath house or being an employee of a bath house where gay sex takes place can end you up in jail for 9 years. since last summer, there have been over 150 arrests of "debauchery".

according to the independent in south africa, 2014 was by far the worst year for the gay community in egypt. this is due to the gay community being used by the government to win points with the islamist-minded segment in society, to say, "look, we are keeping egypt even cleaner than the muslim brotherhood," told me abu omar, a gay man who has worked with me during the time i was the editor of huriyah. what abu omar says has been discussed all over the world, and everybody knows it's the truth, including some of the articles above.

in 2011, abu omar wrote on this blog that the gay community in egypt was afraid. at the time, he got some responses from the good people in the west that perhaps those fears were unfounded. just 3 years later, those fears have been confirmed to have been valid... because between 2011 and 2014, gay egyptians saw more pressure than ever before.

what can you do?

write to your lawmakers, your heads of governments, and anyone you can think of who can pressure the governments that abuse gay people around the world. work with human rights organizations, sign their petitions, spread their news.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rumi Urs mubarak

photo by Rahal Eks - Moorish tiles in white & indigo

"What must be done O Muslims!
For I don't know myself;
I'm neither Christian, nor Zoroastrian,
Neither a Muslim, nor a Jew..."

Today on Dec. 17 is the beginning of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi's Urs, his Wedding with the Beloved - or passing on. And it is celebrated globally by Sufis and Sufi seekers in diverse ways, including the practice of sama', whirling. You don't have to be a Mevlevi Dervish to celebrate Maulana Rumi's Urs or to do sama'. Members of other Tariqas or none can do that too. 

Rumi had an impact on the entire Sufi Tradition - and including beyond it - as a great Sufi Master, poet, writer and mystic lover who touched the hearts and minds of people worldwide and across religious, ethnic and nationalistic boundaries. Rumi was claimed by many - rightly or wrongly - and he might be many things, but he was not Iranian, nor Turkish, even if nowadays both nations claim him as one of them. He would most likely be horrified and put his foot down, saying "no" to those flag-wavers. In reality Rumi was a native of Balkh and thus an Afghan. 

The political circumstances of his times brought him on a pilgrimage trip to Mecca and then to Damascus where young Rumi met with Ibn 'Arabi, whose wanderings - also partly caused by external turmoil - came to a stop in Syria's capital where his tomb is located. Afterwards Rumi's family moved on and finally resettled in Konya.

During our contemporary political and religiously quite often doubtful and retrograde period which is so full of global problems on multiple fronts, we are facing similar if not more challenging circumstances and problems than Rumi and Ibn 'Arabi did in their times. However, their message and the message per se of the Sufi Tradition is timeless and today absolutely vital and important - especially when we are confronted with barbaric acts of criminal terrorism with innocent people, including children, as the victims. We are indeed facing intense times, no matter where you look. Therefore it is of utmost importance to remember the tools of the Sufi Tradition and apply them. It also indicates that we ought to be free of causing more negativity and more problems and troubles. Therefore it is time to insist with firmness to practice loving kindness when communicating with people, friends, collaborators, family members or partners. Apply Sufism to daily life and don't just end up as a Thursday eve wanna-be Sufi - a Sufi is something to become and that is a holistic deal, all-inclusive of one's life's total aspects - and that is something else to be remembered. 

Rumi broke the expected conventions when he hung out with Shams. He also broke the expected norms when he whirled ecstatically in the street of the bazaar to the rhythm of the goldsmith's hammering. Rational types would have a fit with this, while the lovers rejoice with an expended heart. 

Will you share some dates tomorrow, on Thursday, and at night remember the story of Mushkil Gusha, the Problem Dissolver, in order to assist Mushkil Gusha's work? Please do and spread some Rumi poem or just some kindness to a stranger and a friend. And also please remember the importance of the Arabic letter waw.

Ya Wali! Ya Wadud! Ya Wahid! 

"...I have cast duality aside,
I see the two worlds as one;
One I seek, one I know,
One I see, one I call; one."

Happy Hanukkah to all Jewish friends. Merry upcoming Christmas to all Christian friends. And to all: "A happy, prosperous, healthy, wonderful, blessed New Year!"

I'm saying that already now because for an indefinite time I will be basically in retreat mode and not so active on the internet... God-willing, I shall re-emerge!?

Ya Haqq! Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on Thanksgiving by Rahal Eks

Digital art by Rahal Eks - tile pattern 3 for an imagined contemporary Sufi center

"Oh God, unless you help sustain me,
what help can issue from my own hand?"

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American friends who are celebrating on Thursday, November 27, 2014! 

Others do so on different dates. 

Whatever day you decide to celebrate gratefulness - regardless of your religion, the lack of it, or whatever spiritual Tradition and cultures you claim - is the correct day, because expressing thankfulness and gratitude are as vital to human development and progress, as the act of forgiving and not keeping old grudges. So any time and place would do, just as indicated by an old Sufi saying: "Every day is a Friday, and every place is a Mosque!"

These are all very simple but effective tools for potential liberation to advance on the evolutionary level - or in Sufi terminology: refine your spiritual maqam, your spiritual station. 

The temporary gifts in the form of a spiritual hal along the way, here and there, should be welcomed and also thanked for. And above all they need to be seen for what they really are: a preview or taste in advance of what might come, an indication - depending on Allah being Karim, the Generous One and if the seeker is truly persistent and whole-heartedly dedicated to his or her efforts of practicing loving kindness as the universal and all-inclusive Sufi motto of one's life. 

Instead of thinking and acting miserly we ought to focus on the One, "who is rich beyond need" and appreciate all the beautiful things and events manifested as an on-going process in perpetually renewed creation, our lives. God is rich and therefore the universe too is rich and there is really enough for all of us, unless you're running on a negative conditioning program called "poverty", "victim", "not-empowered & helpless". 

But before you start to protest and complain, are you sure you know what you really want and who you are? What is your part to play in this life? Are you generous, loving, kind and real? Are you doing what is really in harmony with your inner being or are you working with all your might against your mission trying to be the impossible by wanting to imitate someone else? 

Get off, drop it, learn to love yourself and embrace your uniqueness regardless in what shades of the colors of the rainbow it comes. Be yourself and try to activate you very potential with grateful acceptance and queer pride if you belong to the LGBT tribe and friends. 

So Thanksgiving is ideally an on-going life-style that would beautify this troubled world of ours. Thursday is also the special day of the Sufis and Sufi seekers to remember the Friend and sharing some dates and Al-Qisatu Mushkil Gusha, the Story of the Problem Dissolver. 

"Will you retell the story of Mushkil Gusha on Thursday nights and thus help the work of the Problem Dissolver?" 

Those who don't know this Sufi teaching tale can google it or read it in Idries Shah's CARAVAN OF DREAMS. 

When you do, ask yourself: "Who am I today in this story? The old woodcutter working hard? The young daughter who wants to eat more and different foods? The neighbors asking for a light to restart their fire? The mysterious voice? One of the colorful pebbles found by the old woodcutter? The King's daughter, the King, or the generous man?" 

The characters in this tale represent the human nafs, the commanding self and its numerous fluctuations. 

The ability to express thankfulness indicates where you stand on the journey. If it can be improved, don't hesitate. It is an on-going project like maintaining a beautiful garden. 

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abu Dhabi Media Summit - قمة أبوظبي للإعلام

Listen to a most positive and inspiring speech given by Queen Rania of Jordan in English at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit...

Friday, November 07, 2014

The art of deciding by Rahal Eks

Painted black - too bad - time for you to imagine your own visuals here for a change!

"Yes and no!" But this ain't Ibn 'Arabi replying to Ibn Rushd's famous question in lovely Cordoba during the wonderful times of Al-Andalus. Instead it is just me in rough and rather surreal 2014 with a slightly unorthodox film review. And at the same time it is something else, aimed to be ambiguous, hopefully multi-layered, and with some luck breaking your preconceptions. Yes, I do like that. And no, I don't do it just for the sake to annoy. As a matter of fact, I'm coming from a very different corner. So try and catch my drift and decide for yourself. 

I had lunch with a dear Turkish friend who turned me on to the film in question. And instead of going through my current long what-to-do-list and be a good boy, I decided to blow my schedule after my holy siesta and spontaneously go to the cinema and check out the documentary thriller in question. 

At the end of an unexpected sunny Friday it turned out to be a very good decision. The film's impact makes you think and wonder. 

Yes, there is a worldwide problem with terrorism, extremism and fanaticism which needs to be addressed, dealt with and hopefully soon be transformed - and no, we definitely should not agree to say adios to privacy, civil rights and liberty. When everyone per se and at large is becoming a suspect and falls into automatic surveillance programs then there is something wrong and not just in the State of Denmark, as the saying goes. 

Technically I liked the editing, the camera work was not always truly enchanting (of course that's a matter of taste and I have a very peculiar idea on visual matters of presentation). So much about form. The content leaves you breathless. CITIZENFOUR is a well-made docu-thriller by the filmmaker Laura Poitras. The film is about Edward Snowden who contacted Laura via encrypted e-mails signed "citizen four". Later Laura and the journalist Glenn Greenwald fly to Hong Kong to meet the whistle-blower in person. This documentary is a successful cinematographic piece of journalism in action, and courageous at that! Not just because of Ed's decision to blow the whistle and come out of the surveillance closet but due to all people involved and their decision to collaborate. 

How would you decide when the rights of democracy are at stake? How would you decide when there is on the other hand a serious threat by extremists? Where is the limit? Are all legal boundaries now gone with the wind? 

Currently our world is being extremely polarized - all sorts of phobias are spreading, so his hatred, hysteria and fear on multiple fronts. 

So what's my solution? Actually I don't have one other than trying to be focused in the now, keeping my Sufi dhikr going, and aiming to remain positive and not allowing negativity to creep in under my skin. Hopefully with the result of impacting in some form or another in a slightly positive way if I can. 

Yes, I'm concerned. 

But no, I'm not indulging in negativity or allowing for fear to overwhelm all facets of reality. 

It is time for all of us to make some decisions, isn't it?

Below a link to the official trailer of CITIZENFOUR - check it out and decide for yourself...