Mar 232019
 

Today is a feast day in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at ( احمدیہ مسلم جماعت‎) an Islamic revival or messianic movement founded in Punjab, British India, on this date in 1889. It originated with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), who claimed to have been divinely appointed as both the promised Mahdi (Guided One) and Messiah expected by Muslims to appear towards the end times and bring about, by peaceful means, the final triumph of Islam, as well as to embody, in this capacity, the expected eschatological figure of other major religious traditions. Adherents of the Ahmadiyya—a term adopted expressly in reference to Muhammad’s alternative name Aḥmad—are known as Ahmadi Muslims or simply Ahmadis.

Ahmadi thought emphasizes the belief that Islam is the final dispensation for humanity as revealed to Muhammad and the necessity of restoring it to its true intent and pristine form, which had been lost through the centuries. Its adherents consider Ahmad to have appeared as the Mahdi—bearing the qualities of Jesus in accordance with their reading of scriptural prophecies—to revitalize Islam and set in motion its moral system that would bring about lasting peace. They believe that upon divine guidance he purged Islam of foreign accretions in belief and practice by championing what is, in their view, Islam’s original precepts as practiced by Muhammad and the early Muslim community. Ahmadis thus view themselves as leading the propagation and renaissance of Islam.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad established the movement on 23rd March 1889 by formally accepting allegiance from his supporters. Since his death, the Community has been led by a number of Caliphs and has spread to 210 countries and territories of the world, with concentrations in South Asia, West Africa, East Africa, and Indonesia. The Ahmadis have a strong missionary tradition and formed the first Muslim missionary organization to arrive in Britain and other Western countries. Currently, the Community is led by its Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and is estimated to number between 10 and 20 million worldwide.

The Community is now entirely contained in a single, highly organized and united movement, but in the early history of the Community, a number of Ahmadis broke away over the nature of Ahmad’s prophetic status and succession and formed the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam, which today represents a small fraction of all Ahmadis. Some Ahmadiyya-specific beliefs have been thought of as opposed to current conceptions of Islamic orthodoxy since the movement’s birth, and some Ahmadis have subsequently faced persecution. Many Muslims consider Ahmadi Muslims as either kafirs or heretics.

I’ll leave you to explore Ahmadiyya on you own, if you are interested. At the very least, if you are unaware of the history of Islam, this post should help you see that the religion is divided into sects (much like Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism), so that trying to understand Muslims as a whole is a serious mistake. Meanwhile, let’s talk about Punjabi cuisine. Outside India, Punjabi cooking may be best known for the tandoor, a clay oven sunk in the ground and fired to high temperatures. Generic Indian restaurants in the West make breads baked in the tandoor, such as naan, tandoori roti, kulcha, or lachha paratha, and tandoori chicken is an enduring favorite. However, the Punjab is also noted for its buttery dishes and butter chicken is probably the best known. You may find it hard to get some of the ingredients, but they can mostly be found online if you do not have an Indian grocery nearby. The amount of butter is cook’s choice.  My amounts are just guidelines. The chicken is normally cut into serving pieces with bone in.

Butter Chicken

Ingredients

400 gm raw chicken, cut in pieces

First marinade:

2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice

Second marinade

½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp kasuri methi
2 tsp mustard oil

Gravy:

2 tsp vegetable oil
butter
3 gm cloves
1 cinnamon stick, crumbled
1 tsp powdered mace
7 whole cardamom pods
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 ½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp kasuri methi
2 tsp honey
1 green chile, chopped
2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp heavy cream plus extra

Instructions

Put the chicken in a bowl with the ingredients for the first marinade and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile grind together the ingredients for the second marinade. Add this to the chicken, mix well again and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to the hottest temperature you can.

Spread the marinated chicken on a roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, or until it is about three-quarters cooked. Meanwhile, make the gravy.

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a pan with 2 ounces of butter. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, mace and cardamom. Sauté until the spices emit their fragrance and then add the chopped tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Mix well and cooked for 15 minutes. Then grind the mix to a paste in a food processor or blender.

In another pan, heat another 2 ounces of butter, along with ginger-garlic paste. Add the tomato puree made from the mixture. Now add red chilli powder, kasuri methi, honey and the roasted chicken pieces. Bring to a simmer and cook for several minutes. Add the green chile, cardamom powder and cream. Mix well and simmer for an extra few minutes. Serve in a bowl with a little extra cream drizzled in. Serve with basmati rice and flat bread.

Aug 142017
 

Today is the feast day of St. Antonio Primaldo and his companion martyrs (I Santi Antonio Primaldo e compagni martiri), also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, were 813 inhabitants of the Salentine city of Otranto in southern Italy (now Apulia) who were killed on this date in 1480 by invading Ottomans intent on conquering the Italian peninsula. The mass execution is commonly explained as taking place after the Otrantins refused to convert to Islam when the city fell to an Ottoman force under Gedik Ahmed Pasha. The actual events are in dispute by modern historians, but there is no doubt that hundreds of residents of Otranto were killed at this time, based on the physical evidence, that is, hundreds of skulls and other bones displayed in the local cathedral. The siege of Otranto, and the martyrdom of the inhabitants, was the last significant military attempt by a Muslim force to conquer southern Italy. The slaughter is celebrated by historians (notably Risorgimento historians such as Arnaldi and Scirocco) as a milestone in Italian and European history because this sacrifice prevented the Italian peninsula from being conquered by Muslim troops, and was the end of Ottoman designs on the region. Ottoman expansion into eastern and western Europe can be seen on this map (click to enlarge):

The contemporary Turkish historian Ibn Kemal claimed that the slaughter occurred because the inhabitants, en masse, would not convert to Islam.

Modern historians are more inclined to believe that the slaughter was a punitive measure, without religious motivation, exacted to punish the local population for the stiff resistance they put up, which delayed the Turkish advance and enabled the king of Naples to strengthen local fortifications.  It would also have been a warning to other Italian cities what to expect if they chose to resist and were defeated. They martyrs were beatified in 1771 and were canonized by Pope Francis on 12 May 2013 with their feast day set as 14 May. They are the patron saints of the city of Otranto and the Archdiocese of Otranto.

On 28 July 1480 an Ottoman force commanded by Gedik Ahmed Pasha, consisting of 90 galleys, 40 galiots and other ships carrying a total of around 150 crew and 18,000 troops, landed beneath the walls of Otranto. The city strongly resisted the Ottoman assaults, but the garrison was unable to resist the bombardment for long. The garrison and all the townsfolk thus abandoned the main part of the city on 29 July, retreating into the citadel whilst the Ottomans began bombarding the neighboring houses.

According to an account of the story chronicled by Giovanni Laggetto and Saverio de Marco, the Turks promised clemency if the city capitulated but were informed that Otranto would never surrender. A second Turkish messenger sent to repeat the offer “was slain with arrows and an Otranto guardsman flung the keys of the city into the sea.” At this the Ottoman artillery resumed the bombardment.

A messenger was dispatched to see if King Ferdinand of Naples could send assistance. As time went on “Nearly seven-eighths of Otranto’s militia slipped over the city walls and fled.” The remaining 50 soldiers fought alongside the citizenry dumping boiling oil and water on Turks trying to scale the ramparts between the cannonades. On 11 August, after a 15-day siege, Gedik Ahmed ordered the final assault, which broke through the defenses and captured the citadel. When the walls were breached the Turks began fighting their way through the town. Upon reaching the cathedral “they found Archbishop Stefano Agricolo [ Stefano Pendinelli ], fully vested and crucifix in hand” awaiting them with Count Francesco Largo. “The archbishop was beheaded before the altar, his companions were sawn in half, and their accompanying priests were all murdered.” After desecrating the Cathedral, they gathered the women and older children to be sold into slavery in Albania. Males over 15 years old, small children, and infants, were all killed. According to some historical accounts, a total of 12,000 were killed and 5,000 enslaved, including victims from the territories of the Salentine peninsula around the city.

800 able-bodied men were told to convert to Islam or be slain. A tailor named Antonio Primaldi is said to have proclaimed “Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him.” To which those captives with him gave a loud cheer. On August 14 they were led to the Hill of Minerva (later renamed the Hill of Martyrs). There they were to be executed, with Primaldi to be beheaded first. After the blade decapitated him “his body allegedly remaining stubbornly and astonishing upright on its feet. Not until all had been decapitated could the aghast executioners force Primaldi’s corpse to lie prone.” Witnessing this, one Muslim executioner (whom the chroniclers say was an Ottoman officer called Bersabei) is said to have converted on the spot and been impaled immediately by his fellows for doing so.

Between August and September 1480, King Ferdinand of Naples, with the help of his cousin Ferdinand the Catholic and the Kingdom of Sicily, tried unsuccessfully to recapture Otranto. Seeing the Turks as a threat to his home, Alfonso of Aragon left his battles with the Florentines to lead a campaign to liberate Otranto from the Ottoman invaders beginning in August 1480. The city was finally retaken in the spring of 1481 by Alfonso’s troops supported by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary’s forces. The skulls of the martyrs were placed in a reliquary in the city’s cathedral.

On 13 October 1481 the bodies of the Otrantines were found to be uncorrupted and were translated to the city’s cathedral. From 1485, some of the martyrs’ remains were transferred to Naples and placed under the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello, an altar that commemorated the final Christian victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571. They were later moved to the reliquary chapel, consecrated by Benedict XIII, then to a site under the altar where they are now located. A recognitio canonica between 2002 and 2003 confirmed their authenticity.

A canonical process began in 1539. On 14 December 1771 Pope Clement XIV beatified the 800 killed on the Colle della Minerva and authorized their cult. Since then they have been the patrons of Otranto. On 6 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree recognizing that Primaldo and his fellow townsfolk were killed “out of hatred for their faith” The martyrs were canonized on 12 May 2013 by Pope Francis. The announcement of the canonization was made on 11 February 2013 by Pope Benedict XVI in the consistory in which Benedict also announced in Latin his intention to resign the papacy.

Some modern historians, such as Nancy Bisaha and Francesco Tateo have questioned details of the traditional account. Tateo notes that the earliest contemporary sources describe execution of up to one thousand soldiers or citizens, as well as the local bishop, but they do not mention conversion as a condition for clemency. Bisaha argues that more of Oranto’s inhabitants were likely to have been sold into slavery than slaughtered. However, other historians, such as Paolo Ricciardi and Salvatore Panareo, have argued that in the first year after the martyrdom there was no information about the massacres in the contemporaneous Christian world, and only later — when Otranto was reconquered by the Neapolitans — was it possible to get details of the massacre from the local survivors who saw it. Their memories may or may not have been accurate, and they are certainly not directly recorded.

Some version of a salt cod dish (known under some cognate of baccalà) is known throughout the coastal regions of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Salentine baccalà is regionally famous in and around Otranto. The addition of tomatoes and black olives make it distinctive.

Baccalà alla salentina

Ingredients

700 gm salt cod
700 gm potatoes, peeled and sliced
8 Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped
black olives
1 onion, peeled and sliced
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
oregano
dried breadcrumbs
grated pecorino

Instructions

Soak the salt cod in water for at least 48 hours, changing the water regularly.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

In a deep, heavy skillet or Dutch oven, sprinkle a little extra-virgin olive oil followed by a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Then add a layer of potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add a layer of chopped tomatoes, followed by a layer of sliced onions and olives with a seasoning of oregano and grated pecorino cheese.

Sprinkle the dish with a little olive oil.

Cut the soaked cod in chunks and lay it on top of the dish. Add another layer of potatoes, then onions, then tomatoes, olives, and seasonings, finishing with a topping of breadcrumbs and cheese sprinkled with olive oil.

Bake the dish for around 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the dish in the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve with a green salad and crusty Italian bread.

Jun 162016
 

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On this date, devout Sikhs honor the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, fifth of the ten Sikh gurus. His actual date of death is not known, but this is the conventional date of memorial in the Sikh calendar. It’s not a big festival day, but it is an important memorial because of the importance of Guru Arjan in the development of Sikhism, particularly as a martyr. His death spawned the militant branch of Sikhism that has persisted for centuries, spurring endless violence between Sikhs and Muslims, as well as with other sects. Let me state this emphatically at the outset. Violence in the name of religion is wrong – period. Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, you name it, are all religions that are fundamentally opposed to violence, yet numerous followers use their “faith” to conduct holy wars or acts of terrorism. This is just plain wrong, and is nothing more than using religion as a cover for their own brands of bigotry and hatred.

Guru Arjan (sometimes spelled Arjun) was born in Goindval, Punjab, the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Mata Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das. Guru Arjan was the Guru of Sikhism for a quarter of a century. He completed the construction of Amritsar and founded other cities, such as Taran Taran and Kartarpur. The greatest contribution Guru Arjan made to the Sikh faith was to compile all of the past Gurus’ writings, along with selected writings of other saints from different backgrounds which he considered consistent with the teachings of Sikhism into one book, now the holy scripture: the Guru Granth Sahib. It is, perhaps, the only Sikh scripture which still exists in the form first published (a hand-written manuscript) by the Guru.

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Guru Arjan introduced the Masands, a group of representatives who taught and spread the teachings of the Gurus and received the Dasvand, a voluntary offering of a Sikh’s income in money, goods or service. Sikhs paid the Dasvand to support the building of gurdwaras and langars (shared communal kitchens). Although the introduction of the langar was started by Guru Nanak, Guru Arjan is credited with laying the foundation of the systematic institution of langars as a religious duty, one that has continued ever since.

Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and ordered to convert to Islam. He refused, was tortured and executed in 1606 CE. Historical records and the Sikh tradition are unclear whether Guru Arjan was executed by drowning or died during torture. His martyrdom is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism.

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Sikhism is not especially well understood in the West although it is easy to spot a Sikh male by his beard and turban. Sikhism ( ਸਿੱਖੀ Sikkhi), is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of South Asia during the 15th century. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder’s life (marriage is an important obligation). Although one of the youngest amongst the major world religions, with over 25 million adherents worldwide, Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world.

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Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, and the ten successive Sikh gurus. After the death of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, became the general spiritual guide for Sikhs. Sikhism emphasizes simran (meditation on the words of the Guru Granth Sahib), that can be expressed musically through kirtan or internally through Nam Japo as a means to feel God’s presence, and to have control over the “Five Thieves” (lust, rage, greed, attachment and conceit). Secular life is considered to be intertwined with the spiritual life. Guru Nanak taught that living an “active, creative, and practical life” of “truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity” is above  metaphysical truth, and that the ideal disciple (i.e. sikh) is one who “establishes union with God, knows the Will of God, and carries out that Will.” Sikhs established the system of the langar, or communal kitchen, in order to demonstrate the need to share and have equality between all people. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, established that the political/temporal (Miri) and the spiritual (Piri) realms should be mutually coexistent.

Sikhs also reject claims that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth. The development of Sikhism was influenced by the Bhakti movement, which developed out of the Vedic tradition of Hinduism. However, Sikhism was not simply an extension of the Bhakti movement, but a radical change in direction – rejecting polytheism, for example. Sikhism developed while the Punjab region was being ruled by the Mughal Empire. Both Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, after they refused to convert to Islam, were tortured and executed by the Mughal rulers. The Islamic era persecution of Sikhs triggered the founding of the Khalsa, as a militant order to defend freedom of conscience and religion. A Sikh is expected to embody the qualities of a “Sant-Sipāhī” – a saint-soldier.

God in Sikhism is known as Ik Onkar, the One Supreme Reality. or the all-pervading spirit (which is taken to mean God). This spirit has no gender in Sikhism, though translations may present it as masculine. It is also Akaal Purkh (beyond time and space) and Nirankar (without form). In addition, Guru Nanak wrote that there are many worlds on which Ik Onkar has created life.

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Guru Nanak further states that the understanding of Akaal is beyond human beings, but at the same time not wholly unknowable. Akaal is omnipresent (sarav viāpak) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Guru Nanak stressed that Ik Onkar must be seen with “the inward eye”, or the “heart”, of a human being: devotees must meditate to progress towards enlightenment of “higher” life. Guru Nanak emphasized revelation through meditation, as its rigorous application permits communication between God and human beings.

The Mul Mantar, the opening line of the Guru Granth Sahib and each subsequent raga, invokes Ik Oankar:

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ॥

Transliteration: ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha’u niravair(u) akāl(a) mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan gur(a) prasād(i).

There is but one all pervading spirit, and truth is its name! It exists in all creation; it does not fear; it does not hate; it is timeless and universal and self-existent, You will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning!

In Sikhism, only lacto-vegetarian food is served in the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) but Sikhs are not bound to be meat-free. The consensus is that Sikhs are free to adopt a meat diet or not as they choose. Sikhs, once they become Amritdhari (initiated) via the Amrit Sanskar (initiation ceremony), are forbidden from eating Kutha or ritually-slaughtered (Halal, Kosher)meat because it transgresses one of the four restrictions in the Sikh Code of Conduct. According to the Akal Takht (Central Body for Sikh Temporal Affairs), Sikhs are allowed only to eat Jhatka meat (meat from animals that are slaughtered instantly by a single blow).

Guru Nanak said it was pointless to debate the merits of either not eating or eating meat in the context of religion, as maintaining a strict diet does not make one blessed or elevate one to a superior status over another, spiritually or otherwise. Being a member of a religion incorporates not only one’s dietary customs, but the entire way in which devotees govern their lives. He advocated a life consisting of honest, hard work and humility, focus and remembrance of God, and compassion for all of humanity. These three key principles take precedence over one’s dietary habits.

I tend to agree with one branch of Sikhism which argues that both plants and animals have life, and so it is not rational to separate the one from the other by arguing that eating meat involves taking life whereas eating plants does not. Just because a carrot does not scream when you harvest it does not mean that it is less of a living thing than a cow. Humans eat living things – and they eat us. Such is the nature of life.

Nonetheless I’ll highlight a classic vegetarian Punjabi dish here, aloo gobi. It’s one of my favorites, and has taken me a long time to perfect. It’s a dry spicy dish made with potatoes and cauliflower. For a very thorough account of how to go about cooking it go here: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/aloo-gobi-recipe-punjabialoo-gobi/  It takes a lot of practice to get it right. The potatoes and cauliflower have to be cooked properly without boiling. The dish is very spicy, but dry, unlike the more usual heavily sauced curries you find in Indian restaurants that cover the waterfront from Goa, Kerala, Bengal, Madras, Gujarat, etc, but which can be highly generic.

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The principal seasoning of aloo gobi, added towards the end, is garam masala. I usually buy mine readymade, but it can vary considerably in content and quality. The basic ingredients are black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. If you’re a real purist you can buy these spices whole and grind them together yourself. Ghee (clarified butter) is the preferred cooking oil, but plain vegetable oil is all right, and makes the dish vegan.

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Aloo Gobi

1 medium cauliflower (450 g), cut into florets
5 or 6 medium size potatoes (350 g), pealed and sliced in wedges
2 inches ginger peeled and chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp garam masala powder
coriander leaves for garnish
4 tbsp oil or ghee

Instructions

You need a deep, heavy skillet with a tight fitting lid for a successful dish.

Heat the oil over medium-low heat and add the potatoes and cauliflower. Sauté the vegetables for about 10 minutes, but do not let them take on color. Stir continuously while cooking.

Add the ginger and turmeric and stir thoroughly to make sure that they are evenly distributed. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Cook undisturbed for about 20 minutes. The water in the vegetables will steam them.

Uncover the pot, add the garam masala, turn the heat to medium high. You may need to add a little more oil at this stage if the pan is completely dry. Sauté for a few minutes to release all the flavors from the garam masala, stirring constantly to make sure the vegetables are evenly coated.

Serve with plain boiled basmati rice, chutneys, pickles, and flat bread.

Feb 172016
 

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Today is the birthday (1201) of Khawaja Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Hasan Tūsī (Persian: محمد بن محمد بن الحسن طوسی‎‎), better known as Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī (Persian: نصیر الدین طوسی‎)‎; or simply Tusi in the West, a Persian polymath and prolific writer – an architect, astronomer, biologist, chemist, mathematician, philosopher, physician, physicist, scientist, and theologian. The Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldoun (1332–1406) http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ibn-khaldoun/ considered Tusi to be the greatest of the later Persian scholars.

Tusi was born in the city of Tus in medieval Khorasan (in north-eastern Iran) and began his studies at an early age. In Hamadan and Tus he studied the Qur’an, Hadith, Shi’a jurisprudence, logic, philosophy, mathematics, medicine and astronomy.

He was apparently born into a Shī‘ah family and lost his father at a young age. Fulfilling the wish of his father, the young Tusi took learning and scholarship very seriously and travelled far and wide to attend the lectures of renowned scholars and acquire the knowledge, an exercise highly encouraged in his Islamic faith. At a young age he moved to Nishapur to study philosophy under Farid al-Din Damad and mathematics under Muhammad Hasib. He met also Farid al-Din ‘Attar, the legendary Sufi master who was later killed by Mongol invaders and attended the lectures of Qutb al-Din al-Misri.

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In Mosul he studied mathematics and astronomy with Kamal al-Din Yunus (d. 1242). Later on he corresponded with Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, the son-in-law of Ibn al-‘Arabi, and it seems that mysticism, as propagated by Sufi masters of his time, was not appealing to his mind and once the occasion was suitable, he composed his own manual of philosophical Sufism in the form of a small booklet entitled Awsaf al-Ashraf “The Attributes of the Illustrious”.

As the armies of Genghis Khan swept his homeland, he was employed by the Ismailis and made his most important contributions in science during this time when he was moving from one stronghold to another. He was captured after the invasion of the Alamut castle by the Mongol forces.

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Tusi wrote about 150 works, of which 25 are in Persian and the remaining are in Arabic,[12] and there is one treatise in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. These include:

Kitāb al-Shakl al-qattāʴ Book on the complete quadrilateral. A five volume summary of trigonometry.

Al-Tadhkirah fi’ilm al-hay’ah – A memoir on the science of astronomy. Many commentaries were written about this work called Sharh al-Tadhkirah (A Commentary on al-Tadhkirah) – Commentaries were written by Abd al-Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Birjandi and by Nazzam Nishapuri.

Akhlaq-i Nasiri – A work on ethics.

al-Risalah al-Asturlabiyah – A Treatise on the astrolabe.

Zij-i ilkhani (Ilkhanic Tables) – A major astronomical treatise, completed in 1272.

sharh al-isharat (Commentary on Avicenna’s Isharat)

Awsaf al-Ashraf a short mystical-ethical work in Persian

Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād (Summation of Belief) – A commentary on Shia doctrines.

Talkhis Al Mohassal(summary of summaries).

During his stay in Nishapur, Tusi established a reputation as an exceptional scholar. “Tusi’s prose writing, which number over 150 works, represent one of the largest collections by a single Islamic author.

Tusi convinced Hulegu Khan to construct an observatory for establishing accurate astronomical tables for better astrological predictions. Beginning in 1259, the Rasad Khaneh observatory was constructed in Azarbaijan, south of the river Aras, and to the west of Maragheh, the capital of the Ilkhanate Empire.

Based on the observations in this for the time being most advanced observatory, Tusi made very accurate tables of planetary movements as depicted in his book Zij-i ilkhani (Ilkhanic Tables). This book contains astronomical tables for calculating the positions of the planets and the names of the stars. His model for the planetary system is believed to be the most advanced of his time, and was used extensively until the development of the heliocentric model in the time of Nicolaus Copernicus. Between Ptolemy and Copernicus, he is considered to be one of the most eminent astronomers of his time.

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For his planetary models, he invented a geometrical technique called a Tusi-couple, which generates linear motion from the sum of two circular motions. He used this technique to replace Ptolemy’s problematic equant for many planets, but was unable to find a solution to Mercury’s motion, which was solved later by Ibn al-Shatir as well as Ali Qushji. The Tusi couple was later employed in Ibn al-Shatir’s geocentric model and Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric model. He also calculated the value for the annual precession of the equinoxes and contributed to the construction and usage of some astronomical instruments including the astrolabe.

Ṭūsī criticized Ptolemy’s use of observational evidence to show that the Earth was at rest, noting that such proofs were not decisive. Although it doesn’t mean that he was a supporter of the motion of the earth, as he and his 16th-century commentator al-Bīrjandī, maintained that the earth’s immobility could be demonstrated, but only by physical principles found in natural philosophy. Tusi’s criticisms of Ptolemy were similar to the arguments later used by Copernicus in 1543 to defend the Earth’s rotation.

About the essence of the Milky Way, Ṭūsī in his Tadhkira writes: “The Milky Way, is made up of a very large number of small, tightly-clustered stars, which, on account of their concentration and smallness, seem to be cloudy patches. Because of this, it was likened to milk in color.” Three centuries later the proof of the Milky Way consisting of many stars came in 1610 when Galileo used a telescope to study the Milky Way and discovered that it is really composed of a huge number of faint stars.

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In his Akhlaq-i-Nasri, Tusi put forward a basic theory for the evolution of species that has a few components that pre-echo Darwin. He begins his theory of evolution with the universe once consisting of equal and similar elements. According to Tusi, internal contradictions began appearing, and as a result, some substances began developing faster and differently from other substances. He then explains how the elements evolved into minerals, then plants, then animals, and then humans. Tusi then goes on to explain how hereditary variability was an important factor for biological evolution of living things:

The organisms that can gain the new features faster are more variable. As a result, they gain advantages over other creatures. . . . The bodies are changing as a result of the internal and external interactions.

Tusi then discusses how organisms are able to adapt to their environments:

Look at the world of animals and birds. They have all that is necessary for defense, protection and daily life, including strengths, courage and appropriate tools [organs]. Some of these organs are real weapons. For example, horns-spear, teeth and claws-knife and needle, feet and hoofs-cudgel. The thorns and needles of some animals are similar to arrows. Animals that have no other means of defense (as the gazelle and fox) protect themselves with the help of flight and cunning. Some of them, for example, bees, ants and some bird species, have united in communities in order to protect themselves and help each other.

Tusi next explains how humans evolved from animals:

Such humans [probably anthropoid apes] live in the Western Sudan and other distant corners of the world. They are close to animals by their habits, deeds and behavior. The human has features that distinguish him from other creatures, but he has other features that unite him with the animal world, vegetable kingdom or even with the inanimate bodies. Before [the creation of humans], all differences between organisms were of the natural origin. The next step will be associated with spiritual perfection, will, observation and knowledge. All these facts prove that the human being is placed on the middle step of the evolutionary stairway. According to his inherent nature, the human is related to the lower beings, and only with the help of his will can he reach the higher development level.

In chemistry and physics, Tusi stated a version of the law of conservation of mass. He wrote that a body of matter is able to change, but is not able to disappear:

A body of matter cannot disappear completely. It only changes its form, condition, composition, color and other properties and turns into a different complex or elementary matter.

Tusi was the first to write a work on trigonometry independently of astronomy. In his Treatise on the Quadrilateral, gave an extensive exposition of spherical trigonometry, distinct from astronomy. It was in these works that trigonometry achieved the status of an independent branch of pure mathematics distinct from astronomy, to which it had previously been linked.

In his On the Sector Figure, appears the famous law of sines for plane triangles.

a/sin A = b/sin B = c/sin C

He also stated the law of sines for spherical triangles, discovered the law of tangents for spherical triangles, and provided proofs for these laws.

nad5

In February 2013, Google celebrated his 812th birthday with a doodle, which was accessible in its websites with Arabic language calling him al-farsi (the Persian). Arils are the seeds, which act as a garnish.

Pomegranate soup, or āsh-e anār, is a Persian and Mesopotamian dish (āsh) made from pomegranate juice and seeds, yellow split peas, rice, spices, and vegetables. It likely has ancient roots. It is generally more flavorful if you can find pomegranate syrup, but the pure juice will do.

nad6

Pomegranate Soup

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
¾ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or mint)
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced thin
8 cups light stock
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup basmati rice, uncooked
⅓ cup yellow split peas, soaked overnight
¼ cup pomegranate syrup
2 tbsp sugar
salt
freshly ground black pepper
pomegranate arils to garnish

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy stock pot on medium heat. Add the parsley, cilantro, spinach and leek, and sauté for 10 minutes to wilt. Do not allow them to take on color.

Add the stock and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Add the rice and split peas. Cook on a low heat until the rice is done (about 30 minutes). The split peas will cook at about the same time.

Add the pomegranate syrup and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Pour the soup into deep bowls and garnish with about 1 tablespoon of pomegranate arils per bowl.

Serve with flatbread.

May 282013
 

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan rug

Today is Republic Day in Azerbaijan celebrating the first successful attempt to establish a democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic ( Azərbaycan Xalq Cümhuriyyəti) was founded by the Azerbaijani National Council in Tiflis on 28 May 1918 after the overthrow of the Russian Tsar.  Independence was short lived, however. In 1920 Lenin ordered the Red Army to take over the country because Russia needed Azerbaijan’s oil reserves.  Among the important accomplishments of the brief period of independence was the extension of the right to vote to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. In this regard Azerbaijan also preceded the United Kingdom and the United States. Azerbaijan regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but then had a lengthy conflict with Armenia, which gained independence at the same time and then invaded Azerbaijan in a bloody land grab.

Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region, located at the junction of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, a region usually known as Eurasia. It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. It has three main geographic zones: the Caspian Sea; the Greater Caucasus mountain range covering about 40% of the nation; and  extensive flatlands at the country’s center .

If you had to use a single word to describe Azerbaijan it would have to be “diverse”  — climates that range from semi-arid desert to mountainous tundra with everything in between, extraordinary biodiversity of both plants and animals, one main language, Azerbaijani (Azeri), and 12 minority languages spoken in select regions spanning both the Altaic and Indo-European language families,  cultural influences coming from both Europe and Asian sources such as Persia (Iran), Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia, as well as from ancient conquerors including Scythians and Greeks, five major regional rug  weaving styles with infinite sub-styles (see picture) whose roots stretch back to antiquity, and more. Yet all these influences have synthesized into a recognizable and distinct culture.

Nowhere are the diverse cultural influences and geographic zones more evident than in Azerbaijani cuisine.   Azerbaijani cuisine features dozens of styles of soupy stews each varying according to cook’s choice, some with a base of yogurt. As is common in Eurasian cooking there is a wide variety of shashlik (kebabs), including lamb, beef, chicken, and fish, frequently sold by street vendors with small wood grills. Sturgeon, plentiful in the Caspian Sea, is often skewered and grilled, served with a tart pomegranate sauce called narsharab. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in many dishes. The traditional condiments are salt, black pepper, sumac, and especially saffron, which is grown domestically on the Absheron Peninsula. Other flavorings include  mint, cilantro, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chives, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress. The Caspian Sea is fished for sturgeon, Caspian salmon, Caspian kutum (a firm white fish) , sardines, grey mullet, and others. Black caviar from the Caspian Sea is one of Azerbaijan’s best known delicacies, sold worldwide.

One of the most reputed dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine is plov (pilaf) which contains saffron rice layered with other ingredients, quite distinct from Uzbek and Iranian plovs. Azerbaijani cuisine has a kaleidoscope of versions of plov from the various regions of the country, some using meats like chicken and lamb, others with dried fruits, or a combination of both. This recipe comes from Baku (the capital).  It can be eaten by itself or with meat shashlik. The ingredient Alu Bukhara is a tart plum that counteracts the sweetness of the other fruits.  You can find it online, or substitute tart cherries. Many cooks in Azerbaijan make a scorched layer on the bottom of the rice pot called a gazmakh, which is much loved. This may simply be the scorched rice itself or a separate layer of ingredients such as thinly sliced potatoes or flatbread. Here I use a mix of rice, yogurt, and egg.  Basmati rice is best because of its rich flavor, but plain rice will do.

Shirin Plov (Plov with Apricots, Dates and Saffron)

Ingredients:

2 cups long grained basmati (or plain long grained rice)
½ cup cooked and peeled chestnuts
¼ cup dried alu bukhara (or tart cherries)
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup pitted dates
6 tblsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp powdered saffron in 3 teaspoons of rosewater
2 tbsp yogurt
1 egg

Instructions:

Place the raw rice in a colander and run it under cold water until it runs clear. This is a vital step to prevent the rice being sticky.  Soak the washed rice for about 30 minutes in cold water with a pinch of salt.

In a large, heavy gauge pot boil enough salted water to cook the rice. When the water comes to a full boil drain the rice and add it to the pot. Bring the water back to a rolling boil. Stir the rice from time to time and let it boil for about 5 minutes. Test it. The rice should be soft but not fully cooked. It will be steamed later to cook it through. Err on the side of underdone. Drain the rice and rinse it under cold water.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and toss the fruit in it. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. The fruit should absorb the flavor of the butter and swell, but do not overcook it. The fruit should remain firm. Set aside.

Mix ½ cup of cooked rice, 1 tbsp of melted butter, 2 tbsp of yogurt, 1 egg and a pinch of salt. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the rice pot. Then alternate layers of rice and fruit, finishing with a layer of rice.

Pour 3 tbsp of melted butter and the saffron flavored rose water over the top of the rice.

Place a tea towel over the pot and place the lid tightly on top.  Fold the corners of the towel over the lid to prevent them from burning.

Put the pot on a high-medium flame for about 5 minutes and then reduce it to as low as possible. Leave the rice to steam for about 30 minutes.

Serve on a large platter for guests to help themselves.

Serves 4-6 (with side dishes of meat)