Sufi images

Published : Feb 11, 2011 00:00 IST

The erudition of the text matches the richness of the illustrations in these two books on holy places of Islam.

OVERSIZE books with profuse illustrations tend to be dismissed as coffee table books that adorn the drawing rooms of the affluent. They might yet read books like these two and ignore their contents. For, they belong to the genre in which erudition of the text matches richness of the illustration. There is unfortunately not a single work on the main dargahs or mazaars of the great masters of the subcontinent. Each has its own individual characteristic, while all are bound by a rich tradition.

Mazaar, Bazaar is an excellent source book for students of culture as well as for artists and students of communication. Saima Zaidi, its editor, who teaches the history of design and typography at the University of Karachi, has brought together a large number of contributors of erudite essays 33 actually and has embellished the work with excellent illustrations. They comment on a pluralistic society and reflect a visual culture that evolved from centuries of exchange with diverse civilisations. The terms and topics vary. There is one on wall chalkings advertising cures for impotence and those calling for jehad which, the writer Durre S. Ahmed argues, display a collective crisis of masculinity, religion, sexuality and love. The book thus covers mazaars (groves) as well as bazaars. The editor has written an essay on the visual campaigns of political parties in Pakistan. There are essays on Sufi and Shia elements in the representations of Guru Nanak and on the Buddhist art of Gandhara.

Samina Quraeshi has produced a feast of a book. She is a teacher, artist and author, currently the Gardner Visiting Artist at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Sacred Spaces has essays by Professor Ali M. Asani at Harvard on Images of South Asian Sufism; by Professor Cecil W. Ernst at the University of North at Capel Hill on Islam and Sufism in contemporary South Asia; and by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, a leading Pakistani architect, on the architecture of Sufi shrines, besides a major contribution on Story-Telling as Imaginative History by Samina Quraeshi herself, a devoted student of the legendary Annmarie Schimmel, who deserves a biography. The author calls her a practising Sufi and eminent scholar of Islam. Invited to the author's studio, she remarked, Your real work is to express what people feel and cannot express. You must communicate through the talent Allah gave you. Do not waste it. Start. There can be no praise greater than this that in this book Samina Quraeshi has fulfilled the task her mentor had set. It is about sacred places and how the spirit of Sufism is embodied and enacted at the shrines of the saints. Her outlook is reflected in a Sufi saying she quotes: The real journey must take place within the waste of one's homeland, the soul.

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