Tuesday, 24 February 2009

In Memoriam: Professor Marcella Althaus-Reid (b.1952-d.2009)

It is with great sadness and shock to hear the news that Marcella died last week at the Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh on Friday 20th February 2009. When appointed, she was the only woman professor of theology at a Scottish University, and the first woman professor of theology at the University of Edinburgh in 160 years.

I had the good fortune of sharing a panel with Marcella a few years back at the Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality on 'A Male and Female God Made Us'. I was instantly drawn to her focus on liberation theology and I remember having a wonderful conversation with her before and after the panel at which she encouraged me to keep asking the challenging question on gender and sexuality in religion. Then two years ago I met her at the American Academy of Religion Conference in San Diego where we had a brief chat once again. That was the last time I met her. Marcella was a rare gem who inspired me greatly. God rest her soul.

The memorial service will be held at St. George's West Church (Shandwick Place), Edinburgh, on Saturday 07 March, at noon.

This is her biographical details that I took from Edinburgh University's Divinity School website.

"Professor Althaus-Reid held the Chair of Contextual Theology in the School of Divinity and was born in Rosario, Argentina. She completed her first degree at ISEDET, Buenos Aires, the world famous centre for the study of Liberation Theology in Latin America, studying under internationally acclaimed scholars including José Míguez Bonino and J. Severino Croatto. In 1994 she gained her PhD from the University of St Andrews and was appointed to a lectureship.

Professor Althaus-Reids first book, Indecent Theology (2000) brought her instant international acclaim. Together with her second book, The Queer God (2004) it has established a new field for the study of theology. To her critical engagement with Liberation and Feminist theologies she has added the dimension of Theology and Sexuality. Her work has been the subject of books, articles and conferences and has led to invitations to deliver lecture series not only in the UK but in Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain. She has also lectured in the USA, Brazil and New Zealand. The translation of several of her work into Spanish has facilitated a new dialogue between Latin American and North Atlantic theologians.

Professor Althaus-Reid trained for the ministry of the Methodist Church of Argentina. In addition to her academic training she developed expertise in the method of conscientization, pioneered by the Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire. This she put to good use in social and community projects supported by the church in deprived areas of Buenos Aires. It was because of this experience that she was invited to set up similar projects in Dundee and Perth (Scotland)."

And the First Oscar for Excellence in Music goes to a Muslim?

Nobody who knows A.R. (Allah Rakha - lit. protected by God) Rahman could have been surprised by the way he ended his acceptance speech for best original score at the Oscars—with the Tamil phrase Ellapugazhum iraivanuke that translates into: “The praise must all go to the Almighty.”

In a career littered with acceptance speeches, he has used the phrase often, an obvious statement of his deep religious convictions. “He believes every moment is designed by God and goes by that, whatever opportunities come by his way,” says A.R. Rehana, Rahman’s sister and a playback singer herself. “What drives him is his trust in God.”

Born as the Hindu Dileep Kumar, Rahman converted to Islam in 1989 along with the rest of his family. That conversion—as well as his rigorous habit of prayer—is a firm part of the well-known Rahman mythos that lives within the Indian film industry. “I don’t just sit down and say: ‘Oh, let’s make a tune.’ It is possible to do that but I don’t work like that,” he once told this correspondent. “I like to make it a spiritual exercise for myself.”

“Everybody in the industry knows how religious he is, how he prays every time before he sings or records,” says Radhika Chandrasekhar, a New Delhi-based film-maker who worked as assistant director on the Rajeev Menon film Sapnay, which Rahman scored. “For a long time, if he ever sang one of his songs himself, he would only sing about faith or about his love for the country.”

His faith has kept him grounded even as his reputation and worth have soared, Rahman’s colleagues say. But the Academy Awards will be the sternest test yet. Inevitably, his price will climb as projects from the US and Europe compete for his time—and that might well affect those in India he works with in the future.

Rahman charges Rs1.5 crore per film, easily the highest fee commanded by a music director today, according to Komal Nahata, editor of the trade publication Film Information. “The next highest, probably Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa), charge less than Rs1 crore,” he says. “I think now Rahman’s standard fee may even go up to Rs2 crore, and nobody will be able to refuse it. If some directors can’t afford him, they won’t get him, simple as that.”

But T. Selvakumar, co-founder along with Rahman of the KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, believes otherwise. “We were talking about it, and he was sure that he would continue to do movies only if they were for good directors, and for no other reason,” he says. “He has a couple of Hollywood offers on hand, but he isn’t at all the type of person to use this to increase his rate and commercialize this whole experience.”

Vidhya Sivaramakrishnan in Chennai contributed to this story. Shashi Baliga is editor, Sunday Hindustan Times (Mumbai).

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Remembering and Forgetting God...

This has been one of my favorite Urdu ghazals for a very long time but only today did I take time to really appreciate the lyrics. I was unaware of how it poses some very interesting theological points. It is, as most ghazals, full of alternative meanings, is the beloved God or an earthly beloved that is for the reader to savor and experience. For me, it is God and I have translated it as such. It offers an important lesson to all believers that God has created many signs and events to re-invigorate spirituality and beauty in the believers, but still we are all the targets of a short-term memory. May God’s beauty and love fill our hearts in desire to create a better world.

At the bottom I add the prolific Pakistani singers, Noor Jehan and Munni Begum singing this poignant ghazal. Another testimony to the richness of spirituality in that part of the Muslim world.

Bhool ney waley sey koi kehday zara
Is tarah yaad anay sey kya fai’da?

Somebody must tell the forgotten ones
There is no point in remembrance in this way

Jub meray dil ki dunya basatay nahi
Pir kayalo’n mein anay sey kya fai’da?

When you don’t create a world of love
Then what is the point in just featuring in those dreams?

Char din kay jala kay kya mil gaya?
Mit saka na zamanay sey mera nishan

What did you achieve with those few days spent burning all the signs?
My signs are still prevalent in the world

Mujhe pey bijli gi’ra’o to ja’nay sahi
Aashiya pur giranay sey kya fai’da?

If you strike lightening on me then so be it
But what use is it to strike the beautiful home?

Pehlay dil ko bo’ra’i sey kur pak tu
Pir kaloos sey aqeedat sey kur joostaju

First cleanse the heart of all things not from it
Then with purity seek the truth (God)

Aisay sajdo sey Allah milta nahi
Hur jaga sur jookanay sey kya fai’da?

With just prostrating poses you will not find God
What is the point of bowing that head at all times (to those not worthy)

Tum ney Musa ko na haq hi taqleef di
Lutf ata agur yaad kurtay humay

You (the believers) gave the prophet Musa (Moses) distress without any reason/justice
Surely refinement, elegance, beauty, and gratification would have emerged had you remembered me (God)

Jin ki nazro/ ankho mein tab’ay nazara na ho
Unko jalwa dekahanay sey kya fai’da?

For those whose sight fails to see the beautiful scenes
What is the point in showing them extraordinary miracles?