Small is Bountiful

house from above

In the year 2000, Shaykh Zaki Yamani, the erstwhile Saudi oil minister, gave a one-off lecture in London which I had the good fortune to attend. The lecture was about the house of Khadijah, may God be pleased with her, in Mecca, the first wife of the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, which was so mindlessly obliterated by the Saudi government in the 1990s to make way for a building of 1,400 toilets adjacent to it. The site itself is now covered in marble. This was a house which was revered as a place of pilgrimage by muslims for well over 1000 years to which dignitaries would visit and pray in, and where the angel had sat and prayed with the Prophet and where he taught him. A place of revelation in other words. As sacred a space as you could possible imagine. The house was tiny and a sign of the simplicity and economy that those people of that time embodied during their lives. You can watch the lecture here:

In his lecture, Shaykh Yamani explained that he was able to secure a three week delay to the rebuilding while he brought in 500 workers to excavate, measure and photograph it before it was filled in with sand and covered in concrete. This was doubtless an act of desecration by the Saudis which was hurtful to the vast majority of muslims. The recent destruction of Palmyra and mausoleums in Libya were merely a continuation of this process of desecration that has been going on for centuries. The favourite pastime, it appears, of the khawarij and its current manifestation. You can see on this site a depressing list of religious sacred sites obliterated by the Saudi regime in recent times. It’s painful to read it and even more painful to think that such a great and ancient religion is being attacked like this from within its own walls and something which the ‘west’ conveniently overlooks. These actions seem to come out of a dark void, a vacuum. It cannot be from any true religion to destroy things of beauty, let alone innocent and beautiful human lives. For it is from religion that so much beauty has come.

khadija plan

Anyway, my fascination with this tiny house in Mecca, was the sheer smallness of it. It must have been a house with five children with two thirds of it for commercial storage, as Khadijah was a working businesswoman who employed her younger husband who happened to also be the Prophet of God. You could stand in one of the rooms and touch opposite walls with arms outstretched. Compare this to the excesses of life in the west and what is now considered the poverty line in the USA and you start to wonder if some of the material values aspired to by the so called developed world aren’t seriously overblown. father when he was alive in the 1950s was editor of a fine arts magazine and as part of his job had to visit Sutton Place, in Surrey, the then British residence of J Paul Getty, the elder, to write an article on the 600 room historic mansion and its antiquities.

Getty, then the richest man in the world at the time, lived there alone and made his guests bring sandwiches and in a wild moment of generosity provided a payphone in the entrance foyer for their use. Sad, to say the least. A king of the large-house movement. Conversely there is a growing small-house movement these days world-wide in the so called developed world.

Sutton Place, Surrey UK

Small-House-Japansmall house usa
Left: a tiny house in the USA. Above: Interior of a small wooden Japanese house.

Type ‘small houses’ into Google and you get 83 million results. However, in the USA the average size of new single family homes grew from 1,780 sq. feet (165 sq.m) in 1978 to  2,662 sq. feet (247.3 sq.m) in 2013, despite a decrease in the size of the average family. Reasons for this include increased material wealth and prestige in a very spoilt country. And of course it has left a lot of people out of the loop, if not actually homeless. Which is why now people are looking for alternative ways of living because of the difficulty of renting property let alone buying it. I personally know of people in Spain who have rented  land and built theoretically temporary structures to live in. Importantly they live within their means, often off-grid, and avoid the need to borrow money. I call it creative adaptability. For them it is fulfilling and honourable.

The human race is very inventive and hugely adaptive which is why I’m interested in people who have consciously and creatively down-sized and how they have done it. I have recently downsized myself and after a year and half my wife and I have fully adapted. Not enough storage? Then get rid of the clothes you never wear. Badly need another room? then build a shed. But only if you really need it. But our mini house does have a lovely very private garden with fourteen kinds of fruit trees, vegetables, a fast running irrigation acequia (irrigation channel), a small pool and rather too many cats. In Spain you live a lot outside all year round so not having palatial living rooms is not a problem which is why most houses have small rooms.

Our ancestors, the best of them that is, mostly lived in small houses and only the rich elites lived in big houses. The current American large house solution is clearly unsustainable even though Hollywood and English period TV productions, try to convince us all that we really need kitchens the size of tennis courts and swimming pools the size of the Caspian sea. That model, with the huge mortgages it necessitates, cannot and will not last.

Posted in architectural, Comment, House design, miscellaneous, religion, sacred knowledge, Sacrilege, small houses, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pass the Parcel



The graveyard of 6 million at Najaf, south of Baghdad.

Professional journalists usually have to fill column inches to order,
which accounts for their flights of fancy or in many cases outright
lies. Bloggers, unless they are driven lunatics, tend to post stuff as
and when they feel inspired. Which is why reading blogs is often more
informative than most news sources, printed or electronic.

In the summer months I tend to put my feet up and take a blog holiday
as to tell the truth I think I stop thinking in the heat or I’m
otherwise occupied watering plants or just trying to stay cool. But I
can see the need soon for a special obituary page on my blog as
increasing numbers of my friends are entering the ante chamber of life
or should that be death. There has been a rush to old age for some
time with my generation and naturally it’s regularly a topic
of conversation. Where are you going to be buried? And so on…..and
why not? Nothing morbid about it. Just forward planning.

I’ve blogged two obituaries in the last six years of people close to
me which is not exactly a lot. But my late brother Kaye, himself a
journalist, wrote quite a few obituaries over the years for the
Guardian and other newspapers – mostly obituaries of other
journalists, writers or political figures who were connected to
Africa, his area of interest. Until of course he passed away himself
two years ago and some other journalist had to write his obit for the
Guardian. Like a macabre game of pass the parcel except the idea is to
keep the parcel as long as you can.

In fact when Kaye died I was in California so I missed his actual
funeral but was able to go to a memorial for him in Chatham House in
London a few months later. I say event because if you put a lot of
journalists and their coterie of politicians, diplomats and
businessmen together, especially if half are Africans or
Afro-Caribbean, it’s more of a party than a serious memorial for the
one who has passed on.

Mind you it was quite serious in places and at one point a giant
Nigerian who arrived halfway through the proceedings burst into tears
as he mentioned Kaye’s name. But the recollections were generally humorous with a well known Jamaican writer recalling the time when he met up with Kaye, newly
married back in 1963. Asked where she was, Kaye said that Marva, his
new wife, was tied up at home and was unable to come. Our Jamaican
writer pointed out wryly that where he comes from people had a kind of
literal understanding of the language and that tied up meant … tied
up! Much mirth.

In the room full of over 100 people I felt a warmth and mutual respect
amongst them but not in a politically correct fashionable multiracial
kind of way but quite real. I was moved. When I was introduced as
Kaye’s youngest brother to the large Nigerian journalist who had wept
on the podium, he clasped me in a giant bear hug.  But of course
waiting upstairs were the drinks and once the dedications were over
there was a stampede. I’m afraid alcohol is the lubricant of most
journalists’ lives, my brother included.

I recall visiting him once in his office, the HQ, of West Africa ,
somewhere in south London. West Africa was a political weekly he
edited for 20 years, mostly about Nigeria and its three storey
headquarters was inhabited entirely by Nigerians. But at the very top
in the Managing Editor’s office was the very white Mr Whiteman. A
symbolic and defining image of my brother’s life.

My own generation is ten years behind that of my brother so there is
less shuffling going on to get off this mortal coil but the shuffling
has definitely started and passing the obituary parcel has begun. I’ve
written two obits in total in 6 years which seems to indicate that
most of my friends are still alive and kicking. Who will do the next
obituary? Who will do mine? Do we actually need obituaries?

We bury these realities as we bury the dead or incinerate them as is
the fashion even here in Spain these days. It’s the not talked about
taboo subject in modern cultures or else it’s the headline item that
is guaranteed to sell newspapers or pull in tv advertising. More
deaths = more advertising. As the Australian arch lizard of the news
business correctly observed: news is entertainment, and horror and
death sells and always has. The tv channels are filled with whodunnits
always featuring the gruesome ritual pulling back of the green shroud
in the mortuary for us to see how well an actor can act being dead.

This culture is probably the only civilization in history with zero
knowledge of what happens next. It’s all about somehow extending life
at all costs by miraculous medical techniques putting huge profits
into the transplant industry and leaving simple cheap life preserving
measures un-financed. Also the arms manufacturers guarantee that for
some, extending life is not their plan but the serious curtailing of
it – for a lot of people.

As Abe Lincoln said “it’s not the years in your life that matters but
the life in your years.” Quality not quantity. Isn’t that a better
attitude? Or as Al Ghazali said 700 years ago “only the deceived fool
rejoices as his wealth increases as each day his life shortens.”

Best to look death in the face and smile … it will descend.

Posted in Comment, miscellaneous, Poetry, Publishing, religion, sacred knowledge, tassawuf, typography / design, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Daniel Moore, Poet

AH City Lights

Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, passed away yesterday April 18 after several years of cheerfully coping with illness. He was a night bird poet who invariably wrote in the early hours. Like a nightingale his song was only heard by a few but fortunately was recorded in all the many books he self-published over a fifteen year period till the time of his death. It is said that when a poem is recited the spirit of its author appears in some way and it’s in his poetry that you can still meet with him. There is a huge volume of his work but it is hoped an anthology can be assembled soon to present the essence of his work to a bigger audience. He was well known as a beat poet in the 1960s in the USA and was brought to a large audience by the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, and his name was always linked with Alan Ginsberg and Laurence Ferlinghetti. But it was a world of poetry that I had little to do with. I only knew him as a fellow traveler through the wild and rocky roads of a Sufi brotherhood over a period of around 45 years.

Others could relate in more detail better than me his early fame in the Floating Lotus Opera Company in San Francisco during the late sixties and the internet might reveal more details and even movie footage. Remember this was in the height of the flower revolution fuelled by LSD and many other stimulants. Many of the pioneers of this new frontier were cosmic explorers seeking whatever they could of Eastern universal wisdom in all its many manifestations, Sufism included. And Islam finally.

He was an early follower of Suzuki Roshi, the famous Zen master, and he once gave me a tour of his old dojo in the heart of San Francisco where a row of small black zen cushions in a large wood panelled downstairs room was evidence of where the disciples endured hours of meditation.

Abdal Hayy was plucked out of that Zen Buddhist world and the shaymanic theatrical world of the Floating Lotus and hip poetry, by the actor Ian Dallas and it was 1971 when I first met Abdal Hayy in London, shed of his long hair, prayer beads in hand. He was en route to Morocco with some other Californians to meet the famous venerable Sufi shaykh in Meknes, Muhammad Ibn al Habib, where he was appointed a muqqadem (a deputy) by the Shaykh. When he finally fled from the gravitational pull of the various communities he found himself living in for many years, he ended up in Philadelphia where he remained till his death. Having been curiously prohibited from writing early on by Ian Dallas, in his newly won freedom, Abdal Hayy began writing poetry again, and prolifically so.

I worked on quite a few of his books and although I must admit I am no connoisseur of poetry there was always a few of his poems that caught my eye. The poems I liked best were honest, observant, surreal, self deprecating and often humorous. The book I know best is Ramadan Sonnets from 2006 which acts as a kind of vessel which could contain his genius. The opening poem The Inevitable is about fasting, and quite timely which is why I quote it here:

It’s like practicing for death. No food or drink
during daylight hours no matter
what, in the
heat of summer or
cold of winter,
and no way out of it but through
sickness, pregnancy, menstruation, madness or travel.
So that

it’s something that comes
inevitably each year, like it or not, whether or not
you’ve got a knack for it, and
some do, and love to fast, and
thrive on it, but
I do not, yet

each year it makes its visit, and year after
year it builds up to be a
sweet thing,

which make it like death, the way its
always on the
horizon, and an
absolute obligation, which must be
why Muslims often die well, They’ve had a
lifetime of Ramadans tenderizing them
for The Inevitable. And the Inevitable surely comes.


RAMADAN SONNETSBut appreciating poetry is always a very personal thing and many people just don’t get it. It tries to express what cannot be expressed in any other way. I also loved the way Abdal Hayy’s words just tripped out of his pen as if they had minds of their own in his endless efforts to define impossible spiritual heights in verse. Loose, free verse. He didn’t really have time for rhyme though it would pop up every so often. In fact I asked him several times to write in rhyme so I could set it to music. I managed to make Raspberry Juleps, one of his poems from the Ramadan Sonnets into a song as it had a bit of rhyme in it. It was unavoidably and inevitably west coast sounding like a Robert Hunter Grateful Dead track. The words always flavoured the song:

Raspberry Juleps sweet as cucumbers,
delicate froth on the rim of the glass,
even the hasty buffalo lumbers
slowly when entering Paradise Pass.

Tweets in triplets cascade in a mass
from eaves where chickadees sit by the trail,
suddenly filtering down through the grass
I imagined appearing in this vale

of tears in the modern city, chromium wail
of silent citizens taking their walks.

Silver in rays, sparkles like chain mail
flash through the nonsense everyone talks
Why not see canyons filling with light?
Any moment leads to some insight.


Even though he tried to express the divine in his poetry, he was still in some ways very much to me the west coast beat poet appraising in his nightly vigils wondrous and infinite celestial and very spiritual inner worlds as well as just the plain ordinary. His words were his rocket fuel, launching him constantly into wonderful journeys into the inner beyond. His own artwork adorned most of his book covers and was a glimpse of the surreal worlds he looked out on and which had surrounded him in his early life in the floating Lotus. He was ever conscious that his imagery would never be endearing to Muslim bookshops. But he stuck to his guns and  carried on regardless creating ever stranger collages and odd juxtapositions.

His poetry was always God conscious poetry and it came from from an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. He really knew poetry inside out, and poets too whether from the Caucasian or Hispanic universes. Where he is now only God knows, but I’m sure he is writing a poem about it.

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Posted in Comment, language, miscellaneous, music, Poetry, Publishing, religion, sacred knowledge, tassawuf, typography / design, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

New Publications & Reprints


The Mainstay, a hardback translation of the complete commentary by Ibn Ajiba of The Burda of Busiri, was printed at the end of last year having been designed here in Spain. It was translated by Abdal Aziz Suraqah and published by the Abu Zahra Foundation in the UK and is now available from

U.K. and Europe:
North America:

LOVE IS TRAVELLER Jan 27.inddDiwan Cover blog

Poetry specialists Ecstatic Exchange in Philadelphia have just published a first book of poems by Medina Whiteman entitled Love is a Traveller and We are Its Path. Available online from Lulu.comI was only a consultant on this POD production.  Also available now from Editorial Qasida is a reprint of the Diwan of Muhammad Ibn Al-Habib first printed last year. This has been comprehensively proofread by Shakir Massoud who uncovered many errors which have now been put right. I’ve given him a well deserved credit in this edition as well as Tahira Larmore for her proofing of the English and myself the designer. Though perfectly usable, the first printing was a bit of a rough diamond. This one we hope will be highly polished and finely cut! Because of the complexity of the multi-lingual text, teasing out the errors took a lot of time.  We know from experience that these Diwans get heavy use which is why we went to the extra expense of using stronger properly sewn sections so that the book can be hand bound in cloth or leather if needed. With print-on-demand books (POD) the binding is a cut and glue arrangement which cannot be rebound. 

Buy The Diwan direct – now available:
Also it is available from several bookshops in the UK.
In North America:

All bookshop enquiries:

IB cover front

Also just published by Rabaah Publications is Illuminating the Blackness by Nigerian-English Azhari scholar Habeeb Akande. It presents the history of Brazil’s race-relations and African Muslim heritage. The book is divided into two parts. Part I explores the issue of race, anti-black racism, white supremacy, colourism, black beauty and affirmative action in contemporary Brazil. Part II examines the reports of African Muslims’ travels to Brazil before the Portuguese colonisers, the slave revolts in Bahia and the West African Muslim communities in nineteenth century Brazil. Highly illustrated with a picture index of 169 colour images of Brazil.
Designed here and printed in the UK. It should be available soon.


Another reprint from Sandala readied at the end of last year, was the well known Content of Character by Ali Mazrui, (shown left) translated by Hamza Yusuf which was first published over ten years ago. Very much like the Diwan reprint this has been thoroughly overhauled and corrected with a new cover design. Available now from Sandala at


Also of interest is the printing of a much needed new Spanish translation of Purification of the Heart previously only available as an ebook. Translated from the original poem of Ibn Mawlud by Hamza Yusuf, with an extensive commentary also by Hamza Yusuf. This was translated by Emilio Abdarrazaq Perez here in Spain and is exactly modelled on the original…but in Spanish. For any enquiries please contact

A reminder that my old web site is no more. My work is now viewable on which is a better experience generally and much easier for me to manage.  There were certain features of the old site which I will make available on this blog in due course. To contact me direct:

All work displayed above has been designed and typeset here unless specified otherwise.

Posted in Comment, language, miscellaneous, Publishing, religion, sacred knowledge, science, tassawuf, typography / design, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Wird of the Diwan

The Wird of the Diwan of Muhammad ibn al Habib,
may Allah be pleased with him

Marrakech Wird Sept 17.indd

To anyone who obtained the Diwan of Muhammad ibn al Habib in the last 9 months, published by Editorial Qasida, the pdf freely downloadable here will be very useful and has been much requested. On mobile platforms it is ideal and works particularly well in an iPad installed in iBooks. Importantly, typos in the original edition have been dealt with. Later this year we hope to print a revised edition of the whole Diwan with all the errata corrected. As it is effectively in three languages getting it 100% correct in the first edition would have meant it would have remained unpublished even now. Nonetheless we apologise for any errors.

The Wird 2016

NB The Diwan has just sold out.
We are currently working on a reprint which should appear in the next few months. When available it will be announced on this blog.

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Heterophony and Polyphony

Speakers Andalus

Heterophony and Polyphony (and the loss of it.)

The wholesale and loving embrace by Morocco of the amplified musical event has shattered my illusion that Morocco was a place which understood its traditions. Clearly not. That said, it hasn’t actually lessened the actual content of what they sing. Morocco still has some of the best Andalusi singers you will find anywhere whose knowledge of the subject is oceanic and unassailable. But at the point of delivery, where the singing meets its public, whether private or public, the singing is being severely undermined by big black deafening loudspeakers. And I detest them. But the Moroccans, especially the singers, seem to love them.

Heterophony and polyphony are technical terms relating to multiple sung voices.
1. Heterephony describes a single-note many threaded tune with slight natural pitch variations between individual voices, giving choral singing its unique and rich uplifting and meshed quality. This particularly related to Andalusi singing which is essentially one single note tune with slight individual variations
2. Polyphony places each voice in a 3D space so the listener perceives a multi sourced spatial sound. As with any choir.

The human heart, which is the true sensor of any thing conscious, absorbs all this and drowns in the beauty of sound and singing especially. It elevates and expands the heart. A precious and subtle experience. And what do microphones and amplifiers do to this?  Flatten it, homogenise it, and kill it stone dead. And my dear Moroccans are deaf to this phenomenon it seems and given the high volumes they tolerate they might become actually deaf, if they aren’t careful. Furthermore the microphone becomes a vain plaything to toy with as they sing their solos. Like Tom Jones singing in a Las Vegas casino.

Maybe it’s a sign that the world is just becoming noisier that people have to make yet more noise to be heard over the din. I make no apologies for having loved amplified music, instruments, recorded high fidelity sound and also all the explorations into synthetic music that we loved in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It did seem that it was all going somewhere artistically. But we did have a subtle appreciation of it. But we wanted HiFi, not distorted sheets of sound. But I’m a little tired of amplification now and prefer these days to indulge myself in the subtle acoustic qualities of the human voice, natural instruments, natural room acoustics, the sound of the natural world and so on – if I can find it.

Amplification can only be seen now as a last resort, but better avoided. If I had my way at such events as the Fes Sacred Music Festival, or come to that any public performance of music or singing, I would outlaw amplification, unless it was done with real artistic sensitivity. Instead it has now become an egregious orgy of amplification. The louder the better. I’ve witnessed it. It’s seems to be going the way of heavy metal rock music where without the huge volume, it is nothing.

The way technology has impinged on humans has been a slow burn. With the industrial revolution the effects of technology were brutal, clumsy and absolute, like heavy industry which reshaped and polluted towns and cities in Northern Europe and the growth of railways in the 1800s, which marched across hitherto untouched landscapes, spreading industry everywhere. Culminating sadly in the first tragic industrial world wars of the 20th century crowned by the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 a few months after I was born.

The intrusion of technology into the home has also been a slow burn. In the 1950s we didn’t have refrigerators and in my family’s house the first washing machine didn’t appear till 1956. And there was no hifi audio then. In fact our only record player was a red wind-up 78rpm gramophone, an HMV, exactly like the one illustrated above. Fridges and washing machines were useful appliances but the corrosive effect of communications technology on families and society could not have been foreseen and subtly seeped its way into our consciousness. Television particularly was the harbinger of the dumbed down society, the powers that be opting to use it to sell stuff to the masses rather than to educate or illuminate. The non-commercial BBC in the UK was a kind of rearguard action that preserved some higher aspirations, but even that is now severely under threat. It is as if the commercial transaction of selling and buying stuff is now the arbiter and sacrament of everything and that the idea of a social good has been abandoned. Welcome to capitalism.

This principle has percolated now down to the internet and interpersonal communications and is challenging the way people behave in a fundamental way. Is it normal that people are glued to a smart phone everywhere they go? In bed, in the street, even while they eat. (I’ve done all these things, by the way) Many of us are aware of this, yet we blithely continue on with our lives with a shrug.

The masses are unaware of what is happening to them as it’s so vast and all-encompassing. OK, we have to accept life as it is and computers are very useful but in the long run we will have to train ourselves to limit their use or else there will be hell to pay, quite literally. Many corporations now severely limit the use of mobile devices, understanding that for certain things they are unproductive and ultimately counterproductive. Proving that people will submit to anything if it affects the bottom line. There has to be a reaction sooner or later. Could this happen in Morocco? Not for a long time.


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Some new work

Al-MADINA BOOKS spread.indd

The eight books illustrated above, published by Al-Madina Institute were finally printed this year but only available in the USA from Mecca Books. These were typeset and designed over a four year period but all printed this year. I trust their titles can be deciphered from the image above. They include 6 translations of works by Ibn Ajiba including excerpts from his voluminous tafsir the Bahr Madeed. The other two books are by Sh. Muhammad Er who recently passed away. He was a remarkable Kurdish Sufi shaykh who settled in the USA where he died and whose students put together these two books from his writings. The titles are self explanatory. The Soul of Islam and The Laws of the Heart. It resonates with traditional scholarship and wisdom. All familiar to students of the subject but fresh as a daisy.

Kashifi CD front A3.indd

Also this year saw a new release by MAT and designed and recorded locally here in Andalusia: The Rawdhat al-Shuhuda’, a CD and book of excerpts of a 14th century litany by Husayn Vayiz Kashifi, of Herat in Afghanistan, set to Celtic tunes by Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter). Hard to imagine how this fusion would work but it is quite refreshing to hear Qur’anic recitation and traditional illahis in Irish, Manx and Scottish musical modes. Abdal Hakim has been working for many years attempting to bridge the cultural gap between Arab, Persian and Turkish poetry and British musical traditions and sensibilities and this is quite a step forwards. It’s an area which can be approached in different ways and like most things of an artistic nature is dependent on personal taste. I would like to explore this subject in another blog post as it has also been a pet subject of mine for many years.

T of H cover artwork3.indd

Another book designed from here and just published is A Taste of Honey, a scholastic work on Erotology by a Nigerian Azhari scholar, Habeeb Akande. It will probably raise a few eyebrows with the prudes amongst us, but is a thorough and useful compendium of the science and art of lovemaking from traditional Muslim sources. Taking this knowledge from Prophetic wisdom is probably the only way this most powerful of human activities can shed the smuttiness and guilt that it has become tainted with in western cultures. Highly researched, Habeeb Akande has explored every avenue of the subject with extensive reference to the great Islamic scholastic tradition which is so hard of access to most English speakers.

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