New Zealand

Umma means Nation / thoughts on violence and freedom

By Maya Kriem

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence…

I seldom share personal thoughts online, but today I feel compelled to do so. I feel so saddened by yesterday’s attacks on the mosques in New Zealand. So many deaths, so much grief! I have been particularly affected by the events, imagining the terror that children who were there must have felt. A father shielding his sons and being shot to death, Women and children screaming. So much loss in an instant. Perhaps I have been affected so because I had planned on taking my three kidlets to our local mosque for Friday prayer, but got caught up in a visit with a friend and decided not to go. Perhaps because it happened in a mosque, a place of worship that is supposed to be a safe space. It’s a unique feeling to be barefoot, in a room stripped from all furniture, where you stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers and pray to a common God. The energy during a communal prayer is indescribable. My mother called me as soon as she heard the news to beg that I never take my children to the mosque. “Who will you leave your children to if you are killed? What if they are killed?” Perhaps it’s because these acts of madness target a religion, my religion, that for me represents a precious gem. And I feel so privileged that I hold claim to such a gem.

My daughter’s name Umma means mother or grandmother in many different cultures and languages (in the Arab/Islamic world, India, Germany, Scandinavian countries). And most people assume that it is the reason we named our daughter Umma. A feminine name that represents motherhood; but it has another, related meaning. It is from a Qur’anic verse that speaks of how Abraham (considered the father of all three monotheistic religions) through his unwavering devotion to God became an Umma. And here Umma means Nation. Many understand this verse to mean that Abraham produced a nation of devout people, as many of his descendants were messengers and prophets, their stories often told in the old and new testaments and in Qur’an (Isaac, Ismael, Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin, and many more). But I always understood it to mean that Abraham became a nation onto himself, referring to Abraham’s unique ability to shed all the cultural and social layers of his identity and get to the core of what it is to be a human being; the human essence; that divine spirit that animates us all; that part of us that we all share; the common human denominator.

Abraham was a nation onto himself because he let his human essence shine above all else, and he did so by staying true to his beliefs, by submitting utterly and completely to his Creator, a God of light and love. Abraham became an Umma by free falling into love. And in so doing he gained unprecedented freedom. Freedom we glimpse when we are young children immersed in play, with no limitations on our imagination. Freedom we touch when we are out in nature and experience that indescribable feeling of peace and contentment, momentarily unburdened from our daily worries. Freedom that comes with that feeling of utter joy when we have done an act of genuine kindness for a stranger. Freedom that I always feel every time I step into a mosque.

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence, that which links us all and makes us one, that which underlays our collective memory as a species. I am a Muslim Moroccan Australian woman raising my children in the Muslim faith in a country where I migrated as an adult. I find anchor in my cultural identity, my traditions and teach them to my children so they may serve as anchors for them too. I also attempt every day to teach myself and my children how to readily access and stay close to that human essence within us all; to reach beyond cultural difference and touch the Other’s soul. It is my attempt to counter the violence and terror we live with everyday.

Violence comes in many forms: A mad man wearing a GoPro camera storming a mosque in New Zealand and killing people, perpetuating a discourse of violence and discrimination against those who are deemed ‘Other.’ Harsh daily schedules and daily stresses in sterile urban jungles are impacting our mental health and wellbeing, disconnecting us from each other, from nature, from tradition, from ancestral knowledge. Industrial production and transportation systems that have affected our climate and are destroying our planet. A medical system that fails to uphold its own oath, that tells us time and again that our bodies are unable to stay healthy or heal themselves and so we need to medicate them. A food production and consumption system that is killing us and the planet. An educational system that strips us of innate knowledge and our natural ability to learn, analyze, question and replaces them with sterile information. An educational system that takes our children away from us everyday and turns these gentle, kind, empathetic human beings into stressed out, competitive ones. An educational system that is demanding that our children behave in unnatural ways (spending most of their daylight hours with same age kids, sitting still, letting the bell punctuate and dictate their needs and desires to play, study, even eat) and slaps labels on them when they fail to comply (ADHD, disruptive).

I pray that those who lost loved ones yesterday have beautiful memories to hold on to, prayers to soothe their souls, and arms to hug their pain away. I pray that the souls of those who were killed find peace in the highest heavens. I pray that my children only ever encounter kindness and gentleness. I pray that they continue to trust and free fall into love and light. I pray that we all do. With much love.

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The Digger's Requiem - review by Vincent Plush

2000 hrs, Sunday 7 October 2018.
Lyneham, Canberra, ACT

THE DIGGER'S REQUIEM

by Vincent Plush

Last night, in the Llewellyn Hall at the Australian National University in Canberra, I attended a remarkable and historic event: the world premiere of a composite musical composition called THE DIGGER'S REQUIEM. (For the benefit of my American and non-Australian readers, a "digger" was the colloquial name ascribed to an Australian soldier in the First World War, and in similar conflicts thereafter.)

This was the climax of a four-year-long commemoration of the centenary of The Great War (1914-18). Each year, Christopher Latham, well known in Canberra as a concert violinist, Festival director and staunch advocate for Australian music, has devised an event relating to some aspect of WW1 history and culture. In 2015, THE GALLIPOLI SYMPHONY assembled works by composers from Turkey, New Zealand and Australia, and premiered in Turkey where it was filmed and released on CD/DVD: http://www.gallipolisymphony.com/

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This year, THE DIGGER'S REQUIEM brought to a close the national commemoration of the centenary of ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). Latham assembled nearly 300 performers - several soloists (including the extraordinary Paul Goodchild, principal trumpet in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra... pic), massed choirs and a full symphony orchestra, bolstered by players from the Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon - to perform a 14-movement work lasting some 90 minutes. New pieces were commissioned from five of the leading composers of the near-senior generation: Elena Kats-Chernin, Nigel Westlake, Andrew Schultz, Graeme Koehne and Ross Edwards (pic), and Richard Mills, who was not at the performance.

At the end of the Edwards segment, there was a massive tintinnabulation of bells, not only the Federation Bells, cast for the 2001 Centenary of Federation, but also recordings of 62,000 other bells, one for each ANZAC slain on the battlefield.

It was a mammoth undertaking and, on the whole, worked extremely well. There were a number of theatrical flourishes and more muted touches: a solemn procession with gas lamps, the now familiar scattered carpet of red poppies, a lone bagpiper, and handbells surrounding the audience. At the close of the performance, many in the orchestra and audience were in tears. Those of us who could rose to give the performers (pic) a sustained ovation that lasted for several minutes.

It was a Very Canberra Event, befitting the dignity and solemnity of such an occasion in our national capital. The Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, signed a copy of the score (pic 4); he also spoke at the outset of the evening, as did the Ambassadors of France and Germany. Other diplomatic and government ministers and other officials were in abundance, also military people in full dress uniform. The entire event was co-commissioned by the Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veterans' Affairs: that in itself surely has to be a first for Australian music!

A pity there seemed to be no official representation from the ANU School of Music and the local newspaper, The Canberra Times, did not deem it significant enough to cover. Shame, shame.

My full review is due to appear in THE AUSTRALIAN on Tuesday morning. I wanted to share the memory here while it it still white-hot and intense.

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AFTER-THOUGHT; I should have acknowledged here the great contribution by my old friend and photographer extraordinaire, Peter Hislop, who somehow manages to capture through his trusty lens every single concert in the national capital and regions. Many thanks, Peter. Thanks also for noting that the official War Historian, C.W.E.Bean (1879-1968), onetime WW1 war correspondent, seemed to have no interest in music; it wasn't his brief, nor in his thinking. Chris Latham pursued his avid researches widely in many collections around the world.

  • VINCENT PLUSH has just completed his PhD at the University of Adelaide and is moving to Melbourne where he will be a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He is well known as a composer, writer, broadcaster and commentator on cultural events, both in Australia and in North America where he lived and worked for almost 20 years.

  • Vincent’s full review of the Diggers Requiem can be found in the Australian / Oct 9 2018.

Photos by Peter Hislop, and by Vincent Plush