Sunday, November 30, 2014

How to Age Slowly and Gracefully...

We all want to enjoy as many healthy years as possible. But the secret to a long life is not a simple one, rather, it is made up of many little secrets, that include: Eating habits, daily routines, good genetics, avoidance of certain materials as well as good sleep and good mental health. 
So what ARE these secrets, specifially? Why do some countries have a higher average age than others, while some individuals live significantly longer than 100 years? and what can people do to prolong the life span they have been given at birth, and so spend more time with their family and loved ones? We don't have all of the answers, but we do have some valuable information and recommendations for you!
Infographic courtesy of: infographicsarchive.com

Friday, November 28, 2014

20 Stunning Ceilings from Various Mosques

Mosques aren't only sacred places of worship for Muslim people, they are also architectural masterpieces of amazement. Iran is home to some of the most magnificent ceiling designs of mosques in the world. The repetitive spirals and complex geometric designs give each ceiling structure a unique look. 

Here are 20 exquisite ceiling designs you must see: 

1) Fatima Masumeh Shrine, Qom, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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2) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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3) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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4) Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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5) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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6) Vakil Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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7) Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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8) Jalil Khayat Mosque, Arbil, Iraq
Incredible mosque ceilings
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9) Grand Mosque of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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10) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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11) Fatima Masumeh Shrine, Qom, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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12) Al Soltan Qalawoon Mosque, Cairo Egypt
Incredible mosque ceilings
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13) Taj Mahal Mosque Ceiling
Incredible mosque ceilings
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14) Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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15) Wazir Khan Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan
Incredible mosque ceilings
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16) Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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17) Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Incredible mosque ceilings
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18) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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19) Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Incredible mosque ceilings
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20) Bahaud-Din Naqshband Mausoleum, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Incredible mosque ceilings
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The Myth of the Caliphate

The Political History of an Idea


Abdulhamid II, who would become the last Ottoman Sultan and Caliph, as a prince in 1867.
Abdulhamid II, who would become one of the last Ottoman sultans and caliphs, as a prince in 1867. (W.&D. DOWNEY / Jebulon)
In 1924, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk officially abolished the Ottoman caliphate. Today, most Western discussions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the extremist group that has declared a caliphate across much of Iraq and Syria, begin by referencing this event as if it were a profound turning point in Islamic history. Some contemporary Islamists think of it this way, too: there’s a reason, for example, that Lion Cub, the Muslim Brotherhood’s children’s publication, once awarded the “Jewish” “traitor” Ataturk multiple first prizes in its “Know the Enemies of Your Religion” contest.
Even if today’s Islamists reference the Ottomans, though, most of them are much more focused on trying to re-create earlier caliphates: the era of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, who ruled immediately after Muhammad’s death in the seventh century, for example, or the Abbasid caliphate, which existed in one form or another from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries (before being officially abolished by the Mongols). By conflating the nineteenth-century Ottoman royal family with these caliphs from a millennium ago or more, Western pundits and nostalgic Muslim thinkers alike have built up a narrative of the caliphate as an enduring institution, central to Islam and Islamic thought between the seventh and twentieth centuries. In fact, the caliphate is a political or religious idea whose relevance has waxed and waned according to circumstance.
The caliphate’s more recent history under the Ottomans shows why the institution might be better thought of as a political fantasy—a blank slate just as nebulous as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that contemporary Islamists are largely making up as they go along. (If it weren’t, ISIS could not so readily use the same term to describe their rogue and bloody statelet that Muslim British businessmen use to articulate the idea of an elected and democratic leader for the Islamic world.) What’s more, the story of the Ottoman caliphate also suggests that in trying to realize almost any version of this fantasy, contemporary Islamists may well confront the same contradictions that bedeviled the Ottomans a century ago.
OTTOMAN REBRANDING
When the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula in 1517, Sultan Selim the Grim officially claimed the title of caliph for himself and his heirs. In addition to taking control of the cities of Mecca and Medina, Selim bolstered his claim by bringing a collection of the Prophet’s garments and beard hairs back to Istanbul.
Centuries after the fact, the Ottomans decided that they needed to make the whole process look a little more respectable, so royal historians began to assert that the final heir to the Abbasid caliphate, living in exile in Cairo centuries after losing his throne, had voluntarily bestowed his title on Selim. More practically, the Ottomans buttressed their claim to Islamic leadership by serving as guardians of the hajj and sending an elaborately decorated gilt mantle to cover the Kaaba each year.
To put the title grab in perspective, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople 64 years before Selim conquered Egypt, he had claimed the title Caesar of Rome for his descendants. To the extent that being caliph had any more purchase than being Caesar for the Ottomans in the late nineteenth century, it was largely the result of a political campaign on the part of Sultan Abdulhamid II to rally anticolonial sentiment around the Ottoman state and to boost his own domestic legitimacy. His techniques included seeking to have his name read out at Friday prayers anddistributing Korans around the Muslim world from Africa to Indonesia.
There is no doubt that many Muslims, faced with the triumph of European colonialism in their own countries, did come to admire the idea of a pious and powerful leader like the Ottoman sultan defying Western imperialism on behalf of the entire Muslim world. Certainly, British and French officials expressed increasing fear about his potential power over Muslim colonial subjects in North Africa and India. Although he was eager to try to leverage such fears, however, even Abdulhamid had his misgivings about how much real influence his efforts won him in such far-flung locales.
One thing that particularly worried him was the fact that not everyone accepted his claims on the caliphate. Separate from those who rallied around Abdulhamid out of religious solidarity were others, motived by Arab nationalism or dissatisfaction with Abdulhamid’s tyranny, who questioned the religious foundation of his rule. Such thinkers, including at some points Rashid Rida, justified the creation of a different, Arab caliphate by quoting Muhammad as saying that the true caliph needed to be a descendant of the Prophet’s Quraysh tribe. (The Ottomans, it seems, accepted the validity of this quote but had their own interpretation of it, in which the Prophet actually meant that the caliph didn’t need to be a descendant of the Quraysh tribe.)
But in either case, the violent politics of the early twentieth century quickly outmatched theology. Despite his best efforts as defender of the faith, Abdulhamid kept losing territory and political power to Christian imperialist forces. That helped the secular leaders of the Young Turk movement, such as Enver Pasha, sideline the sultan and take power for themselves on the eve of World War I. When the Ottoman Empire then enjoyed some military success, belatedly holding its own in the Second Balkan War, Enver became an inspiration to the Muslim world. Indeed, the list of babies reportedly named after him at the time includes Enver Hoxha, the future leader of Albania, and Anwar al-Sadat, the future leader of Egypt.
ARAB HEIR
Of course, Enver’s own star faded, too, with the Ottoman defeat at the end of World War I. Ataturk quickly emerged as a new hero by leading a successful campaign to drive French, Italian, British, and Greek armies out of Ottoman Anatolia. Quickly, some of the same politically attuned Muslims who had supported Abdulhamid’s anti-imperial caliphate found even more to admire in Ataturk's armed defiance of European might. In Palestine, for example, Muslims who had once turned to the Ottoman caliph for protection against Zionist settlers and British occupiers began to cheer Ataturk, leading one suspicious British officer to worry that the Turkish figure had become “a new savior of Islam.”
At the same time, the decline of Ottoman power before, during, and after World War I loaned increasing credence to the idea of a new, non-Ottoman caliph in the Arab world. But it was never entirely clear just who that Arab caliph would be. The result was that when Ataturk finally abolished the institution of the caliphate in 1924, there was no clear or coherent outcry from the Muslim world as a whole. Many Muslims, particularly those in India for whom pan-Islamic symbols such as the caliph were an important part of anticolonialism, protested. Others were more interested in maneuvering to claim the title for themselves.
Most famous was Husayn ibn Ali, sherif of Mecca, who is known to Lawrence of Arabia fans for his leading role in the Arab Revolt. As the local leader with control of Mecca and Medina—and a supposedly clear line of descent from the Prophet’s tribe—Husayn believed that after driving the Ottomans out of the Middle East, he could become an Arab king, with all the religious and temporal powers of the caliph. In pursuit of this goal, when Ataturk exiled the Ottoman sultan, Husayn invited him to Mecca. (The exiled monarch soon decided he preferred the Italian Riviera.)
Several years later, Husayn’s son Abdullah—founder of the Jordanian monarchy—would declare that, in ending the caliphate, Turks had “rendered the greatest possible service to the Arabs,” for which he felt like “sending a telegram thanking Mustafa Kemal.” Of course, Husayn’s plans didn't come off exactly as expected. Despite getting British backing for his scheme early in the war, he famously fell afoul of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The French drove his son out of Syria, and before long, the Saudis drove him out of the Arabian Peninsula. By the time Husayn officially declared himself caliph, supposedly at the insistence of a select group of Muslim leaders, his power had dwindled to the point where the declaration seemed like an act of pure desperation.
The Egyptian monarchy, meanwhile, had a claim of its own to advance. Despite being closely aligned with the British and descended from Circassian Albanian ancestors with no tie to the Prophet’s family, King Fuad covertly put forward his case to succeed the Ottomans. In the words of one Islamic scholar, Egypt was better suited to the caliphate than, say, a desert nomad like Husayn “because she took the lead in religious education and had a vast number of highly educated and intelligent Muslims.” King Idris I of Libya  also seemed to consider making a bid for the title but, like Fuad, ultimately decided he had too little support to do so officially.
Saudi Arabia’s King Saud, despite eventually seizing the Holy Land from Husayn, was one of the few leaders who never put forward a claim to the caliphate, although the idea was certainly discussed. Saud was aligned with the Wahhabi movement, which arose as a rebellion against the supposed decadence of the Ottoman government in the eighteenth century. Ironically, although his opposition to the Ottoman-style caliph was shared by other Arabs, his particular brand of religiositywas too radical for him to ever think he had much chance of becoming caliph himself.
In the end, though, the unseemliness of such political wrangling was just one of the factors that helped put the caliphate discussion to rest for the next several decades. Many Muslims had responded to its abolition by redoubling their efforts to build secular constitutional governments in their own countries. Indeed, some of the strongest opposition to the Egyptian king’s caliphal aspirations came fromEgyptian liberals who opposed any moves that would increase the monarchy’s power. Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Raziq, in his famously controversial criticism of the very idea of a caliphate, even went so far as to claim that the Koran contains “no reference to the caliphate that Muslims have been calling for.” This was also the period where a number of thinkers, secularists and religious Muslims alike, began discussing the possibility that the caliph should be a purely religious figure, like an “Islamic pope,” unencumbered by any temporal power.
A HOPE AND A PRAYER
It would be a mistake to think that twenty-first-century Islamist movements trying to revive the caliphate are doing so in the name of a clear, well-defined Islamic mandate. Rather, they are just other players in a centuries-long debate about a concept that has only occasionally taken on widespread relevance in the Islamic world.
The legacy of earlier rounds of this argument can still be felt today. It is no surprise that, as a historical inspiration, the Ottoman caliphate holds most sway among Turkish Islamists, whose nostalgia owes far more to the way Turkish nationalists have glorified the empire than it does to the piety of the sultans. Conversely, the religious legacy of Abd al-Wahhab’s eighteenth-century critique of the Ottoman state, combined with the political legacy of more recent anti-Ottoman Arab nationalism, gives plenty of non-Turkish Islamists ample reason to prefer the precedent of an Arab caliphate.
By treating the Ottoman caliphate as the final historical reference point for what current Islamists aspire to, Western pundits conflate the contemporary dream of a powerful, universally respected Muslim leader with the late Ottoman sultan's failed dream of becoming such a figure himself. The circumstances uniting these dreams—and the appeal of strong religious power in the face of Western political, military, and economic power—may be the same. But so are the challenges. Contemporary claimants to the title of caliph may quickly find themselves in the same boat as Ottoman caliphs. Political or military success, rather than history or theology, can bring short-lived legitimacy, but failure in these realms will bring other contenders for power.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, 926 km (500 nautical mi) west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.
They include a national park and a biological marine reserve. Although the islands have a scant human population of 25,000 people, the most interesting inhabitants are the many and varied animals that call these islands home and which famously attracted the attention of Charles Darwin. Part of the islands has opened to travelers since February 1st, so now is a great time to go see what you can!
galapagos islands photos
A baby sea lion (less than 2 months old), Espanola Island. Unfortunately, this beautiful Galapagos island, rich in biodiversity and plant life, has faced many crises by human hands. As recent as 2008, dozens of sea lions were killed at Pinta, the nature reserve of the Galapagos Islands. 

galapagos islands photos
Galapagos does sunsets the right way - beautiful. 

galapagos islands photos
A land Iguana in yellow and red.

galapagos islands photos
A 'blowhole', quite common on the islands.

galapagos islands photos
The 'Red Sally' lightfoot crab at Islas Plazas, coming in with the tide. 

galapagos islands photos
Diving seagulls at Puerto Villamil.

galapagos islands photos
Galapagos tortoises mating

galapagos islands photos
This bizarre but stunning creature was named 'dandelion' by the discovering geologists. It was found on a 1977 expedition to the islands. We now know that is related to the Portuguese 'man-of-war' (a type of jellyfish).

galapagos islands photos
The Galapagos are also home to the flamboyant flamingos.

galapagos islands photos
San Christo Kicker Rock.

galapagos islands photos
A diamond stingray near the beach.

galapagos islands photos
The famous and iconic Giant Galapagos Tortoises. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise and 10th-heaviest living reptile, reaching weights of over 400 kg (880 lb) and lengths of over 1.8 meters (5.9 ft). These giants live to see 100 years of age in the wild, and have lived up to 170 years in captivity. 

galapagos islands photos
A group of marine iguanas

galapagos islands photos
Bartolome Island, which has a beautiful bay, in the Galapagos Islands

galapagos islands photos
A young eagle making sure people obey the sign at Isabela Island.

galapagos islands photos
What is now known as 'Darwin's Arch'.

galapagos islands photos
A napping seal apparently unperturbed by the approaching crab. Maybe it's napping as well?

galapagos islands photos
The Galapagos shark is often hunted by humans, and in 2011, Ecuadorean authorities seized 357 dead sharks from an illegal fishing boat.

galapagos islands photos
Beautiful waterfall near San Christobal, Galapagos, Ecuador.

galapagos islands photos
The first island explored by Charles Darwin during his famous exploration in 1835.

galapagos islands photos
A kiss between sea lions.

galapagos islands photos
The early morning light painting this stone hill red.

galapagos islands photos
The photographer tells that this male sea lion got aggressive when he came to close, and put up a threatening display to scare him off. It worked.

galapagos islands photos
The marine iguana is found only on the Galapagos Islands, and has the ability, unique among modern lizards, to live and forage in the sea, making it a marine reptile. The iguana can dive over 9 m into the water.

galapagos islands photos
Sea lions napping together, Espanola Island.

galapagos islands photos
Swallow tailed gulls at Islas Plazas.

galapagos islands photos
A Galapagos Crab making some direct eye contact

galapagos islands photos
Besides creatures, the Galapagos Islands have many beautiful and interesting rock formations, which also serve as good places for sea lions to practice their favorite hobby - sleep.

galapagos islands photos
A large group of sea lions. Being fairly social, and one of the most numerous species in the Gal׊pagos archipelago, they are often spotted sun-bathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud bark, playful nature, and graceful agility in water make them the "welcoming party" of the islands.

galapagos islands photos
Penguins on the rocks, watching both directions.

galapagos islands photos
A view at sunset.

galapagos islands photos
A marine iguana sunbathing.

galapagos islands photos
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos, Ecuador. 

galapagos islands photos
The reason these birds are called blue-footed boobies. 

galapagos islands photos
Sailing away at sunset and saying goodbye to the beautiful Galapagos Islands. What a place.