Palestinian women try to bring baseball to Gaza

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Updated 20 March 2017
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Palestinian women try to bring baseball to Gaza

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: The young Palestinian women substitute Islamic headscarves for baseball caps and field tennis balls with fabric gloves, giving a decidedly local feel to the great American pastime.
They are trying to bring baseball to the Gaza Strip, an effort that is still in its early innings.
The players, who work out on a small soccer pitch in a southern Gaza town, admit they are still trying to understand the rules of the complicated sport. With pitches lobbed underhand, the game they play is closer to softball.
“I only know it through TV,” said Valentina Shaer, a 23-year-old English literature student.
Mahmoud Tafesh, the team’s coach, said he has dreamed of bringing baseball to Gaza since he was introduced to the game last year.
Although baseball is a fringe sport throughout the soccer-crazy Middle East, the game has grown in popularity. Iraq has a national team, and one of the country’s coaches introduced Tafesh to baseball last year while both were in Egypt, which now boasts a baseball and softball federation.
Tafesh admits he still has much to learn. He is unfamiliar with any of the teams or players in Major League Baseball and gets most of his knowledge from YouTube videos.
When he returned to Gaza, he was concerned about the lack of equipment and whether the conservative society, which is governed by the Islamic militant group Hamas, would accept the idea of girls playing the sport.
He first approached girls at the only sports education college in Gaza. To his surprise, he found interest in baseball was stronger among girls than boys.
“We targeted this group because they had permission from their families to play sport as sports students. Through them, we started to spread, attracting girls from other fields such as journalism and accountants,” he said after finishing a two-hour training session for the girls.
The women say their families had no objection, and some parents even encouraged them. But the society overall has not been as receptive.
Shaer said people “on social media had a bad idea about us,” noting abusive comments when their pictures first appeared.
On Sunday, the team, which includes 20 to 30 members, had its weekly practice on a soccer pitch in the female section of Al-Aqsa University, built on lands that were part of Jewish settlements before Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
There were no males except for the coach, and some other students gathered to watch the women playing catch and taking batting practice. The batters took wild swings, often missing but occasionally making solid contact.
The players wore headscarves as well as long-sleeve running tops and loose pants, in keeping with local norms.
“While we face difficulties, we would like a specialized softball field to learn it correctly and train freely without any obstacles,” said Iman Shahin, an athlete who studies sports education.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power in 2007, heavily restricting travel and trade, and making it difficult to acquire specialized sports equipment.
Tafesh said he found just one baseball glove in all of Gaza, at the Sports Ministry building, and took it to local tailors who used it to make replicas out of black fabric.
With no proper bats in the territory, the team took a piece of wood and shaped it to look like one.
While seeking funding and real equipment, the women dream of eventually competing abroad.
“All of us share the same goal: participate and represent the name of Palestine outside and show that there are sports for the girls in Gaza,” said 24-year-old Iman Mughaier.


Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

Updated 23 May 2018
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Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.
“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.