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Qatari artist Yasser Al Mulla: Drawing a Sufi controversy | News

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Doha, Qatar – Yasser Al Mulla’s colourless, intricately lined drawings chromatically compliment his crisp white ankle-length thobe and ringed black egal.

As a Qatari agricultural engineer, Al Mulla spends his days developing the greenery around Doha and perfecting grass pitches in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. But in his evenings, he delineates themes of Sufism and various cultures with discursive black lines on a vast white canvas.

Though his artwork has been praised for its mystifying attention to detail, some have questioned why Al Mulla, a 38-year-old Sunni Muslim, depicts the philosophies of the Sufi tradition for leisure.

“I get a lot of comments from people asking ‘why Sufism? Are you Sufi?’ which they don’t like,” Al Mulla told Al Jazeera in his studio recently. “They don’t understand that it is a way of life more than a religion, but I don’t mind. It opens the door for them to do more research.”

Since high school, Al Mulla has been fascinated by the poems and teachings Mansur Al Hallaj, a Sufi preacher who is best known for his saying: “I am the truth.” Many have interpreted it as a claim to divinity, while others believe it to be a mystical defeat of the ego that allows God to speak through an individual.

“I’ve been in love with Al Hallaj for a very long time, ever since I had questions of creation and read for the truth,” said Al Mulla. “The amount of peace and philosophy in his writings have inspired me.”





Al Mulla seen here in his studio in Doha [Ayilah Chaudhary/Al Jazeera]

From a distance, Al Mulla’s drawings resemble inky scribbles. A few steps closer reveal a religious or cultural motif, such as Whirling Dervishes or The Khalifat Visitors of the Abbasid Caliphate, with meandering lines and geometric shapes rippling around them. The figures are doodle-like illustrations, while the lines are contrastingly opaque, undulating and parallel, similar to a moire pattern.

In all of his drawings, Al Mulla attempts to “raise questions” in his art and depict his thoughts through the use of discursive, achromatic lines. “With colours, an artist can say a lot of things,” said Al Mulla, who has a colour-mixed optic condition. “But the line technique is limitless, you can attract people to the ideas inside your brain through endless lines.”

Al Mulla began creating Sufism-inspired line drawings as a 2017-18 resident of the Doha Fire Station, a former emergency services headquarters-turned art hub in the Qatar capital.

His studio furnishings do not deviate from his monochrome theme – the couch is black, the white walls are used as canvases and the floor is sprinkled with ebony black pens that Al Mulla decides not to be used twice. As he commits hours to a drawing after compelling inspiration presses his mind, Beethoven’s piano compositions gently play in the background.

“This is not work for me; it relieves me from the stresses of work,” said Al Mulla.

He studied engineering at Qatar University and law at Cairo University, but did not begin drawing until 2015, at age 35. One night, he had a vivid dream about a tsunami and chose to sketch it with a coal-black pen, and consequently discovered his artistic ability. “After that, I never looked back. I am more balanced after I started art. I am happier than I was years ago because I have my answers now, which I try to put in my paintings.”

He finds his reputation shift to an artist difficult to reconcile with since he was previously known as “the engineer guy”, working on landscape projects from Doha’s Aspire Park to those commissioned by Qatar’s emir himself.

Al Mulla has gained significant popularity for his landscape art, which is an external representation of his artistic ability. His agricultural work for the World Cup beautifies otherwise barren areas of Qatar and was recently profiled by The New York Times. Regardless of his success, Al Mulla does not want his career to be his “only thing”.





The term Sufi stems from “Suf”, the Arabic word for wool, and refers to a garment in which Sufi mystics are often depicted [Ayilah Chaudhary/Al Jazeera]

He dedicates certain days of the week entirely to his wife and three children, a certain day to his parents as the eldest son and certain nights to his drawings.

“I don’t follow an exact schedule, but I know I don’t want to be consumed by work.” Similarly, Al Mulla doesn’t have an exact plan in mind before he draws, but rather a preliminary abstraction of what to include. “I have an idea, then it will just come to me on the canvas.”

According to Al Mulla, he paints “under the influence of [his] whole life”. He said that all people are “accumulation of knowledge, experiences and culture” and he attempts to present his own through ambiguous thin and thick black lines against a once-vacant white space.

When asked whether he believes in Sufism, Al Mulla said, “People need to have the spirit of the Quran and the Hadith. In Qatar, nobody will ask you why you are Muslim, but we need to be more open to the good things in other thoughts and ideas.”

In addition to the personal motivations behind his art, Al Mulla said the controversy of the Sufi influence in his drawings helps with creating open-mindedness in Qatar.

The colourless nature of Al Mulla’s drawings makes them appear two-dimensional at a first glance. However, Al Mulla claims to hide philosophical messages in his long, contoured lines to prompt viewers to learn.

“People don’t need to change, but they need to read more and know more, and then judge,” he said. “I am opening the door for them to do that.”

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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