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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 transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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