jpahl's blog

Malaysia's Minarets or Designs on Dominion?

            I never made it into the soaring and spectacular Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (  A ruthless downpour canceled our excursion.  The rain came sideways.  Bolts of lightning lit up the afternoon sky.  It was only late at night that we approached the brightly illuminated, and truly beautiful, Twin Towers, as they are called.  For all of their beauty it’s hard to tell, frankly, whether the tower

Surprised by Heaven in Sydney

Sydney is spectacular.  The view of the harbor and skyline from North Sydney is breathtaking.  The cultural scene of coffee houses and cafes near the Opera House sings with energy.  And the city is full of surprises—one of which is a sacred space I’ll never forget.

Melbourne's Mojo

Melbourne has mojo.  It’s a city of natural beauty.  Albert Park, adjacent to the harbor and where the Australian Grand Prix auto race is held, is lovely.  The city also has cultural dynamism, with an emphasis on athletics.  Our view from the top of Eureka Tower (the tallest spire in the Southern hemisphere) took in the city’s sports complex—at least three football and soccer stadiums that I counted, and Rod Laver Stadium where the Australian Open is played.  But the city’s mojo comes from its cosmopolitan conversation—very much in evidence

Joy In Jakarta

Jakarta was invigorating and exhausting.  It features the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced.  And the warmest people.  Some of the deepest poverty.  And perhaps the finest luxury hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  Shanty shacks with tin roofs in row after row, and gleaming high-rises and a glitzy mall called Mall Taman Anggrek  Jakarta was invigorating.  And exhausting.  A jumble of contradictions.

Singapore, Sweat, and Shopping Malls

Singapore, Sweat, and Shopping Malls

I was completely disoriented in Singapore. It was hot, which I expected. It was green and filled with carefully pruned trees that formed canopies over many roadways, which I hadn’t expected. And, the streets were lined with beautiful orchids and azaleas. I wasn’t prepared for such lushness, juxtaposed with high-rise after high-rise. Singapore was also squeakily clean, which is amazing, and just a little creepy, given the population density.

From Tomb to Mountaintop to Mosque

A logic emerged out of the three sacred places in Tirana and Istanbul I was privileged to visited this Sunday. The three took me from the trauma of finitude through the temptation of transcendence to the challenge of interfaith peace.

Islam and Democracy?

The current developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world are not happening in a vacuum. They represent a broader trend relating Islam to democracy. This trend is amply evident here at the conference in Tirana.

To many in the West, a democratic Islam seems a contradiction in terms. To the Muslim scholars here, however, from a wide variety of nations, Islam and democracy are not only compatible. Democracy and Islam are necessary partners.

Religious Harmony in Albania?

Speaker after speaker at the first day’s session of the conference "Global Perspectives on the Religious, Cultural, and Societal Diversity in the Balkans" here in Tirana invoked a heritage of and hope for harmony in the Balkans, and around the globe, on a religious foundation. What makes this somewhat surprising is that, historically, and in the very recent past, Albania was at one point among the most dedicated, officially atheist, of nations.

Not Flat, but Variegated: Albania Rising

            I’ve always been bothered by Thomas Friedman’s thesis that the “world is flat.” Friedman generally ignores ongoing (growing) structural inequities associated with globalization. And he exaggerates the positive potential of market reforms to “lift all boats” (to use another common metaphor). As one wag put it, in a frighteningly apt analysis in these post-tsunami days, in a rising tide the only boats that stay afloat are the ones that aren’t anchored to something. The rest get swamped.

Beautiful Tirana

Slept great on the plane, and safely arrived in beautiful Tirana, Albania, about 11AM.  Tirana is located in a valley surrounded by the Dajti Mountains (described by one resident as "the end of the Alps,"  Tirana is a booming city--with construction everywhere, including in historic Skanderbeg Square. This afternoon, I visited two schools associated with the Hizmet movement.