Aya Johanna Daniëlle Dürst Britt (1982)
Freelance writer/translator | editor & coordinator at El Hizjra | inititor & coordinator ‘De vrijheid van Noor Inayat Khan’ | editor al.arte.magazine | Arabic & Islamic Studies, Leiden University | art, music & mysticism | poet, lyricist & happy mum | “Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.” – Khalil Gibran
With a general interest in social studies, humanities, history, authentic living and self-development my fields of interest are art, music and mysticism in the world of Islam, particularly in Egypt and India; Mughal India; Sufism in the West, especially of Hazrat Inayat Khan; womanhood, the feminine divine, the hieros gamos or sacred marriage and its representation in the ancient Near East, the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent; and female empowerment in the modern world. I’m an enthusiast advocate of a healthy lifestyle attuned to one’s constitution, organically grown foods, attachment parenting and (prolonged) breastfeeding.
Initially, I studied Social & Cultural Development at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, the Netherlands. I obtained its Propaedeutics in 2001 with an essay on the Christian trinity ‘Hope, faith, and Love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13) partially taken out of its religious context, for explored universally in the secular realm of modern-day society.
A profound interest in the art, Islam, music, and mysticism of the (Arabic-speaking) Muslim world made me change my course to study Arabic Language & Culture, first at Utrecht University (2001-2002), and later at Leiden University (2004-2007). There, while pursuing a minor in the cultures and religions of the ancient Near East, I obtained my bachelor’s degree with a final paper addressing the iconographic representation of the animal fable Kalila wa-Dimna in medieval Arabic manuscripts as based upon Ibn al-Muqaffa`’s 8th century rendition of a Persian collection of stories (which, in turn, has its origin in a Sanskrit mirror for princes entitled Panchatantra or The Five Principles, dating back to ca. the 3rd century BCE).
Fascinated by the role and status of munshidin (singers of devotional music, more generally Sufi singers) in contemporary Egypt, I enrolled in the master’s programme of Islamic Studies at Leiden University in 2007. When I found the master’s programme too short to sufficiently meet my research interest, I opted for the extended research master’s programme in 2008. Due to a chain of events, my research subject was first altered in order to identify Islamic elements in Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Westernised Sufi views, and subsequently changed to explore the role of music in his mysticism.
I currently work as a freelance editor/coordinator for the Amsterdam-based El Hizjra foundation and as an editor for the bilingual online al.arte.magazine.
In 2014 I edited a catalogue featuring 54 colour images related to the grand international group exhibition Fragile Hands curated by Shaheen Merali for the Universität für Angewante Kunst Vienna aka Die Angewandte in Austria’s capital Vienna, which reflected upon pressing sociocultural, political and environmental themes worldwide. I delivered a lecture at Leiden University by invitation of foundation House of Wisdom about Noor Inayat Khan and the docu film Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story, about which I also wrote an article for al.arte.magazine.
There are talks on about a Dutch translation of Shrabani Basu’s Spy Princess, Noor’s biography, as part of a project about Noor in the Netherlands, which will involve an exhibition, a documentary for Dutch television, educational material for primary schools and high schools and cooperation with film festivals to screen the American UPF film documentary Enemy of the Reich: the Noor Inayat Khan Story. Enemy of the Reich (2014). So far, I teamed up with Ricardo Burgzorg, director of the Indian Film Festival The Hague (IndianFFTH) May 2015. I’m thankful to look back at a successful premiere of this film documentary in The Netherlands during the Indian FFTH in October 2015.
Whenever inspiration beckons I pour my heart out in poetry, stories or song lyrics. From time to time I continue the writing of my first Dutch children’s book, ‘De reis van de ster die een staart had’, which translates as The journey of the tailed star, in which its main character, the girl Safiya, accidentally discovers an enchanting secret related to the historical narrative of the feminine divine in the tormented region of the Middle East. The journey of the tailed star weaves together myth and legend, strands of folklore and stories from various religious traditions. It is a story kindled in the age-old trinity of faith, hope and love skilfully suited to inspire children and especially girls to meet the demands made of children in our world today. Safiya’s adventures invite the reader to join her in a magical journey from an inner place of trust and authenticity.
I reside at the Dutch countryside with my daughter Djanna (2010).